The hyperlocal probing into the past: 9.12.11 round-up

On Friday, the probing of the past trundled onwards: at the Smithwick Tribunal into the deaths of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan, who were shot dead by the IRA in 1989; and, at the inquest into the death of Daniel Hegarty, who was shot dead by a British solider during Operation Motorman in July 1972.

There is an interesting contrast in the reporting of the Smithwick Tribunal proceedings on the BBC and in the Irish Times, with the BBC reporting on Jeffrey Donaldson’s appearance at the Tribunal focusing on how:

Mr Donaldson said Kevin Fulton was his only source that led to his naming of retired Detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan, under parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons in April 2000, as being a “rogue garda”.

Mr Corrigan denies all allegations of collusion.

Mr Donaldson told the tribunal that victims campaigner William Frazer introduced him to Mr Fulton.

“After the the publication of Toby Harnden’s book ‘Bandit Country’ I met with William Frazer who said he would introduce me to someone who could provide extra information,” he said.

Mr Donaldson said he met with Newry man Mr Fulton – whose real name is Peter Keely – twice before making his statement in the House of Commons in April 2000.

“I wanted to be sure Kevin Fulton was who he said he was,” he said. “I sought to confirm this from a senior member of the security forces, who did.”

In the Irish Times, Tim O’Brien puts more emphasis and provides actual detail on the contribution of Mr Corrigan’s senior counsel, Jim O’Callaghan:

Mr O’Callaghan put it to Mr Donaldson that he only had the word of a double agent, Kevin Fulton, also known as Peter Keeley, that Mr Corrigan had colluded with the IRA.

Mr O’Callaghan said Mr Fulton had been described by various witnesses as a “fantasist”, a “Walter Mitty” and an “intelligence nuisance”. He also put it to Mr Donaldson that in 60 days of tribunal hearings the only evidence of collusion between Mr Corrigan and the IRA had related to an alleged meeting in a car park described by Mr Fulton.

However, Mr O’Callaghan said the timing for the meeting could only have happened after Mr Corrigan had retired from the force, initially on sick leave. Therefore this allegation of collusion was “impossible”.

It will be interesting to see how the Tribunal evaluates the credibility of evidence from ‘security sources’ since it is not within a jurisdiction that has to defer to Public Interest Immunity Certificate’s from the UK’s Home Office, and, as such, whether it ultimately can accept such evidence at all.

Meanwhile, the BBC also reported on the findings of the second inquest into Daniel Hegarty’s death, with his family’s solicitor saying there is now the possibility of prosecutions (although the precedents don’t suggest that yet):

…following a five day hearing, the jurors unanimously found that neither teenager posed a risk when they were shot. [Daniel’s cousin, Christopher, was wounded in the same incident]

The jury also rejected the soldiers’ claims that they had shouted warnings to the two teenagers before they were shot.

They found that none of the soldiers present attempted to “approach the injured youths to either search them or provide medical assistance”.

This is the second inquest into Daniel’s death.

The initial inquest was held in 1973 and recorded an open verdict. A second inquest was ordered by the Attorney General in 2009 following an examination by the Historical Enquiries Team.

People will [obviously] differ considerably in their attitude to the persistent hyperlocal probing of the past, with no over-arching framework or narrative. How do you weight the value, if any, to the families of the dead, like the Breens, Buchanans and Hegartys against interests of other stakeholders in society or justice?

But, clearly, this is going to continue for some time yet and isn’t just going to go away.