‘Plan for a Historical Investigations Unit would keep state firmly in crosshairs’

It seems that we in Northern Ireland are in a perpetual cycle of running down the clock on all the serious issues we face, enabling bad decisions to be made in a compressed timeframe.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 5:47 am
A policeman walks through the aftermath of an INLA car bomb attack against the village of Newtownhamilton, Co Armagh, on June 24, 1998; the explosives detonated just as RUC officers were clearing people away from the area, wounding at least three people and wrecking the village’s centre

This is what happened in respect to the Northern Ireland Protocol, and this is also what is happening with legacy.

As with the protocol – as far back as October 2019 – the Ulster Unionist Party has also been warning about the implications of supporting the legacy arrangements of the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) since its inception.

The proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), within the Stormont House Agreement, would inevitably focus their efforts on the forces of law and order.

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The Director was to be given the ability to jump the proposed sequential order of investigations if information is available to progress another case.

The reality is that accurate historical records and information are held by the State, but terrorist groups hold no equivalent information, and as a result the Directors will, quite literally, direct the HIU investigations down the path that relates to former police officers and soldiers.

In an attempt to climb out of this hole which the DUP found themselves in, they have now decided to support a Statute of Limitations – as with the Overseas Operations Bill – for military personnel.

It is not quite an amnesty but certainly does create the same sort of problems when applied in Northern Ireland, as both the Veterans Commissioner and the former Veterans Minister – Jonny Mercer MP – have alluded too.

In essence, if it applies to the military it will then also apply to the terrorists.

It will bring about the situation which republicans have sought for many years, by creating a false equivalence between the lawful forces of law and order and the terrorists. The revisionary view of our Troubles will then have been succeeded as ‘The Troubles’ morph into ‘The Conflict’ and is then is accepted as ‘A War’ in the same manner as the Irish War of Independence.

Of course we already have a proposed amnesty as part of the SHA.

That amnesty is given to those perpetrators who robbed their victims of their limbs and left individuals blind or burned or confined to a wheelchair. All suffering the psychological effects of what the perpetrator did in the knowledge that Sinn Fein, DUP, the SDLP and APNI have all accepted this amnesty, as long as there was no fatality in the incident.

Of course the response will be – ‘it’s not ideal but what is your idea?’ – to which we point out that all political parties have expressed their support for the police and the justice system. So why do we not just let them get on with investigating crime past, present and the future crime trends we will face?

In arguing against a Statute of Limitations or amnesties the UUP is fully aware that republican terrorists have been in receipt of not just the On-the-Run letters but multiple Royal Prerogatives of Mercy – up to 200. An individual prerogative for an individual’s set of circumstances for pre-meditated crimes.

Clearly any solider should be viewed within the confines of their actions, which were not pre-meditated, and therefore the delivery of a Royal Prerogative is not equivalence but a realisation that in extremis these men made mistakes that resulted in death or injury.

The difference between the Military and Republicans is that one was lawfully constituted Armed force which was subject to the rule of law, the other was an illegal gang which murdered men, women and children, targeting civilians as a matter of routine.

There is no question that the Royal Prerogative of Mercy should now be exercised as required to protect those whom the State put in harm’s way.”

– Doug Beattie is Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann, a seat he has held since 2016. He was formerly a captain in the British Army, and was posted to Afghanistan for three tours, where he earned the Military Cross for bravery.

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