Good Friday Agreement at 25: Ex-anti-terror RUC detective warns against revisionism over 1998 deal as Sinn Fein plan events to mark it
He said it must never be forgotten that the reason a deal was sealed in 1998 was because of decades of work by the police had pushed the IRA to the brink of collapse, forcing republicans to sue for a truce.
His comments come amid a ramping up of events to mark a quarter-century of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and just as nationalists and unionists alike jet off to the USA for a series of St Patrick’s week meetings.
The usual annual round of meet-and-greet engagements in the USA is of heightened significance this year for two reasons.
Firstly, the DUP is still mulling its response to the government’s Windsor Framework on the NI Protocol, and will be keen to impart its views on this to their American hosts.
Secondly, the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is coming up on April 10.
Among the events planned to commemorate the latter are a talk in New York on April 3 by ex-Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and former US president Bill Clinton, organised by Irish-American organisations.
Cathy Stanton, a senior figure in the Brehon Law Society which is helping to set up the event, called the ‘98 deal “a shining example of what can be accomplished if all parties truly share a desire for peace”.
And fellow organiser Mark Guilfoyle of Friends of Sinn Fein added that “we look back with pride to the events of April 1998”.
Sinn Fein leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill are also in the USA this week to “brief members of the US administration and senior Congressional leaders and attend events”, with Ms McDonald saying “our message in the US is one of hope and opportunity as we mark 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement; a peace accord that has transformed the entire country”.
And, back in Northern Ireland, March 21 will see a talk take place in Londonderry’s City Hotel to mark the 25th anniversary, featuring Gerry Adams and former journalist Roy Greenslade, organised by The Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation (entry is free, 8pm start).
Dr William Matchett, who served as a detective inspector in Special Branch – the RUC’s anti-paramilitary unit – told the News Letter he hopes politicians who are now visiting the US will be able to counteract the “rewriting of history” when it comes to the 1998 treaty.
Now an author and international counter-terror advisor, he recalls writing an academic paper after the deal was signed saying that “the smoke and mirrors of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement has basically totally airbrushed out the whole security response”.
He said: “It’s as if there was some Damascene conversion with these people [the IRA], where they woke up one day and said: ‘You know what, I think we need to stop all this murdering and bombing’.”
Instead, the reality was that “eventually police got to grips with it, and police-led security got the upper hand”.
“The prison was full,” continued Dr Matchett.
“The whole thing was that Provisionals had run out of their most precious resource, which was people.
“Their guns here could have armed a small nation.
"They just didn’t have the people to take them up because they were being put in courts and being prosecuted for crimes.
“They ran out of volunteers. I think more and more people were starting to believe: ‘We’ve been conned, I don’t think we’ll ever put the Brits out of Northern Ireland and this isn’t going to end the way it was promised’.”
He said the flurry of activity from Sinn Fein around the Good Friday Agreement smacks of a “blatant rewriting of history”.
The talk on March 21 in Londonderry in particular is likely to draw controversy, because of the presence of Mr Greenslade, an Englishman who wrote for The Guardian newspaper for decades.
After he had retired, Mr Greenslade revealed himself in a 2021 article to have been a closet supporter of the IRA for decades, confirming that he used to write articles for Sinn Fein’s official magazine An Phoblacht, under a pseudonym.
For his own part, whilst he has consistently denied being a member of the IRA, Mr Adams has also said he has “never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will”.