18 November 2006

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17 November 2006

Ex-councillor to be sentenced for vote fraud


17/11/2006 - 08:53:42

A former Democratic Unionist councillor will be sentenced in a court in the North today after admitting fraud during the 2005 elections.

Sentencing was delayed last month after former Coleraine mayor Dessie Stewart punched a press photographer on his way in to court in Antrim.

He will appear at Newry Crown Court after admitting in September four counts of pretending to be someone else in order to cast postal votes and two of fraudulently stopping free exercise of a proxy vote.

Stewart resigned from the DUP last month and has also stepped down from the council.

A by-election will now take place in the Skerries ward where he had held a seat since 1989.

The electoral fraud charges against Stewart related to the Westminster and local government elections which took place on the same day in May 2005.

Second amnesty in knife crackdown


New laws to tackle knife crime as well as a second amnesty have been announced by the government.

The Violent Crime Reduction Act makes it illegal to sell knifes to anyone under 18 and introduces a new offence of using someone to mind a weapon.

The knife amnesty will begin on 20 November. Almost 900 items were handed in during the first amnesty.

Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson said the government was determined to "confront knife crime".

"It is important that it is made more difficult to purchase knives in Northern Ireland and this law will also introduce other measures such as making it illegal to use someone to mind a weapon," he said.

"Almost 900 potentially lethal items were removed from the streets of Northern Ireland during the first amnesty and I would again call on everyone to use this opportunity to dispose of any knives in a secure and safe way.

"The government, in partnership with the PSNI and Policing Board will continue to confront the culture of carrying knives in Northern Ireland."

In June, police said that 886 knives were handed in during a three-week amnesty which also saw a 30% drop in incidents of knife crime.

The Violent Crime Reduction Act received Royal Assent on 8 November.

For Northern Ireland, the act made new provisions on weapons including:

--Raising the age at which knives or items with blades or points can be purchased from 16 to 18 years of age and crossbows from 17 to 18 years of age

--Establishing a new offence of using someone to mind a weapon

--Reducing the threshold for a constable to exercise his power of entry and search of a school and person on school premises for weapons

--Extends current law on minimum sentences (five years for adults and three years for 16-18 year-olds) in an additional series of offences involving firearms possession and use

--Amends firearms law to tackle misuse of imitation firearms by making it an offence to manufacture, import or sell imitation firearms.

The government is planning for the commencement of these new powers.

Ulster Unionist assembly member Ken Robinson said the positioning of repositories for knives being surrendered "must be centrally located in places where young people, in particular, go".

"They must not be in out of the way, inaccessible places such as council civic amenity sites," he said.

"Better locations with more thought going into positioning will lead to more knives being taken out of circulation."

INLA not targeting SF leadership - insists IRSP

Derry Journal

16 November 2006

THE INLA is NOT targeting prominent Sinn Fein leaders, the political party linked to the paramilitary group has revealed.
Earlier this week, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness told the 'Journal' that the party was convinced of an "active threat" to members of its leadership.
The Mid-Ulster MP revealed that there had been growing concerns for some time of a "coming together between a tiny number of disaffected former IRA people and elements of various micro groups, including some members of the INLA."
Indeed, PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde, speaking during a visit to Derry yesterday, said police were treating the reported threats as "very real".
However, Willie Gallagher, a leading member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) - which has links to the INLA - accused Mr. McGuinness of "talking absolute rubbish."
He told the 'Journal' this week: "These ridiculous claims are a blatant attempt to negate any debate within the anti-PSNI republican camp.
"The very fact that both Peter Hain and Hugh Orde have said that they are also aware of these claims suggests this is a co-ordinated spin exercise by both the leadership of Sinn Fein and their British masters."
Mr. Gallagher added: "I am one of the individuals who has attended every one of these so-called 'coming togethers' that Martin McGuinness has referred to and I can assure him that nothing of the sort that he has alluded to was discussed.
"In fact, to be quite frank, if talk like that had come up, we would not have been there."
Mr. Gallagher branded Mr. McGuinness' remarks as "part of the latest strategy to negate any dissenting voices within republicanism.

"However, he needs to realise that we won't be deflected from our opposition to acceptance of a corrupt British police force."

Assembly to be dissolved for election


16/11/2006 - 12:18:49

The Northern Ireland Assembly is to be dissolved next January to prepare for a fresh Stormont election on March 7, the British government revealed today.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain’s Bill implementing the St Andrews Agreement confirmed the Assembly would be dissolved on January 30 ahead of the full restoration of power sharing.

The Bill will enable a transitional Assembly to meet from November 24.

