The first in a five part article about the McCord/O’Loan report. This will briefly outline Unionist attitudes on policing and an assessment of the McCord/O’Loan report itself.Unionist attitudes and the police
In much of the Unionist community the RUC is beyond reproach, especially among rural and middle class Unionism. This is an understandable sentiment towards an organisation that lost over 300 dead and thousands more injured (many permanently) over decades of service. Dedicated service given during arguably the most persistent and best organised civil conflict in a western democracy.
It is not an attitude I ascribe to. First, a perfect human organisation doesn’t exist. Second, I have had a number of negative experiences of the RUC (and PSNI) in my personal and professional life. Despite these negative aspects my broad experience has been a relatively good organisation. However, I am completely open to the suggestion that abuses occur, failures happen and that political decisions do over-ride law, order and justice.
The O’Loan report
On the day of its release I tried to avoid the news coverage. I wanted to read the full report rather than rely on the spin. I read it on the night of its release before I reached any conclusions. Overall I considered it to be a generally thorough report.
It laid out a reasonable argument that over a 12 year period a police informant was implicated in at least ten murders, a series of assaults and other criminal activity including drug dealing. His handlers were aware of these activities either by direct confession of the informant or from a range of other security sources. They appear to have taken the decision his worth as an agent outweighed his activities. However, they did not direct his paramilitary and criminal activities. The victims of his crimes were drawn from both the nationalist and unionist communities. An examination of Special Branch’s systems or lack of them give little reason to believe this was an isolated approach. Throughout this period senior policing and political figures would or should have been aware of what was going on. It has been represented to mean much more but this is essentially what the report says.
However three criticisms can be made of the report:
Informant 1’s worth – The intelligence that Informant 1 provided should have been included in the report. The Ombudsman provides her own negative assessment of its worth but next to no detail. The one aspect covered, the neutralisation of the UVF’s explosive stock, does not seem to be regarded as particularly important by the Ombudsman. Decisions on agents are about the lesser of two evils. The systems she argues for are simply a common approach to choosing the lesser evil. Yet there is no opportunity to make the assessment in this case. The exclusion of this information leaves her open to the charge that it was a deliberate ploy to reduce challenge to her conclusions. Without it no one could say “Yes Informant 1 is implicated in 10 murders but his information prevented X times as many deaths, the recovery of XX firearms etc”.
A Hindsight Standards Test – A chunk of the criticism in the report is applying standards that Special Branch was not subject to at the time. Criticism based on a standard that ‘should’ have been rather than was is unfair.
Need to know – The Ombudsman persistently advocates a broad pool of people who should have received information. Her proposed degree of specificity and liberality with information is questionable.
Regardless of these criticisms, the report still raises important issues and questions that should not be summarily dismissed by anyone.
NOTE: I would ask commentors to stick to the topic, resist ad hominen attacks and not to feed the trolls.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are solely the personal views of the author.