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David Trimble is right: of course the British government did a secret deal with Sinn Fein

27 February 2014

12:26 PM

27 February 2014

12:26 PM

As I have pointed out before, it is impossible to listen to the Today programme. This morning’s interview with David Trimble was a fine reminder of why. You would never guess from the number of interruptions that the guest is someone who knows more than the BBC interviewer does about the subject under discussion. That subject is the deal which came to light yesterday which ensured that John Downey, the alleged Hyde Park bomber, and almost 200 other IRA suspects would never be brought to trial.


Despite the Today interviewer’s best efforts David Trimble did get a couple of opportunities to speak (you can listen to the clip above). Most interesting is the portion in which he discusses whether or not a formal or informal amnesty of Republican terrorists has occurred behind the backs of Unionist politicians. Asked if he thinks that there has been some secret British deal with Sinn Fein he says, simply, ‘Yes’.

I think Trimble is right, and it does not require any great conspiracy to come to this conclusion, simply an observation of the facts. A couple of years ago I wrote in the magazine of how John Major’s government ensured that an investigation into the alleged crimes of Martin McGuinness was ‘disappeared’ in order not to ‘derail’ the ‘peace process’. That similar deals – open and covert – were made over the Labour years was obvious. That not all politicians knew about it was also clear.

Criminal charges against the Bloody Sunday soldiers appear to have been kicked into the long grass so that British soldiers do not go to jail while IRA terrorists are given immunity. And I suppose the hope is simply that nobody notices any of this, or that if they do they don’t care enough, or that they care in too small numbers. And so a process which should have been ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ turns out to be no more than a society-wide amnesty for murder. ‘Lies and obfuscation’, if you prefer.

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Show comments
  • Lugh22

    Amazing amount of right wing nonsense on this site. If a British government took advice from you this conflict would never end and you would still control a world empire. The truth which you cannot bear is that colonialism does not work and the only reason why there is democracy is the whole of Ireland now is because Irish Republicans fought for it.

  • mandelson

    You only had to see Newsnights doorstep of Peter Hain where he more or less said “what else could we do” and this was the price of peace, the alternative would be to go back to the “troubles”.

  • The PrangWizard of England

    I have a political objective, I want a new and true parliament for England. I want an end to the British State and total independence for England. Not much different from the Irish nationalist aspirations in their time. They demanded home rule – what’s wrong the slogan ‘Home Rule for England’. The democratic principle is the same.

    The British are a ruling Elite, operating through a British State apparatus which does not recognise the aspirations of the people of England; English identity is suppressed; they refuse to grant an English parliament, a right which they will champion anywhere else.
    They are hypocrites. We urgently need change.

  • Jambo25

    Montague’s behaviour during the interview was intolerable. Hectoring and unwilling to listen to proper answers.

  • Frank

    The inquiry will be pointless unless it focusses on the illegality of these letters and causes them to be revoked. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that David Trimble has been “persuaded” to back off.

  • scampy1

    Honesty is not a word you would associate with Tony Blair?
    A northern Irish politician years ago?

    • Kitty MLB

      Indeed not, a smiling charming duplicitous snake, that’s Blair.

  • SwayL

    A problem for Trimble, and particularly Robinson, is that so many people already knew about this deal. It’s not the shocking news it’s being portrayed as.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Blair behaved disracefully but that is nothing new. Now I know that the present government is just the same. I am ashamed of them. I will vote UKIP from now on. What else can I do?

    • Kitty MLB

      Sorry about you feeing disheartened by present government.
      Yet I do not recommend joining UKIP, the compulsory purple
      tie will play havoc with the indigenous wildlife.
      There is The Monster Raving Looney Party,
      they have a more ornate choice of hats,( apart from the trilby
      that the somewhat flamboyant Farage wears as he perambulates though England)
      Vote for them instead, there is also” that “special ingredient within their fruitcakes.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Nope, Kitty. It’s UKIP. And do you realise that while these IRA murderers are wandering round continuing to blow people up wit their free passes in their pockets we are still threatening to prosecute soldiers who (perhaps) killed som IRA supporting low-lifes back in the 1970s. Cameron has lost me for ever on this. By the way there’s acharming Northrn UKipper whose name I forget, and there’s the freatt Marta Andriessen too. That’s three people I prefer to almost all the Tories. I’m sorry to desert Gove and Duncan-Smith, who are good eggs.

