Where Barra Magrory leads on dealing with the past, others will follow

No longer inhibited by  his former office, the ex- DPP Barra Magrory   isn’t alone in believing that an independent Historical Investigations Unit will produce few results for victims, survivors and families and could be more divisive than reconciling.  The best to be  hoped for is that once a renewed effort to bring cases to trial is made over five years, politicians and the public will face up to the issue of a calling halt to prosecutions, combined with a release of  information held by government case by case,  to the extent  compatible with the law. The local parties remain  hopelessly  divided and the British government as usual funks it. Let’s hope the consultation lasting  to September doesn’t create another opportunity for more delay without end; but who would bet on it?

Prosecutions for Troubles-related murders should be brought to a halt, according to Northern Ireland’s former Director of Public Prosecutions.

Barra McGrory denounced proposals for a new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) as “convenient politically“.

But he added it had not been properly thought through

But my terrible fear is that that will not be a consequence of this process.

“And where is it going to leave us?

“At the end of five difficult years, millions spent, much emotional energy invested, will we be any better off?

 

Mr McGrory also said he was surprised to hear the prime minister tell the Commons last week that the only people getting knocks on the door in Northern Ireland for troubles related investigations are former soldiers.

“Very surprised because it’s not true,” he said.

“Certainly as DPP there was a clear even handedness in terms of the targets of the investigations being carried out by the PSNI Legacy Unit.”

Mr McGrory said there were probably more viable prosecutions against state agents because many of the offences they were suspected of had not been properly investigated previously.

He points out that any deaths caused by soldiers between 1969 and 1972 were investigated by the Royal Military Police, not the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

“Many of those investigations have been found to be seriously wanting which is why PSNI Legacy Branch has had to give priority to those deaths,” he continued.

In response to Mr McGrory’s comments, a UK government spokesman said the current system is “not delivering enough for victims, survivors and for wider society”.

“This is why the Government has launched the consultation to seek views on the Stormont house proposals and listen to the concerns of interested parties. We are deeply committed to building widespread consensus and delivering better outcomes for those most affected.”

Former  Policing Board  chairman Sir Desmond Rea  and Robin Masefield, a former  director of the Prisons Service put forward their alternative approach four years ago.

…we do not believe that society and the peace process would be best served by continuing to facilitate a situation where, say, members of the security forces stand trial, where others whom our society has democratically elected to positions of responsibility on the basis of previous inter-party agreements, may or may not remain subject to potential prosecution for their activities decades ago.

We recognise the strength of the reaction in some quarters to what has been summarised as a call for an “amnesty”, but we believe that in society’s wider interests, and taking account of the precedent of the early release of prisoners under the Belfast Agreement, further imaginative departures from the criminal justice norm are required. As of, say, April 1998, the slate should be wiped clean, and our society and policing look to the future.

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