A shameful part of our country’s troubled history
A powerful study of police collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland underlines the need to deal with its legacy
Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland
During the 1970s it is estimated that this gang in various permutations killed more than 100 people, most of them Catholic civilians. Only one was an IRA man. Cadwallader notes that many were hardworking Catholics who were doing modestly well for themselves. Those killed in the Dublin and Monaghan bombing atrocities were a cross-section of urban society randomly slaughtered. Immense sorrow was caused – and, along with great anger, persists.
Cadwallader describes the passion with which the Catholic priests Denis Faul and Raymond Murray tried to get the British and Irish governments to turn their attention to events in the so-called murder triangle. She quotes Seamus Mallon of the SDLP who made similarly valiant efforts.
She describes the painstaking research that went into this book, carried out by the Pat Finucane Centre, chiefly in the UK’s public records office. She praises the courage and determination of Alan Brecknell, who was a child when his father was murdered by the gang, and who has devoted years to pursuing the truth.
She makes extensive and effective use of reports by the PSNI’s historical inquiries team. It has lately been subject to serious and justified criticism, but it emerges from this book with considerable honour. Its reports describe decisions taken by the RUC and the director of public prosecutions as catastrophic, extraordinary, beggaring belief. It was Dave Cox, former head of the team, who apologised to people such as the late Sadie Reavey for the false allegation, bruited by Ian Paisley, that three of her sons were murdered because they were in the IRA.
The book’s one serious flaw is its almost complete failure to place these terrorists within the context of the culture and history of unionism. There is a far too extended chapter relating British dirty tactics in what the author terms “far flung” places, such as Cyprus and Kenya, to its practices in Northern Ireland. There is almost nothing on the fundamental influence of the Orange Order on the concept of the “unionist family” and on maintaining a segregated society defined by paranoid sectarianism.
The loyalist mentality in unionism ensured the silence of many Protestants around these killings; fear of that mentality ensured it in others. Cadwallader comments on contemporary Iraq, but not the way a new generation of loyalist killers, encouraged by the remnants of the 1970s gangs, lent its muscle to the Orange Order at Drumcree in the 1990s, resulting in another wave of sectarian murders. One woman described Billy Wright to me then as a “roughneck” but added: “He may be a psychopath, but he’s our psychopath.” Michael Farrell’s 1983 book Arming the Protestants sets out plainly the roots of Northern Ireland’s security forces in loyalist paramilitarism and the rationale for ongoing tolerance of illegality around the edges.
In tackling collusion, however, Cadwallader has written a brave, powerful and forensically detailed book about a shameful and denied aspect of our conflict’s history. She adds her voice to those calling for some coherent mechanism to deal with the legacy of the past. It is becoming more painfully obvious every day that this is needed.