Panorama on collusion: Does Trevor Ringland support coverup?

Trevor Ringland’s criticism of Darragh MacIntyre’s Panorama on collusion for rewriting history with a political slant is misguided.  The documentary  gave examples of  a spectrum of collusion ranging from loose handling of informers to covering up agents who were multiple repeat killers, sometimes with the foreknowledge of their  handlers.  Much of the material is in the de Silva report, the published Stevens reports and elsewhere in the public domain. As he hinted in the programme, Denis Bradley was given brief privileged access to security files that make the hairs stand on end, as background for the Eames-Bradley report.  As I wrote in my own review:

“Despite a wealth of evidence that IRA agents were also protected, Panorama’s report will inevitably strengthen the republican case that the Troubles were a war between the IRA  and a state that supported the loyalists. It can be answered in part by  open discussion  of the state’s record against loyalists but  more candidly, in answering the question: if  the use of informers  and agents was  such a great idea almost from the start, why did it take so long to bring the major paramilitaries to the points of ceasefire and final cessation?

Ringland writes:

By the 1980s the intelligence services were preventing 90 per cent of attacks, forcing terrorists down the peaceful route… And.. 12,000 republicans and 8,000 loyalists imprisoned shows just how little leniency they had from the state….Many security force families have not protested as loudly as others in order to bolster the peace process. But some of them are getting increasingly angered by the one-sided slant in rewriting history.”

It does the cause  of those who upheld law and order with honour and courage  no good  by appearing to excuse gross abuses, even if you feel there were mitigating  circumstances. There was no “rewriting of history” here but a convincing effort to shed light on some of history’s  darker corners.  So let’s dispose of the whataboutery. It would be perverse for supporters of a lawful state like Trevor Ringland  to end up defending gross illegality  while its  erstwhile attackers  became its defenders. Panorama ‘s  version of the charge of cover up can’t be answered  by  his ringing  generalities.

It is of course true that republicans exploit the human rights  case against collusion although Sinn Fein as such is careful  not to press too hard, being  all too aware of the beam in their own eye. But  there are plenty of others like the Finucane Centre who have in my opinion clean hands and formulate cases to answer.  While they do not  in general  bother to campaign against lower  standards of evidence than apply today,  they  might point to the virtual immunity from prosecution that the security forces enjoyed throughout the Troubles.

Is it too much to ask in exchange, that more of the real stories may now be told? Is it  really an overstatement  to call for the public to be told what has already been substantially  unearthed in official reports  which are still hidden from public view? Why is part of the state- the government –  making it so  difficult and expensive  for other parts of the state – the courts and  the scrutineers of police conduct – to gain access to essential material?

Let those who know the good stories have the freedom to tell them. People like Trevor Ringland should support immunity for truth telling and put pressure on the British government  to give access to the files. Don’t waste energy on a misplaced attack on the BBC.

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  • Sergiogiorgio

    I don’t know Ringland particularly well and don’t really care about whatever narrative slant he chooses to push or whatever interest group he seeks to appeal to. Irrespective the British government through its agents of state were complicit in the murder of British citizens. In legal jargon it’s called being an accessory to murder. Period!

  • Robin Keogh

    well bloody said !

  • barnshee

    “People like Trevor Ringland should support immunity for truth telling”

    Get the “files” out
    No immunity for anyone

    Put the guilty away 25 years minium no remission- they die in jail where necessary –NO exceptions

  • barnshee

    The Irish state was complicit in the murders of -particularly– protestants

    ” it’s called being an accessory to murder. Period!”

    Hang them ALL out to dry

  • mickfealty

    Okay, I’ll bite Brian.

    Of course the British state was involved in collusion.

    If half the stories about Freddie Scappaticci are true, then we know they used agents within the Provos to degrade its operational capacity by committing state murder against some of their top ‘performers’.

    Unless this and other similar stories are a complete fiction Ringland is only arguing that such actions have saved lives. The question is where you draw the line? What is legal state killing and what’s not? And what standards do we use?

    Those of the peace we all enjoy now? Or those of war which pertained then? Cover up is a fact of life. Prima facie it saved the killer of Robert McCartney from facing justice for a peacetime felony, and the alleged rapist of Mairia Cahill.

    It is everywhere in post Troubles NI.

    I wonder if we are getting close to seeing the past as part of some new hick cyberpunk science fiction genre: ‘Collusion’ as the new ‘Matrix’? Whoever controls collusion controls the game?

    Are we just looking at all of this through too small and reductive a frame?

    A Tramline Named Denial

    “The future is currently predetermined along ‘tram-lines’ of unreliable assumptions that are taken for granted rather than actively considered.

    “The innately flexible human mind must be enabled to respond with sufficient creativity for the future to be instead determined consciously.

    “This can be achieved by attending to the missing ingredient in both education and policy-making – curiosity.”

    – James Greyson,

    There’s no point in denying that the government was up to its neck in collusion. But nor is there any point in denying the historical data below either. The people the state colluded against were already intent on murder, and on a grand scale.

    If you talk to Trevor (as I have at length over the 12 years since we were co-creators of The Long Peace, he’s not so much in favour of a cover up as saying we cannot reasonably pick and choose what we cover up.

    The blurring of that distinction is the present corrosion. I’m not deceived by urbane arguments for this course of action, or that. But I do question the unreliable assumptions many of these inquires are based upon.

    If we do decide to release the files, then why not release them all as Denis Bradley suggests? Ringland’s unspoken fear is that in pulling out some primary props we could risk the whole mine giving in.

    Personally, I’m more indifferent. If we must, let’s see the files which gave Gerry and Martin a bye, but which (perhaps) concluded that Pat Finucane should die?

    Curiousity does not necessarily have to kill the cat.

  • Brian

    You have asked,

    “..if the use of informers and agents was such a great idea almost from the start, why did it take so long to bring the major paramilitaries to the points of ceasefire and final cessation?”

    Here’s a suggested answer.

    Because, in order for it to be effective in the long term, the idea of a ceasefire and cessation had to seem to come from within those organisations. It had to have the support of the leadership and the majority of the rank and file. Denis Donaldson, inquest yet to be held and family still seeking access to his journal, and, in fiction, David Hare’s reference spring to mind.

    There would be no point in simply undermining an organisation to the point of destruction if another took its place. So a long game had to be played. With, perhaps, an ‘understood’ outcome with those ‘leaderships’. Funny, we don’t hear from Jackie McDonald much anymore…

    That’s not to say some would have argued for, and perhaps pursued, a ‘destructive’ course of action. And there were undoubtedly rivalries between the various state security agencies. They didn’t always play along with each other, or maybe they did, as Liam Clarke noted of the collapse of the NI Assembly in 2002.

