Dublin silent on historian’s call for probe into IRA links

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore

The Irish government has declined to respond to a leading Belfast historian’s suggestion that it should set up an independent inquiry to probe past governments’ alleged relationship with the IRA.

Speaking in yesterday’s News Letter, Lord Bew, who acted as an historical adviser to Lord Saville’s inquiry into Bloody Sunday, said that a more limited Dublin inquiry could be conducted by a team of historians for a fraction of the cost of the £400m Saville Inquiry.

The crossbench peer and Queen’s University academic made the call after Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said at the British Irish Association in Cambridge on Saturday that it was necessary to acknowledge unionists who feel that “the Irish state could have done more to prevent the IRA’s murderous activities in border areas”. Lord Bew was also present during the speech.

A previous adviser to former First Minister Lord Trimble, Lord Bew said that he viewed Mr Gilmore’s speech as a positive and genuine move: “It is a start on facing up to a very difficult question.

“The first thing which I think needs to happen is to do what the British Government did [with Bloody Sunday] and have a serious, open-minded and potentially self-critical investigation.”

That, he said, would require Dublin to “open everything” to examination, allowing the historical record to be evaluated.

However, Mr Gilmore yesterday declined to offer any comment on Lord Bew’s demand, although it is understood the Irish government was aware of his comments.

Mr Gilmore’s speech came ahead of next week’s start to talks on the past, parades and emblems to be chaired by former US envoy Richard Haass.

It is understood that Dublin saw Mr Gilmore’s speech as a confidence-building overture to unionists.

Sources in Dublin yesterday related that the Irish government considered it best to remain in “listening mode” ahead of the talks.

Northern Ireland Conservatives’ co-chairman Trevor Ringland has described aspects of Mr Gilmore’s speech as “helpful and constructive”.

“We’ve seen David Cameron and the government making courageous statements about events like Bloody Sunday and, quite rightly, confronting some of the murkier aspects of the state’s role in the Troubles,” he said.

“Mr Gilmore’s comments will provide some reassurance to victims that the authorities in the Republic of Ireland are prepared to ask questions about their role at that time.”