The otherwordly quality of the PSNI's new "investigation" into Winston "Winkie" Rea is captured neatly this week in a sentence from this RTE story: "An international request for the tapes said police have information that Rea was a member of the Red Hand Commando whose interviews would assist investigations into those crimes."
Good Lord! The police have information that Winston "Winkie" Rea was a member of the Red Hand Commando!
Keep this to yourself, but I also have information that Winston Rea was a member of the Red Hand Commando -- it's on Wikipedia, which goes so far as to say he was its leader. Someone rush this new information to the PSNI right away, so they can investigate it.
Similar information on the origins and leadership of this obscure organization can be found in no more than many dozens of books and articles published in the last twenty years.
When books and news stories specifically describe Winston Rea, they reveal a warrior who turned firmly against political violence -- a peacemaker in a serious and lasting way, and the son-in-law of another warrior who came to renounce war. "Winkie is an example of those who fought the war and those who started and continued to build the peace," a unionist political leader told the Belfast Telegraph this week.
Pursuing Rea as a criminal, the PSNI appears to have used his presence in peace talks against him. One of the accusations laid out against Rea in recent court proceedings is that he "met with former British Prime Minister John Major in 1996" -- in between the declaration of a loyalist ceasefire and the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement -- proving that he was a member of a paramilitary organization because he had the standing to negotiate on behalf on one. He met with government officials to end a war, your honor, so we know he's a thug.
Rea was also a regular presence in the Castle Buildings in April of 1998, and this article from 2000 described him as "a member of the PUP's Good Friday Agreement negotiating team." So maybe that can be held against him too, and eventually charged as another crime.
Having made peace, Rea has worked to keep it. "There have been significant attempts by former paramilitaries, including Winston Rea and Jackie McDonald, to deglamorize conflicts to young people as a means of reducing their vulnerability to involvement," reads one account.
This is the person the PSNI is now supposedly pursuing as a criminal, decades later. It may be a course permitted under the law -- but it's monstrously stupid policy, and a political course that spits in the face of an entire generation of serious people who found a way to stop killing each other. It really is a picture from Northern Ireland you thought you'd never see.