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Ardoyne: The Untold Truth - Conclusion
Ardoyne Commemoration Project (2002)

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Text: Ardoyne Commemoration Project ... Page Compiled: Brendan Lynn

The following chapter has been contributed by the authors, the Ardoyne Commemoration Project, with the permission of the publisher, Beyond the Pale. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.


‘Whoever defines the past may also control the future’

It is extremely difficult to accurately convey the enormity of the devastation and pain disclosed in the testimonies of this book. Perhaps the words do not exist to describe such loss. Those directly involved in the project, most of us born and reared in Ardoyne, were at times overwhelmed with what we heard. In many ways the book tells a ‘hidden’ history, a literally ‘unspoken’ story that might even shock members of our own community. The personal testimonies, the most important part of the book, are often very moving and painful to read. It is the first time that many individuals have spoken of these experiences. Clearly they are very personal ant private memories. Yet, equally distressing is the similarity of experience recounted by different people spanning three decades of conflict. These testimonies are accounts of ordinary people who are not, normally part of public discourse. It is usually the powerful and privileged who write history. If this book has value it is in providing an opportunity to understand, through the voices of ordinary people themselves, the reality of recent history and the ways in which people responded. What emerges clearly is the indomitable spirit of the Ardoyne community. The personal testimonies speak of individual and collective courage, survival, struggle and active resistance. This is not a story of passive victimhood, but of people living their lives in the most difficult circumstances.

The 99 deaths of people from Ardoyne between 1969 and 1998 did not take place in a vacuum. However, in the trauma and confusion of the time people often did not have the space to reflect upon and fully analyse the context of the killings. The conflict was ongoing and the deaths continued, sometimes on a daily basis. In such circumstances the community had no other option but to ‘get on with things’. It was a way of coping with the brutality and loss endured. One of the things this book hoped to do is to provide just such a space for reflection. The book has also therefore set out to put those deaths into political and historical perspective. It describes how the killings occurred in the context of deliberate counter-insurgency strategies employed by the British state to ‘manage’ the conflict. It demonstrates how an entire community was targeted by counter-insurgency violence and how the legal system became little more than an arm of such an approach. Central to this analysis is an insight into the terrible consequences of such strategies for the ordinary people of Ardoyne. The testimonies should not, however, be seen in isolation. They are part of a bigger picture and a wider history of the conflict in the north of Ireland.

To document such experiences prevents them from being misrepresented or written out of history. In this context, the manner in which the conflict is ‘remembered and forgotten’ is a key arena for struggle. Even though the British security forces were directly responsible for a number of deaths (and there is evidence of collusion with loyalist paramilitary groups in numerous other cases) their role and culpability in the conflict is frequently omitted from public discussion on the past. The ‘two traditions’ model of conflict management has obscured the role of the British state as an active and violent agent in the conflict. This book represents an effort by ordinary people to redefine who gets heard and what is remembered. It represents a counter-discourse to the ‘organised forgetting’ and culture of denial propagated by the British state.

The most important issues raised by the book are the enormity of the suffering and the prevailing sense of injustice. It should be stressed that the ACP did not set out to research and analyse the impact of the conflict on individuals in the Ardoyne community. But as more and more testimonies were taken we were shocked by the extent and gravity of what people had experienced and what they were continuing to go through. In a sense this book became as much concerned with the lives of those who grieved as it was about those who died. As a result, and although the testimonies are more than able to speak for themselves, the ACP felt that it was important to try and piece together more comprehensively some of the consequences and effects on relatives, friends and neighbours. The 'whole picture’ had to be told as fully and effectively as possible, highlighting the scale and nature of the private suffering. While this research and analysis is far from exhaustive, it is representative of ordinary peoples’ experiences. It also, significantly, strikes many chords with other recent research findings in this area.

A State of Closure: The Family Experience of the Project

The ACP has placed a great emphasis upon the issues of accountability, equality and transparency in the various processes involved in producing the book. There was always a great concern that ‘stirring up’ memories and strong emotions could have a negative and traumatic effect on those giving their intimate testimonies. As a consequence, we have attempted to find out what value this work has had for those who have shown great courage and compassion in taking part. The feedback received from those individuals interviewed has been overwhelmingly positive. The edited interviews were returned to participants for comment and approval before publication. Several individuals included additional details or made minor adjustments. There is no doubt that recalling the traumatic events frequently aroused emotions and many tears were shed in the giving and receiving of testimonies. However, most people found the experience to be positive and beneficial. That people were so willing to speak also ensured that a truer picture of the devastating consequences of the conflict on Ardoyne could be drawn.

A State of Distress: The Personal Cost of Loss

To begin with, we found that in the vast majority of cases the immediate impact of death caused immeasurable grief. That grief was deepened still further by enduring feelings of injustice. People frequently described the terrible emotional cost that the death of their loved one had on all family members. It is noticeable, for example, how many times the early deaths of parents or partners were ascribed to the impact of their loss. Such people are the hidden victims of political violence. Many interviewees also spoke of how the emotional toll was exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness engendered by the way in which they were treated by official agencies and institutions. Undoubtedly this has had long-term physiological and psychological consequences. Many of the individuals interviewed talked of experiencing ill health, both mental and physical. In a significant number of instances it is clear that there has been long-term distress and profound emotional disturbance.

