Historical Enquiries

The two mulesIn Northern Ireland, it is not possible to have truth and justice. Evidence will be hidden, unless the perpetrators are sure it may not be used against them. Which do we want, and who should decide? The Historical Enquiries Team of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which did not answer this question, has been shut down.

Terrorists saw themselves as soldiers, defending their communities. With pervasive discrimination, even oppression, against Catholics, this is arguable. The Quaker Edward Burrough wrote in 1661, if anything be commanded of us by the present authority, which is not according to equity, justice and a good conscience towards God… we must in such cases obey God only and deny active obedience for conscience’ sake, and patiently suffer what is inflicted upon us for such our disobedience to men. The HET has not referred any cases of killings by soldiers to the Director of Public Prosecutions, because soldiers were carrying their weapons lawfully, and firing them might be lawful too if they reasonably believed that their lives or the lives of others were in danger. Sinn Féin want IRA killings treated in the same way, but use code, speaking of the hierarchy of victims rather than of killers.

State killings were covered up and excused. The Government still seeks to cover up details of cases even where state complicity in murder has been admitted. The Democratic Unionist Party, however, consider that too much pressure has been applied to “state actors” while terrorists and former terrorists refuse to be full and active participants in the process of truth recovery. From a Freedom of Information request, the HET completed 1082 reviews by victim, including assault as well as murder or attempted murder. Only 65 arrests followed, with two individuals pleading guilty, and no breakdown was given as to whether those charged were Republican or Loyalist. Evidential difficulties with prosecution years or decades later were clear when HET was set up. Relatives will not know the circumstances of a death without a direct confession, unobtainable without immunity from prosecution.

In practice, killers are as safe from punishment as they would be with immunity, but it sticks in the craw to admit that; and different groups want different murderers punished, and are unwilling to negotiate. If we admitted that there was little chance of successful prosecution, we (the people) could agree that it was better that families heard the truth about their relatives. In nine years, HET issued reports to the relatives of 2,300 casualties of the conflict. 64% were “very satisfied” and only 3% were “dissatisfied”. 3466 people died in The Troubles between 1969 and 2001.

After a damning report by HM Inspector of Constabulary, HEC was shut down in spending cuts. I would not have heard of it but for Prospect magazine.

2 thoughts on “Historical Enquiries

  1. Super interesting … I have several friends who’ve been to Belfast and they love it. Apparently it has quite the gay night life. That is not what I would have thought of Belfast!


    • In my twenties I went to Belfast, saw a new translation of The Hostage by Brendan Behan, and walked down the Shankhill Road then the Falls Road with two Kiwi tourists. I persuaded them not to carry their cameras visibly, which only led to them getting their cameras out of their backpacks every hundred yards to snap away. They were surprised at the number of baby’s dummies in the gutters. In the Milltown Cemetery I saw the grave of Mairead Farrell covered in flowers.


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