        • Kitty MLB

          No, Fergus I was not aware that we were threatening
          brave soldiers with prosecution, if true Cameron has sunk
          to an all time low-but not a shock to me.
          Military chaps from Con Home have said Cameron has caused so much damage.
          Sorry your faith in him has been shattered, Cameroons
          are a unyielding steadfast bunch. Cameron used all manner of inveiglements to beguile you away from the path of true
          Conservatism, its practically impossible to remove one
          from his octopus like clutches.( cameroons are not Tories by the way) its a constant battle.
          Yet even so I was so flabbergasted by your damascene
          moment, and your newly found loyalty towards
          UKIP, that I have actually knocked a huge amount of coffee
          onto the keyboard and almost sat on the new kitten.
          I am utterly speechless, Fergus of all people,
          Nigel will be very pleased.

          • Fergus Pickering

            I hope he will. I am a pearl beyond price.

            • Kitty MLB

              Ermm !

        • Lugh22

          Sorry but unfortunately for you full investigations have revealed that British soldiers murdered innocent civilians yet these killers are still at large. Just recently we had a UK TV doc revealing that British army hit squads were operating from the early 1970’s. Within the last week the UK government has refused to investigate the 11 civilians killed by british soldiers in Ballymurphy between 9 and 11 August 1971. This is the same regiment who were later responsible for the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry on 30 January 1972.

  • Peter Stroud

    I also stopped listening to the Today programme because of its left wing bias, and because of interviews, like that with Lord Trimble. Rudeness and stridency seem to be essential qualities for a Today interviewer. Ms Sarah Montague is the most rude and strident of the lot.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    Who had the constitutional right to give immunity? How was it acquired? If it is not legitimate, how can the letters count for anything?

  • D Whiggery

    Will the interviewer please shut up and let him speak.

    Yet another corruption of democracy and justice by Labour.

    #labourisacancer #noreallyitis

  • darwins beard

    I know its a cliche but, when will Martin Mcguinness and Gerry Adams stand trial for their crimes? Does running for election absolve you of murder in the eyes of the British legal system ? Adams has never stood trial for not just being a member of the IRA but commanding “the unknowns” an IRA hit squad used police their own ranks and torture then kill threats to the republican cause like mother of ten Jean McConville who’s family was threatened for asking where the IRA had buried her. Brave warriors for freedom indeed.

    • Lugh22

      Will the British soldiers stand trial?

  • Paddy S

    I am Irish and disgusted by it all. Many Irish people were and are revolted by the crimes of the Provisional IRA and their scumbag cohorts the Loyalist terror gangs. Murder is murder. While the Good Friday agreement prevented more murders in all probability, the dead’s blood demands justice still. May they get in the next life if not this one.
    Though the fact Tony Blair sought to make deals with these clowns sickens me, not to mention what it must do to English people…

    • Lugh22

      I don’t believe you are Irish ‘Paddy’

      • Paddy S


  • callingallcomets

    There was only one Northern Ireland Secretary who was, and still is, hated and loathed by the IRA and it’s fellow travellers – Roy Mason. Appointed by Callaghan soon after he became PM the Barnsley MP, an ex miner, NUM and old Labour to the core, dismissed the idea of “political initiatives and white papers”. While putting a premium on equality before the law and refusing to kowtow to those who looked back with nostalgia to the old protestant supremacy he nevertheless accurately identified the issue of the IRA as a security problem that needed to be dealt with by the security forces.
    His hard line reduced the level of violence and began to break the spirit of the IRA. Regrettably Thatcher’s victory in 1979 ended his stewardship and subsequent Tory and Labour NI Secretaries were never able to resist the temptation to bask in the light of media approval by returning to the path of political initiatives

    • anyfool

      Shoot to kill was working and was about to reap the final dividends when it was stopped.

      That policy should be written into law in case they start up again in a more heavier mode than what is currently under way, these fresh killings and attempts at bombing are being carried out by the original group who Martin McGuinness commanded, he and fellow terrorist partner will know down to the smallest detail the composition of this so called Real IRA renegade group.

    • Jambo25

      Merlyn Rees! Enough said.

  • Stephen Gillespie

    Impossible to listen to this without boiling over with rage at the dreadful Montague’s repeated interruptions. She is truly appalling and insufferable.

  • anyfool

    Another Labour project that was built on deceit, they are the most disgusting bunch of political crooks this country has ever produced.

    • Graeme S

      Nailed it

  • swatnan

    What secret deals did Trimble make to tie Sein Fein in knots?
    There are 2 sides to this story; we don’t know half of it. But we don’t need to know. That is the nature of arbitration and mediation.

