Ahern to push for prosecution of officers

THE Government will push Britain to prosecute police officers who colluded with loyalist killers in the North.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said yesterday that the British Government would have to deal “comprehensively” with the issue of collusion or it would continue to dog the peace process.

In a damning report launched on Monday, the North’s police ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, highlighted police collusion in as many as 15 murders.

She said the killers “could not have operated as they did without the knowledge and support at the highest levels” of the RUC and its successor, the PSNI.

Despite this, the British Government immediately ruled out prosecuting any of the officers involved — at least two of whom are still serving.

But Mr Ahern said there needed to be “as much accountability as possible”.

In that respect, the Government would urge Britain to initiate prosecutions.

“It is something we will be pushing very strongly,” he said.

“Anyone involved with oversight of this has to be dealt with.”

Mr Ahern was speaking several hours after meeting with Sinn Féin and the SDLP on the issue.

Meanwhile, three former Special Branch officers last night hit back at allegations they refused to cooperate with Ms O’Loan’s investigation.

After SDLP leader Mark Durkan used parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons to identify the three, the officers struck back at Ms O’Loan, claiming she kept them in the dark about her explosive dossier.

Chris Albiston, a retired assistant chief constable, insisted the officers contacted by Ms O’Loan’s team provided information that would assist her inquiry.

Speaking for those the ombudsman claimed gave no assistance, he said: “Some 18 months afterwards when it became apparent that a critical report was being prepared we asked to see the content and the nature of the allegations being made.

“There was no cooperation from her office on this report and officers were unable to see her report until Monday.”

Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, was forced to fend off demands for the resignation of Ronnie Flanagan from his post as head of Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Mr Durkan insisted that Mr Flanagan, as a one-time head of Special Branch and RUC chief constable when the UVF’s Mount Vernon unit went on the rampage across north Belfast, should have known what was going on.

Here, the Labour Party raised questions about Mr Flanagan’s involvement in the selection of the chief inspector of the Garda Inspectorate.

Labour TD Ruairi Quinn said his party had raised Mr Flanagan’s involvement in the process last year, but Tánaiste and Justice Minister Michael McDowell had insisted there was no problem.

“He knew the O’Loan investigation was under way and he knew that serious allegations and concerns surrounded the role of the former chief constable,” Mr Quinn said.

However, Mr Flanagan has denied any knowledge of what the rogue Special Branch officers were up to.

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