So they think it’s all over in Northern Ireland?
August 6th, 2012
05:36 PM ET

So they think it’s all over in Northern Ireland?

By Jane Winter, Special to CNN

Jane Winter is director of British Irish Rights Watch, an independent non-governmental organization. The views expressed are her own.

Peace has broken out and nobody needs to worry about Northern Ireland anymore. At least, that’s what the British government would like you to think. The reality is different.

Fourteen years on from the Belfast/Good Friday peace agreement brokered by U.S. Senator George Mitchell, active paramilitaries are still out there with the capacity to inflict serious violence and do real damage to the peace process. Hardly a day passes without an attack on the police or some innocent Catholic or Protestant.

However, it’s not just the paramilitaries that put the peace process at risk; our decision makers also have a lot to answer for.

Who would have thought that in 2012, there would once again be a protest in one of Northern Ireland’s prisons that mirrors the hunger strikes back in the 1980s? Who would have believed that, for the second time in her life, Marian Price, convicted of IRA bombings in London in the 1970s, would find herself the only female prisoner in an all-male jail, simply because there’s no high-security facility for female prisoners in Northern Ireland?  Who would have believed that the Police Ombudsman would be forced to resign over his lack of independence?

Who would have expected the government to ditch the Bill of Rights that was promised in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement to reflect the particular needs of Northern Ireland as it moved from conflict to an uneasy peace? Who would have dreamed that the groundbreaking police Historical Enquiries Team, which is looking at unsolved murders arising out of the conflict, would end up having to refer viable cases back to the very police service it was investigating?  Who would have foreseen that, having set up at considerable public expense a Consultative Group on the Past, the government would simply bury its recommendations virtually without a trace?

And, finally, who could have imagined that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron would summon the family of Patrick Finucane, a lawyer murdered in 1989 with the involvement of military intelligence, the police, and the intelligence service MI5, only to tell them that he would not give them the inquiry public opinion believes  they deserve?

The situation in Northern Ireland may seem like chicken feed when compared with the problems in many other countries, but Northern Ireland has many lessons for the rest of the world about dealing with counterterrorism, unfortunately most of them negative. It’s a tragedy that the British army, while deployed in Iraq, is accused of using the same techniques of torture and ill-treatment that it developed during internment without trial in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. This despite promises to the U.K. Parliament and to the European Court of Human Rights that those methods would never be used again.

It’s equally tragic that something akin to internment is under contemplation in the U.K in draft legislation, and that evidence has emerged pointing to complicity by British intelligence services in torture in third countries. Such actions simply create more terrorists and more martyrs to their cause.  We ignore the lessons of Northern Ireland at our peril.

That’s why friends of Northern Ireland, in the United States, the Republic of Ireland, and elsewhere in the world, shouldn’t take their eye off the ball. It was their friendship and leadership, especially in the United States, that made the peace process possible and kept it alive. Their scrutiny is vital to ensuring that Northern Ireland doesn’t slip quietly back into undeclared war, but finds a way of moving forward into a truly democratic and peaceful future where there is respect for everyone’s human rights.

As a first step toward turning the spotlight on Northern Ireland, those friends should be asking the British government what it intends to do about delivering the Bill of Rights it promised for Northern Ireland.

Jane Winter is director of British Irish Rights Watch, an independent non-governmental organization. The views expressed are her own.

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