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December 26, 2006

Mid-January Earliest Date for Ard Fheis

News About Ireland & The Irish

BT 12/26/06 Mid-January Earliest Date For Ard Fheis
IT 12/26/06 Lack Of Agreement Puts NI Timetable In Doubt
IT 12/26/06 70 Catholic Recruits Have Quit PSNI
BT 12/26/06 Holy Cross Mum Hopeful Daughters Will Survive Crash
RT 12/25/06 SDLP Welcome For President's PSNI Remarks
BT 12/26/06 Irish Official EU Language
BT 12/26/06 Opin: Time To Learn A Lesson From Inquiry Costs
GD 12/26/06 Book: IRA-Bahrain Link Claimed
BN 12/25/06 Hardy Hundreds Take The Plunge For Charity
BN 12/26/06 4 Irish Remembered On Asian Tsunami Anniversary
IT 12/26/06 Natl Library Acquires Extensive Beckett Collection
BL 12/26/06 East Villagers Battle To Save Irish Famine Church


Mid-January Earliest Date For Ard Fheis

[Published: Tuesday 26, December 2006 - 10:18]
By Noel McAdam

Senior Sinn Fein figures are to meet in the next few days
to discuss holding their crucial ard fheis gathering on

Under pressure from the British and Irish governments, the
Sinn Fein leadership at the end of last week failed to call
the party executive meeting which could trigger the ard

Instead the party said senior representatives would meet
immediately after Christmas.

A meeting of the executive (ard chomhairle) could be
organised in 48 to 72 hours, so could take place during New
Year week.

But if it agrees to go ahead with the vital ard fheis, that
would not happen for a further fortnight, which would mean
a mid-January meeting at the earliest.

A decision to hold the full ard fheis, which would take
place in Dublin, requires a two-thirds majority of the
national executive.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who has the final decision
on calling the executive, has made clear that is by no
means a foregone conclusion.

Contact between the governments and parties went on late
last Friday with no breakthrough, although progress was

Mr Adams has insisted a date for the transfer of justice
and policing powers to the Assembly must be agreed. The DUP
has been equally adamant it will not agree to any date in

Under the St Andrews Agreement, however, the target date
for the transfer is May 2008.

With Tony Blair in the background and in touch by
telephone, Secretary of State Peter Hain and officials made
several attempts last week to find a form of words which
could advance the issue and invoked the importance of the
May 2008 date.

But senior Sinn Fein negotiator Martin McGuinness accused
the DUP of making pointedly provocative statements.

"The deliberately provocative statements from some senior
DUP figures is a cause of concern to nationalists and
republicans because key to moving forward is a commitment
from the DUP to share power on the basis of equality with
republicans," he said.

His criticism came after DUP MP Nigel Dodds argued that the
May 2008 date had been set by Government and carried no

"The target date of May 2008 is entirely one set by
Government," he said. "It has never been agreed by the DUP
nor will it be. So Hain's comments on this issue amount to
hot air."

c Belfast Telegraph


Lack Of Agreement Puts NI Timetable In Doubt

Sat, Dec 23, 2006

The British and Irish governments' timetable for Stormont
devolution by March 26th is under increasing doubt with
agreement still being sought over the policing and justice
matters. Dan Keenan, Northern News Editor, reports.

Sinn F‚in had a week of intensive contacts with senior
British officials concerning the shape and timetable for a
Northern Ireland justice department. However, it all ended
without setting in train the series of events to change its
stance on support for the PSNI.

Without such a move, it is unlikely a March election to a
new Assembly will be called at the end of January by
Northern Secretary Peter Hain.

Sinn F‚in president Gerry Adams has made clear he cannot
call an ardchomhairle meeting to discuss policing without a
strictly timetabled proposal from the British government.

Sinn F‚in failure to back the PSNI would mean the two
governments' push for devolution by March 26th is in
serious trouble.

Key DUP figures dug their heels in yesterday over the
question of powersharing with republicans.

South Antrim MP William McCrea and North Belfast MP Nigel
Dodds said in separate statements yesterday there could be
no question of restoring Stormont without republican
backing for the police.

"It is important to tell the [ British] government that
policing is a major hurdle that republicans must deliver on
but there are several other issues equally important that
will test their sincerity," said the Rev McCrea who warned
the March deadline was becoming increasingly difficult to

Mr Dodds went further, claiming that a statement of intent
from Mr Hain to have justice devolved by May 2008 was

"The Secretary of State may speculate and pontificate all
he likes about the timing of the devolution of policing and
justice but thankfully he does not have the final say," he

Mr Hain's target date, the nearest thing there is to a
timetable as demanded by republicans, was "entirely one set
by government", he said.

"It has never been agreed by the DUP nor will it be.

"Such a timetable is a republican demand only.

"No other party ever made this a precondition for doing the
right thing on policing and justice," he added.

The Irish Times understands that Mr Hain has put forward to
republicans a proposal that a future justice minister be
appointed on the basis of a weighted majority cross-
community vote of the Assembly.

This proposal, which is similar to a new plan put forward
by the DUP last week, is being debated internally by the
party before any calling of an ardchomhairle is considered.

If enacted it would mean that Sinn F‚in would be unlikely
to secure cross-community support in the Assembly for the
appointment of one of its nominees for justice minister.

A move by Sinn F‚in to change its position on the PSNI
without a guaranteed timetable for devolution would signal
a vital shift on its position declared one week ago.

Policing spokesman Gerry Kelly said last Saturday his party
would consider any model for a justice department as long
as it was linked to a clear timetable.

Calling a party meeting to review support for the PSNI
could be interpreted as republicans jumping first before a
stonewalling DUP, and could be a difficult step for Sinn

The SDLP said last night it was wary of the weighted
majority proposal, believing that such a proposal may be
retained after the appointment of a minister and used to
remove that minister if the DUP wished.

One political source suggested last night that Sinn F‚in
could call an ardchomhairle imminently to discuss
ratification of a series of party candidate selections
rather than policing.

Such a move would give an impression of movement while
retaining Sinn F‚in's position on the PSNI.

A British source said last night efforts to reach agreement
with Sinn F‚in and the DUP would continue but there was no
plan for an early announcement.

c 2006 The Irish Times


70 Catholic Recruits Have Quit PSNI

More than 70 Catholic recruits have quit the Northern
Ireland Police Service, it has been revealed.

Even though representation from the minority community has
increased since the introduction of the new policing
arrangements, all sorts of pressures have been blamed for
numbers dropping out.

These include domestic and work difficulties and republican
paramilitary threats.

"One of the main reasons for people leaving was cited as
personal reasons, as was individuals failing to meet
standards required," a police spokeswoman said.

"Family and work life was also a factor and this includes
people coming under pressure from family and indeed
societal pressure to leave.

"Unfortunately a small number of student officers have been
advised about their personal security and for some this has
resulted in them deciding to leave the organisation."

Sinn Fein is considering joining the Policing Board
oversight committee but Catholic members of scrutiny
structures have been threatened by dissident republicans.

Just under 4 per cent of those signed up have left, a total
of 99 when non-Catholics are included.

Jane Winter, from the British/Irish Rights Watch pressure
group, claimed the 72 drop-outs damaged community
confidence in the police.

A form of positive discrimination known as 50/50
recruitment has been adopted by the Police Service of
Northern Ireland to ensure half those chosen are Catholic.

It was recommended to overhaul the mainly Protestant force
by the September 1999 Patten report into policing.

There are currently 1,574 Catholics in the whole of the
PSNI, 20.8 per cent of manpower. There were 44 student
officers and 31 constables who dropped out.

Ms Winter said the figures damaged efforts to make the
police service more inclusive.

"The PSNI have not been able to recruit enough Catholic
police officers to the force; this is undermining the
Patten recommendations and community confidence in the
police," she said.



Holy Cross Mum Hopeful Daughters Will Survive Crash

[Published: Tuesday 26, December 2006 - 10:13]
By Deborah McAleese

The mother of two young girls who were critically injured
in a horrific crash that killed their father and eight-
year-old sister was today said to be feeling more hopeful
that her daughters will pull through.

The sisters - aged four and five - whose father James
McGuigan and sister Lorna died when the car they were
travelling in hit a tree on Crumlin's Ballyhill Road on
Friday morning, are believed to be battling against the
odds and responding to treatment in hospital.

