Recent months have seen repeated calls for the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry to look at events at the Kincora Boys Home in the mid-1970s (see Spinwatch reports here and here). A key development took place last week when a former Army intelligence officer spoke publicly for the first time about MI5's role in suppressing knowledge of abuse at the home.
Brian Gemmell, a former captain in military intelligence, confirmed that he had passed on information from three men – James Miller, Roy Garland and Jim McCormick – to a senior MI5 officer named Ian Cameron. All three information sources were completely opposed to the abuse and wanted it ended...
...His first move was to report it to Cameron, an MI5 veteran who was working under the cover of a political adviser in the Northern Ireland Office.
"Ian Cameron was very much a father figure to me at the time," Mr Gemmell said.
"I was in my mid-20s and he was in his early 60s. He was normally a very nice chap, but he reacted very strongly.
"He told me that MI5 did not concern itself with what homosexuals did and he ordered me to stop using an agent I had within Tara, who we had codenamed Royal Flush."
Clarke notes that Cameron was a veteran of Cold War Berlin, an aspect of his background which casts a significant light on his connections within MI5.
There is growing momentum for the the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry to look at Northern Ireland's Kincora scandal, but a key piece of evidence linking Kincora and the Paedophile Information Exchange suggests that access to intelligence documents will be crucial to any new investigation.
Last month former army officer Colin Wallace told Spinwatch of his willingness to testify to the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry about historical abuse at the Kincora Boys' Home in Belfast during the 1970s. Our report also highlighted allegations by other un-named army officers, one of whom, Brian Gemmell, has since come forward publicly.
Amnesty International's call for the abuse inquiry to look at Kincora has received widespread support in recent weeks. A victim of abuse at home, Clint Massey, has waived his right to anonymity in order to speak out.
The issue's significance was underlined when it emerged that former attorney-general Michael Havers had acted to limit the scope of a previous investigation of Kincora in 1984. The revelation by Exaro News was swiftly followed by the resignation of Havers' sister, Baroness Elizabeth-Sloss, as chair of the inquiry.
Whistleblower Colin Wallace is willing to testify to an inquiry into child sex abuse, but it will need access to intelligence documents if it is to succeed.
Following the announcement of an inquiry into historical child sex abuse on Monday, Amnesty International has called for the inclusion of events at Kincora Boy's Home within its remit.
Three senior care staff at the east Belfast children’s home were jailed in 1981 for abusing 11 boys, but it is feared that there were many more victims and abusers during the period between 1960 and 1980. Allegations have persisted that paedophilia at Kincora was linked to British intelligence services, with claims that visitors to the home included members of the military, politicians and civil servants, and that police investigations into abuse at Kincora were blocked by the Ministry of Defence and MI5. (Amnesty, 7 July 2014).
The best account of Kincora and its ramifications is Paul Foot's Who Framed Colin Wallace? which focuses on a British Army officer who tried to draw attention to the situation at Kincora only to find himself sidelined and wrongly convicted of manslaughter.
Colin Wallace has confirmed to Spinwatch his availability to testify to the inquiry, but warned that it would need access to documents held by the intelligence services if it was to succeed:
The Calcutt Inquiry set up by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1990 confirmed that I been working for the Intelligence Services during the 1970s and that [my] enforced resignation from the Ministry of Defence had been made on the basis of a false job description designed to conceal [my] covert role in psychological warfare. Sir David Calcutt also found that members of the Security Service (MI5) had manipulated the disciplinary proceedings taken against me after I had complained about the abuses taking place at Kincora.
My solicitor, Jim Nicol, referred Sir David Calcutt's report to the Metropolitan Police (Assistant Commissioner John Yates), on the basis that the report indicated that Security Service officers had attempted to defraud me. The Metropolitan Police referred the matter to the DPP for guidance. The DPP concluded that it would “not be in the public interest for the police to pursue the matter”.
Despite the findings of the Calcutt Inquiry, the Ministry of Defence refused to allow the Defence Select Committee to have access to my secret job description. In a letter dated 11 February 1991, the Ministry of Defence said that my job description contained "sensitive information relating to the security and intelligence matters" and that the provision of such papers, even under the conditions relating to the Committee's access to classified information, "would be inconsistent with the conventions".
