Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Sinn Féin

  Sinn Fe«in is pleased to forward our submission to the above inquiry.

  The party would appreciate some further information regarding the time-frame involved in the committee coming to its conclusions.

  If the committee's function is purely to engage in a limited and narrow approach to the widespread use of threat and intimidation used by certain parties to the conflict, which has resulted in people having to be relocated, then it would be our view that the Committee is embarking on an extremely narrow approach to what is a highly complex issue.

  The people of the North of Ireland are emerging out of a highly divisive and traumatic conflict, which saw deep wounds being inflicted by all parties to the conflict. The role of the committee should lie in ascertaining whether it is in the interests of conflict resolution to embark upon a holistic inquiry that can help a process of national reconciliation, or a piecemeal inquiry that can only add to wounds that are only beginning to heal.

  We would appreciate an early indication regarding whether the Committee intends to respond to our request for the terms of reference of this inquiry to be extended to include a thorough inquiry into the effect of 30 years of conflict, as well as the role of a variety of organisations and agencies responsible for threats, intimidation, forced relocation, torture, incitement to hatred and deaths.


  Sinn Fe«in welcomes the opportunity to put forward its views on the above matter to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

  However, we are concerned at the admission in your letter of 9 October, that you have been asked to "extend a specific invitation to Sinn Fe«in to make a submission".

  We would want to be assured that this is not a political manoeuvre to infer that only Sinn Fe«in has a responsibility for, or involvement in, or knowledge of "paramilitary intimidation"? Have others with knowledge of this issue, or who have, by word and deed encouraged threats and intimidation, or whose armed forces have been directly involved in intimidation also been asked to make submissions, for example, the British Government, the UUP, the DUP, the PUP or the UDP?

  For the purpose of public record, we wish to make it clear that Sinn Fe«in is responding to the committee's invitation as a democratically mandated political party that has growing electoral support throughout Ireland.

  We are also responding as a party that represents communities in the north that have been devastated by threats, intimidation, pogrom, and murder over a protracted period.

  It is our firm view that the terms of reference of the Committee for this inquiry are too narrow. The majority of people who have been forced from their homes over the past 30 years of conflict would unquestionably fall outside the narrow definition under investigation by the Committee.

  Fundamentally, the terms of reference ignore the consequences of British Government policies, repressive laws and the actions of the various branches of its military intelligence and paramilitary forces.

  It would be a complete travesty of justice for the Committee to ignore the effect of the combined role of these agencies, which have been responsible for hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries.

  Britain's role in the North of Ireland has also led to major social dislocation and to a climate of intimidation and violence far greater than that created by any other party to the conflict.

  We believe that by excluding the Government from any scrutiny of its policies, function and role in the North of Ireland over the past 30 years would represent a loaded presumption for the Committee to take as its starting point. It could only be viewed as damaging to the Committee's stated objective. It is bound to be treated with cynicism by the international community.

  Most importantly it will be viewed by those who have been on the receiving end of state violence, whether direct or indirect, as yet another cynical PR instrument being deployed by the State to bury its own discredited role in this conflict.


  We would like to draw the Committee's attention to a number of specific points:

  UUP policies in power at Stormont between 1921 and 1972 created and reinforced structured political and religious discrimination against Catholics. The evidence is to be found in decades of reports by the Fair Employment Agency/Commission and other human rights groups. It is also to be found in the words of and the legislation passed by Unionist leaders.

  The divided society, the imposition of a second class citizenship on Catholics, the denial of voting rights, the discrimination and sectarianism which this encouraged led to many people being forced to leave their homes for Britain, the South of Ireland, the USA, Canada and Australia in the hope of finding a better life than the one they faced at home.

  This form of intimidation and that by the State contributed enormously to the 30 years of conflict that grew out of unionism's inability to come to terms in the sixties with the ideas of equality, justice and democratic rights.

  Unionism has never acknowledged the wrongs it committed in pursuit of domination.

  DUP policies have fostered fear and contributed enormously to an atmosphere of threat and intimidation.

  In the past, we have seen it publicly allied to paramilitary organisations, for example during the 1974 and 1977 "loyalist workers strikes", as well as with masked and uniformed groups as they took over small towns like Lisburn and Newtownards.

  In the 1980s it played a key role in establishing and encouraging Ulster Resistance, a paramilitary organisation for which the UDA and UVF imported weapons from South Africa. Ulster Resistance still holds most of its substantial share of this weapons consignment.

  In addition, the anti-Catholic rhetoric of Mr Paisley has helped to foster sectarianism as well as fear and intimidation.

  The largest single dislocation of population in Europe since the Second World War, and prior to the recent conflict in the Balkans, occurred in Belfast between 1969 and 1975.

  It resulted from pogroms against nationalist areas by the RUC and loyalist mobs, politically backed by the then UUP controlled Stormont regime. It was made worse by a British Army that saw its role as defending the status quo, and by the introduction of internment in 1971.

  Nationalist families continued to flee their homes as loyalist murder gangs, many of them working in collusion with the British Army, British "dirty tricks" units and the RUC, colluded in the mass killing of Catholics, frequently using mutilation and torture.

