BY A FORMER BRITISH ARMY SERGEANT MAJOR
The young man carefully approaches the recruiting sergeant, intent on being ‘just like him’. He’s smart, worldly, well turned out and confident – he wants to join the 350-year-old going concern that is the British Army.
The sergeant welcomes his interest and informs him of all the available options to improve his character. How to better his lifestyle, his physical condition, his education and trade qualifications. Hearing all this gets the young man all of a dither and excited. The recruit’s dream of ‘escape’ from the drudgery of his own existence suddenly becomes viable.
Nowadays though there’s a tedious addendum the recruiting sergeant must add to this timeless sales pitch. It goes something like this: “I also have to warn you that it is entirely possible that the very people who create the conditions where the Army is committed on operations may at some point in the future consider it politically expedient to resurrect questionable evidence and charge you with serious crimes, whilst at the same time giving legal aid to our erstwhile enemies (who are, in most cases, intent on killing our citizens and destroying our way of life) in order for this political charade to be played out.”
“Oh, that’s great sergeant, where do I sign…?”
Or not…it is more likely that the eager young recruit will check his enthusiasm and ask why on earth any person would agree to such a risk. He may well consider that his life of drudgery is infinitely better than facing years looking over his shoulder; spending what should be a deserved retirement waiting for a policeman to knock on his door to interview him about a long forgotten non-incident.
The fundamental question hanging in the air has to ask how any system that allows itself to be so outwitted by adversaries (after prevailing in a conflict) and so politically incompetent is actually allowed to commit troops to combat in the first instance – when it is perfectly clear that they are not fit to run a whelk stall.
The Member of Parliament for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer – himself an ex officer of the British Army – has made a stand against the prevailing mood within Her Majesty’s Government and the wider parliament by continually raising the issue in committee and on the floor of the House. However, Mr Mercer struggles to enunciate the nub of the issue clearly enough to allow the wider public and fellow MPs to understand more easily why such a situation has arisen. He does this because of the smoke and mirrors approach to the implementation of the Belfast Agreement (aka ‘The Good Friday Agreement’) by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his principle advisor, one Jonathan Powell.
In simple terms, this ‘team’ turned defeat into victory for the murdering terrorists and proved beyond doubt that terrorism does indeed pay. They did this for reasons best known to themselves, but they did it. By the mid-1990s the nationalist terrorist effort in Ireland was exhausted and, in all respects, it had been defeated. This cessation was more than the usual tactical ceasefire – where it replenished and reorganized itself and prepared for a new phase without the constant pressure of security force operations – they were beaten. They were left with the very thing that they had always promised to their murder gangs and crime rackets would never happen – negotiations, as a means of terminating the armed struggle. As a result, murderers become politicians overnight and the IRA neatly reversed into Sinn Fein, where it created a façade of ‘normal politics’, but the fact remains that Sinn Fein is a subsidiary of the IRA ‘Army Council’, with Sinn Fein’s leadership appointed by said IRA, not elected by members. And the IRA’s aim of taking Ulster out of the UK, democratically or otherwise, remains unchanged.
There is no doubt that the violence stopped as a consequence of the Agreement, which is a result that must clearly be cheered. But this obvious short-term gain was at what long-term cost? The creation of the Belfast Agreement did not mean that the strategic interests of the nationalist terror effort were terminated. It simply meant that by the terms of the Agreement they were enabled to pursue these same goals by other means. The truth of the matter is that the Belfast Agreement goes a long way to providing a useful context for the furtherance of the aim of terminating Ulster’s inclusion within the UK and the establishment of a moral equivalence for the actions of murderers with those of the Crown Forces. All the IRA needed to be successful in the negotiations was an opposing team that was not focused on the best interests of the UK. Enter the UK’s ‘dream team’ of Blair and Powell, whose legacy lives on like a series of unexploded constitutional landmines.
Returning to the issue regarding the prosecution of former soldiers and policemen, this issue was not included in the Belfast Agreement, but formed a major part of inducing the IRA to agree the terms of the Agreement. The IRA was represented by the 2 people most responsible for multiple violent deaths of innocent civilians and security force personnel over the 30-year conflict – Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. These 2 were cold blooded murderers, but they were not fools. The issue revolved around what was termed as ‘on-the-runs’, or OTRs, members of the IRA who had fled into ‘exile’ in Eire, usually as a result of them having committed serious crimes. In short, the IRA wanted the OTRs released from any suspicion and safeguarded against future enquiries. They also wanted convicted murderers that had escaped prison pardoned. In response and to ensure that ‘the deal’ was signed, the UK’s Dream Team established an extra judicial process that had no legitimacy in law whereby those incarcerated by due process were released. Those wanted for questioning over unresolved serious crimes were given letters removing them from any investigation; and those who had broken out of gaol after being convicted of serious terrorist crimes were given Royal Pardons.
