An untold part of the collusion jigsaw in Loughinisland

loughinislandBy RFJ Director Mark Thompson

“My next door neighbour taught me how to drive when it should have been my Daddy…my uncle brought me to buy my first car when I passed my test when it should have been of my Daddy. My brother got married and Daddy wasn’t there and he has grandchildren he didn’t get to see. We were robbed of all that…”

The words of Emma Rogan who was only eight when her father Adrian Rogan was murdered along with five other men at the Heights Bar, Loughinisland, on the evening of June 18th 1994, as Ireland played Italy in the soccer World Cup Finals at the Giants Stadium in New York.

Emma provided just a glimpse of the immense human cost behind the very public campaign concerning the Loughinisland Massacre. Six others who were also shot survived the attack. The mental and physical scars – the trauma – are very much still present – the past is ever present in Loughinisland, as it is in many other areas throughout the country where life was so cruelly and violently taken.

Loughinisland is a small rural community that until that fateful day was relatively untouched by the conflict; in fact you’d miss it, as it’s not that easy to find, as I can attest to. It is an unspoiled area of natural beauty and paradoxically extremely calming.

Like so many of the bereaved and injured of our conflict one of the questions families initially asked was why – why us?

Promises to leave no stone unturned were soon replaced with police inaction, evidence not acted upon, evidence destroyed, suspects not arrested and it wasn’t long until the families found their way to human rights lawyer Niall Murphy and RFJ.

Six men were killed in Loughinisland on 18th June 1994
Six men were killed in Loughinisland on 18th June 1994

Loughinisland fits into a familiar frame in many regards, appearing on the face of it to be a ‘random sectarian attack’ in which condemnation by officialdom is swift and sharp and all the above promises are made. Keeping it simple for everyone being the objective – the ‘two extremes’ and ‘the men and women of violence’ need to be apprehended and brought to justice. At the time Sir Patrick Mayhew and the RUC Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley, led the charge on this front positioning themselves as the voices of reason and all that is right in contrast to all that was shockingly wrong.

Of course there was so much wrong going on behind the facade of officialdom and its hollowed words.

The seeds of the peace process had taken root and were developing in private with ceasefires within touching distance. This despite those opposed to it.

One of the key international figures involved behind the scenes was the influential Irish/American businessman Bill Flynn, appointed as a Special Emissary by the Clinton administration.

The Tory government in London, whilst denying being involved in secret talks with republicans, held onto power by a slender majority that also relied on Ulster Unionist votes and along with ‘rebel’ Tories often threatened to bring a vote of no confidence in their government if they ‘caved into or capitulated’ to republicans. So we got precondition after precondition to talks by rejectionists.

Unionists were vehemently opposed to any terms of a settlement with republicans. Then UUP leader Jim Molyneaux later said of the IRA ceasefire that it was the biggest threat to the north since partition.

There were also those within the ‘security’ agencies, later described as ‘securocrats’, who also shared this view and who would militate against the peace process. They displayed a tunnel vision through a singular lens of defeating of the IRA.

Bill Lowry, former head of RUC Special Branch, would later publicly address a DUP gathering arguing against any form of government with republicans stating that “…when you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas..”. His mask, and that of the organisation he headed, had long since slipped.

RUC Special Branch even let ordinary RUC members and British soldiers, including within the UDR/RIR, be killed to protect agents within the IRA. If they’d do this to their own then what exactly were they capable of doing to everyone else?

When compared, dogs and fleas were the least of it.

RUC Special Branch, British Army Intelligence, and MI5 Secret Service, used their combined agents within loyalism to rearm loyalist paramilitaries with weapons imported from South Africa. At the heart of the plot was the DUP’s Ulster Resistance.

The only purpose of seeking these weapons was for murder. Nothing else.

In an RFJ research report (Collusion  published in 1995 we documented 229 murders from the period of the importation in late 1987, and first used in 1988, until 1994 in which collusion was a feature, many of which were directly attributable to the imported weapons.

Arder Fegan, himself a victim of collusion left with serious injuries, led that research assisted by others and myself. We were harassed, detained and threatened in the course of that work by the RUC on numerous occasions. Our details were passed to loyalists.

