14 January 2006

Blaze destroys Belfast store

Belfast Telegraph

PSNI in fire probe

By Lisa Smyth
14 January 2006

A suspicious fire which destroyed an east Belfast shop was today being investigated by police.

Emergency services were alerted to the blaze at The Bargain Store on the Woodstock Road at about 5.15am.

There was also a fire in west Belfast overnight, which led to nine elderly nuns being evacuated at Our Lady's Nursing home on the Ard-Na-Va Road, off the Falls Road.

In the east Belfast blaze, firefighters arrived at the scene to find a well established fire in the three-storey shop premises.

At the scene the owner of the shop was too distraught to speak and stood sobbing as the fire was tackled.

Fire Service divisional officer Ken Leatham confirmed the blaze is being treated as suspicious.

"It is very early to say for definite but that is what we believe at the moment and we have asked the PSNI to help investigate," he said.

"When we got here we found extensive fire to the front and rear of the premises.

"The difficulty with fighting the fire at the front of the shop was that it was protected by roller shutters so we had to call a specialist appliance from our central station for appropriate cutting equipment to gain access to the shop."

The west Belfast blaze was described by firefighters as small, but one that could have been serious. Four appliances took 90 minutes to bring it under control.

The fire, which is under investigation, began in a shed.

Remarks by Gerry Kelly to all-Ireland conference on policing and justice

Sinn Féin

Published: 14 January, 2006

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The following is the full text of a speech delivered by the Sinn Féin party spokesperson on Policing and Justice Gerry Kelly to an internal party conference on developing an all-Ireland vision for policing and justice held in the Balmoral Hotel in Belfast today:

Ba mhaith liom failte a chur roimh gach duine anseo inniu.

I would like to welcome everyone here today to this conference, hosted by Cuige na Se Chondae and supported by our European Department.

Let me begin by thanking the speakers who have come along here to address this conference on the subject of ‘Developing an All-Ireland vision for Policing and Justice’. Sinn Fein has invited those speakers to engage with us as practitioners or experts in their own fields.

Republicans don’t pretend to have a monopoly on ideas in relation to justice and policing. Neither can we ignore the experience of the community from which we come and whom we serve. As an Irish republican party with a national and democratic agenda, Sinn Fein welcomes new ideas and is eager for new challenges. Ours is the battle of ideas and the politics of change.

Ultimately, as a political party, Sinn Fein will form its own view on these matters. As party members, you will be the people upon whom that responsibility will finally rest.

And it is of course important that you do that on the basis of the maximum information, a full discussion and in the context of overall strategy considerations.

Leading the all-Ireland agenda

Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis last year agreed that party policy in relation to justice and policing should be developed. The purpose of this event today is to discuss this and build on the work done since. It is about envisioning the kind of agenda, in relation to justice, which will better serve communities throughout the 32 counties. And the reason we need to do that is very simple:

No other political party on this island is an all-Ireland party.

No other party has an agenda to build an Ireland of equals.

No other political party will champion the rights of the poor and the oppressed better than Sinn Fein.

No other party will confront the inefficiency and corruption of aspects of the justice and policing systems on this island, better than Sinn Fein.

No other party will agitate and articulate at grassroots level in every part of this country for accountable, representative, community-based, civic policing and justice programmes better than Sinn Fein.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of nationalists in the north and people throughout this island are looking to this party for leadership on policing and justice. They expect us to do our best to secure acceptable civic policing. Today’s event is evidence of our determination to give leadership and achieve acceptable arrangements for policing and justice.

A truly new beginning

Republicans will not be badgered or forced into accepting less than the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement. This is a fundamental requirement. This Agreement addressed the issue of policing for a very good reason.

The RUC was never a police service. It was a unionist paramilitary militia, which engaged in the most disgraceful sectarianism and abuse of human rights, including torture and murder.

Those who were at the heart of this malign force – the RUC Special Branch – are still active within the PSNI. Their planned overthrow of a democratically elected Assembly three years ago is the evidence of this writ large. They are opposed to change of all kinds and not just the change in policing.

Because of this and as a means to confront and face it down Sinn Féin is determined to achieve the reconstruction of the power sharing Assembly and all Ireland institutions required by the Good Friday Agreement. The historic decisions taken by the IRA in recent months, the ending of its armed campaign and the putting of arms beyond use have removed any excuse or pretext for further delay. Sinn Fein has made it clear to the two governments that the institutions need to be restored. The British and Irish Governments have said that they intend making a serious effort to resurrect the political institutions. We are also committed to achieving and being part of the new policing dispensation. No half measures or three quarter measures will do.

Looking forward

In December 2004 – just over a year ago we had agreement on a sequence of events including the transfer of powers on policing and justice from London to Belfast. But it fell apart because the DUP reneged at the last moment.

Essentially we agreed that in the context of:

Agreement between the parties on the departmental model and the powers to be transferred;

The enactment by the British government of the legislation to give full expression to this transfer of powers; and

A DUP commitment to a short timeframe for the actual transfer of powers on policing and justice.

Then the party president would propose to the Ard Comhairle that it calls a special Ard Fheis to decide Sinn Féins position on new policing arrangements.

That situation has not changed. It is not Sinn Féin but others who are delaying progress.

Nationalists want a policing service

It has been opportunistically and cynically argued by Sinn Féin’s opponents that our position on policing is assisting criminality. Remember former SDLP Chief Seamus Mallon? Last year he said, "The people of West Belfast, West Tyrone and South Armagh do not want policing because if you have policing, you don't have criminality".

What nonsense

There is no "rampant crime" in nationalist or republican communities. On the contrary the nationalist and republican people are good, decent people who despite not having had a proper police service for generations have a deep sense of justice, are civic-minded and are eager to embrace proper policing and justice systems.

No one wants a new beginning to policing and justice more than the nationalist and republican people of West Belfast, West Tyrone and South Armagh. I commend all of those who work on the ground to create safer communities through anti-car crime schemes; youth outreach programmes, and especially, Community Restorative Justice projects. They are doing a great service to working class areas.

On restorative justice, since it is being attacked in the media let me make a few points:

1/ restorative justice as a concept is of a global nature. It operates and is working in many societies. Australia and New Zealand to name but two.

2/ republicans do not seek the ownership of the restorative justice concept in an Irish context

3/ restorative justice is not an alternative nor has it ever masqueraded as an alternative to acceptable and accountable policing arrangements

That said, Sinn Fein has been and remains supportive of efforts by the community to establish and operate restorative projects across the north. Equally, there are those in the unionist community who are striving to develop a restorative vision within their own community. Sinn Fein commends all those genuinely working to promote restorative justice at community level. The further development of the Irish model of restorative justice is something which deserves informed debate on a national basis.

Meanwhile, we must acknowledge that there is a real anxiety about the extent and effects of criminality in Irish society today which, we ignore at our peril. We must continue discussions with our communities on how to respond to the challenges and the harm associated with criminality and anti-social activity.

Political policing

As I said earlier political policing continues apace within the PSNI.

Since last summer alone, the evidence of political policing has been irrefutable. This includes the political policing of loyalist marches; the revelations about former RUC members stealing information and thwarting murder investigations; the discovery that files on dozens of republicans including Sinn Fein elected representatives are kept in the PSNI’s Castlereagh barracks; the fact that these files had been passed onto unionist paramilitaries; politically motivated houseraids in Tyrone, Belfast and Down; trumped up charges and media misinformation orchestrated by sections of the PSNI; the high-profile arrest and false accusations against Sinn Fein MLA Francie Brolly; and the PSNI raid on the Casement Park home of the County Antrim GAA.

Let’s be clear about their agenda. Our political enemies, in the institutions of this state, do not want a Shinner about the place. They don’t want the Good Friday Agreement. They don’t want change. They don’t want acceptable policing institutions and practices which would see Sinn Féin in there policing the police; all of this is anathema to our political enemies. This is the objective of political policing; the self-perpetuation of their power and their failures.

Our political opponents who accepted too little, jumped too soon and endorsed the existing policing arrangements must carry some of the blame. In four years on the Policing Board, they have failed to hold the political detectives publicly to account and failed to end collusion and political policing. Instead, SDLP MPs have gone to Westminster and voted to reintroduce 28-day detention orders, taking us back to the days of the old Special Powers Act so opposed by the Civil Rights Movement.

In reality, they are now part of the police establishment. In that role and in an effort to save political face, they also stand against further change on policing and justice because they believe it will further compromise the positions they took up.

In the poisoned atmosphere created by political policing which I have just listed; the question is; is it possible to achieve a new policing dispensation. The answer to that is yes.

Let me repeat what I said at last years Ard Fheis. The job given to the negotiations team is to achieve a new beginning to policing and justice. We won the argument that the status quo on policing and justice had failed.

We have made significant progress especially through new legislation. Even when the SDLP and Irish government jumped ship, Sinn Féin was able to achieve more necessary change.

We won the argument for further amending legislation.

