This article is borne out of frustration and because I am fed up to the back teeth listening to various politicians saying they are sure they ‘speak for all victims’. No-one speaks for all victims. This victim speaks for myself.
Firstly, I come from a Nationalist and Republican background of which I am very proud. I am a married father and grandfather and I am one of 9 siblings. I have worked as a mental health professional for many years and additionally have a keen interest in conflict resolution and the creation of a society based on equality. It was undoubtedly my personal life experiences which created my direction and interests.
My aunt lost her life when she got caught in crossfire between the IRA and the British Army. She was 39 years old. My cousin was shot dead by unknown persons as he walked through the grounds of the RVH. He was 15 years old. My father, John Crawford had his life taken by the UVF. He was a business owner, 52 years old and I was 17 at the time. All 3 lost their lives during the 1970’s. According to most formulae that makes me a victim. My opinion is that my father is the victim.
I was one of the survivors. I also survived taking on my father’s role (at 17/18 years old) in running the family business until it too was burnt to the ground 3 years later. I also survived searching for my father’s body for several hours while the RUC and British refused to help even though Andersonstown British Army/RUC Base and the British Army Billet at Falls Bus depot overlooked and dominated the scene. His body was eventually found by friends when I had gone the half mile home to support my mother. I say ‘was’ a survivor because I have for a long time viewed myself as the ‘victor’. I consider myself the victor because despite everything described above I have remained who I am and retained my own identity.
Although supremely comfortable in my own identity I am neither bitter nor sectarian and believe in equality of citizenship. I care not one iota if a person is white, black, green, orange, catholic, protestant or pin-striped. I maintain friendships with decent people from every background.
My narrative on the past (very briefly): Whilst hundreds of years of specific historical events have brought us to this point in our make-up, I personally relate my situation to the creation of the ‘Northern Ireland State’ in 1921 as being most relevant to me. At that time 6 of the 9 Ulster counties were separated from the rest of Ireland by an imposed border. Unionist leaders declared the formation of ‘A Protestant Nation for a Protestant People’. This was clearly a declaration of the establishment of an apartheid state and an apartheid state should be just as unacceptable here as in any other part of the world. Catholics, nationalists and republicans were imprisoned, murdered and burnt from their homes at will. Many of these attacks were directly carried out by security force murder/reprisal squads while others were carried out by their surrogates in the UVF and other militias. This is not a bigoted or extreme/partisan view (in my opinion) but an easily checkable record of historical fact.
The Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist (PUL) community were constantly fed a diet of conspiracy theories to convince them of the existence of a ‘papist’ and republican threat. This intensified in the run-up to 1966 and the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
Eventually the result was the onset of the recent ‘troubles’ when Gusty Spence and his UVF gang murdered a young catholic barman in Belfast and attempted to murder other people within the nationalist community. When this did not produce the required reaction from the imaginary subversives the John Mc Keag faction of the UVF exploded a bomb at Silent Valley Reservoir and blamed it on the IRA. This galvanised the PUL community in their siege mentality and directly led to in the anti-catholic/nationalist pogroms of 1969. I would expect that most interested people are familiar with the carnage that ensued for a generation from 1969 onwards.
Truth recovery and Justice: Modern warfare takes place in the midst of civilian populations. This is especially so in places like Ireland, Palestine or the Basque Country where the disputed territory is an occupied section of the larger country. Soldiers (generally) no longer travel to foreign battlefields as a ground-force to fight from behind fortified lines.
This change in how wars are fought directly accounts for the total reversal in ratios of civilian/military casualties. Civilian casualties during WW1 were approximately 5%, rising to 50% during WW2, 83% in Vietnam and 96/97% in most current and recent wars. These facts, of necessity, completely changed tactics of war, impact on population and subsequently conflict resolution.
My father was one of 11 people whose lives were taken by the UVF between October 1973 and February 1974. During this period the UVF were on a declared ceasefire. It is my logical and rational belief (given the particular circumstances of his death) that collusion between British militarists and their surrogates (UVF) played a crucial role without which the killing could not have taken place logistically.
Three years later, on 28th February 1978, a member of the UVF pleaded guilty to 6 murders and 4 attempted murders plus a myriad of other offences. He was sentenced to 10 life sentences plus 100’s of years for other offences. My father was one of those he was involved in killing. Was this justice? The simple answer is – not in my opinion. This person surrendered his guilt to the RUC after being arrested on an unrelated matter. It is my opinion he received a special deal to ensure his silence, (no minimum stipulation and released after approx. 10 or 11 years), and to protect his co-offenders who were directly trained, paid and directed by the British security forces and their political masters. This person’s name is Raymond Glover and I harbour no ill-will against him. He was not alone, he has completed his sentence, and I hope he is now leading a productive life.
