24th July 2014
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attends Ardoyne meetings
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has held separate meetings with unionist and Orange Order leaders, and Sinn Féin over a proposal for a commission of inquiry into the disputed parade at Ardoyne.
Unionist leaders had called for a body to examine the issues around controversial march, the return route of which was banned for a second year from passing an interface area on the Crumlin Road on 12 July.
Last week, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds called upon Ms Villiers to "listen" on the issue as parading falls under her remit as Secretary of State.
Unionist politicians walked out of talks on contentious issues at Stormont at the beginning of the month over the parades watchdog's ruling.
A series of demonstrations were held as part of the Twelfth Orange parades against the restriction, but the day passed off peacefully after calls for non-violent protest.
Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast, has condemned the inquiry request and stressed that decisions over parading lies with the Parades Commission, whose members are appointed by the Secretary of State.
This was the message reiterated by deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who met with Ms Villiers on Tuesday ahead of the Unionist meeting.
He said: "The type of inquiry that is being proposed by the Unionists is a nonsense in my view.
"The situation at Ardoyne isn't going to be resolved by them cobbling together an agreement for an inquiry with Theresa Villiers, to the exclusion of everybody else.
"That's not the way this process has moved successfully over the course of the last 20 years."
Mr McGuinness said that it needed to be a process that everybody could sign up to.
After the Unionist meeting, First Minister Peter Robinson said: "Let's be very clear - we want to get cross community support for this kind of proposition.
"It doesn't fully work unless there is. There is no point in setting up a commission only to talk to Unionists.
"So let's be very clear - this isn't one-sided. Let's dispel this thought.
"The deputy First Minister
is wrong if he thinks that's our intention. Let me make it clear -
we want to have a fair outcome on Ligoniel. We're not looking for
a one sided approach."
in case against Colin Duffy
A solicitor for high profile republican Colin Duffy has expressed concerns about a "delay" in relation to a Crown case against his client.
Duffy and two co-accused appeared at Belfast Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, via video-link, where a date was due to be fixed to hold a preliminary enquiry.
Duffy, 46, from Forest Glade in Lurgan, 45-year old Henry Joseph Fitzsimons of no fixed abode, and Alex McCrory, 52, of Sliabh Dubh View in Belfast are currently on remand on various terrorist-related offences including conspiracy to murder members of the security forces and belonging to a proscribed organisation, namely the Irish Republican Army.
It is alleged that the offences were committed over a period spanning from January to December last year.
All three were arrested following a gun attack on three police vehicles on Belfast's Crumlin Road last December.
When the trio appeared in court via video link on Tuesday, all three men refused to confirm their names to a court clerk.
During the hearing, a representative from the PPS asked the court to adjourn fixing a date for the preliminary enquiry for a further four weeks.
When this request was made, a solicitor representing Duffy expressed concerns about the delay in the case.
He said the defence has requested information from the Crown asking to set out "the gist" of the evidential basis for the charges against the accused.
This information, the solicitor said, has not yet been served on the defence.
Telling the court the case was "complex", the PPS representative said the PE papers relating to the case were with senior counsel.
After asking the PPS to indicate
when these papers would be made available, the Magistrate remanded
Duffy, Fitzsimons and McCrory back into custody and re-listed the
case to next Tuesday.
court hearing postponed after bomb alert inside prison
The Army were called to Maghaberry prison yesterday morning after a suspect device was uncovered.
Details of where it was found were not made public, but it led to parts of the 1,100-inmate complex being evacuated.
The alert was sparked at around 10am and continued until it was declared an “elaborate hoax” around five hours later.
During the morning, the jail had been due to host a live video link-up as part of a court case concerning alleged members of the IRA.
Four men accused of membership of the organisation, and associated offences, were due to appear at Lisburn Magistrates’ Court via the link but were unable to be produced because of the alert, which had resulted in the prison being on “lockdown”.