There were very real and direct social and economic consequences too. The vast majority of those killed as a result of political violence in Ardoyne were men. This meant that many women were left with the responsibility of bringing up their (often young) family. A high percentage of women spoke about the great difficulties they faced coping with the stresses of bereavement alongside their new role and responsibilities as sole providers and carers. Many also noted the extent to which they were left to fend for themselves, with only their wider family network to provide them with support. This situation often created tremendous financial problems. That was in addition to terrible emotional strain made all the worse by intense feelings of loneliness. This often led to a sense of being overwhelmed. Several women also spoke of how their experiences had a profound impact on their characters. A significant number also talked of developing a dependency on sedatives, drugs and alcohol as they tried to cope with their circumstances. The words of one woman could find echoes in the stories of many others: ‘Afterward I became addicted to prescription drugs; I couldn’t go through life without them. I didn’t want to live; I just wanted to do myself in ... I was on maybe 50 to 60 valium a day ... I ended up having two nervous breakdowns’. Such are the hidden costs of losing a loved one in violent circumstances.

Many interviewees also had feelings of misplaced guilt. Even though they often knew it was illogical, many believed they had somehow contributed to the victim’s death. This both evidenced and deepened their psychological pain. One young woman describes her feelings after witnessing the killing of her cousin: ‘I actually blamed myself and was attending the hospital. I thought if I’d done what my ma had asked and shut the door, the gunman wouldn’t have got in. Then I had to come to an understanding that the gunman would have got in some way’. This was a very common reaction. In addition many testimonies evidenced the extent to which people could not grieve properly whilst the conflict was ongoing. This was particularly apparent in the interviews carried out with those who had been directly involved in the armed struggle. The words of one republican activist (discussing the death of a close comrade and friend) illustrate the point: ‘At a personal level I felt that I couldn’t show my emotion for a long time, that the abnormality of the situation we were put in robbed me of the chance to grieve properly. Like a lot of other people I don’t think I had the chance to grieve until after the cease-fires. But ... it’s something that you just never forget; it’s burnt into my consciousness. In such circumstances individuals found their own way of coping. That almost invariably involved not talking about what happened, particularly at a personal level. Such silences leave a lasting psychological legacy too.

The situation for many bereaved families was often compounded by economic hardship. In many instances the main breadwinner of the family had been lost. If public mechanisms of emotional and psychological support were often absent, financial help was also found to be in short supply. A further knock-on economic effect for relatives was their loss of employment. This was often due either to related ill health or because the individuals could not return to work for security reasons. Whether or not victims had been involved in any political or military activity their death often left their family at additional risk from future attack. ‘Guilt by association’ has hardly been an unfamiliar experience for many relatives.

A large number of both men and women also spoke of how difficult it was to rebuild their lives and of how things were changed forever. For many the death put severe stress on family relationships. The effects on children are probably incalculable. It is again notable how many victims (themselves often still young) left children who were in their early years. The testimonies of these sons and daughters, now grown, illustrate the deep distress that the death of their parent created for them. Every aspect of their young lives was disrupted and redefined thereafter. The sense of loss was amplified for some because they never had an opportunity to really know their mother or father at all. The pain of bereavement for the living parent was undoubtedly often intensified by watching the effect that events had upon their children, as the words of this young mother show: ‘I was left with five children. I went through a terrible time. My kids and me ended up going to counselling. My wee girl had nightmares. Everybody just fell apart. I fell apart. I couldn’t handle it’. The effects on friends, eyewitnesses and the wider community who have suffered distress as a result of the deaths are, similarly, probably immeasurable.

There is no doubt that the conflict had a huge and terrible impact on the lives of the men, women and children left to grieve. Indeed, for almost all, the lack of the space to grieve (at either an individual or collective level) was one of the most difficult issues of all. The bereaved also had to rely on their immediate circle of family and neighbours where no official support, counselling or advice was available. On the other hand, there was one positive consequence to such adversity. Ardoyne women were not only the backbone of the district’s family and social structures. Circumstances forced many to assume higher profile public roles within the community. Struggle and loss ensured that women became key actors working for social change. Again, the testimonies help illustrate a process whereby the community itself became the source and site of solidarity and support. As one interviewee explained: ‘Resistance took shape through the community caring for itself as a living entity. It harnessed repression and exclusion and turned it into something positive. People stepped forward within the community, in spite of the violence and social and economic deprivation inflicted upon it, and fought back’.

A State Apart: Harassment and Alienation in the Wake of the Death

A clear theme to emerge from the testimonies is the overwhelming sense of alienation that ordinary people have felt from the state and its institutions. Many testimonies speak of the brutality of a system that treated ordinary people with utter contempt and colluded to ensure lack of disclosure, accountability and justice. Relatives themselves were often viewed as subversives, and dehumanised as a result. Many were not accorded the common civility those who find themselves in such traumatic circumstances should expect. Such treatment provoked a growing sense of mistrust of state authorities, even for the most moderate and unpoliticised citizen. This was a marked tendency from the earliest days of the conflict. For example, a number of people noted that they expected the Scarman Tribunal to address the views and concerns of the community at the outbreak of the conflict. It soon became apparent that this was not to be the case. People realised that the shooting dead of two unarmed young men from the district by the RUC was to be left uninvestigated. A disbelief in the legal system was the inevitable and widely shared result. This sense of astonishment and growing cynicism was mirrored in countless other instances. People were confronted by state structures that violated their own laws and ignored or misrepresented ‘inconvenient’ truths. They were also seen to act in a manner that flew in the face of natural justice. It would be surprising if alienation from the state was not the consequence of such a situation.

