Last week families affected by the McGurk’s Bar bombing secured a significant victory in their search for truth and accountability. Following years of campaigning, the families saw the Chief Constable admit that the Historical Enquiries Team report into the killings had been a biased process. This followed the disgraceful, now discredited, Police Ombudsman’s report into the original investigation of the killings. These families have seen three separate investigations into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones. Not one of which has been independent nor human rights compliant.
In December 1971 the bomb in question killed 15 civilians. For decades the official narrative was that the IRA were responsible. Of course in the New Lodge the community knew that this was a propaganda lie aimed at criminalisation of victims and a community. They knew that dirty tricks were at play. What we now know is that the dirty tricks ran as far as the British Military Reconnaissance Force being behind the bombing itself, as well as the original disinformation and the subsequent cover up.
For families who are forced to engage in investigations because their loved ones were killed in conflict related incidents, the constant dispiriting reality is that they are forced to challenge the nature of investigations, rather than the killings themselves.
Last week the families of nine men killed in Loughgall in 1987 had the path cleared for a fresh inquest. This is 14 years after securing, with others, the groundbreaking Article 2 ECtHR judgment. Despite Theresa Villiers’ insistence that there were “national security” issues that made it impossible, and trying to deny the families’ right to inquest, human rights law was on their side and an inquest will happen.
The next day, in a disgraceful moment, one newspaper asked for a response from a victim of the IRA, entirely unconnected to any of the processes. It was couched in “outrage” and “hurt”. That newspaper didn’t interview any of the families affected by Loughgall for how they felt to have favourable human rights judgments for 14 years but continue with the state denying any effective remedy. Equally that newspaper was not in court to speak to any of the McGurks’ Bar families to ask how they felt. Their feelings continue to matter less. If families raise collusion or state violence they face, with the few notable exceptions, a disinterested, hostile media where their feelings don’t count. (Belfast Media Group is one of the few notable exceptions.)
Of course that is not even how these issues should be addressed in the first place. The issue is the state’s role in our conflict and equally state failure to comply with its own laws and human rights standards.
The next number of months will see us enter a new era for dealing with the past. Despite their previous experiences families will have to navigate developments to ensure that new processes are, for the first time, independent and human rights compliant. All families will need accurate information and support, not hostility or hurtful criminalisation.