And they base their argument on the recent collapse of the so-called Stormont Spy Ring case.
In a strongly worded letter, the leaders, writing under the name of an umbrella group, the Irish American Action Committee, accuse the British government of bringing down the assembly.
“In October of 2002, the leaders write, “your government closed down the Northern Ireland Assembly, charging three people including Denis Donaldson, then Sinn Fein’s head of administration at Stormont, with running an ‘IRA spy ring.’
“On 9 December 2005, the ‘Stormont Spy Ring’ case ended at Belfast Crown Court when your government directed that all charges be dropped. Seven days later, Denis Donaldson, admitted having served as a paid agent for the British Security forces for 20 years. The British government has not disputed his claim.”
In their letter, the Irish American leaders contend that the assembly, despite its limitations, provided the people of Northern with their first opportunity for democratic debate and self-government on a genuinely representative basis since the partition of Ireland.
It was, they argued, “a remarkable achievement for tolerance and fairness” by all the parties involved in reaching the Good Friday agreement.
However, the continued, successive British secretaries of state had twice acted “unilaterally” to shutter the gates of Stormont and shatter the aspirations of people of all political and religious persuasions.
“Each time they cited information from the British security services of foul play by Sinn Fein. Once again this ‘information’ has been exposed as a fabrication. In this latest debacle, the only ‘spy ring’ at Stormont was that orchestrated by the British security services themselves.”
The implications, the leaders asserted, were serious in the extreme.
British officials promised devolved government but had violated that promise and manipulated the fragile institutions of power sharing.
The result was that, nearly eight years after the Good Friday agreement, those institutions had been in operation for only 20 months, with direct rule from Britain for the overwhelming majority of the time.
“Your government bears the responsibility for bringing down the freely and democratically elected Assembly. If this happened in any other part of the world, a British Prime Minister would be first in line to condemn such police state misconduct,” the letter stated.
The peoples of Ireland and Britain were all stakeholders in the peace process but their confidence had been betrayed.
“Unless British security services are operating without control and accountability, senior persons in your government must have known throughout that ‘Stormontgate’ was a fraud and that Donaldson was working for your own security services,” the letter continued.
“The tragic irony is that while the devolved assembly was allowed to run, it worked better than anyone had reasonably expected. With cross-community confidence now at an all time low, your government bears the responsibility for restoring hope and breathing new life into a moribund peace process.
“At the very least, all stakeholders in the peace process have the right to an open and transparent inquiry into how and why Britain’s intelligence services brought the assembly down three years ago.
“Just as importantly, the British government has to show the resolve necessary by immediately re-instating the political institutions and make the Good Friday agreement work,” the signatories concluded.
The letter to Blair, which was faxed to Downing Street, was signed by Frank Durkin for Americans for a New Irish Agenda; Ned McGinley for the Ancient Order of Hibernians; James Cullen, Patrick Doherty and Steven McCabe of the Brehon Law Societies; Robert Linnon of the Irish American Unity Conference; Joe Jamison for the Irish American Labor Coalition; Paul Doris of the Irish Northern Aid Committee; Sean Cahill of the Irish Parades Emergency Committee; Edmund Lynch for Lawyers’ Alliance and Julie Coleman, who is secretary of the Irish American Action Committee.