Trevor Ringland: The two governments did not want to put top republicans in jail

Former Irish premier Bertie Ahern with the former UK prime minister Tony Blair. Dublin always insisted that the republican movement had to be included in any deal and this immediately compromised how we would deal with the past

Former Irish premier Bertie Ahern with the former UK prime minister Tony Blair. Dublin always insisted that the republican movement had to be included in any deal and this immediately compromised how we would deal with the past

Mandy McAuley’s recent BBC Spotlight programme on legacy Issues was reasonably balanced, despite dealing with a complex and difficult subject.

However there are a couple of points which I feel should have been emphasised more.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness  and party president Gerry Adams and carrying the coffin of former senior IRA commander Brian Keenan in west Belfast in 2008. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and party president Gerry Adams and carrying the coffin of former senior IRA commander Brian Keenan in west Belfast in 2008. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Firstly, the republican movement were responsible for around 60% (2,000) of the murders carried out during the Troubles while loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for around 1,000 (30%).

The security forces were involved in around 350 deaths (army 300, police 52) only some of which may be crimes. Some 1019 soldiers and police officers lost their lives, with thousands more injured. All the paramilitary groups suffered 480 deaths and, in each instance, well over 50% were self-inflicted.

As I understand it the police solved some 50% of the loyalist paramilitary murders while only 30% of republican murders have been resolved.

Currently, the police are investigating all of the deaths that the security forces were involved in. The number of outstanding murders needs clarified. I also believe there are over 700 murders of members of the security forces still outstanding.

Prime Minister Theresa May meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at 10 Downing Street, London, July 2016

Prime Minister Theresa May meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at 10 Downing Street, London, July 2016

Secondly, it’s important to remember the context in which we are dealing with the past.

At the insistence of Irish nationalism, with the Irish government’s support, the main perpetrators, namely the republican movement, had to be involved in the political/peace process as they argued that it had to be all inclusive.

My argument, which no one has directly challenged over the years, is that this immediately compromised how we would deal with the past. Arguably, there was little point in creating political structures which include the perpetrators and then destroying them by putting the perpetrators in prison!

Hence the two governments have in effect attempted to avoid dealing with the past because they did not want to put senior republicans in prison.

Trevor Ringland

Trevor Ringland

Seen in this light, one can better understand why we have failed to deal with the past and why we still struggle to do so. My simple argument is that we should be up front with the victims’ families and manage their expectations accordingly as there is no will, despite so many claims to the contrary, to provide them with either justice or forensic truth.

Perhaps that is what my generation and those older than me have to do in order to bed down peace on this island?

However the least we should expect in return is a number of things, including politics being practised constructively instead of what emerged at the last election which was the “hate button” again being pressed on all sides. There is also the reality that peace is predicated on everyone buying into making Northern Ireland work, because it now belongs to all of us. That’s the only acceptable method of pursuing your particular constitutional position.

However one fundamental matter that we have to reach agreement on between all the political parties and the governments, though Sinn Fein may not agree to it, is that the use of violence to further political aims on this island was wrong, unjustified and unjustifiable. That is the lesson we should be teaching our young people loudly and clearly and if some are uncomfortable with that well that is a matter for them to argue otherwise. We should then look at genuine bedding down of peace in a whole range of ways.

This would include using the past to heal rather than divide further. Yes, Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy were tragic and wrong, but there were also tragic, wrong events at Warrenpoint, Ballygawley and the smiling Lance –Corporal Stephen Restorick, in addition to the actions of the Shankill Butchers and Bloody Friday.

We have however reached the point where we can no longer accept undue attention being focused on one area of what happened during the Troubles while ignoring the actions of others, whether that be inquests, Police Ombudsman investigations, civil actions or other prosecutions.

So we take a decision now, we either deal with it properly, or we decide not to deal with it by suspending all investigations of whatsoever nature for 30 years.

• Trevor Ringland is a solicitor, former Ireland rugby international and reconciliation activist