Posted on August 19, 2019
The former government advisor who spent years trying to promote a political solution to the Troubles in Northern Ireland has said introducing a statute of limitations for veterans of the conflict could actually play into the hands of terrorists.
Jonathan Caine advised three Secretaries of State at the Northern Ireland Office during the 1980s and 1990s. Baron Caine is now a member of the House of Lords, he says he wants to find an alternative legal solution to prevent veterans from going through repeated investigations.
He has told Forces News about what it was like during that time: “Terrorism was claiming between 80 and 100 lives and year. In the late ’80s, early ’90s, there didn’t seem like there was any immediate prospect that that was going to stop.” A political settlement of the type that occurred in 1998 seemed light-years away,” he says.
By then, the British military had been in Northern Ireland for nearly two decades. British troops were working to restore peace under Operation Banner.
Baron Caine says Northern Ireland’s police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), did not have the manpower to deal with situations: “It was 50 years ago and if you think back to that time, the RUC was a very small force. When rioting breaks out in Londonderry and in Belfast, it simply did not have the resource or the capacity to deal with the situation.” It lasted nearly 38 years, ending officially on 31 July 2007, nearly a decade after the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
Baron Caine says the peace deal was only really brokered after political party Sinn Fein was admitted to the negotiations. Speaking about the work done by the security forces, the adviser explains: “I’m absolutely clear that, without the contribution and the role and the sacrifice of the Armed Forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, we would never have been in this position. The Army and the police are the real heroes for me of the peace process.” He is not sold on the idea of a statute of limitations, concerned it could actually play into the hands of terrorists and allow them to re-write history.
He wants to work on another way forward: “There is absolutely no moral equivalence at all between a member of the Armed Forces or a police officer who is doing his or her duty to uphold the law but in the course of that might discharge a firearm with possibly fatal consequences and the action of a terrorist who deliberately sets out to murder, to take life. I wonder whether there’s a way of translating that moral distinction into law. I would like to sit down with lawyers, to see whether there is a way of doing that, frankly, because I think that would go some way possibly to giving the protections that many veterans deserve.”
Now a member of the House of Lords, he says he will try to make that happen.