Blinkered Eye of the Newt

I would agree with Newton Emerson’s header that “We need [an] ombudsman who’s prepared to bite” (Thursday 8th September 2011) and that includes telling victims’ families their claims can in no way be substantiated. Nevertheless, with regards to the McGurk’s Bar Massacre campaign, I find his copy flippant at best and grossly misleading at worst.

Considering the Police Ombudsman’s aborted first report, Mr. Emerson asserts that “the bereaved relatives [were] unhappy first with the slapdash presentation”. Wrong. We were disgusted at factual errors and gross misinterpretation of hard evidence. Of course, we have since learned, as we immediately suspected, that the first report was changed to redact any criticism of the police. How this whitewash was presented merely compounded the attempt to railroad family campaigners, many of whom are aged, into accepting this travesty.

Mr Emerson next considers “whether assuming a Loyalist bomb was Republican then failing to pursue the murderers of 15 people with utmost vigour constituted `collusion’”. That is one of the most over-simplified reviews of the RUC’s abject lack of investigation I have read and I am sure it is beneath Mr. Emerson’s intelligence. The McGurk’s Bar Massacre at that time was the most murderous loss of civilian life in Ireland since the Nazi Blitz of Belfast over 30 years before. Mr. Emerson obviously has not taken the time to read the archive evidence that we – not the authorities – found. We have put these documents into the public domain after breaking them in this paper (the Irish News). We have proved that the IRA bomb-in-transit fabrication originated with the RUC (RUC Duty Officers Report 5th December 1971, reported in the Irish News 28th October 2009). They then used this lie, without substance or substantiation, as a pretext for their subsequent “investigation”. We – not the authorities – traced this lie through archives as it was drip-fed into the intelligence stream, into the media and into the public consciousness. I have been able to place all of these archives into the public domain as it was the families, the Pat Finucane Centre and the British Irish Rights Watch who found them – not the authorities. Mr Emerson ought to have read this research too before he submitted his copy as it featured in the Police Ombudsman’s answers to the Justice Committee on the day the article was published.

Then Mr Emerson raises the bogeyman of Frank Kitson, Brigadier in charge of British forces in Belfast at this time, and his book, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping (1971). I would question whether he has actually read the book he references as Kitson’s Gangs and Counter-Gangs, published in 1960, would have suited the context of his copy better. His reference to this book is a stereotypical response by ill-researched commentators.

Nevertheless, the former book does feature in our research, though not as he has considered, as it lays bare the importance of information policy to British military primacy in any theatre of low intensity warfare. The consolidation of the Information Research Department and Information Policy Unit occurred at this time effecting “the co-ordination of overall Whitehall activity in both overt and discreet information fields” (a secret archive for circulation to the Northern Ireland Policy Committee, dated 7th December 1971, to be released by the author in a study). How to build and maintain synchronicity between the military, police, media, government and judiciary is what makes this book essential reading to any student of this period – even him.

This synchronicity, of course, was showcased to devastating effect in the aftermath of the McGurk’s Bar Massacre 4th December 1971 and this is why we reference it. By the 13th December 1971, in another secret document to be released by the author in the study, the Northern Ireland Policy Group, which included the Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Carrington, was told by the Assistant Under Secretary (General Staff), Arthur Hockaday, “that in the past few weeks the publicity machine had begun to work much more smoothly”. This publicity machine, of course, included the Northern Ireland Information Service, the RUC Information Office and Headquarters Northern Ireland. Again, I would question whether Mr. Emerson has read how we – not the authorities – have traced the co-ordination of black propaganda regarding our loved ones through these departments. I would refer him to my written testimony to the US Helsinki Commission (16th March 2011) so he is better informed.

In review, I would agree with Mr Emerson that we do indeed need a more robust Office of the Police Ombudsman with a stronger manager. Nevertheless, I would caution readers, although I am sure they are well aware, that his particular reading of the RUC investigation into the McGurk’s Bar Massacre veers between over-simplification and wrong. His opinion is underpinned not only by his stereotypical referencing but also by weak research.

The above post was a letter written in response to an article by Newton Emerson in the Irish News (8th September 2011). It would have been too long to appear in the paper (I assume) so I have posted it here.

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