Who is hiding more in Northern Ireland – the government or the paramilitaries?

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Chief Constable Matt Baggott has announced that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is returning to Northern Ireland yet again, this time to investigate the rôle of the Historical Enquiries Team. That body was set up by former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde to revisit hundreds of unsolved  killings including controversial incidents involving members of the British army.

The deployment of HMIC follows the publication of a report by Dr Patricia Lundy of the University of Ulster into how cases of British soldiers accused of killings in Northern Ireland are allegedly processed. She has challenged whether these cases are being given a ‘lighter touch’ in course of investigation compared with HET’s handling of cases linked to non state and paramilitary organisations.

Dr. Lundy writes:

“It is of considerable concern that there appears to be inequality in treatment where state agencies, in this case the military, are involved, compared to non-state or paramilitary suspects”.

Drafting in HMIC is the oldest trick in the book. It is a recurring theme in the same vein of Stalker, Kelly, Sampson, Stevens and God knows how many other outside police officers to review and investigate unsolved serous crime including murder. Most of these probes ran into the sands.

What should people expect on this outing when set against the many other outside investigations which by now probably cost millions?

Where an informer is at the heart of a so called operation involving the security services the usual arguments are trotted out to prevent going beyond a certain point of investigation. National security is cited, as a reason for not ‘going the whole hog’ to get to the root cause for the taking of life, sub culturally known as, ‘hard arrests.’

Sometimes the authorities seek and acquire what is known as a ‘Public Interest Immunity Certificate.’ This effectively closes down critical lines of enquiry. The argument goes that national security must not be compromised. Game set and match to government. Time has been purchased. The focus shifts and the hope is that time will erode awareness and remove the heat in the meantime.

Eventually perhaps, some human rights driven lawyer will bring a case to Europe, or an academic like Patricia Lundy will challenge a particular alleged abuse or culture. We have many examples of this. Europe has had to give a directive to have the backlog of inquests sorted out in Northern Ireland. Those inquests are now being blamed for financial and personnel deficits in other areas of policing.

Presuming Dr Lundy’s charges have merit, why would this be? Who directed this alleged approach or strategy? Does anyone genuinely think that trained investigators whose rôle is to probe and solve crime,  unilaterally decide to abandon their own professional standards and to allegedly deploy one set of rules to one case and another set of rules to another case? This is the question which must be answered in the HMIC probe.

Looking back into past cases seasoned barristers and solicitors contend that in many incidents the approach taken by accused soldiers and police officers under cross examination, led to one conclusion – that a line had been agreed and rehearsed.

These lawyers  further claim in wake of an incident involving killings by the army, in-house MOD lawyers were automatically accessed to the soldiers linked to the shooting, and a full debriefing undertaken. This was reportedly followed by the involvement of solicitors called in from outside for meetings with the soldiers.

All this is said to be packaged before investigating police officers are afforded access to the soldiers for questioning about the circumstances of the killings. I recall, in North Armagh, a colleague being told by a friendly police officer while we were corralled in a barracks courtyard, that a particular shooting was ‘a wipe out.’ Many many hours passed before a police statement surfaced to paint the picture and circumstances surrounding the killings. While we were waiting, was one of the above implied legal debriefings taking place?

One of Northern Ireland’s most senior criminal lawyers who has handled scores of controversial cases has spoken of his concerns flowing from the Lundy Report.

Clearly, following Dr Lundy’s publication, Matt Baggott felt under sufficient pressure on this matter to call in HMIC. Is it enough? Some think it is not enough. In their eyes they see this as the police investigating their own. In other words – not independent. Perception is always important here.

In recent weeks a major discussion has developed on eamonnmallie.com about how Northern Ireland is ultimately going to address the past and how the communities here are going to live in peace and harmony.

This debate received a big shot in the arm when the Chairperson of Sinn Féin’s National Executive, Declan Kearney challenged republicans to address their past in the context of getting to know unionists. The Jeffrey Donaldsons of the unionist world have challenged the IRA to say whether it is ready to ‘come clean.’

