(At long last, I am finally writing this blog post.) Last month I had the opportunity to spend a week in DC with the Relatives for Justice collusion delegation, and what a week it was. Read about the trip’s details in their own words on their blog, Relatives for Justice Collusion Delegation in the USA. [Pictured, from left: Theresa Slane, Clara Reilly, Mark Thompson, Paul McIlwaine, Raymond McCord and Pauline Davey-Kennedy.]
The families were here to gather American support to expose the extent of British state violence in Ireland and the great lengths that the British government has gone to prevent the truth of their policy of collusion from coming to light. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “collusion,” in this context it refers to the arming and directing of loyalist paramilitary death squads by successive British government administrations throughout the 30+ years of the conflict in Ireland.
There were six people in the delegation:
Mark Thompson is the Director of RFJ, and Clara Reilly is its Chairperson. Both have been involved in helping families fight human rights violations for decades. Though Mark’s brother Peter was killed by the British army in a shoot-to-kill operation in January 1990, and Clara’s brother Jim Burns was murdered by the UVF in February 1981 (in a clear case of collusion), neither one spoke of their personal tragedies during the Congressional meetings that I attended. I can only imagine that this was due in part to their positions as spokespeople for RFJ and all the hundreds of families that they support and were here to represent.
Raymond McCord, Sr. was one of two Protestants who were part of the cross-community delegation. The UVF beat his son Raymond Jr. to death in November 1997. Raymond Jr.’s killing was sanctioned by the notorious UVF killer Mark Haddock, who was also a paid RUC/PSNI Special Branch agent (and responsible for up to 23 other murders). Those who follow Irish politics may be familiar with the McCord case; in January Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan published a scathing report into the circumstances surrounding his death. The report has helped to expose how deep and systematic the policy of collusion was. You can read a copy of that report here. Raymond Sr. has received death threats for pursuing his son’s case and for bringing the issue of collusion to the halls of Congress.
Paul McIlwaine is a Protestant from Portadown. His 18-year-old son David was brutally murdered along with his friend Andrew Robb in February 2000 during the UVF/LVF feud. Though neither had any paramilitary connections and the boys were not the initial intended targets, both were sadistically killed in a knife attack that left David nearly decapitated. Evidence has emerged that shows the investigating officers concealed evidence to protect the killers (and the senior UVF commander in the area who is a Special Branch agent) and that the RUC were aware of the UVF plan to kill two people on that night and did nothing to prevent it.
Pauline Davey-Kennedy, herself a former Sinn Féin councillor, was in DC to highlight the murder of her father John Davey, a Sinn Féin councillor on Magherafelt District Council. Davey was murdered by the UVF on 14 February 1989 (two days after the murder of Pat Finucane). Davey had been subjected to all sorts of harassment before his death, including intimidating phone calls, letters, detention, arrest, and death threats from both the British army and RUC Special Branch that they would have loyalists kill him. Sinn Féin has had more members and elected representatives killed than any other political party, and its elected reps were denied the special protection given to other politicians by the Northern Ireland Office (protection that could have certainly protected many lives like that of John Davey). Davey was ambushed and shot after leaving a council meeting in 1989.
Theresa Slane’s husband Gerard was murdered by the UDA in September 1988. Slane’s murder had been planned and directed by the British Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU), the same unit responsible for the murder of Pat Finucane. A map of the Slane home had been drawn during an RUC raid the week before Gerard’s murder. Slane’s personal details were given to the infamous Brian Nelson, who would later plead guilty to conspiracy in the murder of Slane and four others. Nelson made a deal with the British Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions to keep silent. In return, Nelson was given a lenient sentence and a new identity, home, and financial resettlement package upon his release.
Now, after reading only a few of the details of each person’s case, you may understand why it has taken me so long to write about the trip. I’m sitting here at my desk a month later, trying to reflect on my experiences and I’m still having a hard time. I was blown away by the strength and determination of everyone I met.
Raymond McCord, whose son’s case has been in the media spotlight for some time now, was the first to say what a shame it is that it is only really now that people are starting to pay attention to the collusion issue when republicans have been speaking out against it for decades. McCord and McIlwaine, the two Protestant participants, spoke of how they had always believed collusion to be republican propaganda until their own sons were killed. Unfortunately, they have had an unbelievably hard time trying to get unionist politicians to give them the time of day.
Relatives for Justice argues, and I firmly believe, that the opportunity to expose British collusion is now. From the press release issued in advance of their trip:
Irish American support in lifting the lid on British state violence in Ireland has been crucially important, particularly in this past decade. The Irish lobby has undoubtedly impacted hugely in advancing this issue and has made the objective of fully exposing British collusion a reality that is now within our grasp. This includes exposing the role of British Military Intelligence and the fact that collusion was a political and military policy both sanctioned and financed at the highest authority within Whitehall and Downing Street. Collusion claimed countless lives including unionist and nationalist alike. This is a human rights issue. It now needs to be addressed in the context of peace building and transitional justice. Your support is vital as the struggle by hundreds of families to seek truth and accountability as part of transition continues and reaches a crucial point. The truth must be established and your continued rold is required more so now than at any other time.
Now is a unique time and opportunity for the families to build on these developments and push for the truth about collusion and British state violence in Ireland. Irish America has an imperative role to play in collectively standing shoulder to shoulder with the families. We urge your support.
In other news from the week, the Senate unanimously passed the Finucane Resolution, H. Con. Res. 20. The resolution has now passed both houses of Congress, putting more pressure on the British government for a full, public, independent inquiry. Though Peter Hain immediately stated that the inquiry would have to be held under the notorious Inquiries Act of 2005, let’s hope we can increase the pressure to do away with that. [Pictured, from left: John and Geraldine Finucane, Rep. Chris Smith, Mary Noonan, and Mike Glass.]