Truly terrible vista of collusion
More secrets from the dirty war that was Northern Ireland's Troubles are set to emerge in an RTE documentary next Monday and they could prove to be the most explosive yet. The programme claims that knowledge of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries went right to the top of the British Government, with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher turning a blind eye to it.
It was repeatedly claimed by Government ministers of the time that collusion was simply the result of a few bad apples in the security forces passing on information to loyalists, but the new claims paint a picture of a practice that was endemic and tacitly approved at the highest levels of Government.
Other astonishing revelations in the programme include testimony from a former member of the notorious Glenanne Gang that the aim of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings, which killed 34 people and was carried out by loyalists with the aid of British security and intelligence services, was to start a civil war.
While it has long been known that the Troubles were a very murky war, the picture that emerges from this programme is of an Alice Through The Looking Glass world where indeed nothing was quite as it first seemed.
It is also claimed that senior Government figures were until recently very keen to keep the extent of collusion under wraps, with former Police Ombudsman Dame Nuala O'Loan saying she was pressured to drop her investigations into collusion as late as 2003, well after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
About the only positive thing to emerge from the programme is the statement by current Chief Constable of the PSNI, George Hamilton, that he would hand over millions of documents containing intelligence on the province's toxic past to an independent body established to investigate what really happened during the Troubles.
That, he says, would pose questions for the police but also for other players in the conflict, including loyalists and republicans. Republicans will see this programme as vindication of their long-held allegations of widespread collusion between the security forces and loyalists, but was it just that simple? What more dark secrets could an independent investigative body, or a truth and reconciliation body, uncover and will one ever be set up? Too many people might fear it.