04 March 2006

'Legal move' over integrated refusal

Belfast Telegraph

Parents may opt for court challenge

By Kathryn Torney
04 March 2006

Parents are considering taking a judicial review against the Education Minister's refusal to provide funding for four integrated schools in Northern Ireland, it emerged today.

Angela Smith announced yesterday that the Government would not provide funding for new schools in Clogher Valley, Moira/Hillsborough and Saintfield/Carryduff and also an existing independent primary school in Ballycastle because of the number of surplus places already in other schools.

Michael Wardlow, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), said he was "utterly stunned and bitterly disappointed" by the decision. Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that 4,000 pupils were turned away from integrated schools in the last five years because of a shortage of places. Mr Wardlow said he has asked for an urgent meeting with Angela Smith to ask her if the Government had changed its policy on integrated schools.

"The fact that this decision was delayed until March means that parents are now under severe pressure to find school places for their children. "We have never had a proposal as strong as the one for Rowallane in Saintfield. "However, we are not ruling anything out and a judicial review of the minister's decision is one possibility being considered by the parents.

We are currently getting legal advice on this. "The Integrated Education Fund may try to find money to fund the schools while we wait for approval but we would need to speak to the minister first to see what the prospects are for funding in the future."

Michelle Brady is treasurer of the Clogher Valley parents' group and had hoped that her three-year-old daughter would attend the new integrated school. She said she felt "very disappointed and let down" by the minister's decision. "Where do we send out children now?" she asked. "We want an integrated education for our children and the minister says she is committed to that but she is not committed to our schools. "I was dumbstruck by her announcement. I never expected her to say no."

June Wilkinson, member of the Rowallane parents' group, criticised the minister's late decision and said she had to decide yesterday what other school should become her P7 daugher's first choice option to attend from this September. "Our plans to bring integrated education to a secondary level in this area are being set aside because of the Government's lack of planning over surplus places," she said. "I am very disappointed."

Lollipop campaign pays off

Belfast Telegraph

By Kathryn Torney
04 March 2006

Parents in Belfast have won a long battle to have a permanent school crossing patrol for their children, it can be revealed today.

Almost five months after the South Eastern Education and Library Board axed the patrol at Brooklands Primary in Dundonald, a decision has been taken to reinstate the service.

Parents have been staging weekly protests at the school since last October and claimed that childen's lives were at risk as a result of the board's decision not to replace their lollipop man when he retired.

The SEELB had claimed that the school did not meet criteria relating to the number of unaccompanied children crossing the road and the volume of traffic.

A similar row erupted at nearby Braniel Primary when the board said that their patrolman would not be replaced.

It was eventually decided that both schools would get temporary patrols while a review was under taken.

A parent, who acted as lollipop woman at the school for a time while attempts were made to resolve the row, said she was delighted by the decision.

"We are so relieved that we are going to have a permanent patrol person," she said.

"It is a busy road so it is great that there will be a safe crossing point for our children.

"It has been a long fight."

The DUP's Jimmy Spratt, who is a member of the board, also battled for the school patrols to be reinstated.

He said: "I am delighted by the news and think that the parents put up a very valiant fight."

Braniel Primary is still waiting for a decision on the future of its crossing patrol.

The SS Nomadic is homeward bound

Belfast Telegraph

By Linda McKee
04 March 2006

SS Nomadic is expected to return to the city where she was built by late spring.

Campaigners who fought successfully to save the former Titanic tender from the scrapyard say the Government has estimated she will return to Belfast by then.

Department of Social Development (DSD) officials recently travelled to Le Havre in northern France to inspect the historic vessel, which was bought at auction last month for the knock-down price of 250,000 euro.

DSD has now invited tenders from companies interested in the task of transporting the former Titanic ferry back to the city where she was built. Members of the Save Nomadic campaign advised the Government that Nomadic will probably have to be carried rather than towed back to Belfast.

David Scott Beddard explained: "We think that because of the bulkheads that have been removed, she will have to be piggybacked at least as far as Belfast Lough."

A DSD spokesman said: "It is likely that the transport will be by a barge and tenders have been invited. Once these have been evaluated, a decision will be made on the timing of the return voyage."

DSD has now employed Mr and Mrs Cojibus, Nomadic's caretakers, to continue looking after her at her mooring in Le Havre docks.

The department has also bought the pumping system which was used by the caretakers to keep the vessel free of rain water.

The Save Nomadic campaign has now raised £57,000 in contributions and pledges from members of the public.

It is in the process of setting up the Nomadic Preservation Trust which will raise money for renovating the vessel that once carried first-class passengers as they boarded the doomed Titanic on her maiden voyage from Cherbourg. Anyone who pledged more than £50 will become a member of the trust, while those who donated more than £250 will become automatic lifelong members.

The Save Nomadic campaign has commissioned world-renowned maritime artist Simon Fisher to create three new paintings of Nomadic. One shows her serving Titanic's sister ship Olympic and a second depicts her heading out to carry 'Molly' Brown, Benjamin Guggenheim, Sir Cosmo & Lady Duff-Gordon and other first and second class passengers to Titanic on the evening of April 10, 1912. A third, yet to be painted, will show Nomadic being fitted out in the Hamilton Dock shortly after her launch in 1911. All three will be displayed on board Nomadic and prints hand-signed by the artist will be available.

Meanwhile, model maker Robin Burrows is on 'stand-by' to start work on a 10ft model of Nomadic, which will become the central focus of the ship-board Titanic exhibition.

More new evidence in teenagers' murders

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
03 March 2006

More forensic evidence has emerged in the case of two teenagers murdered by loyalists, six years after police began investigating the killings.

The discovery is the second major advance by detectives within a week, but it prompted renewed calls for an explanation of why the evidence was not available earlier.

On Monday, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that a DNA link has been found between a suspect and David McIlwaine, one of the two teenage victims.

David and Andrew Robb were stabbed repeatedly by loyalists linked to the UVF outside Tandragee in February 2000.

David McIlwaine's father, Paul, has called on the Police Ombudsman to investigate the reasons why police did not act on the evidence earlier.

Mr McIlwaine has maintained for several years that he believed more evidence was available in the case.

A spokesman for the Ombudsman said an investigation into police handling of the case is continuing.

"We are aware of the issue which has been raised by Mr McIlwaine," he said.

"Our investigation is ongoing and as such it would be inappropriate to comment at this time." But Mr McIlwaine said he was told the Ombudsman's investigation had all but formally closed before these latest discoveries. He said he had been told that a draft report concluded that police carried out "a thorough and professional investigation".

The PSNI has refused to comment on the case.

Shoukri bail deal comes under fire

Belfast Telegraph

Leading loyalist among 17 held at bar

By Jonathan McCambridge
03 March 2006

Serious questions about bail policies in Ulster's courts were raised today after it emerged that a number of those arrested during a dramatic police raid on a north Belfast bar are already charged with terrorist offences.

Leading loyalist Ihab Shoukri and 16 other men were arrested as police raided The Alexandra bar in Tiger's Bay last night as part of an operation against the UDA.

Well-known loyalist Shoukri's bail conditions were initially restrictive - including being barred from entering Belfast - but were gradually softened by the judiciary.

His final restriction allowed him greater freedom except he had to be indoors by 10pm. He is also not allowed to associate with his brother Andre.

SDLP Justice spokesman, Alban Maginness, said the case raised serious issues over defendants being released on bail while on terrorist offences.

"The first thing police will have to do is establish if there has been any breach of bail conditions and act accordingly.

"We are stuck in a position because of human rights legislation that even those who are charged with terrorist offences are given the protection of a liberal approach to bail."

Windows at the bar were riddled with holes after the police discharged irritant rounds containing CS gas, and doors were ripped off their hinges as scores of police officers in riot gear swooped during an alleged rehearsal for a paramilitary show of strength last night.

Stunned residents and onlookers told the Belfast Telegraph of the confusion as they believed that a gun battle had taken place on their doorsteps. People who were drinking in the premises described how they dived for cover as the police raid began.

In the bar was Ihab Shoukri, who is currently awaiting charges on relating to membership of the UDA and UFF. He had his bail conditions varied recently to allow him to return to north Belfast.

Another of those arrested is Gary MacKenzie, who is currently on bail facing charges of attempting to murder four police officers on the Westland Road and membership of the UFF.

Loyalist sources have told the Belfast Telegraph that at least one other person arrested in the Alexandra was also on bail.

A police spokeswoman said: "There have been a total of 17 arrests in connection with serious crime following the police operation in the York Road area of north Belfast last night. There are no further details available."

However, UDA sources have told the Belfast Telegraph that five of the men arrested in the bar were in "battle gear" as they rehearsed for a show of strength which had been due to take place tonight.

The source said: "This was a well organised police operation and they obviously had been watching the men for some time.

"There was supposed to be a fund-raising function in the bar tonight and as part of that a show of strength was planned. That would have involved imitation firearms and a speech.

"There were no guns found by police because guns were not being used.

"Some of those who were arrested were in battle- dress, including balaclavas."

Local DUP councillor, Ian Crozier, was at the scene last night and described the confusion.

"When I got there people were in a panic because they thought it was like something out of the OK Corral. It took some time to find out that live rounds had not been used, but the situation was tense."

North Belfast MP, Nigel Dodds, said: "We were getting reports of bangs in the area, and there was even a rumour of fatalities.

"Thankfully, that was not the case. People were describing almost a cops and robbers scenario. Obviously we will have to wait and see what emerges following this incident, what charges there are and what evidence is brought forward by the police.

