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March 30, 2005

Judge's Statement Gives Colombia 3 New Hope

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Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Mar 2005

News about Ireland & the Irish

IO 03/30/05
Judge’s Statement Gives Colombia Three New Hope
BT 03/30/05 Dublin Behind 'Criminalising' Of Sinn Fein
IE 03/30/05 Analysis: Malaise Trumps Hope In North
DI 03/30/05 Gang Beats Up Asian At Home
DI 03/30/05 Fire Brigades: Attacks Under Fire
UT 03/30/05 Gray, No Longer In The Pink
ND 03/30/05 Parties Divided Over Forkhill Withdrawal
BT 03/30/05 Parties Engage In War Of Words Over MP Seat
SM 03/30/05 Bomb Made Safe At Tesco
BT 03/30/05 Teens To Quiz Parties Over Interface Attacks
IE 03/30/05 Suicide: Playing A Deadly Game
IO 03/30/05 Maze Favoured For New NI Sports Stadium
SM 03/30/05 BBC Accused Of Racial Bias By Targeting Celt Job

NW 03/30/05
Trinity Library Mounts Preservation Project -VO
NW 03/30/05
Maggie Williams Meets Collector Of Old Irish Coins -VO

Trinity Library Mounts Preservation Project - Alasdair Jackson reports on the project launched by Trinity College Dublin

Antiques Feature - This week, Maggie Williams Meets A Collector Of Old Irish Coins


Judge’s Statement Gives Colombia Three New Hope

30/03/2005 - 20:53:25

Lawyers for three republicans convicted of providing terrorist training to Colombian guerrillas expressed hope today that the verdict would be overturned after a member of the three-judge panel said questioned the evidence that was allowed in court.

Judge Jorge Enrique Torres, in his signed dissenting opinion, said much of the evidence used to convict James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley - whose whereabouts are now unknown – was “questionable”.

Torres was on the three-judge panel that convicted the trio in December and sentenced them to 17 years in a Colombian prison, overturning an earlier acquittal on the terrorism-related charges.

Torres’s statement shows he differed sharply with the other two judges on the panel who voted to convict the trio.

The defence lawyers, who presented Torres’ statement at a press conference in Bogota today after it was released by the court, said they would use it to reinforce their appeal made in February to Colombia’s Supreme Court.

“I was overwhelmed by the countless amount of technical evidence used in this case that was questionable,” Torres wrote.

Pedro Mahecha, one of the defence lawyers, claimed the dissenting judge’s arguments indicated the other two judges convicted the trio due to pressures from Colombian politicians and military officials.

“Torres clearly points out that there was no certainty of guilt in the case,” Mahecha said. “The ruling was completely politicised.”

After their initial acquittal in June, the trio walked out of a Bogota prison and were ordered to remain in Colombia pending the government’s appeal of the acquittal. But they have not been heard from since.

Jorge Noguera, head of Colombia’s secret police DAS, said today he was sure the men had fled the country.

The trio, who have been blamed for an IRA plot, were arrested at Bogota’s airport in August 2001 after leaving a stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, deep in Colombia’s southern jungles. Authorities accused them of teaching Farc rebels how to make bombs and mortars.

Monaghan, McCauley and Connolly said they were innocent and were in Colombia to observe the government’s peace talks with the Farc, which collapsed six months after their arrest.

The Farc has been waging a 40-year-old struggle to topple the government in a conflict that kills more than 3,000 people every year.


Dublin Behind 'Criminalising' Of Sinn Fein

By Noel McAdam
30 March 2005

Attempts to criminalise Sinn Fein over the Robert McCartney murder are being driven by the Republic's Government, an Easter republican rally has been told yesterday.

Senior republican and Assembly member Gerry Kelly indicated the party is already on an effective election footing - while repeating those responsible for taking Mr McCartney's life should own up to their actions.

He told the rally in Ardoyne that only increased Sinn Fein representation at Westminster and in local councils would force opponents to realise "we are not going away".

In North Belfast alone the party is running seven council candidates - four in Oldpark, two in Castle and one in Macedon, four of them women.

