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January 31, 2005

01/31/05 – No Early IMC Report

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents - Jan 2005

UT 01/31/05 'No Early IMC Report'
SF 01/31/05 Taoiseach Meets IMC In Dublin
PL 01/31/05 The Adams Question
BB 01/31/05 PM 'To Apologise To Bomb Accused'
BT 01/31/05 Hollywood Set To Cash In On Northern Job
NL 01/31/05 Ex-IRA Man In Line For An Oscar
BT 01/31/05 McAleese Visit Will Go Ahead As Planned
BT 01/31/05 Opin: We Could Put MLAs Back To Work Despite SF/IRA
BT 01/31/05 Veteran MP Launches Bid With Attack On Sinn Fein
IO 01/31/05 Training Camp Case: 9 Plead Guilty To Firearms Offences
IO 01/31/05 Politicians Bid To Improve Travellers' Lives
BT 01/31/05 Packie's Years Of Terror



'No Early IMC Report'

There are no plans to publish an early Independent Monitoring Commission report ahead of its next scheduled one in April, it was confirmed today.

Three members of the inter-governmental body, which monitors paramilitary groups, met Irish premier Bertie Ahern in Dublin this morning for the first time since December`s £26.6million Northern Bank robbery which the Police Service of Northern Ireland blamed on the IRA.

IMC commissioners Lord John Alderdice, Joe Brosnan and John Grieve held a brief photocall at Government Buildings at 11.30am before holding talks with Mr Ahern.

They declined to comment on their discussions to waiting reporters.

Mr Ahern said earlier this month that he believed Sinn Fein leaders must have had prior knowledge of the raid during aborted power-sharing talks in December.

Speculation had then mounted that the IMC may publish an early report to recommend possible political sanctions against Sinn Fein.

But an official IMC spokesperson said this morning: "We have no plans at the moment to publish any report ahead of our scheduled fourth six-monthly report in April, 2005."

The IMC members, which also include United States government representative Dick Kerr, are expected to hold confidential meetings with political parties and other groups between today and Wednesday.


Taoiseach Meets IMC In Dublin

Published: 31 January, 2005

Commenting as the IMC met with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin today, Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey said:

"The IMC operates completely outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the powers adopted by the British Secretary of State to discriminate against parties are also outside the terms of the Agreement.

"Last week the Taoiseach informed us that the Irish government opposed sanctions. They need to make this position very clear in their meetings over the next two days.

"The IMC is simply a tool of the British securocrats. Its primary function is to create conditions to exclude the majority of nationalist opinion from the political process. Sinn Féin will not allow our electoral mandate to be ignored or marginalised in this way by the IMC or anyone else." ENDS


Gerry Adams

The Adams Question

Monday, January 31, 2005

Authorities in Great Britain say the Irish Republican Army robbed a bank in Belfast of $51 million a few days before Christmas.

Meanwhile, President Bush must decide if Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm, will receive a visa to attend St. Patrick's Day festivities in the United States. That has been custom after the 1998 agreement for a political solution to Northern Ireland's troubles.

Mr. Adams denies the IRA was involved in the heist and that he did not know about it. Few believe him.

President Bush must decide whether he will snub Adams and possibly incur the wrath of Irish-Americans.

The dilemma relates to the dreadful failure to control illegal immigration because of its implications for the war on terror. Here the politics of courting another ethnic group, Hispanics, trumps defense of the homeland.

The critical problem in Northern Ireland is how the IRA (formerly a terrorist organization?) proves it is decommissioning. The administration suggested photographs, and the president phoned Adams to lobby him for the deal. Adams rejected it on Dec. 8, an affront to President Bush.

President Bush should not extend an invitation to Adams if it cannot be proven his hands are clean.

Yet if Adams does not receive an invitation, will it be because the president is taking a principled stand against terror, damn the politics, or because Mr. Bush is personally aggrieved?


Gerry Conlon
Gerry Conlon Is Campaigning For A Public Apology

PM 'To Apologise To Bomb Accused'

Tony Blair is expected to issue a public apology for the wrongful imprisonment of Gerry Conlon - one of the Guildford Four - and his father.

Five people were killed when the IRA planted a bomb in the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford in October 1974.

