The local newspapers have been reviving the debate on the role of collusion and what it means, in the context of the Loughinisland report by the Police Ombudsman
In the Newsletter Ben Lowry challenges applying the word “ collusion” to the Loughinisland sequence of events. It can misleads the public, he says
The Royal Ulster Constabulary were in cahoots with some of the most despicable paramilitary murderers. Or were they?
That is what anyone with an ordinary understanding of the English language could deduce from that conclusion. Here it is again: “… collusion between RUC and those responsible for the murders.”
It is the headline conclusion that has been broadcast across Northern Ireland and beyond after this report. Most people do not read details, they glean a basic impression. An ordinary person, without a knowledge of the disputed definition of the term collusion (as used with regard to legacy issues), would assume the RUC planned or assisted the massacre. But this is not what happened.
You only need to turn to page four of the report’s Executive Summary. The Ombudsman “specifically considered the issue of whether the attack … could have been prevented”.The same paragraph in the Executive Summary says that the report did not find any evidence that there was specific intelligence about an intended attack on the bar.
So not only were the RUC not involved in the massacre, they did not even know it was going to happen.
How can you be complicit in a massacre of which you are unaware? The answer to that also comes early in the Ombudsman’s report.
Not only does collusion not mean commission of an act, it does not even need to involve complicity.
On page six of the Executive Summary, Michael Maguire explains his interpretation of the word collusion. Individual examples of neglect or incompetence are not collusion, he believes. Dr Maguire adopts Judge Smithwick’s definition: “ … the issue of collusion will be examined in the broadest sense of the word …”
If that definition is used then there must be a large range in how serious an act of collusion.:
A wide definition of collusion would encompass acts that are not criminal, beneath even that last category. But that then moves so far beyond collusion, as any average person would think of it, the term is not apt.
Even a higher notch of collusion – an officer not making a serious effort to find a murderer –while deserving of dismissal, censure and investigation is not what people deduce from the phrase “collusion between police and murderers”.
How people interpret things is relevant. Republicans want us to believe that the state engaged in wholesale murder, so we must be careful about language that legitimises that narrative.
So what definition of collusion is accepted by the authorities? The definition has been argued over since Justice Cory’s recommendations on public inquiries in 2004.
There cannot be public confidence in Government agencies that are guilty of collusion or connivance in serious crimes. Because of the necessity for public confidence in the army and police, the definition of collusion must be reasonably broad when it is applied to actions of these agencies. This is to say that army and police forces must not act collusively by ignoring or turning a blind eye to 22 the wrongful acts of their servants or agents or supplying information to assist them in their wrongful acts or encouraging them to commit wrongful acts. Any lesser definition would have the effect of condoning, or even encouraging, state involvement in crimes, thereby shattering all public confidence in these important agencies
The de Silva report on the Pat Finucane murder remains the most comprehensive analysis of the conduct of the security forces and their contacts with paramilitaries
In establishing this Review, the Government accepted that there had been collusion in the murder of Patrick Finucane, and indeed apologised for this. In analysing what is meant by collusion, I preferred to adopt the narrower definition used by Lord MacLean in the Billy Wright Inquiry Report, rather than the one adopted by Justice Cory in his Collusion Inquiry Report. Nevertheless, even by reference to that narrower definition, it is clear for the reasons I outline in this Report that the threshold for a finding of collusion is met in this case. 115. Overall, I am left in significant doubt as to whether Patrick Finucane would have been murdered by the UDA in February 1989 had it not been for the different strands of involvement by elements of the State. The significance is not so much, as Sir John Stevens concluded in 2003, that the murder could have been prevented, though I entirely concur with this finding. The real importance, in my view, is that a series of positive actions by employees of the State actively furthered and facilitated his murder and that, in the aftermath of the murder, there was a relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice.
My Review of the evidence relating to Patrick Finucane’s case has left me in no doubt that agents of the State were involved in carrying out serious violations of human rights up to and including murder. However, despite the different strands of involvement by elements of the State, I am satisfied that they were not linked to an over-arching State conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane. Nevertheless, each of the facets of the collusion that were manifest in his case – the passage of information from members of the security forces to the UDA, the failure to act on threat intelligence, the participation of State agents in the murder and the subsequent failure to investigate and arrest key members of the West Belfast UDA – can each be explained by the wider thematic issues which I have examined as part of this Review.
Some will dispute Silva’s overarching conclusions but they have yet to be refuted.
In spite of the gravity of my findings, I must also stress that it would be a serious mistake for this Report to be used to promote or reinforce a particular narrative of any of the groups involved in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. My remit has, by its nature, involved only an examination of the actions of the British State and its agents, and loyalist terrorist organisations. I have no doubt, however, that PIRA was the single greatest source of violence during this period and that a holistic account of events of the late 1980s in Northern Ireland would reveal the full calculating brutality of that terrorist group.
De Silva’s description of collusion was accepted by the British government
In a rare and welcome return to the public prints David McKittrick explains in the Belfast Telegraph what is meant by collusion in the Police Ombudsman’s report
His confident assertion that there was collusion in the incident is largely based on his study of the Special Branch’s treatment of informers.
It appears that there was no specific intelligence that the Loughinisland bar would be attacked, but there was general knowledge of UVF activities in both Co Down and in Belfast.
While a high-profile murder inquiry was launched, the Ombudsman encountered many examples of failures to pass on intelligence to investigators.
This meant, he said, that there were cases where lines of inquiry were not followed and that some individuals, who could have been subject to robust investigation, were excluded from consideration.
The Ombudsman was taken aback to discover that one of those suspected of the attack was not only an RUC informant, but continued in this role for some years after the attack.
The Ombudsman also reported that the intelligence community knew of large-scale loyalist arms-smuggling by known paramilitary figures, but that only part of the consignment was seized. Ballistic records indicated that rifles from the consignment were used in the killings, or attempted murders, of at least 70 people.
All this, he concluded, combined with a flawed Loughinisland investigation, had denied justice for the victims and survivors of that attack.
Loughinisland is now added to the list of official confirmation of collusion involving security force agents within violent loyalist organisations.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London