“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?
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