Irish terrorist murders ‘should be left unsolved’; Historic banquet at Windsor, but in Belfast there’s still a bitter taste

Irish terrorist murders ‘should be left unsolved’
Sean O’Neill Crime and Security Editor
The Times
April 7 2014

A de facto amnesty should be offered to terrorists who killed, bombed and maimed during Northern Ireland’s 30 years of violence, a former Northern Ireland Secretary said yesterday.

Peter Hain’s radical proposal, which would end any prospect of prosecutions in 3,000 unsolved murders from the Troubles, comes on the eve of the first Irish state visit to Britain.

President Higgins arrives in London today and will be welcomed by the Queen tomorrow. The Sinn Féin politician and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness — a former IRA commander — will attend the State Banquet at Windsor Castle.

The visit comes amid a spate of “cold-case” inquiries connected to the Troubles, and controversy over “comfort letters” given to on-the-run IRA members to protect them from prosecution.

Mr Hain, Labour’s Northern Ireland Secretary from 2005-07, said he understood that his proposal would make victims and survivors of the Troubles “desperately angry” but argued that it was vital if Northern Ireland were to stop being “stalked” by its past.

“I think there should be an end to all conflict-related prosecutions,” he said. “That should apply to cases pre-dating the Good Friday agreement in 1998. This is not desirable in a normal situation. You would never dream of doing this in England, Scotland and Wales — but the Troubles were never normal.

“You can keep going back all the time and you can keep looking over your shoulder or turning around all the time, but what that does is take you away from addressing the issues of now and the issues of the future.”

Mr Hain said that political leaders in Northern Ireland urgently needed to face the legacy of the conflict, amid signs that dissident republicans are taking inspiration from the Taleban to use homemade rockets against the police.

He added: “This is not going to go away. It’s going to continue stalking the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the entire body politic there. The past just stalks them and they’re either going to confront it and deal with it together or they’re going to continue to be stalked by it.”

After the furore over letters to rule out prosecution for IRA fugitives, Mr Hain called last month for a halt to the criminal investigation into the Bloody Sunday shootings. His latest intervention goes farther, advocating an across-the-board end to investigation and prosecution of unsolved crimes by loyalist and republican paramilitaries and members of the security forces.

The former minister said that there had to be an even-handed process — a judicial tribunal or a truth-and-reconciliation commission — by which cases could be resolved without prosecutions.

He said: “A soldier potentially liable for prosecution who’s being investigated for Bloody Sunday has got to be treated in the same way by whatever process emerges as a former loyalist or republican responsible for a terrorist atrocity.”

Cases thrust back on to the agenda include a judicial examination of the letters given to IRA “on-the-runs” and criminal inquiries into three incidents from the Seventies: the IRA murder of Jean McConville; the killing by the British Army of 14 marchers on Bloody Sunday and the loyalist bombing of McGurk’s Bar, in which 15 people died.

Ivor Bell, 77, a former colleague of Mr McGuinness in the IRA leadership, will appear in court in Belfast on Friday charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Mrs McConville in 1972. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin President and one of the architects of the peace process, has had to deny allegations that he ordered Mrs McConville’s murder and has offered to speak to police about the case.

Mr Hain’s call echoes a similar proposal last year by John Larkin, Northern Ireland’s Attorney-General. It met stiff political opposition, with Peter Robinson, the Province’s First Minister, saying that it would allow people to “get away with murder”.

Many victims’ families are expected to react angrily, but William Frazer, a victims’ campaigner whose father was murdered by the IRA in 1975, said that his mind was not closed to any proposal that was fair. “We all need justice but a lot of us do realise that we will never get it,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we have to give up on the right to justice. We all know we have to move on, but you can’t ask people to forgive if they don’t want to forgive and you can’t ask them to forget.”

Seamus McKendry, the husband of Mrs McConville’s daughter Helen, said: “I don’t agree but I understand where he’s coming from. You have to let things go at some time, but people just can’t forget that easily. Jean McConville has become such an iconic figure, a tragic figure. And there are other such cases, like Bloody Sunday. I think if you can resolve some of those bigger cases, at least it lets the people know they haven’t been forgotten about.”


Historic banquet at Windsor, but in Belfast there’s still a bitter taste
Sean O’Neill
The Times
April 7 2014

In the magnificent surroundings of St George’s Hall in Windsor Castle, the Queen will mark another milestone in Anglo-Irish relations tomorrow night when she hosts a state banquet for President Higgins.

