Kingsmill, Loughinisland, Stakeknife. New disclosure on collusion has begun that the State can’t control and must answer. The time has come for proper explanations


Hints are constantly being dropped that the Executive are close to agreement about setting up the new institutions to deal with the past, basically as laid out in the Haass report two years ago.    After last week, it can’t come quick enough.  A draft Bill to set up new legacy bodies is ready and waiting. A flood of consequences emerged from some of the worst incidents of the Troubles, lining up to be tackled.

70 murders connected to Loughinisland. At least 50 linked to Stakeknife and perhaps many more.  On top of that, new urgency for hearing 50 inquests into 90 deaths,some 40 years old, with more to come. But progress in setting up the new system has stalled and the £150 million that  goes with it. The old over burdened system is having to cope under protest. The British government say they will implement when the Assembly can agree a definition of victimhood. But this is disingenuous.   The DUP is out of order to delay funding the inquests. But this time, the main problem is in Whitehall.

The most important body is a new independent Historical Investigations Unit with powers to review all Troubles-related cases, including those completed by the Historical Enquiries Team it will replace, after the HET was deemed to be too close to the state. The Unit would take over legacy inquiries from the PSNI and the highly effective Police Ombudsman which has set the standard.  According to human rights experts, the main reason for delay is British government restrictions on  disclosure on national security grounds.

The human rights  experts say the independent HIU should be the arbiter of national security, but they must know that won’t wash. The only ways through are either that the British government submits a definition of national security that satisfies its critics, or that each disputed case is subject to judicial review, if necessary in a closed hearing.

Outside the scope of the Bill, 56 inquests involving 97 deaths have been taken over by the High Court. More are likely to follow. The Lord Chief Justice expressed his disappointment that the Executive had not agreed to the necessary funding before the election.  The First Minster ought to explain the delay. Is she really worried that they’ll provide ammunition for  “rewriting history?” Does she think that withholding funds will help?

Even without an HIU,  it has taken only a couple of cases – very big ones admittedly – to expose what could be the tip of a titanic iceberg.

The inquest on the Kingsmill massacre of 1976 has had to be postponed because of  the revelation in the hearing   that a palmprint on the getaway car was that of a Louth republican. The Irish News  followed up with a  complexity tangled even by the standards of the sectarian hell  that was south Armagh in the mid 1970s.

First  the paper revealed that the republican was Colm Murphy who had been questioned many times as a leading suspect and was later found civilly liable for the Omagh bomb. Next came the Chief Constable’s failed midnight bid to injunct the Irish News paper against publication.

After that,a row over Murphy’s claim  to the Irish News reporter  that if there had been retaliation for the Kingsmill murders the IRA commander in South Armagh had planned to attack the homes of high profile unionists living along the border in order to force Protestant families from the area.

Finally in this sequence a new story that a dossier used by the late Ian Paisley at the time to name Eugene Reavey as a suspect under House of Commons privilege had been “doctored”. His three brothers had been shot dead in the area the night before and the Kingsmill murders were seen as the reprisal.   Three members of the O’Dowd family were also shot on the same night by a UVF gang that it was believed were acting in collusion with members of the UDR.

Kingsmill is not the only case whose full ramifications are still unexplored. The implications of  the Loughinisland findings are at least as wide and may lead to prosecutions of former SB officers. In this same week a new police investigation into the Stakeknife informer case will range over 50 murders and will take at least five years.

With such rich material around and subject to further speculation, the temptation will be great for all the political parties to indulge themselves in new orgies of whataboutery.

The British government are opposed to holding any more inquiries like the Cory series which  they regarded as a mistake from the start, or reports like de Silva’s on the Finucane murder which was a substitute for the promised public inquiry. They may protest that in the Finucane report and in the Ombudsman report on Loughinisland, disclosure was extensive and highly critical. But they must surely realise they only whet the appetite for more. Do they really believe  reviews of perhaps thousands of individual cases will produce general closure in the lifetime of many who lived through the Troubles? And all the more so, when successive chief constables have warned there might not be much information in the unreviewed files anyway?

The Irish News experience shows that public discussion of legacy cases which has gone on for forty years will not  easily be suppressed by the usual constraints of further legal inquiry.

