News of Interest: Northern peace process a stalemate between enemies who loathe each other

Northern peace process a stalemate between enemies who loathe each other
Opinion: Progress requires an unambiguous understanding that the future is shared
Duncan Morrow
Irish Times
Fri, May 3, 2013

Fifteen years after the Belfast Agreement and more than six years into devolution, the storm clouds are gathering. Austerity has robbed Northern Ireland of the “happy shiny people” rhetoric of 1998. But the malaise is deeper. In spite of huge efforts, there is a gaping hole where there should be answers to the question, “where next?”

The peace process has seen things that seemed unthinkable become commonplace. It was as if the long night had ended. So why, if things are so good, do things feel so bad? And what should be done? The answers take us into the heart of the carefully worked “non-agreements” at the heart of the peace process: no agreement about the future, and none about the past. Indeed, the prize of agreeing to share power depended on not agreeing about them.

Revisiting national aspirations to accommodate others would have stopped negotiations in their tracks. The mantra that “you do not have to change and neither do I” was presented first as wisdom, second as morality and third as obvious. It was clever politics, but nonsense.

Without change, the peace process is a stalemate between enemies who loathe each other. Without a shared basis for mutual accommodation, there are just contradictory visions of the future wrestling for supremacy. And there is a significant risk that more incidents such as the flag riots will explode.

Endless recrimination

The only way to keep negotiations going was to admit nothing and demand nothing.Official silence seemed good politics. But endless recrimination in practice still suggests that the agreement traded a just war for an unjust peace.

The priority was to get the show on the road. Then the impossible could be managed into the possible. A combination of political agreement, international support and unexpected symbols of partnership allowed new things to happen. Economic life returned. Miracles happened at interfaces. Yet perhaps the clearest signals came from private investors. The peace dividend, when it came, went mostly to quieter places. The cleavage in socioeconomic experience between conflict zones and the less contentious suburbs continued or even deepened.

Over time, community initiatives to create breathing space at the interface were no longer novel but tired. Connections between local leaders now looked like gate-keeping. New initiatives in policing were undermined by confrontations over parades. The need to assert that “we won” prevented any serious initiatives to create a shared future. We opted for community control and separation over integrated schools or shared housing, kept celebrating the past as if we were still enemies.

Progress now requires an unambiguous understanding across the political leadership that the future is shared – the North will have to reflect its hybrid British and Irish character in everything it does.

The legacy of violence in the past has to be faced, requiring political agreement on prosecutions and amnesty, agreement on expectations for victims and the reintegration of paramilitaries and their organisations into democratic community life. Perhaps more creatively, we might agree to celebrate the end of violence, so that cultures which developed in hostility acknowledge that they have now changed, committed to a more important relationship of equality and acceptance. A shared future requires:

  • Sustained effort to develop free and equal access to public and residential space. This is an issue of the rule of law as well as housing and public services.
  • Planning education to make meeting and friendship for children from all backgrounds a real possibility in schools and youth services.
  • Formal agreement on symbols and cultural celebrations relating to nationality and religion to prevent them being understood as discriminatory or violent.

The alternative of a deteriorating climate of inter-community relations, sporadic serious violence, ongoing terror and abnormal policing, mutual recrimination and the potential for worse is real and obvious. It would be a tragic conclusion to a noble attempt at a new beginning.

Duncan Morrow is director of community engagement at the school of criminology, politics and social policy at the University of Ulster

News of Interest: Canadian Academics Strongly Defend Research Confidentiality, Call for University Support of Researchers

Université d’Ottawa – University of Ottowa
Canada’s University
550 Cumberland
Ottawa ON K1N 6N5
25 March 2013

Allan Rock
President, University of Ottawa
Office of the President
Tabaret Hall
550 Cumberland, Room 212
Ottawa ON K1N 6N5

Dear President Rock,

The undersigned are faculty members of the Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Board and the Health Sciences and Science Research Ethics Board. We write to you out of our profound concern with the position of the university administration with regard to the confidentiality case involving University of Ottawa professors Chris Bruckert and Colette Parent (Faculty of Social Sciences). The issue, as we understand it, concerns the Montreal Police department’s efforts to seize confidential data collected in the context of a 2007 research study – in particular, an interview the researchers conducted with a Montreal sex worker. This study received approval by the university’s Research Ethics Board on the explicit condition that the research participants’ confidentiality would be protected. We are asking that the university immediately step forward to offer support to these professors including but not limited to their legal costs in defending the confidentiality of their research records.

Professors Bruckert and Parent have petitioned the Superior Court of Quebec to ensure the confidentiality their research participant was promised in exchange for his participation in the research. The two professors, the Association of Professors at the University of Ottawa, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) have all requested support from the University of Ottawa for the professors’ legal expenses. Despite these requests, the university has thus far refused to cover or contribute to the legal costs of defending research confidentiality.

As you know, publicly-funded research involving human participants must be approved by our research ethics board and must be conducted within the guidelines set forth by the federal Tri-Council Policy Statement on Research Involving Human Participants. This policy states that “when researchers obtain information with a promise of confidentiality, they assume an ethical duty that is central to respect for participants and the integrity of the research project. Breaches of confidentiality may harm the participant, the trust relationship between the researcher and the participant, other individuals or groups, and/or the reputation of the research community.” Furthermore, the Tri-Council Policy Statement makes specific reference to research topics of social importance that may concern illegal activities by participants: “Research that probes sensitive topics (e.g., illegal activities) generally depends on strong promises of confidentiality to establish trust with participants” (TCPS-2: Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. Article 5.1. www.ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique/initiatives/tcps2-eptc2).

By failing to come forward in support of professors Bruckert and Parent, the university is setting a dangerous precedent. Consequences of inaction on this matter could lead to the following:

  1. A “chill factor” placed on any research involving participants who require trust in the strength of confidentiality agreements they sign and that are co-signed by university researchers.
  2. Censure by research funding agencies such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
  3. Refusal of these same agencies to release research funds until the university’s actions are brought into alignment with the Tri-Council Policy Statement on Research Involving Human Participants

This sort of inaction on the part of university officials entrusted with advancing intellectual inquiry is inexcusable. At a time when the University of Ottawa is working to take its place among the top research universities in Canada, it is damaging to the reputation of our university and could have an adverse impact on the university’s ability to both recruit students and faculty and attract public and private research grants and contracts.

We believe that the integrity of academic research requires that the university upholds its commitments to confidentiality not only when it is convenient to do so, but also when our ethical and moral obligations require it.

