Question is now about extent of loyalist collusion


By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)

Let’s hope the Police Ombudsman’s report on the Loughinisland killings becomes a model for future investigations by his office.

Dr Michael Maguire’s welcome report is unique for a number of reasons.

First, he was not content with simply looking at the events of the night of the murders in the Heights Bar on June 18, 1994 and the RUC’s failure to investigate properly what happened.

The Ombudsman set his investigation against a backdrop of endemic collusion going back to the late 1980s beginning with how loyalists acquired the weapon used in the killings, a VZ58 assault rifle, a Czech version of the AK-47 with terrific firepower of 800 rounds a minute.

Much of the account he provides about the loyalist importation of weaponry in 1988 is already well known but Dr Maguire’s report gives unprecedented detail.

He also gives details of a number of the 70 murders and attempted murders in Belfast and Co Down by similar assault rifles after March 1988 and their links to east Belfast UVF individuals.

RUC Special Branch and the secret British military intelligence unit FRU knew which members of the UVF, UDA and Ulster Resistance were involved in importing the weapons and how they managed it because most were their agents.

None of them was ever arrested or investigated. The same lack of investigation applied to the UVF gang involved in the killings at the Heights Bar. So nothing new there.

Brigadier Gordon Kerr, the man who ran the FRU, knew all about the acquisition of weapons from South Africa by his agent Brian Nelson.

Many nationalists find it incredible that the weapons nevertheless made their way without being intercepted, not only to the north but to the farm of convicted former RUC reservist James Mitchell who on his own admission held the biggest UVF arms dump in mid-Ulster.

Many wonder if elements in British intelligence decided it was necessary to upgrade the firepower of their loyalist agents to compete with the newly acquired arsenal Colonel Gadaffi had supplied to the IRA in 1985-6.

Why was Nelson sent on his shopping expedition in 1987 but not before? Did he dream it up himself or did someone in intelligence suggest it to him?

Although the Ombudsman’s report casts its net wider than previously it raises many more questions by doing so. The fundamental question is this. To what extent were loyalist terrorists directed by British military intelligence and RUC Special Branch?

The response of some unionists to the revelations in Dr Maguire’s report has been to dissemble, swap definitions of collusion, avoid the issue.

They point to the fact that informers saved lives. Many did. That’s not in dispute. That’s not the issue.

The issue is not whether, but to what extent British intelligence and RUC Special Branch either allowed loyalists to act as proxy killers or in some instances actually directed them towards certain individuals?

To what extent did senior members of the security forces, particularly British intelligence, encourage agents provocateurs?

We know that the UDA, a criminal conspiracy from the outset, was maintained as a legal organisation until almost the end of the Troubles despite being responsible for hundreds of killings.

If they were carrying out operations the security forces couldn’t do legally the reason for not banning them is obvious.

And don’t say it was the UFF, a fictional organisation devised to help the NIO explain why they didn’t ban the UDA. Does anyone know where the UFF wing was in Long Kesh or Maghaberry?

At bottom evidence suggests the British state decided early on to use any means they could to destroy the IRA. If that meant making loyalist murder gangs into state agents so be it.

If they continued to kill innocent Catholics that was unfortunate.

The alternative explanation for collusion, failure to investigate loyalist killings or intercept loyalist arms trafficking is that important elements in British intelligence and RUC Special Branch were out of control. Which do you think?

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