Ireland is hypocritical for suing the UK over the Troubles Legacy Act. It’s just playing up for Biden
Published: 22 December 2023
Even if you disqualify Gerry (I-was-never-in-the-IRA) Adams and his Sinn Fein colleagues, there is no shortage of prime candidates for the position of Chief Hypocrite of the Irish Peace Process. But though he’s a late starter and has stiff competition from historic candidates like Tony Blair, Leo Varadkar has powered his way to the front of the field.
His government, he tells us, “with a sense of regret”, is going to the Strasbourg court to sue the British government for breaching the Convention on Human Rights with its Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, which gives some immunity from prosecution.
He has no option, apparently, because his government made “a commitment to survivors in Northern Ireland and to the families of victims that we would stand by them, respect their wishes and also stand by the Good Friday Agreement, which specifically references the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Everything about this is dodgy, particularly the timing, which came when the elaborate minuet being danced by the British and Irish governments, hand in hand, trying to bribe the DUP back into Stormont, was thought to be bearing fruit.
Now it is true that the legacy legislation has been denounced by every political party in Northern Ireland. No one wants those who murdered their loved ones off the hook. But it’s also true that what precipitated the legacy bill was public outrage in England that while a few elderly soldiers – more than 600 of whose comrades were murdered by the IRA – were being pursued over alleged murder 50 years ago, there never seemed to be enough evidence to put in jail republican politicians that – in the Northern Irish idiom – the dogs in the street knew to be as guilty as hell.
In practice, the whole justice system has been biased against representatives of the British state. Unlike the forces of law and order, terrorists do not keep records, tell the truth, tolerate unhelpful witnesses or run short of lawyers. Under Blair, there was much underhand facilitation of those known as “On the Runs” and hundreds of millions were chucked into investigating anti-state claims. There was little interest in the widows and children of cops or squaddies.
Successive governments in the Republic – although in theory they deplored IRA atrocities – gave virtually no support to those seeking justice for republican crimes. IRA terrorists left their homes in the south to cross the border and murder men in lonely farms and villages, and then raced back home rejoicing in the knowledge that, even should the police have enough evidence to charge them, they would not be extradited.
Where the mega hypocrisy comes in is that, though Varadkar is taking a high moral line about amnesty, the British Government is doing nothing that the Irish haven’t done for years.
From 1999 to 2007, Michael McDowell was attorney general and then minister for justice, and one of the harshest critics of the IRA and Sinn Fein. He has written publicly that the government of which he was a member yielded to the incessant demands of Sinn Fein for immunity from criminal prosecution for unconvicted IRA members, and brought in a de facto moratorium on investigation and prosecution of IRA members.
In the UK, after decades of wrestling with the issue, the Government decided to draw a line in the sand and have an amnesty in exchange for information. Even though my heart is with those who opposed any such betrayal of the forces of law and order, my head is with the compromisers, since I think they offer a worthwhile alternative.
What is hardest for victims to bear is not knowing the truth. The new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery is already taking shape. Since it would require cross-border co-operation, Westminster wanted inter-governmental consultations to make it work.
So why the threat of legal action? Well, ever since Brexit, which Ireland took personally, Joe Biden – who is obsessed with his Irish Catholic heritage – has made it clear that in any disagreement between “the Brits” and his ancestral home he’s in the green corner. Varadkar has an election coming up, Anglophobia is rampant, Sinn Fein are breathing over his shoulder and Irish prosperity depends on Silicon Valley.
He reached for his handiest weapon. Go to the top of the class, Leo.