Mr Conlon and his late father Guiseppe were both jailed over the bombing, but their sentences were quashed in 1989.

Speaking on BBC's The Politics Show NI Secretary Paul Murphy said he thought Mr Blair would offer a public apology.

"He has already written, of course, to the family expressing his view that there was a very serious miscarriage of justice, he very much regrets that, and that he is very sorry for the hurt and suffering of the family," he said.

"I have no doubt that if asked the same in public he would make a similar public apology.

"There are all sorts of ways in which that can happen but I am sure he will talk to the taoiseach on Tuesday, the taoiseach will raise it and they can work it out from there."

Mr Conlon was one of four people initially detained after the Guildford attack, which claimed the lives of four soldiers and a civilian.

The four jailed had their sentences quashed after doubts over evidence. The Conlon family has received a private acknowledgement that there was a miscarriage of justice but are campaigning for it to go further.

Mr Conlon welcomed Mr Murphy's comments saying the family had been living with a "stain on its character for 30 years".

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Monday he said that even after their release there had been a "whispering campaign" that they had been let out on technicalities.

"My father always thought we had been sacrificial lambs to the judiciary to take pressure off the British police who at that time, for whatever reason, were ignoring all the evidence that pointed to other people who had bombed Guildford and were attacking parts of London and my father needed his name cleared.

"I think Tony Blair should stand at the despatch box and issue a public apology hopefully til the family who will be in the Houses of Parliament when he does issue that apology," he said.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met the family last week and has said he will raise the issue of a public apology when he meets Mr Blair on Tuesday.

The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven were later jailed in connection with the Guildford bomb and other bombings in Woolwich, south-east London.

Mr Conlon's father Guiseppe, who had a history of bronchial problems, died in prison in 1980 while serving his sentence.

A number of MPs, church leaders, journalists and legal figures raised concerns about the convictions.

In October 1989 the Court of Appeal quashed the sentences of the Guildford Four, and in June 1991 it overturned the sentences on the Maguire Seven.

Mr Conlon's case was highlighted in the Oscar-nominated film In The Name Of The Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/31 08:22:08 GMT


Hollywood Set To Cash In On Northern Job

By Jonathan McCambridge

31 January 2005

Hollywood is set to make a major film about the events surrounding the Northern Bank robbery, it can be revealed today.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that a book and film deal were agreed within days of the world's largest cash bank robbery on December 20.

The book will be written by English author Cliff Goodwin, who has completed several biographies and crime books, and will be published by Random House.

The book, set to be called 'Spectacular!', will be in the shops by the summer.

Mr Goodwin said he had also been in touch with an American film producer who wanted to buy the rights.

The author was in Belfast this week researching the project. He said: "As soon as I saw the reports coming out about the robbery I knew I wanted to write a book on it. My agent called Random House that day and they phoned back the following morning to say they would buy it.

"This demonstrated the great public interest there has been in this story since day one; just working on it has sent the hairs on the back of my neck tingling.

"Crime non-fiction books are the mega-sellers of our time and this is a classic case."

Mr Goodwin insisted his book would be an accurate depiction of the events surrounding the robbery and its ramifications and that it would be sensitive to the victims involved.

"I have been chasing up leads day by day and the book should be finished by the end of February and in the shops by July."

Mr Goodwin said he had also been contacted by Hollywood producer Justin Stanley, who is currently working on a film of the life of actor Oliver Reed.

He said: "I sent him an email over Christmas and he responded saying he would buy the rights. I signed the contract last week and he is coming over to the UK to talk about it next month.

"As a writer this is a tremendous story. I appreciate there are victims involved but I will make my book as accurate and interesting as possible."

The author can be contacted on


Ex-IRA Man In Line For An Oscar

By Ian Starrett
Monday 31st January 2005

A movie nominated for an Oscar stars a former IRA terrorist from Londonderry.

Gerry Doherty, who plays a role in Everything In This Country, was known in the city as the "binman bomber" after he carried 120lbs of explosives into the Guildhall to try to blow up the building.

Years later, in 1985, he returned to the Guildhall when he was elected as a Sinn Fein councillor.

On the night of his election, he was carried shoulder-high by a chanting crowd of supporters.

He served 10 years for the Guildhall explosion and 15 years for the attempted murder of a soldier.

