From Irish Political Review—February 2005
Extract From Questions & Answers—January 17th. 2005

McLaughlin: …In my view the political landscape in Ireland has changed, and the issues of conflict and division which have sustained the political violence in this island are being addressed, perhaps not quickly enough for all——

Bowman: ——Yea, Mitchel, that's true over the last ten years, what you said. But it's also true that over the last month the landscape has changed again, and what looked like only a photograph that was between us and the jackpot—decommissioning and an end to violence and normal politics—is no longer the case, and that's because the people with whom you would be sharing power no longer believe that the IRA were not involved in the bank robbery in Northern Ireland. The trust is gone.

McL: Well, there are three points there that I could pick upon… Some people use this word trust, and there's an assumption that there was trust. I think there was very little trust between the parties, for perfectly understandable reasons. There's a very long history of the conflict—

B: ——You're not addressing—you're going back.

McL: Sorry, but you introduced the word, and so I'm just addressing that——

B: ——Trust was difficult but now it's gone.

McL: No. Trust wasn't there. We were in the process of—in confidence in our own ability—attempting to reach out to each other. And trust might well have been the product of that. But the process itself had not got that far. So my view is that we're always kind of susceptible, particularly when we have an agenda which moves from the position of an opinion. And people are entitled to their opinion. And people are entitled to say, well I support that opinion, or I actually have a different opinion. You then have to judge your actions on the basis of hard fact and evidence. So: Will the peace process be sacrificed on the basis of the opinion of a senior policeman in Belfast, or will it be sacrificed on the opinion of the Minister for Justice in this State? No. It should be judged in the context of the evidence that people produce, and that they can then stand over… Now I happen to take the position when the IRA tells my party leadership they didn't do the job, I believe them. Now, that's not to say that I know who did the job. And I don't even know who didn't do the job… And let me give one illustration of why people I think should be very careful… Another aspect of the bank raid that struck me very strangely, is that almost on a daily basis we got revised information with relation to the amount of money that was taken. You'd think the bank would know how much money they had under their charge. So each day we get a different figure——

B: ——But it's [indecipherable] figure

McL: ——Then they tell us that they know the serial numbers. And they release the numbers. And some people are inconvenienced by being challenged when they attempt to——

B: ——But the substantive point—forget this detail, it's not important—the substantial point is that a significant sum of money, more than 20 million, was stolen, and most of your colleagues, who would be your colleagues in a Northern Ireland administration, believe the IRA did it.

McL: Well, here's the substantial point. [Bowman tries to move on.] You interrupted me and that's very unfair. I want to make a substantial point. If we can have such imprecision in terms of the amount of money that was taken, how can people be so certain that they know who carried out the robbery? Is that not a substantial point? that fair-minded people have to consider?

McDowell: Was there a robbery, Mitchel?

McL: Yes there was.

B: I thought there was too. Minister.

McD: I have to say, you know, just listening to Mitchel there, he was avoiding all the real fundamental questions, because, firstly, the exact amount of the money has nothing to do with who did it.

McL: Do you know it?

McD: No, of course I don't.

McL: But you're a hundred per cent certain of something else!

