Speaking in response to the judgement of the Public Prosecution Service to prosecute just one British soldier for his actions on Bloody Sunday, leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD spoke of the need for the British state to take responsibility for the actions of its agents and to formally apologise again.
Deputy Howlin said:
“The appalling events of Bloody Sunday should never have occurred. The report of the Saville Inquiry in 2010 made it clear that none of the casualties was a threat to the lives of soldiers. Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that the soldier’s actions were unjustifiable and he apologised at the time for the soldiers’ conduct.
“More than anything else, the Saville Inquiry laid bare the fact that successive British Governments failed the victims of Bloody Sunday for 38 years before finally admitting wrongdoing by British soldiers. However recent comments by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, showed a remarkable lack of awareness of, if not resistance to, what the Saville Inquiry had determined.
“Since the Inquiry’s report, a number of cases have been settled, with the Ministry of Defence paying settlements to people who were bereaved or injured. But some victims and families have refused compensation and they are entitled, as they have done, to seek criminal prosecution against the former Parachute Regiment soldiers who were involved.
“The Public Prosecution Service was asked to determine whether prosecutions would be in the public interest. We have to be careful not to hold the courts in Northern Ireland or Britain to a higher standard than what would pertain here. In Ireland, there is no legal time limit that would automatically block a criminal prosecution in the courts, but if there is an excessively long delay in prosecuting an offence, a court may decide not to hear the case. Judges must consider whether delay has reduced the chances of a fair trial; for example, if the delay could have affected the memory of key witnesses and the accused about what happened.
“Likewise, the prosecution service can decide not to proceed – as it has done in all but one of these cases – if it thinks there is insufficient evidence for a conviction to be secure. It would be cruel to give families the false hope of a trial that was doomed to failure at the outset.
“The decision of the Public Prosecution Service that just one trial should proceed must now be respected. Criminal justice systems must operate independently of political interference. At the same time, we need to prepare ourselves for the difficulties that this trial will cause, in terms of fuelling division across society in Northern Ireland.
“This decision recognises that there is a case against one soldier. But the decision not to prosecute 16 other soldiers or the two Official IRA members will leave a terrible void for victims and families.
“If the blame for the actions of British soldiers cannot be resolved through the courts, then the state itself must take responsibility for these actions. It is now incumbent on the British government to show moral leadership and courage, and to apologise once again for the unjustifiable actions carried out by agents of the British state – and to apologise for its years of inaction.”