Now, he stars in the film about a British soldier which has been nominated for the Best Short Film - Live Action category at Hollywood's most glittering annual event.

Doherty, who has been an actor for some time, told Lord Saville's inquiry into the events of January 30, 1972, in Londonderry that he was "a soldier in the IRA" at the time of the Bloody Sunday shootings.

It is not known yet whether the former terrorist plans to attend the Hollywood Oscars ceremony, where he would rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the movie-making industry.


McAleese Visit Will Go Ahead As Planned

Tour of Protestant area confirmed

By Senan Molony
31 January 2005

President Mary McAleese will go ahead with a visit to Belfast in three-and-a-half weeks' time despite the controversy over her remarks about religious discrimination.

Mrs McAleese's official spokeswoman confirmed that the February 24 visit, already cleared by the Government, will go ahead as planned. It is due to include a trip to a Protestant area of Belfast.

While the President will address Catholic students in St Malachy's College, the balancing engagement in the Protestant community was due to be reviewed by her staff today.

The nature of the appointment was not being disclosed last night, but former Belfast Lord Mayor Hugh Smyth said she would not be welcome on the Shankill Road.

And an Ulster Unionist Assembly member, Derek Hussey, said she should resign in spite of her apology for comparing hatred of Catholics in Northern Ireland with Nazi hatred for the Jews.

She later said she should have described all sectarian hatred in the terms she used during a radio interview.

Mr Hussey said: "Unlike my colleague Michael McGimpsey, I do not accept the Irish President's apology nor that this matter should now be over.

"Mrs McAleese has, irrevocably insulted the Protestant people of all of Ireland, caused untold damage to ongoing peace efforts in Northern Ireland and tainted the integrity of her position as Head of State of the Republic.

"Belated clumsy efforts at papering over the cracks in an effort to save her own skin just don't measure up to the enormity of what she has implied. Mary McAleese should do the right thing and resign."

Meanwhile, reports that Buckingham Palace had called off an official trip to Ireland by the Queen in the wake of the President's "Nazi" comparisons were being denied in both London and Dublin yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Aras an Uachtarain said there had been no definitive plans made for the monarch to visit Ireland. An informal invitation had been extended on more than one occasion.

"The President has said that she would welcome a visit by the Queen. But the timing of such a visit would be a matter for the two Governments.

"No formal invitations have issued and there are no plans in place for such a visit," said a spokeswoman.

She confirmed that the President and Dr Martin McAleese had been "in constant contact" with their friends on both sides in Northern Ireland since the storm broke over the President's radio remarks for which she later abjectly apologised.

While the matter was now considered closed, the President was grateful for the speedy acceptance of her retraction of the remarks by senior figures in the Protestant and Unionist communities, the spokeswoman added.

A security review of all aspects of the February 24 programme of engagements is likely shortly before the President is due to visit Northern Ireland.

Her spokesman said that many receptions planned in the interim for the Aras, which included a significant Northern element, as was the President's custom, would go ahead as normal.

The spokesman declined to comment on any special security measures that might be taken in connection with the Belfast visit in the next number of weeks, citing long-stated policy. She said, however: "The President is very happy and very relieved that her apology has been accepted."


Opin: We Could Put MLAs Back To Work Despite Sinn Fein/IRA

Opinion by Robert McCartney, leader of the UKUP

31 January 2005

The current political question is 'Where do we go from here?' The answer depends on who you are, where you wish to go and whether you travel courtesy of the democratic process or at gun point.

A British policy of disengagement involved a united Ireland solution and the appeasement of violent republicans while simultaneously deceiving and sedating most unionists.

To keep terrorists on board the political process while mechanisms for unity become embedded, their criminal activity was tolerated until it developed into the monster it has now become.

Getting that monster back into the bottle spells the end of a process that was fatally flawed from the beginning. At last it is being recognised that democracy cannot co-exist with political and social terrorism.

A mandatory process of enforced power sharing between democrats and terrorists has finally been exposed for the sheer folly it always was. A folly now evident to all but the two governments who appear determined to make it work, along with those willing to accept the illusion of devolved power at any price.

