Robin Wilson: Why Government and the North of Ireland parties don’t want you to know the truth about the Troubles

Programmes such as BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History are the closest we’ll come to separating fact from fiction in our turbulent past, argues Robin Wilson

The scene from Bloody Friday while (from left) Willie Frazer, Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness and former priest Patrick Ryan were all involved in terrorism, according to Spotlight On The Troubles

The compelling BBC Northern Ireland series Spotlight On The Troubles was subtitled ‘A Secret History’. Yet, its subtext really was the truth commission Northern Ireland has never had, but should, as Amnesty International, supported by many victims and survivors, recommended six years ago.

Watching as a professional journalist the first thing that needs to be said about the series was that it was searingly honest and objective, probing and poking for the truth in the best traditions of investigative journalism.

Some of the region’s best and brightest were involved in its production, and only a public service broadcaster like the BBC would be willing to invest the huge time and resources needed for such a massive project.

The Canadian academic Michael Ignatieff once said that truth commissions limit the scope for “permissible lies”.

The nearest thing Northern Ireland has had to one is David Park’s excellent novel The Truth Commission, but truth has never matched fiction, because, as Amnesty complained in 2013, neither the UK Government nor Northern Ireland’s political parties have wanted it to see the light of day. And Spotlight On The Troubles showed why.

The former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police John Stevens confirmed, on the basis of his three inquiries in Northern Ireland (one of which was mysteriously disrupted by a fire at its headquarters near Carrickfergus), that collusion had indeed taken place between soldiers and police officers and loyalist paramilitaries engaged in sectarian murder campaigns.

The series evidenced several instances of such collusion. It highlighted the role of undercover Army units, such as the Force Research Unit, and of the British intelligence service MI5 in running agents in the paramilitaries, though the journalists were unable to gain access to what they revealed at the end to be a secret store of relevant MI5 documents.

It was frequently claimed during the violence by UK ministers that the British state representatives only ever operated within the law in Northern Ireland – such assertions the series demonstrated to be risible.

But nor did the paramilitaries escape the fullest censure – especially those among their leaders who reinvented themselves as “peacemakers”.

As first revealed by another tenacious investigative journalist Ed Moloney in his 2002 book, A Secret History Of The IRA, Gerry Adams was responsible for the setting up of the “unknowns” unit of the organisation in the 1970s in west Belfast to “disappear” alleged civilian informers, such as a Protestant mother-of-10 Jean McConville. The idea was to avoid the opprobrium the IRA would incur by its role in the executions becoming known.

Jean McConville’s body was only found by accident decades later, buried on a beach in Co Louth. Adams, often a loquacious media interviewee, refused to co-operate with the BBC NI series.

As for the late Martin McGuinness, he was – as again Moloney first revealed – “northern commander” of the IRA when northern command authorised the “human bomb” tactic.

In 1990 Patsy Gillespie, a civilian cook at an Army base in Derry, was strapped into his van with a bomb and forced to drive to a checkpoint, where he and five soldiers were remotely blown up while his family were held hostage by the IRA.

Both these sets of actions constituted war crimes under the Rome Statute of 1998 – coincidentally the year of the Belfast Agreement, where Adams and McGuinness were prominent at the talks table – establishing the International Criminal Court.

The loyalist paramilitaries came across in the series as unapologetic thugs. Hannah Arendt, attending the trial of Adolf Eichmann for Nazi war crimes in Jerusalem in 1961, famously observed that he represented the “banality of evil” – and so did they.

They were the perfect foot-soldiers for those whom political scientists now call “ethnopolitical entrepreneurs”, leaders who exploit division to rise to power. And, of course, the Northern Ireland example par excellence was Ian Paisley.

Not only did the Spotlight team give chapter and verse on Ulster Resistance, the outfit Paisley and his then DUP sidekick and successor as First Minister Peter Robinson, established to resist the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, the series also documented the extent of Paisley’s involvement in the initiation of the violence in 1969, when UVF bombs deliberately engendered a climate of fear.

Paisley, the programme showed, provided funding for this campaign – belying his characteristic trope of denying that any responsibility could ever attach to him for the violence enacted by his supporters.

So, no wonder we have yet to see a Northern Ireland truth commission, despite the positive experience of more than 20 such bodies around the world – principally in Latin America – in recent decades.

Confusion has often been caused by the usage “South African-style truth commission”, as if that were a model, when, in fact, the immunity it conceded to perpetrators from the-then still-powerful white minority who confessed to their crimes made it an outlier. Truth and justice for victims and survivors can – and should – be pursued in tandem.

