#ShinnersList: Government had to trust Sinn Fein not to use this private arrangement to their own narrow advantage

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I was on the Irish Times Inside Politics with Hugh Linihan and Martin Mansergh. The OTR section starts with an interview with Finola Meredith at about 31 minutes in.

I kick off my own remarks with the suggestion that if any political party in the south had been caught striking the kind of clandestine arrangement the #ShinnersList appears to be (jury is still out on just what it was in its fullest extent, the government would have fallen.

Why? Exhibit A, GSOC had the Republic in convulsions for weeks because of tight relationship between Garda Commission and Minister. Something noted much earlier by Sinn Fein’s Peadar Toibin who rightly argued ‘there should not be a close relationship between politics and policing’:

Yes, people do have a point when they say the details and even some parts of the architecture were known about. What was certainly not understood was the degree of control the party had over the transmission of the list in and out of the party.

In the instance of one of only two former Provisionals to be successfully convicted, Gerry McGeough, there’s questions to be answered regard the second letter telling him he was now wanted disappeared somewhere within the unaccountable #ShinnersList mechanism run by Sinn Fein.

The timing of his arrest (entirely at the discretion of the PSNI), whilst leaving the election count centre in Omagh where he had been an unsuccessful candidate in the Assembly elections of 2007, seemed almost calculated to make it look like a political operation.

Indeed, if you apply the public interest test that Adams pitched to Blair in 2000 it is hard to see Gerry McGeough in any serious terms as a threat to the peace process (see this interview with Slugger Radio we did with him in that election campaign? 40.40 in.).

Declan Lawn’s inset to last night’s Spotlight was also revealing about the degree of changes in status of suspects that went inside PSNI files. John Downey was a case in point:

Lastly, on the podcast, I made the point that whilst this mechanism was clearly set up in good faith to try to stabilize the peace. Mansergh also noted that the unfair arising may prove to be more apparent than real.

But the gamble was that the government had to do it in secret (even if much of it was hidden in plain sight) and more seriously they had to trust Sinn Fein not to use this private arrangement to their own narrow advantage.

Time and the various paper trails now being pursued will be the judge of whether or not that was a wise move.

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  • sean treacy

    The “irish times inside politics” must be some operation given the four “A listers” they managed to assemble to enlighten us all.

  • Mick Fealty

    The Yellow was by popular request. Now, behave!

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Finola [22 mins] “.. but we kind of knew that all sorts of shenanigans were going on in order to facilitate the peace and the thing for most people, certainly the people I’ve been talking to, the people I know, is that we just want it to work now; we want the ramshackley show to stay on the road. .. We haven’t reached a stage of being functional in the true sense yet and so I don’t think the carve-up between the extremes is the solution. What is the solution? Who knows.”

    Finola makes several references to ‘moving forward’ but has no proposal that might tackle or achieve it. Her assessment is an indictment of the woeful state of investigative journalism and that Dick Spring briefing in 1996 illustrated the BBC’s complicity in the shenanigans.

  • Morpheus

    Mick, I listened the interview you gave – I thought you spoke superbly well, nice radio voice :) – but I was wondering if there was anything in there that you would say differently now.

  • IrelandNorth

    If it’s subsequently the case that political pragmatism trumped criminal justice it surely wouldn’t be the first time that executives prevailed over judicial. Say what you like about the English, they’re a very pragmatic lot who didn’t get to where they are in ruling the waves without waiving a few rules in their time. So why all the naive idealism. Are those who are against quasi-amnesties against them because of the cultural profile of the beneficiaries. How many lives have been saved since the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), 1998. And even if only one, would such not have been worth a little Christian forebearance. What price neo-imperial self-righteousness?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Martin on the OTRs [29:25]: “This was discussed – now I ceased to be an advisor in mid 2002 when I became a senator – but it was discussed quite a bit in the 2000-2002 period after the prisoner releases had happened.”

    From the judgement:

    Also on 2 May 2000 there were meetings at the Irish Embassy in London between officials from both governments and Sinn Fein. The Minutes of those meetings record that Jonathan Powell (the Government’s Chief Negotiator) indicated that the Government was prepared to operate a similar system in relation to OTRs to the one then being operated by the Irish Government. He indicated that if the Government was given a list of names, it would clarify with the police and the prosecuting authorities the position of those individuals and, where appropriate, would review whether it remained in the public interest to pursue a prosecution.

