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February 02, 2005

02/02/05 – Bush’s Envoy, Reiss, Leaves Post

Overall Table of Contents
Table of Contents – Feb 2005

IT 02/03/05 Bush Envoy To North To Leave His US Post
IT 02/03/05 SF Says 'Confrontation' Led To Statement
GU 02/02/05 New IRA Threat To Peace Process
IT 02/03/05 Bertie's Orange Tie More Like A Red Rag To SF's Bull
IT 02/03/05 SF Must Provide Answers, Says Ahern
IT 02/03/05 Ahern Defends Appointment Of Burke
IT 02/03/05 Archaeologist Declines Hearing Invitation
IT 02/03/05 Presentation Of Shamrock A Hard Act To Write Up


Bush Envoy To North To Leave His US Post

Conor O'Clery in New York

President Bush's special envoy on Northern Ireland, Dr Mitchell Reiss, leaves his post at the US State Department today and returns to his old job as a law professor at a Virginia university, according to official sources.

Mr Reiss will, however, continue as the president's envoy to the peace process, at least until St Patrick's Day, and possibly longer. He was "borrowed" from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, by then-secretary of state Mr Colin Powell in July 2003 to succeed Mr Richard Haass as the State Department director for policy planning. Later he was made special envoy to Northern Ireland.

The US Secretary of State, Ms Condoleezza Rice, is in the process of appointing a new policy planning director. The College of William and Mary, where Mr Reiss is once again Dean of International Affairs, is south of Washington, distancing the envoy from the centre of political power.

This has led to speculation that the post of envoy has been downgraded, but sources in Washington say that as there is little movement in the North at present, the US is not as engaged as previously.

Mr Haass also continued as envoy to Northern Ireland for a time after leaving the State Department in 2003 and moving to New York. Mr Reiss will meets the Minister for Foreign Affairs when he visits Washington next week.

© The Irish Times


SF Says 'Confrontation' Led To Statement

Dan Keenan, Northern News Editor

Reaction: Last night's IRA statement is "a direct consequence of the retrograde stance" of the British and Irish governments, the Sinn Féin president said last night.

Sinn Féin said the statement flowed directly from the stance adopted by the governments following recent talks with republicans in Dublin and Chequers.

Mr Gerry Adams, the party president, said: "The IRA statement is obviously a direct consequence of the retrograde stance of the two governments. It is evidence of a deepening crisis, and I regret that very much.

"The two governments have opted for confrontation. They are engaging in the sterile politics of the blame game without any regard for the consequences.

"This negative approach has effectively scuttled the enormous work done in persuading the IRA to undertake the unprecedented initiatives which they publicly outlined in December."

Unionists and the SDLP were deeply critical of the IRA statement, and a Downing Street spokesman said they were not surprised by its contents.

"The fact remains that it was the IRA that did carry out the Northern Bank robbery, and as the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach said on Tuesday, therefore it is the IRA that is the sole obstacle to moving forward."

The Northern Ireland Office declined to comment last night. A spokesman said it did not normally respond officially to IRA statements.

The SDLP deputy leader, Dr Alastair McDonnell, accused the Provisionals of having little regard for the wishes of the people of Ireland, and of adhering to the peace process only when it suited them.

"This confirms the deeply-held suspicion that the Provos were being more than a little disingenuous.

"The reality is that the IRA should not need the British government or the Irish Government to be coaxing them. They should, if they have any respect or regard for the people of Ireland, have permanently ceased all paramilitary activity a long time ago."

The DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, said: "The words of the IRA will be treated with the contempt they deserve by all right-thinking people. Not for the first time the IRA has withdrawn its co-operation on decommissioning. This will be another attempt to bargain with the government in order to take the pressure off them.

"The Northern Bank heist confirmed that the IRA never put an offer on the table that they intended to keep. The IRA had never any intention of decommissioning in a credible, transparent and verifiable way. They never had any intention of giving up their criminal empire."

He added: "These Provo words of excuse will fool no one. Denials that they are not involved in criminality would be laughable if the situation were not so serious. IRA excuses are no longer acceptable."

The DUP deputy leader, Mr Peter Robinson, dismissed the statement out of hand. "I think it has all the hallmarks of a guilty child attempting to hit back because it is being punished.

"None of these antics remove their guilt or responsibility, nor will they impress anybody. The DUP will not be threatened by them, and they have to give up their weapons, their paramilitary and criminal activity."

Mr Michael McGimpsey, a senior Ulster Unionist, also criticised the statement. "After years of prevarication, of stalling and of reneging on commitments, after plunging the political process into crisis after crisis, it is more than rich for the IRA to bleat about unfair treatment. Clearly £26.5 million has made republicans delirious and delusional."

The Alliance leader, Mr DavidFord, said the governments must say how the political process should proceed. "Alliance wants all parties to proceed on the basis of a firm commitment to solely peaceful and democratic values. The question now is - how will the governments work with the other parties while we wait for Sinn Fein to sign up?"

© The Irish Times


New IRA Threat To Peace Process

Crisis looms on arms decommissioning

Angelique Chrisafis and Patrick Wintour
Thursday February 3, 2005
The Guardian

The IRA has plunged the Northern Ireland peace process into crisis by angrily withdrawing its offer to fully decommission all weapons.

In a statement passed to An Phoblact, the republican newspaper, last night, the organisation said that after allegations of criminality and involvement in the £26.5m robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast in December, the British and Irish governments had "tried our patience to the limit".

Although the IRA pointedly did not threaten to return to war, its stridency and aggrieved tone was a far cry from the organisation's reported position in December when it was said to be weeks away from a formal settlement in which it would give up its guns and wind up for good.

The IRA was said to be ready to retire in order to facilitate a power-sharing government featuring Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist party. It had already completed three acts of decommissioning.

Unionists said last night that the IRA statement was clearly threatening, while political commentators said it did not mark a threat to return to war but instead was tantamount to the IRA throwing its toys out of the pram and gaining more leverage for Sinn Féin, which believes the DUP did not move far enough to prove it wanted to share power.

The IRA statement said: "On reassessment of our position, and in response to the governments and others withdrawing their commitments, we are taking all our proposals off the table. It is our intention to closely monitor and to protect to the best of our ability the rights of republicans and our support base."

Downing Street tried to defuse any sense of drama or panic by saying they were not surprised by the IRA's statement, adding that this is what the IRA has done in the past when forced into a corner by their own behaviour.

Privately, No 10 does not believe the statement represents a real threat that the IRA will return to violence, pointing out that the IRA had issued a similar denunciation in 2003 after John de Chastelain had said previous IRA decommissioning was inadequate.

No 10 was also unusually determined not to accept that blame lay on both sides saying: "The fact remains that it was the IRA that did carry out the Northern Bank robbery and as the prime minister and the taoiseach said on Tuesday therefore it is the IRA that is the sole obstacle to moving forward.

Tony Blair at the weekend met Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, and stressed that he was not willing to let Sinn Fein back into the democratic process until there was a new sign that they were willing to compromise.

No 10 has never resiled from its view that the IRA was involved in the bank robbery and had let the peace process down by refusing to allow acts of decommissioning to be photographed as sought by the Ulster Unionists ahead of last December's round of talks.

No 10 also believes that the IRA action reflects a desire for Sinn Fein to free itself ahead of elections in May.

The disaster for Mr Blair will be if this relatively optimistic interpretation proves ot be incorrect and the IRA sanction a return to some form of violence.

After Mr Blair and Bertie Ahern declared that the IRA had carried out the Northern Bank robbery with the sanction of senior Sinn Fein leaders and that IRA criminality was the only obstacle to a political solution in Northern Ireland, there were fears of a limited return to violence and a renewed militancy in the ranks of the IRA, where hardline elements were said to have had reservations about the decommissioning talks. Sinn Fein and the IRA denied IRA involvement in the robbery.

The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, said: "The IRA statement is obviously a direct consequence of the retrograde stance of the two governments. It is evidence of a deepening crisis and I regret that very much. The two government have opted for confrontation. They are engaging in the sterile politics of the blame game without any regard for the consequences.


Bertie's Orange Tie Evidently More Like A Red Rag To Sinn Fein's Bull

You knew relations with Sinn Féin were strained when the Taoiseach turned up for leaders' questions wearing an orange tie.

Maybe he was just adopting the message of a well-known phone network that, despite appearances, the future was bright.

But his manner suggested otherwise, and it was the past that seemed to be preoccupying him.

When Enda Kenny suggested that Sinn Féin may have known for two years of plans for the "fund-raising spectacular" at the Northern Bank, while negotiating with a foolishly trustful Government, it brought an angry demand for "evidence" from Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

But the Taoiseach appeared to agree that republicans had taken advantage of his better nature. "That was then," he conceded, looking back in sadness rather than anger, "and this is now."

Mr Ó Caoláin's question about evidence was met by another question from Willie O'Dea (the man the Government says is the political leader of Óglaigh na hÉireann, a claim republicans dispute). "Where's Ó Snodaigh this morning?" sneered the Minister: a reference to the SF TD whose posters, according to evidence at the trial of five alleged IRA men, were found sharing the boot of a car with a stun gun and a CS gas canister. "Canvassing equipment," chirped Dinny McGinley, as Ó Caoláin just frowned.