However, a 10-year-old boy continued to fight for his life
today after being knocked down by two cars while walking in
Lurgan on Christmas Eve. Police said a man was arrested
following the accident on the Lough Road.

The boy is one of three young children critically injured
during nine days of Christmas carnage on Ulster's roads
that left six people dead.

David Heaslip (18), from Ballymiscaw Road, Holywood, died
on Christmas Eve after suffering serious injuries in a two-
car collision on Belfast's Belmont Road on Friday.

On Saturday, pedestrian Matthew Dagens (15), died after
being struck by a car on the Ballydugan Road, Downpatrick,
at around 9.30am on Friday. It is believed he had just left
a bus when he was knocked down.

Police officers on Friday revisited the scene of an
accident that claimed the lives of two best friends near
Portrush on December 16. They were hoping to speak to
motorists who may have been on the Ballyboggy Road at the
time Lisa McFerran and Claire Wakelam were struck by a car.

Meanwhile, a large crowd is expected at the funeral of
James McGuigan and his daughter Lorna tomorrow.

A service is due to be held at St Oliver Plunkett's Church
in Lenadoon, with interment at Roselawn cemetery.

Father Aidan Troy said the local community had rallied
around to help support Lorna's mother, whose two other
daughters remain seriously ill in hospital following the

"The two young girls are holding very well. They still have
a long way to go but their mother is feeling more confident

The PSNI has issued an urgent call to motorists to help
prevent further deaths and serious injuries over the
festive season by taking greater care on the roads.

c Belfast Telegraph


SDLP Welcome For President's PSNI Remarks

24 December 2006 17:13

An SDLP member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board has
welcomed remarks by President McAleese, who said in an RT
Radio interview she has family members who have joined the

Speaking on the Marian Finucane programme on Sunday
morning, Mrs McAleese told of how some of her relations,
understood to be cousins, have joined the PSNI.

Joe Byrne said the details given reflected what is
happening in many nationalist communities.

Mr Byrne is from Omagh, the scene of the one of the worst
atrocities perpetrated by republicans during the troubles.

In a wide-ranging interview, the President also praised the
widespread changes in Irish society.

She said more people believed in a future built on the Good
Friday Agreement than did not.

The President also discussed improving relationships
between Northern Ireland and the Republic, as well as
changes between communities in Northern Ireland.

Mrs McAleese and her husband, Martin, are from nationalist
areas of Belfast. They grew up at a time when Northern
Ireland's police force was frequently involved in

During her time as President they have attempted to build
bridges with the unionist community.

Under the current Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Orde, the
implementation of the Patten reforms including the
recruitment of more Catholics has continued.

There is also increasing co-operation with garda¡, a
pattern that is set to continue in the New Year.

SF still considering move on policing

Mrs McAleese's comments came as Sinn F‚n continues to
consider whether to call a special Ard Fheis to discuss its
policy on policing.

On Saturday night, an all-day meeting of senior Sinn F‚in
figures in Dundalk ended with no official announcement that
the party intends to call a national executive meeting to
discuss policy on policing.

A party spokesperson said good progress was made during the
discussions and the group will reconvene in the days
immediately after Christmas.

The DUP insists it will not enter a power-sharing
administration next March unless Sinn F‚in changes its
policy on support for the PSNI and law and order.

It would take a decision by a Sinn F‚in Ard Fheis to
authorise a policy shift.


Irish Official EU Language

[Published: Tuesday 26, December 2006 - 10:24]
By Brendan McDaid

A North West-based Irish language group today welcomed
confirmation that Irish will become the 21st official
European language to be given equal status within the EU.

The move, to be formalised on January 1, means that Gaelige
can be used during debates and to translate all official
documents from the EU.

Irish will be one of three new languages to be adopted on
New Year's Day, the others being Bulgarian and Romanian.

An Gaelaras development officer Donnacha MacNiallais said
today: "This is something we have been looking forward to
and which ensures that Irish has the same status as other
national languages.

"It is a very welcome and positive and will add to the
growing status of the language and help with the revival."

