It remains to be seen just how sham – as in Sham Fight at Scarva sham – the crisis over the Kevin McGuigan killing really is, but whatever the truth it seems inevitable that a new version of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), will be set up to tell us in soothing, re-assuring words that there really is nothing to worry about.
The argument for a new IMC is that the PSNI really screwed up their handling of the killing, starting with a warning to the media not to blame the IRA followed within hours by an admission that it was indeed IRA fingers on the trigger that dispatched Mr McGuigan to eternity.
Sizable credibility problems then for Big George and his Merry Men. Cue a bunch of retired political hacks, superannuated cops and a George Smiley or two – Brits and Yanks only need apply – and the problem will be solved, not to mention the handy holiday money, expense account dining for a few months and the mirage of once again seeming relevant despite the advancing years.
But just how ‘independent’ was the Independent Monitoring Commission? Where did it get its information from? Were its sources really any different from those that assured us that it would be dangerous to speculate about IRA responsibility for killing the unfortunate Kevin McGuigan.
Well, in its last report – its 26th and longest report, published in July 2011 – the IMC went into some detail about how it went about its work, who it talked to and where its intelligence and information came from.
I am sure it will come as no surprise to my more cynical readers that the IMC relied in the main on the PSNI and MI5 for official intel. In other words what we’ll get with the new IMC is the same information that George Hamilton would give the public anyway, except now it will be filtered through a bunch of former pols, cops and spooks and packaged in a polished, professional and media-friendly fashion.
But guess who else the IMC chatted to, aside from the usual community leaders, priests, vicars and the like? Well, none other than the paramilitary leaders whose lack of activity the IMC was supposed to be monitoring! And why not? Vessels of truth, all of them!
So, bring on the new IMC!
Information and Access
- 8.9 It was clear from the beginning that to be effective we needed the fullest possible access to information from both official and other sources. There were two main aspects.
- 8.10 First, with the police and intelligence authorities North and South we needed to demonstrate we could handle material responsibly, drawing on it for our analysis but not putting things into the public domain in a way which compromised their work or the safety of individuals23. We believe that the way we handled this material in our First Report was key here. Fruitful relations with these authorities were established from very early on and we have been struck by how forthcoming they were with information and comment. However, we sought always to maintain a proper distance as well as a capacity to question, and in some cases to disagree, and our conclusions were always our own. While we relied on much more than just their material, theirs was an input without which it would not have been possible to produce reports of any depth and authority.
- 8.11 Second, it was essential that we had sources other than official ones and in our statement in March 2004 and subsequently we invited people to approach us in confidence. We needed personal and local perspectives and also information. We usually obtained it face to face on our premises or on visits around Northern Ireland. Though many approached us on their own initiative, we frequently took the initiative ourselves and asked to see people, individually or in groups, and believe it was important that we did so. We wanted to ask questions and to hear what it was like in local communities; what paramilitaries were up to in different areas and what the communities really felt about them; how real was the support or the fear; how the facts and views locally tallied with what we heard from official sources; what senior members of paramilitary groups themselves thought, and sometimes whether and how they were trying to manipulate us. Moreover, we wanted more than simply the grass roots view. We needed analysis and perspective as well, and found it in many conversations, including with senior figures and commentators in Ireland North and South.