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October 14, 2005

Complaints Up 44% Against PSNI

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News about Ireland & the Irish

NH 10/14/05 44% Increase In Complaints Against PSNI
BT 10/14/05 Clergy Meet To Tackle Sectarianism
BT 10/14/05 Family Of UDA Victim Appeal For Information
NH 10/14/05 Hiding Good News In The Name Of Bad Politics
IO 10/14/05 DUP Warns Against Devolution 'Incentives'
II 10/14/05 I Know Them – No Wonder Reid Lost His Temper
BT 10/14/05 Viewpoint: Sending Out Wrong Message
BT 10/14/05 Assembly Runs Up A £70m Bill For Taxpayers
BT 10/14/05 Opin: Who'll Lead Us In Settling Differences?
BB 10/14/05 NI Lawyer Defends Saddam Hussein
ST 10/14/05 Muslims No Longer Strangers In Ireland


44% Increase In Complaints Against PSNI

Shocking new figures for West Belfast

(Damian Carney,

Figures released yesterday (Wednesday) by the Police
Ombudsman show that the number of allegations against the
PSNI has sharply increased in the last year. In the period
of April 2004 to March 2005 the number of allegations has
risen by 44%.

Grosvenor Road barracks topped the poll for the station
with most allegations against the PSNI in West Belfast.
From April 2004 to March 2005 there were 90 allegations by
members of the public concerning their treatment by PSNI
officers based in the barracks. Woodbourne didn't fare much
better with 67 allegations in the past year.

Worryingly, the majority of the allegations against the
PSNI in the West of the city were serious in nature. There
were 101 allegations against PSNI officers of what the
Police Ombudsman terms 'oppressive behaviour', amounting to
46.8% of the allegations. Oppressive behaviour is the most
serious type of allegation and includes assault,
intimidation and harassment.

With 37% of allegations being for failure in duty by PSNI
officers, this accounts for the second largest type of
allegation. There were 80 such allegations against the PSNI
in West Belfast – a staggering rise of 100% on the year
before. Lower Falls Sinn Féin Councillor Fra McCann said
that the figures reveal a continuing trend of unacceptable
PSNI behaviour.

"The figures show that young nationalist males are the main
victims of oppressive PSNI behaviour. This is evidence that
the behaviour of the PSNI falls well short of anything that
represents a new beginning to policing in the North. This
type of policing has no place in an impartial non-sectarian

I have to question why there is an increase in such
allegations. Is it because they know they can get away with
it because the accountability mechanisms are too weak?"

Commenting on the Ombudsman's figures, SDLP Upper Falls
councillor Tim Attwood accepted that although the figures
were up from the previous year, he noted that allegations
in West Belfast were down from a high of 239 in 2002.

"The SDLP has absolute confidence in the Police Ombudsman
and would encourage anybody who has a complaint against the
police to contact the Police Ombudsman. The Police
Ombudsman has a proven record of independence and will
investigate all complaints comprehensively," said Cllr

The Grosvenor Road barracks may have had the worse record
in West Belfast, but it was pushed into fourth place for
PSNI barracks in the whole of Belfast. Strandtown barracks
in East Belfast had 186 allegations against it, and in the
North of the city Antrim Road and Tennent Street fared
poorly with 144 and 131 allegations respectively. Musgrave
Street barracks in South Belfast had 132 allegations
against it.

October 14, 2005


Clergy Meet To Tackle Sectarianism

By Nevin Farrell
14 October 2005

A huge gathering of church leaders - unprecedented in
Ballymena - was convened this week in a bid to stamp out
sectarianism in the County Antrim district which was
ravaged by inter-communal strife during the summer.

Around 80 churches from across the borough were represented
at the function in the Ross Park Hotel.

Ballymena suffered a spate of attacks over the summer with
churches, schools, businesses, homes and individuals being

The gathering included representatives from all of the
major churches and it is hoped the meeting will bring
people in the area together.

DUP councillor Tommy Nicholl, who was instrumental in
calling the conference, said: "We want to bring the people

"As a first step I invited the clergy together. This is
only the first step on a road that has a number of steps.