What is the point of having Parliamentary oversight of the Intelligence Services, if the appointed Committee cannot have access to the relevant documents? This is going to be an issue for the new investigations into child abuse, bearing in mind that MI5 took possession of police files relating to such abuse.
Extracts from Hansard show that Ministers misled Parliament over a number of key issues about Kincora. Also the Inquiry by Sir George [Terry] totally misled Parliament over the role of MI5 in the matter. Note, in particular, that Major General Peter Leng, former Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland, confirmed to the ‘Sunday Times’ that he had raised the issue of Kincora in 1974.
The Independent reported yesterday that Education Secretary Michael Gove 'has been accused of cynically using the “Trojan Horse” schools row to push an ideological anti-Islamic agenda within the Government.'
Gove has been pushing a similar agenda for the best part of a decade. In 2006 he published Celsius 7/7, which argued that 'the war against the West... ...follows the pattern of the Cold War against Communism' (Phoenix 2007, p.127). The same argument was being pursued at the time by Policy Exchange, of which Gove was the first chairman, and the Centre for Social Cohesion, something which Spinwatch examined in our report The Cold War on British Muslims.
In my view, this approach reflects the roots of neoconservatism in Western Cold War propaganda networks. This was often a response to Soviet propaganda in the same style devised by ex-communists and defectors in the course of passing from fanatical Stalinism to fanatical anti-communism while keeping their contempt for centrist liberalism intact.
Today's Daily Mail has an important story by the Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk, about how authorities allowed his Liberal predecessor, Cyril Smith, to get away with child abuse for decades.
It’s now known that on three separate occasions files were passed by Lancashire Police to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service containing details of Smith’s abuse. Yet on each occasion no prosecution was pursued. It is as though Cyril was untouchable.
On one now notorious occasion, files of evidence on Smith held by Special Branch were removed by MI5 officers from the safe at police headquarters in Preston and taken to London. They were never seen again. This was just one of several cover-ups which I will reveal in detail later in this series.
Some will no doubt argue that things have changed. The cover-up of Cyril’s abuse was a long time ago. The values of the Seventies are a lot different to the standards expected in public life today. People wouldn’t stand for that now. Awareness of child abuse has improved tenfold. No one would tolerate this kind of behaviour among colleagues, surely?
The Telegraph has previously reported that the file on Smith was passed to MI5 in 1974, during the Conservatives' abortive attempt to seek a coalition with the Liberals.
Interestingly, the Sunday Telegraph reported in early 1976 that MI5 had dismissed allegations against Smith as part of a South African smear campaign. The author of the piece, Peter Gladstone-Smith had previously interviewed a individual called Kenneth Wyatt whose allegations were said to have been passed on to the intelligence services.
I have not had a chance to track down the original story at the British Library. [Update: I have now done so and scanned the first page here]. It may be that if features in future extracts from Danczuk's book, but for what its worth, here is a short extract from the account of it given in Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay's biography of Harold Wilson:
In the next issue of the Sunday Telegraph, Gladstone-Smith reported that as well as an alleged report compiled by MI6 there was one by MI5, who had 'produced a dossier.. [which] accused South African business interests of employing secret agents and mounting an operation to discredit the Liberal Party. The dossier was the basis of Mr Wilson's Commons statement last week.'
This 'MI5 dossier' alleged South African involvement in the Hain frame-up, in the circulation of smear stories against Cyril Smith, in the 'revival' of the Scott-Thorpe allegations, and in the procuring of a pornographic film which included a Liberal MP's daughter, as well as providing evidence that an 'attempt is to be made to smear 5 more prominent liberals before the next election'. [Stephen Dorril & Robin Ramsay, Smear! Wilson & Secret State, Fourth Estate Limited, 1991, p.304.]
Ramsay and Dorril suggest that the MI5 dossier may have been a fiction that allowed Gladstone-Smith to recycle the contents of his Wyatt interview:
There is, however, one notable addition to the material, namely reference to the 'false allegations against Cyril Smith the Liberal Whip, [which] were circulated in his home town of Rochdale.' Wyatt did not apparently name Smith. (ibid.)
This raises profound questions, whether or not the MI5 dossier existed as Gladstone-Smith described it. If it did exist, why would MI5 dismiss the Smith allegations when it would appear to have been in possession of copious evidence that they were true?
And if it didn't exist, who was responsible for the insertion of a claim that now appears calculated to muddy the waters around Smith's activities?
Update: Christopher Andrew's official history of MI5 states that the Security Service was sceptical of claims that South Africa's BOSS intelligence agency was carrying out a dirty tricks campaign against the Liberals. It believed that BOSS agent Gordon Winter was acting on his own initiative in trying to publicise Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe's affair with model Norman Scott.
Andrew goes on to state:
The Prime Minister was convinced that he understood BOSS better than the Security Service. The Intelligence Co-ordinator, Sir Leonard 'Joe' Hooper (formerly director of GCHQ), noted after being summoned to a meeting with Wilson on 23 February: 'PM suspects authors [of an MI5 report] do not know much about the subject and fears that friendly relations with S[outh] A[frican] diplomatic and intelligence people in London preclude their being watched properly. (Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5, Allen Lane, 2009, p.636.)
This confirms that MI5 did produce a written report for Wilson on the South African allegations, as Gladstone-Smith claimed. Ramsay and Dorril, of course, could not have known this when they speculated that Gladstone-Smith invented the dossier.
Gladstone-Smith presumably learned about the dossier from a source other than Kenneth Wyatt. Did this second source also provide the detail that Cyril Smith was mentioned in the dossier, and was that detail also authentic? Even if wasn't, it may still have come from the same source. The fact of the dossier, might have made the detail about Smith appear more credible, and would have fit it into a narrative which many were already disposed to believe.
For that very reason, it might seem that Gladstone-Smith's source could have been someone close to Wilson or Jeremy Thorpe, with an interest in defending the Liberals. However, the only new detail in the MI5 dossier story, not mentioned in Gladstone-Smith's previous interview with Kenneth Wyatt, was the detail about Smith, and we have independent evidence in the Mail and Telegraph articles above that MI5 was suppressing the truth about Smith.
It is hard to believe that the MI5 of Michael Hanley would have done that for the sake of Harold Wilson's Commons majority.
Last month, police in Belfast arrested veteran republican Ivor Bell, on the basis of material obtained through a controversial subpoena against the Boston College Oral History Project in the United States. This has intensified an already bitter debate that existed among republicans about the project.
Responding to suggestions that the Police Service of Northern Ireland might wish to speak to him, Gerry Adams stated:
It is clear that the so-called Boston Oral History project is an entirely bogus, shoddy and self-serving effort by those involved. The idea for this project originated with Paul Bew, an advisor to David Trimble and was taken up by Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre who conducted the interviews. Both are vitriolic critics and opponents of the Sinn Féin peace strategy, of me in particular and of Sinn Féin and its leadership.
Ed Moloney, a journalist and author of the book, Voices from the Grave, based on the interviews from the project, responded in a US radio interview:
First of all, Paul Bew’s involvement in this project, which is now being highlighted by Gerry Adams, was marginal. He was a message boy from Boston College to a number of people in Belfast back in 2000- 2001.
If anyone had any ideas for projects or things that Boston College could do commemorate the peace process – to record The Troubles – Paul Bew would pass on their ideas to Boston College and we were one of the ideas that was put forth.
So his role is marginal but is being played up by Gerry Adams because he was also at one stage advisor to David Trimble so he’s trying to make this appear to be a Unionist plot of some sort which it is absolutely not.
Secondly, I was never an interviewer. I coordinated the project. The interviews were conducted on the Republican side by Anthony McIntyre and on the Loyalist side by Wilson MacArthur. So again, another inaccuracy.
Moloney's description of Bew as a 'message boy' is particularly striking here. Even if one takes it at face value, the one indisputable failure of the project was the disagreement between Moloney and the College over how far they could defend the confidentiality of their interviews. That suggests a failure of communication from the outset.
But can one take it at face value? Bew is after all one of the most prominent academics writing on the Irish conflict, and has since become a member of the House of Lords. It is hard to imagine that he would have simply passed on a message about the project, without the College attaching great weight to his assessment.
