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March 23, 2005

Finucane Cover-Up Intolerable

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Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Mar 2005

News about Ireland & the Irish

IN 03/22/05 Finucane Cover-Up Act Creates Intolerable Situation
BT 03/23/05 Ten Rights Bodies Slam Probes Bill
BT 03/23/05 Easter Parade Leads To Fears Of Violence
NL 03/23/05 Plans To Cancel Republican Parade
SM 03/23/05 Minister Demands Republican Co-Operation Over Inquiry
IO 03/23/05 SDLP Man's Travel Agency Helped Arrange McCartneys’ US Visit
BT 03/23/05 DUP 'Regained Ground'
IO 03/23/05 Paisley Sceptical About IRA Willingness To End Criminality
BT 03/23/05 80% Of Catholic Applicants Join PSNI
UT 03/23/05 50/50 'Discriminatory' But Staying
BT 03/23/05 Gardai Warned Against Serving In Ulster
BT 03/23/05 Fury At Education Cutbacks
BT 03/23/05 The Tale Of Two Mayors
BT 03/23/05 Flu Bug: 36,000 May Die


Cover-Up Act Creates Intolerable Situation

(Susan McKay, Irish News)

Impossible, impossible, impossible. Unfortunate, unfair, unnecessary and intolerable. These are the words chosen by Judge Peter Cory to respond to what Tony Blair is trying to do to the public inquiry into collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane. Remember what he said when asked what he'd do if the British tried to scupper his recommendations?

He quoted his young grandson, who, when thwarted, would announce that he was going to his room and he was going to kick and scream and turn blue.

Judge Cory threatened to "make a lot of noise". He's started.

It was impossible, he wrote, for there to be a "meaningful inquiry" under Tony Blair's proposed new Public Inquiries Act, currently being rushed through Parliament. Impossible for it to do its work and impossible for any self-respecting judge to preside over it. It was unfortunate the new law had been proposed. It was unfair to "change the ground rules at this stage". It was unnecessary because the courts would protect the "security of the realm" – the ostensible reason for the new law.

And, the judge concludes: "It really creates an intolerable Alice in Wonderland situation."

Judge Cory's furious and scathing letter was part, last week, of a US congressional hearing of the International Relations Committee in Washington. It follows the statement by Lord Savile that he wouldn't have taken on the Bloody Sunday inquiry if it had been held under the terms of the new law. The British lord chief justice has also expressed concern. This law would allow the British government – under investigation, remember, for colluding in murder – to withhold information and to overrule at every turn the judge conducting the inquiry.

Geraldine Finucane, Pat Finucane's brave and indefatigable widow, has been campaigning for this inquiry for the 16 years that have passed since UDA gunmen, most, if not all, of whom were also British agents, murdered him.

She said at the hearing last week, "I will resist this proposed law because I want to know the truth about the murder of my husband. I refuse to allow the British government to take away the truth as easily as it took away Pat's life."

Judge Cory isn't going to let them get away with this either. When they delayed publishing his reports he personally phoned the families to brief them.

Now he is accusing them of bad faith at Weston Park in 2001. They agreed then, he insists, to a "true public inquiry" under the old law, and that agreement is binding.

The British finally announced four of the five inquiries he'd called for but not in the Finucane case. Criminal prosecutions had to be finished first, they claimed. By the time fall-guy Ken Barrett was convicted of the murder they had a law ready to thwart the inquiry they then announced. Impossible, unfair, unfortunate, unnecessary and, above all, intolerable.

Geraldine Finucane didn't get the media attention she deserved last week because all eyes were on the McCartney sisters. However, it is understood that the taoiseach has persuaded the US president to put pressure on British prime minister to do the right thing and drop this disgraceful Cover-Up Act.

The Belfast republicans who have taken to jeering at the McCartneys for turning to Bush as their champion should reflect on this. Yes, he is an international menace to freedom, democracy and human rights. He's also the most powerful man in the world and Gerry Adams would have been happy to shake his hand – again – had he been asked.

