The past – another ghost – and still no process

A piece from Brian Rowan that initially featured on Eamonn Mallie's blog in which he raises questions about the handling of the past: 17th  October 17 2012

The work of the centre is another read back into an unanswered past; another piece that fits into that jigsaw, that adds another scene to the developing picture.

Recently I visited the office of a new project known as the Irish Centre on Wrongful Convictions (ICWC). Belfast based, it describes itself as a grassroots human rights organisation and it is considering civil cases against a number of former and serving police officers over allegations linked to torture and brutality.

It also wants the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to establish an office here, and says the Executive through the Department of Justice should provide the funding. 'If anywhere needs an active Criminal Cases Review Commission it’s the North of Ireland,' Jim McVeigh told me.
Jim McVeigh

He is Sinn Fein’s leader on Belfast City Council, was the last IRA jail leader in the Maze and is Project Manager at the new ICWC. 'Its purpose will be to work with prisoners – all prisoners or former prisoners – who feel they’ve been the victim of a miscarriage of justice,' McVeigh said.

He revealed that a number of loyalists have already brought cases to the attention of the new project. 'Anybody who has been in prison knows from their own personal experience that there are many, many people who were in prison who were innocent', McVeigh continued. 'There may well be thousands of people who were the victim of a miscarriage of justice and up until probably recent years they’ve had no opportunity to address those historic injustices,' he said.

McVeigh said there will be a particular focus on convictions that relied on statement evidence alone. 'We want to highlight the fact that brutality was systematic, was endemic and that draws a question over the safety of these convictions, particularly people who were convicted on statement evidence alone,' McVeigh said. 'It can’t be safe for those convictions to stand. 'All of them, in our view, are unsafe because of the evidence of brutality,' he said.

The former IRA jail leader, who was freed early as part of the Good Friday Agreement arrangements, said the work of the Centre will address some of the unanswered questions of the past. 'Whenever we come to dealing with the past, it is going to have to look at the whole issue of the treatment of detainees and prisoners and torture,' he said. 'We are going to be researching, highlighting cases of torture, brutality because that goes to the very heart of the whole issue about convictions,' McVeigh continued. 'Anybody who was in the jail in the ‘70s for example will tell you that on remand there might have been as many as 95 percent of the people awaiting trial in Crumlin Road jail [who] where in on confession evidence alone,” he said.

The Irish Centre on Wrongful Convictions officially opened earlier this month.
 Professor Kieran McEvoy

A number of solicitors including John Finucane and Padraig O Muirigh are on the Board of the new project, as is Queen’s University law professor Dr Kieran McEvoy. Its work is another reminder that so much of the past has yet to be addressed.

Nearly every day, there is another question that reads back into those years of conflict – that pulls the present back into the ‘70s, ‘80’s and  ‘90s. There is the saga over the Boston College tapes; what might have been said particularly in relation to the brutal IRA execution of Jean McConville – one of the “Disappeared”.

More specifically the questions being asked by many relate to Gerry Adams, to his leadership role in the IRA, which he denies – a denial that many dismiss with derision. Elsewhere, another case is being developed, a ‘supergrass’ or assisting offender case that could bring a spotlight onto the leadership of the UVF. All of this is happening 18 years after the IRA and loyalist ceasefires of 1994 and 14 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

The ending of the different ‘wars’ may well have silenced many of the guns and the bombs, but not the questions; the many different questions being asked by every side of all sides.

In all of this it is obvious that the past is not going to go away and there is no such thing as drawing a line.

So, there is a choice – to structure a process within which all of this can be addressed, or to spend several more decades when on any day another question could be asked or allegation made.

Gusty Spence running past Crumlin Road Jail shortly after his release from prison, 1985. Image courtesy of: Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The ghosts of that past are still with us.


  1. I started reading this and my immediate thought was "fuck Spikes lad is going to love this" reading on and yip whose name crops up one Padraig O Muirigh and Finunacne this is an important issue and needs dealt with but to have it controlled "inhouse" is not the way to go in my opinion, peoples statements beaten out of them in torture centers should not be allowed to fall into the hands of any protagonist in that dirty conflict this issue should be dealt with by verifiable neutral people with a background in legal human rights issues,

  2. Marty,

    Brian Rowan is one of the few writers who consistently flags up the problems of the past being allowed to infect the present. I find his material on very useful and for thatreason we ask him can we run his stuff.

    My problem with this initiative is that it is going to be one more weapon/shield to be used in the current round of recrimination. I think we need an acknowledgement that this type of thing went on rather than something to drag all the cops before the courts. All we are doing is emngaging in tit for tat recrimination. It has sweet FA to do with reconciliation. SF have allowed unionism and the British to take the moral high ground.