The lynchpin of this enforced union of democracy and terror is the discredited D'Hondt system of power sharing which guarantees jobs in executive government to parties on the basis of their electoral support. Consequently Sinn Fein/IRA can go on regurgitating their claim to Ministerial entitlement on the basis of their alleged democratic mandate. A claim made despite the absence of any democratic content in either their political or social activity.

In a true democracy only a party or coalition of parties constituting a majority is entitled to executive power. Indeed, even if a party such as the Nazi party in pre-war Germany had an overall majority it is not entitled to subvert its right to govern by undemocratic and criminal behaviour. The government of Mr Mugabe in Zimbabwe is a current example.

Sinn Fein's vote gives it no right to indulge in government and crime at the same time.

In Northern Ireland there is now the opportunity to sweep away the legacy of abject appeasement of the threat of criminal and political violence with its system of inducements and reward, and to establish a fresh foundation for the governance and benefit of the whole community.

The DUP and the UUP must jointly resolve that Sinn Fein/IRA are politically irredeemable for the foreseeable future and that they will not participate in any administration under the protocols of the Belfast Agreement, which they consider to have been violated beyond repair.

They should declare their support only for power sharing with representatives of democratic nationalism and their acceptance of a fair and just equality and human rights agenda. The endorsement of any form of power sharing under the D'Hondt system must be dismissed.

The opposition of the pro-Union community to Sinn Fein Ministers in government was evident in the 2003 Assembly election. Subsequent events, including the Northern Bank robbery, have reinforced that view beyond argument. Nor will the pro-Union people look kindly upon any unionist party that once again enters into such a partnership.

What is now required is not some variation of the existing arrangements for devolution, but a system of local government administration that takes advantage of the current need for a radical overhaul of local government and quangos. An overhaul which provides an opportunity for retaining a political class that will otherwise become first redundant and is then dispersed. Whether or not devolution becomes possible at some future date, there is a present need for an effective efficient and economic system of public administration that can be set in place quickly and which can put the current MLAs to work. The speed of the current review can only be described as that of an old and very sick tortoise.

Northern Ireland should be divided into three administrative areas - The North and West, the South and West and the Greater Belfast area.

Each area would comprise six parliamentary constituencies and the 36 MLAs within them. Such an arrangement would avoid the long process required if a Boundary Commission was to draw new areas of local government.

The 36 MLAs would initially constitute the first council for each area. The next local government elections would be postponed and the existing 26 councils would continue to operate for a further two years to allow a smooth transfer of functions.

These functions would be supplemented by moving significant responsibility for a range of matters, including education, health, planning, environment, and, possibly, housing to the new area councils.

Policy would continue to be a matter for the NIO or any future devolved government.

Local identity would be preserved by the creation of 36 voluntary 'parish' councils or communes chaired by one of the area council MLAs. Referrals on local issues to the area council would be through the relevant MLA.

The provision of reserved powers to the Secretary of State or some future devolved executive would ensure that a minority community in any of the three areas received equality of treatment.

Similarly, central approval for any significant capital investment project might be a matter for consultation.

The proposals could give powers to the three administrative areas largely similar to those in Scotland and would drastically cut the cost of administration by reducing the number of councils and quangos.

Locally elected representatives would be both accessible and accountable.

The speed with which the new administrations could be put in place, coupled with the use and preservation of the elected MLAs and party infrastructure would answer some of the political problems of the present situation.

Parties would be enabled to maintain their support staff and constituency advice centres. Indeed, the Assembly as a political entity separate from any Executive might be retained in the meantime as a purely consultative body to whom the Secretary of State might refer matters affecting the whole of Northern Ireland.

The commitment of the existing MLAs for a period of, say, five years until new area council elections were held would provide an opportunity for all to work together on socio/economic issues for the benefit of the entire community without the political burden of dealing with constutional issues.

It is not suggested that these proposals are any more than a possible, somewhat bare, framework and a tentative answer to the question, 'Where do we go from here?

There is a present feeling in the whole community that, in the wake of a patently failed process, what is required is a period of stable democratically accountable and accessible administration.

Such a breathing space would allow people to take stock of the new political landscape and permit the material and social benefits enjoyed in recent years by the middle and business classes to be extended to areas of disadvantage suffering from paramilitary exploitation.

The time has surely come for a cross community crusade against the thugs, racketeers, drug dealers, thieves and criminals who directly or indirectly prey upon us all.

