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December 05, 2004

News 12/05/04 - Row Over Arms Photo Threatens Peace

News about Ireland & the Irish

GU 12/05/04 Row Over Arms Photos Threatens Ulster Peace Deal
GU 12/05/04 When Two Tribes End A War
ST 12/05/04 Opin: Oddest Couple May Find A Common Cause In Power
ST 12/05/04 Irish 'Terror' Relatives To Visit Brussels
ST 12/05/04 Opin: American Embassy Makes Irish More Warlike
ST 12/05/04 Liam Neeson: Hollywood Seduced By Boy From Ballymena
ST 12/05/04 Cafe Culture Still Buzzing In Dublin


Row Over Arms Photos Threatens Ulster Peace Deal

Tony Blair to hold talks with Ian Paisley in Downing Street, to
open the way for a devolved government in Northern Ireland

Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
Sunday December 5, 2004
The Observer

Leaders of Northern Ireland's Unionist parties are demanding
photographic proof that the IRA is decommissioning its weapons
before they agree to a historic deal that would open the way to
devolved government in the province.

Tony Blair will fly to Northern Ireland later this week if a deal
that leads to the restoration of power-sharing between the
Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein can be secured.

The Prime Minister is to hold crucial talks with DUP leader Ian
Paisley in Downing Street tomorrow evening, when he will find out
if the man who has said 'no' to every political initiative since
the Troubles began will now say 'yes' to a formula aimed at sealing
peace in the north of Ireland.

There will then be a tea-time press conference outside Downing
Street that could determine whether there is a settlement between
Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Paisley's strategy at the Number 10 meeting will be to see what
Blair has secured from the republican movement first before
endorsing any agreement.

The plan of the British and Irish governments now hinges on one
critical issue - the photographing of IRA arms and explosives being
decommissioned. Senior DUP sources insisted last night that if
there were no physical evidence of the IRA arsenal being destroyed
there would be no deal.

'We could not go to the unionist electorate without photographic
proof that IRA arms were decommissioned. No photographs means no
deal,' one DUP member close to the negotiations told The Observer.

There has some been some hints from the republican movement that
pictures of decommissioning could be taken. However the
disagreement lies over when they can be published. Sinn Fein
sources say issues of pictures should be a matter between the IRA
and John de Chastelain, the Canadian general tasked with overseeing
arms destruction. The British and Irish governments have suggested
that the pictures be shown to Paisley in private. The DUP leader
would then agree to restore devolution and when the new
powersharing executive met for the first time in March 2005 the
photographs would be published.

The IRA has asked for Dr Robin Eames, the Church of Ireland
Primate, to be one of the churchmen overseeing decommissioning, The
Observer has learned. Eames acted as go-between in 1993-94 for the
government and the loyalists helping to achieve the UDA/UVF cease-
fire in October 1994.

There is also concern over whether the publication of
decommissioning photographs would lead to IRA units in areas such
as East Tyrone, South Down and Antrim leaving the movement. Last
week a group of IRA dissenters issued a statement condemning any
moves to destroy the weapons smuggled into Ireland from Libya in
the mid-1980s. However, the vast majority of IRA units remain
solidly loyal to the leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin

There is also some disagreement within DUP ranks about whether they
should go for a deal before Christmas or wait until after the
outcome of the expected May general election when the party aims to
wipe out their Ulster Unionist rivals. They fear that sitting in
government with Sinn Fein will play badly with Protestant voters in
marginal seats where the DUP feels it can triumph.


When Two Tribes End A War

If peace finally breaks out in Northern Ireland, it will show that
almost all conflicts are resolvable

Mary Riddell
Sunday December 5, 2004
The Observer

Ten years ago tomorrow, I drove across Northern Ireland to see
Martin McGuinness. The IRA ceasefire was four months old and the
British government had just announced that it would hold the first
public talks with Sinn Fein since the partition of Ireland.

Christmas lights sparkled over Derry and shoppers drifted in and
out of smart town-centre boutiques. As McGuinness posed to have his
picture taken, you could hear the throb of music from an aerobics
class in the gym next to the shop where he had spent the afternoon
choosing a bathroom carpet with his wife. Nothing in this snapshot
of urban life offered a reminder that McGuinness had once blasted
to rubble the square in which we stood.