It is not clear if the Democratic Unionist leader the Rev Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness would be sworn in as Shadow First and Deputy First Ministers at next week’s meeting of the Assembly.

Ulster parties to nominate first minister and deputy


16/11/2006 - 15:20:26

The British government wants the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin to indicate next week who will be their choice for first and deputy first ministers at Stormont if efforts to revive power sharing are to remain on course.

Following the publication of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill, it became clear DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness will not be appointed first and deputy first ministers or have to take a pledge of office.

Instead, the parties will have to declare at the first meeting of a new Transitional Assembly tomorrow week who they intend to nominate to the top posts in the Executive once devolution is restored on March 26.

A Stormont source said: "The DUP will probably say Ian Paisley will be our nominee for first minister in the event of Sinn Féin delivering on its commitment to policing by March 26.

"Sinn Féin will say Martin McGuinness would be their preferred choice."

The Bill also revealed that the Transitional Assembly would be dissolved on January 30 to enable fresh Stormont elections on March 7 ahead of the planned date for restoring power sharing on March 26.

The emergency legislation is being rushed through Parliament over the next week.

It also covers plans to possibly reconstitute District Policing Partnerships in the event of devolution, delay a ban on academic selection and hold out the possibility of Assembly members taking the final decision, and also force MLAs to report back to the Government on March 27 2008 on plans to transfer policing and justice powers from Westminster.

Omagh DNA evidence 'unreliable'


16 November 2006

A second forensic scientist has called into question the DNA evidence at the Omagh bomb trial.

Professor Allan Jamieson said in his view, low copy number DNA was unreliable and the test results were open to interpretation.

This technique, where DNA profiles can be obtained from samples with only a few cells, is an important part of the prosecution's case against Sean Hoey.

Mr Hoey denies 58 charges including the murder of 29 people in Omagh in 1998.

Belfast Crown Court heard that molecules used in low copy number DNA were the size of a millionth of a grain of salt.

Giving evidence for the defence, Professor Jamieson said that in his opinion, the less DNA being tested, the less chance there was of a reliable result.

Also giving evidence on Thursday was a forensic scientist in the unit specialising in the technique, who examined items in this case.

Samantha Underwood said she wore a lab coat, hair net, gloves and face mask to prevent contanimation of exhibits as they were being swabbed.

She said it was common practice to change gloves between swabs, but said she and her colleagues shared lab coats that were cleaned once a week.

The case continues.

16 November 2006

Government publishes Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill


Thursday 16 November 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill received its first reading in the House of Commons today and will be debated in both houses of Parliament next week.

>>Agreement .pdf file

Terry Waite to unveil Omagh bomb archive

Belfast Telegraph

**Note: Archive link not working at this time.

By Lesley-Anne Henry
16 November 2006

A new website archiving the Omagh bomb and its aftermath has been officially launched.

The Omagh Bomb Digital Archive was due to be unveiled by former Beirut hostage Terry Waite at the town's library this morning.

The site is based on the archive collection housed in Omagh Library and includes media coverage, cards, books of condolence and other material relating to the events of 15 August, 1998.

Online visitors can access more than 10,500 newspaper articles, 15,000 emails, 818 books of condolence, 52 videos, nearly 3,000 floral tribute cards, 1,000 sympathy cards and look at the 20 patchwork quilts and cushions presented by the NI Patchwork Guild.

The site is aimed at making the archive available to a global audience.

It has been developed by the Western Education and Library Board (WELB) Library Service in partnership with Omagh Support and Self Help Group (OSSHG) with funding from the Victims Strategy Implementation Fund.

A WELB spokesman said the site would be a lasting tribute to the victims and their families.

He added: "The purpose of the new archive is to ensure that all relevant material is properly and respectfully collected, preserved and organised for future use by victims and their families, the local community, academics, researchers and historians."

Funding for the project came from The Victims Strategy Implementation Fund as well as donations from Omagh District Council.

The site acknowledges: "The success of the digitisation project and this website would not have been possible without the help and hard work of a great many people. Special thanks must go to The Victims Strategy Implementation Fund for their financial support and to all the newspapers and photographers who so generously allowed material to be reproduced on the site."

For further information log on to www.archiveomagh.co.uk

New bill to create interim Ulster assembly


Matthew Tempest and agencies
Wednesday November 15, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary, will tomorrow (Thursday) begin the job of rushing through one of the most urgent pieces of legislation in the Queen's speech - a bill to create a transitional Northern Ireland assembly under the historic St Andrews agreement.

The bill would create a transitional assembly between November and next March, when it would also allow for the recreation of the full devolved Assembly.

Devolved government was suspended in Northern Ireland four years ago in the wake of an alleged IRA spy ring.