In fact, Professor Tom Hachey and Dr Bob O'Neill say as much in a preface to Voices From The Grave which Moloney himself published:
Paul Bew, politics professor and senior political adviser to a Northern Ireland First Minister, together with two historians who remain anonymous, assisted in an assessment of the information contained in the recorded interviews. Lord Bew strongly encouraged Boston College to document and archive the stories of paramilitaries who fought on both sides of the sectarian divide, known more popularly as the Troubles, because it was such a natural fit. (Voices From The Grave, Faber and Faber, 2010, p.1.)
Did the issue of what undertakings could legitimately be made to such paramilitaries figure in those discussions? It was the lack of clarity on this question which was the central failing of the project, leading to a situation which may have a chilling effect on such oral history projects in future.
It is tempting to see that opacity as a reflection of the illusory community of interests among the project's supporters, some of whom have ended up in PSNI interrogation rooms, while others sit on the plush red benches of the Lords.
Putting this shift down to demographics might suggest that it is quite transient. Yesterday, the median voter was an Ulster Unionist, today they are Alliance, tomorrow (or in a few decades time) they will be SDLP.
However, there is evidence that something else has been going on. Much of the Unionist animosity towards Alliance is driven by Naomi Long's shock defeat of Peter Robinson in East Belfast in 2010. This looks less like a demographic shift and more like a political shift by voters in a predominantly unionist area, albeit one which might well be reversed in 2015.
Alliance would probably see this kind of fluidity as presaging a breakdown of both unionist and nationalist blocs. Thus far however, the shift towards parity has largely benefitted nationalists.
If there is not yet a nationalist majority, there is the possibility that the Sinn Féin and the SDLP can construct a 'progressive majority' on particular issues against the conservative politics of the DUP and the UUP. While Alliance cannot afford to be co-opted by nationalism, it cannot either be a reliable ally of unionism. Without an automatic majority, unionists may see more values in the Good Friday Agreement guarantees that many once regarded as an imposition on behalf of nationalism.
The biggest danger for nationalists perhaps is over-confidence, and the creeping assumption that a future border referendum will be won by demographics and not politics. For Sinn Féin, in particular, the likeliest worry is a falling turnout fed by perceptions of a cosy condominium with the DUP.
On the fundamental constitional issue, Alliance politicians like Naomi Long might well prove to be more persuasive spokespeople for a pro-Union position than many big-U unionists. The politics of parity means that everybody will have to raise their game.
In the early 1970s, the British Army ran a secret undercover unit. Its existence was deniable and its tactics were so controversial that the unit was disbanded after just 14 months. Now, for the first time in 40 years, some of the unit's former members break their silence and talk candidly to John Ware about how they took the war to the IRA, sometimes even imitating the IRA itself. The soldiers believe they saved many lives. But Panorama's new evidence reveals that some members of the unit operated outside the law, firing on and killing unarmed civilians. The Ministry of Defence says it has referred Panorama's allegations to the police.
The SDLP's Mark Durkan had some tough questions for the MOD last week about collusion between loyalists and the security forces in the 1970s.
Durkan called a Westminster Hall debate to discuss revelations of the involvement of RUC and UDR members in the Glennane Gang - responsible for the deaths of some 120 people - documented in Anne Cadwallader's new book, Lethal Allies (extracts available here).
Spinwatch has published a new report on the Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre by Hilary Aked, Tom Mills, David Miller and myself:
BICOM was established in 2001 in the wake of the Second Intifada and increasing international exasperation with Israel. Looking back a decade later, its primary funder, the billionaire businessman Poju Zabludowicz, neatly articulated its raison d'etre: 'We have learnt over the last 10 years… that the key to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain is convincing people in this country that Israel seeks a lasting peace… As long as this argument remains credible then people will generally forgive mistakes and difficulties even if peace continues to be elusive', he wrote.
The ILC, set up in 2003, claims to be 'a fully independent non-profit organization, unaffiliated with any political party or governmental body.'
However, the organisation's director, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, has privately admitted to taking direction from the Israeli government over which cases to pursue and relying on Israeli intelligence contacts for witnesses and evidence.
The Australian has this response from Shurat Hadin lawyer Andrew Hamilton:
He conceded that, as revealed by leaked US cables, Shurat HaDin had received tip-offs from Mossad, but said this was part of the normal practice of lawyers seeking information and evidence to bolster their cases.
Of course, what Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv went significantly further than this. According to the Embassy's report, she admitted that Shurat Hadin had taken direction from the Israeli Government about what cases to pursue in its early years.
