Martin Galvin (MG) interviews award-winning journalist and author Ed Moloney (EM) via telephone about the new British Prime Minister, Brexit and the Boston College tape case. (begins time stamp ~ 39:41)
MG: Ed, there is now a new British Prime Minister in the North of Ireland, well for England, what they call the United Kingdom and who would govern the North of Ireland, but before we go to that…
EM: …I’m sorry, say that…
MG: Ed, can you hear me?
EM: Yeah, I can now. I’m getting feedback, Martin, that’s the problem. But go on.
MG: Alright Ed, I just want a comment on the legacy of the past British Secretary for the North of Ireland, Theresa Villiers. Now I always regard her as some sort of Lady Macbeth figure – Lady Macbeth famously wandered the halls trying to rub out the blood stains and the crimes – Theresa Villiers tries to do that in the North of Ireland by giving speeches about that it’s all part of some mysterious counter-narrative when anybody says that the British or their Loyalist agents tried to kill people, by cutting off funding for inquests, by saying that there has to be some sort of national security so that they can’t give over information. What final comment do you have about the legacy of Theresa Villiers as the person who’s been running the North of Ireland for the British government over the last number of years?
EM: Well I mean, to be cynical about this, Martin, she’s already forgotten. I mean you know, people probably in a week’s time won’t even remember her name – just one in a long, long line of British Secretaries of State who come and go – usually regarding their date in Belfast as a stepping stone to greater and higher things. I don’t know whether she’s been promoted by Theresa May but she was…
MG: …She has not been. She was turned down. She was offered a demotion and did not accept it so she is out of the Cabinet now. She can go back to making….
EM: …Well when you consider that she was on the same side as May in relation to the Brexit debate and hasn’t been promoted it may also be a refection on the way that she performed her job in Belfast. But as you say, she will be remembered for these comments about the Loughinisland inquiry by the Police Ombudsman which is a really quite devastating document which has exposed a level of either collusion at it’s worst and at its least, or at its best, an indifference on the part of the old RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) towards Loyalist gunmen and Loyalist bombers and she issued this statement, or she had a speech in which she said that it wasn’t the police or the Army that pulled the triggers or planted the bombs in Loughinisland and Enniskillen and in a few other places. Well, the problem is that from what we’re beginning to learn about the level of either infiltration of groups like the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and the IRA by British Special Branch, by the MI5, by other intelligence organisations, military intelligence for example, it’s very, very debatable as to who was really controlling a lot of these organisations at the end – the level of infiltration being so high that it reaches a certain point when you’re actually directing these organisations – you’re controlling which direction they’re going to move in, what operations they’re allowed to carry out, who becomes the top brass and who gets thrown into jail and so on and so forth. And what that points to is a level of involvement and complicity and therefore guilt in the killings that took place on the part of the British intelligence machine that it really is not something that people like Villiers want to face up to. And that’s….
MG: …It was said, in her statement that Ed referred to, she said that it was not the RUC who fired the bullets at Loughinisland where six people were killed for the crime of watching an Irish football match at a pub. All they did, if you look at the Ombudsman’s report, is: provide the weapons, provide the bullets, making sure that the individuals, the assassins, could get there, get away and provide the intelligence but – they didn’t actually fire the bullets! They directed, employed, paid those who did do that so that was – Theresa Villiers felt there was no reason to apologise to the Loughinisland families for their remarks. Alright Ed, Theresa May has now taken over for David Cameron. Judging by the conservative majority she may be there for quite some time. What can we expect initially from Theresa May given her background?
