Belfast Telegraph

Truth must be at core of all Troubles probes

Editor's Viewpoint

The decision by a coroner to name a soldier who shot and killed a man in Belfast in 1971 demonstrates how the past continues to haunt the present. The naming has been criticised by a veterans group who point out that the paratrooper involved is now dead and cannot defend his actions.

Yet again a quest to find the truth about past deaths has caused controversy and feeds into the perception that such investigations are loaded against the security forces.

But how could it be otherwise in a society where even the definition of victim, never mind truth, cannot be agreed or accepted by all shades of opinion.

The one fact that cannot be disputed is that those bereaved in the Troubles, whether by terrorists or State agencies, deserve to know how and why their loved ones died. The widow of the man shot dead in 1971 was perfectly entitled to know all the information possible about her husband's death, just as all other relatives are.

The problem is that we do not have the proper processes to fulfil those desires. The justice system in the broadest sense is sometimes ill-equipped for that task. Those investigating past murders are frequently hampered by lack of evidence. Witnesses may be dead or their memories imperfect, and even police records can be scant or missing given the passage of time.

Indeed, the investigations which draw most ire - those into police officers or soldiers involved in killings - are the easiest to probe since there are more extensive records available on those under investigation. Terrorists do not keep records of their operations.

It has to be said that investigators should follow the evidence wherever it leads and that justice should apply to all equally, whatever wrongdoing is uncovered. Otherwise the pain and suffering endured by the bereaved is compounded by a sense of injustice.

The nearest we have come to solving this conundrum is the Eames-Bradley report recommending a Legacy Commission which had a truth and reconciliation mechanism at its heart. The flaw was that it relied on terrorists volunteering to tell of their vile exploits, and how many would do that?

That leaves us with the perception that State agencies are being pursued and members possibly prosecuted while terrorists hiding in plain sight escape the hand of justice on their shoulders.

Even in the distorted prism of Northern Ireland, that is not a helpful sight.

Belfast Telegraph

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