The republican credo gained further legs in speeches over Easter with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness picking up Declan Kearney’s baton. Many unionists are starting to believe republicans, among them Jeffery Donaldson who in a discussion with Brian Rowan and others on Nolan unequivocally said he accepts the IRA’s war is over. This is a good sign with a senior voice in mainstream unionism seriously engaging with loyalists and republicans at grassroots level.

Dr Lundy’s concerns on investigations into the Military remind us that many truths are being sought and that many are possibly being blocked or buried in different places and at different levels.

Will the British government and authorities also ‘come clean’ and convince everyone their war is unequivocally over? When does that government become seriously engaged in the discussions on Northern Ireland’s past and on the whole question of reconciliation?

Will other mainstream unionists and the Executive now seriously address the past and reconciliation, to meet the palpable grassroots yearning for that reconciliation?

The mood is surprisingly positive right now in Northern Ireland. Outsiders have a plethora of good reasons for which to visit here. Let us secure the future in peace.


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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Eamonn – the reason the HET is there at all is because there is not the political will to deal with the past. In my opinion Owen Paterson just doesn’t get it, and won’t get it. So if we are waiting for a process to be designed at a high political level, then we will wait a very long time. Political unionists have a very narrow focus – Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and IRA “war crimes”. I accept entirely it is perfectly fair to ask those questions, but they are only some of the questions, and we don’t hear the others. I also accept it’s perfectly reasonable to question the Irish Government about collusion. There are many questions for both governments – British and Irish. There are also questions for political unionists. To quote the words you use, I don’t see any side “coming clean”, and that’s why we shouldn’t use the description “truth”. Better, I think, to explore greater explanation and more information and in what process/mechanism that can be delivered. That’s why I raised again in this morning’s discussion on the Nolan Show the possibility of bringing in an international facilitator/team to meet all parties off-stage to explore possibilities – to rule in and rule out. On this morning’s Nolan Show, Declan Kearney said:
    “The fact of the matter is that there is incredible division and a great sense of hurt within our society and that hurt is shared by us all, by unionist people and by republican people…Let’s take the opportunity now to address those hurts that we still live with and let’s attempt to acknowledge and, if possible, reduce, and, more, let’s attempt to remove the basis of the hurt. And that can best be done by engagement and dialogue which we have never had before.”
    Frankie Gallagher of the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) said:
    “If we don’t deal with the hurt, believe you me our communities are going to be a mess…Our community historically will not move into this ground without our political leaders first moving onto that ground…It’s about our political leaders taking the first steps to help our communities open this debate.”
    That’s the challenge – to enter the discussion in a serious way. To ask all the questions and see how many of them can be answered – and what process will deliver maximum information. Hanging out the dirty washing to score a few political points will do nothing to heal hurts. I’m hearing and reading serious responses to the Declan Kearney article and speech from people such as Peter Sheridan, Harold Good, Lesley Carroll, John Alderdice, Alex Kane, a number of loyalists, including Dawn Purvis, Frankie Gallagher, John Howcroft and Jackie McDonald, from Kieran McEvoy, Alistair Little and others. They all have questions and doubts, but accept that others also will have their questions and doubts. This conversation is only beginning. It’s a conversation for everyone, that needs everyone, and it’s not just about one big bad wolf.   

    • Jackiemcdonald on

      When they have to have enquiries into how the Enquiries Team has been operating how can anyone have any faith in the system? Surely this proves there is bais and discrimination within the HET and any credibility they may have had no longer exists,certainly within the Loyalist Community who always doubted its impartiality anyway. I,along with a few colleagues met members of the HET a couple of years ago and despite reassurances from them that they were providing answers and peace of mind to many victims families,I told them I saw them as a threat to the Peace Process. Friends with me voiced their concerns over the imbalance between Loyalists and Republicans being investigated,and charged. If it is found that there has been some sort of cover up or hint that there is a law for one and a different law for others,how does that help Loyalist or Republican Communities move on. As I said before the journey towards truth must be made by ALL those who were involved in the conflict.and I questioned who would believe or disbelieve who… If the HET are found to have abused their position of trust how can that journey ever be a option. My heart wants them to be vindicated but my head tells me something isn’t right

