At first, I thought it was a wind-up when I read, on a blog called El Blogador, which seems to be run by one of the SDLP's ever-dwindling true believers, that the Deputy Head Stoop Eddie Espie has called for Gerry Adams to resign over the Denis Donaldson affair. In fact, I had to Google "Eddie Espie" just to make sure he was a real person! He does appear to actually be the SDLP's Vice Chair, but I haven't seen independent confirmation of this statement; El Blogador doesn't provide a link and it doesn't appear on (where clicking on "Latest News" takes you to a statement dated the 1st in which Alex Attwood hilariously demonstrates his flexible definition of "proof"). But I will take El Blog's word for it; it's certainly daft enough for a Stoop to say.

Here is the statement in full:

"This project of super collusion happened under Gerry Adams' watch. For twenty years, Denis Donaldson, one of Adams' closest allies, has been feeding information to the British intelligence services.

"Only a few days ago, Gerry Adams was happy to appear alongside Donaldson on the steps of Stormont, presenting him as a 'victim of securocrats' and trying to tell everyone to move on from the Stormontgate affair.

“Now it transpires that Adams was singing the praises of an arch-British agent. As party leader throughout the period of Donaldson's double agency, Gerry Adams was party leader. The buck stops with him. Then only option now open is for Gerry Adams to resign.

“That is the only way in which nationalists can start to put trust in Sinn Féin again.

“Over the past few weeks, we have seen Sinn Féin/ British collusion over OTRs and super-councils which have eradicated nationalists' belief that Sinn Féin is operating in the best interests of the people of the north.

“This whole debacle is the straw that has broken the camel's back. Nationalists no longer trust Sinn Féin, and as party leader, Gerry Adams must step up to the mark and take responsibility for this.

“The SDLP will be pushing for the full facts of this whole affair to be revealed. The people of the north deserve the truth.”

Eddie, a chara, Gerry Adams will step down when and if Sinn Féin members and supporters start to lose faith in him. That has not happened and will not happen as a result of this affair. In fact, judging by the comments of SDLP supporters over on Slugger O'Toole, you guys have a lot more to worry about on that front than we do.
Like everyone else in Sinn Féin, I'm absolutely stunned at the news about Denis Donaldson, disgusted at the man personally, and heartbroken for his family, who don't deserve to be put through this. I simply cannot understand what would drive someone to do what he did - particularly someone who had previously done so much for the cause.

Questions need to be asked about how far up in the British Government his role was known. How many of those who publicly accused the republican movement of running a spy ring knew all along that the only spy was their own? How many knew that the Assembly was being collapsed on completely false pretences?

At the moment I'm just completely disillusioned with this whole peace process malarkey. Republicans have given and given and given, we've made compromises that were unimaginable just a few years ago and we are getting absolutely fucking nothing back because fundamentally the Brits and unionists just do not want the agreement to work. At some point we are going to have to question whether it is even worth our while anymore.

The plot thickens

Today's Times states, incorrectly, that An examination of newspaper records shows that it carried articles written by Mr Connolly every week in the period April-June 2001, with the single exception of the April 15th edition. This was five days after Mr McDowell, citing information from the Colombian authorities, alleges the journalist entered the Farc-controlled region as part of a "well-organised sinister enterprise". So what is this article then?

Suddenly Liam Lawlor's death seems a lot more sinister ...
I am, of course, 100% behind the campaign for an All-Ireland soccer team. It only makes sense, and I'm even willing to put up with that musical abomination, "Ireland's Call", if I have to (but only if).

As for whether "God Save The Queen" should be sang at Norn Iron games, I'll leave that to people who actually care about Windsor Park attendance. But I must say I nearly fell over laughing reading UUP Councillor Jim Rodgers's comments about it in the linked article:

I'm a strong believer of 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do'.

Had Jim's ancestors shared this philosophy when they arrived on this island, there'd have been no Norn Iron to begin with. And that's not even starting in on the irony of a Unionist calling for emulation of Romans ...

"You Couldn't Make It Up" Department

The Ceann Comhairle has disallowed requests to adjourn the Dáil to discuss the unconstitutionality of the Minister's actions on the grounds that ... it's not an appropriate forum for serious allegations of this kind.

Oh the irony.

On McDowell

I haven't intended not to post lately, but things get very busy for me this time of year. I don't even have time for this post! But it needs to be said.

Regardless of whether Frank Connolly actually has "questions to answer", regardless of whether he's guilty at all, those who are defending Michael McDowell's actions should ask themselves this question: what has McDowell achieved? If Connolly did break the law, he is no nearer to being brought to justice. If anything the opposite is probably true: if the DPP does ever decide to prosecute, he'll have a very strong case to argue that his right to a fair trial has been compromised.

McDowell can't possibly be unaware of this, so the intention can only have been to stain Connolly's character. The release of this information, and use of Dáil privilege for this purpose, is simply indefensible. And by engaging in such petty, vindictive behaviour, McDowell has primarily succeeded in staining his own.

He should resign.
I have had absolutely no free time to post in a while, but I just wanted to drop in quickly to wish the best of luck to Derry City tonight! Come on the Candystripes!
I don't agree with the PDs often, but Liz O'Donnell's speech today on the Ferns Report should be shouted from the rooftops. Liz stated that the Church's catastrophic failure to protect the children in its care should - must - mean the end of its special relationship with the State. No more consultation with the Church on issues such as stem cell research, abortion, gay rights, etc. And no more control by the Church over education.

I agree on all of these, but particularly on the last. In an increasingly diverse society the lack of options for non-Catholics, or non-practicising Catholics (such as myself) is simply not acceptable. Schools along the lines of the Educate Together system should be the norm. If people really feel the need to have their child educated under a particular religious ethos, let them set up their own private (and privately funded!) schools. Neither the Catholic Church, nor any other religious institution, should receive public money toward this end.

It's not simply on a philosophical level that I object to state-funded religious education. I also think it's a bad idea as a practical matter. Because you can't discriminate against religions, so if you fund Catholic public schools you have to fund schools of other religions, and this simply encourages segregation. We've seen all too clearly in the northeastern part of this country what that does to intercommunity relations. It's a mistake we should not be repeating.
On the radio this morning, I heard the author of a book on who people respect most and least speak at length on Nelson Mandela (falling into the first category, of course) and then go on to say that most in the latter category were 'terrorist types'. Funny how times change, isn't it? I'm old enough to remember when Nelson Mandela was widely considered to be one of those 'terrorist types'.