Mr McNiallais had formed part of a delegation to Europe at
the start of 2006 to lobby for official status to be
afforded to the Irish language, on a par with English,
Spanish, German and other languages.

He said: "This means now for instance that if an MEP speaks
in Irish in the European Parliament there will be
simultaneous translations to the other members.

"We are also very supportive of the proposal from St
Andrews that an Irish Language Act be put into law in the
six counties and we will be working on that in the New

In preparation for the new inclusion, the European
Commission has adopted a strategy to guide its translation
of written texts for 2007 and beyond.

The strategy aims to better identify translation needs and
providers, and enshrines multi-lingualism as a core element
in the Commission's policy-making and forward planning.

Jan Figel, European Commissioner in charge of education,
training, culture and multi-lingualism, said: "The
diversity of languages is our common richness and the
promotion of this diversity is a clear priority for the
European Commission."

Irish translation will start with a workforce of five

For 2007, the cost of translation in the Commission is
estimated to be around ?302m.

c Belfast Telegraph


Opin: Time To Learn A Lesson From Inquiry Costs

[Published: Tuesday 26, December 2006 - 11:11]

The Government got much more than it bargained for when it
agreed to all the public inquiries into some controversial
deaths during the troubles.

Instead of learning from the expense of the Bloody Sunday
tribunal, which could top œ200m, it locked itself into a
process that has already incurred costs of œ20m on three
inquiries, before the full hearings begin.

Those who are closest to the deaths, in suspicious
circumstances, would argue that expense should not be an

But when the cost of holding such inquiries begins to
impact on Treasury spending on Northern Ireland, taxpayers
have a right to be concerned, as they are.

There was a further development last week, when a High
Court judge ruled that Peter Hain was wrongly advised when
he changed the nature of the inquiry into the murder of
Billy Wright so that the state could terminate it at any
time and keep evidence secret. The Treasury wants to limit
the cost of the inquiries to œ50m, but that may not be

At a time when every department of government is short of
funds, criticism of the Government for allowing this
inquiry free-for-all is fully deserved.

The lessons of the Bloody Sunday tribunal, which has been a
goldmine for lawyers, should have been learned and a more
careful evaluation should have been made of the murders, to
give some cases the priority they deserve.

The chances are that at the end of the day - and after the
expenditure of vast sums of public money on legal
representation - no one will be satisfied.

As long as the inquiries last, hoping to provide closure
for families but also re-opening old wounds, it will be
difficult for the communities involved to move on.

Northern Ireland has changed enormously for the better,
since the darkest days of the troubles, but it is still in
the interests of a small number of extremists to keep old
enmities alive.

In the right circumstances, public inquiries have been a
valuable tool for seeking out the truth, and exposing lies
for what they are. The Scarman Tribunal, into the origins
and outcome of the 1969 riots, was a case in point -
conducted by a respected judge with a time-limited brief.

But as the nature of the conflict here has become more
complex, the ability of inquiries to cut through the web of
cover-up and collusion has been reduced, as is the public's
interest in their conclusions.

Atrocities were committed, on which everyone has an
opinion, and even the most thorough inquiry will have
little effect on what people believe.

c Belfast Telegraph


Book: IRA-Bahrain Link Claimed

By Eunice Del Rosario
Published: 26th December 2006

A CONTROVERSIAL autobiography of a former Bahrain resident
is claiming that an international militant group used the
country's deserts to test bombs in the late 1960s. It
alleges that a spy for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) also
mingled with British army personnel stationed in Juffair
and Muharraq to pick up valuable information, resulting in
the deaths of several people in the UK. Scheduled to have
its international release in March next year, the book
Enemy of the Empire by Irish Eamon McGuire, who is
described by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as the
IRA's chief technical officer, reveals that the deserts of
Bahrain were used to test equipment for use against the
British in Armagh, a city in North Ireland.

The author said in his book, published by The O'Brien
Press, that he worked during the day and at night "in his
spare time" he bought equipment and designed bombs,
landmines, rockets and technology to shoot down British
army helicopters.

Mr McGuire, now aged 69, spent six years in jail for
terrorist offences.

He claims in this autobiography that he and an IRA team
"forced the British army off the ground and into the air"
in south Armagh.