Although not in all cases, a substantial number of testimonies provide evidence of systematic abuse and discrimination by official agencies and institutions in their treatment of the relatives of the dead. Verbal and physical abuse, intimidation, taunts, threats and obstructive and inhuman treatment have been the order of the day in far too many instances. This process often began with the way in which families were informed of their loss. Indeed, some people have never been officially informed that their loved one was killed. A common practice (particularly in the early days of the conflict) was for the victim’s home to be raided by the RUC or British army. News of the death filtered to the family only afterward via friends of neighbours. One woman recalls the way in which her family learnt of the death of her brother: ‘My mother and father found out about Jackie’s death when a young lad came up to our house and he said, "Sadie, your Jackie was killed last night; your Jackie was shot dead last night". Numerous testimonies tell similar stories. Several individuals describe how they learnt about the death of a family member in the most callous of ways whilst in prison. One individual found out his son had been killed through a news flash on television.

In other cases house raids took place shortly after news of the fatal incident reached the family. Such actions were particularly evident when the state forces were responsible for killings in disputed circumstances. They often seem to have been used as a pretext for gathering information that might later be used in a damage limitation exercise. This would occur even in instances where the victim quite evidently had no political or military involvement. During such raids relatives could be subject to the most appalling harassment, as the experiences of one interviewee shows. ‘The house was raided before his remains came home; they said they were looking for evidence, weapons. I went mad, berserk, saying they had done enough harm; my mother and my brother-in-law had to restrain me. They [British soldiers] literally wrecked the house. They pulled electric fires out of the walls in the bedrooms, they tore off the built-in wardrobe doors, they lifted nearly every floorboard in the house. My children weren’t used to that and it was so frightening for them. They were so young; the baby was only seven and a half weeks. I was feeling bad; my husband had been shot dead and then them bastards came round and raided me’.

For some individuals harassment began immediately after the incident occurred. At the scene of a number of killings, relatives, eyewitnesses and friends were subjected to taunts, aggressive behaviour and verbal and physical abuse from the British security forces. Several eyewitness testimonies describe how they were subjected to harassment and even arrested at the scene of the crime. Francis Bradley’s death is a case in point. After friends had witnessed Francis’ fatal wounding in a booby-trap bomb, they were arrested and held in custody for several hours. During that time plastic bags were put over their hands, they were aggressively interrogated by the RUC and subjected to taunts and abuse. They learnt that Francis had died when an RUC man came into the interrogation room and said, ‘Your friend Francie the bomber has just died in hospital’. It was only when the Protestant Action Force claimed the killing later that evening that they were released from custody. The anguish of relatives, friends and neighbours was often compounded when they arrived on the scene of the killing to be (often violently) prevented from attending to the dying. In the case of Brian Smith, for instance, British soldiers viciously attacked local women as they attempted to offer consolation to Brian as he lay dying and the other wounded individuals.

Several testimonies describe how friends and relatives were deliberately obstructed from reaching hospital, either by arrest or prolonged questioning and detention on the street. In several cases the wounded travelling either in ambulances or private vehicles were deliberately delayed from reaching hospital, sometimes for up to several hours. This is what the family of Anthony McDowell experienced after the shooting of their twelve-year son and brother by British soldiers. ‘We only got as far as Flax Street coming down the Crumlin Road and we were stopped by the paras. They took us out, put us against the wall and then took us to Tennent Street for questioning. One of the things I always remember in Tennent Street was they said they shot the wee bastard who was shooting out of the car and that now they have got the other fucker, meaning me ... Hours later the three of us were taken in a car and thrown back into Ardoyne. Then we walked down to the house and that’s when we found out Tony was dead and he was in the morgue’. One can only imagine the distress caused to relatives and friends when they are denied the right to spend last precious moments with a loved one. The pain of loss for relatives was, at times, intensified when they reached hospital due to inappropriate and aggressive questioning by the RUC and British army. Several relatives described how they were taunted and verbally abused by the British security forces. When Pat Mailey was taken to the morgue to identify the body of his brother Jackie (killed alongside Jim Mulvenna and Dinny Brown) he was deliberately first shown the bodies of Jim and Dinny. Such premeditated acts of emotional cruelty would leave a bitter legacy. In addition, eyewitnesses and neighbours who brought the victims to hospital found themselves under suspicion and arrest. The neighbours who brought Pat McCabe’s fatally wounded body to hospital were themselves arrested and questioned for several hours.

A State of Unrest: The Mistreatment of Funerals

For some relatives and friends the harassment did not stop there. A number of testimonies describe how they were unable to grieve in peace and bury their loved one with dignity. Numerous testimonies describe how homes came under heavy surveillance or siege by the British security forces. Everyone entering or leaving a wake was stopped, searched and p-checked. As one relative recalled, ‘Nobody got peace to come and pay their respects to Gerard. The soldiers crucified them; they were everywhere’. At the wake of 12-year old Anthony McDowell (shot by British soldiers while sitting entirely innocently in a passing car) paratroopers attempted to enter the family home, claiming they had seen IRA personnel entering the house. The family tried to prevent the paras from entering their home. Scuffles broke out and one relative was shot with a rubber bullet.

