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Latest News - 9 August, 2007

Gerry Adams launch Wear a Black Ribbon for Truth campaign

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams launched the Black Ribbon campaign Tuesday in the party's office on the Falls Road, Belfast.

The 'Wear a Black Ribbon campaign' is to highlight the August 12th March for Truth in Belfast.

The objective of the march is to draw attention to the major issue of collusion and British state violence, and the administrative and institutional cover-up by the British government and its state agencies, of a policy which resulted in many thousands of victims who were killed or injured or bereaved.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is urging people to come out in their thousands in support of the many families who are campaigning for Truth. He is also asking everyone to wear on the day of the march and rally a black ribbon in solidarity with their families.

At the launch, Mr Adams said an independent truth commission including international experts should be considered to bring "healing" to all victims of the conflict equally.

"Some of the groups are looking at an international independent truth commission, that is something which as a party we will also look at, but it has to be victim-centred and it has to be positive. It has to be part of a healing process," Mr Adams said.

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Terror of plastic bullets recalled

Plastic bullets should never again be fired by the police on the North's streets, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said last night.

He was speaking at an event in west Belfast commemorating over two decades of campaigning by victims and their families.

Earlier this year mother-of-11 Emma Groves died after leading the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets. She was blinded when a rubber bullet hit her in the face.

Mr Adams said: "I also believe the greatest monument we can erect to Emma Groves is to ensure that no plastic bullets are ever fired again and that the victims of this lethal weapon and of this conflict and their families have the right to truth."

Speaking on the site of the former Andersonstown RUC station, the West Belfast MP said 17 people, nine of them children, had been killed by plastic rounds.

"Thousands more were injured, many of them scarred and disabled for life," he added.

"Rubber and plastic bullets were and are a weapon of terror; deliberately used by the British state and its agencies to intimidate and terrorise citizens."

On August 12th republicans from around Ireland will gather in Belfast for a rally highlighting the British government's collusion with loyalists.

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Pre-publication launch of new Gerry Adams book - An Irish Eye

The pre-publication launch of - An Irish Eye - the new book by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will take place on Saturday at 12 noon in St. Mary's College on the Falls Road. The Sinn Féin President will be in conversation with journalist Anne Cadwalader.

An Irish Eye is a unique book covering the last four eyars of momentous events in Irish republicanism and in the politics of Ireland as a whole. From the IRA decision in 2005 to formally end its armed campaign and to put its arms beyond use to the Sinn Féin decision in January 2007 to support the policing and justice system, unparalleled historic change has taken place.

In An Irish Eye Gerry Adams brings his own perspective to bear on these developments.

  • Includes Gerry Adams' historic appeal to the IRA
  • Includes his call on Sinn Féin to support the policing and justice system
  • Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Irish politics now

It is not just about the peace process, including observations about visits to the Basque country, the Middle East, South Africa and the USA. He also comments on the Celtic Tiger and other aspects of life in Ireland today; he takes a verbal poke at the establishment, and he give us a peek at some personal and humorous episodes as well as the more serious life and death issues.

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Sinn Féin's Agriculture Minister praised for quick response to foot-and-moth outbreak in England

Sinn Féin Minister of Agriculture, Michelle Gildernew has been praised for her quick response following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in England. The Minister has put in place a ban on cattle, goats, sheep and pigs coming into the North of Ireland from Britain.

The EU issued a ban on British food imports but exempted meat from the North of Ireland thanks to the lobbying efforts of Ms Gildernew and following her All-Ireland co-ordinated measures with the South's Agriculture Minister.

The North's Executive thanked the Agriculture Minister for her swift response to the situation and assured the public that all necessary steps would be taken to prevent the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and expressed confidence in farmers and the general public to continue to be vigilant.

The Minister has been in touch with farming unions and the Department for Agriculture and Food in Dublin and will be holding meetings with agri-food industry stakeholders to keep them apprised of the situation.

The Minister also said that the Department had been working closely with other devolved administrations.

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Interview : Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty

A republican voice in the Seanad

Last week saw Councillor PEARSE DOHERTY elected as Sinn Féin's first member of the 26 County Seanad, exceeding the quota of 89 to take 103 votes to top the poll on the Agriculture Panel. Here he talks about his election and his intention to work towards the formation of a more representative and relevant parliamentary forum.

Firstly congratulations Pearse on becoming Sinn Féin's first senator. It's a great lift for the party.

Yes. Without a doubt. Securing a Seanad seat has in no small way addressed the disapointment we received at the general election, particularly the loss of Seán Crowe as a TD. Our numbers in the Oireachtas are back up to five so it goes a long way towards addressing that setback. Also it gives the party a lift nationally. I've been inundated with well-wishers congratulating me -- councillors, party members and supporters from all over the country.

What do you think of the Seanad as an institution?

Some of those elected to the Seanad play to their own party councillors in the interests of re-election rather than working to benefit the national constituency -- the people of this island -- the wider picture. That's where Sinn Féin comes in. Our party is represented on every elected political body on the island. It's known for instance that some Senators actually send Christmas presents to councillors -- things like pens, DVDs or the like. I won't be doing that, [laughs] I intend to work for the whole constituency of Ireland, not just Donegal.

So you'll be the sole Sinn Féin voice on the Seanad

I won't have been the first to enter an Oireachtas forum alone in that Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin went into Leinster House on his own in 1997. I will be joining a strong Sinn Féin team so I will have a lot of support. I'll learn from our Oireachtas team as I go along so it's not as daunting a challenge as that faced by Caoimhghín back back then. We don't yet know what way the Seanad will be configured but we're hoping that we will be in a position to form a Technical Group which would allow me more speaking time and to put forward the republican agenda in the Seanad. It's clear now that the Government will be in the majority in the Seanad so there will be a need for the opposition parties to work together.

The Seanad is supposed to have a scrutiny role doesn't it?

Yes it does. We will have the opportunity to amend legislation that comes before the Seanad and to debate legislation. Some legislation will actually start in the Seanad and we'll have the opportunity to propose Private Members Bills, to raise motions for debate and to question Ministers.

So the Seanad is not completely ineffectual?

The Seanad is an important body and we in Sinn Féin intend to use that and every available forum to hold the government to account every single day and to work with others to address the various crises that arise in this country, particularly in the area of health, regional development and the economic challenges Ireland will be facing in the future. Being elected on the Agricultural Panel doesn't exclude us from working on other issues. Once you're elected to the Seanad it doesn't matter what panel you were elected onto. Again a lot depends on the final configuration of the Seanad -- co-operation will be important.

Who gets to vote in the Seanad elections?

Members of the Seanad are selected by three different methods. The Taoiseach directly nominates 11 members, National University of Ireland (NUI) and Trinity College graduates elect six Seanad members between them, and Councillors and incoming TDs elect 43 members.

That's not very representative is it?

No it's not. For instance a lot of graduates have been excluded simply on the basis that they gained their degrees from institutions other that Trinity or NUI. Furthermore the right to vote should not be dependent on whether you have a degree or not.

The process as it stands is very elitist and excludes a vast number of people. Sinn Féin will be pushing for reform in this area in that we believe that the right to vote should be open to all Irish citizens and it should also be open to Irish emigrants to vote via the various Irish embassies around the world. We also believe that anyone resident in this country for over five years should be able to vote.

As things stand the system distances the public from the workings of the Seanad. Even the count procedures for Seanad elections is bizarre -- very hard to understand and entirely different from the count at council or Dáil level. Very few people in the room at the count understand the procedures involved. At the count on Monday a lawyer was present along with the Returning Officer because the count process is so complicated.

All these factors make the public's grasp of the affairs of the Seanad very disjointed. I topped the poll with 103 votes. Each vote is regarded as amounting to to 1,000 votes so it was 103,000. Four candidates were very low in the count so they counted every, single second preference they received. It's complex. We would want to see a Seanad elected directly by the people with community and voluntary groups being allowed to nominate people.

So you will be leaving your council seat?

Yes and already three names have been put forward as replacements -- three women in their 20s who are willing to accept the co-option, or perhaps go forward as a second candidate in the next Local Government elections. So this too is an important development.

Were you surprised when you took the seat?

Well we always knew that with 58 Sinn Féin councillors we'd have to go into negotiation with others and that was left in the hands of our Director of Elections Joan O'Connor and our Whip in the Dáil Aengus Ó Snodaigh and they put a lot of time and work into that task and with great success.

So will you stand for the Dáil in the next general election?

We see the Seanad seat as a great stepping-stone towards taking a Dáil seat and of course the experience I gain over the next five years will be of great benefit to me if I manage to take a Dáil seat at the next general elections.

Are you looking forward to the next five years?

Yes, I'm very proud to have been selected by the party as the Seanad candidate and I take the challenge facing me very seriously. I have a responsibility to promote the republican project in the Seanad and I, along with our strong Oireachtas team will be holding the government to account all the way. There is a learning curve but I look forward to the challenge. This will be the first time a republican voice will be heard in the Seanad and people shouldn't take that lightly.

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Republicans urged to follow example of Kevin Lynch

North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay made the keynote address at the Kevin Lynch Commemoration in Dungiven last Sunday. This week marks the 26th Anniversary of Kevin Lynch's death on hunger strike and the commemoration was part of a series of events held in Dungiven over the weekend to commemorate the anniversary.

McKay said the large crowd at the commemoration demonstrated that the wider republican community in County Derry and beyond had not forgotten the sacrifice that Kevin Lynch and his nine comrades made.

He said it was worth remembering that there were still political prisoners in jails around Ireland and this remained an issue that needed to be resolved.

McKay said the courage and selflessness of male and female republican prisoners in the early 1980s had touched a nerve with people who had previously little or no knowledge of the conflict in Ireland.

"It is worth remembering that the Hunger Strikers of 1981 were ordinary young men. Seven out of the ten were aged just 25 and under. When Kevin was arrested and brought from his home here in Dungiven to Castlereagh, and then to Long Kesh, he was merely 20 years of age."

The actions of Lynch and his comrades, he said, was an extraordinary act of selflessness that not only stirred the emotions of many Irish men and women, but repopularised the republicans struggle.

British policy failed

"The British Government tried to crush Irish republicanism through the H-Blocks and the Diplock Courts and they failed. Their Criminalisation and Ulsterisation policies failed. Today the UDR and now the RIR have been disbanded, much of the British Army has gone and the old RUC is gone. There is an element of the RUC remaining in the PSNI and it must be stymied, it must be blocked and must be taken on to ensure that the abuses that were dealt out to members of this community, some of which are still taking place here in Dungiven, are never repeated again.

"And although it has been good to see the British Army packing up and leaving South Armagh and other parts of the North, recent months has seen an increase in British Army activity in Counties Derry and Antrim. That is unacceptable and we as republicans must continue to work to bring about a situation when the British Army, in its entirety, has left this part of Ireland", McKay said.

The North Antrim MLA said that republicans needed to continue to organise, be disciplined, build political strength and remain focussed on achieving their primary objectives.

"That does involve taking difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, but sometimes it is those decisions which will benefit our struggle more in the long term and it takes leadership, it takes foresight, and it takes courage to make and follow through on those decisions.

Courage and discipline

McKay concluded: "It is said that when Kevin Lynch made up his mind to do something there was no changing it. And that was certainly the case during the Hunger Strike. Kevin was motivated by supreme unselfishness when he decided to take part in both hunger strikes in 1980 and 1981.

"The motto adopted by Kevin Lynch's Hurling Club is one befitting of the man it is named after -- 'Misneach is Dilseacht' -- Courage and Loyalty.

"It is that same selflessness, that same unwielding commitment to republican objectives, the will to better the lives of people rather than oneself, which will see this struggle through to its successful conclusion. It is those values that have brought us to where we are today.

"The only monument worthy of the ten men who demonstrated such selflessness, and the hundreds of others who endured the brutal prison regimes throughout Ireland, is a free and independent country based on equality and justice. We can settle for nothing less.

"Beidh an Phoblacht again. Beidh ár lá linn"

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Latest News - 3 August, 2007

British soldiers pull out : Adams calls for support for March for Truth

At midnight on Tuesday, 31 July all British military personnel in the Six Counties were recalled to their barracks, bringing to an end the longest continuous campaign in British Army history.

Codenamed by the British army, Operation Banner, the campaign began with the deployment of three British army infantry battalions to the North of Ireland in 1969. But within two years, the inability of the British military to subdue the popular uprising emerging out of the Civil Rights Movement and spearheaded by the IRA, eventually lead to the deployment of around 30,000 British soldiers at over a 100 different locations.

Over 300,000 British soldiers have served in the North in the intervening years and were directly responsible for killing hundreds of people across the Six Counties. The British military were also responsible for the deaths of at least 1,000 more people North and South through their direction of and collusion with unionist paramilitaries.

From Wednesday the number of troops in the North were being reduced to a "peacetime" garrison of around 5,000.

Earlier this month an internal report examining the British army's role in the Six Counties over a period of almost four decades concluded it did not and could not defeat the IRA. The British army also admitted to military and publicity blunders during its campaign and that not enough of an effort was made to reach a political resolution of the conflict. The admission was further evidence of the validity of the long-standing republican argument that the British could not defeat republican demands by militarily means and that British policy in Ireland was wrong headed.

Commenting this week on the ending of the British army's campaign, Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said that when the British Army arrived on the streets of the North in 1969 that it quickly became clear that it would be an oppressive force and was going to be used against one section of the community to maintain British rule.

"When the British Army arrived in the North in 1969 it quickly became clear that it would be an oppressive force and would be used against the nationalist community to maintain British rule", Kelly said.

"While the so-called Operation Banner had been in response to the loyalist pogroms against the nationalist community, that had been supported the B-Specials and RUC, the brutalisation of nationalists across the North caused huge suffering.

"The British Army was part of a military response to a situation that was political. It was a response that included torture, shoot-to-kill and collusion with loyalist death squads. The military response failed."

Speaking to the media Kelly, himself a former IRA prisoner, said the latest development was hugely significant.

During the early '70s, when he was on the run, Kelly said, details of nearly every working-class Catholic's home was held on computers, with people being stopped by soldiers and asked to describe the colour of the wallpaper in the house they were staying.

"They had it on file. They used to walk into houses at night and count everyone there -- from babies up -- to keep check," Kelly said.

"When you talk about Orwell's book 1984, this was real Big Brother stuff big time," he said.

"The harassment was so in your face. These are emotive words but it was oppressive in a very personal way. That's the type of thing that was put under the banner of counter-intelligence," the Six County Junior Minister said. But, he claimed, this was simply a repetition of the tactics used by the British army in every part of the world where they went as a colonial occupier.

"The tactics used by the British Army here are the same as the ones being deployed in Iraq today and the consequences can be seen by everyone.

"It was only when republicans forced the British government to admit that the conflict would only be resolved through political negotiations that progress was achieved."

This year's annual August national march in Belfast has as its theme 'March for Truth'. The objective of the march is to draw attention to the major issue of collusion and British state violence, and the administrative and institutional cover-up by the British government and its state agencies, of a policy which resulted in many thousands of victims who were killed, injured or bereaved.

Sin Féin President Gerry Adams MP is urging people to come out in their thousands in support of the many families who are campaigning for Truth.

He is also asking everyone to wear on the day of the march and rally a black ribbon in solidarity with their families.

Speaking ahead of the 31 July end to the British Army's so-called 'Operation Banner' Gerry Adams said:

"During over three decades of conflict successive British governments employed shoot-to-kill operations; rubber and plastic bullets; counter-gangs directly run by MI5 and others, as well as the various unionist paramilitary organisations to wage a war of terror against the nationalist and republican people.

"Thousands were injured, over a thousand people killed and many families were forced to flee their homes.

"Collusion and the use of counter-gangs were an integral part of British policy.

"The decision to pursue this approach was taken at the highest levels of the British state and in some instances the orders to kill came directly from Downing Street and were subsequently publicly defended by British Ministers.

"In recent time a series of reports by the Ombudsman's office and by international jurists into scores of killings have exposed the extent to which British intelligence, MI5, the UDR and the RUC Special Branch managed the death squads, provided information, weapons and training in the use of those weapons.

"I am appealing for people to demonstrate their support and solidarity with all of the victims and their families by attending the march on 12 August and by wearing a black ribbon on the day."

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Hamill Tribunal : Deliberate delays

Sinn Féin Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd speaking after the British House of Lords referred the attempt to secure anonymity for RUC officers involved in the murder of Robert Hamill back to the High Court in Belfast has said that the Hamill Tribunal was being deliberately delayed.

Robert Hamill was kicked to death by a mob of thirty loyalists in Portadown, in the early hours of 27 April 1997 in full view of an RUC Land Rover, only 200 yards from an RUC station.

Four RUC officers, wearing body armour and armed with machine guns, remained in the Land Rover until after the attack.

"It is a disgrace that attempts by former members of the RUC to continue their culture of concealment and cover up had allowed the Tribunal to be delayed.

"This ruling will lead to further delays", O'Dowd said.

"The origin of the delay is clearly a result of those former members of the RUC who cannot throw off the culture of concealment and cover-up which became a by-word for the force in which they served. This case is not about anonymity, these individuals have already appeared publicly in a court case associated with the murder of Robert Hamill", he said.

"This case is about obstructing and delaying the work of the Tribunal and delaying further the search for the truth in this sectarian murder.

"It is beyond dispute that Robert Hamill was brutally murdered in a random sectarian attack as members of the RUC sat back and watched. At the time of the murder strenuous efforts were made by the RUC to cover-up the circumstances surrounding the killing. It is for this reason that an independent inquiry was needed.

"Nationalists in Portadown will not accept another white wash", said O'Dowd.

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Belfast march will highlight human cost of 'Operation Bannner'

In ancient Celtic mythology boundaries and borders held particular significance, the moment between day and night, the shoreline where land and water meet, the turning of one year into another.

It is perhaps fitting then, that Britain's military campaign in the North of Ireland -- the longest campaign in the history of the British army, was set to end this week at the stoke of midnight, as the month turned from July into August.

Sixty years ago the British ended their colonial occupation of India at the stroke of midnight on another August night. In comparison the ending of Operation Banner, the British Armys' military campaign in the North of Ireland, was far more low key but in its own way just as significant.

Unlike India, the end of Britain's military campaign of occupation in Ireland does not herald the realisation of national sovereignty. But it does represent another advance on the road to Irish unity and independence.

The British government has already abandoned its unilateral territorial claim and conceded a political mechanism to end their jurisdiction by democratic political means.

Military repression has been at the heart of British counter-insurgency strategy in the North for almost 40 years.

In a recently unearthed secret report, the British army admitted that they could not defeat the IRA or quell resistance to British rule despite the mass deployment of British troops and 38 years of military counter insurgency. The abandonment of this strategy, of which the end of Operation Banner is but a part, has cleared the way for further progressive political change.

But while the British Army may hope Operation Banner will slip away quietly in the dead of night, Irish republicans are determined not to let it.

The organisers of this months annual National Hunger Strike March are determined to shine a spotlight on Britain's military campaign and demand the truth about the many deaths that have occurred not only directly at the hands of official British forces but also proxy forces, such as unionist paramilitary death squads.

The British army has been directly responsible for around 800 killings but it has also been implicated in up to a thousand more through their covert collusion with unionist paramilitaries.

The March for Truth is schedule to take place on Sunday 12 August and will march from various locations throughout Belfast to meet at City Hall for a rally at 3pm. The rally is to be addressed by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, as well as speakers from key groups campaigning for truth and justice.

Amongst the speakers will be Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice, Margaret Irwin from Justice for the Forgotten and Amanda Fullerton, the daughter of Eddie Fullerton, the Sinn Féin councillor shot dead by a loyalist death squad at his home in Donegal.

Other initiatives, such as the launch of a Black Ribbon and the displaying of the Remembering Quilt, the publication of a report into the Springhill massacre, a vigil against plastic bullets at the Andersonstown barracks site and briefings on collusion are organised in the run up to the march.

On 9 July 1972 five people, two of them children and one a local priest were killed in the Springhill estate in West Belfast. Two other people were seriously injured. The fatal shots were fired from sandbagged sniper nests in Corrys timber yard where the British army had observation posts.

According to eyewitness accounts the incident began at 9.50pm when a sniper fired twice at two cars. As the occupants fled the vehicles the sniper fired 14 more shots, seriously injuring one man and pinning down other passengers for over an hour-and-a half.

A second sniper opened fire on two teenagers who went to assist the injured man. One was killed and the second seriously wounded. A third sniper shot dead a 13-year-old girl. A local priest and another man were shot dead as they attempted to reach the stricken child. A teenager who attempted to drag the bodies to safety was also shot dead.

Initially the British army claimed they had been under fire when they responded with one hit. They later claimed they came under fire for a second time and returned fire with six more hits. But as information surrounding the killings began to emerge, the British army changed their story and claimed the UDA had been responsible for the six killings.

The Springhill massacre is one of many unresolved incidents arising out of Britain's military campaign in the North of Ireland where the truth has yet to be established.

Other incidents include Bloody Sunday in Derry 1972 in which 13 people were shot dead and another fatally injured by British paratroopers and the New Lodge massacre where a number of people were shot dead over a number of days by the British army in disputed circumstances.

They also include killings carried out by British forces in collusion with loyalist gunmen, such as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the murder of members of the Miami Showband and the death of Donegal councillor Eddie Fullerton, as well as the more well known cases like the murder of defence lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

Summary execution was also a tactic deployed during Britain's military campaign, not only through collusion and the deployment of unionist paramilitary death squads but also in shoot to kill, and killing zone operations involving both the RUC and SAS.

The most famous of these became the focus of a British inquiry headed by John Stalker, others include the shooting of Pearse Jordon in West Belfast and the Loughgall killings of eight IRA Volunteers by the SAS.

But Operation Banner wasn't just about killings and shootings, it also involved the routine harassment of people on the streets and the destruction of homes during mass and random raiding. It was about military curfews, mass detention without trial and torture as well as detention. It was also about the judicial and political refusal to hold members of the British army and other state forces to account.

Next Sunday people from all over Ireland will be marching in Belfast to highlight the human consequences of Operation Banner.

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British military campaign was a failure: Editorial by An Phoblacht

The British military campaign of almost 40 years in the North of Ireland ended in failure this week. British troops were deployed on the streets of the Six Counties in August 1969 as the one-party Orange state crumbled under the weight of its own sectarianism and as the nationalist population rose up to demand their civil rights.

British soldiers were sent into the North, not as British propagandists and their allies would have it 'to separate warring factions' or to stop the sectarian slaughter and pogrom of Catholics. They were deployed to uphold and maintain the political status quo, to bolster the old Stormont regime and to get the RUC -- discredited and defeated following events such as the Battle of the Bogside -- back in control.

The British Army was Sormont's latest weapon in an attempt to crush the popular uprising of the nationalist population.

The true role and nature of the British army in Ireland quickly became clear as the British sought to impose a military solution to a political problem. It was an oppressive force directed against one section of the community and its only interest was the maintenance of British rule in Ireland.

Throughout the conflict the British sought to criminalise and defeat the republican struggle. They failed. Repression failed and Britain was eventually forced to the negotiation table.

As a result of the policies of successive British Governments, the people of the North were subjected to decades of war. The cost of that war was felt most dearly in the Six Counties, but also throughout Ireland, in Britain and further afield.

Only the development of a peace strategy by Irish republicans leading to the Peace Process saw the eventual abandonment of a purely counter-insurgency approach by a British Government.

The abandonment of this strategy, of which the end of the British army's campaign is part, cleared the way for political progress across Ireland which is of benefit to all in Ireland -- nationalist and unionist, and indeed the people of Britain.

After decades of war the republican struggle has never been stronger and republican politics never more relevant.

In the new political dispensation that has emerged with the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement, the nationalist community in the Six Counties is confident and assertive of its rights and identity. It has put republicans as equals at the head of new governance in the North.

The British Government has abandoned its unilateral claim of sovereignty in Ireland, and has had to introduce a mechanism by which Irish reunification can occur politically. Today's republicans will ensure that this happens.

The British Army could never defeat the nationalist people or the men and women Volunteers of Óglaigh na hÉireann.

And lest we forget, military repression in Ireland was a repetition of tactics previously used by the British elsewhere in the world and are the same as those used in Iraq today. It seems the British have yet to learn the lessons of history.

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Internment and The Hooded Men: Interview with Liam Shannon

Internment and The Hooded Men: Interview with Liam Shannon

The formal ending of the British Army's 'Operation Banner' comes as we approach the 36th anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial in the Six Counties in August 1971 when British soldiers, acting on the instigation of then Six County premier Brian Faulkner dragged hundreds of people to prison camps, where many were tortured.

Last week former internee Margaret Shannon spoke to An Phoblacht about her experience of internment. This week her cousin LIAM SHANNON from Belfast talks about the treatment meted out to 13 of the internees who subsequently became known as 'the hooded men'.

You and other members of your family were heavily affected by the introduction of internment without trial in 1971.

Yes, my father Billy, my uncle Goerdie and my cousins Margaret and Liam Shannon were all interned. On the night of 9 October 1971 I was returning home from an evening out with my wife when I was stopped by a patrol. I was on the run at the time and was carrying a false ID which I hoped would get me through. It didn't and I was arrested and as the soldier arresting me was opening the back door of the Saracen I pushed him in and bolted. I ran up a side street. The soldiers following me fired two shots but I wasn't hit. I saw an open door along the street and ran in but the soldiers caught up and trailed me off in the Saracen to Springfield Road barracks.

That's where the interrogation began?

Yes. There, I was confronted by a notorious branch man called Harry Taylor who said they were going to inject me with a truth drug. They came out with a tray on which there was a syringe, needles and some substance in a container. He went so far as to fill the syringe and put it to my arm and then stopped saying he'd leave that for later. By mistake they took me to Girdwood Barracks which is behind Crumlin Road jail in the back of a 'pig' and lay me face down spread-eagled with their feet on me. They drove through Springfield Road near the Shankill Road and at one stage a bunch of UDA men were on the street and one of the men in the Saracen said "why don't we give him to the UDA". They stopped the pig and opened the back doors and shouted out:

"We've an IRA bastard here do you want him?"

I could hear the growls outside the pig. But they didn't throw me out and on we went to Girdwood. They frog-marched me into the building and stood me against the wall. Then they realised that I was meant to be taken to Palace Barracks so off we were again.

So what happened in Palace Barracks?

I spent the next 48 hours there being battered and interrogated. I remember during interrogation being put facing a checkered board with holes in it, which disorientated you to the point where you'd start seeing faces in it after a while.

Then this fella came in and started clicking a gun behind me. It was a revolver and I could see him breaking it open and putting a bullet in it. He pulled the trigger and it went off, the bullet went into the wall about a foot from my head.

I'll never forget seeing one young lad of about 16 from Ballymurphy being swung off the floor and around in circles by the hair of his head. After 48 hours I was brought to the Crum (Crumlin Road Jail) where I was taken to a Governor who read out a letter signed by Brian Faulkner to the effect that I could be taken to any place at any time in the interest of security. This was under the Special Powers Act. A hood was immediately put over my head and I was taken out to the prison football pitch of the Crum where I could hear a helicopter.

What happened then?

I was put on the helicopter which then lifted off the ground. I'd no way of knowing how far off the ground the chopper lifted as I could see nothing. Then one of the soldiers said:

"Here let's throw the bastard out all together".

One of them pushed me in the chest out of the helicopter. I landed with a thump -- about three feet of a drop. It was a form of psychological torture.

Then I was put back on the chopper and we flew for a while. They were pretending we were flying over water to 'the mainland' as they called it. I knew the flight was too short for that distance. I didn't know where I was going but it's believed I was taken to Palace Barracks. I was taken to a building -- I don't know where it was.

When the hood was taken off I was in a white room with a white-coated guy facing me. I was told to strip and was given a rough medical examination. Then two athletic looking men came in and told me to put on this great, big, boiler suit. They put the hood back on my head and knotted it into the epaulettes of the boiler suit. There was no way I could get it off and it stayed on my head for the following seven days.

So the worst wasn't over by any means?

The hood was on my head for the next week except when I was allowed to eat. Then I'd be sat on the floor to take the slice of bread and plastic cup of water, which was hard to drink as they kept my head pushed forward so that I wouldn't see their faces.

The rest of the time I was put on the wall, meaning I'd be made to stand spread-eagled against the wall. It was all very disorientating and some of that week I don't remember. But I must have slept at some point or other in the week, maybe I fell down or something. The 'white noise' was bad. There would be very loud noise which would then lower and rise again. They used sensory depravation which came in different forms, such as the darkness inside the hood, difficulty in breathing and the lack of contact -- nobody spoke to me for the week except during interrogation.

I also had hallucinations, which on my release my own doctor later put down to LSD in the drinking water. There was also a room where you were sat in front of two glaringly bright lights which was again designed to cause disorientation. This system of interrogation was know as 'in depth interrogation' and was devised by British intelligence expert Brigadier Frank Kitson and was used by the Brits in Burma.

