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December 12, 2006

Fresh Push For Progress

News About Ireland & The Irish

BT 12/12/06 Fresh Push For Progress
BT 12/12/06 Threats Against SF Over Police Are Serious
BT 12/12/06 Court Hearing Sinn Fein Challenge To IMC
BT 12/12/06 No Full Inquiry Into Alleged NIO Cover-Up
BT 12/12/06 Mother Of Slain Soldier 'Accepts' Report
BT 12/12/06 Officials 'Using The Troubles As An Excuse'
BT 12/12/06 Cigarette Operation Brings Nine Arrests
BT 12/12/06 Opin: Parties Must All Support Law And Order
BT 12/12/06 Opin: In A Spin Over Too Many Deadline Changes
IN 12/12/06 Opin: DUP’s Credible Period Of Time Is Fantasy
NW 12/12/06 Stormont Unites to Oppose Fire Service Cuts


Fresh Push For Progress

[Published: Tuesday 12, December 2006 - 11:28]
By By Noel McAdam

British and Irish Ministers were today set to attempt to
inject momentum into ongoing political negotiations and
underpin the importance of a resolution to the devolution
of policing and justice.

The latest session of the British and Irish Inter-
Governmental Conference, in London, was expected to stop
short of demanding that Sinn Fein should summon its special
policing ard fheis before the end of January.

But Secretary of State Peter Hain and Dublin Foreign
Minister Dermot Ahern were thought likely to emphasise the
need for progress if devolution is to happen by March 26.

The conference, which replaced the Anglo-Irish Conference
set up by the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, was also expected
to develop a more detailed programme of potential north-
south links.

Its last meeting, in Dublin in October, said it hoped to
scope out increased opportunities for co-operation in the
education and health sectors.

A communique after the meeting, which followed the St
Andrews Agreement, stressed that support for policing and
the rule of law should be extended to every part of the
community and include encouragement of co-operation with
the PSNI.

The renewed focus on Sinn Fein intentions came as a new
pressure group accused the DUP of attempting to stifle
debate over the outworkings of the St Andrews proposals.

The Voice for Democracy Umbrella Group, made up of
individuals from victims' groups, marching organisations as
well as members of political parties, community groups and
churches, said it had attempted to engage with the DUP "
but to no avail". It accused the DUP of trying to stifle
resistance to their proposals.

© Belfast Telegraph


Death Threats Against Sinn Fein Leaders Over Police Are 'Serious'

[Published: Tuesday 12, December 2006 - 11:40]
By By Brian Rowan

A senior security source has said the police cannot dismiss
the possibility of a republican attack on the Sinn Fein
leadership over the policing issue.

He was speaking after the PSNI recently warned prominent
party figures Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly about dissident
plans and threats to their lives.

On the possibility of an attack on a Sinn Fein leader, the
senior security source told this newspaper: "There are
people in those groups thinking and talking about it."

"It is serious in terms (that) it is not beyond
possibility," the source continued.

"People have discussed it."

The source said participation in policing was "a huge deal
for people in republicanism".

"Some people read this as do or die," the source said -
meaning it is such an emotive issue, an attack on a senior
Sinn Fein figure cannot be ruled out.

There are those in senior security positions who believe
that any such attack would bring a response from the IRA,
and that the dissidents know this.

"I don't think any of these groups are in the business of
committing suicide," another senior police source told the
Belfast Telegraph.

"I don't think they are on the path of self-destruction."

Republicans believe the threat to the Adams-McGuinness-
Kelly leadership stems from disaffected former members of
the IRA and other dissidents - rather than any specific

One of the security sources who spoke to the Belfast
Telegraph pointed to the murder of the Sinn Fein party
worker Denis Donaldson, shot at a remote cottage in Co
Donegal earlier this year.

That attack came just months after he admitted to being a
British agent.

"Bear in mind we didn't see Donaldson coming," the security
source added.

He also made the point that the police still don't know who
within the republican community killed him.

Republicans say they have their own information about the
threats, and say figures who have long been opposed to the
Adams-McGuinness peace strategy are using the policing
issue to try to "mobilise opposition" and damage the Sinn
Fein leadership.

