I recently watched a short video clip. As they stood on either side of lawyer Niall Murphy , Stephen McCaffrey and Trevor Birney cut a sorry, even tragic sight. Barry looked like a middle-aged school-boy who’d been subjected to months of bullying; Trevor resembled a boiler that was at a temperature where explosion could occur at any moment.
Niall Murphy explained that, as he saw it, the two journalists were the subject of a “malicious investigation” because they had been involved in examining the RUC response to the 1994 Loughinisland killings and had participated in the film No Stone Unturned. The police (yes, Virginia, our shimmering new PSNI) had sought to impose a further bail condition on the two journalists, that they shouldn’t speak publicly about the case. Niall Murphy explained that he and John Finucane, Barry’s solicitor, had robustly contested and defeated this effort to gag the two journalists. The unhappy pair have now been given a second six months of bail – a total of twelve months for, as Murphy pointed out, “a case that doesn’t exist- there is no theft, there is no complaint of a theft.”
The PSNI had charged with theft the two men who had dared to speak the truth about the events of Loughinisland and the farcical follow-up investigation. Can you believe that?
As I sat looking at the image of the sturdy Mr Murphy talking, a question struck me: what kind of twisted, hypocritical state do we live in?
The Loughinisland killings were of innocent people watching a football game on TV in a pub. Decades later, journalists who pose questions about the, shall we say, odd manner of its investigation by the RUC are themselves arrested and charged with a theft that their lawyer says never happened. Trevor Birney is defended by the solicitor Niall Murphy who has acted for the families of those innocents gunned down at Loughinisland. Barry McCaffrey is defended by the solicitor John Finucane whose father, also a solicitor, was gunned down in the middle of a family meal in his home, while his wife and children watched on.
Those who try to discover the truth about the Loughinisland killings and the subsequent investigation are, it would appear, being pressured to the point of intimidation. Niall Murphy is vice-chairman of a GAA club in Glengormley which has, it’s alleged, been burnt down thirteen times. John Finucane’s father was butchered before his childish eyes. Every effort has been made to suppress the truth about the Finucane killing, just as every effort is now being made to suppress the truth about the Loughinisland killings.
And this as we know is just the tip of an Everest composed of blood and denial and duplicity. After years of pressure, where unionist politicians did all they could to block funding, what we term Legacy cases are finally to be investigated.
Presumably we’re supposed to be grateful that this is happening. Would you be grateful if your father was killed and the police did all they could to hide the identity of the killers? Would you have trust in authorities who think nothing of denying the truth to the Loughinisland families, to the Finucane family, to the family of solicitor Rosemary Nelson, to the family of maybe hundreds of other innocent people summarily executed with what appears to be state support? Would you be grateful if a British Secretary of State announced that British forces in Ireland acted with dignity?
It’s almost as if those in charge here are determined to act in a way that will alienate even further that section of the population which is at present a minority but which, inside months, may be declared a voting majority.
There is a pressing need for reconciliation as we try to emerge from the wreckage of the Troubles. The irony is that the more often the hand of friendship is batted away or met with old habits of sullen churlishness, the more mortal damage the churlish party is doing to itself.