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Latest News

26th March 2015




On this day...

  • 1779 - First Volunteer Corps formed
  • 1922 - Liam Lynch appointed Chief of Staff at IRA Convention
  • 1981 - Announcement that IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands would contest Westminster elections

 


 

"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

 

 

 

Police link UDA to Coleraine murder attempt
UTV News 26/03/15

Police believe gunmen linked to the UDA attempted to murder a man in Coleraine in the early hours on Thursday.

The victim, aged in his 20s, was shot at a house in Maple Drive just before 4am - but tried to escape.

His attackers, though, pursued him before shooting him several more times in the arms and legs outside his house.

Senior officers say his injuries aren't life-threatening, but they are life-changing.

The attack happened in Coleraine's Millburn district - a strongly loyalist area – when a gang of four masked men forced their way into the property.

The police believe the loyalist gang behind the shooting may be connected to a series of gun attacks across Coleraine and north Antrim this year - the murder of Brian McIlhagga in Ballymoney in January and three other punishment style attacks earlier this month.

Murder victim Brian McIlhagga was beaten and shot by masked and armed men in the Riverview Park area of the town on Monday, 5 January.

At the time, police said the father-of-five suffered a "sustained and vicious attack".

The 42-year-old had been visiting a friend. She was also injured in the attack and needed hospital treatment for her injuries.

The other attacks occurred within the space of five days.

A 45-year-old man was assaulted by men armed with baseball bats in the Carnany Drive area of Ballymoney on Sunday, 15 March just after 8pm.

A man in his 30s was shot in the legs by masked men as he sat in a car on the Dunluce Road, Bushmills on Tuesday, 17 March at 12.30am.

A man in his 40s was shot by masked men, who arrived at a house on the Finvoy Road, Ballymoney on Thursday, 19 March at about 9.45pm. He was shot in both legs and one arm.

At a police press conference on Thursday, Superintendent John Magill said: “We cannot discard the possibility that these incidents are linked and a strong line of enquiry concerns the involvement of loyalist paramilitaries. I also believe that the people involved in these offences may be closely aligned to the UDA.

“These attacks are absolutely unacceptable and there is no place for this type of activity in a civilised society. I also know that the vast majority of people in Ballymoney and north Antrim do not support these paramilitary style attacks," he continued.

Supt Magill appealed for the community’s support and information as police work to identify those responsible for the attacks.

“I would ask specifically that anyone who saw suspicious activity in the Maple Drive area at around 4am this morning provides that information to police.

“Indeed any person with information on any of these recent incidents should contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or contact police on the non-emergency number 101.”

 

 

 

Paramilitary tribute added to publicly funded WW1 memorial garden in Belfast
BBC News 26/03/15

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has been criticised after a World War One memorial garden it paid for was re-imaged with a paramilitary tribute.

The £22,000 memorial garden, in south Belfast's Village area, was built by the NIHE to commemorate the WW1 dead.

Recently however, loyalists have added a memorial stone to Ulster Volunteer Force members killed in the Troubles.

The NIHE said it is trying to reach agreement with the local community to have the paramilitary display removed.

"Very angry"

NIHE staff have also been denied access to the garden after the locks they placed on the gates were changed.

The garden was built by the NIHE as a replacement for a previous paramilitary-style UVF memorial that had been removed during housing redevelopment in the Village.

In a statement, a NIHE spokesman said: "The Housing Executive did not provide a UVF memorial. Instead, we provided a garden that reflects the sacrifices of men from south Belfast during the First World War."

The garden was paid from the NIHE's own budget and money provided by Europe Union peace funding.

The EU fund is designed "to encourage greater levels of social integration in the housing sector" and "help promote the idea of a shared society".

But the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) MLA John Dallat said the scheme will now have the opposite effect.

"I am very disappointed and very angry that public money intended to bring communities together is being spent in away that promotes division and regenerates paramilitary groups that should have been gotten rid of," Mr Dallat said.

"The UVF memorial stone should be taken away because it dishonours and disfigures the very men the project was intended to honour."

'Whinging and complaining'

However, the NIHE spokesman said: "Great care was taken in consultation with the local community about the design of this garden in order to ensure there would be no paramilitary imagery included. The contract also clearly stipulated this."

"We are disappointed that since its construction, other images have been added to the garden. We did not agree to any additional images.

"We are now trying to reach agreement with the local community to remove the additional images. The lock currently on the garden was not provided by the Housing Executive."

UKIP Belfast City Councillor Bob Stoker, who works in a neighbourhood renewal scheme in the Village area, said: "We are looking at moving on and putting the past behind us.

"We can't go on whinging and complaining at every turn.

"It is in a local area that is not going to give offence to anyone, and I have not heard anyone making an complaints about it," Mr Stoker added.

'Dangerous'

A spokesperson for the Housing Executive added: "Issues around expressions of cultural identity and sense of place, which manifest themselves in mural, monuments and flags, are extremely difficult and often dangerous to deal with.

"The Housing Executive has been at the forefront of moving towards more acceptable expressions of cultural identity.

"Over recent years we have been working with others to roll out a successful programme of re-imaging to encourage communities to move away from aggressive expressions of cultural identity to more inclusive, historically accurate and informative depictions of our history.

'Aggressive expressions'

"Despite the work that we and others have carried out over recent years, many of our existing estates are single identity and segregated."

It is thought there are around 100 memorials - 53 of them republican and 47 loyalist - on NIHE property.

