You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2005.
New pedestrian bridge for Dublin
30 April 2005 20:24
Click photo to view – Ha’Penny Bridge, Dublin – Painting by Mary McSweeney – ‘The Ha’penny bridge, with Bachelors Walk in the background is the oldest pedestrian bridge over the river Liffey and was opened in 1816. Accepted as the symbol of Dublin, it acquired it’s unofficial moniker from the one half-penny toll paid to cross the river’. Source: Mary McSweeney’s Online Gallery, which is well worth a visit.
A new pedestrian bridge over the River Liffey in Dublin is being hoisted into place this evening.
The 320 tonne bridge, which will be located east of the Matt Talbot Bridge, is made up of two sections which will swing open to allow boats to pass through.
The first section is currently being put in place. The second section will be put in place tomorrow.
It is being hoisted into place by the ‘Mersey Mammoth’, the largest marine crane in Europe.
The bridge is due to be officially opened in June.
When Ireland Starved: An Gorta Mór, The Great Hunger: Irish Famine Curriculum
by James Vincent MuIlin, BA, M.Ed, MLS
‘James Vincent MuIlin prepared the first state-approved Irish Famine Curriculum in the nation in 1996. He is a highly regarded Irish Scholar’.
The curriculum links and free Adobe Reader download can be accessed >>>Here.
**Special thanks to Seán McNulty
Shot boy Darragh showing signs of recovery
By Deborah McAleese
30 April 2005
THE five-year-old Fermanagh school boy who was shot in his school grounds is no longer in a critical condition, it was confirmed today.
But little Darragh Somers remained seriously ill at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children this morning.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said: “The clinical team has said that Darragh is more stable. His condition has now been described as seriously ill, but stable. He is no longer critical.”
Yesterday Darragh woke briefly and responded to his mother Janine.
A PSNI spokesman said: “Darragh was awake for a time and responded to his mother. While his condition has slightly improved he is still very ill.”
Darragh was shot in the head while playing in the grounds of St Patrick’s Primary School in Mullinaskea.
According to family priest Fr John Halton, the local community has greatly welcomed the news of a slight improvement in Darragh’s condition.
He said: “It is great news, but it is still early days. The community is praying for Darragh and his family. We are very hopeful, but the child is still seriously ill. However, every little bit of progress is good news.”
Detectives are hoping that news of some progress in Darragh’s condition may result in new information coming to light.
“Police would appeal to anyone who has not yet contacted them to come forward,” a PSNI spokesman said.
The responsibility for the shooting has been a mystery, with initial speculation that he was struck by a stray bullet from a hunter’s gun.
Police have appealed for the owner of a dark blue Toyota four-by-four seen at the school just before the shooting to get in touch.
City homes are damaged in attacks
Police have appealed for information after four houses in north Belfast were damaged in early morning attacks.
Two houses in Twaddell Avenue had their windows smashed at about 0100 BST. Two other homes in the street had paint thrown at them.
A couple in their 80s live in one of the houses. Frank McAuley whose home was targeted said five youths were seen running in the direction of Ardoyne.
He said he could not understand why his home had been attacked.
“There’s only one question I would like to ask these people: ‘Why come over and annoy pensioners who do no harm?’,” he said.
“If they could answer that question we would be quite happy.
“My house has been attacked on numerous occasions, my vehicle has been attacked on numerous occasions.
“We just want to live in peace here.”
Police have appealed for anyone with information about the attacks to contact officers at the Tennent Street station or use the Crimestoppers line.
PSNI probe vote fraud allegation
Police in Dungannon are investigating an allegation of electoral fraud in connection with postal and proxy voting applications.
It is understood the police probe was launched after concerns were raised by the Electoral Office.
Meanwhile, the Alliance Party has complained to the police about phoney leaflets which bear the party’s colours and urge voters to back the UUP.
The Ulster Unionist Party has distanced itself from the leaflets.
Alliance leader David Ford is blaming a “dirty tricks campaign designed to help the UUP”.
“Many people have told us that they have received a leaflet printed in Alliance colours of yellow and blue, headed ‘Thinking of Voting Alliance’,” he said.
“It is clearly intended to confuse Alliance supporters.”
