‘Collusion’ has become almost meaningless – time to give it a firm definition

The aftermath of the Loughinisland massacre at the Heights Bar in June 1994. Last year, a Police Ombudsman report found there to have been state 'collusion' with loyalists in the run-up to the massacre - though it also said security forces had not known about the planned massacre
The aftermath of the Loughinisland massacre at the Heights Bar in June 1994. Last year, a Police Ombudsman report found there to have been state 'collusion' with loyalists in the run-up to the massacre - though it also said security forces had not known about the planned massacre

The charge of collusion has been thrown about so widely that it has almost become meaningless.

Language is important. The failure to reach agreement on an acceptable meaning of the definition of a victim has caused many problems, not least when it comes to providing pensions for the most seriously injured victims of the Troubles.

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie of the UUP

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie of the UUP

Those who were injured whilst carrying out terrorist acts cannot and should not receive equivalence with those who were injured through no fault of their own.

That is not a “hierarchy of victims”, it is basic common sense.

We also have a degree of confusion surrounding the phrase “human rights”.

Just because someone calls themselves a “human rights” lawyer or claims to represent a “human rights group” does not mean they meet any reasonable definition of the term.

All too often they are extremely partial and only concerned with the rights of a particular faction or section of our community.         

I am concerned that the term “collusion” has also been misappropriated. I believe it would be helpful, certainly in the context of the Troubles, if it was given an agreed definition.

This would help to define the difference between rogue individuals in the Army, police and security services on both sides of the border, and those activities conducted by both states in handling human intelligence sources.

Collusion did happen between the state agencies and republican terrorists as much as it happened between the same agencies and loyalist terrorists. Of course the same must be said for the Irish state agencies including the Garda and Irish Directorate of Military Intelligence.

In 2003 Lord Stevens, the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner said collusion ranges “from the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the extreme of agents being involved in murder”.

In 2004, Canadian judge Peter Cory published six reports into alleged collusion in murders in Northern Ireland and highlighted several dictionary definitions of the word including “to co-operate secretly: to have a secret understanding”, and he also added definitions of connive – a synonym of the verb collude.

However, an inquiry into the death of Billy Wright in the Maze in 1997 took issue with the emphasis on connivance. It said it was “concerned” over “the width of the meaning applied by Judge Cory... for our part we consider that the essence of collusion is an agreement or arrangement between individuals or organisations, including government departments, to achieve an unlawful or improper purpose”.

The first Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan adopted the definitions in 2007 of Lord Stevens and Peter Cory to examine if there was collusion in the murder of Raymond McCord Junior; using those definitions, she concluded there had.

However, her successor Al Hutchinson applied a less broad definition in his report on the 1971 attack on McGurk’s Bar.

In his review of the murder of Pat Finucane, Sir Christopher de Silva said he had adopted a “working definition” of collusion more in line with the Billy Wright inquiry panel, whereas Justice Smithwick gave a similar definition of collusion to that of Peter Cory.

Going forward, I believe we need to arrive at an agreed definition in order to examine what really happened on both sides of the border.