For some, the transition from juvenile bomber to ambitious
politician was too much to bear. That night, Ken Maginnis, a
moderate Ulster Unionist, refused to have a dialogue with his near-
namesake on Channel 4 News . The Reverend Ian Paisley was even less
accommodating. When I met him a few weeks previously, he had
dismissed the tentative Irish peace process as 'a fudge that will
mean a grim reaping'.

A decade and a million hopes have passed. And now, this week, it is
possible that a deal will be struck for a joint administration,
with Paisley the First Minister of Northern Ireland and McGuinness
as his deputy.

Short of a dream ticket pairing Moqtada al-Sadr with Michael
Ancram, few combinations could seem more bizarre. Chances rarely go
unmissed in Northern Ireland and it is possible this vision will
implode even before Tuesday, when Paisley is due to give his

This time, Tony Blair feels no hand of history on his shoulder or,
if he does, he is not saying. Some signs are hopeful, others more
ominous. Paisley's demand for photographic proof of republican arms
being decommissioned is problematic and so is his call for the IRA
'to wear sackcloth and ashes'. But worries that he may be raising
the stakes have not eclipsed hopes that this time he will abandon
his enduring opposition to power-sharing, so ending the year-long
suspension of the Belfast assembly and ushering in a devolved
government by next spring.

A compact between the hardmen of Northern Irish politics would be
the sort of miracle of which only the godly can conceive. But
McGuinness, Paisley and Gerry Adams, though hard to fault in
devotional matters, have been brought to the verge of this
transition by temporal considerations.

Paisley has a mandate from his DUP party faithful to strike
whatever deal he wishes. He also has sharp, ambitious followers,
such as Nigel Dodds and Peter Robinson, who do not want a lifetime
on the political sidelines. Individual talents, or collective
obduracy, have made the DUP and Sinn Fein good at politics. Civil
servants have been impressed and surprised by their effectiveness.

For Paisley, though, there is something more personal at stake.
Even 10 years ago, his mortality weighed on him. He could not stand
down, he told me then, because: 'My supporters would think it was
all up and the game was lost. I would like to think that, when I do
retire, we shall be on smooth water and have accomplished what we
set out to do. There are things I'd like to do before I die -
travel the world, write a few books.'

At 78, Paisley is now too frail to take an aeroplane and some think
him close to death. Time closes in and the epitaph he desires is
within his grasp. That does not mean apostasy for a man who sees
his aims, if not his means, intact. Paisley wants to go down in
unionist history as the man who beat the IRA. To become the leader
who triumphed where the moderate David Trimble failed would be a
bonus. Paisley dislikes Trimble more than he does Sinn Fein.

For Adams and McGuinness, the goal remains a united Ireland. That
end will not be delivered, as they once hoped, by fast-track
demographics. Birth rates have fallen to their lowest level since
1841, denting Sinn Fein's hopes of a quick Roman Catholic majority.
The drop in population and the end of terrorism are connected.

Young republicans, better educated and more ambitious, are marrying
later and having fewer children. Instead of blowing up their
neighbours, aspiring social improvers are reading law at Queen's
University in cosmopolitan Belfast. Life is better, too, in the
rural republican heartlands, where people can visit their local pub
without worrying about whether they will get home alive.
Yesterday's keen young IRA volunteers are now trimming their garden
hedges or playing golf.

Peace and investment have not ordained a perfect society,
especially when racism is replacing sectarianism in some areas. But
disbanded terror campaigns are as hard to reassemble as broken
eggs. Conscripts to violence have all but disappeared and so has
outside interest. Once the peace process transfixed Prime Ministers
and Presidents and gratified local politicians licensed to bicker
on a global stage.

Although Blair met Paisley and Adams last week, and Bush spoke to
them by phone, the spotlight has moved on, to Iraq, Iran, Israel
and Ukraine. Orange marches are very last season, now that everyone
is fascinated by Viktor Yuschenko's orange revolution. Yet this is
an odd moment to look away from Northern Ireland, poised for one of
the greatest breakthroughs in its history. At a time when the world
is being torn apart on many fronts, a model of conflict resolution
may be nearing completion.

There is no DIY guide to reconciliation. What works in Belfast does
not necessarily do it for the Basques. But Northern Ireland's
progress gives the lie to the idea that religious fundamentalism
cannot be eroded by social and economic means. The evolution of
Sinn Fein was not hatched principally in the barren offices where
poster faces of Bobby Sands gazed down on lino strewn with
cigarette butts.

