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May 14, 2007

MLAs Resume Debates After 5 Years

News about Ireland & the Irish

BT 05/14/07 MLAs Resume Debates After Five Years
BB 05/14/07 Future 'Not Female' In Assembly
BN 05/14/07 McDowell Dismisses New Concerns About Bertie's Taxes
BT 05/14/07 Joint Faith School Scheme Plea
BT 05/14/07 Opin: New Assembly Must Take The Plunge
BT 05/14/07 Opin: Yes, But Can They Get On Their Bikes?
BT 05/14/07 A Hero Who Pushed His Luck Just Too Far
IN 05/14/07 Famine Commemoration For Dublin
BT 05/14/07 Eur The Worst Ever


MLAs Resume Debates After Five Years

[Published: Monday 14, May 2007 - 11:19]
By Noel McAdam

After almost five years in mothballs, Northern Ireland's Assembly
was today getting down to its first full debates in the new era
of devolved power.

MLAs were due to gather aTanoon with the machinery of devolution
stepping up a gear as the new ministers continue to find their

It will be some time yet, however, before actual legislation
comes before the Stormont legislature which will develop detailed
policies and both make, and change, the law.

Thus also, the first formal Question Time session at Stormont,
which will feature First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First
Minister Martin McGuinness, will not take place until Monday,
June 11.

The main debate today seemed likely to centre on a Sinn Fein
proposal for an all-party working group to examine the under-
representation of women in the Stormont chamber.

Of the 108 MLAs elected just two months ago, only 18 are women.
The Sinn Fein motion, signed by four female members including
Martina Anderson and Jennifer McCann, urges all parties to commit
themselves to tackle the issue of women's under-representation.

And it calls on the Executive to "fully implement and resource" a
comprehensive strategy to tackle issues which are having a
"negative impact" on women and affecting political life.

The first issue before MLAs today, however, was an Ulster
Unionist motion asking the Assembly to re-apply for admission to
membership of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Then there are two SDLP motions to fill out the first day of
business, following the official appointment last week over two
days of the Executive Ministers and committee chairs and vice-
chairs. The first, from East Londonderry MLA John Dallat, calls
on the Department of Regional Development to bring forward plans
to upgrade the rail network to provide inter-city services
between major cities across the island of Ireland.

And the second, signed by South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell and
South Down MLA PJ Bradley, urges the Assembly to make a donation
to an organisation supporting undocumented Irish immigrants in
the United States.

c Belfast Telegraph


Future 'Not Female' In Assembly

The shortage of women in local politics is up for discussion at
Northern Ireland's new parliament.

In one of the Stormont assembly's first debates since devolution
was restored, MLAs will debate why so few women are involved.

Only 18 out of 108 Assembly members are women. Sinn Fein MLA
Jennifer McCann said it was "a disgrace".

"Women make up over 50% of our society yet are seriously under
represented at all levels," she said.

Members will look at establishing an all-party working group on
the issue.

There will also be calls for the Executive to put into place a
strategy to tackle the under-representation of women in politics.

The number of women who stood for election in March was less than
in 2003. There were three fewer female candidates in 2007.

Other topics to be discussed include a call from the Ulster
Unionists to rejoin the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

The SDLP has put forward two motions. One calls for better rail
links between the north and south, the other expresses concern
about the plight of undocumented Irish immigrants in the USA.

With the power sharing Executive still gearing up, the new local
ministers will not have to face questions on the floor of the
Assembly until next month.

It will take some time before any proposals for new laws come to
the Stormont chamber.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/05/14 07:00:56 GMT


McDowell Dismisses New Concerns About Taoiseach's Taxes

14/05/2007 - 11:49:03

The Tanaiste is dismissing fresh concerns about the Taoiseach's
finances the 1990s.

Yesterday, Bertie Ahern revealed that he made a payment to the
Revenue Commissioners in recent months in relation to the money
he received from friends and businessmen at the time of his
marriage break-up.

This appears to be at odds with his statement to the Dail last
October saying that he had no tax liabilities in connection with
the money.

Asked about the matter in Dublin today, Tanaiste Michael McDowell
said he did believe the issue was important.

"There is a small amount of money which is the subject of a
disagreement between his tax advisers and the Revenue
Commissioners as to how it should be treated," the PD leader

"I'm absolutely satisfied that this is insignificant and there's
no ethical implications whatsoever for the Taoiseach."


