After the Stormont House Agreement, will the latest initiative to bring state actors to account become the one that succeeds?

The UK government stands accused of continuing  to cover up state misbehaviour in a humdinger of a Report just published by the legal experts of the  Committee on the Administration  of Justice. The report is the supporting analysis for  renewed pressure on the authorities who have pledged to set up “ new mechanisms” in the form of an Historic Investigations Unit  under the Stormont House Agreement. The CAJ report adopts a sharper tone and levels more direct criticism at the government than previous reports.  It takes no account of the claims by among others the NI Attorney General that the trail of evidence in most cases is insufficient to secure convictions. The central charge of the CAJ report  is that the British government of today has set up an “apparatus of impunity” ( slightly softened by a question mark)  to allow police officers, soldiers and MI5 officers to  get away with abuses during  the Troubles. The charge is not new and  the report may not give enough credit to the course of recent judicial rulings, the de Silva report into the murder of  Pat Finucane and the HET  which was tasked mainly  with achieving closure for relatives.  Nevertheless  the analysis is compelling  and deserves  honest  and open debate.

However this seems unlikely and there’s  little around that  can make it happen. While it may be conceded that standards of investigation and justice were lower during the Troubles than under today’s human rights standards, government will continue to resist a wholesale review of cases and will continue to give the benefit of the doubt to  the former security forces who were upholding law and order  in contrast to paramilitaries who by definition, were not.

Foreseeably there will be “no overarching legacy commission or transitional justice mechanism to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict” The British government will not open secret files for a long time if ever. They believe a great deal has been revealed about collusion even by broad definition. The pace of inquests may pick up under pressure from the higher courts after Chief Justice Morgan expressed the view that inquests into deaths involving alleged state collusion could go on until 2040. The courts have ordered further disclosure of for example the Stalker-Samson report into “shoot to kill.”  Convictions now judged unreliable have been quashed.  But there’s general opposition to an amnesty  that might aid disclosure and no sign of an end to paramilitary omerta. This matters in a  highly politicised climate where political balance takes precedence over insistence on pure justice and political demand for it will be muted, like it or not. Sinn Fein like loyalist groups have much to hide  and their credentials for championing justice are to say the least, tarnished. Legal action outside the UK courts as under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights will not amount to decisive pressure, even though Article 2 standards are now said to be the norm.

Perhaps the CAJ spotted an opening  from the Irish government’s rather surprising  move over the “Hooded Men”  case over internment in 1971 before the Strasbourg court?  The legal immunity offered to  the reports of an Independent Information Retrieval Commission operating behind Chinese walls in  parallel to the legally empowered  Historic Investigations Unit may not be robust enough – although the CAJ might have offered  more of a view on it. It’s as much as we’re likely to get.

So why bother?  Because Stormont House offers another chance to return to the fray. There is one basic question for the legal officers. How do you know there’s not enough evidence about past misdoings if you don’t even try to find it?

But for all its incisive and forensic analysis, will the CAJ  report change minds  or disturb the status quo of deadlock?

CAJ Report  highlights

  The evidence does not support a conclusion that a ‘package of measures’ is being deployed in good faith by the UK Government, only held back by the complexity of the issues, cost and lack of consensus among Northern Ireland politicians. Rather, it points to a common purpose between the UK Government and elements within the security establishment to prevent access to the truth and maintain a cover of impunity for state agents.

 

Perhaps the most powerful and all-pervading element of the apparatus of impunity is the‘national security’ doctrine. The UK Government has adopted a Through the Looking Glass philosophy when it comes to national security since there is no definition and the term is deliberately kept flexible. Yet any matter which touches upon this concept is reserved to central government and in its name it can deploy huge powers of direction and concealment.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can veto any action of a local minister or any piece of legislation if she considers it incompatible with national security and can direct a minister or department to take any action to ‘safeguard the interests’ of national security. The Security Service, protected from any serious scrutiny, has been given strategic primacy in ‘national security’ policing. The Secretary of State also has powers to curtail or direct investigations and censor investigatory reports which touch on national security.

The UK Government has also sought to designate the whole of the past in Northern Ireland a ‘national security’ matter since the Northern Ireland Office seeks to retain control of all pre-devolution records and it decides what is to be made available to devolved bodies.

Furthermore, a wide range of agencies drop their usual line of accountability and instead report to the NIO when carrying out tasks which are deemed to impinge upon the undefined concept of national security.

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  • chrisjones2

    Its truly shocking that republican and loyalist terrorists cant be brought to account for their crimes because the British and Irish States are protecting them by refusing to disclose material as its not in the National Interests to do so

    Strangely the CAJ omitted the role of the Irish Government in all this – i am sure that was a simple oversight

  • Tacapall

    Yeap shocking report but not surprising and thanks to the SDLP we will be having more of the same with the introduction of the NCA. What was that part about the NCA being fully accountable to the policing board ?

