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January 15, 2005

01/15/05 – Wash Time: Robbery Threatens Peace Talks

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents - Jan 2005

WT 01/15/05 Wash Times: Belfast Bank Robbery Threatens Peace Talks
BB 01/15/05 SDLP: Raid 'Was Nationalist Betrayal'
BB 01/15/05 UUP: 'No More Chances' For Sinn Fein
LA 01/15/05 Thomas Flanagan: A Literary Giant Gets His Due


Belfast Bank Robbery Threatens Peace Talks

By Anthony Healy
The Washington Times

A spectacular bank robbery in Belfast last month, in which thieves netted nearly $50 million, has cast a pall on Northern Ireland peace negotiations and thrown Catholic-Protestant political relations in Northern Ireland into a tailspin.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has accused Irish Republican leadership of knowing about the robbery before it took place. The charge puts the Catholic Republican politician on the side of the British government and against his fellow Irish nationalist, and could lead to prosecution of Irish Republican leadership by the police on conspiracy charges.

The British government has said that it won't act against the Irish Republican leaders, which includes Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams, unless it has the agreement of Mr. Ahern's government.

After the Dec. 20 record heist, which carried the IRA signature of detailed planning and brutality, speculation was rampant that a paramilitary group was involved. Last week, this was confirmed by the police.

"In my opinion the Provisional IRA is responsible. My assessment may have wider political implications, but that's a matter for the politicians, not the police," said Hugh Orde, chief constable of Northern Ireland.

The Irish Republican Army has a long history of supporting its underground military activities with bank robberies. But as part of the ongoing peace process, the IRA and Sinn Fein have refrained from such illegal activities. Sinn Fein, a political party linked to the IRA, has denied any knowledge of Irish Republican involvement in the heist.

"I can't understand this robbery and its timing," said Irish parliament member Ollie Wilkinson. "It's an extraordinary development. How did the leadership of the peace process allow this announcement to be made without providing evidence?"

But Mr. Ahern's Irish government refused to back Sinn Fein this time, a move almost unprecedented in Irish history. The Irish prime minister went further than the British authorities and accused the leadership of Sinn Fein of knowing about the robbery before it took place.

"I was in negotiations with senior Republican leaders whilst their associates were planning to rob a bank," said Mr. Ahern, who later refused to withdraw the allegation of conspiracy.

Mr. Wilkinson, a member of Mr. Ahern's party and a staunch supporter of his leader, is cautious of Mr. Ahern's stance.

"I was very surprised by his comments. Personally, I would not have taken the Police Service of Northern Ireland's word for it. Not while they are connected to the British," said Mr. Wilkinson. "But I understand that Mr. Ahern has had further information from the Gardai [Irish police], and he made his comments in the light of this information."

The British government is resisting calls from the opposition Protestant Unionist parties for sanctions to be imposed on Sinn Fein.

The British authorities said they will do nothing without the agreement of the Irish government. At this point, no one knows which way the Irish government will go. Privately, it is said that Mr. Ahern is furious at what he sees as a stab in the back from the IRA.

But Unionists continue to demand that Sinn Fein be excluded from the peace process and call on the police to arrest their leaders. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was a regular visitor to the White House during President Clinton's administration, and usually attends the speaker's dinner in Washington for St. Patrick's Day. Should Mr. Ahern give the go-ahead, his arrest would be a major reversal in Republican political fortunes and would send the peace process into reverse.


Raid 'Was Nationalist Betrayal'

The SDLP should examine the possibility of entering a coalition without Sinn Fein at Stormont, one of the party's MPs has said.

Speaking in the wake of allegations of IRA involvement in the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery, Eddie McGrady said his party should consider its options.

Mr McGrady said that nationalist voters had been betrayed by the IRA.

"If they want to exclude themselves by their extremism, there is very little you can do about it" he said.

He told BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics: "Inclusivity is now the buzz word, but it doesn't mean that you have to stretch every parameter in every direction to include everybody.

"It means that you have a reasonable core set of behavioural conditions, and the people who want to subscribe to that in agreement do so and become members of the club."

The Democratic Unionist Party has called for the removal of allowances and privileges at Westminster from Sinn Fein's four MPs.

'No last chance'

It follows an assessment by the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde that the IRA was behind the raid on the bank head office in Belfast on 20 December.

The IRA has denied the claims and Sinn Fein backed its denials.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said republicans should not be given a last chance to join the political process.