Sincerely,
(in alphabetical order)

Jennifer Kilty, Assistant Professor
Department of Criminology, Faculty of Social Science

Marie-Eve Desrosiers, Assistant Professor
School of International Development and Global Studies

Angel M. Foster, Echo Endowed Chair in Women’s Health Research
Faculty of Health Sciences

Thomas Foth, Assistant Professor
School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences

Barbara Graves, Vice-Dean Programs of the Faculty of Education
Chair, Social Sciences and Humanties Research Ethics Board

David Handelman, Professor
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science

Hélène Laperrière, Associate Professor
School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences

Catherine Lee, Professor
School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences

Stephen Levey, Assistant Professor
Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Arts

Jean-François Méthot, Professor
Faculty of Philosophy, Dominican University College

Jonathan Paquette, Associate Professor
School of Political Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences

Sergio Piccinin, Professor Emeritus
Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Board

Giuliano Reis, Assistant Professor
Faculty of Education

Gordon Robertson, Professor Emeritus
School of Human Kinetics, Faculty of Health Sciences

Andra Smith, Associate Professor
School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences

Veronique Strimelle, Professeure agrégée
Département de criminology, Faculté des sciences sociales

Sheena Sumarah, Ph.D. candidate
Educational Counselling, Faculty of Education

Brendan Walshe-Roussel, PhD Candidate
Department of Biology, Faculty of Science

Joel Westheimer, University Research Chair in the Sociology of Education
Faculty of Education

cc.
Dr. Chris Bruckert, Criminology
Dr. Christian Detellier, VP Academic
Dr. Mona Nemer, VP Research
Ms. Catherine Paquet, Director, Office of Research Ethics and Integrity
Dr. Collette Parent, Criminology
Dr. Christian Rouillard, APUO President
Mr. James Turk, CAUT President


See previously: Debate over interview material could be key to Luka Rocco Magnotta murder trial

News of Interest: Belfast flag riots and the past haunting the peace

Unionists talking tough on protestors’ concerns
News Letter
Published on Saturday 19 January 2013 10:27

LEADING unionists talked tough on issues increasingly articulated as grievances by flag protestors on Friday, as a second Operation Standstill was promised with Province-wide roadblocks .

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt publicised a speech he had made in County Armagh, in which he called on republicans to call off their “cultural war”.

Likewise, East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell said he was tabling a motion calling on republicans to be questioned by police about their actions during Bloody Sunday.

“Because if it was a war, then Kingsmills was a war crime and the perpetrators belong in the Hague,” he said, dismissing claims that Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams were not senior IRA leaders.

Police said 124 people have been arrested and 88 charged in the wake of civil disorder since the Union Flag stopped flying daily on Belfast City Hall in December.

However, a PSNI spokeswoman said those figures were likely to be revised upwards as arrest figures came in from outlying areas.

Police arrested a further six men yesterday – aged 18 to 49, from Newtownabbey, Greenisland, Carrickergus and Greater Belfast – for rioting.

On Thursday night, Mr Nesbitt told unionists in Bessbrook that, contrary to the republican narrative, the Troubles were “not a war”.


Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said he is unable to trust Sinn Fein because its leaders will not come clean on their IRA past.

Speaking to his party’s south Armagh branch in Bessbrook, the former broadcaster said true political leadership needed “more than a mandate”.

[…] In a speech likely to drive further divisions between the parties, the UUP leader said there was no moral basis for the IRA’s campaign.

He called on republicans to call off their “cultural war”.

[…] He said Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams denied being in the IRA yet allowed himself to be flown to London in 1972 for talks with the British government.

“So let me be clear – I do not believe Gerry Adams when he says he was never in the IRA,” he said.

“I do not believe Martin McGuinness when he says he left the IRA in the early 1970s and because of that—and much, much more – I do not trust Sinn Fein.”

Mr Nesbitt said it was necessary to be honest when dealing with the past.

“We need a clear and unequivocal statement from republicans that terrorism is wrong in an absolute sense, and that no-one needed to die, or be maimed to get where we are,” he said.

“We need apologies from the IRA and reports on their terrorism, to put on the shelf to balance what is already there from Saville and the rest – then we need to move on, with an honest and truthful process to deal with our past, and its legacy.”
Excerpts from: Flags Crisis: I do not trust Sinn Fein says Nesbitt, by John Manley, Political Reporter, Irish News


Yesterday [Mr Nesbitt] launched another broadside against Sinn Fein, saying the removal of the flag from Belfast City Hall was not in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

He complained that republicans described the flag removal as “a good night’s work” while adding that the tricolour was not flying from Belfast City Hall ‘yet’.

He added: “The vote on December 3 was not just an event, it is part of a process – a cultural war,” which he demanded they call off.

All four processes dealing with the past –- public inquiries, Police Ombudsman, coroners’ courts and the Historical Enquiries Team -– focus on the actions of the state but ignore the IRA.

He said: “Enough is enough.”


“Whilst the republican campaign of terror ultimately failed and they have been forced to accept a settlement within the United Kingdom that should not mean that they are exempt from investigation and being held to account for their actions at that time.” – Gregory Campbell, Democratic Unionist Party, quoted in the Irish News, “Call to Probe IRA Role”


Meanwhile, Mr Campbell said he had tabled a Commons motion calling upon Chief Constable Matt Baggott to ensure that if soldiers are to be questioned regarding Bloody Sunday then republicans should be too.

“If there is to be an investigation now by the police then it must also look at the role played by senior Provisional IRA personnel including Martin McGuinness in the weeks and months prior to January 30, 1972,” he said.

East Belfast community leaders and other unionists have increasingly referred to the flag issue as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, pointing to a much greater grievance of discrimination in probing the past.

But Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness yesterday continued the Sinn Fein narrative by declining to even acknowledge this as a problem.

Instead, he spoke of the need for compromise and dialogue, acknowledging only that “there is clearly a very powerful emotional connection between identity and symbols”.

He also dismissed the Province-wide protests and unrest as being linked to the UVF and BNP.

Of Interest: President Michael D Higgins and Professor John A Murphy on History

These quotes from President Higgins and Professor Murphy are of interest to those following the Boston College subpoena case, in the context of the historical value of the Belfast Project.

The first quote comes from Professor Murphy, as described in the Irish Times:

“Prof Murphy was speaking at a conference on the Irish Home Rule Crisis 1912-14, hosted by the School of History at UCC, and he took issue with comments made earlier by the British ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, when he officially opened the conference.

Mr Chilcott called for the commemoration of the past in as inclusive a way as possible, as the best means of hindering those seeking to damage relations between Britian and Ireland, and he warned against allowing them to “wind back the clock”.

