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January 16, 2005

01/16/05 – McDowell’s Attack On SF Reckless

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents - Jan 2005

SB 01/16/05 Vincent Browne: McDowell's Attack On SF A Reckless Act
BB 01/16/05 McGuinness on Frost Show: Raid Not In Interests Of IRA -V
SB 01/16/05 Governments Cough Up €1m A Year For Sinn Fein
SF 01/16/05 IRA ‘On Verge Of Disbanding’ Before Heist
BG 01/16/05 Globe Editorial: Sinn Fein's Shadow
BG 01/16/05 O’Hare’s Response: Sinn Fein's Work On Policing
SB 01/16/05 IRA's Own Goal
SB 01/16/05 Decision Time For The IRA
UT 01/16/05 Work Begins To Dismantle Andersontown Police Station
IO 01/16/05 NI Assembly Is 'Unsustainable'
ST 01/16/05 Sue Denham: You Won't Budge When Metric Signs In Place
KA 01/16/05 Book Review: "Jaywalking With The Irish"

(Poster’s Note: I hope you have a ‘little’ time to read the news today:
:: Vincent Browne commentary about Sinn Fein & Michael McDowell makes a lot of sense.
:: If you have time listen to Martin McGuinness on “Breakfast with Frost Show” –
start up the program now so that you can get thru the first 22 minutes of it before Martin appears.
:: In the “Governments Cough Up €1m A Year For Sinn Fein” they point out that: a) SF doesn’t need to rob banks, thank you, they are doing very well; b) SF’s books are in order & despite accusations of opponents, there is no proof of any doggy dealings in their books; c) SF runs a tight ship of volunteers who aren’t living the high life.
:: Reports of the IRA disbanding do not compute with carrying out a huge robbery that would require organization.
:: Read the Boston Globe editorial “Sinn Fein's Shadow” and Rita O’Hare’s response.
:: News that the Andersonstown RUC station is closing down.
:: Mention of Ciaran Ferry in the Sue Denham Comment article.
Sorry for the length of this note, Jay)


Vincent Browne: McDowell's Attack On SF A Reckless Act

16 January 2005 By Vincent Browne

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell can never pass up an opportunity to voice an opinion.

The peace process in the North was jeopardised by the statement of opinion by Hugh Orde, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), that the IRA was responsible for the stg£26 million (€38million) Northern Bank robbery.

Circumstances of such delicacy might suggest some verbal restraint on the part of participants in negotiations.

However, McDowell can't resist a chance to prove how forensically brilliant he is, how fearless, how forthright.

In his broadside against the leadership of Sinn Féin on Thursday night, he made the following points (I have paraphrased what he said):

Orde is a professional and honest police officer, so his opinion on responsibility for the robbery is believable.

Gerry Adams has previously stated that criminality has no part in the republican movement. Since criminality has occurred, he is a hypocrite. The IRA has previously denied several actions for which it was later found to be responsible.

Adams and Martin McGuinness have made a career in the peace process of over-promising and under-delivering.

The Provisionals are now backing a new daily newspaper in Belfast.

The Provisionals are fraudulently trying to claim direct lineage from Arthur Griffith's Sinn Féin.

Senior Sinn Féin figures who play a senior role in the IRA are responsible for a pattern of violence, kidnapping, exiling and torture.

At the heart of the republican movement is the undemocratic conviction that the real government of Ireland is not the elected government, but the IRA Army Council.

The first two of these contentions are non-sequiturs.

Orde may be a police officer of honesty and integrity, but he may also simply be wrong in his opinion about IRA responsibility for the Belfast robbery.

Adams may be expressing a personal conviction about the nature of republicanism. The fact that others do not adhere to this view is not, in itself, evidence of hypocrisy on his part.

The new daily newspaper planned for Belfast is expected to be more in line with Sinn Féin's politics - as the Irish News is supportive of SDLP politics. But to suggest that the IRA is “backing'‘ this new venture is to defame the promoters of the enterprise.

What is so bad about Sinn Féin claiming lineage with Griffith's Sinn Féin? Personally, I couldn't care less, as I think Griffith's Sinn Féin was off the wall. I suspect McDowell thinks likewise, so why should he care?

On the stuff about republicans adhering to the undemocratic conviction that the real government of the country is the Army Council of the IRA, if they want to believe that, let them. If they want to believe they are the true descendants of Cú Chulainn, let them.

What does it matter, provided they do not act on such idiotic convictions in a manner damaging to the public interest?

Anyway, is it not obvious that Adams and McGuinness have repeatedly accepted the democratic legitimacy of the southern state?

The claim that Adams and McGuinness promised much but delivered little is grossly unfair. Perhaps they made promises to the governments on which they were unable to deliver, but look at what they did deliver.

They delivered a ceasefire that has remained more or less intact for more than ten years.

Yes, there was a break in the ceasefire for several months during which several people were murdered by the IRA.

Yes, there has been IRA criminality. But look at how the situation has been transformed.