Next steps

It is not an impossible task and republicans need to be acutely aware that if and when the Sinn Fein Leadership achieves the objectives set in this area then this in turn will present further challenges for all activists. There is a public commitment if we reach that point to then put proposals to our membership and nationalism as a whole. While we are not at that point yet, activists need to realise that we can achieve it and with achievement there comes further responsibility.

I make no apologises for fighting for an all Ireland justice system as I make no apologises in continuing the struggle for a United Ireland. Equally, in the interim, we need to achieve a new beginning to policing and justice in the North, in the present, which will impact on the everyday lives of people and also impact on the all Ireland policing and justice systems.

Negotiations herald change. Change brings turmoil and soul searching. It also means breaking moulds. If we accept that the political changes over the last decade have caused massive upheaval for the Unionist and British system which has misruled the North for so many years let us also accept that Republicans have had to face and deal with the challenges the political and emotional rollercoaster of change brings.

Nobody said it would be easy. Here is the challenge facing us. As political activists we must think strategically, debate strategically and decide what is best for our party, for the cause we represent and most importantly for the people we represent. We must do that in partnership and in dialogue with our community.

Policing and justice cannot be viewed in isolation from other key issues such as the stability of the interdependent institutions, equality and human rights, demilitarisation, the ending of discrimination, collusion and so on. But we will pursue proper policing and justice with all our energy.

Last December in theory at least, we were within months of having a decisive debate on this issue. Delegates were encouraged to go back to their areas and open up the debate within Sinn Fein and their communities. I repeat that call today. Keep that discussion going.

Our opposition to the present policing arrangements is not a matter of timing. It is not merely a question of tactics. It is a matter of integrity, entitlements and our inalienable rights. At the core of our position is the establishment of a threshold which enables the creation of democratically accountable representative civic policing and the consignment of political policing to the dustbin of history along with the other failures of the past.

That is why Sinn Fein has made this issue a core part of negotiations. In those negotiations, the key outstanding matter is the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London and out of the hands of British securocrats, into restored local Assembly and all-Ireland institutions. Next month, the British government is pledged to publish enabling legislation and a detailed consultation paper on transfer of powers. Both governments know that this will not be enough on its own to honour the commitments given. The devil as they say is in the detail. That will be where the battle will become most fierce. Because this is not some sham fight or academic debate about the number of clauses in a piece of legislation or the sequence in which they run. This is about giving expression in law to the transfer of powers – taking powers – away from London and out of the hands of the British securocrats. It is about sovereignty, accountability and political change.

All-Ireland issues

It is perhaps inevitable that the key focus publicly is on policing in the North. However, our work today is about developing an all Ireland vision for the future. In that respect, there are many questions to be answered.

Are the people of Ireland North and South well-served by those in government today, those with responsibility for policing and justice?

Is the huge industry created by the policing and justice system meeting the needs of local communities? What are the social and economic benefits of this system for those in deprived and marginalised communities?

How do we ensure that the price for safety and security is not our liberty and rights? In whose interest are these decisions made? And with European directives on some of these areas affecting our laws too, how can we influence such decisions?

Is there justice in the courts? Or is there inherent chauvinism, racism and sectarianism in the administration of justice on this island?

What about those who are imprisoned? Is it right to imprison people seeking asylum? Is it just to keep men and women locked up for 23 hours a day?

Has the more humane regime in jails won by the sacrifice of republican POW’s been replaced by oppressive regimes.

And who polices the Gardai? Why has the police ombudsman in the South not got equal powers to that of the ombudsman in the North?

What lessons have been learned from the McBrearty family and others.

There are questions about the future development of policing and justice on this island which we must consider as a party, and as a society. These questions are not limited to the negotiations for transfer of powers on policing and justice.

This is a critical year in the peace process and political process.

Whatever happens in negotiations, key issues such as policing and justice cannot be put on the shelf to be dusted down when we achieve a united Ireland. People want us to deal with the everyday issues as well as the big picture. Today is about developing an all Ireland vision for justice and policing let us look at this nationally and locally in the big picture and the small picture.

Have a good conference.

Go raibh maith agaibh

Nuns escape harm in convent blaze

BBC


The fire-damaged roof of the covent in west Belfast

Nine nuns have escaped injury after a fire, believed to have been started deliberately, damaged a convent in west Belfast.

The fire started in a storage shed next to the Sisters of Mercy Convent on the Ardnavagh Road in Beechmount at 2150 GMT on Friday.

It then spread to the convent and badly damaged the roof and the kitchen.

The nuns, including a 98-year-old, were badly shocked but not injured. No one needed to be moved from the convent.

UVF terrorist is elected to British Legion committee

Belfast Telegraph

By Lisa Smyth
14 January 2006

There was uproar last night after it emerged that a convicted UVF terrorist has been elected as a committee member of a Co Derry branch of the Royal British Legion.

An enraged member of the legion - the UK's leading charity providing financial, social and emotional support to the millions who have served and are currently serving in the armed forces - contacted the Belfast Telegraph to complain that Russell Watton had been elected to the position of assistant secretary of the Coleraine branch.

"I think it's an absolute disgrace. I've been a member for years, but I'll not be back," said the man, who did not want to be identified.

In June 1977, Watton was sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to wounding three men with intent during a gun attack on a bar in Dunloy.

A spokesman for the Royal British Legion refused to say whether Watton was a member of the organisation, and added: "We do not comment on anonymous claims. If anyone is unhappy about membership, they should be coming to us and not the Press."

But when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, Watton confirmed his position as assistant secretary of the Coleraine branch.

He said: "Whoever complained has little to do with their time. I was in trouble 30 years ago, and there are other ex-prisoners in the legion.

"I have been a member for 12 or 13 years and this year I was asked to stand, and I won a democratic vote, 36 votes to 24.

"I am married with a child and a mortgage like everyone else and I'm trying to move on, but I'm never going to get away from it."

However, East Derry MLA John Dallat has called for Watton to be immediately ousted from the organisation.

"He should never have been allowed in the door, never mind be allowed to take up a high-profile position," said Mr Dallat.

"This type of disclosure runs totally against the efforts of people who want to develop the British Legion as unconnected to elements which badly tarnished its image in the past, in particular, I am thinking of when UFF killer Torrens Knight wore a poppy when coming out of court.

"To find a high-profile terrorist of this kind is not only a member of the legion, but occupies a position on the committee, is something that needs to be addressed as it certainly makes it difficult for Catholics to embrace the efforts of the legion to portray itself as politically neutral."

Passing sentence on Watton in 1977, Judge Higgins described his UVF group as a "nest of terrorists" who had been responsible for grave and wicked crimes during 1975 and 1976, including the burning of Catholic-owned premises, the armed robbery of two post offices and bomb attacks on three bars.

The judge also said that Watton was responsible for planning the offences and involving others in them.

New route on way for the Belfast marathon

Belfast Telegraph

By Marie Foy
14 January 2006

A decision to re-route this year's 25th Belfast marathon was last night welcomed by a veteran runner.

The marathon organising committee has said it has reviewed last year's circuit after complaints from both participants and the public.

The details of the new route will be unveiled at the start of February.

Some runners disliked the final section of the 2005 event, which took them through the Harbour Estate where there were hardly any spectators to lift their flagging spirits.

Others complained that there were dangerous stretches, such as a cycle lane from Newtownabbey, and that the Duncrue Street section was barren and desolate.

The marathon's 26.2 mile route had been changed to follow a faster course, and to avoid traffic.

David Seaton, technical director of the marathon, commented:"We have taken on board what people have said and have tried to tailor a course to suit their needs.

"Some were unhappy there were long stretches of the race which they felt weren't densely populated.

"We are attempting to make it more of a community route.

"It means the course will be hillier, through more built-up areas. We hope the public will find it an interesting route," he added.

Belfast councillor Robin Newton, a former marathon runner and chairman of the community and leisure services committee, said: "I am glad they are looking at a changing the course again because of some of the problems that arose last year.

"We have to remember that those who have trained hard all year deserve to be respected and the course should suit their needs as best it can.

"A marathon is always difficult and when you reach the final stage you need encouragement."

SF angry at Irish fugitives move

BBC

Sinn Fein has criticised the Irish government for putting on hold its plans to pardon IRA fugitives.

It comes after the British government scrapped its controversial on-the-run proposals.

Irish President Mary McAleese had been expected to pardon around six IRA members wanted for crimes south of the border.

However, the plan has been suspended by the Irish Foreign Minister, Dermot Ahern.

Speaking on Inside Politics, Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly, who was himself on the run in the 1980s, said Dublin had no requirement to follow the example set by London.

"The fact was that in the south there is a much smaller number that would be involved," he said.

"But it was still an anomaly which came from the Good Friday Agreement and could have been sorted out."

"The fact that the British have acted in bad faith should be no reason for the Irish government to join them in terms of them refusing to go ahead with this process."

'Restoring devolution'

On Wednesday, NI Secretary Peter Hain said the British government was withdrawing the controversial proposals on paramilitary fugitives.

The legislation would have seen those accused of paramilitary crimes before 1998 appear in front of a special tribunal, then be freed on licence.

Mr Hain told Parliament the legislation was necessary but Sinn Fein's rejection of it made it unworkable.

