Fair enough. There are genuine grounds for shock and anger but there is a good deal of grandstanding too. The pity of it is, the growing recognition among unionists of the case for limited immunity tied to truth recovery will be set back. Taking the optimistic view (somebody has to), the full extent of de facto amnesty will emerge a lot more clearly and can no longer be denied. The pretence should end, that “ justice” is attainable were it not for the machinations of the British government and Sinn Fein. This crisis shows how overdue is an honest declaration that Troubles prosecutions are coming to an end. Yes I know – don’t hold your breath. In the meantime there are quite a few hoops to go through before the amour propre of politicians is satisfied.
The Mail publishes a rogues gallery of alleged receivers of “comfort letters” (who though that one up?) which includes the deceased Owen Carron ( apologies, not deceased!) . Several of them have the clear evidence of a prison escape against them.
The old cynical saying is that one killing in England is worth a hundred in Northern Ireland – and it might be added, one campaign on behalf of British soldiers too. As they did on behalf of Private Lee Clegg the old brass hats are massing. The Telegraph has canvassed their views
Gen Lord Dannatt, a former head of the Army, described the decision to drop the case against Mr Downey as “disappointing and distressing”. It would be “an outrage” if Bloody Sunday troops were prosecuted, he claimed.
“If a double line has been drawn under this for one set of people, then of course a double line should be drawn under this for the British soldiers,” he said.
Gen Sir Mike Jackson, who was serving with the Parachute Regiment in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday and went on to be head of the Army, said: “It does seem, on the grounds of fairness, that all should be treated equally and I thought that was the intent of the Good Friday Agreement.” Col Richard Kemp, who served eight tours in Northern Ireland, said: “It would be entirely wrong to try troops accused of murder or unlawful killing when the terrorists have effectively been given a get out of jail free card
Of course there is the finicky point of logic that if it was wrong to let republicans off the hook so it is also wrong to do likewise for soldiers. And Sinn Fein and others will say that looking at the record of prosecutions for collusions and “shoot to kill”, the security forces are enjoying their own de facto amnesty. At the moment though our own Col Tim Collins has the floor.
I have long asserted that the Good Friday Agreement was in fact a “peace at any price” deal where a militarily defeated IRA and the chaotic so-called loyalist paramilitaries were given the working-class populations of their respective communities as a blood dowry, to do with as they pleased in exchange for keeping the violence off the TV screens. The knee-cappings and beatings carried on out of sight. Only once – the brutal murder of Robert McCartney in 2005 – did the mask slip, but this was quickly covered up.
But we can now see that the hidden agreement went further. The very lives of our Servicemen were on the table too, it seems. Even in retirement I am advising former colleagues in the SAS who are still being called to explain their actions in confronting IRA gun teams and killing the would-be killers. There are long lines of cases still to go to court; SAS soldiers and others who sought to do their duty versus the Republican machine, the European courts and the tangled framework of a lopsided agreement. The goal of the Republicans is to secure convictions against Servicemen in order to vindicate their 30-year murder campaign – and naturally secure millions of pounds in compensation as collateral damage to the British state.
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