    Although Donaldson was an important agent to the British during these years, former intelligence officers doubt that he passed on all the information to which he had access. Otherwise he would not have survived for two decades.

    As the peace process began to provide political dividends in the form of the Good Friday agreement and power sharing, Donaldson became head of the party’s administration in the parliament buildings in Stormont.

    Police believe that he knew of an IRA spy ring at the heart of the British administration at Stormont but kept quiet about it for fear that his role would be exposed.

    Donaldson apparently did not know that the spy ring was revealed to the RUC Special Branch by a lower-level agent whose information sparked a three-month surveillance operation known by the codename Operation Torsion.

    A mass of intelligence material gathered by the IRA at Stormont was removed from a house in Belfast by the police, copied and returned in the vain hope that Bobby Storey, the IRA’s head of intelligence, would eventually take possession of it and expose himself to arrest.

    This entrapment and surveillance operation took place against strong advice from MI5 who urged the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to seize the papers and leave it at that. It reasoned that this would be enough to halt the spying operation and bring Donaldson into line.[added emphasis]

    In the end the police decided to recover the IRA intelligence cache and make what arrests they could — including Donaldson and his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney. The affair led to the collapse of power sharing and the fall of David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, who was blamed by loyalist voters for being too trusting of Sinn Fein. In the continuing political fall-out, Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist party ousted the Ulster Unionists as the majority party at the last general election.

    But when it comes to playing the long game, they – the state security agencies – seem to have played it, if not right, at least to a successful conclusion.

    Perhaps that’s what made Dennis Bradley’s hair stand on end…

    People like Trevor Ringland should support immunity for truth telling and put pressure on the British government to give access to the files.

    Immunity for truth-telling didn’t work for Saville – Martin McGuinness just put himself in a new narrative trap. It didn’t work for the families of the Disappeared either…

    Was it worth it? Only when we know all the details will we be able to make an assessment of an answer to that question.

    That’s the conundrum.

  • Skibo

    I for one do not see them releasing the files for the sake of how high up the tree the decisions were made.

  • mickfealty

    Most on the British side will have been functionaries in one way or another of the British state.

    But with a necessarily sceptical head on, don’t you also have to include those (beyond that golden circle) who remain dependent upon non disclosure?

  • WindsorRocker

    The Panorama programme did not contextualise the decisions made to put guns back into circulation or the decision to close down routes of evidence to protect informers. Panorama presented happenings they found in files without even trying to rationalise them apart from letting some of their interviewees draw the worst conclusions..

    Guns may have been put back into circulation to enable the authorities to track who was doing the killing and how killings were linked rather than simply seizing guns whilst those guns unknown to the authorities were used in killings, leaving the intelligence agencies blind.

    Seizing guns may have exposed an informer whose information pertained to more than simply what an individual active service unit was up to and hence saved other lives. The same could be true for interfering with normal evidence trails as not do so could have exposed informers or led to them being taken out of circulation with the result that visibility of the terror organisations would have been lost.

    Ringland refers to 90 per cent of attacks being prevented and that tells its own story as to how useful informers were and the greater good that they worked towards.

    Of course mistakes were made, and maybe when making the kind of decisions I mention above, handlers sometimes protected their prized assets unreasonably.
    Panorama and programmes like it fail utterly to contextualise these decisions, they fail to even present the possibility of an alternative reason or the greater good by focusing on the micro decisions. The irony is they are happy to imply or leave for deduction the possibility of an over arching strategy of active initiation of murder by the state but don’t even raise the real over arching strategy of building up an organisational profile of the terror groups – who did what, why, who were the main players, who was more of a nutjob than the others, who could be the ones to gain enough influence in organisations to bring the whole things to a halt? And Panorama like other “expose’s” ignore the salient fact that the terror groups would have been killing and attacking people anyway.

    Given the emotion involved and the serious consequences of decisions made, the likes of Panorama have a duty to put that contextualisation when they present findings like this.

    To think that simply opening files or letting intelligence agency personnel talk candidly would solve everything and let the good stories be told by Special Branch et al ignores the reality that such an open season on information that is still within people’s life times would destroy the ability of the intelligence agencies to ever again use the tactic of embedded informers as that trust would be forever broken. Who would inform on a dissident group if they thought that merely 15 or 20 years later whilst they were still alive, a government would open their files to the public to counter allegations made by journalists?

    The critics of the intelligence agencies are made by two groups of people:

    1. Those who fail to contextualise and expect agencies decades ago to be judged by the standards of a comparatively stable present day environment.
    2. And more sinister are those who jump on this bandwagon because to “paraphrase” the 1982 remarks of the current DFM……

    Special Branch et al ensured that it was not the cutting edge of the IRA (and other terror groups) that would resolve the political situation but the votes of the people in elections.

  • mickfealty

    I agree with most of that WR. But how do you contextualise as a Journalist the activities of a necessarily secret agency.

    Trevor says 90% of killings were stopped, but how can we figure that for ourselves if we’re not in some way pre-attached to that community? Besides – as the Lib Dems now know to their cost – it is very hard to prove a negative.

    When I think of collusion (at least in the way it’s presented in NI), I think of the paramilitary group the Spanish govt recruited to deal with ETA (can’t remember their name).

    As Newton Emerson has noted on one his Detail News pieces a few years ago, these cases are ‘vanishingly few’, so the definition has been broadened to catch more.

    The problem, as you point out, is that we now tend to ignore even the basic context, aims and objectives of the terror groups and transfer all moral agency onto the state actors who were trying to stop them.

    Even a principled outline of what intelligence does, its moral dilemmas and what’s in or out so far as the law is concerned) would be a useful counterbalance.

  • chrisjones2

    I agree on the need for an East German style process of releasing the files but the Human Rights Act and interests of key players will prevent it, just as they will prevent the victims ever really knowing what happened to them or their loved ones.

    Too many politicians and “community leaders” on both sides might be exposed for the crimes they committed, the people they killed or set up and simply for their personal contacts with state agencies. Contacts in various ways ranging from touting to negotiating deals to end the hunger strikes that were then never passed on to the idealistic fools who starved themselves for death to secure some extra votes

    There is also the issue of the impact on poor old Sinn Fein who would be so horribly exposed they might not survive.and the fact that I suspect MI5 and their vassals in Special Branch will already have destroyed the records in case this should ever be raised and sources compromised

    Just consider the files on SF /British Army CoOperation in Belfast during the ceasefires of the early 1970s where British Army complaints about local youths were passed on through SF ‘Incident Centres’ to the IRA who shot or maimed young people to keep them in line. So much for human rights and due process then. How will people react to knowing that their own community leaders helped set up their children at the behest of the hated Brits.

    And how many of the contacts forged at that time persisted through the rest of the campaign?

