Thursday, January 27, 2005

Environmental Ireland

Ireland's environmental rankings:

Ireland has been ranked 21st out of 146 countries in an environmental sustainability index drawn up by experts the universities of Yale and Columbia in the United States.

Finland, Norway, Uruguay, Sweden and Iceland made up the top five in the rankings, while the United States was ranked 45th and the United Kingdom 66th.

The lowest-ranked countries were North Korea, Iraq, Taiwan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The rankings, which were drawn up for the World Economic Forum, are based on individual countries' efforts to reduce pollution and improve policies on environmental sustainability.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Irish growth report

AIB issues a positive report on the Irish economy:

ECONOMIC growth was up at 5.5% last year and is expected to turn in a similarly impressive performance in 2005.

Those bullish findings have been published by AIB Global Treasury Services.

They confirm the view the economy is back on trend growth. The threat of a bubble has receded it says.

Employment is now rising by close to 3% year-on-year with the unemployment rate dropping below 4.5%. Inflation has fallen close to eurozone levels while the Budget sums are also pretty solid.

National accounts data for the first three quarters of last year show that GDP grew by an average 5.6% year-on-year while GNP, favoured by some economists as the best measure of Irish performance, averaged 4.9% for the period.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Scotland and immigrants

Apparently immigration to Scotland is doing little to reverse its population decline:

MORE immigrants come to Scotland from the United States than any other overseas country, a new study revealed today.

Americans accounted for ten per cent of the overseas immigrants identified north of the Border.

About one-third of people who move to Scotland settle in Edinburgh and the Lothians, according to census figures.

But statistics also showed the influx of foreigners was having little impact on tackling Scotland’s falling population.

Officials have predicted that the country’s population of 5.05 million could fall to 4.84m by 2009.

It is a pity that the Scots don't try to entice the British colonists from the north of Ireland to move to Scotland. Many of these colonists are descended from Scots who came to the north of Ireland during the Ulster Plantation and so would be returning to the land of their ancestors by migrating to Scotland.

Monday, January 24, 2005

IRA bank heist?

Danny Morrison tells of another bank robbery that was originally blamed on the IRA:

It was the biggest bank robbery in the history of the state and everyone presumed the IRA did it. But those responsible for the heist in Dublin in October 1972 were eventually arrested and sentenced. They were two English brothers, Kenneth and Keith Littlejohn, who claimed they were working for British Intelligence. Whilst London later admitted that a senior MoD official had met Kenneth in regard to gathering intelligence on the IRA any illegal activity "had not been authorised". Absolutely.

The Littlejohns told the Dublin court that the robbery was aimed at discrediting the Republican Movement and force the Irish government to introduce tougher measures - which it did.

The robbery and a number of bombings in the south created an atmosphere which saw the enactment of the Offences Against the State Act - allowing for non-jury courts and Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act - the RTE ban on Sinn Fein. The first person to be arrested and sentenced under the new act was the President of Sinn Fein, Ruairi O Bradaigh.

When I first heard of the Northern Bank heist I suspected it might have been the IRA replying to Ian Paisley’s ‘sackcloth and ashes’ demand and his rejection of decommissioning, witnessed by two independent clerics, being completed by Christmas.

But I changed my mind after the Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde’s press conference and the subsequent robust and repeated denials from Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

Even General de Chastelain’s lustreless speech in 2002, regarding the IRA’s significant third act of decommissioning, was more riveting than the performance put in by Hugh. I don’t know who, or what organisation, if any, did the bank. The Chief Constable says it was the IRA. To back that up the PSNI has published a ‘dodgy dossier’, which included the wrong estimate of money taken, the wrong serial numbers of the missing notes and a grainy CCTV film of the mysterious white van used in the robbery.

From various raids I understand that the PSNI have narrowed a suspect down further - to a republican with size 9 feet.

Hugh Orde said he was naming the IRA in order to facilitate the investigation. But surely this news would frighten off potential eye-witnesses, two of whom have balked at coming forward.

The DUP have accepted as definitive the word of Hugh Orde that the IRA robbed the Northern Bank. Ironically the DUP has provided us with a breakthrough in the decommissioning logjam.

Though we might be poorer we could well be all the richer, with the peace process back on track, if Hugh Orde was the witness to confirm that the IRA had put all of its weapons beyond use!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sickly North

Economic prospects for the Six Counties are not as bright as those of the Republic:

Underlying problems in the Northern Ireland economy will have to be addressed as British government spending on the public sector slows down, according to a report from the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

It predicted the economy would grow by about 2.6% this year, slightly ahead of the UK average. However it would also mark a slowdown on last year's estimated growth of about 3.1%.

The 25th annual review of the Northern Ireland economy said high levels of public spending had played a major part in driving unemployment to a record low, but had masked a decline in the North's manufacturing base which had to be faced up to.

With one-in-three Northern Ireland workers employed in the public sector, the authors noted the area had lost proportionately more manufacturing jobs between 2002-4 than any other region in the UK.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

New appeal in £26m bank robbery

The PSNI are appealing for more information on the Northern Bank robbery:

A fresh appeal has been made by police investigating the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery in Belfast.

CCTV footage has been released of a staff member who was held hostage leaving the bank with a bag of money on 20 December.

Police want anyone who saw the green Umbro bag or the man to contact them.

They also want to hear from the driver of a car which nearly collided with a woman taken hostage during the raid at the Northern Bank head office.

Hugh Constable Hugh Orde has blamed the IRA for the robbery. The IRA has denied involvement.

The PSNI apparently have very little evidence about the bank robbers so why on earth did Hugh Orde place the blame on the IRA?

Ireland's increasing wealth

Ireland is set to become the third-wealthiest economy in the world:

The economic wealth per head of population rose to surpass the United States for the first time late last year.

Dan McLaughlin, the Bank of Ireland’s chief economist, said that Ireland was now richer than America.

Richard Bruton, Fine Gael’s finance spokesman, said that the economy has been growing at a "phenomenal pace" ahead of most of its trading bloc. However, he added: "The other thing we have to be conscious of is the limit to which the marketing services can grow."

Mr McLaughlin said the increase in Irish economic wealth to £25,200 per head of population had surpassed the US figure of £21,900.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, and the European Union’s statistical office, Eurostat, recently ranked Ireland the wealthiest economy in the world after Luxembourg, Norway and the United States.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Loyalist racism

There is ongoing loyalist violence against ethnic minorities in the north of Ireland:

Increasing violence against Africans and Asians in Northern Ireland has forced the government to draft a new Race Relations Policy which has been put out for public consultation until 31March 2005.

The Irish media have recently carried reports of an orchestrated plan involving loyalist paramilitaries to get ethnic minorities out of Belfast, who have been linked with the National Front.

A group calling itself the White Nationalist party have been distributing leaflets in several areas whilst the British National Party has said it will be fielding candidates in the next council elections.

Police reports in Northern Ireland indicate a 500% increase in race attacks since 1999 with both estate agents and private landlords being intimidated and threatened not to let their premises to Asian and African tenants.

Estate agent William Faulkner had their premises petrol bombed last year and in south Belfast racist graffiti such as “keep the streets white” and “whites only” have appeared in public places.

Letters: Orde's evidence

Two letters from the Irish Independent on the Northern Bank robbery:

Sir - Denis Hurley's letter assumes "that as Chief Constable of the PSNI, Hugh Orde is not one to make outlandish statements without proof to back them up". He then uses this assumption to believe that the IRA was behind the Northern Bank robbery and calls for the exclusion of Sinn Fein, the third largest party on this island and in this State at last year's European elections.

Apart from the fact that Hugh Orde has not produced any proof to back up his claims, has Mr Hurley forgotten about the so-called 'Stormontgate' affair when the PSNI raided Sinn Fein offices at Stormont? Hugh Orde and his colleagues claimed that there was a 'spy ring' operating at Stormont. Just as now, political parties, north and south, lapped all this up and used it to attack Sinn Fein and bring down the Stormont Assembly.

Yet, despite the high-profile arrests and claims at the time, all charges relating to any spy ring in Stormont have been dropped because there never was any evidence there to begin with. We had similar claims from Hugh Orde and the PSNI about the break-in at Castlereagh, yet not one scrap of evidence has been produced by Hugh Orde or anyone else to back up their outlandish claims.
Gerry Casey,
Co Sligo

* Sir - It seems that Michael McDowell, Hugh Orde and Bertie Ahern have been struck with omnipotent powers. These powers include the ability to convict suspects by innuendo, hearsay and rumour. The use of evidence, hard or even circumstantial, is apparently no longer needed. Given this new approach to crime detection, can we now pin other crimes on the IRA and Sinn Fein?

Was Gerry Adams on the grassy knoll in 1963? Maybe Joe Cahill abducted Jimmy Hoffa? Our Justice Minister now convicts people over the airwaves. This is a dangerous road and one that will come back to haunt all politicians and policemen who jump on McDowell's bandwagon.
Gordon Kennedy,
Dublin 4

Where is that van?

More questions about the robbery:

New questions are today being asked about the route the white van took following last month's £26.5m Northern Bank robbery after a question we asked the PSNI yesterday (Wednesday).

In the days after the heist that chief constable Huge Orde has blamed on the IRA the media was saturated with stories claiming the van made its escape via the Grosvenor Road.

Last week the PSNI issued a CCTV photo of the van in College Square East as it made its way to rob the bank for the first time.

We asked the PSNI: "Does the PSNI have any evidence that the white van involved in the Northern Bank robbery made its escape afterwards along the Grosvenor Road?"

Howard Street, which runs on to the Grosvenor Road, has a number of powerful CCTV cameras, as does the Grosvenor Road – there are two across the road from Grosvenor PSNI station which look straight into traffic driving in the direction of West Belfast.

Now the PSNI seems to be distancing itself from the perceived wisdom regarding the white van and the Grosvenor Road connection. In the early days after the robbery the Grosvenor Road statement was picked up by an acquiescent media as their cue from the cops that republicans carried out the heist.