Eoghan Harris has lost the plot completely!

You see all this criticism of the Sindo for their coverage of Liam Lawlor's death? It's all part of a Shinner plot to shut the paper down! And if it succeeds - which it just might do, since Sinn Féin virtually control the country now - there will be nobody left to tell the truth about the organisation!

I'm not making this up, it's all in today's Sindo. See for yourself.


Guess who said the following last night?

"The Unionist community can be sure that this part of the island holds no constitutional threat to the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom."

Kevin Myers? Ruth Dudley Edwards? Conor Cruise O'Brien?

No, it was Noel Treacy, Minister of State from Fianna Fáil, the self-styled Republican Party.

How they can still call themselves that with a straight face is absolutely beyond me.
While I have serious doubts about the Government's ability to deliver on its transport plan, in theory, at least, it's a great idea. Public transport in this State is absolutely shocking and needs precisely this kind of initiative. Those who dismiss the need for a northside Metro obviously don't spend the amount of time I do sitting on buses that aren't going anywhere. Of course, it will probably be 2020 rather than 2012 by the time it's finally delivered, and at three times the cost, but it needs to be gone ahead with and sooner rather than (any) later.

I must add, though, that I was greatly amused when I went to the Department of Transport's web site looking for further details of this plan - and discovered that the site hasn't been updated since July. We may be getting a "21st century transport plan for 21st century Ireland", as their press release announces, but we're still very much stuck with 20th century communications.


Pat Rabbitte has just told the Dáil that he "never believed there was a war or justification for a war" in the North.

So what did your colleagues in the Official IRA need all those guns for, Pat?
I notice that Labour abstained on the Criminal Justice Bill last night, despite the clear opposition to it of their Justice Spokesperson Joe Costello. Wonder why that was? Couldn't have had anything to do with the fact that Fine Gael voted for the bill, could it?

Bad and all as Fianna Fáil are, they do have one clear advantage for any potential coalition partner with the slightest ideological bent (and in Labour's case it really is the "slightest"): not having one themselves, FF are easily subject to the Tail-Wagging-Dog syndrome. Fine Gael may not be anyone's idea of a principled party but they do have a couple clear policies, at least. Pro-privatisation, for one. Anti-neutrality, for another. Ironic, isn't it, that on the only issues they can really be nailed down, their position differs strongly from Labour's?

Labour voters who think that these differences will all somehow work themselves out, and not to their own detriment, would be well advised to keep an eye on incidents like last night's abstention on the Criminal Justice Bill. I can virtually guarantee you there will be more of these between now and the general election - not to mention if FG and Labour do win enough seats to go into coalition together.
I'm certainly enjoying the Sunday Independent's moment of opprobrium over its disgraceful headline yesterday (no point my providing a link, since the offending piece has been removed), though I have to say I wonder why anyone would be surprised that the Sindo would sink to such depths. It's hardly the first time after all.

Earlier today, I heard the head of Independent Newspapers saying there would be an inquiry into how such a clearly unsubstantiated story made it into the paper. While they're at it maybe they can also inquire into Jim Cusack's latest bit of fantasy; namely, that the latest IMC report blames the Joseph Rafferty murder on an IRA member who's worked for Sinn Féin. The IMC report says no such thing.

On this Alec Reid business

Agreed that Father Reid's comments were over the top, insulting to the decent unionist people (of whom I have no doubt there are many), and all that. But so too is some of the reaction over the top - and hypocritical. Where was all this outrage when Michael McDowell compared Daily Ireland to the Volkischer Beobachter?

Compare and contrast

BBC: Businessman denies IRA asset link

RTÉ: Businessman admits links to alleged IRA chief

Thanks to my friend Enda for pointing this out!

ETA: It appears someone alerted RTÉ and they changed their headline. Ha, we have it on record.

Labour snub nationalist victims - again

This afternoon Kate McCaughey, the woman put out of her home of 50 years by loyalist thugs in Ahoghill, and several other North Antrim nationalists with similar stories paid a visit to Leinster House to meet with TDs and Senators about their situation.

Invitations were sent to every TD, every Senator.

Not one from Labour showed up.

This isn't the first time. Around two years ago the relatives of victims of British security force collusion visited the Dáil. Same story - not a single Labour representative there to greet them.

In fact, the only victims of violence in the Six Counties that Labour have turned up to meet were the McCartney sisters.

Can you say "agenda"?

Oh, no one from the PDs or Fine Gael turned up this time either.
It's gone largely unnoticed in the mainstream media, but the largest republican split since 1997 seems to have taken place over the past couple weeks, with substantial defections from both the Continuity IRA and Republican Sinn Féin. The details of the split are disputed, and I'm not particularly interested in them anyway, but I was amused to read the statement issued by RSF in today's Daily Ireland:

"A few people have resigned from the organisation. Some of these have been ex-Provos who joined recently and who had remained with the Provisionals even after they accepted the Stormont Agreement.

"The remainder are young people without political experience who joined in the recent past and who came under the influence of these ex-Provos.

"The unsettling effect for them of Provo destruction of arms and the declared intention of the Provisional movement to support and join the PSNI/RUC forms the background to all this ..."

God love RSF. If (what they call) "the Provisional movement" didn't exist, they would have to invent it!
Today's SBP reports that clinical trials for cancer patients are being held back at some Dublin hospitals over the requirement that the women undergoing treatment use birth control.

Things like this make me so angry. More than that, they make me wonder what kind of backwater, 12th century country I'm living in where the extreme religious views of a few can place the lives of sick women at risk. If you don't believe in contraception, fine, you don't have to use it yourself. But if you're going to host medical research you have to abide by medical standards and one of those standards is that women of childbearing age use birth control while undergoing experimental treatment.

I admit that I'm nobody's idea of a good Catholic, but I'm pretty sure that the God I was raised with would give women a pass to use birth control under these circumstances (if he really cares about it at all, which I doubt). The Catholic God isn't supposed to be some kind of Puritan Sadist God who goes around forcing women to choose between cancer and thalidomide babies.