But (at least):
- 2 others carried out forward scouting to confirm my father’s presence.
- 3 others were present at the actual scene
- 2 others provided safe houses to come from and return to
- Others provided transport
- Others financed the operation
- Others provided safe passage without threat of arrest
- Others provided weapons
- Others provided training
- Others sat down in committee to endorse my father as a target
- Others failed to report suspicious activity
- Others failed to investigate
- Others covered up the truth
- Others launched a vicious campaign of house raids, arrests and brutality against my family
- Others launched a campaign of misinformation to justify the killing and (by implication) to blame my father for his own death
This is the truth. These are the facts. At a conservative estimate this list puts maybe 30 people as being directly involved in taking my father’s life. And this chain of people stretches from Belfast, through Vauxhall Cross, to the highest echelons of Westminster.
Given the above I would suggest that the truth is clearly known and therefore, in theory, does not need to be ‘recovered’. But this is only partly true.
Raymond Glover did not know my father or even of his existence. He therefore bore no personal grudge. The fact is Raymond Glover was a willing and active member of the UVF who revelled in executing the orders passed down to him. It is my logical opinion therefore that responsibility for my father’s death is a UVF ‘corporate’ responsibility and that culpability in that respect should include their British overlords. I also think it realistic to expect that ALL those involved directly in killing my father will never be either identified or prosecuted. In fact, I think that NO-ONE else directly involved will ever be prosecuted. This being the reality, as I see it, I detail below several personal suggestions and opinions on how I think issues such as the above might be addressed for many in similar situations.
A truth recovery mechanism should be established whereby ALL combatant groups are facilitated to relate their own ‘corporate’ responsibility to the greatest possible degree.
A major key to success of any process needs to be the removal of threat to all parties – that includes the threat of prison or reprisal of any sort towards the perpetrators.
Raymond Glover, as an ex-prisoner with conflict related convictions (only?), is discriminated against when seeking employment and in other areas. Because the others involved were not convicted they are free to adopt, foster and to (eg) work with vulnerable adults or in security related jobs. This discrimination continues to unfairly punish Raymond Glover many years after his release from prison.
Ex-prisoners/combatants were crucial in delivering the peace. They should be free to be full participants in that peace and under the same conditions as everyone else.
Discrimination against ex-prisoners with conflict related convictions should cease immediately. I further suggest that this should be subject to such convictions being purely conflict related and prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. I also suggest that amnesty and/or deletion of record of conviction could be a way to achieve this provided requirements for the granting of an amnesty are agreed and met in full, both in terms of reference and under international law. I do not consider that I would be sacrificing my right to legal recourse against the guilty because the reality is that I’m as likely to get it as I am to fly to the moon tomorrow.
It is just over 40 years since my father’s life was taken. In that time no evidence has been produced to enable any other person to be prosecuted. This is despite the fact that police know the identities of all those actually involved at the scene. But intelligence is not evidence and the ‘dogs in the street’ do not stand in witness boxes. The factual reality is that this is never now likely to happen. It would seem to me that the protection/immunity of agents in the pay of British Government agencies is a major stumbling block in this area. But, whatever the reasons, the majority of killings have not been resolved and the reality is they won’t be. Victims and combatants alike are dying daily in increasing numbers and their pain or knowledge is going to the grave with them. I am also concerned that incidents where there were multiple deaths, or where the victim was high profile, are increasingly the only deaths mentioned.
The pretence of seeking prosecutions through such facades as the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) should be dropped. All such bodies should be replaced by an independent and international truth recovery body. An essential component of the establishment of such a body would be the necessity to move from individual to corporate responsibility. This would not let unprosecuted people off the hook, rather, it would recognise reality and facilitate forward movement with consolidation of the peace. It should be recognised that, as active participants to the conflict, ex-prisoners and the un-convicted participants know what drove them. And, as such, they are best placed to steer the present generation away from repeating similar actions. I firmly believe that this is a much more difficult route for them than remaining outside. I also think it essential that any such body is mandated to take a multi-track approach, ie: an approach to establish corporate narratives on the reasons for the conflict plus an approach which directly provides answers to individual victims or families, plus as many other tracks as are reasonably necessary.
On the matters of ‘sorry’ and ‘forgiveness’. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if I forgive.
The implication is that if I don’t forgive I am somehow less than Christian.