'We are coming to a crucial time and people are unhappy'

This time it's different - different from the threat
assessment that emerged about a month ago. BRIAN ROWAN
examines the latest death threats against Gerry Adams and
Gerry Kelly

Around a month ago, it was republicans who were telling us
of a threat to Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Gerry

It was about policing - about republican support for
policing, and a threat to the Sinn Fein leadership if they
took their movement and their community in that direction.

The threat, we were told, was from inside republicanism -
from disaffected former IRA members and other dissidents,
and not from any specific organisation.

The police and the British and Irish governments knew about
it, but only because Sinn Fein had told them.

There was no separate or additional information. Now, there
is. The latest warnings to Gerry Kelly and Gerry Adams are
based on intelligence information available to the PSNI.
But how serious is the threat to the Sinn Fein leadership?

The police are aware that there are people € republicans €
" thinking and talking about it", thinking and talking
about attacking prominent Sinn Fein leadership figures such
as Adams and Kelly.

"This (participation in policing) is a huge deal for people
in republicanism," a senior police source told the Belfast
Telegraph. Some people read this as do or die."

What he means is the issue is so emotive within
republicanism that there are those who might consider the
type of attack or attacks that Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly
have been warned about in recent days.

It would be a huge step, but one that the police are not
dismissing as a possibility.

"Bear in mind we didn't see Donaldson coming," the source
said € a reference to the murder of Denis Donaldson in
April this year, months after the Sinn Fein party worker
admitted he had been an agent for MI5 and the Special

The police still don't know who inside the republican
community killed him.

"We are coming to a crucial time," the senior police source
told this newspaper and "people are unhappy."

This is a reference to tensions within republicanism -
tensions that are linked to the policing question.

So, it appears this threat that we were first told about a
few weeks ago, has moved up a level. Is that how we should
now be reading it?

"It's serious in terms that it is not beyond possibility,"
the source replied.

"People have discussed it" - people, who according to
another senior security source - "have no time for Adams
and McGuinness."

"We know people - people within republicanism - have been
discussing it, but my question still has to do with going
beyond talking about it to actually doing it."

"I don't think any of these groups (dissident republicans)
are in the business of committing suicide," another
security source said.

"I don't think they are on the path of self-destruction."

In those comments there is an assessment - that if anyone,
dissident or disaffected, attacked Gerry Adams or Gerry
Kelly there would be a response, a response from the IRA.

And, that is part of the concern at this time € that if you
draw the IRA into this situation, then you destroy the
prospect of power-sharing politics and the possibility of
republican participation in policing.

Would that goal - that inevitable outcome as some see it -
be such a prize to tempt someone inside republicanism to
fire a shot at Gerry Adams or Gerry Kelly?

That is the possibility that the police can't dismiss.

It is why they have warned the two Sinn Fein leaders in
Belfast in recent days - not because they are aware of any
imminent threat, not because they are convinced that an
attack will occur, but because of what might happen - what
could happen. It is the concern that someone would dare go
beyond the thinking and the talking of attacking Adams and
Kelly to the point of actually doing it.

The senior security sources who have spoken to this
newspaper dismiss any suggestion that Sinn Fein have
manufactured or contrived this situation as an excuse not
to do what is required of them on policing.

If the Sinn Fein leadership wanted an excuse not to call a
special Ard Fheis or party conference to debate and decide
on the policing question, they could simply blame the chief
constable, or MI5 or the DUP.

But the fact that Gerry Adams just recently declared a
willingness to begin a dialogue with Sir Hugh Orde "on
issues which fall within his remit" , is an indication of
where republicans are going on the policing question.

And, as they go there, those inside republicanism who have
long been opposed to the Adams-McGuinness peace strategy
have seized on an issue - policing - to try to mobilise
opposition and damage the Sinn Fein leadership.

That won't stop that leadership moving its party and its
community to a position of supporting the PSNI and
participating on the policing boards.

That will happen if the right political context can be
created. It will happen because it has to happen for the
politics to work.

Threats from inside republicanism are not going to stop

© Belfast Telegraph


London Court To Begin Hearing Sinn Fein Challenge To IMC

[Published: Tuesday 12, December 2006 - 07:54]

Sinn Fein's legal challenge to the Independent Monitoring
Commission is due to begin in the High Court in London
later today.

