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January 18, 2005

01/18/05 – Bush Facing Decision Over SF Visit

Northern Bank Posted by Hello

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents - Jan 2005

NS 01/18/05 Bush Is Facing Tough Decision Over Sinn Fein
BT 01/18/05 Durkan Steps Into SDLP Row Over SF
BT 01/18/05 Viewpoint: SDLP Must Make A Call On The Deal
BT 01/18/05 Ahern Agrees To Meet SF After Heist Storm
IO 01/18/05 Murphy To Discuss Sanctions Against SF
BT 01/18/05 Heist Has Set Bar For Deal Even Higher, SF Warned
IO 01/18/05 Bank Denies More Than €37.8M Was Stolen
BT 01/18/05 Help Us Or You're Dead, Hostage Told
SL 01/17/05 Terrorists Gun For 'King Of Crime'
SL 01/17/05 Loyalist Took Own Life Over Murder Probe Fear
BT 01/18/05 Seven Hurt In Real IRA Jail Feud
BT 01/18/05 Obituary - Alliance Party Stalwart - Gay Firth
SL 01/17/05 Ulster Nazi Uniform Condemnation
SL 01/17/05 Nazi Outfits Popular In Ulster
BT 01/18/05 Gaelic School Plan In Ballymena
BT 01/18/05 Going The Extra Kilometre May Cost You Money
BB 01/18/05 Blizzards Cause NI Roads Chaos
JS 01/18/05 Galena Business Named Irish Business Of The Year
BT 01/18/05 Was Robt Kennedy Killed By Manchurian Candidate-Style Assassin?


Bush Is Facing Tough Decision Over Sinn Fein

By Ed Moloney - Special to the Sun
January 18, 2005

President Bush will soon have to make a tough decision about terrorism, but this time it has nothing to do with Iraq, the Middle East, or Al Qaeda. The decision concerns whether or not to register White House exasperation with the Irish peace process, and in particular the behavior of Gerry Adams, who leads Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army.

Mr. Bush faces the dilemma of whether or not to invite Adams to St. Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House, despite allegations in Ireland and Britain that the Sinn Fein leader sanctioned a huge bank robbery in Belfast just before Christmas. The robbery netted more than $51 million, making it one of the largest bank heists in history, and the police, the Northern Ireland secretary, and the Irish foreign minister have said the IRA is to blame.

It is a tough decision, because either way the president will likely come under criticism. Banning Adams, as an angry administration source hinted the president is considering, will attract hostility from Irish-Americans, a constituency the Republican Party has been wooing in recent years, with some success. But allowing him to attend will leave the White House open to accusations that it has double standards on terrorism.

Adams has been on the White House guest list for St Patrick's Day festivities since President Clinton's administration, and he continued to be invited after Mr. Bush took office. Adams's inclusion has been a recognition of his role in persuading the IRA to call a ceasefire in its 20-year war to force Britain out of Northern Ireland, and it is an expression of the White House's support for the Irish peace process.

However, pressure is growing to punish Adams, not just because the robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast was a flagrant violation of the IRA's commitment to peaceful activity, but also because of a widely-held suspicion that he gave the go-ahead for the heist in the midst of a major effort by the American, British, and Irish governments to secure a place for Adams's party in the government of Northern Ireland.

Efforts to put together a stable administration - consisting of Unionists, who are mostly Protestants who wish Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain, and Sinn Fein, whose largely Catholic supporters want to break the British link - have repeatedly foundered despite the successful negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The issue that has frustrated an agreement has been how to decommission the IRA's huge stocks of weapons and explosives in a way that would convince Unionists that it had genuinely taken place. The decommissioning process has been shrouded in secrecy, and lingering skepticism about the IRA's bona fides, along with continued IRA activity, have combined to keep the peace process in crisis.

The failure of the peace process caused the downfall of one moderate Unionist leader, David Trimble, who was prepared to share power with Adams, but who was eclipsed by the fiery Protestant preacher, the Reverend Ian Paisley.

Nonetheless, fresh talks involving Adams and Rev. Paisley began in October, based on ideas generated by the State Department's director of policy planning, Mitchell Reiss, who doubles as the Bush envoy to the Irish peace process.

Mr. Reiss suggested that IRA decommissioning should be photographed as proof that it had happened, but that the photos be held back from publication until the new government took office and Sinn Fein was assured that the deal would hold. As this idea was being discussed, Mr. Bush phoned both Adams and Rev. Paisley, urging them to accept the plan.

The Reiss proposal won praise as a sensible compromise, but on December 8, Adams rejected it, claiming that Mr. Paisley's goal was to humiliate the IRA. Eleven days later, armed and masked men held the families of two executives of the Northern Bank in central Belfast hostage, and the next day they forced the men to help robbers rifle the bank's vaults.

Suspicions that only the IRA would have the skills and resources to carry out the robbery were strengthened three weeks later, when the head of Northern Ireland's police force, Chief Constable Hugh Orde, publicly blamed the organization, setting off a storm of angry complaints about Sinn Fein and IRA duplicity.

Fueling this was the belief that Adams must have known about the planned robbery as he was talking about peace to the three governments. Although Adams has always denied being a member of the IRA, the police and seasoned observers believe he sits on the body's ruling Army Council, which would have ordered the heist.

In the wake of the heist, the strongest words came from Irish Prime Minister Ahern: "I am upset, quite frankly, that in the period when we were in intensive talks trying to get a comprehensive agreement that people in very senior positions (in Sinn Fein) would have known what was going on." Adams's attempts to deny the claim have been greeted with skepticism.

Both Mr. Ahern and his British counterpart, Tony Blair, are now keeping Adams at arms-length amid calls for sanctions against Sinn Fein. Action from the Bush White House is also expected.

"This is an American administration that, for obvious reasons, does not want to be seen in any way to be turning a blind eye towards terrorism," said a source close to Mr. Blair who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We fully understand that."

Mr. Bush has a range of options, from returning the IRA to the State Department's list of terrorist groups to withdrawing Adams's permit to raise money for Sinn Fein in America, but it is unlikely either Mr. Blair or Mr. Ahern would wish him to go so far. The course of action mentioned most often, as a shot across the IRA's bows, would be to deny Adams a visa to attend the festivities in Washington on March 17.

A senior Bush administration official acknowledged that the American government is "deeply concerned" about allegations that the IRA and Sinn Fein were involved in the robbery, and he hinted that barring Adams from the White House celebrations was a possibility.

"It is not U.S. policy to prejudge visa applications and each application is judged on its own merit at the time," he said, but added: "Please note that Mr. Adams does not have a permanent visa entitling him to enter the United States and must apply for each visit."

Irish-American leaders would likely react angrily to such an action. A Long Island Republican congressman and longtime friend of Adams, Peter King, said the Sinn Fein chief "should be treated by Washington the same as he has been in the past."