EM: Well I mean, she’s a hard-liner, in terms of like law and order, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. One of the things that she has spoken about publicly in the past but appears to have slightly dropped it at the moment is her opposition to the European Court on Human Rights and the Charter on Human Rights in Europe. She is one of those right-wing Tories who believes that this is interference in the British judicial system and they would rather like to get rid of it. Now she hasn’t mentioned it since she became Prime Minister so maybe she’s beginning to realise that’s going to be much more difficult to implement than it is to say. But she is regarded as a fairly strong right-winger on law and order and one of her first comments I think that drew attention was in the context of the post-Brexit situation in which she talked about her affection and fondness and devotion to ‘the Union’ and the union including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. And of course you know, that’s the sort of comment which immediately gets Nationalists upset and beginning to regard the possibility that we have in Theresa May another Margaret Thatcher. But another reading of that of course is the Brexit situation – is that while there is absolutely no chance that the Brexit vote, in my view at least, the Brexit vote – leading to Northern Ireland’s Unionists voting to join The South – there is a very strong possibility that the Scottish will vote for independence and this is going to be her biggest challenge so she has to embrace the union very widely and very warmly and that’s what she’s doing. And of course that’s a signal which is going to upset a lot of Nationalists because the whole notion behind the peace process was that you’re beginning to see possibly in the peace process the beginnings of disengagement by the British and to have a Prime Minister who’s doing quite the opposite, is stressing the importance and the value of the Union, is going to cause tensions.
Then you also have the problem of what are they going to do with the border between The North and South. Is it going to be this so called ‘hard’ border ie with customs checks and immigrant checks and stuff like that in order to prevent immigrants coming in from Europe into England via the back door of Northern Ireland which of course is ironic because the fear of being invaded from Ireland was the very reason why the British and the English got involved in Ireland in the very first place so we have it now – history repeating itself. What is she going to do about that? The Irish government will obviously oppose any notion of a hard border. It will be divisive as well in Northern Ireland. So yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see how see shapes up in relation to all of these things.
MG: Alright. Two things I just want to go back over for our audience: You talked about how Theresa May had made a speech about the British withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. Right now that is an important source of justice. There is a case now, an appeal, trying to find the British guilty of torture for the treatment of internees in 1971 that’s proceeding that has a lot of political significance. There are other cases such as the length of time that you can detain someone that have been challenged in the European Court.
A lot of the work done on inquests and to force the British government to give over documents and truth about investigations into the murder of people, just as you just talked about, at places like Loughinisland and elsewhere, is because the European Convention requires that there be such investigations. If Britain withdraws from that convention, from the European Court of Human Rights, that would be an important source of potential justice that is lost to people living in the North of Ireland would it not, Ed?
EM: Oh, absolutely! There’s absolutely no doubt about that. And if you read the Good Friday Agreement the role of the European Convention and the European Court is woven through that document in all sorts of ways as a sort of arbiter and a court to which or a venue to which everyone will refer all of their problems at one stage or another. And if that goes, and I find it hard to believe that they will be able to do that, then it pulls away a very crucial leg from underneath the Good Friday Agreement and that’s going to cause great difficulties. So whether she does it or not remains to be seen but there’s no doubt that she represents a very strong body of opinion within the Conservative Party, the Tories in England, who hate the idea of these foreigners – you know, Italians and French and German judges sitting in places like Strasbourg and pontificating about the inadequacies or injustices of the British legal system. It’s really annoying and frustrating and anger making for them so they may decide to do it but at the moment it looks as if she has too much on her plate elsewhere with Brexit to go down that particular road.
MG: Well on Brexit, one of the interesting things is the Irish government will have, or may have, very little say about what happens. You could have a situation, would you not, where the European Community is going to make a decision about its new border arrangements with Britain if Britain withdraws? So that the decision itself about what form, from the Irish side – the negotiations and what form the border will be – could be made not in Dublin but it could be made elsewhere in Europe by the European Community. And in addition, as you said, one of the key reasons for Brexit was to cut off the flow of immigration. There was a famous poster of refugees coming across the border that Farage…
EM: …Yeah, Sir Nigel. Farage.
MG: …that is going to have to be done if the British, especially those in England who were the ones who made this decision in terms of voting – the Scottish voted against it – if the English want that border, if they want to make sure that people from the European Community don’t come from Ireland, they’re going to have a hard border. So you may have something that’s negotiated in which the Irish government, which is most strongly affected, the people in the Six Counties, which are most strongly affected, have absolutely no say in what sort of border will take place – what sort of new border arrangements will take place.