Judge Cory called collusion, among other things, "conniving with those who committed the murder by turning a blind eye". That applies equally to the republican movement's behaviour in relation to the McCartney murder.

Speaking of hypocrisy and of murder, the PSNI's response to questions about rumoured Loyalist Volunteer Force involvement in the murder of Bangor woman Lisa Dorrian deserves to be noted.

"Speculation isn't helpful," the detective in charge said. "What we want to deal with is facts and evidence."

Hardly the view taken by his boss in relation to the Northern Bank.

The LVF is closely bound up with the UDA which was closely bound up with the British intelligence services when it murdered Pat Finucane.

If it is still involved in murder, we need to know, just as we need to know about the IRA's role in the McCartney case and the British government's in the Finucane case. We all need to emulate Judge Cory's grandson. We need to make a lot of noise.

March 23, 2005

This article appeared first in the March 22, 2005 edition of the Irish News.
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Ten Rights Bodies Slam Probes Bill

By Chris Thornton
23 March 2005

Ten human rights organisations have criticised the Government's plans for greater secrecy powers over public inquiries, including the planned investigation into collusion around the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

In a joint statement issued yesterday, the groups said the Inquiries Bill - which will give Ministers greater powers to withhold information - will be "highly detrimental" to the proper investigation of controversial cases if it is passed by Parliament.

The controversial bill has already been criticised by the family of Mr Finucane, the Irish government, US envoy Mitchell Reiss and key judicial figures.

After approving collusion inquiries into the killings of Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright last year, the Government announced that it would change the ground rules for inquiries before looking into Mr Finucane's death.

Yesterday's statement was issued by Amnesty International, British-Irish Rights Watch, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Human Rights First, the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, INQUEST JUSTICE, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, the Law Society of England and Wales, the Pat Finucane Centre and the Scottish Human Rights Centre.

"An inquiry held under the Bill as currently drafted would not be effective, independent, impartial or thorough, nor would the evidence presented to it be subject to sufficient public scrutiny," the statement said.

"Moreover, the passage of the Inquiries Bill in its current form would do great harm to the tradition of public inquiries in the UK and would undermine the important principles of accountability and transparency.

"In order to command public confidence, it is absolutely necessary that an inquiries system permit close independent public scrutiny and provide for the active participation of the relevant victims.

"The Inquiries Bill does not do this."

The statement said that if enacted, the bill will "alter fundamentally the system for establishing and running inquiries into issues of great public importance in the UK, including allegations of serious human rights violations".

The groups said the "fundamental problem" with the proposed law is "its shift in emphasis towards inquiries established and largely controlled by Government Ministers".

"These clauses grant broad powers to the Minister establishing an inquiry on issues such as the setting of the terms of reference, restrictions on funding for an inquiry, suspension or termination of an inquiry, restrictions on public access to inquiry proceedings and to evidence submitted to an inquiry, and restrictions on public access to the final report of an inquiry," the statement goes on to add.


Easter Parade Leads To Fears Of Violence

Republican march sparks warning of sectarian dangers

By Jonathan McCambridge
23 March 2005

Loyalists today warned that north Belfast could be facing a weekend of violence as tensions rise following a sectarian attack on a 12-year-old girl.

The Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) said that a republican Easter commemoration parade this weekend could push simmering sectarian tensions in the north of the city beyond boiling point.

On Sunday, 12-year-old Megan Brown was hospitalised after she was beaten and kicked by a crowd of Protestant youths from the White City area.

John Montgomery, of the UDA-linked UPRG, said the attack followed anger after the Parades Commission had introduced restrictions on a Whitewell Defenders fund-raising march last month.

Loyalists were furious when the march, which was designed to raise money for the Tsunami appeal, was made to stop at Graymount Park.

