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November 08, 2004

News 11/08/04 - Ahern On Decommissioning

News about Ireland & the Irish

UT 11/08/04 Ahern On IRA Decommissioning
NL 11/08/04 SF Bid To Cut Out Unionism Is Just Fascism, Says MP
SM 11/08/04 Adams To Discuss Peace Impasse With U.S. Envoy
IO 11/08/04 PSNI Probes Sectarian Assault During Football Game
UT 11/08/04 Police Use CS Spray In Clash
BT 11/08/04 Policing Board Post 'Must Be Retained'
BT 11/08/04 Racially Motivated Attacks In Ballymena
BT 11/08/04 FBI Probes Hoax Bomb Find Under Noraid Car
NL 11/08/04 Plans To Crack Down On 'Illegal Charities'
BT 11/08/04 Euro Apology Over Seminar 'Offence'
NL 11/08/04 Republicans Can Join PSNI - Trimble
EX 11/08/04 6 Lives Lost In One Weekend On Roads
GU 11/08/04 Ibiza On The Liffey: But Where Are The Irish?
IN 11/08/04 New Age Nuns: Why We Kicked The Habit


Ahern On IRA Decommissioning

Bertie Ahern today gave his strongest indication yet that the IRA
is on track to decommission its weapons by the end of the year.

He said it would be an "enormous tragedy" if a breakthrough in the
peace process was not made within the next two weeks and urged all
parties to make a concerted effort to reach agreement.

"We are so near," he said. "But I fear some think there is some
tactical advantage to be gained by long-fingering this.

"But they are wrong, really wrong, and should reflect very closely
on where we have moved and what`s on offer."

Mr Ahern called on all parties to think about whether it was really
a good tactical move to leave the entire process on the back-burner
until 2006.

"What is it in 2006 that will make it easier?" he asked.

He said a report claiming that behind-the-scenes talks with both
the British and Irish Governments, the DUP and Sinn Fein included
the prospect of IRA decommissioning by the end of the year should
not be discounted.

"It is very near the mark," he added.

The Taoiseach said people would be amused if they knew the issues
currently preventing progress.

"We are within a fortnight of making a decision," he added. "So we
can crack the outstanding points and do it comprehensibly and
successfully or decide, having almost got there for the third time
in a two-year period, to leave it aside."

He said that if negotiations were allowed to drift now, elections
scheduled for next year in both Britain and Northern Ireland would
push the whole process back to 2006.

"That would be a real tragedy - a real mistake," he added.

Mr Ahern urged all parties involved that if there was more work to
be done, to do it now. He said he had agreed with British Prime
Minister Tony Blair that they would do everything possible over the
coming days to reach agreement.

The Democratic Unionists have been accused by some quarters of
deliberately delaying the process.

The Rev Ian Paisley`s reluctance to strike a deal with Sinn Fein on
the issue of power-sharing has been the focus of recent talks.


SF Bid To Cut Out Unionism Is Just Fascism, Says MP

By Stephen Dempster Political Correspondent
Monday 8th November 2004

REPUBLICAN demands to move the political process forward without
the DUP would set peace back years, according to DUP MP Jeffrey

Earlier, Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin backed party leader
Gerry Adams' assessment that the talks had failed and that the
British and Irish governments should press on without the DUP and
impose some form of joint authority.

He also hinted that this change of direction could include an
alternative deal with the IRA and suggested that the governments
could publish their own deal and put it to the people in fresh
Assembly elections.

Mr Donaldson dismissed the Sinn Fein proposals as "a nonsense" and
totally unworkable.

"Firstly, I do not think the talks have failed and Gerry Adams is
premature in saying that they have," said the Lagan Valley MP.

"And any failure there has been is on the part of Sinn Fein who
have failed to reduce the ability of the IRA to indulge in violence
and criminality."

Mr Donaldson said the Sinn Fein call on the governments amounted to
"threats" but the DUP would not be intimidated.

He said they were a smokescreen to divert the media focus away from
last week's damning IMC report, which said the IRA showed no signs
of dismantling.

The DUP man said it would be "a nonsense" for the Government to
reward the IRA with joint authority in return for the IMC report
and added that "it would set the process back decades".

Mr McLaughlin said Sinn Fein had come to the conclusion that the
DUP was not ready for power-sharing and the process could be
"rolled out" without them, because the structures for power-sharing
between the governments were there, in the shape of cross-border
bodies and other elements of the Agreement.

