One of the most dispiriting things about the Northern Ireland conflict is how much of the suffering of innocents could have been avoided. J Enoch Powell wrote that, ‘the supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils.’ So it is indeed. The United Kingdom was scandalously lenient towards loyalist and republican terrorists. Gusty Spence bears a large measure of responsibility for sparking off the Troubles. The IRA held provocative Easter Rising commemmorations in 1966 but did not launch any attacks. The Ulster Volunteer Force, led by Gusty Spence, committed three murders. These people killed by his band of thugs were in no way connected to the IRA.
Spence got life in prison but was released after only 24 years. Indeed he got parole in 1972 to attend his daughter’s wedding and absconded for a couple of months. In view of that fact he ought never, ever to have been released. I recognise that from 1994 he was a force for peace – counselling against violence. He worked for reconciliation. However, the general principle remains. Those imprisoned for murder and other terrorist crimes should serve their sentences in full.
There amnesties for the IRA in the 1920s, 1940, 1960s and then through the Troubles their sentences and those of the loyalist criminals were not long. If the terrorists imprisoned in 1969 had never been let out then violence would have been much reduced. The terrorist who were released early were never grateful. Very few renounced violence and most returned to their old crimes.
Illegal possession of arms, conspiracy to cause explosions with intent to endanger life etc… should all have carried life terms. When I say illegal possession of arms I am not talking about forgetting to renew a licence for a shotgun.
Look at internment. A few innocents were picked up in 1971 and released within days. Of all the rest practicallt every one of them was a terrorist. They were put in Long Kesh – a former RAF base. They held classes on terrorist activity, they marched in formation and they had ranks. I would have covertly filmed them with sound recording for months and maybe interviewed them. With this mountain of evidence they could have been charged with membership of a terrorist body. The sentence for being part of a terrorist outfit ought to have been raised to life imprisonment.
This should be done now.