Recent denials by both the IRA and Sinn Féin on the matter have been dismissed by the same media organisations. Nothing new there.

At the most recent PSNI news conference we were told that the white van crossed the border at five o'clock on the day of the robbery. We are not told how the cops know this – is there CCTV footage or maybe an eyewitness account?

The more days that go by, the more murky the whole business of the bank robbery becomes. You might think that lessons would be learned by all from Castlereagh and 'Stormontgate', but not a bit of it.

On Tuesday the PSNI said, "We don't know where the van went after it left the scene."

It might have been nice had they said that in the hours and days immediately following the robbery. But they will consider that a good job has been done.

What white van?

More confusion in the PSNI "investigation" of the Northern Bank robbery:

The PSNI last night (Wednesday) moved to distance itself from a blizzard of press reports in the immediate aftermath of the Northern Bank raid which claimed that the white van said to be carrying the money made its escape along the Grosvenor Road.

A spokesperson said that at no time had cops claimed that the van had made its way along the Grosvenor Road after the robbery, although a huge number of stories in the days after the heist attributed just such a claim to the PSNI.

The spokesperson claimed that the PSNI statement had only said that the van had headed "in the direction of the Grosvenor Road/Westlink". But because Belfast city centre is a one-way system, as the van made its way along Howard Street after leaving the bank, it could have been headed for any part of the city.

Confusion has been further heightened by the lack of CCTV footage from the battery of cameras surrounding Grosvenor Road barracks.

Mystery last night surrounded the escape route of the white van the PSNI says was used in the £26.5m Northern Bank raid.

A torrent of stories in the print and broadcast media in the days and weeks after the robbery claimed that the van left the scene and proceeded up the Grosvenor Road. That information was attributed to the PSNI.

Yesterday we asked the PSNI: "Does the PSNI have any evidence that the white van involved in the Northern Bank robbery made its escape afterwards along the Grosvenor Road?"

A PSNI spokesperson responded: "The Senior Investigating Officer heading up this investigation has said that on leaving the bank the van travelled towards the Grosvenor Road/Westlink. Evidence relating to any live investigation is not made public for obvious reasons."

Earlier, the PSNI told us that at no time had they ever claimed that the van made its escape along the Grosvenor Road. The PSNI say what they actually said was that in the course of making their escape the robbers travelled along Howard Street, in the direction of the Grosvenor Road. But since Belfast city centre is a one-way system, the van could have been making its way to any part of the city.

Widespread media coverage claiming the robbers made their escape along the Grosvenor Road was a powerful indicator that the robbers were making their way back to West Belfast – and from this it was widely deduced that republicans were behind the heist.

There are two high-tech cameras mounted on a post across from Grosvenor PSNI station and directed at traffic driving up the Grosvenor Road and into West Belfast. There is also a battery of powerful surveillance and monitoring equipment located inside and on the perimeter wall of Grosvenor Road barracks. It's also believed that the barracks is equipped with a sophisticated registration plate identification equipment similar to that used by Andersonstown barracks before it was abandoned.

And yet the only photograph of the white van published so far is a poor quality image taken by a PSNI CCTV camera as the van made its way along College Square East, past Inst, on its first run on the night of the robbery.

On Tuesday, the PSNI said at the press conference that they "were aware" that the white van had been spotted crossing the border at around 5pm on the day the bank was stripped. The PSNI added that the white van made its way into Belfast city centre via the Westlink and Grosvenor Road. But, again, no images have been produced and cops did not say on what evidence they are basing this assertion.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Northern Bank heist

Andersonstown News reports on the current situation involving the bank robbery in the north of Ireland:

The political fall-out from Hugh Orde's laying of the blame for the Northern Bank robbery at the door of the IRA has uncanny parallels with another meticulously planned and executed job – the break-in at Castlereagh on the evening of March 17, 2002.

That the IRA was behind the break-in beggared belief. The three-man team behind the raid wore no masks or gloves, they gained easy access past heavy security at the entrance to the building. They made no attempt to conceal their faces from the battery of security cameras outside and inside the building – not suprising, really, because the cameras had been de-activated. The trio knew their way around the building and the only one of them to speak had an English accent. Claims that the IRA had been assisted by an American chef working inside the building have never been substantiated. Undoubtedly, a chef would have been able to tell the break-in team where the HP sauce and the beans were kept; questions about how he would have been able to get the team past perimeter security, or how he would have knowledge of the rooms holding Castlereagh's most closely guarded secrets have never been answered – although he lives openly in New York, no attempt has been made to have him extradited.

The first question traditionally asked by the IRA when considering the smallest military engagement, never mind a politically explosive high-wire operation, is this: what are the risks compared to the potential benefits? The answer was that the risks were absolutely enormous and the benefits uncertain at best – a calculation that would have seen anyone suggesting such a venture laughed out of the safe house.

All of this was reflected in the considered response at the time of UUP leader David Trimble who said he would wait to see the proof before acting, a position that was warmly welcomed by Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin.

