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March 06, 2005

03/06/05 – Curtain Down On SF Conference

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Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Mar 2005

UT 03/06/05 Curtain Down On SF Conference -V(2)
BB 03/06/05 IRA Claims 'Will Not Hit SF Vote'
IT 03/07/05 SF Likely To Miss Lunch On Capitol Hill
SM 03/06/05 Bank Robbery & Murder Stack Cards In Adams Favour
IT 03/07/05 'Can't Have A Moral Vacuum At The Heart Of The Process'
SM 03/06/05 Back Our Fight For Justice, Omagh Victims Urge Adams
II 03/07/05 Adams: Not IRA Attack Or Plan, Was Stupidity Fuelled By Alcohol'
IT 03/07/05 North's Version Of 'Butch Cassidy' Out This Month


Closing day of SF Ard Fheis - David Davin-Power, Political Correspondent, reports on comments by Sinn Féin's justice spokesman, Gerry Kelly

Tommie Gorman, Northern Editor, discusses how Gerry Adams has dealt with the McCartney issue

Curtain Down On SF Conference –V(2)

The curtain came down tonight on a drama-packed Sinn Fein annual conference that was overshadowed by the murder of Belfast man Robert McCartney and other criminal links to the 100-year-old party.

By:Press Association

By the time the Irish national anthem was sang from the podium today, a total of 280 motions had been debated and voted upon over three days by an estimated 2,000 delegates.

After the dramatic arrival of McCartney`s five sisters for Gerry Adams` presidential address yesterday, delegates today settled down to framing policy on devolution talks, policing, prisoners and future coalition plans.

The final day`s session opened with news that a Sunday Business Post opinion poll showed that 72% of people wanted a clear signal from the IRA - such as decommissioning - before the Irish Government should resume talks with Sinn Fein.

In a debate on the suspended power-sharing talks, the party accused the Irish and British governments of trying to weaken its negotiating power.

Incoming general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin called on delegates to shift their short-term focus to upcoming elections for the Dail and Westminster parliaments, and on building policies and party support.

"In the coming months we have an opportunity once again to seek an increased endorsement of our strategy, to ensure that when we return to discussions, we will do so with an increased mandate."

Delegates also voted to keep the party`s coalition options open after the next General Election in the Republic.

Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain said: "Keep them all guessing. Stay in the mix. Affirm our political platform and goals and restate time and time again what others must do to measure up."

On policing, justice spokesman Gerry Kelly called on supporters in Dublin`s Royal Dublin Society arena to brace themselves if a new beginning in policing is achieved in Northern Ireland.

"It is not an impossible task and Republicans need to be acutely aware that this in turn will raise fundamental questions and problems for all activists.

"But we will pursue proper policing and justice with all our energy."

Dublin TD Aengus O Snodaigh called for reform of the Garda Siochana and for the ultimate creation of an all-Ireland police force.

Delegates earlier passed motions calling for the release of all Republican prisoners and for the Columbia 3 men - currently in hiding - to be brought home.

Prisoners` spokesperson Ann O`Sullivan called for the controversial IRA killers of Det Garda Jerry McCabe to be freed immediately.

Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern had signalled the four men could be freed as part of an agreed peace deal, but has now abandoned this promise.

Ms O`Sullivan also attacked "the sustained political and media frenzy" surrounding the men`s living conditions in Castlerea Prison as "nonsense."

Media reports had suggested that the inmates refused to mix with other prisoners and regularly hired local cabs to deliver their groceries.


IRA Claims 'Will Not Hit SF Vote'

Recent allegations about the IRA will not affect Sinn Fein's vote in elections, Martin McGuinness has said.

Sinn Fein's chief negotiator said he was working with Gerry Adams to remove the IRA from the political equation.

"What I am going to do is create political circumstances which will see the IRA go out of existence," he said.

The party has come under pressure over allegations about IRA involvement in the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Belfast man Robert McCartney.

In recent days, the IRA has expelled three members over Mr McCartney's murder following an internal investigation and Sinn Fein has suspended seven members suspected of involvement.

'Huge efforts'

Speaking on the last day of Sinn Fein's annual conference in Dublin, Mr McGuinness said the party had made "huge efforts" in intensive talks to break the deadlock in Northern Ireland last year.

He told the BBC's Politics Show that Mr Adams and himself "managed to bring about a situation" where the IRA would "put weapons beyond use and do that before Christmas of last year".

Meanwhile, Mr Adams has repeated his appeal for those involved in the murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast six weeks ago to come forward.

Mr McCartney, 33, was murdered on 30 January after a row in a bar. His family claim republicans were involved in the killing and subsequent cover-up.

The Sinn Fein leader told the party's annual conference that Mr McCartney's murder had "sullied the republican cause".

He told the BBC those involved should stop being selfish and come forward.

Speaking on Sunday, he said: "People involved in intimidation should stop it, people who have information should come forward and those who carried out the crime should come forward and admit it - redeem yourselves."

Mr McCartney's four sisters travelled to Dublin to hear Mr Adams' keynote speech on Saturday.

Mr Adams told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost that the killers had "brought the good name of republicanism into the dark".

"I wouldn't have invited the McCartney sisters there to make the remarks I made... unless I was serious," he said.

Mr McCartney's sisters received a warm welcome from delegates at the conference.

Speaking afterwards, his sister Catherine said Mr Adams' speech was encouraging but their priority was to see those responsible brought to justice.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein policing spokesman Gerry Kelly told delegates at the party's conference in Dublin on Sunday that he believed "progress had been made on a new beginning".

He said the party would hold a special Ard Fheis on policing once the DUP had committed to a short time frame for the transfer of policing and justice powers to local ministers and once the British government enacted legislation which allowed this to be done.

He also warned party members that the transferral of these powers carried great responsibility.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/03/06 18:12:06 GMT


SF Likely To Miss Lunch On Capitol Hill

Conor O'Clery in New York

After being barred from the annual White House St Patrick's Day reception for the first time in 10 years, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is also likely to be excluded from the annual speaker's lunch on Capitol Hill, according to sources in the US Republican Party.

Meanwhile EU ambassador to Washington and former taoiseach John Bruton said on US television that Mr Adams was a leader of the IRA and warned that it would be "very, very dangerous" for the Republic if Sinn Féin were to hold the balance of power in the Dáil while tied to a secret army.

If Mr Adams is excluded from the speaker's lunch it will be another indication of a hardening sentiment in the US - among allies and critics alike - against Sinn Féin's continued association with the IRA.

House speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, could not be reached for comment last night, but he is expected to follow the White House precedent in excluding Mr Adams from the March 16th event.

The lunch has become an occasion for the Taoiseach, leading Irish-Americans and Irish party leaders to celebrate St Patrick's Day together on Capitol Hill.

Mr Adams has been a regular guest since 1995 when speaker Newt Gingrich was compelled to include him because President Bill Clinton had invited the Sinn Féin leader for the first time to his White House St Patrick's Day reception.

Sen Edward Kennedy said the president had the right to determine his schedule "and it's the speaker's decision about who will be at the lunch".

In a statement at the weekend which reflected the growing exasperation of Irish-American supporters of the peace process, Mr Kennedy said: "There is no place for a paramilitary organisation and criminal activity in a democratic political party, and I will tell Gerry Adams that".

In an interview with John McLaughlin on the One on One programme on NBC and PBS, Mr Bruton replied "Yes" when asked if he believed Mr Adams was in the top leadership of the IRA.

"We are at risk in Ireland of seeing a Sinn Féin party which is closely linked with a criminal organisation - the IRA is very similar to the Mafia - that we are having mafia-influenced politics being introduced into the Dáil, into our parliament," Mr Bruton said.

