Collusion - a conspiracy of silence

The British media's coverage and treatment of events in the north treatment reveal where their press priorities lie, writes Mick Hall

AS THE media once again disengages interest from the north after reporting Michael Stone's attempted attack at Stormont on 24 November, it seems clear where British press priorities lie.

It could be argued coverage of the transitional assembly meeting to nominate first and deputy first minister would have been lost amid less tedious stories emanating from the 'home counties,' if it hadn't been for the loyalist's antics.

DUP leader Ian Paisley's refusal to be nominated as first minister and Peter Hain's fudging of his 'last chance' deadline may not have been significant news for the majority of people in Britain.

Mr Hain's continued refusal to face down an almost quasi-fascist element of unionism in its refusal to abide St Andrew's plan for devolution should be of interest to every one on these islands - regardless of the antics of mentally deranged triggerman.

The consequences of unionist misrule have impacted tragically on the lives of people both in Britain and Ireland during the past 35 years and beyond. It could conceivably do so again.

Political violence has subsided with the IRA campaign subverted and defeated, so that the north's news worthiness has naturally, as a result, diminished. Even journalist Owen Boycott is reported to be finding it increasingly difficult selling articles to his newspaper, the Guardian. But we are not simply witnessing a benign process where focus on implementing a formula for social justice and democracy in the six counties dissipates as that process progresses forward.

The prevailing trend of British media disengagement has been mirrored by British government attitudes to implementing this formula as a requisite to peace in Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

The Good Friday agreement (GFA) has not been implemented.

The St Andrew's proposals to revise and implement the GFA are being used by unionism in an attempt to recreate a unionist statelet of Northern Ireland. Elements of the DUP are refusing to attempt the D'hont system of power-sharing with republicans, instead insisting on a system of majority rule. Section 75 equality legislation within the NI Act 1998, designed to decisively deal with the structural discrimination at the heart of the northern state, is being dismantled word by word under a current review.

The same inequality that sparked the 1968 civil rights uprising and subsequent cycle of insurgency and counter-insurgency is being reinforced by political policies of unionist civil servants. Britain's direct ruler Peter Hain is currently attempting to protect the same civil servants from investigation for perverting the course of justice in the High Court in Belfast.

It seems Britain is lapsing dangerously into a pre-1968 mindset of complacency, the same mindset that turned a blind eye to unionist misrule and supported its hegemony in the absence of war. During this period, so long as unionist inequity and lawlessness remained off the political radar in London, the unionists could rule as they wished. The parallels today are very real.

It seems, unbelievably, after 35 years of war, the lessons of history are being overlooked. And exacerbating this political myopia is the British media's acquiescence to it. The media's refusal to give appropriate coverage to reports uncovering widespread collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British state agencies is instructive in this respect.

Every thinking editor knows it happened. Over 1000 republicans and Catholics were killed with help from state agencies during the conflict. Evidence that British agencies colluded in upholding unionist hegemony is irrefutable. But why isn't it printable? Well, for one, to acknowledge it would challenge the still prevailing narrative that Britain was simply an impartial arbitrator between two warring factions in the north. And to acknowledge that it wasn't impartial then would help inform the public that it is still impartial now.

An international report published on 6 November, found "credible and significant" evidence of security force collusion in 74 murders carried out by loyalists. The four-strong panel of legal experts investigated 25 cases involving 76 murders between 1972 and 1977 found that senior RUC officers were aware of and condoned sectarian crimes carried out by other officers.

The report concluded, using existing evidence in the public domain, that RUC and UDR members helped train loyalist paramilitaries and provided information and ammunition.

The report found that senior government officials knew about UDR collusion as early as 1973 and were aware that RUC members had paramilitary links by at least 1975.

The legal team was asked to investigate the 25 cases by Derry-based human rights organisation, the Pat Finucane Centre. Most of the cases relate to the activities of the loyalist 'Glennane group' and focused on murders along the border and mid-Ulster. In all but one of the cases the panel found evidence of RUC and UDR collusion.

The panel, including a former International Criminal Court investigator and a professor of law at Notre Dame University in the US, urged the British government to establish an independent inquiry to establish how much senior government and police officials about collusion.

The experts took testimony from former RUC officer John Weir in twelve cases where he alleged RUC and UDR collusion, eight of which involved firearms. In seven of these cases, Mr Weir's allegations were corroborated by RUC ballistics reports.

The report has been sent to the British and Irish governments, while the panel has met victims' families in each of the cases.

Among the allegations investigated were:

  • The 1974 murders of 34 people in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings;
  • The 1974 killing of a Catholic man Patrick Molloy (46) and Protestant man Jack Wylie (45) when a bomb exploded at Traynor's Bar in Kilmore, Co Armagh;
  • The 1975 Miami Showband murders of five people who were killed when a bomb was planted in their minibus at a bogus UDR checkpoint. The gang opened fire when the bomb exploded prematurely;
  • The 1972 murder of Pat Connolly (23), a Catholic bricklayer who was killed when a grenade was thrown into his home;
  • The Gilford minibus shootings, which killed father-of-12 Joe Toland (78) and father-of-two James Marks (51).

The report found British government investigations into controversial murders "inadequate". The panel said the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team (HET), established earlier this year to investigate the conflict's unsolved murders, did not meet "international standards for investigations". The HET has established a 'White Team' to investigate killings were state collusion is suspected, based in London.

The report published a series of recommendations, including the establishment of an independent investigation into allegations of collusion in murders and attempted murders by loyalists, which can identify those involved and examine not just possible RUC and UDR involvement but also that of British army and intelligence agencies.

It also recommended the British government publicly acknowledge its responsibility for sectarian killings where collusion has been established.

Did any British editorial even address the subject after the report's publication? No. The report failed to even get a mention in some tabloids, while the broadsheets give it limited coverage.

So, why was evidence that state-sponsored death squads had killed 76 citizens of the United Kingdom during the 1970s not worthy of a national outcry or calls for further investigation? Is this a case of editors and British politicians internalizing the belief that the dead were mostly from "a terrorist community" and that the end justified the means? Probably.

It seems clear the republican peace strategy removed overt censorship from the British airwaves, but could not affect its insidious role of reinforcing the status quo by ignoring its undemocratic realities. In denying these realities they are upholding a legacy of hate.

Mick Hall's article was written prior to the publication, in January 2007, of the report of the Northern Ireland police ombudsman which identified widespread collusion between British security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. Although the report itself received significant coverage in the British press on the day following its publication -- it could hardly have been otherwise given the gravity of the report's conclusions -- it has been followed by a return to the deafening silence characteristic of the mainstream media in Britain. It is difficult not to conclude that, as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, 'normal' service has been resumed.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2007-01-30 11:46:01.
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