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Sunday December 31, 2006
A test case in Northern Ireland involving the pension rights of up to 1,000 part-time soldiers could end up forcing the Ministry of Defence to pay out tens of millions of pounds. If the troops, from soon-to-be-disbanded battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, win their legal fight for a pension, it will mean that Territorial Army soldiers will be entitled to the same rights.
The Northern Ireland-based soldiers are challenging their exclusion from military pension schemes by citing a new EU directive that gives pension entitlements to part-time workers. Dozens of cases will be heard in early 2007 in Belfast.
An MoD spokesman said the ministry could not comment on the case for legal reasons. However, it is understood that it will oppose the claim for pension rights for part-time soldiers on the grounds that, while in the regiment, they paid no contributions, unlike the full-time troops.
31/12/2006 – 10:17:24
Prison authorities in the North destroyed 52,382 files in the months before the Freedom of Information Act was introduced.
The data included prisoner records, policy notes and medical logs and was disposed of before the January 2005 law making public bodies more transparent.
The Northern Ireland Prison Service has been criticised for destroying security files on hundreds of terrorist prisoners held at the Maze.
“It seems to me almost in contempt of the FOI Act and it is an extraordinary way to go about dealing with the new dispensation in relation to accessing documentation,” said SDLP justice spokesman Alban Maginnis.
“It shows a very narrow and secretive attitude amongst the prison authorities and obviously it is regrettable that they stooped to such an excessive measure such as destroying a vast number of files.”
An inquiry into the 1997 murder of LVF leader Billy Wright in the Maze Prison heard in November how 800 files with security information on terrorist prisoners released under the Good Friday Agreement had been shredded.
Wright, 37, was shot dead by three INLA gunmen on December 27, 1997, and Lord MacLean’s inquiry is probing how the killers were able to target him in the high security centre.
Some of the material disposed of is uncontroversial and relates to medical and dental records. It is governed by a destruction timetable outlining the period which files have to be kept for.
The FOI was brought in to make public bodies more accountable but opposition politicians and campaigners have criticised shredding papers across government.
A Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders representative said paperwork should be preserved.
“We would support people having access to information and transparency and with the Prisons Ombudsman and the review of criminal justice it is essential that this right is protected,” Siobohan O’Dwyer from NIACRO said.
“We want prisoners to be able to access information and we support transparency in all government departments.” The Prison Service said its actions were governed by official protocols.
“All of the files were destroyed in line with disposal schedules that were drawn up in consultation with PRONI.
“PRONI were also involved in the file review exercise which was in line with rules and regulations contained in the Public Records Act and the Section 46 Code of Practice on the Management of Records under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.”
Inmates’ files are normally destroyed six years after release.
The leaders of Northern Ireland’s four main churches have called for an end to sectarianism and prejudice.
In a joint New Year message they asked people to pray to help achieve this.
The Presbyterian moderator, the Reverend David Clarke, said they hoped people will show tolerance for one another.
“It’s very easy to look back and complain about one thing or another – I think we want to look forward to a shared future,” he said.
“Where we recognise the equal rights of everyone in society and respect for other people with whose political views we may differ.
“I think it is a constructive attitude we want to encourage – to look forward with hope for the future to build a better society for all our people.”
The statement – from Rev Clarke, Archbishop Robin Eames (Church of Ireland) Archbishop Sean Brady (Catholic) and Rev Ivan McElhinney (Methodist President) – said 2007 would be a year of decision.
“The decisions we make will either take us forward into a shared future with a mindset of moving forward together or leave us in the past trapped by our grudges and prejudices,” they said.
“As Christians we believe our future is in God’s hands and we would ask people to join us in prayer seeking guidance for ourselves, wisdom for our politicians and leaders and for the good of all our fellow citizens.
“We ask everyone to reject those words, attitudes and actions which fuel prejudice and sectarianism.”
30/12/2006 – 10:10:44
Sinn Féin must agree to the dismantling of IRA structures and return the money stolen in the Northern Bank robbery two years ago if they are to convince unionists to share power, a Democratic Unionist (DUP) MP has warned.
As Sinn Féin edged closer towards the acceptance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland by calling a special party conference on policing next month, Democratic Unionist MP the Rev William McCrea warned his community would not be sleep-walked into accepting anything less than democracy demanded.
The South Antrim MP warned Sinn Féin and the Irish and British governments: “Having once again listened to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Peter Hain), it seems he is totally devoid of any understanding of the position of unionism over the issues of policing, justice, law and order and the other measures necessary to be resolved before Sinn Féin can eventually be considered for government in Northern Ireland.
“Unfortunately, Government is so taken up with crawling and scraping to Sinn Féin/IRA that it has lost its credibility and integrity when dealing with democratic standards.
