Friday, February 25, 2005

An onslaught like no other

The destruction of democratic rights in Ireland:

The most important thing in the present political situation is for decent people to keep self-confident and steady.

The real crisis is not about what will happen to Sinn Féin – Sinn Féin will survive this crisis and will come out of it with an even clearer vision of its own policies and meaning. So that is that.

No, the real crisis is the steady and deliberate destruction of democratic rights which people have struggled to create and protect for 100 years and more.

Gay Mitchell, speaking on behalf of Fine Gael, said his party and others had brought Sinn Féin into the democratic political process. They did not. It was the votes of we the voters that did that. And it is our votes, the votes of the people, the voters, that will keep them there.

The Mitchell statement means that his party has rejected the democratic principle that the mandate of politicians comes from the people. According to Mr Mitchell, the mandate of hundreds of thousands of voters can be neutralised by other parties if they choose to do it. That is wrong and a reversal of democratic principles.

It has already been pointed out here many times that an appalling onslaught is being made on what freedoms and liberties we have. As usual this is being done on the backs of people who have been made to appear undesirable. It has happened before. Governments find their black sheep and, on the pretence of curbing the black sheep's activities, take away everybody's liberties.

Some years ago in the United States I talked often with a man called Jim Hoffman who worked very hard for democracy in Ireland. He said to me:
"When talking to the Irish American community, talk to them about Ireland, certainly, but also, please, talk to them about how their own Bill of Rights and their own Constitution are being dismantled day by day." Jim Hoffman was right. That taking apart of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights has been happening ever since and will happen even more in the coming years of the Bush administration. The people over there will be lucky also if there is not a move afoot to change their laws so that Bush can get yet another term of office. The opposition is so weak that it could just happen.

Riding on the back of an IRA which was not a serious threat to them at the time, the old Stormont government created a series of unjust laws of which any dictatorship would be proud. And kept them. On the back of social but not military agitation by republicans, London and Dublin created yet more laws of the same kind. And kept them too.

Riding on the back of a military campaign by republicans, the two governments created further laws including censorship of all opinion contrary to that of governments. And there was not, and there is not, any sign that those laws will be removed once a political crisis is over. Those laws to control the population, from Connemara to East Anglia, are there to stay. If you let them.

The struggle for political power in Ireland is reaching an intensity now which rivals that of the Irish power struggles of the 1920s and the European power struggles of the 1930s. That is the real crisis and standing almost alone in this tornado of hysterical propaganda is Sinn Féin which is under attack not just for its own sake but for the sake of those inconvenient liberties which can be destroyed also if the present mass attack succeeds. How much of our right to due process remains, for instance? Or the rights of property as guaranteed by the 1937 Irish Constitution? Or the duty of police to guard the lives and freedoms of citizens?

Mr Mitchell's statement was not the only disturbing one of the last few days. Seamus Mallon was quoted in the media as saying that people in West Belfast, Tyrone and South Armagh did not want policing because policing would mean an end to criminality. He seems to have issued a 'clarification' later but by then the propaganda had been made and the effect probably produced. The labelling of a whole community as lawless has echoes of the 1920s and '30s. Of the kind of politics we vowed would never happen again. Now it is happening again.

Public representatives being howled down in television and radio programmes by packed panels of antagonists, all the resources of the government and media united in an onslaught which is against Sinn Féin today and will be against SDLP in the North and the Irish Labour Party in the south tomorrow. "They came for the Jews but because I wasn't a Jew I said nothing..."

However, out of evil cometh good. The present whipped-up campaign to destroy Irish republicanism, and after that Irish nationalism, and after that to install what extreme conservatives will call "strong government" will give republicans an opportunity to re-state – and where necessary to re-invigorate – the old and honourable republican traditions of upright behaviour among all its friends and adherents. We all remember with gratitude the republicans who were so insistent on high standards. We even at times felt slightly uncomfortable in their presence, as if we were trying hard but were afraid we might find some guilty secret on our own consciences. Those people are upright and bearers of the best tradition of republicans.

Their day has come, now more than ever.

Failed agenda

Jim Gibney on the anti-republican agenda in Ireland:

The year was 1981, the month was May, the date was probably the first. The location was the prison hospital in the H-Blocks.

I nervously pushed open Bobby Sands' cell door. The scene that greeted my eyes has stayed with me ever since.

Bobby's mother sat by his bed. His sister Marcella was standing over him. Both were looking at Bobby who had by then only a few days of his life left. A pair of rosary beads sent to him from the Pope dangled from his bed's headrest.

He was lying on his back. His face was gaunt. His head and neck were propped up with pillows. A small frame separated the bedclothes from his body.

He sensed my presence. "Who's there?" he asked. "It's me Bobby, Jim." Bobby's eyesight was fading. He couldn't see me. His eyes, wide open, were a bright orange colour.

He stretched out his hand. I took it in mine. "How are you?" I didn't know what to say. "I'm OK. Tell the lads I'm hanging in there."

I never saw Bobby alive again.

He died a short time later.

That same week I stood in Francis Hughes' cell a few feet from Bobby's with his mother and his brother Oliver. Francis was weak and was occasionally being sick into a basin while we were there.

I heard Oliver relay a message to Francis from the Pope's envoy, Fr Magee – Thatcher told him she wouldn't give in to the prisoners' demands.

I heard Francis say to Oliver: "Well there'll be dead bodies coming out of here because we are not giving in." Francis was dead at the end of that week.

I visited Raymond McCreesh, Martin Hurson, Tom McElwee and Joe McDonnell. In their turn they too died, as did Kieran Doherty, Patsy O'Hara, Kevin Lynch and Mickey Devine.

Their deaths on hunger strike put the struggle for Irish independence onto the international stage. Those fighting for freedom in South Africa and elsewhere would look to the hunger strikers and be inspired.

In the course of this epic battle which the prisoners won, Bobby was elected MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Kieran Doherty was elected TD for Cavan/Monaghan and Paddy Agnew TD for Louth.

The people and the prisoners had spoken. The people voted and the prisoners died. Both actions left the British government's attempts to criminalise the prisoners and the republican struggle in tatters.

The term 'criminal', once never off the lips of Thatcher and her allies, was seldom heard again. The prisoners' selfless sacrifice and the will of the people made sure of that.

All of that was more than 20 years ago in the midst of war. We thought we had heard the last of such a failed policy of demonisation.

Now in the midst of a peace process an old failed agenda has again raised its ugly head.

