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January 21, 2006

Sinn Fein Ready To Do Business

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News About Ireland & The Irish

SF 01/21/06
SF Ready To Do Business - Says Adams
BT 01/21/06
Hogg Is Challenged On Finucane Stance
BT 01/21/06
DUP To Reveal Talks Blueprint
EX 01/21/06
Deaths Review Could Pursue Politicians
SM 01/21/06
Scuffles At Scottish Republican March
WT 01/21/06
McGuinness Advises Sri Lanka On Peace
BT 01/21/06
IFA Backs The Maze Stadium 'In Principle'
II 01/21/06
Opin: Are We Turning A Blind Eye For Peace?
IT 01/21/06
Opin: Face It, Battle To Save Language Is Lost
IT 01/21/06
Opin: Vigilante Groups Given Control Of Law
IT 01/21/06
Opin: Fianna Fáil Makes Timely Gains
BT 01/21/06
Opin: One Long, Hard Struggle Is Just Beginning
TS 01/21/06
Dirty Tricks Target Ryan
BT 01/21/06
Book: Ulster's Lingering Paisley Question
SM 01/21/06
Book: The Monkey' On His Back
BN 01/21/06
Michael Collins To Be Remembered In Sligo
WP 01/21/06
KCs - The Road To Sainthood?

(Poster’s Note: I am trying something different this AM. In stead of saving this posting so that it a specific number of spaces wide on your screen, I am allowing the width to be determined by your screen. If you have any feedback (positive or negative) on this change, just reply and let me know. Jay)


Sinn Féin Ready To Do Business - Says Adams

Published: 21 January, 2006

A special meeting of the Sinn Féin leadership is taking place in Dublin this weekend. The meeting, which began yesterday evening, will conclude in the city this evening. The meeting of the party's Ard Chomhairle, along with key activists from across the island, will agree political strategy and set programmes of work for 2006. This will include electoral preparations, north and south, a national recruitment campaign and other initiatives to highlight the inadequacies of the Irish government's social and policies. The party leadership will also discuss the current state of the peace process and the party's strategy for ensuring that substantive progress is made in the next few months.

Speaking today the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams set out what republicans believe are the necessary next steps for the two governments.

'It is time to end the stalemate,' said Mr. Adams. 'That means:

:: An end to the illegal suspension of the institutions imposed by the British government in October 2002.

The triggering of the d'honte mechanism, for electing the Executive.

:: Agreement by the DUP to take up their seats in an Executive along with other mandated parties

:: Substantive progress on outstanding aspects of the Agreement including demilitarisation, equality and human rights issues

:: The conclusion of the debate on policing on the basis set out in December 2006

:: Northern representation to be brought forward in the Oireachtas

:: Delivery of a peace dividend for the north and border counties.

Text of Mr. Adams remarks

Last year the IRA formally ended its armed campaign and put its weapons beyond use under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

This hugely significant initiative has created the conditions for the peace process to move forward.

That was seven months ago. It is time to end the obscenity of British Direct Rule. All other issues aside, the cost of British Ministers running the north is too high in terms of jobs lost, increasing poverty, rising energy costs, incompetence and inefficiency.

Consequently, the Irish government needs to ensure that the talks in February are about the speedy restoration of the political institutions and the implementation of the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.

The current Assembly was elected in November 2003. It has never met. This is a farcical and unacceptable situation. It cannot continue. The status quo is not an option.

Sinn Féin is ready for progress and ready for the challenge of serving in government with the DUP. In recent weeks we have been in contact with the British and Irish governments at the highest levels. This will continue in the time ahead. Sinn Féin is ready to do business.

We have told the governments that republican initiatives have created new conditions for progress and that the onus is now on them to advance the process and re-establish the political institutions.

So in the weeks ahead this requires:

:: An end to the illegal suspension of the institutions imposed by the British government in October 2002.

:: The triggering of the d'honte mechanism for electing the Executive.

:: Agreement by the DUP to take up their seats in an Executive along with other mandated parties

:: Substantive progress on outstanding aspects of the Agreement including demilitarisation, equality and human rights issues

:: The conclusion of the debate on policing on the basis set out in December 2006

:: Northern representation to be brought forward in the Oireachtas

:: Delivery of a peace dividend for the north and border counties.

The stalemate cannot continue. There needs to be a genuine effort to end it in the months ahead. 2006 will be a make or break year for the institutions and the Good Friday Agreement.

It is obvious that some of the difficulties we have witnessed in recent weeks are the desperate efforts of those who have spent the last fifteen years trying to derail the peace.

Sinn Féin is going into the February discussions determined to make progress and determined that the next few months should see the delivery of the huge expectations of the people of this island. They expect political leaders to deliver. It's time we did."ENDS


Hogg Is Challenged On Finucane Stance

Protest group demands answer

By Andrea Clements
21 January 2006

A former Tory minister has been heckled in a Belfast courtroom by an anti-collusion group demanding to know whether he stands over controversial comments he made before the death of Pat Finucane.

Douglas Hogg, QC, was in Northern Ireland yesterday to represent the widow of a soldier, Michael White, at his inquest when members of AnFhirinne (Irish for Truth) held up placards of the murdered solicitor and asked the barrister to outline his stance.

The group says it is wrong that the former Home Office minister sought justice for the White family after stating in the House of Commons in January 1989 during a debate over the prevention of Terrorism Act that some lawyers in Northern Ireland were unduly sympathetic to the IRA.

Mr Finucane was shot dead the following month.

Members of the campaign group AnFhirinne shouted: "Do you remember a statement in the House of Commons about some solicitors being unduly sympathetic (to the IRA)?

"Do you still stand by those remarks, Mr Hogg?"

But the MP, who was a Home Office minister in 1989, made no reply as he left by a rear door.

