PRIME Minister David Cameron has distanced himself from a proposal by Northern Ireland’s attorney general to end prosecutions in Troubles-related murders.
The unexpected suggestion by John Larkin QC has whipped up a storm of controversy, with relatives of those killed in the conflict expressing anger and outrage.
The chief legal adviser to the Stormont Executive has said he also favoured ruling out further inquests and other state investigations into the crimes committed during the 30-year conflict, insisting a line should be drawn on offences perpetrated before the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
Mr Cameron insisted the government had no plans to legislate on any form of amnesty.
“The words of the Northern Ireland attorney general are very much his own words,” he told MPs during Prime Minister’s Question Time at Westminster.
Mr Larkin has claimed his proposals do not amount to an amnesty, but has been challenged to explain his rationale, given that perpetrators would not face justice.
Stephen Gault, whose father Samuel was killed in the 1987 IRA Poppy Day bombing in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh – an atrocity for which no-one has ever been convicted – said the attorney general’s statement was “disgusting”.
“How dare he airbrush the innocent people who were murdered at the hands of terrorists to move things forward,” he said.
Former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass is trying to achieve political consensus on a number of issues as yet unresolved during the peace process – one of which is how Northern Ireland addresses the legacy of its violent past. Mr Larkin has outlined his proposals in a submission to Dr Haass.
Mr Cameron told the Commons it would be “rather dangerous” to block possible future prosecutions. He said: “I do think it’s important to allow Richard Haass to do his work about parades, about flags, and about dealing with the past.
“We are all democrats, who believe in the rule of law, in the independence of the police and prosecuting authorities, and they should be able to bring cases. I think it’s rather dangerous to think that you can put some sort of block on that.
“But of course we are all interested in ways in which people can reconcile and come to terms with the bloody past, so that they can build a shared future for Northern Ireland.”
Kate Nash, whose brother William was killed by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday in 1972, challenged Dr Haass in an unscheduled encounter in a Londonderry hotel to reject any suggestion of an amnesty.
Afterwards, Ms Nash said: “What are they trying to do, draw a line under victims, draw a line under my brother? We are not going to let that happen.”
Mr Larkin said: “It strikes me that the time has come to think about putting a line, set at Good Friday 1998, with respect to prosecutions, inquests and other inquiries.”
He said: “Sometimes the fact of an amnesty can be that that which was a crime ceases to be a crime. That wouldn’t be the position here – it would simply be that no criminal proceedings would be possible with respect to those offences.”
His remarks were criticised by politicians on both sides of the traditional divide, with the Democratic Unionists, Ulster Unionists and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party all voicing concern.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams did not endorse or condemn the attorney general’s stance, but said there already was a de facto amnesty for state forces who carried out killings.