The word 'criminal' has re-entered the political scene, however with a notable difference. Those leading today's 'criminal' charge against republicans are not the British government but the Irish government, the SDLP and those elements in the media who indulge their hatred of republicans at every available opportunity.

There is another notable difference – the target of this campaign are those most identified with the struggle for a united Ireland – the people who vote for Sinn Féin and Sinn Féin itself.

The primary objective of this latest offensive is to criminalise those who support a united Ireland in the hope that such a campaign will limit Sinn Féin's electoral growth and appeal.

There are opponents of a united Ireland and they are not just unionists here in the north. There are unionists in the south.

Their 'republic' stops at the border. Their power resides there and that's the way they want to keep it.

It is a national disgrace that the Irish government is not only lending itself to this campaign but is the instigator and promoter of it.

It is not lost on republicans that at a time when Bertie Ahern's former foreign minister Ray Burke is in prison convicted of corruption he is falsely accusing republicans.

This attempt to isolate republicans by the Irish establishment is reminiscent of an earlier time when they abandoned northern nationalists after partition to live under sectarian domination by unionists.

They turned their back on the people of the north then and they are trying to doing so again.

Fortunately, nationalists have a powerful voice in Sinn Féin and its leadership.

It is quite clear that republicans not only have to challenge unionists in the six counties, they also have to challenge unionists in the 26 counties who fear Sinn Féin's message of peace and a united Ireland.

To claim as Mr McDowell has that the IRA is a threat to the democratic institutions of the southern state is not only absurd, it is a lie and flies in the face of the actions taken by the IRA in support of the peace process over the last 10 years.

It is equally absurd to claim that republicans are riding two horses at the same time.

Republicans are riding one horse and it is called the peace process.

Keystone cops and the media

Jude Collins writes about current events surrounding the Northern Bank raid:

OK, it’s been tough. The headlines over the past week have been all thunder clouds and promises that the sky is about to fall. But a few Ealing comedy moments have peeped through as well.

The first was that £50,000 they got hidden in the toilets at Newforge Country Club. These were the first notes from the bank raid to be found by the PSNI. To hide them, those responsible must have had time to remove the tiles, insert the notes and then carefully replace the tiles – an hour’s work at least. So the question is this: how long do the RUC/PSNI patrons of this Country Club normally spend in the toilet cubicle without provoking comment? And did nobody ask what were those funny scraping sounds coming from in there?

The second light relief moment came when a PSNI spokesperson solemnly announced that “Initial checks would suggest that this incident is a effort to distract the police investigating the Northern Bank robbery”. Whoa, Dobbin. Am I hearing alright? The peelers haven’t unearthed as much as a five pee piece, now they discover £50,000 from the bank raid, and they conclude it’s a distraction? More Keystone Kops than Ealing, I’d say.

And a third chuckle - if a slightly bleak one – came with the media’s response to the cops’ claim that the Newforge money had been put there by republicans to stitch them up. Within hours, the media began reporting the PSNI claim as FACT. Now that’s what I call handy - news people who are willing to turn the dross of your opinion into the gold of fact. A kind of media alchemy.

So I’d like all news reporters on the island to listen carefully now. Because my initial checks suggest that the Northern Bank raid was carried out by a British Army undercover unit in co-ordination with the PSNI, that the money found in the Newforge Club is part of a PSNI pay-off, and the money found in Cork was put there by the Brits to act as a distraction. Oh, and a number of senior unionists serve on the supreme council of the UDA. What evidence can I produce for these claims? Well, none, of course. And your point is…? The final chuckle of the week was a sort of a personal epiphany that came to me in the small hours of Tuesday morning. I’d been thinking, as I often do, of Justice Minister Michael McDowell, because after my repeatedly describing him in this column as unsmiling, what does he do in Cork, where he’s rushed to congratulate the Garda Siochána on their success in locating lotsamoney? Why he smiles. A full frontal smile so wide it nearly met at the back of his neck.

Gerry Adams described Mr McDowell’s Cork performance as ‘unholy glee’ but that’s unfair. Booting your opponent when he’s on the floor is an important part of politics. That’s what Mitchel McLaughlin was doing a week or so ago when he said Mark Durkan’s attack on Sinn Féin felt like an attack by a dead sheep (ooouuuuch). And Fine Gael were trying to do it to Aengus O Snodaigh with their calls for his resignation, because some guys convicted of IRA activities had his posters in their car. Kicking in the kidneys is what politicians do, and McDowell was only following his nature.

But seeing the Justice Minister in Cork had started an itch in my brain. Who was it he reminded me of? The answer crouched in a corner and wouldn’t come out.

Until four o’clock on Tuesday morning when I suddenly wakened and sat up in bed and said two words.

“Maggie Thatcher!”

It was blindingly obvious. Grow the blond hair longer, remove the glasses, add a pearl necklace, touch of lipstick: it’s Lady Hacksaw herself. As for the Thatcher fixed stare and how-dare-you-disagree-with-me-you-slug tone – sure Michael has that to a T already. Truly this is the Son of Maggie.

So you see, despite the RTÉ canary chorus, there is brightness amid the supposed gloom. Tommy Gorman may come on for the umpteenth time to tell us that things are Disastrous for republicans, that they are Calamitous, that Sinn Fein are In Denial, that they are In Freefall. But after he’s finished, there still won’t be a scrap of supporting evidence, and the canary chorus still won’t stop people giving a rather different verdict in the Meath by-election in March and the Westminster general election in May.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Immigrants don't like Scotland

Scotland is finding it hard to attract immigrants:

JACK McConnell’s flagship policy of attracting immigrants to Scotland has been undermined by new government figures showing the country is drawing a disproportionately small number of new workers.

The official statistics also threaten to undercut the First Minister’s statement on Sunday that there were no reliable data on which to judge the success of his Fresh Talent initiative.

Scotland attracted only 6.5 per cent of the workers who came to Britain from those Eastern European countries that joined the European Union last year, official figures show. That falls short of Scotland’s 8.4 per cent share of the UK population.

In all, Scotland received 7,995 of the 122,770 successful applications for permission to work from new EU citizens last year. London had 27,215, and the Anglia region of eastern England received 21,425.

Nor were the new workers the highly skilled migrants that the Scottish Executive values most. Only 725 - 9 per cent - of those registering as employed in Scotland were doing "administration, management or business" work.

That was the lowest proportion of such workers of any UK region. In contrast, 40 per cent of those who registered in the English Midlands were employed in the managerial sector. UK-wide, 24 per cent of all the new workers were administrators and managers.

