On the need to tackle political murder even when hidden in full view…

As Rick Wilford said on The View last night, I thought I had a handle on what was going on until I watched The View last night. I suppose the basic problem with Peter Robinson’s Heath Robinson like attempt to give the institutions time and room to breath [before the bunny finally gets it, eh? – Ed] that it’s so complicated it’s difficult to explain, even for his own Finance Minister.

So, turning away from that near impossible task and taking account of the rather larger matter of the extra judicial killing of Kevin McGuigan (“It was the IRA, yes”) Michael HC McDowell argues in the Belfast Telegraph today that any sticking plaster solution will not work in bedding down the peace.

He begins by outlining how the idea for the IMC came about:

My IMC concept grew out of a successful programme in Sicily – A Culture Of Lawfulness – which had successfully ridden the capital Palermo of the Mafia, naming and shaming those carrying out assassinations, paramilitary attacks, racketeering, bank robberies, extortion, blackmail and intimidation.

This programme was run in close co-operation with the mass media, the key support of the Pope and the Catholic Cardinal of Sicily, the education system, which was controlled by the Church, and the police.


I envisaged the IMC pushing the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries into totally peaceful methods so that they could then qualify to participate in a power-sharing administration with the rest of the democratic parties.

The IMC was late in being set up, but by 2011 had achieved major progress, using intelligence and security force information from all jurisdictions and, importantly, from the general public, given in confidence, and anonymously if preferred, on breaches in the Mitchell Principles.

In short, using naming-and-shaming the four commissioners from the north, the south, London and Washington were key in getting us to “Yes” and devolved government and building confidence within the majority and minority communities that illegality would no longer be swept under the carpet. I believed that closing down the IMC in 2011 was too early.

I have one caveat, however. I envisaged the commissioners calling it like it is and not under any circumstances pulling their punches for “political reasons” lest the Executive collapse because of the seriousness of any IMC findings.

The chips, I believed, had to fall where they might and the commissioners, all unelected, had no political mandate to “preserve” the Executive.

I believe punches were pulled, though not that often, to stop the Executive collapsing. If, as some politicians are suggesting, the IMC is resurrected short or medium-term, pulling punches to preserve the Executive must not be allowed.

McDowell concludes:

…bringing back the IMC, in smaller form or as it was set up originally, won’t build back confidence in the system, except on a very short-term basis.

Rather, it is the very system which set up the Executive and Assembly that is broken and until London and Dublin and the Northern Ireland parties agree on reforms, or the latter have reforms thrust on them on a take-it-or-leave it basis, it is not worth having the devolved institutions as they are presently constituted.

Similarly, new elections without deep constitutional reform will only produce roughly the same gridlock-like results we have had to date. London and Dublin and the Northern Ireland parties need to arrive at a new system of government where accountability and responsibility are paramount. And any US role must be strictly limited to supporting a deal agreed by the non-US players.

So-called “constructive ambiguity” has become “destructive ambiguity”. A new, constructive, fully democratic power-sharing Executive and Assembly (and with safeguards for minorities) without “ambiguities” is what is needed today.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty