The Irish deputy prime minister (or Tanaiste), Eamon Gilmore, has defended the actions of successive Irish government after members of the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion calling on the Dublin administration to apologise for its role in the development of the IRA.
Calls for an apology gained traction last week, following a meeting held between the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and the relatives of 10 Protestant workers who were killed in 1979 by the IRA in South Armagh. The massacre, which took place in the village of Kingsmill, saw 11 men taken from a minibus with ten being shot dead.
Initially, a group calling itself the South Armagh Republican Action Force claimed responsibility, arguing it was in revenge for the killing of six Catholics the night before. An historical enquiries team later concluded responsibility for the killings lay with the Provisional IRA, despite it having been on ceasefire.
At the meeting, held last week in Dublin, relatives of those killed had sought from the Taioseach an apology for what they described as the Republic’s inaction over the killings.
Outlining the relative’s thoughts, Willie Frazer, a spokesman for the Group, said that they were seeking a formal acknowledgement the Irish State had failed to deal with the IRA during its reign of terror throughout the Troubles, explaining:
“We made it quite clear, we’re not asking him to apologise for the IRA. We are asking him to apologise for the lack of ability for the Irish government in dealing with the IRA. We want to make that quite clear.”
Whilst expressing sympathies, however, the Taoiseach stopped short of an outright apology, arguing:
“I assured them that there is no hierarchy of victims, and that their concerns are every bit as important to me as the concerns of other victims and their families.”
“I told them that the IRA was the common enemy of all of the people of Ireland, of all traditions, north and south, and that their campaign of violence was strongly resisted by successive Irish governments.”
The reluctance of Dublin to issue an apology led Northern Ireland’s first mninister, Peter Robinson, to add his weight to calls for an apology, arguing last week:
“There is a clear connection between what the IRA did in its infancy and the government of the Irish Republic.
“I think the Irish Republic would do well to look at its role and recognise that it was not the way it should have behaved in those days, and apologise for it because massive death and destruction followed.”
On Monday, however, members of the Stormont Assembly approved a motion by just one vote that noted the UK government’s apologies in relation to Bloody Sunday and the Claudy bombing and called on the Irish prime minister to issue an apology concerning the:
“…role played by the Irish government of the day in the emergence of the Provisional IRA and the roles of past governments regarding the pursuit of terrorists.”
In presenting the motion, the DUP MLA, Gregory Campbell, argued:
“I note that the Taoiseach last week indicated that he could not apologise for the actions of the IRA. This motion does not seek an apology from the Government or Prime Minister of the Irish Republic for the actions of the IRA.
“We may seek apologies from the IRA for the actions that it was responsible for, but the predecessor of Enda Kenny, Jack Lynch, was in government as Taoiseach of the Irish Republic and, with the full knowledge of members of his Cabinet, allowed money to be given to the emerging Provisional IRA. It is for that that we ask him to apologise.
“We are not asking him to apologise for the actions of the Provos, but we are saying to Mr Kenny and to the Irish Republic’s Government: you acted as a midwife at the birth of the Provo monster that we had to deal with for 30 years. It took 30 years to defeat and disarm that monster, but eventually that was accomplished.
“We now want to try to bring closure to many people who suffered as a result of those 30 years, and we want you, Mr Kenny, to acknowledge the events of your predecessor Government and Taoiseach and accept that the government played a part in that emerging force and apologise for it.
“We would then close the book and move on, hopefully to more explicit apologies from those who carried out the activities and atrocities in the first place.”
In response to the motion, however, Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s deputy prime minister has now argued successive Irish governments did all they could to address the problem of the IRA.
“Successive Irish governments worked very hard to crack down, and very successfully crack down, on the IRA and on terrorist organisations.
“One has to look back over the years - there was special legislation introduced, special courts established, members of the IRA were arrested, members of the Garda and the Irish defence forces lost their lives in the fight against terrorism and of course over the decades successive Irish governments have worked very hard to bring about a settlement which was eventually encapsulated in the Good Friday Agreement and the agreements which succeeded.”