The party is seeking a declaration that the establishment
of the commission was unlawful and falls outside the remit
of the Good Friday Agreement.

Moreover, it seeks a ruling that its membership is biased,
its findings based on hearsay and that its recommendations
discriminate against Sinn Fein voters.

If successful, the party wants a declaration that the
commission's reports are void, the financial penalties
against Sinn Fein illegal and its findings lack any
application of proof.

The British government will vigorously contest these
arguments, contending it had the right to set up the
commission and decide its membership.

The case is likely to last at least three days.

© Belfast Telegraph


No Full Inquiry Into Alleged NIO Cover-Up

[Published: Tuesday 12, December 2006 - 11:39]
By By Chris Thornton

Restricted powers for QC probing claims Government misled
court over victims' chief post

The investigation into a possible NIO cover up is not a
fully fledged legal inquiry, the Attorney General's office
has confirmed.

Peter Scott QC was appointed last week to review whether
the NIO attempted to pervert the course of justice in a
High Court case about the Victims' Commissioner

But the barrister has not been given powers to compel
witnesses or summon documents - and it remains unclear if
he will interview Secretary of State Peter Hain and the
senior civil servants at the centre of the affair.

A spokesman for Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said an
advantage in Mr Scott conducting a review, rather than a
full formal inquiry, is the " relative speed" in producing
a report.

Mr Scott, who shared chambers with Lord Goldsmith when he
was a practising barrister, was asked to review the case
after Mr Justice Girvan said there was evidence the NIO
deliberately misled the court.

After ruling last month that the appointment of Bertha
McDougall was an illegal concession to the DUP, the judge
suggested there had been attempt to cover up the DUP's

He criticised the NIO's two most senior civil servants and
referred the matter to the Attorney General, noting that a
deliberate attempt to mislead the court would be a crime.

In making his referral, Mr Justice Girvan posed 67
questions about the handling of the case - some of them
asking what Mr Hain knew about the affair.

The Secretary of State read and approved the statements
that the judge described as misleading.

Lord Goldsmith indicated to the House of Lords that he does
not believe full powers were necessary because the NIO had
agreed to co-operate completely with Mr Scott's review.

But he said he will "reconsider the situation" if Mr Scott
expresses any concern.

Mr Hain says the department will co-operate fully, adding
that "there is absolutely no question of any deliberate
attempt to mislead the court or anyone else".

Mr Scott has declined to comment on the way he will conduct
the review, and the Attorney General's office said it could
not specify whether or not he will interview Mr Hain and
the civil servants involved in the matter.

Legal experts say there may be complications in any
interview, because the people involved could demand legal

However, that does not rule out further action if Mr Scott
recommends it in his report.

Lord Goldsmith said he intends to publish the report, which
is not expected until the New Year.

But the Attorney General said some "issues may arise that
might limit or delay" publication, such as "if for any
reason it were to lead to disciplinary or other proceedings
following from it."

© Belfast Telegraph


Mother Of Slain Soldier 'Accepts' Report

[Published: Tuesday 12, December 2006 - 11:44]
By By Jonathan McCambridge

The mother of the last serving British soldier to be killed
by the IRA today said she accepted the findings of a Police
Ombudsman's report that the murder could not have been

However, Rita Restorick said she was unhappy that the
Ombudsman probe into the circumstances surrounding the
shooting of her son in 1997 was unable to question retired
RUC officers.

The report released today revealed that Special Branch had
prior intelligence that the stolen Mazda car from which
Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick was shot was due to be
used in an attack. However, there was no specific
intelligence that the soldier was to be murdered.

Mr Restorick (23) from Peterborough was shot by a sniper on
February 12 1997 as he manned a vehicle checkpoint at
Bessbrook in south Armagh.

The Ombudsman launched her report following a Sunday Times
article in which a former undercover special forces soldier
claimed the killing could have been prevented. The story
suggested that police might have wanted to protect an

Rita Restorick told the Belfast Telegraph she believed the
Police Ombudsman had carried out an exhaustive

She said: "We think it is a thorough investigation and have
no reason not to accept it. We believe the original story
came about because a soldier misinterpreted something he
had heard.