    This illustrates the Irish government’s complicity in the shenanigans. It would also appear to demonstrate/confirm the lack of independence of the police and the prosecuting authorities. This is in step with the claim made by a police officer about twenty years ago that, in certain instances, he could observe paramilitary wrong-doing but could not intervene without political clearance.

    The judgement also shows that the side-dealing on the OTRs began in July 1998, a point not mentioned by Martin:

    28. A second phase of negotiations began in July 1998. It was during those negotiations that the position of the OTRs was addressed. .. The more so, it was said, as a number of the OTRs were strong supporters of the Good Friday Agreement, whose presence in Northern Ireland, free from the risk of arrest, would further the peace process. .. Sinn Fein made clear that it regarded a successful outcome in relation to OTRs as being of critical importance to the eventual success of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein’s position was broadly supported by the Irish Government.

  • Cric

    The thing that genuinely surprised me about all this is I had believed that the British judiciary was independent of politics – in that a politician should not have the power to interfere in the conviction/sentencing process.

    Michael Howard famously had his (populist) intervention in the James Bulger case overturned by the Lords for exactly this reason.

  • socaire

    IrelandNorth @ 10.52
    Well constructed post.

  • Morpheus

    Cric, the PM quite clearly said that all prosecutions are matters for the DPP and Attorney General so I am not sure how you think a politician interfered in the conviction/sentencing process.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Morpheus, your faith in ministerial statements is touching. When you lift the stone, you can occasionally view ministers unclad :)

  • Morpheus

    I am not saying the SoS or any politician for that matter is infallible – but The Ministerial Statement is the only item of substance put forward showing the wording of the letters. If you can show me evidence that what she said is incorrect then I am willing to hear it but until such times anything else is conjecture…at best.

    Are we are expected to believe that an order has come down from The Prime Minister, through the Attorney General, to tell multiple police officers at multiple levels of command in multiple police forces to suppress evidence to protect people the police had never even heard of and crimes the police didn’t even know were committed? Is that even semi plausible?

    What has been put forward as ‘The Adams Defence’ is half a quote from GA asking if persecutions where in the public interest. The other half of the quote shows that Tony Blair cleared that up for him by saying that all prosecutions come under the remit of the DPP and Attorney General. That is not a deal. If you write to me asking for a million quid and I say no then that is not evidence that I gave you a million quid.

  • Mick Fealty

    Morph,

    I hate listening to myself (recorded at last ;-))

    “I was wondering if there was anything in there that you would say differently now.”

    Why do you ask?

  • Morpheus

    You did great Mick, very impressive.

    I was wondering if you would
    1. include the rest of the quote when TB sets GA straight about who is responsible for prosecutions and
    2. make it clear that the scheme was open more than the Shinners.

  • Cric

    @Morpheus, excuse my ignorance (not sarcastic, I really am ignorant on the matter) – the DPP and Attorney General couldn’t move forward for prosecutions based on the letters negotiated by politicians? Which would mean there was political interference in judicial matters?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Yes, people do have a point when they say the details and even some parts of the architecture were known about.”

    The architecture is to be looked at by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, including Hain’s responses in parliament:

    Robinson: I asked for assurances that no other procedure would be used to allow OTRs to return (11th October 2006)

    Hain: There is no other procedure

    Hermon: “what measures the Government are considering to deal with “on the runs” other than further legislation or an amnesty.” (1 March 2007)

    Hain: None

    Yet we have this in the judgement:

    “On 28 December 2006, in a confidential letter, the Prime Minister assured Gerry Adams that the Government, having already announced that it would no longer pursue the extradition of individuals convicted of pre‐1998 offences who had escaped from prison and who would, if they returned to Northern Ireland and successfully applied for the early release scheme, have little if any of their time left to serve, was now working with a renewed focus on putting in place mechanisms to resolve all other OTR cases – including “expediting the existing administrative procedures” and stating that “I have always believed that the position of these OTRs is an anomaly which needs to be addressed.”

  • Morpheus

    No you are confused Cric.

    Here is the text of the letters as conformed by the Ministerial Statement:
    “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been informed by the Attorney General that on the basis of the information currently available, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom. If any other outstanding offence or offences came to light, or if any request for extradition were to be received, these would have to be dealt with in the usual way.”

    The letters were NOT amnesty, immunity nor GOOJ cards…that is nothing but DUP spin in order to get votes so they can keep their seats/salaries/pensions/expenses for at least another term. They were a simple statement of fact from a certain point in time plus a warning that if evidence comes to light they will be prosecuted.

