On the dubious use of statistics…

Newton Emerson questions the use of statistics by one of the many victims groups in Northern Ireland.

It includes every Catholic and Protestant killed north and south by every loyalist group. To ascribe all these deaths to British state connivance is a staggering assertion that no credible historical source could possibly support. The claim is also highly partisan. If all murders committed by informers or agents count as death by collusion, which is clearly the very least that Relatives for Justice wishes to imply, then a proportion of the 1,822 people murdered by the IRA between 1969 and 2001 must also have been victims of collusion. Why did Ms Reilly not allow for these deaths in her total?

Quite apart from the accuracy question, he also connotes a serious ‘moral hazard’:

Much talk of the “exploitation of working-class Protestant communities” continues to emanate from loyalist circles – and no wonder. Blaming every loyalist murder on the British state lets loyalists murderers off the hook. Furthermore, it continues to let loyalists off the hook for as long as Northern Ireland remains British. The republican concept of unionist “false consciousness” now apparently includes loyalist “false murder”.

And he concludes:

What a pity that this useful fiction is so obviously absurd, cynical, self-serving, callous, amoral and infantile – although I suppose it is quite an achievement to insult the victims of loyalists, the integrity of unionists and the intelligence of nationalists all at the same time. Sinn Féin might look forward to some far-off day when we can vaguely blame the Brits for every death.

But relatives really seeking justice need individuals – yes, even loyalists – to be held accountable for their actions.

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  • Sean

    Mick just because he made an assumption based on his own bias, did it require that you follow through with the same assumption?

    With out asking her and from the quotes supplied she claimed that 1050 people died from the results of collusion. Where did she state that it was only collusion with loyalist murder gangs?

    Its really too bad that Newton Emerson transfered his own bias onto some one else, the shame is you compounded it by giving it a second look.

  • Shore Road Resident

    As RFJ specifically excludes any mention of victims of republican violence from its website, the article’s assumption is entirely reasonable.

  • Hogan from County Tyrone

    The eye of the Newt is 20:20 as per usual!

  • willowfield

    Another cynical misnomer is that “a further 365 were murdered directly by the forces of the British state”. What is her basis for this allegation? Presumably she has calculated that 365 people were killed by the security forces and then arbitrarily classified each of those deaths as murder. In reality, only a small proportion of those deaths would have been murders – the vast majority were lawful killings.

    “Relatives for Justice” would appear simply to be a Provo front group adept at the black arts of propaganda: a more-adept nationalist equivalent of FAIR, except FAIR seem to be more open about their agenda.

  • DK

    Willowfield – be careful as the CAIN site suggests that about half of those killed by the security forces were civilians. Whether these killings were premeditated (i.e. murder) would need to be determined on a case by case basis.

    However, Relatives for Justice are clearly showing their hand – which is a shame as it reduces the chance of them ever seeing justice. I wonder if Bob McGowan is on their team as this sounds like his single-transferable post that he put on here to try and claim that the IRA killed less than the Brits, since every other death was the Brits.

    Worthwhile repeating this from Newts piece:

    The intention, presumably, is that once we are all living in one big happy united Ireland, nobody will ever have been responsible for anything and the future can proceed without any awkwardness. Welcome to Sinn Féin’s “truth recovery process”.

    Blame the Brits hasn’t gone away you know.

  • willowfield

    DK

    Willowfield – be careful as the CAIN site suggests that about half of those killed by the security forces were civilians. Whether these killings were premeditated (i.e. murder) would need to be determined on a case by case basis.

    Every killing, no matter who the victim (“civilian” or otherwise), would need to be determined on a case-by-case basis!

    Clearly, though, this “Relatives for Justice” woman is classifying every security force killing as “murder”. That is cynical, dishonest and totally without foundation. The vast majority of those killings were lawful as any flick through “Lost Lives” would suggest. (And many “civilians” killed were accidental deaths.)

  • Cromwell

    Sean,

    “Its really too bad that Newton Emerson transfered his own bias onto some one else, the shame is you compounded it by giving it a second look.”

    Bias, Sean? Now there IS something you would know all about.

  • Attributing murders to ‘gormless sectarian savages’ is also a way of letting individuals off the hook.