“The DUP has made it clear that policing is but one of several major issues that need positive resolution before any deal can be considered.
“My colleague Mr (Peter) Robinson MP has made it clear that the devolution of policing and justice would be several light years away. Therefore the issue is not on the radar irrespective of promises emanating from the Northern Ireland Office, London and Dublin.
“The DUP resolve remains solid on this issue but we also serve notice that many other issues need delivery.
“Sinn Féin has to agree to the dismantling of IRA structures, the handing over of IRA ill-gotten gains – including the Northern Bank robbery money, informing on those responsible for the murder of Robert McCartney, and identifying the whereabouts of the disappeared – to name but a few of the outstanding issues.”
Mr McCrea’s demands came after two other senior DUP members – the party chairman, Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley and MEP Jim Allister – also cast doubt on whether Sinn Féin would be able to convince unionists that it was genuinely supporting the police within the timeframe envisaged by the British and Dublin governments for achieving devolution by March 26.
The South Antrim MP also insisted the British government had to address a number of confidence-building measures for unionists before the DUP would be convinced that it should share power with Sinn Féin.
30/12/2006 – 17:09:47
A priest who braved attacks on his home to say Mass at Harryville during the loyalist protests has died.
Fr Frank Mullan, 81, died in Dublin yesterday after a long battle against illness.
He led his Co Antrim congregation during 20 months of conflict from September 1996 when loyalists began targeting his Church of Our Lady in a dispute over parading.
His car was set on fire and a builder’s block put through the window of his house during the trouble.
Fr Sean Connolly, a Ballymena priest, said Fr Mullan was highly regarded.
“He was a very popular man. He was at Harryville for about four years but he certainly made his mark during that time there,” he said.
“At the time of the Harryville protests they set fire to his car and they came and put a builder’s block through the room.
“He was well-regarded locally and people from here kept contact with him after he left. He fought against illness and never gave in to it.”
The protests began after the Parades Commission restricted the route of a loyal order parade at nearby Dunloy.
Last year the church was targeted for paint and graffiti attacks and it was set on fire by arsonists in 2000.
Loyalist protesters mounted a weekly picket outside the Harryville church during Saturday evening Mass between September 1996 and May 1998.
The protests were called off shortly after the Good Friday Agreement received 71% support in a referendum.
SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan paid tribute to the cleric.
“He had a great zest for life, and was totally humble. He was very well read and had a wealth of experience,” he said.
“He was fond of music, good food and conversation. He served on the mission fields, and during the Nigerian civil war, was forced out of Biafra at gunpoint.”
Previously confidential government files relating to 1976 have been released by the Public Records Office.
Ten Protestant workmen were killed in the 1976 Kingsmill massacre
It was one of the bloodiest years of the Troubles, with 10 Protestant workmen murdered by the IRA in the Kingsmills massacre in County Armagh.
The IRA murdered British Ambassador to Ireland Sir Christopher Ewart-Biggs.
A total of 295 people died, and while little new emerges about any of these incidents, there is plenty of new detail about other events of the era.
Some of those events of 1976 still resonate today.
For example the opposition of the Catholic Church to integrated education is highlighted.
Originally held back
According to one memo, the then Cardinal Conway dismissed the idea of shared schools as “trivial, irrelevant and without popular support”.
It was also the year of the Peace People, but the papers show that an NIO official said government assistance to them should be avoided, so as not to embarrass the movement.
Elsewhere, the papers show the current Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey warned the government in 1976 to back majority rule, while his predecessor David Trimble accused the party of self-deception.
DUP leader Ian Paisley is also mentioned in papers released from 1968 which were originally held back.
In one, an RUC inspector accuses him of inadvertently playing into the hands of civil rights activists through his policy of organising counter demonstrations to civil rights marches.
Dissident republicans were last night blamed for planting a fire-bomb in a busy shopping area in Northern Ireland.
British army experts were brought in to defuse the incendiary device after it was discovered in a men’s clothing store in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.
Shoppers out hunting for sales bargains had to be evacuated from the High Street area during the security alert.
As tests were carried out on items taken away for forensic examination.
Democratic Unionist Policing Board member Arlene Foster hit out at those responsible.
Ms Foster, who had been in the area at the time, said: “I can’t imagine it was anyone other than dissident Republicans. “It’s a very disheartening way to end the year in Co Fermanagh and it underlines the need for everyone in the community to support policing and bring these people to justice.”
December 30, 2006
–Sinn Fein backs police conference
–Adams statement is a ‘seismic step’
Unionists demanded to know yesterday whether a secret deal had been struck with Gerry Adams to allow fugitive IRA terrorists back to Northern Ireland in return for Sinn Fein endorsing the police.
