TONY BLAIR AND THE IRA
As the actions of the Blair government are being subjected to closer scrutiny and a more objective assessment undertaken than was possible during the former prime minister’s time in office, the picture that emerges is far from flattering to Mr Blair. This slender, but powerfully argued, book contends that at least one aspect of the Blair administration’s involvement in Northern Ireland raises disturbing questions.
The focus here is on what are called ‘on the run’ (OTR) members of the Irish Republican Army whose fate featured in the ‘settlement’ relating to the future of Northern Ireland. The author, a London-based practising barrister who has written extensively on Northern Ireland in the past, is of the view that the deal in question amounted, in effect, to a secret amnesty and that “there was incontrovertibly serious political involvement in the criminal justice system.”
BOOK EXAMINES SCHEME WHICH SAW JOHN DOWNEY WALK FREE
22 September 2016
Key OTR flaw may scupper future IRA trials, says lawyer
There is a “high” chance that if the police manage to bring charges against someone for an IRA crime that they will use the same defence which saw John Downey walk free, an experienced lawyer has warned.
Two and a half years ago, Downey – who police suspected of carrying out the 1982 Hyde Park Bombing – walked free at the Old Bailey after an ‘abuse of process’ application by his defence team led to the case against him being thrown out. The case had seismic legal and political implications as it revealed the existence of scores of ‘letters of comfort’ which the Blair Government had secretly sent to ‘On The Run’ (OTR) IRA members who remained wanted by police.
The case led to the then first minister, Peter Robinson, threatening to resign and a series of inquiries into how the situation had developed to the point where such a high-profile trial had collapsed so spectacularly.
Now a constitutional lawyer, Austen Morgan, has written a 240-page book about the story behind both the letters and the Downey case.
The Ulster-born barrister, who now lives in London, described the book as “the first serious study of the OTR controversy” and said that his book vindicated the policemen.
In the book, Dr Morgan says: “The chances of another abuse of process application, from a republican defendant, in an English, or, more likely, Northern Ireland, court, is high. “The [House of Commons] Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) may, therefore, return to the issue. The current political outcome, the NIO’s disavowing of the letters of September 9 2014, may therefore not be the last word on the sorry saga.” In the book, Dr Morgan argues that Tony Blair acted unlawfully in making promises to Sinn Fein which could not legally be fulfilled as Parliament had rejected attempts to introduce a statutory amnesty.
Mr Blair had privately told Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams that the Government was “now working with a renewed focus on putting in place mechanisms to resolve all other OTR [on the run] cases” and telling him: “I have always believed that the position of these OTRs is an anomaly which needs to be addressed. Before I leave office I am committed to finding a scheme which will resolve all the remaining cases.”
The official explanation at the time of the Downey case collapsing was that there had been a mistake in issuing his letter as it wrongly said that he was not wanted by any UK police force – when in fact he was wanted by the Metropolitan Police.
Two senior PSNI officers were blamed for that – Peter Sheridan and Norman Baxter. But Dr Morgan said that his book – based on trawling through a mountain of information which was released during inquiries into the affair – had vindicated them.
Instead, he said that in his view the blame for the mistake should ultimately be placed at the door of the NIO, which had overall responsibility for the scheme.
Ex-Trimble adviser calls for blanket Troubles amnesty
The Enniskillen bomb, a crime for which no one has been convicted
An Ulster-born lawyer who was professionally involved in the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement has come out in favour of a blanket amnesty to prevent anyone being convicted for crimes committed during the Troubles.
22 September 2016
By Sam McBride
Austen Morgan, who has worked as a barrister in London for years, set out a case for drawing a line under Troubles cases.
Dr Morgan, who once advised David Trimble, made a similar argument in a submission to the Haass talks in 2013, but has expanded on it in a new book which is published today.
Dr Morgan told the News Letter that “Northern Ireland doesn’t have a future if the past continues to occupy the present”.
Writing in Tony Blair and the IRA: The ‘On The Runs’ Scandal, Dr Morgan says: “It might be thought – given the critical view of Tony Blair expressed here – that the successful prosecution of all On The Runs (OTRs) would be the only way of proceeding.
“On the contrary, I have come to the opposite conclusion, during the writing of this book, that a statutory amnesty is the only way forward.”
He goes on: “However, I am only interested in the idea, if it applies equally to everyone.”
“There has been little spontaneous reconciliation since 1998, even though violence has given way to politics. It is very striking that, for many, time has not healed.
Were victims of Hyde Park bomb price of Tony Blair's vanity?
Book claims former Prime Minister agreed OTR scheme to secure legacy as peacemaker, says Malachi O'Doherty
14 October 2016
John Downey got a letter that went down in history. He was a member of the IRA, convicted in the Republic in 1974. He knew that he could not travel to the UK without risk of arrest. The Metropolitan Police believed that he was one of the bombers who attacked Hyde Park on July 20, 1982, killing four soldiers.
The dead were 23-year-old Anthony Daly, 19-year-old Simon Tipper, another 19-year-old Jeffrey Young, and 36-year-old Roy Bright. But Downey's letter said, in effect, that he was in the clear.