This Saturday the Greencastle Easter Commemoration Parade, celebrating the 1916 Easter Rising, will pass along the Whitewell Road past the loyalist White City area.

Mr Montgomery said: "We have the republican Easter march this Saturday which will go right past the White City.

"We fear there will be widespread violence which will reverberate around all of north Belfast.

"White City is currently a touch-paper waiting to be lit.

"We are working very hard to keep tensions down and to try and keep a lid on it, but this Easter march is like a red rag to a bull.

"What happened on Sunday was wrong and we condemn it, but it is all part of the anger the Protestant community feel."

Mr Montgomery claimed there had been an ongoing campaign of intimidation and attacks on Protestant White City residents by nationalists.

The Parades Commission has ruled that this Saturday's parade should not pass along Serpentine Gardens and has banned the Sean McIlvenna Republican Flute Band from taking part.

It has also advised organisers that no paramilitary clothing should be worn by anyone taking part in the parade.

The Parades Commission determination said: "The Commissioner has asked the organiser to show sensitivity with regard to flags carried when passing close to sensitive interface areas."

Sinn Fein North Belfast councillor David Kennedy last night rejected the UPRG claims.

"The planned march is completely contained within the nationalist area, which is in stark contrast to the loyalist tsunami fundraiser march, which showed complete disregard for the Parades Commission ruling," he said.


Plans To Cancel Republican Parade

By Philip Bradfield
Wednesday 23rd March 2005

REPUBLICANS said yesterday they are to cancel a highly controversial Easter Sunday parade in Newcastle, Co Down - out of consideration for a Presbyterian church service.

The parade was aiming to commemorate two teenage IRA members who were killed in the 1970s when a bomb exploded as they were transporting it through the town.

But after the Parades Commission pulled it forward from 3pm to midday, Sinn Fein said they were "99 per cent" sure they will abandon it, largely because of Protestant and Catholic church services on at the same time.

"We would see our parade could be especially offensive to the Protestant church members," a SF spokesman said, claiming they had spoken with the Presbyterian church, among others, over the matter.

However DUP MLA Jim Wells rubbished the claim: "The real reason for stopping this parade is logistical and nothing to do with neighbourhood sensitivities.

"The same bands were due to parade in Newry at midday, Newcastle at 3pm and then Castlewellan at 4pm. But they can't manage all these now their Newcastle leg has been pulled forward."

SDLP MLA Margaret Ritchie is opposed to all parades but said the main aim of this one was "to create tension and confrontation" against the wishes of traders on both sides of the community.

Mr Wells accused the Commission of double standards: "There were substantial numbers of objections from right across the community but it was still permitted.

"In contrast, the Commission has steadfastly refused to allow the Red Hand Defenders their long-established parade through an exclusively loyalist part of Downpatrick because of a handful of republican objections."

A Commission spokesman said the direction of the parade had been changed to go with traffic and it had been brought forward from 3pm to 12 noon in accordance with complaints last year.

Sinn Fein claimed the Commission now refuses to meet them and said they would apply for a judicial review.


Minister Demands Republican Co-Operation Over Inquiry

By Senan Hogan, PA

The republican movement must give full co-operation to a public inquiry into alleged garda collusion in the IRA killing of two RUC officers in 1989, a minister said today.

Irish Justice Minster Michael McDowell called on Sinn Fein and the IRA to state publicly if they would allow relevant members to give evidence to the Tribunal.

Mr McDowell opened a Dail parliament debate today into the double-killing of Special Branch officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan, who died in a hail of bullets in South Armagh.

They were returning from a security meeting at Dundalk Garda Station at the time and it has been alleged that a garda tipped off the IRA on the officers’ movements.

Mr McDowell said: “I challenge people in the IRA and I challenge Sinn Fein here in this House to state clearly that there will be co-operation with this Tribunal.

“Nothing less than full co-operation is demanded and nothing less than full co-operation is expected.”

