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January 13, 2005

01/13/05 – SF & DUP Vote Against EU Constitution

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents - Jan 2005

BT 01/13/05 SF & DUP Join Forces In Voting Against EU Constitution
SF 01/13/05 Adams: Prepare To Resist Discrimination By 2 Govts
BT 01/13/05 SF Criticism Could Drive Wedge Through Republicanism
BT 01/13/05 Hume Accepts IRA Behind Bank Robbery
BT 01/13/05 Sinn Fein Rift With Ahern Over Bank Raid
BT 01/13/05 Heist May Affect Key Election Fight
BT 01/13/05 Did PSNI Have Intelligence About The Robbery?
BT 01/13/05 Smoking Is Banned At Ulster Hospital
BT 01/13/05 Irish Tenor (Ronan Tynan ) At Bush's Big Day
BT 01/13/05 Experts To Probe Bridge Death Plunge


Sinn Fein And DUP Join Forces In Voting Against EU Constitution

By Conor Sweeney in Strasbourg
13 January 2005

While members of the European Parliament voted in huge numbers to support the new EU Constitution yesterday, for once Sinn Fein and the unionists were united as they voted against the draft document.

Irish EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy dismissed the negative stance of Sinn Fein.

He suggested that it was merely a tactical stance to build the party's electoral appeal.

Following the vote - which was carried with 500 in favour and 137 against - the Commissioner said he would take a prominent role in campaigning for a Yes vote in the forthcoming domestic referendum.

Irish members of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour and independent Marian Harkin voted in favour of the constitution.

However, both Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Barbara de Brun, along with the DUP's Jim Allister and the Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson voted against, along with the other independent MEP, Kathy Sinnott.

The unlikely voting combination provoked a jibe from Proinsias de Rossa of Labour, who said that for once both DUP and Sinn Fein were singing from the same hymn sheet.

"The DUP and Sinn Fein continue to squabble in Northern Ireland over the outcome of the 17th century Battle of the Boyne. Nevertheless, they are united in their opposition to the draft European Constitution."

Mr Allister emerged as one of the most prominent speakers on behalf of the eurosceptics.

"Happily, the vote that matters is that which will be held in the various member countries.

"I look forward to actively campaigning for a No vote in the UK," he said afterwards.

There were also a number of colourful protests by many of anti-constitution campaigners. Some Poles held aloft an old Soviet flag with a hammer and sickle and shouted "Brussels-Moscow", comparing the EU with the former communist domination.

Although the main political parties all voted in favour, far right MEPs like Frenchman Jean Marie Le Pen and the far left GUE group, which includes Sinn Fein, all voted no.

Fianna Fail's European party also revealed a deep split, with seven Polish members voting against the draft constitution.

After the vote, which comes before any of the dozen national polls in the year ahead, Mr McCreevy pledged to play an active role campaigning in favour of the domestic Irish referendum on the constitution.

The first referendum will be held in Spain next month and the Irish electorate is expected to vote late this year, or possible in early 2006.

Already, two countries, Lithuania and Hungary, have ratified the constitution by Parliamentary votes, although all 25 must give their assent before it can take affect.

While numerous countries might vote no, such as Ireland, Denmark or the Czech Republic, it seems inevitable that Britain at least will vote against the constitution, but the consequences of that are unclear at this stage.


Adams Tells Party To Prepare To Resist Discrimination By Two Governments

Published: 13 January, 2005

Gerry Adams has given notice to Sinn Féin that the party must prepare to resist any campaign of discrimination by the two governments against its electorate. Speaking to An Phoblact the Sinn Féin President said:

"The process was in considerable difficulties following the DUP rejection of the comprehensive agreement in December. At that time there was an unprecedented opportunity to resolve all of the outstanding issues and see the Good Friday Agreement implemented. This foundered on an unachievable demand from Ian Paisley supported by the two governments. Despite this Sinn Féin continued to search for a way forward with the governments.

"Then the Northern Bank robbery was seized upon by opponents of the process on the one hand and by opponents of Sinn Féin on the other to prevent any further progress.

"The British government now appears to be considering a return to the failed policy of discrimination against Sinn Féin, and the Irish government for its own reasons appears to be in support of this.

"Sinn Féin rejects any attack on our democratic and electoral mandate.

"I have spoken to senior officials in both governments and made this very clear to them.