According to the executive, the Village memorial and another at Annadale in south Belfast were the only two of this type paid for and built by the NIHE.

"We have however, provided support for numerous re-imaging projects across Northern Ireland, helping communities to move away from more aggressive expressions of cultural identity," the executive's spokesman said.

 

 

 

16 Irish republicans received royal pardons since 2000
BBC News 25/03/15

Sixteen republicans received royal pardons between 2000 and 2002, the Northern Ireland Office has disclosed.

The NIO gave fresh details about when the pardons were given after Tuesday's confirmation by Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly that he too was a recipient.

It said the current government had not used the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in relation to Northern Ireland.

The pardons allow changes in sentences without the backing of or consultation with parliament.

The NIO said those issued between 2000 and 2002 were "in relation to individuals who for technical reasons fell outside the letter of the [prisoner] Early Release Scheme".

 

 

 

Francis Rowntree inquest: Coroner reflects on soldier's health
BBC News 25/03/15

A coroner has said he will reflect carefully on whether a soldier who fired a rubber bullet that killed a boy is too ill to give evidence.

Coroner Jim Kitson said the inquest into the death of 11-year-old Francis Rowntree in 1972 would be "severely hampered" if he could not attend.

He said the man's heart condition had to be a factor when deciding whether to compel him to give evidence.

The coroner told the preliminary hearing it was a "fine balancing act".

Disputed

Francis was playing with friends at the Divis Flats complex off the Falls Road in west Belfast in April 1972 when he was struck on the head by the rubber bullet. He died in hospital several days later.

Controversy surrounds the shooting, with disputed claims about whether the young boy was struck directly or hit by a ricochet, and if the bullet had been doctored to make it potentially cause more injury.

The former Royal Anglian Regiment member who fired the rubber bullet is known to the court as soldier B.

A barrister for the Ministry of Defence told the hearing that soldier B's consultant cardiologist had expressed "significant reservations" about his fitness to attend, in a report produced for the coroner's court.

"It appears on the face of it to be quite a severe condition involving multiple medical interventions over the years," the lawyer said.

He added: "The likelihood of a heart attack or death would be small but not zero.

"There is a significant risk to the health of this man to compel him to give evidence."

A barrister representing the Rowntree family said a number of steps could be taken to make the witness feel at ease.

She suggested the former soldier could give evidence via video-link; there could be regular breaks in the hearing; medical assistance could be on standby and the court could be partially cleared.

She told the coroner: "You know the gravity of the case and you know he's essentially the key witness and very important to the case."

Mr Kitson said: "This is a key witness and clearly the inquest would be severely hampered if this witness is not in attendance, but I'm acutely aware of the impact on this man's health.

"It's a fine balancing act between the two prerogatives and pressures - I will reflect on this very carefully."

The inquest is due to begin on 27 April.

 

 

 

Nigel Dodds asks David Cameron to list republicans who got pardons
BBC News 25/03/15

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds has asked the prime minister to release all the names of republicans who have been granted royal pardons.

On Tuesday, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly confirmed on Radio Ulster that he had received one.

Mr Dodds raised the issue in the House of Commons. David Cameron said he would consider what more the government could do to be transparent.

He added that past governments had had to make difficult decisions for peace.

The Royal Prerogative of Mercy, commonly known as a royal pardon, allows changes in sentences without the backing of or consultation with parliament.

Last year, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers disclosed that 365 royal pardons had been issued between 1979 and 2002. It is not clear how many of those pardoned were members of paramilitary groups, or what proportion, if any, were members of the security forces.

In the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Dodds asked: "Would the prime minister now list in the library of the House all those other Sinn Féin members and leading republicans who have likewise received a royal pardon, so that republicans in Northern Ireland can know which of their stalwart leaders have either begged or asked or received probably on bended knee such a royal pardon - and secondly, so that everyone can know in the country which governments have been involved in such nefarious activities?"

Mr Cameron replied: "I will look very carefully at what the member asks and what more we can do to be transparent."

He went on: "Governments in the past have had to make difficult decisions with respect to Northern Ireland to try to bring parties together and produce the peaceful outcome we have today.

"That has involved difficult compromises and things that he and probably I have found at times deeply distasteful. But sometimes in the pursuit of peace these things have to be done."

Kelly extradition

Mr Kelly was arrested in the Netherlands in 1986, about three years after he escaped from the Maze prison.

The British authorities applied to extradite him, but the Dutch Supreme Court would not allow it on the basis of charges for which he had already been convicted.

However, they did allow the extradition to go ahead on the basis of several charges that the British authorities wanted to bring in relation to the Maze escape.

According to a Sinn Féin source, the UK government chose to use the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in order to quash his convictions that pre-dated the Maze escape, in order to extradite him to face charges in connection with the escape.

Upon his return to Northern Ireland, he spent another few years in jail.

 

 

 

Glenanne gang: Notorious death squad 'fuelled by collusion'
Nuzhound 25/03/15

Four decades on, their name continues to evoke fear and revulsion.

The Glenanne gang was a loyalist Mid-Ulster murder squad which, it is alleged, included members of the security forces.

The terror group was linked to 120 murders across Counties Armagh and Tyrone over a five-year period in the 1970s, and one of its most notorious members was Robin Jackson, also known as the Jackal, who died in 1998 aged 50.

Reportedly an agent of RUC Special Branch, former UDR member Jackson is believed to have been involved in around 50 murders including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 and the Miami Showband massacre in 1975.

