Pat Funicane murder - British state sweeps the dirt under the carpet


The publishing of the De Silva’s report into the murder of Pat Funicane may have exposed a bit of dirt from under the carpet of the British states secret war in Ireland but the scars and flames of the past have not gone away - they continue to shape policing in the 21st century. As Geraldine Finucane articulated, ’’The dirt has been swept under the carpet without any serious attempt to lift the lid on what really happened to Pat and so many others.’’

While the report and David Cameron’s statement in parliament may have attempted to blame ‘rogue elements’ as being responsible for his murder, the wife of Pat Finucane, Geraldine argued “This report is a sham. This report is a whitewash. This report is a confidence trick dressed up as independent scrutiny and given invisible clothes of reliability. Most of all, most hurtful and insulting of all, this report is not the truth”.

Adding: “At every turn, it is clear that this report has done exactly what was required: to give the benefit of the doubt to the state, its cabinet and ministers, to the Army, to the intelligence services, to itself. At every turn, dead witnesses have been blamed and defunct agencies found wanting. Serving personnel and active state departments appear to have been excused.’(1)

What  has also been missing from the media disussion is the fact that MI5 rather than the Police Service of Northern Ireland maintains control of informants and agents – the very people who were not only promoted within paramilitary organisations by being allowed to maim and murder but who in the Finucane case were encouraged to kill. Not only is the main presence of MI5 headquarters outside of London in Hollywood, Co Down but they have also taken over primary responsibility for ‘’counter-terrorism operations’’ in the North today.

In a recent report entitled ‘Policing you don’t see’’ published by the human rights watchdog Committee for the Administration of Justice(CAJ) found that since primacy in ‘national security’ policing was given to MI5 five years ago, there is a growing “accountability gap” over a large part of policing. It reports that the UK level oversight of MI5 is plainly inadequate and that the local mechanisms that hold the PSNI to account are evaded by the Security Service. It argues that this situation falls woefully short of international standards and has the capacity to undermine confidence in policing as a whole

Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ added:

“Unfortunately, the secret Security Service – implicated in past abuses – has not been so reformed and has been put in charge of a highly important area of mainstream policing. MI5 has primacy in covert ‘national security’ policing and gives ‘strategic direction’ to the PSNI in this area.

“The Patten report recommended the downsizing, deinstitutionalisation and integration of Special Branch within the PSNI and the oversight of the PSNI by an independent board rather than a government minister. However, since the St Andrews Agreement perhaps the most sensitive area of policing is being run by a parallel police force – ‘a force outside a force’ – answerable to ‘direct rule’ Ministers and subject to separate and ineffective oversight arrangements. If the Chief Constable’s assertion at the time of St Andrews that MI5 would focus only on dissident republicans remains true, the practical impact of this is that two different covert policing regimes, in terms of operational techniques, standards and oversight, are now in place for republicans and loyalists.

“Our research shows that the UK level oversight of MI5 is ineffective. Limited additional accountably measures were promised in the St Andrews Agreement but some of the most significant commitments, to publish policy frameworks, have not been honoured. Related policy documents which have been released to CAJ under Freedom of Information rather than being safeguards actually appear designed to limit accountability. This includes an NIO held document which contains a list of types of information the Chief Constable should not tell the Policing Board, even in confidential sessions. The documents we have discovered show an obsession with keeping anything with the label ‘national security’ secret from our devolved institutions and a total indifference to accountability.

“Whilst the Prime Minister after St Andrews gave assurances that PSNI officers working with MI5 would be ‘solely accountable’ to the Chief Constable and Policing Board, this is contradicted by these documents which stipulate that PSNI officers, up to and including the Chief Constable, working on national security matters are not accountable to the Policing Board but rather to the NIO.’’(2)

The reality of this report and others into state sponsored terrorism indicates that collusion in Northern Ireland took many forms, from the security services turning a blind eye to loyalist activities to actively encouraging and directing them. A military intelligence file (see from 1973 estimated that between five and 15 per cent of soldiers in the Ulster Defence Regiment – a local infantry regiment of the British Army – were linked to loyalist paramilitaries, and that the ‘best single source of weapons, and only significant source of modern weapons for Protestant groups, has been the UDR’. In short, a section of the British Army was arming loyalist paramilitaries. Furthermore, the British government knew that more than 200 weapons had passed from the UDR to loyalist paramilitaries, and that these were being used to murder Catholic civilians. Therefore the latest findings that “85% of the UDA's 'intelligence' originated from sources within the security forces’’will come as little suprise to human rights campaigners or those fighting for truth and justice.  

 On the other side of the coin - all be it with an entirely different focus and strategy - the level of infiltration by security services into republican organisations to disrupt, absorb and destroy is also yet to be exposed. In July this year the Smithwick tribunal investigating alleged Garda collusion in the IRA murder of two senior RUC officers was told that one in four IRA members, including some in the highest echelons, were informers. Indeed a full independent enquiry is being pushed by some of the families and victims of the horrific 1998 Omagh Bombing into claims that elements of the security services had prior knowledge of the bombing and failed to disclose the information to protect a high valued informant and agent provocateur. 

The De Silva reveals the levels of violence, intimidation and cover-up that our ruling class will go to restore its authority such as the Hillsborough disaster.  We don’t need to look to the Cointelpro programme in the US, to military occupations and colonial relationships in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Africa and elsewhere to recognise that similar policies took place here as the intelligence war continues. (3)

 Earlier this year a Belfast ‘supergrass’ trial cleared a dozen loyalists as the Judge branded the evidence from two UVF informers who were responsible for countless of murders as ‘liars’. The trial lasted for 72 days and saw 12 of the 13 men acquitted of all charges after one of the longest trials in Northern Ireland's legal history costing over 11 million. One of the accused was North Belfast loyalist parliamilitary leader Mark Haddock who is connected with over 20 murders while acting as an informer for RUC/PSNI Special Branch.  In October 2005, the Irish Labour TD Pat Rabbitte, using Dáil privilege, named Haddock as an RUC Special Branch agent and as responsible for the murders of Sharon McKenna in 1993, Catholic builders Gary Convie and Eamon Fox in 1994, the alleged informer Thomas Sheppard in 1996.(4) In terms of ongoing intelligence war in September 2006 it was confirmed that Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie approved the PSNI policy of using children as informants including in exceptional circumstances to inform on their own family.

In the meantime we must make sure the dirt isn’t left under the carpet because what is lost here is lost for working class communities from Belfast to Liverpool and beyond. The ruling class will be finally made accountable for their crimes when they are consigned to the dustbin of history with lasting justice and freedom for all. As Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th century Russian anarchist quite evidently pointed out,‘’There is no horror, no cruelty, sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the states, under no other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so terrible: “for reasons of state.””-

WORDS: Sean Matthews

''If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.'- Sun Tzu

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