Friday, February 24, 2006

Sinn Féin won't make the same mistake twice

Brian Feeney:

So Sinn Féin won't be endorsing the PSNI or joining the Policing Board any time soon. As Gerry Adams pointed out on Saturday, there's not much likelihood of the legislation being passed and the DUP agreeing to accept the democratic decision of the vast majority of people on this island before the new Policing Board is up and running in April.

Adams is quite right to tie this all into a package because self-evidently that's what it is.

Joining the Policing Board before the legislation is through Westminster would be like going to the bookies to collect your winnings with your horse in the final furlong of a steeplechase. Sinn Féin have been badly burnt by the double-dealing of the British administration here on the on the run legislation. They're not going to make the same mistake twice in six months. Anyway, the DUP's not even talking to Sinn Féin.

That aside, there are many other considerations which prevent Sinn Féin from endorsing the PSNI. Our visiting British rulers conveniently forget SF stood for election last May and received an increased vote and an extra MP on a manifesto committing them to withhold support from policing until there is new legislation allowing devolution of justice and police powers to a northern executive.

Perhaps just as important, those same transient British politicians have not picked up the growing anger and frustration among nationalists at the refusal of the PSNI or anyone else in authority to deal with loyalist terrorism and the evidence of continuing collusion between the police and loyalists who have murdered both Catholics and Protestants since the Good Friday Agreement.

Just as disquieting is the revolving-door policy operated by the courts here when loyalists are arraigned. There is a manifest imbalance in giving bail to loyalists compared to republicans. Even worse is the failure of the prosecution service and the Assets Recovery Agency to act against prominent loyalists except when one of their rivals kills them.

It is well known that one of the reasons for this failure is that the self-proclaimed shiny new police are still protecting loyalist informers taken on the payroll, in some cases more than a decade ago. Everyone knows the fruitless efforts of Mr McCord to get the UVF killers of his son, men personally known to him, prosecuted. Equally well known is that the police are protecting a UVF man in Mount Vernon who has killed maybe as many as a dozen people in his murderous career. How many other informers?

We now hear that the police took back on the payroll their agent, the notorious Greysteel and Castlerock killer, Torrens Knight, after he was released early from multiple life sentences under the terms of the GFA. Is it true? Who authorised payments to him, said to total £50,000 a year?

Certainly not some sergeant. That kind of disgraceful misuse of public money can only have been sanctioned by a very senior official. Do you think this is the only instance of such corruption of the administration of justice?

How many more are there?

Now the hopeless consequence of this state of affairs is that John Dallat, the SDLP's Lone Ranger in East Derry, is left complaining bitterly about police inaction in the case of Knight. His very indignation shows that the PSNI is not accountable through the Policing Board and thereby makes Sinn Féin's case.

Oh yeah, sure, the quick answer is that the Ombudsman is inquiring into this mess, so wait until her report comes out later this year. Not good enough.

Why couldn't the Policing Board get anything done on its own initiative? Just wait until that Ombudsman's report is published. What a stinker that will be.

Wouldn't Sinn Féin have looked sick sitting on the Policing Board demonstrating their own impotence?

Finally and perhaps most serious of all, is the incredibly stupid decision to hand control of intelligence over to MI5. As if they ever lost it?

This plan will reduce the PSNI to the arresting arm of MI5 just as RUC Special Branch was. MI5 are completely unaccountable to anyone in the north and have precious little accountability to anyone in Britain. Now, why would Sinn Féin endorse policing here any time soon? They're not daft.

Sad fact of bad manners

Sinn Féin moving to tipping point of change

Well done, Mr. Thompson

Loyalists may carry Dublin bomber pictures

Hiss of hypocrisy heard even louder

‘No going to back of bus’

Talks manoeuvre is simply insulting

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Nationalist politicians have called for more attention to be focused on loyalist terrorists after they were recently implicated in two murders

Maeve Connolly:

Loyalists have been blamed for the weekend murder of Thomas Hollran, while speculation has also linked them to the killing of Ronald Todd whose body was found in the River Lagan.

The murders come after the latest report from the independent body which monitors paramilitary activity found that the UDA was continuing to "undertake targeting, shootings and assaults".

The loyalist activity follows allegations that Greysteel killer Torrens Knight, who murdered 12 people, was being paid by Special Branch after his release from jail.

Last night (Monday) nationalists claimed there had been little political reaction to the events, although unionists denied this.

East Derry SDLP assembly member John Dallat accused unionist politicians of having "different standards" when reacting to loyalist violence.

"There are too many people on the unionist side who are still not prepared to speak clearly on the whole issue of loyalist paramilitaries. There are different standards of behaviour [within unionism] when it comes to loyalist paramilitaries," he said.

Sinn Féin West Belfast assembly member Michael Ferguson said unionist politicians had a history of "ignoring what unionist death squads have been involved in".

While police said there was no evidence of a paramilitary link to Mr Todd's murder, Mr Ferguson said "it would come as no surprise" if loyalists were to blame.

"It is commonly known that loyalists are heavily involved in the trafficking and distribution of drugs," he said.

There has been speculation that Mr Todd (30), a father-of-two, was abducted, killed and dumped in the River Lagan by loyalists over his drug-dealing activities.

Meanwhile, the detective leading the inquiry into the murder of Mr Hollran (49) last night said police were investigating possible loyalist involvement. Mr Hollran's family has blamed the UDA for beating the father-of-one to death.

Killers need to be tried by law

Two murders in week grim reminder of loyalist threat

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An international economic organization says there is no threat of a crash in the Irish housing market

Ireland Online:

The OECD is to deliver a very positive report on the state of the Irish economy in the coming weeks.

The Paris-based think-tank says the housing market in Ireland is not a bubble waiting to burst. In fact, it expects house prices to increase by up to 8% a year for the next two years.

Factors such as low interest rates and a growing population are believed to have supported the huge rise in the property prices in recent years.

According to the OECD, the average price of a house in Dublin will reach €430,000 by the end of 2007.

The OECD also said the windfall from maturing SSIA accounts only poses an "outside risk" of pushing up inflation.

OECD: No crash threat to Irish housing market

Expert views on global economic threats

Economic boom: Can it last the pace?

Irish companies are now investing as much money abroad as foreign firms plough into Ireland

Ireland Online:

Minister for Trade and Commerce Michael Ahern welcomed the Forfas International Trade and Investment Report, which found Ireland’s outward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) rose to its highest ever level in 2004.

“This report emphasises the changing nature of production in Ireland, particularly how Irish companies are increasingly winning export business in services activities, which is timely in light of the European Parliament’s vote on the Services Directive last Thursday,” he said.

“It is also interesting to note that for the first time Irish firms are now net outward foreign direct investors.

“In the future, this will be an important way for Irish businesses to access new markets, and to specialise their domestic operations in high value added activities.”

Foreign-owned sector accounted for 87.6% of Irish exports in 2004

Investment jump signals economic shift

Computer Services Exports Continue to Expand

Launch of Forfás International Trade and Investment Report

Unionist myth of cash investment bias exploded

Ciarán Barnes:

Unionist areas are almost 33 per cent more likely to benefit from inward investment than nationalist areas, statistics released by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) reveal.

A breakdown of the North’s 26 council districts show that the 14 with unionist majorities have had £491 million (€717 million) invested in them since 2000. This figure represents an average of £37 million (€54 million) per constituency.

During the same period the ten council areas with nationalist majorities benefited from an investment outlay of £288 million (€420 million). This represents an average of £28 million (€42 million) per constituency – £9 million (€13 million) less than unionist constituencies.

The Belfast and Armagh council areas, which are evenly split between unionist and nationalist, had an investment total of £242 million (€353 million).

The SDLP’s John Dallat said the statistics blow a hole in the argument that unionist communities are underfunded.

He said: “The argument put forward by unionists on this matter is non-existent.

“They have developed a persecution complex to justify their failure to join a power-sharing government with their nationalist neighbours.

“In my own East Derry constituency and on Coleraine borough council it is nationalist communities that are underfunded in comparison to unionist areas. This is reflected in the majority of areas throughout the North.”

British see benefit of all-Ireland economy

Links between the former RUC Special Branch and the convicted UDA mass murderer Torrens Knight are profoundly disturbing at every level

Irish News:

Nuala O'Loan, the police ombudsman, is already investigating detailed claims that Knight was being protected as a Special Branch informer when he played a central role in two major sectarian atrocities in 1993.

It has now been strongly suggested that, when Knight gained early release from prison after his conviction on 12 murder charges, police officers arranged for him to be paid £50,000 per year through a bogus bank account.

The PSNI has so far declined to comment specifically on the case, saying only that any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of an individual officer should be forwarded to the ombudsman's office.

However, a preliminary statement, addressing at least some of the key issues, would be fully justified in the circumstances.

The SDLP assembly member John Dallat has gone public on his documented belief that police should have monitored the movements of Knight more closely before he became involved in the murder of four workmen at Castlerock, Co Derry, in March 1993.

Although Mr Dallat was assured after the Castlerock massacre that the notorious loyalist and his associates were facing arrest, the same gang were able to carry out the slaughter of a further eight people in a bar at Greysteel, Co Derry, in October 1993.

Knight was subsequently jailed for life but released early under Good Friday Agreement in July 2000. It was at this stage that he allegedly began to benefit from the bogus account, which was said to have been closed after the bank in question expressed concern.

These are matters of the utmost gravity and the relationship between Knight and the Special Branch, both in 1993 and 2000, requires urgent clarification.

Shoukri 'siphoned off peace cash' claim

Loyalists blamed for town killing

Abolition of Assembly may be only way to deal with DUP

Father of RAF airman killed by loyalists seeks meeting with Sinn Féin president

Widow has no faith in inquiry

North remains awash with legal firearms

Celebrating the Rising

Loyalist killer worked with Catholic charity

Friday, February 17, 2006

Cartoon uproar tells a story

Des Wilson:

The uproar about the anti-Muslim cartoons is interesting. More interesting still is the reaction of some politicians and other publicists. When did a British prime minister show any regret at the vast number of anti-Irish cartoons published in British newspapers?

When did any prime minister over there show any desire to apologise or even show regret for the appalling abuse of the late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich? When did anyone in Britain suggest that the abuse of Archbishop Makarios during the Cyprus affair was cruel and wrong? When did they apologise for their propaganda abuse of the Kenyan people?

The answer is, of course, never.

Why? Why did British publicists create and continue a vast anti-Irish campaign without a word of regret while now in face of Muslim protests they are showing something akin to regret?

The answer is, of course, fear.

