Dublin's pledge on the past is welcome but does it include collusion with Provisionals?
Government of Republic has questions to answer about links to the IRA at start of Troubles
Charlie Flanagan is a Fine Gael TD for Laois-Offaly and Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Irish Republic. Last weekend he delivered one of the keynote addresses at the British-Irish Association conference at Oxford University.
Then, on Tuesday, he and Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire signed an agreement to establish an Independent Reporting Commission on paramilitary activity.
Before the signing of the agreement, Mr Flanagan said: “This is an important step in implementing the Fresh Start Agreement provisions to eliminate paramilitarism and tackle organised crime.”
I welcome that commitment, because the elimination of paramilitarism is a worthy objective, and that is why the proper resourcing of the National Crime Agency and the PSNI is so important.
It is also important that there is good cross-border co-operation in ending paramilitarism, because there is often a cross-border dimension to paramilitary criminality and to ongoing dissident republican terrorism.
The following day regulations were laid down at Westminster to enable the Independent Reporting Commission to become operational by the end of the year.
The ending of paramilitarism is not the only thing that Charlie Flanagan spoke about in Oxford.
He also spoke about the past, and how we deal with the past in Northern Ireland.
He said: “I believe it is the solemn responsibility of politicians in London, in Belfast and in Dublin to deliver a framework for dealing with legacy issues.
“This must ensure equality of access for victims and survivors to whatever truth and justice is available in their case and provide a platform for genuine reconciliation in society.”
I was impressed by his commitment to “ensure access to truth”, but I just wonder how far that commitment really extends.
In terms of paramilitary organisations which were active during the Troubles, the most deadly was undoubtedly the Provisional IRA.
In fact, it was responsible for around half of the deaths which occurred during the Troubles, and it murdered far more policemen, soldiers and civilians than any other group.
So, when it comes to exploring the past and coming to terms with the past, there is one aspect of the Troubles that Charlie Flanagan and Enda Kenny might want to consider, and that is the role of the Irish Republic in relation to the Provisionals.
In 1969 senior ministers in the Irish Republic intervened in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland and played a significant role in the events which led to the creation of the Provisional IRA.
That intervention continued in the months after the emergence of the Provisionals.
The 1970 arms trial in Dublin, which failed to convict either Charles Haughey or Neil Blaney, was more of a farce than a trial, and the full truth about what happened in terms of providing money, guns and ammunition has still to be disclosed.
The work of investigative journalists and the publication in Dublin, many years later, of some Government papers have helped to fill in parts of the story.
But there are huge gaps still remaining.
That’s why I’m interested in how far Charlie Flanagan will take his commitment to “ensure access to truth”.There are events in Northern Ireland which have been investigated several times, and some investigations are still ongoing.
Some events have even been subjected to public inquiry, at a cost of many millions of pounds.
However, the relationship between those senior Fianna Fail politicians and the Provisional IRA has been buried under the claim that there was a trial.
The issue of collusion has also been brought to the fore because of the broadening of the definition by the Police Ombudsman, but whether the definition is broad or narrow, there can be no doubt that there was collusion between Dublin and the Provisional IRA.
Were those events in 1969 not one of the earliest examples of collusion during the Troubles?
So, when it comes to examining the roles of different organisations, the Dublin Government has to be scrutinised as well.