Mr Chilcott argued that one of the best ways of preventing this was for governments and historians to come together “in a spirit of transparency and truth seeking to commemorate the past. We should make this as inclusive an endeavour as we can.”

However, Prof Murphy sounded a note of caution about such an approach, saying Mr Chilcott had made it clear when using words such as “inclusiveness” and “reconciliation” that he was referring not just to governmental co-operation over the next decade but also to historians.

“I want to make it clear that the business of historians is history – it is research and teaching – it is not reconciliation and he [Mr Chilcott] seemed to think that the processes attached to historical research could themselves lead to happy conclusions in terms of reconciliation,” said Prof Murphy.

“In fact, it is quite possible that the more we know about the past, the less helpful it could be to the present – there’s no a priori evidence that the study of history is necessarily a good thing in terms of reconciling past differences between Irishmen.

“There’s a flawed logic there and I hope that, as historians, we all recognise that distinction – to understand all is not necessarily to forgive all in a historical context,” said Prof Murphy in an address entitled “Governments, historians and commemorations”.”

– Historian warns about 1916 events, The Irish Times – Monday, October 22, 2012

In an interview with President Higgins by Patsy McGarry, also in the Irish Times, this issue is addressed:

McGarry: You may have seen recently the challenge by Prof John A Murphy to those who would use history for political ends in the context of these centenaries?

Higgins: I totally agree with John A Murphy. John A Murphy has it right. We are not there to put a gloss, what I call a false amnesia. If people contest versions of history, you offer your versions and you’re judged by your peers. And then in turn if it becomes a principle you live with, you construct at most an amnesty and you say we agree to differ and, who knows, in times our narratives revisited from one side or the other can be amended and we move on to a new position. But the one thing you don’t do, you don’t falsify. That wouldn’t work and it wouldn’t be a contribution at all.

I know a lot about this. Remember my father and my two uncles were in the War of Independence. My father was on the republican side and spent 1923 in Newbridge prison on the Curragh and my uncle on the Free State side in Renmore Barracks. They never talked about it. But I think if we are to talk things through,…we are talking about a parity of revisionism where, if you like, the revisionism is not just a case of such a self-examination by one side as will make them amenable to the other. It is about both sides facing the task of a self-interrogation of history. And that’s the way it will be.

– Edited transcript of interview with President Michael D Higgins, The Irish Times – Saturday, November 3, 2012

News of Interest: Broadcasters resist police bid to grab unbroadcast Belfast riot footage

Broadcasters resist police bid to grab unbroadcast Belfast riot footage
Press Gazette
11 October 2012

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is seeking all media footage from an outbreak of violence in north Belfast this summer as it emerged masked rioters hadbeen identified because they drop their cover for smoke and drink breaks.

Police disclosed the slip-up as lawyers for the PSNI appeared at court requesting an order for full production of unbroadcast material and photographs taken during 12 July disorder in the Ardoyne area.

The BBC, Ulster TV, Sky News and the Press Association joined forces in resisting the application at a hearing at Belfast Recorders Court yesterday.

Rioting erupted followed a contentious Orange Order parade and counter-demonstration by nationalist residents.

Twenty PSNI officers were injured and 17 shots were fired at police lines.

Up to 90 people were involved in the trouble.

A detective sergeant in charge of the evidence gathering operation told the court more than 30 suspects have so far been arrested.

The court heard that film of the gunman was obtained from YouTube and aerially from a police helicopter. It showed him emerging from the crowd, opening fire and then running back. He had not been identified.

The detective claimed unused material might hold evidential value, even though it was not regarded as newsworthy.

During cross-examination he disclosed how police have managed to name some of those responsible for the attacks.

“Individuals wearing masks take a smoke break or take a drink,” he said.

“Luckily we have been able to get identifications whenever they drop their guard slightly.”

The Recorder for Belfast, Judge David McFarland, was told police evidence had in the past been significantly enhanced by images captured by media organisations.

Earlier this year the High Court in London quashed a production order that would have forced broadcasters to hand Essex Police unused footage of the Dale Farm traveller site evictions.

The Divisional Court held that those applying for such orders had to show a “clear and compelling case”, backed by clear and specific evidence that production of material was necessary.

That ruling is being seen as potentially shifting the balance towards media organisations in legal battles over disclosure of their unbroadcast and unpublished material.

News chiefs representing the BBC, Ulster TV and Sky all testified yesterday that camera crews covering the riots were instructed not to go beyond police lines.

Sky’s senior Ireland correspondent David Blevins, who was at the scene of the trouble, said his organisation’s material has no further evidential worth.

He said: “I don’t believe it would be of any greater assistance in identifying offenders on the night in question.”

The court reserved judgment.

News of Interest: The Legal Position on Amnesties and the Duty to Prosecute

The legal position on amnesties and the duty to prosecute
PROFESSOR KIERAN MCEVOY
September 13, 2012
Eamonn Mallie.com

In response to The Reverend Lesley Carroll’s call (in the comments section of Brian Rowan’s article titled: “The sorry truth – Are we healing or hiding from the past?”) for members of the legal community to clarify the position on amnesties in terms of the local debate on truth recovery I thought I should respond.

Together with my colleagues Louise Mallinder (UU) and Gordon Anthony (QUB), we are just beginning a project to have a public debate on precisely these issues in partnership with local NGO Healing Through Remembering.

In addition, for the past four or five years Louise and I have also been studying amnesties internationally, including in what circumstances they are lawful and what effect they have had on other peace processes.

These issues are complex, but below I have tried to simplify them as much as possible but forgive me if its a little long as I wanted to be as accurate as possible:

1. PREVALENCE OF AMNESTIES

The first point to make is that amnesties can be perfectly lawful and indeed quite a normal part of the transition from conflict. Between January 1979 and December 2010, an average of 12 amnesty laws were enacted each year around the world.

2. LEGALITY UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW

It is true that ‘self’ amnesties (such as those given by General Pinochet to himself and his supporters in Chile) are no longer lawful under international law. However, amnesties which are conditional and which linked to other processes, such as truth recovery (as in South Africa) or apologies\acknowledgement of what has occurred can be perfectly lawful.

It is true that there is a duty to prosecute offenders when they have been guilty of ‘genocide, war crimes in international conflicts and crimes against humanity’. While these terms are sometimes bandied around rhetorically in politics in Northern Ireland, they are terms which have quite a precise legal meaning and, long story short, these categories most likely do not apply in Northern Ireland.

3. LEGALITY UNDER THE ECHR

Lesley is right of course to raise the relevance of the European Convention of Human Rights. The ECHR creates a duty on states to carry out an effective investigation when state actors have been involved in human rights abuses, it does not impose a duty to prosecute in all circumstances.

The issue of derogation from the ECHR – (derogations occur when the life of the nation is threatened and thus the current threat of violence in NI would not really justify such a dramatic move) –is therefore irrelevant.

Mechanisms which removed the duty to prosecute if they were explicitly linked to other objectives (e.g. truth recovery, closure for victims, reconciliation etc) could, in my view, be perfectly lawful under the ECHR if designed carefully enough.

4. ECHR COMPLIANT ‘NON-PROSECUTIONS ALREADY USED IN THE NI TRANSITION

Indeed, as readers will already be aware, such mechanisms have already been utilised in terms of the legislation introduced with regard to the discovering of the bodies of the disappeared the guarantee of immunity for those who gave evidence to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal, the decommissioning legislation – all of which were ECHR compliant.

5. PROPERLY DESIGNED AMNESTIES CAN BE LEGAL, ISSUE IS POLITICAL

In short designing a lawful amnesty in Northern Ireland linked to truth recovery and reconciliation is certainly feasible from a legal perspective. The real difficulty in the local context with regard to amnesties are political rather than legal. Given that reality, perhaps it makes more sense to speak in terms of looking more closely at the duty to prosecute and in what circumstances the duty to prosecute remains in the public interest.

6. PRACTICAL AND LEGAL DIFFICULTIES WITH HISTORICAL PROSECUTIONS

As was illustrated by the recent collapse of the Loyalist Supergrass trial, prosecutions for historical cases remain notoriously difficult to achieve. Eye witness evidence is unreliable, forensic evidence may not exist or be contaminated, defendants will often remain silent and of course trials and investigations are extremely expensive and may ultimately fail. If in the case where is successfully prosecuted, if the offence occurred before 1998, the maximum they will serve is two years.

If a person is held on remand, they may be convicted, and still walk free from court on the same day as the family members of the victims. In such a case, the trial becomes almost entirely symbolic. Certainly adversarial trials are not a place where defendants are likely to share the kind of truths that victims often crave. Some may argue that such symbolic punishment is important enough, but a broader question then becomes whether it is in the public interest.

7. PROSECUTIONS AND THE MEANING OF PUBLIC INTEREST

Decision on whether a prosecution is in the public interest rest with the Public Prosecution Service, currently headed by Mr Barra McGrory. The decision to proceed with a prosecution requires that the PPS be satisfied of two elements, (a) the evidence test – that there is a reasonable chance of a conviction and, once this test is satisfied, (b) that a prosecution in the public interest.

In 1951 Sir Hartley Shawcross QC MP, the then Attorney General, made the following statement to Parliament in relation to prosecutorial discretion. “It has never been the rule in this country…that suspected criminal offences must automatically be subject of prosecution”

Issues which the PPS may consider in determining not to proceed with a prosecution in the public interest include; the severity of the likely penalty (bearing in mind the two year maximum time served for pre-Good Friday offences); the age of the defendant at the time ; where the defendant has ‘put right the loss or harm that was caused’ and a range of other non-exhaustive considerations.

Although one suspects that the PPS would require a specific set of guidelines to deal with conflict related cases if there was a broader political agreement that it was in the public interest to stay prosecutions because other processes were being established (e.g. a truth recovery mechanism) the broad point remains – Prosecutors already have a discretion not to proceed if it is deemed in the public interest.

I hope this is helpful.

About Professor Kieran McEvoy
Kieran McEvoy is Professor of Law and Transitional Justice and Director of Research at the School of Law Queens University Belfast. He is also a former Director of the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Between 1990-1995 he worked as Information Officer for NIACRO, a large non-governmental organisation which campaigns on behalf of prisoners their families and ex-offenders. He was appointed Assistant Director of the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice in 1995 (which amalgamated with the Law School in 1998) and was promoted to Reader in 2000 and Professor in 2002.

News of Interest: Undereported: Troubles in Northern Ireland

Undereported: Troubles in Northern Ireland
The Leonard Lopate Show
wnyc.org and iTunes
Thursday 23 August 2012

Roughly 14 years have passed since the signing of the Good Friday peace accord, which ended decades of bloody conflict in Northern Ireland. But that doesn’t mean the area is free of conflict, tensions and even violence. Jamie Smyth of the Financial Times talks about the situation. His recent article is called “A Peace to Protect.”

Download

Leonard Lopate (LL) interviews Jamie Smyth (JS) about his article, A Peace to Protect, which appears in today’s The Financial Times.

Leonard Lopate (LL): Roughly fourteen years have passed since the signing of the Good Friday Peace accord that ended decades of bloody conflict in Northern Ireland. But that doesn’t mean the area has remained free of conflict, tensions and even violence. We’re joined now by Jamie Smyth of The Financial Times whose article about the situation is called A Peace to Protect. We have a link to it on our show page

Jamie, welcome to today’s Undereported segment.

Jamie Smyth (JS): Good afternoon.

LL: How long did the conflict over in Northern Ireland go on before the 1998 peace accords?

JS: It was a thirty year period of violence called The Troubles in Northern Ireland which began in the late 1960’s. It sparked out of civil right movements where the situation in Northern Ireland was that the Catholic minority population were excluded from the avenues of power, they suffered jobs discrimination and discrimination in housing. And the civil rights movements started at the end of the 1960’s and it led to clashes with the Protestant dominated government there. And we had the formation of the Irish Republican Army at that stage and three decades of conflict continued from there.

LL: Now the accords were signed in 1998. Is the peace process still technically in place?

JS: Certainly. The peace process is in place and Northern Ireland is a much changed place since that peace agreement was signed. That really brokered an historic compromise between the majority Protestant community and the minority Catholic community. And it ushered in a period of self-government.

So what we’ve seen is that we’ve had fifteen years of relative calm and peace and that has created alot of inward investment into Northern Ireland. So you have had alot of jobs created, the cities are very much changed places… it’s almost a normal life that’s been created there which wasn’t possible during The Troubles.

But over the last three or four years what we’ve begun to see is a slight uptick in violence perpetrated by Republican dissident groups. These are groups that have split off from the former IRA and they’re pursuing a policy of trying to get a united Ireland through violence. We’ve seen several murders and then earlier this year we had a huge bomb which was diffused outside the border town of Newry. This bomb was bigger than the Omagh bomb which was the single biggest act of terrorism during The Troubles in 1998 which killed twenty-nine people.

So there’s alot of concern that this increase in dissident activity could usher in a new era of violence in Northern Ireland.