A second bill relating to Northern Ireland was also in the Queens speech, which would allow for more jury trials as the province reaches a process of normalisation and greater peace.

Until now many trials have been held under the Diplock court system, and presided over by a judge only, for fear of intimidation and sectarian reprisals on jury members.

The director of public prosecutions will, under the legislation, have the ability to decide whether certain cases will be tried without a jury. This will affect cases where the DPP believes there is a risk that jurors may be intimidated.

The main Northern Ireland (St Andrews agreement) bill - being introduced tomorrow by Mr Hain to the Commons - will create a new transitional assembly operating between November 24 - the day when the Democratic Unionist leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness are due to be appointed first and deputy first minister - and the restoration date of a new executive.

Under British and Irish government proposals, March 26 has been set as the target date for restoring a fully functional power-sharing executive.

The bill will also contain a commitment to allow the electorate to endorse the St Andrews proposals either through a fresh assembly election or referendum. Most commentators expect fresh elections in the spring.

The legislation will also change the procedure for appointing the first minister and deputy first minister, which currently can only go ahead if the joint nominees secure the support of a majority of unionist assembly members and a majority of nationalists.

The November 24 date for swearing in of the Dr Paisley Mr McGuinness is starting to slip, however, as the DUP complains that the republicans are not fully committed to backing the new Police Service of Northern Ireland.

To do that, the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, who earlier this week revealed there have been death threats against him and other senior party leaders from hard-line republicans, will have to call a special party conference to consider any change in policy.

The West Belfast MP has insisted he cannot recommend a special party conference on policing because negotiations on the issue are continuing.

In particular, Sinn Féin wants the DUP to agree to a definite date for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont and to the type of government department that will handle it. Both sides will be scrutinising the St Andrews legislation to see if it offers a solution to the key issue of transferring powers.

The bill will also make changes to the ministerial code and duties will be placed on a restored power-sharing government to develop strategies relating to poverty and social exclusion and the development of the Irish and Ulster Scots languages.

There will also be amendments of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, changing the way district police partnerships are appointed in the province, and to the education (Northern Ireland) order 2006, allowing the assembly to have the final say on whether academic selection should be scrapped in the event of a return to power sharing.

Looking to political progress at Edentubber anniversary

Newty Democra

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

OVER 2,000 people attended the 49th anniversary of Edentubber on Sunday where they heard senior Sinn Féin member Martina Anderson say the St Andrew's Agreement provides an opportunity to move the stagnant political situation forward.

Republicans from across Ireland were there to remember the night of November 11, 1957, when Paul Smith from Bessbrook, Oliver Craven from Newry, Michael Watters from Ravensdale and George Keegan and Paddy Parle from Wexford were killed when a bomb exploded prematurely.

Relatives of the five men heard Ms Anderson, a Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle member, tell the crowd that the spin and hype which followed the St Andrew's discussions has been replaced by a more sober analysis of what the two governments produced.

"The reality remains that Sinn Féin want to see progress made," she said. We want to see the political institutions back in place. We want to see Ian Paisley finally abandon the sectarian politics with which he has become synonymous and embrace a new way forward for politics on this island.

"What we went to St Andrew's looking for, and what is required, is not another agreement, but an implementation plan for the one we already have and the one already endorsed overwhelmingly by the people of Ireland.

"In remembering those who died 49 years ago in Edentubber let us take on this task readily, with determination and with container loads of energy, following the example of the people down the years who gave their lives in pursuance of this struggle".

On behalf of the Sinn Féin leadership, Ms Anderson extended her deepest condolences to the family, friends and comrades of IRA volunteer Gerald Fearon who died in a car crash two weeks ago.

Pledge to fully endorse police


(William Graham, Irish News)

Ministers in a future Stormont executive, including Sinn Féin, will have to take a ministerial pledge fully endorsing the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the criminal justice system.

The wording of such a pledge is to be published in legislation tomorrow (Thursday).

Political sources have told The Irish News that the pledge will be very similar to paragraph six of the St Andrews agreement.

This unambiguous pledge would involve future Sinn Féin ministers having to promise to actively encourage everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board.

The British and Irish governments are going to be strict on this issue of support for upholding the rule of law, although it should be pointed out that negotiations on this matter are at a very sensitive stage.

Sinn Féin is engaged in a difficult internal debate on the policing issue and have yet to organise an ard chomhairle meeting to set the date for a special ard fheis where republicans would decide whether to sign up to the new police arrangements in the north.

At this stage, if the DUP was to nominate Ian Paisley as first minister and Sinn Féin to nominate Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister, it is unclear whether they would have to take this pledge on November 24.

