In dealing with the past, favoured treatment for soldiers can only end in tears

The Times (£) reports that a decision by the British government to review the potential caseload against soldiers for actions during the Troubles includes a proposal to set a time limit  on the investigations.  The move is a response to a campaign by Conservative MPs and peers already angered by what they regard as over-zealous prosecutions after the Iraq war.

It is understood that the new legislation, which is due to be drafted by the Northern Ireland Office and the British Ministry of Defence, could include a time limit on investigations and an age limit on who could be taken to court. Mr Brokenshire said that he believed the peace process had been almost exclusively focused on what the UK did rather than on the actions of Irish republican terrorist

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said …

“There are no provisions in the Good Friday Agreement or the succeeding agreements for any form of amnesty or protection from prosecution. There is no such provision in the Stormont House Agreement,” the department said.

“Government is not aware of any plans to extend the scope of any draft legislation on the Stormont House legacy institutions in this way.”

However much it pleases  London papers and a section of the Conservative party, this move if it happens will do  little for justice and  nothing for the public interest and public confidence in Northern Ireland.  Brokenshire like his predecessor Theresa Villiers appears to swallow the notion of “one-sided justice,” that too much attention is being paid to the roles of the security forces and not enough to the main aggressors, the “terrorists.” This is  legally illiterate. Justice is indivisible and cannot be shared out politically.

This sort of controversy is what inevitably happens with a piecemeal approach to dealing with the past. It features in Sinn Fein’s list of grievances, however hypocritically. It  doesn’t  require falling for the republican argument that one side was as bad as the other to reject any such move. Although they try to suppress it, it  would split  the two governments  at a time when united approaches should be paramount..

The £150 million set aside for the purpose should be spent reviewing the whole Troubles case load without fear or favour over the next five years.

Then the whole wretched business should stop.


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  • the keep

    Everybody or nobody cannot be in between

  • murdockp

    truth and reconciliation and draw a line under it.

    there are many republicans and loyalists who should still be behind bars for the acts they undertook as well as the soldiers and police.

    as hard as it is for victims this is the only way forward or else it will just be another fee fest for lawyers and barristers.

  • Obelisk

    The IRA claims they were at war, the British Government claims it was a security action.

    If it was a security action, then the IRA were criminals and so the British Army should be held to a higher standard than those criminals.

    If it was a war, then both sides were conducting operations against each other and have moral equivalence.

    I do not see how you can claim your opponents were criminals but then try to justify your own responses, as some have, that you were in a war situation. I feel it was either one or the other, with the attendant consequences.

  • file

    Also, the slightly sticky problem that if the Brits want it to be deemed a war, then the Hunger Strikers were all prisoners of war, totally justified in their demands and none of that need ever have happened.

  • mickfealty

    I get the impression the pressure is being ramped up ahead of a new tug of war over the past Brian should this quick break turn into a full blown interregnum.

    Doubt the emphasis will be granting ex soldiers favours (there aren’t many in the line of fire any way), but rather probing whether favours are being granted (albeit via sins of omission rather that commission) former anti state actors at the same time.

    Providing they don’t take a drubbing at the election, it’s hard not to see why the DUP wouldn’t take an opportunity to radicalise this particular space, since SF will have little of value to trade this time round, if it’s offered to them on a plate.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    The one sided arguent is pathetic. There is nothing one sided about it at all. Thousands of Loyalists and Republicans have done their time in Prisons for their actions. The security services have got away with murder, literally. Not one has seen the inside of a cell. If state actors have murdered citizens of that state, the law has to act accordingly.

  • Mirrorballman

    What are the facts on this? How many members of the BA have actually been prosecuted for crimes in NI during the troubles?

