Birmingham bombings inquest: However long it takes for imperfect justice

It is to be hoped that the IRA, whose allies in the North have been speaking about the need for a forum to explore the past, will assist

 

Justice delayed is justice denied, they say. Not so. Justice delayed is imperfect justice, unsatisfactory, often partial and distorted. But it is nevertheless redemptive; a necessary vindication, a closing of chapters for victims, and an imperative, an expression of the fundamental value of fairness at the core of our legal and political system.

There can not come a time when we say “forget it, that’s history. Move on. Resources don’t allow us to pursue the truth of an historic wrong...”. Not least because the past is never fully behind us.

Yesterday’s decision by Birmingham and Solihull coroner Louise Hunt to reopen the inquest into the 1974 IRA Birmingham bombings when 21 died is very welcome. Victims’ families deserve to hear what Ms Hunt described as a “wealth “ of unheard evidence including new information that the police were tipped-off in advance.

And it is to be hoped – though not expected, given the mealy mouthed apologetics from former IRA intelligence chief Kieran Conway yesterday – that the IRA, whose allies in the North have been speaking much recently about the need for a forum to explore the past, will assist the inquest. The organisation has much it could tell.

In the North in recent days there has also been welcome progress on two other 40-year-old historic cases. As another inquest opened, new evidence has emerged pointing to the identification of a first suspect in the Kingsmill massacre when 10 Protestant textile workers were executed on their way to work by the IRA.

And victims of abuse at the Kincora Boys Home are set to get their “day in court” next week at the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry. A veteran loyalist has also been arrested over the murder of two Catholic men in Belfast 20 years ago.

Significantly – and almost certainly part of the reason for delays – evidence in both the Birmingham and Kincora cases points to varying degrees of cover-ups, incompetence or collusion by the authorities and/or the police. The continuing inquiries must not avoid the issue.

Society’s interest in the pursuit of justice, even at this remove, is not just out of concern for victims, but in our collective interest in ending cultures of impunity. The conviction this week by a court in Dakar of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré, a quarter of a century on, is also a case in point.

He got life for crimes against humanity, torture and sex crimes during his eight-year reign of terror which led to the deaths of up to 40,000 Chadians. His trial before an African Union court in Senegal, after years of campaigning by victims, marks an important breakthrough for universal justice and accountability in Africa, a warning to dictators that their day will come.

The promise to victims that “we will remember them” must not be just a promise to tend graves once a year, but a commitment to the truth. However long it takes. We owe it to them.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.