Many people in what is called the western world are afraid of what may happen if or when anger erupts after centuries of such abuse. Whereas they were not afraid of the anger of Irish people. British rulers were afraid of the Irish when they were being attacked in their own country. But times have changed and for them the anger from Irish people is over. So the stream of anti-Irish abuse will remain without apology and without redress.

How vile was it? Well, you can look at the record of abuse described by Liz Curtis to find out, and examine the English newspapers during the armed conflict against British army and government. Such anti-Irish abuse should be studied as an example of what the British press did both in peace and in war, the same British press which now is either attacking Muslims or expressing regret that others do it. For them racial abuse is a normal instrument of policy, not an occasional outburst of unreason.

Anti-Irish propaganda did not result from the armed conflict between republicans and the British establishment, it existed long before that and it still exists.

One of the waves of anti-Irish hatred was created after World War Two. During that war tens of thousands of Irish people joined British forces and thus helped Britain to come out on the winning side.

What thanks did they get? Winston Churchill spewed venom on the Irish and there followed a wave of anti-Irish racism. British comedians knew that in that climate any anti-Irish joke would go down well with their audiences. Those who remember the 1960s in Britain remember the notices saying that Irish people need not apply for either jobs or accommodation.

But those who want us to glory in the tens of thousands of Irish people who helped London to succeed in that war are unwilling to remember the stream of anti-Irish racism with which Irish war volunteers were rewarded.

Does anyone remember now the Paisleyite abuse of the past fifty years, the mockery of Catholic worship, the condemnation of people because they were either Catholic or Irish or both? Does anyone demand the removal of the notices which still exist on Belfast streets 'Irish go home' and is any politician thinking of removing them? Or is any Free Speecher defending them? Or does anyone ask why there is so much fuss over British soldiers beating Iraqi civilians when beating civilians was part and parcel of what British troops did in Ireland not only during thirty years conflict but long before that? All conveniently forgotten and not a word of apology from any British source whatever.

Because, you see, the Irish do no matter. The Muslim world could erupt, you see, the oil could be in danger, you see. But the Irish don't matter. For much of this the Irish are to blame. Their leaders so often allowed the Paisleyites to say and do what they pleased. The government in the rest of Ireland believed that their limited economy was more important than the lives, safety and dignity of their citizens whom they had long ago abandoned but still claimed to control. There must be few people on earth who claimed so much control over their fellow citizens and did so little to help them.

So everybody is supposed to forget – and certainly not ask apologies for – the soldiers walking up and down streets shouting 'Fenian whores' at the women and abusing the children. Forget the racism, forget the abuse in the streets, in the prisons. Touch the forelock and pass on.

No oil, you see. The quickest way to human rights is not appeals to governmental decency but rather finding an oil well in your backyard.

You could be amused, of course. Listening to publicists talking about the right to freedom of speech, these are the same people who forbade free speech to their fellow citizens because London governments seduced and threatened them into it; who imposed the most powerful censorship in Europe on their fellow citizens. All for political gain. And now they are preaching about the democratic right to free speech! People who created the most potent of all the demoralising forces weighing in on us, anti-Irish racism by the Irish themselves.


One other thing to remember. During the recent thirty-years war some of us wrote to every Catholic member of the British House of Commons, the British House of Lords, the British Privy (secret) Council to ask them to intervene to help fellow Catholics in Ireland who were suffering military abuse. Apart from one powerless lord and a couple of powerless MPs none showed the slightest interest.

So we quietly forgot all that stuff we learned at school about the Body of Christ, when one is hurt all are hurt. They didn't seem to believe it, so we stopped asking them.

Northerners ‘unwelcome’

'One of the Troubles most notorious killers'

Frazer and Ahern march to the same tune

Concern mounts that MI5 role in North will increase

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The number of people working in Ireland is growing at its fastest rate in five years

Ireland Online:

The CSO said employment increased by 4.7% in 2005, the highest annual rise since the year 2000, with the strongest growth recorded in the construction, distribution and business services sectors.

Migrant workers account for around half of the 87,000-strong rise in the number of people with jobs and now make up 9% of the Irish labour force.

Despite the positive news, the CSO also said today that the numbers without jobs had increased by 6.7% to 91,300 during 2005, pushing the official unemployment rate up to 4.4%.

Irish employment increased by 87,000 or 4.7% in 2005

Army, lies and videotape — familiar ring?

Brian Feeney:

They didn't have handycams in the 1970s. Would it have made a difference if they had existed? Probably not. There were miles of video footage of British soldiers beating people here – baseball bats were their preferred weapon though anything available would do, boots, fists, heads, bottles, torches, rifles-butts. You name it, they used it.

There's television footage from the 1970s of a young thug in British army battledress beating a man more than twice his age down the New Lodge Road with a baseball bat. Not low-quality, grainy, pixellated footage like the assault in Iraq but plain, clear broadcast quality. The result? Nothing.

People in nationalist districts here can only laugh at the hypocrisy of the reporting of assaults in Iraq and the responses from Tony Blair.

You could write the script. 'Finest army in the world. Trained to the highest standards. Thuggish behaviour not a reflection of the vast majority of soldiers. British army best in the world at, wait for it, winning hearts and minds.' One silly reporter intoned with a straight face that the British soldier honed his skills at winning hearts and minds on, yes, the streets of Belfast and Crossmaglen. Yuk.