I think the concern is increased because we’ve also got an economic crisis at the minute in Ireland, and the UK and Northern Ireland.

So we’re seeing a very difficult economic situation, an increase in unemployment and the potential for dissident groups to try and lure young people onto the path of violence again.

LL: So economic problems have led to religious based tensions? Or renewed religious-based tensions? I mean is this still a Catholic-Protestant conflict? Or are we seeing something else developing?

JS: What we’ve seen is that despite fifteen years of peace the two communities still live in very different communities and sectarianism remains a very strong part of life in Northern Ireland especially in working class communities.

So there are large working class estates where you wouldn’t have different communities living together. The Catholic and Protestant communities live on these estates separated out from themselves and there still is alot of conflict and division there. I think the danger is that in some of these most marginalised estate, especially in the Republican areas which are the Catholic areas, you are beginning to see a certain breakdown and disenchantment with the peace process and with the Sinn Féin party which is now part of the government in Northern Ireland and which was previously linked to the IRA.

So there’s a fight going on for the hearts and minds of working class young people in some of these estates and you’re seeing a growing disenchantment with the peace process and Sinn Féin and the peace process as the economy worsens.

LL: Well, the economy has worsened both in Ireland and in the UK. Are these people feeling a kind of a pinch from both sides?

JS: I think what the people are feeling in these working class communities….you know for the article that I wrote I traveled to several different estates in Belfast and up in (London) Doire. And what you see are communities where the peace dividend and investment actually never really reached them. So these are communities of people where you’ve got six out of ten people are economically inactive. There are very little jobs…so for example the week in July when I traveled up to these areas there was a piece in the paper about how there were two thousand three hundred applications for fourteen jobs at a furniture store.

So the situation is compounded by the fact that there aren’t that many jobs. And also there’s a certain frustration with Sinn Féin, which is now in government, and which previously would have run these Republican areas and been very, very strong there.

Because it’s entered government now and it supports the police, the police are in these areas alot and the community has alot of difficulties with them. And also they see that Sinn Féin has, to a certain extent, given its own supporters a lot of the jobs, a lot of the funding.

So there’s a real frustration that Sinn Féin has sold out and a united Ireland has not been brought about.

But it would be wrong to over-exaggerate this. This is particularly in the marginalised working class communities; places like Doire, Lurgan, some parts of Belfast where this sort of fight on the ground for the hearts and minds of the working class communities is going on.

LL: Isn’t the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland much lower now than it was in 1982 when it was at twenty percent? I thought that the peace agreements helped the economy? Companies started going in there…there was alot more investment.

Has that all died down? Is that partly because of England’s problems today and the fact that Ireland has a pretty sick economy right now? (Ireland…it’s neighbour).

JS: Really what you saw after the 1998 peace agreement was a real decade of rapid growth in the economy.

Unemployment fell very strongly. And alot of people got jobs in the construction industry because you had a huge property boom all across the island of Ireland and in Northern Ireland.

What we’ve had since is a major property bust in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Just for an example, house prices have collapsed by more than fifty percent in these communities and hundreds and thousands of construction workers have lost their jobs.

And of course it’s the working class communities where alot of people had gotten jobs in the construction industry and they are now not available. So you’ve got alot of young people with very little to do and they’re vulnerable to being recruited by dissidents.

But also I think it’s not just an economic issue it’s an ideological issue.

What’s happened is that as Sinn Féin has gone into government and supported the police in Northern Ireland you’ve had people becoming disenchanted with the fact that they’re becoming an establishment party in Northern Ireland whereas they used to be a party of revolution.

So for people that haven’t really benefited in the peace dividend and the boom they are getting increasingly disenfranchised with that and that’s where you’re seeing these armed groups beginning to recruit some young people.

LL: Are there Protestant militant groups as well?

JS: Yeah. There sure are. The UDA and UVF are still around in Northern Ireland. And just last Summer you saw huge riots out in East Belfast which were instigated by Ulster Volunteer Force which are one of the main paramilitary groups.

They’re still taking part in punishment beatings of young people who step out of line in their communities. And they’re still involved in crime, extortion, rackets.

I think on both sides of the community these paramilitary groups are anxious to keep control of the working class areas because it brings in a regular income. And it also gives them status within their own community. And that’s one of the big problems here that since the peace agreement some of the paramilitaries that lost their sort of goal in life and they see clinging on to these sort of dissident groups as a way to maintain power and lifestyle.

LL: The Detail, which is an online investigative wing of a Belfast TV station, did an analysis of government data and found that sixty thousand members of the public in Northern Ireland legally own over a hundred and forty-six thousand firearms. I’m assuming there are alot of illegal weapons out there as well which could lead to a seriously inflammatory situation. We have just moments left but has David Cameron’s approach to Northern Ireland been different than his predecessor’s?

JS: Well certainly on the ground in Northern Ireland you get alot of frustration from community workers who feel that the British and the Irish governments have taken their eye off the ball. David Cameron has been criticised for not meeting the leaders of the Northern Irish executive. In fact, meeting them less than those leaders have met Barack Obama since he was elected. So there’s been a very much been a hands-off approach by both government as they struggle with their own economic problems. And there’s a hope that they’ll be more re-engagement there. And also you would see that the issue certainly has gone down from America which was a huge supporter of the peace process.

LL: Jamie Smyth’s article A Peace to Protect in The Financial Times. You can find it on our show page; we have a link to it there. My great thanks to you for talking about The Troubles in Northern Ireland on today’s back story segment. It’s been a pleasure, I guess…(quips) that’s kind of scary and sad…..

JS: (laughs) Thank you.

(Interview ends 12:36 minutes)


Northern Ireland: A peace to protect
By Jamie Smyth
Financial Times
August 14, 2012

A worsening economy could increase the allure of paramilitaries

Andrew Allen was playing computer games with his nephew in February when gunmen shot him through the living room window, leaving the father-of-two dying in a pool of blood.

The 24-year-old is the latest person from Northern Ireland to be killed by so-called dissident Republicans opposed to the Good Friday peace accord agreed in 1998.

That agreement had made Northern Ireland a self-governing part of the UK and brokered a historic compromise between the Protestant majority, which favours retaining the link to Britain, and Catholics, who traditionally favour a united Ireland. The deal sparked widespread optimism that one of Europe’s most intractable conflicts – three decades known euphemistically as “the troubles” – was finally at an end. But violence still simmers and community leaders fear Northern Ireland could slide back if a weakening economy helps paramilitaries win recruits.