Mr Donaldson asked: "What would be the attraction of cutting out

"That would be unadulterated fascism. It would ignore the views of
one million unionists and the ballot box."

The debate took place on the BBC's Politics Show, during which the
two men spoke directly to each other in the television studio.

As they were making their cases, the heated debate developed into a
direct exchange of views - out of keeping with DUP policy.

A DUP spokesman said that this was not the first time that such a
confrontation had taken place but denied that this was a breach of
the party's no-talkswithrepublicans maxim.

He said that such television situations were difficult to handle
and there was a fine line between answering a Sinn Fein member's
allegations through a presenter and actually addressing the
republican representative.

"It's difficult but we have pledged to confront Sinn Fein and, when
they make charges and allegations against unionists in these
debates, there are moments were we may have to step in," he said.


Adams To Discuss Peace Impasse With U.S. Envoy

By Dan McGinn, PA Ireland Political Editor

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is to meet US President George Bush's
special envoy for Northern Ireland to discuss the current deadlock
in negotiations to restore devolution, it emerged today.

The West Belfast MP will hold talks with Ambassador Mitchell Reiss
in Washington on Wednesday before returning to Ireland after a
week-long tour of the United States.

It is the first meeting both men have had since President Bush's
election victory last week.

Mr Adams, who has been in New York in recent days, said: "In the
course of the past week or so I have met with senior US Congress
members, senators and governors and with Irish American
organisations to update them on the ongoing efforts to end the
impasse in the peace process.

"In the course of the past week or so I have met with senior
Congress members, Senators and Governors and with Irish American
organisations to update them on the ongoing efforts to end the
impasse in the peace process. I also attend a number of functions
organised by Friends of Sinn Féin.

"The US continues to be a vital component in securing the peace
process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Wednesday's meeting with Mitchell Reiss will provide an early
opportunity in the wake of last week's presidential election to
urge all those in the US and particularly within the administration
to continue to play this important role."

Northern Ireland politicians and the British and Irish Governments
have been frustrated in recent weeks by the failure to reach a
comprehensive deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

In September, Prime Minister Tony Blair said after talks at Leeds
Castle in Kent, which also involved Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern,
that he believed the IRA was close to making significant moves on
the completion of disarmament and regarding its future.

However, unionists and nationalists clashed over future
arrangements for a power– sharing government.

The Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists have been demanding that
devolved ministers are made more accountable in a future Stormont
executive to their cabinet colleagues and to the Assembly.

However, Sinn Fein and the nationalist SDLP have accused the DUP of
trying to secure a veto over the work of other parties' ministers
and of trying to water down and limit the scope of cross-border co-
operation with the Irish Government.

Last week, the four-member Independent Monitoring Commission also
reported a reduction in IRA violence but said that in the six
months between March and September there were still no signs of any
moves by the Provisionals to wind their organisation down.

The Democratic Unionists have insisted that the IRA must fade away
and fully disarm if they are ever to share power with Sinn Fein.

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern are expected to put proposals before Northern
Ireland's parties to restore devolution by November 26.


PSNI Probes Alleged Sectarian Assault During Football Game
2004-11-08 11:20:05+00

Police in the North are investigating an alleged sectarian assault
on two Catholic players during a football match in south Belfast

Local Sinn Féin Assembly member Michael Ferguson claimed the two
teenagers were attacked by supporters of a team from the loyalist
Shankill Road.

"In the course of the match, two players clashed and the supporters
of the team from the Shankill went onto the pitch," he said.

"Sectarian abuse of players cannot be tolerated. Racist or physical
abuse of players cannot be accepted under any circumstances."


Police Use CS Spray In Clash

Police in north Belfast used CS spray during a clash with up to 30
people yesterday.

A spokesperson for the PSNI said police were confronted by the
crowd in the Westland Road area.

The PSNI said they were forced to use CS spray after a policeman
was surrounded by a group of men with baseball bats.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said the trouble started on Sunday
morning when loyalists entered the area and began slashing car

He said residents confronted the gang to defend their property.

The north Belfast MLA added that when police arrived at the
Westland Gardens area, they attacked local residents and not the

The North Belfast MLA claimed that when police arrived, they
attacked local residents and not the loyalists.

A PSNI spokeswoman said police were confronted by a hostile crowd
in the Westland Road area.