Several testimonies describe how funerals were subjected to attacks, harassment and attempts by the British security forces to dictate arrangements. British paratroopers rushed young David McAuley’s funeral cortege. Mourners were thrown into pandemonium when the coffin was nearly knocked off the pedestals on which it stood. In the case of James McDade the Catholic church prohibited his corpse from entering the chapel, British Airways staff refused to transport the body back home from England and the National Front in Coventry and loyalists in Belfast attacked the funeral cortege. The targeting and attack of republican funerals became more systematic during the 1980s. It was a campaign that culminated in an attempt to prevent any dignified burial for Larry Marley in 1987. A three-day stand-off including massed RUC men and local residents outside the Marley family home only ended when the sheer weight of numbers of the mourners forced the funeral through. In 1993 mourners at the funeral of Thomas Begley were fired on by the British army. One prominent republican was shot and seriously wounded in the incident.

Throughout the conflict surveillance of funerals by the British security forces was a common occurrence. Mourners were photographed, stopped, detained at roadblocks and frequently arrested going to and returning from the graveside. This type of harassment was not confined to republican funerals. It was very much part of the surveillance of daily life in the community. Yet despite such heavy surveillance, funerals leaving Ardoyne were frequently attacked or subjected to taunts and abuse by loyalist mobs. These attacks were not confined to republican funerals but included civilians killed by loyalists. In the worst such example, Trevor McKibbin’s funeral in 1977 was the target of a loyalist car bomb. Two of the mourners (Sean McBride and Sean Campbell) were killed. The carnage that this attack caused could very easily have led to the deaths of many more.

Even after the funeral relatives were subjected to relentless taunts and abuse from the British security forces. There are dozens of accounts that illustrate this point. One example is the death of Eddie Sharpe. Eddie was an unarmed civilian killed by paratroopers. Afterwards his widow Alice and their children were routinely subjected to a campaign of harassment. As she recalls in her testimony, ‘My house had never been raided before this incident. But the Brits tortured me for a whole year afterward. They raided the house and every time they passed me in the street they were stopping me and searching me. If I didn’t let them search me they would send saracens to come and take me. They were singing, ‘Where’s your daddy gone?’ and things like that to the kids’. What such an account illustrates is that the relatives of victims themselves often became victimised and were treated as if they had done something wrong. Again, this practice was not reserved solely for the families of republican activists. However, when the British security forces were responsible for the killing (whether of a civilian or activist) it was particularly prevalent and vicious.

A State of Illusion: The Nature and Impact of Media Misrepresentation

There are many reading the accounts held within this book who may ask themselves how such things could have happened without there being a huge public outcry. That assumes, of course, that people were either aware, or cared, about what happened to these families. Very often this was not the case. One of the main reasons for this was the way in which the conflict and these deaths were reported. The role of the press, and the control of information, had a devastating effect on the lives of the ordinary people of Ardoyne. At the heart of the conflict in the north of Ireland was a struggle over the legitimacy of the state and its institutions. The battle for legitimacy was fought out as much in the media as elsewhere. A fundamental duty of the state is to protect the right to life of all its citizens. Given its counter-insurgency policies, the British state could not therefore admit that its agents had been involved in unlawful killings. To do so would have shown to the wider world that it failed to treat all its citizens equally. At the same time people in areas like Ardoyne could quite plainly see that what official bodies were saying was not true. Widespread disbelief in the state was the inevitable consequence. This was a propaganda war in which the families of the dead of Ardoyne were often little more than pawns.

For example, in the immediate aftermath of killings (and again particularly when they involved disputed circumstances) the British state would disseminate misinformation, misrepresent victims and constructed a version of events that was at odds with local peoples’ accounts. A whole structure of disinformation was instituted in order that the British security forces’ description of events was the first, most widely (and sometimes sole) version heard and read. If competing accounts followed they were invariably overshadowed and seen as lacking credibility. Given the location of many incidents, people from Ardoyne were often the only eyewitnesses. However, Ardoyne was demonised as being socially and politically ‘deviant’. As a result it was all but impossible for their evidence to be given equal weight. In such circumstances the truth can become buried all too easily. Relatives faced an uphill struggle getting the media to listen to their side of the story. In the case of Eddie Sharpe, for example, at least two different versions of events were released by the NIO in quick succession. As his widow Alice explains, 'The first statement the Brits put out was that Eddie was shot dead climbing over a yard wall. They must have realised that they’d got their stories mixed up. The next statement said that he was a gunman standing pointing a rifle at them from his garden. At the inquest they admitted that he wasn’t a gunman and he should never have been killed’. Misinformation was not restricted to state killings. In the case of Bernard Rice the media quoted RUC sources alleging that the IRA had killed the victim for being a supporter of Rangers football team. Bernard Rice was actually the victim of a ‘random’ loyalist sectarian attack.

