Belfast Telegraph

Now republicans and Royals find a common cause

Alarmed: Prince Charles
Alarmed: Prince Charles

By Eamonn McCann

Richard O'Rawe and Prince Charles have this in common – that they believed that statements which they'd made but didn't want published would remain secret until after their deaths.

O'Rawe was the spokesman for IRA prisoners in the Maze/Long Kesh during the 1981 hunger strike. His book, Blanketmen: An Untold Story, offered an alternative narrative to the version approved by the Sinn Fein leadership. The leadership reacted with furious anger. But there was more to come.

In an interview for the Boston College tapes project, O'Rawe is believed to have gone into some detail about his time in the IRA – not just his experiences in jail.

This account, too, contradicts the narrative preferred by the Sinn Fein leadership and, therefore, also by a wide range of commentators and other mainstream politicians who hold, wrongly, that to challenge the integrity of Gerry Adams and his associates would be to risk the collapse of the institutions established under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. (The consolidation of the already-sturdy agreement through Sinn Fein's triumphant performance in last week's elections will have done nothing to dissipate this thoughtless assumption.)

For the offence of affronting the conventional political wisdom, O'Rawe and others who took part in the Boston exercise have been labelled "touts" by people who simultaneously urge anyone with information on criminal acts to rush to the nearest PSNI station and tell all.

The guarantee of secrecy to participants in the Boston College enterprise turned out to be worthless when a US court upheld a PSNI demand and handed over a number of the taped conversations. It was on the basis of this material that Adams was arrested and questioned last month.

Now news network NBC has asked for the entire archive. Prominent Irish-Americans are urging President Obama, Hillary Clinton and other "friends of Ireland" to intervene.

The basis of the argument for intervention/interference with the courts is that America's national interest is at stake, given the allegedly significant role of US administrations in negotiating and sustaining the agreement.

In an interview with a Dublin newspaper at the weekend, Tony Blair, too, joined calls for the abandonment of efforts to publish the truth as recounted by O'Rawe and his colleagues.

Of course, Blair has a vested interest in keeping the facts about indefensible incidents of political violence out of the public eye and continues, so far successfully, to lobby against release of the legal advice which he claims gave the go-ahead for the assault on Iraq.

The operating principle is that as long as only the winners' version of history is generally available, the winners' reputations and rewards will be safe.

Likewise, Prince Charles, his courtiers and various constitutionalists are alarmed lest the British courts order release of the "Black Spider" letters. These have been the subject of a four-year court battle by Guardian writer Rob Evans.

The term "Black Spider" has been adopted on account of Charles's spindly writing. The letters are said to carry copious corrections, additions and addendums in red or green ink and to feature heavy underlining and exclamation marks galore.

Evans has applied under the Freedom of Information Act for sight of 27 letters written between September 2004 and April 2005. If the courts find in his favour, all of Charles's correspondence with ministers will become liable for release.

The letters cover modern architecture, eating mutton, GM food, climate change, falling educational standards, killing small animals for sport and much else. Prior to a huge protest in 2003 against a proposed ban on fox-hunting, Charles wrote to Prime Minister Blair: "If we, as a group, were black or gay we would not be victimised or picked on". If the ban was imposed, he "might as well leave Britain." (It was and he didn't.)

Concern about publishing the letters arises from a fear that Charles's constitutional relationship with parliament once he has become king, set out in the Williamite settlement, would be damaged if it were known that he had regularly lobbied previous governments in favour of particular policies. To put the constitutional arrangement under such strain would be ... against the national interest.

Is there not a case here for the Royal family and Irish nationalist leaders to make common cause to protect their adherents from information which they'd rather their adherents weren't aware of? After all, aren't they on excellent terms these days?

And isn't it weeks since we had occasion to remark that, if you'd told us 10 years ago that this would be happening, we wouldn't have believed you?

Belfast Telegraph


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