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International Herald Tribune
27 Feb 09

Irish police said Friday they are hunting an armed gang who held hostage the family of a Bank of Ireland employee and forced the man to hand over cash from a Dublin branch. The robbers may have escaped with as much as €7 million ($8.8 million), the state broadcaster RTE reported.

“A number of armed raiders entered a house and held up a family,” police said in a statement. The man was “forced to go to a Dublin city center bank and hand over an amount of cash” Friday before the family, who were held last night in the Badgers Hill area of County Kildare, were released unhurt though “traumatized,” police said.

The Bank of Ireland confirmed that the man was an employee and that cash was stolen, and declined to comment further.

Police are appealing for information on a red Toyota Celica car and a black Volkswagen Golf used in the attack.

So-called tiger kidnappings, in which a victim is forced to hand over cash while a gang holds the person’s family hostage, happen almost every week, the Fine Gael lawmaker Charlie Flanagan said in an e-mailed statement today. The frequency “points to an urgent need to allocate additional powers and resources” to the police, he said.

In December 2004 an armed gang in Northern Ireland held two male Northern Bank employees and their families hostage before forcing the men to hand over £26.5 million.

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Derry Journal
27 February 2009

Hardline republicans in Derry have warned that some of the recently emerging republican groups in the city could be acting on behalf of British intelligence.

Late last year, a group emerged in the Waterside calling itself Concerned Republicans Against Drugs (CRAD).

Last month, a group calling itself Community Action Against Drugs (CAAD) threatened a number of young people who they accused of involvement in the drugs trade. Another group calling itself Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) made similar threats. Last week, a group calling itself the Bogside Republican Action Group (BRAG) threatened traffic wardens and TV licence inspectors.

The 32 County Sovereignty Movement – believed to be linked to the Real IRA – have claimed some of the new groups may have been created by British intelligence.

“Although the intentions of some of these people may be genuine or honourable there is fear within republicanism that one of these groups may be a pseudo group who are infact working for British intelligence,” a 32CSM spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also said these groups could be directed to discredit republicanism.

“Some of these groups have almost been lauded by the British media and groups like the IMC which raises the concern that the Brits are trying to give credibility to what may in fact be one of their own creations. There is a real concern that civilians may be killed in some action which will in turn be invariably blamed on what the British media call ‘dissident republicans’,” the 32CSM said.

JUSTICE FOR MICHAEL

By Maeve Connolly
Irish News
26/02/2009

Seven young men were charged by police within days of the murder of Michael McIlveen. Four have now been convicted of murder, one of manslaughter and two of lesser offences. They are:

Christopher Kerr (22)


CHRISTOPHER KERR (22), was the only defendant to give evidence during the trial and was convicted of murder by the jury. Described by local people as a well-known hood, the eldest of the seven accused had 12 convictions by the time of Michael’s death

The oldest of the seven defendants in the case, Kerr was referred to by his nickname ‘Kerr Bear’ by witnesses and even his own barrister.

At the time of the murder he was living with his grandparents in Carnduff Drive, only a few hundred metres from the scene of the fatal attack, and it was from this house that Kerr got the baseball bat used to beat the teenager

He was three weeks away from turning 20 and remained on remand after being charged with the murder.

For the first two years of his life Kerr and his older brother lived with his maternal grandparents in Millfield before moving in with his paternal grandparents. Kerr also has three half-siblings from his father’s second marriage.

He had been a student at Harryville Primary School and Ballee Community High but left at 16 and worked as painter/decorator for around six months.

Described by local people as “a well-known hood”, Kerr had 12 convictions on his criminal record by the time of Michael’s death.

The majority of these were minor motoring offences, although he also had two convictions for burglary and one for criminal damage which related to the theft of a moped from the Hugomont area of the town in April 2005.

Kerr told the court he carried out these offences when drunk and having taken “a lot of diazepam… to give myself a wee buzz”.

Less than a month after the theft he was attacked by someone wielding a hurling stick in the Dunclug estate and suffered a broken ankle. “It was to do with stealing a moped or something, a bike”, he said.

Kerr was the only defendant to give evidence during the trial and was convicted of murder by the jury.

Jeff Lewis (19)

Born in Glasgow, Lewis is a former student at Dunclug College in Ballymena and had also been on remand since being arrested within hours of the fatal attack on Michael.

Then aged 17, he confronted the schoolboy and his two friends when they first arrived at the leisure centre car park in Harryville, using sectarian abuse.

He was also among the group who chased the three Catholics to the alleyway and fought with Michael there. Having taken the baseball bat after the group attack on the teenager, he used it to smash the wooden gate of a nearby house where other young Catholics had been attending a party.

Police arrested Lewis as he walked through the town centre in the early hours of Sunday May 7.

The address given by him in court was Rossdale, which is close to Ballee estate in the south of Ballymena.

However, he had for a time lived off Doury Road in the north of the town, within sight of his school and had been friends with young Catholics from the area, knowing Michael.

They remember him playing rugby, saying: “We all grew up with him and we all ran about together”.

Lewis was convicted of murder, having already plead guilty to criminal damage.

