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January 12, 2005

01/12/05 – Anatomy Of A Bank Robbery

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents - Jan 2005

BT 01/12/05 Anatomy Of A Bank Robbery
BT 01/12/05 SF May Face Sanctions In Heist Fall-Out –A
UT 01/12/05 SF Select Ruane For South Down
BT 01/12/05 Ballymena Backs One Small Step Crusade
SF 01/12/05 SF Holds Rally For Céad Bliain (100 Years)
SF 01/12/05 McGrady Challenged Over Disgraceful Remarks
BT 01/12/05 Republican Gangs Back To The Gun
BT 01/12/05 Ulster: Weather-Beaten –A
BT 01/12/05 Atlantic Waves Sweep Republic Coastline


Anatomy Of A Bank Robbery

The theft of £26.5m from the headquarters of the Northern Bank in Belfast sent shockwaves around the world - and the Northern Ireland peace process. Crime correspondent JONATHAN McCAMBRIDGE examines the story behind the world's biggest cash bank robbery

12 January 2005

On a frosty, black Sunday night before Christmas, Kevin and Karen McMullan opened the door of their rural home near Loughinisland to men who they thought were police officers. The men, dressed in PSNI uniforms, had some devastating news - a sister had been killed in a car crash in Cookstown.

The story was a lie, the police uniforms were stolen.

Once inside, the bogus officers put a gun to Mr McMullan's head and tied him up. The Northern Bank supervisor, who is in his 30s, was told that he had to allow the gang access to the vaults of the bank's Belfast headquarters.

A dramatic series of events which was to lead to the world's biggest cash bank robbery had begun. Before the dust had settled the IRA would be blamed, the PSNI's public image would take a battering and hopes of political progress in Northern Ireland would be shattered.

At the same time 24-year-old bank official Chris Ward was watching TV at his Poleglass home with his parents, his brother and his brother's girlfriend. At 10pm three masked men entered the house. They drove Mr Ward away to the house of his bank supervisor, Kevin McMullan in Loughinisland. The rest of his family were kept in their home for 24 hours by two of the armed gang.

By now Karen McMullan, had been blindfolded and taken away to a still unknown location in her own car where she was held until the following night. Detectives investigating the robbery are desperate to find where Karen was held hostage but have made little progress - one police source described their search as like "looking for a needle in a haystack".

The masked gang, gloved and dressed in overalls, stayed with Kevin McMullan and Chris Ward in the house in Loughinisland until 6:30am the following morning. They repeatedly drilled the two men on how they were to behave at work the next day. They were told that if they strayed from the plan their families would be killed.

At one stage Kevin McMullan tried to activate an alarm which had been installed in his home by the Northern Bank. The robbers gave him a chilling warning, telling him "If we get caught, we get 15 years. If we kill you, we also get 15 years - it's your choice."

Detectives were later to spend days scouring the McMullan and Ward houses in the hope of finding clues to the identity of the robbers - keeping the families out of their homes over Christmas. Detectives were struck by how forensically aware the gang were, leaving no traces which would implicate them. It is believed they even trimmed their hair short to reduce the chance of dropped strands.

When Chris Ward and Kevin McMullan turned up for work at midday on Monday, their colleagues could have had no idea of the horrific ordeal they had already been forced to endure.

Both men were keyholders who worked in the Northern Bank's drab underground vault beneath Donegall Square which stores cash from businesses and supplies the bank's 95 branches in Northern Ireland as well as hundreds of ATM machines. Banking sources have said the electronic security at the centre is among the most robust anywhere in the UK.

It must have been a busy day at the vault with Belfast businesses lodging their bumper Christmas takings. Despite this, none of the employees seems to have found it strange or surprising when they were instructed to leave work early by Kevin McMullan.

During the afternoon either Mr McMullan or Mr Ward left the building with a hold-all containing £1m in Northern Bank notes. The bag was handed over to another man in Belfast - this was the first phase of the robbery, a dummy run intended to ensure the police had not been tipped off.

It was only later however, that the full extent of the robbery became apparent. By this stage thousands of people would have been on the streets of Belfast city centre in the closing stages of festive shopping. Carol singers entertained the crowds wrapped up against the sub-zero temperatures in front of Belfast City Hall - just yards from the cash centre.

