CONTEMPT. That is only word to describe what the Ballymurphy families have been handed by the state since 1971. The same word applies to all families bereaved as a result of state actions or where families are vocal about the collusion in the killings of their loved ones by state proxies.
Contempt when agents of the state took the lives of men women and children with dedicated and systematic impunity. From the killings of children and civilians by the B-Specials and RUC in 1969 to the murder of seven-month pregnant Kathleen O’Hagan in July 1994.
Contempt when remains of the dead were treated disgustingly. Contempt when the doors of families were kicked in by the British army and RUC while their loved ones were still warm on the streets where they lay murdered. Contempt when families were told in gloating terms that their sons, husbands, brothers, sisters, daughters and wives were dead as the same soldiers and so-called police officers ripped apart their homes. Contempt when ‘crime scenes’ were disregarded as irrelevant. Contempt when the funerals of the dead were set as sites of contest. Contempt when grieving relatives were criminalised and threatened. Contempt when courts were constructed as vehicles for the perpetration of impunity.
And the contempt continues. As families go to courts and lies are told by the representatives of the Ministry of Defence and the PSNI following the deliberate destruction of evidence and murder exhibits. As families are granted inquests under a new criminal justice system and a British government plays games with our devolved institutions in an attempt to hide their culpability and maintain their ridiculous charade of playing the neutral in our conflict.
British state contempt is furthered as Secretaries of State pretend they care about the grief of those bereaved only to state that the pursuit of truth is “pernicious”.
Monday’s meeting with the new face of British contempt for Irish victims, however, was utterly stomach churning. James Brokenshire’s approach was to say that these families are due less. That their courageous and heartbreaking search for truth and justice is somehow unreasonable. He echoed exactly what happened to the Finucane family in Downing Street when a British government could treat the family of our best and beloved human rights defender with as much contempt as they treated the inter-governmental agreement which had promised them a full public inquiry.
And this particular contempt is very much reserved for victims of the state.
And why do they do this? Why do educated and professional people conduct themselves in such brazen fashion? Why do they allow their state to unwrite their commitments and obligations under international law? Maybe because they are so arrogant that this is the only form of behaviour they institutionally know. But more likely it is because they know that the realisation of the rights of the violated has implications.
Why would admission that murder was carried out in the streets of Ballymurphy over 40 years ago be so difficult? Because on the streets of Kabul, Baghdad and anywhere else, the exact same contempt was and will be meted out to another set of citizens unfortunate enough to be in their way. And the past is very much present in tactics, policy and deployment.
The British state stands today beneath contempt.