His family, like hundreds of others North and South, will never have the satisfaction of seeing justice done. That is something they have gradually, painfully had to accept. Not being the campaigning type, my friend has just become another statistic.
I suspect few people in the police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s office even know his name. Such is the tragedy of the Northern Troubles: only one-third of the 2,000-odd murders committed by republicans, and only half of the loyalist murders, led to the perpetrators being brought to book.
In part, that is a reflection on policing policy — intelligence-led, not evidence-based — but more on a community where, historically, many people have not cooperated with the forces of law and order. The emphasis during the Troubles was on preventing enough murders for a political process to develop, but it didn’t help that even those who were prepared to cooperate with the justice agencies were frequently too intimidated to do so.
The identity of my friend’s killers is known, but the evidence does not exist for charges to be brought. Bluntly, none of the witnesses was prepared to testify in court, mostly for understandable reasons.
The circumstances appear similar in the case of Raymond McCord Jnr who, unlike my friend, was heavily involved in the illegal drugs trade. He was on bail at the time of his death having been caught importing about €80,000 worth of cannabis.
Again unlike my friend, Raymond McCord’s name is very well known in the police ombudsman’s office. He is the subject of the report Nuala O’Loan published last week at a cost of almost €400,000. Such are her priorities.
While Raymond McCord’s death is tragic, it is hardly scandalous. So many people are in the same position. The grief of the McCord family is no greater than that of others who have seen their (usually entirely innocent and blameless) loved ones snatched away by the murdering loyalist and republican scum who afflict Northern Ireland.
But because, in part, allegations of collusion had been made in relation to the McCord murder, Nuala O’Loan decided to initiate an investigation into the case and the handling of police informants more generally. Her conclusion? Systemic collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries.
Finally, the proof of what we have long suspected, many will say.
“Despicable”, says President McAleese. “Appalling”, agreed every side of the Dáil. The RUC were little more than the UVF in uniform, many will conclude. At this point, it is necessary to step back and look at the issues just a little more coolly and carefully. I don’t know if President McAleese has read the report, or how many TDs have done so. Very few, I suspect. The thing is, stories about what the police ombudsman might find have a funny way of turning up in the newspapers before her reports are published.
Whether or not this is a deliberate policy on the part of her weirdly-named information directorate I cannot say, but the effect is that minds are already made up.
My dictionary describes ‘collusion’ as a conspiracy between people ostensibly on opposite sides to the detriment of a third party. Has Nuala O’Loan found any evidence whatsoever that the RUC and the UVF conspired to murder Raymond McCord or anyone else? None.
Even if you do not have the time to read the report — I have — the very fact that not a single police officer will be charged as a result of her investigations is the proof of this.
If she had found evidence of such behaviour, it would be an appalling indictment on any police force, especially one that had 302 of its members murdered by terrorists, the same class of people it had allegedly colluded with.
But, to repeat, O’Loan found no such evidence. She found ‘collusion’, but not collusion in any normal, sane sense of the word. What she found was that the police paid money to a member of the UVF to be an informer.
NEEDLESS to say, this informer — a member of a truly despicable terrorist organisation — is believed to have been involved in all sorts of terrible crimes, although little in the way of evidence seems to exist to enable a prosecution.
O’Loan’s definition of collusion is a complex one that includes “turning a blind eye to the wrongful acts of their (the police’s) servants or agents”. It also includes “supplying information to assist them (terrorists) in their wrongful acts”, as well as the lesser crime of poor record-keeping and accountability procedures.
Is there any instance of the police supplying information to assist terrorists in their wrongful acts in the 162-page report? Not one. It isn’t even alleged. Was a blind eye turned? Possibly, but not conclusively. Were the accountability mechanisms less than absolutely perfect? Definitely.
Get this: the RUC did not request receipts from their informants, as O’Loan says she would have liked — as if informants were pawnbrokers, not terrorists.
The RUC had serious suspicions that one of their informants was involved in serious crime. He was a senior member of the UVF and, presumably, that was why he was useful: not because they could use him to kill Catholics (as is widely believed and insinuated) but because they could prevent crimes, including the attempted bombing of the Monaghan Sinn Féin offices, ironically enough.
One can imagine why some people in the UVF might want to prevent such a bombing — loyalist and republican terrorists have far more interests in common than they do with the police — but why would the police try to prevent such an action if they were the ‘black bastards’ of popular imagination?
Policing in Ireland, North and South, is not like policing in, say, Switzerland where there aren’t organisations that deliberately seek to kill policemen and civilians, as far as I know. In Ireland, there are. Unfortunately, the RUC/PSNI and the Garda are forced to operate according to the principle of the greater good.
Using informants saves lives. Yes, most informants are involved in crime. But for the greater good of society — to save the maximum number of lives, loyalist, republican or otherwise — decisions have to be made about whether the information an informant provides is more valuable than the harm he does as a member of a terrorist organisation. When the scales tip the other way, the informant is dropped, as happened in this case.
Two final thoughts. In the run-up to the Sinn Féin árd fheis last Sunday, the party publicised the fact that the police had warned their leaders’ lives were under threat. Where did the police get this information? From informants? From informants involved in criminal, possibly terrorist, activity? Did the Sinn Féin leadership ask before condemning ‘RUC/PSNI collusion’? Come to think of it, according to O’Loan’s definition of collusion, the RUC must have colluded also with the IRA, the INLA and all the rest down the years.
The question is: why did she limit herself to loyalist so-called collusion?