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Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Duit!

— Happy New Year!

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This coming year, let your light shine in the world’s darkness, and may all good things find you in 2005.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

BBC

Notes ‘legitimately in circulation’

—————————

Belfast Telegraph

Rubbish searched in bank heist hunt

Police sift through refuse at council site

By Jonathan McCambridge, Crime Correspondent

jmccambridge@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

31 December 2004

Police hunting the Northern Bank robbery gang have searched a Belfast City Council depot in west Belfast, it emerged today.

Refuse at the recycling site at Kennedy Way was searched yesterday by officers as they step up their hunt for the gang responsible for the £22m heist – the world’s largest cash bank robbery.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein have accused the police of a campaign of intimidation following searches of commercial premises in the west of the city.

Police yesterday searched the Dairy Farm complex on the Stewartstown Road following operations the day before at the Blackstaff industrial complex on the Springfield Road.

A police spokeswoman said officers would continue to “pursue every possible line of inquiry” as part of their investigation.

But Sinn Fein MLA Michael Ferguson criticised the raids, which he described as “completely unacceptable”.

He said: “Given the failure to uncover any evidence it is clear that the purpose of this operation is not to find bank robbers but to attempt to derail republican efforts to see the peace process put back on track.

“The operations against the republican and nationalist community over Christmas in Belfast demonstrate once again the distance which we still have to travel in order to see a proper democratically accountable policing service delivered.

“There have been searches at business premises and at community projects. This behaviour is completely unacceptable.”

Police have refused to comment on specific raids, but sources have indicated that the search at the council depot on Kennedy Way was to look for items which may have been discarded following last week’s robbery.

It was not revealed if any items were removed from the depot.

An armed gang stole £22m from the vaults of the Northern Bank’s cash centre in Donegall Square West after they took the families of two bank officials hostage.

Belfast Telegraph

Fire bomb blitz putting lives at risk, says PSNI

Retailers told to keep checking premises after latest incident

By Jonathan McCambridge, Crime Correspondent

jmccambridge@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

31 December 2004

Police today warned that someone could be killed if a spate of fire bomb attacks on shops across Northern Ireland continues.

Retailers and shoppers have been issued with a New Year warning after the latest potentially lethal device was found in Co Down.

The package was discovered in the Menary’s store in the Marcus Street area of Newry yesterday afternoon.

The shop was evacuated and the area cordoned off.

Army bomb experts who defused the device said it was crude but could have exploded.

Dissident republicans have been linked to fire bombings which destroyed several stores across the province.

Sixteen devices have now been discovered in Lisburn, Newry, Antrim, Londonderry, Newtownabbey and Ballymena.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland said the coming week would be busy for shopkeepers because of the New Year sales.

He again urged business owners to check their premises for suspicious devices on a daily basis.

He said: “We are calling for everyone’s co-operation to help defeat the individuals trying to inflict this on our community.

“It is not just buildings and property that feel the effect of these devices. The livelihoods of business owners and their staff are affected. The general public, as consumers, also feel the effects.

“Vigilance is the key. Look out for anything suspicious. If you see something that looks as if it is out of place, or even just raises concern, contact police.”

He added: “An incendiary device has the potential to destroy property, and take human life. Its purpose is to cause widespread damage.

“Devices can be left in garments, soft furnishings, and upholstery, anywhere that can catch fire easily.

“I am also appealing to members of the public to help, if you are out shopping, and you see something that looks out of place, tell a member of staff who can call the police.”

Irish Echo

Did cop give Omagh tip-off?

By Anne Cadwallader

acadwallader@irishecho.com



The Aug. 15 Real IRA bombing in Omagh claimed 29 lives.

BELFAST — In a new twist to the continuing saga of the police inquiry into the Omagh bombing, it’s been revealed that the chief suspect for making an anonymous call to police shortly before the attack is another police officer. The former special branch officer is to be questioned on whether he was the source of an anonymous tip about paramilitary activity in Omagh, just days before the devastating bombing.