It was ordained by the thriving businesses of Derry and by people
who wanted to do their Christmas shopping in peace. Ten uneasy
years have passed since Martin McGuinness came in from the cold and
his party stands on another threshold. Reports call a peace deal
between the great enemies 'tantalisingly close', which is Northern
Irish for perilously uncertain. If the compact collapses, it will
be because the desire to humiliate old enemies has once again
trumped hope and reason.

The outcome will depend on Paisley. Nationalists will forgive him a
bit of posturing, because that is how he is. But, unlike Trimble,
he can choose words and cut deals as he sees fit, knowing his
party's faith in him is unconditional. If he can use that strength
to play the first cool game of his life, then something seismic may
be happening.

This is more than the greatest chance since the last, greatest
chance. A partnership of equals between Sinn Fein and the DUP would
not only be a unique result for Northern Ireland. But it would also
offer proof to the world's unreconciled that no chasm is ultimately
too vast to bridge.


Comment: Liam Clarke: The Oddest Couple May Find A Common Cause In

There may not be much competition yet, but the best Northern
Ireland political novel of the century has been Garbhan Downey's
The Private Diary of a Suspended MLA. It charts the star-crossed
love affair of Shay Gallagher, an independent nationalist assembly
member for North Derry and Sue McEwan, an independent unionist
member for Omagh, through the long years of salaried suspension
which has been the lot of Northern Ireland's politicians since the
signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998.

McEwan is a flame-haired, sharp-witted, mildly anti-agreement
temptress. Gallagher is a Guinness-guzzling, freewheeling womaniser
who unexpectedly picks up the last seat in North Derry after
loyalists shoot the most promising Sinn Fein candidate when
nominations have closed.

In his diary Gallagher recalls Tony Blair's words on the signing of
the agreement - "I feel the hand of history on my shoulder" - and
observes that "six years on and the only place history has his hand
is on his short and curlies".

It is the sort of thought that may spring to Blair's mind tomorrow
morning when he meets Ian Paisley and his team to give his "final"
word on the Northern Ireland peace process. The DUP will question
the document he gave them to study, just as Gerry Adams quizzed him
about it last week, for evidence of the concessions they have

There is little doubt that Blair will pay up - £1 billion (€1.45
billion) and rising in cash, plus a run-down in police numbers, the
phasing out of plastic bullets, demilitarisation. Whatever Sinn
Fein and the

DUP ask will be there. Bertie Ahern has done the same, coughing up
the killers of Jerry McCabe and an unwanted public inquiry into
alleged garda collusion with the IRA.

What Ahern and Blair are aiming at is the marriage of an even odder
couple than Gallagher and McEwan. They want to see McGuinness, the
former chief

of staff of the IRA, sharing an office and a government department
with Paisley, the former commander of the Third Force and a man who
has campaigned under the banner "Smash Sinn Fein". Downey couldn't
have dreamt it up and it will make a fine backdrop for a sequel to
his novel if it ever comes off.

And it just could. A normally cautious Irish official last week put
the chances at "60/40 or better".

It has two big advantages for Paisley. It will allow him to achieve
his lifelong ambition of wiping out the Ulster Unionist party and
disarming the IRA even if he hasn't defeated it.

Friends say that Paisley's two big weaknesses are that he can't
conceal his feelings or hold his tongue. "Ian couldn't hold his own
water," one former colleague observed. That is why we already have
him chortling like a little boy about what he has extracted from
the IRA, who he wants to see "humiliated" and wearing "sackcloth
and ashes".

The reality is that the IRA came out of a failing terrorist
campaign on a remarkably high note and their political wing, Sinn
Fein, has more power than any nationalist party in the history of
Northern Ireland. It also has its sights set on seats in government
north and south, and Paisley can't do much to stop them. The
arrogant words are his way of selling the new dispensation to
himself and his followers.

The real and lasting achievements made by unionism against
republicanism came in the Good Friday agreement, which Paisley
rejected but whose benefits he can claim for his own. The agreement
delivered on the principle of consent, Northern Ireland's right to
exist and on the principle of decommissioning.

There is little doubt that if Paisley recommends a deal and sells
it hard, his followers will rally behind him. Their spirit was
caught by one delegate to the DUP executive who recently rang BBC
Radio Ulster to observe that if, on the question of agreement with
Sinn Fein, "Dr Paisley says, 'Jump'; I'll say, 'How high?'" If the
deal is done, nobody expects Paisley to stay around as first
minister for too long, though it now looks as if he will take the
post. The smart money says that he will get a seat in the House of
Lords, one of three the DUP are due, and will spend the rest of his
days as a fixture in the best gentlemen's club in London.

