In the latest essay in our series on the legacy imbalance, JAMES DINGLEY says it was those who instigated terrorism who need investigating but aided by human rights activists and by inadequate unionism they have successfully shifted the focus on to the state (see beneath the essay for links to other essays in the series):
After every major war or conflict there is usually an official history, or inquiry, learning the lessons: what went wrong, how it happened, how we responded, why and what worked and didn’t.
World War II’s (where the IRA supported Nazi Germany) official history indicated many failings, weaknesses and faults by the allies, but no criminal prosecutions – why?
It is called the ‘fog of war’ where everyone stumbles around semi-blind because you don’t know what works, does not or what the other side are doing.
Admittedly some, like Sir Arthur Harris of Bomber Command,had their reputations tarnished, but no war-crime prosecution. The reason is simple: the total culpability of the Nazis in initiating war, their transgression of the laws of armed conflict and fundamental violation of the most basic human rights and norms of civilised behaviour.
The same must apply to Northern Ireland and the ‘Troubles’. The context in which the violent violation of norms of civilised behaviour and human rights were breached by the terrorists (primarily the IRA whose political front was Sinn Fein) must be the defining moral and legal context in which all must be judged and any prosecutions proceeded with.
Only a fool would deny that the security forces made mistakes, over-reacted at times, especially to deliberate provocation, or shot the wrong person.
In the first years of the ‘Troubles’ they were unprepared vis-a-vis equipment, training, infrastructure, back-up and support.
In the case of young soldiers, they often operated in a strange Province trying to maintain order and peace in the midst of a conflict they did not understand.
Also, the terrorists were an enemy who hid among and disguised themselves as ordinary civilians within the civilian population. Not an identifiable enemy, abiding by the international laws of armed conflict, eg. bearing arms openly and wearing recognised uniforms or insignia (deliberately designed to protect non-combatant human).
Who would not be jumpy and at risk of shooting first in such an environment? Now these guys, not the human rights violating terrorists (like the Nazis) find themselves being pilloried, often by the naive human rights crew.
Worse, it is often terrorist politicians/fronts who lead these campaigns to vilify members of the security forces, who operated openly, in accordance with the international laws of armed conflict, which the terrorist did not.
Let us be clear, every single terrorist act was not just a criminal act in national and international law, but each one of their hundreds of thousands of acts violated fundamental human rights.
Equally, their political fronts were just as culpable in breaching the law and human rights, in that they often colluded, helped cover up and hide, excused or were accessories before and after the acts. Nor have any of them ever apologised for their acts, or shown regret or contrition.
Yet they violated all human rights in perpetrating some of the most horrendous mass murders of innocent people, maiming and traumatising, destroying livelihoods and property and ruining the lives of thousands.
They boasted of ‘wrecking the place’, ie. Northern Ireland, and for what purpose? Yet they are not being called to account.
Whilst much was wrong with Northern Ireland, the same could be said of any state, anytime, anywhere.
The civil rights campaign (operating openly) had led to Stormont addressing all their grievances, which were in the process of being enacted via parliamentary procedure (a democratic fundamental) when the Troubles broke out.
Indeed, in 1969/70 the then Marxist led IRA called off the violence as non-productive and sectarian, it was the opposed non-Marxist Provisional wing (with some of their leaders now sanctified as bringers of peace and the peace process) that initiated the next 30 years of violent destruction.
To what end, they never had a clear answer, except to end ‘British oppression’ (never defined or spelt out — rule of law, constitutional politics?). This, surely, makes the allusion to Nazi equivalence, more than just rhetoric. PIRA continually played only to their own narrow, sectarian, Catholic communities (many of whom actually despised them, but lived in fear of openly dissenting). Anyone for human rights?
There was in fact no moral justification for any one act of terror here as numerous reports and inquiries found. Consequently those who initiated the terrorism alone (in defiance of international laws) are the culpable parties who need investigating.
But attack is the best form of defence: put the other side on the defensive. And it’s much easier for rights activists and fellow travellers to pinpoint the wrongs of those who operated within legally defined and open systems of command and accountability, eg. security forces.
Too many well-meaning ‘useful idiots’ have fallen for it, partly due to the inadequacy of unionist politicians and communities as a whole, or public sector salaried middle classes who prefer the consumer society to politics.
Does it matter, as long as we have peace and we are not the peace-keepers (ie ex security forces) now being pilloried?
Peace at what price and for how long? I reply. In discussions with community groups, clergy and other local representatives I hear about the corruption of local communities by terror groups (still existing, armed, organised and waiting in the shadows according to Lord Carlile’s Report, 2015, but committed to the ‘peace process’).
Whilst they can siphon off the peace grants, community relations grants, reconciliation grants etc they are happen to go along with peace.
Freedom to commit organised crime and control communities alone appears to keep the peace. If they dry up, and/or when PIRA is ready, then it’s back to terrorism.
In this latter case all the information and intelligence PIRA can squeeze out of inquests, inquiries, court cases etc relating to how successfully the security forces defeated them last time round will be invaluable to PIRA.
Also, the ability now to blacken the name of the state and its security forces will help legitimate their claims to use violence in the future.
The future belongs to those who write today’s history and PIRA are hard at it.
One of the reasons PIRA lost was because many in the Catholic community did not see them as legitimate, as did the entire Protestant community.
Sow doubt in the minds of both now for the future, highlight state ‘wrongs’, out of all context, in the international arena and they help build up an immoral ‘moral legitimacy’ for their return to violence and ongoing organised crime.
They haven’t gone away, you know, Gerry Adams can assure us.
• Dr James Dingley is author of The IRA, the Irish Republican Army
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