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British justice?

Declan O'Neill


Eamonn McCann’s article (Voices March 05) captures well the limitations of republican politics, but as an Irish socialist, who has lived in England for over 30 years, what strikes me most about recent coverage of the “republican crisis” in the British media is the complete inability, or unwillingness, to understand what is happening in Ireland.  The innate superiority of British justice is taken for granted.  In particular, there is absolutely no perception of why many Irish people are unwilling to cooperate with the legal system in Northern Ireland.


There is no doubt that Sinn Fein faces real problems, in relation to both the Northern Bank robbery and, much more significantly, the murder of Robert McCartney. The first of these would probably have caused no long term damage to the republican leadership; on a recent visit back home what stuck me was the grudging admiration for the way the operation was carried out. “Not something the loyalists could have pulled off”, was said to me more than once, with a certain amount of pride.


The McCartney murder is different.  Nobody doubts that members of the IRA were responsible, though even the Republican movement’s most vociferous political foes accept it was not an IRA operation.  However, the killing of a member of a staunchly republican family, followed by the attempted cover-up, and almost drip-like concessions by the Sinn Fein leadership, highlight the problems this has caused.  The fact that at least some of those involved in the killing had just returned from a demonstration in Derry, demanding justice for those murdered by British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday, has only added to the anger. 


Yet the experience of Bloody Sunday, and the repeated cover-ups of other killings, either by British forces directly or by their agents in the loyalist paramilitary groups, illustrate just why it is so difficult it is for republicans, or anybody from a non-unionist background, to co-operate with the justice system in Northern Ireland.  The RUC may have been replaced by a “reformed” PSNI, but some things don’t change.  The announcement by the chief constable, Hugh Orde, that he was convinced that the Northern bank robbery was an IRA operation, without bothering to provide any evidence, indicates that old habits die hard.  Imagine the reaction if Orde were to make a similar claim about the murder of Belfast solicitor, Pat Finucane -  “I am absolutely convinced that this murder was sanctioned by the British security forces at the highest level” – more evidence exists for this than for IRA involvement in the Belfast robbery.


Nor is this an isolated incident.  How many people in this country are aware of the report by the former metropolitan commissioner, Sir John Stephens, into allegations of collusion between British intelligence and loyalist paramilitaries?  Why has this not been published?  Who remembers the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings which resulted in over 30 deaths?  To this day the British government refuses to cooperate with the Irish government’s investigation into this outrage – maybe the evidence of British involvement is something best left hidden.


Yet this same government can penalise Sinn Fein for its alleged involvement in the Belfast bank robbery.  Double standards abound.  As Danny Morrison asked (Guardian, March 5): “Would you support the salaries and expenses of all members of the Labour party being withdrawn because British soldiers were alleged to have murdered or tortured Iraqis?”  Not something I expect to see a Guardian or Independent editorial writer taking up.


In reality Adams and McGuinness have gone as far as they can in expelling IRA members, asking witnesses to provide evidence to the police ombudsman, and calling on the perpetrators of the McCartney killing to hand themselves in.  Irish republicans remain officially committed to ending British rule in any part of Ireland, yet if devolved government is restored in the north of Ireland Sinn Fein ministers may find themselves administering “British justice”, rather than ending it.  Then the real problems will begin.





March 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism