Sense of Amnesia

There should not be a sense of amnesia about the
actions of RUC and British army simply because they didn't serve prison

By Andree Murphy, full time voluntary worker with Relatives for Justice. 

On Tuesday, 25th July the Independent ran an editorial on the subject
of prison releases. As somebody who works with families who have lost
members through British State actions I took a particular interest. As
far as the coverage of this issue has gone the Independent's approach
was not unique.

The line taken by the editor when s/he took a "neutral" but not
dispassionate view of the prison release scheme didn't surprise me.
They found it easy to talk about loyalist and republican prisoners,
singling out Stephen Ristorick's killing for mention. Evidently their
opinion has been formed without a number of facts surrounding the role
of the British State in the conflict – not a neutral observer but an
active protagonist who must now face up to their role and its legacy.

Nowhere in the discussion since the Good Friday Agreement has parity of
experience been given to the victims of British State violence. If
anything it has been deliberately undermined. These victims do not
endure the pain of prison releases as no one is currently serving
sentences for the deaths of almost 400 people, at the hands of the
state. Over half were unarmed civilians, 75 of them were children and
of the other combatants killed in the conflict by the state many were
unarmed and posed no threat. 

None of the RUC and British army personnel involved in shoot to kill
operations and firing lethal plastic bullets, is expressing how they
now feel following serving sentences. 

Nor are those who covered up these incidents and provided the killers with immunity from prosecution. 

Neither is anyone from Military Intelligence serving sentences for
importing weaponry and handing them over to loyalists. 

No one from the secret and murky British military is expecting a
release date for recruiting loyalist agents to set up and execute
hundreds of Catholics. 229 people were killed by weaponry imported by
British Military Intelligence Agent Brian Nelson from 1988 to 1994.
Michael Stone was one of the first people to use these weapons in
Milltown Cemetery.

In reality some of the people who have committed the crimes, covered
them up or indeed ordered and planned them in the first place have been
promoted, honoured for "meritorious service" and "decorated" by their
head of state. In recent days we have been informed that one of the
handlers of Brian Nelson is now a member of the RUC.

Michael Stone has been released under the early release scheme. His
role as a killer of nationalists is well known. However where is the
outcry regarding the people who imported and supplied the weapons which
he used to kill and maim people in Milltown Cemetery? Where are the
members of the state security forces who facilitated his activities by
passing on montages and files to the UDA? We have yet to hear one
comment in the furore around Stone's release from so called independent
observers regarding these outstanding issues. Issues which our
membership live with every single day.

Prison releases must be seen as an opportunity to reflect on who
participated in and perpetuated the conflict. There are a great number
of cases that have never been investigated through the judicial process
because the people charged with investigation are the very same people
who have committed the crimes in the first place. There should not be a
sense of amnesia about the actions of RUC and British army simply
because they didn't serve prison sentences.

Today Peter Mandelson in his speech to the Armagh Chamber of Commerce
said "in such a week as this you have to swallow hard on something like
prison releases". We fully understand how many of these relatives feel
and empathise with them. However the experience of people who have been
at the receiving end of state violence is not understood and is hardly
likely to be when the British government itself does not accept its
role in causing this pain and hurt. A much more reprehensible fact is
that truth and justice for those affected by state and state sponsored
violence also became casualties of the conflict. 

As a result there was no need for an early release scheme for RUC
members or British army members, the vast majority were never
imprisoned in the first place. Of the very, very few that were
convicted it seemed the only thing that caused outrage and outcry in
the British military, political and tabloid media was the fact that
they went to jail – not the crimes that they had committed. 

The debate around victims and prison releases gives the impression that
there were two parties involved in the conflict, the republicans and
the loyalists and that the British were benign and neutral. This denies
what it really was – an armed and active party to the conflict. 

Now is the time for the British government to face up to its role and
to its responsibilities. The issues for Peter Mandelson and his
government to address are: 

  • While
    recognising the difficulties faced by the relatives of people killed by
    all other parties to the conflict will the British government now
    recognise the pain and hurts of relatives who have been affected by the
    actions of the British State?

  • Is he going to apologise to the injured and bereaved of British State violence? 

  • Will
    he begin a process of addressing many of the outstanding issues raised
    by actions by British State forces? Issues raised by Amnesty
    International, the Irish Government, US Congress and United Nations, to
    name a few.

  • Are he and his
    government now going to end their policy of refusal and denial? The
    strenuous resistance of Peter Mandelson and his government to date to
    so much as meet relatives to discuss pressing issues adds daily to the
    trauma carried by many families.

  • Will this
    government also redress the pain caused by the Bloomfield Report into
    victims when it so comprehensively ignored the experience and views of
    the victims of state violence?

  • Will he accept
    that the appointment of Adam Ingram; the minister in charge of the
    armed forces as minister for victims was an exercise in adding insult
    to injury and that this position should be reviewed in consideration of
    all victims of the conflict?

Now is the time to
create a forum for establishing truth and reconciliation with involves
all of the parties to the conflict, including the British State.
Reconciliation, an aspiration of many, will not be achieved in the
absence of truth, or the British government fulfilling its obligations
in the eyes of the families who still suffer.