It was too early, Mr. King said, to make a judgment about who was behind the robbery. Another Adams champion, Bill Flynn, who is chairman of Mutual of America and of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, said Mr. Bush would be making "a terrible mistake" by excluding him. He blamed British 'dirty tricks' for the robbery, and added: "I have never known Gerry Adams...not to tell the truth."

Other congressional supporters of Adams, including Senators Clinton, Kennedy, and Dodd, did not respond to requests for comment.


Durkan Steps Into SDLP Row Over SF

Leader insists on Stormont inclusion

By Chris Thornton
18 January 2005

SDLP leader Mark Durkan has stamped down suggestions from his own party that they could enter a coalition with unionists that excludes Sinn Fein.

Mr Durkan contradicted his deputy, Alasdair McDonnell, who told a Sunday newspaper that nothing could be ruled out in the wake of the IRA being blamed for the Northern Bank robbery.

The party leader flatly ruled out cooperation with the DUP.

"We would not go into coalition with the DUP as a partner," Mr Durkan said.

"And we would not do so on the basis of the flawed deal that the DUP negotiated with Sinn Fein in December."

Mr Durkan met his Assembly group yesterday to stamp out the speculation, which arose after South Down MP Eddie McGrady suggested Sinn Fein could "exclude themselves by their extremism".

On Saturday, Mr McGrady told the BBC's Inside Politics programme: "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 do so and become members of the club."

Dr McDonnell followed by saying Sinn Fein should be in government if the IRA is stood down, but added: "I wouldn't rule anything out."

After yesterday's party meeting, Mr Durkan said his party "put inclusion into the Agreement".

"We still believe that that is the best way forward.

"As regards voluntary coalition, we have to ask with whom and on what terms? People who think that voluntary coalition is a simple option need to get wise."

Mr Durkan also said it was a lie to suggest "the SDLP does not move without Sinn Fein".

"Did we do that on policing? No - we paved the way forward without them," he said.

The SDLP leader, who was due to meet the Secretary of State Paul Murphy today, attacked republicans over the Northern Bank robbery, saying Sinn Fein has "a credibility problem".

He said: "They are not just disputing Hugh Orde, they are disputing the Taoiseach and Irish government's intelligence."

UUP Assembly member Billy Armstrong said he expected that the SDLP would be "bullied and inevitably pander to Sinn Fein/IRA".

He said: "Mr Durkan's outright refusal to consider a voluntary coalition effectively seals his Party's fate.

"Why can the SDLP leader not grasp that Sinn Fein/IRA are making a mockery of democracy, a mockery of Northern Ireland's people and a mockery of him."


Viewpoint: SDLP Must Make A Call On The Deal

Political Deadlock: Ensuring fair play for parties signed up to deal

18 January 2005

As the days go by, stronger and stronger declarations are coming from government and intelligence sources about the IRA's guilt in the Northern Bank robbery. When Paul Murphy and Dermot Ahern were asked yesterday if they were 100pc confident that the IRA were responsible, both replied, with conviction, "Yes".

The Republic's Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, was equally emphatic. He had heard nothing from Garda intelligence to make him believe the assessment of Hugh Orde was incorrect. The fact that the IRA refused to sign up to respect the safety and rights of others, in the governments' draft proposals, "spoke volumes", he said.

Despite this, the party that is inextricably linked to the criminals who carried out the biggest cash heist in history - Sinn Fein - protest their innocence. They accuse London and Dublin of discrimination, while Mr McDowell's description is "self-discrimination".

Trust in the political process, as Mr Murphy said, has been damaged very seriously. Yet there is little sign from nationalist politicians, yet, of the anger that must be felt throughout their community at the blow which the bank raid has struck at the Good Friday Agreement. How can they hope to win unionist support for a Stormont executive that includes Sinn Fein ministers?

They were nearly there, a month ago, but the knowledge that while Sinn Fein were negotiating, the IRA was putting the finishing touches to a long-planned heist has destroyed whatever confidence there was in a political deal. Republican politicians have shown they either lack control over the IRA or feel there is no crime too great that cannot be excused, for without them devolution is impossible.

It is impossible, unless the moderate nationalists represented by the SDLP decide that Sinn Fein has let them, as well as the unionists, down once too often. Although Mark Durkan's party is committed to an all-inclusive executive, as the best guarantee of long-term peace, is it not becoming obvious that Sinn Fein has excluded itself, at least temporarily?

Everyone admits that for the SDLP to agree to enter fresh negotiations on devolution without Sinn Fein would be unpopular with some nationalists. Republicans have been seen as the engines of progress in equality matters - now accepted - because they have been so effective in bending governments to their wishes, but there is a broad nationalist constituency which wants fair, devolved government, devoid of paramilitary links.

Has Sinn Fein so infected the body politic that there is no stomach among leading nationalists to challenge its hold on the democratic process, because it refuses to abandon the IRA? Politicians in the Republic, who have their own reasons for marginalising a radical party with unlimited funds, are giving a lead worth following.


Ahern Agrees To Meet SF After Heist Storm

By Noel McAdam
18 January 2005

The Dublin deep freeze is over. After almost two weeks of the political cold-shoulder, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has agreed to meet with Sinn Fein leaders next week.

The meeting, probably on Monday, is expected to come before Mr Ahern meets Tony Blair to discuss possible sanctions against Sinn Fein over the Northern Bank raid.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are likely to head the delegation in an attempt to heal relations with Dublin.

But the Republic's Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern made clear yesterday it is not "business as usual" with Sinn Fein and that, in discussions, the bar would be "somewhat higher than before".

As he met Secretary of State Paul Murphy in Dublin for the first formal talks since PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde accused the IRA of carrying out the heist, he said the raid and its political implications were a serious blow to the peace process.

Both Mr Murphy and Mr Ahern said they were 100% certain the IRA was involved in the robbery four weeks ago - and that criminality would have to be dealt with before political progress may prove possible.

Mr Murphy, who also met the Republic's Justice Minister Michael McDowell, said: "It is difficult to see how we can overcome the difficulties we face in any short period of time."

Mr McDowell said the robbery was a "stroke at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement" but added there is no other political project in existence.

Sanctions are unlikely to be confirmed, however, until the next report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, not due until April.

Sinn Fein, meanwhile, claimed Mr Orde's assessment is based on a single source. Justice spokesman Gerry Kelly said people in the intelligence service had been working for 30 years against the peace process.


Murphy To Discuss Sanctions Against SF

18/01/2005 - 07:31:58

Northern Secretary Paul Murphy is due to begin a series of meetings with the North's political parties today to discuss the fallout from last month's £26.5m (€37.8m) bank heist in Belfast.

The meetings have been arranged to discuss the future of the peace process in light of the PSNI's decision to publicly blame the Provisional IRA for the robbery.

Since then, Mr Murphy has been coming under pressure from unionists to introduce sanctions against Sinn Féin, including the expulsion of the party from political life in the North.