As Sinn Fein’s executive backed Mr Adams’s proposal for a special party conference on the issue, Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists asked what concessions had been granted to the Sinn Fein leader to ensure republican support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Lord Morrow, the Democratic Unionist chairman, said: “Unionists today are asking the question, what further concessions has Government given in return for this latest statement by Adams? On the Runs has been one of Sinn Fein/IRA’s demands for movement. Are we now to accept this has been delivered?”
In a statement on Thursday, Mr Adams called for a Sinn Fein special conference — or ard fheis — to be held next month with a view to ending the party’s historic opposition to police in Northern Ireland.
Although he said that such a move would be difficult for many nationalists and republicans to accept, he added: “However, the achievement of a new beginning to policing, as promised in the Good Friday agreement, would be an enormous accomplishment. And I believe that we have now reached the point of taking the next necessary step.”
Last night, after a six-hour meeting of the party’s 56- strong executive in Dublin backed the idea by a two-thirds majority, Sinn Fein said that it would be holding a special conference on policing, provided that there was a positive response to the initiative by the British and Irish governments and the DUP.
Under the terms of the St Andrews agreement in October, republicans must fully support the police and the rule of law before devolution can be restored to Northern Ireland. Unionists must show that they are genuinely committed to sharing power with republicans.
If accepted by Sinn Fein’s rank-and-file, a decision to support the police would be the most fundamental shift in mainstream republican ideology since an ard fheis voted in 1986 to end its policy of not taking seats in the Irish parliament. Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, described Mr Adams’s statement as “a seismic step”.
The British and Irish governments have named March 7 as the date for fresh assembly elections and hope that a new executive will be functioning by March 26. Talks aimed at restoring the Stormont Assembly and its executive have continued since negotiations at St Andrews finished without a concrete deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP, but rather a “roadmap” setting out a timetable for achieving this.
The prospect of on-the-run IRA terrorists being allowed to return to the Province without having to face jail is difficult for Unionists to stomach. Controversial legislation allowing this to happen was dramatically pulled this year after widespread opposition.
However, Unionists remain suspicious that No 10 has rekindled this idea as part of behind-the-scenes negotiations with Mr Adams. Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s MP for Lagan Valley, gave a cautious welcome to Mr Adams’s statement but em- phasised that “words needed to be matched by deeds”.
Sir Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionists, said: “The key to all of this is, what decision is the ard fheis being asked to endorse? Is it a qualified decision with power to be handed to the leadership to handle?”
The British and Irish governments have welcomed news that Sinn Fein will hold a special conference next month to discuss signing up to policing.
Downing Street said there was now a real prospect of all NI parties and communities supporting the rule of law.
Speaking after talks in Dublin on Friday, Gerry Adams said the meeting would be held if the two governments and the DUP gave a positive response.
The move has also been welcomed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Mr Ahern welcomed the Sinn Fein executive’s “landmark and timely decision”.
He said: “Sinn Fein has taken an important step on the road to support for policing in Northern Ireland.”
A Downing Street spokesman said there was now, for the first time, “the real prospect of all parties and all sections of the community in Northern Ireland supporting the rule of law in Northern Ireland”.
“This statement is significant because of the unequivocal support that Sinn Fein says it will offer – if this motion is passed at the ard fheis – to not just the police but also to those in communities who report crimes to the police,” the spokesman added.
Sinn Fein support for policing would be viewed as removing one of the main obstacles to restoring devolution.
More than two-thirds of the executive voted in favour of the meeting.
The party has historically opposed recognising the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and its predecessor the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), because of what it sees as a Protestant bias within the service.
The DUP – the largest party in Northern Ireland – has previously refused to speak to Sinn Fein until it recognises and accepts the PSNI.
Speaking after the Sinn Fein vote on Friday evening, DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said it would be “churlish not to acknowledge the potential” of the steps taken by the republicans.
But he warned that unionists would have to study Sinn Fein’s words and actions carefully.
A date for the Sinn Fein conference, or ard fheis, has not yet been confirmed.
Speaking after the six-hour meeting of the executive, Mr Adams said the debate was “frank, comradely and robust”.
“I put a motion to the party leadership and the party leadership endorsed that by more than the two thirds majority,” he said.
For the first time there is the real prospect of all parties and all sections of the community in Northern Ireland supporting the rule of law in Northern Ireland
Downing Street spokesman
Mr Adams said he would now be engaged in efforts to deal with concerns among republicans over the proposals.
“I am totally wedded to the idea of every single person who wants to be part of this debate, being part of the debate, because it’s about the future, it’s about the type of Ireland we want to see.”
Sinn Fein said the motion put forward would include a commitment to “actively encourage everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the police services in tackling crime in all areas and actively supporting all the criminal justice institutions”.
BBC Ireland correspondent Denis Murray said the key for the DUP would be “delivery”.
