When it comes to Ireland and its occupation by forces of the British Crown, the English left has a gaping hole in its curriculum vita. Sadly it is a fact that throughout the ‘long war’ that took place between 1969-97 in the north of Ireland, the majority of English liberals and leftists either kept their heads down, or sided with their own Government and armed forces. James Connolly understood their attitude perfectly when he told his daughter Nora shortly after the Easter 1916 Rising, “They will never understand how I became involved in this.” True down the years there have been honorable exceptions, although these have been mainly at rank and file level. Even so I still find it hard to believe that there has been no demand forth-coming from the English left that an International Commission of Inquiry be set up to look into the criminal collusion that took place between the British security forces and paramilitaries in the north of Ireland during the course of Operation Bannerman.*
Across the Irish sea, especially in the six counties a head of steam is very slowly building up over this issue, not least because Nula O’Loan, the Police Ombudswoman for NI issued a very critical report about the level of criminal collusion between British security forces and a loyalist paramilitary group, which led to members of the Mount Vernon UVF being given all but cart blanche to commit crimes up to and including murder. The Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at a Belfast press conference on Tuesday last[7.8.07] demanded that the UK government acknowledge the ‘truth’ that criminal collusion took place between the UKs security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. After launching a ‘black ribbon for truth’ campaign, he said criticism of his own past should not mask the central issue.
Mr Adams went on to comment on the The Eames/Bradley Consultative Group that was set up by former Secretary of State for NI Peter Hain just prior to leaving office, its remit is to draw up proposals as to how the six counties should come to terms with the troubles and “how Northern Ireland might approach its past in a way that heals rather than poisons, that enables everyone to focus on building a shared future, not looking constantly over shoulders to a divided past”.* Mr Adams said he had ” problems in relation to its remit, my strong suspicion in all of these issues is that it`s a matter of trying to string this out and just a waste of time on the issue.”
Whilst I understand some people may express skepticism about Mr Adams due the senior position he once held in the PIRA and his subsequent acceptance of the GFA. However I feel he is making some reasonable points here that needed to be made by a leading politician. Time alone will tell wether he follows through with them but there is little doubt the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group reeks of the way the British State operates when it wishes to kick thorny problems into the long grass; and Adams is correct in that any Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission [TJ@RC] must have an International context.
Indeed it is imperative, as without it the whole thing would be a farce, for how can those who have been involved in the troubles, if only on the periphery hope to sit upon such a Commission without prejudiced eyes. Whether they be the likes of Eames, Bradley and their fellow group members, or even the families of, or individuals who have been victims of UK State Collusion. Let alone Bertie Ahearn’s and Gordon Brown’s nominees, who would without a doubt come from the usual list of semi retired politicians, judges, academics and media figures who are nominated to serve on public enquiries within the RoI and UK.** Having said this I am in no way suggesting the victims of Collusion should be excluded from sitting on any RJ@RC, simply pointing out that the delicacy of this issue demands that it has an international context. One only has to look back at the countless public enquiries former British PM Tony Blair set up to look into aspects of the Iraq invasion to understand that the UK State are past masters at manipulating the outcome of public enquiries in their own favor.
It is clear from the recent comments made by Unionist politicians and the British government that they will resist any attempt to internationalize this issue. If the pressure for an inquiry becomes irresistible, make no mistake the two governments[UK-RoI] will strenuously opt for a commission consisting of the ‘great and good’, for that is how the ball will find itself in the long grass, This being so it is important that those who believe the Government of the UK should be made to answer for their criminal acts when putting down the PIRA insurgency, come together at the earliest opportunity to plan a campaign to place it in the Dock of World Opinion.
As these crimes were committed in the name of the UK State one would have felt those who normally act as the conscience of that State, the English left, liberals, trade Unions, civil rights organizations etc would be at the fore of this campaign, yet as these crimes were committed in Ireland and against Irish people the above organizations appear once again to be doing a Nelson by putting their accountability telescope to their blind eye. It is as if the Secret State and armed forces are sacrosanct when they are operating in Ireland. A million people turned out in London to oppose the invasion of Iraq and good on them for doing so, surly the very same people and more would be outraged to know that their tax pounds have been used in the north of Ireland to collude in criminality up to and including murder. After all they had been told by their government that their armed forces were in Ireland for 38 years to restore the rule of law not the opposite.
* Operation Bannerman, the British armies code name for their activities in the north of Ireland 1969-2007.
** The full membership of the Eames/Bradley Group is Jarlath Burns, former GAA captain of Armagh and GAA analyst, Rev Lesley Carroll, Presbyterian Minister, Willie John McBride, former captain of the British and Irish Lions rugby team, James Mackey, former lecturer in philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast and visiting professor at Trinity College Dublin, Elaine Moore, alcohol and drugs counsellor at Northlands, based at Magilligan Prison and David Porter, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland.