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November 24, 2005

OTR Bill Passes 2nd Reading Under Attack

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News about Ireland and the Irish

IT 11/24/05
Hain Takes Pounding Over On-The-Runs Bill
GU 11/23/05 Opin: Blood, Sweat And Tears
SF 11/23/05 Govt Needs To Get Over EU Constitution
IT 11/24/05 McAleese Honours Irish Monk Who Shaped Europe


Hain Takes Pounding Over On-The-Runs Bill

Blair government wins vote at second reading but is
warned Bill's survival will depend on amendments Frank
Millar, London Editor.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain suffered a heavy
pounding in the Commons yesterday as the Conservatives,
Liberal Democrats, DUP, SDLP and Ulster Unionists joined
forces against his controversial proposals for dealing with
on-the-run (OTR) terrorist suspects.

As expected, the Blair government won the vote at the end
of the second reading of the Northern Ireland (Offences)
Bill, which opponents claim provides an effective amnesty
or pardon for OTRs - and for potentially many hundreds more
who committed terrorist-related offences prior to the
Belfast Agreement in April 1998. At the end of a six-hour
debate the government defeated the opposition amendment by
313 votes to 258, a majority of 55. The government's
majority then fell to 48 on the main motion, which was
carried by 310 votes to 262.

However, victory came with a heavy warning from former
Northern Ireland secretary Paul Murphy that ministers would
need to consider seriously "sensible amendments" to their
Bill if it is to survive its later Commons stages and avoid
defeat in the Lords.

That prospect was heightened yesterday as the Conservatives
and Liberal Democrats came together with all the Northern
Ireland parties sitting in the Commons for the first time
to oppose the principle of government legislation arising
from the peace process.

In a characteristically calm and understated intervention,
Mr Murphy surprised the government front bench, saying he
would support the Bill at second reading though it was
"still, I think, a very bitter pill to swallow". Observing
the scale of cross-party opposition to the measure, Mr
Murphy told ministers they were operating in changed
circumstances since 1998: "The difference between now and
1998 is that there has not been a referendum and the
context is obviously very different." And he warned: "It is
only republicans among the parties who want this
legislation; so it is imperative that other measures are
taken to provide reassurance across the board."

Among other things, he suggested, this would need to
include republican acceptance of the North's policing
arrangements, and serious consideration of the position of

No less telling was the contribution of SDLP leader Mark
Durkan, who accused the government of betraying victims of
terrorism, and pledged his party would table amendments in
the committee stages of the Bill, seeking to restrict its
provisions in accordance with the defence for it offered by

As prime minister Tony Blair met RUC widows at 10 Downing
Street, Mr Durkan told MPs people in Northern Ireland could
have no confidence in assurances from government since - at
the time of the 1998 referendums - Mr Blair and Taoiseach
Bertie Ahern had insisted outstanding cases would be
pursued. It was on that basis, said Mr Durkan, that many
had struggled to say "yes". Rejecting government
suggestions that the OTR proposal flowed from the Belfast
Agreement, Mr Durkan charged that government conduct of the
peace process in the intervening years "has actually
corrupted the implementation of the agreement". The SDLP
leader also challenged the logic of Mr Hain's insistence
that the measure was an appropriate and necessary response
to the IRA's statement formally ending its campaign last
July, since loyalist paramilitaries who had not
decommissioned weapons would also benefit.

Mr Hain repeatedly assured MPs his purpose was to secure
convictions where possible of those guilty of offences and
thus offer some measure of "closure" for the victims of

However, Mr Durkan countered: "The Northern Ireland
(Offences) Bill is the Northern Ireland Offensive Bill as
far as victims are concerned. This is about closure for
victim makers."

He equally sharply rejected Mr Hain's argument that the
real "amnesty" would be to allow fugitives to continue "to
run free, never having to account for their crimes". The
SDLP leader said: "It [ the Bill] mightn't carry the name
but it has all the DNA of an amnesty." Its provisions, he
said, were "a bespoke system" of privileges and guarantees
which amounted to "an amnesty in all but name".