  • picador

    The title of Emerson’s article included the phrase ‘the collusion illusion’. Collusion was certainly no illusion – as anyone who familiar the McCord case should know. One agent in one part of north Belfast was responsible for the deaths of more than a dozen people. That was one agent among dozens – hundreds of people died, thousands were wounded because of collusion.

    Newt used another phrase ‘insulting the intelligence of the nationalist community’ with regard to Sinn Fein. In this instance he was right for that is exactly what Sinn Fein are doing – and in the most cycnical manner. When RFJ agreed to combine a March For Truth with a Hunger Strike commemoration they were doing SF’s bidding. When Gerry Adams appointed himself main speaker the farce was there for all to see. Does the man have no sense of irony at all?

    The main victims of all this chicanery are the relatives of those murdered. Their desire for justice is being cynically manipulated by a movement that is more than happy to use them as a political football.

  • Garibaldy

    Hugh,

    Does this “But relatives really seeking justice need individuals – yes, even loyalists – to be held accountable for their actions” not suggest that Newt objects to letting individuals off the hook?

    I thought, once again, he hit the nail right on the head with this article.

    It suits some people to think that loyalists were too stupid to organise a murder campaign on their own, and were (and are) mere pawns of the British, because it means their existence and agency can be ignored.

  • “Relatives for Justice” would appear simply to be a Provo front group adept at the black arts of propaganda: a more-adept nationalist equivalent of FAIR, except FAIR seem to be more open about their agenda.

    Relatives for Justice was one of the groups that came out against the OTRs legislation a couple of years ago, seriously embarassing Sinn Féin in the process. Are those the actions of a front group?

  • Garibaldy,

    A lot of what he says is indeed spot on, especially the bit about the logic of British involvement in IRA murders.

    But if you’re going to say that the reason someone did something is because they’re a gormless sectarian savage, then how can you hold them morally accountable, since they could hardly have acted differently? Perhaps this is a minor point.

  • snakebrain

    more doublethink from the good ppl at SF

  • Reader

    Hugh Green: But if you’re going to say that the reason someone did something is because they’re a gormless sectarian savage, then how can you hold them morally accountable, since they could hardly have acted differently?
    ‘Gormless savages’ of all sorts are held accountable for their savagery all the time. Gormlessness isn’t either a crime or a defence.

  • gareth mccord

    it is sickening and typical of the N.Irish attitudes towards murders in this country in that all people want to do is score political goals on each other instead of helping each other get JUSTICE.
    All we hear is why were and hows but when told about the truth all people do is blame somebody but the murderers?? Everyone forgets about the victim and the fight for justice by the families and is only concerned by “what about their side”??
    When are “both sides” going to realise that both sides are as bad as each other in all types of murders that have happened.
    There can be no doubt that the government and alot of past and present security forces are to blame for alot of the murders through collusion or leaked intel. But the politicians who have ignored and refuse to accept independant findings that the dog on the streets already know are being elected time and time again by the people. WHY?
    Are the people of N.Ireland to blame for the lack of justice “FOR ALL” by the con men they put in office, i believe they are and should stop and think “What has any politician done for justice for both communities without wanting to score political goals for their own side”
    Why do the N.Irish people not want justice??

  • The Dubliner

    “Why do the N.Irish people not want justice??” – gareth mccord

    I think you answered your own question here:

    “…the con men they put in office…”

    The political careers of those who are most responsible for the great pile of dead bodies, human limbs, and wrecked lives that line the road to Stormont depend on the public not looking at the dead, the detached limbs of the living, or the living dead as they go on their merry way to the polling booth.

  • Dubliner,

    Amen.
    We don’t want folk looking too closely under them stones, might derail The Peace Process and our expenses claims.

  • middle-class ****

    But the problem is that since the cover-up of state collusion in murder of non-combatants is still in full swing, there’s nothing to disprove Reilly’s assertions as to its extent.

    Newton’s slabber about historical credibility needs to be seen against that backdrop of that governmental obfuscation. He can’t plausibly accuse Reilly and Gibney of shilling for hte shinners if he turns round and shills for the British establishment.

