By David Young, PA
Bertie Ahern overstated a disparity in a sectarian murder count as he and Tony Blair discussed claims police in Northern Ireland were showing double standards when investigating killings, archives have suggested.
A confidential internal Northern Ireland Office memo reveals that the issue was raised in talks between the UK prime minister and Taoiseach in February 1998, months prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
The memo references allegations made by Sinn Féin that the Royal Ulster Constabulary was not doing enough to catch loyalist paramilitary killers.
The note from an official to the private secretary of the then Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam said: “Sinn Féin has been running the line vigorously all week that the police do not do enough to make amenable loyalists who murder Catholics whereas they appear to be able to arrest and charge republicans very speedily.”
The memo, that has been released by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, went on to outline details of recent murders in the region and who had been responsible for the killings.
It said since January 1997, republicans had been responsible for eight murders whereas loyalists had murdered 21 people.
It said eight men at that point faced charges in respect of three of the eight republican killings while 14 individuals had been charged in connection with six of the 21 loyalist killings.
“The main difficulty facing the RUC, and giving credence to Sinn Fein’s accusations, is that no-one has yet been made amenable for any of the eight loyalist murders since Christmas, although the police have questioned a number of prime suspects and several loyalists have been charged with lesser offences (possession etc),” the letter from the Government official said.
“The RUC continue to make strenuous efforts to bring those responsible to book.”
The letter, dated February 20, 1998, then went on to outline brief details on Mr Blair and Mr Ahern’s discussion on the matter.
“In his conversation with the Prime Minister today, the Taoiseach referred to 17 of the 19 victims in the past six months being Catholic,” it stated.
“In fact, since July 20, 11 Catholics and six protestants have died, 10 Catholics and three protestants at the hands of loyalists.”
The note concluded: “Sinn Féin have also alleged that far more Catholics are being shot and wounded. Some 11 Catholics have been injured in sectarian gun attacks since Christmas.
“However, most shooting injuries continue to be caused by punishment attacks carried out by paramilitaries by members of their own community (20 republicans and 18 loyalist shootings sicne (sic) 20 July last year).”
Attached to the memo were suggested lines for Ms Mowlam to take when speaking publicly about the issue.
The speaking note for the Secretary of State included the statement: “All these murders are appalling, whichever organisation is responsible.
“The Chief Constable of the RUC and his force share the revulsion of every right-thinking person at these crimes and are sparing no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice, from whatever side of the community they come.
“It is wholly unfair and inaccurate to suggest that the RUC are partial in their investigation of terrorist crime.”