Sinn Fein leadership accused of collusion with British Government

August 19, 2013

Sinn Fein is at the centre of controversial new allegations which suggest the party’s leadership pressed the British Government not to apprehend leading Provos in south Armagh for fear of destabilising the IRA’s ceasefire.

The revelations were made by a former senior police officer who claimed that vital evidence in relation to the Omagh bomb atrocity may have been withheld from the original police investigation for fear of endangering the IRA ceasefire.  The former officer, who was one of the last detectives to investigate the Omagh bomb atrocity, alleged that Downing Street was warned by Sinn Féin that arresting suspects in south Armagh would destabilise the ceasefire and therefore made the decision not to release intelligence that could lead to arrests.

“The warning was given in the strongest terms,” former chief superintendent Norman Baxter told the Belfast Telegraph on the 15th anniversary of the Real IRA massacre last week.

“I would support a public inquiry into the decision-making process following this call and whether it led to evidence in the hands of the intelligence services being withheld from the police investigation” he added.

The 1998 Omagh bomb was the single worst terrorist atrocity of the Troubles, prompting widespread outrage at the killing of 29 people and unborn twins.

To date, no one has ever been successfully brought to justice in a criminal court for the atrocity. One man, Colm Murphy, was jailed in 2002 in the Republic of Ireland for the attack but his conviction was later overturned and he was acquitted during a retrial.

Another suspect, Sean Hoey was prosecuted in Northern Ireland but acquitted in 2007.

The only legal victory in the aftermath of the atrocity has been a civil case brought by families of the victims against four men – Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly.  All four were held liable for the attack and the families were awarded £1.6m in damages, while the case against one man, Seamus McKenna, was dismissed. He died last month.

Former chief superintendent Baxter highlighted the findings of a 2008 BBC Panorama programme which revealed that a phone used by the Omagh bombers was being monitored by GCHQ, the UK’s electronic surveillance agency, with MI5 oversight.  Despite this, RUC and Garda detectives trawled through over 6 million numbers in an attempt to identify likely numbers used by the bombers in the attack, even though those numbers had already been identified by GCHQ.

Mr Baxter claims the reason this information was not handed over may have been due to a message from pro-peace process republicans to British officials on the morning after the bombing.

“On the Sunday (August 16, 1998) Sinn Fein people contacted representatives from Downing Street who were involved in the peace process.

“They advised them that if the green army, the British military, went into south Armagh to make arrests, the ceasefire would break. That was very strongly put,” said Mr Baxter.

Mr Baxter called for an enquiry to ascertain whether “following that contact, a decision was made not to release intelligence that would lead to arrests.”

SDLP Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh Dominic Bradley MLA expressed his concerns at the allegations of Sinn Fein’s collusion with the British Government and said both had “very serious questions to answer.”

“It is 15 years since Omagh was devastated by a vicious Real IRA bomb. It traumatised not only those who were directly affected, but their families and loved ones.  On the 15th anniversary of the bomb, this must be very distressing news for the families and all of those affected” said Mr Bradley,

“The victims of the Omagh atrocity need and deserve the truth about what happened and information about the gathering and sharing of intelligence material is vital. These new revelations make the case made by the Omagh families for an inquiry even more compelling.

“These latest revelations show that both the Sinn Féin Leadership and indeed the British Government at the highest levels have very serious questions to answer.  Just who was protecting who in this case?  We were all used to seeing  the hot house talks in Downing Street, but now we know what really went on between Sinn Féin and the British, they were protecting their own, meanwhile lives were still being lost on our streets.’

“If Sinn Féin told the British Government to back off on Omagh, did they tell them the same in relation to other murders; did they tell them to do the same for those who murdered Paul Quinn?

“These new allegations serve to strengthen the need for a realistic and practical inquiry in the Omagh bomb and its aftermath.  It is important not only for the families but to ensure that a similar tragedy can never happen again.”