She said they were forced to use CS spray when an officer was
surrounded by men with baseball bats.

All incidents where CS spray is used are referred to the Police
Ombudsman's office.


Policing Board Post 'Must Be Retained'

By Chris Thornton
08 November 2004

The post of police Oversight Commissioner needs to be retained to
shepherd further police reform, the SDLP said today.

Alex Attwood marked the third anniversary of the Policing Board's
establishment by calling for the extension of the post, which is
due to expire next year.

Mr Attwood, the SDLP policing spokesman, said the work of
Commissioner Al Hutchinson "helps keep the pressure up for Patten's

Mr Attwood said police reform has advanced faster over the past
three years than his party expected when they joined the board.

But the divisions that remain within nationalism about policing
were highlighted again at the weekend, when Sinn Fein claimed that
PSNI officers used CS spray on nationalist residents of north
Belfast. Sinn Fein still refuses to take part in PSNI oversight
bodies such as the Policing Board because the party says not enough
reforms have taken place.

Mr Attwood said Mr Hutchinson's most recent report - which noted
"excellent progress" in implementing the Patten Report's reforms -
showed how much has changed.

"Already we have changed the structures of policing with the
Policing Board, Police Ombudsman and District Policing
Partnerships," he said. "Structures have changed in the police too
? especially with the end of Special Branch and the Full Time
Reserve being phased out.

"Now we are changing the culture of policing. Police use of force
is dramatically down. No plastic bullets have been fired in over
two years. Complaints about police use of firearms and batons are
down to a third of what they were running at two years ago.

"But we are only entering the fourth year of Patten's ten-year
programme of change and there is more to do."


Racially Motivated Attacks In Ballymena

08 November 2004

There have been 17 racially motivated attacks in Ballymena in the
last three months, members of Ballymena District Policing
Partnership have been told.

District Commander, Supt Terry Shevlin also revealed that from
April to June there have been two homophobic attacks and 33 crimes
against elderly persons.

"It wasn't a case of 17 separate incidents and some were repeat
attacks on an individual but thankfully that problem seems to have
resolved itself," Supt. Shevlin said.

He added: "We work very closely with Ballymena Ethnic Forum to try
and pro-actively resolve the problem.

"People have the right to live in a safe environment and to receive
the appropriate service from the police."

Supt. Shevlin added that officers now have access to a 24-hour
helpline to put them in contact with a translator.


FBI Probes Hoax Bomb Find Under Noraid Car

Vehicle had been used by Florida Four

By Sean O'Driscoll in New York
08 November 2004

The FBI in Florida was today investigating an elaborate hoax bomb
found under a car owned by a prominent member of the republican
fundraising group, Noraid.

The car was previously owned Anthony Smith, and later Conor
Claxton, two of the Florida Four who were convicted of gunrunning
for the IRA four years ago.

The device, built to mimic an electronically detonated car bomb,
was discovered under the car of Jim R Panaro when he sent his car
for an oil change at a garage in the south Florida town of
Hollywood last Thursday.

The surrounding neighbourhood was evacuated while the Broward
Sheriff's Office bomb squad used a remote-controlled robot to
remove and destroy the device.

Hollywood Police Captain Tony Rode told the media he could not
comment on the investigation but said that the question remains:
"Who would do such a nefarious act?"

Mr Panaro (51), has been a high profile figure in Noraid, a North
American group which raises funds for Irish republican groups and
supported the IRA's campaign during the Troubles.

In 2000, he raised more than $$100,000 to help pay for the legal
expenses of four people later convicted of buying weapons for the
IRA. The money was also used to fly the accuseds' family members in
from Northern Ireland during the trial.

He was a frequent media commentator on the trial and strongly
criticised the sentencing judge.

Mr Panaro confirmed at the weekend that his car had previously been
owned by Conor Claxton, a former IRA member and one of the four
people convicted in the Florida trial.

Police say they don't know how long the device had been attached to
the bottom of the car.

A spokesperson said the device was made with a plastic box that was
wrapped with black tape and attached to the car with a clay-like

Yellow and red lines ran from the box to the light fuse used to
light up the car's license plate.

Claxton, one of the Florida Four, bought the 1994 Teal Geo Prism in
early 1999 from co-defendant Anthony Smyth.


