The report Mick highlights of a UVF sniper firing into Ballymurphy at the time of the massacre in 1971 for which up to now 1 Para was believed to be mainly responsible, underlines the paramount importance of finding out basic facts in dealing with the past. As I argued the other day, it is not only unacceptable but self-defeating for armchair soldiers in today’s battle of the narratives to thwart the rule of law, whether they are unionists defending the reputation of the security forces against allegations of widespread collusion with paramilitaries; republicans fearing exposure of the full extent of IRA ruthlessness even in their own communities and how widely the IRA was riddled with informers ; or the British government refusing to describe the limitations of disclosure required by “national security,”and so attracting accusations of wholesale cover-up.
The deadlock over the legacy and every other aspect of government has gone on for so long that the public have been dulled into acceptance for a lamentable state of affairs and now treat the absence of responsible government as normal.
Public impotence and cynicism have permitted the British government to shirk the responsibilities of what is still its sovereign authority. Any excuse will do: the massive distractions of Brexit; wrangling over the procedure for consulting the Dublin government under the GFA or a right of veto over direct rule apparently claimed by Dublin; over- fastidious distaste for reversing the course of devolution even temporarily, even when it is in abeyance. As for the local parties, the DUP refuses to deal ; and nationalists, rather than support temporary direct rule, seem in the end to prefer no government at all. No wonder nervy speculation about a border poll is filling the vacuum.
In a first move to try to break the deadlock, the UK government should be pressed to summon up the will to take action over issues like the Ballymurphy massacre. As dealing with the past is probably the subject which most divides the local parties, Westminster must take charge and Dublin will support them.
If they can pass the Budget, they can directly allocate already earmarked funds to the judiciary now to convene the fifty or so inquests such as that into the Ballymurphy massacre that have languished for nearly half a century. The latest revelation of a UVF sniper if confirmed, is one excellent reason why some people should not jump to dismal conclusions that the facts always support a republican narrative. Not that such a claim is ever a valid reason for thwarting the rule of law.
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