McD: I'm making the point that the exact amount of money taken has nothing to do with the identity of the perpetrators. Nothing at all. You're bringing it in as a red herring to create a kind of smokescreen.
The second thing is that Hugh Orde is a sensible level-headed, honest police officer. He's a person who, as you know Mitchel, was the chief operating officer in the Stevens team that came to investigate inadequacies in the Northern Ireland police system. He's a person who I have great trust in his judgment. And I think that he wouldn't call it the way he did if he didn't have good reason to do it. That's the first thing. The second thing is that we have had in the past a huge number of occasions in which the IRA has stated that it wasn't responsible for this or for that and it turned out afterwards that that was completely untrue. Now I could reel them off. But I'll give you some examples. For instance, Gerry Adams said immediately after Gerry McCabe was shot in Adare, and murdered, Gerry Adams said then this was not an IRA job, that this was something which damaged Republicanism and was nothing to do with Republicanism, and that he was quite satisfied that the people who were blaming the IRA for that job were trying to damage the peace process. That's what he said at the time. But, having said all those things, when it did transpire that it was an IRA team, your party colleagues in the Dail all trooped down to Castlerea Prison, as TDs they're entitled to, to visit prisoners, and then posed for a photograph with these prisoners, which was published in An Phoblacht. Now, either this was something which Gerry Adams thought was consistent with Republicanism or it wasn't. But it was amazing that he said at the beginning that it was damaging to Republicanism and alien to Republicanism, and then at the end your colleagues are posing with these people and asking for them to be released. And in An Phoblacht this week, for instance, there are still messages from those people to people on the outside, describing themselves as prisoners-of-war. So what way is it? Are we to accept anything that the Provisional movement says at face value? Because if Gerry Adams' genuine opinion of the offence,that this was damaging to Republicanism was true, why is it that the SF TDs go to Castlerea Prison and pose with these people and then demand their release?
[At this point the Minister was obviously caught in a fugue, a rut. The Chairman took pity on him.]

B: This is old ground. What about the raising of the bar, Minister, which came up at the talks today? How far is the bar now being raised for SF and to prove that there's an end to criminality with the IRA before the peace process can continue?

McD: Well in November-December the Irish Government made it a red line issue, and so did the British Government, that the Provisional movement would make it very, very clear that henceforth nothing that any of their members, political or Army, would do, would endanger the rights or the safety of others. And that is the phrase we used. It was a very simple phrase. It's not replete with any kind of political overtones or undertones. And they refused point blank to say that. And Mitchel in fact went on the radio, and said in a jocose moment doubtless, that perhaps their reluctance to do it was because it was a phrase made up by me. It wasn't made up by me, by the way, as a matter of fact. But it was interesting that Mitchel went on the radio and specified that that was perhaps a reason why they were unwilling to use that phrase. Now they refused point blank to exclude criminality in December, and we had all this business, this pretence that the only outstanding issue was a photograph. You're asking now how far the bar is raised. It's raised to this point. That there can be no budge, no fudge, on this issue. That SF and the IRA have to make it very clear that from now on there's no exilings, no robberies, no kidnappings, no punishment beatings. None of these things will happen. And, if they happen at the behest of a group to which you are allied, Mitchel, that you exit the political process, mandate or no mandate, out you go.

McL: Well, we'll see about that. I think at the end of the day it's a matter for the people of Ireland. Let me just deal with the point about Hugh Orde, and you made the reference. And it's an interesting point, that he investigated as part of the Stevens Team the collusion policy of the British Government and the role that they played in the murder of nationalists in the North. Pat Finucane—Hugh Orde knows that the British Government was involved. Has he made a political intervention where he has stated that he is convinced, or that he believes, that the British Government was involved in the murder of Pat Finucane? And, more interestingly, I wonder Minister, did you ask today the representative of the British Government, and did you say on the basis of your belief—and I believe that you share the view of the vast majority of the people in Ireland—that the British Government was directly involved in the murder of Pat Finucane? Now is that an important issue? Does that reflect criminality at the heart of government, the British Government? And did you address that issue? Were you interested in it?

McD: The answer to that question is, as you know, that the Stevens Inquiry has concluded that there was collusion by the police with the people who murdered Pat Finucane. But you're ratcheting it up one stage further, and you're now saying that the British Government was doing it. And I ask you, you're the man who was talking about evidence, where is there one shred of evidence that the British Government was involved in the murder of Pat Finucane? Where is there one piece of evidence?

McL: I have made a point and you are going to studiously ignore that. Hugh Orde comes out and he pronounces that he believes the IRA was responsible for the bank robbery. He doesn't produce any evidence. I'm saying they investigated also the Pat Finucane murder. They came to conclusions. The dogs in the street know that the British Government——

McD: ——Do you accept his conclusion on that issue?

McL: I'm saying I have a belief, Michael McDowell, I believe that——

McD: ——That there was collusion by the security forces.