It was delivered to him on July 20, 2007 - the 25th anniversary of the bombing. It was signed by a civil servant called Mark Sweeney and it told him that he was not wanted by any police force in the UK.
One has to wonder what Downey himself made of that letter. He did not suspect a mistake, though one had indeed been made. Other IRA activists, such as Rita O'Hare, had been denied such letters.
At least he acted as one who believed the implausible assurance implied in the letter, that the police had changed their minds about him. And that is because he read it not as a mere statement of the intentions of the police, but as an amnesty. A shocking new book by the barrister Austen Morgan sets out the evolution of the scheme to let on-the-run (OTR) IRA members come home by sending out letters like the one received by John Downey in 2007.
In Tony Blair and the IRA, Morgan uses the court documents in the case of John Downey, when he challenged his arrest by waving that letter, to trace the history of that scheme back to negotiations between Tony Blair as Prime Minister and Gerry Adams.
Morgan shows that the goal of both men was to achieve a de facto amnesty for the OTRs. And that is what the OTRs thought they were getting.
Downey blithely set off to Gatwick Airport in May 2013 to take a holiday in Greece. He didn't even bring his letter with him to show any police officer who might not have got the message that he wasn't to be arrested. And he was.
That arrest led to the letter being produced in court, alongside a mass of documentation outlining the "administrative scheme" for OTRs. Morgan, a barrister, forensically traces through those documents what he regards as the corruption of the judicial process and the eagerness of Tony Blair to establish a legacy as a peacemaker.
Gerry Adams argued with Tony Blair after the Good Friday Agreement there was "unfinished business", in that IRA members on the run had to be provided with an amnesty that would allow them to go home.
This included people who feared that the police sought to charge them. It also included people who had escaped from prison. Unless they were granted some form of absolution, they were prone to arrest.
The agreement provided for prisoners in custody and those arrested afterwards to be released after two years, if their offences were committed before 1998 in pursuit of IRA objectives, or in the service of other paramilitary organisations which had committed themselves to the peace.
Morgan, in his book, argues that Adams and Martin McGuinness skilfully played their hand in negotiations against Blair and his Northern Ireland envoy Jonathan Powell.
Morgan's strength is in his legal training, but he is not coy about his contempt for Blair and the "so-called peace strategy".
For example, Jonathan Powell told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which oversaw one of the investigations into the OTR scheme, that he had perceived a real danger of the IRA going back to violence in 2006 and that measures had to be taken to secure the peace, that is to placate or appease them.
Powell told the committee: "At any stage, you could have tipped this back into war if you had taken a misstep." Morgan trounces that argument. Was Powell really saying the IRA was still holding a gun to the head of the government after decommissioning in 2005?
Blair said: "Well, I did believe there was a chance of it collapsing."
Morgan's alternative theory for the legal contortions which produced the OTR scheme is that Blair needed to complete the peace process before stepping down as Prime Minister in 2007.
"Adams and McGuinness had a timescale of decades and a negotiating prize of the IRA escaping criminal punishment," he says. "Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell were not the hard men in that relationship."
He adduces that the pressure on Blair was not the intelligence that he was getting on a perceived threat from the IRA, but the pressure from Gordon Brown to step aside and give him the top job.
But here Morgan is speculating and his case is much stronger when he has facts at hand.
We know now, for instance, that the IRA was actually re-arming at this time, importing weapons from the US.
Morgan accuses Blair of interfering in the prosecution process without legal authority and making several legal judgments, for instance about the primacy of public interest in waiving prosecutions, that would have scuppered the OTR scheme had it been judicially reviewed at its inception.
He also appraises the collapse of a plan to legislate for an amnesty that would have applied to the police and Army, too. This made it unpalatable for the republicans, but British officials were also squeamish about the credibility of their Armed Forces if they were seen to be made equivalent to terrorists and above the law.
Blair's other big mistake was in failing to grasp the scale of the problem, imagining, at first, that only a handful of IRA members were on the run, waiting for reassurance from him that they could come home.
In the end, the number exceeded 200. Letters were sent to 187 IRA activists, telling them that the police were not planning to arrest them. Now, those letters seem not to mean very much, the scheme having been outed and then abandoned. But John Downey read correctly the intention behind the letter he received. It was, technically, a statement that no prosecution was currently planned. In fact, it was the outworking of Tony Blair's intention that he not be prosecuted at all, whatever the evidence, because Blair thought that would better serve the public interest and keep the peace process on the rails.
Tony Blair and the IRA by Austen Morgan is published by The Belfast Press
[Available on Amazon and Kindle]
Did this meeting seal one of the moral outrages of our age? Photo captures Tony Blair's despicable deal to 'unlawfully' grant indemnity to scores of fugitive IRA murderers
- There were 228 IRA suspects on the run from British justice at the time the photo was taken, in 2007
- Blair made promises to the IRA that he had no right to make
- When Parliament blocked him, he went ahead anyway
- He handed out what amounted to presidential pardons to 187 suspected terrorists
By Austen Morgan For The Daily Mail
Published: 01:39, 22 October 2016 | Updated: 02:18, 22 October 2016
The photograph is damning. Taken in 10 Downing Street during the last days of Tony Blair's government, it reveals the now-disgraced Prime Minister at his most underhand and secretive.