To refuse to acknowledge this is simply dishonest. We should not be grateful to the IRA for stopping killing as many people as they used to kill, but the roles of Adams and McGuinness in helping to bring this about should be recorded.

They delivered the republican movement in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, which defied the very core of republican philosophy by acknowledging the right of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland to decide the constitutional future of the North. That was a huge bonus.

Persuading the IRA to abandon its initial stance of “not an ounce, not a bullet'‘ and to start decommissioning was an immense advance. To get it to agree to the complete decommissioning of IRA weapons was an enormous step forward.

Bringing the republican movement to the verge of accepting the new PSNI and to the verge of committing the organisation to end all acts of violence and criminality was also a huge step.

Let me explain. It is true that the IRA baulked at the form of words proposed by the two governments on the issue of criminality. There was understandable reason for that: the IRA has always claimed that it does not engage in criminality.

It says it is about a political struggle which, of course, involves methods that, under the present legal system, are illegal. But it rejects the characterisation of criminality, which was the issue at the core of the 1980 hunger strikes.

It is now clear that the IRA would have negotiated on a formula of words that would have taken care of the issue that was of concern to the governments and the other parties.

So to suggest that Adams and McGuinness have promised much and delivered little is unfair.

Finally, with regard to the personal responsibility of senior Sinn Féin figures for reprehensible acts of torture and violence, perhaps they were responsible.

For what it is worth, that is also my view. But I also believe that Sinn Féin have been committed to the cessation of all such actions for well over a decade now.

To imply otherwise, as McDowell is doing, is reckless.

Either the peace process - which essentially involves bringing the extremes of Northern politics into reconciliation and government - is to progress or it is to be abandoned.

I understand from what Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that it is government policy to advance the peace process. Given that view, what contribution has McDowell made?

One final constructive proposal to assist the peace process (with acknowledgment to Liz O'Donnell): decommission Michael McDowell.


See Martin McGuinness' 7 minute interview on "Breakfast with Frost Show" (22 minutes into this hour long show):

Raid 'Not In Interests Of IRA'

If the IRA had carried out the £26.5m Northern Bank raid it would have been "unacceptable", Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has said.

He again said he believed IRA denials they were not involved in the robbery, which police have blamed on the IRA.

Mr McGuinness told the BBC: "If the IRA had been involved in that robbery then there would have been a defining moment in Sinn Fein's leadership's work with the IRA.

"I would not have stood for it.

"It would have been totally and absolutely unacceptable to me."

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

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.

Mr McGuinness told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme on Sunday that no-one in the Sinn Fein leadership had any knowledge of the raid.

He added: "I don't see how it could have been in the interests of the IRA, who have made such a powerful contribution to the peace process going way back to their cessation in 1994, to be involved in such a risky operation, which would have undermined the republican contribution to a vitally important peace process."

On Saturday, the SDLP MP Eddie McGrady said his party should examine the possibility of entering a coalition without Sinn Fein at Stormont.

Eddie McGrady said his party should consider its options, and that nationalist voters had been "betrayed" by the IRA.

In response, Sinn Fein South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane called for SDLP leader Mark Durkan to clarify his party's position.

She said Mr McGrady's comments would "infuriate and anger" the vast majority of nationalists and republicans.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has 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.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/16 10:29:32 GMT


Governments Cough Up €1m A Year For Sinn Fein

16 January 2005 By Pat Leahy

Sinn Féin receives direct funding of almost €1m a year from the British and Irish governments, by far the party's largest source of funding.

Unusually among political parties, Sinn Féin is in an extremely healthy financial position, according to unpublished accounts seen by The Sunday Business Post.

As the party faces accusations of complicity in the stg£26.5 million Northern Bank robbery in Belfast, activists can reasonably protest that they don't have to rob banks - they have enough money already.

The party has total reserves of €2.3 million, which includes more than €400,000 cash in the bank. It recorded a surplus - a profit - of more than €270,000 in 2003, the last year for which the party has compiled figures.

Exchequer funding from the Republic and the North is the major contributor to the party's finances. In a year when it cost €1.7 million to run the central party organisation north and south, Sinn Féin received almost €1 million in direct funding from the British and Irish governments.

It got a further €580,000 in contributions from its elected representatives - out of salaries paid from the public purse.

The party received about stg»150,000 (€213,000) in direct funding from the Northern exchequer in 2003.

In Dublin, the party receives government funding under two schemes - the Electoral Acts and the party leaders' allowance.

In 2003, the party received almost €700,000 in total from the Irish government.

A substantial funding source for the party is the salaries of its public representatives, which are paid into the party funds. Representatives are then paid an allowance by the party - amounting to the average industrial wage, according to a spokesman - although they can keep their expenses.

In 2003, Sinn Féin's Belfast office received stg£333,000 (almost €470,000) in contributions from its Assembly members, according to its Northern accounts. In the same year, the Dublin office received more than €100,000 from the party's elected representatives.

Sinn Féin received good news recently when the British government decided to extend Northern Ireland's exemption from a ban on foreign political donations for a further two years.

