West Belfast priest's appeal to British Government rebuffed in 1993
STATE papers reveal British government efforts to help a TV company defend a libel action by alleged republicans.
A proposal by NI secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew to release data on the funding of nationalist businesses in west Belfast was blocked by Stormont officials.
The documents relate to a 1989 television programme in the Cook Report series. Blood Money alleged that Conway Mill in west Belfast was "the financial nerve centre of the Provisional IRA".
A memo by NIO official David Brooker to colleagues dated February 8, 1993, recorded that individuals named in the documentary brought libel proceedings against Central Television.
Central approached Sir Patrick in 1992 to see whether the British government would provide material to help them in court. It hoped for a government statement or RUC witness "to demonstrate a direct link" between republicans and the mill.
Central was particularly concerned, the official noted, that west Belfast priest and patron of Conway Mill, Fr Des Wilson might claim the decision to withdraw government funding was "simply a bias against nationalists".
Sir Patrick told the company that one way of rebutting this would be to highlight "the long list of nationalist groups which received funding" from government.
In a report of a meeting between Sir Patrick and Marshall Stewart, Central TV’s director of corporate strategy, on June 25, 1993, Stewart said that the plaintiffs would claim that the programme damaged their reputation.
When Mr Stewart revealed that Central TV was thinking of a six-figure out-of-court settlement, Sir Patrick pointed out that £15,000 was awarded in a separate case taken by a republican. He said it would be possible to produce a list of nationalist organisations funded by government "and that should see off Fr Wilson".
This caused alarm among NIO officials. John McConnell from the Stormont Central Secretariat, informed colleagues he would be "very reluctant to identify (nationalist organisations)".
In the end it was decided to provide Central TV with some indication of the scale of funding.
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Separate memos from 1993 show the British Government upheld a decision to withhold funding for Conway Mill despite an appeal from Fr Wilson.
David Fell of the Stormont Central Secretariat told ministers that in 1985, "following concern about the possible exploitation of public funds by paramilitary organisations", then Secretary of State Douglas Hurd withheld funding from some community groups.
The first denied support under the 1985 decision, upheld by Mr Hurd’s successor, Tom King, based in Conway Mill.
The issue was re-ignited in 1993 when the chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, William McCarter and the Chief Executive of the International Development Board, John B McGuckian received requests for a meeting from the Conway Street Community Enterprise Project.
In the letter, dated June 1, 1993, Fr Wilson suggested that the time had come for a reassessment.
The political implications of such a decision exercised officials, with one noting any policy change "could be seen as government endorsing and strengthening the position of paramilitaries in the area which would be strongly deprecated by the Nationalist community of the area which does not support Sinn Féin".
The file contains a letter to Mr McCarter from an Ohio Congressman, Martin Hoke dated September 23, 1993, complaining at the denial of funding "solely because the British government disagrees with the politics of Fr Wilson".
In September 1993, Sir Patrick confirmed the existing policy while noting "the possible political implications".