Chance of prosecutions for Troubles victims has fallen to non-existent

Posted By: November 30, 2017

Allison Morris. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, November 30, 2017

In February of this year, The Irish News published a front-page article laying out the British government’s plans for a ‘statute of limitations’ on prosecutions of former soldiers who had served in Northern Ireland.

You’d have expected a massive political backlash for such a huge story that has implications for so many victims and their families.

There was, however, a muted reaction.

In April the Westminster defense committee recommended that British soldiers who served during the Troubles should be protected from future prosecutions by a statute of limitations.

Again not much outrage was noted at what you would have thought would have been game-changing recommendations.

Fast forward nine months and what has changed to make it a red line, a deal-breaking subject?

Well nothing, apart from the growing political rift between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

It’s been pretty obvious to anyone with a political antenna that the ‘line in the sand’ has been coming for a long time.

Let us look at the sequence of events.

A growing number of officials and senior public figures start talking about the financial consequences of dealing with the past in the current ad hoc fashion.

We have seen the rare – and I mean very, very rare – prosecution, a legacy inquest here and there, an ombudsman investigation for those able to wait five or 10 years on completion.

A supergrass appears giving hope that a day in court is finally coming, but no, he’s a liar and a serial killer, so let’s rule that out.

A soldier is arrested and charged with a legacy killing – is this finally proof that the system isn’t biased? Who is he charged with killing? A child? A mother? A teenager on the way to the shop?

No, it is an infamous and prolific Official IRA man. It can’t harm the case of those now screaming ‘witch hunt’ that one of the only pictures of Markets Official IRA leader Joe McCann in existence is one of him crouched down at a riot holding a machine gun.

That’ll really help sway public opinion now, won’t it?

The British army was directly responsible for more than 300 deaths throughout the Troubles, almost 160 of those were civilians, the majority Catholic, 20 were Protestant.

The likelihood of prosecutions in any of those cases, given the passage of time, was always remote, in the current climate, I’d say it has jumped to non-existent.

Sinn Féin can complain as much as they like about this,  but the fact remains the de facto amnesty negotiated with Tony Blair’s government has tainted their involvement in this debate.

While party officials will publicly argue the ‘On the Run’ letters were not an amnesty, the collapse of the case against John Downey in 2014 indicated otherwise.

Mr. Justice Sweeney certainly defined it as an amnesty when he ruled that the need to prosecute those accused of a serious crime was outweighed by “the public interest in holding officials of the state to promises they have made in full understanding of what is involved in the bargain”.

The DUP now face a dilemma. Back their newfound benefactors in the Tory party to give an amnesty to former soldiers which will in turn end in an extended amnesty for all.

Anger victims of IRA violence, or anger the Westminster goose with the golden eggs?

In the meantime, there are grieving, hurting and damaged victims caught up in a political situation, not of their making.Victims who have been denied the justice of any kind, judicial or otherwise, for decades.People who have been promised so much and given so little.

In all my years interviewing and reporting on those victims stories, I’ve watched as their expectations have diminished. Now, most will say they just want some kind of truth or recognition for their loss, weary from the realization they have been left to the mercy of a British government, which has more to gain from drawing a line under their participation in a dirty war than telling the truth.

Traumatised a second time by a political process that was flawed from the outset, with negotiators who in the rush to get signatures on a treaty forgot about the people who had been left with an empty seat at the dinner table.

People who are still forgotten about, who struggle to keep going in the midst of further empty promises.

A statute of limitations, an amnesty, letters of comfort, call it whatever you want, it won’t change the outcome.

This is not a line in the sand but a barbed wire fence on top of an impenetrable wall, and one that will never be scaled.

What kind of justice is that?