Plans To Crack Down On 'Illegal Charities'

By Elinor Glynn
Monday 8th November 2004

RACKETEERS using charities to mask their operations face a
countrywide crackdown on their illegal activities on both sides of
the border.

Regulations are to be tightened in plans by the British and Irish
governments to substantially curb the use of charities as fronts
for the channelling of paramilitary funds.

The lack of charity regulation in Northern Ireland and the Republic
allows paramilitaries and criminal gangs to engage in money
laundering, fraud and terrorism.

New legislation is being prepared in Dublin and, in a coordinated
move, a review is under way in Northern Ireland.

According to security sources, charities have been used in some
cases to move money across the border and abroad.

Protection payments have also been collected by paramilitary
racketeers from businesses under the guise of tax-exempt charitable

In England and Wales, charitable organisations are governed by a
regulatory body, the Charity Commissioners. No such safeguard
exists in the Republic.

Registration with the tax authorities is all that is required and,
in Northern Ireland, a charity's records can only be examined if
there are reasonable grounds for suspicion.

In the rest of the UK, they are open to regular inspection.

The danger of abuse in Ulster was highlighted in the recent report
by the International Monitoring Commission (IMC) on paramilitary

It pointed out that, in Northern Ireland, charities can boost their
income by claiming tax relief on donations by UK taxpayers.

Of the 3,500 charities in Belfast registered with the Inland
Revenue, however, only 40 per cent claimed the money, suggesting
that they were not soliciting donations from the public.

While some may be funded by Government grants, in other cases
charitable status may be a channel for paramilitary funds, the IMC

That danger has also been highlighted in a report on organised
crime in Northern Ireland, prepared by Professor Ronald Goldstock
for the Government.

He recommended that specialist firms of accountants should by
brought in to target corruption centred on the construction
industry and charity sectors.

It is understood this idea is being evaluated by the NIO as part of
a review of the charitable sector which should be completed next


Euro Apology Over Seminar 'Offence'

By Simon Taylor in Brussels
08 November 2004

The head of the Northern Ireland executive office in Brussels has
apologised for upset caused by an ex-IRA prisoner speaking at a
seminar in September.

In a letter to Democratic Unionist MEP Jim Allister, Tony Canavan,
director of the NI Executive office, said he regretted the
"offence" caused by the involvement of head of a prisoners
rehabilitation group, Tommy McKearney, in the event which was
designed to showcase peace and reconciliation projects funded by
the EU.

Mr Canavan accepted that the seminar programme lacked the
"necessary balance" and admitted that remarks by Mr McKearney about
the Irish tricolour flying over Stormont was in "poor taste".

Jim Allister called the event a "disgrace", saying he had
"protested vigorously about the imbalance", with "not a single
representative of the majority Unionist community" taking part in
the seminar and the "neglect of victims in the partisan programme
hosted by Mr Canavan".

The DUP MEP, who boycotted a reception hosted by the NI Executive
Office in protest at Mr McKearney's inclusion in the seminar, said
that while the harm caused by the event could not be undone, he
welcomed the apology.

He stressed, however, that he would keep the operation of the NI
Executive office in Brussels and the body which organised the
seminar, the SEUPB, "under very close scrutiny".

News of the apology came as the SEUPB, which oversees spending of
EU funds on peace and reconciliation and cross-border co-operation
projects, announced that the European Commission was currently
examining a proposal to grant Northern Ireland and the border
counties over £107m for peace programme projects.

Pat Colgan, chief executive of the SEUPB, said: "We welcome the
ongoing discussions in Brussels about securing the budget to fund
the Peace II extension as recommended by the Commission.

"Negotiations are ongoing and a final decision will be made towards
the end of the year. A successful decision will mean that we will
secure a substantial extension.

"It must be stressed that this represents new funding that
otherwise has not been earmarked for the programme and will be a
major boost to the ongoing promotion of peace and reconciliation


Republicans Can Join PSNI - Trimble

By Stephen Dempster Political Correspondent
Monday 8th November 2004

ULSTER Unionist leader David Trimble has revealed he has no problem
with Sinn Fein/IRA supporters joining the PSNI - as long as they
commit to peace, democracy and the status quo.

The MP has said republicans who have criminal convictions must
never be allowed into the police.

But he has effectively conceded that republicans - without criminal
records or pre-ceasefire terror involvement - could join the force,
by dropping their political activity and violent associations.