  Collusion has remained throughout the last 30 years a constant tactic employed by the British state in an effort to terrorise and subjugate Irish republicanism and nationalism.

  In its more recent manifestations, through people like Brian Nelson, a publicly acknowledged British agent working with the UDA/UFF, it has involved:

    —  conspiring with loyalist paramilitaries to carry out assassination;

    —  taking part in assassinations;

    —  providing thousands of files held by the British Army and RUC over to loyalist death squads;

    —  providing personal details on people's movements, car registration numbers, places of work and so on to agents, some of them at the highest levels of the loyalist organisations;

    —  providing specific information on specific individuals who the British State wanted killed, for example, Human Rights lawyer Pat Finucane;

    —  assisting in, through its agents, the importation of weapons via South Africa in the late 1980s, which then saw a dramatic increase in the ability of loyalist death squads to kill Catholics and republican activists;

    —  failing to prevent loyalist assassinations;

    —  assisting in the commission of killings by loyalist death squads, for example, by ensuring that no other British Forces were in the vicinity, lifting check-points etc;

    —  failing to investigate such killings rigorously;

    —  failing to inform individuals that they have been targeted for assassination; and

    —  refusing to provide individuals targeted for assassination with the nature of the details held by the loyalist groups.

  Various organs of the British State, such as the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Secretary of State for "Northern Ireland", have:

    —  failed to prosecute those responsible for such killings;

    —  failed to prosecute or otherwise discipline those members of the British Forces involved in collusion;

    —  used Public Interest Immunity certificates and claims at trials and inquests to withhold information concerning collusion; and

    —  allowed members of the British Forces to carry out illegal acts, whether in conspiracy with loyalist death squads or not, with impunity and hindering official investigations of those acts.

  As a direct consequence of these government policies, pursued by different governments over a 30 year period, thousands of individuals and families have fled from their homes believing they were vulnerable to attack. Many left the north of Ireland. Some moved to Britain, most moved to the south of Ireland or abroad.

  The British Government has never acknowledged these political refugees and their plight has been ignored.

  The Special Powers Act played a key role in coercing Catholics into accepting unionist domination for decades.

  It played out its destructive and repressive role in the attacks by the RUC on the civil rights campaign of the 1960s and early 1970s, and the pogroms of that period.

  Scores of people were killed, tens of thousands forced to flee and hundreds of homes torched.

  The British Government made use of the Special Powers Act and then replaced it by a range of other repressive laws that allowed it to suspend the normal rules of justice, including rules governing coroners inquests and the suspension of jury trials and their replacement by the discredited Diplock Court system.

  Under international human rights law, the right to a fair trial is guaranteed. Under the terms of ordinary law a person should be deemed innocent until proven guilty and people should have the right not to implicate themselves

  Fair trial guarantees under international law also include the right to legal representation and the right to be heard by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.

  All these principles have been stood on their head under the EPA and PTA.

  The Diplock Court system and the "conveyor belt" legal and judicial system which passes for a justice system in the north, combined with the lower standard of evidence allowed under the repressive legislation, is incompatible with the right to a fair trial.

  It has also encouraged and defended widespread and systematic abuses of human rights.

  Using internment, several thousand people were held in the 70s by the British Government without trial or apology or recompense for their detention.

  In an effort to secure written or verbal "confessions", which under the Diplock system are sufficient for proof of guilt, thousands of men and women and children have been tortured, brutalised and degraded in interrogation centres. According to Steven Greer and Anthony White in "Justice under Fire": "In the common law the prosecution had the burden of showing that any confession which it wished to use in evidence was given voluntarily. In Northern Ireland the Emergency Provisions Act altered this rule to place the burden on the accused who wishes to challenge the admissibility of a confession".

  Consequently, every major human rights agency in the world, from Amnesty International to Helsinki Watch, have accused the British Government of employing torture, summary execution and of extensive violations of human rights.

  The British Government has the distinction of having been found guilty before the European Court of Human Rights more often than any other signatory since 1950.

  Commenting on all of this, Kadar Asmal, a former lecturer in Law in Dublin, Chairperson of Ireland's Anti-apartheid Movement and currently a government Minister in the South African government, wrote:

    "The whole administration of justice is perverted and the vocabulary of dissent itself is prostituted. The use of special courts, where 10,000 people have been prosecuted and found guilty from 1973 to 1988, the use of supergrasses, the deliberate adoption by the administration of what one judge in Northern Ireland called `the final court of appeal'—the lethal use of firearms to remove people who are embarrassments to the policies of the administration: all of these measures have been criticised or condemned by a series of governmental or unofficial international inquiries or by the invocation of international standards.

    The British Government has used a sophisticated version of the famous Coercion Acts of the nineteenth century in order to deal with the situation in the north of Ireland. The British Government has shown scant regard for international opinion and international and domestic legal standards. My contention is that the United Kingdom is behaving and has behaved in the North in the same way that colonial powers exerted their sovereignty in the old-fashioned empires."

  This has resulted in almost 400 people killed directly by British Forces in disputed circumstances.