Trimble's party colleague, the then Lord Mayor of Belfast Jim Rodgers, said he didn't think the IRA was involved and added that the whole episode "stinks to high heaven". Outgoing RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan said he would be "most surprised" if the IRA was involved, hinting strongly that he believed it was an inside job. More predictably, though, from other unionists and from the Irish and British media burst a tidal wave of hysterical recrimination which swept away common sense and objective analysis. Republicans were refusing to end the conflict; Sinn Féin weren't fit for government.

Sound familiar? Stay with it...

Regardless of what their boss thought about the matter, the RUC went on to launch a series of highly publicised raids in nationalist areas of Belfast and Derry during which six people were arrested. Five of them were quickly – and quietly – released and one was later charged with possession of information unconnected to the Castlereagh raids, including possession of biographies of leading Tories John Major and Norman Lamont and a 1988 New Statesman article on international eavesdropping. In a statement the RUC said they were "interested in a number of mobile phones that were being used in West Belfast in the period leading up to the break-in and on the night of the robbery itself." No more was ever heard about the mysterious mobile phones. The PSNI continued to focus their attention on republicans.

In October four people were charged after raids on their homes in Belfast once again unleashing a flood of shock-horror stories about death lists and prominent targets. A local businessman became the fifth person charged after he rejected attempts to recruit him as an informer. Charges against two, including the businessman, were later dropped (quietly); charges against the remaining three were later substantially reduced (quietly) and a case which many legal observers believe to be pitifully thin is being persevered with (watch this space).

The investigation was frontloaded with the sensational and highly publicised raid on the Sinn Féin offices at Stormont during which a single Windows floppy disc and a CD-Rom were taken in a laughably brief search that nevertheless involved a mob of boiler-suited officers and saw parliament buildings ringed with Land Rovers. At a press conference in November, Acting Deputy Chief Constable Alan McQuillan said the Castlereagh investigation had taken the PSNI "into the very heart of the Provisional IRA." Impressive stuff, but no-one was ever charged with IRA membership. Ian Paisley Jnr of the DUP said, "The revelations by ACC McQuillan that the police have now uncovered active IRA spying activity is another signal that their political counterpart in Sinn Féin is not fit for government. Lives have undoubtedly been saved by police actions." The floppy disc and CD-Rom were (quietly) returned to Sinn Féin.

To this day, no-one has been charged in connection with the Castlereagh break-in. Not surprisingly, the Castlereagh episode has all but disappeared from the political discourse.

Against that background, it might be expected that another setpiece shocker involving an elaborately plotted and daringly executed operation followed by virtual political meltdown would give politicians and journalists pause for thought. Not a bit of it – even as the Land Rovers were lining up again outside republican homes in West Belfast in time for the evening news, the same siren voices were raised making precisely the same noisy and apocalyptic political predictions.

Last Friday's press conference at which Hugh Orde duly pointed the finger of blame at the IRA was a confusing and contradictory hotch-potch of claims and allegations about which no evidence was offered. Mr Orde claimed that he was making the statement for "operational" reasons, without actually telling us what those reasons were; in the next breath he said that he was making the statement because media speculation was getting in the way of the investigation and he wanted to bring it to an end. Here's the quote: "It now makes sense that we make an attribution because it makes operational sense, and it will allow us to get on with the enquiry unhampered by some of this unnecessary speculation."

The naming of a culprit by a police force which has not amassed enough evidence to warrant an arrest, never mind charges, is so damaging to fairness and due process that it boggles the mind. And impressed as we are by Mr Orde's dedication to the operational considerations of a single investigation, one wonders whether the questionable short-term benefit of bypassing the concept of innocent until proven guilty is worth the risk of ending the peace process. Hugh Orde says that is not his concern – he is fond of repeating the mantra that he's not a politician, he's a cop. But he revealed at the press conference that he was naming the IRA to end media speculation. If doing something to get the press off your back is not a political act, then perhaps he's in need of a new dictionary.

Mr Orde also said he was pointing the finger at the IRA because "Northern Ireland is a unique policing environment" which "inevitably gives rise to questions as to who or what organisations committed what crimes, and how did they plan it, and who organised it. This would not happen anywhere else in the United Kingdom." Really? Is Mr Orde telling us that the Met didn't come under pressure after the Brinks Mat robbery? That English detectives don't come in for some rough treatment from Fleet Street during the course of major investigations? Can it really be only here in the North that hacks get excited by big stories? Can it really only be the local press that wants cops to tell them something they can write about? The reality, of course, is that journalists put policemen under huge and sustained pressure – it's their job.

When we talk about the peace process, we're talking about people's lives, let's be completely clear about this. And yet the standard of proof required for the PSNI – or the Independent Monitoring Commission, for that matter – to cast judgement is not only massively less than even Diplock courts require, it is something about which we are allowed to know absolutely and precisely... nothing.

Mr Orde told us: "But what I can say is, on the basis of the investigative work that we have done to date, the evidence we have collected, the information we have collected, the exhibits we have collected, and bringing all that together, and working through, it is in my opinion the Provisional IRA were responsible for this crime and all main lines of enquiry currently undertaken are in that direction."

