The definition of impunity is “exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action”.
By contrast, the definition of accountability describes accepting responsibility, either personally or publicly. Punishment may result, but accountability shows ownership and a willingness to admit mistakes or wrongdoing.
State accountability for wrongdoing is essential to building confidence in the rule of law. State impunity operates to undermine that confidence and render the rule of law meaningless. In our transitional society, emerging from conflict, that should be studiously avoided.However this week impunity reigns.
The state operating to proxy murder to others, in order to evade accountability, is an action in securing impunity for murder. Right now that policy of impunity is not a matter for the past, it is happening in 2016.
We are in an extraordinary position where revelations of collusion in the killings in Loughinisland, and their cover up; the killing of RUC Constable Colleen McMurray, and its cover up; the killings in the Ormeau Road bookies, and their cover up; the killing of Pat Finucane, and its cover up; the killings of RUC officers Harry Beckett and Gary Meyer, and their cover up; along with hundreds and hundreds of other appalling vistas, are being described without repentance by the British Secretary of State as pernicious anti-state narratives.
That description is the newest contribution to the active campaign of impunity that hallmarks British military policy in Ireland.
Collusion has gone from being dismissed as republican propaganda, to being evidenced and then ignored, to being evidenced and then used to attack the families themselves. The constant in it all of that is the attack on families’ truth and the protection of all and every state actor implicated.
In the discourse of how we deal with the past there is this intellectual concept of “competing narratives” of how the conflict was experienced. This convenient and comfortable assertion places every “narrative” of the past as equal. So a family banging on every door that has been slammed in their face to achieve the minimal amount of public acknowledgment of collusion, is then placed as exactly the same as a retired Assistant Chief Constable refusing to cooperate with the Police Ombudsman in order to hide wrongdoing, as merely a matter of “competing narratives”.
That concept is quite frankly middle class indulgence, wholly self-serving and absolutely a contribution to impunity.
And putting it in this box of academic discussion of the past, removed from the rule of law, lets others off the hook too. The utter silence this week from the Department of Justice and the minister is not only a disgrace, it is verging on misfeasance in public office.
And what of the DUP? What of their association with the Ulster Resistance? Is that the inconvenient truth that dare not speak its name? DUP impunity from accountability for the shipment of South African weapons is clearly the unwritten rule of the media day.
The entire approach tells victims of state collusion to expect less. To expect a moment of acknowledgment but never expect accountability or justice. Families are asked to accept impunity for state actors or be accused of being “pernicious”.
This is not a matter of “dealing with the past” it is a current matter of confidence in the rule of law and those who execute it.