The scheme for gathering information on the Troubles ignores the public interest

News is dribbling out about the proposed cumbersomely- named Independent Commission on Information Retrieval on the Past – despite the fact that the proposals for dealing with the Past have not yet been agreed. Even without a flood of confessions from paramilitaries, this body may yet prove to be the most important in a complicated set -up which includes an Oral history archive.

In the Newsletter Sam McBride and his headline writer splutter unnecessarily about Martin McGuinness’s role in making appointments to the Commission. Otherwise it’s a thorough report and is more informative than Theresa Villier’s written statement.

However there is a great flaw in the arrangements. The process seems directed solely at victims and their families and  ignores the wider public  interest.

The commission will be legally barred from even revealing the names of those who have contacted it with information about Troubles deaths.  And it will be a criminal offence to publish any information which reveals details of an investigation by the commission into a Troubles death.

If the Commission receives information about a death within its remit but no close family member has requested information about the death, the commission will store the information in case a family request is made later.

However, the commission will be barred from initiating contact with the family. But because the information will be destroyed after the five-year life of the commission, if the family was to decide to seek out information after that period, any documentation would have been destroyed.

Obviously victims and their families should have priority and names of the living unconvicted have to be withheld for a considerable time, until the parallel legal process that might be relevant to a particular account appears to be  exhausted. That no doubt would require  fresh decisions in due course. But the proposal to destroy the files after five years is an act of  vandalism and should be abandoned  in the interests of writing the fuller history  of the Troubles


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  • Karl

    Its either accepted as a war or its not. There are pros and cons for both sides with this. The unionist side cant say it was a police action and then say soldiers cant be prosecuted for acts against civilian law. The republican side cant say that it was a war but wrong to shoot dead their people in Gibraltar. Until that question is ultimately answered, both sides with cherry pick and hypocrisy will hang heavy for the duration.

  • Nevin

    This alternate link to the Government statement also contains a link to the treaty:

    2. The Commission shall not do anything in carrying out its functions which might:

    (a) prejudice the national security interests of Ireland or the United Kingdom;

    (b) put at risk the life or safety of any person; or

    (c) have a prejudicial effect on any actual or prospective legal proceedings in Ireland or the United Kingdom.

    Senior figures in government and in the paramilitaries, past and present, can sleep easy.

    1. Following receipt of an eligible family request for information about a death within the remit of the Commission, the Commission shall seek information about the death:

    (a) through intermediaries appointed for this purpose; and

    What are the chances of perpetrators of violence finding their way into the ranks of these intermediaries?

  • Robin Keogh

    I do not envy anybody charged with the job of tackling this issue. It seems on the face of it at least that it will be a victim centred approach. Addressing the needs of victims is far and away more important than satisfying the requirements of a media hiding behind so called public interest concerns.

  • barnshee

    Which is why the charade will continue

  • barnshee

    They are already in

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    “Too long a sacrifice/Can make a stone of the heart”

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Do we know whose decision/request/insistence it was that the material be destroyed after the 5 year life of the Commission? Has there been any explanation given? What agenda is being followed? Is it just a not quite a carrot to um … incentivise those with info to spill the beans?

  • Granni Trixie

    Respectfully, there is a serious flaw in what you write in referring to ‘sides’,’unionist’,’republican’. There are people in NI who weigh up incidents etc during the troubles in moral terms rather than respond on sectarian lines.

  • Karl

    Thats a fair point but one that only continues the current malaise. Civics law is codified and written down, so too are the ‘rules’ of war. This gives a basis for movement, judgement and justice. One persons moral compass is subjective and so every killing would be judged on countless sliding scales of morality.
    Time to bite the bullet or forget about the whole thing

  • Thomas Barber

    Whats the point in having this commission if both governments, especially the British government, can quote National security to cover up any embarrassing revelations from former agents of the state that would link them to the murders of innocent citizens. Recent statements by Lord Justice Weir over the deliberate delaying and withholding of information on the murders of 56 people held by the PSNi to the courts is a stark reminder that the truth will be sacrificed just like the victims. Almost every week we learn more of how callous and criminal the RUC and British intelligence were if there is a shread of truth about the allegations in yesterdays Irish news then what hope have victims families got of getting anything near the truth from any commission controlled by the British government.

