British policy is blocking truth for victims of state violence – Declan Kearney

BLast Wednesday Karen Bradley, the British Secretary of State for the north of Ireland, when speaking in Westminster once again insulted the victims of British state violence in Ireland by saying that the state forces responsible for massacres, summary executions, state sponsored assassinations of Irish people, and who organised, armed and directed unionist paramilitary death squads, had not committed crimes, and acted in “dignified and appropriate way”.

Her comments caused huge offence and anger to those who have suffered at the hands of state agencies and agents, and outraged all right thinking people.

British state violence and injustice in Ireland was not an aberration. It’s never been a case of there being a few rotten apples in the barrel. That cliché doesn’t apply.

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The politico-military basis of British state policy in the north of Ireland was set out by General Frank Kitson as far back as 1971, in his enduring book on counter insurgency strategy, ‘Low Intensity Operations’.

Kitson helped to develop an integrated political, military and legal doctrine that would oversee British operations in Ireland. From the early 1970s that included the use of the internment and torture policy; the recruitment of counter gangs (death squads), within nationalist areas to target republican activists and ordinary civilians; intelligence and psychological operations; and, the deployment of clandestine military units and special forces (such as the SAS), alongside conventional combat troops.

That strategic approach was refreshed and upgraded after the British state introduced the Hillsborough Agreement in 1985 with the Irish government in an effort to promote the SDLP, and push back against the growing electoral and political support for Sinn Féin after the Hunger Strikes.  

In parallel, British military intelligence and other state agencies began the systematic reorganisation and arming of the unionist paramilitary death squads. Arms shipments from South Africa and elsewhere, were imported and key agents such as Brian Nelson, among others, were placed into controlling positions among the death squads.


New shadowy military intelligence agencies such as the Force Research Unit (FRU) were deployed to the north under the command of Brigadier Gordon Kerr. The FRU had a prolific influence in the running of the unionist death squads.

The military and security establishment has always been central to the formulation and execution of British state policy towards Ireland. That has never changed. 

The same powerful sections of the British military and security establishment which directed Britain’s ‘dirty war’ in Ireland continue to exert significant influence in the present.

They haven’t gone away.

Those who were always hostile to the peace process from within the Military of Defence and security services in Whitehall are still politically and psychologically at war with the Sinn Féin leadership.

Their opposition to progressive democratic and peaceful transformation is the reason that legacy issues, and how to deal with the past, is so destabilising within the political process, and indeed is the main factor preventing a new beginning to policing being achieved here.

They are responsible for the failure to resolve the legacy impasse because of their determination to conceal the reality of British state collusion, assassination and systematic illegality. According to their zero sum view of the peace and political processes, the British state has too much to lose. For them, legacy represents a new battle ground.

So they refuse to acknowledge the role of the state and its forces and agents in the conflict. They seek to promote a single British, pro unionist narrative of what happened.

But there is no single narrative.

That reality was implicitly accepted in the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) of 2014, and the decision to establish legacy mechanisms for dealing with the past.

Since 2014 however, the British government has blocked the implementation of the SHA by invoking its national security veto.

The British state, and this particular government, has deepened the legacy impasse by pro-actively encouraging a statute of limitations for British armed forces personnel, and thereby formalising the de facto impunity and immunity which has protected their actions throughout the conflict.

This sits in contrast with the fact that up to 20,000 republicans are estimated to have faced prosecutions, and served over 100,000 years in detention since 1969.

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In the meantime, maximum information disclosure, truth and judicial redress continues to be denied to the many victims of hundreds of violent actions by the state and its agents: including the Dublin/Monaghan bombings; the Ballymurphy and Springhill massacres in Belfast; and the executions of, Aidan Mc Anespie, Pat Finucane, and Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton; among so many others.

All sorts of commentary has surrounded Karen Bradley’s remarks. The vast majority have been highly critical from across a wide spectrum of opinion. 

But here’s the rub.  

Her statement came in a fortnight when the British Supreme Court ruled that no Article Two compliant investigations had occurred into Pat Finucane’s killing: when the Police Ombudsman revealed a failure by the PSNI to disclose files and intelligence relating to the Ormeau Road Bookies massacre: while the detail of the Ballymurphy massacre by British soldiers continues to be revealed at inquest: and, only days before the Public Prosecution Service announces whether it will prosecute British soldiers responsible for the Bloody Sunday atrocity.

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Her words were said in response to a DUP MP’s question at a time when this British government is formally allied to the DUP, on Brexit, and to guarantee its political survival.

