Until the UK faces up to its role in Ireland we are stuck in 1998

British soldiers exiting a military vehicle during conflict in Northern Ireland
Peadar O'Cearnaigh

The 30-year war in the six counties of Ireland ended 20 years ago with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). Since signing the GFA, government bodies have made attempts to build bridges between old foes and to establish responsibility for the deaths of so many.

So far, their attempts have failed. And they’ll continue to fail unless the UK government owns up to what it did in Ireland.

Investigating the past

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) was set up within the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2005. It was supposed to investigate 3,268 deaths that occurred during the war. But it failed, and folded in 2014. While the HET lost its funding, a report from the University of Ulster was damning about its work. It criticised the HET for giving British soldiers “favourable treatment”.

Police watchdog HM Inspectorate of Constabulary also gave it an unfavourable review. It said the HET investigated cases involving the state with “less rigour” than others.

An unresolved past

Notorious massacres carried out by the British army’s Parachute Regiment in Belfast and Derry in the early 1970s have still not been resolved. The Ballymurphy massacre in Belfast started on 9 August 1971. It lasted three days and claimed the lives of 11 people. Bloody Sunday occurred in Derry on 30 January 1972 and took 14 lives.

The Ballymurphy families are waiting for a fresh inquest into these killings while the Bloody Sunday families are waiting for prosecutions.

Despite the size of these massacres, they’re just a small sample of the unresolved killings from that war. So the campaign for truth continues.

A “sectarian conflict”?

Too often, the war is described as a “sectarian” conflict. This means the war was local and clears the UK of responsibility. But as the English Crown has asserted its control in Ireland from the early 16th century, its responsibility is front and centre.

And during the much more recent 30-year war, the British army had over 300,000 troops in the six counties. So whatever way you look at it, the UK played a lead role in Ireland.

The British “were the main protagonists”

At the launch of the document, Engaging with the past: Building for the future, Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly addressed this issue. Kelly claimed the British “were the main protagonists” in the 30-year war.

Sinn Féin launched their document prior to the extended closing date for submissions to the legacy consultation process. Announced by secretary of state for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley, this process is to allow everyone to:

have their say on the best way to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

So we have to wait and see exactly what comes from this latest process.

Inhumane counting

In response to Kelly’s claims about the British, the mainstream media attributed over 1,700 killings to the IRA. But it attributed just around 370 killings to British forces.

It’s unclear where these numbers come from, as a precise death toll doesn’t exist. While comprehensive lists do exist, an exact and agreed figure does not. Some start counting in 1968 and stop in 1998; while others start in 1969 and continue counting until after the GFA in 1998.

But more importantly, the death toll attributed to British forces ignores the numbers of innocent Catholics killed as a result of collusion between British forces and loyalist gangs.

We need the truth

As things stand, we’re in limbo. And inhumanely attributing numbers instead of openly dealing with the past means we’re going backwards.

As the British government claims jurisdiction over the six counties, it must also accept responsibility. And unless it takes that responsibility, we’ll remain in limbo for at least another 20 years.

Get Involved!

– Support The Canary if you appreciate the work we do.

– Contact the Pat Finucane Centre to know more about the legacy consultation.

Featured image via Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 /Flickr

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