Mr Trimble said that the prime minister had not taken strong enough action against them over the years.

On Thursday, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams warned republicans would resist any attempt to discriminate against their electorate.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/15 09:30:50 GMT


'No More Chances' For Sinn Fein

Republicans should not be given a last chance to join the political process, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has said.

Mr Trimble said that the prime minister had not taken strong enough action against them over the years.

His comments come amid calls for the government to impose penalties on Sinn Fein following claims that the IRA was behind the £26.5m Northern Bank raid.

The IRA has denied the claims and Sinn Fein backed its denials.

Purely political

The Democratic Unionist Party has called for the removal of allowances and privileges at Westminster from Sinn Fein's four MPs following an assessment by the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde that the IRA was behind the raid on the bank head office in Belfast on 20 December.

An early day motion in the Commons, which has been signed by Conservative party leader Michael Howard, claims that Sinn Fein can not be treated as a normal political party given its links to the IRA.

Mr Trimble, who was Northern Ireland's first minister until devolved government was suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the Northern Ireland Office, said republicans had repeatedly shunned efforts to make them purely political.

The Upper Bann MP said: "I think that what has happened over the years is that the prime minister has not been sufficiently robust.

"He has created within republicans a belief that no matter what happens they will get away with it and that if they just hunker down then eventually he will come back to them as if he was the suppliant."

Mr Trimble said that political parties needed to return to the principles of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which brought about a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

He said: "We must draw a line under current experiments and go back to the basics of the Agreement and consider, with others, where we go from here."

Mr Trimble also said that the devolution of policing and justice to Stormont must be taken off the agenda after the bank raid.

'No option'

On Thursday, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams warned republicans would resist any attempt to discriminate against their electorate.

He said: "If the governments are going to go in the direction of discriminating against Sinn Fein or to bash Sinn Fein, that leaves us with no option but to defend our position.

"I am saying to republicans: let's not knee-jerk but reflect on the situation.

"But let it be clear we will defend our electorate's rights and entitlement."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/14 10:25:14 GMT


Tim Rutten: Regarding Media

Thomas Flanagan: A Literary Giant Gets His Due

Of all the truly great men of letters America has produced in recent years, surely none now seems more neglected than Thomas Flanagan, the novelist, scholar and critic, who died three years ago.

In part, that's because two of the things most central to his work and art — the pleasures of serious reading and memory — seem to slip further out of fashion with each passing month. Those who still cling to them, and to the belief that they will come back into their own when cultural sanity is restored, are now indebted to New York Review Books, which last month published a superb collection of Flanagan's critical work, "There You Are: Writings on Irish and American Literature and History," and reissued a handsome paperbound edition of his first novel, "The Year of the French." The former includes a revelatory preface by the Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, and the latter is introduced by another distinguished Irish writer, novelist and critic Seamus Deane.

It is a measure of these books' importance that a writer placing titles in apposition to Flanagan's name must pause and carefully weigh their order. Novelist, scholar and critic will do, but the list could be shuffled with equal justice.

Flanagan, born in 1923, served in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy in World War II and was educated at Amherst and Columbia. As Christopher Cahill, who selected and edited the pieces in "There You Are," puts it in his introduction, Flanagan "began his writing life as an academic critic, before that term had become wholly pejorative." He went on to hold important academic appointments at Berkeley, where he taught American and Irish literature for many years, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. While at Berkeley, he embarked on an astonishing trilogy of historical novels — "The Year of the French," "The Tenants of Time" and "The End of the Hunt" — loosely linked and set in Ireland from the rising of 1798 through the order "to dump arms" that ended the civil war in 1923.

Cahill calls "The Year of the French" a "great American novel set in the bogs of 18th century Ireland." When it appeared in 1979, the reputation of historical fiction as a serious literary genre was at a nadir in American critical circles. The response to Flanagan's novel was instrumental in sweeping away the cobwebs of critical reservation that had attached themselves to historical themes. The New York Times' John Leonard wrote: "I haven't so enjoyed a historical novel since 'The Charterhouse of Parma' and 'War and Peace.' " Newsweek called it "not only a serious book … but a distinguished one as well."