Joint Faith School Scheme Plea

[Published: Monday 14, May 2007 - 11:14]
By Kathryn Torney

The Catholic Church is under pressure today to consider taking
part in a joint faith school experiment in Northern Ireland, the
Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Schools jointly managed by both the Catholic and Protestant
churches would be a radical move if given the go-ahead by church
leaders and Government.

The Telegraph has learned that representatives from the Catholic
and Protestant churches and school principals recently travelled
together to visit inter-church schools in Liverpool.

Bishop Donal McKeown, chair of the Northern Ireland Commission
for Catholic Education, described the schools as "interesting and
successful experiments", but the Council for Catholic Maintained
Schools (CCMS) told the Telegraph that a similar model would be
"unfeasible" within a Northern Ireland context.

In Northern Ireland maintained schools are owned and managed by
the Catholic Church, while controlled schools are owned by the
education boards with the three main Protestant churches key
stakeholders in their management.

However, the Rev Ian Ellis, a spokesman for the Protestant
churches, said that the jointly managed church school model
deserves to be considered as an option for Northern Ireland.

And Michael Wardlow, chief executive of the Northern Ireland
Council for Integrated Education, also backed the idea of a pilot
scheme. So far, no Ulster school within the Catholic maintained
sector has ever transformed to integrated status.

Merging schools under joint church management may also be one way
of reducing the number of costly surplus places in schools across
in the province.

Mr Wardlow said: "The argument that the same school structures
are not here is not, in my view, a strong argument to

"Can we not be creative enough to come up with a range of
possible solutions to delivering the outcome of shared faith
schools and then go to the Department of Education and ask can
they legislate to deliver it?

"If the churches agree that theologically it is no problem then
surely they can come up with a workable pilot, even as a sixth
form or primary school."

The Transferor Representatives' Council brings together
representatives of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and
Methodist churches.

Mr Ellis, secretary to the Church of Ireland Board of Education
NI and secretary to the Transferor Representatives' Council, said
joint faith schools were "an exciting possible option for the

"There are some settings where with the right community support
and visionary leadership this approach might well work; however
it will not work in every area."

Bishop McKeown said: "The churches are keen to examine what might
be possible."

c Belfast Telegraph


Viewpoint: New Assembly Must Take The Plunge

[Published: Monday 14, May 2007 - 09:04]

While the battle for a better deal from Gordon Brown continues,
it was down to business today for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Debates on issues as diverse as women in politics and the future
of the rail network were on the Stormont order paper today.

The Ministers have, as promised, hit the ground running. The
power-sharing executive is in action, but it will take time for
Ministers to get to know each other and for trust to develop
between former foes.

Already, the big issues which lie before the Assembly are
becoming clear. While the economy remains paramount, two colossal
challenges are water charges and the 11-plus.

As expected, the executive decided last week to shelve water
charges for a year. This will leave a hole of œ75m in the
executive's budget, but it will provide a welcome breathing space
and should enable Ministers to take a more considered decision on
an issue which touched a raw nerve with the electorate.

As the Consumer Council says, the rates bill already includes an
element of payment for water, and householders should not be
expected to pay twice. In its review, the executive must examine
issues such as whether the capital value of a house is the
fairest means of determining the level of water charge.

The most equitable system would be to install meters in homes
across the province, which would mean that bills would more
closely reflect usage. If meters are provided by other utilities
such as electricity and gas companies, why should water be any

Given that an investment of œ3bn is required over the next 20
years to upgrade the water and sewerage infrastructure, there is
a general acceptance that bills need to go up. But surely it
would be fairer to depreciate the cost over the lifetime of the
new pipes, thereby easing the burden on today's customers.

An equally pressing problem for the executive is the question of
the 11-plus. The parties agree that the one-off test should be
abolished, but so far there is no consensus about what should
happen next.

As a debate hosted by the Belfast Telegraph last week showed, the
parties are split on the question of academic selection. But
unless a compromise can be agreed, there is a danger that the
education system will descend into chaos with each school free to
set its own entry criteria.

Parties accustomed over many years to the politics of opposition
are now having to come to terms with the concept of being in
charge. It is a steep learning curve, but the day when the
executive will have to take difficult decisions in the interests
of all the people is fast approaching.

Take a bow, waterfront hall

Where does the time go? It only seems like yesterday since it
opened, but lasTanight Belfast's Waterfront Hall officially
celebrated its tenth birthday.

It was on January 17, 1997 that the first visitors watched the
inaugural performance (the Ulster Orchestra with James Galway and
Barry Douglas) and since then many of the world's finest
entertainers have graced its stage.