And after the seven days?

I was taken off the wall and the hood removed. I found myself again in a room with a hand basin, soap and a razor to shave myself. When I looked in the mirror I frightened myself. My eyes were sunk in my head -- they were like two piss holes in the snow. I had a full beard and it was matted with saliva from the hood.

The case of the hooded men was later taken to the Court of Human Rights.

Yes. The Brits were found guilty of 'Inhumane and degrading treatment' but not torture. What we went through was torture. What is degrading and inhuman treatment but torture? But I'm a republican and my beliefs got me through it.

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Remembering the Past: Operation Motorman

Operation Motorman was a military operation carried out by the British Army to retake what it termed 'no-go areas' established in Belfast and Derry in the aftermath of the introduction of internment without trial the previous year.

The introduction of internment without trial in August 1971 was a hugely significant development in the conflict. The brutal affect of internment with British soldiers raiding and wrecking nationalist homes had enraged nationalists right across the Six Counties. Right across the North barricades were erected to prevent crown forces entering nationalist areas. When they did approach, local women would take to the streets banging dustbin lids off the ground to alert the people's army, the IRA, who now enjoyed widespread support.

Such 'no go' areas as the British called them enraged both local unionist representatives and their political masters in London. Nowhere was this more true than in Derry where the Creggan and the Bogside, where the local people had fought, defeated and expelled in the RUC in the Battle of the Bogside in 1969, had become known as Free Derry.

The Bloody Sunday massacre of 30 January 1972 further strengthened the resolve of the people of Derry to resist British and unionist aggression and reinforced the local alienation from the Six County state and support for republicanism.

Motorman was truly massive in scale, confirming that the British army had hoped to confront and destroy the IRA in areas such as Free Derry. The IRA had been aware that a major military operation was planned and did not fall into the trap of confronting an overwhelmingly superior military force.

Involved in the attack were 26 companies of the regular British Army. Specialist tanks and approximately a hundred Armoured Personnel Carriers backed up the locally recruited loyalist militia, the UDR. It was, in fact, the single biggest operation by the British army since the Suez crisis of 1956. In all, over 21,000 troops were involved, 4,000 more than were usually deployed in the entire Six County area.

Two people were shot dead in the onslaught. The youngest, Daniel Hegarty, was only 15 years old. Hegarty was shot only yards from his home as he attempted to flee the oncoming tanks. He had nearly made it home but was murdered practically on his doorstep.

Seamus Bradley was the only IRA Volunteer to die in the attack. He had been shot in the leg and despite the fact that his injuries were not immediately life threatening the British soldiers who had taken custody of him callously watched him bleed to death. He was only 19 years old. He had been unarmed at the time in line with the IRA decision not to immediately confront the British Army.

If Motorman's aim was to engage the the IRA on the British army's terms and by removing the barricades impose an illusion of British control and normality, it was a spectacular failure. All over the world the images went out of tanks rumbling up streets in residential areas. Massive volumes of troops occupied schools, parish halls and anywhere else they could seize, surrounded by barbed wire and sandbags. The message was clear -- Ireland was at war.

Operation Motorman occurred 35 years ago this week.

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Latest News - 25 July, 2007

Pearse Doherty tops poll to win Sinn Féin's first Senate seat

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty was elected on Monday to the Seanad (Upper House of the Irish Parliament) after topping the poll in the Agriculture Panel. This was the first time Sinn Féin had won a Seanad seat since the 1930's. Sentaor Doherty is expected to play a hugely important role in the Oireachtas team and in ensuring that the party goes from strength to strength in the coming years.

A highly-successful Labour-Sinn Féin voting pact secured Mr Doherty the seat as well as Labour's Alex White. Fianna Fáil lost one of its Seanad seats due to the pact.

Speaking yesterday Senator Doherty said, "Going into the Seanad election there were only 58 Sinn Féin members with a vote. We had to reach out to other parties. I am very glad that a number of Labour voters, and others, voted for me".

Sinn Féin Dáil Group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD congratulated Pearse on his election and thanked all those involved in his campaign.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Our job is very clear in the time ahead. We will work hard in the interests of all those communities that we represent. We will hold the government to account every day of the week. We will work with other parties and individuals in the Dáil and Seanad to help end the crisis in the health service, to prioritise investment in primary school education, build affordable housing and encourage job creation. And we will work closely with Sinn Féin Ministers in the north in the interests of everyone on the island.

"Ireland will face a lot of challenges and opportunities in the time ahead and Sinn Féin will play our part in bringing about progressive change for the country."

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New Sinn Féin's Online Store website

The Sinn Féin's Online Store website has a new look. After more than ten years online the Sinn Féin store has been given a complete facelift.

The following is a message from the Sinn Féin Online Store.

While we've refined the design, we've also expanded our customer service. Our ambition is to help customers quickly and easily buy and receive our unique collection of Irish Republican merchandise.

With the new features we've introduced on the site, customers will have the ability to:

• Pay directly through PayPal and take advantage of the ease and security this offers.

• Track the status of their orders online.

• Receive updates on new productions.

• Give reviews on products.

To launch our new website and to encourage our customers to visit we are now having a great value opening sale:

We have slashed the price of two of our most popular collections:

Our T-Shirts and our Irish Historical Photographs.

For more information on this giveaway sale please visit our new site go to www.sinnfeinbookshop.com.

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Interview : Sinn Féin Councillor Fiona Kerins

Sinn Féin gained a third seat in Cork City Council on Monday 9 July with the co-option of Fiona Kerins. From Ballyphenhane Cork City, the 22 year old is the youngest member of Cork City Council having been co-opted to fill the vacancy left on the death of Independent Councillor Con O'Connell. Fiona is a lively, cheerful young woman with a candid manner and a real commitment to the republican project. Here she talks about her respect for the late Councillor O'Connell, growing up in rebel Cork and her desire to 'play her part'.

Tell me about growing up in Cork.

I love Cork. I was born in Ballyphehane in Cork City. I went to the Presentation Secondary School. We're eight in family, my parents, four brothers, a sister and myself. I wasn't very keen on school but I went on to do a Diploma in Legal and Business Studies at Coláiste Stiofán Naofa. Now I work in administration in the Radiotherapy Unit at Cork University Hospital.

On your co-option you paid tribute to the late Con O'Connell. What did you think of the late councillor?

He was a neighbour and friend of ours and a very hard-working political representative. His niece and I are best friends -- Áine Murphy -- she's in the same Sinn Féin cumann as myself. Con had a stroke about four years ago and had been ill over recent years but he still worked up to two weeks before he passed away. Everyone in the community knew who he was and had great respect for him. During the 2004 elections he was sick in hospital but he topped the poll. He'd been elected early and I was at the count in City Hall at 1am in the morning and he rang to wish me luck. "Count every single vote and hopefully I'll be working along side you", he said. But unfortunately it wasn't to happen. I lost by just 34 votes. I knew him since I was small. I've very good shoes to fill.

How exactly did it come about that you ended up taking the seat left vacant by Con's death?

I stood in 2004 local elections and was sixth in a five-seat ward, only missing the seat by 34 votes as I said. I was the candidate polling the next highest vote in the 2004 election after the five elected councillors which is what made me entitled to the co-option. In this ward we've a very strong cumann, the Traolach MacSuibne Cumann, in Cork South and that was probably the main reason why we did so well at the local elections. I was 18 years old when I was nominated. At that time I had the basics of what is involved but I didn't really know all that much about elections and the like. I learned as I went along. But I never joined the party to have a career in politics. Back then I didn't really know what being a councillor meant. If I hadn't been asked to stand for elections I'd be still working away with the party.

How did you get interested in republicanism?

I joined the movement in 2002. I used to always go to the commemorations -- the Easter one in Cork City. I was about 16 when I went to the first one with my dad Brendan. He was originally from Kerry and my mum Pauline is from here. There were commemorations for Crowley and Ahern and for Terence MacSwiney. My dad's family were republican minded and my family are republican supporters. I remember going to Kilmainham Jail when we were on holidays in Dublin. I remember too that the 20th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike had a big impact on me. There were a lot of commemorations going on at the time and the whole story of the Hunger Strike touched me. But I was always interested in history and the politics of the Six Counties. I never had an interest on Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. I'd have watched Hearts and Minds and Questions and Answers rather than Prime Time.

You come from rebel Cork. There's rich republican history in your county.

Yes. There are many Cork people who really impressed me. People like Terence MacSwiney and Tomás Mac Curtáin -- former Lord Mayors of Cork. Tomás Mac Curtáin was shot in his bed by the RIC in his home in Cork city in 1920 and Terence MacSwiney died on hunger strike in Brixton prison. Great people. Tomás Mac Curtáin was only Lord Mayor only for a short time before he was killed and then Terence MacSwiney took over as Lord Mayor of Cork. Actually the Republican Plot where I went to my first Easter commemoration is where Tomás Mac Curtáin was buried and when he died Terence MacSwiney bought the plot. So Tomás was the first to be buried in the Republican Plot there in St Finbars and Terence MacSwiney is buried on his right hand side. Then of course there was the Fenain Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa from West Cork who went through a very tough time in jail in England. I fully supported the armed struggle while it went on and see the connection through all these people down through the generations.

What do you think of Michael Collins?

While some people are split on the issue I think a lot of Cork people are very proud of him. I wouldn't say a word against anyone who went out and fought for their country. I've great admiration for people who stand up for what is right even if it costs them their life. You have to admire people who believe in something so much that they'd give their life for it.

What do you hope to bring to Cork City Council?

As a young woman, I believe that I can bring a new and vibrant perspective to City Hall. I will be campaigning and lobbying for more investment in youth facilities in the South City and increased financial support for local sports clubs and community groups. I will also be prioritising social and affordable housing and in particular I want to see a transparent points allocation system so that people know exactly where they are on the housing list and on what basis housing allocations are made.

What's your passion?

I love the Irish language and Irish culture. Tá alán suim agam sa teanga. I like socialising and having fun too.

And your life's ambition?

I just want to play my part even if it's just to make a small difference.

If you'd one wish what would it be?

To see a United Ireland where we use the Proclamation as our template for running a fair and inclusive society.

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Ballymurphy to remember Tommy 'Todler' Tolan

The 30th anniversary of the killing of IRA Volunteer Tommy 'Todler' Tolan is to be marked by republicans in Ballymurphy where his name and reputation is revered.

On Sunday 29 July republicans from the Upper Springfield area of Belfast will assemble at the Ballymurphy/Springfield memorial garden, on the Upper Springfield Road, before marching to Divismore Crescent where 'Todler' was assasinated by so-called 'Official IRA' (Workers' Party) gunmen on July 27 1977.

A plaque in memory of Volunteer Tolan will be unveiled on the day.

'Todler's' widow, Maureen McGuinness, will perform the unveiling. The couple had only been married two weeks and had just returned from their honeymoon when the gunmen struck.

The main speaker on the day will be the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, a close friend of 'Todler'.

So who was Tommy 'Todler' Tolan?

Tommy Tolan was the third child of Lily and Charlie Tolan, born in June 1946. The family lived in dire conditions in Carrick Hill in North Belfast before they moved to Ballymurphy where Tommy grew up.

The Divis and Black Mountain were his playground and it was on these high hills that embraced West Belfast that a young Tommy Tolan spent his childhood. Like so many young nationalists his education and employment prospects were limited but on leaving school at 14 'Todler' managed to find some employment.

However as the upheaval of the 1960s washed over the world from Viet Nam to the Civil Rights campaign in the United States so life in Ireland was to be engulfed in these global politics. Irish nationalists, so long under the jackboot of Unionist one party rule, took their inspiration from Black America and got off their knees. The unionist establishment unleashing its forces to quell the demands for equality attempted to beat the Catholic 'untermensch' off the streets.

The State's violence lead to a resurgent IRA re-arming to defend besieged nationalist communities. In response the Stormont regime, under Brian Faulkner introduced Internment. The unionists again chose repression rather than negotiation. Over four hundred Nationalists were rounded up. Eleven Catholics, including a priest Fr Hugh Mullan, were shot dead by loyalist and British army gunmen in Ballymurphy alone in the days after the imposition of internment. The events of 9 August 1971, lead 'Todler' into the IRA were he developed a reputation as a "fearless and dedicated soldier of Ireland".

He fought the British army whenever and wherever he found them. And like so many other republicans he soon saw the inside of a prison. Interned on the prison ship Maidstone in Belfast Lough in early January 1972 'Todler' and six other POWs soon made light of the ship's security system. Within two weeks of his capture, on 17 January he escaped. He spent time on the border but soon returned to his native Ballymurphy where he again, with his close friend and comrade Jim Bryson, carried the fight to the Brits.

'Todler' was captured a second time and sent to the Cages in Long Kesh before his release in 1975. Again he reported back for active service and remained an active Volunteer until he was shot dead during a feud between the IRA and Workers Party gunmen.

Speaking to An Phoblacht Patrick Mulvenna of the Remember Our Volunteers Committee said: "This event marks the beginning of a five year programme aimed at commemorating and celebrating the lives of the dead of Ballymurphy. Our area is a proud area. It saw some of the bloodiest engagements between the IRA and British army in the course of the war and it was people like 'Todler' who lead that resistance. It is right and fitting that we honour their memory and sacrifice".

Adding his support for the project Paddy Adams called on people, throughout Belfast who knew 'Todler' to come along on 29 July.

"As republicans we should reflect on the sacrifices of our dead and re-dedicate ourselves to the struggle.

"We may have made a lot of political progress in the past number of years but we are still a people in struggle, our objective is unite our country. So until we achieve that goal we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us. The past sacrifices of our comrades should inspire us to re-dedicate and re-commit ourselves in our future activity".

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McGuinness meets Ahern in Dublin

The North's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness held talks with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at Government Buildings in Dublin this afternoon.

Mr McGuinness gave an exclusive interview to Siinn Féin News before meeting Mr Ahern. The video can be viewed at www.sinnfeinnews.com/av.

The meeting follows the very positive exchanges at the All-Ireland Ministerial Council and British-Irish Council last week.

Mr McGuinness is asking the Irish Government to support efforts to attract inward investment to the Six Counties as well as support on issues like tax harmonisation on the island of Ireland.

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Sinn Féin hopeful of Senate seat

Sinn Féin is hopeful that it will see its candidate for the Seanad (Irish Senate) elected today. Pearse Doherty from Donegal would be the first Sinn Féin Senator since the 1930s.

Mr Doherty was in Dublin today and spoke exclusively to Sinn Féin News. The video of that can be seen at www.sinnfeinnews.com/av

Mr Doherty said he was honoured to have been selected by the party to contest the election and is hopeful of a positive outcome.

The election to the Seanad must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the Dáil (Irish parliament). The Seanad is composed of 60 Members as follows:

  1. 11 nominated by the Taoiseach.
  2. 43 elected by five panels representing vocational interests namely, Culture and Education, Agriculture, Labour, Industry and Commerce and Public Administration.
  3. Six elected by the graduates of two universities: - three each by the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin (Trinity College)

Sinn Féin has call for a radical reform of the Seanad including directly electing senators.

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Honours degrees for ex-POWs

Two republican ex-prisoners, Kevin Campbell and Kevin McGettigan recently graduated from University of Ulster, Magee, with an honours degree in Irish Language and Literature. The two began the degree after funding was secured by Tar Abhaile, the Republican ex-prisoners group based in Derry, to enhance the skills and employability of ex-prisoners and their families. Pius McNaught chairperson of Tar Abhaile commented: "I would like to congratulate the two men on succeeding in attaining their degree. It is another success story for former political prisoners in which Tar Abhaile through CFNI and SEUPB peace funding, has been able to enhance their individual training and their prospects for proper employment opportunities. This is in line with the other training opportunities which Tar Abhaile provided to former prisoners and their families such as the HGV, Bus Licence and Health and Fitness instruction through which many republican ex-prisoners who participated in such training have since sought and found employment." Kevin Campbell, who is also a Sinn Féin councillor, paid tribute to Tar Abhaile for the assistance which they were able to give to himself, Kevin McGettigan and many other former political prisoners, who have been to take up new forms of employment:

"Financial restraints and discrimination against ex-POWs in employment opportunities are some of the major obstacles that they face. However, the financial assistance that myself and Kevin received to help us do the degree course from Tar Abhaile contributed greatly to the success, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank Tar Abhaile for this".

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Women prisoners routinely ill-treated in North

Women prisoners in the Six Counties are routinely isolated, ignored, abused and mistreated, according to a report by the Human Rights Commission. The failure to provide adequate, female-centred places of detention leaves women prisoners particularly vulnerable. Incarceration in male dominated institutions results in women enduring restricted facilities and inadequate care while at the same time being subjected to open hostility and the constant threat of sexual violence.

The vast majority of women prisoners are convicted of minor offences, mostly debt related and pose no serious threat, yet the prison regimes to which they are subjected fail to reflect the distinctive pattern and nature of female offending. "We are calling once again for a separate and self-contained facility for women prisoners," said Monica McWilliams, chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission.

The commission argues that prison is often a totally inappropriate punishment and should only be used as a last resort. Over 40% of women prisoners are jailed for non-payment of fines, says McWilliams. The report points out that women who pose no threat spend two thirds of their time locked in their cells.

Often women who fall foul of the criminal justice system are already vulnerable with many suffering from mental health problems or problems of addiction to either legal or illegal drugs and alcohol. A significant number will have also experienced domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse. "We highlight the demand for appropriate mental health facilities to be made available in the community," says McWilliams.

The current practice of detaining girls under the age of eighteen in prison is described as a serious breach of international human rights standards and should be ended. The report makes 55 recommendations and the Commission says it will be monitoring the authorities' response.

The Prison Within is a second report by the Commission and follows an earlier study into the treatment of women prisoners, The Hurt Inside published two years ago. The first report emerged after a series of suicides amongst female inmates incarcerated in Maghaberry focused attention on the negative consequences of jailing women prisoners within a high security male prison.

The report called for the establishment of a completely separate, purpose built, female detention centre. The response of the authorities was to move women out of Maghaberry into another male prison, Hydebank, a young offenders unit on the outskirts of Belfast.

In its follow-up report the Commission found many of the problems underpinning the incarceration of women prisoners in Maghaberry were not addressed by relocation in Hydebank. In other words the system is still failing women prisoners and some of the key recommendations made in the earlier report have not been implemented.

Accounts by women prisoners of the many problems they face offer the most compelling portrait of what can only be described as degrading and inhumane treatment meted out by both the prison authorities and male prisoners incarcerated in the same institution. Different aspects of systematic neglect and abuse are graphically described by those interviewed.

Neglect includes long periods of isolation locked in cells, inadequate access to basic educational and recreational material and facilities, lack of medical, particularly mental health care and the brutal treatment of women involved in self harm or at risk of suicide.

Although the prison is low security and has extensive grounds, access is restricted because of the threat of male violence and the women can only walk around when accompanied by staff. Use of the gym and education facilities is also restricted with the priority given to male inmates. According to the report women prisoners spent most of their time sitting in silence on hard chairs and smoking.

Women deemed at risk were kept on corridors that also contain punishment cells for aggressive male inmates who often subjected women prisoners to sexually threatening verbal abuse. Consequently women suffering from depression or at risk of self-harm and suicide were made to share not only the same location as violent male prisoners but also the same ethos of punishment.

Abuse sometimes flows from the implementation of inappropriate procedures such as strip-searching or placing women at risk in isolation units. At other times it flows from the failure of the authorities to implement procedures to stop informal abuse by male prisoners.

Both collude in establishing an ethos of degrading and inhumane treatment in which women suffer dual mechanisms of discrimination, either because their specific needs as women are ignored or because the abuse they encounter is gender specific.

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Latest News - 20 July, 2007

Ombudsman asked to investigate shoot-to-kill

The North's Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan confirmed that she had been asked to re-open files on the shoot-to-kill murders of Gervaise McKerr, Sean Burns and Eugene Toman in North Armagh 1982 by the RUC. Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey has called for the full publication of the Stalker Report and the immediate publication for all other enquiries relating the British government's policy of shoot-to-kill.

The Council of Europe has now asked the British government to get the police Ombudsman's office to consider the case. In 2001, the European Court of Human Rights paid £10,000 in compensation to 10 families, including Mr McKerr's.

Mr Maskey said:

"The hard facts about the killing of Gervaise McKerr, Sean Burns and Eugene Toman in North Armagh 1982 are clear. There was a policy of shoot-to-kill operated by the RUC in this area.

"The families not just in this case but the relatives of others killed as a result of the shot-to-kill policy, including 17-year-old Michael Tighe, deserve the truth.

"The European Court demanded a proper investigation into the circumstances of these killings and other state murders.

"Europe has already laid the finger of blame at the door of number 10. Now we need to see the full publication of the Stalker Report and the immediate publication for all other enquiries relating the policy of shoot-to-kill."

Ms O' Loan said today that her office will examine whether it has the legal power to investigate the matter.

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Major progress made at All-Ireland Ministerial Council

A vital step forward in the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was made on Tuesday when the All-Ireland Ministerial Council met in Armagh for the first time since 2002. This week's meeting was only the fifth since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 but it was the first to be held in a political climate where further progress is anticipated with Sinn Féin and the DUP sharing Executive power in the Six Counties.

Previous meetings were held under the shadow of continuing political crises within unionism in which Ian Paisley, now First Minister, played a central role. The toppling of David Trimble by forces within and outside his own party did not lead to the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement which is now being worked by the DUP. The greatest sign of the changed times was the fact that Ian Paisley as First Minister and Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister led the Six-County ministerial delegation to Armagh. The 26-County delegation was led by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

A number of very significant decisions were announced at the meeting, formally known as the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC). The Council noted the Irish Government's intention to make available a contribution of £400m/€580m to help fund major roads programmes providing dual carriageway standard on cross-border routes on the Dublin-Donegal axis -- the North-West Gateway. The road project from Belfast to Larne will be taken forward by the Executive and its agencies. The route serving the North West Gateway will be taken forward jointly by the Irish Government and the Executive.

West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty welcomed the North West road projects as "hugely significant". His comments were echoed by Cavan-Monaghan TD and Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin who said the plan, when implemented, would be "a major boost for a previously much neglected region".

There was as warm a welcome for the long-awaited announcement that the Ulster Canal is to be restored between Clones, County Monaghan and Upper Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. This is in light of the Irish Government's offer to cover the full capital costs of the project. Waterways Ireland, a North/South Implementation Body, will be responsible for the restoration of this section of the Canal and, following restoration, for its management maintenance and development principally for recreational purposes. Ministers, meeting in the NSMC Inland Waterways Sector will agree plans to take forward this restoration work, including details of funding arrangements, and will report on progress to NSMC Plenary meetings.

Welcoming progress on the Ulster Canal, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:

"Sinn Féin has consistently campaigned for the reopening of the Ulster Canal. It would create a tourist hub to service the increasing numbers of foreign visitors who want to avail of ours rivers and canals. We only have to look at the success of the Shannon -- Erne network to realise that the Ulster Canal could help unlock the massive tourist potential for border counties. Discussions on this issue have been ongoing for a considerable period of time and it is essential that there is no further delay or foot dragging."

The Ministerial Council agreed to take forward the review, provided for in the St. Andrews Agreement, of the All-Ireland Implementation Bodies and Areas for Co-operation. The Review will commence in September 2007 and a final report will be presented to the first NSMC Plenary Meeting in 2008. The Review will be undertaken by a group, including senior officials and an advisory panel of four experts/advisers, two to be nominated by the Executive and two to be nominated by the Irish Government.

"The Council made some progress on the establishment of further institutions promised under the Good Friday Agreement. It noted that the Irish Government will consult the social partners on the North-South Consultative Forum. It also noted the review of arrangements for consulting civic society in the Six Counties and agreed to consider this matter once that review is complete. The Council noted the provisions of the St. Andrews Agreement relating to the North South Parliamentary Forum. It recognised that any development of a joint parliamentary forum is a matter for the Assembly and the Oireachtas. Officials from the two administrations will make contact with the Assembly and the Houses of the Oireachtas and report back to the NSMC at the earliest opportunity on the prospects for the development of such a forum.

Sinn Féin South Down MLA Willie Clarke has welcomed the discussions about the establishment of the North-South Parliamentary Forum. He stated:

"The Good Friday Agreement created the framework for not just the All Ireland Parliamentary Forum but also the North South Consultative Forum bringing together people from across civic society on this island. There was further progress agreed at St Andrews.

"Now that both the All Ireland Parliamentary and Consultative Forums have been formally discussed we should see further progress in bringing together politicians and people from civic society from across Ireland in a structured way to look at some of the key issues that affect us; issues such as sustaining our rural community, poverty, transport infrastructure and tourism."

The Council considered and approved a schedule of NSMC meetings to take place over the coming months and agreed that its next meeting, in Plenary format, will be held in Dundalk towards the end of the year.

While progress was made it is clear that many gaps remain. This is most notable in the area of healthcare where the potential for all-Ireland co-operation and integration is not near being met.

Sinn Féin Health spokesperson in the Six Counties, North Belfast MLA Carál Ní Chuilín said that an all-Ireland approach to the provision of healthcare should be a priority:

"In the area of healthcare there is a clear need to develop greater and deeper working relationship across the island. Whether it is in the provision and planning of services, the development of centres of excellence or the efficiencies that can be gained we need to greater co-operation and harmonisation.

"There are a number of projects such as the mainstreaming of access to out of hours GP services that can be progressed to meet the needs of people living in the border areas. There are also a number of other projects particularly around Child and Adolescent mental health services that are weak in both the South and North and would benefit from a joint approach. There is huge potential for improving health for people across the island.

"One of the key issues across this island is that people who suffer disadvantage also suffer much worse health. There are huge health inequalities across Ireland, North and South. For example in the North people living in deprived areas are 33% more likely to die prematurely; life expectancy for men and women in deprived areas is 71.9 years and 77.6 compared to the average for men and women of 74.9 and 79.9 years.

"The situation is exactly the same in the South. Infant mortality and the risk of developing cancer (particularly lung cancer) is higher in deprived areas. We need a concerted effort to tackle such health inequalities and I believe that the resources and focus required can be best delivered if health is a priority for the North South Ministerial Council."

A practical example was given by Pat Doherty who expressed dismay that, despite their obligation to undertake collaborative projects on an All-Ireland basis, Health Ministers Michael McGimpsey and Mary Harney held no discussions about the establishment of a satellite cancer centre in the North West:

"The disparity in access to cancer service provision is most acutely felt by people living in counties in the North West part of Ireland because the configuration of cancer care has been distorted as a result of partition. Therefore it would have been expected that discussions about the establishment of a satellite cancer centre in the North West would have been a major priority for Ministers McGimpsey and Harney as part of their obligation to undertake collaborative projects on an All-Ireland basis to the benefit of people on both sides of the border.

"The provision of a Regional Cancer for the North West is a priority issue for Sinn Féin and we will be continuing to pressurise both governments that it also must become a priority for them if they genuinely want to address the disparity in access to cancer service provision on this island."

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All-Ireland momentum must be kept up

The first meeting of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council in Armagh on Tuesday was one of the most significant gatherings held in this country for many years. Yet it was not greeted by the world headlines and national saturation coverage that accompanied previous key events in the Irish Peace Process. That in itself tells a tale about the progress which has been made.

There is a sense that matters have advanced so far that such meetings are now almost routine and that politics have 'settled down' in the Six Counties. That sense of things was certainly helped by the relatively quiet Twelfth period which preceded the Armagh meeting.

There was significant progress made in Armagh, albeit long overdue progress. Projects for improved road infrastructure in the North West were advanced and the long-awaited green light was given for the restoration of the Ulster Canal. There were moves to set in train the establishment of the All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum and the and the Consultative Civic Forum. Both of these bodies were promised under the Good Friday Agreement. It was significant also that the Council committed itself to a schedule of future meetings, something that was effectively impossible in the past, in a process dogged at every turn by the crises within unionism and the pandering of the British government to unionist obstructionism.

It was all a very different picture in Armagh on Tuesday and for many people it is still almost incredible that Ian Paisley and the DUP have been brought to the position of working the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement. It is almost incredible but very welcome in an atmosphere where conflict has diminished nearly to vanishing point and political progress seems possible as never before.

There is a danger of complaceny in all of this.

Governments in Dublin and London will be tempted to put the process in a lower gear and to delay or avoid further difficult decisions that they have to make. There is a danger that the British government will not come up with the very substantial financial package that is required to restore the economy in the Six Counties. There is a danger that the Irish Government will not push the all-Ireland agenda and do the heavy lifting in terms of building the island economy and integrating public services that only it can deliver. The reluctance of the Irish Government to co-operate across the island in any extensive way in the area of healthcare is a case in point.

It is now seen by Bertie Ahern as clearly in his political interest to present 'the North' as 'sorted'. Before the General Eelction he claimed that with this done he would devote more of his time to the health services in the 26 Counties. Not much of this has been heard since the election but the point was clear. He feels that the pressure is off and that most people will be more than satisfied with the smiling pictures of Bertie and Big Ian. A mutual DUP/FF interest to slow down the process may be developing.