    But keep in mind that that these people were not even wanted for questioning, never mid arrest. Indeed ACC Drew Harris “it was very good of all these people to put their hands up to crimes that we have never heard of and people we had never been aware of as well.”

    Hence my point from earlier that we are expected to believe that an order has come down from The Prime Minister, through the Attorney General, to tell multiple police officers at multiple levels of command in multiple police forces to suppress evidence to protect people the police had never even heard of and crimes the police didn’t even know were committed. It isn’t even semi-plausible.

  • Mick Fealty

    1, why? The critical aspect is not whom he attaches it too, but that he wants his people off the hook for ALL offences. In terms of the negotiation at the time, that was a fair pitch.

    His problem now is: A, he made the pitch first, not the British; and B, with 37 letters suspended and the whole operation under suspicion, he’s no longer in a position to deny the British anything within the terms he originally set.

    2, we know that was said (and what was not said) in the 2010 briefing to the PBNI, but did Jackie McDonald know that? In any case the introduction of politics into the administration of policing will likely, I am afraid to say, have had a dilatory effect on policing Loyalism too. Perhaps that’s why there have been so many complaints over the poor/non policing of some Loyalists?

  • Morpheus

    What he wanted and what he gots are 2 very different things Mick. He asked a question and was put straight and didn’t get anything out of it. As I said earlier if you write to me asking for a million quid and I say no then that is not evidence that I gave you a million quid. You walk away with nothing. Do you think it is fair that 14 years later someone tries to suggest that you got a million quid just because you asked the question leaving out the ‘No’ response?

    Did Jackie McDonald know what was said in the PB meeting in 2010? I would guess at no but that just puts him in the same boat as many thousands of other people. The DUP were there so knew what was said, the UUP were there so knew what was said and the PUP were there so knew what was said.

    I would guess that Jackie McDonald did know that the same deal was previously offered to Loyalists. This from The Belfast Telegraph under the title “On the runs: Loyalists were also asked for a list of their fugitives” which quotes William ‘Plum’ Smyth, former chairman of the Progressive Unionist Party who took part in the negotiations when he said:
    “We attended meetings with civil servants, the NIO and British Government. We went to a meeting and were told to put together a list of loyalists we thought to be on the run. The first steps were made ahead of the Good Friday Agreement. It didn’t really affect us, though, as we had no people on the run. Loyalists couldn’t hide in the South, they couldn’t go to America. We had no safe havens. That’s why the on-the-runs issue didn’t become a big problem. But on the pursuit of people for pre-1998 offences, it was quite clear there would be no prosecutions.”

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/on-the-runs-loyalists-were-also-asked-for-a-list-of-their-fugitives-30046306.html

    I’ll ask you the same thing I asked Cric – are we are expected to believe that an order has come down from The Prime Minister, through the Attorney General, to tell multiple police officers at multiple levels of command in multiple police forces to suppress evidence to protect people the police had never even heard of and crimes the police didn’t even know were committed? Is that even semi-plausible?

  • IanR

    Morph, the quote you took from ACC Drew Harris: “it was very good of all these people to put their hands up…” – it should be pointed out that if you read the context from the minutes of the PB meeting, just prior to that line, it makes clear that when he says “all these people” he is using the word ‘all’ figuratively not descriptively. That is to say, the ‘Walter Mitty’ types are a sub-set of the list of OTRs that SF had submitted, and not ALL those who received ‘comfort letters’ were previously unheard of by the PSNI.

    Nevin, regarding “assurances that no other procedure would be used to allow OTRs to return”, the people who requested comfort letters and therefore were allowed to return, simply got confirmation that they weren’t wanted for questioning and that they therefore, by definition, were NOT OTRs and were therefore free to move into the jurisdiction. Those who were told that they were wanted for questioning i.e. those that were OTRs, were given ‘letters of discomfort’ and were NOT able to return (e.g. Rita O’Hare).

    The only known exception being Downey, who was given a false assurance that he wasn’t wanted when he was (although in his case he still wasn’t technically ‘On the Run’ as he hails from and resides in Donegal).

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “But keep in mind that that these people were not even wanted for questioning, never mind arrest. Indeed ACC Drew Harris “it was very good of all these people to put their hands up to crimes that we have never heard of and people we had never been aware of as well.””

    Morpheus, your selective quote misrepresents what Harris said; your snippet relates to some of the OTRs.