Due to appear on videolink at the court were alleged terrorist leader Kevin O’Neill, 58, from Coolnasilla Park South, who faces charges of IRA membership and directing the activities of the proscribed organisation on dates between December 1, 2013, and June 25 this year; 37-year-old Robert Warnock O’Neill, from Bingnian Drive; Daniel McClean, 47, from Hannahglen Heights; and Mark Gerard Heaney, 48, from Lagmore Glen, all in west Belfast, who are also charged with IRA membership on the same dates.
Heaney’s defence lawyer Jon-Paul Shields withdrew a bail application as he had not been able to consult with his client given the lockdown.
District Judge Rosemary Watters
listed the case again on August 18.
Butcher steward as Orange march passed a Catholic church
One of the Shankill Butchers stewarded an Orange Order parade past a Catholic church in Belfast last weekend.
Eddie McIlwaine was filmed by Carrick Hill residents ushering members of the loyal orders past St Patrick’s on Donegall Street on the Twelfth.
Locals who provided Sunday Life with the image claimed the sash-wearing 61-year-old tried to hide his face when he realised that he was being pictured.
One said: “Seeing Eddie McIlwaine marshal a parade past here was insulting to the victims of the Shankill Butchers, the majority of whom were abducted from these very streets.”
McIlwaine was jailed for eight years in 1979 for being part of the Shankill Butchers gang that killed 19 Catholics and Protestants.
He was a member of the group between 1975-77 and was convicted of kidnapping, assault and possession of weapons with intent to endanger life.
The loyalist was part of a four-man ‘Butcher’ gang which abducted Catholic Gerard McLaverty in May 1977. The innocent victim was strangled, beaten with a nail-embedded stick and had his wrists slashed before being left for dead in a Shankill Road alleyway.
But, miraculously, McLaverty survived the nightmare attack – the only Shankill Butchers victim to do so – and became instrumental in helping to cage 11 of them.
A short time after his conviction, it emerged that McIlwaine had been a member of the UDR during his involvement with the terror gang.
Released from jail in 1983, McIlwaine survived a murder attempt himself when the IPLO shot him while he was driving a black taxi in Belfast, in June 1991.
Last year Sunday Life pictured him parading through east Belfast during the UVF’s 100th anniversary parade.
He wore a UVF armband emblazoned with the words ‘UVF West Belfast 1’, and a medal understood to signify time spent in prison.
McIlwaine’s involvement with the Orange Order was first revealed a decade ago when he was pictured carrying a banner commemorating UVF killer Brian Robinson at the controversial Whiterock parade.
A spokesman for the Orange Order defended the Shankill Butcher’s role in the organisation, saying: “I can confirm that Eddie McIlwaine is a member of that lodge and in good standing — meaning he is fully paid up.
“Mr McIlwaine was not convicted of murder. He served his prison term and was not released under the (Good Friday) Agreement.
“There are people of varying political persuasions who have done things other people would find abhorrent, not all of whom served their prison sentences.
“As long as Mr McIlwaine upholds the principle of the institution and has paid his debt to society he has done nothing wrong.”
The parade past St Patrick’s in Donegall Street was at the centre of controversy when Sinn Féin accused some bandsmen of “multiple breaches” of the Parades Commission ban on music outside the church.
Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín said: “Several loyalist bands clearly flouted the Parades Commission’s ruling that bands should play only a single drumbeat close to and outside St Patrick’s Church in Donegall St.
“One band even started to play the infamous Famine Song as they passed the chapel.
“Ultimately the Orange Order is responsible for these breaches as it hires these bands. Time and time again the bands chose to stick two fingers up at the parishioners of St Patrick’s.
“The Orange Order claims it wants respect for its expression of culture but respect is a two-way street.”
There was a minor scuffle during
the return parade in the evening when some supporters pushed and shoved
against police as they attempted to accompany one Shankill Road band
up the street to their destination at Clifton Street.
John Downey - now second IRA court case could collapse over OTR comfort
Exclusive: Man facing murder bid charge after PSNI claim they’ve fresh evidence
A suspected IRA gunman is claiming a murder bid charge against him should be dropped because he has a ‘comfort letter’ from the Government.
Mick Burns, 66, stands accused of trying to kill an off-duty prison officer in north Belfast in 1977.
But he is challenging the case, claiming he was issued with a written assurance in 2003 that he was not wanted for arrest.
