Be candid, says Ringland: only partial truth on the Troubles past is possible

The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan
The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan

The Lord Chief Justice, the Police Ombudsman and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) have been invited to give “public direction” over the debate about the past.

Trevor Ringland suggests today that they and others in authority “are in a position to be open with the public that at best, only partial truth recovery is possible”.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire

Mr Ringland, who is a long-standing reconciliation activist, has often talked about the multiple identities that Ulster people often have – he is a moderate pro-Union politician who played international games for the all-island Ireland rugby team.

In an opinion piece in today’s News Letter, Mr Ringland reiterates his previously expressed concerns about what he fears is an unbalanced approach to the past.

The ombudsman, Michael Maguire, is conducting investigations into alleged past RUC failures, and has already issued devastating findings against the force in completed reports.

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, has repeatedly called for funding for legacy inquests into disputed Troubles deaths, most of which are cases that relate to deaths at the hands of the security forces.

The Director for Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland Barra McGrory. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The Director for Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland Barra McGrory. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sir Declan and others have pointed out that there is a legal obligation to hold the inquests under Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights, about protecting the right to life.

But unionists fear that Sinn Fein has made such inquests a political objective so that it can help to distort the narrative on the past to justify terror and perhaps in the hope that it will lead to files being sent to prosecutors over state killings.

The DPP, Barra McGrory, has firmly rejected any suggestion that he has been biased in recent decisions to prosecute elderly soldiers for contested killings in the 1970s.

His office said in December: “When ... investigation files are submitted to the PPS, the Test for Prosecution is applied without fear, favour or prejudice, in strict accordance with the Code for Prosecutors.”

Meanwhile, barely any criminal progress or investigative PSNI time is being allocated to many of the unsolved IRA murders (which make up a large percentage of the 2,100 people killed by republican terrorists in the Troubles).

Mr Ringland said: “Increasingly the only likely prosecutions seem to be related to the comparatively small number of incidents where policemen and soldiers broke the law, rather than the vast bulk of unsolved crimes perpetrated by terrorists.”

He added: “Surely some candour would open up the space for the British and Irish governments to put necessary legislation in place.

“Otherwise, let them tell us what needs to happen to put perpetrators across the board in prison, including senior members of Sinn Fein, irrespective of the consequences for the peace process.”

Mr Ringland, a lawyer, addresses a point recently made by Sir Declan about the threat to the rule of law if the legacy inquests do not get held, when he writes: “We’ve already accepted so many compromises, political and legal, that we can avoid a purist view of the law.”

Mr Ringland said that around 700 unsolved murders “were perpetrated against members of the security forces, yet many of the victims’ families decided to remain quiet to help our peace process progress. Their grace should not be taken for granted”.

There has been speculation that the DUP is in the process of striking a deal with Sinn Fein over how to investigate the RHI scandal.

Agreeing funding for legacy inquests is a possible concession the party can give to republicans.

Trevor Ringland: Is there any will to put ex terrorists in the dock as well as soldiers?

Morning View: IRA must face the scrutiny that Sinn Fein demands of others