Watching a preview of tonight’s fifth episode of Spotlight on The Troubles: A Secret History left me feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. Not out of surprise, or at the scale of atrocities featured, but out of disillusionment at the actions and powerful words of so-called leaders of the community. Condemning republican violence out of one side of their mouths, while encouraging sedition out of the other.
Unionists may well have felt under siege, with UDR, RUC and prison officers (mostly Protestant) being targeted. They may have felt let down by the UK government. But they ended up setting fire to their own principles.
Disappointed that victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer could have been so intimately involved with arming loyalist paramilitaries: Mandy McAuley names Frazer as Johnny Adair’s main contact for accessing Ulster Resistance weapons. His involvement makes a mockery of his funeral epitaph of being a “forthright advocate for the victims of republican violence”. There’s nothing forthright in helping arm paramilitaries who will kill your enemies under the nose of the police and security services.
Disappointed with a senior DUP figure, now MP for East Antrim, wearing a city council mayoral chain on the Ulster Hall platform at the launch of Ulster Resistance, while warning people to “keep vigilance” against anyone using a camera or tape recorder, and saying that the meeting was “here this evening to mobilise and pledge ourselves to prepare to withstand the force which is going to be used against us”.
Disappointed with Peter Robinson’s attempt to put a paper-thin airgap between those on the platform (Paisley, Wilson, Robinson, etc) who were happy to wear military-style berets and those who would supply and use arms, saying “none of the speakers here this evening is a commander of this body, we are satisfied knowing as we do those who are, that they are in earnest and will do nothing to engage the displeasure and judgement of God, the dissatisfaction of our people, or bring dishonour to our great cause”. I think Robinson may have failed on all three fronts.
Disappointed with Ian Paisley, a Christian minister and political leader, applauding while an effigy of Margaret Thatcher was set alight. Disappointed for him standing in the Ulster Hall and being willing to promise “to give this movement [Ulster Resistance] my undivided support. I will give it whatever political cover it needs”. That’s a statement we might have expected to hear Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness make as Sinn Féin representatives speaking about the IRA, but not from so-called leaders ‘loyal’ to the crown. Though those representing the crown have questions to answer too … Disappointed that he would later speak from a platform while
Disappointed with so many unionists for swallowing this poor leadership for so long. Like McGuinness, Robinson and Wilson may have changed, but he still has questions to answer. Not that any of this is new, but watching it be said is powerful.
Within weeks of the Ulster Hall rally, Ulster Resistance began searching for weapons. Seemingly, not an organisation out of control, but one acting out their strategy of becoming a firm deterrent, given the lack of the distance the DUP figures have ever put between themselves and the movement.
The programme accuses Noel Little of sourcing arms, a shipment that in 1987 was split three ways between the UDA (immediately intercepted), UVF (lost a short time later) and Ulster Resistance, whose stash of automatic rifles, grenades, rocket launchers were not stored up in case of some doomsday scenario but were shared with the other organisations and can be tied back to murders including Michael Stone’s Milltown cemetery attack.
The programme also discusses the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, the actions of informer Brian Nelson (not the only agent being run by the army’s Field Research Unit), and hears testimony from respected journalist Chris Moore who saw evidence of collusion as loyalist paramilitaries shared information from military intelligence files on potential republican targets.
The programme segment looking at collusion inquiries is also unsettling, though unsurprising.
An unexplained fire in the office of the Stevens Inquiry on the eve of arresting Brian Nelson.
The Stevens Inquiry discovering that all but two of those they arrested were ‘touts’ working for one or more security agency. The programme makers estimate that the army ran around 500 republican agents.
MI5 turning up at Judge Cory’s collusion inquiry offices and removing and wiping clean the hard drives of the computers “in the interests of national security” … though the original files had been printed out for backup.
More questions to be answered from those who should have acted with integrity rather than impunity.
Spotlight will be screened at 9pm on BBC One NI and BBC Four.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.