Nor has the Northern Ireland “peace process” become a model internationally, despite those who came to advocate this with latter-day missionary zeal.

For, as Spotlight documented, it in no way broke with the abrogation of universal norms – especially of human rights and the rule of law – which characterised the preceding violence.

It merely replaced attempted repression of the IRA by the British state with a realpolitik process of private deals with the Adams/McGuinness leadership.

Which leaves us with the moral quagmire we remain in today, with no democracy at Stormont and with all the sectarian actors continuing to treat politics as the continuation of war by other means, fighting over the narrative of the Troubles.

At least Spotlight On The Troubles has narrowed the scope for their permissible lies.

Dr Robin Wilson is an expert adviser to the Council of Europe on intercultural integration and author of The Northern Ireland Experience Of Conflict And Agreement: A Model For Export? (Manchester UniversityPress). He is currently general editor of Social Europe

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Robin Wilson for the original story 

John McDonnell signed a letter calling for MI5 and armed police to be disbanded

Labour’s shadow chancellor claimed he had not seen or signed the controversial missive, but a picture has emerged of him holding the list of demands

Jeremy Corbyn congratulates Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell after his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton Photo: Heathcliff

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, called for MI5 and the UK’s armed police force to be scrapped in a controversial campaign letter.

A picture has emerged showing Mr McDonnell holding the letter earlier this year, despite claims that he had never seen or signed it.

It demands that special police squads – like those that hunt terror suspects – be disbanded, as well as the Monarchy and the House of Lords.

Mr McDonnell called for special armed police forces to be disbanded Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The letter, organised by The Socialist Network as part of their “Socialist Campaign For a Labour Victory” was also signed by a group of Labour-supporting unions.

Mr McDonnell was present at the meeting where the demands were drawn up, despite claims made by his spokesman that he had not seen the letter.

In a tweet accompanying a picture of him holding the list of demands Labour’s shadow chancellor said the campaign: “Is important for ensuring a clear program of socialist demands on a Labour government”.

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And a report about the meeting where the letter was agreed claims Mr McDonnell gave a speech.

The Socialist Campaign report added: “John talked about developing a left policy agenda for the Labour Party, but also the need for a politically solid network of socialist activists to create a “head of steam” around it.

“We discussed the draft statement launching the SCLV and agreed to add demands on the vital issue of childcare.”

“Disband MI5 and special police squads, disarm the police,” the letter states

Mr McDonnell’s support for disbanding the police came as David Cameron criticised Labour’s leader Mr Corbyn for his criticism of the shoot-to-kill policy

He said: “Has it not come to something when the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is not sure what the police’s reaction should be when they are confronted by a Kalashnikov-waving terrorist?”

Labour MPs responded to the letter with fury, with one telling the Sun: “We are about half an inch away from meltdown”.

The letter also called for deportation of failed migrants to be scrapped, an end to tuition fees, high taxes for “the rich”, “free abortion on demand”, big cuts to military spending and Trident to be scrapped.

With many thanks to: The Telegraph and Kate McCann, Senior Political Correspondent for the original story 


KILLER Billy Wright ‘given dossiers by the RUC/PSNI and used them to target families of republicans’

Question: David Hoare Notorious UVF leader Billy Wright was working as an agent for Special Branch and the FRU, senior security forces have told the BBC.

And according to the sixth episode of Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History, Wright’s predecessor as leader of the Mid-Ulster UVF, the late Robin Jackson, had also been recruited as a state agent.

Jackson, who led the UVF terror campaign in Mid-Ulster from the 1970s through to the early 1990s, is thought to have been personally involved in up to 50 killings during the Troubles.

He had been arrested in 1973 for involvement in a murder, but was never prosecuted despite being identified by the wife of the victim. Charges were dropped, and a number of security sources have told the BBC they believed that was when he was recruited in return for avoiding prosecution.

Former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan told the BBC: “My understanding would be that he was a murderer, a prolific murderer, a very, very dangerous and ruthless man. They never investigated him.”

The BBC claims Jackson’s murder gang included soldiers and RUC officers.

Billy McCauley, a former police officer and accomplice of Jackson in the murder of a Catholic shopkeeper, told the programme: “It would have been a case of meeting republican terror with even greater loyalist terror. That would have been the rationale.”

The programme’s research shows the number of attacks on Catholics – particularly on family members of those connected to republicanism – by the Mid-Ulster UVF rose dramatically when Wright took over as leader of the organisation.

Retired Detective Chief Inspector David Hoare, part of the Historical Inquiries Team, said evidence suggests the RUC didn’t try hard enough to stop the UVF murder gang.

