Conn Mac Gabhann looks at contemporary British colonialism in the light of the review of the murder of Northern Ireland solicitor Pat Finucane.
Conn Mac Gabhann works with the Catholic social justice NGO, The Irish Chaplaincy in Britain; he is completing a PhD in Irish Liberation Theology
The settlers have been abandoned by the mother country. It’s not Rhodesia. The flag is coming down. It’s not Saigon. Dark tales told of locally recruited militias and their sherry sipping puppet-masters blinking into the semi-light. It’s not Kenya. The five techniques of ‘deep-interrogation’: stress-positioning, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink. It’s not Afghanistan. Fifty years of a parliament where the only legislation permitted the indigenous minority was the Wild Birds Act, in 1931. It’s not South Africa. A Special Powers Act so ‘special’ the authorities could legally do whatever they so wished, “to take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order”. It’s not Burma. It’s Britain’s very own ‘doorstep-colony’, Northern Ireland.
I don’t know why the British media never really speak about the magic of its last, best colony. There’s so much to speak about.
There are those requests from the Northern Ireland cabinet to the British Army for ‘punitive expeditions’ against the Catholic population.
There’s the importation of weapons for death squads by a British agent.
There’s the documents from 1972 (recently unearthed at the National Archive) from the MOD, which, when discussing dual membership of the British Army and loyalist death squads, state:
“An important function of the UDA [a loyalist terror group] is to channel into a constructive and disciplined direction Protestant energies which might otherwise become disruptive.”
It has always baffled me how elements of liberal Britain, with such a tolerant stance on many issues, seem so blind to past acts of viciousness in the north of Ireland.
John Finucane, the son of Pat Finucane, a human rights lawyer from Belfast, whose murder was facilitated by British security and intelligence agencies, said recently:
“If my father’s phone had been hacked, he would have had a better chance of getting a public inquiry.”
He’s right of course and everyone knows it, but not everyone owns up to why he’s right.
My hunch is that much of the British media and the British public have bought the line the Troubles was a conflict between two mutually barbarous tribes with Westminster and Whitehall simply endeavouring honestly for a settlement. This colonial approach to difficult natives is centuries old.
Recently, reflecting on liberal Britain, I read a Guardian article published following the Compton Report (1971) into “deep interrogation” techniques used by the British in Northern Ireland, which stated:
“Discomfort of the kind revealed in this [Compton] report… cannot be weighted against the number of human lives which will be lost if the security forces do not get a continuing flow of intelligence.”
For as long as the mainstream view in Britain of ‘the Irish Problem’ is that it is just that, an Irish problem, and not a problem created and reinforced by a colonial agenda, it is unlikely a mutually respecting culture between these people and nations can blossom.
As regards Ireland, like Kenya, Aden and Malaya, there are records of colonialism snugly archived in London and elsewhere – the downside of being an orderly and bureaucratic colonial power. Surely, it is overdue for the British government to open up all its archives. Surely it is overdue for the public and the media in Britain to reflect on its grotesque colonial past and present.
Britain’s colonial present is the Finucane family today, without a father, and Britain’s colonial present is very much alive in the castrated Kenyan detainees who recently “won the right” to pursue the colonial power over its behaviour.
The poison of colonialism, and the concealment of that colonialism, tarnishes the great goodness within British society at home and abroad. Moreover, getting away with colonialism 40 years ago can enable future generations to believe it is acceptable. Some years ago, a man pointed across a road to a man I knew to be a former RUC officer; “he hit me so hard in an interrogation I can only hear in one ear,” he said… the former RUC man had later gone to Iraq as a specialist interrogator.
Earlier this week I awoke to surprised voices on Radio Four, discussing “the death” as opposed to “the terrorist murder of an Irish civilian facilitated by the British state”. Odd. It reminded me of how surprised the British are by their colonial present. It seemed so far away from a quiet Sunday in August, when I stood with family and friends as my aunt’s husband was remembered in prayers.
Jimmy was murdered for being an Irish Catholic by a colonial militia that the M.O.D. said channelled “Protestant energies” in “a constructive and disciplined direction”.
So as the review into the murder of Pat Finucane is published, don’t be surprised. The babies crying at the graveside in Cavan will grow up knowing what Kenyans know; it wasn’t a few bad apples. They’ll know it’s all part of a monstrous enterprise called colonialism. For this reason, only a full independent public inquiry into Pat Finucane’s murder can suffice, otherwise the British public will be fooled again into blaming a few tribal terrorists and the odd bad apple in the establishment.
• De Silva’s report is welcome, but a judicial inquiry is still needed into Pat Finucane’s murder – December 12th, 2012