‘Collusion’ was RUC strategy, not RUC failing: #Loughinisland

State collusion was a ‘significant feature’ in a loyalist gun attack in Loughinisland in June 1994, according to the latest report published today by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. You can read some commentary over at The Detail here, while the publication of the full report is awaited (it is now published here).

The timeline of the Loughinisland investigation should be crushingly familiar at this stage. First there was a non-existent RUC investigation, then a flawed report by the Police Ombudsman, in 2011, which was eventually set aside. The current Ombudsman now reports that he has “…no hesitation in unambiguously determining that collusion is a significant feature of the Loughinisland murders”.

Interestingly, one of the most critical points that has already emerged was the extent to which the RUC did not even ask their agents and informers for the kind of intelligence which could have prevented attacks such as Loughinisland. A practice which, to some extent, is much more damning indictment of the RUC than a failure around a single incident. However, the cumulative data on RUC failures means we have long moved far beyond credibly taking any single failing and discussing it in isolation. According to the report issued today, “The RUC investigation of the Loughinisland murders is punctuated by unexplained delays in arrests; the loss of potential forensic opportunities; and what might be described as inconsistencies or anomalies. These issues are indicative to me of poor professional judgment and practice, if not negligence, by the police officers responsible for the investigation.

That last sentence is somewhat redundant in that a variant can be found in pretty much every report into the activities of the RUC. So these are not RUC failings, they are RUC strategies. ‘Collusion’ (in whatever sense the term is used) was an RUC strategy, not some incidental RUC failing.

Sadly for the families and others involved, though, as with pretty much all the historical investigations it is very unlikely that anything much will happen following the publication of the report (except for the arrest of the odd republican or loyalist necessary to make a token claim to be ‘doing something‘). Legal actions are crushed and ground to a crawl by judicial processes designed to outlast the life expectancy of all but the youngest of victims and relatives. The British government, which ultimately holds access to significant armouries of data and records, has never been sufficiently held to account by any court, agency or organisation for the actions of those under its direct and indirect control. Pretty much all of the information that slowly gets dragged kicking and screaming into the light of day could have been released rapidly and without any of the attendant stresses on victims and their families, if the British government wished to do so.

Similarly, there won’t be voices in official Ireland willing to articulate a real sense of anger at findings such as those from Loughinisland. In reality, their first concern will be dampening any possibility that the net result that might see an increase in support for Sinn Féin or other republicans. Instead, there will be reasonable tolerance of any degree of collusion or state participation in violence against communities in Ireland. Victims and their relatives, and even ‘truth’, are no longer politically convenient (other than where they are politically expedient).

To paraphrase Roy Greenslade, portrayals of the conflict in Ireland are completely underpinned by mechanisms of self-censorship operating within the British media [to which you can safely add Irish and local Belfast media] which desire not to see history being rewritten so much as history being eradicated. Understanding Loughinisland requires a contextualisation in the long term practices of using operatives, at arms length from the state, to carry out ‘terrorist’ attacks in the pursuit of the state’s political goals. Such a systematic programme of education would be the antithesis of the public information strategies adopted by Irish mainstream towards the conflict in the north. Under these circumstances, the Loughinisland report will get some token public sympathy but will be followed by nothing of substance. The nationalist disengagement from politics in the north isn’t happening in a vacuum confined to the electoral arena. But even those wishing to simply ‘eradicate history’ in the north should have learnt the lesson by now that underpinning the political status quo with injustice is not a viable strategy.

You can check out more here… or view my history blog here

  • Reader

    Thanks to the hard work of lawyers like Pat Finucane in the past, supergrass trials have an effectively 0% success rate these days, as you need corroborative evidence. I think a lot of previous convictions were overturned on appeal.
    Well done chaps.

  • Jollyraj

    Nope , he is suggesting that fighting in NI pre-dated Gusty Spence.