Meanwhile, a record number of voters in Northern Ireland have applied for “absent votes” for the 5 May poll.
More than 33,000 applications have been received from people who claim they cannot vote in person.
The figure includes both postal and proxy votes and is about 10,000 up on the 2004 European election and the 2003 assembly election.
Voters can claim an absent vote due to sickness, if they have to be away on business or are going on holiday.
But the late spring election date of 5 May is well outside Northern Ireland’s main holiday season of June to August.
Despite this, Northern Ireland’s electoral authorities are reportedly fairly confident there will be a low incidence of fraud related to the postal votes.
There has been a wave of concern about fraud in other parts of the UK.
However, the electoral fraud laws enable the authorities in Northern Ireland to scrutinise an applicant’s signature and to check their date of birth and national insurance number against their database.
Some parties believe there still may be some loopholes.
The SDLP say they have come across cases of people who have given what they believed was a postal application form to a political party, but have then found the form switched to an application for a proxy vote, to be cast by another person.
The Electoral Office placed adverts in Northern Ireland’s local newspapers on Friday telling people how to use their postal votes and warning them to keep their papers safe and secret.
Chief Electoral Officer Dennis Stanley said his office strove to ensure that absent voting was not exploited.
“We are always concerned about fraud,” he said.
“We want to keep as vigilant as possible, and we want to make sure every person has the opportunity to cast their vote in a fair and free way and that no-one interferes with it, so absent voting is a particular area we pay attention to.”
The votes have to be returned by 2200 BST on polling day.
Although there is no breakdown by seat of how many absent votes have been applied for in each constituency, the counting centres have the following figures:
– 3,264 between the four Belfast seats
– 7,692 between Upper Bann, Newry and Armagh, South Down and Lagan Valley
– 9,819 between West Tyrone and Fermanagh South Tyrone
– 1,534 between East Antrim and South Antrim
– 5,350 between North Antrim and Mid-Ulster
– 4,000 between Foyle and East Londonderry
– 1,784 between Strangford and North Down.
Shoukri barred from Belfast
FRIDAY 29/04/2005 15:20:31
Alleged terrorist chief Ihab Shoukri will be released from jail when he has found a suitable address, a judge said today.
However, Belfast Crown Court Judge Derick Rodgers barred Shoukri from entering Belfast, Bangor or Newtownabbey and from physically being with his brother Andre, but allowed the pair to talk on the phone.
Earlier prosecuting lawyer Geoffrey millar told him that while the Crown opposed his bail application, “we have to take a reflective view” that he has been in custody for almost a year in total with very little prospect of his case getting to trial before the new term in September.
Shoukri, 31, from Alliance Road in north Belfast, denies charges of being a member of the outlawed UDA and UFF on February 1, 2003.
Giving evidence to the court, Detective Sergeant Irvine said the police believe Shoukri “is a high ranking member of the UDA”, adding that if he were alowed back into Belfast “it could lead to the intimidation of witnesses”.
The officer told the court that police would make a list of the people, including alleged murderer William `Mo` Courtney that Shoukri would be barred from contacting.
Shot boy ‘responds to his mother’
Darragh Somers “responded to his mother” in hospital
There has been a slight improvement in the condition of Darragh Somers, who was shot in the head in his school playground last week.
The five-year-old was awake for a time on Friday and responded to his mother. However, he remains critically ill.
Darragh was hit by a .22 bullet last Friday at a Fermanagh school. It is thought he was shot accidentally by someone shooting in nearby fields.
Police want anyone with information who has not yet come forward to do so.
Earlier this week, police urged the person who shot the child to consider contacting them through a clergyman.
Detective Chief Inspector Nigel Kyle said police were following a definite line of inquiry.
Police are understood to be examining 45 rifles as part of their investigation.
Ballistics experts are looking at legally held guns handed in by local people.
Police said they believed the shooting was an accident.
However, they said they may revise that theory if the person responsible did not come forward soon.
Police are investigating a report that someone was firing shots at a dog worrying sheep near the school.
They are also trying to trace a dark blue Toyota seen in the vicinity of the school at the time of the shooting.
They also want to locate a red pick-up truck which was seen near the school with a dead calf in the back, and a dark maroon coloured van.
