The Republic of Ireland should set up an independent inquiry into what role successive Irish governments played in aiding or hindering the IRA, a leading historian has said.
Lord Bew, who advised 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 £400 million Saville Inquiry – maybe as little as a few thousand euro.
The crossbench peer and Queen’s University academic made the call after Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore moved at the weekend to acknowledge that many unionists believed that Irish governments had not done enough to stop the IRA’s murderous campaign.
Lord Bew, who is at the British-Irish Association in Cambridge where Mr Gilmore made the call, told the News Letter that he viewed it 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.
Lord Bew, who for a time acted as an adviser to former First Minister Lord Trimble, said that he had been “disturbed” by the lack of interest in Dublin to a recent book by the University of Ulster’s professor of politics, Henry Patterson, in which he examines the role of a porous border in allowing the IRA to escape after attacks, often on isolated border Protestants.
Professor Patterson’s book – which was extensively reported by the News Letter earlier this year – contains new information drawn from government archives.
Lord Bew said: “I’ve been disturbed by, since Henry Patterson’s book was published, how little discussion there was about what was, morally, the most important question to face the Irish Republic in the last 30 years.
“I do regard the lack of serious response in Dublin – when you have a serious book which isn’t a speech given by a politician – as pretty surprising.”
In an interview with the Irish Times after his speech, Mr Gilmore stressed that he believed Dublin had an honourable record to defend: “The Irish state made huge efforts to curb the violence”.
He added: “But we do have to acknowledge that there are people who think otherwise and we have to be willing to hear if there is criticism of the way in which the Irish state handled particular issues.”
In the speech, Mr Gilmore said: “We need to acknowledge those unionists who feel that, notwithstanding the sacrifices made by members of An Garda Síochána and the Irish army throughout the Troubles, the Irish state could have done more to prevent the IRA’s murderous activities in border areas.”
IRA victims want an admission of the Republic’s failures to stop the IRA operating in its territory, rather than prosecutions of those who may have been responsible, a victims’ campaigner has said.
Willie Frazer said : “You can’t hold the Irish government responsible for what the IRA did but the IRA couldn’t have done what they did without the ability to move freely in the Irish Republic.
“We want them to acknowledge the wrongdoings; this is not about asking for anyone to be taken to jail and the key thrown away. The important thing is to acknowledge that this went on. My community used to listen to the [IRA] firing their guns in training on Mullyash Mountain just over the border and the Irish government did nothing about it. It was not the individual gardai who were to blame – they told us they weren’t given the resources to deal with it.”