    Could I say the ‘on the runs’ the overall group, we are able to provide the information on this, but can I just say ‘on the runs’ is a strange group because some of the people within this define themselves as ‘on the run’ who actually we’ve never heard of or have no interest in. So some people, for their own or whatever reasons, decided that they would call themselves an ‘on the run’ and so the figures that will be produced are easily distorted by this group. It would be unkind to call them ‘Walter Mitties’ but there seems to be a sizeable group of people who like to be called ‘on the runs’ and have applied that title to themselves. So, I would add one word of caution in terms of the information that comes forward, it is very good of all these people to put their hands up to crimes that we’ve never heard of and people we have never been aware of as well.

  • Morpheus

    Poorly worded, my apologies.

    It doesn’t take away from my point though – are we are expected to believe that an order has come down from The Prime Minister, through the Attorney General, to tell multiple police officers at multiple levels of command in multiple police forces to suppress evidence to protect people (a number of whom the police had never even heard of and crimes the police didn’t even know were committed)?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Morpheus, a direction to police officers need not have involved the Attorney General and the rest of the prosecuting authorities. As I pointed out earlier, there was also apparently a list of ne’er-do-wells that the police couldn’t touch without political clearance.

    There was also the matter of Maryfield and its successor in Bedford Street. Any request for policing action from, say, the SDLP, that was channelled via the DFA in Dublin would lead to a round-table exchange involving officials and senior police officers and authorised actions would then be implemented by the police. We’ve seen what appears to be similar activity last year where the most senior person present was the SoS.

  • Morpheus

    For a start it HAD to come from the AG because TB made it very clear that prosecutions were not it his remit and fell under the responsibility of the AG

    But we;ll ignore that for a second – how do YOU think word get from Tony Blair to the multiple police officers in the multiple police forces involved that evidence needed to be suppressed?

    Again, there is no evidence to support the outlandish theory that there was a list of untouchables, none at all. If you have it then supply it, I am all ears.

  • Morpheus

    I so wish there was an edit function. Apologies, I am posting from a phone

  • Morpheus

    BTW, if the order did come down from on high that evidence was to be suppressed why did McGeogh and Downey end up in court?

    How do you think the order to suppress evidence would have been welcomed in the different police forces?

    In short, it makes zero sense.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “a list of untouchables”

    Morpheus, are you not over-egging it? Political clearance was required and, presumably, the operation would have required some sort of list. I dare say there have been and are a number of ‘outlandish’ practices here that wouldn’t get the time of day in the rest of these two islands.

  • Granni Trixie

    If all was above board surely its reasonable to expect that “somebody” say from NIO at the handover in devolution of p&J would have ensured that the Minister for Justice was informed about Operation rapid?

    Also let’s not forget that at the start of this GK (or was it Hain?) on TV actually said it was secret becAuse of reaction such as is evident presently. The spin, esp by PSNI, now seems to be that the existence of
    operation rapid was not conducted in secret. What a foolish strategy …better to put up their hands …will they never learn?

  • Dixie Elliott

    …The latest twist in the debate between both parties came after the Sentinel spoke to relatives of the Bloody victims who contended that back in 2005 that some of the families met with Sinn Fein representatives and that their support was sought by the party for OTR legislation and in return they would have to drop their desire to see members of the Parachute Regiment prosecuted for the killings on January 30, 1972. [...]

    ….However, Kate Nash, who’s brother William was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and her father Alex wounded whilst trying to go to his son’s aid described the situation over OTRs as a “disgrace.”

    She said she recalled there was an offer made to the Bloody Sunday families to support OTRs in return for dropping possible prosecutions against members of the Parachute Regiment, but the notion was rejected wholly by the families. [...]

    …“On 9 November (2005), the day after the Secretary of State announced publicly that the on the run legislation would apply to state killers, Conor Murphy flew over to Westminster to welcome it and brief on it and issued a supportive press release.

    “On November 10, Martin McGuinness was interviewed on Hearts and Minds. He called our (the SDLPs) objections about state killers “naive” and said he did “not envisage that any of the people who were involved in the murders of nationalists…is ever going to be brought before a court in this day and age.” Compare that to what he says now: “We support the families of victims in their pursuit of justice and truth.”

    The SDLP document continued by stating that during the Hearts and Minds interview Mr McGuinness “admitted that state killers would be able to get the benefit of the legislation but said that the people who would ‘gain most advantage from this are those nationalists and republicans who are on the run for over 30 years’.[...]

    The full article…

    http://www.londonderrysentinel.co.uk/news/local-news/war-of-words-continues-over-shinners-list-1-5919791