British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly

The campaign by the families of the victims of the Omagh bomb urging ministers to disclose secret intelligence information on the suspected
Real IRA perpetrators received a significant boost this week.

The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, meeting in Newcastle, overwhelmingly backed a cross-party motion from Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay, who described it as a “call from the grave for justice.”

The Assembly instructed its Chair and former Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, to press this urgently with ministers as the families’ civil case is nearing conclusion in the High Court in Belfast.

The lawyers believe that intelligence gathered by GCHQ and others could convict those responsible for the single biggest atrocity of the Troubles in which 29 people were killed ten years ago.

The Assembly also held a closed session with Denis Bradley and Archbishop Robin Eames about their controversial report into a truth recovery process in Northern Ireland.

The final report is due in December and is likely to recommend a private truth process without immunities for those admitting their past roles.

Peter Hain told Tribune “we’ve just seen the passions of the civil war unleashed in Spain and they are from 70 years ago. But the awful events and memories of the Troubles are much more recent and raw. Archbishop Eames and Dennis Bradley opened members’ eyes to the sheer scale of the task in lifting the stones of the past.”

Sinn Fein Assembly Member Willie Clarke said he accepted that “both Eames and Bradley are genuine and independent of either government. I
am looking for the British Government to admit its collusion with paramilitaries to kill its own citizens.”

An Irish MP said “it might be better to leave well alone as Northern Ireland is too small and the violence too recent.”

The Assembly’s credibility was enhanced by the participation of unionists including Ken Maginnis after a 20 year boycott. Their presence increases the Assembly’s authority as a part of the jigsaw of institutions governing north-south relations in Ireland and east-west relations in these islands.

The Assembly comprises senior parliamentarians from Britain, Ireland, the devolved assemblies of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland as well as Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

The Assembly could provide backbench scrutiny of the work of the ministerial British-Irish Council and investigate issues of mutual concern from energy to food to tourism, for instance.

Peter Hain said “I am trying to give it more teeth and content.”
In an address to the Assembly, Security Minister Paul Goggins stressed the need for loyalist decommissioning and the threat from dissident republicans who are seeking to kill police officers.

The Assembly was also briefed by Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward. He stressed the need for Sinn Fein and the DUP to do a deal on devolving policing and criminal justice powers. Sinn Fein claims that this had been promised by May but the DUP says there is not yet enough community confidence to proceed with it.

The Mexican stand-off between the parties means that the power-sharing cabinet, led by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, has not met for
four months.

There appears to be no major obstacle in principle to devolution and the parties have agreed that the first minister should come from the centrist Alliance Party. This prevents the post going to anyone with paramilitary associations.