Proconsul’s keynote speech rang hollow

Posted By: February 18, 2016

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast).Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The stalled inquest into the death of teenager Arlene Arkinson is a classic example which amply illustrates why people do not give any credence to the speech our proconsul[Theresa Villiers, NI Secretary of State] made on February 11.

The NIO billed it as ‘a keynote speech’. That’s defined as a speech to set the underlying tone or present the core message, as she said, ‘of the sovereign government’ here.

In fact there was nothing new in it at all. If you read it, and probably not one person in ten thousand did, you’ll see it’s simply a restatement of the NIO’s position on the past.

Luckily you didn’t have to sit through it for it’s arrogant, patronising, full of internal contradictions, intellectually feeble and in places seems to assume people here came up the Lagan in a bubble.

In case you’re forgotten or never knew, it was about why the British government intends to use the national security ploy to withhold information about how people were killed during the Troubles. Ironically for our proconsul,  one of her minions you’ve never heard of had just signed off on the grounds of national security the withholding of information about the death of the school girl Arlene Arkinson whose death had nothing to do with the Troubles. Why?

It rang hollow when our proconsul said in her speech: “National security is not an open-ended concept which can be used to suppress information about whatever actions the State does not want to see the light of day.” Huh.

Does she think no-one here remembers her predecessor Sir Patrick, now Lord Mayhew, in 1988 shutting down prosecutions in the hayshed shootings in Lurgan in 1982 on, guess what, national security grounds? Recently released documents show the Irish government was furious.

We now know what ‘national security’ in that context really meant. An MI5 tape had been purloined and then destroyed. It would have revealed no warnings were shouted and as a result one of the survivors has been awarded substantial compensation. Not only were the shutters pulled down but John Stalker was deliberately discredited and his report never published. Why should anyone believe anything’s different?

In her speech the proconsul used the tired technique of setting up Aunt Sallys[ straw men] to knock down. She went on about a disproportionate emphasis on security force killings claiming they’re blamed for every atrocity. Not true. Security forces were responsible for fewer than 10 per cent of killings and only a few of them are controversial.

Whoever advised her on her speech allowed her to make a list of killings which included some where— although security forces were not directly involved—those in their pay were, which is particularly true in the case of Greysteel. These are exactly the kind of murky incidents she proposes to withhold information about, just like Mayhew.

Her pretext for keeping information under wraps is especially laughable. Information about security force techniques would be useful to dissidents, and wait for it, Islamist terrorists. Yet in another part of her speech she contradicted herself when she said, ‘policing practice and methodology has (sic) changed radically over the intervening years’.

Nobody’s talking about recent killings. Is she really trying to say that since the ceasefires in 1994 when the internet was in its infancy, when email was a rarity and those who had modems ran them at 14.4kb/sec, that security forces still use the same techniques? What could anyone possibly learn from techniques used in say, 1988-9 that have long since been superseded?

We know that homers and miniature microphones are attached to suspects’ clothing, whereas 20 years ago the listening device in Sinn Féin’s Connolly House was five feet long and weighed 10 pounds.

What’s never said in British ministers’ speeches is that some of the most horrifying incidents were sanctioned by politicians like Lady Hacksaw[Maggie Thatcher]… that responsibility for lethal ambushes and agents provocateurs lies at the feet of some of our proconsuls’ party colleagues now retired… that blame cannot be confined to soldiers and police carrying out politicians’ instructions.

And by the way, why would it take five years and £35 million to inquire into Scappaticci’s activities when all the PSNI have to do is call in his handlers and ask them what he did?