You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2008.
By Patrick Corrigan
31 August 2008
Consultative Group on the Past
Looks like the Observer’s Henry McDonald has been hearing the same rumours around Belfast as I have – namely, that the report by the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past is to be postponed (yet again) until the end of the year at least.
The Group concluded its investigation as long ago as January. When I last blogged this topic in late May (Northern Ireland: ‘It must never happen again’), at the time of a high-profile speech by the Group’s chairs Archbishop Robin Eames and Denis Bradley, I mentioned that the report was expected later in the summer. Then, it was said, it would be out in September. Then October. Now McDonald is reporting December, while I am hearing that we could be into next year before the Group’s findings finally become public.
As previously mentioned, the Group which was established by the UK government’s Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and had its terms of reference written by the NIO, may now find its work being postponed by pressure from the same NIO (a claim they deny in the Observer report).
I’m sure the argument against publication suggests that, given the ominous political deadlock currently on display at Stormont, might it not be better to hold off until politically more conducive times…
But which of the political parties or UK or Irish governments would really welcome effective scrutiny and exposure of their past actions at any time?
Let’s hope that Eames, Bradley and the rest of the Consultative Group will show real independence of mind and not give in to the special pleadings of those in positions of power, whether in Whitehall or Stormont Castle, to delay indefinitely.
However, the real test for the Group is not about the timing of their report, but its contents and whether or not they are willing to stand up for truth and justice in a way which is not compromised by any competing claims for pseudo-reconciliation.
THE INDEPENDENT Monitoring Commission (IMC) is to present to the British and Irish governments its findings on the status of the IRA’s ruling army council on Monday.
Well-placed sources said publication of the politically sensitive findings is expected to follow on Wednesday.
The special report, commissioned from the paramilitary watchdog in mid-July, will detail the current standing of the army council which, according to the DUP, is “a threat” blocking political progress.
The IMC report, due to be much shorter than previous reports given the specific remit, will coincide with crucial talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP next week about the future of the Stormont institutions.
Relations between the leading unionist and nationalist parties deteriorated dramatically yesterday after a summer of difficulties on issues ranging from the devolution of policing and justice powers, to education, the Irish language and the development of the former Maze prison site.
The difficulties have stalled the Executive, which has not met since June.
Yesterday’s row centred on an Executive paper on planning which was altered by Regional Development minister Conor Murphy to include references to Northern Ireland as “the North” and “the North of Ireland”.
References were also made to Derry, although the official name of Londonderry was also included.
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said the alterations, understood to number about 150, of a paper passed by the Executive amounted to a breach of ministerial code serious enough to spark court proceedings.
In a strongly worded letter of rebuke to Mr Murphy, Mr Robinson said: “I have sought and received legal advice on this and consider you to be in clear breach of your ministerial duties . . . This is an extremely serious matter which goes right to the heart of the Executive decision-making process and indeed the credibility of the Executive itself.
“If we cannot trust colleagues to take forward a decision agreed by the Executive, then this is a very worrying and dangerous situation.”
Mr Robinson called for an urgent meeting of the Executive and added: “It may be that the Executive can resolve the situation without recourse to the High Court.”
Mr Murphy is due to return from holidays next week. In the meantime his party colleague John O’Dowd said: “The background to this letter is a query made by rejectionist MEP Jim Allister. The pattern seems to be Jim Allister raises an issue and it becomes a DUP priority. It is weak politics and no way to do business.”
The leader of the Sinn Féin Stormont group said it was time for the First Minister to stop “engaging in petty politics and get down to the business of sorting out real issues”.
“It would suit Mr Robinson better if he used his time engaging in the process of intensive dialogue he committed his party to in June . . . instead of wasting time playing petty, internal unionist politics.”
Mr Allister, who quit the DUP over its decision to share power with Sinn Féin last year, said he had written to Mr Murphy’s department and to each DUP minister on August 1st.
“I welcome the fact that action which I took concerning the politicising of the RDS [ Regional Development Strategy] Review by IRA/Sinn Féin Minister Mr Murphy has resulted in action by the First Minister,” he said. “Now, it seems [ Mr] Murphy hoodwinked his colleagues and surreptitiously inserted his republican propaganda.”
The Alliance party described the dispute as one of breathtaking pettiness which illustrated the fragility of the DUP-Sinn Féin led Executive.
“This instability . . . is reflected in the uncertainty in the business community and growing tensions on the street,” said Assembly member for east Belfast Naomi Long. “The Executive has a responsibility to lead and the first step in that is to meet together collectively. Without a commitment to meet together and a commitment to resolve this impasse then it’s hard to see how the public can have any confidence that this administration has their best interests at heart.”
By William Allen
Saturday, 30 August 2008
Thousands of members of the Royal Black Institution were today marching in Derry’s city centre for the first time in seven years.
The Royal Black Institution last held its main county parade in Derry in 2001, when talks with the Bogside Residents Group were held through a groundbreaking model pioneered in the city.
The most senior of the loyal orders followed the same model as that used by the Apprentice Boys, who broke new ground by taking part in discussions chaired by leading business people.
This morning, following more low-key talks, unionist leaders in the city were optimistic that there would be no trouble as around 4,000 people walked through Derry’s city centre.
All of the loyal orders have reached agreement on marches around the once-controversial Diamond area of Derry and there has been no organised opposition and little trouble during any major parade in recent years.
Foyle MLA William Hay, who helped broker the original groundbreaking agreement, today said talks had been low-key this time and had been very productive.
He said: “A fair bit of work was done behind the scenes to make sure everything can pass off peacefully. It’s been a number of years since the Royal Black Institution held a main parade here, but all is expected to go well.”
Today’s march through the Maiden City is one of six demonstrations being held by the Royal Black Institution on the traditional Last Saturday.
Five of the six counties are hosting a demonstration, and Co Tyrone is hosting two separate parades.
