On the need to tackle political murder even when hidden in full view…

As Rick Wilford said on The View last night, I thought I had a handle on what was going on until I watched The View last night. I suppose the basic problem with Peter Robinson’s Heath Robinson like attempt to give the institutions time and room to breath [before the bunny finally gets it, eh? – Ed] that it’s so complicated it’s difficult to explain, even for his own Finance Minister.

So, turning away from that near impossible task and taking account of the rather larger matter of the extra judicial killing of Kevin McGuigan (“It was the IRA, yes”) Michael HC McDowell argues in the Belfast Telegraph today that any sticking plaster solution will not work in bedding down the peace.

He begins by outlining how the idea for the IMC came about:

My IMC concept grew out of a successful programme in Sicily – A Culture Of Lawfulness – which had successfully ridden the capital Palermo of the Mafia, naming and shaming those carrying out assassinations, paramilitary attacks, racketeering, bank robberies, extortion, blackmail and intimidation.

This programme was run in close co-operation with the mass media, the key support of the Pope and the Catholic Cardinal of Sicily, the education system, which was controlled by the Church, and the police.


I envisaged the IMC pushing the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries into totally peaceful methods so that they could then qualify to participate in a power-sharing administration with the rest of the democratic parties.

The IMC was late in being set up, but by 2011 had achieved major progress, using intelligence and security force information from all jurisdictions and, importantly, from the general public, given in confidence, and anonymously if preferred, on breaches in the Mitchell Principles.

In short, using naming-and-shaming the four commissioners from the north, the south, London and Washington were key in getting us to “Yes” and devolved government and building confidence within the majority and minority communities that illegality would no longer be swept under the carpet. I believed that closing down the IMC in 2011 was too early.

I have one caveat, however. I envisaged the commissioners calling it like it is and not under any circumstances pulling their punches for “political reasons” lest the Executive collapse because of the seriousness of any IMC findings.

The chips, I believed, had to fall where they might and the commissioners, all unelected, had no political mandate to “preserve” the Executive.

I believe punches were pulled, though not that often, to stop the Executive collapsing. If, as some politicians are suggesting, the IMC is resurrected short or medium-term, pulling punches to preserve the Executive must not be allowed.

McDowell concludes:

…bringing back the IMC, in smaller form or as it was set up originally, won’t build back confidence in the system, except on a very short-term basis.

Rather, it is the very system which set up the Executive and Assembly that is broken and until London and Dublin and the Northern Ireland parties agree on reforms, or the latter have reforms thrust on them on a take-it-or-leave it basis, it is not worth having the devolved institutions as they are presently constituted.

Similarly, new elections without deep constitutional reform will only produce roughly the same gridlock-like results we have had to date. London and Dublin and the Northern Ireland parties need to arrive at a new system of government where accountability and responsibility are paramount. And any US role must be strictly limited to supporting a deal agreed by the non-US players.

So-called “constructive ambiguity” has become “destructive ambiguity”. A new, constructive, fully democratic power-sharing Executive and Assembly (and with safeguards for minorities) without “ambiguities” is what is needed today.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • chrisjones2

    Intelligence on republicans is the responsibility of MI5. Last time they and PSNI fed the IMC but we now know that some of that information was utterly false. Why should this time be any different

  • mickfealty

    “bringing back the IMC, in smaller form or as it was set up originally, won’t build back confidence in the system, except on a very short-term basis.”

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    In reference to the Prof’s observation: it’s been like the most slapdash game of zero sum poker played by supremely inexperienced amateurs whose preoccupation with calling the Lurgan shovel faced bluff of other players has resulted in losses all round and the premature end of play – anyone surprised? I thought the purpose of poker was that someone won something and everyone else minimised their losses. How many more times can a player claim that he never saw the cards that have clearly been face up on the table since … like forever? In addition all players knew what cards everyone else was playing.

    McDowell’s piece is interesting in that the IMC could call a party to account on breaches of the Mitchell Principles to which SF had signed up. From what I understand about the Sicilian/Italian model was that civil society was dissatisfied with govt anti mafia policies and this implies a unity of purpose (this was the period of tangentopoli & mani pulite). However, we still had/have sufficient residual fear and suspicion to overlook/condone any breach and sabre rattling in the name of ‘my community’s’ safety. Nonetheless, I would agree that any peace process executive here had to go through any number of lurches from start to stop to start again in order that ‘honorable & decent conduct’ become established. If the impartial robustness that McDowell had envisaged had been applied then the DUP would have been given less wriggle room over OTRs, the McGuigan killing and all other cards that have been lying face up on the poker table since like … forever. It gives a new meaning to ‘the elephant in the room’.

    Stormont’s abandoned poker room is like a crime scene in itself. Let’s preserve it for the investigators to tell us what everyone knew all along. If it isn’t the case that everyone knew everything then Unionists are sold pups alarmingly frequently. Hmmmm

  • eamoncorbett

    Wonder what Michael means by “deep constitutional reform”.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Change to the GFA???

