10th March 2014
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talks: Ulster Unionists want supergrass cases to end
The Ulster Unionist Party has said it wants the resources currently devoted to so-called "supergrass" cases to end.
The party also wants all the cases of republican On The Runs who have received letters from the government to be re-opened and re-examined.
The ideas are in the party's alternative proposals to the Haass talks blueprint.
The Ulster Unionists have already made it clear they regard the Haass process as over.
The party will not attend any more leaders' meetings dealing with the Haass proposals.
Negotiations chaired by Dr Richard Haass and Prof Meghan O'Sullivan broke up on 31 December without reaching consensus on their final blueprint.
The talks focused on the issue of flags, parades and the past.
Now, in a 17-page document, the UUP has outlined a series of alternative ideas.
On flags, it wants all government and council buildings to fly the union flag at least on designated days and on more occasions if there is political support.
On parades, the party backs a voluntary rather than a compulsory code of conduct.
The Ulster Unionists strongly criticise the Haass proposal for a new historical investigations unit which they view as an expensive unaccountable parallel police force.
They want the controversial On
The Run letters rescinded and the cases reopened, but they also argue
that recent supergrass cases - which have caused consternation in
loyalist circles - have been characterised by unreliable testimony
and represent a waste of legal resources.
urged to reveal ongoing OTR probes
Police have been urged to reveal whether there are any ongoing investigations into on-the-run terror suspects.
First Minister Peter Robinson welcomed comments by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers declaring an end to the on-the-runs scheme.
There will be a judge-led review into the issuing of the letters as well as inquiries by the Northern Ireland Select Affairs Committee, Department of Justice and Policing Board.
He called on the PSNI to reveal what action, if any, it is taking against any of the so-called on-the-runs.
He said: "I think the one area, and it wasn't for the Secretary of State to pick it up, that is still left to be dealt with is whether there are ongoing investigations into cases where letters have been issued.
"Effectively without those
ongoing investigations into those cases then largely it is immunity;
cases are closed, so I think we want that clarification."
intercepted amid prison tensions
Two letter bombs addressed to Maghaberry Prison were intercepted this week following a violent confrontation inside the jail.
Tensions between republican prisoners and prison warders has reached levels not seen since the ‘dirty protest’ ended in November 2012.
The prisoners are continuing to struggle against a regime which entails forced strip searches, controlled movement and isolation of republican prisoners.
In the most serious incident recently, 21-year-old John Paul ‘JP’ Wootton was ordered by the administration to go “on the boards” as a result of a minor infraction two weeks before. The punishment of being put ‘on the boards’ involves being isolated for three days in a cell from which all furniture and bedding has been removed.
The young Craigavon man, who is still awaiting a verdict in his appeal against a conviction on IRA charges in March 2012, refused to co-operate with the punishment. Other prisoners on the Roe 4 wing of Maghaberry then refused to leave the canteen or the yard until the matter was resolved.
An attempt to mediate the dispute saw some negotiations entered into between the prisoners and the prison authorities. Not long into the process, however, a riot squad entered the wing and forcibly removed Mr Wootton. They brought him to punishment cell where he was stripped naked, forcibly searched and then put into isolation.
That incident has helped to create a renewed crisis at the prison, according to the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association.
“The Republican prisoners are furious at the treatment of JP and see this is as further confirmation that the administration have no interest in creating a conflict free environment on Roe,” the organisation said.
The group is organising a white line picket in Belfast on Saturday to show solidarity and support for the prisoners.
It is thought this week’s letter bomb incident may be linked to the escalating tensions. One explosive device, described as ‘viable’ by the PSNI, was intercepted in Lisburn en route to Maghaberry on Friday morning. Another was discovered in a Royal Mail centre in Derry on Thursday.
The First and Deputy First Ministers have condemned those behind both devices.
In a joint statement, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said: “We utterly condemn the recent letter bombs discovered in postal sorting offices in Derry/Londonderry and Lisburn.
“The people behind these
letter bombs are opposed to the democratic will of the people and
want to drag us back to the past.”
broke Armagh, it never broke us”
The reflections of a
group of republican women ex-prisoners and the trauma - emotional
and physical -
The experience of women during the Troubles has often been overlooked, especially those connected to Armagh Gaol.
Now empty, it was the only female prison in Northern Ireland until it closed in 1986. The number of female political prisoners grew from 2 in 1971 to more than 100 by 1976; hundreds of women, most aged from mid-teens to mid-twenties, were jailed in the 1970s and 1980s for political offences. Republican women prisoners endured horrific abuse and violence and yet acknowledgement of that experience has been marginalised as have the unbearable pain and tremendous courage of mothers who were imprisoned.
When the final key turned on a history many will never forget the stories of these prisoners seemed destined to remain unheard and unseen.
‘In the Footsteps of Anne’ fills the gap describing how young girls, married women, pregnant women and even grandmothers withstood horrific abuse and stood up to the British system which aimed at breaking them for over 30 years. Eileen Hickey, OC of the women prisoners from 1973-77, started compiling the inside stories from the women themselves over 10 years ago with the help of her sister Mary.
Many ex-prisoners were reluctant to collaborate some because they did not want to re-live bad memories, others because they had put the past behind them.
All the women who told their stories remembered some of the worst times, the inhumanity and petty vindictiveness and the incredibly strong bonds forged among the women in prison.
Mariea McClenaghan Williams (armagh
1973) said “The comradeship between us all was fantastic. Many
of us are still great friends, that bond we had will never leave us”
“Armagh Jail was an old Victorian building. It was freezing. It wasn’t pleasant. The conditions when we were slopping out were grim and not something you thought you could ever get used to.But when your back is against the wall, you get the strength from somewhere. And republicans, we just get on with it. We always have.”
Many recalled where their cells had been, and who their cellmates were. They remembered the protests and they remembered the beatings at the hands of the screws.
Here’s why some women ended up in Armagh gaol:
Anne Larkin McCay was arrested at Easter time in 1967 for selling Easter lilies in Ardoyne (a staunch Republican area in North Belfast).
In 1971 Margaret Boyd Gatt was sentenced to 6 months for wearing a parka jacket and carrying a hurling stick - “conduct likely to lead to a breach of the peace”
32 women were interned without trial - no charge, no sentence, indefinite imprisonment.
For example, Ann Walsh O’Neill was interned in March 1973, Ann Doherty in June of the same year and Anne-Marie Williams in August.
Marie Doherty went into prison as the protest by republican prisoners was escalating.
“I was arrested in February 1977 and when I went into jail the political status had gone at that stage,” she said.
“About six months after I was sentenced a shout went up one evening that there was chicken for dinner which was unusual because we never had chicken on a Tuesday. We all rushed down to the canteen and while we were there the screws moved in and penned us in and others went to search the cells. A riot broke out and we were all locked up for three days continuously with no access to toilet or washing facilities. That was the start of the no wash protest.
Una Nellis says she went off the protest and felt really guilty and bad about leaving her comrades at that time in those conditions. She had a breakdown and ended up on so many different drugs, not realizing the damage they were doing to her.
“I still suffer from mental illness but it does not wreck my life. I do not think I would have suffered from this if it had not been for the conditions in Armagh gaol”
“I still have flashbacks as i am sure other do even though it is 30 years later. I’m still on heavy medication”
“There’s an awful lot of men and women suffering and they try to hide it as I do but our story should be told”.
Republican prisoners in Armagh had close links with the men in Long Kesh.
“There wasn’t a woman in Armagh who wasn’t writing to at least one man in Long Kesh. I shared a cell with the fiancee of Tom McElwee for three years and it was awful watching her, knowing that he was going on hunger strike.
“We knew the first four who were going on and she knew at that stage that Tom’s name was on the list. For her it was not just being separated from him but she also knew what he was going through in Long Kesh”.
Thomas McElwee started his Hunger Strike in the H-Blocks on 8 June 1981. He died on 8 August 1981.
“I remember going to the funerals after they died. The thing that sticks out most in my mind was the funeral of Tom McElwee”.
“I remember seeing his sisters carrying his coffin. That was the first time I had ever seen women carrying a coffin, it just wasn’t done back then. That sticks out in my mind. It was his sisters telling the world that they were proud of their brother and what he had done. When I think of Tom McElwee that is what I think of.”
Jennifer McCann is a Sinn Fein politician who is a member of the Stormont Assembly. She was sentenced to 20 years for terrorist offences.
In her time as a Republican prisoner she and her colleagues refused to work which meant they were locked up in their cells for most of the day.
“We were let out for a short time to wash and to empty our chamber pots in the mornings. We ate in our cells and we got an hour’s exercise in the afternoons and we were allowed a small period of time for association in the evenings but not at the weekends. We lost a day’s remission for every day we wouldn’t work,”
Jennifer McCann clearly remembers hearing that Bobby Sands had died on hunger strike in the Maze in 1981.
“There used to be heating pipes which ran through the cells. We had smuggled in small crystallised radios which were made on the outside and I passed on the news that he had died.”
In October 2009, a group of internees and sentenced prisoners began a journey to Armagh Gaol that some of them had only made once before, but which their families had made many times during their years of incarceration.
At the end of the visit, the women were in the courtyard. I pointed out an intact window to Pauline Derry. “Be a shame to go without leaving your mark,” I said as I handed her a rock.
The other 20 women also intended to “leave their mark.” As the hail of rocks began to sail through the air I heard:
“Ye couldn’t break
us then and you’ll never break us now.” “Here’s
what we think of your strip searches.” “We were political
prisoners no matter what you all said.” “Where’s
Thatcher now?” “Armagh thought it would break us - well
we’ve broke Armagh.”
arrested and charged for using Irish
The National Treasurer of Republican Sinn Fein was arrested and charged by the PSNI for speaking Irish, the party has said.
It is understood Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais was arrested in Derry on Thursday after he gave his name and responded to questioning in the native Irish language.
