Opinion

As with Gaza, the victims and survivors of our Troubles deserve truth and justice - Tom Kelly

It’s a denial of justice not to outstretch a hand to the fallen

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is an Irish News columnist with a background in politics and public relations. He is also a former member of the Policing Board.

Protests take place  , As Families attended  the judgment hearing on the lawfulness of the legacy act At Belfast High Court on Wednesday. 
Mr Justice Colton declared that parts of the legislation aimed at dealing with the consequences of the conflict in Northern Ireland breach the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Belfast case was brought by Martina Dillon, John McEvoy, Lynda McManus and Brigid Hughes.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Families of those killed during the Troubles continue to oppose the British government's legacy act (Colm Lenaghan)

Reading the front page of this paper on Friday was disheartening in every sense. The current plight of the people of Gaza should weigh heavily on the conscience of every citizen in Ireland and across the world.

The merciless slaughter of innocent Gazans as they waited for aid was a clear signal to the international community that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) are an out of control, rogue force, equal in the capacity to terrorise and commit random acts of wanton violence as those terrorists they seek to destroy.

When this madness ends (and it will) Israel may never recover its reputation amongst the democratic nations of the world. That’s not to say that this writer has an iota of sympathy for Hamas, but the IDF’s inhumane and barbaric treatment of the entire civil population of Gaza is wildly disproportionate, disgracefully indiscriminate and wholly disgraceful.



But even wars have rules and war crimes consequences.

Israel’s role in these atrocities shouldn’t be forgotten. Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic all found themselves before the International Court of Justice at The Hague and, if justice is to be pursued, so should Netanyahu.

State forces aren’t immune from the lawful consequences of illegal actions.

Nonetheless, successive British governments have repeatedly tried to absolve those in uniform who breached the law and who authorised or carried out murderous campaigns in the north. This was and is immoral.

Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beach in Gaza City (Mahmoud Essa/AP)
Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beach in Gaza City (Mahmoud Essa/AP)

Donning a uniform, whether for the police or defence forces requires submitting to the highest standards of ethical behaviour, self restraint and personal accountability to the law. It’s not a get out of jail card for carrying out illegal murders or facilitating murder through collusion with paramilitary organisations.

The public has a right to expect full accountability from those who are given extraordinary and far ranging powers by civil society. That’s the very essence of democracy.

Unsurprisingly with recent Tory governments, adherence to the concepts of accountability and transparency is like trying to find virtue in brothel.

The recent decision by the High Court to declare the odious legacy act incompatible with human rights legislation wasn’t unexpected.

The public has a right to expect full accountability from those who are given extraordinary and far ranging powers by civil society. That’s the very essence of democracy

The legacy act or, to give it its full moniker, the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, was one of the must brutally dishonest, shameful and unforgivable pieces of legislation ever brought before Parliament since the introduction of the emergency powers act in 1973 which established non-jury courts and gave sweeping powers to the RUC and security forces.

A High Court ruling says the Troubles amnesty contained in the Legacy Act is unlawful. The British government plans to appeal the ruling
Ian Knox cartoon 1/3/24 A High Court ruling says the Troubles amnesty contained in the Legacy Act is unlawful. The British government plans to appeal the ruling

The legacy act was never about reconciliation.

In fact, the legislation just about alienated all types of victims in Northern Ireland. Its sole purpose was to deny the basic right of any victim and/or their families to pursue truth and justice. Instead the government chose to bury deep the rich seams of state collusion which ran all the way from the basements of Whitehall to back streets and byways of Northern Ireland.

The act did manage to reconcile one group, i.e. all the local politicians who were united in their opposition to this contemptible legislation.



The legacy act heaped hurt on the shoulders of those who have carried the heaviest burden of the Troubles - victims, survivors and their families. It also sought to expire existing inquires and stillborn others. It was as amoral as it was ruthlessly unconscionable.

Sunak’s Conservatives have no love for human rights legislation. Theirs is a golden circle of self-serving fat cats, city wide boys and get rich quick merchants who ignore rules or make up their own. Human rights are protections for the little people and these Tories have only disdain for the ordinary folk.

Seneca once wrote: “It’s a denial of justice not to stretch out a helping hand to the fallen: that’s the common right of humanity.”

So let’s not deny justice to our fallen, from Loughinisland, Bloody Friday and Ballymurphy to Kingsmill, Whitecross or Greysteel. Or for that matter, the justice owed to the people of Gaza.