A real political scandal - with Peter Hain's fingerprints all over it
WHAT KIND of a criminal justice system is it that seeks to incorporate into its ranks one of the IRA killers who lynched two British corporals in Belfast in 1988? Or some of those who helped to destroy the evidence after Robert McCartney was murdered by the Provisionals in early 2005? Answer: the criminal justice system of the new Northern Ireland.
Crazy, but true. As part of the latest batch of goodies to keep the peace process going, the Government is about to issue preposterously lax proposals that would allow convicted terrorists to play a key supervisory role in Ulster’s restorative justice programme. “Restorative justice” is a fashionable concept whereby criminals are forced to come face to face with the victims of their deeds and must make swift recompense.
Restorative justice has worked all very well in nice, stable societies such as New Zealand. But in Northern Ireland, when run by certain “credible community figures”, it can turn out to be a recipe for parallel policing by the IRA.
Worse still, the Government seems intent on letting the foxes into the chicken coop without so much as a Commons debate, at the very end of the parliamentary session. It is, in its own way, an even greater scandal than “cash for honours”.
So what are the Government’s bitterly controversial guidelines all about? Fourteen “community restorative justice” (CRJ) schemes have been established by the republican movement in Catholic areas to provide a kind of substitute for nationalist people who supposedly still don’t accept the “Unionist” police force. They had been funded by the Irish-American philanthropist, Chuck Feeney — who in recent times has gone rather sour on Sinn Fein-IRA. He has duly cut his funding for these schemes.
The British Government contends that, with this system of parallel policing already in place, it had better step into the breach and gain a purchase on what is going on. The problem is that the Government has asked for virtually nothing in return. The British taxpayer will thus be footing the bill for a well-nigh autonomous operation that can continue to work outside the regular criminal justice system.
Catherine McCartney is under no illusions about “restorative justice”. “If a kid has a dispute with someone and he’s called into a restorative justice meeting in a nationalist area, that means it’s going to be run by the IRA,” she told me. “Look at my home area of Short Strand. When they put out the notice for the creation of a restorative justice programme there were some perfectly decent people on it — but also many Provisionals, plus some of those women who picketed the home of my brother’s partner after the murder.”
Indeed, when Robert McCartney’s best friend, Jeff Commander, was subsequently assaulted by republicans armed with iron bars, the attack was witnessed by a leading CRJ figure — one Harry Maguire, who was convicted for his part in the murder of the British corporals. Yet despite observing all this, he hasn’t made a statement to the police, even though the Commander family have asked him to do so and it is a crime not to report such an event.
The Government is undeterred by all this. It is expected that Whitehall’s guidelines will allow the funding of republican restorative justice groups — even before Sinn Fein agrees to support policing and the rule of law. In such circumstances people will be too scared to complain about abuses. It is also expected that terrorist convictions pre-dating the 1998 Belfast agreement can be overlooked for those appointed to the CRJs. Potentially, this may even apply to the punishment beatings of children.
The website of the scheme - www.restorativejusticeireland.org seems to be down though the google cache is available.
It is scandals like this rather than the froth of affairs that we really should worry about.