"I had to start somewhere and where better than with the

Fr Paul Symonds, one of priests in Ballymena where Catholic
churches were attacked, attended.

He said: "The mayor talked about uniting minds, you can't
unite minds unless you meet together and we have had that
opportunity today."

At the conference representatives were questioned and it is
understood a report will now be prepared.

The church leaders were also addressed by Ballymena PSNI
district commander, Superintendent Terry Shevlin, who
outlined the impact sectarianism is having.

Organisers hope the anti-sectarian message of unity shown
will filter through to the rest of the community. More
events are planned.


Family Of Woman Murdered By UDA Appeal For Information

Protestant girl beaten to death 18 years ago

By Ashleigh Wallace
14 October 2005

The family of a Protestant woman beaten to death by a UDA
gang 18 years ago have renewed their appeal for information
on her brutal death.

Lorraine McCausland, from Glencairn in the greater Shankill
area of Belfast, was 23 when her semi-naked body was found
in a stream behind a community centre in Ballysillan.

She left behind two young sons: five-year-old Stewart and
his two-year-old brother Craig.

And in a cruel twist, Craig McCausland - a father-of-one
from the Woodvale area - was shot dead in his girlfriend's
home earlier this year.

Since Craig's murder, his grieving family have launched a
website aimed at getting justice both for the 20-year-old
and his mother Lorraine.

Nicola McIlvenny, Craig's cousin, said: "Although the
website is about getting justice for Craig, it's also a
chance for people who knew Lorraine to leave posts and
speak out about what happened to her.

"The Police Ombudsman has been investigating her death for
around a year-and-a-half and we are trying to get the case


Hiding Good News In The Name Of Bad Politics

(Newton Emerson, Irish News)

Government plans to buy off loyalists and the DUP with
increased funding for working- class Protestant areas have
hit an embarrassing snag.

The NIO wants to shower cash over the Orange masses to
prove that it understands their concerns, recognises their
fears and generally feels their pain. Money will be
targeted at building up 'community infrastructure' and
'social capital', as agreed in separate discussions with
the DUP and the UDA.

However, because it is illegal to allocate funding on a
purely sectarian basis the department first has to prove
that Protestant areas are uniquely disadvantaged. To
accomplish this, last year it commissioned a piece of
research whose frame of reference was carefully defined to
focus on a perceived Protestant weakness – specifically,
that working-class Protestants are too demoralised and
disorganised to compete for handouts against their sneaky
Catholic neighbours. Unfortunately, this perception turns
out to be totally wrong.

"Based on the survey results we conclude that there is no
evidence of Catholic/Protestant differences in social
capital," concluded the consultants Deloitte MCS Limited.

Worse still the report found that weak community
infrastructure is mainly a feature of affluent suburbs,
rendering ridiculous the whole concept of linking it to
social deprivation.

Not surprisingly, this report was not made public.

Last October the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary
Action requested a copy and was stonewalled for almost a

The council's magazine, Scope, appealed to the Information
Commissioner through the Freedom of Information Act and
finally obtained the material in July along with associated

These revealed near panic inside the Department of Social
Development over the awkward findings.

A briefing paper written for the department's general
management board, including its top civil servant Alan
Shannon, warned of the "potential for controversy" if
funding could not be targeted specifically at "loyalist

Another briefing paper by a senior civil servant confirmed
that the research was valid but the general management
board rejected this, claiming that the report "didn't look

A working group was then set up within the Department of
Social Development to re-examine the findings and 'validate
DSD concerns'. But of course the real concerns being
'validated' are those of the DUP and the UDA, which insist
that Protestant working-class areas are a special case of
need regardless of all evidence to the contrary.

This is not the first time that the NIO has been caught
fiddling the figures to flatter a sectarian political

In 2003 Stormont commissioned a report into religious bias
in the labour market. Consultants DTZ Pieda concluded that
Protestants and Catholics no longer face any discrimination
when applying for jobs. In response the Northern Ireland
Statistics and Research Agency refused to publish the
findings for two years, only reluctantly releasing them
this February following a Freedom of Information Act
request by Ulster Unionist MLA Dermot Nesbitt.