I know there was a time when Ireland was much worse for things like this, but I'd have hoped we'd moved on by now!
Is Gareth O'Connor's body being examined by the same people testing the banknotes in Cork? It seems to be taking them an awfully long time to come up with a reason for how he died.

More on IRA decommissioning

While the DUP's rejection was easily predictable, I was pleasantly surprised by the responses of the UUP's Reg Empey and Roy Garland. Perhaps they've finally learnt the lesson Trimble never did: that they can never out-DUP the DUP and that they have a lot more to gain by appealing to and cultivating moderate unionism.

I predict that over the next couple weeks we'll see a sharp increase in black propaganda from the likes of the Sindo and the Sunday World. Absolutely the last thing they can stand to see is republicans having the upper hand in the PR battle.
RTÉ has just reported that the guns have been decommissioned.

A lot of republicans will have mixed feelings about this. I'm one of them. But as I said back in July, it's a case of whether there is more to be gained by holding on to them or by giving them up, and I accept at this point it might be the latter.

It's important that any further stalling by the DUP is met with firm action by the Governments - up to and including the threat of joint authority. Republicans have made as many compromises as we can, and we have done so without losing many of our number to the dissidents, but that will become a danger if there is no reciprocation. It is important that we see a return on this initiative. And Fianna Fáil allowing the possibility of going into coalition with us isn't the kind of return I'm talking about.

Wait and see time, I suppose.
I've been terrible for updating lately. Combination of things: work pressures, illness, and just not being inspired. But today, after the march for Irish unity, I'm feeling incredibly inspired.

There were more people there than I ever imagined there would be. I don't know what the precise figure was - RTÉ reported four to five thousand, but that was only for the rally which followed the march. For the march itself, 98FM put it at 20,000 and I've heard estimates from our own people at 15-20. In any case it was a hell of a lot. Enough that the front of the march was already on its way back down Suffolk Street while the back was just crossing O'Connell Bridge. The geographic spread was wonderful too; I saw banners from cumainn all over the country, including places I never even knew we had any cumainn (take a bow, North Connemara SF!). It was the kind of turnout you just don't see on republican marches these days, and its effect on our spirits was tremendous.

Hopefully it might even encourage me to update this thing more regularly again :)
For the second Monday running, the Irish Times has quoted garda sources casting doubt on some of the allegations frequently levelled at republicans. Last week the head of the Garda National Drugs Unit said there was no evidence of IRA involvement in the drugs trade. And today, "senior garda sources" acknowledge that there is no proof that Sinn Féin are funded by IRA money - Michael McDowell and Pat Rabbitte's frequent bleating notwithstanding.

Republicans, of course, have been saying both these things for years. We have challenged anybody with evidence to bring it forward. Nobody has, and now even the Garda Síochána are acknowledging that nobody can. I doubt that it will stop certain of our opponents from repeating this nonsense, but at least now we have the testimony of their own allies to refute it.
Incidentally, I see that Jeffrey Donaldson is now criticising the IRA's plans to decommission - on the grounds that vital evidence will be destroyed! Really, you couldn't make this stuff up.

Further proof (as if any were needed) that no matter what republicans do, it will never be enough.
Last night, Cork City FC drew 0-0 against Sweden's Djurgarden to progress on aggregate to the first round of the UEFA Cup. It was an immense performance, far more exciting and confident than any I've seen from an Irish club in Europe lately. You could be forgiven for not knowing though, because every Irish news outlet is more interested with the fact that two teams from the same nearby foreign country will be in the same group for the Champions League.

Don't get me wrong; I've nothing against Irish fans supporting foreign clubs. I do it myself after all (yes, Celtic are a foreign club, their obvious close links to this country notwithstanding). But there is no reason whatsoever that fans of a club in Britain, or wherever, cannot also support their local club. Sure it's not as glamorous, but that doesn't have to make it less exciting; I defy most EPL games to match two of the recent Bohs games I've attended for tension, atmosphere and passion - both on the pitch and in the stands and terraces (yes, terraces, remember them?). The standard of football may be lower but there are still Irish people who support Leeds United and Wolverhampton despite those teams playing in a league that is, by any objective measure, crap. I tend toward thinking that these are just excuses that some Irish people make up in order to justify what is really no more than a (possibly unconscious) expression of the same inferiority complex that nearly wiped out the native language.

So, support your local club, Irish men and women*! It's the patriotic thing to do.

I'm not laying all the blame on the fans, incidentally; I also believe that the football association and the clubs themselves are not doing all they should be to promote the league (I'm speaking here primarily about the 26 County league because I simply don't know enough about the IFA). One thing that particularly annoys me every time a major international competition comes around, such as now, is that there is very little advantage to club supporters in obtaining tickets for Ireland's key matches. While the clubs do get some tickets, there are inevitably a lot of club fans unable to attend these games, while Lansdowne is filled with barstoolers who couldn't even find their way to Tolka Park. I'm not denying that most of these barstoolers are genuine fans of the "national" team, but don't those of us who support Irish football at all levels deserve this sort of thank you? It stands to reason also that the number of club supporters might increase if such a benefit was made available to them - surely it's worth the effort anyway.

I will be thinking about all this tonight from the stands at Dalymount as I watch the Super Bohs take on South Dublin minnows Wayside Celtic in their march toward the FAI Cup Final.

*Note: Special dispensation can be granted to some of our northern comrades, who at least have a good reason not to.

Online Petition

On Friday 22nd July 2005 members of the London Metropolitan police shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes in a shoot-to-kill operation.

Throughout the recent period of conflict in Ireland the British government operated a shoot-to-kill policy which claimed hundreds of lives. The British Government has not been held accountable for these killings.

At this dangerous time for human rights and civil liberties we offer our condolences and support to the family of Jean Charles de Menezes in the hope that justice is delivered and other such atrocities are avoided, and remember the families of the victims of British shoot-to-kill policy in Ireland.

Go here to sign.

Back from the jungle

So there I was - deep in the forest, no access to a television, newspaper or any radio station broadcasting in a language I could understand - in other words, pretty much incommunicado for a week. Suddenly a few cryptic texts started appearing on my mobile. "Welcome home to the 3". "Hope they are safe". Whaa???? The mobile networks are a bit unreliable out there, so it took another day or so to confirm what I hoped I was reading. Well, you know the rest.

