There are many killings that would bear closer scrutiny. Some would argue that a line has to be drawn under a period of conflict and that everyone should move on.

From the British army’s viewpoint it is unfair to identify soldiers and bring them before the courts to recall events of decades ago. They were employed to combat terrorism, and in that capacity, may have opened fire on suspected attackers believing their own lives were in danger.

If you are a bereaved friend or relative of a slain civilian, those decades have not diluted the need for an answer to the questions how and why did that person have to die? Whether there will ever be a satisfactory answer is a moot point.

The ‘shoot to kill policy’ in Northern Ireland  was investigated by the Stalker Enquiry. His efforts were thwarted by a lack of co-operation from the RUC and Special Branch. John Stalker was eventually suspended after a smear campaign and faced crippling legal costs to defend himself. Public donations were raised to support a man who is widely respected for his courage in the face of corruption and those actively perverting the course of justice.

Some people advocate a truth and reconciliation commission in Northern Ireland whereby those giving evidence may be granted immunity from prosecution. It could be argued that the only way that the whole truth can be told about people ‘disappeared’, unlawfully killed or caught in the crossfire is by offering such immunity. Some say that the events are too raw, the suffering too great or that it is too early for  a commission that would allow the perpetrators to walk away scot-free.

Some British ex-military  argue that they are being treated unfairly in historic enquiries. Their actions have a paper trail, their service records and the Military Police enquiries can be re-examined in perpetuity. Whereas their enemy’s actions, no matter how horrific, will rarely have witness statements, and supergrass trials collapsed under legal challenges.

Others  contend that servants of the crown should only operate within the law, and that any criminal actions should be fully investigated and punished .

During the Troubles the state turned a blind eye to the criminal actions of those fighting terrorism. A few scapegoats won’t bring peace and reconciliation, but might be the price justice demands for the victims. Those on all sides who orchestrated the darkest deeds are unlikely to have the spotlight shined on them or face prosecution.

Young squaddies, police constables and paramilitaries were mostly pawns in a game that had no winners.



Truth and Reconciliation

truth and reconciliation sign

The pain of loss, the suffering of victims’ families and the lack of information about the circumstances surrounding brutalities make the call for truth and reconciliation understandable.

Some say it is still too soon for Northern Ireland to begin a process that was adopted in South Africa with some success. The conflict in South Africa was clear-cut – disenfranchised black people and a heavy-handed apartheid regime. The politics in Ireland are more complicated, but the search for truth by victims’ families is the same.

It is not for an outsider to dictate when those who suffered during the Troubles should move on or stop their campaigns for justice. But we have the ridiculous charade of Gerry Adams arrested and interviewed for four days concerning the abduction and murder of a woman the IRA had accused of being an informer. The outcome – a possible charge of membership of an illegal organisation.

There has to be a better way of dealing with the past than doggedly hunting down the perpetrators of acts of terrorism and trying to prove their guilt in law courts forty odd years afterwards. The Omagh bombing is a case in point. No-one has been convicted in criminal law for that heinous crime. People may know, or think they know, who carried out the bombing, but the covert nature of terrorism and the potential threat to witnesses makes it very difficult to secure convictions.

There is probably no single viewpoint shared by all the victims’ families. Do they all want the perpetrators tried and convicted? Do they want justice? Is there an element of revenge or would a reduced sentence under the Good Friday Agreement suffice?

If the majority accepted that those who were members of illegal organisations and carried out terrorist acts will receive reduced sentences if they came forward, is there a next step?

Will all victims’ families ever accept a situation whereby those who robbed them of their loved ones walk free having revealed the truth of their deeds and the whereabouts of the deceased? Is there anyone who can represent the interests of all the victims’ families.

A dead soldier, terrorist, police office, civilian, employee of the British state or informant is a human being whose life was taken. Who speaks on their behalf? Is it the legal system as it exists or does humanity cry out for a better way of dealing with the past to create a more secure future?