He said that he had full confidence that gardai and other State institutions would also assist fully to help shed light on the issue.

He warned the republican movement that they couldn’t have it both ways by demanding truth and justice into alleged British collusion in the deaths of Nationalists but refusing to co-operating with this Tribunal on this issue.

The public inquiry was recommended by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory in a report presented to the British and Irish governments in 2003.

Mr McDowell explained that testimony given to the Tribunal could not be used as evidence in a subsequent criminal prosecution.

A senior judge will be appointed later today to chair the sworn inquiry.

Supporting today’s motion, Sinn Fein parliamentary leader Caoimhghin O’Caolain said the party favoured a process of truth recovery.

He added: “Anyone with relevant information should come forward to assist this inquiry.”

But he said it was outrageous there there had still been no public inquiry into the death of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane or the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

“There should be no hierarchy of victims,” he said.

Supporting the motion, Fine Gael’s justice spokesman Jim O’Keeffe described the RUC officers as “two brave Irishmen who were set upon by a murderous mob of thugs“.

Labour party justice spokesman Joe Costello said: “It is reasonable to expect that all people that can shed light on the issues will come forward and give evidence.”

“Sinn Fein and the IRA are the only people who can conclusively determine the outcomes of this Tribunal.”


SDLP Man's Travel Agency Helped Arrange McCartneys’ US Visit

23/03/2005 - 08:14:46

A company part-owned by a senior SDLP figure reportedly helped arrange the McCartney family's visit to the United States last week.

The sisters and fiancee of murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney undertook the visit as part of their campaign to have the 33-year-old's killers brought to justice.

Reports this morning claimed that the McCartneys' flights were booked by a travel agency part-owned by SDLP deputy leader Alisdair McDonnell, who authorised credit approval to pay for the flights.

The reports said another SDLP man also acted as an ad hoc press officer for the McCartneys while they were in Washington.

Until now, the SDLP had denied any involvement in the McCartney's campaign, which has led to a backlash against the party's main rival, Sinn Féin.


DUP 'Regained Ground'

By Chris Thornton
23 March 2005

DUP leader Ian Paisley has claimed his party has "regained ground for unionism" as he launched a pre-election leaflet.

"The Democratic Unionist Party is now the leading party within unionism," the North Antrim MP said at the launch of 'Leading for Ulster: Our Record of Achievement'.

"It is no coincidence that for the first time in a generation it is unionists who are confident and Sinn Fein/IRA who are under pressure.

"Nationalists are divided and three governments support the DUP's view on the draft comprehensive agreement with Sinn Fein-IRA and the SDLP refusing to accept it," Mr Paisley said.

"The dark days of the David Trimble leading unionism with Ulster enduring constant concession to Sinn Fein/IRA, a strong pan-nationalist front and relentless pressure from London, Dublin and Washington are over."


Paisley Sceptical About IRA Willingness To End Criminality
2005-03-23 07:40:01+00

DUP leader Ian Paisley has said he does not expect the republican movement to end its alleged involvement in criminality.

Dr Paisley has already insisted his party will not be willing to work with Sinn Féin in government unless this alleged criminality is brought to a verifiable end.

Speaking last night, he said: "I have no faith whatsoever now in any way in seeing a change because their deeds have been so despicable and actually the record they have had over the murder of Mr McCartney shows exactly what they are - their heart is rotten to the core."


80% Of Catholic Applicants Join PSNI

Parties at odds over recruitment

By Geraldine Mulholland
23 March 2005

Four out of five Catholic applicants to the PSNI have been successful in obtaining jobs, according to new figures.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, today claimed that it was "totally and utterly unacceptable" that suitably qualified Catholic applicants to the PSNI were three times more likely to be recruited than their Protestant counterparts.

But Pat Ramsey of the SDLP welcomed "equal representation" in the service and urged all political parties to act as guardians for young people wishing to pursue a career in policing.