As I write, the Colombia 3 are in various police stations in Dublin. Niall Connolly has been arrested and may face charges for using a false Irish passport (the other two used false British passports and thus could only be charged by the British Government).

I am reliably informed (not by a Shinner btw) of at least one occasion on which the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a false passport to one of its citizens who was also travelling to a country controlled by right-wing maniacs. I doubt that was the first time, or the last. Will the Irish Government arrest itself?
I'm still trying to put together my thoughts about the statement, and as I'm off on holiday tomorrow until the middle of August, I probably won't get a chance to post them here for some time. Suffice to say for now that I'm not sure there was really any other option - it was either this or a (permanently?) stalled process. The ball is now in others' court, and it remains to be seen what they do with it.

Have a good couple weeks everyone. Tiocfaidh ár lá.
It's official: British police murdered an innocent man.

Some things never change, eh?
This morning, I took part in a group visit to Long Kesh.

We had an official tour guide - a pleasant civil servant from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister's Department - but it was the ex-prisoners in the group who really provided the flavour. It was an awesome experience, visiting the H-blocks, the cages, going up into a watchtower...and most of all, standing in the hospital room where Bobby Sands died. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to feel a chill down my spine.

Most of the compound is in an advanced state of dereliction, overrun by weeds and rabbits. As most readers will know there has been a debate over what should be done with it. That is still to be fully determined, but it is agreed that parts of it - including the hospital and at least one of the H-blocks and cages - will be preserved and a conflict transformation zone established on the premises. I think this is an appropriate use of the land, and I'm very thankful that those who wished to see the prison buildings torn down did not prevail. Like it or not, this place is a part of Irish history - in terms of recent history in particular, an important part - and it would be a disgrace to deny future generations the right to experience what I did today.
Tony Blair has vowed that Britain will hunt down those responsible for last week's attacks. And quite rightly.

It's quite a contrast with his continued refusal to order a thorough investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, not to mention his gutting of the Finucane Inquiry.
Of all the utterly stupid things I've heard lately, one of the utterly stupidest has to be the idea that Ireland would "have to" introduce ID cards if Britain does.

Er, why?

The "informed political source" quoted in today's SBP explains it on the grounds that "we have a common travel area and a land border between the two jurisdictions". Big deal. Denmark manages to get by without one despite sharing a land border with Germany and a common travel area with a lot of countries.

I suspect that the Brits are leaning on Dublin because they don't want the hassle of resident Irish telling them "I don't need a British ID card, I'm Irish" - particularly in the Six Counties. The introduction of an Irish card that northern nationalists could obtain instead would neatly resolve that problem. The British may be pressuring Dublin with the threat of dissolving the common travel arrangement. Dublin should call their bluff. In my experience most people bring their passport when they travel to Britain anyway, either because of airline requirements or because, common travel area or no common travel area, you usually wind up having to show something at one end or the other. Crossing between the north and south of Ireland is another matter but does anyone seriously believe the Brits have the appetite to start instituting border checks again, with all that would entail. Not a chance.

If the British government wants to go ahead with this silly gimmick that will do absolutely nothing to prevent further attacks, that's their prerogative, but the Irish Government should show some spine and refuse to allow themselves to be threatened into doing the same.
During yesterday's Dáil debate on Risk Equalisation, Mary Harney, referring to statistics showing that approximately 50% of people in the State have private health insurance, stated (paraphrasing): "This is a good thing. It demonstrates the rise in disposable income."

My God, woman, what planet are you on? People aren't taking out private insurance because they can afford to with all their extra dosh. They're taking it out because they are scared to death of getting sick and having to go on a long waiting list for treatment, or lie on a hospital trolley for three weeks.
Just a brief word on this Seán Kelly business. I don't know the man, and I have no idea what he was up to. But it's simply not good enough for Peter Hain to say he has "intelligence" that Seán was violating the terms of his licence. If there is evidence of this we need to see it. There is far too much history of wrongful imprisonment in this conflict to expect republicans to simply take the security forces' word for it.
I've just watched a fascinating documentary on TG4 about the Gaeltacht Civil Rights Movement of the late 60s/early 70s. I'm sorry (and rather embarrassed) to admit that this is a part of Irish history I had previously known very little about.

It's timely, of course, because of the announcement this week that Irish has become an official and working language of the European Union. Like most people here, I welcomed this news. Some of the naysayers have derided it as merely symbolic, which isn't entirely true (it will create jobs for Irish speakers), while others have called it a waste of money (at less than one penny per EU resident per year!). These criticisms deserve no more space than I've just given them, if that much, even.

The one criticism with some validity is that it will do little to promote the actual use of Irish among the population, which really should be the focus of the Government's efforts. I don't think this is an argument against Stádas, though; just an argument that more is needed as well. And the same can be said for the Government's other achievements in this area, such as making the Gaeltacht road signs Irish only - well and good in and of itself, but not enough. Nowhere near enough.

I'm not an expert on the subject, but it seems to me that there are a number of things that could be done that would go much further in preserving Irish as a living language. For example:

1. The method by which children are taught Irish in schools needs to be completely scrapped. If children can study something for 12 years and not really learn it, it's obviously not working. And it's not because Irish is too complicated. It isn't too complicated for children to learn. Children have an amazing capacity for learning languages. Perhaps the methods by which Scandinavian or Dutch children are taught English should be adopted. Do you know any Scandinavian or Dutch people under 30 who aren't fluent in English? Thought not.

2. Gaelscoileanna need to be better resourced. There aren't enough of them and some of them are absolute kips. I've known people who would like to send their children to a Gaelscoil but there isn't one accessible - or if there is, it's made up of 30 year old prefabs, or the ceilings are falling in.

3. The Government should subsidise Irish learning for adults who didn't master the language at school (or never learned it to begin with). There are organisations, such as Gael Linn, who offer classes, but at a cost that puts them out of reach of many working class people. I honestly believe there is sufficient interest nowadays that a lot of adults would take these classes if they were available and affordable.

On the TG4 programme one of the interviewees noted that the Civil Rights Movement only won a small percent of what they were looking for. It's a terrible shame, really. Had they been more successful, maybe I wouldn't be posting this today.
Today, we have witnessed a disgraceful yet utterly predictable display of moral cowardice on the part of the large majority of Dáil Deputies. All but 16 TDs failed to oppose the annual extension of the Offences Against the State Act, which allows the conviction of "membership of an illegal organisation" based solely upon the word of a garda. Given recent events, this would have to strike any objective observer as completely insane. Of course us non-objective observers know it's a lot more sinister than that.

