You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2011.
Sat Oct 29 2011
CHANGES to the 300-year-old succession laws have been branded a “missed opportunity” after stopping short of allowing a Catholic to accede to the throne.
Under the reforms outlined yesterday, primogeniture was scrapped to allow sons and daughters of any future monarch to have equal right to the throne. The Act of Settlement was further amended so that heirs to the throne could marry Catholics, but the ban on Catholics becoming sovereign remains in place.
The changes, announced at the Commonwealth leaders summit in Perth, Australia, means that Prince William’s first child will follow him to the throne whether it is a boy or a girl. But any king or queen would still have to be a member of the Church of England.
The First Minister, Alex Salmond, and the Catholic Church in Scotland criticised the decision to reform rather than repeal the act, and said the move “raised more questions than it answered”.
The leaders of the 16 countries where the Queen is head of state unanimously approved the changes at the summit. Under the old succession laws, which date back to the 1701 Act of Settlement, the heir to the throne is the first-born son of the monarch. Only when there are no sons, as in the case of the Queen’s father George VI, does the crown pass to the eldest daughter.
The changes will require a raft of legislation to be amended, including the 1701 Act of Settlement, the 1689 Bill of Rights and the Royal Marriages Act 1772.
The change to the Royal Marriages Act will end the position where every descendant of George II is legally required to seek the consent of the monarch before marrying. The ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic was also lifted. But there will no be repeal of the 1701 act, which was formalised in Scotland with the 1707 Act of Union, meaning Catholics will still not be able to become monarch.
“It is deeply disappointing that the reform has stopped short of removing the unjustifiable barrier on a Catholic becoming monarch,” Mr Salmond said.
“One of the first motions passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1999, and passed unanimously, was a call for the complete removal of any discrimination linked to the monarchy, and the repeal of the Act of Settlement of 1701.
“I cannot believe that any Commonwealth country has raised any objection to this, and therefore the barrier seems to have been the status of the Church of England. It surely would have been possible to find a mechanism which would have protected the status of the Church of England without keeping in place an unjustifiable barrier on the grounds of religion in terms of the monarchy.”
The Catholic Church in Scotland has consistently called for the complete repeal of the Act of Settlement, with the late Cardinal Thomas Winning describing it as an “embarrassing anachronism for both the Royal Family and parliament”.
In 2005, Cardinal Keith O’Brien described it as “a piece of arcane legislation” that “causes offence and is hurtful”.
Yesterday, Cardinal O’Brien said he hoped the reforms would lead to the eventual repeal of the act, but a spokesman for the Church said there were many unanswered questions about what the changes would mean in practice.
He said: “We would echo the concerns raised by the First Minister that while the fact that the beginning of the reform process is now under way is to be welcomed, it looks as if it may also be a missed opportunity.
“It looks as if a situation has now been created which begs more questions than it answers. For example, if a royal child is brought up as Catholic then it looks as if they will immediately be disinherited. It’s very difficult to square that reality with the comments made by David Cameron that this is a move to fairness and justice.”
The rules of royal succession have handed men power for hundreds of years but women have still managed to accede to the throne, even becoming the country’s longest-serving monarchs – Queen Victoria and the current Queen Elizabeth II.
The radical shake-up in succession to the throne was spurred by the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge earlier this year.
If William and Kate’s first child happens to be a girl, she will automatically become queen one day, regardless of whether she has a younger brother.
Yet it is still likely to be many years before another female monarch takes to the throne.
The Royal Family already has two generations of kings-in-waiting and the Queen is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee next year and is in good health. Her own mother, the Queen Mother, lived to 101.
The Prince of Wales is next in line and then there is William, who has still to fulfil his regal duties before any child of his takes over.
Even then, William and Kate might have a son, meaning the nation would wait even longer to see the first royal daughter to benefit from the rule change.
But the fact that the laws will be updated brings the importance of equality of the sexes to the British monarchy which did not exist before and which will in time change history.
Prime Minister David Cameron described giving male heirs priority in the line to the throne as “outdated and wrong”.
Speaking about the possibility of William and Kate having a child, he said: “I think the time has come to change the rules so that if the royal couple have a girl rather than a boy then that little girl would be our queen. That’s the rule we want to change.”
On scrapping the ban on future monarchs marrying Roman Catholics, Mr Cameron said: “Let me be clear, the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England because he or she is the head of that Church.
“But it is simply wrong they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so. After all, they are already quite free to marry someone of any other faith.”
Republic, which campaigns for a directly elected ceremonial head of state, said the reforms still failed the “equality test”.
Campaign manager Graham Smith said: “In practice, it simply means that the eldest child of one family is preferred over all others.
“Inequality is therefore further entrenched in the system.”
By Colin O’Carroll
Monday, 31 October 2011
Discount store chain Poundland has been forced into a U-turn on its policy of staff wearing commemorative poppies
The climb down came after a female worker walked out of a store in Lisburn after she was asked to remove the poppy from her uniform.
The staff member at the Bow Street Mall shop was told that wearing the symbol was against the company’s dress policy.
Poundland said it changed its rules across the UK after listening to customer and staff feedback.
The company also apologised for any offence caused.
Poundland chief executive Jim McCarthy said: “We have for some years operated a clear and simple dress code that store colleagues are requested to observe.
“The policy was designed to prevent issues arising that could upset individuals or communities and to focus our energy on raising money for colleague-nominated charities.
“On October 28 a situation in Northern Ireland was brought to the company’s attention where a colleague was asked to remove a poppy by our store manager in order to comply with our policy.
“The store colleague decided to walk out and stated that she would return on Monday next wearing her poppy.”
Mr McCarthy said the company had decided to allow employees to use their own discretion in wearing poppies.
“This change in policy is consistent with recent reviews of policy made by other leading high street retailers,” he added.
Lagan Valley DUP MLA Paul Givan has welcomed the decision by the firm to allow staff members to wear poppies on their uniform.
“I was shocked and angered that my constituent had been treated in this manner by the company,” he said.
“My constituent wears a poppy annually to commemorate the many servicemen who paid the ultimate sacrifice during various conflicts over the last century but, in particular, her own family members that served in Northern Ireland’s security forces.
“Poundland by their absurd political correctness caused deep offence and politicised an emblem that is universally regarded as a symbol of remembrance and they failed to take into account clear guidance by the Equality Commission that the poppy is not regarded as an emblem that is contentious.”
By Breda Heffernan
Monday, 31 October 2011
A former Irish soldier has revealed the secret he kept under wraps for 37 years which, had it been known, would have caused a diplomatic incident in the highly-charged days of the Northern Troubles.
Brendan Rohan was a 22-year-old officer when he took part in an unauthorised late-night sortie across the border, which ended with him fighting alongside two RUC constables caught up in an IRA ambush.
Mr Rohan, now aged 59 and living in Co Donegal, said he was finally speaking publicly about the events of December 1974 in order to encourage other people caught up in the Northern Ireland conflict — soldiers, gardai, police officers, paramilitaries and civilians — to tell their own stories.
