By Kieran McConaghy, St Andrews University

FOR years Britain pushed a big myth about its role in Northern Ireland. The UK state- or so the line went - liked to see itself as an honest broker, a neutral arbiter, in a conflict that raged for 30 years and cost more than 3000 lives.

That myth has been eroded over the years, not least by the historic Saville Report, which in 2010 found paratroopers had “lost control” when they shot 28 innocent civilians in Derry in 1972, killing 13, and then lied about their actions.

The decision to prosecute only one of the soldiers responsible for the Bloody Sunday shootings is a disappointment for many of the families who have so long campaigned for justice those who died.

John Kelly, whose brother Michael died on Bloody Sunday, has said that the families have often felt that justice for one of them is justice for all.


That is because this decision opens another crack in the UK government’s case that the British state’s record in Northern Ireland is exemplary.

That prosecutors found there to be enough evidence to take forward a case - irrespective of whether there is a final conviction - undermines this line.

Indeed, the myth of British fair play in Northern Ireland has outlasted the conflict. This was made clear again by Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, who despite knowing very little about her new patch when she took up her portfolio, declared security forces killings during the Troubles were “not crimes”. She had to retract that statement quickly.

The Saville Report forced then Prime Minister David Cameron to apologise and a growing body of evidence in other incidents challenges the ‘exemplary’ record of the security forces.

In the days and months ahead, justice must be done, and must also be seen to be done. There are good political and security reasons for this. Irish Nationalist trust in the UK state is at an all time low. Brexit, Karen Bradley’s statement, the stagnation of the peace process, and the failure to restart the devolved institutions have all contributed to that. Dissident republicans will be keen to capitalize on any growing discontent.

Trials stemming from the Bloody Sunday prosecutions must be open and transparent. Any sense of a fudge will serve to further alienate nationalists. There is, after all, a long history of campaigns for justice over Bloody Sunday being frustrated.

The first tribunal into the incident in 1972 was seen as a whitewash, with many eyewitnesses excluded from giving evidence. The passage of time has rendered efforts to find truth and justice very difficult. Had there been honest efforts to secure prosecutions four decades ago, the chances of seeing justice done would have been much greater.

The Saville Inquiry has provided a clearer picture of the events of Bloody Sunday. However, a number of the solders involved in the incident have made statements to Saville which have been found to be untrue.

Prosecutors have signalled they will now turn to look at potential perjury to the inquiry. It is important for families, for the people of Derry, and the nationalist community of Ireland more generally - that any perjury allegations be taken seriously and properly investigated.

There is much which contradicts the UK Government’s attempts - throughout both the conflict and the peace process - to argue that it is a neutral arbiter. We have evidence of collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in dozens of murders, and many other examples of unlawful killings.

Communities have lived in the shadow of Bloody Sunday for too long.

So if the UK wants to retain any sense of respectability and any kind of trust they need to make sure this process is handled as openly and fairly as possible.