He also said he wanted to hold talks on restoring devolution in February.

But he said the issue of dealing with those accused of paramilitary crime who were "on-the-run" would not go away.

Second council row involving GAA

BBC


The site which the council is to hand over to a GAA club

Unionist and nationalist councillors in Derry are involved in a row over the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) for the second time in a week.

The council has discussed giving seven acres of land to GAA club Doire Trasna in the Waterside on a 99-year lease for a nominal fee.

Earlier this month, it agreed to give land to Sean Dolan GAA club in Creggan.

Unionists have criticised the moves, saying the GAA has been given land worth £300,000 in recent days.

The full city council still has to vote on the decision, but the result is being seen as a formality.

'Contribution'

Doire Trasna spokesman Joe McWilliams said: "We basically are going to carry out something which the council should be doing.

"It's going to cost us to develop it somewhere in the region of half a million pounds of which, in that context, the council contribution of £70,000 is a very small amount of the overall cost."

Doire Trasna currently uses council grounds which it shares with other sports. Gaelic matches are played across two soccer pitches.

Unionists, however, have questioned whether it is fair that two GAA clubs have been given land in just over a week.

'Nominal rent'

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said: "You can't simply have a Christmas Day giveaway every week, which is what it is turning into.

"Within two weeks, we have two Gaelic clubs, both in Derry, both getting effectively free gratis, either land or land at a nominal rent, and other sporting disciplines have major applications in before the council that have not yet been decided upon."

Sinn Fein councillor Paul Fleming denied that the council was giving the GAA preferential treatment.

"It (the land) has been given to two clubs to facilitate sporting facilities for hundreds and hundreds of young people in this city," he said.

13 January 2006

'We Were Attacked For Being Friendly With Catholics' - Claims Fountain Resident

Derry Journal

By Ellen Doherty
Friday 13th January 2006

This time last week Helen Wray was pottering around her Kennedy Place home. It was like any other Friday and Helen was preparing for the weekend and hoping to take a walk into town. Now, one week later Helen is homeless and staying with her daughter temporarily. Her home burned down because, she claims, she allows her daughters to have Catholic boyfriends.

"I've learned to accept things like this," said a tired looking Helen, speaking from her daughter's home yesterday. "I haven't been sleeping at all since." Helen has no doubt as to why she was targeted. " Its because I allowed my girls to have Catholic friends" she said. As Helen explained, this is not the first time she has her home and family were attacked. She said: "Not so long ago a brick was thrown through my window where my daughter, who was pregnant, was asleep. My daughters were also beaten." Helen told the Journal that she tried to lead a quiet life in her home in Kennedy place until the fire. "The only people I really spoke to were my neighbours, and apart from this I kept myself to myself" she said. "There were nice people living beside me and I have nothing against any of them. I'm glad none of them were injured in the fire. I wouldn't like to see any of them hurt."

Helen's fifteen year old daughter Nicole suffers from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of several attacks on their home although Helen admitted that last weeks attack was the most serious. "Last Friday I had to call the police because they'd been throwing paving stones at my house all evening. Myself and my daughter were trapped in the house until 1.30 am when the police got us out."
It was just hours after this when the house, at Kennedy Place, was completely gutted in a fire which police are still investigating and treating as suspicious. There had been speculation that an assault which happened in the area at the same time was linked to the fire. However Helen is adamant that the two incidents are not linked. "I was told that the boy who was assaulted was involved in the fire, but I know he wasn't. I don't know him at all but my heart goes out to his parents, it would be totally unfair for him to be linked to this." Sinn FÈin Councillor Maeve McLaughlin has said that the attitude of community and political leaders in the Fountain Estate as well as the PSNI to the attacking and burning of a family home shows, she alleged, that they are prepared to accept Unionist violence. Councillor McLaughlin accused police and community leaders of failing to offer Mrs Wray adequate protection.

"The attack on the home of Mrs Wray in the Fountain Estate by a Unionist mob who first assaulted her daughters was based on the fact that they were friendly with Catholics" she said. "Questions need to be asked why the PSNI stood back and allowed the mob who attacked the young girls previously to burn the property to the ground. Many of the mob hung around the area for ages while covering their faces with scarves before the house was burned. Not only did they allow this but they also attempted to portray the incident as part of an alleged sectarian attack on a home in the Fountain earlier in the week.

"I would also question the willingness of political and community leaders to confront these Unionist sectarian attitudes. I have not heard the type of condemnation that is deserving of a case of this seriousness but have heard feeble reasons in an attempt to justify it. "All sectarian attacks are wrong and unless we all stand up and face them down together no matter where they emanate from it will continue to happen. The Unionist political and community leaders must stand up and confront the sectarian attitudes that prevail within their areas rather than making lame excuses for these thugs."

Good News For Altnagelvin

Derry Journal

By Catherine Spence
Friday 13th January 2006

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An exciting new development at Altnagelvin Hospital is to result in the allocation of an Acute Medical Services Centre, which will be up and running by April. The move comes following an noted increase in emergency situations at the hospital and, in the past year, incidences of longer trolley waits for patients in Accident and Emergency.

The Centre will be situated in the current Ward 43 and also aims to facilitate better rehabilitation and radically change the way in which patients are treated. The announcement was made at a Liaison Meeting between the Altnagelvin Health and Social Services Trust and the Western Health and Social Services Council, where the panel revealed that the decision was taken after looking closely at how things are done in Liverpool. A member of the Altnagelvin Trust explained: "The Trust looked extensively at a similar situation in Liverpool which was alleviated at the result of implementing an Acute Medical Services Centre. The in-patient bed flow was better, patients experienced shorter bed stays and a clinical through-put team were able to manage beds and effectively unblock the blocks.

"We are now in the process of developing a protocol for our own clinical through-put team, and work is to start immediately on the ward, with an estimated finish date of April." It was also noted that the system will only work with a good community structure in place, allowing patients to rehabilitate at home following a more stream-lined and efficient stay at Altnagelvin.

SDLP Councillor Seana Hume, who is also a member of the Western Health and Social Services Council, welcomed the move: "The plans for an Acute Services Centre in Altnagelvin are to welcomed and the Trust are to be commended on their move to learn from other hospitals in England." However, there was bad news for the co-located GP Out-of-Hours scheme which is now to start in approximately two and a half years time, taking a year to complete. Full reports on the Liason Meeting will be in Sunday's Journal.

Asbestos: our father’s agonising death

Irelandclick

by Francesca Ryan

Two daughters of a West Belfast man who died from an asbestos-related disease have poured their hearts out to the Andersonstown News in a bid to highlight the dangers of the deadly substance.

Colette Devlin and Anne Carson lost their father, Robert Daly, in December 1999, just over a year after he was diagnosed with the deadly asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma.

“My father had moved away to Swansea in his teens to work in the shipyards because there was no work here," explained Colette. “It was there that he would have been exposed to the asbestos which eventually killed him."

After almost 75 years of robust health, Robert began to develop aches and pains which left the doctors baffled.

“My father always looked after himself, you would never have taken him for his age. He was a non-smoker and loved walking, my mother often found it hard to keep up with him," said Anne.

“But then he began complaining about a pain in his side and started losing weight rapidly. I remember he got a flu injection but it didn't work and he quickly went downhill from then."

Following a series of trips to the hospital for tests and x-rays, Robert was diagnosed with mesothelioma a year later, in October 1998.

“The weight fell off him, he had no appetite at all and was going through radiotherapy. He developed breathing problems and basically faded away in front of our eyes," said Colette.

Robert's tumour grew so big that it pressed against his oesophagus rendering him unable to swallow and for the last few weeks of his life he was connected to a feeding tube as well as the breathing apparatus.

“My father was stunned but just did what the doctors said, there was nothing we could do but watch. The family was absolutely devastated and it was horrific to see him fade away in front of us."

Even when Robert passed on, the family’s pain continued, as Colette explained.

“We were told that a postmortem would have to be carried out even though everyone knew my father had mesothelioma.

“Two PSNI Land Rovers came and the police interviewed everyone that was in the room when my father died," said Anne.

“They asked me who was in the room with him and what relation I was, then the Land Rovers escorted the hearse out of the area. The whole district was out watching, it was just a nightmare, the whole episode."

With eight children between them, the sisters are concerned for the welfare of their children, Robert’s grandchildren, in light of plans to place an asbestos storage facility in West Belfast.

“This is completely irresponsible, it shouldn't happen and can't be allowed to happen.

“I was just appalled when I read the article in last week's Andersonstown News. We may not see the results in the next five years but in 30 or 40 years it could be our kids that develop this horrific illness.

“Accidents can happen and these people [Grove Services] cannot guarantee us that they won't," said Colette.

“We are so angry and are willing to do whatever it takes to get this decision reversed.

“Our father could have had another eight to ten years with us, but asbestos killed him.

“It is a killer, it does happen and people need to know this," added Anne.

Journalist:: Francesca Ryan

'Hibernating' IRA to melt away as peace breaks out

Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Adams once boasted of the IRA: "They haven't gone away, you know". However, in a few weeks the IMC will produce its latest account on the progress of Provo disbandment. Security expert Brian Rowan reports on what it will say

13 January 2006

The men of the Independent Monitoring Commission have been in Belfast this week as part of the most important phase of work they have so far been asked to undertake.

