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15 February 2007 Edition

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Collusion: Packed conference hears of British involvement and Irish inaction

Amanda Fullerton, daughter of murdered Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton

Amanda Fullerton, daughter of murdered Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton

Time for truth on state-sponsored murder

BY PHILLIP CONNOLLY

“What happened long ago has not been forgotten or relegated to the past. Their wounds have not been healed.  Their suffering has not been alleviated.” - Independent International Panel on Collusion

 

A Sinn Féin conference on collusion between British Intelligence and unionist paramilitaries has called on 26-County Justice Minister Michael McDowell to hold a proper debate in the Oireachtas on the issues surrounding Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s report and the standard of Garda inquiries into cross-border attacks on nationalists. 

Sinn Féin’s pokesperson  on Justice, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, told the conference:

“We now have the facts. We can prove that the British armed loyalists to attack people in the Six Counties and in the 26 Counties.

“The government in the 26 Counties has a responsibility to admit to a cover-up in their investigations.

“In any other jurisdiction this level of cross-border attacks would be tantamount to a declaration of war and the British would be hauled before the United Nations and ordered to desist. Instead, all we get from this Minister for Justice is silence.”

Opening the conference, Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said that the aim of the event was “to shine a light on the facts and expose the truth”.

She paid tribute to the family of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane, describing them as “a force of great strength to the hundreds of families who have been left to pick up the pieces of their lives which have been ruined by the British state policy of collusion”.  This policy, she told the conference, “was designed to intimidate one section of the community for the sole purpose of maintaining the union with Britain”.

The Sinn Féin MEP added:

“It is time for Fine Gael to come clean about their level of culpability in the 1970s.”

She demanded the names of the individuals who ran the death squads and subsequent cover-ups.

“Why was there no co-operation forthcoming from the British in the inquiry into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings?  The families deserve to know the truth, and the current government in the 26 Counties is equally culpable if they don’t demand an international inquiry into the scandal.”

The packed conference, which took place in a Dublin hotel on Saturday morning last, was also addressed by Margaret Urwin on behalf of Justice for the Forgotten.

Margaret addressed the burning issue of how the Free State dealt with cross-border attacks by loyalist/RUC/UDR murder squads. She referred to the recent Barron Report, which found that “all investigations by the Garda had failed miserably”. 

“Forty-eight people have been executed in the 26 Counties. There have been no convictions for any of these crime because the RUC would not co-operate with the Garda     — and the Garda, for their part, didn’t want to know.

“Of those 48 people murdered in the 1970s, we believe that 38 of those were murdered by the Glenanne gang.”

The Glenanne gang was a group of unionist paramilitaries who were all serving officers in the RUC and UDR throughout the 1970s.  Their base was a farmhouse at Glenanne, County Armagh.

In an affidavit, former RUC Sergeant John Weir named  fellow gang members who the Justice Barron report found to have “either participated in, or were aware of” preparations for the Dublin/Monaghan bombings.

Urwin added:

“Documents that we have found in the London archives tell of a high-level security meeting between the two governments, which was attended by Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State, Minister for Justice Paddy Cooney, the British Ambassador, the Garda Commissioner and RUC Chief Constable James Flanagan, along with many other officials.

“No reference was made to the Dublin/Monaghan bombings whatsoever — and this was just four months after the atrocities in Dublin and Monaghan! The discussion was all about republicans attacking the North from the South.

“Chief Constable Flanagan and the Garda Commissioner stated that relations between the Special Branch in Newry and the Special Branch in Dundalk ‘could not be better’.”

Margaret Urwin outlined the conditions at the time between the British and the 26-County Government. She explained how the British set up sophisticated channels of communication between the Garda and the RUC and British Army. She also told of documents discovered in London that show how compliant the two-faced Fine Gael Government was with British security demands. Garret FitzGerald was on camera condemning the closure of border roads in the 1970s, while documents found in London reveal he was at the same time lambasting the British Army engineers for not building the barricades strongly enough.”

More importantly, unearthed documents relating to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings show a callous disregard for the victims by both governments. They include a letter from the British Ambassador reporting Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald’s view that the bombings were the fault of the IRA alone, quoting him directly with this remark to the British Ambassador: “It’s all their bloody fault for starting it all.”  

 

 

 

Amanda Fullerton, daughter of murdered Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton, spoke on behalf of the campaigning group ‘Eddie Fullerton for Justice’. Eddie had been a Sinn Féin activist in Birmingham and moved back to Ireland in 1974. In 1979, his hard work for the community was rewarded by a seat on Donegal County Council and it came as no surprise when he was re-elected in 1985 and again in 1991.

In early 1990, Eddie was arrested at a demonstration against border road closures. He was held by the RUC for three days but no charges were brought against him. In March of that year, Eddie received a death threat from the UVF, which he presented to the Garda. In 1991, gardaí leaked a bogus story to the Derry Journal, pointing the finger at Eddie for the death of a loyalist. One month later, Eddie Fullerton was dead. Fianna Fáil County Councillor Bernard McGlinchey sensationally stated two weeks later:

“I say, and I am convinced, that the gardaí in this country have done a terrible injustice to Eddie Fullerton. Eddie Fullerton would be alive today if that investigation hadn’t got the publicity it did.”

Shortly after Eddie’s murder, an RUC photo-montage, along with information on Eddie Fullerton, was found in a rubbish dump outside Derry — information that had been handed over to a loyalist  death squad.    