The Northern Secretary said in Dublin yesterday that he wanted to meet the North's political parties before deciding on any sanctions, but the British government is believed to be considering withdrawing Westminster allowances and privileges from Sinn Féin.


Heist Has Set Bar For Deal Even Higher, SF Warned

By Brian Dowling
18 January 2005

Sinn Fein leaders were warned last night that the IRA will have to convince the Irish and British governments that it has ended all paramilitary and criminal activities if trust in the peace process is to be restored.

Having baulked at providing photographic evidence of decommissioning and signing up to a formula or words to end all criminal activity last December, the IRA was told starkly yesterday that the bar will now be set even higher.

In some of his toughest language yet, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern said the Irish people had not voted for bank robberies and criminal activities when they supported the Good Friday Agreement.

Flanked by the Northern Secretary, Paul Murphy, at their first meeting since the ?38m Northern Bank robbery, Mr Ahern said the prospect of restoring power-sharing had been dealt a very serious blow by that "terrible event".

Asked if they were 100pc convinced that the IRA carried out the robbery the two ministers replied with a blunt, "Yes".

That message was reiterated by the Justice Minister, Michael McDowell after his meeting with Mr Murphy. Mr McDowell said the fact republicans would not sign up to an end to criminality in last month's abortive agreement "spoke volumes".

Following his return from a week-long trade mission to China, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is due to meet with Sinn Fein leaders but it is clear that his government's trust in republicans' good faith has been fundamentally shaken.

Underlining that sense of betrayal, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said the "evasion and denial" by republicans only served to deepen the gulf of mistrust that has been caused.

"Very serious and fundamental issues have to be dealt with," the minister added and he insisted that before future political progress could be made, republicans would have to prove their bone fides.

After his meeting with Mr Murphy, Mr Ahern said that the two governments were still firmly committed to achieving an inclusive political arrangement in the North but that it was very unlikely in the near future.

Mr Murphy said: "The world has changed in terms of how we deal with the Good Friday Agreement now. The impact of this event on the mutual confidence, trust and faith has been damaged very seriously."

The Northern Secretary said it would be up to the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) to look at possible penalties or sanctions against Sinn Fein and he didn't rule out an "early report" by the IMC.

Asked about a proposal from Democratic Unionist Party leader, Ian Paisley to proceed without Sinn Fein, the Northern Secretary and Mr Ahern reacted cautiously saying all options would be considered.

In response to the same question later, Mr McDowell said the two governments remained committed to the Good Friday Agreement and it was still the only political project to bring about inclusive government in the North.

Yesterday, Mr Paisley increased the pressure on Dublin and London by insisting that Sinn Fein be told it is out of the Stormont Executive unless the IRA disarms and disbands.

Dr Paisley said the IRA must decommission all its arms in a transparent way and pictures produced to authenticate that this is the case. It must also disband and provide proof that it has dismantled its criminal apparatus.

Source: Irish Independent


Bank Denies More Than €37.8M Was Stolen
2005-01-18 09:50:03+00

The Northern Bank rejected claims today that substantially more than £26.5m (€37.8m) was stolen from its Belfast HQ.

Detectives investigating the robbery, which has been blamed on the IRA, are understood to have been told by one member of staff taken hostage as part of the heist that the amount of cash taken was much higher.

A bank spokesman rejected the claim.

He said today: "We had a full forensic audit of the cash centre and it was independently audited by an outside body. The amount taken was £26.5m (€37.8m)."

None of the missing millions has been recovered by police hunting the gang which raided the bank just before Christmas.

It is believed detectives were told by Chris Ward, 23, one of two bank employees taken hostage and later forced to clear out the cash centre, that much more money was taken.

Notes were loaded on to trolleys and then covered with rubbish before being wheeled to a van outside where some members of the gang wearing delivery service uniforms, fleeces, hats and wigs waited.

Mr Ward and the second member of staff, Kevin McMullan, an assistant manager, whose families were held captive during the raid, were issued with mobile phones to keep in constant touch with the robbers.

At one stage Mr Ward was warned: "If you cooperate, everything will be OK. If you don't, you and your family are dead."

A gang of at least 20 was involved, police believe.

But even though Chief Constable Hugh Orde has blamed the IRA, there have been no arrests.

With none of the money yet to turn up, Sinn Féin has denied the Provisionals were responsible.

Meanwhile the bank confirmed today that up to 40 members of staff based at their city centre HQ are to be re-located to branches in other parts of Northern Ireland.

They asked to be moved amid fears that the gang involved may have their personal details.

A spokesman said: "It's for the welfare and safety of staff."


Help Us Or You're Dead, Hostage Told

Bank worker relives £26m heist ordeal

By Deborah McAleese and Ben Lowry
18 January 2005

A bank official forced to take part in the £26.5m Northern Bank heist spoke publicly today about his ordeal.

Chris Ward (23), from Poleglass in west Belfast, told how the gang threatened to shoot his entire family if he didn't carry out their orders.

He said the gang told him he would be taken away. "If you co-operate everything will be okay. If you don't, you and your family are dead," they told him.

As he spoke, the bank confirmed that dozens of staff have been moved from the cash centre at the bank's Belfast headquarters in the wake of the December 20 raid.

The decision to transfer around 40 employees was made last week, amid fears that their details could be in the hands of those responsible for the robbery.

Mr Ward was kidnapped at gunpoint while, separately, another senior bank employee, assistant manager Kevin McMullan, was also held. Both their families were also held hostage.

In interviews with the Irish News and BBC Spotlight, Mr Ward, a supervisor at the bank, told how a gang member tricked his way into the house by posing as a Celtic fan, knowing Mr Ward was involved in a supporters' club.

Mr Ward and Mr McMullan were left alone for more than six hours while their families were held, before being ordered to go to work as normal on December 20.

They were given mobile phones and had to keep the robbers updated throughout the day.

Unnervingly, the gang appeared to know everything about their victims.

"They said: 'Look Chris, we know everything about you and your family,' " said Mr Ward.

"We are going to take you away for 24 hours and if you co-operate everything will be okay.

"If you don't you and your family are dead."

Mr Ward said that the only way he got through the ordeal of acting normally at work on the day of the robbery was by telling himself that he had to keep up the pretence to ensure his family's safety.

"I just kept telling myself that if I didn't act normally my family and Kevin's family would be killed.

"Myself and Kevin had to keep up the pretence - we had no other choice," he said.

Mr Ward also said his family were further upset by recent media reports he claimed had insinuated he may have been involved in the robbery.

Meanwhile, the bank confirmed this morning that employees at the cash centre, many of whom were involved in a variety of roles including counting and distributing money, have been offered other positions within the bank, elsewhere within the headquarters building or at the 95 branches.

It is understood that there was minimal opposition to the move, which will happen over a period of time.

A Northern Bank spokesman confirmed that a decision to transfer the staff had been made.