It captures, quite literally, his notorious style of 'sofa government'. He sits back, one ankle hooked over his knee, at the far end of a luxurious three-seater. There is no pen or notepad in his hand — Blair famously didn't do detail.
The details were left to his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, who is at the near end of the sofa, frowning darkly. But it is the other half of the picture, taken in 2007, that exposes the real scandal.
There is a second sofa, facing them. And on it, relaxed and laughing, are Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.
Almost no one outside that room knew the enormity of what was being plotted around that time. I believe it was completely unlawful. It had been rejected by Parliament more than a year before. But it was going to happen because it was what Blair wanted to do.
There were 228 IRA suspects on the run from British justice at that time. Blair had resolved to give them immunity from prosecution. No matter how horrendous their crimes, he had decided to bestow his personal pardon upon them.
That is what he was discussing with the leaders of the republican movement. No wonder Adams and McGuinness were both grinning so broadly. Blair left government later that year. He intended that the Northern Ireland peace agreement should be his great legacy. The amnesty for the 'On The Runs', as the IRA called its fugitives, was intended to shore up the peace, plugging a hole that had been overlooked when the Belfast Agreement — also known as the Good Friday Agreement — was being drawn up in 1998.
Under that Agreement, 229 IRA members were released from jail in the summer of 2000. The 228 fugitives, many living in the Republic of Ireland, were overlooked, but as the arguments dragged on about laying down weapons, the 'On The Runs' [OTRs] became part of the bargaining process.
They were accused of shootings, car-jackings, bombings, assassinations and every kind of bloody mayhem, including 295 murders.
attempted to shoot a British soldier in 1971. Instead, she herself was shot, injured and arrested.
After being given bail, O'Hare fled Northern Ireland and defied British efforts to extradite her from the Republic of Ireland. She rose through the ranks of Sinn Fein and ultimately became the party's representative in the United States, a position she still holds.
Following the Labour election victory in 1997, Mo Mowlam became Tony Blair's first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and began discussing the release of IRA prisoners. She had several meetings with O'Hare and asked the Attorney General, who was then Baron Williams of Mostyn, whether the IRA woman could be pardoned.
Obviously, said Lord Williams, she could not, because she wasn't a prisoner. Pressure began to mount on the Attorney General: not only Blair but also Peter Mandelson, by then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, began to urge that she should be given immunity.
O'Hare was not just Sinn Fein's top figure in America, after all. She was also a close associate of party leader Gerry Adams.
Williams stood firm. There was good evidence that O'Hare had tried to kill a British soldier, he said, and it was not in the public interest to forget about that.
In 1998, something extraordinary had happened. At peace talks in Dublin, Mo Mowlam walked up to O'Hare, this leading apologist for international terrorism, and hugged her. The representative of Her Majesty the Queen flung her arms around a woman who had skipped bail on a charge of attempting to murder one of Her Majesty's soldiers.
Civil servants were horrified: there was real and immediate concern that Mowlam's behaviour implied that O'Hare had been given a promise, explicit or otherwise, that she need no longer fear prosecution. Following an internal investigation, a relieved Whitehall came to the conclusion that no such undertaking had been implied.
That was the beginning of a scandal to rival the Iraq war debacle, in which Blair took us into a bloody conflict on the basis of lies. It is a scandal that has appalled me, as a historian and barrister who has worked in London and Belfast, and led me to write a book about it.
Unable to dispense immunity on his own whim, Blair had been denied what he wanted. For him, that was hard to accept.
Ever since he came to power, Whitehall had found him impossible to manage. He believed he had a special charismatic aura and used it to dazzle and browbeat civil servants who stood in his path.
He also believed he had an ordained right to get his own way, and in 1997 he had the landslide majority to back him up. There was a catchphrase in the backrooms that summed up his attitude: 'Tony wants...'
The Irish republicans had a skewed view of how power works, too. In Mandelson's words, they thought the British Prime Minister could 'wave a magic wand' and bring about anything they demanded. They couldn't understand the need for due legal process and democratic oversight by Parliament, for laws and procedures.
They had a gangster perspective on government — one that turned out to dovetail very well with Blair's methods.
The Prime Minister tried to persuade Lord Williams that obstructing his wishes was unreasonable. If half the IRA had been let out of jail, why shouldn't the other half get a free pass, too? Williams stood firm: this was beyond the Prime Minister's powers.
Blair hated to hear those words, but they sank in. He might not have been a man for details, but he appears to have understood well enough that it would be improper for him to sanction mass pardons without the consent of Parliament. So he set about getting it.
The wheels turned slowly, and it was not until after his third general election victory in 2005 that a Bill went before MPs. The Tories opposed it and so did the Lib Dems, as well as the Northern Irish parties.
And then, bizarrely, Sinn Fein blocked it, too. They were concerned that an amnesty for the IRA could also mean the end of prosecutions against British soldiers for their actions during the Troubles. The troops involved in Bloody Sunday, for instance, could benefit, and Sinn Fein weren't having that.
