Collusion, Brendan McCourt’s feature-length documentary shown on RTE1 on Monday night, is, in its own way, every bit as seismically shocking as The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer’s controversial film about the government-sponsored slaughter of half-a-million Indonesian leftists in the 1960s.
nly liars would ever claim there was no collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the British security forces during Northern Ireland’s Dirty War. But try proving it when the liars are running the show.
There were liars of many different stripes alluded to in McCourt’s powerful film. Liars in respectable parliamentary suits; liars in police and army uniforms; liars in balaclavas and battle fatigues, and at least one liar in a prim dress and pearl necklace: Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister that did more to sanction collusion, to enable the paramilitary murder squads to maim and kill often innocent Catholics, than any other.
One of Thatcher’s predecessors, Ted Heath, was asked by the Irish government in the 1970s if collusion was happening and flatly denied it. Lied, in other words. Thatcher, though, went further. Collusion, to her, was just another legitimate tactic of war, and it was employed mercilessly.
The most bone-chilling revelations in the documentary concerned the depth and scale of the collusion, corruption and, even in the midst of a bloody conflict, what can only be called moral bankruptcy.
Early in The Troubles, the British army decided it couldn’t fight a war on “two fronts”, so it picked a side: the loyalist terrorists. Army head of operations General Harry Tuzo turned a blind eye to the fact that the UDA had arms, as long as they confined them to loyalist areas.
John Weir, a former RUC sergeant, revealed on camera how he was a member of a special unit within the force that helped loyalist paramilitaries with their murderous activities, and then covered the tracks.
Weir said the UVF car bomb that blew apart the McDonald family pub in Armagh in 1976, killing wife and mother-of-three Betty McDonald, and blinding in one eye pregnant 18-year-old customer Maria McShane, was assembled at the farmhouse of his RUC colleague James Mitchell.
The bombers were the notorious ‘Glennane Gang’, suspects for the 1974 Dublin-Monaghan bombings that were intended to foment all-out civil war, as well as the Miami Showband massacre and other acts of savagery.
The collusion wasn’t limited to the British Army: the security services, the special branch and MI5 all had their hands dipped deep in the blood. A major player, however, was the army’s covert military intelligence outfit Force Research Unit (FRU), which ran Brian Nelson — who’d previously served seven years for kidnapping and torturing a blind Catholic man (he died from his injuries) — as an agent at the top of the UDA.
FRU set Nelson up as a taxi driver and fed him security and intelligence leads, which he’d then give to the UDA to add to their kill list. One of the victims, targeted after a black propaganda whispering campaign, was human rights lawyer Pat Finucane, murdered in his kitchen in front of his wife and children, his face so riddled with machine gun bullets as to be unrecognisable.
The unofficial, but in reality very official, British government stance throughout the years was: “Carry on, just don’t get caught.”
The showing of Collusion has already sparked widespread calls for fresh investigations. Can a documentary change things? I wouldn’t care to bet my life on it.