At the end of this month, the commissioners – Lord Alderdice, John Grieve, Joe Brosnan and Dick Kerr – will produce their latest assessment on the IRA.

They will be in Belfast on January 30 and 31 to finalise that report.

It will not be a magic wand that makes the IRA disappear and sources are dismissive of suggestions that it will be an assessment that gives the republican organisation "a clean bill of health".

What the Commission will report on is an organisation in "transition" - an organisation that has "fundamentally changed in its mode of operation".

The IMC is listening to and will be reporting on "all of the complexities of that transition process". And the tone of this latest assessment will be that things are "heading in the right direction".

It would be unrealistic – unfair even – to expect anything more definitive at this stage.

The IRA is more than 30 years old in terms of its most recent existence, and 30 weeks have not yet passed since its statement of July last year formally ending its "armed campaign".

"This is not an army that you can give a demob suit and a cheque and tell it to go home," one source said.

What that means is that the IRA is still out there. It recently issued a New Year statement. It still has a structure, including a leadership, and it is, to quote a recent intelligence assessment, an organisation in "hibernation".

The IRA in its new mode is waiting for political progress and for the proof that there is a viable alternative to its "armed struggle".

It is a very different organisation - different because of the activities it has ceased and because of the decommissioning acts of last September.

These were hugely significant developments, but the DUP is not yet ready to do political business with Sinn Fein, although there now seems to be an inevitability that business will eventually be done.

The question is no longer if but when.

In the meantime, the security landscape is changing - an indication that at the most senior levels of the police and the Army, there is a belief that the republican "war" is over.

When it completes its latest report on the IRA and other paramilitary groups, the IMC will then turn its attention to demilitarisation or normalisation, as others prefer to call it.

At the end of February it will give an assessment of developments - a report on progress measured against the current terrorist threat.

The Army here in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence is finalising plans to end the decades-long Operation Banner.

The target date for that is August 2007, and, between now and then, there will be a further significant shrinking of troop numbers - from 9,500 down to 5,000.

Another two dozen bases will close. No more than 14 "core" sites will be needed to house the soldiers who stay in "peacetime" Northern Ireland.

And that means that over the next 18 months, the Army will close 26 "campaign" bases.

The fine details of that plan - the "sequencing" of those closures - is now very close to being finalised.

It will be published soon, but it is not yet clear if it will be ready in time for inclusion in that IMC assessment in February, although one imagines that the Army would want to see it there.

When it does emerge, what the plan will show us will be the final shape of the "peacetime" garrison - a picture of the planned army presence beyond Operation Banner.

So, there will be significant progress to report in those IMC assessments in both January and February.

The stories to tell will be of an IRA that is melting away and of sweeping security changes as part of a "war" that is ending.

Then the commissioners of the IMC will be back in April to write and speak again on the world of the paramilitaries.

It will then be nine months since the IRA statement of last July, and there will have been a further significant period of time to judge how that organisation is evolving.

As one source put it: "The more time you've got, the more you can point to the changes."

Woman meets soldier who shot brother

Belfast Telegraph

By Deborah McAleese
13 January 2006


Eddie Copeland declined such a meeting

An Ulster woman came face to face with the British soldier who shot dead her brother in Belfast 35 years ago during a meeting brokered by peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The meeting will feature in a ground breaking documentary to be broadcast in the spring.

Mary McLarnon, whose brother Michael McLarnon was shot dead in Ardoyne on October 28, 1971, was filmed meeting the man who admitted pulling the trigger for the BBC programme Facing The Truth.

In an interview with the North Belfast News, Ms McLarnon said she took part in the programme to honour her brother's memory.

She said: "I did what I did for my parents, for Michael and for justice. I have no regrets. I wanted to clear Michael's name and character. He was an innocent man."

The programme, which will be aired on BBC2 in March, features five other families and perpetrators of the Troubles.

It includes a meeting between Michael Stone and the widow and brother of Dermot Hackett who Stone was convicted of murdering.

Leading Ardoyne republican Eddie Copeland, whose father was shot dead by a British soldier on the same day as Michael McLarnon, declined to take part in the programme.

He told the North Belfast News it was not the right thing for his family.

He said: "We weren't interested in speaking to the soldier or coming face to face with him, because you wouldn't get anything out of some soldier saying, 'I killed your father', because it goes higher than him.

"It goes higher than his boss and goes all the way to the top."

Garrison cuts on the way

Belfast Telegraph

Blueprint for Army's size in peacetime to be revealed

By Brian Rowan
13 January 2006

The final shape of the Army's "peacetime" garrison in Northern Ireland will be known in just a few weeks time.

A military plan, setting out the sequence for the closure of around two dozen bases, is almsot finalised.

But it is not yet clear if it will be published before the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) next reports on demilitarisation at the end of February.

Before then the four-man IMC will give its latest assessment on the IRA.

That report will be ready at the end of January, and comes six months after the IRA statement of July last year which formally ended its armed campaign.

The Army's response to that was to set a target date of August 2007 to end its long-running Operation Banner, how it describes its support role to the police.

Troop numbers will fall from 9,500 to 5,000 and the home-based battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment will be disbanded.

The Army GOC Sir Redmond Watt and his senior advisers at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn are talking to the Ministry of Defence.

It is now expected that within weeks the geographical shape of the "peacetime" garrison will be known.

"The military remain committed to supporting the PSNI for as long as is required," an Army source said. "Normalisation has been and remains predicated on an enabling environment."

Soldiers here are currently based at 40 sites but the Army is committed to having no more than 14 at the end of Operation Banner.

That means 26 "campaign" bases are to go.

In its February report, the IMC will measure demilitarisation progress against the latest assessment of the terrorist threat.

And, before then, the four commissioners will provide the British and Irish Governments with their latest findings on the IRA.

Based on intelligence assessments, that report is likely to say that the IRA structure is intact, but that the organisation has "fundamentally changed in its mode of operation".

To quote one source, things are "heading in the right direction".

On demilitarisation, unionists are concerned that such sweeping security changes are still being planned and have been particularly critical of the decision to stand down the Northern Ireland-based battalions of the RIR.

The Army hopes it will soon have details of the financial package that will be available to those soldiers and would hope to make this public around the same time that news emerges on the plans for base closures.

Sinn Féin on attack over aborted bill

Daily Ireland

Party hits back over SDLP criticism

Eamonn Houston
13/01/2006

Sinn Féin last night hit back at criticism from the SDLP and direct-rule secretary of state over the party’s stance on the now aborted Northern Ireland (Offences Bill).
SDLP leader Mark Durkan and Secretary of State Peter Hain both attacked republicans for withdrawing support for controversial legislation which would have allowed security force killers to escape the courts.
Both claimed that Sinn Féin had been aware of the full implications of the legislation.
“How on earth they thought security forces could be excluded, I don’t know,” Mr Hain said yesterday.
Mr Durkan accused republicans of making a u-turn on a “dirty deal”.
He accused Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams of attempting to suppress the truth over Sinn Féin involvement in the legislation.
Mr Durkan said: “It is dishonest for Gerry Adams to claim that the OTR legislation was a major breach of Weston Park in 2001. The fact is that Sinn Féin negotiated a much more detailed side deal with the British Government at Hillsborough in 2003.
“It covered not just paramilitary killings, but state murders too. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness know this. Martin McGuinness even defended that publicly.
“In fact, it was only after it was made clear by the British government that OTRs would have to appear publicly in court that Sinn Féin called for the Bill to be dropped. That - and the public pressure from victims of collusion who had been sold out - caused the Sinn Féin leadership to back down.”
However, Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney accused the SDLP leader of peddling lies on the issue.
Mr McCartney told Daily Ireland: “Since the British government placed their legislation dealing with OTRs before the British House of Commons Mark Durkan has deliberately engaged in a campaign of lies, half truths and innuendo aimed at attacking Sinn Féin and those we represent. Mark Durkan needs to catch himself on.
“He shamefully attempted to use the victims of British State violence to score cheap political points. Ignoring the fact that neither he nor his party ever stood up and challenged the British State on its murder of citizens throughout 30 years.
“Mark Durkan, for whatever reason, has never challenged the human rights abuses of the RUC yet felt qualified to use the victims of that organisation to try and advance his own political agenda.”
Mr McCartney said that the legislation proposed by the British government had been in “clear breach” of what had been agreed at negotiations at Weston Park.
“It was not the SDLP attempts at political point scoring which brought the British government to the point of withdrawing the Bill,” he said.
“It was pressure put on the British government by Sinn Féin, who made it clear to the British Secretary of State that republicans would not support these measures if the clauses relating to British State forces remained.”
“There are no British OTRs. The proposed legislation did not do what was agreed at Weston Park and therefore had to be withdrawn,” he said.
Mr Hain said yesterday that the on-the-runs legislation was an essential building block in negotiations which led to last July’s groundbreaking declaration from the IRA that it was ending its armed campaign.