Such media manipulation was part of a much wider pattern. Channelling the nature, content and flow of information (particularly with regards to the use of lethal force by agents of the state) was a central component of counter-insurgency strategies from the early 1970s onward. Journalists were highly (often exclusively) dependent upon official bodies for the detail of events. At the start of the conflict the British army press office had primary responsibility for dealing with this area. In late 1971 it was supplemented by the setting up of the Army Information Policy Unit. Based at the British army’s HQ this structure was recently described by the journalist David McKittrick as the ‘Lisburn lie machine’. Information Policy was run by British intelligence and was designed to engage in ‘psychological operations’ through the dissemination of ‘black propaganda’, as its one-time key member Colin Wallace would later reveal. This British military structure was specifically established to manipulate the media. ‘Misrepresentation’ was therefore not so much due to ‘oversights’ or an absence of information as to a deliberate policy carried out by agencies that were set up with this express purpose in mind. Within minutes of a fatal incident taking place this machine would go into full swing. A story would swiftly appear that supposedly ‘explained’ and condoned the actions taken by the British army. Whatever the circumstances of the death, victims would be vilified, usually through (entirely unsubstantiated) accusations of armed aggression. Having ensured that this ‘primary definition’ of events was put into the public realm, other eyewitness accounts were disparaged and discredited. Even after Information Policy ceased to operate after the mid-1970s this approach still dominated official responses to such incidents. The move toward ‘police primacy’ would mean that the RUC Public Relations Department and the Northern Ireland Information Service would later become more important conduits for such state control of information, if they were less crude in their methods, they were no less effective in conditioning how disputed events were understood. Again, their representation of reality has been most questionable when state security forces have been directly involved in a killing, or where there have been allegations of collusion.

Yet this process could not have worked if there had not been a willingness within the media to go along with these official readings of events. Direct and indirect censorship combined with self-censorship in keeping these stories from the public’s attention. Nor would it have been possible to discredit the accounts of families and eyewitnesses from Ardoyne given at the time the killings occurred unless they were themselves seen, and reported, in a particular way. Over the years the media has demonised and labelled Ardoyne a ‘terrorist community’, implying that both victims and relatives alike were less than innocent. What is apparent from testimonies is that many relatives have suffered great distress as a result of sections of the media intruding on their grief, misrepresenting events and giving less than equal recognition to all victims. One woman’s words speak for many:‘I felt that the media and press coverage was pretty disgusting. I have actually challenged reporters for things they have written because it was lies, complete and utter lies. They didn’t do any investigating; they just ran with what they first heard and it is really a slur on my family because John, me and the kids are a family. How dare they slur us like that.’

Relatives have further complained that they have had no control over what was written or published. Indeed, many expressed this as one of the most important reasons why they wanted to be involved in this book. This lack of control could take a variety of forms. In one particular case the Northern Ireland Office used a black and white image of a victim at the scene of his death for the confidential telephone advertisement. The publication took place without the family’s consent and caused great hurt. In several other testimonies relatives describe the long-term distress caused by the media’s use of very explicit photographs of their loved one immediately after they had been killed. As Davy Glennon remarked: ‘Not only did my father’s death affect everybody in the family but the photographs of his death still haunted the family for years after it and still haunt my mother’. Some families have also felt let down by books, based primarily on newspaper records, which purport to tell the stories of those who have been killed. Longstanding pain caused by the original ‘errors’ in reporting have been rekindled and compounded as they continue to falsify the past. Preventing media misrepresentations becoming ‘history’ has spurred on many to become involved with the ACP.

A State of Denial: State Killings and Collusion

Of the 99 people killed in Ardoyne between 1969 and 1998, two were killed by the RUC and 24 by the British Army. This represents 28% of the total. In all 26 cases no charges were ever brought, no court proceedings instigated, no prosecutions made, no sentences served. None. This is despite the fact that in very many cases it is quite clear that the victim was unarmed, had committed no crime and posed no threat. In other instances evidence suggests that the British army and RUC acted in direct contravention of the rules and guidelines laid down to govern their use of lethal force. In other words, they broke the law and got away with it. A culture of unaccountability was the result. The treatment families subsequently received from the security forces should be seen in this light. This was not a case of a ‘few bad apples’. It was a consequence of the culture the state helped foster. For many victims of state violence their relative’s sense of loss was greatly increased by the denial of the status of ‘victim’ to their loved one. There are silences that still shroud these deaths. Time and time again the testimonies show this to have had a deeply traumatic effect on grieving families. Every death in Ardoyne matters equally. However, there are a great many questions that remained unanswered with regards to state killings. For the relatives of these dead, state denial of wrongdoing is not merely a thing of the past: it is an active process in the present. As a result, many of these families continue to call for the state to publicly acknowledge its culpability for acts of violence through some form of truth-telling process.

Fifty (or just over 50% of the Ardoyne dead) died at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries. As was discussed in chapter 5, the extent and nature of collusion is far less easy to determine. Undoubtedly not every one of the 50 Ardoyne deaths caused by loyalist groups involved collusion. However, it is equally beyond doubt that the evidence which has so far come to light shows collusion to have been central to the nature of the conflict as a whole. The testimonies of relatives and eyewitnesses is critical in helping to piece this bigger picture together. Their words illustrate the various ways that collusion took place. It may be worth summarising some of these forms. First, there was both direct and indirect involvement of state security forces in killings carried out by loyalist paramilitaries. Second, collusion was a long-term element of British counter-insurgency strategy. However, it came to the fore in the late 1980s. Such collusion happened in a number of ways. Information was passed on from intelligence files concerning what people looked like, where they worked and lived, where and with whom they socialised. Loyalist ‘information officers’ doubled as British agents and acted as the main channel for this data. Weapons were either provided or permitted to enter the country that were then used in loyalist attacks. State forces were deployed in ways that allowed loyalists to enter and exit areas in order to carry out shootings. In the aftermath of a killing the RUC were often slow to respond or failed to conduct a thorough search of the crime scene. Investigations were often perfunctory and carried out with little or no contact with the victim’s family. A culture of collusion compounded a culture of unaccountability that extended into a legal system shaped to service the counter-insurgency strategy of the state.