    Now SF – perhaps rightly – complain about Ballymurphy but we don’t hear much about their ruthless attacks on young people in their own community.So lets have all that out too. How3 many did they shoot? How many were maimed and beaten? How many killed? What for? Who provided the information on them? Who authorised this?

    But as SF is the British Governments (often unwitting) tool to secure the peace process, one doubts that this will ever happen.

    Still, perhaps there’s hope.Perhaps this is a cause that Nuala could take up? Things she could expose that she never quite managed while Police Ombudsman and that her successors have struggled with because of that pesky lack of evidence to the criminal standard?

    We could have a public enquiry? A new Ombudsman? Another investigation? Another Panorama?

    Still, perhaps not. Best not to mention it. And as for the victims, well, we are all sorry for your loss. But in the big scheme of things from these issues to RPMs to OTRs, you just don’t really count now. There is too much risk to today and tomorrow to expose what happened yesterday or who was involved in it all.

    And if any politician on any side tells you otherwise, don’t believe them

  • chrisjones2

    Why not set up gulags in Donegal. Stalin and Mao left very good models for show trials.So just use those and to hell with things like evidence. Indeed , why not just make being a Unionist a capital crime. That will do it!!! We know it was all their fault anyway

    PS sadly you cant send them away for 25 years. They just turn up in court and even if convicted they are back on the streets in 6 months. That’s what SF negotiated so address your complaints to Mr Adams on that one

  • chrisjones2

    Shame on you …you forget that the Brits made the Republicans do it so its all the Brits fault

  • Cosmo

    Can recommend the film ‘A Most Wanted Man’, which explores the world of strategic ‘collusion’ for intelligence, and playing for the long game.(Both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright play their parts marvellously, by the way.)
    During the Iraq War (yet, another war failure for their military), the US sacrificed countless Iraqui informers, by short term actions – all for the benefit of a good news story back home.

  • Skibo

    Thats a hell of a complex you have there CJ. We all know there was guilt on all sides. You however will not accept any guilt laid at the door of Britain or Unionism.
    For a government to be involved in the taking of their citizens lives without trial or judgement by their fellow citizens then the basis of justice as we know it has broken down.

  • Quiglebe

    People said 15 years ago that the collusion was Republican propaganda. Now we’re trying to rationalise it. Some progress has been made.

  • mickfealty

    15 years ago collusion meant something different to what means now. But perhaps we are a little late in trying to rationalise it.

    To quote that old 60s game show on the existential problem Brian highlights above, is it ‘time to take the money, or open the box’?

  • chrisjones2

    Where did In say that?I just pointed out the hypocrisy

    And as for any crimes committed by the agents of the state – if there is evidence I believe it should be investigated and they should be tried. But so should the rest including those who led and directed PIRAs murder campaign

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m with you on that Mick – I think the more that comes out, the better. The key thing is that it comes out proportionately from all sides. Yes, cover-ups have been rife, but they are not limited to the state’s part in the conflict, which in terms of deaths was relatively small.

    Brian talks about the Finucane Centre having “clean hands” – a statement that reveals a big part of the problem I’m describing. That is, the massive, unavoidable importance of even-handedness in this process of investigation and revisiting the past. That’s the problem Arkiv and others (including myself) have with the approach of the PFC. It’s actually two-fold:

    1. their own investigations start with a non-neutral premise. In its statement of its approach and purpose, it says: “The PFC asserts that the failure by the State to uphold Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”, is the single most important explanation for the initiation and perpetuation of violent conflict.” That is one eccentric piece of analysis on the causes of the Troubles; and blaming the State more than any other party, including terrorist organisations, must surely infect the supposedly neutral approach it takes to its investigations. The 2+2=5 approach taken in parts of the Cadwallader book are just one example of this – in the absence of evidence of overarching conspiracy, she asserts it anyway. Not that helpful as a contribution to truth-seeking.

    2. The questions they choose to investigate follow this same set of rather partial interests. The lack of curiosity about the wrongdoings of the Republican Movement is deafening in its silence.

    So “clean hands” maybe, but their partisan model of truth-seeking is a poor one to follow, generating as many problems as it solves. I might add that naming yourself after a close IRA adviser during the years of slaughter, albeit one himself wrongly killed, is hardly confidence-inspiring either.

    Partial truth is no truth at all.

  • chrisjones2

    The definition of collusion is now so wide post corry that al;most any contract at all amounts to collusion. Incompetence amounts to collusion. The Prime Minister colluded with SF to stop the prosecution of killers or ensure that they got RPMs and didn’t serve their just sentences and had their convictions expunged

  • chrisjones2

    by the way Brian – great ‘When did you stop beating your wife?” – headline

  • Quiglebe

    I think those that say we should just move on are always out to protect their own narrative. And don’t get me wrong there are people on both sides who say it. But its balls. Im too young to have dirty hands but i still want to know how dirty it got.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The thrust of Ringland’s take on collusion – and it’s mine too – is not “supporting cover-up” but:
    1. wanting truth-recovery to be even-handed, not a partisan anti-State crusade
    2. wanting proper context and understanding of the need for anti-terrorist policing and the methods and practices necessary to that.
    3. a more informed debate on the moral choices involved in the process of running agents, both in terms of short term and longer term decision-making over how best to save the most number of lives from the terrorist campaigns.
    4. putting a clear marker in the sand over the wider context: that it was terrorism that was causing so many deaths, quite deliberately; and it was the security forces and security services who were the ones saving lives. No one else was. When we haul them over the coals for erring, if we forget that basic fact, we fundamentally miss the point.

  • Quiglebe

    You highlight one of the dirty secrets that Unionism felt was very important to hear. I want them all disclosed.

  • mickfealty

    All boxes?

  • Skibo

    Who do you want to investigate republican actions? There are no written records to expose unlike those held by the British government.
    Your comments on Finucane show your prejudged conclusion to anything they will uncover and will always consider as tainted.
    Everyone in NI will always have a tainted view of what happened here and why it did. That is why juries contain 12 members to try and get a balanced opinion.
    Why make rules and regulations for all to live by and then allow government agents to use what ever means necessary including the the taking of life to start a political process. It that not the definition of terrorism.
    As far as I am concerned when the government takes upon itself to neutralise any of their citizens without due process then they loose the moral high ground.
    Do you think the taking of life is acceptable? If yes then why don’t we neutralise the criminal drug movement? They have probably killed more than the troubles.

  • Nevin

    “the activities of a necessarily secret agency.”

    Mick, I understood MI5 and MI6 were both operating here. Presumably they had different priorities just as the Home Office and Foreign Office ministers would have had different agendas.

  • kensei

    So we are all grand with extra judicial killing now? In a state that doesn’t actually allow the death penalty anyway?

    There is no moral equivalent lce between the state killing and the IRA killing. The state was much worse.