    Jim McVeigh is right when he says that we all know people in jail who were innocent. But what are we do to about the volunteers who had confessions extracted out of them by the Brits using Scap? Is the centre's facilities to be extended to them? The circumstances whereby those confessions were gained are even more dubious than the RUC extracted ones.

    We are not addressing the past here but mining it for the purposes of poking somebody else in the eye.

  3. Great to see this centre opened! No doubt their first major campaign will be to deal with Marian Price.

    Marian's friends and family must be absolutely thrilled.

  4. A major point Anthony well spotted a cara the fuck are they going to deal with confessions that Scap and the rest are part of,this whole issue should be something quisling $inn £ein should not be allowed other than individual contributors to have any control of..but I suspect its just really another money spinning job creationist opportunity for that shower of charlatans rather than any true effort in truth recovery or justice,

  5. Another Commission, another Review, another quango, that scrapes the bottom of the barrel of 'redress and grievance'. Oh, and of course, another Project Manager, asst. PM, office co-ordinator, PA, etc. etc.
    Why do'nt we set up a commission on 'nosebleeds' during the troubles, or 'big hats' or 'dysfunctional sleep patterns'.
    You see, PSF have created a miniature industry for themselves, and having traduced all dissent, use these hapless groupings to further their political agenda, [as we witnessed with the St.Pats residents group].
    Guile has become their genetic patrimony and Republicanism has slipped into the hands of a 'fifth column', which exists on the crumbs of gratitude served from the British table.
    Adams et al, know there will never be redress for British criminality in Ireland. It was the unwritten clause in the GFA.
    So forget about progress on this one and just feel happy for another few 'quisling shinners' who bagged themselves a new job.

  6. LOL truthrevisionist a cara we are merging into one ffs.

  7. McVeigh being the last 'leader' in the Kesh would know that in later years, under the leaderships of his likes, that Long Kesh became a place harder in live under PIRA than it was under the bloody screws.

    A place where our former Blanket comrades - the INLA were treated like dirt if they didn't disown that group and become Provos.

    More and more Republicans are beginning to talk, I was gone by then released, but the stories I've heard from those who were still there are shocking.

    Then there are the stories I've heard from older Republican prisoners who were in the cages. Stories of torture by or own. I've heard how prisoners had their nipples clipped with cigarette lighters ffs.

    McVeigh and his ilk can pretend to themselves all they want but I've said it often in recent weeks, there'll come a day when certain leaders in SF are no longer of importance to the Brits or after they are dead.

    Then all the shite will come out like Jimmy Savile...

  8. Dixie,

    they treated the INLA like dirt. Even those of us friendly to INLA prisoners, seeing no difference between them and ourselves, were viewed with a certain degree of coldness because of it.

    Torturers are torturers no matter what the cause is they torture for.

  9. With all respect to people such as Keiran Mc Evoy who I think would be genuine, this is all crap!
    Last year Jim was putting the Brits in the dock over internment?
    Now this!
    How much more of this nonsense have people to contend with?
    This is a pocket filling exercise.
    And it is the same pockets, same political representatives same solicitors, same shite different project.
    Parasites look good beside them.

  10. Dixie;

    This is fact, and you both know it , Inla were not told anything about the com which was agreed upon to end the Hunger Strike ,yet, that com was denied by Bik. To be honest, I cant get my head around it, This is one question a cant get out of my head, and it is, was Did Bik know that the com was rejected by , "You Know Who" on the outside.
    My Honest opinion is, after that com came in was, everyone was swept aside, jobs were being allocated even before PIRA were being released, and, INLA were left in LIMBO, I would be curious on your thoughts on this, and, Yes, It was called Nipple Tickling, Tear jerking would be more appropreiate.

  11. truthrevisionist

    It always has been jobs for the boys, "Those Boys Who Toed The line".


    The only cause they tortured for was, ££££££££££££££££££, being supported by the British, and, still are to this very day, they did not give two iotas about anyone but those who they selected for top jobs, I can honestly say, I'm proud to be living on a state pension, Its clean and Blood free,
    Iand I worked for it up until 1969.
    Its not a lot, but, I'm proud of it, and, I'm proud to still call myself a Republican.

  12. Nuala,

    How much more of this nonsense have people to contend with?

    For as long as they are willing to contend with it, lots. Nietzsche described this as faith: not wanting to know what is true.

    The leadership Lie Machine has had a longer shelf life than the Lisburn Lie Machine. Yet people have gone along with it.


