Thursday, December 30, 2004

Searching for the Holy Grail

Brain Feeney on the Holy Grail in the north of Ireland:

More than 50 per cent of the nationalist population are under 30. Most are bored rigid by nationalist politicians' search for the Holy Grail.

Young people can't and don't compare today to how bad things were 10 years ago. They don't hanker after the political 'solution' devised by their grandparents over a quarter of a century ago: going back to the future.

They want to see change and improvement now. The paradox is that the search for the political Holy Grail is what prevents change and improvement.

We're stuck somewhere in 1999. There is this huge package just sitting there ready to be unwrapped. It's been there more or less complete since the meeting at Weston Park near Birmingham over two years ago: policing, 'on the runs', demilitarisation and all sorts of wee side deals and under-standings. Both governments added bells and whistles in their 'Joint Declaration' in spring 2003.

None of it is going to happen because it's all based on the requirement to get the Good Friday Agreement's institutions up and running again: the Holy Grail.

Not this year folks, any more than last year or the year before. Why not? Neither Dublin nor London can come to terms with the fact that unionists do not want to share power with nationalists.

The stark truth is that the majority of the unionist electorate voted DUP in November 2003 because they did not want to share power and believed that the DUP was the party which would ensure power-sharing didn't happen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Colombia criminals

Jude Collins writes about crime in Colombia:

In 2003 the Colombian Trade Union Congress estimated that in the previous year 172 trade unionists were killed, 164 received death threats and 132 were arbitrarily detained by authorities.

Paramilitary groups linked to the Colombian armed forces were believed to have carried out many of these attacks.

In 2002, a Human Rights Watch report said that during 2001, "Several key witnesses to important [human rights] cases were killed while in government custody. Most political killings, by far, were the work of paramilitary groups which continued to work with the tolerance or open support of units of the Colombian security forces." Government and paramilitary units habitually share intelligence, the report added.

Also vehicles, roadblocks, and even in some cases the same people served in the government's armed forces and in paramilitary groupings.

In 2003, human rights campaigner Esperanza Amaris Miranda denounced right-wing paramilitary threats before Colombia's federal prosecutor. Shortly afterwards, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' office, she was killed by the paramilitary group Bloque Central Bolivar, which has documented ties to the Colombian military.

Colombian president Alvaro Uribe has denounced defenders of human rights as a front for left-wing paramilitaries. In 2003, 13 human rights defenders were murdered, and many more left the country under threat.

Human Rights Watch said: "Government programs meant to help defenders, trade unionists, and even witnesses to human rights crimes were overwhelmed and plagued with internal problems as well as serious questions about their security. Overall, both witnesses and the prosecutors who investigate human rights cases reported continuing threats against them."

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Colombia and justice

Stephen McCabe writes about justice in Colombia:

Colombia, where some 3,000 kidnappings occur per year, is a very dangerous place. It would be a particularly dangerous place to any jurist who had the temerity to acquit these three accused if he could find even the flimsiest of evidence to hang his hat on. But no such evidence was adduced. So even a judge in Colombia, who no doubt feared for the safety of not only himself but his family, acquitted the three men of the serious charges and fined them for the lesser offense of traveling on false documents.

Needless to say, the verdict was an unpopular one in certain quarters, particularly in the higher echelons of the Attorney General's office, which was shown, at the very least, to be inept and, more obviously, to be corrupt, since the judge, in his opinion, called for an investigation into the clearly perjurious nature of the testimony proffered.

It has been reported over and over again that the Attorney General's office has been infiltrated by paramilitary elements and sympathizers. No doubt elements of the army were also unhappy with this verdict.

Having observed the judge during the course of the trial it is clear that he is not a stupid man, although there might be those who would say that he may very well be stupid for rendering a verdict such as this. But to all observers it is the only correct verdict that could have been rendered after listening to the evidence.

So-called commentators and also politicians in different countries have also applauded the new verdict. None of them witnessed the trial. I doubt if they have ever read any portion of the trial transcript. On what do they base their opinions? Third-hand rumors generated by drug traffickers? Stories planted by agents with interests in drug trade profits? Politicians interested in maintaining the status quo in a country beset by a civil war over 40 years old? Operatives hopeful to deflect attention from their own activities?

We are now confronted with the spectacle of a judicial tribunal reversing this courageous jurist, finding the men guilty and sentencing them to 17 years in prison without ever having listened to one live witness and presumably only by reading a transcript of the trial.

Sinn Fein and democracy

Brian Feeney comments on the futility of trying to isolate Sinn Fein:

Martin McGuinness or Gerry Adams speak as the representatives of the majority of northern nationalists, difficult as that may be for many many people to accept – as difficult as nationalists find it to believe that a majority of unionist voters choose Ian Paisley to represent them or that a majority of Americans prefer George W Bush. It may cause your jaw to drop but they call it democracy. Attacking, isolating and trying to marginalise Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams means trying to do the same to their voters. Result? They get more votes. Didn't Michael McDowell prove that in the Republic last June?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

ESRI forecasts 5% growth in 2005

Good news for the Irish economy:

The economic think tank, the ESRI, has predicted that the economy will grow by 5% next year. Its latest report paints a very positive picture of the Irish economy in 2004.

It says economic conditions have remained strong with GDP, the amount of goods and services produced in the economy, expected to have increased by 5.5% by the end of the year.

Looking to 2005, the ESRI predicts that a stronger euro, the lack of increases in indirect taxes in the budget and the fact that interest rates are unlikely to rise before the end of the year, will keep inflation at an average of 2.1%.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Portuguese family targeted in Tyrone

Members of the Portuguese community were targeted by racists in an arson attack in Co Tyrone. Eight people including a child had to be rescued by police from apartments in Dungannon. At around 4.50am, a motorist noticed bins on fire outside the apartments. When they arrived, police discovered an electricity junction box had also been set alight. A police spokesman said: "Investigating officers are treating this as a racial attack and are appealing for witnesses."

Anti-racism campaigners have been concerned by the rise in racially motivated attacks. Members of the Chinese, Polish, Lithuanian, Ugandan, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Filipino communities have all been targeted in Belfast, Derry, Lurgan and Portadown.

The attacks have been linked to British loyalist terrorist groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force. Racist groups like the White Nationalist Party and the British National Party have been blamed for stoking tensions.

Irish economy will grow 4.9% in 2005

The rate of growth in the Irish economy is set to exceed that of the global economy in 2005, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. For the Republic of Ireland, the unit is forecasting that GDP growth will remain steady at 4.9% in 2005, with inflation to stay at low levels of about 2%. The growth will come as private consumption rises on the back of an upbeat economic outlook and a more robust outlook for jobs and incomes.