Independent probe into suicide of North Belfast teen is long overdue


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA probe has been ordered by Health Minister Shaun Woodward into the circumstances surrounding the death of North Belfast suicide victim Danny McCartan.
The decision to set up an independent review into the 18-year-old’s case has been welcomed by his parents, who have been fighting for such an inquiry since last October.
Shaun Woodward told Gerard and Carol McCartan of the development during a private visit to their Oldpark home on Tuesday night.
“We are pleased that this independent review is taking place, Gerard McCartan said.
“But we’ve fought long and hard for this. It’s no more than what Danny and others deserve.”
Danny took his life in April 2005 and his body was found in a derelict house close to the family home.
Right from the start, his parents questioned the amount of anti-depressants he was prescribed, the delays in appointments to see his psychiatrist and the lack of mental health facilities for young people.
In the nine months leading up to his death Danny was prescribed nearly 3,000 tablets in an effort to combat his depression and anxiety through a cocktail of anti-psychotic drugs and sleeping pills.
He had been self-harming for three years and had cut his face, legs, and arms with blades.
On the day he committed suicide he asked his Community Psychiatric nurse (CPN) whether he could go back into hospital. He was told that he couldn’t. Danny fled and that was the last time his parents saw him alive.
The couple lodged a ‘super complaint’ against the Mater Hospital, the North and West Belfast Trust and the South and East Belfast Trust, which runs the adult mental health facility Knockbraken, for what they described as a lack of care last June.
The Mater Hospital and North and the West Belfast Trust replied to their complaint three months later, admitting they would be undertaking urgent reviews of their procedures.
“The Mater Hospital is urgently reviewing its outpatient appointment system to ensure that appointments arranged by the consultant are booked accurately and within a reasonable time,” the hospital said in their letter to the McCartans.
The South and East Belfast Trust carried out their own investigation but did not acknowledge any fault in their treatment of Danny.
The McCartans wrote to the Convenor of Complaints at the Eastern Health and Social Services Board (EHSSB) on October 4 and November 11 asking for an independent review.
“The way this complaint has been handed has been a sham, it has caused us undue stress and it should never have happened. It was a total disgrace the way that the three trusts handled this complaint and it must not ever happen to anyone else,” Gerard McCartan said.
The Minister has now asked the EHSSB to commission the review.
"I have asked the Eastern Board to commission an independent review into the circumstances surrounding the death of Danny McCartan and the treatment and care offered to him by the Health and Social Care system,” Shaun Woodward said.
“The untimely death of Danny is a tragedy for his family. We need to establish whether lessons can be learnt so that such tragedies are avoided as far as possible in the future."
A spokesperson for the Department of Health insisted the review would be carried out entirely independent of the EHSSB.
North Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Kathy Stanton said the government needed to bridge the chronic gap in services.
“The lack of mental health resources for children and adolescents, particularly in Belfast where there is no child and adolescent psychiatrist, has already been clearly identified.
“While this independent review is welcome, more so if it identifies the chronic gaps in support for people moving between child and adolescent services to adult services, the fact is that many of the problems are well understood. What is required is resources, funding and a strategic response.”

Journalist:: Áine McEntee

UPRG hit out at DUP


The UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group has hit out at the DUP who claimed this week they were working hard to secure funding for loyalist areas.
A DUP delegation met with the Minister for Social Development David Hanson on Monday seeking pledges that help would be given to loyalist and Protestant working class communities.
John Bunting of the Westland UPRG said claims by the DUP that they had been working hard to secure further assistance were “wrong”.
“Absolutely not, they only walk in at the last minute when it’s all over,” he told the North Belfast News.
“Community groups are making a difference, not them with their huge political mandate
“We are working at the forefront, we’re at the coalface. They are nowhere to be seen.
“All they’re doing is making dynasties, all the Dodds, Paisleys and Robinsons.”
The UPRG is actively involved in several projects with cross-community organisation Groundwork NI, the UPRG representative explained.
“We have five projects in conjunction with Groundwork in Westland, North Queen Street, Ardoyne in conjunction with community groups and White City,” he said,
“We’ve met with the Belfast Regeneration Office and DSD. We’ve also community houses opening up all across North Belfast offering advice.
“We’re in the advanced stages of negotiating a kickaround at the Westland end at Waterworks, a pensioners’ garden is en route to open up in May and we’ve signed up to the Council’s bonfire programme.
“In Tigers Bay and on the Limestone Road we’ve helped to set up a regeneration group which is trying to upgrade the houses and the look of the area.
“There is a also lot of cross-community work going on as well as the community projects in loyalist areas of North Belfast that we're involved in, and they [DUP] just walk in and claim all the credit. It’s just wrong. We’re making a huge contribution. They aren't.”
The DUP refused to comment on the UPRG’s remarks
But North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said a wide range of issues including education, skills training, regeneration and housing matters had been covered at that meeting with the Minister.
“We emphasised that a long-term strategic approach is needed and not the short-term gimmicks which we have seen in the past,” he said.
“These issues were raised because they are all matters where the unionist community, in particular, is not achieving equality and parity of esteem. The government must recognise that while in the past they have helped deprived nationalist communities they have failed to target and help many similar unionist communities.
“In December 2005, the DUP submitted a detailed 12-page action plan covering many of the socio-economic problems prevalent within these communities. These meaningful and substantial proposals which we have placed before the government could, if implemented properly and funded adequately, start to alleviate some of these problems.”

Journalist:: Áine McEntee

Licence plate cameras in Ardoyne


The North Belfast News has learned that a PSNI camera, designed to automatically log car licence plate numbers, has been installed at Ardoyne shops.
The Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera is operated by the PSNI and it is attached to their CCTV camera pole, which is positioned at the shopfronts in Ardoyne.
A similar device operates at Carlisle Circus.
The PSNI said the CCTV and ANPR cameras had an “impact across the full range of policing from public order to the prevention and detection of crime”.
A spokesman for the Ardoyne Focus Group said the cameras were useless in terms of protecting people and property from crime and alleged they were part of the PSNI’s political policing.
“The Focus Group would have grave concerns around the issue of political policing, and this just reinforces the perception that this is more of the same,” the spokesman said.
“I think the general perception from people around here is that this will be an intelligence gathering exercise, given the history of the CCTV cameras, they’ve been totally ineffective in terms of prevention and being able to prosecute after the event.
A PSNI spokesman confirmed two ANPR cameras operate in North Belfast.
“Both are located on main arterial routes where there is considerable traffic flow and have been in operation for several months,” he said.
“Both units were also mounted together with existing CCTV equipment to reduce costs. However, at this time a final costing is not available. There is also a mobile camera unit available that has been in use across the North Belfast DCU since November 2005.”
The last time these ‘sophisticated’ cameras were in the news was after the murder of Bellaghy Catholic Sean Brown in 1997. The 61-year-old was locking up the Wolfe Tone GAA club when he was abducted and brutally murdered by the LVF. His killers brazenly drove twice past similar cameras outside Toome barracks, once with their victim in the car. The RUC said the cameras were unable to pick up the licence plate number of the killers’ car.
The Ardoyne Focus Group said people will consider the new camera as another spying operation.
“The rationale the PSNI is giving is totally disingenuous. This isn’t about crime reduction, this is about intelligence gathering. Political policing is still a live issue and this just highlights it.”
Meanwhile another CCTV camera is planned for Glenbank/Crumlin Road, the PSNI has confirmed, to “assist in reducing the number of attacks on buses.”
“This camera is being erected in a close partnership with Belfast City Council,” the PSNI spokesman said.

Journalist:: Áine McEntee

Speedy repatriation urged for prisoner

Daily Ireland

Connla Young

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA Catholic church prisoner support group has called on the Irish government to speed up the repatriation of a seriously ill 27-year-old Irish prisoner serving a sentence in Yorkshire.
Co Louth man Aidan Hulme was given a 20-year jail term in 2001 after being convicted of involvement in a series of Real IRA bombings in London.
The British Home Office has said it lodged all relevant documents with the Irish authorities last September.
Gerry McFlynn of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas said: “Aidan has to be sent back to Ireland as soon as possible. He is one of about 20 prisoners waiting to come home. The process takes between two-and-a-half to three years, which is unacceptable given the distress it causes to inmates and their families.
“You have to wonder if the will is there to move quickly on these issues. All we can do is try to keep as much pressure on the authorities as possible. In this case, the hold-up is with the Irish, and we are pushing for a resolution given the state of his health,” said Fr McFlynn.
Michael Holden of the Irish Political Status Committee said Mr Hulme’s brother Robert, who is also serving a prison sentence in England, had asked to be transferred to Full Sutton.
“They were separated about 18 months ago and, since then, the prison authorities have made it difficult for them to correspond.
“Robert is happy to move from Long Martin back to Full Sutton to be with his brother.
“Aidan has been told by a specialist that his leg will have to be amputated. He doesn’t want to be given priority treatment but the specialist is recommending that he be transferred back to Ireland before his leg is amputated.”
The Department of Justice refused to comment on individual cases.

Belfast group to get top award at Glór na nGael ceremony


04/03/2006 - 12:53:41

Community groups that promote the Irish language are being honoured at the annual Glór na nGael ceremony in Belfast today.

Pobail an Droichead from the Ormeau Road in Belfast is due to receive the overall prize at this year's awards, which are being presented at Stormont by Community and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon O'Cuiv.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Mr O'Cuiv said he believed the Irish language was more popular now than at any time in recent years.

He said education through Irish was now available in every county in Ireland, while surveys have found a high level of interest in the language.