Belfast-bound teenager gets 10 years

Daily Ireland

Youth arrested en route to Belfast jailed

Pádraig Ó Meiscill
13/01/2006

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
Click to view - Balata drama group

A Palestinian teenager who was detained on his way to Belfast last July has been sentenced to ten years imprisonment by an Israeli military court.
Muhammad Sameeh (16) was travelling with the Balata drama group to perform at West Belfast’s Féile An Phobail when he was arrested by Israeli soldiers at the Jordanian border crossing.
Muhammad is being held at Telemond prison along with other Palestinian children in a jail which also houses Israeli criminals.
The drama group’s performance in Belfast was part of a world premiere tour of their play recounting the experiences of Palestinian refugees.
After spending two months and seven days under interrogation, Muhammad was charged with ‘assisting terrorism’ and was sentenced on December 28. Abu Hakeem, co-ordinator of the Balata group, recalled the day Muhammad was detained.
“At the border he was told to go to the Israeli intelligence services. After one hour the soldiers told him to take his stuff. After that he disappeared out of our eyes,” he said.
Eoin Murray of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign said he was not surprised at the decision of the Israeli court.
“The Israeli state has no particular interest in the rights of Palestinian children. Since the Intifada began one-third of the victims of Israeli state violence have been children. This particular incident would seem to be a reflection on their wider policies.”

McColgan killers are ‘untouchable’

Daily Ireland

Man’s killers are agents

A priest yesterday said it was believed the loyalist killers of a 21-year-old Catholic postman have escaped justice because they are police informants. Speaking to Daily Ireland on the fourth anniversary of the murder of Daniel McColgan, Fr Dan Whyte described as ‘appalling’ reports the gunmen are being protected by elements within the PSNI.

Ciarán Barnes
13/01/2006

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A priest yesterday said it was believed the loyalist killers of a 21-year-old Catholic postman have escaped justice because they are police informants. Speaking to Daily Ireland on the fourth anniversary of the murder of Daniel McColgan, Fr Dan Whyte described as “appalling” reports the gunmen are being protected by elements within the PSNI.

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Mr McColgan was shot dead on January 12, 2002, as he went to work in a mail sorting office in the loyalist Rathcoole estate on the edge of north Belfast. The Red Hand Defenders, a cover name for the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), said it carried out the killing.Within days of the murder, the names of two senior loyalists from southeast Antrim were being linked to the murder. One of them, now the UDA’s leader in the area, is reported to be a Special Branch informant.

Fr Whyte, whose St Mary’s on the Hill parish the McColgan family live in, said the feeling in the community is that the killers are being shielded.
“The names of the people who murdered Daniel are known among this community, that’s the feeling around here,” he said.
“The other common understanding is that the police know who was involved in the killing but they have not been touched because they are in positions as informants.
“These are the genuine concerns my parishioners have. It is absolutely appalling that the guys who did this are walking the same streets. They have committed murder, yet nothing has been done.”
Fr Whyte urged the PSNI to renew their efforts to bring Mr McColgan’s killers to justice.
He said that despite the murder occurring four years ago police chiefs should plough as much resources as possible into the investigation.
A spokesman for the PSNI said 12 people have been arrested in connection with the murder but there have been no charges.
He said detectives remain resolute in their determination to bring Mr McColgan’s killers before the courts.
Danny McColgan was one of four young men murdered by loyalists in southeast Antrim during a 12-month period between July 2001-02.
The others killed were Ciaran Cummings, Gavin Brett and Gerard Lawlor. The PSNI has yet to charge anyone in connection with these deaths.

Security base 'of limited value'

BBC


Local people claim Rosemount base serves no useful purpose

Londonderry's most senior police officer has given the strongest indication yet that the controversial Rosemount security base is to close.

Local people have mounted a long-term campaign to have the base removed because it "served no useful purpose".

They also claimed the cameras were an invasion of their privacy.

Chief Superintendent Richard Russell, Foyle District Commander, said the building was "not up to suitable standards".

Mr Russell said Rosemount base was of "very limited value" to him and he would be happy to see it close down.

"My view, when I look starkly at the economics of the situation, it costs me £250,000 a year," he said.

"We are getting very few callers at the police station. The building is not really up to suitable standards, so from my point of view that present building is not acceptable."

Molloy allowed to re-join Sinn Féin

Irish Examiner

**If I were Francie, I would tell Sinn Féin to get stuffed.

13/01/2006 - 3:07:39 PM

A senior Sinn Féin member suspended after he spoke out against party policy is to be reinstated later this month, it emerged today.

Francie Molloy was suspended in November after he defied republican strategists and condemned plans to slash the number of councils in Northern Ireland from 26 to seven.

It is understood the Mayor of Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council appeared before a Sinn Féin disciplinary committee before Christmas.

Mr Molloy has since been told he will be reinstated to the party on January 22.

The Mid Ulster MLA said: “I welcome the opportunity to get re-involved in the political process.

“I have been involved for the last 40 years and it has been a difficult time to be isolated from my fellow republicans.”

The mayor declined to be drawn on whether he still held the views which led to his suspension.

He said: “I think we have to move on.

“We now have a Government announcement and my role now is to try and ensure that we have strong local government delivering services for the the public.”

The veteran was censured after he spoke out against the review of public administration announced by Secretary of State Peter Hain.

Mr Molloy called for the number of councils to be reduced to 15 whereas Sinn Féin had backed plans to cut the number to seven.

The party’s rivals condemned the decision to suspend Mr Molloy and accused Sinn Féin of running a dictatorship.

Sinn Féin today said it would not comment on the case until the disciplinary period was over.

Sinn Féin trades blows with British Government over ‘on-the-runs’

Irish Examiner

13 January 2006
By Paul O’Brien and Dan McGinn

THE British Government and Sinn Féin spent yesterday attacking each other following the dramatic collapse of legislative proposals to deal with paramilitary fugitives, or “on-the-runs.”

Northern Secretary Peter Hain withdrew the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill from the Commons on Wednesday in the face of mounting opposition.

The bill was designed to ensure that those wanted for offences committed prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement would be free to return to the North if they wished.

The bill met fierce opposition in Belfast and Westminster from opposition parties, victims’ groups and human rights organisations.

Sinn Féin, which had sought such a bill for years, initially appeared to embrace the proposals.

However, it withdrew its support last month when it became clear that members of the British security forces would also have qualified.

Mr Hain later laid the blame for the debacle at the party’s door. “How on earth they thought security forces could be excluded, I don’t know.”

But Sinn Féin accused Mr Hain and his colleagues of wishing to hide the truth about British collusion in paramilitary crimes.

“Any objective examination of the British Government’s approach to date on this question will show its overriding concern has consistently been to hide the truth about its own role in the conflict,” said MLA Philip McGuigan.

Yet precisely the same accusations have been levelled at Sinn Féin. The SDLP has accused the party of wishing to cover up the full facts about IRA murders.

Meanwhile, the family of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane yesterday said suggestions it had influenced Sinn Féin’s stance were wide of the mark.

Mr Finucane was shot dead by members of the loyalist UDA/UFF at his home in 1989.

British security forces are believed to have colluded in the killing. Under the bill, those linked to the murder could have been granted amnesty.

But Mr Finucane’s son, Michael, also a solicitor, said yesterday: “There has certainly been no expression of support or opposition [to the bill]. My family have not taken a view on it.”

DUP U-turn sparks crisis at the Mater

Irelandclick


BBC photo

The future of the Mater Hospital could be put in jeopardy after the North Belfast Partnership Board was forced to withdraw backing for a major development after DUP members withdrew support.
The multi-million development plan had cross-party support and work was due to commence in the next few months on a badly needed extension for the hospital.
However, because the extension would see part of the old Crumlin Road jail wall knocked down with some encroachment on the jail site, DUP councillors Nelson McCausland and Ian Crozier say they now want to wait until plans for the jail and Girdwood barracks sites have been finalised, a move that could delay building work by two years.
Nelson McCausland said that although his party supports the Mater Hospital development plan, his decision to withdraw support was a “personal thing”.
“They [the Mater] want to move ahead without waiting for overall agreement. They want to rush ahead, but a number of people have reservations in that while they support the general concept of expanding the Mater, they have reservations about rushing ahead without seeing the full implications.
“What they want to do is knock down part of the prison wall. It is only a personal thing but I know a number of other people share the view that we need to develop the jail as a tourist attraction.”
Joint chair of the North Belfast Partnership Board, Ian Crozier, said that he also wanted to wait until plans for the jail site had been finalised before the development plan was implemented, and that his position had support from within the Partnership.
“Basically what folk who were there [at a Board meeting] decided was that, yes, we support the principle of having the investment made in the hospital, but because the jail and Girdwood site are so big and of such potential significance, we couldn’t support the thing moving forward in advance of the actual process for developing the bigger site.
“I think the issue is that there are a lot of competing interests.
“Obviously there is the Mater, St Malachy’s and potentially a public records office – there is lots of stuff in the melting pot.”
He added: “The decision was taken in the context of the North Belfast Partnership Board and folk from the nationalist community certainly supported the decision to wait.”
But North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly says that it is imperative the Mater Hospital development plan is allowed to proceed immediately.
“In 2007 a review will take place that will see all hospital trusts amalgamated and if the work is not carried out in the near future it could have an impact on what services are offered in the Mater.
“There should not be any party politicking over such a vital service as a hospital, and there is no reason why the Mater development cannot be decoupled from the overall Girdwood consultation process because all the funding has been secured and the building plans finalised.
“The development should proceed right away and if there are internal problems in the DUP over their policy on the development, these should not be allowed to impact on the wider community. The Mater Hospital has been providing excellent service to the community over the last 35 years and is at the forefront of implementing new strategies that are driving waiting lists down and I do not want to see any delay in the development.”