The phone call, taken by a detective in Omagh, was made on Aug. 4, 1998, 11 days before the Real IRA bombing, in which 29 people were killed. The information passed over in the call was never passed on to police on the ground. The suspect officer is to be asked if he made the call, and if he did, why?

He has already been questioned about other matters unconnected with the Omagh investigation, and although not suspended he has been relieved of special branch duties. The source of the telephone call has never been traced.

The male caller, speaking to a detective constable, named two men who he claimed would be bringing four dismantled AK 47 rifles and two rocket launchers across the Irish border.

The caller told police they belonged to the Continuity IRA, another dissident republican group, and that they would be used in an attack on police in Omagh on Aug. 15.

At the time, the police officer who took the call believed it to be genuine and briefed the senior detective on duty before traveling to Enniskillen, where he passed the information to special branch officers.

They, however, allegedly told him there was nothing new in the information and that the two men named were ordinary criminals. The call and the text of the information was never registered on the database set up for the police investigation.

It wasn’t until two years later, during an internal review of the inquiry by the RUC, that officers in Omagh became aware it had been made.

More than ix years after the atrocity, and with nobody yet charged with the murders, the disclosure that officers are to question one of their own men for allegedly making an anonymous telephone call predicting the attack is leading to renewed pressure for a public inquiry.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was among the dead, said he was stunned by the revelation.

“It’s devastating,” he said. “That call was always a concern to the families and we are still awaiting answers. It seems to me to be the final straw in a long line of discrepancies.”

Godfrey Wilson, whose daughter Lorraine, 15, died in the car bombing, said: “This investigation has been going on for over six years, a crazy length of time. How much longer do we have to wait to get justice?”

The trial of County Armagh man Sean Hoey, 34, who is facing charges involving explosives, and members of the Real IRA, which carried out the bombing, has yet to begin. One of the charges against Hoey involves possession of a timer power unit between March 1997 and Aug. 16, 1998, the day after the Omagh bombing.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission chief, Brice Dickson, has been refused a meeting with police to discuss their investigation. Relatives have hit out at the decision to turn down Dickson’s request for talks.

“The investigation team should be willing to meet with anyone who is looking for justice and who wants to safeguard the rights of innocent victims,” Wilson said. “It seems to me that a cat and mouse game is being played out and it is taking a terrible toll on people’s emotions.”

This story appeared in the issue of December 29, 2004- January 4, 2005

Newshound

Campaign’s legal bid for Colombia Three

(Marie Louise McCrory, Irish News)

Supporters of the so-called Colombia Three – believed to be on the run after being given 17-year jail sentences – were looking at a number of “extraordinary” legal avenues to try to secure the men’s freedom.

Caitriona Ruane of the ‘Bring Them Home’ campaign said it was exploring a range of international legal options to clear the men.

The Sinn Féin assembly member was speaking after returning from Colombia, where she met the three Irish men’s lawyers.

Niall Connolly (38) from Dublin, Martin McCauley (41) from Lurgan in Co Armagh and James Monaghan (58) from Co Donegal were arrested at Bogota International Airport in August 2001.

They were convicted of travelling on false passports but acquitted of training Farc guerrillas and released after being fined.

However, they were told not to leave Colombia while an appeal by the country’s attorney general was heard and earlier this month the trio were each sentenced to at least 17 years in prison on the Farc charge.

The men have since been missing and are suspected of being on the run. It is thought they may have left Colombia.

Speaking last night (Wednesday), Ms Ruane said she did not know the whereabouts of the three.

“I don’t know where they are,” she said.

“I have had no contact with them.”

Ms Ruane said the campaign was exploring a number of legal avenues.

“We went out to look at all the legal options and meet with the lawyers,” she said.

“We have exhausted domestic legal remedies. We are looking at international legal options such as the Inter-America Commission based in Washington, which is the equivalent of the European Court of Human Rights.

