Over the past few years legacy cases from the North of Ireland has been a prominent feature of the news we consume daily.
For those involved in the cases whether it be families or a community seeking justice like the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday families and those who have lost loved ones at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries who have had their whole lives saturated with setbacks and coverups on their journey to justice.
The victims’ families have faced many setbacks over the years, but it hasn’t been as widely documented as it has been in today’s world leading to a new form of very public opposition, where protests are a regular occurrence now in defence of those who set out on murderous paths many decades ago.
Legacy cases as they’ve become known, are cases from the past in the North of Ireland that haven’t been resolved yet. Often the delay of this is because of what the British Government will consider as sensitive material meaning much of the information has remained “classified” for nearly half a century, making it a difficult obstacle to overcome for the families of victims to achieve the justice that they are seeking. A situation that featured heavily in state murders during the 1970’s and then how it took an even more sinister change over the next two decades.
The 1970’s was one of the bloodiest decades of the troubles, the British state frequently used the Parachute regiment as an iron fist in an effort to eradicate Republican influence from the “no-go” areas that existed. This resulted in the state indiscriminately opening fire on individuals or large groups of civilians which they have deemed a threat.
Most of the sensitive material that’s hidden in the depths of these files are there solely to protect the image of the British state in an effort to hide the levels of collusion and state interference that took place to thwart the efforts of those who are seeking justice.
Three of the most notorious cases that are now regularly mentioned in the media are the Ballymurphy massacre where eleven civilians including a priest were murdered, Bloody Sunday where fourteen civilians were murdered on a civil rights march and the murder of John Pat Cunningham, a vulnerable adult with a fear of soldiers in uniform. These murders all took place within a four year period.
Families of the victims have always called for both the individual and the higher ranking soldiers who took charge of the operations involved in their loved ones murder to face the full hand of British justice, something that hasn’t come around often, and when it does it often is a deflated version of what was once promised.
Bloody Sunday is a good example of the issue raised here where fourteen civilians were murdered, and the blame rests solely on one soldier, Soldier F who is being charged with the murders of James Wray and William McKinney. Despite in previous interviews during the Saville Inquiry Soldier F admitted to killing four civilians on Bloody Sunday. This included the two victims he’s been charged with, but the charges failed to mention Barney McGuigan who was shot as he waved a handkerchief whilst assisting a wounded Patrick Doherty and also the forensic tests that link him to the murder of Michael Kelly. No charges have been brought before any other soldier that day or higher ranking members of staff. As for the futile apologies brought forward by the state, the families don’t consider that this goes far enough.
As a result of the high profile public cases, there has been wide spread opposition to the prosecution of Soldier F, the Ballymurphy Soldiers and Dennis Hutchings with protests often being organised by elements of the far right in Britain today who are championing their cause.
However, the long winded battle with the state doesn’t stop in this decade. As the years went on the British army had realised the impact that these state killings were having and sought out an alternative way to try and eradicate their enemies in the republican movement. This was done through linking up with the main loyalist paramilitaries and leaking personal information on suspected republicans for loyalists to carry out “state sponsored” killings.
The information leaked included the addresses, car registrations, family members addresses and areas where these suspects socialised all of which was based on superficial evidence with no proof leading to the loss of innocent catholic lives throughout the troubles.
This has been a big feature in the media this past year, which came to light when a journalist and a filmmaker from Belfast were arrested when they attempted to expose this level of collusion in the documentary “No Stone Unturned”. This effectively could be seen as the strongest evidence in the public domain to collusion featuring heavily in the policy of the state outside of the realms of Ireland where it was already widely known.
No Stone Unturned focused on an infamous loyalist death squad known as the Glenanne Gang which was made of Loyalist Paramilitaries, The RUC and members of the Ulster Defence Regiment who carried out attacks on innocent catholic civilians and in this case carried out the Loughlinisland pub massacre in 1994.
In the film, there is key evidence such as leaked documents from the RUC that show the RUC knew exactly who was involved in the killings despite no charges being brought forward. The irony of it all is when the PSNI following the documentary release approached the leader of the gang to ask “how it made him feel” being named as the leader of the gang involved in the murders, despite not arresting him when this new evidence surfaced.
The documentary itself is only a small part of the wider collusion that has surrounded many of the Loyalist Paramilitary killings of that time which are still shrouded in darkness as the state will refuse to devolve all evidence in the killings.
BBCs Panorama “A secret history of the troubles” which has been on for the past six weeks have focused some of the programming to state collusion and the level that it played in loyalist killings. The most recent episode had exposed Loyalist Paramilitary leader Billy Wright, “King Rat” being heavily involved in state sponsored killings, where his former comrades allege, he was a regular receiver of information from the British State on suspected republicans in Mid Ulster.
The programme also focused on information that infamous Loyalist Killer Johnny Adair received for the Ulster Freedom Fighters to carry out attacks around Belfast, something that he admits on the programme. Both the Mid Ulster brigade of the UVF and the UFF from East Belfast were amongst the most proactive death gangs that existed in the North which raises the question would they have been as active had the state not provided this information.
The old saying “Collusion is no illusion” is something that’s becoming more of a reality than a claim as years go on. The pain and sorrow for the families of the victims of state collusion is still being dragged out decades after the killings took place, with let down after let down despite there being sufficient evidence that exists to bring those responsible before the courts. It is widely accepted view that the British Government are waiting for those involved in the killings to die off rather than to make them face the same British Justice which they tried to implement all them years ago in Ireland. The British State still haven’t acknowledged the collusion that took place between its Army and Loyalist paramilitaries who have killed innocent Catholics and much of this information still remains classified. For the families who have suffered at the hands of this, their struggle continues to bring those responsible to justice.
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