Aaron Wallace (20)


Aaron Wallace (20), known to other young people as Weelis, the court heard that his internet chatroom nickname was ‘The Hit Man’. According to young Catholics of the same age, Wallace was the one who would phone at the weekend and at parades and invite them to fight. Photo: Alan Lewis/Photopress

Known to other young people in the town as ‘Weelis’, the court heard that his internet chatroom nickname was Aaron ‘The Hit Man’ Wallace.

The 20-year-old lived with his mother, stepfather and older sister on Moat Road in the Harryville area, within sight of the cinema and leisure centre complex where the events that led to Michael’s murder began.

Wallace’s fiancee – who the court was told is a Catholic – was with him every day in court, usually accompanied by one of his parents.

Taller than the others, he wore a signet ring on his left hand and could often be seen on the pavement outside the courthouse smoking.

Then aged 18, he and Kerr were best friends and went to the police station voluntarily less than 24 hours after the attack on Michael.

According to young Catholics of the same age, Wallace was the one who would phone “at the weekend and at parades” and invite them to fight at a location in the town, usually a car park behind the Tower Centre or Cameron’s car park.

They said messages and taunts would be traded back and forth on the Bebo website during the week.

“He was the arranger, it never came to anything… he was all talk, no action,” one teenager said.

Wallace had attended the town’s only integrated secondary school, Slemish College.

He was convicted of murder by the jury yesterday.

Mervyn Moon (20)

Moon pleaded guilty to murdering Michael McIlveen at the start of the trial and was the only person who struck him with the baseball bat.

The 20-year-old has two brothers and a sister and grew up in a large family home on Galgorm Road, opposite Ballymena police station.

However, the address given for him in court was a terraced house in Douglas Terrace which is in the nearby Harryville area.

Like Kerr and Lewis he has been on remand for almost three years and was 17 at the time of Michael’s murder.

Also a former student at Slemish College, he began training as an electrician at Ballymena Institute of Further and Higher Education but left before he completed the course.

His grandfather was well-known businessman man Jock Wilson and his parents own a four-acre garden centre in Kells which also has a licensed restaurant.

Christopher McLeister (18)


CHRISTOPHER McLEISTER (18), a former Co Antrim boxing champion who was 15 at the time of the attack and although charged with murder was convicted of manslaughter. The court heard that his nickname in an internet chatroom was ‘The Pit Bull’. Photo: Declan Rougha

A former Co Antrim boxing champion, McLeister was 15 at the time of the attack and although charged with murder, he was convicted only of manslaughter by the jury. McLeister had been living with his family at Knockeen Crescent in the Ballykeel estate and was a pupil at Ballee Community High School but family members moved to Scotland after the teenager was released on bail by the courts. Until the trial he was understood to be training as a plumber.

At the start of the case his hair was light brown in colour with bleached spikes. After a few weeks he cut it and the highlights did not return.

The court heard that his nickname in an internet chatroom was Chrissy ‘The Pit Bull’ McLeister.

Peter McMullan (18)


Peter McMullan (18), was initially accused of murder. He was found not guilty by direction on January 12 and pleaded guilty to the charge of criminal damage.

Initially accused of murder, he was found “not guilty by direction” on January 12 and pleaded guilty to the charge of criminal damage. He turned 18 less than a week later.

The youngest of the defendants, he too was 15 at the time of Michael’s death and lives in Meadowvale in the Ballykeel estate in south Ballymena.

The Manchester United fan attended Ballymena Academy and is understood to be doing a bricklaying course. McMullan was a juvenile in the eyes of the law during the trial and herefore did not have to sit in the dock with the other accused. Instead he and his father sat directly in front of the dock.

Paul Henson (18)


PAUL HENSON (18), a student from Kells who attends Ballymena Academy and is known to friends as Hogg. He was the only defendant not accused of murder and was instead charged and convicted yesterday of affray and criminal damage. Photo: Declan Roughan

Known to friends as ‘Hogg’, the 18-year-old was the only defendant not accused of murder and was instead charged and convicted yesterday of affray and criminal damage.

A student at Ballymena Academy, he was accompanied in court by his parents and during breaks in proceedings joined Wallace for a cigarette outside the courthouse.

He lives on Condiere Avenue in Kells, a village approximately six miles from Ballymena, and was 16 when the attack on Michael happened.

By Maeve Connolly
Irish News
26/02/2009


BIGOTRY: a tricolour with an insult referring to Michael McIlveen flies on top of a bonfire in Ahoghill, Co Antrim. Photo: Charles McQuillan

MICHAEL McIlveen’s murder came at a time of increased sectarian tension in the Ballymena area with ‘street conflicts’ between youths a worrying development.

Police had warned that a life could be lost and a senior officer said in the end that it was “a 15-year-old child” who was killed by a gang – some of whom had been “themselves children”.

Detective Superintendent Raymond Murray warned anyone still tempted to engage in violence on the streets to “think about the tragedy of the McIlveen family” in addition to the “tragedy of young men facing long periods of imprisonment”.

Michael was killed in May 2006 and police statistics for the financial year that had ended five weeks previously reveal the town was second only to Belfast and Derry in the number of sectarian offences recorded.