      • Jackie – I wrote in response to Eamonn’s article that the HET is in place because there is not the political will to deal with the past. This new conversation that is opening up – and into which loyalists are contributing – offers an opportunity to all sides to have their say, and to explore how everyone goes on the journey you describe above. It is about collective thinking, and finding an agreed approach within which the maximum number of questions can be asked and answered in an effort to address the hurts of the past. It should not be about name and shame or name and blame, but about the process and mechanism that can offer the most information and explanation about past events, and, as part of a new beginning, the clearest statements that Ulster’s and Ireland’s wars are finished. It should be about dealing with the past, not dwelling in it. Harold Good sets the challenge:
        “To accept our own responsibility is to challenge the other about theirs.”
        This is about every side – not just two sides. 

        • john howcroft on

          Barney i disagree, it is not there [HET] because there does not exist the political will to deal with the past, it is there beacuse the HET itself is an expression of the political will. The only reason there is an HET is because our politicians, Unionist, Republican, Nationalist or otherwise, negotiated agreements that ushered this discredited vehicle in. On the much stated and often quoted premise that ‘nothing is agreed til everything is agreed’, it was the political parties that agreed the HET as a mechanism for dealing with that past.

          • John – I think HET was a Hugh Orde initiative. My point is, does it suggest a will to deal with the past and all the questions, or is it a process set within a much more narrow frame that means many of the questions are not asked?

          • Jackiemcdonald on

            A few lessons may have been learnt from the recent supergrass debacle Barney,there were many families who suffered as a result of feuding between Loyalist Paramilitaries and regettably too many men died. The families we’re trying to come terms with the fact that either the UDA or UVF were responsible for their loss and that would surely have been difficult enough for them. When,years later, names and faces were alleged to be those involved it caused even greater trauma and grief because some of those mentioned live in the same areas as the victims,some even in the same street or estate. Is this the way forward or the road to more conflict,surely talking to each other and engaging in conversations such as those involving Declan Kearney,Harold Good and many others is a more positive way forward.Eamonns Blog is another way of people expressing themselves and widening the debate,it is gathering momentum and being viewed by many,not just those who contribute to the blog.

  2. john howcroft on

    The Patricia Lundy report does not
    provide any hidden surprises for many within Loyalism.

    In an anecdotal sense, Loyalists
    have always been aware of the existence of hierarchal approaches towards
    dealing with the past. This awareness goes back to certain known comments made
    by a Senior Government Minister, that specified, “I’ll deal with the Republicans
    [British Government] and you deal with the Loyalists [P.S.N.I]. “

    These attributed comments, as
    common-knowledge within senior Loyalist circles, indicate quite clearly that
    there would be a twin-track approach applied towards dealing with the legacy of
    the past. However, although Patricia Lundy’s report does provide much to debate
    and opens this debate to an equality agenda, this twin-track approach must not simply
    be explored and ultimately understood within a narrow-lensed version that creates
    distinction between state and non-state actors in terms of process, but should
    also, based on the aforementioned anecdotal knowledge, also be explored and
    understood in relation to the hierarchal domains that exist and which have been
    created between non-state actors, and how the approach varies according to
    whether you are from either a Loyalist or Republican constituency.

    It is precisely these comments
    that provide Loyalists with a glimpse into the policy domain and how this
    policy plays out in practice on the streets of Northern Ireland. Patricia Lundy’s
    report raises the spectre of preferential treatment being applied between state
    and non-state actors, but for many Loyalists, the preferential treatment being applied
    between designated non-state factions in terms of alignment, presents a more
    comprehensive and holistic lens, rather than a two-dimensional approach, this adds
    an important third dimension to that debate.

    It is unfortunate, but this context
    provides the backdrop to any debate that is occurring at the grassroots, and
    has the ability, because of the ‘myth of blamelessness’ that exists, the
    objections of political Unionism and the preferential policy approach applied,
    to distort and disrupt that debate, whilst this policy plays out on the streets
    of Northern Ireland.