The fact is I am a nice person but that I absolutely do not forgive. This is very different from bearing a grudge or wanting revenge. Quite the opposite is true. I firmly believe that if someone thinks they have done wrong they need to address this with their god, whoever that god may be, or directly with those they have wronged. To forgive, in my opinion, is to say ‘it’s okay now’. It’s not okay now that my father’s life was taken and never will be.
I firmly believe also that ‘sorry’ must be freely given and sincere. A sorry received as a result of demands means absolutely nothing.
Neither Raymond Glover nor the militias he served have ever directly apologised for killing my father. I suspect they never will. To me this is irrelevant.
On how the victim community is treated I would say this. I see absolutely no difference between the trauma and/or impact suffered by any family who has lost a member or suffered injury regardless of circumstance. There should absolutely be no hierarchy of victims. According to the CAIN archive 623 human beings lost their lives in West Belfast as a result of the conflict. They came from every side of the conflict, and according to me the loss suffered by their loved ones is the same.
On narratives of the past. I have placed this in the plural because I recognise there are many. All are true according to the teller, many contradict each-other but all remain true all the same.
For example: The UVF truth of my father’s killing is likely to be that he was a legitimate target in their terms, they meant to kill him, they carried out a successful operation, and they are not sorry.
My truth on my father’s killing is that he was not a legitimate target for anyone and no-one had the right to take his life. He was a hard working gentleman who lived for his family and who happened to be a catholic, a nationalist and a republican. These are all very legitimate thing to be.
These two narratives are clearly contradictory and will never align. Both, however, remain true according to the viewpoint of the narrator.
It is because of the reality of differing but true narratives that I firmly believe the Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze/Long Kesh site should not only be built, it should be built as a matter of urgency.
I also firmly believe that this is the correct site to build it given it is by far the most widely known single location of probably the most pivotal episode of the conflict – namely the hunger strikes. I also think the governments should fund and facilitate, without condition or censorship, the recording and publishing of every narrative from every person or group who wishes to record one.
Compensation for all victims/survivors/victors should be revisited and addressed. Although money is not a motivation for this group it could be a form of acknowledgement, and although costly would likely be much less costly than many more years of conflict.
The British Government should be compelled to participate in truth recovery processes as the combatant group which they were.
Investigations can cost millions – a tragedy when the truth could be delivered for free in the right circumstances.
Party political broadcast on behalf of SFIRA zzzzzzzzzzz
That’s a dismissive and ignorant reply. As someone who has had zero contact with either SF or IRA my experience and perspective on this gentleman’s story is very similar. Do you have anything positive to add to our society?
Uncomfortably one sided account.
how? willieric ,can you say that this honest factual account is one sided. if you disagree with the writer what makes you uncomfortable.? be a man and explain that
There is a flavour of bias in many of the sentences. Here is a brief summary of numbers of words of note……….the word BRITISH, 7 times,……UVF, 10 times……RUC/POLICE, 4 times…..IRA, 2 times,( one of these ‘Mckeag ….. blamed it on the IRA’. The other ‘IRA crossfire’.)
The words, other than IRA, I believe without exception are written into sentences criticising procedures and implementation of government policy. Very sub-liminal and persuasive.
Further, bracketing the Basque Country and Palestine with Ireland is a bit of a stretch don’t you think?
A great article, Paul. Despite the usual negativity by our loyalist
chums, you have risen above bitterness and individual recrimination. I
personally don’t think truth recovery will ever happen for the
nationalist side, because the British state will never admit to having
been a directing force in mass murder and loyalists keep quiet about it.
I’m a republican myself but I’m not too sure the republican movements
would ever move in this direction, certainly not on their own. PUL
groups will admit no wrong on their side other than ‘a few bad apples’. I
just can’t see the victims issue being resolved. But then is that not
common to all wars? How many wars have been fought and then at the end,
everyone comes round a table and admits the terrible things they did?
Where would victor’s justice be then? In the gutter with the losers. I
admire your truth and integrity and hope you can find some resolution. Slán
Thanks for posting this Eamonn and thanks my 3 comment posters so far. I’m glad the opinions differ and thank you Paul Devlin. To the other two: willieric, fair comment, I think most opinions are one-sided and strongly held. I view all as valid and maybe a good way of confirming the complex and varied nature of all of the issues involved and a realistic, if sometimes extreme, starting point from which to find and examine common ground (if there is any) and to move forward. I fully appreciate there are many varied, often opposing and complex views – all genuinely held. My view is that hard conversations can lead to possible progress. I consider HARD conversations to be the ones where we talk about ourselves. We don’t need to make friends or negotiate progress with those who agree with us. To virgin mary, I just find your comment offensive and wrong. I have been crystal clear that I speak only for myself. To be extra clear (in case it comes up at some point) I have never been to jail and am not seeking to address things from that perspective. That said – I would welcome comment from you on your position/suggestions (which you don’t give), whatever that position might be.
