Britain’s dark history of collusion

by Daphne Liddle

IRELAND’S Taoiseach is being urged to press the British government for a full inquiry after a documentary, Collusion, was aired last week by the Irish broadcasting company RTé, which showed the link between the loyalist murder squads and the British security forces in the occupied north of Ireland in the 70s,80s and early 90s.

There have been many revelations on this subject before. In 1989 former British Intelligence Officer Fred Holroyd published a memoir, War Without Honour, in which he exposed collaboration between the British intelligence services in the north of Ireland. The young Ken Livingstone took up his case in his maiden speech as a Labour MP.

In an inquiry headed by Mr Justice Henry Barron during his inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings of 17th May 1974 Holroyd said: “The bombings were part of a pattern of collusion between elements of the security forces in Northern Ireland and loyalist paramilitaries.”

Barron rubbished his evidence, saying: “Captain Holroyd has persistently accused the British army of having engaged in serious unlawful acts, including murder and kidnapping, of encouraging assisting Loyalist paramilitaries in the commission of such acts, of recruiting agents from the ranks of the security forces of this State and of acts of gross incompetence which resulted in loss of life.

“For that reason, his claims justify careful scrutiny.” But Barron then went on to describe him as a “Walter Mitty type” and an unreliable witness.

More revelations came later from Brian Nelson, a former British soldier who became an informer for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In 1974 he was jailed for seven years for the kidnap and torture of a Catholic man. Nelson served three years.

Later he was recruited by the Intelligence Corps who asked Nelson to rejoin and infiltrate the UDA. He rose to become the UDA’s senior intelligence officer while receiving assistance from his handlers.

In the early 1990s, following the shooting death of Loughlin Maginn, John Stevens was named to investigate allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the RUC.

The Inquiry team uncovered Nelson’s fingerprints on some security force documents and Nelson was arrested. When interrogated, he claimed that he had been acting on behalf on the British government. He claimed that he had been tasked by the British Army to make the UDA a more effective killing machine.

Using information that should have been confidential to his handlers he produced dossiers or “Intelligence Packages” including backgrounds, addresses, photos and movements on proposed targets, which were passed on to UDA assassins. He gave the Ulster Volunteer Force between 20 and 50 index cards of information at a time. He was choosing people who were to be shot.

Last week’s RTé programme Collusion fielded a list of powerful witnesses who are not so easily discredited and dismissed. They included revelations by former RUC member John Weir, who told how his unit colluded with paramilitaries to carry out shootings and bombings members of the Republican community. If ordinary Catholics were shot, nobody was too worried about it.

Lord Stevens said that the scale of leaks from the RUC to paramilitaries was extensive. He said that there was very little done about the leaks, despite a man named as an IRA operative being killed by the UDA.

General Harry Tuzo, the head of the British Army knew that the Ulster Defence Association had arms, but decided to “turn a blind eye” to it, according to a declassified document.

Former Tory Northern Ireland Security Minister Michael Mates said that the British authorities were co-operating with loyalist groups “because they felt that they were fighting the same enemy”.

“If the paramilitaries in the Protestant communities want to protect their own communities and are being, I suppose the word is vigilantes, we will turn a blind eye to that. And I don’t think they had any alternative.”

Some felt the British Army was “lending” weapons to paramilitaries. These included the Glenanne gang who carried out the bombing on the McDonald’s pub in 1976, the Miami Showband massacre and the bombings in Pomeroy and Silverbridge.

Former RUC Assistant Chief Constable Raymond White said that it was “undeniable” that the response was slow. The response only began when one member ended up on a psychiatric ward and began talking. He and Weir were both sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a Catholic chemist.

The evidence mounts and mounts. We must support the call, which Sinn Féin has been making for decades, for a full inquiry and for all those serving the British state who are guilty to be brought to justice — and for the history books to be corrected.