In advance of the Saville report, old soldiers and others seem to be forming ranks as a pressure group, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, against prosecuting any of the former paratroops. This is a tactical error and premature, to say the least. While self-incrimination is ruled out, it may be argued that the publication of the evidence against them in such copious detail of itself makes a fair trial unfeasible. Paul Bew may be right, that the very detail of Saville’s report will act as a protective shield against inevitable criticism.
Some of the comments from the retired brasshats are plain foolish. Why nor prosecute Martin McGuinness and lots more IRA they ask? Not for want of trying in the old days, old chaps. It might also be acknowledged that about 20,000 republicans passed through the portals of one prison or another, while between 12 and 20 regular soldiers were prosecuted. This doesn’t make the case for blatant discrimination, but it demolishes the ludicrous implication that somehow the IRA got off scot free.
Anxiety over a decision on prosecutions is bound to be high and can only be complicated by an orgy of whataboutery. While many people will jib at Martin McGuinness saying it, the emphasis in Derry on asserting the innocence of the victims over the guilt of the paratroops is mature and magnanimous, if Eamonn McCann’s article in the Irish Times is at all representative .
By contrast, Ken Clarke’s description of the Saville report as ” a disaster in terms of times and expense ” is ill-timed and insensitive. Clarke has done nothing to help David Cameron strike the right note tomorrow. Does the Lord Chancellor not realise that a new Inquiries Act was passed five years ago precisely to contain the length of future inquiries? The note to strike is that, 38 years on and a dozen years since the GFA, we’re all in this together, to coin a phrase.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London