For the record, the British army was guilty of systematic torture here 35 years ago and the British government had to defend itself in international tribunals against the case brought by the Irish government which ran on into the mid-1970s. The umpteen inquiries instituted into army and police brutality came to nothing of course.

One memorably decided that the matter of its inquiry was not torture because the perpetrators didn't take a pleasure in it. So it was only inhumane and degrading treatment. So that's OK then.

Alongside the systematic torture inflicted on nationalists in 1971 was the constant, casual, daily brutality meted out by individual soldiers and also organised violence by notoriously savage marines and paratroopers. Their savagery was supervised by corporals and sergeants, usually the most sadistic men in the units who didn't get to be NCOs because they were full of the milk of human kindness but because they were horrible. The brutality lasted as long as the British army was on the streets. It was endemic and continuous.

People in nationalist districts dreaded when a regiment was leaving. The 10 days or so before it left saw a rapid increase in violence from soldiers confident that they would soon be in Germany or Cyprus and far from the threat of retribution. They need not have worried. On the rare occasion when any of them was ever brought to court for an assault their officers and their mates lied through their teeth. The compliant courts always believed them rather than the untrustworthy fenian victim.

Woe betide anyone daft enough to complain to the RUC or army about an assault. The soldier who was the subject of the complaint would be told immediately who complained so his mates could go out and beat the complainant to pulp. In the worst units, such as the paras or marines, the same soldier would go out and beat up the complainant again, and again. All with complete impunity. It wasn't because the average soldier was anti-Irish.

He was of course, his small particle of brain stuffed with national stereotypes. It wasn't just that. The sort of casual brutality the recent video in Iraq portrays went on everywhere the British army was deployed: Cyprus, Aden, Kenya and, yes, Iraq where the British army first inflicted itself on its people in the 1920s using machine guns and aerial bombardment to enforce borders, artificially devised by the British government. Remind you of anywhere?

The truth is that the average British soldier was extremely frustrated here simply because he could not behave in the disgusting manner to which he was accustomed when operating farther afield. As one veteran officer complained in 1971: "It's not like shooting gollies in the jungle."

At least the British are quite open about why they are worried about the Iraqi video footage. They're afraid of reprisals from suicide bombers.

Too late. On past evidence around the world the everyday behaviour of British troops in Iraq recruits more insurgents than any video.

Hearts and minds? Lies and videotape.

Establishment be warned – the truth will out

Items seized from lawyer's house

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sitting on your rear, Ian, just ain’t an option

Jude Collins:

For politics operating at the daft level, the DUP take some beating. On television they show how reasonable they’ve become by sitting in the same studio as their political opponents, which gives you some idea of the low base of rational behaviour they’re coming from. On the policy front they show the freshness of their thinking by proposing (whack the drums there, Billy) rolling devolution. Under their moral care, the body politic will be kept unsullied, the door barred against republican intrustion until… well, certainly not until General John de Chastelain and the IICD have given republicans a clean bill of health, because that has already happened.

Not even until the IMC has given republicans a clean bill of health, because Mr Paisley has made it very clear that if the IMC comes up with something different from what he wants, they’ll be ignored, the same way the IICD was ignored. So when will the DUP decide that the representatives of most nationalists in the North are sufficiently pure to be allowed near the body politic? Around the Twelfth of Never, I’d say. Left to their own devices, the DUP will go into partnership with Sinn Féin a fortnight after holy water fonts become standard equipment in Orange lodges and Sammy Wilson starts sunbathing with his nether bits hid.

So let’s park that little issue right now. The DUP are not power-sharers, except maybe with nationalist politicians who raise their glass, take oaths of allegiance to HMQE2 and know their place, and that particular breed gets scarcer every election.

So what to do?

Well, we could do what the DUP say we should, and declare the GFA dead. All bets off. That’d mean the re-instatement of Articles 2 and 3 in the South, the increased prospect of fresh paramilitary violence and the presence of even more armed men from the island next door than at present are encamped here. Not a pretty prospect.

Alternatively, nationalists might accept that the devolved government part of the Good Friday Agreement has been locked by DUP obstructionism and turn their attention to the other parts of the Good Friday Agreement over which Mr Paisley cannot squat.

In the brouhaha about Stormont and its restoration, it’s easy to forget that the GFA has other significant parts, such as the all-Ireland dimension. When the Dublin and London governments put their pen to the 1998 document, they committed themselves to developing cross-border bodies in a range of areas. So have you noticed these bodies changing your life much over the past eight years? No, me neither.

Education is a nice instance. In the North people are fretting at the prospect of university students having to take on a £3,000 (€4,327) annual debt in fees alone. In the South, people are fretting over what school league tables will do to the education of their children. The North’s system and the South’s system spin and clank and clatter on, side by side, virtually free of contact, learning nothing from each other.

What’s true of schools and universities is true of the teaching profession as well. The skills and understanding needed to cope with classes of young people are the same north and south of the border, yet eight years after the signing of the GFA there is no co-operation, much less co-ordination of initial teacher training or in-service.

Common sense says the two systems have much to learn from each other, but no serious effort has been made to see that it happens. It’s not just the MLAs that should have their salaries docked. Those responsible for the non-delivery of GFA commitments in education and other areas should feel the displeasure of the people they are cheating, and be told to shift into action mode at top speed.

British secretaries of state and British prime ministers like to talk about the need to establish trust before any progress can be made. Trust schmust. What’s needed are SoSs and PMs to introduce consequences, not trust.

