London must step in to ensure balance in how the past is depicted

Morning View
Morning View

Lord Bew’s suggestion of an official history of the Northern Ireland Office is timely.

As the crossbench peer says, the NIO was thrust into a “horrible sectarian conflict”.

The cost of an official history would, he points out, be small in comparison to the vast sums that have been spent examining state failures, such as at Bloody Sunday in 1972 (that disgraceful stain on the reputation of the Army).

The peer says that a history will assist officials in not making mistakes in future battles, such as against Islamist terror.

As his appointment as chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life indicates, Lord Bew is widely respected at Westminster, both as a distinguished historian at Queen’s University, Belfast and as a thoughtful advocate of unionism.

The situation, however, with regard to the past and the historical view of it, is even more urgent than he says.

The story of the Troubles is rapidly being rewritten to depict a British state that prevented civil war as having itself been murderous. Alarmingly, this distortion is being aided by the state itself. The authorities, in various branches, are crawling over failures by the security forces while there is minimal progress in getting justice for the victims of terror.

The next phase in this battle to denigrate the state might be fought in the coroners courts, where there could be a wave of unlawful killing verdicts against state actors.

No-one with credibility would doubt that the state made errors, as Lord Bew says the NIO did. We must, as he says, learn from it. We must also put these errors into context.

Granting a no-expense spared inquiry into Bloody Sunday failed to appease nationalism. Dublin, despite its repeated failures to extradite IRA killers, has the nerve to demand a public inquiry into one Troubles death out of 4,000, that of Pat Finucane. Meanwhile, old ex soldiers face arrest while the perpetrators of massacres such as Kingsmills go unhindered. London must step in to ensure balance in what is unfolding.