"The only drawback is that the Ombudsman was not able to
question retired RUC members. These cases look at things
which happened years ago and this can hamper their

"This whole series of events has caused a lot of hurt for
my family because there is so much suspicion and rumours.
However I am pleased with how this has been carried out and
consider this to be the end of the matter."

Nuala O'Loan concluded that there was no evidence that the
soldier's murder could have been prevented but was critical
of police for not carrying out greater surveillance on a
car they had suspicions about.

She said: "It is very regrettable police did not pay closer
attention to this car, given that they had concerns about
it. However we have not uncovered any evidence they had
information which would have allowed them to prevent
Stephen's murder."

Mrs O'Loan was also concerned about the level of
information and original documentation which had been
destroyed, including 'decision' logs, policy files and
documentation about a surveillance operation in the area at
the time. She said there was no 'audit trail' as to who
made the decisions to destroy this material and why.

Her report concluded that the car used in the attack was
under surveillance but there was no listening device
planted on board and no prior knowledge about plans for the
car on that day.

© Belfast Telegraph


Officials 'Using The Troubles As An Excuse'

[Published: Tuesday 12, December 2006 - 11:56]
By By David Gordon

A member of an influential parliamentary watchdog has
accused Northern Ireland government departments of using
the Troubles to excuse their shortcomings.

The claim was levelled by Glasgow Labour MP Ian Davidson,
who sits on the powerful House of Commons Public Accounts

He also alleged that Northern Ireland was a "sleepy hollow"
when it came to following best public service practices.

The committee has delivered a string of damning reports on
departments here in recent years.

Mr Davidson told the Belfast Telegraph he was
"disappointed" that problems were repeatedly being exposed
by the committee.

He added: "I think there is an extent to which the Troubles
in Northern Ireland are used by some officials as an alibi
to excuse themselves from taking hard decisions. There is
an extent to which Northern Ireland is a bit of a sleepy
hollow and that best practice is not being followed."

Referring to his Troubles "alibi" comment, Mr Davidson
said: " Whether or not it is justified on the basis that
probably a lot of officials there have had a hard time
keeping the basic services going, never mind anything else,
is really for others to judge.

"I'm not setting myself up as a commentator on Northern

"These reports keep getting produced. The fact that they
keep giving a pretty devastating indictment of public
administration is something that people in Northern Ireland
will have to take account of, in my view.

"They've got to decide what type of discount they are
prepared to allow on the basis of the Troubles."

The Commons committee's job of overseeing departmental
spending here would pass back to a Stormont equivalent were
the Assembly to be restored.

The Westminster committee's chairman Edward Leigh MP has
repeatedly argued that Northern Ireland taxpayers are
losing out through not having a devolved public accounts

He told this newspaper last year: "It's very important that
we impress on departments in Northern Ireland that,
although Stormont is suspended for the time being, the
light of day can be shone on their activities."

Mr Leigh has also stressed that the PAC takes an equally
"tough" line with London departments.

© Belfast Telegraph


Cigarette Operation Brings Nine Arrests

[Published: Tuesday 12, December 2006 - 11:26]
By By Jonathan McCamnbridge

Police today arrested nine people as part of a major
intelligence-led operation against a suspected dissident
republican counterfeit cigarette operation in Northern

Detectives swooped on 16 properties in Limavady and
Coleraine in the early hours of this morning and arrested
six men and three women.

Police also seized £21,000 of cash as well as a large
quantity of counterfeit cigarettes and a firearm during the

The nine people are now being questioned at Coleraine PSNI
station by detectives from the PSNI Organised Crime Branch.

A police spokesman said the operation was part of a long-
running operation into the sale and distribution of
counterfeit cigarettes.

However, the Belfast Telegraph understands the operation is
targeting criminal activity among dissident republicans.

There has been an upsurge in dissident republican activity
across the province in recent months, with a number of
firebomb attacks on commercial premises.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said he welcomed any
operation which cracked down on the dissident republican
threat. He said: "The police operation is aimed at rooting
out criminal activity in our community and that is to be

"There have been a number of incidents attributed to
dissident republicans in the North West recently,
particularly firebomb attacks on a number of DIY stores and
the illegal sale of drugs.