After his cross-border adventures, Brendan retired from the Irish Defence Forces in 1992.
The former soldier now runs a tourism business providing guest accommodation in Co Donegal.
Back when the Troubles were in full flow, Mr Rohan was “a young, idealistic, enthusiastic cavalry officer” who thought he was invulnerable.
While the rest of his unit was preparing for their Christmas party, he left Connolly Barracks in Longford to drive over the Border to Enniskillen to buy new car tyres. On his way, he stopped off at the garda station in Swanlinbar, Co Cavan, and gave a lift to a young detective.
Once in Enniskillen, he dropped the detective off at the RUC station and later called by to pick him up again and was introduced to two police officers who were also heading south.
“On the way back, we were one mile north of the Border when we ran into this ambush. I saw the same two policemen lying in the road firing for all they were worth and I realised I needed to help. It never occurred to me that I was in a different jurisdiction; I just went to help them,” he recalled.
Mr Rohan used one of the constables’ sub-machine guns to provide covering fire and allowed them to get to the relative safety of a low wall before the IRA attackers fled.
The RUC officers later revealed that they had come across a car parked beside a telephone box with someone inside and stopped to investigate. As one of them approached the box, he saw that it was actually a mannequin and soon came under a hail of gunfire.
A later search of the area conducted by Mr Rohan found a wire stretching across a field where the IRA men had been and leading 20m away to the car by the phonebox. Packed inside was 1,000lb of explosives, which the gang had unsuccessfully tried to detonate.
“I was an hour late for the Christmas dinner and my boss was furious. The next day, he paraded me and demanded to know what had happened. I told him my car had broken down but he didn’t believe me,” said Mr Rohan.
“In 1974 the political situation was quite different in Ireland. Ordinarily we weren’t allowed any contact with the Northern Ireland security forces.”
Mr Rohan knew that a soldier from the Republic opening fire in Northern Ireland would have caused huge embarrassment for both the Irish Defence Forces and the Irish government so he remained silent — until now.
He decided to finally speak about that remarkable night after taking part in a memoir competition run by RTE Radio 1’s ‘The John Murray Show’ and said he now hopes others will share their memories of the Northern Ireland conflict.
By Gemma Burns
North Belfast News
28 Oct 2011
An Ardoyne man shot in both legs by a republican splinter group at the weekend has denied the group’s claims he is involved in cultivating cannabis and has called on them to provide proof of their accusations.
Paul Donnelly was snatched from his Havana Court home on Sunday night in front of his partner and two children and bundled into a car. He was then masked and taken to a house where he was asked to answer claims he grows cannabis plants in houses throughout the district.
After denying the allegations he was shot twice in the right leg and once in the left leg before being left in Jamaica Road. He was taken to hospital and was treated for his injuries before being released on Wednesday.
On Wednesday a group calling itself Republican Action Against Drugs contacted the Belfast Media Group claiming responsibility for the shooting, accusing Paul Donnelly of growing cannabis plants in houses across North Belfast.
“This is a warning to all drugs dealers, cease all drug activity now or face the consequences. This is your last warning,” added the caller.
Paul Donnelly, who is known as ‘Budgie’, said he is not involved in cultivating cannabis plants.
“I deny it totally, I don’t grow drugs anywhere,” he said. “If they think that I am then where is their proof? I want them to show me evidence that I am growing cannabis, I think someone has just given my name over to this group to maybe save their own skin because I have nothing to do with that.
“You only have to look at the way we live, would I be living here just living normally if I was some
big drugs grower? I’d be having a lavish lifestyle somewhere.”
The 41-year-old said he is now planning on leaving the area.
“I was born and reared in Ardoyne and now they are going to make me leave the district. I don’t want to stay here after that,” he said.
The shooting of Paul Donnelly comes after a series of threats made against local men in the past few weeks. The men have sought the help of clergy.
Holy Cross Parish Priest Fr Gary Donegan said in the past two weeks he has been made aware of the cases of four different men who have been told to meet a group in a certain place in Ardoyne, but who were desperately worried for their safety if they attended these meetings.
“Over the past ten to 14 days four different people contacted me who were worried that they were to be abducted or a family member was to be abducted because they have been accused of anti-social behaviour,” he said.
“They are taking the sanctity of the church and asking for help or assistance. People have been asked to go to a certain venue to account for their behaviour.”
A PSNI spokesman asked for anyone with information on the shooting of Paul Donnelly to contact them at Tennent Street on 0845 600 8000. Or, if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details they can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.
By Scott Jamison
South Belfast News
28 Oct 2011
The widow of a South Belfast man shot dead by the UFF says she has no hope of her late husband’s killers being brought to justice, despite the body investigating paramilitary killings asking for more funding that would allow it to look into hundreds more cases.
The Policing Board wrote to the Department of Justice last Wednesday (October 19) to request further funding for the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) that would mean it could investigate an extra 400 Troubles killings. If the request is successful, it would mean the body would gain an extension beyond its current closure date of March 2013 until early 2014.
But Catherine Gormley, whose husband Charles McGrillen was shot dead by the UFF at his place of work in the Dunnes Stores supermarket in Annadale Embankment on March 15, 1988, said the relatively slow progress of the HET means she holds no expectations of his case being taken up again.
“I don’t have any hope of them doing anything at all, regardless of how much money they get,” said Catherine. “I have waited and watched as the years have passed and I see a priority list of importance. It’s quite clear Charlie just isn’t on it.
“Every time I write to them I receive a letter telling me what year they’re on. They are still in the 1970s and Charlie was murdered in 1988. Cases have been brought forward time and time again, but they have had groups and people backing them, and I’m fighting to get justice for Charlie on my own.
“Maybe somewhere along the line when the HET is looking into someone else’s case Charles will be brought into it, perhaps because it was the same person who killed him or the same gun was used. But I’m not very hopeful.”
The HET was first threatened with closure in July 2010 when it was revealed the annual police budget could not cover its £6m-a-year costs. Despite PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott saying at the time that “a line should be drawn under” the body, it received a £13m injection.
But Catherine, who was living in Hatfield Street in the Lower Ormeau with her late husband when he was gunned down, said the HET was a sop to victims, as most were still left without any answers as to how their loved ones died.
“In my eyes they have wasted enough money to this point,” she said.
“The dogs on the street could give families better answers. They and a few other groups treat victims as a way to simply stay in a job.”
A HET spokesperson said its primary objective was to work closely with families on the investigations into the deaths of their loved ones and that it tried to answer all questions and concerns over the cases.
28 Oct 2011
A man accused of murdering journalist Martin O’Hagan has had the charge against him withdrawn.
Neil Hyde, 31, is to be prosecuted for nearly 50 other alleged offences, including some connected to the shooting of the Sunday World reporter.
Martin O’Hagan was the only journalist to be murdered in Northern Ireland
Mr O’Hagan, 51, was shot dead in Lurgan in September 2001.
Mr Hyde, formerly of Princeton Avenue, Lurgan, was released on bail to an undisclosed location after appearing at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.
Mr O’Hagan’s killing was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by both the Loyalist Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association.