Republican Sinn Fein Des Dalton said Mr Mac Dubhghlais had been charged “simply with insisting on his right to converse in the Irish language, reinforcing the point that within the Six-County state it remains a crime to speak Irish.”
He said the incident showed that the nature of British rule has not changed in the north of Ireland.
“So much for the Stormont Agreement’s commitment to full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights,” he said.
“Such actions expose this for the empty rhetoric that it is. The Six-County state is an abnormal and undemocratic entity whose relationship with the nationalist people is that of a coloniser.
“Consequently the very markers of a distinct Irish identity such as our language are regarded as a threat to the Six-County state.”
He said former British Six-County Direct Ruler Peter Hain had let ‘the cat out of the bag’ in 2012 when he admitted there would be an “inbuilt majority” against increased Irish language rights at Stormont.
“The attempted criminalisation of Irish speakers is only what is expected of a colonial state whose intention is the eradication of any vestiges of Irish nationality, culture or history,” he added, concluding with the words of 1916 rebel leader Padraig Mac Piarais: “Tir gan teanga, tir gan anam.” [A country that has lost its language is a country that has lost its soul].
It has also emerged that the 26-County government is planning to row back on provisions in legislation guaranteeing Irish speakers equal access to State services.
A revised draft Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2014 includes the removal of a provision requiring the publication in Irish and English of documents setting out public policy proposals.
Among other planned cuts, the draft warns that the use of the Irish language “version” of names and addresses could make it difficult for IT or other business systems used in the public sector.
Fianna Fail’s Eamon O Cuiv said the draft was “frightening” and questioned the basis for most of the proposed amendments, which he said were “either technical or negative”.
Singling out the amendment providing for the use of Irish and English versions of names and addresses, Mr O Cuiv said said that there was no right to translate a Gaelic name or address into English.
“I have to say that I always
believed that no-one had the right to translate my name. I always
thought that your name belonged to you yourself,” he said.
for sectarian march breaches
There has been an outcry after charges were dismissed against 17 members of a hardline loyalist band who paraded past a Catholic church in defiance of a legally-binding ban on sectarian displays.
The members of the controversial Young Conway Volunteers claimed they were ignorant of the Parades Commission ruling -- despite large signs on the route, letters from police, a protest by residents and even a message on the band’s own Facebook page saying they would ignore the prohibition.
The band, said to be linked to the paramilitary UVF, had also been signatories of a high-profile open letter, also signed by First Minister Peter Robinson, which criticised the restrictions imposed in August 2012.
The Young Conway Volunteers were banned from passing St Patrick’s Church in Belfast during the so-called ‘Last Saturday’ parade after causing outrage the previous month by being filmed walking in circles outside the same church while playing the provocative anti-Catholic Famine Song
Tensions were high in the run-up to the August 25 march as a message posted on the band’s Facebook page said they planned to “walk and play”. The day ended in violence after numerous bands flouted Parades Commission restrictions.
Nevertheless charges against 17 Young Conway Volunteers members were dismissed this week after a judge ruled that prosecutors had not proved that they knew about the ban. A defence lawyer had claimed signs erected on the day had been blocked by crowds.
In other recent cases, loyalists have been cleared of breaching parading restrictions at St Patrick’s Church after citing eyesight and reading limitations. Others have evaded prosecution by simply not signing their march applications to the Parades Commission.
North Belfast SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness said that the law needs to be changed.
“The dismissals in this
case show that the law is very weak,” he said. “What has
to be done is the law needs to be changed so that people participating
in such an event, and in particular bandsmen, are deemed in law to
have constructive notice of the determination.”
on show at council hall
The unionist paramilitary UDA put on a so-called ‘show of strength’ in a community centre owned and operated by Belfast City Council last weekend.
Men wearing balaclavas and masks took part in the paramilitary display at Sandy Row Community Centre on Saturday night.
The council said that it “regrets” that an incident that “appears to endorse a paramilitary organisation” took place in one of its community centres.
The images were posted on the Facebook page of high-profile loyalist David Craig. He was jailed for 14 months in 2012 and banned from all British football grounds for three years after he mocked up pictures of Glasgow soccer manager Neil Lennon, a Catholic, and put the words “dead man walking” on the front of his body.
Some of those who were at the centre on Saturday evening are reported to have claimed it was a “band night” and had denied it was staged to promote the UDA.
Meanwhile, a unionist councillor has refused to apologise after branding Sinn Fein council colleagues in County Derry “scum” on a UDA-linked website.
Anne Forde made the remarks on a website managed by the Ulster Political Research Group which gives political advice to the UDA. The DUP councillor was taking part in an online discussion about recent efforts to have a plaque commemorating two Sinn Fein councillors shot dead by loyalists removed from the headquarters of Magherafelt District Council.
Incredibly, she was the second unionist politician to describe a senior Sinn Fein figure as “scum” this week. Prospective UUP Council candidate, Victor Warrington, who is standing council elections in May, went onto the Facebook website to call Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly “scum” and a “tramp”.
The Fermanagh man had been enraged by news that Mr Kelly was taking legal action against the PSNI over an incident (which he later dropped) where he was carried on the bonnet of a PSNI Land Rover.
Both Warrington and Forde defended their use of the language and said they would not apologise for their comments.
Meanwhile, loyalists have been blamed for mailing a bullet to a primary school in County Derry. The letter containing the bullet arrived at Tobermore Primary School on Tuesday.
It is understood the bullet was sent as a warning over an elder sibling of a child at the school. This elder sibling is believed to attend a Catholic school in the Mid-Ulster area, and may have been spotted wearing his (Catholic) school uniform outside the mainly Protestant Tobermore primary.
Sinn Fein education Minister John
O’Dowd said he “condemned utterly any attempt to intimidate
or bully schoolchildren”. The PSNI said they were treating the
incident as a hate crime.
Robinson slams Martin McGuinness ahead of US investment trip
First Minister Peter Robinson has taken a verbal swing at Martin McGuinness as they prepare to fly out to America today on a joint investment trip.
The DUP boss and Deputy First Minister will take part in a series of high-level meetings in Washington before St Patrick's Day.
But last night Mr Robinson said that six months after Mr McGuinness shook hands with the Queen in 2012, Sinn Fein was voting to restrict displays of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.
And he argued the attitude of Sinn Fein to the on-the-runs controversy and the IRA commemoration in Castlederg showed it was "once again taking a stance of 'Ourselves Alone'".
He aded: "In the last few years Sinn Fein has stepped back from the tentative forward steps that were beginning to emerge. That is disappointing; it's a retrograde step and a failure of leadership."
The attack on his power-sharing partner appeared (to be) designed to overshadow the announcement that the DUP intends not to run two candidates in May's European elections.
Mr Robinson told his party's East Londonderry Association's annual dinner: "The reality is that if republicans are going to be politically aggressive, then unionism must be strong."
Instead, the Euro-battle was likely to see no less than six unionist candidates, while nationalism was likely to be represented by only two – Sinn Fein and the SDLP. Unionism was in the same position as the United States in the Cold War, needing "a strong base from which to operate".
Mr Robinson had indicated his party would run a second candidate along with incumbent Diane Dodds if it calculated Ulster Unionists were unlikely to retain veteran Jim Nicholson's seat – a threat TUV leader Jim Allister dismissed as "bluff and bluster".
But last night Mr Robinson again raised the spectre of republican electoral domination: "While nationalists are uniting behind just two parties, unionists are dividing across a wide range.
"That will inevitably make it easier for Sinn Fein to become the largest party at these elections but importantly will make it more difficult to ensure a second unionist is elected to represent Northern Ireland in the European Parliament."
Rounding on his likely unionist opponents, the First Minister added: "UKIP are a national party that wants to see the UK out of Europe – although anti-Euro skepticism is already well provided for in Northern Ireland.
"The TUV want to bring down Stormont and hand power back to those who would sell us out in an instant; NI21 want anything the other unionist parties don't and don't want anything the other unionist parties do...
"The PUP are the political voice of the UVF, the Conservative Party is a national party, with no significant base in Northern Ireland, that wants to see a referendum on Europe, and the UUP is yesterday's party and is presently struggling to find a reason to exist.
"The competition for unionist votes will be intense and each candidate standing – however few votes they may win – will take votes off the other unionist candidates."
Story so far
Relations between the first ministers
are thought to have soured after a deal on flags, parades and the
past in the Haass talks collapsed. The DUP boss called the Sinn Fein
figure a "dictator". When Mr McGuinness said an assessment
if Haass can be rescued would have to be taken near St Patrick's Day,
Mr Robinson said leaders' talks would continue for as long as it took.
letters' for IRA fugitives
Five outstanding applications from on-the-run IRA suspects seeking letters assuring them they are not wanted by police will not be processed by the Government, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.
While Theresa Villiers has already insisted the controversial scheme set up to deal with republicans wanting to enter the UK is at an end, there had been confusion about the status of the five cases that were still effectively in the system.
The deal struck by the previous Labour government and Sinn Fein saw names of individuals passed to the authorities to check whether they were being pursued by police. If officers were not looking for them, they were sent a so-called assurance letter stating that fact. Around 190 republicans received letters - 12 since the coalition came to power in 2010.
Ms Villiers today said that when the Northern Ireland Office ceased its involvement in the administrative process in 2012, no conclusion had been reached on five applications and they remained under review.
Last week the Democratic Unionists demanded that any consideration of those cases was halted immediately.
During a visit in Belfast, Ms Villiers insisted no letters would be sent to those five individuals.
"The NIO has no plans to take further action on those cases. My understanding is the (Stormont) Department of Justice wants nothing to do with the scheme, so as far as the Government is concerned this scheme is at an end," she said.
Ms Villiers added: "We are not going to be writing any further letters."
Sinn Fein accused the Conservative MP of showing "bad faith" in reneging on the agreement on on-the-runs (OTRs).