Most significantly, Bradley made these assertions whilst the British government consultation on legacy is extant, and on the same day Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, said she was looking at ways to protect British forces from prosecutions.

Theresa May and Karen Bradley have ‘form’ in Westminster as a tag team. 

Last year they repeated in sequence the lie that legacy investigations processes were disproportionately focused upon state forces.

Now it has also emerged that last November Karen Bradley was recorded having an exchange at the Westminster NI Affairs Committee when “getting our soldiers off this hook” was raised.

Karen Bradley did not speak out of turn last Wednesday. 

She was accurately expressing British state policy regarding the conflict in Ireland.

Many other examples stand out, notably, that of British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers who said in February 2016 that the reality of British state forces collusion in running unionist death squads during the conflict was “a pernicious counter narrative”.  

No British government has ever been neutral in the north.

Since it came to power in 2010, this British Tory government has pursued an aggressively, pro-unionist, single narrative policy.

It has negatively and deliberately mismanaged the political process in the north.

Successive Tory Secretaries of State have presided over waves of austerity and reduced the region to an economic and political backwater. They have consistently acted in the interests of the military and security establishment.

Karen Bradley’s latest intervention was indeed absolutely appalling and offensive, but it wasn’t surprising. She was doing her job; and her successors will do exactly the same. 

Unless and until, the British government changes its pro-unionist and single narrative bias, legacy will continue to destabilise politics and poison the capacity of the PSNI to act in a fully transparent and accountable way, or to command full community confidence.


So for progress to be made the British state needs to accept its responsibility as a protagonist in the conflict.

This government must comply with the ‘rigorous impartiality’ required under the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and commit to its full implementation.

It has to end its blocking of the SHA and support the immediate establishment of the legacy mechanisms, free from political interference. The attempts to introduce a statute of limitations for state forces must stop, and there should be no change to the definition of a victim.

The existing Tory/DUP alliance runs totally counter to the democratic basis of the GFA political process.

The Irish government also needs to recognise the gravity of the worsening political situation. It too has major responsibilities.

Appeals for apologies from Karen Bradley by An Tánaiste mean nothing to the victims of British state forces and agents, north or south. 

The Irish government must start to hold the British publicly and politically, robustly to account. It has obligations to ensure implementation of both the GFA and SHA.

Failure, and, or unwillingness, by this Irish government to apply the necessary pressure on the British will compound the very deep anger which exists.

This is another key moment when nationalists in the north expect the Irish government to deliver on An Taoiseach’s public commitment of 8th December 2017, that ‘you will never be left behind by an Irish government.’ 

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Resolving these issues, and ending the denial of fundamental democratic rights in the north are the required context to ensure our political institutions can be re-established on a sustainable basis, and build confidence that the British state, and it’s elected governments, are truly committed to the peace process in Ireland – and, not simply on terms which are dictated by the dark side of the British establishment.

Bodenstown 2017: Advancing towards Irish Unity – in the United Irish tradition

“Every Irish citizen is entitled to a home, an education, comprehensive health care free at the point of delivery, and, equal pay for equal work.” – Declan Kearney.

“To break the connection with England…and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland… and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter, these were my means.” – Wolfe Tone.

This is the address by Declan Kearney at Bodenstown 2017: Advancing towards Irish Unity – in the United Irish tradition

This time 220 years ago Ireland was in the midst of dramatic political and revolutionary change.

It was described as ‘The time of the Hurry’ in the poem ‘The man from God knows where’ dedicated to Thomas Russell.

The United Irishmen were the engine of that change.

Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin National Chairperson.

They took their inspiration from the new democratic and egalitarian ideals of the American and French revolutions.

They were Republican separatists committed to the promotion of anti-sectarianism, fraternity and equality.

They forged alliances across Irish society and mounted an unprecedented military insurgency in every Province.

In my own county the United Irishmen took control of towns like Randalstown and Ballymena. Local United Irish leaders such as Henry Joy McCracken, Roddy McCorley and William Orr remain household names to this day.

Jemmy Hope “The Weaver” from Templepatrick and his farseeing revolutionary vision became an ideological reference point for Fintan Lawlor and later generations of Irish Revolutionaries.

These and others personified the central tenet of emergent Irish Republicanism – the unity of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter.

Wolfe Tone famously summarised the United Irish Republican programme:

To break the connection with England…and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland… and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter, these were my means.”

As modern day Irish Republicans in the tradition of Tone, we are dedicated to the establishment of a national Republic, built upon equality, fraternity, unity and reconciliation between all citizens in Ireland.

Our primary aim is for an agreed, multicultural united Ireland, which celebrates diversity and equality, and shuns bigotry and discrimination.

