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We must learn from mistakes of the Troubles

Published 06/07/2015

I READ with interest Paul Gallagher's letter (Write Back, June 26). One of the problems around the current debate on collusion is that the definition has become so wide it has become difficult to discern what constituted legal crime prevention and what was criminal collusion.

It is for those who were involved to justify their actions, ultimately in a court of law. However, it was difficult for members of the security services to assess when they were crossing a line.

The rules regarding covert activity and intelligence-gathering developed on the streets and fields of Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It was not always evident where the line between permissible behaviour and criminality lay.

Paul Gallagher is right when he says that the overarching ambition of those in the security forces should have been to prevent crime. Overwhelmingly, that was exactly the case.

The security forces trained men and women to prevent crime and keep people safe. Too often that fact is ignored by people who are quick to shout "collusion". These men and women prevented a civil war from occurring in Northern Ireland. Their actions resulted in 12,000 republicans and 8,000 loyalists being charged with serious offences. These are not statistics which suggest a carte blanche for agents to carry out any criminal act they desired.

The most difficult aspect of dealing with the past is not related to the actions of the police and Army, but rather to the involvement in the peace process of perpetrators of terror, at the insistence of Irish nationalism. That process required us to ignore the crimes they carried out.

We now face a dilemma. Do we continue with our morally flawed peace process, until those who were involved in violence have moved on? Or do we pursue all perpetrators for the crimes they have committed?

I have little faith that ordinary victims will receive truth and justice, but I can guarantee that if we put real effort into reconciliation and learn from past mistakes, we can at least promise everyone who suffered loss and hurt that the same thing will not happen again.


Holywood, Co Down

Belfast Telegraph

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