Loughinisland

What exactly can be said? We all remember where we were that night in summer 1994. I had two young sons wearing Ireland football shirts and we were in front of the TV watching Ireland play Italy at the World Cup in New York.

And we were happy. Ireland beat Italy 1-0. And then the awful news filtered thru. Mass murder at a small country pub “near Downpatrick”. I am not sure I had even heard of the small village of Loughinisland before that summer in 1994.

Six men were killed….murdered….as they watched that Ireland-Italy match. Others survived. Immediately it was known that a loyalist group was responsible. Just bursting thru the door of a country pub and opening fire.

Nobody has ever been charged with this act of mass murder but there was an immediate suspicion that more could have been done.

Some years ago, the Police Ombudsman released a report which pointed up some errors in the investigation but claimed there was no collusion between the UVF killers and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) Special Branch (the Intelligence gatherers) and the RUC men on the ground.

Yesterday a new Police Ombudsman produced a new report. He pulled no punches. There was “incompetence, indifference and neglect” in the original investigation and the Special Branch held back vital intelligence which if shared, might have led to earlier arms siezures and might even have prevented murders, including those at Loughinisland. According to the new Report, this amounted to Collusion.

Collusion between the Police and the Killers.

I want to be fair to the RUC here. We have all seen enough “police dramas” on TV to know how an informant system works. It is about Money and about Threats. The small fry who run a numbers racket in Chicago are allowed to operate by the Police in exchange for information about the big fish….likewise the three card trick men in London…..and the pimps, prostitutes, burglars, small time drug dealers all across the world.
All it takes is a few dollars…or threat of prosecution.
And the bigger money and the bigger threats can embed an informer into a big gang.
And we have seen enough TV “police drama” to understand that to prevent big crime, it is sometimes necessary to tolerate a small crime.
Certainly the RUC Special Branch would have seen it that way. And its defenders in 2016 might say that we are too squeamish about real life police work.

Yet that does not explain Loughinisland.
The import of a large cache of South African arms into Norn Iron in late 1980s was known. Special Branch had an informer in the loyalist group that imported them.
It was also known that the arms were stored in farm buildings at Glenanne in County Armagh.
Some of the Glenanne arms were intercepted in Portadown.
The arms still in Glenanne were moved to a different location when the loyalists were tipped off by a police source.
The weapons were subsequently used in several killings…including Loughinisland in 1994.
The RUC made no serious attempt to find the weapons….or act on the intelligence amassed on the Glenanne gang.
After Loughinisland, the Special Branch did not share information with the investigating police.

Two points.
The RUC prioritised the war with the IRA…after all the IRA was shooting dead and blowing up members of the RUC. The UVF and loyalists were not murdering policemen or British Army. It cant be surprising that SOME RUC men would have felt a degree of sympathy for the motivation behind UVF killings.
Yet there seems an unhealthy cross-over between the RUC and the Glenanne Gang. They worked together. There is quite a lot of stuff on the Internet about the Glennane Gang…a convicted member who found Christianity has named names including well placed RUC officers.
Was the Glennane Gang…responsible for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings …infiltrated by RUC or was the RUC infiltrated by the Glennane Gang.
What was the connexion to known British Army agents who operated in the area.
A Force within a Force.
At some point the cross-over meant that the Gang was practically immune from the ordinary rule of Law….and certainly it seems Special Branch were immune.

How widespread was it all? The Kingsmill Inquest has been suspended (again!) for a month to give the PSNI (the successor to the RUC) time to investigate a new lead forty years after the event.
Have the Kingsmills families been denied justice because the RUC needed to protect informer/s within the Republican movement. If so, those murdered at Kingsmill and Loughinisland have much more in common than their innocence.
And what of the Stakeknife Inquiry which begins today. The former head of the IRAs Internal Security has blood on his hands…the torture and murder of those deemed to be informers. The shocking irony is that he was the biggest informer of all, killing people on the orders of British Security.
He killed for the IRA and he killed for the British State and either by design or consequence a Republican Movement emerged which had an agenda, not very different from the British State…the nominal enemy.
Where is Stakeknife now? Living at a secret address, protected by the British State.
Where are the British Security Services…in happy retirement with a MBE or OBE in English seaside towns.
Where is the Republican Leadership? Hmmm.
Where are the Royal Ulster Constabulary? well it was disbanded….given the “George Cross” and the Police Service of Norn Iron was set up. The PSNI Chief Constable is (like several senior PSNI people) a former member of the RUC. He expresses his regret, concern etc that the families of Loughinisland were let down so badly.
For the most part, the RUC accepted generous severance packages and went off to retire….some chose to live abroad, including a lot of Special Branch people.
These are men and women who risked their lives daily.
But the majority of ordinary RUC people are still in Norn Iron and no doubt meet socially to discuss the old days…how does Kingsmill, Glenanne, Loughinisland and Special Branch figure in those chats…embarrassment, pride….most likely a discrete veil drawn over it all. What happens in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s stays in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s.
But there is no real sign of the unionist people re-assessing the RUC. They remain heroes who stood for Ulster against the republican terrorists who threatened a civilised way of life…albeit with the concession that there might have been “bad apples” and “you cant make an omelette without breaking eggs”. Choose your own cliché.