The journalist had built a reputation for stories which exposed paramilitaries and drug dealers.
He was killed as he walked home with his wife from a pub.
Murder charges against other suspects were withdrawn in July last year.
At the time it was indicated that prosecutions could still progress against them.
Confirmation that Hyde will no longer be charged with murder came at a court hearing in Craigavon on Friday, according to Public Prosecution Service and legal representatives.
Meanwhile, he was returned for trial on a total of 48 other charges following separate preliminary enquiry proceedings amid heavy security in Belfast.
These include firearms and assault offences.
Hyde was returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court on a date to be fixed.
Legal sources predicted his arraignment could now take place within weeks.
A Police Service of Northern Ireland spokesman stressed the extent of the alleged offences Hyde still faces.
He said: “The defendant faces a total of around 50 charges, some in connection with LVF activities.
“These include a number in relation to Martin O’Hagan’s murder.”
**Via email from Helen McClafferty
Gerry McGeough made the following comments this morning regarding the article below:
“EVERYBODY knew the July 17, 2000 convention in Clogher, Tyrone was a sham and it was rigged. I always suspected British intelligence was working in the background and this article now confirms my suspicions. Furthermore, when I was arrested on 32 year old ‘Troubles’ related charges at the count Center in Omagh, during the 2007 elections where I ran as an Independent candidate, the PSNI publicly stated they arrested me that day because ‘they couldn’t find me all these years’. However, one of their own British agents (Denis Donaldson), a close aide within Sinn Fein, had been working to undermine my position as a Sinn Fein national executive (ard-comhairle) member back then. So, let me ask the PSNI now…’Why didn’t you arrest me in 2000 when you had the opportunity? You had known my whereabouts from 2000 on?’
Since my arrest in 2007, I have been victimized and silenced and this was all done behind the scenes starting back with the 2000 elections. This is an international scandal and only proves to show that my arrest and incarceration was nothing more than politically motivated.
I am asking that everyone write to David Cameron and Owen Paterson demanding my immediate release”.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Office
Belfast, NI BT43SH
Tel # 028-9052-0700
10 Downing Street
You can fax the Prime Minister on 020 7925 0918. (From outside the UK, the number is +442079250918)
The widow of one of the most tragic victims of the Troubles tells David McKittrick of her fury with David Cameron
Friday, 28 October 2011
The anger of the widow of the murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane remains undimmed two weeks after she ended a meeting with David Cameron in which he declined to hold a public inquiry into her husband’s death.
Geraldine Finucane indignantly describes the Government and the Prime Minister as “a disreputable government led by a dishonourable man”. Mr Cameron apologised to the Finucane family, saying it was clear that there had been “state collusion” in the murder, but turned down the request for an inquiry. Her continuing campaign has since been supported by all major nationalist parties in both parts of Ireland, the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny declaring they “supported Geraldine Finucane in her search for the truth”.
The killing of the lawyer was carried out in a murky underworld of agents and informers where many things remain hidden from public view.
A former senior government official privately admits that it was, among Belfast’s many security and intelligence controversies, “the smelliest of them all”. Three separate intelligence agencies have been shown to have been active around the murder.
The facts of the 1989 assassination of the solicitor are clear enough. He and his wife Geraldine and their three children were having a meal together on a dark February evening when loyalist gunmen arrived.
Mrs Finucane recalls: “We were having our dinner in the kitchen. Basically they just bludgeoned their way through the front door, came up the hall, came into the kitchen and shot Pat.”
A detective superintendent called the killing “the most ferocious murder I have come across”. He related: “Every shot seemed to strike home. I believe the gunmen involved had murdered before. They were certainly experienced in the use of weapons.”
A post-mortem report reveals the lawyer was shot six times in the head, three times in the neck and three times in the torso. It details the clinical nature of the attack, noting: “Any of the wounds to the head, the neck or the torso would have been fatal.”
Today Mrs Finucane still lives in the house where her husband died, using the kitchen where she and her children witnessed his death. Did she ever consider moving house? “They’ve killed my husband but they’re not going to wreck the whole bloody family. This is our home and it will remain our home,” she says.
The killing had so many suspicious aspects that calls for an official inquiry have been made for many years. When the shooting happened her children were young: now her two sons are lawyers and she has six grandchildren.
Her face lights up when she talks about the grandchildren, whose colourful toys are piled in one corner of her lounge. But it darkens when she recalls the meeting she and her three children had with Mr Cameron.
They were convinced that a public inquiry was on the cards, but instead he informed them a QC would review the papers in the case and report back in December next year. The QC will have no power to compel witnesses to speak to him.
“I cannot remember the last time I felt so angry,” she says. “I felt humiliated and insulted – it was a very cruel, devastating experience.”
The family had been in contact with the authorities on numerous occasions over the past year, discussing in detail potential models for an inquiry. One, already used in the case of Baha Mousa, a civilian who died in custody in Iraq, was entirely acceptable.
According to Mrs Finucane, the family’s hopes were raised when a senior official called to say “The PM wants to speak to the family himself and I think the family will be very pleased with what they’ll hear”. Instead, he announced the review.
She says: “I asked David Cameron what part the family would play in this review and he said, ‘Oh no, no, you don’t do anything.’ His tone was, ‘Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it. When the QC finishes he’ll tell you what went on.’
“The air was very charged at that point and we put forward the reasons why a review was totally unsatisfactory. Everybody was very angry and obviously devastated but we retained our composure. Voices were raised but nobody was rude. “I thought there was no point in staying there any longer and I said, ‘I can’t listen to any more of this, I want this meeting to end.’ Afterwards, one of the officials said they were quite shocked.”
The family had been banking on the promise of an inquiry made by the last Labour government. So why does she think that, 22 years on, none is forthcoming? “Because of what would be disclosed,” is her reply. “They really don’t want to air the behaviour of the British government and the military, and the policy that was carried on against its own citizens.”
Pat Finucane was a prominent Belfast solicitor whose clients included a number of high-profile IRA members such as the hunger striker Bobby Sands. His successes in the courts caused much resentment among the security forces.
According to his widow: “He was too dangerous. It was rocking the boat and the establishment really didn’t like that. If you were troublesome they could just take you out – there was no process of catching you and trying you or anything like that.
“If you were troublesome in any way they just got rid of you. They used the loyalist paramilitaries like a regiment in the army to do their dirty work. Then they would back off and distance themselves from it.
“There were a lot of gunmen in Belfast, probably still are, but at that time they were two a penny. It didn’t take much to get a gunman to pull the trigger. The question has always been – who put the gunmen up to it?”
But what evidence is there that official agencies were actually involved in murder or at least turned a blind eye to it? Much information is already in the public domain. Sir John Stevens, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, concluded after one of the lengthiest investigations in British police history that there had been collusion.
There was, he said, “Wilful failure to keep records, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, and the extreme of agents being involved in murder so that people have been killed or seriously injured.”
Despite solid intelligence that Mr Finucane and others were being targeted, they were not warned, he found. He also said his inquiries were obstructed by the police and army, describing a fire in his incident room as “a deliberate act of arson”.
