Legacy – a series of essays







The News Letter has sent an email to registered readers providing a summary of its recent series of essays on the Legacy proposals currently the subject of “consultation”.

The premise in publishing the series has been simple: has been a scandal the way in which the whole weight of the British state has, at great expense to UK taxpayers, turned in on its own security forces who prevented civil war here in Northern Ireland (the introductory stories to the series list the current imbalance against security forces).

It is “Time to stop the terror legacy scandal” (August 20th). The series was backed with a strong Morning View editorial.

While for many years there have been many reports of, or documentaries on, claims of ‘collusion’  etc the News Letter has made space for a neglected but important alternative viewpoint on the past.

The News Letter essays have been a reminder of the avalanche of grief and misery as the consequence of a ‘Troubles’ that was dominated by a republican terrorist campaign that (our contributors all believe) was wholly lacking in legitimacy. The republican campaign was a full frontal assault on the economy and on democratic society, and to which the RUC, army and other branches of the state reacted with obvious restraint, despite knowing all the ring leaders.

Now all the essays are bundled together in a single section on the News Letter website.

Contributors have ranged from ex police, army and other state officials who helped prevent civil war in the Province, as well as by essays by academics, victims, commentators and lawyers.

Politicians have contributed essays too, although in the first weeks of the series the paper sought out other voices who are less political in outlook.

The contributors have examined issues such as the way in which the processes have turned against the security forces and its impact on those who served their country, victims of terror and its possible impact on future generations who are often being led to the view that terrorism was necessary.

All contributors are unpaid, and are writing because of their concern at what has been happening.

While some contributors are open to the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) structures as a way out of the current mess, and others not, and while some contributors back a statute of limitations for ex security forces and some not, all agree the present system is unfair: the introductory Morning View listed some of the imbalance against state forces in current investigations.

At the same time the News Letter has run a counter view on legacy, that of Stephen Farry MLA of Alliance, who is supportive of the SHA bodies and who does not think that the current situation is a scandal. Also Rev Norman Hamilton of the Presbyterian Church wrote a piece which we deliberately kept out of the series, because the church’s view is that the current response to legacy is unsatisfactory but not a scandal, and a reformed SHA is the best way forward with a new definition of a victim.

But this series is mainly providing a vehicle for a viewpoint that the News Letter believes is often overlooked in much of the media and academic worlds, where there is heavy focus on allegations against state forces.

The essays were launched by Colonel Tim Collins, who said that veterans must be protected from a witch-hunt to appease the IRA. He is urging such veterans to send letters to the authorities to ask if they are being pursued for past actions in the Troubles.

Major-General Julian Thompson described as “monstrous” the prosecution of elderly veterans of Northern Ireland after schemes such as On The Run letters to placate the IRA.

The victims campaigner Kenny Donaldson said that innocent victims of terrorism do not back the plans to tackle past as they stand now.

But the Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann MLA is among those, including Jim Allister MLA, who think the plans are so flawed and so favourable to IRA terrorists that they must be scrapped entirely.

The solicitor Neil Faris also said that the plans were so flawed they should be scrapped, although he acknowledged how painful a further delay would be to victims.

But in one of the most important contributions to the series, spread over two days, Mr Faris said that he feared that victims of terrorism were being led into a trap in which they would think that perpetrators would be named when in fact only police officers would be ‘named and shamed’ for alleged misconduct.

Even the moderate reconciliation activist Trevor Ringland wrote about how the plans to deal with the past “favour dividers and terrorists”.

Among the victims in the series to have given moving testimony of the impact of IRA murder and mayhem is Kathryn Johnston, who explained how her mum was dead from “a broken heart” within six months of the murder of her RUC father, which left Kathryn an orphan. The deaths of five other relatives were hastened by the murder, she said.

In a similar personal piece, Ishan Bashir told how the murder of his brother Inam in the 1996 Canary Wharf bomb caused their father to die of a broken heart.

Mary McCurrie, whose father was shot dead in the Short Strand, urged victims to sue “Sinn Fein-IRA”.

The former MP and ex guardsman Danny Kinahan wrote about how most politicians at Westminster are unaware of how one-sided the approach to the past has become in favour of republican terrorists.

The former RUC chief superintendent Norman Baxter said that there is a victim hierarchy in which victims of terror are at the bottom. He also condemned the fact that the deaths of some terrorists, including the “serial killer” Jim Lynagh, would get a greater level of scrutiny than that of their many victims.

The ex Special Branch detective and author Dr William Matchett in his essay said that “republican conspiracy nonsense” about collusion had been indulged by the state, and the RUC trashed, something which would if anything worsen in the SHA structures.

The academics Professors Arthur Aughey and Henry Patterson criticised insufficient historical context in the mooted legacy proposals.

Another academic, Dr Cillian McGrattan, wrote about some of the ‘transitional justice’ mindsets on legacy that assumed inappropriate comparisons between the UK’s response to the Troubles and gangster states and how they responded to security issues. He said that Northern Ireland was on the verge of fostering a pro terrorist view of the past.

A further academic, Dr James Dingley criticised the ‘useful idiots’ such as some human rights activists who had helped the IRA put the UK state on the defensive over the past.

The Orange Order chief executive Iain Carlisle said that republicans are relentlessly blackening the security forces to re-write history.

The barrister Austen Morgan, who wrote a book about the OTR scandal, said that Sinn Fein wants to push on from that success “to wherever it can in its Brit bashing”.

Canon Ian Ellis examines the controversial definition of a victim and said that there is “an immense difference between a bomber killed by his own bomb and his victim”.

The series will continue until after the October 5 close to the legacy consultation.