At the beginning of 2006, the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill was withdrawn. It was a major defeat for the Government. And that, as far as almost everyone knew, was the end of the matter... until seven years later, when a man was arrested as he set off on a family holiday to Greece. His name was John Downey and he had been wanted by the Metropolitan Police for more than 30 years for a truly horrendous crime.
On July 20, 1982, a car bomb exploded in London's Hyde Park, instantly killing two soldiers of a Household Cavalry troop on their way to change the guard at Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall.
Seven horses died, and, famously, another, Sefton, survived and became a national hero.
The men's names were Lieutenant Anthony Daly, aged 23, and Trooper Simon Tipper, 19. Two more men, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young, 19, and Squadron Quartermaster Corporal Roy Bright, 36, died shortly afterwards of their injuries.
Thirty-one other people were wounded, some seriously. Seven horses had to be put down.
Later that day, seven military bandsmen were killed during a lunchtime public concert in Regent's Park. Police believed the same paramilitary unit was responsible. Downey was suspected of involvement, but arresting him while he was taking refuge in the Republic of Ireland was impossible. The police could only hope that he would be reckless enough to set foot in Northern Ireland or on the British mainland. And on May 19, 2013, he did just that.
The UK Border Agency computers flagged up that he was travelling from Gatwick, on his own passport. It seemed utterly foolhardy behaviour, and he paid the price with his arrest.
Downey, 62, was also suspected in Northern Ireland of five other offences, including four killings.
But his defence stunned the police. In addition to denying the allegations, he had a letter, he said, that gave him free passage.
It bore the imprimatur of Peter Hain, the outgoing Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Sir Hugh Orde, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and it said: 'There are no warrants in existence, nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom.'
John Downey had his effective immunity, the free pass that Tony Blair had wanted to give the fugitives more than a decade earlier. But Parliament had stymied that plan. How could he be in possession of such a letter?
In fact, he didn't have the letter on him. It is likely that he had never even seen it, because it was sent from a civil servant called Mark Sweeney — head of the Rights and International Relations Division of the Northern Ireland Office, on London's Millbank — to Gerry Adams's fixer-in-chief, Gerry Kelly.
Kelly might not have felt it necessary to give Downey a copy of the letter. It was enough that he had it, and that Downey had his verbal assurance that it was now safe for him to travel to the UK. That was how the IRA worked, on whispers and spoken promises. The parallels with Mafia traditions are marked.
What does seem clear is that Downey took full advantage of this letter. He repeatedly visited Northern Ireland and was able to travel on from there to the British mainland, thanks to the existence of the 'common travel area', which meant the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic did not count as an international border.
Because of this, even when he travelled to England, Downey's passport was not flagged up by the UK Border Agency. And he did visit, regularly. His daughter went to university there. In 2014, he even took a holiday on the Norfolk Broads.
It seemed that John Downey had fallen in love with England. And why wouldn't he? This was the country that gave him his freedom. When his case came to trial, the judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, seemed unable to believe his eyes. He thought he was there to adjudicate on one of the most serious crimes ever brought before his court.
A life sentence with a minimum term of 20 or even 40 years was a possible outcome if there was a conviction — even though, in reality, prisoner release legislation under the Belfast Agreement meant Downey, if convicted, would serve only two years.
Instead of this, the judge was faced with more than 1,500 pages of documents which uncovered a scheme of whose existence no one had been aware. Of the 228 IRA fugitives, it appeared that 187 had 'comfort letters' like Downey's, granting them what amounted to complete immunity from prosecution for past crimes — signed off by a small group of civil servants, senior police and politicians, at whose head was Tony Blair.
Given the scale and complexity of this operation, the judge had little choice. He ruled that it would be an abuse of process to prosecute Downey. The case collapsed.
In the aftermath, all pending applications for immunity were suspended. Existing letters were revoked, though it is probably far too late for this reversal to have real meaning.
Any fugitive arrested henceforth will have two powerful defences: first, that they lived under immunity for so long that it would be a breach of their human rights to have it whisked away; and secondly, that Mr Justice Sweeney's decision to throw out the Downey case creates an arguable legal precedent.
That is a knotty problem for lawyers to unravel in the future. But there is a different legal issue which, to many people, appears even more pressing: what about the role of Tony Blair?
For his handling of the IRA and Sinn Fein beggars belief.
It reminds me of those trendy parents who imagine they can control delinquent children by spoiling them and giving in to their demands, desperate to be their friends.
The reality is that it was soft-headed North London Lefties versus Northern Irish hard men. And the hard men won.
Blair made promises to the IRA that he had no right to make. And then, when Parliament blocked him, he went ahead anyway, taking it upon himself to hand out what amounted to presidential pardons to 187 suspected terrorists.
He did this even though the most senior lawyer in the country, the Attorney General, had specifically expressed reservations that a secret amnesty would be unlawful.
When I say I believe Tony Blair flouted the law, I am not passing my own judgment based on nothing. I am basing it directly on the interventions of Lord Williams of Mostyn, the man who tried to restrict him — one of the handful of people who emerge from this dismal affair with a shred of dignity intact.
It is far too late to demand a judicial review of Blair's actions. That could have worked at the time, if anyone had known what he was doing, but it wouldn't be applicable now.
