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24th-Sep-2015 03:26 pm - Freedom of Information request into ‘deal on the past’ refused

**Idiocy and doublespeak in the North, as usual.

Eamon Sweeney
Derry Journal
24 Sept 2015
**Photos and video on-site

A Freedom of Information request to view draft proposals on how deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict has been refused, the ‘Journal’ can reveal.

The news comes as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers yesterday confirmed that, as had been previously been suspected victims’ relatives, that those guilty of Troubles-related murders will be able to confess and then walk free. Victims’ relatives will also not be notified that any such disclosures will have been made.

The Secretary of State said that in order to encourage perpetrators to come forward structures agreed during the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) last year will mean confessions will not be made known to victims’ and that any information given over will not be admissable in legal proceedings.

However, Theresa Villiers said that confessors could still face prosecution if evidence comes to light from other avenues.

It has also been confirmed that the five political parties in the Stormont Executive-DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance, as well as the British and Irish Governments all agreed to these proposals last December as part of the SHA negotiations.

Yet, according to the Secretary of State the proposals do not amount to a general amnesty for those on all sides who carried out murders during the Troubles.

“There is no amnesty in this paper. There won’t be an amnesty in the bill, an amnesty was rejected by the Northern Ireland parties during the Stormont House talks-that is not the right way forward,” she said.

Legislation setting the way forward in respect of dealing with the past is expected to come before Parliament this autumn.

However, a Freedom of Information request seeking to view the nature of the proposals has been refused by Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice.

The request to Department of Justice asked for a copy of the draft proposals regarding dealing with the past within the SHA.

In response, the Department of Justice gave reasons for and against the disclosure of the proposals.

In the end, and despite obvious public interest on the issue, the request was however refused even though the refusal notes that the upcoming proposals could have a significant effect on the general public.

The Department of Justice said: “Private space is required to enable the Stormont House Implementation group to debate and explore the full range of policies and options arising in the Stormont House Agreement.

“Releasing information about policies is likely to prejudice such development and subsequent implementation and could allowed targeted lobbying by certain groups that could inhibit objective decisions being made.

“Disclosure could compromise future consultation and thwart the exchange of ideas.

“Although the proposed policies will involve changes which could have a significant effect on the general public, the disclosure of the information may have an adverse effect on the policy makers in that they would be less likely to provide full and frank advice or opinions on policy proposals.”

The response to the Freedom of Information request also noted that “invitations have been extended to relevant parties to participate in bilateral meetings regarding the establishment of the Historical Inquiries Unit and changes to legacy inquests.”

The response concludes: “It is our view that public interest in protecting the policy making activities outweighs the public interest in releasing the information.”

Relatives of Derry victim’s of the Troubles have long noted their suspicions that a final deal in dealing with the past will however amount to an amnesty for killers.

Kate Nash, whose brother William was shot dead by members of the British Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday and who father Alex was severely wounded coming to his son’s aid recently told the ‘Journal’: “We are just collateral damage to them. We cannot let them dismiss the pain our father suffered after the murder of our brother William.

“Every single party has betrayed us. It is being denied that this is an amnesty, but that is what it is.”

The Northern Ireland Office had recently dismissed what has now been confirmed as accurate by the Secretary of State as “grossly misleading and highly irresponsible reporting”.

Theresa Villiers has however said that plans on how to deal with the past will not be activated until political resolution is found at Stormont, in particular on welfare reform. The policy paper outlined by Ms Villiers also contains proposed legislation required for an oral archive to document the history of the conflict.
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13th-Sep-2015 04:23 am - Death of an assassin: how the killing of Kevin McGuigan reawakened Belfast’s political strife
The claim that the former IRA gunman was shot by his ex-comrades has thrown Stormont into turmoil. But the manoeuvring is far from over

Henry McDonald
The Guardian
12 Sept 2015

Bound, blindfolded and with a broken jaw, the terrified Territorial Army soldier must have thought he was about to die at the hands of the Provisional IRA in the republican north Belfast redoubt of Ardoyne.

It was 11 July 1986, the eve of “The Twelfth”, when Protestants celebrate King William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne. But instead of ending up at one of the bonfires lit at midnight to mark loyalists’ and unionists’ most important day, the army reservist from the Protestant West Circular Road had strayed too close to Ardoyne and had been kidnapped by local republicans.

As the soldier awaited his fate in the early hours of the 12th, having sustained a savage beating at the hands of his two IRA captors, a pair of joggers approached the house, apparently on a morning run. Yet when the two men, dressed in tracksuits, stopped at a house in Holmdene Gardens, they turned to the door and kicked it in. Once inside, they drew their guns and went searching for the missing soldier. The reservist was about to be rescued by the SAS.

His two IRA guards bolted but were captured shortly afterwards in a joint army-police operation after hiding in the loft of a house in the street behind. The IRA men were veterans of the Provisionals: one was the late Martin Meehan, a street fighter famed for prison escapes and gun battles with the British army. The younger man, still in his 20s, was Kevin McGuigan, whose death in August this year has brought the power-sharing process in Northern Ireland to the brink of collapse.