Similar conclusions were reached by a former Canadian judge, Peter Cory, who was tasked by the British and Irish governments with reviewing papers in the case. He recommended a public inquiry after finding strong evidence that collusive acts were committed not just by the police and army but also by MI5.
The judge discovered that MI5 and police had held a meeting to discuss a “very real and imminent” loyalist threat to Mr Finucane’s life, but had together decided to take no action. He reported that detectives investigating the killing were not given crucial information, and were not told that one of the murder weapons they were seeking was actually in the keeping of a Special Branch agent.
While this much is already known, much more embarrassing information would be bound to emerge from a public inquiry. Many observers were therefore puzzled by the fact that the Government gave the impression of seriously considering one.
The crucial question is how far up the chain of command collusion might have gone. Mrs Finucane is definite: “It is to be proven,” she says, “but I do think it went to the very top of the security and political establishments. They all worked very much in hand. Everybody was informed as to what was going on.”
At this moment the chances of an inquiry seem remote, but Mrs Finucane has support from sources such as human rights groups and, significantly, the Irish government. Dublin has conveyed to London its “dissatisfaction and disappointment” with the announced review.
And Enda Kenny told the Irish parliament of a recent conversation with Mr Cameron: “I indicated quite clearly that, if Geraldine was not happy with what was on offer, then clearly we would not be happy either. I haven’t changed my mind.”
By Juno McEnroe, Political Reporter
Friday, October 28, 2011
PRESIDENT Mary McAleese gave her final keynote speech last night, praising Liberator Daniel O’Connell and speaking about dramatic and personal events surrounding her wedding day.
The outgoing president described how two of her dearest friends were murdered in a sectarian attack the day she married her husband Martin.
The grief stuck with them during their honeymoon trip to Kerry, which included a visit to O’Connell’s old home.
Giving the annual Daniel O’Connell lecture in the round hall at the Four Courts last night, Mrs McAleese spoke of his contribution to peace, justice as well as his impact on Irish history.
“There is a curious kind of personal synchronicity for both Martin and for me in acknowledging once again the legacy of Daniel O’Connell, but this time as we get ready to close the doors of Áras an Uachtaráin behind us.
“Soon after we first met as teenagers we discovered that we shared a hero in common. His name was Daniel O’Connell.”
While Martin McAleese at the time worked for Aer Lingus and they could have travelled cheaply, they chose to honeymoon at home.
The newlyweds drove from the North to Kerry in a small Fiat 126 and the centre of their 10-day break in Kerry and West Cork was a visit to O’Connell’s old home at Caherdaniel.
But the brutal killings of their friends haunted them as they returned to their marital home in Belfast.
“We were going back after a 10-day respite in Kerry to live in a complex and violent city that was still living out a skewed political history that Daniel O’Connell would have known inside out, though he had died a hundred years before Martin and I were born.”
Mrs McAleese told those who attended the lecture that O’Connell never saw his vision come to fruition; that of a country with a constitution, a parliament, laws and where citizens had a right to vote,
O’Connell had been a political leader recognised on a world stage, she added, who was also moved by the plight of American slaves.
His legacy had even influenced the Good Friday Agreement, Mrs McAleese said, adding:
“Would O’Connell recognise today’s Ireland? Yes I think he would; this is the Ireland he imagined a very long time ago; the Ireland he longed for, worked for and prayed for.”
Mrs McAleese is due to leave her position and Áras an Uachtaráin with her family on November 11.
27 Oct 2011
UVF supergrass David Ian Stewart has told Belfast Crown Court he had “spent years trying to forget the Tommy English murder”.
The 41-year-old was questioned by defence QC Barry MacDonald on behalf of 38-year-old David ‘Reggie’ Miller.
Stewart and his brother Robert are giving evidence against Mark Haddock and 13 others, nine of whom are charged with the fatal shooting of Tommy English.
The UDA chief English was gunned down at his Ballyduff home in October 2000 during a bloody loyalist feud.
Stewart also claimed that he had “spent years trying to forget the Tommy English murder” and that while being questioned by police he had to remember it all over again.
Mr MacDonald put it to Stewart that alleged deputy UVF commander Miller, of Upritchard Court in Bangor, was innocent of any involvement in English’s murder.
Stewart told the court when he was first questioned by police he was “nervous” and that “under the circumstances it would be easy to make a mistake”.
However, Stewart did accept on one occasion that he couldn’t understand how he was mistaken in his evidence and even told Mr Justice Gillen he “didn’t know, honestly”.
When Stewart was asked on other occasions about the evidence of his brother Robert, and alleged difference between their accounts of what occurred, Stewart maintained his was right.
He told the court: “Well I can’t answer for my brother”. Later he repeated: “Again I can’t say that, I can’t speak for my brother’s statement… I can’t speak for him you know”.
Stewart claimed police provided an alibi for one of the 14 accused, whom he had also misidentified from a photograph, but told the court he didn’t “care about any independent witness… I am telling the truth”.
Stewart also refuted any suggestion that he was an “unreliable historian”, maintaining that any discrepancies could be put down to “a mistake, a slip of the tongue”.
Earlier in the day, Stewart told leading prosecuting QC Gordon Kerr that he and his brother Robert knew nothing about any deals under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act when they first went to police in August 2008.
He also claimed that even when he learned of the scheme he wasn’t sure “what the effect would be” for him or his brother.
Stewart said when he and his brother gave themselves up, they “were just going in to confess” to police and anticipated they would be questioned about the murder of English eleven years ago this month.
The trial has now been adjourned, and will resume after the mid-term break in November when Stewart faces cross-examination from up to a dozen other defence lawyers for the men, who between them deny a total of 37 charges.
28 Oct 2011
SOME 39 new headstones have been erected at Glasnevin Cemetery on the unmarked graves of Irish servicemen and women who served in the first and second World Wars.
The headstones are part of a special project by Glasnevin Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to mark the 208 graves of Irish people who served with Commonwealth forces. The project, which began on Armistice Day 2009, has so far seen the erection of 85 headstones. The burial and military records of those in the 39 graves marked since last year’s commemoration were yesterday revealed for the first time.
The trust is also appealing to the families of the 208 servicemen and women to attend the remembrance ceremonies on November 11th next, Armistice Day, when ceremonies will take place at the O’Connell Tower at 3pm.
This year’s commemoration will see the rededication of two war memorials which have been moved from the back of the cemetery to a position close to the main entrance. The ceremonies will be attended by, among other dignitaries, British ambassador Julian King, who will lay a wreath and erect a plaque. In addition, the graves and burial details of a further 104 servicemen and women have also been identified and the trust is launching an appeal to invite their family members to get in touch.
Trust chairman John Green encouraged those unsure about their family’s links to the servicemen and women to contact the trust or to search the burial records on http://www.glasnevintrust.ie/genealogy.
THE decision by a judge to award damages of £75,000 to a Coalisland man who admitted being the driver of a getaway car during a military ambush almost 20 years ago, has been described as “unfathomable”.
