Legacy proposal from ex NIO spad should be just the start of reform

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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As if there were not enough long-standing cultural problems with the Northern Ireland Office, it recently lost Jonathan Caine as an advisor.

Lord Caine, as he now is, only gave his maiden speech in the House of Lords this week, several years after he was ennobled, because he could not participate in debates by peers while he was working for the government in his NIO special advisor capacity.

A sensible suggestion from Lord Caine was made in the speech: of a legal distinction between a member of the security forces who makes a split second illegal decision which, tragically, results in a death and a pre-meditated murder.

Societies around the world have struggled with similar legal challenges for centuries, and it is why some jurisdictions have distinctions in murder charges, such as one and two, to distinguish between the split second illegal killing and the long planned murder.

While Lord Caine’s suggestion is an important contribution to the debate, as he acknowledges it is not going to happen overnight. In any event, it does not explain how we are in the current legacy crisis in which soldiers who found themselves in just that situation, of potentially being culpable for killings in chaotic situations, are either facing trials or criminal investigations when no terrorist godfathers — drenched in blood for their pre mediated murder and mayhem and attempts to topple and bomb and economically cripple elected governments — seem to have any prospect of a criminal trial.

This is both a crisis and a scandal and there must be no prospect of any Stormont deal that tries quietly to wave through any legacy solution that does not involve radical reform on how we tackle the past.

The absence of Lord Caine from the NIO rings alarm bells as to what advice is being given to Julian Smith, the secretary of state. But aside from political advice, there needs to be a profound cultural change in the NIO, which should be a UK bulwark against all-island creep.