Up to 40,000 participants were today expected to take part in the parades throughout Northern Irelande — 10% of them in Derry.
Thousands more were today lining the route that includes Duke Street and Bonds Street, Craigavon Bridge, Carlisle Road, Ferryquay Street, the Diamond, Bishop Street, the Fountain estate, Craigavon Bridge, Spencer Road, Clooney Terrace, and Limavady Road.
A second parade was today taking place in the North West. Sion Mills was hosting the smallest demonstration of the six, with a total of 30 preceptories from the surrounding border area congregating at the west Tyrone village.
The largest gathering was taking place in Dromore, Co Down where members of around 120 preceptories were marching through the town, accompanied by some 100 bands.
As usual, Belfast members were holding their annual demonstration outside of the city. This year, their parade venue is Portadown where a large contingent of visitors was expected from Scotland.
Members of the RBP were also on the march in Ballyclare and Dungannon.
Sunday, 31 August 2008
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister was once said – in a government euphemism – to have had ‘first-hand operational experience’ in the IRA. But, he says, since teaming up with his former foe Ian Paisley, attitudes towards him changed overnight
Brightly coloured sight-seeing buses cruise along the Falls Road, with rain-soaked heads turning as the guides point out the headquarters of Sinn Fein: this is post-Troubles Belfast.
Every inch a politician: Martin McGuinness in the Long Gallery at Stormont
But inside the building, things are not at all relaxed: it is a hive of activity, with men and women bounding purposefully up and down the stairs and in and out of the building. “That door never stops,” said the cheerful republican on security duty.
There used to be a great deal of overlap between Sinn Fein and the IRA, but now the “armed struggle” is no more. Once a centre of subversion, the office is now strictly confined to the business of politics.
This is one of the offices used by Martin McGuinness, once regarded by Downing Street as a republican with “first-hand operational experience”. Now he is a senior political figure.
As Deputy First Minister, he also has another office in the baronial splendour of Stormont Castle, once occupied by the British ministers who used to run Northern Ireland.
Today Westminster shares power with Belfast’s devolved government, which last year came into being amid widespread amazement and a general welcome for what was seen as an epic breakthrough.
McGuinness, a one-time icon of militancy but now a symbol of his movement’s politicisation, readily acknowledged the difficulties within the administration that was headed jointly by Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party.
Not too many years ago, talk of difficulties often brought warnings of a possible surge in violence. Today, this element is gone. There will certainly be crises ahead, but they will be political, and not matters of life and death.
Time was when many viewed McGuinness as one of those who kept the Troubles going, blaming him for prolonging the conflict. Many felt exactly the same about his loyalist counterpart, the Reverend Ian Paisley.
Yet the general perception of both men changed dramatically last year, when Sinn Fein and the DUP formed their governing coalition. Most people were, in the words of McGuinness, “gobsmacked and amazed” that they could make peace after all those decades of implacable enmity.
A double act developed, characterised by so much bonhomie and good cheer that McGuinness and Paisley became known as the “Chuckle Brothers”. Paisley (like the IRA) has now left the scene, to be replaced as First Minister by his deputy, Peter Robinson.
The republican leader now sounds almost nostalgic about the Paisley-McGuinness double act, saying of the octogenarian loyalist leader: “I respected his mandate, I respected his age and the courageous decision that he took to come into government.”
He recalled how attitudes towards them changed overnight. “Ian Paisley and I would tell each other stories about the people who approached us after making the deal,” he said.
“He told me about coming off a plane at Heathrow, and this woman came over and said, ‘Mr Paisley, can I shake your hand?’ And he said yes, and they shook hands. Then she said that a couple of months earlier she wouldn’t have shaken his hand; she would probably have slapped him on the face – and it turned out she was the Mother Superior of a nunnery. But she praised him to high heaven and said he had done a good thing and she wanted to say thanks.”
McGuinness has had similar encounters. “I told him about being in the City Hotel in Derry, and this woman came running up to me and said, ‘Can I give you a big hug?’ And I said yes, and she hugged me. Then she said, ‘I wouldn’t have given you a big hug before this – I’m an Ian Paisley supporter, but I think what you’ve done is absolutely tremendous.’ That happens to me all the time.
“I think that tells you how things have changed, and that something very, very powerful has happened. And it’s not just on this island.
“In all the times I’ve travelled to London since 1994, everybody that comes up to me tells me to keep up the good work. I haven’t heard one angry voice, which is absolutely amazing.”
But does he get such reactions from people who have specifically suffered at the hands of the IRA? “I meet people all the time who have been hurt by the IRA,” he replied. “Some of the most humbling moments are meeting those people, and they put out their hands and say, ‘Well done, this is good, keep it going.'”
He recalled receiving a letter asking for a meeting from a number of disabled police officers. The request produced, he said, “all sorts of opinions within Sinn Fein” on whether or not to hold such a meeting.
“But I met them,” he recalled. “When they came into the room. it was clear they were disabled as a result of the conflict and as a result of being injured by the IRA. But they shook hands and said, ‘We’re here to say we support what you’re doing, that we support this process.'”
The IRA killed many police officers, but now Sinn Fein supports policing and justice: McGuinness has paid hospital visits to a number of officers who have been injured in attacks by dissident republicans.
Of the violent dissidents, he commented: “Those people think that more car-bombing, more military activity, is going to bring about the freedom of Ireland, but they’re living in cloud cuckoo land.
“They need to recognise and understand that we’re in a new situation, and that there cannot be – under any circumstances whatever – any contemplation of going back to the bad old days. People should assist in the apprehension of those who are involved in these deeds.”
To those splinter groups who still wage small-scale campaigns of sporadic violence, he said: “My message is that it is a totally futile exercise that runs totally contrary to what the people of Ireland as a whole want.
“Any attempt to plunge us back into the violent days is not going to be supported. Do they really want to see 20,000 or 30,000 soldiers back on the streets?”
