What exactly can be said? We all remember where we were that night in summer 1994. I had two young sons wearing Ireland football shirts and we were in front of the TV watching Ireland play Italy at the World Cup in New York.
And we were happy. Ireland beat Italy 1-0. And then the awful news filtered thru. Mass murder at a small country pub “near Downpatrick”. I am not sure I had even heard of the small village of Loughinisland before that summer in 1994.
Six men were killed….murdered….as they watched that Ireland-Italy match. Others survived. Immediately it was known that a loyalist group was responsible. Just bursting thru the door of a country pub and opening fire.
Nobody has ever been charged with this act of mass murder but there was an immediate suspicion that more could have been done.
Some years ago, the Police Ombudsman released a report which pointed up some errors in the investigation but claimed there was no collusion between the UVF killers and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) Special Branch (the Intelligence gatherers) and the RUC men on the ground.
Yesterday a new Police Ombudsman produced a new report. He pulled no punches. There was “incompetence, indifference and neglect” in the original investigation and the Special Branch held back vital intelligence which if shared, might have led to earlier arms siezures and might even have prevented murders, including those at Loughinisland. According to the new Report, this amounted to Collusion.
Collusion between the Police and the Killers.
I want to be fair to the RUC here. We have all seen enough “police dramas” on TV to know how an informant system works. It is about Money and about Threats. The small fry who run a numbers racket in Chicago are allowed to operate by the Police in exchange for information about the big fish….likewise the three card trick men in London…..and the pimps, prostitutes, burglars, small time drug dealers all across the world.
All it takes is a few dollars…or threat of prosecution.
And the bigger money and the bigger threats can embed an informer into a big gang.
And we have seen enough TV “police drama” to understand that to prevent big crime, it is sometimes necessary to tolerate a small crime.
Certainly the RUC Special Branch would have seen it that way. And its defenders in 2016 might say that we are too squeamish about real life police work.
Yet that does not explain Loughinisland.
The import of a large cache of South African arms into Norn Iron in late 1980s was known. Special Branch had an informer in the loyalist group that imported them.
It was also known that the arms were stored in farm buildings at Glenanne in County Armagh.
Some of the Glenanne arms were intercepted in Portadown.
The arms still in Glenanne were moved to a different location when the loyalists were tipped off by a police source.
The weapons were subsequently used in several killings…including Loughinisland in 1994.
The RUC made no serious attempt to find the weapons….or act on the intelligence amassed on the Glenanne gang.
After Loughinisland, the Special Branch did not share information with the investigating police.
The RUC prioritised the war with the IRA…after all the IRA was shooting dead and blowing up members of the RUC. The UVF and loyalists were not murdering policemen or British Army. It cant be surprising that SOME RUC men would have felt a degree of sympathy for the motivation behind UVF killings.
Yet there seems an unhealthy cross-over between the RUC and the Glenanne Gang. They worked together. There is quite a lot of stuff on the Internet about the Glennane Gang…a convicted member who found Christianity has named names including well placed RUC officers.
Was the Glennane Gang…responsible for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings …infiltrated by RUC or was the RUC infiltrated by the Glennane Gang.
What was the connexion to known British Army agents who operated in the area.
A Force within a Force.
At some point the cross-over meant that the Gang was practically immune from the ordinary rule of Law….and certainly it seems Special Branch were immune.
How widespread was it all? The Kingsmill Inquest has been suspended (again!) for a month to give the PSNI (the successor to the RUC) time to investigate a new lead forty years after the event.
Have the Kingsmills families been denied justice because the RUC needed to protect informer/s within the Republican movement. If so, those murdered at Kingsmill and Loughinisland have much more in common than their innocence.
And what of the Stakeknife Inquiry which begins today. The former head of the IRAs Internal Security has blood on his hands…the torture and murder of those deemed to be informers. The shocking irony is that he was the biggest informer of all, killing people on the orders of British Security.
He killed for the IRA and he killed for the British State and either by design or consequence a Republican Movement emerged which had an agenda, not very different from the British State…the nominal enemy.
Where is Stakeknife now? Living at a secret address, protected by the British State.
Where are the British Security Services…in happy retirement with a MBE or OBE in English seaside towns.
Where is the Republican Leadership? Hmmm.
Where are the Royal Ulster Constabulary? well it was disbanded….given the “George Cross” and the Police Service of Norn Iron was set up. The PSNI Chief Constable is (like several senior PSNI people) a former member of the RUC. He expresses his regret, concern etc that the families of Loughinisland were let down so badly.
For the most part, the RUC accepted generous severance packages and went off to retire….some chose to live abroad, including a lot of Special Branch people.
These are men and women who risked their lives daily.
But the majority of ordinary RUC people are still in Norn Iron and no doubt meet socially to discuss the old days…how does Kingsmill, Glenanne, Loughinisland and Special Branch figure in those chats…embarrassment, pride….most likely a discrete veil drawn over it all. What happens in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s stays in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s.
But there is no real sign of the unionist people re-assessing the RUC. They remain heroes who stood for Ulster against the republican terrorists who threatened a civilised way of life…albeit with the concession that there might have been “bad apples” and “you cant make an omelette without breaking eggs”. Choose your own cliché.
It is not very different in Republican social clubs. There ex-paramilitaries chat about the old days. Do they ever mention Stakeknife and the outworking of his reign as Head of Internal Security. These are men and women who risked their lives …they too lost comrades in gun battles and premature explosions and…to Stakeknife and his British Army and Republican handlers. To get to the place we are now….some of them would willingly have been executed by Stakeknife.
Ordinary decent Catholics and Protestants were victims.
Ordinary decent Catholics and Protestants were duped and betrayed.
A Dirty Rotten War….A Dirty Rotten Peace.