I’m not sure what to make of your article, other than an being an honest point of view. What it reinforces in me is that ‘truth’ is in the eye of the beholder and that the hard conversations you talk about will not elicit truth on any side, but will provide a point of view which is open to interpretation.
I’m of a similar vintage as yourself, which I call the ‘legacy generation’. That group who grew up and lived through the Troubles. It is up to us to provide the basis for the next generations to make progress together off the back of our suffering and loss. I’m from a very small ‘u’ unionist tradition and I lost 5 friends to IRA violence of the most callous type. No-one was held to account for their deaths. Understandably,my narrative will be different to yours and equally no less important. In our search for answers and some kind of closure the objectives are the same.
Put simply, I believe we are too much involved , to complicit in the past, to do anything more than to tell our stories. The greatest benefit for me would be for a Boston type oral evidence gathering to take place, with immunities guaranteed, that would allow people to come forward and to tell their story from all perspectives and crucially, none. We have yet to recognise that very many people in NI over the course of 40 years were not directly impacted by the Troubles and their perspective needs to be captured too, if only to provide a balance for those most directly involved.
I believe that only with the passage of time, the release of new restricted material and interpretation through the eyes of future generations will perspective ever be available. I and others of my generation will be long gone by then. Our greatest gift to the development of a balanced view of the past would be to provide a dispassionate library of oral or written ‘evidence’ around which others can consider where the real truth lies. while there is still time.
David, I’ve not yet had a chance to read your article but I absolutely will during the coming days. I see quite a bit of potentially common ground.
It might be that you’re correct in your estimations on what’s realistically attainable and that perhaps the recording of stories could be the final result. Personally I think it will be tragic if this is what transpires as a result rather than being included as one strand among many. That said, the presentation of participants stories and the weighing of the presented evidence is how legal and other systems reach decisions or verdicts in every scenario from speeding fine appeals to murder trials or a business strategy meeting. In my article I suggest the recording of every submission from every person or organisation who wants to contribute. I see the creation of conditions to enable participation in full by all parties is a major hurdle to surmount, as is the quandary on how to convince ALL participants to involve themselves in any process.
I disagree with you on using the Boston tapes as any sort of reference or template in creating a process. I see the Boston tapes project as being seriously flawed (and I won’t be arguing on the accuracy or inaccuracy as only the participants can verify that).
The Boston tapes, from my point of view, permitted the recording of one participants version without balance or rebuttal contributions from those named by the interviewees or indeed those who suffered directly from the actions described. Because the interviewee is deceased at the point of publication they cannot be asked for collaborative evidence, for clarification or for reasoning. The danger, amongst many, is that interviewees could be tempted to minimise their own role and/or to settle personal scores or grudges.
I place no credence on any evidence given by any entity if they will not stand over their input.
Again, this brings us back to the section in my article which refers to immunities etc..
This is partly why I have referred to my father being blamed for his own killing. I this I am referring to the press generally, laws whereby it is almost impossible to sue for defamation of a dead person’s character, and in particular a reference to my fathers killing in the book UVF, a false accusation/implication and no prior notice to my family nor an opportunity for rebuttal. Also, ensuing legal advice that I could not sue the authors. (If anyone knows differently please contact me).
My other difficulty is that waiting too long creates a vacuum and future generations reading history books does not cut it. While it’s fantastic that we now have a generation growing that has increasingly more knowledge of normal society that lack of knowledge brings with it a growing danger that some might be drawn back towards thinking taking up arms is the way to go.
Finally, a friend recently told me she was raised in Portaferry, didn’t know anything about the troubles, and why don’t people just get over it. Complex indeed.
Paul – Boston tapes I agree is a poor example for all the reasons you provide. The manner in which the accounts are ‘captured’ for want of a better word and whether people are prepared to publicly stand over them are part, but certainly not the only strands, around the complexity of this issue. Immunity from prosecution is another issue but what about those who would be in breach of the Official Secrets Act if they provided their accounts? I don’t think you will be able to convince all participants to take part, for it will be impossible to compel them and those who do come forward may be forthcoming only insofar as they feel safe to do so. Then we have the whole issue of verification, or do we simply accept what we hear at face value. We also assume that those coming forward want the truth to emerge. Would such an exercise give opportunity for more obfuscation?
