Saturday 22 November 2014

Declan Lynch: Everyone in the North hates the amnesty idea – so Larkin must be right

An amnesty would mean both sides would have to give up dwelling on past monstrosities

Published 01/12/2013 | 02:30

IT WAS that rarest of all things in the North – a good idea. And now, little more than a week later, it seems to be getting away from us.

Why do I think it was a good idea for John Larkin, the Northern Ireland Attorney-General, to make the suggestion that no further police investigations, inquests or enquiries be made into any relevant killings that took place before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998? Why would anyone form the opinion that such an amnesty might be the best way to to proceed?

I guess the key to understanding this is to realise that it doesn't really belong in the realm of opinion at all. That it may have started there, but that by the end of its journey through the North, it had become a fact.

John Larkin's idea is a good one, and that is a fact.

Certainly when he first put the idea out there, you could see arguments for and against, you could imagine a debate. And then, one after the other, the verdicts have arrived. The reviews, as they say, are in.

So now there's no need for any debate, no need even to think about it any more. The DUP hated it, Gerry Adams hated it, the Ulster Unionists opposed it, the SDLP was broadly against it, the Alliance Party disagreed with it, David Cameron and Enda Kenny distanced themselves from it.

And soon John Larkin was standing there all on his own, with almost every party of any significance in the affairs of the North against him. Then, and only then, was the matter put beyond all reasonable doubt: Larkin was right.

It could not be otherwise.

Interestingly, the former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, who is trying to resolve outstanding peace process issues – yes, there are still outstanding issues, and there always will be – was one of the few dissenters from the main body of opinion. He did not condemn Larkin, but said

in his urbane fashion, that he thought "the scale and the intensity of the reaction was instructive".

Indeed, it was most instructive. It instructed some of us to take the side of Larkin, without further ado. And for a man of Dr Haass's experience, whose instincts have been honed in so many dealings with Larkin's opponents, it must have seemed like a defining moment.

Fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, he was back in the North still trying to resolve these "outstanding issues", and yet these parties, by their opposition to Larkin, were implying that their way – whatever it is – would somehow be better.

These parties who still need a friendly American in the room in order to have a grown-up discussion, were united in rubbishing Larkin.

Given the pace at which they develop their own ideas, it may take them another lifetime to be as united about anything else.

So Dr Haass was entitled to wonder if the Sinn Fein- and DUP-approved road to truth and reconciliation was so superior that it justified them dumping all over the man who had suggested an alternative route.

He spoke about the need to take into account the feelings of relatives of the victims, and indeed even in the North nobody could be against that. But there is not much reason either to place such victims in a different category to the ones who had to watch hordes of convicted murderers being released in 1998, perhaps to continue the struggle by other means.

The peace process has already created its own crazy universe, in which any of the usual notions of fairness have been swept aside. A place in which, in the year 2013, Gerry Adams can advocate the setting up of a Truth Commission. And then he can go on television to deny being in the IRA. All the while calling for reconciliation without renouncing a line of his screwball ideology.

So Larkin was thinking the unthinkable – that has traditionally been the only way to get things done in the North, so maybe his fault was to think the unthinkable before anyone else thought it, and without the usual period of, say, 15 years, of rancorous deliberation.

And maybe the instant rejection of his idea by so many comes from a deeper source.

After all, what he was proposing would strike at some of the defining features of the Northern peoples and their leaders – the nurturing of resentments, the avenging of grievances, the dwelling on the monstrosities of the past, some of which may not have happened at all.

Clearly each side would like to get away from their own responsibilities, but since that would allow the other side to get away from theirs too, it would be unbearable.

And so John Larkin was right, but that doesn't matter. In the North, being right never did anyone any good.

Sunday Independent

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