Editorial from Irish Political Review, August 2002
The system of criminal law operated by the state replaced the system of personal revenge which had operated through many ages of human history, and the taking of personal revenge was made a crime. The state asserted the exclusive right to operate a system of law, or justice, impersonally administered, in the interest of maintaining social harmony. It doled out punishment in the public interest. The individual against whom another individual had done something that was judged to be a crime, was obliged to find a substitute for the old, substantial satisfaction of revenge in contemplation of the fact that justice had been done. Not only did the state inflict the punishment, but it (or the Crown, in the British jurisdiction) was the beneficiary of any redress imposed on the perpetrator: the victim gets no redress. But it is doubtful whether the depersonalisation of life was ever so comprehensively accomplished that for the individual justice became something other than a vicarious form of revengea sophisticated, long-drawn-out kind of revenge.
the criminal law. The civil law exists for settling conflicts between individuals
over matters which the state has not made criminal. Libel law, for example,
was introduced (or extended to the private sphere) at the moment when the British
state, in the interest of civilised regimentation, criminalised duelling as
a means of settling affairs of honour between gentlementhereby effectively
abolishing honour. If you have loads of money and somebody says something nasty
about you, you can sue him for libel with the object of taking his money away
is the remedy in civil lawin the law which has to do with relations between
individuals. Criminal law has to do with relations between the individual and
the state, and the remedy can be imprisonment.
A thousand years ago, before the imposition of the Norman state, murder was a matter that could be settled between the families concerned by means of money payments, somewhat as things are now settled in the civil law. But, when a strong state was established, and the process of civil regimentation under state authority began, murder was made an offence against the state, and the family of the murdered person ceased to have any particular role in sorting things out. They were reduced to mere witnesses, or had no role at all in the judicial process.
the course of the long English conquest of Irelandwhich took over 500
years to accomplishone of the standard ideological justifications of the
subordination of the Irish was that they were lawless. And one of the chief
signs of their lawlessness was that they continued to deal with murder as an
offence between individuals, to be handled according to customary practices.
Well, the British state has now reverted to lawlessness in the matter of the Omagh Bombing. In breach of the invariable practice of a thousand years, the state has instigated the families of the Omagh victims to take the law into their own hands, treat murder as a civil offence, and seek a money settlement with the people whom they hold to be responsiblebecause the state has given them their names as the people responsible.
last Chief Constable (Ronnie Flanagan) encouraged them into this action, as
did the last Secretary of State, and the BBC has acted as one of the fund-raising
agencies for them.
has the state chosen to encourage this revival of the vendetta? It says it knows
who arranged the bombing, so why not prosecute them? It has changed the criminal
law to make prosecution easier than it had beenand it had been pretty
easyso why not prosecute? Why not lay out its case in Court and let the
law take its course? The prosecution might fail, but even in Northern Ireland
the police do not reckon that all prosecutions will certainly result in convictions.
the state knows everything about the Omagh Bombingand it has repeatedly
said that it doesit must surely have a plausible case to bring to court.
Why allow itself to be paralysed by fear of failure?
truth seems to be that it is not failure it fears, but prosecution itself. What
it dare not risk is that, in the event of criminal prosecution, the Defence
would be able to implicate the state itself in the Omagh Bombing.
it knows all it claims to know, the strong probability is that it knows it because
it had agents amongst those who organised the bombing. And the Real IRA has
issued a statement that state agents acted as agents provocateurs in the bombing.
So the probability is that the Government is not certain that the Defence would
be unable to make a credible case in Court that the state itself was responsible
for the casualties.
it has incited a vendetta.
July 30th BBC Radio 5 devoted a phone-in to the serving of the civil writs demanding
money compensation to the five men whom the RUC alleged to be responsible for
the Omagh bombing. Michael Gallagher was in the studio to deal with the questions.
As there was a dire shortage of questions, the time was filled out by discussion
between the compére, Nicky Campbell, and Gallagher. At a certain point
Campbell filled out time with what must have seemed to him to be a safe piece
of rhetoric with which no right-thinking person could disagree: What do these
people think they can gain by such actionsthe Provos tried it, but they
stopped when they saw it was getting them nowhere.