Credit where it's due: Joe Higgins, Tony Gregory, Jerry Cowley, Catherine Murphy and all six of the Greens joined the five Sinn Féin TDs in voting Níl, while Finian McGrath spoke against the motion during the debate although he was unable to be present for the vote. That is a 100% increase over last year, when we could only muster eight in opposition. Maybe next year Labour will find the courage to put their (supposed) support for justice and human rights ahead of their hatred for republicans. But I won't hold my breath.

I've copied the Sinn Féin TDs' contributions to the debate below, because I really can't say it any better myself.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Every year Deputies have the opportunity to vote on whether to continue to use repressive legislation in this State. That opportunity presents again despite the past decade of the peace process, the IRA ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement. Every year the Minister publishes a slim report at the last minute, which no one has a chance to read, as has been stated here. Despite this, every year this House rubber-stamps the continuing operation of these laws, which suspend not only the ordinary rules of evidence but fundamental rights, including the right to silence.

Every year my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh or I argue the Government's obligations regarding progressive security normalisation under the Good Friday Agreement. Every year we ask what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is planning to do with the Hederman recommendations on which he has been sitting since 2002. Every year only a few join the Sinn Féin Deputies in speaking out against this coercion of democracy and human rights, and I commend all those who do.

Those in what I view as the political establishment are still locked in denial about the fact that more than 60 years of emergency law has only helped perpetuate the conflict on and between these islands. It is a contributory factor. Equally, seven years of the 1998 amendment Act powers have not stopped dissident republicans. The only thing that can have this effect - I ask the Minister of State to note it - is to make democracy really and truly work. This means making the peace process work, demonstrating that the Good Friday Agreement is not dead, as the DUP leader claims, and proving that profound political and social change can be achieved by other means. That is the commitment we have made and the challenge Sinn Féin has embraced.

Every year when this law is renewed, those Deputies who support it take it on faith that the Garda will not abuse the powers it confers. They take it on faith that no garda will fabricate the evidence used to convict in the Special Criminal Court. I put it to Deputies that the findings of the Morris tribunal to date must force them to re-examine that blind faith on this occasion. This Government is asking Deputies, even in the wake of the Morris tribunal reports, to renew legislation that will continue to allow people to be convicted on the word of a garda. As supporters of this motion, they must ask themselves, what if they are complicit in perpetuating miscarriages of justice by the suspension of the ordinary rules of evidence in order to secure convictions, especially when there continues to be no effective oversight of the Garda and knowing this situation will continue even after the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's fundamentally flawed Garda legislation passes. I put it to Deputies and the Minister of State that the renewal of this Offences Against the State Act is not at all in the interests of democracy and justice.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: History will judge this House harshly for failing to assert that the key to security is human rights and not human rights abuses. Year in, year out Deputies vote for the renewal of this legislation which is the envy of repressive regimes around the world. Only a few people in this House have the moral courage to speak out against it and fewer still have the guts to back that up when there is a vote. Surely the Morris tribunal report, which will be briefly discussed tomorrow, and particularly the revelations in the first report, the McGlinchey module, must give them pause for thought that people can be convicted in the Special Criminal Court under special laws on the word of the Garda special branch man.

History will judge harshly all those Deputies with their heads in the sand about the abuses perpetrated by the State against citizens on their watch. They are so consumed and blinded by anti-republicanism, they are failing in their duty to protect the public interest. It is incumbent on them to consider their responsibility carefully and to consider what we now know. We know the gardaí fabricated evidence of arms finds in Donegal, that the Murphy conviction in the Omagh case was overturned because of Garda fabrication, that the gardaí planted a gun on James Sheehan in north Kerry and that the father of four, Niall Binead, had no presumption of innocence as he was tried by the media and convicted of membership of an illegal organisation on the basis of exercising his right to silence. Despite media misrepresentation, he was not convicted of spying allegations. He was not convicted of unlawful collection of information under section 8. In fact, according to the Minister, no one has been charged under section 8. Does this not raise questions for Deputies about the conviction? Earlier this week, five Limerick men face up to five years in prison on the word of a senior garda. Most of the evidence against them seems to be that they laid a wreath.

Can Deputies be confident that the powers they are about to reconfirm have not been abused in nearly 700 arrests in the past year alone? Are they absolutely certain about the soundness of each of the 60 plus convictions? Do they firmly believe all the 102 awaiting trial will receive a fair one? If not, I ask them to vote against this motion.
A letter in today's Indo (registration required) states that GPs in Ireland are now charging upwards of €60 per visit. This is incredible. What's more incredible is the utter lack of reaction from the Minister for Health to this crisis. Last year, following a report showing that families were going without needed health care because of the cost of GP visits, Sinn Féin put in a Parliamentary Question to the Minister asking what she intended to do about this. Her response? That a GP's charges are a "private matter" between the GP and their patients, and that it's none of her department's concern.

This, of course, is nonsense. High GP costs result in more people seeking routine treatment in A&E wards, as well as sometimes causing minor and easily-treatable illnesses to become serious and thus require hospital care. If Mary Harney honestly does not believe that this is her department's concern, she's in the wrong department.

At the time of the cabinet reshuffle I said that it was absolutely insane for her to be given this post. After all, two of the issues which most energised the electorate to vote against the Government in 2004 were the PDs and health care. So putting a PD in charge of health care was probably the Government's least logical response. Judging from the latest polls, it appears I may have been right.
Newstalk 106 insists on reporting the results of the new Irish Times poll with the summary that "Sinn Féin and the Greens are on 15% together". WTF? It's understandable combining the FF/PD and FG/Labour results in this way, on account of their coalition plans, but SF have no intention whatsoever of going into Government with the Greens ;)

The number for text messages to Newstalk 106 is 0866000106. You know what to do.

Another accusation bites the dust

Remember the so-called "spy ring" at the Northern Ireland Police Fund? It was all over the papers in December 2003. Allegedly, the details of former police officers were being leaked to the IRA, for nefarious purposes, no doubt. Well, surprise surprise - it never happened. The new Direct Rule Security Minister, Shaun Woodward, has admitted that all charges have been dropped and that "no terrorist offences were uncovered as a result of the PSNI investigation".