Unknown to the crowds a small white lorry had pulled up at the rear of the bank and, under instruction, the two employees began carrying out rubbish sacks full of bank notes. It is unclear whether the robbers knew how much money would be in the vault but the lorry had to make two trips before finally driving off in the direction of the Grosvenor Road roundabout.

Eventually the gang left with an estimated £26.5 million although they did not completely empty the vaults. And the robbers never even entered the bank.

One of the conundrums of the Northern Bank robbery is how such a massive heist could have been carried out in the middle of a city heaving with people and no-one seemed to notice anything. One person who did spot suspicious activity around a white van reported it to a traffic warden. The police responded quickly but the robbers had already left, evading the officers by minutes.

The only other public trace the gang left was grainy CCTV footage of the lorry winding its way through busy traffic as it made its escape. The lorry, like the bank notes, has never been traced.

Bank robberies traditionally provide good copy for the media. They have been glamorised by countless Hollywood films and the public have come to view them as victimless crimes.

This theory was dramatically rubbished by the ordeal of Karen McMullen. Kept blindfolded for 24 hours she was eventually let loose in Drumkeeragh forest. Bare-footed and wearing only a set of overalls she stumbled terrified to the house of a stranger to raise the alarm. She was later treated for hypothermia. Friends say the McMullan family are still suffering panic attacks and are considering putting their home up for sale.

In Belfast, rumours of what would quickly become known as the "heist of the century" were already spreading rapidly. Well before midnight there was talk in city centre pubs that £30 million had been stolen from the Northern Bank and a series of mocking text messages were quickly in circulation.

Although police would only say initially that a substantial sum of money had been stolen from a bank in Belfast, the story was already beginning to gather its own momentum and early suspicions focused directly on republicans.

Before any intelligence or evidence had been produced or assessed, many people had already concluded that only the Provisional IRA could have had the sophistication and capacity to carry out such a carefully organised and well executed raid.

The robbers knew that two bank employees would be needed to get through the bank's coded dual lock system. They were also able to target which workers held the right codes for that week and where they lived. They also seemed to know that the bank vaults would be full of cash that night. Friends of the McMullan family said the robbers "knew everything about them". The IRA has also used stolen police uniforms to carry out robberies before.

The police were to hold a series of press conferences in the days following the robbery - passing on details about the bank notes, the lorry, and the ordeal suffered by the two families. Their refusal to immediately point the finger of blame at any paramilitary organisation fuelled the belief that the police had been caught cold and an air of desperation seemed to hang over the whole investigation.

Pressure grew on the Chief Constable Hugh Orde to make a public statement in the days before Christmas. Unionist politicians demanded the Chief Constable show leadership and point the finger of blame. They were openly stating that "Hugh Orde doesn't do bad news" and the feeling persisted that had the Northern raid taken place anywhere else in the UK, there would have been daily briefings from the top cop.

However, the Chief Constable stood firm, his aides insisting that he would speak on his own terms and only when he had something meaningful to say. He refused, they said, to be bullied by politicians or by a media pack thirsty for information. They insisted that no other Chief Constable in the UK would be subjected to such levels of personal pressure.

Despite the public silence from the Chief Constable, the PSNI had launched one of their biggest ever investigations. A team of 45 detectives, aided by crime analysts, were to carry out over 200 interviews and examine thousands of hours of CCTV footage as they attempted to close in on the robbery gang - believed to contain up to 20 people. Senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Andy Sproule was to describe it as a "massive logistical task".

He said: "This is a massive police investigation, it has generated over 600 actions already, numerous searches have been conducted, 560 exhibits have been collected, more than 100 full interviews have been conducted.

"Co-ordinating such a large amount of witnesses, searches and CCTV material is a massive logistical task in itself. This is a very large inquiry, covering four crime scenes and it will continue to grow as we get closer to establishing all the facts and bringing those responsible to justice."

However, suspicions remained that the problem was not with the police investigation, but with a breakdown of intelligence which meant the police were apparently not warned the raid was about to take place. The DUP publicly stated that they would grill the Chief Constable at the Policing Board on what intelligence he had received in the days before the robbery.