The Deputy First Minister gets up at 5.30am each day to drive from his home city of Londonderry to Belfast – a journey he says, with a passing grumble about the state of the motorway, that can take hours.
Then it’s attending the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast, chairing and taking part in meetings, signing letters, studying documents, seeing delegations until eight or nine o’clock in the evening. “It’s just wall-to-wall meetings from morning to night,” he said.
McGuinness has never met David Cameron, though he has met members of the Shadow Cabinet. Gordon Brown, he said, has been through “excruciatingly difficult” times.
In common with other political figures, he reported that there is “huge interest, absolutely amazing interest” in the Irish peace process from further afield, citing visitors from Sri Lanka, the Middle East, the Basque country and elsewhere.
He has travelled twice to Helsinki and once to Baghdad for talks on Iraq. “All we can do is offer our experiences. I tell them that without decisive leadership, it is almost impossible to resolve conflict. We have no delusions of grandeur about our abilities to resolve those conflicts – but if it saves lives, why not negotiate now?”
Could that not apply to Ireland as well? “We have to recognise that, in the final analysis, we got it done,” he responded.
The performances of McGuinness and his party’s president, Gerry Adams, were both commended in the recent book on the peace process by Tony Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, who spent many hours engrossed in often tense negotiations with them.
Powell wrote: “It was a remarkable act of leadership by Adams and McGuinness to talk the IRA into peace and to persuade them to settle for something far less than they had demanded in 1993.” (Of the two, Powell found McGuinness “more human, though we suspected he had more first-hand operational experience”.)
The peace process is now at yet another tricky point, since Paisley’s replacement in June by the markedly less jovial Peter Robinson. Sinn Fein figures complain that few major governmental decisions have been going their way.
McGuinness is reserved, but not hostile, when talking about his new governmental partner. “I have entered into the relationship with Peter Robinson with a commitment and dedication to make it work,” he said.
“I think it’s fair to say there have been difficulties, but my assessment is: why would he not want it to work? It’s still early days in the leadership of Peter Robinson, but I’m working on the basis that he wants this to succeed. I’m optimistic.”
There are grumbles, in the republican grassroots, that the DUP is blocking what Sinn Fein would like to see happening in important areas such as policing and justice, education reform, the status of the Irish language and the future of the old Maze prison.
McGuinness acknowledged that there was a certain amount of restlessness and frustration in the republican community, and added: “I suppose that has been a feature of the process from the very beginning – people are impatient for change, and I think rightly so.
“Nobody could say with their hand on their heart that, at this stage, the institutions have delivered everything that people want. But I think what they want to know is: are they beginning to deliver and is the potential there for delivery?
“All of this is worth nothing if it doesn’t make a difference, a real difference.”
The power-sharing executive clearly has its stresses and strains: republicans, as ever, want rapid movement on various fronts, while loyalists, as usual, are suspicious of wholesale change. Robinson is certainly in favour of the settlement, but some in his party want to see rather less chuckling and rather more opposition to the republican agenda.
McGuinness is hopeful. “A Rubicon has been crossed by everybody, and the project for me now is to ensure that there can be no going back. This is the only sane and sensible way forward for all of us,” he insisted. “This is the best way to break down the old hatreds and divisions.”
As a young man, he pursued military victory over his opponents; now, in his late fifties, his talk is of relationships, of negotiation, of mandates, of his belief that violence is futile.
What has he learnt in the course of his controversial, incident-packed career? “Compromises have had to be made: compromise is a dirty word in the course of Irish politics, but people recognise that they had to be made,” he said.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve learnt. I’ve learnt that nothing is impossible – that no matter how things are, if there’s a will to find a way through, then a way will be found.”
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Gordon Brown will not rescue the proposed Irish Language Act if, as now seems certain, unionists vote it down in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Downing Street fears that introducing such an act via Westminster would open the floodgates for legal claims to put other ethnic minority languages in Britain on the same par as English, government sources have told The Observer
The legislation, a key Sinn Fein demand, would give Gaelic equal status to English in Northern Ireland.
But if the Democratic Unionists block the move ministers would also turn down requests for it be introduced via the back door from Westminster, senior sources said this weekend.
One said: ‘The government won’t bring it in via Westminster because the danger is they would be legally bound to recognise other languages such as Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and so on as being of equal legal status to English. Which would cost millions and millions to implement in a time of depleted public finances. This time around Sinn Fein can’t go running to Number 10 to get what they want.’
The DUP confirmed yesterday that unionists would vote down any move to introduce an Irish language bill. Junior Stormont minister Jeffrey Donaldson said: ‘Even if devolution collapsed in the morning and we were back living under direct rule from London, the DUP is convinced there would be no Irish Language Act through Westminster.’
Doubts over the delivery of the Irish Language Act come as fears are growing in both London and Dublin over the stability of power sharing in Northern Ireland. Last week Sinn Fein’s leader in the Dail warned that if policing and justice powers are not soon devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly republicans may pull out of the power-sharing executive.
The Observer has learnt that the political atmosphere has become so toxic at Stormont that a major investigation into the Troubles headed by former Church of Ireland primate Robin Eames and a key mediator between MI5 and the IRA, Denis Bradley, will be postponed over concerns that its findings will cause another major political storm.
The Eames-Bradley report was expected to be published in October and would have included, among other things, a recommendation that the British government publicly apologise for using informers and agents inside paramilitary organisations which were engaged in terrorist acts including murder. The findings will now be published at the earliest in late December, sources close to the truth and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland said this weekend.
The Northern Ireland Office has denied putting pressure on Eames and Bradley to withhold their conclusions until the political deadlock at Stormont is broken.
On the issue of the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont, there appeared to be a breakthrough yesterday after Alliance leader David Ford confirmed his party will attend talks aimed at ending the impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
In a clear signal that the Alliance was shifting its position, Ford said yesterday: ‘We are prepared to play a constructive role. We cannot solve the problems between the DUP and Sinn Fein at the level of political immaturity they are currently at.’