"Despite all of our reservations and concerns as republicans Sinn Féin has been prepared to work with the British government in the common interest of building a lasting peace. That remains our focus and intention. However we will not acquiesce to the undermining of the rights and entitlements of our electorate.

"We are also seriously concerned about the Taoiseach's decision to attack Sinn Féin. His allegation that our leadership was aware in advance of the Northern Bank robbery creates difficulties in the working relationship between the Irish government and Sinn Féin.

"I reject these accusations totally and I am disappointed that the Taoiseach didn't raise any concerns he might have with me directly.

"It is important that we all avoid knee-jerk reactions. The Sinn Féin leadership is currently assessing all of this, the implications of any attack on our mandate and our future role in the process.

"Unless wiser counsel prevails short-sighted decisions by the governments could have profound implications.

"In this context we are seeking meetings with the British and Irish governments next week." ENDS


Sinn Fein Criticism Could Drive Wedge Through Republicanism

By Eamonn McCann
13 January 2005

If the Provos did the bank job, there's likely a split on the way. I say "if" on account of being among approximately six journalists on the island who don't have the inside track on the heist yarn.

I do make the Provos odds-on favourites. But I don't claim to know. I stand in dazzled admiration of the hot- shots who were able to report at the weekend that one of the leaders of the Provo unit behind the cleansing of the vault had served for a time with the armed forces of Croatian Catholic- Nationalism. The Ante Pavelic brigade of the Army of Our Lady of Medjugorje, perhaps.

But that's a story for another day. Remind me some time.

How was a number of journalists, each operating independently and based in different cities, able simultaneously to unearth this fascinating piece of information? I wish I knew.

I can only say what I assume: that the detail was fed to them by what are politely called "intelligence sources" and that they then published the info as fact without alerting readers to its provenance.

Same as the heist. As to which, again, I can only say what I assume: that it was the Provos what done it. And that, on this assumption, there's trouble ahead within and between Sinn Fein and the IRA. Innocent onlookers would be well advised to stand back.

The raid itself would be no reason for splitting. Few members of Sinn Fein and/or the Provos would have a political or moral problem with snatching millions from a bank. They are by no means alone in entertaining this attitude.

No. The wedge would be driven into the movement by the subsequent words of some of its public leaders - most importantly, Gerry Kelly and Martin McGuinness.

Last week, Kelly described the raid as "wrong." This week, McGuinness went further. Whoever carried the robbery out was "hostile" to the Sinn Fein agenda. "Anything that sees innocent people held hostage in their house is a criminal act," he added.

Whether or not they knew of the job in advance, Kelly and McGuinness will have known by the time they made these comments whether the IRA was responsible. Any IRA unit involved has, then, been publicly denounced as "criminal" by Sinn Fein's chief negotiator.

There is no precedent I know of for any such thing. The closest I can think of came in July 1988 in reaction to the killing at the Falls Baths of Elizabeth Hamill (60) and Eamon Gilroy (24), both local residents, caught by an IRA bomb intended for a British Army patrol.

Pressed by journalists at the time, Gerry Adams said that he was "shocked and "saddened". But he accepted the IRA's word that the deaths had been "accidental."

Local councillor Sean Keenan, was marginally more forthright. The bomb shouldn't have been planted in the first place, he told the Irish News.

Keenan was a scion of one of the most illustrious Republican families in the North and, by common consent, a coming man. He was close to Adams, had been seriously wounded in the UDA attack on Adams's car four years earlier. His council seat was safe. But when he distanced himself from the death-bomb, his political career was done.

In his history of Sinn Fein, A Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney says that, "Keenan never made another public statement." He wasn't nominated for the council next time round.

And Keenan had come nowhere near calling the bomb blast "criminal."

Kelly and, more particularly, McGuinness have gone further in public censure of an IRA action than any Sinn Fein spokesperson of the past 35 years. Precedent suggests neither has any future in Republican politics.

Alternatively, precedent has been abandoned to an extent which makes a split imminent.

Or it could be their words had no such weight because the 'Ra didn't do it.


Hume Accepts IRA Behind Bank Robbery

By Chris Thornton
13 January 2005

Former SDLP leader John Hume, who called for police to publish evidence that the IRA was behind the Northern Bank robbery, now says he believes the Provos did it.

Mr Hume said he was swayed by the Taoiseach's announcement that Irish government intelligence agrees with the PSNI assessment blaming the IRA for the £26m heist.

