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Soldiers also have right to justice

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 03/02/2016

The revelation that up to 150 ex-soldiers are set to ask the PSNI to investigate IRA bomb and bullet attacks on them during the Troubles is a startling new twist on the vexed issue of dealing with the past
The revelation that up to 150 ex-soldiers are set to ask the PSNI to investigate IRA bomb and bullet attacks on them during the Troubles is a startling new twist on the vexed issue of dealing with the past

The revelation that up to 150 ex-soldiers are set to ask the PSNI to investigate IRA bomb and bullet attacks on them during the Troubles is a startling new twist on the vexed issue of dealing with the past. With the potential to completely gum up the whole process, this development puts a new onus on politicians to come up with a formula for addressing the concerns of victims and survivors.

There is a compelling logic to the soldiers' move. If republicans can demand public inquiries or receive compensation, or if there is a wider nationalist call for intensive investigations into incidents like the historic Ballymurphy shootings, then why shouldn't soldiers demand the same probe into past attacks on them?

Just as agencies of the state should not be above the law, there is no reason to absolve republicans or other terrorists from the laws of the land for their past misdeeds. Justice must be for everyone, not just for those who shout loudest or mount the strongest publicity campaigns.

And just because soldiers were in the line of duty when attacked, that does not mean they should not be properly compensated for their physical and mental traumas.

However, the growing list of cases being presented to the PSNI for investigation is creating a logistical nightmare for the force.

The Chief Constable George Hamilton is on record as saying that he cannot afford to investigate the past and that the demands of such probes mitigate against him providing a proper policing service for the present.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers warned on Monday that agreement on how to deal with the past is vital and that present arrangements are not delivering for survivors and victims. She urged the politicians to set up the investigatory bodies contained in the Stormont House Agreement.

But will her plea be listened to? One of the problems is that there is no consensus on who is a victim, or who is a perpetrator. Without being able to answer those fundamental questions, how can legacy issues be addressed, never mind resolved?

The past is a running sore which will not disappear, but only foster greater resentment among those who feel let down. We have to set up proper investigatory processes and give the PSNI the funding to follow the evidence, wherever it leads. Justice demands that we cannot continue to fail the victims of the past.

Belfast Telegraph

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