Aidan McKeever, who was unarmed, was wounded when soldiers from a specialist undercover unit opened fire on Provisional IRA members in the carpark of Clonoe Chapel in February 1992.
At the conclusion of a compensation case taken by Mr McKeever, Mr Justice Treacy described an account given by one of the soldiers who fired at him as “utterly implausible”, and held that insufficient evidence was called to successfully defend the action.
Earlier that night, the IRA men had attacked Coalisland RUC station with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back of a stolen lorry without inflicting any injuries.
Four men were shot dead by the soldiers: Daniel Vincent, Kevin O’Donnell, Sean O’Farrell and Peter Clancy.
Mr McKeever had been the driver of a getaway car seen entering the carpark before the armed lorry arrived, the court heard.
According to a forensic scientist, his vehicle was hit by at least 15 bullets with four soldiers having shot at him.
Mr McKeever later pleaded guilty to assisting offenders, receiving a three year suspended jail sentence.
He sued the MoD for assault and battery, alleging the soldiers opened fire on him when he was unarmed and not close to anyone with a weapon.
It was further claimed that he was given no warning nor an opportunity to surrender.
Commenting on the outcome of the case, Mid-Ulster MLA, Sandra Overend, said she found it “simply unbelievable” that the action had ever been taken by Mr McKeever.
“Like many of my constituents I am shocked and disgusted that anyone should be awarded compensation for injuries sustained whilst preparing to act as a getaway driver for a terrorist gang”, continued the Ulster Unionist assembly member.
“This gang set out to murder Police officers and anyone else who was unfortunate enough to cross their path. Anyone acting in support of them did so in the full knowledge of this, and to seek compensation from the State is simply unbelievable.
“That Aidan McKeever should be awarded damages of £75,000 is unfathomable. This may be legally correct, but it isn’t any type of justice that I recognise.”
A COURT case gets under way today which has the potential to transform how evidence about informants is dealt with by the courts – and the extent to which it is shared with defendants and the public.
The planned judicial review involves a miscarriage of justice dating back 20 years, featuring IRA informers including Freddie Scappaticci , a series of closed court hearings, and allegations of criminal behaviour by police officers in the original investigation.
However the focus of the action, being taken by solicitor Kevin Winters on behalf of James Martin, is the current stand-off by the Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, who has failed to investigate the case.
Mr Winters believes the State and its various agencies have shown no willingness to deal seriously with matters relating to the secret justice in his client’s case nor has the State fulfilled an obligation given in the Court of Appeal nearly three years ago to investigate potential criminal conduct by police officers.
“I don’t think there is any will at all on the part of the State,” Mr Winters said, “in general terms to have the necessary apparatus, be it through the courts, be it through various institutions in order to tackle serious issues of intelligence based evidence which has resulted in wrongful convictions or indeed unlawful killings.
“That is a matter that is live, is current, is ongoing and is largely unresolved and will take some considerable time to deal with yet. So there is an obligation on the State to make this centre stage and to facilitate a process through the courts that will get the answers.”
James Martin, a Belfast man, was convicted in May 1991 along with six others on charges related to the IRA’s false imprisonment and interrogation of Special Branch agent Alexander ‘Sandy’ Lynch.
Alexander ‘Sandy’ Lynch – police agent / Pacemaker
Mr Lynch was rescued from the Mr Martin’s home in West Belfast in a joint RUC/British Army operation in January 1990. Famously, Sinn Fein’s director of publicity Danny Morrison was one of those found guilty and imprisoned.
In January 2009 all seven defendants were acquitted at the Court of Appeal.
Kevin Winters believes Mr Martin’s case has special significance. Even though he pleaded guilty, the Criminal Cases Review Commission [CCRC] decided to refer his case to the Court of Appeal.
“They [CCRC] examined the case and they felt it was appropriate, notwithstanding the plea of guilty by Mr Martin, that the case then be referred back to the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Winters. “So from that point of view that was highly significant and somewhat unusual, it’s not typical to see a case of that nature finding its way back to the courts.“
HOW INTELLIGENCE AND SECRECY DISTORTED THE FIRST TRIAL
Winters believes that core to the CCRC’s decision was the role of informers in the case.
He says: “Mr Martin’s case relates to matters of intelligence and alleged intelligence-based evidence, so to that end Mr Martin’s case is quite distinct and unique.”
At Mr Martin’s trial in 1991, the Special Branch agent ‘Sandy’ Lynch gave evidence and he told the court that Freddie Scappaticci was his principle abductor. Scappaticci’s finger prints were found in a bedroom of the house but he was never prosecuted.
And what has subsequently been revealed is that there was certain information not disclosed during the original trial which, had it been made available, would have greatly influenced the court. But whatever that information was, and is, the State is keeping it secret.
SECRECY WHICH CONTINUES TO TODAY
Even the CCRC referral to the Court of Appeal was cloaked in secrecy. In a news release at the time of its decision, in February 2008, the CCRC said: “The reasons for the referrals have been provided in a confidential annex to the Court of Appeal and the Public Prosecution Service.”
That ‘confidential annex’ was a key element in the referral to the Court of Appeal and it was, according to Kevin Winters, crucial to the Court of Appeal decision to acquit all eight defendants.
The Appeal Court judges – Lord Chief Justice Brian Kerr and Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin – spelled out their reasons for acquitting the defendants after reading the ‘secret’ material separately. Their 2009 judgment stated: “Having done so, each of us came independently to the conclusion that the convictions of the appellants could not be regarded as safe and the court duly quashed the convictions.”
But the Court did not disclose what it was in the CCRC’s confidential papers that brought them to this conclusion…although initially the court did consider revealing the details: “Having received submissions from the parties as to the nature of the judgment that should be given, we indicated that we were minded to deliver an ‘open’ decision since, in our view, there was nothing about the content of the annexures which, on its face, would infringe the public interest or the interests of justice if the information that had led us to quash the convictions was disclosed.
“At the request of the Crown, however, we agreed to hear an ex parte application [where the defence is excluded] that a ‘closed’ judgment (i.e. one in which the reasons for quashing the convictions are not explicitly stated) should be given. Two private hearings took place. As a consequence of material and information received by us in the course of those hearings, we have concluded that it is not possible for us to disclose all of the reasons that led to the quashing of the convictions.”
Whilst Kevin Winters, his client James Martin and all the others welcomed the acquittals, there was concern over the way the matter was dealt with in court. It was quite unique, according to Mr Winters. It was like saying, ‘We find this man not guilty but we don’t know why’.
He says: “The courts in the original trial did not have access to some serious evidential material of an intelligence nature.
“That material was at the core of the Court of Appeal proceedings following the CCRC referral. The Court of Appeal dealt with the case and whilst indicating that they were of a view that, that material which was included in a confidential annex, they took the preliminary view that there was nothing which would prevent making that available to the applicant to the appellant.
“But after a series of representations from the prosecution resulting in at least two private hearings, the court took the view that it would not order the release of that sensitive intelligence material and, in fact, directed that there be an alternative disposal to dealing with issues of concern in relation to that intelligence material. And, in particular, focusing on concern about alleged criminality on the part of investigating police.”
