Republican News · Thursday 13 July 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Enemies of the state


Unfinished Business, State Killings and the Quest for Truth
By Bill Rolston
Beyond the Pale Publications

``We as the victims of state violence were ignored by the state from the day and hour it happened. We became victims of the state and... when you become a victim of the state, you become an enemy of the state and you are treated in that way whether or not you wanted to be.''

These words, quoted in Bill Rolston's latest book, ``Unfinished Business, State Killings and the Quest for Truth'', are the words of Jim McCabe. Jim's wife, Nora, was fatally injured by a plastic bullet fired at close range into the back of her head by an RUC officer in July 1981.

Nora McCabe was one of 17 people killed in the North of Ireland by plastic and rubber bullets fired by British soldiers or the RUC. Tens of hundreds of people have been injured by plastic bullets, many seriously and some resulting in permanent disability.

A young mother of three children, Nora was walking from her in Linden Street to a local shop on the Falls Road shortly before 8am. As two RUC Land Rovers drew level with the corner of Linden Street, one plastic bullet was fired and hit Nora in the back of her head. She died a day later, having never regained consciousness.

Despite the fact that the incident had been inadvertently filmed by a Canadian television crew, the RUC have never admitted firing the shot that killed Nora McCabe. In almost 20 years of campaigning, the closest acknowledgment conceded by the state and RUC has been that Nora died of injuries ``consistent with having been hit by a plastic bullet''.

The story of Nora's death and the subsequent cover up, recounted by her husband, is one of a number of accounts presented by Rolston. ``State killings went on throughout the whole of the conflict,'' says Rolston, ``and were not confined to the high profile incidents such as Bloody Sunday, or shoot to kill in North Armagh, and Gibraltar.''

State killings fall into a number of different categories. As in the case of the three IRA Volunteers killed in Gibraltar, shoot to kill operations were usually carried out by specifically trained units. Then there was the excessive use of force in public order situations, for example the killing of John Downes during an annual commemoration of internment.

There were also individual actions by armed members of state forces, (as in the case of Peter McBride). There was collusion of state forces with loyalist death squads (as in the case of Pat Finucane) and state force cover ups of loyalist killings (Seamus Ludlow) and other culpable actions, including dereliction of duty, as in the killing of Robert Hamill.

According to Rolston, the majority of state killings, over 80%, have been carried out by the British Army. The RUC are responsible for a further 15%, with the UDR responsible for eight killings. Almost 90% of all people killed by state forces have been from the nationalist community.

Unarmed civilians form the largest category of state killings. Of all the civilians killed by state forces, only one was armed, with four more carrying imitation firearms. 86% of civilians killed by the state were Catholics.

The second largest category, 37% of all state killings, is that of republican combatants, many unarmed at the time of their deaths. The distinction between republican combatants and nationalist civilians killed by the state is often deliberately fudged.

``In media representations, official accounts and unfortunately also in popular memory, there is often little distinction made between the various victims of state killings,'' says Rolston. ``After all, Peter McBride `had a coffee jar bomb', and Kevin McGovern `took up the standard aiming stance for a pistol, revolver'.''

The state killing of nationalist civilians and the summary execution of unarmed republicans is often justified by similar cover stories. Gervaise McKerr `crashed through a police roadblock'; Pearse Jordan `was transporting guns and ammunition in a car'.

``Remarkably few loyalist military activists became the victims of state killings, only 4 percent in all,'' writes Rolston. ``All but two of the state killings of loyalists occurred before 1975.'' All of these claims were subsequently exposed as false.

The pattern of state violence becomes all the more clear within the wider context of collusion. State forces have not simply failed to challenge loyalist violence, they have been actively involved in directing loyalist violence against those considered enemies of the state, nationalists and republicans.

Rolston estimates that state forces have colluded in as many deaths as they have carried out directly, a further 350 killings. ``Collusion has been a factor in loyalist killings since early in the conflict,'' writes Rolston, ``but reached a peak in the early 1990s''. Between March 1990 and September 1994, loyalists killed 185 people; in over 50% of the killings there is evidence of some form of collusion.

Rolston argues that the state has constructed two classes of victim, the deserving and undeserving. Victims of violence perceived as outside the state were identified as ``innocent''. Victims of state violence are mostly depicted as ``less than innocent, or worse, downright culpable.''