Updated recruitment figures came to light following a parliamentary question put to NIO Minister Ian Pearson by Mr Campbell.

Mr Pearson revealed that in PSNI trainee constable competitions, individuals are appointed from the pool of suitably qualified candidates at an equal ratio of those from a Catholic community background and those from a non-Catholic community background.

He said: "I am advised that, as at January 28, 2005, 3,243 candidates from a non-Catholic community background have reached the pool of suitably qualified candidates; of this number 2,427 have been unsuccessful and 816 have been appointed. For the same period, 1,089 candidates from a Catholic community background have reached the pool of suitably qualified candidates; of this number 279 have been unsuccessful and 810 have been appointed.

"Of the 2,706 candidates deemed suitably qualified but not appointed, only 408 were rejected because of the policy of equal recruitment. The remaining 2,298 applicants would still have failed to be appointed had the temporary 50:50 provisions not been applied."

But DUP MP, Mr Campbell, said the figures proved what he had been saying for years.

Mr Campbell said: "Looking at the figures provided, it means that only a quarter of non-Catholic applicants have been successful, whereas around 80% of Catholics have been successful which means that a Catholic applicant is three times more likely to be successful than a Protestant."

He added: "I will now table another question asking for a breakdown of the religious background of the 408 applicants rejected on the 50:50 rule."

SDLP MLA Mr Ramsey, however, said the figures must be welcomed.

He said: "The whole essence of Patten was for a new police service in Northern Ireland that would be much more representative than the RUC. Equality and proper representation for Catholics and nationalists is something we have striven for so we have to regard these figures as a success but which must continue.

"All political parties must be guardians for the young men and women who wish to pursue a career in policing."


50/50 'Discriminatory' But Staying

Calls to abolish the 50/50 recruitment policy for the Police Service of Northern Ireland were dismissed by the British government today.

Northern Ireland minister Ian Pearson said the split between Catholic and non-Catholic recruits was vital to correct an historical imbalance.

He added that only 440 Protestants had been discriminated against since the measures were introduced in 2001.

Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP Lagan Valley) had protested that 80% of Catholic applicants were successful compared with 25% of Protestants.

The public did not care what religion police officers were, he argued.

"What matters is we recruit the best police officers to do the job."

Mr Donaldson welcomed the increase in Catholic recruits, but demanded: "Isn`t it time the Government scrapped discrimination against the Protestant community?"

Mr Pearson replied: "I acknowledge that 50/50 recruitment is discriminatory. Indeed Parliament acknowledged that when it passed this measure.

"It is an exceptional means of addressing an exceptional problem. The Government strongly believes that these temporary provisions are justified to rectify an acute historical imbalance in the composition of the police force in Northern Ireland."

Iris Robinson (DUP Strangford) said Protestant candidates faced "appalling discrimination" when less qualified Catholics were accepted and they were not.

"These highly qualified Protestants should automatically go into a central pool without having to go through the whole costly recruitment process," she argued.

Mr Pearson said there had been 44,000 applications to join the PSNI since 2001.

"Our figures in terms of the discrimination against the Protestant community by the policy say that to date we reckon 440 people have been discriminated against," he added.

This was "unfortunate" for those concerned but necessary to address the historical imbalance, he reiterated.


Gardai Warned Against Serving In Ulster

By Kim Kelly
23 March 2005

Police inspectors and sergeants in the Republic have been advised not to participate in an historic cross-border scheme which allows gardai to serve in Northern Ireland.

At the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors concerns over the safety of police officers were raised.

AGSI president Joe Dirwan said he was concerned about security threats to Garda officers who participated in exchanges with the PSNI.

The association said it had advised sergeants and inspectors, who were in Kilkenny yesterday for the conference, not to participate in the scheme.

"When members move northwards their protection and their security has to be looked after and likewise when they move from north to south. This is as serious issue that needs to be addressed," he said.

