By Relatives for Justice Director Mark Thompson
In the run into Christmas intensive talks took place on dealing with the legacy of the past chaired by senior US diplomat Senator Richard Haass, and Harvard Professor Meghan O’Sullivan.
A failure to secure agreement saw the return of the US facilitators post the seasonal break into the eve of the New Year in a committed effort to secure a way forward.
A clearly exasperated Senator Haass laid the blame for a failure to publicly sign up to a process squarely at the door of political unionism. The British government too were found wanting in their serpentine weaving and positioning behind political unionism that ironically is out of sync with the silent majority of victims within their own constituency who, like the vast majority of victims across the community, want a truth process.
The reason that the British government weren’t in the initial stages of these talks was to secure the participation of unionism amongst the local parties firstly that would ultimately create a process that would by its holistic construction end up including both governments.
It was a process that unionists and the British government didn’t want, even though the outcome was a compromise on a proper independent international truth commission. Unionist participation was all about the optics and not outcome. It was about continuing perpetual agony for ‘their victims’ – convenient for political capital rather than resolution. Unionists and the British want the truth only about what republicans did.
Nationalist and republican representatives supported the compromise position that thus far has arguably provided the best proposals for dealing with the past for those bereaved and injured. Sinn Féin was the first party to endorse the proposals for all victims confounding many sceptics and others who had previously said that they wouldn’t endorse a process. This too caused consternation internally within republican ranks with undoubtedly serious challenges ahead. Despite this and in conversation with myself post the endorsement of the Haass/O’Sullivan proposals; both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness said that this was the right thing to do for all victims. It was welcome leadership that put the issues of victims and survivors first. Privately many ordinary unionists hurt by republicans also welcomed Sinn Féin’s willingness to find a way forward.
Up until then the British government hadn’t been faced by a set of proposals facilitated independently, endorsed by republicans, and that would draw them into the frame concerning their actions during the conflict too.
It is speculated that after the elections this May a further paper on taking forward the published proposals facilitated by Senator Haass and Prof O’Sullivan will be again presented. These we understand could have the imprimatur of US Vice President Joe Biden.
It is in this context that several developments have occurred by the British governments unelected representative to the North of Ireland, Theresa Villiers, and her NIO (Northern Ireland Office) department and old guard gatekeepers within the PSNI. They have vested interests that conflict with transparent accountability for the past. They wield considerable power and internally within the PSNI there is a battle for power.
Recently we had the fiasco of the unraveling of the OTR (on the run) presented as an amnesty when clearly it was nothing of the sort, but whipped up hysteria and hyperbole, notwithstanding the understandable upset caused to some. The timing of this was interesting to say the least.
Then we had a disgraceful speech by Theresa Villiers who sought to distract from the state’s duty to account for their actions by saying that the focus on any future truth process should be on those who were responsible for the most violence and that there was too much focus on the state via inquests. She added that the state would also have to use public interest immunity – gagging orders concerning its role.
Of course the proposals facilitated by Haass/O’Sullivan did not bring inquests within their remit for domestic and international legal reasons. Many of the inquests which remain outstanding concern state killings and will ultimately prove problematic for the British government given more recent international judgments on their failure to properly investigate and hold to account state perpetrators.
However, the reality on the ground also contradicts Villiers’ claims that there is too much focus on the state as it is only non-state combatants who are being arrested regularly, charged and convicted. Despite widespread documented evidence of officially sanctioned state murder and collusion members of the state’s armed forces, intelligences services and political establishment have not been arrested, charged or convicted. They remain protected and above the law.
The Villiers statement also referred to the state ‘only’ being responsible for 10 percent of deaths during the conflict. Not only is this insulting but this constituency of victims of direct state violence represents the biggest percentage of those who have experienced impunity and continued cover-up even during the transitional period with the exposure of the PSNI’s discredited Historical Enquiries Team’s (HET) preferential treatment and ultimate protection from prosecution of British soldiers. This 10 percent figure does not take into consideration collusion between the state’s armed forces and intelligence services with illegal death squads that are well documented and when calculated at a conservative figure would take that 10 percent to around 30 percent. And that’s from what we know now and without a proper truth process.
The arrest of Gerry Adams must be seen in the context of the British government ratcheting up the gears in an offensive aimed more at influencing and seeking to limit the potential of any future truth process in which their accounting is minimized and somehow seen differently to that of other actors to the conflict. However, the reality is that state policies of murder with impunity are much worse than that of non-state actors that are accountable within the criminal justice framework of that same state. That is if people want to make comparisons on victims.
These actions resemble those witnessed in the run in to the ceasefires and peace process periods where these same government controlled ‘security’ and intelligence agencies armed loyalism and directed state sanctioned murders on an unprecedented scale in advance of negotiations seeking to pressurise and ‘condition’ the republican and nationalist base into accepting less within the talks process. It was also about breaking a nationalist consensus on the island of Ireland and within the US. Thankfully it failed otherwise we might not have had a peace process. This time it is end game positioning on a truth process.
It is also within that frame that sections within the PSNI act in concert with the NIO and British government’s current agenda. Part of the PSNI’s intelligence section controls all matters concerning addressing the past and is comprised of an old guard of the RUC’s notorious Special Branch, which itself was up to its neck in collusion and murder. These ‘former officers’ also largely form the PSNI’s Legacy Unit that determines the flow of information concerning all conflict related incidents and recommends where public interest immunity should be the order of the day. And because they retired and were then rehired as civilian and consultant staff they remain outside the accountability remit of the Police Ombudsman.
Remember this is the same old guard that along with Theresa Villiers and Matt Baggott absurdly issued a High Court injunction on Relatives for Justice and KRW Law within hours of us receiving public documents concerning state killings and a collusion death in a bid to prevent our examination of these killings. At every turn they seek to prevent scrutiny of their actions and political interference is common practice alongside vested interest. Yet some media appear more concerned with asking whether or not Sinn Féin support the police. These are the same media that failed to ask Theresa Villiers whether or not her utterances on the past were an attempt to interfere with the judicial process on inquests or if there is an agenda within policing and ‘security’ about shielding state perpetrators.
In all of this the family of Jean McConville again find themselves in the eye of a media storm coping and seeking justice, which they deserve. The McConville family has admirably struggled publicly and privately with the horrendous abduction and murder of their mother – a gross human rights violation of which even the hardest of republicans struggle to understand let alone justify. Many people will be shocked to learn in recent hours that for years the PSNI, including their predecessors the RUC, were told by the McConville family that they knew the identities of those who abducted their mother yet the authorities have never once acted on that information or even taken a formal statement. Given that this is one of the most focused on killings of the conflict that revelation is earth shattering. But then again this has also been a killing used by many as a stick with which to beat republicans and a major propaganda tool in which the McConville family objective of justice is not always shared and that tells us everything, as the British agenda for some years now has been to pursue Gerry Adams. This too has become an interest that others have become fixated with in the past two decades.
So for now it is all about deliberately skewing the focus of any future truth process and advance positioning.
We need an independent human rights compliant truth mechanism that addresses all of the outstanding deaths and actions of the past for all those affected and not as we currently have – a State controlled process where one key protagonist to the conflict determines how the past is dealt with whilst continuing to grant impunity to its own.
#Time4Truth – An Fhírinne anois.