Pat Finucane report: unsavoury collusion on all sides
Who could not be disturbed by the latest evidence from the De Silva report that agents of the British state connived in the murder of the Belfast lawyer all those years ago, or moved by the dignity of the dead man's family in pressing for yet further investigation of what happened and how it was subsequently covered up?
There are plenty of questions still to be teased out. The Slugger O'Toole website, always a lively read, in an item written by Brian Walker, a well-informed former BBC correspondent and Ulsterman.
But broad context matters too. Terrible things were done in in the Troubles, some of them by the state but rather more by the paramilitary gangs on both sides, the loyalist gangs and by the prime movers of the low-level urban warfare of the period, the IRA, its rivals and its civilian allies, including another state, the Irish Republic across the six-county border.
So if there was collusion – and David Cameron rightly conceded that there was – between the security forces and the paramilitaries who gunned down the pro-republican Finucane in front of his children in his own home, it was not confined to this case. There was plenty of collusion between all sorts of people who should have known better.
Take one glaring example. For reasons of domestic expediency and vote-pandering the American political and legal system colluded shamelessly with Sinn Féin fundraisers and IRA on-the-runs, putting it objectively on the same side as Libya's Colonel Gaddafi who was helping arm the IRA. No tough "war on terror" talk in those days, though I noticed that the motormouth New York Congressman Pete King, so keen to resist "political" extradition of suspects, sang a very different tune when Islamists were later in the frame.
They're not the only ones and both sides were steeped in shabby deals, hypocrisy and collusion. How could a dirty war be other than dirty? Whoever helped set up Pat Finucane for the Ulster Defence Association hitman Kenneth Barrett to shoot did wrong. But is it really so surprising, even shocking, that some MI5 men, army special units or officers in the now-disbanded Royal Ulster Constabulary would stoop to such tactics when confronted with what the other side was doing every day?
I checked my memory against the stats a few minutes ago. Here's . Here's . Here's . Whichever one you prefer, the top killing machine by a long stretch were the IRA and other republican paramilitaries, fighting an illegal urban war in circumstances that did not remotely justify it, then or now when some of its key leaders hold elected public office in what remains part of the United Kingdom.
I'm glad that Gerry Adams (the Brits did intervene to prevent him being murdered, several others too) and Martin McGuinness gave up arson and joined the fire brigade. The flickering embers of that conflict still flare – as they have done in recent weeks (strikingly under-reported on the mainland, I'd say; isn't that the mistake we made in the pre-Troubles 60s?) over the wretched symbolism of flying the union flag over Belfast city hall.
That's why the past matters, especially in places with troubled history: because it affects the present and the future. As the Guardian's Henry McDonald , the flag row and attendant violence on the streets of Belfast threaten the peace process and the position of progressive unionists who support it. Progressive republicanism faces trouble of its own from diehard gunmen who are still bombing and killing. The moderate Alliance party, which got stick when its group, which holds the balance of power in the city council, voted for a compromise – fly the flag some days – is being attacked by loyalists and the Democratic Unionist party, in some cases, not least for tactical political gain. They want to take back East Belfast's Westminster seat for one thing.
Grubby, isn't it? But this conflict was centuries in the making and may take a while to subside. As Henry McDonald also reported last week the flag row knocked an even more important Irish story off the front pages – another eye-watering round of austerity from the Dublin government to meet the demands of the eurozone to restore the republic's budget position.
The irony is painful. Most informed observers seem to think that a lot of Catholics in what the South always calls the North would vote to stay in Britain – and the republic has too much on its own hands to cope with an integration project of the kind that exhausted even Germany after reunification. But the old battles rage on the fringes as if nothing had happened.
It is in no one's interest that any of the 32 counties – in the republic or Northern Ireland – become part of a failed state, the condition that constantly drew the English – and Scots – into Ireland over the centuries, fearful that if they didn't step in the Spaniards, French or Germans would.
For my own part, I'd like to see more come out about this case and endorse the that it serves to remind us of the dangers always lurking close to secret court procedures. But a full public inquiry? No, I don't think so. We all remember the long and costly Saville (not Jimmy) inquiry without enthusiasm, though the outcome redeemed it.
But a test may be at hand. When Andrew Lansley took over as health secretary in 2010 he ordered a full public inquiry into the Mid-Staffs hospital affair, something Labour had declined to do. Robert Francis QC (he did the first pretty thorough inquiry too) is posed to report – at last. Let's see if it proves worth the time and money.
Meanwhile the search for the dark secrets is not confined to one side. Sinn Féin and the IRA have many of their own. Slugger O'Toole (Mick Fealty) here. So did Enda Kenny, the mild-mannered Irish PM, when in the Dáil the other day.
Cheap political shots? Yes, but that's politics and demands for the truth cut both ways. The Finucane family's grief is one thing, but what others say and do must be judged in the wider context.
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