Over the past number of days a few issues in particular have shown that nothing has really changed here on Starship Norn Iron, despite claims to the contrary. In 1998 there were promises of a 'new beginning' an 'era in which justice would be done and be seen to be done' and 'measures compatible with a normal and peaceful society'.
Recent revelations have shown yet again that these promises have amounted to very little despite being central to the monumental con job known widely as the Good Friday Agreement. Thinking back now as someone who voted yes to the agreement I should have known better as the clues were right there in the name, 'Good Friday' a day associated with crucifixion and thirty pieces of silver.
This week after years of anguish the family of Daniel Hegarty, the 15 year old child murdered by a British Soldier in Derry on July 31st 1972 during Operation Motorman were told that Public Prosecution service will not be prosecuting the soldier responsible for Daniel's murder. This despite it being established that the teenager who was small in stature was unarmed and posing no threat when he and his teenage cousin were gunned down. The 2011 inquest found that the teenager posed no risk and dismissed claims that soldiers gave warnings before firing.
On Tuesday, Michael Agnew, the prosecution services' Assistant Director of Central Casework, said:
"The standard of proof that the prosecution must reach in a criminal trial is the high one of beyond reasonable doubt."
With this recent decision people must now ask will it be the same outcome in most cases involving civilian shootings by British State Forces? My guess is yes with the Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory recently stating that, "The number of successful prosecutions is likely to be very low”. This statement comes just months after NI Justice Minister David Ford announced at a meeting of victims that the proposed Historical Investigations Unit will secure at best “one or two” prosecutions.
With these statements it's easy to see why very few have faith in the legal system or in the mechanisms proposed under the Stormont House Agreement. An agreement which has more to do with fulfilling obligations under Europe than it has with getting to the truth, with the final say on information disclosure to rest with the British Secretary of State.
Other proposed mechanisms to deal with the past which are not obligatory include the proposed Independent Commission for Information Retrieval which offers immunity to perpetrators and very little in terms of information to victims. We then have the proposed Oral History Project which I can only consider as rewriting history from the perspective of the victors.
The reference in the Daniel Hegarty case to: "The standard of proof that the prosecution must reach in a criminal trial is the high one of beyond reasonable doubt" has got me thinking about the case of the Craigavon Two. In this case two convictions were secured on missing evidence, circumstantial evidence and on the word of a short sighted Water Mitty who is alleged to have gained financially from providing his witness testimony. A read at the judgement in this case will show no evidence to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, with the judgement instead beyond the comprehension of any right thinking person. I'm positive even the visually impaired Walter Mitty witness would be able to see the huge flaws in the prosecution case.
A few days ago Derry Republican Tony Taylor was sent back to Maghaberry after his release licence was revoked on the orders of the British Secretary of State. Tony Taylor has not been charged with any offence, so the basis for his current incarceration must be questioned. If charges are brought then Tony Taylor can provide a defence and contest any charges.
The case of Tony Taylor is reminiscent of that of Lurgan man Martin Corey who spent nearly four years in prison on the same orders and in the same circumstances only to be released years later with neither charge nor trial.
The British Secretary of State has no mandate in the north nor is she accountable to the people here yet she has power to send a man to prison without questioning charge or legal representation. This same person when dealing with the north's murky past has final say on matters of disclosure. If this was happening in the Chipping Barnett constituency she represents there would be an outcry. But then again there has always a difference in how British politicians act in 'the colonies' and how they act at home. The casual use of plastic bullets in the North when they are not used on British home soil is just one example of this.
It would seem we have different rules for different people with the two tier justice system that operates here. To prosecute a soldier the courts must be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the soldier was not acting in self-defence as is shown in the case of Daniel Hegarty. On the flip-side to secure other convictions expeditiously all is needed is circumstantial evidence and the nearest visually impaired Walter Mitty, as is shown in the case for the Craigavon Two. Republican Tony Taylor is now back behind bars unable to challenge the reasons as to why. In contrast the members of the parachute regiment responsible for the murders of 14 civilians on Bloody Sunday were able to halt a PSNI investigation to challenge their arrest. The disparity in these cases beggars belief!
At the beginning of this article I outlined some of the promises of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Eighteen years on and countless agreements down the line I remain unconvinced that we live in an era in which justice is done and seen to be done with measures compatible with a normal and peaceful society. This is no reflection on people like me who voted yes in '98. However it does show the successive failings of the politicians who sit in the house on the hill and on the benches at Westminster.
I've often said it, but I'll say it again,`lip service on human rights is no service.