Woman arrested over city bar raid


A woman has been arrested in connection with a police raid at a bar in the Tiger's Bay area of north Belfast.

Seventeen men who were arrested during the raid at the Alexandra Bar on Thursday are being held under the Terrorism Act.

The men are being questioned about membership of a banned organisation and having items of use to terrorism.

Detective Superintendent Roy McComb said the raid was aimed at the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

He said were acting on information suggesting a rehearsal for a "show of strength" was in progress.

He said tactics - which included firing CS gas pellets into the bar - were used in the belief that the men were armed.

"Information presented itself that members of an illegal organisation with illegal firearms were going to present themselves as some sort of defenders of the people," Mr McComb said.


It is believed that half of those arrested were dressed in combat style uniform, but police have not yet revealed if anything, including weapons, were retrieved from the bar.

A full-scale search continued on Friday with police officers coming and going from the pub wearing gas masks.

The UFF is part of the Ulster Defence Association, set up as its "military wing" before the UDA was proscribed.

The police operation began just before 2000 GMT on Thursday.

Bar doors were ripped off their hinges and some upstairs windows in the bar were smashed during the raid.

It is understood that one of those arrested is already facing terrorism-related charges.

FBI Agent Told Handlers Of Derry Or Omagh 'Strike'

Derry Journal

Friday 3rd March 2006

IT'S EMERGED that an FBI agent who infiltrated the Real IRA tipped off his handlers that paramilitaries based in Co. Donegal were planning a strike in either Derry or Omagh in the weeks leading up to the August 1998 bomb outrage in the Co. Tyrone town. The revelation comes amid claims that British intelligence agency, MI5, did not deprive police of any anti-terrorism intelligence during their investigation into the Omagh bomb atrocity.

However, Northern Ireland's police chief, Sir Hugh Orde, is still resisting pressure to confirm if the agency held back information months before the Real IRA massacred 29 people. His public refusal could heighten uncertainty over whether the August 1998 outrage could have been prevented, a Northern Ireland Policing Board representative claimed. The SDLP's Alex Attwood said: "The failure to answer that question will not reassure people. "The truth of the matter is there may have been intelligence prior to the murders that wasn't shared.

"We will never know if that might or might not have avoided that awful tragedy." The allegations that MI5 failed to inform RUC Special Branch of the threat emerged during an investigation into an FBI agent who infiltrated the Real IRA.

Based on a tip off from American trucking company boss, David Rupert, who was working undercover within the dissident paramilitary grouping, three suspected paramilitaries were arrested by police in the Irish Republic in April 1998, but released without charge. Rupert had warned that paramilitaries based in County Donegal were planning a strike on either Omagh or Derry, but most likely Omagh, security sources had disclosed. At the time police in Northern Ireland were aware that a planned paramilitary organisation had been disrupted due to the MI5s tip off, it has been claimed. But sources said no trace could be found on their records of any intelligence from the security services that Omagh or Derry had been targeted. Police only became aware after detectives involved in the Omagh bomb inquiry spoke to Rupert and studied e-mail the agent had exchanged with his handlers in the FBI and MI5. He had been the central witness in the successful conviction of the Real IRA mastermind, Michael McKevitt, who was jailed for 20 years in 2003 for directing terrorism.

As the allegations ignited fresh controversy over Omagh, Mr. Orde faced questioning on the case at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board in North Belfast this week. Challenged by Mr. Attwood to confirm whether MI5 information was passed to police before the bombing, the chief constable insisted he would not stand over the accuracy of some news reports of the allegations. But he said: "It's the view of the Senior Investigating Officer (Superintendent Norman Baxter) who I spoke to only two hours ago that the security services did not withhold intelligence that was relevant or would have progressed the Omagh inquiry."

Sir Hugh also stressed that the dissident republican suspects investigated in April 1998 were from a different cell than those involved in the Omagh bomb plot. "There's no evidence to link these two units, he said. He also confirmed that senior officers had met with the Omagh bomb victims' families last week to brief them on the state of the inquiry. A press report of that meeting drew a "starker conclusion" than what was actually discussed, Sir Hugh said. One man has been accused of murdering 29 people in the Omagh atrocity. South Armagh electrician Sean Hoey, 36, denies any involvement in the attack.

Emphasising the levels of co-operation between his force and the Garda in the Irish Republic, the chief constable added that he was not prepared to go any further in public on the issue. "I will do anything that denies the families their right to a proper prosecution or those accused the right to a fair trial." Mr. Attwood insisted what Sir Hugh had said that Sir Hugh had not answered the question put to him. "The chief constable did say that MI5 did share everything in respect of the murder inquiry, but the point of the question was their intelligence prior to the murders," he said.

Tebbit Slams Derry And McGuinness

Derry Journal

Friday 3rd March 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usNORMAN TEBBIT, former top hatchet man in the Thatcher cabinet, has claimed both Derry city and one of its most famous sons - Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness - have glorified terrorism. Mr. Tebbit - a onetime confidante of ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher --was in Brighton's Grand Hotel when it was bombed by the IRA in 1984. His wife Margaret was paralysed in the bombing.

This week, at Westminster, during the Lords debate on the government's Terrorism Bill, the 74-year-old peer contrasted the respective effects of Islamic and " homegrown Northern Irish terrorism." In his contribution to the discussion, Mr. Tebbit said he had "long been concerned that it has seemed impossible to take proceedings" against leading Irish republicans such as Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams who he accused of "glorifying terrorism".

"We have all seen those two gentlemen standing at military-style funerals with hooded gunmen firing in celebration of the terrorist," he said. "If that is not glorification of terrorism, it would be rather difficult to define what is."

Turning to plans to include "grossly offensive" placards in the legislation, Mr. Tebbit asked: "What about the murals on the walls of Belfast and Londonderry which glorify both republican and loyalist terrorism? "Would the creators of those murals be likely to be found guilty of glorifying terrorism? Would it make any difference to the likelihood of their prosecution and conviction?"

Asylum couple evicted from hostel


Oleg Federoski was evicted from a hostel for asylum seekers

A Ukranian couple have been evicted from their accommodation after their application for asylum failed.

The police removed Oleg Federoski and his wife Elena from a hostel when the Home Office refused them permission to stay in Northern Ireland.

The Home Office said they could not comment on individual cases.

Mr Federoski said he did not know what he and his wife would do following the eviction. They left Ukraine before it became independent.

"I came here (Northern Ireland) because it was my dream," he said.

"But now I find myself almost on the street, between bushes or cold dirty roads.

"I do not know what will come on Monday - during the weekend we will be with the Simon Community for a couple of nights."

SDLP South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell has been helping the family with their case.

He said: "This is a very distressing case... these people have been evicted from their hostel.

"Their application for asylum has failed, but they are stateless.

"They left the Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union, before it became an independent country, and technically they have forfeited rights to Ukrainian citizenship."

The MP said the couple had been in Northern Ireland for four years and were now "caught between a rock and a hard place".

"It is frightening that in the 21st century, the year 2006, that in a country relatively prosperous... we could treat people like this."

Following a BBC interview with Mr McDonnell, he said his office had been inundated with offers of accommodation for the couple.

A south Belfast landlord has offered them a house to stay in over the next few weeks.

Alliance angry at school decision


The Alliance leader has criticised the government for not living up to its commitment in the Good Friday Agreement to support integrated education.

Alliance supporters meet this weekend for their annual conference.

David Ford told Radio Ulster's Inside Politics that denying funding for four new integrated schools was "bizarre".

"When it's part of the shared future policy it's just completely bizarre for the department to say there are spaces in existing schools," he said.

Earlier this week, Education Minister Angela Smith turned down plans for schools in Clogher Valley, Moira/Hillsborough, Saintfield and funding for an existing independent primary school in Ballycastle.

She said the new schools have been proposed for areas which already have surplus capacity.

Some Alliance Party members have said they will seek to have the decision overturned, and intend to propose an emergency resolution at the party conference.

Party vice-chair Michael Long said the government was leaving parents "stranded" and forcing their children "into segregated schools against their will".

"They talk about parental choice, but yet are refusing to properly fund a sector which is heavily over-subscribed," he said.

The party will also debate the political situation at the Dunadry Hotel on Saturday.

Members are expected to back the analysis that failing to resolve the deadlock will ensure "that division, dependency and apartheid policies continue to impact upon all in Northern Ireland".

Bobby Sands' diary - day 4


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Wednesday 4th

Fr Murphy was in tonight. I have not felt too bad today, although I notice the energy beginning to drain. But it is quite early yet. I got showered today and had my hair cut, which made me feel quite good. Ten years younger, the boys joke, but I feel twenty years older, the inevitable consequence of eight years of torture and imprisonment.

I am abreast with the news and view with utter disgust and anger the Reagan/Thatcher plot. It seems quite clear that they intend to counteract Russian expansionism with imperialist expansionism, to protect their vital interests they say.

What they mean is they covet other nations' resources. They want to steal what they haven't got and to do so (as the future may unfortunately prove) they will murder oppressed people and deny them their sovereignty as nations. No doubt Mr Haughey will toe the line in Ireland when Thatcher so demands.

Noticed a rarity today: jam with the tea, and by the way the Screws are glaring at the food. They seem more in need of it than my good self.

Riots march group appeal for Dublin rally return

Irish Independent

Ministers and gardai shockedby sudden Love Ulster request

Tom Brady and Brian Dowling

GARDAI are to seriously consider allowing another attempt to hold a Love Ulster march through the centre of Dublin.

Ultimately public safety will determine if it should go ahead.

