Calls for honest account of 1980s history.
By Jarlath Kearney
Relatives of people killed by state-sponsored violence in the North have called for an “honest” appraisal of the Anglo-Irish Agreement's position in modern history.
This week marked 20 years since the Irish and British governments signed the agreement.
Mark Thompson of the Belfast-based group Relatives for Justice said any analysis of the 1985 agreement must include an examination of the way that British government agencies had managed loyalist violence.
He pointed out that, in 1985, just five people were killed by loyalists. Most of the victims were members of the unionist community.
However, within months of the agreement being signed, British government intelligence agencies began the process of reorganising and rearming loyalist paramilitaries through the work of Ulster Defence Association agent Brian Nelson.
“It was never any coincidence that, whenever there was a political initiative designed to alienate mainstream republican opinion, loyalist violence was in a sharp decline,” Mr Thompson said.
“In 1985, Thatcher and FitzGerald were looking at how to address the increasing force of republican
politics after the hunger strikes.
“The agreement was clearly designed to separate the nationalist community and break it up, elevating one political philosophy linked with the SDLP above another linked with Sinn Féin.
“But for that to work politically, then the conditions had to be right and what happened was that loyalist violence was effectively switched off for the entire year of 1985. There were just a small number of loyalist killings,” Mr Thompson said.
Recalling the aggressive and sustained nature of unionist protests at the time, Mr Thompson said the natural outcome ought to have been “a high body count of nationalists” caused by increased loyalist paramilitary attacks.
“In fact, quite the opposite happened. Taken together with the post-Anglo-Irish Agreement period during which Brian Nelson was recruited, this demonstrates that the British government controlled the project of switching loyalist activity on and off in tandem with specific political objectives.
“In 1987, when it became clear that the political project of trying to isolate republicans and stop the rise of Sinn Féin had failed, Brian Nelson was brought back in by the Force Research Unit, and then the major arms shipment came in from South Africa to rearm the death squads.
“There is a direct correlation
between the political and military tactics. Hundreds of nationalists died as a result of that, including the provision of information from Special Branch and the clearance of assassination routes through heavily militarised nationalist communities,” Mr Thompson said.
Describing the upsurge in collusion around the mid-1980s as “the real, untold story”, Mr Thompson called for an “honest” account of the period's history.
“This week has seen some sterile, academic historical reflections on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. But we would call on academics, the media and the wider community to reflect on the obvious ability of the British government to switch on and off loyalist violence. It is notable that this element of history has been disregarded,” Mr Thompson said.