The party receives hundreds of thousands of euro in foreign donations every year, principally from the US and Australia.

Foreign political donations are banned in the Republic and Britain, but the North is exempt from the legislation. John Spellar, the Northern Ireland minister, recently wrote to Sinn Féin to inform the party that the exemption would be extended for at least another two years.

Sinn Féin insists that it does not spend any money it raises abroad in the Republic, as this would be in breach of the law. However, it is free to use the money in the North.

The Standards in Public Office Commission - which polices the political process and to which annual declarations must be made by all parties - says that it accepts the declarations made by all parties at face value. It has never had cause to audit any party, a spokesman said last week.

Sinn Féin received a second boost when the Attorney General agreed with its view that the Standards in Public Office Commission could only police the 26-county part of the organisation.

Although it is run as a single 32-county organisation, the party produces three sets of audited accounts - for the 32 counties, for the six counties and for the 26 counties.

All sets of the 2003 accounts have been seen by The Sunday Business Post. However, the accounts only relate to the central party organisation.

Local units of the party are free to pursue their own fundraising and to spend such funds locally.

Political opponents of Sinn Féin, who frequently - and without evidence - accuse Sinn Féin of being funded from the proceeds of IRA criminality, point out that, were the party to receive illicit funds, the money would be spent locally. It would hardly show up in the accounts.

In response, the party says that the accounts are open to inspection by the Revenue Commissioners and by the Standards in Public Office Commission. And Sinn Féin reveals a good deal more about its finances than many of its rivals.

Nevertheless, examination of the Sinn Féin accounts and comparison between the different versions reveals some anomalies.

For instance, the 32-county accounts show an entry for ‘admin expenses 6 counties' in the amount of €50,000. However, in the six-county accounts, the entry for ‘admin expenses' is stg£90,000 - or €126,000.

Comparison between ‘donations' declared north and south shows about €27,000 unaccounted for. The 32-county figure is €464,000; the six-county figure is €334,000 (stg£240,000), yet the donations the party has declared to the Standards Commission in Dublin amount to €103,000.

However, the accounts are straightforward in the main, and show that the party's greatest strength is its ethic of voluntarism - it costs very little to run.

Wages and salaries cost just €550,000 in 2003, because, the party says, it pays its employees €500 per week.

By comparison, in 2002, the last year for which figures are available, the Labour Party spent €900,000 on wages and salaries.

Fine Gael, which produces three-year consolidated accounts, spent more than €2.5 million on salaries, plus another €2.2 million staffing the leader's office and the press office - or almost €1.6 million a year.

Sinn Féin's political opponents murmur about under-the-table payments, but there is no evidence to back this up.

Party officials and representatives show no evidence that they live anything other than relatively frugal lifestyles.

Opponents say that Sinn Féin is consistently better funded than other parties and that, no matter how rigorous any audit is, a party that supported a campaign of violence, some of whose members were convicted of crimes including murder, would hardly be likely to baulk at violating campaign finance laws.

“We're a party with a core of voluntarism,” said Sinn Féin finance director Des Mackin. “We don't have to pay anyone to put up posters. We don't have to pay people to do anything.”


IRA ‘On Verge Of Disbanding’ Before Heist

16 January 2005 By Barry O'Kelly and Pat Leahy

The IRA was telling its members it was on the verge of disbandment just weeks before the record €38m Northern Bank heist, The Sunday Business Post has learned.

The move was communicated to volunteers in the Republic in face-to-face briefings by senior figures in the Belfast-based leadership before talks on power-sharing in the North broke down.

“I was visited [by a figure within the IRA leadership] and told that the whole movement was going to be dismantled, the structures, the lot,” a source said. “I was asked if there was anything I wanted, anything they could do for me. There would be just a small team left to protect the core leadership from assassination.”

A fortnight later, following the collapse of talks after DUP leader Ian Paisley insisted on pictures of the IRA's decommissioned arsenal, the all-cash heist was carried out.

IRA and Garda Special Branch sources believe the raiders expected to get only a fraction of the money stolen from the bank.

Republican sources claimed that Sinn Féin members with dual roles in the IRA leadership would not have sanctioned the raid had they known how much was going to be stolen. The sources said there was angst within Sinn Féin that a robbery on such a scale could have taken place.

The Belfast robbery team is believed to have been given logistical support from an IRA unit in north Dundalk. This newspaper understands that a getaway van was procured and held in storage by IRA members in the border town several months before the heist.

The sources said some members of the same unit were involved in finding and modifying the recovery pick-up truck used in the 1997 Canary Wharf bombing in London. Relations between the government and Sinn Féin are at a low after the assessment of Hugh Orde, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), that the IRA carried out the robbery.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will discuss the robbery with the Sinn Féin leadership next week after he returns from a trip to China. Sources said the meeting would be vital for the future of the peace process.

Government officials insisted that Ahern would seek explanations from the Sinn Féin leadership.