    • anyfool

      Trimble was a minor figure in this as the negotiations were taking place between the Labour government and the two terrorist sides, they had to pay lip service to the political parties in Ulster, that is what they did.
      This deceit is down to the creatures of Labour and a bunch of criminals.
      Whatever you and your party does is always debased by treachery and lies that destroy another little part of the culture of this country, sewer rats have more honour.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        Agreed although why are you drawing a distinction between the Labour Party and a bunch of criminals. Surely they are one and the same thing.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      David Trimble was a duly elected politician who favours democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law. Sinn Fein, like the Labour Party, do not favour democracy or freedom of speech.

    • Jambo25

      If you look at the history of the talks and GFA the non-violent, constitutional parties were sidelined by Blair, Powell, Hain et al and the rest of the Labour scum.

  • Daniel Maris

    You’re telling us that the leaky sieve of the Police Service in Northern Ireland wasn’t in operation. I had assumed such a deal had been done and written into law. I think that was everyone’s assumption – otherwise why weren’t the unionists banging the table about lack of results on investigations in N Ireland?

  • darwins beard

    Sinn Fein? IRA in suits.

    • Noa

      And what does that make the politicians who dissembled, covered for and ultimately, surrendered to them? Diplomats practising real politick, or quislings?

      • darwins beard

        In all fairness negotiation was always going to be the best outcome, but I dont think it should have come at the price of letting murderers get away with murder, especially as there is no end of enquiries in to the actions of the only legitimate military force in the province at the time.

        • Noa

          Negotiations are not the end in themselves of course, and elements of agreements reached may be better not disclosed immediately. David Trimble is clearly right in the principle he describes, there should have been no wholesale indemnity, the rule of law should prevail. Terrorist crimes should have beeb tried and if appropriate those convicted released under the Release Scheme.The exemption letters offend basic principles of justice and fairness.

      • Mike Purves

        Powell tells us that the letters of comfort sent to murderers were ‘an administrative matter’ as ‘there was no agreement’. So that’s all right then.

  • ChuckieStane

    The behaviour of the British Government on this has been disgraceful. It has made a mockery of the GFA, and the Haas talks. The rule of law and parliamentary democracy at both Westminster and Stormant have been undermined by secret deals. Most especially those in Northern Ireland from both communities who have supported the rule of law have been made to look like fools.
    It was heartening yesterday in the HoC to see MPs from UUP, DUP, SDLP, Alliance and the Indpendent all uniting in condemnation of this deal.
    Cameron’s behaviour has been disgusting, deflecting the blame unto the PSNI when the supposed “error” is a side issue to the main scandal.

    • McRobbie

      Yet bliar and brown..who set the now immoveable secret scheme in place are blameless and indeed gusting? Sorry..the deal was badly done by a bad indeed disgusting labour government and cameron was left in no position to do or say anything differently. The error was made by labour ministers and the PSNI despite blair apologists best efforts to be disingenuous.

      • ChuckieStane

        I agree that the Blair’s government is primarily to blame.
        However, the Attorney General confirmed yesterday that the “get out of jail free cards” were still being issued under this government which was subsequent to devolution of justice powers to Stormont in 2010. That makes a mockery of the tortuous process of devolving justice and is a kick in the teeth for those that took political risks to try and square that circle.

        This issue was no error it was a de facto amnesty which was a deliberate and deceitful act by politicians and their officials outwith the legal and parliamentary process.

        • simon

          Is a prime minister allowed to take arbitrary decisions of this nature? If not then surely he has to answer before the courts.

  • ADW

    All true, Douglas, and a messier and more squalid road to peace it would be hard to imagine. I hate to think how I would feel about it all if one of my family members had been murdered and the shonky deal behind closed doors ensured no-one would ever face justice for it.

    Then again, if the only alternative was that murder would continue, then I’m not so sure we would be better off. Realpolitik always was an immoral game with a host of innocent victims.

    • GUBU

      As you say, it is easier to take the more rounded view when you have never been on the receiving end of terrorism yourself.

      The point I think you miss is this: if you are going to make hard choices, to engage in realpolitik as you call it, you must devise a process which applies to all those who might be called to account for their actions, and their victims, in the same way. In those circumstances, you may not guarantee justice, but you can at least offer equity of treatment.

      That is not the case here. The government provided a specific group of people, who were identified to them by Sinn Fein, with these letters. This was a nasty little sidebar deal concocted by people who knew enough about what they were doing to want to keep the exact details of it secret.

