Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Public outcry that hides private fear of the truth

Loyalists feel they are being picked upon by cold case investigators, the Police Ombudsman and the media. But the truth is they fear the murky secrets of the past, says Brian Rowan

I wonder: do loyalists ever put themselves in the shoes of the republican leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness?

Specifically, I am thinking of those loyalists - and one in particular - who cannot speak at present without criticising either the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) or the media.

His complaint is what he considers as bias; that in picking over the past, the HET and journalists are being one-sided.

Yes, recently, there has been a media focus on the Shankill Butchers and after a report by the Police Ombudsman, on the McGurk's bar bombing.

It is because of what happened; the horrific nature of the butchers killings and the death toll in the pub bomb.

But how often is Adams questioned and quizzed by journalists about the IRA war; about the hunger strikes; the bodies of the disappeared and, specifically, the case of Jean McConville, accused of being an informer, interrogated and executed by republicans?

If loyalists were to read the news reports on the IRA Shankill bomb - that slaughter in October 1993. How many references would they find to Adams?

Do they remember the media focus on the Sinn Fein leader when he carried the coffin of one of the bombers Thomas Begley?

Do they remember that another of the bombers, Sean Kelly, was returned to prison after being released early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, before being freed again?

Have they looked at the news coverage of the launch of the Eames/Bradley report into the past, at those highly charged and emotional scenes when Adams was the target of so much public protest and accusation and anger?

He sat in his seat in a packed room and he took it. None of the loyalist leaders were in the hall.

Remember, too, the fall-out from the Northern bank robbery and the media coverage. The IRA was publicly named by the then-chief constable, Sir Hugh Orde, and by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) as being responsible.

The security and intelligence assessments suggested it could only have happened with IRA army council sanction.

An Irish government minister named Adams, McGuinness and TD Martin Ferris as members of that army council - something they denied. IMC commissioner John Grieve said those republicans who denied the IRA was involved had "some brass neck".

Adams and McGuinness were part of the IRA war and are the republican leaders who delivered the IRA peace.

More than anyone else in the wars or conflict, they are the focus of media attention and have been for 40 years. And, unlike loyalist leaders, they are public figures - politicians elected since 1982.

They are in the bright lights of the peace process. Not in its hidden corners. The leaders of the UVF and the UDA don't have to stand before cameras and journalists every day. There is not that type of scrutiny.

I imagine this criticism of the HET and the media is among a small group of worried loyalists. It cannot be the big talking point in that community - there are too many other things to worry about.

People are more concerned about the price of bread, about their bills, about how they survive, about their children and their futures, their living conditions.

There is no money in their homes and I am sure they look at some loyalists at the top of the UVF and UDA and wonder about their lifestyles and how that is funded.

Inside the UVF, the worry about the past, about the work of the HET and the reporting of journalists, is what it might expose - and whom it might expose.

Could it, for instance, confirm that the most senior leader in the UVF was also in the pay of the Special Branch as a CHIS (Covert Human Intelligence Source)?

And what questions emerge from this? The obvious one is how someone can sit in a room as a loyalist leader and decide on life and death and at the same time be paid by Special Branch for providing political intelligence.

After the UVF murder of former prisoner Bobby Moffett on the Shankill, people on that road spoke of some loyalists as a 'protected species' - as untouchable.

This loyalist focus on the HET, the media and the Police Ombudsman is because of what they fear. There is no process for dealing with the past, no other way for people to have their questions answered.

The loyalists, the IRA, the intelligence world, the security forces and governments don't want a process - don't want it because of what could emerge.

So, there will be more reports and investigations by the HET. There will be more reports by the Police Ombudsman.

The media will look back at events and cases. This will be the way until there is another way.

Gerry Adams has met Alan McBride, who lost his wife and father-in-law in that IRA bomb on the Shankill Road in October 1993. The meeting, facilitated by the Rev Harold Good, was private and probably achieved more than any public truth process or inquiry.

Such a conversation won't have been easy. But it tells us there is another way of doing this.

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