The court battle — which has striking parallels with the John Downey case - looks set to test government claims that the letters are worthless if new evidence is discovered.
Police claim that Burns was shot when the prison officer returned fire on two gunmen who ambushed him at his Oldpark Avenue home.
Another gunman was caught at the scene — IRA man Jimmy Smith who later made international headlines as a Maze escaper who fled to San Francisco, California. Smyth was extradited back to the UK in 1996 following a legal battle which sparked a political row on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now, 37 years after the Oldpark Avenue shooting, the case against Mick Burns has become embroiled in the political row over ‘comfort letters’.
Police say that DNA taken from a motorcycle helmet found at the scene links Burns to the murder attempt on the jailer.
Burns is also accused of possessing a revolver and quantity of bullets with intent to endanger life, to the attack.
The frail pensioner, who is battling cancer, declined to talk about his comfort letter when we called to his flat in the Cliftonville area of the city on Friday.
“I don't want to speak about my case because it is still ongoing,” he said.
The issuing of a comfort letter to Burns was raised at a High Court hearing in Dublin in April.
The Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service was seeking access to medical reports concerning the veteran republican's time in Portlaoise Prison.
Opposing the move, Burns's solicitor, Michael Finucane, said his client had received assurances from the British government that he was not wanted for arrest, questioning or charge by the PSNI.
Mr Finucane then told the court that Burns had received a letter in 2003 confirming he was free to return to Northern Ireland to live without fear of arrest.
Sinn Fein yesterday insisted he should not be prosecuted.
A spokesman said: “Sinn Féin was involved in a legal and confidential process which dealt with the legacy issue of on-the-runs.
“Sinn Féin continues to support and work with Mick Burns and his family and friends in his legal challenge to what is in our view a derogation from the Weston Park commitments.”
More than 220 names were put forward to the government between 2000 and 2014, with 156 receiving letters of assurance.
A team of PSNI detectives is now reviewing all the cases, but the process could take years.
On Friday, Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said fresh evidence had been found in “less than 10 cases” and these would be forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service.
A spokesperson for the PPS told Sunday Life: “PPS is in receipt of two live files from PSNI with respect to on-the-runs. In one of these cases a decision to prosecute has been taken and it is currently before the courts and the other is under active consideration.
“We are aware of a number of on-going police investigations and inquiries in relation to the OTRs and expect further papers may be submitted to this office in due course.”
Last night, DUP MP Ian Paisley said: “The Government has said in parliament that it will take any steps necessary to ensure that no letter will act as a barrier to justice.
“We will be holding them to account on this pledge.”
Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott said that the case would be a major tests for the process.
“We want all the letters rescinded,” he said.
On Thursday, Lady Justice Hallett published her findings that the scheme, although “lawful” and not an amnesty, had “significant systematic failures” in how it was operated.
Her inquiry was launched after the prosecution against John Downey for the IRA’s Hyde Park murders in 1982 collapsed because he had wrongly been issued with a comfort letter in 2007 saying he was not wanted.
Mick Burns first appeared in Belfast Magistrates' Court in April last year when it was alleged that he refused to comment during 15 police interviews.
Opposing bail a PSNI detective expressed fears that the pensioner, who was revealed to have served time at Portlaoise prison, could “abscond again”.
A defence solicitor outlined how Burns suffered from serious medical conditions including lung disease and blood disorders.
He also claimed that Burns had
been “living openly” in Northern Ireland for the last
15 years. He was freed on bail and told to report to police daily,
surrender his passport, and not to have any contact with other “ASU”
(Active Service Unit) individuals who were named during his police
City Hall peace rally to highlight suffering in Gaza is marred by
Scuffles broke out at a public rally in Belfast to highlight suffering in Gaza at the weekend.
During Saturday's rally outside Belfast City Hall there were scuffles between pro-Palestinian supporters and loyalist flag protesters.
The rally, organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), was taking place at around 3pm when some of those involved in an earlier flag protest waved an Israeli flag, sparking the confrontation.
Several men tried to pull the Israeli flag from the grasp of a woman holding it. Police separated the two groups.
No arrests were made.
