Who is going to police the secret armies?

By Tom McGurk (from the Sunday Business Post)

Thankfully, apart from continuing political chaos there is still a postpeace-process good feeling factor in the North.

There are jobs, the economy grows, Belfast changes daily under the developers' cranes.

Thankfully, our morning radio bulletins of slaughter and mayhem seem to be gone forever. Even the seemingly once impossible the winding-up of the republican paramilitary wing is ongoing; and now even the DUP are in the process of discovering what the real political world is composed of, as opposed to the imaginary one of unionist majoritarianism.

But for those whose relatives were murdered, those old terrible days seem frozen in time. Being the victim of paramilitary killers is one thing - but when the suspicion will not go away that the hidden hand of some agency or other of the state was involved, the agony deepens.

It's not only that those charged with protecting the lives of citizens may have been responsible, but they may still be out there, promoted and still serving the state. If the state is to dispense justice, what are we to do when the state itself is the author of injustice?

The murder of Bellaghy man Sean Browne in May 1997 has resurfaced last week with police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan's report. Her conclusions could hardly have been more damning.

There was ``no earnest effort'' by the police officers involved to solve the crime, and now files critical to an investigation of their modus operandi have gone missing from police records. According to one source in the inquiry, the police effort deserved ``two out of ten'', and apparently there are other cases, other ``unexploded mines waiting to go off''.

So not only are there unanswered questions hanging over why the murder was so badly investigated, but seemingly at a much later stage another criminal act was perpetrated to remove the files and thereby the evidence of earlier failures.

Ask the dogs on the streets of Bellaghy at the moment to sum it all up, and you will be given the explanation that the loyalist gang who carried out the killing were directed by elements within the security forces and operated in the belief that their tracks would never be uncovered.

Of course, there may be other explanations but would someone looking at the O'Loan Report this week be unreasonable to conclude that here we had loyalist killers being used as proxy weapons by elements within the state?

To all of this must be added the particular circumstances of Brown's murder. Had he been in any way political, a wellknown Sinn Féin supporter, for example, its rationale could be seen as loyalist titfor-tat.

Indeed, in that immediate area, over the previous decade, nearly a dozen people with suspected links to Sinn Féin and the IRA were murdered by loyalist gangs.

But Brown was not political, and was not involved in any way that could - even within thegrim logic of theNorth's paramilitary war - justify his targeting. He was, in fact, simply a pillar of the Bellaghy community, an immensely popular man with all sides of the sectarian divide; his passion was not politics but Gaelic football.

Under his leadership the local Bellaghy WolfeTone club had become the virtual re creational c entre of the community, its top-class facilities were the envy of larger communities, and both sexes and all ages used them.

Quite simply, the community was largely the Wolfe Tone GAA facilities, and they were an expression of its pride and its achievement.Therefore, to kill Brown was an attempt to destroy that community.

The savage irony was that he was brutally murdered not because of who he was, but because of what he did. And what he did was to spend a lifetime in the selfless service of his community.

Iremember one Sunday afternoon visiting Bellaghy, and one couldn't help being struck by the sights at the Bellaghy club.

Hundreds of boys and girls were coming and going in their tracksuits, the hall was full of families, the car park was filled with expensive cars and the sense of the vibrancy and self-confidence of these people was everywhere.

Here, despite the long and terrible years of the troubles, was a community rising on the economic and cultural tides, self-made and self-possessed. Here, too, was a new young nationalist community, well-educated, financially self-confident and no longer in any sense either dispossessed or second-class citizens.

In these circumstances, then, the attack on Brown was not about this community's political aspirations but about its economic and cultural achievements. The hands of his killers were not so much concerned with security considerations but with ethnic ones. If then there is a linkage into a hidden state hand in this case, what does it say? That within the agencies of state there are people not only concerned with fighting a secret war against those they perceive to be subversive but as in this case mounting a secret dirty war against an entire community because of who they are and what they are achieving?

In this sense, the murder of Browne ratchets up the deepening shadows around the state/loyalist paramilitary linkage.

In the Dail this week we witnessed the terrible 30-year-old unmitigated distress that the Dublin/Monaghan bombings still cause. This week, too, the Finucane family sought more legal steps in trying to open the Stevens Report. The Rose Mallon case in Tyrone, from 15 years ago, has also surfaced. All of these cases and many others continually point to the deeply disturbing vista of state involvement, however it came about.

I am sure that in the weeks ahead of the Good Friday Review we will be treated to the familiar sight of Tony Blair telling various parts of our local politics to get their house in order. To operate above board, in visible democratic fashion, as he puts it.

Is it not time that he too was asked to open his secret books, to reveal all the myriad wings of his organisation, to put all his agencies on the table? Who was it that said: ``We can't have democrats and secret armies at the same time''?

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2004 Irish Republican News