On Tuesday Mr Hume said he phoned the Sinn Fein leadership "and they told me that they had played no role of any description in it". He then asked Secretary of State Paul Murphy to agree "it is necessary to publish the evidence behind the allegations."

Yesterday Mr Hume said he still believes the governments "should give the public as much information as they can on why they believe the IRA was responsible."

"That way the public will be able to draw their own conclusions on who is telling the truth," he said. "Obviously, there may well be information so sensitive that it cannot be revealed - but the more the public know the better.

"Sinn Fein has denied the IRA was responsible for this robbery. However, their denials have not always been true in the past.

"Also, it is not just Hugh Orde who has blamed the IRA for the robbery - the Taoiseach has been totally clear on this, based on the Irish government's own intelligence.

"I believe the Taoiseach. He has worked enormously hard for the peace process and I do not think he would have said what he did without clear information in front of him."

Mr Hume said it is "time the IRA, and loyalist paramilitaries, accepted the will of the people and wound up their activities for good."


Sinn Fein Rift With Ahern Over Bank Raid

By Chris Thornton
13 January 2005

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams says there are now "difficulties" in his party's relations with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the aftermath of the Northern Bank robbery.

The Sinn Fein president said he is seeking talks with the Dublin and London administrations, but is "seriously concerned" about Mr Ahern's attitude.

Mr Ahern blamed the IRA for the £26m heist, adding he was concerned that the Sinn Fein leaders would have been aware the robbery was to take place.

Mr Ahern, who said Irish intelligence supported the PSNI in blaming the IRA for the raid, seems ready to toughen the requirements on the IRA in any deal.

Mr Ahern's accusations have helped persuade former SDLP leader John Hume that the IRA was behind the raid.

Mr Hume, who had called for evidence of IRA involvement to be published, said Mr Ahern would not have said what he did "without clear information".

Speaking to republican newspaper An Phoblacht, Mr Adams acknowledged a rift with Mr Ahern.

"His allegation that our leadership was aware in advance of the Northern Bank robbery creates difficulties in the working relationship between the Irish government and Sinn Fein," he said.

"I reject these accusations totally and I am disappointed that the Taoiseach didn't raise any concerns he might have with me directly."

In the statement, Mr Adams continued to portray the allegation that the IRA was behind the robbery as an attack on his party and claimed the governments may be preparing "a campaign of discrimination".


Heist May Affect Key Election Fight

By Chris Thornton
13 January 2005

The political fallout from the Northern Bank robbery could affect the general election in one of the key nationalist battlegrounds.

The SDLP, which holds South Down, and Sinn Fein, which is challenging for the seat, have exchanged sharp words over accusations that the IRA carried out the robbery.

South Down MP Eddie McGrady, who said he is a friend of the Loughisland family kidnapped by the robbers, told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the Government was selling out "democracy to political Sinn Fein, the IRA in lounge suits".

Sinn Fein candidate Catriona Ruane said the description was "disgraceful" and could have come from the DUP.

South Down has long been an SDLP stronghold, with Mr McGrady holding a majority of almost 14,000.

But Sinn Fein has been building in the constituency. Their share of the vote rose from 15% in the 1998 Assembly election to 26% last year.

Mr McGrady, who turns 70 this year, had been expected to step down but there have been suggestions from within the SDLP that he has been encouraged to stand again.


Did The PSNI Have Any Intelligence About The Northern Bank Robbery?

The investigation into the Northern Bank raid has exposed the PSNI to a level of public scrutiny they have not experienced before. Crime Correspondent JONATHAN McCAMBRIDGE looks at the challenges facing the detectives on the biggest cash bank heist in history.

13 January 2005

It would be stretching the point to say that the credibility of the PSNI depended on catching the Northern Bank robbers, but any breakthrough in the investigation would provide a timely boost to a force under immense pressure.

The theft of £26.5m from the Northern Bank's underground vault and the interest it has generated has exposed the police to a public scrutiny greater than anything they will have experienced since the Omagh bombing.

As well as the obvious embarrassment of having the world's biggest ever cash bank robbery taking place on their patch, the PSNI has had its credibility as an intelligence gathering force openly questioned.

The RUC, it has been argued, would have prevented the IRA bank job because their legions of informers would have infiltrated the gang and the robbery would have been prevented. However, this seems to overlook the obvious point that bank jobs have been taking place in Northern Ireland for well over 30 years largely untroubled in their planning and execution by police intelligence.