It is Sinn Féin's role to ensure that the momentum is kept up. It is over nine years since the Good Friday Agreement yet only now is its potential beginning to be realised. Progress needs to be accelerated on every front in the social and economic interest of everyone who shares this island.

Partitionism in the 26 Counties needs to be confronted -- the mentality that says we 'can't afford' a united Ireland. We need to intensify our dialogue with unionism, seeking to convince key sections of the population who still maintain that ideology that new thinking is required. These are big challenges but there has never been a more positive climate in which to meet those challenges.

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Sinn Féin positive in Seanad election

Sinn Féin is positive about the prospect of electing Pearse Doherty as the party's first ever member of the Seanad in Leinster House. The party has contested the election for the first time on the basis of its strong performance in the local elections of 2004. County and city councillors as well as TDs vote in the election.

Sinn Féin has 54 city and county councillors and four TDs, giving it 58 votes in the Seanad election. Pearse Doherty is standing in the Agricultural panel where the quota is expected to be around 90 votes. The party believes it has garnered sufficient support to give it a good chance of securing a seat. The count in the election begins next Monday 23 July.

Candidates in Seanad elections stand on panels which are supposed to represent key sectors of society, such as Agriculture, Culture and Education and Labour, rather than in geographical constituencies. This was designed by Eamon de Valera, supposedly to allow experts in these fields to have a legislative role. In reality the panels are dominated by candidates from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who can elect them because of their superiority of numbers in local government and in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin has called for radical reform of the Seanad, including electing it by universal suffrage and extending the franchise to people in the Six Counties and to Irish citizens living abroad. Successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-dominated governments have shelved the many reports and recommendations for reform, seeing the Seanad as a means of consolidating their domination of Irish politics at local government and Leinster House level.

Some may argue that Sinn Féin should not contest elections to such a body, given the undemocratic nature of its election. However the party decided at its Ard Fheis to do so on the basis that this is an important forum which we cannot allow the conservative parties to monopolise and that it is a potential site of struggle from which to advance our objectives.

The count in the election begins next Monday 23 July and full results should be known by the middle of the week.

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Ógra Shinn Féin launch new National Website

You can view the website at http://www.osf.ie

The republican youth movement Ógra Shinn Féin have launched a new national website. The website is in addition to the growing number of platforms that Ógra have opened up in the past year, including their blogspot, local websites, Glor na nÓg and Spark.

As well as keeping activists and supporters updated of daily republican youth news and views, the website will be used to recruit new members, and inform people of upcoming events.

National Organiser of Ógra Shinn Féin, Barry McColgan said,

"Rollo May once wrote, 'Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.' and through the new website and the increased communication it will bring, we wish to create a tighter sense of community between Ógra activists and supporters."

"Ógra Shinn Féin has opened up this new website due to the increased use of the blogspot which now has hundreds of visitors everyday viewing the daily updated news, opinion pieces and events notices."

"The internet is the future of communication and we wish to use the website to ensure improved cohesion in Ógra Shinn Féin, and to promote the uncensored voice of republican youth."

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Tyrone Volunteers honoured

They are remembered in the new Ireland we are building

"The Hunger Strikers of 1981 and the Volunteers from County Tyrone who fell in the struggle are remembered in the new Ireland we are building today," said Sinn Féin Dáil leader, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, on the 26th Anniversary of the death of hunger striker, Martin Hurson. The Sinn Féin TD for Cavan/Monaghan was speaking last Friday evening 13 July in Galbally Community Centre in the course of an indoor commemoration. The decision to hold this year's commemorative event indoors was taken at the last minute because of the unrelenting downpour. The proceedings in Galbally Community Centre were chaired by local Sinn Féin activist Paul Kelly and among those in attendance were members of the Hurson family and other Tyrone families who lost loved ones as a result of the armed struggle and loyalist murders.Brendan Hurson, Martin's brother, presented the Martin Hurson Memorial Cups to the winners of the men's and women's Gaelic football competitions. The Martin Hurson Memorial Band played the National Anthem to end the proceedings. We carry here the oration delivered by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD.

Cuireann sé áthas an domhain orm a bheith anseo libh anocht chun comóradh a dhéanamh ar shaol agus ar íobairt Martin Hurson. Fuair Martin agus a naonúr comrádaithe bás ar stailc ocrais sé bliain is fiche ó shin ach tá siad fós linn. Tá siad linn sa meon saoirse atá ag poblachtánaigh an chontae seo agus ag poblachtánaigh ar fud na hÉireann. Leis an meon sin leanfaimíd ar aghaidh le chéile go dtí go mbeidh againn an Éire gur fhulaing Martin ar a son -- Éire Aontaithe -- Poblacht na hÉireann.

The Republicans of County Tyrone have not forgotten Martin Hurson and they will never forget him nor his nine comrades who died on hunger strike in 1981. They remember each and every Irish Republican Army Volunteer from County Tyrone who fell in the struggle. They are remembered in the events you have organised this weekend. They were remembered in the heroic resistance to armed British occupation which you maintained for more than a decade after Martin's death. They are remembered in the key role you played in bringing about a new phase of republican struggle. Above all they are remembered in the new Ireland we are building today. They are remembered in the ongoing struggle because the struggle is ongoing and will continue until we achieve the United, Sovereign, Independent Republic of Ireland for which Martin and his comrades gave their very lives. Martin, of course, is remembered with special affection in the counties of Longford & Westmeath which constituency hosted his candidacy in the 1981 General Election. I understand that there are representatives from those counties here with us this evening and I commend them for making the journey. Go raibh maith agaibh.

If Martin were with us today he would be 50 years old. But to his family and friends and comrades he will always be the young man of only 24 years whose life was cut tragically short when he died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. He will always be the young Volunteer who was arrested and beaten mercilessly by the RUC and sentenced in a Diplock court. He will always be the laughing boy who brought joy to his family and crack and comradeship to his friends.

This son of Cappagh was an ordinary young man who found it in himself to do an extraordinary thing -- to put his life on the line for his friends and comrades, for his country and his people. To his family we extend our continuing sympathy and solidarity. No-one can know the full extent of their loss or the measure of the grief they and the other families endured as the agonising minutes, hours and days of hunger strike proceeded.

It is with awe that we contemplate the tenacity and endurance of those who undertook the hunger strike. From Thomas Ashe who died from force-feeding in 1917 to the lonely ordeals of Michael Gaughan and Prionsias Stagg in English jails in 1974 and 1976 to the ten in the H-Blocks -- the 22 Irish Republicans who died on prison fasts in the 20th century bore witness before the world to the unquenchable desire of the Irish people for freedom.

Here in County Tyrone you remain unconquered and unconquerable. The roll of honour of fallen republicans since 1969 speaks of tragedy for many republican families in this county. It speaks also of pride and determination, courage and resistance to injustice. This part of East Tyrone has played a huge part in the struggle for freedom. In recalling Martin we cannot but recall Volunteer Seamus Donnelly who died at Loughgall and whose family live on the same lane where Martin lived. This year marked the 20th anniversary of Loughgall and we recall with sorrow and pride the sacrifice of those Volunteers and the civilian who died in May 1987. The strong links between East Tyrone and my home area of North Monaghan are well known to many of you. Our respective Rolls of Honour reflect that bond of comradeship in struggle, comrades in arms, comrades in death.

All around us are reminders of the tragedy of war and of the courage and resistance of republicans.

The British government believed it could bury Irish Republicanism in the concrete tomb of the H-Blocks. They believed they could subdue Irish Republicanism with an arsenal that included the British Army and all its forts and barracks, the sectarian UDR, the loyalist counter-gangs, the RUC, the Diplock courts. They failed. We, the Republicans, have worn down every element in their arsenal of repression. The UDR is long gone. The British Army is on the way out. The old RUC is gone and we are making sure that whatever element of it remains in the PSNI will also be gone. And of course the British government said they would never negotiate with us. They have been doing so now for over a decade.

There will be no turning back to the days of second-class citizenship and sectarian rule. There will be no turning back to the days of military rule disguised as Westminster direct rule.

Let no-one underestimate the achievement of Irish republicans in our time. We successfully resisted their attempts to crush us. We halted their advance. We left them with no political option but to come to terms with us. And we successfully advanced our struggle, making Irish republicanism politically stronger now than it has ever been in the lifetimes of any of us here gathered.

There are those who taunt us with the question 'Was it all worth this? Is this what the republican dead gave their lives for?' And it is natural also that we should ask ourselves those questions.

Without hesitation we should answer that the men and women who died for freedom died as part of a struggle that we are carrying on, a struggle that is not over and that will not be over until Ireland is united and free. The sacrifice of our comrades has ensured that not only has Irish republicanism not been defeated but it has survived and thrived and it lives on in struggle. It lives on in new forms and new phases of struggle. We have been at the centre of a unique Peace Process involving years of negotiations. It has seen many courageous and very difficult decisions being made by republicans. Leadership and imagination have been shown at all levels of our struggle.

Of course this is an imperfect peace. The Good Friday Agreement involved compromise and fell short of what we as republicans aim to achieve. But the new political landscape that has been shaped since that Agreement allows the people of Ireland to work out our future for ourselves. And that can only happen if we, as republicans, make it happen.

Sinn Féin is the bridge to the future, the bridge between North and South, the bridge between where we are now and our destination of a free and United Ireland. And we must also be bridge-builders across the divisions of sectarianism that imperialism created in our country. We abhor and reject sectarianism and bigotry in all their forms. We seek a new relationship with unionists. The United Ireland we seek will be Green and Orange and will reflect the diversity of all the people who share this island -- be they descendants of the ancient Gaels of Tír Eoghain, people of Planter stock, or the most recent immigrants who have come to our country.

Cultural diversity we have a plenty in Ireland today. It presents itself in language, music, song, dance and theatrical expression. It shows itself also in sport. On that note it is appropriate that I show myself to be above the tribal rivalries of inter-county football by wishing both Monaghan and Tyrone well for Sunday's game and wishing the best team to go forward success on the day -- but I'm not above such rivalries -- so I make no apology for saying that I'm for the white and blue and look forward to seeing many of you in Clones on Sunday. So there you are -- up Monaghan!

Comrades, Martin Hurson and his fellow hunger strikers are a continuing inspiration not alone to those of us who witnessed and participated in the events of 1981 but to the youngest republicans of 2007. The Volunteers and members of Sinn Féin in this county and throughout our country who died in the struggle continue to inspire us. Those too who have given of their all and who have died of natural causes or in other tragic circumstances have also imbued us with the spirit of freedom. I think here particularly of men like Patsy McMahon, Cathal Quinn and Mickey McAnespie and I remember too the great contributions to our struggle of others like Tommy O'Neill, Martin McCaughey, Vincent Kelly, Brendan Doris and Barney McAleer. They, if they were here, would all urge us to succeed for the children of today, the generations of the future. May their spirit make you strong and self assured and confident. Make no mistake about it we are advancing towards our objective and with unity and determination we will reach that goal.

Beidh an Phoblacht againn. Beidh ár lá linn.

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Latest News - 16 July, 2007

All-Ireland Ministerial Council meets tomorrow

The first meeting of the new All-Ireland Ministerial Council takes place in Armagh Tuesday.

The Council will bring together the North's Executive lead by First and Deputy First Ministers Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness Ministers with the South's Fianna Fáil/PD/Greens Cabinet led by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

One of the key elements of the Good Friday Agreement was the establishment of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council. The Council's brief is to develop consultation, cooperation and action within the island of Ireland - including through implementation on an all-island and cross-border basis - on matters of mutual interest.

The Agreement established areas of cooperation between the Six-County Executive and the Dublin government and alongside this, six implementation Bodies.

Sinn Féin pushed for All-Ireland bodies to be established, their significance lying in their potential for hastening the reunification of Ireland through a steady erosion of differences on either side of the border. If both sides shared the same economic structures, education systems, health systems and so on, the border would soon become irrelevant.

The Council meeting will focus on a number of different topics including co-operation over a new roads programme and on reopening another section of the Ulster Canal linking Upper Lough Erne with the Shannon.

The establishment of a All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum is also on the agenda.

New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in the Six Counties for the first time today since taking over from Tony Blair.

He is meeting the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the leaders of the devolved administrations at a summit of the British-Irish Council at Stormont.

Mr Brown is to have a separate meeting with the First and Deputy First Ministers Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness and Finance Minister Peter Robinson on the issue of financial support for the executive.

The council brings together eight administrations representing Westminster, Dublin, the North's Assembly, Scottish Assembly, Welsh Assembly, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man.

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Historical status of Long Kesh must be maintained

Removing the historic status of the former Long Kesh prison and hospital wing where Hunger Strikers died would be ludicrous, Martin McGuinness has said.

Some unionist politicians have objected to the creation of what they claim will be "a shrine to the IRA" at the Long Kesh site while unionist MEP Jim Allister wants the buildings to lose listed status.

Sinn Féin has called for the creation of a conflict transformation centre on the site.

Deputy First Minister in the Six Counties, Martin McGuinness has said the former jail was a "project of international importance".

"I would be shocked if any minister in the Executive thought it was a good idea to de-list the buildings," the Sinn Fein minister said.

"It would run totally contrary to everything that we are trying to do in terms of attracting people to our country to learn from what is clearly a whole new experience for us."

McGuinness said many people had "looked at this place as a place where there was no future and there was just perpetual conflict".

"Now we have come out of all of that, we have a lot to offer the world."

A 35,000-seater stadium for GAA, soccer and rugby is planned for the Long Kesh site, but opponents argue the stadium should be built in Belfast instead.

DUP leader Ian Paisley has already opposed rival plans to locate the stadium at Belfast's Ormeau Park.

This week Sinn Féin MLA Paul Butler said there is no viable alternative to the Long Kesh plans put forward by the Maze/Long Kesh Monitoring Group which all of the political parties agreed to.

If the stadium is not built at the Long Kesh site then it is unlikely that any stadium will be built.

There is huge interest around the world in the successful peace process here.

The International Centre for Conflict Transformation at Long Kesh would be a showcase for the success of the peace process.

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Operation Banner : 'British army did not and could not defeat the IRA'

IRA — 'Professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient'

The Irish Republican Army is professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient, according to one of the British Army's highest-ranking officers, General Mike Jackson. The assessment emerged after the British army was forced to publish an internal educational document under the Freedom of Information Act.

Last year three senior British army officers, including General Jackson, were seconded from normal duties for six months to analyse what became the longest operation undertaken by the British army -- its campaign in the Six Counties over almost four decades -- and draw conclusions for future engagements.

The 100-page document is intended as a "reflection on the hard experience, both on the streets and in the fields of Northern Ireland". The document goes on to describe the British army's military engagement against the IRA as one of the most important campaigns ever fought by the British army and its fellow services.

The British officers also acknowledged the scope, as well as the duration of the military campaign fought by the IRA, who they point out conducted a sustained and lethal campaign in the Six Counties, Britain and continental Europe. The British army concludes that the IRA developed one of the most effective "terrorist" organisations in history.

The British officers also bemoan effective republican information campaigns repeatedly pointing to the ability of the organisation and republican press to thwart British censorship and propaganda.

The document's understanding of anti-colonial struggle is breathtakingly ignorant. The British army's understanding of the motivation of their military opponents is amazingly apolitical:

"Much of the motivation of the terrorists came through a wish to glamourise, a somewhat third-rate way of life, through esteem amongst the republican community or, more simply, in bars or with women, is one ludicrous conclusion the authors come to. Clearly educational standards required for Sandhurst leave a lot to be desired.

Codenamed by the British army, Operation Banner the campaign began with the deployment of three British army infantry battalions to the North of Ireland in 1969. But within two years, the inability of the British military to subdue the popular uprising emerging out of the Civil Rights Movement and spearheaded by the IRA, eventually lead to the deployment of around 30,000 British soldiers at over a 100 different locations.

According to the report in the early 1970s in Derry and Belfast when military engagements went on for days at a time it was fairly common for over 10,000 British troops to be deployed on the streets. In the course of the campaign more than 250,000 British soldiers were deployed in the North of Ireland as well as tens of thousands of members of the UDR.

Predictably British officers are not concerned with the suffering inflicted by the British army but the throw away comment: "Thousands of houses were destroyed and over 10,000 terrorist suspects were arrested" is a modest acknowledgement of the way in which the British army dealt with an insurgent civilian population." Small wonder that within the Northern nationalist community and further afield British soldiers were viewed as the real terrorists.

The document has little to say about the imposition of the Falls Curfew and Bloody Sunday in Derry. Both are identified as British army failures, described as examples of poor decision making. But the authors have nothing to say about the death and destruction these "poor decisions" inflicted on the people of Belfast and Derry.

In July 1970 martial law was imposed on the lower Falls area of West Belfast. When British troops from the Black Watch and Life Guards began raiding homes in the Balkan Street area a gun battle ensued leading to the deployment of 3,000 British soldiers supported by armoured vehicles and air cover.

Around 50 streets were cordoned off while the British army rampaged through the area raiding homes and terrorising local families. The curfew was broken after thousands of women from throughout West Belfast marched on the area bringing milk and bread to beleaguered families in the lower Falls. Four civilians were shot dead and a further 60 were injured but loss of life and serious injury, other than their own, is not of undue interest to the British army.

The authors conclude that the imposition of the Falls Curfew was unsophisticated and unconvincing. The search also convinced most moderate Catholics that the army was pro-loyalist. The majority of the Catholic population became effectively nationalist if they were not already", says the document.

Bloody Sunday is also given no more than a cursory glance and the only lesson drawn by the authors is restricted to a minor operation consideration. The British army "should not have used vehicles" in what the document characterises as an "arrest operation", says the document. The British army has nothing to say about the 14 people killed and more injured by Paratroopers who opened fire on unarmed civilians attending a protest march in Derry.

In an even more remarkable omission, the British army has nothing to say about the FRU and the British army's collusion with unionist paramilitary death squads. In fact the document has little to say about unionist paramilitaries and unionist violence per se.

Around 1,000 people were killed any many more injured by unionist paramilitaries during the British army's 37-year long operation and yet there is barely a reference to the UVF and UDA. The UVF is mentioned four times and the UDA three times.

Worse still the UDA is referred to as perhaps the most "respectable" of the unionist paramilitaries. Founded in 1971, the UDA carried out a brutal sectarian campaign of terror, mostly opting for soft Catholic civilian targets. Amongst its ranks have been some of the most notorious sectarian serial killers including Johnny Adair.

The UDA carried out a series of massacres including the Greysteele Halloween massacre and Castlerock murders in 1993. The UDA was also behind the siege of Holy Cross Catholic Girls' primary school in North Belfast. The UDA is not only notorious for sectarian violence it has also engaged in large-scale criminality including drug dealing, prostitution and extortion.

It emerged this week that a UVF gang heavily infiltrated by British Crown forces, both RUC and UDR, planned to murder 30 Catholic school children in south Armagh. The plan was only thwarted after the Belfast based UVF intervened because it feared the British army led Glenanne gang had a double agenda designed to undermine the UVF.

The hundreds of references to the IRA as compared to the documents almost total disregard of loyalist violence exposes not only the colonial mindset of the British army who identified only one enemy, the IRA but also the ambiguity with which pro British violence is regarded.

Collusion is not discussed in the document and yet British state violence by proxy was a key strategy deployed by the British army through covert units like the MRF and FRU. Through agents like Brian Nelson, the British army retrained, reorganised and rearmed loyalist paramilitaries resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries.

Collusion ultimately failed, collapsing into a sectarian campaign, forging solidarity within the nationalist community rather than leading to its disintegration. The northern nationalist community did not fragment but emerged stronger and more determined.

The document offers a hollowed out notion of success that is little more than window dressing for their political masters. It is redefined purely in terms of military disengagement without reference to any political objectives underpinning Britain's campaign. For example the British sought to criminalise and marginalise republicans and to defeat the nationalist demand for equality, justice and national reunification.

What the British face, after 37 years of armed conflict, is a vibrant and optimistic nationalist community intent on securing progressive change. Republicans remain just as professional, resilient and highly skilled, with the largest nationalist party and second largest political party in the North and the republican leadership at the heart of the decision making process.

The British government was forced to abandon its unilateral claim of sovereignty, redefine it in terms of consent and introduce a mechanism within which reunification can occur.

The British army did not and could not defeat the IRA. The shooting war stopped because of political progress gained through negotiation with republicans. The British officers acknowledge as much by stressing the need for political and social solutions from the outset of the outbreak of hostilities.

"The critical issue is the necessity of engaging all relevant agencies in early substantive visible action for reform in order to prevent insurgency or civil war breaking out", conclude the British officers.

Simplistically the long term solution was not to deploy three battalions into the Divis flats but rather to bulldoze them and build decent respectable homes with proper amenities.

It's a limited understanding of republican demands for social, economic and political justice but it's an acknowledgement just the same. The British army's advocacy of political progress at all is testimony to the fact that they could not defeat republican demands militarily. In other words repression failed and Britain was forced to the negotiation table. The only lesson of history that the British can glean from this document is to negotiate sooner.

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Remembering Joe McDonnell

The welcome break in the unseasonal weather, which saw Belfast drenched in heavy showers over the past week, coincided with the timing of last Sunday's commemoration march for Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell.

As many as 1,500 to 2,000 people assembled at the bottom of Lenadoon Avenue before parading to the Roddy McCorley club for a rally addressed by Sinn Féin assembly member Alex Maskey, John Finucane son of assassinated human rights lawyer Pat Finucane and Elizabeth Livingstone whose sister -- 13 year old Julie -- was shot dead by a British soldier.

It was poignant that the march assembled at the spot where young Julie was cut down in that bleak year of 1981. That was the year in which British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher unleashed a vicious onslaught against the Irish people. It was the year Thatcher allowed 10 men to die on hunger strike in the H-Blocks then sought to destroy nationalist opposition to her cruelty by instructing her gunmen to cut down children such as Julie in Lenadoon, Carol Ann Kelly in Twinbrook and Paul Whitters in Derry.

Adding to that poignancy was the fact that the parade organisers brought children representing West Belfast's GAA clubs together behind the banner depicting Bobby Sands immortal words: "Let our revenge be the laughter of our children".

Gathering behind that lead banner were members of St Teresa's GAC for whom both Joe McDonnell and Kieran Doherty played.

Although the commemoration was a local event, remembering Joe and other comrades from Lenadoon who have died, the organisers were heartened by the way in which republicans travelled from far and near to be present. Indeed a busload of Dublin republicans attended while representatives of the Derry republican youth group Toirise also attended.

As the crowd assembled at the Roddy McCorley club to listen to the speakers there was so many people present that those at the back of the car park couldn't hear the speakers.

Sue Ramsey, who chaired the proceedings called on Elizabeth Livinstone to speak.

Elizabeth, in a very moving address, spoke of her family's pain over the killing of Julie, the youngest in their family.

She criticised those who have promoted, "a hierarchy of victims", over the years especially at this time when members of the RUC are suing the British government for compensation for the stress they say they suffered during the conflict.

"When Julie was killed, the British Government awarded my parents compensation. After they made the award they stopped their benefits. But my parents never stopped fighting for justice for Julie or the others killed by plastic bullets", she said.

Elizabeth reminded her audience that there was always one set of rules for the British and another for the Irish.

When John Finucane spoke he addressed the issue of collusion, but in a personal opening to his speech he spoke of how he missed his father and spoke of the uncle he never knew, Volunteer John Finucane, who was amongst those being remembered that day.

His speech was a reminder of the deeply human and personal cost of Britain's war in Ireland and the policy of collusion that led to the deaths of hundreds of Irish people.

The last speaker of the day was Sinn Féin Assembly Member Alex Maskey.

Maskey thanked the crowd for their attendance and told them that it was through their hard work, as republican activists, that we had achieved so much.

"And even though we have achieved so much, having survived the hard times, the collusion, the Hunger Strikes and the shoot-to-kill we still have a lot to do before we achieve the united Ireland our comrades fought and died for.

"I have confidence that we will bring about a united Ireland because we are strong and we are united", concluded Maskey.

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Latest News - 11 July, 2007

Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle agrees to step up Healthcare is a Right Campaign

Following the HSE awarding tenders to a number of private consortiums this week to build private hospitals on public hospital land Sinn Féin's Ard Chomhairle on Saturday decided to step up its Healthcare is a Right Campaign throughout the 26-counties.

Co-location has been widely opposed both within the health services and across the country, most recently by ICTU and also SIPTU and the INO who have warned against the cherry-picking of private above public patients. Co-location will reinforce the two-tier public-private system. It will make it more difficult to introduce essential reforms such a single hospital waiting list for all patients.

Sinn Féin promised to continue to oppose the privatisation of Ireland's health services and campaign for a renewed and reformed equitable healthcare system for Ireland.

Speaking from Sinn Féin's Head Office where the Ard Chomhairle meeting is took place Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said:

"The approval by the Board of the Health Service Executive of successful bidders to develop private for-profit hospitals on public hospital sites represents the privatisation of our health services.

"While the Fianna Fáil/PD/Green government awards massive tax breaks and access to public land to private hospital developers it continues to downgrade local hospitals. What we are seeing is loss of local services and ruthless over-centralisation for the public hospital system while the private hospital sector is subsidised by Government to develop services based on profit not on need.

"Major concerns have also been raised about the corporate background of companies intending to develop the co-located private hospitals. Their parent companies have been mired in fraud in the United States where privatised healthcare is a social and economic disaster.

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1982 Shoot To Kill Anniversary Committee launch website

The 1982 Shoot To Kill Anniversary Committee, based in Lurgan, have just launched a website to promote their campaign.The impressive website will be adding even more information and news to the site over the summer. The address is www.shoottokill25.org.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the murder of six men in the Armagh area. These men were brutally shot down by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) determined to inflict fear on the local Republican/Nationalist community. All six murders were carried out between 11 November and 12 December 1982.

Lurgan

On the Evening of 11 November 1982 IRA Volunteers Gervase McKerr, Sean Burns and Eugene Toman were travelling along the Tullygally East Road. Their car was ambushed and riddled with bullets by RUC members who claimed falsely that the unarmed men crashed through a checkpoint. Evidence presented at the trial of the 3 RUC men charged with murdering Eugene Toman pointed to the fact he had been shot in the back whilst exiting the car. Needless to say no British court was going to send its agents to jail and all three were found not guilty.

Derrymacash

On 24 November in the same year two young men Michael Tighe and Martin McCauley were shot at a hayshed which had been under surveillance by the RUC on the Ballynerry Road North just outside Lurgan. Seventeen year old Tighe was killed and McCauley was seriously injured when the RUC opened fire on them. Neither men were involved in any republican organisations, though McCauley was later charged in relation to the incident. An inquiry set up two years later under the direction of John Stalker, Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester found that the ambush was "cold blooded murder". Despite this finding and recommendations that 'conspiracy to murder' charges should be presented, no prosecutions were ever brought forward.

Armagh City

This was not the end of the killings. On 12 December 1982 two unarmed INLA members Seamus Grew and Roddy Carroll were shot dead in Mullacreevie Park in Armagh city. Both men were unarmed with Roddy Carroll being shot from a distance of six feet. Seamus Grew was shot from a distance of two feet by the same RUC officer. A British court later acquitted the RUC man responsible.

This website has been created in order to remember the tragic events of 1982 and to pay tribute to the murdered men and their families who for years have campaigned for truth and justice. We hope that you find the material informative. If you have any material or memories you wish to share please use the contact button to get in touch.

About the committee

The Memorial Committee feel that the tragic events of 1982 should be remembered. Over the coming months they hope to raise enough money in order to create a permanent memorial for the men that died and to produce a DVD about the events of 1982. In the coming weeks and months fundraising events will be held in the North Armagh area. Please support these events if you can.

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Collusion : Cover up and protection of killer agents continues

The ABC of collusion

Last week's decision by the Public Prosecution Service in the Six Counties not to prosecute any members of the British Crown forces involved in the murders of several people including the high-profile assasination of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane can only be understood within a wider recognition of collusion as a sanctioned state policy. In the 18 years of campaigning for the truth precipitated by the Finucane murder, the British state has sought to deny collusion by serial redefinition.

Over the last two decades collusion has been presented as republican propaganda, a few bad apples, informal action by individuals acting on their own initiative, the consequence of using indigenous forces like the UDR and the result of rogue agents or more recently rogue units. Collusion has been presented as reactive rather than proactive, a failure at the point of intervention, investigative incompetence and a reluctance to prosecute.

All these are designed to perpetuate the one big lie the British state is determined to sustain, the lie that collusion is a result of failure in the system and not, as republicans have long contended, a mechanism established within and protected by the system. But how else can you account for the fact that after 18 years of investigation and three inquiries by one of Britain's most senior police officers, Stevens has been left without a single prosecution?

