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February 22, 2005

02/22/05 – SF Sanctions Over Bank Raid

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Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Feb 2005

UT 02/22/05 Sinn Fein Faces Sanctions Over Bank Raid
UT 02/22/05 Paul Murphy's Statement To House Of Commons
IA 02/19/05 IAUC Responds To IMC Sanctions
BT 02/22/05 Sinn Fein Accuse Ahern At Derry Rally
IO 02/22/05 Taoiseach Escapes Dáil Questioning On IRA Army Council
DJ 02/22/05 Derry Men Not Quizzed About Belfast Bank Raid
DJ 02/22/05 New Police Probe Into 'Franko' Hegarty's Killing
WH 02/22/05 Blair, Ahern Gain From Blasting Sinn Fein
DJ 02/22/05 Editorial: Fact And Fiction
UT 02/22/05 More Power For Parades Commission


Sinn Fein Faces Sanctions Over Bank Raid

Sinn Féin faces financial punishment following the £26 million Northern Bank robbery.

A motion to strip the republican party`s four MPs of their Westminster allowances will be put to the Commons after the IRA was blamed for the raid.

And a suspension of the cash they could claim as members of the suspended Northern Ireland assembly will be extended for another year, subject to any appeal by the party.

The sanctions have been imposed after a paramilitary watchdog`s damning assessment that the IRA was behind the raids.

Mr Murphy rejected calls for Sinn Féin to be excluded from the political process but insisted that it would have been "inconceivable" for them to continue as ministers if the assembly had still been in operation.

In a statement he told the House of Commons: "The measures we are proposing are designed to express the disapproval of all those who are committed to purely democratic politics at the actions of the Provisional IRA.

"All in this house recognise the degree of support for Sinn Féin but we also believe that the actions of the republican movement are letting down everyone in Northern Ireland, including those who vote for Sinn Féin."

Sinn Féin MPs were controversially granted allowances, worth around £5000, and given offices and other Westminster privileges in December 2001.

The decision provoked fury among Tory MPs because the four MPs refuse to take the oath of allegiance and so cannot sit in the chamber, vote or take part in debates.

Mr Murphy said the Independent Monitoring Commission has concluded that the Provisional IRA had "planned and undertaken" the raid as well as three other major robberies last year.

The report concluded that Sinn Féin must "bear its share of the responsibility", he pointed out, and called for punishment to be handed down.

In the light of the report, he said he had decided to extend the suspension of Sinn Féin`s "block financial assistance" paid to parties sitting in the assembly for another 12 months.

It was originally blocked in April last year after a previous report by the watchdog concluded that paramilitary violence was continuing.

"Before making a final decision however I will take into account any representations made to me by Sinn Féin by next Tuesday," he said.

The Westminster allowances would be stopped in parallel with those at Stormont, he added.

Mr Murphy said he understood why some would consider the sanctions did not send out a tough enough signal.

But focusing on excluding Sinn Féin from the political process would thwart efforts to create "long-term stability", he suggested.

"That objective requires inclusion: dialogue with Sinn Féin must continue in order to see how that long-term goal can be achieved.

"But I am clear that this must be inclusion on the basis of a complete and demonstrable commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, that fundamental principle of the Good Friday Agreement enshrined in the Pledge of Office."

Had the assembly not been suspended, the decision about exclusion "would have been very different", he said.

"It is inconceivable, in my view, that members of Sinn Féin could again hold ministerial office while the issue of paramilitary activity and criminality on the part of the Provisional IRA remained unresolved."

Addressing calls for the assembly to be reconvened and then action taken to exclude Sinn Féin, he said: "I have not ruled anything in or out as we continue to assess possible ways forward for achieving greater local political accountability."

If a "comprehensive settlement" could not be found soon "we will need to consider other ways forward".

In the meantime efforts were under way to continue and strengthen investigations of all serious crime, including the bank robbery, he said, praising cross-border co-operation.

He concluded: "Financial penalties of the kind I have described today may signify our strong disapproval of what has happened but of themselves they do not rebuild the trust which is necessary if confidence is to be restored.