    I also concur with Frankie, when
    he not just identifies but also names the reality, when he states that Loyalism
    will not move onto that playing-field until political Unionism takes a
    reciprocal leadership step, as this in itself is part of our historical legacy;
    and these steps themselves cannot be taken until a level-playing field exists
    onto which to place a footing. If this debate is about creating that
    level-playing field in preparation for those anticipated steps; then we must
    all embrace our civic, social and moral responsibility.

  3. Stephen Blacker on

    We have heard time and time again from those who understood the problems in our society long before our loud-mouthed or naive politicians did that there was never going to be a military solution to the “Troubles”. The speech by the Late Gusty Spence on the 12.7.1977 stated this and Brian “Barney” Rowan also alluded to this fact in his countless articles and I have no doubt the British Army Chief’s told their political master’s this long before 1977. With this knowledge the British Army had to fight terrorism the only way it can be fought, with informers and agents which would drag them to the level of terrorists on occasions and that is why the term “Dirty War” is often referred to. There is no doubt the Government has a lot to hide but it is nothing to the amount of stuff that Paramilitaries want to keep hidden.

    The HET have been doing necessary investigating into events from the past but it will not get the whole truth or give satisfaction to everyone it effects so it is imperative that we take every opportunity and direction to solidify our “Peace Process”. It has been proved that our society cannot wait until everyone is in agreement to progress towards a better future, if we did the Good Friday Agreement would still be on the shelf gathering dust.

    The speech by Mr. Declan Kearney on Easter Sunday and his article in An Phoblacht need to be excepted as genuine & honestly delivered by politicians with dialogue starting and continuing at a pace to keep the Peace Process alive and bubbling. If Mr. Kearney’s words are false this will soon be exposed during talks but we have come to understand that there is no such thing as a rogue statement from Sinn Fein Land. An added bonus to talks would be that society would continue to humanise each other and dissidents of all shades will continue to be rejected.

    Political Unionism need to go grab this offer to help society in general by excepting talks and then find out all their unanswered questions during those same talks instead of the usual demands of answers before they make a move which will only delay proceedings. Political Unionism here is now the DUP who love to call the shots, they seem happy enought to deal with issues that are easy, issues that involve only their voters or advantage their voters and it was only a coincidence it also helped others. It is difficult to see the DUP taking a chance on Mr. Declan Kearney’s offer with them still trying to keep the possible TUV voters on-side. Saying that the DUP are as “locked-in” as the Shinner’s at Stormont because they stayed even with the Mary McArdle affair and I have heard debates where DUP MLA’s said they would vote still vote “NO” to the GFA today as they did in 1998 but they are still there drawing their money and the people are still voting them in.

    If talks do begin it would take a while to find its place in our Peace Process but it could possibily develop into something as significant as the HET is and some of the hidden issues could come to light from both the Government and Paramilitaries, we will never know unless it is tried.

  4. john howcroft on

    UPRG Remembrance Day Statement 2007:
    Ulster Defence Association believes that the war is over [and] is committed to achieving a society where violence and weaponry are ghosts of the past.”
    Remembrance Day statement 2008:
    “We call on Republicans to debate the forever war” [a concept embedded within the ideology of Loyalism/Republicanism, and which lurches us between periods of peace interspersed by periods of war, by influencing successive generations]
    Decommissioning statement 2010:
    Ulster Defence Association was formed to defend our communities; we state quite
    clearly and categorically that this responsibility now rests with the
    Government and its institutions where legitimacy resides.”
    Taken collectively; these statements indicate that the:
    1) that the war is over 
    2) that we need to debate and acheive the removal of the ideological legititimacy for successive generations to believe that we can solve our situation through militant and violent statrategies 
    3) that the defence of our communities resides with the institution of Government and the legitimate force of Law and order.


  5. The door to the past is closing. The unrealistic and unachievable goals the are being espoused from some quarters will make it impossible for and ex-combatants to participate in any form of dealing with the past. The HET will have a token number of possible successes but I doubt if they will reach double figures. There is no Golden Key that will open the door to the past and unless the Government are pro-active in seeking a solution and demands become attainable then excombatants will closed the door shut and throwaway the key

    • ‘Plum’ – and the challenge is to take this conversation onto realistic ground. It should not be about name and shame or name and blame. This issue needs to be de-politicised, and the ex-combatants you describe need to be part of shaping what is possible – what information can be released/shared, how explanations can be given, what mechanism/process should be used. If people close the door, then they lock themselves outside the discussion. They should be inside the room with those others  who are trying to think outside the box and trying to design the something that could work. It’s never a good idea to throw away the key.