In Londonderry more than a thousand people linked arms on the city's Peace Bridge in a show of solidarity with the people of Gaza.
Meanwhile, thousands of people marched through central London to call for an end to Israel's ground campaign and air strikes in Gaza and other demonstrations took place at locations across the globe.
SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell has called on the international community to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis.
"The world has witnessed the ongoing mass murder of Palestinian civilians in the latest series of Israeli air strikes in Gaza," Dr McDonnell said.
"The utter disregard for human life must be condemned and every effort employed to put an end to the bloodshed.
"This latest bombardment of the people of Gaza shows a total disregard for both the Geneva Convention and international law."
Dr McDonnell said Hamas' "indiscriminate
firing of rockets into Israel is wrong and must stop", and said
that this was "no justification whatsoever for the murder of
hundreds of civilians".
Star of the Sea Church in Newtownabbey damaged in arson attack
An overnight arson attack on a Catholic church in Newtownabbey, County Antrim, is being treated as a hate crime.
The damage was discovered shortly before 01:30 BST at St Mary's Star of the Sea Church on the Shore Road in Newtownabbey.
It is believed flammable liquid was used in the attack, which caused scorch damage to the front door of the church.
A police spokesman said they were treating the incident as a hate crime and appealed for information.
The church has been targeted a
number of times previously. Last September, a petrol bomb and paint
were thrown at the church.
Villiers to meet Peter Robinson over parades
The First Minister will meet the Secretary of State on Tuesday to press her to set up a special commission on parading along the Crumlin Road.
It is part of the response by the unionist leaders and the loyal orders after the Parades Commission banned Orange lodges from Ligoniel from passing the Ardoyne shops on a parade on the evening of July 12.
Mr Robinson acknowledged that the proposal was originally put forward by the Belfast Telegraph and drew on ideas in the very Parades Commission determination he objected to.
He said: "It would be useful if what I can refer to as the Belfast Telegraph/Unionist leaders joint proposal was acceptable, that would be a good way forward."
He added: "I think it is a reasonable proposition and I notice that even the Parades Commission in their determination indicated that there were a range of issues they were being asked to deal with which were cultural and political beyond their scope. If that is the case then let's have a body set up which can look at those matters and everyone can have their say."
He argued "it could well have lessons for any wider consideration of flags, parading and the past and I am linking it to that".
Ms Villiers, the Secretary of State, said she will give the idea careful consideration.
She stated: "Much of this seems to flow from the determination of the Parades Commission. They made some very reasonable points about having a managed, structured way, to bring people together in North Belfast.
"I think these proposals, whether they are from the Belfast Telegraph, the Parades Commission or the leaders of unionism, need to be reflected on carefully."
She added: "I won't make
a decision before speaking to others, especially the Parades Commission
and the Deputy First Minister."
'facing prosecution' warns Peter Robinson
The First Minister has said that files on some on-the-run suspects who had received letters of assurance have been forwarded to the DPP.
Robinson suggested that new letters may soon go to OTR suspects invalidating or qualifying the old ones to remove any bar to prosecution.
"The PSNI have set up a dedicated unit which is investigating all of the OTR cases and as a result of that they have already started to put files through to the Public Prosecution Service for prosecutions of those who have received letters of comfort," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Yesterday Drew Harris of the PSNI revealed that new evidence has already been found on 10 suspects.
Mr Robinson believes that it will take the PSNI four years to check the remaining OTR letters. He is seeking ways to speed up this process.
He said: "I feel that we should be looking at the resources of the PSNI to find out whether they could expedite this process if additional resources were made available. You could have some court cases coming up that have not been properly processed so the letters need to go out as quickly as possible."
The DUP leader was reacting to suggestions from Stephen Cooper, a TUV spokesman, that he should resign because the Hallett review of on-the-run letters did not meet his conditions.
Mr Robinson had specified that the report should reveal details of terrorist suspects who received letters and should result in the letters being rescinded.
Mr Cooper accused the DUP leader of going "on the run from his promise".
"I don't accept that I didn't get what I asked for. What I required was to have a judge-led inquiry. I got that. I never set down any conditions beyond that," Mr Robinson said.
