Belfast Telegraph

Word ‘collusion’ used out of context to rewrite history, claims senior Orangeman

Floral tributes left at the scene of the Loughinisland massacre
Floral tributes left at the scene of the Loughinisland massacre
Rev Mervyn Gibson
Tony Blair with Bill Clinton in Belfast in April 2018
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A senior Orangeman and Presbyterian minister who served as a member of RUC Special Branch for 16 years claims the word "collusion" has been misinterpreted.

Rev Mervyn Gibson, Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, defended the actions of the RUC during the Troubles and said the word has been used out of context by those trying to rewrite history.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, the minister at Westbourne Presbyterian in east Belfast admitted there were "bad apples" within the police during the Troubles, but said that every effort was made to find them and root them out.

"Some people try to rewrite history," he said. "The police defended everyone to the best of their ability.

"They made mistakes as everyone does. Yes, we had bad apples, but we rooted them out where we could find them.

"I think the word 'collusion' has been misinterpreted.

"There were people, yes, who no doubt passed things on, but if they were caught doing that they were thrown out.

"Collusion, the way the word is used, implies the whole force. Collusion to me is 'we're going to help that organisation do something', but that didn't happen institutionally.

"Handing information to a terrorist organisation was a criminal offence and we dealt with it.

"Did guns go back into circulation? Sometimes they did, but that was for intelligence purposes, it wasn't to help organisations and there were safeguards in place. Sometimes these safeguards went wrong.

"The big word missing from all of this is 'context'.

"There were reasons why decisions were made at the time. To go back more than 20 years later, nobody knows what was going on that day a decision was made."

Accusations of collusion between loyalists and the RUC have been made in a series of high-profile Troubles-era killings, including the Loughinisland massacre, where six Catholics died.

Mr Gibson retired from the police after 18 years' service but admitted if it hadn't been for his parents "keeping him on the straight and narrow" he could have ended up in the paramilitaries.

"At 18 I was seriously thinking about it," he said. "Our community in east Belfast was under daily attack. I wanted to defend it.

"I could have joined any of them - UVF, UDA. I remember having my notebook at school with all the various organisations - 10 or 11 Protestant paramilitary organisations.

"Thankfully, at 18, I joined the police and in my 18 years there I learned that a terrorist is a terrorist - no matter where they come from."

On leaving the RUC, Rev Gibson went on to study theology at Union College, Queen's University. He criticised what he now sees as the 'greening' of the university.

He singled out the university's 2018 celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, where former US President Bill Clinton hailed the agreement as "a work of genius".

"They celebrated it big style," he said.

"For a lot of people in Northern Ireland, it wasn't such a Good Friday Agreement."

He also said the recent decision of the university to end the link with the Presbyterian-run Union College "sends out the wrong signals".

"I think Queen's has difficulties with the unionist and Protestant community," he said.

Mr Gibson called on the university to engage in dialogue with unionists.

"I believe they need to talk to the unionist community more," he said. "I think there is an opportunity coming up in 2021, when we celebrate the centennial of Northern Ireland."

Rev Gibson also addressed what he called the "difficult days" being experienced by the Presbyterian Church.

"The Church has taken a stance on certain things but I believe in these moral issues they have taken the right stance," he added.

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