"Obviously the legal process will take its course but
anything which lessens the dissident republican threat is a
welcome boost."

SDLP MLA John Dallat said the sale of illegal and dangerous
counterfeit cigarettes by organised criminals was a blight
on society.

"Making cigarettes available at a cheaper price is not only
illegal but also highly dangerous. Anything that can be
done to control these killer cigarettes by taking them off
the street is a good thing."

© Belfast Telegraph


Opin: Parties Must All Support Law And Order

[Published: Tuesday 12, December 2006 - 11:40]

News of threats to the lives of leading Sinn Fein
politicians by republican dissidents brings out a host of
conflicting reactions, ranging from sympathy to scepticism.
First and foremost, of course, should be condemnation of
any attempt to influence elected politicians by criminal

It is no surprise that in the fevered atmosphere leading up
to the Government-imposed deadlines in January that
dissidents should try to put Sinn Fein representatives
under pressure. They have never bought into the peace
process and all it entails - especially endorsement of the
PSNI - so they vent their anger on republicans who have
deviated from the "Brits out" ideology.

Gerry Adams is the latest to be warned that he has been
targeted, after similar threats to Gerry Kelly, the justice
spokesman, and Martin McGuinness. They say they take the
threats seriously, but refuse to be influenced by them.

The irony is that the warnings are passed on by the police,
whom they don't recognise, acting on information obtained
from sources close to republicans who may be former IRA
colleagues. Ordinarily the best means of defence against
would-be murderers would be to enlist the support of the
police, but that is a step too far for Sinn Fein. They look
after themselves.

The police warning suggests that the dissidents decided
against an attack on the Sinn Fein leader "due to Mr Adams'
security arrangements". Perhaps the dissidents want to add
to Sinn Fein's difficulties, as they debate the crucial
issues of policing and justice, by implying that Mr Adams'
bodyguards might have access to legally-issued firearms.
That is an open question but one which could have ongoing

The whole incident helps to illustrate the battle that is
going on, within the republican and unionist communities,
between those who are arguing for a change in old attitudes
and those who are stuck in the past. It is easy to make
threats, physical or political, which are intended to
spread fear and division, damaging the prospects of a deal
on devolution.

Even the reaction to the death threats, by unionists, shows
how little trust there is between the parties, eight years
after the Good Friday Agreement. The UUP's Danny Kennedy
fears the threat could be "a cynical political manoeuvre"
by Sinn Fein, to convince the Government that it needs more
concessions on the policing and justice issue.

The Government itself is partly to blame for such
scepticism. Those who operate by spin and manipulation
eventually find that no one's words - or deadlines - are
believed. The only certainty is that all parties must
support the police or no deal is possible.

© Belfast Telegraph


Opin: Left In A Spin Over Too Many Deadline Changes

[Published: Tuesday 12, December 2006 - 11:38]
By By Barry White

More deadlines on the way to help us find the holy grail of
devolution but does anyone believe them? Worse still, does
anyone care if we fail to meet them?

It has got to the point where, if the Government tells us
something is going to happen by a certain date or that some
new spending is being planned, we immediately discount it.
What's the real deadline, we ask, and how much of the money
is really new?

We're being lied to or subjected to spin by a Government
that believes this is the only way to make political
progress in this benighted country. Give a little bit to
the unionists and make out it's better than it is before
you give an equal amount to the nationalists. That'll keep
them happy.

It may have once but we're getting the measure of the Hain
administration and we know there's no U-turn that won't be
made or no "last chance" that can't be extended. It's just
a matter of digging in heels and finding a date in Tony
Blair's diary. When peace in Northern Ireland is his only
legacy, he'll do whatever it takes to keep it going - if
only until he bales out next spring.

Against this kind of background, what hope can there be
that the parties will reach enough of an agreement over
policing by the end of January for an election to be held
in March? They'll perhaps agree to a bit of choreography -
you move first and then maybe we will, they're both saying
- but there's no time to test if there is any commitment
behind it.

Spin doctors' medicine

Are ex-IRA men ready to support the police, helping them
solve past crimes, and can Ian Paisley work in harness with
Martin McGuinness before he makes any apology for his past?
It's doubtful, to say the least, but don't underestimate
the spin doctors' medicine.

