10 December 1998 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Patten and the wisdom of Solomon

By Peadar Whelan

Since last week the Patten Commission roadshow has visited various locations throughout the North and as I watched Mr Patten in the Ashgrove Community centre in Portadown last Friday I thought to myself, ``here's a man with the look of someone who has bitten off more than he can chew''.

Tired-looking and possibly jaded by his experiences, Mr Patten probably had a wry smile to himself when Malachy Trainor told him he ``would need the wisdom of Solomon'' to come up with a solution to the RUC problem.

In Portadown, however, the answer to the RUC is less complicated. ``Do the people of Ireland a favour, and disband the RUC,'' was how Malachy Trainor concluded a submission during which he detailed how loyalists killed three members of his family.

And despite knowing who carried out the killings the RUC did nothing about it.

Indeed, said Malachy, an RUC Special Branch officer boasted that he helped set Tommy Trainor up to be killed.

Eamon Cairns, whose sons Rory and Gerard were shot dead by loyalists in October 1993, spoke of his family's anguish when after the killings the only interest the RUC seemed to show in the case was to recruit him as an informer.

An RUC officer who came to the Cairns home asked Eamon, on three occasions, ``what do you think of the informer system?''.

Of the other submissions that of Diane Hamill was the most pertinent. Her brother was beaten to death by loyalists last year while an RUC patrol watched on.

Her family's original submission to Patten was returned as, according to the Commission, the matter was sub judice.

Patten has now agreed to meet the Hamill family for a private meeting.

What is clear from this meeting is that the problem for Patten is that the unacceptability of the RUC goes far beyond the ``odd bad apple'', or the ``odd mistake or error of judgement''. It is about the political unacceptability of a force that has taken political sides, is not neutral and treats the nationalist community as the enemy.

That this is part of Patten's dilemma becomes more clear as he is constantly faced with unionists who take the view that ``it is our `police' right or wrong''.

That unionists will not brook criticism of the RUC was clear in Antrim when, on Monday evening, during a hearing Sinn Fein's Martin Meehan was heckled and called a ``scumbag'' by unionists.

Earlier Meehan, along with residents of the drug-ravaged Rathenraw estate had to force the Commission to move the hearing to the Antrim Forum, a larger venue, after officials at the door refused to allow them in.

Likewise in Armagh City on Monday two men in plainclothes identified themselves as RUC officers when confronted by Sinn Fein activists. Both left the hall.

The RUC claimed ``no impropriety was involved''. However North Belfast nationalists will remember that a number of people who attended the Commission meeting several weeks ago were visited by the RUC within days of making submissions and told their names were on a loyalist death list.

Meanwhile, in an interesting aside during the Commission's second South Armagh meeting, on Thursday 3 December, Mr Patten responded to criticisms made of Commission member Peter Smyth who sat at the Commission's first hearing in the town.

After that first meeting An Phoblacht ran a story about Mr Smyth and criticised the fact that he had defended two British marines who were acquitted of killing Fergal Caraher.

Patten defended Smyth saying it was wrong to associate a lawyer with what their clients were accused of.

However the article in An Phoblacht which criticised Smyth did not criticise him on the grounds that he defended the two marines. Our criticism was based on the anger and hurt felt by the Caraher family, especially Fergal's father who went along to the Patten Commission and gave a submission in good faith.

Only afterwards did he know that the man to whom he gave the submission did not act with the same good faith.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1