Of the 133 incidents reported, 57 per cent were against Catholics and 43 per cent were against Protestants. Included in these statistics would have been the April 2005 stabbing of a Catholic teenager in a shopping centre on a busy Saturday afternoon.

A series of arson attacks on Catholic homes in the neighbouring village of Ahoghill had also caused alarm. These took place in summer 2005 and were so severe and widespread that police issued Catholic families with fire blankets.

Most visitors to Ballymena would be unaware that some young people have divided parts of it up on sectarian lines and that includes the two large shopping centres in the town centre.

Young Protestants see the Tower Centre as ‘their’ territory while Catholic counterparts think the same of the Fairhill Centre.

During the trial much was heard about the use of internet social networking site Bebo and mobile phones by young people to arrange skirmishes.

Groups would exchange taunting messages during the week and there were occasional ‘meet-ups’ at weekends in two main car parks in the town centre.

During the trial one of those convicted of the murder, Christopher Kerr, said weapons such as swords, hurling sticks, knives, slingshots, crossbows and bottles would be brought to these pre-arranged confrontations.

Some young people told The Irish News that many of the sectarian exchanges and challenges were nothing more than bravado. When an invitation to fight was accepted, it could be that no-one would be waiting at the arranged location or one group would be much larger than another and so nothing would happen.

However, for many teenagers from the larger housing estates that are identified with one religion, the fear of being identified and set upon is quite real and since safety is found in numbers they tend to stick together and avoid ‘no-go’ areas.

In his evidence, Kerr said he had thought that when the group chased Michael a “scrap” might ensue but if anyone was to get hurt it would have been nothing more than “a black eye or bloody nose”. He said such fights happened frequently between young people from the two religious traditions.

Mr Murray last night said it was vital that “the community, the police, parents, teenagers themselves sit back and think about these sort of activities and realise quite simply they are a road to nowhere”.

Time and again the jury in the trial heard references made to whether or not someone was ‘bitter’ – meaning sectarian.

It was Kerr who said that Michael McIlveen had asked him: “Kerr Bear, tell these ones that I’m not bitter” while standing outside the leisure centre shortly before he was chased and attacked. All seven who went on trial received death threats after being charged.

Immediately after Michael’s death young people were posting comments, threats and the names of those thought to have been involved in the attack on Bebo.

In December 2006, seven months after Michael’s death, a senior Bebo representative travelled to Ballymena to meet police and school principals concerned about the sectarianism on display.

One initiative set up as a result of Michael’s death was ‘Ballymena Learning Together’, a project involving all the post-primary schools and supported by the Department of Education, the Irish government, Ballymena Borough Council, the Housing Executive among other organisations.

Mr Murray said “large sections of the community in Ballymena” had cooperated with police during the investigation.

Last night a community relations worker in the Co Antrim town said the atmosphere had changed since Michael’s death. Jeremy Gardiner said the tragedy had served as a “wake-up call” for a community forced to address the “elephant before us” – that is, sectarianism.

“Michael McIlveen’s death was the end of a number of events involving young people and there had been a real fear going round that things were getting out of hand, that these confrontations were getting worse and it could end up with the situation where someone could die,” he said.

“That fear doesn’t exist in the town now. Is it like it was three years ago? Absolutely not. People have made a concerted effort and schools are working together, churches are working together and communities are starting to work together to try and blot out sectarianism.”

Mr Gardiner acknowledged that sectarianism and associated violence still existed but said there was a desire in the town to make sure another young life would not be lost.

Justice for Michael

By Maeve Connolly
Irish News
26/02/2009

There is a series of ten poignant photos of Michael as a baby, young boy and teen–as well as one taken in hospital as his family kiss him good bye. This one brought me to tears. These photos can be viewed on the link above, or if they are not available later at the Irish News, I have put them and their captions in an album at Google which can be see here on this link: Michael McIlveen

Murdered in sectarian attack: Michael McIlveen pictured holding his godson Pol. This was one of the final photographs taken of Michael before he was killed in May 2006

Michael McIlveen was a 15-year-old boy studying for his GCSEs at St Patrick’s College in Ballymena with a dream of joining the Irish army.

Weeks before his murder, he had made a deal with an older friend to wait for him to leave school so they could enlist together. Excited about his career plans, Michael had sent away for an information pack about army life.

It arrived in the post on the morning of his funeral.

Known to many young people in the town as Micky-Bo, Michael was one of four children in his family, in between a younger brother and sister and an older sister. There are photographs of him everywhere in the house – in his school uniform with a cute smile and freckles; as a teenager at a Celtic match; and the last photographs of him, taken after his baby nephew was born.

Michael’s sister had asked him to be godfather to baby Pol and the family portrait taken on the day of the christening, weeks before Michael was killed, hangs among many others in the living room of his Dunvale home.

Almost three years since his death, Michael’s mother Gina has kept his bedroom much as it was when he was alive.

The teenager and two Catholic friends were chased through Ballymena by a gang of young Protestants in the early hours of Sunday May 7 2006.

Eventually cornered in an alleyway, Michael exchanged blows with one of the gang before being beaten with a baseball bat.

Despite suffering catastrophic head injuries, the 15-year-old struggled the one and a half miles home with the help of a friend who was the only witness to what was described in court as a “brutal and savage” attack, carried out “for one reason and for one reason only”.

Michael’s family did not initially realise what was wrong with him but a call from a police officer, checking reports that the teenager had been hit with a bat, alerted them to the seriousness of the situation.

He was taken by ambulance to Antrim Area Hospital but his head injuries were too severe and the following night the McIlveen family made the heart-breaking decision to turn off his life-support machine.

A postmortem examination revealed Michael had died because a blood clot had formed on his brain as a result of skull fractures caused by “at least one blow to both sides from a blunt weapon”.

The pathologist said that as well as a fracture on either side of his skull the teenager had “multiple bruising to the brain on both sides”.

Although he agreed under cross-examination that there was “a strong possibility” a baseball bat was “the perfect explanation” for the fractures, the pathologist said “kicking and stamping cannot be completely excluded”.

In the midst of their grief Michael’s family asked The Irish News to capture the graphic reality of a young person’s violent death.

A photograph taken just moments after Michael died appeared in the newspaper the following morning.

It has never appeared again until today, as was the family’s wish.

The McIlveens repeatedly called for no retaliation following the murder and within hours police began to make arrests.

At the same time the schoolboy’s friends put up posters appealing for an end to sectarianism and a candlelit vigil was held for several nights in the Dunclug estate where Michael had lived.

Gina McIlveen had to wait two long weeks before she could bury Michael and in that time the front garden of the family home became a shrine to the popular teenager.

A steady stream of visitors, including politicians and clergymen, called to offer their respects.

Flowers, Celtic soccer jerseys, candles, teddy bears and photographs covered the garden and it was a similar scene at the site of the fatal attack, although many of those tributes were left by people from different religious backgrounds who did not know the teenager but wanted to convey their sorrow at the loss of a young life.

Hundreds also attended his funeral, with many young people turning out in football jerseys with ‘Micky-Bo RIP’ printed on the back.

That day the Bishop of Down and Connor Patrick Walsh told mourners that Michael’s name had been added to “the long, sad litany of those murdered by sectarian hatred”. The bishop said no-one was “born to hate”.

“A young person’s heart very soon becomes a store place for hate if exposed to a culture of intolerance, a culture of aggression and violence, a culture of sectarianism and so often this exposure begins with a young person forced to listen to hate-filled words,” he said.

A poem the teenager had written was read to the hundreds of people crammed into the church and those standing outside:

“Help me always to respect your world and remember that all creation comes from you.

“Help me always to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me–always to know it is not mine to damage or destroy.”

On the first anniversary of his death, friends and family gathered at a spot close to Michael’s home to release helium balloons at the time his life-support machine had been switched off.

His mother told The Irish News her grief was as raw as on the day her “darling son” had died.

She described him as “a brilliant wee fella”.

“He was happy-go-lucky and always had a big smile,” she said.

“Every photo I have from the day and hour he was born there was a big smile on his face.

“He made me so proud to see the young man he grew into and I just hope he realises how much we all love and miss him.

“He was the best.”

News Letter
27 February 2009

A SECURITY alert at Belfast’s Victoria Square and a public hire taxi protest have caused traffic chaos.

A suspicious object was found in department store House of Frazer shortly before 2pm on Thursday.

Evacuation

Army technical officers were tasked and the store was cleared.

Shoppers in the rest of the Victoria Street complex were also later evacuated.

Explosion

A controlled explosion was carried out on a bag and the incident was later declared a false alarm at around 5pm.

Meanwhile there was congestion around the City Hall area as taxi drivers staged their second go-slow protest in a week.

Taxis

Last Thursday, as many as 300 taxis from all parts of the city converged on the City Hall with the intention of bringing traffic to a standstill.

The drivers are protesting because they say there are not enough taxi ranks in the city to cope with the increasing number of public hire vehicles on the roads.

Last week, a spokesman for the taxi drivers warned that more protests would take place – on a bigger scale – if they felt their demands were being ignored.

Yesterday’s go-slow resulted in motorists being caught up in tailbacks until the protest ended at 3.30pm.

News letter
27 February 2009

THE dissident republican threat around the Fermanagh border is being blamed for preventing police from rushing to investigate a petrol bomb attack on a church hall outside Roslea on Wednesday night.

The attack on the isolated Church of Ireland hall at Clogh took place while people were playing bowls inside.

Intimidation

The incident has been condemned as sectarian intimidation and comes amid growing concern at the menace posed by dissident republicans.

According to witnesses, a petrol bomb in a whiskey bottle was thrown but failed to ignite.

Petrol

Petrol was found on a car parked near the hall’s front door and the ground was scorched.

An abandoned van registered in the Republic was found crashed into a fence at the hall, with the driver and passenger doors left open.

Fury

DUP councillor Paul Robinson hit out at the attack, but also claimed police failed to turn up on Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

“The big problem is that police were phoned at 10.15pm and at 10.30pm on Wednesday: they never came out.

“When Roslea police barracks was closed, people were told they would have a better service, but what they have is a daylight service, it is not a 24-hour service.

“If they have not the manpower, they need to get more manpower.”
Cllr Robinson condemned the attack as sectarian intimidation.

“There were 15 people in the hall, they are scared, some of them are saying they are not going back to bowls. The group age range is from 10 years to mid-70s,” he said.

Warning

William Nelson, who was at the hall, said: “If that had gone off and ignited that car, it would have blown the front off the hall.”

He said the hall was attacked during the Troubles in the 1990s.

“It makes you think back to those times again. We were led to believe this was all over, but it doesn’t look like it to me,” he said.

The car that was splashed with petrol belonged to John Egerton who was playing bowls with his son Robert, 12, and wife Elizabeth.

Mr Egerton said the incident was very stressful for the children, but he was thankful the car was not set on fire.

He said people were sombre in the aftermath of the attack: “We are fearful. We thought this was all over, we thought we had nothing more to worry about.

Isolated

“Around Clogh in the Troubles it was a difficult place to go because it was isolated, and we thought that was all over. It is only since the end of the Troubles and peacetime that we went back and set up the bowling club.

“We were always hopeful the trouble was gone, but there is always a dissident element to put a spanner in the works.”
UUP councillor Harold Andrews, who is also chairman of Clogh Hall committee, condemned the attack.

Sinister

He said: “It was probably just to try to get police into the area, but it is sinister enough given that there were 15 people and young people in the hall.

“This area is very exposed as it is on the border. Clogh Church is surrounded by the border.

“There is a complete lack of police in the area. If they do come out, they have flak jackets on, like they did in the height of the Troubles, and I understand that they have that fear of being targeted,”

Terror

Mr Andrews said the lack of a police presence allows terrorist activity and anti-social behaviour in the area to continue.

The PSNI has defended the delay in responding to the incident.

A spokesman said dissident republican attacks had been mounted on police in the area, and hoped that people would understand they had to take care in responding.

“The area is remote, and there have been two attempts since 2006 to leave bombs to kill police officers.

“The dissident republican threat remains high.

“It is an indiscriminate threat and blame lies squarely with those who defy overwhelming wishes of people to enjoy their lives free of terror and violence.”

BBC

The Conservatives and Ulster Unionist Party have confirmed plans to fight elections in Northern Ireland on a joint ticket and under a new name.

David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey at the UUP conference last December

Ballot papers will carry the title ‘Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force’, it has been revealed.

UUP leader Sir Reg Empey said he was “delighted” by the move.

“This is something entirely new in NI, something which would allow us to become more fully and demonstrably an equal partner within the UK family.”

Sir Reg added: “The UUP believes that the union is a two-way process and we believe that a pan-UK unionist vehicle is the best way of promoting the values of the union.”

He refused to be drawn on the absence at the launch of the only Ulster Unionist MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, saying she “can speak for herself”.

The pact will operate during the next European and general elections, but the two parties will remain independent of each other and have stressed it is not a merger.

The Tory-Ulster Unionist partnership has been under discussion since last July, and Conservative leader David Cameron received a standing ovation at the UUP conference in December.

BBC

Some council staff in Limavady have refused to wear new uniforms because they have a bilingual logo.


Rates in Limavady Borough Council will rise by 5.49%

They complained about the logo, which is in English and Irish, after the uniforms arrived in December.

Ulster Unionist councillor Edwin Stevenson said the council should abandon its policy of putting its logo in Irish on all council property.

But Sinn Féin councillor Cathal Ó’hOisín said it is a matter of equality.

“The draft policy is currently out for equality impact assessment, and consultation work is going on and that will continue through the month of March.

“We’ll look then at what the reaction is and the impact that it has had,” he said.

Irish News
25/02/2009

A bill of rights should be before Westminster by November, Northern Ireland’s chief human rights commissioner said yesterday.

Monica McWilliams wants legislation included in the Queen’s Speech this autumn which would enshrine fundamental protections in Northern Ireland.

The human rights commission has passed recommendations on possible legislation, including the right to identity and safeguards for victims and language, to the Northern Ireland Office.

Ms McWilliams gave evidence to parliament’s joint human rights committee in Westminster yesterday.

She said: “We were emphasising the importance of not allowing any further delay, that the momentum is up and going. We just want to ensure that they keep the pressure on as well. The more that emphasis comes across the better.

“We would like it to be in the Queen’s Speech in November.”

A consultation process is expected.

A Bill of Rights Forum made up of members of civic and political society handed findings to the commission last year.

The DUP and the Catholic Church boycotted the launch because of concerns over the lack of rights for unborn children.

Unionists have tried to limit the bill’s scope while nationalists have favoured a broader remit.

The forum’s role has been to provide advice to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on a future bill of rights for Northern Ireland.

The proposed law would protect fundamental rights such as the right to life, the right to freedom of religion, to freedom of expression, the right to education and the right to health care.

Derry Journal
26 February 2009

Police have been attacked with breeze-blocks as they investigated a burglary in Derry.

The incident occurred between 6:30pm and 7pm last night (February 25) at Knockalla Park.

A PSNI spokeswoman said officers taking part in an anti-burglary operation were attacked by a number of youths throwing breezeblocks.

She said extensive damaged was caused to the car and some of the officers sustained minor injuries during the attack.