Ahern's aides maintained a hard line on Sinn Féin this weekend.

“The belief that Sinn Féin treated us disgracefully and duped the governments is still very strong,” said one highly-placed source.

Another senior source indicated that the Criminal Assets Bureau could be asked to investigate senior republicans in an effort to put pressure on Sinn Féin and the IRA. The heist is also believed to have led to renewed Garda scrutiny of businesses run by republicans.

The Sinn Féin leadership has continued to deny any knowledge of the robbery.

As Sinn Féin finds itself out in the cold, SDLP representatives have embarked on a series of meetings with parties in Dublin, including a meeting with the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell.

Meanwhile, it is believed that a behind-the-scenes meeting between government officials and senior republicans took place in Belfast the week before the bank robbery.


Globe Editorial: Sinn Fein's Shadow

January 12, 2005

THE IRISH Republican Army has morphed from a terrorist gang into a Hibernian version of the Tony Soprano organization with one twist -- it is closely aligned to the second-largest political party in Northern Ireland. That party, Sinn Fein, needs to sever these connections and fully support the nonsectarian police force.

Hugh Orde, chief constable of this new force, said the IRA was responsible for the robbery of currency worth $50 million from a bank in Belfast last month, an allegation denied by Sinn Fein. Orde did not offer any evidence, but the crime has all the hallmarks of the IRA: careful planning and brutality. The robbers knew exactly whom to kidnap to gain access to the vault. They threatened two bank employees' families with death to secure cooperation.

The IRA has often financed its activities by robbing banks, and it has frequently been linked to conventional crimes since it declared a cease-fire in 1997. Even if IRA commanders did not sanction the robbery, it is reasonable to believe that with their extensive underworld intelligence network, they know who did it -- most likely operatives who were applying the skills learned in terrorism.

Since the cease-fire, Sinn Fein has become the largest nationalist party in the North, with ambitions to power in the Irish Republic. It has renounced violence but retained its relationship with the IRA. Sinn Fein benefits from the arrangement in Catholic nationalist areas in which it and the IRA are the de facto dispensers of law and order instead of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein and the IRA were on the verge of a major disarmament initiative late last year, but suspicion on the part of their adversaries in the Democratic Unionist Party derailed an agreement to restore the provincial government in exchange for disarmament. Orde's assertion of IRA involvement in the robbery confirms the unionist party's distrust and probably precludes progress until next year.

In 2001 the Police Service replaced the predominantly Protestant and unionist Royal Ulster Constabulary. The number of Catholics on the force has increased slightly, but Sinn Fein has withheld support, thus discouraging recruitment and prolonging IRA influence. Sinn Fein has refused to join the provincial Policing Board, which oversees the service, and local policing partnerships pending agreement to restore the government.

American gangsters have pulled off spectacular robberies, but they never had political ambitions on the scale of Sinn Fein. Before it gains further influence, it needs to end its partnership with the IRA and foster acceptance of the provincial institutions of justice among nationalists. As a first step, it should unconditionally join the Policing Board and the local partnerships. A political party should consort with neither terrorists nor gangsters.

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.


Sinn Fein's Work On Policing

January 16, 2005

YOUR JAN. 12 editorial "Sinn Fein's shadow" describes Hugh Orde as chief constable of a nonsectarian and new police force and unquestionably endorses his attribution of blame to the IRA of the Northern Bank robbery.

Orde does not preside over a new police force. The Police Service of Northern Ireland did not replace the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The members of the RUC moved en masse unto the PSNI. There was no screening of RUC members to prevent those involved in collusion and other human rights abuses donning the PSNI uniform.

The oath to uphold human rights, also required by the Patten recommendations, did not apply to these RUC members because they refused to take it. The policing board does not have the powers recommended for it in Patten.

Sinn Fein's work on policing sought significant improvements in the Policing Bill, with which former British secretary of state Peter Mandelson had gutted the Patten recommendations. Clearly we do not yet have the Good Friday Agreement requirement for a police service free from partisan political control. This has been the principal focus for Sinn Fein in recent negotiations on the issue of policing.

Orde inherited the old RUC, including its intelligence system. It is on this that he forms his opinion on the perpetrators of this bank robbery.

Sinn Fein
US Representative
Dublin, Ireland


IRA's Own Goal

16 January 2005 By Barry O'Kelly

Never has a bank robbery been such a horrible success. Instead of celebrating a world-record heist, which didn't even involve the raiders entering the bank, the IRA is now rueing its slickness and cursing its good luck at the Northern Bank.

The robbery, for all its elaborate planning, yielded the gang a lot more than it expected. IRA sources claim they expected to get only a fraction of the €38million that was taken from the vaults of the bank's Belfast headquarters four days before Christmas.

“The boys were victims of their own success,” one IRA activist said wryly. This was confirmed by a Garda Special Branch source, who said: “Yes, they got far more than they expected. That is now their biggest problem.”