Ironically, this has only come to light thanks to Jeffrey Donaldson, who'd tabled questions on the progress of the case. It appears that the NIO and PSNI were hoping it had been forgotten about and would quietly disappear.
LI didn't intend to start a blog just to analyse the Sunday Tribune every week. It just happens they've had more of the stories I feel like commenting on lately.

The cover story this week is speculation that Bertie plans to call the general election next year, rather than wait for the May 2007 deadline. This will no doubt be replied to with a denial from the Taoiseach's office, but it's actually what I have suspected for several months now. Open disagreements between the coalition partners have been increasing, most recently on the building of a new terminal at Dublin Airport and Michael McDowell's proposal for a new "café-bar" licence. In addition, there are a few FF backbenchers who are very strongly opposed to McDowell's planned introduction of Anti Social Behaviour Orders - listening to the Dáil debate last week one could have been forgiven for thinking Pat Carey and John McGuinness were actually members of the opposition. McGuinness, especially; I cannot recall ever seeing a member of a Government party speak out so strongly against a Government proposition. Frankly, this doesn't look like a coalition that has two years left in it.

So what does it mean? Hard to say at this point. Obviously, one of the most important things is getting the PDs out of Government. The damage they have done is immense. I would not be in favour of Sinn Féin going into coalition with FF this time around - we will have around 10 TDs at most and I doubt FF would be as generous to us with key Ministries as they have been to the PDs. And I'm not sure there would be the numbers for FF to coalesce with those independents who'd be willing to do so. I can't see FF and FG going in together, even though you couldn't slide an envelope between their political philosophies (including the one their grandparents went to war over), and Labour have ruled out going in with FF, but there don't appear to be the numbers for them to go in with FG, or even with FG and the Greens. So it's all to play for, really.

I do think it's hilarious that Labour are willing to coalesce with the (slightly) further right of the two main parties, though. A fortnight ago in the Dáil SF introduced a Private Members motion against the privatisation of Aer Lingus. FG, predictably, opposed it; Labour supported it. What would they have done if they were in Government together when we introduced it? Or when we introduced our bill to enshrine neutrality into the Constitution, which Labour also supported and FG opposed? Over the past few years Labour have already moved further right than many in their traditional base would like; their former chief strategist Fergus Finlay openly admitted that they were courting the middle class vote because they think the trade unions, etc., aren't relevant anymore. In Government with Fine Gael they're only going to move even further right. And Sinn Féin will be there, nipping at their heels, on their left.

Incidentally, I'm somewhat neutral on the café-bar thing. I think there are a lot of bogus arguments being thrown around by both sides. Nobody in Ireland limits their drinking (during normal hours) because they can't find a place to get a drink, after all. Nor are many people going to say "Well, I could stay in this pub the whole night, but now that there's a café-bar next door I'll just go there and have a meal with my pint instead". I'm all for the idea of café-bars, actually, because I really quite like them, but I think it would be more sensible to provide incentives for existing pubs to convert, rather than opening additional establishments. I haven't thought out how you'd do that though, so please don't ask me!

The Trib was surprisingly short this week of things-to-make-me-throw-the-paper-across-the-room. My greatest outrage was at a letter to the editor suggesting that the FAI should withdraw from the Champions League next year and nominate Liverpool instead. The day they do that is the day I stop giving any money to anything having to do with Irish soccer. Fortunately it's not going to happen, but it absolutely disgusts me that an Irish person would suggest it in any case. Sure, why don't we just let England have Roy Keane and Damien Duff as well? We're probably not going to need them next year.

Martin Ferris in the Dáil today

Mr. Ferris: Like previous speakers, I welcome the second report of the Morris tribunal. The belief that what happened in Donegal was as a result of a small number of gardaí effectively being out of control is something that needs to be examined. If that were the case, one would assume there was never a heavy gang in the State. While a prisoner in Portlaoise Prison in the 1970s, I witnessed at first hand Nicky Kelly, a colleague of Deputy Rabbitte, being helped up the stairs after being brutally assaulted and beaten by members of the special branch. Not one member of this heavy gang was held accountable for their brutal actions.

This also calls into question the sacrosanct evidence accepted by the Special Criminal Court, where the word of a special branch man as against a defendant is taken as absolute, even to the extent that verbal admission, regardless of how it is extracted, is accepted as evidence to secure convictions. As elected representatives, we must ensure that what took place in Donegal and what is taking place in many other areas does not happen again. Since becoming a Member of this House, I have been trying to get the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to examine the planting of a gun in a man's car, but to no avail. The gun was subsequently destroyed on the orders of the Minister. This speaks volumes about this man who opposed the setting up of this inquiry. He has resisted it from the beginning. As Deputy Gormley said, he is now saying he delivered on this.

We must also examine the convictions secured on evidence produced by the senior gardaí mentioned in this report. Where do the victims stand in all of this? It is likely that many innocent people in many counties were convicted on verbal admissions or signed statements, regardless of how they were extracted. I attended meetings with Joe Costello in the 1970s and 1980s when there was an attempt to raise this issue, but the State stopped it. I recall the Fianna Fáil Party in Opposition speaking out against the heavy gang, but when it went into Government it did nothing about it.

There are many issues to be examined in this regard. I suggest that the Morris tribunal should include in its terms of reference the collusion in the assassination of Donegal county councillor, Eddie Fullerton. He was shot dead in his home and nothing has been done about it. The investigation has been hindered because elements in control of the British forces were involved in the case. We must also examine the use of informers - people who would sell their soul for money. These people were being used without any accountability.

An Ceann Comhairle: As I pointed out to Deputy Rabbitte, a brief comment is in order this morning on the Morris tribunal report and a more detailed comment may be made in the debate which has been promised in coming weeks.

Mr. Ferris: With respect, I would be failing in my responsibility as a public representative if I did not bring to the notice of the House today the use of Garda informants in the Donegal matter, which was very evident in the report. I welcome the fact that this issue will be debated. The debate must take into account all the aspects I have raised, including issues that were hidden by this House and the State in the past. People were never held accountable for the wrongs and injustices they perpetrated against victims inside Garda barracks. Members of the special branch were given the freedom to do what they wished. I look forward to the debate to which I will contribute in due course.

