Hamill’s Beat - Bloody Sunday – the need for realism

Much of what passes for political comment is only posturing. So it is with demands by the MP for Coleraine and Limavady, (Gregory Campbell) by First Minister Robinson and by others for the role of Martin McGuinness on Bloody Sunday to be investigated by the PSNI.

Does anyone imagine that Martin McGuinness’ activities early in the troubles weren’t investigated by the RUC at the time? If the police had evidence to justify a prosecution then it would have happened long ago.

Isn’t it obvious that early enquiries are more likely to be ‘fruitful’ than those launched decades later? In this case the delay exceeds 40 years.

Of course the same is also true of the PSNI’s belated enquiry into the killings by soldiers on Bloody Sunday. (The enquiry was announced while I was away.)

The soldiers were originally interviewed by military police officers so it’s entirely right that civilian police should conduct such an enquiry. It’s a case of, better late than never.

As I understand the situation, all testimony given to the Saville Enquiry was on the basis of legal privilege and so it isn’t admissible in criminal proceedings. The PSNI now need to gather all the evidence afresh.

Their enquiry won’t start for some time and when it does it’s likely to take several more years.

It’s extremely uncertain if there will ever be convictions at this late stage.

To say the trail has gone cold is a massive understatement. It might be more accurate to say the trail has still to cross a legal quagmire before anyone appears in court.

To bring prosecutions, individual soldiers will have to make statements admitting their roles or giving evidence against their colleagues. How likely is that? And won’t some soldiers claim they were acting under lawful orders?

We need to remember that paratroops were brought into the city in 1972, against police advice at the time, with the object of teaching Derry’s “young hooligans” a lesson.

We know from the Saville enquiry that the killings on that fateful day were unlawful. Prosecutions would clearly be justified but whether or not they will actually happen is a different, more practical, question entirely. There’s also a wider question. The army has a strictly hierarchical structure.

Will it be sufficient for the state to provide a few sacrificial lambs in the form of young (at the time) low-ranking soldiers while ignoring army commanders’ and their political masters’ corporate responsibility for Bloody Sunday?

Personally, I’m on the side of justice for the long-suffering relatives.

It is particularly serious when those charged with upholding the law themselves break the law.

We do, however, need to be realistic about what legal redress is possible at this stage.

The harsh fact is that we’re knee-deep in unsolved killings from the long war. They all bear testimony to the practical difficulties of gathering enough evidence to satisfy a court of law.