The AGSI said it is withdrawing co-operation from the historic protocol which was signed last month by Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy and PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

Mr Dirwan said there had not been a satisfactory agreement on pay for those participating in the scheme.

It is understood that no member of the Garda or the PSNI has yet been seconded to either force.

But Mr Conroy said he fully supported the cross-border exchange programme and added that he had raised the issue of safety with Mr Orde.

"I'm satisfied that he or I have no information or intelligence that any of our members would be endangered from serving in Northern Ireland," he said.

The agreement, which was the result of a proposal in the Patten Report in 1999, was signed at Hillsborough Castle in February.

It marked unprecedented cooperation between the two police forces and allowed officers from one force to be seconded to the other for up to three years.


Fury At Education Cutbacks

Ten councillors quit from boards

By Claire Regan
23 March 2005

The finance crisis engulfing Northern Ireland's education sector reached its lowest ebb today as multi-million pound cutbacks to school services sparked resignations and threats of strike action.

As the Western Education and Library Board (WELB) was due to meet today to vote on controversial cuts to stem a funding shortage, the fall out from budget slashes reluctantly forced through by three others intensified.

A total of 10 councillors last night resigned from the Belfast and North Eastern boards in protest over the cuts which will hit special education and other vital front line services such as school meals, transport and maintenance.

Two SDLP councillors, four Sinn Fein, one DUP councillor and an Ulster Unionist resigned from the Belfast board yesterday after a package of cuts worth £7m was narrowly forced through. Vice-chairman Jim Rodgers said he too was "seriously reconsidering" his position.

Two more followed suit in Antrim where the North Eastern board, which agreed to cuts of more than £6m last week, decided to close the town's Massereene Community College.

Ulster Unionist councillor Adrian Watson and board colleague Arthur Templeton walked out of the monthly meeting, after it was agreed the school should close in August next year.

And a decision by the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) on Monday to vote through multi-million pound cutbacks had led to staff members of union Nipsa voting for strike action in the event of compulsory redundancies.

As the crisis mounted, BELB member and the Dean of Belfast, Houston McKelvey, warned job losses are now inevitable.

"There's no doubt there's going to be redundancies among teachers and support staff. I can't see any other way," he said.

A prominent figure in Ulster's education system over the past two decades, Dean McKelvey was highly critical of Education Minister Barry Gardiner.

"I have never come across any Minister of Education from any party that has acted in the manner of the present one.

"I think that he has to accept the fact that he has not provided, in the opinion of people who have a lot more experience of education in Northern Ireland than he has, adequate funds for the job."

Mr Gardiner has come in for severe and wide-ranging criticism from many members of each of the education boards as they set budgets under the threat that a commissioner will be sent in to do the job instead.


The Tale Of Two Mayors

Andrea Clements talks to the Alliance mayor of Belfast and the Sinn Fein mayor of Derry about their year in office.

23 March 2005

Tom Ekin, 64, has been a Belfast City councillor since 1997. a director of Weaver's Court, he is married to Ann and has four daughters.

How much do you feel you have achieved in the role of lord mayor so far?

My theme for the year is 'Unlocking our potential' and I have an acronym - LASER - which stands for leadership, attractiveness of the city, safety, efficiency and relationships, all issues I think we should be working on.

Under the leadership heading, I've initiated an anti-racist group called 'Home from Home' and I've brought people together from interface areas in an attempt to find reasonably quick fixes to problems, as well as things that are dreams but still worth working towards.

I also thought it was important to show leadership in the Holy Land situation (which has seen anti-social student behaviour). I recently called at seven houses in the area to talk to students in person and to tell them: "You're annoying people around here, please stop."

How challenging do you find the role?

Even on a recent Sunday I was nearly 10 hours on the hoof with council work. But it was fun and interesting.

I couldn't fulfil the role if I was in full-time employment but, for six months, my daughter is acting as interim manager of Weaver's Court, the business of which I'm a director, so that frees me up.

