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Latest News

1st February 2015

On this day...

  • 1921 - IRA Volunteer Cornelius Murphy executed in Cork Jail by British
  • 1921 - White Cross founded in USA



"Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland ...

... never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland. The presence in any one generation of Irishmen - of even a respectable minority -
ready to die to affirm that truth makes that government forever a usurpation and a crime against human progress."



" ..... I am a casualty of a perennial war that is being fought between the oppressed Irish people and an alien,
oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land.

"I believe and stand by the God-given right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence,
and the right of any Irishman or woman to assert this right in armed revolution. That is why I am incarcerated, naked and tortured."




Latest News and the Week in Review




UK ‘yet to try’ any agents of state for killings in Northern Ireland
The Guardian 30/01/15

Human rights group says no soldiers, police or MI5 officers have ever faced legal proceedings over crimes during the Troubles

No member of the British security forces has been tried and convicted since the Good Friday agreement of 1998 in connection with state killings during the Troubles, a human rights organisation has found.

In a comprehensive report into human rights violations during the conflict from 1969, the Committee on the Administration of Justice said it was unable to locate a single case where a police officer, soldier or MI5 agent has been sentenced over state crimes since the agreement.

Echoing complaints from the victims of violence such as the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972, the CAJ report noted that even though David Cameron and the government apologised for the atrocity, not a single soldier has been charged with killing 13 civiians in Derry.

Launching its 144-page report in Belfast the human rights group, which has monitored abuses in Northern Ireland for several decades, also accused police and security officials of obstructing subsequent inquiries and investigations into deaths caused by state forces.

“Many investigations and court proceedings into pre-1998 human rights violations have faced recurrent problems of obstruction and non-cooperation from state agencies and former personnel.

“This has included concealment, non-cooperation, withholding and delaying the disclosure of records, with repeated examples of material being put beyond the reach of investigators, going ‘missing’, being destroyed, or being overly redacted,” CAJ concluded.

In certain historic inquiries, CAJ said there had been “recurring questions of conflicts of interest regarding personnel in key positions in the investigative chain. This includes rehired RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) officers in key roles responsible for disclosure to external legacy investigations”.

The report also claims governments and security forces are hiding behind “national security” to conceal vital intelligence material relating to certain crimes, including those committed by paramilitaries who were secret agents of the state.

On the question of the use of agents within terror groups and crimes they committed, CAJ said the doctrine of “neither confirm nor deny” was being used to withhold information.

For both informers working for the state and British soldiers, the report states: “There is evidence that at times during the conflict a level of immunity was afforded to soldiers and informants who could otherwise have faced prosecution.”

It adds: “The evidence points to a common purpose between the UK government and elements within the security establishment to prevent access to the truth and maintain a cover of impunity for state agents.”

The report also criticises the fact that MI5, which now has the primary role in counter-terrorist operations in the region, is not accountable to local politicians or public bodies, unlike the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

“The security service MI5 has a blanket exemption from disclosing information under freedom of information legislation,” the report said.




McGuinness dismisses claims by UUP
UTV News 30/01/15

Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has dismissed as "silly" a claim by Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt that the Stormont House Agreement could unravel if the parties try to renegotiate it.

The comments were made following a stock-taking meeting on the implementation of the agreement on Friday afternoon.

The British and Irish government and the five Executive parties were involved.

Speaking afterwards, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers - who chaired the meeting - said it had been "remarkably cheerful".

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan welcomed the progress and added that an "ambitious" timetable has been set out for putting the deal in place.

However there was disagreement between Mike Nesbitt and Martin McGuinness.

Mr Nesbitt said: "There is a concern it will unravel if people use this process to try to renegotiate rather than bring on what was agreed.

"If we're going to implement, we implement what was agreed in December - we don't try and get in the bits we failed to get in last year and sneak them in this time around."

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said he would "rise above" the "silly" remarks.

The deputy First Minister continued: "I haven't seen any attempt by any of the parties thus far to renegotiate the agreement that's been made.

"I think to make that remark in advance of a meeting which was very positive and constructive is probably more to do with politicking than anything else and I am going to rise above all of that."

Last month, Northern Ireland's Executive parties reached agreement on some of the issues which had been discussed during the most recent round of talks.

The all-party talks had been focused on resolving issues surrounding flags, parades, the past and financial matters and took place over the course of 11 weeks.

Since then the budget for the next financial year has been passed and legislation paving the way for the devolution of corporation tax powers has been published.

Ms Villiers has said she is encouraged by the progress in implementing the deal so far.




Majority against royals at 1916 events
Irish Independent 29/01/15

The majority of Irish people in their 30s are opposed to any of the British royal family attending next year's 1916 Rising centenary celebrations.

Only one in eight believe such an invite should be extended to British royalty, according to a poll carried out for the Irish Independent and Today FM.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, speaking during the state visit of President Michael D Higgins to the UK in April, invited that country's queen and members of her family to attend the commemoration.

However, no decision has been made as to what particular events any of the British royals will attend.

There has also been ongoing controversy as to what should be an agreed national remembrance programme to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

One of the other key findings of the poll showed that just over half of all 20-49-year-olds believe the centenary "is a major cultural event".

And they maintain it should be commemorated as such, given its historical significance. A further 25pc describe it is "a reasonably significant" event.

The overwhelming conclusion among those surveyed was that family and descendants of the 1916 leaders should be invited to attend all the major ceremonies. This view was shared by three out of five of those aged between 20 and 49.

A quarter of those surveyed had no strong opinion on the commemorative ceremonies.




Robert Hamill inquiry disc lost
UTV News 29/01/15

Information relating to three judge-led inquiries - including the murder of Robert Hamill - has gone missing in the post, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has confirmed.

Two discs containing documents about the Robert Hamill, Mark Duggan and Azelle Rodney inquiries went missing earlier this month.

In a statement, the MOJ said it has launched an investigation in to the security breach, which it said is against its guidelines.

Robert Hamill, a 25-year-old Catholic, was beaten by a loyalist mob in Portadown, Co Armagh, in April 1997.

The father-of-three suffered serious head injuries and died 11 days after the attack.

Mr Hamill's family said they were informed of the loss of the material on Wednesday evening.

They said they reluctantly agreed for the publication of the report, completed in February 2011, to be withheld until the conclusion of ongoing criminal proceedings in the courts.

Former Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, wrote to the family's representatives saying he had asked the inquiry chairman to retain his report "in a secure location" until those legal proceedings had concluded.

The family said they would be seeking "urgent answers" from the government over the loss of the disc.

In a statement the family said: "We are at a loss to understand why any material relating to the Robert Hamill Inquiry should have been posted or sent at this particular time given the fact the report was complete in February 2011.

"We are asking our solicitor to seek an urgent meeting with government officials to seek answers to our concerns about this serious breach of data protection."

Information relating to inquiries into the deaths of Mark Duggan and Azelle Rodney was also lost.

Mark Duggan was unarmed when he was fatally shot by police in north London in August 2011.

His death sparked nationwide riots.

Police believed he had earlier collected a gun, but it was not on his possession when he was killed.

Azelle Rodney was 24 when he was shot dead in April 2005.

He was a passenger in a car that police were following - believing its three occupants were planning a serious armed crime - when he was shot multiple times by police.




Fury over Tory claims of Miliband cosying up to Sinn Fein
Belfast Telegraph 29/01/15

The Conservative Party has been accused of "gutter politics" after taunting Labour over claims it has discussed a post-election coalition with Sinn Fein.

On the 100th day before the May general election, both Sinn Fein and Labour strongly denied a report in the Sun newspaper that they had been involved in "secret talks".