"This is a prudent measure that has been taken in the staff's interest," he said.

The bank's vaults were emptied on December 20, in what was one of the largest cash robberies in history.

The Government has said that it accepts police intelligence that the Provisional IRA were the most likely culprits, although Sinn Fein has angrily rejected such accusations.


Terrorists Gun For 'King Of Crime'

By Stephen Breen
17 January 2005

ULSTER'S uncrowned 'king of crime' is on the run - from republican AND loyalist terror gangs.

Senior security sources claimed the north Belfast serial thief Sean Deery - who has more than FOUR HUNDRED burglary convictions - went into hiding, after terrorist godfathers on both sides accused him of masterminding a new scam.

It is understood the image-conscious thief, originally from the Carlingford Bay area, is now believed to be living in the border town of Dundalk.

In his latest scam, Deery conned hundreds of pounds from people, on both sides of the divide, by promising to get them £2,000 plasma TVs for just £800.

We spoke to one young man last month, who claimed that he had been offered one of the TVs, but pulled out of the deal at the last minute, after he was made aware of Deery's identity.

Deery, who was recently staying at a luxury apartment, close to Shaw's Bridge in Belfast, had been keeping a low profile in the city, since his release from prison.

He was jailed for two years, in 2000, for a series of burglaries, and went on the run following his release from prison, after cops warned he was on an IRA hit-list.

Said a source: "He comes across as a nice guy and describes himself as a wealthy businessman, but deep down he is nothing but a thief.

"He is shrewd enough to get close to his victims and when these people hand over money, they think they are going to get what they paid for.

"But when the products don't turn up, Deery makes his excuses and can't be contacted again. The people then go to the paramilitaries, and that's why he's left.

"The only thing Deery cares about is getting the cash to continue with his sunbed sessions and playboy lifestyle.

"He was raging when the Sunday Life published his photo, and that's why he's lying low, because the paramilitaries now know what he looks like."

This latest development comes after we revealed how Deery had posed as an employer with a bogus company, Safeguard Fencing, and placed an advertisement for a labourer's position at the JobCentre, in Belfast's Shaftesbury Square.

We were also the first paper to obtain an exclusive snap of the thief, who has now dyed his hair blond.


Loyalist Took Own Life Over Murder Probe Fear

By Ciaran McGuigan
17 January 2005

A UVF man killed himself, over fears he was about to be arrested for the savage murders of two young men in Tandragee, almost five years ago.

Loyalist, Noel Dillon, was buried, last week, after taking his own life, as an investigation into his alleged role in the murders of Andrew Robb and David McIlwaine, intensified.

Dillon was quizzed by cops a short time after the horrific double knife murder, on a lonely country lane, in February, 2000.

He was one of seven people arrested and questioned at length, at Gough Barracks, in Armagh.

However, he was released without charge, and quickly fled to the Republic, to avoid further questioning.

He holed up in the Raheny area of Dublin, while he waited for the heat to die down.

Only one person was ever charged with the murders.

But, the case against the man was sensationally dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions, without explanation, in February, 2001.

Sunday Life understands, that Dillon had told cops that he was in the company of the accused man, throughout the night of the murders.

The man, who had faced charges, had supported Dillon's claim.

However, security sources believe Dillon knew about the whereabouts of the murder weapon - a long-bladed knife that was used to slit the two men's throats.

It is understood that police were later told, that the knife had been dumped in the oil tank, at the rear of a house.

Sources believe Dillon may have been aware that investigators were still keen to speak to a witness, who would be able to tie him to the location of the knife, when he killed himself, just weeks before the fifth anniversary of the murders.

His body was discovered in a house, at Hamilstownsbawn Road, in Armagh, last Monday evening.

One loyalist source told Sunday Life: "The belief, in the organisation (the UVF), is that Dillon killed himself over the investigation of the murder of the two young fellas.

"What exact role or knowledge he had about the murders isn't clear.

"But, he was obviously a very worried man."

After the charges against the only man to have appeared in court were withdrawn, Dillon emerged from his Dublin bolthole, and moved back to Ulster.

But, instead of moving back to mid-Ulster - where he could have been in danger from rival loyalists looking to wreak revenge for the murders - he came to Belfast.

Death notices, in last week's newspapers, included a number from supporters in bars and clubs, in loyalist areas of east Belfast.


Seven Hurt In Real IRA Jail Feud

By Tom Brady
18 January 2005

Seven prisoners were treated in hospital after a vicious row erupted between members of the two opposing Real IRA factions in the top-security Portlaoise jail, it emerged today.

The dissidents used chair legs and broom handles to attack each other in a melee that lasted half an hour before it was brought under control by staff.

Most of the injured suffered cuts and bruises to the face and body and all of the seven were discharged from Portlaoise Hospital by last night.

Prison governor T J Walshe has ordered an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the republican row and disciplinary action may be taken against some of the dissidents involved.

The opposing factions are led by the former Real IRA chief of staff, Michael McKevitt, and his one-time director of operations, Liam Campbell.

The two men are now bitter enemies and their supporters are kept apart on separate landings in the jail's E wing, which houses around 40 subversive prisoners.

The groups are allowed to mingle as the cells are unlocked in the morning and they walk out to collect their breakfast and bring the food back to the cells.

Tension has been high in the wing in recent weeks because of the split in the dissident group and it spilled over at about 8.40am yesterday when two prisoners clashed at the end of a landing.

Others joined in and grabbed chairs and brushes to use as weapons. According to the Irish Prison Service last night, up to 15 prisoners were involved at the height of the disturbance but staff said at least 30 took part.

Staff reinforcements were rushed to the scene and restored calm.

Other inmates were not involved.

The Prison Officers' Association said last night it was seriously concerned about staff safety.

Last year, McKevitt, who is serving a 20-year sentence for directing a terrorist organisation, and 22 of his supporters lost remission of their sentences as well as a month's privileges because they refused to obey jail rules.

Campbell was convicted of membership of an illegal organisation. Both men are being sued by the relatives of the victims of the Omagh bomb atrocity in a civil compensation case.


Obituary - Alliance Party Stalwart - Gay Firth

18 January 2005

The Belfast-born journalist Gay Firth, who helped found the Alliance Party, has died. She was 68.

Mrs Firth, who went on to work for The Times and the Financial Times, died at home on her birthday earlier this month.

For a while after Alliance was established in 1970, Firth worked as a full-time press officer.

Arabella Gay Turtle was born in Belfast on January 9, 1937, daughter to the businessman Lancelot Turtle.

Her mother was a Quaker from Denver, Colorado, and Firth would later describe herself as an Anglo-American Irishwoman.

For many years, she moved back and forth between Northern Ireland and London, and also travelled regularly to the United States.

When in Belfast, she stayed at the family home in Malone.

"She was flamboyant," recalled an Alliance co-founder, the journalist Anthony Cowdy.

