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March 22, 2005

Human Rights Groups Slam British Public Inquiries

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Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Mar 2005

News about Ireland & the Irish

IO 03/22/05
Rights Groups Slam British Restrictions On Public Inquiries
BT 03/22/05 Garda Still To Link Cash To Ulster Raid
SF 03/22/05 Green Paper On Irish Unity Is Relevant & Long Overdue
BT 03/22/05 Fresh Material For McCartney Probe
BT 03/22/05 Council To Take Name Issue To Court
GT 03/22/05 Murder Hunt After Attack Outside Of AOH Club
UT 03/22/05 Administration Plans Unveiled For NI
SF 03/22/05 Local Govnt Change Must Be Based On Equality Checks & Balances
SF 03/22/05 Eamon Mac Thomais Book Relaunched For Rising Anniversary

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Rights Groups Slam British Restrictions On Public Inquiries
2005-03-22 13:30:02+00

Eleven human rights groups have joined forces to condemn the British government's proposed new legislation to govern public inquiries.

The groups, which include Amnesty International, have signed a statement saying the proposed Inquiries Bill currently before the House of Commons in London would restrict the independence of public inquiries.

They claimed the legislation would fundamentally alter the running of investigations into questions of great public importance and would destroy public confidence in such inquiries.

The main problem, they said, was a proposal to give control to government ministers, thereby compromising the independence of inquiry chairpersons.

The Inquiries Bill was introduced as the British government came under increased pressure to hold a public inquiry into allegations of security force collusion in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

Concerns have already been raised by the Finucane family, who are refusing to co-operate with the planned inquiry into the 1989 murder if it is held under the terms of the new legislation.

The Finucanes have condemned moves to hold some of the inquiry in private for national security reasons, saying it will lead to a suppression of the truth.


Garda Still To Link Cash To Ulster Raid

Mystery of seized £3m

By Brian Hutton
22 March 2005

The Garda has not yet linked cash seized in a series of raids in the Republic over a month ago to the Northern Bank robbery, it was confirmed last night.

The admission appeared to be at odds with claims by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that police were satisfied cash recovered in Cork and Dublin was connected to the pre-Christmas £26.5m heist in Belfast.

Almost £3m in sterling - including £60,000 in Northern Bank notes - was seized by gardai as part of a money-laundering probe in February.

But despite weeks of forensic and technical tests, there has been no confirmation of any links between the confiscated cash and the December robbery at the Northern Bank's headquarters.

In an interview for BBC's Hearts And Minds programme, Mr Ahern said police are certain that the cash "was part of the haul from the North".

He added: "Before I went to the United States, the position of the gardai was that they had done an enormous amount of forensic tests.

"But they are quite satisfied - professionally, absolutely and totally satisfied - as I understand it, that this money was part of the haul from the North."

However, gardai in Dublin last night refused to confirm the statement.

A Garda spokeswoman said: "There's no further development in that investigation."

Meanwhile, Mr Ahern yesterday said he had no clear evidence that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were members of the IRA's 'army council'.

In an interview with Channel Four news, broadcast last night, Mr Ahern was asked if he believed both men to be on the army council.

He said: "I have said that is a view that I don't disagree with, but I don't have the evidence to show it.

"And, of course, it's denied by Sinn Fein and it's denied by them. Until I can see clear evidence, I can never say yes to that question - I've never seen clear evidence."

The Republic's Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, had previously named both politicians - and party colleague Martin Ferris - as members of the army council.

He made the allegation based on intelligence available to him as Justice Minister, he said. All three deny the allegation.


Green Paper On Irish Unity Is Relevant & Long Overdue

Published: 22 March, 2005

Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin has described Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern's comment that he doesn't believe that a Green Paper on Irish unity would be relevant as "a bizarre comment from a senior representative of the largest republican party on the island". Mr. McLaughlin said "a Green Paper on Irish unity is relevant, essential and long overdue."