    “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can veto any action of a
    local minister or any piece of legislation if she considers it
    incompatible with national security and can direct a minister or
    department to take any action to ‘safeguard the interests’ of national
    security. The Security Service, protected from any serious scrutiny, has
    been given strategic primacy in ‘national security’ policing. The
    Secretary of State also has powers to curtail or direct investigations
    and censor investigatory reports which touch on national security”

  • Tacapall

    You need help with that dyslexia Chris its British terrorists the blog is talking about.

  • ‘Tis all much ado about nothing for there is never ever going to be an opening of files on the rotten troubled past with its myriad better sooner than later forgotten arsenal of dirty deeds.

    And to think otherwise is to be delusional but it is a nice little going nowhere quickly earner for those who jump on that peculiar gravy train.

  • Redstar2014

    But let’s not forget that the Shinners signed up to MI5 still having a full unaccountable role here.

    Indeed recently Gerry Kelly was telling us that he fully supported informers!!!

    Now how in gods name can they complain about accountability

  • Tacapall

    Indeed Redstar and I dont doubt for a second that Sinn Fein would also have rubber stamped the introduction of the NCA. The article above and indeed your point above is a reminder why Irish people should have nothing whatsoever to do with British politics or their politicians.

  • sean treacy

    You did’nt do much to expose Brit dirty tricks when you were a BBC journalist here.”Omerta” applied to quite a few establishment journalists who gave priority to RUC and British army press releases.

  • Redstar2014

    Vert true sir, very true

  • Tacapall

    Not even trying to hide what Morph ?

  • chrisjones2

    Wash your mouth out. Some are Irish.

    I appreciate the the CAJ only focus on ‘loyalist’ killers while ignoring the Republican ones who were controlled by the state. Why they do that when both were state controlled must be a matter for conjecture

    They also ignore the role or republican terrorists who were controlled by the State North an South including those still under protection because they remain useful

  • chrisjones2

    Or Irish ones …why do you think the Irish didn’t do this stuff?

  • chrisjones2

    I thought that they not only ‘signed up to it’ they insisted on it so they could not be seen as accountable for them

  • chrisjones2

    the right kind of informers of course

  • Tacapall

    I cant be annoyed wasting my time with someone who presents assumptions and innuendo as fact, a person who blames the puppet for the actions of the puppet master and expects it to be debated. Post up some credible evidence of what your saying.

  • chrisjones2

    Scappatichi? Where is Freddie these days?

    All the evidence that came out in Breen and Buchannan in the Republic including Garda colusion and the involvement of state actors in covering up atrocities committed from the Iriosh stae?

  • Tacapall

    This Breen –

    https://wikispooks.com/wiki/Document:John_Weir_Affidavit

    “I was friendly at that time with RUC Constable Billy McBride and I visited his home on one occasion at a time when Chief Inspector Harry Breen was present. We discussed McBride’s connection to a group of Loyalists in Co. Down called Down Orange Welfare, which was headed by a retired Army officer, Lt. Col. Edward Brush. McBride told us he was a member of this group, which was almost entirely composed of members or ex-members of the security forces. He produced a .38 revolver from a drawer in his living room and after I had examined it he replaced it in the drawer. He then went into another room and brought out two home made
    sub-machine guns, copies of the Sterling machine-gun. He explained that Down Orange Welfare was manufacturing Sterling sub-machine guns and that the two he had shown me were the prototypes and were of imperfect design. McBride added that the group were in the process of making an M1 carbine, an American rifle, and that the only remaining problem to be tackled was the ejector mechanism for spent bullets. He anticipated that this would not present any insuperable difficulty. In Chief Inspector Breen’s presence he then offered me the two sub-machine guns because he
    knew about my connections to Loyalist paramilitaries. I accepted them and took them to Mitchell’s farmhouse.”

    Freddie Scap was a British agent his role in the IRA was to act in the interests of the British government therefore anything he done was carried out with the full knowledge and approval of his British handlers.

  • chrisjones2

    Why dont you want the Republicans investigated as well?

  • Cosmo

    Does CAJ honestly ‘believe’ that they are going to benefit people in NI for the future, with this ‘let’s expose the past’ strategy.
    Most people ‘understand’ that state employees have to keep records; terrorists and psychopaths not so much, so partial truth will only ever be achieved; while this looks like a job creation scheme for grammar school produced legal clerks.

  • PaulT

    “Most people ‘understand’ that state employees have to keep records; terrorists and psychopaths not so much”

    I’d disagree, and say that terrorists and psychopaths do actually also keep records in one form or another.

    So is there any other way to tell the difference between the state, terrorists and psychopaths

  • Cosmo

    Hmmm ‘records’…..I wonder why the Northern Bank robbery funds distribution wasn’t ‘cracked’ then?
    And how do you deal with threatening of witnesses, which is why the Diplock Courts were introduced?

    So really, how will it be helpful to peace, good relations and the future by spending significant resources on a legalistic approach to the past, which is doomed to be necessarily partial and inadequate.