If Scotland needs people then why doesn't the British government offer financial incentives to the British colonists in the north of Ireland to move to Scotland? This solution would solve both the problems of Scotland and those of the north of Ireland.

Bolstering the SDLP

Danny Morrison on the sad plight of the SDLP:

Last Sunday on BBC television Seamus Mallon accused members of Sinn Féin of murdering Short Strand man Robert McCartney, who was brutally stabbed some weeks earlier. He also said that Sinn Féin was “up to its neck” in criminality and the robbery on the Northern Bank two months ago.

It was a revealing outburst from a politician who has often been described as having “the sharpest mind” in northern Irish politics and of being “a tough nationalist” - views which have often brought a smile to my face.

What Mallon said showed that the former leader of the SDLP, on the eve of his retirement and smarting from his party having been eclipsed by Sinn Féin, had clearly lost the run of himself. In language akin to that used by two former secretary of states - one of whom, Merlyn Rees, referred to South Armagh as ‘bandit country’; and the other, Peter Brooke, who referred to nationalist people as ‘the terrorist community’ - Mallon astonishingly demonised even his own constituents who for almost twenty years had faithfully returned him to Westminster.

He said: “The people in South Armagh and West Belfast and West Tyrone and other parts don’t want policing, because if you have policing you don’t have criminality.”

Patently, that is untrue because nationalists, especially in urban areas where hoods and criminals are rife and don’t seem to be thoroughly pursued by the PSNI, have been crying out for a proper policing service. They thought one would be delivered to them through the recommendations which flowed from the Patten Commission only for the fundamentals to be undermined by the British government during the passage of the legislation and then accepted by the SDLP.

Nationalists may be desperate for a policing service but not that desperate to follow the SDLP’s ‘anything’s better than what we had before’ attitude. What is wrong with the PSNI can best be appreciated by the Bill Lowry episode. Lowry was the former head of the Special Branch in Belfast who was in charge of the raid on Sinn Féin’s offices in Stormont which led to the collapse of the power-sharing executive.

Although he subsequently resigned from the PSNI he has since appeared on a DUP platform – in fact, the same platform on the night from which Paisley issued his ‘sackcloth and ashes’ demand for republicans to be humiliated. The suspicion and perception is that there are many other Lowrys who hold sway within the PSNI.

On television Seamus Mallon said: “Never a week goes by when I don’t have a constituent, or constituents, telling me what is happening to them at the hands of the Republican movement… On a daily basis, on an hourly basis,” people are being intimidated, he said. If that is true then where is the dossier of compiled cases? And why do a majority of nationalists continue to vote for Sinn Féin? Are they masochists?

Or, is it the case that in Sinn Féin nationalists feel they have a party which represents them locally and articulates their political aspirations?

Mallon accused Sinn Féin of having strangled the Belfast Agreement and its institutions and of having “thrown overboard” UUP leader, David Trimble. He omitted that after Trimble and he were elected as First and Deputy First Ministers Trimble poisoned the atmosphere by refusing to allow the nominations for the rest of the executive to proceed for another eighteen months. He omitted to mention that both Trimble and Tony Blair reneged on the October 2003 deal to re-establish the executive following the IRA’s third and largest act of decommissioning. He omitted to mention the IRA’s offer before Christmas to put all of its weapons beyond use by the end of 2004.

Do the feelings of republicans count? Are they allowed to feel angry about bad faith and breaches of trust – or is that something only the privileged members of the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and the establishment can feel?

In July 1999 Seamus Mallon unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Trimble to set up the all-party executive. He told Trimble that the SDLP would be the first to exclude Sinn Féin if it defaulted on its commitments (regarding the Mitchell Principles to work exclusively through peaceful means). He said: “I will be the first – our party will be the first – to have them removed from every vestige of the political process.”

Trimble believed that Mallon was bluffing and refused to act on that commitment. Recently, Mallon’s successor as deputy leader, Alasdair McDonnell, and Eddie McGrady, resurrected, not the offer per se, but at least the SDLP discussing the offer. That is, that the SDLP should consider entering a voluntary coalition with the DUP and support the exclusion of Sinn Féin (which would lead to nationalists being gerrymandered out of their full entitlement to executive portfolios).

What could be wrong with that? It is, in fact, the logical outworking of Seamus Mallon’s proposal. But it shows how far the SDLP candidates for South Belfast and South Down fear erosion in their vote and thus need to appeal to unionist voters for support. Their proposal was quickly given short shrift by SDLP leader Mark Durkan, who needs all the nationalist votes he can get in his battle against Mitchell McLaughlin for Foyle.

Durkan knows, as well as the majority of nationalists know, that what is wrong with this country cannot be so facilely, glibly, easily, dumped on Sinn Féin, even though the SDLP often succumbs to that temptation.

The next Westminster election will probably be held on May, 5. Commenting on this BBC Northern Ireland’s political correspondent, Mark Devenport, said: “They won’t say it out loud, but both governments would like to bolster the SDLP in this election.”

Savaging Sinn Féin, damaging the party’s electoral prospects in the South and bolstering the SDLP in the next election in the North explains the current anti-republican campaign being waged by both governments.

They know the foolishness of explaining it in such terms which is why they choose to falsely denounce the IRA as being “the only obstacle” to peace and progress.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Irish intelligence

Daily Ireland comments on the quality of the Irish intelligence services:

It’s not yet twelve years since Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams carried the coffin of IRA man Thomas Begley, whose bomb took nine lives as well as his own in October 1993. It seems for some the lessons of the past have been very quickly forgotten – or perhaps they’re just being ignored.

When Mr Adams turned up at a republican commemoration in Strabane he was photographed with a large number of people in paramilitary uniforms.

Inevitably, he’s been excoriated for it. But had Mr Adams not turned up, or had he walked away, the outcome would have been considerably more damaging than a few hostile pictures in the press.

Those republicans in Strabane who dressed in full paramilitary uniform could just as easily have turned up in white shirts and black ties.

That they did not is a small but telling indicator of the mood of the hardline republican rank and file – they were more interested in sending out a defiant message than they were in making life easy for Gerry Adams.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, turned up the heat again with his assertion that Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin
Ferris are all on the IRA Army Council, although Taoiseach Bertie Ahern declined to go along with him on that particular one.

Mr McDowell claimed that as the Minister of Justice he has access to particular information that other members of the government do not necessarily have access to.

Of course the intelligence services in the Republic will have excellent intelligence linking the senior Sinn Féin members to the IRA because those Sinn Féin members meet the IRA on a regular basis to discuss peace process matters.

