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Smithwick was ‘weak’ on his collusion claim

By Anthony Neeson

One of Belfast’s leading Sinn Féin figures says he doesn’t believe there was any collusion in the IRA killing of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan.

In an in-depth interview with the Andersonstown News, Chair of Belfast Sinn Féin, former prisoner Bobby Storey, says the men – the most senior RUC men to be killed during the conflict – “made a huge mistake underestimating the IRA”.

Last week Judge Peter Smithwick said that on the balance of probability there was collusion between someone within the Gardaí and the IRA in the 1989 shootings in south Armagh. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams came under attack in the aftermath of the publication of the  Smithwick  report from opposition parties in the South as well as sections of the southern media for suggesting that the two RUC men had taken a “laissez faire” attitude to their personal security.

However, Bobby says that the media attacks on Sinn Féin are more to do with his party’s increasing successes south of the border.

“The IRA said there was no collusion and I believe that,” Bobby Storey told the Andersonstown News this week. “Smithwick’s abstract notion that there must have been collusion is very weak.  Many journalists at that time said they found it incredible that two such high-profile RUC officers would travel through south Armagh and Dundalk, in their own personal car, without cover, so regularly. So in that sense there did not even need to be any collusion. It’s almost surprising they got away with it for so long. Simply put, they made a huge mistake underestimating the IRA in that area.”

With Gerry Adams in recent months facing questions over his handling of sex abuse allegations against his brother Liam and the disappearance of West Belfast mother-of-ten Jean McConville, the ex-IRA man  said he has “a fairly philosophical attitude to on-going attacks on the Sinn Féin leadership”.

“This is not a new thing. At various times over many years, particularly in the run-in to elections, our political opponents have engaged in the sort of behaviour Micheál Martin [Fianna Fáil leader]  engaged in last week.

“There would be no media attacks on Sinn Féin if our agenda wasn’t biting, if our strategy wasn’t working.

“This assault is aimed at undermining the consistent growth of republicanism across the island as we head towards next year’s elections north and south. We are fielding up to 400 candidates next year, that’s what the annoyance amongst our political opponents is really about.

“We are the only credible opposition in the south, we’re the second largest party in the north, the largest in Belfast, we’re continuing to grow, and only a week ago, Gerry Adams’ personal rating went up by two per cent amidst the almost hysterical slanderous campaign against him.”

Reflecting on the past forty years and the progress that has been made, Bobby said he joined “the republican struggle” at a time when “a war raged on our streets”.

“It was a time when Sinn Féin as a political party was banned, a time when second-class citizenship was alive and well, a time when unionism was clinging on to the old ways by their fingertips.

“We changed all of that. Republicans lifted our people off their knees and I’m proud of that. But as republicans it has always been about uniting Ireland, about building a republic on this island. We are now in that nation-building phase of struggle.

“In very broad terms, our all-Ireland strategy is working away at pace. Republicans now sit in every political institution on this island – we are out there agitating, arguing and persuading for a united Ireland.

“Let us be very clear, Britain’s involvement in Ireland is as toxic now as it was in 1969 or 1916. We are advancing the historical, political and moral right to a united Ireland and we stand up the argument that an all-island entity is the economic, practical solution to Ireland’s future.”

However, in terms of the current political scene, he says there is clearly an impasse.

“Peter Robinson’s letter from America rejecting the agreed peace centre at the H-Blocks underscores the neurotic nature of unionist political leaders. Add to that the decisions taken by Edwin Poots and Nelson McCausland, and you then add into the mix the reality that the British and Irish governments are not focused and you have a particularly chaotic time within unionism/loyalism.”

Looking back on the past year, Bobby, who took part in the 1983 ‘Great Escape’ from Long Kesh, said the decision last December by Belfast City Council to limit the flying of the union flag at City Hall was about equality, parity of esteem and shared space.

“It was also about a recognition that Belfast as a city had changed.”

He added: “However, the move was misrepresented, indeed distorted, in 40,000 leaflets put out by the two main unionist parties aimed at inciting and motivating loyalist grassroots to see it as a cultural attack, giving us all the last year of chaos on the streets and, sadly, they now can’t get that genie back into the bottle.

“The flag issue, the correct decision on the Ardoyne parade, recent census figures and a clear lack of political leadership have all fed into chaos and demoralisation in the unionist/loyalist camp.

“Unionist people have a choice to make – they can allow people like Jamie Bryson and Willie Frazer to set the agenda – yet they represent nobody – or they can commit to the politics of the peace process and knuckle down with the rest of us in the Assembly in underpinning the political process.”