Darragh is currently being treated in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
New Short Strand mural
East Belfast Sinn Féin candidate in the forthcoming elections, Deborah Devenny, has called on the people of the Short Strand to came out and show their support at a rally and mural unveiling this Sunday at 2pm on the Mountpottinger Road.
The unveiling of the mural and plaque dedicated to the ten 1981 republican Hunger Strikers and local Volunteers has been organised by the Short Strand Commemoration Committee.
The main speaker at the event will be North Kerry TD Martin Ferris and the unveiling will be carried out by local republican Rita Fitzsimmons.
Kelly family anger as probe cop is reassigned
The top English police officer seconded from the West Midlands force to reinvestigate the 1974 killing of Independent Nationalist Councillor Patsy Kelly, has returned to England.
PSNI sources confirmed that Detective Superintendent Andrew Hunter has been released from his post to return to work in the West Midlands
Now the Kelly family is saying that this latest investigation will be closed again without anyone being charged.
Previous investigations have been hampered because vital evidence went missing and RUC files were lost.
Kelly’s brother Peter, commenting on this latest development, said: “That’s it. It is all over for us. We have said it from the start and we will say it again, we had no confidence in any police investigation and as far as I’m concerned, this result just proves it.”
The RUC reopened the case in 1993 but those investigations led nowhere and in 2002, when the PSNI indicated it would reopen the investigation, the Kelly family rejected this and, demanding an independent inquiry, went to the High Court. However, their case was dismissed.
Patsy Kelly, a 33-year-old Independent member of Omagh District Council, was ambushed and shot as he returned home from the bar he managed in Trillick, County Tyrone, on 24 July 1974. His body was discovered by fishermen three weeks later in Lough Eyes in County Fermanagh. He had been shot four times.
There has always been strong evidence to suggest local UDR members were involved in the killing and the Kelly family has accused the RUC of colluding with the UDR to protect the killers.
In 1999, former UDR soldier David Jordan broke down in a bar and admitted he was there when Kelly was killed. He also named other UDR men who, he said, carried out the killing.
Campaign moves to London to highlight McBride injustice
click photo to view – from peacelines.de
Thirteen years after he was murdered by the British army in the New Lodge area of north Belfast, the name of teenager Peter McBride is echoing through the 2005 Westminster election campaign in the heart of London.
The 18-year-old Mr McBride was shot in the back on September 4, 1992 by members of a Scots Guards patrol.
Two soldiers — Mark Wright and James Fisher — were subsequently convicted of his murder.
After receiving early release, both men were readmitted to the British army by a Ministry of Defence board on the grounds of “exceptional circumstances”.
They still remain employed on active duty by the British army, despite the fact that the High Court in Belfast has twice concluded that the circumstances of their case are not exceptional.
With the support of the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre, Mr McBride’s family has waged a campaign to have both murderers thrown out of the British army.
A key development in that campaign took place last week when Mr McBride’s sister Kelly met London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Yasmin Qureshi, the Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Brent East.
Brent East, in the northwest of London, has the largest concentration of Irish citizens voting in any of the city’s constituencies.
The object of last week’s meeting was to garner support for the McBride family’s latest campaign initiative.
Essentially, the family wants to change the law during the next term of parliament so that anyone convicted of a serious offence such as murder, rape or torture is automatically expelled from the British army.
Kelly McBride stood in a by-election for Brent East 18 months ago to raise the profile of her family’s plea for justice. Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre accompanied Ms McBride to London last week.
Speaking to Daily Ireland yesterday, Mr O’Connor said that Brent East was an appropriate place to launch what is being dubbed the Article 7 Campaign.
The campaign gets its name from Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which begins: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”
Mr O’Connor said: “Because the Ministry of Defence keeps ignoring court judgments and moving the goalposts, we have come up with a relatively simple idea that is about 200 years out of date — that someone convicted of a very serious offence such as murder, rape or torture should be automatically dismissed from the British army.
“It’s similar to proposing that children would not be sent down the mines, and that’s why one would naturally think that this provision would be in the law. Britain is the only European country that allows convicted murderers to be retained in the army.