A request from the rally organisers yesterday to return to Dublin as soon as possible took the Government and gardai by surprise.

Ministers are anxious the democratic right to hold a march here should be upheld.

But they did not anticipate that a request would be made so soon after last Saturday's riots.

The rally had to be called off after violent rioting erupted on the streets and 14 people, including six gardai, were injured.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Justice Minister Michael McDowell both said that a decision on the march would be made by the Garda authorities and they did not have a role to play in reaching that decision.

Government sources added that the primary issues of public order and public safety were best left to the gardai to make an assessment.

The question of issuing licences for potentially difficult marches or parades had arisen a few years ago but had been rejected.

Garda management said they had not yet received a "formal" request from the Love Ulster organisers but would consider it fully against the background of the tension that had arisen as a result of last weekend's incidents.

The timing of the march is likely to be a key factor in reaching a decision on whether it should be held here.

Garda security advisers would be unlikely to sanction another march in the coming weeks because of the fallout from the violence.

Senior officers want to complete their inquiries, establish if any of the violence was orchestrated, identify the reasons for the rioting and pinpoint what lessons can be learnt for policing future demonstrations.

Mr McDowell has already indicated that policing for other city centre events, such as the St Patrick's Day parade and the 1916 commemorations will have to be reviewed in wake of the trouble.

The legacy of the hunger strikes


Bobby Sands and nine other republican prisoners died on hunger strike in Long Kesh 25 years ago. What became of those who survived? Melanie McFadyean finds seven of them and asks: was it all worth it?

Saturday March 4, 2006
The Guardian

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usIn a layby on a country road a few miles outside Belfast are some high, padlocked gates. Beyond the gates, the deserted compounds of Long Kesh jail stretch bleakly into the distance. These days, you can push your way through brambles and disconnected barbed wire and climb into its eerie, grey expanses. The jail is empty, closed in September 2000, its maximum-security fence breachable, its searchlights dismantled. But its fearsome reputation lives on.

For many years, this was the epicentre of the Northern Irish war, the front line where 53 republican prisoners engaged in two hunger strikes, the second of which, in 1981, resulted in the deaths of 10 men.

But what of those who survived? As they look back on its legacy, a quarter of a century on, they say the strikes paved the way for the republican movement's shift from militarism into electoral politics and peace. The catalyst was the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election on April 9 1981: Bobby Sands, then in his sixth week of hunger strike, stood as an Anti-H-Block/ Armagh Political Prisoner and won with more than 30,000 votes. He died 26 days later, but the nationalist community, identifying with the prisoners' cause, had taken a crucial step towards electoral politics.

Perhaps Sands had an intimation of the reverberations his election and subsequent death would set off. It was a turning point in Northern Ireland's war that culminated last April when Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams called on the IRA to commit to "purely political and democratic activity", a resolve he underlined two weeks ago at the party's annual conference. But the sense of achievement felt by the survivors is tempered by regret. One, Laurence McKeown, says, "Time numbs little of the sorrow and sense of loss we experienced as, one by one, our friends and comrades died on the hunger strike."

In 1969, when British soldiers were drafted on to the streets of Belfast, they were welcomed fleetingly by some nationalists. That mood soon changed. The Provisional IRA came to the fore and stepped up the campaign against the Northern Ireland security forces and British troops. A country whose jail population had been less than a thousand suddenly found its numbers swelling exponentially and Long Kesh, a former RAF base, was opened as a jail in 1971. By 1976 it had expanded into eight H-shaped blocks with a capacity for nearly 800 men. When it closed 24 years later, 10,000 prisoners had been through its gates.

All the prisoners were connected to the armed struggle - or were assumed to be - and republicans always heavily outnumbered loyalists. In 1972, Billy McKee, an IRA prisoner at Long Kesh, initiated the first hunger strike. He was determined not to be treated as a criminal: he won - the then Tory government granted "special category status", PoW status in all but name. In 1976, as the H-blocks were filling up, the Wilson Labour government reversed this decision. Kieran Nugent, a 19-year-old republican, in September 1976 was the first to be denied special category status. He refused to wear prison uniform, saying they'd have to nail it to his back. He was left naked but for a blanket; so began the "blanket protest".

The protest escalated in March 1978 when prisoners were told to remove the towels wrapped around them when they went to slop out. They refused. When prison officers kicked over slop buckets in the cells, the men began to throw their faeces through the bars of the windows. This was the "no wash", or "dirty" protest as the outside world called it. Each prisoner had only a blanket and a sponge mattress, no reading or writing materials, radios, letters. Unless they put on prison clothes, they didn't get their monthly visit. For every day on the blanket, one was added to their sentence. In December 1979, prime minister Margaret Thatcher made her position clear: the prisoners, she said, wanted to establish "that their crimes were 'political', thus giving the perpetrators a kind of respectability, even nobility. This we could not allow."

On October 27 1980, the first hunger strike began. It ended 53 days later, on December 18, following an appeal from the Catholic Primate of Ireland, on the assumption that the British government would make some concessions to the prisoners. It didn't. Nothing was to change.

Three months later, on March 1 1981, Bobby Sands, OC of the IRA in Long Kesh, began the second hunger strike; the blanket protest was called off the day after, to avoid detracting attention from him. Sands died on May 5, 100,000 attended his funeral and his name is now known internationally. The nine who died after are not, but their faces look down from murals in republican Belfast. There were 13 other prisoners who survived that hunger strike (two, Pat McGeown and Matt Devlin, have since died). Seven agreed to be interviewed: Laurence McKeown, Paddy Quinn, Pat Sheehan, Jackie McMullan, Brendan McLaughlin, Gerard Hodgins and Brian (not his real name - his workmates know nothing of his past and his job takes him to loyalist areas). They pass unnoticed in the street; they have slipped into ordinary lives.

All of them grew up amid the civil rights campaign of the 1960s and were in their early teens when the British troops arrived. The army was on their streets, they were regularly searched and their homes raided.

Laurence McKeown is from Randallstown, outside Belfast. He is an intelligent man of great presence. His father was a van driver, an SDLP voter. In his teens, McKeown had ambitions to be an architect and at 15 got a job in a quantity surveyor's office. He grew up with Protestants: "It was a mixed area and we had excellent relations with them. I still did, in jail, in later years." When the Ulster Defence Regiment was set up in April 1970, as a successor to the hated B-Specials, it was, recalls McKeown, "just a larger Protestant militia... Suddenly one side of the community was armed and had the power to harass me, which they did."

McKeown didn't join the IRA lightly. "I was 16. There was a lot of soul-searching. It's not like joining a state army, where someone signs their name, gets a uniform and rifle, and the chaplain blesses them." In 1976, aged 19, McKeown was charged with causing explosions and the attempted murder of a Royal Ulster Constabulary man; he got life.

Pat Sheehan's experience was similar. On the street where he grew up, there were only three other Catholic families. One day, two men came to look for him and fired a revolver. The family moved out. After that attack Sheehan joined the Fianna, the IRA youth wing, and then the IRA. Like McKeown, by the age of 19 he was behind bars after taking part in a bombing - there were no casualties - at a cash-and-carry.

The street where Jackie McMullan lives, near where he grew up, is quiet now; but, as he dandles his baby on his knee, he remembers when the nearby Falls was burning, Kashmir and Bombay Street were torched by loyalists, and he watched as troops put up barricades around the blackened streets. In August 1971, 2,000 people were interned without trial, all but 107 of them from the nationalist community. It made a deep impression on McMullan. "In my teens I was arrested maybe 20 times. Every male aged 13 to 65 would have been arrested, the vast majority for screening. And every single one of my friends joined the Fianna. We'd be scouting; you wouldn't have participated in firing guns or in ambushes. After school there were riots. The Brits, probably bored out of their skulls, used to drive down the Glen Road every day as schools were getting out."

McMullan arrived in Long Kesh in September 1976. He got life for attempted murder. Like many others, he had refused to recognise the no-jury, special Diplock courts.

Brian joined the IRA at 16. "Every day the army was there, stop, up against the wall, slapped about. I had been reading books my grandfather gave me about Michael Collins and James Connolly." At 19 he was convicted of attempted murder.

In his childhood, Gerard Hodgins was burned out of his home by loyalists. The family moved. He left school at 16 with no O-levels. When he joined the IRA, he was given a warning: within a year, or two, he would be dead or in jail.

You'd imagine a 20-year-old facing a life sentence would be devastated. That's not how McMullan recalls it. "It was September 1976 and the longest anyone was in was five years. You had no conception of life. You were young and full of beans, all your friends were going to jail. There was an air of rebellion, and everybody thought it'd be over in a couple of years." For McKeown, being taken to prison was "that moment when teenage things were gone for ever".

All these men went on the blanket and dirty protests. "The circle (the administrative centre in each block) was where the officers would beat you," says McMullan. "You're made to strip naked, you have eight screws telling you to put your uniform on, you get a slap in the face. You're naked, humiliated, cornered and getting beaten up by these big men in uniform while other screws watched."

Paddy Quinn remembers buckets of scalding water and Jeyes fluid thrown at him in his cell; others describe forced washes in freezing water with hard brushes. Every two weeks, cells and prisoners were forcibly hosed down. "What made it possible to live like that," says McMullan, "was that we were in it together. It was powerful. It was unbreakable in spite of the no wash, and it was absolutely freezing. We had no windows." They smashed them so they could communicate and later to throw out the faeces. Amid the repulsive surroundings of shit-smeared walls, says Quinn, "You'd be sleeping on the sponge mattress on the floor, you'd wake up in the morning and maggots would be stuck to you. You'd have to pull them off. Then they'd turn into flies."

