NS Internet Column

There is a horrible and thought-provoking analogy to the case of the Nuremberg Files web site on this side of the Atlantic. It involves the British government assisting what looks like an incitement to murder. If you look in Hansard — which is on the web as well as on paper, and much easier to find and search there — you will find that on January 27th, Ian Paisley named a number of Republicans as members of the gang which in 1975 murdered 10 Protestants in a carefully targetted sectarian attack.

At least one of those named is now in fear of his life, and very reasonably too. It seems likely that this is one of the effects Paisley was hoping for. "There is something seriously wrong with any country--and any Government--that permits known killers to walk the streets with impunity while their victims lie in cold graves. The fact that the killers could operate both inside and outside the IRA name, according to political circumstance, is no comfort to the community. It is an indictment of the Government's and the legal system's failure to address the problem" he said. In context it seems a clear enough invitation for the illegal system to address the problem.

There is a precedent for remarks like that to be heard and acted upon by the paramilitaries of Northern Ireland. In the Eighties, Pat Finnucane, a Belfast lawyer, was assassinated six weeks after Douglas Hogg, then a Conservative minister, had complained in the House that there were solicitors working hand in glove with the IRA. The link between the folly and the crime seemed clear enough to observers in Ulster.

At the time, I caught a brief but entirely convincing glimpse of the reasoning behind this from my own family. My father was brought up in Belfast and kept his tribal reflexes throughout a distinguished career as a British diplomat, long after he had abandoned any religious belief. He took the view that since Finnucane had the misfortune to be born into a republican family — several of his relatives had been jailed for terrorist offences — he could not innocently have defended suspected terrorists. Since he had taken on cases like that, my father thought, it couldn’t have been that much of a crime to kill him. And my father thought of himself as a moderate Unionist, which is to say that he also believed that some public benefactor should have shot Paisley thirty years ago. But he understood the politics of Ulster as clan-based and dependent on the credible threat of violence.

So I think that anyone whom Paisley named should go in fear of his life, and they should be especially worried if they are innocent. One of the men he named is now a member of the "Real IRA" but he is presumably armed and well guarded against assassination attempts.

Paisley’s source was an internal document, probably originating in the UDR, from which he quoted the kind of circumstantial detail which anyone, journalist or policeman, who has collated gossip will find in their files. But of course this sort of second-hand information can be extremely convincing without being in the least bit true. Even policemen can be mistaken. That’s why there are courts, and trials, and all the tiresome paraphernalia of the rule of the law. To the extent that he is simply regurgitating unchecked gossip Paisley is a man even more disgusting than the fanatics behind the Nuremberg Files, who had at least correctly identified their victims as performing abortions.

Yet the accusations are up on the web, placed there by the British government. They might well lead to murder. This seems an exact analogy with some of the things that the Nuremberg Files web site did. Admittedly, the Hansard report lacks bloody decorations and other graphics. As it happens, some newspapers also printed them, so the news got through without the help of the newest technology.

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