Last night I attended an information-sharing event in the Balmoral Hotel hosted by Relatives for Justice and attended by families whose loved ones were murdered during “the Troubles”. Specifically, under discussion – if not close scrutiny – were the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), the Office of the Police Ombudsman (OPONI) and inquests. Experiences with these as mechanisms for truth recovery and a semblance of justice were far from adequate.
The personal stories of the family members, as it is always with these important events, were the most humbling. Unfortunately, not only did those assembled share the horrors of war but also the grim experiences that each has had with these offices in peacetime. At its most benign, the service journey that they have faced has been absurd and futile. At worst, these people have quite simply been re-traumatized by a process that should have brought them closer to the truth of what happened to their loved ones.
I thought it particularly poignant as the HET began investigating the McGurk’s Bar bombing seven years ago to the month. They are on their third report as the other two were abysmally inadequate. Nevertheless, even though this third report was supposed to have been completed in December, our families still have not been allowed sight of it. Instead it has been passed like a hot potato BACK to the Police Ombudsman who passed it swiftly back to the Chief Constable of the Police Service Northern Ireland of all people. It now it sits gathering dust on his table, more than two years after he said there were no more investigative opportunities. Why it sits there and why we have not been allowed to examine it, I do not know. What I do know, though, is that I personally expect little from these people.
Before I have sight of this so-called final HET report, I think that it is apt that I publish what I wrote about the HET on the 37th anniversary of the McGurk’s Bar bombing on 4th December 2008, for I can tell you little has changed. It featured in an Irish News article by Allison Morris under the header: “McGurk’s bomb relative gives damning verdict of police unit“.
It should be remembered that compliance to Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights is a MINIMUM requirement of any HET investigation and not an ideal it should hope to attain.
That being so, the HET in 2013 – as it was it 2008 – is quite simply not fit-for-purpose and should be dismantled forthwith. It is not enough to say that this is the only show in town. All of our families throughout the whole of the community – regardless of background or creed – need an independent, professional organisation in its stead.
It is now 37 years since the McGurk’s Bar Massacre. Only this year did the British Government finally apologize to our families for “such perceptions and preconceived ideas” – a saccharine euphemism for their Machiavellian management of media disinformation that framed Republicans for the blast and inferred that the innocent victims were at best guilty by association, if they were not indeed killed during a botched bomb-making class.
The promulgation of black propaganda by the RUC and the Information Research Department (PsyOps) in Palace Barracks was but one facet British Information Policy. Its success also demanded synchronicity between malleable politicians and mismanaged police investigations. The belated, but measurably tame, apology that this so-called democracy has issued does little except bolster the beliefs we have held for two generations concerning the culpability of the British authorities. In fact, their toothless Historical Enquiries Team, far from assuaging our opinion that Irish men, women and children still cannot expect justice or parity within a British legal system, has reinforced it further.
The HET has proved to be a futile, costly exercise that, at best, is nothing more than a powerless, desktop review and, at worst, another cynical attempt by the British government to suppress or manage information.
Its slickness and professionalism is seen in nothing except marketing and PR. Other victims’ families should beware, therefore, because central to this approach is for individuals within the HET to gain the confidence of vulnerable families who then dare to hope. Inevitably, though, the HET will fail to deliver. Indeed, the families will be left with less than nothing as their original loss and sense of injustice is simply exacerbated.
The Historical Enquiries Team should be dismantled straight away. In its stead, disregarding any attempt to bury the past and all memories of our loved ones with it, we demand a truly international, independent, transparent and accountable investigation with powers of subpoena. Otherwise, our fight for the truth will go on.