In government the DUP and Sinn Fein may, in time, find they have a
lot in common. Both are remarkably similar to Fianna Fail in their
make-up. They are populist parties with a working-

class base, that built support on hardline, unrealisable policies
that guaranteed no settlement could be reached without them. The
DUP has, by turns, attacked the UUP and found common cause with it
at election, just as Sinn Fein at times attacked and at other times
formed a pact with the SDLP.

The aim was always to hollow out the more moderate party and
supplant it. What has emerged in the case of the DUP is an
extremely capable machine that has absorbed large sections of the
UUP and which is only rivalled in efficiency and discipline by Sinn
Fein. It knows how to play to the lowest common denominator in
unionism, in the interests of unifying its support.

It knows how to negotiate and it will be ruthlessly and
unemotionally practical when it has to.

There is a precedent for such a party in Irish politics and its
name is Fianna Fail. After losing the civil war it carried military
discipline into the Dail and discovered a new pragmatism and a new
populism that allowed it to win the peace. It has remained the
largest political party in Ireland ever since. Proud of its
republican credentials, it was the only Irish party capable of
steering through a deal that dropped the Irish territorial claim to
Northern Ireland.

In power the DUP, and for that matter Sinn Fein, could turn out the
same way. If the DUP gets established in office its hegemony would
be hard to shake and, while the UUP would remain a significant
force, it would come increasingly to resemble Fine Gael.

Without power the DUP's prospects would not be so rosy. If it turns
down the deal now on offer the UUP will have the opportunity to
claw back the ground it lost. Floating voters may float back.

The choice is in Paisley's hands and the portents are not all good.
His problem is that he is vulnerable to accusations of sell out
and, if a deal gets close, there is always the danger that he will
allow party hardliners, such as the Rev William McCrea, to act as
his conscience.

At the Leeds Castle talks in September he was asked if he would
like to be remembered as the man who brought agreement to Northern
Ireland. Paisley is 78 and must be thinking of such things at this
stage, but he never paused. "I'll be happy as long as nobody can
write Lundy on my tombstone," he replied.

The reference was to Robert Lundy, the governor of Londonderry when
it was besieged by the Catholic forces of James II of 1689. Lundy
proposed surrender, the citizens resisted. Although Willam III,
whose ship later relieved the city, forgave him and he continued in
government service in Portugal, Ulster loyalists never did. Lundy
is burned in effigy every year. The anniversary of his "treachery"
is this Tuesday, the day after Paisley meets Blair. Paisley won't
miss the significance.


Irish 'Terror' Relatives To Visit Brussels

SINN FEIN, the political wing of the IRA, will this week take 55
relatives of "victims of British state terror" to Brussels at
taxpayers' expense to denounce human rights abuses in Northern
Ireland, writes Nicola Smith.

Sinn Fein officials claim the 55 have lost relatives to "collusion
between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries". They will
attend a hearing on Tuesday in the European parliament entitled
"Who was behind the state killings in Ireland?" British
Conservative and Unionist MEPs have accused Sinn Fein of misusing
European Union money for propaganda purposes. They will picket the
hearing and distribute anti-IRA pamphlets.

The hearing has been sponsored by Bairbre de Brun and Mary Lou
McDonald, both Sinn Fein MEPs, and will be partly funded by the
European parliament.

"The policy of collusion between British intelligence agents and
loyalist death squads remains one of the most damning indictments
of the British presence in Ireland," said de Brun. "Hundreds of
people were killed, and many more injured and maimed, in a campaign
of state-sponsored murder. The policy has never been reversed."

The hearing coincides with a renewed drive between all sides in the
conflict to revive devolution in the Northern Ireland assembly.

After days of intense wrangling between the Democratic Unionists,
Sinn Fein and Downing Street, officials have predicted there could
be a new agreement on Tuesday.

"It is the most insensitive time to call this hearing," said Jim
Nicholson, an Ulster Unionist MEP. Under the European parliament's
visitors scheme, all MEPs are entitled to the partial reimbursement
of the travel and accommodation costs of 90 constituents every

The visitors' service confirmed that anybody travelling from Dublin
to Brussels would be entitled to about €200 towards their visit.
The parliament supplies a further €35 per person for a meal in a
Brussels restaurant of the group's choice.

