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16 September 2004 Edition

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How the Northern Ireland Office has put the Peace Process at risk

Over the last few months Sinn Féin has been highlighting the ongoing campaign by securocrats within the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to dismantle the Good Friday Agreement and ultimately put the entire Peace Process at risk. This week An Phoblacht details how the NIO campaign has been conducted.

When the Stormont parliament was prorogued in 1972, after 50 years of sectarian one-party rule by the Unionist Party, it was replaced by direct British rule. Legislative and executive power went to London, ultimately to the office of the British Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street. But it was the Northern Ireland Office, established in 1972 that was — and still is — responsible for the day to day running of British rule in the Six Counties. It co-ordinated the British war of counter-insurgency and has played the most malign role in Irish politics — colluding with loyalist paramilitaries, setting up torture centres, constructing an emergency powers system which completely undermines human rights, actively supporting discrimination and undermining efforts to create a peace process. It has been, in effect, the British War Office in Ireland.

Despite all the efforts and the massive resources of the NIO over two decades the Irish Peace Process was created but the NIO's negative influence has seen the process lunge from crisis to crisis and in recent years we have seen the securocrats return to the ascendancy.

Sinn Féin is not alone in highlighting concerns about the negative influence of the securocrats. In 1998 Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews, commenting on the ongoing leaks from the NIO said: "It would appear that the leaker — or the leakers — are opposed to the Peace Process". He went on to say: "Sneaky little people in the Northern Ireland Office are not going to obstruct us in the pursuit of what we all seek to achieve — a permanent peace on the island of Ireland."

Sinn Féin wants to see progress in the Peace Process, but for this to happen British Prime Minister Tony Blair has to get his system in order. He has to face up to the reality that there are those within his system who are against the Good Friday Agreement. You cannot have one layer of government supporting the Good Friday Agreement while another, the NIO, is actively working to undermine it.

Political Interference

The NIO has led the way in undermining the Peace Process and this includes opposing the British Government's position of supporting the Good Friday Agreement, appeasing negative unionism, creating a two-tier approach to the issue of victims, orchestrating the highly political and public raid on Sinn Féin offices, collapsing the political institutions, creating a partisan commission with the sole purpose of attacking Sinn Féin and, this summer, overturning Parades Commission rulings on the Springfield Road, Lurgan and Ardoyne.

Destructive leaks to undermine the Good Friday Agreement

Since the beginning of the Peace Process there have been numerous destructive leaks to the media from individuals inside the NIO. All of these leaks have one thing in common — they are designed to impede progress at key moments. Two of the most publicised leaks were July 1997 when the 'gameplan' for forcing an Orange march down the nationalist Garvaghy Road was leaked and in June 1998 when a confidential memo relating to the talks was given to the media.

Collusion

The British government and NIO are still concealing collusion between British forces and pro-British death squads. In July 2004 it was discovered that a dossier with the details of 400 people had gone missing from Castlereagh Crown Forces Base and the UDA has claimed that it is in their possession. Despite the fact that the lives of these people are at risk the NIO has refused to comment other than stating that 28 members of the RIR have been withdrawn from duty. The NIO is attempting to cover up this scandal.

The issue of collusion goes to the heart of the NIO's role as the British War Office in Ireland. That is why it is so determined to suppress collusion as a political issue. Even a glance at the background will tell us why.

In 1989 Douglas Hogg, a Home Office Minister, told MPs in the House of Commons that some solicitors in the Six Counties were "unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA", just weeks before Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane was murdered. Hogg, who went on to become a Cabinet member, made his remarks after a briefing from senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officers.

Former British Secretary of State Tom King caused a public outcry when he gave a character reference to British agent Brian Nelson who was responsible for dozens of murders.

This is not ancient history. The loyalist gangs sponsored by the British securocrats for decades are still operating and are capable of intensifying their attacks at key periods. For example over a three-month period in 2002 there were 363 attacks against Catholics — on average four sectarian attacks per day. This included 144 bomb attacks, 25 shooting incidents, 151 homes damaged, 42 people assaulted and the murder of Gerard Lawlor by loyalists as he walked home along the Antrim Road.

International distortion of the truth by the NIO

Over the last decade the NIO has been engaged in a very deliberate campaign internationally to undermine the Peace Process. Leading NIO officials have travelled extensively in the US where, for example, in October 2002 they deliberately distorted and misinterpreted a key speech delivered in Belfast by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In that speech Blair stated: "It is time for acts of completion. We will do our best to carry on implementing the Agreement in any event. But, should real change occur, we can implement the rest of the Agreement, including on normalisation, in its entirety and not in stages but together."

After spinning by the NIO Political Directorate the speech was presented very differently. "There needed to be 'acts of completion' by republicans, rendering the transition to 'exclusively peaceful means real, total and permanent'. In turn, all parties would need to commit to the future stability of the institutions. If this happened, then all of the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement - including normalisation of security arrangements in NI in line with the level of threat — could be implemented'.

When Judge Peter Cory issued his report on collusion last year he recommended a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. But the NIO falsely stated that he opposed an inquiry because of the implications for those currently before the courts.

The NIO is hollowing out the Good Friday Agreement

The NIO has been responsible for hollowing out key sections of the Good Friday Agreement on political institutions, policing, demilitarisation. parades, justice, human rights, equality, flags and symbols.

Political Institutions

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a "democratically elected Assembly, which is inclusive in its membership, capable of exercising executive and legislative authority."

The NIO did a side deal with unionists in November 1999 during the Mitchell Review to introduce legislation outside the terms of the Agreement and giving the British Secretary of State powers to suspend the political institutions. These powers were first used on 11 February 2000 and the Assembly is currently in its fourth suspension. Suspension legislation has hung over the entire process since its introduction.