Even though the plan is to have these nominations in place by November 24 the designated ministers would not take up their duties until the executive is hoped to be restored on March 26.

The exact choreography on November 24 is also still to be worked out although it is understood that the legislation may leave some of the detail to the implementation of standing orders which could be changed or altered by Secretary of State Peter Hain at the last minute.

The legislation will contain within it a power or a duty to wind things up on March 26 or before then if there is not restoration of the political institutions. This is seen as a way of keeping pressure on the political parties throughout the St Andrews timetable to move forward.

In addition the legislation is understood to provide for a fresh Assembly election next year instead of a referendum.

There was draft legislation published a week before the St Andrews negotiations and it is believed that as far as the SDLP are concerned this upcoming new legislation on Thursday will include a number of improvements in terms of good government.

The big difference for the SDLP will be that an exclusion from office clause has been dropped.

But on some issues the SDLP believe the legislation could be better and sources point out that any changes agreed under St Andrews should be repealed automatically if the DUP does not agree to restoration of devolution. This would be what is called a sunset clause which would deny the DUP getting anything without signing up to fully restored powersharing government.

There will be a strengthening of the north south agenda in the legislation – in that it will stop any refusal by the unionists to nominate ministers to attend ministerial council meetings.

Concerns remain among nationalists that the legislation will not deal adequately with the question of MI5 and its future role in Northern Ireland.

November 16, 2006

This article appeared first in the November 15, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

Murdered councillor's family to meet Ahern


16/11/2006 - 08:08:06

The family of murdered Donegal Sinn Féin councillor Eddie Fullerton will raise demands for a public inquiry today at a long-awaited meeting with the Taoiseach.

Mr Fullerton was shot dead in front of his wife at his Buncrana home in May 1991, in an attack by a loyalist paramilitary gang.

The Taoiseach’s decision to meet the Fullerton family comes after intensive campaigning by the family and by Sinn Féin for an independent public inquiry into alleged collusion between loyalists and British security forces.

Mr Fullerton’s daughter, Amanda, said that some gardaí at the centre of the Morris Tribunal played key roles in the murder investigation.

She explained: “Daddy was a dedicated Sinn Féin councillor who worked tirelessly to help others irrespective of their political or religious affiliations.”

She added: “Fifteen years on, and amidst great public concern in relation to the circumstances surrounding the murder and the Garda investigation, we welcome this opportunity to discuss the case with the Taoiseach.”

Mr Fullerton served 12 years as a Sinn Féin councillor on Donegal Co Council and Buncrana Urban Town Council.

His son, Albert had spearheaded the family campaign for justice until his death in a road accident last March.

Chief Superintendent Noel White, who was appointed in 2004 by Justice Minister Michael McDowell to re-examine evidence in the case, met the Fullerton family in August.

The issue was also raised by Sinn Féin at the multi-party talks at St Andrews in Scotland last month.

Legislation to set March 7 date for Assembly vote


16/11/2006 - 08:12:40

The British government is due to publish new legislation today giving effect to the St Andrew's proposals for restoring devolution in the North.

The bill will set March 7 as the date for fresh Assembly elections to endorse the proposals, rather than the more risky option of a referendum.

It will also introduce changes at the behest of the DUP that the ministerial pledge of office include express support for the police and that the system of electing the First Minister and Deputy First Minister be changed so that the unionist party will not have to vote for a Sinn Féin nominee.

Sinn Féin to meet SNP for first time


16/11/2006 - 09:16:49

Sinn Féin is to hold its first-ever meeting with the Scottish Nationalist Party at Holyrood today.

A spokesman for Sinn Féin confirmed that Upper Bann Assembly member John O’Dowd will lead a delegation to the Scottish Parliament for a round of meetings with MSPs, including the first-ever talks with the SNP.

Talks have also been scheduled with civil servants from the Department of Justice in Edinburgh on tackling sectarianism.

Representatives of the Scottish Socialist Party, Independent MSP Margo MacDonald and trade unionists are also due to meet Mr O’Dowd and his colleagues.

The nationalist SDLP and Ulster Unionists have in recent months held meetings with the Scottish Executive and MSPs, as well as anti-sectarian groups, to discuss how they are tackling religious bigotry.

Earlier this year Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell addressed members of the Northern Ireland Assembly on the benefits of devolution and briefed them on his executive’s efforts to stamp out sectarianism in Scotland.

High radon levels 'causing lung cancer'


16/11/2006 - 10:19:48

Up to 200 people a year die from lung cancer caused by high levels of radon gas in Ireland – way above the global average, health organisations revealed today.

