Predictably – and understandably – the Northern Ireland Office’s proposed amnesty for crimes relating to the Troubles has resulted in a backlash across both sides of the Ulster divide. Yet, while the criticism was initially uniform, rifts have already emerged in the week since they were first unveiled.
The noble ideal that justice delayed is justice denied has proved relatively feeble as a unifying glue, despite the Northern Ireland Assembly voting on Tuesday for a motion rejecting Westminster’s proposals. Prior to that vote, which heard many heartfelt and worthy speeches from across the chamber about the moral and legal basis for rejecting the amnesty, a gathering took place outside the Stormont chamber to protest the proposals.
The protest was attended by various members of the Sinn Fein glitterati including Gerry Kelly, who was jailed for his part in bombing the Old Bailey in 1973 and who shot a prison officer in the head during a subsequently successful escape from Maze prison a decade later. Slogans such as ‘no amnesty for British state forces’ were banded about by those in attendance. The deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, enthusiastically tweeted that ‘there can be no amnesty for those who murdered citizens on the streets of Ireland and for those who directed them.’
This was yet another galling stunt from Sinn Fein, the political wing of an organisation which created countless victims during the Troubles. Kelly himself was one of the 365 who received royal pardons from 1979 to 2002, illustrating the fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of Sinn Fein’s approach to the issue of legacy. No wonder the prominent victims campaigner Ann Travers – the daughter of a Catholic judge who saw her sister killed by the IRA during an attempted assassination of their father as they left mass in 1984 – said she felt sickened by what she saw.