  • Reader

    MainlandUlsterman: In summary, the report says was that one part of the police, waging a long-term strategic campaign against Loyalist terror groups using informers inside them, scuppered the investigations of police colleagues on this case, lest it compromise the bigger anti-terriorist operation.
    We’re not often at odds, but I think we are here. I can understand that an intelligence agency would not want to sacrifice an informer until they have recruited a few replacements – and that is because of the “long-term strategic” considerations [which I suppose may be as much political as operational].
    BUT when there are informers all over the place it’s time to start using them to save lives. Too much empire building in the intelligence agencies.

  • chrisjones2

    Sorry but doesn’t the Ombudsman have police powers if he thinks a crime has been committed?

  • chrisjones2

    No but lots of people only mention one side and infer there was some sort of preference. What about the collusion with Republican informers though?

  • chrisjones2

    Apparently the Ombudsman has said that the DPP told them they have no evidence to lay charges.

  • chrisjones2

    …but politically handy opinion pieces

  • Kev Hughes

    Which is pretty gobsmacking in view of the report. It would appear that the ball is in the court of the DPP now…

  • chrisjones2

    …but if that is the case the DPP would surely say so. What did the DPP say

  • Jollyraj

    We are rapidly approaching the point where Republicans are calling every instance of the police failing to prevent the IRA and Loyalists from killing people “collusion”. The word thus loses all meaning.

  • Barney

    Its clear there is an attempt to discredit the Ombudsman and hence his criticism of the RUC without directly tackling his report. That is decidedly dishonest. Those who self describe as defenders of the rule of law seem to be falling over themselves here to defend the indefensible.

    Specifically Gopher makes a number of allegations; the ombudsman produced a report not to find the truth but as a work generating scheme. He accuses the ombudsman of having a predetermined outcome. He accuses the ombudsman of being unprofessional and biased.

  • submariner

    The Ombudsman is as far as I know not a republican

  • Barney

    Which reports do you take issue with and when are you going to present your evidence that demonstrates how these reports are wrong?

  • Jack Stone

    It seems that there is often two standards for police and for common citizens. Certainly, this looks like there was widespread perversion of the course of justice within the RUC. But what is the point? Truth. It also opens up civil remedies which will be explored. It also further proves what previously was dismissed as narratives. Sometimes prosecution is not the best outcome (especially in historical inquiries) Truth for the victims, truth for the families, truth for the people who’s public trust was abused by the RUC’s Special Branch.

    According to the police ombudsman’s PSNI surveys, former members of the RUC are something like 20-30% although because those would differ based on who was surveyed i haven’t seen a real number but I would be surprised if it was less than a quarter. These actions seem systemic during the Troubles.

  • Jack Stone

    The DPP hasn’t said anything yet to the best of my knowledge, but I would expect that the next step would be a targeted investigation by either the PSNI or (more likely to succeed) a Senior Investigating Officer and a team of detectives from other UK law enforcement agencies to look into issues of corruption, negligence and collusion within the RUC/PSNI. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. It is pretty clear where theresa villiers believes funding should be spent.

  • Gopher

    I was making clear I believed there was a crime sometimes one feels you have to state the obvious on Slugger. ie I was making it clear I was not putting forward any justification for the murders

  • Cagey Feck

    I’m not a fan of your argument here Jarl. Collusion worked in myriad ways, covering many separate incidents of betrayal of the country’s citizens, via both independent actions by state representatives and by the culture of the institutions. You seem to take this fact and twist it into a pseudo-legalistic ‘well if it isn’t one single prosecutable offence, it doesnt exist’. This is disingenuous at best.

  • Gopher

    My apologies for the length Reader but I thought the report overlooked some fundamentals.

  • Gopher

    I think I am directly attacking the report, the possibility that paramilitaries can be intelligent or lie is totally discounted. Anyone involved in collusion should be punished, this report brings us no closer because all the Ombudsman wants to do is put everything in a sack hit with a stick and say “Gotcha”. As I said in the intro I am looking at it objectively and I fully understand why people would be emotional about it.

  • Cagey Feck

    Oh lordy, it’s the ‘you started it’ farce again. Did the OIRA predate the UVF?