In spite of its surgical execution, the heist might have passed off as just another statistic: the 41st so-called ‘tiger' robbery in the North since 2003.The IRA has been linked with a number of these robberies in which hostages are used to gain access to safes.

Three such heists - Securicor, Gallaher's and Makro in Belfast - are believed to have netted the organisation €3.8 million last year. But, so far, the political risks have been minimal.

“It all boils down to: can it come back to us?” an IRA source said. “The people in this one [the Northern Bank raid] said ‘no'. But no one seriously thought about the volume. And now no one seriously thinks that anyone else could have done it.”

The scale of the robbery ensured that the police were given the resources required to establish who was responsible.

Not only is the IRA being blamed, but Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are also being placed in the frame by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

With the medium-term prospects of a deal with unionists now dead, the robbery is viewed by IRA sources as a massive own goal.

These sources claim that the Sinn Féin members with alleged dual roles in the IRA leadership would not have sanctioned the robbery had they known how much was going to be stolen.

But the sources conceded that Sinn Féin members almost certainly knew that smaller, so-called ‘deniable', operations were going to happen after the breakdown of the talks on power-sharing nearly two weeks before the robbery.

The Sunday Business Post understands that the IRA was on the verge of complete disbandment before the talks broke down. This was communicated to volunteers in the Republic in face-to-face briefings by senior figures in the Belfast-based leadership.

“I was visited [by a figure within the IRA leadership] and told that the whole movement was going to be dismantled - the structures, the lot,” said an informed source.

“I was asked if there was anything I wanted, anything they could do for me.

“There would be just a small team left to protect the core leadership from assassination.”

Less than two weeks later - after DUP leader Ian Paisley's insistence on the IRA producing pictures of its decommissioned arsenal - the IRA pulled off the bank robbery.

According to IRA sources, the Northern Bank heist is believed to have been a long-term project which was first looked at by the Provisionals back in 1997.

“Security was simply too tight back then, and it was looked at on and off ever since,” said source.

IRA sources told this newspaper that a getaway van was procured and held in storage by IRA members in north Dundalk several months before the heist.

The sources also said the local IRA unit's involvement was restricted to providing logistics support for the Belfast-based robbery team.

The sources said some members of the unit were also involved in finding and modifying the recovery pick-up truck used in the 1997 Canary Wharf bombing in London.

The group typically sources vehicles through classified newspaper ads or auctions.

It appears that the white Ford Transit van used during the Northern Bank robbery was procured the same way. It is believed that a joint investigation by the Garda stolen car unit and the Special Branch has established that the white robbery van was not reported stolen in the Republic over the past four years.

The getaway vehicle was driven from the Republic across the border on the main Belfast road at around 5pm on December 20.

A total of 36 white vans stolen over the past four years remain unaccounted for, according to detectives.

However, none of the vehicles matches the distinctive getaway van captured on CCTV, sources said.

“The van may have been bought privately or brought in from Britain,” a Garda source said.

“But so far there's no indication it was stolen in the Republic. There is certainly no report of it being taken here.”

Some Louth-based IRA men were previously suspected of stealing tractors to order.

A Garda source commented: “There are certain people who are being prioritised.”

The heist is believed to have led to renewed Garda scrutiny of businesses run by republicans. Inquiries are being led by the crime and security branch, which claims to have circumstantial evidence of IRA connections to scores of cash-based companies.

Ironically, the IRA recently carried out its own inquiries into these businesses - security firms, pubs, amusement arcades, taxi companies, commercial hire services, as well as cigarette and diesel smuggling operations - with regard to ‘ skimming ‘ and unauthorised activities.

Six people were shot and wounded after admitting they had misappropriated funds, ‘skimmed' money or carried out unauthorised operations.

These were expected to be the last people dealt with arising from the internal inquiries.

The plan to disband the IRA would have brought any outstanding inquiries to an end, according to sources.

However, it is understood that at least two new inquiries have been launched in the last four weeks.

Such is the impenetrable nature of the Provisionals' business interests that gardai have failed to prove a single case before the courts.

Garda sources privately admit they are pessimistic about the prospects of tracing the unmarked stg£10 million taken during the raid.

One tax consultant, who specialises in defending criminal assets cases, said: “The used notes will be easily disposed of through diesel laundering and businesses such as pubs and any such friendly business operation. But the new notes [stg£16 million] are best simply burnt.”

When asked what the money would be used for when it was cleaned, a bemused IRA source said: “That's an interesting question. It's a lot of money.” Before the ceasefire, the stolen funds would have paid for arms and the day-to-day living and travel expenses of volunteers.

In the post-1997 ceasefire era - in which IRA volunteers have access to jobs and arms are being destroyed, rather than bought - the IRA's financial health has never been better.

“It begs the question: what was the point of doing it?” one IRA source said.

“There's a lot of resentment out there. Money is going to election candidates. I know of some who are getting €30,000 a year while the on-the-runs [IRA members in exile abroad] are not getting a look-in.

“The political fall-out from the robbery has highlighted the widening gap between Sinn Féin and the IRA. Something like this [the Belfast raid] happens and the suits are getting all squeamish and uppity about it.