There is still a remote chance that he could be charged with 'misfeasance in a public office', but I am not holding my breath. Once again, Blair has probably escaped scot-free.
But he cannot escape the judgment of history. He wanted Northern Ireland to be his legacy. Instead, it will be his badge of shame.
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group
Tony Blair’s IRA amnesty should also apply to British soldiers
By Douglas Murray
This morning’s Sun carries the story that all British soldiers involved in killings in Northern Ireland during the three decades of the Troubles now face investigation. More than 1,000 ex-service personnel ‘will be viewed as manslaughter or murder suspects in legal inquiry.’ According to information received by the paper, 238 ‘fatal incidents’ involving British forces are being re-investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Legacy Investigations Branch.
This is especially timely. In recent days I have been reading Austen Morgan’s new and so-far under-noticed book Tony Blair and the IRA. To my knowledge it is the first full account to date of the ‘on the runs’ scandal. This is the discovery made in 2014 – when the trial of John Downey for involvement in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing was dramatically stopped at the Old Bailey – that the Blair government had done a secret deal as part of the Good Friday negotiations. This deal – kept from the public and some figures involved in the Agreement – saw letters sent to known IRA members involved in terrorism, assuring them that they would not face prosecution in the future. These people – so called ‘on the runs’ – benefited from what was essentially an amnesty.
The details as set out in Morgan’s book demonstrate that this was a secret deal. The primary participants on the British side were Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell. As Morgan concludes ‘The principal culprit is the UK government: it violated the principle of the rule of law, by permitting political interference in criminal justice. History will not absolve Tony Blair, and those who did his bidding’. As Morgan writes, there was no good reason for the deal ‘other than the prime minister’s need to secure his personal legacy with a Northern Ireland deal.’
As the recent rejection by the Columbian people at a referendum on their government’s deal with the Farc guerrillas shows, people who have suffered from terrorism tend to be loathe to see those who participated in terrorism given amnesties. It is perfectly possible that if Tony Blair’s government had been open with the public about the amnesty letters to the ‘on the runs’ then the public in Northern Ireland would not have approved the Good Friday Agreement. But that would have been for the people to consider and to decide.
In any case – just one result of Blair’s covert action in Northern Ireland’s politics is that in 2016 the threat of prosecution hangs over British soldiers but not IRA terrorists. I am the first to admit (and have at book length) that some British soldiers behaved appallingly during the Troubles. Most, however, did not. In the interests of justice, a true peace deal and amnesty would apply to all sides or none. Perhaps the present government will have the political guts to have this argument out in the open.
Tony Blair and the IRA, Austen Morgan, Belfast Press, 2016, £8.33.
In writing and publishing this book Austen Morgan has performed a much needed public service. The cover of the book shows a clearly relaxed Adams and McGuinness happily communing with Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell in the comfort of the ‘sofa government’ that came to symbolise so much that was wrong about the Blair government. Process didn’t matter, results were all and results were whatever ‘Tony the Master’ decided they would be at any given time. This photograph taken two weeks before Blair’s resignation is vivid testimony to the group-think, conspiratorial air that permeated the Blair’s government relationship with the leadership of the Provisional IRA in the latter stages of the ‘peace process’
Austen Morgan is a Northern Ireland-born Londonbased barrister and historian who has written several books and has acted as an adviser to the Ulster Unionist Party. What he systematically exposes here is a tale of hubris and deceit at the very heart of the Blair government as they sought, though rejected by parliament, to arrange a quasi amnesty for IRA suspects and prison escapers who were ‘on the run’ and outside the British courts’ jurisdiction. This was all to be neatly packaged up before Tony resigned so that nothing would tarnish his reputation as the man who brought peace to Northern Ireland.
In so doing they wilfully ignored advice from, among others the former Attorney General, Lord Williams of Mostyn, that what they were doing was illegal. At the time the photograph was taken, there were 228 IRA suspects ‘on the run’ from British justice. How to extricate them from this situation was the challenge jointly facing the men sitting on their respective sofas in the comfort of 10 Downing Street.
Early in 2006 the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill which would have sanctioned an across the board amnesty was withdrawn, having faced opposition from every quarter, including Sinn Fein who were adamant that police, soldiers and government officials should not be included in any amnesty. Faced with that and rather than consider that their own security forces deserved their protection Blair and Powell, along with Adams and McGuinness, began work on a solution which would give the IRA a quasi amnesty and let everyone else go hang.
Morgan shows how Blair privately told Adams ‘I have always believed that the position of these On The Runs is an anomaly which needs to be addressed. Before I leave office I am committed to finding a scheme, which will resolve all the remaining cases. So he did what Tony did; he came up with an ingenious ‘scheme’, which would play fast and loose with the established criminal justice system.
The Belfast agreement gave early release to paramilitary prisoners who had served 2 years or more and allowed for any convicted afterwards for offences committed before the Agreement to serve no more than two years. Pretty good deal you would think, but not good enough for the IRA who wanted their people, who were now outside the jurisdiction, to be able to return home or travel freely throughout the UK without facing arrest or any judicial process. Submitting themselves to the indignity of a trial and 2 years imprisonment was obviously too much to expect them to endure.