Following the Queen’s successful trip to Ireland in 2011 and her handshake with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness in 2012, the first Irish state visit to Britain is being cast as a further step towards consigning centuries of conflict to the history books. Mr McGuinness, a former IRA leader, will attend the banquet in tie and tails.

Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, yesterday welcomed Mr McGuinness’s decision to go to Windsor, saying that people needed to “move on and not be blocked by the past”.

In Northern Ireland, however, the past is everywhere. The place seems harnessed to its history and that carries the potential to derail the future.

Bloody hatreds and painful memories are painted on gable walls and kerbstones, wrapped in flags and banners and cemented in the sectarian division of schools and neighbourhoods.

In Belfast you can take an open top bus tour around the murals of the loyalist Shankill Road and the nationalist Falls Road, depicting their own versions of struggle and sacrifice, and take pictures of the “peace walls” that divide Protestant from Catholic and scar the city physically and mentally.

The Good Friday agreement, the settlement that ended three decades of violence that claimed more than 3,600 lives, is 16 years old this week. Division, rancour and distrust persist, such that Ulster can seem to have settled for separation rather than reconciliation.

“The conflict may be over on the street but it’s still very much in people’s minds,” one veteran republican said.

That conflict is also being given a new lease of life in a spate of historical investigations which could lead to former paramilitaries standing trial, including some who put away their guns and re-emerged as politicians.

The case of John Downey, the former IRA man acquitted of the Hyde Park bombing when his trial at the Old Bailey collapsed this year, caused outrage.

In Ulster such cold cases are increasingly common. Police are investigating the deaths of 14 demonstrators shot by soldiers of The Parachute Regiment in Derry in 1972. Last month detectives arrested a 75-year-old man over the loyalist bombing in 1971 of McGurk’s Bar in north Belfast, in which 15 people died.

Later this week, Ivor Bell, 77, a former IRA member, will appear in court charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville, who was abducted, tortured and shot in 1972 because the IRA suspected her of being an informant.

Sources say that taped interviews with former paramilitaries, recorded as part of an oral history project, name the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams as the IRA commander who ordered Mrs McConville’s murder. Her family, who have faced vilification over the years, are hoping for justice.

“It’s good to get the can open at last, maybe a few worms will come out,” said Seamus McKendry, the husband of Mrs McConville’s eldest daughter, Helen. “Jean McConville is never coming back from the dead, but we could at least give her memory a bit of peace.”

Mr Adams denies any involvement in the killing.

Advances in forensic science will bring more old cases within reach of resolution. Republicans watch the arrests of former IRA men and, according to one, “are beginning to ask if things are being clawed back, if you can ever have an honourable agreement with the British”. Loyalists look at the “amnesty letters” for the IRA’s on-the-runs and wonder why people in their community were not treated likewise.

Richard Haass, the former US diplomat who led failed talks on the legacy of the conflict, warned that agreement on dealing with the province’s past was now urgent and time alone would not bring healing. He told a US Congress committee last month: “Absent political progress, the passage of time will only create an environment in which social division intensifies, violence increases, investment is scared off, alienation grows and the best and brightest leave to make their futures elsewhere.”

Amid the gloom, Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, said that it was important to remember the achievements of 1998. “There are hundreds of people alive today, thousands who are uninjured because of the Good Friday agreement.”

With hindsight, he says, the issue of the Troubles legacy should not have been devolved to local politicians. “Dublin and Westminster can’t take those devolved powers back now, but they do need to engage. I don’t think we’re going to go back to violence, but we do need to find a way to deal with our horrible past.”

He believes that proposals to end conflict prosecutions are worth further debate. “We need to be honest with victims and honest with ourselves — too often we overestimate what can be achieved with investigations. We can never do justice to the scale of the injustice that happened in this place.”

As the prime mover in orchestrating the historic handshake, Mr Sheridan has another suggestion that holds out the prospect of hope. “Rather than spending £200 million on inquiries and investigations, we should use it to build a memorial hospital — perhaps that is the best we can offer.”

The Breathtaking Hypocrisy of the British State

Breathtaking Hypocrisy!
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow 

Sometimes the hypocrisy of government can be so brazen it literally takes the breath away. I am still struggling to retain my composure after reading a news story in The Irish Times today sent by a friend in Ireland.