  • Enda

    It was a war instigated by the the Unionist government, there were plenty of civil disturbances before the IRA became a force. The IRA were all but done for since the ’50s border campaign by the start of the conflict.

    Paisley and his loyalist thugs instilled fear in the unionist population; blowing up water treatment plants and blaming it on a dormant IRA – which instilled a larger divide between an already divided community.

    The gerrymandering bigots in Stormont are who began this conflict, and because those people, and their minion pigs (RUC/UDR) ruled the roost, they got away with whatever they bloody wanted for many years.

    That doesn’t excuse all of the innocent deaths caused by republicans during the conflict, but the unionist regime are the catalyst for many things that happened, and if the DUP had there way – would be again.

  • Jollyraj

    I think it was the Normans as ‘started it’

  • Jack Stone

    Does this mean the RUC was colluding with the IRA terrorists when they made attacks on innocent people through republican bombs? Maybe. There is some evidence that the RUC Special Branch or M5 knew in advance of the 1993 shankhill road bombing, did nothing about it but tip off their contacts in UDA . it is also said that the IRA operative who planned the 1993 Shankill Road bombing was an informant and may have tampered with the fuse to cause the bomb to detonate early to kill civilians and put pressure on a faction of IRA to give up the “armed struggle”. If true, it seems like wilful negligence to me …

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    In common with all”constables” PONI investigate (including arrests to gather evidence – from interviews under caution of suspects), then submit their files to the PPS. The DPP directs the prosecution, if there is evidence to merit such a process.

    Should the evidence be lacking, or needing further investigation to support it the Director can return the file to PONI for further work.

    In this instance it seems PONI did not pass the first hurdle – submitting a file to PPS.


  • phil doherty

    No am suggesting that ALL of them are in the wrong and what ALL of them did was morally bankrupt, and quite frankly disgraceful! The ballot box not the bullet box is the way to solve problems…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I entirely agree reader.The only possible justification for such engagement between the police and violent men must be that lives are being saved not simply that the flow of intelligence is being maintained. If non-combatants are being sacrificed in some numbers game “for the greater good” then the sophistry of such evaluations may be twisted any which way those deciding on life and death for ordinary members of our community may wish to explain their behaviour. And we end up with the kind of cynical corruption which permits Kincora to develop.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No Jollyraj, far from it:


    But seriously, the real point is not to simply apply blame on any one people or circumstance of itself, but to evaluate the impact of particular moments of history on the present and on who and what we are at this moment. The Tudor Conquest established a culture of dispossession through violence which pointedly rejected the kind of cultural absorptions that earlier armed incursions had developed into. And its encoded tropes for the planter culture, unchallengable political dominance and physical force, were clearly evident in the Unionist response to Home Rue in 1912. These tropes then become strategically repeated by Nationalism, and so on until what we have today. Movement of peoples, violent invasion even, are inevitable in history, but its how they develop that will bless or curse future ages. To my thinking ,many other directions were actually taken by movements and individuals within the plantation itself, one of which would lead to 1782, the Irish Volunteers, and a positive engagement between protestant and Catholic which would ensure that the first Catholic chapel in Belfast was collected for by protestant fellow citizens, in what was romantically called “the Athens of the North.”

    Those late eighteenth century Irish Volunteers of the five Belfast companies are just as much an aspect our inheritance as protestants as those men on the north bank of the Boyne or on “Ulster day”, and their benign example deserves our respect in its inclusivism and generosity. I’m certainly proud to think that an ancestor of mine was active in the Second (or Blue) Company.

  • Mark Dingwall

    The article is tendentious tripe – It might be an idea for those crying collusion to actually read Dr Maguire’s report – https://www.policeombudsman.org/getmedia/2952cfb0-4403-4e31-a349-e0a2b632e089/Loughinisland-Report.pdf?ext=.pdf

  • Jollyraj

    “Oh lordy, it’s the ‘you started it’ farce again.” He says with the righteous indignation of the Irish Republican.

    Then he blows his own sniffy seizure of the moral high ground by claiming we started it anyway: “Did the OIRA predate the UVF?”