The prisoners looked out for each other. There was bingo and quizzes, shouted through the gaps in the doors. They taught each other Gaelic, gave history lectures, sang songs, recited stories. Bobby Sands relayed the whole of Leon Uris's novel Trinity. It took him eight days.

Every day when McMullan woke up, he would speculate on whether he would get a beating. And there was the nightmare of the monthly visits. He did not see his family for the first 30 months of the protest, because he refused to wear the uniform. "The screws standing beside you, hating you, hating your relatives. Your eyes are bulging because you're locked in a cell 24 hours a day, you have matted hair, you're filthy, you look like a deranged maniac. You go out and try to act normal to your family, putting on a brave face, and so are they."

On the next due visit, he waited to see his mother, Bernadette, who supported the men - she had chained herself to the railings in Downing Street. A priest came instead to tell McMullan she had died.

The pressure was intense and some cracked. These seven endured. The prison officers, Sheehan says, had no restraint. "If a screw was fair, he'd get abuse from his own people. They had orderlies who brought the food round and one who was sympathetic squeezed a half-ounce of tobacco through the door. The screws caught him and gave him a beating. Another orderly was told to do his 'party piece', and got on the table and urinated into the tea urn."

Outside, republican and loyalist groups took revenge - between 1974 and 1993, some 29 prison service employees were murdered. During the Long Kesh years, 50 prison service employees committed suicide. The pressure, recalls one warder, led to "irrational behaviour and heavy drinking". "You could smell it on their breath," Quinn says.

The first hunger strikers had what became known as the Five Demands: the right not to wear prison uniform, the right not to do penal work, the right to associate freely with other prisoners, the right to get one visit, one letter and one parcel a week, and the restoration of the remission lost on protest. Quinn joined the fast in June, by which time four men were already dead - Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O'Hara.

On his 19th day, Quinn was taken to the prison hospital. There he heard Joe McDonnell dying and his wife, Goretti, weeping. He remembers Martin Hurson's death on July 13: "I could hear his brother shouting, 'Martin! Martin!' I could hear Martin saying that the lights were out. Then it went quiet. The next day they put me into Martin's cell."

By that time Quinn couldn't keep even water down. "Maybe it crossed your mind to go off the hunger strike, but I wouldn't give up. You always had this thought - Maggie Thatcher wasn't going to criminalise me. Some time around then I came round in the intensive care unit. My lips were swollen, chapped and cut. They said I'd been biting them. I remember hyperventilating, my heart was going that fast, I could hear the scraping and screeching of the blood on the back of my brain, I could feel this terrible pain. A medical orderly was helping me to breathe, but I was hallucinating that the screws were trying to kill me, I could hear the noise in my throat, gasping for breath. You were watching the deterioration of your own body, thinking, 'I have to do this; I'm going to keep going.' It was just pain, day after day. Then one day I went for a shower, I collapsed in the shower, then there was the sickness.

"I remember looking at the jug of water and repeating to myself, 'I'm going to keep it down.' And it did stay down. That's when the walking stopped, I was in a wheelchair. My eyes had gone, all I could see were shadows. I had reached that point that I was looking forward to death. I felt a real sense of contentment. I had accepted I was going to die and I was happy with my decision. That was maybe after 43 days, in and out of consciousness at that stage."

Quinn had told his mother not to take him off the hunger strike when he lapsed into coma: "I says, 'You either back me or you back Maggie Thatcher.' I was weak, it was hard to talk, and she said there was no point going on with it."

McKeown describes the moment when he thought his death was a certainty: "It's like someone who has been on their feet for days without sleep and then gets the chance to lie down but is awakened to be told the house is on fire. They don't want to know, they just want to sleep."

Encouraged by the Catholic clergy, the families intervened, Quinn's mother and McKeown's relatives among them. Quinn thinks his mother was deliberately brought into the hospital when he was close to death. "She heard me roaring. [They] thought I had a couple of hours to live." When he went into a coma, she ordered that he be saved. A few days later he met his mother - he was blind and angry. He's never discussed it with her.

McKeown joined the strike two weeks after Quinn, on June 29. It was a time of waiting, he says. He was hoping someone would materialise with a resolution to the demands. "Nobody on the hunger strike wanted to die," he says. "This martyr notion is nonsense, we were caught in circumstances where we were going to resist to the death rather than capitulate to the criminalisation." When he became unconscious after 70 days, his family took him off the strike.

On July 4, when four men had died and McDonnell was four days from death, the hunger strikers sent out a document. They were not asking for privileges, it said, their five demands should apply to all prisoners. It sparked renewed contact between a representative of the government, known as the Mountain Climber, and the IRA leadership. A source close to the events of that weekend told me that the Mountain Climber was "a high-ranking, unelected Tory".

Thatcher held the public line - "We are not prepared to consider special category status." Meanwhile, the Mountain Climber told Adams that if the hunger strike ended, there would be concessions.

Despite their refusal to negotiate openly, the British wanted an end to the hunger strike. As Sir Ian Gilmour, a minister at the Foreign Office, put it, the hunger strikes were "a great propaganda coup for the IRA". Under Secretary to the Northern Ireland Office Sir Kenneth Stowe said, "Northern Ireland is not a place to grow martyrs if you can avoid it. We were anxious to try to find some way of enabling the hunger strikers to get off the hook."

The Mountain Climber had insisted on secrecy. However, Adams felt compelled to tell the Catholic bishops, who were themselves trying to broker an end to the hunger strike. Once again, there was no deal. The deaths continued.

In his book, Blanketmen, published last year, former prisoner and hunger strike public relations officer Richard O'Rawe maintains that the IRA army council wanted the hunger strike prolonged until the second Fermanagh and South Tyrone byelection, to be held on August 20 and to be contested by a Sinn Féin man. There is no corroboration of O'Rawe's assertion, and other senior republicans deny it.

The strike went on. On August 10, Sheehan refused food. "The hardest part was starting it," he says. "There's all kind of self-doubt... You had to be focused on your own hunger strike, nothing else matters - what's going on in the outside world, what happens within your own family. You have to blank out everything."

Four days before the hunger strike was called off, when Sheehan was on his 51st day, a doctor told him he was jaundiced and might not live even if the strike ended. By the time McMullan began his hunger strike on August 17, nine men had died. "With each death," he says, "we became more angry, more steely. You knew those guys, you were close to them. Closer to them than you would be to your own brothers." For the first 20 or 30 days he was alone in his cell. "There were people on either side, so you'd be up talking at the window or you'd lie down on the floor and speak into the pipe that ran from cell to cell - the sound carried."

By the end he was in the prison hospital, wasting away, sleeping more, always lucid, warding off fear with memories of those who had died and his reasons for going on the strike. He had been on the strike for 48 days when it ended on October 3.

Brian, whose ebullience suggests he could survive anything, joined the strike because he didn't see why "someone else should do something for me if I wasn't prepared to do it myself". He wasn't alone. "You'd be surprised that about 100 put their names forward." But how could he give his life away? "Ask my wife - she'd say it's because I'm bloody thick."

In retrospect, these men say the hunger strikes and the sacrifices were worth it. "If the British had succeeded in criminalising us, we would never have got over it," says Quinn. "If Sinn Féin had remained hard-line and military, then I think the sacrifices made on the hunger strike would have been a complete waste. It was Sinn Féin going into politics that made it worthwhile."

Only one of the men fails to welcome the political path taken by the republican movement. Brendan McLaughlin is still fighting the war in his head. He was on the hunger strike for 20 days, but had to abandon it due to a perforated ulcer. He is confined to a wheelchair in his council house in Gobnascail near Derry after a stroke six years ago. His fresh-faced 12-year-old son comes in and out. McLaughlin's former wife lives a few houses along but they're barely speaking. He's not complaining about that, he's complaining about Gerry Adams. "The Brits have no right to be in this country, never have, never will. McGuinness, Adams, I know 'em all - scum bastards. I fought for a 32-county republic, a united Ireland. They're selling out. I'll never change. The war will never end."

Sheehan disagrees. "There is no need for the IRA any longer. I grew up in a state that was unjust and oppressive. I was vulnerable to attacks because of the area I grew up in. I am proud that I took up arms; I believed it was the right thing to do. The situation is a lot different now." Sheehan got a first in philosophy from the Open University during a second stint in jail. He now runs a small business and is married with a young child.

McKeown works for a national network of republican ex-prisoners. He got together with a woman who visited him during his last years in jail and they have two children. He got a social science degree in jail, and 10 years after the hunger strike compiled numerous prison testimonies. Since then, he's written plays and screenplays, made a documentary, and writes a newspaper column for Daily Ireland. I bumped into him at the opening night of the Belfast Film Festival (which he co-founded), glass in hand, standing beside one of the Corrs, a world away from the seven-stone skeleton he was after 70 days on hunger strike; he was rescued from death by his family, against his will.

Paddy Quinn can't work - he's had a kidney transplant. He lives in a farmhouse in County Down with his wife and their two little girls. His eyesight was permanently damaged by the hunger strike. Has he regrets? "I remember somebody saying to me once, 'You lost 10 years.' I said, 'In those 10 years I probably had more experience than you'll ever have.' "

Gerard Hodgins lives in a flat that looks for miles across Belfast to the hills. When the hunger strike ended, he had been on it for 20 days. He looks back on the four years of protest as a "terrible, despairing time". He occasionally has flashbacks. In and out of jail, he says, "I had hatred and a desire for payback, for revenge against the whole system - screws, RUC, the British army." In 1995, when the prisoners got 50% of their remission back, two years were chopped off his sentence and he was due a week's parole. It was then he met Lorraine, who is now his wife.