The story dealt with a successful legal move by the NI Secretary, Theresa Villiers and the PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot to prevent the relatives of three victims of the security forces from being able to read inquest documents because of British concerns “about the possible disclosure of any sensitive information on members of the security forces”.

Relatives of the three are attempting to re-open their cases and the information is potentially important to them in this effort.

A fuller account than The Irish Times’ is carried in the often excellent Detail website, which I recommend you read.

The three victims were IRA man Paddy McAdorey who was shot dead by a British Army sniper on the morning of internment, August 9th, 1971; Michael Donnelly who was killed by a plastic bullet in 1980 and Sadie Larmour, a Catholic woman who was shot dead in October 1979. Mrs Larmour’s death is especially intriguing. She was killed at her home in Rodney Drive, in the heart of the Falls Road by a UVF gunman who broke into her home. Why is her killing considered by Villiers and Baggot likely to lead to “sensitive information on members of the security forces?” Don’t we have a right to know?

The hypocrisy is breathtaking because at the same time these two individuals, Baggot directly and Villiers by virtue of her post in the British government, are demanding that all information in the archives of Boston College relating to a killing carried out by the IRA must be handed over, no exceptions allowed.

So here we have a classic example of double standards. Boston College must hand over everything but the British can seek to hide what they will, and probably will get away with it. Unless that it is public opinion can be mobilised to force them to play by the same rules they apply to everyone else. Over to you, Irish media. There’s a story here. You do remember what a story is don’t you?

Dealing with the past before it deals with us

Dealing with the past before it deals with us
BY BRIAN ROWAN – JULY 4, 2013
EamonnMallie.com

The Historical Enquiries Team has made itself a victim of our past – made the stick to beat its own back and made the wrong decisions when it came to reviewing conflict killings involving soldiers.

So, it must now hear the words of “no confidence”, and it is hard to see how it recovers from the report of HMIC – but we should also listen to the words of former Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

“It [the HET] was never ever the answer to the past,” he told me in an interview for the Belfast Telegraph.

“It was only ever going to be a tiny part, but there was nothing else,” he continued – “and, even now, there is not much else.”

So, the story can’t just end with the damming criticisms of double standards.

These things were being said before we read them in this latest report, and there are those who could easily say ‘I told you so’.

The challenge is what to do next and who is big enough to do it.

How do you take the past out of the hands and control of the police and intelligence services, and to use the words of Jarlath Burns, how do we deal with it before it deals with us.

Burns was member of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group that produced a detailed blueprint back in 2009 and, today, he is arguing we need to get it back on the table.

Orde also asked: “Where is Eames-Bradley?”

Its detailed set of proposals included a Legacy Commission with Investigation and Information Recovery Units.

This was meant to be the structure within which an attempt would be made within a five-year timeframe to try to address many of the unanswered questions.

There was also a recommendation for a Reconciliation Forum, but what do we have today?

A political battle over the Maze/Long Kesh ‘shrine’, Eames-Bradley gathering dust somewhere and the HET being kicked around with calls for it to be kicked out.

Then what?

Who has the big idea – even any idea?

We all know what happened to Eames-Bradley.

It was dismissed in the panic caused by one of its recommendations that a recognition payment of £12,000 should be made to all families who lost a loved one.

“I am staggered that a report was allowed to be hijacked by one issue with everything else discarded,” Sir Hugh told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I assured Lord Eames and Denis Bradley I would be relaxed, indeed relieved, if they took the HET into a wider structure,” he continued.

“That would have increased its independence and transparency,” he said.

Eames-Bradley wanted the work of the HET to become part of the proposed Investigations Unit inside the Legacy Commission, but who even remembers that recommendation.

The proposals weren’t heard above the political shouts of shame.

So, now what?

In the here and now we have yet another mess, but also the reality spoken by Orde that: “To police the future, you have to deal with the past.”

Who wants to deal with it?

There is no sense or suggestion of political will and, almost twenty years after ceasefires, no plan, strategy or structure within which questions can be asked and answered.

In the Belfast Telegraph I wrote that the past is large in the present.

It is not yesterday or yesteryear, but today and tomorrow.

Eames-Bradley has a structure.

What it didn’t answer was who would participate and under what terms.

