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February 28, 2005

02/28/05 – Policing Overseer Tenure Extended

02/28/05 – Policing Overseer Tenure Extended

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Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Feb 2005

BT 02/28/05 Policing Overseer Has Tenure Extended
SF 02/28/05 Republicans Reject Hunger Strike Claims
FT 02/28/05 Sinn Féin's Us Fundraising Under Threat
SM 02/28/05 Families Condemn Loyalist Feud Murders Probe
UT 02/28/05 McBride's Mother Poses Question
WP 02/28/05 Sisters Shatter Code Of Silence In N. Ireland –V
BT 02/28/05 Opinion: McCartney –UKUP: The Penny's Dropping
BB 02/28/05 Restorative Justice In Spotlight
BT 02/28/05 Upheaval For SF On The Rocky Road
IO 02/28/05 Murphy Due In Dublin To Discuss Faltering Peace Process
BT 02/28/05 Public Sector Blasted On Historic Buildings
BT 02/28/05 Work Starts On New Cross-Border Road
BT 02/28/05 Band Bidding For Euro Glory


Policing Overseer Has Tenure Extended

Patten man's role still vital: Murphy

By Jonathan McCambridge
28 February 2005

The role of the Police Oversight Commissioner is to be extended until the Patten Report is fully implemented, it emerged today.

Al Hutchinson, who reports independently into policing change in the province, will now continue his work until May 2007.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy said the work of the Oversight Commissioner was vital to the implementation of policing change.

"Central to this change has been the role and work of the Oversight Commissioner.

"This office provides an independent assessment of the change process taking place within policing in Northern Ireland and this work is recognised across the world.

"The reports by the Oversight Commissioner highlight what has been achieved in the implementation of Patten, but just as importantly, what work remains outstanding.

"We are well along the road to the full implementation of the 175 Patten recommendations, but we have not yet completed the journey.

"In order to do so, I am extending the term of the Office of the Oversight Commissioner so that the implementation of the outstanding Patten recommendations will be independently verified."

In a recent report, the Oversight Commissioneer warned that the PSNI was making painfully slow progress in transforming heavily fortified police stations.

In the past, the former Royal Canadian Mounted Police chief has also expressed concerns over the rate of recruitment of Catholics to civilian posts.

However, he has praised the PSNI for making "real and significant" reforms but has said that much work remains to be done to implement Patten.


Republicans Reject Hunger Strike Claims

Published: 28 February, 2005

Brendan McFarlane, the leader of the H-Block prisoners during the hunger strikes of 1981, has rejected any suggestion that a deal was rejected before the death of Joe McDonnell Brendan McFarlane responding to claims made by former prisoner, Richard O Rawe, in today's Sunday Times, said,

"All of us, particularly the families of the men who died, carry the tragedy and trauma of the hunger strikes with us every day of our lives. It was an emotional and deeply distressing time for those of us who were in the H-Blocks and close to the hunger strikers. However, as the Officer Commanding in the prison at the time, I can say categorically that there was no outside intervention to prevent a deal. The only outside intervention was to try to prevent the hunger strike. Once the strike was underway, the only people in a position to agree a deal or call off the hunger strike were the prisoners, and particularly the hunger strikers themselves.

"The political responsibility for the hunger strike, and the deaths that resulted from it, both inside and outside the prison, lies with Margaret Thatcher, who reneged on the deal which ended the first hunger strike. This bad faith and duplicity lead directly to the deaths of our friends and comrades in 1981".

Raymond McCartney, a former hunger striker and now Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle also commented on the claims,

"Richard's recollection of events is not accurate or credible. The hunger strike was a response to Thatcher's criminalisation campaign, now being revived by Michael McDowell. The move to hunger strike resulted from the prisoners' decision to escalate the protest after 5 years of beating, starvation and deprivation. The leadership of the IRA and of Sinn Fein tried to persuade us not to embark on this course of action. At all times we, the prisoners, took the decisions." ENDS


Sinn Féin's US Fundraising Under Threat

By Jimmy Burns
Published: February 28 2005 02:00 Last updated: February 28 2005 02:00

Mounting allegations of IRA involvement in the £26.5m Belfast bank robbery and growing police suspicions of a much wider involvement of the Irish republican movement in money-laundering operations are threatening Sinn Féin's legitimate fundraising operations in the US, say diplomatic sources in Washington.

