Truth and justice for all

By Jim Gibney (or Irish News)

I can fully understand why the relatives of those killed in the 1972 bombing of Claudy welcomed the ombudsman’s report.

Listening to the relatives speaking after the report it is quite clear that a large part of their hurt is caused by the lack of public recognition of the immense suffering and loss they experienced as a result of the atrocity.

Their loss was compounded by the silence and a lack of attention to the bombing and in particular the scale of the human loss involved.

The relatives are entitled to the truth about the Claudy bombing and they should be given it. If the IRA was involved then now is the time for it to admit its involvement.

If it was not involved then those responsible should publicly explain their actions. What I find unacceptable is the use by the ombudsman of information supplied by the various intelligence agencies as the basis of his findings. The ombudsman’s office needs to be very careful when dealing with this type of historical information because its purpose at the time was to set people up for arrest and internment. Given the role of the intelligence agencies here in fuelling the conflict they can hardly be viewed as impartial or as oracles of truth or accuracy. And what is even more unacceptable is the use by the media of this information in the sensational way it was used and the naming of the priest Fr Chesney as the person behind the bombing.

The priest became the story, as did the alleged cover up between the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the British secretary of state Willie Whitelaw instead of the awful experiences of the relatives whose loved ones died in the Claudy bombing.

In my view the past is too important to be handled in this way because it invites sensational reporting which is more concerned about myth making than assisting those in search of the truth.

And there is a danger unless it is challenged that elements in the intelligence agencies will use this method of drip-feeding information into the media to undermine political progress. It is also worth noting that we do not know the names of a single British soldier involved in the killing of eleven people in Ballymurphy following the introduction of internment in August 1971, though the state does. And after five years of an inquiry and the welcome judgment by Saville into Bloody Sunday we still do not know the names of the soldiers involved, though the state does. Nor do we know the names of the British soldiers involved in the killing of six people on the New Lodge Road in 1974, though the state does.

What we do know is that the British government protects these killers and grants them anonymity.

During the years of the conflict many people were imprisoned, some for very long periods, on the basis of confessions beaten out of them during interrogation.

The state has also protected these human rights abusers. During the years of internment without trial between August 1971 and Christmas 1975 hundreds of men were held without trial.

I was interned for nearly two years. In an attempt to legitimise internment the British government changed its name from ‘internment’ to ‘detention’ and introduced tribunals with judges out of apartheid South Africa to ‘try’ us for a Litany of allegations.

These allegations were based on ‘information supplied’ from whom we were not told. At the tribunal an accuser hid behind a screen and read out the accusations.

No one knew the name of the ‘voice’ behind the curtain. On the basis of what was said I and hundreds like me were held in custody.

The allegations on file were considered by the ‘judge’ as evidence of involvement in IRA-related activities.

Where are those files now? Are they in the hands of the intelligence agencies and if so could they become the basis for further reports by the ombudsman or others? We must ensure that events from our tragic past are not hijacked and used to delay a better future for all just as we must ensure truth and justice for all.

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