Since 2003 the group's activities have also been investigated by independent inquiries: the 2006 Cassel Report, and three reports commissioned by Irish Supreme Court Justice Henry Barron, known as the Barron Reports.

Father-of-three Patrick Campbell, believed to have been the gang's first victim, was gunned down at his Banbridge home in 1973. He had previously worked with Jackson at a shoe factory.

His widow has alleged police and Army officers colluded to protect her husband's killers. Nobody has ever been convicted for the attack.

The Miami Showband were returning from performing at a dance in Banbridge when their minibus was flagged down by men dressed in Army uniforms. Band members were told to line up in a ditch while UVF terrorists tried to place a bomb inside the minibus, which the loyalists hoped would explode as the band returned to Dublin. The bomb blew up prematurely, killing UVF members Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville. Both were also in the UDR.

After the explosion the gang opened fire on the band, killing lead singer Fran O'Toole, trumpet player Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy. Guitarist Stephen Travers and Des Lee survived.

The following year the Glenanne gang killed two sets of Catholic brothers, the Reaveys and O'Dowds, and attacked two bars in south Armagh.

John, Brian and Anthony Reavey were shot at their home in Whitecross, Co Armagh, on January 4, 1976. Joseph, Barry and Declan O'Dowd were murdered near Gilford on the same night.Colm McCartney was murdered at Altmackin in August 1975; Trevor Brecknell was killed at Donnelly's Bar, Silverbridge, in December 1975 and Michael McGrath was wounded in a gun attack at the Rock Bar, Keady in June 1976.

The gang's murderous campaign was revisted in a 2013 book that claimed collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries reached systemic levels during some of the worst years of the Troubles.

The book by Anne Cadwallader, Lethal Allies: British Collusion In Ireland, reported a number of then serving police officers and UDR members were part of the loyalist gang.

The author claimed new evidence of co-operation between the police, Army and loyalists further emphasised the need for a truth recovery process here.

Produced by the Pat Finucane Centre in Belfast, the book focused on the killings attributed to the gang, including the UVF Step Inn pub bombing in Keady in August 1976, which killed two.

The book alleged that RUC Special Branch was aware of the planned car bomb attack 10 days before, but failed to stop it.

Referring to the cases investigated, the centre said: "Lethal Allies concludes it can be demonstrated, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was systemic collusion in these cases and that such denials of human rights never contribute towards peace but merely serve to fuel conflict."

 

 

 

State 'involved in mass murder on British soil, colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths'
Belfast Telegraph 24/03/15

The state was involved in mass murder on British soil, a lawyer has told a coroner's court.

The security forces colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths between July 1972 and June 1978 in Northern Ireland's "murder triangle" in counties Armagh and Tyrone, Leslie Thomas QC said.

He said many were carried out by the Glenanne Gang of gunmen with the alleged involvement of soldiers and police officers.

Mr Thomas said it could take a year to hear inquests and compared the task to that of investigating the Hillsborough football disaster.

"If what we say is right this is the biggest involvement of state agents in mass murder on British soil," he said.

He added: "We say that what the families of the bereaved want, quite simply can be put in a few words: they want the truth, they want the truth to come out, they want justice."

Mr Thomas was addressing a preliminary hearing in Belfast of two inquests involving a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bombing at the Step Inn in Keady in Co Armagh in 1976 during which Catholics Elizabeth McDonald, 38, and Gerard McGleenan, 22, died.

He said the same weapons were used in many of the Glenanne murders and the killers adopted the same modus operandi, accused the authorities of state-sponsored terrorism and claimed one individual involved in killing Ms McDonald should have been dealt with sooner.

He said: "The murder of Betty McDonald could have been avoided, could have been avoided had that individual been taken off the street earlier on or the weapons been taken off the street earlier on, or there had not been the collusion amongst state agents in covering up earlier murders then in terms of Betty McDonald's right to life we say she may be still here today, living long into life with her husband."

The UVF gang operated out of farms in Armagh and Tyrone in the mid 1970s when the Troubles were at their worst.

Lawyers for the victims have insisted only a public inquiry or an inquest covering all the deaths can get to the truth of the collusion claims. Senior coroner John Leckey said he was constrained by the resources available to his office.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has found "indisputable evidence" of security force collusion in the group.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has declined to be represented at the inquest. No submission has been made to her seeking a public inquiry but Mr Thomas said the McDonald family was not surprised she allegedly did not want to be involved.

He added: "This is the biggest case of state collusion in mass murder of innocent individuals. This is a state murdering its own, you cannot get bigger than that, and therefore while one sees and understands and looks at what is happening in Hillsborough, if what we say has occurred on, lets face it, British soil, why should that not be investigated?

"British security agents being involved in deaths of British citizens, it does not get worse than that."

Mother-of-three Ms McDonald and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) footballer Mr McGleenan were killed when a no-warning loyalist bomb detonated outside the Step Inn pub and nearby houses in August 1976. Twenty-five other people were injured.

Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC ordered the new inquest.

Mr Thomas acknowledged there had been convictions in some of the other killings he said were linked, but he added a narrow criminal investigation was not enough.

He said across the cases there had been a repetition of similar failings by the investigating authorities, a lack of criminal convictions, the killings happened in close proximity to each other, and created similar victims while pursuing similar modus operandi.

He added the deaths involved a similar group of individuals involved in a number of attacks.

"Many of those responsible were either serving or former members of the security forces. There were close ballistic links between the victims, the weapons used in many of the killings which originated within the Ulster Defence Regiment (a branch of the army recruited in Northern Ireland)."