That’s hardly a big secret, but if that intelligence is good enough to indicate what the Sinn Féin leadership and the IRA talk about when they get together – as Mr McDowell’s latest claim clearly implies – then it’s strange that it wasn’t used to stop the Northern Bank raid, the money laundering and the multiple acts of criminality that the Dublin government claims Sinn Féin and the IRA are involved in.

It’s long been a source of wonder that intelligence on both sides of the Border is so accurate and trustworthy when it comes to making deeply damaging claims about groups and individuals, but so totally lacking when it comes to stopping those groups and individuals from carrying out the criminality that they're said to be involved in.

Fact, fiction and the media

The Derry Journal has a very good editorial on media bias:

AS THE furore continues around allegations about bank robberies, money laundering and everything else some sections of the media seem to have lost all perspective and decided that Sinn Fein are fair game and anything can be reported as fact regardless of how true or otherwise it may be.

The media has a duty to try and be as objective as possible and to be very careful what is reported especially in times when most people are relying on the media for their information.

However, in recent days some sections of the media seem to have thrown all caution to the wind and have been reporting as facts things that are no more than allegations or speculation.

The arrests last week in Dublin were a case in point with some newspapers naming many of those arrested even though they were only being questioned and had been charged with nothing.

The fact that they all were subsequently released shows just how dangerous this sort of reporting is.

Then on the Friday morning a reporter stated quite categorically that two of those arrested were members of the Provisional IRA and even stated in which department of that organisation they worked.

These two were also released without charge.

On Friday night we had the UTV news showing footage of an interview with Martin McGuinness that was obviously taken after the formal live interview had ended. This is not, most definitely, normal journalistic practice.

Republicans may, or may not, have been responsible for some recent incidents but it should be left to the courts to decide innocence or guilt. Speculation and hype are a poor substitute for due process.

There also seems to be a small number of reporters who have become so close to their security sources they take every word they say as gospel.

Surely in a democratic society the role of the media is to act as the watchdog of society and not to act as the slave of the security services or any other branch of government.

The current situation is far too serious and there is too much at stake for it to be placed in jeopardy by sections of the media reporting as fact things that turn out to be completely false.

Evidence and scapegoats

The police decision to blame the IRA for the recent multi-million pound bank raid in the North of Ireland has sparked a storm of protest. British MP Sarah Teather explains why she thinks the decision was wrong:

The Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) decision to point the finger of blame for the Northern Bank robbery at IRA paramilitaries has provoked a crisis in the peace process.

The truth of the claim is still a matter of heated debate - but the comments have left Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Sarah Teather was incensed. "I think it is quite unprecedented, nowhere else would a chief constable effectively appoint himself judge and jury and announce before something has gone to trial," said Teather. "It is hugely detrimental to the peace process. It is hugely detrimental to the normalisation process that needs to happen in Northern Ireland."

And the MP admits she is confused as to what PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde was trying to achieve with his comments." What are they actually saying by this - that everybody involved in that bank robbery will be proven to have direct links to the IRA. Surely we have a principle in this country of people being innocent until proven guilty and surely that must apply also to organisations?"

"The police need to prove both that the individuals they say were involved were involved and that there is a direct link between those individuals and the IRA. If they are confident that is the case why have they not put the evidence in the public domain?"

"The comments made were unacceptable as was the secretary of state for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy's actions in backing them up."

"I have no idea if the IRA were involved or not but I think the evidence should be brought before a court and tried. What happens if we find somebody else was involved - they can now say they have a cast iron alibi because the chief constable said in public that it was the IRA."

Sarah Teather is one of the youngest MPs in the House of Commons at 30. She was elected MP for Brent East in September 2003, defeating Labour candidate by a substantial margin. The unpopularity the Labour Government at the time and particularly its stance on the war in Iraq played an important part in her success.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Peace process in peril

Dennis Duggan on the peace process:

A headline in the current issue of the Irish Voice weekly newspaper asks: "White House to Drop St. Pat's Party?" A second headline wonders: "Beginning of End for IRA?"

Those stories were fueled by rumors that began swirling around the Washington-Dublin-Belfast corridor after a Dec. 20 robbery in which an estimated $40 million was stolen from a bank in Belfast.

No one has been caught in that heist, but British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern have been pointing fingers at the Irish Republican Army.

The robbery came just as former senator George Mitchell of Maine seemed to be leading all sides to the finish line in the peace process.

Which leads to another question: Was the robbery intended to derail the peace process?

Irish writer Frank Delaney, whose new book "Ireland - A Novel" was published here yesterday, said over the phone that the robbery has at least left the peace process "wobbly on the tracks."

And Brian O'Dwyer, the son of Irish activist and former City Council Speaker Paul O'Dwyer, said yesterday that if it is true that the Bush administration will pull the welcome mat from under all parties in the North it would be a "bitter blow" for the peace process.

"If you can't have a goal that people can work for then you will see the gunmen coming back to fill the vacuum," said O'Dwyer, a lawyer who advised former President Bill Clinton on Irish affairs and attended the yearly White House gatherings since their start on St. Patrick's Day in 1993.

In an editorial in the Irish Voice it was said that "such a course would be both tragic and ultimately self-defeating."

The editorial added that the IRA's "rank and file have clearly been uneasy about this peace process from the start but have swallowed their misgivings."

"Any major deterioration in the peace process and the Young Turks may well be back at the arms dumps again," the editorial continued.

But then both sides have never trusted one another. Their grudges go back centuries and there is a telling joke about Irish Alzheimer's disease. "They forget everything but their grudges," the joke goes.

So when the IRA agreed a few months ago to decommission its weapons with oversight provided by two clerics - one a Protestant, the other a Catholic - Ian Paisley demanded that photographs be taken to make sure the guns were destroyed.

Paisley is the stick that stirs the passions of Northern Protestants who hate the Catholics as much as the Catholics hate them. The Protestants have had their way for centuries and they were dragged kicking into the peace process, which seemed completed last year.

In the 1980s I got a taste of the hate that filled the streets of Belfast. I rode around with the British soldiers as they scorned the IRA, calling it the "I ran away." And more than once I was thrown against a wall and searched by soldiers who viewed my press card as a joke.

All of that has changed in recent years. Belfast is a different city, thriving with new businesses. It is far safer than it was, Republican Congressman Peter King told me yesterday.

King also said he heard the rumors that the White House might not include any parties from the North at next month's St. Patrick's Day celebration.

