After Smithwick… redux December 16, 2013Posted by guestposter in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
Many thanks to Gearóid Ó Faoleán for the following which appeared as a comment late last week but is more appropriate as a post in itself.
‘Isn’t this very strange?’
The findings are, indeed, very strange. I have the report downloaded as pdf. but, so far, have only been able to dip into it. Some unfestive reading awaits me over Christmas. Brady does make a fair point in stating that it is a fair leap from corruption to connivance in the killing of these two RUC officers.
The first thing that struck me about the reporting of the tribunal’s findings was how little reference was made to past instances of Garda collusion with the Provisional IRA; whether this was due to the ignorance of journalists or not, I don’t know. Around the time of the killing of Breen and Buchanan, it was suspected that there was a mole or moles within the Gardaí or Irish Defence Forces in the Munster region, particularly given the relative failure of the security forces to locate any significant quantity of the Libyan arms in the years since the discovery of the Eksund.
In early 1992, a serving Garda based at Henry St. in Limerick City was arrested at a payphone in the city making a phonecall to his IRA contact warning him off upcoming raids. The Garda was sentenced to five years imprisonment but released early (along with a number of other IRA prisoners) as a gesture of goodwill during the peace negotiations in 1995. Following his arrest, the security forces were much more successful in their arms discoveries. Brendan O’Brien gives considerable detail of the arms seizures in his ‘The Long War’ book.
During the 1970s, there were isolated instances of Gardaí aiding the Provisional IRA – usually through the provision of information – in the south of the country i.e. not in areas where the Gardaí were in a position to provide information on targets, as with officers Breen and Buchanan. A number of serving Irish Defence Force members provided the IRA with commercial explosives from storage facilities that they had been tasked to guard, were arrested and imprisoned (usually with ‘hard labour’).
There is also one alleged instance in which two Gardaí actively colluded with a Tyrone IRA unit in or around late 1971/early 1972. The allegation was made by P. Michael O’Sullivan in his (now very rare) photo-documentary book of the republican movement in the north during that period. O’Sullivan was an American combat photographer who had previously been with the US Army in Vietnam. While in Ireland, he was ‘embedded’ with the Tyrone IRA. According to him, the unit was pulled over near the border by Gardaí who informed them of an RUC patrol ahead. One Garda asked ‘are you going to have a go at them?’ to which the unit leader replied ‘we might, and where would you be?’ The Garda answered ‘well if you do, I’ll be off having my tea’ and waved them on. The conversation remains an allegation, but the photographs of the encounter seem very real. An important note to make is that the book was banned in both Irish states following its release.
A point I made in an earlier article on Cedar Lounge (https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/the-past-and-the-present-2/) was that, while of course there are documented cases of Garda/Army collusion, there seems to be an agenda at play – both politically and academically – to draw false equivalences in terms of scope and scale. I imagine that I am far from the only person who contributes to this site who has examined collusion as it occurred between members of the British security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. There is simply no parallel here based on my own research.
Last Friday, Jeffrey Donaldson was given space for an opinion piece on the tribunal’s findings in the Irish Times. This is the same newspaper that published an article in which it was claimed that Toby Harnden had been vindicated by the tribunal (in fact, Smithwick concluded the very opposite of this). Campbell’s article can be read here: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/we-need-to-know-if-there-were-any-further-cases-of-collusion-with-ira-1.1618283
I sent off a letter to the paper following publication of this piece, which was not published. For what it is worth, here is what I had written:
In 2011, in response to a HET (Historical Enquiries Team) report on the Miami Showband killings – a case of proven collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and members of the British security forces – Jeffrey Donaldson remarked that a piecemeal approach to the legacy of the past was doing nobody a service. Yet, where an opportunity for politicking or perhaps instituting a hierarchy of victims presents itself, Donaldson is to the fore in highlighting the importance of such a strategy.
In this paper yesterday (6 December), the DUP MP ignored basic facts in his rush to draw false equivalencies between the widespread collusion that existed in Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles’ and the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal. Thus, ‘on the balance of probabilities’ becomes fact in the case of Garda-Provisional IRA collusion. Further, in seeking to add gravitas to an already horrific killing, Donaldson reminds us that ‘soldiers in an army don’t shoot people trying to surrender’; something that clearly did not apply to the British Army in Ballymurphy in 1971, Derry city in 1972 or, indeed, Gibraltar in 1988.
Donaldson continues by stating that the attempt by southern Irish politicians to source armaments for northern nationalists in the autumn of 1969 ‘point to a sometimes sympathetic environment for the IRA’. He refuses to contextualise the events of August 1969 when over one thousand families were forced to flee their homes due to sectarian attacks, with numerous eyewitness reports attesting to the involvement of members of the B Specials (the forerunner to the Ulster Defence Regiment) in these attacks. I understand I could stand accused of the sin of ‘whataboutery’ with this letter. However, disingenuity and hypocrisy must be challenged.
Is mise le meas, (…)’
As we now know from the discovery of a British Army report from 1973, it had long been acknowledged internally that the UDR was an utterly compromised force in terms of cross-membership with loyalist paramilitaries. Further, that the regiment was never going to be given the opportunity of being an inclusive force as envisaged by Lord Hunt. His major recommendations, from the politically-sensitive name of the force to the desired prohibition on the recruitment of B Special officers, were ignored.
The tribunal’s findings have been described elsewhere as a ‘sop to unionists’ (in deliberate reference, I imagine…). As I have said, there are documented cases of collusion from the conflict – mostly passed over by the press – and the report is still mostly unread by me. So far, however, it does indeed seem ‘very strange’. No evidence, ‘balance of probabilities’ and the inevitable platforms for those who finally have official ‘proof’ that ‘while we might have been bad, so were ye!’
And now we wait for Britain to uphold its end of the Weston Park Agreement although, as Alan Shatter stated last week, now is not the time to discuss such matters.