Alex Attwood, SDLP spokesman, said: “Sinn Fein now appear to be backing out of the wrong position they’ve adopted on policing over the last number of years…
“Everybody including the DUP should now consider acting quickly and positively to the situation that’s developing.”
Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said Sinn Fein had “lost the battle on policing”.
Alliance Party leader David Ford said: “Some of us have been waiting for this since 1998. It’s long overdue but nonetheless welcome.”
The British and Irish governments have named 7 March as the date for fresh assembly elections, with a new executive expected to be up and running by 26 March.
Talks aimed at restoring the assembly and its executive have been taking place since the St Andrews Agreement negotiations in November.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has expressed his optimism that loyalist paramilitaries could disarm and be brought into the mainstream in the New Year.
SATURDAY 30/12/2006 10:26:35
As Sinn Fein contemplated signing up to supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Mr Hain said it was essential that loyalists followed suit.
As he looked forward to the New Year and the possibility of power sharing between unionists and nationalists returning, he told PA: “I am hopeful, more hopeful than ever that loyalist paramilitaries may decommission, may come into line and come into the mainstream which is where they need to be.
“We want to get them into a position where their own traditions can be respected with some dignity. That is where they need to be.”
The British and Irish Governments have been involved in efforts to persuade Northern Ireland`s largest loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association to abandon its weapons and engage in purely peaceful work to renew their communities.
The Ulster Volunteer Force has also carried out an internal debate throughout 2006 on its future direction in the wake of last year`s ground-breaking moves by the provisional IRA to end its arms campaign and complete its disarmament programme.
So far, neither the UDA nor the UVF have decommissioned a single gun, explosive or bullet.
However, it is hoped that the return of power sharing and Sinn Fein`s potential support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland will persuade loyalists to turn their back on para-militarism and criminality.
Mr Hain said following Sinn Fein`s move to address demands for the party to sign up to policing, the people of Northern Ireland could go into 2007 with greater optimism.
“I think the New Year viewed from today is much brighter than it looked two days ago,” the minister said.
“That is obviously tremendously encouraging.
“I do not doubt there will be hiccups along the way. There will be people who will want perfection today or tomorrow, but life is not like that, especially when you have had decades and centuries of bitterness and violence.
“We are now seeing the prospect of a permanent political settlement and I think people realise if you are to have a democratically devolved government, it has to sit on the rock solid foundations – in any country in the world -of respect for the police and the rule of law.”
Mr Hain said in many ways nationalists and republicans had moved ahead of Sinn Fein in identifying the need for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to operate in their neighbourhoods to tackle ordinary crime.
He also acknowledged that in the unionist community there would be caution, scepticism and suspicion about any Sinn Fein move.
“Northern Ireland has to move on, either into a peaceful democratic stable future or people will be left behind,” he said.
December 30, 2006
DUBLIN, Ireland — Sinn Fein leaders voted Friday to convene an emergency conference and confront a pivotal issue in Northern Ireland peacemaking — whether the IRA-linked party should support the police.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, right, and policing spokesman Gerry Kelly speak after meeting with the party’s National Executive Friday Dec. 29, 2006 in Dublin. (AP Photo)
Members of Sinn Fein’s 46-member executive board voted by more than the required two-thirds majority to mount a special conference of its 2,000-strong grassroots membership, most likely on Jan. 27 in Dublin.
The move followed months of stalemate with Protestant leaders, who insist they will form a power-sharing government — the central goal of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord — only if the Catholics of Sinn Fein dump their anti-police policy in the British territory. Power-sharing collapsed four years ago amid conflicts between Protestants and Sinn Fein.
In a significant qualification, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the conference would proceed only if the move received a sufficiently positive response from the Democratic Unionists, the major Protestant-backed party.
“The debate was frank, comradely and robust,” Adams said after the meeting at a hotel near Dublin Airport.
The executive includes several veteran IRA commanders who focused the IRA’s 1970-97 campaign on attacking police, particularly when they were off duty and most vulnerable. More than 300 officers were killed and thousands maimed.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said the conference represented “a defining moment in the peace process. A successful outcome is vital to the continuing success of this process.”
Ahern said the 14-year-old peace process had already radically improved the predominantly Protestant police. He said Sinn Fein support for the force would “make a real difference to the daily lives of many people across both communities in Northern Ireland affected by crime and other issues which only the police can properly address.”
Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, said the current Sinn Fein effort was as historic as the IRA’s decision last year to declare its 1997 cease-fire permanent and surrender its weapons stockpiles. Hain hopes to transfer control of 13 government departments to local hands March 26.
Sinn Fein said its motion, if passed, would commit the party’s members to “actively encourage everyone in the community to cooperate fully with the police services in tackling crime in all areas and actively supporting all the criminal justice institutions.”
