IRA must face the scrutiny that Sinn Fein demands of others

Morning View
Morning View

In today’s News Letter, Trevor Ringland again flags up his concerns about our approach to the past.

Mr Ringland’s repeated contributions to this debate are significant because even he, one of the most moderate voices in unionism, is increasingly anxious about the one-sided approach to legacy issues.

Mr Ringland is getting little help from other political moderates, who seem silent about a process that suits extremists.

Not only do elderly soldiers face jail for 1970s killings, there is slim prospect of justice for the vast number of unsolved terrorist crimes of the Troubles. This is not the fault of any one part of the criminal justice system. It is a by-product of a state that adhered to the rule of law while trying to prevent terror.

The very restraint of the state made it so hard to track, try and convict determined killers, the largest number of whom by far were republican. If a force as professional as the RUC struggled to catch known terrorists at the time, what chance have historical investigators now, up to 50 years later?

For a state that reacted so mildly to mayhem now to be scrutinised forensically is one of the great moral scandals in Britain today, as the rest of the UK is at last coming to see.

Israel is divided over the manslaughter conviction of a soldier who killed a Palestinian man.

In principle security force personnel must of course face sanction for grave offences, particularly well trained recruits in 2016. But for badly trained young soldiers who served in a chaotic Northern Ireland to face trial decades later for instant decisions is unforgivable when pre-meditated (in some cases mass) murderers so rarely do.

Mr Ringland suggests suspending probes. Another route is to give Sinn Fein the accountability it demands from others, but ensure proper IRA scrutiny.

Stormont House Agreement structures will not do so. Additional processes, reaching balance of probability verdicts, might at least identify culprits.

Yesterday Austin Stack, whose prison officer father was murdered, wrote on these pages of his experience of IRA handling of the past.

We hope his family, and other neglected victims, get closure.

Mr Stack’s story suggests little chance of it.