Their denials did not deter the Tories from seeking to make political capital, with a mock-up picture showing Labour leader Ed Miliband with his arm around SNP leader Alex Salmond and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

The picture on Twitter had the caption: "Your worst nightmare just got even worse".

In response, Labour hit back: "This is yet another example of how the Tories intend to fight this election in the gutter.

"Peace and stability in Northern Ireland is far too important to be used as a party political football."

The source of the Sun's story - carried on the front page of its Northern Ireland edition - appeared to be a Channel Four interview given by Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty

A senior SF source told the Belfast Telegraph: "There have been no approaches from the Labour party or any spokesperson for them. It has not happened.

"What Mr Doherty was referring to, and it was quite clear, was that over the years all the parties in the British Parliament, not just Labour, have asked from time to time if there are circumstances in which Sinn Fein would change its abstentionist policy.

"The answer is always the same. No."

A spokesman for Mr Milliband, who visited Northern Ireland last week and met First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, told the Belfast Telegraph: "The story is untrue. We are working towards a Labour majority government and only towards a Labour majority government.

"It is untrue that Ed held any sort of coalition talks. The implication that Ed is cosying up to Sinn Fein is untrue."

In the House of Commons, however, South Leicestershire Conservative MP Andrew Robathan told MPs: "Apparently the Labour Party has been talking to Sinn Fein about a possible link-up after the general election."

As he made the remark, shadow Northern Ireland minister Stephen Pound shouted "absolute rubbish" from the front bench.

Opposition Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis added: "The party opposite seems to be wanting to introduce new protocols into the House, believing everything you read in The Sun and demanding the Labour Party takes responsibility for problems that are clearly the responsibility of the Government."


Sinn Fein West Tyrone Pat Doherty was reported in a Channel Four blog as saying he was regularly badgered by Labour members.

The blog said Sinn Fein policy "hasn't stopped Labour shadow cabinet members wooing them and testing the water to see if they could be persuaded to sit in the Commons if it helped to keep the Tories out of power". Mr Doherty said, however: "This is always dealt with in the same way. We will not be entering the House of Commons."




PSNI not included in New York St Patrick’s Day parade
News Letter 29/01/14

The PSNI will not be taking part in the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York this year, it has been confirmed.

Concerns were raised last year about the six PSNI officers’ official presence among explicitly Irish republican banners in the 2014 event.

The PSNI was taking part for the the first time.

Unionists complained that those taking part had to walk behind banners which read “England get out of Ireland” and also numerous Irish Tricolours.

There had been fears that the PSNI’s participation would spark angry clashes – but the march passed off peacefully with a small number of protestors in attendance.

In a letter to the Chief Constable Matt Baggott last year, the TUV leader Jim Allister said the only flag which could be displayed in the parade, other than the Stars and Stripes, was the Irish Tricolour – and that the official rules required each unit on parade to display it. Plus, the only banners permitted – other than those identifying the unit on parade – had to read, ‘England Get out of Ireland’.

This year, Mr Allister welcomed confirmation that the PSNI will not be attending.

“Before Christmas I wrote to the PSNI again pointing out that Martin Galvin, the former head of the Irish Northern Aid (NORAID) which funded the IRA, and a hardline republican, has been named an aide to Grand Marshal Cardinal Timothy Dolan for the New York St Patrick’s Day parade in 2015,” he said.

“Martin Galvin was once on the run from police officers in Northern Ireland and I wrote to request an assurance that we would not be in the ridiculous position that the PSNI will be lining up to march behind him at this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade in New York.

“I welcome the fact that the PSNI have now assured me that they have not been invited to this year’s event.

“Furthermore, they will not be making duty credits available for officers or staff to attend the parade, there will be no PSNI funding for officers or staff attending and no officer who attends the parade will be regarded as being on duty.”

As that is the case, no PSNI officer who attends can wear their uniform, he added.

Superintendent Sam Donaldson said: “We can confirm that there will be no PSNI officers attending the 2015 New York St Patrick’s Day parade in an official capacity.”




BBC rejects the DUP's demand to be included in the TV debates
New Statesman 29/01/15

It looks like the Democratic Unionist Party's request to be included in the BBC's seven-way televised leaders' debate panel has been rejected.

The Northern Irish party was outraged when it was not invited to participate in the broadcaster's new proposal for the debates, and wrote to the BBC demanding to be invited on. The party's Westminster representative, Nigel Dodds MP, called the party's omission "ludicrous" and pointed out that it has "more seats than Plaid, SNP & Greens", who have been invited to the debates.

But it looks like Dodds' fury has not found much sympathy at the Beeb. The Director General Tony Hall has rejected the DUP's request. The BBC reports that he told the party that he saw no reason to go back on the decision not to include them.

Replying in a letter to the party, Hall said the current panel plan complies with the BBC's impartiality obligations and so the broadcaster is not obliged to include the DUP as well. He is apparently writing a further letter to justify the BBC's decision not to include Northern Irish representation in general in the debates.

In response, the party's leader and First Minister in Northern Ireland Peter Robinson tweeted that the BBC's response was "irrational":

According to the BBC's Norman Smith, the DUP is now planning on getting lawyers involved.

It will be interesting to see how the Prime Minister responds to this development in the ongoing debate debate (the phrase "debategate" is probably not far off). He told the BBC's Today programme this week that he would like to see representation of Northern Ireland on the panel and continues to be reticent about taking part himself. Will he use Hall's decision as yet another excuse not to participate?




Man denies threatening to kill MP
UTV News 28/01/15

A 33-year old Belfast man accused of threatening to kill Alliance MP Naomi Long has denied the charge.

Jonathan Ginn, from Dunraven Court, was charged with four offences dating back to October 2013 which appeared on two separate bills of indictment.

Ginn has been charged with placing an article outside the Alliance Party's office on the Upper Newtownards Road in Belfast, intending that someone would believe it would explode or ignite, on 2 October, 2013.

He was also charged with trying to intimidate East Belfast MLA Chris Lyttle of the Alliance Party out of his job on 8 October, 2013.

When the two charges were put to Ginn, he replied: "not guilty."

Although no details emerged on Wednesday, a previous court hearing was told that police believed the bomb hoax at the Alliance Party office was linked to a loyalist flag protest which was on-going at the time of the incident.

Ginn was also charged with making threats to a third party to kill both Mr Lyttle and his party colleague and East Belfast MP Naomi Long on 11 October, 2013.

Again, Ginn replied "not guilty" when these charges were put to him.

During the brief hearing at Belfast Crown Court, it emerged that Ginn will stand trial on the bomb hoax and intimidation charges first.

A trial date of 10 March was listed, and the case will be reviewed again next month.

Ginn was released on continuing bail by Judge Gordon Kerr QC.




Bomb threat made against SF MLA McKay
UTV News 28/01/15

Sinn Féin's Daithí Mckay has said a bomb threat was made against him.

The North Antrim MLA said a letter was left at his Dunloy constituency office that stated a bomb had been planted at his home.

Mr McKay, an MLA since 2007, said he would not be deterred from his duties as a politician following the threat.

The father of three added: "The cowards behind the threat and their accompanying actions are beyond contempt.

"Whilst I'm conscious of the despicable threat directed towards me and my family, I want to make it clear that I, along with my Sinn Féin colleagues for that matter, will not be deflected from our duties.

"As an elected representative I will continue to work in our pursuit for equality and the building of peace and reconciliation in my constituency and beyond."

Mr McKay has reported the threat to the police.

A PSNI spokesman added: "We are investigating a call warning of a device at the home of an MLA.