Case investigations are necessarily piecemeal although links can then established between them. Anticipating linkage whether it’s established or not, the charge is becoming more and more compelling that, not very far below the radar, it was British policy at some level to turn loyalists inside and outside the security forces into state agents to destroy the IRA at the cost of innocent lives. The alternative explanation is that a large part of the system operated on deniability or was out of control.  The “bad apple”  theory is looking thin.The charge is too serious to be dismissed by the countercharge that the call for greater official disclosure is politically motivated to make the State look as bad as the Provos.

But the British government still have an impeccable excuse  for refusing to open the files other than slowly under case by case compulsion. They have to be withheld as potential evidence.  Only last week, and after 40 years, we have seen how old evidence can newly  emerge – as Kingmill has just  shown ( unless you go for the conspiracy theory that the palmprint is a plant. On the other hand if the evidence wasn’t strong enough to charge him then, why should it be now?).

The overarching charge can  best be answered by systematic disclosure rather than slow drip,  case by case ; or worse – suppressed for “lack of evidence” or “not in the public  interest” by the local DPP. But it looks as if it will take five years of revived investigation  to show that legal process will not do it.

If the impression  not only of collusion but grossly illegal common purpose with terrorists is misleading, it must be possible for senior figures like Ronnie Flanagan the last RUC Chief Constable and a former head of the Special Branch a man with a high reputation, to give a balanced explanation of what they thought they were doing. It isn’t good enough to hide behind legal process, a victims- centred approach or national security. Part of the explanation should be about what the use of informers achieved. People could then decide for themselves if it was worth it.



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  • Teddybear

    If the English had regarded the IRA as they should have done, there would have been no need for loyalist paramilitaries in the first place

    Please note the lack of an Israeli UVF/UFF because their security forces are not hamstrung by wishy washy semi fifth columnist ‘liberals’

    Nature, and self defence, abhor a vacuum and all that

  • Declan Doyle

    The entire debacle is quite scary, few people will be shocked or surprised by revelations concerning the activities of the IRA, UVF and so forth. But after years of denying the presence of collusion and worse; there could well be shock and dismay at revelations concerning the state’s involvement in the murder of innocents. In fact, the state’s antics could well overshadow and possibly dwarf those of paramilitaries reversing our well prpoganda nurturing and assumptions about who really were the cruelest of cold blooded killers. The media approach and reaction could well prove to be the destabilising factor. We have long past the day when our media ever felt obliged to carefully analyse and responsibly report. Today, most media outlets across these islands are so deeply connected thru self interest that almost every piece of news is soaked in spin, half truths, distortion and dangerous prejudice. Destabilising politics and society is now a hobby. Thus, these coming investigations offer our media machine the perfect opportunities to throw us into chaos whilst chomping at the bit. The British continued refusal to play ball deepens suspicions and places state terror top of the bill. Hard to see how these investigations can occur without the media turning them into divisive and dangerous tools to create conflict.

  • Declan Doyle

    Loyalists didn’t need the IRA as an excuse to attack catholics, they were doing a pretty fine sectarian job long before the provos ever came along.

  • Skibo

    Loyalist paramilitaries have been with us since 1912. They did not require IRA activity for their creation. The threat of democracy for Ireland was enough.

    I would not raise Israeli actions in the Gaza strip as an example of how to resolve a political situation.
    It is state terrorism on a vast scale. Gaza strip is basically a prison holding as many people as based in Northern Ireland in an area the size of Fermanagh. The average age is Eighteen!
    As for your statement on self defence, since when has self defence included what the UVF and the likes did?

  • Gopher

    35 million for stakeknife and 5 years, seriously that is a hospital.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Would you mind explaining a couple of things that have always puzzled me about ‘loyalist’ involvement in the Troubles?

    Firstly, if these so called ‘loyalists’ were so concerned about the threat to their ‘Wee Country’ why didn’t they simply join some part of the security forces in order to resist the republican forces?

    After all, that would have placed them on the side of British law and order ( that they purport to be loyal to ) rather than criminalized them, wouldn’t it?

    Secondly, if their main concern was Irish paramilitary republicanism why did they almost exclusively target innocent civilians?

    87.2% of all ‘loyalist’ murders were innocent civilians. some of whom were innocent protestants mistaken for innocent Catholics.

    For instance, the Loughinisland massacre was apparently carried out in retaliation for the killing of three UVF members.