Mr Kelly said many republicans and nationalists are deeply angered by the way political opponents and large sections of the media "are cynically using this murder in an attempt to undermine and criminalise the republican cause as a whole".

And he argued much of the public attacks on Republicans "is being driven by an Irish government fearful of the growth of Sinn Féin.

"What our opponents need to know is that we are not going away," said Mr Kelly.


Analysis: Malaise Trumps Hope In North

PHOTOCALL The annual Sinn Fein Easter Sunday 1916 Commemoration Parade took place from Parnell Square to the GPO on O'Connell Street in Dublin.

By Paul Colgan

DUBLIN -- Good Friday 2005 passed with little fanfare in Northern Ireland. Seven years ago the mood was much different. The political and media establishments were jubilant. Republicans, nationalists and unionists had concluded negotiations at Stormont Castle, Belfast, and were preparing to recommend a power-sharing accord to their respective communities.

The disbelievers, most prominent being the Democratic Unionists, were largely isolated. Those who had derided the fledgling Hume-Adams dialogue in the early 1990s, pouring scorn on the IRA ceasefires and asserting that a deal between nationalism and unionism was impossible, found themselves at variance with the new political reality.

If the weekend just past is anything to go by, then the pessimists may have good reason to believe they were right all along.

The "told-you-so" brigade has had to sit it out for some time, but this Good Friday will have been the first in some time were they could scan the political landscape and confidently assert that all appears to be falling apart.

Sinn Fein is at odds with his former allies -- the Irish government and the SDLP -- over alleged IRA criminality. Unionists maintains that republicans will not be readmitted to government unless the IRA goes away, and the Rev. Ian Paisley has said the DUP will never strike a deal with Sinn Fein.

The republican movement, going by the mood of its Easter Sunday commemorations, is in bad form. While the speeches came replete with the obligatory predictions of a restored political deal and the distant goal of a United Ireland, the tone was downbeat.

Sinn Fein's president, Gerry Adams, remains preoccupied with the Robert McCartney murder. The campaign by the McCartney sisters is still making the headlines amid speculation that they may begin a civil action against their brother's killers.Subject:

Adams branded the killers "cowards" and criticized them for allowing the republican movement to be dragged through the mud.

Adams also had much to say about the Irish government. Traditionally Easter Sunday casts as its villain the British government. Speaker after speaker will normally rail against the British war machine, the police and hard-line unionism.

And just as Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell was the central focus for many at the recent Sinn Fein ard fheis, the Irish government now comes in for much of the criticism. "Partitionism, self-interest and incompetence" was how Adams summed up Bertie Ahern's approach to the current political crisis.

Harsh words.

While the Sinn Fein leader might be reluctant to admit it, the comments of Irish Defense Minister Willie O'Dea on Friday probably irked him.

O'Dea called for a boycott of Sinn Fein's Easter events. The republican movement, he said, had sold out on its separatist credentials and turned instead to a life of crime. "Willie O'Who?" quipped Adams in response Saturday.

Adams's and O'Dea's respective constituencies will lap up such pronouncements.

However, while both sides have become accustomed to such political sniping over the last few months --- much of it being little more than hot air -- it is indicative of a much deeper malaise at the heart of the Irish peace process.

Conciliatory noises are no longer the norm. Instead, Sinn Fein and Ahern's government, which in the past shared much common ground, now engage in the routine and robust barracking of each other's positions.

There is little sign that things are set for a dramatic change. Government sources have been briefing journalists in recent days about their belief that the IRA is currently laundering the money from the Northern Bank heist. Newspaper reports have suggested that the organization used the recent Cheltenham horseracing event to get rid of millions in untraceable notes.

With the British general election expected in early May, the cat-calling looks set to continue. The Irish government has tacked its colors to the SDLP mast and will offer plenty of verbal support for Mark Durkan's party in the coming weeks. Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern last week used the launch of a new SDLP document on Irish unity as an opportunity to berate Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein will seek to capitalize on the perception in sections of Northern nationalism that it is being unfairly treated by the two governments. Republicans have no doubt noted the reaction of many nationalists to Michael McDowell's anti-Sinn Fein onslaught.

