Republic of Ireland news

Collusion with loyalist paramilitaries not a government policy – Sir John Major

John Major and Taoiseach Albert Reynolds pictured at a press conference in 1993 ahead of the Downing Street Declaration. Picture: AP Photo/Dave Caulkin
Rebecca Black, PA

Collusion with loyalist paramilitaries was not a government policy, former UK prime minister Sir John Major has said.

Sir John was answering questions from Sinn Féin MP John Finucane, whose father Pat was murdered by loyalists in 1989.

During a meeting of an Irish government committee, Mr Finucane outlined to Sir John reports which he said found evidence of collusion.

A report by former UN war crimes prosecutor Sir Desmond de Silva into the murder of Mr Finucane found significant levels of state collusion involving the Army, police and MI5, but said there was no evidence of an “overarching state conspiracy”.

Sir John had been giving evidence to the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which includes elected members from Northern Ireland as well as the Irish Republic,

Mr Finucane thanked Sir John for the role he played in the peace process.

He went on to raise the agent Brian Nelson, the murder of his father and the importation of arms from South Africa for loyalist paramilitaries.

“What we know now from investigations and reports by Lord Stevens, by former Canadian supreme court judge Peter Cory, by Sir Desmond De Silva, the scale of collusion between British intelligence organisations and loyalists that was ongoing from the earliest days of the conflict,” Mr Finucane said.

“All reports confirmed that collusion existed between British intelligence agencies and loyalist paramilitaries.”

Mr Finucane asked Sir John if he had been “briefed on this strategy”.

Sir John extended his condolences to Mr Finucane on the death of his father.

“I am surprised at the comments you make about collusion between the intelligence agencies and the loyalist paramilitaries. I’m puzzled, I was certainly never briefed on that,” he said.

“I certainly wasn’t aware of either of the things you mentioned, arms from South Africa or indeed anything else, I wasn’t briefed on them then and nor have I been briefed in the papers I have seen subsequently.

“I do know emphatically it was not the policy that I was aware of, either as foreign secretary or later as prime minister, that there was any such collusion. That was not something that I was aware of.”

Sir John said he would deplore collusion, adding: “It certainly wasn’t something which I was aware, there was a great deal of discussion, Irish politicians with the paramilitary bodies, I think that is certainly beyond doubt, but the intelligence agencies is a proposition I am much less certain about, I could make inquiries, but I don’t think that helps anyone very much at this stage.

“I was certainly not briefed about it so I certainly didn’t actively approve of it because I wasn’t aware of it.”

Mr Finucane also took issue with a comment in Sir John’s opening remarks, when in reference to Sinn Fein’s calls to take the gun out of Irish politics, Sir John said the Army and the police “did not bomb, murder or knee-cap”.

In reference to the Government’s controversial draft legacy legislation which proposes to stop court cases around Troubles crimes, Sir John said he was reluctant to comment as he is no longer in Parliament and not privy to discussions on legacy.


Sinn Fein MP John Finucane has urged the British government to ditch the controversial Legacy Bill to deal with Northern Ireland's troubled past (Brian Lawless/PA)


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