Between 6% and 15% of annual lung cancer deaths across the world are caused by exposure to the gas, which equates to up to 170,000 deaths, according to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In Ireland, up to 13% of lung cancer deaths are caused by exposure to radon, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) said today.

“This is clearly at the upper end of the scale and reflects the high radon levels found in Irish homes,” said Dr Hajo Zeeb, coordinator of the WHO’s International Radon Project.

Radon is a naturally occurring, colourless and odourless radioactive gas. It is formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium, which is present in variable quantities in all rocks and soils.

It can move through the soil and enter buildings through small cracks, holes or imperfections that may exist in the floor area.

The RPII has measured radon in more than 4,000 houses in Co Galway to date and 20% of these have been found to have levels that exceed the acceptable level of 200 Bq/m3 (radioactive material measurement unit is the ‘becquerel’).

One home in Galway was found to have a level of 3,434 Bq/m3, equivalent to receiving nearly twelve chest X-Rays per day – more than 4,000 a year.

Dr Zeeb was attending the fifth National Radon Forum in Galway.

The Forum is a public meeting that provides an opportunity for Government agencies, health professionals, architects, engineers, radon measurement laboratories and the radon remediation industry to discuss issues on radon.

A major theme of this year’s Forum is to compare experience in addressing the radon risk globally and at a local level in Ireland to determine the most effective strategies.

In his keynote address, Dr Zeeb said: “Exposure to radon in homes and workplaces is one of the main radiation risks. The aim of WHO’s International Radon Project is to reduce the number of deaths due to indoor radon.

“Prevention or remediation is relatively easy, however, according to reports from WHO member states, people and politicians are not taking enough notice of this problem.

“WHO can bring together many countries to strengthen international approaches to reduce radon health effects and help raise awareness among the public.”

Dr Ann McGarry, chief executive of the RPII said: “Ireland has one of the highest average radon levels in Europe and we estimate that up to 200 Irish people each year die from lung cancer as a result of exposure to radon gas.

“For their own safety, we again urge the public to measure the levels of radon in their homes. The speakers from the WHO and the UK’s Health Protection Agency demonstrate that the radon risk is not just an Irish problem and that we all need to take this risk seriously.

“Our experience also is that local authorities can play a key role in promoting local awareness of radon. The RPII is working nationally to raise public awareness and we are very appreciative of the assistance of local authorities, such as South Tipperary County Council, who have taken effective steps to promote awareness of radon in their area.”

As part of its awareness campaign, the RPII will have an information stand in the Galway Shopping Centre on the Headford Road next week.

:: Detailed information on radon and its risks, including information on how to get your home or workplace tested for radon, is available on the RPII’s website www.rpii.ie/radon or can be obtained on freefone 1800 300 600 or by texting the word RADON followed by your name and address to 53377.

Team to probe police collusion

Irish Independent

Senan Molony
15 November 2006

NEW investigations into killings in which Northern security forces are suspected of collusion were promised yesterday.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is to establish a "white team", based in London and comprised of outside detectives and investigators, to examine such incidents throughout 30 years of the Troubles.

The announcement was made yesterday as PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde told members of the Dail justice committee: "I understand collusion."

But he said that he did not believe collusion in killings was endemic. "The vast majority of victims were not murdered by the State, but by loyalists and republican paramilitaries.

"Organisations on both sides became very good killing machines. Many would say they did not need help."

The so-called white team to investigate cases of collusion is to grow out of the recently-formed Historic Enquiries Team within the PSNI, which is reviewing cold cases from the start of the modern troubles.

HET director David Cox said the white team - distinct from the PSNI's purple and red teams involved in the review programme - would be made up of external officers, with files and material transferred to London for scrutiny.

Brian Rowan: Loyalist terrorists prepare for change

Belfast Telegraph

'Significant' statements to follow November 24 political deadline

14 November 2006

Loyalist paramilitary leaders have begun preparing their members for significant statements that will change the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando organisations, it can be revealed today.

A statement read on behalf of the 'Brigade Command' of the UVF last Sunday said Northern Ireland may be on the verge of "finally achieving a durable political settlement".

The loyalist organisation was speaking to hundreds of its 'volunteers' at UVF Remembrance events.

It said the changes taking place in Northern Ireland would place "significant challenges at the doorstep of this movement".

The organisation would have to be "visionary" in its outlook and "courageous" in its actions.

During the week of the St Andrews negotiations, the most senior figures in the UVF and Red Hand Commando met outside the United Kingdom to prepare statements on the future of both organisations.

Those statements will deal with a range of activities including recruitment, training, weapons procurement, targeting and punishment attacks, and are expected to say something on the question of loyalist weapons.

The loyalist organisations are waiting on the outcome of the current political negotiations, before making their statements public.