In 2003 John Stevens, former British Metropolitan Commissioner and now chief security adviser to the Brown government, confirmed that he had uncovered evidence of collusion. He cited the murder of teenager Adam Lambert, shot dead by the UDA in the mistaken belief he was a Catholic and the murder of Pat Finucane.

"I have uncovered enough evidence to lead me to believe that the murders of Pat Finucane and Adam Lambert could have been prevented. I also believe that the RUC investigation of Pat Finucane's murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers. I conclude there was collusion in both murders and the circumstances surrounding them," said Stevens.

Given the weight of evidence already within the public arena, Stevens' conclusions were remarkably tame as was his characterisation of collusion in terms of failure to prevent and failure to investigate. But despite this it is clear that Stevens had a mind to prosecute on the basis of the evidence he presented in his report to the British government.

Before Stevens passed his findings onto the Prosecution Service in 2003 he sought legal advice from two top barristers in England who told him that of the 40 cases examined in the inquiry, 25 were strong enough to bring a prosecution. Acting on that advice, Stevens handed 25 files to the North's PPS.

Last week, four years after receiving the files, the PPS announced its decision. No serving or former member of the crown forces is to face charges arising out of the Stevens' inquiry. In relation to the Finucane killing, said the PPS, there was insufficient evidence to prove that the British Army's Force Research Unite (FRU) had actively encouraged UDA intelligence office and British Agent Brian Nelson to commit murder.

Special Branch officers, who supplied UDA killers with weapons that were subsequently used in the murder of six Catholics, will also escape prosecution. In late 1989 Special Branch agent William Stobie handed over five weapons to his handlers at Knocknagoney RUC barracks in East Belfast. Within weeks the guns were handed back to the UDA.

Three years later one of Stobie's weapons, a Browning pistol, was used in an attack on the Devenish Bar in West Belfast. One man died, Aidan Wallace, and three were injured, including an eight-year-old child who was shot in the face by one of the gunmen. Less than three months later the same weapon was used again. During a UDA attack on Sean Graham's bookmakers on the Ormeau Road five people were killed and more injured.

As one victim, Mark Sykes told the media, it was bad enough to find out that the weapons used to shoot him and kill his brother-in-law were supplied by the RUC:

"Then they tell you that the police officers who supplied these weapons are being allowed to walk away because the PPS can't find out their names."

"Are we expected to believe that senior officers refused to reveal who handed these guns over to the UDA and the PPS just decided to leave it at that?" he said.

The PPS further concluded that Stevens had failed on a number of counts to provide enough evidence to prove that any member of the Crown forces had been guilty of "malpractice in public office".

The victims and the families of victims were informed of the PPS decision not to prosecute by letter. "They came and knocked on people's doors at 7.30am and handed us envelopes and just walked away," said Mark Sykes, who was seriously injured during the bookmaker attack.

"No one knew anything about it, although its obvious they must have been planning this for months. We were later told the PPS had leaked it to certain favourable media outlets even before we had a chance to open the envelopes," said Sykes.

Collusion has been a feature of the Six County state since its creation. British forces and unionist paramilitaries have traditionally shared intelligence, weapons and personnel.

In the 1980's, under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, members of the British cabinet and their military intelligence agencies developed a specific collusion mechanism that established state sponsored murder as a formal strategy at the heart of British policy in Ireland.

The British state, through agencies like the FRU and Special Branch, rearmed, reorganised and redirected loyalist death squads. Supplying unionist paramilitaries with modern weaponry had an immediate and deadly impact on the number of killings in the North of Ireland.

Within six years of the arrival of weaponry, procured in South Africa and smuggled into the Six counties by British agents, loyalist murder gangs had increased their capacity to kill by 300%.

Through a network of agents, like Brian Nelson, the British state identified targets, supplied intelligence and provided back up to the killers. The FRU had the authority to ensure loyalist gunmen on a 'hit' a clear run to and from their target while Special Branch ensured any investigation into the killing did not result in prosecutions.

In other words the British state established an effective murder machine that enabled them to commission the killing of citizens within its own jurisdiction. The British justified collusion to themselves by promoting the notion that they were 'taking the war to the IRA' but in fact once the machinery of murder was up and running no one was safe.

They killed politicians, civil rights activists, election workers, defence lawyers and Catholic and Protestant civilians. They killed to cover their agents' tracks. They killed agents who had outlived their usefulness and loyalists who knew too much. And they sacrificed their own soldiers and members of the RUC to retain their agents' cover.

But by the late 1980's the secret operation of the collusion strategy began to be exposed. In August 1989 the UDA killed Loughlin Maginn and claimed that he was a member of the IRA.

To support their claim the UDA produced classified British Intelligence documents that identified Maginn as an IRA Volunteer. In the months that followed thousands of British Intelligence documents in the hands of loyalists were shown to the media.

British police chief John Stevens was initially dispatched to investigate allegations based on the premise that collusion was nothing more than the leaking of documents. But the arrest of a British army agent, Brian Nelson, at the heart of UDA further exposed the nature of British collusion.

As a consequence the British state was no longer able to completely hide its hand. Covert attempts by the FRU, the hiding of Nelson's paperwork at Palace Barracks and the mysterious fire at Stevens' offices failed and Nelson's prosecution proceeded.

The British feared that the information that might be exposed during a lengthy court case so much that they had to deploy 'public' mechanisms to curtail the trial. The fact the British state was forced to show its hand by involving the highest offices of state, top politicians, senior members of the judiciary and military officers, is an indication of the intrinsic nature of the collusion strategy.

The cover up involved the then British PM John Major, who met the trial judge Basil Kelly and the head of the British judiciary in the north, Chief Judge Brian Hutton. It involved the then Attorney General Patrick Mayhem and British Defence Minister and former NIO Secretary of State Tom King who provided a character reference for Nelson. And it also involved the partial exposure of the FRU and its operation by the trial attendance of Colonel 'J', now Brigadier Gordon Kerr, the then head of the FRU.

Kerr remained a key military and political figure under Tony Blair first as British military attaché to Beijing and more recently as a leader of covert forces in Iraq. Kerr's posting to a "theatre of war" conveniently side stepped the latest Stevens' inquiry by placing the British officer outside the jurisdiction of civilian policing.

It can be no coincidence that Kerr's retirement was announced only shortly after last week's decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute any member of the British Crown forces involved in the Finucane murder.

As information has increasingly emerged into the public arena the British had presented a roller coaster of notions about collusion. At first collusion was presented as a matter of unofficial 'leaks' between regular and irregular pro British forces. In this scenario there is no guiding hand, no pattern, no strategy, just the collective result of individual acts of collusion. Stevens focused upon indigenous groups like the UDR and unionist paramilitaries.

But the 'leaks' scenario collapsed as soon as Nelson revealed himself as a British agent working for a unit of British Military Intelligence. Then collusion became the consequences of a 'rogue' agent, Nelson, who it was claimed had strayed beyond his sanctioned role with the FRU. But that proved to be equally unsustainable.

Fearing his potential as a whistleblower, the British state felt compelled to rush to Nelson's defence, manipulating the operation of the justice system and providing a British cabinet minister, Tom King and British army officer, Gordon Kerr as character witnesses during the trial. Nelson was described as a ' courageous hero' by Kerr and a 'valuable agent' by King.

As the myth of Nelson as a rogue agent began to collapse, the lie moved onward to present the British army unit to which he was attached as a rogue unit. Now we were asked to believe the FRU acted beyond the sanction of their military and political masters but that lie also proved to be unsustainable.

The range of agencies involved in the Finucane killing and subsequent cover up shows the FRU was far from a solo player. The increasing insight into the operation of the FRU, the unit's close working relationship with Special Branch and MI5 control of both agencies further undermined any notion that the FRU was acting alone.

Through MI5 to the Joint Intelligence Committee, the collusion chain of command runs directly to number ten Downing Street and the heart of the British government. The JIC is directly accountable to the British Prime Minister.

Having barely avoided total meltdown with the exposure of Brian Nelson, the British state has worked very hard at regaining ground by presenting collusion as a failure within the system. But the evidence already within the public arena just doesn't stack up.

Bring the systematic supply of weaponry to unionist paramilitaries into the frame, and the scenario appears closer to Kitson's strategy of counter gangs and the use of state sponsored paramilitaries in Latin America.

In 1996 relatives of some of those killed as a consequence of collusion presented a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa urging investigation into an arms shipment, organised by British agents during the former Apartheid regime to loyalists in the north of Ireland.

In 1985 Dick Wright, a loyalist from Portadown and British agent travelled from South Africa to the North of Ireland. At the time Wright was working in South Africa as an agent for an armaments company Armscor. In Belfast Wright met a leading member of the UDA, now widely believed to have been a British agent, and offered to supply loyalists with weaponry worth at least a quarter of a million pounds.

A second British agent was duly dispatched to South Africa to secure the deal. In June 1985 Brian Nelson travelled to South Africa. His trip was authorised by the British MOD and by a British minister whose identity is as yet unknown. In South Africa Nelson was met by another British agent with loyalist connections, Charles Simpson.

Charles Simpson, an MI5 agent and former member of Tara, a loyalist paramilitary group headed by the notorious William McGrath, was then working as a member of the equally notorious South African Defence Forces. In Durban Simpson took Nelson to inspect the shipment of weaponry that was later smuggled into the North of Ireland.

Final arrangements for the shipment were completed in December 1987. According to Nelson, he kept MI5 informed throughout, passing on all details including the method to be used to smuggle the weapons into the north.

The shipment is believed to have consisted of 200 AK47 automatic rifles, 90 Browning pistols, 500 fragmentation grenades, 30,000 rounds of ammunition and 12 RPG7 rocket launchers and arrived in the north of Ireland in January 1988.

The weaponry was shared out between three unionist paramilitary groups, the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance. Part of the shipment was lost but the bulk still remains in loyalist hands.

British Military Intelligence has subsequently attempted to justify the fact that they allowed the shipment through on the grounds that seizure might have compromised an agent's cover. But such a defence is nonsense.

It asks us to place the primacy of an agent's cover above the hundreds of lives subsequently lost as a direct consequence of the South African shipment while still maintaining the myth that collusion is about "saving lives".

In the 1980's the British state adopted a strategy and developed a means by which it could commission the murder of citizens within its own jurisdiction. Thirty years later those mechanisms are yet to be dismantled and the policy of state collusion yet to be disavowed.

In the ABC of collusion 'A' is for absolution, the repeated absolution the British state and its agencies have been prepared to hand out to those involved in collusion. B is for the betrayal of families of the victims still denied truth and justice and C is for the continuing cover up of which the PPS played a role last week.

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Anger mounts at destruction of Tara valley

While hopes were raised that damage to the Gabhra Valley at Tara, County Meath recently named one of the world's 100 most endangered sites by the New York-based World Monument Fund, might be averted with the discovery of a National Monument at neraby Lismullen last month, these were dashed when former Minister for Environment Dick Roche approved the destruction of the Lismullen monument during his last hours in office.

Campaigners have called on the new Minister for the Environment, the Green Party's John Gormley, to reverse Roche's decision and re-route the road. However Gormley said last week that he could not overturn judicial decisions already made in relation to the monument at Lismullin and the approval of the M3 route.

A delegation from the EU Petitions Committee visited the Tara and Lismullen sites On Wednesday, 27 June. The delegation met two of those who had sent them petitions - transport researcher Brian Guckian and Julitta Clancy of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society and members of the Campaign to Save Tara.

A number of petitions have been lodged with the EU in relation to Tara and Guckian's petition was based on the fact that the planning process ignored other transport options such as rail. Following the meeting with the EU delegation he criticised the Irish Government's "negligent treatment of our environment, heritage and culture".

The controversial plan to build the M3 through the historically important valley close to the Hill of Tara, former seat of the Irish High Kings, has been in place since 2002 and has been condemned by Sinn Féin. While the party supports the call for a motorway in the region, it has called for the road to be re-routed away from Tara so that long suffering commuters in Meath can benefit without detriment to such an important Irish and world heritage site.

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has described the government's failure to protect Ireland's archaeological and architectural heritage as "disgraceful". He said that while Sinn Féin supports the upgrading of the country's roads this did not have to be done at the cost of the wholesale destruction of the environment or national heritage.

The crisis hanging over the Tara Valley has also been raised in the Dáil on several occasions in the form of Parliamentary Questions by Sinn Féin TDs Arthur Morgan and Seán Crowe.

Sinn Féin Meath County Councillor Joe Reilly has been agitating on the issue since the M3 route was initially proposed.

Reilly had welcomed the government order stopping work on the M3 Motorway following the discovery of the massive pre-historic site at Lismullen and reiterated Sinn Féin's long-held position that Tara and its surrounding hinterland are of huge significance in terms of Ireland's history and heritage.

"There is a viproceeding after its approval by the former Minister. If the Greens think that the Irish people will accept this blatant lie they are wrong. It is obvious that the building of the M3 was a concession made by the Greens to Fianna Fáil in their pre-government negotiations. This is in stark contrast to the pre-government green position that pledged to save the Gabhra valley, and even had it as one of their most important issues on their election manifesto.

"Another disgraceful note on this issue is the proposed double tolling of the M3. This is further proof of Fianna Fáil's alliance to big business. The M3, funded by the public exchequer is going to be privately owned and commuters in Meath may have to pay two tolls on their way to work in the morning and two on their way home. This just demonstrates the power money wields in our country in this day and age.

"Meath Ógra Shinn Féin pledges full support to the campaign to save Tara and have the M3 re-routed away from the site of massive historical importance and to bring and end to the destruction to our national heritage."

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Sinn Fein's All Ireland Department launch discussion paper

"How do we make our vision of a re-united Ireland popular and relevant to the people of Ireland ?" To try to address this question, Sinn Fein's All Ireland Department has produced this paper for discussion. All comments or feedback very welcome. The paper can be accessed at their website at www.irelandofequals.com/constituencies/5209.

The All Ireland Agenda (AIA)'s aim must be the building of a New Ireland in which the ideas of inclusion and participation dominate in its social and economic life. The New Ireland will include all the people on the island while respecting the cultural and racial differences in the older and newer groups of inhabitants. The New Ireland cannot simply be the extension of the current 26 county economic and social system to the whole island.

The process of dialogue about its shape and values is starting and must be ongoing as the project progresses. It is not a blueprint to be agreed by some of us on behalf of the rest, but rather an ongoing process.

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Sinn Fein
The Week in Review
26 June to 5 July 2007



Decision of DPP not to prosecute following Stevens condemned

On 27 June, Sinn Fein Assembly Member, Martina Anderson addressed issues in relation to a motion Sinn Fein was tabling criticising the the failure of the DDP to prosecute cases in relation to collusion following the Stevens inquiry. She said the motion `supports all victims of the conflict and is intended to highlight this outrageous decision not to let justice prevail in the issue of collusion’.

Seeking cross party support for the motion, she added `the scandal of yesterdays statement is that it reveals that British Agents gave loyalists weapons which were used to kill Catholics’. She said that the DPP `in failing to prosecute those at the very top who sanctioned and carried out this policy are part of a State cover up’.

She added, `ultimately what this decision exposes is the fact that that British State are incapable of facing up to their involvement in the murder of citizens and British State structures cannot deliver truth and justice for those families involved’.

She called for `a full international independent inquiry into the British State policy of collusion’ as `the only mechanism which will satisfy the many families bereaved through this policy.’

On 28 June, Sinn Fein Assembly Member Francie Molloy further commented `For years the British government have been saying that they are not prepared to publish the Stevens, Stalker and Sampson Reports into collusion because to do so would jeopardise the potential of future prosecutions’. He added, `this week in a classic case of the British State closing ranks we were told that no such prosecutions will take place.’

He went on to say `In the wake of this decision I would now call on the British government to publish the Stevens, Stalker and Sampson Reports. If they continue to refuse to publish these reports then it will be another glaring example of the British policy of concealment and cover-up.’

On 2 July, Francie Molloy MLA and Jennifer Mc Cann MLA attended an An Fhirinne protest today to highlight the appalling decision by the DPP not to prosecute anyone following the Stevens investigations. Speaking before the protest Francie Molloy MLA said,

`This decision was a slap in the face to victims of collusion and highlights the need for an independant international inquiry. Myself and my party colleague, Jennifer Mc Cann shall be attend the An Fhirinne protest tomorrow to keep this demand to the fore and to make sure the issue is not brushed under the carpet by the new British Prime Minister.’

And during an assembly debate last week, Sinn Fein MLA Jenifer McCann said, `Recently the PPS announced that no member of the British crown forces currently serving in those forces or retired will be prosecuted for their involvement in the murder of seven people, one Protestant and six Catholics including human rights lawyer Pat Finucane. This decision and the manner in which the PPS informed the families concerned caused great offence and hurt. Those benefiting from the decision are in high office inside the British political and military establishment. They were involved in these murders.’

She added `Families who have been directly affected by the policy of collusion are entitled to the truth of why a state agency that is supposed to uphold the law and protect citizens was instrumental in killing their loved ones. The dignity with which these families have conducted their campaign to uncover the truth and the determination they have shown when political representatives have attempted to trivialize that campaign by engaging in the politics of denial has to be commended. Nowhere in Bertha Mc Dougall's report is their any mention of collusion or acknowledgement by the British State of its responsibility for, and its role as a protagonist in, the conflict. The British Government needs to start acknowledging and taking on board the feelings and sensitivities of the victims of collusion and state violence.’


Sinn Fein comment on Tony Blair’s legacy

On 27 June, Sinn Fein issued the following comment as Tony Blair stood down as British  Prime Minster:
`It is only right that as Mr Blair's time in Downing Street comes to an end that we acknowledge the very positive contribution he has made to the peace process and to the building of new relationships in Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

`There is no doubt that Tony Blair devoted more time and energy on finding a peaceful way forward than any other British Prime Minister. But as Irish republicans, while we should acknowledge the positive contribution he made to the Irish Peace Process our job is to create the conditions in which the British sovereignty over any part of Ireland is removed and the relationship between the two islands is between two sovereign nations.

`However this is all part of a process and we will continue to work constructively with the Gordon Brown to make further progress on the peace dividend, the truth around collusion and Irish reunification.

`On other areas of foreign policy such as Afghanistan and Iraq on which we profoundly disagreed with him I don't believe he will be judged so favorably.’


Sinn Fein raise ongoing discrimination at London cross-party debate

On 27 June Sinn Fein MLA and Equality and Human Rights spokesperson, Martina Anderson, was in London where she addressed a public meeting hosted by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, alongside Sammy Wilson of the DUP and representatives from the UUP and SDLP. In London earlier that day Ms Anderson met cross-party MPs and briefed members of the London-based diplomatic corps on the current developments in the peace process. In her role as Sinn Fein representative on the policing board, she said she and colleagues were working to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability in terms of policing. She also discussed the need for an adequate Bill of Rights and discrimination legislation to ensure equality.

Speaking at the meeting with Jeremy Corbyn and other parties, Ms Anderson said that, whilst acknowledging the `amazing developments’ in the peace process, important outstanding issues remained – not least addressing the ongoing discrimination and inequality. Pointing to a recent report from the Office of First and Deputy first ministers, which showed Catholics were three times as likely to be unemployed as their Protestant counterparts, she said that the current process `must

result in real changes to the existing state.’
She said that huge levels of poverty had to be addressed, including conditions which saw some `100,000 pensioners and 50,000 children living in poverty; some 3,000 people die each year as a result of this deprivation; a quarter of our households are unable to afford adequate heating’. The `distorted economy’ had to be tackled, she said, and greater north-south economic co-operation developed.

Speaking of her previous role as Director of Unionist outreach for Sinn Fein, she said the nationalist community had `common experiences of the consequences of poverty and deprivation’. Giving the example of the two tier education system perpetuating discrimination through the 11 plus, she pointed out that in the loyalist Shankhill area, less than 5 per cent of children pass the eleven-plus, similar to the situation of many nationalist parts of the city of

Derry, for example, which saw `the same in terms of underachievement’.
She said that there were `some comfortable unionists and comfortable nationalists who would prefer to keep our two communities apart’ and who `do not want us to be collectively looking at how we can have an inclusive society, predicated on equality and human rights, for

all marginalised groups.’
She said `new relationships’ needed to be build including between the two islands, as well as within Ireland itself. She urged the British government for `an adequate peace dividend

to try to help bring economic prosperity which is needed to assist the political dispensation’. She also pointed out that it was not possible to `address the issue of how to create

prosperity without addressing inequality and discrimination’.

* Sinn Fein Assembly Minister, Michelle Gildernew MP, will travel to London on 18 July where she will host a Westminter reception for MPs, political representatives and a range of others from the Irish Community, the trade unions, the media, campaigning groups and many other areas. For information contact fisherj@parliament.uk


Sinn Fein meet new British Secretary of State

On 3 July, Sinn Féin Chief Whip in the Assembly Carál Ní Chuilín commented on the party’s first meeting with new Secretary of State Shaun Woodward’ and said `Clearly in the wake of the progress we have made in recent times with the restoration of the political institutions many of the functions of the NIO have moved from the British Direct Rule Ministers and into the hands of locally elected politicians. At today's discussions we impressed upon Mr Woodward the need to move to deal effectively with all outstanding matters including those agreed at St. Andrews late last year.’

On 28 June, the party commented `Shaun Woodward as a former NIO Minister will clearly have some knowledge of the tasks involved in his new position. He needs to follow through on the committments made by the British Government since the Good Friday Agreement and in particiaulr during the St. Andrews talks late last year.’
The statement went on to say `we want to move to a position where the presence of a British Secretary of State here becomes unnecessary. In the interim we expect the new incumbent to build upon the progress we have secured in recent months and continue to work alongside the Irish government and all of the parties in ensuring that all outstanding matters are dealt with.’


Orde attends West Belfast meeting

On 3 July Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams co-hosted a meeting in the Upper Springfield area of his West Belfast constituency, to which he invited PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde for the first time. Mr Adams extended the invitation at a meeting last week with Hugh Orde and PSNI Commanders to discuss community concerns about policing in the upper Springfield area. It comes amidst engagement over recent months by community leaders and local political representatives with a range of other statutory bodies and public authorities in an effort to tackle anti-social behaviour and criminality in Ballymurphy.

Mr Adams said that `only a tiny minority of people’ were engaged in this `totally unacceptable behaviour’ and the purpose of initiative was to effectively tackle anti-social and criminality and to ensure `through engagement between republican communities and the PSNI that people get the policing service we are entitled to’.

A Task Force involving statutory, community and local elected representatives for the upper Springfield had been meeting over the last three months. He said Sinn Féin was `working to open new space for the local community and criminal justice agencies, especially the PSNI, to work together and fulfil their obligations to uphold the rights of those who want to live in Ballymurphy in safety and peace, free from intimidation and threat.’

Hugh Orde and his colleagues had `a responsibilty’ to play a `positive role in a multi-agency strategic approach under the auspices of the Upper Springfield Safer Neighbourhoods Forum, where community organisations and statutory agencies can critically engage in ensuring the safety of the local community’ he concluded.


Dialogue urged

On 26 June, Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd said the Garvaghy Road residents coalition, against a backdrop of `spin emerging from various groups, including the Parades Commission, regarding ongoing attempts by the Orange Order to march down Garvaghy Road’ had invited John O’Dowd and representatives from other parties to accompany them to a meeting with the Parades Commission that  day, as observers.

He said `the nationalist residents of Garvaghy Road do not want a sectarian parade coming through their community’ and added `we support them in their stance’. He said `The Orange Order have never entered into direct dialogue with the nationalist community in Portadown over this parade.’

On 2 July, Sinn Féin Assembly John O'Dowd called for the immediate removal of flags and bunting from Lurgan Town Centre, after serious disorder in the town for much of the previous evening caused by flags and bunting being erected.

Mr O'Dowd said that Orange Order supporters and members had erected loyalist flags and bunting in the lower part of the town centre `in direct defiance of the wishes of local people and traders in that area’.

He said that nationalist youth had erected a number of Tricolours in the same area and a `stand off’ had developed in the town centre between groups of young people and fighting had taken place between the groups and with the PSNI.

He again appealled to both the Loyal Orders and the local loyalist bands `to sit down with Sinn Féin to discuss the proposals we have put on the table to deal with these matters’.


Martin McGuinness addresses Irish congress of Trade Unions conference

On 4 July, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness addressed the Irish Congress of Trade Union conference in Bundoran. On the fringes of the meeting Mr McGuinness also held talks with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Mr McGuinness said, he was `delighted to be asked to address the ICTU conference’ and added `The Trade Union movement across Ireland has an important contribution to make in the context of the restoration of devolved government in the Six Counties and the work of the new Executive.  I am committed to working with the Trade Union movement to improve quality of life and standards of living for all workers.’

Of his meeting with the Taoiseach he said ` the Taoiseach recognises the enormous potential which now exists to move forward in the aftermath of the restoration of the political institutions in the north’. He concluded `it is important that we build upon the progress made in recent months and press ahead with ensuring that the political institutions, including the all-Ireland Ministerial Council get down to the business of delivering for the people who elect us.’

On  5 July, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Workers Rights Arthur Morgan TD also attended the conference and said it was important that public representatives listened to what the trade unions were saying. He reiterated Sinn Fein's commitment to work with the trade union movement on key areas of social and economic concerns to union members.


Week in Review is circulated by Sinn Fein MPs. Telephone 020 7219 8162. Email fisherj@parliament.uk or visit www.sinnfein.ie

 

Latest News - 2nd July, 2007

British state closes ranks to protect Finucane killers

The British government has closed ranks to protect the killers of Belfast human rights solicitor Pat Finucane. Finucane was murdered at his home in Belfast in February 1989.

Last year Ken Barrett, a unionist paramilitary convicted of killing Finucane, was freed after serving three years in jail. But the Finucane family has always insisted Barrett and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) did not act alone.

The latest chapter in the British cover up of the Finucane killing unfolded on Monday 25 June when it was revealed that the so-called Public Prosecutions Service (PPS) is refusing to prosecute any member of the British crown forces involved in the murder and that of Adam Lambert. Lambert, a Protestant man, was mistaken for a Catholic and shot dead by members of the UDA gang who assassinated Finucane.

Nor will the British state be taking any action against its agents who supplied weapons to the UDA gang who carried out the 1992 attack on Sean Graham's bookmakers on the Lower Ormeau Road in South Belfast which left five nationalists dead.

Special Branch agent

In its 25 June statement the PPS, confirmed for the first time, that UDA quartermaster and Special Branch agent Billy Stobie -- who supplied the weapons to Finucane's killers -- handed over weapons to the Special Branch and that weeks later these weapons were returned to the UDA.

The PPS maintained that as none of the RUC officers who handed these guns back to the UDA could be identified no one would be prosecuted.

One of the weapons, a handgun, was used to kill Catholic Aidan Wallace as he played pool with his brother in the Devenish Arms on December 22 1991.

Within weeks of that attack on February 1992, a UDA death squad using that same weapon and an AK 47 assault rifle, mowed down 5 Catholics, Jack Duffin (66), William McManus (54), Christy Doherty (51), Peter Magee (18) and James Kennedy (15) in the Sean Graham's bookmakers shop on the Lower Ormeau Road.

Collusion confirmed

The PPS announcement made on Monday 25 June effectively buries the investigations into the Finucane killing carried out by one of Britain's most senior police officers, John -- now Lord -- Stevens.

Stevens finished his investigations into the killings of Finucane and Adam Lambert four years ago he confirmed that he had uncovered evidence of collusion into both killings.

The high profile investigator said: "I have uncovered enough evidence to lead me to believe that the murders of Pat Finucane and Brian Adam Lambert could have been prevented. I also believe that the RUC investigation of Pat Finucane's murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers. I conclude there was collusion in both murders and the circumstances surrounding them".

He concluded that the, "actions or omissions", of crown force members had led to the deaths of innocent civilians. He also accused members of the RUC and the British army's FRU of, "wilfully", obstructing and misleading his inquiries by withholding evidence and intelligence.

Brian Nelson

The Stevens inquiries into the circumstances surrounding the killing of Pat Finucane lasted almost 18 years and centred on the activities of UDA intelligence officer Brian Nelson -- a British agent attached to British Military Intelligence through the Force Research Unit (FRU).

Nelson was a British soldier and had served in the Black Watch Regiment but in the early 1970s he was imprisoned after being found guilty of carrying out a UDA punishment beating.

Questions abound as to whether Nelson ever left the British army but he was recruited into the FRU by a Colonel Gordon Kerr and was installed as the UDA's top intelligence officer.

In that role Nelson was in a position to direct UDA deaths squads and using information supplied to him by his FRU directors targeted republicans.

However, at least 29 people, many of them uninvolved Catholics, were killed by the UDA at the time of Nelson's involvement and were identified through crown forces intelligence files.

Ruling "scandalous"

Reacting to the PPS ruling Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey, described it as, "scandalous".

Maskey was repeatedly targeted for death by the crown forces and Brian Nelson. In the mid 1980s Maskey was shot and seriously injured at his Andersonstown home while in May 1993 Sinn Féin activist Alan Lundy was shot dead by a UDA gang as he worked in Maskey's home.

"There was a sustained and orchestrated campaign against my life which included the murder of my best friend Alan Lundy as he worked in my home in 1993.

"I find it absolutely galling that the PPS has taken this decision. It wouldn't happen in any other country in the world", he said.

Echoing Maskey's anger the family of Pat Finucane said in a statement that they were extremely angry and disappointed at the decision of the PPS.

"It is difficult to square the unequivocal nature of the conclusions reached by Lord Stevens four years ago with the submissive, timid, unconvincing reasons advanced by the PPS for not instituting a single prosecution.

"It is notable that the PPS feels himself unable to use 'certain intelligence records as evidence' a clear indication that the interests of [British] national security remain more important than human lives".

The Finucane family statement went on to say that they would not be deterred by the decision made by the PPS and that they would continue to press for a fully independent inquiry into Pat's killing and all the circumstances surrounding it.

"Only an independent public inquiry can satisfy the concerns of our family and the wider public about the existence of collusion between the British army, the RUC and the security services in the murder of Pat Finucane and many others".

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Orange march passes off peacefully

Saturday's contentious Orange Order Whiterock parade in west Belfast concluded peacefully despite criticisms of the Parades Commission by nationalist residents.

The most contentious parades are next Sunday in Drumcree and on Thursday week, July 12th, at Ardoyne in north Belfast.

More than 800 Orangemen parading behind several bands took part in the annual Whiterock parade on Saturday afternoon but only 50 members and one band were allowed pass through the Workman Avenue peaceline gates onto the nationalist Springfield Road.

The remainder of the parade as determined by the Parades Commission marched through the old Mackies industrial site to the Whiterock Orange hall before both groups paraded back to the Shankill.

More than 100 nationalists lined part of the road as the parade went by. They carried two large banners declaring "Make Sectarianism History" and "Parades Commission Maintains Orange Domination".

Sinn Féin Assembly member Paul Maskey complained that nationalists were denied their human rights because the Parades Commission did not allow them protest along the full stretch of the parade along the Springfield Road.

"This is a human rights issue where people are not allowed protest outside their own homes. That is a total disgrace. The Parades Commission had from last year to now to resolve outstanding issues, and they failed to do so," he said.

Mr Maskey said the best way of ending such confrontations was for the Orange Order to cancel the Springfield Road part of the parade.

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Report: Albert Reynolds wanted as mediator for Orange march dispute

There are media reports that Portadown Orangemen want former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds to chair mediation talks with Garvaghy Road residents on the Drumcree parade. Mr Reynolds apparently tops a list of eight names put forward by the Portadown district.

This year's Drumcree parade is to take place on Sunday and has again been banned from walking down the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road.

Last week the Orange Order said it was "still committed to face to face mediation with the Garvaghy Roads Residents Coalition, under an independent chairman, without any pre-conditions and with all options open".

The talks are aimed at finding a permanent resolution to the Drumcree dispute.

Both the lodge and the Garvaghy Roads Residents Coalition met with the Parades Commision last week.

Afterwards, the Garvaghy residents said the commission had "reaffirmed its desire to see a long-term resolution, and added that the only appropriate and sensible resolution is agreement between all parties involved".

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Victims of British state violence outraged by RUC 'trauma' fund

A contentious court ruling allowing former RUC members to claim compensation for 'trauma' suffered during the conflict in the Six Counties was lambasted by victims of British State violence.

Many of the 5,000 RUC members who sued the chief constable are expected to receive compensation which could cost more than £100,000,000.

Mr Justice Coghlin ruled that the PSNI and RUC were liable from 1986 onwards. He said there had been systematic failures in the management of the force.

Sinn Féin MLA Francie Molloy said:

"Clearly if an individual is suffering from trauma or stress as a result of the conflict then that should be properly treated. However what will anger victims of British State violence is the decision to take one of the combatant groups, the RUC, and effectively issue a blank cheque to former members.

"This is taxpayers money and ignores completely the fact that this force is discredited, was involved in murder, torture, collusion and human rights abuses. Compensating those involved in this type of activity will justifiably anger victims, particularly at a time when victims organisations are crying out for proper funding."

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Dáil : Morgan ordered out of Leinster House in speaking rights row

Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has called on the Taoiseach to amend Dáil Standing Orders to allow a Technical Group be formed by the four Sinn Féin TDs and Independent Tony Gregory.

Speaking at a protest outside the Dáil Tuesday, at the attempted gagging of the Sinn Féin Party in Leinster House, Ó Caoláin said 143,410 voters gave their first preference votes to Sinn Féin in the general election and these voices must not be silenced.

Ó Caoláin said, "The Government has so far refused to amend Standing Orders to allow a technical group to be formed by the five opposition TDs outside of the Labour and Fine Gael Parties. Current Standing Orders dictate that seven TDs are required to form a technical group. However, in the last Dáil, the Green Party called for Standing Orders to be changed to allow five TDs to form such a group. And, during the negotiations for Government, Finian McGrath said that one of his priorities would be to ensure adequate speaking rights for all TDs and there was no way he would 'hang the technical group to dry' and that the Greens agreed with him.

"If a technical group cannot be formed speaking rights in the Dáil will be seriously curtailed for the Sinn Féin TDs and Tony Gregory. But, most importantly for the Taoiseach, he will not have to face leader's questions from Sinn Féin in the Dáil. The Taoiseach clearly sees the attempted marginalisation of Sinn Féin as the icing on the cake of his deal with the Greens and the so called Independents.

"I am calling on the Taoiseach to re-think his decision not to amend the Standing Orders. Sinn Féin TDs, just like all TDs, are elected by the people of this State and are entitled to speak on their behalf in the Dáil. As long as we are elected to this Dáil we will not be silenced."

Later in the Dáil on Tuesday the Sinn Féin TDs raised the issue of speaking rights. Arthur Morgan pointed out that under current rules "one Deputy constitutes a party for party leaders' fund, two party members is a sufficient quota for committee members and the recognition of a whip but it takes seven party members to obtain speaking rights in debates and Leaders' Questions.

"Will the Taoiseach alter Standing Orders to facilitate Members to have an opportunity to represent those people who sent them here?"

When he persisted and refused to sit down the new Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue ordered him to leave the House.

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British accused of Finucane cover-up

The British government has been accused of a scandalous cover-up after a decision not to prosecute police or soldiers in connection with the assassination of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

Even though John Stevens in his inquiries established that British forces colluded with loyalist paramilitary killers, prosecutors in the North of Ireland ruled there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

Their decision, which means senior officers in the former Royal Ulster Constabulary and British military intelligence will not stand trial for involvement in the Finucane killing, outraged the solicitor`s family.

Mr Finucane, 39, was shot dead in February 1989 in front of his family when Ulster Defence Association (UDA) gunmen burst into his north Belfast home.

Alex Maskey, a Sinn Féin Assembly member who survived a UDA gun attack at his home in west Belfast in which a close friend was shot dead in May 1993, said: "This is an absolute scandal that no action is being taken.

"People are being told that while the State was involved in the murders of their loved ones, no prosecution will be taken. "It shows the British Government is incapable of facing up to their own responsibilities in all of this."

In a report handed over four years ago, Mr Stevens said the Finucane killing could have been prevented, and claimed his investigations were wilfully obstructed and misled.

At the heart of the Stevens inquiry, his third into the Six Counties' `Dirty War`, was the role of the British Army`s surveillance operations at that time, especially the Force Research Unit (FRU).

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Sinn Féin tabled a motion in Assembly on Finucane

Sinn Féin tabled a motion seeking cross party support in the Assembly yesterday to highlight the outrageous decision not to let justice prevail in the issue of collusion.

Martina Anderson MLA said:

"The truth is that the scandal of yesterdays statement is that it reveals that British Agents gave loyalists weapons which were used to kill Catholics. The DPP in failing to prosecute those at the very top who sanctioned and carried out this policy are part of a State cover up. There can be no other conclusion.

"Ultimately what this decision exposes is the fact that that British State are incapable of facing up to their involvement in the murder of citizens and British State structures cannot deliver truth and justice for those families involved. What is required is a full international independent inquiry into the British State policy of collusion. Clearly that is the only mechanism which will satisfy the many families bereaved through this policy."

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Family of Pat Finucane respond to the decision by the DPP that there will be no prosecutions in the Finucane murder

Speaking on behalf of the Finucane family Michael Finucane said:

"My family and I are extremely angry and disappointed at the decision of the DPP not to prosecute anyone arising from the report of the Stevens III Investigation and especially the manner in which it has been delivered. Once again, we are expected to respond at a moment's notice to important events that the authorities have had years to consider."

"It is difficult to square the unequivocal nature of the conclusions reached by Lord Stevens four years ago with the submissive, timid, unconvincing reasons advanced by the DPP for not instituting a single prosecution. It is notable that the DPP feels himself unable to use 'certain intelligence records as evidence', a clear indication that the interests of national security remain more important than the human lives. The announcement by Lord Stevens in Belfast four years ago sent shockwaves through the British establishment that reverberated around the world. The announcement today by the DPP for Northern Ireland sinks like a heavy stone into the mire of collusion and cover-up, taking with it any hope that the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland will deliver for victims where the State's own agents and agencies are concerned."

"The family of Pat Finucane will not be deterred by the decision of the DPP. We will continue to press for a fully independent public inquiry into the murder and all of the surrounding circumstances. We sought such an inquiry from the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair and were blocked and frustrated in our efforts by him. We now look to his successor to show that the era of secrecy, cover-up and collusion is truly over. We look to Gordon Brown to deliver on the commitment made by the British Government to hold an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the murder of Pat Finucane."

"Only an independent public inquiry can satisfy the concerns of my family and the wider public about the existence of collusion between the British army, the RUC and security services in the murder of Pat Finucane and many others."

Michael Finucane is a practising solicitor based in Dublin and the eldest son of Patrick Finucane.

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Finucane decision 'disappointing' - Ahern

Responding to questions in the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, responding to Sinn Féin TD Caomhghín Ó Caoláin, said the Irish Government's view was that there should be an independent judicial inquiry into Mr Finucane's murder and that it had been its "long-standing position".

"It is disappointing that the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland found that there is insufficient evidence at this time for further prosecutions arising out of the Stevens III report into collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces," Mr Ahern said, .

"This is clearly a further disappointing development . . . not least for the Finucane family, and it does not alter the need in our view, and our stated position will remain, for an independent inquiry to allay any of the concerns surrounding this case.

"If anything, it is the Government's view that this adds [to] the case for an independent inquiry, and that is the attitude that we will persist with," Mr Ahern added.

"The House passed a very clear motion in support of the Finucane family in the last Dáil and it called for a full independent judicial inquiry.

"We remain in touch with the Finucane family and continue to offer our full support in every way."

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U.S. Congressman Pallone statement on Finucane

U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone issued the following statement today regarding the Pat Finucane case and the lack of prosecution by the PPS.

Madam Speaker, I rise this evening to express my immense disappointment in Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service for failing to move forward with prosecuting those responsible for the 1989 murder of civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

Their excuse for this lack of action is that it would be difficult after so many years had passed to gather relevant records, secure the testimony of potential witness and identify the role and responsibilities that individuals played in specific events. The British government has stonewalled a full and public inquiry into this murder for years. This is the same government whose security services were implicated in colluding with loyalist paramilitaries to carry out this sectarian killing.

Madam Speaker, the Finucane family deserves the truth as to what happened that February evening when Pat was gunned down in his home. The people of Northern Ireland are finally in a position to take control of their own future, and they deserve a full account of the role the security services played in this killing. There can be no lasting peace in the North without justice.

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Amnesty International's response to the announcement by the Northern Irish prosecuting authorities that no prosecutions are to follow from the Stevens III investigation

Today (25 June 2007), after an unconscionable and inordinate delay -- more than four years after receipt of many individual files from the Stevens III investigation into matters of collusion in Northern Ireland -- the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for Northern Ireland has announced that no-one is to be charged following the review of the material submitted by the Stevens III investigation.

The DPP explained that prosecutions could not be brought mainly because the evidence would not satisfy the 'Test for Prosecution', namely, that 'the available and admissible evidence is sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction and prosecution is required in the public interest'.

Amnesty International considers that this announcement represents an indictment of the administration of criminal justice in Northern Ireland and the prosecutorial authorities, in particular.

The fact that much of the DPP's decision appears to hinge on the absence of evidence simply reinforces concern about the extent to which state officials have been involved in a cover-up in respect of their collusion with paramilitary organizations in the perpetration of serious human rights abuses.

Amnesty International considers that rather than reassuring the victims, their families and the public at large that that the rule of law has been respected, this decision actually reinforces concern that there has been a complete failure on the part of state authorities to ensure accountability for serious human rights abuses.

In light of today‚s announcement, Amnesty International reiterates its call on the UK authorities to immediately institute a properly independent judicial inquiry, held in public, into the 1989 killing of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane.

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Human Rights Commission response to Collusion prosecution failure

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission regrets that no prosecutions will be brought in connection with Lord Stevens‚ most recent investigation into alleged collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries.

The Commission has, since its creation, closely followed the allegations of collusion arising from the murders of Pat Finucane and Brian Adam Lambert and the three investigations carried out by Lords Stevens. The third report published by Lord Stevens in 2003 referred to "collusion, the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, and the extreme of agents being involved in murder." The Commission believes that the matters identified by the three Stevens inquiries raise serious human rights concerns.

According to Professor Monica McWilliams, Chief Commissioner:

"The Human Rights Commission has noted the many human rights violations acknowledged by the Stevens investigation to have been carried out by forces of the State and loyalist paramilitaries. The limited number of prosecutions that have resulted from the three Stevens inquiries have almost all involved possession of documents, as opposed to the role of State agents in passing on that information, collusion in planning acts of terrorism, or otherwise breaking the law. We are disappointed that, following this third investigation, there has been no effective remedy to address these through the public prosecution system. Moreover, we believe that this will further undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system especially amongst victims‚ families who have been left to deal with these issues for so long.

It is our view that the statement released today by the Prosecution Service raises as many questions as answers. Although we welcome the fact that the reasons for non-prosecution have been disclosed, it is clear that additional information is required particularly as to what factors were taken into account in determining what constitutes the public interest aspect of this case. There is certainly no public interest in concealing the truth.

The accountability and transparency of the State in its ability to investigate itself is now in question. There is a clear responsibility on government to state how an effective independent investigation into this period of our past can be mounted when even the Prosecution Service is unable to proceed with cases after such an extensive investigation."

The Human Rights Commission is requesting an urgent meeting with the Public Prosecution Service to seek further information on its use of the public interest test.

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Public Prosecution Service must be made accountable: By Susan McKay

At half seven yesterday (Monday) morning, 75-year-old Clara Magee was woken by someone knocking at the door of her home in Belfast. When she opened it, two men in suits were there. They said they were from the PSNI, handed her an envelope and left.

Mrs Magee's 18-year-old son, Peter, was one of five people who were shot dead by UDA gunmen outside a bookies shop on the Ormeau Road in 1992.

The letter was from the Public Prosecution Service. It told her the following -- that guns had been given to the RUC in 1989 by William Stobie, who was a special branch agent as well as a UDA quartermaster. That the guns were given back to Stobie.

That one of them was used by the UDA in a fatal gun attack on a pub in 1991 and in the attack which killed her son.

The letter also said that Sir John Stevens had sent a file to the PPS about these and other similar matters but the PPS had decided -- four years later -- that it was not going to prosecute anybody. No police, no agents, no UDA men.

"There is no offence of collusion," it stated, airily.

There was insufficient evidence of "manslaughter by gross negligence". There was no evidence Stobie was supervised in relation to the guns and no means of identifying the senior officers who gave orders in relation to them. Nobody was on hand to help the elderly woman to deal with this bolt from the blue.

Her son-in-law, Mark Sykes, who was critically injured in the bookies massacre, also got the letter, as did relatives of all of those killed or injured in the incidents which were referred to the PPS by Stevens as a result of his last inquiry into collusion between members of the security forces and loyalist killers.

Twenty-five files were sent, after Stevens had been advised by lawyers that he had established sufficient evidence for prosecutions. They included files relating to the murders of solicitor Pat Finucane by a gang, most of whom were security force agents of one kind or another, and of Gerard Slane and other nationalist victims of UDA gangs.

In all cases, the PPS decided otherwise.

"I am livid," said Sykes.

"This is a total disgrace. The then chief constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, stood outside the bookies in 1992 and said that this was 'murder madness' but that it was not out of control. Now we know who was controlling it."

Don't forget that some of the guns the UDA was using were provided by the UDR. That one of the Finucane killers revealed that it was special branch officers who proposed the murder to the UDA. That a former police officer taped a confession to the murder and that special branch destroyed the tape. That agent Brian Nelson was going to reveal that he had told his handlers that some of the murders were planned -- but the murder charges against him were dropped so the evidence wasn't given.

When Stevens launched the tiny bit of his report that we were allowed to see in 2001, he said he had found evidence of collusion. He also said that he had been obstructed by the authorities during all three of his inquiries. During one of them his offices were burnt down. The DUP said his work was a "waste of taxpayers money".

Yesterday's letter gives us a glimpse of the horrors that Stevens uncovered.

We need to know the full sordid story.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP, along with human rights organisations like British and Irish Rights Watch, Relatives for Justice (RFJ) and the Pat Finucane Centre, expressed outrage at the PPS decision and called, again, for a full independent inquiry into collusion.

Mark Thompson, of RFJ, pointed out that it is six years since the European Court of Human Rights found that British investigative mechanisms, including the PPS, did not meet international standards of impartiality, accountability and transparency.

The PPS has made a great many disquieting decisions over the years in relation to cases involving loyalist paramilitaries but protests have been ignored. It must be made accountable. Clara Magee is trying to come to terms with the fact that the police armed the killers of her innocent teenage son and that the state has decided to do nothing about it.

What have all the venerable men who say the past must be left alone got to say now?

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Latest News - 19 June, 2007

Acht na Gaeilge

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams today met with the Irish language umbrella group to discuss the current situation regarding the proposed Irish Language Act.

Sinn Féin has called for the Irish language to be supported in legislation and for the British government to recognise the rights of Gaelgeoirí in the six counties to speak their own language.

Previously Direct Rule Minister Maria Eagles bowed to unionist pressure and refused to proceed with the desired legislation and instead announced a second consultation process.

The first Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure consultation process finished with 93 per cent of the submissions received in favour of a strong rights-based Irish Language Act.

The second consultation process has since finished and everybody is awaiting the results and comment from the DUP’s Edwin Poots, Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

The draft legislation makes a number of proposals including the creation of an Irish Language Commissioner and a provision providing citizens with the right to use Irish in court.

It also suggests that public bodies specify measures for using Irish when providing services to the public. Sinn Féin believes that Irish language speakers in the 6 Counties are entitled to the same rights and entitlements as those who use English.

Sinn Féin believes in a rights-based act, with adequate funding, a powerful oversight commissioner and based on the St. Andrews promises. Sinn Féin submitted it’s party’s proposals to the DCAL less than two weeks go. Education, the Assembly, Councils, the Courts and Broadcasters should all be included in the Act.

Democracy delayed, is democracy denied.

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Nuclear power must be consigned to history

Responding to calls from new Green Party Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan for a debate on nuclear power Sinn Féin's Environment Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has said that nuclear power needs to be consigned to history.

In such a debate Sinn Féin will continue to oppose nuclear power and argue for a radical shift towards efficient and cost-effective renewable energy with particular emphasis on solar and wind power.

Whilst Deputy Morgan welcomed the prospect of a debate on addressing Ireland's energy concerns, the debate in the first instance must focus on the reduction of energy usage. Western countries continue to increase their energy consumption and it is generally accepted this trend is unsustainable. Sinn Féin believes this so-called economic growth fuelled by consumerism should not be allowed to take precedence over environmental concerns.

As an island the Irish government should be increasing it energy capacity with wind and wave power thus utilising that great energy power plant in the sky - the sun.

Sinn Féin along with many environmental and interest groups have grave environmental and health concerns with nuclear power. Every year Ireland welcomes thousands of children affected by the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Their suffering is evidence alone of the unacceptable risks connected to nuclear power. Plus there is no long-term solution regarding how to dispose of nuclear waste.

There is no question that climate change and energy security need to be addressed, especially in the context of diminishing world oil supplies. However it is important that we tackle our environmental challenges in a viable, realistic and environmentally friendly manner. It is glaringly obvious that we need cheaper, effective and secure alternative energy sources in tandem with a government-led approach encouraging people to conserve energy.

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Latest News - 15 June, 2007

30th Dáil Opens for Business

The opening of the 30th Dáil took place yesterday with Fianna Fáil leading the coalition government of the Green Party, Progressive Democrats (PD’s) and a number of Independents.

Following the Green Party leadership’s success in securing their memberships support for a shared Programme for Government with Fianna Fáil the new cabinet announced by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern included two Green Ministers.

Disappointingly but with no surprise acting PD leader Mary Harney was returned as Minister for Health to continue implementation of the governments unpopular private for profit on public hospital land co-location scheme.

There was little change in the make-up of the government cabinet from the 29th Dáil. Minimal changes included; John O’Donoghue appointed Ceann Comhairle, Dick Roche was demoted to Minister of State for European Affairs making available the Environment portfolio for Green TD John Gormley with his colleague Eamon Ryan becoming Minister for Communications Energy & Natural Resources.

Speaking in the Dáil chamber Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that Sinn Féin TDs would not be supporting a Cabinet and a Programme for Government which is set to continue the  failed  policies  of  the  previous  Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats coalition.

Deputy Ó Caoláin outlined Sinn Féin’s primary points of political opposition to the Programme. Mr Ó Caoláin highlighted the scandalous and disgraceful hospital co-location scheme that will serve only to deepen the two-tier health system in Ireland and solidify the privatisation of public services agenda of Fianna Fáil and the PDs.

The disastrous hospital centralisation policy pursued by the incoming government striping local hospitals of services will continue. A timeframe for eradicating homelessness and eliminating social and affordable housing lists has not been incorporated into the Programme.

Deputy Ó Caoláin pointed out that the Green Party appeared to have achieved little on it’s key issues of environment, energy and transport.  Much that is in the Programme is a repetition of measures already in the out going governments National Development Plan.

There is no Zero Waste Strategy. There is no commitment to end the robbery of our oil and gas resources by multinationals and the forcing of the Shell pipeline through Rossport.  The M3 will still be forced through historic Tara. There is no commitment to advance public transport. The use of Shannon Airport by US military forces involved in the war on Iraq will continue.

Sinn Féin fought the General Election as an independent political party on a radical platform for real social and economic equality, safe guarding of public services funded through public monies and Irish reunification. We will continue to campaign, build and mobilise within our communities demanding a right to decent healthcare, education, housing and a clean and safe environment. 

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Sinn Féin launch Charter for Unionist Engagement

Assembly First Deputy Minister Martin McGuinness recently launched Sinn Féin’s Charter for Unionist Engagement.

In the forward to the document Gerry Adams details Sinn Féin’s commitment to building a new Ireland that is based on a fresh relationship between orange and green and all other traditions that make up our society, where every citizen can share and have equality of ownership of a peaceful, prosperous and just future.

Whilst the party’s Department for Unionist Engagement was formally established over a year ago the work that culminated in the publishing of the Charter has been going on for a number of years in the form of a quiet engagement with churches, trade unions and groups within the voluntary and community sector.

Martin McGuinness said that the launch of the Charter was a significant milestone that heralded a new political era on the island representing a commitment to reach out, listen and dismantle the country’s tragic history.

Mr McGuinness acknowledged republicans had contributed to the hurt, adding that “we have all contributed and consequently we all bear a responsibility to advance reconciliation on this island.”

Martina Anderson MLA and Sinn Féin Director of Unionist Outreach detailed the objective of the Charter was to offer a framework for an inclusive and open dialogue that dispels fears, misconceptions and establishes trust.

Sinn Féin Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle Gildernew said to engage in dialogue with others who have a different perspective is not a weakness, but a strength.

In her role as Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Ms Gildernew said she understood the importance of communities standing together for a common cause. “By coming together we can give a voice to rural and coastal communities and reverse the trends eroding this way of life, depopulation, l natural resources.”

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Hill of Tara Controversy Continues

Controversy continued this week regarding the proposed construction of the M3 Motorway near the Hill of Tara in County Meath. The former 26 County Minister for the Environment Dick Roche just recently signed a ‘preservation by record’ order for a recently discovered historical monument at Lismullen, Co. Meath, on the route of the proposed motorway. This order paves the way for the motorway to be laid over the monument after it has been excavated and recorded. However incoming Green Party Environment Minister John Gormley has today reportedly pledged to review this decision.

The Hill of Tara, which is situated over 30 miles from Dublin, was the ancient seat of the high kings of Ireland that is steeped in mythology, religion and folklore. 19th Century Irish Nationalist Daniel O’Connell called Tara ‘the symbol of Irish nationhood’ and the United Irishmen made a dramatic last stand here where they are also reported to have been killed and buried.

The current controversy stems from Fianna Fáil-led government plans to construct a 70-mile motorway to ease the commute between County Meath and Dublin. Proving contentious is the close proximity of this new proposed motorway to the Tara-Skryne Valley that includes a remarkably high concentration of ceremonial monuments.  Campaigners from such groups as TaraWatch and indeed opposition parties including Sinn Féin have widely condemned the plan to build the M3 so close to the Hill of Tara as ‘cultural vandalism’. Opponents have also expressed frustration at the Government’s lack of will to explore the possibilities of re-routing the motorway away from one of Ireland’s cultural gems. There are at least two viable alternatives for re-routing the motorway that would not prove too costly.

The Hill of Tara has just recently been announced as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world and campaigners are pushing for Tara to be made a protected national monument. Just last month scuffles once more broke out between conservationists and construction workers on the site. The Government’s myopic approach to so-called transport modernisation is having disastrous repercussions for Ireland’s culture and heritage. It will be interesting in the coming months ahead if a Green Party Environment Minister will preside over the destruction of Tara, an issue which pre-election the Green party was so vehemently opposed to.

Sinn Féin remain opposed to the current construction of the M3 through the Tara site and wish for it to be rerouted a respectable distance away so that while Meath commuters will benefit it will not be to the detriment of Tara.

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Formation of New Government Imminent

After a week of intensive negotiations between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party over the formation of a new Government in the 26 Counties, the deadlock has finally been broken. Both parties last night agreed on a draft Programme for Government for the next five years. The Green Party leadership will today present this 90-page document to their membership requiring a two-thirds majority for it to be passed. 500 delegates are expected to attend.

In the recent general election Fianna Fáil emerged once again as the dominant party winning 78 seats while the Greens retained 6. The new proposed coalition government will also include a number of Independents and the Progressive Democrats. Sections from the Green Party's document have already been leaked to the media and early reports have signalled a poor deal for the Greens.

Many concessions seem to have been made by the Greens on issues they have been vocal on for instance it is reported that US troops will still pass through Shannon Airport; the co-location plans of private and public hospitals will continue under the reign of Progressive Democrat Minister for Health Mary Harney; the infamous plan to construct the M3 road near the historic Hill of Tara will press ahead; while there has been no mention regarding Shell's controversial pipeline plans in County Mayo. The Greens have also been vociferous on insisting on a ban on corporate donations to political parties but it doesn't appear that progress has been made. The debate within the Green Party will begin at 5pm and a vote is expected at 8.30pm.

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Adams and McGuinness meet with Blair

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are today meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in what is expected to be their final meeting before Blair steps down at the end of the month.

Mr Adams acknowledged the important role played by Tony Blair in the Peace Process. While Gordon Brown takes over the reigns at the end of the month, Sinn Féin have expressed that they had hoped that Blair was the final British Prime Minister that they would have to deal with regarding the jurisdiction of the Six Counties.

The Sinn Féin leaders also raised the issue of collusion and the need for the trut h to be uncovered. They also expressed the urgent requirement for a substantial peace dividend that will ensure that the Six County Executive, Assembly and All-Ireland Ministerial Council will have the necessary resources in order to operate to their full capacity and deliver positive change for all of the people. The fact that there has been major underinvestment in the Six Counties for decades needs to be recognised and rectified.

Irish reunification was once again to the top of the agenda with the Sinn Féin leadership committed to working constructively with the next British Prime Minister to make further progress on uniting Ireland.

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Shell Controversy Continues

Over the past couple of days there have been more skirmishes and arrests in County Mayo as An Garda Síochána moved in to break up peaceful protests in Pollathomas. An estimated 60 locals and Shell to Sea activists turned up to prevent the installation of a security cabin on the land of a local man.

Approximately 40 Gardaí subsequently showed up and proceeded to forcibly remove the protestors and locals, arresting a prominent Shell to Sea activist for 'assault' even though protestors claimed he was coming to the aid of a Garda who had fallen into a ditch. This ongoing controversy stems from Shell's plan to build a pipeline from its offshore well on the Corrib gas field in County Mayo to its planned refinery at Bellanaboy.