    Dixie; Anthony. This is fact, and you both know it , Inla were not told anything about the com which was agreed upon to end the Hunger Strike

    Has anybody suggested we both don’t know it? You are merely stating the obvious here.

    Bik knew it was rejected. He might have been led to believe that the Army Council made a collective decision in the best interests of the men concerned and the protest and only learned later that it was a self serving decision made and implemented by the committee. He must know today from all of Morrison’s lying and lamentable attacks on Richard O’Rawe that the reason for blocking the deal was hardly a good one. The SF narrative on this has self imploded because of Morrison’s input. When O’Rawe first emerged with his account the head of steam that would later smoke out the committee could have been headed off at the pass with a simple statement that O’Rawe was right and then go on to explain it as a mistake made in the difficult circumstances of the time. Most people I think would have considered that plausible. But with Morrison moving to deny it and attack O’Rawe, and then being exposed as lying pathologically (something that O’Rawe was never shown to have done) people concluded that the offer had been made and was blocked. It is hard to find a researcher or journalist who thinks no offer was made. The people who claim to believe there was no blocking of the offer also claim to believe Gerry Adams was never in the IRA. Sort of tells you something does it not?

  13. Mackers,
    This is a window dressing exercise, just like the (lets all get money for being interned guff)
    Who are the human rights lawyers and human rights activitist amongst that lot?
    I called it wrong last night, because parasites are what they are by natures design and they actually do perform a function,
    body snatchers would have been a more appropriate title.
    It is like watching a old re-run of Gotham City minus Bruce Wayne, just the dodgy lawyers and corrupt politicans.
    I would love to know how or where Keiran Mc Evoy fits into this charade?

  14. Kieran has always done good work on the prisons and that end of things. I hope he does not get shafted on this.

    lets all get money for being interned guff

    If it were just a joke it would be funny. Problem is it is true.

  15. Nuala it is almost breathtakingly brilliant that those in quisling $inn £ein can put this project together and sell it to the republican community I think Kieran Mc Evoy is either part of or patsy to this farce ,either way I believe his credibility will be seriously tarnished. this is another nail in the coffin of truth recovery ever happening here, it is probably meant to be such along with a money /job creating exercise they have and still do make eejits out of these areas.

  16. Marty,
    Is someone who is a Prof of Criminology really so easily bluffed?
    And what of John Finnucane, he also has done good work in relation to prisons and prisoners!
    Are they being used by the Sinn Fein think tank to provide a cloak of academic and legal credibilty?
    These enterprises are no more than smokescreens to diffuse peoples thinking on relevant topics.

  17. Totally agree Nuala.if these people have not been duped and as you say they are savvy enough,then its a fair question to ask just what exactly their role in all this is and how in the longterm will their participation in this affect their credibility.

  18. Marty,
    Why are people like Jim Mc Veigh totally ignoring the people who are presently interned and remanded due to an abusive process?
    Same reason he totally ignored them in his Coiste remit?
    Where is Coiste in all of this, was it not their bag to flag up these issues?
    It would be very interesting to know if the taxpayers via the department of justice are paying for this hot air?

  19. On the news this afternoon,The Orange Order is to receive nearly £4 million for being bigoted fuckers,£3 million of this lovely lolly is to come from the European Peace 3 dividend and the rest is to come from both the quisling $inn £ein/dup and the Dublin government,AUSTERITY MEASURES HOW ARE YA ! Always seems to be money around to keep these wasters happy...

  20. 'Anybody who has been in prison knows from their own personal experience that there are many, many people who were in prison who were innocent' - now that just about sums up the objectives of this purile project and heightens the moral ground of the British.....pathetic to be honest.

  21. Marty; that £4m is to help us Catholics, ethnically-defined or proper sort, 'understand them'.

    If the OO can manage that I'd say it's cheap at half the price.

  22. Belfast bookworm I suppose it could be money well spent,I mean almost everything they do we interpret as sectarian bigoted triumphalism,we interpret the five fingers salute as five dead on the Ormeau rd when in fact it may be just a good old "hi ya" wave similarily the playing of "sloop John B " could just be an invitation to join in and not some disgusting song about the great hunger that affected protestants as much as their catholic neighbours,but sure maybe with the £4 mill they can build a wee rd on private land with a couple of branch off,s and call it Garvaghy rd Ardyone and Springfield better still if they built it in a circle the could walk forever and the rest of us could get some peace.

  23. Marty; Ahhh,, us taigs and our interpretations, eh? Sure what are we like?

    I like your wee road idea. Perhaps you could suggest it to the brethren?