“The final straw was that General Mike Jackson — the head of the British army and someone who sat on the MOD board which permitted Fisher and Wright to be retained — and the Prime Minister apologised to the Iraqi people for the behaviour of British soldiers who they said were responsible for bringing disgrace to the British army there and who were dismissed. By implication, Wright and Fisher did not bring the British army into disgrace when they murdered Peter McBride.
“Basically, we’re asking the question: Do you believe that the law in Britain should be changed so that anyone convicted of murder, rape or torture should be automatically expelled from the armed forces? It’s a very hard one for them to argue against,” said Mr O’Connor.
Campaigners are now hoping to tap into London’s Muslim communities and the significant opposition to the war against Iraq to bring about a change in the law.
Ken Livingstone’s office is also including information about the campaign in a mayoral newspaper circulated to 3.5 million people throughout London.
On account of Yasmin Qureshi’s pledge to seek to introduce the new legislation, she has received the backing of the Irish community in London.
“Mark Wright and Jim Fisher shot 18-year-old Peter McBride in the back after they had searched him and knew him to be unarmed. In anyone’s book, that was murder,” she said.
“They served just a few years for this crime and were readmitted into the army. I believe it is right to kick anyone found guilty of abusing prisoners out of the army and it is equally right that those found guilty of murdering civilians in Ireland can have no place in the army.
“I will give my full support to Peter McBride’s family’s campaign and raise it in parliament and directly with the government.”
Kelly McBride told Daily Ireland yesterday that her family was “very, very grateful to Yasmin and Ken Livingstone, as well as Sarah Tether, the Liberal Democrat who holds the seat.
“They’ve been very supportive of our family.
“What many people seem to forget is that this is an ongoing injustice. As of today, April 27, 2005, the two people who murdered my brother remain in the British armed forces and we’re going to keep pushing this campaign.
“The next thing will be a large public meeting in London and an appeal to people concerned about the Iraq situation to support this change in the law,” Ms McBride said.
Prominent Irish-American lobby groups have already mobilised over other aspects of the campaign to have Peter McBride’s murderers thrown out of the British army.
The latest initiative on this side of the Atlantic will ensure that the injustice in Peter McBride’s case continues to be a thorn in the side of the British government.
Real and lasting peace is the most important issue facing the Irish people today
Launch of Westminster election manifesto
Click on above link and then download the .pdf file
‘Help all Church abuse victims’
Victims of child abuse have called for an Irish government compensation scheme to be extended to the North.
The call comes after Daily Ireland revealed last week that up to 12,000 people who suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse in church and state-run institutions from the 1920s until the 1970s have yet to come forward to seek compensation.
In the late 1990s, several religious orders and organisations paid large amounts of cash into a fund which was then redistributed to the victims of abuse throughout the Redress Board.
A legal firm representing Irish victims who now live abroad says those who qualify for compensation should make themselves known before December this year or risk losing out on compensation.
Last night a victim of abuse at a church-run facility in Derry City called for the Irish government’s Redress Board’s remit to be extended to cover those who suffered in church-run facilities north of the Border.
For decades, thousands of children were cared for in Catholic Church-run facilities across the North. Many of the religious orders who were forced to contribute cash in the Republic also ran facilities in the North.
The Derry-based abuse victim, who does not wish to be named, suffered a horrific catalogue of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of several nuns and older residents over an 11-year period at Sisters of Nazareth-run Termonbacca care home outside Derry City.
“I contacted the legal firm that is calling on victims to come forward and they told me they could not represent people who were not in institutions within the Republic of Ireland.
“I was a bit surprised because this order was an all-ireland order. These religious groups were forced to pay into a fund to help compensate people who suffered at their hands but it all seems to end at the Border. I think the remit of the Redress Board should be extended north to cover the victims of abuse here.”
The man, who is now in his 50s, was resident at the notorious Termonbecca centre for 11 years from 1953 until 1964.
“I know of four men who were there when I was there who have taken their own lives in the years since.
“It wasn’t just the nuns who physically abused us but they appointed prefects, usually older boys to look after the younger ones, and they also abused us.
“The abuse I suffered was both physical and sexual and we couldn’t tell the nuns what the people they had appointed to take care of us were doing.
“I still see one of my abusers walking free around the streets of Derry.
“It’s not really about the money it’s as much about letting people we know exist.”
