Our man has some neck to tell Blair he should give O’Loan more clout

IT is both ludicrous and hypocritical to hear Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern call on the British government to strengthen the powers of Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan in the wake of the appalling collusion she uncovered between the security forces in the North and loyalist paramilitaries.

Ludicrous and hypocritical because he wants another government to lend greater power to an institution the equivalent of which his own Government has adamantly refused to establish here.

In Northern Ireland there is at least a police ombudsman, and a very effective one as we down South have come to realise. It is an office that time and time again has been demanded, especially after the Morris tribunal report exposed corruption and abuses within the gardaí.

Yet, for whatever perplexing reason, and it can’t be mere money, the Government, and particularly Tánaiste and Justice Minister Michael McDowell, is resolutely against the idea of a garda ombudsman.

Before he pontificated on the shortcomings of the police ombudsman in the North, Dermot Ahern had met with both the SDLP and Sinn Féin. Both parties want former RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan thrown out of his current elevated position.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan went so far as to write to British Prime Minister Tony Blair demanding Flanagan be sacked if he hasn’t the good grace to stand down himself. But our Foreign Minister, spouting the official Government line, completely disagrees.

After meeting the two parties in Dundalk, he blithely said the Government was not calling for Flanagan’s resignation, despite the fact that he was in charge of the police for part of the period covered by Nuala O’Loan’s report of collusion by some members of the RUC special branch with loyalists in north Belfast in the 1990s.

What does the North’s former police chief do now? He’s only the Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Britain!

Yet he was the top policeman when plainclothes police handlers gave protection to UVF thugs who were responsible for at least 15 murders.

Despite his repudiation of any wrongdoing, or of acting with any knowledge of the events in question, Flanagan did not deny those events had taken place.

It was Nuala O’Loan’s assessment that the scandal could not have happened without knowledge and support from the highest levels of the RUC.

At the peak of the vicious campaign waged by the UVF, Flanagan was the top man in the police force.

What’s more, Mark Haddock, who was identified as the key agent running the UVF in north Belfast’s Mount Vernon estate, was paid at least £80,000 and was protected by his special branch handlers from prosecution as far back as the early 1990s.

It would be practically impossible to credit that Haddock could be paid that kind of money and be immune from prosecution without the sanction of the very top echelons of the police force.

That substantial sum was paid to him between 1991 and 2003, before and after Flanagan became Chief Constable. In one instance he was paid £10,000, but who authorised it, and why, remains unknown.

Apart from that, Haddock was on a monthly retainer of £100, which was increased to £160 in 1993 — at a time when he was identified as the principal suspect in the murder of a Catholic woman.

Haddock is linked to 10 murders and there is less significant evidence which links him with another five.

Flanagan joined the RUC in 1970 and worked his way up through the ranks until he first became deputy chief constable and then chief constable in 1996. He was still in the post when the force was restyled the PSNI.

In 1993, he was the RUC’s senior commander in Belfast at the time of the Shankill bomb and when the city was experiencing some of the worst violence for many years. After that he became head of the special branch.

As chief constable in 1996, he faced one of the most difficult phases of his career when he was accused of “flawed judgement” over the Omagh bombing.

When Nuala O’Loan criticised the RUC inquiry into that atrocity, his response was that he would “publicly commit suicide” if he believed her report was correct.

Ronnie Flanagan is still very much with us .

He resigned in 2002 to join the Inspectorate of Constabulary, and, once again, he’s now the chief.

Mark Durkan said, after this week’s O’Loan report, he had warned Tony Blair that Flanagan’s latest appointment would come back to haunt the prime minister. “Today it has”, he said.

Yet, oddly enough, Flanagan must fit the profile our Government has in mind for a police chief as it believes he has no reason to resign. This is in direct contradiction of nationalist MPs who have demanded his head.

THEN again, maybe it’s not so odd because resigning was never top of this Government’s agenda, especially if the person in question was behind a desk where the buck stopped — or could be expected to stop.

Ronnie Flanagan was behind that desk for a considerable time.

He was there in 1998 when O’Loan’s investigators discovered that safeguards for handling informers were relaxed by senior officers.

That decision, they concluded, would have been made with the knowledge of the then chief constable — one Ronnie Flanagan.

The investigation happened because of the determination of Raymond McCord to get justice for the killing of his son, also Raymond, who was beaten to death by the UVF in 1997.

He believes special branch agents beat his son to death.

Mr McCord’s campaign will not end with Nuala O’Loan’s report because he will continue to petition Northern Secretary Peter Hain for a judicial inquiry into his son’s death and that of others in what he described as “state collusion.”

The British government has already rejected this, though the campaign is supported by other victims’ families, on the assumption there was nothing to indicate further information would be forthcoming.

Had Raymond McCord accepted such a trite response some years ago, there probably would have been no O’Loan report into state collusion with loyalist terrorists.

Too often politicians presume to know what’s good for people, when what they really mean is that they prefer the status quo to be undisturbed and to let sleeping dogs lie.

Michael McDowell has promised just about everything to make the gardaí more accountable except what people really want — which is a garda ombudsman.

He has promised a whistleblower’s charter, the Garda Inspectorate, the Garda Ombudsman Commission, greater accountability of members and a new disciplinary and promotion regulation.

The “gross abuses of power and fabrication of evidence” that emerged from the Morris tribunal were “completely unacceptable and deplorable,” he declared at the time in what amounted to a statement of the blindingly obvious.

He also revealed that by August of last year, 103 civil claims arising from garda misconduct in the Donegal division had been received by the State.

Five had been disposed of at a cost of €2.2 million and he conceded the outstanding cases would be expensive.

The State, he declared proudly, had, through the establishment of a tribunal, vindicated the rights of the victims of the Donegal events and upheld truth and decency through all of these matters.

He might have added the cost of the tribunal. In 2002, its first year, it cost €2.84 million, about the same as the O’Loan report.

The difference is that in the latter case, the costs have stopped rising.

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