Wednesday, 27 November 2013

NEW YORK TIMES Sifting the Irish Troubles








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EDITORIAL

Sifting Through the Irish Troubles

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Attorney General John Larkin of Northern Ireland has stirred passionate controversy with his suggestion that the passage of time makes it counterproductive to continue investigating the sectarian raids and military operations that took more than 3,500 lives during the Troubles, the violent conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted more than a generation.
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Mr. Larkin, the chief legal adviser to the provincial government, told the BBC that the time had come to consider drawing a limit on prosecutions for acts committed before the Good Friday agreement of 1998, which largely ended years of bloodshed. “Every competent criminal lawyer will tell you the prospects of conviction diminish, perhaps exponentially, with each passing year,” he said, arguing that there’s a logical need to “take stock.”
Mr. Larkin’s point may be valid on the narrow scales of efficiency and expense in the criminal justice system, but it fails miserably on the scales of justice for the many victims and scarred survivors of the Troubles. Public officials have roundly condemned the idea. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain called the prosecution limit “rather dangerous,” while Northern Irish politicians angrily asked how time’s passage could make murder undeserving of investigation and prosecution. Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International said it was “an utter betrayal of victims’ fundamental right to access justice.”
The timing of Mr. Larkin’s call for a policy review could not have been worse. A BBC news report has focused on a secret British army unit, the Military Reaction Force, whose members said they had a standing license to kill civilians in the fight against the Irish Republican Army’s guerrilla units.
In Belfast, where resentments and memories of sectarian mayhem still burn strong, officials have approved a march by 10,000 citizens and 40 bands on Nov. 30 to protest restrictions on flying the British flag at city hall. Marches and chauvinist flag waving are some of the issues being negotiated in talks brokered by Richard Haass, the former American diplomat, to find ways deal with the explosive legacy of the Troubles.
Much good in safety and sanity has flowed from the Good Friday agreement. There is no need to draw a curtain on a lethal past that clearly remains deeply relevant for the people of Northern Ireland.
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23 Comments

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    • Mark Ryan
    • Long Island
    There was the old joke of in flying into Belfast the captain would announce: "We will soon be arriving in Belfast. Please turn your watches back 300 years."

    But it was not a joke at all. The Troubles was only the latest round of fighting between the two communities. In 1921 the British state of Northern Ireland came into being. Its leaders proclaimed it a Protestant state for a Protestant people, despite having a large Catholic minority.

    The recent round of troubles began in the late 1960s when Catholics began demonstrating against discrimination in employment, housing and gerrymandered districts of Northern Ireland.

    England may have been able to prevent the Troubles if it had constrained the Protestant police force and militias from attacking Catholic demonstrations. But they did not.

    In 1970 Catholics were forming defense forces the protect their neighborhoods. But due to the heavy-handed tactics the British army used against the Catholic community the defense forces morphed into the IRA.

    But the IRA was not the only paramilitary involved in terrorism. Protestant paramilitaries and their death-squads included the Ulster Defence Force and the Ulster Freedom Fighters. These organizations worked hand-in-hand with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army.
      • Raindog63
      • Greenville, SC
      The question is, are people in love with the idea of justice, or revenge? While it might satisfy many to re-open these old wounds to modern public scrutiny, there's always the danger that once the old horror stories re-emerge, violence may be rekindled under the banner of "Justice." Justice does not always, or even often, equal peace. A generation has now grown up in N. Ireland since the Good Friday accord. Is their future being considered here, or do the war wounds of previous generations trump the concerns of modern Irish youth?
        • Harry Carey
        • Los Angeles
        Would it be acceptable for Angela Merkel of Germany to ask that the search and prosecution of Nazi war criminals be forgotten?
          • Sean Francis
          • Orlando Fl
          Be careful what you ask for. You might get it. Considering that neither side of this conflict have clean hands are the people involved in this really prepared for what maybe uncovered? I think not. Sometimes it is better to let the dead remain dead.
            • Diane
            • Arlington Heights, IL
            According to official estimates, 3526 people were killed during the Troubles, 2135 of them civilians, and most of the killers were paramilitaries engaged in revenge killings. Pat was killed because his brother was believed to have killed Bill, who was killed because he was believed to have concealed information about the killing of Mary, who was killed..., on and on in an endless chain of retribution. If the goal is to get at the truth, as I think it should be, it should be accompanied by reconciliation, not more revenge.
              • Jim Conlon
              • Southampton, New York
              Mr. Larkin may just be following up on what he perceives is happening in the South where the Queen was welcomed and the general feeling of warmth that the southerners feel for their British neighbors across the Irish sea. At least that's the story I am hearing from the Irish Republic. If true, that would be a hard pill to swallow considering that the Brits never did anything good for Ireland except where it served their own interests. I guess the christian thing to do would be to forgive them for past or ongoing transgressions. Love thy neighbor et al. A bitter pill indeed. The south had a slim opportunity to resolve all of this during the era of the Celtic Tiger but now that the Irish economy is in a shambles, that opportunity is long gone. The entrenched Unionists in the north have no thoughts of ever relinquishing their stranglehold or misconceived power in the north.
                • Dirty Barry
                • Everywhere You Look
                Larkin,

