By Danny Morrison
In the current `international war on terrorism' various civil rights and international human rights are being infringed. Such infringements happen in most conventional wars, and national emergencies, and are tolerated in the short-term by populaces as long as the war is perceived as being just, or the curtailments as measured, and they believe their government when it says it had no other choice.
Just two weeks ago the Barron Report into the Dublin/Monaghan terrorist car bombings in 1974 was released. It was heavily critical of the inactivity and ineffectiveness of Liam Cosgrove's Fine Gael/Labour coalition government and of the Garda investigation. The report revealed that Liam Cosgrove had been given the names of the bombers, that those names had not been passed to the Garda, that the forensic material had been lost, that the investigation was wound down after just 12 weeks and that the files on the case have gone missing from the Department of Justice.
The conviction that British Intelligence and not just a few of its operatives unofficially colluding with the UVF was heavily involved in the bombings has been strengthened by the refusal of the British authorities to fully cooperate with the inquiry and by the mystery of the missing case files and what they could reveal.
In the absence of an alternative explanation many commentators have concluded that the government of the day had a choice. It could have scrupulously pursued the case and had the suspicion confirmed that the British authorities were engaged in an act of terrorism against the Irish people. Such confirmation would have led to a total breakdown in Anglo-Irish relations, a radicalisation of Irish opinion and increased support for the IRA.
Long before May 1974 the coalition had already made up its mind which side it was on in relation to the North. Armed British soldiers caught in suspicious circumstances in border counties were returned to the North without prosecution. Special Courts were being used to convict republicans of IRA membership on the word of a Superintendent and Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act was censoring republican views. It was only a matter of time before this corrupting atmosphere gave way to the'heavy gangs' when detectives could assault prisoners in order to force confessions which sent innocent people to jail (one of whom, Nicky Kelly, stood unsuccessfully for Labour in Wicklow in the last general election).
So, for the `greater good' of Anglo-Irish relations there was no enthusiastic pursuit of the killers and no justice for the dead.
Logically, it should be that the truth and facts - knowledge - dictates one's decisions. But in politics it is often the choices that politicians make that decide how the narrative is to be put, and thus it is that the powerful have a monopoly on how the story is told. So, for thirty years the British government were the'good guys', the poor unionists were the ones under siege, and Irish republicanism, in armed struggle or in peace process, was to be denied, suppressed, censored and demonised. The background to the outbreak of conflict in the North (fifty years of unionist misrule) was to be muted and, instead, the IRA was to be held responsible for provoking British state repression and the loyalist campaign of assassination.
Republicans were laughed at when they spoke about shoot-to-kill, and state collusion with loyalist death squads - until the (heavily censored) Stevens' Report this year finally confirmed it. At the time of writing, the British government still refuses to publish the Cory report into collusion in the North.
Sinn Féin's vote was derided and explained in terms of mass impersonation - until November's election, held under the strictest electoral identification laws in the world, resulted in the party emerging as the voice of the nationalist community in the North.
The case of the `Colombia Three' presents yet another example of how prejudice can blind. In a few weeks time in Bogota a Colombian judge will rule on the fate of Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan who were arrested in August 2001 and charged with training left-wing FARC guerrillas.
Their arrest has had a profound effect on the peace process in Ireland and was used by unionists as one of the reasons for their withdrawal from and collapse of the power-sharing executive in the North from which politics has yet to recover.
Before they were even formally indicted the then President of Colombia, Andres Pastrana, made prejudicial remarks and declared on television that the three were guilty. Earlier this year the current Colombian President Alvaro Uribe told `Newsweek' magazine, ``We have in jail three IRA men who trained FARC''.
All of this has undoubtedly placed the trial judge, Judge Acosta, under intense pressure to find the three guilty despite no evidence against them and strong evidence in their favour. Back in Ireland, anti-Agreement unionists, exploiting any issue to undermine the Belfast Agreement, also dismissed the Colombia Three as having any rights.
Coming from this quarter this was unsurprising. Of more concern were the remarks of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, reported on April 29th. He said: ``What is required [of the IRA] is a commitment that paramilitary activity has ceased, will not occur again so that we can get on, so that we do not have another Colombia''.
Worse still were the remarks from Michael McDowell speaking to a Progressive Democrat party conference in 2002, prior to last year's general election. As the Irish Attorney-General he should have known better and known that his remarks would be picked up and published in Bogota, as they were. He said: ``But I think I speak for the great majority when I say that a political party which sends fraternal delegates to Marxist-Narco terrorists in Colombia, which keeps closer ties with the government of Havana than with any other state &has little moral claim on the electoral support of the Irish people.''
More recently, on Today FM, McDowell, who is now the Minister for Justice, said that Sinn Féin was `morally unclean' and alleged that it is in receipt of IRA proceeds from `organised crime' He refused to substantiate his remark, which was aimed at damaging Sinn Féin. Certainly, he is entitled to be concerned at the electoral rise of Sinn Féin, and the possibility that it could displace the PDs in a future coalition with Fianna Fail. But had he no thought for the effects his cavalier comments would have on attempts to put together a power-sharing executive in the North? Indeed, anti-Agreement unionists to justify their refusal to share power with Sinn Féin seized on his remarks. Anti-Agreement unionists have done far more to undermine the peace process than the Colombia Three inadvertently have.
To make the peace process work republicans compromised and the IRA engaged in major acts of decommissioning only for the British government to default on the full implementation of the Agreement.
The peace process in the North, though still bedevilled by difficulties, has provoked a reflection on the causes of the conflict, a desire for truth and a demand to know who was responsible for what.
The censorship of Sinn Féin was an insult to the Irish people. It meant that the government didn't consider the electorate mature enough to decide for itself. It deprived Irish people of one side of an argument, which thus exaggerated the moral case of another side to the conflict - those for partition and the union with Britain. It meant not pursuing those ultimately behind the Dublin and Monaghan bombing. It meant distorting the truth. The culture that was then created persists.
Speaking aloud about his ongoing pipedream, Conor Cruise O'Brien, the Labour Minister for Communications who introduced Section 31 in 1973, said the other day: ``I have some hope - though not much - that if there is ever again a Fine Gael-Labour coalition, it would reinstate the ban on broadcasts by Sinn Féin.''
Such an infringement might have been possible and tolerated back in 1973 but in 2003 people have been able to read beyond the restrictions in the Barron Report, imposed by those who withheld full cooperation, and have began to understand who the international terrorists really are.