A policing report this week on collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries lifts the lid on the cynical tactics deployed by the British state in the later stages of the Troubles.
A reminder if any was needed why ‘Northern Ireland’ will always be a morally illegitimate political formation, the report lays out the manner in which the RUC tacitly assisted loyalist paramilitaries in the murder of 19 civilians between the years 1989 to 1993.
Compiled by the Policing Ombudsman, the report author Maria Anderson was keen to highlight the lack of evidence directly tying the RUC with the murders though pointed out what could only be described as working relationships between police and UDA/UFF paramilitaries.
Included inside the report is mention of the Greysteel massacre which claimed the lives of 8 civilians during a sectarian reprisal attack as well as the assasination of Sinn Féin councillor Eddie Fullerton.
Regarding Greysteel itself, Anderson documents how the RUC had various intelligence indicators about an impending attack not properly acted upon with extensive surveillance and informant running being operated on local UDA members beforehand.
The age-old utilisation of informants is also mentioned repeatedly with Anderson describing how her investigation was hampered by an apparent lack of documentation when it came to more sensitive events.
One Special Branch officer who gave evidence stated that the general understanding was that RUC officers should never probe whether their particular informant had partaken in any murders personally.
Of the 19 victims covered in the report, 6 had clear and present threats against them as discovered by the RUC in so called ‘intelligence caches’ of which they were not informed about.
Not faulting subsequent RUC investigations of the killings, the report is just the latest affair which underpins the griminess of the dirty war at the time..
A sign how these events are all but historical, only last month a 56 year old man was arrested in Donegal in relation to the 1991 assasination of Eddie Fullerton.
Brought to the brink by the Provisional campaign the British security state was forced to tap into the services of hardline loyalism to conduct a covert war against the nationalist community. Whether their initial intention was to assist in the murder of nationalist civilians the end result of this policy was to do just that.
The carnage which we are only piecing together 30 years on from the fact was in effect an Irish strategy of tension as the state operated an uneasy alliance with sectarian killers and dodgy sources throughout the years.
It should be stressed that acceptance or even condemnation of the policy of collusion in the North is not necessarily a sign of republican sympathies. One is perfectly within their rights to resent the actions of the PIRA while being scathing of the northern state.
However, there is no denying in this or any other similar report the crude sectarian calculus employed in the maintenance of British rule in Ireland. Wanting reunification is not a theoretical issue, but an absolutely essential component in the drive for Irish freedom and the final expunging of Whitehall’s pull on Ireland.
For southerners the report is just the latest seepage from a conflict which drove Irish towns and parishes into becoming sectarian Wild Wests during most of our lifetimes.
Even today it is abundantly clear the latitude extended to loyalist gangs in East Belfast, kept effectively on ice both as a holding pen for militant loyalism and a potential reserve should the need arise to make use of them again.
The past is never past in this country and while we may be grateful that swords have now become ploughshare, let’s not delude ourselves into thinking the policy entity on our doorstep is merely a normal state.