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The Troubles cast a shadow over Brexit
December 2018 / January 2019

Still, I hear you say, soldiers were on the streets lawfully with guns, the IRA were not. Soldiers were required to act within an ethical code and within the law. The IRA did neither, often engaging in acts so evil and barbarous as to forfeit any claim to the “armed struggle” mantle the seek for posterity. What else explains, as Colonel Kemp so powerfully puts it, the “thugs who prowled the streets of Londonderry using power drills to disable teenage boys who stepped out of line”? Or, the decision to bomb a Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, killing 11 people; or the use of civilians as proxy bombs, holding their family hostage while forcing them to drive to a security force base with a bomb strapped to their vehicle detonated on arrival — a tactic adopted by FARC in Colombia, and by IS in Syria.

On this view, the police should continue to relentlessly pursue old IRA men for the death and suffering they inflicted — and lay off old soldiers. In other words, there should be an amnesty for soldiers, something the Defence Select Committee last year urged the government to consider. At first, the government agreed to include this “alternative approach” in the latest of its interminable rounds of legacy “consultations” in Northern Ireland on how killings should be investigated, documented and the “truth” about them “recovered”.

This, too, soon ran headlong into the “embuggerment” factor. An amnesty for soldiers alone doesn’t meet our legal “Right to Life” obligations under Article 2. Impunity for the state against civil or criminal proceedings is viewed as the “epitome of impunity” contrary to international law because states have a duty to end impunity for “state actors”.

And there’s also the continuing Article 2 obligation to conduct an effective, independent and transparent investigation into past killings  for those wanting details of how their relatives were killed by the state. So the state can’t just drop everything and remain passive about its own conduct while pressing on with prosecuting its adversary.

This explains why, having first been open to the possibility of a statute of limitations for soldiers (an amnesty by another name), the government has now withdrawn it from its latest consultation.

The only way an amnesty for soldiers is likely to be lawful is if the other armed combatants — both IRA and Loyalists — were  also given amnesties. As Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley says, “A statute of limitations would not be possible under international law without extending it to terrorists. That is something I could not support.” It is, however, something which the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson says he could support. “It is clear to me that our veterans need the protection of a statute of limitations in respect of Troubles-related offences,” Williamson wrote to the prime minister. “If this means a wider amnesty, so be it.”
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December 20th, 2018
8:12 PM
We can rely on Gareth Peirce and her indefatigable Fifth Column to put right everything that is wrong, no matter what the cost.

December 6th, 2018
11:12 PM
In reply to nobby, who states 'you cannot compare a soldier who made a mistake in the heat of the moment......' my father was shot dead in cold blood by members of the MRF, a unit of the British Army who drove around Belfast in plain clothes in unmarked cars 'executing' civilians. Eventually this unit were disbanded as they were deemed to be 'out of control'. Obviously we expect these soldiers to be tried for the murder of our Dad. And why not? Wouldn't you want to see justice done if you were in our position?

John Ware
December 6th, 2018
7:12 PM
Nobby: The (regular) army killed 160 civilians, and 121 republican terrorists (Table 18, p 1561, Lost Lives). Most of those civilians were shot in the early and most violent phase of the conflict, and many may well have died in cross fire (including, I suspect, some of the 11 shot in Ballymurphy at the start of internment in August 1971). I trust you noticed my comment that ".....whatever crimes soldiers may have committed, people will struggle to see the remotest moral equivalence between the British Army and the IRA." John Ware

December 6th, 2018
10:12 AM
on the whole I agree with the solution to the legacy of unsolved killings put forward in this article.However there are a few points I would make.Firstly the author gives the impression that a large majority of the British Armys victims were civilians.In fact the army killed 149 terrorists and 152 civilians,roughly 50-50.Secondly you cannot compare a soldier who makes a mistake in the heat of the moment with a terrorist who carries out a pre planned cold bloded murder.Look at the Kingsmill massacre where the IRA stopped a minibus carrying workers home from a building site,seperated the protestants from the Catholic,whose name they knew,and then shot the Protestants.Nobody has ever been prosecuted for that either.I would be interested to know what proportion of Terrorist murders were successfully prosecuted,I suspect it is not as high as this article gives the impression of.Finally how can it be just to prosecute an old soldier who made one terrible mistake 40 years ago when the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin Mcguiness were/are allowed to pose as respectable elder statesmen.

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