After his release in 1996, he got into community work, which led to a post with the Department of Learning and Education as a mentor in a job assistance scheme for people who lack basic skills.

When Jackie McMullan left Long Kesh in 1992, he said it was like arriving from Mars. He found it hard to be in company. He was most at ease with former prisoners. As for women, in his head he was still 20, and women his age - 35 - were married with kids. He was in and out of relationships, couldn't settle. He's not complaining, though. "I've had a brilliant time since I got out," he says, chuckling. Four years ago he met his partner, a teacher. He worked with Sinn Féin on education programmes for ex-prisoners and is still involved with community work.

The hunger strike is always with them, but they have survived, even flourished. "Winning leaves you OK," says McKeown. "They tried to criminalise us but failed - they politicised us." Within days of the end of the hunger strike, James Prior, Northern Ireland secretary, announced a series of measures that went a long way to meeting the five demands.

A Long Kesh mission statement published just before it closed reads: "We will operate a secure, safe and humane regime which recognises the individual and the organisations to which he or she claims allegiance." If that had been the mission in 1976, many lives would have been saved.

Judge vows to ensure witnesses in 'collusion' probe


03/03/2006 - 19:37:17

A judge today vowed to do all in his power to ensure witnesses from Britain and Northern Ireland attend his investigation into the IRA murder of two RUC officers.

Judge Peter Smithwick told the opening day of a tribunal in Dublin into the deaths of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan that he hoped all potential witnesses would co-operate voluntarily with his inquiry into allegations of police collusion in the murder.

“However, if a person or agency outside the state declines to co-operate, the terms of reference provide for a mechanism for seeking to ensure such co-operation,” he said.

Judge Smithwick has the power to report witnesses who refuse to attend to the Dáil, which will then raise the matter with the British government.

The potential witnesses include journalists, politicians and members of the British intelligence services who will be guaranteed that none of their statements can be used in criminal proceedings against them.

Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan were killed in an IRA ambush near the border between Louth and South Armagh on March 20, 1989 as they returned from an informal meeting with senior police in Dundalk.

It has been claimed that the IRA were tipped off about the route the men had planned to take by a member of the Gardaí.

The IRA, which issued a statement claiming responsibility for the murders of the two RUC men, is also expected to come under pressure to co-operate.

In the most dramatic moment of the tribunal’s opening day, barrister Jim O’Callaghan made an application for legal representation for Owen Corrigan, a retired detective sergeant who worked in the border region for more than 30 years before retiring in 1991.

He said the former policeman could be of no assistance to the tribunal but had been dragged into the matter by Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

The tribunal heard that the Lagan Valley MP, then a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, had used his parliamentary privilege in the British House of Commons in 2000 to suggest that Det Sgt Corrigan passed on information to the IRA about the meeting of the RUC officers with gardaí in Dundalk.

“That statement by Jeffrey Donaldson was a monstrous lie. It was false and my client wishes to establish the falsehood of it,” said Mr O’Callaghan.

He said his client had spent his career working with the Special Branch and chasing subversives at great personal cost.

Det Sgt Corrigan appeared before an Irish parliamentary committee last month to testify about his role in the investigation of the sectarian murder of Seamus Ludlow, a Dundalk forestry worker, in 1976.

He expressed his frustration at the failure of his superiors to give him permission to travel to Northern Ireland to follow up information about the suspected loyalist killers.

Judge Smithwick said he would investigate all the allegations of collusion.

“While it generally means the commission of an act, I am of the view that it should also be considered in terms of an omission or failure to act.

“I intend to examine whether anybody turned a blind eye to it, or pretended ignorance or unawareness of something one ought morally, legally or officially oppose.”

He said he wanted to express his deepest sympathy to members of the Breen and Buchanan families on their loss.

“I can well understand that the holding of this inquiry may bring back unhappy memories for them. I wish to assure the families that the tribunal will, while having a duty and obligation in the matter, be mindful of their sensitivities.”

June Breen, the widow of the murdered RUC Chief Superintendent, has applied for legal representation at the tribunal, as has the family of Superintendent Robert Buchanan.

Ernie Telford, the solicitor for the Buchanan family, said they welcomed the opening of Judge Smithwick’s inquiry.

“The intervening years since the deaths of Supt Buchanan and his colleague Chief Supt Breen have been extremely difficult for the families and friends and they are seeking closure to this tragic affair,” he said.

He said the Buchanan family had total and complete confidence that it would be a full and thorough investigation carried out expeditiously.

“So many questions about this tragedy remain unanswered. There are so many lingering suspicions. The family have met Judge Smithwick and they know everything possible will be done by him to establish the full circumstances surrounding that fateful day in the back roads of South Armagh 17 years ago,” he added.

The setting up of the Smithwick tribunal was prompted by the Canadian judge Peter Cory, who investigated the murder of the two RUC officers.

In his report, published in December 2003, Judge Cory stated it could be said that the IRA did not need information from the Gardaí to carry out the ambush and that intelligence reports received in the aftermath had also pointed to this conclusion.

But he referred to two other intelligence reports mentioning a Garda leak and a statement from a British intelligence agent known as Kevin Fulton who claimed an IRA man told him that the organisation was told about the presence of the RUC officers in Dundalk police station by a member of the Gardaí.

The Smithwick Tribunal held its opening in the King’s Inn, the training school for barristers built in 1817 by the renowned architect James Gandon.

Its regular sittings will be held in a block of the Law Society’s headquarters in Dublin, which is not yet ready.

No date has yet been set for these public hearings.

Three men charged with IRA membership


03/03/2006 - 22:28:50

Three men arrested during a Garda Special Branch investigation into the activities of the Continuity IRA in Co Wexford were charged with membership and other charges at a special sitting of the Special Criminal Court in Dublin tonight.

The three were Billy Phillips (aged 45), of Harbour View, Maudlintown, Wexford, Jackie Bates (aged 55), of Jacketstown House, Jacketstown, Drinagh , Co Wexford and Robert Kearns (aged 31), of Redshire Road, Murrintown, Co Wexford.

All three men were charged with membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hÉireann, otherwise the IRA, on March 1.

The were also charged with the unlawful possession of 160 rounds of ammunition on the same date.

Bates was also charged with possession of a firearm without a firearms certificate at Ballycogley, Co Wexford on March 1. Kearns was also charged with the unlawful possession of an improvised explosive device at Redshire Road, Murrintown on the same date.

During the twenty minute hearing, members of the Special Detective Unit gave evidence of arresting the three men. The court remanded all three in custody until Tuesday when a bail application is expected to be heard.

Today in history: Guilty verdict for 'Maguire Seven'


4 March 1976

Anne Maguire protested her innocence throughout the trial

A 40-year-old Irish born mother has been jailed for 14 years for possessing explosives at her London home.

Five other members of her family and a close friend were also found guilty of the same offence and jailed.

Anne Maguire, from Willesden, North London, was convicted of possessing nitro-glycerine, which was then passed on for use by IRA terrorists to make bombs.

Throughout the six-week trial at the Old Bailey all seven have continually protested their innocence.

'No greater offence'

As Mrs Maguire was carried kicking and screaming from the dock she shouted: "I'm innocent you bastards. No, no, no."

Her husband, Patrick Maguire, 42 was also sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. Her two younger sons, Vincent, 17, and Patrick, 14, were given five and four years respectively.

Mrs Maguire's brother, William Smyth, 37, brother-in-law Patrick "Giuseppe" Conlon, 52, and family friend Patrick O'Neill, 35, were each sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

Passing sentence, Judge Justice Donaldson said: "There can be no greater offence than this, for it strikes at the very root of the way of life for which generations have fought and, indeed, died to preserve."

Chief Constable Peter Matthews, of Surrey police, who led the investigation, said: "We are delighted with the verdicts. These are the people we were after.

"We have cut off a major supply pipeline to the terrorist.

"We are only sorry we did not find the bombs."

Police were first led to the Maguire family in Willesden when they followed Giuseppe Conlon to their home in December 1974.

Mr Conlon had arrived in London from Ireland for talks with solicitors who were defending his son Gerry, under arrest on suspicion of carrying out the Guildford pub bombings.

Anne Maguire, too, was implicated in the Guildford bombings and was also arrested in December 1974 and charged with the murder of 18-year-old WRAC recruit Caroline Slater, who died in the attacks.

The murder charge was dismissed by Guildford magistrates' court the following February but the police had become suspicious of the Maguire family.

In a raid on their home in Willesden, evidence of nitro-glycerine was found. Swabs were taken from the hands of several male members of the family and evidence of the substance was detected.

Mrs Maguire has always denied the offence. During her trial she said: "There were never any explosives in my house. I would never have any explosives there. I am the mother of four children."

In Context

All the members of the 'Maguire Seven' served their sentences and were released with the exception of Giuseppe Conlon who died in prison in 1980.

In 1991 the Court of Appeal quashed their convictions after it was ruled the original evidence against them was unsafe.

But Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, sitting with Lords Justice Mann and McCowan fell short of ruling the convictions had been a miscarriage of justice.

They laid no blame on the scientists who conducted the tests which led to the discovery of nitro-glycerine but did concede the suspects could have become unknowingly contaminated with the substance.

On 9 February 2005 Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a public apology to the Maguire Seven and the Guildford Four for the miscarriages of justice they had suffered.