“These people only joined the party [Sinn Féin] after the ceasefire. But this is what we've been doing for 30 years.”


Decision Time For The IRA

16 January 2005

Once again, the peace process has collapsed into its Rubik's Cube complexity. Ten years after the original IRA ceasefire, and approaching six years after the signing of the Belfast Agreement, nobody has yet worked out how to align all the pieces of the historical puzzle successfully. As one piece is painfully eased into place another piece falls out of alignment.

The prolonged process has, in its own way, profoundly changed both the Northern and the Irish/British political scene. In the North, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist parties have lost majority political status in their respective communities, while the commonality of political approach between Dublin and London has never been greater.

The enormous achievement of the process is often forgotten because of the continuing failure to finalise devolution in the North. That achievement has been the agreement between the two sovereign governments, democratically mandated North and South, to resolve the historic partition settlement into a new context. Critically, that context has sought to address the causes of the ancient conflict.

Whatever about the political classes in the North, the population long ago started to reap the benefits of the end of violence and civil disorder. Towns and communities are rebuilding, social and economic life has benefited greatly, and the Northern landscape has improved immeasurably. One can't forget that many people are alive who might well be dead if the peace process hadn't happened.

Despite the posturing of the political classes in the North, in many ways the days of the Troubles are fast becoming history. It is important to remember all this in the context of recent events, which have pushed the possibility of political agreement further away.

The crisis of the continuing failure to agree on devolution has its roots in another failure: that of all parties to understand the fundamental change the Agreement was supposed to bring about. That change was the creation of a political context where paramilitarism would be superseded by democratic structures and, consequently, the secret armies would be out of the loop.

Tragically, from the outset, the unionists and the then British Conservative government refused to let go of the IRA bone. It seemed at the time like they were trying to re-fight the war and seek a victory over the IRA, even within the context of the ceasefire. First it was the question of the ‘permanence' of the ceasefire, next it was the Sinn Féin ‘decontamination period' and then the ‘decommissioning' argument.

The political reality of this approach was that, far from isolating the paramilitaries, it ended up according the IRA army council a level of political leverage beyond anything it had known – even when the IRA was not on ceasefire.

Astonishingly, after 30 years of demanding that terrorists would have to end violence and enter the democratic processes before they could partake of any political agreement, the Conservative government and unionists gave a post-ceasefire IRA a virtual veto over the entire political process by demanding varying degrees of surrender.

So obsessive has this demand become that, despite an agreed International Decommissioning Body being set up to oversee the destruction of arms, Ian Paisley's demand for photographic evidence scuppered the IRA at the point of total decommissioning.

In turn, Sinn Féin's political ambitions have equally been stymied by this process. While the nature of its relationship with the IRA is unknown - though I suspect the commonality of the leadership of both organisations is significant - the linkage is fast becoming the party's political albatross.

Maybe this is the purpose of the continual recasting of the peace process in the context of the IRA but, whatever the case, it has effectively halted progression to devolution.

In the context of the Northern Bank robbery, even Sinn Féin must begin to see the alarming prospect of continuous political stalemate in the North as evidence of a clear requirement for new thinking. The party is ten years into the peace process with not much more to show for it than a huge political party all dressed up with nowhere to go and with a secret army still following it around.

Its furious complaint that there are securocrats determined to stymie its political progress, is probably as true as it is pathetic. But it should expect to have the bitterest political enemies at the heart of the establishment who can never forgive or forget.

How on one hand can you extol an ‘undefeated IRA' and not, on the other hand, expect such local difficulties? Lectures from Sinn Féin on the true political nature of the DUP also don't help - have they never heard of the old political adage that you can expect nothing from a pig but a grunt?

It is time that Sinn Féin understood that all that matters in politics is results. High-minded political failures end up as the footnotes of history. It is now obvious that the twin strategy of the ceasefire, Armalite in one hand and the ballot box in the other, has run its course. Political power in the North - and possibly even in the Republic - awaits the big decision. Sinn Féin's leaders don't need me to tell them who should make that decision.

At this moment, they actually hold their own destiny in their hands - or more precisely the IRA does. If the IRA unilaterally decommissions now and moves into a post-war status, the political floodgates would open because, in the end, unstoppable public opinion will support the brave and the bold.

Funny, isn't it, that all of this is supposed to be about the people and how often their unstoppable power is forgotten.

Isn't it time that somebody or other in Sinn Féin remembered that ancient Republican tenet, the ‘people's sovereignty'?


Work Begins To Dismantle Police Station

Work got underway today to dismantle one of Belfast's best known police stations.

By:Press Association

A communications mast was removed from Andersonstown station in west Belfast ahead of its demolition next month.

On January 23, police will formally leave the site.

During the Troubles, the distinctive station which towers over a roundabout facing the Falls Road, Milltown Cemetery and the Glen Road, witnessed many killings of police officers, republicans and civilians.

