Ben Lowry: Neither Dublin nor IRA have been put under any pressure on legacy

Brandon Lewis said on Thursday in Dublin that dealing with the legacy of the Troubles was a “hugely complex and sensitive issue”.

Saturday, 26th June 2021, 12:09 pm
Updated Sunday, 27th June 2021, 12:59 pm
Both the Irish government and Irish republicans have criticised the UK retreat from the Stormont House Agreement, which was justified by fears in London that the deal will worsen the imbalance against UK state forces

It is clearly both of those things. Some of us who have followed it closely for years are still not clear as to the details of legacy, or where exactly it is going politically.

But most people do not have the time or inclination to follow legacy closely, and if they are trying to figure out what is happening then they need to understand one central aspect of legacy. It is that the IRA is not remotely scared of it. Indeed, it feels it has the UK state on the run.

This is a republican movement which orchestrated terror over three decades, which grew that terror after the key civil rights demands were met early in the years of turbulence, and which upped the ante in March 1971 with the honeytrap murder of three young Scottish soldiers, at a point when only 59 people had been killed in the Troubles, and when troops were still relaxed about security (this was before internment or Bloody Sunday and could not be justified as a reprisal for them).

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It is the organisation which went on to sustain that terrorism through multiple phases, including bombing Belfast, bombing the mainland, killing off duty security forces, particularly in border areas, politicians, judges and lawyers (particularly of Catholic background), then when all of these tactics failed people who supplied the security forces and ultimately targeting civil servants, before bombing major targets in England, from the cabinet to commercial centres.

Republican terrorists killed by far the most people, 2,100 of the 3,600 Troubles dead, yet encountered a restraint from the more powerful force — the UK — that barely any other society in history would have shown. Well known IRA ring leaders were allowed to come off terror at their own pace.

Despite all this, unionism and successive UK governments have acquiesced in a situation in which the IRA is not even slightly nervous about the past. The Irish government is not remotely scared either. Obviously, the IRA and Irish government are not the same thing. Successive administrations viewed the Provisionals with contempt. But there is little difference in how the two are approaching legacy.

Both Dublin and Sinn Fein have angrily called for implementation of the 2014 Stormont House deal on legacy, since the UK government announced a retreat from that plan in March last year (over growing concerns that the structures will worsen the legacy focus on the security forces, not alleviate it).

More significantly, however, successive Irish governments are trying to humiliate the UK in Europe and the US for dragging its feet on legacy probes into contentious Troubles state killings or UK security responses cases in which the IRA is determined to see scrutiny.

Amid this relentless pushing from Irish officials and Irish republicans, the UK seems to have only two core aims: first, to do what it can to minimise any political frustration within nationalist Ireland over Brexit, and that includes trying to placate criticism over legacy.

Second, to stop soldier trials. The make-up of participants in the secret Lambeth Palace talks reaffirmed that these were the UK aims.

Incredibly, there is no unionist or UK push to make legacy uncomfortable either the Irish republicans or the Republic.

I will not recap here on why current various legacy investigations are grossly imbalanced against state forces, or why current legacy prosecutions are grossly imbalanced against soldiers, but the web version of this article will link to articles in which I have tried to explain that point (see below).

Instead of apologising over legacy, and issuing joint statements with Simon Coveney, Mr Lewis should turbo charge the so-called ‘unilateral’ UK response to legacy, for which it is criticised, but which has been badly needed for so long.

The first thing London should do is announce a major review of how legacy has become so unbalanced, including a careful study of all the factors that have led to the imbalance in historic prosecutions.

Second, rather than wait for criminal charges against IRA leaders that never seem to come, while low ranking soldiers face the dock, it should identify test civil cases against the worst IRA killers and fund them, to counter the many IRA civil cases against the state.

Then it should announce a public inquiry into Irish extradition refusals of republican terrorists (102 out of 110 UK requests 1973 to 1997), calling on legal and security experts still alive from that time, and assessing how many people died as a result of dedicated killers using the Republic as a safe space to which to escape and plot their next murder of an isolated farmer.

These measures, it should be made clear, are just first steps towards a UK overhaul of legacy to end the focus on state forces who prevented civil war, while terrorists crow about the past and use UK taxpayer money to chase the UK state in multiple forums.

• Ben Lowry (@Benlowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

Other articles by Ben Lowry below, and beneath that information on how to subscribe to the News Letter:

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