It is not very different in Republican social clubs. There ex-paramilitaries chat about the old days. Do they ever mention Stakeknife and the outworking of his reign as Head of Internal Security. These are men and women who risked their lives …they too lost comrades in gun battles and premature explosions and…to Stakeknife and his British Army and Republican handlers. To get to the place we are now….some of them would willingly have been executed by Stakeknife.

Ordinary decent Catholics and Protestants were victims.
Ordinary decent Catholics and Protestants were duped and betrayed.

A Dirty Rotten War….A Dirty Rotten Peace.

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24 Responses to Loughinisland

  1. Wolfe tone says:

    There’s is no doubt it was a dirty war. The problem is the British state doesn’t want to admit it was in a war. It doesn’t want to admit it was heavily involved in a counterinsurgency which involved state forces and unionist militia. The amount of time and energy and money they spent on convincing people in Ireland,Britain and worldwide that they were keeping the peace between warring factions is too much to give up. Their reputation must be kept intact. Even to this day the free state strives to protect the British reputation in the war lest it creates a debate about the national question.
    The IRA’s reputation has continuously taking a battering through the years(justly or unjustly depending on your point of view) but that doesn’t automatically mean the British state were anyway the good guys or indeed had any justification for being in Ireland, but that’s another story.
    Btw I too would like to hear the truth about stakeknife. I can bet you a lot of Irish republicans would like to hear it also.

    • There were very few good guys.
      Ultimately there was a downward spiral in morality ….we all lost or just misplaced our moral compas….and I think we are paying a heavy price.

  2. bangordub says:

    Mr Fitz,
    As always, a thought provoking article.
    Like everything in this part of the world, whataboutery has a tendency to raise it’s head. There seems to be a need to balance every article with references to the “other sides” point of view although notably Jim Allisters contribution to the Telegraph and Jeffrey Donaldsons contribution to the debate managed to avoid this today. – Disgracefully in my opinion.

    Your first 8 paragraphs I was with you all the way.

    After that, well. I’m sorry but I digress.

    Rather than do a line by line analysis, I’ll summarise if I may.
    It was indeed a dirty war – what has changed is that is that the British Government is now seeking moral and legitimacy equivalence with the IRA. That is a marked shift in stance
    The report on Loughinisland is stand alone. It is nothing to do with kingsmills – the Glennane gang or anything else – it is a report on the RUC and their investigation, although I do fully understand the links and the chain of events.
    It certainly has nothing to do with the other events and conjecture as to what people are doing nowadays.
    My own opinion, is that to distort or distract from the core points in the report is to serve the interests of those who would prefer it was quietly forgotten and consigned to the libraries of academia

    • All these reports are Stand Alone…but that begets Whataboutery.
      So thats why I link them.
      Its no longer a political issue. Its a moral issue.
      I am no LetsGetAlongerist but if we treat these as Stand Alone then necessarily we are more concerned with crimes committed on “us” rather than crimes committed on “them”.
      Necessarily standing alone….begets the “what about…” Conversations.
      If we treat them all together then there is no whataboutery.
      The Troubles was about a decline into Immorality.
      Some honourable people managed to hold on to their sense of Decency…others slowly lost it or compromised. And some would dearly love to recover that sense of Decency.
      Others happily three away any sense of Decency they ever had and dont want to recover it.

