After a long silence, the PM again speaks on the legacy scandal

Morning View
Morning View

At long last, the prime minister has spoken out clearly against the legacy scandal.

Theresa May said yesterday in the House of Commons that investigations into the Troubles are “patently unfair” by focusing on allegations against the security forces.

Mrs May had spoken about the imbalance prior to her general election disaster last year, as did her then secretary of state James Brokenshire.

Mr Brokenshire then earned so much opprobrium from nationalists that he fell silent on the matter. Mrs May also seemed to fall silent after the general election result, perhaps because she felt so weakened that she could not face down major political battles in Northern Ireland.

Terrorists are not being investigated and must be investigated, Mrs May says.

In fact they are being investigated but security force killings, which were 10% of the Troubles deaths, have been making up a disproportionate amount of the recent legacy investigations.

Statistics from the PSNI legacy branch last year obtained by the BBC showed that 30% of probes were into state deaths — 354 of 1,118 deaths. But even if only 10% of the investigations were into the state, proportionate to the number of deaths, it would be a disgraceful imbalance because it would imply that the state killings were illegitimate, when they were overwhelmingly legitimate.

How atrocious that the actual percentage of investigations into the state is even higher than that 10%, particularly in the context of the tiny number of coming terrorist trials for murder, when several elderly soldiers face such a fate.

There must be no prospect whatsoever of the coming legacy structures being established, including no prospect of special funding for legacy inquests, if there is even a possibility of the mooted Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) investigating the security forces to a disproportionate extent.

The government has said that it is committed to avoiding such an imbalance in HIU but it must make crystal clear how that will be guaranteed, and delay legacy inquest funding until that is done.

The government has in the courts argued that it will struggle to allocate tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions into legacy inquest investigations into deaths at the hands of the state — just as Sinn Fein and the IRA want — given that it could mean such deaths getting greater funding than unsolved murders by terrorists.

But making such arguments via QCs is not good enough. It must be made publicly and fearlessly by ministers.

The prime minister has spoken. Now we need to see the words backed up with actions.