A Sinn Fein spokesman said last night: ‘Obviously Sinn Fein are focused on resolving all of the outstanding issues including the key issue of the transfer of policing and justice powers. We welcome the commitment of anyone who wants to play a constructive role in resolving this issue.’
Sunday August 31 2008
Jimmy Johnson, who served with the Royal Tank Regiment, was so affected by his experiences in Northern Ireland that he went on to commit murder.
Jimmy Johnson served two tours of duty with the Royal Tank Regiment in Northern Ireland in the early Seventies. ‘When I first took my section on a mobile patrol through this estate we loved it. We had never experienced anything like it before – the whole estate hated the Brits!’ he recalled.
Johnson’s section gloried in the fighting and often, by their own admission, went ‘looking for aggro’. But two incidents were to haunt him. In one a woman died of injuries suffered in a bomb explosion. Johnson refused to leave her because she reminded him of his wife, even though there were fears that another bomb was about to go off. The second incident occurred in the middle of a riot. Johnson chased a man into the kitchen of a house after he threw paint on him. He caught the man and beat him around the head with a rubber bullet gun. ‘I couldn’t stop. I was panicking and he wouldn’t go down,’ he said.
Soon afterwards, Johnson bought himself out of the army but found he ‘could not handle Civvy Street’. Suffering from nightmares and tension, he began to drink heavily. As he drifted from job to job his marriage disintegrated. One day, living near Middlesbrough, Johnson killed a security guard, who was a former workmate, after he offered him a lift. ‘I’ve a vague recollection of kids playing on the side of the road. All I remember is a crash on the side of the van. I think the kids had thrown something at it.
‘The next thing I remember is running. I was carrying Keith [his victim]. I dropped him down, I battered him with a pole, I must have hit him three or four times.’ Johnson said that when he carried out the attack he was ‘thinking about hitting that bloke in Northern Ireland’. He served nine years in jail. Eighteen months after being released, he beat a man to death with a lump hammer, a crime for which he was sentenced to life.
It was only after sharing a cell with a doctor who had killed his wife that Johnson first learnt about post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr Morgan O’Connell, a former consultant psychiatrist with the Royal Navy who examined Johnson, suggested he carried out both murders while ‘in a state of detachment or flashback to conditions of severe stress while serving in Northern Ireland’. Johnson is still in jail.
· Adapted from ‘Hidden Wounds: Problems of Northern Ireland Veterans in Civvy Street,’ by Aly Renwick
The North’s first minister, Peter Robinson, said he will not take legal action against Sinn Féin, provided a policy document is changed and all references to “the North” – as opposed to “Northern Ireland” – are re-instated.
The row blew up when some references were changed after the report had been approved by the power-sharing executive.
Mr Robinson said once a document is agreed, it cannot be changed.
Fears expressed by many relatives of the Omagh bomb victims that the monument to their loved ones may become the target of vandals appear to be well founded following an attack on the memorial at the weekend. The attack has been strongly condemned by local representatives across the political divide.
While there have been conflicting reports whether it was eggs or tomato sauce was smeared on the glass plinth, a spokesperson for Omagh District council has confirmed that ‘debris was thrown at the memorial monument on Market Street.’
She said, “Immediate action was taken by Council staff to remove the debris and clean the glass pillar and ascertain that no damage was caused to the monument. The matter has been reported to the PSNI.”
The monument was unveiled two weeks ago to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Real IRA atrocity that claimed the lives of 31 people on August 15, 1998.
Council chairman Martin McColgan of Sinn Féin said that there should be no interference with the monument and called for young people to be respectful of those who died.
“Even though it may have been kids that did this there needs to be respect shown for the monument. I heard there may have been tomato sauce smeared on it by a child. While it was wrong it has been cleaned up. People should leave it alone. It is there to mark the tragic event that happened and people should have some respect. Throwing eggs or sauce or debris at it is mindless. This is something that marks what happened in this town. The town is going to move on but we have to remember what happened in the past and be respectful of those who died. These people need to have a bit of sense and show respect.”
Echoing these sentiments Council vice-chair Jo Deehan called on those responsible to think about the significance of the memorial and come to realise they are ‘offending and hurting a lot of people.’
The SDLP councillor added, “Like any monument or piece of art work it can always be a target for vandals. It is obviously something that will need to be monitored and meanwhile I would be asking the PSNI to be to be vigilant in respect of the memorial and the memorial garden. I would appeal to all people out there to respect the monument and the memorial garden reflecting on what it means and symbolises and to treat it with the respect that it deserves.
On hearing of the malicious attack on the monument UUP councillor Ross Hussey said that his reaction ‘could not be put in print.’
He said, “It shows what sort of morons they are. I don’t object to anyone having fun but this is a memorial to people who lost their lives in a terror attack and I think some respect should have been shown by those who were at it. It is moronic and certainly I would call for this to stop.”
A PSNI spokesman said they are investigating the incident and will be trying to establish if there is any CCTV footage that could help identify those responsible. They have also appealed to the public for any information about the attack.
32CSM Message Board
28 August 2008
Hardline republicans in Derry have vowed to continue to oppose the presence of the PSNI in nationalist areas.
At a commemoration held in the City Cemetery on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the death of hunger striker Micky Devine, the IRSP called on republicans to unite to prevent the PSNI from mounting a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign.
Around 100 republican socialists gathered in the cemetery to lay wreaths at the INLA memorial during the commemoration. Members of the Devine family attended the commemoration, as well as the mother of Derry INLA hungerstriker, Patsy O’Hara.
At the event, wreaths were laid on behalf of the IRSP, the Derry Brigade of the INLA, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, and Óglaigh na h’Éireann.
The main oration was delivered by local IRSP member, Paul O’Hagan, who said: “We believe there is a real opportunity for radical republicanism to grow and to prevail. Working class people feel let down by the partitionist governments on both sides of the border and the downturn in the economic climate coupled with rapidly rising prices, rising crime and sectarian and racist attacks.”