In recent interviews with this newspaper, the UVF said it would make a statement "on future intent" after the November 24 political deadline - the date now set for the nominations of first and deputy first ministers at Stormont.

The secret talks were to develop that statement - a statement expected to set out a new position on a range of paramilitary activities and to deal with the question of weapons.

The UVF and closely-associated Red Hand Commando are also drawing up a new "code of conduct".

In recent interviews, the paramilitary leadership expressed concerns about the possibility of a political 'Plan B' if the DUP and Sinn Fein failed to reach agreement.

UVF must decide where it sits inside new political context


There is only one message to be found in the reading between the lines of what the UVF had to say on Sunday.

This was one of those occasions when the loyalist organisation talked to itself - to its broad membership - hundreds of its 'volunteers' - at the various UVF/Red Hand Commando Remembrance events.

And what it had to say at the weekend was clearly designed to fit with the political backdrop and the possibility of what might yet develop out of the St Andrews Agreement.

We know the UVF position; that it is waiting for the outcome of the latest negotiations, waiting to be sure that Northern Ireland's future is in the hands of local politicians, waiting to be sure that the British-Irish Plan B has gone.

In other words the UVF is waiting for Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams to get on with the business of the St Andrews Agreement, and, while it waits, the loyalist organisation is preparing its membership for change.

You can hear it in the words of last Sunday. There was no detail of what precisely is meant by change, but the tone of what was said in a prepared script across Northern Ireland was about setting a new direction for the loyalist organisation.

At the top of the UVF - inside what is called the Brigade Command - there now seems to be a settled view that Northern Ireland is finally on the verge of a durable political settlement.

And the challenge for the loyalist organisation - the challenge for its leadership - is how it places itself inside this new political context.

At the weekend that leadership told its members that the political changes in Northern Ireland will place "significant challenges at the doorstep of this Movement".

And clearly the paramilitary leadership knows that if its response falls short of those challenges, then it could be left behind - left behind in the new politics beyond the St Andrews Agreement.

The UVF leadership message at the weekend was that "it will not be denied a stake in the future of this country".

So, it is suggesting it won't be left behind.

We know that in the week of the St Andrews negotiations, the most senior figures in the UVF and Red Hand Commando leaderships met outside Northern Ireland - outside the United Kingdom.

They were thinking through their responses to the new politics that are likely to emerge in the not-too-distant future, and they were getting their words and their positions prepared - written and ready to be spoken when the right political moment presents itself.

The statement of last Sunday was preparing the ground - and the UVF and Red Hand Commando organisations - for the inevitable next steps.

And, so, the memberships of those organisations were told that they must be "visionary" in their outlook and "courageous" in their actions.

"Genuine volunteers" would have nothing to fear from what lies ahead. The precise detail of what lies ahead will be known to only a small number of paramilitary leaders who sit at the very top of the UVF organisation.

They have spent a long time listening to those who fill the ranks below them - listening in a consultation process that stretched across Northern Ireland and then into Scotland and England.

That leadership will know that the time for talking is over and that the time for doing is getting ever closer.

And that doing will be measured against other things - the new political circumstances and a situation in which the IRA has ended its armed campaign and put its weapons beyond use.

It is unlikely. No, it is unrealistic to think or believe that the UVF will match all of that in one statement or in one set of actions.

What is more likely is some sort of phased approach - a statement that deals with activities such as targeting, recruitment, training, weapons procurement, punishment attacks and intelligence gathering and which says something about weapons - something by way of reassurance.

Running alongside this - internally within the UVF and Red Hand Commando - there will be a new 'code of conduct' setting new rules to match the new status of the organisations.

And in the bringing together of all of this, the message that has to be clear is that the loyalist war is also over - that is the part of the loyalist war that the UVF and Red Hand Commando have responsibility for.

I think this is where the paramilitary leadership wants to end up. I think we are getting closer to that point, and I think a confirmation that political business is going to be done by the local parties will bring the new thinking and the new words of the UVF out into the open.

Those words are waiting to be spoken by way of a loyalist contribution to the new circumstances that the British and Irish Governments hope can grow out of the St Andrews Agreement.

If the loyalists say and do all that is being hinted at, then it should be a significant moment.

It won't be everyone's idea of perfect, but it will be better than what we've got, and it will give a more solid foundation to our developing peace.

We are seeing at the moment, in what's happening within republicanism, that it is not possible to bring everyone on this journey.

Loyalists too will lose people - those who can't and won't change. That is another of the inevitabilities of a process that is about making war into peace.