If approved, Sinn Fein said it also would abandon its 5-year-old boycott of a Catholic-Protestant board in Belfast that oversees police reforms, as well as community-police liaison committees formed three years ago throughout Northern Ireland.
“For the first time there is the real prospect of all parties and all sections of the community in Northern Ireland supporting the rule of law,” said a statement from British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office.
The Democratic Unionists appeared divided on the latest Sinn Fein move.
Party leader Ian Paisley declined to comment. His pragmatic deputy, Peter Robinson, said it “would be churlish not to acknowledge its historic potential.”
But the most hard-line rump of lawmakers within Paisley’s party, who appear opposed to cooperating with Sinn Fein under any circumstances, said Britain had probably promised Sinn Fein too much in return for any policing move.
The Democratic Unionist chairman, Lord Maurice Morrow, said the party would not take part in power-sharing by March 26 because Protestants needed more time to test Sinn Fein’s conversion to law and order.
“It is patently obvious that Sinn Fein-IRA cannot deliver to the satisfaction of unionists in such a short space of time,” Morrow said.
Sinn Fein has resisted recognizing the authority of the Northern Ireland police partly because of its potential to open up deadly divisions in Sinn Fein-IRA ranks. In recent weeks, Adams and other Sinn Fein leaders have warned they face potential assassination by IRA dissidents who accuse them of betraying IRA sacrifices.
The predominantly Protestant territory, formed in 1921 shortly before the overwhelmingly Catholic rest of Ireland won independence from Britain, never received Catholic support for its Protestant-dominated government and police force. Britain began deploying troops as peacekeepers in 1969 to stop street clashes between Catholic rioters and Protestant police.
The Good Friday pact recognized that political stability in Northern Ireland required full Catholic support for the police and reforms to the existing force, the military-style Royal Ulster Constabulary.
An internationally crafted plan to reshape the RUC into a more Catholic-friendly Police Service has scored wide-ranging gains over the past five years. Preferential hiring of Catholic applicants means the force has gone from 8 percent Catholic in 2001 to more than 20 percent today.
But the force cannot operate freely today in IRA strongholds, where Sinn Fein discourages people from telling police about crimes. (AP)
Source ::: AFP
London • Britain’s then prime minister drew up a secret “apocalyptic note” 30 years ago examining what would happen if Britain had to pull out of Northern Ireland, newly declassified documents revealed yesterday.
In his final months in office, Harold Wilson wanted to work out what to do if “all present policies fail” and Northern Ireland became ungovernable because of “terrorism amounting to civil war” or paralysing industrial action.
He raised the possibility that events in the province might quickly force a “total separation”. “All in all, therefore, the apocalyptic situation envisaged in this note raises frightening prospects, frightening above all for Northern Ireland… but it might involve Britain in very serious consequences, including some of an international kind,” he wrote.
“I think we should be prepared to consider these implications, since a situation could arise very quickly in which action has to be taken. Should it do so, we should not shrink from taking that action.”
Northern Ireland was at the time near the start of the three-decade long Troubles, which saw over 3,000 people killed amid tensions between Catholic and Protestant communities, respectively backing union with the Republic of Ireland and remaining part of the United Kingdom.
The Troubles eventually drew to an end with the landmark 1998 Good Friday agreement, although wrangling still continues over its implementation — in theory self-government could finally be restored next March.
The paper, headed “apocalyptic note for the record”, was written in January 1976, two months before Wilson announced his resignation.
He is scathing about the “unruly mob” which he predicted could force the situation to crisis point.
“What I am sure about is that those who have the bit between their teeth in Northern Ireland have almost certainly given very little consideration even to the implications which I have set out,” he wrote. “Their purblind fanaticism would condition them to disregard such questions, some of them, however, are so ingenuous and limited in experience to think these questions through.”
Wilson feared that militant Protestants could make a unilateral declaration of independence.
Wilson did, though, stress that there was “no question” of Queen Elizabeth II relinquishing sovereignty over Northern Ireland “without the fullest consultation and her consent”.
The document was released by the National Archives in London under rules which say that official papers can be made public after 30 years.
· Sinn Féin deal could meet unionist demands
· Hain moves to reassure both sides over powers
Will Woodward, chief political correspondent
Friday December 29, 2006
Efforts to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland received a boost last night when Gerry Adams called for a special Sinn Féin conference which could see an end to the party’s opposition to policing.
Mr Adams, the party president, said he would put a motion to the national executive in Dublin today on policing, the key sticking point for Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist party. Britain and Ireland hailed the move as potentially historic.
If Mr Adams’s motion is accepted, Sinn Féin wants the two governments and the DUP to “respond positively” ahead of a policing conference next month, well in time for elections in March. The DUP have demanded Sinn Féin accept the writ of the police service in Northern Ireland as the price of sharing power.
