Mercier Press (2013), 416 pages
The Smithwick Tribunal report published last year concluded that there was at least one case of Garda collusion with the IRA. At least one Guard was responsible for passing information to the IRA that resulted in the murder of two RUC officers in 1989. The Irish Government has rightly apologised to the families of the victims and hopefully the Irish state will arrange some kind of compensation to be paid to the families. Agencies of the state can never be above the law. If the police cross the line and break the law they are no better than the terrorists they claim to combat. In fact they are worse than terrorist groups as the powers they wield set them above the average citizen and the average citizen should expect that those powers are only ever used to combat crime not to collude with terrorists in murder or the concealment of their crimes.
Anne Cadwallader’s remarkable book focusses on collusion in the British security forces (the RUC, the British Army, and the UDR) in the mid-Ulster “Murder Triangle”. Over 120 people were killed by a loyalist gang operating in mid-Ulster and Cadwallader has created a convincing argument that collusion with certain elements of the security forces was crucial in the committing of these crimes and the lack of proper investigation into many of these crimes. The vast majority of the victims were upwardly mobile Catholic farmers and businessmen or those drinking in local pubs. The crimes (with the exception of the murder of one IRA member) were entirely sectarian in nature. The forces of the British state also operated on a sectarian basis. Whilst republican terror groups such as the IRA were rightly banned some loyalist groups like the UDA remained legal (until 1992) and even the UVF was legalised for over a year between 1974-75. Such loyalist groups were seen as a safety valve for the discontented Protestant working-class. In fact they operated as a cover for the murder of innocent Catholics, “By the end of 1972 , loyalists had killed 121 people…They were stealing or otherwise purloining UDR weapons at such a rate that the British Army drew up monthly lists. Yet at the end of the year, at a time when hundreds of IRA suspects were being interned without trial, the British Army’s ‘Arrest Policy for Protestants’ recommended no action at all against the UDA. Far from it. The policy document says, ‘Ministers have judged that the time is not at the moment ripe for an extension of the arrest policy in respect of Protestants.’ Moreover, it went on, people holding ‘certain defined positions’ in Protestant groups should not be regarded as ‘dangerous terrorists, as we regard officers in the Provisional IRA’.” (p.29) Cadwallader shows that the murders in mid-Ulster were more than just the result of this laissez-faire attitude to loyalist groups but that security force members actively colluded in many of the murders or allowed their perpetrators to escape justice (possibly because some of these murderers, like the IRA’s Freddie Scappaticci, were informers).
Lethal Allies looks at numerous murders in the 1970s in order to build a convincing pattern of collusion. There are photographs of the victims throughout the text (often with quotes from the victims’ families) which personalise the victims and gives a context to their murders. Bernadette and Francis Mullen were gunned down in their farmhouse in a machine gun and revolver attack. Locals gave the names and car types of suspicious people seen in the area before the murders but no arrests were made (p.33-34). Locals suspected the guns came from the UDR. A bomb in a cottage killed the heavily pregnant Marian Bowen and her brothers Michael and Seamus McKenna. Marian’s child was blown from her body. As the baby’s coffin was loaded into a hearse British soldiers laughed. Despite a suspicious van with two men in it being seen near the cottage by a policeman the day before the explosion, no arrests were made (p.88-90). Peter and Jenny McKearney were gunned down on their farm. Thirty minutes after the shooting the British Army, by chance, stopped four men in a car, all were UVF members and one was also in the UDR. Two of the men were detained and discovered to have firearms residue on their hands. They were released without charge. It has since been discovered by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET, a police unit that is reviewing unsolved crimes) that a blue car seen near the scene of the crime (and close to where the getaway car was abandoned) contained four members of an elite RUC anti-terrorist (SPG) group. The reason why the car was in the area hasn’t been established, there is no record of the occupants being interviewed or of them going to the crime scene as might be expected by police officers so near a crime (p.127-130). Three people (one a fourteen year old child) were killed in a bomb and gun attack on Donnelly’s Bar. Cadwallader presents evidence that a suspect was tipped off and that RUC Special Branch withheld information from the investigating detective. The suspect was never arrested in connection with the attack. The HET also conclude that an unrecorded police check on the bar was “pre-attack reconnaissance” by the RUC (p.135-138). Convincing evidence is also presented that the gun and bomb attack on The Rock Bar was carried out by RUC members and that RUC Special Branch withheld vital information from the investigation team (Chapter 6). The HET has also found cases where suspects’ police files have been “weeded” to remove incriminating evidence and where evidence has been destroyed even where no conviction was ever made. This is reminiscent of the obstruction faced by Sir John Stevens when he investigated collusion in 1990; his incident room was set alight in a secure RUC base, no fire alarm went off and telephone lines had been cut. A British police report in 1976 found the RUC Reserve to be exclusively Protestant and “paid vigilantes” but it wasn’t disbanded until 2001 (p. 277). Cadwallader provides a list of 25 known serving or former security force members involved in murder or serious crime in mid-Ulster in the 1970s, chief among them Robin Jackson, a psychopathic killer who was involved in possibly 50 murders. Jackson was never convicted in relation to any murder.
Some online commentators have criticised Cadwallader for focussing exclusively on loyalist crimes and not on republican outrages (see the comments on the Roy Greenslade article, link below). Cadwallader makes it clear from the start of her book that her focus is on loyalist collusion in mid-Ulster. She should not have to “balance” a book with entire sections on the opposing side any more than a book critical of the IRA should have to provide a list of loyalist crimes. It also appears that some of these online commentators haven’t actually read Lethal Allies; there are accounts given of IRA crimes where they are related to attacks in the book. Cadwallader describes the IRA’s Kingsmill Massacre as “terrible and inexcusable” (p. 158) and she then gives an account of this brutal sectarian murder of 11 Protestant civilians.
As with the Smithwick Report it is vital that, in the interests of truth and justice, cases where collusion is suspected must be investigated to try and bring those who colluded to justice and try and offer the victims’ families some closure. Cadwallader’s final chapter sets the actions of the British security forces into a colonial context; the policy of collusion with paramilitaries who shared their goals was also practiced in Oman and Kenya among other places. There will be a continuing resistance to finding the truth from those who had invested so much in creating a sectarian state in Northern Ireland and from paramilitary groups who wish their victims remain silent. Thankfully the North has, for the last fifteen years, been relatively peaceful. Books such as Lethal Allies help provide important pieces in the mosaic of truth that is gradually emerging in Northern Ireland.
CAIN – University of Ulster Conflict Archive on the Internet
Justice for the Forgotten – Organisation of Victims & Relatives Seeking Justice for the Dublin & Monaghan Bombings
Pat Finucane Centre – Human Rights and Social Change NGO
Guardian Review of Lethal Allies by Roy Greenslade