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11 January 2001 Edition

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Drip-feed confirmation of collusion

BY FERN LANE

It may have been a little difficult at times last year to keep track of the minutiae of the collusion issue. Making sense of the constant drip-drip of revelations, denials, retractions, accusations, threats and counter-accusations, all of which reached unprecedented levels, and the motives which lie behind them is a task which could have defeated even the most acute of conspiracy theorists. What has become very clear however - and not just to the republican community, which has been saying all of this for years - is just how deeply and for how long the British state involved itself, through its military establishment, in an elaborate matrix of intrigue, terror and assassination in the Six Counties, using a war it refused to formally acknowledge as justification.

     
Whilst only republicans and the families of victims pointed the finger, the British could simply continue lying and dismiss collusion as the unfounded allegations of a few political miscreants. With the testimonies of `Martin Ingram' and William Stobie, this is no longer possible

But the greatest difference between the revelations of last year and the accusations which have gone before is that so much of the material has come from those directly involved in the events. Whilst only republicans and the families of victims pointed the finger, the British could simply continue lying and dismiss collusion as the unfounded allegations of a few political miscreants. With the testimonies of `Martin Ingram' and William Stobie, this is no longer possible.

But `Ingram' and Stobie are no heroes. They have not suffered from pangs of conscience or been overcome by altruism. The only thing that keeps them awake at night is fear for their own safety. Rather, their uncharacteristic bouts of seeming honesty are for reasons of self-preservation, probably arising from the realisation that they may well be required to face the consequence of actions they carried out on the orders of others. And therein lies the crucial sub-plot of the collusion story, a sub-plot which, again, has been revealed as never before during the last 12 months.

It seems that a number of factions are emerging within those ranks of British intelligence, the security services and the RUC that were responsible for the activities of the FRU and their loyalist helpers, and that serious tensions exist in the interrelationships between them all. One faction, that to which `Ingram' and Stobie have attached themselves, is those at the bottom of the military food chain - the men and women who took the orders rather than those who gave them - who have belatedly woken up to the fact that, unless the stringent efforts to collapse it succeed, the Stevens Inquiry could possibly come up with sufficient evidence to charge some members of the FRU and others associated with it with conspiracy to murder. These individuals are, not surprisingly, unwilling to face such charges and are thus ready to point out the trail which leads inexorably upwards and ends at the door of the British cabinet office.

Another is what could be termed the realist faction, which in all probability understands that one way or another, and irrespective of any subversion of any number of inquiries, the accusations of collusion will ultimately have to be answered. Again, this realism is born less of any sense of honour than of an urgent need to protect individual, possibly ministerial, rear ends. Here the careful management of selective revelation becomes paramount and promoting the `rogue units/bad apples' argument, one which long ago lost any semblance of credibility, is central to that management.

This approach, some would argue, has also been informed by the desire to deflect attention away from the RUC and Patten and by the need to resolve what, for the British, is a very tricky contradiction indeed. One the one hand, the RUC, up to its neck in collusion, is awarded the George Cross and feted as a body of brave and incorruptible police officers risking their lives for the entire community, but on the other its continual and systematic abuse of nationalist human rights has required a major inquiry which recommended substantial changes to its structure, ethos and accountability. Pretending that its crimes (and carefully passing details of certain of them into the public domain) were the responsibility of a few uncontrolled individuals, and that a minimum bit of tinkering will suffice to bring the force into line, is a neat way out of this particular difficulty.

Thirdly is the faction that just cannot move beyond the historical, colonial and truly pathological culture of secrecy and dishonesty at the NIO and MI5. It remains the case that, no matter what political efforts were made or what political progress was achieved as a result of those efforts during the last year, there is still a powerful element which will forever do its utmost to prevent the misdeeds of the British state from seeing the light of day and which is determined in its attempt to crush, discredit and destroy anyone who imperils this project.

Various of these factions have surreptitiously fought it out, often through the pages of the Sunday Times, with one side feeding compliant journalists collusion stories which are presented as `investigations' and then the other threatening the same journalists with legal action for publishing them. But, as Laura Friel has observed on these pages before, adequately addressing the collusion issue is less about discovery than disclosure, and in that sense the Stevens Inquiry is itself, knowingly or otherwise, part of the cover-up. The question is not an abstract or theoretical one of whether crimes against Irish people were committed by the British state; that they were is surely now beyond any question whatsoever. It is simply about those at the top of the pile - who know precisely what happened in the cases of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Francisco Notorantonio, all the others - telling the truth.
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