It is this killing, which the police say was carried out with the involvement of the Provisional IRA, that has plunged the province into its worst crisis for a decade, raising the critical question: is the IRA still a functioning and deadly force?

For kidnapping the TA soldier, Meehan and McGuigan were sent to the Maze maximum security prison outside Belfast, where they joined their imprisoned IRA comrades in the H-Blocks. When both were eventually released in the early 1990s, Meehan moved into politics, eventually becoming a Sinn Féin councillor. The republican movement, however, had a different role for McGuigan to play: he would become one of their most feared and ruthless assassins.

Martin Meehan in 1975

When the IRA declared its ceasefire on 31 August 1994, the organisation remained on a war footing. To keep its footsoldiers busy and the fighting machine oiled, the organisation spent most of the early part of 1995 gathering intelligence on a new generation of criminals who were amassing fortunes selling drugs in Catholic working-class areas of Northern Ireland.

Operating under a flag of convenience – a campaign group called Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD) – the IRA selected McGuigan for an assassination unit that would target alleged drug dealers in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland. Another even younger activist who was being groomed to become Belfast IRA commander – and ultimately, perhaps, the organisation’s overall chief of staff – was drafted in to run the DAAD murder campaign. His name was Gerard “Jock” Davison.

DAAD’s offensive began in April 2005 when they shot dead drug dealer Mickey Mooney in a downtown Belfast pub. Between 1995 and 2001 the group killed up to a dozen men. Security sources have told the Observer they are “absolutely certain” that McGuigan killed at least one of the victims of this vigilante campaign – Brendan “Speedy” Fegan in May 1999.

The death of Fegan, at a bar in Newry close to the border with the Irish Republic, demonstrated McGuigan’s prowess as a murderer. As he entered the Hermitage Bar in Newry city centre, McGuigan, wearing a wig and fake moustache, fired a number of shots into the roof of the pub, causing panic and chaos. McGuigan singled out the 24-year-old drug dealer, shooting Fegan about 16 times.

Kevin McGuigan

The unit of McGuigan and Davison became an object of fear among the IRA’s many enemies, and its activities led to the latter’s promotion to head the Provisionals’ Belfast Brigade. Yet in a world of volatility, suspicion and daily violence, the fellow IRA killers would eventually fall out.

Both men had grown up in the Market area of central Belfast but spent a lot of their adult life just across the river in the Short Strand area – a Catholic district bordered on three sides by the mainly loyalist east of the city. Although a family man and a passionate follower of Gaelic sports, McGuigan’s volatile nature meant that even neighbourly disputes could end in violence. One such attack on a veteran republican family resulted in the IRA’s internal discipline unit being called in.

McGuigan was sentenced to a “six pack”, which, translated from Belfast street parlance, means gunshot wounds to the feet, knees, hands and elbows. McGuigan was bitter for years and believed one man was to blame for his punishment – Davison.

One former comrade from the time they were in the H-Blocks together was the IRA prisoner turned author and critic of Sinn Féin, Anthony McIntyre. McIntyre, who visited McGuigan in hospital after the six-pack shooting, recalled: “He was an ‘army man’ who believed strongly in the office of the leadership. I think his deep sense of loyalty to the army led him to resent Jock, who he felt hijacked the army and punished him for reasons that were unfair – the result of favouritism and personalities.”

For a decade, McGuigan nursed a dark grudge, which the IRA in Belfast now believe led him to kill Davison on a rainy Tuesday morning in May. The description of the gunman fitted McGuigan’s profile: diminutive, wiry, fit and professionally covered-up.

In the weeks and months following Davison’s murder, the 53-year-old father of nine issued statements through his solicitor denying any role in the killing. Over the summer McGuigan was warned three times by the Police Service of Northern Ireland that his life was danger, but he chose to remain in the Short Strand with his wife, Dolores.

Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison

While the police appeared to be making no progress over the murder, Davison’s closest comrades were holding their own secret inquiry. They set up a unit that carried out interrogations and put a surveillance squad on McGuigan. Inside the Belfast IRA, meanwhile, debate raged over whether to strike back at whoever killed Davison, with some close to the Sinn Féin leadership fearing that bringing IRA footsoldiers back onto the streets would create a huge political crisis.

According to sources close to senior republicans, what swung that debate over to the side of those urging a brutal response was the surveillance team. They reported first to a one-time Belfast Brigade commander that they had seen McGuigan at Davison’s home. This IRA veteran, who once directed the Provisionals’ bombing campaign in Belfast and was close to Davison, then persuaded other senior republican figures to act – or they might be next.

Around 9pm on 12 August, as McGuigan was pulling up in his car with his wife at their home in Comber Court, two men clad in dark clothing ambushed him. They wounded him with a volley of shots and, as he tried to escape, killed him on the ground in front of his wife.

Ed Moloney, a veteran IRA-watcher and world authority on the Provisionals, is in no doubt that the leadership gave the go-ahead for the killing. “If this had been a genuinely freelance action, it would have been met with a ferocious response from the IRA against those responsible, and we haven’t seen that at all,” he said. “The unauthorised use of weapons, especially in a politically controversial killing, would merit a court-martial and a death sentence. In practice, nothing happens in the IRA without the approval and knowledge of the IRA’s military and political leadership.”