"Police were informed at about 2.30pm on Wednesday.

"There are no further details at this time."




Bloody Sunday: Row over memorial window at Londonderry's Guildhall
BBC News 28/01/15

A row has broken out over the installation of a stained glass window at Derry's Guildhall commemorating those killed on Bloody Sunday.

The project has been delayed after a disagreement over what images the window should contain.

Some of the families of those who died on Bloody Sunday objected to one of the four panes.

Sinn Féin criticised an SDLP motion passed by Derry City Council on Tuesday that will allow for three of the agreed panes to be installed.

The fourth pane will be installed at a later stage once the contentious background has been removed.

'Totally surprised'

Sinn Féin councillor Barney O'Hagan said the window had been "completely redesigned" by the SDLP.

"Two years ago it was agreed that the Bloody Sunday Trust would be the conduit to represent the wishes of the families and that they would work together with the design team.

"A couple of the families then said they weren't included in the consultation but this was rejected by the trust and so the window gained the support of Sinn Fein and the majority of families. The SDLP also agreed until yesterday when they unilaterally redesigned the window.

"We were totally surprised by that move."


SDLP councillor Gerard Diver said: "The issue is with the background of the fourth pane which is a photograph taken on the 15 June 2010 when the results of the Saville inquiry were announced.

"There is clearly a minority of people who are distressed at what's being depicted and I don't think pitching one group of relatives against the other is something council should be doing.

"75% of the windows will still go ahead, with the fourth panel being redesigned and installed on an interim basis until broad agreement can be made."

A spokesperson for Derry City Council said: "Following a vote taken at a meeting of full council, the majority of members voted in favour of the SDLP's proposal to explore the option of installing three of the panels, with a view to redesigning and installing the fourth panel at a later stage, after further consultation with all the families to gain full consensus on a design."




Daily call-outs for bomb disposal
Belfast Telegraph 28/01/15

Army bomb disposal officers were called upon to deal with suspected explosives in Northern Ireland once a day last year, a security powers watchdog said.

Active pipe bombs and other improvised devices were defused on 67 occasions. Another 22 alerts involved explosions, according to David Seymour.

The security services are under severe threat from dissident republicans opposed to the peace process. The incidents were recorded between August 2013 and July last year.

Mr Seymour said: " I was very impressed by the dedication, bravery and professionalism of the military and, in particular, those whose role it is to defuse and dispose of improvised explosive devices which, sadly, remain a regular feature of life in Northern Ireland."

report from the Independent Reviewer of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 said the military was called out on 347 occasions, roughly one per day.

  • 67 to deal with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) like a pipe bomb
  • 22 for an explosion
  • 74 for a hoax where an object was made to look like an IED
  • Twice to tackle incendiaries which were programmed to ignite and cause buildings to burn, traditionally targeted at commercial premises.
  • 123 to make munitions or component parts safe
  • 59 times the call out was false

Mr Seymour's report, paraphrasing Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, said: "There is a continuing terrorist threat from a small minority of groups who retain lethal intent and capability; police officers, prison officers and military personnel remain the principal targets of attacks which vary in their sophistication.

"As a direct result of the efforts of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and MI5 there have been major disruptions, arrests and convictions in 2014 as well as seizures of arms and IED components both north and south of the border which have impeded violent dissident republican terrorist activity."

Ms Villiers said the PSNI had seized 2.5kgs of Semtex from the so-called new IRA dissident group which was undoubtedly intended for use in lethal explosive devices and noted that last year's loyal order parading season passed off largely peacefully thanks to the strong co-operative approach of all those involved.

Mr Seymour highlighted the unique environment the PSNI operated in, including a security threat which has remained severe for the past five years. Soldiers, police officers and a prison warder have been killed by extremists in recent years.

The watchdog said: "PSNI officers are targeted both on and off duty. Routine patrol patterns are liable to be exploited by dissident republican terrorists.

"Routine requests for police assistance (eg burglary) have to be assessed against the background of potential 'come on' traps where police are lured into exposed and vulnerable situations to attempt to cause them harm.

"Personal protection arrangements for the police are at a level which does not exist in the rest of the UK and 700 police officers were injured in 2013 alone (10% of all police officers). Officers in the PSNI are routinely armed and are protected by ballistic body armour.

"Police stations are protected by armed security and in some areas additional crews are sent on patrol at night just for the purpose of protecting the police. The PSNI operate in a jurisdiction where alternatives to policing have traditionally been provided by armed paramilitary groups and this still continues.

"Finally, the PSNI are currently under huge budgetary pressure."




'Resentment' over flags policing
Belfast Telegraph 28/01/15

Loyalist resentment about the policing of 2013 flags protests in Northern Ireland still persists, an independent watchdog said.

Many demonstrators against Belfast City Council restrictions on the flying of the Union flag from the City Hall received criminal records and some felt they had been unfairly arrested, security powers reviewer David Seymour added.

The young generation believed the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was a middle class force which did not empathise with the working class, according to the review.

A Court of Appeal judgement has upheld the PSNI's policing of the demonstrations, which involved sustained rioting for months, and overall confidence in the force is on the increase, the chief constable has said.

Mr Seymour's report said: "It is clear that the legacy of the flags protests in 2013 still lingers and this has consequences for confidence in policing in 2014."

Dozens of police officers were injured during clashes with protesters across Northern Ireland following a December 2012 council vote.

Loyalists were angered by Belfast City Council's decision to reduce to designated days the number of dates on which the Union flag flies.

Nationalists at Belfast City Council had wanted the contentious emblem taken down altogether, but accepted a compromise from the Alliance Party that it would fly on designated days.

Unionists considered the changes an attack on their cultural identity.

A loyalist protest outside the City Hall erupted into violence minutes after the motion was passed. Disorder also broke out in east Belfast.

The Court of Appeal held that the PSNI had acted appropriately, within its operational discretion, and had not misunderstood its legal obligations during the protests which followed.

Mr Seymour said: "However, despite that legal vindication, many people have told me that the PSNI response should have been sharper and more proactive and that these events were predictable and should have been anticipated once Belfast City Council had taken its decision.

He added: "Many people acquired a criminal record as a result of that operation and the protracted nature of the protests exacerbated community tensions.

"I have been struck by how resentment over the handling of those protests persists, particularly amongst young people.

"To an outside observer there is a marked contrast between the policing of the flags protests in 2013 and of the parades during the parading season in 2014."

Last summer's loyalist marching season passed off peacefully following close engagement between officers and community workers.

Mr Seymour said: "There were no misunderstandings or surprises and everyone knew where they stood. In the former case there were no ground rules other than the general criminal and public order law and little opportunity to plan or consult."

The chief constable's report to the Policing Board last October stated that confidence in the PSNI continues to rise to 67.1% - a 2% increase on the same period last year.

Mr Seymour said parts of the community, including many young people, were wary of and resented police contact.

"There is perceived inconsistency of approach. I heard it said many times that confidence in policing is hard won and easily lost.

"More than one person operating at community level told me that the progress and hard work of months can unravel in minutes if a single PSNI intervention goes wrong."

Former chief constable Matt Baggott has said if one incident goes wrong it takes 14 good incidents to redress the balance.

Mr Seymour noted a contrast between relationships with local police and heavily armoured public order officers.

"It is in the nature of part of the Tactical Support Group's role that on occasion they have to police in a robust fashion. One senior police officer recognised that there was 'some scope for soft skill work'."

One community worker said that, although there was less violence on the streets, young people were still having to endure very poor social conditions, the review noted.