"That is a matter for the republican movement in general and Sinn Féin in particular."


Paul Murphy statement

Secretary Of State Paul Murphy's Statement To House Of Commons

I came to the House on 11 January to make a statement relating to the Northern Bank robbery on 20 December. To recall the background: a highly organised and brutal gang kidnapped the families of two staff from the Bank’s headquarters in Belfast, threatening them with death unless the individuals co-operated in the execution of the largest robbery ever seen in these Islands.

Since then a major police investigation has been under way. As the House is aware the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland made his conclusion clear that the Provisional IRA were responsible for the robbery. The Prime Minister and I have indicated that we accept the Chief Constable’s judgement which is also shared by the Irish Government and their security advisers. The Chief Constable’s statement, seen in the context of other subsequent events, serves to reinforce the extent of the challenge that we all face in working towards peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this month, on 10 February, I laid before the House a copy of a report presented to the British and Irish Governments by the Independent Monitoring Commission. That report, which the Commission had elected to produce in addition to its normal twice-yearly reports to the two Governments, concluded that the Northern Bank robbery was planned and undertaken by the Provisional IRA and that this organisation was also responsible for three other major robberies during the course of 2004.

I am very grateful to the members of the Commission for their quick response to the very grave situation created by the robbery and its attribution.

The IMC concluded, on the basis of its own careful scrutiny, that Sinn Fein must bear its share of the responsibility for these incidents. They indicated that, had the Northern Ireland Assembly been sitting, they would have recommended that the full range of measures referred to in the relevant legislation be applied to Sinn Fein, including the exclusion of its members from holding Ministerial office. In the context of suspension, they recommended that I should consider exercising the powers I have to apply financial penalties to Sinn Fein.

Mr Speaker, the House will recall that following the IMC’s first report in April last year, I issued a direction removing, for a period of twelve months, the block financial assistance paid to Assembly parties in respect of both Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party.

Having reflected on the IMC’s latest report, I have concluded that it would be appropriate for me to issue a further direction removing Sinn Fein’s entitlement to this block financial assistance for a further twelve month period, the maximum period permitted under the legislation.

I am, therefore, minded to make a further direction to come into effect on 29th April – the day after the existing direction expires. Before reaching a final decision, however, I will take into account any representations made to me by Sinn Fein by next Tuesday.

Mr Speaker, I will make a decision on whether to extend the financial penalties imposed on the PUP last April when I receive the next IMC report covering all paramilitary groups, which is expected in April.

The Commission’s report also refers to other public money which Sinn Fein receive, although recommendations on this are outside their remit. In this context, I am conscious that Hon Members on both sides of the House have raised concerns in the past about the payment of financial allowances to the four Sinn Fein members who decline to take up their seats here.

Mr Speaker, I hope that the House will welcome the opportunity to debate, in the near future, a Government motion proposing that these allowances be suspended on a timescale in parallel with the arrangements at Stormont, in recognition of recent events. The debate on that motion is for another day, but I should emphasise to the House, lest anyone accuse us of denying the extent of Sinn Féin’s electoral support, that the measures we are proposing are designed to express the disapproval of all those who are committed to purely democratic politics at the actions of the Provisional IRA. All in this House recognise the degree of support for Sinn Féin, but we also believe that the actions of the republican movement are letting down everyone in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin voters.

There are those who will argue that these financial sanctions are insufficient as a signal of the Government’s and Parliament’s condemnation of recent events. They may well argue that I should take steps to exclude Sinn Fein from the political process, or from the Assembly, now. I want to deal with those arguments directly, because they are sincerely made and with a strength of feeling that I well understand.

The Government’s ultimate goal remains the achievement of an inclusive power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland. I need not remind the House that the robbery has set back the timescale for achieving that. But the reality remains that long-term stability in Northern Ireland will not come about if we focus on exclusion. That objective requires inclusion: dialogue with Sinn Fein must continue in order to see how that long-term goal can be achieved. But I am clear that this must be inclusion on the basis of a complete and demonstrable commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, that fundamental principle of the Good Friday Agreement, enshrined in the Pledge of Office.

Had the robbery occurred while the Assembly was in operation, however, the decision about exclusion would have been very different. It is inconceivable, in my view, that members of Sinn Fein could again hold Ministerial office while the issue of paramilitary activity and criminality on the part of the Provisional IRA remained unresolved.

The suggestion is made in some quarters that I should restore the Assembly and then, if the Assembly itself failed to take action to exclude Sinn Fein, that I should take action myself using the powers available to me to exclude them. Mr Speaker, this would be very difficult in the absence of a clear plan which would see the parties in the Assembly come together on a cross-community basis to form a government for Northern Ireland.

As my Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister has said, if we can’t achieve a comprehensive settlement in the short term will we need to consider other ways forward.

In the meantime our focus will remain strongly on dealing with the underlying issue of ongoing criminal activity in all its forms. The police investigation into the Northern Bank robbery is the largest undertaken by the PSNI, who are continuing to follow up every lead. This is inevitably an intensive and time consuming process. In parallel with this, I am taking the opportunity to ensure that our arrangements for tackling organised crime remain fit for purpose and have asked my Honourable Friend, the Member for Dudley South, to review the Organised Crime Task Force to see whether, and how, it might be strengthened.

We continue to have excellent co-operation at both a political and operational level with colleagues from the South of Ireland. I met yesterday with Michael McDowell for a regular bilateral along with the police chiefs from both jurisdictions. At that meeting, I was pleased to see this co-operation further strengthened by the signing, by the Chief Constable and Garda Commissioner, of protocols which facilitate the movement of officers between both forces in terms of personnel exchanges and secondments with policing powers. This development can only serve to strengthen the existing co-operation between the two police services in tackling terrorism and other crime.

But whatever our success in tackling criminality and paramilitary activity, the fact of the matter is that the commitment to peaceful and democratic means is not one this Government needs to make. As we said in the Joint Declaration of April 2003, “ongoing paramilitary activity, sectarian violence and criminality masquerading as a political cause are all corrosive of the trust and confidence that are necessary to sustain a durable political process.”

In the present context it is, as the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have both indicated, for Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA to do that. They need to step forward and tell us how they will demonstrate their full commitment to all the principles of the Good Friday Agreement and how they intend to demonstrate to all the other parties in the political process and to the people of Northern Ireland, that the kind of behaviour identified in the IMC report is in the past. Financial penalties of the kind I have described today may signify our strong disapproval of what has happened, but of themselves they do not rebuild the trust which is necessary if confidence is to be restored. That is a matter for the Republican movement in general, and Sinn Féin in particular.


IAUC Responds To IMC Sanctions Against Political Parties

Saturday, February 19, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC, 02/19/05 — In response to the Independent Monitoring Commission’s (IMC) recommendations of sanctions against Sinn Fein, retired Judge Andrew Somers, President of the Irish American Unity Conference (IAUC), issued the following statement:

“The IAUC is opposed to the imposition of sanctions against any political party.

“The Irish people should not be punished because of the criminal actions of individuals. People, not political parties, commit crimes. Voters elect parties to represent their views and they should not be robbed of that representation. A bank heist is a police matter, not a political one.

“In the Republic of Ireland, the recent imprisonment of former minister Ray Burke did not threaten the Fianna Fail lead government.

“In Northern Ireland, a British government investigation concluded that evidence existed of governmental involvement in criminal conspiracies with loyalist gangs. The British Labour lead government has continued in power, while ignoring recommendations for independent inquiries into these allegations.

“In addition, the IMC was not provided for in the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). Sanctions called for by that body have no legal basis. Depriving a party of funding, or an elected official of a salary, are not options in the GFA.

“In our opinion, the procedures under the GFA should be carried out and the hibernating Northern Assembly should be revived included all elected parties.

“The people of Ireland have a right to both representation by their elected officials and proper investigations into crimes. Neither should be postponed because of the other.”

