‘Academic vandalism’ – unique archive of the Troubles under threat

Scholars voice outrage at Ulster University’s plans to confine ‘impartial’ records of conflict to history

General view of Milltown cemetery in West Belfast



It is one of the most important sources of information about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a historical memory bank of data, stories and images used by scholars around the world.

The Conflict Archive on the Internet (Cain) website, based in Derry, has taken two decades to build up an unrivalled encyclopaedic digital record of the conflict. It includes oral histories, election results, political memorabilia, public records, bibliographies and the names and details of more than 3,600 Troubles-related killings in Northern Ireland, Ireland, the UK and continental Europe. The information is free to access and responsive to requests and queries ranging from school students, professors and former paramilitaries.

But perhaps not for much longer. Ulster University, which hosts the archive’s three-strong team at its Magee campus, is threatening to pull the plug. The university says the cost, estimated at £170,000 a year, is unsustainable.

Academics are appalled. Some say that to cripple the archive would be an act of intellectual vandalism when there is urgent need to understand Northern Ireland’s conflicts, past and present.

“It’s a global resource,” said Goretti Horgan, a lecturer in social policy at Ulster University and policy director of Access Research Knowledge, a social policy information hub shared by Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast, which is affiliated with the archive. “The contribution it makes to civil society in Northern Ireland cannot be underestimated. It’s neutral – a big word to use here. Every aspect of the Troubles is contested. Cain provides reliable information. Anybody, Catholic or Protestant, can access it and know they’re not getting a one-sided view.”

Katharine Clarke, the North of Ireland’s representative of the University and College Union. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian


The Troubles began in 1969 and largely ended in 1998 with the Good Friday agreement. But continuing violence, sectarian sentiment, political tensions and new inquiries into old atrocities make for a fraught, complex and unfinished legacy. On 19 April the New IRA, a dissident republican splinter group, shot dead Lyra McKee, 29, a journalist, during rioting in Derry, just half a mile from the Magee campus.

In the absence of white knight donors riding to the rescue, or the university having a change of heart, supporters fear the archive in its current form will itself become history. Academics and journalists have mounted a campaign to save it as a live research project. They say that to destroy it would be academic vandalism that would zombify a living, breathing resource, which fields queries and corrects, revises and updates information. The consultation period on the archive’s future is due to end on 2 May, with a decision expected soon after.

Katharine Clarke, the Northern Ireland representative of the University and College Union, which represents the archivists, accused the university of dissembling in response to the international furore over the archive’s fate. A university spokesman said it had “invested significantly in covering the costs of Cain”. He added: “But, against the backdrop of the current funding challenges for higher education in Northern Ireland and with grants insufficient to secure viability, the archive remains unsustainable in its current form. One potential outcome is that Cain will remain as a static digital archive, fully accessible through the university’s library.”

That would preserve the material online but not as an impartial, living, maintained database. Martin Melaugh, the director of Cain, and his colleagues Brendan Lynn and Mike McCool could face redundancy. “There’s no shortage of work to do,” said Melaugh. “Political progress has stalled and Brexit has increased the debate around the unification of Ireland and a potential border poll.”

Forgetfulness about an earlier cycle of violence between 1920 and 1922, when 501 people died in Belfast, paved Northern Ireland’s tragic slide into renewed conflict in 1969, he said, and greater knowledge of the Troubles – and the border – could help avert a third cycle.

External funding largely dried up in 2016, leaving Ulster University to pick up most of the tab while the archive sought new backers. They didn’t materialise, so the university is now proposing to fold the service into its library. “Our issue is that we’re trying to manage the website and assist people, so we don’t fit exactly into the models of academic funding. That’s the dilemma,” Melaugh said.

Meanwhile, Clarke points out that Ulster University will host a conference titled Beyond Sectarianism on 14 May, drawing a spotlight at an awkward time, said Clarke. “If I were being cynical I’d say they’re giving conflicting messages to avoid embarrassment.” She said the university has every reason to be embarrassed. “This is an example of knowing the cost of something but not the value.”

With many thanks to: The Guardian and Rory Carroll for the original story



251355_115533635201793_100002354707362_147602_4340355_a Continue reading “JUST 16% OF NEW PRISON OFFICERS ARE CATHOLIC”


It’s clear that the HET is dead. That means there’s nothing to provide any resolution for families wondering how or why relatives were killed.

IT IS worth reading Patricia Lundy’s first article on the Historical Enquires Team (HET) published in 2009 because it raised a lot of questions above and beyond the fiasco that she revealed the HET to be. She produced her findings under the auspices of the excellent Transitional Justice Institute at University of Ulster so the article examined academically a variety of approaches to dealing with the past in societies that have emerged from conflict.