“We are also looking at some legal options through the United Nations.”

Meanwhile, Ms Ruane said she stood by criticisms of the human rights record of Colombian attorney general Luis Camilo Osorio.

She said Mr Osorio had released a statement in which he said he would investigate anyone who may have helped the three men leave the country.

“This latest statement is an attempt to bully and intimidate and the ‘Bring Them Home’ (campaign) will not be bullied and intimidated,” Ms Ruane said.

December 31, 2004

________________

IrishExaminer.com

Republicans ‘harassed’ in police probe

31 December 2004

By Gary Kelly

REPUBLICANS have accused the police investigating the £22 million Northern Bank raid of a campaign of harassment against their community.

The claims were made as police carried out a number of searches of premises in the Dairy Farm business complex on the Stewartstown Road area of the city yesterday. This followed searches on Wednesday at the Blackstaff complex on the Springfield Road.

Sinn Féin Assembly member for west Belfast Michael Ferguson said keyholders at the Dairy Farm centre had been ordered by police to turn up at their premises.

“This morning the PSNI once again have launched a series of planned attacks on properties throughout west Belfast. These have included searches on business premises and on community projects. This behaviour is completely unacceptable.”

Mr Ferguson claimed police were acting at the behest of Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist, who had pointed the finger of suspicion at republicans.

“It has become very obvious in recent days that the securocrats still are holding the upper hand within the PSNI. Given the selective media briefing in advance of these operations and the failure to uncover any evidence it is clear that the purpose of this operation is not to find bank robbers but to attempt to derail republican efforts to see the peace process put back on track,” he added.

It was confirmed that nothing was recovered in connection with the robbery during yesterday’s searches of the Blackstaff centre.

A number of dvds were seized during the police operation, but they had no relation to the bank heist.

The spokeswoman added: “Police will continue to pursue every possible line of inquiry in this investigation.”

Meanwhile, the families taken hostage by the gang behind the raid were able to return to their homes yesterday, following a police forensic examination.

Houses belonging to 24-year-old Chris Ward, in the Poleglass area of west Belfast, and Kevin McMullan, in Loughinisland, Co Down, had been preserved as crime scenes since last Monday when details of the raid first emerged.

IOL

SF urges influential unionists to promote power-sharing

31/12/2004 – 08:41:58

Sinn Féin has called on church leaders and others who have influence with unionists to promote the Good Friday Agreement in 2005.

In a new year statement, party spokesman Martin McGuinness expressed disappointment with the DUP’s demand for photographic evidence of IRA decommissioning, which has caused a deal to restore power-sharing in the North to be put on hold.

He described the demand as a pretence and a ploy to delay the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr McGuinness accused the DUP of refusing to begin sharing power with republicans and participating in the cross-border institutions established under the agreement.

He said the big challenge for the Irish and British governments in 2005 was to insist that the 1998 peace deal be implemented, over the heads of the DUP if necessary.

IOL

Northern Bank raid notes used

31/12/2004 – 12:20:42

Two bank notes from the £22m (€31m) haul stolen from the Northern Bank headquarters in Belfast earlier this month have been discovered at an ice rink near the city.

The notes, which had serial numbers matching those released by the bank, were passed at the Dundonald International Ice Bowl some time between 10am and 3pm yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Castlereagh Borough Council said the ice rink had handed the notes over to the police.

The fact that the notes were passed would appear to indicate that the thieves behind the heist are trying to get rid of the cash quickly.

Many of the notes were brand new and the serial numbers have been given to police investigating the daring raid, during which the families of two bank officials were held hostage.

The rest of the haul was in used Northern Bank notes, which may also be difficult to launder.

The bank is considering withdrawing all its notes from circulation and replacing them with new currency in an effort to frustrate the thieves.

The PSNI apparently believes republicans were responsible for the robbery and has carried out a number of searches of homes and other properties in republican areas of Belfast.

However, detectives are believed to have recovered nothing connected to the raid during the searches, which have been criticised by Sinn Féin.