On Christmas Eve police began a series of hugely controversial raids on homes and commercial premises in north and west Belfast.

One of the first places they searched was the home of leading republican Eddie Copeland in the Ardoyne. He watched bemused as officers in white boiler suits opened presents under his Christmas tree and took away over a dozen pairs of shoes - earning him an unwanted new nickname "Imelda Marcos".

During searches of homes in the Ballymurphy area police were attacked by a mob throwing stones and missiles. Five officers were injured and during another search a handgun and ammunition were stolen from a Land Rover.

Interest in the heist temporarily dipped over the New Year holiday period as the devastation caused by the Asian tsunami dominated the headlines.

However, in early January the Chief Constable once more came under pressure to make a statement on the raid.

A New Year statement from the Provisionals in which they sidestepped any reference to the robbery did not do anything to allay suspicion that they had been involved.

Pressure was also growing on the Northern Bank. Current owners National Australia Bank quickly confirmed that they were self insured and would cover all the losses. The bank's prospective new owners Danish corporation Danske Bank said they would proceed with their take-over but must have been horrified at the security breakdown.

Questions continued to be asked about the bank's security systems. Why did staff accept the invitation to go home early on a busy day before Christmas? What level of surveillance was in operation on the day of the robbery? Did the gang have access to inside information? What steps were being taken to guard against future kidnappings?

There was also confusion and uncertainty over the length of time it took to provide police with the serial numbers of the stolen notes. At one point it was reported that stolen £20 notes had turned up at the Dundonald Ice Bowl. The notes turned out to be not among the stolen batch.

The final total of the amount stolen was eventually upgraded from £22 million to £26.5 million.

Northern Bank chief executive Don Price defended the delay, which he said was caused by the bank having to wait until the police had completed their investigations and had interviewed the two employees.

He denied that security at the bank was at fault. "Security wasn't lax. Banks take security very seriously and obviously so do we. It wasn't lax but it failed. What was important in this robbery was the human dimension, I don't know what any of us would do in similar circumstances."

The chief executive was also to admit that the robbers may have had inside help to carry out the spectacular raid. "One thing that is striking is the amount of information individuals had about the bank."

The pressure had been growing on the Northern to take the drastic step of withdrawing all its notes from circulation. After weeks of consideration and with no breakthrough imminent in the investigation the bank bowed to the inevitable and began the process of reprinting £300 million of its notes. A massive logistical task with no precedent in UK banking history.

This led the Chief Constable to call the robbery the "largest theft of waste paper in living history" although this was not strictly true.

The robbers still had at least £10m in untraceable notes, at least £4m from other banks. Theories were also running that many of the stolen new notes could already be in circulation, republicans using their network of illegal contacts to launder as many of the stolen notes as possible before they were withdrawn. It has even been suggested that the notes could turn up in electronic parking meters and there were reports that Northern notes were being sold at illegal markets.

Eventually at a packed press conference, 18 days after the robbery, the Chief Constable revealed the worst kept secret in Northern Ireland - the Provisional IRA carried out the Northern Bank robbery.

The DUP were entitled to say "we told you so" and duly did, quickly calling for republicans to be frozen out of the political process.

Sinn Fein, on the other hand were left seething and challenged the Chief Constable to produce a shred of evidence to back up his claims.

Despite the apoplectic position adopted by Sinn Fein it was hard to find a republican source who did not believe the IRA carried out the robbery - most, indeed, took pride in the fact.

Suspicion immediately fell on the same IRA gang which carried out the £1 million Makro robbery last May and the £1.2 million cigarette heist from Gallaher's warehouse.

The post-ceasefire IRA has faced political outrage for their criminal activities on several occasions - Colombia, Castlereagh, Florida gun-running, Stormontgate - but on each occasion Sinn Fein has managed to stay within the two Governments' political embrace. Perhaps the IRA judged that such was the enthusiasm of the Prime Minister and Taoiseach to return to a power-sharing administration at Stormont, that they believed they could stretch their patience once more with a spectacular bank raid.

