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

Trevor Ringland, the former Ireland rugby international, is a lawyer and activist for reconciliation
Trevor Ringland, the former Ireland rugby international, is a lawyer and activist for reconciliation

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, has called again for special funding for “legacy inquests” into deaths allegedly caused by the security services during the Troubles.

While correct in the circumstances, his intervention highlights a real danger that the past will be investigated in an unbalanced way.

Northern Ireland's most senior judge Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Northern Ireland's most senior judge Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Perhaps some proper direction is needed from people in positions of influence, with knowledge of the issues, as regards this debate.

Will we ever have forensic truth and justice, when it comes to the past?

Is there any will to put the likes of Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and other former terrorists in prison?

If not, what is the current fragmentary way we are dealing with the past likely to contribute to our society’s future and the future of our children?

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

I’m increasingly of the view that we should consider suspending investigations.

The Lord Chief Justice, the Police Ombudsman, Michael Maguire, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory, and others, are in a position to be open with the public that at best, only partial truth recovery is possible.

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.

Having said that if a renewed focus was brought to bear on the others it could pay dividends.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire

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 consequences for the peace process.

Let them explain how a balanced process would work.

After all, in theory that is supposed to be the goal of our criminal justice system.

We’ve already accepted so many compromises, political and legal, that we can avoid a purist view of the law.

Ian Paisley, who inspired so much hatred, was elevated eventually to the House of Lords, McGuinness and Adams are feted as peace-makers.

We released those who committed heinous murders from gaol and legislated so that those who were newly caught would serve only two years.

We issued ‘On the Runs’ suspected of brutal crimes “letters of comfort”.

There are about 1,423 Troubles’ murders where no-one was held responsible.

I believe that around 700 of those 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.

If there is no chance of balance, as we investigate the past, let there be honesty about that and a proper discussion of suspending prosecutions and limiting truth recovery.

The process would involve an opportunity for families to explain the impact of their loss or injury.

Of course, it could also involve genuinely shared education and housing, removing paramilitaries, a pension for victims and other genuine progress toward reconciliation, rather than the increasingly unsatisfactory version that we have at present.

• Trevor Ringland is a lawyer, an activist for reconciliation and a former Ireland rugby international

The Ombudsman Michael Maguire responds to this article

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

Doug Beattie MC MLA: Soldier arrests make it look like the criminal justice system is ignoring past terror

Ben Lowry December 10: Again this week we saw why we must pause on the legacy inquests that Sinn Fein is demanding

Trevor Ringland in September: It is unfair to prioritise legacy inquests over other Troubles deaths