I haven’t had the chance yet to watch Alex Gibney’s documentary on Loughinisland but by all accounts ‘No Stone Unturned’ is a masterful and moving expose of a shameful chapter in the Troubles’ history.
It tells the story of how the North’s security forces either colluded with the Loyalist gunmen who machine-gunned to death six Catholics watching a World Cup football match between Ireland and Italy in the small ‘Heights Bar’ in Loughinisland, Co. Down, or covered up their crimes in the aftermath.
Gibney has a wonderful record as a film-maker and I thought his expose of Scientology, ‘Going Clear’ was a masterpiece.
‘No Stone Unturned’ has been greeted almost universally in Ireland and Britain with praise for his courage and perserverance, but I had another thought, a less kind one.
Why did it take an American film-maker to come to Ireland to put together this detective story of a film? Where were the Irish film-makers, from either side of the Border, or those in Britain who, I must say, did distinguish themselves more than their Irish counterparts when the bullets were flying? Why didn’t they make this film? And was the print media any better?
For sure, people were tired of the Troubles, glad they had ended, happier to look to the future than to look back.
But this was an important story, an appalling scandal, that touches on two issues left unresolved from the Troubles as the peace process enters its third decade: the willingness of the police to embrace the new dispensation and the readiness of the British to expose their own dirty deeds as well as those of the Provos to public scrutiny.
And I suspect that not too deep down in their consciousness, it was an unwillingness to address these issues – doubtless dressed up as ‘not causing difficulties for the peace process’ – that helped deter local film-makers from treading where Alex Gibney so bravely and capably has.
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A lot of it doesn’t surprise me (informers, protected from prosecution, “lost” statements and evidence), but when it’s presented altogether in a film such as this, it is not only terrifying but infuriating.
Having grown up in Catholic West Belfast and at the tail end of the Troubles, I was always aware that I could be killed. Either by paramilitaries or security forces. To me, at such a young age, the two were intertwined. It’s reassuring to see that I wasn’t paranoid at all.
What would have been an interesting angle to explore (but would have undoubtedly sidetracked the main purpose of the film) was that the killers were not pursued because Special Branch were aware that the UVF were negotiating with others to deliver a ceasefire. David Ervine once said that Loughinisland was the worst day of his life, as it seemed that all the efforts he had made in persuading the UVF Inner Council to stop the war were now at sea.
Nonetheless, it’s an uneven (no mention of the guns coming from the Ulster Resistance deal) but ultimately moving film that shows that the history of the Troubles is nowhere near as straightforward as most would like it to be, and that the legacy issue is something that will rumble on.
The biggest laugh was thanks to Danny Morrison who states (with a straight face) that “he was told” that Scappaticci was in charge of IRA security (conveniently ignoring his own role in the Sandy Lynch case, which Morrison was jailed for).