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22 January 2004 Edition

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Is the British PM inextricably linked?

BY LAURA FRIEL

There were two Blairs in the media headlines this week. Tony, of course, the British Prime Minister, declaring that no political party with links to active paramilitary organisations can have any future role in the Northern executive.

Then there was the lesser-known Gary Blair, a loyalist ex-prisoner, jailed for life for aiding and abetting in the murder of a Sinn Féin electoral candidate and recently selected as a party officer for the DUP.

Speaking at a monthly Downing Street press conference, the British Prime Minister declared himself "not satisfied" and insisted that acts of completion needed to show republicans had "definitively turned their backs on violence".

Commenting on the pending review, Tony Blair said he "hoped everyone goes into the review with the idea of making it work, but let's be quite clear what the two issues are going to be.

"One, is it clear that on the part of the unionist majority there is a willingness in principle to share power and work in the Executive together with all parties that are abiding by the Belfast Agreement?" said Blair.

"Two, in respect of the republican party, Sinn Féin, is there a clear understanding that we can't have a situation where any party that is in government is associated with active paramilitary organisations?

"There was a time when ambiguity was a necessary friend. It is now an enemy, an opponent of this process. It's got to be clear, after five and a half years of the Good Friday Agreement, you cannot expect people to sit down in government unless they are all playing by the rules," said Blair.

But when it came to the Cory Reports, the British Prime Minister was being more reticent about "playing by the rules". Despite commitments undertaken with the Irish Government during the Weston Park talks, the British Government failed to publish the findings and recommendations of Canadian Judge Peter Cory before Christmas.

The judge had been tasked with investigating allegations of state collusion in a number of killings, including the murders of defence lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, the killing of Catholic Robert Hamill and of the LVF leader Billy Wright. Tony Blair had promised to publish the reports and initiate public inquiries on Cory's recommendation.

Last week, Tony Blair was faced with the humiliation of Judge Cory going over his head and contacting the families of the victims to inform them directly that he had recommended public inquiries in all four cases. This week, Tony was faced with the further humiliation of a High Court ruling in favour of the Finucane family seeking a judicial review to challenge the British government's failure to publish Cory's reports.

Next month, a hundred relatives of victims of collusion are travelling to London to highlight the role of the British state in the murder, within their own jurisdiction, of hundreds of Irish people in the last 30 years. Tony Blair will be asked to consider the links of successive British administrations with unionist paramilitaries. He will be asked to consider British state agencies like MI5, FRU and Special Branch, which reorganised, rearmed and redirected unionist paramilitaries and the British political party which sanctioned it.

Of course, when Tony was speaking about political parties "in government" and "associated with active paramilitary organisations", he wasn't thinking of the British Tory Party. And when he was speaking about "ambiguity", he wasn't thinking about his own failure to openly challenge British state collusion.

No doubt he had forgotten about his government's persistent refusal to tell the truth about state sponsored killings, the failure to publicly declare the policy of collusion wrong and the unwillingness to ensure collusion has ended by ending the agencies tasked with creating and maintaining the British state's murder machine.

Clearly, none of this was on Tony Blair's mind. He must have been thinking of his recent meeting with the DUP leadership and their insistence that they could never be required to sit down and talk with "unreconstructed terrorists", let alone respect the electoral mandate of the majority of northern nationalists and "God Forbid" (literally) share power with Sinn Féin.

And tragically, the current British Prime Minister does seem inextricably drawn to right wing Christian fundamentalists on both sides of the Atlantic. Hypocrisy, be it in the form of George Bush or Ian Paisley, isn't something which appears to preoccupy Tony Blair. If it were, no doubt the British Prime Minister would have highlighted last week's revelation that the DUP had no difficulty of empowering a former unionist paramilitary prisoner and his own namesake, Gary Blair, as a party officer.

Gary Blair was jailed for life for his part in the murder of Sinn Féin candidate Malachy Carey (36). Carey was shot dead in December 1992 as he walked along a street in Ballymoney. The killing was claimed by the UDA. Gary Blair was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 2000 as one of six LVF prisoners.

But as republicans approach yet another round of talks, the real question is not about the ongoing hypocrisy of the British government and unionist parties on the question of violence but whether the British Prime Minister and his administration are inextricably linked to unionism.

Speaking at St Malachy's College last week, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams highlighted the damaging consequences of such a linkage. "For the last five years, rather than fully implementing the Agreement, London has only proceeded at a pace the UUP and its own government agencies were prepared to tolerate," said Adams.

"To understand why it did so, it is important to appreciate that the British Government is a unionist government - not unionist of the Irish variety but British unionism."

The big question for the current peace process is this. Is the British Prime Minister now poised to allow the DUP to set the agenda?

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