Years ago, republicans used to remark that Paisley was the best recruiting officer the IRA ever had. Sinn Fein might proffer that, at least in the Six Counties, no man has done more to swell the party's ranks in recent times than the Irish foreign minister.

Sinn Fein is expecting to pick up one, if not two, additional Westminster seats. While this would certainly be seen as a significant riposte to those who have consistently attacked the party since Christmas, such an election result will do little to improve the prospects of a fresh deal with the DUP.

Paisley's party is likely to steal yet more ground from David Trimble's Ulster Unionists. Deputy leader Peter Robinson, not a man given to outlandish or foolish statements, has predicted that the DUP will win nine seats, leaving the UUP with just two.

Indeed, there are whispers that David Trimble's own UUP seat is under threat.

An emboldened DUP, despite the hopes of the two governments, is not going to rush to the help of Sinn Fein, which badly needs a power-sharing deal to reverse flagging political momentum. Instead, the party will probably choose to let republicans squirm for some time longer.

This story appeared in the issue of March 30-April 5, 2005


Gang Beats Up Asian At Home

The PSNI has refused to rule out a paramilitary link to an Easter Sunday racist attack in Belfast.

Just before midnight, a three-man gang entered a house on Donegall Avenue in the south of the city and assaulted its Asian resident.

He was dragged outside, punched and kicked and had a bottle smashed in his face.

The man was later taken to hospital, where he was treated for cuts to his head and eye, a mouth injury and bruising to his body.

A spokesperson for the PSNI refused to rule out paramilitary involvement, saying detectives were keeping an open mind about the attack.

Last year, the Ulster Volunteer Force forced more than a dozen members of ethnic-minority communities to flee their homes in south Belfast.

Sunday’s attack comes less than two months after the German magazine Der Spiegel claimed Belfast was the most racist city in Europe.

However, racist incidents in the North of Ireland have not been confined to Belfast. Portuguese nationals have been attacked in Dungannon in Co Tyrone, Muslims have been targeted in Craigavon in Co Armagh, and eastern Europeans have been beaten up in Armagh city.

Condemning the latest attack, the Anti-Racism Network’s Stephen Alexander said: “The news of this severe assault is very worrying because of the sheer viciousness of the attack.

“While efforts have been made by community leaders in the city to educate people and raise awareness, there would seem to be a small group of hardline racists determined to continue their campaign of hatred and violence.

“Two summers ago, there were pipe-bomb attacks on the homes of people from ethnic minorities living in Donegall Avenue, yet there have been few if any successful prosecutions for any of those incidents in the meantime.”

Tommy Morrow, the south Belfast spokesman for the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party, said of Sunday’s attack: “I am 100 per cent certain this did not involve members of the UVF.

“I condemn the morons who attacked this vulnerable Asian man.

“They were not acting in the interests of loyalists, who are working hard to build relations with members of the ethnic community.”

Alex Maskey, Sinn Féin’s south Belfast assembly member, said he was “deeply worried” by the attack.

The former Belfast mayor said: “As a community and a society, we have a responsibility and an obligation to stand resolutely with the ethnic-minority communities who are living in genuine fear of this sort of outrageous racist behaviour.”

Carmel Hanna, the SDLP assembly member for south Belfast, described the attack as despicable. “I hope that all representatives for the area will join with me in unequivocally condemning the thugs who perpetrated this incident and that local community groups do the same,” she said.

According to PSNI statistics, there were 742 racial incidents in the North during the 2003-04 financial year.

More than 20 per cent of these occurred in south Belfast, which has the region’s highest ethnic-minority population.

However, the Anti-Racism Network has said these figures should be viewed with caution. It said most racist attacks are not reported.


Fire Brigades: Attacks Under Fire

A British government campaign to reduce violent attacks on the North’s firefighters has backfired and made the situation much worse, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has claimed.

Firefighters’ morale has now plummetted because they expect to be attacked on every call after months of increasingly violent incidents, according to FBU spokesman Jim Barbour.

The latest violent attack on firefighters took place on Monday night during a call-out in Co Tyrone. Firefighters were extinguishing a chimney fire at Windmill Hill in Dungannon when they were attacked by a gang of teenagers throwing stones.

No one was injured but local station officer Davy Laurence warned that a firefighter could easily have been killed.