The Democratic Unionist party has threatened to pull down Northern Ireland’s coalition due to the alleged role of the IRA in McGuigan’s death. But Gary Donnelly, a former prisoner and Independent Republican councillor in Derry, said he didn’t believe unionists really cared about an ex-IRA gunman who, if ordered to do so during the Troubles, would have assassinated any unionist politician.

"I have no doubt Stormont will be back soon and will continue to yield a political dividend for the British government". --Gary Donnelly, republican councillor

“Bodies in the street and high-profile arrests are optics to deflect the electorate from substantive political issues. I have no doubt Stormont will be back soon and will continue to yield a political dividend for the British government,” Donnelly said.

Northern Ireland is unlikely to return to the sort of society it was back in 1986. The community from which McGuigan emerged doesn’t want to go back to war. While power sharing remains in peril, there will be no return to the 24/7 conflict of the Troubles past. Yet the murder of the former IRA gunman illustrates how that past continues to haunt the politics of the present.

Republican sceptics might be correct in suspecting unionists are using the killing to crash the current power sharing arrangement and, after elections later in the autumn, restore devolution on a basis that is more favourable to them. But past grudges, bad blood and one-sided folk memories of the Troubles still pollute the atmosphere in the region – not only at the parliament on the hill at Stormont but far beyond, in the old war zones where the conflict once raged.

27th-Nov-2014 04:51 pm - Northern Ireland police to investigate Stormont expenses scandal
PSNI to probe allegations of fraud at devolved parliament over politicians’ expenses after claims made in BBC documentaries

Henry McDonald
The Guardian
26 November 2014

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has confirmed it is examining politicians’ expenses at the Stormont assembly following allegations of major fraud at the devolved parliament.

A PSNI spokesman said on Wednesday that officers from its serious crime branch were assessing the claims of “potential criminality” at the Northern Ireland assembly.

The PSNI acted after two BBC documentaries in the region that exposed claims of major expenses fraud.

In the second of the programmes aired on Tuesday night the BBC Spotlight investigations team revealed that Sinn Féin assembly members claimed £700,000 in expenses for using Research Services Ireland over the last decade - a company linked to the party. RIS is run by Sinn Féin’s finance managers.

Another ex Sinn Féin assembly member told the programme the party had claimed for his driving expenses even though he cannot drive.

Meanwhile the former speaker of the regional parliament, the Democratic Unionist Willie Hay, said he has suspended his brother-in-law as his office manager after the programme revealed it had claimed thousands of pounds in expenses for home heating oil. Hay refused to comment on the revelation explaining that it was now a police matter.

The former chairman of a Westminster standards watchdog, Sir Alistair Graham, criticised the use of taxpayer’s money channelled to cultural societies that were linked to Sinn Féin. He told the previous Spotlight programme that there was a “real danger that these so-called cultural bodies are rather bogus organisations which is a way of channelling public money to political parties”.

Graham said these allegations of criminality had to be investigated by the PSNI.

Northern Ireland’s justice minister, David Ford, said that the controversy underlined the need for an external, independent public audit of parliamentarians’ expenses at Stormont.
16th-Oct-2014 11:22 am - Talks to save Northern Ireland power-sharing begin
SHAWN POGATCHNIK
Associated Press
October 16, 2014

DUBLIN (AP) — Negotiations to bolster Northern Ireland's power-sharing government are opening Thursday in Belfast as the 7-year-old alliance of British Protestants and Irish Catholics faces its toughest political test.

The United Kingdom government is overseeing the talks at Stormont House involving local leaders, who have grown increasingly divided over a growing list of issues. The diplomatic push is expected to run twice-weekly alongside the continuing operation of Northern Ireland's five-party administration.

At stake is the central achievement of the Good Friday peace accord of 1998: the formation, in 2007, of a governing coalition of former enemies committed to ending a 45-year conflict that has claimed 3,700 lives. But many of the conflict points that stir violence remain unresolved, particularly sectarian parades and the display of British and Irish symbols.

The major Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, wants existing restrictions on Protestant parades strengthened and more British symbols removed. The Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland's primary defender of political union with Britain, seeks the opposite. Street confrontations over marches and flags triggered several bouts of Belfast rioting in 2013, but cooler heads have prevailed this year.

More troublingly, opposite sides of the coalition have spent the past year locked in a costly blinking contest over Northern Ireland's budget. Sinn Fein is blocking welfare reforms already enacted in Britain, triggering an 87 million-pound ($138 million) penalty on Northern Ireland's British-provided finances and forcing cuts in services, including the police. Bigger budget penalties loom.

If the deadlock isn't broken, analysts agree that the Northern Ireland Assembly could be dissolved for early elections and a cross-community coalition would have to be painfully reconstructed. Filling the political void until then would be resumed "direct rule" from London, the system that prevailed in Northern Ireland from 1972 through much of the 2000s.
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