JUSTICE MINISTER ALAN Shatter has criticised Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin for making what he called “disingenuous, inaccurate and misleading comments” about documents relating to the Northern Ireland peace process.
Shatter said that Martin’s “off-the-wall” statement about the papers was “rooted in wilful amnesia”, as well as being a “bizarre own goal” because the issue was dealt with by the previous, Fianna Fáil-led government.
The Minister was responding to the Fianna Fáil leader’s attack over the transfer of documents about decommissioning in Northern Ireland to Boston College.
Martin had asked why “sensitive national archives on the peace process were being sent to the US,” stating that the move was ill-considered and potentially damaging to the peace process.
Shatter said Martin was looking to make “a political football” out of an issue that had cross-party support in the Dáil.
Lengthy consultations since 1997
The decision to remove the documents was taken by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning after “lengthy consultations” with the previous Irish and British governments, explained Shatter.
Present at those discussion was former Minister for Justice and Fianna Fáil TD Dermot Ahern.
The Commission – the body appointed in 1997 to oversee the process of putting ‘beyond use’ weapons used in the Northern Ireland conflict - made arrangements for various documents detailing the views of political parties and other correspondence from individuals.
“Details of the quantity of arms decommissioned by the various paramilitary groups were placed with the US State Department to preserve their security and confidentiality on the basis of the Commission’s assessment that the time was not right for them to be made public,” said Shatter.
The papers are to be kept under embargo for the next 30 years.
It was the Commission which made these arrangements to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of their archive in the public interests and in the interests of the peace process.
Shatter added that the documents about decommissioning were of a “general nature” and do not contain “sensitive information in relation to individuals that could be of assistance in criminal investigations.
Martin also questioned the decision to keep the papers at Boston College because it is “involved in a major controversy about protecting the integrity of its sealed archives”.
He referred to the Northern Ireland Oral History Project which is the subject of legal proceedings following which the College may be forced to open the archive, which includes copies of interviews with ex-members of the IRA.
He called for clarification as to whether this case has implications for the new documents to be deposited at the institution.
The fact that there is a question mark over the ability of Boston College to protect sensitive political papers in their archives from premature release is an issue of real concern. Alan Shatter needs to clarify on what basis he agreed to give hugely sensitive papers relating to the decommissioning process in Ireland to Boston College rather than entrust them to the Irish National Archives.
Shatter countered that the documents are of an “entirely different nature” to the material subject to current proceedings. He added that Martin’s statement on the matter was motivated by “blatant political opportunism”.