It was also the focus of many Sinn Fein street protests against the police.

The decision to close the station was taken last month by the Northern Ireland Policing Board on the recommendation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland`s District Commander in west Belfast, Chief Superintendent David Boultwood.

Andersonstown station has operated limited opening hours since last July and all community policing has been based at other stations in the area for over 18 months.

Chief Superintendent David Boultwood said the station was closing because it was no longer suitable for the type of policing required in the area.

"Policing has changed dramatically since this building was established and it is important that we make decisions which reflect these changes," he said.

"Andersonstown police station is no longer fit for purpose and its closure next weekend will assist us in consolidating our resources.

"This consolidation will assist in the provision of a more efficient, effective and accountable police service to the people of West Belfast."

The station was established in 1887 to replace another in Hannastown and has been part of West Belfast district from 1897.

Once demolition is completed, the site will be put up for sale.

Nationalists want the site to be used for economic regeneration.

SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood said the demolition was proof of the power of Northern Ireland`s Policing Board.

"Only six weeks ago, the board decided to close Andersonstown and quickly the police have moved to vacate the site," the West Belfast MLA said.

"In one swoop the board and the police have done more to normalise policing than others who have spent months negotiating and normalised nothing.

"The real issue now is the future of the site. This landmark site needs a landmark building representing the future.

"No one should forget that police officers were attacked and killed in and around the station and that many many civilians were hurt and abused by policing practice in the past.

"This needs to be remembered and the site developed symbolising the future and the best of West Belfast."


NI Assembly Is 'Unsustainable'
2005-01-16 10:50:02+00

Northern Ireland's Assembly is becoming unsustainable following the failure to restore devolution, a leading loyalist MLA warned today.

With the €37.8m Northern Bank raid shattering hopes that the Assembly could be restored soon, Progressive Unionist leader David Ervine said there was a danger that people were getting used to life without it.

The East Belfast Assembly member told PA: "I am getting to the point where I believe the Northern Ireland Assembly, as constituted, is unsustainable.

"The more we can survive without it, the more we can continue our day to day lives without it no matter how bad the decisions are from incumbent direct rule ministers, the more people are coming to terms with the view that they could do without a Northern Ireland Assembly.

"I think that's dangerous. I think, as it is constituted, there is virtually no credibility left with the Assembly.

"Now don't get me wrong. There's no question MLAs are doing their constituency work and I am not for one moment suggesting that they have lots of energy left after they have finished a week's work.

"They are working hard but the credibility of a Northern Ireland Parliament is slipping and that is very dangerous."

Assembly members have received an annual salary of £31,187 since December 2003 despite calls from some people in the province for them not to be paid a penny until devolution returns.

They also receive allowances, claiming mileage.

However in a House of Commons statement last week on Chief Constable Hugh Orde's claim that the IRA carried out the Northern Bank heist in Belfast, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy said it was difficult to estimate when power sharing might return.

He also told MPs in a series of talks with the Northern Ireland parties he would explore their positions on a number of difficult issues facing them.

These included "the appropriateness of continuing to pay the salaries and allowances of the individuals elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in November 2003 and on our proposed way forward on the regulation of donations to political parties in Northern Ireland".

Unionists have claimed it would be wrong for the Government to continue with direct rule from Westminster, claiming it penalises those parties which do not have links to paramilitary groups for the sins of others that do.

The Democratic Unionists have proposed a voluntary coalition involving themselves, the nationalist SDLP and the cross community Alliance Party as a way of bringing stable devolution to Northern Ireland, arguing such a system already works successfully in Scotland.

The Reverend Ian Paisley's party has also suggested if that is not possible, the running of the 11 government departments should be handed over to the Assembly itself, with Stormont committees rather than ministers making the key decisions.

The SDLP has also come up with a proposal that power should be transferred back to Stormont with a team of commissioners drawn from civic society running government departments until MLAs are able to become ministers.

The Assembly would sit again, with commissioners facing the scrutiny of Stormont committees.

Both plans have, however, been rejected by David Trimble's Ulster Unionists.

Mr Ervine said today it was difficult to see any way out of the current political crisis.

However he repeated his view that a statement from the IRA directly addressing Hugh Orde's claim about its involvement in the Northern Bank robbery could help.

"It is very difficult to see us getting off this hook," he admitted.

"But if the smart money is on the IRA being responsible for the Northern Bank, then the people who got us on this hook are republicans and the people who can get us off are republicans.

"We need the IRA to respond, not through sources or Sinn Féin leaders but in a statement by P O'Neill, to the Northern Bank claims and put its own credibility on the line.

"We also need clarity about what the IRA exactly meant in the recent talks about it 'going into a new mode' and it also means movement from the IRA in the process with no prizes or prices extracted."


Comment: Sue Denham: You Won't Budge An Inch Again When Metric Signs Are In Place

We’re supposed to be all modern and not shed tears over the passing of feet and inches. Well, not Sue. Your diarist sees no logic to the government changing every signpost in the country to kilometres this week, and doesn’t understand why millions of euros have to be wasted just to save kids learning that there are 12in in a foot, and 3ft in a yard.