Five local men, namely the Rossport 5, spent 94 days in prison in 2005 as a result of their peaceful protests at Shell's plan which they have argued will endanger the lives of their families and whole communities as the gas will be refined near their community and homes rather than at sea. The community of Rossport has been under siege ever since. Just a couple of days ago a forest fire broke out around 3km from the Corrib Gas terminal.

The situation continues to evoke anger among locals who fear for their safety in addition to their anger that while the Corrib and associated gas fields off the north west coast of Ireland are worth an estimated 20billion euro, the gas will not benefit the Irish tax-payer as no royalties will be received.

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ETA ANNOUNCES END TO CEASEFIRE 06/05/07

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has urged the Spanish government and the Basques to do everything in their power to put their peace process back on track.

The Sinn Fein leader issued the appeal after the Basque separatist group Eta declared an end to its latest ceasefire from midnight tonight.

The West Belfast MP, who visited Madrid and the Basque country last year to encourage both sides to develop their process of conflict resolution, expressed disappointment at
the latest development.

"Everyone who has been involved in attempting to get a viable peace process operating in the Basque country is disappointed at the breakdown in the process over recent months and today`s announcement from Eta ending its ceasefire," he said.

"However, the lessons of the Irish peace process and indeed every conflict resolution process throughout the world tells us that it is now important to redouble efforts to put the
process there back on track."

"All sides should show restraint and do everything in their power to ensure that a process is put in place which can allow this conflict to be resolved peacefully through genuine dialogue and engagement."

Eta declared a permanent ceasefire in March 2006.

However, in a statement sent to Basque media, the group said it was calling off the truce because of "arrests, tortures and every type of persecution" by the Socialist government,
which tried unsuccessfully to negotiate peace last year.

Eta, which has been fighting for independence for the Basque territories for four decades, declared a ceasefire in March 2006 and had insisted that it still held despite killing two
people with a bomb at Madrid airport in December.

The government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero started exploratory peace talks in mid-2006, but broke them off at the end of the year after the airport bomb.

At the time, Eta said it had not meant to kill anyone and was only seeking concessions in peace talks.

"Eta wishes to announce that it is abandoning its permanent ceasefire and has decided to act on all fronts in defence of Euskal Herria," the group said, using the Basque language
name for the Basque Country.

Latest News - 31 May, 2007

Sinn Féin attend first meeting of Policing Board

Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson, Alex Maskey and Daithí McKay took their places on the newly constituted Policing Board for the first time today. Party spokesperson on Policing issues Alex Maskey said that the day was about delivering accountable and acceptable policing and ensuring that what passed for policing here in the past is never repeated.

The Policing Board is set up to hold the PSNI and the Chief Constable to account.

Alongside the three Sinn Féin members on the board, the DUP is entitled to four MLAs, the Ulster Unionists two and the SDLP one. A fourth Sinn Féin member, former Derry Mayor Gearóid Ó hEara was appointed as an independent member of the board by British Secretary Peter Hain. Mr Hain also choose nine other members.

Mr Maskey said:

"Today is clearly a significant step forward in our effort to ensure that a fully accountable and acceptable Policing service is delivered. Our membership of this Board, working with the community, will be crucially important in delivering this goal. We have set ourselves a number of objectives which we intend to deliver through our membership of the Policing Board and the local DPPs.

  • a civic policing service, accountable and representative of the community is delivered as quickly as possible;
  • that the Chief Constable and the PSNI are publicly held to account;
  • that policing with the community is achieved as the core function of the PSNI;
  • that political policing, collusion and "the force within a force" is a thing of the past and to oppose any involvement by the British Security Service/MI5 in civic policing;
  • that the issue of plastic bullets is properly addressed.

"Sinn Féin will not be afraid to confront head on issues of concern to ourselves and people we represent. The days of PSNI officers coming to the Policing Board to have decisions rubber stamped and endorsed are over. We will bring genuine accountability to this process. We want to work constructively with the PSNI in ensuring that good policing practice becomes the norm. We want the community to have confidence in the policing service which serves it.

"We are also keen to see the Policing Board itself become more relevant to the community it serves. Sinn Féin have already conducted a wide-ranging series of meetings with a variety of groups and individuals. The Policing Board now needs to undertake an open engagement with as wide a cross section of society as possible. We need to open this Board up to victims groups, human rights organisations and the community sector. Only then will the Board begin to fulfil its undoubted potential.

"The Sinn Féin team taking up our places on this Board today look forward to giving a voice to a community which has for generations experienced all that is bad about failed policing. We want to be constructive in our work and we want to ensure that the failures of the past are never allowed to be repeated. We want to play our part in building a truly accountable and representative policing service to serve the entire community here for the first time."

The board re-elected Prof Desmond Rea as its chairman and Barry Gilligan as its vice chairman. Mr Rea has been the chairman on the Policing Board ever since it was established in November 2001.

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Make up of new government still hangs in the balance

Sinn Féin TDs Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Arthur Morgan, Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Martin Ferris met in Dublin yesterday afternoon to review the outcome of the election campaign and to begin preparations for the incoming Dáil, including the formation of a new government. This follows a meeting of the party Officer Board, TDs and Assembly group on Monday.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Over the last few days the party has begun to review the outcome of the General Election and while we are disappointed that we did not make the gains which we had hoped for, our vote did continue to rise and in a number of constituencies we came very close to taking a seat. We are determined to regroup and to build on this in the run up to the Local Government and European elections in 2009.

"Today the party's TDs are meeting to begin preparations for the incoming Dáil, including the formation of a new government. At this stage it is not clear who will lead this government, what type of coalition options will be required or if that will include Sinn Féin. We are open to talk to either block but for Sinn Féin the key issue is the political platform. Our support for any government would be dependent on a programme which would end the crisis in the health services, prioritise investment in primary school education, build social and affordable housing and support job creation. We will also seek support for a Green Paper on Irish unity.

"Sinn Féin's job, in government or in opposition is to ensure that these issues are put on the agenda and to campaign and work until delivery is secured."

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Paisley Jr should retract anti-gay comments

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the party's spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights Martina Anderson have responded to Ian Paisley Jr's comments that he is "repulsed" by gay people and that "those people harm themselves and - without caring about it - harm society". The son of First Minister Ian Paisley comments were from an interviewed published in todays Dublin's Hot Press magazine.

Paisley Jr is a junior minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.

Mr McGuinness said: "Gay rights are enshrined in legislation and we as first and deputy first minister have a duty to uphold that."

The Sinn Fein MP added: "Ian Paisley Jr wasn't speaking on behalf of the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, he was speaking only for himself."

"The responsibility to deal with this is with the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFDFM), it lies primarily with Ian Paisley Snr," he said.

"I don't know what he's going to do but I certainly think that we have a problem insofar as a junior minister in that department has expressed views which are a total contradiction of everything that the OFDFM is charged to do in terms of protecting the rights of all sorts of people within our society, including minorities."

Ms Anderson said:

"Ian Paisley jnr as a junior minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minster (OFMDFM) with responsibility for equality should not have made these comments. Whatever about his personal beliefs the fact is that he now has ministerial responsibility for this issue.

"Ian Paisley jnr should withdraw these comments and apologise.

"The fact is that comments such as this cause great harm and distress. They feed into the attitudes the fester and lead to homophobic violence.

"OFMDFM has a responsibility to promote equality and protect the rights of everyone in our society regardless of religion, sex, race, disability or sexual orientation. This is the law; it is the statutory equality duty that rests on all Minsters in the Executive."

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Bloody Sunday victims 'innocent' former head of British army admits

The brother of a man shot dead on Bloody Sunday has welcomed an admission by a former head of the British Army that innocent people were shot that day. General Mike Jackson made the comments in an interview with BBC 'Spotlight' programme.

General Jackson, who served in the North for seven years, was a captain in 1 Para which gunned down 13 unarmed civilians in Derry on January 30, 1972.

He insisted that people must wait for the outcome of the Saville Inquiry before drawing any conclusions. Its findings are not expected to be published until at least the end of next year.

"I have no doubt that innocent people were shot," Gen. Jackson said. "We have had two formal judicial inquiries, one of which is yet to report.

"There has been many journalistic examinations of what happened. "(The) Saville Inquiry has been somewhat lengthy, but my goodness it has been thorough, and we will see what it has to say."

Liam Wray, whose brother, Jim, was among those shot dead by 1 Para on Bloody Sunday, said he welcomed the general's admission.

"I think it's significant that the retired top soldier in the British Army has come to the point in time where he is accepting that innocent people were shot on Bloody Sunday," he said.

"It is regrettable that he didn't give that evidence to the Widgery Inquiry in 1972."

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Sinn Féin launch Charter for Unionist Engagement

Sinn Féin launched a fresh initiative to increase its contacts across the unionist community yesterday in Stormont. Several loyalist and unionist attended the formal announcement of the plan. The Charter can be downloaded in PDF form at www.sinnfeinassembly.com/en/press-centre/entry/524.

The "Charter for unionist engagement" is to attempt to build on Sinn Féin's out-reach work in recent years, which has included face-to-face meetings with Protestants groups and unionists. These have included church, civic and other groups but the party is seeking a more intensive relationship.

Speaking at the launch of the Unionist Engagement Charter in the Long Gallery in Stormont , Sinn Féin Director of Unionist Engagement Martina Anderson MLA said:

"Sinn Féin is very clear and open about its objectives. We have a vision of the type of society that we believe is necessary to build on this Island if we are to create the quality of life that all our people are entitled to.

"As an Irish Republican, I believe in the reunification of our country and the establishment of a sovereign democratic and independent nation, as the best political structure to provide the basis for a just and caring society.

"I know that many unionists believe differently. However, let us use this charter as a basis to engage with each other, to draw out each others thinking on how we all believe we can best deliver the type of future we want for all our children."

The Director of the Church of Ireland's Hard Gospel Project has welcomed the launch of Sinn Fein's "Charter for unionist engagement" in Stormont on Thursday.

Commenting on the charter, the Director of Hard Gospel, Rev Earl Storey, said: "A public commitment to an open and peaceful process of engagement from Sinn Fein towards the unionist community is to be welcomed."

The Hard Gospel Project was founded by the Church of Ireland in 2005 to address the hard issues of sectarianism and to stimulate fresh and creative thinking about finding a shared future in the Ireland of the 21st century.

Rev Storey continued: "engagement between the communities offers the only hope for a peaceful future. Engagement involves listening by all sides and a willingness to face difficult questions."

Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA added:

"We hope the launch of this Charter today will be seen by all as evidence of our genuine commitment to facilitating this process. We will continue to seek and to promote dialogue with unionists at every possible opportunity. It was in advancement of this that Sinn Fein established a Unionist Engagement Department to give a focus to this important work.

"We are genuinely committed to building an understanding of each other, and establishing a consensus for a shared future based on respect for each other's differences. The Charter is intended to provide a basis for ongoing discussion. We sincerely believe that by these means we will be able to transcend the differences that have divided us in the past. A genuinely shared future can only be built on equality."

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Reconciliation : Republicans meet unionist paramilitary figures

Former combatants meet as Reconciliation Network launched

Senior republicans and loyalists attended the official launch of Belfast Reconciliation Network last week. The network was established in 2001 at the height of community tensions particularly in North and East Belfast.

Engagement and dialogue have been the cornerstones of the network's approach to interface tension and conflict resolution. Their success was evident in the wide range of people and organisations attending the launch.

While the initiative came from nationalist communities seeking to develop post ceasefire strategies, engagement with loyalist communities has necessarily been a key component.

The presence of former combatants, senior republicans and unionist paramilitaries from both the UVF and UDA, as well as officials from the NIO and 26 County Department of Foreign Affairs gave some indication of the headway already achieved through conflict resolution.

Senior republicans, Seán Murray and Bobby Storey mingled with former UVF prisoner Tom Roberts and Jackie McDonald and John Bunting of the UDA. Also present was Orange Order deputy chaplain Mervyn Gibson and Holy Cross priest Fr. Aidan Troy.

The initiative was launched by Martin McAleese, husband of the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, and chaired by Gerry McConville of the Falls Community Council. McConville described the initiative as "a milestone in the road to conflict transformation". McAleese said the recent developments at Stormont provided a new opportunity for interface disputes to be resolved using "brainpower not firepower".

Golden moment

McAleese said hearts and minds were widely engaged in peacemaking as never before providing a "golden moment bursting with opportunity". Interface areas "that have suffered so much during recent troubles" have "a huge contribution to make to the successful future," said McAleese.

"The landscape of tomorrow will not be a landscape of waste but of wonder at what this coming generation can achieve when out from the shadows of the past," said McAleese.

McAleese urged communities to "fast forward into a better furture" by getting involved. The needs of interface communities mirrored each other and instead of working separately they needed to find solutions together, said McAleese.

Speaking on behalf of the network, Seán Murray said the group hoped to develop a common strategy to interface issues with loyalists.

"Our aim is to develop a common decisive approach to interface issues. These are the communities who have suffered disproportionately more than any other during the conflict," said Murray.

"When the political process was stalled it was groups like ourselves who encouraged dialogue and engagement between the two communities. With the return of devolution the feel-good factor is at its zenith," said Murray.

"We need a common strategy to tackle social deprivation, poor educational achievements and a host of other issues which have blighted the working class communities that have been divided by peacelines for 30 years. We want to develop a joint vision which will make the peacelines redundant and devoid of fear and hatred," he said.

"We want to develop the vision of a shared future. We believe we can only start to tackle these issues when we are speaking with one united voice for people on either side of the peaceline," said Murray.

"Weaponry no longer viable option"

Frankie Gallagher of the UDA-aligned Ulster Political Research Group said loyalists should now learn from republicans. Welcoming the initiative Gallagher said republicans and loyalists had been politically and culturally miles apart while only living a "stone's throw away" from each other.

Gallagher said republicans and loyalists had travelled a similar political journey since the 1994 ceasefires with one significant difference.

"Your community has, through a process of conflict resolution and transformation, learnt and moved to a position that you can now prove the most powerful weapon is the ballot box," said Gallagher.

"This is in itself a major achievement and you must be recognised and congratulated in your achievement. Loyalists must now learn how to make the ballot box work. Weaponry is no longer a viable option," he said.

Tom Roberts, former UVF prisoner welcomed the interface initiative as a "genuine attempt to address a legacy of conflict.

"Catholic and Protestant families in working class areas had been blighted by sectarianism and there was an onus on republicans and loyalists to take part in genuine engagements to find lasting solutions to interface problems", said Roberts.

"Abraham Lincoln famously said 'Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?' I hope that is what we can ultimately achieve," said Roberts.

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Shape of new government still uncertain

Almost a week after the election, political parties and independent TDs are still going over the numbers to begin negotiations to form a government. It is still unclear who will form the next government.

Discussions are taking place against the continuing revelations from the Mahon Tribunal, which is examining the Taoiseach's personal finances.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams thanked all those who voted for Sinn Féin and helped the party secure an increase of more than 20,000 votes. He said that the party would learn lessons from this campaign and build on the progress that was made in many constituencies.

Mr. Adams said:

"I want to commend all of our candidates and their families and to thank everyone who worked or voted for Sinn Féin in the General Election campaign and helped us secure an increase of more than 20,000 votes. Over the last few weeks there were very high expectations both inside and outside the party and many republicans will be disappointed by the election results. While we did not make the advances that we expected, I am encouraged by the fact that many of our candidates in constituencies across the state, urban and rural, received substantial votes and I am sure that many of them will be elected to the Dáil in the future.

"But the surge of support for the two biggest parties has not changed the fundamental issues. The equality agenda, the provision of high quality accessible public services and the achievement of Irish unity have yet to be secured. Our political mission is to promote all these issues and to build a process of change right across the island of Ireland, something which is unprecedented.

"So we have a lot of work to do. We will learn the lessons of this election and build for the future."

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Mahon tribunal rejects bias against Ahern

that an associate of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern asked him for £500,000 for help with the Quarryvale project.

Mr Gilmartin said that Joe Burke made the request in 1989 as he drove him to Dublin Airport. However, he has admitted that this was not in his original tribunal statement.

Joan Burton of the Labour Party said it was too early to say if the issue would have a bearing, but the Deputy Leader of Fine Gael, Richard Bruton, said there did seem to be clear problems with the Taoiseach's account of his dealings.

Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd said the opening statement at yesterday's sitting of the Mahon Tribunal raises 'serious issues for parties or individuals considering supporting a Fianna Fáil-led government'.

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Vote count completed

Here are the final results from the 2007 Irish General Election:

Sinn Féin -  4 Seats - 6.94%

Fianna Fáil - 78 seats - 41.58%

Fine Gael - 51 seats - 27.33%

Labour - 20 seats -10.13%

Green Party - 6 seats - 4.61%

Progressive Democrats - 2 seats - 2.69%

Others - 5 seats - 6.71%

 

 

Latest News - 12 May, 2007

26th Anniversary : Ceremonies mark death of Hunger Strike leader

In a change from the traditional format the annual Bobby Sands Memorial lecture was delivered by Jim Gibney and the recently elected assembly member for West Belfast Jennifer McCann in the Roddy McCorley club in Belfast on Friday night 4 May.

Both Gibney and McCann were close friends and comrades of Bobby Sands so their contributions were personal and political in equal measure.

The crux of the speakers' contributions, however, was to reflect on the continuity of our struggle from the days of armed struggle to the present where republicans have embraced the peace process and electoral politics as the central plank of struggle to win the freedom of our country.

In a reflective contribution Gibney was at pains to ensure that we as republicans never forget the bravery of the hunger strikers' families who in the darkest of times and under the most overwhelming pressure from our political enemies stood firm, fulfilling the wishes of their sons not to take them off the hunger strike.

"I'm sure there is not a day goes by that the families don't think of those days and I am sure the hurt is still as painful as it was then", said Gibney.

The Sinn Féin veteran also described how Bobby Sands' historic electoral victory in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone bye-election sent shock waves through the political establishment.

It also set republicans' minds to thinking that electoral intervention could advance the struggle.

Jennifer McCann first met Bobby Sands as a 16-year-old in the Twinbrook area of West Belfast. She recalled how Bobby was not just, "an IRA Volunteer", that he was concerned about organising the community to improve people's lives and the conditions they were living.

"That was because Bobby realised that street politics were as much about republican politics as armed struggle was."

McCann, who was herself imprisoned, remembered her friend and comrade Mairéad Farrell who was shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988. McCann and Farrell were on the protest in Armagh womens' prison, with Farrell taking part in the Hunger Strike in 1980.

"Mairéad was an inspirational woman", said McCann "and the one thing about Bobby and Mairéad was that they were willing to take risks and lead from the front. That is what republicanism is all about, taking risks and leading from the front and that is why we are stronger today than we've ever been".

Dublin

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams addressed a commemoration at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin on Saturday, 5 May to mark the 26th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands. Adams said:

"Today 26 years ago Bobby Sands died on Hunger Strike and it is clear that the hunger strikers continue to hold a special place in the hearts of many people. The enduring legacy of the hunger strikers is to be found all around us. Like the Easter Rising 66 years earlier it marked a watershed in modern Irish history. The political growth of Sinn Féin and of Irish republicanism is in no small measure a result of their courage.

"But more importantly, their legacy is to be found in the peace process and the positive transformation it has brought about in Irish society in recent years. That process of change continues.

"Despite the brutal conditions Bobby never lost his faith in people or his determination to look to the future. Twenty-six years after his death Irish republicans face that future with confidence."

Derry

Meanwhile, also on 5 May up to 70 Derry people, made up of ex-POWs and members of the Derry republican youth group Toirise travelled across the Six Counties, to visit the graves of all ten 1981 Hunger Strikers. At each grave young people from the Toirise group laid an Easter Lily in honour of the dead.

Before leaving Derry City they visited the graves of H Block martyrs Patsy O'Hara and Mickey Devine. They then stopped to pay their respects at the grave of Kevin Lynch in Dungiven before moving on to Bellaghy where cousins Francie Hughes and Tom McElwee are buried side by side.

In the Republican plot in Belfast's Milltown Cemetery the young people laid lilies on each of the graves of Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell and Kieran Doherty, who are buried side by side.

Bik McFarlane O/C of the H-Block prisoners during 1981 addressed the crowd and spoke of his great pride in seeing so many young people on the tour.

Afterwards the group were invited back to the Roddy McCorley club for lunch before they journeyed on to Camlough and the burial place of Raymond McCreesh where they met Conor Murphy the newly installed Regional Development Minister.

The last grave the group visited was that of Martin Hurson who is buried at Galbally in County Tyrone.

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Peace process : Smiles all round as Stormont is transformed

Savouring a moment in history

LAURA FRIEL was at Stormont on Tuesday to witness the extraordinary scenes as Ministers in the new, power-sharing Six County Executive took office. Here, she gives her personal observations and feelings of a momentous day in Irish politics.

The atmosphere was infectious. There were smiles and good humour amongst the many guests and dignitaries. And what a glorious collection of people, all happy to spend a day to wish us well on the journey ahead. Irish, British, American, South African, Palestinian and Basque.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, Prime Minister Tony Blair, US Senator Edward Kennedy, ANC Minister Ronnie Kasrills had all played their part in the step-by-step process of the last decade but now the pace of change was beginning to quicken.

And then, the republicans. I don't think I've ever seen so many different strands of the Movement in one gathering. Key republican figures like Brian Keenan and Bobby Storey; veteran republicans like Annie Cahill, Gaelgeoirí like Eddie Keenan; former POWs like Rosena Brown, Sinn Féin representatives from North and South aswell as husbands, wives, mothers, parents and children.

Gathered in Sinn Fein's party rooms to watch the proceedings on a big screen, visitors were as excitable as a parcel of children anticipating a school trip. No one was underestimating the enormity of the task ahead but, today, just today, there was time to catch the moment.

And it felt as if we were standing on the threshold of a new era. Behind us stretched years of endeavour and sacrifice with the memories of all those comrades who could not stand beside us but whose contribution made the day possible. In front of us all the possibilities that human agency can shape.

In the debating chamber the demands of parliamentary procedure couldn't dampen the atmosphere. Rising to nominate the new Speaker, Ian Paisley referred to the rotund DUP MLA William Hay as a "stout defender". Moments later Gerry Adams nominated Francie Molloy as deputy Speaker with the quip "He's also stout". The chamber collapsed into laughter.

And then, in the Great Hall, down the marble staircase they all came -- Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. To the strains of Brian Kennedy You raise me up performed by the music and dance group 'The Sky's the Limit' the four leaders stood. It was a symbolic moment, a sombre photo-opportunity, historic. Tony broke first with his big toothy grin and then Martin was smiling and waving.

Both Paisley and McGuinness spoke of a journey. For the DUP leader it was a case of "today, at long last we are starting upon the road which I believe will take us to lasting peace" .

While Sinn Féin's Chief Negotiator acknowledged that the "road we are embarking on will have many twists and turns". McGuinness wished Paisley "all the best as we step forward towards the greatest yet most exciting challenge of our lives".

"In politics, as in life, it is a truism that no one can ever have one hundred per cent of what they desire. They must make a verdict when they believe they have achieved enough to move things forward. I believe we are now able to make progress," said Paisley.

McGuinness set the task ahead as a "strive towards a society moving from division and disharmony to one that celebrates our diversity and is determined to provide a better future for all our people".

Reconciliation was also on the minds of the speakers, for Paisley it was about replacing hostility with neighbourliness while McGuinness spoke of "cherishing all of our children equally". Blair acknowledged relations between Ireland and Britain had been transformed. Ahern declared a "new era".

And everyone was looking towards a future full of potential.

"The chance at last to escape those holy chains of history, to make history anew, not as a struggle between warring traditions but as a search for the future shared, held in common and bound by goodwill and peace," said Blair.

"Here -- in Belfast, on this day, we mark the historic beginning of a new era. An era founded on peace and partnership. An era of new politics and new realities. Between British and Irish, nationalist and unionist we are now agreed a vital consensus on our future together," said Taoiseach Bertie Ahern,

"The events that we have had the privilege of witnessing are a powerful statement that peace is not impossible and conflict is not inevitable," said Ahern.

"We cannot undo our sad and turbulent past. But we can and are, shaping our future in a new and better way. And in doing so we can put the divisions of the past behind us forever," said Ahern.

And there it is -- all of us poised on the threshold of a really big adventure, into a future full of the possibilities of human endeavour. And Stormont, that great edifice of the past, transformed with music and laughter and hope.

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Commemoration : Volunteers' courage and integrity beyond question

Huge crowds pay tribute to Loughgall Martyrs

As Irish republicans move onto the new terrain of joint government with the DUP and prepare to confront new political challenges, the air of expectancy is tinged with the realities of the past and the suffering republicans have experienced through decades of war.

In those decades hundreds of republicans lost their lives with County Tyrone suffering heavily. Of all the losses suffered in Tyrone the heaviest loss of life was when the SAS ambushed an IRA active service unit at Loughgall in 1987 killing eight Volunteers and a civilian Anthony Hughes.

The 20th anniversary of the Loughgall killings fell on 8 May, the day the new Six County Assembly and Executive came into being. Two days prior to that, on Sunday 6 May republicans from all over Ireland paid their own tribute to the Loughgall Martyrs, as they marched in solidarity with their families through the picturesque East Tyrone countryside from Galbally to Cappagh.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the party nominee for the post of Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness were joined at a commemoration ceremony by other members of the Sinn Féin leadership including Fermanagh/ South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew to mark the anniversary.

Unanswered questions

Speaking from the event in his Mid-Ulster constituency McGuinness said:

"We must never forget the sacrifices of many republicans and their families in the course of the last 35 years. Their courage and their integrity are beyond question. Ireland has undergone many changes in the 20 years since the events at Loughgall which saw the deaths of eight IRA volunteers and a civilian in an SAS operation. There remain many unanswered questions about the events of that evening and they are questions that the families of those killed are entitled to be answered.

"Just as Ireland has undergone many changes since 1987 so too has the republican struggle. The IRA have taken courageous decisions which I believe have advanced and strengthened our struggle and which open up for the first time since partition a democratic and peaceful path towards Irish unity and independence. Republicans are now on a political offensive. The challenge for Sinn Féin is to deliver on the undoubted potential which now exists.

"The new power sharing Executive which I will jointly head with Ian Paisley will begin its work on Tuesday. We are determined that this latest political initiative will not fail. We want to build a new relationship with unionists on this island. We want to demonstrate to them the benefits of sitting down and resolving problems ourselves and overcoming challenges without the need or interference of British Ministers with no mandate in Ireland.

Political power

"In the coming weeks we have an opportunity to bring our unique republican analysis to the doorsteps in the South during the election campaign and into the government in the North. I am confident that people will once again respond in large numbers. Sinn Féin stand on the verge of holding real and meaningful political power. It is political power that we will use to make a real difference to people's lives and all of the time ensure that our struggle moves forward.

"Sinn Féin are up for the challenges which lie ahead. We will bring to all of this our desire to overcome difficulties while at the same time setting all of our work within the context of our primary political objective which is to deliver Irish reunification and a genuine process of national reconciliation on the island."

Clearly the Loughgall Commemoration Committee performed a fantastic job in organising for the 20th anniversary march as thousands of Tyrone republicans turned out last Sunday. As well as Tyrone republicans, Sinn Féin cumainn from all across the Six Counties travelled to Galbally for the commemoration march.

South Armagh was well represented and republicans from Fermanagh, Belfast and Derry were there. Wexford was represented by the Volunteer Ed O'Brien Cumann and the Republican Flute band formed in memory of the Wexford IRA Volunteer.

The crowd at the commemoration was so big that the colour party at the head of the parade had turned onto the road to Cappagh before the last marchers left the assembly point at the car park of the Galbally Pearse's GAC.

As the parade made it's way in the small village of Cappagh it paused at the spot where IRA Volunteers John Quinn, Dwayne O'Donnell and Malcolm Nugent and civilian Thomas Armstrong were shot dead by the UVF in March 1991.

The four deaths were another example of British collusion with unionist paramilitary death squads. Cappagh was an area where the crown forces feared to operate so the ease with which the killers carried out the attack and made their escape pointed towards collusion.

"There is no better leadership"

At the republican monument in the village Tríona Kelly read out the names of the Loughgall Martyrs. Her father Patrick was one of the dead. The other Volunteers who died were Pádraig McKearney, Gerard O'Callaghan, Tony Gormley, Declan Arthurs, Séamus Donnelly, Eugene Kelly and Jim Lynagh.

Collette Donnelly, a sister of Séamus, played a lament on the whistle against the backdrop of Cappagh's green hills and the gathering black clouds.

The main address was delivered by Belfast republican Brian Keenan who linked the political developments of the present to the political conditions of the past that saw republicans engage in armed struggle. He commended the leadership of the republican struggle for bringing republicans to where we are now and said, "there is no better leadership".