Journalist:: Evan Short

Orde's new details ended spying case

Belfast Telegraph

Blair's role not part of decision

By Chris Thornton and Michael McHugh
13 January 2006

The decision to drop charges in the Stormont spy case was sparked by information from Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde and not Ministers, the Government repeated yesterday as a new row broke out.

Solicitor General Mike O'Brien revealed that Prime Minister Tony Blair was consulted about the case, but almost a year before the trial collapsed.

Mr O'Brien said the Prime Minister's involvement "formed no part" of the decision to drop charges in the case that ultimately exposed Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson as a being a British agent.

Mr Blair was questioned by the DUP earlier this week about his links to the case, and he repeated that "as far as I am aware, I certainly was not consulted on whether this prosecution should be dropped".

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he was not satisfied with the answers. "What precisely is the truth?" he asked.

"Given the Prime Minister's track record of making misleading statements on issues relating to Northern Ireland it is easy to doubt the sincerity of Mr Blair's answers."

Charges against the three republicans accused of being involved in the spy ring, including Mr Donaldson, were dropped suddenly on December 8. The three men had denied the charges.

At the time, the chief prosecutor in the case, Gordon Kerr QC, said the charges were being dropped because of new information provided by the Chief Constable.

Mr Kerr said it was deemed "in the public interest" to offer no evidence in the case. Mr O'Brien repeated that the decision to drop charges "was informed by facts and information provided by the chief constable in November 2005 following a further development in the trial process."

"No ministerial consultation took place," he said.

Mr O'Brien said the only consultation on the decision to drop charges had been between Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland, Sir Alasdair Fraser.

The consultation involving the PM was a routine request that had to do with another aspect of the case, Mr O'Brien indicated. He said the then Northern Ireland Secretary, Paul Murphy, had been asked for information, along with Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, responsible for MI5 and MI6.

Jane Winter from British Irish Rights Watch said: "I'd like to know when the Chief Constable knew Donaldson was an informer," she said.

A PSNI representative said: "PSNI understands the reasons given by the Prosecution Service for withdrawal of charges against three individuals."

"The entitlement of the three individuals to the presumption of innocence remains intact."

----------------

Move to distance Ministers from collapse of legal action

By Chris Thornton

The Government seems no closer to telling the public how the public interest was served by dropping the charges in the Stormont spy case.

But the latest bit of information that has emerged about the case serves to reinforce Government claims that the decision to drop the case was not political.

By linking the collapse of the case to information from the police, Solicitor General Mike O'Brien is distancing it from Ministers.

The picture is still far from complete, but Mr O'Brien has set out some of the timings involved.

His intervention may close the gap between Prime Minister Tony Blair's reference to there being no consultation with Ministers about the collapse of the case and a statement by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, saying that Cabinet members were consulted.

According to Mr O'Brien, Ministers were consulted about the case against Denis Donaldson, Ciaran Kearney and William Mackessy in January, 2005.

Mr O'Brien told DUP MP Nigel Dodds that "an issue" arose in the case at that time that prompted the Attorney General to carry out what is known as a Shawcross exercise.

The practice, named after former Attorney General Sir Hartley Shawcross, involves the Attorney General writing to fellow Ministers asking them if they have any information about the case that "might bear on the consideration of the public interest".

The information that came from Ministers at that stage "formed no part" of the eventual decision to drop charges, Mr O'Brien said.

He indicated that the key point in the case came from "facts and information provided by the Chief Constable" in November, a matter of days before the case was withdrawn on December 8.

The chief prosecutor in the case, Gordon Kerr QC, had said at the time that information from the Chief Constable had prompted the withdrawal of charges.

Afterwards, the Prime Minister told Parliament that "no Minister had anything whatever to do with the decision".

He added: "Obviously, we were not consulted about this matter; it has to be a decision taken by the independent prosecuting authorities".

Omagh bomb victim speaks out after pioneering surgery in France

Belfast Telegraph

Donna: I will never get a face transplant

By Claire McNeilly
13 January 2006

A survivor of the Omagh bombing has said there is "not a chance in hell" she would consider having a face transplant.

Donna Marie McGillion was speaking after Isabelle Dinoire, the woman who had the world's first facial transplant, emerged from hospital in France.

Donna Marie survived the Co Tyrone atrocity which killed 29 people, as well as unborn twins, and injured 350 others in 1998.

However, she suffered third degree burns on more than 65% of her body and has so far endured a staggering 24 operations on her face alone.

She also had to wear a plastic mask for three-and-a-half years, and had a further 18 months of facial injections to prevent her scars from becoming "raised and lumpy".

"It was hard when I woke after the bomb and realised the way I look, but at least it was still all me," she said.

"After a face transplant I would be thinking I had someone else's face and I would be wondering 'how did they die?' "

Rejecting the surgical face transplant option outright, the local lady added: "It is great to see medical science has evolved, but it's not for me. There are too many psychological aspects to be considered."

Since the bomb, seven years ago, Donna Marie and husband Gary have a four-year-old daughter called Cara - and it seems the joys of motherhood keep her upbeat.

"I still go to the burns unit and still have corrective procedures," she said.

"At the minute I am fine, but there are new things coming along all the time - like false skin - and obviously if it could improve my appearance I would have to seriously consider it, though I would be afraid of making things worse."

Donna Marie also heaped praise on her family and friends for helping her to cope with her appearance and her life after the bombing

"Early on I would have loved just not to have to go out of the door at all, and even now, if I could deny the fact I was in the bomb I would. But it is there constantly in my face.

"You can't stop people staring and you can't change the way the world views you, but you can change the way you look at things. It is all down to your own perception."

Ferry workers now told they can't stay on

Irish Independent

Nicola Anderson
13 January 2006

A GROUP of Irish Ferries workers who had hoped to stay on in their jobs have been told they are now to be made redundant.

The staff members were shocked to get letters on Wednesday telling them that they "did not qualify" to remain on in their positions.

It is understood that the number affected are in the single digits and all have temporary status.

A Siptu spokesperson said they are taking the matter up with the company.

The letter, signed by Human Resources director Alf McGrath, states that under the terms of the Labour Court agreement of December 14, a maximum of 48 existing staff could choose to remain in the employment of Irish Ferries Ltd on a 'Red Circled' basis - meaning their current pay would be protected under the new employment deal.

Regret

The letter informed them that the number seeking to remain on had exceeded the maximum number provided for and so it was necessary to reduce the number.

The letter said: "I regret to advise you that, based on the above criteria, you do not qualify for the 'Red Circle' list."

They were told they would be, therefore, made redundant and receive compensation in accordance with the Redundancy Compensation formula.

One affected person said yesterday he had been working there for two years but his 'permanent' staff status had never been rubber-stamped by the company.

He and two other colleagues - all cabin/deck crew - had chosen not to opt for the redundancy package as it would only be worth around €2,000 to them.

He claimed he had received verbal assurances from senior managers that he would be kept on and told he would be able to help with training foreign workers.

"Irish Ferries are now changing the goal posts," he said.

Package

He said he and some other temporary workers would be further hit because they would not be entitled to claim redundancy for the entire period in which they had been employed since the package effectively stopped at October 2.

A spokesman for Irish Ferries said the workers fell outside the scope of the LRC agreement with regard to 'Red Circling' and stressed that all were temporary employees.

However, he said they did qualify for the package on offer to everybody else - the two weeks statutory redundancy plus six weeks pay per completed year of service and pro rata reduction for less than a complete year. "I understand the unions are fully aware of everything the company planned to do in respect of these workers," he said.

12 January 2006

£800,000 'spent by Shoukri in two years'

Newshound

(Irish News)

Police have uncovered evidence that UDA brigadier Andre Shoukri, spent nearly £1 million in less than two years, despite having no visible signs of income.

In November last year Shoukri (28) was charged with blackmail, intimidation and money laundering. The charges relate to a six-month police investigation into UDA racketeering in north Belfast.

Part of the investigation relates to the intimidation of a bar manageress.

It is understood Shoukri and senior loyalist William 'Bonzer' Borland (36) were secretly recorded attempting to extort money from an employee of Bonaparte's Bar, known as witness 'A'.

Borland is separately charged with intimidating a second person – known as witness 'B' – and demanding the keys, books and cheque books to the north Belfast bar, as well as possession of a firearm, or imitation firearm, with intent. Both people are in police protection in England and will be the chief prosecution witnesses at any trial.

