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Vexed question of who to blame for acts of terror

Published 08/02/2016

Graham Spencer (DebateNI, February 4) provides a thoughtful insight into many of the problems facing any legacy process in Northern Ireland. But he doesn't appear to lend much weight to the "corporate narrative" proffered by the senior republican leader he quotes, also recently mooted by some "loyalists".

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 places an emphasis on prosecutions of the corporate body, rather than individuals, although individuals can be prosecuted under health and safety law, or general criminal law.

It could be argued that the legacy process in Northern Ireland might borrow this corporate narrative, to allow organisations to accept, or acknowledge, responsibility for events and, particularly in the absence of proof, any individual culpability.

We might consider, for example, the SAS ambush of IRA operatives at Loughgall police station. Is it likely that an Englishman from Hereford, say, would, of their own volition, cross the Irish Sea with an automatic weapon intending to shoot an Irishman? Or could it be argued that had they not been ordered to do so by an Army officer, they might never have done so? In short, does culpability lie with the individual SAS trooper, or the corporate body - in this case the Army?

Can the same question be asked of individual IRA members; is it likely that one day an individual from Tyrone was out walking when they decided to travel to Co Armagh to place a bomb at the police station in Loughgall.

Or is it possible that, unless that person was ordered by an officer in the IRA, they would never have ordinarily done so? Does culpability lie with the individual or with the IRA?

There is compelling evidence that most individuals jailed for terrorist offences would not have done so of their own volition.

Can it be argued, then, that culpability lies with the corporate body rather than with the individual? Or, at least, that there are mitigating circumstances involved?

And, if so, is it enough for victims to know that a particular organisation was culpable?

BERNARD J MULHOLLAND

Belfast

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