Richard Haass is back in Northern Ireland speaking with various political players from the five parties represented in the Executive as well as community groups in an attempt to reach a comprehensive deal on parade, flags and emblems, and the past before the end of the year. His task has possibly been made more difficult (and possibly simpler) by a trial balloon floated by Attorney General John Larkin calling for an end to all investigations into the past. Larkin, who does not belong to any political party but who was briefly connected to the non-sectarian Alliance Party some three decades ago, said that in his opinion it was simply too difficult to secure convictions with the passage of time. His personal legal opinion has provoked fury from all the established parties. Only the brand new and tiny NI21 has supported his proposal.
His proposal comes amid revelations about a "shoot-to-kill" policy that allowed British army soldiers of the Military Reaction Force (MRF) unit to disregard rules governing the use of force that pertained to other British forces. There has been one news documentary in which former members of the MRF said they opened fire at republican figures without first ascertaining if they were armed. The force operated in Northern Ireland in 1972 and 1973 during the height of The Troubles.
Victims groups have been solidly against Larkin's proposal to "draw a line" on the past. Sinn Fein can count on journalists to produce revelations about British atrocities and violations of declared policy while hiding IRA atrocities not already prosecuted from further scrutiny. Loyalists are in a similar position but have much less political interest in attacking the British forces. Decommissioning legislation specifically ruled out using weapons turned in for destruction to be tested for links to terrorist incidents. As part of the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998 that ended The Troubles there was an early release of security prisoners that amounted to a conditional amnesty with subsequent prosecutions for offenses committed before 1998 subject to a two-year maximum sentence. With witness testimony becoming more unreliable over time, Larkin simply decided that it was prudent to avoid more investigations with so little to gain at stake. Haass will now have to address this very controversial topic.