Martina Anderson: The days of the British State granting impunity to its own are coming to an end

Following on from a conference organised by the University of Ulster on victims and dealing with the past, Sinn Fein’s MEP, Martina Anderson writes for Slugger arguing for a new focus on the British states involvement in the Troubles and how it deals with victims.

On the 27th and 28th Feb 2014 I invited a delegation of victims of state violence to Brussels to discuss with MEPs the impact of state collusion under the heading ‘Britain’s Dirty War in Ireland’.

The deep impact of their collective pain led me to commit to do whatever I could as Sinn Fein’s MEP to get them the justice they desire and deserve.

In their pursuit of justice some of the families wanted inquests. Some had been waiting over 32 years for an inquest and had already gone to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Twelve days later on the 11th March 2014 I knocked on the door of Human Rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks. I had been working closely with Relatives for Justice and others human rights organisations in the North. I brought Human Rights Lawyer Niall Murphy and Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre with me to his office in Strasbourg.  

I also arranged a separate meeting with representatives from the Directorate of Human Rights from ECtHR including an official from the Execution of Judgements.  Nils Muiznieks agreed that if invited to the North he would take two days to inform himself of the outstanding inquests before he would make a country visit post the general elections May 2015.

Following that meeting work began to organise the conference hosted by the University of Ulster in the Ulster Hall last Thursday, 6 November.

At that conference, the families of state violence heard the Commission say that Britain cannot simply wash its hands of state killings and must fulfill its obligation to fund all investigations of killings.

He also said that: “Until now there has been virtual impunity for the state actors involved and … the government has a responsibility to uphold its obligations under the European Convention” — that is, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, The Right to Life.

He continued, “The issue of impunity is a very, very serious one and the ‘UK’ government has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law. This is not just an issue of dealing with the past; it has to do with upholding the law in general.

 The investigation of state collusion and state sanctioned murder of citizens — took place at a time when the North was under Direct Rule from London; therefore it falls to Britain to fund.

There have only been eleven inquests into legacy deaths despite a “package of measures” put in place in response to the ECtHR finding in 2001 that the British Gov was not Article 2 compliant. 

The “Package of Measures” was three fold: The establishment of HET (the former Chief Constable Orde recently admitted that it was never designed to be Article 2 Compliant!); additional powers to the Police Ombudsman to investigate legacy cases and reform of the Coroner’s office.

 However, in July 2013, 12 years on after the ECtHR ruling re inquests into a number of Shoot-to-Kill murders, a ECtHR judge ruling on the failure to hold inquests into the murders of Martin McCaughey and Desmond Grew concluded that the “states agents are benefiting from virtual impunity as a result of the passage of time”.

The Senior Coroner John Leckey said that his office will not carry the can, will not take the blame if the British Government faces further sanctions from the ECtHR.

The Coroner’s office has met resistance from the PSNI’s Legacy Unit which has persistently refused to comply with deadlines and are only disclosing requests for material piecemeal. 

There is no doubt that the “passage of time” tactic is being used with unnecessary redacting of documents that were in the public domain eg open court transcripts and the unit is using plus abusing the classification rule.  

The 6-person panel charged with redacting documents in the PSNI Legacy Unit consists of former Special Branch Officers and RUC Intelligence officers who between have served with dozens of RUC potential inquest witnesses.

They are among the many former RUC who collectively received £500m of a severance package.  They were subsequently rehired as “civilian” workers and thus are not under the accountability of the policing board.

 All 5 are members of the NIRPOA – the same Association which briefed former RUC not to engage with Police Ombudsman investigations during legacy information events organised by
the PSNI.

The Police Ombudsman is being staved of resources as was clear from the presentation given by Michael Maguire at the UU conference. It would take a mere £1.5m per year to assist the Ombudsman’s office to effectively investigate legacy killings and thus fulfilling its Article 2 obligations.

 In 1982 after six unarmed civilians were killed in Armagh and after international attention focused on the policy of “shoot to kill”, Stalker and Sampson were appointed in 1985 to investigate the cover up. 

 Referring to a force within a force Stalker said that the Special Branch, “targeted subjects, briefed officers and after shooting removed men, cars and guns before carrying out a private briefing”.

 It is believed that Stalker’s office was set on fire by the same intelligence services that he was investigating. That was the calibre of the Special Branch and this group above any other consists of the biggest percentage benefiting from impunity and cover-up.

Yet, there is a myth peddled that the British State’s ‘security forces’ the RUC and British Army were responsible for ‘only’ 10% of the killings in the North: Nonsense.

For those who make such a comparison the fact is that the British State was involved in over 30% of the killings here during the conflict and it was the British State that killed Pat Finucane. 

For all its faults the De Silva report confirmed that “85% of intelligence used by Loyalists came from the Security Forces”:  the Special Branch was up to its necks in collusion and murder.

A few months ago Theresa Villiers said that if a truth process was to be established it should focus on “those who were responsible for most of the violence and that the state would also have to use public interest immunity – gagging orders – concerning its role”.

 For those who want to make another comparison the state policies of murder with impunity are much worse than that of non-state actors.  And if you want to extend that comparison there were 30,000 Republican Prisoners in jail and between us we served over 100,000 years. 

 So – building on my pledge to bring You to Europe and Europe to You, I guarantee to the families of state violence that the British Government will have to deal with more European international pressure and even if it tries to repeal the HR Act as the Tory’s manifesto is pledging – the Commission Nils Muznieks confirmed in Belfast that it would still be legally responsibility for its Article 2 Obligations that were breached when they governed here during Direct Rule.

The days of the British State granting impunity to its own are coming to an end.  

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.