None of us are trusted to avoid being in a drink-driving situation. The cops get out their with breathalysers, they flag you down, and if you’re caught you’ll be sorry. No trust involved – just consequences. Ditto if you shoplift, or embezzle or assault. If we try such tricks and are caught, we’ll end up being very sorry for what we did.

So it’s time the two governments accepted that appeals to politicians’ good nature is a waste of time. It certainly hasn’t worked with the DUP, and it won’t work. Every day since the IRA decommissioned its weapons, it’s becoming increasingly clear to everyone that the true barrier to political progress is the DUP.

Peter Hain says the clock is ticking; Paisley says they won’t be rushed into anything and thinks he can get away with it. And so he will, if the British and Irish governments don’t make clear that continuing to sit on their backsides will leave the DUP with some painful political haemorrhoids.

After last Monday’s meeting, the British and Irish governments declared that they will be pressing for political progress by April. Good. The South’s enterprise minister Micheál Martin recently declared that the British and Irish governments are committed to economically transforming the north-west border area of Ireland. Good. Given that the Good Friday Agreement was signed eight years ago, progress and transformation should have happened long ago, but let’s not dwell on the the failures of the past.

What’s needed now, as Donegal councillor Pearse Doherty says, is follow-through. The Irish and British governments must work together so that Derry and its natural Donegal hinterland can maximise their potential. Partition has penalised Donegal perhaps more than any other county in Ireland; it’s past time that county was given some of the Celtic Tiger benefits enjoyed to excess by so many in the southeast.

Similarly, if political progress is to be made, the Irish and British governments will have to indicate, by deed as well as word, that DUP stalling comes at a price. Left to themselves, Paisley and company will go on inventing excuses for turning representatives of nationalists away from the exercise of power.

What the DUP must be helped learn is that actions, or in this case inactions, have consequences. You want to sit on your bum? Fine. The Good Friday Agreement contains a lot of stuff about cross-border co-operation, so this is what it looks like when we take it seriously. You still want to sit on your bum? Fine. Local exericse of power doesn’t have to happen at Stormont - we’ve got seven, maybe six supercouncils lined up which’ll allow the great majority of nationalists to elect representatives who have access to real power at a local level, and there’ll be nothing you can do about it.

Sitting on your bum is fine, if everyone and everything around you is frozen in response to your inaction. Sitting on your bum watching the border become increasingly blurred and big sections of the map turn increasingly green may prove a lot less fine. In fact it’ll be so unfine, you'll begin to really regret not having shifted your arse while there still was a chance.

Unaccountable and largely unwanted

Trousers on, but the buttons are coming off

Paisley’s insult to the President had a calculated political objective

St Pat’s Day showdown

Political group rules out UDA move to scrap arms

Ludlow family accept apology

McDowell spurns Ludlow inquiry

Official council vote for united Ireland

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Failure of the British economy looms

David Williamson:

SHADOW CHANCELLOR George Osborne used his first official visit to Wales to warn that the heart of the UK economy was edging towards failure.

He said, "You're getting the slow furring of the arteries of the British economy. We are becoming slightly more sclerotic.

"We are not as competitive as we once were."

Speaking before meeting members of CBI Wales, the 34-year-old said the 156% rise in home repossessions in Cardiff was proof a sluggish economy hurt the most vulnerable in society, and called for the party to recast itself as a champion of housebuilding.

Describing the hike in repossessions from 85 to 218, he said, "It's very devastating news for the families involved ... it's an indication of two things: One, that the economy is not as strong as Gordon Brown would portray it, and the second is the cost of housing is a real burden on families."

Affordable housing, he said, was "an issue the new Conservative Party needs to tackle," and he acknowledged the party was sometimes associated with nimbyism.

He said, "We have to change and say, 'Look, we have got to free up the supply of homes and find places where we can develop housing and commercial property - it's important, too - and bring the dream of home ownership within the reach of ordinary families."

Welsh prosperity, he said, should be pursued by slashing red tape and boosting education to create a more competi-tive economy, citing the success of the Republic of Ireland.

He said, "Where's Google choosing to locate its [European headquarters]? Well, not in Cardiff, not in London, but in Dublin.

"I think there are lessons there for the United Kingdom about creating a lower-tax, lighter regulatory economy with the kind of skills people have in the Irish economy."

Science is the currency of success

IMC suits the last-ditchers in the DUP

Brian Feeney:

The US National Football League's TV producers stepped in to censor lyrics from two songs as the Rolling Stones played at half-time in Sunday's Super Bowl XL final. Understandable, given that Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' in 2004 cost CBS a record $550,000 dollars in fines. ABC who were broadcasting the final didn't want to suffer a similar fate. It's a pity the NIO has no power to fine their very own old boy band, Lord No-votes and the Spooks. Perhaps they could use a sliding scale starting with verbosity, moving up through pomposity and ineptitude, culminating with interference in the political process? The truth is that the British administration here has created a Frankenstein monster which is going to continue blundering through the NIO's puppet theatre pulling down the scenery and smashing the props until someone kills it off.

You thought decommissioning was a matter agreed in the Good Friday Agreement to be dealt with by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) didn't you? No, apparently not. Lord No-Votes and the Spooks of the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission can second-guess the IICD. No good General de Chastelain lamely protesting in his report last week that decommissioning is his 'area of responsibility'. Sorry mate, Lord No-votes knows better even if he has no evidence you understand, just 'credible' intelligence. Like he would know.

