What could outsiders do to end the tragic farce over dealing with the past?

A big push” on legacy issues is being promised by secretary of State James Brokenshire  as the Belfast Telegraph reports, following the failure to meet the deadline to implement the legacy part of Fresh Start. Whether it will mean anything more than UN attempts to end the horrors of Syria remains to be seen.  Brokenshire  presents himself as an honest broker but in truth  whether he realises it or not,  he is as much a party to deadlock as the others.

The package agreed by Stormont leaders and the UK and Irish Governments, which includes a new investigations unit, a truth recovery mechanism, an oral history archive and enhanced funding for Troubles-related inquests, will not become reality until the logjam is cleared. The national security dispute is primarily between the UK Government and Sinn Fein. However, the DUP is refusing to sign off on the funding boost for legacy inquests until all the other issues are sorted.

And so the merry-go-round keeps revolving…

Since the devolution of justice, the ministers of the Executive  have a sworn duty to defend the justice system.

The most  obvious act of progress would be for Arlene Foster to comply with the Lord Chief Justice’s repeated  requests to  fund inquests.  A positive reply to the head of the judiciary would hardly constitute a unionist sell-out.

Tory allegations of political bias made against  DPP Barra Magrory as a former lawyer for Sinn Fein  should be publicly  dismissed. If the DUP don’t trust him they should have the guts to call for his resignation. Such allegations  made against the English DPP   would create a political storm. At home such talk is  part of the old attitudes  that hold back confidence in the system.

In Westminster the opening of inquiries into killings by soldiers during the Troubles is being mixed up  with patriotic outrage over cases of army misconduct in Iraq. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been noticed by  super-patriotic Tory MPs and the Daily Mail.  But critics have a case, when the two year sentence limit for paramilitaries  does not apply to former security forces members.

At the time of the  GFA, no future prosecutions were contemplated but this was not acknowledged.  It throws into relief the weaknesses of  the  elaborate Haass structure headed by a Historic Investigations Unit.

The  British government  and the unionist parties every bit as much as Sinn Fein have sold the pass on removing politics from justice in the Troubles by arguing for a “ proportionate” approach as between former soldiers and paramilitaries.  What was the right ratio of prosecutions during the Troubles  and what should it be today?  The impossibility of  providing answers that would satisfy anybody shows that the call for proportionality is nonsense.

Barnie Rowan makes the case for another “ international team “ to tackle the problems of the past after Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan  last had a go at it.   Former US envoy Mitchell Reiss is back in business as one of the Monitoring Group into paramilitary activity. Well and good, but as outside input failed before over the legacy,  why should it succeed now? This time would they grasp the nettle and recommend an amnesty, or at least let the hare sit until we’re all dead?

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  • Skibo

    I didn’t have time to read the post but the answer is simple. Act as an impartial negotiator. The British Government is not impartial when it comes to dealing with the past and victims. How can we really expect them to negotiate a fair and reasonable solution?

  • john millar

    There are 2000+ unsolved murders
    Each one deserves full investigation -no exceptions and no separate focus

  • Blade Sprinter

    Be interesting to see what would happen should Adams get up and start naming the paratrooper murderers from Bloody Sunday in the Dáil. Names and addresses.

    There would be some fireworks alright!

  • file

    Brian: “But critics have a case, when the two year sentence limit for paramilitaries does not apply to former security forces members.”

    No they don’t, Brian, and that argument needs to be nailed on the head. The agents of the state have to be held to different and higher levels of accountability and legality than illegal paramilitaries.

  • Brian Walker

    Now that is a fundamental point at issue. The security forces have special responsibility as the class with the sole right to bear arms to uphold the law. The law does not allow armed insurgency. Both have an equal duty to obey the law and are equal under it. The GFA release scheme and other concessions bent due process to help gain peace. Once bent, is it easy to straighten it again? If army cases go to trial, the issue of so-called one sided justice is sure to be tested.

  • file

    The point is that security forces cannot use paramilitary tactics even if they are engaged in a war with paramilitaries. Paramilitaries – particularly those who do not recognise the legitimacy of the state – have no problem with breaking the laws of that state, although I accept your point that they can be prosecuted under those laws (although they used to not even recognise the court’s authority to do that). Paramilitaries were given the 2 year release deal as an enticement/recognition/reward for the ceasefires. Security forces require no such enticement or reward because, among other reasons, they have not declared a ceasefire (to be pedantic about it). The 2 year release deal CANNOT be extended to security forces, and it is a specious argument to suggest it should be.