29 January 2004 Edition
Why Inquiries are needed
BY MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN
Unionist politicians constantly demand an end to inquiries into state killings. To mask the real sectarian motivation behind their objections, 'cost' or 'strain on police resources' are usually identified as the rationale for their opposition. Of course, at the same time, their acolytes in various unionist pressure groups call for stringent re-investigations into specific IRA actions, even though all the resources of the State — including torture to extract forced confessions — were poured into investigations at the time. Cost doesn't enter the equation — in fact the chorus of unionist political support is deafening. These demands are particularly poignant this week, as we approach the 32nd anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
We are wearily familiar with criticism from unionist politicians, as that's what unionist politicians do best — complain if it seems that anyone is paying attention to nationalist or republican grievances. Unionist concern about cost is even more strident if there is a possibility that any section of 'their' army or police force is the focus of the investigation.
But what concerns me is the mounting chorus from members of the British military, political establishment and serving senior PSNI members, including Chief Constable Hugh Orde, questioning the benefit of inquiries such as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, echoing complaints about cost and use of police resources.
Just this past week we have had reports that PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kincaid warned the 'Independent' Policing Board that it has a stark choice to make between policing the present and revisiting unsolved murders from the past 30 years.
Perhaps the significance of Mr Kincaid's reasoning will not be lost on political commentators, who will recall the fact that nationalist families seeking recourse for the murders of their loved ones have demanded that the investigations be carried out by an outside police service. Therefore, the PSNI Assistant Chief Constable's claim that it would deplete the number of personnel at his disposal for other tasks is down to his Chief Constable's insistence that the PSNI, and not outside bodies, carry out the new inquiries.
The objections to independent investigations by outside bodies by the PSNI and British and Unionist political establishment is more to do with fear of what may be uncovered by investigations by outside bodies rather than the cost either in financial or personnel terms. It takes only a cursory look at the most recent revelation in the Ombudsman's Report into the murder of GAA member Sean Brown to see why Hugh Orde and Sam Kincaid would fear an independent public inquiry. Mr Orde's claim that the Report found no evidence of collusion does not stand up to scrutiny. The fact that no proper investigation took place, witnesses were not interviewed, forensic evidence was not examined, CCTV evidence from Toome RUC Barracks was not produced, evidence files were destroyed or went missing after the Ombudsman agreed to investigate the case and finally, the manner in which the bereaved family was treated by RUC members in the immediate aftermath of the murder, would constitute collusion in most people's judgement.
It doesn't take a policing expert to be suspicious about events prior to the murder of Seán Brown and the similarities to the many hundreds of murders of nationalists that were never properly investigated. In the Seán Brown killing, it has always been claimed that the murder gang came from outside of the South Derry area and the location of the body and car would confirm that opinion. The questions that this throws up would suggest that there was some degree of collusion prior to the murder. Why, for instance, did the killers feel secure enough to travel to an area with which they would not be familiar and hang around for the end of a meeting that ran over an hour late? Why would they then travel in convoy with their victim past one of the key points for electronic surveillance between Derry and Belfast — Toome RUC Barracks — in what appears to be the knowledge that they did not have to fear being intercepted?
For as long as there is no public confidence that the PSNI (anymore than the RUC) has any motivation to conduct proper investigations into murders by state forces or their unionist pseudo gangs, the demands for independent public inquiries will continue.