Why is Claudy left forgotten and angry while Catholic Derry is elated by the Bloody Sunday report? True, the Ombudsman’s report on the Chesney allegations is a thin thing compared to Saville. Yet in each case the call for justice remains unfulfilled. Otherwise, the contrast could hardly be more marked.
The implied suggestion that the one should balance the other is misleading. In fact, they are asymmetrical. Innocence of the victims was the burning issue in how Saville was received. Innocence was never in doubt in Claudy. In Bloody Sunday the State was violating its own rules. In Claudy, only the perverse and degenerate rules of terrorism applied. The IRA regarded themselves as accountable to no one, except themselves – and often brutally.
A report on one tragedy usually provokes calls for justice in others. This cuts across the general if vague ambition to draw a line under the Troubles. In truth nobody knows what to do next. A Statute of Limitations, even supposing it could be agreed, might not prevent relatives seeking legal redress under human rights law, although the odds in favour of getting it might lengthen even further.
So the temptation to keep pressing cases is hard to resist. Whatever may be thought of his presentation style, who can deny that Willie Frazer’s list of atrocities is worthy of further inquiry? When you look at the bare accounts, how can you resist being drawn into the details of the “Ballymurphy massacre?”
It’s here that the issue of balance enters the debate. The successors of the IRA are fully part of the reformed State and leaders of the local Executive. The louder Sinn Fein call for more inquiries into the actions of the army and the police, the greater the pressure must be put on them to encourage voluntary admissions by former IRA members and take responsibility for their actions.
No doubt this point will be greeted with hollow laughter, notably by the usual critics of Gerry Adams . Why should they bother to confess? There are no risks and no incentives to do so. Nobody will go to jail. But until efforts to get the IRA to tell more of the truth are made, campaigns to win justice across the board will be seen as politically motivated. And no overarching formula for dealing with the past will succeed in the basic aim of removing key obstacles to reconciliation.
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