Policing

Under the Good Friday Agreement a Commission was to be formed to bring forward proposals to create a policing service, which would "enjoy widespread community support". The Patten Commission was duly established. From the outset the NIO sought to undermine nationalist hopes by packing the Commission with individuals with no understanding or sympathy with the nationalist position.

The Commission's secretariat was undermined through the presence of RUC officers and unionist civil servants from within the NIO.

The Patten Commission reported in September 1999 and made 175 recommendations.

British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, political head of the NIO, produced the first Police (NI) Bill on 16 May 2000. It was supposed to give effect to the Patten recommendations. In reality it gutted them.

The NIO sought to change the Patten recommendations in a number of key areas:

• The powers of the policing board

• The powers of the Ombudsman

• The powers and structures of the local District Policing Partnerships

• The oath

• The legacy of the RUC including its name, badge and symbols.

The NIO Policing Bill implemented 11 recommendations in full, subverted completely 89 recommendations and partially dealt with another 75.

Since then Sinn Féin has secured amending legislation to try to rectify the damage. However there is still much more work to be done before we reach the Good Friday Agreement commitment to an acceptable policing service.

Demilitarisation

The Good Friday Agreement promised that we would see a "normalisation of security arrangements and practices". That was over six years ago.

There are currently over 13,000 British soldiers in the Six Counties.

There are over 11,500 PSNI members.

There are over 30 British Army installations including numerous spy posts.

There are 13 joint PSNI/British Army bases.

There are more than 140 PSNI bases.

The PSNI remains militarised.

Low level helicopter flights continue.

Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC)

The IMC is not part of the Good Friday Agreement. It was conceived by the NIO at the behest of unionists to be used as a tool to exclude republicans from the political institutions. The IMC is also attempting to reintroduce the NIO policy of 'political vetting' which was used in the late 1980s and early 1990s to discriminate against community projects in nationalist areas.

Parades

The NIO was directly responsible for forcing the Orange Order parade along Garvaghy Road in 1996 after a sustained campaign by unionist political leaders and paramilitaries brought weeks of sectarian violence onto the streets.

The formation of the Parades Commission was designed to remove the power on parades away from unionist securocrats within both the PSNI and the NIO. This summer we have witnessed a fightback from these securocrats. Loyal Order parades in Lurgan and Ardoyne were deliberately allowed to breach the Parades Commission determinations after the intervention of the NIO at a political level and the PSNI on the ground.

Human Rights

The Good Friday Agreement sought to guarantee "Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity". It provided for the establishment of Human Rights Commissions (HRC) in the Six and 26 Counties. The NIO ensured that the legislation governing the Human Rights Commission would not allow for the range of powers or resources needed to address its remit.

The NIO's oversight of recruitment to the Human Rights Commission resulted in an unbalanced Commission and therefore unbalanced human rights approaches. It also influenced the HRC's damaging approach on the proposed Bill of Rights. Since it was established four Human Rights Commissioners have resigned on points of principle.

The NIO has interfered with the independence of the Human Rights Commission by vetting their budget. This interference was criticised by the Joint Human Rights Committee at Westminster.

Ignoring the demand for independence the NIO and the HRC produced a joint plan of action designed to restore public confidence in the HRC. The approach to the action plan has further compromised the position of the HRC.

The NIO has produced flawed criteria for the next round of appointments to the Human Rights Commission.

The NIO has slowed down the progress towards a Bill of Rights and long-fingered progress on the Charter of Rights for the island.

Equality

The Good Friday Agreement provided for the establishment of an Equality Commission. The NIO oversight of the recruitment process ensured that it was unbalanced in its composition.

In advance of the legislation forming the Commission, the NIO lobbied to ensure it would lack the powers to recommend sanctions against those in breach of equality legislation. The British Secretary of State has the final say on whether breaches have taken place, not the Equality Commission.

Good Friday Agreement obligations to tackle key equality issues such as the unemployment differential through Targeting Social Need and a range of measures aimed at combating unemployment have been minimalist and deliberately constructed to delay progress.

The NIO is opposed to the outworking of the Section 75 equality duty and its influence is evident in the failure of Departments to produce substantive equality or Targeting Social Need-related outcomes that are required to achieve the stated objectives of the Good Friday Agreement.

Flags and Symbols

The Good Friday Agreement requires that "symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division. Arrangements will be made to monitor this issue and consider what action might be required."

The NIO failed to put in place monitoring arrangements.

It introduced an Order in Council (Flags Order 2000) giving power over flying of flags to the British Secretary of State.

In February 2002 the NIO moved to retain British symbols in Court Buildings in direct contravention of the recommendations of the Criminal Justice Review

What is the Northern Ireland Office?

British Secretary of State Paul Murphy is the head of the Northern Ireland Office, which has responsibility for 'security', policing and prisons, criminal justice, victims and human rights.

The NIO has many layers, branches and divisions dealing with these issues and it is run by a 'permanent government' of senior civil servants, many of whom have been in place for several decades. Within this system there is an ethos which is unionist and anti-agreement and which is led by securocrats who are pursuing a policy contrary to the British Government's stated support of the Good Friday Agreement.

Since the collapse of the political institutions Paul Murphy, along with four Junior Ministers, has responsibility for running the departments established by the Assembly. These junior ministers — John Spellar, Ian Pearson, Angela Smyth and Barry Gardiner — are all British Labour MPs based in England. In reality the departments are run by the NIO from its offices in Stormont Castle and Millbank in London.


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