Mr Adams’s move follows a round of intensive negotiations before and after Christmas involving the main parties, Tony Blair, taioseach Bertie Ahern and Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain.
It is understood Mr Hain has reassured Sinn Féin about his intention to deliver control of the police service to the devolved government within a year of the restored assembly, taking it away from Whitehall. Mr Hain has also negotiated on the use of plastic bullets, signalling they would be limited to where the lives of police officers are endangered, and a diminished role for MI5.
The DUP remains nervous about devolving police powers. But Mr Hain also moved yesterday to smooth unionist anxieties about the prospect of Sinn Féin’s policing spokesman Gerry Kelly, a convicted IRA bomber, taking over the portfolio in the Northern Ireland executive. Under a new proposal, Mr Hain would legislate for the holder of the post to require support from a majority of unionist and republican assembly members until 2011.
In practice, as with the election of the assembly speaker, this would virtually rule out either Sinn Féin or the DUP taking the post. It would most likely be handed to a member of the Ulster Unionists or the moderate nationalist SDLP.
In his statement, Mr Adams said the party would hold an “intensive period of discussion” in the runup to the conference. “I don’t want to underestimate the difficulties that this issue presents for many nationalists and republicans,” he said. “However, the achievement of a new beginning to policing, as promised in the Good Friday agreement, would be an enormous accomplishment. And I believe that we have now reached the point of taking the next necessary step.”
British ministers recognise that the Sinn Féin leader has taken a lot of internal party heat over the issue, after decades of opposition to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the predecessor of the police service of Northern Ireland. But senior British officials said Sinn Féin still had to demonstrate a commitment to policing.
Mr Hain said last night: “We have worked hard over the last few weeks, with the prime minister intensively involved, to achieve progress and there is the potential now for a historic breakthrough which would leave no excuse for any unionist not to share power with Sinn Féin when the assembly is restored on March 26.”
If Mr Adams’s motion is delivered, Mr Hain said, it would be “on a par, if not even more historic than when the IRA gave up the armed struggle on July 28 last year”.
Mr Ahern last night “welcomed an encouraging and significant development”. Mr Blair’s official spokesman said: “For the first time in Northern Ireland there is now the prospect that all political parties and all sections of the community will support the police and the rule of law.”
“Eight years ago … we put the demand for a new beginning to policing at the top of the political agenda. Since that time progress has been made in a series of negotiations with the British government. In recent days and weeks the Sinn Féin leadership stepped up our contact with the British government on this issue, including over Christmas. Considerable progress has been made during these discussions …
“I will be proposing that the Ard Chomhairle [national executive] convene a special Ard Fheis [conference] … and I will put a motion to that effect. If the Ard Chomhairle agrees to that motion and others including the two governments and the DUP leadership respond positively, the Ard Fheis will go ahead in January.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams will later today begin the process of changing his party’s position on support for the PSNI, write Dan Keenan and Gerry Moriarty in Belfast
Warning in advance that “no one should underestimate how big a step this is”, he has called his party’s ardchomhairle meeting to debate the convening of a special ardfheis on policing. The meeting will take place in Dublin today.
Long-held republican policy on policing is a key obstacle to power-sharing between Sinn Féin and the DUP and hindering efforts by Dublin and London to restore Stormont next March.
In a statement issued yesterday after exhaustive talks involving Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, prime minister Tony Blair and his officials, Mr Adams said “considerable progress” on policing issues had now facilitated the meeting.
“If the ardchomhairle agrees to that motion and others, including the two governments and the DUP leadership, respond positively, the ardfheis will go ahead in January.”
Under a formula devised in the recent talks, a policing model was created based on a proposal tabled by the DUP before Christmas. It means that a department of justice will be established with a minister with full cabinet powers and a junior minister, most likely from the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP.
These ministers will be elected on the so-called “50/50/50” system whereby the ministers must first win at least 50 per cent support of the Assembly members to include 50 per cent support of unionists and 50 per cent support of nationalist members.
However, there is still uncertainty over the time frame for transferring policing and justice powers to the Stormont Executive. The governments believe this formula makes it possible to establish the department by May 2008, as envisaged in the St Andrews Agreement. They hope that Sinn Féin, by initiating this move on policing, will in turn prompt the DUP to soften its refusal to make any commitments on a time frame.
Mr Adams, talking to The Irish Times yesterday, insisted the next step would be among the most significant yet taken by his movement.
“No one should underestimate how big a step this is, both at a personal and a political level,” he said.
“But I think this is the right thing to do and I think this is the right time to do it.”
Mr Adams requires a two-thirds majority among the 56 delegates to the ardchomhairle to enable a motion changing policy on the PSNI to be put to a special ardfheis.