    At what level where these actions known and supported? What oversight was there? What consequences for screwing up. Could I have voted to stop it?

    These aren’t dead questions either.

  • Skibo

    Agreed. Problem is where are the records? Do you expect people to stand up and implicate themselves. I assume if the security services had information they would press charges. Well against Republicans at least.

    Remember GA in Antrim police station. Why question someone if they have immunity?

    So we are back to courts and the level of evidence. The dogs in the street are not the best of witnesses.
    Nationalists have always said there was collusion and the Unionists politicians always maintained there was not. Now the evidence is coming through in dribs and drabs so you can get acclimatised to collusion before the actual level of collusion is revealed. How many other things have they been preaching will in the fullness of time be found to be untrue. Maybe you all won’t be murdered in your beds in a united Ireland.

  • Skibo

    Trevor can only imply that 90% of the deaths were stopped. He has no crystal ball as to what would have happened.
    And to state that the actions of agents bringing the IRA to the negotiating table I don’t agree. Sounds very like Taylor’s statement that the UVF had forced IRA to the table.
    I believe the actions of the IRA in London with the possibility of London losing its cash cow with the possibility of the international banking system leaving the city. Westminster had to stop that at any price.

  • Quiglebe

    All boxes if that means full disclosure. Surely that’s something we should aspire to. A place and history where we just ‘move on’ seems backwards to me.

  • Nevin

    Collusion is mostly presented as a wholly negative activity. I would have thought that the Derry Experiment, the deescalation of violence, was a positive example of collusion. I also would have thought that it was more likely to have had input from MI6 than from MI5.

  • mickfealty


    There is no moral equivalent lce between the state killing and the IRA killing. The state was much worse.

    You hit the axiomatic nail on the head here. This is the assumption which underlies most working out around collusion. It’s also a prime reason why almost no one goes looking for context of these actions either.

    But what underwrites that assumption? And what problems does it throw up that we are not attending to?

    If Ringland is right and many of these ops quietly killed off the IRA’s capacity to prosecute the Tet offensive they had planned, then there may be many more people alive today.

    We know enough about the Provisional’s plans and their real shortfall to understand that there were positive effects which killed off an intense and bloody civil war.

    Extra judicial killing is not okay with me, whomsoever does it. Nor is covering up child rape or any range of illicit activities that state and anti state actors may have engaged in.

    But why are we ‘cool’ with a peace process that offers (though never delivers) different levels of solace to different kinds of victims when we are told there is no hierarchy of victims?

    None of this will get sorted any time soon. Mostly because the state is likely de facto offering the kind of public interest cover Adams asked for back in 2000 that his folks get.

    The illogic of ‘we can call the state to account for its past actions, but not the terror groups’ concludes with us separating motive and context from an immoral action and suggesting that state actions alone can be pure and morally autonomous.

    The question is not only, is that right, but what good does it perform?

    Would we be better served seeing the whole thing? The RA/UDA/UVF etc don’t have records of their own activities, but we are pretty sure that the state does.

    Given that the state now relies to a large extent on the reliable behaviour of a large number of former anti and non state actors what are the concrete arguments against treating all past crimes in the same way?

    Or is it just a case that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”?

  • chrisjones2

    “I assume if the security services had information they would press charges. Well against Republicans at least.”

    A very false assumption. Labour under Blair bent over backwards not to do so.Remember Mo Mowlam describing post GFA murders as ‘just a bit of housekeeping’

  • chrisjones2

    So do I but legally they cant be at the moment unless we repeal the Human Rights Act

    Then there would be years of litigation and appeals by solicitors desperate to protect their income streams – sorry, of course I meant desperate to selflessly protect their clients

  • chrisjones2

    …but did the Prime Minister have the legal authority to offer the cover that he gave SF?

    I think not.Parliament wouldn’t have it so we had the secret OTR fudge.TIme to revisit all of it

  • chrisjones2

    …but did the Prime Minister have the legal authority to offer the cover that he gave SF?

    I think not.Parliament wouldn’t have it so we had the secret OTR fudge.TIme to revisit all of it

  • Zig70

    What it actually highlights is that unionists and liberal ones at that don’t want to believe that they did anything wrong. To deviate from the line that the creation of NI was wrong, that loyalist violence was just reactionary, that the orange order is only a religious organisation, the RUC was a police force for the whole of NI. The RUC gave up it’s moral foundations. Can a police force operate in community with no moral compass? You can try and be as clever as you like and frame it in some technical moral walter mitty land, but they lost respect and ended up a footnote.

  • Brian Walker

    MR and others , maybe you are happy to take on trust that nasty things had to happen to contain or maybe even defeat the IRA etc, and you have no further problem. But the state based on the rule of law can’t behave like that. Nor does it. But its present position is not as honest as yours.

    At present the government holds to the fiction that charges may still be brought for pre- 1998 crimes while the logic of the “peace process” argues otherwise. Liability for prosecution in theory applies to state actors too, and this risk – conveniently or otherwise – applies to those of them who have “a good story.” to tell. I’d love to read the memoirs of Ronnie Flanagan and a biography of Jack Hermon who I believe were good policeman.

    What gets in the way is the inherent cageiness of the British state, not safety of local people. If there was half so much concern over Northern Ireland as there was about going to war in Iraq, the files would have been opened long ago,

    The little fracas over OTRs did not change anything. Successive governments have dumped the legacy onto the very people who created it and who have a vested interest in revealing as little as possible.

    Trevor’s position does a serious disservice not only to victims and survivors but to the majority of members of the security forces. [Text altered – Mods]

    Many if not most of the professionals who have to handle these matters also believe what I believe but it is their job to carry out due process because it nominally exists.

    Coming up to two decades after the cessations, the honest way ahead is through voluntary disclosure under immunity supported by access to files, selective and redacted no doubt. . The results would inevitably be limited but much better than the charges of cover up which remain so plausible.

    Problems for the protection of identities and setting a precedent are exaggerated. They were not so highly rated when it came to some trials where the ultimate prejudice applied later.

    The Haass structure repeated in the Stormont House Agreement funks the issue. It separates information retrieval from criminal investigation but funds neither adequately. Criminal investigation should be abandoned in favour of greater openness after a fixed period of time under a statute of limitations.

    I have I admit, some sneaking sympathy with one underlying reason for dragging the feet over the past – that fuller disclosure would worsen community relations, not improve them .

    But oh, the hypocrisy is rank..

  • barnshee

    well said

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Brian, for such a clear piece. I cannot find fault with a single thing you say above.

  • barnshee

    What part of

    Get the “files” out and “No immunity for anyone and NO exceptions” do you not get?

    The idea that “government collusion” will ever be provable is risible

    Tony Blair and co sat in cabinet and approved intelligence operations? The ambushes of murder gang members were planned in cabinet?
    I don`t think so.

