It is as if republicans are playing a big game.
‘Now, this is turning out a bit easy,’ you can almost imagine them say. ‘We are successfully blaming many of our small killings on the Brits. Let’s see if we can do the same with massacres.
‘We had some success in shifting the blame for Omagh to the RUC. Let’s try Shankill.’
The rewriting of history to justify IRA terror is happening so fast, and on so many fronts, that it is hard to keep up.
It is easier to look ahead at what could yet happen. Enniskillen and La Mon and Teebane, for example. Don’t be surprised to hear coming reports of collusion or heroic informants thwarted by the security forces. Expect probes into state responsibility for what we had always naively assumed were straightforward sectarian IRA bloodbaths.
You wonder why the Catholic Church, the SDLP, successive Irish governments, the clear majority of nationalists in Northern Ireland and the overwhelming majority of the Republic’s electorate opposed Provisional violence. After all, Northern Ireland was so sectarian, rotten and violent that they ought to have supported those who fought it. Right?
Here is what we are, in effect, told happened:
• There was widespread collusion between the authorities and unionist death squads (note they aren’t called ‘loyalist’ any more, to imply that mainstream unionism was complicit in murder).
• There were murder plots against individuals hatched by the UK government, up to and including Downing Street.
• Informers were used not to prevent murder, but to facilitate and encourage it.
• The police, army and intelligence services routinely knew about massacre plans and let them go ahead for various evil calculating motives.
In the last week alone we have had the Shankill claims. We have been told that the SAS acted disproportionately in stopping a notorious IRA murder gang at Loughgall. We have learned about fresh Police Ombudsman investigations.
Be clear about what is happening. It is a systematic bid to imply that the British state and republicans were equally bad, or (preferably) that the state was worse.
Despite what we hear, most people who have a memory of the Troubles know it is distorted rubbish. Any remotely fair person accepts that:
• Britain prevented civil war and acted with more restraint than almost any other nation on earth would have done in the circumstances.
• The police and Army, after some disastrous blunders (the most notable and shameful of which was Bloody Sunday) in the 1970s, were by the 1980s professional and experienced at handling civil unrest.
• The state clearly had a policy of not shooting terrorists (easily provable, see below).
• Loyalist intelligence was pitiable (obvious when you look at the stats). They were thugs, despised by the RUC, who mainly shot Catholics.
• There were instances of collusion, up to and including murder (my view is that loyalist murders began to get suspiciously accurate around the time of the vile 1989 murder of Pat Finucane), but it was mostly low-level. It was also surprisingly rare given the Protestant make-up of the RUC (90 per cent) and UDR (almost entirely).
Only a country as decent and fair but ultimately foolish as Britain would stand mute as this nonsense about the past comes thick and fast. In fact London is worse than mute – it has allowed the weight of the state to be used in a witchhunt that is now a national scandal. Take for example the use of the coroners courts to get unlawful (state) killing verdicts.
When have you ever heard a British minister do what Irish ministers have the nerve to do, and interfere in the sensitive affairs of the other jurisdiction (such as Eamon Gilmore lecturing us on a Bill of Rights, which both Labour and Tories oppose, or Enda Kenny demanding an inquiry into the murder of one Troubles victim, Mr Finucane)?
Why do prime ministers or secretaries of state not occasionally respond in kind, perhaps dropping in a reference to Irish extradition refusals that enabled IRA serial killers to roam the border targeting isolated Protestants?
You could write at length disproving the nationalist myths, and I hope that academics like Henry Patterson will do so, but the simplest way to address it is to mention two things that all senior republicans know in their bones.
First, if they were even charged (which some never were), they were often freed by a scrupulous legal system.
Remorseless terrorists who were known to be dedicated by the intelligence services who monitored them, by the informants who told on them, by the police who arrested them, by the lawyers who represented them and by the judges who tried them, were then acquitted by those same judges because there was a tiny but reasonable doubt as to their flagrant guilt – the legal standard for acquittal. Freedom that they used, typically, to kill again (there are also accomplished dissident murderers who know about such judicial fair play).
Second, these ex-IRA bosses know that the state did not kill terrorists. If it had done they would be dead. Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Pat Doherty, Gerry Kelly, etc – all would have been killed decades ago. The leaders who followed them would have been killed and the leaders after that. Britain could have carried it out in a single evening.
It would have been a disastrous UK strategy, radicalising all nationalists and leading to permanent war.
They clearly did not pursue such a course, and we must resist the endless, lying implication that they did.
• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor