Trevor Ringland: Counter terrorism work, including use of agents, helped prevent civil war in NI

Screengrab from the BBC Panorama about the agent codenamed Stakeknife, broadcast on April 11 2017
Screengrab from the BBC Panorama about the agent codenamed Stakeknife, broadcast on April 11 2017

John Ware’s recent BBC Panorama programme about Stakeknife reminded us not only of the ‘dirty war’ in Northern Ireland, but also the dirty peace that followed.

Contrary to the narrative promoted by some that the state was largely responsible for the Troubles, the republican movement caused around 60% of deaths, loyalists around 30% and the state 10%.

Trevor Ringland.

Trevor Ringland.

The facts also prove that paramilitary organisations were not defending their communities, as they like to assert.

Ironically, the discussion about collusion in the security forces and questions about counter-terrorism techniques have revealed that the state has a clear picture of who exactly directed the loyalist and republican campaigns of violence that decimated so many lives in Northern Ireland.

Frustratingly though, just knowing, with a high degree of certainty, who carried out murders doesn’t mean that there was proof to satisfy a criminal court.

During the Supergrass trials of the 1980s, evidence from informers was ultimately deemed unsatisfactory.

There may be ways of revisiting that process, to examine how it could be made to meet legal requirements.

The programme highlighted a valuable source of information to bring paramilitary leaders to justice, which presents a huge opportunity for the Public Prosecution Service.

Unfortunately, I remain of the view that, for a variety of reasons, it is unlikely many victims will get genuine justice or forensic truth, despite my comments above.

However, thanks to counter-terrorism by the security forces and the work of so many in our community, we avoided all out civil war, which would have been, by many magnitudes, an even greater tragedy than the devastation caused by the Troubles.

In a way, informers were the flawed heroes of that time.

To move on from our past, we now need a thorough discussion on how we ensure that the peace we currently enjoy is bedded down and not wasted, so that our previous mistakes are never repeated again.