    ‘Tis the unthinking, relentless demand to have their cake and eat it, too, that makes the Irish Reps so very difficult to deal with. No compromise, no acceptance of personal responsibility.

    Also explains the SF position on the EU. Bitterly critical of it to harvest votes from the ignorant, but demanding ever more funding from it.

    Most be a terrible affliction, the Republican syndrome.

  • Cagey Feck

    Sorry, you’ve misunderstood me there. I wasn’t trying to say ‘it was yousuns’, I was trying to say how silly it is to just pick a point in history and say ‘next one who fights is the one who is to blame for everything’. It was clumsily stated, I admit.

    I’ve no idea why you’d draw the conclusion that I’m an Irish republican either, let alone lump me in with a bunch of PIRA types (the two are not the same, do you realise?)

    Still, on the topic of ‘who started it’ I think it’s pretty ludicrous to go all the way back to the Normans. The conflict in Ireland is ancient, yes, but the form of the argument has changed beyond recognition with the advance of world cultural history. Modern nationalism (please note the small ‘n’) is centuries more recently invented than the Norman invasion.

    That said, I have taken on board Seann’s well argued point about the violence of the 20th century, and how different things could have been had we not imported a bunch of guns and made a war for Irish independence an inevitability, rather than the constitutional route which I now realise had more potential than I’d previously thought.

  • Kev Hughes

    You tell me, have you asked them?

  • Skibo

    Then why was he snubbed by the original investigating officer?

  • Skibo

    Don’t see your issue. The problem is with the states involvement with terrorist groups on both sides. We have to ask what type of information is worth the lives of those that could have been saved?
    The level of collusion seems to be different depending on the which side its is for.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    There is no basis for saying that. I consistently condemn state misdeeds and support calls for prosecutions where criminal. Your problem with me seems to be that I don’t forget about the fact police have also to infiltrate and degrade terrorist organisations using informers. You seem to be suggesting it’s “collusion” when they run agents and there’s a crime. The only answer to that would be not to run any agents. That would suit the terrorists of course but I suggest it’s not a great strategy for reducing terrorism longer term. Surely we can agree that has to be the police’s main goal in any situation like this? We need a mature debate about long-term anti-terrorist policing strategies and agent-running in paricular. Cries of “collusion” can sometimes be very misleading. I’ve heard some voices talking about Loughinisland as if the police was in some way responsible for the murders, in cahoots with the UVF. But the report showed very clearly that wasn’t what happened at all.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Excusing the state murder of their loved ones” shows you have read neither the report summary nor my post. Or if you did, you didn’t understand it. If you can’t answer, fine, but the personal abuse, accusing me of having no sympathy for relatives I just expressed sympathy for, is way out of line. You owe me an apology for that groundless accusation of personal bad faith and dishonesty.

    You have to accept that someone can disagree with you on the topic of anti-terrorist policing strategy and the implications of police mistakes, without having malign intent. It’s really not good enough just to resort to personal abuse when someone disagrees with you, no matter how many upvotes such self-righteous point-avoidance gleans.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You may well be right that this could have been the right time to pull the informer. I don’t know. I’m just saying, that is the real moral dilemma, and criminal justice dilemma here. How do you balance the policing needs of long term infiltration and undermining of terrorist groups – requiring informers to be in situ for long periods – with the duty to pursue criminal justice fully in each case. It’s easy to say as the ombudsman did, screw the infiltration, just wait for the murders then prosecute. Problem is you get more murders and fewer prosections then (Da Silva said he was convinced that was the case, on the evidence he saw of the overall record of running agents in Loyalist groups). It’s nowhere near the easy call it’s being portrayed as here. Ongoing terrorism places police and intelligence agencies with agonising moral choices not of their own making.

