Complex debate over legacy proposals

There will be considerable sympathy for the assertion from the former director of public prosecutions, Barra McGrory, that the proposed structures for investigations into Troubles-related murders are unworkable.

Every killing, whether it was carried out by republicans, loyalists or the forces of the state, was wrong, and the perpetrators fully deserve to be held to account for their actions, but the enormous difficulty of dealing with evidence concerning events which in some cases took place more than four decades ago cannot be disputed.

Mr McGrory was entitled to point out in his Irish News interview at the weekend that successful prosecutions are likely to be rare, and, under the Good Friday Agreement legislation, anyone who does go to jail for offences committed before 1998 can only serve a maximum of two years.

His observation that the well documented failings of the Royal Military Police to properly pursue their specific responsibilities over up to 300 state killings in the early 1970s is also a factor in the discussion.

Mr McGrory’s firm conclusion was; "Very few convictions will result, people will be as unhappy as they are now, and the opportunity to have a process which makes people truly accountable will be lost.'

Some families strongly disagree with his assessment, as we report today, and, given the pain and distress they have endured over the years, their views also need to be carefully noted.

There can be no doubt that enormously sensitive issues are involved, and it is appropriate to reflect on the phrase - “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

However, it is always necessary to be realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of the criminal justice system and the implications of being involved in a trial with a deeply uncertain outcome.

There will be a clear belief that over many years our politicians have let down grieving relatives on all sides, with the St Andrews Agreement of 2007 making no proper effort to resolve the outstanding issues.

The public consultation on legacy, including a plan for a new Historical Investigations Unit, was announced last week by the secretary of state, Karen Bradley, and it is important that it receives a comprehensive series of responses before it closes in September.

There are no easy answers over the dilemmas of the past but there will be a feeling that revisiting the debate over the proposals contained in the Eames/Bradley initiative of 2009 can still present us with viable options.