In response to Fandango’s Who Won the Week post, I have been looking at my own newsfeeds.
I’ll warn you, this is quite a long post, but maybe you’d like to ponder the rights and wrongs of this situation?
Last Tuesday, an inquest into an event called the Ballymurphy Massacre, which occurred during The Troubles of Northern Ireland, found that none of the victims had done anything which would have justified their shooting.
It doesn’t sound much, does it? Innocent? But these victims, who were all civilians, were hitherto dismissed as Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen. So to their families, it was a big deal, to have their names cleared.
9 August 1971, 600 British paratroopers entered the Ballymurphy Estate in Belfast. Their objective was to capture IRA suspects. The action lasted three days, and left up to forty civilians shot, ten fatally. Another person suffered a heart attack during the operation and died as a result.
The incident became known as the Ballymurphy Massacre, similar in magnitude to Bloody Sunday, which happened in the same conflict just a few months later.
Also similar is that both incidents involved the UK Army’s Parachute Regiment. And on both occasions, the victims were dismissed as gunmen.
There has been retrospective condemnation. Bloody Sunday was described by the then UK Prime Minister David Cameron as “unjustified and unjustifiable” after an inquest ruled that nobody killed there, either, was culpable.
On Tuesday, there was jubilation from the families, that their loved ones did not cause their own deaths, as the UK Government had said.
There was anger. Fundamentally, that somebody had been sanctioned to walk down a street, armed with a rifle, and end someone’s life. But also because the UK Government had put more effort into hiding events than revealing them. Both Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday happened fifty years ago.
People called for retribution, that those who pulled the triggers should face justice. An apology from the UK Government? Something, at least, to acknowledge that it had done wrong.
On the contrary, though, it was suggested that the Government might instead introduce an amnesty for the soldiers, so as to prevent future lawsuits.
Other factors mentioned, I dismissed. But maybe they are significant to you?
- These events happened so long ago, the participants are now old men. Murder has no statute of limitations. Legally, if someone committed a murder fifty years ago, it is the same as if they committed it yesterday.
- That this was an elite force – specifically, that word “elite” – deployed onto UK streets. Any force, elite or not, deployed anywhere, rings alarm bells.
- An ex-general had commanded men in Northern Ireland, some had been killed by the IRA, in unknown circumstances. This introduced a tit-for-tat angle, which I don’t think helped. The rule we make for one must apply to all, surely?
This man also stated that “there are no good options”. Which is true, but it caused me to wonder why. Because surely part of the soldiers’ job is to keep “good options” on the table?
It’s a tricky one, don’t you think?
It seems to me that the trouble with an anmesty is that we are saying “put on this uniform, and you are allowed to do what you like”. With an implicit “we trust you to behave responsibly”. But, when someone then kills innocents, it sounds like our trust has been abused.
Northern Ireland was a war. For me, it is as simple as that. Two sides, two opposing goals, either one valid or invalid, based on politics. And in a war, bad things happen, on both sides. In the interests of moving past this war, I would let those bad things slide and draw a line. All sides. I see big picture versus small. The big picture is that Northern Ireland is now a fragile but peaceful society. The small picture is the man/men who pulled the trigger. That’s tragic for the relatives, but the big picture has to win out.
So, on this occasion I’d go along with the UK Government. Our motives are undoubtedly different – I judge that they want to protect their soldiers, even if those soldiers then commit atrocities – but we reach the same conclusion.
Every soldier must understand that shooting citizens willy-nilly is unacceptable. But on The Troubles, we need to let bygones be bygones, and allow time to move forward.