The IRA has denied any involvement in the theft.

BreakingNews.ie

New Year efforts must focus on peace: Murphy

31/12/2004 – 07:51:18

The year ahead poses many challenges for the peace process, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy said today.

In his New Year message, Mr Murphy reflected on the progress made in recent political talks but expressed disappointment that devolved government had not returned to Stormont.

“Yet I am encouraged by the huge steps we have taken towards getting the Assembly and its institutions back up and running.

“I firmly believe that in the New Year we must channel all our efforts into taking those final few steps together to return power to locally-elected politicians,” he said.

Last month’s talks failed to reach agreement after Ian Paisley’s DUP demanded photographic evidence of IRA disarmament.

Republicans have refused to take this step, claiming the DUP is calling for an act of humiliation.

Mr Murphy also reflected on the Asian tsunami that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

“This season is traditionally a time of hope, thanksgiving and reflection. But it is also a painful time for those who have lost loved ones. Sadly, this Christmas has also seen a global humanitarian disaster of almost unimaginable proportions.

“At this time, as we remember our own victims in Northern Ireland, it is very moving to witness the generosity of the community here as it reaches out to those who are suffering across the world.

“It is that generosity of spirit, that instinctive ability to reach out and respond to those in need that gives me real cause for hope as we continue to strive to heal the wounds of our own community.”

Mr Murphy said the British government would continue to support all those who have been affected by violence in Northern Ireland.

“I remain committed to the complex and difficult process of searching for a sensitive and meaningful way of dealing with the past.

“In the wider context, we still face the challenge of tackling organised criminality in the community. It is vital that we continue in our efforts to frustrate, disrupt and bring to justice those involved.”

He condemned the racist attacks that have become an increasing feature of life in the North.

“As a government we are determined to tackle racism, sectarianism, and hostility based on sexual orientation or disability in Northern Ireland. We owe it to everyone to ensure that we continue to build a strong and diverse community for future generations to enjoy.”

Irish News – Irish Independent

SF criticises police in bank raid probes

SINN Fein has accused the police investigating the £22m Northern Bank raid of a campaign of harassment.

The claims were made as police carried out a number of searches of premises in a business complex on the Stewartstown Road area of Belfast. This followed searches yesterday at the Blackstaff complex on the Springfield Road.

Sinn Fein Assembly member Michael Ferguson said keyholders had been ordered by police to turn up at their premises.

“This morning the PSNI once again have launched a series of planned attacks on properties throughout West Belfast. These have included searches on business premises and on community projects. This behaviour is completely unacceptable.”

“Given the selective media briefing in advance of these operations and the failure to uncover any evidence it is clear that the purpose of this operation is not to find bank robbers but to attempt to derail republican efforts to see the peace process put back on track,” he added.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has complained about the police investigators’ actions. Meanwhile, the two families taken hostage by the raid gang were able to return to their homes yesterday, following a police forensic examination.

Houses belonging to 24-year-old Chris Ward, in the Poleglass area of west Belfast, and Kevin McMullan, in Loughinisland, Co Down, had been preserved as crime scenes since last Monday when details of the raid on the vaults of the Northern Bank in Belfast emerged.

British Army experts defused a firebomb yesterday that had been hidden in a clothes shop in Newry. IRA dissidents opposed to the cease-fire have planted 16 devices and destroyed several businesses, including a new hardware superstore outside Belfast two weeks ago.

Gary Kelly

indymedia.ie

**Seen as a comment on a recent article about the RIRA:

inside job

by ared dred Thursday, Dec 23 2004, 2:04pm

And more inside than you think. Belfast is one of the most heavily secured cities in the world. More cameras, Brits, armed cops, observation posts, security checkpoints.

They knew all the staff details, where they lived. All the Bank details. 20 armed men???

Chief of London’s Flying Squad (the Sweeney)

“It was [spin] virtually a military operation”.

Who has that sort of manpower and intel?