He also said protests would continue against plans to hold PSNI events on local community halls.
The commemoration ended with the playing of the National Anthem by the Seamus Costello Flute Band.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
An American immigration appeals court has upheld Maze escapee Pol Brennan’s bail denial, just weeks after three US Congressman wrote to the Department of Homeland Security calling for the Ballymurphy native be freed on bond.
In its ruling this week, the Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Virginia, agreed with a Texan judge’s April ruling that Brennan is a danger to society.
The court said his 1984 entry into America using an alias, and his subsequent purchase of a targeting pistol using the alias, proved that he has criminal tendencies. The court also cited his 2005 misdemeanor assault conviction after a builder allegedly refused to pay Brennan $1,000 in back wages.
Brennan insists the contractor attacked him. He was found guilty and had to pay a $1,500 fine and performed 500 hours of community service.
Unlike the judge who’s been handling Brennan’s case since he was detained for having a lapsed US work permit in Texas in January, the Board of Immigration Appeals court didn’t deem Brennan a flight risk.
In a letter sent to Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff in July, three Congressmen — New York Republicans Peter King and Jim Walsh, and Massachusetts Democrat Richard Neal — insisted that Brennan’s honoring of bail terms when he was twice freed from US jails while Britain sought his extradition in the 1990s proves that he isn’t a flight risk.
In 1977, Brennan was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being caught moving explosives through Belfast. In September 1983, he was among 38 IRA prisoners who escaped the Maze. A decade later, he was arrested by the FBI living in Berkeley, California.
In 2000, Britain dropped its extradition case against him. US authorities then gave him permission to work in the San Francisco area pending resolution of his residency status.
On January 27, as Brennan and his American wife were driving to visit friends in Texas, he was detained over the lapsed work permit.
Although he’d applied to renew his permit, US authorities hadn’t yet sent it to him.
Department of Homeland Security prosecutors now want him deported for entering the US illegally in 1984.
Brennan was held at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas until late July. On July 22, a day before Hurricane Dolly slammed into Texas, he and hundreds of others were evacuated. Over the next 18 days, he endured three long-distance prison relocations, traversing nearly 2,000 miles of Texas and New Mexico in the process.
He’s now at the Willacy County Processing Center (WCPC) in Raymondville, Texas.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph by phone from WCPC on Tuesday, Brennan said he’s frustrated that the misdemeanor assault conviction continues to dog him because, “it was self-defence. The guy got aggressive with me first”, he claimed.
He added: “I’m disappointed with the ruling, but I’m not surprised.
“I wasn’t expecting anything different. But now we’ll take (the bail appeal) to the federal level.”
Brennan’s next deportation hearing is on September 24.
From Irish News
Posted at 32CSM Message Board
29 August 2008
A former leading IRA man has said attacks on police officers in Lurgan this week were a “symptom” of nationalists’ refusal to accept the PSNI.
Colin Duffy was speaking after two days of serious rioting in Lurgan which saw separate gun, blast and petrol- bomb attacks on police.
In 1995 Duffy was jailed for life for the murder of retired UDR member John Lyness but was later acquitted when it emerged that the main prosecution witness, who had been allowed to give evidence behind screens, was self-confessed UVF gun runner Lindsay Robb.
Two years later Duffy was charged with the murder of two RUC men in Lurgan town centre but the charges were later dropped.
Since then the 41-year-old has become a leading figure in Eirigi, a group of republicans opposed to Sinn Fein’s support for the PSNI.
Eirigi was founded in Dublin in 2006 and campaigns for a 32-county socialist republic.
Insisting that the Lurgan violence was a “symptom” of nationalist opposition to the PSNI, Duffy said: “Certain parties may have made their deals at St Andrews and at Stormont to support the PSNI but the reality on the ground is that they aren’t acceptable to ordinary nationalists.
“Eirigi is gathering more and more support among ordinary nationalists.
“Certain political parties claim that they’re making the PSNI accountable by taking up places on the Policing Board but people on the ground will never accept them.
“There are still 5,000 British troops here, while MI5 is building its headquarters at Palace Barracks.”
Accusing police of being responsible for this week’s violence, he said: “I witnessed first-hand when the PSNI came onto the Tullygally and Drumbeg estates and assaulted women and children.
“The resistance that followed was a symptom of the fact that people are not prepared to accept the British occupation in Ireland in the shape of the PSNI/RUC.”
Denying that Eirigi was linked to any dissident group, Duffy said: “We are not linked to any group. We’re a purely political organisation.
“The only threat we pose is to the British occupation of Ireland. While that British
occupation continues there will always be people willing to resist.”
However, SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly last night hit back, claiming that the biggest threat to nationalism came from dissidents.
“As a public representative who has been working with the police and other statutory agencies to improve conditions in nationalist areas I find these kind of remarks galling,” she said.
“We have recently introduced neighbourhood policing teams in Lurgan and it is proving to be a success.
“People want good policing. It is the dissidents they are rejecting.”
29 August 2008
The DUP and Sinn Fein are involved in a new row – this time over whether the words of a policy document can be changed once they’ve been approved by the power-sharing executive.
Conor Murphy of Sinn Fein changed references in a document from “Northern Ireland” to “the North” and Peter Robinson is understood to be furious.
Sinn Fein says the wording changes in the document by the minister responsible, Conor Murphy, were first noticed by the anti-power sharing former DUP MEP, Jim Allister.
The party says the DUP should not be dancing to his tune and, in any case, Mr. Robinson should not have written to Mr. Murphy complaining without consulting the deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness.
Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, said it was a storm in a tea cup.
By Noel McAdam
Friday, 29 August 2008
The troubled Executive tumbled towards crisis today as First Minister Peter Robinson accused a Sinn Fein minister of a deliberate attempt to derail the power-sharing government.