For the second week running, it looked like the Monaghan TD was in for the parliamentary equivalent of a punishment beating. But at least this time the Opposition parties did not all gang up on him.

Pat Rabbitte devoted his question-time slot to another massive hold-up - of motorists at Dublin's West-Link toll bridge. And there was further relief for Sinn Féin when Joe Higgins, back from an overseas trip and with a suntan brighter than Bertie's tie, turned the attack on the Taoiseach over the jailing of Ray Burke.

In a richly-layered agricultural metaphor drawn from his Kerry childhood, the socialist TD lectured Ahern about pigs and their eating habits.

Ahern may have kept his own face out of the "speculators' trough" in the 1980s, but he knew which snouts were in there, and where the swill was coming from etc. And when he reappointed Burke in 1997, he deliberately chose to keep his head "in the fragrant trees of north Dublin", rather than follow the bad smell.

Ahern smiled thinly, but Higgins's colourful language had clearly provoked more painful memories of things past. At any rate, he was suddenly conscious of the ironies in the situation. Chiding Higgins for not sharing his past certainties about Burke with the authorities, he nodded towards the SF benches: "I know that Deputy Ó Caoláin, if I was saying what Joe Higgins has been saying, would ask me, where was the evidence."

© The Irish Times


SF Must Provide Answers, Says Ahern

Michael O'Regan

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, repeated that there could be no progress on the peace process until Sinn Féin provided answers on decommissioning, paramilitarism and criminality.

"Everybody knows that. We have to get answers on those issues."

Reporting on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, on Tuesday, the Taoiseach said that a number of operations had taken place during 2004, not just the Northern bank robbery, which were the work of the Provisional IRA and would have had the sanction of the army council and be known to the political leadership.

"That was made clear, without equivocation and unambiguously," he added.

Mr Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (SF, Cavan-Monaghan) asked: "Did they present you with evidence?"

The Fine Gael leader, Mr Enda Kenny, said that based on the information supplied by the Taoiseach, it was obvious that Sinn Féin had been negotiating with the Irish and British governments over a period of time in very bad faith.

"Sinn Féin has clearly destroyed the level of trust by serious breaches of faith," he added.

Mr Ó Caoláin interjected: "That is totally untrue."

"At issue is an end to smuggling of whiskey, knee-capping, punishment beatings, diesel laundering, confiscation of cigarettes, smuggling of vodka, bank robberies and all the other elements of racketeering and criminality which abound and are driven by the Provisional IRA with, as the Taoiseach says, the knowledge of the leadership of Sinn Féin," Mr Kenny added.

Mr Ahern said he accepted what Mr Kenny had said was going on while the negotiations were under way. "There is no doubt that the planning and operation of those issues were taking place.

"I heard yesterday for the first time, face-to-face from Hugh Orde, the head of the PSNI, and from the Garda Commissioner, that the Dunmurry, alcohol and cigarette issues arose last year," he added.

Mr Ahern said that things had moved on. "We are trying to establish in Northern Ireland the assembly for which people voted and the executive to get the operation of the administration there working on a cross-party basis. We cannot do that unless we end these issues.

"If that happens, all of the other issues we have signed up to in the joint declaration to bring peace, stability and confidence to improve the quality of life for everyone in Northern Ireland, can kick in," said Mr Ahern. "We cannot do it the other way around."

The Taoiseach also said he would be against the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the St Patrick's Day function in the White House. Mr Ahern said, however, that he could not be sure President Bush would not take a different view.

"I would prefer people to confront issues and make known their views.President Bush, just as President Clinton before him, has been very helpful to the Northern process. Both of them have been very forthright, which is helpful."

© The Irish Times


Ahern Defends Appointment Of Burke

Michael O'Regan

Dáil Report: The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, defended his appointment of Ray Burke to the 1997 Cabinet in his first Dáil response to the former minister's imprisonment.

"As I have said, my decision was based on what my bona fide view was then. If I knew then what I know now years later after all the investigations, I would not have appointed him.

"Not only I, but several other members, congratulated him at that time. Even when he came before the House, people were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt."

Mr Ahern was replying to a strongly-worded attack on the appointment by Mr Joe Higgins (Socialist Party, Dublin West), who said the Taoiseach had once savaged those who questioned him for making the decision.

Mr Higgins said: "The Taoiseach must explain because when Fianna Fáil was mired in corruption and sleaze in the 1980s, nobody believes he did not know what was going on. He was the party fixer and the runner for party leader Mr Haughey.

"It is simply not credible that he did not know what Mr Burke and his team of cronies were up to regarding rezonings and land corruption.

"The Taoiseach may have kept his own face out of the feeding frenzy at the speculators's trough, but he knew it was there, he knew who was bucketing the swill into it and he knew the biggest snouts who were slurping from it, but, unlike when I was a young fellow on a farm in Kerry when we had to take a stick to the greediest pigs, he simply left them at it.