"She took on quite a lot of American mannerisms and ideas, and indeed ideals."

Mr Cowdy, who remembers Firth from childhood when they were both friends, added: "Some people would have thought of her as posh, but Gay was the sort of person who made posh a good and exciting thing to be."

The young Gay attended a Quaker boarding school in York and then went to Trinity College in Dublin to read Classics, breaking with a family tradition to go to Queen's in Belfast.

Later she went to Cambridge, where she became friendly with an influential generation of Conservative politicians such as Ken Clarke.

There she met her future husband, the broadcaster Tony Firth, with whom she would have two children.

Later they became a popular media couple in London, based in fashionable Hampstead.

Mrs Firth was absorbed with what was happening in Northern Ireland, but also involved in Westminster politics.

"She was a lobbyist before the name came to exist," said Mr Cowdy.

Sir Oliver Napier, who later became Alliance Party leader, said: "She was incredibly committed to the breaking down of sectarianism in Northern Ireland."

Gay Firth was a speech writer for the Equal Opportunities Commission when it was being set up. She reviewed fiction for The Times and spent the 1980s in various roles at the Financial Times.

Her interests included bridge and contemporary art.

She was in her 40s when her husband died.

She is survived by a son and daughter.


Ulster Nazi Uniform Condemnation

By John McGurk
17 January 2005

"YOU deserve all the flak you get" - that's the angry message to Prince Harry, from an Ulster survivor of German prisoner of war camps.

Former RAF man, Ronnie Cartwright joined the chorus of criticism against the young Royal - after revelations that Harry had worn a Nazi uniform at a friend's party.

The 20-year-old, who is third in line to the throne, is under fire after being pictured in The Sun newspaper, wearing a Swastika armband and the gear of Rommel's desert army, to the birthday bash at an English country mansion.

A hurriedly issued statement from Harry said: "I am very sorry if I have caused any offence. It was a poor choice of costume and I apologise."

But those words failed to cool the fury of many, including the Jewish human rights organisation, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which labelled the prince's actions "shameful", and urged him to attend a 60th anniversary liberation ceremony at the Auschwitz concentration camp, later this month.

Limavady man, Ronnie Cartwright, who was imprisoned in a Nazi POW camp in Poland for nearly five years, said Harry had been "very, very insensitive" and he believes his apology has been "not enough".

"All of the criticism of him is well justified," said Mr Cartwright.

"I think it was very, very insensitive of him to wear that uniform - especially when you consider that it is accepted that six million people, or more, were murdered by the Nazis."

The 84-year old former RAF wireless operator added:

"In my opinion, this matter should not just be dropped.

"This fellow has had a bad record over the past few years, and he has got to be taken to task on his latest behaviour.

"It doesn't do much for the Royals."

Mr Cartwright was imprisoned in the famous Stalag Luft 3 POW camp - where the legendary Great Escape was made - after his RAF aeroplane was shot down, near the French coast, in September 1940.

But the four-time Limavady Mayor doesn't think that a visit to another Nazi camp, Auschwitz, by the under-fire royal would make amends for his 'Hitler howler'.

"To assume that a visit would do some good might indicate that he did what he did out of ignorance. But I feel that a fellow who has been educated like him and - particularly a member of the Royal Family - should act like he knows a little about the wars we have been involved in.

"His apology just is not enough. The least he could do now is to take part in some sort of inquiry."


Nazi Outfits Popular In Ulster

By Bill Smyth
17 January 2005

ULSTER fancy dress shops are uniformly puzzled over the fuss surrounding Prince Harry's Nazi costume.

Florencia Trainor, owner of Harlequin Fancy Dress and Theatrical Costume Hire, in Belfast's Botanic Avenue, says they have been hiring out German soldiers Second World War uniforms for years - and nobody has batted an eyelid.

"They're a fun thing - and we find a big demand for them from partygoers and amateur drama companies - particularly when they're doing The Sound of Music.

"Actually, our uniforms are by no means accurate - for instance they lack the lapel badges, and little details like that - but they're real enough for people to recognise them as German uniforms."

Florencia says Harry's uniform was a bit of a dog's breakfast, in any case.

"I mean it was desert uniform - so maybe he thought he was Rommel, but he would never have worn a swastika arm band - that was the Gestapo."

Florencia says they will continue to stock the uniforms, and do not expect to see demand change either upwards or downwards. "It's just a steady item - but no different from dozens of others we carry."

Clowning Around, on Derry's Strand Road, also stocks the uniforms - and finds them popular at times.

Owner Patricia Quigley said: "They're in demand at Halloween, and close enough to the real thing, to at least give the impression they're German soldiers in wartime.

"But, we also supply the jack boots, so they can strut around and act out the part - it's just a laugh really, and nobody I know finds it offensive."


Gaelic School Plan In Ballymena

18 January 2005

A meeting is to be held in Ballymena to discuss the possibility of setting up a new Irish language pre-school in the Co Antrim town.

The meeting will be held this Thursday at 7.30pm in All Saints GAA Club at the town's Woodside Road.

Supporters of the move believe any pre-school could be the forerunner of an Irish medium primary school in Ballymena.


Going The Extra Kilometre May Cost You Money

Republic's revised speed limits go metric this week

By Ben Lowry
18 January 2005

Motorists from Northern Ireland are today being warned to take care driving in the Republic, ahead of the imminent introduction of metric speed limits.

From Thursday all limits will be in kilometres per hour (km/h), bringing to an end a long-standing anomaly in which road sign distances have been shown in kilometres while speed limits in miles per hour (mph).

The new limits will range from 30km/h (19 mph) in certain designated places, such as outside schools, to 120 km/h (74.5 mph) on motorways.

Until now, the speed limit on all rural roads in the Republic has been 60 mph, unless a lower limit was indicated.

This will now drop to 80km/h (50 mph), except on so-called national roads which will have a 100km/h limit (62 mph).

Hundreds of miles of dual carriageway have been built in the Republic in recent years and most of these will attract the 100km/h limit.

Thousands of new speed limit signs are being erected across the Republic in preparation for the change. These have been designed in the traditional style in which the limit is written in black lettering against a white background within a red circle, but there will also be smaller lettering at the bottom making clear that the figure applies to km/h.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of the Environment has been running a TV ad which alerts viewers to the changes. The ad will be running until the end of the month.

The main difficulty is that most Irish cars show speed in mph, because the right-hand drive car market is overwhelmingly geared towards the British market.

A minority of car owners have digital speedometers which can be changed so that their speed shows up in either mph or km/h.

Every household in the Republic is being sent information that includes a conversion table for mph into km/h.

The authorities south of the border have made clear that ignorance of the new limits will be no excuse.

North of the border, Harry Green of the DOE said: "You need to be aware that on some roads permitted speeds will now be different to those in Northern Ireland.

