Doug Beattie: Plenty accept the narrative that it was all the soldiers’ fault

Doug Beattie was critical of the NIO official's response to MPs
Doug Beattie was critical of the NIO official's response to MPs

Every victim deserves justice, every survivor deserves to know the truth, every person in our divided society deserves to have some understanding as to why things happened during the Troubles.

For far too long those who prosecuted the Troubles in Northern Ireland and profited from it have washed their hands of responsibility.

The inquest last month into the tragic death of 17-year old Marian Brown has allowed the family a degree of closure by giving a basic sequence of events to help the family understand the situation and what happened the night Marian and two others were shot.

It does not answer all questions but it does answer some. The coroner was critical of the soldiers who – under fire from terrorists in a car – returned fire without a clearly identified target and a clear line of fire.

On balance the coroner believed the fatal shots came from the soldiers and I would not dispute that.

So on the face of it the coroner was right in his criticism of the soldiers’ actions as many others would be, having never faced such a situation. But I have faced such situations – although not in Northern Ireland – and I know how fear and confusion can drive your actions.

Yet this incident gives only part of the story of that night. While the Ministry of Defence can narrow the incident down to just two soldiers who fired during this incident and in doing so gave the survivors a better understanding of what happened, it is clear that the IRA unit, who instigated the exchange of fire, will provide no information about who was in the vehicle that engaged the army patrol.

Who was it that made that decision even though they knew it would likely receive a lethal response and in doing so put the lives of innocent civilians at risk?

These so called protectors of the community put the community at risk with little regard for men, women or children. In this they share the blame for the death of Marian and it is blame – blame pointed at the young soldiers who scared and confused fired when they shouldn’t have, and blame on the IRA terrorists who instigated the firefight with no regard to its consequences.

To deny one you deny both.

Yet it raises the real issues that many have been concerned about since the Stormont House Agreement and the DUP and Sinn Fein’s plans on legacy.

How do we get to the whole truth without it being a one-sided affair? Who holds the corporate knowledge of the IRA – Sinn Fein, the IRA themselves, or individuals who will only divulge the part they played once they are free from any possibility of prosecution?

The Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR) is to be set up as part of the Stormont House Agreement legacy mechanisms to try to find the truth for those that wish it.

Yet recently the claim by the UVF that they were responsible for some of the deaths at Ballymurphy in 1972 was met with ridicule by those who will accept only one narrative – it was all the soldiers’ fault. No other possible version of events will be countenanced, even if it is true.

The Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) - also to be one of the legacy mechanisms - will invariably investigate every killing by British soldiers because information has been retained and will be made available for investigation.

However, the director of the HIU does not have to conduct an investigation if he is not satisfied there is the evidence available to justify such an investigation. This will clearly prevent investigations into the actions of republican and loyalist terrorists.

What happened on June 10, 1972 when Marian Brown was shot dead was not an uncommon event for that period of time. More than 450 men, women and children were killed that year, the vast majority due to the actions of terrorists - with many more injured.

That averages out at more than one death every single day which sounds shocking when viewed from 2018.

My concern is that the focus will always be on those who can provide information - the State - while those who acted without rules or safeguards casually walk away from the events they set in motion and in doing so deny victims justice, and survivors the truth.

l Doug Beattie MC is an Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann