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January 21, 2005

01/21/05 – Majority Accepts Sinn Fein

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents - Jan 2005

IT 01/22/05 Majority Wants Talks With SF On North Deal To Continue
IT 01/22/05 Majority Accepts SF Bona Fides
IT 01/22/05 Make Or Break For Peace Process
IT 01/22/05 Judgment Is Unusually Trenchant
TS 01/21/05 Terror Gaffe On Kids' TV
SM 01/21/05 Book Rev: Border Of The Soul
BB 01/21/05 A Sign Of Better Things To Come?


Sinn Fein
The Irish Times/TNS MRBI poll

Majority Wants Talks With SF On North Deal To Continue

A clear majority of voters believes that the Irish and British governments should continue to negotiate with Sinn Féin for a deal in the North rather than suspend negotiations until there is a verified end to IRA criminal activity, according to the latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi opinion poll. Mark Brennock, Chief Political Correspondent, reports

Some 62 per cent believe the governments should continue to negotiate with Sinn Féin, while 26 per cent believe negotiations should be suspended until the governments are satisfied that there is a verified end to criminal activity by the IRA.

Some 9 per cent don't know and 3 per cent have no opinion.

Less than half of voters - 47 per cent - believe that the IRA was responsible for the recent £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery. Just 19 per cent believe the IRA was not responsible, while 29 per cent say they don't know and 5 per cent expressed no opinion.

The level of belief that the IRA was responsible is relatively consistent among supporters of all parties except Sinn Féin. Just 15 per cent of Sinn Féin voters believe the IRA was responsible, 61 per cent believe that it was not, 22 per cent don't know and 2 per cent have no opinion.

The poll was conducted last Monday and Tuesday among a national quota sample of 1,000 voters throughout all constituencies. It was conducted just before the IRA's official denial of involvement in the Northern Bank robbery.

The strong support for the continuation of political negotiations with Sinn Féin shows that the public takes a different view from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Ahern, who said last Monday that it was not "business as usual" with Sinn Féin and that the criminality issue had to be resolved before the Government re-entered negotiations with Sinn Féin similar to those which took place before Christmas.

However, there is support in all age groups, regions and social categories, and among supporters of all parties, for the continuation of negotiations with Sinn Féin rather than its suspension until the governments are satisfied that there has been a verified end to criminal activity by the IRA.

A greater number believe Sinn Féin is committed to working towards the ending of all paramilitary violence and criminal activity than believe it is not. Some 46 per cent believe that it is, 32 per cent that it is not, 18 per cent don't know and 4 per cent have no opinion.

The public is evenly divided on whether Sinn Féin would be acceptable or unacceptable to serve in the next government. Asked if Sinn Féin participation in a coalition would be acceptable or not if there were a general election tomorrow, 39 per cent said it would be acceptable, 39 per cent that it would not, 18 per cent don't know and 4 per cent have no opinion.

Sinn Féin participation is most palatable to the party's own voters, among whom 95 per cent see it as acceptable, just 1 per cent do not and 3 per cent have no opinion. Among supporters of other parties, it is most acceptable among Labour voters, where 44 per cent would accept it, 33 per cent would not, 21 per cent don't know and 2 per cent have no opinion.

A greater number of supporters of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party would find Sinn Féin participation in a coalition government unacceptable. Among Fianna Fáil voters, 36 per cent believe it would be acceptable, 41 per cent unacceptable, 20 per cent don't know and 3 per cent have no opinion.

Some 33 per cent of Fine Gael voters see it as acceptable, 55 per cent as unacceptable, 9 per cent don't know and 3 per cent have no opinion.

Among PD voters, just 18 per cent would find Sinn Féin participation in the next government acceptable, 68 per cent unacceptable, while 15 per cent don't know. Finally, among Green Party voters, 29 per cent would find it acceptable, 54 per cent unacceptable, while 10 per cent don't know.

© The Irish Times


Majority Accepts SF Bona Fides

Analysis: The public remains tolerant of Sinn Féin and sceptical of claims that the IRA robbed the bank, writes Mark Brennock, Chief Political Correspondent

The remarkable strength of the public's acceptance of Sinn Féin's place in the North's political process, and possibly in the Republic's Government in the near future, is clear from this poll.

The Taoiseach, his Ministers, the British prime minister and most of the press have backed the assertion of the PSNI chief constable, Mr Hugh Orde, that he believes the IRA carried out the Northern Bank robbery. Yet a large majority believes "business as usual" with Sinn Féin should continue.

Some 62 per cent believe negotiations with the party towards an overall deal should continue, with just 26 per cent believing it should be suspended until the governments are satisfied there is a verified end to IRA criminal activity.

This suggests the public is more forgiving of Sinn Féin than the Government. It has indicated that the next talks with Sinn Féin will be on the criminality issue and will not be a resumption of political negotiations. Most of the public believes it should simply get on with the negotiations.

Indeed there is also considerable voter scepticism about the assertion that the IRA carried out the robbery in the first place.

Only a minority of voters - 47 per cent - accepts this claim with 19 per cent rejecting it and 34 per cent reserving judgment, saying they don't know or they express no opinion.

This is a remarkable withholding of agreement in a situation where there has been a substantial and vociferous consensus within the political establishment and media that the IRA did it.

This poll was taken last Monday and Tuesday, after a period of sustained claims by politicians north and south that Sinn Féin was trying to have it both ways: to be a full part of the democratic process while tolerating a private army operating outside that democratic process.

The Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, has been to the fore in challenging Sinn Féin on this, questioning whether it is truly committed to ending all violence and criminality.

Again, despite this, a greater number of people accept that Sinn Féin is committed to working to end all paramilitary violence and criminal activity. Some 46 per cent believe it is committed to working towards the ending of all paramilitary violence and criminal activity, 32 per cent believe it is not, 18 per cent don't know and 4 per cent have no opinion. Belief in Sinn Féin's future peaceful intentions is strongest in Connacht/Ulster, where 59 per cent believe it is committed to ending such activity, 21 per cent that it is not, 17 per cent don't know and 4 per cent have no opinion.

Women are much less likely than men to believe in Sinn Féin's peaceful intent. Among men 53 per cent believe it is committed to working towards the ending of violence and criminal activity, 30 per cent that it is not, 14 per cent don't know and 2 per cent have no opinion.

Just 39 per cent of women believe Sinn Féin is committed to ending this activity, 34 per cent that it is not, 22 per cent don't know and 5 per cent have no opinion. There is also a significant difference among social groups, with the better-off less likely to believe in the party's peaceful intentions than the lower socio economic groups.

Supporters of Fine Gael and the PDs disbelieve Sinn Féin. Just 34 per cent of Fine Gael supporters think Sinn Féin is committed to working to end violent and criminal activity, 44 per cent that it is not, 19 per cent don't know and 3 per cent have no opinion.

There are regional differences on the question of whether people believe the IRA was responsible for the Northern Bank raid. Overall, 47 per cent believe it was, 19 per cent that it was not, 29 per cent don't know and 5 per cent gave no opinion. However, the denials of IRA involvement are given much more credence in Connacht- Ulster, where 36 per cent believe the IRA was responsible, 32 per cent that it was not, 30 per cent don't know and 3 per cent have no opinion.

Those who deeply mistrust Sinn Féin will be alarmed by the apparent acceptance by significant numbers of people of the party's bona fides and suitability for Government in the wake of the raid. However, it is not possible to conclude that those who appear tolerant in this poll are indifferent to violence.

© The Irish Times


Make Or Break For Peace Process

The scale of the fall-out from the £26½ million bank raid is immense, writes Dan Keenan

It has thrown the political process into turmoil, with the fall-out extending beyond Belfast to London, Dublin and Washington.

It has put the Chief Constable's neck on the block and the standing of the fledgling PSNI under the closest scrutiny.

