A Unionist’s response to the McCord/O’Loan report – Part 2

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The second in a five part article about the McCord/O’Loan Report. I will analyse the Unionist responses to the McCord/O’Loan report.The political response – Unionism

Unionism’s response to the O’Loan document did not surprise me but still disappointed me. The urge to knee-jerk was too strong to resist once again, for example Ken Maginnis’s condemnation of the report before it was even published. The response did not give the impression that a media strategy had particularly been prepared or if it had it hoped to rely solely on communal veneration of the RUC and communal ill-feeling to Nuala O’Loan and nationalist MOPEry.

These are reliable mainstays for the short-term but not strategic choices that challenge or undermine the nationalist narrative around the report. Also as the story continued to run Unionism allowed itself to get trapped in reacting to the reaction rather than the actual report. It allowed itself to be sucked into trying to defend the indefensible.

Evidence v Intelligence

The main assault on the report is that it lacks ‘evidence’ as it is based on intelligence. Yes it is. However, it is based on multiple sources of the full range of reliability over a sustained period. This is not a ‘one’ source story or sole informant. It may fail the beyond reasonable doubt test but that does not mean it is without credibility.

On the basis of intelligence information not convictions, the government blamed the IRA or its members for DADD murders, the Northern bank and other robberies, Stormontgate, McCartney murder etc. It was on the basis of intelligence from multiple sources of the full range of reliability over a sustained period that Unionism has refused to share power with Sinn Fein. Similarly one of the tests for the republican movement is the International Monitoring Commission and its reports. Reports almost entirely based upon intelligence from multiple sources of the full range of reliability over a sustained period. Unionism cannot credibly attack the report because it is based upon intelligence.

Furthermore this line of attack is undermined by Unionism spokespersons supporting those police officers who did not co-operate with the Ombudsman’s office. It puts Unionism in the ridiculous position of attacking a report for a lack of evidence but defending those who potentially withheld important evidence. Also if these officers are to be believed that the Ombudsman has got it very wrong, this implies they possess evidence that would rebut the allegations.

Other responses

Jimmy Spratt attacked the credibility of the report and called for an investigation of Nuala O’Loan on the day of the report’s release. Both lines of argument were very unwise. The Ombudsman’s investigation was independently assessed. Also issues discovered between 2000 and 2003 were referred to the Surveillance Commissioner. His investigations also identified a series of failures by Special Branch.

There are grounds to be concerned about Nuala O’Loan. However, it was the wrong day to try and pursue issues of concern about the operation of the Ombudsman’s office. Murders, shootings, beatings and drug dealing take precedence.

Ken Maginnis’s claim that this is another concession to republicans is nonsense. This report has taken years to complete and was based on the complaint of an ordinary citizen not a politically motivated individual or NGO.

The ostrich-like approach also undermines Unionism’s general defence against questions about behaviour in the security services – the bad apple syndrome. If Unionism accepts such people exist why can it not accept the possibility that an investigation has found some?

Ian Paisley Jnr argues that the report is being used to re-write history. I would concur. Nationalism is trying to just that. However, Unionism’s response of full-faced denial is enabling nationalists to do so especially as the report does not substantiate many of the claims made.

NOTE: I would ask commentors to stick to the topic, resist ad hominen attacks and not to feed the trolls.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are solely the personal views of the author.

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

  • joeCanuck

    Once again, an insightful commentary Fair Deal.
    You have obviously put a lot of thought into this issue before putting pen to paper (fingers to keyboard.
    Unlike those unionists who couldn’t wait to “rush to judgement” or to attempt to kill (character assassinate) the messenger.

  • BP1078

    The response did not give the impression that a media strategy had particularly been prepared or if it had it hoped to rely solely on communal veneration of the RUC and communal ill-feeling to Nuala O’Loan and nationalist MOPEry.

    Nail on the head there FD.
    Accept what the report says (you actually need to read it first obviously), then condemn what needs to be condemned.

    Also,very few, if any, Unionist politicians or commentators have pointed out that, despite many Nationalist assertions to the contrary,the collusion detailed in this report resulted in the murder of not only Catholics, but also working-class Unionists.

    Morally, Unionist politicians have a responsibility to not only the wider society, but also specifically to their electorate in this part of N Belfast to clearly condemn the actions of those which caused these murders.

  • Kloot

    despite many Nationalist assertions to the contrary,the collusion detailed in this report resulted in the murder of not only Catholics, but also working-class Unionists.

    Im not sure that statement is quite fair. alot of the nationalist commentators pointed this out regularily to counter the Unionist assertion that this was a sop to nationalism.