Conor Murphy, Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh, said: "What her comments smack off is her complete lack of understanding of the peace process and the political viewpoints of republicans and nationalists, something which has been typical of her tenure in the North.
"Both the British and Irish governments signed up to deal with this anomaly at the Weston Park talks (political summit in 2001) and this current British Government adhered to it.
"To renege on this agreement between governments, following pressure from unionists, is a sign of bad faith."
Details about the letters emerged last week when the case against a man charged with the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing collapsed.
John Downey, 62, from Donegal, denied murdering four soldiers in the attack in London.
The case against him was ended because government officials mistakenly sent him one of the assurance letters in 2007 telling him he was no longer a wanted man. The collapse shone light on the wider policy of sending such letters to on-the-runs, with many politicians in Northern Ireland, particularly unionists, reacting with fury, claiming the scheme was operating without their knowledge.
The crisis brought the Stormont Executive to the verge of collapse with DUP First Minister Peter Robinson threatening to resign - an ultimatum he withdrew after UK Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a judge-led inquiry into the scheme.
Today Mr Robinson said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had to clarify whether they were still investigating cases potentially linked to individuals who had been sent letters.
"I think the one area, and it wasn't for the secretary of state to pick it up, that is still left to be dealt with is whether there are ongoing investigations into the cases where letters have been issued," he said.
The First Minister told the BBC: "That's a vital area because effectively without those ongoing investigations into those cases then largely it is immunity, the cases are closed, so I think we want that clarification from the PSNI."
Ulster Unionist Assembly Member Danny Kinahan has claimed he is aware of another case of a letter being sent in error.
Ms Villiers said she was not aware of another case but added the inquiry would seek to establish if Mr Kinahan's allegation was correct. She said the review would also consider what was done with the five outstanding applications.
The secretary of state reiterated her view that the letters never amounted to a "get out of jail free card" and were merely a statement of fact about an individual's status at one particular time - a status that could change if fresh evidence became available.
"I am determined to provide
that clarity to make sure that people understand the nature of the
letters and that no one believes they can rely on them as an immunity
because that is not what they confer," she said.
That Has Not Been Heard
By Mark Thompson, Relatives For Justice
As a result of the OTR debate
we now have four – yes four separate processes within the space
of a week – a British government appointed judge to hold an
inquiry; a British parliamentary inquiry, as the first inquiry isn’t
good enough; a policing board investigation of all the facts, following
a special meeting; and a Justice Committee hearing calling the DPP,
British AG, NIO officials and the Justice Minister.
There was no outrage or threats
to resign concerning David Cameron’s acknowledgement that there
was collusion at all levels in the murder of Pat Finucane. But the
promised inquiry was denied.
Following John Ware’s Panorama programme last November exposing deliberately planned murders and shootings by MRF in which those responsible showed absolutely no remorse whatsoever there were no calls for arrests or inquiries by those now so affronted. Instead the soldiers responsible stated publicly they were proud of what they did and would do it all again. There was no outrage.
Also in November the inquest into
the murder of Tyrone pensioner Roseanne Mallon revealed an appalling
vista of collusion across East Tyrone that is still unravelling in
which the PSNI sought to mislead the court by providing false ballistic
and forensic information in a bid to cover the links. Had it not been
for a whistleblower the inquest would have concluded none the wiser.
No calls for an inquiry from Stormont’s ministers.
No mention in the Assembly of these events or recalls for debates. No specially convened meetings by the Commission for Victims & Survivors (CVS) either or letters sent by the Victims & Survivors Service (VSS) to the bereaved and injured.
Instead when these issues above
are raised unionists leaders, and unfortunately a small unrepresentative
number of victims of republican actions, seek to undermine these experiences
with oftentimes-controversial interventions and offensive comments.
A constituency that is loud, highly political, and totally selective
in their approach and whose objective is to largely prevent truth
from emerging about state actions only.
Should we have special debates
on this and proposed legislation halting their Patten severance payments
and huge pensions? And that’s not to mention the gravy train
of payments to this same constituency or the retiring and rehiring
scandal of over 1,000 former RUC as civilian staff, including many
former members of Special Branch, who are all unaccountable to the
The only amnesties that exist here are de-facto amnesties resulting from a deliberately flawed criminal justice process that existed for the duration of the conflict that protected the state’s interests overall and administered a policy of impunity to members of state forces and their agents.
These flaws were exposed in the
May 2001 ECtHR Article 2 judgment of which Relatives for Justice were
instrumental in bringing about. Now the outworking’s of that
judgment are again being thwarted by the PSNI’s Legacy Unit,
ironically staffed by unaccountable former Special Branch officers,
the destruction of evidence held by the state, the use of public interest
immunity certificates, and the usual prevaricating and delaying of
inquests and legal proceedings. The tactic is deny, deny, deny and
then delay, delay, delay.
Relatives for Justice’s
consistent message is that we need an independent truth process to
address the past for all victims and not some.
at Lisburn Royal Mail centre
Police are currently dealing with a security alert at a Royal Mail centre in Lisburn.
A suspicious object found at the Linenhall Street premises sparked the alert.
Police have closed off Linenhall Street between Bridge Street and Market Street.
Army bomb disposal experts have been sent to the scene to investigate the find.
The alert comes after a letter bomb was found at a Royal Mail sorting centre in Londonderry on Thursday.
The incident was condemned and
police warned people to be vigilant and report suspicious packages
letters scheme over, vows Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
The Government has formally killed off the 'letters of comfort' scheme which allowed on-the-run IRA suspects to return home free of prosecution.
"No letters have been issued by the NIO since December 2012 and as far as this Government is concerned, the scheme is over," Secretary of State Theresa Villiers will say today.
The announcement is expected in a speech due to be delivered to the Association of European Journalists in Belfast.
Ms Villiers will say: "For the avoidance of any doubt it needs to be clearly understood by all recipients that no letters which have been issued can be relied on to avoid questioning or prosecution for offences where information or evidence becomes available now or later."
It is understood that this means that former fugitives who – like John Downey, the suspected Hyde Park bomber freed last month – have received letters saying they are not wanted can only rely on them to a limited extent.
While they cannot be charged on existing evidence alone, if new evidence came to light then existing evidence could be used to corroborate it.
Referring to Mr Downey, who is suspected of the 1982 attack which killed four soldiers, she said: "And in the case of Mr Downey it was the fact that the letter he was sent was factually incorrect and misleading that led the judge to rule that an abuse of process had occurred.
"John Downey should never have been sent a letter saying he wasn't wanted by the police because at all times he was wanted by the Metropolitan police in relation to the Hyde Park bombing." Ms Villiers issued an apology to "people who have never seen the killers of their loved ones brought to justice".
"I am very sorry that what's happened in recent days will have revived painful memories for many victims," she said.
She also pledged "an end
to the era of secret side deals and evasive parliamentary answers"
that she said had characterised the previous Labour administration.
found in Derry postal sorting office
A letter bomb has been found in a postal office in Londonderry.
The viable device was discovered at the city's main sorting office on Great James Street on Thursday afternoon.
Army bomb disposal officers were called to deal with the bomb which had been placed in a white, A4 envelope with an address written in a grey stencil.
Police have warned the public to be vigilant and to contact them if they receive a similar package. The alert has ended and the office has reopened.
Northern Ireland's Justice Minister David Ford said the letter bomb was an attempt to kill and he condemned those responsible.
"Yet again we have a cold-blooded attempt to cause death or serious injury," he said.
"Those behind this device do not care who they hurt or injure and have nothing positive to offer."
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said: "Once again these individuals have demonstrated a completed disregard for our postal workers and the local community."
Last month, a number of letter bombs were sent to Army recruiting offices in England and at the time, a Downing Street spokesperson said it bore "the hallmarks of Northern Ireland-related terrorism".
Four devices were also intercepted in Northern Ireland in October.
Two were addressed to police officers,
one to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and the fourth to the offices
of the Public Prosecution Service in Derry.
words continues over ‘Shinners list’
The war of words between Sinn Fein and the SDLP over the ‘On the Runs’ (OTRs) issue has continued in the city with Foyle MP Mark Durkan accusing the republican party of ‘dishonesty’ over the political debacle.
The latest twist in the debate between both parties came after the Sentinel spoke to relatives of the Bloody victims who contended that back in 2005 that some of the families met with Sinn Fein representatives and that their support was sought by the party for OTR legislation and in return they would have to drop their desire to see members of the Parachute Regiment prosecuted for the killings on January 30, 1972.
This claim has been flatly denied by Sinn Fein who in response to questions on the matter released a statement from party Justice spokesman, Raymond McCartney MLA which said: “Sinn Fein have always supported the families of those killed by the British army on Bloody Sunday. Some of those families wish to seek prosecution against those responsible for the death of their loved ones.”
Sinn Fein also said that at no point did they agree to a “trade off” or amnesty for British soldiers over ‘on the runs’.
And, given recent calls by British MPs and indeed from the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Hain, that apparent safety from arrest or prosecution assurances given to over 180 republican suspects via what have become referred to as ‘letters of comfort’ should also be extended to members of the British forces, including those who were involved in the Bloody Sunday killings, Mr McCartney’s statement continued by saying: “Given the ongoing investigation by the PSNI following the Saville inquiry’s findings into the events of Bloody Sunday Peter Hain’s comments are ill judged and inappropriate.”
However, Kate Nash, whose brother William was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and her father Alex wounded whilst trying to go to his son’s aid described the situation over OTRs as a “disgrace.”
She said she recalled there was an offer made to the Bloody Sunday families to support OTRs in return for dropping possible prosecutions against members of the Parachute Regiment, but the notion was rejected wholly by the families.
“Nobody should be above the law. I wouldn’t be surprised if soldiers had already been given similar letters. Sinn Fein seem to be leading players in this with the British Government. It’s shocking I suppose but not actually a surprise. It smacks of intrigue and dirty dealings. Where was the openness and transparency over this?”