It even had a starring role in history, when John Hume and David
Trimble came together on stage with Bono of U2 during the Good
Friday Agreement referendum in 1998.

LasTanight's Anniversary gala had a particularly Irish (north and
south) feel, with performers like Shayne Ward rubbing shoulders
with local stars such as Juliet Turner.

When the complex opened all those years ago, there was
justifiable concern about the affordability of the œ32m cost to
ratepayers. Those concerns have been abated over the years by a
combination of public enthusiasm and sound financial management.
Indeed, the Waterfront management boasts the hall now contributes
œ10 to the economy for every œ1 operating cost.

A decade on, the Waterfront is now an undoubted asset to the city
and to Northern Ireland. Congratulations are due to all who have
played a role, however small, in its success.

c Belfast Telegraph


Opin: Yes, But Can They Get On Their Bikes?

Lindy McDowell
[Published: Saturday 12, May 2007 - 09:26]

I watched Tuesday's relaunch of the Assembly live on CNN in
Beijing. Distance always lends local politics a different
perspective. But in this case, not a whole lot of excitement.

Even outside commentators no longer get hysterical about us
getting historical.

The CNN coverage was marked by being measured.

There was some dark irony.

Northern Ireland led the bulletin - swiftly followed by
hauntingly familiar words.

"A car bomb has exploded ..."

But this was Iraq's troubles, not our own any more.

There was a moment of wry irony, too, as the new Stormont speaker
William Hay was being signed in.

Across the bottom of the screen a banner headline informed
viewers that an 'extremist' had been appointed to the Serbian

There was a time, of course, when a member of the DUP might also
have been regarded as an extremist.

But, breaking news, in Northern Ireland, everybody's a moderate
these days.

For viewers like myself there was also some momentary confusion
during proceedings.

Pictures buTanot sound were being broadcast from Stormont as
Alliance leader David Ford rose to pay tribute to Mr Hay's
predecessor, Eileen Bell.

Across the bottom of the screen ran the banner, 'Ford - 25

Goodness, I though, has Fordy let rip? Does he mean 25,000 sell-
outs? Or is he referring to 25,000 Government payouts, sops and
bribes to paramilitaries?

Neither, it transpired. It was a business headline relating to
the car manufacturing firm.

That excitement aside, overall the most striking aspect of the
coverage was Tony Blair's strange Cheshire Cat grin. He looked
bizarrely like Andrew Lloyd Webber beaming at contestants in
television's search for a star of the musical Joseph. Where Tony
Blair's legacy is concerned, of course, any dream will do.

Whether Northern Ireland's nightmare is done - whether Tuesday's
Assembly show really will mark a watershed in our history - we
shall see.

In Beijing where, as I said, I watched events unfold, they know
all about the difficulties of living with recent history.

The evidence of China's recent remarkable economic growth is writ
large in the Beijing skyline with cranes and swish new high rise
office and shopping blocks.

Tesco is coming soon.

Disney is heading for Shanghai. The prestige labels of the West
from Chanel to Mercedes are already well-established.

Beijing is preparing for next year's Olympics but this is about
more than games.

It is about showcasing the skills, the drive and the potential of
its people and the traditions and cultural legacy of the past.

The Olympics look set to be a tipping point for China - not least
in terms of tourism.

And in the land of yin and yang finding a balance between the old
and the new is the trick. So far the strange inter-marriage
between communism and capitalism appears to be working.

The sight of the myriad bicycles on the streets of Beijing
smoothly weaving their way through 21st century motorised
traffic, is just one visual reminder on the streets that change
is gradual and rarely involves a clean line drawn under the past.

We were once promised that here.

But all these years later we know it isn't so easy to let go of
what went before.

For politicians the key now will be to emulate those nonchalent
cyclists in Beijing.

Can they keep the process on track?

For not all the potholes on the road to peace have been

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing.

There are still 57 peace walls in Northern Ireland.

Chinese eating is hard to swallow

If the line about you are what you eat applies to entire nations,
the Chinese are undoubtedly becoming just a little Western.

You can measure it in some waistlines. Particularily among the

MacDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut are just a few of the new food
options in the land that gave the world a truly legendary

But there's still plenty of the old style chow available.

In a Beijing night markeTanear Tiananmen Square you can snack on
barbecued kebabs of skewered delicacies such as snake, cricket
and scorpion. And even, appallingly, testicles. Of which
creature, I did not ask.