So, on the basis of i) investigative work; ii) evidence collected; iii) information collected; and iv) exhibits collected, the PSNI have not been able to make one single arrest or to get one single republican into an interrogation room (not the hardest of tasks), but they are able to state that the Provisional IRA is guilty and trigger a political reaction exactly the same in effect as if Martin McGuinness been tried and sentenced to 25 years. In the Alice in Wonderland world that we inhabit today, the Chief Constable is able to speak ex-cathedra without producing a grain of evidence, and even the unelected members of the International Monitoring Commission have an effective veto over political progress. Newspaper leader writers treat Hugh Orde's opinion (he was careful to point out that it was only his opinion, although you wouldn't know it) as though it were incontrovertible fact and have constructed fantastic political scenarios on that flimsy foundation to the point where a media consensus has been arrived at and to depart from it is to run the risk of being condemned as mad, bad, a fellow-traveller, or all three. If all the papers agree that it was the IRA, if the Chief Constable says it, if the political parties with the exception of Sinn Féin say it, if the British government says it, if the Irish government says it, then it must be true.

The dogs on the street and all that.

In fact, the only thing that can be said with any degree of certainty is that nobody knows. The press is in makey-uppy heaven – that legal limbo when no-one has been arrested or charged and they can (and do) write whatever balderdash takes their fancy. The PSNI knows nothing; if they did they would swoop immediately and decisively, such is the career-threatening depth of their humiliation. The political parties clearly know nothing as they readily admit to have taken their cue from the PSNI. The two governments know nothing because they're hearing the same things which Hugh Orde is hearing, ie 'high-grade' intelligence of such quality that not a single arrest has been made and not a penny has been recovered.

And guess what? The Andersonstown News doesn't know either. But we're happy to be among the very few to admit as much.

Law and Orde

Pat Brosnan on policing in the north of Ireland:

NORTHERN Ireland chief constable Hugh Orde has been put on a par with the Pope. Like His Holiness speaking ex cathedra when he addresses matters of faith and morals, Mr Orde has been vested with the quality of infallibility since pronouncing that the IRA was responsible for beggaring the Northern Bank in Belfast.

The robbery took place on December 20, but the chief constable didn't say a word about it publicly until late in the first week of January. He probably didn't want to upset anybody's Christmas or new year celebrations by mentioning the empty bank vaults.

When he did say a word, everybody took it as gospel except Sinn Féin and the IRA. Having met with members of the policing board, the chief constable declared that the IRA was responsible for making the unauthorised withdrawals.

No ifs or buts, he said the organisation was to blame for the multi-million job.

No other element loyalist, freelance or imported even made the shortlist. Mr Orde was so confident it was the republicans he didn't feel the need to produce any evidence.

Probably because there was none. It was, and still is, his opinion that the IRA pulled off this monumental heist.

He said: "In my opinion the Provisional IRA were responsible for this crime and all main lines of inquiry currently undertaken are in that direction." It is possible just possible that all those lines of inquiry are going in the wrong direction.

I presume the standard of evidence in the North is not simply grounded on the chief constable's opinion. If that were so, the costly business of courts of law could be dispensed with, as could a person's right to a fair trial.

True, the IRA were oblivious to that same right when they carried out atrocities that were justified in their opinion, but nobody else's.

It would be outrageous to suggest that the chief constable would give his opinion in the case of a civilian charged with murder before it was dealt with by a court of law because such an unwarranted intervention would have serious consequences.

It can be argued that the normal standards by which justice is administered should not apply to a paramilitary organisation, but that is not the norm we apply.

There is a sneaking suspicion that the IRA did rob the Northern Bank because they are perceived to have the experience and logistical capability to do so.

But, because of the fragile state of the peace process, it demands more than a sneaking suspicion or a chief constable's opinion to lay the blame squarely at the door of one particular organisation without conclusive proof.

And that, like the bank's money, is missing at the moment. The independent monitoring commission (IMC) is to investigate the matter, and while that will take some time, so too will the PSNI investigation.

Why couldn't the chief constable have kept his opinion to himself until the outcome of the IMC investigation, or until such time as he was able to produce conclusive proof?

Efforts to restore the institutions in the North were going nowhere until at least after the forthcoming British election, so the question of whether or not the IRA was responsible, and the political implications for Sinn Fein, did not warrant his intervention at this stage.

They are definitely going nowhere since Mr Orde fingered the IRA as his only suspect.

The extraordinary thing was that his unsubstantiated opinion was so readily accepted as fact by both governments, opposition parties and, gleefully, by the DUP.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appeared on TV wearing a wounded look as he described the betrayal he felt that Sinn Féin knew of the impending raid even as he was in negotiations with them.

Now he knows how the country felt when he promised so much before the general election and failed to deliver on most of it.

Tony Blair also accepted Orde's unsubstantiated opinion, stating that he would not have made the claims without evidence. Then Mr Blair said the magic words which were music to the ears of the likes of Ian Paisley.

Unionists were "entirely justified" to refuse to share power with Sinn Féin "unless there was a definitive end to all forms of paramilitary or criminal activity by one of the parties that was associated with a paramilitary group."

