Don't dodge the issue of collusion
This week the British and Irish governments and all the main parties in the north of Ireland will be in Leeds Castle in Kent. Sinn Féin will be trying to unblock the political impasse here. It will not be easy. There are major issues to be crunched: around the need for all parties to participate fully in the political institutions; policing and justice, and especially agreement by unionists on the transfer of power on policing to the executive and assembly within a specific timeframe; and the issue of armed groups and of arms, human rights, equality and sectarianism.
One of the great imponderables in all of this is the attitude of the Democratic Unionist Party. As the largest unionist party, its engagement is necessary for progress. However, this is a party whose leader has said in recent times that even if the IRA were to disappear at Leeds Castle his party will not talk to Sinn Féin until sometime next year. Moreover, its policy is the destruction of the Good Friday agreement. Hardly a stance to encourage hope in the talks ahead.
Last week Tony Blair spelt out his goals for the talks. But in doing so he placed responsibility for progress on the republicans and unionists. It is true that republicans and unionists have much to do. And Sinn Féin, for our part, wants a comprehensive, holistic agreement which brings closure to all the outstanding issues. We don't want a two-stage or intermediary deal or one that falls apart a few months later - we want a deal which brings an end to the cyclical crises which have bedevilled this process since the Good Friday agreement was reached in April 1998.
But Mr Blair cannot divorce his government from its responsibility for creating the years of political instability, nor from its crucial role in creating the political conditions in which an agreement can be reached in Kent. Matters such as policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality and much more are not the property or responsibility of unionists or republicans. They are the exclusive remit of the British government and they are issues around which this government has made repeated promises which it has then failed to deliver on.
One of the issues which has been on the agenda of all our discussions with Mr Blair since first we met in 1997 is the issue of collusion. That is the administrative practice by which British government agencies recruited, trained, supplied information to, protected and armed unionist death squads to kill opponents and civilians. Successive British governments have gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up the involvement of their military, intelligence and police agencies in the murder of citizens. The most famous of these cases is that of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.
Since Pat's killing in February 1989 his family has campaigned for an independent, international judicial inquiry. The British government has resisted this. In July 2001 Downing Street and the Irish government asked a retired Canadian judge Peter Cory to decide whether public inquiries were justified in a number of cases, including Pat Finucane's. Mr Blair committed to act on whatever Cory recommended. Judge Cory recommended a public inquiry, but the British government said it could not proceed, citing the trial of Ken Barrett, who yesterday pleaded guilty to Pat's murder. There is now no reason to further delay a public inquiry.
There is a remarkable reluctance for the British government to get at the truth of these matters. Why is this? Having spoken to Tony Blair and his colleagues on this issue many times I know they are very conscious of the fact that Pat Finucane's killing is only the tip of the iceberg.
The use by British forces of "friendly forces" to kill the enemy or "terrorise the terrorists" has its roots in modern times in Kenya, Aden, Cyprus and in almost 50 counter- insurgency wars fought by British governments in the 1950s and 60s. Many of those involved in Ireland are still in the British system. They still run agents here. Others are probably now in Iraq.
Collusion and, specifically, the killing of Pat Finucane are serious matters which the British government cannot continue dodging, especially in the context of acts of completion as defined by Mr Blair for these negotiations.
Leeds Castle will see a serious effort being made by Sinn Féin to end the crisis in the peace process. But the British government and the DUP must play their full part, too. Our efforts have not been made easier by the discovery last week that the home of a member of my staff had been bugged. Not a good signal to send to republicans on the eve of crucial talks. I have raised this with Mr. Blair but that's for another day. It would be much better 15 years after Pat Finucane's murder if Mr Blair established a fully independent international judicial inquiry as requested by the Finucane family.