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January 08, 2006

Ahern & Blair In New Drive For Progress

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News about Ireland & the Irish

IT 01/09/06 Ahern, Blair In New Drive For North Progress
II 01/08/06 O'Rourke Sparks Row Over 'Blacks' Remarks
SI 01/08/06 Corkman Beats Intl Stars At Poker Championship
IT 01/09/06 Irish Rowers Are Rescued From Atlantic
IO 01/08/06 Quarter Of Irish Have Lowest Level Of Literacy
IO 08/08/06 Mass Marks Annvrsry Of Robert Holohan's Death


Ahern, Blair In New Drive For North Progress

Gerry Moriarty, Northern Editor

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Tony
Blair have agreed to embark on a new drive to persuade the
DUP and Sinn Féin to take the initiatives to restore
devolution to Northern Ireland, according to senior
official sources.

Mr Ahern and Mr Blair will meet in either London or Dublin
in the last two weeks of this month. In February or March,
Mr Blair is planning a major speech in Northern Ireland
similar to the keynote "acts of completion" address he
delivered in Belfast in October 2002.

All the signs are that the Independent Monitoring
Commission's report on IRA activity, due to be published in
early February, will be positive and the governments are
hoping to use that report as the spur for renewed political
action to restore devolution.

And as part of the concentration of political minds,
Northern Secretary Peter Hain availed of a BBC Radio Ulster
interview on Saturday to warn he may stop pay and
allowances to the North's Assembly members if there is no
sign of political progress by the summer.

Each of the 108 Assembly members was receiving £85,000
(€123,500) in pay and expenses.

Since suspension in October 2002 it cost £78 million (€113
million) for the Assembly "to do nothing", added Mr Hain.

Last Thursday Mr Blair, who is now free from his European
Union presidency and G8 responsibilities, gave over a day
at Downing Street to meet Mr Hain and key Northern Ireland
officials to plan the strategic way ahead to persuade DUP
leader the Rev Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin president Gerry
Adams to finally do business together.

"You will certainly see a quickening of the political pace
in February," said a senior official yesterday. "We are not
trying to bounce anybody into anything, but if the IMC
report says the IRA is inactive, as we expect, then there
are key questions that the DUP and Sinn Féin must answer,"
he said.

"If the IRA is off the stage, then the DUP will have to
provide reasons for not engaging with Sinn Féin. Equally
with the enabling legislation coming through to devolve
justice and policing to the Assembly, if it returns, Sinn
Féin will have to explain why it isn't signing up to
policing. That's where the political focus will be," he

In October 2002 after the Stormontgate collapse of the
Northern Executive and Assembly, Mr Blair made it clear in
a major speech at Belfast Harbour Commissioners that until
the IRA disarmed and ended activity - the "acts of
completion" - there could be no political movement.

Mr Blair and his senior advisers are now planning a similar
speech in Northern Ireland, sometime around the period of
the February IMC report, making it clear that the DUP and
Sinn Féin must take risks respectively on power-sharing and
policing to facilitate a return to devolution.

Mr Ahern also indicated a gathering Dublin-London Northern
political process momentum when he told RTÉ's This Week
programme yesterday that risks must be taken to reinstate
the Northern Executive and Assembly.

"I really believe that 2006 is the year where we should try
to get back the institutions in Northern Ireland. Everybody
has to take chances, everybody has to take risks," he said.

Remaining obstacles could be overcome, but politicians
should not be seeking the unobtainable, he said. "If we all
try to get it absolutely right, absolutely certain that
every last thing is tied down, that every last gun is gone
and that every dodgy character on all sides is absolutely
clean - you just can't make that happen. We have to take
some chances," added Mr Ahern.

Mr Adams, at a Sinn Féin ard chomhairle meeting in Dublin
on Saturday, welcomed what he said was a British-Irish
governmental commitment to "revive the peace process".

"The Good Friday agreement cannot be kept in mothballs
indefinitely and we have told both governments that the
Assembly, in its current form, is not viable. The political
vacuum cannot continue.