It has prompted an urgent review of bank security across the globe, involving police forces and governments.

It has forced the withdrawal of hundreds of millions in banknotes and the hasty design of replacements.

The largest theft of cash in British and Irish history, carried out by a sizeable, sophisticated gang which did not cross the threshold of the institution it robbed, is a watershed which could make or break the peace process.

One month on, there is still no sign of the £26.5 million, no sign of the getaway van, and no one has been arrested. Senior officers say that this is going to be a long, long haul.

Yet, despite the high stakes, the PSNI, the Taoiseach and the political parties other than Sinn Féin are convinced that senior republicans planned the robbery.

The Chief Constable, Mr Hugh Orde, has convinced the Irish and British governments, as well as implacable political foes on the policing board, that his assessment of where responsibility lies is correct. Insiders say that the assessment he gave to the board on Thursday was convincing and assured.

"It was a stormer," said one highly-reliable source who was present. "Orde and [ Assistant Chief Constable] Kinkaid both. This wasn't the Hugh Orde who once had to apologise for the televised raids on Sinn Féin's offices at Stormont - this was a man confident of his organisation and his senior officers."

Sources with good republican contacts say they are unable to come up with a viable alternative theory about the Northern Bank job. Everyone, including Mr Orde himself, knows that, if he is wrong on this, he is finished.

The PSNI's senior investigating officer is aware of the political and personal stakes and is as calm as he is certain that the IRA did it.

Det Supt Andy Sproule says: "There is no doubt where the blame lies. It was not a group of maverick individuals going out to do it on their own bat. An operation of this size would have been sanctioned at the very highest level in that organisation because of its scale, complexity and ramifications."

Mr Sproule has the benefit of intelligence, a productive liaison with the Garda and now, crucially, evidence to back it up.

Of the Chief Constable's accusation of blame directed at the IRA, Mr Sproule is emphatic: "I support that on the basis of the information and the evidence, the intelligence that I have. There is no doubt."

Mr Sproule links the current investigation - involving 45 detectives and some 15 additional forensic specialists - with the theft of intelligence documents from Castlereagh on St Patrick's Day, 2002. "Again, it has been attributed to the same organisation, so you would have to say 'yes', there are linkages."

With the fingering of the most senior Belfast IRA members, the PSNI also believes there was vital support from individuals in Co Down, where a Northern Bank deputy manager and his wife were taken hostage, and possibly from Co Louth, too.

"Why, if the job was centred on Belfast, bring a van up from Newry if there wasn't involvement of people south of Belfast?" asks Mr Sproule.

Mrs Karen McMullan, wife of the deputy manager of the Northern Bank's cash centre, was released late at night near an isolated forest, traumatised and disoriented, dressed in a forensic-style boiler-suit. This place is so isolated, Mr Sproule believes, that local knowledge would have been needed. "The area of Drumkeeragh Forest - it's in the middle of nowhere. [ For anyone] to find their way . . . may be difficult."

He believes that he is searching for a gang of at least 10 and probably many more. Thieves and hostage-takers were needed at the two family homes and at the remote site where one woman was held. There was a network of drivers, probably supported by look-outs and more cars. There was the lone figure who received £1.15 million during the "dummy run", and others, probably on foot in the vicinity of the bank, who monitored police and public activity.

Add to that those involved with the getaway van and those with expertise in handling and laundering huge volumes of cash.

Meanwhile, the slow, grinding detective work plods on.

"There are probably 1,200 'action sheets' or different lines of inquiry, there are four crime scenes [the two hostage scenes, the bank and the site where Mrs McMullan was released] and 900 exhibits," The Irish Times has been told.

In the small, windowless incident room which houses the investigation at North Queen Street PSNI station, dozens of labelled video cassettes are stacked together. Officers go through them frame by frame - searching seemingly endless hours of Belfast traffic for the elusive white Ford van as it made its trips to the bank to remove the stolen millions.

"There are some CCTV packages to watch which will take months," says Mr Sproule. "We have hundreds of statements. We are very encouraged by the support from the public. People have been ringing in . . . there has been considerable interest from people genuinely wanting to help. What they haven't been able to provide us with is 'where is the van' and 'where is the money-type information'. But we are very encouraged and we are following up every line of investigation."

Significant advances have been made, but the senior investigating officer cannot and will not say what they are.

The Northern Bank, meanwhile, is trying to come to terms with the implications of the record raid.

The chief executives of the four main banks in the North have met British ministers to discuss security. With traditional images of heavily-fortified, impregnable banks now shattered by the robbers' tactic of forcing bank staff to open the doors and carry out the contents of the vault, banks are urgently reviewing their operations.

Just as there is no easy measure to counter the suicide-bomber, there is no quick-fix solution to the "tiger kidnap" bank theft which involves the taking of hostages.

Police are convinced that the tactic of taking bank families hostage while one or more people are forced to circumvent the institution's security had its origin in the darkest days of the "Troubles".

Human bombs - whereby an individual was forced to drive a bomb towards a police station or other target - proved lethally effective in the days before anyone dared to hope for a peace process.

In the post-ceasefire era this tactic has been amended to facilitate significant thefts from banks, post offices and retail warehouses. There have been more than 40 such robberies in the past two years.

Now banks around the world are facing the shocking but simple truth that no security regime can stand in the way of a coerced member of staff equipped with the keys and codes.

The Northern Bank has already moved to relocate some 40 staff from its stricken headquarters to other branches and offices - prompted into a quick response by the fact that the robbers evidently knew a great deal about them. The relocation was partly due to humanitarian concerns about anxious staff, but it was also conducted to disrupt the in-depth intelligence which the robbers clearly had.

Shock among the Northern Bank management has been transformed to anger and perhaps a little panic at the intelligent ease with which the robbery was conducted. But the public appears to have little sympathy for the plight of a large financial institution. There is also a perceived public obsession with the "political crisis" aspect of the story.

The management of the bank now finds itself trying to rebuild its image as it withdraws its banknotes and joins the queue at one of only two printers anywhere in the world capable of producing newly-designed cash.

The bank may well review the out-sourcing of security to a private contractor as it faces its imminent transfer from its Australian owners to a Danish concern.

The scale of the fall-out from the robbery, both political and financial, is truly immense. If indeed Hugh Orde, Bertie Ahern and others are correct about IRA involvement, what remains unclear is why they did it. Quite why the IRA would jeopardise a peace process during which it has called two cessations - a process which Sinn Féin has spent more than a decade trying to establish - makes no political sense.

However, one well-placed government official believes that, if December's attempt to secure a Sinn Féin/DUP deal enabling a restoration of Stormont had succeeded, then the Northern Bank job was off.

© The Irish Times


Judgment Is Unusually Trenchant

Carol Coulter

The Murphy case has again put the spotlight on tainted Garda evidence, writes Carol Coulter

The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal is unusually trenchant. The Special Criminal Court did not examine the Garda evidence critically enough, it said.

It came to conclusions based on speculation rather than evidence. It failed to take proper account of the previous conduct of some of the gardaí involved in the case, when this conduct had been criticised by the Special Criminal Court in other cases.

One of the main grounds of appeal was that the court did not take proper account of the fact that one of the two main teams of interviewing gardaí had fabricated notes and then lied in the witness box on oath.

This raised the question of collusion on the part of the other investigating gardaí, according to Colm Murphy's defence counsel, Mr Michael O'Higgins SC, and the Court of Criminal Appeal agreed.

This court found that rather than confront the possibility of such collusion and closely examine the other Garda evidence, the Special Criminal Court produced a benign explanation for the circumstances surrounding the fabricated notes, based on speculation rather than evidence.

Having excluded the tainted evidence, "the surviving Garda evidence would have to be evaluated in the most critical and careful manner" and, if this were a jury trial, a very strong warning would have had to be given to the jury, according to yesterday's judgment.

"We do not consider that the court of trial brought to the issue of the possible contamination of evidence or to the evaluation of the surviving Garda evidence that degree of extra critical analysis which was surely warranted," it said.

It also found the conviction unsafe on the ground that Mr Murphy's presumption of innocence was denied, by taking into account previous convictions for republican activity. In finding him guilty, the Special Criminal Court stated: "In the light of that background and his membership of a dissident terrorist group in Ireland which is not on ceasefire, he is person (sic) likely to be involved in terrorist activities of the sort charged against him."

The appeal court found that no admissible evidence of this was produced. "It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the previous convictions and bad character of the accused formed a significant element in the court's decision to convict."

After the Omagh bombing, there was a widespread desire that the perpetrators be caught and convicted.

When Mr Murphy, a man with known republican connections, was arrested and charged, few expected him to be acquitted. In the public mind the equation of dissident republicans, any dissident republican, with the atrocity was total.

What the court of Criminal Appeal judgment means is that the courts should, insofar as is humanly possible, put such assumptions out of their collective mind and examine all the evidence objectively.

As is always the case with such crimes, Mr Murphy was brought before the three-judge Special Criminal Court, which sits without a jury. It is presided over by a High Court judge, and a judge of the Circuit Court and a District Justice also sit.

The three judges are expected to act as judge and jury, deciding on matters of law as judges, and on matters of fact as if they were the jury.

They are therefore expected to perform the task - some would say an impossible one - of imagining themselves in the position of a jury while they hear the case, including the legal argument normally conducted in the absence of a jury.

During the trial the Special Criminal Court accepted that two of the interviewing gardaí had altered their notes and was highly critical of them. But the court went on to conclude that this did not taint the evidence of other interviewing officers and that there was no collusion.

Finding otherwise could have resulted in Mr Murphy's acquittal, which would have caused uproar. But, as the neighbouring jurisdiction has found, "appalling vistas" sometimes have to be faced if the integrity of the legal system is to be preserved.

© The Irish Times


Terror Gaffe On Kids' TV

BLUE Peter bosses have apologised after presenter Zoe Salmon suggested a terrorist symbol would make a good logo for an airline.

Zoe, 24, picked the Red Hand of Ulster during a competition to design a new airline livery on the BBC children's TV show.

But it is often used in murals in Northern Ireland to show support for loyalist paramilitaries.

Former Miss Northern Ireland Zoe then put her foot in it again by choosing a map of Ireland covered in the Union Jack.

David Miller, professor of sociology at Strathclyde University, complained about her Red Hand bungle.

He said: "This symbol would offend a lot of people."

Show boss Anne Gilchrist admitted its use was "inappropriate".


Book Rev: Border Of The Soul

David Robinson

CLONUALA. IN IRISH, IT MEANS THE "meadow of apples". Eugene McCabe’s farm is on good land, hence the tall lime trees surrounding the early Victorian stone farmhouse, and the centuries-old 20-acre orchard. It nestles in the drumlin hills and lakes of north Monaghan, a land at once paradisical and steeped in ancient hatreds.

These days, Clonuala is almost at peace. Across the border, which runs 400 yards away from McCabe’s farmhouse, the British Army observation post has long been dismantled. No army helicopters rumble up the valley from the old base at Roslea, no paramilitaries plant bombs that blow neighbours to unrecognisable shreds, nor are any of them shot in his fields. The destroyed bridges have all been repaired. Peace is just the thinness of a photograph away.

In McCabe’s fiction, though, those ancient hatreds have never left. They never will. At 74, he says, he’s too old to get a grip on the modern Ireland of economic boom and cultural self-confidence. Instead, he turns back to history, to Ireland’s unforgiving past and its 40 shades of fear and loathing.

He’s been a dairy farmer for most of his life, which never left too much time for writing. All the same, his short stories have been hailed by both John Banville and Colm Toibin as the best by any living Irish writer. Which isn’t bad, when until he was ten he was a Scot.

