THERE has been a mixed local reaction to the publication of the inquiry into the murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson, the legal adviser to the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC).
The inquiry, published on Monday, concluded that there was no direct state collusion in the car bomb murder in March 1999 of the Lurgan solicitor, but cites “failures” by the RUC to warn Mrs Nelson that she was in danger and to protect her.
It details how RUC members “had legitimised her as a target” by publicly abusing her and assaulting her in Portadown two years before her death, adding that within Special Branch and at RUC headquarters Mrs Nelson was regarded as a supporter of the IRA.
Statements from the GRRC and from former Upper Bann MLA Brid Rodgers, who was closely involved in the coalition’s anti-Drumcree protests, and from John O’Dowd MLA all condemn the non-collusion statement, claiming that the murder constitutes “collusion by whatever name”.
But the unionist side, in the form of David Simpson MP (DUP) and Samuel Gardiner MLA (UUP), welcomes the findings of no direct collusion and asks why “a few high profile cases” are granted these expensive inquiries “while other victims are left isolated and ignored”.
Mrs Nelson’s family claimed Secretary of State Owen Paterson had “seen fit to gloss over the findings”. Her brother Eunan Magee said, “Rosemary’s life was threatened and the response from the authorities was wholly inadequate and inefficient”.
Mrs Nelson died in hospital in March 1999 after a bomb was placed under her BMW near her Lurgan home. She represented high profile clients like Lurgan republican Colin Duffy and the GRRC, often sitting in on their press conferences and arguing their anti-Orange march case at the various courts and appeals. The Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility for the killing.
A statement from the GRRC - under the name of driving force Breandan Mac Cionnaith - rejects the claims of no collusion by the government agencies and by the RUC. Quoting Judge Peter Cory, the GRRC says that any “wrongful acts” by agencies in supplying information of encouraging others to commit wrongful acts add up to collusion “and this shows that there was indeed collusion in Rosemary’s murder”.
It highlights “the hostile attitude” (towards Mrs Nelson) of the RUC and NIO and adds that the report’s assertion that rogue members of the RUC, the British Army may have assisted those directly involved “is a totally discredited defence, rolled out by the British Government in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s”.
Brid Rodgers said that Mrs Nelson was “first and foremost a mother, a wife, daughter and extended family member who is greatly mourned and missed”. She added, “Rosemary was a caring human rights lawyer and took on cases that others would avoid - she really cared”.
Mrs Rodgers added that the security forces and the NIO knew that her life was at risk, “but they didn’t take it seriously, Rosemary was an irritant to them, they didn’t protect her and that is tantamount to collusion”.
However UUP’s Sam Gardiner homed in on the fact that the RUC was vindicated over the collusion claims. He said, “The key finding of the Nelson Inquiry, that there was no collusion by the police or any other government agency in the murder of Rosemary Nelson, is important.”
Upper Bann MP David Simpson said, “We cannot tolerate a few high-profile cases receiving lavish amounts of government largesse and attention, while victims of other incidents are left isolated or ignored.”
Mr O’Dowd, the new Minister of Education, said, “Special Branch failed to co-operate in the investigation, members of the RUC assaulted and threatened Rosemary Nelson and nobody has ever been held to account for the murder.
“Nationalists do not buy into the ‘bad apple’ argument and no amount of disgraceful spin by Owen Paterson will alter the reality. The report clearly point to collusion.”