    Unless you come with the perspective?….(And I quote from another
    contributor here).
    “by any action as long as it’s peaceful and non violent that would result in loss to the British Exchequer by fellow Irishmen is fine by me if Mrs Windsor can be a parasite then so can we all.”

    I appreciate it would set off a legal clerk employment bubble, which might suit a few.

  • Tacapall

    “how will it be helpful to peace, good relations and the future by
    spending significant resources on a legalistic approach to the past,
    which is doomed to be necessarily partial and inadequate”

    Good diversion however the blog is not about how to deal with the past its about victims of state terrorism not being given equal status in the eyes of the British government and well obviously people like yourself. Is it the legal fees your worried about or the huge amounts of compensation the British government would have to pay to victims and their families that would be unhelpful to peace and good relations as a result when these state secrets are exposed or would it be more to do with having a vested interest in keeping those secrets where they are.

  • Cosmo

    Glad you enjoyed your quote! Reminded me of the warped unethical reasoning of a David Drumm.
    I think that CAJ claims their strategy is trying to ‘help’ NI Peace and Reconciliation, in coming to grips with the past. But, I don’t think this necessarily partial approach is realistic or ‘honest’ in its scope and will only fuel further bad feeling and frustration and indeed debt for the next generations going forward.
    Yes, correct, with regards to legal expenditure – I am pretty disgusted at the roundabout of (greedily entitled) legal incomes proliferating in NI; it all seems to be trying to go American – not a good direction, and certainly not fair or just.

  • Tacapall

    Sticks and stones an all that Cosmo. Why and how is the CAJ and its approach dishonest or impartial when they represent not only victims from both sides of the community but also former members of the security forces like Neil Latimer. Obviously the cost of compensation to the families and the thought of those victims of state sponsored violence becoming recognised as such is just too much to swallow for some. The evidence is there in which charges could be brought against those who were complicit in the murder of innocents are you saying that should not happen and that that evidence should not be open to the courts because …….

  • barnshee

    Unfortunately the “bill” for republican murder and destruction will far outweigh any counter “bill” for alleged government “actions”
    Can`t at the moment find anywhere to send the “bill”— any suggestions?

  • Cosmo

    Dear T
    Well, the attempt by the CAJ to look even-handed in this strategy is just cosmetic, and doesn’t fool anyone, and you know it. In itself, the pursuit of justice is always a good thing, but it really does not look like CAJ is interested in justice for everyone, in this back-looking strategy, which looks more vindictive than even-handed.
    The Good Friday Agreement meant that numerous convicted murderers, bombers and sociopaths were released without justice being properly served in the eyes of the majority in our society. People, and many many victims, on all sides swallowed this, as a real act of faith for the future, where the next generations could move on to live peacefully together. There are better things to spend on now, than lining lawyers’ pockets.

  • Tacapall

    So it can also be argued that the PSNI’s non failure to pursue those murderers, bombers and sociopaths among the ranks of the security forces justice not being served and vindictive against victims, and is it not back looking and expensive for the PSNI flying half way across the world in an attempt to gain evidence against former paramilitaries, some of whom are in various stages of dementia.

    Are you suggesting Neil Latimer should forget about all those years he spent in prison, forget about bringing to account those RUC officers who set him up for a crime he did not commit ? Should he allow those same officers to live out their lives on those generous financial rewards they received from the same govermnent you believe should not fund his fight for justice.

  • Cosmo

    I do not agree with PSNI actions ref Boston tapes.
    We are all driven mad in this world, by the huge unfairness of there being very many tax-payer/Govt funded fraudsters, liars, sociopaths, murderers and careerists. And it’s completely sickening to imagine the copious legal aid that is given to guilty bombers.
    Your empathy for injustice against a UDR man is touching, and a step forward for fairness I guess. At least this indicates you may be moving from a theory of ‘higherarchy’ of victims.

  • barnshee

    Too sensible— it will never run

  • Tacapall

    Copious legal aid that is given to guilty bombers ? Could you expand on that, maybe provide one or more examples of where, when and who you are talking about. Yes I have empathy for all victims of the past conflict there is no cherry picking in my mind perhaps you could post up some evidence where I have cherrypicked in the past. By the way we are not talking about me we are talking about the CAJ and their efforts to bring justice to innocents, not the guilty, but you seem to have a big problem with that concept. How many Neil Latimers do you think are out there and would you agree that those same people, regardless of what type of truth process or amnesty if one is ever agreed, should be allowed to seek redress through the courts and be compensated for the injustices they suffered.

  • Cosmo

    Ker-ching!
    £30m per year, for 5 years, to be made available for the costs of Historical Investigation Unit and other bodies, the Stormont Agreement proposes to deal with the past.(*)
    That should keep some of the legal piranhas well-fed.
    as reported in latest CAJ newsletter.

  • Tacapall

    Cosmo what money the HET get has nothing to do with all those innocent victims, are you avoiding the question – How many Neil Latimers do you think are out there and would you agree that those same people, regardless of what type of truth process or amnesty if one is ever agreed, should be allowed to seek redress through the courts and be compensated for the injustices they suffered ?