Belfast Telegraph

The murky world of collusion offers no clear-cut answers

The film Fifty Dead Men Walking is based on Martin McGartland’s real-life story
The film Fifty Dead Men Walking is based on Martin McGartland’s real-life story

By Liam Clarke

One thing is clear: the deeper we get into the issue of collusion, the harder it will be to draw a clear line between victims and perpetrators. After 30 years of conflict, it all got dreadfully complicated. Some cases are clear - Bloody Sunday victims gunned down unarmed, Whitecross workers massacred, the Sean Graham's bookmaker's slaughter and the case of Mary Travers are just a few cases which have been in the news lately. All involve entirely innocent victims caught in the wrong place at the wrong time through no fault of their own.

But guilty people can be caught in the wrong place, too. I know one man of a loyalist background who took part in an attack on a Catholic house in the 1970s as a teenager. He settled down and learnt his lesson, but years later was shot and badly wounded by republicans in the city centre (the intended target was someone else). He was refused compensation, but eventually got an ex gratia payment.

Or take Caroline Moreland (below). As the recent BBC Spotlight documentary showed, she had been on peace marches, spoken out against violence and taught her daughter that those who killed the innocent were evil.

Yet she was actively assisting the IRA without being a member and was passing information to the security forces at the same time. It led to her death. Was this single mum a terrorist, or a victim of manipulation? Would she get a pension if she survived? Another informer, Martin McGartland, probably put her in the hands of the police by reporting a bomb mission she was involved in. He later got caught himself by preventing the murder of off-duty soldiers. He has also been denied compensation because he was in the IRA - although he only joined at the police's request.

An awful lot of paramilitaries also worked for the security forces. Were they brave James Bond characters, or ruthless traitors covering up their own crimes by betraying others? Or are things not always that clear?

A senior police officer, who had oversight of intelligence in the late Troubles, once told me that the Castlereagh raid allowed the IRA to identify the entire agent network in Belfast through a process of elimination. Enough addresses and clues were given in the records seized from the officers charged with taking calls from agents, and there were scores of them.

How do you sort a situation like that out? The same officer told me of trying to recruit an IRA associate who had a passion for dogs and good access to leadership figures. Intelligence suggested personal differences with senior republicans, so he looked a good prospect.

A raffle was arranged at a local dog show in which he "won" a trip to Crufts, with accommodation in a top hotel where detectives could befriend him in the bar. He was warmly congratulated and asked to give a few banking details. He smiled and said: "F*** you black b*******, I wasn't born yesterday."

So, people could choose not to work as agents just as they could choose not to join paramilitaries. Does that make those who assist the security forces less culpable? And what if they have also covered up crimes by themselves, or their friends?

What if the handler turned a blind eye and was then injured himself in the line of duty? Does he get a pension?

And what of relatives of murder victims who joined, or assisted, a terrorist group? Or what about people who turned their lives around after a prison sentence? Does the change of heart count for anything?

There may not be a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to which individuals behaved innocently and which didn't. In some cases it will be clear, but in many more it will be open to debate.

The practical situation of victims could easily be lost while the theoretical debate rages on without agreement.

Perhaps this is one of those issues which, like Derry and Londonderry, we should agree to differ on until a consensus emerges.

Stormont's slow death is self-inflicted

One exchange in Ridicule, Patrice Leconte's movie about aristocratic intrigue in the dying days of pre-Revolutionary France, reminds me of Stormont. A nobleman tells of asking a rakish English lord how many mistresses he kept. "How many are several?" came the enigmatic reply.

You would get the same answer if you asked how many times the Assembly can delay financial meltdown. It can't do so indefinitely, any more than the Englishman could afford endless mistresses.

Yet it can stagger on in an increasingly wasteful and disgraceful way. This has got to come to an end, and if nobody blinks it is unlikely to end well.

Even if Sinn Fein and the DUP do make a deal on the budget within the next couple of weeks - and that is not widely predicted - there is still the question of the £604m black hole and the money we have to keep handing back to London until we resolve welfare reform.

The most obvious way out of that is if the Government gives us more money. Such a humiliating climbdown would set a precedent for Stormont to come back for more the next time it ran low on money. Scotland and Wales could claim parity immediately.

The next most obvious way is for Sinn Fein to flip-flop. It is unlikely to do that, or to accept welfare powers being handed back to Britain. Sinn Fein is mainly focused on being able to present itself as an anti-austerity party in the next Irish general election. That is scheduled for next year, but could be held in the autumn, so it is hard to see any bold moves from republicans before that.

Martin McGuinness talks of our local parties combining with the SNP to extract a better deal from London. It has discussed this with the Scots and the Welsh.

That may work and it may not; the SNP is not risking much on it, but we are. Scotland and Wales wouldn't be negotiating with London at a time when they are haemorrhaging millions in welfare repayments to the Treasury.

To take another movie moment as a parallel, that situation would be rather like the moment in Gladiator when the villain, Emperor Commodus, stuck a small dagger in the side of Maximus, the hero, just as they were going into the Coliseum to fight to the death.

Maximus was bleeding as he fought, losing strength every moment, just as we will be if we start a scrap with London without straightening out our spending and implementing the Stormont House Agreement first.

The difference between us and the characters in Gladiator is that, in our case, the wound is self-inflicted.

We are in the process of inflicting it now and the outcome is obvious.

Belfast Telegraph


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