State collusion was a ‘significant feature’ in a loyalist gun attack in Loughinisland in June 1994, according to the latest report published today by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. You can read some commentary over at The Detail here, while the publication of the full report is awaited (it is now published here).
The timeline of the Loughinisland investigation should be crushingly familiar at this stage. First there was a non-existent RUC investigation, then a flawed report by the Police Ombudsman, in 2011, which was eventually set aside. The current Ombudsman now reports that he has “…no hesitation in unambiguously determining that collusion is a significant feature of the Loughinisland murders”.
Interestingly, one of the most critical points that has already emerged was the extent to which the RUC did not even ask their agents and informers for the kind of intelligence which could have prevented attacks such as Loughinisland. A practice which, to some extent, is much more damning indictment of the RUC than a failure around a single incident. However, the cumulative data on RUC failures means we have long moved far beyond credibly taking any single failing and discussing it in isolation. According to the report issued today, “The RUC investigation of the Loughinisland murders is punctuated by unexplained delays in arrests; the loss of potential forensic opportunities; and what might be described as inconsistencies or anomalies. These issues are indicative to me of poor professional judgment and practice, if not negligence, by the police officers responsible for the investigation.”
That last sentence is somewhat redundant in that a variant can be found in pretty much every report into the activities of the RUC. So these are not RUC failings, they are RUC strategies. ‘Collusion’ (in whatever sense the term is used) was an RUC strategy, not some incidental RUC failing.
Sadly for the families and others involved, though, as with pretty much all the historical investigations it is very unlikely that anything much will happen following the publication of the report (except for the arrest of the odd republican or loyalist necessary to make a token claim to be ‘doing something‘). Legal actions are crushed and ground to a crawl by judicial processes designed to outlast the life expectancy of all but the youngest of victims and relatives. The British government, which ultimately holds access to significant armouries of data and records, has never been sufficiently held to account by any court, agency or organisation for the actions of those under its direct and indirect control. Pretty much all of the information that slowly gets dragged kicking and screaming into the light of day could have been released rapidly and without any of the attendant stresses on victims and their families, if the British government wished to do so.
Similarly, there won’t be voices in official Ireland willing to articulate a real sense of anger at findings such as those from Loughinisland. In reality, their first concern will be dampening any possibility that the net result that might see an increase in support for Sinn Féin or other republicans. Instead, there will be reasonable tolerance of any degree of collusion or state participation in violence against communities in Ireland. Victims and their relatives, and even ‘truth’, are no longer politically convenient (other than where they are politically expedient).
To paraphrase Roy Greenslade, portrayals of the conflict in Ireland are completely underpinned by mechanisms of self-censorship operating within the British media [to which you can safely add Irish and local Belfast media] which desire not to see history being rewritten so much as history being eradicated. Understanding Loughinisland requires a contextualisation in the long term practices of using operatives, at arms length from the state, to carry out ‘terrorist’ attacks in the pursuit of the state’s political goals. Such a systematic programme of education would be the antithesis of the public information strategies adopted by Irish mainstream towards the conflict in the north. Under these circumstances, the Loughinisland report will get some token public sympathy but will be followed by nothing of substance. The nationalist disengagement from politics in the north isn’t happening in a vacuum confined to the electoral arena. But even those wishing to simply ‘eradicate history’ in the north should have learnt the lesson by now that underpinning the political status quo with injustice is not a viable strategy.