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Thursday 28 August 2014

Father of IRA bombing victim: ‘It’s possible to have peace with justice’

Published 05/05/2014 | 15:12

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A victim of a republican bombing which killed 29 people in Northern Ireland has insisted that it is possible to have peace with justice.

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Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan died in the 1998 Real IRA bombing of Omagh, said every sane person in Ireland and Britain wanted an end to violence but not at any price.

Gerry Adams was proclaimed a peacemaker by his supporters - but his arrest has exposed the deep divisions which still exist between some in Northern Ireland's nationalist and unionist communities.

Mr Gallagher favoured a mixture of prosecutions and some form of truth recovery in cases where trials are unrealistic.

He said: "Peace is getting stronger and I am very happy about that. Every sane person in Ireland and Britain wants peace but that has to be built upon a firm foundation and we cannot forget the people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, the victims.

"The police have to investigate and any possibility to prosecute should be taken but in some cases we have to recognise that prosecutions will not be a reality."

The arrest of Mr Adams showed how the justice system can be used to deal with the country's painful past.

But senior Sinn Fein figures indicated that their support for the police - a critical plank in the peace process - would be "reviewed" if Mr Adams was charged.

Democratic Unionist Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson denounced those remarks as "bully boy" tactics.

Prime Minister David Cameron earlier intervened to urge the two major parties to cooperate.

And divergent views were illustrated by the crowd of jeering loyalists who prevented Mr Adams' departure from the front gate of Antrim police station and the throngs of supporters cheering him as he arrived back in west Belfast or comparing him to Nelson Mandela during an earlier rally.

At the heart of the Jean McConville case was a mother-of-ten dragged from her home in front of her family and murdered. Her son Michael has renewed his vow to seek justice for her death.

So how can such cases be dealt with while protecting community cohesion?

To some, including Sinn Fein, the toxic influence of history needs to be dealt with through a South African-style truth-telling and reconciliation commission where those who took part, in their view war combatants, can speak free from fear of prosecution.

But amnesty has become a controversial word, for example, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has expressed opposition to amnesty for on-the-run IRA fugitives who received letters telling them they were not wanted for prosecution.

Mr Robinson has said everybody should be equal before the law, including politicians.

Victims themselves remain divided on the issue, some overcoming bitterness against perpetrators while others are resolute in pursuing justice.

For some it is a question of right and wrong.

Victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson said: "Northern Ireland has no future if terrorism continues to be placated, the moral compass of this place must be re-set."

The issue of victimhood is also contested, the sidelining of a proposal to pay all victims of the conflict a recognition payment - including IRA paramilitaries - following unionist outrage a case in point.

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) of detectives established to review more than 3,000 unresolved murders was censored by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for treating cases perpetrated by state forces against paramilitaries with "less rigour".

A minority of security force members have even been criticised in official reports for offences including collusion in murder, although most conflict killings were done by paramilitaries.

Some politicians are more vociferous in urging prosecution of previously violent republicans while opposing taking cases against soldiers, like those involved in Bloody Sunday in Londonderry the same year as Mrs McConville's death.

On the other side are those favouring the abandonment of prosecutions to concentrate on building the now and future or some form of amnesty, the latter approach favoured by former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain.

Stormont's attorney general or top legal adviser to the devolved adminstration, John Larkin, has suggested an end to Troubles prosecutions, police investigations, inquests or inquiries involving paramilitaries, police officers and soldiers.

His comments came during months of talks around Christmas led by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass which failed to reach agreement between Northern Ireland's main five parties on dealing with the past and victims.

He proposed limited immunity from prosecution for those who testified about their chequered past.

A mooted Commission For Information Retrieval would allow all forces responsible for conflict deaths, from the IRA to the British Army, to give evidence in a truth commission-style forum.

His suggestions, distilled from detailed discussions with the parties, would also work towards an agreed version of what happened during the conflict. But they have not been implemented.

The reaction to MrAdams' arrest and release would suggest there is still work to be done to achieve that consensus.

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