‘There are agents carrying out criminal acts’.(Gerry Kelly)
Anna Lo’s recent claims that the police are ‘turning a blind eye’ to criminality, mainly from within the loyalist community, were greeted as a revelation by the media and sparked a superficial exploration of the issue. Predictably Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein’s policing spokesman, stepped up to the mike to ask the pertinent questions,
‘Why are these paramilitary organisations still existing? We have these illegal organisations 20 years after the first ceasefires in 1994 and 16 years after GFA still about, still existing…and still acting in terms of drugs in terms of criminality, in terms of intimidation…’ Gerry Kelly 2014.
It made for fascinating if not nauseating listening. Gerry assured Stephen Nolan that in his capacity as a member of the Policing Board he has been holding the PSNI to account over this very serious issue. The crux of the problem, as he sees it, is the protection of police ‘agents’ and he tells us he has asked the PSNI,
‘How far are you letting them (loyalist paramilitaries) go in terms of criminality which they are involved?’
Interestingly he doesn’t have a problem with the use of police agents per se but says the debate is,
‘…between what is a blind eye and the police who have infiltrated these organisations allowing their own agents to go too far as opposed to take action…’.
As a senior figure in the peace process Gerry Kelly is being at best disingenuous in his discussions on this issue and at worst downright duplicitous. He is fully aware that ‘turning a blind eye’ to criminality was a sop to republicans during the ‘peace process’ if not from 1994 then certainly 1997 when Blair took over the reins. This de facto policing deficit was first openly articulated by an NIO official in 1998 when asked if the murder of Charles Bennett was a breach of the IRA ceasefire, the answer was No it was ‘internal housekeeping’. In their determination to keep the ‘peace train’ on the move the British government overcame the problem of continuing IRA violence by categorising certain crimes as ‘political’ and ‘criminal’. Criminal they could live with as explained by a senior official in the Department of An Taoiseach (2006),
‘Criminality was always kind of never mentioned; always understood to be there, but there was always kind of sense that it would be hard to stop them doing all that. But if they stop the paramilitary stuff like the shooting of the cops, the targeting of the cops, and the army, and the bombs, and the disposal of the weapons, my God, wouldn’t that be just wonderful, you know? So criminality in that context of that being achieved was a lesser priority, right?’
What this meant in reality was that the lives of ordinary men and women in areas like the Short Strand and other paramilitary infested areas could be sacrificed to thugs and gangsters. Charles Bennett’s murder went under the ‘blind eye’ category as did those who came after him.
According to a senior Irish official (2009), British officials were ‘slightly indifferent’ to IRA criminality and many officials in Dublin also felt ‘a blind eye should be turned to criminality in pursuit of the greater goal’, a point that some DFA officials concede.
Officials’ being indifferent and untouched is one thing – however this indifference was transmitted to the police, as a US official explains,
‘…I don’t believe that they had ever issued a policy statement to the police to tell them to ignore IRA criminality as long as it did not turn into bombs on the mainland, but I believe that many, many police thought they operated under those rules… And when the IRA held up Makros, that big store, on the eve of the elections, and no one could figure out who in the world might possibly have pulled this off very well orchestrated heist? And the explanation we get quietly when we asked about it was, ‘If we were to say it was the IRA, we’ll be accused of interfering in the election outcome’. What did you just train the IRA to do? You told them that they can carry out egregious, blatant, criminal behaviour in the run up to an election, and we will turn a blind eye to it. So then, you know what? They came back and did the Northern Bank… Finally, Dublin saw it too.’
Gerry Kelly is right when he says ‘There are agents carrying out criminal acts …’ but what he omits to acknowledge is that in some cases agents were protected at the behest of his party. Across both communities over 100 men have been murdered at the hands of paramilitaries since 1994 and to what extent ‘turning a blind eye’ played in the failure to prosecute or secure convictions must be examined. Until Gerry Kelly is prepared to speak to the truth about this practice his protestations are as credible as Chris Moyle calling for a crackdown on tax evasion.