  • Thomas Barber

    Indeed Gendjinn and the British government and British politicians have the brass necks to come off with this after a British public inquiry concluded that Putin and the Kremlin “Probably” approved the murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko –

    “Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, demanded a review of the UK’s diplomatic, cultural, political and economic links to Russia,
    including its hosting of the 2018 World Cup as a way of applying
    pressure, and said inaction could “send a dangerous signal to Russia that our response is too weak”.

    Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “These assassins trampled over British sovereignty and we cannot let this go unanswered,” while the Labour MP Ian Austin said: “Putin is an unreconstructed KGB thug and gangster who murders his opponents in Russia and, as we know, on the streets of London – and nothing announced today is going to make the blindest bit of difference.”

    Mr Cameron said he was not ruling out taking further steps against
    Russia over its “unacceptable breach of international law”, but admitted that Britain had to maintain “some sort of relationship with them” to seek a solution to the Syria crisis, something he did “with clear eyes and a very cold heart”.

    Its a pity the British government didn’t practice what it preaches in this part of the world, there would have been a lot less victims it seems.

  • Jollyraj

    “Sam McBride and his headline writer splutter unnecessarily about Martin McGuinness’s role in making appointments to the Commission”

    Uhm….isn’t that like having one of the suspects in a murder investigation picking the detectives?

  • Jollyraj

    No Irishmen in the British Army in them times, then?

  • Thomas Barber

    Is that somehow different than former RUC officers now renamed PSNI officers investigating murders carried out by agents controlled and directed by other former RUC officers ?

  • Robin Keogh

    Then u just end up going round in circles with people believing their position has a highr moral standing. The other day u asked me about morality, what did u mean Gran?

  • Jollyraj

    Uhm yes….since the RUC was not an organization the primary purpose of which was to murder people. While the IRA, of which Martin was a ranking member, was.

  • Thomas Barber

    But the RUC were complicit in murdering people and its not just a few cases it was systematic threfore part of a plan by someone or a group of people in authority. How many people do you have to murder or allow to get murdered in a joint enterprise to be considered as using murder as a primary purpose to achieve a means to an end

  • Robin Keogh

    Probably where a few but it makes no difference to the overall point. Irish men in British uniforms assisting in the various imperial mass murder campaigns are just as culpable in the context of acting under orders.

  • Jollyraj
  • SeaanUiNeill

    The less than obvious qualifier, Ben, is that beyond the obvious notion of an enduring hardening of the heart Yeats is also implying with his stone the “Lapis Philosophorum”, the agency of which is key to transforming the “materia” or base matter through purification into refined matter (simplistically described as “gold”)……..

    As he also said,” all reality lies in layers one inside the other. like Chinese ivory balls……….”

    Oh, the joys of a four year part-time Jungian psychology course as a relief from the stresses of high powered film production!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No sides, just usually atrificial factions within one community…….

  • Nevin

    Gerry Adams won’t be washing any dirty linen in private, never mind in public, following a utility malfunction:

  • Nevin

    Gerry Kelly has been finger-pointing at the Government’s veto. Had he read the treaty he’d have seen that both London and Dublin are exercising the same veto. He also overlooked the vetoes exercised by the alphabet soup of paramilitaries.

  • Robin Keogh

    Yiu have to remember jolly that over the centuries particularly since the mid 1500s tens of thousands of English and scots settled in Ireland . They became irish themselves over the generations but they and their descendants remained loyal to the crown so it was not unsusual for many of them to serve with the armed forces, in fact it was expected they would. My own greatgrandfather, grandfather any father were British soldiers. My uncle was in the RAF.

  • Reader

    So, the circumstantial evidence of your family history suggests you’re a planter yourself? Surnamed Keogh! And what did your ancestors get up to in India?
    Actually, I think your immigrant descent theory only applies to officers, and even then only to some families. Private soldiers chose the army out of a limited set of options available, and ancestry had nothing to do with it.