In one restaurant we ordered duck for one. And got one duck.
Which turned out to be bigger than the average North Antrim

Other options on the menu included roast chin of duck, hand of
pigs and little yellow croakers whatever they are. Everything
gets chucked into the pot. In another place diners are invited
inside for "Dumplings stuffed with ovary and minced digestive
intestine of crad." (sic)

Such traditional nosh may not be to our taste, but it doesn't
appear to have done the Chinese any harm healthwise. Can the same
be said for the Western grub coming their way?

Large chocolate coated gateaux entice customers inside for what
is billed as, "Western caking food."

It's nutritious, says a sign in the window.

More nutritious than chicken's head soup?

Meanwhile, in a newspaper, a food expert bemoans the time she has
spent in the past cooking in the traditional style. All that
chopping of vegetables, mixing spices and garlic, marinading in
rice wine and vinegar.

Happily, she reports, today such culinary time wasting can be
eradicated thanks to the new powder packet sauces just reaching
the stores. With the help of these reconstituted sauces and a
microwave, equally good results can be achieved.


It sounds like the sort of advice to make a Michelin star chef
eat his Knorr stock cube ...

c Belfast Telegraph


A Hero Who Pushed His Luck Just Too Far

[Published: Monday 14, May 2007 - 11:38]

Even 30 years after his abduction and assassination details of
Captain RoberTanairac's life remain obscure and shrouded with

Captain Nairac was a British Army undercover operative in
Northern Ireland during some of the most violent years of the

Nairac was abducted by a gang of IRA members outside a south
Armagh bar in 1977.

He was savagely attacked, beaten and tortured before being shot
in the head at the age of 29.

His body has never been found.

At the time of his death the Oxford University graduate had been
working in the province as a liaison officer with an SAS
detachment, briefed to make contact with all the relevant
intelligence outfits.

By night he would go undercover to local bars.

But during the day he would walk the streets in patrol uniform.

Why Nairac visited the Three Steps Inn at the edge of Drumintee
in south Armagh on the night of May 14, 1977 - the night he
disappeared - remains unknown.

One theory is that he was there to infiltrate local Republican

Whatever the case, Nairac's fake identity as Danny McErlaine, a
member of the official IRA from Ardoyne, had come under suspicion
by Republicans and his fate was sealed.

Shortly before 9.30pm that evening he left his base at Bessbrook
Mill barracks in an unmarked, military issue car and drove
directly to the bar, armed with his 9mm Browning pistol.

He entered the bar, ordered a pint of Guinness and talked to
locals before joining the pub band to sing Irish rebel songs.

Later he was noted to have been acting strangely, making frequent
visits to the lavatory and preoccupied with the disappearance of
his cigarettes.

The members of the pub band sensed he was in danger and offered
him a lift, but he refused.

After 11pm as Nairac walked from the bar to his car he was
attacked by a group of men, bundled into a car and driven towards
the border.

He was tortured, beaten and shot in the head.

Throughout his abduction and torture Nairac never revealed his
true identity.

According to Major Clive Fairweather - a seasoned SAS officer in
Northern Ireland at the time Nairac was here - who was
interviewed by journalist John Parker for his book Death Of A
Hero, Nairac fought back against his attackers and made several
attempts to escape.

"He fought very hard for his life .... He had gone through an
enormous amount of punishment but his wits were still there and
he was still speaking in an Irish accent and sticking to his
cover story, his own established cover story," he said.

The mystery over what happened to Nairac's body has never been

One of the theories is that after being shot the IRA sent in a
two-man team to remove the body and take it far away so that the
Army would never find it. The IRA did not want police to discover
the extent of his injuries.

Another story emerged in 1998 when a former IRA intelligence
officer, Eamon Collins, claimed in his autobiography that the
body was dumped temporarily in a pit before being destroyed in a
meat processing factory situated close to a field where he was

Ever since his disappearance 30 years ago speculation about
Nairac's professional and private life has circulated.

One of the more colourful suggestions in recent years is that
Nairac could actually still be alive.

In his book, The Chosen Few, Darach MacDonald suggests that
Nairac may not have been killed at all and may have simply
disappeared after being involved in the "mucky world of military
undercover operations."

And then there was the drama of his alleged marriage to a woman
called Nel Lister who, several years after his death, claimed he
had fathered a child with her.

Lister was found to be a liar in 2001 after DNA testing proved
that her child was not his.

Nairac's death and mystery surrounding his life propelled him to
hero status and helped create a legend.

