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The Troubles cast a shadow over Brexit
December 2018 / January 2019

Today such subterfuge operations are typically executed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 and are signed off by chief officers and scrutinised by the Surveillance Commissioner. True, they’re expensive, highly intrusive, require careful and patient planning and close supervision, and don’t always bear fruit. In Reilly’s case, however, the fact that he does not live in a republican area and had a respectable job offered the practical prospect of a successful penetration.

Deep-cover RIPA operations were deployed by outside police investigations into two separate but high-profile Northern Ireland murders. Why not in the case of Birmingham with 21 times the number of victims?

In the case of the Omagh bombing, the failure to lock up anyone has been almost entirely due to the arcane protocols restricting intelligence-sharing between Britain’s electronic eavesdropping centre, GCHQ and the police. In 2008, for BBC Panorama, I discovered that within hours of the massacre GCHQ had sent the cellphone numbers of the bomb team to the intelligence services in Belfast. GCHQ had tracked the bombers’ journey to Omagh, and their escape back across the border. With the mobile numbers came the names and addresses of their registered owners.

Some 70 miles away in Omagh, standing with his back to one of Europe’s biggest post-war crime scenes, the Detective Chief Superintendent charged with catching the bombers had very little to go on. The failure to share the vital intercept intelligence with detectives, robbed them of the chance to make arrests within the so-called “Golden Hours” — the 24 hours immediately after a crime when forensic and other opportunities are at a premium.

Judged by the failure to bring the IRA to book in cases like Birmingham, Omagh, and the 200 comfort letters to the IRA, the prime minister’s recent criticism that legacy investigations were “patently unfair” to “our armed forces” might seem fair comment. At first glance PSNI statistics do indeed look biased. While republican groups killed nearly six times (2,152) the numbers killed by the army and the police (362), the PSNI are reviewing almost every killing by the security forces (354) compared to only 530 by republican groups.

But there is no bias. The criminal justice system resolved the majority of killings by republicans by locking up thousands of them. Even so, the majority of PSNI investigations into conflict-related killings are still mostly on armed republican and loyalist groups (70 per cent) — not soldiers (30 per cent ). The prime minister got it so badly wrong that the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton felt he had to put the record straight. “Our figures are out there,” he said. “The facts speak for themselves.”
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December 20th, 2018
8:12 PM
We can rely on Gareth Peirce and her indefatigable Fifth Column to put right everything that is wrong, no matter what the cost.

December 6th, 2018
11:12 PM
In reply to nobby, who states 'you cannot compare a soldier who made a mistake in the heat of the moment......' my father was shot dead in cold blood by members of the MRF, a unit of the British Army who drove around Belfast in plain clothes in unmarked cars 'executing' civilians. Eventually this unit were disbanded as they were deemed to be 'out of control'. Obviously we expect these soldiers to be tried for the murder of our Dad. And why not? Wouldn't you want to see justice done if you were in our position?

John Ware
December 6th, 2018
7:12 PM
Nobby: The (regular) army killed 160 civilians, and 121 republican terrorists (Table 18, p 1561, Lost Lives). Most of those civilians were shot in the early and most violent phase of the conflict, and many may well have died in cross fire (including, I suspect, some of the 11 shot in Ballymurphy at the start of internment in August 1971). I trust you noticed my comment that ".....whatever crimes soldiers may have committed, people will struggle to see the remotest moral equivalence between the British Army and the IRA." John Ware

December 6th, 2018
10:12 AM
on the whole I agree with the solution to the legacy of unsolved killings put forward in this article.However there are a few points I would make.Firstly the author gives the impression that a large majority of the British Armys victims were civilians.In fact the army killed 149 terrorists and 152 civilians,roughly 50-50.Secondly you cannot compare a soldier who makes a mistake in the heat of the moment with a terrorist who carries out a pre planned cold bloded murder.Look at the Kingsmill massacre where the IRA stopped a minibus carrying workers home from a building site,seperated the protestants from the Catholic,whose name they knew,and then shot the Protestants.Nobody has ever been prosecuted for that either.I would be interested to know what proportion of Terrorist murders were successfully prosecuted,I suspect it is not as high as this article gives the impression of.Finally how can it be just to prosecute an old soldier who made one terrible mistake 40 years ago when the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin Mcguiness were/are allowed to pose as respectable elder statesmen.

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