The murder of Eddie Fullerton has been laid squarely at the door of the RUC, its informers and British Military Intelligence. But the Garda’s role in the events leading up to the murder also needs to be examined.

Four of the Garda team investigating the death of Eddie Fullerton were discredited and exposed as corrupt by the Morris Tribunal in 2004. The gun used in Eddie’s murder had been used in 13 others, some of which have resulted in convictions — a fact that the RUC never disclosed until a Garda review of the case was undertaken. The re-opening of the case failed to win the confidence of the Fullerton family, who insist that only a full, independent inquiry will suffice. Amanda Fullerton told the conference that the Police Ombudsman has now taken up the case.

In the years leading up to 1989, the RUC Special Branch in Castlereagh Interrogation Centre repeatedly told republicans that their legal representative, Pat Finucane, was going to be murdered. The messages were interpreted by Pat Finucane as an interrogation tactic against his clients.  Then, in 1989, in the House of Commons, government minister Douglas Hogg — speaking completely out of context to the matter being debated — announced that, in his opinion, some solicitors in the Six Counties were “unduly sympathetic to the IRA”.

Pat Finucane’s son, John, was eight years old when, three weeks later, a loyalist murder squad burst into the family home and shot his father dead. John told the conference:

“Hogg had been briefed by very senior members of the RUC. His comments amounted to a licence for loyalists to kill any and every solicitor representing republicans.”

The Finucane family started a campaign for a fully independent inquiry, a campaign that continues 18 years later. 

Initially, an inquiry was set up under senior Metropolitan Police officer John Stevens to look into the case. Then the arrest of UDA intelligence offcer and British Army agent Brian Nelson in 1991 opened up a can of worms in the search for the truth about the murder.

Brian Nelson’s brief was simple: arm and train loyalist paramilitaries. Nelson was not a rogue element. He was closely supervised, monitored and briefed as a top agent for the highly secretive Force Research Unit (FRU), which the British then denied the very existence of.  He received a lenient sentence, early release, and a generous resettlement package from the British Government for the crime of conspiracy to murder.

The Finucane family continued to gather a huge amount of evidence of collusion, which they presented to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1999. To avoid an independent public inquiry, Blair called in the Stevens inquiry team for the third time. Stevens announced in Belfast that collusion was neither a republican slur nor a Finucane lie, that it was not isolated and that it wasn’t localised. 

 

In 2001, the British and Irish governments agreed that six controversial cases — four in the Six Counties and two in the 26 Counties — would be looked at by an international judge. The agreement promised that Judge Peter Cory would have unhindered access and, if he thought there was a case to answer, the relevant government would establish a public inquiry.

When Judge Cory submitted his decision on the Pat Finucane case, the British Government, in  an act of extremely bad faith, refused to share it with the Finucane family. The family took the Government to court. In three other cases (Rosemary Nelson, Billy Wright and Robert Hamill), the British Government committed itself to full, independent inquiries. In the case of Pat Finucane, the British said they would defer the decision to a later date. 

Finally, faced with the moment of truth, the British Government reverted to type and introduced the Inquiries Act 2005.  This act puts control over public inquiries in the hands of a government minister. The investigation of 30 years of state-sponsored murder is now to be controlled by those whose policy it was to carry out those murders.

“So now the relevant minister — be it the Defence or Army Minister, the Six-County Secretary of State, or the Home Secretary — can dictate to the judge what papers can be seen and which ones can’t; when people are allowed into the inquiry and when they are not; if an inquiry report can be published or if it cannot.

The second session of the conference focused on the issue of truth recovery.

Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre said:

“We are in a very different place now to where we were even six months ago. So much has happened in the few months that has changed the nature of the debate, even the nature of the discussion that we are having among ourselves. Even senior police officers are admitting to the injustices of the past.”

Reading from what he described as the “devastating” Dáil report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality on collusion, Paul O’Connor said:

“There was a period of time in which there was significant state collusion which was not limited to what might be referred to as foot soldiers, bad apples or the occasional wayward RUC officer or UDR member...

“This committee expresses its outrage that acts of international terrorism could have been colluded in by all levels of the British administration.” 

Paul told the conference: “Each case of truth recovery has to be dealt with on two levels: individual truth recovery and societal truth recovery. Each case that we deal with has its own unique struggle and process.”

Paul O’Connor described to the conference how papers they found in archives in London show the nature of the dirty war, including the designation of Armagh as a “Special Emergency Area, allowing the SAS free reign in the area north and south of the border”. 

Mark Thomas, from Relatives for Justice, spoke of the central role of the British Government’s Cabinet-level Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in driving the state policy of collusion.

“Shoot-to-kill, plastic bullets and physical force were all carried out with impunity. Everyone now knows that the JIC made the decision whether to send out the SAS or loyalist killer gangs to carry out British policy.

“The British justice system was rigged and the British had to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights... despite censorship, the very nature of the state was exposed.”  

The Relatives for Justice spokesperson said that they have to go international to force the British into a process that will take the power of inquiries away from them.

“The real obstacle to truth is the NIO, who want to control the peace and the truth simply so that they can pacify the argument and move on. Relatives for Justice need inquiries to be independent and international.  It needs to be driven by the families.”

Mark Thomas concluded:

“Despite claims by Peter Hain that up to ten people may have been murdered, Relatives for Justice know that the real figure in North Belfast is 23.

“Now former RUC Reservists and loyalists have now started coming forward to aid Relatives for Justice.”

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