But he said he refuses to believe those rumors.

"I am not a Bush apologist," he said "but the fact is that he has appointed a special envoy to Ireland. It would be a great tragedy having come so far in the past 10 years of the peace process to see it go down the drain."

Rita O'Hare, a spokeswomen for the Sinn Fein party headed by Gerry Adams, told me in a phone call from Ireland yesterday that "we really don't need a party in the White House to push the peace process ahead."

"But the fact is that this affair every St. Patrick's Day is filled with symbolism - mostly of the American government's interest in peace in Ireland," she said. "All this talk about leaving some people off the invitation list is distressing."

The State Department said a few days ago that no decision has been made on who or who wouldn't be invited to the White House this year.

House of Cards

Daily Ireland has an editorial on the latest crisist in the peace process:

Sinn Féin wakens this morning under a tidal wave of outrage after the latest developments in the Garda investigation into money laundering. Yet, after all the bluster, the reality is that the one man charged is being linked by Gardaí to the Real IRA. The only Sinn Féin representative arrested has been released without charge.

No wonder that Martin McGuinness yesterday was urging the public not to rush to judgement on claims that the republican movement was reeling from the Garda operation.

Shamefully, though the entire house of cards linking the Garda operation to the republican movement has collapsed, some politicians are continuing to speak of the Garda investigation as a massive blow to the republican movement. Republicans have much to think about after recent events. They can justifiably contend, however, that this latest Garda operation has nothing to do with them.

Political figures who view recent events as providing them with the best opportunity they have had in a month of Sundays to score points over republicans have been dominating the airways over the past 48 hours.

But while republicans may shrug off the brickbats from these traditional opponents, they can't as easily dismiss the concerns of ordinary nationalists who are increasingly bewildered at the train wreck which is now the peace process. To many ordinary nationalists, the IRA has now become the glass chin of Sinn Féin.

While the IRA are not, as the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister allege, the only obstacle to a peace process settlement, they are one of the obstacles. That much is accepted by the IRA and underpinned their commitment before Christmas to enter a new mode. That breathtaking compromise fell apart because republicans weren't prepared to be humiliated by the DUP.

But since that deal collapsed, republicans have been denigrated and pilloried the length and breadth of Ireland while the DUP have been on the crest of a wave.

The reality is that Sinn Féin's political project has been damaged by the Northern Bank heist and the vicious stabbing to death of Robert McCartney.

It's open season on Sinn Féin and while that party is robust enough to defend itself, you can be sure that ordinary nationalists will be under the lash as well.

Phil Flynn, a strong supporter of this newspaper since it was first mooted, is just one person of unquestionable integrity caught in the crossfire this morning. We have no doubt his good name will be cleared in the coming weeks.

Every tinpot reactionary who gets an opportunity to smear ordinary, decent nationalists and bona fide, nationalist-minded organisations will be on the bandwagon this weekend.

All will be tarred with the brush of criminality when in reality, their only 'crime' will be to espouse a political point of view different to that of the governments in Dublin and London.

And yet, even as the storm of condemnation rages, it’s vital that we defend the right to point out that all the flaws in the peace process are not the fault of republicans.

There are many sides to this unfolding tale, and many, many shades of grey. Who, for example, would ever have believed that Northern Bank notes would turn up in a country club favoured by the PSNI?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

SDLP-Fianna Fail merger?

Brian Feeney explains why an SDLP-Fianna Fail merger will not happen:

There has been much talk in recent times about an SDLP-Fianna Fail merger.

So much in fact that the day his party conference began Mark Durkan felt the need to deny the prospect of any such 'realignment' as he called it.

Unfortunately, instead of just rubbishing it he weakened his position by adding that any such realignment was a matter for the future and was not a 'quick fix'.

Read it here first folks.

There won't be a merger between SDLP and Fianna Fail.

Panicky souls in the SDLP began promoting the suggestion seriously after the disastrous SDLP performance in the 2001 British general election. The Sinn Féin surge in the 2002 Dail election added a new urgency to the idea.

The idea is inherently daft.

Its sole driving motive is the naive belief, among those in the SDLP who foresee the party's demise, that Fianna Fail organising in the north can somehow stave off the rise and rise of Sinn Féin.

How? Why would it work?

Is the assumption that if there were ever to be another assembly election, SDLP candidates would rebrand themselves Fianna Fail candidates and that, presented with this irresistible, enticing new brand name, the north's nationalist electorate who have deserted the SDLP in their tens of thousands would swarm out and overturn Sinn Féin's dominant position in northern nationalism's political religion? Seriously? Is it that simple?

Can anyone explain why voters should suddenly find a plate of political retreads such a mouth-watering dish? If they weren't retreads who else could they be? Have Fianna Fail got about 50 prospective candidates for an assembly lurking as sleepers around the north?

Who would stand for Fianna Fail in the British general election in 2010? Where are the charismatic new nationalist politicians who can burst on the scene and wrest a Westminster seat from Sinn Féin in less than five years?

No, the fundamental position of the SDLP no-hopers is a prayer in aid to Fianna Fail: save us from the Shinners. It won't happen.

The only possibility is that if the SDLP vanishes from the scene as a viable political force, then some in Fianna Fail might be tempted to offer a refuge to nationalist voters in the north who would never in any circumstances vote Sinn Féin. That would still mean splitting the nationalist vote and incoming Fianna Failers would get no thanks for that.

There's another dimension to this.

One of the cardinal principles John Hume held was that northern nationalists should not take sides in southern politics. Partitionist? Maybe. But that position meant northern nationalists, as represented by Mr Hume, could remain on friendly terms with any government in Dublin.

What would happen if there were a Fine Gael/Labour coalition government and northern nationalists were represented by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fail? How much weight would they carry?

Another crucial advantage of Mr Hume's strategy and a great achievement compared to the decades before 1970, was that a single unaligned northern party could act as the Irish government in the north, which is what, in effect, the SDLP was.

In a united front with Dublin the SDLP promoted and articulated the policy of successive Irish governments on the north.

From 1985 on, proposals that Irish governments put to the British were in the main jointly drafted by the SDLP and Irish officials: the 1989 Fair Employment Act is the best example.

Were Fianna Fail to enter the fray in the north the strategy would be impossible unless Fianna Fail were always in government, which even the most blindly loyal Fianna Failer wouldn't expect.

Even if they were, officials and ministers would be reluctant to include Sinn Féin in delicate details about northern issues in case Sinn Féin TDs used them to the government's disadvantage in the Dail. As a result, the position of northern nationalists would be considerably weakened.