Sinn Fein remains opposed to the new policing arrangements and, as
last week's Independent Monitoring Commission report confirmed, the
IRA remains active.

Republicans are demanding, among other changes, that the PSNI be
"fully representative" of the community.

They also want the bar to people with terrorist convictions joining
District Policing Partnerships lifted.

Mr Trimble has been pressed on the thorny issue of republicans and
policing in a new book, David Trimble: The Price of Peace, by Irish
Times journalist Frank Millar, who said that winning support from
republicans for the PSNI will require "new thinking".

The author added that this may include a "realistic response" to
Sinn Fein's insistence that community policing must mean policing
of republican areas by a police service recognisable as coming from
those communities.

To Sinn Fein this will mean republicans in the force, Millar said.

Mr Trimble disagreed with such a definition of

He believes representation means a balance of Protestant and Roman
Catholics to produce a force which both sides of the community are
comfortable with.

Mr Trimble said: "I see it as being a single force operating in
Northern Ireland, enforcing the same law everywhere in Northern

"That means that when people approach a policeman in the street
there will be a fair chance they're approaching a Catholic.

"But it's not a Catholic force for Catholic regions. That's
certainly not what I had in mind," he said.

Millar said to Mr Trimble, however, "if you were a republican," the
PSNI would have to have republicans in it.

Mr Trimble said: "If republicans have given up violence, and are
going to pursue a united Ireland but do so lawfully, which means
respecting the status quo until the status quo changes, then I
don't see a problem."

However, asked if he would have a problem should it be proposed
that the ban on terrorists joining the force be lifted, he said:
"This is something to be treated very, very carefully and I think
in principle there is a problem with that concept.

"We have a position at the moment whereby people who've got
convictions are excluded and that has to remain, that has to

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Six Lives Lost In One Of The Worst Weekends Of Year On Roads

SIX people died and five were injured in a weekend of carnage on
Irish roads.

A 70-year-old pedestrian was knocked down by a van in Athlone on
Saturday night, bringing to six the number killed in one of the
blackest weekends of the year for traffic-related accidents.

Earlier on Saturday a motorcyclist was killed in a crash in Co
Meath. The motorcyclist, believed to have been in his 20s, was
killed when his bike collided with another vehicle between Trim and
Navan at around 5pm on Saturday. A female pillion passenger was
injured in the same crash.

In the north a man in his late 20s was killed in an accident in
Castlewellan, Co Down.

The accident happened on Saturday night and no other vehicles were

Three other people died in separate incidents earlier on Saturday.
In Co Clare, gardaí investigating a fatal crash on the main Ennis
to Limerick Road, in which a 68-year-old man died, arrested a 41-
year-old man in connection with the incident. He is due to appear
at Ennis District Court on Friday next. The man was arrested at the
scene of the accident, which claimed the life of well- known
businessman John Cahill, 68, from Gort Co Galway.

Mr Cahill's family run a timber and builders providers business at
Coole Park, near Gort.

It emerged last night that the same man was allegedly involved in
another collision on a busy Ennis street only minutes before the
fatal crash.

A 45-year-old woman was killed when the car she was driving was in
collision with a lorry in Co Down on Saturday.

It happened four miles north of Newry on the main Belfast road. A
number of other people were taken to hospital.

In Dublin a 19-year-old woman was killed when she was hit by a car.
Marie Ann Costelloe died after she was knocked down on Clonsilla
Road at about 2.30am on Saturday.

Five people were taken to hospital following a three-car collision
on the M1 in north Dublin.

The accident happened on a stretch of road between the Donabate
flyover and the airport roundabout at around 10.15am yesterday.

Gardaí arrested a man and questioned him at Santry Garda Station. A
file on the matter is being sent to the DPP.

Serious traffic delays were experienced on the M1 as emergency
crews attempted to clear debris from the road.


Ibiza On The Liffey: But Where Are The Irish?

Badly behaved binge drinkers led locals to desert Temple Bar. Now
efforts are under way to reclaim it for culture

Angelique Chrisafis, Ireland correspondent
Monday November 8, 2004
The Guardian

On a cobbled street in Dublin's Temple Bar, four friends from
Liverpool were looking at a map. "It's great. It's real Dublin,"
one said. But something was puzzling them. They hadn't met many
Irish people in the pub.

