Oh dear – wasn’t last night’s Nolan Show compulsive viewing? For all sorts of reasons. Some on Twitter compared it to Butlin’s Holiday Camp entertainment, some produced extracts from Jonathan Powell’s book (OK, I was one of those), others spoke of the core elements of Arlene Foster’s debating style, with emphasis on her finger and her eyes. There were so many bits and pieces flying around, it was like being George Clooney in that film Gravity, with random debris swooshing in from all sides. So let me pick out a few of the things I thought were important.
1. Jim Allister. It’s not in everything I agree with Jim but I thought he brought his forensic skills to this one early on in the shouting match. If the DUP did know the position regarding OTRs, then they’re faking it now – pretending to be outraged by something they have known about and accepted for years. If the DUP did not know the position regarding OTRs, what sort of crass incompetence was that: happy to rest in ignorance of a key political matter?
2. Denis Bradley. I don’t agree with everything Denis says but he brought factual information to the debate. The Policing Board had discussed the matter of OTRs, two or was it three DUP people were in attendance: the matter of OTRs and their treatment was in the public arena some eight years ago. Which kind of puts a hole in Peter’s petulance now.
3. Gerry Kelly. I thought Gerry Kelly brought forward a reminder that most of us seem happy to forget. The OTRs were not people who had escaped from prison and were being pursued so they could be incarcerated once more. In fact, the letters they received were clear assurances that they were not wanted for any crime of any kind by any police force in the UK. Why then be outraged by the decision of these police forces – or do you think these police forces had a special soft spot for republicans?
4. Equity. How come it was republicans who were exercising the mailman with letters of assurance, while loyalists watched the garden path in vain? Shouldn’t sauce for the republican goose be sauce for the loyalist gander? Again, Gerry Kelly put his finger on this one (you may not have heard it over Arlene’s shouting): there were no loyalist/security forces OTRs. As Anne Cadwallader’s book Lethal Allies makes clear with careful documentation, there were dozens, even hundreds of cases where innocent Catholics/nationalists were killed by loyalists acting in collusion with state forces. There was never any question of action against these killers. Why run when you don’t need to?
5. Unionist anger. You would never have thought it last night but the DUP anger, feigned or for real, was directed at the British governments . About, among other things, royal pardons. So unionists who insist on their unswerving loyalty is to the crown and Westminster are feeling outraged because the royal prerogative appears to have been exercised in some cases and because, they claim, British governments acted without consulting them. They’re shocked and outraged about this? That Britain appears to have treated them with lofty indifference? Get used to it, guys. It’s what Britain does.
6. Not being told. I had a communication yesterday from someone whose innocent family member was attacked and killed several decades ago by members of the security forces, with family members present. From that day to this the killers have walked free, no case mounted against them, no apology given to the family. The family member who contacted me made the point that if Peter Robinson felt he’d been kept in the dark, then he knew what this family had been suffering for decades, with no end in sight.
7. This is Flags 2. Express outrage about an issue, whip up feeling in the hope that it will bring increased voters to put their X beside your party’s names. It’s the election, stupid.