Fighting terrorism in Ireland and in Europe

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) remains a concern to and a possible destabilizing factor in the peace process, former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton said in an interview with Kathimerini English Edition. Bruton, who was in Athens on Wednesday for the EXPOSEC conference on security systems, was elected prime minister in 1994 and served until 1997. Earlier he served as Leader of the Irish House of Representatives from 1982 to 1986 and was deeply involved in the Irish peace process. According to Bruton, the IRA maintains much of its arsenal and military structure, stressing that it remains unclear what kind of peace they desire. Another possible threat to the peace process, according to Bruton, could come from grassroots unionists who appear to be dissatisfied with the peace process. The former prime minister also expressed his concern over a recent report by the BBC that Northern Ireland’s police and military intelligence collaborated with Protestant extremists in the late 1980s over the murder of Catholics, saying that «this is very serious.» He calls for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ireland, similar to that in Rwanda and earlier in South Africa. Finally, he discusses the current security environment in Europe, measures to combat terrorism, and the possible cost to civil liberties. What is the situation with the IRA and the Real IRA today? The Provisional IRA, which has called a ceasefire, is the most important organization by a long way, and they are linked to Sinn Fein, which is in office in Northern Ireland and has five or six seats in our Parliament. This is unprecedented in Europe, having a political party in office and in an associate administration – with some influence in a sovereign Parliament – that is associated with a terrorist organization. Although (the IRA) is inactive, it still has its military structure fully in place, and still has its military capacity fully in place. As the leadership of Sinn Fein said a few years ago about the IRA, «they have not gone away you know… they are still there.» While we have had a peace process that has involved some measure of disarmament by the IRA, the disarmament is only partial, and may very well be slight if we knew the full extent of their armaments. It remains a concern, and it is a greater concern because that movement has political influence as well as a terrorist capacity. They are not a marginalized group anymore; they have some measure of political power and voice. Still, they have decided that they want to retain, if you like, a terrorist capacity. They say they are committed to the peace process, but what does that mean? Is that a peace process where peace is defined in terms of succeeding and achieving their objectives? Is it a peace process where peace is defined in terms of absence of violence? Or is it defined by an agreement which everybody is happy with? You have been deeply involved in the peace process. How do you feel about the way things stand right now? One would have to say that since the peace process started in 1993-94, a lot of progress has been made. The level of violence has diminished enormously. Of course there is still some violence, but it is slight. As far as the Irish nationalists are concerned, a lot of progress is being made; they are now participating in government in Northern Ireland, the police service is being reformed, and all-Ireland institutions are in existence and operating. From the point of view of unionists, they have made progress in that there isn’t violence any more. They were the victims of much of the violence, but they are not satisfied. They feel that the present arrangements are temporary and that there will be another push for further concessions, and they don’t feel secure. So, at the moment it could be said that one of the main threats to the peace process in Ireland comes from grassroots unionists’ dissatisfaction, rather than dissatisfaction among the nationalists. The BBC reported on Wednesday that, according to reports, Northern Ireland’s police and military intelligence collaborated with Protestant extremists in the late 1980s over the murder of Catholics. What is your reaction? This is very serious. If one goes back to the definition of terrorism that I used earlier – that it is the use of force which is not sanctioned by a sovereign government – it is extremely serious and subversive if there is, in fact, collusion between a sovereign government and a terrorist organization – which is what the (Ulster Volunteer Force) UVF is – particularly if it is done in a secret way and favors one side of the conflict over the other. So this is a very serious situation. The only thing one can say is that since this is about something that happened in the past, before the peace agreement, before the police services reform, before we had an inclusive government in Northern Ireland, it would be a mistake to assume that the sort of thing that happened then could necessarily happen now. I think that there were strong suspicions amongst many people that there was a relationship between some people in the (Royal Ulster Constabulary) RUC Special Branch and loyalist terrorists. There were also investigations into why bombs were exploded in Dublin in the early part of the troubles, and whether there was some British security force complicity in those events. It has to be said, however, that things have been happening on the other side which would give concern. For instance, it would appear that some members of the IRA have been involved very recently in assisting terrorist organizations in Colombia. So nobody has a monopoly of virtue in this. I know that the IRA isn’t a sovereign government and their involvement in Colombia isn’t as serious as the RUC’s involvement with the UVF. But at the same time the IRA is associated with Sinn Fein, which is in government in Northern Ireland, and which is in Parliament in the Republic. And for an organization associated with people who are in Parliament to be involved in fomenting terrorism in another country is extremely serious. Do you see this report creating any strong reactions in Ireland? I think it will not create enormous reactions because people realize this is something that happened in the past. There is a phrase used about a debate between two communities in Northern Ireland, which is: «What about?» Whenever you point to something that loyalist terrorists have done, people would say, «What about the things the IRA have done?» And whenever you point to something that the Irish government may appear to have done, people would say, «What about the involvement of the British security forces?» I have no doubt that this will become part of the debate between the two communities. But one has to ensure that the people involved are prosecuted, and once this happens that should be the end of it. We should move on with the process of reconciliation. In my view, what we need in Ireland is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where all of the truth, all of the activities and actors, both state and paramilitary, are confronted, and which is followed by a process of reconciliation. If you see what is happening