David, I agree with several of your points but think it essential ALL sides participate on an equal footing, not necessarily all who played individual parts. Hence my suggestion on corporate responsibility. The Official Secrets Act is cited frequently but did not stop soldiers from MRF giving television interviews some months ago. Lets PRETEND that the Westminster Government was a neutral force who acted blamelessly to keep us warring tribes apart, surely they should be keen to produce evidence of their impartiality, this is clearly not the case. As for obfuscation – it might be hard to increase on the amount already being applied.
Thank you so much David for a reasoned, rational and thought through position. I am sorry for your loss and the loss of those families and friends of all who lost their lives. Even though we Differ and come from different backgrounds I can see some potentially common ground.
You describe yourself as a unionist with a small ‘u’. Here’s a rare background for everyone to think on. I am completely above board on describing my range of personal friends. I have a long standing friend of many years who is a proud loyalist and ex member of the UVF (and it is just one). He describes himself as a loyalist- republican. He is British, Unionist (with a very large U) and loyalist but anti-monarchy. He has not thought violence the way to go for a long time and laughs every time he states his position. Now here’s complex.
Thank you. A vignette of my own background is contained in my own article on this website. I didn’t state my position correctly on reflection. I’m for retaining the union – pro-union is the closest I can get and what I meant by unionist with a small ‘u’. My article describes my thinking more fully.
You have touched on something very important in describing your friend. After most of a lifetime reading history and literature spanning hundreds of years the one thing that remains constant is the human condition – the same strong urges that make us love, laugh, argue, fight, forgive, be frightened, suffer humiliation and display humility in all their extremes have exited down the centuries and are the same today. It is perhaps why history repeats itself.
People are complex and they can think for themselves. Increasingly in NI people are pushing back at the stereotypes that politicians are quick to use to pray in aid entire communities.The reality, is I believe, that many people are deeply troubled by what has been perpetrated in their name on both sides.
Seeking after the truth is one thing, interpreting it is another. We can put together processes to let narratives of the past (and present) emerge. I think what we hear and what we see from that process then becomes deeply personal in its interpretation. We can debate and discuss, yes; but when the long day closes it is within ourselves in all our complexity where we must ultimately find closure and peace.
I have been thinking a lot lately – especially with all that continues in Gaza – of Damian Gorman’s poem “Devices of Detachment.” Reading about the murder of your father – and I am pausing as I type those tragic words – I find myself wondering to what extent we are ALL complicit and what we can do about it, especially those of us who, merely by virtue of being in the right place at the right time, did not experience such harrowing personal loss. Protestant and working class, I grew up in Antrim. I attended Stranmillis, did my teaching practice in Rathcoole, and by 1985, thanks in large part to the best English Literature teacher I ever had, the newsreader, Brian Baird, I began to understand better the diversity in the narratives you mention and the complexity of my identity. In spite of what I was learning, it didn’t stop me from leaving. In 1987, there were no jobs for me, and I just wanted to get out.
Sometimes, now that I’m older and so far away in America, I feel guilty for having turned my back on the country of my birth, for having distanced myself even more, when perhaps the better thing would have been to stay and strive to see far beyond the images that flickered on our TV screens at six o’clock every night. To do something other than distance myself.
I think, like many of us, I drank from the cup so cleverly placed in front of me by well-fed, smug politicians. I even used the language – I suppose it is only in deeply divided places that little children learn words like “legitimate target” before they begin school. The perpetual “distancing” of ourselves, and worst of all – the silence, the absence of truth – what Heaney described as casting “the stones of silence” has left me feeling culpable.
I try to bear witness, to ask questions. But it is from afar. Perhaps it is to absolve whatever guilt I feel or perhaps it is because, as one of your other commenters points out, we are forever bound, part of the human chain.
As Elie Wiesel once said: “To forget them would be a second death. I don’t think I am responsible for their first death. But I can be responsible, if I am not careful, in the second death. ”
Telling the truth – each of us speaking only for ourselves – would be a big step. I think you have taken it.
Like you I was privileged to study under Brian Baird. Also, like you, I struggle to understand the causes of the past 45 years of bitterness. However, never once in my life did I knowingly oppress or cause offence to any of my catholic neighbours or friends. Which makes it very very difficult for me to understand why SF do so well in polls in Northern Ireland.
For your information, Methody along with all the other grammar schools in NI is comprised of 40% non Protestant pupils whilst Stranmillis College seem to be as segregated from their catholic cousins as when it was built.