Sinn Fein councillor Elisha McLauglin – chair of Derry’s District Policing Partnership – said the PSNI must be allowed to carry out their work.

“The attack on officers who where in the process of carrying out an anti burglary campaign in the area only gives succour to those who are preying on the elderly and vulnerable.

“Burglaries are on the rise and the District Policing Plan called on the PSNI to tackle this type of crime yet when they attempt to carry out initiatives they are attacked by youths.

“I am calling on the community to reject these young people who would rather have the area crime ridden and support this initiative that will prevent burglaries and bring the criminals responsible to court.”

Police are keen to hear from anyone who was in the area and could help identify those involved. The telephone number to ring is 0845 600 8000, or contact the ‘Crimestoppers’ charity anonymously on freephone 0800 555 111.

News Letter
26 February 2009

DISSIDENT republicans are being blamed for an arson attack on a church hall in Fermanagh.

Police are investigating the circumstances afer petrol bomb was thrown at the church premises in the border area, as parishoners played bowls.

The attack occurred at the Clogh Memorial Hall near Rosslea at approximately 10.15pm on Wednesday.

It is believed up to a dozen people were in the hall at the time of the attack, including children and pensioners.

The device failed to ignite and no damage was reported.

DUP MLA Arlene Foster pointed the finger of blame at rogue elements within republicanism.

“This is a deliberate attack on that community while they were at a bowling night in the hall,” she said.

“It also raises concerns about dissident republican activity in that area. It is sectarian and who else would it be in that area?”

Meanwhile, in Newtownabbey a pipe bomb exploded after it was thrown at a car on Wednesday evening.

Army technical officers were called to examine the device while a security alert was put in place.

The object was taken away for further examination.

Police have appealed for further information concerning both incidents.

Henry McDonald
Guardian
Thursday 26 February 2009

Relatives of some of the victims of Northern Ireland’s Troubles have welcomed a government decision yesterday to scrap a controversial proposal to grant £12,000 to the families of those killed in the conflict, including paramilitaries.

The government announced it was ruling out the payment hours before the scheme’s proposers were to face a Westminster committee. The former Church of Ireland primate Lord Eames and the former Northern Ireland policing board chairman Denis Bradley defended their suggestion at the House of Commons.

Eames said the idea of a “recognition payment” would return in the future, despite widespread hostility at present. He said other societies that had emerged from conflict, such as Rwanda, had made similar payments.

He added: “I don’t think the figure is the important thing here, it is the recognition. There will be a case years down the line about people talking again about some tangible recognition.”

However, the Northern Ireland secretary, Shaun Woodward, said it was clear the “time is not right for such a recognition payment”.

The proposal was made by the Consultative Group on the Past, an independent group set up to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, during which more than 3,000 people died.

It was proposed that the families of paramilitary victims, members of the security forces and civilians who were killed would be entitled to the same amount. This angered some victims’ groups, which argued that politically uninvolved civilians and members of the security forces should not be put on a par with terrorists, whether loyalist or republican.

By Simon Doyle
Irish News
25/02/2009

NEW grammar school entrance exams will seriously disadvantage Irish-speaking children, it has been claimed.

Admissions tests planned by about 30 schools will be translated from English for Irish-medium pupils, rather than stand-alone Irish papers being designed.

The sector has criticised this as “unacceptable, unprofessional and grossly unfair to children”.

More than 300 Irish-medium primary pupils are due to transfer in September 2010.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta (CnaG), the representative body, said children will have received all their education through Irish and need an appropriately adapted test to be assessed fairly.

While many pupils in Belfast transfer to the non-selective Colaiste Feirste, parents often send their children to English-medium grammar schools.

The north’s exams board – the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment – designed Irish versions of the 11-plus since 1995.

The content was entirely different to the English tests.

About 30 grammars are planning to use a new English and maths-based Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) in the autumn, which is similar to the now-defunct 11-plus.

The Association for Quality Education, which is designing the test, confirmed “there will be an Irish language translation of the CEA”.

However, the Irish-medium sector is concerned that translated papers, like 11-plus practice tests, will not be subjected to the same rigorous quality assurance measures that were applied to actual transfer test.

CnaG chief executive Sean O Coinn said as long as academic testing remained, it was important that pupils were not disadvantaged by having been educated through Irish.

Mr O Coinn said several grammar schools had already indicated to primary principals that they intended to translate tests using Irish speakers, such as retired teachers.

“Obviously, this would be unacceptable to CnaG,

Irish-medium parents and primary schools, unprofessional and grossly unfair on the pupils required to sit the tests,” he said.

By Liam Heylin
Irish News
25/02/2009

THE man accused of laundering more than £3 million from the Northern Bank robbery claimed yesterday that gardai wanted him to “nail” Phil Flynn,  former chairman of Bank of Scotland (Ireland) – and if he didn’t they would “turn his family into the McBreartys of Donegal”.

The allegations were made by Ted Cunningham through his senior counsel, Ciaran O’Loughlin at his trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court yesterday.

The claim emerged during cross-examination and Mr O’Loughlin said Mr Cunningham will say it in evidence later in the trial.

