Not too many journalists’ work makes me pause, and recognise that amongst the millions of words pumped out about the so-called ‘Peace Process’, with all the blind eyes and deaf ears turned away from the truth which just plain refuses to just shut up and go away, there sometimes appears an article, a commentary which rings true; and so from Jenny McCartney:-
A 43-year-old man called Seamus Daly was charged last week in connection with the 1998 Omagh bomb, the worst single republican terrorist atrocity in Northern Ireland’s history. A massive car bomb exploded in the central shopping area of the town on a busy Saturday afternoon: bungled, inaccurate warnings from those responsible meant that civilians were placed at maximum risk. In the explosion, 29 people died, including children, teenagers and one woman who was heavily pregnant with twins.
The attack was carried out by the “Real” IRA, a dissident group in opposition to the strategy pursued at the time by the Provisional IRA. For years, the prosecution went nowhere. Finally, the families of the victims succeeded in 2009 with a landmark civil prosecution against four men linked to the Real IRA, who were ordered to pay compensation of £1.6 million. One of them was Daly, who still denies involvement.
Just a couple of days before Daly’s arrest, another republican once linked to bombing campaigns appeared in the news: Martin McGuinness, the former IRA commander and current Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. He was attending a white-tie banquet with the Queen at Windsor Castle. The long list of atrocities against civilians committed by the Provisional IRA contains details no less searing than those of Omagh – from the 1978 La Mon bombing (in which 12 guests at a hotel dinner dance were burned to death by an IRA napalm bomb) to the 1993 Shankill bomb, which killed nine shoppers.
Now, I know that the logic of the “peace process” is that a line has been drawn under past IRA and loyalist violence in the understanding that there would be no more of it. This difficult bargain was enshrined in the Belfast Agreement, and resulted in the early release of paramilitary prisoners, one of the hardest things for both Protestant and Catholic victims of sectarian terrorism to bear. That much, at least, was out in the open. And yet, as has emerged of late, other deals relating to the IRA have been fervently concealed. It appears that London and Washington would do anything to ensure that IRA members did not face the consequences of their actions, even when they broke the rules.
Last week Mandy McAuley, a reporter for the BBC’s Northern Ireland Spotlight team, aired her impressively detailed investigation into the IRA’s gun-running from the US during its ceasefire. She interviewed Mike Logan, a self-avowed Florida gun-runner, who described in detail how from 1995 until 1999 – throughout two IRA ceasefires and the Belfast Agreement – he smuggled firearms into Northern Ireland at the behest of Sean Murray, now a key Sinn Fein negotiator, who has described the allegation as without foundation. Logan alleged that one of the guns he imported was used in the 1997 IRA murder of two RUC constables, David Johnston and John Graham, who were shot in the back of the head while on patrol in Lurgan (the IRA resumed its ceasefire the following month). The programme showed PC Johnston’s seven-year-old son Louie at the funeral, his face contorted in an agony of loss.
Logan said that the gun-running only stopped when four other men who had become involved were caught. The US prosecutor of the four known as “the Florida Four” said that senior White House officials put him under extreme pressure to withdraw his statement that the guns were meant for the IRA. The truth about the importation of IRA arms could not be told, you see: surreally, it might affect the “peace process”.
Add to this the secret “letters of assurance” given by the Northern Ireland Office to IRA fugitives, which effectively provided them with immunity from prosecution. There is also the recent testimony to MPs from Norman Baxter, a former senior police officer, that Downing Street had leant on him in 2007 to cease questioning an IRA suspect. There are, too, allegations by Martin McGartland, a West Belfast Catholic man who became a valuable British agent within the IRA, that there was a cover-up surrounding a 1999 assassination attempt on him, to avoid linking the guns used to the IRA.
I don’t want to see a fully-fledged IRA campaign start up again; I grew up in Northern Ireland under that dark shadow and saw the endless scenes of pale, stricken relatives walking behind coffins. But as more evidence emerges, I also see a British government so desperate not to rock the boat that it is prepared to pardon – without public consent – those who caused the violent deaths of its own citizens, to overlook gun-running, and to contort and suppress the truth.
I wonder what it says to those who would commit such terrible acts in the future. I wonder what it says about justice. And I wonder to myself: what has Britain become?