"Consequently some were finding an identity by attaching themselves to criminal gangs and earning money, with the approval of their families, by dealing in drugs."

Some young people said they threw missiles at the police for fun, Mr Seymour said.

Community leaders from nationalist and unionist backgrounds wanted the PSNI to take a more proactive approach to drug dealing, considering formal criminal processes slow and cumbersome.

"However, at the same time, they did not want to see young people criminalised unnecessarily and stopped and searched 'for standing on a street corner'.

"One observer said that in west Belfast there were no other places for young people to congregate - but the stop and search powers should not be used as a form of 'social control' or to 'harass'."

Mr Seymour recommended progress in improving transparency and explanation of the use of stop and search powers; the introduction of body worn cameras and improved relations with young people.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "Engagement with communities is at the core of keeping people safe. The PSNI have always committed significant thought and effort into sustaining and building relationships with every community. In particular, substantial work has been dedicated to those communities who were so significantly impacted by tensions during the flag protests and this continues.

"Engagement is a two-way process and there is a long-term responsibility on both the police and elected representatives to make sure that we do everything we can to build confidence and support in policing.




HET report says neighbours were involved in Kingsmills massacre
News Letter 28/01/15

A PSNI report has revealed that a group of IRA men responsible for the Kingsmills massacre were neighbours who lived just over a mile away from the scene of the atrocity.

A PSNI report has revealed that a group of IRA men responsible for the Kingsmills massacre were neighbours who lived just over a mile away from the scene of the atrocity.

The 1976 attacks saw 10 Protestant textile workers shot dead by the side of a road after a gang of masked IRA gunmen flagged down their minibus.

A recent “intelligence synopsis” by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) now reveals that some of those responsible were from the IRA’s active service unit (ASU) based in the village of Whitecross – just over a mile from the scene of the shootings and close to the village of Bessbrook where many of the victims lived.

The HET document, obtained by the News Letter, concludes by saying a large team of terrorists were responsible which included “members of the Newry ASU, Whitecross ASU and a number of on the runs based in the Republic of Ireland”.

Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was killed at Kingsmills, said confirmation that the IRA active service unit based in Whitecross was involved could throw light on more recent events.

“We were trying to have a commemoration walk for the Kingsmills victims a few years ago which would have retraced their final steps through Whitecross,” he said.

“Maybe now we can understand why there was so much opposition to it in Whitecross.

“I have no doubt there are decent people in Whitecross but I would say that certain others dominated the discussion at the time – we were told it would be too damaging to community relations to proceed.

“We were only going to walk through the village silently with large photographs of our loved ones. Maybe certain people were afraid of being human again and seeing with their own eyes the number of victims they had created?”

Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy believes some of the gunmen would have personally known the people they murdered.

“It was clearly carried out with local knowledge and I have no doubt that some of those who were responsible, or who know the Provo perpetrators, continue to live in the local area,” he said.

“It is highly likely that these people were personally known to some of the victims which underlines the callous nature of the Provisional IRA’s murder campaign – that being an innocent, hard-working Protestant was no protection from IRA death squads.”

The HET synopsis said intelligence had named 11 individuals for the attack and also detailed the terrorist convictions of six. The weapons were also used in 39 other murders and 22 attempted murders by republicans in south Down and south Armagh.

The day before the attack the UVF gunned down three brothers from the Reavey family in the village of Whitecross.

But HET said in its Kingsmills report in 2011 that the Kingsmills attack was clearly planned “some time before” and that the UVF murders were “simply the catalyst for the pre-meditated and calculated slaughter” of the 10 men at Kingsmills.

It branded the Kingsmills murders as “sectarian savagery”.

• A Sinn Féin spokesman on Tuesday said that “what happened in Kingsmills was wrong and Sinn Féin extends our sympathy to the families”.

He added that the latest HET document “highlights the need to address the issue of the legacy of the conflict. It is Sinn Féin’s view that an international truth commission is required to help meet the needs of victims and survivors”.

The Stormont House Agreement made progress on a set of balanced truth recovery mechanisms to deal with the past, including the retention of Coroner’s Court inquests, additional services for victims and survivors including an Historic Investigation Unit, an Independent Commission for Information Recovery and an Implementation and Reconciliation Group.

These bodies can help meet needs until an international truth commission is formed, he added.




Sinead O’Connor withdraws application to join Sinn Féin
The Guardian 28/01/15

Singer accuses republican party of lacking courage and not being serious about ending the partition of Ireland

Irish rock star Sinead O’Connor has withdrawn her application to join Sinn Féin, accusing the party of not being serious about ending the partition of Ireland.

The singer who shot to global fame with her version of Prince’s Nothing Compares to You, had announced last month she was planning to become a Sinn Féin member.

But O’Connor has used her official Facebook to state that after discussions with two party officials she has concluded that “it makes no sense for Sinn Féin to speak of sovereignty and water but not speak of ending partition”.

She added: “It makes no sense to plan now for next year’s [Easter Rising] centenary, while not speaking now about the end of partition. I think Sinn Féin could risk being braver. If you seem afraid of the subject how on earth are you gonna convince anyone who is more afraid? i.e. the vast majority of residents of the Republic.”

Sinn Féin would not discuss the nature of the talks between its representatives and the performer. A party spokesperson said: “I can confirm that the party has met with Sinead O’Connor but we don’t comment on our discussions with people who apply to join the party.”

O’Connor came under attack from critics of Sinn Féin, most notably IRA rape victim Mairia Cahill. On hearing that the singer-turned-female-priest-of-a-breakaway-anti-Vatican sect had applied to join Sinn Féin, Cahill said: “I had no explanation for how a woman who has been so vocal about child abuse could have chosen to join a party which has been in the headlines for their handling of this issue since my own story broke on BBC Spotlight.”

When O’Connor went public earlier in late December expressing her interest in becoming a Sinn Féin member she immediately called for the party’s leadership, including its president, Gerry Adams, to step down and allow a new generation of activists to take over.

In a message before travelling to Dubai en route to an Australian tour, O’Connor claimed the Sinn Féin officials she met told her she would be “bored shitless” being a full party member rather than an outside supporter.

In the early 1990s, the Dubin-born singer initially expressed support for the Provisional IRA’s campaign but later retracted her comments, saying she was “too young to understand the tense situation in Northern Ireland properly”. In 1993 she took part in mass protests against an IRA bombing in Warrington that killed two children.




Resist - Bloody Sunday commemoration 2015
Irish Republican News 28/01/15

The Bloody Sunday March for Justice programme will see a raft of civil rights events and speeches held in Derry. This year’s programme of events has been themed ‘Resist’.

Fourteen civil rights demonstrators were killed when British soldiers opened fire without warning on the streets of Derry’s Bogside on January 30, 1972. The massacre, and the continuing campaign for justice is marked every year with a march along the same route as the original demonstration.

In a statement the organisers this year said: “The programme will reflect the resistance to continued attacks on civil rights and liberties whether in Ferguson USA, Palestine, Dublin, Belfast or indeed here in Derry itself.

“The programme for 2015 will continue the tradition of acting as an inclusive platform for the seemingly disparate ongoing campaigns concerning the people of these islands and beyond. As in previous years it is a time to join together, make connections and raise our voices in solidarity.”

This year’s march will finish at Guildhall Square in Derry City Centre, where the organisers have announced that the Reverend Sekou Osagyeyfo from Ferguson and the anti-austerity, anti-water charges TD Clare Daly TD will address the rally.

Prominent republican Bernadette McAliskey is also due to chair two discussions at the City Hotel on successive Thursdays.