Former Scotland Yard chief Sir John Stevens, who investigated allegations that the security forces collaborated with Ulster Defence Association killers, found that Mr Hogg had been compromised by RUC officers who briefed him before his statement.

But relatives of Mr Finucane, who insist police were involved in the plot, remain incensed by what was said.

His son John, a trainee solicitor, said that he was appalled at Mr Hogg's court visit to Belfast.

"He has treated my family with complete disdain and he has never offered an apology.

"My father was an officer of court in this jurisdiction and I find it galling that Mr Hogg was over here practising.

"Hopefully he will have to face a full and an independent public inquiry where he will have to account for what was said."

AnFhirinne spokesman Robert McClenaghan said his group's protest, which had not started until official legal proceedings had been completed, had been peaceful.

"We were highlighting in particular the death of Pat Finucane and hundreds of cases of collusion at the highest British government level."


DUP To Reveal Talks Blueprint

By Noel McAdam
21 January 2006

DUP leader Ian Paisley is to table his party's devolution blueprint with Tony Blair next week, it was confirmed last night.

A DUP delegation is due to meet Mr Blair at Downing Street on Tuesday afternoon to outline its proposals which fall short of a fully-fledged Executive and have already been rebuffed by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

Under the plan it is understood Assembly members would be allowed to scrutinise decisions by Direct Rule Ministers and have some role in relation to Northern Ireland legislation.

Mr Paisley said his party's paper, entitled 'Facing Reality ... The Best way Forward' is a realistic way of ensuring "the foundation of good government".

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein leaders were due to meet in Dublin today to debate their strategy to attempt to ensure "substantive progress" over the next few months.

Joined by a number of activists, the party's executive (ard chomhairle) was also involved in involved in electoral preparations, both north and south, and a national recruitment campaign.

It has also emerged Ulster Unionists have submitted their own blueprint urging Mr Blair to set a date for recall of the Assembly in the next six months - and amend legislation so members can vote on structures short of full devolution.

Their envisaged interim arrangements at Stormont, which would then be collapsed for the next Assembly election in May next year, include an Assembly with legislative functions - dealing with Northern Ireland Bills, for example - rather than becoming another "talking shop".

In what it is calling "modular devolution", the party argues the Government is going to have to make a judgment call on whether a return of the Stormont Executive is likely.


North Deaths Review Team Could Pursue Politicians

By Dan McGinn

THE head of a North police team examining more than 3,000 unsolved murders from the Troubles said he may pursue in the courts any politician suspected of involvement.

As the Historical Enquiries Team prepares to reopen files on 3,268 killings by terrorists and security forces from Monday, Dave Cox said last night they would prosecute any suspect if there was enough evidence. “Our contact with the (victims’) families is dictated by their wishes but we also have a public statutory duty to investigate crime,” he said.

“We are an impartial and objective police team and we will go where the evidence takes us.”

There has been speculation the team, whose work will focus on a period from April 1969 to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, could uncover the involvement of republican and loyalist politicians in the killings.

Mr Cox said his team’s primary concern will be how victims’ families would like to have their cases resolved. This may not necessarily mean pursuing suspects through the courts.

“I have had somebody in front of me saying that they never got the chance to say goodbye to their dad and they wanted to see the pictures of the scene,” he said.

“There will be some cases where we can help, where we can answer. There will be some cases where our answers will be unacceptable and cases where we just can’t help because there is nothing we can do.

“But what they will get from us is honesty. It’s about families and it about what they want.”

The British Government has set aside £24.3 million (€35m) for the 84-person team. Another £7.3m (€10.65m) has been allocated for forensic scientists’ work in support of cases.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said the team’s efforts “will be of vital importance as we continue to move the peace process forward and assist those who have been directly affected to reach some understanding and closure”.

Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Irwin Montgomery, said the review team’s work was a clear signal that crime cannot be allowed to go unacknowledged.

“I hope those who think they have got away with past atrocities will now start to look over their shoulders and realise justice may catch up with them,” he said.

SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood said the cold case review was a brave and good idea.

Sinn Féin’s victims spokesman Philip McGuigan said: “However much this scheme is dressed up, it is still an internal unit of the PSNI, and is very much the case of the state investigating the state.

“The PSNI record to date in cases of state murder has been one of cover-up and concealment.”


Scuffles At Scottish Republican March

Scuffles broke out during a Republican march through the centre of Glasgow.

Hundreds of people took to the streets to take part in a parade to commemorate the events of Bloody Sunday.

But as marchers entered the city's George Square, they were confronted by several hundred Unionists who had gathered there.

Missiles such as cans and bottles were lobbed at the marchers as they made their way along George Street.

A heavy police presence ensured both sides were kept apart and that there was no repeat of last year's violent scenes.

Then shoppers in the city centre had been forced to duck for cover after a group of about 300 people tried to ambush the parade near to Glasgow's Queen Street train station.

But this time the march - which went from Shamrock Street through the city centre to the car park on High Street - passed off with only minor trouble.

A crowd of counter-demonstrators had gathered in George Square, some with Union Jacks and placards saying "IRA murderers off our streets".

They chanted, gesticulated and sang songs such as Rule Britannia as the marchers, who were flanked by police officers - including some on horseback - went past.

Jim Slaven of the event's organisers Cairde na hEirann (Friends of Ireland) said they were pleased with how it had gone and that all the people participating did so with dignity and respect.

© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2006, All Rights Reserved.


IRA Chief Negotiator Advises Sri Lanka On Peace Pursuit

World Briefings
January 21, 2006

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (Agence France-Presse) -- Ethnically divided Sri Lanka was in talks this week with the chief negotiator of the Irish Republican Army, Martin McGuinness, seeking to learn from the Northern Ireland peace process, officials said.