How well do you think the council works to solve problems in the city?

Often on the council, when you see a problem, the immediate reaction is to organise a committee, and what do committees do? They spend a lot of time worrying about how they are going to do something and it takes them forever.

Things move so quickly and sometimes, as with the situation in the Holy Land, it's best to just go and do something.

Another thing I've tried to do but which has failed, is to get the leaders of all the party groups to come and discuss with me, non-politically, contentious issues, such as the efficiency of running the council.

Everybody knows that having over 400 meetings a year to run a little council is ludicrous.

Officers, and some members, say we could cut that in half and it would free people up to do other things.

Do councillors from different parties put aside their political differences to work for the good of the city?

No. They pretend they do, but on the big issues they don't.

Issues like cutting the overtime we pay means taking a hard decision and they're not prepared to do that - but that's what management is about.

I feel the officers are running the place because there's not enough political leadership.

If we are a little city which wants to grow bigger and be more dynamic, we are dragging a ball and chain behind us by not getting the organisation sorted.

How much do your political beliefs influence your work?

Zero. I'm pragmatic and want to see progress. People say Alliance sit on the fence but we step on a tightrope, where the wind blows pretty strong.

We make hard decisions and let people off the hook to some extent.

Does your background as a businessman help when it comes to making financial decisions?

It has its advantages. I'm not a knife-wielding businessman but I look at things in a different way.

Whereas the Indian and Chinese nations are highly trained and highly motivated, I feel we are stuck in bureaucracy.

We have a higher percentage of people employed in public service here than anywhere else and we pay them up to 20% more than the private sectors - some in the council are paid up to £80,000.

But I feel people who are making things and selling things should be rewarded.

What sort of a Lord Mayor would you like to be remembered as?

I asked David Ervine to sign a copy of his biography for me and he wrote -

"To a man who genuinely tries to make a difference" - I couldn't beat that.

What do you think about plans to cut the number of councils in Northern Ireland?

It should be done. Councils, like health and education boards, are too heavily bureaucratised.

It would cut down on councillors, but the problem is that it would probably cut out the Alliance and the PUP and, in my view, some of the best-thinking and decision-making comes from those parties.

But it would tighten up administration and services would be delivered more quickly with a lot less cost involved.

How would you like to see Belfast in 10 years time?

I'd like to see it less divided with no peace walls and no interfaces and a reflection of much greater tolerance in everyone.

I'd like to see clean pavements without having to spend £10 million a year, and a higher standard of architecture in new buildings.

I hope the young and old will be able to walk the streets without scaring each other.

Elected to Derry City Council in 1989, Gearóid Ó hEára, 51, is the director of cultural organisation an galearas. he is divorced and has four children.

How much do you feel you have achieved in the role of mayor so far?

At the beginning of the year, I set out in my manifesto that I wanted to be involved in outreach with the Protestant community.

I think I've made massive inroads with that as I've met with many sections of the Protestant/unionist community and have got quite a good hearing.

I've also met with minority groups in the city including the Chinese, Polish, Sikhs and the gay communities in an attempt to bring them into the cultural life of the city .

How challenging do you find the role?

It's extremely intensive and it can take up to 16 hours a day.

I've taken a year out of my job as director of a cultural organisation - I couldn't do it any other way.

My role is mostly ceremonial, but I think you can make a difference if you become involved in the running of the city as I have done.

The down side is that I've had no time for my hobbies but, as mayor, you get a view of the city you would never get as a councillor.

To get an overview of all that's going on, and to be involved and meet the people involved, is rewarding.

How well do you think the council works to solve problems in the city?

The big problems concern infrastructure to do with the road and rail networks and the airport.

I've been heavily involved in lobbying central government and have met with Belfast's Lord Mayor Tom Ekin in trying to solve those problems right across the north.

I've also met with government ministers on a variety of issues, including rates.

How well do councillors put aside their political differences to work together for the good of the city?

