From Socialist Voice, June 2007

Full inquiry needed into political police

One of the most significant recent events was the publication of the report on collusion between the PSNI (formerly RUC) Special Branch, the British Security Service (formerly MI5), and loyalist paramilitaries.
     It was the killing of a young Protestant man by one of the chief police agents, and the sustained campaigning by the young man’s father, that brought about the investigation by the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan. Though the investigation was confined to one district in north Belfast, the findings could be replicated throughout the North of Ireland.
     The report found that the Special Branch and MI5 “ran” loyalist paramilitaries who carried out assassinations and bombings, in exchange turning a blind eye to other criminal activities, including drug-dealing, racketeering, prostitution, beatings and shootings carried out by its agents.
     The investigation found that there were direct links to between ten and fifteen killings of innocent Catholics as well as known republicans in north Belfast—a policy designed not just to strike fear into the Catholic community but also to encourage sectarianism and to marginalise militant republicanism. The “handlers” also encouraged the planting of bombs in Co. Monaghan.
     From the start of the armed campaign in the North, rumours began to emerge of collusion between the state security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. It has been well documented by such people as Father Des Wilson, Father Denis Faul and Father Raymond Murray as well as such bodies as the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry and Relatives for Justice.
     The Communist Party of Ireland and the Connolly Youth Movement, together with many others, attempted on many occasions to draw attention to the continuing collusion at such international gatherings as the World Festival of Youth and Students, International Women’s Day events, and the World Peace Conference.
     In the final years of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association a number of reports were compiled and sent to the United Nations and to the Irish Government in relation to summary killings carried out by state forces and those controlled by them.
     It is evident even from this limited investigation, confined as it was to a small district in Belfast, that these activities, organised and controlled by the state, were encouraged and were accepted practice. The chain of command led not just to the former Chief Constable of the RUC and head of the Special Branch, Ronnie Flanagan, but to No. 10 Downing Street. The British state encouraged and organised criminal gangs to carry out state policy.
     What is surprising—and would be laughable if it were not so serious and the consequences so harrowing for the victims—is how the Irish and British establishments have reacted to the report. The Irish media expressed shock and horror; the Government expressed disbelief that such activities took place or were even condoned by those in charge in the North of Ireland. Unionism dismissed the report, hinting at the background of the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, who comes from a Catholic background and is therefore unreliable and suspect from the very start.
     For decades the Irish establishment and mass media were well aware of the gruesome actions carried out by the British state and its agents, but they were far more concerned with the suppression of republicanism and the marginalising of critical voices than with doing anything about these activities, including attacks upon their own state. For decades they attacked and marginalised those who spoke out, calling them “Provo fellow-travellers.”
     The British, as usual, have denied all knowledge, wringing their hands in horror and disbelief. Ronnie Flanagan, former head of the Special Branch and of the RUC, now head of the Police Inspectorate in Britain, is clearly the man with the information.
     It is worth reflecting that if the Soviet Union or even Cuba today was accused of carrying out such activities it would be in the press and on television and radio around the clock and would be raised in the United Nations. But the Police Ombudsman’s report was a three-day wonder, promptly filed on the dusty shelves along with all the other human rights reports.
     It was always thus; “Do as we say, not as we do.”
• There is a clear need now for a full public inquiry into the role of both sets of political police, the Special Branch and MI5.
• The demand for the opening up of police files on citizens, now confined to the former socialist countries, should apply also to this country, and in particular to the North.
• British progressive opinion should be campaigning for the removal of Ronnie Flanagan as head of the Police Inspectorate.
• Patton-type police reforms should be extended to the control and public accountability of the Garda Síochána.
• The British Security Service should be removed from the North of Ireland and its headquarters there closed.

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