The Irish American Unity Conference is a non-partisan, non-sectarian, American based human rights organization working for peace and justice for the people of the six counties in the north of Ireland.


Sinn Fein Accuse Ahern At Derry Rally

By Brendan McDaid
22 February 2005

Sinn Fein has attacked Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern over accusations that the republican movement is involved in money laundering.

North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly accused the Irish government of being afraid of Sinn Fein's advance during a rally in Londonderry last night.

Speaking to a crowd of around 800 ex-IRA men and republicans in the Tower Hotel, the party's negotiator reiterated that both Sinn Fein and the IRA were standing by their positions over the £26m Northern Bank robbery at Christmas.

"I know this: I was not involved in it," he said. "I can tell you Sinn Fein is not involved in this.

"I can tell you the IRA said it's not involved in it and I believe them."

Mr Kelly claimed that the rise in strength of the Republican vote had forced critics such as the Republic's Justice Minister Michael McDowell "into the undergrowth" in recent years.

He added: "Now they are smelling blood.

"They are trying to do what Maggie Thatcher tried to do in 1981. She absolutely and entirely failed and so will they."

Focusing on the Irish government he added: "They are afraid of the advance of Sinn Fein throughout this island.

"This started at the last elections. The Irish government started thinking about themselves."

"For Bertie Ahern to accuse people in the Sinn Fein leadership of being involved in the bank robbery is a very deliberate act.

"He is saying one of the people in the peace process, who had pushed so hard, was a criminal.

"That is big, big stuff. Part of our job now is to make sure he doesn't get away with it."

Attacking the government and politicians north of the border, Mr Kelly added: "They are trying to bury us in this election. They want our vote and our percentage to go down. We need to advance."

Mr Kelly branded the murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast last week "a terrible, brutal slaying".


Taoiseach Escapes Dáil Questioning On IRA Army Council

22/02/2005 - 13:26:49

Opposition parties are to be denied an opportunity to question the Taoiseach in the Dáil today about the make-up of the IRA army council.

Bertie Ahern and Justice Minister Michael McDowell are believed to have clashed over Minister McDowell's decision to accuse named Sinn Féin politicians of being members of the IRA's army council.

Minister McDowell claimed intelligence information showed Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Kerry TD Martin Ferris had seats on the IRA's ruling body, but the three men have denied the accusation.

The Taoiseach said yesterday that he had no personal knowledge of the army council's make-up.

Opposition politicians were expected to press Bertie Ahern on the matter in the Dáil today but he is due to travel to Brussels on EU business, so the Tánaiste, Mary Harney, will be taking leader's questions instead.


Derry Men Not Quizzed About Belfast Bank Raid

Tuesday 22nd February 2005

A solicitor representing the two Derry men arrested in Dublin last Thursday has said his clients were never questioned in relation to the Northern Bank robbery.

The two Derry men were arrested in Dublin on Thursday and news of their arrest was included in reports about money laundering operations.

Yesterday, prominent Derry solicitor Paddy MacDermott, who represents both men, issued a statement on their behalf.

He said both men said: "We were never questioned about the Northern Bank robbery and we deny being involved in money laundering or any subversive activities.

"We are very disturbed at much of the media coverage surrounding our arrest and we are currently taking legal advice about some of that coverage."


New Police Probe Into 'Franko' Hegarty's Killing

Friday 18th February 2005

Stevens Inquiry and the PSNI have launched a new investigation into the murder of a senior Derry Provisional IRA member who was executed for being an informer, the 'Journal' has learned.

Officers from the team still led by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens are looking at the role allegedly played in the murder by another informer - the agent known as Stakeknife Freddie Scappaticci.

Scappaticci, from Belfast, ran the IRA's internal security unit for more than 20 years before being stood down in the late 1990s.

Derry man Frank 'Franko' Hegarty (45) was found murdered on a border road on May 25, 1986.

Although his family has always denied he was an informer, last year a former handler with the British Army's secretive Force Research Unit confirmed that Hegarty had worked for the unit.

