Protecting veterans will resolve only one part of the legacy scandal

Simon Coveney was interfering in UK politics again yesterday, this time criticising the prime minister.

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 9:44 am
Updated Saturday, 28th December 2019, 1:53 am
News Letter editorial

The Tanaiste was sounding off about Boris Johnson’s comment that he would endorse legislation to prevent ‘vexatious’ prosecutions of veterans who have previously been investigated. Mr Coveney said that this would be a breach of the disastrous 2014 Stormont House agreement, if it ever came to pass.

It might not come to pass for two reasons.

First, Mr Johnson might not win the election, or might be prime minister as part of a coalition in which his ability to implement his agenda is curtailed.

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Second, the British government has been chronically weak on the legacy of the Troubles, and might be put off this plan by the Northern Ireland Office, which has so enthusiastically promoted the legacy bill, and its betrayal of state forces.

But even if Mr Johnson is in the coming months able to proceed with his legislation, there are multiple other problems that the legislation will not resolve.

What about the RUC, which killed far fewer people in the Troubles than the army? As a result of a major negotiating failure in 2014, it alone faces misconduct investigations to be decided on the balance of probabilities: ie, an invitation to find ‘collusion,’ as Mark Lindsay wrote on these pages last week, and so imply that police and terrorist was comparable.

And what is to be done about the deluge of civil actions against state forces, funded by British taxpayers?

And how will the multi-million pound inquests into killings linked to state forces be balanced? It is increasingly clear that a mooted Historical Investigations Unit will not do that.

And how, with Mr Coveney on his high horse, will Irish refusals over decades to extradite murderers get scrutiny?

Much is being said across the UK about the pursuit of veterans, and rightly so, but little is being said about the wider outrage, except on the pages of this newspaper and by a handful of commentators and politicians such as Doug Beattie MC.