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22 January 2009 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Can you believe Ronnie Flanagan?

IT WAS Brendan Behan who, with great insight, claimed that no condition on earth could not be made infinitely worse by the arrival of a policeman.
Many of those attending the inquiry this week into the murder of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson would echo the sentiments expressed by Behan when the former RUC chief constable and head of Special Branch Ronnie Flanagan arrived to give evidence to the inquiry on allegations of RUC collusion and threats surrounding the murder.
The inquiry, a result of investigations by Canadian Judge Peter Cory into the car-bomb murder of the respected solicitor, was set up after calls by national and international human rights organisations and United Nations Special Rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy.
Its terms of reference are to establish whether the RUC, the NIO, or British state agencies committed any wrongful act or omission that facilitated her death or obstructed the investigations of it.
Those listening to Flanagan on Monday could be forgiven for thinking that this is an inquiry into the character and personality of the late solicitor during her short life rather than to examine the suspicious circumstances prior to and at the time of her death.
Flanagan – like that other stalwart of the ‘dirty war’ of the past 40 years, Colonel J Kerr – has moved on to more lucrative financial pastures in the ‘security industry’ (which probably explains the dire security situation in the Middle East).
Perhaps old chief constables, like old soldiers, appear to be afflicted with collective amnesia when it comes to matters involving Britain’s dirty war in Ireland.
I can imagine the raised eyebrows when Flanagan told the inquiry on Monday: “I am not aware of any files, papers or otherwise that have been kept on Mrs Nelson.” Now who would believe that?
Here is a man who headed up the RUC and the Special Branch yet he claims that he was unaware of their interest in a woman whose clients included the Garvaghy Road residents’ associations and suspected members of the IRA and who was vociferous in her calls for the arrest of RUC officers who watched while a unionist mob kicked Robert Hamill to death.
It’s a pity that he did not consider it his responsibility as chief constable and former head of Special Branch to read the documents unearthed by Judge Cory, including the notes of the interrogation by Special Branch of 11 clients represented by Rosemary Nelson, who were told during interviews that she “would be killed”.
There was also the chilling detail in Judge Cory’s 91-page report of the level of intimidation and threats by unionist paramilitaries which included the distribution of leaflets during the Drumcree protest impugning her character and claiming that she was an IRA bomber. The Drumcree leaflet, which gave the address and telephone number of the solicitor’s office in Lurgan, as well as written death threats were forwarded to the NIO.
Judge Cory found that the NIO had forwarded these documents to the RUC where they had ‘disappeared’.
Flanagan’s reputation as a ‘hands on’ police chief has been seriously compromised by his admission to the inquiry that he was not involved in matters surrounding Rosemary Nelson. But then he didn’t know about Omagh either. Memory loss appears to be a major health problem within the British Intelligence services.

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