He quoted the HET report: "Despite the obvious pattern and linkages between these offences, only cursory efforts have been made to investigate further.

"No determined efforts were made to investigate them in a meaningful fashion.

"This (Step Inn) bombing could have been prevented and should have been detected."

Mr Thomas said precedents for a linked series of inquests were given by that into the deaths of Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko and Azelle Rodney, who was allegedly shot dead by Met Police.

He told Mr Leckey: "I can connect and join the dots in relation to various individuals who were named here to various atrocities, various bombings, various shootings, various matters and I can make the link on various weapons, various ballistics.

"This document enables me to tie up individuals."

 

 

 

Kelly – ‘I received royal pardon’
UTV News 24/03/15

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly has admitted he received a royal pardon from the Queen during the Troubles.

The North Belfast MLA, who was handed two life sentences after being convicted for his role in the IRA's Old Bailey bombing in 1973, said he was given a Royal Prerogative of Mercy in the mid-1980s as part of a legal deal to secure his extradition back to the UK from the Netherlands.

Mr Kelly was arrested in Holland three years after his 1983 escape from the Maze prison in Northern Ireland.

He was extradited back to Northern Ireland in 1986 and spent three more years in the Maze before his release in 1989.

The disclosure about the royal pardon came during an exchange on BBC Radio Ulster with TUV leader Jim Allister over the contents of a Westminster report on the on-the-run scheme.

While the inquiry by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee dealt primarily with those on-the-runs outside the jurisdiction who had not yet been charged with an offence, it also touched on those convicted of offences who were able to return after securing a royal pardon.

The committee had expressed concern that the names of those who had received such pardons had not been made public.

When Mr Allister challenged Mr Kelly on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback show about whether he had a Royal Prerogative of Mercy, the republican replied: "Actually, I have."

Mr Kelly stressed he was not dealt with under the scheme for on-the-runs, that saw around 190 letters of assurance sent to republicans.

"It was after an escape but it wasn't a letter to do with on-the-runs or to do with this scheme at all," he said.

"The Dutch said they would not extradite me unless the British quashed the sentences - it was up to the British to quash the sentences whatever way they wanted to quash them.

"If they chose to produce a prerogative then that's the way it did - I didn't care what way it was done.

"The point was I came back to Ireland as a remand prisoner as opposed to someone who was doing this length of sentence because the Dutch - their courts - came to the conclusion that it was unjust."

The Government has previously acknowledged that a number of pardons were issued in terrorism-related cases during and after the Troubles.

Mr Allister said he had written to Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers to demand details about how and why a pardon was issued to Mr Kelly.

"This is the first time that this information has come into the public domain and I have today written to the Secretary of State demanding answers on what exactly Kelly was pardoned for," he said.

The TUV leader added: "This latest revelation is yet another reminder of the peace process's ‘heart of darkness’.”

Last year, the Northern Ireland Office revealed the Royal Prerogative of Mercy had been issued on 365 occasions between 1979 and 2002.

However, the actual total could well be higher as NIO records for a 10 year period from 1987 to 1997 could not be found.

 

 

 

Gerry Kelly: On the Runs report is an 'attack on Sinn Féin'
BBC News 24/03/15

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has said the Northern Ireland Affairs committee to investigate the On the Runs scheme was "set up as a political attack on Sinn Féin".

Speaking after the Northern Ireland Affairs committee published a report into the scheme, he said that the parties represented on the committee were present when a public announcement was made in 2001 about the On the Run situation.

The report found that the integrity of the criminal justice system had been damaged by the controversial scheme.

It involved the provision of so-called "comfort letters" by the government designed to give them assurances that they were not being sought by police.

 

 

 

IRA fugitives granted 'possibly unlawful' amnesty linked to 1980s atrocities
The Guardian 24/03/15

MPs question legality of letters of assurance given almost 100 ‘on the runs’ including six linked to 1983 Harrods bomb and 1987 Enniskillen massacre

Six IRA fugitives connected to two of the most notorious atrocities of the Northern Ireland Troubles were among those given “get-out-of-jail cards” under a controversial scheme that MPs have described as possibly unlawful.

The six IRA “on the runs” are suspects in the 1983 Harrods bomb that killed six people outside the London department store and the Enniskillen massacre four years later in which 11 people died, the Guardian has learned.

Security sources in Northern Ireland say one of the six, who is wanted for questioning over the 1987 Poppy Day explosion in the County Fermanagh town, is at present living in England.

The six were among almost 100 IRA activists who were given “letters of assurance” from Tony Blair’s government as part of moves to secure Sinn Féin’s support for policing and justice reforms under devolution.

In a report published on Tuesday, the Northern Ireland affairs select committee said it was questionable whether the scheme was lawful and concluded it had distorted the legal process.

The republican party had petitioned the then Labour government to introduce the scheme in order that 95 republicans wanted for almost 300 crimes including murder would no longer fear arrest and conviction if they returned to Northern Ireland or Britain.

Sinn Féin argued that the 95 were strong backers of the peace process and their removal from police wanted lists would bolster support for new policing and justice arrangements within the wider republican community.

The committee’s report into the scheme criticised a number of figures and institutions including the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Tony Blair’s government for the way it was run and their roles in relation to it.

The report stated: “It is questionable whether the “on-the-runs” (OTR) scheme was lawful or not, but we believe its existence distorted the legal process. We accept that there was a difficult peace process going on at the time, but believe that there still has to be transparency and accountability in government and in the legal process.”