Did corrupt private detectives infiltrate the Metropolitan Police witness protection programme? That was the claim made by Tom Harper of the Independent on 26 June, citing a 2008 report by the Serious Organised Crime Agency.1
The eight-page Soca memo referred to intelligence that PIs were employed by the “criminal fraternity” to “frustrate law enforcement”. The Independent understands that the same corrupt investigators have also worked for the News of the World. The Soca report includes intelligence that crime bosses were hiring PIs to access “internal police databases, including those containing serving officers’ private details” and “deleting intelligence records from law enforcement databases”.
The most shocking practice, however, involves attempts to trace protected witnesses. Soca noted that PIs often had an “abundance of law-enforcement expertise either through corrupt contacts or from a previous career in law enforcement”, and they were “attempting to discover location of witnesses under police protection to intimidate them”.
A redacted version of the full SOCA report is now available on the website of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which called in the agency's leadership last week.2
Remarkably, as Tom Harper reports in a follow-up story, SOCA Director-General Trevor Pearce contradicted the agency's report when he was asked about witness intimidation, stating "Other than seeing the media reporting, I have never heard anything formally; as a law enforcement officer who has had significant engagement with the undercover world, I have not heard of that before."3
The issue of witness intimidation is particularly troubling given that at least one corrupt detective linked to the News of the World was a former member of the Force Research Unit, the covert army unit implicated in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
My piece for Spinwatch earlier this week on the Bilderberg meeting in Watford:
A remarkable collection of politicians, diplomats, industrialists, bankers, royalty and other notables assemble in Watford today for the 61st Bilderberg meeting, a discreet high-level transatlantic policy forum that has met almost annually since 1954.
In recent years Bilderberg has taken to publishing its guest list and a brief agenda, in a bid to dispel the aura of conspiracy that has traditionally surrounded the event. (The data has been uploaded to the Bilderberg 2013 Watford page at Spinwatch's Powerbase wiki, which hopefully provides a more illuminating format than the Bilderberg site).
To anyone old enough to remember the 1990s, the latest outbreak of infighting has an air of almost comfortable familiarity, neatly evoked by Jonathan Freedland when he tweeted 'Tory row on EU, Ken Clarke on radio - and is there honey still for tea?'.
Tory splits on Europe have been a central theme of British politics for a generation, providing moments of high drama and low farce, but John Major's troubles two decades ago may not be the closest analogue to David Cameron's problems now.
For those of us who closely followed another un-ending political saga of recent decades, the Irish peace process, the fate of David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) may be a more instructive parallel.
At first glance, of course, nothing could be more sui generis than Northern Ireland politics, and the fate of a political party whose modern history took place in the midst of the most violent political conflict in post-war Western Europe.
Yet the commonalities are also clear. The two parties have a shared heritage, their common unionism being a key part of the political formula which enabled parties rooted in the county families of the landed gentry to make the transition to the age of democratic mass politics, through a social imperialism which earned the support of a cross-class constituency in Joseph Chamberlain's Birmingham as much as in James Craig's Belfast.
By the 1960s, both parties had to adjust to an era in which such British exceptionalism no longer seemed tenable. The first efforts at reform were led by traditional leaderships. The aristocratic Tory, Harold MacMillan presided over decolonisation and the first attempt to join the European Economic Community. In Northern Ireland, the aristocratic unionist Terence O'Neill sought to build modest links with Dublin, only to found himself challenged on the right by ambitious ministers in his own party, and by the street politics of Ian Paisley.
After O'Neill's downfall amid the turbulence of 1969, some of his moderate supporters joined the Alliance Party, but the greater threat to the Ulster Unionists was Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), founded in 1971.
And this is perhaps the most important point of the parallel. For decades, the decisive struggles on the British right, between wets and dries, europhiles and euro-sceptics, modernisers and traditionalists, took place under the umbrella of the Conservative party. Only now are the Tories facing an insurgent rival on their right flank, the challenge that Ulster Unionists have lived with for a generation.
In the 1980s, under James Molyneaux the Ulster Unionist Party was able to maintain a veneer of stability only because of complete political stasis.
As soon as the Ulster Unionists faced unavoidable choices, the divisions returned.