Director of the One in Four support group Colm O’Gorman says it is unlikely that the Southern government will extend the remit of the Redress Board.
“The biggest problem here is that the Irish government has no responsibility for homes in the North of Ireland,” said Colm.
“When someone was placed in residential care they became a ward of the state which meant that the state had responsibility for them. But the point that this man raises is very important. The industrial school system was established when the Republic was under British rule and the British abolished them long before they were abolished in Ireland.
“This issue has not been dealt with in the North of Ireland. At one point in 2001 over 90 per cent of British police forces were carrying out investigations into care homes but this did not happen in the North.
“There are a number of other avenues the victims of abuse can take in the North. Although based in Dublin we are happy to help anyone on either side of the border.”
To contact One in Four call (00 353) 16624070 or visit their website http://www.oneinfour.ie.
The roundabout stops for Mickey
A Belfast man immortalised in a famous Irish song died peacefully at his home in the west of the city yesterday.
Mickey Marley, of Mickey Marley’s Roundabout fame, was found dead at his home at Roden Street.
Originally from the Markets area of south Belfast, Mr Marley was made famous by the Barnbrack song .
Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s he toured Belfast, particularly those areas worst affected by Troubles-related violence, with his horse-drawn roundabout.
This led to local singer Bobby Hanvey recording the song ‘Mickey Marley’s Roundabout’, which was covered and became a hit for Barnbrack in 1983.
Barnbrack guitarist and vocalist Alex Quinn has fond memories of Mr Marley.
He recalled: “Mickey was a great wee character, a true Belfastman. He would travel the city with the roundabout and the kids loved to see him walking up their street. They would literally flock to that roundabout.”
Mr Quinn revealed that a section of the Mickey Marley’s Roundabout song was deliberately written to poke fun at him.
He said: “Part of the lyric goes, ‘If you haven’t got a penny and your ma’s gone out, you can still get on his roundabout’.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Mickey would have chased you if you tried to get on the roundabout for nothing.
“He had this wee Jack Russell dog with him all the time, and like Mickey it took no nonsense.
“He was a great laugh and I will really miss him.”
Mr Marley’s fame, prompted by the song in his honour, led to him appearing at Barnbrack concerts in Belfast’s Arts Theatre and Grand Opera House.
“He would come on stage when we were in the middle of the song and get the biggest cheer of the night,” Alex Quinn said.
“Mickey was more popular than the band.
“We would wind him up and ask where he kept all his money. He would answer in the roughest Belfast accent, ‘In Monte Carlo, what’s it to you?’
“With Mickey’s death Belfast has lost a real character.”
SF hits out at Orde
PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde has once again been accused of making a “political intervention” after he told reporters that IRA activity is continuing.
“We know they are still recruiting, they still target, they still carry out the activities that they have always done with the exception of actually going out to kill soldiers, police, civilians, members of the public,” Mr Orde said in Belfast.
Mr Orde, however, said that it is his view that “the Provisional IRA are not going back to an armed struggle”.
“That is my current assessment. They have the capability. They have the capacity.
The Chief Constable’s comments come exactly one week before the general and local elections in the North.
Dismissing Mr Orde’s intervention as “political”, Sinn Féin general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin said his party “will not allow Hugh Orde, or anyone else, to distract us from our efforts to rebuild the political process and see the recent initiative by Gerry Adams built upon”.
“At a time when those of us in the leadership of Sinn Féin are concentrating on rebuilding the political process and following on from confirmation that the IRA have authorised a discussion on its future direction, nationalists and republicans will view Hugh Orde’s comments as yet another political intervention from the PSNI,” Mr Laughlin said.
“When Hugh Orde took over the reins of the PSNI he told us that he would not mix policing with politics.
“Unfortunately on a number of occasions he has insisted on making very overt political interventions.
“Given the fact that these latest remarks come in the midst of an election campaign and at a time when the initiative by Gerry Adams offers the prospect of forward movement in the political process, many questions will be raised about the intentions of the PSNI in the time ahead,” Mr McLaughlin said.
Sinn Fein’s manifesto challenges
The Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein has laid down challenges for the two governments and unionists if the IRA decides to abandon the “armed struggle” for purely political means.
Launching their election manifesto, party president Gerry Adams also called for the British government to move on policing and justice issues.
