My dear friend Ben Lowry of The News Letter is worried again, I see. He’s concerned about legacy. Welcome to the club, Ben. There are people here who were worrying about legacy before you were born.
Ben’s main thing, need I say, is that “elderly soldiers are [being] tried late in life for disputed single shooting incidents 45 years ago”. In Ben’s book (or newspaper), there is no doubting who the good guys were: “A state that reacted with such restraint to a sustained campaign of IRA terror, a campaign that moved from indiscriminate bombing …” Ah, sorry. Ben’s catalogue is just too long and boring to reproduce here. But the message is clear: the IRA were shockingly savage, the state acted with outstanding restraint, and there’s no way those elderly soldiers should be dragged away from reading Saga magazine in their nursing homes.
Houl’ on, sir, as Joe Brolly might say. Houl’ on just a minute. There are a few matters that need highlighting.
- The number of months, let alone years, which state forces have spent in prison for their crimes in Ireland could be counted on the toes of Ben’s feet. Maybe on one of Ben’s feet. The number of years that IRA volunteers have spent in prison goes into the thousands. So yes, Ben, there certainly has been an imbalance in prosecution.
- The IRA and other republican paramilitary groups were fighting against people who, as they saw it, were occupying their country. That’s why they risked imprisonment and death for more than 25 years. Not because they thought they’d have some fun creating “murder and mayhem”, as Ben puts it. But because they thought that Irish people had a right to run the affairs of Ireland. Ben and unionists are entitled to disagree, but they’re being politically purblind if they don’t acknowledge that republicans have a sincerely-held contrary belief to them.
- The point that is forever slithered over in the ‘elderly-soldiers-dragged –from-retirement-homes’ argument is that they are – or were – state soldiers. They were the people we all financed – gave board and lodgings, clothing, weapons, a salary – for what? So they could protect us from bad people. There shouldn’t be a hierarchy of victims but there should be a hierarchy of perpetrators. If I’m financing a state organization to keep me safe, I’m going to be doubly outraged if, instead, they turn their guns on me or my neightbour.
And they did, Ben, they really did. Bloody Sunday: how many old soldiers were hauled before the court to answer for their killing spree? And Ballymurphy? And all the other hundreds of cases of innocent people who were slaughtered by the people we all pay? Take off your shoes, Ben. Or one shoe at least.