"Following the IRA initiatives of last year there is
growing expectation among the public that the process will
move forward. There needs to be progress by the summer," he

DUP justice spokesman Ian Paisley jnr said the DUP wanted
to make political progress but that it had to be on a "firm
foundation". SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the two
governments "need to be very clear and convincing that we
are on a countdown to restoration of the democratic
institutions of the Good Friday agreement".

© The Irish Times


O'Rourke Sparks Row Over 'Blacks' Remarks

Praise for workers lands her inhot water after election

Eugene Moloney and Gene McKenna

SEANAD leader Mary O'Rourke was last night in hot water
after saying some of her campaign helpers had worked "like

She used the phrase while thanking her campaign workers for
getting her selected for the third spot on the Fianna Fail
general election ticket for Longford-Westmeath.

Her 'blacks' comment drew loud groans from the crowd.

Asked afterwards what she meant, an obviously taken aback
Mrs O'Rourke said: "I just meant that they worked very

Last night there was surprise at her comments given her
excellent record on immigration issues.

Even her sharpest critics conceded that she would not have
intended any offence.

They said she had most likely used a phrase which was in
common usage in a different decade.

Nonetheless, the Residents against Racism said they were
deeply upset by the comments and found them "deeply

Spokesperson Rosanna Flynn called on her to apologise.

"I am really surprised at her. It is very offensive to a
lot of people," she said. "It's a real gaffe."

Peter O'Mahoney, chief executive of the Irish Refugee
Council, said: "The use of such language is ill advised."

But he added that Mrs O'Rourke was "one of a relatively
small number of national politicians who are fairly brave
on refugee issues".

Fine Gael's Jim O'Keeffe said it was not a wise way to
express herself in this day and age.

Labour's Michael D Higgins said: "I don't think she had any
insulting intention at all." But he added: "People have
moved on and there is a language that we used before when
people were not so well informed."

Senator O'Rourke's nephew, Junior Foreign Affairs Minister
Conor Lenihan, was in a storm of controversy last May after
his infamous "kebab" gaffe.

Mr Lenihan, a TD for Dublin South West, was forced to
apologise for what was widely regarded as a jibe at Turkish
workers during the course of a heated and hotly contested
Dail debate. Mrs O'Rourke scraped through a tense selection
convention by nine votes, defeating her sole opponent Cllr
Kevin 'Boxer' Moran by 48 to 39.

They had both conducted a high-intensity campaign for weeks
as they fought a tough struggle for the vital deciding

The senator said after her victory that herself and Cllr
Moran had conducted a "harmonious" campaign, adding: "Would
you believe it!"

There was loud laughter and shouts of 'no' from some of the
delegates who also groaned when she spoke of the hardcore
of her helpers in the campaign working "like blacks".

In her victory speech, she spoke of Fianna Fail as "the
Republican party", despite the claims of other parties in
that regard.

The party's National Constituencies Committee had decided
in advance of the convention that sitting TDs Peter Kelly,
in the Longford area, and Donie Cassidy, in the northern
end of the Westmeath district, would be put on the ticket

This left the two Athlone candidates, Sen O'Rourke and Cllr
Moran, in a straight contest to join them in the Dail race.

Mrs O'Rourke (68) has been itching to get back into the
Dail after her sensational defeat in the 2002 general
election in what was then the Westmeath constituency.

Mr Cassidy, himself then a senator, beat her for the second
Fianna Fail seat after a bitter and bruising campaign which
left a huge residue of anger in the O'Rourke camp.

Mrs O'Rourke's victory sets the scene for a battle royal
between O'Rourke and Cassidy.


Corkman Beats International Stars At Poker Championship

08 January 2006 21:13

Cork native Kieran Walsh has fended off opposition from
some of the world's best poker players to win 150,000 at
this year's Irish Poker Championship Final
in Citywest tonight.

Damian Kavanagh from Dublin was second and scooped 70,000.
Kavanagh had won his entry to the final by paying just 50
to enter one of the weekly satellites in the Red Cow Hotel,
which he went on to win.

Third was another Irishman, Dave Masters, and he ended up
winning 30,000. Barney Boatman, one of the infamous London
poker players group 'The Hendon Mob', was the hot favourite
going into the final, but could only finish in fourth,
winning 18,000.