He said unionists in Northern Ireland must accept equality and human rights.
Mr Adams also said the Irish government would have to address what he called “the united Ireland agenda”.
The party’s manifesto, published on Friday, called for the scaling down of military bases and the Army’s presence in Northern Ireland.
It claimed it was unacceptable that, eight years after the Good Friday Agreement, more British troops were in the province than in Iraq.
The party stressed the importance of transferring responsibility for policing and justice from Westminster to the next government at Stormont.
Sinn Fein also said in the event of the powers being devolved, Gerry Adams would recommend to his national executive that a special party conference be held, but only once the British government had enacted new policing legislation.
The main points of the Sinn Fein manifesto include:
–Repealing anti-terror legislation
–Setting up a proper inquiry into alleged security force collusion with loyalists in the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane
–Rejecting water charges in Northern Ireland and privatisation of services
–Increasing capital gains tax for owners of several homes, a 50% tax band for incomes in excess of £100,000, removing the low-paid out of the tax net
–Seeking a green paper from the Irish government setting out its strategy for a united Ireland, with a minister of state appointed in Dublin to oversee this
–Economic planning for Irish unity such as the development of a common currency throughout the island and a harmonised tax regime
–Seeking participation for Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs in the Irish Republic’s parliament and senate
–Additional funding for small rural primary schools to keep them open, expanding the school breakfast programme and after-schools clubs
–Ending academic selection with all-ability comprehensive schools for 11 to 18-year-olds
–Extending student loans and grants programmes, abolishing top-up fees and establishing an Irish language higher education sector
–Creating a minister for children at Stormont and increasing the level of child benefit
–Moving towards an all-Ireland health service
–Introducing a properly resourced waste management strategy based on reduction, reuse and recycling, rejecting incineration to dispose of waste
–Introducing early retirement schemes in farming, the lifting of the beef export ban in Brussels and the removal of UK status from food exports from Northern Ireland
–Creating a commissioner for the Irish language in Northern Ireland and a commissioner for senior citizens.
Fetal alcohol warning
[Posted: Fri 29/04/2005]
The Irish Government needs to increase its efforts in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, according to a researcher in the field.
Prof Susan Ryan, Fulbright Scholar at TCD, stated that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the biggest cause of non-genetic intellectual disability in the western world and the only one that is 100% preventable.
Statistics show that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome occurs in three to six of every 1,000 live births, according to research conducted by the Center for Disease Control in the USA.
Applying this research to Ireland, there could be 177 to 354 babies born each year with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
“These figures could be as high as 1,770 if all the alcohol related neurological disorders were included. The effects of maternal consumption of alcohol on the baby can include physical abnormalities, behavioural and learning disabilities. Prevention efforts by society and the Government would change these statistics”, said Prof Ryan.
“There is a critical need for society in Ireland to address the growing culture of binge drinking among young women,” stressed Prof. Ryan.
“Binge drinking can cause risks to the unborn child. No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The children in Ireland affected by alcohol need services and supports”.
Prof Ryan was speaking on the occasion of Dr Kieran O’Malley of the University of Washington, Seattle giving a presentation in Trinity. Dr O’Malley is a child and adolescent psychiatrist from Belfast.
He has worked with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder patients for 15 years in Canada and the USA. His presentation was organised by the National Institute for the Study of Learning Difficulties, TCD, in collaboration with FAS Ireland.
Looking for Lisa
Her death came just weeks after the murder of Robert McCartney, but while his killing made headlines worldwide, Lisa Dorrian has been forgotten. Was she the victim of Loyalist paramilitaries as many believe? And where is her body? Angelique Chrisafis investigates
Friday April 29, 2005
Ballyhalbert holiday caravan park, according to the sign in front a cluster of grey mobile homes decorated with plastic swans and hanging baskets, “Is a whole new way of life!”
This is the most easterly village in Northern Ireland, where the Scottish hills loom across a narrow stretch of sea and “Christ died for our sins” beams down from the wall of the Gospel Hall. There was a pub here once, but the lady in Ballyhalbert’s only shop can’t even remember when it closed. A shred of rotting union flag bunting clings to a telegraph pole. Even the red, white and blue paint on the kerbstones that tells you that Ballyhalbert is Protestant and proud of it is chipped and fading.
