Northern Ireland

Stakeknife inquiry: Time for Northern Ireland to move on?

Freddie Scappaticci Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The Army agent Stakeknife has been named as Freddie Scappaticci, something the west Belfast man denies

The family of a Belfast man who was shot by the IRA are bitterly divided over whether an investigation into the activities of the Army's most high-ranking agent, codenamed Stakeknife should be held.

Joseph Mulhern was murdered in 1993, with the IRA accusing him of being a police informer. His relatives believe his death will be among those examined in an inquiry that could cost £35m.

His brother Fran Mulhern explains why he opposes the inquiry and why Northern Ireland must "forgive and forget".

From a distance, I can see the old wheel continues to turn in Northern Ireland.

There seems to be this inability to move on, to let go.

The comment from Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford that the British government should pay for the cost of the Stakeknife inquiry misses the point.

Northern Ireland, it seems, is trapped in this time-warp.

The Troubles, we are told, finished almost 20 years ago, yet still there are incessant calls for inquiries.

Let us look at the Stakeknife investigation.

Whether we like it or not, the conflict in Northern Ireland was a low-level civil war.

Bad things happen. Morally dubious decisions have to be made.

Whether it is sacrificing low-level informers to secure the position of those of a higher grade, or the bombing of Dresden or dropping of the atomic bomb, tough decisions are there to be made, not shirked from.

Unspoken

Despite what Sinn Féin would have you believe, by the time of the Good Friday Agreement the IRA was on its knees, and undoubtedly its infiltration by the intelligence community contributed to this.

Contrary to what has been said elsewhere, my family knew my brother was in the IRA.

Some of us even supported his involvement.

When Joseph would "disappear for a few days" there was this unspoken assumption at home that he was away doing something with the IRA - the idea that he would go off with some random girls is just plain wrong.

Image caption Fran Mulhern says he believes the Stakenife inquiry is a waste of time and money

We knew, vaguely, at least, what Joseph had got into, and I do not believe for a second there were many paramilitary families who did not know if their loved ones were similarly involved.

This is not to suggest for a second that IRA informers somehow deserved what happened to them. Of course not.

Every single death during the Troubles left family and friends devastated, and helped ensure, more often than not, that old hatreds became ingrained.

Bullets

There is one other point about the Stakeknife campaign.

All I see is a campaign to "bring to justice" those in the intelligence communities.

What about the paramilitaries who pulled the triggers?

Forget Stakeknife - what about the IRA men who actually fired the bullets?

They are being overlooked - even by my own father - and yet they are the actual murderers.

Where is the justice in that?

The important thing here is this - surely, after 20 years or more it is time to let go.

Yes, what happened during the Troubles was horrible and terrible.

People died - paramilitaries, civilians, members of the security forces. Even more people were maimed.

Trapped by old hatreds, Northern Ireland is rapidly becoming the social backwater not just of the United Kingdom but of western Europe.

Where else in that region are Catholics and Protestants herded into, for the most part, sectarian ghettoes and sent to separate schools?

Where else do popular politicians ride on a wave of tribalism more than 400 years old?

Benefited

But, alas, it suits the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin because it keeps them in power, and it suits the Catholic church because it retains control of its schools.

If they keep Northern Ireland's young people apart until they are adults, then that tribalism remains ingrained and old hatreds are easier to whip up when a defence of the status quo is required.

Image caption The IRA alleged that Joseph Mulhern was a police informer

Ignorance feeds the common assumption in Northern Ireland that most Catholics are either nationalists or republicans, and that is completely untrue.

I know a lot of Catholics who would vote to stay within the United Kingdom.

And what they nearly all have in common is that they benefited, in some way, from either integrated education or cross-community projects from an early age.

Separation breeds ignorance - the British government really needs the moral courage to force integrated education into Northern Ireland, however difficult it would prove initially.

If Catholic and Protestant children were educated side by side, the lingering hatreds between the communities would, on the whole disappear, within a generation or two.

There is no such thing as them and us.

There is only ignorance and communities kept apart by politicians who anywhere else on these isles would be seen as extremists.

Grievances

Catholics and Protestants have much more in common than that which divides them.

Republicans and loyalists would no doubt say otherwise, but when you consistently distinguish between two communities and two religions, then you are almost bring a racial element into the dispute.

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland must drop the Stakeknife inquiry and any other inquiry into what happened during the Troubles.

At some point, there comes a time to move on and a society cannot do that when old grievances are continually being aired, when wounds are continually being picked so that fresh blood pours.

I understand that it is hard for the families of the victims.

But in the longer term it does more damage to every single family.

Northern Ireland deserves a better future.

To obtain that, we need to learn to forgive and forget our past, and the British and Irish governments need to stop placating vested interest politicians and move forward with a courageous program of community building that the people of the province deserve.

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