“When the peace was agreed, I said to myself: ‘Thank God my boys are not growing up in the middle of all that violence.’ But then they murdered Andrew and tore my family apart,” says Donna Smith, Mr Allen’s mother, speaking in her living room in the city of Londonderry, known to Catholics as Derry. A photograph of her son hangs prominently on the wall.

Mr Allen was targeted by a vigilante group called Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), composed of former members of the Irish Republican Army – the guerrilla group that fought British forces during the troubles and later disarmed during the peace process. While the level of violence is still well below the ferocity seen during the worst periods of the conflict, and has even improved since 2002, many people warn that politicians now need to refocus on Northern Ireland’s festering divisions.

Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-Operation Ireland, a charity that works with young people in working-class communities, says the economic downturn provides a fertile recruiting ground for paramilitary gangs. The crisis is also diverting the UK and Irish governments from the peace process at a particularly dangerous time, he says.

“My fear is that they work hard to fix the economy but they take their eye off the ball in Northern Ireland and paramilitary gangs get stronger. The growth in violent extremism has the potential to be a longer-term threat to the economy than the current recession. The dissidents are growing in strength and capability,” says Mr Sheridan, a former police officer in Northern Ireland.

His comments follow recent criticism of British prime minister David Cameron by Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland assembly, who accused him of making a “serious mistake” in failing to engage with Northern Ireland in the same way as his predecessors.

Mr Allen’s home town of Londonderry has been one of the focal points of discontent. For several nights in July, youths fought police on the Galliagh estate, throwing petrol bombs and setting bins and tyres alight. A 31-year-old man was shot in the legs by RAAD in a suspected dispute between rival dissidents. Since 2008 there have been 40 punishment shootings or “knee cappings” in Londonderry.

Some of the incidents over recent years have harked back to the worst of the troubles. In April the police discovered a 600lb bomb, which was more powerful than the 1998 Omagh bomb that killed 29 people.

This followed the murder in March 2009 of Stephen Carroll, the first member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to be killed by dissidents. Two British soldiers were murdered by dissidents in the same month, shot dead as they collected pizzas from a delivery man. In 2011 a car bomb killed a Catholic policeman.

These killings came as a shock after years of economic boom in which there had been a lull in violence.

Peace provided an economic dividend by attracting foreign investment, particularly in the software, IT and aerospace sectors. There have been large redevelopment projects in Belfast and in Londonderry, which has been named the UK’s inaugural city of culture for 2013. Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate is 6.9 per cent, which is below the UK’s 8 per cent and has improved greatly from 20 per cent back in 1982. But some working-class Catholic communities are showing a growing alienation from the peace process and from Sinn Féin, the Republican party linked to the IRA that is now part of the Northern Ireland government. Rioting, attacks on police, punishment shootings and threats against Sinn Féin members are common on housing estates in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, Kilwilkie in Lurgan and several estates in Londonderry.

Protestant communities also have violent paramilitaries engaged in rioting, drug-running, assaults and murder. However, security forces say the vast majority of casualties from shootings – in fact, all 33 cases in the 12 months to March – are carried out by Republican groups. The Republicans also attract more attention in the appraisal of security in Northern Ireland because they offer more ideological justifications for their use of violence. Tensions are also raised by internal schisms, with some Republicans frustrated that Sinn Féin has joined the establishment before uniting Ireland.

Tommy McCourt, a Catholic community activist who works at the Rosemont Resource Centre near Londonderry’s deprived Creggan estate, says Sinn Féin is losing its grip.

“People were told they would have a bright future and it would be a land of milk and honey with jobs from the US flowing into Derry. Now the economy is going down big-time and people are asking: ‘What came out of the peace process for us?’ Fuck all is the answer,” says Mr McCourt, a former member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, which rejects the 1998 peace deal.

Mr McCourt, who keeps a samurai sword in his office, which he jokes helps concentration during meetings, explains that Sinn Féin is seen as too entrenched in Northern Ireland’s governing establishment. The party is also trying to forge a greater mainstream role in Dublin, where it is competing to become the biggest opposition party.

Long-term unemployment is rife on the Creggan estate, with six out of 10 people classed as “economically inactive”. In a sign of the deepening recession, 2,308 people applied for 14 jobs on offer at a new DFS furniture store.

. . .

This hardship has coincided with disenchantment among hardline Republicans over issues ranging from opposition to policing, Sinn Féin’s control over jobs and resources in working-class areas and the imprisonment of several high-profile Republicans, including Marian Price – an IRA militant who helped plant bombs in London in 1973 that killed one person and injured almost 200.

This climate has presented opportunities for hardline groups of dissident Republicans, who oppose the peace process and aim to usurp Sinn Féin and exert control over marginalised communities.

“There are various groupings which have taken on the ideology around violent republicanism but there are no strict demarcation lines between the groups. In different areas it depends on who the lead figures are, who their associates and relatives are and long-term associations, which sometimes have been made in prison,” says Drew Harris, assistant chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

He identifies a surge in dissident activity from 2007 when the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin agreed to share power and members of Sinn Féin began to take their seats on local policing boards. But he says the downturn and weakening construction sector also had an impact because job opportunities were scarce.

Until now, co-operation between dissident groups has been limited and there has been no central command structure – a factor that made the IRA such a potent guerrilla force. But in a statement released by dissident Republicans to the Guardian in July the Real IRA, RAAD and self-styled Óglaigh na hÉireann said they were merging under the banner of the IRA.

It is difficult to determine how coherent they can be given their different geographical strongholds and history of internal feuding.

The PSNI says the dissident threat is not as severe as that posed by the IRA during the troubles, but it acknowledges the danger. There are probably less than 1,000 operational dissidents and closer co-operation with the Irish police is helping to put many in jail. About 180 dissidents have been charged with offences, some with crime-related charges rather than terrorism, says the PSNI.

“Crime is important because it provides funds. Some of the dissidents have got wedded to the lifestyle and there is an element of personal profit. It is often convenient to drape themselves in the cloak of republicanism,” says Mr Harris, who cites fuel and cigarette smuggling, extortion and robberies as staple activities.

Sinn Féin has recently stepped up its criticism of dissidents, describing them as “enemies of Ireland”.

“They (dissidents) have no strategy that makes sense and have minimal support and when they try to stand in elections they have been wiped out,” says Gerry Kelly, a former IRA man who received a life sentence for his part in a 1973 bomb attack in London and is now a member of the Northern Ireland assembly.

He says the dissidents are very different from the IRA because they are run by individuals ruling in small fiefdoms without any central command or rules and regulations. A lack of support means they will not be able to pull Northern Ireland back.

