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26 February 2004 Edition

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Who is afraid of the truth?

BY FERN LANE

As the oral hearings stage of the Bloody Sunday tribunal drew to a close, familiar voices could be heard excoriating the £155 million cost. One of them belonged to John Taylor who, wobbling with righteous indignation, told Channel 4 News that the "unionist community" regards the inquiry with "absolute distain". In any case, he continued, he did not believe that the families or the wider nationalist community would accept Lord Saville's eventual report. "I live in Ireland," he said, "and I know what these people are like."

These people? Apart from his apparent belief that Saville, like Widgery and more latterly Hutton, will completely exonerate the British state, in that simple sentence you can also hear the authentic voice of ascendancy unionism at its very, very worst. For Taylor, the nationalist — or to put it more accurately, the Catholic — community is nothing more than an amorphous undifferentiated mass; a dangerous gang of ingrates who, as the poet said, refuse to be satisfied with being given "a bigger cage".

In that sentence we saw someone who, despite a lifetime of avoiding meaningful contact or engagement with nationalists, dared to assert that he can see into the hearts and minds of an entire community, in all the infinite variety and subtleties that includes, and pronounce with some kind of spurious authority on what they "are like". Even now, it is clear that Taylor still regards himself and the community from which he comes as a ruling elite tasked with keeping a bunch of unruly natives in their place. So what if the army had to shoot a few of them; it wasn't any more than they deserved, and it is an outrage that anyone, but especially him, should be expected to answer for the killings on Bloody Sunday.

At roughly the same time, the DUP's Gregory Campbell was also on television, complaining loudly that the £155 million spent on the inquiry could have been spent on health and other public services. It is a silly and deliberately deceptive argument. Is he really suggesting that, were it not for the inquiry, the British Government would have ploughed that same £155 million into health, education and the environment in the Six Counties? Hardly. As Campbell perfectly well knows — and if he doesn't then one has to question his competency as a politician — even if the Bloody Sunday inquiry had never been set up, public services (except of course the security 'services') would still be severely underfunded. Much as Campbell would like us to think it, this is not a case of the Bloody Sunday inquiry versus schools and hospitals, with the inquiry winning the day and grabbing money from desperate nurses and teachers. It is wilful and malicious nonsense to imply that the British government has taken funds out of the public services pot to hand over to a few highly-paid barristers.

Of course, in reality Campbell's fictitious calculation has nothing to do with money. Unionist opposition to the inquiry, as evidenced by John Taylor, is entirely political, not economic. When was the last time you heard Campbell, or any other unionist, complaining about the cost to the British state of the invasion and occupation of Iraq? That runs into billions and, unlike the inquiry, has no foreseeable end. Has Campbell worked out how many kidney dialysis machines you could buy for the cost of one of the missiles used in the illegal invasion? Of course not. The fact is, Campbell and most other unionist politicians support US and British aggression and, when they support the policy, money is no object.

But then all of this — the incessant complaining about the cost, the impugning of the families and of the dead — has been an attempt by those who are politically and ideologically opposed to the inquiry to deflect from the undeniable truth emerging from the hearings. Likewise, the obsession with the IRA on the part of the media and the soldiers' legal teams is another diversionary tactic. During the hearings, for example, we witnessed the spectacle of Martin McGuinnness being expected to answer questions on what he, and others, were doing for years before and years after Bloody Sunday and being threatened by Lord Saville when he refused. We had also witnessed Edward Heath being supported by the noble Lord when he refused to answer questions on British Government policy in Ireland at the time of Bloody Sunday.

This antagonism to the inquiry, wrapped up in the pretence over costs, as well as being an expression of sectarianism, also disguises fear on the part of many within unionism and the British establishment. They are afraid that the political process leading up to Bloody Sunday, which led soldiers on the ground to believe that they could kill unarmed civilians, will be exposed and by extension, that the wider criminality of the unionist regime — of which John Taylor was a member — under the auspices of the British Government, will finally be laid bare.

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