It accused both the then government and the NIO of cloaking the scheme in secrecy and discriminating against the rest of Northern Irish society just to placate one party – Sinn Féin.

It also severely criticised the current Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers, over her refusal during hearings to the committee to disclose the names of individuals on the scheme who were specifically granted the royal prerogative of mercy. The committee described the secretary of state’s decision not to reveal these names as wholly unacceptable.

The parliamentary committee, which includes a number of unionist and nationalist MPs from Northern Ireland, said the scheme should never have been run the way it was designed.

In the report, the MPs recommend that future governments ensure “that all necessary steps are taken, including, if necessary, introducing legislation to ensure the letters have no legal effect”.

Sir Laurence Robertson QC, the chairman of the committee, said the victims of IRA violence had been let down by the way the government operated the OTR scheme.

“If any scheme had been put in place at all, which is questionable, it should have been properly introduced and correctly administered. It also should have been open and transparent. This scheme was none of those things.

“Regardless of the intentions, this scheme has caused further hurt to people who have suffered far too much already, and has led to further suspicions being raised.”

The six IRA OTRs currently being investigated are linked to the Harrods and Enniskillen bombs. One security source in Northern Ireland told the Guardian: “These are the two major incidents under investigation in which these individuals are connected to and wanted for questioning. These are new cases and will fully test the legality of the OTR scheme.”

He added that the investigation “might be complicated” by one Enniskillen bomb suspect. The former IRA activist from Northern Ireland disappeared from the province several years ago amid claims that he was about to be exposed as a long-term British agent. He is understood to be living on a state witness protection programme under a new identity in England.

One of the 95 IRA OTRs, John Downey, was arrested and charged in 2013 with the London Hyde Park bombings in which four British soldiers were killed. However, the case against the convicted IRA man from County Donegal collapsed after his legal team produced one of the letters of assurance in the Old Bailey revealing the existence of the “comfort letters”.

Commenting on the Downey trial, the report criticised the judge and the prosecution for seeking out witness statements on the nature of the OTR scheme from other parties in the case.

During hearings to the committee earlier this year, Tony Blair told the MPs that “the issue of OTRs was absolutely critical to the peace process and at certain points became fundamental to it ... I think it is likely that the process would have collapsed.”

The state’s pursuit of the six IRA OTRs over the Harrods and Enniskillen massacres will again raise fears of destabilisation within the wider republican community.

Hardline dissident republicans will accuse Sinn Féin of no longer being able to defend the IRA’s “most wanted” activists from future arrests and prosecutions.

 

 

 

Gregory Campbell blasts Stormont speaking ban as "absurd"
Belfast Live 23/03/15

DUP man says he won't be silenced after yawngate row erupts

Gregory Campbell hit back in the yawngate row tonight saying “it’s absurd” that he has been barred from speaking in the Assembly.

The DUP’s East Londonderry MP said “an attempt is being made to censor me for yawning” after he appeared to interrupt Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane as she addressed Stormont in Irish last week.

Gregory Campbell has been banned from speaking in the Assembly for two days after his latest spat with a Sinn Fein MLA.

It is the second time in recent months the DUP MP has been told he cannot contribute during debates.

Mr Campbell was today told he cannot speak today or tomorrow after being accused of “schoolboy behaviour”.

Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin said: “The member is a serious and an experienced parliamentarian in this chamber and Westminster and knows full well he has to respect the rules of this house

“If he continues to be deliberately disrespectful and discourteous to other members then I will have no option but to introduce a sanction against him.

“The member is capable of making serious and valuable contributions to the business of this house and he should concentrate on that.”

But speaking tonight, Mr Campbell said the Speaker “has every right to make decisions regarding order in the Chamber however if he is going to enforce when and how people yawn, his workload will increase significantly”.

He added: “Given the allegations about Sinn Fein’s lack of leadership when it comes to exposing murder and sexual abuse, it is strange that her main concern is my yawning. This shows where SF’s priorities really lie.

“When the current Speaker [Mitchell McLaughlin] was the Chairman of important Committees in the City Council of Londonderry many years ago he failed to silence me. I wasn’t silenced then and I won’t be silenced now.”

Last November, Mr Campbell was censured by Mr McLaughlin after refusing to apologise for mocking the Irish language in a question to Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

Mr Campbell said: “Curry my yoghurt, can coca coalyer”, a parody of the Irish sentence “Go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle” which means “thank you, Speaker” in English.

 

 

 

Gregory Campbell, DUP, barred from speaking for two days
BBC News 23/03/15

A DUP MLA has again been barred from speaking in the assembly after being accused of "schoolboy behaviour" in a protest over the Irish language.

Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin said Gregory Campbell had been "blatantly disrespectful" after he twice yawned loudly when Sinn Féin member Caitriona Ruane had been speaking in Irish.

The incident happened during questions to the Assembly Commission last Monday.

Mr Campbell was barred from speaking on Monday and Tuesday.

Mr McLaughlin said it was behaviour "contrary to the standards of courtesy, good temper and moderation which are expected in debate in this house".

He added: "Schoolboy behaviour falls well short of how business should be conducted in a mature elected legislature. I have to warn Mr Campbell that I will not let juvenile behaviour like this continue.

'Discourteous'

"The member is a serious and an experienced parliamentarian in this chamber and Westminster and knows full well he has to respect the rules of this house

"If he continues to be deliberately disrespectful and discourteous to other members then I will have no option but to introduce a sanction against him.

"The member is capable of making serious and valuable contributions to the business of this house and he should concentrate on that."