Orde: some cold cases may never be reopened

Belfast Telegraph

By Linda McKee
14 November 2006

Many of the serious crimes that took place during the Troubles will never be re-examined, Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde has warned.

The Chief Constable told an audience at Queen's University Belfast last night that there is not the capacity within the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) to deal with all the cases that left people maimed or dead, and voiced doubts over whether the team will be able to deliver within its timeframe and within resources.

He was also critical of public inquiries, warning that their impact on the past could be marginal.

Delivering a speech on 'Policing the Past to Police the Future' as part of the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice Seminar Series, Sir Hugh said: "There were 3,268 deaths related to the security situation.

"In virtually every case, families have questions they would like answers to. In addition to these, tens of thousands of people were injured or traumatised, and still face significant challenges on a daily basis.

"There is not the capacity to deal with all these cases. Many very serious crimes will never be looked at again as the resources are just not available.

"Indeed whether we can deliver within our time frame and within resources is something I am looking at. But we will continue to try our best in the hope that in the near future we will see some leadership grip this issue once and for all," he said.

Hard-hitting judgement confirms all suspicions


(Susan McKay, Irish News)

Does anybody think Peter Hain's bid to be appointed second in command of the government of the UK will be scuppered or even damaged by the fact that the secretary of state has been found to have abused his powers, breached the Good Friday Agreement, acted out of an improper motive, withheld evidence and misled the High Court in Northern Ireland?

And in relation to the most sensitive issue of all, the needs of the victims of the Troubles? No?

No. Last week's extraordinarily hard hitting judgement from Mr Justice Girvan shows only what we already knew, that Hain is arrogant, high-handed, incompetent and, overwhelmingly, indifferent.

These are, of course, excellent qualities for high office in the British Labour party. Prerequisites, even. That this disgraceful behaviour occurred in Northern Ireland will help. Normal standards don't apply on the outer edges of empire.

Last Monday saw the publication of a damning report showing evidence of collusion in murder between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, with the authorities still refusing to tell the truth.

Three days later, Mr Justice Girvan slammed the secretary of state, the permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office, Jonathan Phillips, and the head of the NI civil service, Nigel Hamilton, for their handling of the appointment of the victims commissioner, Bertha McDougall, and for their efforts to cover up their wrong doing in the courts.

Hain has form on this. His appointment of two Orangemen to the Parades Commission is to be challenged in the House of Lords. He created a wholly unnecessary furore by re-arresting the Shankill bomber Sean Kelly at the behest of the DUP and then releasing him at the behest of Sinn Féin.

The truth about this most recent debacle emerged despite Hain's best efforts to keep it concealed. Relatives for Justice, which brought this case along with Brenda Downes, submitted numerous questions under Freedom of Information legislation and were repeatedly refused answers. Documents were designed to mislead the courts.

As the judge pointed out, the government is in a powerful position - it "holds the cards". If it does not make itself accountable to the people and if it is allowed to cover up the way it makes decisions, "such a practise would engender cynicism and lack of trust in the organs of state and be deeply damaging to the democratic process".

Cynicism is paralysing. It plays into the hands of those who want to maintain a corrupt status quo. Cynicism says in the face of injustice, do nothing. Nothing will change anyway. There is more than enough cynicism around in this place. There is also such severe lack of trust in the state that we don't even have devolved government. The democratic process is so deeply damaged that four out of 10 people don't even bother to vote.

That was, of course, why the Good Friday Agreement and the legislation that flowed from it included all kinds of measures and strategies to protect human rights, outlaw discrimination and ensure cross-community support for decisions of government.

The code for public appointments includes terms like merit, independent scrutiny, equal opportunities, probity, openness and transparency. Mr Justice Girvan said these were among the overriding principles to which the government was wedded. Hain trampled all over them. He was "in fundamental breach of all the relevant codes relating to the making of public appointments".

Hain appointed Ms McDougall because the DUP asked him to. He consulted no other political party. He did it knowing it was a divisive move which would offend nationalists.

There is something very poignant about the fact that the two women at the centre of this case are both themselves victims.

Bertha McDougall's husband was a part-time RUC man killed by republicans. Brenda Downes's husband was a civilian killed by the RUC. The judge acknowledged that both had suffered grievously.

The DUP sees Ms McDougall as a victim but their disgraceful behaviour at St Andrews last month, when they verbally abused and sneered at Protestant victims who were in the company of Relatives for Justice, shows that they have no respect for people like Ms Downes.

For trying to pander to Paisley, Hain and his advisors have been shamed in the High Court. They must not get away with playing politics with the rights of those most hurt by the Troubles. It is crucial that the 'immediate and searching inquiry at a high level' into the 'very serious issues' raised by this case, as proposed by Mr Justice Girvan, should be established.