In his report (2) the Police Ombudsman, Dr. Michael Maguire, linked 70 killings to the VZ58 rifles to the shipment, which also included 9mm Browning pistols and other weaponry. Killings by the latter pistols and arsenal have yet to be detailed officially.

After the weapons importation the RUC abandoned its policy of making public the ballistic details of weapons used in loyalist killings and attacks. However, they continued to make public these details in respect to republican actions.

We also discovered more recently that RUC Special Branch ran its own secretive and shadowy Weapons and Explosives Research Center (WERC). Through WERC Special Branch were able to cover the tracks of its agents involved in murders by withholding evidence and deliberately providing false ballistic and forensic details as was evidenced in 18 murders in East Tyrone in the inquest into Roseanne Mallon. Special Branch and WERC were also used to obtain and return a weapon to the IRA through an agent that was then used to kill two RUC officers in Queen St., Belfast, in 1990.

The combined agendas of loyalism and the intelligence agencies acted in union as nationalists and republicans were using to great effect the democratic influence of the US in terms of advancing peace and moving the British government of the time from a place of complete intransigence to one of embracing a process.

With inevitable talks on the horizon, limiting the potential of republicans and nationalists to influence and negotiate in all party talks became a focus for the British, who in part were neutralised from doing what they liked, given the direct US involvement. And what better way to pressurize and limit that potential than by targeting the very community that would itself bring an internal pressure to bear in the midst of sectarian onslaught as each side held out in bids to extract concessions and positions from one another in advance of ceasefires and political talks.

There was also the British military ‘Operation Banner’ the stated objective of which was to defeat the IRA, not to defeat loyalism. It was very much still in play with securocrats within the three intelligence agencies whose sole purpose was to break and defeat republicans. This agenda lasted throughout the peace process and beyond and the origins of many of the newer groups involved in conflict today can be traced back to that warped objective.

It is absolutely no coincidence that the capacity of loyalists to kill increased dramatically following the shipment of weapons, allied with the leaking of thousands of intelligence files on nationalists and republicans.

It is absolutely no coincidence that during secret talks between the British and the IRA that the war intensified with the state’s intelligence agencies using loyalists as their proxy.

It is absolutely no coincidence that nationalists were targeted at their places of work, where they socialsed, where they gathered, and in their homes.

It is absolutely no coincidence that road-checks and regular patrols were lifted and cameras on interfaces switched off.

It is absolutely no coincidence that republicans, their families, including women and children, were also deliberately targeted.

It is absolutely no coincidence that the majority of collusion murders remain unsolved.

This was about creating fear and fear was very palpable.

It was all deliberate and carefully planned. And that doesn’t mean that every single RUC member was a part of this or that they all took part. There were detectives that sought to investigate, sought to bring people to justice and that did happen. But it didn’t happen concerning agents placed at the highest levels of loyalism who were directing murders and attacks and who in turn were being directed. And the same applies to Freddie Scappiticci and others within republicanism. And it didn’t happen to agents who pulled the triggers, as is the case in Loughinisland. Ultimately the UK government is culpable.

The above was a place where none dared go. And there were many others within the RUC and UDR/RIR who worked hand in glove with loyalism, tipping them off about planned arrests and raids, using their positions and access to information for attacks and cover afterwards.

So in the policy framework that is collusion why was Loughinisland chosen?

Loughinisland is the ancestral home Bill Flynn. His grandparents hail from there and it is a place very close to his heart and a place he always visits while in Ireland.

In seeking to weaken the US influence – in sending a message directly to the US and good people like Bill Flynn – Loughinisland was deliberately chosen. It too was absolutely no coincidence.

The timing of the attack too was significant as both Bill Flynn and the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, two key figures in the development of the peace process, were at the Giant’s stadium in New York watching the same soccer game that the people in Loughinisland were also watching on TV as the murderous attack took place.

Both men were also discussing the work to date in terms of a possible loyalist ceasefire as Bill Flynn had made several key visits under the radar to meet loyalist leaders, always encouraging them towards peace.

That is the political context of Loughinisland; the combination of those opposed to peace, having to deal and negotiate with nationalists and especially republicans on terms they didn’t control or set at the time, the pace of a process they weren’t fully in control of and which they didn’t initiate, and the naked sectarianism of the people who simply wanted to kill Catholics all combined. That is in part the why.