"And they want to be in government or they want to hold the balance of power in the Dáil, and that would be very, very dangerous for Ireland."

He said that Ireland had become one of the most successful states in Europe on the basis of being a transparent democracy, but if politicians in power had a secret army calling the shots, "you wouldn't have the sort of confidence to attract investment into Ireland that you've had".

Mr Adams is due to begin a tour of US cities next Sunday and will attend the annual American-Ireland Fund dinner in Washington on March 16th, along with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and leading members of both parties on Capitol Hill.

© The Irish Times


Bank Robbery And Murder Stack The Cards In Favour Of Adams

Recent events have played into Gerry Adams' hands

Duncan Hamilton

TO THE outside observer, it may appear that the Irish republican movement is in meltdown. The fallout from the Northern Bank raid has reinforced the link between the IRA and criminality while the brutal murder of Robert McCartney has rocked the republican community to its core. The subsequent intimidation of that community failed only because of the immense bravery of the McCartney family in pursuing the truth.

Unsurprisingly, the open door to the White House has slammed shut and the Irish government, so long an ally for nationalists and republicans in the peace process, has launched a series of vitriolic attacks on Sinn Fein.

Strangely, however, recent events may have strengthened the position of Gerry Adams. This period of appalling publicity and the seemingly devastating impact on Sinn Fein and the IRA may achieve for Mr Adams what seemed impossible only a few months ago. While the republican movement as a whole has been tarnished, his internal leverage with the IRA and grassroots republicans has been significantly augmented.

Consider the pre-Christmas impasse. The Unionists were refusing to budge over the demand for humiliating photographs of IRA weapons being destroyed. The IRA also refused to budge. However much the Sinn Fein leadership might have wanted to shift the IRA, Mr Adams and Martin McGuinness knew they could not risk a split. The talks failed and the peace process stalled.

Now, by contrast, there is no question that the IRA is going to have to concede further ground on decommissioning if talks are to resume. Polls this weekend suggest that even a majority of Sinn Fein voters in the Republic support that step. What makes that concession more likely now than before is that it is required to rectify IRA misjudgment and ill-discipline rather than to relent to demands from intransigent Unionist politicians. The IRA must now know that the price of political redemption for Sinn Fein is movement from its Army Council on decommissioning.

That can only reinforce Mr Adams’ efforts to accelerate the process of turning the republican movement into a legitimate political force. The events of the past few months are likely to accelerate that process. What is important about the bank robbery and the McCartney murder is not just that they happened but that the vast majority of republicans find them unacceptable.

Gerry Adams’ speech at the annual conference in Dublin was significant. He openly stated that those responsible for the murder of Robert McCartney should be subject to the justice system of Northern Ireland. He went further, declaring he was "working to create the conditions where the IRA did not exist". He explicitly condemned punishment beatings and shootings. He accepted that the IRA Army Council was not the government of Ireland - a small but vitally important departure from republican orthodoxy.

That Mr Adams is able to make these statements with impunity matters. It shows that his leadership of grassroots republicanism remains strong. The killings, bank robberies and political exclusion have forced the republican movement to make a choice and, deep down, I suspect Mr Adams is not unhappy about that. Recent events have achieved for him what he could not have achieved on his own.

THE "comfort zone" of enjoying political and military influence is no longer on offer. Just as the Omagh bombing was a watershed, so these recent activities may be remembered as an important part of the republican journey from paramilitary organisation to exclusively political participant.

There is a great deal for Sinn Fein still to play for. It remains the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland and commands, even after the recent crisis, about 9 per cent of the vote in the Republic. In a PR system, that 9 per cent can make or break a government, which partly explains the increasingly aggressive stance of Fianna Fail.

We could condemn Sinn Fein and the IRA and despair at what looks like a dark hour for the peace process, but that would be wrong. There will never be a solution to the Northern Ireland question without the consent of the republican movement. It will not disappear and it will not walk away. The only question that really matters is how quickly and with what sincerity Sinn Fein and the IRA commit to exclusively peaceful, democratic and lawful activity. Perversely, recent events may have made that transition more likely than ever.


'We Can't Have A Moral Vacuum At The Heart Of The Process'

It is time for Ahern and Blair to act to save the very morality of constitutional politics, David Trimble tells Dan Keenan, Northern News Editor

"The Taoiseach is the leader of the Irish nation and he should, therefore, be giving leadership to all those who regard themselves as Irish nationalists. There is a desperate need, not just for political leadership, but for moral leadership as well.

"We are standing here only a couple of hundred yards from Magennis's bar where Mr McCartney was done to death a few weeks ago. If that sort of situation doesn't call for a leadership that does more than comment, a leadership which acts, what could?"

Speaking privately after an understated centenary meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, David Trimble insists quietly: "We can't have a moral vacuum at the heart of the process. Governments ought to be the guardian of the process, they ought to be the guardian of the legal and moral integrity of the process. I know what they've said in terms of condemnation - I'm saying I think it needs to go further than that."

So there you have it prime minister, there you have it Taoiseach. The appeal could not be clearer and the language could not be simpler from the unionist who sees himself as having done more than any other to secure the Belfast Agreement.

Republicans, he believes, have failed to deliver on the most basic of democratic criteria and are therefore excluding themselves. Other democrats should not have to continue to pay the penalty for Sinn Féin failures and IRA refusals to go away. The British and Irish governments, by keeping a toe in the constitutional door, are ignoring the "moral vacuum at the heart of the process".

With two months before the most important - and as yet undeclared - Westminster election of recent times, the UUP has made it almost painfully clear what it sees at stake.

Trimble's future as an MP and as leader, the UUP's future as a major force for conciliation at the centre of Ulster politics - all these are vulnerable.

Ulster Unionists have gone heavy on the history this weekend.

Theirs is the party which has delivered "Ulster self-determination, the principle of consent, the abolition of Dublin's territorial claim in Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution, the demolition of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, the scrapping of the Maryfield Secretariat, the replacement of the secret and unaccountable Anglo-Irish process with the transparent and accountable North-South Ministerial Council, and bringing an end to decades of violence. These are all achievements that I am proud to say the Ulster Unionist Party negotiated," said Mr Trimble.

It is the DUP, as Mr Trimble's speech laboured, which "gulders" - a pejorative Ulsterism describing a position which is all bark and no bite. And it is the DUP that, gradually and dishonestly, has adopted a position broadly and belatedly supportive of the Belfast Agreement it so loudly deplores.

Trimble's accusations concerning the British and Irish governments already find nodding acceptance among some senior SDLP people.

But then they, too, are preparing to fight for their survival and for their share of the centre ground.

© The Irish Times


Back Our Fight For Justice, Omagh Victims Urge Adams

By Alan Erwin, PA

Omagh bomb victims tonight challenged Gerry Adams to back their quest for justice as he has for murder victim Robert McCartney’s family.

With the republican movement under unprecedented pressure, the Sinn Fein President demanded the IRA gang suspected of killing the father-of-two admit their guilt.

But his support for Mr McCartney’s sisters, who claim the pub brawl stabbing has been covered-up, provoked a new call over the Omagh massacre.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was among 29 people killed in the August 1998 Real IRA explosion, accused Sinn Fein of refusing to encourage those who knew about the attack to help the investigation.

“Gerry Adams seems to have had a change of heart over the Robert McCartney murder,” he insisted.

“Is he willing to treat the Omagh families on an equal basis?”

Dissident republicans carried out the worst single atrocity during 30 years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland, for which no one has ever been convicted.

Yet Mr Gallagher insisted the Sinn Fein leadership’s involvement would be crucial.

“The perpetrators came from within the wider republican family.

“Adams and Sinn Fein are the only people with a strong influence in this area either to give any assistance or any knowledge to the Police Service of Northern Ireland or Garda.”

Earlier, Mr Adams accused the party’s enemies of manipulating the McCartney murder and Northern Bank raid to halt its advancement.

He went on the offensive amid a deepening crisis over the January 30 stabbing and the £26.5 million robbery blamed on the IRA.

He said: “Our opponents are exploiting both the tragic death of Robert McCartney and accusations round bank heists.

“Sinn Fein wasn’t involved in the bank heist. Sinn Fein is not involved in criminality.”

Mr McCartney’s five sisters attended the party’s annual conference in Dublin yesterday – where Mr Adams demanded those involved in the stabbing admit their guilt in a court of law.

The Sinn Fein chief, who has suspended seven party members over the killing, accepted their claims that witnesses have been frightened into silence.

Blaming the attack on alcohol-fuelled machismo, he called for a halt to the intimidation.

The West Belfast MP said: “People who have information come forward, come and admit it. Be men, come forward and redeem yourselves.”

Mr Adams claimed his party’s electoral gains had caused its rivals to use allegations of criminality.

“If Sinn Fein wasn’t being so successful, there wouldn’t be the ganging up that’s going on.

“The other parties feel threatened... because of the growth of Sinn Fein.”

But unionists sneered at his actions, claiming they were motivated by a fear that the murder could destroy republican chances of electoral success.

Sammy Wilson, a Democratic Unionist MLA, said: “The pressure put on the family to attend this stage-managed event is a worrying trait and confirms the reports which I am being given that the frequent visits from IRA/Sinn Fein representatives to the family are more about persuading them to drop their public campaign rather than giving them support.

“Despite the fine words of Adams and Co, the killers are still arrogantly walking the streets and the police are no nearer convictions.

“Witnesses are still afraid to come forward because of intimidation and IRA/Sinn Fein are being saved the embarrassment of having paraded across the newspapers the pictures of thugs – some of whom it is claimed at one time worked in elections for the party.”

And nationalist SDLP Assembly member Dominic Bradley claimed Sinn Fein were running a cynical PR strategy.

He said: “Mr Adams’ party ignored the McCartney murder until forced to do otherwise by the courage of Robert McCartney’s sisters and by weight of public opinion.

“Mr Adams’ party’s statements on the Robert McCartney murder had more to do with protecting its public image than helping the family get justice.”


Gerry Adams: 'It Wasn't An IRA Attack, It Wasn't A Republican Plan - It Was Stupidity Fuelled By Alcohol'

The Monday Interview: Sinn Fein president and MP for West Belfast

By David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent
07 March 2005

Belfast is a small place, but until yesterday no one had thought to ask Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's president, whether he knew any of the republicans caught up in the Robert McCartney affair.

The republican movement has been plunged into crisis by the events of a Sunday night in January when a brawl in a city-centre pub took a lethal turn which culminated in Mr McCartney being stabbed to death.

Since then the IRA and Sinn Fein have made huge efforts to distance and dissociate themselves from the damaging identification with criminality and drunken backstreet murders.

The IRA has expelled three members while on Mr Adams's instructions seven members of Sinn Fein have been suspended from the party. Interviewed at his party's ard-fheis (annual conference) in Dublin yesterday, he readily admitted he knew some of the men.

"I know some of the people," he said, "but I have to say they deserve due process. In my statement when I suspended the people I made the case that it was without prejudice, and that some of them may well be innocent of any offence.

"So I do know some of them, but I can't make judgements. I gave very, very clear instructions to the party that the party shouldn't even attempt to investigate this." The Sinn Fein leader said the seven men had been told they would remain suspended until there was a legal outcome to the case.

"We told the people, 'We want you to give a full and truthful account - if you don't go and give a full and truthful account you'll be expelled. Or if it materialises that you were involved in this then we will also press for expulsion.' But I have to bookmark all of that by saying that these people are saying that they were not involved and so on, and some of them may well be innocent." The strong republican instinct to deal with the McCartney case is evident.

When the five sisters of Robert McCartney accepted an invitation from Mr Adams to attend the conference on Saturday, they were escorted into the hall by Mr Adams and senior republicans including Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly.

A standing ovation for the family was followed by repeated rounds of applause when they were mentioned. Later the sisters indicated that they appreciated the warm welcome, but remained focused on bringing their brother's killers before the courts. Republicans may be sympathetic to them on a human level, but they also know that the McCartney affair has already caused their movement serious damage, and has the capacity to inflict even more.

The incident began with words in a bar, with an alleged insult to some women, then a confrontation with fisticuffs and bottles being thrown. It led shortly afterwards to a vicious confrontation in the street in which a knife was produced and Robert McCartney was fatally injured.

The political effects have been huge, and the republican message is that there will be no hiding place in the movement for anyone involved. "I'm trying to be a bit understanding about all of this," Mr Adams told The Independent. "These were a group of people who were out drinking, who sparked off each other. It wasn't an IRA attack, it wasn't a republican plan, it wasn't an operation.

"It was machoism, it was stupidity, it was brutal and it was obviously fuelled by alcohol. I made the point that if I had been out for a few pints and had I got caught up in that, I would have been redeeming myself the next day. As a republican I would have been for giving an account, for getting myself off the hook, for bringing closure to the family, and for stopping this entire campaign that's going on by sections of the media."

He said he had met the McCartney family several times aand they had indicated that their campaign was a matter of pressure. Some sections of the media had interpreted this as pressurising Sinn Fein, he said, but was actually to pressure "the people who did the killing, or the people who were around that".

Mr Adams said he saw this as falling into two groups, people who may have witnessed what happened in the bar, and those responsible for the killing. "All my statements have been about trying to put pressure on the people who actually did the killing, saying to them - 'Be men about this, it happened, come forward, redeem yourselves, tell what happened.' And then of course to make clear there should be no intimidation," he said.

"We need to be sending a very, very clear message to the killers that this isn't just a McCartney problem. It's the McCartney family and it's republican Ireland telling these people to give themselves up." But one tactic used in the Sinn Fein effort has caused an undercurrent of unease and disapproval in some sections of the republican grass roots.

One of the fundamental rules of republicanism, venerated by centuries of tradition, has been that passing information to the authorities is forbidden. It is a rule that has been lethally enforced.

Yet the McCartney sisters gave the names to Mr Adams of the seven Sinn Fein men they said were in the bar. He passed these to the Northern Ireland police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, knowing she would pass them on to the police. She has duly done so.

Republicans know that their movement has been edging towards involvement with policing, as part of a comprehensive political settlement, but this move has been a bit too close to the bone for some of them.

"There obviously is within some sections of republicanism an outright opposition to the stance I have taken - giving the names to the ombudsman," he said. "It ranges from outright opposition to concern and worry, to people who just think there's no option, the party has to deal with it."

The McCartney affair is just one of Sinn Fein's problems. It has come under attack recently from many quarters and Mr Adams puts much of this down to the party's electoral success.

"We are trying to build Sinn Fein as a radical, progressive, agitational, campaigning alternative," he explained. "There is a deliberate attempt, it's a project, which isn't about criminality, it's about smearing the entire Sinn Fein organisation."

What of the accusations, many of them from Irish government ministers, that the IRA was responsible for the Northern Bank robbery in Belfast and is involved in money-laundering on a vast scale; that he and Mr McGuinness knew about it in advance; that they both sit on the IRA's army council?

On membership of the IRA, he said: "My view is that the majority of people don't care very much about that issue." His stated belief that the IRA did not commit the bank robbery is unchanged. The allegation that he and Mr McGuinness knew about it in advance came from one person, Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach, he said; and Mr Ahern's most senior official had told Mr Adams that the only information they had came from British sources, and what was in the public arena.