On top of the dissension that would be caused by jockeying for position in Dublin, there's no need to describe the opportunities open to the British administration here for sowing seeds of division in nationalist politics.

Finally, think of the humiliation if the soldiers of destiny marched north and were slaughtered in their first encounter with Sinn Féin? Why risk it? As Charlie Haughey used to ask, 'What's the percentage in it?'

No, there'll be no merger, no take over, no move at all from Fianna Fail until they've inspected the SDLP's carcass. Besides, after Mark Durkan knifed Bertie days before the citizenship referendum last June by siding with Sinn Féin, there are few in Fianna Fail who would cross the road to help the SDLP.

Or maybe you think Fianna Failers don't bear grudges?

Just one more reason why the Unionists should accept reality and learn to deal with Sinn Féin.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Irish Echo Editorial: Where's the evidence?

The Irish Echo devotes its latest editorial to the Northern Bank raid crisis:

There are few principles so precious as that which asserts that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Almost no one disagrees with that idea in theory. But in practice, it is sometimes discarded with indecent haste.

The current mood surrounding the Irish peace process is gloomy. At the core of the difficulties is the question of who perpetrated the bank robbery that took place in Belfast in late December. The Northern Bank raid, in which the families of two bank officials were taken hostage, netted those responsible approximately $50 million.

Both the Irish and the British governments have declared in the most emphatic terms that the IRA carried out the robbery, and that the leadership of Sinn Fein must face the political consequences.

That view may -- we repeat, may -- be correct.

Many observers find it inconceivable that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair would put their credibility on the line without solid proof. Similarly, the question, "who, if not the IRA?" receives no convincing response from the republican movement's defenders.

But this does not alter the fact that no one has yet produced any evidence whatsoever to link the IRA, much less the Sinn Fein leadership, to the heist.

Further, nationalist skepticism will not have been allayed by last week's report of the Independent Monitoring Commission. The IMC -- originally set up as a sop to Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble -- backed up the governments' claims 100 percent. And it produced just as little evidence -- that is to say, none -- to support those accusations.

Irish republicans have always argued that the much-vaunted "independence" of the IMC is illusory. Of the IMC's four members, one is a former high-ranking British policeman, one an appointee of the Irish government, and one an ennobled former leader of a pro-unionist political party.

Political realities within the Republic of Ireland should not be ignored when contemplating the current controversy. Support for Sinn Fein in the south has risen sharply in recent years. If it continues to do so, the establishment parties, particularly Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fail, will suffer. Hanging blame for the Northern Bank raid around the necks of the Sinn Fein leadership has clear political advantages for the taoiseach.

The current febrile atmosphere requires cool heads.

Two things need to be clearly emphasized.

First, if the Sinn Fein leadership is proven to have been complicit in the bank raid, it must face grave penalties.

Second, nothing resembling that has been proven as yet.

Now is not the time for a rush to judgment.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Arrest me or shut up

Gerry Adams has called on Bertie Ahern to put up or shut up:

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, reacted with fury today to an official report that senior party leaders sanctioned the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery in Belfast and challenged Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, to have him arrested if he thought it was true.

The report from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), which follows paramilitary activity in the Northern Ireland, said the senior members were also part of the IRA leadership that gave the go-ahead for three other raids resulting in the theft of more than £3m of goods last year.

Police investigating the Northern Bank raid in December are continuing to carry out searches in Beragh, near Omagh, Co Tyrone. The commission, which monitors paramilitary activity, did not identify Sinn Fein members in senior positions in the IRA, but its report - which recommended financial penalties against Sinn Fein - said the party now faced a stark choice over the future direction of republicanism.

"In our view, Sinn Fein must bear its share of responsibility for all of the incidents," the report said. "Some of its senior members, who are also senior members of the Provisional IRA, were involved in sanctioning the series of robberies."

Mr Adams called on Mr Ahern to withdraw his allegations that he had prior knowledge of the December heist or else have him charged with conspiracy to rob and withholding information. He said: "I think the Taoiseach has crossed the line. It’s time for him to shut up or put up."

The Sinn Fein leader said there were sinister aspects in the report by the IMC which he described as "three spooks and a lord" and a tool of the British and Irish governments.

Mr Adams said: "The report is rubbish. The report makes unsubstantiated allegations. If it wasn’t so serious it would be even laughable. I feel a particular sense of betrayal by the Taoiseach. I think the Taoiseach has crossed the line and the line that he has crossed - and I took legal advice on this - was to accuse Martin McGuinness and I of conspiracy to rob and of withholding information. I feel particularly angry about that."

Monday, February 07, 2005

Strong Irish GDP growth

Ireland should experience good GDP growth in the next two years:

Consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers says it expects Ireland's economic growth rate to be almost three times the euro zone average this year.

Its European Economic Outlook predicts that Ireland's gross domestic product will expand by 5%, compared with an average 1.75% in the euro zone.

PwC says export growth should accelerate this year, while wage growth will remain 'rapid' as skilled labour shortages become more acute.

For 2006, PwC forecasts Irish GDP growth of 4.75%, blaming the slight slowdown on an erosion of competitiveness which may dampen export growth.

Scotland's shrinking population

The population of Scotland continues to decline:

More babies are being born in Scotland but the population is still set to dwindle, according to the Scottish Executive's official figures.

A total of 53,954 babies were born last year, nearly 3% more than in 2003 and the highest number since 1999.

Of the new arrivals, 27,768 were boys and 26,186 were girls.

Scotland's population is expected to drop below five million by 2017 but the executive plans to attract new people under the Fresh Talent initiative.

The latest figures were disclosed by Deputy Public Services Minister Tavish Scott in reply to a parliamentary question from Scottish National Party backbencher Stewart Stevenson.

Mr Scott said: "We have seen a gradual increase in the number of births since a low point in the first quarter of 2002.

"The figures for 2004 show that 1,500 more babies were born that year than in 2003.

"These figures are encouraging but overall population trends still indicate that Scotland will face an ageing and declining population in the long term."

The best way to solve Scotland's population problems is to transfer the British colonists in the north of Ireland to Scotland. That way both the problems of Ireland and Scotland could be solved at the same time.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Anger has been building for some time

Danny Morrison on the events surrounding the IRA's statement:

The statement issued yesterday afternoon by the IRA, the second in twenty-four hours, represents an ominous development and a major deterioration in the peace process.