Underpinning this was ``the unquestioning belief that the state does not act as a terrorist, does not kill without reason or justification.'' There was also the deliberate ``misinformation and manipulation of the media by state forces''.

``The differential treatment of victims has its roots in the three decades of the war itself,'' says Rolston. ``There was in effect the social construction of the ideal victim. The two key elements in that construct were `innocence' and `passivity'.

In other words to qualify as ``deserving'' a victim had to either be identified as supporting the state, or shown to have taken no oppositional stance, by either word or deed. By definition, almost every victim of state violence is ``undeserving''.

``Such was the power of this ideology that it as possible in the case of state violence to override even the most obvious criteria of `innocence'. Thus, it was usually presumed and often stated in official accounts that children killed by plastic bullets were involved in, or at least caught up in riots.''

``No matter the period, the perpetrator, the method of killing, the status of the victim, the post killing experience of relatives of those killed by state forces is practically identical,'' says Rolston.

Criticising the state's human rights record was usually condemned on the grounds that it `played into the hands of the terrorists', says Rolston. It was even worse for relatives who dared to demand disclosure or prosecutions. ``To agitate was to draw down the wrath of the state forces on themselves, to become as marginalised and victimised as those for whom they fought.''

Of the family members interviewed by Rolston, most had never been officially informed of their relative's death. Others were informed ``in the most callous of ways''. After the killing of eight IRA men at Loughgall, the UDR drove through the local nationalist estate with a banner reading `eight nil'.

For others the first intimation of the death was a raid on their home. Most often the death was deliberately concealed from the family by the raiding party. It was only subsequently that families realised why they had been raided.

d then there was the harassment. ``British soldiers frequently drove at night to the monument erected to teenage plastic bullet victim Carol Ann Kelly. `Wee Irish bitch' was one of the comments they made.

``The family of Charles Breslin was subjected to numerous taunts such as `Charlie's a Tetley tea bag,' a reference to the fact that he was shot at least 13 times. Mairead Farrell's boyfriend, Seamus Finucane, was stopped by the RUC and taunted: `well you won't be fucking Mairead anymore'.''

Misrepresentations of the killings in the media were compounded by deliberate negligence during official investigations. ``Loretta Lynch, a campaigner in the case of Louis Leonard, summed up the conclusion of many relatives: `Not only was there no investigation, but there was a concerted effort not to investigate.''

Even professionals ``who had a right and duty to investigate'' were often thwarted. During the Gibraltar inquest, the crown pathologist stated that he was not allowed to see ballistic reports nor even the results of the blood and urine tests he himself had sent for analysis.

During the inquest into the death of Charles Breslin, the solicitor acting on behalf of the family was attacked by the RUC, who ``knocked him to the ground, landed on top of him and pinned him to the ground using their knee on his neck. And that was in court.''

The treatment of those killed by the state and their families is underpinned by a specific myth perpetuated by the British state, argues Rolston. Within this myth the state portrays itself as a democracy under siege from a terrorist conspiracy. Thus ``no matter how harsh its actions,'' the state itself cannot be accused of terrorism, ``because it is merely acting to protect democracy.''

Within this framework the ``terrorist'' label can be easily extended ``to take in the family and friends of the `terrorist', the geographical areas in which they live and any commentators who refuse to preface their political remarks with a robust condemnation of `terrorism'.

``The culture of denial, ingrained in the very heart of the state's management of mass, and later armed, opposition in the North of Ireland quickly percolated through all of the institutions of the state,'' says Rolston.

He begins by recalling a conference organised by Relatives for Justice in 1998, in which relatives of many people killed by state forces spoke for the first time. Listening to Cornelius Rooney, whose nine-year-old son Patrick was shot dead in his own home by the RUC, Rolston compares his testimony to those of victims and survivors speaking at South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

``Unlike the South African case, the venue at which Cornelius spoke was not a Truth Commission. It had not been set up formally. It was not chaired by a person of international standing. There were no state functionaries present... there was no public acknowledgement that the meeting had even taken place.''

A truth commission, says Rolston, by acknowledging what the state did and accepting that what was done by the state was wrong, marks a turning point. ``Although it may appear simply a symbolic device, it is intended to underwrite a new consensus about human rights. Without such a consensus, there is no assurance that the future will be any different from the past.''

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