The DUP leader also demanded an immediate Executive meeting after charging Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy with breaching his Pledge of Office in the Ministerial Code and warning of possible High Court action.
“I view this deliberate attempt to subvert the Executive as an act of the utmost bad faith,” Mr Robinson stormed in a letter sent yesterday and seen by the Belfast Telegraph.
The Telegraph also understands he has sent a private memo to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, urging him to give serious consideration to an Executive meeting as soon as possible.
But Sinn Fein hit back angrily and insisted no letter from Mr Robinson has the authority of the First Minister’s office without the co-signature of Mr McGuinness. MLA John |O’Dowd said: “Aside from the fact that Peter Robinson has no authority to write any letter on any subject on behalf of OFM/dFM without the agreement of Sinn Fein, people will be amazed that at a time when there are real outstanding issues to resolve Mr Robinson has the time to play petty politics.”
The Upper Bann MLA also said the background involved a query from former DUP MEP Jim Allister. “The pattern seems to be Jim Allister raises an issue and it becomes a DUP priority. It is weak politics and no way to do business,” Mr O’Dowd added.
At the centre of the deepening Stormont row, which has been focussed on the devolution of policing and justice powers, is a massive review of the regional development strategy.
Mr Allister today confirmed he had complained to Mr Murphy’s permanent secretary about “pro-republican language” in the strategy document and the DRD minister had indicated he was satisfied with it.
Mr Robinson’s letter said, however: “The strategy which you have published is not the strategy which was agreed by the Executive on 10 April. I have sought and received legal advice on this and consider you to be in clear breach of your ministerial duties and that you have acted unlawfully.”
Mr Robinson has insisted on the immediate withdrawal of documents already publicly available and a detailed explanation of how the situation has arisen.
“I would be grateful for an urgent response from you (setting out) the steps required to rectify this situation,” he added.
The DUP First Minister said it is an extremely serious matter which goes to the heart of the credibility of the Executive and the entire decision-making process.
“If we cannot trust colleagues to take forward a decision agreed by the Executive, then this is a very worrying and dangerous situation,” he said.
“In these circumstances I am also seeking an urgent meeting of the Executive as soon as possible to discuss this important matter. It may be that the Executive can resolve the situation without recourse to the High Court.”
Minutes of Stormont meetings set out how the final blueprint seems not to have been brought back to Ministers for approval. Mr Robinson alleges there were a total of 157 changes from the version of the document agreed by the Executive.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Regional Development confirmed the letter has been received. Mr Murphy is on holiday but returns to his desk on Monday.
Mr O’Dowd added: “The Regional Development Strategy produced by DRD is an accurate reflection of what was agreed at Executive level. It would suit Mr Robinson better if he used his time engaging in the process of intensive dialogue he committed his party to in June to sort out serious issues.”
Children as young as 13 threw stones and petrol bombs at police in Londonderry on Wednesday night, according to a community worker.
Officers were attacked as they arrived at the scene of a hit-and-run in Carranbane Walk in Shantallow at about 2000 BST on Wednesday.
The car involved in the hit-and-run was abandoned and set alight, and a recovery vehicle had a window smashed.
Catherine McCann questioned the reaction of some parents in the area.
“I saw parents last night out there and they went over immediately and got their own children off the scene,” she said.
“They were very responsible, but there were parents that knew what was happening and they knew their youngsters were out there firing stones and doing whatever kind of damage they wanted to do,” she said.
The PSNI have said they believe the same car knocked a man off a motorbike in an earlier hit and run on the Racecourse Road in Derry.
The motorcyclist suffered minor injuries.
Dissident republicans are being blamed for a gun attack on a police patrol in Craigavon.
A number of cars have been burnt out during trouble in Craigavon
Four to five shots were heard after the patrol saw a man in a crouching position aiming at them with a “long-barrelled weapon”, police said.
No-one was injured in the attack in the Brownlow Road area, which happened shortly before 2000 BST on Tuesday.
Later, stones were thrown at SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly after she spoke out against the violence.
“I had been on the news condemning the attacks on police officers,” she said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that it was specifically me who was attacked and targeted because they waited until I had walked away until I came under attack.”
Mrs Kelly’s car windscreen was smashed and she suffered a minor leg injury.
But she said it would not stop her speaking out against attacks on the police.
Police Deputy District Commander Superintendent Alan McCrum said the gun attack was “a deliberate attempt to murder officers”.
“This takes today’s events to another level,” he said.
“However, police will continue in their efforts to bring calm to the area despite these attacks on them.”
Earlier on Tuesday, at least one blast bomb, as well as bottles, stones and petrol bombs were thrown at police in the town investigating a security alert.
That trouble happened in the Tullygally and Drumbeg areas.
No-one was injured, but a number of vehicles were burnt out and several police vehicles damaged.
A 31-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of hijacking. The alert followed a telephoned bomb warning on Monday. Nothing was found.
Motorists have been warned to avoid the area.
Burnt barrels and other debris
The trouble took place in the Tullygally and Drumbeg areas
Local politicians have condemned the violence.
Sinn Fein assembly member John O’Dowd blamed the trouble on dissident republicans.
“I would appeal to everyone involved in the trouble to stop it now before someone is either injured or killed,” he said.
“This is not a game, this is not fun, what we’ve seen tonight is actually attempted murder. Please stop it now before someone is killed.”
Torrens Knight hits out at hate campaign by nationalist politicians
“Yes, I did what I did. I can’t change the past but what’s the difference between me and Gerry Kelly, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness? ”
By Una Culkin
27 August 2008
GREYSTEEL killer Torrens Knight has accused nationalist politicians of waging a hate campaign against him since his release from prison.
The man convicted of 12 murders including those at Greysteel and Castlerock in the 1990s spoke exclusively to The Coleraine Times to challenge the politicians to “get off my back please”.
The Coleraine man, who served seven years out of eight life sentences for the murder of four Catholic workmen at Castlerock and the “Trick of Treat” Greysteel massacre in 1993, approached this newspaper to explain that he has distanced himself from paramilitaries and wants to get on with his life.