The programme is as follows:

Thursday, January 22, City Hotel 7.30pm:
‘Where does the Stormont Agreement leave the Bloody Sunday Investigation’

Bernadette McAliskey (chair) with an invited panel of speakers to include Liam Wray, brother of Bloody Sunday murder victim Jim Wray.

Thursday, January 29, City Hotel 7.30 pm:
‘Unmasking Injustice - from the Hooded Men to the Craigavon Two’

Bernadette McAliskey (chair), Francie McGuigan (former hooded man), Packy Carty from Justice For The Craigavon Two and Darragh Mackin KRW Law

Saturday, January 31, Pilots Row Community Centre 12noon:

Diane Greer (Chair), other speakers confirmed include Mary McManus Housing and Welfare Rights Belfast, Louie, performance artist and Yes Campaign Glasgow, and the Reverend Sekou Osagyeyfo from Ferguson, USA

Saturday, January 31, Pilots Row Community Centre 2.30pm:
‘The State We’re In’

Speakers include Patrick Murphy (Irish News), Kitty Holland (Irish Times) and Brian Feeney (Irish News)

Saturday, January 31, Nerve Centre, Magazine Derry 7.30 pm:
‘No Justice, No Peace - From Guantanamo Bay to Ferguson USA’

Chair Eamonn McCann, speakers include: former Guantanamo Bay internee Moazzam Begg and the Reverend Sekou Osagyeyfo from Ferguson, who will speak about the killing of the young black man Michael Brown by the Missouri state police.

Sunday, February 1, Creggan Shops 2.30 pm:
Annual March and Rally for Justice

More events and information are due to be placed online at www.bloodysundaymarch.org




Letter from the Craigavon Two
Irish Republican News 28/01/15

An open letter written by miscarriage of justice victims Brendan McConville and John-Paul Wootton, followed by a recent synopsis of the case

We acknowledge with interest the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the murder of Michael Tighe by the RUC in 1982.

This was clearly a case of injustice in which vital evidence (a recording device) was destroyed to cover the realities of an RUC shoot-to-kill policy.

It would be difficult to ignore the glaring parallels that exist between this case and our own with regard to the destruction of key evidence. This is especially so given the conclusion reached by a director of the company responsible for manufacturing the device which contributed to our wrongful convictions. At the trial he stated that the wiping of data “would not have been something that could have happened purely accidentally”.

The question must now be asked: how can Mr McGrory attach such significance to the wiping of evidence in the Tighe case while at the same time ignoring similar misconduct in our case?

Mr McGrory’s expressed concern that the case of Michael Tighe could potentially undermine the credibility of the Public Prosecution Service could equally apply to our case.

In denying the truth Mr McGrory’s predecessors withheld justice from the family of Michael Tighe for more than 30 years. Does he intent to mimick what he now condemns and wait for his successor to address his current wrongs or is he now prepared to accept that justice was similarly perverted in a case in which he continues to be instrumental?

Injustice and the Craigavon 2 (by Thomas G Maher)

In 2012, John Paul Wooten and Brendan McConville were convicted of the 2009 killing of PSNI Constable Steven Carroll in Craigavon, County Armagh. Both men have maintained their innocence since the day of their arrest and interrogation by the PSNI.

John Paul Wooten was 17 at the time of his arrest and imprisoned at Maghaberry Prison, which is the adult committal prison for male prisoners in Northern Ireland. Brendan McConville at the time of his arrest was 38 years old and had previously served his community by being elected to Craigavon Borough Council.

The trial was placed under the jurisdiction of the juryless court system in Northern Ireland, formerly known as “Diplock Courts”. A jury-less court in NI is established under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Act of British Parliament) and can try a case with a single judge presiding and hearing evidence.

The evidence which the prosecution brought before the court was, as many legal experts have described, insufficient to be admissible as evidence, evidence was insufficient to carry a conviction and that the security services doctored the evidence. The evidence given by “Witness M” was only presented to the PSNI 11 months after the date of the murder. This witness placed Brenden McConville at the scene, however has admitted he (Witness M) was “intoxicated at the time”. However since then a family member of witness M, has come forward and given a statement questioning the statement of witness M and his ability to identify Brenden on the night of the murder. Since coming forward witness M has benefitted financially and has been placed into the witness protection programme. Witness M gave his testimony over tv link to the court.

At the time of the murder John Paul Wooten had been under surveillance by the British Army and a tracking device had been affixed to John Paul’s car. After the arrest of both men on the same night, the tracking device was then removed from the car and brought back to an army base and the data on the device was retrieved and then the device was wiped clean of all data. This happened six days after the date of arrest which has been questioned by the defence as unacceptable to be admissible as evidence to court. Questions have also been raised as to the device’s ability to give accurate readings in GPS format and that it has been proven data has gone missing from the device which the defence argues should never of been allowed to be presented to court.

These two pieces of evidence were the basis of the prosecutions case. It placed both suspects at the scene; made use of the corroborated evidence rule (requiring 2 pieces of evidence to be presented before any evidence is deemed to be admissible); both Brenden and John Paul were involved in republicanism (also covered by the “Hearsay rule” in English Law).

The use of the juryless court system has been called into question by Amnesty International, the Irish Human Rights Council and by previously and current serving members of the Dail, Stormont and Westminster.

To be tried under a juryless court is to be denied the very basic right under criminal law, to be tried by a jury of your peers. This right is the right of any person charged with a criminal offence and designed to give a fair balance of justice regarding the power of the state and allows for the person charged to be judge by the tested standards of the public and not that of the legal profession or the security services.

In our society a miscarriage of justice is deemed to be the failing of the law to protect the rights of the individual under the legal system and therefore any conviction or sentence can be defined in law as “invalid”. This case has many parallels in The Republic of Ireland, most notably Ian Bailey, where the State’s agents and by definition the State, allegedly doctored evidence, perverted the course of justice and committed perjury in court by corroborating the evidence which is presented in court.

At the very heart of this case is the juryless court system and its ability to give a fair and balanced trial. The Craigavon 2 have had their basic human rights under criminal law denied to them by the state, have been given life sentences based on questionable evidence and have had the appeal by the Court of Appeal in Belfast reserved with the convictions and sentences upheld.

The next step for Brenden and John Paul is the Supreme Court in London.

For more information on the Craigavon 2 go to https://www.facebook.com/JFTC2




Former PoWs battle discrimination, resentment
Irish Republican News 28/01/15

A ground-breaking study has painted a bleak picture of the situation former political prisoners find themselves in.

Carried out by Peter Shirlow and Ciaran Hughes, the academic study assesses the impact of imprisonment on prisoners since early releases began almost 17 years ago.

The academics interviewed over 50 ex-prisoners, male and female, from north Belfast covering a range of ages and who had served jail terms ranging from five to over 30 years.

While most still felt a sense of solidarity with their own community just 12 per cent said they thought the peace process had made the lives of ex-prisoners easier.

A total of 68 per cent of respondents said they had been refused employment due to their conviction and 67 per cent said they had been discriminated against in other ways.

Almost all 92 per cent have had financial problems since their release while just two per cent had made financial preparations for their retirement.

Tommy Quigley, who helped found support group Tar Isteach when he was released from prison in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and Paul O’Neill, from the New Lodge in north Belfast, who was jailed on the evidence of IRA supergrass Christopher Black and later released on appeal, launched the report on Friday.

Mr Quigley said the findings of the study came as no surprise to those working with ex prisoners.

“Nothing has been put in place politically, we put these organisations in place to help ourselves.”

Mr Quigley said ex-prisoners felt they had gained little in terms of a peace dividend and resentment was building up in some areas, including Ardoyne.

