'Does this really get us anywhere?' - Former NI Secretary says the prosecutorial route 'won’t work'

Families, relatives and supporters of those died gather outside the Guildhall in Derry. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain says that the British government needs to act and recognise that the prosecutorial route “won’t work” when it comes to legacy issues.

“Does this really get us anywhere?” he asked on RTE radio’s News at One.

He pointed out that of 2,000 cases investigated there had been just 17 prosecutions and only three convictions.

The victims and their families deserve justice.

“It was a peaceful civil rights march and they just opened fire,” he said of the Bloody Sunday killings.

The families need to find the truth in another way. It has become apparent, he said that pursuing the legal route is not going to bring closure.

There are lots of vested interests in this. You cannot have the Defence Secretary and Boris Johnson saying it is wrong to prosecute soldiers, but that others could be prosecuted. It has to be done in an even handed way.

Mr Hain pointed out that security forces would have better records than paramilitaries so it would be difficult to be even handed.

“It is always going to be imbalanced. The government simply needs to act.”

Latest: Michael Finucane disappointed only one soldier is to be prosecuted for Bloody Sunday:

Solicitor and human rights activist Michael Finucane has expressed his surprise that only one soldier is to be prosecuted by the North’s Director of Public Prosecution for the Bloody Sunday killings.

Mr Finucane, son of murdered Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane, told RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that he was eager to read the full details of the DPP’s decision.

“Maybe the decision will not go unchallenged,” he added.

It is not entirely clear what the DPP’s decision means, he said.

Mr Finucane said he was disappointed at the response of the UK’s Ministry of Defence that it plans to offer full legal support for Solider F.

“It is really disappointing that people within the British establishment are displaying such a one-sided view.”

He asked why they did not look at the impact of the actions of soldiers in Northern Ireland and the atrocities in which they had been involved.

The failure to deal with legacy issues “does not inspire confidence.”

The way in which legacy issues and the manner in which controversial incidents have been handled in parts of Ireland have been “glossed over” and “brushed under the carpet by parties of the British State” says solicitor and civil rights activist Michael Finucane.

“It is the great untreated wound of the conflict.”

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said today is not a day for "knee jerk reactions".

“There will be a lot of families today extremely disappointed following the publication of the PPS Report today, but they continue to show great dignity.

“The PPS Report will have to be studied very carefully and today is not a day for knee jerk reactions as it is crucial that legacy issues are dealt with in detail by both the Irish and British governments.

Since the murder of the 14 people in 1972 the journey to this point has been a long and tortuous one. Indeed, it took many years for the British government to eventually acknowledge state involvement in any murders.

“This process has been very worthwhile so that the people who were murdered are never forgotten and also to inform all people on this island of the bitter history of Northern Ireland before the Good Friday Agreement was finalised in 1998."

He described the decision to prosecute Soldier F as "significant".

“Notwithstanding the families’ inevitable disappointment today, the prosecution of Soldier F is significant given the denial of the British government for many years.

“The families of the victims should be honoured for their determination, dignity and continued bravery on behalf of those who were so brutally murdered and they will continue to be supported.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney described those who died on Bloddy Sunday as "innocent victims".

Additional reporting by Digital Desk and PA

Earlier: 'Undue significance' attached to Bloody Sunday, says DUP MP

Update 11.52am: Gregory Campbell MP for the DUP in the city has said that “undue significance” has been attached to Bloody Sunday.

“Undue significance has been attached to what was a tragedy, but the context must be established,” he told RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

The context in which the soldiers were deployed on that day must be clarified, he said.

“The soldiers believed they were going into a demonstration that was likely to turn violent.

“I was there as a teenager that day as petrol bombs rained down, as shops and soldier were attacked and police were killed.

“There was violence for weeks, that’s why they were deployed. There was no inquiry into the deaths of the police officers.”

Mr Campbell said that it had been fairly clear that there was going to be a prosecution. The Saville Inquiry had not taken the circumstances under which the British soldiers were operating in the Bog Side.

The decision to prosecute compounded the “imbalance of the legacy of the past” he added.

If there was specific information on any person that was likely to lead to a prosecution then that should go ahead, no matter what the length of time. He said he was an ardent advocate for that.

There would not have been an inquiry if there had not been political pressure. He said he had warned that neither the Saville Inquiry, nor the apology by David Cameron “would put a line underneath it.”

“I told them, ‘you are fools if you believe this is the end.’ There won’t be an end until there is prosecution.”