McL: Oh absolutely. Collusion is not an illusion.

McD: And wasn't that what the Stevens Inquiry decided?

McL: So here's the question that I'm putting that you're trying to deflect. Hugh Orde had an opinion that the IRA committed the bank robbery——

McD: ——And you believed him on——

McL: Hugh Orde has an opinion as to who was responsible for the collusion campaign, and conducting that murder campaign that resulted in the murder of Pat Finucane and many other nationalists. Now, he hasn't come out and said it. He hasn't made a political intervention in that way. And neither would it seem, in terms of the British Government's culpability, are you as Minister of Justice in this State. I think you have a double standard. I think that's hypocrisy.

McD: I don't have a double standard. Hugh Orde, the same man whose judgment you accept on the Stevens Inquiry, you're now saying is chancing his arm in relation to this robbery.

McL: No, you see, my opinion is backed up by evidence——

McD: ——Of [unintelligible]

McL: Of collusion? There have been court cases, and people have been——

McD: ——Exactly, and who uncovered that evidence? Hugh Orde did, with the Stevens Team. And you accept that.

B: And here's another dimension, Mitchel McLaughlin.

McL: Has Hugh Orde ever stated that he believes that the British Government was involved in directing terrorism against Catholics in the North of Ireland?

McD: The British Government!

McL: Yes.

McD: Are you talking about the people who sit around the Cabinet Table?

McL: We're talking about the Security Coordinating Committee. They reported directly to the British Cabinet. This leads into Downing St. That's why I think the Irish Government are so reluctant to examine this issue. That's why they won't pursue the fact that the British Government is withholding evidence on the Dublin/Monaghan bombings. Your Department lost the files {shot of McDowell looking grim). I think that's incredible. I wonder who's going to be held responsible for that? The forensic evidence was returned to the British. And you know the Irish Government conducted its own Tribunal of Inquiry. The British Government refused to cooperate. Has anybody lifted the bar on the British Government's participation in the peace process? I didn't hear the Irish Government doing it. [Shortly afterwards, McDowell said he was thinking about suing the British Government over the Dublin/Monaghan Bombings, see Irish Times 28.1.05.]

B: Mitchel McLaughlin, the substantial point remains that the people with whom you need to work in politics, all of the political parties everywhere, don't believe that Hugh Orde is wrong. They think the IRA had the capacity, the will, and that they did the job. Now you will accept that the IRA has the capacity?

McL: Yes.

B: And they do bank raids. It's one of the things they do and they do them rather well in terms of execution of the bank raids. Now, in those circumstances, it's plausible that they did it. And that's your problem.

McL: It's only plausible, first of all, if the people that's making the accusation are prepared to accept the possibility that they're wrong. It's only plausible if people also accept that there are a number of major criminal gangs, some of them based in this city——

B: ——No, you're missing my point. My point is that the people with whom you have to do politics believe that the IRA did it and they believe that the peace process has gone off the rails.

McL: I'm not missing your point. I want to put it in the proper context. There have been bank raids in this State. I remember the Littlejohns and I'm sure you do. Who directed them? They were robbing banks right, left and centre in this State. It was getting blamed on the IRA, by the same people who presumably are advising the Minister of Justice here at the present time, that the IRA were doing it. It was in fact British Intelligence and their agents in this State. So there are a number of agencies who are perfectly capable of carrying this out. Now what is the difference? The difference is this. People can believe . . . and people are entitled to their beliefs. It is, what do we know? Are we being told what to believe? Are we are being told, by people who won't divulge their information, what we have to believe. Well, I think, they'll make their own minds up. I think that the people, the ordinary people, will say, Well, here there's questions that have to be answered. People are entitled to their view. But how do you extrapolate that to the position where a party that represents 362,000 voters in this island are going to be penalised, and that the democratic process is going to be subverted, on the basis of opinion? Let's produce the evidence. And if the evidence is produced, then let people take their medicine in those circumstances and say We were right, or We were wrong. And I hope when it is proved that it isn't the IRA that did it, that those who are making the accusations now, will be big enough——

B: ——And if it were the IRA who did it, what would the implications be?