Time is not on the Sinn Féin president’s side.
In an interview with this newspaper, he says he is committed to engaging widely with republicans to convince them of the merits of his position, a process which could take “some weeks”.
He said he recognises the difficulty many Sinn Féin supporters will have with the issue but is prepared to argue solidly for his cause which will “strengthen the quest for a just and lasting peace”.
The Irish and British governments want Sinn Féin to back the PSNI in time for the planned dissolution of the Stormont Assembly late next month.
If plans go to schedule, then the leading nationalist and unionist parties will be able to begin a six-week campaign on positive manifestos before elections to a new Assembly on March 7th. A new executive including both Sinn Féin and DUP ministers would then assume ministerial powers on March 26th.
The Taoiseach welcomed the Sinn Féin move on policing as “an encouraging and significant development”. Tony Blair also welcomed Mr Adams’s decision.
DUP leader Ian Paisley offered a qualified welcome: “Words alone have never been enough. The DUP will continue to push and push Sinn Féin on these matters.”
By Chris Thornton
Published: Wednesday 27, December 2006 – 09:20
Killer Michael Stone’s prison security records are believed to be among 800 files mysteriously destroyed by the Prison Service.
Their destruction means Stone’s current guards are unlikely to have a complete record of his contacts and behaviour from when he was first jailed in 1988.
The loss of files is also believed to have hindered the return to prison of Seamus Mullan, an IRA police killer who had his licence revoked last week.
Prison officials insist privately that their computer records contain all the relevant information that they may need about Stone since he was returned to prison after he attacked Stormont in late November.
But the Billy Wright Inquiry team – who exposed the destruction of the security files – have shown that the paper files contained information which has been lost forever.
The inquiry’s hearings in November revealed that the Prison Service destroyed files containing secret security information on about 800 prisoners in 2002.
The files were described as the “principal repository of intelligence information on or about prisoners”.
The inquiry was told the files contained information on virtually every prisoner released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement – a category which includes Stone and Mullan.
Lawyers argued that the files should have been preserved in case any prisoners who were freed on licence were later returned to jail – just as Stone and Mullan have been over the past month.
A prison governor claimed the files were burned on the order of Martin Mogg, a former Maze prison governor who is now dead. But no record of the destruction was ever made.
The destruction of the files and the disappearance of other documents have thrown up significant obstacles to the inquiry into Wright’s murder, which happened nine years ago today.
Stone was released from six life sentences in July 2000, when the Maze Prison closed, but his freedom was revoked after he stormed Parliament Buildings on November 24.
The Prison Service has refused to confirm or deny the destruction of files about Stone and Mullan.
But officials have insisted that their computer system – known as SASHA – has material on any freed prisoners who might be returned to jail.
But the Billy Wright inquiry team found the computer system was ” deficient” when compared to paper records.
Derek Batchelor QC, the lead counsel for the inquiry, said that computer printouts on paramilitary prisoners returned to jail, like Stone, “did not record any information before 1998”.
In Stone’s case, that means the absence of any records for his first decade in prison. He was originally jailed after attacking an IRA funeral at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast in March 1988, earning him the moniker the Milltown Murderer.
Mullan, from Lisnascreaghog Road, Garvagh, was released the same year the computer system was introduced, meaning most of his information could be lost.
He was jailed for the 1985 murder of Constable Willis Agnew. Described as a disaffected republican, Secretary of State Peter Hain revoked his licence, indicating that he “remains a real danger to the public”.
In contrast to the computer records, the paper files were said to contain ” other relevant material such as papers, reports from other bodies, newspaper clippings, telephone transcripts and the like”.
Mr Batchelor recently cited an incident where information about Billy Wright’s killers that was not on the computer was found in the one of the few remaining paper files.
Stone is currently being held in Maghaberry Prison.
He recently applied for High Court bail, claiming the attack on Stormont was “performance art replicating a terrorist attack”.
The bail application was adjourned to see if forensic evidence would support Stone’s claim that the devices he carried were not capable of injuring anyone.
28/12/2006 – 07:30:20
Talks involving the Irish and British governments and Sinn Féin are said to be making good progress on policing, Sinn Féin has said.
The negotiations are due to continue today with hopes that the March deadline could still be met.
Sinn Féin sources say the talks continued almost non-stop over the Christmas break and have begun again in an upbeat atmosphere.
Although it’s still a case of work in progress, there are real hopes of a breakthrough.
Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said considerable progress had been made and he had been in contact with both the Taoiseach and Tony Blair yesterday afternoon.
The work would continue, he said, to ensure agreement with the DUP to get the power-sharing institutions back up and running again.
The Irish language (Gaeilge) is set to get official status in the EU on 1 January, bringing the total to 23.