  • Robin Keogh

    My birth surname is not keogh. I changed my name legally by deed poll to Keogh which is my mothers maiden name and a truly Irish 😉

  • Ernst Blofeld

    Anybody at the top of the republican tree is working for the British state old son..if they didn’t play ball they would end up in a holdall wit suspenders wig and a satsuma in their mouth..although that’s usually the fate of the lads who work for them..they would just do someone in up in a holiday home in Donegal or something Robby bobby…????

  • Ernst Blofeld

    What about the British uniforms yours boyos wear under their suits up at stormont Robby bobby although wee Dennis youse to order lovely Barbara Streisand power suits I here

  • Ernst Blofeld

    you don’t half need a history lesson Robby bobby…by 1641 the planters had married into Gaelic families…London didn’t like that so you get false flag massacre’s… then we have the war of independence in the states which lord Cornwallis called a ulster Scot led uprising(scotch Irish)..then we have the united Irishman uprising Gael and planter united with a few exceptions of course…loyal to the crown…rubbish..and who was against all this REPLUBLICAN planter activity the real crown the real enemy of decent human beings getting on with their lives..all roads lead to the harlot on the hill Robby bobby and if you associate yourself with it your not a Republican…like all of your boyos thethey worship the highest monarch in the world as do their mates in the spooky wookys and the square mile(hiya guys ????)..

  • Ernst Blofeld

    The spooky wookys(hiya guys) ???? have all beardfaces dirty linen they wont give it back the Indian givers..poor bugger went over to London to get at downing Street an all..30 years ago…give it back for gawd sake lads

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “… its not just a few cases it was systematic threfore part of a plan by someone or a group of people in authority.”
    That’s a startling claim – do you have evidence for that?

    We know there were a couple of army units and a few intelligence handlers, operating for limited periods, who took the law into their own hands – terrible, shouldn’t have happened and they should face prosecution along with all the other Troubles murderers, in my view – but we also know their activities account for a tiny percentage of Troubles deaths. They were also, wrong though they were, part of a wrong-headed attempt to bring the Troubles to a halt. We also know the security forces overall saved thousands and thousands of lives in the course of doing their jobs. There is simply no comparison between the security forces and the terrorists, either in terms of their mission, their intent or their impacts – chalk and cheese overall, however blurred things often were in the thankless business of infiltrating and disrupting terror cells.

    Tarring the whole of the RUC for the whole of the Troubles as you do seems to have more to do with partisan flag-waving, at the expense of brave and decent fellow citizens in uniform, than a fair and humane appraisal of the police service’s efforts overall. It comes across as inappropriately glib and inhumane, given the pain meted out on the police for so many years by violent extremists of both stripes. It feels like they are being treated as a convenient lamp-post to urinate against. And yes we know they weren’t perfect. Really let’s have a grown up conversation about security and policing and show more awareness of the great work that was done by so many, for so many years, inconvenient though that might be for Republican narratives.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    And what of the main perpetrators of Troubles crimes, the paramilitaries – what’s your plan for the process of gathering testimony and depositions there. It will be a massive exercise of course and it will take a while to get through all the new evidence and testimony they will be bringing forward – lots to do. I imagine they must be raring to go. Two questions on that:
    – When are they proposing starting?
    – Can they reassure us we’ll be getting everything?
    That’s assuming of course they want to go the full disclosure route as you suggest. I have to say I haven’t heard much about preparations in the Republican camp so far …

  • Thomas Barber

    MU thousands of paramilitaries from both sides of the religious divide were brought before the courts and recieved prison sentences which is a lot more than can be said for all those RUC officers and British intelligence officers who in many cases were complicit in terrorist acts including murder.

    Are you suggesting those same RUC officers and British intelligence officers be allowed to evade justice and victims families be kept in the dark because people like yourself believe either everyone comes clean or no-one comes clean, even though there is evidence there that those same RUC officers ans British intelligence officers were controlling and directing, including arming, others to commit terrorist acts that resulted in murder.

  • Thomas Barber

    “We know there were a couple of army units and a few intelligence handlers, operating for limited periods, who took the law into their own hands”

    This person has a better understanding of what went on than your good self and going by what she and others have said about the numbers involved we can be reasonably sure it was more than just a couple of intelligence handlers and RUC officers acting for limited periods without the knowledge of their superiors.

