Susan McKay: What is behind Britain's drive to wipe out Troubles history?

From now on, it will be as if the 30 years of murders and maimings never happened

In 2012, the Ulster Freedom Fighters paramilitary mural that greeted people to the Sandy Row area of south Belfast was replaced with a historical mural referencing the history of King William of Orange Photograph: Alan Lewis, PhotopressBelfast.co.uk

In 2012, the Ulster Freedom Fighters paramilitary mural that greeted people to the Sandy Row area of south Belfast was replaced with a historical mural referencing the history of King William of Orange Photograph: Alan Lewis, PhotopressBelfast.co.uk

The question of how to deal with the past has haunted the North since the conflict ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The late Lyra McKee wrote about the way belligerent old paramilitary murals had been painted over with more tourist-friendly images. Some of these show a sprightly King Billy on his white charger, surrounded by orange lilies, on the banks of the sparkling Boyne. “Maybe we were trying to erase our own memories, hoping for a collective amnesia by blotting out reminders of what had happened,” she wrote. “But all you had to do was scratch the paint and you’d find the city’s past, like a ghost that refused to depart for the other world.”

But even by standards of behaviour that low, what his government has now done is breathtaking

Now, Northern secretary Brandon Lewis has announced his government’s solution. You deal with the past by erasing it. You deny it ever happened. You call a halt to history. You draw a line. The paper he blandly presented in Westminster this week proposes to ban not just prosecutions – the amnesty he had already announced in all but name last year – but also all legal investigations “current and future” into pre-1998 “Troubles-related conduct”. This will include tribunals, inquiries, civil cases, inquests, and legacy investigations by the Police Ombudsman. The PSNI’s legacy branch alone has cases ongoing in relation to almost 1,500 people. From now on, it will be as if the 30 years of murders and maimings never happened. Troubles? What Troubles?

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