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Collusion genie won't go back into bottle Mr Blair
(Mark Durkan, Irish News)
April 13, 2004
The exposure of collusion in the four Cory reports is shocking, profoundly disturbing and demands the fullest response. The SDLP has long argued that there was systematic collusion between loyalists and the security forces. It is now undeniable.
Because of our conviction that collusion was widespread, and our determination to force everybody to face up to it, the SDLP pressed three fundamental cases at the July 2001 Weston Park negotiations.
Each of the three was of deep public concern and of the utmost seriousness. The Nelson case was about the intimidation of defence lawyers. The Hamill case was about sectarian policing at its worst. The Finucane case was about the culture of collusion with paramilitaries by the British Army’s Force Research Unit.
By forcing the British government to confront these abuses head on, we can best ensure that they never happen again. So, far from damaging confidence in policing as Hugh Orde implied, public inquiries are vital to build confidence. And far from being the "concessions to republicans" claimed by the DUP, they have been most vigorously demanded by the SDLP.
The British government’s commitment to hold an inquiry into the Nelson, Hamill and Wright cases is therefore welcome. It marks a huge step forward for these families in their search for truth. The SDLP will now push to ensure that the inquiries have all the powers they need to get to the truth.
The Finucane murder
It is outrageous, however, that the Prime Minister has not committed to an immediate public inquiry into the Finucane case, and has long fingered any decision until after prosecutions have ended.
As Tony Blair knows, the Finucanes do not want prosecutions to hold up inquiries. They have already waited fifteen years for the truth. They should have to wait no longer. Nor is there any reason for delay.
As Judge Cory confirmed, there is nothing to stop a prosecution and an inquiry running side by side.
There has been plenty of time to bring successful prosecutions over the last 15 years anyway. Yet there has been none.
So it is hard to resist the conclusion that the newly found determination to secure prosecutions is just another attempt at delay.
Why? A few years ago Tony Blair told the SDLP that he had read the papers on the cases we were pressing and that the Finucane case was "the really scary one". Clearly, he is still really scared of the truth about Pat Finucane’s murder.
But the truth about collusion will not go away. No matter how hard the British government tries, it will not get the genie back into the bottle.
The Irish government has a vital role in ensuring this. Dublin drew up the Cory proposal. They were its architects and its guarantors. They must ensure that it delivers the truth.
The SDLP has long believed that the new beginning to policing means purging the old ways of the past. We have therefore worked on the board to confront the culture of collusion.
That is why it was so important that Hugh Orde, who headed the Stevens investigation into collusion with loyalists, became Chief Constable.
It is why, after Nuala O’Loan’s Omagh report, we pushed for and won important changes to what was the old Special Branch.
Those changes, on the foot of the Crompton Review commissioned by the Policing Board itself, went far beyond Patten. They anticipated what was subsequently recommended by the Stevens investigation. In the words of Oversight Commissioner Tom Constantine, they "meet the best practice requirements of any police force in the world".
It is why, as well as new structures, we have been pleased to see a totally new leadership of what was Special Branch.
New people without a branch background, replacing the old guard. Also, we have the new tenure rules so no one can make an uninterrupted career in any one sector of policing, including intelligence policing. Along with the integration of intelligence and crime policing, these all serve to end the "force within a force" syndrome.
We also ensured that the Police Ombudsman can investigate past wrongdoing. She already has 50 cases from the past. Cases ranging from the assault of Samuel Devenney and his children in 1969 to the murder of Sean Brown in 1997. If she finds wrongdoing she can force a disciplinary hearing or recommend a criminal prosecution. That is another mechanism of weeding out human rights abuse.
But in the wake of the Cory report, we must be certain that the culture and practice of collusion is gone. That means that if there are any further changes, over and above those already put in place by the board and PSNI, to the structures, systems and personnel involved in intelligence policing, this will be done.
This is what Hugh Orde confirmed he would do in a Policing Board meeting on the day that the Cory Report was published. This also means no place for or space in the PSNI for officers, identified by Cory, who were involved in serious crime.
Towards a wider truth and remembrance process
Honouring Cory is an essential first step to establish the truth about collusion. But we must also establish the truth for all victims and survivors.
All across the north there are countless victims whose stories have never been heard. Be it the widow of a UDR man murdered down a country lane or the parents of a young taxi driver gunned down only because of his religion.
For some, the need is not so much to find the truth of what happened. It is also to know that the truth of their suffering will be reflected in real remembrance and not airbrushed from memory.
That is why we call for a Victims and Survivors Forum to allow victims themselves to design processes that have their rights to truth and remembrance at heart. Indeed, the SDLP proposed this during the Hillsborough negotiations last year only to be told by both governments that the UUP and Sinn Fein opposed it.
Of course, for some remembrance alone is not enough. There are also countless murders throughout the north which have never been properly investigated.
The murder of Sean Brown, highlighted by the Police Ombudsman’s report, is but one of many. We believe that all police files should be opened to victims’ families so that they can satisfy themselves that there was a proper investigation or not.
If there was not, they should be entitled to have their cases independently re-investigated, for example by retired police officers from outside the north.
That will give increased confidence that the truth will be uncovered. It will also allow the new police service to invest more energy and time in frontline policing work across the north.
For years in our society, faceless men on all sides were able to get up to murky business believing that their actions would never be called into question.
The SDLP stands by victims who want to shine a light on those who prefer to lurk in darkness. We uphold their right to get to the truth. To expose all wrongdoing be it by paramilitaries, paratroopers, police or politicians.
At a time when so much is being done to allow wrongdoers to forget their past, we are determined to ensure that all victims can remember and get to the truth about theirs.
We need truth for all victims so that the burden of history properly condemns the anguish they endured. We also have a duty to lift the burden of remembrance from the shoulders of victims and survivors. To fulfil both needs, approaches which are both victim-centred and truth-driven are required.
The British government lacks credentials on both these key ethics and cannot therefore be entrusted with leading on this issue. The wider political process has been occasionally waving at victims but not reaching or touching them.
Too often politicians and the process either ghettoise or patronise victims and survivors. It is well past time for the two governments to act on their Joint Declaration commitment and establish a Victims and Survivors Forum to address needs that have been avoided too long.
Mark Durkan is leader of the SDLP.
This article appeared first in the April 12, 2004 edition of the Irish News.
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