He said: "I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and such an injustice.

"They deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated."

03 March 2006

Prisoners’ resolve is strengthened in the face of increasing adversity

Daily Ireland

In the fifth excerpt from the Denis O’Hearn biography Bobby Sands: Nothing But an Unfinished Song, the brutality of the screws makes a second hunger strike inevitable


On the morning of New Year’s Day, Bobby’s family visited him. He intended to tell them that he would be leading a new hunger strike. But he couldn’t. Instead, he asked Adams to get someone to tell them.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usA week later, Bobby was finalising the details of a new hunger strike where he would undoubtedly be the first to die. He even sent out a short biography of himself for use in publicity. Threats of a hunger strike began to have an effect on the authorities, however. On January 15, Governor Hilditch came to Bobby’s cell to talk to him about the situation. He said he needed some time to think about how to respond to the prisoners’ offer to come off of the no-wash protest in order to test how far the authorities would change the regime. He asked for a week’s moratorium on any new protest by the prisoners while he considered the situation. (click photo to view)

Bobby gave the governor one further by saying that “as an indication of our good will and willingness and sincerity” he would move ten men from his own wing and ten others from H5 off of the no-wash protest. They would wash, shave, and slop out. Bobby and Bik MacFarlane thought that they, too, could use a bit of time to re-examine their position. In the meantime, they could test what Hilditch meant when he told Sands that the “prison regime was not static and was indeed developing”.

The blanketmen gave Governor Hilditch his week. A wing of prisoners from H3 (Bobby’s wing) and another from H5 (Séanna Walsh’s wing) moved into clean cells with furniture and beds. They began washing. Bobby sent out word to the families to bring their clothes the following Friday. If the governor let them in, things could proceed further, step-by-step. If the authorities failed this first test, protest would be back on the agenda.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usDid Bobby seriously think that the prison authorities would move on the clothing issue? Clearly not. Rather, he had to prove to his own people that he had gone the last mile before calling on them to mobilise once again for a hunger strike. By taking the step of moving into clean wings and forcing the governor’s hand, Bobby’s primary goal may have been to move his own comrades, not his enemies. (click photo to view)

After shaves and haircuts, the prisoners were new men.

“Bed’s breaking my back,” Bobby wrote Liam Óg. “We’re not used to such comforts . . . writing on a table is strange, sitting on a chair. Men saw themselves in the mirror last week for the first time in almost three years. It was frightening, especially for Rasputin, or I mean Bik.”

Beginning on Friday, January 23, families arrived at Long Kesh with packages of clothes. On Sunday, Bobby sent a message to Séanna Walsh to have his men ready for Tuesday night. If they did not have their own clothes by then, they would smash their furniture and trash their cells at 9pm. He wrote to the movement, telling them his plans for Tuesday night. They were not amused. Liam Óg frantically sent comms to Bobby on Monday and Tuesday, instructing him to call off the protest. Bobby got the comms but he never gave Walsh the message.

“The sagart [priest] didn’t appear,” he wrote to Liam Óg as an excuse for not passing on his instructions.

Technically, this was true. But the missing priest was convenient. Bik MacFarlane is definitive that he and Bobby decided to send a clear signal to the authorities that they “meant business”. They also wanted to put their own people into a clear frame for action.

The movement was on a completely different wavelength. They thought that smashing the furniture was the beginning of a transition period back into the dirty protest. They were so opposed to the second hunger strike that they did not realise how far into that strategy the prisoners had already moved.

Tuesday came and there were no clothes. Since Séanna Walsh had not heard the instruction to cancel the protest, Bobby decided he also had to go ahead. He wrote the movement that “H5 were going to move. So, rather than halt on the move, we all moved”.

At nine o’clock on Tuesday night “the lads gave the furniture the message”. They broke up their wooden beds, the tables, and chairs. Some tried to break out their windows. After half an hour, ten warders came to Bobby’s wing. Whatever the prisoners expected, what happened was even worse. The warders moved them from B-wing to C-wing, and “they didn’t allow them to walk over, instead they grabbed them by the hair and run them over, kicking and punching the whole time”.

According to Bobby, six men were thrown over a table. The cheeks of their behinds were torn apart by screws.

“Comrade, this is sexual assault,” he wrote to Liam Óg.

The same thing was happening over in H5. The screws organised a gauntlet between the clean wing and the dirty wing. Each prisoner was beaten to a pulp as he ran from his clean cell to the new dirty cell. Men who were waiting to be moved listened to the shouting and the screaming, waiting in horror for their own turn. Bobby described the scene that awaited them: “C-wing has just been vacated . . . The cells were bogging, covered in excreta, also puddles of water on cell floors where the cleaner had begun work.”

The prisoners were left in darkness in filthy cells, with no water to drink, no beds, and “not even a bloody blanket”. All they had was the towel they wore around their waist. The men who went through that night agree that it was the worst night of their lives. They were freezing. They were sore. And it was one thing to live in your own shit; being thrown into another man’s shit was positively sickening.

Bobby organised a singsong to keep them going. Each man walked up and down his cell, trying to keep warm, singing along to the songs. But before long, they’d had enough. They just tried to concentrate on getting some heat into themselves – walking up and down, sitting down and then getting up, rubbing their bodies and hopping from foot to foot. But Bobby kept going, trying to take everyone’s mind off of the conditions. All night long he just kept up a constant banter, singing away on his own, shouting down: “Are you all right? C’mon boys!”

All night, while Bobby kept up their spirits, prisoners rang the buzzers to call the warders. No one came. One prisoner took sick twice in the middle of the night but no one came to help. It was eight o’ clock the next morning before the warders came back on the wing. When they arrived, six men had to go to the doctor.

The PO finally came at 10am and gave the men, in Bobby’s words, “half a fuckin’ blanket each!” The governor came at 11am. Each man asked for a complaint form so that their lawyer could charge Governor Hilditch with breaches of prison rules. That afternoon, the warders left the dinner sitting until it was cold and then distributed it to the men. It was nearly 1:30am when they finally received bedding.

“We sat all night naked, up until five minutes ago, before the bastards found it in themselves to give us blankets and mattresses,” Bobby complained to Liam Óg. “The boys are exhausted, the wing’s like a morgue, all asleep . . . I’m away for a sleep, think I’m sleeping now!”

Tomorrow’s excerpt describes how Bobby Sands informed his family about the next hunger strike.

Bobby Sands book launches:
Belfast: Thursday, March 9, 7pm, St Mary’s College, Falls Road.
Dublin: Friday, March 10, 7pm, Pádraig Pearse Centre, Pearse Street.
Dundalk and Drogheda: Monday, March 13, Barlow House, Drogheda, 5.30pm; Imperial Hotel, Dundalk, 8pm.
Derry, Tuesday, March 14. Details to be confirmed.
Mid-Ulster, Wednesday, March 15, 7pm, Mid-Ulster Republican Centre, Gulladuff.

It's Over: No asbestos dump in West Belfast


After weeks of tireless campaigning Grove Services Group finally agree to pull the plug on their controversial asbestos dump planned for the West

by Francesca Ryan

Controversial plans for an asbestos storage facility in West Belfast have been scrapped thanks to the Andersonstown News-backed campaign which has been running for the last two months.

In a welcome turnaround, Grove Services Group, the company behind the plans, announced this week that they would not be proceeding with the contentious planning application.

The decision came after the company's Managing Director, Dougie Sloan, held a series of talks with local representatives including Sinn Féin's Paul Maskey (right) who headed the campaign against the dump.

“Grove Services are to be congratulated on this decision," said a pleased Councillor Maskey yesterday.

“After consultation with political and community representatives, Grove Services have taken the fears of local people on board and have agreed to abandon plans to bring an asbestos transfer facility to their Kennedy Way premises.

“People living and working in this area will be relieved that Grove Services have put the needs of the community before their own business interests.
“The reality is that the Planning Service would have allowed the planning application for an asbestos transfer facility.

“Against this background the Grove Services’ decision to withdraw their proposals in this regard is wholly commendable."

Although grateful that the potentially deadly substance will not be transported through or stored in densely-populated West Belfast, Councillor Maskey called for a more stringent policy in the planning arena as the current system, he says, offers little opportunity for communities to challenge such applications.

“Thanks to the Grove Services’ decision the Upper Falls area will not have to face the prospect of asbestos storage. However, it should not go unnoticed that government policy in this regard leaves local communities wide open to this sort of threat.

“West Belfast has been fortunate in this instance in so far as this particular application was made by a local company sympathetic to the needs of local people.

“Were this not the case, the outcome might have been entirely different. Legislation relating to asbestos storage needs to be tightened to ensure that public safety considerations are not just left to the goodwill of the business community.”

