Irish Republican News · December 8, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Infighting adds to pain and anger of victims

By Anne Cadwallader (for Daily Ireland)

If I were related to a victim of loyalist collusion with RUC Special Branch/British military intelligence, I would be feeling incredibly let down by my political representatives.

Imagine how it feels to have witnessed your husband or son or daughter or wife shot in front of your eyes -- and now be mute witness to Sinn Féin and the SDLP tearing lumps off each other over the “on-the-runs” legislation.

These families -- many of them total novices in the world of politics and the press -- have screwed up their courage and joined with others to vindicate their loved ones’ rights, albeit posthumously, through the courts.

Their cases are all at very different points in the legal process. Some have exhausted all domestic legal remedies and have gone through the European Court of Human Rights, winning awards and costs (not the point, but getting somewhere).

Some have sat, like the Bloody Sunday relatives, through months of a public inquiry while others have yet to even see so much as an inquest as they battle against the complexities of “public interest immunity certificates” and similar gagging orders intended to spare London’s blushes.

In the case of the Finucane family, their case has become an international cause celebre, although stalemated over the new Inquiries Bill -- a blatant mechanism to prevent the truth being exposed.

In the case of others, no one -- outside their own family circle or the stalwarts of Relatives for Justice -- so much as knows their names, let alone the private agonies they have suffered.

They must all, however, be looking on in anguish at the row being waged between the SDLP and Sinn Féin, a row that has, among other things, collapsed relations between the two parties on Derry City Council.

Try to imagine how the families of collusion victims must feel. The pain and anger at what has been inflicted on them by a state, supposed to protect their basic rights, can only be compounded by watching this unlovely row.

For some families, it probably doesn’t matter very much which side is right or wrong. They just want the truth -- a truth that might be hidden forever if the OTR bill goes through in its present form.

As John Kelly, whose brother Michael was killed on Bloody Sunday, put it: “Those who committed murder -- and those in the British establishment who organised and approved it -- must have a big smile on their face.

“They can now walk away without repercussions. They will never have to appear in court. All they will be required to do is meet their solicitor, sign a licence and they can walk off laughing at us.”

In a nutshell, Sinn Féin’s case is that there was no discussion or negotiation on any provisions to offer an amnesty for British state forces as part of the OTR legislation.

The SDLP says this is untrue, and that Sinn Féin was cynically prepared to allow loyalists, drug dealers, British soldiers, police officers and “securocrats” (oh how I dislike that word) off scot-free in return for the right of two dozen OTRs to return home.

Frankly, I find that unbelievable.

The SDLP adds that, even if Sinn Féin was not aware in advance of the possibility of state forces getting a “get out of jail free” card, it should have made an informed guess.

The SDLP claims it warned Sinn Féin in advance of that very possibility. “Show us the evidence,” counters Sinn Féin, denying that the SDLP tried to head it off at the pass.

The SDLP argument against Sinn Féin is that either Sinn Féin acted cynically or it negotiated incompetently. A double whammy.

Sinn Féin strenuously denies both charges, of course. It says it had no idea, until the last 48 hours before the bill was published, that British state forces would be included in the OTR bill. What happened, it says, was a straight case of deceit and bad faith. Perfidious Albion strikes again.

Should then Sinn Féin, as the SDLP suggests, now withdraw all support for the bill? Republicans say that would only result in its OTRs being left in limbo while the bill goes through the House of Commons anyhow, to the advantage of state forces.

The Sinn Féin leadership is incandescent with fury at what it claims is the SDLP clambering onto the collusion bandwagon at this late stage, having shown little interest at the height of collusion in the 1980s and early 1990s when Catholics and republicans were being butchered.

The arguments will no doubt continue to rage. The SDLP believes Sinn Féin is on the back foot. Sinn Féin is calling “foul”. The families are stuck in the middle.

If both Sinn Féin and the SDLP made a heroic gesture and buried their differences in the greater cause of the rights of collusion victims to the truth, it could result in a strange cross-community consensus.

For very different reasons, both the main unionist parties also oppose the OTR legislation. Would London be able to resist calls for the bill to be dropped if all of the four main parties here demanded its burial?

Should the British government refuse to ditch the bill, this would at least demonstrate that the main beneficiary of the legislation as it stands are the corrupt and evil soldiers, police officers and spooks who colluded in the murder of innocent civilians by loyalist paramilitaries.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News