Crimes committed during the Troubles, including around 3,000 murders, should be left unsolved, a former Northern Ireland secretary has said.
Speaking on the eve of Irish president Michael D Higgins’ state visit to the UK and Martin McGuinness’ planned attendance of the state banquet alongside the Queen, Peter Hain said that a de facto amnesty was needed in order to allow Northern Ireland to put the past behind it.
“I think there should be an end to all conflict-related prosecutions. That should apply to cases pre-dating the Good Friday agreement in 1998. This is not desirable in a normal situation. You would never dream of doing this in England, Scotland and Wales – but the Troubles were never normal,” he said.
In an interview with the Times, Hain added: “You can keep going back all the time and you can keep looking over your shoulder or turning around all the time, but what that does is take you away from addressing the issues of now and the issues of the future.”
The call for an amnesty by the former minister comes after the collapse of the trial of suspected IRA bomber John Downey in February. Hain said at the time that he was “astonished” that case even made it to court.
In March, he said that a similar amnesty should be put in place in relation to the Bloody Sunday killings. His latest comments, however, go further.
He said that the same should be extended to everyone allegedly involved in violence during the Troubles.
“A soldier potentially liable for prosecution who’s being investigated for Bloody Sunday has got to be treated in the same way by whatever process emerges as a former loyalist or republican responsible for a terrorist atrocity,” he said.
Similar proposals have not proven popular in the past. Seamus McKendry, the son-in-law of Jean McConville who was abducted and murdered in 1972, said that, while he could understand, he did not agree with Hain’s suggestion.
He told the Times: “I don’t agree but I understand where he’s coming from. You have to let things go at some time, but people just can’t forget that easily. Jean McConville has become such an iconic figure, a tragic figure. And there are other such cases, like Bloody Sunday. I think if you can resolve some of those bigger cases, at least it lets the people know they haven’t been forgotten about.”