Mr Nesbitt claimed the research had been concealed "as a
concession to Sinn Féin" and it is difficult to see what
other reason there could be for such strange secrecy. Sinn
Féin is desperately fond of the fact that Catholics are
more likely to be unemployed than Protestants – but it will
only attribute this to discrimination.

The simple economic geography of the various ethnic cantons
into which Sinn Féin has corralled its supporters is never
mentioned – and apparently the NIO is not keen to mention
it either.

Taken together these two instances of hiding good news in
the name of bad politics leave the senior civil servants
who really run Northern Ireland with serious questions to

The peace process now operates by appeasing two extreme
sectarian parties whose electoral appeal relies on
exaggerating tribal division. That appeasement has clearly
grown to include collaborating with the exaggerations
themselves. Because it would undermine the DUP project to
point out that Protestants aren't marginalised in the
community and because it would undermine the Sinn Féin
project to point out that Catholics aren't discriminated
against in the workplace, the NIO chooses to play along and
undermine society instead.

The cynicism required to pull this off is disgusting.

For loyalists, 'social capital' means that the local
brigadier runs the youth centre.

For republicans, Catholic unemployment means fewer voters
escaping to the suburbs where 'weak community
infrastructure' might put them out of reach. For Stormont,
a balanced approach means pandering equally to both sides
as they contrive further grievances that everyone knows to
be nonsense.

The price of moving the process forward has become the
practice of moving Northern Ireland backwards.

October 14, 2005


DUP Warns Against Devolution 'Incentives'

14/10/2005 - 11:08:13

The Democratic Unionists will not be bought off into going
into a devolved government simply on the back of gaining
peerages and extra seats on the North's Policing Board, a
senior member warned today.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said the DUP would
still require the underlying problems in the province for
the unionist community to be addressed.

The former Stormont Regional Development Minister said: "It
may be the case that important issues like numerical
changes to the DUP's under-representation on the Policing
Board and the House of Lords are easiest to address for the

"It could also be the case that they naively believe a
number of DUP elected representatives offered positions to
which we are entitled might be an incentive towards
hastening a return to devolved government. The latter is a
fallacy that has to be dealt a fatal blow.

"If we were to be offered five times the number we are
likely to get of members of the House of Lords, the
underlying issues remain to be addressed."

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain yesterday announced
plans to reconstitute the Policing Board next April, which
will mean the DUP will increase its representation from
three to four.

The British government is also expected to announce soon
the first DUP peers, with Eileen Paisley, wife of the Rev
Ian Paisley, among those being tipped.

These moves are being interpreted as British recognition of
the change in political climate in the North since the 2003
Stormont Election, which has seen the DUP become the
largest party.

However, Mr Paisley's party has also presented Downing
Street with a 64-page document of issues it feels will need
to be addressed before they can contemplate reviving
devolved government.

Among the issues the DUP has demanded is a generous
severance and training package for Royal Irish Regiment
soldiers affected by demilitarisation plans which will axe
its three Northern Ireland based battalions, changes to the
Parades Commission, and a financial package to revitalise
working-class Protestant neighbourhoods.

Mr Campbell said today: "Our society in Northern Ireland
has reached a level of almost inherent bias against

"It is this bias that needs tackling, culture, employment,
education, minority Protestant recruitment to the police,
EU funding are just a few of the areas that need resolving,
not just agreeing to have them addressed.

"Important and justifiable as any additional appointments
might be to the Policing Board, and to the House of Lords
if they come, they do not even begin to address the
disadvantage and marginalisation felt by our community.

"It is when measures are implemented which make a
difference that political progress becomes a realistic and
lasting proposition, rather than belatedly making up
numbers for the largest political party in Northern


I Know These People - It's No Wonder Reid Lost His Temper

THE first thing to be said about Fr Alec Reid is that he is
not a saint - although some would try to deify him as
others now demonise him.

