Memorandum submitted by Sinn Féin
The British Government as a major protagonist
in the conflict in Ireland is partial and partisan. It must not
therefore arrogate onto itself the right to establish a process
to deal with "Truth" and transitional justice issues
in Ireland. An independent referee is required.
It is a matter of historical fact that the British
state has never been able to handle the "Truth" about
its role in Ireland. Amongst other things the "Truth"
records partition, discrimination, Bloody Sunday, the Dublin-Monaghan
bombings, and systematic institutionalised collusion with unionist
For decades successive British governments have
denied corporate responsibility for the conflict in Ireland and
covered up the involvement of their military, intelligence and
police agencies in the murder of citizens.
The announcement by Tony Blair and Paul Murphy
in April of "a pre-consultation process on finding a way
to draw a line under the past" was greeted with cynicism
by many people in Irelandnot least because it coincided
with the publication of Justice Peter Cory's report into collusion
between British state forces and unionist paramilitaries. This
is much too sensitive a subject to be treated in this way.
Two months later, amidst much publicity, Paul
Murphy travelled to South Africa, "to look at international
models of truth and reconciliation". Has the British government
suddenly been converted to the need to tell the truth about its
activities in Ireland?
These recent developments provide no evidence
of a change of attitude on the part of the British Government
to a policy of cover-up in Ireland extending back generations.
For our part Sinn Féin has been proactive
in trying to address the issues of truth, healing and the past.
We are committed to finding an agreed way forward. In September
2003 we published and circulated our proposals and have actively
engaged with a wide range of groups and individuals. We have also
been in contact with the UN seeking advice on mechanisms for transitional
justice and in particular, on the necessity for independence in
any process, which might emerge in Ireland.
Our position is clear. We support relatives
in their search for truth. We support campaigns for full and open
disclosure in the quest for truth and justice. This includes the
campaigns for inquiries into the killings on Bloody Sunday and
of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill and also those
arising from British and unionist collusion on both sides of the
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 requires the
parties "to acknowledge and address the suffering of the
victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation".
After three decades of conflict, and 10 years of the peace process,
there is now increasing discussion in Ireland about a truth recovery
process and how it could be structured. The current efforts to
end the crisis in the peace process, underline the need for this
to be first and foremost about learning the lessons of the past
so as not to repeat them. There could be no better start to this
than for the British Government to publicly acknowledge its primary
institutional responsibility and to initiate processes for examining
its own culpability.
Tireless campaigning by the families of victims
has placed "Truth" on the agenda and brought hitherto
hidden facts into the public domain. One thing is clearuntil
the British state abandons its policy of cover-up and concealing
the truth there will be no closure.
Some families have spent decades in pursuit
of the truth, coming up against one closed door after another.
In only a few cases have inquiries been conceded. In the vast
majority of cases, however, those who have lost loved ones have
been denied the truth as a matter of British Government policy.
In fact every effort imaginable has been made to hide and obscure
what happened to hundreds of people killed by British state and
This has included different sections of the
British government blocking avenues of inquiry being pursued by
the Saville tribunal, the destruction of evidence in relation
to Bloody Sunday; the character assassination of John Stalker
when he was unearthing the truth, the curtailment of the terms
of reference for the Sampson/Stevens inquiry and the refusal of
the PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde to provide information to inquests.
When challenged on the true nature of its activities
in Ireland the British State's response has always been denial,
concealment and cover-up. When faced with the truth it invariably
lies, loses files, destroys evidence, frustrates inquests and
issues Public Interest Immunity Certificates.
The British Government has, at various times
over the past 35 years, tried to portray itself as an impartial
referee coping with two warring factions in the North of Ireland.
This is the fundamental untruth blocking progress on this issue.
An act of acknowledgement on the part of the British Government
and a mechanism to generate public information about its role
in the conflict would transform the whole debate around "Truth"
and create a new positive dynamic with regard to healing, transition
Collusion with unionist death squads has been
part of British policy in Ireland prior to partition and the subsequent
formation of the six county state. British forces and unionist
paramilitaries have routinely shared intelligence, weapons and
personnel. This use of "friendly forces" to kill the
enemy or "terrorise the terrorists" is not a new phenomenon.
