Rights based approach to the bereaved and injured required

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Suffering from severe illusion is a condition all too common with political unionism where increasingly they inhabit a fantasy land of perception rather than reality – of course it’s all artifice but the dangers of them actually believing in their own propaganda has long passed and the only antidote is for a measure of reality and some myth busting.

In the current talks inquests appear once again to be at the heart of unionist complaint, as does the definition of a victim. The first complaint causes surprise to those of us who regularly hear from unionists about the fundamental requirement of upholding the ‘rule of law’ and where amnesty is an anathema– of course in their world this only pertains to non-State forces.

So here goes – many cases currently before the coronial system have been necessitated for the following reasons; no actual police investigation at all; a failure to properly investigate killings; withholding of evidence; a failure to prosecute by the previous prosecutorial system; and where actual scrutiny has been conspicuously absent. This is usually referred to as legal impunity and addressing this huge deficit would actually involve hundreds of new investigations, inquiries and inquests. Currently there are only 50 inquests, involving some 79 killings representing a very small proportion of State violence.

Political unionism make statements saying; “The State’s only responsible for 10% of all the killings”. To begin with this is insulting to the hundreds of people directly killed by the State, many of whom were civilians, including within the unionist/loyalist community. Of the combatants killed many were unarmed and posed no threat whatsoever, yet in these and other instances well resourced and planned ambushes, rather than effecting arrests within the rule of law, took place. Due process was intentionally set aside in favour of killing.

Additionally this “10%” figure fails to account for actions perpetrated by State agents directed to plant bombs and carryout killings, including numerous incidents where evidence also shows that killings and attacks could have been prevented. yet no preventative action was taken by theses same authorities. A fact illustrated from Stalker/Sampson, Lord Stevens, and Justice Cory to Sir Desmond De Silva. The latter reported that 85% of all intelligence held by loyalist paramilitaries came from the RUC, British Army and the Intelligence services. The importation of weapons by MI5 that rearmed loyalists, and other forms of collusion from 1988 until 1994, alone led to 229 killings. This figure does take into account all the killings after this period including when the same weapons were turned against each other in loyalist feuds. Who’s really culpable for all these deaths?

Of course the policy of collusion was about defeating republicans during the war and a part of that counter-insurgency policy also included the infiltration of the republican movement with manipulation and coercion to “turn” people when they were at their most vulnerable. Others were willing accomplices. In such scenarios turning a blind eye and even letting regular members of the British Army and RUC be killed in order to “protect” sources and agents facilitated killings for a wider agenda – euphemistically referred to as “the dirty war”. Add to this that once those they had exploited had served their ‘usefulness’ they were often sacrificed to tie up so-called “loose ends” and fed back to organisations with the inevitable fate of “execution”, or to protect other more important “sources” as part of the “policy” of ingratiating agents further up the food chain within their respective organisations. All these killings were suitably “investigated” and “condemned”. Who is ultimately responsible for these killings?

When we have regular members of the RUC’s CID saying publicly they feared the Special Branch more than the IRA, we get a sense of just how dirty the State’s intelligence and policing agencies really were. Of course all this was under the pretense of “fighting terrorism”, but who then were the “terrorists”?

Then we had the accompanying legislation and guidelines that facilitated this “intelligence” work in “fighting terrorism” – including the Walker Report. Not to mention the financial resources. Who sanctioned all of this?

When David Cameron has to apologise to the Finucane family yet decline an inquiry as the forces of power dictate, we get a sense of what is at stake. When we see disclosures in inquests where senior PSNI officers seek to defend the RUC and cite legacy as the greatest threat, we see just how bad it was and what is at stake when accountability is now sought. When obfuscation, delay and destruction of evidence are commonplace we know what is going on. Defending the indefensible is the common line within sections of the PSNI, retired officers especially from Special Branch, and political unionism. Attack is the instinctive reaction to accountability and change. Continuing the legacy of legal impunity is therefore essential, and paralleling this is social impunity driven by political unionism that seeks to condemn what republicans did as mortally wrong and promote what the State did as morally right. It’s a twin track approach necessary to shield the truth and preserve this narrative. Attacking inquests therefore is a prerequisite and maintaining a hierarchy of victimhood is also necessary. It needs to stop.

