Firstly I must commend the News Letter for their campaign to stop the legacy scandal.
They are doing a significant public service by bringing this issue to the fore because everyone should be under no illusions of the lasting negative impact these legacy proposals will have if they are allowed to go ahead.
They will be used as part of a scurrilous attempt to rewrite the history of the Troubles and paint the IRA as a force for good and the police, army, security services and the law abiding majority who opposed them, as the villains of the piece.
It is Alice in Wonderland stuff, except it is far more serious than that.
The reputation of the brave men and women of the RUC/PSNI, armed forces including the UDR, as well as other parts of the security forces, will be trashed by a republican juggernaut of so called human rights experts, legal firms and NGOs, ironically many financed with taxpayers’ money, seeking to frame the narrative that there is equivalence between the IRA and those who stood up to defend the rule of law.
This process can’t even mention the truth of what happened during the Troubles, with the word terrorism being expunged from both the consultation and the draft legislation.
It is beyond comprehension that this appeasement of republicanism is being contemplated.
IRA victims are being expected to continue to carry their personal pain for fear of causing offence to republicans who now seek to paint their loved ones as part of some evil conspiracy against a downtrodden republican movement, when in actual fact the IRA and other terrorists were guilty of some of the most despicable crimes against humanity, operating beyond any legal code or rules of engagement.
Just consider what is a particularly despicable proposal as part of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), designed to entrap former RUC/PSNI officers and destroy their reputation even if they are not guilty of any criminal offence.
It is called ‘non-criminal police misconduct’ which would appear to be essentially a catch-all clause whereby even if no evidence can be found to charge a serving or former police officer with a criminal offence in relation to a death being investigated by the HIU, this sanction could be introduced.
Obviously no similar sanction exists for former terrorists, ensuring that HIU’s ‘investigatory function’ will be directed against those who sought to hold the line against terrorism and meaning that the scales of justice are weighted even more heavily against the state’s forces.
Furthermore, included in the list of matters which do not prevent the director of HIU from pursuing a prosecution of a person or the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against a person includes ‘the death of that person since the time when the criminal offence or non-criminal police misconduct occurred’.
Just think about that.
This new police force, the HIU, will be able to pursue former police officers who are deceased.
The HIU, led by a director who is not operationally accountable to anyone, will be able to chase down the reputations of the deceased, who are obviously unable to defend themselves.
Meanwhile IRA terrorists will be sitting at home in the knowledge they have their Royal Pardons and On The Run letters stuffed in their back pockets with their feet up in front of the fire.
And let us not forget that the state has historical files relating to the police and the military which can be accessed by investigators.
No such equivalent records are held by the terror gangs, so the focus of investigations will inevitably fall disproportionately on the security forces — responsible for 10% of deaths in the Troubles, most of them legal killings, rather than the terrorist gangs who were responsible for 90% of the deaths, all of them murders.
One wonders just how many former RUC officers who are now dead and unable to defend themselves, are being sized up for proceedings to be taken against them, should the HIU come into being?
The direction of travel seems to be if they cannot get them in court, they will ensure their good names are dragged through a process, where actions they carried out in the maelstrom of a terrorist onslaught in the 1970s, 80s and 90s will be examined through the prism of 2018.
As the RUC and army struggled to prevent a breakdown of society, where every minute spent on the ground in some areas meant giving an IRA sniper or bomber more opportunity to murder them, armchair lawyers will crawl all over every action, judging them against the relative peace and safety of 2018.
So what can be done?
These legacy proposals have been scrutinised by the various essay contributors to this series, sometimes reaching devastating conclusions, and the overall legacy imbalance has rightly been described by the News Letter as a scandal – one that must be stopped.
The government has been weak.
The bigger onus now falls to the DUP.
It was the DUP who tried to sell these proposals to us back in 2013.
We told them then that they were unacceptable and that remains our position.
We have repeatedly raised our concerns and opposition to handing the republican movement the means to write the history of the Troubles.
And through all talks processes we have repeatedly raised the issue of the definition of a victim, but the government are either afraid or hesitant to address this in case it upsets Sinn Fein.
Therefore I welcome Arlene Foster’s public comments that it must be addressed, but I was rather surprised that she did not also raise this in the News Letter, given that it has been running this series on the legacy scandal for some time.
We should also be very clear that whilst dealing with the definition of a victim would be progress, there is a lot more to be rectified.
That is why the DUP must now do the right thing, do a u-turn and withdraw their support for the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and the legacy proposals.
Peter Robinson wrote a letter from America to withdraw DUP support for the terrorist shrine at the Maze.
It is now time for Arlene Foster to send a letter from Fermanagh.
It is the right thing to do.
• Robin Swann is an assembly member for North Antrim and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
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