Allegations, or what may indeed be confessions, that British soldiers killed unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, are horrendous. The revelations, that an army unit called the Military Reaction Force carried out these shootings, have been referred to the police for investigation.
That is entirely the right thing to do.
Apologists for such killings might argue that the circumstances in Ulster at the time were of such a nasty character that action like this was justified. Yes, these were horrific times. Virtually everybody, whether because of their religion or their occupation or where they lived, could be identified, rightly or wrongly, as belonging to one side or the other in what was a civil war.
The terrorists on either side had little compunction about killing civilians. And it is certainly true that Irish Republican terrorism aimed to so frighten ordinary Protestants that they would be intimidated into acceding to the Republican aim – that Ulster should be incorporated into the Republic of Ireland.
Republican gangs, while they may have called themselves soldiers, were civilians. Sufficient intelligence may have existed to identify them, but enough evidence to secure a conviction under the conventional rule of law rarely was available.
In such circumstances, with death tolls running into double figures every week in the early 1970s, it is not hard to understand why a policy of assassinating people believed to be leading terrorists might have been conceived. The deaths of terrorists could be blamed on the other side and would spread fear and suspicion amongst the terror groups. And, the argument runs, by killing terrorists, the lives of many they might have gone on to slaughter were saved.
The argument is fallacious. It is not just that it broke the law under which the army was supposed to operate, the so-called yellow card rules. These stipulated that a soldier could open fire on a person if he believed that person was endangering himself or a civilian, and was armed with a gun or bomb. Breaching these rules is what the police will now investigate.
But is also the fact that in Republican communities British soldiers were believed to be carrying out assassinations which gives the lie to “lives were saved” argument. Such actions told the Catholic population that the British state was breaking the law and targeting them, encouraging them to either shelter the terrorists supposedly on their side or to actively join them. How many more lives were lost because of this?
And when British servicemen and women are asked to undertake peace-keeping operations now, how damaging will these revelations be? Will they be viewed by those they are supposed to keep safe as protectors or assassins? The only argument against that will be if those who ordered and perpetrated these acts in the 1970s are brought to justice.
Play your charity cards right
When buying charity Christmas cards, most people imagine that at least the majority of what they hand over the counter is going to the charity. Actually, it turns out that many of the big store chains are distinctly uncharitable with what they do with the money they take from customers in the name of charity.
Worst of the lot, according to Which? Money, is Asda. Of the £3 it charges for a pack of charity cards, just 20p eventually gets to a charity, a meagre 6.7 per cent of the selling price.
Some other big retailing names do a bit better, but not by much. Sainsbury’s only hands over 10 per cent of the cash it collects for its charity cards. Others make it tricky for the generous customer to work out which range of cards will result in the most going to charity, offering selections that may see 8 per cent, 16 per cent, or 80 per cent of the cover price going to the charity.
Marks & Spencer only gives donations from some of the ranges it sells, but John Lewis at least has the merit of consistency, donating 25 per cent on all its cards, which also qualifies it as the most generous.
Well, times may be hard for retailers but, however troubling they are, they are certainly a lot better than those facing the people who are being helped by charities. Charity cards are a great idea that have boomed in recent years, so come on high street
giants, how about showing a bit more charitable spirit?
What can the charitably-minded shopper do? If maximising the amount of card shopping money that goes to charity is the aim, it may be better to buy cards from a charity shop. What is clear is that it pays to check the cards very carefully before purchase.