  • kensei

    Do I need to point you to the Social Contract or the Rights of Man? The State as the most important actor and the consequences if that are inescapable.

    We cannot compell the IRA to talk whatever positions they hold now. We can compell the State. Arguments over efficacy are slippery slope arguments. Even if we accept the potential for abuse and accept the rationale unquestioned there was no oversight.

    The State has reach that no extra government grouping can hope to match. The State has moral and ethical obligations no extra governmental group can hope to match. And the State sets precedent. Persistent misrule was what set the whole thing off in the first place. Its not even the worst option. I dont particularly fancy living in the Chinese system.

    I appreciate this will create different outcomes for different victims. I dont like that. But I don’t believe that it removes the moral obligation to hold the State to a higher standard. And it isn’t a popular opinion but I think a narrow focus on victims often results in detrimental outcomes for society as a whole.

    It’s imilar with yriyj and reconcilation process. That some actors may lie is not in and of itself a reason not to do it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The legal situation in pretty much every country is that the taking of life is “acceptable” in certain circumstances, in the sense of there being some forms of the taking of life which are not murder, for example, killing in self defence, or without the necessary intent for murder. Obviously, killing isn’t a good thing, but if someone were attacked by two armed robbers, there was a struggle and one of the robbers got a fatal blow from their victim in self-defence, that would be in a sense “acceptable”.

    I think your question is really, is it acceptable for the state to kill people outside the law. The simple answer is no it isn’t. In the situations like the Finucane allegations, if true that his death was ordered by someone in the security services, then that is a simple crime and it should be prosecuted.

    What is more complex – and which many of us on here are saying hold your horses on – is where the state is running informers inside terrorist cells, who may need to carry out crimes to keep their cover and help the state stop a larger number of crimes. This is not the straightforward “collusion” or state corruption issue that is being presented to us in programmes like Panorama.

    In some instances it may well have turned into something corrupt, but it’s not necessarily corrupt. What I want to see is the right questions being asked to determine where things went too far and where they didn’t. There is a line that can be crossed, no one serious is saying there is no line. But the Panorama approach of bombast around this issue seems to obscure the proper moral debate about where the line is and when it is truly crossed.

  • Nevin

    ” People like the good Trevor are their useful idiots.”

    You are a very naughty boy, Brian. Trevor is as much entitled to his opinion as you are to yours; there’s no need for such obnoxious put-downs.

    When it comes to challenging the state, I’ve shown how the BBC can get rolled over and hasn’t even had the guts to publish the transcript of an interview carried out by one of its own reporters.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m confused: you seem to be against extra-judicial killing, then say the IRA (who carried out nearly 2,000 extra-juducial killings) were not as bad as the state. How so?

  • Nevin

    “We know enough about the Provisional’s plans and their real shortfall to understand that there were positive effects which killed off an intense and bloody civil war.”

    Do we? It’s my sense from reading Ed Moloney’s ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ that deescalating the violent conflict and adopting an alternative ‘Brits Out’ political strategy did not have unanimous support in the PIRA Army Council and the upper echelons of the movement. This opens up a scenario where the state(s) could have been providing covert support to the political strategists.

  • kensei

    You’re not really confused.l, you are just being facetious. I just can’t stand people arguing in bad faith.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not arguing in bad faith – I mean the question – you just haven’t answered it

  • MainlandUlsterman

    How do you get that from the arguments put forward here? The arguments I’m reading on here from liberal unionists are about providing more context, not denying wrong-doing. Very few if any have taken that line of saying the security services got nothing wrong.

    To be fair, people defending the Panorama programme seem flummoxed, because we’ve opened up reasonable questions for which they have no apparent answer. In particular:
    – why is all infiltration of paramilitary groups presented as “collusion”?
    – why is the assumption of bad faith always made with regard to security services’ motives in this?
    – why is the context of massive scale terrorism, within which this was happening, so frequently omitted?
    – why is the transparency expected of the security services not expected of other “players” in this?
    – what alternative strategies are suggested for infiltrating and frustrating the terrorist campaigns?
    Bit of a deafening silence on those.

  • barnshee

    Naughty step for you– putting up pictures like that

  • Robin Keogh

    That really is an escellent piece Brian, very concise and clears all the whataboutery cobwebs away to expose in absolute detail the responsibility of the state.

  • mickfealty

    Absolutely to your first and last. Though I think Poppers ‘Open Society and its enemies’ is also worth adding to that list.

    We don’t need people to tell the truth, we just need to see all the files to get a good idea who did whathe sheer volume of information on some individuals activities would likely be more than sufficient for a whole slew of convictions. Why else do we knowingly acknowledge that Martin and Gerry must lie about their pasts?

    We are prepared to accept such a state of affairs because it makes sense for the peace in the here and now. All we need to do to change that state affairs to ask the state to tells what they know in the way we expect them to hang out their own.

  • Robin Keogh


  • Robin Keogh

    And if you have evidence on thiose people please bring it forward

  • Robin Keogh

    Remember everytthing, forgive nothing and to hell with the consequences. Great Idea there Barnshee, is it any wonder we had thirty years of hell

  • Robin Keogh

    U also dont ‘know’ so

  • WindsorRocker

    “MR and others , maybe you are happy to take on trust that nasty things had to happen to contain or maybe even defeat the IRA etc,”

    I didn’t take it on full trust but at least I was prepared to offer the possibility of the benefit of the doubt which is more than Panorama did.

    The intelligence agencies had a raison d’etre to minimise the impact of terrorist violence on society whereas the objective of the paramilitaries was to maximise the impact of their violence on society. It is in that context that I offer plausible reasons as to why the intelligence agencies made some of the micro decisions that were held up in isolation in the Panorama report.

    Even in a stable civil society, a police officer has a choice to make between to-the-letter enforcement of the law and the preservation of life and property. When faced with the terror campaigns that blighted our society for decades that decision is just multiplied in its seriousness exponentially when it became the pursuit of individual crimes versus the bigger picture of the containment of the terrorist organisations as whole.

  • Skibo

    I take it one step further and believe that the state not only allowed agents to carry out crimes including death to keep their cover but also used Loyalist death squads to eliminate anyone they deemed necessary. Supplied them with weapons, spiriting away evidence and ensured clear exit routes for those Loyalist cells to escape.
    If you want the right questions asked then the only possible avenue is a totally independent inquiry and open the files completely.
    Do not take it from this that I think all the evil happened on one side or that the British were totally responsible for everything that happened. Republicanism has to take it’s share of the blame.
    The security forces were there to defend all and investigate all but who was there to investigate them?
    The ombudsman is in place now and open to political scrutiny.

  • Skibo

    Murder by government bodies is now a micro decision! You hold some peoples lives with less integrity than others.