But Gallagher wasnt having any of that. In his most animated contribution to the discussion, he insisted that violence had got them a very long way indeed:
were people who were just corner boys. And now they can walk into the White
House in their Italian suits. We have watered down democracy to meet these people
half way. He
thought it was intolerable that people in Northern Ireland should not have justice,
and that serial murderers should be released. People in England got justice:
look at Myra Hindley.
suggested that there was perhaps a difference, since these things were done
in Northern Ireland for a political purpose. Then he asked Gallagher why he
thought the Provos had not doled out freelance
justice to the Real IRA dissidents as they had done to others in
the nationalist community. Gallagher did not recoil in horror from the suggestion,
pointing out that freelance justice
was terrorism. (One felt that terrorist justice would not have been entirely
unacceptable to him.) What he said was that the Real IRA was not such a small
group as was usually alleged, that some of the hardest men in the Provos had
gone over to it, and that it was growing all the time, and that the Provo leaders
were afraid that an attempt to discipline it would cause a blood feud.
was not apparent whether he thought that was sufficient reason for the Provos
not to act against the Real IRA. But he condemned Adams and McGuinness for not
calling on people within the Republican
community to inform on the Real IRA. Since such a call would undoubtedly
have accelerated the movement of members of the Provisional IRA across to the
Real IRA, it must be assumed that Gallaghers primary concern is not with
the general politics of the Northern Ireland situation, but with his individual
pursuit of justice
against the handful of people whom the police have told him caused the death
of his son. And that, of course, is entirely natural. Gallagher is not a politician.
He is the ordinary,
decent citizenthe type which, we have been officially told
for the last thirty years, makes up the great majority of the people of Northern
Ireland, but whose influence on public affairs has always been negligible. But
he has been cast in a political role by Peter Mandelson, former Chief Constable
Ronnie Flanagan, and the general officialdom of the strange Northern
Ireland state, who decided to manipulate the personal feelings
of this particular group of ordinary decent citizens for a political purpose.
And, since he has accepted the casting, he must be treated as political.
assumption that there is a widespread knowledge in the
Republican community of who did the Omagh bombing, and that it
would stand up as evidence, is a very strange assumption indeed. It can only
be for propaganda reasons that it is never questioned. The Real IRA is conspiratorially
organised. The most that could be got from the
Republican community is rumour. Hard information could only be
got from members of the conspiracy, who included agents of the state. When the
state appealed to those with information to come forward with it, it was effectively
appealing to itself.)
were adequate reasons why the state, in the course of its development, gave
itself a monopoly of justice
and marginalised victims in the justice
proceedings into the role of witnesses. And those reasons apply in Northern
Ireland, even though it is not, never has been, and was never designed to be,
either a democratic state in itself or a functional part of a democratic state.
rule of law is that the state acts for the victims and the victims must make
do with whatever vicarious satisfaction that this gives them. In this instance
the victims are acting in place of the state, at the instigation of the state,
and with the support of the propaganda apparatus of the state.
victims have been left to lick their wounds and get on with life as best they
Omagh Bombing is usually described as the
single worst atrocity of the Troubles since 1969, and was so described
in Gallaghers programme. In fact, the single worst atrocity was the Dublin
bombing of 1974, the purpose of which was to influence the Dail in its legislative
activity. It did so. Nobody has ever been charged with that atrocity. The probability
at the time seemed to be that the deed was done by the British state acting
in conspiracy with a group of Ulster Loyalists. A group of relatives got together
in pursuit of justice, as in the case of Omagh but, unlike the Omagh relatives
group, it had to make its way against official obstruction at ever level, particularly
from the Gardai. Since the pursuit of justice in that instance would have been
advantageous to the Republican cause, it was actively discouraged by the Dublin
authorities, who have been eager to rig cases against those alleged to have
some involvement with the Omagh Bombing.
What was required of the Dublin relatives was that they should go away and lick their wounds in private. But they have not done so. They have kept the issue alive, despite the efforts of two states to fob them off. And the British state, which is so anxious for justice in the Omagh case that it has revived the vendetta, finds that the world will get on very well without justice in the Dublin case.
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An Cor Tuathail: The Blackbird Of Doire an Chairn.
Compiled by Pat Muldowney
The Palestine News. The Rape Of Palestine
Letter from Tom Doherty
Aubane vs. Oxford
World Socialist Web Site.
Review by Esme Geering
LABOUR COMMENT edited by Pat Maloney:
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