If legacy trials come to an end yet UK state forces faces endless probes, it will be worst of all worlds

News Letter editorial of Friday May 7 2021:

Friday, 7th May 2021, 9:13 am
Updated Friday, 7th May 2021, 9:20 am
News Letter editorial

Whenever there is a consensus on a controversy pertaining to legacy, it is easy to be fooled that there is thus an agreed solution.

There was for example a political consensus that there should be a Troubles victims pension, but this camouflaged the fact that republicans delayed the pension so that terrorists would be eligible for it.

Ire at the delay to the pension then turned unfairly on the UK government, which raised legitimate concerns about cost.

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Similarly, there has been cross community condemnation of London’s latest announcement on legacy, which is being branded an amnesty in all but name.

While anger is justified, supporters of the security forces and of innocent victims of terror should delineate their opposition clearly from that of nationalists and republicans.

The latter are outraged at protections for what SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly called on BBC Radio Good Morning Ulster on Wednesday “murders at the hands of the British state”.

This is very troubling talk. The security forces were responsible for 10% of Troubles deaths and overwhelmingly those killings were legal, albeit tragic. They happened in a chaotic period, before 1975. Illegal killings by the police or army were a tiny proportion of the overall fatalities.

The problem with the UK proposal is not that it is unfairly protecting the security forces but that it is a panicked response to the gross imbalance in how legacy has been handled. The matter has been brewing for years, yet London failed to carry out a major review of legacy well before its retreat last March from the 2014 Stormont House deal plan.

The review should have sought to establish why there is such an imbalance against the state in legacy: not just in prosecutions, but in the multiple other investigations against the security forces in civil cases, legacy inquests, inquiries and police ombudsman probes.

This new government plan means that terrorists murderers will not face justice, but could also mean that those multiple investigations against the state roll on, thus destroying the reputation of a UK which prevented civil war — the worst of all worlds.

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Alistair Bushe