Shooting touts vs the right to speak!

Glenn Patterson wonders why in all of the speculation about who killed Donaldson, most of the analysis ignores the fundamental moral reality that ‘killing touts’ is always wrong. It is, he argues, inimical to the pre-requiste of peace: openness.

A few years ago I went into a print shop in Belfast to have a T-shirt made. The T-shirt was a very pale pink. The lettering I wanted was red flock, two inches high. I told the printer the four-letter word I had in mind. “We can’t do that,” he said. “That’s the worst word.” The word was “tout”. I think he was afraid I was going to make someone else wear the T-shirt. I assured him it was for me. A bilingual pun. A challenge to post-ceasefire Northern Ireland: Tell all.

  • While on the face of it I’d accept the premise – that shooting touts is wrong – it is an acceptable premise only in the same way that *all* killings are wrong, save in the usual legislated categories of diminished responsibility, vis. self-defence, temporary insanity, etc.

    However, if one accepts the altered rules that obtain in a theatre of war, then one similarly accepts that some killings are justified. Only last week the Irish Times did a spread (sorry, don’t have a sub, don’t have a link) on Irish men executed in WWI for desertion. Surely touting is akin to desertion in the context of The Troubles.

    Certainly the establishement / security forces believed that some killings were justified, and the IRA similarly believed this to be the case. In that context, the killing of a tout can assume a similar moral reprieve.

    (This leads one into an argument of *relative* right, versus *absolute*, or moral right. In the first instance, if the state executes, so can its subjects; in the second instance, if the state is wrong in executing, it provides no justification for its subjects to so do.)

    Reverting to the original point, however, if pre-mediated killing, with ‘malice aforethought’, is wrong, then of course all executions are wrong.

    I’d like to make a further point. Denis Donaldson, in my view, was not killed *directly* because he had been a tout. I think that he was killed because of what his killing would represent – firstly, that the IRA may have carried it out, and secondly, if that was debunked, that maverick republicans carried it out. In the first instance the peace process was dead, in the second instance the Unionist side can alledge that the IRA decommissioning means nothing if the IRA cannot control its (former) charges.

    If this is the case, then the killing of Denis Donaldson was a purely political act, and Denis Donaldson a political victim, killed only because of the impact his killing would have on the political process.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ”However, if one accepts the altered rules that obtain in a theatre of war, then one similarly accepts that some killings are justified.”

    Interesting analogy Anthony. I think it’s fair to assume that the PIRA never considered themselves ‘at war’ with the British establishment, preferring the cop-out of ‘armed struggle.’ A perfect example is the Loughgall incident when a provo ‘active service unit’ were ‘militarily’ wiped out whilst engaged in an armed attack. Rather than considering these men to be casualties of war, the RM kicked up a huge stink about the very ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies they practiced themselves. Apparently it was fine for the provos to kill at will but the other side were expected to abide by the strict rule of peace-time law.

    The abduction, torture and murder of ‘touts’ during the years of the ‘troubles’ was a particularly disgusting facet of the conflict. These men were given no justice, no defence and executed in a cowardly and barbaric fashion. Decades after capital punishment was removed from the statute books, the republican population at large appeared to accept that this sort of thing was inevitable for people alleged to have betrayed their comrades. The fact that this attitude continues to prevail in the wake of Denis Donaldson’s murder is depressing at best.

  • GLC,

    ‘The fact that this attitude continues to prevail in the wake of Denis Donaldson’s murder is depressing at best.’

    My point (above) is that the killing of DD was exploiting ‘this attitude’ for political purposes. DD wasn’t shot because he was a tout, he was shot because of the political implications of his execution would be. The IRA didn’t kill him because to act based on ‘this attitude’ would be an acknowledgement that they hadn’t actually gone away, and everything was a fudge, and would have been politically disastrous. The political process has forced the IRA to desist from such acts, and to refuse traditional inclination, and that is to the credit of the politicians who secured the commitment of the IRA.

    What is most certainly depressing is that DD was a political victim, executed for political reasons.

    Had he not been a tout, he would not have been killed, but only because there would have been no (or alternate) political repercussions.