"Drivers and riders should familiarise themselves with the changes, pay attention, assess the conditions and ensure that they comply with the relevant speed limits."


Blizzards Cause NI Roads Chaos

Bad weather is causing travel chaos and has closed dozens of schools across Northern Ireland.

Conditions on the Glenshane Pass in Co Londonderry are said to be dangerous with drivers urged to be cautious.

The main road between Armagh and Keady has reopened after a number of vehicles became stuck in the snow.

Four men died in separate road accidents on Monday evening. The Roads Service said it was some of the worst weather in recent years.

Driving conditions are dangerous on roads right across Northern Ireland.

Power lines were brought down near Toomebridge in County Antrim.

About 1,000 customers in the area were without electricity for a time.

According to the Met Office, the north and west of Northern Ireland has been the worst hit, with reports of between 10-15 centimetres of snow falling overnight.

On lower levels, an average of about five centimetres has fallen, making driving conditions particularly difficult.

Snow is causing difficult driving conditions on the M2 between Templepatrick and Sandyknowes, as well as the A1 headed towards the M1.

The mountain road between Coleraine and Limavady is passable only with extreme care.

At Belfast City Airport, early morning departures are experiencing some delays and two flights to Heathrow have been cancelled.

Further hail and snow showers are likely on Tuesday morning, but Rob Black from the Met Office said it should turn milder by the afternoon.

The following schools have been closed due to the heavy snowfall.

Foley Primary School, County Armagh. - Knocknagin Primary School, Desertmartin, County Londonderry. - Newtownhamilton High School and primary School, County Armagh. - Ballytreagh Primary School, outside Stewartstown, County Tyrone. - Cortamlet Primary School, outside Newtownhamilton, County Armagh. - Lissan Primary School, Cookstown. - Carntall Primary School, near Clougher in County Tyrone. - St Mary's Primary School, Granemore, County Armagh. - Coagh Primary School, Cookstown. - Woods Primary School, Magherafelt. - St Joseph's Primary School, Bessbrook - Deanmaguire College, Carrickmore, County Tyrone, shut except for those students doing exams. - Tobermore Primary School, County Londonderry. - Reduced transport to Rostulla Primary School, Jordanstown. - St Francis of Assisi Primary School in Keady, County Armagh.

- Comber Primary School in Claudy, County Londonderry. - Magherafelt Primary School, Magherafelt, County Londonderry. - St Patrick's Primary in Loup, County Londonderry. - Orritor Primary School, Cookstown, County Tyrone.

- Stewartstown Primary School, County Tyrone. - St Colman's Primary School, Banbridge, County Down. - Fairhill Primary School, Dromara, County Down, - Hamiltonsbawn Primary School, County Armagh. - St Mary's Primary School, Pomeroy, County Tyrone. - Augher Central Primary School, County Tyrone. - Magherafelt Nursery School, County Londonderry. - St Columbcille's Primary School, Carrickmore, County Tyrone. - St Colman's School, Annaghclone, County Down. - St Mary's Primary School, Aughnacloy, County Tyrone. - Rainey Endowed School, Magherafelt. - St Oliver Plunkett's Primary School, Forkhill, County Armagh. _ Spires Integrated Primary School, Magherafelt. - Jonesboro Primary School, County Armagh. - Dromintee Primary School, Newry, - Moneymore Primary School, County Tyrone. - Cope Primary School, Loughgall. _ St Patrick's Primary School, Newtownstewart. - St Patrick's Primary School, Cullyhanna, County Armagh. - St Joseph's Primary School, Galbally, County Tyrone. - St Mary's Primary School, Stewartstown. - St Brigid's Primary School, Tirkane, Maghera.

- Richmond Primary School, Ballygawley, County Tyrone. - St Michael's Primary School in Finnis, Dromara. - Ballyholland Primary School, Newry. - Dromintee Primary School, Co Armagh. - Silverstream Primary School, Greenisland. - Markethill primary and high schools. - St Michael's Primary School, Clady. - Mossgrove Primary School, Newtownabbey. - Crievagh Primary School, Lissan. - Drumbo Primary School, Lisburn. - Little Flower Nursery School, Clonoe, Coalisland.

Straid Primary School, Ballyclare. - St Mary's Primary School, Stewartstown, County Tyrone. - Steeple Nursery School, Antrim town. - Holy Trinity College, Cookstown. - St Patrick's Primary School, Annaghmore, Coalisland.

Drumglass High School, Dungannon. - St Oliver Plunkett's Primary School, Ballyhagan. - Our Lady's Primary School, Tullysaran _ St Patrick's Primary School, Annaghmore, Coalisland. - St Brigid's Primary School, Mayogall. - Scarva Primary School, Banbridge.

Darkley Primary School, Keady. - St Joseph's Primary School, Killeenan, County Tyrone. - St John's Primary School, Moy. - Clontifleece Primary School, Warrenpoint. - Donaghey Primary School, County Tyrone.

St Eoghan's Primary School, Moneyneena, Draperstown. - Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, Greencastle. - St Pius X College, Magherafelt, is closed except for students doing AS level exams. - Bush Primary School, Dungannon. - St Joseph's Primary, Poyntzpass

St Patrick's Primary School, Crossmaglen. - St John's Primary School, Kingsisland, Coalisland. - St Patrick's Primary School, Moneymore. - St Mary's Primary School, Altanure. St Patrick's Primary School, Moneymore. - St Mary's Primary School, Altanure. - Blessed Patrick O'Loughrin Primary School, Castlecaulfield. - Toreagh Primary School, Larne. - St Patrick's Primary School, Drumgrenagh, Rathfriland.

St Colman's Primary School, Dromore. - Cookstown High School closed, but local staff are expected to go in. - St Mary's Grammar School Magherafelt closed, except for those pupils doing exams. - St Patrick's Primary School, Drumgrenagh, Rathfriland.

Loughview Integrated Primary School, Castlereagh. - Primate Dixon School, Coalisland. - St Olcans's High School, Randalstown. - Tullymacarett Primary School, Dromore - Brackenagh West Primary School, Kilkeel, County Down. _ Magherafelt High School.

St Mary's Primary School, Ballygawley County Tyrone. _ Drumlegagh Primary School near Omagh. _ Ballymacward pre-school playgroup, Stoneyford. _ Integrated College Dungannon.

St Ciaran's Ballygawley, year 8 Delta Programme cancelled but will run as usual next Tuesday. The school, however, is open.

Sacred Heart Primary School, Dundrum, County Down. St John's Primary School, Middletown, Armagh. Sydenham Infants School will close early on Tuesday afternoon because of the weather. Afterschool clubs are cancelled and children will go home at 1400 GMT.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/18 08:23:36 GMT


Galena Business Named Irish Business Of The Year

By Jane Lethlean

Jack Coulter, left, and Basil Conroy stand in the library they created at their inn The Irish Cottage in Galena. The duo, who immigrated from Ireland, are living a dream with their business, which was created by shipping woodwork and furnishings directly from Ireland to give the place an authentic Irish feel.