Martin Ingram detailed his work with Hegarty in his book "Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland".

Hegarty, agent handling number 3018, had previously worked as an informer inside the Official IRA.

Ingram alleged that Scappaticci was brought in from Belfast and interrogated Hegarty at a house in Inishowen before carrying out the murder.

Hegarty confessed to having worked for the British Army and that he had pinpointed a large shipment of weapons from Libya which was seized by Gardai in Sligo and Roscommon in January 1986.

The Derry man was taken out of the North on the day of the weapons find, but returned several months later claiming he had not been an informer.

It is alleged that he became the victim of another British Army FRU informer Scappaticci.

Earlier this month Sir John Stevens confirmed there would be 'developments' in his inquiry into Scappaticci soon.

The Journal has learned that one of those developments is a new inquiry into Hegarty's murder.

A senior PSNI source confirmed: "PSNI officers and Stevens Inquiry detectives are working together on a range of issues relating to the agent Stakeknife.

"One of the murder inquiries that has been re-assessed is the killing of Franko Hegarty."

After Mr Hegarty's body was discovered on the Cavan Road near Castlederg, the IRA issued a statement which tallied with the facts of the quarter-master's recruitment by the British Army.

In a reference the Libyan arms find, the IRA added: "We have now executed Mr Frank Hegarty. Responsibility for the danger in which he finally placed himself rests not with his handler or the British government but with the Dublin, now a partner with Britain in the recruiting of agents and spies."

Two weeks ago John Stevens told reporters of the latest developments in the Scappaticci inquiry.

"Right now we're assessing where we are with the allegations concerning Stakeknife, specifically what we will continue with and what might be handed back to the PSNI," he said.

"In the next month or two we will be looking at which murders we will be investigating and his activities. We will have a good look at the allegations we will investigate and which ones we can ask the PSNI to carry on with.

"I'm loathe to put a time frame on an investigation of this kind because, when I first came to Northern Ireland 16 years ago, I thought I'd be there six weeks," he said.

It's understood the Stevens Inquiry officers and PSNI detectives will decided in the next few weeks which organisation will take primacy in the Hegarty murder inquiry.


Blair, Ahern Gain From Blasting Sinn Fein

By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Published February 22, 2005

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The British and Irish governments cite plenty of security reasons for cracking down furiously on Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, as they are doing. But strong political considerations in Britain, Ireland and the troublesome province of Ulster that preoccupies them also play a significant role.

The British government of Prime Minister Tony Blair only moved to punish Sinn Fein highly reluctantly. For almost eight years since taking office, Blair has devoted more time and energy to a lasting settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict between its 900,000-strong Protestant loyalist and 600,000-strong Catholic nationalist communities than any other British government in modern times. And bringing Sinn Fein into the political process has been an integral part of that effort.

Penalizing Sinn Fein and running the risk that it and the IRA will now turn their back on the peace process is therefore an especially bitter pill for Blair to swallow. That is especially the case when he has yet to restore his old credibility following the continuing deterioration of conditions in Iraq, where 8,000 British troops are still deployed in the southern region of the country.

But with a general election coming up in May, Blair and his dominant Labor Party need to avoid giving the opposition Conservatives, or Tories, under Michael Howard an emotional issue like turning a blind eye to terror in Northern Ireland. The Conservatives have historically been more uncritically pro-American than Labor and have also supported a tough line alongside the United States on Iraq. Therefore Howard has not been able to outflank Blair on these issues, and even Tory opposition to bringing Britain into the euro-zone that includes the other major Western nations in the European Union now lacks traction as Blair has back-pedaled from his former enthusiasm for that policy.

Taking a tough line against Sinn Fein, therefore, defuses potentially significant opposition from the Tories and robs them of yet another substantive issue with which to challenge the prime minister in the election campaign.