He said: “There were two crew members on the roof of the building. If they had slipped because of the stones thrown at them they could have been seriously injured.”

Within the past four years there have been 1,500 attacks on the emergency services in the North of Ireland. The majority of these attacks have been directed at firefighters. Sixty four calls ‘for assistance at civil disturbance attacks’ were also made to Fire Brigade headquarters in Co Antrim during a three week period earlier this month.

The British government has already spent £600,000 on a media advertising campaign to try and stop the attacks. However, this campaign has been slammed as a “waste of time and money” by the FBU’s Jim Rodgers.

“The campaign was ill-advised and all it has done is to inspire copycat attacks. The situation is getting worse but the government seems to be waiting on a tragedy to happen before it will begin to take these attacks seriously,” he said.

“Firefighters are seething because they believe they are going to be attacked on every call, yet no one seems to interested in doing something about it.”

Last week, the North’s Health and Public Safety Minister, Angela Smyth, rejected claims that the number of attacks on firefighters were being played down by the British government.

However, Mr Rodgers is accusing the minister of taking a “sticky plaster” approach to the situation.

“Firefighters on the ground are on the receiving end of these attacks but the minister isn’t bothered about doing anything about it. Her sticky plaster approach to the problem has failed because the plaster keeps coming off.”

Mr Barbour is demanding the introduction of more cross-community interaction schemes to educate young people on the dangers of attacking firefighters.

“We have always believed that this is the best way forward because people don’t need a media campaign to tell them these attacks are wrong,” he said. “We have had cross-community events in Belfast and Derry in recent weeks where firefighters interact with young people. This has proved to be extremely successful and is an example of the sort of thing that should be implemented.”


Gray, No Longer In The Pink

For years the Avenue One bar acted as unofficial Ulster Defence Association HQ in east Belfast.

By:Press Association

But just weeks after its shutters came down for the last time, the paramilitary organisation has also called time on pub owner Jim Gray.

As one of the UDA`s six ruling commanders, Gray bought the premises from finances which former associates suspect are now under scrutiny from the anti-racketeering Assets Recovery Agency.

His apparently crumbling business empire will not hurt as much as the blow to the loyalist credentials of a notoriously vain man.

Gray, 43, never tried to blend in with his fiercely working-class surroundings.

While hundreds of husbands and fathers trudged through east Belfast`s backstreets to clock in for long hours at the shipyards, he acquired a taste for the jet-set lifestyle.

His bleach-blond hair, gold jewellery and year-round tan set him aside from the typical loyalist hardman.

A mocking nickname, Doris Day, soon stuck.

Even rival terror boss Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, whose own fashion statements often provoked ridicule, took offence at some of Gray`s outfits.

"Jim would arrive at meetings in his pink jumpers and Johnny would go mad," one source said.

"He`d be ranting `That`s some image for our organisation`."

As well as the Avenue One, which has been sold off to a property developer, Gray also ran another east Belfast bar, the Bunch of Grapes.

When a fire swept through the premises in 2001 he attempted to secure a £60,000 pay-out.

The action was later withdrawn when the insurance company did not accept the pub was damaged in the circumstances claimed.

Undeterred by the legal defeat, Gray successfully sued Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde for £1,500 after he was arrested in an east Belfast Chinese restaurant in late 2002.

Weeks earlier he was shot in the face during a loyalist feud. Although he survived, enemies took pleasure from the damage to his looks.

Gray, who is separated from his wife, has a love of the good life which includes regular trips to exotic locations around the world.

Tragedy struck abroad in 2002 when his 19-year-old son died of a suspected overdose while the pair were on a trip to Thailand.

But as he surveys the ruins of a loyalist career from his plush apartment Gray will feel isolated from a community he once lorded over.

He must decided whether to take flight once more, or take his chances on the streets without UDA muscle behind him.


Parties Divided Over Forkhill Withdrawal

THE decision by the PSNI to withdraw police officers from Forkhill army base appears to have united Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists in opposition, albeit for vastly differing reasons.