  • WindsorRocker

    Nowhere, even on the Panorama programme, was it suggested that the state directly initiated the murder of anyone.

    The potential examples I gave of protecting informers do not amount to murder. An informer being involved in murder does not mean the state was involved in murder, no matter how much some people would like that to be the case. The term micro decision refers to the individual decisions e.g. to allow an operation to go ahead that caused a fatality. Those decisions, I believe, were made with a rationale that in the future many more lives would be saved as a result. For example, due to information gleaned from an informer involved in the operation in question who would be able to continue informing. I have also said that there would have undoubtedly been wrong calls made and that in hindsight maybe certain decisions may have been made differently.

    Those decisions, as even Panorama shows, involved the deaths of ordinary members of the nationalist community but also police officers. Apart from the case featured, I can think of another case involving a murdered police officer that was being investigated by the Ombudsman where it is believed that Special Branch knew and let the killing go ahead. So in these decisions, it clearly shows there was no hierarchy of victims or of lives but some very cold and yes, spine chilling, decisions being made.

  • chrisjones2


    I seems to have all been hidden or not collected (theres that collusion again) lest SFs sleep be disturbed or they find another excuse not to be on the Policing Board again.But Mo Mowlem seemed to have seen it or been told of it or why else would she have made the comment?

    Remember the acolyte Boobys scream when poor Gerry was arrested in connection with alleged murder after being fingered by one of his own. “How dare they” he screamed.

    How indeed dare they investigate the murder of a mother kidnaped and buried for 30 years

    I hope you are happy in your support of an organization that defends and condones that and the rapes and brutality to even the children of its own people. It must make you VERY proud

  • chrisjones2

    No…they just colluded to stop the later investigation and prosecution.Read The Corry definition. Read Mowlems comments on PIRA murders post ceasefire. Issuing OTR letters in the form they were issued also counts as collusion

  • chrisjones2

    Do you think that simply stopping murdering people deserves a reward?

  • Pigeon Toes

    It’s the spine -chilling thought that any of one us may have been deemed to be “collateral damage” that makes me want answers. “such actions are contrary to the moral law, the rules of law and the rules of war”

  • Zig70

    It wasn’t just infiltration, it was joining the terrorists and dropping down to their level to fight dirty. The bad faith, how could their not be bad faith considering the history here. Trust hasn’t been a priority, instead control and the hope that the nationalists go away. It’s not hard to see that nationalists didn’t believe that the RUC held their lives at the same value. Not completely sure what you mean by other players. Naturally you would expect a higher moral standard from the police than terrorist organisations. Also you would expect a different moral code than used by the spooks. The alternative strategy is simply not to be complicit in murder, to stay on the side of the law. Maybe a police force should treat citizens as humans and not strategic pawns and also maybe we shouldn’t put ordinary folk (as in policemen) with lives and families in the position to make decisions like that. I don’t believe in plea bargaining, if someone is guilty of a serious crime then they lose my trust. This is a few levels above the morality of plea bargaining. I don’t get how anyone can sit there and tell someone’s mother that it was ok for their son to die because 3 others that may have died, didn’t. I’d like to see anyone make that argument face to face.

  • Brian Walker

    All very interesting indeed Pete. If only it had been limited to information,”Only when we know all the details…” Its time we knew rather more of them than we do. to check the inevitable tendency of state actors to play God with people’s lives. I don’t want to sound too pious but we surely want some accountability for decisions taken up the line, at least when the emergency has subsided. At the moment we’ve got almost none. They’ve all moved on…

  • mac tire

    “why is all infiltration of paramilitary groups presented as “collusion”?
    – why is the assumption of bad faith always made with regard to security services’ motives in this?”

    Bad faith? Oh, I dunno – allowing people to go out to kill, maim etc might contribute to that.

    – why is the context of massive scale terrorism, within which this was happening, so frequently omitted?

    Omitted? It has been the hot topic of conversation for over 40 years now. Our own Chris Jones, of this parish, reminds us of it in almost every single post he writes. He’s not alone. Many here thrive on ensuring it is not omitted. We all know, more or less, what the IRA, UFF etc done. The fact that a programme was made to inform Britain of these things shows one of the aspects which has been omitted from the story.

    – why is the transparency expected of the security services not expected of other “players” in this?

    Erm, the armed groups don’t have files. They also never claimed to be upholding the law. There have been plenty of calls for the IRA to be transparent on its past actions.

    – what alternative strategies are suggested for infiltrating and frustrating the terrorist campaigns?”

    Ah, the old “sure there was no alternative” trick? I believe the IRA were castigated for using the same argument.

  • Brian Walker

    No WR This won’t do.You can’t argue against particulars with generalities. Have you read the de Silva report? The published Stevens material? Did you actually watch the programme?.

  • Skibo

    CJ2 you are really grasping at straws. The OTR letters just state that the up to the date that the letters had been issued the recipients were not wanted by any British police force. Just because the PSNI were sloppy in their investigations, you cannot blame that on the recipients or Sinn Fein. Pray tell where the collusion was?

  • Skibo

    the reward is peace.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Are ye serious about that? By definition …

  • Skibo

    Hidden or not collected by who?
    I think the whole furory was about the timing and the fact that GA had offered to go for questioning previously but was not taken up on it. The fact that there were elections going on in the 26 counties had nothing to do with it!
    Investigate it. It was never said not to investigate it.
    SF does not defend or condone rape or child beating and has a child protection policy.

  • Brian Walker

    No good Mick. ” It’s this kind of woolly thinking that gives liberal views a bad name. It’s quite simple. Trevor in this Newsletter piece was pleading the greater good and letting serious wrong doers off the hook. A statement of the general record even with graphs isn’t good enough, 15 years after the GFA. We need more than that now and shouldn’t put up with the usual excuses. I refer more to those who pulled the strings as much as those who pulled the trigger.
    I repeat again. I’m arguing for the contextualisation with evidence, which is being denied. Don’t get bogged down in arguments about t “one sided justice.” That way madness lies. Just go for some more openness eh? The state knows about all sides, remember.

  • chrisjones2

    That is just sophistry.Should there be a complete amnesty for the killers?

  • chrisjones2

    I suggest you read the NI Affairs Committee report.

    Collusion includes indifference and failure to investigate and any act to impede those responsible for acts from being brought to justice

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Some of it must indeed have involved “fighting dirty” and I hope those mis-steps are exposed and we can hold people accountable for that. But a lot of it surely was what the security services had to do, i.e. running informers inside the terror gangs.

    And you’re right, the police are not and were not on a level with the terrorists and should be judged by much, much higher standards.

