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Film Review: No Stone Unturned (2017) dir Alex Gibney

Gerry Fitzpatrick

17 November 2017

When asked to review this latest work by Alex Gibney about the 1994 World Cup killings in Loughinisland Co. Down, I recalled that I had reviewed Gibney's work before. This was the film The Smartest Guys in The Room that took as its subject the ENRON scandal. On that occasion I had been impressed with his investigative approach. However, as the then editor pointed out the film was inconclusive as Gibney did not accept that what had happened at ENRON had revealed the nature of the beast: capitalism.

Since this new documentary never uses the words “imperial” or “imperialism” “colonial” or “colony” or for that matter any other words to the left of Gibney's liberal position—can the viewer safely assume then that the film's total worth will not amount to much?

Indeed, the limitations of Gibney's politics are on full display in the first fifteen minutes of the film where the traditional British line is given about the “two warring tribes” being kept apart and most damming of all—that Loyalism and the UVF only came into being in response to what the IRA had been doing. In other words all Loyalist paramilitarism was defensive without the film managing to mention the Ulster Defence Association!

Was it really too much of a stretch for Gibney to tell the truth about what is now accepted outside Unionist and Revisionist circles: that the UVF began its campaign of killing in response to the perceived political threat that the Civil Rights movement posed to the Orange State — and not in response to any existing armed republicans?

As it stands the viewer is given the impression that armed republicans were active in 1966 – three years before the Provisional Movement existed. What then should we expect beyond the mirroring of daubs on the walls, alternating columns of marching armed men, inter-cut with the streets bedecked with union flags then another bedecked with tricolours? This sequence culminates with footage of the then Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew giving an emotive speech at the scene of the massacre on “what will you say you did in the war” , “you'll be able to say, I shot a man of 87 in the back while he was watching the World Cup...”.

If their was a moment that the British felt the most morally superior to “the men of violence” it was here, outside this small pub in a County Down village. Only they were not as Gibney then shows.

A sequence from Gibney's previous investigative film can help demonstrate the impact of what follows. This is the sequence were an economics professor carefully begins drawing a complex diagram to explain the interrelationships of companies that ENRON had devised to steal investor money and the company pension fund. After drawing a large network of more than twenty entities the professor steps back and says simply pointing to one box, “after this entity collapsed, as a consequence of this entity (he points to another box) trying to then save it - the whole network began to collapse.”

The first “box” in the Loughinisland instance is the killer's car that was destroyed by the police and the “professor” is none other than the families lawyer. Having established this fact he then raised a complaint with the Police Ombudsman who despite this and other outstanding indicators namely, the known history of the guns used - delivered a report exonerating the police saying that they had done all they should have done, like for instance keeping a helicopter in the air for the appropriate amount of time (!).

Even if this and other actions were done in “good faith”, when it came to the behaviour of RUC Special Branch no one other than the branch were the wiser – because none of its members were interviewed and even the name doesn’t appear anywhere in the Ombudsman's report. Having taken the case to the High Court for Judicial Review the families were successful in getting the Ombudsman's report quashed. Last year over twenty years after the killings the Ombudsman concluded in a new report that their had indeed been collusion. Gibney puts names to the letters in the new report establishing that the main gunman was by day a British soldier and by night was the lead shooter in not only this, but was part of network responsible for a rolling and wide ranging campaign of killing of Catholic civilians.

Gibney then back tracks to his opening position saying that there were informers (queue the daubed walls again) on “both sides” working for the British within Loyalism and within Republicanism – which had now just become a fact of the conflict. A BBC Panorama journalist is then seen explaining that this meant that ultimately in this “game” between what the state sees it must do and has done militarily—has always been in conflict with those who saw themselves still upholding the law. There are no prizes for guessing what the outcome of this unequal power game will be.

An additional problem for those who continue to deny the inter-meshing of the police the army and the UVF et al is that they now have actors to contend with other than the British military establishment.  Over the past ten years it was the Stormont Executive led by the DUP and Sinn Fein that was openly bank rolling not only the UVF but ALL Loyalist paramilitaries as a legitimate community expenditure. Gibney at least has given a better international route map into the relationship between the security apparatus and its secret military network.

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