When Mr Campbell repeatedly tried to make a point of order, the speaker barred him from being called to speak on Monday or Tuesday.

Last November, Mr Campbell was barred from addressing the Northern Ireland Assembly for a day for failing to apologise for an Irish language parody.

A row developed after he began his address to the assembly with: "Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer".

The Irish sentence "go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle" translates as "thank you, Speaker" and is used by nationalist MLAs in the chamber.

The speaker said his conduct fell "well short of standards expected from MLAs".

However, the ruling had little impact as Mr Campbell was at Westminster.

 

 

 

Revealed: The number of paramilitary attacks in Northern Ireland since 1990
Belfast Live 23/03/15

Information collated by The Detail uncovers details on punishment-style attacks

There have been more than 6,000 paramilitary ‘punishment’ attacks on men, women and children across Northern Ireland since the start of the Troubles.

Lives were lost and limbs destroyed in assaults and shootings carried out by paramilitary organisations on both sides.

Despite the brutal punishments, there was widespread support within some communities for the paramilitaries’ own form of justice.

Attacks have continued into the present day with almost 500 such incidents reported in the last six years alone.

For ‘Above The Law’, a Below The Radar TV production in association with RTÉ’s Investigation Unit, The Detail obtained a breakdown of the shootings and assaults which have taken place since the beginning of 1990. We also examined historical data going back to 1973.

The information we received from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in response to a Freedom of Information request gives a breakdown of what they officially term ‘paramilitary-style attacks’ from 1990 by police area, the gender and perceived religion of the victim and whether the attackers were loyalist or republican.

The statistics we received include attacks which took place up until the end of October 2014. The map at the top of this article provides information on the attacks which were reported as taking place in each police area of Northern Ireland.

And click here to see a more detailed timeline of attacks.

Victims and their families have spoken out in the documentary about the impact of the attacks including living with serious injury and assaults which led to murder and suicide.

The key findings from our analysis of the data for ‘Above the Law’ are:

• 4,336 punishment-style attacks were reported to the police in Northern Ireland from the beginning of 1990 to the end of October 2014. There were 2,476 assaults and 1,860 shootings.
• Almost 58% of the victims were Protestant, 42% Catholic and less than 1% categorised as ‘other’. ‘Other’ indicates either another religion or religion was unrecorded.
• 1,443 of the assaults and 1,080 shootings were carried out by loyalists. 1,033 assaults and 780 shootings were attributed to republicans.
• 2% of the attacks involved female victims. They were subjected to 93 assaults and three shootings.
• Half of all attacks took place in Belfast. The highest number of assaults were reported in West Belfast – 357. The highest number of shootings took place in North Belfast – 481 incidents.

It became common to describe attacks as ‘so-called punishment attacks’ in an attempt to remove the suggestion that the victim was guilty of a crime worthy of an assault.

The full research is on The Detail's website and will feature in a programme on Above The Law on RTE One at 9.35pm on Monday.

 

 

 

British royal expected to attend 1916 centenary event
The Irish Times 23/03/15

Minister Charlie Flanagan stresses international dimension of commemorations

A leading member of the British royal family is expected to attend one of the major commemorative events in Ireland in 2016.

There was some controversy when the idea was mooted during President Michael D Higgins’s State visit to the United Kingdom last year but Government sources are still optimistic that it will happen.

“We are not talking about a British royal on the reviewing stand at the GPO on the anniversary of the Rising but about attendance at an appropriate event during the year,” a Government source said at the weekend.

One possible event would be the commemoration of the Irish men who fought at the first battle of the Somme in July 1916.

In April last year in a speech welcoming President Higgins on his State visit, Queen Elizabeth pointed out that Irish people had been involved in all the major campaigns and battles of the first World War.

‘Contribution and sacrifice’

“We will remember and honour their contribution and sacrifice, just as we remember our own,” she said.

“My family and my government will stand alongside you, Mr President, and your Ministers, throughout the anniversaries of the war and of the events that led to the creation of the Irish Free State. “

This was interpreted at the time as an offer by the British royals to be represented at one of the events in the decade of commemorations of events that led to Irish independence.

In an article in today’s Irish Times Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan hinted at the desire of the Government to facilitate the involvement of leading figures from the UK in the commemorative programme.

“We will need to consider also whether, in terms of the domestic Ireland 2016 programme, there may be events where it will be appropriate to invite our international partners, at a suitable level, to join with us to reflect on the events of 1916 and to mark this key moment on Ireland’s path to independence and place amongst the nations of the world,” said Mr Flanagan.

National commemoration

He said clearly some of the events would be moments for national, rather than international, commemoration, as may be the case for the Easter Sunday programme on March 27th, 2016, and the actual centenary of the start of the Rising on April 24th.

“However, as a global island, it is important that we mark this very significant centenary with the international friends and partners we have built up over the past one hundred years and who will be vital to us as we embark on our next one hundred.”

Mr Flanagan said it was important not to sanitise the commemorations of the Rising in a way that distorted history nor coat them in saccharine or sackcloth.

“Equally, however, let us seek to ensure that the Ireland 2016 commemorative programme does not become an unnecessarily divisive issue,” he said.

The different traditions on the island of Ireland would have differing historical perspectives on the events of a century ago but it was important to respect the plurality of narratives.

 

 

 

War of words erupts over Easter Rising centenary
News Letter 21/03/15

The Province’s two biggest parties yesterday attacked one another over the plans to commemorate 100 years since the Easter Rising.