So called ‘comfort letters’ were prepared and sent to 187 OTRs. The process was overseen by senior civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office under the active, enthusiastic supervision of Jonathan Powell. Many of the letters were in fact delivered directly to Gerry Kelly, the convicted Old Bailey bomber and prison escapee. The letters simply stated that the recipient was not wanted for questioning by any police service in the UK and were signed by Mark Sweeney, a civil servant and headof the Rights and International Relations Division of the Northern Ireland Office in Millbank London.
One of the letters was addressed to a man called John Downey who UK police had long suspected of being involved in the bomb attack on the Household cavalry in Hyde Park in July 1982 which left four soldiers dead, a fact of which Downey was well aware. The letter was sent on the 25th anniversary of the bombing. Downey read the letter as it was intended by the conspirators, not as a statement of police intentions, but as a backdoor secret amnesty.
Protected as he believed he was Downey set off from Ireland to Gatwick airport in May 2013 en route to a holiday in Greece. He didn’t ever bother to bring his ‘get out of jail’ letter with him to wave in front of any police officer who might be foolish enough to believe that he wasn’t still wanted for the Hyde Park bombing. He was arrested and charged with the bombing and the whole murky secret ‘scheme’ began to unravel. The letter was produced by Downey’s defence in court and led to the discovery of a mass of documentation which outlined in detail the ‘ administrative scheme’ which as Morgan clearly shows was designed to circumvent the judicial process.
Blair and the IRA’s dirty secret was rumbled, but Downey would walk free from court. Mr Justice Sweeney, who heard the case could clearly hardly believe what was happening. Instead of dealing with a straight forward criminal process he was faced with 1,500 pages of documents which exposed a ‘scheme’ few had even been aware of. As Morgan explains Justice Sweeney had little choice: it would be an abuse of process to prosecute. The case collapsed, Downey was a free man.
The then First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson threatened to resign, but didn’t. Much outrage and many words were expended, but all of it for nothing because one simple brutal truth remains. Yes, the ‘scheme’ was scrapped, letters were revoked and no more would be sent. But Justice Sweeney’s decision sets a very arguable legal precedent and any ‘fugitive’ who had lived under ‘immunity’ for years would undoubtedly claim that to remove it now would breach their human rights.
Morgan’s book, though a brilliant legal analysis of this whole sordid business, also deals with bigger issues. Due process does matter and Blair simply couldn’t have cared less about it. Above all else it defines his period as Prime Minister. No British Prime Minister in the future should ever be allowed to behave as he has. In the meantime we can only wonder how many other clever little ‘schemes’ wait to be uncovered.
RTE and Browne bring Adams tidings of comfort and joy
By Eoghan Harris
The Stack family failed to get answers from Sinn Fein while many in the media sat on the fence. Now they want to move on to the Arlene Foster story.
Not so fast. Because the reception the Stacks got from RTE presenters and TV3's Vincent Browne was an abuse of what amounts to a broadcasting monopoly.
Last week, I wrote briefly about how RTE and Browne's TV3 show seemed to make a better case for Gerry Adams than for the Stacks. What was worrying about the RTE/TV3 coverage was the common lemming-like line taken by reporters.
By and large, Audrey Carville, Sean O'Rourke, Martina Fitzgerald, Miriam O'Callaghan and Aine Lawlor trotted out the same tropes.
So did Browne on TV3. Last Wednesday, he amplified them all in a polemical piece in the Irish Times.
The tone and content of the RTE/TV3 position was broadly summed up by the provocative headline on Browne's piece: 'Adams is being hounded for providing a public service.'
Browne's position baffled most people. So did the hostile tone taken by RTE presenters towards Sinn Fein's political critics in Dail Eireann.
But not me.
Because I believe RTE has had a skewed political culture on Adams going back to the Section 31 campaign. Broadly, I believe there are two media positions on the Northern Ireland peace process, hidden until hard choices have to be made. As in the Stack case.
The first position is held by apologists for Adams who argue that he gave us the peace process and that we should be grateful for it.
The second view, somewhat more sceptical, might broadly be called the Seamus Mallon position.
The Mallon analysis argues that the Provisional IRA had no right to wage a terrorist war, particularly after Sunningdale, and should not reap political rewards for calling a halt.
Alas, RTE reporters lean towards the Adams apologists and seem to believe the peace process takes such priority that Adams must be afforded protection from probing by the elected politicians of the Irish Republic.
At the root of RTE/TV3's reflexive reactions are three flawed notions. The first is that there was a just war and the IRA were combatants with a defensible case.
But the truth is that the Provisional IRA launched a terrorist campaign against the Irish people - Catholic, Protestant and dissenter - which killed more civilian Catholics than all the security forces combined.
The loyalist terror gangs were largely a tribal response to the PIRA, and the blood of their Catholic victims is also on the head of the Provo leadership.
Second, many RTE reporters seem to suffer from the delusion that the Good Friday Agreement gave some kind of amnesty to IRA activists.
Some of this confusion is caused by the corrupt secret deal exposed by Austen Morgan in his just published expose Tony Blair and the IRA: The 'On The Runs' Scandal.