After my husband died before Christmas last year, I was deeply touched to receive from Brian Baird’s son his personal copy of “Death of a Naturalist.” I have written about him a great deal over the years and will forever be in his debt . Here’s the link: http://timetoconsiderthelilies.com
Since being away, I have grown to know quite well one of the survivors of Loughinisland and also the family of the Byrne brothers who were shot by UFV at The Wayside Halt some years ago. I don’t know anything about the polls and don’t pretend to. I just know that there are people whose lives were forever altered by the murder of their loved ones. I don’t know how I would move forward, personally, so I don’t know how long it will take the country to make a meaningful step without the “truth” coming out, unfiltered.
I never understood – and still don’t – the need for segregated schools back home. I never understood why it wasn’t until I sat in Brian Baird’s class that I was introduced to writers from just miles away. Why didn’t they play a more prominent role – during that must tumultuous time – in my A-level English class? I don’t know – and don’t pretend to – what’s changed. I only know what I remember and, based on what you say, I am concerned that we are continue to prepare teachers to teach children, separately, with distinctly different perspectives of our shared history. Uniting people, not a territory, as John Hume (I think) once said, should be the focus.
Thank you Yvonne. I think people make the best choice among options available to them at any particular point in time. I have no wish for anyone to feel guilty but I do hope to widen some minds on just how many links were involved in every attack. My family have been unfortunate, had this not been the case perhaps I would be feeling like you.
What can you do?
I also think you have taken brave a step by joining the debate, your input is a valid as anyone. I admire you because you have now chosen to speak and that takes courage.
This is not intended to insult but I actually don’t care what anyone’s viewpoint is in terms of opinion or stance – providing it is expressed without threat or abuse all viewpoints are valid to me.
Paul thank you for sharing your personal loss and thoughts on this issue.
This is a significant contribution to the legacy debate. You are the authentic voice. One, of so many, that is too often silenced or just not heard. It is vital that all families who suffered bitter loss have their voices heard, experiences validated and victimhood publicly acknowledged.
It is my view that only when the values and principles are agreed can we progress the truth issue.
Establishing equality of victimhood is the key foundational principle in this regard.
We have seen in recent time this narrowly constructed definition of an innocent victim enter the debate in a way to exclude all others. Yet through your own personal experiences you observe ‘from every side of the conflict ….the loss suffered by their loved ones is the same’. For me such magnanimity is the only starting point to pursue truth.
As such I have a couple of observations from your piece that you could perhaps develop:
1. I have been thinking for some time who is a combatant?
Normally when the term combatant is used we often think solely of the person who literally pulled the trigger. You articulate your father’s killing in a way that frames the death beyond those directly involved in the violent act to ‘echelons in Westminster’. in essence you have presented the final act of death as the end of a process. I suppose my question is do you consider the policy maker, the scout, the transporter, the finance person, the trainer, the planner as a combatant?
Furthermore you argue – and I agree – that: “The British Government should be compelled to participate in truth recovery processes as the combatant group which they were.” As things currently stand there is a clear disparity on legacy matters between state and non-state actors. Arguably it is only non-state actors who are pursued when the accountability gap is with the state. My question here is that there is a cloak of anonymity around the state and I was wondering here is it from an equality perspective that you have argued for a corporate responsibility approach?
2. You argue that ‘truth delivered for free in the right circumstances’.
Again I have struggled with this question of how to incentivise truth particularly for people who were in the payment of the state, as soldiers or police or those who done ‘a special deal to ensure silence’?
Any thoughts on this?
To David and to John. I am so delighted at both of your clearly honest and challenging responses but at the same time (unbelievably nervous at sticking my head above the parapet like this), while I instinctively know my thoughts on all matters raised, I will take time to formulate my response because they deserve full and respectful answers rather than too brief or yes/no. I’m just about to go to a big family occasion (marriage of my wife’s nephew – best wishes to the happy couple), (and that’s important, not flippant, life goes on and they are part of our future). The answer to Q1 of yours John is the exception and is a straight YES. The reason for my inclusion of the list involved is precisely this point. By extension it includes to some degree even people beyond this list, especially those in high office who later distance themselves. Without the systems, logistical support (including intelligence) and back-up very few of the lives lost……. Yes, they are all combatants in my opinion without exception.
John, sorry for the delay in replying. To elaborate just a bit on my previous partial response. I consider everyone in the chain to be combatants albeit some with more direct involvement than others. But each link is necessary to enable the final act to take place. This makes each and everyone a combatant. No-one is ever going to identify them all – let alone prosecute them. Yes, the person/s at the end of the chain directly took a life or lives, but I also consider that the decision makers and intelligence people at the top of the chain also directly took a life or lives. I take a more charitable stance on those between who might not have had knowledge eg: on what they were making their house available for. Nothing happens in isolation. I have named Vauxhall Cross because it houses the headquarters of the spooks as they’re commonly known today, and Westminster because this is where ultimate responsibility for all acts within their jurisdiction lies.