in Rwanda at the moment I think we can learn from that. In Rwanda you have a process which makes sure that the truth about the genocide comes out in the context not just of punishment, but also of creating the basis for reconciliation. In Northern Ireland we have a lot to learn, and maybe we ought to learn from what they are doing in Rwanda. What happened in Rwanda was, in proportionate terms, 10,000 times worse than what has happened in Ireland; and yet they seem to be moving faster toward the process of reconciliation than we are. Following the September 11 attacks in the United States, calls have been made for stronger security measures, even if they were to come at the cost of some civil liberties. What do you believe should be done in Europe? I think it is possible to reconcile greater security with the protection of human rights. I think we need to have initiatives such as the European arrest warrant, a European border police, and even, in some cases, preventive detention; but all these should be done in the context of a Charter of Fundamental Rights which puts limits on the circumstances under which such powers may be used, and which also ensures a regular review of the exercise of any additional powers that the security authorities should be given. At the EU level, what is happening is that we are moving forward with a very ambitious agenda in the area of what is called justice and home affairs, which is anti-crime and anti-terrorism measures. But in parallel with that, we have developed a Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is likely to have the binding force of law in the near future with respect to anything that is done by any member state in pursuit of EU policies. So if we have an EU policy on a common arrest warrant, for example, there will be an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to limit its use. We have to be realistic, though. There are times when one has to diminish certain rights for the security of a greater number of people, and there are other times when one puts more emphasis on individual rights and has a lower level of security. These are matters of pragmatic judgment, under the circumstances. The important thing is that there be a system of regular review so that powers do not continue to be used after they have ceased to be necessary. How concerned are you about threats of terrorism in Europe? I come from a country where we have lived with terrorism for 30 years, and one of my fellow MPs was murdered by the IRA – this is an MP that was from southern Ireland – and we have suffered 3,000 deaths over that period in Ireland as a whole from the activities of terrorist organizations such as the IRA and its rivals, the loyalist organizations. In a sense, these terrorists operated within certain sets of rules. For example, when they were putting bombs in populated areas they tended to give warnings, whereas clearly no warning was given before the attack of September 11. So what we are seeing here is that terrorism has become more desperate; terrorism no longer imposes limits on itself that would have been imposed before. And, of course, this requires a more radical response from the authorities. As of now, it seems that the principal target of the Islamic terrorist organizations is the United States, and Europe may also become a target. Europe faces a very difficult choice. Clearly it must support the United States, but to the extent that it does, it invites attacks within Europe. It is also the case that obviously there are much larger Islamic populations in Europe, and Europe is much nearer to the Islamic world geographically. But it is also the case that Europe has been very happy to have found shelter under the nuclear and military umbrella of the United States for the last 50 years. We don’t need the nuclear umbrella as much as we did. We must be sure that we are willing to protect our common values, and we must be willing to make some sacrifices to defend America. But equally, if that is so, Americans must also recognize that they cannot act unilaterally. There are some risks that the United States intends to act unilaterally, in Iraq for instance, and which could trigger a major confrontation. Another controversial issue that has been raised since September 11 is the definition of a terrorist. A popular saying is that «one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.» Coming from a place like Ireland, what is your view? The big difficulty here is that in the past, one could have defined a terrorist as someone who was using force without the sanction of a legitimate government, and that provided a neat definition. But the world has changed now, to the extent that in some cases there are areas of the world where there is no legitimate government, such as Afghanistan and Somalia. We also have become so interdependent that it is very hard for governments to control activities that are occurring within their own territories. It is very hard to know whether the activities of terrorists are sanctioned by governments or not. And, if you like, the old international order has broken down. The war in Sarajevo started in 1914 because a terrorist attack occurred and the Austrians were not satisfied with every aspect of the response the Serbs gave. They wanted an Austrian government official to participate in the court process to try the offender inside Serbia, and when that was granted the war started. There, at least, you had two states and they had agreed on most of the things except this last item they could not agree upon. Now, there isn’t even a common definition of the limits of what one state can do to another. For instance, Kosovo is part of sovereign Serb territory, and yet the international coalition felt it was entitled to intervene there militarily, in defiance of the wishes of the sovereign government. In other words, sovereignty was set aside to serve the purpose of the international coalition. But if we set aside sovereignty in that way, we are creating a situation in which we are also setting aside the basis that previously would have been used to define who was and who wasn’t a terrorist. In other words, a terrorist would have been a person that uses force without the sanction of a sovereign government. It is an unresolved dilemma which we must resolve. I believe that what should have been done was to have some form of an international conference in the immediate aftermath of September 11, and within two to three weeks to have a global agreement on what constitutes [terrorism]. And if that didn’t result in an agreement, then force could have been used unilaterally by the United States. Unfortunately they didn’t do that, they just went ahead and used force against Afghanistan – probably hitting the right targets, but not doing it on the basis of any international definition of what constitutes terrorism. Unfortunately, an opportunity to put such a definition in place was lost, and we now have to find other ways to reach such a definition of terrorism. It is an international responsibility; it is not just for Europe or the United States. There needs to be a definition of «terrorist» that is accepted by all countries like China, India, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel.