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.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London