    On the torturing of touts, torture is a different matter entirely. I deliberately avoided it in my piece, as did Glenn Patterson, as it clouds the moral question at the heart of his piece – is it right or wrong to kill touts.

    As for Loughgall and shoot to kill, there were hypocrites on all sides during the last thirty days. Two points on this before I close, however. The State has a particular duty that cannot be imposed on the populace, and that places state sanctioned actions on a higher plane than those of others, and therefore affords a certain legitimacy to complaints against it, notwithstanding the taintedness of the complainant. Second, the hypocrisy or otherwise has no bearing on arguing the morality of an action – one argues the rights and wrongs of the action itself, rather than after the fact commentary.

  • ‘there were hypocrites on all sides during the last thirty days’

    Correction: thirty years, of course. I suppose that should be forty now.

  • Yokel

    Cos its Northern Ireland, Glenn, and its a twisted little hole.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ”The IRA didn’t kill him because to act based on ‘this attitude’ would be an acknowledgement that they hadn’t actually gone away, and everything was a fudge, and would have been politically disastrous.”

    We’ll probably never know exactly who did kill Denis Donaldson, but we can’t rule anyone out, and that includes PIRA, for two reasons.

    Firstly, they could have carried out the killing in the knowledge that no-one would expect them to do so under the political circumstances, and would assume (correctly) that the only ones likely to point the finger at them would be Paisley and his ilk.

    Secondly, SF may have figured that the assembly issue has run it’s course and the alternative of joint authority is more appealing. In this scenario, they get rid of their embaressing ex-member and give Paisley a further excuse to stay out of Stormont, thereby facilitating a joint authority move by the two govts.

    Obviously this is all conjecture — dissidents, someone with a grudge, local hoods, British spooks or even loyalists can’t be ruled out at this stage, or indeed possibly any stage.

    ”The State has a particular duty that cannot be imposed on the populace, and that places state sanctioned actions on a higher plane than those of others”

    Again two points here — in a supposed war situation, the normal ‘duties’ of the state cannot be entirely upheld, particularly in a case where a group of armed men are blatantly engaged in a murderous attack on members of the state’s security forces.

    Secondly, one fault PIRA could never be accused of is modesty — they have always regarded themselves as the rightful govt of Ireland — therefore their actions in murdering Irish citizens of whatever persausion cannot be justified or somehow allow them to take the moral high ground over British forces.

  • I shouldn’t have been so forceful in saying the IRA didn’t kill him. My bad. It remains my view, however.

    The first reason for the PIRA to have done it is a wonderful mindbender. Extrapolating on that, I could argue they didn’t do it because if they did, then people would point the finger at them simply because everyone knows they’d expect no one to think they did it, giving them the perfect cover for actually having done it, and would therefore be caught out. The classic triple bluff 🙂 My head hurts now.

    The second reason is plausible, but would seriously diminish SF’s credibility as a worthy contributor as even an advisor to the joint authority. Politically this remains a bad move, and there are easier ways to get Big Ian to say no (is it really that difficult that one has to go to these lengths?!)

    On the position of the State, this can be a lengthy debate, so I’ll try and be brief. A state must be legitimate, and be seen by its people as legitimate. Illegitimate states can quickly become failed states. Legitimacy is a tenuous and ephemeral thing, but most of all it is based on security. If the state secures you and yours, then it is legitimate. If it does not, and in fact acts against the security of you and your family, then it is in big trouble.

    This is why the state must be above reproach, and be seen to be so. It therefore has a duty to act *better* than other actors.

    As for the PIRA and its delusions of grandeur, the same principles of legitimacy apply. In the late 1970’s, the PIRA was fast becoming illegitimate in the eyes of its own people, because not only was it failing in certain circumstances to protect them, it was actively persecuting some of its own. The hunger strikes and Thatcher saved the PIRA in what was initially a ‘better the devil you know’ kind of regime, and the PIRA retained legitimacy in its constituency in favour of that of the Queen.

    (My code for this submission is England66. A world cup reference baiting us Irish boys after the soccer support thread last week?)