Following a private meeting between members of the Newry and Mourne District Policing Partnership and Chief Superintendent Bobby Hunniford on Thursday night, it was confirmed that police currently stationed at Forkhill army base will be transferred to Crossmaglen, while more officers are to be deployed in South Armagh as a whole from the beginning of May.

According to Chief Superintendent Hunniford, the new arrangements will mean an improved policing service across South Armagh.

“Local people will see a significant change in policing style. We look forward to welcoming the additional officers who will start working in the area in May, joining their hardworking colleagues who are already stationed there,” he commented.

This argument failed to convince Ulster Unionist Councillor Andy Moffett, who is also the Chairman of Newry and Mourne DPP. For him, the move is ‘ill advised and utter folly’ on the part of Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

“It’s clear that the current climate, both politically and in terms of security, is not right for this sort of action,” Councillor Moffett insisted. “ The Chief Constable is merely pandering to the requirements of nationalists and republicans and giving scant regard to the majority of local people who will be horrified and concerned about the level of practical policing they can expect when this withdrawal from Forkhill takes place.”

There is also a question mark over the future of the army in Forkhill, Councillor Moffett suggested. “It is my party’s opinion that the lives of decent people are being put in jeopardy at a time when there is a very real threat from republicans of all descriptions,” he went on. “This decision smacks of political expediency of the worst kind. It is unacceptable.”

A different view was put forward by Sinn Fein Councillor Terry Hearty, who described the fact that the army base in Forkhill will remain open as a ‘nightmare’.

He also said that people in Crossmaglen do not want extra police officers drafted into their area.

“They don’t want them here because of their hostility towards the people. There is a bad feeling between the community in Crossmaglen and the police. No-one wants to see more police in Crossmaglen,” Councillor Hearty insisted.

Referring to the fact that more police officers are to be brought into South Armagh as a whole, he added, “This is bad news for South Armagh or for any area, but particularly for South Armagh because of the attitude of the police towards the local people.”


Parties Engage In War Of Words Over MP Seat

30 March 2005

The SDLP and Sinn Fein are at loggerheads over the fight for the West Tyrone MP seat, accusing each other of running scared from Independent Dr Kieran Deeney.

Mr Deeney has confirmed he will stand in the Westminster elections after taking an Assembly seat for West Tyrone in 2003.

He had campaigned on the single issue of saving Omagh hospital.

A war of words has now erupted as Sinn Fein MP for the region, Pat Doherty, claimed the SDLP had already decided not to put forward a candidate to give Mr Deeney a free run and in recognition of the party's declining vote.

SDLP party chairwoman Patricia Lewsley hit back and said that no such decision had been taken, and accused Sinn Fein of failing to deliver for the people of the area.

Ms Lewsley admitted, however, that the SDLP's Election and Organisation Committee were now facing a momentous decision on whether to stand.

She said: "The party in West Tyrone has recommended that we consider this election contest in the light of the most important issue facing the constituency - the future of hospital services.

"The SDLP has never been afraid to put important issues of principle and public welfare ahead of narrow party interest.

"Pat Doherty clearly sees this issue in terms of narrow advantage for his own party.

"The simple fact is that the crucial decision on the future of Omagh hospital was taken by his party colleague, Bairbre deBrun.

"Pat Doherty has thrown in the towel on the hospital issue and kept a low profile because he cannot bring himself to defend deBrun's closure decision. The result is that the people of West Tyrone are acutely aware that their MP is doing nothing to defend their most important interests."

Dr Deeney has now been tipped as a strong contender for the Tyrone seat after his historic victory in November 2003.

SF's Pat Doherty, however, said he will fight to keep his seat.

He added: "It is interesting to note that it appears the SDLP has thrown in the towel in West Tyrone.

"This is further evidence of the decline in the SDLP and their acceptance that they no longer appeal to the nationalist and republican people of West Tyrone. It would also seem to signify that they are unable to find a credible candidate to fight the election."


Bomb Made Safe At Tesco

By Ian Graham, PA

A fire bomb was discovered in a Tesco supermarket in Northern Ireland tonight.

The device, which was made safe by the army, was the fourth known to have been planted in the province in recent days – heightening fears of a fresh campaign by the dissident republicans police are blaming.

The latest device was found at the Tesco in the Ards Shopping Centre in Newtownards, Co Down.

A similar device was found burned out in a neighbouring store in the centre on Easter Monday.

Devices were also planted in shops in the Forestside shopping centre in south Belfast in recent days. One was defused but the other caused extensive damage to a Next store.

A police spokeswoman described the latest find as a “viable device”.

Police chiefs urged business owners and managers across the whole of Northern Ireland to be on their guard and to redouble their efforts to find planted bombs.


Teens To Quiz Parties Over Interface Attacks

30 March 2005

Politicians in Londonderry are to face a grilling from Protestant youths over a series of sectarian assaults near the Fountain interface, it emerged today.

In the past two weeks alone a number of vicious assaults on teenagers from the area have been recorded.

In one incident a youth from the estate sustained cuts to his face after being battered on his way to the shops.

In a separate attack, two young Protestants who led Derry's St Patrick's Day parade were pelted hours later with bricks and bottles by Nationalist youths blocking them from entering the Fountain.

Community worker Jeanette Warke said that she had to intervene to stop the latter attack.

She also praised four Catholic girls from the Long Tower who helped chase the gang.

The SDLP, UUP and DUP are now set to be quizzed in light of the most recent spate of incidents at the interface area.

Sinn Fein, however, have not been invited to attend the meeting, set to take place next Thursday.

Teenagers from the Cathedral Youth Club - some as young as 13 - are set to demand answers over what steps politicians are taking to remove the threat they claim is constantly hanging over them once they leave the estate.

Ms Warke, manager of the club, said: "The kids up here can't even go to the shops on their own.

"They feel they have to travel in gangs to avoid being targeted.

"There is a terrible lot of fear. After St Patrick's Day we felt quite proud of the parade, which was a great success, but then afterwards we were still faced with all this.

"Years ago people from this area could go anywhere and everywhere but now the young people don't feel safe going for a bag of chips.

"They now want their voices to be heard and they want politicians to start listening to them and taking action."

Speaking ahead of the meeting with the young people, SDLP Councillor for the Bogside and Greater Bishop Street area, Sean Carr pledged to help stop the attacks.

Mr Carr said: "Attacks have happened both ways - on youths from Nationalist as well as the Fountain areas, with petrol and paint bombs - but this meeting has been borne out of a different kind of attack, perpetrated on the streets."

He added: "The people who come together to stop these attacks are usually the converted, and what we have to do is speak to those who don't want to mix with the people of the Fountain.

"They are a small minority, but they have a big impact."

Former DUP Mayor Councillor Mildred Garfield, who will also attend the meeting, said the majority of young people were not involved.

Praising the work of SDLP council colleagues to try and resolve the situation in recent years, she added: "It has been an ongoing problem and the people in the Fountain, including the younger people, feel isolated and that nobody cares about them."


Playing A Deadly Game

Philip McTaggart Sr., with a portrait of his son Philip, who committed suicide two years ago.

In divided North, old suspicions hinder suicide-prevention efforts

By Ailbhe Jordan

Philip McTaggart is from the Ardoyne area in North Belfast. Two years ago his 17-year-old son, also named Philip, took his own life. "I was Philip's father, and that guilt fell on my shoulders," McTaggart said last week. "When you try to see a counselor, there can be up to a four-week wait. I waited six weeks, but luckily a friend of mine knew someone who was a counselor and was able to help me through it. Grieving parents get nothing, other than going to their doctor and getting pills."

Ireland has the highest rate of suicide per capita in Europe. Last year, 577 people took their lives. Ardoyne is in the Eastern Health Board region, where in 2003, 132 people killed themselves and 761 people attempted suicide. Almost half of suicides were people under 35.

In an area that has possibly the highest rate of suicide in Ireland, there are just 16 public hospital beds for adolescent mental-health patients. There is one full-time suicide coordinator for the whole of North and West Belfast.

Last year, McTaggart and his colleague Jo Murphy set up the PIPS project (Public Initiative to Prevent Suicide and Self-Harm).

