By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
On August 3 the British administration here issued a statement about those known as ‘the Disappeared’ - people killed and secretly buried by the IRA during the Troubles.
The statement followed a British-Irish Intergovernmental Council meeting on July 25 when a report of the Independent Commission on the Location of Victims’ Remains was considered.
The statement was a classic of its type. It was entitled ‘Governments announce next steps on location of disappeared’. There then followed a list of ‘measures’ that were going to be adopted, accompanied by a couple of sentences from our beautifully maintained proconsul for the time being.
In reality what was being announced was the end of the search for the Disappeared.
After the list of ‘measures’ came the crux of the decision, namely that further excavation would only be undertaken if and where it’s assessed there’s a good prospect of successful recovery of remains. In other words there would be no more digging.
All the other ‘measures’ - great word that - are just flim-flam.
They’re going to set up a database of DNA taken from relatives. They’re going to look at maps, forestry records and aerial photographs from when the people disappeared and compare them with current imagery - which instantly prompts the question, you mean they haven’t done all that already, taken those ‘measures’, like six years ago when searching began?
Oh yes, and there’s a confidential phone number in case somebody involved has a brainwave.
Our proconsul’s couple of sentences are equally misleading. He said “the British and Irish governments are committed to doing what they can to find the bodies”.
Well they’re not in fact. Our proconsul was being cheeky - he went beyond the communique agreed with Dublin on July 25.
The communique said that the two governments were committed to do “all that is reasonably possible” to recover the bodies. Quite a difference there you’ll agree.
Needless to say, the communique is the truth. The problem is money.
The gardai excavated 85,000 sq metres searching for Jean McConville’s body alone. They spent hundreds of fruitless man hours traipsing through bogland and stripping off top soil looking for other remains.
It’s too costly and it’s the Irish government which has to do the heavy lifting.
Anyway, you’ve got to hand it to the NIO. The statement was a runaway success.
Despite it saying the opposite of what it meant, we had media interviews with people welcoming the statement and looking forward to developments.
There won’t be any. The forensic scientist hired by the commission has been talking to IRA survivors, who were involved at least in the burials of the bodies, and he has concluded that there’s no more useful information available, certainly nothing to justify spending tens of thousands of euro on speculative digs.
Why couldn’t the NIO say any of that? Why couldn’t they just come clean instead of creating a false impression of progress? The answer is that it’s the nature of the beast, that’s why.
It’s true that this British government is the most sleekit since Anthony Eden’s, to such an extent that no-one any longer believes a word any of its members utter, from Tony Blair right down to the hapless political hacks he sends over here to sign papers twice a week. As a result, Blair’s governments will always be associated with the words ‘lies’ and ‘spin’.
It must therefore have been a godsend for the New Labour chancers on the make over here to find such accomplished spinners waiting for them at the NIO, people who have had experience, over a generation in some cases, of pulling the wool over the eyes of a largely respectful and supportive media.
After all, for years wasn’t there a war on? The NIO enjoyed the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s face it, if it came to a choice between the NIO version of something and the republican version, which would the responsible unionist-dominated media choose?
So sit back through the next few weeks of the dead centre of summer and enjoy announcements from the NIO, which they wouldn’t try on at other times and remember, in Norn Irn nothing is true until it’s been officially denied.