The Provos? The UDA?

Nah, the Brits/RUC.

IOL

Film-maker bids to prove de Valera’s Cuban roots

30/12/2004 – 11:16:17

A film-maker from Havana is on a mission to prove that former president and Taoiseach Eamon de Valera was half Cuban.

The history books tell us that De Valera’s father, Juan, was a Spanish merchant who settled in New York.

But Ishmael Ortega, 55, a teacher at Havana Film School, believes Juan was a penniless sculptor and music teacher who emigrated to Manhattan from Cuba.

He married Kate Coll from Limerick who gave birth to Eamon in 1882.

However Juan died when Eamon was two and Kate sent him to live with his grandmother Elizabeth in Knockmore, Co Limerick.

Mr Ortega, who is researching a film on the subject which may be commissioned by RTE, said he believes the De Valera surname comes from the Valera clan in rural Cuba.

He said: “I’ve been to the Mantanza province where this Valera name is common and I’ve met members of the Valera family.

“They look remarkably like Eamon De Valera. They are tall and slim with oval-shaped faces.”

Mr Ortega, who is a friend of Irish movie director Jim Sheridan, says his documentary film may be taken up by RTE in the near future.

Mr Ortega said Eamon de Valera, who died in 1975, aged 92, once tried to track down his family’s coat of arms in Spain, but was unsuccessful.

He said: “There was no record of his family name in Spain.”

Dublin historian Micheal MacAonghusa believes that Mr Ortega’s theory is “quite possible” as the precise background of De Valera’s father was always a mystery.

He said that Cuba was under Spanish rule until 1895 so all Cuban nationals would have been classed as Spanish subjects at the time.

He said: “The whole thing about his father is very shadowy. A Spanish-speaking Cuban living in New York at the turn of the 19th-century could be mistaken as a Spaniard because Cuba was actually a colony of Spain until 1895. To say that his father was Cuban is quite possible.”

Mr MacAonghusa added that De Valera was always sympathetic to the Cuban struggle for independence.

He added: “De Valera always kept in touch with what was happening in Cuba. He wanted Ireland to be autonomous, and free from imperialist threat.

De Valera’s indelible political legacy survives today in the present government with his grandchildren. Síle De Valera is Education and Science junior minister and Eamon O’Cuiv is Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

Another grandson, arts worker Ruairi O’Cuiv, said he would welcome any new research into his grandfather’s life.

He said: “I’m pleased to think that I may be connected to Cuba. I’d be delighted if anybody turns up comprehensive factual research regarding my ancestors.”

A founding father of Fianna Fáil in 1926 and the Irish State, De Valera had an incalculable influence on modern Ireland.

He was jailed for opposing conscription during the First World War, but was elected as MP for East Clare while still in prison.

He stubbornly defended Ireland’s neutral stance during the Second World War and clashed with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill over the airwaves.

He served two terms as president to complete a lengthy political career.

As island nations, Ireland and Cuba have always enjoyed very friendly links despite the US embargo of Castro’s nation.

Ireland is one of the few countries in the EU to have diplomatic links with Cuba and currently has a non-resident ambassador in Mexico looking after consular affairs in Cuba.

Cuba is soon expected to return the gesture by accrediting its London ambassador to Dublin.

In 1995, Ireland voted for a Cuban resolution at the UN General Assembly, which demanded an end to the US blockade of the island.

Cuba also supported Ireland in its successful bid to become a member of the UN Security Council two years ago.

And more Irish visitors have been jetting to Cuba in recent years thanks to weekly Aeroflot flights between Shannon and Havana.

There is also an ’O’Reilly Street’ in the island’s capital, which celebrates the links between Ireland and Cuba.

A wall plaque with an inscription in Gaelic, Spanish and English says: “Two island peoples in the same sea of struggle and hope – Cuba and Ireland.”

Every year hundreds of students travel to Cuba to pick oranges or labour on building sites and TDs and senators in the Irish-Cuban Friendship Group have visited Cuba to represent the EU parliament.

