Mick Hall • A version of this article was first published in The Blanket 14.01.08.*
It has become increasingly clear ever since the Democratic Unionist Party led administration was established at Stormont, that there is no political will within the leading political parties of the United Kingdom and Ireland to work towards establishing a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission that would look at the north of Irelands ‘dirty war’, especially the criminal collusion that took place between United Kingdom’s Security Forces and Irish para-militaries.
For the Westminster based political parties, scrutiny of the British ‘secret state’ as exemplified by the security services has always been out of bounds. At best a Parliamentary committee will periodically look at the work of the security services. The members of this Committee are selected due to their longevity as parliamentarians, past links with the military, or worse, the very security services they are tasked to investigate. Thus no one is surprised when the members of this committee merely tinker around the edges and offer up a report that give the boys and girls at Spook Central an ‘A+’.
If one takes into account that the UK Security Services down the years failed to see the threat the Argentine military posed to the UK Protectorate the Falkland Islands; ‘allegedly’ reported wrongly to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Saddam Hussein’s regime had WMDs and that British troops would be welcomed as liberators if they became part of GW Bush’s invasion force; plus if one then factors in at one time the head of the MI6 counter-espionage department which worked against the Soviet Union was Kim Philby, who went on to end his career as a KGB General and holder of the Order of Lenin. One might have thought at the very least a little more diligence would have been more appropriate when overseeing the security services. But such is the obscure Byzantine ways of the class ridden British Establishment.
As to the north of Ireland’s political parties, many of whom represent politically the victims of UK State collusion, they are little better. The Unionists secretly regard any collusion in criminality that took place as being a necessary price to be paid for defeating and bringing to heel the Provisional Republican Movement, indeed to a man they secretly support such blatant breaking of the law whilst publicly proclaiming they are the guardians of the rule of law.
The SDLP is far too timid to go out on a limb over this matter as it is not how they operate, still believing after all that has happened in the north of Ireland that back channels are the way to conduct ‘civilized’ political business when dealing with the UK State, which is sadly something that has also infected the upper echelons of SF.
As to Sinn Fein, whilst I have no doubt the majority of its membership wish to see the British murder machine in Ireland exposed and brought to account, their leaders, having signed the GFA, are like a fly caught on an old fashioned fly-paper, believing they have no option but to concede this one to the British State, as they are fearful of what might be revealed about contacts between the security services and leading Republicans if any TJ@RC was to seriously look into the dirty war. When periodically SF leaders fail to restrain themselves due to pressure from below and start making public statements about the need for a collusion enquiry, the British Government quickly swat them down by retaliating with a leak to some opportunist or insane Unionist politico, who then threatens to name some unfortunate Sinner as a long time British security force informer.
So does this mean a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission is dead in the water as many commentators now claim? Not at all. What the aforementioned means is that the responsibility for bringing any TJ&RC into being rests where it always has, with civil society, both in Ireland, the UK, EU and USA. My friend Anthony McIntyre is mistaken when he wrote in a recent Blanket article that
“It is hard to see how the issue of truth is going to be resolved. The stark answer is that it won’t be. The current British government would need to be of the same mind as the present Argentinean government which has taken a strong stand against the record of the 1976-83 military junta and is demonstrably prepared to grasp the nettle of state murder and torture”.
For what Anthony failed to mention was that previous Argentinean Governments were just as hostile when it came to looking at the dark years of the Military Junta in Argentina as the current British government is to a TJ&RC. It was only continuous pressure from Argentine Civil Society that brought about a change in government policy, beginning with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who three decades ago began their protest in Buenos Aires in support of the victims of the Junta’s dirty war.
Are those who have been the victims of UK State collusion in criminality any less worthy than their Argentine counterparts? Of course not, nor should we underestimate the great reluctance and hostility any campaign for TJ&RC will face from the UK State and its Irish political acolytes. But the struggle for human rights and state accountability has never been easy and has always been paved with governmental mantraps and diversions.
But by mentioning the Argentine example Anthony McIntyre has done us a service, for what it shows is solidarity, persistence and bloody mindedness can achieve progress if not tiny miracles. For time and again the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo were told by the nay-sayers that they could never succeed, and they were threatened and bullied by the representatives of the Argentinean State and various political parties who were complicit in the Military Junta’s dirty war. But succeed they did.
We should also not over look the fact that like its Argentinean counterpart, the campaign for an Irish TJ&RC may well take time to achieve its aims and during that period many of the politicians who are currently placing road blocks in its path will gradually be leaving the political stage. This leaves the way open for others, possibly more opened minded and less tainted by the past, to take their place and thus it is essential that when this generational change occurs, a strong, vocal TJ&RC Campaign comes knocking on their door.
The struggle for a TJ&RC is part of the broader struggle for the United Democratic Socialist Republic. For with the GFA, the British State is doing all it can to turn the clock back and rewrite its brutal history in the six counties. An ongoing campaign to expose the levels of UK collusion in criminality during the long war is necessary to expose those who choose to acquiesce to the revisionist historical viewpoint. There are those who will and do claim that the military occupation of the six counties during the long war was all about enforcing the rule of law. The very presence of an active TJ&RC campaign and the British State’s refusal to establish such a Commission will tell the world that British claims about being the guardians of the rule of law in Ireland are nothing less than historical hogwash designed to conceal the real truth.