Blair’s Unjust Legacy

BY JAMIE FOSTER

Boris Johnson writes in the Telegraph this week about the nauseating unfairness of the contemplated trial of four ex-servicemen over allegations arising out of Bloody Sunday when the Good Friday Agreement means IRA killers get away Scot free. He is keen to point out that it is not merely because it happened 47 years ago nor that it involves people sent out as servicemen that makes it unfair. It is unfair because nothing new has happened to bring about the need for a trial now. It is purely politics playing itself out.

Tony Blair’s government is lauded for negotiating the Good Friday Agreement as it brought an end to the troubles in Northern Ireland. The trouble with it is that it was always a one sided settlement. It provided an amnesty for IRA combatants accused of killing. It left open the possibility of prosecuting British service personnel for offences committed during the same period. This was never going to be fair. Either the Good Friday Agreement was a truth and reconciliation process in which a line was drawn in time to suggest that no further legal actions should come about or it wasn’t. There can be no fairness in simply allowing the transgressions of one side to be ignored while those of the other side are pursued. It is unfortunate that Tony Blair’s government failed to stand up for British interests by protecting the position of ex-servicemen while negotiating the Good Friday Agreement.

It is hard to see how a trial of ex-servicemen now can be in the public interest. It is apparent that the only reason for embarking on proceedings now is to placate Sinn Fein and appeal to Nationalist sentiments. Those calling for legal proceedings will never be satisfied. For them it is just another attack on the old enemy. It is truly appalling to think that IRA killers are able to hide behind the peace negotiations to protect themselves from justice while ex British servicemen come into the line of fire. The Good Friday Agreement didn’t prevent hundreds of millions of pounds being spent on legal proceedings such as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry looking into the history of the troubles. In its way it has proved to be an incomplete truth and reconciliation process.

It is a very hard process for our ex-servicemen who are asked to go to Ireland as young men to bring peace to a troubled area and then are left with the shadow of that service hanging over them for life. It is a real injustice that they were not considered during the negotiations for the Good Friday Agreement so that they too could benefit from a line being drawn in the sand to bring an end to recriminations.

It is merely one more way in which we as a nation have failed our ex-servicemen that we have left them exposed to such political machinations. There is a real danger with proceedings brought after such a delay that it will not be possible to have a fair process. Memories fade over time and witnesses die. Reconstructing what took place 47 years ago is a process that is fraught with difficulty. Given the political dimension to such proceedings it is difficult to imagine that a truly fair trial process would be easy to achieve.

It would take a brave government who was willing to stand up for ex-servicemen and give them reassurance that they would not be proceeded against. Nonetheless such bravery is required to bring fairness to the situation. It is questionable in the midst of Brexit inspired shenanigans whether this government would see it as a priority to take care of a group of ex-servicemen. The right thing to do would be to say that the same position applies to British ex-servicemen as it does to IRA combatants and that neither will be prosecuted for crimes allegedly committed during the Troubles. At least that way some degree of fairness can be claimed.

It is about time we took away the threat that has been hanging over our ex-servicemen for nearly five decades and give them the same peace of mind that the Good Friday Agreement afforded the IRA. Our ex-servicemen deserve to be treated with as much protection as the IRA. Anything less is unthinkable.

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