He lost his temper when under pressure at a public meeting
and said things for which he later apologised fully. The
apology has been accepted too by some of the more
considerate unionist leaders and by the majority of those
who remained in the hall after the row had subsided.

Nevertheless, severe damage has been done to his
credibility as a witness of decommissioning and as a

I must say I recognise some of those on television who
walked out. Some were people whose aggressiveness, whose
sense of victimhood and whose willingness to recriminate in
unrestrained terms, would try the patience of a saint.


It is not surprising that Fr Reid should have buckled
momentarily under the onslaught. On the other hand, many in
that audience would have suffered heavily directly and
through their families communities at the hands of the IRA
over the past 30 years and in earlier periods.

Alec Reid was, of course, quite wrong in the language he
used both in reference to Catholics being treated like
animals and in likening unionists to Nazis. Nobody should
be compared to Nazis without serious thought to the insult
this offers to the millions of Jews and others who perished
in the holocaust.

Part of the trouble is the deep cult of victimhood in the
north and the tribal nature of society there. Hurts are
magnified and consigned to the unforgiving data bank of the
folk memory; blame is always ascribed to someone else; and
slights are sought and gratefully accepted even when none
is intended.

History too is a separate and a tribal thing, carried
through folklore, in which both sides look back to an
imagined past not only of peace and security but of

Against that there is the growing modern trend to demand
apologies not only for one's own actions and those of the
present generation, but for the misdeeds, real or imagined
of past generations. There is a selectivity too about which
sleeping dogs are allowed to lie.

Unionists see this in demands for enquiries into every last
act by a policeman, but none of paramilitaries. They see
long and expensive enquiries into Bloody Sunday but none
into a range of outrages in which Protestants were

There is, however, a form of unionist revisionism, which
looks back to a golden age of tranquillity and good
community relations before "the troubles". If things were
as good as they say, how come there were protests, marches
and riots? At a time when unemployment ran at 7pc or 8pc,
joblessness in places like Strabane, Newry and Derry was in
the high 30s.

Industrial development favoured Protestant areas. A
Catholic could not get a job as a school bus driver in
Fermanagh. Catholics could not get houses, jobs, and in
many cases the local government vote.

What Fr Reid appeared to be reacting to is an
interpretation of history which puts all the blame on
Catholics and nationalists and denies the existence of
discrimination or state violence.

The Provos are the product of the situation, not the cause.
In the graffiti of West Belfast they "arose out of the
ashes of Bombay Street" (which had been burnt out by a
loyalist mob).

Fr Reid has damaged himself as a witness to the
decommissioning. His opponents will delight in belabouring
him in order to discredit his message. But he was, however
clumsily, expressing the need for mutual respect as a
precursor to dialogue leading to understanding.


It was better put by a Church of Ireland bishop, the father
of the poet Louis Macneice: "It would be well to remember
and to forget, to remember the good, the things which were
chivalrous and considerate and merciful, and to forget the
story of old feuds, old animosities, old triumphs, old
humiliations . . . forget the things that are behind you
that you may be the better able to put all your strength
into the tasks of today and tomorrow."

Good advice still, even it was given in 1935, and the stony
ground on which it fell has become even stonier.


Viewpoint: Sending Out Wrong Message

Nazi comment: A grave error of judgment by Fr Reid

14 October 2005

Efforts continue to patch up the row sparked by Fr Alec
Reid's controversial "Nazi" remarks, but the reality is
that much damage has already been done. The spoken word,
albeit uttered in the heat of the moment, cannot be taken

The Clonard priest was seemingly provoked by the offensive
comments made by some members of the audience at
Wednesday's meeting. But that does not excuse his bald
statement that unionist treatment of nationalists in
Northern Ireland was on a par with Nazi treatment of the

Inevitably, comparisons have been drawn with the allegation
made in January by President Mary McAleese about Protestant
indoctrination of their children.

In both cases, the problem is that a broad-brush approach
was applied. Neither Fr Reid nor Mrs McAleese set their
remarks in context at the time and were therefore perceived
to be branding the entire unionist community as Nazis.