It could have been said to the accompaniment of a Lambeg drum or a marching band so in tune was it with Mr. Paisley's attitude.

Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Mitchel McLaughlin have all accepted that the IRA had nothing to do with the robbery.

What 'evidence' has emerged since?

The inevitable white van. It seems that a white van almost always features at the outset of any police/Gárda investigation.

GIVEN the number of white vans in circulation although not as many as there are Northern Bank notes one was bound to be in the vicinity of the crime scene. And this one really was not once, but twice!

This wasn't just any ordinary old white van either, according to the police, who said it was so unusual that it took time to provide a mock-up model for last week's crime reconstruction at the bank.

Apparently, all it was short was a sign on the roof saying "Biggest ever robbery in Ireland or Britain in progress."

Or possibly the strains of Roddy McCorley blaring from the van's stereo system, like the ring tone in a colleague's mobile phone, might have done the trick to grab police attention.

Then again, it might not. What it did have was distinctive lamps on the cab roof, an unusual box design and lifting tailgate, and the storage compartment did not extend over the driving position as in other models.

It was like no other Ford Transit 350 long-wheelbase model, and the PSNI have the CCTV evidence, but not the van.

It first appeared at a side entrance to the bank on the evening in question at 7.12pm and reappeared precisely at 8.12pm.

From all accounts of the laid-back way in which the robbery was carried out, it could have appeared every hour, on the hour, for all the attention this 'unusual' vehicle attracted.

Oh yes, and to make sure it had to be seen, it was driven across the border on the main Belfast road two hours before the robbery took place. Where it was in the intervening two hours we do not know, except to speculate that it could well have been in the car park at police headquarters.

This is the latest, fresh information released by the PSNI, almost as hot as the missing £26.5 million. In announcing it, Det Supt Andy Sproule, the senior investigating officer, almost plaintively asked: "Where did the van go? Somebody must have seen it."

But no, nobody saw this strange van as it travelled the main Belfast road not even when it was parked a couple of times outside the bank, and outside normal banking hours. Not even a policeman.

Well, a traffic warden apparently called the police to report two men acting suspiciously after a white van was spotted, but two officers missed the action by a few minutes. In the meantime, more than £10m in stolen notes did not have their serial numbers recorded and could prove untraceable.

Although the bank said last week it would replace all its notes in circulation, this could take several weeks, giving the thieves valuable time to launder the money.

And shop around for a new van.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Abraham O'Lincoln?

It is rumored that Liam Neeson may play Abraham Lincoln in an upcoming film:

Award-winning director Steven Spielberg may cast actor Liam Neeson as US President Abraham Lincoln in a new movie biography based on the book "The Uniter: The Genius of Abraham Lincoln."

The book, written by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, is yet to be published.

The movie would depict Lincoln's actions during the Civil War, according to entertainment publication Variety.

Neeson has previously worked with Spielberg on the Academy Award-winning film Schindler's List.

Scotland's population decline

Scotland needs immigrants to halt its population decline:

The next stage of the scheme to attract young people to work in Scotland has been set out by the first minister.

Jack McConnell launched the Relocation Advisory Service in Glasgow, which offers support and advice.

It is part of the Scottish Executive's Fresh Talent plan to help reverse the population decline.

The service has already taken 1,000 calls from people overseas, most of which were about visas, work permits, housing and other relating information.

Six staff are employed by the service, including two secondees from the Home Office and the Immigration Advisory Service UK.

Most of the queries came from the US, India, Poland and Nigeria.

Mr McConnell also announced that the two-year visas being offered to overseas students will apply to diploma students as well as graduates.

There will be a new government fund to help universities and colleges mentor overseas students and encourage them to settle in Scotland.

This will be open to all Scottish higher and further education institutions. The first awards will be made in time for the start of the new academic year in 2005.

Mr McConnell said: "Tackling our declining population is a priority for the Scottish government which is why I want Scotland to be the most welcoming country in the world."

The question is why is Scotland looking to Asia and other parts of the world for new immigrants when there are hundreds of thousands of unwanted British colonists in the north of Ireland? If the British government would resettle those colonists back in Britain - where their ancestors came from - then they could be used to help Scotland with its demographic problems. This would also allow the indigenous Irish Catholics to form an united and independent Ireland which they have been waiting for since the British partitioned Ireland back in 1921.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Let Us Have The Evidence

The Derry Journal asks where is the evidence that the IRA was involved in the bank robbery in the north of Ireland:

Hugh Orde's assessment that the IRA were behind the Northern Bank robbery has major implications for the future of the political process here.

And the Taosieach's assertion that the political leadership of Sinn Fein knew about the plans for the robbery has added fuel to the fire.

What in effect Mr. Ahern is saying is that he is calling into question the integrity of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams who he is accusing of engaging in negotiations while being aware that the IRA were planning a major robbery.

While there is a lot of finger pointing in the IRA's direction it has to be said that not one shred of evidence has been produced so far to show that the IRA was behind it.

The newspaper also points out that Orde's actions have not always been politically pure:

Hugh Orde took office promising not to be a political policeman but he has intervened in the political process at times that a cynic may say suited the interests of the unionists.

