The choice: Republicanism or Provisionalism?

Dermot Ahern’s speech in the Dail last night reads as much as an essay, as a speech. In support of his argument that the Law and the Police are the sole means of getting justice for all victims, he recalls the words of Eammon McCann and Padraig Pearse. He’s makes life uncomfortable for Alex Maskey, when he asks, “Did he not know what we in Dublin already knew?”.

NB: He introduces a new frame for future argument: the choice between Provisionalism and Republicanism!

A Cheann Comhairle, the case of Robert McCartney is a case of collusion. Collusion that emanates from within the Provisional Movement. To avoid justice. To escape the truth. To protect the killers.

Like all collusion cases before it the Irish Government will incessantly press for truth and justice – for the family and for our wider society. Like the cases of Rosemary Nelson, Patrick Finucane, Robert Hamill before, we will not allow the case of Robert McCartney slip from the agenda.

On behalf of the Irish Government I made that pledge to Robert’s sisters and partner – I intend to keep it. Robert was clearly a deeply loved brother, partner and father.

The family spoke movingly and tenderly about him. I want to commend their composure and their determination.

Though deeply grief stricken, they have sought to focus on achieving truth and justice. The longer that process is delayed, the longer it will be before they can deal with their loss as a family. But no length of time will dull their will to secure justice.

And no matter how long it takes, I know this House, and the Irish People – will stick solidly by them.

Ceann Comhairle, I want to add my voice to all those who have commended the stand taken by the McCartney family. It has taken real courage to confront those responsible and their associates. The sickening details of the murder can leave no one in doubt about what these perpetrators are capable of and what a menace to their own community they represent. It has taken real courage too for the family to take their case to the court of public opinion.

Their interviews and public statements have been marked by a degree of integrity and belief in the rule of law that has inspired all who have heard them. The courage of the McCartney family is also reflected in their demand that the killers be brought to justice. Not the justice of the backstreets or the mountainside or the seashore but the justice that only the law of the land can provide.

Despite their own reservations about the administration of justice in Northern Ireland, they are prepared to trust the courts and the PSNI to give them justice.

Ceann Comhairle, truth and justice are words that spring easily to the lips of spokesmen for Sinn Féin. The challenge now is whether the Provisional movement can accept the family’s demand and give them the truth and justice they are seeking – in the family’s own terms.
There has been much talk about encouraging people to “come forward”. Provisional leaders and spokesmen have said that people with information should offer that information to whoever they feel comfortable in imparting it. That may or may not mean the PSNI.

In the weeks following the murder, Sinn Féin spokesmen openly called on people with information to come forward but not necessarily to the police. There were reservations about the police, said the leadership.

But let us be clear about this. The only information that will help put the killers of Robert McCartney behind bars is information given directly to the PSNI, information that lead to statements that can be used as evidence in a court of law.

The question is not whether Gerry Adams would testify in court. The question is whether he would offer a statement to the PSNI. That would certainly be an implication of his recent statement but given the allegations of witness intimidation it would be helpful if he could clarify that point.

I fully agree with the Taoiseach and the McCartney family when they say that the IRA has a role here too in ensuring that the killers are brought to justice before the courts. When I met the McCartney family last week, the Sinn Féin leadership had already made statements supporting the family’s call for justice and encouraging people to come forward.

But when I talked to them, none of the witnesses to the crime had done so. So intimidating is the menace of paramilitaries in the Short Strand and Market areas that their mere presence is enough to still voices and quell legitimate protest.

The McCartney family made clear to me that it was one thing to issue statements and quite another to see results. They were very clear that the leaders of the Provisional movement knew how to do both – how to issue statements and how to ensure that witnesses felt free to come forward.

They were clear that the only real measure of the sincerity of the Sinn Féin leadership lay with the outcome. The bottom line is this – until the killers are brought before the Courts no member of the Provisional Movement can utter the words truth or justice with any credibility. No amount of spin is worth the conviction of the killers and justice for the family.

Ceann Comhairle, I do not need to remind the house of the broader political context which has contributed to the general lack of credibility of the statements issued by or on behalf of the provisional movement.

Séamus Heaney once remarked that in ancient Ireland the spoken word had the power of voodoo. There was reverence for the word, for its value and integrity. And indeed the peace process made significant progress because it was believed that words would be honoured by deeds. But as the McCartney family have said, the people are now too familiar with the double-speak of the Provisional Movement. They know how to decode it.

Ceann Comhairle, I and my officials were monitoring this dreadful event in some detail very soon after it occurred. Based on our own contacts and sources, a detailed picture quickly emerged of the main outlines of what had happened. It was an appalling picture of bullying and thuggery that quickly degenerated into heinous violence against innocent men.