Denis Bradley, the former vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, who was a priest in Derry on Bloody Sunday says he is annoyed at the words of the DPP when announcing that one soldier is to be prosecuted.

Saying that there was not enough evidence for prosecution was “almost an insult” to the many people who were witnesses that day had given evidence, he told RTE news.

“Whether that is true legally it is not what goes into people’s hearts. People are going to feel this is a bad day for the DPP and that this is a bad day for justice.”

Mr Bradley said that legacy issues should not be dealt with by the judicial process. “It’s not a good system, it seldom ends up with the conclusions and closure that people seek.”

The Saville Inquiry had been closer to providing what people needed “because it was about truth, it wasn’t necessarily about prosecutions. It was about learning the truth,” he added.

“We have to learn from this.”

The one thing people will take from the DPP’s decision today is that a prosecution will take place. “That wrong was done that day, that people were murdered that day, that people were killed on their own streets that day.”

Families gathered to give their reaction in Derry’s Guildhall.

John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was killed, said many had received a “terrible disappointment”.

But he welcomed the positive news for the six families impacted by the decision to prosecute soldier F.

“Their victory is our victory,” he said.

We have walked a long journey since our fathers and brothers were brutally slaughtered on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday, over that passage of time all the parents of the deceased have died – we are here to take their place.

Mr Kelly highlighted there were legal means of challenging the decisions not to prosecute.

“The Bloody Sunday families are not finished yet,” he said.

Mickey McKinney, whose brother Willie was shot dead, said: “Everyone deserves justice, including those whose loved ones were murdered by the British state.”

He said it was “disappointing” for families who had not received news of prosecutions, saying: “We are mindful of those families who received that news today, and believe me, there are many.”

But he added: “For us here today it is important to point out that justice for one family is justice for all of us.”

He said: “We would like to remind everyone that no prosecution, or whenever it comes to it no conviction, does not mean not guilty. It does not mean that no crime was committed. It does not mean that those soldiers acted in a dignified and appropriate way.

“It simply means that if these crimes had been investigated properly when they happened, and evidence gathered at the time then the outcome would’ve been different.”

Solicitor for a number of the Bloody Sunday families, Ciaran Shiels, said: “This is a remarkable achievement by the families and victims of Bloody Sunday.

“Notwithstanding the unprecedented attempted political interference with the independence of the judicial process, the families have not only succeeded in consigning the Widgery report to history, and securing the complete vindication and declaration of innocence of all of the victims of Bloody Sunday through the Saville Inquiry, they have now secured the prosecution of Soldier F for the murder and attempted murder of six innocent people.

“We are disappointed that not all of those responsible are to face trial.

“We will give detailed consideration to the reasons provided for decisions not to prosecute the other soldiers, with a view to making further submissions to the Prosecution Service and we shall ultimately challenge in the High Court, by way of judicial review, any prosecutorial decision that does not withstand scrutiny.”

Founder of the Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans group Alan Barry said: “It’s one soldier too many as far as we’re concerned.

“It’s very one-sided. No soldier should be charged. It happened 47 years ago, a line in the sand needs to be drawn and people need to move on.

“Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement veterans are being left open to prosecution while terrorists have been cleansed of their past crimes.”

Former Grenadier Guard Mr Barry, 54, who served in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, went on: “It’s all about appeasement: appeasing the IRA, appeasing Sinn Fein, and if that means throwing one or two veterans under a bus then that’s what they’ll do.

“It’s a disgrace. How old is he? He’ll be in his 70s.

“I want to know why the IRA aren’t being prosecuted.”

Former Coldstream Guardsman Vern Tilbury, 58, accused the country of “spitting on” its veterans.

Mr Tilbury, who served in West Belfast in 1978-79 and 1982, said: “This government is looking at us veterans as collateral damage.

“We’re just a thorn in their side.

“How many more of us are going to have to go through it?”

After the announcement that a soldier would face murder and manslaughter charges over Bloody Sunday, Conservative MP and former British Army officer Johnny Mercer tweeted that it was the result of “an abject failure to govern and legislate, on our watch as a Conservative administration”.

The British Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Clearly, we are indebted to those who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

“The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance and we will offer full legal and pastoral support to anyone affected by today’s decision.

“We recognise the suffering of anyone who lost loved ones during the Troubles. As this is now an ongoing legal matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Additional reporting by Digital Desk and PA

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