  6. Ex-combatants want to be part of these discussion, they want to contribute to a meaningful process but all we can hear are unattainable expectations. We haven’t thrown away they key yet, I stated the door is closing not closed! however if there is no realistic process only “sackcloth and ashes” then we will close the door, throw away the key and take our chances.

  7. I’ve a piece in today’s Belfast Telegraph chatting with Jeffrey Donaldson on the Kearney/republican initiative on reconciliation and healing hurts. Jeffrey asks two questions – Why now and what’s behind this? He then answers his own questions by suggesting that republicans “are keen to find a process to draw a line”.
    I then quote the DUP MP saying:
    “We are not going to allow a re-writing of the history of the Troubles. If Sinn Fein think the narrative of the Troubles is about portraying the forces of the state as bad guys and the IRA as good guys, that simply will not be allowed to happen.”
     In my piece, I suggest the narrative be written by everyone; by all sides and not one side. And I’m interested in Jackie McDonald’s post at the bottom of this page. He refers to the re-worked “supergrass” system and the dangers within it. Others have concerns about HET and public inquiries. And across a range of commentary, what is clear is that a new process is needed. McDonald writes on this Blog:
    “Surely talking to each other and engaging in conversations such as those involving Declan Kearney, Harold Good and many others is a more positive way forward.”
    McDonald, Harold Good and those many others are not going to be part of a process that writes a “goodies” and “baddies” type narrative which favours the IRA. What they’re involved in is something much more serious and thinking. Political unionists should be inside that conversation, not outside it; should ask their questions inside the debate, not outside it. 
    This is about opening up the most important phase of the peace process – about asking, and then trying to get answers to many difficult questions.
    How is information/explanation best accessed, and how is it shared?
    Is that best achieved privately or publicly?
    Do we need the type of interlocutor process used in decommissioning?
    This is just some of what needs to be worked out.
    I write in the Telegraph:
    “It is something that will require the DUP and Jeffrey Donaldson to eventually speak directly to Sinn Fein and Declan Kearney.”
    The sooner that talking begins, the sooner some of those people we hear asking their questions about their loved ones, might get their answers.
    There is no reason for delay, and there should be no excuse.

    • The concerns being expressed by Jeffrey Donaldson are valid and will invarably resonate within the wider Unionist community. There has been much talk about political Unionism’s unwillingness to engage within what are still the seeds of a debate, and hopefully, this now shows that Unionism has the maturity and integrity to enter that debate.
      He is quite right to suggest that this debate cannot be allowed to become about a re-writing of history to support a, or any, singular narrative. As such, It should not be a process that seeks to justify, vindicate or accuse. We should not see this through the restrictive lens of zero-sum politics, where there are winners and losers, as that itself is a legacy issue of our political history.
      As stated in the U.P.R.G Common Sense document of 1987, and a phrase credited to the late John McMichael: “there is no section of this divided society that is totally right, or totally wrong, totally innocent, or totally guilty, and we must all share the responsibility for the maintenance of good governance” I think that phrase best captures the essence of dealing with our past and serves as a staging-point for that debate.

      • John – I think the McMichael quote asks us all to think beyond the simplistic narrative of “goodies” and “baddies”. And you’re right, this discussion is only beginning, but it needs everyone to get involved. Harold Good wrote recently about shared responsibility:
        “To accept our own responsibility is to challenge the other about theirs.”
        Let’s hope this conversation is not reduced to some silly blame game, but makes a serious effort to find a way to answer more of the questions and to share the maximum amount of information and explanation. Let’s think, not just about what happened, but why it happened, and why it should never happen again.
        Ex-combatants have a significant contribution to make to this conversation along with many others – political, security, intelligence, governments, churches, media. That involvement will bring the contributions this conversation needs.