"There is nothing for families trying to cope with suicide -- and its not my opinion, its a fact," he said. "I've been working at this since my son took his life. I went to Stormont last August to a meeting with community groups from East and West Belfast. Another meeting was supposed to take place in October; it only took place three weeks ago. "During that eight-week delay, eight people took their own lives in Belfast. A young man from Lagan is being buried tomorrow. They are literally playing with people's lives. The first Christmas I had lost my son, a young girl who was self-harming went to the Mater Hospital in Belfast. After waiting three hours, she went home and hanged herself.

"More people die by suicide than on our roads each year. Why is there not the same money and urgency put into suicide as there is into road safety? There should be someone you can phone to get them help. In the middle of the night, there's nothing, other than to bring them to hospital and waiting hours for a psychiatric assessment. Even then, the attitude in the hospital is often like, 'Well this is something they've done to themselves, and there's people waiting who have been in car crashes.' "

Since its inception, PIPS has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about suicide in Northern Ireland. Through its lobbying, the group got funding from the North and West Belfast Social Services and Health Trust to train eight suicide counselors. The PIPS project has also raised money through publicity events in Northern Ireland and the U.S.

"Most of the funding we get is from the community; they rally around us," McTaggart said.

"But we need more measures, more funding. We receive endless calls from people who need help."

Fr. Aidan Troy from the Holy Cross parish in Belfast has counseled many suicidal young people.

"A few million pounds may seem like a lot of money to you or me, but if its not invested in education and health, its eventually going to lead to more suicides on the ground," he said.

Despite the work of PIPS, obstacles to effective suicide prevention programs remain in Northern Ireland's divided communities. Indeed, many experts believe that the ongoing tensions between Catholic and Protestants is a trigger to some suicidal behavior.

Last May, doctors Fred Bemak and Robert Coyne from the international Counselors Without Borders organization traveled to Belfast. Led by Terry Ryan, president of the Florida-based Children of Ireland organization, they carried out a number of meetings with representatives from the Trust, local community groups and paramilitary organizations.

"Initially, the doctors were very well-received," Ryan said. "We met with community groups, people on both sides. We met with paramilitaries. We recommended bringing the two communities together to discuss these issues."

Said Dr. Bemak of the research team: "We suggested that one-on-one counseling was not working, but the Trust was very opposed to bringing the two sides together. They were extremely nervous about us even holding a meeting with service providers from both sides in the same room. They didn't want to touch that. We pointed out that if they continue to just counsel one person who is suicidal, it doesn't touch the bigger issues in the surrounding communities. We found from the meetings that you couldn't separate the individual from the problems in the surrounding communities."

The team requested further collaboration with the Trust in order to implement suicide prevention and education programs. Last month, however, the doctors received an e-mail that stated that close collaboration with the Trust "at this stage may not be possible" due to "a mixture of distance, different time zones and differences in approaches."

In a statement to the Echo, the Trust would say only: "We greatly appreciate the support and advice we have received from Dr. Fred Bemak and Dr. Bob Coyne and would hope to continue to share information and best practice."

Said McTaggart: "There was a bit of hesitancy because they the doctors were telling them how it was and they didn't like it."

Jackie Hewitt of Farset, a youth and community development program in Belfast, agrees that crossing borders is an important part of developing successful suicide-prevention strategies in Northern Ireland.

"There are too many organizations who are not joined up in their thinking," he said. "In some ways, the Trust does good work, but there's not enough resources coming -- they always seem to cut back services to the most vulnerable members of the community."

McTaggart believes that fundamental education is the best way to tackle suicide.

"I'm a heartbroken father who lost a son at 17 and I wouldn't want that to happen to anyone else," he said.

"I've gone through hell. Philip's mum has gone through hell. My life has changed forever. But I know people whose kids have tied to self harm or commit suicide, and they are going through hell every day. They are afraid to come home in case of what they might find. They are afraid every time their child leaves the house. But they won't talk about it. There's another funeral tomorrow and sometimes I wonder if anybody cares or do they just think "Well they've done it to themselves.

"Why are people so ashamed? Suicide should not be considered a crime. Is it any wonder people won't talk about it if there is something wrong? I wish to God I would have known then what I know now. I never sensed that there was anything wrong with Philip. I didn't understand. Maybe, if he could have talked to me . . . if a young person has a problem parents have to learn to turn back, forget about the golf and ask them what's wrong. A problem may not seem big to us, but it could be big to them."