                Well I won't take a liking to Larkin.....

                Not now, maybe never.
                  • Jonathan
                  • Dublin
                  What he wants is to prevent an investigation into the collusion between the British Gov, the Loyalists parimitaries and the Loyalist politicans. That he frames it in a quid pro quo fashion with Republican killings during the troubles is both a fig leaf and an allusion as to just how bad the Loyalists (and British Gov) will look when the truth comes out.
                    • BBWeekly
                    • Sarasota, FL
                    I disagree, I think that the way to move forward is to grant amnesty and to allow for a fresh start, and perhaps allow for stories of "The Troubles" to be told. At some point it is not only counter-productive to punish people for things done long ago, but it is also no longer justice; people change, they become born again, they leave their past selves far behind. It is generally best to err on the side of forgiveness.

                    The best example of that is, of course, South Africa. Mandela is a universally loved figure because the commission granted amnesty and he was willing to forgive. That was the right thing to do, and it's also the right thing to try in other places.
                      • Rbgstewart
                      • Toronto
                      Seems to me that there were a lot of villains during Ireland's struggle for independence in the period 1916 to 1922. As a descendant of Protestant Ulstermen, I consider Michael Collins a terrorist mastermind. Today the citizens of the Republic consider him a national hero. There is no question that he was personally responsible for the murder of many people. Before he was himself killed by fellow Irish republicans, he was never prosecuted for any crimes. None of his victims saw Justice. There is a precedent for forgiving and forgetting. Perhaps Ireland would be wise to follow it.
                        • Ray Gordon
                        • Bel Air,Md.
                        England committed 700 years of genocide race murder against the Irish. For the last 100 years, English military has colluded with the violent Protestant paras against the minority Catholic population. There must be open public inquiries concerning PM Thatcher's ordering the execution of Catholic lawyer Pat Finnucane and her sending SAS into NI with orders of " shoot to kill " Catholics.There will never be peace in NI until England removes its thousands of murdering thug soldiers and ends its occupation of NI.
                          • H. Gottlieb
                          • Guilford Ct
                          a well thought out factual piece , no emotion, just fact
                          • J
                          • London
                          Your rehash of Irish history is hideously distorted and biased.

                          You are a perfect example of the mindless secretarian hatemonger that caused the troubles to drag on so long.
                        • Michael Thomas
                        • Sawyer , MI
                        Justice delayed is justice denied.
                        Justice ignored, for whatever reason, is unworthy of a civilized society.
                        Friends and survivors of the thousands of victims deserve their due.
                        Justice will not return their loved ones but it just might restore their faith in humanitarian ideals.
                          • Bayou Houma
                          • Boston
                          True, the past is not past when it comes to injustice. And that view ought to apply to South African's apartheid period, to Canada's abominable racial discrimination period, Australia's violent past against its native aborigines, and American repression of black civil rights and black nationalist organizations during the Johnson and Nixon administrations.
                            • blackmamba
                            • IL
                            Black civil rights and nationalist organizations and individuals were repressed by Jim Crow beginning with Andrew Johnson through Plessy v. Ferguson and the white supremacist Confederate bigot Thomas Woodrow Wilson and the depredations of the criminal racist J. Edgar Hoover and the Dixiecrats who were succeeded by the Republican Tea Confederate Fox Party of today.

                            No truth nor reconciliation. Instead denial and delusion.