As anyone who follows events in Northern Ireland is aware,
Nazi-like conduct has not been the sole preserve of
unionists, as Fr Reid implied. Indeed, many of the unionist
population's forebears laid down their lives - as did
nationalists - in fighting Hitler's tyranny during World
War Two.

Where Fr Reid got it badly wrong was in failing to identify
that only very small elements in both sections of the
community have been guilty of such behaviour, conduct which
the vast majority of law-abiding people despise and

The torching of Catholic and Protestant churches, the
attacks on Orange halls and GAA clubs, the indiscriminate
murder of innocent people in pubs and shops and the maiming
of individuals for falling foul of some warped paramilitary
code can all be characterised as Nazi-like activity.

Regrettably, for a man who has spent much of his life
trying to encourage the republican movement away from the
path of violence, Fr Reid has made a grave error of

It was unfortunate, to say the least, that in making his
comments he failed to draw attention to the Nazi-like
activities of the IRA, which murdered thousands of innocent
individuals in pursuit of its objectives.

That said, Fr Reid's apology should be seen as a heartfelt
attempt to mend fences. Despite the hurt caused, the hope
is that community relations will not suffer lasting damage.
The challenging but vital process of reconciliation must be
put back on track.


Defunct Assembly Runs Up A £70m Bill For Taxpayers

By Noel McAdam
14 October 2005

The mothballed Stormont Assembly has cost taxpayers more
than £70m since it last met three years ago, it can be
revealed today.

New statistics show the total cost of the Assembly
operation from its suspension on October 14, 2002, stands
at £71m.

The exact total worked out to the last penny -
£71,040,712.54 - runs up to September 30 last.

The largest slice of the three-year bill - £30.7m - is made
up of the salaries and allowances paid to the 108 Assembly

But close behind is the cost of the Assembly secretariat -
£25.8m - which continues despite suspension.

The remainder - £14.5m - comes under general capital costs,
including property, accommodation and business services.

Year on year, the salary and allowances costs of the
Assembly are continuing to increase, the figures obtained
from the Northern Ireland Office, reveal.

In the first full financial year after the last Assembly
was suspended, from April, 2003 to March, 2004, the total
salaries/allowances cost was given as £10,102,376.

By the next financial year, from April to March this year,
the total had increased to £10,415,731.

Yet the total running cost for the Assembly overall went
down across the two financial years, from £21m in 2003-4 to
£20.4m in 2004-5.

The cost revelations come amid fears the current Assembly,
elected in May, 2003, may pass into history without having
a single sitting.

Some Government officials privately fear it could take
until the next Assembly election, May, 2007, before a
devolution deal involving the DUP and Sinn Fein can be

Yet Secretary of State Peter Hain has given no hint he
could put the Assembly into abeyance - and there is no
clamour from civic society for it to go.

The new figures come just over a month after it emerged
that during the year 2001-2, when the Assembly was fully
functioning, the salaries and expenses paid to members came
to £10.1m.

During the following financial year - in which the
suspension of devolution took place - MLAs were paid a
total of £10.2m. It also emerged travel expenses claimed by
members added up to £524,176 and allowances paid to
Assembly members for the running and staffing of their
offices cost £4,636,069.


Opin: Who'll Take The Lead In Settling Our Differences?

London Life with Brian Walker
12 October 2005

From the leaders of our own two biggest parties, what we
are sadly lacking is any sign of them striking a new note
in favour of the interests of all of the people of Northern
Ireland. Concession politics in favour of one side or
another has its inevitable place but, unless the parties
move towards each other to fill the political vacuum, the
paramilitaries will never go away.

Whatever happened to Sinn Fein detaching itself completely
from the IRA? Last week saw Gerry Adams firmly impaled on
the hook of Slab Murphy. He will stay there at least until
the IMC lets him off it, whether or not the Manchester
raids turn up proof of a Slab connection. The significance
of the raids' timing is not that they were set up
specifically to rub Gerry Adams' nose in it as he entered
No 10, but that the authorities were prepared to take the
risk of exposing him so soon after the IRA had finally
disposed of its arsenal.