Acknowledging the difficulties that many republicans have with recent decisions, particularly the decision to go into the policing structures, Keenan pointed out that communities need a policing service. However he said, "the PSNI will have to win the trust of republicans and nationalists before people will accept them. It is also up to us to take them to task and Sinn Féin will be in there to make sure the PSNI will be properly scrutinised".

Concluding his address Keenan recalled the words of Wolfe Tone saying that republicanism was about uniting Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, "whatever the difficulties of the past we have to make peace with our enemies and that is the challenge facing us now".

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Women's Garden of Remembrance opened

The republican women who were behind the Macalla na mBan project deserved every bit of praise that was heaped upon them last Thursday evening, 3 May after the official opening of the Women's Garden of Remembrance in the Roddy McCorley club in Belfast.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, helped by young Eílis McCrudden, carried out the official opening of the Garden while Sinn Féin stalwart and Belfast councillor Marie Moore unveiled the magnificent sculpture of a woman holding a baby which is the centrepiece of the garden.

Unique in it's design, the garden is meant to be much more than a place of remembering. It is a place were people can go to relax and reflect on the sacrifice of so many republican women over the centuries of struggle against British rule in Ireland.

The Garden is paved with sandstone blocks engraved with the names of those who donated money to offset the cost of the Garden.

As well as the statue one of the other features of the Garden is a wooden shelter from where a visitor can sit with his or her thoughts and take in the view and admire the slate water feature, the plants and log installations.

Speaking before opening the Garden the Sinn Féin President reflected on the contribution to the republican struggle of many, "strong women down through the years".

He praised the strength of women such as Máire Drumm, Mairéad Farrell and Siobhan O'Hanlon who died a year ago from cancer.

Indeed said Sue Ramsey, one of the women behind the Macalla project, "the inspiration for the garden came after Siobhan's untimely death".

• Macalla na mBan or Echoes of Women still need funds to cover the cost of the Garden so anyone wishing to donate can contact the project at 028 90 235323.

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General election 2007 : A view from the South

This week ROBBIE SMYTH profiles constituencies in Munster and South Leinster, two regions where today there is only one Sinn Féin TD, Martin Ferris in Kerry North, but by 25 May Sinn Féin support figures will show a very different picture as the party capitalises on gains made in the 2004 local and EU elections which brought the first Sinn Féin members onto Cork, Waterford and Wexford county councils, while growing representation on Cork City and Kerry County Councils.

Munster and South Leinster

Carlow Kilkenny

2002 2,078 SF vote 3.42 % of poll

Sinn Féin didn't field a candidate here in 1997 and in 2004 the party contested just one out of the five electoral wards in Carlow and two in Kilkenny, but there has been strong local growth organically over the last three years shown particularly in the impact of new candidate Kathleen Funchion.

Originally from Callan and currently living in Kilkenny city, Kathleen joined the party in August of 2003 and was very active in Kilkenny city during the 2004 local elections. Kathleen is 24 years of age and was selected as the general election candidate for the Carlow/Kilkenny constituency in June 2005.

Currently she is the Sinn Féin Equality Officer for the Leinster area and has also been involved with human rights work and was part of a human rights delegation that travelled to Colombia in June of this year to examine human rights abuses there.

CORK EAST

1997 1,534 SF vote 3.56 % of poll

2002 2,624 SF vote 5.73 % of poll

In 1994, Sinn Féin had no representation in Cork, but small victories in that year's local elections, followed up by a breakthrough onto Cork City Council in 1999 and further gains in the county's town councils have all lead to a growing belief that at least one of the Cork constituencies could be a breakthrough for Sinn Féin this time around.

Cork East contains Cobh, Mallow, Middleton and Youghal Town councils, all areas where there are now Sinn Féin elected councillors, with Youghal electing two in 2004.

One of those new town councillors, Sandra McLellan is the Sinn Féin Candidate for Cork East. Sandra is a working mother, acutely aware of the pressures on families in Ireland toady and is a passionate campaigner on equality issues.

Sandra, a Youghal Town Councillor, has worked in developing Sinn Féin health care policy particularly around the need to provide good preventative cancer care.

CORK NORTH CENTRAL

1997 1,654 SF vote 3.76 % of poll

2002 2,860 SF vote 6.34 % of poll

Now a four seater, this constituency has changed considerably in recent years, with Progressive Democrat and Democratic Left TDs losing seats in 1997, followed in 2002 by Fine Gael losing the seat they gained at the expense of Labour/DL. This time around the constituency, reduced from five to four seats, is a target for Fine Gael and Labour who want to hold their seats. It would seem a tough task for Fianna Fáil to hold on to the three seats won in 2002 with just 41.48% of first preferences.

Also in with a strong chance is Sinn Féin's Jonathon O'Brien. O'Brien topped the poll in his ward in the 2004 local elections and at 31 is the youngest member of Cork City Council. He is a Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member.

Jonathan is a member of the management board of his local primary school and a trustee of his local secondary school. With young children himself he is acutely aware of the need for proper childcare services and has campaigned for better housing provision and the improvement of the local health services.

He has also been to the forefront of attempts to have a waste removal system based on recycling and re-use introduced and is vehemently opposed to incineration or super dumps being introduced into Cork.

CORK SOUTH CENTRAL

2002 2,063 SF vote 3.73 % of poll

Another five seat constituency not contested by Sinn Féin in 1997 caused an upset for Fine Gael in 2002 when they lost one of their two seats to the Green Party's Dan Boyle. Fianna Fáil holding their three seats with 48.57% of first preferences will be a challenge and the decision of often outspoken PD chairperson John Minihan crossing the river from North to South Central adds a new dimension to this constituency. Labour too will be trying to win back a seat they lost in 1997. Sinn Féin's Roisin O'Sullivan won a seat on Passage West Town Council which is in the constituency in 2004.

Henry Cremin is the Sinn Féin candidate. A recent Evening Echo Red C poll put him at 6% of first preferences. A resident of Greenfields on the Model Farm Road, Henry is a very active member of his community, involved in his residents committee and a founding member of local fishing and youth clubs.

An experienced election candidate, Henry represented the party at the 1999 & 2004 local elections narrowly missing out on a seat in the 2004 polls.

CORK SOUTH WEST

2002 2,207 SF vote 5.85 % of poll

This three-seat constituency is one of the most geographically diverse in Cork, running from the suburbs of Cork City and Kinsale town in the east to Bantry and Glenbeg in the west.

Like Cork East there is strong Sinn Féin representation in the town councils of Bandon, Bantry, Clonakilty and Skibbereen where Sinn Féin has elected councillors. Sinn Féin candidates topped the poll in Bantry and Clonakilty where Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin, the Cork East candidate for 2007 brough a second Sinn Féin representative onto the council.

Cionnaith is one of the most dynamic Sinn Féin local representatives in Munster and his work on a range of issues such as making Clonakilty a fair trade town, or the quality of local housing has a massive impact. He was first elected to Clonakilty Town Council in 1994 and doubled his vote in 1999.

As well as his council duties, Cionnaith is an active member of numerous local and national organisations including the Post Office Action Committee, Special Olympics Committee, Fairtrade Steering Group, Independent Workers' Union, Carbery Housing Association, Glór na nGael, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (P.A.N.A.) and Cork Environmental Forum.

KERRY NORTH

1997 5,691 SF vote 15.91 % of poll

2002 9,496 SF vote 24.24 % of poll

2007 will mark a decade of Sinn Féin growth in Kerry, with the election of Martin Ferris in 2002 just one of the recent highs. Ferris's victory was all the more impressive considering this was a hotly contested three-seater and that he was subjected to constant Garda harassment in the run up to the 2002 poll.

In 2004, Sinn Féin cemented their electoral growth in the constituency by holding their town council seats in Listowel and Tralee, narrowly missing out on a second seat in Listowel. In the 2004 County Council poll, Sinn Féin not only held their Tralee seat, Toiréasa Ferris topped the poll, while the party took a new county council seat in Listowel.

This time round Martin Ferris seeks to hold the seat for Sinn Féin. Martin is a Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member and Leinster House spokesperson on Agriculture, Rural Development, as well as Marine and Natural Resources.

< Centre. Education Park National>

Lynn's local campaigns include working for road safety measures along the old bog road in Lahard, speed measures outside Faha National School. She supported the Joanne Delaney campaign and the Official Languages Act, opposed the rezoning of land in Aghadoe and made representations to Eircom regarding the lack of telecommunications in the Black Valley.

LIMERICK EAST

Again new ground is being broken by Sinn Féin who didn't fight this five-seat constituency in 1997 or 2002. The party did contest the 2004 local elections in two Limerick city council wards and Maurice Quinlivan, the Sinn Féin Leinster House candidate for Limerick East took 8.68% of first preferences in the Limerick No1 ward. Maurice, aged 40, is a Travel Agency manager originally from Ballynanty Beg but now living in the Thomondgate area of Limerick City.

Maurice emigrated to England after graduation for nine years and on his return rejoined Sinn Féin where held posts on both the Munster Cuige and the Ard Chomhairle. Quinlavan believes the voters' priorities in the area are health and crime and Sinn Féin in Limerick have just completed a very comprehensive policy document outlining proposals for addressing problems related to places like Moyross.

They are calling for local employment to be developed in Moyross itself and for tax breaks and incentives for people wishing to establish business enterprises in the area.

TIPPERARY NORTH

Sinn Féin didn't contest Tipperary North in the 1997 or 2002 Leinster House elections, the three seat constituency has consistently returned two Fianna Fáil TDs and one Fine Gael up until the 1996 resignation of the disgraced Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry who has topped the poll in the last two elections as an independent.

The party did contest the 2004 local elections electing councillors in Thurles and Nenagh town councils. In Nenagh, Sinn Féin's Seamus Morris topped the poll, with 10.57% of first preferences and he is the candidate for Tipperary North in 2007.

In the county council elections Sinn Féin contested two out of the four wards and took over 1,000 votes so there is a realistic possibility of a strong showing in the constituency this time around.

Seamus Morris, whose full time job is as a postman, has worked on the council to see local democracy strengthened and brought closer to people in a meaningful, effective and efficient way.

The critical issues in Tipperary North in this election for Seamus are job creation, policing and the justice system, rural and urban planning, the environment, education, health, and tackling the drug problem.

TIPPERARY SOUTH

2002 1,210 SF vote 3.3 % of poll

Another three-seater it set an electoral precedent in the 1997 to 2002 period as the constituency had two by-elections, the first of which saw the election of independent, unemployment activist Seamus Healy who held the seat in 2002.

Sinn Féin contested four of the five county council wards in 2004 and took 1,709 votes showing ongoing growth from 2002. The party also won seats on Carrick-on-Suir and Cashel town councils.

Liam Browne is the 2007 Sinn Féin candidate and at 34, is one of the youngest candidates nominated in South Tipperary.

Liam grew up in Cashel, and now lives in Rosegreen in West Tipperary. His father Michael currently serves on Cashel Town Council.

Liam's particular interests are in the areas of Rural Development and overall economic policy, and has served on various Sinn Féin sub-committees, and workshops in these areas. Liam's core campaigning issues in South Tipperary are the high cost of housing, the deterioration of health services as well as crime and public safety.

WATERFORD

2002 2,955 SF vote 6.35 % of poll

A strong showing for Sinn Féin's David Cullinane in 2002 was built on in the 2004 local elections when he was elected onto Waterford City Council, along with Joe Kelly. The Sinn Féin vote was further strengthened by the election of party colleague Brendan Mansfield onto Waterford County Council and Dungarvan Town Council.

As well as his council work David Cullinane works as a researcher for Sinn Féin attached to Leinster House. In Waterford, he chairs the Ward 3 Area Committee and the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee as well as serving on the Housing and Environment Strategic Policy Committees. He is a director and Management Committee member of the Larchville and Lisduggan Community Development Project.st incinerator proposals, dangerous phone masts, 'super dumps' and low pay.

John has consistently made representations to New Ross UDC, Wexford County Council, the Department of Environment and the South Eastern Health Board on behalf of constituents from all over Wexford highlighting the poor state of roads, urban and rural disadvantage, housing problems and bad planning.

He has been publicly promoting creative solutions to a wide range of problems e.g. getting the local council to purchase private developments for social housing needs and a council levy on derelict sites.

WICKLOW

2002 1,527 SF vote 2.8 % of poll

Substantial population movement, the stepping down of sitting TD Mildred Fox and five seats make Wicklow one of more difficult constituencies to predict an outcome. John Brady is the Sinn Féin candidate. He won a seat for Sinn Féin on Bray Town Counc

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Latest News - 9 May, 2007

North's ministers begin work

The North's new ministers are to begin their first official engagements following the return of devolution yesterday.

First and Deputy First ministers Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness will host their first joint Stormont reception, welcoming ethnic group representatives.

The new Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy Sinn Féin is already confirming investment of more than £14m in roads around Banbridge and Education Minister Caitríona Ruane of Sinn Féin is touring two schools.

The first round-table meeting of the new executive is due to take place on Thursday.

It follows Tuesday's historic ceremony at Stormont where Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness took office as first and deputy first ministers.

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Full text of speech by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MP MLA, in the Great Hall in Stormont

Martin McGuinness: "I am proud to stand here today as an Irish Republican who believes absolutely in a United Ireland. I too wish to welcome the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and all our friends from around the world whose encouragement and support helped us reach this day.

"Many people in this hall today played an important part in our peace process. Many others could not be with us today. I want to send our warmest thanks to them. We will continue to rely on that support as we strive towards a society moving from division and disharmony to one which celebrates our diversity and is determined to provide a better future for all our people.

"One which cherishes the elderly, the vulnerable, the young and all of our children equally. Which welcomes warmly those from other lands and cultures who wish to join us and forge a future together.

"A society which remembers those who have lost their lives. Last Saturday I spent time with families in County Tyrone who had lost loved ones. They and many others throughout our community have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of our difficult and painful past. So we must look to the future to find the means to help them heal.

"We must also focus on the practical. To build we need the tools and as I have said we look to our friends on these islands and beyond to provide the practical support we need.

"As joint heads of the Executive the First Minister and I pledge to do all in our power to ensure it makes a real difference to the lives of all our people by harnessing their skills through a first rate education system, caring for our sick in the best health service we can provide and building our economy through encouraging investment and improving our infrastructure.

"We know that this will not be easy and the road we are embarking on will have many twists and turns. It is however a road which we have chosen and which is supported by the vast majority of our people. In the recent elections they voted for a new political era based on peace and reconciliation.

"On the evening of the Assembly election results I received a phone call from a 100 years young woman, Molly Gallagher, in County Donegal. She told me she was very happy with the election results and that she was looking forward to seeing Ian Paisley and myself together. I'm sure she is watching us today. Hello Molly!

"As for Ian Paisley, I want to wish you all the best as we step forward towards the greatest yet most exciting challenge of our lives.

"Ireland's greatest living poet, a fellow Derry man, Seamus Heaney, once told a gathering that I attended at Magee University that for too long and too often we speak of the others or the other side and that what we need to do is to get to a place of through otherness. The Office of the First and deputy First Minsters is a good place to start. This will only work if we collectively accept the wisdom and importance of Seamus Heaneys words.

"Since March 26 much work has been done which has confounded critics and astounded the sceptics.

"Like these talented people from Sky's the Limit, who entertained us so wonderfully today, we must overcome the difficulties which we face in order to achieve our goals and seize the opportunities that exist. This, and future generations expect and deserve no less from us."

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Full text of the speech by First Minister Ian Paisley, MP MLA, in the Great Hall in Stormont

Ian Paisley: "How true are the words of Holy Scripture, 'We know not what a day may bring forth.'

"If anyone had told me that I would be standing here today to take this office, I would have been totally unbelieving. I am here by the vote of the majority of the electorate of our beloved Province. During the past few days I have listened to many very well placed people from outside Northern Ireland seeking to emphasise the contribution they claim to have made in bringing it about. However, the real truth of the matter is rather different.

"If those same people had only allowed the Ulster people to settle the matter without their interference and insistence upon their way and their way alone, we would all have come to this day a lot earlier.

"I remember well the night the Belfast Agreement was signed, I was wrongfully arrested and locked up on the orders of the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It was only after the Assistant Chief of Police intervened that I was released. On my release I was kicked and cursed by certain loyalists who supported the Belfast Agreement. But that was yesterday, this is today, and tomorrow is tomorrow.

"Today at long last we are starting upon the road -- I emphasise starting -- which I believe will take us to lasting peace in our Province. I have not changed my unionism, the union of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, which I believe is today stronger than ever.

"We are making this declaration, we are all aiming to build a Northern Ireland in which all can live together in peace, being equal under the law and equally subject to the law. I welcome the pledge we have all taken to that effect today. That is the rock foundation upon which we must build.

"Today we salute Ulster's honoured and unaging dead -- the innocent victims, that gallant band, members of both religions, Protestant and Roman Catholic, strong in their allegiance to their differing political beliefs, Unionist and Nationalist, male and female, children and adults, all innocent victims of the terrible conflict. In the shadows of the evenings and in the sunrise of the mornings we hail their gallantry and heroism. It cannot and will not be erased from our memories.

"Nor can we forget those who continue to bear the scars of suffering and whose bodies have been robbed of sight, robbed of hearing, robbed of limbs. Yes, and we must all shed the silent and bitter tear for those whose loved one's bodies have not yet been returned.

"Let me read to you the words of Deirdre Speer who lost her Police officer father in the struggle:

Remember me! Remember me!

My sculptured glens where crystal rivers run,

My purple mountains, misty in the sun,

My coastlines, little changed since time begun,

I gave you birth.

Remember me! Remember me!

Though battle-scarred and weary I abide.

When you speak of history say my name with pride.

I am Ulster.

"In politics, as in life, it is a truism that no-one can ever have one hundred percent of what they desire. They must make a verdict when they believe they have achieved enough to move things forward. Unlike at any other time I believe we are now able to make progress.

"Winning support for all the institutions of policing has been a critical test that today has been met in pledged word and deed. Recognising the significance of that change from a community that for decade's demonstrated hostility for policing, has been critical in Ulster turning the corner.

"I have sensed a great sigh of relief amongst all our people who want the hostility to be replaced with neighbourliness. The great king Solomon said, 'To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

A time to kill and a time to heal.

A time to break down and a time to build up.

A time to get and a time to lose.

A time to keep and a time to cast away.

A time to love and a time to hate.

A time of war and a time of peace.'

"I believe that Northern Ireland has come to a time of peace, a time when hate will no longer rule. How good it will be to be part of a wonderful healing in our Province. Today we have begun to plant and we await the harvest."

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Historic day as power-sharing begins

In one of the most historic days of the Peace Process, power-sharing in the North has begun between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

DUP leader, Ian Paisley, and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness took their pledge of office as First Minister and Deputy First Minister in a power-sharing administration. Ten ministers of the power-sharing executive were then appointed.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, were among the guests in the visitors' gallery.

Formal proceedings at the event were delayed by 30 minutes as a mark of respect to the late DUP MLA, George Dawson, who died last night after a short illness.

Follow the links below to watch videos of the event.

http://www.rte.ie/news/2007/0508/northpolitics.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/default.stm

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Adams - Today is a good day for Ireland

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking at Stormont this morning said "Today is another significant landmark in the process of transforming life on this island. Today is a good day for Ireland. I want to thank and commend everyone who worked to achieve this."

Sinn Féin leaders from across Ireland are in Stormont today as Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley take up their positions at the head of the power-sharing government in the north. Among those in attendance are party President Gerry Adams, incoming Ministers Caitríona Ruane, Michelle Gildernew, Gerry Kelly and Conor Murphy. They will be joined from the south by Mary Lou McDonald, Martin Ferris, Gerry Murray, John Brady, David Cullinane, Padraig MacLochlainn, Joe Reilly, Jonathan O'Brien and Joanne Spain.

Mr. Adams said:

"Today is another significant landmark in the process of transforming life on this island. It's a good day for Ireland, it's a good day for all of the people of this island. I think that Sinn Fein has delivered and I want to commend the DUP also. The talks between Sinn Fein and the DUP, and the agreements between us, have opened up the potential for new beginnings.

"I want also to remember everyone who was hurt or killed in the conflict. Over the weekend I spent time in County Tyrone with families of IRA volunteers killed 20 years ago today at Loughgall. Days like today must be about ensuring that events like Loughgall are never visited on another generation.

"I genuinely believe that we are all shaping a real process of national reconciliation and building a new relationship between the people on this island and between Ireland and Britain. There are clearly many challenges ahead but have no doubt that all these challenges can be overcome.We, as Republicans can develop and build and work and seek support for our vision of a united Ireland, of an Ireland of equals where everyone has rights. We have the right to a society where citizens are treated on the basis of equality. We want to change the political landscape from here on out.We are going to succeed."ENDSCreideann muid go bhfuil tús déánta le haghaidh ré úr do pholaitíochta ar an oileán seo. Tá Sinn Féin sásta go bhfuil na hInstitiúidí Comhaontú an Chéasta ar ais in áit inniu agus molann muid ceannasaíocht an DUP. Taispeánann na plé cainteanna seo agus an comhaontú idir ár dá pháirtí na féidireachtaí de cad is féidir linn a dhéanamh amach anseo.

Rinne Sinn Féin an gnó do mhuintir na hÉireann uilig. Bhí stair brónach againn-buí agus glas. Ar an lá seo caithfidh muid a bheith dóchasach..Táimid ag iarraidh an thodhchaí is fearr a thógaíl le chéile dár muintir uilig. Táimid ag lorg síochán agus cearta d'achan duine ar an oileán seo. Impím ar gach duine tacú linn amach anseo agus feicfidh muid ár n-aisling Éire an comhionannas curtha i bhfeidhm san iomlán.

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Latest News - 3 May, 2007

Adams launches Dublin candidates

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP was in Dublin this morning to launch the party's campaign for the Capital. Mr. Adams said that Sinn Féin is on the move in Dublin City and is on target to substantially increase its representation in the Dáil.

Mr. Adams said:

"Sinn Féin is a party on the move in Dublin city. We have made significant gains in every election in the last decade and now have 14 councillors, 2 TDs and an MEP and our support is continuing to grow. Our public representatives are delivering on the ground in their communities every day of the week. But we want to do much more. We want Sinn Féin Ministers at the cabinet table where they can take the kind of decisions which can transform housing provision, healthcare, education and transport - improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. We will also put the elimination of poverty at the top of the political agenda.

"One of the biggest challenges facing the city is planning - dealing with the problems caused by the abuse of planning in the 1980s and coming up with innovative solutions to provide the infrastructure, jobs and public services necessary to ensure a good quality of life for everyone who lives and works here.

"Sinn Féin in Dublin has set itself ambitious but achievable goals to win further Dáil seats and to become a leading voice for people across Dublin. We have the ability to deliver real change."

Delivering for Dublin

Get Dublin moving - Invest in public transport - 500 extra buses for the city and an integrated ticketing system. All public transport is accessible to people with disabilities.

Proceed with the new National Children's Hospital at the Mater Hospital site. Retain the maximum possible number of paediatric services and in-patient beds at Tallaght Hospital and retain Crumlin Children's Hospital as a child-focussed healthcare facility.

Reduce class sizes to 20 for all children under 9 and provide sufficient local school places.

Legislate to ensure that essential services such as schools and public transport are included at the early stages of all significant developments.

30% social and affordable housing in all new developments and legislation to improve the quality and size of homes and apartments being built across the city. We will eliminate street homelessness in the city by 2010 and legislate to require that any social housing stock sold is replaced on a unit-for-unit basis, with the profits received by local government ring-fenced and matched by central government to replenish social housing stock.

Re-development of the city's canals as local recreational amenities and more provision of youth facilities

A properly resourced suicide prevention strategy for the city.

Appoint a Minister of State with sole responsibility for drugs issues - we want to see more resources and planning to tackle the ongoing drugs crisis - increased provision of residential detox beds and investment in education, prevention and recovery projects.

Opposition to incineration with greater support for reduction, reuse and recycling - a minimum target for Dublin of 50% recycling and introduce a total ban on disposal of compostable waste in landfills by 2010.

1916 Cultural Quarter - the area around the GPO/Moore Street and O'Connell Street to be designated a historical quarter in preparation for the 100th anniversary of 1916 with an emphasis on learning and tourism. This must be done in consultation with the people who live and work in this community.

Sinn Féin Dublin candidates

* Dublin Central - Mary Lou McDonald MEP

* Dublin North Central - Peter Lawlor

* Dublin North East - Larry O'Toole

* Dublin North West - Dessie Ellis

* Dublin North - Matt McCormack

* Dublin West - Felix Gallagher

* Dublin Mid West - Joanne Spain

* Dublin South West - Seán Crowe TD

* Dublin South - Shaun Tracey & Sorcha Nic Cormaic

* Dun Laoghaire - Eoin O'Broin

* Dublin South Central - Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD

* Dublin South East - Daithí Doolan

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Sinn Féin begins election leadership tour of Gaeltacht areas

Bairbre de Brún and Sinn Féín have begun their Gaeltacht leadership tour in advance of the general election on 24th May. Sinn Féin is the only party who will be having such a dedicated Gaeltacht campaign.

Speaking on the hustings Bairbre de Brún commented, "I am pleased to be visiting the Gaeltacht areas on behalf of Sinn Féin. Our party has provided strong leadership in these regions and in the Údáras."

"Over the next few weeks, I shall be visiting Meath, Donegal, Galway, Kerry and Waterford and shall be focusing on the needs of the communities in these areas and also promoting our dedicated and able candidates." said Ms de Brún

"Sinn Féin has always prioritized the Irish language and will continue to do so in government. We supported official and working status for the language in the EU and the enactment of the 2003 Official Languages Act in the Dáil. We are also supporting the current Irish Language Act campaign in the six counties. Our TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh spoke more Irish in the Dáil than any other TD in 2006."

"We shall be launching our Irish language manifesto next week. This will focus on more funding for the language, and the need for a more serious approach to be adopted by the new government toward the Irish language and towards Gaeltacht communities."

Bairbre shall be in the following Gaeltachtaí on the specified dates-

4-6 May-Donegal

9-10 May- Kerry

14-15 May -Galway

17 May- Meath

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Expected UVF statement released

The unionist sectarian murder gang, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) also known as the Red Hand Commando announced today that it would puts its arms beyond "reach" and take on a "civilianised" role in society. The group murdered more than 500 people during the conflict including the lives of 33 people in bomb attacks in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974.

The statement was read by Gusty Spence, who helped found the modern day UVF in 1966. It declared a ceasefire 13 years ago, but since then its members have been blamed for more than 20 murders.

Speaking in Fernhill House in west Belfast on Thursday, Gusty Spence said that from midnight, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando, "will assume a non-military, civilianised role".

As part of this move, he said the organisation had implemented a number of measures to deal with what it called the "transformation from a military to a civilian organisation".

These include an end to all recruitment, training and targeting, and all so-called "active service units" have been de-activated.

Direct Ruler Peter Hain said the decision was further proof that the North was moving into a new and positive era.

He said: "There must be delivery, there must be decommissioning, but there is a momentum carrying Northern Ireland forward and loyalism needs to be part of that."

He said: "For our part, we have always maintained that we will encourage and support those who want to work to a positive agenda and following through on today`s announcement will be good for loyalism and good for the wider community."

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams described the UVF move as another important step in the peace process but noted that the group stopped short of decommissioning.

"It is another critical step. It vindicates Sinn Fein`s long-held view about making politics work."

But he added: "For many people it won`t go far enough."

Mr Adams referred to the fact that up to 100 republicans were recently told their details were in the hands of the UVF and their lives were in danger.

On the issue of loyalist decommissioning, he said: "I just think this is a process and let`s just take this one step, one day at a time.

"Every time a group like the UVF is moving forward, whatever the judgment from our point of view, then it has to be measured and responded to in a positive way."

Speaking at a news conference in Dublin to launch his party`s general election candidates in the capital, he also referred to today`s meeting between Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness and the British Chancellor in Edinburgh.

"These are all significant, important building blocks as we seek to bed down the process."

Ulster Unionist Assembly member Fred Cobain welcomed the decision not to remain a paramilitary organisations but also urged botb groups to destroy their weapons.

The North Belfast MLA said: "While we do not know what precisely is meant by the statement in relation to weapons, we have consistently urged engagement with the IICD as the only way of dealing finally with this issue.

SDLP Assembly member Alban Maginness also insisted the UVF needs to destroy its arsenal of weapons.

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Full UVF statement

The full statement by the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando Command Staff reads:

"Following a direct engagement with all units and departments of our organisation, the leadership of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando today make public the outcome of our three-year consultation process.

We do so against a backdrop of increasing community acceptance that the mainstream republican offensive has ended; that the six principles upon which our ceasefire was predicated are maintained; that the principle of consent has been firmly established and thus, that the Union remains safe.

We welcome recent developments in securing stable, durable democratic structures in Northern Ireland and accept as significant, support by the mainstream republican movement of the constitutional status quo.

Commensurate with these developments, as of twelve midnight, Thursday May 3 2007, the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando will assume a non-military, civilianised, role.