This 11-hectare (28-acre) patch of restored squares and winding
lanes was conceived as Dublin's Left Bank, a cultural quarter where
creative souls would pore over art and poetry, and the city's new
rich would take apartments. The now disgraced taoiseach Charles
Haughey championed the idea and the decaying streets were saved
from being turned into a bus depot and restored to glory in 1991.

Thirteen years on, after some £31.4m in European structural funds
and more than £69.9m from private developers and more from heavy
tax breaks, around 2,500 people live in the new apartments. Temple
Bar, with 400 businesses including pubs, restaurants and design
shops, is firmly planted on the tourist maps. But it is suffering a
severe image problem. A reputation for stag and hen parties and
weekend trips from England have turned it into one of Europe's top
drinking destinations, turning off Dubliners, annoying the
residents and sending councillors into bouts of soul- searching
about Irish culture. One local press report called it "Ibiza in

After years of publicans and hoteliers doing their best to clean up
the streets, dissuade large groups of binge drinkers and bring in
community police, residents and business leaders are launching a
final effort to reclaim Temple Bar for culture. The area's only
major crowd-puller, the £5.3m Viking Adventure, which explored the
historic roots of the city, closed in 2002, and other design and
art ventures followed suit. Despite the presence of popular haunts
like the Irish Film Institute, design and craft businesses say they
can barely keep afloat. Some non-fast food restaurants off the main
drag say they are struggling.

A masterplan for the area drawn up this year with input from local
hoteliers, publicans and business people found antisocial behaviour
needed to be curbed, but it also offered ideas for a new cultural
oasis. A helium balloon could be moored on the river Liffey,
carrying people 200 metres into the air for panoramic views in what
some called a cut-price London Eye. Artists could work in
transparent mobile pods - or "incubators"- on the street. Pubs
could have art exhibitions and poetry readings. But the report was
a wishlist rather than an action plan. There is no money set aside
for it and some councillors are calling on the government to pump
in funds.

Daithí Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor in Dublin, sits on the board
of Temple Bar Properties, a council subsidiary which owns most of
the Temple Bar buildings and makes a healthy profit every year. "I
live 15 minutes from Temple Bar and it's the only place in Dublin
where I can be sure I won't meet a constituent of mine because no
one goes into it," he said. "We have to stop allowing the
developers of office blocks, bars and car parks to dictate how we
develop the area and ensure it becomes the cultural quarter that it
was intended to be."

He said the word "culture" should not mean just bars or "dancing
leprechauns" but a multicultural quarter for new ethnic groups in

In the historic "design quarter" of Temple Bar, near Fishamble
Street - site of the first performance of Handel's Messiah -
businesses are feeling the strain. Brendan Quinn of the Old City
Traders Group, said the pedestrian Cow's Lane, which is lined with
furniture, fashion and craft shops, had not been marketed properly.
Eight businesses had folded in the past four years. Traders were
barely staying afloat, despite subsidised rents, and were relying
on mail order custom and supplying shops elsewhere. Quinn, the
owner of a fashion design business, said the lane needed a landmark
sculpture to draw in the millions of passing tourists a year.

One local businesswoman who did not want to be named said: "Away
from the main squares, business is hard. There is not enough of a
draw for Irish people who see it as a no-go area where drinks are

But TASCQ, a consortium of around 50 Temple Bar businesses,
including publicans and hoteliers, said much of the drunken image
was a misconception. A report in 1999 showed that stag and hen
parties accounted for 2% of business in Temple Bar. Of the 60,000
footfall in the area every day, 70% is Irish. Already the group has
planned a music festival and food festival for next year and set up
a Hyde Park-style speaker's corner.

A spokesman for the group said its main task was challenging the
"myth" that Temple Bar is a playground for drinkers with L-plates
round their necks.


Why We Kicked The Habit

Ireland's new breed of nuns knows all about the ways of the world -
some even have piercings. But do these thoroughly modern sisters
have what it takes to save souls, wonders David McKittrick

08 November 2004

Clare Gilmore has three very obvious sets of facial adornments -
four studs in one ear, two in the other and a bar through one
eyebrow. She also has three tattoos, depicting a fairy, a rose and
a dolphin.

Aged 27, she describes herself as a modern woman. She's had two
long-term boyfriends, and goes to the cinema and the pub with her
mates. She has a mobile - and a terrific giggle.