You thought criminal justice was to be dealt with by the Criminal Justice Review in Annexe B of the Agreement didn't you? Nope. Lord No-votes and the Spooks are into that too. They address community restorative justice in detail as they have done in two previous reports, and from their zero expertise in criminal justice, pontificate on which areas of crime should or should not be included in such schemes. There's a lot more but those two examples will suffice to demonstrate that the self-importance of these guys is such that there is no end to what they believe their remit can encompass. More important however, as long as the IMC crashes about the political stage like Mr Blobby, there will never be a clean bill of health for any group. There can't be because the IMC rely on intelligence, that is tittle-tattle, whispers, anonymous titbits which for some reason they see fit to retail publicly.

Now the absurd aspect of this performance is that the NIO has access to all this stuff itself but normally in a democracy it would be a political decision whether to act on the intelligence or not. Incredibly the British administration handed that political responsibility to the IMC and thereby gave them a veto over political progress.

Nowhere else in the world does such nonsense operate. Even the IMC has to admit that. It was with some considerable disbelief that the Irish government watched this happening in 2004. You'll notice that although the IMC has an office in the Republic you don't hear them doing much huffing and puffing about paramilitary activity there.

Michael McDowell does that very well himself thank you by selecting his own intelligence reports to hand to favourite journalists. The Irish government retains political control. It is true and it must be acknowledged that, while the IMC handed the DUP a shiny bauble last week, there was and is no intention on the part of the DUP to cooperate in establishing functioning institutions under the

Good Friday Agreement. That will remain the case until they cut a deal with Sinn Féin next year. Even if the IMC report had been entirely favourable to the IRA the DUP would still have professed itself unmoved.

However we're fast approaching the point where Lord No-Votes and the Spooks will become an embarrassment to everyone and not just to the NIO.

At the moment they suit the last-ditchers in the DUP.

What happens next year when the DUP is ready to sign up to a deal with SF only for the IMC to emerge and provide another dollop of what Martin McGuinness called 'Balderdice'? There's worse. They can even report on whether political parties in a working assembly are 'living up to the standards required of them'. What could the IMC do? Recommend suspending the assembly? For any party to agree to operate under such conditions is nuts.

Paisley just a blip in the ongoing peace process

'DUP wrecking process'

Branch knew of threat to Finucanes

‘Spooks’ try to take over

Almost all NIO staff based in unionist districts

Tired old message trotted out again

Solicitor advised UVF clients to ‘take out’ victim

Court official suspended in Irish race row

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A leading Irish government think-tank has warned about the dangers of relying on immigrant labor to maintain economic growth

Ireland Online:

The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition has been insisting for the past few years that Ireland needs a steady influx of migrants to keep the economy growing.

However, in a report published today, the National Economic and Social Forum warns that this could lead to a growing anti-immigrant sentiment among low-skilled workers, as well increased costs for housing, education and integration programmes.

The body says Ireland has a much higher proportion of low-skilled employees compared to its European competitors and the Government should focus on retraining these workers rather than attracting migrants.

Today's report estimates that Ireland currently has an under-utilised labour force of around 175,000 people, including 96,500 officially unemployed and a further 78,500 looking for work.

Wealthy Ireland 'an unequal society'

Consumers more confident in Irish economy

Study finds many migrant workers are here for long haul

AIB report says almost 160,000 non-nationals in employment in Ireland - 8% of workforce; Magnitude of inflows may slow; Many buying property

Irish Consumer Sentiment increased sharply in January

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ireland must wean itself off immigrant dependency

Eamon Quinn:

The National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) says in a report to be published tomorrow that the cost of future immigration will be increasingly shouldered by the government, and not private companies, as the cost of housing, educating and integrating workers from abroad escalates.

The average age of future immigrant workers is likely to rise above 30 years, the level at which it stands now, and the cost to the public services will rise accordingly, the report states.

It also says that the €1 billion the state spends on returning Irish people to the workforce could be much more effectively used and that the scores of training initiatives designed to upskill Irish workers are failing to work on the ground.

The NESF is also expected to recommend cuts in the number of community employment schemes, which employ 20,000 people. The schemes account for the largest single item of the €1 billion.

Although the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.3 per cent, the report says that there is no need to increase the €1 billion budget because the exchequer was spending the same amount of money when unemployment stood at more than 12 per cent.

It also recommends that an additional 5,000 people be retrained for each of the next five years and that training organisation Fas should oversee their integration into the workforce.

Report says that it may become increasingly more difficult and costly to attract and integrate greater numbers of migrants in Ireland

Is Scotland the best small country in the world?

Peter MacMahon:

SCOTLAND is far from "the best small country in the world" that Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has promised to build. In fact it is languishing second from the bottom in an "index of success" league table of small nations, a report out today reveals.

Only Austria is below Scotland in a ranking of ten smaller countries, according to research commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The figures - calculated by looking at internationally recognised measures of GDP, life expectancy, employment and education - are a blow to Mr McConnell's ambitions for Scotland. As well as being second bottom among small nations, Scotland is also 15th out of 31 OECD countries - the same ranking as last year - and 16th out of 24 economically developed nations, up one place on 2005.

However, the report contains some good news for the First Minister. When comparisons are made with the other nations and regions of the United Kingdom, Scotland is as successful as London and the East Midlands of England, and ahead of Wales, Northern Ireland and most regions south of the Border.