ROADBLOCKS TO JUSTICE TODAY
Winters’ last comment is a reference to an undertaking given in the Court of Appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The court ruled that information directly relevant at the original trial had not been made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions when he made the decision to go ahead with the case.
The Appeal Court expressed the opinion that, had this information been made available to the appellants, the case would not have proceeded.
But the final paragraph of the Court ruling contains the crucial undertaking to the court from the Director of Public Prosecutions: “We wish to record that this court has been informed that, upon the conclusion of this appeal, the Director of Public Prosecutions will exercise his powers under section 35 (5) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 to request the Chief Constable of the Police Service for Northern Ireland to obtain and provide to the Director information relating to certain matters which arise from the report of the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
“In the estimation of the Director, these matters require to be investigated as they may involve the commission of offences contrary to the law of Northern Ireland.”
The Detail understands from sources close to the Public Prosecution Service that the Director met that obligation and referred the matter to the Chief Constable of the PSNI. The PSNI has told The Detail that it passed the case on to the Police Ombudsman for investigation.
Ever since then, according to Kevin Winters, there has been absolutely no progress…no investigation. He said it was as if the State was deliberately delaying the investigation because there was no taste to investigate the police officers linked to the original 1991 court case.
Mr Winters said: “I have been writing for some considerable time now to the authorities – the PPS and the PSNI take the view it is not their function and they have been in a position where they have simply left the matter in the hands of the Ombudsman and if you like we have had to drag the case and make it centre stage in the courts.”
The Ombudsman, meanwhile, informed Kevin Winters that he had no budget to investigate Mr Martin’s ‘historic legacy case’.
In correspondence with the Department of Justice, Mr Winters was informed that there was no budget for the Police Ombudsman because the Ombudsman had not put forward a business plan. Then on September 6th this year, Kevin Winters was told by the Department of Justice that it had now received a funding business plan from the Ombudsman.
WHAT THE NEW CASE AIMS TO DO
But by then Kevin Winters had run out of patience. He is proceeding with today’s application for leave for a judicial review on the grounds that the Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson has failed in his duty to investigate the police officer linked to Mr Martin’s original trial in 1991.
It is contended that Mr Hutchinson unlawfully failed to investigate Mr Martin’s criminal complaint against the police and had misdirected himself by characterising the matter as an ‘historic legacy case.’ This decision was perverse, according to Mr Martin’s legal submission seeking the judicial review.
The current status of the Martin case is unprecedented, according to Mr Winters.
He said James Martin had a successful appeal following the referral by the CCRC but was not told why he was being acquitted. “To my mind that smacks of secret justice,” said Mr Winters.
“But secret justice is not good because the person before the court doesn’t have access to the reasons why he’s been acquitted. That’s not a good precedent and it is a matter of concern that still is unresolved and against that background we invited the court to have the case re-listed and the court facilitated us with that and indicated that they were minded to have the case listed again.”
The house where Alexander Lynch was being held captive by the IRA / Pacemaker
The Detail has confirmed with the Northern Ireland Courts Service that James Martin’s case is relisted for mention at the Court of Appeal on November 11th along with another case against him being referred to the court by the CCRC.
This new referral by the CCRC involves the false imprisonment of another Republican informer Joe Fenton who was held for interrogation at Mr Martin’s house before being shot dead by the IRA in 1989.
Kevin Winters says James Martin’s case is important in that it could be the springboard for many other similar cases involving intelligence and intelligence gathering information. But he recognises that the PPS may often have to consider the risk to life when considering intelligence material.
He said: “Intelligence gathering … it’s a sensitive and a difficult matter and there are instances when the State quite rightly are entitled to make various applications to prevent release but it is not at a cost of a complete blanket ban on the release of such information. There has to be an element of discretion and proportionality and fairness.”
Mr Winters said there was a worrying development at Westminster this week with a bill that seeks to further extend the parameters of ‘secret justice’ not just to courts but to tribunals as well.
Aside from the civil courts, the proposals would cover immigration panels and coroner’s courts.
British Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke introduced the proposals in the House of Commons during an evening when the House was poorly attended and when there was little opposition.
The move was prompted by American anger over a Court of Appeal ruling earlier this year which resulted in a summary of CIA intelligence material being released.
That intelligence supported the claim by a British citizen, Binyam Mohamed who had been held in Guantanamo Bay for five years, that British intelligence officers knew about the torture of terrorist suspects.
This move by the British government to create more secrecy in legal matters is the diametric opposite of the targets being set at Kevin Winters offices in Belfast. He says he is up for the fight.
28 Oct 2011
Newspaper columnist Kevin Myers has told the Smithwick Tribunal he would not be prepared to reveal the identity of sources behind a March 2000 column which alleged at last 12 killings were carried out by the IRA with the aid of a mole in Dundalk Garda station.
Myers told the tribunal his sources for the column, part of An Irishman’s Diary series in The Irish Times , were a former “republican terrorist” and a retired senior garda as well as information contained in the book Bandit Country , by journalist Toby Harnden.
In response to a question from Dermott McGuinness SC, for An Garda, Mr Myers said if he was asked to write down the identities on a piece of paper for tribunal chairman Judge Peter Swithwick, he would have to refuse.
The question and answer followed a series of robust replies to questions from Mr McGuinness in which Myers repeatedly said a statement he made to gardaí 11 years ago, may not be an entirely accurate reflection of the conversation.
Asked by Mr McGuinness why he had signed his statement on the top and bottom of each page and now appeared to criticise gardaí over its accuracy, Myers replied: “I am sorry, I will not tolerate that interpretation of what I have said”.
He explained there had been no stenographers present when the statement was taken and the gardaí had no shorthand skills. He also said some words in the answers may have been part of language which had not been introduced by him, but had arisen in conversation with the gardaí.
In particular, Myers made reference to his words in the statement which referred to an IRA “cell” in Dundalk. He said “cell” may not have been a word initially introduced by himself.
“You are an experienced barrister,” he told Mr McGuinness, adding the lawyer would know statements were often a brief resume of what had been said.
Myers also said his failure to mention the former IRA activist as a source for the article, when making the statement, had been an attempt to protect his source.
But Mr McGuinness asked him why he had not offered similar protection to his second source, whom he had mentioned as a retired garda. “So you are catching me here,” Myers replied.
“I was at fault in not insisting on a more precise summary of what I said,” he told Judge Smithwick.
On another occasion, Myers complained about the line of questioning employed by Mr McGuinness saying, “you are asking me about things I did not say”.
In relation to detailed knowledge of some of the killings referred to in his newspaper column, Myers said: “Are you going to go through a series of questions to show how little Kevin Myers knows? If my being here is merely an opportunity to belittle me – that is not the respect I deserve”.
Myers said he did not keep notes and it was a difficult task to differentiate between what he knows now, and what he knew 11 years ago when he made the statement to gardaí.
He confirmed after the newspaper column appeared he had travelled to Newry to speak to the RUC but would not have been prepared to name the garda whom he believed was an IRA mole in Dundalk Garda station.
