Investigations & Analysis - Northern Ireland
A A+

Political battle lines

03 FEBRUARY 2014

"This was genocide, this was ethnic cleansing, this was sectarianism" /

By Steven McCaffery

THE Irish government is avoiding a “hidden history” that ties it to the birth of the Provisional IRA, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has told The Detail.

In his most outspoken comments to date on the legacy of the Troubles and the role of the Irish government, he accused Dublin of “drawing a blind” over uncomfortable episodes of history.

The Irish government declined to be interviewed, but in a defence of the record of the State, Micheál Martin of opposition party Fianna Fáil said it was not culpable for IRA crimes.

Mr Martin said: “While there may be some who believe there is merit in presenting successive Irish Governments as facilitators for the horrific violence in Northern Ireland, it serves only a narrow and negative agenda and it is just not true.”

He said he shared the pain and anger felt over IRA violence, but he said inaccuracies about the past should not be allowed to “undermine the hard won trust and improved north-south relations”.

Mr Robinson raised issues linked to the Arms Trial of 1970 and said an army officer and two government ministers were `scapegoated’ in court to distract from controversial claims that the Irish government of the day was preparing to arm Northern Ireland Catholics.

“There have been a number of journalistic inquiries into the Arms Trial issues which showed a very clear responsibility on the part of the State,” said the DUP leader.

“But it has been buried. People don’t want to talk about it.

“It’s not a case of being embarrassed, they seem to be offended if the issue is raised, but at the same time are quite happy to point the finger at the British state in terms of issues where they are unhappy.”

He called for all government files on the Arms Trial era to be opened to independent scrutiny.

“We have not been able to get the documentation. It is abundantly clear that the responsibility that seemed to fall on (Capt James) Kelly, was one that was placed on him by the State.”

The authorities in Dublin have always denied the arms plot had government sanction, but Mr Robinson said: “It is a period of time which shows very clearly that the Irish State was funding the guns going to the Provisional IRA, was preparing itself to invade Northern Ireland, and now of course they sit back and try and draw a blind over this area of history.”

He denied that his party was levelling allegations against the Irish Republic in a bid to counter the existing evidence of collusion between British state forces and paramilitaries. Mr Robinson said the vast majority of killings in the Troubles were carried out by paramilitaries, not security forces.

Challenged on whether, in fact, it was violent unionist opposition to civil rights reforms for the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland that had led to the 1969 crisis, he said: “It would be right to say that it started in Northern Ireland but it would be entirely wrong to say that those who helped fund the Provisional IRA, start the Provisional IRA, an organisation that went on to kill thousands of people, was some side issue of history, there is very considerable blame on those who were involved in that exercise.”

THE TROUBLES STARTED IN BELFASTNOT DUBLIN

"The crisis in NI had its origins in the failure of the Stormont Government of that time" /

In a statement issued to The Detail Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin responded to a series of issues raised in relation to successive Irish governments.

He said: “The crisis in Northern Ireland had its origins in the failure of the Stormont Government of that time to properly address the legitimate concerns of the Civil Rights movement; preferring instead violent repression which created the breeding ground for the pointless and horrific violence which blighted the following 30 years.”

Mr Martin was not responding directly to Mr Robinson, but he said he felt he had some understanding of the DUP position.

He said he recognised the pain and anger caused by IRA violence during the Troubles: “I understand this anger. Indeed, I share it.”

Mr Martin added: “The death of almost 1,800 men, women and children at the hands of the IRA was a hideous crime against their neighbours, against their country and against the proud ambitions of Irish Republicanism.

“But it is not a crime for which the Irish Government has culpability. “

He called for all parties to discuss the past but to avoid a “grotesquely inaccurate narrative”.

“It is a narrative which distorts the facts of an unprecedented crisis in Irish history and deliberately ignores the decades of concerted policy and action in the Republic of Ireland aimed at thwarting the subversive threat posed by violent republicanism and loyalism."

He said the British and Irish governments had neglected the peace process and had to re-engage.

To read Mr Martin’s statement in full click here.

`EXTRADITION LEVELS MUST BE EXPLAINED’

Meanwhile Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey, who raised the issue of extradition at Westminster said the figures were shocking.

“The figures on the requests for extradition and the outcomes, while not complete, reveal that a staggering number of applications were either refused or put on the long finger,” he said.

“How many of those sought went on to commit further acts of terror? How many evaded justice altogether?

“When I hear people talking about the past and trying to re-write history it is clear that the Irish State has a lot of questions to answer.

“Some Irish politicians have concentrated on supporting calls for enquiries in Northern Ireland because of allegations made against UK forces, but perhaps they need to examine their own past actions or inactions.

“Many in Northern Ireland saw the refusal to extradite so many suspects as a form of ‘shielding’ of suspects from justice, even though the Irish State would argue that there were constitutional obstacles. However that alone won’t wash with the many victims and survivors in the whole of the UK.”

Return to Part One of this article: The Irish government, the Troubles, and the Arms Trial

For more on the Arms Trial see: A family seeking truth from government

© The Detail 2014