Troubling Irish lesson for us all

Compensating terrorists’ families amounts to a compromise with terrorism itself


Sometimes it is salutary to step back from our own communal preoccupations and try to capture a wider view of the society in which we British Jews live. With that end in mind, I propose to consider an extraordinary event that took place in Belfast last week.

For the past 18 months, a committee of inquiry has been hard at work mapping the road to what is termed “reconciliation” between the various politico-religious factions that, until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, murdered and maimed each other in Northern Ireland, and occasionally maimed and murdered others on the mainland of the United Kingdom.

The Consultative Group on the Past (for that is its name and title) has been “dealing with” the legacy of Northern Ireland’s “troubled and violent past”. And what precisely is this legacy and why does it need to be “dealt with”?

To answer these questions, you need to understand what the Good Friday Agreement actually amounted to. The Irish Republican Army had been defeated. Not only had it been outgunned, but the British Secret Service had comprehensively subverted its leadership.

Prominent members of the IRA and its affiliates were actually in the pay of the British government. Even Gerry Adams’s chauffeur turned out to be a British spy.

The IRA had been as big a threat to the stability of the Irish Republic as to that of Northern Ireland. So the electorate of the south sensibly agreed to an alteration of the Republic’s constitution, repudiating the Republic’s territorial claim to the north.

In a further blow to the ambitions of the IRA, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness foreswore any lingering ambitions they and their former comrades-in-arms might have had to alter the constitutional status of Northern Ireland other than by peaceful means. They further agreed that any such alteration could come about only after a majority vote by the Northern Irish electorate.

Weary and dejected, the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, cast aside the central planks of its republican agenda. Messrs McGuiness and Adams donned their smartest attire and, as part of a power-sharing arrangement, laughed and joked with their former enemies. The IRA laid down its arms. The Troubles were over.

Matters should have been left there. But interfering busybodies in Whitehall and Westminster had other plans. Intent on compelling the former warring factions in the province to undergo reconciliation and forgiveness whether they wanted to or not, the Labour government sponsored the establishment of the Consultative Group.

At its first meeting, a year ago, it made the ludicrous suggestion that The Troubles should be rebranded as a War. This was calculated to please Republicans, because it would enable them to portray their various terrorist cells as a legitimate “army” engaged in a genuine war with another “state”. Civilian casualties could thus be written off as unfortunate collateral damage. Murder (in other words) could be posthumously justified.

Last week, in Belfast, the Consultative Group issued its final report. It wants to see a Legacy Commission established, a Reconciliation Forum and a Commission for Victims and Survivors. But who exactly is a “victim”?

The term, according to the CG, must include the nearest relative of anyone who died during The Troubles. To each of these, the CG recommends an “ex gratia reconciliation payment” of £12,000, even to the mother, father, brother or sister of a dead IRA (or Loyalist) terrorist. You may have seen on TV the scenes of deep anger that greeted this immoral suggestion — that relatives of terrorists should be endowed with victimhood status.

Remember that most of the genuine, innocent victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland have already been compensated. So what the CG’s proposal is intended to do is to enforce, in the name of British society, a moral equation between victims and murderers. This strikes me as wicked, but the fact that the proposal could have been made, and welcomed in Whitehall and Westminster, is doubly disconcerting, as it betrays at the centre of British government a willingness to compromise with terrorism and appease its practitioners.

Murder is murder. The relatives of dead IRA (or Loyalist) terrorists have no right to be regarded as “victims”. Neither does the family of a dead member of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Nor does the family of a dead member of Hamas in Gaza.

    Last updated: 2:40pm, February 5 2009