Sinn Féin stands against all forms of sectarianism, racism, homophobia, sexism, and intolerance in society.

Today’s Ireland is one of huge social change and political realignment.

Partition continues to be the central fault line at the heart of Irish politics and society.

The imposition of the Brexit decision upon the people of the six counties has now magnified that fault line.

We are clear; Brexit is a by-product of partition and continued British jurisdiction in the North of our country.

It has now become a catalyst for a new realignment of politics in Ireland; in relations between this island and Britain: and, it is redefining politics in the British State and Europe itself.

Irish Unity has become central to the political discourse. 

Next Saturday in Belfast at the Waterfront our party will host a major national conference on Irish Unity to build on that discussion.

Many citizens are now looking beyond the Brexit fall out and towards new constitutional and political opportunities.

In the North, greater numbers of ordinary people are now more engaged with politics.

Young people have become increasingly politicised.

All that is reflected in the Assembly and General election results in March and just last week.

The election of 27 Sinn Féin MLA’s and 7 MPs with 239,000 votes is an historic high in electoral support for our party, and for progressive politics.

I want to thank every activist and supporter and all their families who contributed to these spectacular achievements; and also to all of our voters.

There is a building momentum for Irish Unity and in support of anti-unionist and progressive politics.

There is also a new, popular expectation of real, and substantial political change.

The people of the North have spoken.

Sinn Féin respects the mandate secured by the DUP.

But make no mistake Sinn Féin’s electoral mandate is a vindication of our pledge that there will be no return to the status quo: and I repeat; no citizen or section of society will be put to the back of the bus again.

In 1967 our parents and grandparents and others in this gathering set out to demand civil rights in the North. They were beaten and shot off the streets.

Fifty years later an equality revolution is happening in the six counties and it is being led by young people.

Agus tá siad tiomanta agus diongbhailte. Tá siad dearg le fearg agus tá muid go léir dearg le fearg.

For the first time since partition electoral support for political unionism has fallen below 50%.

These are the new realities.

And this is the new context for the current round of political talks.

Let us be clear – the political crisis in the North can be resolved.

The political institutions can be re-established.

However, that means the DUP and British government need to get the message – which they have ignored since Martin McGuinness’ resignation on 9th January.

So I will spell it out.

The equality and rights agenda is not negotiable.

Agreements previously made on equality, rights, parity of esteem and legacy must be implemented.

The Good Friday Agreement cannot be unpicked.

The political institutions must not be misused to advance institutionalised bigotry.

Continued refusal by the DUP and British government to accept these fundamental positions will create only one outcome: a future of permanent political instability.

The DUP have spent the last week in talks with the British Government trying to strike a deal which will keep the Tories in power.

As with Brexit, any deal with Tories will be bad for the economy, public services and for citizens.

This Tory government cares as little for working-class unionists as it does for working-class republicans.

Working-class unionists did not vote for Tories.

The DUP leadership know that. They know the north is of no consequence in Westminster.

Even Edward Carson recognised this nearly 100 years ago. He said:

“What a fool I was… in the political game that was to get the Conservative party into power.”

The central fact is the political process in the North remains overshadowed by financial scandals.

That is why Sinn Féin stood the DUP leader down from her position last January.

The focus on her future role in an Executive is completely misdirected and premature.

That discussion will only arise when there is an acceptable implementation plan to restore public confidence in the political process and ensures that the institutions will work on the basis of proper power sharing, equality, respect and integrity.

This is a serious situation, which demands a serious focus by all parties.

It is not a game, and it is certainly not a dance.

If the DUP really wants to go into the Executive, that party needs to decide whether it is now prepared to embrace a rights-based approach to government in the North.

Instead of pretending that a crisis does not really exist, the DUP should get with the programme.

If the DUP imagines it can wind back the clock, with a Tory side deal or not, and reestablish the institutions without adherence to equality and rights, then the DUP is indeed living in a fool’s paradise.

As for the two governments, instead of talking up the prospect of a successful outcome to these talks, they and the DUP should reread Martin McGuinness’ resignation letter on the 9th January.

It sets out exactly what is required to restore public confidence, and to create the conditions for proper government in the North.

We don’t need optical illusions; we expect change!

The new Irish government now carries a huge responsibility.

The failure of the last Irish government to fulfil its obligations as a co-guarantor for the Good Friday Agreement is a national scandal.

This dereliction of political leadership must end.

The new Taoiseach and his administration should now publicly disassociate itself from the pro-unionist, partisan position of the British government.