To defend Slab in one breath and in the next to go to
discuss the appointment of a Sinn Fein minister of justice,
shows just how radical a shift Sinn Fein needs to make
before we get anywhere close to a settlement.

The DUP start the parliamentary session with a temporary
tactical advantage, buoyed up by the creation shortly of
three DUP peers and Ian Paisley's symbolically significant
appointment as a privy councillor - a "Rt Hon" - as the
leader of the largest party. But that advantage will begin
to run out, assuming the IMC passes a favourable verdict on
the Provos. While the DUP can fairly insist on high
standards of compliance, they would be well-advised to take
the fact of IRA decommissioning seriously. No doubt they
have telling points to make about missing Florida guns and
the curious legal procedure for letting the OTRs go home.

No doubt, too, they'll get their share of sweeteners. But
concession politics won't work for them now as well it once
worked for Republicans. For one thing, the DUP haven't got
guns as leverage or the same influence with paramilitaries.
For another, delivery time is now arriving for everybody.
And obvious filibustering with 64 page documents will only
exasperate the governments and encourage intransigence
among loyalist paramilitaries.

The coming months will more and more expose the
contradictions in both parties' positions. The DUP will
soon have to make up their minds whether to keep denouncing
the inadequacies of the IRA response or take their share of
the credit for making the IRA go away. They can't do both.
Just as Sinn Fein have to decide whether to stay in denial
over IRA crimes or finally and convincingly split from them
and let the law take its course.

÷The Conservatives' blue-eyed boy 38-year-old David Cameron
appears to be on the brink of winning the party leadership,
more or less on the strength of one Blair-like touchy-feely
speech at last week's party conference. With his back to
the wall, former front-runner David Davis, who bombed in
Blackpool, warns that if his party tries to create a Blair
clone (code for Cameron), they'll fail.

"If the Tory party say they need a charlatan, they're not
going to pick me," snarls Davis, a former SAS territorial.

At a recent lunch, I found Cameron, despite his meteoric
rise, still behaving like a normal human being but without
revealing much depth. He gave an interesting hostage to
fortune by proposing a form of social work national service
for Britain's supposedly unruly youth.

"Compulsory service?" I asked him. "Maybe," he replied.
Cameron was eager to plug his version of Britishness -
(shared values, speaking English, real acceptance of
minorities, black or white, straight or gay).

But he didn't seem to know that Gordon Brown is developing
his own vision of Britishness in preparation for the

A big omission that, if the inexperienced Cameron is
serious about pitting himself against the second most
formidable political figure in these islands.


NI Lawyer Defends Saddam Hussein

A Londonderry solicitor is set to defend Saddam Hussein
against charges of crimes against humanity.

Des Doherty, who was also involved in the Bloody Sunday
inquiry, will act as the former dictator of Iraq's

Saddam's trial is due to begin next Wednesday in Baghdad.

The trial is expected to be one of the biggest in legal
history with TV pictures of proceedings to be relayed
around the world.

It is understood Anthony Scrivener QC, a prominent human
rights lawyer, has been approached to lead the defence.

Mr Scrivener helped free the Guildford Four in 1989.

Saddam Hussein's lawyers have attacked the legitimacy of
the tribunal and say they do not know all the charges.

Chief judge Raed Juhi has said he hopes the proceedings
will be televised.

Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman said Mr Scrivener's
participation would help to avoid the trial "descending
into farce".

"If this is not to become a mockery, [it is important] that
there are proper lawyers and good lawyers on the defence
side, who can help to make it into a fair process," he

Immunity claim

Abdel Haq Alani, the Iraqi-born barrister who has assembled
the defence team, told Newsnight the Iraqi Special Tribunal
where the trial is due to start on 19 October was illegal.

A fundamental part of justice is to ensure there is a fair
trial - that is not happening

Defence lawyer Abdel Haq Alani

"It was drafted by an occupying power. It has no right
under international law to change the legal system of the
occupied land," he said.

