In an unprecedented move the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, has launched a stinging attack on law officials who are investigating suspected war crimes carried out by members of the British Forces in the UK-administered north-east of Ireland from 1966 to 2005. In a carefully worded letter sent to groups representing army veterans of the forty-year Long War or so-called Irish-British Troubles, the Conservative Party premier sought to undermine recent investigations by the peace-brokered regional police, prosecution service and judiciary in the Six Counties while defending Britain’s controversial record during the historical conflict.
Let me start by paying tribute to your comrades in the Armed Forces who served in Northern Ireland. Hundreds of Servicemen paid with their lives…
I would also like to acknowledge the depth of feeling among many veterans about how past events are being investigated in Northern Ireland. As you may be aware, policing and justice in Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, which oversees and funds the police, prosecutors and courts in Northern Ireland, rather than the UK Government.
However the UK Government is concerned that the whole system of addressing the past in Northern Ireland is unbalanced and is not working in anyone’s interests.
The overwhelming majority of deaths caused by soldiers and police officers will have been lawful and it is essential that investigations into the past do not unfairly treat soldiers and police officers.
…new institutions will ensure that the focus of investigations will be much more on the hundreds of unsolved murders committed by terrorists, including many unsolved murders of soldiers and police officers.
I would like to stress that there has never been an amnesty, immunity or exemption from prosecution for terrorists.
A chorus of right-wing voices in Britain, including senior politicians, journalists and military leaders, have been demanding a clandestine amnesty for former British troops associated with several mass murders in the disputed territory, notably the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday Massacres of 1971 and 1972 respectively, as well as innumerable human rights abuses. At the same time, many of these self-same figures have been calling upon the UK authorities to pursue a tribal-like vendetta against the country’s former insurgent enemy, despite commitments given by the United Kingdom in the late 1990s and early 2000s as part of the multilateral Irish-British peace process. Some unreformed armchair generals clearly believe that Britain can achieve retrospectively what it failed to achieve on the battlefield. Even if that sparks a new round of bloodshed and violence.
Through the publication of her letter, Theresa May has publicly confirmed the legitimacy of this reckless position, while undermining the very rule of law she supposedly upholds as the elected head of government in the United Kingdom. Including Britain’s legacy colony on the island of Ireland. It is almost impossible to imagine any other situation where a British prime minister would call the activities of a nominally British police service and judicial system into question. However it seems that anything is permissible when the UK needs to protect the uniformed criminals who took or damaged the lives of countless Irish men, women and children in pursuit of a fruitless counter-insurgency war. It is clear that in Brexit Britain, Irish lives no more matter now than they did forty years ago. Or eight hundred years ago.