Muddied waters after the Ombudsman’s report

Most of Northern Ireland’s commentariat was in uproar yesterday at the publication of the Police Ombudsman report into the circumstances around the killing of Raymond McCord junior. Yet, as Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has rightly argued on CIF this morning, it was anything but a shock.It should be understood however that this inquiry would never have taken place had it not been for the dogged efforts of McCord’s father (also Raymond). The awkward truth is that no one in the political establishment (not even Sinn Fein) particularly wanted it to take place or, more problematically, for the enquiry to produce actionable results.

Indeed, the most remarkable aspect of this report is just how little it actually has to tell us.

Certainly we know that members of Special Branch systematically destroyed records of their day to day handling of their many spies and informers, across the sectarian divide. And we know that that the Police Ombudsman faced official obstruction from both former and serving members of the former RUC and PSNI. We know also that one spy, widely reported as Mark Haddock, was probably responsible for at least ten murders: six before the UVF’s ceasefire in October 1994; and four afterwards, during Northern Ireland’s transition from low level war to approximate peace.

But she also tells us that her inquiry failed to produce sufficent evidence to convict either Haddock or anyone else who may have been complicit in the beating to death of young McCord, or the shooting of Catholic taxi driver Sharon McKenna as she cooked for an elderly Protestant neighbour. Nor would any of the Policemen she interviewed tell her why they kept a multiple murderer in place within the organisation for so long.

Now, with any conclusive paper trail gone up in smoke, I doubt we will ever get the answer to that crucial question.

The moderate nationalist SDLP are calling for the sacking one of those allegedly unco-operative senior officers, the recently appointed head of the UK’s Police Inspectorate, Sir Ronnie Flanagan. But the Home Office was exceedingly quick to come to Flanagan’s defence (subs needed), which might suggest doubt over any British political will to go back and clean out the Augean Stables of our pre 2002, realpolitik arrangements with paramilitaries of all stripes.

On the BBC’s World Tonight programme last night Unionist commentator and blogger David Vance noted that there were more than thirty murders connected to the IRA, which according to the PSNI’s own figures, resulted in zero convictions. Over on RTE shortly afterwards, Brian Feeney picked out a probable chain of command, right up to the Secretary of State.

In the uncertain flux left in the wake of this controversial report, the most discomfiting possibility is that what we are actually seeing a snap shot of a government driven policy of deference, not to Special Branch, as noted in the report, but more generally to all local paramilitaries, Loyalist and Republican.

For now, it seems that most parties to this peace process are happy to throw a Cordon Sanitaire over a shared Faustian past. Given we are moving towards a situation where most now accept they have to move inside the big tent of regulated policing, it may be a price most are prepared to pay.

But if that is to be the case, that ‘Cordon’ will likely mean that victims of both State and paramilitary violence are likely to get left behind.

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