But whatever mitigating factors might be claimed by Adams apologists for murders committed in Northern Ireland, there can be none for Provisional IRA murders of eight members of the Republic's security forces: six gardai, one soldier and one prison officer - Brian Stack - unless Adams wants to argue that the Provos were at war with the Irish Republic.
The final RTE/TV3 false position is promoting the line that justice for one must mean justice for all. If that were so, the Germans would have given up bringing a few old Nazis to trial.
But however few, these trials are the moral foundation of modern Germany. That is why the murderers of Jean McConville and Robert McCartney in Northern Ireland, and Brian Stack in the Republic, must be pursued to the limit of our powers.
RTE cannot take any credit for the moral lessons which our children learn from the pursuit of justice though the heavens fall.
Because it is not pressure by the national broadcaster but the brave testimony of the Stacks which is making an indelible impression on the Irish Republic.
The Stacks are also articulating a new language to confront the IRA, arguing not from abstractions, but from a concrete case of murder. By using the specific example of their father's murder, the Stacks are exposing the deliberately deceitful language deployed by Sinn Fein spin doctors.
High time that politicians insisted that RTE earn its licence fee by showing a more sceptical face to Sinn Fein spinning.
To take a small example: RTE should have challenged Adams's pious waffle about "truth retrieval" when under pressure, not reported it reverently as if it were Holy Writ.
To take a bigger example: RTE and Vincent Browne should stop peddling the myth of the magnificent role played by Adams in achieving "peace".
How can RTE reporters recycle the nonsense that Adams is some great sage who deserves a respectful hearing for "bridge building"?
Do RTE reporters really believe Adams was acting out of some far-sighted "peace strategy" when he sat down with Hume in 1993?
Here are the hard facts. Back in 1994, Adams's sole aim was to save the Provos' failed military strategy from complete meltdown and political shame.
The Provos were riddled with spies, shut out of RTE television, trapped in the no man's land of south Armagh, with a miserable 2pc vote in the Republic, and with no choice but to hang on to Hume's lifeline.
Far from being genuine peacemakers, as Paul Bew points out in The Politics of Enmity, Adams & Co opposed the Downing Street Declaration, opposed the framework documents, and never even signed the Good Friday Agreement.
Adams's real claim to fame is that he turned a military defeat into a successful political project. To pull that stroke off he needed gullible media gurus.
Fine, if RTE reporters want to swallow that fairytale privately. But they should not be paid to shove it down the public's throat.
Both RTE and Browne have brazenly tried to frighten off elected politicians who asked awkward questions of Adams and Sinn Fein.
But as Noel Whelan stated in a powerful rebuke to Browne in the Irish Times last Friday: "We are entitled to resist the effort by Sinn Fein to whitewash over the blood with which the IRA and others stained our politics."
Sadly, since 1994, only a small platoon of journalists kept a hard lamp shining steadily on Sinn Fein. Most of them worked for INM titles, and they deserve decent treatment in their retirement.
Outside of INM titles, the number of journalists who carried these lamps can be counted on the fingers of two hands.
One of these brave lamplighters is Kevin Myers. His first volume of memoirs, Watching the Door, is a classic of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Now he has published a prequel, A Single Headstrong Heart. To my mind, it is even more moving because it is more personal. And it has a final plot twist that twists the heart.
You have time to put it in the Christmas stocking of someone who likes a good read, in every sense of the word good.
Tony Blair and the IRA: The ‘On The Runs’ Scandal by Austen Morgan. Published by The Belfast Press.
Perhaps the greatest atrocity carried out by the PIRA in England was the joint bombing of Regents and Hyde Parks. The grotesque nature of the attacks were played out on televisions screens and newspaper front pages across the world. Who could not have been touched, as they read of the terrible suffering that a bomb, with over 30 pounds of nails packed around it, inflicted on human and horse?
The bloodied carcasses of horses spewn on London’s streets and mixed with the dead of the Queen’s Guard still haunts many today. Around an hour later, in Regents Park, the band of the Royal Green Jackets, played to a crowd of 120 spectators. As the music of Oliver entertained the crowd, a bomb exploded under the bandstand, killing and injuring both musicians and bystanders. The only redeeming factor of the day was the bravery of injured and the remarkable recovery of Sefton the horse. Two decades later the suffering and loss would be compounded, by the government who, in all effect, protected the perpetrators.
On Tony Blair’s last day as prime minister, 27th June 2007, the structure was put in place, which would see the main suspect in the Hyde Park Bombing issued a letter of comfort. This would have a dramatic effect on the rule of law. Austen Morgan states that this has been “interrupted significantly by the peace process. ”
There had been whispers and theories for a decade. Had a secret deal been done between the British Government and the IRA, which would see mass murders forgo due process and, indeed, be free, under government protection, despite evidence that would prove them guilty? The answer was to come on 21st February 2014, when a British court ruled that an abuse of process had taken place and that the trail of the lead suspect could not continue.