The Trib reverts to type

Lots of silliness in this week's edition of the Sunday Tribune, starting with the suggestion that it may have been fans of Celtic ("the republicans' favourite club") and not Shamrock Rovers who attacked Linfield fans on their visit to Dublin last week: perhaps, says the Trib, witnesses were confused by the similarity of the two clubs' jerseys. Well firstly I doubt the attackers were wearing jerseys at all. Football hooligans these days are nearly always "casuals", who believe that fights should only be conducted in expensive designer wear. (I'll save the post on the silliness of casual culture for another day.) They were probably recognised as Rovers fans because everyone who closely follows the League of Ireland knows exactly who the Rovers casuals are. Secondly, the jerseys aren't that hard to distinguish. And finally the attempt to link republicans to this attack is pathetic, and Sindo-esque.

Onto the travel section, which has a breakdown of Irish airports showing all the direct flights abroad - well, no it doesn't. Although titled "Routes from a small island", the article's listing is limited to 26 County airports. You wouldn't have to be a republican to think this is stupid - there are parts of the south where the nearest (or next nearest) airport is across the border. I've checked out prices for flights from Belfast a few times myself.

And I really, really wish their food writers would stop referring to "fish-eating vegetarians". There ain't no such thing.

The headline story is, once again, the McCartney sisters - this time concerning an alleged threat which was posted on a message board. I say "alleged" because, reading the excerpts that were printed, I'm not convinced the poster actually was making a threat, more like simply confirming that such a threat exists, which I thought we already knew (no small thanks to the Trib for that, of course).

The article cites, unsurprisingly without comment, the poster's reference to anger in the Short Strand over the sisters' "lies". This is the story that the media won't touch: the belief of many within the community that the sisters have gone beyond persistent and into the realms of reckless in their pursuit of justice. I have no idea whether this is a majority or minority view in the Strand; it is at the very least a significant minority view and one which merits investigation, but so far this article in the Sunday Business Post almost three months ago is the only one I've seen address it (the print edition added a number of salient quotes from local residents which unfortunately didn't make it online).

I believe there would be a reluctance to question the sisters' version of events even if it wasn't republicans involved. Of course, nobody wants to add to the hurt of victims' families by suggesting that they're manipulating the facts, especially when they don't have any obvious reason to. But victims' families sometimes do exactly that; recall the case highlighted in the acclaimed documentary Murder On A Sunday Morning. It's not necessarily deliberate dishonesty - sometimes people are overwhelmed by events and convince themselves that something is true when it isn't. But false is false, and it doesn't help the search for justice. If the McCartneys are propagating a version of events that isn't accurate - and I'm obviously not in a position to know for sure that they are - the media are really not doing them any favours covering it up.

No time to post in full about Prime Time tonight, but briefly...

... did Tommy Gorman think to ask Brendan Devine why he hasn't identified his attackers?

Has anyone thought to ask Brendan Devine why he hasn't identified his attackers?

Surely to Jaysus this must have occurred to someone by now. Why doesn't anyone mention it?
I've just had a glance through the newest IMC report. It's the usual mishmash and most of it is not even worth commenting on, but this part really annoyed me:

There are a number of questions in people’s minds about Sinn Féin’s long term aims and the nature of the leadership it may give to PIRA now or in the future. These include the following. How does Sinn Féin now view the claim made by PIRA to be the lawful government and representative of the people in Ireland North and South?

For the love of all that is holy, how many times do we have to answer this question? Off the top of my head, within the past six months Gerry Adams, Gerry Kelly, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Seán Crowe have all stated publicly that we don't view the IRA as the legitimate government. I'm not sure the IRA even view themselves as the legitimate government anymore.

Along similar lines I heard today, for the second time recently, the accusation that republicans allowed the Guildford Four to rot in prison rather than identify the real bombers. Of course this is nonsense - the Guildford Four rotted in prison because the English courts refused to accept the Balcombe Street Gang's admission of responsibility for these attacks. But nonetheless people continue to make this accusation and others who certainly know better (such as Henry McDonald, in a radio interview on, I think, Today FM a couple months ago) allow them to get away with it.

I know these are hardly the worst things republicans have been accused of, but still, it gets on my nerves.
Anyone know what the story is with Haven't been able to load the page for days.
More threats reported against the McCartney sisters, this time from "republican elements". They're saying the McCartneys will be hurt if they persist in "discrediting the republican movement".

Assuming for the moment this is true, I don't believe the IRA are involved in it. If for no other reason than they surely have a sharper sense of irony than that (at least, I hope they do, although after P. O'Neill's last statement about the McCartney murder I suppose you would have to wonder a little bit). It needs to be remembered that "republican elements" includes people other than Sinn Féin and the IRA - and while republican dissidents initially were as keen to latch on to the McCartneys as the SDLP and southern establishment were, many of them were alienated when the sisters went to the US and began rubbishing republicanism in general to the politicians and media over there. And it certainly wouldn't be beyond some of them to threaten the McCartneys in the full and deliberate knowledge that mainstream republicanism would take the criticism for it.

Perhaps I'm being paranoid here, but I wonder if the fact that the reports refer only to generic "republican elements" is telling. When Fergal Toal was arrested on drugs charges last month many of the reports referred to him as "a former republican prisoner", his membership of the INLA rather than the IRA going conveniently unmentioned although most journalists would surely be aware of it. But when the IRA are (alleged to be) involved in something they rarely hesitate to say "the IRA"!

On a final note, I've just heard on the radio that tomorrow's Sunday Tribune will be carrying a column by Nuala O'Faolain wondering why the southern media have gone soft on Paisley and suggesting that it's just "not PC" to blame anyone other than Sinn Féin for the impasse. Should be interesting; perhaps I'll at last get my money's worth on the €2 that I inexplicably continue to shell out on that stupid paper every week.
I've just seen on RTÉ that the US State Department has denied a visa to Rita O'Hare, Sinn Féin's representative in Washington.

I'm struggling to comprehend the logic of this decision. Rita's in and out of the US all the time. If the Bush administration has decided it wants to start playing hardball with Sinn Féin (and why start now?), it seems odd that they would pick on her and not Martin McGuinness, who was to accompany her on her next visit.