Before there is any Legacy Commission we need to know those things.

Then in a structured way think about what delivers the maximum amount of information and the best possible help to victims.

How is every story told and heard?

We need to understand and accept there is no such thing as one truth.

Maybe the design of such a process is beyond the capabilities of local politicians, and perhaps this will need international help.

We need also to understand that the past isn’t going to go away.

Just a few days ago families still searching for bodies that were disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s raised their voices to ask again for information.

For them there is no such thing as drawing a line. How could there be?

So, a process is needed.

It may have to happen in private, and it will have to address the question of amnesty or non-prosecution.

We need also to be realistic.

There will be no such thing as absolute truth from one side never mind all sides, and some answers being sought will hurt more than they heal.

This needs political will and international help.

In a tweet to me, Andree Murphy of the Relatives for Justice project accused the British and Irish Governments of disgracefully disengaging like neutral observers.

They were not and are not neutral observers and they have to be part of this.

For too long, the past has been a political play thing – a battleground.

That needs to change, and all the sides need to start looking for reasons to answer questions rather than excuses not to.

On the Eames-Bradley report, Andree Murphy believes: “There is much to sign up to and add to.”

In all the current fall out, let us all remember the HET was not about answering the past.

It was there because there was nothing else, and now we need something different.

Transcript: Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson interviewed on RTE about Boston College case

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson interviewed on RTE about Boston College case
RTÉ Radio 1
Today with Pat Kenny
Thursday 19 July 2012

Pat Kenny (PK) interviews Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson (OP). This transcript is a segment of the interview discussing The Belfast Project, the oral history archive at Boston College.


(Segment begins time stamp 20:33)

Pat Kenny (PK): Another issue which crosses your desk would be that issue of Boston College and the recollections which were given in confidence to the researchers and which now are to be released, or part of them to be released, to the PSNI.

There’s a kind of a worrying precedent about that. I mean, it is a court finding, but there’s a worrying precedent about even seeking information which is given in confidence for historical purposes.

The British government itself has its thirty year rule and its fifty year rule and its one hundred year rule – things that are so sensitive that you’ve got to make sure that people are long dead and buried, their relatives and their grandchildren, before it’s released. So the principle is well established.

Owen Paterson (OP): Well, actually as a government we’re going down from thirty year rule to a twenty year because we are in favour of transparency.

Boston College is a genuine, real problem. It’s a clash of very two very important themes.

I mean, I’ve been there. I’ve met Thomas Hachey. I was really impressed with what they are doing. And I’m very taken by the idea of establishing oral archives and capturing a pool of data and information and stories which historians can then work on.

And actually when I went over to Saint Patrick’s in March, I went to North Carolina to see The Civil Rights oral archive there. And I think that there’s real merit I think in encouraging people to come forward to oral archives while they’re still alive because of course many of the participants are sadly getting older and their memories are getting more faulty.

And I’m quite relaxed that the information you’d get would be completely subjective, people may have an axe to grind, it may be faulty.

But that’s not a problem. Let’s just get all this information recorded and then let historians loose…

So the broad principle of what they were doing I was very much in favour of. And of course the idea that there was effectively an amnesty of death – that nothing would be published until someone was dead – was a very interesting idea.

But, and there’s an enormous BUT that comes in here, we have always said that the rule of law must prevail and that the police have and absolute duty to follow up every possible lead seeking justice for victims and relatives of victims.

And here you have a clash of two massive principles.

So we have always strictly respected the operation and the independence of the police.

And the first I knew about this move was when I read about it in the newspapers. We knew absolutely nothing about this.

So this was treated as a routine approach by the PSNI who went to the Home Office, who are the normal liaison ministry working with foreign jurisdictions, and the Home Office, I think quite rightly, didn’t interfere either.

Because if the PSNI seriously think have a lead which could lead to information which could lead possibly to a further process which could bring justice for a victim, and don’t forget how the relatives of the victims have suffered terribly over the years as well, I think The Home Office was quite right to stand back. They never told us. And we read about it in the newspapers.

PK: Anything that is given to the historians by people who are now deceased has no evidential value because it literally is the subjective recollections of somebody who could, in theory, be self-serving…wanting to write their own version of history.

But where there are living people who have given in confidence information then of course they can be sworn in evidence and convictions or otherwise may ensue.