Mr. McLaughlin said:

"Dermot Ahern's comments in Newry last night speak volumes about the Irish government's attitude towards Irish unity. It is bizarre that a senior representative of the largest republican party on the island would oppose efforts to transform the aspiration for Irish unity into a real goal. Rather than being 'irrelevant' discussing and planning for Irish unity should be a priority for all nationalist and republican parties.

"These are difficult times in the peace process and of course our primary focus has to be on moving out of the current crisis. But we need to do more than that. We need to put the peace process back on track and ensure that what we achieve is democracy and a permanent peace.

"Sinn Féin believes that this is best done in the context of Irish unity and that the practical planning for re-unification should begin now. This is not about'putting fear into people' as the Minister suggests it is about talking about and planning for the future.

"A key part of this will be widespread consultation at home and abroad and every effort must be made to engage with unionist opinion and to consider, discuss and engage with them about the nature and form a new Ireland will take.

"Instead of running away from this issue there is a responsibility on the Irish government to take the lead and bring forward a strategy to achieve national self-determination, Irish re-unification and national reconciliation.

"However, Minister Ahern comments suggest that Irish unity is no longer even on the agenda of his party. If that is the case he should be honest enough to say so and not hide behind the crisis in the process." ENDS


Fresh Material For McCartney Probe

By Chris Thornton
22 March 2005

Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan's office has received "additional material" about the murder of Robert McCartney, it emerged last night.

The office has not identified the recently received material, but it is thought that it includes statements from the Sinn Fein candidates who were recently identified as being in Magennis's bar on the night Mr McCartney was murdered.

The party announced last week that Deirdre Hargey, who has been identified as a Sinn Fein candidate for Belfast City Council; Cora Groogan, who stood in the 2003 Assembly election, and former city councillor Sean Hayes had given statements to their solicitors.

If they have been passed to the Ombudsman, they will be handed over to the PSNI team investigating the January 30 murder.

Meanwhile, Mr McCartney's sisters and fiancee, Bridgeen Hagans, returned to Belfast yesterday after visiting America to highlight their case.

The family arrived in Dublin on Sunday and spent the night there to appear on RTE yesterday morning.

During the broadcast, the family said there are still more republicans who were in the bar when the fatal brawl started but have not come forward with information.

Sinn Fein has called on people to help the McCartneys and suspended seven members who were in the bar. Those members did not include Ms Grogan or Ms Hargey.

The IRA also expelled three of its members who it said were involved in the murder.

"It seems that that bar was more or less full of Sinn Fein members and IRA members than originally we thought," Gemma McCartney said.

The McCartney sisters also questioned Ms Groogan's account. The former candidate said she did not see anything in the bar, but a taxi driver who claims he drove her to another bar says she spoke of bottles flying.

The McCartney family told RTE radio that it was inconceivable to think that republicans who were in the pub on the night of the murder and failed to come forward were potential governmental officials who could sit on the Policing Board.

The sisters also claimed the police investigation was being stifled even though the Sinn Fein leadership had called on anyone with information to come forward.

"No-one has gone to the Ombudsman. Yes, people have went to their solicitor with notes ... and a prepared statement so in effect what's happening here is they are being told yes to go forward but say nothing," Gemma McCartney said.

The McCartney family vowed to continue the campaign by organising a national petition, holding rallies outside Magennis's pub in Belfast and visiting senior members of the European Parliament.

A decision on whether any of the sisters will stand in the upcoming elections in Northern Ireland is expected in the coming weeks.

The PSNI is expected to brief the Policing Board on the McCartney investigation today.


Council To Take Name Issue To Court

By Brian Hutton
22 March 2005

Derry City Council is today expected to back a motion instructing that legal papers be served immediately on the High Court to determine the city's name.

The latest development in the long-running Derry/Londonderry name change saga comes as a Government department broke its two-year silence on the issue.

In a letter, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, the Department of Environment apologises for the delay in replying to the council about the controversy.

The letter states that "the view has widely been taken" that the city's name did not change when the former Londonderry Corporation changed its name to Derry City Council in 1984.