Clare is a novice with the Sisters of Mercy in Limerick, and is 18
months into the lengthy process of taking holy orders. She is a
deeply religious person, but there is much about her that clearly
confounds the traditional picture of the Irish nun. In the old
days, nuns used to be described as demure, submissive and
deferential - or perhaps forbidding and oppressive. But this is a
new type of nun for a new, updated Ireland. She chooses her own
clothes. She does not possess a habit.

Of the facial piercings, she says, with a laugh: "They stay. I'm a
modern woman; I like piercings, I think they're attractive. It's
just part of my personality, an expression of who I am. People ask
me if I'll have to get rid of them, but they've been accepted by
the sisters. It hasn't been an issue."

Clare is enjoying her new life, even though it has some obvious
challenges. "I was going out with somebody, so it was a struggle
for me. I loved this fella. It's a huge adjustment to start a life
where you won't have a boyfriend again," she says.

Whatever her personal difficulties, the Irish Catholic Church
itself faces many, much more formidable problems. Leading figures
in its ranks now frankly acknowledge that it is in crisis. Clare
Gilmore and others like her will bring fresh approaches and
attitudes, but she is one of only a handful of new recruits signing
on to become nuns, priests or brothers. This year, just a dozen
women opted to become nuns.

For centuries, the Irish Catholic Church provided Ireland, and
indeed the world, with religious personnel by the thousands. But
now the flow is drying up. Clerical sex-scandals and other factors
mean that attendance at mass has plummeted; fewer than half of
Catholics now go to Mass at least once a week. In business terms,
the church is short of both staff and customers.

Asked how she came to buck the trend, Clare Gilmore replies on a
personal level. "I did resist," she says, "but the more I tried to
put it to the back of my mind, the more it came to the front. I
couldn't deny it for ever - it was just too strong."

She may be a thoroughly modern nun, but a great deal of change has
been quietly taking place for years within the religious orders.
There are still enclosed orders, from which the sisters rarely, if
ever, emerge, but many nuns now work out in the community.

Sister Una Marren, who is with the Salesian order in Dublin, has
been a fully fledged nun for many years. Like Clare, she has no
habit, routinely dressing in jeans, sweatshirt and trainers. She
says: "In my order, you have the freedom to be yourself. They don't
pigeon-hole you or clamp you down."

She describes going to a rock concert recently: "I jumped up and
down and clapped with the rest and I didn't feel like a fish out of
water; I felt very much at home. I'm 40 now, but I feel as if I'm
21 - I feel that life is just stretching ahead."

Sister Marren has fulfilment and hope in her life, but her church
faces deep adversity. She admits: "We are a smaller number than
ever we were, and obviously we will get smaller as our sisters and
priests die out. But that doesn't make me worried, because I feel
God will provide. Those joining now are very committed, because
they're not joining to be put on pedestals. We're not on pedestals
any more; we've been knocked to the ground."

The church's troubles have come in waves since Ireland was
described in the Sixties by a Vatican diplomat as "the most
Christian country in the world". Contrast this with the Irish
bishop who last year lamented that society "has been to a very
large extent de-Christianised". One Dublin priest agreed with this
assessment, saying: "In a sense, we've come through Christian
Ireland into post-Christian Ireland."

The process of decline can be traced back to the late Sixties, when
many thousands quietly rejected church teaching on contraception.
The old deference steadily evaporated, with the markedly youthful
Irish population greatly influenced by education, television and

But in 1979, when the Pope visited Ireland, the church was still a
muscular force in politics and society. Only much later was it
revealed that two of the most prominent warm-up men for his
appearances, a bishop and a priest, had both fathered
unacknowledged children. Later, in 1992, came the revelations
concerning the bishop, Eamonn Casey of Galway, which shook the
church to its foundations - he was found to have a teenage son,
whose education he had surreptitiously financed from diocesan

But the Casey disclosures, although sensational at the time, almost
paled into insignificance in the light of the subsequent torrent of
cases of child abuse. The statistics of these are staggering; more
than 4,600 applications for compensation have been lodged, with 50
new claims arriving each week. About 2,000 awards have already been
made, and the average payout is €70,000 (£49,000). The total bill,
which so far stands at €171m, may reach €700m.

The church's problems here have been compounded by the fact that it
has failed to provide a convincing rebuttal of the charge that it
allowed the innocent to suffer for the sake of maintaining its own
dignified façade. It still stands accused of, at worst, connivance
and, at best, gross negligence, and there is a widespread belief
that its institutional instinct was to cover up such cases rather
than properly to investigate complaints.