He warned that the failure to deal with the issue of ex-prisoners is increasing opposition to the Stormont administration and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

“All these issues build up to general resentment among people, you only have to look at places like Ardoyne in the last election, 800 votes for people who are anti-agreement, that’s the level of resentment,” he said.

“Children of ex-prisoners are now avoiding jobs that take them into certain areas or that require security clearance out of fear of rejection over the past of family members.

“You discriminate against ex-prisoners, you discriminate against the entire community and generations to come.

“There is big disappointment in the republican community that this issue wasn’t addressed”, he added.

Paul O’Neill said ex-prisoners tended to come from socially disadvantaged areas and having a record stopped them having the same opportunities as others.

“People say how long are you going to be ‘ex-prisoners’, that it’s time to move on but we would say, ‘well then let us move on give us a chance to move on, stop putting obstacles in our way’.

“Not only was the prisoners’ support vital to securing the peace agreement, it has been people like myself and others who have stood at interfaces spoke to young people and helped support and maintain the peace and yet we’ve been let down.

“There’s currently a mixture of anger, apathy, fatalism in terms of conflict resolution and the peace process.

“The ex-prison issue is off the radar. It has been pushed to the margins and this doesn’t send out a good message to the communities we come from.

“People are saying look at the way ex-prisoners are being treated as part of this conflict resolution, that’s not a good situation to be in”, Mr O’Neill added.




Villiers rejects call over OTRs law
Belfast Telegraph 27/01/15

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has rejected calls for legislation making clear that Government comfort letters issued to republican "on-the-run" fugitives from the Troubles are no longer valid.

Ms Villiers said new laws would be no more effective than statements she has already made confirming that the letters should not be relied upon.

She spoke after an inquest into the murder of a father of two from Northern Ireland was dramatically halted after it emerged a suspect had been wrongly issued with a letter assuring him he was not being sought by the authorities.

The comfort letters scheme was drawn up under Labour government at the request of Sinn Fein and saw about 200 letters sent to so-called on-the-runs (OTRs), assuring them they were not being actively pursued by the UK authorities.

Answering an urgent question on scheme, Ms Villiers told the Commons : "It is clear to me that the most effective means to guard against future collapses of trials and future abuse of processes defence is to issue a clear statement indicating to anyone who received a letter under the scheme that it is not safe to rely on these letters, that they should not be relied on and that is what I did.

"The option of legislating on these matters was carefully considered but the conclusion is that legislation would not be as effective as a clear statement at the Despatch Box that the scheme is at an end and these letters should not be relied on, not least because of a risk that errors have been made in other cases."

She added: "Having considered this carefully, the most effective means to ensure that we do everything we can to remove barriers to justice is by a clear statement indicating that this scheme is at an end and these letters should not be relied, that's what I've done.

"Legislation would not take us further and I believe would not be the right option in this instance."

Former prime minister Tony Blair has said the OTR scheme was crucial in securing the 1998 Good Friday Agreement bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

But yesterday Armagh court heard that a decade later in 2008 an OTR letter was passed from the Government to Sinn Fein Northern Ireland Assembly member Gerry Kelly, who then passed it to a suspect in the 2003 killing of Gareth O'Connor.

The court was told this happened five years after Mr O'Connor's father claimed Mr Kelly had assured him the IRA was not involved in the crime and that he would tell him if he was made aware of any development.

A lawyer for Northern Ireland's Senior Coroner John Leckey described Mr Kelly's role as a "matter of public concern" and the inquest was halted to allow police to assess whether a prosecution is now possible in the case.

The DUP's Ian Paisley (North Antrim), asking the urgent question, said the most disturbing aspect of the case was that the murder came after the 1998 peace agreement, yet a suspect received an OTR letter in error regardless.

Mr Paisley called for the full publication of all recipients of the letters and legislation to "formally annul" their value and "put meat on the bones" on Ms Villiers' statement that they are without value.

He also called for compensation for the families of victims of crime whose cases have been affected by the letters.

He told MPs: "The most disturbing aspect of what you have told the House today is the fact that the O'Connor murder relates to a post-1998 murder that occurred in 2003.

"We have been consistently told that the names of the OTRs were critical to securing a 1998 peace agreement, yet this murder post-dates that occurrence .

"Would you now agree to publish all of the names with all of the letters?

"Could you estimate how many other errors are in this catalogue of errors and accept that the Government and the Hallett Review, whose conclusion is that there is a single error, that that conclusion is now without foundation?

"And would you now consider legislation to formally annul the value of all of these letters to put meat on the bones of what you have said that these letters are without value?

"Would you agree that Gerry Kelly must be formally investigated for how these letters have been distributed and who have been asked for these letters?"

Northern Ireland Select Committee chair Laurence Robertson called for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to be given enough resources to be able to quickly investigate all the potential links between the scheme and murder cases to make sure legislation is not needed.

He said: "Can the Government ensure that the PSNI has the full resources to look into all those cases, not in the as much as nine years that the PSNI estimated it may take them, so that they can go through those very, very quickly so the Government can decide if there is a need for perhaps legislation in order to make it absolutely clear that nobody can rely on these letters to protect them from prosecution?"

The OTR scheme came to public prominence last year when the prosecution of a man for the murder of four soldiers in an IRA bombing in Hyde Park in 1982 was halted when it emerged that he had received one of the letters in error when he was in fact wanted by the Metropolitan Police.

John Downey, 63, who denied involvement in the bomb, walked free from the Old Bailey when the judge ruled that his arrest had been an abuse of process.

Around 200 letters were issued to individuals under the Government scheme, with Sinn Fein acting as the conduit in many of the cases.

Last year a review into the process ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron and conducted by Lady Justice Heather Hallett identified other instances where errors may have been made.

The suspect in the O'Connor case has now been revealed as one of those cases.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis reiterated Labour's apology for errors in the scheme and said it was never intended to cover alleged offences after 1998.

He said: "News of another error from the administrative scheme for the on-the-runs is devastating following a catastrophic error in the Downey case last year.

"We have apologised for the Downey error and do so again for the error in the O'Connor case.

"In the same way as this scheme never offered amnesty, it was also never intended to cover alleged offences committed after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement."

Ms Villiers also reiterated the Government's apology.

She said: "I would welcome Mr Lewis's repetition of the apology he gave on behalf of the previous government for the errors made in the cases and I of course am happy to reiterate the apology that I made on behalf of this Government for the pain and hurt caused to all families affected by the OTR scheme."

Ms Villiers also warned that other errors were likely to come to light in the future because of the way the scheme had been mismanaged.

SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie (South Down) asked the minister for assurance that no further errors would now be revealed.

But Ms Villiers replied: "The Hallett report was very clear in its conclusions ... that it wasn't properly managed.

"I think anyone reading the Hallett report must expect that further errors will come to light. As I told the House earlier on she (Lady Justice Hallett) highlighted 36 further cases as ones where the risk of error is higher than others.

"That is one of the reasons why no-one should be relying on these letters because I'm afraid, because of the errors in the way the scheme was managed, it is likely that there are other errors which will come to light in future."

During the debate, Ms Villiers was repeatedly pressed to publish the names of those who received OTR letters but she said disclosure had to be handled with the greatest care for fear of prejudicing future cases.

Democratic Unionist David Simpson (Upper Bann) asked whether the Government was reluctant to reveal the names because of who appears on the list.

He said: "Is one of the reasons that the Government will not print these names of the OTRs and the royal pardons in fact because some people who have been elected to this House and currently elected to the Assembly are those that received some of these pardons and OTR letters?"