An Unaccountable State: Inquests, the Legal System and Lethal Force

As has already been noted, there were 26 state killings in Ardoyne but no member of the British security forces ever faced criminal prosecution for any of these deaths. It would appear that blanket immunity applied in such cases. In the absence of prosecutions the only opportunity relatives had of finding out facts about the killing was the coroner’s inquest. However, it is clear that the inquest system was used as a mechanism to protect members of the security forces involved in disputed killings. In 1981 changes were introduced to the rules governing inquests in the north of Ireland. As a result, inquests were unable to bring in verdicts as they could in Britain. They could only produce findings. The inquest therefore became a purely inquisitorial process restricted to establishing the immediate causes and circumstances of the death. This limited the power of the inquest to act as a check against the discretion of the police to not fully investigate and of the prosecutor to not criminally prosecute fatal incidents.

Even before the 1981 changes there were problems with the nature of ‘verdicts’. A disturbingly large number of ‘open verdicts’ were recorded at inquests when deaths had been caused by the British state. An open verdict was returned despite evidence that ‘lethal force’ was used in many cases of the Ardoyne dead. For instance, the British army admitted that the killing of 50-year-old Sarah Worthington had been a mistake [Sarah Worthington, killed by the British army in Velsheda Park, 9 August 1971]. However, no criminal sanction was sought against the soldier responsible for her death. An open verdict was also returned in the case of 76-year-old Elizabeth McGregor [Elizabeth McGregor, killed by the British army in Highbury Gardens, 12 January 1973]. This was in spite of the fact that it was admitted that there had been an ‘error’ resulting in the ‘fatal discharge of the weapon’. In the case of Eddie Sharpe the British army admitted that he was not a gunman, as was earlier claimed, and that he should never have been killed [Eddie Sharpe, killed by the British army in Cranbrook Gardens, 12 March 1973]. Yet an open verdict was returned. The list could go on, but these examples point toward a wider pattern. Prior to 1981 open verdicts in inquests were used as a way to suppress the truth and protect members of the British security forces involved in disputed killings from prosecution.

The constraints imposed on the inquest system did not end with the problems of verdicts. They have been further hampered by the imposition of Public Interest Immunity Certificates. These have prevented relevant and material information being made available to the court. In addition, inquests could not compel those suspected of carrying out killings to attend the court. The non-compellability of witnesses meant members of the security forces responsible for causing a death could submit unsworn statements to be read out in court. Their non-attendance also removed the possibility of cross-examination. In short, those responsible for the killing were not required to give account of their actions. Inquests have not therefore had the effective powers to uncover all the facts related to any death. Nor could they truly protect the legitimate interests of the relatives of the victim. This has obviously been most problematic in killings where the circumstances are hotly disputed. In effect the process has ‘hidden the truth’ from relatives and has shackled any semblance of accountability. This raises very grave doubts as to whether the legal system sufficiently protected the rights of victims and their relatives.

The established rules governing the way that inquests were to proceed have therefore proved deeply problematic. This was compounded further by the way they were actually conducted. The whole inquest procedure was not only traumatic but (as relatives explain) it was also an often-demeaning experience. The attitude of the judiciary and their treatment of relatives have left a lot to be desired. This is painfully recalled in a significant number of testimonies, as the following example illustrates: 'I just couldn’t believe what happened that day in the court and I couldn’t wait to get out of it. I felt like I was the one to blame for my husband’s death, like it was me on trial instead of being the victim... I always remember what he [the judge] said, that I was better off financially with my husband dead. That is what the judge said. That always stuck in my mind’. In a number of cases key civilian witnesses were not called to give evidence. Those civilian eyewitnesses who did give evidence were often treated with suspicion. Their accounts were frequently written-off, challenged or simply not treated with the same validity as security force sources.

Blame was also frequently attributed to the victim: ‘They just said he was running and that they shot him and that he was a wanted man…it’s not a capital offence to run’ [Gerard McDade, killed by the British army in Brompton Park entry, 21 December 1971]. Similarly, in the case of the killing of 12-year-old Anthony McDowell, it was implied that his uncle had endangered Anthony’s life by driving through a checkpoint [Anthony McDowell, killed by the British army in Etna Drive, 19 April 1973]. This claim is and was strongly denied. However, this is what happened at the inquest. ‘They [the paras] said they stopped us and it was death by misadventure because I [the uncle] drove on past the paras? If they had stopped us I would have stopped... They kept on saying that there was gunfire coming from the car we were in, which is a load of rubbish. Whenever they did the forensics, there was nothing ever found in the car; there was never nothing on Tony; there was never anything on me, nothing. But at the end it was still death by misadventure... That was their explanation and the way they washed their hands of it... I categorically stated that I was never stopped, never, ever stopped’.