Mr. McGuinness held talks with President Mahinda Rajapakse on Tuesday, officials said, and the visitor also made a presentation to Cabinet ministers on his experiences.

They said Mr. McGuinness was to meet separately with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam regarding the island's faltering efforts to end three decades of bloodshed that has taken more than 60,000 lives.

"There is a lot we can learn from his experience," an official in Mrs. Rajapakse's office said. "Cabinet ministers had a closed-door meeting with him."

Sri Lanka is awaiting the arrival next week of Norwegian International Development Minister Erik Solheim to try to jump-start peace talks that have been on hold since April 2003.

Tamil Tiger rebels, who seek full independence for the island's ethnic Tamil minority, agreed to accept a federal solution in December 2002, but those talks remain inconclusive.

Some Tamil Tigers have already traveled to Northern Ireland to study the peace process there as well as to South Africa, which is seen as a potential venue for talks between Colombo and the Tigers.


IFA Backs The Maze Stadium 'In Principle'

Football and gaelic bodies support government plans but rugby is undecided

By Dan McGinn
21 January 2006

A government minister has welcomed the decision of the football authorities in Northern Ireland to support in principle a proposal for a 42,500-seat state-of-the-art stadium in the province.

David Hanson said yesterday that the decision of the Irish Football Association on Thursday was very good news for the Government's plans to build an £85m stadium on the site of the former Maze Prison near Lisburn ,which could be used for soccer, gaelic games and rugby as well as major rock concerts.

However, supporters of the alternative stadium proposals for Belfast claimed that the IFA's decision was far from a ringing endorsement of the Government's plans.

Mr Hanson said: "It has been a tough decision for the members of the IFA Executive but I am delighted that they have got to this point.

"I am now looking forward to hearing formally from the IFA.

"Undoubtedly there will be a number of issues that they will want to discuss with me and my department. I look forward to that dialogue."

The governing bodies of soccer, gaelic games and rugby had been given a deadline of the end of this month to declare if they were interested in the proposed stadium located at the Maze site.

The Government had insisted that if one of the bodies rejected the proposal then it would be completely withdrawn from the table.

The GAA and IFA have given their commitment in principle but Ulster Rugby has yet to make a decision.

IFA chief executive Howard Wells said that Northern Irish soccer's governing body would be consulting fans and was working in the best interests of the games.

After Thursday's meeting, he said: "Obviously we are trying to deliver things that are in the best interests of football.

"There is a lot of emotion but the real issue is that there is a period of time in which we have to work with the other the sports and the government to work out a business plan which suits football."

Critics of the Government's Maze Stadium plan claim that to locate the stadium on the site of the former prison would squander the tourist potential of having it located in the heart of Belfast.


Opin: Are We Turning A Blind Eye For Peace's Sake?

Sam Kinkaid, assistant chief constable of the PSNI, made the understatement of the year when he told the Northern Ireland Policing Board this week that the Provisional IRA is 'still involved in organised crime'. That word 'still' suggests that we are teetering on the edge of some change in the situation. No such prospect confronts us.

This was further reinforced by Sir Hugh Orde on Thursday giving his backing to Kinkaid, and confronting a junior minister who claimed the IRA had given up crime.

The statement, with this further development, confronts the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) with a serious problem, when it reports shortly on the levels of 'legitimacy' within the Provisional IRA and the extent to which they are renouncing criminal activity.

And that in turn will have a knock-on effect on Peter Hain's supposed strategy for restoring democracy and the support for this coming from Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern.

If the sort of 'construct' we have come to expect from the IMC now emerges we will be faced with a new security crisis spread across both parts of Ireland and into Britain.

And it is one on which far too many responsible figures are turning a blind eye.

With the notable and brave exception of Michael McDowell, politicians are insufficiently aggressive on the huge and continuing threat to democracy of Sinn Fein-IRA.

Political parties have no effective policies for dealing with the problem, and do not indicate sufficient understanding of it nor any proposals for political investigation. The silence of all of them was massive on foot of what the assistant chief constable said, even when he added that no paramilitary group, PIRA included, had ceased involvement in organised crime.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein-PIRA are doing what they always do, which is to praise its own organisation for what it has achieved - including the incomplete decommissioning and the incomplete process of eliminating the illegal army that, in manpower terms, runs its criminal operations - and demand from everyone else that 'we should move forward on the basis of equality'.

Of course, the catch in this is that Sinn Fein-PIRA only ever moves forward on the basis of numerous demands and conditions and does not accept similar demands (such as those made by the DUP about Sinn Fein-PIRA criminality) from its political opponents or simply from law-abiding citizens.

The British government seems happy with that Sinn Fein-PIRA assessment and would like to move forward along those lines, as indeed, almost frantically, would Peter Hain. But does it really suit our own government to have that same approach?

Do we really want to brush under the carpet the wide range of criminal charges made against the organisation, not yet fully investigated, and not acknowledged by Sinn Fein-PIRA.

Why would they, anyway? Yet if they do not, the elected representatives of this country, and of Northern Ireland, should be establishing more, not less, stringent requirements for their participation in our democracies.

Instead of that stringency, we rely, somewhat blindly, on the Independent Monitoring Commission, whose first duty - a duty which all of us, including Sinn Fein-PIRA, should share - is to help promote the establishment of stable and inclusive devolved government.

In pursuit of this, when the Provisional IRA made its statement about complete decommissioning last summer, accompanied by a statement from Gerry Adams reinforcing what had been said, the Commission then said: "Taken together these words should mean that members of PIRA have been instructed to give up all forms of criminal activity".