In the slightly snobbish hierarchy of caravanning on the Ards peninsula of County Down, this pebble-dashed village is a decent place without the rough “Shankill-sur-mer” connotations of other holiday sites nearby.
So when Lisa Dorrian, a smiley and impressionable 25-year-old sandwich shop worker from up the coast at Bangor, told her parents she was off there for the weekend with a new crowd of friends, they didn’t think anything of it. It was late February. She had split up with a long-term boyfriend before Christmas and had met a new crowd. She was deeply into fashion and was wearing her white furry moonboots.
But Lisa never returned from the caravan park. Police believe she was murdered, and two months on, despite extensive land and sea searches, her body hasn’t been found. It is widely believed she was murdered by the Loyalist Volunteer Force, the most volatile and unpredictable loyalist paramilitary group. The LVF deal in drugs and death, often hiring themselves out as assassins for other groups during loyalist feuds. Some of its members have a reputation for humiliating women. Lisa might have inadvertently crossed paths with their young, macho element. Her newfound circle of friends was thought to be mostly made up of fun-loving twentysomethings like herself. But a few others were more sinister, with links to the LVF. One of them was believed to be wooing her.
Lisa – blonde and beautiful in her passport photo – has vanished into that strange void of “the disappeared” of the Troubles whose bodies have never been recovered. In an age when photogenic victims get priority, it is odd how her death – coming only weeks after the killing of Robert McCartney, which has made headlines around the world – has only made the local media.
In a well-kept cul-de-sac in Bangor on north Down’s “Gold Coast”, which was almost untouched by sectarian conflict, Lisa’s mother Pat sits on her sofa, with sympathy cards on every mantelpiece. A stack of newspapers are hidden in a black bin-bag from her distraught eight-year-old daughter who has been told that her older sister Lisa got lost in the woods after dark and died of the cold.
Pat is English, and the family are not politically aware like the McCartneys, who grew up in the teeth of the conflict. “I’m from Oldham,” she says. “I haven’t the first clue about paramilitaries. None of us in this family would.” She works in an old people’s home and her husband John is a driving instructor. They are Catholics in a predominantly Protestant town, but live on a nice, mixed estate.
“We were wrapped in cotton wool, growing up,” says Lisa’s sister Joanne, an English student.
“People always asked me, ‘Would you go back to England?'” Pat says. “But my standard of living here is better, there’s better schooling for my children.”
The family, and relatives in Oldham and Manchester, are becoming increasingly desperate. Yesterday they offered a reward of £10,000 that they have scraped together to get back Lisa’s remains. “We just want her body,” Pat says.
Facts are thin on the ground. On the night of Sunday February 27, there was a party at the caravan site. It is not clear if Lisa ever arrived. Some of the people there told her family that she had left at 5am on the Monday morning and “got lost in the dark”. She left her handbag and all her possessions behind. Her clothes, make up, jewellery and hair straighteners were collected by her sister there days later, when she suspected something was “seriously wrong”.
A murder inquiry was launched very quickly for a missing persons case. Something was not right. “The police must have had some sort of intelligence,” Pat says. The family had not met Lisa’s new friends. “She was young for her age and she was quite naive, anything you told her, she would have believed it as gospel,” says Joanne.
Soon afterwards graffiti appeared on the walls of houses at a local estate telling police, “Ask the LVF where Lisa is”, and in town, “LVF: ladykillers”.
The LVF was founded by the murdered loyalist icon Billy Wright in 1996. King Rat, as he gloried in being called, had his powerbase in the sectarian hotbed of Portadown in north Armagh and the LVF does not have a huge presence in leafier north Down. It makes large sums dealing and trafficking drugs. The group has been linked to a string of gruesome murders including the shooting of an 18-year-old Catholic girl as she slept next to her Protestant boyfriend, and the killing of journalist Martin O’Hagan in 1999, the only reporter murdered during the Troubles.
The police say speculation about LVF involvement is unhelpful. They are following a number of definite lines of inquiry. Three men have been arrested and questioned but released. The LVF itself issued a statement to the Belfast Telegraph saying they weren’t involved. But paramilitary statements are often taken with a generous pinch of salt.