Linda Nash reiterated her sister’s claims and said she recalled thinking “what is an OTR?”
“They wanted to lump in support for OTRs in an immunity deal where no soldiers were prosecuted, but nobody agreed to it. I thought if they are on the run, that’s up to themselves, it has nothing to do with us,” she said.
In response to the Sinn Fein comments the SDLP MP told the Sentinel: “Sinn Fein’s dishonesty in of all this has related to their primary interest in getting their on the runs back with no questions asked - i.e. it has not been about the victims.
“I was always clear and honest about the bill and our opposition to it. Indeed, I have always worked for justice and for truth and respect for all victims - not least the Bloody Sunday families.”
Mr Durkan provided the Sentinel with a SDLP document compiled in November and December 2005, the time at which the legislation was presented at Westminster.
The document said: “Sinn Fein not only accepted that loyalists get skip jail cards, but also state killers. In return for the greater advantage of getting their on the runs back with no questions asked, Sinn Fein sold out the victims of collusion they claimed to fight for. They let state killers and loyalists totally off the hook - without even securing the truth.
“On 9 November (2005), the day after the Secretary of State announced publicly that the on the run legislation would apply to state killers, Conor Murphy flew over to Westminster to welcome it and brief on it and issued a supportive press release.
“On November 10, Martin McGuinness was interviewed on Hearts and Minds. He called our (the SDLPs) objections about state killers “naive” and said he did “not envisage that any of the people who were involved in the murders of nationalists...is ever going to be brought before a court in this day and age.” Compare that to what he says now: “We support the families of victims in their pursuit of justice and truth.”
The SDLP document continued by stating that during the Hearts and Minds interview Mr McGuinness “admitted that state killers would be able to get the benefit of the legislation but said that the people who would ‘gain most advantage from this are those nationalists and republicans who are on the run for over 30 years’.
“It was two whole weeks after the legislation was published before Gerry Adams said he was opposed to state killers being included. Sinn Fein in their side deal, signed up to state killers getting away with it. So Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams are just not telling the truth when they now say: ‘Sinn Fein did not support, propose, discuss or accept that members of the British state forces should be part of the process.’”
In the transcript of the Hearts and Minds interview from 2005, journalist Noel Thompson asked the Deputy First Minister: “Let’s start with OTRs first. Mark Durkan says you entered into an alliance of sleaze with the government which has delivered, secured an amnesty for the security forces. Are you proud of that?”
Mr McGuinness replied: “When this began its life it was on the basis of On the Runs and On the runs specifically referred to nationalists and republicans who found themselves in difficult circumstances for over 30 years. How many RUC men/UDR men or British soldiers could have been described as On the Runs? None. Why was that? Simply because they were fortunate in having an undeclared amnesty bestowed upon them by successive British Governments.”
Noel Thompson then asked: “And now you have that written on paper.”
Mr McGuinness stated: “Well how many of them will come forward to avail of that situation? The people who will gain most advantage from this are those nationalists and republicans who are on the run for over 30 years. I don’t envisage that any people who were involved in the murders of nationalists, and Mark knows this better than I do, is ever going to be brought before a court in this day and age.”
Noel Thompson: “But you’ve taken that possibility away from victims?”
Mr McGuinness: “Victims and relatives know, for example in the case of Bloody Sunday families, the British Army was effectively marched up to Buckingham Palace and were decorated by the British Queen for their activities in Derry that day. So what’s the likelihood of those people being brought before court?
“People out there in our community have a good sense of what all this is about. People know this is about resolving an anomaly which flows from the GFA - prisoner releases. The fact is there were people (who) found themselves in this almost limbo situation. Sinn Fein has spoken today to a number of victims groups. there is a lot of anger within victim groups about the way this situation is being reported and the fact that relatives of victims of state violence are being virtually ignored in the course of this debate.”
Noel Thompson: “Mark Durkan is pointing out that it is you who are putting them in that position by giving an amnesty to security forces. He wants their voices to be heard.
Mr McGuinness: “Well Mark is very naive then if that is the case. because these people have effectively had an undeclared amnesty for over 30 years. Successive British Governments have stood over the murderous activities of some elements of British intelligence services - UDR, RUC and British Army and that’s a fact and people in nationalist and republican areas know that.”
Noel Thompson: “But they also know there have been inquiries and more inquiries planned?”
Mr McGuinness: “How many soldiers or RUC men have appeared before court for murders of 100s of Catholics and nationalists that have taken place over the years-few and far between.”
Noel Thompson: “And now they never will?”
Mr McGuinness: “They never would in my opinion. Anyone from the broad nationalist/republican constituency knows that the state always defends its service people. Those people who were involved, even in the importation of arms from South Africa - what possibility is there that these people would ever stand before a court - I think there is no possibility whatsoever. I am not as naive as Mark appears to be.”
Referring to the 187 cases where republican suspects were given letters assuring them they would no longer be actively sought by security forces as “Shinners list”, Mr Durkan told the Sentinel: “We always knew they was going to be a side deal. Peter Hain launched his Bill and it took in OTRs and everybody else. It was unconscionable that it was not going to be all-inclusive. Closure cannot be one-sided.
“Sinn Fein can pretend they were not responsible, by (sic: but) Sinn Fein were comfortable with the all-encompassing amnesty in the past. They did a deal they could pass on but didn’t implicate them in a deal which included everybody else. If that was the mindset of the British Government (it would) be very hard to shake off Conservative MPs from saying that British soldiers should get the same assurances.”
“Did they really believe the issue would go away after that?” said Mr Durkan.
Kate Nash, whose brother William was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and her father Alex wounded whilst trying to go to his son’s aid described the situation over OTRs as a “disgrace.”
She said she recalled there was an offer made to the Bloody Sunday families to support OTRs in return for dropping possible prosecutions against members of the Parachute Regiment, but the notion was rejected wholly by the families.
“Nobody should be above the law. I wouldn’t be surprised if soldiers already had similar letters. Sinn Fein and the British Government seen to be the leading players in this. It’s shocking but I suppose I am not really surprised. It smacks of intrigue and dirty deals. Where was the openness and transparency in this?” she said.
Kate’s sister Linda Nash reiterated the claims.
“I remember when we were told thinking ‘what is an OTR?’. They wanted backing for OTRs in return for no prosecutions against the Para’s. Nobody agreed to it. I thought if they are on the run, that’s up to themselves. It has nothing to do with us. We have been pressurised to give up marching and so on. Was this always about a dirty deal? I’ll keep on going for the honour of my family,” she said.
Sinn Fein Justice spokesman, Raymond McCartney said: “When the then British Secretary of State, Peter Hain introduced a reference in the proposed legislation to immunity for the British army, Sinn Fein immediately rejected it and rather than remove the section Hain dumped the whole Bill necessitating the renegotiation of the current OTR process.
“Mark Durkan’s attempts over recent days to misrepresent comments by Martin McGuinness are particularly divisive, offensive and disgraceful given the public role Martin McGuinness has played over the years in support of the families.”
Sinn Fein have also confirmed
that Martin McGuinness will be speaking to the PSNI as part of the
investigation into Bloody Sunday.
exchanges at Policing Board over On the Runs
There have been angry exchanges between the DUP and the chief constable at the Policing Board over the issue of On the Runs on Thursday.
Matt Baggott insisted the board had been full briefed about the PSNI's role in the scheme.
He also reacted angrily to a claim that he had not been fully honest with the board.
A political crisis erupted last week over secret letters sent by the government to 187 Irish republicans.
The letters assured the recipients they were not being sought by police.
There were smiles and pleasantries as Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie attended her last Policing Board meeting before retiring at the end of this month.
But the gloves quickly came off when the issue of the On the Runs scheme was discussed.
The PSNI called its process for checking the legal status of the On the Runs Operation Rapid.
DUP board members questioned why the name of that operation had never been mentioned by the police and said they had never been told letters were being sent to people telling them they were not wanted for prosecution.
Mr Baggott said: "The Policing Board was briefed in 2010 fully about the existence of a process."
He added: "So it is not right to say you were not briefed as a Policing Board, you were.
"Let me clear about this, you were briefed."
The police told the board they first heard that letters of assurance were being sent after John Downey was arrested at Gatwick Airport in May last year.
A judge last week said he would not stand trial for the murders of four soldiers because he had such a letter, which was sent in error.
The PSNI said it immediately suspended Operation Rapid.
The BBC has obtained a copy of figures submitted to the board that illustrate the extent of the scheme - and the fact that not every On the Run was told they would not be prosecuted if they came back to Northern Ireland.
They revealed that the PSNI was asked to clarify legal status of 228 people.
Of those, 192 were told they were not wanted for questioning or arrest.
Fifteen were actively wanted by police.
Eight were told they would be returned to prison but released immediately under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Checks on six people were suspended after John Downey's arrest - three of those named were later arrested and one of them convicted.
Two are the subject of ongoing
investigative. Files on the remaining 2 have been sent to the public
British agent drops legal bid
A former British army agent inside the IRA has abandoned his legal battle over the newspaper publication of his photograph.
Peter Keeley had been set to appeal the dismissal of his alleged breach of copyright claim against the Irish News.
But the one-time MI5 and RUC informer, who used the pseudonym Kevin Fulton, ended his challenge after a High Court security for costs application was brought against him.
The move could have resulted in Mr Keeley being forced to lodge cash in court to cover legal bills had his planned appeal ultimately failed.
Lawyers for the newspaper were set to argue it is almost inconceivable that the ex-spy, now living in hiding, would voluntary pay any costs against him.
Papers prepared as part of their application claimed: "It is respectfully submitted that he will take full advantage of his shadowy status to avoid any payment whatsoever."
Mr Keeley had been seeking £5,000 damages for breach of privacy and copyright.
He also claimed unauthorised use of an unmasked, self-taken picture has exposed him to heightened danger.
The 52-year-old issued proceedings over a photograph which appeared in the newspaper in April 2011.