The EU recognises the Irish language’s resurgence
The European Commission says Bulgarian and Romanian are expected to get official status on the same day, when the two Balkan countries join the EU.
According to Ireland’s 2002 census, 1.57 million of the four million population can speak Irish.
The commission says the EU will not have to translate all legislation into Irish, “mainly for practical reasons”.
The EU will have a team of 29 translators and editors to handle Irish, as well as 450 freelance interpreter days annually, costing some 3.5m euros (£2.3m; $4.6m).
Despite the resurgence of interest in Irish, increasing numbers of students are choosing not to sit exams in Irish, the commission says. The language is compulsory in Ireland’s schools.
The commission describes linguistic diversity as a “key theme” in the EU, noting that Catalan, Basque and Galician have been granted semi-official status.
If they become official the costs will probably be incurred by Spain, it says.
The Human Rights Commission wants to be allowed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses involving MI5 or MI6 in Northern Ireland.
The Justice and Security Bill, currently before Parliament, exempts the intelligence services from being investigated by the commission.
Chief Commissioner Monica McWilliams said the bill dilutes her powers.
She said her office already deals with complaints from people who believe they are targets of covert surveillance.
“We shouldn’t be stymied in our work ourselves, if we require documents,” she told the BBC’s Inside Politics programme.
“But you can imagine that stamp of national security, even where it is in the public interest or where there may be an issue of the incompatibility of human rights, we would ask that that not be stamped on our work and prevent us from doing the kind of work that we need to do.”
She said the current bill’s exemption was “very wide-ranging”.
“It would put a lot of limitations on what we would be able to investigate and we are hoping it could be amended,” she said.
“It is in the public interest to investigate, whether it is agencies doing something incompatible with human rights.
“We say we should have the power to investigate matters retrospectively.
“We hope to have these powers by January 2008 so it would be a number of years after that before there would be evidence and documents available.”
Established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the commission’s role is to ensure that human rights in Northern Ireland are protected in law, policy and practice.
MI5 is building a Northern Ireland centre near Holywood, County Down, and is due to take over responsibility for national security from the police.
26/12/2006 – 19:17:14
The British government has announced a further step towards restoring the last vessel linked to The Titanic.
The SS Nomadic is due to be moved from its current dock at Harland and Wolff to another where it will undergo some repair work.
The ship was a tender which took mainly first-class passengers from the docks out to join the Titanic and her sister ship the Olympic.
Once the funds have been found, it is to be restored from its currently dilapidated state to its former glory.
The work will begin with the ship’s being covered to protect her from the harsh winter elements during the repair work.
The British government has already spent almost €1m buying and transporting the ship back to Belfast.
27 December 2006
THE Irish and British Governments believe a Sinn Fein decision on policing must come in January if the Northern institutions are to be restored in March.
They are hopeful that Sinn Fein will soon announce the holding of a special Ard Fheis to make a decision on support for the PSNI.
It is understood that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern regards the recent meeting hbetween Sinn Fein and PSNI chief Hugh Orde as being of major importance.
The two Governments are also encouraged by the fact that Sinn Fein representatives have been playing a much greater role in policing committees at local level.
Mr Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair kept up contacts with both Sinn Fein and the DUP as intensive negotiations continued right up to Christmas.
The two leaders decided when they met in Brussels at the last EU Council meeting that they would continue to keep up the pressure for adherence to the agreed timetable.
Senior members of Sinn Fein met just before the Christmas period to consider calling the special Ard Fheis to address the party’s policy on policing.
But they made no decision and are to resume their deliberations in the next day or two.
In a statement, the party’s chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, said progress had been made during intense discussions with Mr Blair and the British government.
A two-thirds majority of Sinn Fein’s National Executive is required to call such an Ard Fheis.
Sinn Fein support for the police has been set as a prerequisite for DUP power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Northern Secretary Peter Hain said he and his officials had worked to tease out sensitive areas of policing policy until late last night.
Mr Hain had been striving to bridge the gaps between Sinn Fein and the DUP, and Mr Blair himself got involved by telephone in a detailed way with the main players.
But the two Governments believe that because of the timing factor involved, a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis must take place within the next month.
If that does not happen, an election cannot be triggered for the March 6 date already set.
The knock-on effect of that outcome would be that the Executive cannot get up and running on the March 26 date which has been planned for some time.
If the target dates are to be met, the two Governments are adamant that Sinn Fein cannot drag out their consultation process on whether to support policing for much longer.
Mr Ahern and Mr Blair now want an early outcome on the power-sharing deal – set out as a priority by both leaders when they first got together to try to resolve the Northern situation a decade ago.
The Taoiseach will then be able to concentrate on domestic political issues in advance of the General Election.
And Mr Blair would be able to chalk up a major international achievement before he leaves Downing Street.