There are a series of problematic value judgements which the facts of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s release raise. Is it right to show mercy to a dying man, even if he has perpetrated a heinous crime? If there is a doubt about the safety of his conviction, does it justify his case being treated differently? How far should the hurt which victims have experienced be taken into account where mercy can be shown, or denied?
These are difficult questions, involving slippery moral concepts which will be endlessly debated. Lengthy works of philosophy, or novels, are suitable media to consider such material carefully (although Hernandez is one of many having a go on blogs and columns).
Rather than encroach on the territory outlined above, I propose to discuss (briefly) two issues (which I will divide between two posts) arising from the decision (and its announcement), which are, I suppose, tangential to the points I made about the SNP’s style of presentation, last night. Firstly, from a purely parochial point of view, what are we in Northern Ireland to make of the spectacle of a devolved justice ministry, caught in international headlamps? After all, if the Scottish executive seems overwhelmed by its responsibilities, what are the chances that locally directed policing and justice will result in improved functions here? Secondly, what does the episode tell us about devolution, its relationships, its dynamics and its future?
Clearly, the first issue deserves briefer treatment than the second. Mick Fealty provides a useful synopsis of the current situation, as regards policing and justice, in Northern Ireland, on a post on Slugger. He highlights real concerns that the executive’s performance, thus far, does not justify entrusting it with further responsibilities. The Libyan episode graphically demonstrates the complexity which justice matters can involve and their capacity to assume an international dimension.
Whether, as opposition politicians have alleged, the Scottish 'government' provided convenient cover for a Westminster administration keen to develop its relationship with Tripoli, or whether the SNP was eager to assert its independence, this was a matter which transcended the regional to encompass the national and the international. Yet it remained solidly within the remit of a parochial nationalist politician who embarrassed himself, and his country, by delivering a statement, more focussed on lauding the virtues of a ‘people’, than addressing matters pertinent to the case.
Whatever the effects of so called ‘Scottish cringe’, the Justice Minister’s statement should have caused his ‘people’ severe embarrassment. His performance will sustain those who believe that an early devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland could result in confusion, incompetence and humiliation. I do not wish to suggest that successfully reaching a major decision, with international repercussions, is beyond the abilities of Scottish or Northern Irish politicians. Just that the responsibility ranges well beyond the parish pump preoccupations of many of them, including the SNP.