Mr Adams insisted: "The reason I'm so adamant about this is that we did not have prior notice. There's no way any electronic device or any other surveillance is going to point that up, because we didn't know." Then he addressed the money-laundering issue, which has attracted much attention since police in the Republic mounted raids in Cork and elsewhere and recovered millions of pounds.

Mr Adams declared: "One person, a Sinn Fein member, was arrested - just one - and then released. Now maybe the guy will get charged, I don't know, but at the moment he's innocent. For that then to be used, the way it has been used, is, I think, just symptomatic of the state of the process at this time."

The process is, in the Sinn Fein president's words, in deep difficulties. When the last round of negotiations failed, late last year, he said he predicted that "they're coming to get us".

"They're trying to target the Sinn Fein project by targeting my credibility," he argued. "If my credibility suffers then the party suffers also. But I'm genuinely not interested in personality politics or all that goes with it.

"The only reason I put up with it is because I do think that I can give some service to this process, and to the broad republican cause. I do want to be in that generation of republicans that brings closure to the conflict. We're up for a deal now. All I can say is that we're up for sorting it out, and it's my conviction that it will be sorted out."


Born 6 October 1948, Belfast
Education St. Mary's Christian Brothers School
Family Married with one son


1964 member of Sinn Fein and Na Fianna Eireann
1978 vice-president of Sinn Fein
1981 member of Northern Ireland Assembly
1983 president of Sinn Fein
1983 MP for Belfast West
1993 loses seat to SDLP
1996 winner of Thorr Peace Prize
1996 member, Northern Ireland Forum
1997 MP for Belfast West
1998 member, New Northern Ireland Assembly for Belfast West

Publications Hope and History: Making Peace in Ireland; Falls Memories: A Belfast Life; Cage Eleven: Writings from Prison


North's Version Of 'Butch Cassidy' Out This Month

Northern Ireland's own version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hits the screens later this month. But instead of the Wild West, the movie Mickybo and Me is set against the backdrop of the Troubles.

It follows the adventures of Jonjo and Mickybo, two youngsters from either side of the sectarian divide whose lives change when they see the iconic film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Set in 1970 when Belfast resembled a latter-day Dodge City, the two pals re-enact scenes from the Hollywood blockbuster.

Getting into trouble, the pair flee the city towards the Border, recreating the most famous scene, where Butch and Sundance jump off that cliff.

Mickybo and Me is the debut feature of Belfast man Terry Loane, who also wrote the screenplay. Terry was determined to make the film after designing the world premiere production of Owen McCafferty's award-winning play Mojo Mickybo.

After securing the rights for the stage play from McCafferty, he sent his first draft to local producer Mark Huffam. "Mark is a very astute, internationally renowned producer. Being from Northern Ireland, I thought he might identify personally with the period and the storyline," said Terry.

"Luckily he shared my passion for the material and encouraged me to keep writing."

Filmed on location in Northern Ireland, the movie features Niall Wright (12) as Jonjo and John-Jo McNeill as Mickybo.

They were chosen after exhaustive auditions involving more than 900 boys, many with no acting experience. Terry said his relationship with the two young leads was vital in making the film a success.

"Working with Niall and John-Jo has always been exhilarating and rewarding," he said. "They integrated with the whole crew and worked incredibly hard. It was a great adventure for them, but each comes from quite a big family, so their feet were never allowed to leave the ground."

The film also features a strong cast of adult performers including Julie Walters, no stranger to a Belfast accent after her performance in Titanic Town.

Julie, who plays Mickybo's mother, said: "Mickybo and Me is shot from the children's point of view, so I'm Mickybo's ma as far as everybody's concerned and that's all you need to know really. She's got loads of troubles, but she's got loads of spirit too."

Irish actors Ciarán Hinds, Adrian Dunbar and Susan Lynch provide strong support, with Gina McKee, award- winning actress from Our Friends in the North, who plays Jonjo's mum.

The film is released throughout Ireland on March 25th. - (PA)

© The Irish Times

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