Belfast Telegraph

Moral high ground is crumbling

Editor's Viewpoint

It is easy to understand the opposition of those families bereaved on Bloody Sunday to the suggestion by former Secretary of State, Peter Hain, that soldiers suspected of killing any of the 14 people that day should not be prosecuted. The families feel the soldiers have a case to answer and should be put in the dock. But Mr Hain is only articulating a logical response to the on-the-run letters controversy.

If Sinn Fein demands – and apparently gets – government assurances that former IRA members who went on the run fearing arrest will not be prosecuted unless new evidence turns up, then why should those soldiers be prosecuted for equally historic crimes?

That is a question that Sinn Fein has been unable to answer, and it is unfair to blame Mr Hain for putting forward the logical position.

This newspaper has enormous sympathy for the position of all families bereaved during the Troubles. That includes the families of those 21 people killed in the Birmingham bombings.

Now it is claimed that two of those suspected of carrying out the bombings have been given effective immunity from prosecution.

Ideally every unresolved case during the Troubles should be reviewed and prosecutions initiated if new evidence – perhaps due to new technology such as DNA samples – comes to light. But these letters given to republican on-the-runs have so muddied the waters that is difficult to argue for some prosecutions to go ahead in the knowledge that other suspects are immune from appearing in the dock.

That is the inevitable consequence of under the table deals such as the on-the-runs letters and the lack of transparency subsequently.

Indeed, as more and more details are revealed, the murkier the waters become. As ever it is the innocent who suffer.

The moral high ground has been completely eroded and it now seems impossible ever to recapture it. While there is never an exact equivalence between crimes committed by agents of the state and those committed by terrorists, it now seems that the Government's pursuit of peace at almost any price has meant that many historic crimes will never be properly investigated. Some might even call that a crime.

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