How can families of victims ever have any faith in the system of justice when those charged with maintaining good relations in this little corner of the world are happy to stomp all over that delicate good faith?by Stephen Donnan-Dalzell / March 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
Karen Bradley’s recent comments on the potential prosecution of soldiers and police in relation to actions during the Troubles will come as a surprise to nobody living in Northern Ireland. The comments, made by the secretary of state during Northern Ireland Questions on Wednesday, are indicative of a crass ignorance that runs deep within the British political establishment. The Secretary of State has shown a breathtaking intransigence about this, echoed by Boris Johnson and other Conservative MPs who worry about “what signal” it sends “to our brave armed forces.”
To say Bradley’s comment that the security forces were acting in a “dignified and justified” way is appalling is to cast it in too kind a light. What’s more, it flies in the face of what then-Prime Minister David Cameron said in a public apology to the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday in 2010 in the wake of the Saville Inquiry.
Are we to understand that the Government—and guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement—has reversed course on this? Or have the Conservative Party played to the gallery of the DUP and hardline Unionism at a time when they need every vote they can to pass whatever Withdrawal Agreement the PM manages to cobble together in the eleventh hour?
Growing up as a Protestant, with family members deeply rooted in the political, social and civic world of Unionism, I knew about Bloody Sunday as the actions of brave paratroop regiment members defending Derry against a violent IRA attack. That’s the narrative we were fed.
The Saville Inquiry was supposed to blow away the cobwebs and dust that obscured the truth about what really happened that day. Yet whilst it gave much needed and rightly deserved validation to families of those killed, it did little in the minds of my own community members to garner any sympathy or provoke any soul searching. No mirror was held up by our political leaders to reflect the fact that unarmed fellow citizens were shot down by the people who were there to protect them. Now living in a predominantly working-class, Loyalist area of West Belfast, to me this is still the real and most tragic legacy of the conflict.
Hours before the Saville Inquiry report was due to be published the MP for East Londonderry, Gregory Campbell, criticised the cost of the inquiry and called on Lord Saville not to engage in “revisionism.” On the day of the report’s publication Lord Reg Empey, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, claimed that the report itself had “caused pain and division … through a selective investigation into the past.” He cited the attacks by IRA members on RUC officers in the days leading up the civil rights march on January 30th, 1972, slamming then-Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for his role in the day’s events.
Less was said about unarmed men being shot in the back as they ran away from British forces personnel.
Again, this is the real and tragic legacy of the Troubles. I mean, aren’t we better than this? These were people. Our fellow citizens. Children. Who cares what religion or flag they bore allegiance to? We should not draw lines in the sand that remove the value of human life because of the church people go to and who they vote for.
To condemn the prospect of paratroopers who are potentially responsible for the loss of that life being held accountable in a court of law as something unacceptable and “disastrous” is to betray the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. There is no statute of limitations on murder in this country, and if the Public Prosecution Service finds that charges for that crime need to be brought, then the justice system should be allowed to its job in a transparent and unfettered way—without the cack-handed interference of a weak Prime Minister and an incompetent Secretary of State.
A fragile and precious balance that has taken decades to grow in an otherwise dark environment is threatened by a Government far removed from the realities of those who have endured the horrors of a dirty civil war. Irresponsible is too mild a term.