From someone who was at St Andrews, I've heard why the
police and justice issue wasn't nailed down on Friday the
13th. Nothing was happening until the morning, when one of
Tony's fixers convinced one of Ian's that there was enough
for a deal. At that point, the go-betweens should have
descended on Sinn Fein and sorted out the policing and
justice issue beyond doubt.

But time ran out, the planes were due to leave and the
crunch question for both sides was left unanswered, even as
the parties mumbled conditional agreement. Maybe there
wouldn't have been a resolution and the Government would
have been forced to close down the Assembly. But we got a
reprieve and - a new set of deadlines to bust.

Incidentally, the wooing of the DUP didn't stop with Bertie
Ahern's golden wedding gift, carved from a Boyne tree.
Wouldn't you like somewhere grand to hold the big
anniversary party, Ian? You would? No problem, Big Man.
Hillsborough Castle is at your disposal.

The trouble is that, although the people trooping through
10 Downing Street every week or so can be got at and can
have their egos massaged, the great unwashed public outside
is unaffected. It hears only the defiant statements to
camera, which continue to sound as if nothing much is

Manifestos in our psyches

In Britain, manifestos are seldom quoted after elections
but here some of us have them imprinted in our psyches and
can spot 'betrayal' years later. If republicans give their
backing to a police force with even a small crown in its
insignia, the incorruptibles will complain and, if the DUP
get to the point of speaking to and working with Sinn Fein,
their backwoodsmen will be inconsolable.

The republicans, one can be sure, are doing their homework,
readying their people for PSNI day. But the DUP have years
of persuasion to do in the course of the next two months
while their politicians give mixed messages and the Free
Presbyterian Church wrestles with its consciences -
differing, as Presbyterians always do, from church to

Risks will have to be taken on all sides if we're ever to
get out of the present impasse, and the first move must be
to speak to each other. If we don't and just communicate
through the media or officials, there is no prospect of a
lasting power-sharing executive being achieved. Meeting in
Stormont committees is a start but it isn't enough.

It's strange but, three years after the DUP and Sinn Fein
were voted the top parties, they are still in the margins
when leaders of opinion, business etc meet. In the run-up
to Christmas, I meet all sorts but, in groups of 50 to 100,
I couldn't identify more than two or three supporters of
those parties. They still aren't mainstream, confident of
their place in society, but they want to govern us.

There's a mismatch here, which will have to be overcome if
we're to make progress politically, economically or -
thinking of those tragic figures for loyalist-area schools
- educationally. Either we do it ourselves, developing some
common purpose together or we'll stay in our rut, never
maturing. And don't tell me that the alternative of joint
authority rule, involving discredited, unprincipled direct
rulers, can succeed.

© Belfast Telegraph


Opin: DUP’s ‘Credible Period Of Time’ Is Sheer Fantasy

By James Kelly

Time marches on with only three weeks left before the
transitional assembly packs it in at Stormont, DUP boss
Paisley after meeting Blair at 10 Downing Street calls for
action on policing by Sinn Fein.

He said “the clock is ticking and now they must put their
money where their mouth is”.

But this is not the whole story.

Is there dirty work at the crossroads?

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds and to a lesser degree, DUP MP
for Upper Bann David Simpson have let the cat out of the
bag. Both have now made it clear that even if Sinn Fein
comes out in favour of policing and the rule of law at the
long-awaited Ard fheis meeting in Dublin the DUP will
insist on humiliating conditions. Dodds spelled out the DUP
reaction to the result of the Dublin meeting expected in
January. These were his words: “But what actually
transpires is likely to fall well short in terms and
substance and delivery. Unionists are all too aware that
the word of Sinn Fein cannot be trusted.

“The DUP is insisting on up-front delivery by republicans
on all the obligations they are required to fulfill.
Delivery includes testing over a credible period of time.

“With every day that passes it becomes clearer that Sinn
Fein thinks the DUP are not serious about the need for
credible testing why else does it prevaricate and think
that some kind of event in January will suffice?

Sinn Fein may even believe that under pressure from the
government the DUP will ultimately settle for some kind of
token testing. How mistaken they are?”