For this reason alone (although there are many) they should play a full part in any process and explain themselves. I think their hesitation is because they were sanctioning the killing of their own citizens. Of the 1000’s killed – government forces killed a sizeable proportion.
The other side of that coin is that the victim community is much larger than those counted by direct impact. For example: 623 human beings lost their lives in total in the West Belfast area (the entire area, not just one side of it). To gauge this I think we should look at the impact on the population as a whole. To reach the stats on the realistic impact we should recognise that every life lost impacted many lives around them. I have come up with the tables below although I’m sure someone will correct me
2001 census show the population of West Belfast to be approx 65700 adults
Of 3466 violent deaths directly resulting from the troubles 617 occurred in this area
More than 3 times this number were injured/wounded (over 1851)
Approx 15 times this number suffered directly related trauma (over 9255)
Total directly affected approx – 11723
This equates to (approx 18% or almost 1 in 5 of the entire adult population
(This figure does not take into consideration the sub-effects of transgenerational
trauma on upcoming generations)
If then taken in ratio to major locations across the world we would be looking at:
London (pop 7.5m) – would translate as 1348145
New York (pop 8.5m) – 1523990
Paris (pop 2.3m) – 410305
This is a set of comparison figures I have not heard mentioned by anyone. But I think these figures might help some to understand the magnitude of the impact on all. I think it lends weight to why no-one or side should be permitted to opt out.
Yes, I approach from the angle of equality – I don’t think any other approach other than equality and shared ownership will get off the ground never mind succeed.
I think the reality is that this (and other) constituent groups will not engage unless ordered by superiors within their own various worlds, that they will be protected and that they can say if they were acting under orders. If acting under orders then their superiors are already known – hence one reason why the chain goes all the way up.
That some actively want to tell their personal stories has been evidenced most clearly by the MRF unit members who spoke freely on television about some of their actions.
I personally think that programme might have revealed an uneasiness among the foot soldiers that they might be left to carry the can because they were coming close to being exposed anyway. Rather than thinking they were gloating or arrogant I think they were talking through fear and firing a salvo across the bows of their leaders. It seems to me that the SOS’s recent statement might not have been unrelated to pressures being exerted by these killers and others
Collusion gets mentioned a lot – not least by me, so I think it necessary to expand on my position regarding this aspect.
Collusion is an integral and necessary tactic in modern (guerrilla) warfare. Gangs and counter gangs as Frank Kitson describes it. It is virtually impossible for any government to counter this type of conflict without a huge effort being put into identifying an enemy who wears no combat uniform (generally), who doesn’t have a tank, who operates from within civilian areas etc etc etc, When you cannot send warplanes to bomb territory you claim as your own then clandestine methods are necessary.
I think it ridiculous to deny collusion was down to the unacceptable actions of a few such is the absolute necessity to employ it as a tactic of modern conflict.
I’ve asked myself many times how I might feel or react if my allegation of collusion was officially confirmed (it has been confirmed verbally by HET but did not reach the written report). I’ve come to the conclusion that my reaction would likely be one of relief that another cloud had lifted.
With apology to my fellow republicans I also acknowledge that truth is not always what you believe it or want it to be. The first recorded case of collusion I can find is that between the pre-treaty IRA of Michael Collins and Ned Brow in Dublin Castle. And an immediate reprisal by state forces at Croke Park.
Thanks Paul for again sharing your thoughts.
Approaches to post conflict justice are essentially UK state led and designed to protect an official state narrative. Hence they are hardly an independent agency when it comes to engaging with the past here.
The UK state agenda to the past has been carefully and strategically designed to prevent any wider investigation and examination into the ‘nature, causes and consequences’ of conflict. Their focus at all costs is to prevent state actors standing in courts answering questions that quite literally put British policy and the state in the dock. These are the very people who must be compelled to give evidence – in that sense the missing voice locally in the legacy debate is the UK state.
No longer can the UK state deny their role in state killings or the policy of collusion. As a response to a torrent of family demands seeking truth the UK response is no longer to deny but frustrate and delay access to information.
Which begs the question how can on combatant escape being held accountable for their past conflict policies and actions? My family experience – like yours – sees the UK as a combatant – that remains above the law. This is the same law that the state uses to solely pursues non-state actors. The hypocrisy and irony is not lost on me particularly at a time when they fail to honour international human rights obligations.