The book, the first to be written by a senior IRA operative
other than an informer, has been "cleared" by Mr McGuire's

Following his extradition to the US in 1992, he was
described by the CIA as the IRA's chief technical officer.

"The Americans would claim that I killed more than anyone
else. I would accept that," said Mr McGuire.

"I made it possible. Did I kill anyone directly? I can't
answer that question. I'm not sure. I helped create the

McGuire, from Castleblayney, first learnt about mechanics
in the Curragh military camp as an Irish Air Corps
apprentice in the 1950s.

One of his first jobs was with British European Airways at
Heathrow and he received training on the avionic system of
the British Aircraft Corporation's VC10. After the outbreak
of the Troubles in 1969, McGuire put his expertise at the
disposal of the IRA.

Working for Gulf Aviation in Bahrain, he claims he tested
equipment in the desert.

Mr McGuire says he also mingled with British Army personnel
stationed in Juffair and Muharraq to pick up information.

"In Bahrain, the SAS were all around me," he said.

"I discussed with them their modus operandi and how they
protected themselves.

"That was how we were able to fight them on equal terms in
south Armagh.

"There were 10 men lost on our side, I don't know how many
they lost.

"They only admitted to half their losses, and that was 50
soldiers with 3,000-4,000 injured."

Mr McGuire boasts that the IRA won "hands down" in south
Armagh, out-killing British forces by 15:1.

He admits indirect responsibility for the Warrenpoint
massacre in 1979, in which 18 British soldiers died.

Mr McGuire also says he was involved with the IRA bomb
attacks in Britain in the early 1990s, even though he was
in prison in the US.

"My biggest achievement was the capacity of farmers' sons
in south Armagh particularly to adapt to new technology,"
he said.

"Bombs constructed there were brought to London. I was
involved in the evolution of the training and manufacturing
to do that."

Mr McGuire joined Aer Lingus in 1978.

He was posted to the Bahamas and visited Florida, where
technical products were produced.

He says he worked as close to the US as he could, because
that was where the high technology the IRA needed was

But in 1989 one of his accomplices discovered FBI agents
putting a listening device into his car.

American authorities had already bugged the house of
Richard Johnson, a member of Mr McGuire's gang, the so-
called Boston Five.

This gave them enough evidence to wind up its activities.

Mr McGuire went on the run in Ireland and Africa, but was
betrayed in Mozambique and arrested by South African

He was extradited to the US and jailed on terrorist

It is estimated that IRA bombs killed 675 civilians between
1969 and 1987 when Mr McGuire was active.

The book is currently available to order online.

Bookstores in Bahrain contacted by the GDN said that it is
available to order at BD6.800 for each copy.


Hardy Hundreds Take The Plunge For Charity

25/12/2006 - 16:35:48

Hundreds of hardy Christmas Day swimmers today braved the
chilly waters on the coastline to raise money for charity.

The biggest gathering was at Dublin's Forty Foot bathing
area where dippers donned fancy dress costumes for the
annual event.

One swimmer arrived at the popular Dun Laoghaire venue in
Batman gear while others sported Hawaiian-style grass
skirts and floral necklaces.

Other charity swims were taking place in Salthill, Co
Galway, Lahinch Co Clare, Ballybunion Co Kerry and Tramore
Co Waterford.

Dubliner Peter Shaughnessy, 32, who took part in his fourth
Christmas Day swim at the Forty Foot, was raising money for
Third World agency, Touch Ireland, which builds schools in

He said: "It was cold enough in there, about three degrees,
but the hardest part is always taking the initial plunge."

The 32-year-old added: "The good thing is that it's usually
easy to collect money from people for this because they
genuinely appreciate the hardship you go through."

Mr Shaughnessy warmed up afterwards with a flask of
steaming homemade brew of black tea, brandy, lemon and

The 25th annual GOAL Mile also took place at UCD in Dublin
this morning as well as at 55 other locations around the

The organisers hope to exceed last year's fundraising total
of 240,000 euro from the events which first began in 1982.


Four Irish Remembered On 2004 Asian Tsunami Anniversary

26/12/2006 - 08:40:32

Survivors of the Asian tsunami will join those who lost
loved ones today to mark the two year anniversary.