    Fair Deal,

    A very interesting and well thought out view so far. Looking forward to the rest

  • Dread Cthulhu

    FD: “These are reliable mainstays for the short-term but not strategic choices that challenge or undermine the nationalist narrative around the report. Also as the story continued to run Unionism allowed itself to get trapped in reacting to the reaction rather than the actual report. It allowed itself to be sucked into trying to defend the indefensible. ”

    Okay — I was getting out ahead of your narrative… sorry ’bout that.

    FD: “Jimmy Spratt attacked the credibility of the report and called for an investigation of Nuala O’Loan on the day of the report’s release. ”

    Sure — attack the messenger…

    FD: “The ostrich-like approach also undermines Unionism’s general defence against questions about behaviour in the security services – the bad apple syndrome. If Unionism accepts such people exist why can it not accept the possibility that an investigation has found some? ”

    Perhaps because there is a difference, internally, to accepting the rhetorical possibility of bad policing, i.e there are a few bad apples in the barrel, and accepting the ugly reality of those bad apples. The former seeks merely to disarm and dismiss criticism of the police. The latter is a problem they, the previously dismissive, are obviously are neither willing to accept or prepared to address.

    FD: “Ian Paisley Jnr argues that the report is being used to re-write history. I would concur. ”

    Wrong. The report is being used to highlight previously ignored information, not unlike imparting the knowledge that the Earth was not flat or that the Earth revolved around the sun. While it may be challenging the comfortable lies some have been telling themselves, it is not “re-writing history” per se. It is simply reporting history some would have preferred to leave unreported. As you have noted yourself, “intelligence” has been good enough for Unionism in the past, when it suited Unionism’s purpose. While I would not extrapolate too far beyond what was actually researched — the behavior of a single SB unit with regard to a single informant — what it reported was fairly damning, especially if some of the general conclusions — poor records, destruction of records, obstruction of justice, poor oversight, etc., do prove to be an SB norm.

  • June 76

    I think the most surprising aspect of the responses to the O’Loan report is the way in which most commentators are discussing the activities of the RUC/PSNI Special Branch as if they had ceased. There are many in the community in North Belfast who can’t really see the difference between the period covered in the report and today’s failure of the police to bring thugs and killers to justice. For example, the knife murders of recent times remain unsolved while the names of the perpetrators are common currency.

    PS: Apparently if the UVF kill with a knife, that’s not a breach of ceasefire.

  • Aaron McDaid

    The response by unionist politicians was disappointing and was probably the reason I felt myself getting hysterical and ranting and raving in the immediate aftermath of the report’s release. I would stand at the TV shouting at some of the politicians.

    Now I’ve calmed down a little now about the report itself (still angry but more clear headed about it), I still find myself foaming at the mouth when thinking of the unionist politicians. And to think I voted for them a couple of times before – sometimes I think unionism does its best to lose support …

  • Henry94

    I’m also looking forward to the rest of this. Well done FD. You raise some important points.

  • Yoda

    If it was just O’Loan, there may be room for wriggling.

    But we’ve had Stevens, Cory, Cassel et al, and now O’Loan. Taken together, these reports clearly point in the direction of collusion: collusion that has been going on since the Troubles started. Collusion that continued after the GFA. Collusion in the RUC, PSNI, the army and MI5.

    A few bad apples? Really?

  • Pacman

    Like many others here, I congratulate you FD. I detect a sense of exasperation regarding tenets you previously held dear versus the obvious realities this report has forced you to face.

    i look forward to the rest of your analysis but I caution you to be objective (for your own sake) and not let the knee-jerk unionist reactions cloud your judgement.

    I have to say though that IPJ’s soundbite about nationalism trying to rewrite history simply smacks of IPJ’s own pathetic attempts to do the same because he doesn’t like what history has to show him. I can only ruminate on the reasons why as this may be too close to home for him.

  • wild turkey

    FD

    A thoughtful, provactive and maybe on a personal level, I do not know, painful analysis of a fundamental issue which has polluted political discourse in NI for ages. As an aside, given the ongoing discussions on slugger, especially micks comments about the legitimate to and fro of reasoned arguments rather than ad homien attacks, you have in effect defined, and practised, the gold standard

    A very subtle argument which makes an important distinction between thoughtful analysis and knee-jerk denial. For example
    ‘Ian Paisley Jnr argues that the report is being used to re-write history. I would concur. Nationalism is trying to just that. However, Unionism’s response of full-faced denial is enabling nationalists to do so…’

    I can only endorse and agree with the comments of JoeCannuck, Kloot and others above. Well done, and look forward to more.

