Sinn Féin in a Quandary Over Compensation for HR Abuses
The new departure in securing accountability for human rights abuses in Northern Ireland examined here last week continues apace after DUP Assembly member Jeffrey Donaldson very cleverly put the cat amongst the pigeons in the North by making it clear that Republicans will be asked to back IRA victims’ compensation case against Libya during the first session of the Northern Ireland Assembly today. Members of the NI Assembly are to debate the issue of compensation from Libya for IRA victims. The DUP motion, introduced by both Donaldson and Nigel Dodds, calls on the UK government to put pressure on Libya to provide compensation.
Mr Donaldson says they want the assembly to unite behind the campaign. “It would significantly strengthen our case if we are able to tell the Libyan government that we enjoy full political support for our campaign. This debate should not be viewed as a unionist-versus-nationalist issue as Libyan sponsored terrorism made no distinction between Protestant and Catholic or unionist and nationalist. This motion should be considered in the context of victims being heard and their quest for justice being aided”, he said. This is in one sense a very disingenuous statement given that the Libyans imported an estimated six tonnes of Semtex, 1,600 AK rifles, 300 machine guns, 500 hand guns, 20 SAM missiles and 50 rocket launchers for the IRA with an implied distinction between Unionist and Nationalist (though not always observed by the Army Council and their cadres). Nevertheless, it will put in Sinn Fein in the awkward position of abstaining, voting against compensation or going back to its old ally to seek compensation for crimes its military wing committed for which it has in all other instances has eschewed accountability. Pointedly, as part of his bi-annual effort to say something sensible, Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister argues that deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness could give direct evidence of the links with Libya and precisely what they supplied in the past.
Sinn Fein’s response has been in one sense predictable – it has warned the UK Government against helping to create any ‘hierarchy of victims’. Gerry Adams said he spoke to Downing Street and Secretary of State Shaun Woodward yesterday, stating that the Government must not forget British intelligence agencies have armed “unionist” paramilitaries, including Ulster Resistance, which had involved the DUP, and collaborated with loyalist groups to bring illegal shipments of arms into Ireland.
While it is difficult, if not impossible, to have sympathy for the odious regime in Tripoli, there is an incongruity between the understandable policy of the Good Friday Agreement to release prisoners and effectively forget human rights abuses in the past (bar the limited means of specialised inquiries and the Historical Enquiries Team) as they related to those who fired the bullets, who planted the bombs and who are freely wandering the streets at home, but at the same time to pursue financial recompense from a less significant link on the causal chain. Can it be called justice? Is it an appropriate response? The issue has been largely ignored by the press in the Republic. Efforts to put the past behind us appear to have been very successful south of the border.