The tournament began on Friday evening in Citywest with 398
players competing. The line up included top Irish comedian
Tommy Tiernan, alongside snooker legends Steve Davis, Ken
Doherty and Alex Higgins. Alex Higgins and Tommy Tiernan
were unlucky to go out on the first night but Ken Doherty
just missed out on winning a share of the prize when he
went out late on Saturday night.

"It was a fantastic weekend of poker with some of Ireland
and the world's best poker players competing," said Paul
Magee, spokesperson for "The tournament has
been so successful and is now the biggest poker tournament
in Ireland and one of the biggest in Europe. We are already
looking forward to next year."

The Irish Poker Championship began in
September with regional heats and finals nationwide. More
than 3,000 people took part making it Ireland's biggest
ever poker tournament. Nearly 800,000 in prize money has
been given away since the tournament began.


Irish Rowers Are Rescued From Atlantic

Liam Gorman

Two Irish oarsmen competing in the Atlantic Rowing Race
were rescued from heavy seas last night by a Spanish-
flagged supertanker. The pair's boat, the Digicel Atlantic
Challenge, was located overturned and the crew were then
found in a life-raft.

Gearóid Towey (28) and Ciarán Lewis (34) had sent out a
distress signal at 5.35pm which was picked up at US Coast
Guard base in Norfolk, Virginia.

The tanker was asked to head for the area by the coast
guard and found the men, alive, at approximately 10 o'clock
last night. "That's brilliant," said Towey's father, Gerry,
last night. "I'm so relieved." He said that the boat's
rudder had broken the night before and the crew would not
have abandoned the race unless something had gone seriously

Towey, an Olympic oarsman and former world champion, and
Lewis have been competing in the race from the Canary
Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean. Yesterday's distress
signal had been sent from approximately 1,400 nautical
miles south-east of Bermuda. Coast guard aircraft from San
Juan and a boat from Clearwater were on standby.

The organisers of the race, Woodvale Events, said last
night that their support yacht was approximately 115
nautical miles from the Irish vessel and could not be the
first vessel there.

Towey and Lewis set off from La Gomera in the Canaries on
November 30th with the aim of reaching Antigua in the
Caribbean as the fastest of the 20 pairs in the Atlantic
Rowing Race.

The last position logged on the website of the race for the
Irish craft put them 1,636 miles into the 2,931-mile race.

Bad weather had hampered the event, and Towey and Lewis had
faded back in the rankings, but the crew had been making
good progress in recent days, covering 70 miles on Friday,
their best mileage so far. However, they were again
hampered in recent days by the weather.

"I spoke to them at 4.30 today," said Donal Hanrahan of
their support team last night.

"They had a broken rudder and couldn't fix it in the big
seas. They were a bit cheesed off, but they were fine." The
crew are raising money for Concern and the Merchant's Quay

Towey (28) has been one of Ireland's top rowers for a
decade. At the senior world championships, the Corkman won
a gold medal in 2001 and bronze in 1999 and 2003.

© The Irish Times


Quarter Of Irish Population Have Lowest Level Of Literacy

08/01/2006 - 19:32:49

At least a quarter of the population in Ireland have the
lowest level of literacy, while a further third are only
barely able to read and write.

The Irish Vocational Educational Association provides more
than 90% of adult learning classes and courses.

But the group says its work is underfunded and understaffed
and General Secretary Michael Moriarty said today that the
increasing number of non-nationals who need to learn
English is adding to the strain on its services.


Special Mass Marks Anniversary Of Robert Holohan's Death

08/01/2006 - 16:02:42

The community of Midleton in County Cork has been
remembering 11-year-old Robert Holohan, who was killed a
year ago.

As well as the boy's family and friends, Gardaí, soldiers
and volunteers who took part in the search for him have
attended a special mass to mark the first anniversary of
his death.

In his homily, Father Billy O'Donovan paid tribute to the
courage of Robert's parents, Mark and Majella, since the
tragic loss of their son.

"In the past 12 months, you've shown remarkable courage and
strength. You've been an example under extraordinary
difficult circumstances," he said.

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