Like David Cameron, David Trimble led his party into a power-sharing agreement which many in his party regarded as a betrayal. Althought the circumstances were very different, the parallels are irresistable.
Like Tories today, unionists cast about for more palatable alternatives with a wilful disregard for political realities. Then it was voluntary coalition, today it is minority government. Like Cameron, Trimble negotiated those realities with enough pragmatism to annoy hardliners, but without enough conviction to give heart to moderates.
Some Ulster Unionists looked on the DUP more as fellow travellers then as deadly rivals. Jeffrey Donaldson's calls for unionist unity are echoed almost word for word a decade later by Nadine Dorries' calls for right-wing unity. Dorries seems no more cowed by losing the whip than Donaldson did.
Both the older parties are exposed to the Trojan horse of unity by their nineteenth century collegiality. Trimble had to rely on Sir Josias Cunningham to sustain majority support in the Ulster Unionist Council, in which some members were closer to the DUP. David Cameron has to look over his shoulder at Graham Brady's 1922 Committee, where some of the same MPs who want the right to a UKIP endorsement can put down signatures seeking a leadership challenge.
The DUP exploited such openness ruthlessly, and UKIP looks capable of doing the same.
Jeffrey Donaldson, Trimble's chief Ulster Unionist critic is now a DUP MP. Few would be surprised to see Dorries or another Tory right-winger make a similar transition to UKIP. But the UUP suffered almost as much from the defections of moderates to the centrist Alliance Party. The defection of a coalition enthusiast, such as say Nick Boles, to the Lib Dems, might be the most dangerous warning sign of all for the Tories.
The fate of the UUP shows the dangers that face a hegemonic party that finds itself challenged on two fronts. The point of disintegration comes when every tack towards one wing causes more problems on the other than it solves. A broad church can soon become a collection of warring sects held together only by nostalgia and inertia. Recent comments from Geoffrey Howe and Matthew Parris are ominous for Cameron in this respect.
One way to avoid such gyrations is to do as little as possible, a natural strategy for the relaxed rentier layer of the Tory leadership, but one which the Conservative right has repeatedly foiled.
A decade ago, it was Blair and Clinton who sought to 'save Dave', now it is Merkel and Obama. Such hand-holding once allowed UUP hardliners to argue that their disloyalty was strengthening their leader's negotiating position, just as some Conservative MPs now do. It is an argument that has been shown to be hollow.
For a decade, the crisis in the UUP was the bread and butter of Northern Ireland political journalists. That period ended, not because the crisis was resolved, but because the Ulster Unionists had become dispensible.
A stable settlement only occured after other parties had waited out and worked around the Ulster Unionists. Lord Howe's comments in particular suggest a similar prospect could confront the Conservatives.
Such a conclusion might seen as under-estimating the latent strength of one of the world's most successful right-wing parties, but the willingness of much of the Conservative right to act as a Trojan horse for UKIP indicates that the rot has set in deep.
This is not necessarily a rosy scenario for the left. If the UUP provides a precedent for Conservative failure, the corollary is that the DUP provides one for UKIP success. And UKIP's eclipse of the BNP may not be a reason for long-term optimism. The DUP has long won urban loyalist votes in Belfast, but retains a disconnect from the urban working class that has enabled a variety of right-wing forces to incubate the recent flag protests.
One worrying lesson from Northern Ireland, then, is that division on the right may yet mean trouble for everyone else.
There's no doubt that the Queen's meeting with Martin McGuinness this week was gesture politics, and even if the historic handshake was a profoundly meaningful gesture, a certain weary cynicism is understandable after two decades of the peace process.
Some reactions to the visit, however, reflect a deeper malaise, a narrative that sees the peace process as less about democratic reconciliation and more about shadowy manipulation. This emerging orthodoxy has taken root among a diverse coalition of conservatives, unionists and dissident republicans.
Lorna Fitzsimons believes that Israel's lurch to the right is just one facet of a global democratic crisis, but I would argue that the Israeli rejectionism that she defended during her time as head of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) was a key factor in creating an era of militarism that helped to bring that crisis about. Moreover, the former Labour MP noted last month that, "A notion is spreading in the West that Israel is fast becoming an illiberal ethno-democracy - fear-driven, bigoted, and small minded." She was introducing a debate on Israeli democracy in what turned out be one of her final acts with the lobby group and, she insisted, "that notion is just not true".
