“Propaganda is a soft weapon: hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake,and strike the other way” – Jean Anouilh
One of the most successful propaganda feats – at least until recently – was to insert in the national and international consciousness the belief that our Troubles were the product of a ruthless IRA killing spree that lasted nearly thirty years. It’s a view held by most if not all unionists; and it’s the view, with some tweaking, of the SDLP. The narrative is: bad IRA; bad UDA/UVF etc but-could-you blame-them-merely-responding-to-IRA; unhappy Britain, forced into the costly role of peace-keeper. When you look closer, of course, you find all sorts of holes in this view of things.
Two examples that throttle or semi-throttle this narrative have popped up in the news recently.
The first is the Ballymurphy massacre. Over a thirty-six hour period, ten people were shot dead. A priest, Fr Hugh Mullan, was shot dead as he attempted to administer the last rites to a dying man, Robert Clarke. A 19-year-old man who also tried to help Clarke was shot in the head and killed. Joan Connolly, a mother protesting against internment, was shot dead; so too was Noel Philips, a 20-year-old. Eddie Doherty, Joseph Corr, Frank Quinn – the list goes on. In evidence, British soldiers said the dead were armed. Fr Mullan, they claimed, picked up a rifle and was attempting to use it.In the aftermath of the killings, a sergeant from the special investigation branch of the Royal Military police signed a statement saying he had “ascertained that Military Personnel had fired from Springmartin Road”. This later was altered at Frank Quinn’s inquest by a new statement from the sergeant where the word ‘no’ appeared: “I ascertained that no Military Personnel had fired from Springmartin Road”.
In sum, the British army killed ten innocent people over a 36-hour period and then lied as they tried to cover up their deeds.
Joseph Campbell wasn’t an innocent civilian. He was a sergeant in the RUC, stationed in Cushendall. A Catholic father of eight, he was killed as he closed the station in Cushendall, in the Glens of Antrim. It now emerges that several senior RUC officers were aware of a threat to kill Sergeant Campbell but didn’t warn him or pass on their information to detectives investigating Campbell’s killing. The dead policeman’s family believe he was killed by the loyalist Robin “The Jackal” Jackson of the Mid-Ulster Glenanne Gang, made up of loyalists and members of the RUC and the British army.
Think about these two cases for a moment. Ten innocent people killed over a 36-hour period in Ballymurphy – and in a British army cover-up lies and lies again. A Catholic man who was an RUC officer is allowed to die, even though senior RUC officers knew it was going to happen; and the killing was most likely carried out by the Glenanne gang, an amalgamation of loyalist paramilitaries, RUC officers and the British Army.
Kind of punctures the bad/good narrative of the first paragraph above, doesn’t it? Every time a killing by the IRA – the Birmingham bombings, the killing of Jean McConville – is resurrected by Enda Kenny or people in the media in the south, let them cite alongside those killings the killings of innocent Catholic civilians and even RUC officers by that unhappy amalgam of loyalists and RUC men known as the Glenanne Gang, and the subsequent lies that were piled on to make sure the truth never came to life. If they want detail, consult Anne Cadwallader’s book Lethal Allies. It’s all in there. If politicans are going to cite misdeeds from the past, let them at least do it in an even-handed way.