      • ADW

        I wasn’t suggesting the deal was in any way morally justifiable (the lack of equality being just one reason why), that’s why it’s called realpolitik and not justice.

        • mikewaller

          To use a military analogy, you should have stuck to your guns and faced your critics down. They are largely talking twaddle. The plantation of Ulster was a disaster in the making from the beginning. History tell us that if you are going in for the empire business you should either totally swamp the indigenous population as in the USA or put in a small elite which can be withdrawn if necessary, as in Uganda. Large minorities never work as shown in South Africa and Ireland.

          I loath the IRA from the bottom of my heart and they have seriously impacted on my attitude to all things Irish, but I think that your original analysis was spot on as this was a deal that simply had to be done. Indeed, it may well have the belated benefit of getting us out of the Bloody Sunday problem as abandoning the rule of law must cut both ways.

          As it was the brutal Unionist suppression of the civil rights movement in Ulster that gave the IRA a new wholly unexpected new lease of life in 1969 – remember the B specials?- I am in no mood to take lectures from that quarter as to what was necessary to bring a largely successful end to the terrible cost in blood and money incurred over 30 years. Indeed what both sides should be aware of is that the Southern English in particular are sick to death of their childish antics. Were that to find full political expression, a united Ireland would be crushed under the dead weight of the huge subsidy need to keep Ulster afloat and the UK – with or without Scotland – would be a great deal better off. For my part the blood sacrifices made by Ulster men and women in two world wars still count for a lot, particularly went contrasted with what in my mind is still the Nationalist stab in the back of 1916. But one has to wonder how that comparative advantage will hold up in the minds of future generations.

          • GUBU

            There is much in your post that I would take issue with, but on one point I think that you are entirely right: an unintended consequence of their side bar deal is that republicans have seriously damaged the cause of those in their own constituency who wish to see individuals held accountable for acts of so-called ‘state violence’ during the Troubles.

            This was the essence of my original post to ADW – the hard bargain would be to draw a complete line of some description under the past, not a circle round one particularly group of people.

            • mikewaller

              You haven’t done much fishing. The trick is to get the fish to take the bait and then you reel it in. The IRA bit on the nice idea of letting their “on the runs” of the hook. Had they been told then that this scheme would also include the Bloody Sunday soldiers, no Good Friday agreement.

              If you listen to today’s “Today” on the i-player you will find that after John Humphrys had had a damned good go at fermenting outright war between Russia and the Ukraine, he turned his malign attentions to this issue in Northern Ireland. Again he did his best to stir things up but the actual people he interviewed were very interesting. Danny Morrison – the IRA guy who got doubts – was banging on about the failure to prosecute State-employed terrorists. Then we heard from a Unionist who at the age of 13 – having already lost his mother – heard his farmer father being executed by what I shall always consider Nationalist scum and was the first to find the body. He, understandably even after all this time, was still demanding justice. In contrast, Humphrys spoke to a Catholic who at an even younger age had lost his mother in consequence of a Unionist bomb. This guy said that even if he had incontrovertible evidence as to who brought the bomb to where he lived, he would not give the evidence to the police. His attitude was almost Christ-like but the frequency with which he spoke of the need to “contextualise” the violence suggested to me that he was the beneficiary of a tertiary education and, unlike, the Unionist boy, probably had still had one parent to help him through the horror.

              My supposition is that the “forgiver” is pretty unusual and that NI remains a seething cauldron of hatred about which it is very difficult to think what it is best to do. However of one thing I am certain: the whole pattern of English/Irish relations is well caught in the expression: The English remember nothing and the Irish forget nothing. Whether it is the original plantations, Cromwell, post Easter Rising punishments, the Black and Tans, the B Specials, Bloody Sunday or Shoot to Kill, the Catholic Irish commit it all to memory and use it continually to recharge their hatred of England. The English, on the other hand forget just how badly each episode went and continually make the mistake of thinking that they can out-barbarism the Irish. This they cannot do not least because many Irish carry a particularly virulent version of the very common human failing of doing the most unspeakable things to others and then raising merry Cain if paid back in kind.

              Against this background – and awful thought it must be for victims – the quicker and more neatly we tidy away the horrors of the past, the better. Indeed I laughed out loud when those idiots from the IRA had John Major say something like “The UK would not seek selfishly to remain in Northern Ireland”. Selfishly? It costs us a bloody fortune and it would be hugely to our advantage were it assigned elsewhere. Of course the people who would think that this would be a disaster would be the Southern Irish