The Journal-Standard

It all began as a dream for Jack Coulter and Basil Conroy. It grew from their Irish heritage, a re-creation of the land of their birth - Ireland.

Cousins Coulter and Conroy came to the United States in the mid-1980s. They opened their first business venture in 1991 in Dubuque, a restaurant called Pasta O'Sheas.

Some years later, they fell in love with a piece of land in Galena that reminded them of their youth. The land they laid eyes on was like the Valley of Glendalough in Ireland.

Their dream was to develop the land, which became The Irish Cottage, and recently was named Illinois Irish Business of the Year by the Good Morning Ireland Foundation in Illinois.

According to Conroy, "We envisioned a property that would embrace all that was Irish, a true microcosm of Ireland and its proud and ancient culture."

Born was a 77-room luxury hotel and authentic Irish pub. Situated on a hillside at Galena's eastern entrance, with a view of that Coulter says could be in Ireland, The Irish Cottage features guest rooms that reflect each of the 32 counties in Ireland.

Each room includes a watercolor print of that county by Waterford artist Roisin O'Shea and there are suites that include Victorian-era Dublin fireplaces.

The entrance leads immediately into a bit of Ireland. At the doors is a quote that reads, "May the roof above us never fall in and may we friends gathered below never fall out."

The lobby, library, breakfast room and pub were actually hand-crafted in Ireland and assembled in Galena. Surrounding the walls of the lobby are life-size portraits of famous Irish Americans.

Coulter and Conroy are proud of what they have accomplished. They pride themselves knowing that they have created an authentic place that depicts the country that lives inside of them. They are proud to have been recognized as The Illinois Irish Business of the Year.

"The Irish can be some of our harshest critics," Coulter said. "So to be recognized by our peers is really special."

The award was linked to a foundation fund-raiser held in November in Chicago. The Good Morning Ireland Foundation was begun earlier this year by the Chicago radio personality John Gurhy, to raise funds for breast cancer screening and treatment equipment in the west of Ireland.

Gurhy, who is a Sligo, Ireland, native, learned that women in rural areas of Ireland often have to wait three to four months for diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. The fund-raiser drew over 1,200 supporters and raised $134,000 for the cause.

It was at this function that Coulter and Conroy lent their support and received the award. The duo aren't sure who nominated them, but know it was someone who stayed at the inn.

"When we envisioned The Irish Cottage, we wanted to establish a place that gave a feel like a real Irish country inn," Coulter said.

They are also proud of the library that houses many historic books from Irish authors. The hand-carved mahogany furnishings are surrounded by leather armchairs that came from Ireland. Much of the memorabilia in the library came from their families. There are books that date back to the 1700s that show the many castles in Ireland.

"The Irish are known for their storytelling," Conroy said. "So we wanted to put in a prestigious library that captured the best of what Irish literature has to offer."

Coulter and Conroy paid a lot of attention to detail at their country inn. Coulter says "that each room is an education," giving the guest a piece of history from a county in Ireland.

"We tried to make it a stop in time," Conroy said. "We want people to come and touch base with their roots," he added. "This is a place where they can take pride of who they are and where they came from."

"Our inn truly is a special place," Coulter said. "If you can't get to Ireland, we have created a special place for a visit."

Driving into the parking lot of the inn is like driving into a small village street, with shops at one end and the inn and the pub at the other end.

Never straying too far from the minds of the Irishmen were thoughts of the perfect pub they created and named Frank O'Dowd's in honor of their grandfather. It was their grandfather who inspired them to bring life to the Gaelic phrase "Ol, Ceol agus Craic," which means a good pint, great music and wonderful entertainment!.

According to Coulter and Conroy, the pub was designed to create an environment to bathe the senses simultaneously with Celtic tunes as the eye absorbs the craftsmanship of colorful stained glass with the dark oaks, which are the epitome of a true Irish pub.

While the ale flows, music and dancers fill the air during the weekend entertainment of authentic Irish music and dance. Coulter said that they strive to create an evening that is cultural as well as memorable.

"What we have is unique to this area," Coulter said. "As an Irishman, I am proud of my heritage and I want to share a bit of the culture with everyone."


Was Robert Kennedy Killed By A Real 'Manchurian Candidate'-Style Assassin?

A new book claims to reveal evidence that the CIA, FBI and Aristotle Onassis hypnotised a Palestinian man into assassinating Robert Kennedy. John Hiscock reports

18 January 2005

It happened nearly 38 years ago, but doubts and suspicions have lingered on. Now the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Robert Kennedy are being resurrected and re-examined in an attempt to establish the truth of what happened that night in the cramped pantry of a Los Angeles hotel.

New evidence has emerged and pressure is mounting on authorities to reopen the case of Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of the assassination and who remains in the California state prison in Corcoran.

Celebrities and journalists are joining the campaign for a federal investigation, which has been sparked in part by a new book, Nemesis, by the British author Peter Evans. Evans, who spent 10 years researching the book, has unearthed evidence to support Sirhan's contention that he was hypnotised into being the "fall guy" for the murder. Evans identifies the hypnotist, who had worked on CIA mind control programmes and who was later found dead in mysterious circumstances.

In another move to reopen the case, a lawsuit has been filed in Los Angeles Superior Court to stop the pantry at the Ambassador Hotel being destroyed with the rest of the hotel because, it is claimed, bullet holes in the walls and ceiling demonstrate conclusively that more than one gunman fired shots at Senator Kennedy.

Both Evans and Sirhan's lawyer, Larry Teeter, are convinced that the Palestinian activist was chosen to be a Manchurian Candidate-style assassin. In the 1962 film, remade last year, and based on a novel by Richard Condon, a former prisoner of war from the Korean conflict is brainwashed by Communists into becoming a political assassin.

Evans and Teeter believe that while Sirhan fired several shots, none of them hit Kennedy. The assassination, they say, was carried out by a professional hitman who fled immediately, leaving Sirhan to take the blame.

It was only because Kennedy had dismissed his Los Angeles police bodyguards that Sirhan survived and was not gunned down on the spot as his controllers had intended, reports Evans.

The actor Robert Vaughn, who starred in the long-running television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E and who was a good friend of Robert Kennedy's, has sent a copy of Evans' book to Sirhan and his lawyers. In his letter to Sirhan, Vaughn wrote: "It contains important new information about your case that I believe substantiates your claims of having been hypnotised at the time of the shooting and also produces the first credible evidence of motivation and method. I can tell you that, like me, important people in the US media are persuaded by Mr Evans' revelations; some are talking of it opening the door to a long overdue federal investigation into the assassination. I also believe that it could give you the grounds for a new appeal."

The author Dominick Dunne, in his Vanity Fair column last month, described Nemesis as presenting "a startling revision of American history".