Mr Cunningham (60) of Woodbine Lodge, Farran, Co Cork, denies 20 charges of money-laundering arising out of the investigation of the robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast in December 2004.

Detective Sergeant Gerry McCarthy was cross-examined by Mr O’Loughlin at length yesterday and the senior counsel said the detective and some of his colleagues wanted Mr Cunningham to confirm in September 2005 interviews what he had told them in February 2005 interviews and not to depart from that.

“Mr Cunningham will tell the jury that you did tell him he was to stick to what he said in February and that Superintendent Quilter would be informed if he changed. Otherwise his family would go the same as the McBreartys in Donegal if he did not go along with what he said in February,” Mr O’Loughlin said.

Det Sgt McCarthy, now retired, totally rejected that. The senior counsel alleged that the detective told Mr Cunningham he was about to retire and it didn’t matter to him.

He rejected that and said he retired because an unexpected opportunity arose and he had no intention of retiring at that time so he could not have said this to Mr Cunningham.

“You told him you knew he was a decent family man and the person you were really trying to nail was Phil Flynn,” Mr O’Loughlin said.

Det Sgt McCarthy said, “I did not say that. I have no problem with Phil Flynn if he walked in here today.”

The senior counsel asked why in one interview Mr Cunningham referred to Mr Flynn by name and in another he referred to him as “Person Number One” and similarly referred to Sinn Fein councillor Tom Hanlon by name and later as “Person Number Three”. The detective said he did not know why Mr Cunningham did this.

The det sgt said he had asked Mr Cunningham to describe the man from whom he received money on four occasions in January and February 2005 but that he did not pursue him about identifying the man as it was clear that Mr Cunningham “didn’t want to go down that route”.

“What we suspected we were dealing with was an IRA cell and if somebody was reluctant to give any information about that, that was perfectly understandable and he was not under any pressure in that regard,” he said.

Irish News
25/02/2009

THE family of an IRA man killed by the police called for the last obstacles to an inquest to be set aside during a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward yesterday.

Relatives of Pearse Jordan (23), shot dead by the RUC in west Belfast, are still awaiting a full coroner’s hearing into his 1992 death.

Pearse’s father, Hugh Jordan, has been seeking more information from PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde.

Speaking before yesterday’s meeting he said: “For the last 17 years we have attended over 130 of almost 200 hearings regarding an inquest. This is an intolerable situation for any family.

“We will be asking Shaun Woodward to ensure that the coroner [John Leckey] and our lawyers receive the necessary material allowing the inquest to proceed uninterrupted.”

In 2001 the European Court of Human Rights ordered the British government to pay £10,000 to the families of 10 IRA men, including Mr Jordan’s, after ruling that the men’s human rights were violated by flawed inquest procedures.

Mr Jordan was involved in a car crash in disputed circumstances on the Falls Road when he was killed.

Relatives want police to provide an inventory of material in their possession about the death.

Meanwhile families of 11 people killed by the British army’s Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, in 1971, also met with Mr Woodward to call for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

By Barry McCaffrey
Irish News
25/02/2009

A Portadown man yesterday denied that he deliberately withheld evidence from police about the murder of Catholic man Robert Hamill.

Stephen Sinnamon was giving evidence at the public inquiry into the killing of Mr Hamill, who was attacked by a group of loyalists while walking home from St Patrick’s dance hall in Portadown with friends in the early morning of April 27 1997.

The father-of-one died from his injuries 10 days later.

Mr Sinnamon said he had been returning from a disco in Banbridge on the night of the murder when he noticed an ambulance, police and crowds of people in the Thomas Street area of Portadown.

He said that while he remembered tensions between rival crowds in the area, he did not see Mr Hamill or a friend being attacked.

However, Mr Sinnamon was accused by the Hamill family lawyer, Barra MacGrory QC, of being “as evasive as possible” in his evidence and that he had been “caught out” over serious contradictions in a series of written statements to police and the inquiry.

Mr McGrory said the witness claimed to have been as far away as possible from the scene of the attack “so that you wouldn’t have to say what you saw”.

Mr Sinnamon denied that he was withholding evidence.

A police statement was read to the inquiry in which it was claimed that Mr Sinnamon had been “very nervous, welled up with tears and blushed frequently” during questioning.

“At the end it was put to him he had not been absolutely truthful with us,” it said.

At one point during his evidence Mr Sinnamon appeared to admit to knowing that some of the people who had attacked Mr Hamill had been present at a party with him later that night.

However, when challenged about this, he claimed that he had in fact meant that he had seen some of those at the party at the scene of Mr Hamill’s attack earlier in the evening.

A visibly shaken Mr Sinnamon said: “It was dark, I was very drunk.

“I can’t remember who I seen at the time.”

He went on: “We were very young and very drunk. I know it’s no excuse.”

Questioned whether he felt under pressure not to identify the killers to police, he said: “I knew police didn’t believe me.

“There was nothing I could tell them.”

The inquiry continues.

By Barry McCaffrey
Irish News
25/02/2009

A SENIOR British policeman has admitted he had to be ordered to head an investigation into the murder of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson because “no-one else would do it”.

Colin Port was giving evidence yesterday at the public inquiry into the murder of the mother-of-three in March 1999.