Few relatives had any experience of inquest proceedings. Nor did they receive any advice and assistance from state authorities. In some cases there is evidence of obstruction. Relatives were not kept informed by the RUC about the ongoing investigation. Important information may therefore have been denied to them. Several relatives were not even informed that the inquest was taking place. Many others were officially told just 24 hours beforehand. As a result families were not fully aware of their rights. This produced a tremendous sense of alienation and powerlessness. It could also exacerbate undeserved feelings of guilt as relatives later felt that they should have done more to bring out the truth. What is even more important is that the lack of information undermined the ability of families and their legal representatives to protect their interests within the legal process.

The testimonies reveal that the inquest process has been wholly unsatisfactory. Serious concerns about its functions and practices have been raised. For many relatives the inquest process was little more than a farce. Furthermore, it is illustrative of the way in which the legal system was used by the British state in conflict management despite a political rhetoric of normality. Since the inquest is the first mechanism of accountability within the legal process it is vital that it has the authority, determination and integrity to pursue the truth. This is particularly so in the case of state killings. Not surprisingly, campaign groups have called for a critical review of the present inquest process and the establishment of a new system. Such demands are emanating from no one more vocally than the families of those killed by state forces.

A State of Change? The Search for Truth and Justice

Despite the odds stacked against them many families attempted to achieve justice for their loved ones at the time of their deaths. They continue to do so. More recently a number of families have issued a call for cases of deaths in disputed circumstances to be re-opened. Nor are they passively waiting for the state to act. These families have begun the job themselves. They have accessed inquest papers and are finding out details about the circumstances of the death, in a number of cases some twenty or thirty years after the event. In itself this is an important step on the road to discovering the truth and finding justice, as one relative describes: ‘I have only found out recently, when I read the inquest papers, the extent of injuries and what happened to my brother (Jackie Mailey) ... I just really couldn’t believe what I was reading. I really honestly couldn’t. I can’t emphasise that enough’.

This is indicative of a wider reality. Many relatives have a deep and fundamental need to know ‘the truth’ whether the death of their loved one was a result of state, loyalist or republican actions. Public acknowledgement of ‘the truth’ is seen as an essential part of the healing process for many families. The fact that relatives have never been told ‘the truth’ about the circumstances of the death of their loved one has greatly compounded their grief. For them there is no closure. It is not always clear how such closure can be achieved. There may not be a single road to that goal. In fact it is up to each individual and family how they approach the issue of seeking truth and justice. Some may prefer to let ‘sleeping dogs lie’. Others may choose to take legal action, campaign for a public inquiry or push for a mechanism (such as a truth commission) to reveal the truth about the past. There may be a need for a range of mechanisms to be available. Different approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

What the Ardoyne testimonies show is that victims of state violence (and their relatives) must receive the same recognition as other victims of the conflict. A simple maxim has to be central: ‘a victim, is a victim, is a victim’. Given this perspective there are two main reasons why the issues of direct state killings and allegations of collusion matter so much. The first is that these cases have been treated differently in the past The state has prosecuted and imprisoned thousands of republicans accused of being involved in killing members of the security forces, loyalists and civilians. It has been estimated that a total of 100,000 years have been served by republican prisoners during the last three decades. On the other hand, on-duty members of the RUC and British army have killed 360 people. Yet, only 22 individuals have been prosecuted as a result. Only four of those were convicted. None served more that three years in prison. All members of the Bntish army found guilty of murder returned to their regiment after their release. No RUC officer has been successfully prosecuted for a killing committed while on duty. This suggests a pattern of impunity in cases where the state has been (or is suspected of having been) involved in the killing. State agents involved in the use of lethal force have not therefore been treated the same as others. As a result, the rights of their victims have not been protected equally within the legal system.

The second reason concerns the burden of responsibility of the state itself. The state claims to protect all citizens and is entrusted with upholding law and order. As such there is an even greater requirement for accountability and transparency to be applied in cases where agents of the state have been involved in the use of lethal force. Indeed, this is a principle recently re-iterated by the British prime minister. In 1998 Tony Blair laid out the reasons why the events of Bloody Sunday needed to be the subject of a new judicial inquiry. This was due to the fact, he claimed, that ‘Bloody Sunday was different because, where the state’s own authorities are concerned, we must be as sure as we can of the truth, precisely because we pride ourselves on our democracy and respect for the law’. In other words a basic, fundamental duty of the state is to protect the right to life of its citizens. It is on its record in fulfilling that duty that any state must be judged.

It is for this reason that a European Court of Human Rights decision delivered on 4 May 2001 was so significant. Unable to gain satisfaction from domestic courts, a number of families of victims of state violence and collusion took their cases to the European Court. They did so on the basis of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 2 establishes the right to life as a human right. It also therefore calls upon the states that are signatories to the Convention to uphold that right. In the cases of Kelly, Jordan, McKerr and Shanaghan grounds were found that called into question the British state’s record to do so. The court severely criticised the British government’s failure to carry out effective and thorough investigations into state killings and allegations of collusion. The inquest system came in for particularly sharp rebuke. The inability to compel witnesses to attend inquests was denounced. In fact, the coroner’s rules in this regard have only recently been changed. However, that does not take away from the fact that those inquests conducted under the old system did not therefore conform to Article 2. In addition the lack of disclosure of information to the next-of-kin of the victim was seen to have prevented families from protecting their interests. In other words, they were not treated fairly and equally. Again, this contravened Article 2 by not allowing for an effective investigation.