"It certainly seems to me an abuse of funding," said Jim Allister,
a Democratic Unionist Party MEP.

Sinn Fein entered the European Parliament for the first time after
June's elections. Its officials have promised the visit marks the
start of a "variety of initiatives" in Europe. Members will also
stage a vigil outside the British Embassy in Brussels, and will
lobby European Commission officials and MEPs.

De Brun said the families want the British government to reveal the
extent of its dealings with loyalist organisations.


December 05, 2004

Comment: Sue Denham: American Embassy Pats Itself On Back For
Making Irish More Warlike

The American embassy in Dublin reckons it's doing a good job
subverting Ireland's military neutrality. A declassified report it
sent to Washington in 1999 boasts that: "Mission efforts to educate
and inform Irish audiences on broader European security issues
helped move the Irish government toward a decision to join the
Partnership for Peace."

The embassy promised the American secretary of state more of the
same: "We will encourage closer co-operation with European security
structures, including assisting Ireland to enhance its security
force capabilities, especially in international peacekeeping

But the Yanks also want Ireland to speak with "a stronger,
independent and more confident voice", because "US interests remain
challenged by Ireland's preference to seek consensus within the EU
on most foreign, policy, trade and economic matters". Make up your
mind, guys.

American support for the peace process is not just altruism either,
the document released under the Freedom of Information Act
discloses. After all, peace would "unleash important economic
potential now untapped".

Tom cruises to the top of the poll for worst Oirish accent ever

The Oscar-winning actress Holly Hunter makes a heroic attempt at an
Oirish accent in By the Bog of Cats, a Marina Carr play that has
just opened in the West End. So awful is her effort, however, that
BBC's Today programme last week challenged its listeners to come up
with a worse example of an Irish accent. Even though we haven't
heard the Georgia-born Hunter doing the brogue, it's a challenge
Sue will accept. And the nominations are: Kevin Spacey for Ordinary
Decent Criminal, Mickey Rourke in A Prayer for the Dying, and Brad
Pitt in The Devil's Own. And the winner is Tom Cruise for "You're a
corker, Shannon. What a corker you are" in Far and Away the worst
Oirish accent ever.

"Am I the only person who absolutely detests the term 'yummy
mummies'?" asked Mary Carr in Ireland on Sunday last week. Just
five pages earlier the newspaper ran the headline "Yummy mummy".
Carr again: "To my mind, there is something offensively sleazy
about the label." IoS headline writers please note.

Here's a tip: avoid betting advice from sports hacks

Given how opinionated and dissolute they are, you'd expect sports
journalists to be shrewd gamblers. Not so. Betfair, an online
betting company, recently organised a charity event in which 29
newspapers each got £250 (€360) to wager over 10 days. The Irish
Times made a strong start in the competition, increasing its pot to
£431 in the first four days, and going into second place. Meanwhile
The Sun sports desk cocked up, as it might say itself, putting £200
on Arsenal to beat West Brom. The result was 1-1.

On the last day of the event, D'Olier Street put the house on Leeds
to beat Rotherham. Victory would have meant Geraldine Kennedy's
team winning the competition, and with Rotherham not having won any
of its 21 games this season, it looked like a safe bet. But you can
guess the rest . . . Rotherham 1 Leeds 0. The Irish Times ended up
with 6p.

Still, it was in good company. The Racing Post also lost its shirt
- what were the odds on that? - and only six of the 29 newspapers
made money. Among them were our learned colleagues on The Times,
topping the poll with £750.

Bill Lowry, the former head of Special Branch in Northern Ireland,
warned the DUP's annual dinner in Ballymena about the perils of
powersharing with Sinn Fein. "When you run with dogs you're liable
to catch some of their fleas," he said.

Surely this isn't the same Bill Lowry who spoke so warmly about
republicans in an interview with Anthony McIntyre in the Blanket
last July? "Even their most determined opponents have a grudging
respect for the Provos," said Lowry. "They were much more
principled than the loyalists."

And you wonder why people don't trust the cops.

While Brian Cowen's budget was being announced last week, Finian
McGrath, an independent TD, had more pressing concerns - the return
of a stolen puppy.

All politics may be local, but this is barking. A McGrath press
release informs us that "Daniel, the little boy who owns the puppy,
is distraught and cannot sleep at night". The gardai have a number
of, er, leads.