The bar is just yards from the site of a former pizza parlour where Shoukri and Borland were secretly filmed by police in June 2000 attempting to extort £3,000 from its owner Mel Lundy.

Borland, Andre Shoukri, his brother Ihab Shoukri and Gary McKenzie (33) were jailed for the attempted extortion.

The Lundy family were forced to leave Northern Ireland after police warned them their lives were in danger from the UDA.

However, it is understood police now have evidence that around £800,000 passed through Shoukri's hands in the two-year period since he was released from jail in November 2003 where he was serving a sentence for possession of a firearm.

It is understood police have uncovered documentary evidence from the ledgers of at least four bookmakers in north Belfast which shows that Shoukri gambled the money, despite being unemployed. The bookmakers' ledgers are said to show that Shoukri put £5,000 and £10,000 bets on individual horse races.

Detectives are also understood to have evidence that Shoukri falsified a mortgage application to pay £120,000 for a house at Clare Glen in the Ballysillan area of north Belfast. The case against Shoukri is also understood to show that he took nearly a dozen foreign holidays in the same period and bought a host of high-performance sports cars.

This is despite the fact that when Shoukri was stopped while driving in October 2004 he was found to have no driving licence or MoT certificate and had forged insurance documents.

Shoukri could now face a potential £300,000 tax bill for living off the illegal proceeds of crime.

January 12, 2006
________________

This article appeared first in the January 11, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

Noraid Set to Restructure

Irish Voice

By Sean O’Driscoll

THE Irish Republican fundraising group Noraid is to undergo a major restructuring following a meeting with Sinn Fein representatives in Belfast last month.

Noraid national chairman Paul Doris has sent a letter to members calling for ideas on how best to redevelop the organization, which has suffered a decline in influence since its height in the 1970s and ‘80s and has seen the closure of its newspaper, the Irish People.

The organization is to move from fundraising for Republican prisoners to a more direct political role, reflecting Sinn Fein’s post-Troubles political aspirations.

Noraid national coordinator Gerry Coleman said that the organization would be spending its fundraising money in the U.S. and would stop sending money back to Sinn Fein in Ireland.

“There may be further Holy Cross or Short Strand attacks in the future, in which case we can spend money in the U.S. to help,” he said, referring to Catholic areas of Belfast that have been attacked by Loyalists in recent years.

Coleman said that there was no heavy pressure coming from Sinn Fein and that Noraid agreed that the organization was outmoded and needed reform.

Coleman said he, Doris and other board members discussed the future of the organization with Sinn Fein when they traveled to Belfast for Sinn Fein’s 100th anniversary celebrations in December.

“We were in a situation where we had 600 or 700 political prisoners. Now we have 15,000 ex-prisoners. If that isn’t a cause for a reassessment, I don’t know what is,” he said.

Coleman said that very little had yet been decided, but Noraid is hoping to come up with a new plan at a meeting later this month.

He said that the cancellation of the group’s annual dinner, also set for later this month, was not connected to the restructuring.

“We’ve canceled two dinners in the last 10 years. There is a feeling that we should be having something to coordinate with the 25th anniversary of the hunger strikes, so the event has been moved,” he said.

Coleman said that Noraid was always “about a year or two” behind Sinn Fein and needed to catch up to speed. He strongly rejected rumors that Noraid was to disband.

BLAIR UNDER PRESSURE OVER STORMONTGATE AFFAIR

IAIS

01/12/06 12:27 EST

British Prime Minister Tony Blair tonight faced new demands to disclose his full involvement in discussions about dropping charges against the Sinn Fein administrator-turned British agent Denis Donaldson.

Ian Paisley`s Democratic Unionists challenged the Prime Minister to issue an explanation after Britain's Solicitor General revealed he was consulted a year ago on a case which provoked uproar in Belfast.

Mr Blair and cabinet colleagues held talks in January 2005 about the charges against three men accused of a spy ring that toppled the Stormont power-sharing regime, MPs were told.

The suspects included Denis Donaldson who was outed in December as a police and MI5 agent.

Days before his 20-year career as an informer was exposed, all charges against Mr Donaldson and his co-accused were dropped. The authorities announced prosecution would not be in the public interest.

Mr Blair has since maintained he was not involved in the decision to end the criminal case.

But, Solicitor General Mike O`Brien today confirmed, however, the Prime Minister took part in earlier discussions on whether continuing with the case was in the public interest.

The high level discussions in January 2005, known as the `Shawcross procedure`, also involved Britann's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Home Secretary Charles Clarke and then-Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy.

Even though the Solicitor General emphasised no ministers were consulted on the later decision to drop the charges following new information from Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde in November, Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds claimed Mr Blair needed to provided more answers.

The North Belfast representative, who had asked for clarification, said: "What exactly is the truth about what the Prime Minister knew about the abandonment of the Stormontgate case? It seems that whilst Mr Blair is saying one thing about his involvement in consultation before the case was dropped, his Government colleagues are saying something entirely different."

Mr Donaldson was arrested and charged after police investigating an alleged republican espionage plot raided Sinn Fein offices at the Northern Ireland Assembly in October 2002.

The operation brought down the coalition government and led to scores of prison officers being relocated amid security fears.

Since Mr Donaldson`s unmasking the British Government has been under pressure to disclose all it knew about his work as a mole.

But Mr O`Brien insisted only the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland and the Attorney General were involved in the later discussions over dropping the criminal case.

"So the Shawcross consultation took place earlier in the year," he said.

"It was a separate issue which arose in November and December which resulted in the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland taking a view after consultations with the attorney general that the case ought to be discontinued."

Yet Mr Dodds claimed that a full explanation had yet to be given.

"What precisely is the truth?" he asked.

"Was Mr Blair consulted as the Solicitor General said he was or was he not as he claims? Given the Prime Minister`s track record of making misleading statements on issues relating to Northern Ireland it is easy to doubt the sincerity of Mr Blair`s answers."

PSNI settle out of court over false claims

Irelandclick

by Francesca Ryan

A West Belfast man who was falsely accused of driving a stolen car on live TV has accepted an out of court settlement from the PSNI.

Stephen Magennis was amongst a group of Sinn Féin supporters attending the count of the Assembly elections poll at Dromore Leisure Centre in November 2003. As he left the complex the PSNI surrounded his car and accused the Poleglass man of travelling in a stolen vehicle.

“The cops surrounded my car back and front but waited a few minutes before they would tell me what the problem was," Stephen told the Andersonstown News.

“It was completely stage-managed. Then, when the TV crews, reporters and cameras came over, the cops said my car had been reported stolen that day.
“I told them I'd had the car for almost a year and it was taxed, insured and MOT’d. Then my mobile started ringing and people were telling me I was live on the news being accused of driving a stolen car."

As chairman of the Colin neighbourhood's Safer Neighbourhood Project (SNP), Stephen believes the incident was a joint attack on his character and the Sinn Féin election team.
“This was more a dig at me and my work at tackling car crime and anti-social behaviour, it was an attempt to wreck my character by saying I was a joyrider, and to criminalise Councillor Paul Butler's election team who were travelling in our convoy."

The case was due to be heard at Banbridge Courthouse on Monday, but the PSNI agreed an out of court settlement and will pay Stephen financial compensation.

“In my eyes this is a victory. I had nothing to hide, my car wasn't stolen and the PSNI knew that. They issued an apology over the airwaves the same night the incident happened but they never apologised to me personally. This is as close as I will get to an admission of guilt," said Stephen.

“This was a case of wrongful detention and I would encourage all of those who were held back that day to seek legal advice to get some sort of redress for the incident."

Sinn Féin's Paul Butler said the incident was a clear case of harassment and has called on electoral officials not to use Dromore Leisure Centre in future elections.

“This case proves that the PSNI's sole intent was the harassment of Sinn Féin and its supporters as they were leaving the election count. There are those within the PSNI who continue to follow the old agenda of the RUC of harassing republicans.

“Future counts should be moved out of Dromore so that candidates can conduct their election in a safe and neutral environment."
The PSNI declined to comment on the issue.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

Shocking suicide rates for West

Irelandclick

The suicide rate in West Belfast is almost twice the average of rates in the North a new report shows.

The Interim Report of the Suicide Taskforce, obtained by the Andersonstown News, shows that West Belfast had the highest suicide rate in any parliamentary constituency in the North from 1999-2003.

West Belfast is closely followed by the North of the city.

The statistics show there were 9.8 suicides per 100,000 persons per year from 1999 to 2003 in the North. In West Belfast the rate stands at 18.1.
Figures for North Belfast show a rate of 17.9 per 100,000 people in the same time frame.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has described the statistics in the Interim Report as “deeply disturbing”.

“These statistics give a shocking insight into the extent of suicide and self-harm in the North of Ireland, but in particular in West and North Belfast where levels are twice the six county average,” said Mr Adams.

In June last year Sinn Féin, along with community activists and the bereaved families of some of those who died through suicide, met the Minister with responsibility for health, Shaun Woodward.
In the same month Sinn Féin held a conference at Stormont calling for a Suicide Prevention Strategy for the North, the creation of a taskforce to develop a new strategy, the allocation of funds to make it work, and an integrated all-Ireland approach to this problem.

