DUP must not agree to SF’s key demand: legacy inquests

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A DUP decision to perform a U-turn on funding for a Liofa Irish language scheme is in the spotlight.

The reversal by the communities minister, Paul Givan, was seen by some observers as a sign that the party was ready to be flexible in talks with Sinn Fein. Other critics said it showed DUP desperation.

But a £50,000 bursary to pay for children to visit Gaelic speaking communities is neither here nor there. It is a small amount of money by Stormont standards.

If it saves the Assembly from collapse and leads to a full inquiry into the RHI scandal, that will be a good outcome.

Indeed, the DUP should be willing to double or quadruple such a grant before agreeing to funding for legacy inquests (a possibility which it has not ruled out).

It is increasingly clear that it was a mistake for unionists ever to agree that such inquests, into disputed state killings, would be funded as a separate process from other legacy bodies.

There is said to be an obligation to hold the inquests under Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), but unionists should be relaxed about that duty.

The prime minister, Theresa May, with whom the DUP currently has clout given the tight arithmetic at Westminster, has long had justified concerns about the ECHR and the way it is used by terrorists. We know plenty about the ECHR in Northern Ireland – it has been cited to justify the scandalously soft bail policy in dissident terror charges.

Meanwhile, Mrs May’s backbenchers are rightly furious at the fact that elderly British soldiers are facing murder trials when IRA godfathers have enjoyed a de facto amnesty.

It might well be that a way can be found to move the legacy inquests forward. But given that they have barely begun, yet have already been implicated in reporting of security force members to prosecutors, they must not go forward without a parallel process (tougher than the Historical Inquiries Unit) that will lead to files being sent to prosecutors on republican terrorists, who murdered 2,100 of the Troubles 3,700 dead.

This is not even close to happening on a pro rata scale.

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