This Irish government should bring forward a comprehensive plan for Irish reunification, including:

     – A joint Oireachtas committee on preparing for Irish unity;

     – A government White Paper on national reunification; 

     – And, specific proposals for a unity referendum on the island.

This month 40 years ago and here at Tone’s grave our comrade Jimmy Drumm correctly observed that the achievement of national and social liberation relied upon the development of a popular progressive movement for change throughout Ireland.

Today we live in an Ireland of endemic financial scandal, political corruption, gombeen elites, discrimination and sectarianism.

The strategic position articulated by Jimmy Drumm in 1977 is now more relevant than ever.

The austerity programmes imposed by Fine Gael and the British Tories have entrenched social inequality, both North and South.

None of our children should have to live in fear from poverty or austerity; inequality or discrimination; or from intolerance or sectarianism.

Social inequality is the antithesis of values enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation and the democratic programme of 1919.

Every Irish citizen is entitled to a home, an education, comprehensive health care free at the point of delivery, and, equal pay for equal work.

Instead social inequality, political corruption and financial scandal have become bywords for public policy under Fine Gael.

The new Taoiseach seems determined to take his government further to the right.

If that is his intention, then he should call a general election now, and let the people cast its verdict on that political programme.

In those circumstances Sinn Féin will go forward with our progressive political agenda.

We know where we stand, and it’s not with the gombeen men, the crooks, or fat cats.

To paraphrase Tone Sinn Féin stands with:

That numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property.”

Irish unity has never been more achievable. 

But that goal is only inevitable when Republicans successfully persuade sufficient numbers of our people that an agreed, united Ireland will serve their interests.

The refusal of significant sections of political unionism to embrace a shared future, and divisions caused by deep-seated sectarianism, create enormous challenges for Republicans.

Yet despite that, we must continue to show generosity of spirit, and reassurance to our unionist neighbours in the North.

As agents of change it is up to us to reach into the wider unionist constituency.

As republicans in the United Irish tradition we have to demonstrate how their rights, traditions, and identity will be accommodated in a new constitutional framework of an agreed Ireland.

It is for us to convince them that it is far better for Irish unionists to exert their influence over a progressive Ireland, instead of being reduced to stage props for a right-wing British Tory government.

Sinn Féin’s policies on reconciliation and anti-sectarianism represent genuine contributions towards the development of reconciliation between Republicans and unionists, within Irish society, and, between Ireland and Britain.

These need to be internalised and mainstreamed within our political work, both North and South.

Our generation of Republicans are history makers.

Martin McGuinness atá anois ar shlí na fírinne, and whom we greatly miss here today, as well as others in our leadership, have brought us to this point.

Now it is for the rest of us to finish that work.

We must become the nation builders.

We must continue the transformation of Irish society.

Meeting these responsibilities requires a step change in our party.

We need to be always strategically focused, cohesive, flexible and creative.

Let us be clear: building popular support and political strength is not a plan for opposition.

Our political strategy is a road map for governmental power.

So that means Sinn Féin being in government North and South.

This is our road map to achieving national democracy and a united Ireland.

But being in government is not a vanity contest.

This party is not interested in acting as a prop for the status quo North or South.

Political institutions are not ends in themselves: they should be made to work as the means to make positive change.

And of course, we must avoid being defined by the nature of the political institutions.

Sinn Féin participation in the Dáil, Assembly, all-Ireland institutions and European Parliament must be at the heart of a broader momentum for political and social change in Ireland.

If change is to be people centred, then change must be driven by the people.

A popular democratic movement for transformation needs to be developed across Ireland.

That is a progressive coalition of political, civic, community, cultural and labour activists united in support of economic democracy, sustainable public services, equality, rights, and the welfare of citizens.

These are the means of modern Republicans today.

Ireland is in transition. Our party is in transition.

The process of leadership succession has already commenced.

We have begun to implement a ten-year plan to regenerate our party with more youth and women; and enhanced skills and capacity.

Mar sin, más cearta, cothromas agus Poblacht atá uaibh –  ná habraigí é – eagraigí, tógaigí, agus déanaigí é.

Bígí línne.

If you want equality and rights – if you want fairness in Irish society:

If you really want a Republic – then just don’t vote Sinn Féin:

Join Sinn Féin – and get your family and friends to do the same.

We continue to take our inspiration from Tone.

This afternoon in Bodenstown we stand resolute in the tradition of Henry Joy McCracken, William Orr, Roddy McCorley, Jemmy Hope, Betsy Gray and Mary-Anne McCracken.

Now let us go forward reenergised and confident, to mobilise and organise, and to achieve national independence and Irish Unity.