In terms of Sinn Féin he says there are now more members in Belfast than ever before. The appeal of the party is growing, within and beyond their traditional areas, he claimed.

“Currently we have a great political base within the institutions to work with. Nationally we have 181 councillors, 29 MLAs, 14 TDs,  five MPs, three senators and one MEP. However, we are still not big enough or strong enough and the series of elections provides us with a further opportunity to grow.

“There are European and local elections across the island next May.  In both elections we will field around 400 candidates. In the six counties our European candidate is current MEP Martina Anderson. In Belfast all our candidates have been identified and selected, including areas we have not stood in previously. We are looking forward to increased percentages in our vote and in City Hall representation.

“We are the largest party on Belfast City Council, but not the majority, so every extra vote, every extra councillor will make a difference to the republican operation in Council. While there have been cuts across local government in Britain, and the south, we used our strength to secure £150 million in capital investment launched in February.

“We secured 2,500 jobs, created another 200 direct jobs and hundreds of indirect jobs. We secured £15 million in the GAA pitches strategy, and are about to launch £105 million investment in leisure, including £19 million for a new Andersonstown  Leisure Centre. We significantly advanced the equality agenda with the flag decision, recognition of the Gaeltacht Quarter, bilingual signage, investment in several Irish language programmes.

“We’ve also had two mayors in three years, both champions of the Irish language, one of whom was the youngest in Ireland. We set the rate at a nought per cent increase – given inflation, that’s an effective cut of two per cent, which we hope to hang on to, as it is good for small businesses and householders alike.

“Colin is moving out of Lisburn Borough Council into Belfast, ending 40-odd years of that Council’s sectarian bias against the people of Twinbrook, Poleglass and Lagmore.”

Sinn Féin’s detractors claim nothing has changed since the IRA ceasefire, but the Riverdale republican disagrees.

“So much has changed,” he says. “The Orange State is gone, the RUC has gone, and there is equality in law.  Belfast is no longer seen as a unionist city. Sinn Féin is the largest party in Belfast.

“A traditional black taxi drive through the West will show you that the fabric and quality of life in our community is completely different from the dark old days under unionist domination.

“There has been millions invested in recent years, across the West. More recently, there have been improvements in the indices around crime figures and unemployment in West Belfast.

“The new Casement Park will play a major role in the regeneration of West Belfast. It has the potential to do for the West what the Titanic centre has done for the East. They are talking about 1,500 jobs in the construction of the stadium alone and then everything that flows from that. The St Comgall’s project should get the go-ahead next year. We will also have the new Children’s Hospital at the RVH.

“In recent years we’ve also seen new-builds at La Salle, St Genevieve’s, St Dominic’s,  the new E3 development and  Dunville Park, while work will start on Coláiste Feirste and Falls Park.

“Even in the current environmental improvements from Milltown Cemetery through to Andersonstown, the very aesthetics are improving around us all.”

Taking Paul Maskey out of Stormont to step into Gerry Adams’ MP shoes has also been beneficial to the West Belfast constituency, he argues.

“It was a brave move. His diary’s full, he’s working for the people of West Belfast and in recent months has led a number of trade missions to Dublin, London and the US. It’s all about jobs and delivering for the people of West Belfast.”

With US diplomat Richard Haass back in Belfast this week ahead of two weeks of intensive Christmas talks with the five main Stormont parties, Bobby Storey says the process is entering “a crucial stage”.

“He [Haass] divided his work into three phases, the first two – consultation and pre-negotiation – have concluded and it is now into negotiation.

“He will meet all the political parties twice in bi-laterals and will meet the two governments. I expect he will come back with proposals around truth and recovery – acknowledging victims and survivors – issues of justice, parades, flags etcetera. Then if there is any common ground, I would think it would get down to specific negotiations to find agreement.”

And what about the dissident groups?

“It’s a fractured world,” he says. “There is now a so-called new group every month, although it’s mostly the same people falling out and then starting their own gang. It’s becoming like 50 Shades of Green.

“They have no support, are counterproductive, consumed in criminality and extortion. They exist within our community like fifth columnists – the enemy within. There are similarities to the British Army’s Military Reaction Force, because these groups also are armed, they blend in, masquerade as republicans, and do 99 per cent of their damage within the nationalist-republican community. Who does that suit? Well, certainly not republicanism.

“Shooting at armour plated jeeps are publicity stunts – no way will the occupants be injured, everyone involved knows it, it’s a sham fight. You would think the pathetic incident in Ardoyne outside a chapel, near loyalist protesters, had more to do with creating sectarian conflict, which was the precise brief of the MRF. So we’re back to the question: just whose agenda are they serving?”

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