© The Irish Times


Opin: Blood, Sweat And Tears

Simon Hoggart
Thursday November 24, 2005
The Guardian

The government spent yesterday forcing through what amounts
to an amnesty for Northern Ireland terrorists who committed
crimes before 1998 and who have never been banged up. The
bill, a quid pro quo for IRA disarmament, is loathed by
every party in the Commons except Labour, and by every
party in Northern Ireland except Sinn Féin, many of whose
supporters will benefit from its kindly terms.

What ministers would like to say is, "look, we know it's
hateful, and a lot of vile homicidal maniacs will be able
to come home, but it will probably save lives in the long
run, so it's worth it."

But that would be much too bald. Instead they adopted a
hand-wringing near-despair at what they were obliged to do.

Tony Blair said he "totally understood the pain and
anguish" of the victims' families.

He hoped they would understand that this was something that
had to be dealt with.

The place went berserk. "No, no!" they shouted, "shame on

It sounded weirdly old-fashioned, how the Commons is meant
to sound in television dramas, but almost never does.

Poor Peter Hain, the Ulster secretary, had to launch the
bill in the Commons. He really had no response except to
say that the legislation would be "hard to bear" and that
introducing the bill hurt him as much as it must hurt the

"We are all in the same boat," he said at one point, a
remark greeted with catcalls and jeers. "No you're not!"
they yelled at him.

He kept repeating that he hoped the bill would bring
"closure", a term which is psycho-babble for "peace of
mind". DUP members, who sat in a long and furious line,
like wasps waiting for the picnic, were enraged. There
could be no "closure" for people who had lost their loved
ones, often in horrifying circumstances. It turned out that
Mr Hain meant that there would now be "closure" of the
IRA's campaign of violence, or "an ending" as we say in

So the DUP became even angrier: "This is an offensive and
nauseating bill," barked Nigel Dodds. (The DUP case would
have been even stronger if they had accepted that some of
the worst atrocities were committed by Protestants. But
they never quite managed that.) Worse, much worse, was to
follow for Mr Hain.

William McCrea, the DUP member for South Antrim, stood up
and said very softly: "I stood in the mortuary and looked
in the face, or part of the face, of my cousin, 21 years of
age, engaged to be married that day.

"I then asked to see my other cousin, aged 16, her brother,
blown up by the IRA. He wasn't on a table. There wasn't
enough to put on a table."

At this point, and without warning, Mr McCrea began to sob.
"His remains were lying on the floor."

Here he choked up, and after a long pause pleaded: "I ask
the secretary of state to tell me: am I to bury justice to
appease murderers?"

I have never seen anyone cry in the House of Commons
before. It was a moment that was somehow deeply moving and
slightly embarrassing at the same time.

The correct response was, of course, "we are doing this so
that other people will not have to suffer what you went
through," but that's not allowed, and Mr Hain was reduced
to sincere flannel.

The other emotional speech came from Lembit Opik, the
Liberal Democrats' spokesman, whose greatly loved brother,
a Belfast man, died suddenly from an unknown cause on
Monday, aged 37.

Mr Opik somehow managed to be wise and funny through his
grief: "My brother would have wanted me to be here, not
least because to be mentioned in the Commons by name would
have appealed to his vanity."

But how was it, he asked, that Tony Blair had fought to
lock up terrorist suspects for 90 days, on the very day he
had tabled this bill, which would allow real terrorists to
come home without even the threat of imprisonment? Answer
came there none.


Govt Needs To Get Over EU Constitution

Published: 23 November, 2005

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláín has said, "The
EU Constitution is dead and this government needs to get
through the grieving process and move on." Speaking in the
Dáil today he said, "Sinn Fein has an electoral mandate to
engage with EU policy, challenging the democratic deficit
and all those policies that are adverse to Irish interests
and promoting an agenda of equality and meaningful active
citizenship within Europe."