He said he had believed when he wrote the article that just one garda was involved but later discovered the activities he described involved at least two and possibly more than that.
In relation to revealing the identity of his sources, Myers said his information was not based solely on Mr Harnden’s book but he could not name others as journalists “do not disclose the identity of sources who could die as a result” of their identities becoming known.
Friday October 28 2011
Slow and steady wins the race.
Michael D Higgins’ ability to steer a clean course through the dirtiest presidential fight in living memory has secured his elevation to Aras an Uachtarain.
Michael D Higgins described himself foremost as a campaigner; then a poet; and finally, a politician
The elder statesman successfully managed to distance himself from the squabbling and demeaning scandals that marred the campaign and, to differing degrees, his rivals.
In the end, the diminutive veteran remained regally head and shoulders above the others – figuratively, if not physically. In an often vicious battle, there was little slung at him and even less still that stuck.
Mutterings about the 70-year-old’s ability to take on a gruelling seven-year term as head of state, given his age and, some said, frailty, was the worst that was levelled at him. But he dismissed the suggestions out of hand early on in the canvassing as “crude” and – with one eye on older voters – as “insulting” to anyone over the age of 60.
His heartfelt protest at the apparently ageist undertones did not appear insincere for a man who has built his reputation around championing compassionate causes and opposing injustice.
A former Labour Party president, government minister and Galway West TD, he has remarkably and deftly played upon his experience in high office, while remaining aloof enough from his party’s coalition Cabinet to appeal to the current anti-establishment mood.
On his official campaign blurb, he was introduced first and foremost as a campaigner; then a poet; and finally, a politician. A university professor, he is an intellectual with bohemian leanings and a passionate defender of the arts, who has vowed to put culture and the Irish language at centre of Irish life.
His track record establishing Irish language television station TG4, boosting the film industry, scrapping controversial broadcasting censorship and campaigns for progressive change on contraception and divorce, should point to the tone of his presidency.
But despite the lofty credentials, there is a widespread, popular warmth among the public for the man known universally in Ireland as Michael D. He is married to trained actress Sabina Coyne, with whom he has four children, and was awarded the first Sean McBride International Peace Prize for humanitarian work.
By Ed Carty
Friday October 28 2011
COUNTING in the election for Ireland’s ninth president begins today at 9am.
Voter turnout nationwide was reported to be about 50pc despite a record seven candidates standing for the role.
The first results from the first counts in the 43 constituencies are expected early in the evening or, depending on the official turnout, later tonight.
While a formal declaration by the Presidential Returning Officer may not come through until Saturday, the voting pattern should be clear much earlier and the final outcome expected to be known late tonight.
The field was headed at the start of the week by opinion poll- topper Sean Gallagher, dogged in the final campaign days by controversy over his political fundraising past and financial transactions in his businesses.
Labour’s Michael D Higgins was running second with commentators suggesting he will benefit from questions over Mr Gallagher’s political background.
Gay Mitchell, candidate for the Government party Fine Gael, is not likely to poll strongly amid allegations that grassroots were not behind him.
Others in the race are Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, whose intervention in the last candidates’ debate brought the questions over Mr Gallagher’s past to the fore.
The also-rans look likely to be Senator David Norris, a former Trinity professor and Joycean scholar, Mary Davis, who headed the Irish division of Special Olympics, and Dana Rosemary Scallon, former Eurovision winner and Eurosceptic MEP.
The turnout was well below the high 70pc seen at the February general election.
About 3.1 million people were eligible to vote in the single transferable vote system, where the successful candidate needs 50pc of the vote plus one.
The electorate was also being asked to vote on two referendums to make alterations to the Irish constitution.
One was on a proposal to beef up the powers of parliamentary committees in holding inquiries into matters of public interest, while the other would allow the Government to reduce the pay of judges.
Also, in west Dublin, voting took place to fill the seat of late former finance minister Brian Lenihan.
Ireland’s ninth president follows the respected two terms, totalling 14 years, of Mary McAleese. She leaves office on November 10 after a remarkable tenure marked by her “Building Bridges” theme and work on the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The president’s residence, Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, was also opened to more guests and visitors than ever before.
Counting of ballots takes place in 43 constituencies with results relayed to a central database in Dublin Castle.
27 Oct 2011
The police have said they will carry out a full review into all matters relating to allegations of child abuse at Lissue House near Lisburn.
On Wednesday, the Irish News published details about a report into abuse at the children’s hospital and at Forster Green in Belfast in the 1980s and 90s.
The 2009 review, by an independent health consultant, was never published.
Three allegations were made against members of staff over claims that girls aged between eight and 13 were abused.
It said that two of the allegations of abuse were referred to police but a third was not because it was made some years after the alleged incident took place and, in the view of the report’s author, was not corroborated.
The report also detailed concerns about children being asked to undress in front of staff.
In 14 cases, children were alleged to have sexually abused other children while staff also allegedly used humiliation to discipline children.
The 11 such cases of humiliation in the report were described by the consultant who compiled it, Bob Stinson, as “one of the most disturbing elements of the review”.
The review was instigated by the Belfast Trust and the Eastern Health Board after one former patient made a complaint to police.
The Belfast Health Trust said it reported allegations to the Eastern Board and to the Department of Health.
“We participated fully in the board investigation which followed and carried out all its recommendations to ensure the protection of vulnerable people,” it said.
“Where allegations related to people who were working for the trust at that time, these were thoroughly investigated in line with normal disciplinary procedures.
“No formal disciplinary action was taken so no referral was made to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in that regard, but the NMC were alerted to an individual who left the trust.”
Earlier, Health Minister Edwin Poots defended the chairman of a new child safeguarding board.
The Irish News reported that Hugh Connor suggested that “some discrimination” should be used when providing police with information from a trust report into allegations of historic child abuse.
Mr Poots said Mr Connor’s remarks had been taken out of context.
He said it related only to information which was not relevant.
The Irish News was given a confidential email which was written by Mr Connor, who was then director of social services at the former Eastern Health and Social Services Board.
Mr Connor was appointed chair of the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland in July 2011.
The board’s role is to protect the welfare of vulnerable children.
The health minister said it was “somewhat unfortunate” that Mr Connor was being impugned in any way.
“Mr Connor has a very strong record in child care,” he said.
“There is no indication whatsoever in his career that he has done anything other than give the best possible support to children.
“He has made great efforts to ensure that children are well looked after, and that is why he has got a job in the safeguarding board.
“In terms of the letter (email), it is very clear if you read it within its context and the words ‘with some discrimination on the information being given to the police’ – it relates to information which isn’t relevant.
“Therefore whenever people are trawling through mountains of papers on these issues, if information does not add anything to the case they should use some discrimination about passing that to the police and if they have any doubt, take legal advice on it.
“It wasn’t about withholding information from police, it was about ensuring that the information that the police got was relevant information therefore not to waste the police’s time and ensure that they could more quickly come to the case.”
He insisted that there was no cover-up because health officials had followed the correct procedures by liaising with the police about the allegations.