He argued: "I don't accept that the issue of the rescinding of letters is something that is over. There is a clear recommendation from Lady Justice Hallett in her report that indicates that the Secretary of State needs to take steps to ensure that the issue is dealt with.
"I am happy to say that the Secretary of State gave a public formal undertaking... that she will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the letters form no bar to prosecution in the future."
Mr Robinson added: "When
I met with Lady Justice Hallett she said that if she was to publish
them that could be the basis for an abuse of process application which
would allow people to avoid prosecution and to avoid justice."
alert at Alliance Party office
A suspicious object found outside an Alliance Party office in east Belfast has been declared a hoax.
The suspicious package was discovered outside the building on the Newtownards Road on Friday night.
It followed a telephone warning received by UTV just after 9.30pm.
Army bomb squad officers examined the object and declared it a hoax.
The scene was sealed off between North Road and Park Avenue for a time.
It is the latest in a series of incidents targeting the property.
Local Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, who shares the office with East Belfast MP Naomi Long, said: "This incident is yet another attack on the hardworking Alliance team in east Belfast who serve everyone in the community.
"Alliance will continue to work for everyone in east Belfast and this incident will not deter us from serving our constituency on the mandate we have been given."
The security alert ended in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Detectives have appealed for anyone who witnessed anyone acting suspiciously in the area or anyone with information to contact them.
Earlier a spokesperson for the PSNI said: "Police appreciate the disruption this will cause in the area and thank the local community for their continued patience while we deal with this incident."
The Newtownards Road has reopened.
Robinson rejects Sinn Fein call for talks resumption
First Minister Peter Robinson has rejected Sinn Féin's call for a resumption of all-party talks on parades, flags and the past.
The appeal for a return to negotiations came from Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.
He said now that the On The Runs Report has been published, unionists should get back around the talks table.
But in a BBC interview, Mr Robinson said he did not believe a resumption of formal talks would achieve anything.
He said unionists' focus was on their campaign for a commission of inquiry on parades, which would be raised again at a meeting with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers next week.
At the start of this month, unionist parties walked out of talks about parades, flags and the past, in protest at a Parades Commission determination barring an Orange Order parade from returning along part of the Crumlin Road in north Belfast.
The Stormont talks came six months after the last major push to resolve the outstanding issues - chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan - ended without agreement.
Asked about a Sunday newspaper report that he would be replaced as DUP leader in September, Mr Robinson described the story as "garbage" and said speculation about his future had become "boring".
Also in the interview, the DUP leader accused Sinn Féin of foot-dragging on the latest financial monitoring round at Stormont and claimed funding for the Historical Abuse Inquiry (HAI) was at risk.
He said if the dispute was not resolved, the abuse inquiry would have to be suspended.
Sinn Féin said it had been attempting to get the DUP to agree the June monitoring round for the last two weeks.
"But this cannot be based on a unilateral DUP imposition of an arbitrary £87m in Tory cuts in a routine monitoring round. Tory cuts are a political issue that should be separated out and dealt with by the executive collectively," the party's Daithí McKay said.
"The June monitoring round can and should be agreed quickly and the money made available for the work of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry and for the large number of other projects affected."
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the inquiry should not be under any threat.
"While the inquiry is dependent
on monitoring funds, it is inconceivable to the Ulster Unionist Party
that the Northern Ireland Executive would allow the Historical Institutional
Abuse Inquiry to be wound up early for the lack of resources,"
Meanwhile, Mr Robinson said the terms of reference for the UK's abuse inquiry should include the Kincora Boys' Home in east Belfast.
In 1981, three senior care staff at the east Belfast home were jailed for abusing 11 boys.
The chair of the Historical Abuse Inquiry, Sir Anthony Hart, has said the HAI "does not have sufficient powers" to investigate some of the allegations relating to Kincora.
Mr Robinson said: "I want to see a full investigation into the terrible abuses which occurred in Kincora.
"Having received this communication from Sir Anthony, it is clear that the proper route to fully investigate the abuse at Kincora Boys' Home is to have it included in our United Kingdom's Child Abuse Inquiry."