  Seventeen people, mainly children, have been killed by plastic bullets. Thousands more have been seriously hurt, some left disabled for life.

  Over a thousand Catholics have been killed by loyalist death squads, and many of these were the result of collusion with British Forces.

  Since 1969, over half a million homes have been forcibly entered and searched by British forces.

  Millions of pounds in compensation have been eventually paid to families whose homes have been wrecked and human rights ignored and abused. Many others received nothing.


    —  Not one member of the RUC has been convicted of killing or torturing anyone;

    —  The handful of British soldiers convicted of murder have all been released from prison after a short period of time, subsequently reinstated in the British Army and, in several instances, actually received promotions.

  Sinn Fe«in would submit that the combined range of repressive government policies, pursued with vigour over 30 years, has done more to contribute to an atmosphere of fear, threat and intimidation than any other single party to the conflict.

  It is impossible to quantify the physical, psychological, emotional and financial cost of all this. Suffice to say, it has been enormous and will remain an enormous challenge to put right in the transitional period ahead.


  Sinn Fe«in's position is very clear on the issue of the small number of criminals, anti-social elements, informers and British agents who have left their homes in nationalist and republican areas over the years. We, who were the targets of exclusion orders under British law for decades, are opposed to exclusion orders of any kind.

  Equally, we are opposed to violence, threats and intimidation being used against individuals involved in anti-social activities against the community. The absence of a representative, accountable and non-partisan policing service and credible judiciary has been detrimental to society as a whole and has contributed to incidents of community retribution against anti-social elements.

  Given the failure of the Policing Bill to deliver on the above, Sinn Fe«in will continue to support alternative, community-led Restorative Justice programmes which seek to resolve the problems of criminal and anti-social behaviour in a non-violent way, involving the community, the perpetrator and the victim.


  The peace process and the Good Friday Agreement attempted to tackle these matters, as well as the underlying causes of conflict in Ireland.

  Through the negotiations leading to the Agreement, Sinn Fe«in sought to put in place a new human rights and equality ethos, backed by effective legislation, which would effectively tackle all of these matters.

  We also sought to replace the current discredited criminal justice system and police force with new systems, institutions and organisations that would enjoy the support of all sections of our people.

  Regrettably, on the evidence to date, the British Government has and is failing to live up to its commitments on these issues. It is undermining the hopes of a better future free of the threats and intimidation of the past.

  The British Government has also failed to recognise the importance of meeting the needs of the victims of its various military, paramilitary and intelligence agencies. For example, in what can only be described as a crass decision, the government appointed its Security Minister in the North, Adam Ingram, as the Minister for Victims. How should the families of the 400 victims of British forces view this appointment? What does it say about the sensitivity of this government to nationalist and republican concerns?


  In setting out to examine the cause and effect of intimidation in the North of Ireland it is imperative that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee looks towards the raft of international, and independent research available. We believe that this will support our view that a narrow approach to this issue would amount to a disservice to the need for truth, accountability and transparency.

  If the deliberations of the Committee result in a report that is selective and blind to the wider implications of intimidation, then the Committee will be complicit in a biased, PR approach.

  It is our contention that given the absence of a proper and adequate response in the past to the needs of citizens who—for whatever reasons and in whatever circumstances have been forced to leave their home—that this should now be properly addressed.

  The Committee should consider recommending the establishment of an internationally based Independent Public Inquiry to examine the issue of displaced persons as a result of the conflict.

  The inquiry should be jointly convened by the Irish and British Governments. It should look at appropriate policies and services, as set out in the Appendix to this memorandum, which such individuals require, ie alternative accommodation, financial or counselling support.

  Any inquiry should include people who have moved form the north to the south of Ireland and to other countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia.

  Sinn Fe«in looks forward to a positive response to our recommendations from the Committee.


  In recent months the UDA/UFF and the UVF have been involved in a bitter feud that has left seven men dead, many more injured and several hundred families driven from their homes.

  The response of the public services was to set up a round the clock monitoring and emergency service. They have responded quickly, and generally efficiently, to the crisis created by these two warring loyalist factions.

  Some of the statistics available at this point are:

    —  128 households have been rehoused to date and a total of 259 have received Housing Executive assistance;

    —  the statutory Displaced Families Group has been established to meet with families displaced by the recent inter-feuding in the Shankill Road;

    —  purpose: to ensure that the range of statutory agencies and community groups work to reduce tension at interfaces and provide quick-response services;

    —  it consists of NIHE, the Social Security Agency, North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust and the Belfast Education and Library Board;

    —  additional staff have been appointed by NIHE and it has extended opening hours to include weekends; and

    —  in recent days the Minister for Finance and Personnel has found an additional £2 million to help these families.

  Regrettably, in the past British Ministers with responsibility in the north did not ensure such a comprehensive response was made available in relation to the eviction of families, most of whom would have been Catholic.

  We need to draw on the lessons learnt in recent months and ensure that in the event of dislocation of individuals, that public services respond with equal speed and in a similarly co-ordinated manner.

18 December 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 19 July 2001