Ben Lowry: Again this week we saw why we must pause on the legacy inquests that Sinn Fein is demanding

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams (left) during a Sinn Fein press conference at the Davenport Hotel in Dublin that was interrupted by Austin Stack. The party is trying to make amends for members of the Irish security forces that it killed, while pressing ahead with convincing people that northern killings were justified. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams (left) during a Sinn Fein press conference at the Davenport Hotel in Dublin that was interrupted by Austin Stack. The party is trying to make amends for members of the Irish security forces that it killed, while pressing ahead with convincing people that northern killings were justified. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
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This week two interesting, and seemingly unconnected, things happened with regard to legacy matters.

In Dublin, Gerry Adams’ attempts to bring to a close Sinn Fein embarrassment over the Brian Stack murder were bluntly rebuffed by Austin Stack, son of the murdered Irish prison officer.

In Northern Ireland, two police men were reported to prosecutors over inconsistent evidence that they gave in the inquest into the IRA man Pearse Jordan.

Both episodes give a glimpse into the future, and how the future might depict our troubled past.

Sinn Fein is trying hard to make amends for the members of the Irish security forces that it murdered during the Troubles.

It is not hard to see why.

While it is making rapid headway in persuading people, particularly the young on both sides of the border, that the IRA terror campaign in Northern Ireland was necessary, perhaps even honourable, it knows it will not make similar headway over killings such as those of Mr Stack or Garda Jerry McCabe.

The only route to rehabilitation over those deaths in the Republic is contrition and perhaps some co-operation in the criminal justice process.

Republicans are so dedicated to their cause, might it even be that there are fall guys who are willing to say it was all their fault, not that of the Provisional IRA?

Meanwhile, the reporting of the police officers over their evidence to the Jordan hearing gives you a clue as to why in negotiations Sinn Fein has placed such a high value on funding for the so-called legacy inquests.

These are inquests into Troubles deaths in which the state is deemed to have failed to protect the Article Two right to life (European Convention on Human Rights).

Sinn Fein knows very well what will happen if these inquests get the funding that its advocates are demanding.

There will be several years of evidence of state failure and information that could be forwarded on to prosecutors.

It is entirely possible that there will be multiple prosecutions of members of the security forces, after investigations by the emerging Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).

Even if there are no such prosecutions, the relentless drip of information of state illegality, taken entirely out of context, will continue.

The notion that Britain was a murderous state – a notion that is already doing well given the multiple and disproportionate investigations of the state – will gain traction in the minds of people who did not know the Troubles.

These are generations who do not understand why the IRA was repudiated by all the main communities on these islands, including by the community on behalf of which it took up arms, northern nationalists, and by the citizens of the Republic – overwhelmingly so the latter.

Young folk could be forgiven for thinking that the only IRA horror was Jean McConville’s murder. What else in the long list of IRA atrocities do they hear about with the regularity of revelations of state wrongdoing?

This week alone we have had the Criminal Justice Inspectorate and the Human Rights Commission joining the voices who have criticised NIO-Stormont for not progressing with legacy inquests and piling intense pressure on London, which has enough on its plate with Brexit and could well buckle, just to be rid of the problem.

Dublin, via its Foreign minister Charlie Flanagan, made a statement to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg criticising the delay.

A footnote on that latter point: when – precisely when – did you last hear a British government criticise Dublin in such a fashion?

Might ministers in a standalone Tory government now be confident enough to move beyond polite silence after such tactics? That if Dublin agitates in this way then London must make a noise about the Republic’s extradition failures during the Troubles?

The Irish statement referred to the various proposed legacy bodies, including the HIU. This makes their intervention sound balanced and reasonable.

But it is increasingly clear to me that it will be a blunder if London-Stormont agree to inquests without a parallel process that makes crystal clear the environment in which the security forces were operating.

Look at page three of this paper, and how St George’s Church was bombed nine times in 1972 when republicans tried to destroy Belfast.

Those repeated attempts to wreak economic havoc were outrages but they pale into insignificance in the face of IRA crimes against humanity – Kingsmills, Teebane, Enniskillen, La Mon, Harrods, Bloody Friday, the Abercorn, Harrods – which have little prospect being resolved through prosecutions.

The legacy inquests must be part of a process that makes clear how few known IRA fanatics were killed by state and how its leaders were routinely acquitted by courts.

A process that also will over-ride the sensitivities of terrorists who cite a code of omerta to stay silent about their past while demanding full accountability of others.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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