But it’s the principle that people want to give it while they’re alive, want to give their version of things and then find themselves subject to some sort of policing and judicial process.

It’s deeply uncomfortable and it may inhibit the writing of a true an accurate history. Before you came on we were talking to T. Ryle Dwyer about the activities of Michael Collins and Winston Churchill. And it’s good that we can know the full truth of what they were at. But it would not have been politic for Lloyd George to admit the goings-on at the time.

OP: No, I think you’ve explained it very, very clearly: that there is a real conundrum here.

It would be very good for future generations to have completely open, unrestricted recollections. You’re quite right, people might have an axe to grind. And I’m absolutely not a lawyer, but you’d have to wonder what the evidential value is of possibly some of these submission which are not made on oath or may not have proper witnesses and all the rest of it – and that’s for lawyers to determine.

But I think as a way of resolving the past I think we also have to recognise there is a massive interest in trying to get justice for victims and the benefit that brings to their relations. So I think we probably have to accept that I think that probably does override the academic interest in having an absolute and pure unadulterated record.

PK: We have this constructive ambiguity, the phrase so famously used Tony Blair and so famously practised by Bertie Ahern you know…Gerry Adams was never a member of the IRA, he says so therefore objectively that’s supposed to be a fact…Martin McGuinness left the IRA at a particular time and we find that a “convenience” whether it is true or otherwise.

And then you have this process which conspiracy theorists say are deliberately brought about to bring Gerry Adams into the frame for the disappearance of Jean McConville.

So sometimes things are a convenience and we indulge in constructive ambiguity and allow our systems to proceed to a particular end but this one seems to run counter to that process.

OP: I think you’re absolutely right.

We can get back to our earlier comments…that it’s absolutely central to the whole process that people should pursue their ambitions by legitimate, democratic means. And that is now happening.

But I think on the conundrum we face, it is very important to see that the police have a duty to victims. They have to pursue every single lead. And there’s no way this is a conspiracy. I mean, I knew absolutely nothing about this.

PK: So they have utter autonomy in this regard?

OP: Yeah, absolutely and we’ve always respected that and that’s absolutely fundamental – and it gets back to our comments on the earlier subject we were discussing. You’ve got to have an independent police who have no political interference. You’ve got to have a judicial system with no political interference.

So I knew absolutely nothing about this.

I’d be extraordinarily stupid to try to interfere in any way with any sort of possible political goal. There cannot be any of this. This has to be the police pursuing a lead and fulfilling their duty to the victims and the victims’ families.

(Segment ends time stamp 27:41)

See previously:
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson discusses Boston College Case
(March 24, 2012 interview transcript and October 29 2011 interview transcript)

Irish Americans Meet Paterson in NY
(November 9, 2011)

House of Commons Written Answers 16 April 2012: Northern Ireland: Boston College

NORTHERN IRELAND
Boston College

Dr Alasdair McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has held discussions with the US Secretary of State regarding the Government’s request to subpoena recordings from the Boston college oral history project. [102545]

Mr Paterson: I have not held discussions with the US Secretary of State regarding the request to subpoena recordings from the Boston college oral history project.


Dr Alasdair McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with the (a) Police Service of Northern Ireland and (b) the Northern Ireland Department of Justice on the Government’s request to subpoena recordings from the Boston college oral history project (i) prior to and (ii) subsequent to that request being made. [102546]

Mr Paterson: I have not had discussions with either the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the Northern Ireland Department of Justice on the request to subpoena recordings from the Boston college oral history project. My Department is not routinely informed of such requests for mutual legal assistance. In line with the Government’s bilateral treaty with the United States on mutual legal assistance, all requests for assistance are transmitted via the Home Office.


Dr Alasdair McDonnell, MP for South Belfast, is the leader of the SDLP.

See previously:

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson discusses Boston College Case
(March 24, 2012 interview transcript and October 29 2011 interview transcript)

Irish Americans Meet Paterson in NY
(November 9, 2011)

Irish Radio Network: Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson discusses Boston College Case

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson discusses Boston College Case
Irish Radio Network USA
New York City
Saturday 24 March 2012

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Owen Paterson (OP), is asked about Boston College subpoenas during interview with Adrian Flannelly (AF)

Download: Owen%20PatersonMar12.wma

(11:39 topic of Boston College subpoena addressed)

Adrian Flannelly (AF): Now, before we get on to the great number of exciting events and happenings, both historic and cultural, a couple of items: sore points, that are garnering a lot of attention on this side. Last time you were here, we made reference to the Boston papers, the Boston tapes, an Oral History undertaken by Boston College (and) that those tapes were subpoenaed. I had thought at that point that this was something that perhaps you could have some input into by going back to Ireland, perhaps checking with the PSNI, as to why and whatever. And before we even got out of here, it had become a huge international issue involving our highest level of government here. Everybody has been on board with this. Did that come up in any of your meetings in Washington since you came out here?

