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Tuesday, September 14, 2010 

The definition of collusion.

We've had a summer taken up with the publishing of reports into the recent past in Northern Ireland. Back in June Lord Saville published his long-awaited report into Bloody Sunday, which was unequivocal in its conclusions. Likewise, last month saw the release of the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland's report into the 1972 Claudy bombings, which similarly unequivocally put the blame upon the long suspected Father James Chesney.

Oddly, the investigation into possible collusion in the murder of the founder of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, Billy Wright, in the Maze prison, the most recent incident of the three, is the least conclusive. This is also despite the report going into a similar level of detail to that in the Saville inquiry: it took Lord MacLean and his two fellow panel members five years to put it together, and while it doesn't quite extend to the multiple volumes which the aforementioned report did, it still weighs in at 699 pages.

While the report finds that there was no active collusion between the state and Wright's INLA assassins, this is thanks mainly to the report's restrictive and contestable definition of the term, especially when compared to the definition which Judge Cory used in the report which resulted in the setting up of the new inquiry. This is set out in paragraph 1.33:

It may be that the very wide definition of the word collusion that Judge Cory adopted was due to his concentration on one of the synonyms, namely the verb connive. We have been concerned throughout the Inquiry by the width of the meaning applied by Judge Cory, having in mind in particular that the word is not to be found in our Terms of Reference. For our part we consider that the essence of collusion is an agreement or arrangement between individuals or organisations, including government departments, to achieve an unlawful or improper purpose. The purpose may also be fraudulent or underhand. It seems to us that the situations envisaged by Judge Cory in paragraphs 3.187 to 3.189 of his Report, especially those in which he refers to prison services or the NIPS ‘turning a blind eye’, would amply be covered by the Terms of Reference without attempting to analyse them in terms of collusion. We have in mind here ‘wrongful acts or omissions’, including attempts, which ‘facilitated his [Billy Wright’s] death’, whether ‘intentional or negligent’.

More than understandably, Billy Wright's family reject this shifting of the goal posts. It reminds me of the similar different definitions of what "rendition" was as set out in the report by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, which duly gave the government a clean bill of health thanks it to deciding that what everyone else defined as a "extraordinary rendition" was in fact something quite different and therefore far more legitimate. While then there is no evidence to suggest that the state and the INLA had come to a specific arrangement or agreement by which Wright was to be murdered, there is more than a few good reasons to suspect that "blind eyes" may well have been turned. Thanks to the report's stricter rationale, what happened duly is not collusion, and so all are innocent.

While the report's findings on how the Maze was operating in November 1997 are then damning, with negligent being the repeated descriptive term, it seems unlikely that this will be the end of the matter. The report also completely fails, as the authors admit in the final paragraph, to explain how the firearms which were used to murder Wright entered the prison. The cost and time expended on the Saville inquiry was offset by the vivid nature of its findings and its damning conclusions. The inquiry into the Claudy bombings took up just 28 pages and were equally final. The same cannot even begin to be said for this latest supposed authoratitive investigation into Northern Ireland's torturous and bitterly contested past troubles.

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