The report was in connection with a separate lawsuit his ex-wife took against the Ministry of Defence, the Chief Constable and Freddie Scappaticci, the west Belfast man who denies allegations that he was the army spy codenamed Stakeknife.
Margaret Keeley claimed she was interrogated by an IRA security team, including Scappaticci, following a failed plot to murder a senior RUC officer in Belfast in 1994.
She also alleges wrongful arrest and false imprisonment by the security forces who held her for three days after the assassination attempt.
Mrs Keeley believes her detention was part of an elaborate sham to protect her husband's cover.
But according to her ex-husband, an image of himself he took in a photo-booth for an international driving licence should never have featured in the newspaper report.
In his evidence, given behind screens at a Belfast court earlier this year, the Newry-born former soldier said he will always be under a death sentence from republicans.
He said he doesn't socialise or allow himself to be photographed.
Publishing the self-taken photograph was like a soldier being shot with his own gun, he claimed.
The Irish News defended the action by citing the right to freedom of expression.
Lawyers for the newspaper argued that it was an absurd case brought by a high-profile figure who regularly courts the media.
The court was told the image was part of a Google search which returned nearly 250,000 hits.
In a landmark victory for press freedom, Judge Isobel Brownlie held that the photograph was in the public domain and easily accessible online.
Dismissing Mr Keeley's case last November, she criticised his evidence and pointed to his high public profile.
The one-time agent lodged a High Court appeal on the sole issue of copyright.
But as counsel for the Irish News, Bernard Fitzpatrick, prepared his security for costs application Mr Keeley's barrister, Gary McHugh, confirmed to Mr Justice Gillen that the challenge was no longer being pursued.
The judge affirmed the earlier
verdict on the basis that no order for costs is to be made.
says he was strip-searched 30 times in 14-month prison spell
Republican activist Stephen Murney says he endured repeated enforced strip searches in a 14 month “living hell” behind bars.
In an exclusive interview within days of walking free, after being cleared of a raft of terrorist charges, the Eirigi press officer lifted the lid on the brutal prison regime which he described as physical and mental torture.
“I was forcibly strip searched about 20 to 30 times when I was in there (Maghaberry),” he said.
“Just before the searches were about to happen, I was taken into a room and asked if I was going to comply with a search, I would make it known I wouldn’t.
“Then I was left in a room for about 15minutes, a reflection period they call it, in the cell by yourself.
“Basically this was to get you worried, as you know what’s going to happen to you. The cell then opens and half a dozen screws, the Riot Squad as they are known in jail, enter the room in black boiler suits with utility belts and batons. You are standing in the cell, they stand around you.
“One in front, grabbed me by the face, each one to the side grabbed me by the arms, and hold you out like a crucifix position.
“The others behind me force
me on my knees then pushed my face literally into the ground. At that
point you are fully clothed, then they start removing your clothing.
I didn’t put up resistance.
He said the searches were unnecessary as the prison is equipped with an electronic BOSS chair that can detect any foreign item in the body.
In a frank and open interview the Newry republican spoke of his determination to continue to fight for his political goals yet publicly backed a non-combatant approach to achieving a United Ireland.
“Eirigi is engaging publicly and privately in relation to the futility of armed actions.
“There are people who agree and disagree with our analysis and that is a range of all people, but I would support the party’s position,” said Mr Murney.
However the former republican prisoner stopped short of condemning acts of violence carried out by other members of his group and the acts of dissident terror groups, including the murders of Constable Ronan Kerr and prison officer David Black.
“The politics of condemnation never worked for 40 years. I am not going to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation now, but what I can say is that I do not support armed groups and their actions.
“There is a major misconception that dissident activity equates to armed actions. Remember the dissidents of the Soviet Union were the toast of the West.
“There is a whole raft of republicans of different shades who disagree with the status quo who don’t go out there with armed actions on their minds.
“Former members of Sinn Fein and the IRA are coming out saying where they stand. Being a dissident does not necessarily equate with being involved in armed activity and Eirigi’s position on armed activity is clear as it was to Judge Philpott who has totally vindicated me and my party,” he added.
Last Monday, Corrine Philpott QC, acquitted the Eirigi spokesman after six of the charges including possession of BB guns and combat styled clothing were thrown out in a no bill application.
The final charge of taking and publishing photographs of PSNI officers on his Facebook account from the 2012 Olympic Torch run were also thrown out of by the Diplock court judge.
Defending solicitor Darragh Mackin has now confirmed that he will be pursuing a civil action for damages for his client.
Speaking to the Sunday World Murney revealed how he coped with humiliating ‘crucifix-styled’ strip searches and ill treatment during his 14 months on remand.
His health has suffered, the visible toll on his physique can be seen in his significant loss in weight.
The 30-year-old admits the experience proved to be a mental as well as physical “torture” following repeated, forced strip searches, sometimes twice a day.
Murney was arrested in November 2012. He was offered bail of £1,000 bail with the conditions that he stayed out of Newry. He rejected the terms and continued to decline the conditions for a further year.
“I have no doubt if I had accepted the bail I would have ended up breaching them through no fault of my own, and be on further charges.
“The whole experience was hard on family, especially my son six-year-old son Rhys.
“He knew where I was and why, he knew the police had been harassing me for months before the raid. He was there in the house when the armed police raided my home at six in the morning,” he recalled.
It was the visits from his much loved son and the support of his family that kept him going through his darkest of hours.
“As you can imagine I always looked forward to his visits. It was really difficult to say no to bail, but I had the support of my family.
“My mother, Martina wrote to the Attorney General John Larkin, the NI Human Rights Commission, and the director of public prosecutions to examine my case. So there was a campaign going on all the time.
“We were being heard before I was arrested and we are continuing to be heard and that is what the British state tried to put a stop to by locking me a way,” said Mr Murney.
The position of the press officer is to continue in his work with the political group in establishing a new electoral campaign north and south of the border.
The socialist republican does says that a united Ireland is possible in his lifetime, but has says the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is living in “Cloud Cuckoo Land”.
“Martin McGuinness’ vision of a united Ireland by 2016 is just two years away, and in my opinion it is just not going to happen.
“I would like to see it happen in my lifetime. Ireland has a wealth of natural reserves that is yet to be taped into, and just like Scotland voting on independence, it can happen here too.
“We have already chosen candidates for the upcoming local council elections with two in Belfast and seven in the South. And we will be considering potentially sitting in the new super council of Newry, Mourne and Down.
“Don’t forget I am an innocent man, and I intend to pursue my political beliefs despite all that has happened to me,” said Mr Murney.
In the same week as the Newry man walked out of Laganside courts to greet his party supporters, four fellow Eirigi members were sentenced to six years in jail at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin for possession of firearms and handguns.
Trinity PhD student Ursula Shannon (30) of Clonsilla, Dublin and her co-accused John McGreal (37), from Rush, and Colin Brady (24), of Kinsealy, both Co. Dublin, were found guilty of the offences after a short trial.
A fourth co-accused, John Troy (34) of Cabra, Dublin had pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of the same Taurus pistol, magazine, Walther P5 pistol and one ZGJY branded combined stun gun and flashlight on the same date.
Stephen Murney stated it was not
his place to condemn the actions of any republican.
run inquiry could call Martin McGuinness
A Westminster inquiry into the IRA comfort letters could begin within a fortnight and is likely to require the attendance of Tony Blair, Peter Hain and Martin McGuinness, its chairman last night said.
As anticipated in Saturday’s News Letter, the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee yesterday voted to begin an investigation into the ‘administrative scheme’.
The probe follows that set up by the Prime Minister last week but which the committee criticised as having been given “too narrow” a remit.
The committee agreed unanimously to start its own investigation due to what it said were shortcomings in the first inquiry’s remit.
The committee’s chairman, Tory Laurence Robertson, said that it had been unanimous in its decision to hold the inquiry, saying that members believed the terms of reference of the judge-led review “are too narrow”. He added: “There is also concern that evidence will be taken in private during that inquiry, when, in fact, it is the secrecy of the on the runs scheme which has contributed greatly to the problems. There is concern also that the judge will be unable to compel people to attend as witnesses.”
Mr Robertson told the News Letter that he understood First Minister Peter Robinson was “quite happy with the news”. And he said that the committee — which unlike the Prime Minister’s inquiry can compel unwilling witnesses to attend — was likely to call former Prime Minister Tony Blair, his chief of staff Jonathan Powell, former Secretary of State Peter Hain, the law officers at the time, police officers, civil servants, current Conservative ministers and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
On Thursday, Mr Robinson said that the Prime Minister’s review had “satisfied” his demands and said he was “happy with the terms of reference that have since been set out”.
He added: “I think the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have been prompt, they have dealt with the issues seriously and in a manner that is satisfactory to me. So yes, I do not intend to resign on the basis that if you get what you want why on earth would you want to resign?”
Yesterday David Simpson, who with Ian Paisley Jnr represents the DUP on the committee, said: “It is a long time since I have witnessed such agreement amongst the committee members. Everyone was agreed that this underhand and immoral scheme needed to be fully investigated.”
He added: “We welcome the other inquiries and investigations already in place and trust as we all work to expose the truth we will go some way to restore public confidence in our justice system.”
Ulster-born former Labour minister Kate Hoey said: “Members unanimously agreed on this as we all felt very strongly that as much information as possible should be out in the open for the public to judge how we have got into this situation.”
TUV leader Jim Allister welcomed the new inquiry and claimed the judge-led review was “shaping up to be a whitewash”. He added: “I also note with interest that the committee shares my feelings about the mini review announced by the Prime Minister and meekly accepted by the DUP.”