At least 230,000 people were killed on St Stephen's Day,
2004, in one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded.

Four Irish people, who were holidaying in Thailand at the
time of the disaster, were among those who lost their

Irish people have raised over ?100m towards the tsunami
relief effort, along with an unprecedented amount of
donations from around the world.

However, Richard Miller from ActionAid UK says the money
can only go some of the way towards rebuilding the region.

"With Fisherman, many of them were traumatised by that
whole thing. Before now the sea had been their friend, and
suddenly the sea had wiped away their families, their
homes, their boats, everything."


National Library Acquires Extensive Beckett Collection

Sat, Dec 23, 2006

The National Library of Ireland has described as a "major
boost for Irish scholars" its acquisition of an extensive
collection of 800 printed and other items by and about
Samuel Beckett. John Downesreports.

The library announced the acquisition yesterday, the 17th
anniversary of the death of the Irish playwright, author
and Nobel laureate.

Among the materials are books and periodicals, as well as
proof copies, galley proofs and production scripts for
Beckett plays.

The library said the material was assembled over a 40-year
period by Alan Clodd, a Dublin-born book collector, dealer,
publisher and founder of the London-based Enitharmon Press.

According to the library, the production scripts show
another aspect of Beckett's achievements, namely as a
theatre director. It said four of the "very rare" scripts
are signed by Beckett for Clodd, who died in 2002.

The collection was acquired in recent months from the
London-based booksellers Maggs Bros, acting on behalf of
the Clodd family.

The library has already taken possession of the material,
which also includes photographs, posters and "ephemeral"
items such as theatre programmes. It plans to make the
collection available for public viewing once cataloguing is

"Alan Clodd enjoyed a cordial, personal acquaintance with
Samuel Beckett," the library said, adding that many of the
items are signed by Beckett for the collector.

The nature of the collection and the extensive number of
items it contains makes the National Library "an important
centre for Beckett studies", the library statement said. It
gave no details on the price paid for the collection.

The director of the library, Aongus O hAonghusa, described
the acquisition as "a major boost for Irish scholars and
for the library".

It was "particularly appropriate" to have made the
acquisition during the centenary of the dramatist's birth,
he said.

"Inscribed copies of Beckett's works are very uncommon. All
the more interesting, then, that Beckett was more than
happy to inscribe the books that Clodd always took with him
on his numerous visits to see Beckett in Paris.

"This is an integral collection, representing a significant
amount of the output of a major Irish writer, put together
by a major, though as yet little-known, Irish collector.

"The comprehensive nature of the collection will enable
researchers to further appreciate the contribution of this
illustrious Dublin writer and Nobel Prize-winner to world

Enitharmon Press's stable of writers included Beckett,
Jorge Luis Borges, Federico Garc¡a Lorca and Harold Pinter.

c 2006 The Irish Times


East Villagers Battle To Save Irish Famine Church

By Mike Di Paola

Dec. 26 (Bloomberg) -- The first cracks in St. Brigid's, an
aging Roman Catholic church in New York's East Village,
appeared in 1989. But the fissure in the structure's
eastern wall is nothing compared with the growing chasm
between supporters who have gone to court to save the
church and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York,
which wants to tear it down.

St. Brigid's, built in 1848 and known as the ``Historic
Irish Famine Church,'' is believed to be the oldest
remaining church of about 600 designed by architect Patrick
Keely. It's located on the corner of Avenue B and Eighth
Street at the eastern edge of Tompkins Square Park, a
neighborhood steeped in history. In the mid-19th century,
workers flocked to the East River shipyards, in particular
the Irish, who were fleeing starvation at home. St. Brigid
-- patroness of Ireland, babies, boatmen and assorted
laborers -- was an obvious choice for their spiritual

Not surprisingly, the Ancient Order of Hibernians is an
ardent fan of St. Brigid's; so is actor Matt Dillon and
comedian Colin Quinn, who made a surprise visit to a recent
church fundraiser.

Other prominent New Yorkers, Irish and otherwise, have also
rallied to the cause. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
has voiced her support, as has congresswoman Nydia M.
Velazquez (D- 12th District).

