Posted By: October 16, 2015

CAPITOL HILL. Thursday, October 15, 2015— Not for the first time —indeed it’s all the time — the importance of the Washington-connection to progress in Northern Ireland
has been demonstrated.

This time it has to do with the proposed Stormont House Agreement (SHA)— the proposed Bill for dealing with the legacy of the past. Two of its key institutions are: “The Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) – an independent organization that will take forward outstanding investigations into Troubles-related deaths.[And]The Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) – an independent body established by international agreement between the UK and Irish Governments that will enable victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information about the Troubles-related deaths of their next of kin…”

Fr. Sean Mc Manus, President of the Capitol Hill -based Irish National Caucus, has spent over 40 years raising the Irish issue in the US Congress. Former Congressman Ben Gilman (R-NY), Chairman of the House International Affairs Committee, has stated “ No one has done more than Fr. Mc Manus to keep the US Congress on track regarding justice in Ireland.” Fr. Mc Manus has been intimately involved with every single Congressional Hearing human rights in Northern Ireland since 1973.

Fr. Mc Manus said: “ I was forced to take another look at the proposed SHA when I read an article by Eamon Sweeney in the Derry Journal,  “Derry Trouble’s relatives scathing of Stormont House Agreement” (Monday, September 28, 2015). The article simply demanded my attention: ‘ Some relatives of people shot dead in Derry [Bloody Sunday, 1972] had long held suspicions that a deal was made allowing perpetrators of killings to make a confession and walk away with assurances of immunity from prosecution. And, despite this being denied by political parties and the Northern Ireland Office, the assertions were confirmed in fact by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers last week.’
How could that not get this Fermanagh man’s attention? So I did what I’ve been doing for over 40 years. I sent the article as a briefing paper to many Members of Congress— careful to make clear that it was not my critique of SHA but a news article of which they should be aware.”
The article also stated: “…the draft version of the SHA, containing detail on how to deal with the legacy of the conflict was released on line last Wednesday [September 23].”
Yet, apparently only a few brave souls were prepared to speak up. Others claimed they had no knowledge of what the draft contained, even though some are very skeptical of that.

The next development was that Eamon Sweeney wanted an interview. Fr. Mc Manus  joked that if he refused an interview with the Derry Journal, John Hume and Martin Mc Guinness would be upset, so he gave the interview; and  then Jilly Beattie of Belfast Live wanted an interview, which he gave so that Peter Robinson and Jerry Adams would not be  upset. Both interviews were also to sent around the Congress by the Irish National Caucus as further briefing papers.

“ The very first thing I said was that it was not for the Irish National Caucus to chart the course on the SHA— that was up to the people there and to the Northern Ireland Assembly. That we wanted what the victims want: what the Finucane family wants, what Raymond Mc Cord wants, what the Bloody Sunday families want, what the Ballymurphy families want— all the victims, Protestants as well as Catholics. However, I said I could not but be alarmed by a number of things— was the draft version providing amnesty to, say, British leaders, soldiers and police guilty of murder and collusion?; was the old favorite fall-back of the British Government going to be supreme– anything could be condoned or covered up in the interest of national security? For example, the respected Belfast attorney Padraigin Drinan, with a long history of advocating for justice and human rights, asserts : “Although the proposed Stormont House Agreement  refers to ‘limited immunity,’ it is in fact amnesty. They say it is not an amnesty because if the Historical Investigative Unit (HIU) gets evidence from elsewhere (apart from people’s own admission/confession) they can still recommend prosecution.However, they have given the HIU only the powers of the police ombudsman and we know how weak those were. David Ford, Northern Ireland Justice Minister, said that he expected only a couple of prosecutions in the unsolved cases.”
“Why were obvious people being silent on this? Why was it being left to a few individuals, without funding or institutions behind them, to do all the whistle blowing?
That concerned me greatly. What was going on?”
Fr. Mc Manus then explained: “I next sent to Congress  another briefing paper, an article by Brian Feeney, former elected SDLP official, and respected columnist for the Belfast Irish News , which charges:”[SHA]…  begins with the unconvincing claim that ‘the institutions have the needs of the victims and their families are at their heart.’ No. The needs of secrecy in the Ministry of Defense, the NIO and the Home Office are at their heart…Anyone who believes the Policing Board will hold the HIU accountable is living in cloud-cuckoo land. The secretary of state will have oversight of the HIU regarding reserved and excepted matters…. The UK government will prevent disclosure of any material or information ‘likely to prejudice national security (including information from the intelligence services).’None of this material can be published ‘without the consent of the secretary of state.’”
The Derry Journal on September 8 again  reported: “Some relatives of people shot dead in Derry had long held suspicions that a deal was made allowing perpetrators of killings to make a confession and walk away with assurances of immunity from prosecution. These fears were confirmed this week when the ‘Derry Journal’ obtained and published a copy of the legislation.”