That is the untold story of collusion jigsaw in Loughinisland.

A change of government in London in 1997 went some distance to a change in attitude towards embracing the peace process and eventual talks.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness developed a working relationship with Tony Blair and now talk openly about some of the then private meetings away from officials where they built on that relationship including an understanding of the conflict in which Blair acknowledged, privately at the time, the practice of collusion and of the many killings that took place, stating that Thatcher was directly responsible. He also went further saying he’d have never sanctioned it. But he did publicly cover for it and this cover-up needs to now end.

The combined roles of the three key state intelligence agencies, RUC Special Branch, British Army Intelligence, and MI5 Secret Service, require to be examined in the context of the shipment of weapons and the appalling vista of collusion that has so awfully impacted across our community and Island.

For his part Dr. Maguire has focused his investigations on the RUC. The other two agencies must not be allowed to escape investigation.

It is not good enough for Theresa Villiers and the NIO to release a press statement that contextualizes blame solely on RUC Special Branch when the coordination of all ‘security’ matters resided with the joint Tasking and Coordination Group (TCG) comprising of all the state’s intelligence agencies. Notwithstanding that ultimately London is responsible.

This was sharply brought into focus in the De Silva Review, which describes events at a meeting in Downing St. attended by senior RUC, including Special Branch sensing that they might be left carrying the wrong end of the stick, who requested better guidelines for agent handling. In refusing the request Margaret Thatcher and her officials told them to carry on regardless; the absence of legal guidelines themselves forming a crucial part of the collusion policy.

There is a massive accountability gap concerning state violence and collusion. What is increasingly frustrating for families is the persistent phrase that prosecutions are not achievable.

Of course this gap only exists for those members of the state’s armed groups and intelligence agencies whilst non-state combatants are arraigned before the courts and pursued. Not to mention that during the conflict approximately 25,000 of those who opposed the state (republicans) collectively spent over 100,000 years in prison.

There is a clear accountability gap that gets drowned out in all the shouting about the ‘one-sided approach’, complaining about ‘the only focus is the state’, and the ‘rewriting of history’, which really seeks to silence victims of collusion and state violence. This revisionism needs tackled head on.

It is an indictment of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) that even on the lesser end of the prosecutorial scale from the deliberate destruction of evidence, perverting the course of justice, to protecting agents involved in murders, the same rigour applied to non-state entities is absent concerning members of the state’s forces and agencies. Given the scale of what has unfolded in recent years not one single member of the British army, police, or intelligence services has appeared before a court. Even when the state directly pulls the trigger these killings lie buried deep in the black hole that is the PSNI’s Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB) with endless excuses as to why there are incessant delays.

Impunity remains a reality rather than being challenged. The threshold of evidence for prosecution of members of state forces, we must therefore assume, is greater than that of others. If not then it is a matter of extreme political sensitivity that governs decisions. Whichever way they remain above the law. This requires challenge.

The question that arises again and again is why isn’t the evidence placed before a jury to decide? The challenge now resides largely with the PPS.

It was bad enough that families were targeted through collusion and then subject to perfunctory – pretend – investigations. To now be let down by the PPS is heaping insult on top of grave injury.

If there is one good thing that can be taken from Loughinisland, if such a thing can be said at all, it is that people like Bill Flynn rather than being deterred, redoubled their efforts for peace in the aftermath.

Apart from addressing the human impact of Loughinisland and losing her Daddy, Emma Rogan also spoke of being let down by deliberate failure after deliberate failure on the part of the police. She also spoke of the hurt caused by Theresa Villiers when in February Ms. Villiers described Loughinisland, as being a ‘pernicious counter narrative’ when in fact her intelligence agencies, including the NIO that wrote her speech, knew full well the full facts.

These hurtful and odious comments required retraction.

Emma also said that she has had to seek out truth, and now seek accountability and justice for her Daddy when others should have done so.

Hers, like all those affected in Loughinisland, is a story of remarkable courage and conviction in which accountability and justice are their rights and their entitlements.

The PPS and other justice agencies should focus on these rights instead of shying away from accountability simply because of who the actual perpetrators are.

Time for truth – time for justice!