    “Baroness Nuala O’Loan, the former Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland, said: “When I first heard about it I didn’t think that could be possible. [The state] were running informants and they were using them and the argument was that by so doing they were saving lives. But hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people died because those people were not brought to justice and weren’t stopped in their tracks… Many of them were killers and some of them serial killers.”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Lots of other people know just as much about it and more and disagree with Baroness O’Loan’s views on running agents. In particular, Da Silva came to very different conclusion in his report.

    To be honest I don’t really understand her argument. She seems to want to have her cake and eat it. Either we run informants, in which case they have to remain in situ while the terrorism continues, otherwise they are not informants. Or, we don’t run informants and just try to police against terror cells without inside intelligence. If we choose the latter course, sure, our hands will stay clean and we’ll be safe ourselves – but more people die. Choose the former course and of course we are going to be muddied in the process but more people stay alive.

    I can agree with O’Loan on the extra-legal, ultra vires murderous operations of some of the state operatives – I’m not talking agents here, I mean actually rogue groups within the Army and intelligence service who seem to have sanctioned hits on particular people. That is inexcusable. But from Da Silva, that seems to have been relatively small in scale. Where I take massive issue with O’Loan is in suggesting that the murders of people who got killed by cells in which we had informants are simply the responsibility of the state. That doesn’t make sense, in any realistic appraisal of how you infiltrate and undermine terrorist organisations over time – and that’s perhaps the key, the security forces had to degrade the paramilitaries over the long haul. They couldn’t keep calling every single attack they got wind of and hauling out informers every time, it can’t work like that.

  • Thomas Barber

    De Silva investigated two cases the Finucane murder and the murders of three members of the IRA in Gibralter so how would he have any opinion on the hundreds upon hundreds of deaths that Mrs O Loan and others claim were carried out by state agents.

    The idea that there was rogue RUC special branch officers or rogue members of the intelligence services is nothing more than assumption on your behalf. If you expect people to believe RUC officers can walk in to the RUC armoury, lift handguns without anyone knowing and hand them to terrorists to be used to murder then you must think people are zipped up the back one British intelligence agent even brought a ship load of weapons into the country, do you believe for a second that the security services didn’t know about it.

    The state and especially those who are employed to enforce the law are under obligation to protect its citizens not allow them to be murdered or direct, arm or control others to murder them.

    But predictably unionist hypocrites will jump to the defence of those same people who were complicit in the murders of hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of people but thankfully today the truth is emerging and unionists are running out of excuses to defend the indefensible just like the PSNI and the British army is running out of excuses lately in relation to releasing information to inquests on 95 murders were the victims families allege collusion or shoot to kill rather than arrest.

  • Old Mortality

    Do you suffer from Millar’s Syndrome?

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    There were certainly thousands of people convicted and sentenced to prison time for terrorist offences. That is however not anyway near the full story. For example the vast majority of the murders of police officers remain unsolved. This also holds true for many other terrorist crimes.

    You are not alone in the promiscuous use of the word ‘evidence’. To take your argument to its logical conclusion why not ask why the former Police Ombudsman, who it would seem also suggests ‘evidence’ in “hundreds” of cases, did not proceed to bring successful prosecutions against this legion of uniformed offenders?

    As the investigatory authority in these cases PONI must either have the evidence, or, not. Otherwise it is surely mere innuendo and speculation, is it not?

    If evidence does exist let’s see the prosecutions being brought forward. If it is “systematic” offending it’s not so much looking for a needle as gathering hay.

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont know what that is an it seems google doesnt either

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Thomas, if you read what I wrote again, you’ll see you’ve misrepresented in your post what I said in mine. I’d refer you to Da Silva and I was only repeating his findings (or attempting to summarise them). I claim no better knowledge than him (and I’d be very surprised if you have).