    That’s not to say they got it right completely every time. But really we should be able to have a grown up debate on this. And the police certainly should not be regarded as “colluding” with terrorists every time they choose to keep the agent in rather than pull. It makes no sense.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    And how do you square your view with Chapter 5 of Da Silva?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    We need a proper public debate about what is meant by the word “collusion” – and frankly, less misleading language. People are talking about Loughinisland as if the police did it or waved it through somehow. Seems to be because of word “collusion”.
    Maguire and O’Loan before him have been rather mischievous I think. Motivated by personal distaste for intelligence-led policing and agent-running? Reminds us lawyers (and I used to be one) often care more about the law than people’s actual lives. The life-saving effects of intelligence-led anti-terror policing is of little interest to them.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The definition of “collusion” here is so wide though that it makes it well nigh impossible to run an intelligence-led anti-terrorism strategy. Ombudsman mistaken to use the term here.

  • Ciaran O’Connor

    After 1000+ unsympathetic words you close with 8 to try and spare your blushes. I stated that I and many others could not believe that closing eight word sentiment given the callousness of the previous 1000 words. Its clear that many others on this site agreed with me.

    The only people owed an apology are the families. You may direct yours to them.

  • Gingray

    Um, no, you do not.

    Seriously, a quick glace over your previous comments shows that you have went out of your way repeatedly to downplay the role of the state throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland.

    Even now, you are trying to undermine the very serious level of collusion between state forces and loyalists.

    From the report, at the very least, are very serious accusations of collusion:

    The RUC was aware of South African weapons being brought into Northern Ireland in the late 1980s with Special Branch having an informer in the loyalist group
    that imported them. 0 arrests, and the weapons have been linked with over 100 murders.

    When the RUC made an attempt to seize the weapons several years later, a police source alerted the Loyalist gang to the raid. No weapons recovered. 0 arrests made.

    You have a fundamental lack of empathy for Catholics and their concerns with the state.

    You just do not get it, which is why it worries me that you have been boasting about how you plan to bypass the democratic process to get a vote in Northern Ireland.

  • Gingray

    Chapter 5 is interesting.

    It talks about state forces nullifying the UDA in the late 1980s.

    My understanding is that the state did not acknowledge that the UDA was a terrorist organisation until 1992?

    So, the Police are “nullifying” an organisation that the British Government claimed was not a terrorist organisation.

    Of course that was ok in your eyes, the UDA was only murdering Catholics, they dont count, and the occasional Protestant, but they left the English well alone!

  • Gingray

    Jollyraj – the report was issued by an agent of the state. Hardly a republican?

    Unfortunately we are still at the point where hard core Loyalists, such as yourself, refuse to acknowledge that on quite a few occasions officers within the RUC colluded with Loyalists and Republicans to allow murder and mayhem to continue.

    Its just a pity that, despite all the evidence, you want to pretend the state did nothing wrong.

  • Gingray

    I agree!

    It looks like informers within the provos operated more in line with a long-term strategic plan (ie getting SF to sign up to powersharing, something the UK Govt had chased from the early 70s), but it was much looser within loyalism.

  • Gingray

    “What about”
    Classic Chris – blame the other guys!

  • Jollyraj

    I’m neither hardcore, nor Loyalist. I just don’t agree with Irish Republicans on many things. Not agreeing with you does not make me ‘hardcore’ anything.

    I think the state did fail on some occasions, for sure, and a few within the security forces probably crossed the line. Though I don’t think it is legitimate of you to look at this outside of the context wihin which it occurred. And certainly not to indulge the ridiculous fantasy that it was the rule, rather than the exception.

  • Gingray

    My bad! Just the only people I have seen call the Ombudsman a Republican have been hard core Loyalists!

    I have no idea how much collusion went on, but the governments repeated refusal to come clean on this (for matters of national security no less) implies that it is much more than just a fantasy.

  • Jollyraj

    I haven’t called the Ombudsman a Republican. Not sure where you got that idea from.

  • Gingray

    In response to the post from John, you replied with the following:

    “We are rapidly approaching the point where Republicans are calling every instance of the police failing to prevent the IRA and Loyalists from killing people “collusion”. The word thus loses all meaning.”

    The Ombudsman claimed collusion was a ‘significant feature’ in a loyalist gun attack in Loughinisland.

  • Jollyraj


    I said Republicans were calling every instance of police failings in preventing Loyalists and indeed Republucans from killing people ‘collusion’.