  3. bangordub says:

    The difference , of course, being the “them” now is emerging as being the combined forces of the loyalist paramilitaries, Unionist political parties (DUP via Ulster Resistance) , British militias (the UDR) the mainstream British Army and the likes of MI5

    • No …I am talking about the Victims like Kingsmill and Loughinisland. It is tempting for a nationalist to think Loughinisland is”us” and Kingsmill is “them”
      When nationalists and unionists start treating everyone as “us”, we will be a better society. But its too late….

  4. bangordub says:

    “But its too late….”
    I’m curious about that

    • We have a new “settlement” beyond the Good Friday Agreement.
      DUP -SF are not just the government. They are the settlement. Whether the SDLP or UUP are in government it means they are marginal.
      And of course Opposition lasted just two days before the One Party State marginalised it also.

      • Sinn Féin Supporter in County Tyrone says:

        I think that Opposition cannot expect to have things stacked in their favour in the chamber in terms of speaking rights etc. Some parties are still coming to terms with their reduced status.

      • Actually in a real Democracy, Opposition is cherished.

  5. Sinn Féin Supporter in County Tyrone says:

    I sould support Sinn Féin revealing the truths about atrocities that the IRA were involved in.

    Its time.

  6. zig70 says:

    We all believe our own truths but the police involved in loughinisland is a real low. I grew up outside Downpatrick, I remember the horror at the news. My Dad knew folk in the pub that went to the toilet at that time and survived. I have never agreed with the greater good of using informers, I’m not a pacifist, for information, sure, but on the understanding that the information is coming from crooks. Not worth paying for. The same token applies to here and now, using paramilitaries as paid ‘community leaders ‘, morally bankrupt. Though, I still feel like I am being played by the British government, drip fed collusion stories, another agenda at work where no one pays a price and justice is a fortune of history. As for Dublin, Monaghan, that was a military operation and that will be used in the end game.

  7. Political Tourist says:

    Interesting in the end how quickly Loyalism was switched off.

    • I’m originally not far from Loughinisland, and let’s be clear, there’s more to it than what’s in the report.
      This whole thing of “they never investigated it properly”, it might be libellous, but this case had a lot of the hallmarks of the murders ub mid ulster in the mid 70’s.
      A family friend came across security checkpoints around Loughinisland that night, before it took place. Also, the area was “cased” a week or two previous to it (read lethal allies, for a better explanation of a place being sussed out), the heights bar was an easier target compared to other places.
      I have read elsewhere (in an actual book) that a peeler was in on it, how accurate that last point is I don’t know, as the person who wrote it lost a court case.

      • Wolfe tone says:

        The ‘truth’ will not be allowed to come out as the gullible who still believe the narrative that the state was refereeing a sectarian squabble couldn’t handle it. Their faith in the state would be shaken forever.
        We recall accounts from the glenanne gang were they wanted to target uppity taigs rather than republicans during the 70’s. This suited the British state. They tapped into the bigoted sectarianism of unionists so they could kick in their overall tactic of turning an irish war against the British state into a sectarian Irish war.
        The amount of times army and police checkpoints were in place before a sectarian attack by unionist militia gangs is far too many to be a coincidence. In fact there is a strong belief in some parts of the north that British army personnel were actually carrying out sectarian attacks themselves and then getting their sources within the militia to claim the attacks eg Billy Wright and Adair. Perfect. The feuding of that militia a few yrs ago was more likely the British intelligence tying up loose ends eg Stobie.

      • Scary.
        Living in Belfast, the great fear was the Shankill Butchers. But I came to live here (north Armagh) in 1982 .
        Locals always told me that the UVF was more dangerous here because they had the support of the RUC/UDR. I have actually seen both the Jackal (he was pointed out to me in a shopping centre) and Billy Wright.
        I dont think that locals realised the extent of the collusion…it was just a collective gut feeling …but there was a professionalism to the Glenanne killings that was not in Belfast.
        One man, a Catholic UDR man was a strange guy, he wasnt Irish….but he had a lot of republican tendencies and I once bluntly asked him “what are you doing in UDR? You dont make any secret of it”
        And he said that if anything ever happened him, it would be his UDR colleagues who did it.
        I suppose there is a lot of jigsaw pieces that were always lying around and they are only now fitting together.

      • Thanks for this. i appreciate it. Yes I would agree…more to it.

      • No bother, keep up the good work with your blog.

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