                            "We did not land on Plymouth Rock. It landed on us." Malcolm X
                          • Bryan Barrett
                          • Malvern, Pa.
                          • Verified
                          The 20th century history of the various iterations of "The Troubles" in Ireland all ended with certain tacit agreements that included loose ends hanging which with passage of time simply passed into oblivion as the protagonists died off and their cause gradually became less relevant to the succeeding generations Having been born there in the thirties into a line which, having been dispossessed by Cromwell in 1641 and having been involved in many of the various "Risings" down through the centuries, was unusual in that the involvement was continuous.

                          For many who observe their power as compromised, such as your remarks on the Union Jack and Public Marches, the past never ended and the Good Friday Agreement is frankly viewed as a betrayal. The Irish, all sides, do not appreciate betrayal.

                          The Irish Times has a column on Gerry Adams, now a member of the Dail, the Parliament of the Republic, which illustrates how he, reputedly a leader of the IRA who fought the British to a standstill, is viewed today, and some of the comments give a flavor of how the public view him and the period under discussion.

                          That Ireland has, despite serious economic issues, managed to begin to mature and has successfully accepted the reality of a two state solution now by the vast majority of voters is progress. The hope that the island will be reunited remains in certain circles though is hardly a serious issue today. That justice is seen to be done remains the quarrel and has opened up old wounds.
                            • John F. McBride
                            • Seattle
                            • Verified
                            In the U.K. there's no statute of limitations for murder. In addition, the U.K. is signatory to important European and International agreements on war crimes and crimes against humanity.

                            Article 1 of the 1968 UN Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations, the European Convention in Article 1 of the 1974 European Convention and in Article 2 of the same Convention, and the International Criminal Court, article 29 of the 1998 ICC all rule that there's no statute of limitations on war crimes and crimes against humanity.

                            Mr. Larkin may be well intentioned in suggesting that the people of Ulster "move on."

                            But it should be the citizens of Ulster who make that decision, and in particular the victims of all entities and individuals who terrorized them in "The Troubles."

                            I hope that Mr. Larkin isn't simply presenting the case of some who may be criminal parties, but outside criminal courts and the court of public opinion which may have serious, cogent reasons to see this matter very differently than Mr. Larkin.

                            In my admittedly distant opinion, moving on in Ulster makes as much sense as would to quit looking for those who tortured, persecuted and murdered Jews and many others across Europe in 1930s and 1940s or for Americans to have quit looking for murderers of Blacks, and other minorities during our Civil Rights era.

                            There's good reason for having no statute of limitations on murder. It should be up to victims to decide otherwise.
                            .
                              • Bryan Barrett
                              • Malvern, Pa.
                              • Verified
                              Ulster is the name of the traditional province containing nine counties; Northern Ireland is the British controlled area containing six counties. When the Boundary Commission drew the lines on the map in 1922/1923, they excluded three counties which if they had been included then would have reduced the Unionist, pro British population, and led to a majority of Nationalists much sooner. That majority of nationalists will certainly be in place within a generation which will likely have a serious effect on the future of Northern Ireland.
                            • Dr. L. Harrison, PhD
                            • Albany NY
                            North Ireland's circumstances mirror those of many other countries that have gone through periods of civil war or repressive regimes with atrocities. Spain after Franco, Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge, Chile after Pinochet, South Africa after apartheid, Ruanda -- they all come to mind, even though none are perfect analogs.

                            There is always a call for an end to the examination of the facts, an end to the discovery of who committed the atrocities. This is always pitched as necessary to reconciliation, "that it is time to move on." Too often this is just a thin cover for the fact that those who committed the acts remain in circulation and power; their factions must be appeased to keep a facade of civility.

                            From the legal perspective it may indeed be increasingly difficult to prosecute successfully, but this is no reason to hide the truth. The two issues are separate, and the truth should never be suppressed.
                              • Allan
                              • Price
                              Well said. I particularly like your point about the inevitable call "that it is time to move on". Is it the victims or the perps who make this call? Those responsible for atrocities want their deeds to fade into history.
                            • WmC
                            • Bokeelia, FL
                            Have Desmond Tutu set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It wasn't a perfect solution to South Africa's problems, but it was as good a solution as mankind has found.
                              • Chris
                              • NYC
                              Yeah, it was very good for white folks who were allowed to keep their ill-gotten wealth.
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