“I have changed,” he said. “I have moved away from paramilitaries. Yes, I am an ex-terrorist but there are plenty of other ex-prisoners out there also.
“Why can they not leave me alone? I have done my time and I have let go of my hatred. It’s been eight years (since Knight’s release from jail under the Good Friday Agreement] and I have bothered nobody.
“I am just trying to get on with my life.”
Have you a comment to make on this or any other story on our web site?
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 02870357610.
Knight singled out Sinn Fein councillor Billy Leonard and SDLP MLA John Dallat as carrying out what he described as a “hate campaign” against him.
“There has been a hate campaign against me since I came out of prison. I have kept my head down and tried not to get into it but I am fed up with it.
“Yes, I did what I did. I can’t change the past but what’s the difference between me and Gerry Kelly, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness? They are all ex-paramilitaries and are now in government but you never hear Billy Leonard complaining about them.
“They expect the Unionist and Loyalist people to accept them in the government but us Loyalists can’t do anything.”
Knight’s candid interview with this newspaper came the week after claims were made in the media that he was a member of Kilrea Apprentice Boys.
Cllr Billy Leonard claimed that Knight had been spotted laying a wreath at Kilrea War Memorial with the local Apprentice Boys.
This was categorically denied by both the Apprentice Boys and Knight himself.
“I am not in the Apprentice Boys but if I was, is it such a big deal when Martin McGuinness and others are in the government of this country?
“They portray themselves as men of peace but they don’t seem to want to let go of the past. Are they are the ones with the problem?
“I have changed. I have grown up a lot since back then. I have moved away from paramilitaries.
“In prison I had a lot of time to reflect and I try to look at other people’s perspectives now. I know some people would be happier to see the likes of me spend the rest of our lives in prison but we have all made mistakes and I can understand that but I was let out early by the government and I just have to try and get on with my life.
“I could have come out of prison and got involved in paramilitaries again or gone down the road of criminality but I chose not to. So why can’t they get off my back?”
Knight accused nationalist politicians of using him to score points against each other and against the British government and loyalism.
He also urged politicians to think of the families of those murdered in the Troubles.
“It’s not fair of these politicians to talk about fighting for the victims’ families because all this can’t be helping the victims’ families.
“Those people must want to forget about the likes of me. It must be hard enough for all the victims’ families living without their loved ones without being reminded on a regular basis every time Dallat or Leonard bring up my name.
“Yes I was a terrorist but so was Martin McGuinness and now he’s running the country. It’s totally hypocritical. They have double standards.
“I was a man of war but now I want peace to work. But a fair peace. Some nationalist and republican politicians come across as not wanting a fair peace, they just want to score points against the British government and loyalists.
“That won’t build confidence in the Unionist community. They expect us to accept ex-terrorists like Gerry Kelly and Martin McGuinness in government but yet they keep picking on me and other Loyalists.
“If peace is going to work is has to be fair to both sides. We have all made mistakes in the past so let’s try to move on now.”
Mr Knight said that the millions of pounds being spent on public enquiries could be better spent on issues which the whole community share, such as the state of the health service.
“We can’t sweep the past below the carpet and we shouldn’t but pouring millions of pounds into enquiries that won’t achieve a lot won’t help.”
Knight accepted that his speaking out might make his situation worse but said: “I have decided to speak out to say ‘get off my back’ but will those politicians listen?
“I have genuinely moved on in my thinking. I want to get on with my life and I want people to forget about me but it’s as if I’m the only person who did anything wrong.”
WHAT THE MEDIA SAID ABOUT ME
In a wide ranging interview with The Coleraine Times, Knight was particularly critical of the way he has been portrayed by the media.
And he is in no doubt why.
“When I went into prison the media picked on me because I showed defiance coming out of court,” said Knight referring to the infamous photograph of him emerging from Limavady courthouse and jeering at crowds after being charged with the Greysteel murders.
“Since I went into prison, 95% of what has been written about me has been lies and I know why.
“They made me out to be a monster and wrote what ever they wanted about me. And basically because I am a convicted murderer, they can write what they want about me and get away with it.
“That is why John Dallat and Billy Leonard feel that they can say what they want about me and the media will report it.”
“John Dallat and Billy Leonard accused me of being an MI5 informer with absolutely no proof,” claimed Knight.
“I can sit here and categorically state that isn’t true.
“But they just seem to be able to say what they want. To say someone is an informer when they are part of a paramilitary organisation is the lowest of the low because the big thing in paramilitaries is trust.
“Look what happened to some of the informers on the other side like Scappatici and Dennis Donaldson. I could quite easily have been shot over that. Maybe that’s what they would like.”
In 2007, the Ulster Political Research Group responded to what they called a “two-year hate campaign” in the media against Knight and declared that he had not and never had been in the pay of MI5 or any other branch of the security services.
In October 2007, a Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland investigation established that police did not have any prior knowledge which could have helped them prevent the Greysteel attack. The investigators did not find any evidence that Torrens Knight was protected from the rigours of the law.
MLA’s relative seriously ill
By Erin Hutcheon
26 August 2008
Suspected joyriders have run down the brother-in-law of Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin and left him seriously ill in hospital.
Don Campbell, who is his 50s, was knocked down in a car park near Ballyarnett Country Park on Friday evening. Local residents say the area has become a blackspot for joyriders and speeding motorists.
Mr. Campbell was found lying in the car park however it not yet known exactly where he was struck by the car, or how he got to the car park. His condition yesterday was described as “serious.”
The incident is the second in a series of hit and runs. A few weeks ago, a man was knocked down in nearby Racecourse Road, and then assaulted by the occupants of the car.
Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney said residents had complained that joyriders were not being given appropriate sentences when prosecuted.