  • chrisjones2

    I agree…and the utter lack of trust that underpins that cannot be overcome

    Unionists know that SF is the creature of the British Government that has invested so much in its development, given it pardons, colluded to stop some of its senior members being interviewed by police when suspected of the most horrendous crimes and and allowed PIRA to murder. Why should they trust any IMC? Who will they trust as telling them the truth

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    All a new IMC needs is the ability to buy members of MI5. Every man has his price after all.

  • Brian Walker

    What kind of “constitutional reform” pray? I’m afraid we’re going to get a lot of this kind of vague benign preaching before we’re done.Granted,the machinery lends itself to abuse such as the exploitation of petitions of concern. But the problem lies less in the system and structures than in the obsession with politics, contrasting with the lack of interest in policies.

    Many of the politicians still haven’t an idea about how to govern or even basic ethics They have been subversive or opposition figures for so long that they can’t kick the habit It isn’t even good party politics any more.They’re no chasing their own tails for a hold on a dwindling core votes instead of opening out for marginal advantage .

    They’d be much better trying to list the positives, such as they are, and trying to build on them. Take a lot less pride in frankly pathetic political positioning and concentrate more on making policies that respond to need.

  • Zig70

    part of the problem for me is that the folk don’t know that they are voting for law makers in MLAs or MPs. People only think Stormont is for running executive departments. The value NI society place on Stormont’s law making is low either inherently or due to the party not advertising it due to politicians short comings. I not sure who should educate society on what the plan is?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Aren’t all murders political Mick?

    Killing someone sends message.

    Otherwise do you have a problem with police carrying out their job without prejudice, when doing their job with prejudice would upset the political apple cart.

  • EdmundBurke

    Brian, you may recall that I don’t indulge in “vague benign preaching” from our few encounters in the BBC decades ago? The IMC was a DEFINITE policy action, enshrined in legislation in both jurisdictions, and consequences followed for breaches in the Mitchell principles. Fact. I will be following up with specific prescriptions for constitutional reform in the GFA which is 17 years old and not fit for purpose in 2015. I did not have the space — and the Belfast Telegraph generously allowed me a lot of space compared to their usual opinion articles — to go into detail on that, so watch this space. And I don’t of course take the view that specifying not only what the weaknesses in the GFA is enough. I have definite proposals and suggestions as to how they might come about. The problem will be the capacity or courage of the two governments, and the fractious NI parties, to bring the neccessary changes about, to achieve REAL power sharing, not the cynical carving up by the DUP and SF. Just to be clear. ALSO, my header says “Edmund Burke,” for some reason, but I am indeed Michael H.C. McDowell

  • gendjinn

    “On the need to tackle political murder even when hidden in full view…”

    January 30th 1972, 14 people murdered by the British army. Still no prosecutions. FORTY THREE YEARS later there’s still no justice.

    If the murder of McGuigan renders SF unfit for Stormont, then the lack of justice FORTY THREE YEARS later renders the UK unfit for governing any county in Ireland.

    Do you disagree?

  • Reader

    I would have thought you disagreed with yourself. Aren’t you in favour of an amnesty for killings during the troubles, and the rule of law for killings after the Good Friday Agreement?

  • Brian Walker

    Michael, (Are you really today’s Edmund Burke?), Nice to hear from you. Briefly, I think the IMC idea is fine, but how are its judgments to be applied? What I was really referring to as vague and benign was this:

    “Similarly, new elections without deep constitutional reform will only produce roughly the same gridlock-like results we have had to date. London and Dublin and the Northern Ireland parties need to arrive at a new system of government where accountability and responsibility are paramount.”

    You may well be right. I look forward to you unveiling your reforms. I assume the parties would find them acceptable, otherwise how can they fly? . Don’t keep us on tenterhooks too long!

  • gendjinn

    Am I?

    Is there an amnesty in place?

    As there isn’t, any logic used to disqualify SF from government on McGuigan applies equally to UK rule in Ireland for Bloody Sunday.

  • Reader

    Don’t worry – I wasn’t supporting the DUP position – in my view they have arranged a late, messy departure for a stupid reason. They should have brought the Executive down hard as soon as it became clear there wouldn’t be a proper budget.
    I really was addressing your logic. In my experience republicans think that the GFA either states or implies an amnesty for pre-GFA murders. (I have always disagreed.) So I was a bit surprised that your argument didn’t accept the GFA as a watershed moment for this sort of thing.

  • gendjinn

    Bringing the exec down over the budget would be a step towards a functioning body politic. Bringing it down over the McGuigan is disingenuous and retrograde.

    Well that’s a lot of assumptions there. We don’t have an amnesty, well we effectively do for crimes committed by the British state and its agents. If we did have an amnesty for what went before then we could debate on that basis, but we don’t.

  • monkeybone01

    Re Bobby Storey’s statement on the Ra ‘not coming back’. Simple rhetoric until next time. For example, have Action Against Drugs gone away too (you know the ones that said they would avenge the Davison murder)? Judging by their ‘action’ in Twinbrook last week; no. Its OK, well acceptable when others from outside look in and treat you like fools – they don’t know any better. But when its ‘your own’ making eejits outta you? There is irony in AAD’s statement after the Davison murder…….

    “If we find anyone had any role whatsoever, letting those who did it use their house, washed clothes or took the gun away, they are going to be executed.”

    Anyone found the knife that killed Robert McCartney yet?