McCabe was born into the upper echelons of Irish Catholic society in Glasgow. His grandfather owned the biggest greyhound racing stadium outside London, was chairman of the then-mighty Clyde (winner of the Scottish Cup in 1938), president of the SFA and a Midas-like entrepreneur. The family was rich enough to have a holiday home in Cavan, where they returned to live in 1940. After the young Eugene finished boarding school in Kildare and university in Cork, his parents bought him the idyllic-looking 169-acre farm in nearby Monaghan, where he’s lived ever since.

At first, the fact that it was right on the border with Northern Ireland didn’t seem to matter at all. It was the mid-1950s, there wasn’t the faintest hint of trouble between Protestant and Catholic, republican and loyalist. Underneath everything, though, lay historical hatreds whose visceral intensity he at first failed to comprehend but which permeate his latest collection of short stories. "Hate," says a hostage-taking Provo in one of them, "is a nothing word for what we feel."

It cuts both ways. In Heaven Lies About Us, McCabe gives us Protestant border farmers who talk about "Papist hedge whores" and mutter that Hitler had the right way of exterminating a race, only he got the wrong one: it should have been Fenians and their families who were "put through a burnhouse and spread on their sour bogs". Such people, he shows, almost need their bigotry in order to survive. So deep does it run that even ordinarily decent people become infected by it, like the maternity ward nurse in the same story who dreams of incinerating the Catholic babies in her charge. She won’t do it, of course, but the thought is there in her mind, swirling up out of the poison of prejudice.

If this were just Provo fiction, how one side imagines its enemies to be, it would be of marginal interest. But in McCabe’s hands history has the weight of Fate: it crushes down on his protagonists with dark, Sophoclean force, making them stumble in a direction that leads ineluctably towards tragedy.

"Heritage", the story wherein we meet that infanticidal nurse and genocidal farmer, is a classic McCabe tale. Eric, a UDR reservist along the Fermanagh border, receives a letter warning that unless he resigns from the force he is a dead man. It’s not an idle threat: the part-time soldiers are such easy targets in "bandit country" that any one of them must surely be able to imagine their own murders. Any one of them must know how little their soldierly duty amounts to: one sentence on a newsreader’s script, a family already half-prepared for grief. Any one of them would know the bullet could come at any time of the day while they are at work on their farm; any one of them would wonder which of his neighbours was already planning the act.

How can anyone live with such crippling fear? Look at history. That’s the way it’s always been, from the Protestant landlord’s agents in McCabe’s four linked and awesomely powerful Famine stories to his story about those part-time UDR farmers: theirs is a beleaguered race with a fortress mentality, singing to a Presbyterian God in church ("I will not fear though thousands ten set around me be"), grimly but resolutely holding on to the land they inherited, land that they only won by force and can hold through force. From that perspective, with conspiracies and sell-outs and traitors everywhere around them, with Fenian tricksters and their Yankee moneymen just itching to get at their own green fields, a man might look tragedy straight in the face even as he knows it’s coming for him. And that’s just about the worst kind of tragedy there is.

The story in "Heritage" is also, says McCabe, based on truth. "Our housekeeper also did work for a family a mile away down across the border and she overheard just such an argument between the mother, father and uncle of a UDR man about whether he should carry on in the face of a death threat. That boy was killed, and I was so shaken by the fact that I sat down and wrote that story about it." Such stories lack the emotional subtlety that is a hallmark of the Irish short story (although "Music at Annahullion" shows McCabe can indeed work in the William Trevor register when he chooses to). If his border warfare and Famine stories have a weakness, it is that they have a tendency to declaim, to speechify in heightened language, almost as if he knew he was subsequently going to turn them into TV dramas (as he did with seven of the 12 stories in the book).

In his defence, McCabe can point out that his fictional territory is vastly different from that of the more gentle Cork/Kerry short storywriting tradition that dominates the genre. "When I was writing many of those stories, in the 1970s, the situation was ... strong," he says, by which he means that sides were being taken, and violence was bringing about yet more violence, and every parent in the valley must have been hoping their children weren’t going to get caught up in it.