UUP peer Lord Empey also welcomed
the new investigation and added: “It is ironic that David Simpson
MP has been very vocal in welcoming this investigation when his own
party leader has said he is happy with the terms of reference of the
judge-led inquiry announced by the Prime Minister last week.”
of ‘on the runs’ will run into the ground
Opinion: In Northern Ireland the law often comes second to political considerations By Eamonn McCann
Politicians and commentators in Dublin and London were up in arms last week about the “on the runs” (OTRs) arrangement administered by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) in association with Sinn Féin. Most seem now to have calmed down. One reason may have to do with realisation that this has not been the first time NIO ministers have treated legal niceties and even the law itself as a nuisance to be ignored and that in previous instances they had happily gone along with this approach.
The OTR arrangement was made in 2006 following Sinn Féin’s withdrawal of support for a Westminster Bill that would have given members of the security forces the same immunity from prosecution as was being extended to Republicans. In the same year, Peter Hain, secretary of state at the time the OTR arrangement was put in place, found himself in trouble with the courts over his appointments of RUC widow Bertha McDougall as interim victims’ commissioner and of two members of the Portadown Orange Order to the parades commission.
McDougall’s appointment was queried by Brenda Downes, whose husband had been killed in 1984 by an RUC plastic bullet. She alleged the appointment had been made not, as the law required, because McDougall had been assessed as the most suitable person for the job but for improper political reasons. Rebuffed by the NIO, Downes sought a judicial review.
In court in November 2006, Hain insisted there had been no improper political involvement and no political group had been consulted. DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson then told journalists his party had been “fully consulted”.
Faced with this, NI civil service head Nigel Hamilton presented the court with an affidavit, which he testified had been seen and approved by Hain, admitting the DUP had “suggested” McDougall in the first place.
Judge Paul Girvan declared the previous explanation “evasive, misleading and in certain respects wrong” and ordered an “immediate and searching inquiry at the highest level”. Hain responded that he’d think about it.
The judge retorted: “The papers and manner in which [Hain] met the legal challenge raised serious issues as to whether there was an attempt to allow the court to be misled.” He disabused Hain of the notion that it was for him to decide whether an inquiry should be held.
Earlier that year, the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition had challenged the appointments of Don Mackay and David Burrows to the parades body, suggesting these had been improperly made for political reasons.
Letters inviting applications had been sent to the loyal orders, claimed the Garvaghy residents, but not to any equivalent nationalist group. This time the NIO’s sworn evidence was that Hain had been unaware of the invitations to the orders and that the men’s membership of the Orange Order had played no part in their appointment.
It then emerged that Hain had approved a draft letter to “community leaders” inviting applications, the community leaders being the leaders of the four main parties, the four main churches and the three main loyal orders.
In the High Court, Justice Declan Morgan described the NIO’s apparent belief that the appointments were in order as “inexplicable”. The case wound its way to the House of Lords, where the Law Lords said “no reasonable person” could accept Hain’s and the NIO’s version of events.
Neither matter brought Hain to grief. The McDougall case was disposed of through a “review” that found Hain had acted with good faith. He may well be confident that the “judge-led review” of the OTR scheme will have a similar, positive outcome.
In his 2012 autobiography, Hain’s attitude to the courts’ strictures came through in a description of Judge Girvan as “off his rocker” and a suggestion that his rulings might have been motivated not by considerations of justice and legality but whether “in common with other high earners he had been unhappy about my reforms of the property tax system”.
A threat by Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin to charge Hain with scandalising the courts attracted a barrage of criticism, some would say abuse, from politicians and journalists across Britain and Ireland and came to nothing.
Hain resigned from the British cabinet in 1998 following claims that he had not fully reported the funding of a bid for the Labour leadership. A parliamentary inquiry ruled his offence had been technical.
A technical breach of parliamentary regulations in Britain and you’re out, at least for a time. But play fast and loose with the law in Northern Ireland for political reasons – no problem.
The promised review of the OTR
affair will go nowhere.
of Willie Frazer's charges dropped but judge refuses to link trio's
Victims' campaigner Willie Frazer has been told that half of the charges against him have been dropped.
Frazer (53) from Markethill, Co Armagh, had been facing a total of six charges connected to protests over the reduction in the number of days the Union flag is flown from Belfast City Hall.
But yesterday at Belfast Magistrates Court this was reduced to two, relating to a protest on January 19, 2013, while a third charge of possession of a stun gun remained.
Lawyers for flag protesters Jamie Bryson and Jim Dowson were also present at the hearing and requested that the three cases be linked.
District Judge Fiona Bagnall declined that request but said they may be linked further down the line.
Meanwhile three meetings which allegedly took place between the PSNI and the UVF in the run up to the January 19 protest were also mentioned.
Last month Willie Frazer's legal team said that their client had "heard on the grapevine" about these meetings.
Barrister Richard Smyth had sought full disclosure of any documentation from such meetings.
But a prosecution lawyer had told the court that information from police was that there were no notes, emails or memories following those meetings.
District Judge Fiona Bagnall allowed two weeks to allow the prosecution to make further inquiries. Yesterday a prosecution lawyer said he intended to apply for an adjournment as there were three issues outstanding.
A lawyer for Bryson said they were seeking full disclosure about meetings on January 17, 18 and 19.
The next hearing in this case
is expected to take place on March 26.
International call over NI Troubles legacy
Amnesty International is to call for a single system to address the legacy of the Troubles as it give evidence to an Irish government committee in Dublin.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is examining ways of "dealing with the past" in Northern Ireland.
Amnesty representatives will speak at Thursday's hearing.
The charity will also present the findings of its recent report: Northern Ireland: Time to Deal with the Past.
Amnesty said it wanted to see independent inquiries held into some of the worst atrocities from the Troubles.
Oireachtas committee members will hear a call for political representatives in Dublin, Belfast and London to prioritise dealing with Northern Ireland's past.
Amnesty's Grainne Teggert said: "Amnesty has already presented this research paper to both politicians in Northern Ireland and at Westminster and what we now what to do is make sure we have a victims centred process to dealing with the past going forward.
"So we will be working with victims' groups and individual families on that.
"Our report on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland has found that, for many families, they've been left wanting and indeed there's been a piecemeal approach to dealing with the past.
"That is why as Amnesty we
would recommend a new, overarching mechanism to deal with the past."
Why did OTRs sought drop from 75 to 16 in a year?
A lawyer who has represented many victims of terrorism has raised concerns about revelations that the number of IRA fugitives being sought by police collapsed from 75 to 16 in the space of a year.
John McBurney said he was particularly perturbed by the apparent use of the “public interest” as an argument for prosecutors to drop certain long-standing cases where on the runs had been sought.
The solicitor, who has among his clients First Minister Peter Robinson, raised the issue after Tuesday night’s BBC Spotlight programme revealed that in 2007, at the start of the PSNI’s Operation Rapid, 75 individuals were confirmed by the Attorney General as being wanted. Two years later, that number had shrunk to 16
Spotlight said that some cases appeared to have been reviewed again and again until a decision was taken not to prosecute.
The programme said that one fugitive was described as wanted three times over the course of a decade only to be removed from the wanted list in 2012.
Mr McBurney told the News Letter that the authorities appeared to have asked the question: “How do we reverse the wanted to unwanted in a short space of time and is the way to do that the parachuting in of the ‘public interest’ factor?
“If so, what basis was it being introduced in each case and what influences were being brought to bear on that?”
The Downey judgment reveals the unease of the then Attorney General, Lord Williams, at a suggestion by officials in 2000 that on the run cases “could be considered again by the Attorney General/DPP(NI) in the light of evidential sufficiency and, if necessary, on public interest grounds”.
He replied that, given his decisions could be judicially reviewed, “I must not act for reasons of political convenience – however desirable any immediate effect may be”.
Mr McBurney said: “It seems to be becoming clearer and clearer that amongst the names advanced by Sinn Fein there are several categories.
“There are those who ultimately did not receive the so-called comfort or reassurance letters and may indeed have received an uncomfortable letter saying that were they to be in this jurisdiction they would be sought for arrest and questioning.
“There seem to be some others who were not even known to the authorities and then there is what seems to be the largest category by far of those who were of interest to the authorities in their investigations with regard to serious matters and who ultimately received the letters after a review carried out through the police service and law officers in the form of the DPP and the then Attorney General.”
He said that the reviews seemed in some cases to end with individuals who had previously been sought for questioning and likely arrest no longer being sought by the police. A key question that then arises is whether that reversal of position came about by consideration of a public interest factor in the decision-making process.
“It is of course appropriate
in many situations for a public interest dimension to be factored
into a determination by the DPP. But in this particular set of circumstances
it becomes very important to know how many of the decisions which
ultimately resulted in the issuing of these letters had a public policy
consideration factored into the determining of a particular case.”
to become a DUP councillor, the man who posted racial slur against
A veteran political activist who resigned from a policing partnership after using a racial slur against US president Barack Obama is set to run as a DUP council election candidate, it can be revealed.
Bobby Harrison-Rice stood down as vice-chair of Carrickfergus Policing and Community Partnership after an investigation was launched by the Policing Board into his Facebook comments.
Last October, when they were made public, the DUP distanced itself from Mr Harrison-Rice – despite his extensive canvassing work for a number of the party's senior politicians.
But at a DUP meeting in recent days it was confirmed he will stand as a party candidate in the forthcoming council elections.
He is aiming to win a seat in the new council consisting Carrickfergus, Larne and Ballymena.
The move was confirmed by a DUP source last night. However, the party insisted no final decisions had yet been made regarding the election candidate.
Mr Harrison-Rice declined to comment when contacted.
Following the murder of British soldier Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, a comment posted through Mr Rice's account urged the authorities to "find the mosque where they prayed and do every f***** in it".
Other posts included a homophobic slur against UTV presenter Julian Simmons and an attack on BBC broadcaster Stephen Nolan following his questioning of North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey during his TV show.
Mr Humphrey appeared on The Nolan Show on BBC1 along with fellow North Belfast MLA, Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly. A post in Mr Harrison-Rice's name which appeared on his Facebook page read: "Nolan show now. The fat boy interrupts and questions everything William Humphrey (says). Yet he gives bomber Kelly free reign get a grip of this bias p**** BBC."
