Posted by: the watchmen | March 20, 2008

Secret Government-IRA link

A SECRET 20-year ‘back channel’ between the British Government and the IRA saved the Northern Ireland peace process, a former Downing Steeet aide has claimed.
Tony Blair’s ex-chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, claims a Londonderry businessman and MI5 and MI6 officers risked their lives to allow ministers and terrorist leaders to communicate from 1973 to 1993.

It follows allegations by the 51-year-old in his memoirs that Mr Blair sought meeting swith masked members of the IRA Army Council in a desperate bid to seal a peace deal in Northern Ireland.

His book, Great Hatred Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, also said the talks may never have survived if it had not been for the clandestine link.

He adds that the DUP set up its own link to Sinn Fein – something the party today strenuosly denied.

Mr Powell writes: “It is very hard for democratic governments to admit talking to terrorist groups while those groups are still killing innocent people.

“Luckily for this process, the British government’s back channel to the Provisional IRA had been in existence whenever required since 1973.”

‘Locked box’

He said the link, described as “contained in a locked box” was used only three times:

  • To negotiate an IRA ceasefire in the 70s;
  • During the first IRA hunger strike in 1980;
  • And in the early stages of the peace process in the 90s.

Powell said the link was accessible through businessman Brendan Duddy and his MI6 handlers.

The network broke down in 1993 when Martin McGuinness lashed out at claims he had sent a message saying the IRA’s armed conflict was over.

And Ian Paisley slammed John Major over the channel when it was revealed in 1993.

DUP deny link

Mr Powell describes the DUP as no different from the Government, saying they used their own secret channel to Sinn Fein when Mr Paisley’s party won the elections to the 2003 Assembly.

The former aide says: “They (the DUP] were no different from the British Government at the time of John Major or Margaret Thatcher saying they never had contacts with the IRA – but actually (they were] doing so as well.”

He believes the public photo-call between Mr Paisley and Gerry Adams in

March last year would have been “difficult” if that back channel had not been “building confidence over time”.

However, deputy leader of the DUP Peter Robinson said today: “There was no back channel to Sinn Fein at all, not at any point (before March last year].

“The meeting (Mr Powell] is referring to was when three of us (Mr Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Ian Paisley Jnr] were sanctioned by the party executive to meet Sinn Fein on (Saturday) March 24.

“Up until that day we had never had any meeting, under any guise. I had never spoken to Sinn Fein, never met Sinn Fein, until that day.”

A spokesman for Sinn Fein said today it was making no comment on Mr Powell’s account of the network – the first by a senior British official during the crucial Blair years.

Blair ‘wanted to woo IRA leader

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