However, on this occasion officials from the British and Irish Governments spoke of betrayal that while they were involved in negotiations with the Sinn Fein leadership before Christmas, the IRA was in advanced planning for one of the biggest criminal operations the province has ever seen.

Political analysts are desperately trying to measure the extent of the damage done to the Northern Ireland peace process while the police still believe they can capture the gang which pulled off the outrageous heist. Almost one month on from the Northern Job it seems like the full implications are only beginning to be known.

Gangs target the weak spot ... people

With security at bank vaults becoming virtually impregnable, organised crime gangs have realised that humans are the weakest link. JONATHAN MCCAMBRIDGE and DEBORAH MCALEESE examine the growth of the terrifying 'tiger kidnappings'

In an increasingly complex criminal world sometimes it is the simplest ideas which work best.

Police intelligence reports and underworld crime gangs share the same use of terminology - a tiger kidnapping is what they both call a crime where a hostage is held to force the victim to take part in a robbery. So successful have paramilitaries been in using this chilling tactic in Northern Ireland that the PSNI have been faced with calls to set up a task force specifically to deal with hostage crimes.

However, the origins of the tiger kidnapping spread back well over two decades. The term was first used in London for a particular type of crime against illegal immigrants, usually from the Middle East. When these immigrants reached London they were kidnapped by armed gangs who told their families back home that their relatives would be killed unless large ransoms were paid.

The success of the tactic meant it was soon adapted by others. For years criminal gangs had been frustrated that the improvement in the technology of security at financial institutions had limited their ability to carry out major bank jobs. Highly sensitive alarm systems meant that the days when a robbery gang could crack a safe with a simple explosive device were long gone.

The banks improved their security even further with armoured glass, bullet-proof shutters and CCTV cameras. Robbers were reduced to attacking security guards as they made cash deliveries - a much less lucrative and more risky operation.

First London and then Manchester saw a growth in the early 1990s of tiger kidnappings where hostages were taken. Terrified bank, building society and post office employees were then forced to go to work, where they could nullify the security measures and empty the vaults. The robbers were left with a less risky and more lucrative role - in essence someone else was doing their dirty work for them.

In Northern Ireland criminal gangs and paramilitary groups, both loyalist and republican have used tiger kidnappings; it is estimated there could have been as many as 40 of the hostage crimes in Ireland last year alone.

The methodology in all of the tiger kidnappings is similar. Armed masked men turn up at the house of an employee and take their partner and children hostage. They then remove them to another location and the employee is sent to their place of work. The key to the success of the crime hinges on the fact that the victim has to believe the robbers will murder their loved ones if they do not co-operate.

Another consistent factor in all the tiger kidnappings in Northern Ireland is that up to now police have been unable to recover any of the stolen money.

Police have often been left frustrated at how forensically aware the robbers are. When they search the buildings where families have been held hostage they often find the robbers have used their own mops and detergents to clean the crime area - cutting out the opportunity for a forensic breakthrough.

Last Autumn the IRA were blamed for carrying out a £1.2m cigarette heist of a tobacco warehouse in Belfast after a family was held hostage in the Ardoyne area and a man forced to go to the Gallaher plant where he worked.

Downpatrick has also seen activity from a criminal gang which has taken hostages in a number of robberies.

In September a family was left traumatised after 10 masked men took over their house on the outskirts of Saul village.

A wife, son and daughter were held in a vacant house in Belfast before the man, a Securicor worker, was forced to gather a £500,000 ransom.

An INLA gang in Strabane have been blamed for a spate of tiger kidnappings at banks in the town over the past four years. Hostages have usually been held across the border in Donegal.

In September 2000 Bank of Ireland employee Ryan Doherty and his wife Elaine were taken hostage by four masked men at their Strabane home.

They were held overnight and the next morning Mr Doherty was ordered to collect £25,000 from the bank's Lifford branch.

In April robbers made off with £21,000 after holding a family captive and forcing a woman to withdraw the cash from a safe at Boots on Strabane's Main Street where she worked.

Police have scored successes in taking the battle to the robbers. A major undercover operation led to the foiling of an alleged attempted kidnapping in east Belfast last year. Just before Christmas detectives arrested a man in Strabane on suspicion of taking part in tiger kidnappings. Charges have followed in both instances.

The only difference between the Northern Bank robbery and all those which have gone before is the spectacular scale of the heist. This has left police under more pressure than ever before to catch a gang obviously well versed in a low risk, high reward criminal strategy.

How rest of the world's media saw it ...

For a short time before Christmas Belfast became the centre of global media attention. ALICE MCVICKER examines the world-wide coverage of the 'heist of the century'.

It has been compared to the great train robbery of 1963, the Middle East raid of 1976 and the Heathrow Gold Rush of 1983.

Belfast's Northern Bank robbery was a story that shook the world when it broke just days before Christmas - newspapers and broadcasters from America to Asia picked up on the international significance of the audacious raid.

Northern Ireland security analysts and journalists found themselves in more demand than at any time since the ceasefires as the national and international media descended on the province hungry for information.

In the days after the robbery, news reports worldwide marvelled at the scale and significance of the crime, quickly labelled "the world's biggest bank robbery".

A headline in The Australian ran: "Heist of the century a national disaster" and described it as "one of the biggest bank robberies ever", while the San Francisco Chronicle labelled it "the world's biggest all-cash theft".

Many papers highlighted the complex nature and sheer audacity of the crime.

The Gold Coast Bulletin called the robbery "brazen", while Indian newspaper The Hindu, under the headline "Belfast bank robbers posed as police", detailed the careful planning and efficient execution of the crime.

Leaders in The Guardian and South Africa's The Business Day dwelt on the "daring, skill and military teamwork" of the kidnappers. It was argued, however, that that the huge bank raid "should not be trivialised or romanticised".

Australian newspapers approached the story from a domestic angle, commenting on the repercussions the robbery would have on National Australia Bank, current owner of the Northern Bank.

The Australian reported: "The loss of the cash was another blow for the luckless National Australia Bank, owner of Northern Bank, which was not insured against such a brazen crime."

National Australia Bank lost $360 million in a rogue trading scandal last January and can ill afford to bear the losses arising from the Northern Bank robbery.

Last month the Australian bank sold the Northern Bank to Denmark's biggest bank, Danske, for $967 million.

However as the sale awaits finalisation, National Australia Bank has been left to foot the bill arising from the robbery.


The Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy has been giving his considered response to the suspected involvement of the IRA in last month's bank robbery.

SF May Face Sanctions In Heist Fall-Out -A

By Brian Walker
12 January 2005

Sanctions against Sinn Fein and turning the Assembly into a consultative body to make direct rule more accountable may be part of the fall-out of the Northern Bank robbery, MPs have been told.

In the Commons yesterday, a plainly dejected Paul Murphy endorsed Chief Constable Hugh Orde's judgement of IRA responsibility for the £26m robbery, declaring: "I have seen a great deal of the evidence" - and telling John Hume, the only MP to challenge him to produce it, "I have no doubt the Chief Constable was right."

Making clear that all hope of a comprehensive political deal and IRA decommissioning have been abandoned for the forseeable future, Mr Murphy told MPs he could not forecast "when it would prove possible to re-establish an inclusive power-sharing Executive".

This angered the DUP, who want to press ahead without Sinn Fein and who heckled him with accusations of "punishing everybody" for an IRA crime.

After Tony Blair met Ian Paisley last night, Downing Street made it plain that ideas for a 'Plan B' were on hold until the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach take stock of the situation towards the end of the month.

The DUP are hankering after a voluntary coalition with the SDLP, but if this proves unfeasible, they might settle for keeping the Assembly as a consultative body "to keep an eye on direct rule ministers", as Mr Paisley put it to MPs.

This idea has been seized on by Mr Murphy, who personally favours keeping Stormont seats warm in some capacity for another, better day.

But this may prove hard to reconcile with taking a tougher line against Sinn Fein who, after all, remain the major nationalist party and are still in denial over the IRA's responsibility for the bank raid.

Anticipating a recommendation of sanctions against Sinn Fein in line with what happened after the Tohill kidnapping last February, the two governments will ask the International Monitoring Commission to make a special ruling on responsibility for the bank raid, probably by the end of next month.

If IRA responsibily is confirmed, another token fine might be imposed on the Sinn Fein Assembly party - although this option has already been scorned by members of both unionist parties.

"The IRA are laughing at the British Government," said the Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside.

A more popular option among MPs long championed by the Tories and which Mr Murphy did not rule out, is the withdrawal of Commons privileges and allowances from the four Sinn Fein MPs and a review of the exemption on declaring funds raised outside the UK enjoyed by local parties, which especially benefits Sinn Fein.

Despite some tough talk and a tone of deep disillusionment, the underlying message from Westminster is that the Assembly is not about to scrapped, at least not immediately.

While "ending criminality" remains the Government's mantra, they evidently have no idea how to set new terms for achieving it, beyond Mr Murphy's vague call for new "decisions and responses" from Sinn Fein.

A firmer idea of what is required must await the premiers' ideas for Plan B at the end of the month.


SF Select Ruane For South Down

A Sinn Fein Assembly member who has campaigned against the detention of three Irishmen in Colombia is to stand at the next Westminster election, it emerged today.

By:Press Association

The party confirmed Caitriona Ruane, who captured a seat for the party in South Down at the last Assembly election, will bid to break the SDLP`s 18 year stranglehold on the constituency.

The Co Mayo born fluent Spanish speaker was unopposed at selection convention in Downpatrick and said she could capture the seat from South Down MP Eddie McGrady.

Noting the constituency`s connections with Wolfe Tone and nationalism, she said: "For the past 18 years Eddie McGrady has held this seat in what has often been described as the SDLP`s `jewel in the crown`.

"That jewel has lost much of its sparkle and with the continued dedication, hard work and commitment we can, in the centenary year of Sinn Fein`s formation, win the Westminster election and significantly increase our representation at council level."

To win the seat Ms Ruane will need to bridge a gap of 3,915 votes between her party and the SDLP during the 2003 Assembly Election.

Sinn Fein`s Willie Clarke and Caitriona Ruane won two seats in that contest, picking up a seat at the expense of the SDLP`s Eamon O`Neill.

The SDLP also won two and was disappointed to lose its third seat, despite ending up with more popular votes than Sinn Fein.

In the 2001 General Election, Mr McGrady had a 13,858 majority over his Sinn Fein rival, Mick Murphy on a much bigger turnout.

In June 2001, 6,636 more people voted than in the Assembly Election in November 2003.

Ms Ruane said her work as an MLA had taken her into many towns, villages and hamlets in the constituency to deal with issues faced by students and first-time voters, pensioners, workers, the unemployed, small shopkeepers, farmers, the fishing industry and business people.

The married mother-of-two lives in Co Louth and first came to prominence as the director of the West Belfast Festival.

She has been put in charge of Sinn Fein`s centenary celebrations this year.

The South Down MLA is also well known for her campaign in Colombia for the release of three Irishmen - James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley - who were jailed for training Marxist Farc rebels.

The Colombian Attorney General last month successfully appealed a lower court decision to acquit them of serious offences and release them from prison.

The three Irishmen have not returned to jail because they are believed to have defied the Colombian authorities by leaving the country.


Ballymena Backs One Small Step Crusade

By Claire Regan
12 January 2005

Ballymena Borough Council has finally officially endorsed a peace-building campaign which looked uncertain after attempts by the DUP to block it.

Chairman of the One Small Step campaign, Trevor Ringland, today welcomed the council's decision to sign up to the programme, which asks everyone to do something small - like reading a newspaper from the 'other side' - in a bid to help achieve a lasting end to conflict in the province.

The campaign is touring Northern Ireland councils asking them to sign up.

In October last year, council members had no choice but to defer a decision on the matter when DUP councillor Robin Stirling tried to block it because he had not been present for previous discussions on it.

Mr Ringland, a former Ireland rugby international star, attended the council chamber afterwards where he was hit with staunch loyalist views with some councillors arguing that until there was peace, and Orangemen were allowed to march in Dunloy, it was impossible to take such steps.

Although DUP members appeared uneasy with supporting the campaign and had attempted to stall a decision on it until the monthly meeting, arguing several councillors were absent, eventually the council agreed, without a vote, to support the scheme.

Mr Ringland said today that the council had sent out a message of hope to the people of Northern Ireland.

"The One Small Step Campaign is delighted that Ballymena Borough Council has thrown its weight behind what we are trying to do," he said.

"The principles of One Small Step are committing to work for the common good," he said


Sinn Féin To Hold Major Rally To Mark Beginning Of Celebrations For Céad Bliain Shinn Féin (100 Years Of Sinn Fein)

Published: 12 January, 2005

Sinn Féin will hold a major rally in the Round Room in the Mansion House in Dublin on Friday 14th January at 7pm to launch its programme of events for the 100th anniversary of Sinn Féin.

The event will be chaired by Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin MLA and Chair of Comóradh an Chéid Caitríona Ruane will announce details of many of the events which will take place over the year.

During the evening there will also be music and a multi media and dramatic presentation depicting key events of the last 100 years.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will also give a keynote address setting out the party's priorities for the time ahead and the current difficulties in the peace process. ENDS


McGrady Challenged Over Disgraceful Remarks

Published: 12 January, 2005

Sinn Féin Assembly member for South Down Caitriona Ruane has said that the remarks of SDLP MP Eddie McGrady yesterday in the British House of Commons accusing Sinn Féin of being the 'IRA in lounge suits' were remarks more at home on the DUP benches.

Ms Ruane said:

" Eddie McGrady's contribution yesterday in the British House of Commons including his disgraceful use of language in describing the party who represent the majority of nationalist opinion the six counties would have been more at home on the DUP benches.

" It is clear to those of us vigorously pursuing the United Ireland agenda that Mr McGrady has long departed from that path and instead is heading down the political cul de sac mapped out by former SDLP colleagues like Gerry Fitt.

" It is clear that Eddie McGrady has extreme difficulties in accepting the Sinn Féin mandate. Sinn Féin represent the majority of nationalists in the north and are the third largest party on this island. Just as we will defend the rights and entitlements of the nationalist and republican community in the face of attacks from rejectionist unionism and the British government we will do so in the face of attacks from Eddie McGrady.

" Sinn Féin are involved in this process on the basis of our mandate. The majority of nationalists in the north ensured that. Eddie McGrady needs to realise that those voters are not second class and that a vote for Sinn Féin caries the same weight as a vote for anyone else." ENDS


Republican Gangs Back To The Gun

By Chris Thornton
12 January 2005

IRA punishment squads have gone back to the gun since efforts to close a political deal stalled last month.

Shootings by republican gangs came to a complete halt during the heaviest period of negotiations but have now resumed with three in the past 12 days.

In the two most recent attacks, which took place in different nationalist areas of Belfast, both victims were shot in the hands.

The halt in shootings followed patterns previously noted by security experts - republican attacks tend to diminish or stop completely at politically sensitive times.

Unionists say that kind of control demonstrates Sinn Fein's links with the IRA.

Loyalists, however, remain responsible for a larger number of attacks.

In the most recent attack, a 19-year-old man was taken from a house in Gortnamona Way in west Belfast. He was brought to Westhill Way, where he was shot in both hands.

Police said the shooting was reported to them after 11.30pm yesterday. They have appealed for anyone with information to contact them.

On Saturday, an identical type of attack was carried out in the Short Strand area of east Beflast when an 18-year-old man was shot in both hands at Seaforde Street.

Last night's attack was the third republican shooting since the New Year.

There were no republican shootings in October and November, when the London and Dublin governments were trying to close a deal. The PSNI says it does not have details for attacks in December, because statistics are being finalised.

There were 10 republican assaults in October and November. There has been one so far this year.

By contrast, loyalists shot 15 people in punishment-style attacks in October and November. Nine people were beaten by loyalists. Since the New Year, loyalists have carried out nine shootings and four assaults.

The IMC had previously noted that the republican violence seemed to be dropping at the time when the Leeds Castle talks were approaching.

An earlier IMC report noted that republican punishment attacks stopped during the Assembly election campaign last year.


John Morrison in Oban, Argyll, and John Thorne in Cumbria on the severe weather which has battered the north of Britain overnight.

Ulster: Weather-Beaten -A

By Maureen Coleman
12 January 2005

Ulster was picking up the pieces today after one of the worst storms seen for years.

Winds of up to 100mph and torrential rain battered parts of Ulster, killing one man and leaving thousands of homes without power.

It was the same picture across the UK with the full force of the weather unleashed in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Northern England.

Official figures recorded a highest Ulster gust of 83mph at Malin Head, but there were unconfirmed report that winds of 100mph were reported at Donegal airport.

In Londonderry, one man was killed when his articulated vehicle was blown off Foyle Bridge in high winds.

He was named as Peter McGuinness of Aghagallon in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

Throughout the province roads were closed last night due to fallen trees, sporting fixtures were cancelled and travel arrangements thrown into disarray.

Ferry crossings between Belfast and Stranraer were called off while flights from both Belfast City and Belfast International Airports were affected.

By early this morning a number of roads remained closed, including the A29 Newtownhamilton to Keady road and the Foyle Bridge, where a contraflow system is in operation.

A lorry also jacknifed at the Ballybogey roundabout outside Ballymoney, but it was cleared this morning.

On the Glenshane Pass, in Co Derry, snow ploughs were out when heavy wind and rain was replaced by ice and snow.

NIE staff were kept busy throughout the storm, with around 900 personnel on stand-by to tackle faults.

At one stage more than 35,000 homes were without supply.

Early today, up to 1,000 homes were still cut off, with the worst affected areas in counties Armagh and Down.

A spokesman for NIE said it hoped to restore power to these customers during the day, but warned that it could be necessary to take some people off supply to make permanent repairs.

At one stage, crews were forced by atrocious conditions to suspend repair work in the Coleraine area.

Elsewhere, strong winds hampered firefighters who were trying to put out a blaze at the Oak Grill restaurant in Castlewellan.

And at Nutts Corner in Co Antrim a fallen tree hit a van but no-one was injured.

A spokeswoman for PA WeatherCentre in London described the winds as "horrific".

"Northern Ireland really did get a battering yesterday and last night, but the worst of the storms are over now," she said.

"The strong winds will ease off during the day but there will be snow falling in parts and some roads will be icy.

"There'll be some brisk winds around later in the week, but nothing quite as bad as we've seen overnight."

In the Republic, around 5,000 homes were left without power while flights and ferry sailings were also cancelled. However, Scotland has borne the brunt of the bad weather across the British Isles - 60,000 people lost electricity after gales sent trees and telegraph poles toppling.

Gusts of 124mph were recorded on North Rona, while winds reached 105mph on Barra, both in the Western Isles.


Atlantic Waves Sweep Republic Coastline

By Kim Kelly
12 January 2005

Ferocious 100 mile per hour winds whipped the north west coast as last night's powerful storm battered the Republic.

Around 5,000 homes were left without power as ESB technicians worked throughout the night.

In Tralee, structural damage was caused to buildings and winds ripped off the roof of a Dunnes Stores while widespread flooding caused chaos.

But it was the west and north west that bore the brunt of the storm with a 100mph gust reported at Donegal Airport.

The seaside towns of Killybegs, Donegal Town and Bundoran were affected as the highest tide of the year backed by high winds caused flooding.

Emergency crews in Galway said that the prior warning of the Atlantic storm minimised damage.

Most of the damage last night was confined to farm outbuildings as high winds struck and fifteen foot waves crashed ashore.

Motorists heeded warnings to avoid coastal roads with some roads becoming impassable.

Several factories in Galway city and Co Donegal closed early to allow workers get home before the storm hit.

Aer Arann cancelled all 20 of its flights in and out of Galway Airport.

And the Aran Islands were cut off as ferry and air services were cancelled to the three main islands.

The storm force winds meant a return to candlelight for Co Mayo's offshore islanders last night.

By lunchtime yesterday the tiny island of Inishbiggle, which has a mainly elderly population, was without electricity.

The roadway leading to the island's heli-pad had also subsided.

The islanders, who rely on a weekly 'sailing shop' from nearby Achill tied down their boats with heavy ropes weighed down by large rocks.

Meanwhile, Mayo's most isolated island, Inishturk, still had electricity.

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