Earlier this month, we reported that the Government seemed to be leaning towards “an approach which prioritises ‘truth and understanding’ over increasingly hail-Mary shots at securing criminal justice” for legacy issues in Northern Ireland.
This seemed likely to involve a trade-off, whereby individuals received immunity from prosecution if they offered honest testimony to future investigations into historic offences from the Troubles.
And lo, this morning Politico reports that Brandon Lewis has adopted just such an approach:
“…ex-combatants from all factions will be shielded from civil or criminal action only if they give honest and fulsome accounts to a new body called the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.”
“But the 1998 Agreement bestows other commitments on the British Government that go beyond its position as a co-guarantor. One of those is to take difficult decisions: to assume a burden of responsibility, and indeed unpopularity, when consensus cannot be reached.”
Taken together, this suggests that the Government is resolved to press ahead with this version of its legacy proposals even if, as seems very likely, local parties in Northern Ireland continue to object. This is fine; London is if anything normally far too reluctant to “assume the burden of responsibility” for good government in Ulster.
As we wrote in our initial report, there is a trade-off here. The offer of immunity means that people will lose any prospect of securing justice in a court of law, even if that prospect has become an increasingly spectral one as time marches on.
But in exchange, we might be able to set the historical record straight before an increasingly elderly cohort of ex-servicemen and former terrorists take the evidence to the grave.
(It remains an open question whether the terrorists, at least the republican ones, will actually cooperate with a structure set up by the British Government. But if the end result is the IRA opting out of immunity, I don’t suppose many people in Westminster will be too upset.)