Now is the time to make a start upon that endeavour.


Eddie McGrady
Eddie McGrady
 Catriona Ruane
Catriona Ruane

Veteran MP Launches Bid With Attack On Sinn Fein

McGrady to defend seat

31 January 2005

South Down MP Eddie McGrady has been reselected to defend his seat at the next general election.

His candidacy was confirmed at a selection meeting in the Donard Hotel in Newcastle last night.

Last year there had been suggestions that the 69-year-old might retire, but Mr McGrady allowed his name to go forward for nomination this week.

The general election is expected to take place in May.

Mr McGrady, who has held South Down since 1987, launched his candidacy with an attack on Sinn Fein. Catriona Ruane of Sinn Fein will be his main opponent.

"People are getting tired of Sinn Fein going into and coming out of meetings lecturing everybody about their mandate," said Mr McGrady.

"The reality is that they have abused their mandate. The Irish people voted for the Agreement, for progress, for peace.

"No nationalist voted for armed robberies, kidnappings and punishment beatings.

Yet sadly that is what we are getting - and it is ripping the life out of the Good Friday Agreement.

"That's why many are now wondering if Sinn Fein wants the Agreement at all - or whether they are only interested in their own political development North and South."

Mr McGrady added: "Sinn Fein promised at the time of the elections that they would get the Agreement implemented, win change and put manners on the DUP.

"But what has happened since? Despite warnings from the SDLP - which stood strong for the Good Friday Agreement - Sinn Fein agreed a new so-called "agreement" with the DUP that gave Ian Paisley new vetoes over nationalists.

"Then the IRA carried out a bank raid that played right into the hands of the DUP. The result? We are left with suspension, direct misrule and no progress whatsoever on the North South agenda - and the DUP comes out laughing."

He said continued IRA activity is "wrecking the Agreement".

"Instead of Sinn Fein lecturing everybody on Sinn Fein's mandate, they need to get serious about the mandate that the Irish people gave the Good Friday Agreement," the MP continued.

Mr McGrady holds a majority of almost 14,000.

But Sinn Fein has built up their share of the vote from from 15% in the 1998 Assembly election to 26% in 2003.


'Training Camp' Case: Nine Plead Guilty To Firearms Offences

31/01/2005 - 12:20:24

Nine men arrested after gardaí swooped on a suspected Continuity IRA training camp in Co Waterford in 2003 pleaded guilty to firearms offences at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin today.

During a bail hearing in August, 2003 one of the men told the court that the men were deer-stalking in advance of the new hunting season but gardaí said they were taking part in a training camp in the Comeragh mountains.

Today, Patrick Deery (aged 53), of Woodhouse, Stradbally, Co Waterford, Joseph Mnooney (aged 36), of Ozzier Court, Co Waterford, John O' Halloran (aged 34), of Ross Avenue, Mulgrave St, Limerick, Mark Mc Mahon(aged 36), of Commodore Barry Park, Wexford, Patrick J. Kelly (aged 37), of Belvedere Grove, Wexford and Dean Coleman (aged 23), of Clarina Avenue, Ballinacurra Weston, Limerick pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a American model rifle at Knocknaree, Knockatedaun, Ballmacarbry, Co Waterford on August 3, 2003.

Thomas Barry (aged 21), of Larchville, Lisduggan, Co Waterford and Brian Galvin (aged 38), of Ardmore Park, Ballybeg, Co Waterford pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a Baikal under and over shotgun at Ballymacarbry, Co Waterford on the same date.

Michael Leahy (aged 23), of Mc Carthyville, Abbeyside, Dungarvan, Co Waterford pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a sawn-off single barrel shotgun at Ballmacarbry, Co Waterford on the same date.

During a bail hearing in August, 2003 Joseph Mooney told the court that the men were stalking deer and asked if this necessitated wearing a balaclava, he replied that he needed to cover up so the deer would not spot him. Detective Superintendent Liam King told the same hearing that that he believed the men were attending a Continuity training camp. He also said that gardaí recovered firearms, ammunition, balaclavas and a makeshift firing range at the location.

The court remanded Deery, Galvin, O' Halloran, Barry and Coleman in custody and the other four men on bail until February 22 next when it will hear evidence before sentencing.