It has been used in Kenya, Malaya, Aden, Cyprus and other counter-insurgency
wars fought by British governments in the 1950s and 60s. But in
the 1980s, under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, collusion
became much more controlled and refined. Specific mechanisms were
established to control and direct loyalist death squads. State
sponsored murder was established as a politically sanctioned,
tactic at the heart of British policy.
One agent, Brian Nelson, travelled to South
Africa in the mid 1980s to organize the importation of hundreds
of weapons and grenades subsequently divided up between the unionist
paramilitary groups the UDA, UVF and the Ulster Resistance group
founded by Ian Paisley. Hundreds of people died as a result. Many
of those involved are still in the British system. They still
run agents here. This has naturally led to deeply rooted anger,
frustration and a trenchant campaign for the truththe whole
If your committee believes that a serious attempt
should be made to "deal with the past", then clearly,
an international body must be invited in to do the job. No one
in Ireland believes that Paul Murphy's remit is to put in place
a process, which will properly and transparently expose policies
authorized at the highest level of the British establishment.
Since the killing of Pat Finucane by a British/Unionist
death squad in February 1989 his family has campaigned for a full,
independent, international judicial inquiry. The British government
has resisted this for 15 years.
There is a remarkable reluctance on the part
of your government to get at the truth of this matter. Pat Finucane's
killing is only the tip of the iceberg. He and hundreds of others
died as a consequence of the administrative practice of collusion
which oversaw British agencies arming, training and providing
target lists and information to unionist paramilitaries who then
carried out the actual murders.
If the British state and its agencies are serious
about uncovering the past in order that we could all benefit from
learning its lessons they should take the lead on this issue and
give us the truth. There would be no need for any inquiries if
the PSNI, British Military Intelligence and the various arms of
the British State in Ireland were to open up their files and encourage
their employees to tell us how and why they killed hundreds of
people over the years.
The impunity enjoyed by those who planned and
prosecuted Britain's war in Ireland strikes at the very heart
of any notion of healing and closure. The concept of "impunity"the
fact that certain people within society are in practice above
the lawwill be central to any discussions on truth. To
concede impunity, and indeed invisibility, to those who planned
and perpetrated Britain's dirty war is to invite contempt for
the rule of law and thus undermine one of the fundamental premises
of democracy. The principal argument for this is not one of retribution,
but to signal official condemnation of their behaviour and prevent
There was never any question of impunity for
Republicans15,000 of them spent 100,000 years in prison.
We have grave concerns about how the British
Government is approaching the issue of truth recovery. The NIO
claims to be engaged in some form of consultation yet no victims
groups that we are aware of have been consulted. Perhaps your
committee will be able to establish which groups, if any, have
been invited to contribute.
If the intention is to direct and divert the
debate towards a process of storytelling for victims, it will
not succeed. Giving people the chance to tell their stories can
play an important part in the quest for closure. Republicans recognise
this. It can however be only one part of a package. For an even
greater number of people and for the overall health of society,
there is a clear need for a process of historical clarification,
which would look at the "causes, nature and extent"
of the conflict. Anything less will only re-enforce the hierarchy
of victims established by the British State and serve a narrow
and self-serving British Government strategy of concealment.
Sinn Fein is not being prescriptive with regard
to the issue of truth recovery, we are not attached to any particular
model. Anyone genuinely interested in discussing ways to bring
healing and closure to people who have suffered as a result of
the recent conflict, will find our door open. We believe however
that there are certain values and principles, which should underpin
Those participating should be informed
by humility, generosity and a desire to learn the lessons of the
It should have National Reconciliation
as its core aim.
The United Nations or another reputable
international agency must be involved from the outset.
Any process should be victim-centered,
with no hierarchy.
All of the relevant parties should
agree to full co-operation and disclosure.
Two things must now happen if this discussion
is to be advanced:
(1) The British government must acknowledge
its role in creating and maintaining the conflict in Ireland.
(2) It must then sit down with the other
relevant parties to agree a credible independent body to facilitate
a process of truth recovery.