Yet all of us know, and some, like Michael McDowell say it, that the instruction has been ignored on several levels, making a nonsense of the IMC's bland reassurances, which take the supposed will for the unfulfilled deed. Where is there any debate on this by our elected representatives? Why do we not have an Oireachtas Standing Committee on Security and Subversion?

There have been seven IMC Reports, four of them significant, and apart from statements, usually brief, at the time of publication, they are really nodded through as a sufficient monitoring of security on this island. The reality is that they have yet to analyse security as it really is.

We are faced with a clever and well-considered "Third Phase" in Sinn Fein-PIRA strategy, the ballot box combined now with a quasi-legal "front" for the huge criminal wealth gained by the organisation, and invested in pubs, property, security firms, taxis, border-smuggling operations. Much of this is sub-contracted on the one hand, or is operated by "former" members of PIRA.

There is regular debate abroad on these newer dimensions of Sinn Fein-PIRA strategy, and determined investigation of their actual criminal activities by such bodies as the Organised Crime Task Force and Interpol, as well as by the British police. What is missing is any reassuring evidence of our own institutions - political, security and media - giving parallel attention to the escalating threat here.

There are some reassuring aspects. In Northern Ireland there is less crime against property than in Britain, and crimes of violence are similar in scale to Britain. In the early days of the Troubles, and certainly for decades before, the innately law-abiding structure of society in the North led to a low level of crime and a very low ratio of police to population, now, alas, profoundly altered.

What is uniquely different in Northern Ireland is the domination of crime by paramilitary gangs.

It is estimated that of about 230 major gangs 60% are paramilitary. Since they are only part-time in their servicing of para-military objectives most of the ill-gotten gains are for 'personal use', and not for the 'organisation', even if a crime has been 'authorised' by the 'leadership'.

There are 25 major international gangs among them, and 17 of them are paramilitary. The latter are involved in drugs, smuggling and money-laundering.

Does everyone look the other way, in the South, when parallel issues about crime are raised? Do we pretend it is on a small scale, does not need debate or investigation, and does not need integrated, cross-Border intelligence and action? Sinn Fein-PIRA should disabuse us of that.

And if anything, the Independent Monitoring Commission will reinforce this divide, dealing only with Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein-PIRA's conformity with the theory that since last summer they have in fact given up "all forms of criminal activity whatsoever".


Opin: Let's Face It, The Battle To Save The Language Is Lost

Despite the plans and incentives, Irish is all but dead. Isn't it time to make it optional? writes Robin Bury

Brian Fleming tells us that thousands of students are opting out of learning Irish (Education Today, January 17th, 2006). An ESRI study concludes that Irish is "the least popular subjects among school students". What has gone wrong? Why after 80 years of force-feeding is Irish so unpopular and spoken by practically no one?

Let me explain why the language is all but dead, especially in the quiet, once isolated country places where it was the thriving first language, the small Gaeltacht areas.

The truth is that today fewer than 20,000 people speak Irish as their native language.

Reg Hindley, a former lecturer at Bradford University, has specialised in studying both Irish and Welsh.

He took a sabbatical year from Bradford to study the status of the Irish and wrote a book called The Death of the Irish Language, published in 1990.

His main conclusion is clear and uncompromising. He states: "There is no doubt that the Irish language is now dying". In effect, we are now vying with Portugal as the most monolingual country in Europe - but at least in Portugal the official language is Portuguese. Hindley believes the current generation of children who are first language native speakers may well be the last. And remember, all these children speak fluent English. They know, as do their parents, that their job prospects are zero if they do not speak English. Their parents also know that this country would never have attracted massive inward investment if we spoke Irish, not English.

Unlike Dublin 4 parents, we know that the children in Gaeltacht areas think Irish is really quite boring and certainly not cool. But the State has been blinded to these realities.

"The failure to reconcile romantic nationalism and nationalist myth with the realities of Gaeltacht life has been a conspicuous element in the failure to save the language", according to Hindley.

The reasons Irish is dying are obvious. The language once thrived in the isolated small communities which spoke it. With the coming of the motorcar, the advent of mass tourism and emigration all this ended. Dingle, for instance, now depends on tourism for its main source of income, and these tourists speak English.

But what happens if Irish dies in the Gaeltacht areas, as now seems inevitable? "A country which cannot adequately support at home the people who speak its dying national language will have grave difficulties in sustaining it into the future," writes Hindley.

Do the parents believe this? Doubtful. They will be happy to have their children speaking classroom Irish, a dumbed-down, easier-to-learn version of Irish that native Irish speakers find almost incomprehensible. And can Irish be sustained only by enthusiastic intellectuals who associate language with nation?

Understandable as it was that the new Free State had as a top priority to revive Irish, it was probably too late by 1922 to succeed. In that year only a handful of people were native, monoglot speakers. That decline began as far back as the late 17th century when parents increasingly encouraged their children to speak English, especially as the Penal Laws were relaxed.

By the late 18th century Irish was "an interest for scholars and occasional Protestant activists as a medium for conversions", according to Hindley. Put simply, Irish people had decided over some 200 years to speak English for sensible pragmatic reasons.

Let us face facts: despite all sorts of ingenious plans and incentives, the battle has been lost. And students know it. Irish is not a "sexy" language.

Even in Gaeltacht areas teenagers have rejected it as a language of romance. One said: "But if you went to a disco in Galway and asked someone to dance in Irish, you'd be absolutely shunned. It's just so uncool, man." For sheer compression, as an obituary for a language, that would be very hard to beat.

It was once believed that the failure to embrace the language was to disavow your very Irishness. This spirit is alive today among many adults, but our youth have learned that the way to gain access to knowledge and power is through the language of the Anglophone world.

Is it not time to make Irish optional?

Robin Bury is chairman of Reform, a non-profit, multidenom-inational organisation that aims to foster a pluralist Ireland.