The only charges so far detailed against Saddam and seven
associates relate to 143 executions in the Shia village of
Dujail in 1982, which followed a failed assassination
attempt on the leader.

Newsnight was shown the original confirmation of death
sentences signed by Saddam.


But the defence will argue that the people executed had
been convicted properly and sentenced to death by the
courts and that the former Iraqi leader merely confirmed
those executions.

It is my legal and moral responsibility to ensure that
justice is done

Abdel Haq Alani

It also claims the former leader should have sovereign
immunity, like other heads of state including the Queen.

The defence team says it has just received an 800-page
bundle outlining the prosecution case but that many pages
are unreadable.

It also says the US is running the trial - Newsnight was
shown letters to and from Captain Mike McCoy, of the US
Defence Department, who the lawyers say is their only
channel to their client.

Just one defence lawyer, Khalil Dulaimi, has been allowed
to meet Saddam Hussein, they say.

Mr Alani told Newsnight: "It is my legal and moral
responsibility to ensure that justice is done and a
fundamental part of justice is to ensure there is a fair
trial - that, I think, is not happening in Iraq now."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/10/14 07:42:23 GMT


Muslims No Longer Strangers In Ireland

October 14, 2005

By Cathleen Falsani Religion Writer

DUBLIN -- The main reason I've returned to Ireland almost
yearly since my first visit in 1993 is because of

When it comes to welcoming strangers, being innately kind,
and unfailingly openhearted, the Irish are world champions.
At least in my book. Anyone who knows me has heard me say
(at least twice) that it is physically impossible to have a
bad time in Ireland, the ancestral home my grandmother,
Nell, left about 80 years ago.

Despite its moody weather, Ireland is, in my experience,
the friendliest place on earth.

Hospitality is, in essence, a spiritual quality. A virtue.
St. Benedict would seem to agree with me. He codified
hospitality as a spiritual practice in his famous rule,
telling his monks they should welcome strangers into their
midst as if each were Jesus Christ himself. Perhaps the
root of Ireland's uniquely friendly character has something
to do with its deep-seated and innate spirituality. It is a
mystical place, a land where spirit is all around,
cherished, fought and died for.

But until very recently, Ireland was a spiritually
homogenous land. A Christian nation, and, specifically, a
Roman Catholic land. It didn't start out that way, of
course. There is no need to recount herein Ireland's long
history of sectarian troubles, but many centuries hence,
there is a tacit and largely peaceful coexistence between
an increasingly nominal Catholic population, and its
minority Protestant neighbors.

Unfamiliar faces

A few years ago, I traveled to Ireland to write about its
tiny, but historic, Jewish population. With about 1,700
Jews in the Republic of Ireland and over the border in
Northern Ireland, it is believed to be one of the fastest
shrinking Jewish populations in the world. Jews have made
their home in Ireland for about a thousand years --the
earliest reference to its Jewish inhabitants being from the
11th century.

On that trip, I also made a note of something I'd not
noticed on earlier visits: women in hijab, the distinctive
head coverings of religious Muslim women, walking through
the Grafton Street shopping district, waiting for buses,
standing in the queue at Dublin's main post office. They
didn't seem to be tourists; they looked like locals. I took
a longer look around me and saw more unfamiliar faces in
the crowd: Africans, Arabs, Indians and Southeast Asians
living and working amidst the freckled redheads and those
with, as they say, "the map of Ireland on their faces."

So on this visit, which happened to coincide with the first
week of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, my husband and I
decided to stop by one of Dublin's most unique and unlikely
attractions: the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, a
sprawling, ornate mosque and community center (complete
with a copper dome and towering minaret, each topped with
Islam's crescent symbol) located on several acres of wooded
land in the city's tony suburb of Clonskeagh.

'More than welcome'

One of the first things we noticed as we drove through the
gates of the Islamic center complex was a sign advertising
its restaurant, the Olive Tree. All are welcome, for
breakfast, lunch and dinner, the sign beckoned. And they
deliver, too.