“Forty odd murders and so few people convicted – to me it tells a tale in itself,” he said.

“It raises the question: did the RUC try hard enough or were they not good enough to deal with Mid-Ulster UVF?

“I don’t buy the argument they weren’t good enough.

“They were certainly good enough.”

He also revealed a catalogue of missing evidence in cases relating to the Mid-Ulster gang when he went to reinvestigate the murders of Kevin and Jack McKearney in their butcher’s shop in Moy in 1992, 13 years later.

The McKearney family had strong IRA links, though neither of the victims had involvement with paramilitarism.

“Crucial evidence had been lost,” he said. “A partially destroyed jacket found in the getaway car had disappeared.”

He also revealed in 1998 that hundreds of police files, including those on killings in Mid-Ulster, had been destroyed because of reported asbestos contamination.

“I can’t say how huge the destruction of the records was,” he said.

“There were health and safety measures that could have been taken to clean those exhibits safely, but that wasn’t done.”

Police told the BBC the evidential loss was minimal.

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Mark Bain for the original story 

RTE defends broadcasting film branded ‘misleading’ by corrupt ex-officers

Guilty As Charged

The abandoned getaway car used in the Loughinisland Massacre was recovered by the RUC/PSNI off the Listooder Road between Crossgar and Saintfield

RTE has defended its decision to broadcast a controversial documentary about the Loughinisland atrocity – following a complaint from former police officers that it created a “misleading scenario” for viewers.

The film No Stone Unturned is largely based on a leaked, unredacted Police Ombudsman NI (PONI) report, with the subsequent final report the subject of an ongoing legal challenge.

The scene at The Heights Bar in Loughinisland following the innocent UVF murders in June 1994

Six Catholic men were shot dead by a UVF gunman as they watch a World Cup football match at The Heights bar on June 18, 1994.

Although a number of suspects were arrested and questioned in the weeks after the attack, no one has ever been charged or convicted of involvement in the murders.

In his June 2016 report, ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire stated that police ‘collusion’ with the UVF killers was a “significant feature” in the atrocity.

This public statement was made despite the fact that no individual officer was identified as being guilty of any criminal offence, or having breached the police code of conduct in any way.

Relatives of the six men murdered by the UVF at Loughinisland  – Adrian Rogan 34; Malcolm Jenkinson, 53; Barney Greene (the oldest man ever to be murdered in the Troubles), 87; Daniel McCreanor 59; Patrick Phage, 35, and Eamon Byrne, 39. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Both the PONI report and the film, which was directed by US film-maker Alex Gibney, accuse the police of destroying vital evidence when they disposed of the killers’ getaway car.

However, the NI forensic science service confirmed to the News Letter earlier this year that the Triumph Acclaim car had been stripped of all forensic opportunities before being released.

Within weeks of the PONI report’s publication the NI Retired Police Officers Association (NIRPOA) successfully sought a judicial review.

Mr Justice McCloskey announced the outcome of the judicial review in December 2017 – delivering a scathing judgement including a finding that the former officers were, in effect “accused, tried and convicted without notice and in their absence”.

The judge found that the ombudsman’s ‘collusion’ determination was “an outright and unqualified condemnation”.

However, lawyers for the ombudsman then formally requested that Justice McCloskey step aside to allow another judge to rule on whether the PONI report should have certain passages removed.

Having reviewed the case, in November 2018 Mrs Justice Keegan overturned the McCloskey recommendation around the PONI’s authority to determine that collusion had occurred.

Former UDA leader Johnny Adair told the BBC Spotlight programme that the confidence of loyalist paramilitaries grew after an arms shipment from South Africa in the late 1980s
BBC Spotlight: UDA leader Johnny Adair…
The Court of Appeal is now considering an application from the retired officers that the Keegan judgement is overturned.

Ahead of the RTE broadcasting No Stone Unturned last week, the NIRPOA wrote to the broadcaster saying that in the interest of fairness and impartiality, the viewer should be made aware “that the content of the OPONI report on which the film is based, is not without serious challenge to the veracity of its content or the misleading scenario it presents”.

The retired officers also forwarded web links to all of the related material published in the News Letter over a six-day period in February this year.

The letter requested that RTE would “make it clear that the vehicle used by the terrorists was not ‘destroyed’ and evidence gathering opportunities lost,” as forensic scientists had completed “all relevant forensic examinations” before releasing the car.

In response to the NIRPOA, an RTE spokeswoman said: “RTÉ has taken care to ensure that this documentary meets its obligations under the Broadcasting Act and complies with its own Editorial Guidelines and the Guidelines of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.”

