Wednesday was British budget day. From early that morning Downing Street was humming with scores of cameras, photographers and journalists eagerly awaiting the British Chancellor’s emergence from Number 11.
Traditionally the Minister holds high his little box of secrets to be snapped and filmed from every possible angle before going off to the British Parliament to reveal all to his peers and the public.
As that event was unfolding this Blog and the Deputy First Minister arrived in London and slipped into Number 10 for a private meeting with Gordon Brown. Our focus was to press him to bring forward new proposals on a Bill of Rights. 12 years after the Good Friday Agreement the draft proposals from the NIO are disgraceful. So, we need new proposals that take account of the advice from both the Bill of Rights Forum and the Human Rights Commission.
Bloody Sunday was high on our agenda for discussion. This Blog was outraged by the decision of the British Secretary of State Shaun Woodward not to give preferential access to the families over his officials and to delay publication of the finished report in order to allow what he described as a ‘very small team of officials and legal advisers’ to examine the report to ensure that it contains nothing which might breach Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. And we told Mr. Brown this.
Martin McGuinness also pressed him on other demands that the family are making.
Shaun Woodward claims that his decision is to ensure that no information provided to the Inquiry under Public Interest Immunity Certificates is published. The fact that the Tribunal has said that it doesn’t refer to any such material, has not prevented the British Secretary of State from ensuring that British government officials get first sight of the report.
Moreover, the likely announcement of a British general election is now also being used to justify a further delay of publication beyond the election. Mr. Woodward has said that if the British Parliament is dissolved before the report is ready it will have to wait until the next time the Parliament meets.
None of this should be used as an excuse to hold up publication of the Saville report. The families have already faced years of frustration in seeking the truth. After 12 years of the Saville Inquiry there should be no further delays. The report should be published.
In our conversation with Gordon Brown on Wednesday afternoon we also expressed our concerns at the role of British intelligence agencies within so-called dissident republican groups, and in particular the circumstances surrounding the murder of Kieran Doherty.
The pension rights of Visteon workers were also raised by me. This Blog has spoken to Gordon Brown before on Visteon and pressed him again to ensure that the Pensions Regulator carries out an exhaustive probe into Visteon and in particular the transfer of assets by Ford and Visteon out of the pension funds of Visteon workers.
It’s now approaching the first anniversary of the closure of Visteon and the exposure of this scandal. Those who lost their jobs, those with pension rights and other citizens have a right to know the truth about the behaviour of Ford and the Visteon management and to be assured that those responsible for this scandal will be held to account.
Mr. Brown outlined his view of the Presbyterian Mutual Society controversy and listened to Martin’s proposal for alleviating the plight of those most badly affected by this issue.
This Blog also spoke to the British leader about the circumstances surrounding the killings of 11 people shot dead by the British Army in August 1971 in the Ballymurphy area. We have talked about this before and this Blog pressed the British PM to meet the families. They want the truth. They want and deserve an independent international investigation into the deaths of their loved ones and an apology from the British government. It’s important that the British establishment face up to what was done in its name in Ballymurphy 40 years ago.
On a more positive note we gave some attention to the plan to hand over former British Military bases to the northern Executive.
We also spoke at some length about the rights of Irish speakers, Acht na Gaeilge and related matters.
These and other matters are the ongoing substance of discussions between Irish republicans and the British government. Day in and day out these continue.
The ongoing struggle for change truly is a process. Periodically there are breakthroughs, like recently at Hillsborough, but the battle for change is generally incremental and almost inch by inch. It needs persistence and consistency. It is also opposed by devious and lazy bureaucrats, as well as naysayers and bigots.
As we left Downing St we wished Gordon Brown well for the election. "One thing is for certain," I remarked to Martin, "Whoever the next British Prime Minister is he’ll find us here on all these issues. And on the bigger issue of Irish unity!"