The letter, signed by the Department's Permanent Secretary, Stephen Peover, goes on: "However, as I have noted, these are complex legal issues and it would not be appropriate for Government to seek to offer definitive opinions on the interpretation of the law.

"The question of what further steps would be needed to change the name of the city is, of course, closely related to the analysis of the present legal position.

"I think, therefore that we cannot take you much further, and that the council will need to seek its own professional advice."

The letter is being seen by some Council sources as an indication that the Government would not object to a legal challenge on the issue.

Sinn Féin's Barney O'Hagan, who has been spearheading a campaign to have the city's name officially revert to Derry, last night welcomed the developments.

"I believe the DOE are saying they would welcome a High Court determination on the status of the city name and it is now the only sensible course of action left open," he said.


DEATH scene: Victim was found fatally wounded outside the Port Hibs club on Clune Brae. A MURDER hunt has been launched after a Port Glasgow man was fatally wounded outside a social club.

Murder Hunt After Attack Outside Of AOH Club

Police are searching for the killer of 32-year-old Mark Hutchison, who was attacked after an altercation outside the Ancient Order of Hibernians Club on Clune Brae on Saturday night.

Mr Hutchison, who was not connected to the club, was found lying badly injured by staff when they arrived for work at 7pm.

Club steward Alan Bleasdale and barmaid Jackie Dunn used towels to stem Mr Hutchison's wounds and called an ambulance. But Mr Hutchison later died in Inverclyde Royal Hospital.

Jim O’Rourke, 'Hibs Club' president said: "Bar staff were coming down the stairs and just found him lying there. They called inside the club for help and called for an ambulance.

"He was conscious and they were talking to him. They just made him as comfortable as they could until the ambulance arrived.”

Club secretary Jim Rodger added that everyone at the club had been shocked by what had happened.

He said: “There’s never been anything like this around here before. But there's a knife culture nowadays and you don’t know when something is going to happen on your doorstep.”

A crime scene investigation team were at the scene in the afternoon.

Mr Hutchison was single and unemployed, said police.

James Low (46), of Robert Street, knew Mr Hutchison for more than 20 years.

He said: “He was a quiet guy. He wasn’t into drugs or anything like that. He was easy going and would do anything to help.”

Mr Low said that Mr Hutchison had three brothers and went to Holy Family Primary and St Stephen’s High School.

“I saw him last week at the kebab shop. He asked me if I wanted a can of beer and I said ‘No I didn’t’. That was the last time I saw him.

“I’m absolutely devastated. I just found out it was Mark this morning. I’m very sad for all his family."

Police cordoned off large areas of Wilson Street and Ashgrove Lane and were conducting inquiries in the area throughout Sunday.

Detective Inspector John Dearie of Greenock CID is leading the investigation. He has appealed for witnesses or anyone with information to contact Greenock Police.


Administration Plans Unveiled For NI

Plans for the most radical overhaul of local government and the public sector in Northern Ireland in more than 30 years were unveiled by the British government today.

By:Press Association

Savings in administrative costs of up to £235 million a year would be ploughed into front-line services, said Northern Ireland Office Minister Ian Pearson.

Under the plans the number of local councils would to slashed from 26 to as few as seven, but no more than 15.

Those that remain would be more powerful.

Health and Personal Social Services would see the existing four boards and 18 trusts replaced by either five or seven sub-regional health and personal social services agencies.

Under the proposals for education a new education services support body would be created to replace the five Education and Library Boards.

It would also bring together the administration of all the current direct support services funded by the Department of Education that are delivered through or by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta and the Staff Commission.

Putting the proposals of the Review of Public Administration out for further consultation until September, Mr Pearson said the scale of the review was daunting.

"It represents the greatest change to almost every area of the public sector and to local government for over 30 years," he said, adding "we can expect these changes to remain in place for over a generation to come".

The minister pointed out that there were currently 150 public bodies in Northern Ireland - 26 councils, 4 health boards, 18 health trusts, 5 education and library boards, and almost 100 other public bodies and executive agencies - all for a population of 1.7 million people.

