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Ulster Veto, Ulster Terror | The Nation

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Beat the Devil

Ulster Veto, Ulster Terror

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If Bill Clinton finds time to look up from the debacle of NATO's bombing of Serbia, he will find that Protestant holdouts in Northern Ireland are on the verge of denying him the only legitimate foreign policy triumph he can lay claim to: namely, the crucial role of his government, and indeed himself, in brokering a settlement in Northern Ireland.

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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn, The Nation's "Beat the Devil" columnist and one of America's best-known radical...

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Pose a political threat to Business As Usual and sooner or later, mostly sooner, someone will try to kill you.

Unless Clinton instantly flexes some muscle, the entire Good Friday Agreement, joyously ratified in April of 1998, is about to run off the rails, sabotaged by Protestant irreconcilables who think, maybe correctly, that once again they can impose the Unionist Veto, as they have time after bloodstained time down the decades. The instrument at hand is the issue of "decommissioning" IRA weapons.

It's a fraud, but one that is being all too easily regurgitated in the press here. Story after story has appeared telling the tale that the IRA is welshing on a solemn agreement to hand in its guns, and that said refusal is quite reasonably prompting reluctance on the part of David Trimble and his Ulster Unionist Party to pursue the terms of the peace process to which Trimble set his name, thus earning him a share of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Good Friday Agreement set forth a route map to settlement of the border question, involving the creation of various institutions, including a Northern Ireland Executive in which Sinn Fein would have seats. The "decommissioning" of illegal arms was explicitly set--and this is the actual language of the agreement--"in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement." Everyone knew then, just as everyone knows now, that the IRA will never unilaterally disarm, especially when on either side of the prescribed road to peace stand--in ascending order of organized and well-armed capacity for violence--the loyalist gangs, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army. Burned into the IRA's historical consciousness is the terrible memory of 1968-69, when Catholic areas, unarmed and defenseless, faced loyalist mobs, and the bitter gibe was that IRA stood for "I Ran Away."

Suppose Sinn Fein made it a condition of implementation of the agreement that the RUC be disbanded, that all military barracks in the Six Counties be closed?

I've seen one estimate suggesting that in Northern Ireland there are 135,000 legally held weapons, 90 percent of them in the hands of unionists. No one is asking for this arsenal to be decommissioned. Indeed, Christy Ward of The Irish People suggests that the International Commission on disarmament hand out weapons permits to allow the IRA to bring its armory up to par.

The decommissioning tactic now used by Trimble looks more than usually hollow, because at long last the secret history of the British dirty war in Northern Ireland is unraveling.

It's becoming ever more clear that just as death squads in Central America saw a chain of instigation, command and control, supply, payment and protection stretching from the imperial power, via the CIA, through to local client military forces, police, employers' associations, goon squads and paid psychopaths, so too have the British been operating such death squad networks in Northern Ireland.

The most explosive evidence of these networks now comes in the form of an affidavit by former RUC Special Branch officer John Weir. (Thanks to my colleagues Carl Bromley and Joe Guinan for securing this and for overall help here.) Its twenty-nine pages lie before me, destroying forever the fundamental premise of the decommissioning ploy, which is that the British Army and RUC can be regarded as honest brokers and custodians of the Good Friday Agreement, ready to protect Catholic communities in the North in the event they are menaced by loyalists after the IRA turns in its guns.

The most immediate function of Weir's affidavit, signed February 1999, is to lend legal support to Sean McPhilemy, whose book The Committee, published here last year, gave an extensive account of the death squad apparatus. Now Weir lays out the chilling narrative in sixty-two detailed paragraphs, replete with murders committed by RUC officers and by paramilitaries controlled and protected by the RUC or instigated by British Army officers.

Paragraph 3 shows why the IRA won't just give up its guns: "I recall that in 1970 or 1971, while I was serving as a young [RUC] constable, aged 20, in Strandtown, there was an arms amnesty in which members of the public handed in substantial quantities of guns and ammunition of different types. Many of these guns were then given out by RUC officers to local members of a Loyalist paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Defence Association, with the knowledge of the senior officers in my RUC Station."

In clinical terms Weir details how antiterrorist units in the RUC known as Special Patrol Groups initiated attacks on the Catholic population. He explains how two of the most awful bombings, in Monaghan and in Dublin (in which thirty-three died) were accomplished with explosives supplied by an officer in the British Army's Ulster Defense Regiment, assembled in a farmhouse owned by an RUC officer and carried out by a group including a UDR officer. Weir adds, "Although these two bombings were among the worst atrocities of the Irish troubles, those responsible for them were never even questioned by the RUC, even though both the RUC and [British] Army Intelligence knew, within days of the bombings, the identities of the culprits." He further adds that it is quite possible that the RUC and Army Intelligence knew about the attacks in advance.

Weir also describes how an Army Intelligence officer, Robert Nairac, first used an RUC officer to attack the Catholic population, "then arranged his murder by the IRA to ensure that he would never be able to reveal the truth about [his] role." Weir himself was finally convicted of a murder in which he admits minor involvement. He was released in 1992 and, in fear for his life, immigrated to Nigeria, returning to Northern Ireland last December.

Weir's affidavit should strike the decommissioning ploy stone dead. It's the moment for Clinton to do some arm-twisting and tell his pal Blair that there's urgent business in Northern Ireland. It's a more constructive path than bombing schools in Serbia.

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