He said: “We need to reassure people that the people responsible for this will be held to account. There have been complaints in the past and we have dealt with this with the PSNI, that a number of people who were arrested go to court and get bail too easily. There has been in the past condemnation of the length of sentences.”
SDLP Councillor Helen Quigley said politicians had warned for some time that it was only a matter of time before there was a tragedy.
She said: “It would appear that this very serious incident has resulted from actions that are becoming a regular occurrence in the area and it seems that this has been the case for quite some time.
“There is now a responsibility on the police to put extra resources into tackling joyriding here and in the other hotspot areas around the city. We have been saying for some time that it will only be a matter of time before a tragedy happens.”
Police have appealed for anyone who witnessed the incident or has information about it, to contact them.
26 August 2008
A mural commemorating the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the civil rights campaign will be unveiled on the back of Free Derry Corner this Friday.
The unveiling is part is a series to mark the anniversary, culminating in a two-day programme of meetings, lectures and exhibitions at the Guildhall on the 4th and 5th of October which will be attended by President Mary McAleese. Other invited guests will include Professor Kadar Asmal, a member of the ANC government in South Africa who sought sanctuary in Ireland during the apartheid era.
The full list of events for the commemoration weekend, which is being organised to coincide with the anniversary of the first civil rights march in Derry on 5th October 1968. The mural will be unveiled on Friday afternoon at 2.30pm.
25 August 2008
A Derry woman has been told her life is under threat from dissident republicans who mistakenly believe she is in the police.
Lisa Daly, from Drumahoe, was informed of the threat last Friday.
DUP councillor Drew Thompson, who has been in contact with Ms Daly, said she was terrified and urged the PSNI to publicly say she was not a member.
He said: “She has left her home at the moment because she is afraid to live there at this current minute in time.”
By Patrick Corrigan
10 March 2008
There’s a debate under way (I’ve joined in myself) over at the BBC NI-hosted blog, Will and Testament , about torture, the CIA and why “good people turn evil”.
The debate is prompted by a book, interview and slideshow (horrific pictures of abuse from the US era in charge of Abu Ghraib – viewer discretion advised) by Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo. Follow the links for the background and the debate.
Suffice it to say that the fight against the use of torture is sadly, yet again, one of the debates of our time.
Many in Amnesty thought that we had fought and largely won this argument back in the seventies and eighties when we led a sustained and successful campaign which resulted in the UN Convention against Torture.
In 1973 the UN General Assembly approved an Amnesty resolution denouncing torture and two years later the UN unanimously adopted a declaration against torture following Amnesty campaign.
By 1984 the UN Convention against Torture was adopted and finally came into force three years later. To date, 142 nations are parties to it, with another nine having signed but not yet ratified.
Job done? Of course not.
During the same period, the use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment continued apace throughout the world – including here in Northern Ireland.
In the seventies, Amnesty helped to expose the use of the infamous “five techniques” used here in security force interrogations of terrorist suspects: (1) hooding, (2) wall-standing, (3) subjection to noise, (4) relative deprivation of food and water and (5) sleep deprivation. (Techniques, let us not forget, now being rolled out as part of the global “war on terror”.)
For illustration purposes let me quote Tom Parker, a fellow at Brown University, and a counter-terrorism expert, who describes just one of the techniques as used in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s:
“Subjection to noise meant placing the prisoner in close proximity to the monotonous whine of machinery, such as a generator or compressor, for as long as six or seven days. At least one prisoner subjected to this treatment told Amnesty International that having been driven to the brink of insanity by the noise, he had tried to commit suicide by banging his head against metal piping in his cell.”
In 1977 the European Court of Human Rights found the UK government guilty of the use of these “cruel, inhuman and degrading” methods of interrogation in Northern Ireland.
At the time, presumably, the UK’s forces (and political leaders) thought the approach worthwhile and even necessary in their local “war on terror”.
However, subsequently, former British intelligence officer Frank Steele told the journalist Peter Taylor:
“As for the special interrogation techniques, they were damned stupid as well as morally wrong … in practical terms, the additional usable intelligence they produced was, I understand, minimal.”
Three decades on, the debate is just a relevant and the global consequences even more deadly than in the days of car bombs and teenage kicks in Northern Ireland.
The Zimbardo experiments and the Abu Ghraib scandal might lead some to think that prisoner torture is mostly a case of good people carrying out deviant acts of evil in extraordinary and stressful circumstances.
But the abuses carried out in the 1970s in the cells of Palace Barracks in Holywood or Girdwood Barracks in Belfast cannot be explained away as aberrant behaviour by otherwise good people. What happened there – as happened in Abu Ghraib under Saddam and under Bush – were the actions of agents of the State carrying out the orders of the State.
These “interrogation in depth” techniques were not invented in or for Northern Ireland and had been used before in British colonies and dominions like Kenya, Cyprus, Palestine, Aden, British Cameroon and Malaya
Lord Gardiner in his minority report to the UK government in March 1972, put it pretty well:
“The blame for this sorry story, if blame there be, must lie with those who, many years ago, decided that in emergency conditions in Colonial-type situations we should abandon our legal, well-tried and highly successful wartime interrogation methods and replace them by procedures which were secret, illegal, not morally justifiable and alien to the traditions of what I believe still to be the greatest democracy in the world.”
His words have real resonance and relevance in 2008, including for today’s UK government which appears to have few qualms over its allies’ behaviour.
Until people in democratic countries such as our own demand that their States have no hand in such acts of torture, they will continue to be ordered when leaders of those States feel threatened.
If the moral and legal arguments against torture are insufficient for some politicians, perhaps the counter-productivity of torture (in terms of alienating those communities whose support is necessary to defeat terrorism) might be an alternative argument. Any short-term gains (whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere) are more than offset by long-term failures.
Human rights campaigners – and others – have a duty to make the arguments and to persuade the public, again and again, that resort to torture is a degradation of the values most of us hold dear … and makes us no safer in our beds or on our buses.
You can join Amnesty’s campaign to stop torture here.