There is a Special on RTE next Tuesday (8 pm) on the Troubles, based on Ed Moloney’s book Voices from the Grave. That is based on a series of interviews of ‘players’ undertaken (mainly by the admirable Anthony McIntyre …
… himself a disillusioned Provo and former Maze prisoner) on behalf of Boston College, with the proviso that the tapes’ contents would remain secret in the lifetime of the interviewees.
Brendan (Dark) Hughes was a long-time Operations Officer for the Provos. David Ervine was a brutal sectarian killer for the UVF. Both were interviewed and both are now dead so their separate stories are told here.
I have just finished reading this book. It is deeply unsettling at best, horrifyingly chilling at worst. Hughes’ story comes first and if you have difficulty sleeping, stop at it. Ervine’s is unadulterated sectarian hatred at its worst. Supposedly the most acceptable face of Loyalism, the man could barely string a sentence together without profanities and without self-contradiction: so arrogant is he that he professes shock when, eventually permitted to meet the world’s politicians, he learns that Loyalists are considered as ‘scum-bags’ at best. He admires Gusty Spence’s ceasefire statement for the words ‘abject and true remorse to all the innocent victims’ (they chose innocent Catholics deliberately and knowingly to torture and butcher to death and then maligned them in a [willing and cooperative] press as Provo activists) and also, the fact that the UVF went on to kill more innocent people afterwards – ‘… in calling a ceasefire the UVF signed up to nothing … retaining the capacity to go in whatever direction ..’ Of course, he dismisses any possibility of British military (or RUC) collusion with Loyalists.
It is deeply wounding and offensive to the Reformed Church that its Archbishop acted as one of the ‘touchstones’ – (Ervine’s word, oft repeated) – for these sectarian killers, the Protestant Church’s equivalent to the clerical sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.
Hughes’s story is fascinating for its analysis of the turning of the Provos under Adams (‘I was never in the IRA’) and his ilk into virtual agents of the British Government, so deep was the penetration of the FRU, MI5, Special Branch (while the peace-loving Nationalist SDLP was side-lined by the same British Government because it had ‘no arms to trade’). There is much to mull over here and quite a few revelations.
Don’t miss it. Hughes (seemingly) holds nothing back: Ervine reveals nothing. The first is accompanied by reasonably insightful commentary from Maloney: the second has the journalist playing sycophant to the most amoral bunch of animalistic killers this country has ever seen.
But you will make up your own mind.
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the whole affair is that nothing has really been settled. It concludes (with Hughes and others) that it was all in vain, that the IRA was defeated and sidelined and the union is now more secure than ever. Ervine concurs.
Some others – among them many who ironically now are referred to as ‘dissident’ Republicans because they retained their Republican ideals – beg to differ. The Loyalist paramilitaries remain in existence and intact. Very, very little has been affected by the Assembly and Executive (there is a particularly scathing analysis by Ervine of the ‘Clontribet’ role of now First Minister Peter Robinson) and much harder times are on the way. The ordinary people have seen nothing whatever of the much-vaunted Peace Dividend. Unemployment, poverty and myriad social problems continue to beset the ghettos on both sides.
The main lessons of this story is that events create their own momentum and that authorities change little and learn less from the mistakes of the past.
Who would bet on peace in the medium or long term?