Blair and his secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, may also hope that by penalizing Sinn Fein, they will reverse the inexorable dynamic of Ulster politics over the past seven years whereby ever since Sinn Fein was brought into the power-sharing, mainstream political process, it has remorselessly gained ground within the Catholic community at the expense of the more moderate, middle-class Social and Democratic Labor Party. This process has also produced the symmetrical and ominous development that the moderate Ulster Unionist Party led by David Trimble that negotiated the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 has been eclipsed by the more hard-line Democratic Unionist Party of the Rev. Ian Paisley within the majority Protestant community.

Freezing Sinn Fein out of the British political process in the Palace of Westminster, therefore, offers - at least in theory - the possibility that rather than waste their votes for a party which no longer can effectively represent them at Westminster, Catholic nationalist voters in the province will turn back to the old SDLP.

Before the British government turned against Sinn Fein to penalize it for what British intelligence and an Independent Monitoring Commission say was the complicity of its leaders in a huge $50 million bank robbery in Belfast late last year, the SDLP appeared threatened with near extinction in the next British general election. It currently holds only three seats in the House of Commons, the main chamber of the British Parliament, compared with four for Sinn Fein. It looks certain to lose another one of them in the May election and may even lose a second, held by Seamus Mallon, leaving it with only one against possibly six for Sinn Fein in the next British Parliament.

It is, of course, far from certain that any punitive action the British government takes against Sinn Fein will reverse this dynamic and give the SDLP a chance to restore their failing fortunes. The opposite could happen. Historically, the more British governments over the past 90 or so years have acted to try and freeze out Irish nationalist parties, the more successful those parties have become in their home base constituencies.

Still, the choice facing Blair and Murphy was either not to act at all against Sinn Fein and admit the certainty that it would eclipse the SDLP, or to take action against it in the hope that there was at least a possibility this would reverse the political flow.

However, Irish Prime Minister -- or Taoiseach -- Bertie Ahern appears to be on firmer ground in his drive against IRA on money laundering activities in the Republic of Ireland. Ahern is already Ireland's longest-serving prime minister in the past 40 years since Sean Lemass in the early 1960s, and on current form he looks likely to win a third general election in a row -- a record no modern Irish prime minister has equaled, and then go on to become the longest-serving PM since Ireland's founding hero Eamonn de Valera himself.

Ahern's ruling Fianna Fail Party has lost very significant ground in recent elections to the superbly funded Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein has done well at eroding Fianna Fail support among its traditional poor rural base. But now Ahern has replaced his finance minister with Charles McCreevy and has turned to more generous and inclusive social policies. In effect, he is trying to return Fianna Fail to the traditional populist roots it enjoyed under de Valera, Lynch and Charles Haughey in the 1970s and 80s.

Ahern also appears to be hoping that revelations about Sinn Fein's close ties with the IRA and allegations of IRA criminality and money laundering will alienate Ireland's large and politically crucial middle class against Sinn Fein and stop the Sinn Fein from breaking out of its rural poor base and establishing a significant following among the middle class as well.

Ireland does not have to hold a general election for some time yet, unlike Northern Ireland and Britain. So it will take some time for the domestic fruits of Ahern's political strategy to become clear. But historically, voters in the Republic of Ireland have usually gone with their pocketbooks, and Ahern's outstanding success as an economic steward looks likely to stand him in good stead for some time to come. Usually, Southern Irish voters, while sympathetic to the nationalist movement in the North, do not want to run the risk of getting sucked into Northern violence and fanaticism. Therefore, a revival of sectarian conflict in the North may even work against Sinn Fein in the South, while strengthening it in its northern base.


Editorial: Fact And Fiction

Tuesday 22nd February 2005

AS THE furore continues around allegations about bank robberies, money laundering and everything else some sections of the media seem to have lost all perspective and decided that Sinn Fein are fair game and anything can be reported as fact regardless of how true or otherwise it may be.

The media has a duty to try and be as objective as possible and to be very careful what is reported especially in times when most people are relying on the media for their information.

However, in recent days some sections of the media seem to have thrown all caution to the wind and have been reporting as facts things that are no more than allegations or speculation.

