Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Written Evidence


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 killer gangs.

  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 Ireland—not 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 border.


  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 clear—until 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 semi-state forces.

  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 and closure.


  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 truth—the whole truth.

  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 law—will 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 its recurrence.

  There was never any question of impunity for Republicans—15,000 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 any process.

    —  Those participating should be informed by humility, generosity and a desire to learn the lessons of the past.

    —  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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 14 April 2005