Thursday, December 7, 2006

Blood on whose hands?

Malcolm sees that First Post was trailing the imminent MacEntee Report, due next week. With luck, other media may pick up the baton.

Let’s run the iron over First Post for a start. It seems to be a native attempt to emulate Its intentions are laudable. Its presentation is slick. Its columnists and correspondents are the great and the good. So far it has made as much impression as a southbound gnat on a northbound windscreen. Perhaps it is nothing more than a shot-in-the-dark:
The First Post is owned by First Post News Group Limited and is backed by private investors who are involved in the development of new media opportunities. The Non-Executive Chairman of the company is Mike Turner.
The correspondence address is down in the sticks, at the same Cheltenham address as the Higher Education Statistics Agency; and the whole set-up seems pree-ty mis-ter-i-ous. James Robinson did a few paragraphs on the venture in the Observer last year that told us the brains behind the operation is Mark Law. Law was the long-time (and competent) Comment editor of the Sunday Telegraph, until he got the boot in September 2004. See the Indy’s Diary for the odd straw plucked from the wind.

Malcolm is not yet greatly impressed by First Post. Robinson quoted Law’s prospectus:
This is journalism commissioned specially for the net and is not the just a byproduct of a newspaper or broadcasting organisation… Our target readership is well-educated people between 25 and 50 who don't have a lot of time. More and more people now expect information to be free and they are frustrated with the sheer volume that newspapers chuck at them.
Well, yes, but there’s bite-sized and there’s crumb-sized, “without the need to scroll”; there’s thin and there’s gauzy.

So, then, to the meat course.

What’s this MacEntee Report? Well, there have already been half a dozen of them, all “interim”, all non-events, but increasingly promising more to come. Patrick MacEntee (a silk in both Irish and English bars) had been set single-handed to investigate the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. His final report was due at the end of October this year, but suddenly he came looking for an extension of six weeks, promising shock-horror revelations to come. So far MacEntee has kept his cards very close to his chest.

And what’s it all about, Malcolm? Well, o best beloved, here’s the Guardian’s summary:
On the morning of May 17 1974, two cars were hijacked in loyalist areas of Belfast and a third was stolen. A fourth was taken from a car park in Portadown. In the late afternoon, during Dublin's Friday rush-hour, the three from Belfast exploded without warning in the city centre within 90 seconds of each other. The Monaghan bomb went off 1 hours later. No one claimed responsibility. There have been no prosecutions.
33 died, over 200 were injured. All of these numbers are +/- the odd unborn child, you know. The UDA were, allegedly, striking back.

From the beginning, there was something very fishy about the Gardai’s behaviour: they seemed to have no clue as to how to handle the investigation, and quickly lost active interest. Then there was the curious nature of the bombs: they showed a degree of sophistication never before seen among the Prod para-militaries. As time has gone by, a narrative has emerged.

In 1993 Yorkshire TV did a programme, (and Malcolm is still borrowing from The Guardian):
... First Tuesday broadcast Hidden Hand: the Forgotten Massacre. Given unprecedented access to Garda files and personnel, the programme made the following assertions:
• Witnesses were able to identify eight suspects, including two of the drivers.
Within weeks both the Garda and the RUC had a list of 20 suspects, all from the UVF.
The Garda was not allowed to interview suspects in Northern Ireland and its investigation was wound down after three months. The Irish government remained indifferent.
British military intelligence, which had infiltrated the UVF in Portadown, was willing to allow the outlawed organisation to carry out terrorist acts.
Other, more partial, accounts imply that the security services (any combination of MI5, MI6, SAS, RUC and the rest of the alphabet soup, and permutations of Kitson, Holroyd, Nairac, Wallace) were effectively running the loose-knit Portadown UDA/UDF mob. Much of our "knowledge" of these shady dealings comes from Fred Holroyd's various utterances (which have been remarkably consistent, and never disproved). In that Hidden Hand programme, Holroyd said:
We ran them, we were running the organisation hands off, because the leaders belonged to us. Atrocities were allowed to be carried out by the Protestants, we knew who they were, we had information, and no action was ever taken against them.
Holroyd's 1989 book (with Nick Burnbridge, published by The Medium Publishing Company), War Without Honour is now unobtainable, but Paul Foot recycled much of the meat. There is also a serial account in the various issues of Lobster magazine.

What is more remarkable, perhaps, is the supine position of Dublin Governments. The Coalition Government (1973-77) of Cosgrave and Corish may have wanted a quiet life, to support Harold Wilson as the only alternative to rabid Tory ultras, or even fearing further British intervention. In any case, the Gardai made a lamentable hash of the initial investigations of the bombs in Dublin and Monaghan. The seemed to possess no notion of how to deal with the forensics, so evidence was tainted and rendered useless. From early on, though, the Gardai "knew" and could have named the UDA suspects (those names are easily googled on the Net). The MacEntee Report may yet be the latest in a series of mild squibs to have emerged from Dublin in the last 30 years.

At this stage, Malcolm has not great palpitations about MacEntee. It is a one-man band; but MacEntee has an established track-record as a personal- and human-rights lawyer (he is the author of the standard texts on Irish law, and featured on the wider European stage). It is not realistic to hope he will have had much official input from London or Belfast. His overdue report may tell us whether he is merely another creature of Fianna Fáil.

What MacEntee will not reveal is the broader picture. Remember, early 1974 was febrile:
  • The Dublin and Monaghan bombings happened at a psychological moment in both Northern Irish and Dublin politics (the strike against the power-sharing Executive and strategic abstentions in the Dáil which allowed passage of the Offences Against the State Act)
  • The alphabet-soup mob were thoroughly complicit in the coup-d'état of the Ulster Workers' Council against the Sunningdale Agreement.
  • The "Wilson Plot", explained and then disowned by Peter "Spycatcher" Wright. [The germ of truth in Wright is the Wilson-phobia of the "American tendency" in MI5, in cahoots with the CIA.]
  • There may have been a spat between MI5 and MI6 over control of operations in Northern Ireland.
  • This was all at a time when the outgoing Heath government, the Cabinet Secretary and "respectable" media were prepared, seriously, to debate the need for a military coup in Britain (for one account see here). This was not a flash-in-the-pan: Peter Wright had been conniving with Cecil King to depose Wilson as early as 1968. It may even be true that Heath was doing a Nixon, and had instructed Michael Hanley, DG of MI5, to target his political opponents.
Malcolm does not expect the whole can of worms to be opened in his lifetime, if ever. He can only hope the younger element keep a tin-opener to hand. Sphere: Related Content

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