Friday, March 04, 2005

Paisley and evidence

Ian Paisley apparently thinks that the desire to see physical evidence is nothing more than support for Irish republicanism:

DUP leader Ian Paisley pronounced himself ‘disgusted’ with Liberal Democrat Northern Ireland spokesman Lembit Opik last week, even to the extent of accusing him of “apologising for IRA murderers.”

The outburst came in the debate after Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy announced the Government’s plan to impose financial sanctions on Sinn Fein over the Northern Bank robbery.

It was surprising given that it came after Opik said the Liberal Democrats were prepared to support the sanctions, a hardline position when compared to that of the Irish Government and the SDLP, which both say they are opposed to sanctions, as Seamus Mallon made clear during the debate.

However, Opik qualified his support by asking that his party leader Charles Kennedy be shown the evidence which led the Government to conclude that the IRA was responsible for the Northern bank robbery.

On the face of it, this is a perfectly reasonable request. After all, as a member of the Queen’s Privy Council, Kennedy can surely be trusted with sensitive information just as much as Lord Alderdice, the chair of the Independent Monitoring Commission and the former head of the Alliance, the Lib Dem’s sister party in Northern Ireland.

The Lib Dems can hardly be expected to simply take the Government at their word. As Opik pointed out in the pages of this paper last week, this is the same Government that asked us to take on trust its claims on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, claims that turned out to be false.

There was no indication by the end of last week that the Government was prepared to accede to the Liberal Democrats’ call. Things may be a bit clearer by the time you read this. It seems likely that the motion will pass with or without Lib Dem support.

It will certainly strip Sinn Fein of their allowances and may block them from having access to Westminster altogether.

That should be cause for concern for several reasons. Recall that even Hugh Orde, the PSNI Chief Constable who originally pointed the finger at the IRA over the Northern Bank job, said he didn’t know if Sinn Fein politicians knew about the robbery.

The elected representatives of 300,000 people will be penalised by people who haven’t seen the evidence, on the word of people who aren’t even clear that they knew anything about the incident that led to the sanctions in the first place.

You might think that because Sinn Fein don’t take their seats in Parliament, these sanctions are only of symbolic significance.

In fact, although Sinn Fein don’t sit in the Commons chamber, they are very active at Westminster, holding regular meetings and press conferences there. Last week, for example, Alex Maskey was in town for the sanctions debate.

Indeed, when it comes to regularity of attendance at the ‘Westminster village’, Sinn Fein probably have some rivals amongst the Northern Ireland parties for the abstentionist vote.

The Sinn Fein offices that are under threat are heavily involved in lobbying around Irish issues, including issues related to the Irish in Britain.

If, as is very possible, Sinn Fein increase their representation at the next general election at the expense of the SDLP, this motion will mean that the Irish nationalist voice at Westminster will be penalised still further.

Now wonder Dr Paisley is all in favour of it, evidence or no evidence.

Isn't it interesting how the British government is incapable of producing any evidence to back up their claims about the Provisional IRA?


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