The study also demonstrates clearly that the main reason for Scotland's relatively lowly status is its poor health record, in this case measured by life expectancy.

The report, written by the economist John McLaren, who advised former first ministers Donald Dewar and Henry McLeish, shows the best performing countries are Switzerland and Iceland, closely followed by Norway.

Taking the list of 24 developed nations as the best comparison, Scotland lies below the halfway point, close to France and Austria but ahead of poorer states such as Portugal and Greece.

However, the league table average disguises variations in the different indices used to give a "score" for Scotland. The report notes that, in terms of individual indicators, Scotland's performance remains:

Average, in terms of GDP per capita;

Very poor, in terms of life expectancy - the lowest of the 24;

Above average for education and employment.

The newly created index for the UK shows the best-performing regions as the south-east, east and south-west of England. Although Scotland is sixth out of the 12 nations and regions of the UK, the document says it is best to view them in five tiers.

Scotland is in the second tier, along with London - which suffers because of poor employment and below average education scores - and the East Midlands of England.

The third tier consists of the West Midlands and Northern Ireland; the fourth contains Yorkshire and Humberside, the north-west of England and Wales, and the fifth tier is the north-east of England, a long way behind the others.

According to the report, there is a "capital city effect" around London, while the south-east and east are heavily influenced by their proximity to and participation in the Greater London economy.

It says: "There appears to be an inverse relationship in England between performance and distance from the capital's economy, with the worst three performers being in the most northerly regions.

"However, this relationship breaks down at the borders, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all performing 'mid-table'. This may be as a result of historical benefits from having greater political influence on funding than the constituent areas of England."

In terms of the international comparisons, the report notes: "In general, it is noticeable that in most tiers or groupings of similarly performing countries, a mixture of high- and low-tax economies can be found."

On the subject of Scotland's health record, the report says that if it had the median life expectancy, it would gain 0.5 points on the score, moving it to the top end of the better performers in the 24-nation table and taking it above Finland.

In the survey of ten small nations, Scotland scores below average in all the measures except for education.

If it got the median life expectancy score among the ten small countries, it would move up 0.5 to 1.84 and sixth position, leapfrogging New Zealand, Ireland and Denmark.

Mr McLaren says that the averages for the ten small countries are equal to or higher than the averages for the 24 nations, adding: "It would seem that size is not a constraint on success but may indeed offer greater opportunities to succeed."

Andy Willox, the FSB's Scottish policy convener, said: "The First Minister has outlined his intention to turn Scotland into the 'best small country in the world', which we strongly support. Scotland has climbed one place compared to the ten small, developed countries of the OECD but is still well behind similar-sized countries like Norway, Ireland and Switzerland.

"The index suggests we still have some way to go before we turn that ambition into reality."

The Celtic canary in the UK's coal mine

Economy 'set to slow' over 2006

Health 'stalling' economic growth

UK economy set to accelerate as Scottish growth weakens

Fiscal devolution alone will not save Scottish economy

Study to follow Scotland's health

Poor health drags Scots down league

Michael McDowell silent as British duplicity exposed

Eoin Ó Murchú:

As our political parties jostle each other to show who is the most anti-Sinn Féin of them all, in the real world the battle is being lost. The Good Friday Agreement is going under.

Wasn't it curious that Michael McDowell, the stalwart defender of the state's integrity and self-proclaimed champion of its republican ambitions, had nothing to say about the Stormontgate affair, an episode that shows the British government as hopelessly duplicitous or haplessly unable to control their security apparatuses?

This is not a clever point: it's a very serious issue. How can the British be trusted if this is the way they behave?

Of course, Sinn Féin have been hammering this point for three years, denouncing the securocrats, as they call them. And the more they have denounced them and called on the British government to impose control over them, the more have Sinn Féin been derided, and the more stentorian has become Michael McDowell's bark in blaming the republicans for all the problems of the peace process.

On top of that, there is the current US administration urging the British and the unionist parties to refuse to re-establish the institutions until Sinn Féin accept the "legitimacy" of a police force that behaves in such a partisan political way.

Does it really matter that there's a feud going on between the RUC Special Branch and the MI5 intelligence service? Does it matter that Hugh Orde is outside the loop? But surely it matters when the normally voluble Michael McDowell gives Hugh Orde a polite hearing for his ridiculous efforts to justify the unjustifiable?

We do know that if a republican agent in the ranks of British intelligence had been unmasked, the heavens would be shaking still with Michael McDowell's denunciations.

The question is what is more important to Michael McDowell – to see Government policy on the establishment of the Good Friday institutions brought to fruition, or to wage his own private war against Fine Gael for the anti-Sinn Féin vote?

And even still, despite these revelations that show that Britain has not played with a straight deck, none of the parties can bring themselves publicly to denounce this perfidy, while all are at pains to insist that they won't share coalition power with Sinn Féin after the election.

Sinn Féin's policies are certainly more radical and leftwing than Labour's, but it's only a matter of degree – and perhaps of integrity in being willing to insist on them. Their policies on liberal issues are indistinguishable from those of the liberal wing of Fine Gael. Yet both Fine Gael and Labour have categorically ruled out Sinn Féin as potential government partners. They have not so ruled out the PDs, a party with less than 40 per cent of the support that Sinn Féin enjoys, a party that puts party before country, as their reaction to the Donaldson revelations show, that squeezes the poor to make the rich better off, and that openly boasts of its Thatcherism.