 Irish Travelers
Irish Travelers

Politicians Bid To Improve Travellers' Lives
2005-01-31 13:40:03+00

A cross-party group of politicians vowed today to bring the debate on Travellers' rights to the heart of Government.

A total of 11 TDs and eight senators pledged to lobby ministers to improve the lives of the country's 30,000 Travellers.

The Oireachtais Traveller Interest Group, launched today, said they will use their positions in Leinster House to improve education, health services and equality at every level of society.

Senator Joe O'Toole, a leading campaigner on Travellers' rights for the past 25 years, said the group would be more than a talking shop.

"I would hope that this would not be a processing viewpoint for people's views on the rights of Travellers. It can be a fulcrum for debate between the settled and Traveller communities, but all the time moving forward," the Senator said.

"It should be about supporting and arguing the debate to bring Travellers into the centre of politics. I want to make it difficult, and I want people to deal with Travellers issues of culture and assimilation.

"That argument should take place at the centre of politics."

The group called on the Government to look at how Traveller children could achieve more through schooling rather than simply throwing cash at the system.

Figures showed around 5,000 Travellers attend primary school at present and 1,500 have enrolled at secondary level, but few remain until the final year.

There are less than 20 Travellers studying at third level, the group said.

David Joyce, Irish Traveller Movement policy officer, said it was a worrying trait that while cash was flowing into the system the numbers staying on had not improved.

"There is a lot of money spent on Travellers' education but questions have to be asked about the levels of attainment," Mr Joyce said.

"It's not a question of money, it's how that money is being used. It's not a criticism of how much is being spent but how it is being spent."

Mr Boyce added the numbers of Travellers actually achieving anything at the end of their school life was in the 10s as opposed to the 100s.

The Oireachtais group headed by Independent TD Finian McGrath has support from Green Party leader Trevor Sargent, Senators Mary O'Rourke and Mary White, Sinn Féin's Aengus O'Snodaigh and Arthur Morgan, and Labour's Emmet Stagg among others.

The group pledged to lobby TDs, senators and ministers to;

:: Repeal laws allowing summary evictions of Travellers

:: Review spending policy on education to encourage more Travellers to stay in the system

:: Promote political debate on Traveller issues

:: Ensure equality legislation guaranteed the best results for Travellers

:: Increase understanding of the distinct and valuable culture, history and heritage of Travellers

:: Deliver good quality accommodation in the next 10 years

:: Ensure a full health strategy to improve Travellers' health profile.


 David 'Packie' Hamilton
David 'Packie' Hamilton

Packie's Years Of Terror

David 'Packie' Hamilton (48) was a leading UVF terrorist, convicted of petrol-bombings, armed robberies and indirectly involved in murder. Yet tonight at St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, a special service is being held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his religious conversion. Here, in a remarkably candid interview, he tells Gail Walker about playing football with hunger striker Bobby Sands, bomb-making classes in jail ... and the people who doubt the sincerity of his faith

31 January 2005

When I was a boy I loved playing football and one of the guys I regularly had a kick-about with was Bobby Sands, a neighbour of mine in Rathcoole, in north Belfast. Back then, I knew him as Sandsy. I was a Protestant and he was a Roman Catholic, but at that time I didn't really understand what that meant. I just thought he was a great wee fella.

But as we grew up and the Troubles started, I lost track of what happened to Sandsy. Then, years later during the 1981 Hunger Strike at the Maze prison, our paths crossed again.

I was a loyalist prisoner, and I'd heard the name Bobby Sands bandied about as the first republican prisoner to start refusing food. It meant nothing to me until one morning at breakfast someone showed me a photo of him and I gave a start. "Good grief, I know him," I said. "That's Sandsy."

It's funny how we'd gone our separate ways, yet ended up in the same place for the same reason for different causes. Like I said, I didn't become in any way political until I reached my teens. I'd been born in Cookstown and then, when I was eight, mum, dad, my three sisters, brother and myself all moved to Belfast. Dad was a butcher and had got a new job in the city, and we settled in Rathcoole. In those days it was a big estate, with both Protestant and Catholic families living there.