Everyone who had responded to a previous consultation set up by the now suspended Assembly had recognised the status quo could not be maintained if the public sector was to keep step with the demands of the citizen for fast access to quality services.

"The proposals I am publishing for consultation today represent a real opportunity to revitalise our public services, to sweep away structures whose day has gone and to replace them with a new, leaner, more accountable public sector," said Mr Pearson.

The new structures would be "working together with common purpose to meet the needs of the `on-demand` lifestyles that people now lead and have rightly come to expect from our public services," he added.

Just as important was a need to ensure that every pound spent on public services and local government was money well spent - there was no infinite pot of gold, he said.

"Money spent on unnecessary management and administrative bureaucracy is money that is not being spent on front line services which add value to people`s lives," said Mr Pearson.

He insisted the reforms were not a cost cutting exercise, but about delivering better services, making them more responsive and more accountable.

Nevertheless, he said the team which carried out the review had suggested savings in administrative costs of 10% to 15% could be achieved.

"If savings on this scale were realised, this could equate to between £150m and £235m annually after a period of investment in the change process," said the minister.

He said he wanted to emphasise that all savings released would stay in Northern Ireland and be available for reallocation to front-line services.

Sitting at the heart of the new model for public administration would be strong local government, said Mr Pearson.

In future local government would be a "significant part of the overall governance of Northern Ireland".

It was clear if it was to punch its weight, said Mr Pearson, it must operate to a population size and geographical scale to enable councils to speak with authority and to allow the full scope of innovative services to develop.

It was also clear that a balance had to be struck between economies of scale for effective service delivery and the need for structures to reflect local identity and community responsiveness.

Mr Pearson said he had listened carefully to views and did not believe that at this stage a clear consensus had emerged on one model for local government.

He had therefore published proposals giving options for seven, eleven and 15 councils, based on amalgamations of current district boundaries, and one option based on current Westminster parliamentary boundaries.

Mr Pearson said he wanted final decisions to have been taken by the end of the year.

He said the government was aiming for the implementation of the health and education reforms within two years of a decision being made.

For local government a Boundary Commission would need to be appointed, but first elections to the new councils should be able to be held in 2009.


Local Govnt Change Must Be Based On Equality Checks & Balances

Published: 22 March, 2005

Sinn Féin former mayor of Belfast Council, South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey has said that yet again the argument about the number of councils is being used as a smokescreen to distract people from a more important issue, particularly for nationalists and republicans, namely that it is essential for a strong system of equality checks and balances to be in place to ensure that unionists can not abuse power at local government level in the way they have done in the past and in many instances continue to do at present.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Review of Public administration said:

"Yet again there is smokescreen about whether there will be 7, 11 or 15 councils when the real issue of concern, particularly for nationalists is that there must be a strong legislative framework with proper checks and balances to ensure equality. There can be no space for the abuse of power and discrimination that unionists have been guilty of, and are still guilty of today on many of our councils.

"It should not be forgotten that the very reason that we have the current configuration of councils with reduced powers is that unionists were, and in many cases still are, incapable of delivering public services fairly or sharing power equitably.

"Sinn Fein will examine each of these proposals to ensure that equality protections are paramount and we will be testing each option to ensure that none opens the door to the type of political gerrymandering that set back democracy for generations in this part of Ireland." ENDS


Eamon Mac Thomais Book Relaunched For Rising Anniversary

Published: 22 March, 2005

The renowned book by author and historian Eamon Mac Thomais Down Dublin Streets, which deals with the events of the 1916 Easter Rising, is to be re-launched this week as part of a series of events marking 89th anniversary of the Rising.

The popular book, first published in 1965 in the period leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Rising, will be relaunched at a reception attended by author‚s son, historian Shane Mac Thomais, Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh and Dublin City Councillor Christy Burke who was a friend and contemporary of Eamon Mac Thomais with whom he spent time in jail as a republican prisoner in the 1970s.

The book launch takes place at 8pm on Wednesday, 23 March McDowell‚s public house in Inchicore, Dublin.

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Table of Contents – Mar 2005
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