Daphne Park RIP

An MI6 agent herself, a trainer of SOE operatives tasked in Churchill’s words “to set Europe ablaze,” Baroness Daphne Park who has died aged 88 was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. She knew terrorism from both sides. She seemed utterly fearless, with nerves of steel but she was also gentle and had beautful manners. I wonder how she would have dealt with paramilitaries as a minister. Would she have called their bluff? Attacked criminality much earlier? As she too had been to the other side of the moon, she was probably one of only two of three parliamentarians who would have straight away got the measure of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Whether for good or ill, she certainly woulds have been different.In her last years Lady Park found it difficult to move about easily but you still knew to back off as she manoeuvred herself into a chair. She was dead against Nuala O’Loan as Police ombudsman getting anywhere near MI5. She was the most remorseless and scathing of critics of Tony Blair’s concessions to the IRA and Sinn Fein. Her special interests were in the disappeared and the exiles. She was a peace process sceptic but not I think an opponent. This speech of 2005 was typical.

It seems almost laughable that Sinn Fein/IRA alone was expressly exempted from the legislation requiring political parties to declare donations from aboard on the grounds of protecting the security of those donors. It is probably the richest party in the UK, certainly in the Republic of Ireland. Vote-rigging, at which it excels, is hardly necessary. Where, apart from the generous US support in the past, does the money come from? The criminal activity of paramilitaries of all parties costs the country in one year £4 million from the sale of counterfeit CDs and software. Some £600 million has been lost to the Exchequer in illegal fuel deals. Drug dealing has cost us £5 million, hydro-carbon oils £6 million, and loss of duty on alcohol and tobacco runs into tens of millions yearly. It has cost Her Majesty’s Government £209 million to set up the organisations that are now successfully fighting this, apart from police costs. Perhaps the worst price that Northern Ireland pays for paramilitary criminality is the effect on legitimate business, especially on small firms, which must pay protection money or be destroyed. Multinationals will be paying up to £200,000 a week; small men £20. The effect is devastating.

All the while, a new generation is growing up thinking that this is normal.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London