Damning allegation pulled from broadcast

Arguably the most sensational claim in the No Stone Unturned film was cut from the RTE version before it was broadcast last week.

The discarded clip featured former RUC detective constable Jimmy Binns alleging he was present when a fellow detective encouraged a UVF terrorist to “commit a murder” while conducting an interview.

D/Con Binns states: “Then the conversation turned away from interrogating [the suspect], to encouraging him to commit a murder – to kill an IRA gunman who was a threat to the detective.”

A number of other retired officers have raised questions around the account portrayed in the film, and also called for the serious allegations to be investigated by either the PSNI or the Police Ombudsman.

Following the screening of the film in a number cinemas in the UK and around the world, the then police ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said the matter would be “investigated when resources allow”.

Last week, a spokesman for the current ombudsman Marie Anderson said: “The situation remains that it has been assessed in relation to our case prioritisation policy – which helps to ensure a consistent approach to such decisions – and will be investigated when resources allow.”

RTE said most important elements survived the cuts

The Irish state broadcaster said the main elements of No Stone Unturned were retained despite a key clip being cut before broadcast last week.

The missing section involved former RUC officer Jimmy Binns claiming an attempt was made to solicit a murder during a police interview.

A spokeswoman for RTE said there are “many considerations” when adapting a documentary from cinema to television.

“Duration is a very basic factor as is the level of background knowledge the audience has, their different expectations and other factors. A number of changes were agreed with the producers…in the context of the transfer from one medium to another but the most important elements of the story were retained”

BBC pulled out after helping finance film

The News Letter asked both the BBC and US film-maker Alex Gibney to explain the reasons why the BBC has refused to broadcast No Stone Unturned, despite initially helping to finance the project.

In response, BBCNI said: “We are unable to comment on the important legal and editorial considerations which prevented our continuing involvement. We made every effort to see if these could be resolved in ways consistent with the requirements of our editorial guidelines.”

Director Alex Gibney said: “My ultimate disagreement with the BBC revolved around a business dispute. The BBC wanted me to make some changes for the UK audience. While I disagreed with the suggested changes, I was willing to make them for the UK. I was unwilling to make them for the worldwide version”.

With many thanks to the: Belfast News Letter for the original story 

Loughinisland suspect pictured helping to erect UUP election posters

Ronald Hawthorne (left) pictured holding the ladder helping put up election posters

A man who narrowly escaped death in the Loughinisland massacre has asked to meet with a UUP council candidate after a suspect in the loyalist atrocity was pictured helping put up his election posters.

Ulster Unionist Alan Lewis said he did “not wish to comment” on the photograph of Ronnie Hawthorn, who was named by a major documentary in connection with the 1994 attack, erecting his posters close to the south Down village.

A former member of Ukip, Mr Lewis is running as a candidate in the Slieve Croob area of Newry, Mourne and Down council in next month’s local government elections.

Hawthorn was named in No Stone Unturned as a suspected member of the UVF gang said to have been responsible for the attack on the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, when six men were shot dead while watching a World Cup match.

He has described the allegations in the film as “unfounded” and said it represented “a speculative, reckless, and irresponsible attempt at an expose, which now is the subject of a police investigation”.

Hawthorn was pictured erecting posters in support of Mr Lewis in a move described as a “distressing and hurtful” by one of the survivors of the Loughinisland attack.

Aidan O’Toole, who was seriously injured while working behind the bar, said he was “saddened” when he heard the news.

“This is such a small community and when something like this happens news gets around very quickly. I’ve spoken to other victims’ families who are just as devastated as I am by this news,” he said.

“Does Alan Lewis realise how insensitive this is and how retraumatising it is for us as victims?

“I still have my good days and bad days – things like this can be a real set back for us all.

“I wonder has Mr Lewis even bothered to watch No Stone Unturned, and would he maybe like to take the time to meet the families so we can explain to him at first hand the hurt his association with Hawthorn is causing us all.”

When contacted by The Irish News, Mr Lewis – who describes himself as a ‘Victims Advocacy Officer’ – said he had put his own posters up along with his wife, before saying he “didn’t want to comment”.

The Irish News also contacted Ronnie Hawthorn and the UUP for comment but they did not respond.

Two journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, were arrested by police in relation to documents used in the making No Stone Unturned, which named a number of suspects including Hawthorn.

With many thanks to: The Irish News and Allison Morris for the original story 

Drew Harris must resign in light of Glenanne Judgment – Relatives for Justice