The PSNI has said it carried out a number of investigations into alleged abuse over a number of years and “where appropriate” files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions or in subsequent years to the Public Prosecution Service.
27 Oct 2011
Loyalist ‘brigadier’ Jackie McDonald has pulled out of a City Hall event on Friday – forced into an embarrassing U-turn because of a backlash from other UDA leaders.
McDonald had accepted an invitation to the unveiling of a new portrait of republican icon James Connolly, but has now told organisers he won’t be there.
It is understood he was forced to backtrack because of vehement opposition from other UDA bosses – angry that Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile removed portraits of members of the Royal Family from his parlour.
And that City Hall picture row means McDonald has to side with those he sits with on the paramilitary group’s Inner Council.
“The Lord Mayor has a responsibility to all the people of Belfast,” McDonald told this newspaper.
“By taking the Royal portraits down, he sent the wrong message to the Protestant-unionist-loyalist community.
“This would have been an opportunity for me to say this and to remind Sinn Fein of their wider responsibility to the whole community.
“This was the reason for accepting the invitation,” he said.
That invitation came from Siptu – the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union – of which McDonald is a member.
In a two-part event, the Connolly portrait will be presented to the Lord Mayor in his office and then there will be a panel discussion in another room.
UDA leader McDonald was invited to both and would have joined Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin as one of four speakers.
“There are a lot of people from the Protestant-loyalist working class communities working hard to move the peace process forward,” McDonald said.
“And we need people in responsible positions, such as the Lord Mayor, not to be divisive and to show the Protestant-loyalist-unionist community that he’s Lord Mayor for all the people.
“Because of the reaction since this [the McDonald invitation] became public, I’ve now decided to decline the invitation,” the senior loyalist said.
McDonald did not elaborate, but this newspaper understands the reaction came from the very top of the UDA organisation – from the other so-called brigadiers.
Some of them have just returned from a visit to the United States.
“We’ve wanted to do this for a long, long time – get the loyalist message across [in the United States],” McDonald said.
“And that would have been the purpose of attending on Friday,” he added.
But, this time, the loyalist leader has been silenced and vetoed by those whom he sits with at the UDA top table – Matt Kincaid, John Bunting, Jimmy Birch and Billy McFarland.
Sinn Fein’s leader on Belfast City Council, Jim McVeigh, also a member of Siptu, described the decision as a disappointment.
“I think it’s important that the voice of working class loyalists and Protestants is heard in this type of discussion,” he said.
Thursday 27 October 2011
FIRE personnel based in Enniskillen have “nothing to fear” from a planned demonstration in the town this evening, it has been claimed.
The protest has been organised to demand the reinstatement of a tribute to the 11 innocent victims of the 1987 Poppy Day bombing – taken from the wall of the fire station in 2007 following an anonymous complaint.
Relatives of the victims were outraged when they heard the photograph montage had been removed.
Stephen Gault — whose father, Samuel, was killed when the IRA targeted the Remembrance Day commemoration — is due to present a letter of concern to the officer in charge at the station as part of his four-year campaign.
“The protest is not against the local firemen — this is against the board whose decision it was to take the original down,” Mr Gault said.
“The local men have nothing to fear from the protest.”
Stressing the demonstration would be “dignified and peaceful”, the Bellanaleck man said he was heartened by the level of support he has received from across the political divide.
He said: “It is not just me who is concerned. There are lots of people in the community who are outraged that this tribute has not went back up.”
On the new montage, which was erected in the town’s fire station last week and is shown above, the images of the murdered victims have been replaced with those of firefighters working at the scene of the IRA attack.
The names of the deceased have been listed in print — including the 12th fatality, Ronnie Hill, who died after spending 13 years in a coma. Sixty-three people were also injured in the bombing.
Mr Gault, who will lead tonight’s protest, said he remains determined to have the original tribute reinstated.
“A representative of the fire service told me that when they came up with the new montage, they would forward it to me before it went up in the station — that did not happen,” he said.
“They ensured me that they would let me have a copy before it went up. I have not agreed to the new tribute.
“The board know it has to be the original or nothing as far as I am concerned. It just seems to be one thing after another with the fire service.”
In response, a fire service spokesperson said Mr Gault was shown the new design at a meeting earlier this month.
“Mr Gault repeated his preferred option was to have the original Enniskillen montage reinstated, however, then suggested that two changes be made to the revised montage, which we undertook to do on Mr Gault’s behalf,” she said.
“These amendments were made as requested and in good faith the revised memorial montage was then placed on the wall of Enniskillen fire station on Thursday, October 20.”
The spokeswoman insisted the updated montage was developed by local firefighters and as well as commemorating the victims also recognised the “exceptional service” provided by the firemen who attended the scene in the immediate aftermath.
She added: “The NIFRS board acknowledges that this has been an extremely painful and distressing time for the victims of the Enniskillen bomb atrocity and the wider community and hopes that this decision will bring closure to this highly sensitive issue.”
Protesters are due to gather at Fermanagh College at 7.45pm this evening before walking the short distance to Enniskillen fire station.
Approximately 6,500 people have signed an online petition calling for the memorial to be reinstated.
Thursday 27 October 2011
HEALTH minister Edwin Poots has denied that his department covered up a report into allegations of widespread child abuse at two former hospitals for mentally ill children.
The report, which was leaked yesterday, was carried out in 2008 on the orders of the Eastern Health Board after allegations of sexual, mental, and physical abuse against children while they were being cared for at Lissue Children’s Hospital in Lisburn and Forster Green Hospital in south Belfast.
However, it has never been published and only came to light yesterday after being leaked to the Irish News.
At a meeting of the Stormont health committee yesterday, health department officials insisted that there was “no deliberate withholding” of information about the allegations of abuse which relate to cases during the 1980s and 1990s.
But the DUP’s Jim Wells, who is to take over as health minister in two years, said that MLAs should have been told about the report without having to wait for the media to publish it.
However, Mr Poots, who was not minister at the time, told his party colleague: “I agree to a large extent with what you say but there’s not a smidgen of a cover-up.”
Mr Poots told MLAs that he was “appalled” by the revelations but added that he wanted to “reassure the committee that times have very much changed and child protection and adult safeguarding have come a very long way in the last 20 years”.
In a statement yesterday Mr Wells said that he was horrified by what had emerged.
He said: “The revelations which have been uncovered today relating to the former Lissue Children’s Hospital and Forster Green during the 1980s and early 90s are deeply disturbing.
“The extent of the sickening abuse which appears to have been detailed in a report into the two hospitals will appal people across Northern Ireland.
“It is very important that we find out the full details as to how this report could have been compiled in 2009 but has only come to light now.
“It would appear that only certain civil servants were aware of its existence and obviously questions must be answered not only about why this report was not made public, but as to what if any action has been taken in light of its contents.”
Health committee chairman Michelle Gildernew said: “This report makes disturbing reading and questions need to be asked of the minister and the health department.
“Vulnerable children within our society were abused and possibly scarred for life by those who had been entrusted with their welfare.”