US college offer to dismantle archive of testimonials reminds us of the pitfalls of immediate justice
The Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has categorically rejected allegations by Republican politicians that his force’s arrest of Gerry Adams in relation to the 1972 murder of Jean McConville was politically motivated by a ‘cabal’ within the PSNI. Since the arrest Adams’ party have indicated that they might withdraw their support for the police if they don’t back off, leading to accusations that they are trying to use the spectre of the old, Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary to ‘blackmail’ the PSNI.
Adams, who has always denied ever holding IRA membership, became President of the movement’s ‘political wing’ in 1983 – but is alleged to have been a member of the IRA proper long before that. His arrest stems from recorded testimonials provided by former IRA members to Boston College as part of an academic project, which were then claimed as evidence in an ongoing criminal enquiry and, with the assistance of the US, secured by the Northern Irish police.
The college has now offered to return recordings collected as part of its ‘Belfast Project’ to any living subject who wants their testimony back – a list which apparently includes ‘dozens’ of former republican and loyalist fighters. This has been welcomed by Adams, who the Guardian describes as “a bitter critic” of the project which he claims preserves history “at the expense of the lives of others”.
The prospect of the end of the Belfast Project, which Adams clearly hopes, is an unwelcome one that highlights the difficulty of collecting an accurate record of the past for history. If the tapes were exempt from being claimed as evidence, then the relatives of murdered people would have to live without justice, knowing that the necessary evidence existed and was sealed away in a university archive. That is hard to stomach.
Yet in a similar manner to the freedom of information paradox, our insistence that evidence can be called immediately will prevent much of that evidence existing at all. Gerry Adams clearly feels that he, or at least his carefully-curated reputation, has much to fear from an accurate historical record of the Troubles. The disappearance of that record into the attics or bonfires of former terrorists is something he wants very badly. We should be careful that, in the pursuit of justice, we do not give men of violence the greater gifts of political martyrdom and a blank historical slate.
Is this “Labour for Indy”? Welsh MP claims Tories trying to “embarrass the idea of devolution”…
In this column a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how elements of Welsh Labour (not all, by any means) appear hell-bent on replicating the sort of poisonous short-term tactics that have left their Scottish comrades at risk of getting cut loose from the United Kingdom altogether – seeking to de-legitimise the Conservatives’ in Wales and re-casting any attack on Welsh Labour or their record in government as an attack on Wales herself.
Newport West’s Paul Flynn in particular stood out for “giving a master-class in exactly how to turn solid support for the Union into a knife-edge referendum campaign”. He denounced our recent efforts to fight Welsh Labour on their record as a ‘war on Wales’, and “attacked Philip Hammond’s recent warning of defence sector job losses as a ‘Tory toff’ denying Scots the chance to ‘die in Iraq/Afghanistan’”.
This week he went even further. Flynn accused Bernard Jenkin of using the Public Administration Committee, of which Jenkin is chair, to stage a ‘stunt’ with the intention to “embarrass the Scottish parliament and the idea of devolution”.
This stunt, so far as I can determine, was calling time on Flynn’s questioning after “quite a long run” to allow another MP to pose questions to Sir Bob Kerslake, the Head of the Civil Service, whom Flynn was attacking for the twin crimes of publishing advice against a currency union with an independent Scotland and authoring a ‘sycophantic’ tribute to Margaret Thatcher.
After Jenkin refused to give Flynn more time (Flynn claims to have ‘only just started’ his questions) the Newport MP walked out of the committee, accusing Jenkin of “ganging up on the Scots Nats” – who were suitably delighted, as the comments of Mike Weir MP in the above-linked article make clear.
If Flynn really wants to investigate the problem of civil service neutrality in the referendum campaign, he could perhaps turn his attention to the long-running concerns that the Scottish civil service has ‘gone native’. If he can’t bring himself to do that, then clearly this is a man whose detestation of his political opponents runs much deeper than any affection he might hold for the United Kingdom, and the mythical ‘Labour for Indy’ might have its tenth genuine recruit.
…whilst Labour try to move Welsh campaign onto the only ground they have: more spending
Labour’s other effort to shore up their Welsh flank is an old favourite: more central government money. Margaret Curran has said that whilst Ed Miliband has no intention of changing the Barnett Formula, he recognises Wales’ claim to ‘extra resources’. According to Curran Labour want to rework the distribution of funds to the devolved administrations on the basis of need, rather than population.
Alongside Johann Lamont’s ridiculous devolution proposals, which would make cutting (but not raising) tax unconstitutional north of the border, this looks like another example of Labour designing poor constitutional arrangements to lock-in their private fiefdoms. The Welsh government, like the imagined North East regional assembly, would become a means by which Labour politicians distributed southern tax money.
The obvious objection, as in Scotland, is that without any responsibility for raising their own funds – or a limit to available funds based on the territory governed – the Welsh have no incentive to elect a centre-right government. Yet this arrangement is far more poisonous to the Union than that, for Welsh politicians will always have a ready scapegoat in Westminster/England for any public spending they’d like to do, but can’t. No explaining the hard choices between different spending priorities, nor the necessity of higher taxes to pay for it. Of course we’d love to give you whatever it is, they’ll say, but London won’t let us. Blame London.
Whether launching hysterical attacks on the ‘anti-Welsh’ Tories or using the promise of yet more central government money as an electoral sweet, Labour’s attempts to divert attention from its Welsh record place party before country every time. The Conservatives must offer something better.