Historic wrongs should not define the future, says Patten

Historic wrongs should not be allowed to rewrite the past or define the future, the architect of Northern Ireland’s biggest policing overhaul for decades said.

Lord Chris Patten said he did not object to fair prosecutions of former soldiers or others.

The former Conservative Party chairman’s reforms made the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) more representative and one of the most accountable in the world. He was in Belfast to discuss the subject of identity.

He said: “I think there comes a time when you have to recognise history but not seek to either rewrite it or present the future entirely in terms of dealing with historic wrongs.

“Clearly if things have been done in the past which were wrong and the courts and the judicial system and the prosecution service think need to be dealt with and can be dealt with fairly to everybody then so be it.

He said: “I think we need to recognise that right and wrong were not just on one side, there are problems right across the community.

“As a bishop, a Church of Ireland bishop, said many years ago, the father of (Northern Irish poet) Louis Macneice, we should remember the past the better to forget it.”

The Conservative Party has pledged to end “vexatious” prosecutions of former soldiers for alleged crimes during the 30-year conflict unless new evidence emerges.

A small number of those who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are facing legal action over alleged wrongdoing.

One future trial involves the shooting dead of two people on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in January 1972.

Others surround the killing in separate incidents of Aidan McAnespie, John Pat Cunningham, Joe McCann and Daniel Hegarty.

Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has said that of more than 30 legacy cases it has taken decisions on since 2012, around half related to republicans, and the rest to loyalists and the Army.

Lord Patten said the real division between the communities was not principally about religion but about the power structure.

His 1999 report which led to the creation of the PSNI recommended 50/50 recruitment of Protestants and Catholics.

It boosted the proportion of Catholics in the force from 8% to around a third, although police commanders have expressed concern about that number falling back recently.

The Conservative peer said: “What the increase in the number of Catholics did was to help take policing out of the cockpit of politics.

“So when you look at the way the police in the past were so ruthlessly targeted on both sides, I think it has been a considerable success that nowadays they are regarded as a normal police service, even though there are still some dissidents who try to murder them and maim them.

“So I think it has been a terrific success to take policing out of the heart of the political debate.”

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