The arrests last week in Dublin were a case in point with some newspapers naming many of those arrested even though they were only being questioned and had been charged with nothing.

The fact that they all were subsequently released shows just how dangerous this sort of reporting is.

Then on the Friday morning a reporter stated quite categorically that two of those arrested were members of the Provisional IRA and even stated in which department of that organisation they worked.

These two were also released without charge.

On Friday night we had the UTV news showing footage of an interview with Martin McGuinness that was obviously taken after the formal live interview had ended. This is not, most definitely, normal journalistic practice.

Republicans may, or may not, have been responsible for some recent incidents but it should be left to the courts to decide innocence or guilt. Speculation and hype are a poor substitute for due process.

There also seems to be a small number of reporters who have become so close to their security sources they take every word they say as gospel.

Surely in a democratic society the role of the media is to act as the watchdog of society and not to act as the slave of the security services or any other branch of government.

The current situation is far too serious and there is too much at stake for it to be placed in jeopardy by sections of the media reporting as fact things that turn out to be completely false.


More Power For Parades Commission

The British government was accused of being arrogant and high handed today as it announced it was extending the powers of the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland.

Security Minister, Ian Pearson said the Commission would soon be able to rule on the actions of parade supporters and protests in relation to parades.

The extension to existing legislation will be introduced by Order on Council, will be in place by the end of March and available to apply to parades and protests after May 14.

Mr Pearson said he been persuaded following a report on parades following a review by Sir George Quigley and another report by MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that a case had not been made for fundamental changes to parading arrangements.

But he said he had been persuaded by the two reports that "the time is right for the Parades Commission to take on the function of considering protests related to parades."

The Order will confirm the Commission can make determinations that include parade supporters. Doubts had been raised about the Commission`s remit in relation to supporters and the Minister wanted to make the position clear ahead of the summer, said the Northern Ireland Office.

The legislation will also bring the actions of protestors under the remit of the Commission.

The Democratic Unionist Party, North Belfast MP, Nigel Dodds, was furious at the legislation, saying the Commission should be scrapped not given extra powers.

He said he had already expressed his "extreme anger" to Mr Pearson.

Mr Dodds said : "It is a sneaky piece of legislation, it is arrogant and high handed. What they should be doing is scrapping the Parades Commission, not giving it more powers."

He said there had been no proper consultation just a cursory round of meetings with politicians but nothing involving the local communities who will be affected.

"It is an outrage that it is being bulldozed through," said Mr Dodds.

At the same time as he announced the legislation, Mr Pearson launched a broad consultation exercise on the most effective way to deliver mediation over parades.

He said: "I firmly believe that agreed outcomes that reflect a mutual respect for each others` rights, traditions and sensitivities remain the best solution for contentious parades in Northern Ireland.

"The key question is how mediation can be made most effective."

He put out for consultation - until the end of May - an outline mediation model which the Government believes addresses the required issues.

It said

:: Mediation would be voluntary.

:: Professional mediators would be made available to all those involved in parades disputes.

:: Such mediators would be outsourced and funded directly by the Northern Ireland Office, but appointed by a neutral body.

:: The Mediator would be responsible for how the mediation should be taken forward and ensure that it was tailored to the needs of each dispute.

:: The mediator would be encouraged to include a wider range of participants in the process including representatives from the business community, churches, community leaders, who could be affected by disruptive parades and protests.

:: All parties to a dispute would be informed of the availability and benefits of using a mediator. However, certain parades would have a mediator appointed who would proactively encourage mediation between the parties.

:: The Parades Commission would not be present at discussions, nor would it receive a formal report from any source who was present. It would , however, be open to parties present to make their own representations to the Commission about what had been discussed.

:: If mediation was successful a report would be made to the Commission to inform them of the terms of agreement.

No determination on the parade would then be required from the Commission.

The SDLP welcomed the extra powers for the Commission, saying it was good for policing and would help community relations.

It said an event at the height of the marching season last July when supporters of an Orange parade had been able to "drive a coach and horses through the authority of the Parades Commission was intolerable".

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