BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
Despite vicissitudes, the Good Friday Agreement settled in Belfast on Good Friday, on the 10th April 1998, has lasted well. If it can persist for a couple more generations, then perhaps those still restless characters in the Republic and in Northern Ireland can get accustomed to peace-driven progress and put the tragedy of past troubles behind them for good.
Ugliness has surfaced since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, when it was discovered that two of the architects of the Agreement, Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell, secretly oiled negotiations with the IRA by giving on-the-runs assurance – some in the form of official pardons, often in official letter format – that they would not face prosecution in the future. Thus they were free to scarper and run pubs in downtown Chicago.
These are the same civilian-slaying IRA terrorists who killed seven people with a bomb at Aldershot Barracks in 1972, murdered twelve on a coach on the M62 in 1974 – in the same year killing five in Guildford and twenty-one in Birmingham in pub bombings. The same cowards who, from a safe distance, assassinated Airey Neave MP in 1979, slew Sir Anthony Berry and others in the Brighton Bombing of 1984 and killed the MP Ian Gow in his car in 1990. The same Britain-hating child-killers who celebrated causing an estimated £350 million in damage in Bishopsgate in 1993 – killing two children in Warrington a year later.
These are just some of the lowlights of a gruesome killing spree that neanderthal nihilists like Boko Haram or the Taliban would take pride in – which killed hundreds of innocents and openly targeted civilians – a bloodbath that ended up with Martin McGuinness, who has confessed being an IRA member, serving as Minister of Education in the Northern Ireland Executive between 1999 and 2002, then as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2007.
Let’s be clear. Britons are prepared to swallow one bitter, foetid pill to render parasites harmless – particularly to give peace in Northern Ireland a chance. But to ask Britons to swallow two where this sick rabble are concerned is sheer madness.
The news last month that more than 1,000 British ex-servicemen, many now in their 60’s or 70’s, will be viewed as manslaughter or murder suspects in a legal inquiry conducted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Legacy Investigations Branch is, put simply, a bridge too far for the UK public to put up with.
Whether British army personnel or former police officers behaved badly during their service in Northern Ireland is immaterial. They were, after all, working under orders – and subject to punishments by superiors then and there – in a terrorist-infested environment that could never be re-created in a courtroom.
I recall one relative mentioning how, during the height of the Troubles, an IRA mortar was fired and landed not far from him on a street. How the doors of the houses in the street suddenly opened and people piled into the street. How he heard these people shouting and screaming – forming a crowd around what he presumed was a body. He pushed the crowd aside, as he’d lost sight of his mate in the commotion, and saw them gathered around a wounded dog. Only when he stepped back out of the crowd did he notice the corpse of his mate and fellow soldier a few feet past the crowd, lying alone on the pavement.
Aside from the personal horrors these soldiers and policemen faced, let’s not forget the objective reality here: the IRA is just a silly name, like IS, created by its adherents. No-one can suggest for one second that British soldiers and policemen were facing an army just as only hot-headed Islamist crazies would ever consider that pile of rubble in Syria and Iraq to be a bona fide state.
In both cases, the use of “state” and “army” are risible.
Those saying that Blair and Powell should have simultaneously pardoned all British soldiers and policemen back in 1998 are missing the point. Pardoning policemen or soldiers cannot be achieved on the same level as pardoning terrorists, as terrorists are of a different caste. You won’t ever find British soldiers or policemen scarpering as on-the-runs. Equivalence is impossible.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Legacy Investigations Branch would do well to heed the lessons of the Phil Shiner fiasco. Phil Shiner and his misnomer of a law firm, Public Interest Lawyers of Birmingham, faced Armageddon against the backcloth of furious British public opinion resulting in one of the biggest disciplinary prosecutions ever brought against a solicitor. Shiner eventually publicly conceded he acted recklessly after making allegations at a 2008 press conference that the British Army had unlawfully killed, tortured and mistreated Iraqi civilians.
Bring a dumb prosecution against Britain’s finest and you’ll end up facing a baying mob, worked up by the British Press – whatever the current joke of a Labour Party has to say about it.
Not only were British personnel conducting their activities in trying circumstances under orders during the Troubles, they were often treated like muck by locals. Since we now know the Blair Government recklessly pardoned IRA terrorists to achieve the Good Friday Agreement, the May Government should show an equivalent level of belated generosity.
The May Government should recognise the past was the past – let bygones be bygones, close the Legacy Investigations Branch and issue a bravery medal to all surviving and deceased British soldiers and former policemen who served in Northern Ireland.
Let’s face the reality (rather than hiding it like Blair & Powell) – without the Brits’ selfless efforts and stout resistance, the conditions for negotiating the Good Friday Agreement with the exhausted IRA would never have come to pass.