Meanwhile, as the parties jostle each other to show who is the most anti-Sinn Féin of them all, in the real world the battle is being lost. The Good Friday Agreement is going under.

Bertie Ahern still insists that he has a special relationship with Tony Blair, and that, angry as he is about the Donaldson and Stormontgate affairs, it would be foolish to place that relationship in jeopardy.

But a cursory examination of the unionist position shows that for them Blair is already yesterday's man. They are preparing their positions for the advent of Gordon Brown, and where will he stand?

It's wishful thinking on their part to imagine that Brown, as a dour Scottish Presbyterian, is inclined the unionist way. He is more likely to be tired of paying these ingrate spongers for a higher standard of living than they earn themselves. It's very easy to see Brown pulling the financial plug on them, though the unionists are so sunk in sectarian hatred of Catholics that even that might not concentrate their minds.

But if Brown is to play a more positive role, and be an active proponent of a way forward that culminates logically in a British withdrawal from Ireland, then we will have to work for that, and our political parties will have to start arguing for it.

For Gordon Brown can recognise hypocrisy and political humbug as well as the next, and he will only get interested in the Irish question if he has no choice. For Brown has always asked one simple question: do the Irish people want reunification, and are they prepared to pay for it? I believe the Irish people do want reunification, but I don't believe that the parties, apart from Sinn Féin, do. And I certainly don't believe that either the Government, or Rainbow options, are willing to pay for it.

But when Brown succeeds Blair, Britain is going to slowly start turning the tap off. Already under Hain, Britain is trying to shift more and more of the costs of running the North away from the British Exchequer to the people of the North. Superficially this looks like privatisation; in fact it's an "Ulsterisation" of policy that has profound implications for all the people of Ireland, North and South.

But our political leaders can't see that. They are too busy attacking Sinn Féin.

200 cops have criminal record

DUP hides behind IMC report

Mary, hang your head in shame

Shoddy and flimsy report

PSNI won’t become representative of wider society in North until 2027

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Trust and confidence isn't quite there yet

Brian Feeney:

It's not this IMC report but the next one that counts. Everyone knows this one is going to say how well the IRA has done since last July but 'could do better'. The DUP will dance a predictable jig around continuing IRA intelligence gathering and any other straw they can grasp to avoid sharing power with Sinn Féin. It's easy for the DUP. It never had to gather intelligence. Senior figures in the NIO and RUC just handed the documents to it. During the same period security figures were just as regularly ensuring loyalist terrorists received details on republicans.

The crucial report, as Blair and Bertie have already indicated, will be at Easter. After that the DUP will come under intense pressure to participate in a Stormont executive. As usual the British government and its provincial administration here manage to portray the impasse as warring local tribes who can't agree to sit down together. Of course there's an element of truth in that but it's not that simple. The DUP's refusal to treat nationalists as equals is only one part of the equation. The British government's interminable foot-dragging on policing and security is another critical part.

Even if a blue moon shone in the sky and that oul' dinosaur that unionists have chosen as their leader agreed to deal with Sinn Féin next week, Sinn Féin would still not sign up to a deal until the British government has delivered on policing and security. The NIO successfully keeps it very quiet but their legislation on policing next month is just as important to republicans as the IRA's departure from the political scene is to unionists.

That's the main reason there won't be a complete return of the Good Friday Agreement's institutions this summer. SF would be mad to agree to something they hadn't seen in writing. After all, as Irish government sources confirmed the NIO stuck the provision about British security forces getting off scot-free into the OTR bill only a few weeks before it was published. As Sam Goldwyn used to say, "A verbal contract ain't worth the paper it's written on".

So SF will wait and see if, for once, if the British do what they promised about policing and justice and make provision for its devolution to parties in the north of Ireland. If so, then the way is open for SF to endorse the PSNI after a few more tweaks. Should that all run smoothly it will be a massive fillip for republicans. Such an outcome will provide a large political boost for SF. They will be fully vindicated in withholding their imprimatur from the PSNI. Quite simply, if all the changes were necessary to deliver genuinely locally accountable policing, then Sinn Féin was right all along, otherwise why make the changes?

Despite the headlines about the speech of the US special envoy, Mitchell Reiss, at the PSNI passing-out ceremony last week, it's clear he accepts the PSNI has a good way to go.

Not much publicity was given to his remark that, "When all political parties support the PSNI, you will have to build trust and confidence across the community". In other words, that trust and confidence isn't there yet. Secondly, a lot of coverage suggested Reiss told the new constables that the PSNI was one of the best police services in Europe.

In fact, what he said was that after all the reforms, structural changes and oversight provisions, "Many people think you have one of the best police services in Europe". Maybe those 'many people' are right. Maybe not. Hardly an objective scientific endorsement. Still, he hardly needs to produce scientific evidence. With the sort of forelock-tugging coverage the meedja here gives to any pronouncement however trite or condescending from an imperial representative, British or American, he can be sure of an uncritical reception.

The truth is it doesn't matter what Mitchell Reiss says. He's like a third wheel on a rear axle. What matters is getting the legislation right next month, then getting it through Westminster. Without it there'll be no executive because it's not worth having one without republican involvement in policing. The cause of all this?

Peter Mandelson who made a mess of policing.

Share power or else...

Criminality and the British Army