Yet contrary to all of the intelligence that we in Dublin were aware of, a leading spokesman for Sinn Féin, a life long member of the provisional movement and a former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey, condemned the incident as a tragic example of the knife culture in Belfast. He accused the PSNI of being heavy handed in searching for evidence against the killers and excused the young rioters out to impede the police. Did he not know what we in Dublin already knew?

Rumours were spread by others locally that victims had in fact been the perpetrators of their own wounds in a fall-out amongst friends. A rumour was circulated that McCartney was a member of the Provisional IRA so that the ordinary decent members of the public should have no need for concern.

Let me remind the House what the Government once said about another incident when the victims were blamed for their own deaths:

What sets this apart from other tragedies that might rival it in bloodshed is that the victims suffered a second injustice when [others] sought to taint them with responsibility for their own deaths in order to exonerate, even at that great moral cost, those [they] found it inexpedient to blame.

To what was the Irish Government referring? Those words can be found in the report “Bloody Sunday and the Report of the Widgery Tribunal, the Irish Government’s Assessment of the New Material”.

They were directed at the British Government for the actions of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, in blaming the victims of Bloody Sunday in order to exculpate the soldiers involved. And what did the new Labour Government under Prime Minister Blair do in response to our assessment that the Widgery Report was not just deeply flawed but a profound injustice to the victims?

It set it aside and established a new public inquiry under an international panel of judges to look again at those terrible events. This set the new tone of the British Government’s engagement in Northern Ireland under Tony Blair and it proved an auspicious start to a process that would quickly see the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement.

What irony then that Robert McCartney should be literally slaughtered at the hands of those self-styled republicans returning from the Bloody Sunday commemoration.

I whole heartedly agree with the comments of Eamonn McCann about those who murdered Mr. McCartney.
I quote from reports of the words he spoke at the rally in support of the family’s demand for justice last Sunday:

“We are told ….that some of those directly involved in the murder of Robert McCartney had come from marching in Derry demanding justice for the Bloody Sunday families. How dare they? The hardest thing I can say about them is that they have brought themselves and the organisation which apparently some of them were a part, they have brought themselves to the level of the British paratroopers in the Bogside.”

The PSNI were judicious in their comments. There was no reflex response by the PSNI publicly assuming or claiming the worst as far as the IRA were concerned. As early as 3 February, the Chief Constable said that he did not believe the crime was related to a particular terrorist group following its particular objective.

At that point, the case seemed clear. A bar brawl had ended in a terrible tragedy. The IRA was not involved. Privately, we knew that the reality was quite different. The family knew it. The people of the Short Strand knew it. The IRA was protecting its own under the blanket of denial and obfuscation. The pattern has persisted.

While the Provisional Movement has rapidly shifted its position in response to the pressure mounting from the family and their community, any progress forward has been consistently one step short of what is required.

A Cheann Comhairle, The remarkable feature of this case is the speed with which truth overwhelmed the official line peddled by the Provisional Movement’s spokesmen.

Inspired by the family’s courage, by the depth of revulsion about the slaughter of an innocent man – a Sinn Féin voter no less, the community of the Short Strand held a candle-lit vigil and on the day of the funeral attended in their masses.

Some twelve hundred people came out to support the family and with silent dignity defy the official line from a provisional leadership that liked to portray itself as a defender of that community.
The McCartney case crystallised a challenge to some fundamental notions of what the Provisional Movement claims to stand for. It claims to stand for justice but the question is ‘what form of justice?’

Is it the same kind of justice in the courts of law and public inquiry that it has demanded for the families of Bloody Sunday, for the Finucane, Hamill, and Nelson families? It claims to stand for truth but will it stand for truth only when that truth can be used as a weapon in pursuit of its own interest?

It claims to stand as defenders of the small and vulnerable Short Strand community. That rings hollow for the McCartney family.
Ceann Comhairle, This case is clearest evidence of the gaping and growing divergence between ‘Provisionalism’ and Irish Republicanism. The Irish people in the first act of 32 county self-determination since 1918, overwhelmingly backed the Good Friday Agreement.

That Agreement granted Irish people the legitimate expectation of an end to paramilitarism and criminality. That is clearly the will of the Irish people. No Irish republican can oppose that will. Yet the Provisional Leadership continues to hinder that will. That Movement continues to cling to paramilitarism and criminality.

And if protecting killers, or destroying forensic evidence or keeping the police from the crime scene do not constitute criminality, I don’t know what does. Pearse, in his great poem , the Rebel, spoke of a sorrowful people under the lash of masters, and of their courage and their determination for freedom.

But in the Short Strand and the case of Robert McCartney, the Provisionals seem to have become the masters. And a normal Irish family like that of Robert McCartney have become today’s rebels – determined to secure truth and justice against all.

That’s not what Ireland in the 21st century was supposed to be like.
Ceann Comhairle, On Friday the IRA announced that it had expelled three of its members. It offered a narrative of sorts for the events of that day, as if its own self-styled process of inquiry could offer facts about what transpired as if it were a court of law.

