By Jarlath Kearney (for Irish News)
A couple of years ago, while visiting London, I spent an afternoon wandering and exploring from the top of Whitehall down past Millbank.
I was struck by one factor - London loves its monuments. Their scale, nature and positioning all reinforce the bricks and mortar façade of a once-global historical power, shadowed by the offices of Britain’s contemporary political, military and intelligence establishment.
Significant money and effort is pumped into preserving and presenting London’s glory - it has its cleaners and curators; its planters and painters.
It gives the present elite polity an imposing cultural power derived from the symbolic legacy of varnished history. And it’s the same with power elites across the world. Just look at other capitals like Washington, Paris and Beijing.
Likewise, the Soviet Union’s collapse a generation ago was symbolised by the destruction of a monumental wall in Berlin.
In places like Iraq, the most obvious symbols of change (not necessarily for the better) came when huge statues were torn down.
London’s large scale monuments are a glue that binds disparate elite factions and rivalling social classes under one common banner of British nationalism on key issues and events every day of the year.
Monuments, of course, can be cultural as well as concrete.
Recently we’ve seen a revived crescendo of legal, political and media attention focused on the extent and scale of British state involvement in managing terrorism in Ireland during the conflict.
That tide of truth is now a significant challenge to London’s outward democratic narrative.
It is a truly sinister and tragically sad theme - one that’s inexorably bubbling up like an underwater volcano from the depths of the dirty war. We largely refer to it as the ‘policy of collusion’. But even that sophisticated structure of meaning doesn’t quite capture the sordid, habit-forming corruption that arises with unaccountable power.
And that’s what lies at the root of collusion - unaccountable power.
We’re now seeing more and more citizens from every sector of society raising their voices and demanding accountability.
This includes relatives and survivors from non-republican backgrounds, such as RUC families; those manipulated or murdered by state agents at the top of the IRA and of course those murdered in their hundreds by state-run loyalist paramilitaries.
Those testifying to the reality of collusion are no longer a cast of republican or nationalist
‘cut-outs’. They include some of the top police figures in Britain, clearly shocked by their own experiences here.
During Monday night’s latest RTE documentary, the hawkish former NIO security minister, Michael Mates, unwittingly drew back a veil on the actual problem of perception which now faces London.
Looking back on Britain’s unaccountable killing fields in former colonial hotspots like Aden and Cyprus, Mr Mates pondered of Ireland: “How can you call it a war in your own country?”
In claiming that ministers were kept uninformed about collusion by civil servants and security officials, Mr Mates added that “this was the unique dilemma - that it was in the United Kingdom.”
This developing narrative is significant. Increasingly, we now see senior politicians claiming they didn’t know about the ‘scale’ of collusion, with senior ex-RUC members alleging that politicians quietly nodded assent without providing a ‘framework’ of management.
This is where two factors become important. First, new claims of partial ignorance are beginning to replace old defences of outright defiance. Self-preservation is replacing self-delusion. That’s an indication that sands are shifting - in popular and political terms.
The reality is there was always a framework to prevent state officials from approving or implementing collusion. It was written in 1948. It’s called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They ignored it.
Second, citizens of every background need to continue the creative pursuit of all legal, public and political remedies which are democratically open to them in their own cases.
However, democrats also need to be cautious about any demand or objectives for a broader, all-encompassing public inquiry into collusion. Perhaps there is an external role for the EU or the UN.
But above all, a non-negotiable public inquiry in Pat Finucane’s totemic case must be kept centre-stage. It is the one appalling atrocity that constantly takes us through the looking glass.
Truth and accountability are basic post-conflict entitlements. They should no longer be treated as political negotiations, by any side.
Collusion has never had a place in democratic values. It remains a grim monument to the failure of colonialism and tragedy of partition. It’s time for Whitehall to do the right thing - for all our sakes - tear down the wall of silence.