None of this was within the terms of the Belfast Agreement. It was hidden from public gaze and conducted in secret. And it had no legal basis. It was an arbitrary political act considered expedient at the time.
One could argue for or against these actions, but the fact remains that it happened and the country attempts to rebalance after 30 years of brutal conflict. Except, for reasons best known to the UK Government, it is now engaged in a process of investigating ‘crimes’ purportedly committed by Crown Forces over the same period.
These investigations are occurring notwithstanding the fact that all Security Force activity was, unlike the murdering terrorists, conducted within the Rule of Law and under the terms of the Yellow Card, which was a legal aide-memoire issued to all security forces guiding their actions in the use of lethal force and the general conduct of their duty. Moreover, all deaths and injuries caused by Security Forces were investigated by the police in the same thorough manner as serious crimes (ie there was no distinction made between terrorist deaths or Security Force deaths) and dealt with at the time in the appropriate manner.
It is true that there is no Statute of Limitation relating to serious crime and as such any criminal act must be investigated irrespective of the passage of time. However, within the context of Security Force operations in Ulster for this to be appropriate and acceptable there must be new evidence. In all cases there is none. There have been numerous costly Judicial Inquiries that have failed to find ‘new evidence’. Over the period of the past 5 years what occurred was a number of interviews conducted by former police officers in what can only be described as an attempt to confuse and implicate the interviewee by his or her own words, in some cases 45 years after the fact. The various Army Commands have not covered themselves in glory during this period and have been ‘encouraging’ former members to comply with these investigations at the behest, no doubt, of the Ministry of Defence. This is a legal form of corruption and is fundamentally spineless behaviour by senior officers. Original interviews and legal statements are given at the time of an incident and are on record; these cases were dealt with at the time. It therefore follows that without new evidence there is no reason to re-interview security force personnel.
What is blindingly obvious is that the UK Government at the time, in the form of the Dream Team, took the view that it was politically expedient to waive the crimes of murderers for a higher purpose. In so doing the Dream Team acted outside of the law and traded in the lives of those who died in usually horrific circumstances for a shady deal which was concluded for, I strongly suspect, reasons other than were apparent at the time. It strikes me that someone had their eye on bigger things and being sanctified for ‘winning the war’ would allow them to write their own legacy. In that sense the IRA knew that they could extract any concession out of the Dream Team in the full knowledge that it was desperate for a deal under any circumstances.
Since then successive UK Governments have allowed themselves to be repeatedly outwitted by the nationalists and assist the IRA’s (Sinn Fein) non-violent campaign aims of degrading the UK’s resolve in maintaining Ulster within the UK through a process of endless, costly, spurious and ultimately pointless legal actions against the Security Forces.
If the normal processes of law were applied to this biased historical crimes issue, the threshold for opening a case and acquiring legal aid to prosecute a member of the Security Forces would preclude all of the cases currently being reviewed. This is not a financial question; it is a question of the truest application of the law. No new evidence = no requirement to investigate. Finance does feature in the process for sure, but only on the side of those who seek to make financial gain from some desperate attempt to prove the impossible after 45 years and the legal representatives of the deceased’s families who fulfil their usual role as carrion crows, growing fat on others’ misfortune.
What the likes of Johnny Mercer, Penny Mordaunt and others need to focus upon is that the Security Forces do not want an amnesty, or a statute of limitations for its actions during the Ulster conflict. Such legal waivers imply guilt and any soldier or policeman guilty of crime on duty faced the law at the time. What they want is for the law to be applied as it is intended, the very law and order that they signed up to defend, and not to be selectively applied as required by here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians who expect to be sanctified for turning victory, in the form of peace, into defeat, in the form of the current national disgrace of these investigations.
It is obscene and facile to attempt to create a parallel between the actions of Security Forces and common criminals who killed innocent people. It is as simple as this: soldiers and policemen spent their time trying to save lives – IRA criminals spent their time planning murders.
To all of those politicians who wish to flex their power and muscle while in government by deploying lethal force into the dogs’ dinners that they manage to create so effortlessly, I say this: don’t expect those who believe in the higher purpose and the good of our country to waste their time, and potentially their lives, when all they can expect for the blood and treasure expended is for the high probability of the successors of said politicians to prosecute them at a later date because it might get them out of a tight spot in Westminster before lunch. Or because they were just stupid and gullible enough to trust murdering terrorists to behave like human beings.