William Matchett: It’s absurd that terrorists are being equated to the police

Belfast IRA men on patrol
Belfast IRA men on patrol
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Zucked tells us that key to Facebook’s global success is conspiracy theory.

The same can be said of a legacy platform created by the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

William Matchett

William Matchett

In Northern Ireland’s darkest days two sets of terrorists hated cops who stood between them and the people. The deadliest waged insurgency. They called cops the enemy, legitimate targets to be killed on and off duty.

Insurgent propagandists pulled the strings of the most liberal elements in a liberal democracy to taint the police force and security response it led, brutal and bigoted.

The lies sugar-coated and distracted from premeditated mass murder that spilled over, at times, in ethnic cleansing by Republic of Ireland-based insurgents.

In the legacy platform, academics, pressure groups, Police Ombudsman and suchlike are the most trenchant critics of security policy. In a blanket hiring ban for cops in legacy investigations, they hold that the perception is local cops tarnish these because they are, essentially, war criminals.

That is, conspiracy theory is premised on security policy being sinister wherein every state actor is presumed guilty of acting with impunity.

In Spain, after ETA’s ceasefire no similar prohibition. Then again, Madrid does not define a terrorist a victim or in any way equal to cops or soldiers.

Insurgent propaganda claimed their community was brutalised, yet it increased 8%. Cops were better at convicting murderers of that community than those from it who murdered some 300 of their colleagues.

In just over 3,500 deaths terrorists are responsible for some 3,100 (all murders). Police account for 48 (nearly all, lawful). For five of those, four armed response officers were prosecuted for murder and acquitted. My point. Bad cops were no more than any other police force in a liberal democracy and did not act with impunity. Far from it. The armed response guys got a raw deal, as a judge related.

Putting them on trial for killing active terrorists smacked of appeasing politicians unsupportive of police and a highly unlikely outcome anywhere else in the UK and unthinkable after 9/11.

One of them put me through the armed response assessment decades ago. Davie had a dry sense of humour. The media did a real number on all of them, particularly him. Shoot-to-kill given the conspiracy theory treatment.

Stories riddled with untruths and ignorance. Sexed-up stuff that sold and which the officers, having signed the Official Secrets Act, could not refute. That is the thing about secret intelligence in conspiracy theory, it cannot defend itself, as authors well know.

Banter by crew mates helped, but they were not always there. Headlines niggled. He felt alone, abandoned and unheard. Davie took his own life long before the political backslapping of Easter 1998.

When the war they maintain they fought ended, terrorists had no prisoners to hand back to the families. As official policy, insurgents executed every soldier and cop they took into their custody, often after torture. In sharp relief, the Belfast Agreement set free early 448 prisoners.

Many entered politics and are key players in legacy. For them, not enough cops were put before the courts, claiming legacy is imbalanced as a result. Imagine convicted-murderers-turned-politicians in the US arguing the justice system is skewed because the number of cops in prison are not equal to serious criminals.

The absurdity is a consequence of terrorists being equated to cops. Another. In having entertained conspiracy theory complaints, the Police Ombudsman (an investigatory body) created expectation that these would be proved.

Starved of evidence, however, this was impossible with normal criminal justice practices, which saw the Ombudsman shift into truth-recovery-style storytelling, as if they were a judge-led tribunal in a post-dictatorship context. Here, retired cops were condemned with opinion. War crimes justice for dictatorship employed in a liberal democracy.

Yet, instead of government stopping this disturbing and discriminatory deviance of justice, the platform is to be rebooted with a draft Legacy Bill and Super Ombudsman under a different name. The result of political talks - Stormont House - brokered by the two largest parties.

The new interface has non-crime (that nobody can give an example of) of non criminal police misconduct solely for cops and conspiracy theory for all state actors. Both defined in law for retrospective application.

Nothing similar for terrorists and their propagandists, nothing for the misconduct of politicians who failed to support the police, prolonging the conflict and leading to many deaths, nothing for the misconduct of a Dublin that harboured terrorists or the misconduct of authors who make up spiteful stories.

I know an officer under investigation for 20 years. It started when he was serving, followed him into retirement and may follow him into the grave. The draft bill caters for dead cops and brings their family into the frame because it is them who will get the knock on the door.

To object to this is to be labelled “morally outrageous” by academics and pressure groups. Proud to be tagged, Ulster Unionist Party, Police Federation, Retired Officers Association and agencies such as the South East Fermanagh Foundation who advocate for innocent victims of terrorism.

For conspiracy theory, there is no end. Vague accusations readily believed ruin lives.

Zucked shows the popularity of the tech giant is due to malign actors manipulating the platform behind the scenes.

In 30 years of chasing conspiracy theory, zero prosecutions.

The justice of illusion.

William Matchett is author of Secret Victory: The Intelligence War that Beat the IRA and Adjunct Fellow at the Edward M Kennedy Institute for Conflict Prevention, Maynooth University, Ireland. October 3, 2019.