Why did no one in Sinn Fein tell the Ballymurphy families the Para’s could borrow Adams’ ‘public interest’ defence?

Gerry Moriarty reports in yesterday’s Irish Times highlights the tragic case of the Ballymurphy families of eleven victims on and over several days after the introduction of internment.

One victim’s family has gone to the extreme, and no doubt deeply upsetting, resort of having the body of their loved one exhumed to find evidence that he’d been shot long after having been wounded.

John Teggart told UTV on Monday:

“I think anybody out there whose parents were murdered in cold blood – whether it’s by the army, IRA or anybody – would be entitled to what we are doing. …there should be no special deals and that is what the Ballymurphy families have agreed on.

Given the details of that day (9th August 1971) it is no wonder that the victims are angry and want justice to be done and seen to be done. The small mixed community which took the brunt of the violence was broken up forever.

Two things are worth noting:

  • The Parachute Regiment who were on duty that day were also found responsible for the Bloody Sunday killings. In terms of political analysis there’s a strong case that failure by the British to properly discipline these men led indirectly to their running off the leash in Derry.
  • Loyalists who also rioted and invaded the Springfield Park area, and B Company of the Second Battalion of the IRA, probably the unit most directly associated with Gerry Adams were also in action that day.

So it was no surprise that Adams was prominent in the launch of the campaign a few years back.

Successful prosecution of the case would have proven useful in highlighting the culpability of the British in putting assault troops into the front line of a civil conflict, and by implication exonerating the ‘bravest of the brave’, as Adams has called them

However Mr Justice Sweeney’s full and detailed judgement has jammed nasty stick in the spokes of both for Sinn Fein and more directly for the families looking for justice. The judge quotes Blair writing to Adams on 5 May 2000:

You have also questioned whether it would be in the public interest to mount any prosecutions after 28 July [1998] for offences alleged to have been committed before the Good Friday Agreement.

The letters are one thing. But it is hard to see how this public interest defence by Adams will not be used by the Paras in any future judgement to prevent their successful prosecution in the UK courts.

It also has to be matched against a sudden and concurrent drop in convictions against Republicans who were active before 1998. It’s certainly open to deliberation whether there has been a de facto moratorium in prosecuting for such offences.

As Newton Emerson put it on Twitter the other day:

If you consider the arrest of Padraic Wilson and Sinn Fein’s protest against it you begin to get a sense of just how deep the party must have believed this clandestine deal of theirs would go.

Gerry Kelly back in 2012 had this to say on the matter:

“Throughout the mid 90s and up until his release in 2000,Padraic Wilson played a pivotal role in building support among prisoners for the peace process.Since his release he has continued to play a central role in supporting and developing the Political Process. His arrest represents a very serious challenge to the political process. [Emphasis added]

It did not correspond with any agreement that had been made public at the time. Indeed Micheal Martin pointed out the party’s behaviour functioned to undermine public confidence in law and order.

But now, when you examine the Sweeney judgement there it is. Written in black and white in Sinn Fein’s own argument that…

…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.

To twist Mulley’s great strapline, “invisible agreements have invisible rights”.

But that very invisibility has allowed Sinn Fein to play two ends off the middle, taking advantage of a singular arrangement with the British, whilst funnelling victims groups into a courtroom corral from which, by dint of their own private agreement, no escape is possible.

In an OpEd in today’s London Times, Danny Finklestein has written a passionate essay about the importance of preserving the integrity of the law (£) which correctly highlights the real problem with #ShinnersList and the secret negotiations which gave rise to it:

We developed what looks and feels like arbitrary and secret justice…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty