Police ‘error’ reveals secret deal between IRA, UK government

Provisional IRA muralBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An alleged police error, which has prompted the release from custody of a former Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) volunteer accused of killing British soldiers, has revealed a secret agreement between the PIRA and the British government. British authorities have long suspected John Downey of involvement in a 1982 bomb explosion in London’s Hyde Park, which killed four British soldiers and injured scores of bystanders. But Downey was released from custody yesterday, after a judge was shown a letter that the suspect had been provided by the British government, assuring him that he was not wanted for outstanding crimes related to PIRA operations. The letter was given to Downey in 2007 by Britain’s Northern Ireland Office; it stated that the former PIRA volunteer would be able to travel outside Northern Ireland “without fear of arrest”. British authorities said that the letter had been sent “in error” and that it should have been withdrawn prior to Downey’s recent detention. But the case has exposed what appears to be a “discreet agreement” between the British government and republican paramilitaries. The agreement is undoubtedly connected to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The multi-party accord permitted —among other things— power-sharing between Northern Ireland’s loyalist and republican political parties, in exchange for the decommissioning of weaponry held by paramilitary groups on both sides. But it also stipulated that all prisoners held for crimes related to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland were to be freed. By 2000, most of these prisoners had been released, based on the British government’s belief that paramilitary groups on both sides were unlikely to refrain from violence while many of their members remained in prison. However, there was nothing in the Good Friday Agreement to cover the cases of those “on the run”, namely paramilitaries —most of them republican— who were at large and wanted by the British state for crimes connected with paramilitary activity. The general belief has always been that London has agreed to ‘turn a blind eye’ to these cases, so as not to provoke paramilitary organizations. But the Downey case shows that these “on the runs” were given actual letters of absolution, probably as a result of a secret agreement between the British government and the PIRA. The letters must have been approved directly from Whitehall starting in the late 1990s, after it became clear that the British Houses of Parliament would not approve such a measure. Many now expect that the revelation of the secret letters will negatively affect the already fragile peace process in Northern Ireland, as unionist groups will accuse the British government of bending over backwards to facilitate republican requirements.

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