"The Taoiseach knew but he said nothing because if he had he would have gotten the Fianna Fáil equivalent of the concrete shoes, feeding with the small fishes on the backbenches, and he would not jeopardise his career by taking a moral stand. He knew and they knew what he knew. That is why today he is reticent to attack those found guilty of corruption, and that is why he had to appoint Mr Burke in 1997."

Mr Higgins said the Taoiseach's investigation of Mr Burke was a "sham", adding that Mr Ahern had a method of contriving to look in places where he knew there were no answers.

"He had his head stuck in the fragrant trees of north Dublin when he should have been lifting the manhole covers from which the real odour was coming."

Mr Ahern challenged Mr Higgins to say why he had not brought the evidence he claimed he had to the tribunals.

Mr Higgins replied: "Is he telling me that nobody from Fianna Fáil came to him in the 1980s or early 1990s and told him exactly the type of fixing that was going on between the speculators and his colleague, Mr Burke, and others at that stage?"

Mr Ahern said he did not know all the things which Mr Higgins knew with certainty back in the 1980s. "Even in the 1990s, when as Taoiseach I was trying to make preliminary inquiries, they were not matters the Garda knew either. I put all that on the record here many years ago.

"Rather than being here berating me for these issues, the deputy should explain why he knew with certainty all of these matters were going on, and about which he never made any statement."

© The Irish Times


Archaeologist Declines Hearing Invitation

Olivia Kelly

A second of the State's foremost archaeology experts has declined an invitation to appear before the Oireachtas Committee into the controversial M3 motorway.

The Chief State Archaeologist, Mr Brian Duffy, has told the Oireachtas Environment Committee that he did not think it appropriate to address their hearings before the Minister, Mr Roche, had made his final decision on the routing of the motorway.

Mr Duffy is the second leading archaeology and heritage expert to turn down an invitation to appear before the committee.

The director of the National Museum, Dr Pat Wallace, told the committee he had been asked by senior officials in the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism not to attend.

In a letter to the committee chairman, Mr Seán Haughey, Dr Wallace said the secretary general of the Department, Mr Philip Furlong, had advised him that his position as a statutory officer under the National Monuments Act "might be compromised at the committee and my attendance would be inappropriate at this stage". Mr Duffy and Dr Wallace had been due to attend the hearings yesterday.

Speaking at yesterday's meeting, Labour TD Mr Eamon Gilmore said it was not acceptable that public servants were being "prevented" from coming to the committee. "It is manifestly clear from Dr Wallace's letter that he was told not to come here. Now we have been told that the chief state archaeologist was also told not to appear."

It was "absurd", he said, that the committee could not hear from public servants because they had a statutory role in the process.

"This is muzzling of public officials who might express a view that was not convenient or not in line with the way the project is being advanced."

Green Party TD Mr Ciarán Cuffe said it was "extraordinary" that such senior experts would be subject to a "gagging order".

"It is nothing more than political influence of the worst order that Dr Wallace was denied the opportunity to come in here today."

Mr Haughey said he would write to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Mr O'Donoghue, and Mr Roche asking that they allow the experts to attend.

A spokeswoman for Mr O'Donoghue said there was no question of Dr Wallace being gagged, but she said, he had a statutory responsibility to advise the Minister on the archeological aspects of the project and it was preferable that he did not address the committee before that time.

Mr Roche did not tell Mr Duffy not to appear before the committee - "he did it off his own bat", a spokesman said.

Representatives of the Heritage Council and the State funded Discovery Programme yesterday told the committee they would not have chosen the proposed M3 route through the Tara Skryne valley.

© The Irish Times


Presentation Of Shamrock A Hard Act To Write Up

Writing the annual St Patrick's Day greeting to the Taoiseach was one of the most boring tasks for a US president's speechwriter, President George W. Bush's recently-retired speechwriter and special adviser has said. Seán O'Driscoll, in New York, reports.

Mr Matthew Scully, who retired in August as senior speechwriter and special adviser to President Bush, said that the annual address to the Taoiseach while accepting a bowl of shamrock was almost as dreaded as the state of the union address.

Mr Scully said that a speechwriter could run out of ways to celebrate the great qualities of the Irish people or thank the Taoiseach for the bowl of shamrock. In an article in the New York Times, Mr Scully writes: "Almost as dreaded as drafting a state of the union, for example, are those yearly chores like writing remarks for the St Patrick's Day visit by the prime minister of Ireland. How many different ways can you accept a bowl of shamrock or celebrate the sterling qualities of the noble Irish people?"

Mr Scully was writing ahead of last night's state of the union address by the president.

© The Irish Times

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