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1 March 2001 Edition

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Sinn Féin accuses SDLP of cowardice

BY LAURA FRIEL

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey has accused SDLP Assembly members of ``cowardice in the face of unionist intransigence'' after they failed to support a Sinn Féin motion calling for an independent public inquiry into crown force collusion with loyalist death squads.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Human Rights, Mary Nelis, tabled the motion calling for a public inquiry into crown force collusion in the deaths of more than 400 Catholics. She called on the British government to ``grasp the nettle'' and establish the truth about their `dirty war' in Ireland over the past 30 years.

Amnesty International, the American government and many other credible agencies had accepted the existence of death squads operating under the control of RUC Special Branch and British Military Intelligence, she said.

``This is a war that has involved those in the highest echelons of government, British army, the intelligence services and the RUC, in effect the State,'' said Nelis. The Derry Assembly member added that members of the British government knew who killed defence lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson and continued to cover up the activities of loyalist death squads.

During the debate, her Derry colleague Mitchel McLaughlin cited the killing of Patrick Kelly, a nationalist councillor for Omagh whose body was found in Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, in August 1974. At the time of the death, local people claimed that Kelly had been picked up by members of the UDR who had staged an illegal roadblock near the village Trillick, County Tyrone, as a ploy to capture their victim.

``There are people in this Assembly who have former roles in the UDR and who could tell us many stories,'' said McLaughlin. ``Perhaps they could tell us who murdered Patrick Kelly. Which UDR patrol was it? There are people who know that information and they should share it with us.''

McLaughlin was responding to a DUP amendment rejecting the allegation of collusion and congratulating the ``security forces for upholding the law''. Tabling the amendment, the DUP's Sammy Wilson had accused a Sinn Féin Assembly member of being a ``former IRA quartermaster.

``We have the audacity of IRA/Sinn Féin today in this house standing up and pointing the finger of accusation at the British government,'' said Wilson. Michael McGimpsey of the UUP also dismissed the allegations of collusion as ``black propaganda''. Rejecting both the motion and the amendment, Alban Maginness of the SDLP said the debate was ``symptomatic of the selective view which exists in the Assembly''.

The debate followed Sinn Féin call to John Stevens and his team currently investigating the murder of Pat Finucane to stand aside and offer his full support and cooperation to a new public inquiry into the whole issue of collusion.

Mitchel McLaughlin said that collusion goes to the heart of Sinn Féin's concerns about the new policing service. ``The removal of the RUC Special Branch as a force within a force, in line with Patten, and the balance of power between the British Secretary of State, the chief constable and the proposed policing boards are two of the key areas where there remains considerable distance between the British government and what is required,'' he said.

Meanwhile, the British government is said to be considering handing the control of intelligence gathering in the Six Counties to MI5 and away from RUC Special Branch. Until now, the RUC Special Branch was given primacy over intelligence operations but is facing a possible merger with the CID.

The media has suggested that the British government believes such a move would encourage ``moderate nationalists'' to support the government's policing reforms. But MI5's track record is no more acceptable than the RUC's. Through their covert unit the FRU, British military intelligence was at the centre of the collusion controversy which surrounds the deaths of hundred of northern nationalists.

Far from viewing a shift of emphasis from the RUC Special Branch towards MI5 as ``encouraging'', most northern nationalists will see it as a crude ploy by the British to thwart real policing reforms. It has been suggested that MI5 would probably recruit serving RUC Special Branch officers.

According to the media, MI5 currently has a team of around a hundred staff and operatives under the guise of ``The Political Department'' at Stormont Castle. They are under the command of an agent known as the Director of Operations, who liaises with `F' Branch at MI5 headquarters in London.
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