Cuban icon, Che Guevara, whose grandmother was Anna Lynch from Co Galway, led the revolutionary struggle in the early 1960s.

Che visited Ireland just once: He flew into Shannon on a stop-over flight from Prague in March 1965.

His daughter, Alieda, visited Ireland in 2002 to research her Irish roots and attended the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Cashel, Co Tipperary.

BreakingNews.ie

**Thinking of putting a separate ‘Firebomb’ section in to keep track of all this shite

Firebomb defused in Newry

30/12/2004 – 17:51:24

British army bomb experts tonight dealt with a firebomb found in a store in Newry, Co Down.

They were called out earlier after the device was discovered in a clothes shop in Marcus Street.

The area was sealed off and it was later confirmed that the object found this afternoon was a crude but viable incendiary device.

Police in Newry have warned key holders of businesses in the city to thoroughly check premises.

It was the latest in a series of incendiary devices planted in towns and cities throughout Northern Ireland.

Dissident republicans are suspected by police to be responsible for the bombing campaign.

Last night an incendiary bomb was defused by army bomb experts at the Sainsbury supermarket at Sprucefield outside Lisburn, Co Antrim.

In the run-up to Christmas, the neighbouring B&Q DIY store wasextensively damaged by fire when a device went off.

Earlier this week a firebomb was found in the pocket of an item of sportswear in a sports shop in Old Creamery Retail Park in Monaghan Street, Newry. This was also defused by army technical officers.

On Sunday it was reported that the Real IRA intended to step up its violence to try to disrupt the peace process.

In recent weeks there have been firebomb attacks in Belfast, Newry,Ballymena, Newtownabbey and Lisburn.

Police chiefs tonight warned shopkeepers to remain vigilant in the coming week which would be extra busy because of the annual sales.

A total of 16 incendiaries have been found in Lisburn, Foyle, Newry, Belfast and Ballymena.

Some were discovered just in time and were dealt with by the army, but businesses have been very severely damaged by these devices.

Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland has praised shopkeepers for their efforts to thwart such attacks, but urged caution over the coming days.

“An incendiary device has the potential to destroy property, and take human life. Its purpose is to cause widespread damage. Devices can be left in garments, soft furnishings, and upholstery, anywhere that can catch fire easily.

“I am also appealing to members of the public to help,” said Mr McCausland. “If you are out shopping, and you see something that looks out of place, tell a member of staff who can call the police.”

BBC

Suspicious object found in shop

30 December, 2004, 16:15 GMT

Army technical officers are examining a suspicious object found at a shop in County Down.

The package was discovered in the Menary’s store in the Marcus Street area of Newry at about 1340 GMT on Thursday.

The shop was evacuated and the area was cordoned off.

Police advised key holders in the city to check their premises.

Dissident republicans have been linked to fire bombings which destroyed several stores across the province.

Devices have been discovered in Lisburn, Newry, Antrim, Derry, Newtownabbey and Ballymena.

On Wednesday, shop owners across Northern Ireland were urged to thoroughly check their premises after an incendiary device was found in a supermarket near Lisburn.

IRA2

**When I went to get this on BT, the article had been withdrawn…

Saga of Ulster’s final DPP is resolved

By Jonathan McCambridge

30 December 2004

Northern Ireland’s final District Policing Partnership has finally

been established – following a long-running row over its religious

make-up.

Eight independent members have now been appointed to Dungannon and

South Tyrone DPP – two years after DPPs were set up in the rest of

the province.

The delay had followed a bitter dispute when the Policing Board

rejected the original list of independent candidates because it did

not contain enough Catholics and was said to be “unrepresentative” of

the area.

However, eight independent members have now been unveiled to sit

alongside the nine political members of the partnership.

The independent members are:

* Francis Callaghan (56) is a manager with Northern Ireland Housing

Executive and is from Fivemiletown.