    You might want to read Da Silva more fully. His remit was limited but he had access to large amounts of data on intelligence operations. He came to the conclusion the net effect of running agents was to save many, many lives. The most success was achieved against Loyalist groups, where he said overall there was an apparent correlation between the existence of state agents in terror cells and the reduction of the numbers of killings attributed to those cells. That was not the case for the West Belfast UDA, but they were the exception. He said his findings on those murders carried out at the behest of state agents had to be interpreted in that context. They were appalling and wrong. They were also thankfully a very small part of the overall death toll of the Troubles, though obviously the IRA and its apologists will seek to suggest it was somehow more significant than their own “armed struggle”, which it must be said the IRA weren’t quite so keen to play down at the time.

    You omit the big picture, for obvious reasons – the big picture shows Republicans were the main perpetrators of the Troubles and not its principal victims. The security forces lost over 1,100 people during the Troubles and caused about 363 deaths. Republican paramilitaries murdered over 2,000 people and Loyalists almost 1,000. The majority of the people killed in the Troubles were either members of the security forces, Ulster Protestants or both. And the vast majority were killed by Irish nationalists, not unionists. So please, enough of the pointless attempts to recast the security forces as “aggressors” and the IRA campaign as some kind of rearguard defensive action reluctantly undertaken. That’s a massive lie as you well know.

    In a sense Republicans have never stopped attacking the security forces. Their self-righteous hatred used to take the form of murder, now it’s focussed on trying to cover their tracks by keeping as much public focus as possible on security force errors during the Troubles, to the exclusion of the main story of the Troubles, that of the merciless, depraved Republican onslaught and the equally bad Loyalist terrorism that developed as an appallingly wrong-headed response. Defending the security forces against the exaggerated claims of their opponents is hardly defending the indefensible, it’s pointing out the inconvenient truth for Republicans (and Loyalists) that their nemesis were on the whole decent people doing a necessary job as best they could. I’m not defending wrong-doing by members of the security forces at all, I apply the same morality to all whether in uniform or not. They weren’t all perfect and there was some seriously appalling things done by members of the security forces too. They may account for who knows, maybe up to 3-4 per cent of Troubles deaths – very significant and not to be ignored. But not 60 per cent.

    And the fact is, the vast, vast majority of the many tens of thousands of citizens who served in the security forces during the Troubles did so admirably. Do you not accept that, or do you not think it matters? Criticising wrong-doing where it happened is fine and you have my support in that. But by over-generalising that into wildly unfair assertions about what the security forces were like overall, you wrong a lot of decent people doing a thankless job. Is it really worth it? Just to somehow show how much better the Irish way is than the British way? There is no future in that kind of thinking.

    Here’s a radical suggestion: how about we treat all the crimes of the Troubles as something to be angry about regardless of who carried them out? And bear in mind, most of the crimes you’ll want to get angry about if you do that will be Republican crimes. That’s not to make a partisan point, just to insert some perspective here. Republicans getting self-righteous provokes exhausted sighs from everyone else who put up with their stupid terror campaign for so long.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Figures on how many of the 3,000+ Troubles murders actually got a successful prosecution vary. But it seems to be the vast majority of them. There were only a few hundred where the courts actually managed to get a conviction. The most likely wrongdoers to get away with it were Republicans, though of course many were convicted of lesser offences like IRA membership, possession of firearms, etc. The proportion of murders by the security forces themselves that ended up in a successful prosecution is about the same as for Republicans – both very low. There was a much higher conviction rate for Loyalists. Doesn’t quite fit the Republican ‘state sponsored death squad’ narrative, but then they never were ones to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    yes they are exactly like the Suffragettes. “Votes For W**kers” might be their slogan 😉

  • MainlandUlsterman

    … and legal terms. It simply wasn’t a ‘war’ in legal terms, or indeed in any meaningful way. Sorry to be a pedant. It’s not just Republicans that get it wrong, there’s plenty of sloppy use of the term from others. It’s quite interesting how the term has come to be used for all sorts of different reasons. But as Roy Walker used to politely say to the latest vacuously terrible guess on Catchphrase, “It’s a good answer but it’s not right.”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it’s pretty simple: it wasn’t a war. And soldiers can be prosecuted for murder, there’s no problem with that. The reason some unionists complain about it is prosecutions being sought against former soldiers while being resisted against former paramilitaries. They are right, aren’t they, if we’re being consistent here?