OPINION: Why Unionism must oppose the proposed legacy structures

By Jamie Bryson

There is an increasing focus on legacy matters amidst the ongoing concern around the witch hunt against former members of the armed forces in relation to Northern Ireland troubles related incidents.


Alongside this there are a number of new legacy bodies proposed under the terms of the Stormont House Agreement, and these proposals are detailed in the current legacy consultation process which is open to take submissions from anyone within the United Kingdom.

Nationalists have continually sought to use the legacy process as an extension of their political campaign, and have regularly made pronouncements on their desire for ‘truth’ and ‘justice’. These pronouncements run contrary to their actions.

Mary Lou McDonald, in an interview with the Newsletter’s Sam McBride , stated that she could give no guarantees that the IRA would participate in any truth recovery process. Indeed, given that it is Sinn Fein’s somewhat ludicrous position that the IRA no longer exist, then corporate IRA participation would in effect actually undermine Sinn Fein’s own claims that they have ceased to exist as an organisational structure.

Nationalist victims groups, such as Relatives for Justice, are widely accepted to be fronts for Sinn Fein. When the UVF decided, via an interlocutor, to provide some truth in relation to Ballymurphy, Sinn Fein and their legacy front groups were incredulous. This quite clearly flushed out the fact that truth is not the desired outcome for nationalists, but rather their version of the truth is the ultimate objective.

It would be extremely foolish for any loyalist to engage in truth recovery under the terms outlined by the Stormont House Agreement legacy mechanisms. Such mechanisms will run in parallel with a criminal investigation process, and despite Clause 45 of the proposed Bill stipulating that information received by the proposed Independent Commission on Information Retrieval would be inadmissible, Clause 45 sub section (4) is very clear that police authorities or a coroner would not be prevented from pursuing lines of enquiry disclosed by the Commission in a report to a family. This is also explicitly laid out at paragraph 155 of the legacy consultation explanatory notes on the proposed Bill.

Therefore information provided to the Commission could, and almost certainly would, be used via the backdoor by using the reports provided as a means to generate new lines of criminal enquiry. Why then would anyone who had knowledge of, or had committed, a conflict related offence be foolish enough to open the door to inadvertently assisting a criminal prosecution against themselves or others?

Despite the obvious dangers in relation to running truth recovery alongside a criminal investigation process, there is the further opportunities for republicans, and their legacy front groups, to use the mechanisms as a Trojan horse to re-write the past.

Clause 42 of the proposed Bill makes clear that the report will only be subjected to a standard of testing is so far as the Commission is obliged to satisfy itself as to the credibility of the information provided. What does this mean? This, evidently, is an open door for republicans to peddle their version of Provo truth into the system and beyond this Clause 42 also places a requirement on the Commission to provide a report on any “patterns and themes” identified. This to all half sensible observers is little more than a charter for republican manipulation of the truth in pursuit of their political objective of re-writing the past.

In a wider sense there are clear problems with the legacy proposals, and no unionist should find themselves supporting such a dangerous Bill.

Approximately 47,000 incidents took place during the troubles, with 98% of such incidents attributed to terrorism and/or counter terrorism. Only 2% were attributed to the state. Despite this the proposed HIU will not investigate any incidents which did not lead to fatalities, therefore someone seriously injured in an IRA bomb attack that did not lead to any fatalities will not have their case re-investigated. This despite the fact all cases relating to the actions of the State will be re-investigated.

There is a strong argument that a failure to re-investigate such incidents may be unlawful following the recent Supreme Court Judgement in the John Worboys’ case. The Supreme Court said;

The Metropolitan Police breached the Human Rights of John Worboys’ victims by failing to properly investigate reports of his crimes.”

This could place an obligation on the PSNI to investigate all circa 47,000 troubles related incidents. Such a legal obligation would almost certainly ensure that the HIU collapses under the weight of such a workload, and this outcome could very well stem the tide in relation to the witch hunt against the State. It is an argument which former soldiers and victims of the IRA who were injured, bombed or shot at should look at pursuing.

Further than this, 90% of troubles related fatalities are attributed to non-state groups, with only 10% attributed to the state. Despite this, 30% of the PSNI’s legacy caseload is focused on investigations into State forces. This is a clear imbalance and one that needs urgently rectified.

It is clear that the legacy proposals are fatally flawed, alongside being clearly weighted in favour of the IRA and those who would seek to re-write the past in order to justify the IRA’s actions by presenting a narrative which places the blame entirely on the State. It is for this salient reason that all right thinking unionists must oppose the proposed legacy structures.

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