The emphasis on the rights of families was critical. As the evidence of the testimonies in this book have shown, the four cases involved in the ‘Article 2’ decision were not unique. The interests of Ardoyne families were rarely protected equally. What was also extremely important was the European court’s finding (in the case of Patrick Shanaghan) that allegations of collusion should have been treated as legitimate and worthy of investigation. Evidence that had been dismissed as inadmissible should have been looked at by the court. The implications of this for the families of many of the Ardoyne dead are also massive. The ‘Article 2’ ruling has effectively opened up a can of worms for the British government. Families now have the potential to reopen similar cases, even if the incident took place 20 or 30 years ago. The testimonies in this book indicate that the state failed to fully investigate circumstances surrounding state and loyalist killings. These cases were subjected to the same mechanisms that were severely criticised by the European Court. The possibility of pursuing cases through the courts on the basis of the Article 2 ruling is very real.

The British government’s response to the ruling has been to try and minimise the impact. Attempts are currently being made by the state to apply the ruling to future cases only and not in retrospect. Relatives will undoubtedly challenge this interpretation in the courts in the coming months. At the same time it is highly probable that the government may attempt to introduce ways to subvert this ruling, possibly by initiating a truth commission-style process. Truth commissions have been employed in a number of countries going through the transition from conflict to peace. They have a mixed record of success and there are arguments both for and against them. They can undoubtedly provide a series of important functions. For example, truth commissions can be important in establishing a mechanism for victims to air their pain. They can also provide official acknowledgement of a long-silenced past, outline needed reforms and reduce the likelihood of such atrocities being repeated in the future.

However, there are concerns that such a broad-based truth process may become a mechanism to reduce the truth-telling process in relation to state and collusion case killings. It can become a means of the state continuing to escape its responsibilities. The lesson from elsewhere is that truth commissions are rarely effective if there has not been a real and fundamental political change. Where the state has retained its power, it can continue to manage the truth. A truth commission can become the means of doing so. The recent antics of the British state with regards to the Bloody Sunday inquiry (weapons being destroyed, state witnesses obtaining anonymity) do not bode well for the potential of any state-sponsored truth commission. Quite simply, if a truth commission were to be driven by the British state it has the power to control the process and protect its interests. Worse, it could then claim the moral high ground for initiating such a process and apparently addressing such thorny issues.

Another mechanism open to families would be to campaign for full, public and independent inquiries. This may be particularly pertinent over the issue of collusion. There have been very few prosecutions in cases where collusion is alleged or suspected. The legal process has clearly failed in this regard. Some victims’ families (for example, those of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombs) have already demanded independent public inquires. It may be that a wider focus is needed that allows for the full pattern of collusion to be examined. The implication of the Article 2 ruling is that collusion can no longer be ignored in the legal arena that investigates deaths. Given that the ruling has retrospective meaning, it can again mean that relatives may seek to reopen such cases through the courts. Evidence of collusion that had previously been excluded could now form the basis of ‘serious and legitimate’ concerns. This could prove critical in the future.

The search for truth and justice does not only involve the families of victims of state violence and collusion. Republicans were also responsible for killing people in Ardoyne over the past thirty years. In most cases the IRA claimed responsibility, made contact with the family and attempted to explain their actions. In many instances this process was seen by the family as sufficient. However, this was not always the case. In some cases relatives were either not informed of what had happened or continue to dispute the circumstances of their loved ones’ death. Non-state groups such as the IRA do not have the same resources and power at their disposal as the state. The British state also employed its resources to investigate, prosecute and imprison those to which it was opposed. In other words, accountability for killings has not been equal. However, there remains a moral obligation for the republican movement to address any unresolved issues.

There may, again, be lessons to be learnt from elsewhere. In South Africa the ANC held two internal commissions of inquiry into abuses committed in ANC refugee and detention camps. Senior members of the ANC acknowledged that an organisation which is ‘built upon respect for human rights has an obligation to acknowledge and redress the wrongs of the past and to prevent them from happening in the future’. The circumstances in South Africa are not the same as those in the north of Ireland. As a result, the specific form a republican mechanism of truth-telling may differ from that adopted in the ANC. Yet the precedent is important. There is an onus on the leadership of the republican movement to seriously consider its own structure for investigating cases where families believe they have not been treated fairly. It needs also to consider the form and forum through which it communicates those findings. It is incumbent for those who have been the subject of a ‘hierarchy of victimhood’ to ensure that equality is their guiding principle.

This book was itself an attempt to engage in the process of truth-telling. Whatever the potential of legal routes to pursuing the truth, recording, archiving and publishing people’s stories is a path open to any family or community. Projects like the Ardoyne Commemoration Project are important because they create the space for victims and survivors to tell their story. Oral history has often been used as a tool in liberation and resistance struggles throughout the world. It has been used as a tool to challenge official accounts of history in countries such as Cuba, South Africa, Chile, Argentina and Guatemala. It is important that ordinary people get the opportunity to tell their story from their perspective. The ACP would encourage other communities to initiate similar projects in order to challenge official versions of history currently prevalent in public discourse.


'Ardoyne: The Untold Truth'
List of Contents

Community, 'Truth-telling' and Conflict Resolution


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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