Regarding Mr Kelly's appearance on the show, another Facebook user posted that "someone should just put one in the back of his nut. Rotten b******".
Mr Harrison-Rice appeared to have replied, "carefull (sic) mate fb (Facebook) may bar you but fair one".
Another rant, against Barack Obama, was posted while the US president was in Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit in Fermanagh.
A comment in Mr Harrison-Rice's name read: "Didn't think we where (sic) racist in Norn Iron but this mornin (sic) no-one used the motorway because of some coloured guy."
When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph at the time he said he had "no recollection" of posting the comments.
Asked if he agreed with the controversial posts which appeared on his page he said "no".
A DUP spokesman yesterday told the Belfast Telegraph discussions were ongoing regarding election candidates.
He said: "We are presently going through the process of selection and when that's completed an announcement will be made in due course."
A Policing Board spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph in October: "The case (involving Mr Harrison-Rice) was considered by the Board's Partnership Committee against the Board's Policy on the Removal of a PCSP member at its meeting on Thursday 10 October 2013.
"A recommendation was made and was due to be passed to the board for consideration at its November meeting.
"The board received correspondence
on Friday October 11 confirming Bobby Harrison-Rice's resignation
from Carrickfergus PCSP."
and Irish governments’ ‘silence’ over evidence of
collusion in killings criticised
Author and campaigner address NUI Galway Irish Centre for Human Rights
The “silence” of the British and Irish governments over evidence of alleged RUC and British army collusion in 120 killings on both sides of the Border has been criticised by former journalist Anne Cadwallader.
Speaking at NUI Galway yesterday, where she addressed the Irish Centre for Human Rights, Ms Cadwallader highlighted the absence of an official response from the leadership of either administration since publication of her findings four months ago.
US public opinion might not be so reticent, she said, confirming that she is embarking on a tour of north America next week where she will speak about her book, Lethal Allies.
The book documents how 120 people were killed by loyalist paramilitaries, many of them allegedly working in collusion with the RUC and the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) between 1972 and 1976.
The Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, is investigating complaints from 24 of the families affected, since the book’s publication.
Ms Cadwallader, formerly a journalist with the BBC, RTÉ, Irish Press and Reuters and now a case worker with the Pat Finucane Centre in Belfast, drew from declassified British government official documents, and analysed RUC investigations, including previously unpublished reports prepared for families by the Historical Enquiries Team.
In all but one case, the targets were “upwardly mobile” Catholics, and at least six of the victims were linked to the SDLP, while only one had republican links, she noted in her presentation.
Ms Cadwallader is due to meet Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore later this month and has addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
The sole British government response
to date has been from Minister of State for Defence Anna Soubry, who
said last November that the killings should be investigated “honestly,
thoroughly and vigorously”, while refusing to accept the accuracy
of all of the allegations.
runs: Logic of 'amnesty' is paras may never face trial
The fallout from the on-the-runs crisis may yet hand the Bloody Sunday paratroops a stay-out-of-jail card. You couldn't make it up, writes Henry McDonald
One of the most intriguing questions to be raised over the blood-splattered events between internment in August 1971 and the final day of January 1972 was if any of the soldiers who fired fatal shots in Ballymurphy were the same ones who unleashed live rounds into the bodies of unarmed civilians on Bloody Sunday.
We know for a fact that the Parachute Regiment was involved in both mass shootings in west Belfast and later in Derry. Campaigners for the victims of the former atrocity have constantly highlighted the possibility that troops who shot their loved-ones may have been in the same unit as those that caused such carnage on the Bogside six months later.
One of the reasons they are demanding a public inquiry into the 1971 massacre is that an investigation might throw some light on whether or not the same paratroopers were, indeed, involved.
It is a bitter irony that the preliminary inquests into the Ballymurphy events started this week – just days after the fallout from the revelations about the 'letters of assurance' to IRA on-the-runs (OTRs), which effectively gave the likes of John Downey de facto amnesty.
Much of the outrage over this secret scheme focused on that of unionists, but they were not alone in speaking out against the OTR deal.
Three Irish government ministers (speaking anonymously) in the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat administration at the time the deal was sealed have insisted that, while they knew the British and Sinn Fein were wrestling with the problem of the 187 IRA fugitives, they weren't aware of the existence of the letters.
Others, too, confirmed this – including the SDLP, which has pointed out the ramifications of this deal. Mark Durkan and Alex Attwood claim that the letters have now created a climate in which it may be near-impossible to prosecute others for past Troubles crimes.
This, after all, is why they objected in the first place to a deal based on legislation for the 187 as, in their view, it would indirectly ensure others (such as soldiers and police officers) involved in state violence would be entitled to parallel de facto amnesties.
Peter Hain has already come under fire since the deal was exposed in the Old Bailey last week for not only defending it, but also claiming other parties (and, presumably, that means the-then Irish government) were also aware of the scheme.
Inevitably, Tory backbenchers demanded that the soldiers accused of shooting civilians on Bloody Sunday be granted amnesties, too.
Hain then intervened in the wider question of how to deal with those accused of past Troubles offences.
He went to The Sunday Telegraph – a newspaper read by the military officer class, retired and still serving – not only to defend the deal, but also suggest that, in order for all to move on, even the Bloody Sunday soldiers be granted amnesties.
In one sense, Hain is correct – if one holds a logical position in that you cannot say amnesties for one side, or at least those on Sinn Fein's wish-list, and continued prosecutions for all others involved in the conflict.
But logic and reason, of course, are so often trumped by emotion and pain in the post-peace process Northern Ireland.
Moreover, it is easy in the abstract to point out the illogicality of amnesties for some and ongoing due process against others – especially if you didn't lose a loved-one, or close friend, during the Troubles. The victims of Bloody Sunday this week reminded us that they have already been through due process – the Saville inquiry – which came to hard conclusions in a judicial context.
The remaining survivors have also stressed that they will seek their day in criminal court against the soldiers – even if the current police inquiry is expected to last at least another four years.
Yet the impact of the OTR letters has, paradoxically, provided one set of British soldiers with logical and, possibly, legal shields to ward off being prosecuted in court, while the families of other soldiers, specifically those killed at Hyde Park in 1982, are denied justice.
Because the lawyers for the ageing ex-paratroops both on the Bogside and, possibly even before that, in Ballymurphy, will argue for consistency and logic when it comes to any attempt to try them in court.
The soldiers now have a compelling and very watertight case to argue – even if this results in no justice for the families of those cut down by the forces of a state that was meant to be protecting them.
It is true that, throughout the Troubles, there has already been a de facto amnesty in existence for members of the security forces.
You think of the disgracefully lenient treatment of Private Ian Thain who murdered Thomas 'Kidso' Reilly in cold blood in west Belfast more than 30 years ago, or the lack of prosecutions in the 'shoot-to-kill' scandals.
Now that unofficial policy of not pursuing the forces of the state who committed criminal acts in uniform and out of it has been bolstered by a deal designed to quietly let their old adversaries in the Provisional IRA get on with their lives.
As the man said, you couldn't
make it up.
legality of OTR letters
First Minister Peter Robinson has said there is a question over the legality of those letters issued to the so-called 'on-the-runs' after the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont in 2010.
Speaking to UTV, the DUP leader said the 38 cases dealt with after policing powers were transferred to Stormont should have been a matter for the Justice Minister David Ford.
He said: "It is fairly clear to me that the matters of responsibility lie with the devolved institution and the justice minister should have been informed of those issues and he rather than anybody else should have been deciding whether such letters were sent out or not."
A political row erupted in Northern Ireland and in Westminster following the collapse of the trial of John Downey.
He denied charges of involvement in the 1982 London Hyde Park bombing.
Mr Downey was informed by the PSNI in 2007 that there was no interest in him from them, or any other police force across the UK, which led to the trial judge throwing out the case.
However, this assertion proved to be inaccurate as it later transpired that the Metropolitan Police in London wanted to question Mr Downey in relation to the attack.
The revelation led Prime Minister David Cameron to order a judge led inquiry into the existence of the letters.
In the aftermath of the trial it emerged 187 so-called letters of comfort had been sent to those suspected of terrorist crimes.
However, Peter Robinson said Chief Constable Matt Baggott has told him the PSNI has dealt with 228 cases under the scheme.
"I haven't received any information that says they are legal or illegal," continued Mr Robinson.
"That is why the inquiry will look at that matter, but it seems plain to me that if by responsibility for prosecutions is a devolved matter and if the responsibility for the police is a devolved matter then there is a Northern Ireland devolved institution responsibility for those matters."
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, however, said the legality of the letters had been established in a court of law.
The North Belfast MLA added: "These letters have now been tested in court and John Downey's letter was brought to court.
"There were all sorts of things said around it but the final analysis was a government agreed scheme and it was the British attorney general that was involved in it.
"The letters are legal and
in the end they did what they said."
into UDA 'paramilitary show of strength' in council centre
A probe is under way into the staging of a so-called UDA show of strength in a council-owned community centre.
The investigation was launched yesterday after pictures emerged of men wearing balaclavas and masks taking part in a display at Sandy Row Community Centre.
The men were wearing sweatshirts embroidered with the loyalist paramilitary group's emblem.
It is understood the pictures were taken in the centre on Saturday night.
Belfast City Council, which runs the community centre, confirmed it was investigating the reports following a number of complaints.
A spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph the council "regrets that an incident that appears to endorse a paramilitary organisation took place in one of its community centres at the weekend".
Police also confirmed they are investigating. The images were posted on the Facebook page of high-profile loyalist David Craig.
Craig, who is originally from Paisley in Scotland, moved to Northern Ireland after receiving death threats.
He was jailed for 14 months in 2012 and banned from all UK football grounds for three years after posting abuse about Celtic manager Neil Lennon on his Facebook page following a Celtic v Rangers game in March 2011.