In his introduction, Deane — whose own first novel, "Reading in the Dark," is no mean achievement — assesses "The Year of the French" as "a great historical novel created by a great literary scholar and raconteur, that has already been incorporated deeply into the contested literary and cultural history of modern Ireland." He aptly draws particular attention to the compositional device that distinguishes and elevates Flanagan's fiction — the creation of multiple, fully realized characters who give interlocking, polyphonic accounts of the events that comprise the plot. It's a strategy that requires not only an absolutely steady authorial hand but also scholarship of dazzling breadth.

Flanagan possessed both in equal measure, and his formal bravura almost perfectly mirrors the complexity and contingency of real history itself. In one of the many previously unpublished essays and lectures included in "There You Are," Flanagan recalls in "Listening to the Dead" how that hunger for real history — and doubts about its attainability — animated the relation between two of the main characters in "The Tenants of Time."

Patrick Prentiss, the young historian attempting to reconstruct the rising of 1848 in the fictional West Cork town of Kilpeader, visits the remote cottage of Hugh MacMahon, the old Fenian and retired schoolmaster, and remarks, "you have a great appetite for books."

MacMahon replies, "You have the right of it, I think. For years, I thought I was gathering up knowledge and wisdom in double handfuls, but in the end, 'tis but an appetite like any other."

But Flanagan recalls that "in the final pages of the 'Tenants of Time,' Prentiss visits the two men who in a sense have become fathers to him, MacMahon in his cottage in the hills of West Cork, and Lionel Forrester, by profession a writer of both novels and popular histories, by avocation, a gentleman. Prentiss tells Forrester of a school which has arisen on the Continent that claims 'that the past can never be known, history never be written, the histories we have mere pleasant narratives….' And Forrester, an unflappable chap, says, 'They may be right. A history is a kind of narrative, a fiction.'

"But MacMahon, when Prentiss reports this to him cries: 'And so Lionel Forrester and yourself have decided that history is little better than a novel. And what am I supposed to do with all my books, my Gibbon and my Lingard and the handsome set of Motley that you have brought to me this day? Am I to suspect that the Dutch republic never did rise? A sorrowful time it will be for schoolmasters.' "

For his part, Flanagan was one of those natural schoolmasters whose intoxicating joy in their vocation precludes any hint of pedantry. What could be better than to live by reading and by talking about reading? Heaney captures something of this in his introduction to "There You Are," which he begins by quoting Flanagan's own description of James Joyce: " 'Urbanity flung like a careless cloak across a murderous sword.' "

"Flanagan's relish for what he is describing in his characterization of the young James Joyce is unmistakable and understandable," Heaney writes. "His own style had a definite urbanity and panache, and while it would be wrong to ascribe murderousness to the blade he wielded, there was nevertheless a Toledo steel spring and edge to it."

Heaney goes on to recount how his own vocation as a poet was decisively shaped by the time he spent with Flanagan at Berkeley in the academic year of 1970-71. "I was under the spell of Tom's strong Hibernocentric mind and imagination. It's no exaggeration to say that he reoriented my thinking. When I landed in California I was somebody who knew a certain amount of Irish literature and history, but my head was still basically wired up to English Lit. terminals. I was still a creature of my undergraduate degree at Queen's University, Belfast. When I left, thanks to Tom's brilliantly sardonic conversation, I was in the process of establishing new coordinates…. I was starting to see my situation as a 'Northern Poet' more in relation to the wound and work of Ireland as a whole, and for that I shall be ever in his debt."

Cahill, who edits the Recorder, the journal of the American Irish Historical Society, has done an exemplary service tracking down previously unpublished work and in editing "There You Are" into a model collection with sections devoted to American writers and directors — the essay on John Ford should not be missed — Irish writers, Irish and Irish American history and historical fiction and personal essays.

Flanagan's papers at Amherst also contain about 500 pages of typescript on 19th century Irish political writing, "including major essays on Wolfe Tone and John Mitchell," Cahill said in an interview. He hopes to begin seeing it through to publication this summer.

Taken as whole, these pieces — many of them stunningly concise and written for newspapers and other popular venues — are a sign of hope for anybody who has begun to doubt that serious and accessible criticism can yet play a role in our wider popular culture.

As Heaney recalls, when, on the occasion of Flanagan's death, "The Irish Times called him a scholar, they could well have been using the word in the older Hiberno-English sense, meaning somebody not only learned but ringed around with a certain draoícht, or magical aura, at once a man of the people and a solitary spirit, a little separate but much beloved."

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents - Jan 2005
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