Irish govt refusing to oppose Collusion
The arrest last Friday morning of two investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey was a new low in the efforts of the British state to protect its own agencies and personnel from the legal consequences of state collusion during the decades of the conflict. It is also a consequence of the refusal of successive Irish governments to oppose collusion.
The journalists arrested were part of the team that last year produced the acclaimed Alex Gibney documentary ‘No Stone Unturned’. Gibney is an internationally celebrated American documentary maker. Both Trevor and Barry are also well respected and award winning reporters. The documentary was widely praised for exposing the hidden secrets of the Loughinisland attack to wider public scrutiny for the first time, including naming one of those involved in the attack.
‘No Stone Unturned’ looked at the events which led to and followed on from the UVF attack on the Heights Bar in Loughinisland on 18 June 1994 as a small number of customers watched Ireland’s World Cup opening soccer match against Italy. Masked men burst into the small room and opened fire with semi-automatic rifles. Six men were killed and five other people were injured. British Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew some years earlier did a wretched legal deal with British UDA agent Brian Nelson to avoid the full extent of Nelson’s activities from becoming exposed in court. In his response to the Loughinisland attack Mayhew claimed that the RUC would leave ‘no stone unturned’ to get at the truth. It was a lie. The reality is that every effort was and continues to be made by the British system to keep the truth from the families and victims.
In June 2016 the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, published a report which “reveals police informants at the most senior levels within Loyalist paramilitary organisations were involved in an importation of guns and ammunition into Northern Ireland in the mid to late Eighties. The report has identified that two of the weapons from this shipment were connected to the UVF attack on the Heights Bar in Loughinisland on 18 June 1994, in which six people died and five others were injured; to the murders of two men in separate attacks and to a series of other terrorist incidents. Police figures indicate that the unrecovered weapons from the importation were used in a least 70 murders and attempted murders”.
In response former members of the RUC went to court and challenged the Ombudsman’s report and in particular the accusation of collusion. They want the Ombudsman’s report binned. That case has not concluded.
The arrest of Trevor Birney, who produced the documentary, and Barry McCaffrey who researched it, is a new and despicable twist. The two men were arrested from their homes and taken to Musgrave PSNI station. Computers and other material was taken and the PSNI claimed the arrests had to do with alleged material stolen from the Police Ombudsman’s office. Lawyers acting for both men quickly secured a block on the PSNI examining the material until a legal challenge to the validity of the search warrant is heard.
Late on Friday evening as they were released on bail Barry McCaffrey described their arrests as “an attack on the press.” He added: “It’s us today, tomorrow it could be you.” The Loughinisland families were outraged and held a protest outside the Heights Bar were the attack occurred. Social media erupted with many users complaining that instead of arresting the murderers of the six men in the Heights Bar the PSNI seemed more focussed on arresting and intimidating those trying to get to the truth. Journalists, documentary makers, actors, human rights activists and academics also expressed their anger.
No one who has any understanding of the role of collusion or of the actions of the British state in defence of its self-interest will have been really surprised by Friday’s events. Successive British governments have worked tirelessly to defend and protect those within its military, intelligence and security apparatus who tortured prisoners, used plastic bullets to kill and maim, or engaged in the state sponsored murder of citizens.
Internationally respected organisations like Amnesty International and the 2006 report by the ‘Independent International Panel on Collusion into Sectarian Killings’, gave some insight into the use of collusion by the British state.
Despite their flawed nature a succession of inquiries and investigations, including the Stevens Inquiry, the Di Silva report and various reports by the Police Ombudsman’s Office in the north, have also shone a spotlight on the institutional connections between British security agencies, including the RUC, and unionist paramilitary organisations.
In 2003 John Stevens published his ‘Overview and Recommendations’ of three enquiries he carried out. He wrote: “My Enquiries have highlighted collusion, the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, and the extreme of agents being involved in murder. These serious acts and omissions have meant that people have been killed or seriously injured”.
The 2007 report by the then Police Ombudsman Nuala O Loan into the running of “serial killer” – Mark Haddock - by the RUC Special Branch concluded that the RUC protected him from prosecution and paid him at least £80,000. O’Loan’s investigation linked Haddock with the murder of at least ten people. The report found a ‘pattern of work by certain officers within Special Branch designed to ensure that Informant 1 and his associates were protected from the law’.
The Commission of Inquiry under Mr. Justice Henry Barron, that was set up by the Irish government to examine the Dublin Monaghan and Dundalk bomb attacks, described those actions as “acts of international terrorism that were colluded in by the British security forces”.
The hard reality is that is a significant body of evidence exists that proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the British state deliberately and strategically used proxy death squads to terrorise and kill hundreds of political opponents, as well as civilians.
Despite this the British political and security establishment continue to deny collusion was a matter of institutional and official practice. They do this through the denial of access to legacy funding and inquests by victims and their families, or through obfuscation and the manipulation of the courts. The goal is simple: to obstruct and frustrate the creation of a meaningful truth recovery process and to hide the truth of its counter-insurgency and collusion policies. The Irish government has shown no real interest in combatting or championing this policy. Until it does so the British government and its agencies will continue to act with impunity. The responsibility of the Irish government and political parties on this island must be to support the families, support Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, frustrate Britain’s malign efforts to thwart the right of victims and families to truth, and hold the British government to account on all of these matters.