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Loughinisland massacre report

Defiant British and Unionist leaders refuse admission of state terror

16 June 2016

Those mourning the slaughter in Orlando will have no difficulty in understanding the smaller scale Loughinisland massacre. In June 1994 a crowed bar in rural county Down was raked with fire from military grade automatic weapons wielded by UVF gunmen.

It is easy to understand the pain involved in this slaughter of the innocents. 

But what if the police, instead of rushing to aid of  the victims, covered for the gunmen, warned the suspects, didn’t even question the main gunman for months and destroyed evidence and records so that no-one was ever charged? What if the killers were also employed by the state forces? What if it were to turn out later that the weapons had been distributed to the death squads by other British agents who had smuggled them into the country from South Africa?

Confusion turns to anger

What made the massacre worse was that the victims were largely divorced from the war that raged on the streets of Belfast. Their nationalism was of the mildest hue and confidence in the police was high. It was assumed that the police would bring the killers to justice.  It was over a long period that confusion turned to anger and then to a steely determination to fight for justice. That anger burned ever brighter when a 2011 report into the killings cleared the police of wrongdoing – a whitewash so great that some of the investigators asked to be disassociated from the report, claiming that their findings were dramatically altered without reason.

The relatives of the victims of the Loughinisland massacre have shown great heroism. After decades of struggle they have forced the British state to acknowledge that before, during and after the massacre there was collusion between the state and the loyalist killers. 

Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness, with lacklustre support from Dublin minister Charlie Flannigan, said that there would be deep and far-reaching consequences arising from the enquiry.

Comments from a number of relatives show that they realise that this is nonsense. Another long struggle lies ahead if anyone is ever to be held to account.

There are no permanent victories against imperialism short of its destruction.

The standard tale

For a start, the definition of collusion is incomplete and serves to distort reality.

The standard tale, trotted out after each new revelation of state involvement in atrocity,  is that a few bad apples in the Special Branch lost perspective. Their need to protect informers led them to cover up crimes.

What actually happened was that the state was confronting by a mass rebellion followed by widespread guerrilla war. Its response was state terror, carried on partly by undercover police and troops, partly by loyalist killers whom the state recruited, armed and provided immunity to.

Loughinisland was part of the mechanism of peace - a demonstration of overwhelming state terror in a context where the republicans had no response nor even a coherent perspective other than surrender. At that stage republicans explaining that these were loyalist crimes cut no ice. All that could be seen were the rivers of blood and the need for it to come to an end.

The past lives on today

The second element of the standard narrative is that these crimes belong in the past. Yet the current response tells a different story. 

The British secretary of state decries the focus on the crimes of the state forces and sets a new level in defining collusion – if the RUC officers did not pull the trigger then the criticism is overblown. She refuses to withdraw her remarks when challenged by Loughinisland relatives.

The DUP first minister refuses to comment, she will make no kneejerk reaction despite having been given the report in advance. In earlier statements she has said clearly that there will be no criticism of state forces on her watch.

The cipher Claire Sugden, appointed as a sectarian place-holder in the ministry of justice, says nothing.

The chief constable finds the litany of crimes "embarrassing reading" and then goes on to effectively dismiss it by challenging the Ombudsman to issue arrest warrants for the police officers involved.  A leading unionist reporter said that collusion is too strong a word for covering up, obstructing justice and destroying evidence – the police did not carry out the attack so they are in the clear!

No-one feels any need to refer to the 2011 Loughinisland enquiry that completely exonerated the police and was only withdrawn following a campaign by the relatives.

This wall of indifference is not a sentimental aversion to dealing with the past. Hardly a day goes past without a new story of collaboration between the DUP, the police and loyalist paramilitaries. Sectarian intimidation is ignored and the paramilitaries are bribed and hoisted into positions in civic society.

There is a widespread delusion that a hidden plan will see the decommissioning of paramilitaries and the end of state collusion - in fact a separate commission published just such a plan recently.

Paramilitary terror held in reserve

Yet terror, the use of state forces reinforced by sectarian killers, was part of the birth of the northern statelet and a regular weapon in response to threat.  When the threat level falls the paramilitaries are kept in reserve, a constant reminder of the cost of resistance.

When the satisfaction of immediate victory wears off there were will come a realisation that the admission of crime, followed by a shrugging of shoulders or outright rejection of the enquiry findings, is not enough.  The political system holds because McGuinness, having promised far reaching change, will now pretend not to notice British and Unionist rejection. 

We should reach past the local political corruption,  past the killers and the state functionaries, to the British state that enables terror and maintains the mechanisms of terror in place today in order to maintain imperialist control in Ireland.  

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