The setting up of the Legacy Support Unit (LSU) within the PSNI is a clear line of defence. Comprised of former RUC Special Branch officers this unit decides what evidence and documents will be provided to inquests – inquests that are seeking to examine actions perpetrated by colleagues of the LSU. Then there is the strategy of delay through a “lack of resources” impacting on the “ability” the LSU to function given the huge caseload of inquests – again characterised as a financial burden rather than a form of accountability for violations. Of course there was no resource considerations concerning the £1 billion plus payments to former RUC and “security force” members by the British Treasury since 1998 all outside of any political agreed process. The taking of huge payouts for leaving policing, intended to path the way for change, witnessed over 1,100 former RUC officers grab the money, only to reenter the PSNI as civilian workers through a revolving door policy. These former officers are beyond the scrutiny of the Police Ombudsman, as they are technically not “serving officers”. This further undermines change and confidence in new policing. This is an accountability matter to which the DUP proudly boasts they’ll not address despite holding the position of Chair in the Assembly’s Justice Committee and being a partner in government. Strange, when they claim to be supporters of law and order.

And we also have the false claim by unionists that the only focus is on the State when the irrefutable facts are that not one single serving member of the States armed forces and intelligence services has been brought to account. Quite the opposite has been the case and those who are regularly arrested, charged and convicted have been members of non-State forces.

Families seeking accountability as part of transition addressing decades of legal impunity witness former State intelligence combatants circle the wagons with the full imprimatur of the NIO, unionists, and London. They are told that they are not ‘real’ victims; that as siblings and grandchildren of those killed they are not entitled to avail of financial support services available to others; and that if injured in the conflict as a combatant are to be excluded from any pensions that might now be decided upon whereas if you were in the Special Branch and injured then you’ll be looked after. And that the 2006 Victims & Survivors Order, that defines all those bereaved, physically and psychologically injured, and those who care for them, as victims is to be changed as part of the negotiations.

When all is stripped away it’s the very people responsible for the harms in the first instance now deciding what information that they’ll provide to inquests and those supporting them politically also saying to the same families you’re not entitled to any reparations or support while they ride the gravy train of payments from the public purse. It’s grossly offensive and outrageous. It’s an affront to peace making.

Many of the families we support ask;

  • What sanctions for those who sent out agents to plant bombs and murder people?
  • What sanctions regarding collusion and direct state killings?
  • What sanctions for continuing legal and social impunity?

Should we exclude everyone who was in a combatant organisation, including the RUC, UDR/RIR, and intelligence services from the 2006 Victims & Survivors Order and just have civilians as victims? The simple answer is no if we want to build a better future and have hope.

The 2006 definition was the right decision by the first power-sharing Executive– it was the only logical and reasonable way forward and demonstrated mature leadership. That we appear back in the mire on this matter is disappointing. Dragging us back into that mire is part of a DUP agenda where they seek to exploit and continue a meta-conflict through victims avoiding a holistic narrative of what really occurred in the real world that was the conflict over four decades. The DUP have focused in on the severely injured as part of their wider strategy aimed at driving a wedge between all people affected by the conflict instead of facing into the facts, the reality, and developing a cohesive strategy for all based on the principle of equality, respect and above all rights.

The DUP need to stop fighting their war through victims. And along with the British government they need to stop the counter-strategy of undermining families seeking accountability about State actions and desist from continuing legal and social impunity 20 years after the first ceasefires and 16 years after a political settlement. All victims deserve better.

By Mark Thompson.

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About Author

Mark is a founder member and the Director of Relatives for Justice. Mark is responsible for the strategic development and management of Relatives for Justice and has overseen the growth of the organisation from a successful and dedicated voluntary campaigning group to the professional advocacy and support organisation that it is today. Mark’s experience in pro-actively holding those responsible to account and in ensuring that the needs and experiences of victims of the conflict are identified and championed makes him one of the most recognisable and respected figures in the debate on how we Deal with the Past. He has make representations on families’ behalf at US Congress and the United Nations as well as to government in both Britain and Ireland.

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