The 26-year-old mocked up pictures of Lurgan-born Lennon and put the words "dead man walking" on the front of his body.
A south Belfast resident said they were disgusted at Saturday evening's event.
"I feel the authorities should look into this matter or else the reputation of Belfast City Council and the perception of council facilities as non-sectarian and places of safety may well be tainted," the resident said.
"The council has a responsibility to ensure whoever is using their property is fit to do so.
"I was horrified to see the pictures, like any right-minded person would be.
"There can be no place for paramilitary shows of strength anywhere in Northern Ireland in 2014," the resident said.
Some of those who were at the centre on Saturday evening claimed it was a band night and denied it was staged to promote the UDA.
A spokeswoman for the council said: "Belfast City Council regrets that an incident that appears to endorse a paramilitary organisation took place in one of its community centres at the weekend.
"This is a clear breach of the terms and conditions for bookings in our facilities. The incident happened during a private booking and we are currently carrying out a full investigation into the issue."
A police spokesman said: "Police have not received a direct report, but are aware of posts on social media which allegedly relate to an incident in Sandy Row.
"Enquiries are ongoing. Police
advise anyone who may have knowledge of paramilitary activity to report
it to police."
The Equality Commission has a Guide for Employers and Employees. It says “there should be no place in the workplace for conduct that has the potential to disrupt an harmonious working environment”.
So here’s the question: did Ruth Patterson’s donning of a Linfield scarf in Belfast City Council last night help promote a harmonious working environment?
Did Ruth know it would damage harmonious working relations?
Of course she did.
Ruth’s record on promoting harmonious relations is nothing if not consistent. When she was deputy mayor, she refused to shake hands or even look at the Sinn Féin mayor.
She posted on a website her satisfaction at the thought of a Michael-Stone-type attack on a proposed republican march.
She is a woman who appears to delight in doing things that belong in the past and certainly not in an adult political system.
The fact is that Linfield in its history as a football club was the epitome of anti-Catholic bigotry.
I say ‘was’ – the club is presently doing all it can to leave that history behind it.
In Belfast City Hall I presume Sinn Féin were seeking to encourage that kind of positive behaviour in the club when it supported the motion to honour the LInfield manager David Jeffrey.
Ruth on the other hand was seeking to appeal to those who would drag the club back to its unhappy past.
But here’s the saddest thing. When a politician speaks or acts – any politician – he or she has part of his/her mind focused on the next election.
Will this action or statement get me votes?
Ruth Patterson will, presumably, be looking for votes in May. Which means she believes that this kind of provocative, jarring, hackles-raising conduct is something her electorate like to see.
Oh dear. I hope not. I really
sorry for 'catastrophic error' that denied justice to Hyde Park victims'
The Shadow Secretary of State has said Labour owes the relatives of the Hyde Park bomb victims an unequivocal apology after the "catastrophic error" that denied them justice.
The remarks by Ivan Lewis MP are the first words of regret by a senior Labour politician in relation to the controversial scheme in which letters were issued to on-the-run IRA suspects (OTRs) assuring them they were not being sought by any UK police force.
The MP also distanced himself from former Labour Secretary of State Peter Hain's controversial suggestion that there should now be an amnesty for British soldiers who were involved in the Bloody Sunday shootings.
The comments follow the political crisis in the wake of the collapse of the prosecution of John Downey over the IRA's Hyde Park bombings of 1982, in which four soldiers were murdered.
Mr Downey walked free from court after it emerged he had been wrongly sent a letter by the authorities that informed him he was not being sought by police.
Mr Lewis also apologised for the "crass insensitivity of those who chose to focus on the perceived wrong Mr Downey suffered".
The letters were issued as part of a scheme set up by the NIO under Tony Blair's Labour administration.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Lewis said the Prime Minister was right to say it would be inappropriate to unpick specific elements of the peace process.
"However in defending the peace process, we owe the families of the Hyde Park victims an unequivocal apology. For the catastrophic error, and the crass insensitivity of those who focus on the perceived wrongs Mr Downey suffered, rather than the brutally murdered soldiers," said Mr Lewis.
"It is similar to the anger provoked by claims of equivalency between a republican or loyalist paramilitary bomber killed during an attempted bombing and a civilian or soldier killed by a terrorist attack.
"Of course, the families of all concerned deserve support from victims' services. But there should be no attempt to suggest moral equivalence."
Mr Lewis also appeared to knock down Peter Hain's suggestion that the Bloody Sunday soldiers should not be prosecuted.
In a speech to be delivered to business leaders at Hillborough Castle tonight, Mr Lewis will say: "I do not agree that peace would be best served now and in the future by denying victims' families any right to seek answers and accountability for the loss of loved ones.
"Whether those concerned are the vast majority who were killed by IRA or loyalist paramilitaries or others who are alleged to have been killed unlawfully by military personnel, supposedly 'drawing a line' with an across the board amnesty would do nothing to heal wounds or help create a better environment for reconciliation."
The former Labour Government has faced massive criticism over the last week after details of the "letters of comfort" for OTRs burst into the public domain.
However, Mr Lewis also wrote that neither he nor his party should "recant for the introduction of the so-called on-the-run administrative scheme.
"I cannot accept this despite the understandable anger some have expressed," he said.
"It would be a failure of leadership and integrity to be retrospectively selective about key elements of a historic peace process which ended 30 years of violence and terror."
Ivan Lewis was elected as MP for
Bury South in 1997 during the landslide Labour victory in which Tony
Blair became Prime Minister. He had worked in the voluntary sector,
primarily in mental health before his election to the House of Commons.
He has had several positions in the shadow Cabinet before being posted
to Northern Ireland last October.
Féin pulls out of cross-party video backing parade
A war of words has erupted over Sinn Féin’s withdrawal from a cross-party video supporting New York’s main gay-friendly St Patrick’s Day parade.
The St Pat’s For All parade was organised to rival New York’s biggest Irish-American celebration, which the city’s mayor is boycotting due to its ban on gay groups identifying themselves in the march.
Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power coordinated a cross-party video to back the gay-friendly alternative event, but says Sinn Féin pulled out at the last minute because it did not want to upset its fundraising efforts amongst conservative Irish- Americans.
After Sinn Féin’s LGBT section originally claimed it had not been invited to take part in the video, the party said it withdrew from the project because it objected to being asked to read from a script, and did not want to promote one New York parade above another.
Ms Power accused Sinn Féin of double standards, saying: “They did not take part because they did not want upset their Irish- American fundraising operations. They talk about equality at home, but don’t want anyone in New York to know about it. I wanted it to be an all-party event and the lines in the script were pretty innocuous and I offered to swap things around if they wanted to. Their attitude is bizarre.
Sinn Féin’s equality spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn accused Ms Power of being “dishonest”, as the script provided by her meant: “This was now a video endorsing one St Patrick’s event in New York over another and that the video was clearly not an all-party initiative based on each party’s policies in support of the LGBT community and inclusivity.
“The attempts by Senator Power to misrepresent our party’s reasons for with-drawing are dishonest and disappointing.”
The parade was held last Sunday and attended by New York mayor Bill de Blasio and civil rights activist Rory O’Neill, drag artist, Ms Panti Bliss.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has refused to boycott the main New York parade. Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said she will shun the parade, despite being in New York on the day.
TOM comment: Watch
the video here
to make up your own mind on its content
Ruth Patterson wears Linfield scarf in Belfast City Council sparking
A meeting of Belfast City Council descended into farce last night after a DUP councillor put on a Linfield football club scarf.
Ruth Patterson donned her supporter's scarf as she proposed an event at City Hall to recognise the achievements of Linfield manager David Jeffrey as he prepared to step down.
That antagonised the Sinn Fein group leader on the council, Jim McVeigh – and the level of debate swiftly deteriorated into scenes reminiscent of the bad old days in the chamber.
Bad-tempered accusations, sarcasm and aggression filled the Dome of Delight as unionists and republicans squared up to each other across the floor.
The entire confrontation lasted around 10 minutes when Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir – who had been chairing the meeting – stepped out for 15 minutes to meet Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year and ovarian cancer campaigner Una Crudden.
As the volume and tensions increased, Mr McVeigh queried if it was appropriate for Ms Patterson to wear a football scarf in the workplace.
The controversial DUP figure has previously worn a Union flag as a scarf in the council chamber in the midst of the bitter row over the display of the flag.
Siding with Ms Patterson, Deputy Lord Mayor Christopher Stalford told Mr McVeigh that his behaviour was outrageous and told him to sit down.
"You are a group leader, man. For goodness sake, behave like a respectable man of the council, you look like a petulant child," Mr Stalford told the Sinn Fein man.
Order only resumed when Mr O Muilleoir re-entered the chamber and Mr Stalford re-took his seat at the Lord Mayor's side, visibly angry.
The Sinn Fein mayor allowed Ms Patterson to continue with her speech and wear her scarf.
Speaking after the meeting Mr McVeigh said he intended to write to the chief executive of the council to complain about Mr Stalford.
"This was not the place to be wearing football tops or scarves," he said.
However Mr McVeigh's behaviour was condemned across the political divide.
SDLP group leader Tim Attwood said Mr McVeigh's behaviour had been "inappropriate".
DUP group leader Lee Reynolds slammed Mr McVeigh as a bully.
"He can bully all he likes, it's not going to work. He's not in the Maze any more," he said.
Ms Patterson said she felt Ms McVeigh had behaved in a "childish way. Councillor McVeigh was absolutely childish and immature but what do you expect from Sinn Fein because they simply do not want anything in the chamber they see as Protestant"
"Even though both sides of the community support Linfield, Sinn Fein cannot accept that," she added.
Lord Mayor O Muilleoir declined to comment on the stand-off and said he wished to review the video footage.
Ms Patterson's proposal was referred to the Strategic Policy and Resources committee for consideration.