Even strong believers became highly critical. One - Mary McAleese,
who went on to become the President of Ireland - has denounced what
she called "a shabby, bleak procession of Pontius Pilate
lookalikes, abusing priests, disinterested abbots, impotent
cardinals and unempowered parents".

The full extent of the damage has become clear; an opinion poll
showed that only 25 per cent of the country retained great
confidence in church leaders. In a survey commissioned by the
church itself, 94 per cent of respondents said that they believed
it had been damaged. In another poll, three-quarters believed that
the church had not dealt adequately with the abuse issue.

In a wider context, the fall in vocations and attendance at mass is
in line with the general pattern in Western Europe, while Ireland's
new prosperity has clearly made it a more materialistic country.
But the scandals have turned decline into disaster.

Vocations Ireland is an association of brothers, sisters,
missionaries and priests in Ireland. Father Gerard Dunne, whose job
there is to attract more recruits for the various orders, says:
"The sexual scandals have impinged and impacted upon us hugely.
There is a crisis, and we're going through an antipathy from our
own people. People have huge questions around that particular
issue, and it's the most difficult question to try to answer.
Looking at it from the outside, you'd say that we must be going
through fierce turmoil. But we find the sense of support from
ordinary people is actually quite remarkable."

Clare Gilmore says of the scandals: "Certainly, they are a huge
thing that has put people off. It's something I've come across, and
the revelations made it more difficult for me. Four people said to
me, 'You do realise that if you become a religious sister you're
going to end up abusing children, or being nasty, basically, to
people in your care?' Two of them said it in a nasty way and two in
a concerned way. It's less acceptable now to join a religious order
than it was 40 years ago, and I feel that this is because of the
revelations within the church."

Today, recruits may be few and far between, but Father Dunne takes
heart from their quality. He argues: "We are getting exciting,
dynamic individuals who are challenging us to look at ourselves in
a very different way. They're a thinking generation that has been
to university, or been at work. They're asking bigger questions -
about God, spirituality, religion, the meaning of life. I think
that some people are a bit disillusioned by the 'Celtic tiger'" -
the phrase often used to describe Ireland's fast-growing economy
over the past decade.

The church is certainly changing physically, in that it has had to
sell many of its formidably big convent buildings, monasteries and
other properties. In some cases, austere convent cells have become
luxury apartments; not quite the kind of conversion the church had
hoped for.

The Franciscan order, for example, is wondering what to do with a
number of its large buildings now that so many of the friars have
gone. This is a hardy order, however, having been in Ireland since
1226 and survived such difficulties as the Black Death and the
attentions of Henry VIII. But, according to Father Louis Brennan:
"In the 1970s, we were about 400 friars; now we are 120 or 130. We
just cannot continue to be in all the places we were, and to
continue all the work we did."

There are now actually a greater number of premises occupied by the
religious in Ireland, as so many clergy have moved out of the big
buildings and into the housing estates. In a couple of months, for
example, Clare Gilmore will be moving into a bungalow, sharing it
with four other nuns. Optimists view this as an advance, arguing
that nuns and brothers are now becoming more closely connected to
the local people and living among the poor they aspire to help.

In spite of the challenges, there is much hope left in the church.
"I would want to speak of optimism and trust in the future," Father
Brennan insists. Clare Gilmore, too, says she has never once
regretted her decision to join.

Another nun, who has been in orders for more than 40 years, adds:
"I feel that morale is high among religious orders. They feel they
have a gift that has been given to them, and they want to hand it
on. People are enthusiastic, despite all the setbacks." Father
Dunne, taking the long view, adds: "Some orders almost died out in
the 18th century, but those fellows never gave up hope, and I don't
think we should, either. Maybe we've turned a corner - we like to
think we have, anyway."

Clearly, however, the Irish church has huge obstacles to overcome.
There is little sign that it has effectively pulled itself together
and developed a sound strategy for recovery. In fact, few believe
it can regain its former power and prominence. It has yet to come
to terms with the problem of how to connect with modern, fast-
changing Ireland. And it has yet to work out how to address the
stigma inflicted by the wrongdoers in its ranks who did so much
damage to the church, and to the children entrusted to its care.

Jay Dooling (
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