    So why choose the easy option and murder innocent people having a night out watching a football match rather than go after the actual perpetrators of the murders?

    To me it looks very much like a mixture of cowardice and psychopathic tendencies.

    The British Army agrees with me as to the makeup of the various factions involved.

    Seventh paragraph down.

  • Sharpie

    Case by case, truth comes dripping slowly. We will never get the whole truth – mostly because we have lost sight of the context. We will justify retrospectively because we are no longer in the moment and the decisions made back then look very different now than in the moment. My father in law has a great cliché: There’s three truths: your truth, my truth, and the truth of what really happened.

    If only we could start the conversation with the word amnesty – then we may have a chance of getting real truth. British Government would have to free its people to speak though and I fear they never will.

    The alternative – making sense of it case by case. The ugly job of trying to make sense of insanity is slow, meticulous, horrific, distorting of possibility, yet for many an absolute necessity. I would fear that even if the facts are told, the sense of why, the futility, the what was it for – that will eat people’s spirit and keep people pressing on and on and on. A pitiful set of circumstances.

  • Declan Doyle

    Absolutely. But victims want answers, what do u do?

  • Gopher

    Build a hospital

  • Declan Doyle

    Not saying you are wrong but many people disagree with u

  • Gopher

    Okay what you want to do? Pay rich lawyers who can afford private health care to indulge in an endless paper chase so as they can upgrade form an Aston Martin to a Bentley. Disagree all you want the fact remains your getting milked

  • Declan Doyle

    I am just making the argument that seems to be in the ascendency, while much of the claims for justice are quite clearly nothing more than political opportunistic manipulation, what do we say to victims? Because they cannot be avoided. If we decide to swerve investigations and plough resources into much needed services as you correctly point out, we are still left with victims and somebody has to face them. That’s why I ask sincerely, what do we do?

  • Skibo

    Should the money not come from Westminster and not out of our budget?

  • Gopher

    We let hundreds of criminals out with the signing of the GFA now we want to spend money on lawyers or rather witchfinders. That is why I sincerely say we build a hospital or we carry out the backlog of medical operations with the money

  • AntrimGael

    People living in Loyalist areas whose kids are out of their heads on UDA/UVF heroin, cocaine, dope etc will no doubt be reassured by your conclusion that it’s ALL the Republicans fault. Protestant business owners will be thankful to hear that it’s not Uncle Andy and Red Hand Luke who are extorting 1000’s of pounds out of them every week, it’s the Chucks. It isn’t the dark glasses brigade UVF/UDA crowd who are hanging illegal paramilitary flags on lamposts, it’s Gerry and his mates. Pathetic even for a Loyalist sneaking regarder.

  • Declan Doyle

    Your argument is totally sensible. The GFA in releasing prisoners effectively drew a line under the entire mess. But there is unbelievable pressure now for justice, truth, revenge etc. Be it state or paramilitary violence.

  • tmitch57

    “Firstly, if these so called ‘loyalists’ were so concerned about the
    threat to their ‘Wee Country’ why didn’t they simply join some part of
    the security forces in order to resist the republican forces?”

    In most Western democracies, presumably including the UK, people with serious criminal records cannot enlist. Plus, most modern armies include some sort of matriculation certificate or its equivalent and the ability to pass some basic aptitude tests. Neither the loyalists nor the republicans were concerned with these requirements.

  • Adam Martin

    What a load of tripe.Loyalist terrorists were active before the PIRA was established,or before any threat of Nationalist violence.The UVF were even bombing Dublin in 1969, when the IRA were still squabbling over what to do about loyalist mobs razing Catholic enclaves in Belfast.
    The first time the IRA engaged was in the summer of 1970,after the Catholic community endured two years of loyalist mobs and loyalist terrorists doing as they pleased, with the tacit approval of the state.

  • ted hagan

    Of course loyalists joined the defence forces.
    They easily infiltrated the Ulster Defence Regiment where they got their training. some were even joint members of the UDA/UDR.
    UDR soldiers even joined the barricades and intimidated Catholics during the UWC strike. They carried out sectarian murders and a substantial number of weapons found their way to loyalist paramilitaries. Over 100 members charged with paramilitary offences.
    Think Miami showband murders and you might get an idea of the fear engendered by the UDR, with its many former B Special members and its 3pc Catholic membership. So yes, loyalist killers did join the security forces,In droves. Even some IRA killers did also. All very convenient.