Unlike Wednesday night's lengthy exposition of the IRA's analysis on what went wrong last December when a deal foundered, Thursday's statement was terse and suggested that the talking had finished. Republican frustration and anger has been building for some considerable time. Certainly, where I live, in the heart of Gerry Adams' constituency in West Belfast, there is a feeling that each and every time republicans have made concessions the goalposts are shifted by unionists, often with the support or tolerance of the two governments.

The majority of Northern nationalists, who voted for Sinn Féin, are of the view that the governments are hypocritical and operate double standards. Elements of the two governments are hostile to Sinn Féin for different reasons. Some, on the British side, are still fighting the war by other means, are out to destroy the Adams' leadership and would consider a split in the IRA and a return to conflict as a major strategic success which would allow them to finish off the organisation.

Political parties in the Republic, particularly Fianna Fail, never anticipated the success of Sinn Féin and its potential. Their party political concern is now a real factor in perversely affecting Dublin government thinking and using the current crisis to lambaste a domestic rival instead of coolly assessing what is a complex situation.

Republicans cite the list of compromises they made to help make peace: Sinn Féin changing its constitution to recognise a Northern Assembly; supporting the amendments of Articles 2 & 3 as a concession to unionist sensibilities; compromising and accepting the Patten proposals on new policing; the IRA suffering a split over the issue of engaging with the International Decommissioning body (IICD), which led to the formation of the Real IRA; the IRA putting three large tranches of weapons beyond use; and offering total decommissioning of weapons by Christmas, independently witnessed by Protestant and Catholic clerics.

But Patten was gutted during its legislative process. The old Special Branch migrated into the PSNI. There has been no Bill of Rights. Outstanding changes on criminal justice and equality have been stalled. The strictest electoral laws in Europe were introduced on the back of false allegations of mass personation by Sinn Féin - only for Sinn Féin's vote to increase. Republicans recall David Trimble being found guilty in court of illegally excluding two Sinn Féin ministers from North-South council meetings - yet he suffered no sanctions. Unionists refuse to accept the Decommissioning Commission's word on arms – even though it was set up for them. David Trimble reneged on the deal for the re-establishment of the executive in October 2003.

When at Christmas the anti-Agreement Ian Paisley blocked the peace process by demanding the total humiliation of the IRA, its wearing of sackcloth and ashes, the two governments caved in. They didn't threaten the DUP. They didn't look for an alternative 'government of the willing' of pro-Agreement parties, in the way they would now like to establish a gerrymandered coalition if they could recruit the SDLP.

The governments went along with the unionist demand for transparent evidence of IRA decommissioning. But when republicans politely asked for transparent evidence of IRA involvement in the Northern Bank raid new rules of confidentiality kicked in.

And now republicans are told by the two governments that the only obstacle in the way of peace is the IRA. That is such a blatant lie. But it is a pretext for the British rolling back the Belfast Agreement and nationalists are angry that they are being thwarted once again from achieving their rights.

The IRA – which re-emerged in 1969 because nationalists were left defenceless - has not gone away and won't go away until the security of the nationalist community in the North has been established and guaranteed, and republicans are free to use established institutions to peacefully campaign for social and economic harmonisation as a process towards unity.

The two governments have always calculated that the IRA cannot return to armed struggle without Sinn Féin paying a heavy price electorally. Undoubtedly, because there is a degree of association, Sinn Féin's vote would suffer. However, the reason why a return to armed struggle would be foolhardy, in my opinion, is because it would be a return to a military stalemate.

However, the IRA defies conventional analysis. If it decided there was a case to be made for a return to armed struggle it would go down that road without regard to the post 9/11 perception of the world.

It has always been easier for the governments to blame the IRA than to face up to what Britain created in Ireland at the time of partition – a sectarian state which refused to treat a section of its citizens as equals.

A major political vacuum looms. Hope is evaporating. People feel desperate. All depends on whether the governments listen to what is being said.

Undermining Sinn Féin

Niall Stanage on efforts to undermine Sinn Féin:

The Irish peace process, which just two months ago seemed inches away from a final settlement, is in turmoil. The current downward spiral began in late December, when a raid on a Belfast bank netted its perpetrators £26m. Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern wasted no time in declaring that the IRA was responsible for the heist. They have stuck with that position since, though they have not produced a shred of evidence to back up their claims. The two premiers this week characterised the IRA as "the sole obstacle" in the way of progress.

The IRA responded in kind on Wednesday, declaring that further decommissioning was now "off the table". While reaffirming its desire to see the peace process succeed, it also warned, ominously, that current circumstances had "tried our patience to the limit". That statement, in turn, provoked an outcry from Irish republicanism's opponents. Ian Paisley, the leader of the hardline Democratic Unionist party, said that the IRA had "never had any intention of giving up their criminal empire".

The peace process has passed through moments of peril before, of course. But now, all forward momentum seems lost. Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness spoke yesterday of a "deepening crisis".

Two things have remained true of Northern Ireland since the worst years of the Troubles. First, things are rarely as they appear. Second, it is always vital to ask whose interests are served when unsupported allegations are flung about.

There are three possible explanations for the bank raid which precipitated the current mess. It could have been carried out by the IRA with the approval of the Sinn Féin leadership; or by freelancing current or former members of the organisation; or by someone else entirely, possibly someone who would like to see Sinn Féin ostracised and republicanism's political progress halted.

The British and Irish governments clearly favour the first explanation. Their vehemence has fuelled the notion that they must have cast-iron evidence. Perhaps they do. But why, then, have they not produced any of it? In order to believe that the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were complicit in the bank robbery one must make a series of assumptions that make no sense.

The current republican leadership has invested two decades in the peace process. They have nothing to gain from its failure. Why, then, would they give tacit approval to a massive bank raid? Even if the perpetrators were not caught in the act, Adams and McGuinness would know that suspicion would fall upon them. And they would know that such suspicion would in itself be potent enough to wreck the project to which they have dedicated much of their lives.

It is more plausible to believe that individuals who are, or were, members of the IRA carried out the raid for personal profit. But if that is the case, why should the 300,000 Irish nationalists who vote for Sinn Féin be punished in response? One thing is not in doubt. It is Sinn Féin's opponents who can reap most benefit from pinning blame for December's robbery on republicans.

Attributing blame to republicans for the current impasse also gets Paisley off the hook. Many people believe that he kiboshed a possible deal on decommissioning at the end of last year: the IRA had offered to disarm fully, but Paisley demanded photographic evidence and made a provocative speech in which he demanded the IRA don sackcloth and ashes.