Consider how much poorer our language will be without imperial references. Already the pounds, shillings and pence sayings are disappearing, and soon nobody will be miles away or beaten by a mile; nothing will be miles better or miles behind. Who will run a mile from something they don’t like? Who will go the extra mile again? Inches will also be sorely missed from our lexicon. Can you hear Ian Paisley or his successor refusing to cede a millimetre? And who, given a centimetre, will take a kilometre? There are 100cm in a metre, and that’s handy, but also very, very dull. Nice round numbers equate to boring, metaphorless bureaucrats living in Brussels. We’re used to “Irish miles”.

Sue’s message is don’t worry about all those km signs this week. The limits are still, essentially, the same. Just a mile off.

Leitrim is only in the mind, claims one Fingal councillor

A set of proposals on tsunami aid drawn up by Leitrim county council was met with bemusement by their colleagues in Fingal at a meeting last Monday. Leo Varadkar, a Fine Gael councillor in Fingal, quipped: “Leitrim is a figment of the imagination and is nothing more than a social welfare scam.” His gag reduced the chamber to howls of laughter.

Sue doubts that Gerry Reynolds, who’ll be trying to win back a Fine Gael seat in Leitrim at the next general election, will see the funny side of his colleague’s gag.

Forget patriotic duty, Alexander is an Irish flop

You know that Alexander is going to be a rubbish movie as soon as Miley (Mick Lally) from Glenroe appears. There’s Oliver Stone trying to do a swords and sandals epic, recreating ancient Babylon, using camels and elephants and spears to make it all authentic, spending millions on props, and up pops Well Hoooly God, with his best “fillet of Cheddar” accent, selling a horse. Oh dear.

There are so many Irish actors in the production — Sue counted 17 — that it’s now being dubbed Alexander O’Great. Risibly, some in the Irish film industry claim it is our patriotic duty to go along to the cinema in order to support the lads. No greater love hath a man for his country than that he numb his bum and stuff his face with popcorn.

Actually, the best thing for the Irish film industry would be if people stayed away. Colin Farrell is woefully miscast, and Jonathan Rhys-Myers, for all his bluster, manages to be anonymous. Only John Kavanagh emerges with any credit; the rest of the Irish cast are wallpaper.

Never mind the Oscars; stand by for the Razzies.

Remember Cathal Lombard, the Olympic athlete caught using performance-enhancing drugs last summer? The Irish Sports Council vowed to try and recover some of the public money the middle-distance runner had received by way of training grants. Sue has heard that Lombard wrote back to the council telling them to take a running jump. And when the council followed up with a second letter, they didn’t get a response. C’mon Cathal. You can run; but you can’t hide.

A new dating agency advertised on the back page of The Irish Times last week. Sue can’t wait for an event it has lined up for clients just before Valentine’s Day — a “Dogdate” at Harold’s Cross in Dublin. Do the singletons bring dogs or will they be provided? (No dogging, Sue hopes.)

The Daily Record thought it had a fine scoop last week: the design of Glasgow Celtic FC’s new jerseys, featuring a “radical” large white panel on the back which broke the traditional green and white hoops so beloved of Bhoys.

Sadly, the Record was sold a pup. The designs were a mock-up done by a 15-year-old lad from Ballymena on his computer, and put on a fans’ website last year.

Last week, The Sunday Times revealed a row over the location of the Waterside housing estate, with developers saying it was in Malahide while Fingal placed it in less-salubrious Swords. No such thing as bad publicity, however. Our story sparked renewed interest from buyers, with two units sold in one day last week.

Ciaran Ferry, a former member of the IRA, was being deported from America before Christmas. But as he waited for his plane to take off, it was boarded by Port Authority police who had suddenly discovered that Ferry was on a no-fly list. The Belfast man spent a night in the slammer before finally being booted out the next day.


(Reviews of recent books on travel) "Jaywalking With the Irish" (Lonely...

(Reviews of recent books on travel)

"Jaywalking With The Irish" (Lonely Planet, $14.99)

Like many Irish-Americans, David Monagan had visited Ireland numerous times over the years, essentially admiring it from afar. One day, though, he and his wife Jamie decided to take the plunge. They packed up everything -- including their three kids -- and moved there. As simple as that. Well, not quite.

Their story is the story of new arrivals everywhere -- the inevitable ups and downs that come with making such a big geographical and psychological move, from malevolent adolescents to the bane of the new Ireland, never-ending traffic jams. The city they chose was not Dublin but the much smaller and presumably more manageable Cork, for many years the departure point for countless Irish emigrants.

The irony is not lost on Monagan ("You're moving where?" relatives ask in equal measure of shock and disbelief). Were they heartless? Selfish? Brave? Or just plain fools? Did they do the right thing or did they make a big mistake? These are the questions that haunt them in this charming, poignant and humorous tale.

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Table of Contents - Jan 2005
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