PIPS co-founder Jo Murphy said she thinks that people are in denial about the extent of the problem.

"Suicide is now a public health issue -- it's everyone's problem," she said. "We need to learn from models in other countries and look at what we're doing wrong."

For McTaggart, the most important thing is to "keep fighting, keep demanding funding and keep looking for answers."

"There are young people dying left right and center and if it was anything else like roads, or drink or anything there'd be a big campaign," he said.

"I don't know, maybe people just don't want the world to know that we're a big crowd of nutcases over here. But having some sort of breakdown doesn't make you a nutcase. It's like breaking your leg -- you need help, and you shouldn't be ashamed to ask for it."

This story appeared in the issue of March 30-April 5, 2005


Maze Favoured For New NI Sports Stadium
2005-03-30 19:40:03+01

The notorious Maze jail site has been identified as the only suitable location for Northern Ireland's new national sports stadium, the British government said tonight.

Consultants assessing land where the Long Kesh prison once stood declared the grounds had scored better than two shortlisted Belfast areas: the Titanic Quarter and North Foreshore.

The North's Reinvestment and Reform Minister Ian Pearson said the others were considered too expensive for the planned 30,000-seater arena.

The stadium is the showpiece feature of a blueprint for transforming a grim and controversial legacy of the Troubles.

One of the infamous H-Blocks, scene of era-defining IRA hunger strikes, would be retained as part of the report prepared by the Maze Consultation Panel.


BBC Accused Of Racial Bias By Targeting Celt For Blue Peter Job

Louise Grey

THE children's television show Blue Peter is facing an investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) over claims that its latest female presenter was recruited only because of her Celtic roots.

Zoe Salmon, 24, from Northern Ireland, joined the flagship programme in December after responding to an advertisement in one of her local papers.

The vacancy had been advertised in only six publications - The Scotsman, Belfast Telegraph, Scotland on Sunday, the Belfast edition of Sunday Life, Disability Now and the Stage.

Dorian Wood, a retired history teacher from Somerset, has accused the BBC of discrimination and asked the CRE to investigate why the post was not advertised in his local paper.

"They specifically set out to recruit from Ulster and Scotland to find people of a Celtic origin, and in my view that amounts to racial discrimination," he said. "Somebody clearly said they wanted someone with an Irish or Scottish accent - what about the other people with regional and rural accents?"

Mr Wood has twice written to Blue Peter’s editor, Richard Marson, asking how Salmon, a former Miss Northern Ireland, was recruited. He said the BBC’s replies confirmed that it was "covering up" the fact it used newspapers read mostly by people of Celtic origin.

"It is clearly part of a crackpot political correctness, whereby the BBC feel that they must positively discriminate towards certain groups and create a nice inclusive feel to the programme.

"The BBC claims to uphold ethnic diversity, but we always see the same so-called ‘ethnic groups’ on television and people with ‘urban’ accents from the big cities. But where, for example, are all the south-east Asian presenters - and what about the people with ‘rural’ accents from, say, Somerset, Dorset, Norfolk or Suffolk?"

The CRE confirmed that it was looking at whether the BBC had discriminated against other ethnic groups and "Anglo-Saxon" people because it advertised the job predominantly in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A spokesman said: "We have received a complaint from Mr Wood and it is going through the complaints procedure. We then take a decision whether the complaint is one we can look further into or whether there has been a breach of the Race Relations Act."

A BBC spokeswoman rejected the allegations of racial discrimination and said the search to fill the Blue Peter vacancy had been the "widest ever undertaken by Children’s BBC". She went on: "In addition to the adverts placed in the Stage and Disability Now, we approached agents and BBC talent scouts across the whole of the UK and we had hundreds of tapes from people of all backgrounds."

Salmon, who has a law degree from Queen’s University, Belfast, but has put her plans for a law career on hold, made a gaffe in January when she suggested using the loyalist Red Hand of Ulster as a design for the tailplane of an airliner. She told Blue Peter viewers she was from "Ulster" and the red hand was "our proud symbol". The programme had to issue an apology.

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Table of Contents – Mar 2005
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