To consolidate this fundamental change in outlook we have addressed the methodology of transformation from a military to civilian organisation by implementing the following measures in every operational and command area:

:: All recruitment has ceased;

:: Military training has ceased;

:: Targeting has ceased and all intelligence rendered obsolete;

:: All Active Service Units have been de activated;

:: All Ordnance has been put beyond reach and the IICD instructed accordingly.

We encourage our volunteers to embrace the challenges which continue to face their communities and support their continued participation in non-military capacities. We reaffirm our opposition to all criminality and instruct our volunteers to cooperate fully with the lawful authorities in all possible instances.

Moreover, we state unequivocally, that any volunteer engaged in criminality does so in direct contravention of Brigade Command and thus we welcome any recourse through due process of law. All volunteers are further encouraged to show support for credible restorative justice projects so that they, with their respective communities, may help eradicate criminality and anti-social behaviour in our society.

We ask the government to facilitate this process and remove the obstacles which currently prevent our volunteers and their families from assuming full and meaningful citizenship.

We call on all violent dissidents to desist immediately and urge all relevant governments and their security apparatus to deal swiftly and efficiently with this threat. Failure to do so will inevitably provoke another generation of loyalists towards armed resistance.

We have taken the above measures in an earnest attempt to augment the return of accountable democracy to the people of Northern Ireland and as such, to engender confidence that the constitutional question has now been firmly settled.

In doing so we reaffirm the legitimacy of our tactical response to violent nationalism, yet reiterate the sincere expression of abject and true remorse to all innocent victims of the conflict.

Brigade Command salutes the dedication and fortitude of our officers, NCOs and volunteers throughout the difficult, brutal years of armed resistance. We reflect with honour on those from our organisation who made the ultimate sacrifice; those who endured long years of incarceration and the loyal families who shared their suffering and supported them throughout.

Finally we convey our appreciation for the honest forthright exchange with officers, NCOs and volunteers throughout the organisation over the past three years which has allowed us to assume with confidence the position we adopt today.

For God and Ulster

Captain William Johnston; Adjutant."

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Paisley and McGuinness welcome EU funding at first public joint meeting

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness held their first public engagement together when they met European Commission president José Manuel Barroso yesterday in Stormont.

The former Portuguese prime minister has excellent command of English but for a second he appeared startled, turning briefly for assistance to Mr McGuinness, when Mr Paisley, going off script, started extolling the merits of the North's food.

Mr Barroso, who pledged that Europe would give between this year and 2013 "well over €1 billion" in funding. In addition, he said, a special taskforce would be established by the European Commission to help ensure that the North would make best use of the money available.

"I have said that I prefer marathons, long-distance running, to sprints," added Mr Barroso. "That is why I want to tell you that my visit is not just a commitment for one day but it is a commitment for our shared future - the future of Northern Ireland in the European Union."

Mr Paisley said the North had many problems but "we are seeing a light and are directing our footsteps towards not just sunlight but I trust full sunshine".

Mr McGuinness described the European Commission leader's visit as a "massive stamp" of approval.

"We are delighted that President Barroso is with us and he has made a little bit of history in that he is the first president of the European Commission to actually come into this building," the Sinn Féin MP said.

"He does so at a time of great hope for all of our people and I think it is a hope shared by many in Europe and in far distant fields."

Mr Paisley told BBC's Spotlight programme last night, in an interview recorded before yesterday's Stormont encounter, that he would not shake hands with Mr McGuinness on Tuesday when they are formally appointed first minister and deputy first minister because he did not believe in "sham shakes".

However, there appeared to be nothing sham about the - thus far - practical working relationship the two politicians have struck up together.

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All-Ireland approach key to building North's economy: By Mitchel McLaughlin

The establishment of the Political Institutions and the all-Ireland structures on 8 May will present all of the parties with a real opportunity to grow the Northern economy in the context of island-wide strategies. During the election campaign all the parties making up the new Executive and Assembly made the economy a political priority.

But a vibrant economy in the North must be approached in an all-island context. The issue of corporation tax exercised many politicians prior to the election, although I do not believe that it is the panacea that some paint it to be. However, this and other issues must be addressed as part of an extensive programme of economy building.

Lower taxes although attractive to business will only really stimulate the economy if the lower production costs deliver better value to the consumer. Reducing the rate of corporation tax in itself will not encourage reinvestment of profits into research and development projects which are needed to sustain competitiveness in the global market.

Although the corporation tax issue must be addressed, I believe that a properly structured tax credits and R&D grants system would do more to build the economy.

Reducing the rate would remove one of the anomalies with the South but would do little in the areas of wealth creation and distribution.

A better approach would be to offer incentives to emerging high growth industries such as Information Computer Technologies, Medical Research and alternative energy development. I would recommend priority or added incentives be given to indigenous companies that are less inclined to up roots and move to capitalise on emerging low wage economies.

Attracting intellectual property developers is essential to creating and maintaining real and sustainable economic growth. That is why I would encourage the new Executive -- in conjunction with the Irish government to co-operate by investing in the whole area of research and development (R&D) to make the island of Ireland an area of excellence in this field.

One of the key growth areas that must be addressed is the increased demand for third level education. Again, there needs to be proper investment in our universities so that we can match the demand for graduates that would accompany growth in the ICT and R&D sectors.

If we can recognise the opportunities and rise to these challenges, the North can share in the type of prosperity and growth experienced over the last decade in the South and which is forecast to continue. But the full benefit will only be achieved through an all-Ireland approach.

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International Worker's Day 2007 - Why we celebrate May Day

BY CAOILFHIONN Ní DHONNABHÁIN

May Day, or International Worker's Day, is celebrated annually across the world on 1 May. It commemorates the historic, and continuing, struggle of workers to improve their rights and conditions.

The origins of May Day lie in the struggle for a shorter working day and in particular in the campaign in the United States in the 1880's for the eight-hour working day. At the time workers were being forced to work ten, 12 and 14-hour days and a campaign of militant strike action and demonstrations was waged in support of the eight-hour day.

In Chicago, where there had been a particularly high level of support for the campaign, there was a brutal reaction from employers leading to the hanging of the Haymarket Martyrs.

A demonstration was held on 4 May 1886 at Haymarket Square to protest against the brutal attack by the police on a meeting of striking workers at McCormick Reaper Works on 3 May, where six workers were killed and many more wounded. The meeting was peaceful and about to conclude when the police launched an attack upon the assembled workers. A bomb was thrown into the crowd. A battle ensued at the end of which seven policemen and four workers were dead.

Eight anarchist trade unionists were arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy. There was no evidence that any of the men arrested had participated in the bombing. Four trade unionists -- Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel were hanged on trumped up charges. Three more -- Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe, spent six years in prison before being pardoned. Another, Louis Lingg, committed suicide before the conclusion of the trial.

Since 1891, 1 May has become a day to commemorate the sacrifices, not just of the Haymarket Martyrs, but of all workers who fight on behalf of their class. Today, on May Day we recognise and celebrate the achievements and struggles of past generations of trade unionists. Those limited rights we enjoy at present we owe to workers in every part of the world who fought for those rights in a struggle in which many gave their lives.

Irish workers owe a particular debt to the 20,000 workers in Dublin who took part in the 1913 Lockout and to their 80,000 dependents who risked imminent destitution and starvation. This year, we also acknowledge the historic contribution made by the Catholic and Protestant Belfast dockers, who together under the leadership of James Larkin launched the trade union movement in the north and east of this country with their strike of 1907.

May Day gives us the opportunity to come together to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to socialism and the struggle to improve workers 'rights. It gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our solidarity with the struggle of workers across the globe. On May Day we recognise and celebrate the achievements and struggles of past generations of trade unionists and commit ourselves to continue that fight.

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Plastic Bullet death 'unjustifiable': Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan

An investigation conducted on behalf of the victim's family by Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan has described the killing of 15-year-old Paul Whitters in April 1981 as "unjustifiable". The report found the teenage victim had been shot at close range, posed no serious threat and could have been arrested.

"In my view the firing of the baton gun on that occasion was wrong and unjustifiable. The gun was used in contravention of the rules in place at the time. No warning was given by the loudhailer and it was fired at less than the permissible range of 20 metres," said O'Loan.

The ombudsman also criticised the lack of co-operation by former RUC officers involved in the incident but now retired. The ombudsman does not have legal powers to compel former as opposed to serving officers in the RUC and PSNI to give evidence.

The officer who fired the gun refused to speak to O'Loan's team, while most of the others involved either refused to speak or said they had nothing to add to the four-year investigation.

Paul Whitters, from the Bogside, died ten days after he was struck on the head by a plastic bullet fired by an RUC officer close to Derry City cemetery. Subsequent claims of a disturbance involving a gang of youths were disputed by an eye witness who said the teenager had been virtually on his own in the street and could have been arrested.

The report also criticised the investigation of the death carried out by the RUC at the time. According to the Whitters family no proper investigation was carried out. The RUC made no attempt to interview civilians and didn't even approach the family until eight months after Paul's death.

The inspector who interviewed the officer responsible for the killing failed to read any civilian eye-witness accounts before the interview. Contradictions in the RUC evidence were therefore left unchallenged.

Speaking after publication of the report, sister of the victim, Emma Whitters said that in the light of the findings, the decision of the then Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute the officer concerned was questionable.

"Our family did not embark on this process in the belief that it would result in a prosecution but after so many years we have come to question the separation of law and state when it comes to state violence. The lack of prosecutions regarding deaths from plastic bullets reinforces these misgivings," said Emma.

Meanwhile the family of another young plastic bullet victim, 11-year-old Stephen McConomy, also from Derry have requested a re-examination of the case. A British soldier shot the child at close range in the back of the head as he was walking away from a British army Saracen. The boy died three days later on April 19 1982.

Stephen was killed by a British soldier, so the incident cannot be investigated by the ombudsman whose jurisdiction only extends to the RUC and PSNI. The McConomy family are compelled to pursue their quest for truth and justice through the PSNI's Historical Inquiries Team.

Commenting on the Whitters report, Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney said the ombudsman's findings vindicated the family and campaigning groups who stated that Paul posed no threat and should never have been shot.

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Short Strand remembers

Hundreds of republicans gathered in the Short Strand in East Belfast on Sunday 15 April to remember those republicans and civilians from the area who lost their lives in the course of the struggle.

Those being especially honoured on Sunday were eight Volunteers and four civilians who were killed in two premature explosions that shocked the republican community in the enclave in 1972.

In the first explosion happened in February 1972 as Volunteers Gerard Bell, Gerard Steele, Robert Dorrian and Joe Magee were travelling in a car in East Belfast. A bomb they were transporting exploded killing all four instantly.

The second, more devastating explosion, occurred in May that same year.

Eight people, four IRA Volunteers and four civilians, were to loose their lives in that blast.

Volunteers Joey Fitzsimmons, Jackie McIlhone, Eddie McDonnell and Martin Engelen died along with John Nugent, Geraldine McMahon, Mary McGreevy and Harry Crawford.

It was clear from Sunday's turnout that the sacrifice made by those republicans from the area was appreciated by the people of the area.

It was also evident that the spirit of resistance and defiance, that had seen the people of this small area confront the onslaught of sectarian and state violence over the years, was very much alive.

Short Strand republicans are a proud and brave people who stood shoulder to shoulder with each other over the years and that solidarity was evident as they remembered their dead.

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey who successfully defended his assembly seat in the last election was the main speaker.

Maskey reminded the crowd of the heritage of republican activism that stretched through generations of families from the area.

He spoke of how the people of the area had never lost their commitment to the ideals of republicanism despite the pogroms directed against them by the unionist state and it's death squads.

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General Election called for the 26 Counties

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on Sunday sought the formal dissolution of the Dáil ( 26 Counties Parliament) from Irish President Mary McAleese. The General Election will be held on May 24th. Mr Ahern visited President McAleese's official residence Áras an Uachtaráin at 8am GMT, hours before she was due to leave for a five-day visit to the US.

Mr Ahern has been in office since 1997.

The 26 Counties uses the Proportional Representation - Single Transferable Vote system, by which voters in multi-seat constituencies (electing three, four or five deputies each) are asked to rank their candidate preferences on a ballot paper.

The Dáil consists of 166 representatives from 41 constituencies.

If no one party secures enough seats to form a single party government, a coalition between parties is needed.

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Sinn Féin is ready for government, north and south

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking in Belfast Sunday morning said "Sinn Féin is going into this election campaign in a stronger position than every before. Over the next four weeks we will be campaigning the length and breadth of the country seeking a mandate for real change and equality. Our objective is to be in government, north and south and to deliver strong public services and to advance the peace process and preparations for Irish unity.'

Mr. Adams said:

"Sinn Féin is going into this election campaign in a stronger position than every before. We are standing 41 candidates and our objective is to be in government, north and south.

"We believe in the right to universal access to decent healthcare, education and childcare, we believe in the constitutional right to a home, we believe in building the economy and using the wealth created for the public good. We believe in Irish re-unification and are advancing preparations to bring this about as soon as possible. These are our priorities for government.

"Over the past decade, republicans have proven our ability not just to negotiate successfully to advance the peace process but also to show leadership by taking major and sometimes difficult decisions in the national interest. Dramatic progress has been made. Sinn Féin and the DUP are going to head the power-sharing government in the north and Sinn Féin's five Government Ministers will work hard in the interests of everyone on this island. We are about delivering for Ireland's future.

"Sinn Féin is ready for government, north and south. Over the next four weeks we will be campaigning the length and breadth of the country seeking a mandate for real change and equality. "

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said Sinn Fein was already "up and running and on course to return a greatly strengthened team of TDs with the aim of implementing our policies in Government".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The long overdue dissolution of the Dáil is very welcome.

"Sinn Féin has been on an election footing for many months in all the constituencies and well before the start of the year our canvassers have been reporting very positive responses on the doorsteps. We are standing 41 candidates in 40 of the 43 constituencies and in every case we are fighting to win.

"During the coming weeks of the election campaign we will reap the rewards of years of hard work and commitment by our candidates and party activists. In doing so we are seeking endorsement from the people for our radical and relevant policies.

"Sinn Féin is offering voters a real choice in this General Election.

"We are presenting our vision of an Ireland of Equals.

"We are setting out our ideas for a prosperous country in which wealth is shared and where the promise of equal rights and equal opportunities is fulfilled for each and every person who lives on our island.

"We are affirming our republican commitment and presenting our strategy to achieve a United Ireland of Equals."

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Urgent need to address plight of low paid and vulnerable workers

Sinn Féin launched its Workers Rights' Policy in Dublin on Sunday with Mary Lou McDonald saying there is an urgent need to address the plight of the 'new underclass of exploited workers that has emerged in Ireland'. These include 'low-paid service sector workers, migrant workers and vulnerable workers threatened with outsourcing and redundancy by employers determined to drive wages and conditions back down'.

Ms. McDonald said, "I am very pleased in the run-up to International Workers Day, to launch Sinn Fein's Workers' Rights policy. The rights of workers are priority for Sinn Féin. The struggle of labour has long been an integral strand within Irish republicanism. As a party we agree with James Connolly that the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and that the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour.

"This year marks the centenary of the 1907 Belfast Dockers' strike. Work is to commence shortly on the installation in Belfast City Hall of a commemorative, stained glass window depicting James Larkin, something that Sinn Féin has with others worked to bring about. We are also working with the trade unions in organising a number of specific events to commemorate the centenary of the Dockers' Strike.

"The delivery of a strong, progressive workers rights' framework is a fundamental part of Sinn Féin's vision for Ireland and we want to work with others, particularly the Irish trade union movement to achieve this.

"This policy document sets out Sinn Féin's determination to build a society where workers are enabled to use their power for the collective good, where workers' contribution to society is acknowledged through fair working conditions and return on their labour, and where all workers can enjoy work/life balance.

"We reiterate our determination to stamp out exploitation of workers in Ireland and internationally and we commit to defending and extending social protections for all workers and pensioners and to replacing the current model of weak labour regulation and non-enforcement with comprehensive regulation and stringent enforcement.

"We are advocating number of recommendations to tackle this issue including a workers' rights awareness information campaign; proposals to strengthen the labour inspectorate and ensure it includes people proficient in the major migrant languages and increased penalties for violations.

"We are also proposing the introduction of a penalty point system to deal with 'rogue' employers and companies that consistently transgress employment law, which would result in the removal of such a company from the company register by the Companies Registration Office.

"Our policy proposes concrete measures to mitigate concerns around the issue of displacement, as well as the need to respect the rights of migrant workers.

"Sinn Féin consulted within the trade union movement in the drawing up our workers' rights policy and we will continue, in the time ahead, to engage with trade unions on a range of issues of concern to their members. We will support trade unions and workers fighting for better conditions, battling against the privatisation of public sector companies or campaigning to improve public services."

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Interview : Six County First Minister Designate Martin McGuinness

Confident of general election success

New Ross has always been a strategic place in the South of Ireland. When 10,000 rebels poured into the streets of New Ross in the 1798 rebellion, crown forces knew that to lose New Ross could create a domino effect in which Waterford and Cork could also be lost to the United Irishmen.

The pikes have long since been decommissioned but New Ross and County Wexford is again a battleground for change in Ireland with Sinn Fein's John Dwyer leading the charge. This time, according to Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator MARTIN McGUINNESS, the dominos will fall all the way to Leinster House.

McGuinness was in New Ross on Friday, 20 April as part of a tour of the South East and he took time out to speak to us.

Martin McGuinness says that from his travels around Waterford and Wexford last week he has witnessed an excitement and a vibrancy surrounding Sinn Féin's election campaign.

"The growth and the health of the organisation down here and the planning that has gone into the campaign is very, very impressive. The people here certainly feel that they are on the threshold of an historic victory", he says.

As for the election itself the Deputy First Minister designate says that the big story of the election is Sinn Féin.

"It has been the story of the elections for the last eight years North and South. I am very confident that we will do really well and that there are still a few surprises in store. The unprecedented success in the elections in the Six Counties and the entering into power sharing of all the parties will have a knock on effect nationally.

"The people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement and they are overjoyed that it is now working out. This will definitely add to Sinn Féin's popularity in this election", McGuinness said.

Asked about the tiring, hard slog by the Sinn Féin leadership and activists, particularly in the past eight years, in getting the party to this point McGuinness says: "You wouldn't be human not to get tired at times. Republicans by their very nature are a tough, determined bunch of people. But also, we have always been aware that behind all of the work we were doing, there was always building, in the background, a huge momentum for Sinn Féin. But the past eight years has seen huge movement forward towards a united Ireland."

Just back from Downing Street, a trip that included Wexford candidate John Dwyer in the delegation, there remains outstanding business with British PM Tony Blair. Along with the opening of the Assembly and the historic power-sharing Executive on May 8, there is also the question of inward investment and governmental investment to sort out. The issue of collusion between the British state and unionist paramilitaries is also high on the agenda. The news that the names of up to 100 nationalists have been found in the possession of loyalist death squads has also to be dealt with.

"In my own constituency 13 workers have been informed by the PSNI that their names were found on these lists. The indications are that it is the UVF who are connected with it. A number of people have been charged in relation to it and appeared in court, one of which is an employee of the PSNI. Another is connected to the Royal Irish Regiment. So I think it very important that we discuss the issue of collusion with the British Government. Tony Blair has conceded that there have been all sorts of activities by elements of British intelligence in the past that created serious problems for the peace process. The fact that Tony Blair will probably be gone in the early part of next month means that we are unlikely to make much headway on this issue in the near future. I would not suggest that Tony Blair was ever aware of these activities but his predecessors certainly were", McGuinness says.

Just how far unionists have come in recognising that both parts of the island are inter-dependent can be seen in the increase in trade between the two jurisdictions. The evidence is now quite apparent to every one in the six-counties.

"We have certainly won the argument on the all-Ireland economy. The unionist parties recognise that unionist people are investing in the South and similarly many business people, from Dublin, Cork, Galway and all over, are investing in the North. The economy does not recognise any border except for one or two areas like that of the Euro and Sterling."

Another area proving disadvantageous to the island economy is the disparity in the area of corporation tax, with the rate in the South set at 12.5% and that of the North set at 30%.

McGuinness argues for harmonisation of corporation tax across Ireland. Representations have been made to Gordon Browne on the issue.

"This is, of course a work in progress and ourselves and Ian Paisley have discussed this and we are meeting with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to sort it out before the executive is up and running. There is resistance to it by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, but we have the agreement and goodwill of the Taoiseach on this, and it is just a matter of applying the pressure to see that that level playing field is achieved to attract the necessary inward investment", he says.

At the recent Ard Fheis, Sinn Féin's Wexford candidate spoke very authoritvely on the issue of MRSA and the Ard Fheis passed the motion to implement the Dutch model for dealing with MRSA in hospitals. But McGuinness says that the main problem facing both health services in Ireland is how widespread the virus has become. There have been positive moves in regard to educating the people who work in hospitals and those visiting hospitals to disinfect their hands on entering and leaving hospitals. But there is no doubt that the Dutch model is superior in terms of best practice -- to isolate each case and area. But there is no point in having one system in the Six Counties and a separate system for the rest of the country. It just won't work. We need a national strategy that will set a rigorous standard."

There is no doubting that through the sacrifice of so many, Sinn Féin has gained the experience and success necessary to deliver for Ireland a future filled with more hope than any previous era in our history. Here in Wexford that experience has rubbed off on the party locally. The once sleeping giant of Wexford republicanism has been mobilised. Leinster House is on the horizon and well within range. The objective is the formation of a government for all the people of Ireland.

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Latest News - 25 April, 2007

Sinn Féin priority will be premium public services

Sinn Féin's TDs today said that they are preparing for the election of a significant number of colleagues in the forthcoming General Election and their aim was for their party to be in Government North and South. They said their priority was "the provision of premium public services - especially in health and housing". They called for real engagement and debate during the election campaign.

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:

"Our priority going into the General Election and in the next Dáil is the provision of premium public services on the basis of fair and equal access for all. This is especially needed in healthcare and housing where the Fianna Fáil/PD government has, for the past decade, failed miserably to use economic prosperity to ensure that all our people have access to the best healthcare and to decent housing. Instead they have left housing provision to the developer-driven market and are in the process of privatising our health services.

"We need real debate and real engagement about the issues in this election. The current sham debate on stamp duty should be set aside so that people can focus on the real housing needs of people."

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US leaders voice support for human rights campaigner

Members of the US Congress have come out in support of the Director of Relatives for Justice (RFJ) living under threat from the UVF.

Last weekend, Mark Thompson received information from the PSNI that he was the subject of a "serious and substantial" threat, for which he believes the UVF were responsible.

The news prompted PUP leader Dawn Purvis to play down the threat.

However, despite Ms Purvis' assurances, Mr Thompson is still taking the threat seriously.

Last week, the US Congressional Ad-Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, which is made up of senior Democrats and Republican representatives, urged the British and Irish governments to take appropriate steps to ensure Mr Thompson's safety.

Speaking on behalf of the committee, Democrat Massachusetts representative Richard Neal said, "The British and Irish governments should treat very seriously threats made against human rights leader, Mark Thompson, who has tirelessly crusaded to bring attention to the families of people who have lost loved ones during the Troubles in the North of Ireland.

"Through Relatives for Justice, Mr Thompson has not only made the survivors' stories heard, but also pressed for the investigation of alleged instances of human rights abuse and cases where authorities illegally colluded with paramilitary groups in the North of Ireland.

"It is especially important for the British security forces to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of Mr Thompson and his family," added Mr Neal.

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Ahern meet with loyalist PUP leader

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, is to meet a delegation from the loyalist PUP in Dublin later today. The PUP is linked to the loyalist murder gang the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The delegation will be led by the PUP leader Dawn Purvis who succeeded the late David Ervine following his sudden death last January.

Over the course of the past 10 days details of a UVF intelligence gathering operation involving a member of the PSNI Administrative team and a serving member of the RIR have been gradually exposed.

Well over 100 nationalists and republicans including Sinn Fein members and senior figures in the GAA in South Derry have been informed of a significant threat to their lives from the UVF.

Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has welcomed today's talks between the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and PUP leader Dawn Purvis and said that he hoped that the recent death threats from the UVF to well over 100 republicans and nationalists in North would top the agenda at the talks.

There has been media speculation that a statement from the UVF is imminent which is widely expected to detail its plans for the future amid growing calls for it to decommission its weapons.

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IMC "not needed"

Sinn Féin dismissed the latest IMC report published today as irrelevant and called on loyalist and unionist leaders to use their influence bring a permanent end to loyalist violence.

This was the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission's 15th report. The report said that senior loyalist UDA members profited from crime and UDA members took part in extortion, drug dealing and loan sharking just weeks before the British government pledged £1.2 million to the loyalist group's plan to "wean" its communities off paramilitarism.

Recent revelations about UVF intelligence gathering operation involving a member of the PSNI Administrative team and a serving member of the RIR raised questions again about collusion. Sinn Féin called on loyalist and unionist leaders to demonstrate the sort of positive leadership required to influence organisations engaged in loyalist violence to permanently cease their activities.

The report said the IRA continues to remain wedded to its peaceful path and has had no involvement in any "shootings, assaults, illegal intelligence-gathering or any criminal activity".

Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy said:

"No one needs an IMC report to know that republicans have delivered on their commitments and that loyalist organisations have a considerable distance to travel to deliver on what is required in terms of a wholehearted commitment to a peaceful future for everyone.

"The IMC has made no positive contribution to moving the political process forward. It has no place in the political process and no constructive future role to play."

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McCord gets positive reception EU Parliament

On the second day of his two day trip of the European Parliament Raymond McCord has received a warm and encouraging reception from MEPs and Commission Staff.

The purpose of Raymond McCord's visit to Strasbourg this week is to highlight the details of his case and to urge MEPs from all parties and countries to take up the issue of collusion. Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald facilitated the visit by Mr McCord.

The investigation by the North's Police Ombudsman, Nuala O Loan, sustained many of the allegations around the murder of Raymond McCord junior. In particular she found evidence of the involvement of at least one police agent in the murder.

The same police agent was centrally involved in at least ten other murders, drug dealing, armed robbery, extortion, assault, hijacking, conspiracy to murder and criminal damage, and was paid over £79,000 (110,000 Euro) while working for the police for 12 years.

The Police Ombudsman's report was very clear in stating that the crimes were committed with the prior knowledge of the police.

Mr McCord has met with MEPs from across the range of political groups in the European parliament, including MEPs from the North. A number of Irish MEPs have met with him, attended briefings and shared the platform at the press conference. He also met with senior advisors to the Commission president and to the Irish government.

Speaking today Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brun said,

"Sinn Fein is committed to raising the issue of collusion at the heart of the EU and doing what we can to ensure all those affected secure their right to truth and justice."

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Clinton invited to Stormont deal

Former US president Bill Clinton has been invited to Belfast next month to hail an historic power-sharing move between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will also attend the May 8 ceremony to inaugurate the devolved government.

History will be made as Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are sworn in as First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

US figures who helped broker the peace process are expected to be invited to the event in Stormont.

Mr Clinton heavily influenced efforts that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and he made three high-profile visits to Ireland during his presidency.

Also on the invitation list for the May 8 ceremony is former US Senator George Mitchell who chaired the 22-month talks which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Former US envoys to the North including Richard Haass are also expected to attend.

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Sinn Féin voice concern over stadium plans

Sinn Féin said yesterday that talk of plans to build a stadium at the former Long Kesh prison site cannot proceed unless there is agreement on opening up the preserved part of the jail to the public.

Sinn Fein will not agree to plans to build any stadium until they get agreement to open up the jail as a visitor attraction with an iconic building built to the highest international standards.

Sinn Féin Lagan Valley MLA, Cllr Paul Butler and Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney also rejected proposals to build any stadium at Belfast.

Mr Butler added:

"In all of the debate about stadiums in Belfast the GAA has been ignored and treated as if they do not exist. Sinn Fein will not back any plans for a stadium in Belfast."

Paul Butler and Raymond McCartney who sit on the Maze Long Kesh Monitoring Group, which oversees the development of the former prison, have said they have been concerned that the focus is only on building a stadium.

Mr Butler, who is vice chair of the group, said:

"No stadium can be built without agreement on developing the prison buildings as a visitor attraction similar to Kilmainham Jail in Dublin and Robben Island in South Africa. Both the stadium and the preserved prison buildings projects must proceed simultaneously."

Mr McCartney added:

"Sinn Fein and the DUP need to agree both proposals or else plans for a stadium will not proceed. There has been much debate recently over the proposals to have a stadium located at Long Kesh. However, what has to be pointed out in all of this is that this site is of huge historical importance in the conflict here over the last 30 years.

"The reality is that Long Kesh is unique in terms of international prison history and it has the strongest community links of any prison in the world. It is essential therefore that part of the jail be preserved. Those in support of the stadium at Long Kesh should also support the setting up a conflict resolution campus and visitor's centre. We want to see these proposals being given as equal an importance as any plans to have a stadium built there."

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