EM: Well I mean, yes. I mean, Europe won’t be able to impose the border between north and south. I mean, whatever the Dublin government wants – you know they don’t control the ground or the land on the northern side of the border and on the northern side of the border the British would be able to erect whatever barriers and impediments and obstacles they feel is appropriate so that will be a British decision. But clearly it has implications for everyone else and I suspect at the end of the day that you’re going to get a negotiated settlement, which gives a little bit to each side, and that you end up with a sort of with like a moderately hard/moderately soft-type of border because, to be honest with you, what are the chances that tens of thousands of immigrants are going to come from Romania all the way over to Ireland by sea, because they won’t be able to do it by land, or fly over and then catch lorries and buses and taxis up to Belfast and then from Belfast to Liverpool? It’s stretching things, I think, to think that that’s going to be a major, real possibility.
MG: Alright, Ed, just before we let you go: Every week there seems to be something new with the Boston tapes; last week we covered the case of Ivor Bell. What’s the latest development in terms of those tapes?
EM: Well absolutely nothing. That’s the latest. That was the preliminary inquiry into Ivor Bell’s case. They decided they’re going to take him to trial. That is not a surprise. At magistrate’s level it’s very, very unusual for a magistrate, even though the evidence may be very strongly against holding a trial, it’s very unusual for them to say ‘no’; they leave that to a higher authority and so we expect that to happen early in the new year. But there are troubling aspects to this whole business. One is that the charge has been changed from aiding and abetting to soliciting and soliciting makes it appear as if the person charged with soliciting is the main mover when all the evidence that we have so far, from everything that’s been revealed about the Jean McConville case, suggests that the main mover was someone else (we all know who we’re talking about there and it certainly wasn’t Ivor Bell.) So that’s quite a sinister development I think. Even though it doesn’t really affect what penalty comes if a guilty verdict is reached in the trial, it’s been the aim and objective as far as I know since this whole disappearing saga began in the late 1990’s, for people who were really responsible for the disappearing tactic, to shift the blame onto others, including people like Ivor Bell. And here you have a Prosecution Service which is headed by the guy who used to be lawyer, a lawyer – the solicitor – for one of the main movers facilitating that particular move. It’s very, very sinister indeed.
Secondly, we have the fact that a complete denial, or a complete contradiction of a court of appeals decision in Boston, the First Circuit Court of Appeal, which said that only two interviews related to Jean McConville that were in the archive under the name or under the letter ‘Zed’ or ‘Z’, which the prosecution are attempting to say is Ivor Bell, could be handed over. It now appears that the Department of Justice in the US, the US Attorney’s office in Boston, the PSNI and the Prosecution Service in Belfast said to themselves said: Well, we’re just going to go round that verdict and ignore it. And it seems that they have served a secret subpoena, one of many secret subpoenas we believe, which has been more or less facilitated by Boston College and as a result of that four more interviews have been handed over from Zed’s archive to the PSNI. And this is at a time when the First Circuit Court of Appeal said only two should be allowed. Now this is like cocking a snook at the American judicial system big time. I mean, the First Circuit Court of Appeal is directly underneath the Supreme Court – it’s the second highest level of judicial decision making in the United States. And here you have a foreign power and bureaucrats in the Washington Department of Justice set up deciding they’re just going to subvert and ignored this ruling. That hasn’t as yet, unfortunately, gotten the sort of media attention it should have but it indicates the extent to which, I think, the authorities are desperate to try and get a verdict against Ivor Bell because what that tells you is that the evidence that they have is useless and they’re trying to…(crosstalk)
MG: …Ed, we’re going to have to leave it there; we’re coming to the end of the programme. I just will note: I was talking to Malachy McAllister during the week at the Ancient Order of Hibernians convention and we were both noting a Loyalist has been charged with the attack on his home, the attempt on his life, the life of his children, but there were documents, the De Silva Report, other things that show that he was targeted, that there was evidence or information from British agents directing this – none of them have been charged or brought before a court so it’s interesting how this goes. Ed, we want to thank you. We’re going to leave it there. (ends time stamp ~ 57:50)