Robert Kennedy was the senator for New York, the head of the Kennedy clan and, according to Evans, the occasional lover of his sister-in-law, Jackie Kennedy, when his snowballing presidential campaign rolled into California. He triumphed in the California primary, and around midnight on 5 June 1968 in the Embassy Room of the Ambassador Hotel he thanked his supporters. Then, surrounded by aides, hotel employees and newsmen, with his wife, Ethel, a few yards behind and with the cheers still ringing in his ears, he left for a press conference in the Colonial Room on the other side of the hotel.

The route they took, from the stage to an anteroom and into the service corridors, led them through a narrow serving-kitchen known as the pantry. As the senator approached, a dark, slim young man stepped from behind a tray rack. He raised a .22 calibre revolver and squeezed the trigger. The gunman continued firing, wounding five other people as Kennedy aides and hotel employees wrestled him down on to a table for steaming food, where he was held until police arrived.

On 17 April 1969, after 64 sequestered days and nights, and 16 and a half hours of deliberation, the jury of seven men and five women found Sirhan "alone and not in concert with anyone else" guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to death in the gas chamber, but the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment when the United States Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional.

Those facts are not in dispute. Nearly everything else is.

"There was no way Sirhan Sirhan killed Kennedy," says Teeter, who has filed the lawsuit to preserve the pantry for further forensic examination. "He was the fall guy. His job was to get busted while the trigger man walked out. He wasn't consciously involved in any plot. He was a patsy. He was unconscious and unaware of what was happening - he was the true Manchurian Candidate.

"He is absolutely innocent. He is not the person who did the shooting. He was out of position and out of range and he couldn't have done it."

Teeter does not know for certain who hypnotised Sirhan, but, he said: "I know it was done. It was consistent with the US government's programme developed by the CIA and Military Intelligence to enable handlers to get people to commit crimes with no knowledge of what they are doing."

Evans goes further and names the hypnotist as a Dr William Joseph Bryan Jnr. He had worked on a CIA mind-control programme called MKULTRA and claimed to have moonlighted as a technical adviser on The Manchurian Candidate. The hypnosis, says Evans, had been done over three months, a period known as the "white fog" when the Los Angeles police task force later investigating the assassination - and trying to construct a meticulous timetable of Sirhan's activities up to the shooting - lost track of him.

Sergeant Bill Jordan, the detective who was Sirhan's first interrogator, told Evans: "We took him back for more than a year with some intensity - where he'd been, what he'd been doing, who he'd been seeing. But there was this 10- or 12-week gap, like a blanket of white fog we could never penetrate, and which Sirhan himself appeared to have a complete amnesia about."

Dr Bryan was found dead in a Las Vegas hotel room in 1978. He had either shot himself or was murdered. The case remains unsolved.

Evans agrees that Sirhan could not have killed Kennedy. "He got off a lot of shots and the panic in the pantry that night was extraordinary. But the angle of the bullet holes are against Sirhan having pulled the trigger," he said. "Sirhan Sirhan was very volatile, very visible and the perfect patsy.

"Unfortunately, some of the physical evidence was destroyed almost immediately because the Los Angeles police department burned the doors to the pantry, which was an extraordinary thing to do."

The recollections of a waiter at the Ambassador at the time add weight to the theories that Sirhan was not the assassin. Phil Elwell, who owns the popular King's Head pub and restaurant in Santa Monica, recalls that his friend and fellow waiter Carl Ucker was in the pantry that night and grabbed Sirhan's gun hand. "He was holding Sirhan Sirhan's wrist, and although Sirhan was firing the gun, Carl said that there was no way that any of the bullets could have hit Kennedy," said Elwell. "Carl told the police this and went on a lot of talk shows saying the same thing, but nobody seemed to take much notice."

Where Evans and Teeter differ is on the question of motive, and there they are at loggerheads.

"The assassination was staged by US intelligence for the purpose of continuing the war against Vietnam and putting the Republican Party in the White House," said Teeter. "The assassination was arranged with the CIA, the FBI and the LAPD. There was a massive cover-up. If he had lived and been allowed to run, Bobby Kennedy would have been elected president and this was a multi-agency task force to make sure that the Democrats didn't take the White House again."

In Nemesis, Evans gives a totally different motive. He has unearthed startling evidence that the assassination was carried out by a Palestinian terrorist named Mahmoud Hamshari.

Evans quotes sources as saying that Hamshari was receiving protection money from Aristotle Onassis to prevent attacks on his Olympic Airlines. Onassis, says Evans, had hated Bobby Kennedy since 1953, when Kennedy was one of the prime movers in scuppering a major deal Onassis was pushing through in Saudi Arabia. In addition, Kennedy stood in the way of his marriage to Jackie. She had promised her brother-in-law not to wed Onassis until after the 1968 election because they both knew how the American public would have reacted. She married Onassis in October 1968.

Dr Bryan was chosen to hypnotise Sirhan because he had links to both Hamshari and Onassis. Hamshari had visited him seeking a cure for migraine headaches, while Onassis had called on the doctor in an attempt to cure his sexual dysfunction, says Evans. It was Onassis's money, says Evans, that financed both the hypnotism of Sirhan and the assassination.

He says that Onassis confessed his complicity in the assassination to one of his lovers, Helen Gaillet De Neergaard, when she was his guest on his private island, Skorpios, in 1974. She confirms this in a letter to Vanity Fair, published in the February issue. "Thank God the truth has finally been told for posterity," she writes.

Teeter scoffs at Evans' research and describes the book as "a soap opera". Said Evans: "I can see Mr Teeter's nervousness about my book because I have shown that Sirhan Sirhan was there, he had a gun and he pulled the trigger. My book is about the conspiracy to murder Bobby Kennedy and it is putting a lot of pressure on authorities to reopen the case. The point of the assassination is not who fired the gun, but who paid for the bullets. Aristotle Onassis paid for the bullets."

The 84-year-old, 500-room Ambassador Hotel, which was the site of six Academy Awards ceremonies and where many celebrities, including the aviator and movie producer Howard Hughes, had permanent suites, was never the same after the assassination. Many believe it died with Robert Kennedy. It became more run down year by year, closing floor by floor until it finally shut its doors to the public on 3 January 1989. Its contents were auctioned off in the 1990s and it now stands empty and derelict behind a chain-link fence on Wilshire Boulevard.

Los Angeles officials want to tear it down and build three schools on the site, while the Los Angeles Conservancy is fighting to save the hotel because of its architectural value and historic significance.

The Kennedy family has argued forcefully against saving the hotel, saying that new schools would make the most fitting memorial to Bobby's life.

The pantry remains in the bowels of the building, a decaying space with bullet holes in the wall and ceiling. An ice machine still drips. Pending the outcome of Teeter's lawsuit, a panel of historians will be appointed to consider if the room ought to be sliced out and shipped whole to another site, preserved as it is, or destroyed along with the hotel.

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