According to Irish officials, the fact that the onslaught on the alleged criminal activity of Irish republicans is being led by the Irish government is fuelling dissent among supporters of Sinn Féin, the IRA's political wing, across the Atlantic.

Neither London nor Dublin have ruled out the US government outlawing Sinn Féin fundraising if evidence emerges that members are implicated in crime.

Further sanctions the US government could use against Sinn Féin include denying visas to the party's leaders - some of whom plan to attend a White House reception marking St Patrick's day next month - although government officials on both sides of the Atlantic fear that over-tough action risks undermining the peace process and would end any hopes of the IRA decommissioning its weapons.

"The risk is we freeze them out completely; the grassroots might begin to engage in violence again, maybe begining with street protests," an Irish official said. The changing mood was reflected last week when the New York-based Irish Voice, a leading Irish-US newspaper, challenged the equivocal statements made on the Belfast robbery by the Sinn Féin leadership.

Niall O'Dowd, its publisher, wrote in an editorial: "Last week I wrote that the case against the IRA doing the Northern Bank was not proven. This week I have to say that based on all the available evidence, the case is closed. It was the IRA."

During the 1990s Mr O'Dowd maintained close contact with Sinn Féin and played a key role in securing backing among Irish Americans for the peace process. While there is no suggestion that funds raised on behalf of Sinn Féin in the US are linked to criminal activity, the amounts transferred to Northern Ireland provide important financial support for the IRA's political arm on both sides of the border.

According to Irish government officials, the future of this legitimate financial lifeline for the republican movement is already in doubt because of what is seen as a crisis of credibility affecting Sinn Féin and the IRA.

Audited accounts from Sinn Féin show that the party had an income of €2,035,960 in 2003, a 30 per cent increase on the previous year due to a sharp rise in donations - but the figures relate solely to money raised by the party's Dublin and Belfast offices. Separate filings with the US Department of Justice show that Friends of Sinn Féin - the party's international support network - raised $3.5m between 1997 and 2002.

Last month Des Mackin, Sinn Féin's director of finance, told the Irish Times that recent figures indicated 2004 was the party's biggest year for fundraising in the US, with an estimated €130,000-€144,000 collected from donors, traditional strongholds of support for the IRA and its political arm being New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

While part of the money raised by Friends of Sinn Féin is reinvested in the US, most is transferred to Northern Ireland as there is a ban on foreign donations in the republic. Separately, Irish and UK officials say law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border are co-operating in a big investigation into suspected illicit financial operations involving the IRA.

Co-operation agreements have been signed by the Police Service Northern Ireland and the Garda, new tasks involving the pursuit of organised crime in Northern Ireland have been assigned to MI5, and there is an increasing exchange of information between the assets recovery agencies in Belfast and Dublin.

It is estimated that one third of organised criminal activity in Northern Ireland has a cross-border dimension, and investigators are pursuing civil and criminal actions armed with tough new money-laundering laws that extend offshore.

Investigators believe that, during its prolonged ceasefire, the IRA has moved on from the crude protection and extortion rackets of the 1970s and 1980s into a loosely structured but well co-ordinated network of companies supported by generous, loyal labour and efficient transport and distribution.

"We believe that the IRA has developed a sophisticated organisation 'washing' ill-gotten gains in areas like tax and fuel fraud and smuggling through legitimate businesses like pubs, fast-food shops, taxi companies and residential properties," one Belfast investigator said.

But police figures over the past two years put the IRA's estimated annual fundraising capacity at £5m to £8m compared with estimated running costs of £1.5m, now thought to cover items such as pensions for elderly "volunteers", former prisoners and training rather than big weapons purchases.


Families Condemn Loyalist Feud Murders Probe

By Gary Kelly, PA

The family of a UDA commander gunned down during a bitter loyalist feud today criticised the police investigation into his death.

John Gregg, 45, from the Rathcoole Estate in Newtownabbey, was shot dead as he sat in a taxi in the Docks area of Belfast in February 2003.

Another man, Robert Carson, 33, also from Rathcoole, also died in the attack, which was carried out after they had attended a Glasgow Rangers football match.

In a statement after a joint inquest, both families questioned the inquiry into the double murder which was blamed on “C” company of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, led by Shankill Road loyalist Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair.

They said; “We would wish to point out that the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) investigation leaves a lot to be desired. No-one has ever been charged with the murders yet most people know who the killers were.

“We were extremely concerned that the CCTV footage did not provide sufficient evidence in the absence of security in the area of the Docks on that Saturday evening. This would not be normal, given that Rangers fans were coming home and the Celtic fans were going away at the same time.”


McBride's Mother Poses Question

The mother of a teenager murdered by two Scots Guards is asking the army to explain why they are still serving.

Jean McBride has made the call in the wake of the British Army`s decision to dismiss three soldiers jailed by a military court martial for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

Her son Peter`s killers were allowed to rejoin their regiment after serving three years for murder.


Sinn Fein is under new pressure to give up the killers of Robert McCarthy.

Sisters Shatter Code Of Silence In N. Ireland -V

Catholics Name IRA Members In Savage Pub Slaying of Kin

By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 28, 2005; Page A11

BELFAST -- The drinks were flowing and tempers were high one Sunday night in late January at Magennis's pub when things got out of hand. One man accused another of insulting his girlfriend, witnesses said. Someone grabbed a knife and slit the alleged offender's throat. A friend of the victim intervened and was stabbed and savagely beaten. When it was over, he lay dying outside on the sidewalk, the other man unconscious and bleeding beside him.

But this was more than just a fatal bar fight. The dead man was Robert McCartney, 33, who was well-respected among people in his small Catholic neighborhood known as the Short Strand, a flash point for sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants in this divided city. And what was most extraordinary was the allegation, made by his five sisters, that McCartney was killed by fellow Catholics from the neighborhood who are leading members of the Irish Republican Army, the outlawed paramilitary organization.

McCartney Sisters

From left, Catherine, Claire and Paula McCartney speak with reporters Feb. 16 after visiting the U.S. consul in Belfast. The sisters want the IRA to help bring to justice the members they say killed their brother Jan. 30 at a pub. (Paul Mcerlane -- Reuters)

The IRA is a secret organization and the usual punishment for breaking its code of silence is death. But the sisters defiantly named names and directly challenged the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, to help bring the alleged killers to justice. The family's campaign has shamed and embarrassed the movement to the point that on Friday, the IRA broke years of tradition by announcing it had court-martialed and expelled three members. In an unprecedented statement, the organization ordered the men "in the strongest terms possible to come forward and to take responsibility for their actions."

Hundreds of people gathered in Belfast on Sunday to protest the killing, the Associated Press reported.

The McCartney sisters said Saturday that they were encouraged by the IRA's action but stuck to their demand that those involved turn themselves in to the police. "The only way our family will know the truth is when we hear witness statements in a court," Catherine McCartney told reporters.

For generations the IRA's role was to defend and protect Catholics in beleaguered enclaves such as the Short Strand from attacks by Protestants. But the McCartney sisters have accused IRA leaders in their neighborhood of turning into a thuggish mob that terrorizes the area.

"What's unusual and incredibly powerful here is that you have a family of that community, in that community and who know the history of that community, who have come forward," said Denis Bradley, a Catholic civil rights activist and member of the citizens board that oversees policing here.

In recent weeks Sinn Fein and the IRA -- known collectively as the republican movement -- have faced a political crisis following allegations that the IRA was responsible for a $50 million bank robbery in Belfast in December and that it was carried out with the knowledge of Sinn Fein's political leaders.

But local observers say the McCartney killing has done far more harm to the movement with its core constituency in Northern Ireland -- the thousands of working-class Catholics in urban areas who supported and identified with the IRA during the three decades of sectarian violence known as the Troubles, during which more than 3,000 people were killed.

About 3,000 Catholics live in the Short Strand, a collection of modest two-story rowhouses wedged into the western flank of predominately Protestant East Belfast. For decades it has been the scene of periodic clashes. In the early 1980s, the authorities constructed a 30-foot-high "peace wall" of bricks and metal bars topped by steel-webbed fencing along Bryson Street to seal off the two communities. A mural painted at the far end of the wall reads "Love Thy Neighbor."

The predominately Protestant police force, known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was seen as part of the machinery of oppression, and the gothic red brick police station on Mountpottinger Road still lurks behind a 40-foot-high barrier designed to protect the police from the neighborhood.

In the law-and-order vacuum, the men of the IRA not only protected Catholics from Protestant incursions but also enforced social order among residents. Those caught dealing drugs or assaulting women were subjected to beatings, "punishment shootings" or enforced exile from the area.

Ever since the IRA first declared a cease-fire in 1994, life and politics here have slowly changed. The police have a new name -- the Police Service of Northern Ireland -- and a new motto: "Making Northern Ireland safer through professional, progressive policing." At the same time, residents said, the IRA has begun to lose its grip on the area. One member was accused of rape, another of throwing his girlfriend from a balcony.

"Some of these guys are psychopaths, but no one does anything to stop them," Paula McCartney, one of Robert's sisters, said in an interview last week at her home in the Short Strand. "They're likened to the Mafia -- but frankly that's an insult to the Mafia."


Opinion: McCartney –UKUP: The Penny's Dropping

By Robert McCartney, leader UKUP
28 February 2005

The Heath Robinson political construction, inappropriately named the Northern Ireland Peace Process, is now in the final stage of dissolution. Saved on earlier occasions by a series of running additions, the reality is now finally dawning on the Governments that Sinn Fein/IRA are democratically irredeemable.

The architect of the process, John Hume, was always committed primarily to the goal of a United Ireland rather than stable and just government for the entire community of Northern Ireland. In forming his strategy, he recognised the essential interests of the main players and then orchestrated a plan for their achievement.

Britain had wished to disengage from Ireland since 1921 - an aim accentuated by its need to prevent an ongoing bombing campaign on the mainland. Democratic nationalism, north and south, sought to fulfil the Republic's constitutional imperative of obtaining Irish unity.

The strategy required violent republicanism in the form of Sinn Fein/IRA being persuaded that its present level of political and social terrorism offered the maximum platform for political gain, and that its political objectives could not be obtained militarily. An IRA ceasefire, however, coupled with the retention of its weaponry could afford it a huge advantage in any future negotiations on the political institutions needed for the transmission of Northern Ireland into a United Ireland.

The Hume/Adams talks culminated in 1988 with the acceptance that the political positions of the SDLP and Sinn Fein were not unbridgeable. Indeed, a review of the text of these talks (Irish Times September 19, 1988) confirms that the entire peace process agenda is contained in it. Hume's main objective was to create some form of political control over the terrorist arm. Central to the effectiveness of such a pan nationalist grouping was the political leverage which could be claimed by its constitutional element arising out of either its real or perceived control over its violent component.

The concept was that political concessions would be the reward for those who allegedly could obtain a cessation of violence or avert the breakdown of an existing cessation. A pre-requisite to the use of this political leverage was the retention within the particular grouping of a terrorist capacity for violence. As one Irish daily paper recently put it "for too long the capacity for violence had allowed Sinn Fein to punch way above its political weight."

As Sinn Fein's political power expanded, its political need for the SDLP gradually diminished. When it became the largest nationalist party, it could play both roles of the Good Guy and the Bad Guy.

John Hume has slipped off the tiger on retirement, leaving the SDLP's current leader to be the one who gets eaten. Indeed, Mark Durkan unwittingly revealed this reality when he recounted how he complained to Tony Blair that the SDLP's requirements were being ignored while those of Sinn Fein were being addressed and the response was "You have no guns".

At the date of the IRA ceasefire in 1994, Sinn Fein had an electoral support of some 10% -12%. By November 2003, the results of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections confirmed a mandate in the region of 25% and it had superseded the SDLP which now appears in terminal decline as the largest nationalist party.

Sinn Fein's spokesmen, Adams, McGuinness el al, inflated with the oxygen of publicity, had become celebrities and the guests of prime ministers and presidents.

Moreover, Sinn Fein/IRA still retained their arsenals of destruction and had become the richest political party in Ireland on the back of British political largesse, American donations, and widespread criminality.

When the first government approval of the Hume/Adams peace process was pronounced in the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993, paragraph 10 provided that peace must involve a permanent end to the use of, or support for paramilitary violence and that "democratically mandated parties which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and which have shown that they abide by the democratic process are free to participate fully in democratic politics."

In 1994, the IRA declared a ceasefire in respect of its military operations but refused to declare it permanent, arguing that "complete" and "permanent" were the same thing. In this logical nonsense they were supported by John Hume; since "complete" defined the nature of a present state of affairs, while "permanent" denoted its duration.

As indicated above, the use or threat of violence was central to Sinn Fein/IRA strategy and has remained so. In response, successive British governments have demonstrated abject appeasement.

On each and every occasion, when a British government attempted to make Sinn Fein/IRA conform to democratic principles, its efforts were literally blown away and the terrorist demands conceded.

In November 1995, while George Mitchell was being convinced of the IRA's commitment to full and verifiable decommissioning, the IRA was involved in the logistics of placing the bomb that blew Canary Wharf apart in February 1996 - a bomb that opened the floodgates of appeasement and permitted Sinn Fein/IRA into negotiations in July 1997 and then into executive government by 1999.

The retention of all its weaponry ensured the release of its convicted terrorists, the destruction of the RUC, and the creation of All Ireland political institutions. Meanwhile, its litany of murder, brutality, intimidation and exiling of victims continued.

In its desire to keep the process on track and the terrorists on board, the British government employed a softly, softly policy towards the criminal activity of both republican and loyalist paramilitary gangsters. This political licence, granted in violation of the rule of law, has led to an explosion in paramilitary controlled crime, and a belief within Sinn Fein/IRA that there was no form of criminality that would not be forgiven by the governments as a "risk for peace".

In January 2001, the author wrote: "Like the Mafia, they have moved into areas of legitimate business. Profits from drugs, robberies, protection rackets, smuggling, and fuel laundering finance their arsenals. Like the Mafia, they have their front politicians allegedly expressing their political ideals, but taking their real orders from the terrorist groups with which even the British government is forced to admit they are inextricably linked".

The price of England's safety from a bombing campaign has been the ongoing destruction of the social framework of both the nationalist and unionist working class people living in large public housing estates, of which the murder of Robert McCartney is an example.

The recent £26.5 million bank robbery and the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission confirms not only the extent of IRA involvement, but the direct links with, and approval of, senior members of Sinn Fein who are themselves, in some cases, senior members of the IRA.

Not only has the IRA not demonstrated the full and verifiable decommissioning that it told George Mitchell over nine years ago it was committed to, it has since been endeavouring to replenish its existing arsenals.

Antony McIntyre, a former member of the IRA and now the editor of a Republican Website, "The Blanket", has stated: "Sinn Fein/IRA lie the way other people breathe".

Yet, despite their track record, the British and Irish Governments still seem to believe they are redeemable. Post September 11, it is probable that mainland bombing of a major kind is no longer an option, since President Bush would, almost certainly, sanction any draconian response, perhaps even including internment.

However, the attitude of the two Governments is still short of acknowledging that Sinn Fein/IRA are democratically beyond the pale.

The process is unlikely to continue, however, because of the distrust of the pro-Union community, both of Sinn Fein/IRA and Prime Minister Blair, in almost equal proportions. Devolution, the central mechanism of the process, is now wholly discredited, with over 75% of unionists opposing it if the price ever again included Sinn Fein ministers in government.

The Peace Process and the Belfast Agreement it spawned not only violated the principles of civilised government by attempting an enforced coalition of terrorism and democracy, but the violations of the rule of law and of ministerial integrity required to sustain them have brought governments into disrepute.