David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, linked to another group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, says: “I can’t see an organisation condoning in any way the murder and disappearance of this young woman.
“Someone knows what happened to Lisa Dorrian and it would seem they are not prepared to impart that to the police, possibly because they are frightened. We as a society need to encourage these people not to be frightened.”
Where paramilitaries may be involved, witnesses have always been notoriously reluctant to come forward, fearing they will be the next target. As the McCartney murder showed, the old mantra “whatever you say, say nothing” holds as true now in Northern Ireland as it did 30 years ago.
At home, looking at the last photo of Lisa, her mother said she was always accident-prone – but she could never stand pain.
“She was always falling off her skates,” Pat said. “She had had two knee operations. She couldn’t stand pain. She wouldn’t even open up her mouth for the dentist. Her dad had to sit for an hour while she ripped a piece of paper to bits in her fist. She couldn’t tolerate pain, you would hear her howl from one end of the country to the other.”
John Dorrian has a newspaper article on the disappeared in his car with him. One mother is reported as having never given up hope of finding a body. She prays and lays flowers at other people’s graves because she has none to go to herself.
But he can’t equate Lisa with the disappeared yet, it’s too painful. “We want her body back, that’s our focus, that’s our only focus, that’s all we can think about, all we can wish for.”
“Two months on, we are in exactly the same situation,” says Joanne before making another public appeal for information yesterday. “It’s a terrible situation to think the best you can hope for is to have your sister’s body back. Someone out there knows something.”
At the caravan park, the flowers left by the family have now died. Advertisements are up for a children’s disco and karaoke and weekenders don’t like people asking questions. One man in the site office says: “It’s very sad, we have great sympathy for the family and we have helped the police, but people here are trying to move on, and get back to normal.”
“This is a very quiet place, we’re in shock,” says a worker from the local fish factory. “No one saw or heard anything. This has to do with outsiders. If we knew something, we would say.”
Meanwhile, Lisa’s nephew is beginning to find holes in the cover story of their aunt’s death. “I used to have an auntie but she got lost in the dark and died,” says the four-year-old. “But if you were going out in the dark wouldn’t you take a torch?”
Sinn Fein manifesto calls for truth over collusion
By Noel McAdam, Political Correspondent
29 April 2005
Sinn Fein today demanded an “effective truth recovery mechanism” in Northern Ireland as its manifesto was launched.
The blueprint emphasised, however, the need for truth in relation to state violence and collusion.
With less than a week before polling day, Sinn Fein became the last of the main four parties to detail its policies – stressing the vulnerability of the peace process.
The party said it was seeking the endorsement of the electorate for Gerry Adams’s ground-breaking initiative in asking the IRA to embrace pure politics and “rebuild the peace process”.
It was thought that the IRA was not likely to formally respond to Mr Adam’s call this side of next Thursday.
Like all such publications, the manifesto sought to touch all the right buttons of its support base. Sinn Fein said it would challenge unionism to reject sectarianism, accept equality and inclusivity.
It would also continue to pressurise both the British and Irish governments “to deliver on their responsibilities on demilitarisation … Irish language, and justice and policing.”
In advancing the Irish unity agenda, the province’s 18 MPs should be automatically accorded membership of the Dail, with both consultative and speaking rights, Sinn Fein argued.
Couple vow to facilitate re-adoption of Tristan Dowse
29/04/2005 – 08:16:15
Tristan, at the orphanage in Indonesia
The couple at the centre of the Tristan Dowse adoption case have reportedly vowed to take whatever legal steps are necessary to allow the three-year-old to be re-adopted.
Reports this morning said Irishman Joe Dowse and his Azerbaijani wife made the promise in a statement issued through their solicitor yesterday.
The couple adopted the three-year-old shortly after his birth, but returned him to an Indonesian orphanage last year. He is an Irish citizen and only speaks English.
The Indonesian authorities are attempting to have the adoption declared illegal so the youngster can be looked after by an American couple who have expressed an interest in adopting him.
Despite the Dowses’ vow to facilitate such a move, this morning’s reports said the Adoption Board and the Government had been in contact with the couple for the past year seeking unsuccessfully to resolve the situation.
Yesterday Blogsome was down for quite awhile, but it seems to be up and running today. :)