This would not be the first time a unionist leader has been saved from international condemnation by a flurry of allegations against republicans. Those who regard such talk as conspiratorial nonsense might recall that in late 2002, David Trimble was finally beginning to take flak for his intransigence - until sensational allegations of an IRA/Sinn Féin "spy ring" emerged. Almost all charges relating to that affair were eventually, and quietly, dropped. But Northern Ireland's devolved government has never been resuscitated.

The Irish government has good reasons of its own to blacken Sinn Féin's name. Adams's party is on the rise in the Irish Republic. It has five members of the Irish parliament and its first MEP from the south, and continues to threaten the establishment parties, Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fáil in particular. What better way to put a stop to Sinn Féin's gallop than to paint it as deceitful and nefarious?

Many Irish republicans were always suspicious of the peace process. They believed that the British government and the unionists were interested only in their defeat, not in genuine political progress. They believed they would be drawn away from the armed struggle, only to be frozen out politically. Recent events give them ample reason to say "we told you so".

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The IRA Did It

Danny Morrison on the recent bank heist:

There, I've said it. The IRA did it. And as a result of my assertion I suddenly become the bosom pal of many. I am fulsomely quoted and praised by even the DUP for my honesty and integrity. I am reported favourably in the 'Daily Telegraph'. Out-of-the-blue, even my books are posthumously declared excellent reads, such is the reward for conforming to the prevailing orthodoxy: that is, bashing Sinn Féin.

But if I say the IRA didn't do it then I am just a 'mouthpiece for the Provos', to be dismissed by those still fighting the war by other means and aiming to curtail the electoral growth of Sinn Féin.

For the purpose of discussion let us respectfully examine the mindset of the PSNI and the Garda Siochana by which they reached the conclusion that the IRA did the Northern Bank raid.

Firstly, it was incredibly well-planned and executed and involved a large number of people who made a clean getaway. To expect to successfully launder such a considerable sum of money requires a huge organisation of sympathisers. Their conclusion: 'only the IRA could have done it, therefore the IRA must have done it'.

We are told that after the event the PSNI and Garda were able to make sense of things they saw and monitored through surveillance and bugs before the event, with broad hints and leaks about senior members of Sinn Féin being seen in the company of senior members of the IRA. Their conclusion: for days beforehand we saw the barn door open but it never occurred to us that one hell of a horse was planning to bolt. Not very bright intelligence officers, nor does this 'evidence' amount to a hill of beans.

The authorities claimed that after the event they received definite intelligence indicating IRA responsibility. Their eyes and ears on the ground – that is, informers – have now confirmed to them that the talk in the bars or among the dogs in the street is that the IRA did it.

This suggests that there is no loose talk in the IRA before an operation, but plenty afterwards. However, the loose talk inexplicably stops when it comes to the location of the white van and the £26.5 million.

Let's examine the reliability of informers. Certainly, a lot of their information has led to the deaths and imprisonment of many republicans and innocent people. But let's examine the only ones who were ever stripped of their anonymity and whose credibility was scrutinised in public. I am referring, of course, to those supergrasses that were used to imprison hundreds of people over a five-year period in the early1980s.

Raymond Gilmour is a representative sample who was described by the Lord Chief Justice as being "entirely unworthy of belief". He was "a selfish and self-regarding man to whose lips a lie invariably comes more naturally than the truth." The then Chief Constable of the RUC, John Hermon, swore by Gilmour's credibility, as he swore by the credibility of thirty others, all of whose evidence was eventually rubbished in the appeal courts. Conclusion: if informers are the main source for the PSNI and the Gardai suspecting the IRA then I fully sympathise with Michael McDowell not making a laughing stock of himself by divulging his 'dodgy dossier' to Gerry Adams.

For several years now media security pundits (quoting the intelligence services) and dissident republicans have jibed that the ceasefire IRA cannot move because it has been infiltrated from top-to-bottom. That the bank heist was not thwarted disproves that assertion for it indicates that the intelligence services had no prior warning, otherwise they would have captured the raiders or monitored their getaway and arrested even more.

All of the above, of course, merely proves the weakness of the case for the prosecution. It does not prove that the IRA didn't carry out the heist.

There are republican supporters who have even taken succour from the IRA denial along the lines of "sure, the 'RA would have to say that". They appreciate that a formal admission would create an even greater crisis but that the operation itself sends a powerful message to Tony Blair that he has been taking republicans and their compromises for granted.

If that were to turn out to be the correct interpretation then we are at a crossroads but not one as bleak as has been made out. The British government factors into its calculations and negotiations that the IRA cannot return to armed struggle without Sinn Féin paying a heavy price electorally. Undoubtedly, because there is a degree of association, Sinn Féin's vote would suffer. However, the reason why a return to armed struggle would be foolhardy is because it would be a return to a military stalemate.

It is obvious that Sinn Féin does not represent nor can it speak for the IRA. Yet, London and Dublin propagate that assumption and exploit it to punish Sinn Féin. Even though the crisis in the peace process was caused by the DUP, prior to the Northern Bank raid, the governments do not punish it. The majority of nationalists in the North reject and resent this double standard and these attacks on them and their elected representatives. And that is why the SDLP will not be joining a gerrymandered executive led by Ian Paisley - which appears to be one of the crackpot notions being considered by Blair.

If the two governments insist that 'the IRA did it' and punish Sinn Féin then Sinn Féin should refuse to mediate between the IRA and Dublin and London. Let them do a better job. Sinn Féin's mandate derives from the majority of nationalists in the North, people who are denied their full rights by a combination of British rule, which they bear under sufferance, and DUP intransigence. Attack Sinn Féin and you attack those people.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Irish Central Bank on economy

The Irish Central Bank has just published its first Quarterly Bulletin of 2005:

The Bulletin reports that the outlook for the Irish economy in 2005 remains positive; the Bank is forecasting GNP growth for 2005 of about 4¾ per cent (GDP 5¼ per cent). However a number of risks remain. External risks include the strength of the euro and the uncertainty surrounding oil prices. Domestically, the high level of house prices and the strong growth in credit still cause concern.

The Bank says that the reasonably strong growth forecast for Ireland in 2005 is based on a favourable outlook for the global economy and moderate growth for the euro area. In addition, domestic demand is expected to drive output this year. However, the increase in residential construction growth is expected to slow, with a shift towards other construction likely.

Employment growth – at about 2½ per cent - was strong in 2004, with significant contributions from the construction and services sectors. The unemployment rate could drop to about 4¼ per cent in 2005, from 4½ per cent in 2004.