``Losing St. Brigid's will rob residents of a place to
worship,'' wrote Velazquez in a letter to Cardinal Edward
Egan of the archdiocese, ``and further frustrate their
efforts to preserve their neighborhood. Additionally,
tearing down the Church would deprive New York City of an
architectural treasure.''


And a fine treasure it is. The Carpenter Gothic church's
vaulted ceiling suggests an inverted ship's hull -- no
accident, since it was built by shipwrights, who are
remembered in sculpted faces in the roof-supporting
corbels. The exterior, stuccoed in the early 1960s, retains
much of its original architectural integrity, although the
twin steeples were yanked in 1962. The original Gothic-
revival fence still fronts the church, but now it's hidden
behind a demolition crew's scaffold.

The structure's crumbling eastern wall, which started to
pull away when an adjacent building was removed, was
reinforced by vertical concrete buttresses in 1991, but the
building continued to decline. Deeming it unsafe, the
archdiocese shut it down in 2001.

Parishioners, who used the parochial school next door to
hold Mass, raised money for repairs, but in 2004 the
archdiocese decided to raze the building entirely. ``We had
contractors waiting to start repairs and a third of the
money to complete the job,'' says Ed Torres, longtime
parishioner and now chair of the Committee to Save St.
Brigid's Church.

`Wakeup Call'

Even as Torres's group was raising funds, the church had
decided to tear the building down. Torres says the church
intended to replace it with residential apartments. The
insult heaped upon this injury was as galling: the church
kept the money his group had raised.

``It was a wakeup call for me,'' he says bitterly. ``If it
was you or I who did this, we'd be in jail.''

Church authorities say the pastor at the time, Michael
Conway, did not follow fundraising protocol, and so monies
raised were not properly earmarked for the building or its

``We have offered to refund money to anyone who can show
they donated,'' archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said
in a telephone interview. ``So far, no one's come

Torres says that contractors estimated it would cost about
$300,000 to secure the east wall. The archdiocese claims
that fully restoring the church would cost at least $7
million, and so continued with its plans to knock it down.

Things looked grim for St. Brigid's on July 27, when a
demolition crew covered the church in scaffolding, pounded
a hole in the back wall and smashed a 160-year-old Bavarian
stained- glass window -- all to the horror of parishioners
and other fans of the church who had assembled outside to
protest the destruction.

Power of Prayer?

Perhaps their candlelight prayer vigil had some effect. The
following day, state supreme court judge Barbara Kapnick,
who was hearing motions on the building's ownership, called
a temporary halt to the demolition. The judge later
extended the stay in late August.

``Their plan was to knock the church down over the summer,
but we foiled those plans,'' says Torres. Now the committee
is seeking to revoke the archdiocese's demolition permit.
If it does, then the committee will have bought some time
to convince the New York City Landmark Commission to list
the building. That designation could ensure its survival,
putting it in the company of an esteemed group of buildings
near Thompson Square Park, including the Charlie Parker
Residence, the Children's Aid Society building, and P.S.
64/El Bohio, which was landmarked earlier this year.

Nursing Home

Zwilling denies the archdiocese has any intention to build
apartments on the site.

``There were no plans, there are no plans, and there will
be no plans,'' he says. In fact, the archdiocese does not
want to sell this valuable real estate and will probably
erect another religious institution to replace the old
church, most likely a Catholic nursing home, Zwilling says.

The 1,400-square-foot lot would probably fetch about $2
million, according to local realtor Jeto Evezai.

The preservationists want the building saved as a community
center, or perhaps a museum, so long as the integrity of
the church itself is maintained. In my view -- and as I
live in the neighborhood, it is literally in my view -- the
church fits in well with the surrounding buildings, a mix
of townhouses around the park, art galleries, restaurants
and boutiques.

In a dynamic and rapidly changing area such as this one,
it's important to hang on to the few venerable pillars we
have left. St. Brigid's may have run her course as a house
of worship, but as an architectural work and historical
marker for generations of East Villagers, it's certainly
worth saving.

(Mike Di Paola writes about preservation and the
environment for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are
his own.)

To contact the writer responsible for this story: Mike Di
Paola at

Last Updated: December 26, 2006 00:03 EST

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