    Yet we still have 2 problems, even taking your fair points on board:
    1. What actually was the alternative strategy? You say it was “not to be complicit in murder” – but you also suggest that having an informer in an IRA cell made the security services complicit in the crimes of that cell. So you are saying they should have not sought out or run informers? Or where they did have an informer, they had to be pulled out every time the gang killed someone? That would have left the Republican and Loyalist death squads with a free hand to kill at will – and they proved over and over again hell bent on doing just that.
    2. We still have the “trolley bus” dilemma. No one wants to change the direction of the train so it kills the one person on track A, until you point out 5 people die on track B if you do nothing and the train rolls on. Not everyone agrees with the utilitarian position on that moral dilemma, but most philosophers seem to. But you’re right, it goes against all our human instincts to get involved and cause a death directly, even if it’s saving life elsewhere.

    The terrorist groups in the Troubles were very much runaway trains, killing machines taking lives day after day. The security forces and the state had the task of trying to stem the flow somehow, in small ways, without always being able to point to a tangible result. But the endeavour was surely a right one in its overall intention.

    What we should be looking at with the “collusion” allegations are instances where this was badly or wrongly operated – but we should not kid ourselves on that the security services had the option of doing nothing. The terrorist trains would have run over far more bodies, surely – and what would you say to those many more mothers then? Why, they would ask, did the state stand back and let this happen?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Again, your analysis is problematic.
    1 – agency. You talk of “allowing people to go out to kill”. But did the IRA kill people because the security services “allowed” them to? Or did they decide to do it themselves? I’d suggest the latter. What you describe is indistinguishable from running informers within terrorist groups, which is presumably a good thing. And we need to be grown up and accept the security services could not reasonably be expected to stop every crime they got wind of through an informer. One hopes they stopped many; and it is awful to see close up those life and death decisions people made to “let something go”. Some of those will have been very wrong decisions. But they were having to make these kind of choices daily. It comes down to who you blame for that situation. Personally, I think was overwhelmingly the fault of the terrorist groups who devised, ran and carried out the murder campaigns over 30 odd years. But I also accept the security forces were not all angels, committed (many, many fewer) crimes too and got some things wrong. We ought to be able to have a grown-up debate about the lessons from that – and how we want anti-terrorist intelligence and policing work to operate in the future. Because we might well need it again.
    2 – context – the context is omitted from the discussion of infiltration/collusion though.
    3- transparency of other “players” – it’s not just about files, it’s about the truth. Making it about files is a way of limiting disclosures to one party only. And while there have plenty of calls on the IRA to be transparent, (a) their response has been minimal and (b) Republicans aren’t themselves coming under the same pressure that they are putting on the State to disclose secrets. There is a massive imbalance there, many would say a deeply hypocritical one on Republicans’ part.
    4 – alternative ways of saving lives from the terror campaigns – I note you don’t have any. So that leaves us with infiltration, running informers and all that that entails. It is / was horrible, but it seems there is no other way.

    At the same time, we should still seek truth and justice where they made decisions that are wholly unjustifiable.

    We need our security services to have clear, workable rules for the future and for now. They are currently infiltrating both dissident Republicans and Loyalists as well as Islamic terror cells and other violent fringe groups. For all our sakes, we need them to be able to work effectively, but also in a way that is accountable. But let’s show some understanding of their predecessors in the 70s, 80s and 90s – it was a steep learning curve and it was brutal and brutal people they were dealing with.

    To use an old Man Utd analogy, you don’t send a Lee Sharpe into that situation, you send in a Steve Bruce. It seems sometimes like we expect the Troubles security services to have played like the current Barcelona team. On a muddy pitch in a different era, maybe Don Revie’s Leeds Utd might be a more reasonable expectation.

  • chrisjones2

    “SF does not defend or condone rape or child beating and has a child protection policy.”

    So did the Catholic Church and the Methodists.

    What happened in these cases is and remains a disgrace and still the SF cover ups persist

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I just posted this further down the thread in response to Brian, but thought it worth putting here also where more may see it. This is what the Da Silva Report found – I think it’s really what a lot of us are talking about here. Chapter 5 of Da Silva is worth reading in its entirety btw, but here are some key extracts:

    “5.9 … I can certainly infer from the available material that there is no evidence to suggest that, in the late 1980s, the security forces were institutionally biased in seeking to bring charges against republican paramilitaries as opposed to loyalists. On the contrary, the actions of the authorities in charging, prosecuting and imprisoning loyalist terrorists during the late 1980s in my view seriously undermines any simplistic notion that loyalist terrorists should be regarded as an extension of the State.”
    “5.17 It is important that I acknowledge the role played by such intelligence activity in preventing loss of life as a result of loyalist attacks. In particular, I am satisfied
    that intelligence operations led by the Security Service and the RUC SB played a
    significant part in effectively nullifying the terrorist threat from the UDA in certain
    geographical areas of Northern Ireland in the late 1980s. Intelligence was also
    critical to the successes achieved by the security forces in seizing arms during
    this period.”
    “5.18 The pattern of loyalist terrorist activity, both over time and in different regions,
    did correlate to an extent with the level of agent penetration or other disruptive
    activity achieved by the intelligence agencies.”
    (He goes on to say the West Belfast UDA was an exception to the rule.)
    “5.19 In view of the criticisms later in this Report, it is important to note that the
    authorities were taking significant action against loyalist terrorists during the late
    1980s. I have no doubt that the action taken by the security forces did frustrate
    loyalist terrorists and significantly reduce their operational capacity in Northern
    Ireland as a whole.
    “5.20 Any attempt to crudely describe loyalist terrorists as simply ‘State-sponsored
    forces’ is, in my view, untenable and fundamentally at odds with a substantial
    body of contemporary evidence and the historical context of the relationship
    between loyalists and the security forces during this period (see Chapter 2). The
    evidence of collusion between elements of the State and loyalist terrorists that
    I have uncovered during the course of this Review does, therefore, need to be
    positioned in the context of this chapter and the action that was being taken by
    the State to thwart loyalist paramilitaries.”

    Da Silva found there were no proper rules in place for agent-handling and this was deeply problematic. That is the real issue: how to make this process more robust and accountable for the future – and for now. Because make no mistake, terrorist cells are being infiltrated right now as I write. I’m sure we all hope they will continue to be. It wasn’t right or good that they operated without a strict framework back in the Troubles – but it was good, overall, that they operated.

  • chrisjones2

    …or writing their speeches

  • chrisjones2

    “had offered to go for questioning previously ”

    A red herring. In most states its for the police within the law to decide when they have enough evidence to question and when they do it, not for the suspect to try and control the process.

    Gerry is very hot on the old Control issues. Control of witnesses. Control of media. Control of victims of abuse etc etc

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Brian, I’ve quoted Da Silva extensively above. He puts his findings in context in his Chapter 5. He of course condemns the lack of oversight or clear rules in place, but he provides context too – which is what the PFC don’t do and programmes like the Panorama one only partially do. In particular he says “Any attempt to crudely describe loyalist terrorists as simply ‘State-sponsored forces’ is, in my view, untenable and fundamentally at odds with a substantial body of contemporary evidence and the historical context of the relationship between loyalists and the security forces during this period.”