The claim drew a powerful response from activist Ben White, which outlined the thoroughly illiberal ethnocentric history of Israeli repression of the Palestinians since 1948 in the New Statesman. That in turn drew a rejoinder from BICOM's Dr Toby Greene and Professor Alan Johnson, who argued that a majority of people in Israel endorsed "full equality of rights for Arab citizens of the state" in a recent survey by the Israeli Democracy Institute. A similar majority of Israelis support the long-overdue establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, which will fulfil the national rights of Palestinian Arabs.
Israeli public support for a two-state solution is taken by Greene and Johnson as evidence of Israel's democratic credentials. Yet even if one accepts the premise, a further step in the argument is necessary, in the shape of evidence that the Israeli state is prepared to implement that popular will. Just why, for example, is a Palestinian state so long overdue?
Last week, Britain's defence secretary resigned following the revelation that he was using a friend with close links to right-wing lobbyists as an unofficial foreign envoy. While the government attempts to bury the story, Opposition leader Ed Miliband has a duty to pursue the truth.
"I have some advice for him: if he is going to jump on a bandwagon, make sure it is still moving." That was David Cameron's response to Ed Milliband's questions about the Adam Werritty Affair last week. As far as the Prime Minister was concerned, the story was done and dusted with the resignation of Liam Fox and the publication of a report based on "a full and proper inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary".
In the wake of the Utoeya massacre in Norway, it is no longer possible to ignore the dangers of the growth in far right, Islamophobic counterjihad ideology. So a new report published by the Center for American Progress is particularly timely.
A small group of foundations and wealthy donors are the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America, providing critical funding to a clutch of right-wing think tanks that peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam—in the form of books, reports, websites, blogs, and carefully crafted talking points that anti-Islam grassroots organizations and some right-wing religious groups use as propaganda for their constituency.
The report comes as recriminations over the Norway massacre may now be exposing some of the Islamophobia network's links in Europe. In particular, a bitter dispute between the leadership of the English Defence League (EDL) and counterjihad activist Paul Ray is shedding new light on the EDL's origins.
I learned of the London riots last week when I got back from a night out in Belfast only to be greeted by scenes of riot police and burning buses in Tottenham on the TV news. It felt like an uncanny vantage point from which to be watching part of my hometown in flames.
The sense of cognitive dissonance only grew the following evening on my return to a London that was witnessing calls for plastic bullets, troops on the streets and other measures whose disastrous consequences I had spent the previous week learning about.
This August marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland, perhaps the most draconian attempt to suppress civil unrest by a British government in modern times.The Féile an Phobail festival in West Belfast last week witnessed testimony from internees and the families of civilians killed during the period. The picture that emerged was one of a disastrous policy that exacerbated the Troubles for decades.
In a new departure, the Féile also heard from two ex-soldiers visiting West Belfast for the first time since the early 1970s as part of a delegation organised by the Tim Parry - Johnathan Ball Peace Centre in Warrington.
Was there state collusion in the killing of Rosemary Nelson, the solicitor who was blown up by loyalists at her home in Lurgan in 1999?
Two very different answers to that question were put forward in the Commons this week, following the report of the inquiry into her death.
For Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, the report was fundamentally reassuring:
it is clear that just as Lord Saville found no evidence of a conspiracy by the British state, and just as Lord MacLean found no evidence of state collusion in the murder of Billy Wright, so this panel finds no evidence of any act by the state which directly facilitated Rosemary Nelson’s murder.
In contrast, Paterson's shadow (and predecessor) Sean Woodward, regarded the report as damning:
The question that the Secretary of State must address is whether those acts of omission, negligence, failure and prejudice and a mechanistic Northern Ireland Office mean that we are in a very different position from the conclusion of the Wright inquiry, contrary to his statement today. I urge him to examine Justice Cory’s original proposals for the inquiries. Collusion is not just a matter of commission; it may also be an issue of omission. This does not prove collusion, but today the Secretary of State has been too hasty in his dismissal.
Canadian judge Peter Cory was appointed in 2002 to look at six cases in which collusion by either British or Irish state forces was suspected. His report was published in 2004, only after a delay which led Cory to notify some of the families involved directly that he had recommended inquiries.