* Christine Baxter (42) is a staff nurse with the a local NHS trust

and is from Fivemiletown.

* Beth Badger (37) is a former assistant insurance manager and is

from Newmills.

* Kathleen Loughran (53) works for a charity and comes from

Ballygawley.

* Susan Ingram (68) is a retired home safety manager with the Royal

Society for the Prevention of Accidents and is from Dungannon.

* Sarah Thompson (60) is a manager with a home care provider and is

from Dungannon.

* Bernadette McGirr (50) is a healthcare insurance sales adviser and

is from Clogher.

* Evelyn Frew (43) is a retired civil servant and comes from

Dungannon.

Policing Board chairman Professor Desmond Rea said: “Now the DPP

jigsaw is complete as all District Council areas now have a DPP.

“While it has been a long process I have no doubt that the community,

right across the borough, has a DPP that will serve it well.”

Guardian

At last, Whitehall declares opening time

Many believe ‘need to know’ culture lives on in public sector

Rob Evans

Thursday December 30, 2004

The Guardian

Government in Britain is supposed to change substantially on Saturday when the Freedom of Information Act finally comes into force. The old culture of “need to know” is to be replaced by the right to know.

Ministers are promising that officials will assume that the public is entitled to know what is going on within government.

Lord Falconer, the minister in charge of freedom of information, emphasises that the act is not solely for the media and researchers to prise secrets out of Downing Street but will give ordinary members of the public a greater chance to get information from the public sector.

But many are sceptical that officials’ secretive habits, and this government’s reliance on spin and control, will melt away.

Whitehall has taken a long time to get to this position. A freedom of information act was first promised by Labour in 1974, but nothing happened. The Blair government eventually passed the act in 2000, then delayed its introduction for five years.

More than 50 other countries have passed such legislation before now, the first being Sweden in 1766.

Almost every organisation funded by the taxpayer is subject to the act. It covers 100,000 public bodies, including local councils, Whitehall departments, quangos, schools, local NHS trusts, and GPs.

Anyone can make a request, regardless of age, where they live or nationality. They merely have to send in a written request, specifying what they want to see.

Records will not be released automatically; officials can refuse access if they believe the information falls within one of 23 exemptions. These range from national security to disclosures that could obstruct the police in pursuit of criminals.

A potential problem for applicants is delay. Public bodies have not been given extra money to deal with requests. The public is entitled under the act to receive a response within 20 working days, but it seems inevitable that applicants will have to wait longer.

There is also concern that, even though the public authorities have had five years to prepare, they will not be ready.

Friends of the Earth tested the system by submitting requests to 122 local authorities under environmental openness provisions which have been in existence for over 10 years.

It wanted copies of contracts placed with waste firms. Nearly 50 of the councils failed to respond. Another 20 claimed to be still dealing with request three months after they should have replied. Thirty-one councils released the requested information.

Even the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which is in charge of freedom of information, took four months to respond properly to a request from the Guardian for documents relating to the committee overseeing introduction of the act.

RTE News

Tsunami disaster death toll climbs to 120,000

30 December 2004 15:59

The death toll from last weekend’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean now stands at more than 120,000.

Indonesia has said there have been fresh aftershocks in the northwestern Sumatran province of Aceh, where the death toll from the weekend tsunami now stands at 80,000.

Sri Lanka, which was also badly hit, has raised its toll by almost 3,000 people to over 27,000.

There is growing concern that relief agencies are unable to reach some of the remoter districts throughout the eastern Indian Ocean area which bore the brunt of the tidal waves caused by the underwater earthquake.

Local officials are reporting that many survivors are becoming ill with respiratory problems, diarrhoea, skin irritations and cuts.

Panic follows wave warning

An Indian minister has said a government warning of a new tidal wave was issued without much thought.

The warning sparked fresh scenes of panic in southern India and Sri Lanka, and caused thousands of people to flee coastal areas, although no tidal surge materialised.