© The Irish Times


Opin: Vigilante Groups May Be Given Control Of Law

Garret FitzGerald: In the latter half of 2004 only five issues remained to be resolved with Sinn Féin/IRA in the process of restoring peace and order to the North.

These were: unequivocal Sinn Féin/IRA repudiation of criminality; decommissioning of arms; government action in respect of members of the IRA "on the run"; explicit Sinn Féin/IRA acceptance of and involvement with the PSNI in respect of policing; and, finally, the problem of "restorative justice" schemes in the North.

The first of these issues, criminality, became acute in December 2004, when the two governments proposed to the IRA a wording to be used that would explicitly and unambiguously repudiate criminality.

Significantly, this was rejected by the IRA, which omitted this phrase from its response to the two governments. The two national leaders appeared to condone this omission, but the PD leadership - it was in government and close to the issues - was not prepared to go along with this.

So two days later Michael McDowell publicly challenged the dropping of the criminality assurance by the IRA. Thus exposed from within the Irish Government, Mr Blair and Mr Ahern were forced to act and, as a result, later in 2005 the IRA finally faced reality by repudiating criminality in explicit terms.

When, also last year, decommissioning was finally implemented, that left three outstanding issues.

The next one to surface was whether, and if so how, IRA members still "on the run" would be dealt with.

The British legislation on this issue was, however, dropped last week after the Sinn Féin leadership failed to persuade its supporters to accept the inclusion by the British government of a provision benefiting members of the security forces accused of crimes in the North.

That left only two significant problems. Last weekend Gerry Kelly said on behalf of Sinn Féin that "we are also committed to achieving and being part of the new policing dispensation. No half-measures or three-quarter measures will do."

That was interpreted in the media as perhaps clearing the way for progress on policing, but it appears that Sinn Féin is linking such progress to agreement on devolution, including devolution of justice. DUP acceptance of this may well be delayed for quite some time.

Proposals for "restorative justice" in the North must be viewed in the context of this likely delay in Sinn Féin's acceptance of the PSNI.

Restorative justice schemes involve bringing together victims and perpetrators of various forms of anti-social behaviour to work in repairing relationships and compensating victims of crime.

Yet in the North on January 28th, 2004, anticipating the ending of IRA "knee-capping" and other brutal forms of local paramilitary justice, Sinn Féin's Caitríona Ruane announced her party's intention to set up in Co Down what she described as "restorative justice groups" specifically "in order to offer an alternative to the PSNI".

At least 14 of these groups have been created in Belfast, south Down and south Armagh and Derry under the auspices of a body known as Community Restorative Justice Ireland (CRJ). The deputy project director of the group, Harry Maguire, has served a sentence for the murder of the two British corporals after they strayed into a funeral in west Belfast.

The CRJ is about to lose funding from US benefactor Chuck Feeney, and apparently expects to receive substantial financial aid soon from the British government.

In Northern Ireland suspicion that the British have privately agreed with Sinn Féin to back the CRJ's activities has been heightened by the fact that this body, together with its loyalist counterpart known as Northern Ireland Alternatives, are the only organisations that seem to have been shown the first draft of the British government's Consultation Document on Guidelines for Community-based Restorative Justice Schemes. That draft was withheld from the Policing Board and the North's political parties.

In view of the fact that Sinn Féin acceptance of the PSNI may now be postponed until after the DUP agrees to devolution, it seems highly significant that the final version of the consultation document, published on December 5th, does not require that these restorative justice bodies communicate on crime matters with the police.

These British draft guidelines propose to exempt those schemes from such a requirement, stating that "when aware of an offence or an offender, [a scheme] will communicate promptly either to a dedicated police officer or to an identified representative of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland or the Youth Justice Agency".

And, owing to deficiencies in the British 1967 Criminal Law Act, restorative justice teams would also appear to be exempt from the obligation to disclose information about arrestable offences to the police, and thus they are not required to have a direct working relationship with the PSNI.

The PSNI has sought a requirement of co-operation with the police, but this proposed amendment to the guidelines was apparently rejected by the NIO, and the police seem to have backed down on this demand.

There is, moreover, no provision for an overall regulatory body for these schemes, and there is no provision for an independent complaints body.

Furthermore, the official Criminal Justice Inspectorate does not have power to look at individual cases handled by restorative justice groups or to call for papers and persons, so it could not invigilate their activities.

It is now a matter for the British parliament to safeguard human rights in the North.

Unless political and parliamentary pressure forces the British government to change its draft guidelines, the net effect of all this could be to hand control of law and order in many parts of the North to what could become vigilante groups substantially manned by former IRA members. The activities of these groups may even be financed by the British authorities. By any democratic standard this would be totally unacceptable.

As I write I have in front of me a number of leaflets issued locally by these schemes. About half of the names of those involved in the schemes - they are printed on the back of the leaflets - are those of people with IRA records. In one instance the telephone number that residents are invited to ring is an 087 mobile number in the South.

Some of these groups have been established in Border counties where smuggling and crime are rife. We are entitled to ask what steps our Government has taken to secure assurance from the British government that, in its concern to satisfy Sinn Féin/IRA demands, it does not leave a law and order vacuum in parts of the North, including some Border counties. This is a matter where the State has a vital national interest.

© The Irish Times


Opin: Fianna Fáil Makes Timely Gains

The public has reconsidered its dismissive attitude towards the Government in the aftermath of the Budget and now favours a continuation of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in office, according to the latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi opinion poll.

A surge of 9 percentage points in the Government's satisfaction rating has helped to wipe out a lead that Fine Gael, the Labour Party and possibly the Green Party enjoyed in the government-formation stakes last September.

On the basis that elections are likely to be won or lost on economic issues, the Government is now in a powerful position while the alternative government parties are struggling to convince the electorate that they have both the policies and the personalities capable of doing a better job. Of particular interest has been the ability of Fianna Fáil to recapture the confidence of its own supporters, along with a portion of the undecideds. Local political activity, arising from the selection of general election candidates, may have been a contributory factor.

Four months ago, following a succession of scandals involving public waste, the appalling treatment of old people in nursing homes and an RTÉ television series detailing aspects of "Rip-off Ireland", almost a quarter of Fianna Fáil voters wanted a change of government. Since then, however, support for the re-election of the Government has increased by 8 points. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats now attract 39 per cent approval, compared to 33 per cent for an alternative Fine Gael, Labour Party and Green Party arrangement.

A positive economic outlook for 2006, along with a socially progressive Budget that focused particularly on childcare and education, allowed the Government to recapture the confidence of the electorate. It surged ahead of the Fine Gael-led alternative coalition in terms of public support for managing the economy and keeping taxes low, while it extended its considerable lead on Northern Ireland issues. In spite of these advances, however, it was still under pressure in relation to its handling of consumer prices and childcare issues, while an alternative government was regarded as necessary to improve the health services.

The next election is still there to be won by either of the contending coalitions. For, while public confidence in the Government's ability to handle economic issues and the Northern Ireland peace process has recovered significantly in recent months, voters are still withholding support from Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats and that is particularly notable in Dublin. Overall, their combined vote falls slightly short of that enjoyed by Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party. The alternative coalition parties will be disappointed by these findings. But, having broken through the psychological barrier of being favoured by voters to run major elements of the economy last September, they now have targets to aim at and time in which to convince the electorate there are better ways of doing things.

© The Irish Times


Opin: One Long, Hard Struggle Is Just Beginning

Barry White
21 January 2006

For all we know, Security Minister Shaun Woodward may be right and the IRA has given up on large-scale smuggling and theft. The remaining spies for the police may be desperately trying to keep their payments coming, by pretending that the IRA is still taking its share of the profits for illicit fuel, cigarettes, DVDs, etc.

But when Sam Kinkaid, an experienced - and reform-minded, in the opinion of Denis Bradley - detective, sadly soon to retire, says that all paramilitary groups are involved in organised crime, I believe him. He briefs the Minister about the situation, and is more likely to be objective than a member of a government desperate for political progress. (Incandescent, too, over the Policing Board leak.)

The missing link, in the row over whether the IRA is turning into a justice-loving old boys' club or not, is evidence. If things are as good as Mr Woodward says they are, can he not present us with a before and after statement of accounts?

"Here, you see how many fuel tankers the Army observation towers saw crossing the south Armagh border in the first half of 2005. And here are the latest figures - not a gallon of smuggled petrol or litre of fake vodka. No cameras any more, but that nice man on the border has told us it's all over."

Or maybe Mr Kinkaid could help out. Could he tell us what he means by "organised crime"? We know the generals and brigadiers in the UDA and UVF, because they're always on television, so if they're up to their necks in crime, why don't they end up in court?

We're not so well up on the IRA, but surely John De Chastelain could give the police a name or two, since he was the last to speak to them? Or is he enjoying life in Canada, trying to forget that the loyalists still have his telephone number?

There should be some way of proving what's happening or not, but, until it's found, most of us will assume that the IRA has scaled down its criminal operations a bit - why not, with most of the Northern Bank money in property at home or abroad - and is concentrating instead on night classes in politics.

There's no pressure for funds, but no "army" whose aims haven't been obtained is going to stop taking its share of the smuggling industry, especially when it doesn't know what the political future holds. It will consolidate its position as the dominant force it is, in nationalist areas, always thinking how it will prove that its hands are clean, if Sinn Fein do join the Policing Board.

When Gerry Kelly tells republicans to prepare for "big decisions" on policing, they know he means that a U-turn is coming. Joining the Policing Board is essential, if talks on devolution are going anywhere, and the government will be as anxious as ever to smooth the path for them.

More police reforms may be on the way and, though they may be cosmetic, Sinn Fein will claim they're historic. They'll need something to justify joining the Establishment, at long last, and solemnly promising, I assume, to root out the Mafia culture which their paramilitary friends initiated.

They'll also have to encourage their supporters to join the police, as part of the deal. "Your country (and your party) needs you," the posters may say, without specifying which country.

It sounds bizarre, because the idea of an ex-IRA man becoming a Minister for Justice and Policing is bizarre. It won't happen, until the Troubles are a distant memory, but a long, hard struggle, for politicians and journalists if nobody else, is just beginning.

A very high source told me why the Maze thing has to be so big. Size counts and if GAA needs a bigger pitch you get a supersize stadium.


Dirty Tricks Target Ryan


Sid Ryan may be a firebrand union leader and a feisty critic of governments -- Liberal, Tory, whatever. He may even be an outspoken sometime Sun columnist. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

But one thing he categorically is not an IRA terrorist.

Scurrilous literature circulating throughout the Oshawa riding where he is running for the NDP depicts Ryan standing next to Alex Maskey, one-time Lord Mayor of Belfast, now a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for South Belfast, who is described as being a "twice-imprisoned member of the Irish Republican Army and now a member of the Sinn Fein leadership." (Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, was once outlawed in the U.K. and many of its members interned.)

What it doesn't say is that Maskey was also a member of the Sinn Fein delegation at the all-party talks that produced the Good Friday peace accord in 1998.

But this isn't about Irish politics. It's about dirty tricks in Oshawa. And someone is playing very nasty games. A pamphlet being circulated in the riding bears the headline, "What Do You Really Know About Sid Ryan?" Underneath are photos of the CUPE Ontario leader, along with a picture of what appears to be the Omagh bombing and a gun-toting masked IRA terrorist.

First, it's important to note that the photo of Ryan and Maskey was taken at an Ireland Fund of Canada dinner. Founded in 1978 by a group of prominent Irish-Canadians that included Hilary Weston, the fund is a highly respected world-wide charity that brings young people together in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.

But just the hint of a terrorist connection is enough to turn off voters in droves, Ryan points out.

"Post-9/11, linking anyone's name with terror sets off alarm bells in the minds of all reasonable people," Ryan told me yesterday. "Putting my name together with pictures of the Omagh bombings or pictures of terrorists with rocket-launchers is just plain and simply character assassination, which undoes my life's work."

Ryan was once part of an all-party peace delegation to Northern Ireland and was a go-between for the two warring parties. This smear smacks of the same kind of guilt-by-last-name that suggests all Italians are part of the mafia. If you have an Irish last name, you must be IRA.

Ryan's campaign organization believes the person behind the literature is a former campaign worker for the Conservative incumbent in the riding, Colin Carrie.

Carrie's campaign manager, Andrew Morin, categorically denies that and says the leaflet is a product of union squabbling over an endorsement by the Canadian Auto Workers. He said the person worked for the Conservatives on the 2004 campaign, but isn't working on this one.

"We have absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever. We feel sorry for the guy (Ryan), but it is nothing to do with us," Morin said in a phone interview. "We have bigger fish to fry between now and Monday."

Morin said Carrie has also taken "numerous personal attacks" from all sides in this tight race. Carrie beat Ryan by 463 votes in the last election and votes at the local GM plant are key. Both Ryan and Morin agree that the two candidates are on good terms.

It really doesn't matter who did what to whom in Oshawa. And trust me, as someone who grew up in London, I have no time for IRA terrorists. What does matter is that Ryan is a truly kind and honourable man. While in the past, he and I have sparred on contentious issues, I have immense respect for him. We almost never agree, but I admire the passion he brings to his beliefs. He would be a fine MP.

Besides, he's a perennial pain in the butt. Every government needs someone like him to keep it in line.

Do yourself a favour. If someone hands you that leaflet, give it back -- and tell them where to stuff it.


Book: Ulster's Lingering Paisley Question

PAISLEY AND THE PROVOS by Brian Rowan, The Brehon Press, £7.99

By David Gordon
21 January 2006

It would be nice to travel back in a Tardis three decades and tell people in Northern Ireland that a political settlement involving the DUP and the IRA's political wing would be on the agenda by late 2004.

Thirty years ago, a mere 'voluntary coalition' between the SDLP and unionists was the goal of the British Government. That proved elusive.

In the event, of course, there wasn't a deal in 2004 either, despite the big push by Blair and Ahern at the Leeds Castle get-together.

In his latest book Brian Rowan takes the deal that didn't happen as a central theme. He also maps out the dramatic events that unfolded over the 12 months after Leeds Castle. These included the Northern Bank robbery, the murder of Robert McCartney, major IRA decommissioning, the re-imprisonment and release of Shankill bomber Sean Kelly, loyalist anger and violence over a rerouted Orange march in west Belfast, and the murder of former UDA boss Jim Gray. It was quite a year.

This book was Rowan's swansong as BBC NI security editor, before moving on to new journalistic pastures, and he has sources that other reporters would give their eye teeth for. There are interviews with all the main players, giving their detailed insights on developments.

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde, for instance, is quoted as effectively downplaying the importance of decommissioning in security terms: "So, I think from a policing perspective, I wasn't that fussed about it. I think it was vital, because it was around reassurance and underpinning the commitment they'd given some time before."

Martin McGuinness, meanwhile, talks about his party's shock at receiving strong signals from Tony Blair in 2004 that Ian Paisley was "up for a deal".

Peter Robinson claims that Sinn Fein used Paisley's speech about republicans needing to be "humiliated" and wear "sackcloth and ashes" as an excuse to avoid agreement. He also gives his gloss on his party leader's outburst, suggesting that it "should have been perhaps looked at in more theological terms than political terms".

On a lighter note, readers also learn that Paisley spoke directly to Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly during the Leeds Castle sessions. This was not an historic moment of dialogue, however. The DUP leader mistook the ex-IRA prisoner for a member of the Castle staff in a darkened dining area and asked him what was on the menu.

Anyone expecting dramatic revelations from this book might be a little bit disappointed.

Arguably too much time is spent describing how Rowan and his BBC colleagues reported on developments, and there is also the unavoidable danger of being overtaken by events - the PSNI arrests in the Northern Bank robbery case are only mentioned in a footnote.

The book's publication also preceded the Government's troubles with the On the Runs legislation as well as the collapse of the Stormontgate case and the subsequent unmasking of Sinn Fein's Denis Donaldson as a security force agent.

In conclusion, Rowan states that he is convinced that Paisley and the DUP will eventually do a deal with Sinn Fein, but can't say when or how. Whether any such agreement would be stable and sustainable enough to survive is not addressed...


The 'Monkey' On His Back

Nick Laird swings through politics of Northern Ireland in mix of mundane, modern terror

By Edward Nawotka
Special To The American-Statesman
Sunday, January 22, 2006

If you think the people in your reading group can be harsh about a book they don't like, think again. In Northern Ireland, if the locals don't like your writing, you might end up dead.

In November, Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell, his wife and 7-year-old son went into hiding after Loyalist paramilitaries gave him four hours to "get out or be killed." The warning came days after the thugs blew up Mitchell's car and wrecked his house. The gunmen were angry because Mitchell had portrayed them as fools in his plays. What irked them even more is that the theater communities in London and Dublin gave Mitchell awards for the work.