  • chrisjones2

    You could get it from America

  • chrisjones2

    Because they cannot be avoided.

    But they HAVE been avoided for years

  • Skibo

    I don’t think the Americans had much to do with it. Anyway the information lays with the British government. if they were paying, maybe they would open their papers faster.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I think the loyalist paramilitaries may predate the IRA.

  • Gopher


  • Anglo-Irish

    If armies throughout the world decided to only enlist educated and literate people I would suggest that they would have a serious recruitment problem.

    Nearly 40% of British army recruits have a reading age of 11.

    As for a criminal record it depends on the offence and number of convictions.

    I would imagine those England ‘fans’ that we see pictured in today’s papers being a credit to their country by demonstrating their patriotism in passionate manner in Marseilles would make excellent soldiers, if they aren’t already of course. : )

  • Anglo-Irish

    I appreciate that, my point was to the poster to whom I was replying.

    He/she appeared to be saying that the ‘loyalist’ paramilitaries were justified because the British security forces were ‘hamstrung’ and presumably acted in too soft a manner for his/her liking.

    When you consider that over 50% of security force killings were civilians, the presence of the Glenanne gang, internment without trial plus the use of torture during interrogation, I’m wondering exactly what level of draconian action would have satisfied him/her?

    Attempting to justify the actions of a group of psychotic murderers who mainly targeted civilians and exacerbated the situation to a major degree is an ‘interesting’ position to take.

  • Thomas Barber

    “In fact, the state’s antics could well overshadow and possibly dwarf
    those of paramilitaries reversing our well prpoganda nurturing and
    assumptions about who really were the cruelest of cold blooded killers”

    The whole truth hasn’t emerged yet Declan and the next big case that will come in for closer investigation will be the Shankill butchers. A bunch of serial killers who seemed to be able to evade the notice of all those other state agents and RUC special branch to carry out their barbaric murders even though the dogs on the streets of the Shankill knew who they were and what they were up to. No-one will be surprised when it emerges that several if not all of the gang were RUC special branch agents.

  • Kev Hughes

    ‘Nature, and self defence, abhor a vacuum and all that’

    There were 3 people shot out my back in a mobile shop in Drumbeg, Craigavon in the early 90s. 1 was a man with 3 kids who went to the store to buy some bits and pieces, another was a young girl working there, selling mix-ups etc.

    I just wonder how the selling of 10 p mix-ups was an attack on the Union and the PUL community in general so that the UVF felt the need to drive into my estate to murder these people?

    Can you fill me and everyone else here in on what they were doing wrong Teddybear or can we expect you to hit that ‘EDIT’ function and delete your frankly disgusting and shameful post?

  • grumpy oul man

    you have your history a biit twisted there, it was the loyalists who started the shooting and bombing (Gusty Spence, the UVF, and the Orange volunteers) but if the government had of dealt with them firmly enough the Provos might have never existed

  • grumpy oul man

    and we would be free of a lot of those lawyers if the government would come clean! do you really think the state should get away with murder.

  • Skibo

    In the last talks leading up to the fresh start, I thought there was an agreement that Westminster would meet the costs of anything that came from the time before devolution.
    The HIU investigations are all from the time of devolution and should not come out of the policing budget.
    Is this the money that Arlene refused to action as there was not enough investigations into the IRA?

  • Gopher

    There are arguement so for a lot of things, I’m not sure open ended spending commitments is one that resonates with Westminister, especially when there is absolutely zero local consensus.

  • Skibo

    As usual Gopher, you cannot come out with a statement of “absolutely zero local consensus” without evidence to back it up. You can only comment with “I believe”.
    I believe that not only is there consensus for holding these investigations, there is a responsibility to hold them.
    The British Government must clear their name if that is possible now.
    If we stay in the EU, I can see the European Courts being approached to put pressure on the British Government to resolve it.

  • Jollyraj

    “Attempting to justify the actions of a group of psychotic murderers who mainly targeted civilians and exacerbated the situation to a major degree is an ‘interesting’ position to take.”

    Indeed it is. Much like your own ‘nod and a wink’ excuses for IRA atrocities.

  • Jollyraj

    “Loyalist paramilitaries have been with us since 1912.”