Sinn Fein hailed plans for a programme of events to mark next year’s anniversary, saying that the independence proclamation made in Dublin at the time is “as relevant today as it was then almost 100 years ago.”

The DUP hit out at the comments, saying that the insurrection “is of no relevance to the people of Northern Ireland”.

Sinn Fein had already outlined a programme of events for Dublin and yesterday it gave details of its intentions in Belfast, including the unveiling of a new statue of one of the rising’s leaders James Connolly on the Falls Road, and a centenary-themed Easter Sunday march.

Martin McGuinness, speaking at the launch event in the north of the city, noted the colours of the Irish tricolour and said: “The orange part of the flag is as important as the green and I think we are very proud to be part of that generation of Irish republicans that is prepared to appreciate that, is prepared to accept that as we face into difficult challenges.”

But reacting to the planned celebrations, DUP MP David Simpson said: “In common with most other issues, their focus is looking south of the border, here on something which is of no relevance to the people of Northern Ireland.”

He added that there was little about cross-community events in the programme, and said the calendar of events “will be entirely used as an election campaign platform by Sinn Fein.”

Sinn Fein hit back, saying Mr Simpson was “clearly struggling with the concept espoused by his own party leader of treating other cultures and traditions with respect and tolerance”.

 

 

 

DUP defends funding for ex-paramilitary groups
News Letter 21/03/15

A leading DUP figure last night defended a decision to provide a public funding to a string of groups which offer support to former republican and loyalist terrorists.

Belfast councillor Gavin Robinson proposed an arrangement whereby five organisations representing ex-convicts would receive the leftover council money.

According to the Alliance Party, the DUP position was supported by Sinn Fein and the PUP — two parties with links to terror groups.

It comes just a day after the DUP vowed that its planned scheme to provide pensions for those severely injured in the Troubles would never include anybody with a paramilitary conviction.

Cllr Robinson, a former Lord Mayor who is aiming to unseat Alliance’s Naomi Long in East Belfast in May’s General Election, said he did not see “any contradiction” between the DUP’s stances on the two matters.

He said that initially, the plan had been to fund the five groups for a year – a commitment which would have run into six figures — but his compromise solution was to fund them for three months.

But Alliance’s Michael Long — a fellow Belfast councillor and the husband of the East Belfast MP — raised concerns about the procedure by which the funding had been voted through.

Last night Sinn Fein could not be reached for comment.

The money is coming from an unspent pot of £800,000 which Belfast City Council is now dividing up.

The money has to be spent by the end of this financial year, said councillor Robinson.

The ex-prisoners’ groups in question are The Ex-Prisoners’ Interpretive Centre, Tar Isteach, Tar Anall, Coiste na Niarchimi, and the Prisoners’ Area Network.

Asked what distinction he draws between paramilitary convicts getting pensions and paramilitary convicts getting this type of funding, he said: “Our party’s position isn’t that people who have a past aren’t entitled to a future. But it is our position that you shouldn’t get recompense or support as a victim-maker.”

He said this reporter’s characterisation of the issue was too blunt, adding: “I don’t see any contradiction between the two positions.”

He added: “There is a huge difference in my view between the pension issue and supporting someone and compensating them, or recognising that someone’s current work today provides a positive role within our society. And whether people like it or not, whether people think its distasteful or not, there’s a positive role played.

“And I tell you, one of the worst things we can do in this society is to turn our backs on people who have shown a willingness to change and are showing that they have a positive contribution to make to wider society.”

It is understood that the initial bid for funding was for roughly £300,000 across all of the groups, over a year. The WAVE Trauma Centre, which works with victims of terrorism, also applied for funding to the council, and has received it.

The decision was taken at Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee yesterday, and will need to be ratified by the new council when takes over next month.

Cllr Long said the arrangement was supported by the DUP, PUP and Sinn Fein, but opposed by the Alliance, SDLP and UUP.

He objected to the way the allocation of the £800,000 in cash is being handled. The money has not been widely advertised as being available, and he said there is a lack of a “clear process” for deciding how it is spent – though the council itself said it does have a list of criteria against which applications must be assessed.

 

 

 

Truth and justice ‘come dropping slow’ – in memory of Gerry McKerr
Amnesty International 20/03/15

By Kartik Raj, EU Campaigner/Researcher at Amnesty International

Gerry McKerr, one of the “Hooded Men” – a name now used to describe the group of detainees subjected to the UK security forces’ infamous “Five Techniques” of interrogation in Northern Ireland – passed away this week, aged 71.

I first met Gerry last November, at a press conference in Dublin, where Amnesty International joined the surviving Hooded Men in calling on the Irish government to seek a reopening of a 1978 European Court of Human Rights case. The Court’s ruling in Ireland v United Kingdom found that the men had been subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, but not torture.

New evidence made public by the Irish broadcaster RTÉ’s Investigations Unit last June showed that the UK withheld vital evidence from the European Court which could have been decisive in reaching a finding that the men had been tortured. Gerry McKerr’s harrowing testimony on The Torture Files, describing stress positions, still rings in my ears: “We had to assume the position in complete silence. It was suffocating, sweating profusely, gradually we became disorientated, and after an hour we would collapse.” Such stress positions were just one of the “Five Techniques” the UK security forces meted out against detainees held in a purpose-built internment facility in Northern Ireland.