The recent revelations of the magnitude and scale of Sinn Fein/IRA's criminality, and its capacity to challenge the legitimacy of the Irish Republic itself, have caused that government to reappraise its relationship and to recognise the inherent danger to democracy which Sinn Fein/IRA offers.

In the 1930s a policy of avoiding bombs in London by appeasing Hitler and sacrificing the Czechs was not only a failure but also a stain on the national character which Winston Churchill and the British people had to redeem at enormous cost.

In the 1990s, a like policy for a similar purpose has been aimed at sacrificing the citizenship of one million British people to the Republic of Ireland and it will, likewise, fail. Perhaps the Republic now realises that the price of absorbing Northern Ireland is the acceptance of the deadly political bacillus that lies within it.

As Robert Burns so aptly put it: "The best laid schemes o' mice and men

Gang aft a-gley"


Restorative Justice In Spotlight

Restorative Justice groups from republican areas of Northern Ireland have declined to attend a conference organised by the police.

Loyalist representatives will be among 200 delegates at the international meeting in Belfast on Monday.

Restorative justice can involve perpetrators meeting their victims.

Provisional figures from a NI pilot scheme suggest a quarter of cases which could be prosecuted, could be dealt with through restorative justice.

Chief Inspector Nigel Grimshaw, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said restorative justice was about "respect".

"It is about bringing people together who have been affected by crime and conflict through a process which encourages taking respect and showing respect for other people," he said.

Those working in restorative justice schemes in republican areas clearly have a stake

Chief Inspector Nigel Grimshaw

Inspector Grimshaw said this was no "soft option" for offenders.

"Having to sit down, face to face, potentially, with the victim of your crime and listen to their story and the consequences of your actions is a very emotional and dynamic thing."

He added that the police had been keen to engage those working in republican areas in the conference.

"Restorative justice is an inclusive process. Those working in restorative justice schemes in republican areas clearly have a stake," he said.

However, Inspector Grimshaw said an array of speakers had been brought together for the two-day event which, he hoped, would provoke "real thought and debate".

The provisional figures are from the Public Prosecution Service pilot scheme which is operating in south Belfast, Fermanagh, Tyrone and all youth courts in Belfast.

The chief inspector said that in the Belfast court area, approximately one in four young people were currently undergoing a restorative process in terms of offending behaviour.

On Monday, delegates will explore advances in restorative justice within Northern Ireland and, on Tuesday, the focus will shift to examine community approaches to restorative justice.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/02/28 07:55:21 GMT


Upheaval For SF On The Rocky Road

28 February 2005

The battered political process will still have to deal with Sinn Fein, despite the current crisis. Political Correspondent Noel McAdam reports.

Sinn Fein activists gather in Dublin next weekend for their annual ard fheis.

Expect rousing cheers for Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and the traditional tonic-for-the-troops speeches.

But expect, too, something of a girding of loins and gritting of teeth. Republicans have a hard road to travel and so far it's a road without any visible forks.

Not for the first time on the Irish political landscape, all's changed, changed utterly.

It's unprecedented in areas like the Short Strand, where the republican stamp remains, for Sinn Fein figures to be so vocally confronted and criticised - in public.

It's unprecedented for Mr Adams to say that if he had been caught up in the events of the killing of Mr McCartney he would have made himself "available for the courts with all the reservations that someone like me would have about all of these matters".

Asked if that meant making himself available to the police - which despite the changes of recent years, Sinn Fein eschews - Mr Adams said he would certainly go to his solicitor and work that out.

Unprecedented or not, it still wasn't sufficient for the McCartney family, and Mr Adams signalled that further moves may be necessary.

The closed doors which the IRA displayed after the McCartney killing - warning eyewitnesses not to report to the police - have been blown open and may yet come off the hinges.

It is not just the 'people power' of the Short Strand which has caused the current upheaval within republicanism, it is the on-going money laundering investigation in the Republic and the finger-pointing of the Northern Bank raid and subsequent stance of the Independent Monitoring Commission.

