05 August 2005

Divis’s unblinking eye


Out of the West - Robin Livingstone

I reckon the Brits should donate those cameras they’re taking off the spy posts in South Armagh and on Divis Tower to the Armagh Observatory. I’m told their range is limited only by the curvature of the earth and that just before the planet slopes off into the far distance, they can make out expiry dates on car tax discs and numbers on front doors. Apparently the listening and tracking technology is even better.

I guess we’ll never know what successes such serious kit allowed the Brits to score in their fight against the IRA. In poker, if a player folds then the winner doesn’t have to show his hand because it would suit the loser to know the winner’s strategy; similarly, if the IRA had to call off an operation because the whole thing went pear-shaped, the Brits never said a word about it because it wasn’t in their interests to let the IRA know what had happened. But I think it’s fair to say they won their fair share of victories, most of which never ended up with a shot fired, never mind a body count. How could it be other? With the degree of control afforded by an eyrie such as Divis, bristling with space-age boys’ toys, the city of Belfast was like a battle game laid out on a table with British officers in battle fatigues standing over it, pushing the pieces around with their swagger sticks.

They scored successes against the IRA, and yet, incredibly, we’re asked to expect that countless acts of loyalist depredation wrought in the shadow of the tower went unseen and unheard. Of course they didn’t and the fact of the matter is that the British army has a mountain of surveillance information stored away in some dark place never to be seen by those families to whom it would bring understanding or closure. For the residents of Divis Tower, and for me, it’s enough that the ghosts in the tower are leaving the place as they came in: unknown and unwanted.

Meanwhile, we’re told 50,000 people were members of the UDR and the RIR at one stage or another, which is an awful lot of people – seven per cent of the unionist population, somebody tells me. That’s a lot of Prods with guns and with knowledge of guns. Decommission that, as the man said.

After the announcement that the home battalions of the RIR are for the high jump, I never heard so much self-pitying whingeing in my life. It would be nice to think that they could work up one tenth of the passion over the imposition of water charges, the cuts to education, and special needs education in particular, the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of the community sector, or any of the other quality of life/employment issues. Some chance.

Even as some unionists are trying to formulate some kind of ‘Mouse That Roared’ response to the axing of the RIR, elsewhere others are trying to wangle as much money as possible out of the British government. The Ministry of Defence says the soldiers who are set to get the beetle are already well catered for, which is self-evidently the case, but never mind the anger, never mind the outrage, never mind the sorrow and never mind the betrayal, any chance you might get your hand in your pocket, Tony?

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