Ms Villiers replied: " The issue of an OTR letter doesn't necessarily lead to the result it did in the John Downey case. The judgment in that case is very clear. The reason why the trial collapsed was because the letter was incorrect. Mr Downey was wanted, but he was sent a letter indicating he was not.

"So the issuing of an OTR letter does not give immunity from prosecution. It never did and it won't in the future.

"In relation to disclosure of names ... the real problem here is the risk that, by disclosing names, I would myself be jeopardising future prosecutions, making them more difficult, increasing the risk of an abuse of process.

"That is why I'm not proposing to disclose names in relation to this scheme or be drawn on categories of individuals who might have been part of it."

Ms Villiers also confirmed she had been given legal advice that no legislation was required, but said the Northern Ireland office stood ready to take further steps if necessary.




Omagh man 'has no case to answer'
Belfast Telegraph 27/01/15

The case against a man accused of a dissident republican bombing in Northern Ireland which killed 29 people could be dropped, a court has heard.

A senior barrister is due to give the DPP a "final opinion" on whether murder charges against Seamus Daly linked to the 1998 Omagh bomb should proceed to trial within three weeks, a lawyer for the prosecution service said.

A lawyer for Daly, aged 44 and from Jonesborough in South Armagh, told Omagh Magistrates' Court there was no case to answer.

District judge Bernie Kelly said: "If there is, even at this stage, a possibility that this might well not be proceeded then it is incumbent on all of us to ensure Mr Daly is not incarcerated for an hour longer than necessary."

She added: "There is at least a possibility that this may take a certain course; if that were the case then that decision has to be made sooner rather than later."

Evidence is still being sought from Irish police about the worst atrocity of the Troubles but three quarters of it has already been received, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) told Omagh Magistrates' Court.

The judge said she wanted the decision within three weeks, predicting that the senior counsel opinion would decisively "inform" the decision of the DPP.

"I would have thought it highly unlikely that a senior prosecutor or directing officer is going to go against the decision of a senior counsel."

Daly faces 29 counts of murder over the August 1998 car bomb, which exploded in the centre of the Co Tyrone town on a busy Saturday and killed shoppers from Ireland, Britain and Spain. A woman pregnant with twins and nine children were among the dead.

The 44-year-old bricklayer from Kilnasaggart Road, Jonesborough, County Armagh, also faces counts of causing the explosion in Omagh and possession of a bomb in the market town with intent to endanger life or property.

He is further charged with conspiring to cause an explosion and having explosives with intent in connection with a separate dissident republican bomb plot in Lisburn, County Antrim, in April that year.

Michael Chambers, counsel for the PPS, said a senior barrister had cleared his diary: "To provide a final opinion on whether or not there will be a prosecution."

Mr Chambers said the advice would be received by the DPP within two to three weeks and a decision taken within four.

A massive cross-border manhunt was launched after the bombing.

An international letter of request was sent by the authorities in Northern Ireland to police in the Republic of Ireland in August and 80% of the material requested has been collated.

Peter Corrigan, the defendant's solicitor, said there was no prima facie case.

No one has ever been convicted in connection with the Omagh massacre.

Daly lived near the Irish border before he was arrested at a retail centre car park in Newry, County Down, in April.

He appeared before the court via video link from prison where he is being held pending trial or discharge.




Cameron to take part in TV debates if N Ireland included
BBC News 27/01/15

David Cameron says he could agree to the planned TV debates if Northern Ireland's parties are included.

Mr Cameron told the BBC a deal on a format for televised debates between the party leaders could be reached if Northern Ireland were represented.

He said: "You can't have one part of the UK - Scotland or Wales - without having another part - Northern Ireland."

The make-up of the debates has been the subject of wrangling in recent weeks.




Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly should face police probe over OTR letter role, says father of murder victim
Belfast Telegraph 27/01/15

The father of a murder victim has demanded that police investigate Gerry Kelly following the collapse of an inquest into his son's death.

A coroner's inquiry into the IRA murder of Gareth O'Connor, who disappeared in May 2003, was dramatically halted yesterday after it emerged that the chief suspect in the case was incorrectly given one of the Government's "on-the-run" letters that grant IRA fugitives immunity from prosecution.

The suspect's letter was delivered to him in 2008 by Sinn Fein junior minister Gerry Kelly.

Northern Ireland's Senior Coroner John Leckey described Mr Kelly's role in the case as a "matter of public concern".

However, Mr Kelly last night insisted he did not know the identity of the murder suspect.

He also said there was nothing he could have done to help the O'Connor family.

Mr O'Connor's father Mark, who believes the IRA murdered his son, told the Belfast Telegraph that following his son's disappearance Mr Kelly had promised to help him get justice. "Whenever my son went missing I phoned Sinn Fein and asked Adams to come out. He said he was too busy so he sent Kelly down," he said.

"He sat in our house and promised he would help us. We gathered up all the information. I told him at the time I suspected this person. He took notes and said he would be back. He came back with nothing," Mr O'Connor said.

He added: "I also asked Conor Murphy to take my case to the European Commission. He said it would not do any good. I'm now asking him publicly to do that. I want Sinn Fein investigated."

However, Mr Kelly insisted there was nothing he could have done.

"Let me make it very clear that I don't know and there is no name for a recipient so, I don't know who the letter is to or what it is about," he said.

Mr Kelly added: "Clearly they (Mr O'Connor's family) were very distraught, their young son, who was a young man, had disappeared and I had sympathy for them, but there was nothing I could do to help them.

"That is the case and has remained the case ever since.

"I understand they are going through a trauma, but there was nothing I could do."

Gareth O'Connor was 24 when he disappeared in May 2003. He had been on his way to Dundalk Garda station to sign as part of his bail conditions after being charged with membership of the Real IRA. He never got there.

Two years later a car containing his body was dragged from Newry Canal.

The PSNI apologised to the O'Connor family through the Coroner's Court yesterday for mistakenly issuing the on-the-run letter.

Mr O'Connor said he did not accept the PSNI's apology and has demanded the Police Ombudsman launch an investigation into the organisation's handling of the case.

"I can't trust anyone, the police, the politicians, no one," he said.

"Why did the PSNI give this letter out. Who did it? Why did they do it? Were they returning a favour back to the IRA? What is really going on in politics and policing here?"

Mr O'Connor added: "I feel angry, upset and betrayed. We waited 12 years for this inquest only to be told this at the last minute. The PSNI kept putting back the inquest. Why?

"The hurt of losing my son has never gone away. Nobody wants to help uncover the truth. We know who did this. The PSNI know who did this. Why wait 12 years to interview him?

"What I want out of this is a conviction. There was evidence that came up (yesterday) that we were not aware of but that we should have been aware of 10 years ago had the PSNI not hidden it from us."

The suspect was issued the letter on October 22, 2008. The document stated that the then Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward had been informed by then Attorney General Baroness Scotland that the individual was not being actively sought by the authorities in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK.

In 2010 Mr Woodward said in an interview that any idea of pardons was "complete nonsense".

The DUP, UUP and SDLP have all called for an explanation from Mr Kelly and Sinn Fein.

DUP MP Ian Paisley said that if there was any evidence "of efforts by Gerry Kelly or anyone else to assist a suspect evade justice then this must also be fully considered by police".

Under the OTR plan, more than 200 people were told they were no longer wanted for paramilitary crimes committed before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The scheme was made public when the trial of John Downey collapsed. He was a suspect in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs earlier this month that the scheme for fugitive IRA members "was absolutely critical" to the peace process and at certain points "became fundamental to it".

