The DUP has again come under pressure not to agree to legacy inquests, a key Sinn Fein demand.
There is a supposed legal obligation on Britain to hold such inquests into Troubles killings by police and soldiers under Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But there is growing unionist concern, across the spectrum, about the way in which they could be used to forward files to prosecutors about elderly members of the security forces, as has already happened.
The inquests include disputed killings of IRA terrorists, such as Pearse Jordan and the notorious gang that was stopped by the SAS at Loughgall as it attacked an isolated police station in 1987. It was when relatives of the IRA man Joe McCann wanted such an inquest that the file on his shooting was sent to prosecutors, which led to charges against the soldiers involved.
There are also fears that proposed bodies such as the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), which were once thought likely to provide balance by investigating terrorists, will largely go after ex police and army.
The DUP has been stalling on funding the inquests but on Friday the News Letter revealed it has still not ruled out agreeing them (see below links to further stories highlighting concern about the inquests).
The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan has repeatedly warned that there is a legal requirement to hold the inquests, and recently said that the failure to do so threatened the rule of law.
Trevor Ringland, the moderate pro-Union politician, has become an increasingly vocal critic of the focus on the inquests. He says that the rule of law has been damaged before to accommodate Sinn Fein.
Mr Ringland told the News Letter: “The DUP have messed up. They should take a deep breath and stop now and consider matters carefully in case they take decisions that might compound what they have helped create.
“In relation to legacy inquests, they are fewer than 100 deaths, all of which are tragic, but cannot be taken in isolation.”
Mr Ringland added: “We either do everything properly, despite the consequences including showing up current Sinn Fein politicians for what they did during the Troubles in their deeply sectarian campaign, or we take a conscious decision to suspend all investigations of whatsoever nature for 30 years.”
Jim Allister, the TUV leader, said: “It is deeply concerning that the DUP have failed to be clear on the issue of legacy inquests. These inquests – which examine deaths at the hands of the RUC and Army – are part of Sinn Fein’s attempt to rewrite the past and legitimise the IRA campaign of terror.
“They could see retired soldiers and police officers in the dock while IRA terrorists get off scot-free.
“Remember that the Stormont Castle Agreement agreed £19 million in funds for legacy inquests – a figure which dwarfed the £6.5 million for the Historical Investigations Union for overhanging Historical Enquires Team cases. The stage has already been set for a climb-down on this vital issue.
“Yesterday’s decision on Irish language funding was a signal that the DUP are prepared to give ground on Republican demands. If we see a similar U-turn on legacy inquests it will have much more serious and profound ramifications which would aid Republicans in their pursuit of the security forces and assist their attempts to re-write history.
“To allow those organisations which were responsible for the vast majority of deaths during the Troubles to portray themselves as victims would be the ultimate insult.”