1. ITV Report

ANALYSIS - Legacy: A panic over the past

The legacy conversation is tying politicians up in knots. Credit: Presseye
  • By Brian Rowan

In all of the talking, they're tying themselves up in knots.

For a decade or more, the legacy conversation has gone round in circles - now, some are talking themselves into corners, including the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, and other politicians.

Last November, UTV's View From Stormont revealed a controversial plan to include in the legacy consultation here a section asking for responses on a proposed statute of limitations; what others would call an amnesty.

That proposal came from the Defence Committee at Westminster and would cover the armed forces across the conflict period and through to the Good Friday Agreement.

It encouraged the government to consider extending that statute of limitations to include the RUC and other security personnel and, after consultation, to think about whether it should apply across the board.

This drawing of a line would cover not just those in military, policing and intelligence roles, but republicans and loyalists also.

Some might call it a blanket amnesty.

But, after deciding to include this within a legacy consultation, the NIO then agreed in negotiations with Sinn Féin earlier this year to remove this controversial chapter - alternative approaches to addressing the past.

This decision is confirmed in the latest papers shared with the parties at Stormont.

So, the focus has returned to the Stormont House Agreement of 2014 and the structure it envisaged, including a new Historical Investigations Unit and an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval.

Those investigations would be across the board; no side excluded.

Can you have a peace process that releases prisoners and a past process that sends people to jail?

– Brian Rowan

There is concern at Westminster and here in Belfast about what this could mean for soldiers and police officers. There are those who want to push ahead with the statute of limitations.

So, let us be clear about what that would mean.

Last November, this is what Queen's University law professor Kieran McEvoy told View From Stormont: "If there's going to be a statute of limitations, that's an amnesty. It's an amnesty that will apply to all of the actors in the conflict - both state and non-state."

This is tricky political ground to walk on, and, in the not knowing what to do next, we are hearing, from some, a political commentary that doesn't add up.

The idea that just soldiers and police officers are being investigated is nonsense.

Just think about the 'Stakeknife Investigation' - Operation Kenova. It will put the IRA at its highest tier under scrutiny. Remember also the arrest of Gerry Adams in 2014 and the Haggarty investigation on the loyalist side.

In the political panic of the moment, there is a fog being created by some, in which facts are being hidden or ignored.

And, there is a choice to be made.

The choice between doing what was agreed at Stormont House back in 2014 or to think about a statute of limitations and all that this will mean.

And there is this question: Can you have a peace process that releases prisoners and a past process that sends people to jail?

There is a big decision to be made; the question is whether there is someone big enough to make it.

(Brian Rowan is the author of Unfinished Peace)