“But anyone with a gun or a bomb can do great damage. The Omagh [bomb] is the perfect example of that and unfortunately that could happen again,” says Mr Kelly, who had his arm broken when he attempted to stop youths protesting in the Ardoyne area.

. . .

On the streets of the Rosemont and Creggan estates in Londonderry and the Ardoyne in Belfast, the battle for control is visible in the graffiti and murals on the walls of houses and shops. Anti-Sinn Féin graffiti has been painted over in several places. Graffiti both for and against the dissidents has been daubed over the walls.

“Some young people really hate the dissidents because they tend to be the victims of their attacks but others join them and are sympathetic to their cause,” says Darren O’Reilly, a Londonderry community worker who takes young people ice skating.

Colm Bryce is a member of a group called “RAAD – Not in Our Name”, which holds rallies to draw attention to the dangers of resurgent violence.

“A lot of us thought after the Omagh bomb, they were finished but now they are coming back and threatening peace,” he says.

News of Interest: So they think it’s all over in Northern Ireland?

So they think it’s all over in Northern Ireland?
By Jane Winter, Special to CNN
Global Public Square
CNN WORLD
August 6th, 2012

Peace has broken out and nobody needs to worry about Northern Ireland anymore. At least, that’s what the British government would like you to think. The reality is different.

Fourteen years on from the Belfast/Good Friday peace agreement brokered by U.S. Senator George Mitchell, active paramilitaries are still out there with the capacity to inflict serious violence and do real damage to the peace process. Hardly a day passes without an attack on the police or some innocent Catholic or Protestant.

However, it’s not just the paramilitaries that put the peace process at risk; our decision makers also have a lot to answer for.

Who would have thought that in 2012, there would once again be a protest in one of Northern Ireland’s prisons that mirrors the hunger strikes back in the 1980s? Who would have believed that, for the second time in her life, Marian Price, convicted of IRA bombings in London in the 1970s, would find herself the only female prisoner in an all-male jail, simply because there’s no high-security facility for female prisoners in Northern Ireland?  Who would have believed that the Police Ombudsman would be forced to resign over his lack of independence?

Who would have expected the government to ditch the Bill of Rights that was promised in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement to reflect the particular needs of Northern Ireland as it moved from conflict to an uneasy peace? Who would have dreamed that the groundbreaking police Historical Enquiries Team, which is looking at unsolved murders arising out of the conflict, would end up having to refer viable cases back to the very police service it was investigating?  Who would have foreseen that, having set up at considerable public expense a Consultative Group on the Past, the government would simply bury its recommendations virtually without a trace?

And, finally, who could have imagined that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron would summon the family of Patrick Finucane, a lawyer murdered in 1989 with the involvement of military intelligence, the police, and the intelligence service MI5, only to tell them that he would not give them the inquiry public opinion believes  they deserve?

The situation in Northern Ireland may seem like chicken feed when compared with the problems in many other countries, but Northern Ireland has many lessons for the rest of the world about dealing with counterterrorism, unfortunately most of them negative. It’s a tragedy that the British army, while deployed in Iraq, is accused of using the same techniques of torture and ill-treatment that it developed during internment without trial in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. This despite promises to the U.K. Parliament and to the European Court of Human Rights that those methods would never be used again.

It’s equally tragic that something akin to internment is under contemplation in the U.K in draft legislation, and that evidence has emerged pointing to complicity by British intelligence services in torture in third countries. Such actions simply create more terrorists and more martyrs to their cause.  We ignore the lessons of Northern Ireland at our peril.

That’s why friends of Northern Ireland, in the United States, the Republic of Ireland, and elsewhere in the world, shouldn’t take their eye off the ball. It was their friendship and leadership, especially in the United States, that made the peace process possible and kept it alive. Their scrutiny is vital to ensuring that Northern Ireland doesn’t slip quietly back into undeclared war, but finds a way of moving forward into a truly democratic and peaceful future where there is respect for everyone’s human rights.

As a first step toward turning the spotlight on Northern Ireland, those friends should be asking the British government what it intends to do about delivering the Bill of Rights it promised for Northern Ireland.

Jane Winter is director of British Irish Rights Watch, an independent non-governmental organization. The views expressed are her own.

News of Interest: The Scottish soldiers dogged by accusations of sectarianism

The Scottish soldiers dogged by accusations of sectarianism
Alasdair McKillop
Scottish Review
7 August 2012

It is now five years since the end of Operation Banner – the British army’s campaign in Northern Ireland. It was the longest continuous deployment in the history of the army and a campaign which saw it take lives within the borders of the United Kingdom. It lost considerably more than it took. Remarkably, ‘Times of Troubles: Britain’s War in Northern Ireland’ by Andrew Sanders and Ian S Wood (Edinburgh University Press) represents the first full-length, academic study of the campaign.

There is a veritable publishing industry – to which both authors have contributed independently and impressively – devoted to loyalist and republican paramilitary groups but the army has so far escaped sustained scholarly consideration. Mention should be made of Aaron Edwards’ ‘The Northern Ireland Troubles: Operation Banner’ which appeared as part of Osprey’s ‘Essential History’ series. Admirably concise and visually attractive, it nevertheless had to make inevitable concessions to contextualisation and, at only 95 pages, this limited the space for the testimonies of ordinary soldiers.

‘Times of Troubles’ is able to offer a richer and more compelling history of the British army’s campaign in Northern Ireland. Interviews spanning several decades – some of which appeared in Wood’s chapter in the 1994 edited collection ‘Scotland and Ulster’ – are complemented by material from regimental journals which provide humorous but unvarnished accounts. The army’s antagonists are represented in the form of interviews with former IRA volunteers including Richard O’Rawe and the currently incarcerated Marian Price.

Sanders and Wood have produced an outstanding and judicious book on a topic fraught with difficulties. There is evident sympathy with the ordinary soldier as he adapted to a testing environment in which a vicious enemy usually had the initiative. This sympathy, however, does not lead to a superficial treatment of episodes which saw British soldiers take lives or behave unacceptably. One incident, which saw a mother of 12 blinded and disfigured by the needless firing of a rubber bullet, stands out as an example of violence begetting violence. A friend of one of her daughters would later join the IRA and be killed by the SAS in Gibraltar. Bloody Sunday is inevitably and rightly covered in some detail.

The authors do well to evoke the different rhythms and dangers faced by the army in Belfast, Londonderry and rural settings such as south Armagh. Similarly, different regimental characteristics come to the fore and the book does little to dispel the Parachute Regiment’s reputation – captured in Kevin Myers’ ‘Watching the Door’ – for unnecessary and provocative aggression. On the other hand they point out that only a small number of soldiers were involved in the deadly shooting on Bloody Sunday, the event with which the regiment will be forever associated.