McL: I have already said that we will take our medicine. We will say that we misread the situation… It is my view that there are very very serious questions here that are not being addressed… You can bet that, when both Governments take the stand that they have, that they are devoting very very considerable resources to attempt to make their accusation stand up. Hugh Orde tells us that 45 of his top detectives are engaged on this case. They haven't even come up with a fiver of the money that was stolen. So perhaps they're looking in the wrong direction…

[Audience comments]

[Interchange between McLaughlin and McDowell about what happened in the December talks]

B: Would they have excluded criminality?

McL: Well, I don't think the IRA would have used the word 'criminality'. But I do think——

B: ——Why not?

McL: Because I don't believe, and anybody who thinks the IRA is going to issue a statement saying that, We will no longer be involved in criminality, is living in cloud cuckoo land.

B: Why? Because they don't do criminality, is that it?

McL: Yes, and they didn't do criminality in the 1920s.

B: No, but, but——

McL: John, you asked the question. Let me answer it please. You keep interrupting me. In 1920 the IRA was robbing post offices. They were robbing banks. They were shooting people, men women and children. They were burning houses. It is in fact seen by many people as an honourable chapter in the Irish fight for freedom. Now the IRA have that view today——

[Shout from audience: Shame, Shame]

McL: ——No, not shame. You can have a different view, and you're perfectly entitled to it. But let me make this point. There are many people, and there are many political parties, who are very proud of their ancestry, and point to the role that their fathers and their grandfathers played in the fight for Irish freedom. Now those circumstances are what led to the modern-day IRA. But my party is trying to change it.

B: Martin McGuinness said yesterday if sanctions are taken against SF then Republicans may believe politics isn't working. Is that a threat to return to what you do best?

McL: No. You're a historian, so you know why the conflict and why really the IRA emerged. Now can we guarantee that there's no return to circumstances where nationalists and Republicans have no voice, have no democratic peaceful opportunity to pursue their aspirations, which are legitimate aspirations…

[Some argument regarding formula of words in December, still being worked on when Paisley pulled the plug, and would not have led to breach]

McL: Well, my motivation was to get the IRA to agree, and yours was slightly different, I think.

McD: …And the fact is that the IRA has been engaging in major criminality. I put a simple point to you now, Mitchel. If you take somebody like Jean McConville. She was shot, and her body was recovered recently. Do you classify her shooting as a crime?

McL: It was wrong.

McD: Do you classify it as a crime?

McL: I do not. Let me ask you a question. Do you think Bobby Sands was a criminal?

McD: He was convicted of a criminal offence. Yes, he was. Yes he was a criminal.

McL: So he was a criminal. That's very important. Lots of people will hear you say that.

McD: He was convicted of a criminal offence. He was serving a sentence

McL: And had such a belief in his political philosophy that he was prepared, and not only he——

McD: ——he went on hunger strike, but he was convicted of a criminal offence——

McL: ——and nine of his companions, in turn. That was their sense of honour and integrity. And you think Bobby Sands and his colleagues were criminals.

McD: You know he was convicted of a criminal offence.

McL: So you were going to attempt to put words in the mouths of the IRA!

McD: You know he was convicted of a criminal offence.

[The leader of Fine Gael in the Senate, Brian Hayes, subsequently also described Bobby Sands as a criminal, Irish Times 28.1.05.]

Question from audience: Was the Bank Robbery a crime?

McL: I think it was a crime.

B: And if the IRA had done it, would it be a crime?

McL: Yes, I would say that. This is a different set of circumstances. We are in the middle of a peace process… I would have a different view if this was in the context, say of ten years ago, before the peace process, and when the IRA was in full operational capacity. It doesn't mean that I agree with armed struggle. But it means that I do recognise the reality of it. We have changed that… Now this robbery comes at a time when the IRA was in cessation. I think it would raise very serious questions, and certainly serious questions for the relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA…

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