Belfast Telegraph

Battle for truth is not just about the paramilitaries

A new inquiry calls on the Public Prosecution Service to re-open the case of four IRA terrorists shot dead by the SAS. Brian Rowan reports

Are some of the right words beginning to be used to address some of the worst horrors of the past? And are some of the right people beginning to use them?

Listen to what Martin McGuinness had to say on the 40th anniversary of the Claudy bombings, those explosions in the village in July 1972 which took nine lives, the youngest an eight-year-old girl, Kathryn Eakin.

It was another day of carnage; a day of ugly truths and cover-up that knits a Catholic priest - the late Fr James Chesney - into the IRA and the bombs in Claudy.

Two days ago, McGuinness, now deputy First Minister, but once at the heart of the IRA, described the events of that day as "appalling and indefensible"; as something that "should not have happened".

A little over a week earlier, Sinn Fein national chairman Declan Kearney found similar words to describe the IRA bombing blitz in Belfast that came to be known as Bloody Friday.

Kearney called it "unjustifiable"; "I think there is no republican who would associate him or herself to the view that Bloody Friday should have happened," he said.

But for all their headlines and horror, for all that the body-counts scream out from those two days, Claudy and Bloody Friday are just two pieces in a much bigger jigsaw.

That jigsaw, as it is made, will show other scenes - and not just those in which the IRA was prominent, but others, including loyalists and the state.

But there will always be missing pieces. We won't see many of the hidden strings that played the puppets.

But are we beginning to hear some of the words that are a preview to an attempt to build some process of truth or information recovery? It is too early to say.

The MP Jeffrey Donaldson responded to Kearney, saying his recent comments must now be "matched by tangible actions". Jim Allister MLA also challenged McGuinness to "tell us all he knows about Claudy".

This is the battle for truth, but only part of it. The excavation of the past will dig up many more ugly truths.

"Martin McGuinness's comments in relation to Claudy are unambiguous and rightly forthright," Mark Thompson of the project Relatives For Justice (RFJ) told the Belfast Telegraph.

"They make a very important contribution to the need to deal with our collective past and we would hope that they in some way assist the hurt of those bereaved and injured."

But he stressed that the past is not just about the IRA.

"That past involved three key sets of actors [republican, loyalist, state], all responsible for actions that claimed lives and injured people."

And today his project publishes a report - Ambush, Assassination and Impunity - examining the SAS shootings of four IRA members in Tyrone in 1992.

They had been involved in a gun-attack on the police base in Coalisland and were shot dead not far from the scene.

"It has become apparent that state forces had exact knowledge of the IRA plan to attack the RUC station," the RFJ report says.

"The obvious question would, therefore, be why the state made no attempt to arrest the IRA men.

"The deployment of SAS soldiers, noted solely for their ambush and execution methods, rather than effectively securing and making arrests in accordance with international standards, adds to the concern that the aim of this operation had indeed been to kill the IRA men and not to arrest them. This was never an arrest operation."

It demands that the full inquest should now be held and that the Public Prosecution Service should review the case.

So, truth is not just about the civilians caught in the bombs and the bullets of a decades-long conflict.

It is about 'combatants' and 'enemies', too.

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