The Pat Finucane Centre wants Rosemount PSNI barracks in
Londonderry to go into the Guinness Book of World Records as "the
least used police station". Sue can think of a few other records
the Finucane Centre could usefully submit. How about the Savile
inquiry as the most pointless and expensive waste of time ever? Or
the murder of Finucane as the most investigated killing in British
and Irish legal history?


December 05, 2004

Profile: Liam Neeson: Hollywood Still Seduced By Boy From Ballymena

It is fair to say that America is divided over Liam Neeson's latest
film, a biopic of the pioneering sex scientist Alfred Kinsey. Film
critics and award ceremonies are clamouring to praise him. Last
week it was the turn of the Independent Spirit Awards to nominate
him for best actor for his portrayal of the controversial
scientist. An Oscar nomination is also predicted.

Others are so outraged at what they believe is the glorification of
a man who encouraged sexual amorality and paedophilia that they
have written letters of protest to Neeson and his elderly mother
Kitty in Northern Ireland.

The 52-year-old actor had no hesitation in taking the role of
Kinsey, the bow-tied scientist who is credited with ushering in the
sexual revolution in the 1950s.

Kinsey's interviews with 18,000 people revealed what was really
going on in American bedrooms, notably that extra-marital sex,
homosexuality and masturbation were commonplace. "He saw a gap in
our human knowledge that he wanted to fill," said Neeson. "He was
driven to investigate it. I admire that extraordinary work ethic."

Others see little to admire. Conservative religious groups say
Kinsey condoned and encouraged sexual amorality and was responsible
for social ills such as high divorce rates, Aids and child abuse.

Parts of Neeson's childhood mirrored those of Kinsey, who was
educated in a strict Methodist high school where there was no
mention of sex. Growing up a Catholic in the mainly Protestant
Ballymena, religion "had a very tight, iron-gloved fist", recalled
Neeson, an altar boy for six years. "There were terrible feelings
of guilt and ignorance. I learnt my facts of life on toilet walls
with my schoolmates - crude drawings of figures engaged in sex."

William John Neeson was born in June 1952 into a working-class
family. He was the only boy of four children born to Kitty, a cook
from Waterford, and Bernard, a custodian in a boys' school.

When he was nine Neeson joined the All Saints Boxing Club, which
was run by the parish priest. At 15 he broke his nose during a
fight, which has given his handsome features a rugged appearance.
He won the Irish Youth Championship but he blacked out briefly
after one of his fights and decided to abandon the ring for good.

The young Neeson was relatively unaffected by the Troubles. "I
think I realised there were two communities in Northern Ireland
when I was about nine or 10, not because there was any trouble but
because in certain years my parents would keep us indoors on the
12th of July."

Despite his Catholic background, the teenage Neeson spent Friday
nights in a meeting hall in Ballymena listening to the Rev Ian
Paisley giving vitriolic sermons. Although he didn't agree with the
substance, Neeson was thrilled by the spectacle. "I just loved his
style of oratory," said Neeson recently. "He's a Ballymena man. I'm
a Ballymena man, you know? I find myself, in some weird way,
sticking up for him, despite myself." Paisley is another figure
Neeson would like to portray on screen one day.

This is despite a run-in he had with Paisley's DUP in Ballymena in
2000 after he was offered the freedom of the town by the local
council. The DUP bloc led opposition to Neeson getting the honour
because of comments he had made in an interview about Catholics
feeling like "second-class citizens" when he was growing up. Neeson
wrote to the council saying he appreciated the offer but could not
accept the award. Two years later when the actor was unveiling a
statue of Michael Collins in Clonakilty, Robin Sterling, a DUP
councillor in Ballymena, said: "Good. Co Cork's welcome to him."

Mainly out of obligation to his parents, Neeson went to Queen's
University in Belfast to study physics and computer science. He
lasted a couple of terms before dropping out. Afterwards, he took a
variety of jobs - as a forklift operator for Guinness and as a
truck driver - before training to be a teacher, the only avenue he
had to study drama. "I was a terrible teacher," he said. "Very,
very bad. I just could not handle a room full of 12- and 13-year-
old girls."

It was while working in an architect's office in 1976 that he
spotted an advertisement for aspiring actors to audition for a
production being staged by the Lyric theatre in Belfast. He called
up and told the theatre owner about the amateur plays he had done.
"How tall are you?" she asked. "Six-four," he told her. "Can you be
here Thursday?" He did a terrible audition but the theatre had yet
to find an actor tall enough to portray Jim Larkin in The Risen
People, a play about the founder of the Irish Transport and General
Workers' Union. Neeson landed the role and made his professional
debut with the Lyric Players.