So what was the driving force behind such appalling decisions being taken? Johnathan Powell would say that there was a prolonged threat of a return to violence by republicans when he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee ” At any stage you could have tipped this back into war. ” Blair also stated “I did believe there was a chance of it (the peace process) collapsing. ” But this is contradicted by the likes of Tim Dalton, who stated that Gerry Adams told him that the PIRA “would not go back to violence” as “their own community would not allow them. ” This was also backed up by John Hume who briefed the UDA in the Maze Prison to that effect. It is hard to believe that the Irish Government were being brief that the PIRA were unable to return to an armed campaign and the British Government were not. Even UDA prisoners were being made aware of this “strategic weakness” something which Austen Morgan states “the UK failed to use tactically. ”
Sir Quinton Thomas was one of the main architects of the Belfast Agreement (1998). After his retirement and knighthood, he was tasked with being an advisor to the NIO on the subject of “outstanding criminal investigations” . In January 2001, he finalised 77-page report, Clean Sheets: dealing with outstanding criminal cases was sent to the NIO. Quinton was to form the opinion that any criminal cases, which might arrive out of historical offences, that might have been committed by Security Force members would not be covered by the amnesty he proposing. He would state “Despite the difficulties, the better course is to exclude the security forces from any amnesty scheme. ” This was “because the greater public (and British) interest ” lay in doing so. Austen Morgan observes that this decision “was to play later into the hands of republicans.” Quinton put forward a number of options but astutely, he said that Option 3, an “automatic amnesty” “will minimise the contamination of the system of justice.” But this contamination had already begun and the secret deals between corrupt government and a murderous mob will resonate for generations. By 2005, the government would try and put in place a proviso that would include all participants in that had taken part in the Northern Ireland conflict but this scuppered by republicans. During the early 2000s, there were intensive talks between the British Government and republicans, interestingly Northern Ireland’s future Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory acted on behalf of a number of those, who were of interest.
In January 2014, written evidence was produced in the Downey case. It covered Kevin McGinty’s appraisal of Sir Alasdair Fraser’s role. He would state that there was a reluctance on Sir Alister’s behalf to implement the scheme. This was because of the “actual and perceived impartiality” was of the most “crucial importance” for the “maintenance of public confidence”. Confidence could be damaged due to fact that the “administrative scheme would only benefit one side of the community.” The very structure of the government proposal and its implementation was profoundly flawed, in that it administered justice or the lack of it on the grounds of political/religious affiliation. Since the 15th Century, Iustitia, Justitia, has been depicted blindfolded and holding both scales and sword. Under the leadership, first of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Cameron she was blinded, her scale was tipped and sword broken.
This partisan use of the judicial system was carried out under the radar of most observers. The reason being that process could be challenged in the courts if the general public became aware of the situation. Lord Goldsmith told John Reid that if the minister conceded to Sinn Fein’s demands it could cause a “constitutional crisis”. Lord Williams would later write to the government stating that “It would…be an unlawful fettering” of his “discretion” and that the government’s policy “would amount to an amnesty”, which was illegal without a parliamentary decision . Lord Williams would also tell Peter Mandelson that he was “seriously concerned that the exercise” which “is being undertaken has the capacity of severely undermining the confidence in the criminal justice system.” He would then continue “I am not persuaded that some unquantifiable benefit to the peace process can be a proper basis for a decision based on the public interest. ” The concerns put forward by senior figures in the judiciary, both in Great Britain and Northern Ireland did not dissuade New Labour from continuing to put its pernicious and partisan plan into action. It is to the credit of a number of legal figures that an unfettered form of shadowy amnesty is not in place.
By early 2002, the government had put a form of amnesty together in the form a consultation. This would have an independent commissioner grant immunity to those Sinn Fein put forward. This scheme was to exclude all but republicans. William Fittall was to act as a sounding board for the views of David Trimble. He would state, that while Trimble would have to oppose the bill, he (Trimble) might not endure political impairment if the scheme involved some form of “determination of guilt” and “subsequent licencing arrangement”. Later in March of that year, Trimble wrote to Blair setting out his stall on the matter. The subterfuge continued until press reports in November brought the policy to the public’s attention. Trimble then disengaged with the process.
While the widespread violence of the past was to be curtailed by the PIRA leadership, it still continued criminal activity on a grandiose scale. While Nelson’s eye was being applied to those who were suspects in over 300 hundred murders, robbery, extortion, and fuel laundering were lining the PIRA’s coffers. Most notably of these: The Norther Bank robbery, which was undertaken by the PIRA’s Director of Intelligence. By September 2005, the PIRA had supposedly decommissioned its full military arsenal. This was contradicted by Tony Blair, who when giving evidence to NIAC, in January 2015, stated that December 2006 was a critical moment, in which, “it was going to go down. ” How it would have gone down, given that this was over a year after PIRA decommission, is not alluded to. But the inference is of a return to violence. There are two positions here, one is that intel was not filtering to the government or that the PIRA, despite all we are being told, still constitutes a threat to the United Kingdom. Either way, negotiating with a terrorist threat and dilution of the justice system and has weakened the constitutional integrity of the British State.
Austen Morgan’s work does a great service to the people of the United Kingdom. It analyses a part of history that was meant to stay hidden from the public and does so in great detail. His forensic mind untangles the web spun by both terrorist and nameless mandarins in what must be one of the British Government most shameful episodes.