Two things seem clear from the Government’s Weston Park commitment to provide an amnesty for so-called ‘On the Runs’. First, the Governments are committed to doing something – a promise was made to Sinn Fein. Second, the Government made this concession to Sinn Fein in haste, and are busily trying to find some way to keep their promise while avoiding the difficulties it raises.
The Northern Ireland parties have never been formally consulted. Furthermore, it goes well beyond the Agreement. Little wonder that the British Government is so isolated, with the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and even the Irish Government expressing reservations.
These problems are numerous. How can Government forgo prosecutions against a select list of persons without turning it into a general amnesty for all suspected of political offences? What safeguards will there be against ‘ordinary criminals’ trying to escape justice through such lists? Forgoing prosecutions is a world of difference from the early release of convicted prisoners. How does the Government avoid giving the impression that the ‘armed struggle’ was legitimate?
What consideration has given to the sensibilities of the victims, and the effects upon justice and the rule of law. It is wrong to equate members of the security forces with paramilitaries. Yet, if a line is to be drawn under the past, how can efforts to purse prosecutions against members of the security forces be intensified while those against paramilitaries are forgone? How can certain paramilitaries be allowed to return home while the self-same organisations that they are from continue to exile over a thousand people from Northern Ireland under pain of death, sometimes for suspected crimes but other times for merely crossing the paths of the godfathers.
Alliance from the start has adopted a more pragmatic form of opposition to the amnesty than the Unionists and Conservatives. We have accepted that the Government has made a promise, and that it is better to try to influence the outcome that to simply oppose it outright.
This is why the party has suggested that those wishing to avail of an amnesty apply individually, that there is some acknowledgment of their offence before a court, and that they be placed on licence just as the early-released prisoners were. Furthermore, before any amnesty would come into effect, the paramilitaries would be required to lift death threats against those that they have exiled.