  • AntrimGael

    I firmly believe the DUP at Westminster are in cahoots with rabid, right wing elements of the Tory party AND media regarding this and a lot of other things involving the past and legacy issues. This was a tactic they used very successfully in the 70’s and 80’s. Whip up a fury amongst the Essex White Van man brigade, play the “aren’t our veterans and serving soldiers wonderfully, saintly individuals”, put out as much propaganda and a one sided narrative as possible and force the British government to bring in new legislation.
    This Tory/DUP crowd are firmly in Donald Trump mindset and I fear where it could lead us. They are rewriting the GFA, seem to be deliberately goading the Nationalist community, sticking two fingers up to the Irish government and appear to be trying to provoke some sort of Republican reaction or backlash.

  • Obelisk

    The DUP don’t know how good they had it before last June. The Union was safe with Scottish independence seen off and Irish Nationalism falling into apathy over an invisible border.

    Yet now they seem determined to press and push every hot button issue since Brexit, as if the current favourable circumstances will last forever.
    They’ve always been big on tactics rather than strategy though. Short term wins for the base as the foundations they stand on are dissolved by their own putrid bile.

  • AntrimGael

    Check out Liz Curtis’s book, Ireland and the Propaganda War. It sets out in detail how successive British governments, British politicians, the British media and Unionism conspired over the past 40 years to lie about the conflict in the North. Murders carried out by the British Army, RUC, UDR were justified and excused while Loyalist violence was often portrayed as ‘motiveless’ or ‘reactionary’. The British media were very good at exposing criminal regimes around the world, state sponsored murders in central and South America etc but they deliberately turned a blind eye, ignored and often acted as cover and excuse providers for the actions of their governments, military and Intelligence agencies in Ireland. The mantra was “Kill a Paddy, he/she is ONLY a Paddy, don’t worry, we’ll cover it up”. How dare these nauseating hypocrites call out others around the globe and act as propaganda merchants in Ireland for their own Establishment.

  • Madra Uisce

    From memory four successful prosecutions if you disregard the loyalist militia of the UDR but I am open to correction

  • AntrimGael

    I believe those few British soldiers who were convicted served minimal sentences and were released straight back into their regiments. Lee Clegg who killed the young joyrider in West Belfast went back to the Paras and was actually promoted while Fisher and Wright who were convicted of the murder of Peter McBride in the New Lodge went back into their Scottish regiment after serving a year or so in jail. This is what the British Establishment and media thinks about their armed forces carrying out murders. “Excuse them, portray them as heroes and denigrate Paddy Irishman/woman. Disgusting!

  • Cináed mac Artri

    Nothing “sticky” at all. Of course it was not a “war”. Convicted terrorists were sentenced to jail time. After completing their sentences they were released. This happened throughout the Troubles. Did some IRA “soldiers” not have multiple convictions and extensive criminal records?

    In a war situation real prisoners of war remain behind bars until the war ends. They are not released during ongoing hostilities.

    The IRA does not appear to have taken many ‘prisoners of war’ themselves. IRA operations concentrated on killing its enemies, even those not ‘under arms’ at the time (for example off duty police officers in their homes, attending church or going about their non-police lives) a war crime in itself.

    Did the IRA think it was a war? Why then did it not prosecute it as a war, in uniform and not basing its tactical approach on attacking soft targets and committing war crimes as it did so?

    The Troubles were a criminal campaign. None of the terrorist organisations had the legitimacy to declare war. Most particularly the IRA had no right whatsoever to fight on behalf of the Irish people. Our armed forces, the Defence Forces, were not at war.

    The British authorities were dealing with criminals. A higher standard of behaviour was to be expected from them. It is right and proper that when they failed to behave properly they should have been, and still should be, held to that higher standard of behaviour than the criminals they were pursuing.

    A contemporary example of the practicalities of those higher standards occurred in Belfast within the past few days. When terrorists recklessly filled the air with bullets at a filling station and shot a police officer, without any regard whatsoever for the members of the public present, the armed police did not start shooting back. The police understood that the onus was on them to behave in a responsible and lawful manner.

  • ted hagan

    Yes, a very intelligent post. Makes you think, though, I have been reading an Anthony Beever account of the Ardennes offensive by the Germans at the end of World War Two.