It has also been stated that the PSNI is suffering from a self-imposed intelligence blackout because of the purge of informants, most of whom were involved in criminality themselves. In reality police still have their informers and the flow of information goes on.

One source said: "All this talk about informers is a total red herring. Police have not known about the vast majority of robberies in the past and they are forgotten about 24 hours later - the only difference with this one is the amount of money which was stolen."

The difference is that now the flow of information is managed differently. Special Branch has been brought under the control of Crime Operations within the PSNI and renamed C3. Rather than operating as separate entities, information from C3 is more readily passed throughout the police force, right down to the District Command Units across Northern Ireland. Crime operations is run by Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kinkaid, one of Northern Ireland's most experienced and capable detectives - importantly a man without any Special Branch baggage.

When Hugh Orde spoke last week he laboured the point that all elements of Crime Operations were co-operating in the Northern Bank investigation. To put it another way, he was saying Special Branch is not keeping any information back to protect informants.

Did the PSNI have any intelligence about the Northern Bank robbery? The truth is we will only know if suspects are charged and brought before the courts.

It is ironic that this debate on intelligence should be taking place now, at a time when the PSNI is trying to reform itself within the National Intelligence Model.

Policing is now largely determined by analysts working out crime trends and hotspots. The movement of your bobby on the beat is being determined at a strategic level by intelligence information.

Within the last 12 months intelligence-led policing has scored an unprecedented number of successes against organised criminals. Extortion, illegal dumping, fuel laundering and kidnapping gangs have been broken up by security forces using a variety of intelligence led tactics.

Despite this many people still feel organised crime gangs are now running rampant in the province. I have heard Northern Ireland described as "Sicily without the sun".

The Government's Organised Crime Task Force estimate there are 230 crime gangs in Northern Ireland and 85 of them run international crime empires - a staggering number. It is estimated that counterfeiting operations alone in Northern Ireland cost the economy over £150m each year.

Paramilitary groups, both loyalist and republican, have long seen armed robberies as an important source of fund-raising and banks have increasingly come to be seen as an easy touch.

It has long been known that police have been uneasy about the security of banks in the province. One bank in Strabane was robbed twice last year by the same gang.

Figures in the PSNI have been left angry because they believe the public attention has focused largely on them in the last month while the bank and their breakdown of security has received an easier ride.

Following the Northern Bank robbery, detectives were convinced almost from the start that the IRA was responsible but it was weeks before they felt confident enough to name them publicly. This was one call they were not going to make in haste and spend a long time regretting.

As time passes detectives will find themselves under more and more pressure but they are not helped by the size of this investigation which dictates it will take some time.

Police will have a list of suspects in mind. They also have at least four crime scenes, they have carried out over 200 interviews and there are countless numbers of exhibits to be scientifically tested. Detectives, who have already lost some time over Christmas, will have to be patient and hope that the forensic work throws up some evidential link with their suspects. A Home Office Linked Major Enquiry System (HOLMES) computer will be used to tie all the information together and co-ordinate the investigation.

Police are also keen to keep up the trickle of information to the public in the hope that a witness may come forward. This week they revealed there are now £10m of untraceable notes and the lorry used in the robbery crossed the border on its way to Belfast. They are also desperate to talk to a couple who tipped a traffic warden off after they saw men with bats and wigs acting suspiciously near the Northern Bank.

Bank robberies are notoriously difficult for police to solve. When the organised gangs are planning the crimes they will have worked out in detail what they will do after the robbery and where the money will be stored. This gives them several days advantage over detectives and, as long as they stick to their plan and show patience, police will struggle to catch up with them.

With no sign of public interest in the Northern Bank job lessening, the investigators will be hoping to identify a weak link in the gang. Failing that they may need a bit of luck to solve what is now being called the heist of the century.


Smoking Is Banned At Ulster Hospital

Restriction covers entire grounds

By Nigel Gould
13 January 2005

An Ulster hospital has become one of the first in the UK to introduce a total smoking ban on and around its premises, it emerged today.

The ban at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald extends to doorways and the car park.

And it applies to staff, patients and visitors.

Lesley McDonald, the hospital's Health Promotion Manager, said there had been a "mixed" reaction to the new policy.

"We are not kidding ourselves that this is not going to be without difficulties," she said. "We had a phased approach to this but we were always heading towards a total smoke-free policy.