How the controversy unfolded

MAY 2000: Then Prime Minister Tony Blair told Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams that if he provided details of those on the run, these would be examined by the Attorney General in consultation with the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions, "with a view to giving a response within a month if at all possible".

MAY 2003: Proposals by the British and Irish governments about dealing with OTRs did not receive enough support to be implemented.

DECEMBER 2006: In a secret letter from Tony Blair to Gerry Adams, he outlined mechanisms to resolve outstanding OTR cases.

FEBRUARY 2007: The PSNI began a review of people regarded as "wanted" in connection with terrorist-related offences before the Good Friday Agreement, and what basis, if any, they had to seek arrests.

FEBRUARY 2014: Details of the scheme became known when a case against a suspected IRA bomber collapsed at the Old Bailey.

JULY 2014: In her report into the OTR scheme, Lady Justice Hallett said the letters were not an amnesty and the scheme had been lawful. However, she found "significant systemic failures" in how it operated, and the letter to Mr Downey was the result of a "catastrophic mistake" by the PSNI.

JANUARY 2015: Tony Blair defends the scheme claiming it probably prevented peace process from collapsing.

JANUARY 2015: The inquest of murdered Gareth O'Connor halted after it emerged a suspect had been wrongly issued with a letter assuring him he was not being sought.




Gerry Kelly defends role over On The Run letters following halted inquest
BBC News 26/01/15

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has defended his role in the On The Runs scheme, after a man considered a chief murder suspect was mistakenly given an On the Run letter.

It emerged on Monday during an inquest into the murder of Gareth O'Connor in Newry, County Down, in May 2003.

The letter was delivered to a leading suspect by Mr Kelly in 2008.

Other political parties are now calling for an investigation into Sinn Féin's role in the issuing of the letter.

Mr O'Connor disappeared while he was travelling to Dundalk Garda Station to sign as part of his bail conditions after being charged with membership of the Real IRA.

He never arrived. In 2005, a car containing his body was dragged from Newry Canal.

His family have always believed he was killed by the Provisional IRA, despite assurances from top figures in the republican movement, including Mr Kelly, that he was not.

Mr Kelly said he did not know the identity of the murder suspect.


"Let me make it very clear that I don't know, and there is no name for a recipient so I don't know who the letter is to, or what it's about," he said.

"It is now public knowledge that my name was on most of these letters as a conduit for Sinn Féin."

Mr Kelly added that "there was never any discussion about what they might be on the run for or not on the run for", and once he passed on information to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), "the process after that belonged entirely to the NIO or police services".

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), SDLP and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) have all called for action, following the revelation that the suspect was given assurance he was not being sought by the authorities in relation to the 2003 murder.




Sinn Fein letter role probe urged
Belfast Telegraph 26/01/15

A full investigation is needed to establish Sinn Fein's role in the erroneous issuing of an on-the-run letter to the suspect in Gareth O'Connor's murder, political rivals have urged.

The Democratic Unionists, Ulster Unionist, SDLP and Traditional Unionist Voice all called for action in the wake of the revelation that the suspect was handed an assurance he was not being sought by the authorities in the relation to the 2003 murder - even though the Government scheme for administering the letters was only supposed to cover crimes up until 1998.

As Mr O'Connor's inquest was halted in Armagh today it emerged that Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly was the "conduit" through which the letter was delivered by the Government to the suspect in 2008.

Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley claimed the latest revelation demonstrated why Sinn Fein was determined the scheme would remain secret.

"This secret OTR scheme was operated for the sole benefit of republicans and since it was first uncovered we have seen just how involved Sinn Fein were in its operation," he said.

"It was shambolic in operation and in principle - a corruption of justice.

"The Government has now stated that these letters cannot be relied upon to avoid prosecution. This case once again demonstrates the importance of those words."

UUP MLA Danny Kennedy said Mr Kelly owed the O'Connor family an explanation.

"This is another damaging revelation around a corrupt scheme arranged between the Government and Sinn Fein," he said.

"It fuels a perception of a two-tier system of justice in operation whereby those in the know with Sinn Fein have been able to get their hands on letters of comfort which in some cases have had the effect of being a get out of jail free card.

"I am astounded to hear that a suspect in a murder case has not been interviewed due to him being in receipt of an OTR letter. This is not how the Criminal Justice system ought to operate.

"This murder involved the well used Provisional IRA tactic of disappearing the victim. And now we hear that an OTR letter was delivered by the postman called Gerry Kelly."

SDLP Assembly member Dominic Bradley said Mr Kelly had serious questions to answer.

"It's almost 10 years since Gareth O'Connor's body was found in a car submerged in Newry Canal," he said.

"His family, like so many others, have desperately searched for the truth about what happened to their son.

"The fact that today's inquest hearing has been postponed as a result of the discovery of an On The Run letter is deeply disturbing and leaves serious questions to be answered, not least of all by Sinn Fein and Gerry Kelly in particular."

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "That someone wanted in connection with such a recent murder received one of the letters suggests that the PSNI and Northern Ireland Office issued them without even the most elementary checks.

"It is clear that whatever Sinn Fein wanted in order to buy their support for the police, they got.

"The public will now watch with interest to see what happens with this case. Will the existence of the letter mean that the suspect never stands trial?"




Gareth O'Connor murder suspect got On the Run letter
BBC News 26/01/15

The PSNI has apologised to a murder victim's family after it emerged a man considered to be a chief suspect was mistakenly given an On the Run letter.

A lawyer for the coroner said Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly's role over the letter was a matter of public concern.

Gareth O'Connor was 24 when he disappeared in May 2003.

He had been on his way to Dundalk Garda Station to sign as part of his bail conditions after being charged with membership of the Real IRA.

He never got there. Two years later, a car containing his body was dragged from Newry Canal.

His family have always believed he was killed by the Provisional IRA, despite assurances to the contrary from senior figures in the republican movement, including Mr Kelly.

On Monday, it emerged that in 2008 an On The Run letter was issued to a leading suspect. The letter was delivered to that man by Sinn Féin MLA Mr Kelly.

Under the On the Runs letter scheme, more than 200 people were told they were not wanted for paramilitary crimes committed before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The scheme was made public when the trial collapsed of John Downey, who was a suspect in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing.

Today, the coroner read from a statement made by Gareth O'Connor's father. He said he had phoned Gerry Kelly a week after his son went missing.

He said Mr Kelly had told him he had no knowledge of the murder, but that he would look into it and get back to him if he received any other information.

The inquest has now been postponed with the coroner telling Mr O'Connor's family that the matter will now have to be investigated further with a view to a criminal prosecution.

The O'Connor family's solicitor, Paul Dougan, said: "Some quite startling revelations have emerged today, in particular the existence of an On the Run letter and the reasons why the existence of that letter has prevented the inquest starting this morning.

"The concern that I have from the family's perspective is that from late June, or the publication of this [Hallet] report [into the On the Runs issue] on 17 July of 2014 that this information was known to the authorities.

"It was known both to the Northern Ireland Office who issued this letter and it was known to the police.

"And yet the coroner only became aware of it by lunchtime on Friday and the family only became aware of it through my self late in Friday evening. That to me is the most alarming aspect of these developments today."

Lady Justice Hallett's report referred to the letter, sent to "an individual linked to two terrorism offences in the 1970s, as well as serious offences in 2003", as "error 2".

When the letter was sent from the PSNI to the office of the DPP, it included the wording "on the basis of the information currently available, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police".

There was no reference to the 2003 offence and a "wanted" flag in relation to the crime was later removed from the police computer system, at the same time that it was done for the 1970 offences.