    The ombudsman isn’t doing that.

  • Gingray

    It kinda looks like he is.

    Or are you implying there are a lot more police “failings” than I was aware of?

  • John Collins

    Or John Stalker

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the state was treating the UDA, or parts of it, as a terrorist organisation long before membership was officially outlawed, in terms of infiltrating it and investigating crime from within it. There was way too long a delay in changing its official designation – totally agree, that was anomaly for at least a decade. The reason lies in the genesis of the UDA as an open, mass membership organisation, based around community vigilante groups. The sheer numbers of working class men who were ‘members’ without actually being anything to do with the terrorist part of it made outlawing it less straightforward practically than for other groups like the UVF or RHC. The UFF, its pure terrorist element, was outlawed and the logic was, that did the job. But I agree it was an anomaly and it gave the impression, probably wrongly, of not being even-handed.

    I say ‘probably wrongly’ because of course there is ample evidence the police were very vigorous in their work against loyalist terrorism and achieved both a better conviction rate against Loyalists and for much of the Troubles, massive success in cutting the Loyalist murder rate; much more so than against Republicans. (Da Silva and others looking at the mass of evidence have praised the police for their work in that area.) That by the way was in no small part due to running agents inside the gangs.

    If we miss that context we have little chance of a fair appraisal of informer-running flashpoints like the aftermath of Loughinisland.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Just weird and libellous.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “After 1000+ unsympathetic words you close with 8 to try and spare your blushes.”
    So in short, you’re choosing to interpret my words by cutting out any you prefer to pretend I didn’t say. I may have spotted the flaw in your approach …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    lots of us are tackling him on the basis of reading the findings not just the headline – albeit in summary. The “collusion” headline is the problem here. The ombudsman seems to have been either naive or mischievous in his use of that term. It has led to the widespread misrepresentation of the findings in the media, even usually responsible outlets going with that headline without checking it against the rest of the summary. Some very poor journalism over this.

  • Gingray

    Well then, a new low is reached when you start defending the state not declaring the UDA illegal.

    MU, I get you cannot see your own hypocrisy, complaining about the IRA on multiple threads, while defending loyalist murderers.

    Most of us here, trying to make this a better place, recognise that all sides have a degree of blame, for you, from your ivory tower looking down on us, there is an acceptance that state compliance in the murder of Catholics was ok.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You’re going to have to explain yourself here – there’s some pretty wild stuff in there.
    “Defending the state not declaring the UDA illegal.”
    So what I said was actually: “There was way too long a delay in changing its official designation – totally agree, that was an anomaly for at least a decade …”
    Please try to respond to my actual words rather than your own version of what you think I must have said. As I always say the beauty of this medium is it’s all written down for you to refer back to. Maybe use that facility slightly more, might be a suggestion.
    “Defending loyalist murders” – you can’t just accuse people of defending murders without citing some evidence or quoting where I have done that. I absolutely have not. Are you aware of libel law? Slugger O’Toole certainly is. Carry on with this stuff and you’re going to get reported. You are not allowed to make defamatory stuff up about people and publish it. You need to withdraw that sharpish.
    “… there is an acceptance that state compliance in the murder of Catholics was ok.” See above – again defamatory and without foundation in anything I have said. If I said anything like that, quote it, or retract and apologise. Your call.
    In the meantime I am making the moderators aware.

  • Gingray

    Sorry, now you are making me laugh. Keep up your threats, I really pay them no heed.
    This entire blog you have been defending loyalist murders – you have made excuses for the cops colluding to ensure nobody was ever prosecuted, you are making excuses for why the state did not proscribe the UDA (a group whose members killed a lot of Catholics including relatives of mine during that period).
    Oh I get that you have a load of caveats, but its just plain sickening, both your making excuses for all these crimes, and yet the hypocrisy you show every time the murders committed by the IRA are mentioned.
    One view for Catholic deaths, one for Protestant.