"Of course, there were a lot of Provo sympathisers among my neighbours, but I’ve always tried to be more objective. My son once met a leader of the IRA in the pub here, and he said, ‘Your old man is for the other side, isn’t he? I’ve read him. He’s for the Brits.’

"Really, as my son tried to tell him, I’m for both sides. I’ve always tried to have a detached view. After all, I did grow up a little Briton ..."

• Heaven Lies About Us by Eugene McCabe, published by Cape, price £11.99


Some 60,000 new speed limit signs have gone up

A Sign Of Better Things To Come?

From Thursday, the speed limits in the Republic of Ireland, where both miles and kilometres have been used for many years, change to metric.

But there are already signs that, in striving for consistency, more confusion has been introduced.

Up until Thursday's change, speed limits in the Irish Republic have been in miles with road signs generally in kilometres.

The changes aim to rectify this discrepancy.

But thanks, in part, to pressure from road safety campaigners, the Irish Department of Transport has also used the switch as an opportunity to change actual speed limits.

Because of rounding up after mph to km/h conversion, limits on main roads in towns and cities will get a small boost.

But, more significantly, the limit on rural roads, which make up 90% of the road network, is being slashed by 10mph from 60mph (97km/h) to 50mph (80km/h).

Awareness campaign

Alan Richardson, acting chief executive of the National Safety Council, hopes that the reduction on more dangerous rural Irish roads will mean less deaths.

In this country, we need a stick to beat ourselves with in order to comply

National Safety Council

"Previously, we've had penalty point schemes but there wasn't a level of enforcement to make it work, " he told the BBC News website.

The switch would not work without police enforcement because "an awareness campaign won't work on it's own".

"In this country, we need a stick to beat ourselves with in order to comply," he said.

But National Police Service spokesman Sergeant Ronan Farrelly told the BBC News Website officers would do "everything humanly possible to enforce speed limits.

Speaking on Wednesday he said: "Tomorrow, we will do just as much as we have today - we're out there 24/7."

'More officers

A six-week Christmas crackdown had caught 19,415 speeding motorists, saw 1,622 arrests for drink driving and found 2,818 people not wearing seatbelts, he said.

"But just because that campaign stops, we don't stop - we're still out there."

For the first few months of the changeover, we would urge drivers who live in proximity to the border to exercise extra caution and to be aware of the prevailing limits


The number of dedicated traffic officers on the force would also be rising from 500 to 1,200, he added.

But while the NSC sees Thursday as a step towards greater safety, RAC Ireland has warned that the changeover has "major safety implications" for drivers.

It urged drivers to take time to learn the mph conversion of the new speed limits and to "err on the side of caution".

Commercial director Jerry Purcell said the Republic's shared land border with Northern Ireland, where speed signs were still in mph, was an added safety issue.

"For the first few months of the changeover, we would urge drivers who live in proximity to the border to exercise extra caution and to be aware of the prevailing limits," he said.

He also urged ferries and car rental companies to let tourists who may be crossing borders know of the difference in the two jurisdictions.

Over the last fortnight, some 35,000 existing signs have been taken down and replaced with 60,000 new km/h signs.

'Completely unaware'

Ironically, it is the erection of the 25,000 extra signs that is causing most confusion, according to the NSC.

Mr Richardson says that, because previously there was a lack of signs, people in some areas were "completely unaware" of speed limits on roads in their areas.

He cites the anger of parents at Lurgybrack Primary School, near Letterkenny, where a new 100km/h sign was erected directly outside, which they say is too fast.

The speed limit on the road, he says, has changed only marginally because of the change - from 60mph to 62mph.

But because previously there had been no sign, many parents had been unaware of the "unacceptable speed limit", Mr Richardson added.

"The new system changes a lot of things and hopefully one of those things will be the number of deaths on our roads."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/20 01:40:13 GMT

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Table of Contents - Jan 2005

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