Owen Paterson (OP): No, I don’t think it did, actually. I’m fully aware it has caused some comment here. The position’s very simple. I’ve been to Boston College. I’ve had meetings with Professor Hachey and I was very enthused by what they were doing. And that’s partly why I went down to North Carolina to see the Civil Rights Archive. I think that there is real merit in oral archives, and getting information in raw form from people who might have been through some pretty dramatic historical moments and to get their personal experiences.

Now, I’m fully aware that these will be very subjective comments, these will be from people who might be elderly, they might’ve been brutal about it, they might (coughs) have some alcoholic problems or whatever, they may not remember very clearly, they may, very seriously, have an axe to grind. But I think it’s worth getting the raw information, I think this… when looking at this… I mean, it’s a useful exercise. So it was very interesting seeing what Boston were doing and it’s similar to what the CAIN archives is down in Belfast and The Linenhall Library and other ones like that.

But we believe very strongly that the police must have complete independence operationally.

Now we had policing devolved, which we strongly supported, a few months before we came to power. So the police report to an elected Justice Minister, David Ford. They report to an elected police board with members of all political parties on it. They’re probably about the most supervised police force in the western world, because there’s a Police Ombudsman, reviewing their day-to-day activities and anyone can complain.

It would be wholly inappropriate for me to interfere in any way in the operational independence of the police or the prosecution service. We believe very strongly in the separation of powers, which is a concept (scoffs) widely understood across the United States.

The first I knew about this move was when I read about it in the papers. We knew absolutely nothing about it.

The PSNI have complete jurisdiction to pursue every line of enquiry. They put in an application through the usual channels. I think it would have been very odd, actually, for the Home Secretary who approved this in, I think almost a routine way, to have interfered. It would have looked odd.

We believe very strongly there can be no amnesty.

We have a real duty to the victims and they have to take paramountcy and I think the police have a duty to follow every possible lead to bring people to justice who may’ve been involved in some terrible crimes. We have an absolute duty as a state to support the law enforcement agencies. But to interfere with their decision making would be quite wrong.

AF: I think, Secretary of State Owen Patterson, that obviously there are people who are looking at this from a very different perspective and seeing that’s kind of a lop-sided view with respect to what is interference and what is, for instance, something that perhaps you, or the powers-that-be in Northern Ireland can do particularly in, I have to go back to the Finucane case again. There is something between those two that’s like: “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” and it becomes murky from people who have very different viewpoints on both of those issues.

OP: Oh no, I think it’s very important that the UK government is, obviously, completely impartial, and stands back from a lot of the agencies handling the past, which are now in devolved hands. So we’ve been on the record and the Prime Minister’s been very clear and we are very strong supporters of the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, which was set up under the last government. They’re investigating three thousand, two hundred and sixty-eight deaths. Sixty percent of which were, according to David McKittrick’s book, which is widely respected, sixty percent caused by Republican paramilitaries, thirty percent by Loyalist paramilitaries and ten percent by The State.

We inherited a number of enquiries and we’ve been completely straight. The minute they are ready we have gone to Parliament, we’ve published them and we’ve made statements as, I think, was right. So we didn’t flinch from any of this.

We did inherit, and you’ve touched on the Finucane case, we did inherit a commitment from the last government, to have an enquiry into the death of Pat Finucane, which was a perfectly appalling event.

You may have also heard it was a complete stand-off. This was going nowhere.

The last government had made a commitment to have an enquiry but it also passed The Enquiries Act. And the family didn’t accept the terms of The Enquiries Act under which the enquiry would be conducted.

And we were determined to unlock this impasse. I was the first Secretary of State for years to write to Mrs. Finucane and certainly, the first Secretary of State to meet her. I met her a few months after we came to power. And I said we wanted to get to the truth. We did not have hang-ups; whether this was a meeting of public enquiry or whatever…we wanted to get to the truth.