And not merely odd but incredibly short-sighted. Because of the amount of time she spends in the US, and the fact that she is, essentially, the key liaison person between Sinn Féin and America, she'd be a lot more sensitive and sympathetic than most republicans are to US sentiment on the issues we're involved with. Some would call her too sensitive and sympathetic, in fact. She has a much keener sense than most of us have of how and why to keep the Yanks onside - and consequently, it's in their interest to keep her onside. This isn't really the best way to do it.

Irish Minister in racist comment shock

In the Dáil chamber today, on live television, Minister for State Conor Lenihan told Socialist TD Joe Higgins that he should "stick with the kebabs" - an obvious reference to the mistreated Turkish construction workers whose plight Deputy Higgins has publicised.

Conor Lenihan is a Minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs. I'm sure this will go over swimmingly with the Diplomatic Corps.

It's not the first time he's made such a gaffe. Shortly after his appointment last year, he responded to criticisms about the Government's failure to honour its commitment to Overseas Development Aid by saying that the aid agencies were squandering the money anyway. His honeymoon period was over pretty quickly after that.

In truth, the Government only has itself to blame. Lenihan should never have been appointed anyway - he's way out of his depth at this level, and it shows every time he speaks in a Ministerial role. The reality of the situation is that he was chosen not on his own merits but for geographical reasons: his constituency, Dublin South West, will be very tightly fought in the next election and Fianna Fáil have real fears about retaining their two seats.

Lenihan's comments are unlikely in and of themselves to do him much electoral damage, but removing him from his post would, so I suspect the Government is unlikely to take action - this time. But surely they won't let him get away with it forever.

30 years

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the single worst atrocity of the Troubles, in which 33 people (one a pregnant woman) died. Despite the fact that police had identified the key suspects within 48 hours, to this day not a single suspect has been charged, arrested or even questioned over the attacks. Important files pertaining to the case have 'disappeared'.

Last year, Justice Barron's report into the bombings was published. I read the whole thing (you wouldn't want to drop it on your toes). A number of people were disappointed, and no doubt another number were relieved, that the report found no solid evidence of British collusion. But it did find that those witnesses who testified that collusion took place were credible and should be taken seriously, and moreover, that it wasn't possible to obtain all the evidence anyway because the Brits refused to hand over crucial files. Why wouldn't they? Well, I can only think of one reason.

Shortly after the report's publication an article appeared in Phoenix magazine (health warning, I know, but the article did cite its source, which I've forgotten) stating that in 1972 or 1973 the Irish Government had discovered a British spy in the Justice Department. The spy was sacked, of course, but given events at the time the Brits would almost certainly have tried to replace him. Remember those missing files I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago?

It's long past time for the Dublin Government to stop fannying around and insist on seeing the evidence. They've threatened on several occasions to take the British Government to court over this. What is stopping them? In the 70s it was said that they were reluctant to take action for fear of handing republicans a propaganda victory, but surely by now they should have copped on that that's precisely what they do by hesitating and that firm, decisive action is not only the right thing to do, it's also the politically sensible thing to do.

Anybody reading this who has a Fianna Fáil TD (or is willing to pretend to), please drop them an email and ask them to begin European Court proceedings. While you're at it, tell them you support - no, demand - a full public inquiry into the handling of the case by Gardaí and other Irish officials. If you really want to make an impression, tell them that Sinn Féin are the only party who seems to care about this issue - I guarantee that that will get their attention, and will probably be reported at the next Parliamentary Party meeting.

In the meantime, drop a note of support to Justice For The Forgotten (you can view their website here). The amount of work this group has done over the years is truly inspiring and when justice finally is done, they will be the ones to deserve most of the credit.
Elsewhere, it's being reported that the Dublin Government will be setting up a watchdog to clamp down on retail price increases. This will be good news if it actually lives up to the hype - but frankly I have my doubts. Mary 'Shop Around' Harney is still the second most powerful person in Government, remember. And we've seen how well the likes of ComReg have done their job (I'm posting this via a 56k dialup, which is actually connecting at somewhere around 40k, because out here in the rural bogland that is Phibsboro, Dublin 7, I still can't get broadband).

My scepticism notwithstanding, I give a big thanks to all the foreign tourists who've complained about the prices here. They've ignored us for years, but they seem to be listening to you.

What passes for a cover story at the Sunday Tribune

On the front page of today's edition: "A petrol bomb attack terrifies me most - Paula McCartney".

Apparently Stephen Collins and Suzanne Breen are miffed at the fact that the alleged threat against the McCartneys (which of course is to be condemned, and come on, apart from the McCartneys themselves could there possibly be anyone who would less like to see it carried out than Sinn Féin? Think about it) took place during the week, making it old news by Sunday. Not to worry though, Stevie and Susie'll find an angle to put it back on the front page. Like, say, that the McCartneys are afraid of the threats. Well, duh. The newsworthiness of a little state-sponsored massacre in Uzbekistan absolutely pales in comparison!

Dear God, please give this paper a free online edition, so I'll cease having to waste €2 on it every week.

In which the Green Party make me puke

I see the Greens at their Ard Fheis this weekend talking about being a genuine alternative. What a joke. They had a chance this week to give the Government a major shock, and they blew it.

On Wednesday the Sinn Féin Dáil Leader, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, was thrown out of the chamber for insisting the Taoiseach answer questions about the disability legislation. Per Dáil Standing Orders, the vote on his suspension took place the following day. It was 50-48 in favour - the closest margin in any vote I can recall under this Government. And two of the Greens were missing from it.

Now, sometimes TDs have to be away during a vote. That's understandable. But the two missing Greens - Dan Boyle and Ciarán Cuffe - were on the premises. They just didn't vote, either because they had agreed to a 'pairing' arrangement with a Government TD (a scandal in itself) or because they simply couldn't bother their arse. And so an unprecedented chance to really embarrass the Government was lost.

Of course, the Greens aren't the only guilty party. There were other Opposition TDs who were also on the premises and didn't vote. But from Labour and Fine Gael, you expect that kind of sucking up to the Government, and the independents aren't really worth worrying about anyway. The Greens have generally had a credible case for presenting themselves as a true Opposition party. They want to watch they don't lose it.
This is just a test post. I haven't got anything particular to say at the moment.
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