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "The EU Constitution is dead and
this government needs to get through the grieving process
and move on. Sinn Féin wants Ireland to move on and begin
a long overdue debate on the future of Europe. This debate
must be based on an acknowledgment that the referenda in
France and the Netherlands, and opinion polls from other
European countries, demonstrate that the current socio-
economic model i.e. the content of the Constitution is not
working and is unacceptable.

"Sinn Féin is not afraid to stand up against EU measures
that are damaging to Irish interests. Our policy on the EU
is one of 'principled critical engagement'. This means
that we decide to support or oppose the many and complex
developments in the EU each on its own merits, using the
criteria of democracy, transparency and accountability,
equality and human rights compliance, the effect on Irish
sovereignty and potential for promoting Irish unity.

"One such area is the Hague Programme. The Hague Programme
is fundamentally flawed and these flaws are being
exacerbated by an action plan which frontloads contentious
measures relating to, for example, the transfer of
sentenced persons and judicial and police co-operation
ahead of measures relating to minimum standards in the
taking of evidence, pre-trial detention procedures and work
with respect to police standards. Elements of this action
plan are dependent on the EU Constitution. In light of its
defeat a moratorium should be introduced on the passage
through this House of all further EU measures stemming from
the Hague Programme, pending the outcome of a full review
and debate. So I will reiterate the demand I have made on
numerous occasions for a full debate on the Hague
Programme, the necessity for which has been acknowledged by
Michael McDowell and his department officials. And I would
ask the Minister to include in his closing remarks a
guarantee that this debate will indeed take place and an
indication as to the date.

"Sinn Fein has an electoral mandate to engage with EU
policy, challenging the democratic deficit and all those
policies that are adverse to Irish interests and promoting
an agenda of equality and meaningful active citizenship
within Europe. In the coming period Sinn Fein will
continue to encourage genuine debate in this House and
throughout the country on the Europe Union, its current
policies and neo-liberal policy trajectory and on the
quality of the government's representation of this and
engagement with it." ENDS


McAleese Honours Irish Monk Who Shaped Europe

Lara Marlowe, in Paris

President Mary McAleese chose a perfect day to visit
Paris - one of those clear, cold autumn days when your
breath comes out white in the air.

In a way, Saint Columbanus chose it for her, by dying 1,390
years ago yesterday. To commemorate the 6th-century Irish
monk credited with reconverting Europe to Christianity, the
Centre Culturel Irlandais, the Irish Bishops' Conference
and the Columban Fathers commissioned a statue from one of
Ireland's best-known sculptors, German-born Imogen Stuart.

And what a statue. Four metres high, 3½ tonnes in weight,
and cut from white Portuguese limestone by stone carver
Philip O'Neill.

"I'm too old to do it all myself," said Stuart.

A petite woman in an artist's beret, she does not look her
78 years. "From a distance, it looks like a flame or two
hands," she said of her work, entitled The Flame of Human
Dignity. At close range, two feathered wings are visible.

Mrs McAleese packed a lot into her brief stay in Paris, the
first in five years: dinner on Tuesday night with 250
guests of the Ireland-France Chamber of Commerce; a private
lunch yesterday at the Café de Flore with her husband,
Martin, followed by the reception at the Irish College.

"Columbanus was one of many Irish monks whose lives were
dedicated to pilgrimage, exile and evangelism," Mrs
McAleese told the crowd in the Irish College courtyard.
"But his is the name that sticks." So much so that Robert
Schuman, one of the founders of the European Union, called
Columbanus: "One of the patron saints of all those who
today seek to build a united Europe." The words are
engraved on the base of Stuart's sculpture.

The successors of Columbanus, Mrs McAleese said, are "all
those who seek reconciliation, who invest in peace, who
instil respect for the otherness of others, who forswear
sectarianism. . . is the father of us all, whether we are
Protestant or Catholic, unionist or nationalist."

Representing the bishops' conference, Bishop Joseph Duffy
provoked laughter when he quoted Saint Columbanus as saying
"there has never been a heretic or schismatic" in Ireland.

Father Thomas Murphy of the Columban Fathers said the saint
"arguably had a greater influence in France and Europe than
any other Irish person, living or dead".

© The Irish Times

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