Despite his poor health, Gerry made the trip to Dublin from his home in Lurgan and spoke at our press conference, after which the men wrote and hand-delivered a letter to the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) imploring Ireland to request a reopening of the case. Rita O’Reilly of RTÉ and I recalled Gerry after the press conference, patiently directing a bad driver out of a parking spot, when, frankly, what he really needed to do was sit down and catch his breath. He really was tireless.

It was a pleasure to see him again in Belfast in December, when, against the Hooded Men’s expectations, the Irish government asked the European Court to review its 1978 judgment. Jim McIlmurray, who acts as the case coordinator for the group, recalls Gerry’s reaction the moment he heard the news: “Justice, finally we will get justice.” Gerry, looking dapper in his blue-grey jacket, was beaming along with the other men as we arranged a meeting between them and Thomas Hammarberg, who had led Amnesty International’s 1971 delegation to investigate abuses in internment. Thomas said that day: “Time doesn’t heal all wounds if justice isn’t done.” Their story was coming full circle, and there was a glimpse of justice and truth on the horizon. Seeing Gerry that day under a clear, blue Irish winter sky, gave me a sense of what a tonic a whiff of hope and a glimmer of justice can be.

One of Gerry’s greatest regrets was that the flawed judgment in the Hooded Men case was used to justify the torture of other detainees around the world. Gerry sadly did not live to see justice done in full, but his steadfast commitment to ensuring truth, justice and accountability for torture are a reminder to us that such injustice will simply not be permitted to stand forever. The surviving Hooded Men and their lawyers will continue that struggle. We too will continue to watch the European Court closely as it considers Ireland’s request, in the hope that its flawed judgment is set right four decades on.

In our work on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, my colleagues and I have often gone back to the Irish poet WB Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings…

Much like peace, truth and justice too come dropping slow. It takes the bravery of torture survivors like Gerry and their advocates to remind those in power that their struggle for truth, justice and accountability – even after they have passed away – will endure. I hope Gerry has found peace, and that, in time, truth and justice follow.

 

 

 

DUP: We’d rather sink pensions scheme than see terrorists get cash
News Letter 20/03/15

The DUP yesterday reaffirmed its opposition to the idea of paramilitaries receiving any money under a proposed Troubles pension scheme.

The party said that it would rather see no-one getting any such payments than see them end up in the hands of injured paramilitaries, following a report that such an idea was being entertained.

Jeffrey Donaldson MP on Thursday night moved to quash any the claim, stating: “There is no change in our position.”

He said categorically that anyone who had ever committed a terror-related offence would be out of the running for such an award.

Willie Frazer, spokesman for victim’s group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, welcomed the clarity on the DUP’s position.

One newspaper had on Thursday reported that the party was “considering measures that would pay a pension to a small number of disabled terrorists as well as victims who had no paramilitary involvement whatsoever”.

The DUP issued a statement from Lagan Valley MP Mr Donaldson in response, which read: “Over the last number of months the DUP has been carrying out a series of roundtable consultations directly with victims and survivors and group representatives.

“The clear message from the vast majority of innocent victims is that they would rather there be no pension provision than for perpetrators to benefit. The DUP accepts and supports that position.”

Last year, the DUP issued a list of commitments it was making to Troubles victims, including a pledge to bring a Private Members’ Bill forward.

It would create a “special pension” for those left “severely physically injured”.

On Thursday, the DUP said during the consultation into its proposals, it had proposed exclusions to this entitlement.

“This would mean that, even if a person was not partly or wholly responsible for the severe physical injury, they would still be excluded if they had a terrorism-related conviction or a criminal conviction relating to the Troubles,” it said.

“The DUP will not be proposing or supporting any pension that would benefit terrorists.”

He added that if other Assembly parties back it, Sinn Fein does not have the power to block the Bill alone.

He told the News Letter it is his hope the Bill will be in force before the next Assembly elections.

Mr Frazer was asked if it was relief to hear this stated so clearly, and said: “Very much so.

“People need to understand this is more than just about a pension. This is about the issue of right and wrong.”

Last May, when the consultation into the matter appeared, The DUP said: “Many of those who have been severely physically injured are now entering pensionable age; however, many have lost the ability to accrue occupational pension rights as a result of losing their careers to chronic ill health.”

Though some support schemes exist, there was a call for “a longer-term and more secure financial settlement”.

 

 

 

PSNI welcomes report on meeting victims' needs
BBC News 20/03/15

Police have welcomed a report commending "very good progress" in meeting needs of victims and witnesses.

It follows the publication of the latest Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland report.

It found there had been improvements by justice organisations in carrying out earlier recommendations over the care and treatment of victims and witnesses.

However, the review also said that delay remains a major concern for many victims and witnesses.

The CJI report looked at progress in implementing recommendations from its separate reviews of the care and treatment of victims and witnesses and the use of special measures published in 2011 and 2012.

Of 28 recommendations made across the two inspections, 27 were said to have been achieved either in full or in part.

The chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, Brendan McGuigan, said: "While there has been very good progress, and inspectors welcome that, there is no room for complacency. I would urge a continuing effort to close the gap between standards and delivery.

"The commitment of various leaders across the criminal justice system and the clear political support, together with the personal interest of the minister of justice have been central to the good progress made to date."

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Chris Noble said: "We welcome this report, which reflects the commitment of the PSNI to work with the PPS, Victim Support and other key partners to develop a criminal justice system which is accessible and supportive and provides effective and supportive outcomes to victims and witnesses.

"The commitment of the police service to delivering better services to victims can be seen in our work with the PPS to deliver a joint victim and witness care unit, which provides a professional and more personal service to all victims and witnesses throughout their time in the justice system."