Eamonn McCann (for the Sunday Journal)
Anybody wondering how Ronnie Flanagan came to believe he’d get away with claiming memory loss about his role in collusion should recall Mike Jackson and Bloody Sunday.
The man recently retired as Britain’s top soldier was second in command of the paras in Rossville Street,m Derry, in January 1972. He it was who compiled the notorious and wholly inaccurate “shot-list” which provided the basis of the cover-up of mass murder for 30 years, until exposed at the Saville Tribunal.
Ronnie may have noted that denying and distorting the truth about murder hadn’t done Jackson any harm. Nor had Jackson’s reputation been diminished by repeated claims on oath that he couldn’t remember a thing about any of it. Au contraire, as we say in the Bog. The lying shot-list had been the launch-pad for his glittering ascent to the very pinnacle of soldiering.
Or maybe Ronnie took his inspiration from the political elite?
John Reid, ex-Northern Ireland Secretary, now Home Office boss, was at pains, in the aftermath of the O’Loan Report, to declare his “full confidence” in Flanagan as UK Inspector of Constabulary. (I am tempted to say that the mind boggles at a man exposed as conniving in police collusion with murder being employed to monitor whether tbhe behaviour of other police is up to the mark. But I fear that my mind is at this stage un-boggleable when it comes to the British ruling class and their security forces.)
No need for surprise, either, at Reid’s performance last week. In May 1998, he was Minister of State for the Armed Forces when the Daily Mail and other dregs were whipping up a campaign for the release of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, convicted for the September 1992 murder of Peter McBride, a young father of two, in north Belfast. Reid refused repeated requests from the McBride family for a meeting. But he instantly agreed to meet with the murderers’ supporters---and, after meeting them, issued a public statement expressing “concern” at the pair’s imprisonment.
Four months later, Fisher and Wright were released from Maghaberry by the overrated Mo Mowlam, in advance of other prisoner releases and outside the terms of the Belfast Agreement.
Among the most robust defenders of the release of the murderers was Geoff Hoon, Minister of Defence until 2005, now back in the headlines as Minister for Europe. Last week, he affected scorn for a committee of the European Parliament which had “deplored” his failure to cooperate with its investigation into claims that the CIA operated secret flights in the EU and had set up covert prisons on European soil to hold people convicted of no crime at all.
The MEPs found evidence suggesting that Britain had tolerated a significant number of “black flights” and had failed to assist British citizens abducted by the CIA in other countries. Their report expressed “serious concern” about 170 stopovers by CIA-operated aircraft at UK airports, coming from or bound for countries linked to “extraordinary renditions.”
The authors of the report were “outraged” by the legal opinion of senior Foreign Office adviser Michael Wood, “according to which, receiving or possessing information extracted under torture, as long as there is no direct participation in the torture, is not prohibited.”
Ronnie Flanagan should, of course, be chased from office in ignominy for his behaviour as head of the RUC Special Branch and then as Chief Constable. It is hard to see how even as discredited a politician as Reid can allow him to remain much longer.
But we should not allow the focus on Flanagan to blind us to the fact that his behaviour merely repeated the pattern of the military top brass and of politicians who lecture the rest of us about the need to put violence in the past, even as they organise, order, condone and cover up violence on a scale far beyond the capability of any outlaw paramilitary organisation.