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From The Indian Express

The cause for killing

By V. Venkatesan

THE verdict was as much an exercise in sophistry as most of the inquest had been. And in a sense, it was symptomatic of the whole problem in Northern Ireland where specious reasonings keep a myth alive even as the death toll mounts.

"Lawful killings" was how a coroner termed last week the March 6 killing in Gibraltar of 3 Irish Republican Army members -- one of them a woman -- by the British Air Service. The crack force had killed the three in the mistaken belief that they were armed and about to trigger off what would have been a devastating car-bomb explosion.

True, the three terrorists had been planning a car-bomb attack during a Royal Anglican Regiment band march-past, but the threat wasn't immediate. Nor were the three armed, as a post-mortem of the episode revealed.

That the elite SAS made no serious attempt to nab the three alive, but, on the contrary, mowed them down with ruthlessly precise multiple shots to the face and torso prompted vicious questions: was it official British policy to summarily exterminate IRA sympathisers? It also evoked agitated and somewhat uncharitable comparisons with some Central American death squads. The inquest then followed.

To kill these people as they were killed may be "lawful" -- as the coroner believes -- but it provides no victory for the rule of law. For to do away with terrorists in this manner is to enter their universe -- one of killing and dying for a cause, however just it may appear to be.

And it is precisely actions such as this that perpetuate the twin myths in Northern Ireland. On the part of the IRA, it is that if they keep the killings going, sooner or later -- sooner rather than later -- an exasperated British public will insist that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pull out British troops from Northern Ireland and permit the IRA to lead the province into a union with the Irish Republic. On the British side, the belief that if they continue the crackdown on the IRA, the organisation will soon collapse has proved too optimistic. For, the IRA emerges stronger and more determined from each killing -- largely because of the high unemployment among the province's Catholics and their ire in the face of Protestant "monopoly" on jobs.

To Mrs. Thatcher (who only closely escaped death in an IRA bombing of a Brighton hotel a few years ago), the problem is doubteless an inconvenience but hardly worthy of according top priority. After all, the division in Ulster is nearly four centures old, and even three consecutive terms as Prime Minister is not time enough for her to undo what in any case was not her doing. Which is why she puts up with what she calls the "tolerable level" of terrorism. But even in her feeble attempts at seeking a solution in Northern Ireland, the Iron Lady finds herself a victim of her own ferrous domestic policy. Unemployment cannot be reduced in Northern Ireland without creating jobs all over England. And Mrs. Thatcher, who likes nothing better than to have trade unions wrapped around her finger, will never do this -- even it means having to live with an intolerable level of joblessness. n

(Published in Indian Express, October 4, 1988.)

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