Nick Laird also left Northern Ireland, but under his own volition, to attend Cambridge University. There, he met the somewhat better-known writer Zadie Smith, who is now his wife. After Cambridge, Laird worked as a corporate lawyer before packing it in to start a writing career. His first novel, "Utterly Monkey," has already won some awards in England, which means he better be careful about going home again.

"Utterly Monkey" is a lad-lit thriller about Danny Williams, a disgruntled lawyer from Northern Ireland who is living in London, and what happens when his hometown friend Geordie Wilson flees the North after getting kneecapped by the Loyalists. Geordie's sins: He stole cars to go joyriding, he dealt drugs and he dated a paramilitary's sister — all too common Ulster tales of woe.

The action starts when Geordie arrives on Danny's London doorstep, still limping and carrying 50,000 pounds he stole from the Loyalists. As one might expect, the paramilitaries are looking for their cash. By strange coincidence, a terrorist — one who reads Machiavelli and Sun Tzu — named Ian knows who has it and where to go looking for it.

When Geordie arrives, he's the least of Danny's concerns. Danny has just broken up with his girlfriend and is struggling with his job at a white-shoe London law firm, where he's working on a corporate takeover of Ulster Water, a Northern Ireland utility.

Laird spends a great deal of the novel parsing the lawyer's lot in life like a man who has lived it and not loved it: In a colleague's office he observes "a wooden golf putter was propped a little forlornly in the far corner, as if it dreamt of real grass." Danny, like his colleague Rollson, who pushes the firm to buy every conceivable ergonomic accoutrement for his office, isn't a "querulous man." He's just bored. His primary diversion is Ellen, a beautiful trainee lawyer, on whom he has a crush.

"Utterly Monkey" takes place over the week leading up to July 12, when the Protestants of Northern Ireland commemorate the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, in which Protestant William III defeated Catholic James II to regain control of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Loyalists, festooned in orange sashes, march through the streets and often right through Catholic neighborhoods, banging enormous drums and singing. It's as much a provocation as a celebration.

Though the novel's set-up is a fairly conventional one, in which our inadvertent hero tries to thwart terrorists while still getting the girl, "Utterly Monkey" offers a nuanced sense of the Loyalist side of the Troubles and how it still haunts those who have tried to move on. Ian, the well-read terrorist, is particularly sharp about the recent changes in the fortunes of the Ulster Protestants. (For years, the Protestants held swing seats in the British Parliament, giving them a disproportionate amount of power in London. Today, with numerous moderate and Catholic representatives from Northern Ireland sitting in Parliament, they've been marginalized.)

British novels are often a bit hard for Americans to understand. Even if you watch a lot of BBC America, the significance of a "mid-Atlantic accent" or why a character roots for the team that plays at Ibrox Stadium might be lost. Kazuo Ishiguro has speculated that writers, as a consequence of the demand to translate their works into multiple languages, unconsciously excise detail from their books. This often produces a kind of anesthetized literary voice, one that is articulate but cannot readily be placed.

Laird walks this fine line, managing to convey a lively sense of the people and politics of "that little patch of scorched earth" known as Northern Ireland without being too inscrutable. Which isn't to say he doesn't challenge his readers. Londoners and other Brits, many of whom, like Americans, only know of Northern Ireland what they see on TV, will be puzzled by the strange customs of his homeland, and why "when two Ulstermen sit down together, there's probably an even fifty-fifty chance they'll try to kill each other."

The book's denouement, which packs a nice narrative wallop, combines the best of high farce with modern terror. It's scary to realize that urban terror is something Londoners, Americans and the residents of Northern Ireland now all have in common.

Austin writer Edward Nawotka is a book critic for Bloomberg News. He lived in Northern Ireland off and on from 1995-99.

Nick Laird

What: Reading and signing
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Book People, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.
Info: 472-5050


Michael Collins To Be Remembered In Sligo

21/01/2006 - 11:29:12

The life and times of one of the most divisive figures in the history of Irish politics will be remembered at an event in Sligo tonight.

Michael Collins is best known as one of the leaders of the War of Independence, and for signing the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty which brought about partition.

Tonight's event includes the screening of a rare documentary about Collins which was banned under Ted Heath's government in the 1970s.

Fine Gael TD John Perry denies that his party is looking to past glories to boost low morale: “Fine Gael has a great history and a great future, and I think we’ve a wonderful future under the current leader Enda Kenny, who I believe will be the next Taoiseach.

“The institutions of the state were founded by Fine Gael and the ambition and determination of Michael Collins, and I think it is very important to tell that story to a whole new generation of people,” he said.


Knights Of Columbus - The Road To Sainthood?

Sunday, January 22, 2006; Page BW13

He lived to be only 38, his highest title was "pastor," and he was no martyr; but Fr. Michael McGivney is now a candidate for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. If his cause succeeds, he will be the first American priest to be so honored. What makes him such a noteworthy figure -- and the subject of Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism (Morrow, $24.95), by Douglas Brinkley and Julie M. Fenster? McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, the benevolent association that provided what might be called pensions of last resort, at a time when insurance was "typically designed for people with substantial assets." When the Knights came along, working-class Catholics were second-class citizens in the United States, looked down upon and often discriminated against by the Protestant majority. By providing a safety net between Catholics and destitution, the Knights helped initiate a political and cultural transformation that culminated in the presidency of John F. Kennedy.

A resident of Connecticut, McGivney was "mild-mannered," even "lamblike," but he knew how to get his way, as when he persuaded a founding committee made up of Irish-Americans only to name the new organization after the Italian Columbus: The idea was to affirm American Catholics' loyalty to their country, which some critics had called into question. Early in the Knights' existence, a membership drive lagged so badly that the ability to promise benefits hung in the balance; today the organization, now international, weighs in at 1.7 million strong.

-- Dennis Drabelle

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