If you'd asked me then what I wanted out of life I wouldn't have had much of an idea, apart from, perhaps, joining the Army. But everything changed when I was 13. One day I was walking home alongside the Glen River when I saw five boys up ahead. They were Catholics, but I was friendly with them and so I walked towards them. But as I got closer one muttered something about beating me up.

Next thing they just pounced, punching and kicking me. Afterwards they threw me in the river. I wasn't badly hurt, just bruised. One of the boys looked at me and saw that I was puzzled as to why I'd been attacked. 'We did that because you're a Protestant,' he told me.

And in that instant I made a decision - there'd be no more Catholic friends for me. And, if there was going to be fighting with Catholic lads, then I'd make sure I was with Protestant boys. Two years later I joined the Rathcoole KAI. I still have that name tattooed on my arm - the initials stood for Kill All Irishmen. That was a skinhead tartan gang and there were about 400 of us in it. We saw ourselves as protecting local Protestants and we were always rioting and fighting with Catholics, the police and the Army. I loved it, and there was a sense of belonging and safety.

I remember going to Londonderry on Easter Monday and getting covered in blue dye when the police turned a water cannon on us. I thought it was a great laugh until I got back to Belfast and the police kept noticing the dye and giving me a beating because they knew what I'd been up to.

But it was no deterrent. I was a young man with a mission, and that was to rid the area of Catholics, whom I now saw as the enemy. I also began to think that while rioting was all very well, it went nowhere near far enough to counter the threat posed by the IRA.

They were bombing, shooting and killing, and they seemed to be getting away with it. The idea was to get all the Catholics out of Rathcoole, barricade it off, and make it a safe area for Protestants. So, I started to make petrol bombs and burn Catholics out of their homes.

People might wonder how I could just lob a bomb into someone's house and run off, never waiting to see if a family escaped the flames, but even now I can't really explain that. I just did it without ever stopping to think about consequences. And yet, in the middle of it all, I had some warped sense of decency. For example, our next door neighbours were Catholics and my mum was very friendly with them, so I made a conscious decision to never target that family.

But in every other way I was raging totally out of control. As a boy, one of my Catholic friend's fathers had a car - a rare thing in our area - and I used to walk down to Whitehouse Chapel every Sunday to meet them and get a ride home in it. One day I walked down as usual and my friend said, 'You'll have to walk it up. My dad is going to an IRA meeting.' Years later, at 15, I remembered that conversation, so I went down to the chapel and torched it. I'd got it into my head that they were holding IRA meetings in there and I thought I'd put a stop to that. Shortly afterwards I torched a Catholic school as well.

On another occasion I was walking down a street in broad daylight and a mate pointed out a house and said a Catholic family lived there. I walked over to a wall, lifted up a breeze block and threw it through the living room window. If someone had been sitting on the sofa they'd have been dead. At 17, I was asked to join the UDA. Because I'd been a gang leader in Rathcoole KAI, I was immediately made a corporal.

There was no joining-up ceremony, but soon there was plenty of action. We did a lot of training and, for the first time, I handled a gun. Straightaway that gave me real buzz. Why use a stick or a hammer to riot when you could use a gun? This was a real chance to strike back at the IRA - on their terms.

After three months I was allowed to bring the gun home. I hid it in my bedroom but my mother found it and told my father. He grabbed me by the throat, pinned me against the wall and told me on no account to ever bring a gun into the house again. So I didn't - I hid it in the dog kennel in the garden instead.

Months later my reign of mayhem came to an, albeit, brief end. I was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery and petrol-bombing and jailed for nine months. No matter what anyone says, being driven into a prison is no laughing matter. I was definitely shocked to find myself in the compounds in Long Kesh. But I got used to it - and I learned more about terrorism in there than I'd ever done outside. We had bomb-making classes and our own guns in jail. When people refuse to believe me that we had weapons in the prison I just point how, years later, Billy Wright was shot in jail.

UVF leader Gusty Spence was in charge in the compounds, and everyone looked upon him as a sort of father figure. I decided to switch from the UDA to the UVF, because it seemed more militant. Doing so certainly confused the police for a while after I got out of prison. They noticed I was no longer mixing with UDA men and thought I'd changed my ways. One policeman in particular be- friended me, telling me he was glad to see I had wised up. Later, when I was arrested and quizzed about UVF activities, he came round to the station and gave me a going over.