The much publicised raid on Stormont came just as Trimble was under intense pressure and saved the unionist leader from having to pull out of an Executive that was working.

Does Mr. Orde expect us to believe that this raid was so necessary when all they took was a disc or two.

Then the present intervention came as the DUP were under pressure to make a deal - pressure that has now evaporated.

Robbed of a fair trial

Breidge Gadd has written an intelligent commentary on recent events in the north of Ireland:

We are told that everyone believes the Northern Bank kidnapping and robbery was the work of the IRA. No doubt many theories abound but certain knowledge is another thing altogether. And there are many people deeply concerned that one man or even one organisation's secret opinion is to be taken without question to influence the political future. We have seen due criminal process already eroded, with the International Monitoring Commission being given the power to pronounce on criminal behaviour, whether loyalist or republican, without any requirement for evidence to be produced never mind their pronouncements being subject to scrutiny or substantiation.

Now there is worse.

We can all speculate till the cows come home about who committed the most audacious robbery of this century – and the bigger it is the more salacious the speculation (my goodness, aren't we so utterly hypocritical with our righteous condemnation of petty crime but our fascination with the big heist?).

We are all human enough to put forward our two-penny worth of theories about "who done it".

But what the people I have talked to are clear about is that no-one – and that is no one person irrespective of their position, their expertise or even their inside knowledge has the right or authority to say with conviction who robbed the Northern Bank. (not to mention kidnap, assault violence against the person and a string of other offences).

Only a court of law has the right to pronounce on innocence or guilt.

It is shocking – deeply shocking – that guesses, opinions, informed views, even those of the Chief Constable, have come to be seen by politicians, prime ministers, journalists and some more, as a satisfactory substitute for proper processes where criminal behaviour must be proven in a court of law. Worse than that they are prepared to allow this unchallengable and unchallenged advice to enable them to make assumptions and take political actions which will impact on every single one of us.

This turn of events scares the hell out of me and it should strike fear into the heart of every person who is subject to the British justice system. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Wealthy Ireland

Ireland is one of the richest countries in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Eurostat:

The study compares gross domestic product (GDP), adjusted for purchasing power parities, which are defined by the OECD as "currency conversion rates that enable international volume comparison of GDP by taking into account the differences in price levels between countries".

Using this measure, Ireland scores 129, compared to an average of 100 for the 30 members of the OECD. This puts the Republic in fourth place behind Luxembourg (205), Norway (144) and the US (142).

However, the organisation warns that small differences in per capita GDP are not, in general, statistically or economically significant.

As a result they divide the countries into four groups.

Along with Luxembourg, the US, Norway and Switzerland (128), Ireland falls into the high income group.

The UK scored 113 and is in the high middle income group along with most of the 15 members of the EU prior to enlargement and Australia and Japan.

Ireland fell into this category when the survey was last carried out, using 1999 data. Its promotion to the top ranks was a "remarkable development" according to the OECD.

Spain, Portugal and Greece are in the low middle income group and are below the OECD average.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

PSNI chief out of order

An interesting letter from the Irish Independent:

Unsubstantiated claims from the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr Hugh Orde, that the IRA was responsible for the robbery of stg£26.5m from the Northern Bank in Belfast must be viewed with some scepticism. The history of the police in Northern Ireland is one of anti-Catholic and anti-nationalist bigotry.

Successive investigations commissioned by the British Government, which included reports from the London Metropolitan Commissioner John Stevens, the former governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten, and the retired Canadian judge Justice Peter Cory, all found evidence of collusion by security forces with loyalist death squads which targeted members of the Catholic community.

If it emerges that there was IRA involvement in the robbery, then those responsible should be made accountable under the law. In the meantime, innocence must be assumed in accordance with democratic principles. For the Chief Constable of one of the most discredited police forces in the world to make such serious allegations in the absence of any solid evidence is outrageous.

Already, the political implications of Mr Orde's allegations have impacted most negatively on the peace process, much to the delight of Ian Paisley and his power-sharing rejectionists in the DUP.

Good growth for Irish economy

An economist predicts that the Irish economy should deliver strong growth in 2005:

Friends First economist Jim Power predicts that the Irish economy should deliver GDP growth of around 5% and GNP growth of around 4.5% in 2005

The economist says the outlook for the Irish economy in 2005 'looks pretty good'. He says that business investment spending recovered strongly during 2004 and this is likely to be sustained into the coming year.

He says that consumer spending power is likely to by buoyed up in 2005 by a strong jobs market, reasonable growth in wages and the 'generous' Budget that was delivered in December. Inflation is likely to edge back from current levels and could average around 2.5% for the full year while unemployment should also continue to edge lower and could hit 4% later in the year.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

DUP ‘in no hurry to achieve a deal’

Tom Griffin on the DUP:

A leading DUP MP told members of a right-wing fringe group at Westminster that his party was "in no hurry to achieve a deal," on the day that the British and Irish Governments issued their proposals to resolve the deadlock in the peace process, according to an account issued by the group.

