Irish Times: Martin claims on NI archive ‘off the wall’, says Shatter

Martin claims on NI archive ‘off the wall’, says Shatter
DEAGLÁN de BRÉADÚN, Political Correspondent
The Irish Times
Friday, January 13, 2012

IN A sharply worded dispute with the leader of Fianna Fáil, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has accused Micheál Martin of making “off-the-wall” statements and scoring a “bizarre own goal” over documents from the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Shatter was responding last night to an attack on him by Mr Martin over the transfer of private and confidential documents on arms decommissioning in Northern Ireland to Boston College, Massachusetts.

The move has been described by the Fianna Fáil leader as “ill-considered” and potentially damaging to the peace process.

He called on Mr Shatter “to clarify why exactly he agreed to donate documents from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, the body appointed in 1997 to oversee the process of putting ‘beyond use’ weapons used in the Northern Ireland conflict, to Boston College”.

He added in a statement: “For reasons of security and safety it is imperative that these papers are not made public for a sufficient period of time.

“What is of major concern is that these papers have been given to an institution outside the island of Ireland which is now involved in a major controversy about protecting the integrity of its sealed archive.”

The Fianna Fáil leader was referring to legal proceedings under way in the US, involving Boston College’s archives.

He said that arising from a court action, Boston College may be compelled to open its archive on the Northern Ireland Oral History Project directed by journalist Ed Moloney and involving researcher Anthony McIntyre.

He said clarity was now urgently needed as to whether this had implications for the papers of the decommissioning body also deposited in Boston College.

The Fianna Fáil leader also said the papers should have been given to an archival institution on the island of Ireland.

Mr Martin said in his statement: “These papers catalogue the details of the engagement of paramilitary groups with the decommissioning process and for reasons of security and safety it is imperative that these papers are not made public for a sufficient period of time.

He continued: “Boston College is an excellent institution with an excellent track record of interest in and support for Irish affairs.

“However, the fact that there is a question mark over the ability of Boston College to protect sensitive political papers in their archives from premature release is an issue of real concern.

“Alan Shatter needs to clarify on what basis he agreed to give hugely sensitive papers relating to the decommissioning process in Ireland to Boston College rather than entrust them to the Irish National Archives.

“He needs to explain whether there are implications for the decommissioning papers arising out of the legal proceedings ongoing in the United States.

Rejecting the comments as “astonishing” and “disingenuous, inaccurate and misleading”, the Minister said it was the decommissioning body itself which made the arrangements in consultation with the last government, whose members included Mr Martin as minister for foreign affairs.

“It is unfortunate that Micheál Martin should seek to make a political football out of issues relating to the commission, whose work had the full support of all major parties then represented in Dáil Éireann.

“It is doubly unfortunate that, motivated by blatant political opportunism, he then proceeds to score a bizarre own goal, the plain fact being that the issues in question were ones that were dealt with by the Fianna Fáil-led government of which he was a member, and by his ministerial colleagues.

“The consultations about the disposal of the archive were complete before I assumed office and the first I learned of the archiving arrangements was when the commission detailed them in their report of March 28th, 2011.” The Minister added: “If any issues arise in relation to the commission’s documentation they will be dealt with appropriately.

“Of course, that process will not be helped by off-the-wall statements made by Deputy Martin which are rooted in the pattern of wilful amnesia he continues to display in relation to his own time in government.”

Mr Shatter said he understood that the material in question was of a general nature and did not contain sensitive information in relation to individuals.

His department and the Northern Ireland Office had been monitoring the situation in relation to the current proceedings and would remain in contact.