The report by Marie Anderson, the Police Ombudsman, on the murder of an innocent 17- year- old Catholic at the Dairy Farm complex on March 25, 1993 is a timely reminder of the need to continue the various investigative processes surrounding the deaths of people murdered in the Troubles.
It is this type of thorough and detailed investigation into the circumstances of this young man’s murder by UDA gunmen that is central to the contentious arguments over how to deal with the legacy of the past.
Indeed, this report, published within the past week, is in itself a direct answer and rejection of the proposed closedown of such investigations by the UK Government.
It also demonstrates the value of the Police Ombudsman’s office in investigating such legacy killings.
Part of the Government’s plan is to close down Police Ombudsman investigations into these murders. Closure of such investigations would be a serious obstacle in providing victims’ families with the truth in their cases.
The first Police Ombudsman, Nuala (now Baroness) O’ Loan, courageously and effectively led the way with these investigations and was ably followed by Dr Michael Maguire to ensure institutional continuity and a high quality of investigation.
The report into Damien Walsh’s murder makes painful reading, not just for his valiant and persistent mother, Marian Walsh, but for the public at large. It has come to serious and very disturbing conclusions.
While the report concedes that the actual shooting of Damien Walsh could not have been prevented, the Ombudsman concluded that the murder investigation had significant failures on the part of the-then RUC.
There was also evidence of “collusive behaviours” by the police. These included the failure by the RUC’s Special Branch to share important intelligence with the senior investigating officer leading the murder investigation.
A most disturbing aspect was the failure of the Special Branch to tell the senior investigating officer that the Dairy Farm complex had been under security force surveillance.
Shockingly, the police had failed to capitalise on a series of significant investigative opportunities, including the failure to arrest suspects, not conducting searches of their homes, and in addition failing to ensure that important forensic inquiries were undertaken.
They also made a deliberate decision to disregard intelligence about the threat posed by the infamous ‘C Company’ of the UDA/UFF at the time, stopping their surveillance of the group for an eight-day period before Damien Walsh’s murder.
The RUC thus allowed the group to operate without the same “levels of constraint”, that previously applied.
During this period, ‘C Company’ murdered two people, including, Damien Walsh, and attempted to kill two others.
All of this was appalling and ended up with the killing of an innocent young man at his place of work. Sadly, this case is a repetition of similar killings carried out by loyalist paramilitaries against innocent Catholic civilians.
In many instances, the RUC were negligent, incompetent, or collusive in their handling of these matters.
There is also a frequent pattern of Special Branch, or other intelligence agencies, failing to co-operate, or in fact obstruct, the mainstream RUC’s criminal investigations.
These are murky stories, the truth of which should be disclosed to the relatives of those killed and the public at large.
It is right that the naked truth of the situation is disclosed.
Unfortunately, Boris Johnson and his Government seemingly do not agree and seek to shut down such disclosure through its perverse plans.
Mr Johnson uses the bogus excuse that somehow these investigations obstruct the cause of reconciliation.
The condemnation of the Government’s legacy proposals by Colum Eastwood in such a forceful and articulate manner on the floor of the House of Commons demonstrates the real value in having active nationalist representation in Parliament.
Colum Eastwood, only two years after his election, dwarfs any other figure in nationalist politics, including our very forgettable Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill.
Continually, Colum Eastwood and his able colleague, Claire Hanna, provide a serious and intelligent opposition to this Government’s ghastly plans on legacy and, indeed, on the NI Protocol.
They chime well together, as well as with Stephen Farry, the diligent North Down Alliance MP. Collectively, they belie the crass argument, that being at Westminster does not matter.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MPs give cringeworthy TV interviews outside Parliament, half-pretending to be active members of the House of Commons.
In their heart of hearts, they know that they should be in there opposing the Government on legacy and the Protocol, but would find it hugely embarrassing to concede defeat to the SDLP’s successful, pragmatic position and sheepishly enter the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, as the Sinn Fein MPs continue to stupidly cradle their old-fashioned principle of abstentionism, the SDLP will continue to benefit mightily from good political exposure at Westminster.