Simpson uses the same jargon about “credible period of
time” and hints that it now looks increasingly unlikely the
government deadlines will be met.

What does this mean?

Are they, or a sizeable section of the party, out to
sabotage the Sinn Fein convention in advance? The DUP’s
version of a ‘credible period of time’ could mean years
with their anti-agreement members sitting in judgement.
This is sheer fantasy.

Question, is Paisley and his kitchen cabinet in cahoots,
realising that his ambition of ending his campaign as first
minister in a restored executive at Stormont is a lost cause?

Remember how he ditched the last ‘deal’ with his 11th hour
demand that Sinn Fein/IRA don sackcloth and ashes?

Is this just another pathetic last ditch effort to delay
for a few more years the inevitable settlement envisaged in
the Good Friday Agreement, unconvincably decked out in new
clothes, as the St Andrews Agreement? Meantime, the DUP
leaders ensconced as Westminsters MPs leave in the lurch
the rank and file assembly members abandoned to their fate
with a shut down Stormont assembly, depending like the rest
of the inhabitants of the sick counties, on the tender
mercies of a tight-fisted new Scot’s prime minister. Gordon
Brown, who has already demonstrated his lack of sympathy
with the financial plight our unhappy colony on this side
of the Irish Sea, rubbed salt into the wounds with a pre-
budget report greeted by the business community here with
dismay containing a number of tax hikes on fuel and flying
costs as well as others buried in the small print.

As if to focus the spotlight on our uncertain future, both
political and economic, on the very same afternoon that
Brown was announcing his package of provisions came the
news from the Celtic Tiger down south that Finance Minister
Brian Cowen, had introduced a e1.25 bn budget putting
thousands of euros back into the pockets of voters.

It was reported that almost everyone in the Republic have
more cash to spend as a result of a massive exchequer cash
windfall in November but this is only half of it.

More good news is expected before next June’s general

Cowen received a standing ovation from ecstatic Fianna Fail
and PD back benchers.

That’s two elections next year.

Down south they say Bertie will walk back.

Up here? well, I dunno.


Stormont Unites to Unanimously Oppose Fire Service Cuts

LONDON, December 12 /PRNewswire/ -- In a two-hour keynote
debate yesterday, politicians from across the political
spectrum in Northern Ireland united behind local
firefighters to oppose Fire Board proposals to downgrade
fire cover in 12 towns across Northern Ireland by 50%. The
twelve towns are ear-marked to have one of their two fire
engines removed.

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan, in a proposal to the
Assembly, led the opposition to the plans to cut 12 fire
engines. He told the Assembly: "I acknowledge and welcome
the amendment proposed by Mervyn Storey and Peter Weir of
the DUP.... This is an important debate, and it should not
be constrained by party lines. It involves social and
safety issues."

DUP MLAs Mervyn Storey and Peter Weir amended the Sinn Fein
proposal, reinforcing opposition by all local parties
against the uncosted and unsafe Fire Board proposals. MLA
Mervyn Storey told the Assembly: "This is an issue that
should not be used as a political football. It is an issue
that should unite all the parties in this House, because
the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has,
throughout the difficulties that the Province has faced,
been at the forefront of ensuring the safety of residents."

Some 23 MLAs took part in the debate. All supported the
position championed by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) which
was to oppose the cuts and the proposal was backed

Jim Barbour, FBU spokesperson said: "It was a great day for
local firefighters and the public throughout Northern
Ireland. We were struck by the level of commitment and
depth of understanding demonstrated by local

"We will forever be heartened by the cross-party and cross-
community support that we received. The FBU wanted to
create a public and political awareness of such magnitude,
that the Fire Board will be forced to revisit their unsafe,
uncosted and unwarranted proposals.

"There has been a lack of proper consultation and this is
not what elected members wanted. The result is that not a
single elected politician supported the cuts backed by
local managers."

The following stations have been earmarked for a 50%
reduction in fire cover (a reduction in one fire engine):
Ballycastle, Ballyclare, Ballymoney, Castlederg, Clogher,
Holywood, Kilkeel, Lisnaskea, Maghera, Newtownhamilton,
Portstewart and Rathfriland.

The Fire Brigades Union

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