A new book about the peace process in Northern Ireland claims Tony Blair was prepared to endorse an alternative justice system that would delegate policing power in republican areas to Sinn Fein.
According to Mary-Alice Clancy’s Peace without Consensus — Power Sharing Politics in Northern Ireland, Tony Blair considered allowing Sinn Fein to run community restorative justice programmes rather than have conventional policing.
The book indicates senior American and Irish officials were unhappy with the idea and felt Blair and the then Downing Street chief-of-staff Jonathan Powell’s views on policing powers were out of step and nearly led to the downfall of the 2006 St Andrews deal.
Prerequisite to establishing power sharing in Northern Ireland was that Sinn Fein would pledge full support for policing and justice.
Historian Clancy claims the US administration and members of the Irish government thought Blair’s serious consideration of the alternative justice system idea was “absolutely insane” and displayed “complete naivete”.
The proposal would have meant crime was reported to paramilitaries rather than police and it is alleged that at the time White House staff members found it difficult to comprehend how Powell in particular thought a deal would be brokered without Sinn Fein's endorsement of the PSNI.
The book claims that Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss, believed Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness’s insistance they were under pressure from the IRA was a “ploy and bluff”.
Security services intelligence told Reiss no such threat existed and in the book American officials claim Powell eventually conceded Reiss was in fact correct all along.
The book also claims Reiss’s ban on Sinn Fein fundraising in the US after the IRA murder of Robert McCartney was supported by the British security services even though the Northern Ireland Office opposed it.
Analysis: A surprising stance to adopt
By Alan Murray
The Northern Bank robbery should have given Tony Blair and his chief of staff Jonathan Powell all the ammunition they needed to rebuff Sinn Fein’s designs on a parallel justice programme.
It should also have provided them with sufficient warning about the potential betrayal that the party’s military wing could dish up on the law and order agenda.
It’s surprising then that Blair and Powell remained prepared, two years later, to sanction effective policing of the streets by the Provos.
But then for the Labour Government, without Sinn Fein and the IRA the peace process wasn’t worth the candle.
Still it’s slightly surprising — given the intelligence available to them in 2006 — that Blair and his closest adviser thought of the Provisional movement as “suitable” for policing the nationalist community.
Fortunately some wiser counsels prevailed.