Journalist:: Francesca Ryan

SDLP no vote for Daily Ireland


Unionist politicians, aided by SDLP and Alliance councillors, rejected a motion in Belfast City Council last night (Wednesday) to include Daily Ireland in its advertising list of approved national daily papers.
A decision to include the North Belfast News’s sister paper had passed at committee stage after a Sinn Féin amendment, but it was knocked back by full council at last night’s full council meeting. The decision now means that only the Belfast Telegraph, News Letter, Daily Mirror and Irish News can publish Council legal notices in respect of applications for licences and permits.
13 Sinn Féin councillors voted to keep Daily Ireland on the list, while 20 unionist and Alliance Party councillors voted no.
Five SDLP councillors abstained including North Belfast councillors Pat Convery, Alban Maginness and Cathal Mullaghan.
Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast North Belfast Councillor Pat Convery, who spoiled his vote, said the decision not to vote was made by the SDLP group before they went into the council’s chamber.
“Basically the group made the decision before they went into Council based on the information we had,” Pat Convery said.
“That’s the decision we came to after a long discussion – the auditing was used for all other papers, it was only right it should be applied to Daily Ireland.
“We’ve no problem supporting it if the Northern Ireland Target Group Index (NITGI) figures were available. What we want is the verification of a large cover of advertising.”
Daily Ireland publisher Máirtín Ó’Muilleoir said the decision would not deter the company.
“For 34 years Belfast City Council has had a policy of diverting advertising away from the Andersonstown News group. That policy landed them in hot water with the Ombudsman before now and it is to be hoped that in 2006 they will start to behave in a businesslike and fair manner,” he said.
“For our part we will report the news fairly and without prejudice to any party.
It’s up to the Council and to the parties within to make the same commitment in the allocation of their advertising.”

Journalist:: Áine McEntee

Nationalist politicians blast the latest housing figures


The Housing Executive have been told they must work harder to provide housing for nationalists in North Belfast after the latest figures released show the housing stress list has lengthened.
In the annual Housing Market Review published this week the figures for the period betwen 2002 and 2005 show that the number of people registered as being in urgent need of a house rose by 14 per cent in North Belfast and an even larger 16 per cent if you take into account those registered who have less than 30 points. These people are not included in official Housing Executive statistics because they are deemed to already live in adequate accommodation.
In another shocking statistic, figures show that despite a new homeless strategy that has been implemented by the Housing Executive, the number of people registered as being without a home rose by 10 per cent.
Commenting on the figures, North Belfast Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Caral Ní Chuilin said the figures were damning and raised equality issues because of how they impacted on nationalists.
“Despite their attempts to relocate families and move them into adequate accommodation the figures show it obviously isn’t happening at a pace that meets the need of the people who are living in poor conditions.
“They really need to look at buying more land for housing. The Department for Regional Development needs to take into consideration that land purchased in North Belfast is well above the average price in comparison to other parts of the city and if they are serious about addressing the homelessness problem they have to do it based on need. Their homeless strategy is failing and their North Belfast housing strategy is not far behind it.”
She added: “I am concerned about the equality and human rights implications regarding these latest figures and I will be seeking further advice on it because of the impact on nationalists.”
North Belfast SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said he also had concerns about how the figures were rising.
“This is something that I have been aware of for quite some time. There has been a very significant increase in housing stress, it is a deplorable situation and one that reflects a growing increase in housing stress throughout Belfast and Northern Ireland.
“We have our own particular problems in North Belfast and those problems are exacerbated by the absense of building land but I do believe that the Housing Executive, having spoken to them about the situation, are committed to resolving it. The windfall sites of Torrens and Girdwood will do much to relieve the pressure over the next two or three years but we are going to continue to have a short-term housing crisis in relation to the Catholic community in North Belfast.”
Calling on the Housing Executive to do more, he said that movement needed to be made on the Girdwood site
“I want to see the Housing Executive doing more and I want them to review the North Belfast Housing Strategy, I also think that in relation to Girdwood the development plans for that should be given a top priority and should be expedited.”

Journalist:: Evan Short

'Justice has been done...'


**Please also see Remembering Emma Lynch and Christopher Shaw

Parents hope for maximum sentence as driver who killed local children is found guilty

Ciarán Barnes

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA driver who killed two local children in a horrific collision should serve the maximum sentence behind bars, the parents of one of his victims said yesterday.

Michael and Martine Shaw were speaking after a jury found 44-year-old Wayne Johnston guilty of two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and one count of causing grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving.

In December 2003, Johnston was behind the wheel of a car that ploughed into 13-year-old Darren Shaw, his brother Christopher (11) and their friend, eight-year-old Emma Lynch, as they walked a dog along the Springfield Road. Christopher and Emma died as a result of the crash, while Darren spent weeks in intensive care. Thankfully, Darren is making a good recovery.
Johnston denied causing their deaths, but at Belfast Crown Court yesterday a jury took just 45 minutes to find him guilty.

Speaking outside the court, the parents of Darren and Christopher called on the court to impose a maximum life sentence.

Martine Shaw, the boys’ mother, said, “Hopefully he will get what he deserves.

“I just want to say that he has given every member of the Shaw and Lynch families a life sentence, so hopefully he will get what he is entitled to – the maximum sentence – because we have to live with it for the rest of our lives.”
The brothers’ father, Michael Shaw, added simply: “Justice has been done.”

During the two-week trial the jury heard evidence of how Johnston lost control of his Vauxhall Astra car on the Springfield Road on December 19, 2003, mounting the pavement and ploughing into the group of friends who were out walking a dog. Witnesses said they saw his car swerve into oncoming traffic and on to the pavement before the fatal impact, with the vehicle uprooting a traffic light and dragging it up the road where it crashed into the back of a parked 4x4.

Johnston had claimed he suffered a “blackout” because of a coughing fit after having lit a cigarette in the moments before the smash.

Christopher Shaw died shortly after the accident while family friend, Emma Lynch, lived for a few days on life support at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Tragically, medical efforts to save her failed.

Christopher’s brother, Darren, who is now 15, suffered a fractured skull as well as cuts and bruises.

Trial judge Mr Justice Morgan remanded Johnston into custody and adjourned passing sentence until later next month while pre-sentence probation reports are compiled.

Journalist:: Ciaran Barnes


**Please also see Remembering Emma Lynch and Christopher Shaw

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA NORTH Belfast father who has been in mourning for the last two years after the death of his only daughter has told of how he broke down and cried when he heard her killer had been convicted of causing death by dangerous driving this week.

11-year-old Christopher Shaw and eight-year-old Emma Lynch had been walking along the Springfield Road in West Belfast when a car driven by 44-year-old Wayne Johnston, formerly of the Highfield Estate, struck them. The children had been taking a pet puppy for a walk with Christopher’s father Michael Shaw when a Vauxhall Astra driven by Johnston mounted the pavement and ploughed into the pedestrians. Christopher died at the scene and Emma passed away in hospital after surviving for another three days on a life support machine.

Fighting back the tears, Emma’s father, Joe Caughey, said the last two years have been the worst of his life.

“I knew when the court case came round it would be hard but I didn’t think it would be this hard. I am in a daze – I feel numb, I just don’t know how to react.”

The New Lodge man still feels a lot of anger towards Wayne Johnston and says he could not attend court because he couldn’t face looking at the man who killed his daughter.

“The day we buried Emma was Christmas Eve, the same day that he [Wayne Johnston] got out on £500 bail, that just knocked the heart out of me,” said Joe.

“If I had done something like that I would have put my hands up right away, but he lied from the start. I just thank God that the jury were not taken in by his lies. My main worry now is that he will appeal and get off, that’s my real concern.”

Johnston claimed that he had lost control of his car after he took a coughing fit and blacked out. But the jury returned a unanimous verdict that he was guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving to 13-year-old Darren Shaw who had also been out with the group.

Johnston was remanded in custody and is due for sentencing next month, when he could receive a maximum of ten years behind bars – a sentence Joe would welcome.

“Whatever he gets it can never be big enough because we have to live with this for the rest of our lives.

“Emma was a miracle child, I was told I couldn’t have children and then we had her when I was forty. I know I will never have any more children. It breaks my heart that I only had her for eight years, this man has robbed me of my wee angel.”

Journalist:: Evan Short



03/03/06 09:50 EST

Two leading loyalists who have had talks with Irish premier Bertie Ahern and President Mary McAleese's husband were among 17 people arrested in a police raid in Belfast last night.

Armed police using CS gas stormed the Alexander Bar in Tigers Bay, north Belfast, where it is understood the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was rehearsing for a so-called show of strength. It is understood an event was being planned for some time this weekend.

South Belfast UDA leader Jackie McDonald and Ihab Shoukri, brother of north Belfast UDA leader Andre, were among those detained for questioning over what the PSNI say is an investigation into serious crime.

The UDA are involved in drug dealing, money laundering, racketeering and intimidation. A bitter internal feud has led to a number of murders in recent years.

McDonald and Shoukri were part of an Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) delegation that held talks with Bertie Ahern in 2004.

Mr Martin McAleese has met the pair on a number of occasions - the most recent of which was last month - in an attempt to get the UDA declare and end to paramilitary activity.

He also played a round of golf with McDonald at the exclusive K Club, Co Kildare, and Mrs McAleese embraced him during a visit to south Belfast last year.

Though considered well-intentioned, the meetings have been met with muted criticism in nationalist circles.

Today, DUP MLA Ian Paisley jnr questioned the wisdom of Mrs McAleese meeting with "people whose backgrounds can only be described as extremely dubious".

It is understood police Land Rovers were also on standby in the nearby nationalist New Lodge road area.

Sinn Fein members were concerned that the presence of the police vehicles could attract young people wishing to attack them and they pleaded with them to go home and not get involved.

Councillor Caral ni Chuilin said if it turned out that loyalists were planning a show of strength in the bar, it demonstrated how futile those actions were.

The north Belfast councillor said: "It is ironic that years into an IRA ceasefire, months into a declaration of the end of its armed campaign and since decommissioning was completed, that loyalist paramilitaries are still involved in shows of strength.

"If we are to go forward then we need loyalists to help their own communities and copperfasten the peace process by putting the weapons beyond use and not engaging in this kind of activity. There is no need for armed organisations."

SDLP policing spokesman Alex Attwood said: "The actions to close down the activities of the UDA or any other illegal organisations are fully justified."

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