India’s junior minister for science and technology, Kapil Sibal, said he had forwarded a message received from a US-based company to the Home Ministry mentioning the possibility of a fresh quake.

Thousands missing

Thousands of European tourists are still missing.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said around 20 Irish people remain unaccounted for in the region.

So far, there have been no confirmed deaths among Irish visitors.

The Swedish government is unable to account for 1,500 of its citizens. A national day of mourning will be held in Sweden on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph

Dáil deal a UUP crime, says Robinson

By Noel McAdam

30 December 2004

The DUP today challenged Ulster Unionists to “come clean” on the controversy over speaking rights for Northern Ireland MPs in Dublin.

As the war of words between the rival parties continued, DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said UUP negotiator Sir Reg Empey had stayed silent on the issue two years ago.

His attack came after Sir Reg accused the DUP of “acquiescence” to the proposal which he warned could lead to an “embryonic united Ireland”.

And his senior party colleague Michael McGimpsey said concessions – including the potential release of the killers of Garda Gerry McCabe – had happened “on Ian Paisley’s watch”.

Mr Robinson said the plan referred to a committee of the Dail, which will meet twice a year and to which Northern Ireland MPs will be invited but have no voting rights.

He said when the proposal was first published in March 2002, Mr Empey and other UUP members never uttered a word “because the UUP was party to it.

“He needs to say why he did not warn the people of Northern Ireland about this constitutional crisis in 2002 when he and his party held the reins of unionism. Tell us Reg, why you only raise your voice now, two years later, and try to incriminate others for the crime the UUP committed?”

The East Belfast MP also said UU leader David Trimble had yet to respond to his challenge to release the full text of the aborted deal last year on policing.

“This issue will not go away. You better face the music,” he said.

But Mr McGimpsey countered: “The concessions happened on Dr Paisley’s watch and what is worse Dr Paisley has sat idly by and allowed these concessions.

“The DUP have been shown up as weak and cowardly negotiators. If they knew about the release of Jerry McCabe’s killers, why did they not try to prevent it from happening?”

Belfast Telegraph

Paisley in fresh attack on parties

DUP leader in New Year message

By Noel McAdam

30 December 2004

DUP leader Ian Paisley today pointed the finger at republicans over the Northern Bank heist – and warned Northern Ireland faces “no easy road” in the New Year.

The Northern Bank robbery “should awaken us to the sort of Ulster the republican terrorists have planned for us,” Mr Paisley warned.

He castigated the Government for helping to create a climate in which criminals can thrive – and denounced the dispatch of two policemen on foot to the robbery scene as a disgrace.

In his New Year message, Mr Paisley said: “The failure of the Government and the police to stop lesser robbers has in fact only encouraged the robbing of the Northern Bank in a record act of thievery.”

The “cement of true democracy” had been rejected by the British and Irish governments “and their capitulation to the IRA/ Sinn Fein terrorists is now bringing forth a terrible harvest.”

The “capitulating” to terrorism had created problems which were “becoming more and more serious as each day passes.

“Sending two policemen to the scene on foot when the alarm was raised is disgraceful. No wonder our Province is in such a state.

“The increasing incendiary attacks on business premises is also alarming, together with the deluge of other criminal acts, including robberies and rapes of the elderly and attacks on children.”

With negotiations aimed at a restoration of devolved government in abeyance, Mr Paisley said he believed a fair deal could be won.

“There is no easy road for this Province in the New Year. It is only with dedication, determination and democratic means that a fair deal can be won for all the people of this Province,” he said.

The anti-Agreement party leader also rounded on what he termed the “so-called peace parties” for refusing to acknowledge the ballot box.

“Sinn Fein, together with the official unionists and the SDLP, refuse to accept the change in voting by the majority of unionists … Elections are only to be heeded when they give the answer these parties want.”

Bobby Sands mural photo
Ní neart go cur le chéile

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'So venceremos, beidh bua againn eigin lá eigin. Sealadaigh abú.' --Bobby Sands