Political parties north and south, east and west, and in the United States, are staring Sinn Fein in the face and finding it wanting.

Yet interestingly, DUP leader Ian Paisley has not closed the door entirely on the possibility of a deal, in the longer term.

Soon to be 79, he made clear yesterday he was still prepared to share power with Sinn Fein if their mandate "does not depend on criminality (or) insurrection" but based on true democratic principles.

"I'll have to face up to the fact that I've got to do business with them," he told RTE.


Murphy Due In Dublin To Discuss Faltering Peace Process
2005-02-28 12:10:03+00

Northern Secretary Paul Murphy is due in Dublin this Wednesday to discuss the faltering peace process with Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern.

The two men are expected to discuss their next step amid the on-going acrimony surrounding the IRA's alleged involvement in the £26.5m Belfast bank heist.

The Irish and British Governments, along with the SDLP and the unionist parties, are insisting that the republican movement must demonstrably end criminality before the peace process can continue.

However, Sinn Féin is insisting that the republican movement is being targeted in an effort to halt its electoral progress.

Tabloid media reports have also suggested that the IRA is on the verge of a split over Sinn Féin's apparent willingness to decommission all the organisation's weapons.


Public Sector Blasted On Historic Buildings

By David Gordon
28 February 2005

A leading UK heritage expert has accused the Northern Ireland authorities of being "slothful" on the protection of historic buildings.

Campaigner and journalist Marcus Binney also called on the province's public sector to catch up with practice across the water on built heritage issues.

Mr Binney said voluntary conservation groups here are "incredibly active".

"They are full of initiative in seeking to gain recognition for buildings and finding means of saving them. However, the public sector seems to me to be completely slothful," he stated.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment defended its commitment to the province's built heritage.

"The aim of our Environment and Heritage Service is to protect the natural and built environment and to promote its appreciation, for the benefit of present and future generations," he said.


Roy Keane assault charge

Manchester United captain Roy Keane will appear in court today accused of assaulting a 16-year-old boy, and criminal damage.

The 33-year-old is alleged to have clashed with the teenager near his £1.4 million home in the Manchester suburb of Hale, last September.

The ex-Irish international denies the charge and his trial at Trafford Magistrates Court will begin later today.

Keane`s alleged victim will give evidence via a video link to the court.

The trial is expected to last for two days.


Work Starts On New Cross-Border Road

By Ben Lowry
28 February 2005

Construction finally began today on one of the most important roads in Ireland, crossing the border on the main Belfast to Dublin route.

The £84m dual carriageway, which will cut through Ravensdale Forest, has been envisaged for decades, and the Northern Ireland section took several years to progress through planning.

The new road, which is expected to open in 2007, will be completed to near motorway standard.

The old road between the two capitals has been gradually replaced after developing a record as one of the most dangerous routes in the island.

At present, it is almost impossible to overtake slow-moving lorries on the existing section between Newry and Dundalk.

Thus traffic travelling between the two largest cities in Ireland has had to travel at a frustrating pace for much of the journey.

When the various improvements are complete, most of the route south of the border will be motorway but north of the border it will be basic dual carriageway.

Elsewhere in Europe, most cities of similar size and proximity as Belfast and Dublin were linked by motorway decades ago.


Band Bidding For Euro Glory

By Kim Kelly
28 February 2005

A Donegal pop group has reached the final of Ireland's search for a Eurovision star.

The Henry Girls from Malin were last night selected to compete in the finale of RTE's You're a Star contest.

In just a week's time the three sisters Joleen, Lorna and Karen McLaughlin and their cousin Stephen Murray from Derry will know whether they will represent Ireland in Kiev this year.

The Henry Girls, who have already been offered a role in Angeline Ball's latest film which will be shot in Ireland this summer, came third in last night's public vote.

But the band is the bookies' favourite to win the show and restore Ireland's reputation as Eurovision champions.

Joleen said: "We have a distinctive Irish sound that we feel would go down really well with Europeans."

The winner will be picked on Sunday. Since the contest began Ireland has won seven times - more than any other country.

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