The outcome was the expulsion of three members and encouragement that they take responsibility for their actions. Was this a step in the right direction? Certainly when I spoke to the family earlier that week, they asked why the perpetrators remained in the ranks. And the IRA statement of Friday last was a response of sorts to that.

But in falling so short of what the family wanted, it was a response that seemed tailored to the provisional movement’s needs to ease the pressure rather than listen to what the family were saying. The family has insisted that that is not enough – and we stand by the wishes of the family.

What they want is justice. Not the Provisional definition of justice. Not the Provisional definition of what it finds tolerable. The McCartney family, like any normal decent Irish family,wants and is entitled to justice without limits and without prescription.

As a republican, I can understand the sense of siege and vulnerability felt by nationalists living in Northern Ireland. I am old enough to have lived most of my life in a time of violence and conflict because of the problem of Northern Ireland.

I have known and admired people who have lost their lives, including decent people who suffered the ultimate penalty because they fell under the suspicion of the provisional movement. I knew that there had to be a better way.

I believed that the Sinn Féin leadership know there was a better way too. I acknowledge their profound contribution to the peace process. No one can gainsay the fact that they have managed their constituency in all its aspects to ensure that a ceasefire has been maintained and that weapons have been decommissioned in a situation where the overall political environment has presented some opportunities but equally has been prey to turbulence and uncertainty.

But there comes a time when the old ways of doing business don’t work any more. There comes a time when responsibility demands that rhetoric is matched by actions. There comes a time when a moral crisis demands clarity and precision.

There comes a time when the Provisional Movement must act like Irish Republicans and heed the will of the Irish People. What does one do? Listen to the family and help them find justice.

What is justice? It is the rule of law.

How does one cooperate? It is by making statements to the police.

There comes a time when a case arises that carries with it enormous significance. The public are rightly focused on this case because of its moral clarity. Their focus will not be deflected by words and statements. The demand for justice will only be satisfied when everything possible has been done and seen to be done.

A Cheann Comhairle, I fundamentally reject the notion put around by Sinn Féin spokesmen that I or any member of the Government has sought to use the murder of Robert McCartney as a stick to beat Sinn Féin on the issue of policing.

I reject the idea that somehow we find it convenient to seize on this case in order to compel Sinn Féin to endorse policing and join the Policing Board.

Sinn Féin have said that they can only endorse policing in the context of the prospect of devolving policing and justice. That context is the only issue that they have cited as a cause for delay in terms of the leadership convening a party meeting to decide the issue of policing.

But the broader security policy issues that devolving policing and justice addresses have nothing to do with the day-to-day police work that will bring the killers of Robert McCartney to justice. Neither the Secretary of State nor the Policing Board has a role in those operational matters.

If there is a role for an outside body to review the police handling of the investigation, that would fall to the Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan. Some Sinn Féin spokesmen have made references to concerns about the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.

Need I remind them that that too fell under the umbrella of the Good Friday Agreement. That because of the Good Friday Agreement, the Criminal Justice Review made 294 recommendations for change. That those changes are being implemented following two Criminal Justice Acts, a revised implementation plan in a process overseen by an Independent Criminal Justice Oversight Commissioner.

And might I add that in the negotiations leading to the Comprehensive Agreement of 8 December, Sinn Féin did not raise concerns about what had been achieved under the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration in terms of the criminal justice system?

And so I make the point that this is not about Sinn Féin and broader issue of policing or criminal justice. But I do say, as I said to the McCartney family, that policing is a key element of this case.

For only by cooperating with the PSNI can the killers of Robert McCartney be brought before the courts and prosecuted for this terrible crime.

And Sinn Féin and the IRA can only help the McCartney family when they accept that that is the case. I believe that this is a challenge for the Provisional Movement. I acknowledge the recent statements by the Sinn Féin leadership that they recognise that there are more hard choices and more hard decisions ahead for them.

I welcome that they say now that they are up for the challenge today. It is positive and encouraging that they have restated their commitment to see all of the guns taken out of Irish politics and to be part of the collective effort that will create the conditions where the IRA ceases to exist.

The Irish Government has been a willing partner for peace throughout this process. We have stuck with it through all the tough times. We will do so again. And we will not be found wanting when the opportunity arises to ensure that the commitments to abide by democracy and the rule of law are turned into a reality for everyone living in Northern Ireland.

A Cheann Comhairle, I welcome this opportunity for the House to consider the murder of Robert McCartney. The Government have not sought to put down a counter motion. I fully subscribed to this motion without hesitation. Our approach underlines the unanimity amongst every Deputy in this House who believes in justice and the rule of law.

I commend this motion to the House as a declaration of support for the McCartney family and their pursuit for justice.