Her work on the HET took the form of a case study. It now appears the HET is a case study in how not to do it. Dr Lundy was in on the ground floor, so to speak. Hugh Order set up the HET in 2005 and she began her work in August 2005, completing her study in December 2007. Orde gave her unprecedented access to the workings of the HET so she saw how the organisation developed almost from the beginning. Orde left the PSNI in 2009 and was succeeded by Matt Baggott. Did Baggott ever read Lundy’s article and if he did, why did he do nothing about it? Stephen Otter of HMIC said in his report : “What is indefensible is that she did make these findings in 2009, so for four years nothing was being done to address those findings and I do find that is very difficult to believe.” That question needs to be addressed to Baggott. The HET reported to the chief constable. The PSNI controlled its finance and its purse strings. What was Baggott doing? If the HET is a unit of the PSNI then surely there should have been some supervision? Yet Otter makes it clear there wasn’t. Otter said : “I do think [Lundy] deserves an apology from the chief constable on behalf of the PSNI.” What she got from Baggot was, to say the least, less than fulsome. He inserted that weasel word ‘if’, regularly employed nowadays to wriggle out of an outright apology. Baggott offered her an apology “if she felt her concerns were not taken seriously enough”. In fact, the HET and Baggott’s PSNI both rejected her conclusions as recently as the beginning of this year.

Baggott tried to claim to the BBC that the preferential treatment of military killings was ‘on a case-by-case basis’. Otter said it was a ‘policy’ and an illegal one at that. The preferential treatment of military killings exposed as illegal completely vindicates Dr Lundy’s findings but has managed to obscure one of the most damning conclusions in her origional article in 2009, namely that in the HET “all aspects of intelligence are managed  by former RUC and Special Branch officers”. They made up the majority of the HET’s intellidence unit. Lundy went on to say “the strategic positioning of former RUC officers and particularly those with a Special Branch background not only undermines actual but perceived independence”. She concluded that for various reasons “the old guard’ kept a grip of the essential areas of HET businness”. That was not any prejudice on Lundy’s part. After a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case – Brecknell v UK – the ECHR required the HET to provide investigative teams who have no previous history with the RUC. Lundy pointed out that they didn’t. Did Baggott, who spent most of this year presnting his own interpretation of Article2 of the Human Rights Act as a reason for PSNI inaction, not know the HET’s practice was not complying with ECHR requirements? Why not? Why did the PSNI ignore her report? Where was Baggott? On the wider front it’s clear the HET is dead. That means there’s nothing tonprovide any resolution for families wondering how or why relatives were killed. The HET was never intended or expected to be the answer but it was all there was. Its ignomijious collapse exposes the failures of the British and Irish governments to produce something along the lines of Eames-Bradley which the previous Labour government ran away from in 2009 using the pathetic pretex of the suggestion of £12,000 per person as a reason for binning the whole report. The two governments have questions to answer but so has Matt Baggott. Sinn Fein are wrong to accept Dave Cox as a scapegoat.

With many thanks to : Brian Feeney, The Irish News.



A CRITICAL report into the way the Historical Enquires Team investigated Army killings during the Troubles is to be discussed by the Policing Board.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) on Wednesday ddescribed the HET’s approach as “illegal and untenable”.

NI Chief Constable Matt Baggott ordered the review following criticism of the HET in a University of Ulster report.

The HMIC said the HET investigated some cases with “less vigour than others”.


HARK: Northern Ireland Human Rights Initiative


Carol Anne Kelly was 12 years old when she died after being shot with a plastic bullet while walking along Cherry Park, Twinbrook, Belfast.


Stephen McConomy was 11 years old when he was killed by a plastic bullet fired by the British Army along Fahan Street, Bogside, Derry.


Julie Livingston, 14 years old, was killed by a plastic bullet fired by the British Army while walking along Stewartstown Road, Suffolk, Belfast.


Brian Stewart was 13 years old when he was killed by a plastic bullet near his home on Norglen Road, Turf Lodge, Belfast.


Seamus Duffy was only 15 years old when the Royal Ulster Constabulary killed him with a plastic bullet while walking along Dawson Street, New Lodge, Belfast.


Stephen Geddis died at 10 years old after being shot by a plastic bullet fired by the British Army near his home in Divis Flats, Belfast.


Francis Rowntree died at only 11 years old after being shot by a plastic bullet fired by the British Army near his home in Belfast.


“Is there any one amongst you

Dare to blame it on the kids?

Not a soldier boy was bleeding

When they nailed the coffin lids!”

-John Lennon


Declassified files from Northern Ireland Troubles placed online

Click on ‘More Pictures’ to view our Troublesgallery

Declassified secret

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/declassified-files-from-northern-ireland-troubles-placed-online-14971437.html#ixzz1PtxVEA8z

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Declassified secret files on the early years of the Troubles have gone online for the first time.

People will now be able to access the recently published records from home following an initiative launched at the Magee campus by the University of Ulster and the Public Record Office (PRO) of Northern Ireland this week.

Staff from the university have worked with the PRO to make the records freely available on the University of Ulster’s Conflict Archive on the INternet (CAIN) website: cain.ulster.ac.uk/proni.

The records cover a broad range of issues including security, politics and education.

They comprise a selection of material for the period 1968-79 which is already in the public domain, having been published under the 30-year rule — the timeframe within which official documents are kept hidden from public gaze. Those behind the initiative said that the records provide a valuable online digital resource for researchers looking for information on the Troubles and politics of Northern Ireland during this period.

The new archive was officially launched by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, a former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, at an event in the Great Hall, Magee. The records include part of the period when he was a senior Government official.

Dr Brendan Lynn, deputy director of CAIN, which is based at Magee, said: “We have been delighted to cooperate with PRONI in order to add to and supplement the existing resources on CAIN.”

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/declassified-files-from-northern-ireland-troubles-placed-online-14971437.html#ixzz1PtyBGnGn



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