Because the Finucane case has been the subject of what’s possibly the largest police investigation in British history. There are over a million documents in The Stevens Archive. There are nine thousand, two hundred and sixty-five witness statements. There’s sixteen thousand exhibits. And Stevens concluded that there had been collusion by some agents of the British state.

So we discussed this; and discussed it in detail with the Prime Minister. And I think we made a very bold decision: we agreed that he would apologise in person to the family because sadly, getting back to previous comments, many of the witnesses are dead. There are fewer key witnesses alive when we look into the Finucane case than there were around for the Saville Enquiry.

And we made a much, much more extensive archive available to Desmond DeSilva to do a review of all these papers than was available to Saville.

So, we’ve done those two things: We had the family into Downing Street. The Prime Minister apologised in person.

I went to Parliament the next day and made a full apology there and announced that this lawyer of impeccable international reputation, who fought off three assassination attempts when he’s getting sixteen people off death row in Sierra Leone, has complete access to all our papers and is expected to report back in December with the truth. And he may find out what happened and he may be very uncomfortable for us but we think that it’s the quickest, and fastest and most effective way to get to the truth.

As an example, there’s sort of hang-ups about these enquiries as this being the route…if you look at the Billy Wright enquiry, which was conducted by some very senior lawyers with immense professionalism: it cost thirty million pounds, and you have to compare the thirty million pounds for Billy Wright, one death, with the thirty-four million pounds for the three thousand two hundred and sixty-eight deaths, which is the HET’s original budget. It went on twice as longed as planned and yet that enquiry, carried out by scrupulously professional lawyers, didn’t establish how two pistols were smuggled into Europe’s most secure gaol.

And then the other myth which I would like to comment on, is this: that only by having an enquiry can you summon witnesses.

Ian Paisley, Jr. very respected and later, an MP, refused to go and give evidence to The Wright Enquiry. No matter how many legal blandishments he got. He did not go. So on that basis, I think we have made a very bold decision: we made a fulsome apology, and we’re just generally really, really sorry that Mrs. Finucane hasn’t accepted it. Because we would love her to work with DeSilva and all we really want is exactly what she wants. We just want to get to the truth.

AF: Secretary of State Owen Paterson, I fully understand and I accept what you say but I just want to double-back to the Boston College tapes one more time. Obviously, there are many efforts on this side of The Atlantic to get to the US Attorney General to back-off, to withdraw; and some political implications on this side here. You have said that it is really not your place to interfere one way or the other with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. So you would then….would it be correct to say that however this comes out, then that’s the way that it is? If there was an objection from here or something, would you, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, would get into it at that stage of the game and say: “Excuse me. We need those tapes. We need to have that evidence.”?

OP: I’ve said emphatically it’s not for me to get involved in any way at all. The Police Service of Northern Ireland must follow every evidential track that comes along in order to try to bring justice to the victims. It’s absolutely not for me to get involved in any way where they go.

Now, as a layman, and I stress very much I’m a layman, I’m not a lawyer, I have no idea what value there is in the information they might get, because as I understand it, these interviews were given voluntarily, they’re not on oath, I don’t think there was a lawyer present, I have absolutely no idea what value they have as evidence.

But we very strictly have to respect the independence of the police in operational matters. We have to respect the independence of the judicial system; either here or in the UK- it is not for me to interfere in the process. As I said, we knew nothing about this. The first I read about it was in the newspapers. And that’s how it should be.

23:26 (AF moves on; topic ends)


PREVIOUSLY: OCTOBER 2011

Adrian Flannelly interviews Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson
Irish Radio Network USA
New York City
Saturday 29 October 2011

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Owen Paterson (OP), is asked about Boston College subpoenas during interview with Adrian Flannelly (AF)

Download: SOSNI%20PATERSON.wma

(31:05 topic of Boston College subpoena addressed)

Adrian Flannelly (AF): One last thorny issue because you do bring with you a lot of good news but again there’s obviously a high level of controversy with respect to the investigation into Boston College and it seems like, excuse the pun, all guns blazing, to get the transcripts of what was supposed to have been an oral history of people involved in armed struggle. What is the latest on that?