I spent a further three months at a young offender's centre for non-payment of fines, but once I got out of there I moved on to much more serious stuff.

I did more armed robberies and was involved indirectly in murder. I was arrested as a team member in 1978 and some of those sentenced with me went down for murder. That team was involved in shootings, bombings, murders and it was just by the grace of God that I didn't actually kill anyone. I can remember times when I left the house with a gun and thought 'by the time I get back here tonight, I will have killed a person.' I was going out to do something. But perhaps the person was not there or did not turn up. Today I thank God for that.

That time I was sentenced for 11 years, and it was tough. By now I was married and had an eight month old baby son, David. I missed my wife and child, and worried about how they were getting on. Of course, I started to adapt to prison life but every morning, when I woke, there was always that initial thought: 'Oh no, I'm in jail.'

It was hard on my family, too. After my sentencing, my mother had called in with an uncle of mine. She was very upset about how long I'd been put away for and she cried 'It's no use, David will never change.' But an old lady, Annie Beggs, a committed Christian, was also in the house and she said to mum 'Stop crying, I'm going to pray for him and ask God to change his life.'

On New Year's Day 1980 I went up to my cell in Belfast's Crumlin Road jail and started drinking a cup of tea. A thought came into my head about becoming a Christian; that it was time to change. I picked up a Gideon Bible, lay down on the bed and read for a while. I thought about my life, and about all the things I'd done to other people. I'd narrowly escaped death myself - once in Belfast a guy had come up behind me with a gun but I'd turned around just in time and pushed his hand down. I ended up being shot three times in the foot instead. I'd been stabbed many times in fights - I have hundreds of stitches all over my body - and I was once hit on the head with a hatchet. I reckoned that if God had kept me alive, then maybe God could change my life. So I knelt down in my cell and prayed.

I felt a change in me almost at once. The next morning I told people I'd become a Christian. My nickname is Packie and they started taunting me 'Ah Packie's joined the God squad.' But their jeers didn't fizz on me because I felt a peace inside me.

A couple of years later my marriage ended after I found out my wife was living with someone else. I tried to get my wife to change her mind and be reconciled with me, but she would not. Admittedly, I thought 'C'mon God, here I am trying to live a good life and now you do this to me.'

But God did a healing in me. After I was paroled I saw my wife one day. I had loved her and yet this time I felt nothing. God had touched my heart and released me from that. I settled back in Rathcoole, where my old friends in the UVF wanted to know if I was coming back to the organisation. I declined and they said they'd be watching me to make sure I was genuine about my religious conversion.

But I was quite a radical Christian and carried my Bible about with me, and I think they were convinced.

I worked with Prison Fellowship for four years, going round churches giving my testimony. I also studied at Belfast Bible College and started working as an inter- national evangelist, spending alternate months at home and abroad, preaching in 15 different countries.

Ten years ago I moved to Manchester, as an assistant pastor with the Apostolic Church. Now I'm ordained with the Assemblies of God ministry. Until recently I also worked with a drug rehabilitation centre, ironically often helping young men with alcohol problems from both sides in Northern Ireland who had fled the paramilitaries.

I married Sharon in June 1984 and we have three children: Adam, 19, Jonathan, 17, and April Joy, 9. Sharon also has a daughter, Louise, from a previous relationship. She lives with us, and I'm in regular contact my son, David. I've felt a lot of guilt about what I've done. Once at a church meeting a woman stood up and said 'You petrol bombed us out of our home'. It was embarrassing, but she forgave me. But I'm a victim, too.

Relatives of mine have been hurt in bombings - most recently at Omagh. When I heard that news I knelt by my bed and prayed for my injured relatives, but also for the bombers.

Of course, I've encountered cynicism about my faith. One night I was at a church when a pastor, unaware of my background, said he didn't put much stock on prison conversions. 'A year later you never hear tell of these people,' he said. Well, 25 years on, here I am. I blame it all on that old lady, Annie Beggs. It was her who put me on a Wanted poster."

÷Interdenominational Divine Healing Ministries celebration of the 25th anniversary of the conversion of David 'Packie' Hamilton, tonight, St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, 8pm. Also taking part, Sister Margaret McStay and Brother David Jardine.

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Table of Contents - Jan 2005

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