So in my opinion (as prompted by your post) when it comes to progressing the legacy debate perhaps a welcome first step would be agreeing – consistent with vast experiences of state killings – an accurate and inclusive list of combatant groups?
Is that possible?
No argument on any of this John. I think there is zero chance of even the list being readily agreed at present for all of the reasons you mention. But I do think there has been clear signs lower and middle ranking state players are moving towards protecting themselves (eg: MRF giving television interviews). The obvious implication is that if they’re brought to account they’ll name higher-ups. SOS Villiers has been quick to assure that state players should not be included in any process. I find her statement encouraging and visualise the government trying to hold a half open door but the door is still opening.Perhaps some of the victims and campaign groups could collaborate to produce such a list?
Just on a point of interest, two years ago I approached a lauded intermediary and he agreed to approach people close to the UVF to gauge my chances of obtaining their version of my dad’s killing. He received no response.
Last year a personal friend (a high profile Unionist who I will never name) approached the UVF directly. He relayed a blunt answer which was, “The UVF have a policy of not engaging with their victims”.
This was disappointing to me. Surely if you’re passionate enough to take a life you should be able to explain why through a trusted third party!
In my original submission I mentioned the publicity surrounding incidents of multiple deaths and high profile individuals. I would like to clarify that I support truth recovery for all, I’m just concerned that some might think these were the only incidents that happened.
Perhaps in looking at a list of combatant groups and how/who they interlink a list of interlinked victims of those groups might also be a worthwhile exercise. Any thoughts?
Competing narratives are at the core of the legacy debate.
Herein is the substantive barrier that must be overcome. Indeed it is also threaded by the issue of legitimacy and raises the fundamental question ‘what was it all about?’
Experience here for many years was that the ‘rule of law’ was a tool of conflict designed to suppress and instil fear. Thats certainly the experience of many within the Nationalist community. Many people from within the Unionist (pro state) community however will dispute this contention – and for me thats fine so long as the competing experience is acknowledged.
Villiers and the UK state are in denial about their political and military role in the conflict. Indeed the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, the De Silva Report (with the acknowledgment of collusion and the fact that 80% of UDA intelligence was gifted) and recent Article 3 torture cases of the ‘Hooded Men’ show – as you have also highlighted – evidence that senior British politicians approved torture of political prisoners. And this is only the tip of the iceberg!
For me the challenge is for the UK to corporately acknowledgement their role in the conflict and add themselves to the list of combatant groups. Not to do so makes a mockery of victims of state violence.
On Loyalism I know that Billy Hutchinson has said that dealing with the past cannot be about nailing people to the wall and has argued for corporate responsibility. For me this translates that unless people are quite literally protected from prosecution the possibility of assisting victims is not on the radar – in reality this is to be expected.
Coupled with this is the sheer scale of the truth process. I agree that we need to find a comprehensive process that engages all those who lost lives not just the high profile or multiple killings. All voices must be heard – Republican, Loyalist, Unionist, Nationalist and State. In the interests of consistency and equality the lesson is that all sides (and all other sectors) must now in 2014 be empowered and facilitated to tell the truth otherwise we risk building the future.
It is in this context quite significant that Sinn Fein has signed on for Haass proposals to engage with the past – with the huge limitations that neither the UK or Irish states are engaged – and others have quite literally gone ‘on the run’?
Question is why?
Around ten years ago, I was going out with a girl from Laois who was a clinical psychologist. We were sitting in the bar with a bunch of my friends, all of us from the conflict era Falls Rd, and my friends were talking and laughing about the. ‘Shit’ we had see and day to day encounters with the security forces. We were just laughing our heads of my my girlfriend wasn’t laughing. In fact, she looked disturbed and then very upset.
Not being from the north and being a clinical psychologist obviously gave her a perspective that was a bit different, to say unique would be a nonsense. But she went partly in to her professional role and told us that are perspective is skewed. Being a nice Laois girl, professional and living in BT9, she hadn’t encountered such a situation.
My point is that there a far more people affected than the, excellent, Cain statistics would suggest and I regularly encounter people who are knocked right off who were neither victim nor perpetrator.
Hello Paul, hope you are well and your family too. I knew your Da. Not that well but enough to recognise a real gent. That was back in the days when I used to help out John Mac Entee in the garage. Sorry for your loss. Those were dark days during which I realised that the life of a Catholic was not that important to many members of the RUC. I eventually left for the safety of England where I currently am living out my days. Never forget that your dad was a good man and that the cowards who murdered him are nothing. Regards to you and all the family. Btw I used to live in Andersonstown Grove when it was first built. Number 11. Best regards. Johnny Brennan