  • aquifer

    So the brits stopped the PIRA long war strategy by sponsoring loyalist murder gangs attacking SFPIRA in their own areas.

    Trouble is that Unionists do not have a long peace or a long union strategy. Their protestant fundamentalism is quite foreign in modern Britain, and prevents them attracting the catholic votes or even the acceptance they need to survive in the long term.

    They are raw and hurt by PIRA murders, but as past overlords are unwilling to play the victim card. They are unwilling to condemn the police for involvement in the sort of gloves-off actions they called for in the past.

    By not articulating a principled objection to murder, they reveal themselves as morally equivalent to the Provos.

    And the British, having held the ring for democracy at considerable cost, are entitled to have little more to do with them, as demonstrated by Britain-only legislation and governance.

    Good to see at least one Unionist thinking.

    Though in the land of staunch planterdom, is that a form of heresy?

  • susan

    Fair Deal, to make an honest, public, and plain-spoken examination of double standards within one’s own community, as you have done here in your section on “Intelligence and Evidence,” takes real integrity and shows the potential of a site like this.

    I could not disagree more with IPJ’s impression that nationalists are seizing on the report in a duplicitious plot to “rewrite history” — nationalists’ and unionists’ experiences and interpretations of history genuinely are personally, profoundly and painfully different. Precisely why a good faith effort like yours is so rare, and so worthwhile. Bualadh bos!

  • heck

    Fair deal,

    You and I might not agree on much but I certainly respect your opinions and read with interest your comments. Aaron McDaid said he got angry at the response of unionist politicians to the OLoan report. My first reaction to the report was to dismiss it with –yea- and the pope is catholic! Then I started to read the responses of unionist politicians and bloggers and I got angry. I even engaged in my own hyperbole by collusion deniers to holocaust deniers.

    I do think however that you seem to be understating the problem. My view- and there is a lot of evidence, is that this was not just about one SB officer running one informer-although that is what the oloan report dealt with. It is about the very definition of the phrase “the rule of law”.

    My view is that “the rule of law” did not exist in Nor Iron during our 30 years of conflict, and still doesn’t. Instead the state saw, and sees, itself as above “the rule of law”. Its agents used Loyalist paramilitaries as “off the shelf” death squads to try and defeat the IRA. They used them to terrorize the catholic community by immunizing the murderers of innocent civilians. In this the state was aided by the judiciary, the prosecution service, and the media. The knowledge of this activity goes to the top of the government. When you agree with this you can’t help but ask-who is calling who a terrorist.

    Who can forget Thatcher’s hectoring of the Irish people with the “a crime, is a crime, is a crime” as she let 10 men die in the H blocks. With Stevens, Oloan, Stalker, Cory etc etc, we see that this was just patronizing propaganda echoed by unionist and British politicians and the British media.

    Once you accept that the state was involved in murder and criminality you come to the conclusion that there is little moral difference between the IRA and the British government. (This was my opinion up until the Iraq war and now I believe the British state is worse!!)

    Once you accept that the state was involved in murder and criminality then you start to ask what is meant by “the rule of law” and to ask if we even approach that in Nor Iron. (I do not think we do and therefore I opposed SF’s endorsement of the PSNI.)

    Once you accept that the state was involved in murder and criminality you get angry with honest Tony’s proconsul demanding that my representatives take an oath to uphold the law and see it as patronizing hypocritical, and offensive. I am pretty law abiding with only a few minor traffic offenses in my background but if the British government told me to take such and oath before I could have a job I would tell them to shove their job.

    Once you accept that the state was involved in murder and criminality then all the moral hand ringing and whining comes down to nothing more than “my killers are good, your killers are bad”

  • aquifer

    “as she let 10 men die in the H blocks” The men volunteered to die and the broader responsibility for their deaths, when other options were open, rests with provisionalism.

    “Once you accept that the state was involved in murder and criminality”

    There have to be questions of balance scale and intensity here. State violence was a reaction to attempted subversion, i.e. destruction of the state and a real possibility of widespread civil conflict and displacement of populations.

    The vast bulk of police were not directly involved in murder, and it is not clear that loyalist violence against catholics would not have been more intense without state interference.

    I suspect that the state attempted to direct loyalist violence against provisionals rather than catholics in general, so that the provisionals had to face the limitations of their armed force strategy sooner rather than later.

    i.e. With fewer deaths.

  • Bemused

    Excellent Stuff FD.