When I placed a call to the Islamic center -- one of two
official mosques in Dublin and one of about 10 in the north
and south of Ireland (including a Muslim meeting house in
rural County Cavan not far from my grandmother's home) -- I
wasn't sure what to expect. Even in Chicago, my calls
sometimes receive a mixed reception.

It's understandable. American Muslims, too often, are put
in the position to defend themselves and their faith
against the violent actions of a few scoundrels who claim
their murderous actions are done in the name of Islam. More
often than not, reporters call only when something's wrong.
So I was surprised -- stunned, really -- when I rang the
Dublin mosque late one afternoon, introduced myself as an
American religion writer and asked if I could come the next
morning to speak to someone about what life is like for the
Muslim community in Ireland.

Without a moment's hesitation, the friendly man on the
other end of the phone said, in typical Irish form
(although he said it with a heavy Malaysian accent),
"You're more than welcome."

So off we went.

As we sat in his groovy office in one wing of the vast
Islamic center, Nooh Al-Kaddo, the executive director,
smiled warmly and answered my questions enthusiastically
for more than an hour. An Iraqi native who moved from
Liverpool to Dublin in 1997 to run the Islamic center, Al-
Kaddo recounted some of the history of the Muslim community
in Ireland and his own experiences as a stranger in a
strange land. "If you talk about the Muslim community, it's
exactly like Ireland: It's changing and expanding and
becoming more colorful," Al-Kaddo told me.

The Muslim community, according to 2002 Irish census
figures, numbers about 20,000 in the south of Ireland and,
according to Irish Muslim leaders, is more like 25,000 in
the south with another few thousand in Northern Ireland.

When the Islamic Cultural Center of Ireland opened in
November 1996, Muslim leaders expected some day there might
be as many as 10,000 Muslims living in Ireland. They were
way off, Al-Kaddo said, laughing. Much of the dramatic
increase came in a wave of refugees and asylum seekers from
Eastern Europe and Africa in the mid-1990s, he said.

'Welcoming society'

The influx caused some friction at first, both within the
broader Irish population and the Irish Muslim community
itself. The newcomers looked different. They didn't speak
English. And their culture was vastly different from
anything traditionally Irish.

Still, eventually, the new arrivals were welcomed warmly.

"It was a bit of a shaky time back then," Al-Kaddo said,
"how to help them integrate positively and rightly, and,
for me the most difficult task: making sure they knew how
to distinguish between culture and religion. . . . To
convince them of this took time."

For instance, Islamic scripture does not say Muslim women
must cover their faces, or that non-Muslims may not enter a
mosque. Both were cultural misunderstandings the new
arrivals brought with them, Al-Kaddo explained, as a herd
of uniformed Catholic high school students traipsed past
his window on their way into the mosque. It was a field
trip, one of many made every weekday by Irish
schoolchildren, civic groups and tourists from around the

"The society here is a welcoming society. We never felt --
even during Sept. 11, the London bombing and the Madrid
bombing -- that we were blamed." There were no real threats
made to their mosques, no incidents of hate crimes against
Irish Muslims, Al-Kaddo said. "We never had such problems
that made us feel like we are not welcome in this society."

It's been the policy of the Dublin Muslim community since
its inception to be open, friendly neighbors. That is why
the walls of the mosque and Islamic center are low, the
windows are open, passersby can see into the complex. It
doesn't look fortified. It looks inviting, welcoming. And
it is.

"I used to stand outside and see the people, the Irish
people, standing outside the gates, looking," Al-Kaddo
recalled. "I saw them and I used to go to them and welcome
them. They'd say, 'Can we come in?' And I said, 'Yes of
course, you can come in.' And they'd say, 'Are you sure?!'
And of course I am sure. Nowadays, 60 percent of the
customers in the restaurant are Irish, non-Muslims. Even
Miriam Ahern [the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's wife] came
here last week to our shop."

When it was time for us to leave, Al-Kaddo showed us to the
door, apologized for not having offered us tea or coffee --
he'd forgotten as he's fasting for Ramadan -- and wished us

As-Salamu Alaikum.

Or as the Irish say, Siochan Leat.

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