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THE killing of Seamus Ludlow might have been a lost footnote in the history of Ireland’s tangled relationship with the British empire if it wasn’t for the dogged campaigning of his family and friends.
The 47-year-old forester lived with his mother, his sister and her family near Dundalk, close to the border which separates the British-administered Northern Ireland statelet from the larger part of Ireland.
His family state plainly that he was abducted and murdered by armed loyalists and British soldiers outside the town of Dundalk on the night of May 1 1976.
He was last seen thumbing a lift home from the pub, the Lisdoo Arms, at around midnight, just minutes before he vanished.
Twenty-two years later four suspects were arrested and questioned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It is believed that two of the men confessed to their involvement in murder.
The family insist that, although the Royal Ulster Constabulary — as the armed police force in Northern Ireland was then known — recommended their prosecution, a decision was taken in 1999 not to bring charges.
In seeking a judicial review of this decision, Ludlow’s nephew, Thomas Fox, wants justice for his murdered uncle.
The fact that the prosecution files seem to have vanished in the intervening period illustrates the universally acknowledged truth that the state, when faced with a challenge to its integrity, invariably develops a form of bureaucratic amnesia in which critical evidence is found wanting.
One distinctive feature of this affair is that the Irish state seems to have colluded with the British authorities in the cover-up.
The RUC allegedly told the Garda in the Irish Republic about the suspects but no action was taken.
There are many more aspects to this case which demonstrate the tendency of all state machines to draw on their repertoire of dirty tricks and media manipulation when challenged.
Allegations that the innocent Ludlow was killed by the IRA because he was an informer are countered by claims as early as 1977 that both the Gardai and the RUC knew that the killers were loyalists.
In the case of Ireland it is only when we ask the question: who benefits? that we can begin the task of unravelling the complex ways in which the British state in Ireland asserted its monopoly of violence even, especially, when this monopoly was challenged.
The catalogue of cases in which agencies of the British state are revealed to be complicit in bombings, assassinations and cover-ups grows longer.
In the normal course of events all organisations that challenge the state monopoly are targeted for penetration and subversion so when allegations emerge that, say, this IRA punishment squad was, in fact led by a British agent, or that loyalist murder gang collaborated with serving soldiers in a British military unit, we should not be surprised.
But we should be outraged at what is done in our name and we should be resolute in our determination to make our state accountable to the first interests of the British people — interests which do not include propping up a dysfunctional political arrangement on the island of Ireland that neither serves us nor the Irish people as a whole.
Although both contending tendencies in our present-day ruling-class division over EU membership cynically use the issue of the British border in Ireland for their own immediate purposes — and the Irish government is among the most servile to the masters of the EU — neither the people in the Republic or those in the North have much real interest in maintaining the border. And neither do we in Britain.
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