  • Thomas Barber

    “The “collusion” headline is the problem here. The ombudsman seems to have been either naive or mischievous in his use of that term”

    British agents import hundreds of weapons into this country with the knowledge of their British handlers, British agents collect same weapons from their point of import with the knowledge of their RUC special branch handlers, British agents use those same weapons to murder 70 people and here you are suggesting the Police Ombudsman is being mischievous or naive in coming to the conclusion that RUC special branch and British intelligence colluded with their agents.

    The findings of the Smithwick tribunal that there was collusion by the PIRA and members of the Garda in the murders of RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan was warmly welcomed by unionists even though its judgement was based on probability rather than fact and here we have fact based evidence that state agents were allowed to import weapons, state agents were allowed to transport those same weapons to safe locations and state agents used those same weapons to murder 70 people and yet unionists like yourself are now calling into question the Ombudsmans integrity and his intellect although thats not surprising as the same people, like yourself, tried the same tactics with Naula O Loan the former Police Ombudsman but facts speak for themselves and the evidence just keeps pouring in about the level of collusion between British intelligence, the RUC special branch and all the paramilitary groups who carried out the thousands of murders.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    By “British agents” do you mean Loyalist paramilitaries who had turned informer? It seems you are again using a broad term to present a misleading picture. “British agent” suggests police service personnel, intelligence officers or perhaps soldiers; what we’re actually talking about here are grasses inside the Loyalist terror gangs. The ombudsman was clear it was important for the state to develop those kinds of relationships. Calling them “British agents” seems to me to be seeking to mislead the reader into thinking the actions of these informers were necessarily directed by the state. Da Silva was really clear on his review of the evidence that that was not the general picture at all.

    If we agree, as everyone who has reviewed the security situation does, (including the ombudsman, Da Silva, Stevens and all the rest) that running *and keeping* informers inside the terror gangs was essential to the policing effort against terrorism, then it seems quite wrong to take such an unsympathetic approach to the real policing dilemmas they faced – in particular, the tough call on when to leave an informer in and when to pull.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    For some the use of the term “British agent” must sit well with that of the word “collusion”. Both are used pejoratively to suggest an overarching, all encompassing conspiracy to do down the nationalists, directed on the explicit minute orders of Downing Street (if not Buckingham Palace).

    Commentators on random Internet discussion sites are of course at liberty to deploy such language at will, it harms no one (and you can be sure that despite all their “evidence” they will shy away from actually naming names – although the names of senior police and Army officers of the times in question are in the public domain). However it is a very different thing when a person in a position of authority is equally promiscuous with such language.

    It would be amusing, if it were not for the human tragedies involved, to note the avoidance of discussion by those selfsame posters of “British agents” within the nationalist terrorist machines.

    It is right to underline, yet again, that none of the now numerous inquiries into the use of informants by the security services (what can be referred to as ‘intelligence-led policing’) has found any malfeasance at the strategic level.

    These inquiries have also expressed an understanding of the imperatives of using informants within the ranks of terrorist organisations.

    And yes many of these people were not very nice individuals. But I strongly suspect that the average clean cut upstanding member of any society would find themselves part of a terrorist gang in the first place.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    i agree. One of the most worrying aspects of those kinds of empathy-free critiques of anti-terror policing is what they suggest about how we might go about policing against terror groups in the future. Little thought seems to be given to the implications. If the ombudsman report approach were to be applied now, we would have to move in and arrest all the informers we currently have inside terror groups.

    We need democratic accountability for the running of informers – much more so than there was in the Troubles – but the reality is given the nature of the work, that’s going to have to continue to be through structures like the Intelligence and Security Committee in parliament, which has been doing this since 1994 (http://isc.independent.gov.uk/home). I’d be interested in their view of the ombudsman’s apparent assumption we should always go in and arrest as soon as we have the evidence. It seems to leave little room for longer term agent-running operations.

    One observation about the end of the Troubles is worth at least raising here for consideration – that is that all the main paramilitary groups were by 1994 riddled with informers and were privately admitting the resultant confusion and mutual mistrust in their ranks was damaging morale. That happened by informers being left in place for quite long periods, not pulled the first time their cell committed an act of terrorism.