Two years later he moved to the Abbey in Dublin. Playing Lennie in
a production of Of Mice and Men, he was spotted by John Boorman who
cast him in his 1981 film Excalibur. Neeson played Gawain alongside
Helen Mirren's Morgana. The two fell in love and he followed her to
London. Several television mini-series and unremarkable film roles
followed until Hollywood took note of the 1987 film Suspect, with
Cher and Dennis Quaid, in which Neeson played a homeless mute on
trial for murder.

In 1993 a moment of unscripted tenderness won him his most
significant role to date. Steven Spielberg and his wife Kate
Capshaw were in the audience for Anna Christie, which also starred
Natasha Richardson. Backstage after the Broadway show they met
Neeson, who upon seeing that Capshaw's mother was still crying
after the moving play gave her a comforting hug. Later that night,
Capshaw, also a film producer, said that was exactly what Oskar
Schindler would have done.

Neeson's nuanced portrayal in Schindler's List of the factory owner
who helped Jews escape the Holocaust won him nominations for a
Golden Globe and an Academy Award, but he lost out to Tom Hanks for
Philadelphia. Neeson's performance as Michael Collins in Neil
Jordan's 1996 film resulted in a second Golden Globe nomination and
remains the role of which he is most proud.

The Irishman had developed a reputation in Hollywood as a lothario,
having romanced leading ladies such as Julia Roberts, Brooke
Shields and Barbra Streisand. Growing up among three sisters lent
him an easy way with the opposite sex. "Liam grew up with women,
and his ability to understand them, to make them feel understood,
it's better than in most men," says Aidan Quinn, who played Harry
Boland to Neeson's Collins. "He has empathy. I've seen the women

Neeson married Richardson in 1994 and the two starred together in
Nell, which featured Jodie Foster as a backwoods wild child. While
making the movie, Neeson developed a passion for fly-fishing and
collecting vintage fishing rods. His other extravagance is shoes.
"I'm like Imelda Marcos. I just have a thing about shoes. If
they're not right, it totally throws me, because it's the base of
your column, your whole centre of gravity."

Neeson and Richardson have two sons, Michael and Daniel. With homes
on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and upstate New York, they have
no plans to return to Dublin or London. "We're New Yorkers, that's
the truth of it," he says.

His smooth ascent through the American film scene was interrupted
in July 2000 when he was involved in a motorbike crash. Neeson came
off his Harley Davidson trying to avoid a deer. His pelvis was
broken in three places and his heel shattered. Bolts were inserted
to mend the bones and it took months of physiotherapy before he was
able to walk again.

Now he has returned to prolific film-making, with three films in
post-production. He has just finished Breakfast on Pluto for
Jordan, Ridley Scott's epic Kingdom of Heaven, and Batman Begins,
in which he plays Bruce Wayne's mentor Henri Ducard.

Neeson says it is the uncertainty of the job that draws him to
acting. "I love the precariousness of it. It's most certainly not a
9-to-5 job. And I don't have to worry about the bills being paid.
Well, I'll start worrying after Christmas again. But between now
and Christmas, I'm okay."


Cafe Culture Still Buzzing In Dublin

Ciaran Hancock

LAST week's closure of Bewley's two remaining cafes in Dublin
appears to be no more than a blip in a thriving €250m industry.
While Bewley's managed to rack up losses of €4m in recent years,
Cafe Java, a chain established by Kieran Mulligan in 1992, is
planning to double its number of outlets in the capital to eight
within two years as part of a €1m expansion programme.

The company has already secured a site in Donnybrook, the affluent
Dublin 4 suburb, which will open by the end of January. It is also
close to signing a lease in the Dundrum shopping centre, one of the
country's biggest retail developments that is due to open next
spring. The company expects sales to rise to about €5m, Mulligan
said, from a current level of about €2m. It has also refitted its
existing four outlets.

"Our plan is to open two new outlets next year and two more in
2006," Mulligan confirmed. "The retail sector remains buoyant and
the budget (of last week) should help maintain the momentum."

Other operators include O'Brien's Sandwich Bars, Insomnia and Cafe
Sol while Starbucks, the coffee retailing giant, has also flagged
its intention to enter the Irish market.

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