    Aye indeed. And the Fenians murdering innocent people before that. And so it goes.

  • Jollyraj

    Indeed aye. Them and the IRA: as cowardly, grasping and evil as each other.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Nothing whatsoever like it.

    I am in complete agreement with the view of the British Army on the matter.

    The IRA were described by the Army in an internal report as ” a professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient force ”

    ‘Loyalists’ on the other hand were described in the same report as ” little more than a collection of gangsters “.

    So as I said, ‘loyalists’ were ‘psychotic murderers who mainly targeted civilians’.

    Obviously, it doesn’t suit your personal narrative but then sectarianism can tend to blind people to the truth, particularly when the truth shows their side up for exactly what they are.

  • Jollyraj

    So then you would consider murdering elderly farmers in night-time ambushes along the border, planting bombs under family cars, blowing up civilians in sleepy market towns, kneecapping civilians, murdering and hiding the body of people like Jean McConville, dealing drugs, raping children etc etc etc as the actions of a “professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient force”. How very odd.

    Loyalists were little more than a collection of gangsters. So were the Republicans. And people who make excuses for them are their nerdy impotent cheerleaders, with a somewhat bizarre desire to live vicariously through their evil acts.

  • Anglo-Irish

    The IRA allowed themselves to be drawn into a ‘tit for tat’ sectarian murder campaign which was initiated by ‘loyalists’.

    There is no excuse for that, it was murder, plain and simple.

    However, whilst not excusing those actions the reasoning behind them ” They are trying to indiscriminately murder our people in order to terrorize us into stopping our resistance so we will show them two can play at that game “. is understandable, but totally flawed and unforgivable.

    But a civilian murder rate of 87% of all kills from the ‘loyalists’ and 36% of all kills from the IRA shows which group was the most sectarian in their outlook.

    The description of the IRA being ” professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient ” is not my description, it is the conclusion arrived at by an internal British Army report which was never intended for public consumption.

    Who to believe and agree with, a report compiled by professionals some nine years after the events in an effort to summarise what took place, or the fevered ramblings of a biased poster with an agenda?

    Difficult one but on reflection I’m inclined to go with the Army’s conclusion.

    As to attrocities being committed, yes they were, and the security forces themselves were responsible for some of them weren’t they?

    But only the ‘loyalists’ set out to target innocent civilians as their main objective.

    You like to make out that the IRA and ‘loyalists’ were exactly the same, they weren’t, and both the British Army and anyone else who can bring any degree of objectivity to the subject knows and accepts that fact.

  • Jollyraj

    “However, whilst not excusing those actions the reasoning behind them ” They are trying to indiscriminately murder our people in order to terrorize us into stopping our resistance so we will show them two can play at that game “. is understandable, but totally flawed and unforgivable.”

    What you fail to understand is that exactly the same argument is used by both Loyalists and Republicans to justify killing people. And it is not a legitimate excuse for either.

  • Anglo-Irish

    I don’t fail to understand it at all.

    What you apparently fail to understand though is that it was the UVF under the leadership of Gusty Spence that began the bombing and killing of innocents in an attempt to blame it on the IRA.

    And why did they do this?

    What terrible injustice was it that caused them to carry out such acts against innocent people and the state they claim to be ‘loyal’ to?

    They thought that an unacceptable and shocking thing may have been about to take place.

    They thought that the civil rights movement may have gained some concessions and that the neighbours and fellow citizens that they had been treating as second class citizens since partition may achieve some small amount of equality.

    And they considered that to be unacceptable and worth killing for.

    At which point the law of unintended consequences proceeded to lead to the current situation where the hegemony of the PUL community is gone forever.

    And whilst there may be few if any legitimate excuses for killing, defending your family and friends against the violence of others is a far better one than not being prepared to accept some fairness being introduced into your dysfunctional society.

  • Skibo

    JR, murdering innocent people was not a trait isolated to republicans. Perhaps you will remember that Fenians were trying to claim back the lands of their forefathers claimed in blood.
    All participants in the quest for power on this island have been involved in murdering innocent people. Even those who stood idly by and allowed things to be done in their name must bear a certain amount of blame.

  • Skibo

    JR, would the greater evil not be the state that used such people in the name of protecting the state, bending the law well past the point of breaking and then covering it all up.