Three years after his assassination he was posthumously awarded
the George Cross for his "exceptional courage and acts of the
greatest heroism in circumstances of extreme peril".

However, persistent allegations of collusion with loyalist
paramilitaries have cast a shadow over his hero persona.

A 1993 Yorkshire Television documentary about the Dublin and
Monaghan bombings in 1974 alleged that he was "running" three
suspected loyalist agents.

Whatever the truth about the life and death of Captain Nairac,
those who worked alongside him have claimed his unabated desire
to be the best sealed his fate.

He was said to have always been trying to prove himself, did not
like being controlled and began to break rules.

He also reportedly laughed at intelligence reports that the IRA
intended to " get him".

A Captain D of the SAS is quoted in John Parker's Death Of A Hero
as saying: "It seemed an enormous, unacceptable risk.

"He was playing two games: secret agent one minute and a soldier
the next.

"He was desperate for success. He pushed himself hard and he
pushed the boundaries of safety to the limit. If he had remained
within the parameters of his job description he would be alive

c Belfast Telegraph


Famine Commemoration For Dublin

Mon, May 14, 2007

A major new Government-supported Famine commemoration will take
place in Dublin later this month, it was announced today.

Dozens of campaigners in peasant-dress will hold their annual
march from the Garden of Remembrance to the Custom House Quay
famine sculptures on May 27th.

But for the first time this will be followed by a Government
reception attended by various international dignitaries marking
the end of a four-year campaign to have the event recognised by
the State.

"Government recognition of our event is a major achievement,"
Michael Blanch, chairman of the Tallaght-based Committee for the
Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims, said. "The Famine took
place only three generations ago, and every country remembers
disasters in its history, whether it is the Holocaust or New
York's 9/11."

The committee, which holds its march every year, has been
lobbying TDs and organisations to officially mark the event for
the past four years.

The Government is also considering an annual Famine memorial day,
and the National Museum at Collins Barracks is investigating the
feasibility of gathering a major exhibition on the event.


c 2007


Eur The Worst Ever

[Published: Monday 14, May 2007 - 09:02]
By Claire McNeilly

The man who co-wrote Ireland's worst-ever entry in the Eurovision
Song Contest lasTanight admitted he was "gutted" by the song's
dismal showing.

'They Can't Stop The Spring' by traditional band Dervish saw
Ireland finish 24th - and last - in the contest, held in Helsinki
on Saturday night.

In front of an estimated television audience of over 100 million,
Ireland emerged with only five points - supplied, incidentally,
by Albania - to finish bottom of the pile for the first time in
the competition's history.

The United Kingdom entry from the band Scooch - titled Flying the
Flag (For You) - fared little better, finishing second-last with
a mere 19 points.

Seven of those points were awarded by the Irish judges, but
Britain failed to return the favour, giving Ireland the dreaded
'nul points'.

Serbian singer, Marija Serifovic won the 52nd annual event,
staged in the Hartswall Arena in the Finnish capital.

Ireland have a magnificent record in the cheesy contest, having
taken top spot seven times, including three successive victories
between 1994 and 1996.

This year's winning song, Molitva, was one of the favourites and
romped home with 268 points.

Ireland's song was written by Tommy Moran and John Waters, a
journalist with the Irish Times.

Mr Waters said: "It was pretty dismal. We were disappointed. We
had put a lot into it. We felt the song was good. The band did
their absolute best."

From classic cheese to the downright insane, this year's show in
Finland's capital had it all.

It was as if the producers knew that ? if the event wasn't going
to be credited for its showcase of talent, it might as well pick
up points for its sheer entertainment value.

From Ukraine's entry (which featured a man in a silver dress and
a giant, silver star on his head running around and slapping the
bums of his backing dancers) to the frontman of the French band
Les Fatals Picards (who dressed in shocking pink and sang his
song while stroking a stuffed black cat stuck to his shoulder),
the show veered towards the Eurotrash edge of surreal.

And, just when you thought it couldn't get any more bizarre, out
came Santa to interact with the show's presenters.

More than 9,000 admirers of kitschy acts and bubblegum music
packed Helsinki's largest ice hockey stadium to attend the show
while, a few kilometres away, up to 20,000 people watched the
event live on giant screens erected in the city's central square.

The mad bash has put the Finns into carnival mood with 350 events
organised during 'Eurovision Week'.

Temperatures of near-zero did nothing to deter thousands of
Eurovision enthusiasts who descended on the city's main square to
watch the semi-finals on the huge video screens.

c Belfast Telegraph

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