The NIO is, needless to say, silent.

November 15, 2006

This article appeared first in the November 14, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

Killing of two teenagers had deep impact on future MP


(Irish News)

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The Willie Carson picture of Martin McGuinness in military uniform was taken at the funeral of two Derry teenagers shot dead by the British army on March 14 1972.

Colm Keenan (19) and Eugene McGillan (18) were shot close to Dove Gardens in Derry's Bogside on the night that the first Widgery Inquiry into Bloody Sunday ended.

Colm Keenan was a particularly close friend of the young Martin McGuinness.

The future Sinn Féin MP was in the Bogside at the time and has talked in the past about the deep impact the double shooting had on him.

He helped lift Mr McGillan into an ambulance and then saw his close friend Mr Keenan lying with a bullet wound to the head.

While the teenagers were members of the IRA, mystery still surrounds the exact circumstances of their deaths. They were shot during an IRA gun battle but both the IRA and the dead men's families have always insisted that they were not involved in the shooting.

In September 2002 former British army information officer Colin Wallace gave details of the gun battle to the Saville Inquiry sitting in London.

He claimed that on the last day of the inquiry a number of lawyers and military who had been representing British interests at the tribunal decided to go to the Bogside.

While it was denied by the witnesses, there were claims that the group decided to go into the Bogside while at a dinner marking the end of the inquiry.

On entering the Bogside they came under machine gun fire close to Stanley's Walk.

In the ensuing gun battle one of the party was shot in the arm and subsequently had the limb amputated.

A month after the Wallace evidence, Soldier 1872 told Saville he was the officer who was shot during the gun battle.

While he was based in London at the time, the soldier said he was sent to Coleraine for the Widgery Inquiry as part of the British army's legal team. The major said he went on foot patrol with the Royal Green Jackets.

"The patrol I accompanied went to Stanley's Walk where we were ambushed and fired upon by a machine gun. The corporal with us was badly wounded," he told the Saville Inquiry.

"The patrol commander bashed down the door to a house and took him inside. I recall the lady of the house being initially upset at the intrusion but then tried to help."

The former major said they took the injured corporal out of the house to open ground where they again came under fire.

"I returned fire but was shot myself in my right arm."

He said he was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital and on to Mill Bank military hospital where efforts were made to save his hand but it was amputated in November that year.

Soldier 1872 denied a claim by Colin Wallace that Mr McGuinness was present during the gun battle. He said he only saw "gun flashes and dim shadows".

November 14, 2006

This article appeared first in the November 13, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

Photos 'a reminder of why Sinn Féin must back police'


(Seamus McKinney, Irish News)

The publication of what is believed to be the only pictures of Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness wearing an IRA uniform is a "dramatic reminder" of why republicans must endorse and support police and the courts, it has been claimed. (See previous article)

The Irish News yesterday (Monday) published a series of pictures of the MP taken at the funeral of fellow IRA man and close friend Colm Keenan in 1972.

Mr Keenan, along with another IRA member, Eugene McGillan, was shot dead by British soldiers during a gun battle in Derry's Bogside, although the organisation has denied the men were involved in the battle.

Taken by former Irish News photographer Willie Carson, the photographs will be published in a new collection of his work – Derry Through the Lens: Refocus – to mark the tenth anniversary of his death from cancer in 1996.

Published by Guildhall Press, the book includes pictures of Derry through the Troubles and into the peace process, including one of the photographer himself along with well-known press camera man Cyril Cain, who was shot in the leg with a plastic bullet while working in Derry.

Realising the sensitivity around some of the pictures, Mr Carson ordered that they never be published in his lifetime.

In August this year his son William discussed the possibility of publishing the photos with Mr McGuinness, who told him he had already confirmed to the Saville Inquiry that he was an IRA member during the early 1970s.

The DUP's Ian Paisley jnr last night claimed the photograph showed the need for republicans to give their backing to policing structures and the courts.

"If [Sinn Féin] expect to convince people in Northern Ireland they are no longer engaged in a subversive campaign designed to destroy the state and have instead turned to the pursuit of their agenda through exclusively peaceful and democratic means then support for, and working with the police will be evident from Sinn Féin. Decision time for republicans has arrived," he said.

November 15, 2006

This article appeared first in the November 14, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

Explosives accused granted bail


A son of former INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey has been released on bail by the High Court.

Declan McGlinchey, 30, of Gulladuff Road in Bellaghy, is charged with constructing and possessing a bomb discovered at a garage yard in July.

The prosecution is relying on DNA material.

After hearing submissions from prosecution and defence, a judge said the evidence was "not the strongest case," and released him on bail.

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