    Seems to me that Newton’s eye sees what it wants to see, along with perhaps a little of what he thinks his clientele would like him to see.

    Apparently collusion wasn’t that bad after all….

  • DK

    Middle-class: So you agree that every person killed by loyalists was due to collusion. FFS do you have to be such a slave to spin?

  • kensei

    “Middle-class: So you agree that every person killed by loyalists was due to collusion. FFS do you have to be such a slave to spin?”

    Emerson has a point, particularly in relation to responsibility. And he’s right that collusion will not cover every single loyalist killing, and there are certainly also Republican killings that would count by the same measure.

    But he overreaches, I think. For a start, the extent of collusion is unclear but from what we do know, there were some very serious abuses. Moreover the British Government denied and claimed it was Nationalist delusion for many years. And he attempts to brush over or denigrate the British Government’s responsibility by highlighting loyalism’s. Abuses by the State are an order of magnitude more serious than those by extra state groups.

  • The Dubliner

    “But he overreaches, I think.” – kensei

    Wasn’t that his intent? There is an old trick of debate when someone obfuscates all with some in an argument: you refute the statement that includes ‘all’ and leave the observer with the impression that any statement that includes ‘some’ is also refuted, i.e. refuting the statement “All dogs bite humans” is different from refuting the statement “Some dogs bite humans.” So retorting that “All dogs bite humans” is “not an assertion with any historical credibility” and that those who support that claim do so because they have ulterior reason to “play along with this rewrite of the recent past” before lamenting that “this useful fiction is so obviously absurd, cynical, self-serving, callous, amoral and infantile” simply leaves the reader with the intended impression that dogs don’t bite humans when the actual claim being refuted is that “All dogs bite humans.” That might be a tad longwinded way of pointing out that Newton Emerson didn’t once admit in his article that some dogs did bite humans, dismissing it as an illusion.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    This argument reminds me of the old joke — not sure it’s origins, about the wealthy man and beuatiful woman. Man asks if she’d sleep with him for a fortune, to which she says yes. Ask her if she’d sleep with him for a pittance, she’s offended, asking him what sort of girl do you think I am? He replies that we’ve already discovered that, now all we’re doing is negotiating on price.

    The truth is is that some portion of the killings by both Loyalist and Republican irregulars have a collusion aspect. Given the British gov’t lack of candor on their involvement in the infiltration / collusion with either side, the true percentage will never be known. All that will be accomplished is the moral equivalent of haggling over the price.

  • Cromwell

    Well said Dread.

    You & I would have our differences on many things, but that was eloquence.
    The collusion aspect is being used as an excuse by both “sides”, the truth will hurt everyone.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Cromwell: “You & I would have our differences on many things, but that was eloquence.
    The collusion aspect is being used as an excuse by both “sides”, the truth will hurt everyone. ”

    The differences are probably less than you know or I would care to admit — by NI political standards, I’m complicated. But then, isn’t that the hallmark of most of the area’s politics? One wonders how much of the grand divide is for show and/or out of habit?? How many “normal” things get back-burnered because this side or that has to posture on some quixotic issue and kick over the apple-cart?

    Until and unless the British decide to make full disclosure, all we will ever know is that collusion existed. In some number of cases, collusion can be determined, or at least logically and legally inferred. These alone will provide both communities with their share of bitter pills to swallow. How much uglier will things get if the whole mess is turned upside-down and all the answers (maybe) shaken out?

    Come to think of it, even if the British made full disclosure, it would likely be generations to measure the breadth and depth of affairs, with the associated and inevitable wrangling, political recrimination, et al and ad nauseum.

  • Granni Trixie

    Whilst I agree with much of the Newt’s analysis re stragetic use of victims statistics for political purposes, I am repelled by the distinct lack of compassion for the families of victims or even respect for their right to be angry – as conveyed by the tone and approach of the article as by the content.
    O’Casey said it all when he reminded us that “there are no Protestant tears or Catholic tears”.(sorry if I got a bit religious there but some jounalists write as if it is not the walking wounded they are using to fill up pages).

  • middle-class ****

    DK,

    Better a slave to spin than a stranger to nuance.