24 November 2005

State forces slip under the radar

Daily Ireland

Daily Ireland Editorial

Despite the fact that at no time were members of the British security forces discussed in relation to how to deal with those – generally known as On-the-Runs (OTRs) – who did not fall under the Good Friday Agreement’s prisoner provisions, the British government is now cynically attempting to slip them under the radar. That is something that should be strenuously opposed.
At first glance it might seem perfectly reasonable that members of the British army, for instance, who were involved in murder or targeting during the conflict should be subjected to the same process as IRA members involved in violent acts. But the fact is that the current legislation required a lot of hard work and delicate negotiation – the kind of negotiations, in fact, that are likely to cause real difficulties for republicans among their base.
Subsequently, the outcome was the Weston Park agreement published by both the Irish and British governments in 2003. Nowhere in this scheme were members of British state forces mentioned. For the British government now to display such blatant bad faith not only threatens to cut the legs from under those who negotiated the Weston Park deal in the first place, it also calls into question the very point of debating difficult issue with the British if the result is going to be an unrecognisable outcome suitable to London and nobody else.
Regardless of what they are accused of, those OTRs believed to be affected by the new scheme – all of them republicans and thought to number somewhere around 20 in all – have earned the right to be included in a comprehensive and imaginative deal that would see a tricky and important matter dealt with once and for all. To be ‘on the run’ is effectively to serve a prison sentence. It means separation from family and community; it means constantly moving and looking over the shoulder; it means a lifetime of uncertainty and trepidation waiting for the knock on the door or the gun on the neck. Those former members of the various armed agencies of the state who have carried out crimes and who have never been questioned, much less hunted down, have been allowed return to their families and friends, basking in the approbation of the British state and often decorated for a job well done.
Worse still, there are those still in the employment of the British state who have carried out the most heinous of crimes and who hold positions of increasing power and influence in the British armed forces. Former republican prisoners, meanwhile – and this will apply to OTRs – are hamstrung by an unending succession of official roadblocks on the road towards a new life: incapable of obtaining a licence to drive a taxi, for instance, or of fostering or adopting a child. If the British government is really interested in dealing with those who have broken the law while on its payroll, let them come to the table and put their propositions forward, to be debated, accepted or rejected by other parties – as happened in the process that led to the Weston Park OTR scheme.

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