Following this the Suicide Taskforce was established by the Minister for Health. Its final draft strategy, which will include recommendations for consultation, will be published soon.

“This interim report gives a very clear picture of the scale of the problem and the failures thus far by the health authorities in tackling this problem,” said Mr Adams.
“The statistics make appalling and frightening reading,” he added.
The link between deprivation and suicide and self-harm is starkly highlighted by the report with the suicide rate in deprived areas 75 per cent greater than in non-deprived areas.

“The failure of the health systems to deal with this issue is evident in the review by the Taskforce of the ten action points in the Promoting Mental Health Strategy and Action Plan,” said Mr Adams.

“These failures are attributed to lack of recurrent funding and dedicated resources, lack of co-ordination and health service priority and inability to successfully engage GPs and other health professionals on this issue,” he added.

The Sinn Féin President says that the report’s strengths lie in those measures it identifies as necessary for meeting the challenge of suicide prevention. “This Interim Report from the Suicide Taskforce is a useful first step but that is all it is,” said Mr Adams

“The key to progress will be determined by the draft strategy and the commitment of government to implement and resource it, including a commitment to an all-Ireland approach to this issue.

“The next steps are vital if suicide prevention and the saving of lives is to become real.

“The Department of Health has now published its priorities and budget for 2006-08. I welcome the fact that it states that priority will be given to reducing the number of suicides. However, it’s results which count,” he added.

Colm Donaghy, Chief Executive of the Southern Health and Social Services Board, is the Chair of the Suicide Taskforce.

“We need to look in more depth at why North and West Belfast have high suicide rates,” said Mr Donaghy.

“This is a progress report and is not the final report and in the draft strategy we will make recomendations to examine why the levels are high in North and West Belfast,” he added.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

Decommissioned: Spy post set to go

Irelandclick

by Roisin McManus

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

The watchtower at Woodbourne barracks is set to be dismantled, the Andersonstown News can reveal.

Work to dismantle the spy post is set to begin in the next few weeks and it is expected that the work will be completed by March.

The news follows last week’s report in the Andersonstown News that British army accommodation was removed from the site.

Two Portacabins used by the British army as accommodation were removed from the site last week.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the tower was to be decommissioned and said that the work would take place in the next few weeks, although he could not give an exact date when the work would start.
The spokesman said that the watchtower is the last of the British military structures and equipment at Woodbourne.

“Work will start soon to take the tower down and this should be completed by the end of March,” said the MoD spokesman.

“Work has already been carried out to remove Portacabins at Woodbourne and this main body of work will see the tower being taken down.

“When the watchtower goes that is all the British army structures and equipment removed from Woodbourne,” he added.

Upper Falls Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Browne welcomed the news.
“I would welcome any progress in British army demilitarisation,” said Councillor Browne.

“To be perfectly honest anything short of the removal of all military trappings from this barracks will not satisfy local people.

“Eight years on from the Good Friday Agreement, and particularly against the backdrop of the recent IRA weapons initiative, the Upper Falls community fully expects the British government to honour its commitments in relation to demilitarisation.

“If Britain's war in this part of West Belfast is over then all of its military apparatus must go,” he added.

Councillor Browne said it is now important that land used by the military is used to the advantage of local people.

“Peace and stability will certainly not be served by retaining trappings of conflict that continue to serve as a painful reminder of the campaign waged against the local community by the British military and RUC.

“It is essential that these trappings are now expeditiously dismantled and that the land on which they sit is used to the advantage of local people,” added Councillor Browne.

Journalist:: Roisin McManus

Labour forces publication of 'secret' treaties

BreakingNews.ie

12/01/2006 - 19:17:47

The Labour Party tonight forced the Government to publish two ’secret’ international treaties with the US.

Front-bench TD Michael D Higgins earlier claimed that the US state department’s website listed the two recent bilateral defence agreements with Ireland but the Government had not revealed them to the Dáil.

“The Constitution requires that such documents must be laid before the Dáil and this has not been done in this case,” Mr Higgins said.

“Why is the Irish Government keeping these agreements secret and not publishing them?”

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the first agreement concerned security measures for the protection of classified information and the other was signed in order to enable Irish troops to avail of US facilities in Kosovo.

A spokesperson for the department tonight said that the Constitution didn’t require them to be published but accepted that the normal practice would be to inform TDs.

“The minister will lay copies of both agreements before the Dáil at the earliest opportunity,” he explained.

The spokesman said that the agreements could not be ’secret’ if referred to on the US website.

“Neither is connected with the use of Irish airports by the US, which is a long-standing practice, which is governed by arrangements dating back some 50 years,” he added.

SF calls for all-island currency

BreakingNews.ie

12/01/2006 - 18:20:01

The euro should replace sterling as the currency in Northern Ireland to pave the way for an all-Ireland economy, it was claimed today.

Sinn Féin made the proposal in a draft Enterprise and Job Creation policy document to be voted upon at the party’s Ard Fheis next month.

Mitchel McLoughlin, who was a member of a Policy Review Group that drafted the document, said having a single currency would promote economic harmonisation north and south of the border.

“The extension of the euro throughout the whole island is part of the transition to an all-Ireland economy with one tax regime and one currency,” said the Sinn Féin general secretary.

“We believe that currency harmonisation is a necessary step in paving the way for reunification and would yield substantial benefits in terms of economic development particularly for those communities in the border region.”

The Sinn Féin policy document, which will be debated at an internal party meeting on Saturday, calls for a all-island bodies to encourage indigenous and overseas investment.

It also recommends a harmonised 17.5% rate of corporation tax north and south of the border.

An all-Ireland rail network, more north-south air routes and a state oil and gas exploration company are also proposed.

Harassment Arrests in Armagh - Three men held in British custody

Indymedia.ie

by Ruairi Og O Bradaigh - Republican Sinn Fein - Thursday, Jan 12 2006, 4:36pm
desdalton@rsf.ie address: 223 Parnell St Dublin 1 - phone: 01 8729747

Republican Sinn Fein condemns the arrests of three cumann members in the Armagh
city area in raids by the RUC/PSNI last night as the latest incidence in the
continual harassment of Republicans by British Crown Forces.

Masked RUC/PSNI raiders entered the home of one man as he returned from work
last night and refused to let his children leave the house. He was then arrested
and is still being held with two other men, also members of Republican Sinn
Fein.

In previous cases this British State harassment has led to spurious charges
against members of the organisation which were later dropped.

Ends.

http://RSF.ie

Finucane family in series of ‘positive’ meetings in Dublin

Daily Ireland

DAVID LYNCH

12/01/2006

The family of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane had a series of “very positive” meetings with political leaders in Dublin yesterday.
Speaking to Daily Ireland moments after leaving a meeting with Tánaiste Mary Harney at the Department of Health on Hawkins Street yesterday evening, Pat Finucane’s widow Geraldine said she was happy with the meetings.
“The meeting with Mary Harney was very positive, and it was a continuation of the other two meetings we had. Everybody is more than willing to support the call for an independent inquiry,” she said.
Members of the Finucane family had met Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Green Party leader Trevor Sargent earlier.
Mrs Finucane said: “They believe that we have every right to seek the truth and to have an inquiry that is independent and meaningful and are prepared to come together and give us cross-party support.
“She [Mary Harney] did not say anything specific but she said that she thought that it would put added pressure on the British government if all the parties came together.
“She said that this was one of the rare occasions when the Dáil is united on a issue. And she felt that it would happen in this particular case because this particular case deserved it.”
After his meeting with the Finucane delegation at Leinster House, Green Party leader Trevor Sargent said: “We fully support the Finucane family in their call for a public and independent inquiry.
“I will be writing directly to British PM Tony Blair on this matter and raising it in the Dáil with the Taoiseach at the earliest possible opportunity.
“I will also be meeting with public representatives from both unionist and nationalist traditions in Belfast to ensure the widest possible consensus for a truly independent inquiry.
“Following the Weston Park agreement, the British government had agreed to the type of independent public inquiry which is needed.
“I believe they are now honour bound not to row back on that position, which in fact they are threatening to do by introducing a political dimension to the inquiry.
“This political dimension is that a British minister rather than a judge will have the last word on the evidence allowed.
“It is clearly not appropriate for a British minster to be determining what evidence is admitted.
“Ultimately, it is unlikely that any judge would agree to oversee such an inquiry when its independence has been so severely compromised,” concluded the Green Party leader.
Yesterday the Finucanes repeated their call to all the political leaders to call on the British government to reveal the full truth about Pat Finucane’s death.
The family is concerned that any inquiry under Britain’s Inquiries Act 2005 will gag witnesses and restrict information.
“We don’t believe the truth will come out at all with the Inquiries Act,” Geraldine Finucane said.
Mrs Finucane and other relatives last month met Ulster Unionist Party leader Reg Empey and Church of Ireland archbishop Robin Eames as part of a series of meetings with political and church leaders both inside and outside the North.

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