Ireland North: British State’s dirty war

The BBC current affairs programme, Panorama, recently broadcast a two part investigation on Northern Ireland that revealed more details of the dirty undercover war carried out for decades by the ‘security forces’. Most of the material appeared to come from the forthcoming report of the long-running investigation by Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens.

BBC television exposes British State’s dirty war in Northern Ireland

Killers on the loose

This evidence was damning. Stevens and his staff were quite open about the dirty tricks perpetrated by various wings of the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), interspersed with undercover interviews with Loyalist killer, Ken Barrett.

The programmes concentrated on the activities of Brian Nelson, an ex-soldier recruited as an undercover agent by the British Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU). Nelson’s role was to infiltrate Loyalist paramilitary organisations, principally the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), to ensure their assassination gangs "properly targeted" potential victims.

Clearly the State forces were using the same tactics as Ariel Sharon employs today in Israel/Palestine – assassination of so-called ‘terrorists’, without any sort of trial. It is also chillingly clear that, even with Nelson’s help, people were murdered just for being Catholics.

His list of potential "IRA targets" consisted of a hodgepodge of data, gleaned over the years, mostly from RUC sources. Nelson didn’t know how accurate it was. Eventually he shoved it all in the boot of his car and gave it to his ‘handlers’ in the FRU. They obligingly sorted through it and gave him back the material that was still up to date.

The programme estimated that 80 people on Nelson’s list were attacked, of whom 29 died, with only a "tiny minority of those involved in terrorism".

People like Terry McDaid were shot because Nelson got the wrong address. Apparently he was so upset about this that the FRU had to tell him McDaid was involved in the IRA!

Nelson wasn’t beyond a bit of free-lancing. When he discovered Alex Maskey, now Sinn Fein mayor of Belfast, in a Belfast restaurant he tried to recruit an assassination team himself. Fortunately for Maskey, Nelson couldn’t get organised in time.

In the late 1980s, unidentified figures in the RUC declared solicitor Patrick Finucane a target. His ‘crime’ was to legally defend alleged IRA members. Even Ken Barrett was surprised at this as loyalists were happy to use Catholic solicitors. But as he said: "The peelers [police/secret services] wanted him whacked [killed] and we whacked him."

Colonel Kerr, head of the FRU maintained they didn’t know Finucane was a target. And indeed the army denies it "ran agents" at all.

By this stage, as police files on IRA suspects were being fly-posted on walls around Belfast, the government obviously felt they had to act on a situation which was spiralling out of control, hence the Stevens’ Inquiry.

The Inquiry team was obviously not welcomed by the RUC or the FRU and the programme deals with a suspicious fire which wiped out many police records held inside a secure RUC office block. But the most important material had already been copied back to Stevens’ office, then at Cambridgeshire police HQ.

Part two of the programme dealt with FRU’s attempts to get their loyalist double agent Brian Nelson off a number of murder charges by various perversions of the criminal justice system.

It showed the malign and powerful influence of the military.

One reconstruction from the Steven’s Inquiry showed a farcical scene from an investigative tribunal. All the military witnesses, sitting together in the same room, were simultaneously questioned, thus ensuring the same (false) story was maintained.

Officers from the inquiry weren’t allowed access to FRUs reports and records as they were considered state secrets. Instead, on request by investigating officers, the military themselves presented what evidence they felt appropriate.

Capitalist politicians always drone on about the ‘rule of law’, how it must be obeyed, how everyone is subject to its provision and how civilisation would come crashing down if people disobey such a constitutional cornerstone. What the Panorama programme unwittingly showed was that there are no such universals only that which is in the interests of the ruling class.

It confirms Marx’s description that the capitalist state, in essence, consists of armed bodies of men with prisons at their disposal.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI in England and Wales)

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June 2002