Fr. Mc Manus continued: “ When it was reported that I felt that many of these disturbing concerns could become the focus of the next Congressional Hearing (and why shouldn’t they?), I was informed it struck home. The British Government got very concerned, as it has historically at the specter of Congressional scrutiny. Sadly, London never really cared about what Belfast thought, only Washington.”
Belfast Protestant Raymond Mc Cord, who has campaigned since 1997 for justice for his murdered son, echoed that point about Belfast: “Once again Fr. Mc Manus is riding to the rescue, as he did in the case of my son, Raymond, Junior. When nobody in Belfast would help me, this Fermanagh priest in Washington helped me to get a Congressional Hearing at which I was proud to testify. A Congressional Hearing on the proposed Stormont House Agreement would be fantastic.”
The silence was broken, and others began to speak out against the draft version of the Bill: “Mark Thompson, director of campaign group Relatives for Justice, said the group could not support the bill as it stands, and accused the British government of failing to properly investigate Troubles-related deaths.There can be no doubt that Villiers was forced to pull this piece of bad faith legislation.”
Daniel Holder from the Committee on the Administration of Justice said that in their view the Northern Ireland Office was trying to depart dramatically from the Stormont House Agreement. This is not least by trying to undermine the independence of the HIU with a raft of powers for ministers themselves to censor reports to families on the deliberately vague grounds of national security,” he said.(Controversial bill on past delayed amid concerns. Connla Young. Irish News (Belfast). Tuesday, October 13, 2015).

Northern Ireland-born Jilly Beattie, Daily Mirror and website, has reported extensively on the Stormont House Agreement.
She said: “We first reported on September 30 that Fr. McManus had weighed in on this issue and we believed his inclusion in the debate could be a game-changer— and so it has proved to be.
A day earlier the five political parties in Northern Ireland, who agreed to be part of the Agreement last year, had been handed the draft proposals and they remained publicly silent on the matter… Fr. McManus started making calls and sending emails reflecting his concerns about the Agreement, and there was a perceptible change of atmosphere the moment he got involved.
Suddenly it appeared America, and the most powerful and respected Irish voice in America, were questioning the proposed legislation and sources told us there was a change of gear in both London and Belfast.
And then it happened. Eight days after they received the document and seven days after we announced Fr. McManus had become involved, Sinn Fein denounced the Agreement, claiming it was not what they had agreed to, claiming they had been let down by the British Government. Their silence for more than a week has still not been explained.
Their supporters demanded the paperwork was rescinded and others urged the country to show no support for it. The SDLP and the Alliance party followed in similar vein. The unionist parties appear to be struggling with it too.
I understand that at the heart of the legislation should be Troubles’ victims and their needs, truth, justice and transparency. But Fr. McManus spotted the flaw – so many victims felt they were being ignored, their chances of prosecutions diminished and their hope for justice disappearing with it.
I feel it’s no coincidence that his involvement pre-empted a change of approach. I wondered what it might trigger and I watched with interest as it appeared to focus minds in a way we rarely see,” she concluded.

The Bill, which was supposed to be submitted on October 12, has now been postponed because of the furor.

Fr. Mc Manus concluded: “ Can you believe some, who should know better, have even tried to stop me from raising the issue in the US Congress? That, as my Jewish friends say, takes some chutzpah. Imagine any one, at this stage of my 71-year life, trying to stop me from raising the Irish issue in Congress? Telling me that is almost like telling me to stop being Catholic. Those folk are on a fool’s errand.”