"Patients who find it difficult are being offered nicotine replacement therapy.

"Basically, we are trying to change the mindset and the culture.

"It would be good though if we had the legislation in place to support us."

Smoking is now banned at all Trust premises, grounds and vehicles.

The plan was developed in conjunction with trade unions.

A Trust spokeswoman said: "Environmental tobacco smoke is a major cause of heart disease and many cancers, including lung cancer, and is a recognised occupational health hazard.

"The proven benefits of smoke-free workplaces for local populations include a safer working environment and improved health and well-being for both staff, patients and visitors."

GPs throughout the area have been sent posters to advertise the fact that the Ulster is now smoke free, while hospital correspondence carries a logo highlighting the ban.

Dr Peter Maguire, one of Northern Ireland's leading medical smoking ban campaigners, said: "This is very welcome and shows initiative by an employer leading the way prior to the introduction of legislation.

"Incredible as it may seem one of the easiest public buildings to smoke in is in a hospital.

"This needs to change and other hospitals need to follow the lead of UHD."

Meanwhile, the first hospitals in England to go smoke-free will be the Liverpool-based Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen hospital NHS Trust.

They will tell patients, staff and visitors to stub it out in March.

From then, smokers booked in for operations will be warned both hospitals are smoke-free and told to quit smoking at least six weeks before surgery.

A spokesman said: "If someone stops smoking just before they come in for surgery the residue from cigarette smoke still in their lungs could cause problems with the anaesthetic.

"During meetings with staff it was suggested that if patients can't give up smoking they should be reminded we are smoke-free and they might like to consider going to another hospital for treatment."


Irish Tenor At Bush's Big Day

By Kathy Donaghy
13 January 2005

World renowned Irish tenor Ronan Tynan is to perform at the second inauguration ceremony for US President George Bush later this month.

Ronan, from Co Kilkenny, will sing at the National Prayer Service on January 21 in Washington DC.

He was requested to sing at the service after he sang for former President George Bush Snr and his wife Barbara at their 60th wedding anniversary at the White House last year.

He also sang at the funeral for former President Ronald Reagan.

The singer left the Irish Tenors, last May to concentrate on his solo career having received offers from film and TV.

In March 2003, Ronan made history by becoming the first person to perform at the New York state senate chamber.

Born with a disability that led to both legs being amputated below the knee when he was 20, Tynan's life to date has been an inspiration. A doctor, world class athlete, and an international showjumper, discussions are underway to make a film based on his life.


Experts To Probe Bridge Death Plunge

By Michael McHugh in Aghagallon

12 January 2005

The grieving family of the Co Armagh lorry driver who plunged to his death when high winds blew his vehicle off the Foyle Bridge, today demanded to know why the road was not closed.

And the dramatic story took a new twist today when the DRD Roads Service announced it is to employ one of the UK's top bridge consultants to probe how the accident happened.

Peter McGuinness (37), from Aghagallon near Lurgan, died yesterday in Londonderry when his articulated lorry was blown through a crash barrier and fell more than 100 feet.

His devastated family believes questions must be answered about the decision to keep the bridge open.

Mr McGuinness' sister, Catherine (33), rushed back from London when she heard the news and, speaking from the family home today, said they were in a state of disbelief.

"He is not long back from driving on the continent and he has been driving for over 10 years," she said.

"There are questions which will need to be asked about this, and we will be looking for answers. It's not as if the winds were not forecast.

"He only came back last March and he was so pleased to be able to lie in his own bed at night and go down to the pub."

Mr McGuinness had two brothers, Jim and Mark, and lived at home with his mother Peggy.

"We are devastated but we would like to thank the paramedics and firefighters who tried to help Peter," said Catherine.

DRD Roads Service has confirmed that Hyder Consultants Limited has been commissioned to investigate and report on the circumstances of the accident.

Earlier divisional roads manager, Andrew Murray, who extended his sympathies to the McGuinness family, defended the decision to keep the bridge open despite predictions of 100mph gusts.

Mr Murray said all data from the wind centre at the apex of Foyle Bridge would be examined to determine if anything more could have been done.

"The weather station on Foyle Bridge is in common with best practice models across the UK," he said.

"If the average wind speed is over 50 mph, Roads Service consults the PSNI about the closure of the bridge. I know our records and the wind speed did not exceed 50mph."

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Table of Contents - Jan 2005
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