Throughout the book there is an emphasis on Scottish regiments such as the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, the Royal Highland Fusiliers and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. It prompts unexpected reflections on contemporary Scotland when they disclose that Scottish regiments serving in Northern Ireland were dogged by accusations of sectarianism.

Soldiers patrolling the St James’ area of the Lower Falls in the early years of the conflict would have seen graffiti reading ‘Sectarian Scots get out’. Gerry Adams claimed ‘Orange bigotry’ was particularly strong in Scottish regiments while Marian Price said: ‘In the nationalist areas, the Scottish regiments were notoriously bad, but I think that’s to do with the sectarianism within Scotland, they were just appalling’. This assertion is undermined by the authors who point out that some regiments, particularly those that recruited in the west of Scotland such as the Royal Highland Fusiliers, were often as much as one third Catholic.

There is a particularly revealing quote from a Coatbridge Catholic who served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He said: ‘I still can’t understand how any Catholics would do what the IRA does or give them support. To me it’s just terror…I’ll tell you one thing, though, when I was on street patrols in Belfast I never worried about whether the boy covering me with his rifle was a Catholic or Protestant’.

The book is marked by some courageous challenges to received wisdom such as the suggestion that in the closing stages of the conflict the army was in fact in a position to inflict a decisive military defeat on the IRA. They also puncture the IRA’s self-righteousness by arguing persuasively that the British army was the most effective defender of the nationalist community.

The authors are doubtful about the existence of widespread and co-ordinated collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries. They argue that the IRA death toll during the conflict would surely have been much higher if this had been going on to any considerable extent. The book confirms that the more interesting questions surround the extent of the British state’s involvement in ushering the republican movement to peace.

Marian Price, a vocal and long-standing critic of the current Sinn Fein leadership, offers a dramatic take on this by arguing that the SAS were used to eliminate people who might have posed a more hard-line threat to Gerry Adams’ leadership. One of the conclusions to be drawn is that the ‘secret war’ remains arguably the last great frontier of writing on the Northern Ireland conflict. Producing such a history is likely to prove extremely difficult and encounter entrenched resistance from the various stakeholders in the peace process.

Furthermore, veteran journalist Henry McDonald recently disclosed that the Boston College-Belfast Project legal fiasco has scuppered the plans of a major London university to record the testimonies of special branch, MI5 and army intelligence officers. Peter Geoghegan, writing in the Scotsman, argued that the inevitable loss of trust ‘will probably bring a premature end to oral history research into the Troubles’.

That would be unfortunate if it came to pass because ‘Times of Troubles’ demonstrates what is possible when oral history is deployed in the service of first-rate scholarship.

Debate over interview material could be key to Luka Rocco Magnotta murder trial

Debate over interview material could be key to Luka Rocco Magnotta murder trial
BY CATHERINE SOLYOM
THE MONTREAL GAZETTE
AUGUST 1, 2012 7:20 AM

Amid all the forensic material gathered in the case of slain Chinese university student Lin Jun, an interview with a research subject known as “Jimmy” may seem insignificant.

But the motions to keep that interview confidential — introduced Friday by accused killer Luka Magnotta on the one hand, and the researchers on the other — are garnering attention across the country as they bring into direct opposition the desire to prosecute a heinous killing by all means available and the public interest in safeguarding the confidentiality promised to research subjects like Jimmy, who would otherwise remain silent.

If a judge quashes the motions and allows the interview to be included with other evidence, it will be a first in Canada, says Simon Fraser University criminologist John Lowman.

“I can’t imagine what they think is in that interview that would be relevant, which doesn’t meant there isn’t something,” Lowman said Tuesday. “But one has to ask what is in the other set of scales from the desire to prosecute this heinous crime … If criminologists are turned into (police) informers we cannot do our work. We would be left studying only convicted criminals — the failures — and it’s precisely the research we do with unconvicted criminals that is so important.”

Most of Magnotta’s case file is sealed pending his trial for first-degree murder, including the search warrant executed at the law offices of Lex Canada in Toronto on June 22, where police got hold of the interview, three weeks after Magnotta was arrested at an Internet café in Berlin.

Magnotta’s Toronto lawyer, Luc Leclair, has declined to comment on why his client is trying to keep the interview out of the public domain. Magnotta often used the pseudonym Jimmy when seeking work as an escort or in pornographic films.

But the two researchers, University of Ottawa criminologists Christine Bruckert and Colette Parent whose work centres on the sex industry, are challenging the search warrant on the basis of “confidentiality privilege.” Like lawyers to clients, doctors to patients, journalists to sources, researchers must be able to promise their subjects strict confidentiality, Lowman argues — and defend that relationship in court.

In dozens of cases in the U.S., researchers have fought subpoenas and the courts have overwhelmingly upheld the confidentiality of their research. In only two cases have scholars gone to jail for contempt of court: Samuel Popkin of Harvard University went to jail for seven days for not divulging the source of the Pentagon Papers and Rik Scarce of Washington State University went to jail for 157 days when he refused to divulge his sources when studying animal rights activists, accused of blowing up a research facility.

But in Canada there has only been one previous case of a researcher being asked by the courts to identify a subject, former SFU criminologist Russell Ogden, who studied people who had assisted in the suicides of persons with AIDS.

When the Vancouver coroner in 1994 subpoenaed him to give evidence at an inquest, he refused. He argued that his research met the Wigmore criteria — a common law test administered to establish privilege: in short, that confidentiality was promised, essential to the relationship, used for a public good, and that breaking that confidence would produce more harm than benefit. The coroner agreed and no charges were brought against Ogden.

This second case, to be argued Aug. 31 in Quebec Superior Court, shows the need for Canada to come up with a framework similar to that of the “confidentiality certificates” granted in the U.S. by the Secretary of Health and Human Services where research on sensitive topics is protected from legal challenge, Lowman said.

Not all research in the U.S. is immune to legal challenge, however, as evidenced by the ongoing case of Boston College’s Belfast Project — an oral history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland based on 26 interviews with Irish Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries gathered between 2001-2006.

The British Government has subpoenaed two of the interviews in particular, and “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville” — a woman from Northern Ireland who, in 1972, was abducted and killed by the Provisional IRA. The case is still before the courts, but while senators and congressmen in the U.S. press for the subpoenas to be withdrawn, Irish parliamentarians warn the matter could derail the Northern Ireland peace process.

“When you ask about the horrendous crime against Lin Jun, yes it is,” Lowman said. “But that’s what’s in the other pan on the scales of justice.”