    Were it decided to investigate every atrocity, carried out by all sides, British,US and Germans, involving the butchery of both prisoners and civilians. not counting rapes and torture, then the investigations would be never ending. And that’s only a single, two-month battle. Obviously, the greater the slaughter, the fewer are made accountable for it.

  • AntrimGael

    Dodds and May pushing this line now in the British Parliament. This is really dangerous territory we are getting into now. Any legislation introduced to give British Military/RUC/British Intelligence Agencies an effective amnesty is a clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement. The Irish government MUST now make a statement on this.

  • ted hagan

    It was a guerrilla war. In the same way the French Resistance didn’t walk around in army uniforms, unless they needed their heads examined. Common sense required.

  • Granni Trixie

    Though it is some time since I read the Curtis book and it is very well researched I do remember thinking it was written from a totally anti state POV. Problem is there aren’t many books analysing media material and due no doubt to the overwhelming amount of stuff to analyse.

    (Bill Rolston has written on the topic though as has someone called Butler)

  • AntrimGael

    I think it was the journalist John Simpson who called Ireland the British media’s ‘dark shame’. Liz Curtis set out her book with facts, quotes, articles, Westminster speeches, government statements etc. If you took it as anti-state then that is a reflection on the British State and not Liz Curtis.

  • file

    It is the Brits, not me, who are trying to have two descriptions of the conflict at the same time. I know a sustained guerrilla action when I live through one.

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    Ironically it’s a viewpoint that many people have and has probobly been influenced over the course of time by the very things that Liz Curtis writes about in her book. It’s not a criticism of you whatsoever Granni, just a general observation

  • johnny lately

    “Fisher and Wright who were convicted of the murder of Peter McBride in the New Lodge”

    They were also the first two prisoners released under the GFA, months before any republican or loyalist prisoners convicted of less.

  • Madra Uisce

    They wernt released under the terms of the GFA

  • Cináed mac Artri

    The IRA as French Resistance, FLOL.

  • johnny lately

    Just got Royal pardons ?

  • Steptoe

    No Parliament in the world, especially Westminster, the supposed ‘mother of parliaments’ would ever (rightfully) put a time limit on hunting down Nazis. The same is being done across the globe to this very day. The principle of this is that ‘you commited crimes, we don’t care how long ago, you still did it’. Should the same principle not apply to all, including soldiers?

  • ted hagan

    You’re not making sense.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    This festering sore is poisoning everything it touches. Use the ballot and vote method to select a dozen or so people from around the place to sit on a panel and take evidence then deliver a report, within six months, on how to deal with legacy issues that all parties must agree to support as a price of getting any form of devolved administration restored.

    Go the whole hog, get it all out: parades, shootings, whatever – a citizen’s panel for each and we agree to abide by their recommendations.

  • Madra Uisce

    No they were not pardoned either, they remain convicted murderers to this day. They were released on a whim by Mo Mowlem

  • Brian Walker

    The concentration on searching for evidence to prosecution standard holds back telling a fuller story of the Troubles. This can only come when legal constraints on opening the archives are lifted. Orally I would think only a few would be tempted to make confessions. Some more stories might come out if one side wants to dispute the other’s version of events.

    But through published studies more is being learned all the time. A full critique of the Stevens reports will emerge in a few years’ time.

    In the end we have to ask ourselves solemnly: in several years’ time how much more can we get out of the pursuit of legal process? In many, maybe most cases, don’t we know enough now? The biggest clue to the reason why anybody was killed lies in the identity of the victim.

  • Brian Walker

    Mick, whatever ramping up is done or whatever, pressure from the local parties will only have an impact on the state if they agree to set up the Historical Investigations Unit to go through the police files one more time and release the funding for inquests asked for by the chief justice. The British government should do this; break the deadlock and remove it from the list of grievances, making it one less for the parties to squabble over.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The simple truth is that there is a brand of unionism that is genuinely supremecist. It’s the only explanation for the behaviour that certain unionists exhibit when they are seemingly in an unassailable position. Throughout the history of N.Ireland that has always been the case.

    Political Unionism doesn’t know humility only hubris. It will be it’s undoing