A tribunal in Northern Ireland has absolved the state security forces of any collusion in the murder of Rosemary Nelson in 1999. Nelson was a solicitor who was killed by a car bomb planted under her car by loyalists. She represented Irish nationalists, including the Garvaghy Road Residents, who fought a bitter battle against the infamous Orange Order parades through their streets each year. She also defended the family of Robert Hamill, a young Portadown man who was beaten to death by loyalists while police sat only yards away.
As a result of this work, Nelson faced harassment and death threats from both loyalists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC, the police force in Northern Ireland at the time) while interviewing her clients. She took this harassment seriously and brought her treatment by the cops and loyalist groups to the international community, even testifying before the U.S. Congress. Only months later, though, she was murdered yards from her home.
Reports by neighbors of increased helicopter presence over Rosemary’s home in the days before her murder and the constant threats she had received made it obvious to most that the police were involved in her death. Demands were levied for an independent investigation, but now 12 years later, the report of the tribunal says that though the police and the state failed to take “reasonable and proportionate” steps to provide safety to Rosemary, there was no evidence that the security forces had a part in her death.
In 2006, the Irish Times published a series of articles on an uncovered secret report called “Subversion in the UDR,” the regiment of the military in Northern Ireland from the 1970s to the early ’90s. The report spells out how the British government, all the way up to Downing Street, knew about complicity in the North. Citing UDR officers’ guns going “missing” while they were watching an Orangemen parade, and UDR armories being ransacked of weapons with no shots fired, a document in the report states that “since the beginning of the current campaign the best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups has been the UDR.”
The report also states that 5 to 15 percent of officers in the UDR were linked to loyalist paramilitaries. The Times also states that a soldier cited in the report, who was a member of the UDA, a loyalist paramilitary group, later became a member of the RUC. Though the government knew about this subversion in the UDR, nothing was done to terminate it.
In light of the attitude of the NIO, the government, and military leaders about subversion in the UDR exposed by this report from the 70s, should we not see a continued pattern in their attitude today towards the same issues in the police force that was well known to be heavy handed with the nationalist community? With the exception of providing arms, which was replaced instead with providing intelligence, the report by the Rosemary Nelson Tribunal lists the same issues inside the RUC force.
In fact, the Irish Times cites the report of the tribunal as saying, “We believe there was some leakage of intelligence which we believe found its way outside the RUC. Whether the intelligence was correct or not, the leakage increased the danger to Rosemary Nelson’s life.” Does not providing intelligence indicate collusion? Does not roughing up an attorney who was defending her clients at the site of an Orange Order march—thus legitimizing her as a target—indicate collusion?
The Pat Finucane Centre, an advocacy group for victims of injustice in the North, beautifully brings up the question of what is collusion in the eyes of the state in a press release about the report. They state “The report says: ‘The combined effect of these omissions by the RUC and NIO was that the state failed to take reasonable and proportionate steps to safeguard the life of Rosemary Nelson.’ This amounts, in the view of the PFC, to conclusive evidence of state collusion in the death of Rosemary Nelson.”
Rosemary Nelson was murdered during my senior year of high school, and her death provided the eye-opening moment that led me into activism. While I was volunteering in Ireland I attended a memorial in her honor in Belfast, organized by some of her former colleagues. I learned there that Rosemary was not just a champion for nationalists, but she courageously represented women in cases of domestic violence, travelers, and immigrants—often for free. She was a woman to be greatly admired, and this injustice is a crime against her memory.
What does a state say to working people, no matter what religion or politics, when it refuses to see illegal and threatening actions by the police, and refuses to recognize the turning of a blind eye by the government as collusion? This does not just speak to what the concern for safety and the right to due process was back in 1999, but tells the tale of the current Northern Ireland administration’s concern for people’s rights today. The Irish Times revealed in an article recently that some of the RUC senior officers and senior government civil servants that are cited as having had a part to play in Rosemary Nelson’s death, whether by action or inaction, might be working today in the Department of Justice at Stormont today.
This report’s attempt to deny any blame of government or police administration and to continue a policy disregarding the rights of people in Northern Ireland should not be met with silence or with shootings of cops and bombings of their family homes. It should be met with political discussion and mass actions to demand that the state own up to its criminal acts of the past and to demand a more just future for the people of the North.
> The article above was written by Beth Dyer.