The January 2005 newsletter of the London Swinton Circle, reports on an address delivered by North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds on 17 November, the same day that the DUP and Sinn Fein received details of the two Governments’ blueprint for a way forward.

"Circle meetings are covered by Chatham House rules and thus we operate restricted reporting, but we are able to sum up the key points," the newsletter account reads.

"It was a well attended meeting and Nigel Dodds created an extremely favourable impression on all who attended with his candour and honesty.

"He said: The DUP were in no hurry to achieve a deal and would not be cowed by the deadlines set by HMG [Her Majesty’s Government]. The DUP would only reach a deal if it could be certain it would bring lasting and real peace to Ulster. This meant decommissioning of all terrorist weapons positive proof that this was happening, such as documented proof of photographs, video footage, inventories, witnesses present at the decommissioning, etc."

"The reform of the Ulster assembly was an essential part of any deal. Previously the Assembly functioned, with each executive member operating autonomously and not held accountable for his actions by either the assembly or the First Minister. (For instance – Martin McGuinness was able, as Education Minister, to abolish 11+ exams throughout Northern Ireland, despite the Assembly having voted decisively to retain them.)"

"The DUP have no representation in the House of Lords. Yet there are eight or nine UUP peers, most of whom with the Honourable exception of Lord Molyneaux are 'Liberal' Unionists. We must continue to urge strongly for this inequality in representation to be changed."

"The DUP was aiming to successfully win all the remaining UUP seats in the General Election next year. A particular target is the unseating of Ms Sylvia Hermon, MP for North Down. She will now be opposed by the Alliance Party, who did not contest the seat at the general election of 2001. The DUP expect Sinn Fein to make further inroads into the SDLP share of the vote and thus even possibly threaten their four [sic] Westminster seats. Recently, the SDLP have taken an even harder line than Sinn Fein and have called for any new agreement to be 'imposed on unionists."

Commenting on the meeting, the author of the newsletter writes "Some of us are convinced that unionism and Irish republicanism cannot be reconciled. Gradual but total integration into the UK is thus the way forward for Ulster."

The Swinton Circle is a right-wing Conservative group dedicated to the policies of the late Enoch Powell. The January newsletter calls for a "a more robust foreign policy as well as a return to Britain’s Imperial past, which is also our future – outside of the European Union."

The group caused controversy in 2001 when it emerged one of is active members, Bill Binding, the former deputy leader of the British Klu Klux Klan, had joined the Conservative Party.

The then Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith came under pressure to bring in a ban on Conservative links with the Swinton Circle, similar to one he had recently introduced against another hard-right group, the Monday Club.

Basingstoke MP Andrew Hunter was forced to resign as Deputy Chairman of the latter group. Mr Hunter subsequently resigned from the Conservative Party and announced last month that he will formally take the DUP whip at Westminster.

PSNI 'gone fishing' for the usuals

Brian Feeney on the PSNI raids in indigenous Irish Catholic areas:

It's quite clear the police had no information or evidence whatsoever to justify their raids which they inflicted on homes and commercial premises as a crude fishing exercise. Throw out a grappling hook, drag it in and you never know what you might find on the end of it: a pot of gold, a packet of Northern Bank tenners or an oul' boot. In this case 16 pairs of boots, though new ones.

Plus ca change. There has never been a similar exercise in loyalist districts since the seventies and even then it was the British army who did the dirty work. At the height of the loyalist feud in 2000 the police seemed content to stand by as the UDA drove hundreds out of the lower Shankill and UVF and UDA gunmen, all known to the police, prowled the streets at will. It's OK however to raid 'known republicans'. Makes dramatic TV. Sure they're only republicans. Doesn't matter about the consequences. Sure nobody in the district supports the PSNI anyway. Who cares?

Well, the sort of PSNI tactics witnessed over the Christmas break aren't going to win over anybody in those districts. On the contrary: they will confirm people in their view that the PSNI's attitudes are no different from those of the RUC. The PSNI has a lot of work to do in this respect and they're not making much progress at it. All you have to do is read the oversight commissioner's latest report. It's available at He finds a lot to be desired.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Loyalist couple freed

An indigenous Irish nationalist politician has questioned how a British loyalist couple accused of possessing ammunition at their Co Armagh home have walked free from court:

A judge yesterday (Monday) said he could not determine whether the couple had jointly kept the bullets or which one had done so.

Last night SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly hit out at the "appalling" decision which she said had set "a dangerous precedent".

Police found 61 live rounds of ammunition in a lunch box hidden in a wheelie bin at Neil and Victoria Hyde's Merrion Drive home in Lurgan.

Other items were discovered during the planned search on December 27 2002 but they were not the subject of any charge. The haul included LVF paraphernalia, six balaclavas, gloves, two replica handguns and almost 100 blank rounds.

These were found secreted in a second bin and a hollow brick surround in the living room of the property.

Ms Kelly said she was concerned at "the charmed lifestyle some people in Lurgan live".

The Upper Bann assembly member said the LVF material and other items should have been taken into account.

"How can law and order mean anything if people can get away with these things?" she asked.

"What do people have to do to face a custodial sentence?"