Justice or Political Expediency?
The recent sentencing of Bobby Rodgers for the 1973 shooting of a young catholic girl brings many important issues to the fore again. Firstly it is an absolute tragedy and horrific loss for a young person to die in such circumstances. It should not have happened but this was the society that was bequeathed to all of the young people who like myself grew up in the troubles. And like young Eileen Doherty there was 17 year old Vivienne Gibney shot dead by the IRA on 1.12.1971. Or 12 year old Joan Scott shot dead by republicans on May 30th 1972. And so on. To date none of the republicans who killed these young Protestants have not been arrested, charged or sentenced.
This conviction and continued work of the HET highlights the paucity of thought and the weakness and sadness of the situation we find ourselves in. The failure to move on is a reflection of the lack of courage. I accept the pain that exists from all sections– the widows of the policemen, the mothers of the young men who joined paramilitaries and then died. And not to forget the hundreds if not thousands of bereaved people from England, Scotland and Wales whose sons and husbands came here and were killed.
I disagree with the HET and their work and would clearly want a line drawn in the sand. Anything before the Good Friday Agreement should be left alone. By selecting the Loyalists for this special treatment raises issues of un fairness. An unfairness, that may have consequences in the future. Let me also be clear. I do want any return to violence from Loyalists. I do not want any reaction to the dissident violence that kills decent people like Ronan Kerr, Mc Carroll, the sappers, etc. However there are astounding and nauseous hypocrisy’s occurring here. While past combatants have served out time for historical offences we will not forget the case of the priest James Chesney, involved in the indiscriminate slaughter of 8 people in Claudy on 31st July 1972. Remember also that the victims included two children. Kathryn Eakin aged 9, and William Temple aged 16. The judges words ring hollow. i.e. the passage of time in no way dilutes the seriousness of such a crime. If that is so then why was the priest allowed to remain free for so long until his death?
Another worry for anybody who has lived with the troubles is when does this work finish? Do we have to look forward to the day when an 80 year old is arrested for a 1970s offence? When that person may die in prison and young extremists from any community want a cause to follow will the rest of us be happy? Unless you are completely blinkered there is a realisation that members of the security forces committed offences linked to the troubles. When would members of the police, army, prison service, etc. be arrested, questioned, charged, tried (still in a Diplock Court) and sentenced?
The other more worrying issue for the Loyalist working class is the complete and utter discrimination between Loyalist and Republican ex combatants. Whereas the Loyalists from the 1970s went about they lives upon release and had little protection from their elected representatives the Republicans had the giant of Sinn Fein to defend them. Again, only if you are naïve and a little un street wise there are many top Sinn Feinners who are in government or just behind, that were involved in serious violence. They cannot be touched because they are integral to the peace movement and if arrested then there is serious repercussion for the assembly, peace process, etc . For this read; if you arrest them you risk us going back to war. This also means that Loyalist ex-prisoners are expendable and of not much worth. Has someone forgot that 28% of all fatalities were inflicted by Loyalists? Given that Irish Republicans killed some 60% of the total fatalities should there not be twice as many Republicans coming to the attention of the HET than Loyalists? If Sinn Fein where never going back to war then those people could be convicted without consequences on the streets? However, again let me say that I don’t want to see those Republicans ( or security forces) dragged back to courts for the 1970 and 1980s. Draw a line and look forward.
Another amazing issue not publicised by judges, courts, etc, is that of people like, say Freddie Scappaticci and Ken Barrett. We now know a lot more about the methods and strategy of the hidden forces at work in the troubles. Again I admit that they were integral to achieving peace however unpleasant people feel about their tactics. So if Rodgers can be arrested and brought back to prison what about these men? Is the murders they were directly involved in OK? Were they qualitatively different from what others did in the 70s?
And what did Rodgers do since his release in the 1990s? He’s friend of mine so I feel I can say what he had been doing. He has worked hard. He has worked with many young Prods to keep them from a life of crime or sectarianism. He has raised his family. He has consistently said that resorting to violence is not the way to go. He has supported the peace process. He has never, like many of us ‘dinosaurs’, been involved or supportive of illegal drugs. Bobby has also had dialogue with Republicans in order to foster understanding and explain the true feelings of working class Prods.
There are many complex issues here. One that is possibly unanswerable is what the difference between justice and revenge? Or is court justice a form of society revenge? I may have a strange outlook on this issue because of my experiences through the troubles. I had friends killed by Republicans, by Loyalists and security forces. Do I want them all dragged back to court? No. But, if some are to be dragged back then all should be. That is fair.
Of course one huge lesson for us all in that nothing is simple in N. Ireland. This issue of the HET is going to remain a thorn in the side of moving on. It has also has the potential to set a small flame alight that is going, sometime, to put us back in the times where we should be forgetting about.