If elderly soldiers are in the dock, so must be elderly IRA men

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

What an extraordinary few days it has been for bail policy in Northern Ireland.

Last week a man on dissident charges relating to the murder of the prison officer David Black in 2012 went missing.

His absence was not noticed for weeks, despite the fact he was supposed to be signing on with police five times a week.

This alarming development was met with silence from almost everyone at first, including the PSNI, the justice minister Claire Sugden and various political parties.

The police said they could not talk about it.

The BBC did not report it as a major development.

The News Letter has asked questions day after day. Finally, after 72 hours, the police gave us a statement.

But many of our questions about this scandal remain unanswered by police – see page eight of today’s newspaper.

Prosecutors had opposed bail, as they had done when bail was repeatedly granted (despite breaches) in the case of the man accused of murdering Adrian Ismay, a prison officer, last year.

Then, yesterday, it emerged that prosecutors in court also opposed bail for Dennis Hutchings, 75, a soldier who is charged in connection with a 1974 shooting in Northern Ireland.

He wants to go on a cruise with his wife.

Prosecutors are, it seems, being consistent in opposing bail in all cases. All accused are innocent until proven otherwise.

But these alarming developments nonetheless raise huge, wider questions as to the overall criminal justice response to both legacy cases and current terror issues.

We happen to think it is outrageous that elderly soldiers should face trial decades later, often for split second decisions made in situations that they never asked to be in.

But imagine that we lose that argument, and there is society-wide agreement that elderly soldiers should face a courtroom – then something else must happen,and on a large scale.

IRA leaders, however elderly or frail, must be questioned extensively and, if there is a hint of a possible case, face trial no matter what their age or health condition.