Owen Paterson (OP): Well, the latest is, I hoped actually to go there and meet Thomas Hachey on Monday, but there was a key vote in the House of Commons, and I didn’t go. I went there, probably about a year ago, and we were enormously impressed by what they were doing.

We… the British Government… We don’t own the past and handling the past, an awful lot of the agencies doing that are devolved … well, we already talked about the HET [Historical Enquiries Team], the Police Ombudsmen reports to David Ford, the Minister for Justice, and all those doing health care, and remedial care, they obviously report in to local ministers.

There is a way in which that the UK Government, I think, can help; there was a debate in the Assembly [Stormont] the other day, and we have been talking to local parties consistently since we gained power and sadly there’s no real consensus.

But I think there is some agreement that by capturing information which is one of the recommendations of Eames-Bradley that some good could come out of that. And we need to capture this information, the story-telling, now, fast, because these people who are going to participate are getting older, their memories are fading… some of them, sadly, are getting ill. Some will die soon.

So we’re… I was very impressed by what Boston College have done and I’ve been to look at other archives, like CAIN archive in Belfast, the Linenhall Library and others, we’ve looked at some possibilities in GB.

But the first we heard about this move was in the press.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is entirely independent. It’s always been right that the Chief Constable has total operational independence and it would be quite wrong for us to interfere.

So this case is now in the American courts. Now, I’m not a lawyer, not in English law, I haven’t a clue about American law, and it will take its course. I’ve absolutely no idea how it will progress. But it would be quite wrong for us to interfere in the criminal justice process.

This was a decision taken by the PSNI. For my part, I’m a, I’ve just said, I’m a big admirer of all these archives. I think it’s a very useful way of going forward.

But this was absolutely nothing to do with the Northern Ireland Office. This was the PSNI going about its work.

34:16 (AF moves on; topic ends)

Irish Americans meet Paterson in NY

Irish Americans meet Paterson in NY
Irish Echo
NEWS & VIEWS
NOVEMBER 9TH, 2011

A delegation of “concerned Irish Americans” held talks in New York with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson.

The five member delegation, according to a statement, “expressed concern and disappointment” at the British government’s recent announcement that a full public and open inquiry into the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane was off the table and would be replaced “by yet another review of the case by a solicitor chosen by the British authorities.”

Also discussed was the ongoing controversy surrounding the issuance of subpoenas to Boston College seeking to obtain oral histories given to the college under a promise of confidentiality.

The delegation pointed out the possible political motivations behind the subpoenas, as well as the potential harm to oral history projects, and to confidentiality promises given by the media to sources.

The group additionally expressed unhappiness with the performance of Al Hutchinson as the police ombudsman in Northern Ireland, this following upon the “acclaimed tenure” of his predecessor, Nuala O’Loan.

“The need for someone in her image as the next ombudsman was stressed after Mr. Hutchinson steps down at year’s end,” the delegation statement said.

It added that Patterson had assured the delegation that the review in the Finucane case would be fair and above board. Regarding the Boston College and the ombudsman questions, he had indicated that the concerns expressed would be considered when decisions were made.

The delegation was made up of Thomas J. Burke, Jr., national president of The Irish American Unity Conference, James Cullen of the Brehon Law Society, Ned McGinley, past national president of The Ancient Order of Hibernians, Domhnall O’Cathain, president of the Irish American Bar Association, and Stephen McCabe, past president of the Brehon Law Society of Nassau County and the Irish Parades Emergency Committee.


Previously:

King briefed on BC case
Irish Echo
NEWS & VIEWS
OCTOBER 26TH, 2011

Details of the Boston College archives case, set to go to court in Massachusetts, were outlined to New York congressman Peter King last week in a briefing carried out by Ned McGinley, past AOH national president and Steve McCabe of The Brehon Law Society and Irish Parades Emergency Committee.

Representative King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, was briefed on the background of the situation and brought up to date on developments.

Said McGinley and McCabe after the meeting: “It was pointed out (to Rep. King) that not only are there broad implications for the ongoing and sometimes fragile peace process in the north of Ireland, but that important issues have been raised about the stifling of oral history programs in academia, and First Amendment issues regarding confidentiality promised by journalists.

“That this would set a bad precedent was pointed out to Mr. King, who showed great interest and expressed concern.”

Meanwhile, Thomas J. Burke, Jr., national president of The Irish American Unity Conference, has written to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling her attention to the BC case and requesting her assistance.