    I’m struggling to see why the PFC analysis work, with its pre-set conclusion that it must always be mainly the State’s fault regardless of the facts, is more persuasive than Da Silva’s rigorous and extremely extensive analysis? Not to mention a host of eminent historians, who have been extremely critical of the PFC’s lack of objectivity – see Arkiv’s review of the Cadwallader book here

  • mickfealty

    There’s nothing woolly about the above Brian. Nor am I taking Trevor’s line absolutely.

    I certainly see downsides to a full public dump of everything the state has on everyone, and even data protection issues.

    But full contextualisation is a way that inevitably leads on to way. Upwards into the British state, and upwards into the hierarchies of the terror groups.

    TBH, I struggle to get beyond Peter Preston’s wise words in 2007 ( on these poisonous foundations for peace…

    …the coalition we leave behind isn’t a way forward, more a full stop: an agreement to play politics for a while rather than play demagogues or gunmen. And the underlying craving for justice in a fresh, non-sectarian land? Ah! It’s party-party time. Pour one for Nuala.

    For what it is worth, I don’t think people can be justly stopped in their quest for truth or justice, whether that’s via Trevor’s idea of calling the whole thing off, or a Bradley Eames style Legacy Commission.

    For the victims it’s a tragedy writ large. For many others it’s just one long political party-party… Another ‘wee grower’ in the parlance…

    In my humble view, most of those (bar the victims) who say they want to the truth actually only want as much of it as will embarrass their political opponents.

    Certainly a full dump would end that, and we could make what we will of the whole lot. That would be simple (and effective). What we’re doing already is both far from simple, and deeply hypocritical.

    Trevor’s suggestion is merely a leveling up (or down).

  • barnshee

    Forgiveness is in the gift of victims -no one else.
    The guilty of whatever hue need to be identified brought to book and held up as an example of the totally unacceptable.,

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m a great believer in the full truth coming out and not being afraid of that. But I’m also a realist that even this will not fundamentally change many people’s minds, at least not for a long time. We’ve known pretty much the full truth about who killed whom, through the great work of Malcolm Sutton and others. But people still manage to be convinced of Troubles narratives that fly in the face of it.

    Nevertheless, those of us who want the full truth to be acknowledged as part of the reconciliation and healing process – one that has not yet properly started in my view – should be pushing for as full a dump of information as is possible. Among the former terrorists though, as so little was written down, this means oral depositions. And then we’re back to Boston College …

    Not easy is it. But As Kirk Simpson has said, it is essential for the victims (and I would argue, wider society too) to get everything out there within a moral framework based on universal human rights, not the moral relativism favoured by some:
    “If a relativist path is pursued by government and policy-makers in Northern Ireland the restored cross-community devolved government will enjoy only frail legitimacy, and quarantined victim narratives will become subterranean sources of constant dissatisfaction.”

    That is the status quo. The victims of collusion need answers; but they are few in number compared to the vast array of other victims who need to know what happened. The vast bulk of that is locked away inside the heads of the former terrorists. We need proper pressure now on them as well as the state.

  • Nevin

    Collusion is defined as a secret deal. This particular deal marked the beginning of the end of the PIRA campaign to change the constitution by force. It was of no comfort to those who were already victims, indeed the plight of the victims probably wasn’t on the agenda.

    I view the senior members of PIRA not as agents of the various governments but people whom the governments could do business with; in that sense, they were a protected species. These leaders may well have sought help from the governments but had they been seen to be doing so their roles might have been speedily terminated by their colleagues.

  • Nevin

    Chris, this support appears to have been largely withdrawn in the ‘naughties’ so it’s hardly surprising that the SF leadership appears to have subsequently staggered around like headless chickens.

  • Nevin

    “These snatches whetted the appetite for much more. But who can compel further disclosure?”

    Brian’s recent comment and Darragh MacIntyre’s conspiratorial whispering on the strand do little to inspire those who would like to see some serious investigative journalism. Victims deserve much better than to be treated as little more than props in a piece of BBC performance art.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Just read the Derry Experiment link – thanks very interesting stuff.

    Something of an aside, but buried in there among the bigger machinations around gestures, movements and manoeuvring for an end to the IRA campaign, is a really interesting little insight relevant to the current discussion in another way. It says only then (1993) were Republicans “taking Loyalist violence seriously”, which it says means they had changed their previous view that Loyalists were just puppets of the British state.

    It doesn’t expand on this, but this is interesting, if Republicans were privately admitting back in 1993 that Loyalism was indeed self-supporting and not just a creation of the security services. Because now in 2015, Republicans seem to have flipped back again to claiming Loyalists were a creation of the British state after all.

    It does seem like Republicans say one thing in private about the nature of Loyalism and quite a different one for public consumption. I wonder what they really think? Their grasp of Loyalism has always been startlingly poor – as noted by many of the serious writers on the movement, like English and Patterson – driven more by wishful thinking than proper analysis. This may in part explain the poverty of Republican analysis now about the collusion issue – they’ve just never really got their heads around who Loyalists are, their attitude to the state and law and order and what motivates them politically and criminally. Their analysis is flawed in other respects too of course, but I wonder if this particular Achilles heel of Republicans is a lot of what’s hampering their thinking on this one?

  • Nevin

    MU, these Derry PRG comments have to be taken with a pinch of salt; its members would have had their own agenda viz persuaders for deescalation.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Fair enough. Were they reporting though on conversations with Derry Republicans at the time? It seems to be informed by something more than conjecture.

  • Nevin

    They would have had very close links to the paramilitary and military leaderships and had acted as mediators. However, the narrative they spun would have had a deescalation gloss. The editors of the Opsahl report unintentionally blew the cover of PRG by publishing that contribution by an unnamed group along with the PRG one which used the same words IIRC. If there was intelligence input I would imagine that it came from MI6.

  • Reader

    I got used quite early on in the troubles to the notion that I might be collateral damage in some arrogant tosser’s stupid war. I don’t think it’s much worse to think I might also be collateral damage in someone’s difficult and dangerous attempts to bring it to an end.

  • John Collins

    Did you see the programme on collusion on Monday night last? In it Ken McGinnis said that, after the Warrenpoint atrocity, he gave the names of three terrorist suspects to Mrs Thatcher, the then Prime Minister. The said three were liquidated three days later by the SAS, and Ken seemed very happy with himself on account of his role in these men’s deaths. This exchange proves beyond a shadow of doubt that these actions were approved at the very highest level

  • John Collins

    As indeed the treatment of the Quinn children should make Loyalists very PROUD indeed