Revealing how he had been reluctant to leave his post as deputy chief constable of Norfolk to lead the investigation three weeks after her death, he said: “The Chief Constable (Norfolk) changed his mind.

“He told me that I had to do it. He said there was no alternative as no-one else would do it.”

Mr Port said he had been given assurances that the inquiry would only take three months but he had ended up working in Northern Ireland for nearly three years.

He said during his first meeting with the then RUC chief constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan had told him that the murder was a “serious issue” and that people were already drawing comparisons with the murder of Pat Finucane.

Mr Port said the chief constable told him that he was in “continuing dialogue” with then secretary of state Mo Mowlam about the killing.

Mr Port added that he did not encounter opposition from the RUC when he first moved to Northern Ireland.

However, he said he expected that RUC Special Branch would have made investigations into his past before his arrival.

“I have little doubt that they would have researched me as they did not know me,” he said.

Mr Port said it was one of his “greatest regrets”’ that he had not been in charge of Mrs Nelson’s murder inquiry from its inception.

He arrived three weeks after the murder investigation had begun.

“It would have been a lot better if I had been there from day one,” he said.

Mr Port is due to resume giving evidence to the hearing today.

By Allison Morris
Irish News
25/02/2009

THE Irish government is to be asked to intervene in the case of two loyalist bandsmen who walked free from court, despite having pleaded guilty to gathering the personal details of more than 100 Catholics.

Victims whose names appeared on lists in the possession of a leading loyalist with links to the UVF are said to be “outraged” at the sentences handed down to the two who walked free from Belfast Crown Court on Friday.

Sacked PSNI data inputter Aaron Hill (24) and Darren Richardson, a former manager at Wrightbus in Ballymena, both pleaded guilty to a range of terrorism-related offences including having information ‘likely to be of use to terrorists’.

Richardson also pleaded guilty to having 40 rounds of 9mm ammunition which were discovered by police in his desk drawer at his Ballymena workplace.

Charges of UVF membership against the Randalstown man were dropped only after a change in counter-terrorism legislation.

Hill had been colluding with Richardson, using a PSNI computer to access personal details of Catholics in the mid-Ulster area.

He pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office.

On Friday Mr Justice McLaughlin gave Hill a 12-month suspended jail term.

Richardson too was sentenced to a one-year jail term but had already served the equivalent time on remand.

SDLP assembly member Patsy McGlone said he had since spoken to people whose names appeared on the loyalist list and they were “understandably outraged” at the sentences.

“When this first came to light I raised the matter with the Irish government and facilitated a meeting between a number of people whose names appeared on the list and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs so they are already well aware of the case,” he said.

“I have arranged a further meeting to take place within the next week regarding the sentencing,” he said.

“It has to be remembered that the people targeted by this pair have been living in fear because of this perceived loyalist threat.

“They are understandably outraged at the outcome of the case and the leniency of these sentences.”

Mid-Ulster MP Martin McGuinness said there was “deep unease at the light sentences”.

“There are serious questions raised by the case, particulary for the PSNI and the procedures they have in place for preventing people who had well-known loyalist connections from accessing this information,” he said.

By Valerie Robinson Southern Correspondent
Irish News
25/02/2009

FUNDING from the Republic for Northern Ireland projects will be slashed because of the economic crisis, it has been warned.

With the south facing an unprecedented period of financial chaos, the government is seeking cuts across the board in a desperate attempt to prevent the state from going bust.

Further pressure was put on ministers at the weekend when almost 100,000 angry workers took to the streets of Dublin.

The Irish exchequer is committed to sending hundreds of millions of euro to Northern Ireland – including E580 million that has been earmarked for road building, E120.7m for peace projects and a further E70.7m towards inter-regional funding between 2007 and 2013.

However, the new ‘An Bord Snip’, officially titled the Special Group on Public Service Number and Expenditure Programmes, has been told to wield the axe in all areas of public spending.

Its four-man committee has been given the task of going through each government department’s spending estim-ates with a fine-tooth comb and is scheduled to present its final report to finance minister Brian Lenihan in June.

The government has tried to downplay the threat to out-of-state funding commitments, stressing in a statement to The Irish News its interest in working “more closely with the Northern Ireland Executive in the current budgetary climate to deliver economies of scale by planning together on a cross-border basis”.

Government insiders are more blunt.

One said that although the north would not be singled out, its funding would “inevitably” be part of the “global reductions” in the public-service estimates.

“It won’t be a question of targeting Northern Ireland per se but by necessity the north will be affected by overall reductions,” he said.

Fine Gael foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins has warned that in the current economic climate “everything is on the table to be considered” for cuts.

“It was very important that under the Good Friday Agreement a contribution in terms of investment was made to Northern Ireland – and there has been a lot of investment made,” he said.

“But we must be realistic that during very different times everything on the table must be considered.

“I would expect there will be cutbacks. These are political decisions that are being made.”

With tax receipts for January down E900m from the same period last year and 36,500 people losing their jobs last month alone, the Irish government faces the mammoth task making E2bn in savings while appeasing angry taxpayers.

Bobby Sands mural photo
Ní neart go cur le chéile

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