There are 24 nationalists and six unionists and we work quite well.

I chair a strategic review group which has been working on the rates for almost a year, trying to tighten up how the council is run - its internal mechanisms.

We have had a serious look at overtime and absenteeism and we are looking hard at the management and departmental structures.

As a result of taking a serious look at how we do business, we have managed to save £563,000 on our core costs. We hope to save £1.5 million over the next three years.

We have also created a partnership between local government, the Chamber of Commerce and the further and higher education sector to create a civic regeneration committee which meets to discuss issues of relevance to everyone in the city.

How much do your own political beliefs affect your work?

I don't think you can leave your politics behind but, in the role of First Citizen, you do have to rise above party politics on behalf of all the people in the city, so far as that is possible.

So far I think I've managed to do that. In December I organised a civic remembrance event where we had an inclusive ceremony of remembrance for everybody who had died from the city as a result of conflict and unveiled a plaque.

It was very dignified and although, predictably, there was some opposition from the DUP, a wide cross section of the community turned up to support the event including ministers from the Protestant community.

What do you think of plans to cut the number of councils in Northern Ireland?

While there's a temptation for people to guard their own backyard and take a parochial view, there's no question that we are over-governed and the rationalisation of the number of councils and restoration of powers to councils is a good thing.

Derry is interested in a significant land mass to make the council more sustainable.

I think we could do away with over 200 quangos here and devolve powers to councils. Planning powers and control of education and health should go back to local governments.

How would you like to see your city in 10 years?

I'd like to see infrastructure issues solved, and a dual carriageway and high speed rail link between Belfast and Derry.

Support for our regional airport, which we fund out of local rates, is critical to inward investment.

The ownership of the city's walls currently lies with the Honourable Irish Society but I'd like to see them restored to the people so we can market them as an asset in terms of tourism.

I've been involved in a schools initiative dealing with citizenship and respect for diversity, and part of that has been to acknowledge the part ethnic minorities play in the city.

I hope the next generation of children in Derry will carry those values forward.


Flu Bug: 36,000 May Die

Huge Ulster death toll likely if pandemic hits

By Brian Hutton
23 March 2005

Northern Ireland should be prepared for up to 36,000 deaths if a bird flu pandemic strikes, a health expert warned last night.

Dr Lorraine Doherty, the Department of Health's Senior Medical Officer on Communicable Diseases, said that "it's not matter of if, but when the outbreak will strike."

Dr Doherty's chilling prediction came just hours after a similar alert from a senior Government official, who told a security conference in London that up to 750,000 deaths could result across the UK.

Although Northern Ireland's health chiefs have already put in place emergency plans to tackle a pandemic, no vaccine supplies are immediately available.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed recently that a vaccine for Avian Flu would probably take around six months to develop and produce.

"The Department has been gearing up for this for over a year," Dr Doherty said last night.

"We've been working with health boards and trusts are getting themselves ready."

Dr Doherty revealed that the Department has predicted- using records held on previous pandemics - that between 7,000 and 36,000 people could die in Northern Ireland in the event of an outbreak.

"We have been stockpiling anti-viral drugs, which offer some protection, but we can't develop a vaccine for at least six months after the event of an outbreak," she said.

She added: "We are due to have one (an outbreak) but it's impossible to predict when it will strike. The level of global anxiety is high at the moment."

Meanwhile, a senior diplomat told a security conference in London yesterday that between 20,000 and 750,000 extra deaths could result if a pandemic hit the UK.

He also warned of potentially devastating consequences on the economy, with up to 25% of the population forced to take off work through sickness.

The Government official's comments, made to an international forum at Chatham House, come after one of the UK's leading scientists warned that the Government has been "optimistic" in its assumptions on the potential problem.

Bird flu originated in chickens in Asia and was previously thought only to pass to humans from birds. So far, the disease has been contained through the killing of millions of chickens in south east Asia.

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