Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Irish economy has been awarded a resounding clean bill of health by AIB Global Treasury

Cyril Hardiman:

The bank's economists are predicting continued strong growth in real GDP into the future, despite building grey clouds on the global economic horizon next year and beyond. "Ireland's economic performance remains both exceptionally buoyant and resilient with real GDP expected to grow by at least 5.5pc in 2006," according to the latest economic update from AIB Global Treasury.

"A similar rate of growth is forecast for 2007, despite an expected downturn in the global economy."

Such a performance would represent the continuation of a remarkable period of steady and sustained growth in real GDP since the ending of the Celtic Tiger period in 2000, the company's team, headed by chief economist John Beggs, points out.

"Furthermore, the outlook beyond 2007 may not be as gloomy as often predicted," the economists proclaim.

They believe a number of factors should underpin growth in the short-term.

These include expansionary fiscal policy, the lagged effects of a very low interest rate regime, maturing SSIA-related expenditure and strong regional growth, especially the pick-up in activity in the eurozone and UK economies.

In addition to the very favourable outlook for economic growth, AIB Global Treasury believes other headline indicators are expected to perform strongly in 2006-2007.

Employment will continue to expand by about 3.4pc this year and by around 3pc in 2007.

They say the general Government balance should remain close to surplus as the public finances continue to benefit from the economy's buoyancy.

AIB more upbeat on Irish economy

British created the loyalist monsters

Daily Ireland:

The PSNI is appealing for information on the brutal murder in Bangor, Co Down, of Mark Christie (36). The dead man, who had links with loyalist paramilitary drugs gangs, was hacked to death in a loyalist estate in the seaside town by a gang of around six men. The PSNI further say they are keeping an “open mind” about the killing, but it’s widely believed that the murder was carried out by former paramilitary colleagues who had ordered him to stay out of the estate in what’s believed to have been a row over drug territory. Christie last week escaped jail after appearing in a Belfast court on a charge of assault.

The entire sordid episode encapsulates quite starkly the Frankenstein’s monster that the British government and its various security agencies created down through those three bloody decades when they nurtured, armed and directed loyalist paramilitaries as part of the familiar ‘counter-gang’ strategy that they used in other colonial struggles of the 20th century.

Utterly incapable of conducting any sort of sustained campaign, the UDA, UVF and various spin-offs were sustained by shadowy intelligence figures from the RUC and British intelligence who used them when convenient to target their republican enemies or – much more frequently – innocent Catholics in a ruthless attempt to put pressure on republicans by spreading terror in the nationalist community. Clear runs were given to killer gangs, guns were supplied, security details handed over. But when the war between the IRA and the British was ended, the thuggish criminal demi-monde that the British had fed and encouraged was never going to be stood down by the giving of an order.

Working-class loyalist communities are drowning in a sea of drugs and criminality as former paramilitary enforcers continue to believe that they are beyond the reach of the law. And why shouldn’t they believe that? If the British state encouraged and facilitated them in the murder of innocent Catholics, the thinking goes, why should they get squeamish when those same loyalists’ energies are redirected towards the rather less serious crime of self-enrichment via drugs and racketeering?

The line between right and wrong is not just blurred in those parts of the North ruled by loyalist paramilitaries – it doesn’t exist. And given the age profile of those involved in recent loyalist shows of strength in North Belfast and elsewhere, the number of teenage paramilitaries who are carrying the torch for a new generation of loyalist paramilitaries is serious cause for concern.

What we are seeing unravelling on the streets is the legacy of a failed British policy of defeating republicans at any price. How to place a firewall between this generation of bloodthirsty thugs and the next generation of impressionable young Protestants who are today at school is a complex and challenging question which demands to be addressed. But in the meantime, perhaps the PSNI and the British government would spare us the mock horror the next time the knives are out and the blood flows.

Decommissioning double standards

Anti-Catholicism in Scotland

Lorna Martin:

A furious row has erupted after a Celtic footballer was given a formal caution for blessing himself during an Old Firm game. Artur Boruc, the Polish goalkeeper, was accused of inciting violence and angering rival supporters by making the gesture in front of Rangers fans at Ibrox stadium in Glasgow.

The Crown Office's decision to give him an official warning has provoked a strong reaction, with politicians and church leaders saying it will make Scotland the 'laughing stock of the world' as players often cross themselves in football grounds. Boruc was cautioned for a breach of the peace after complaints were made by Rangers fans following the game in February.

The Catholic church has condemned Scottish prosecutors, with spokesman Peter Kearney saying many Catholics would feel subject to persecution following the decision. 'It's an alarming development, especially since the Sign of the Cross is globally accepted as a gesture of religious reverence,' he said. 'It was commonplace throughout the World Cup. It is extremely regrettable that Scotland seems to have made itself one of the few countries in the world where this simple religious gesture is considered an offence.'

The Crown Office said a caution was issued as an alternative to prosecution. A spokesman said that as Boruc made the gesture before a crowd in the charged atmosphere of an Old Firm game it constituted a breach of the peace and had 'provoked alarm'.

But many politicians were also critical. Nationalist leader Alex Salmond said the 'ludicrous' move was the type of action which brought the law and legal system into disrepute. 'The procurator fiscal and the Crown Office are acting in a way that will inflame rather than reduce religious antagonism,' he said.

Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie said he felt the situation could have been addressed by talking to Boruc privately. 'I think they were wrong to focus on the crossing rather than the whole performance, as described to me by quite sensible people who were definitely wound up by it as they were intended to be, and he shouldn't do that,' he added.

Neither club has commented on the cautioning, but Eddie Toner, a former general secretary of the Celtic Supporters Association, expressed fury with the club, claiming it had 'hung Boruc out to dry'.

'Perhaps those who made the complaint to the police should have a long hard look at themselves, as it seems that it is they who have the sectarian problem,' he added. 'The gesture is made by sportsmen and women all over the world, but bizarrely only seems to cause offence here in Scotland.'

Footballer gets criminal record for making sign of the cross

Anger grows over police caution for Boruc’s blessing

Celtic player's sign of cross caution 'will make Scotland a laughing stock'

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sectarian attacks get usual hot air response

Brian Feeney:

Just before dawn on Sunday morning a group of masked men tore away part of the metal fencing guarding a family's central heating oil tank and set fire to the feed pipe, causing a huge fireball.

The flames engulfed the rear of the house and could easily have incinerated the woman and her three-month-old baby who were asleep in the upstairs bedroom. The bedroom itself was badly damaged by the blaze.

A few observations about this attack.

For about five years now, igniting the oil tank of a house has been the preferred loyalist method for terrorising Catholics out of a district.

It's simple and cowardly. There's no danger to the fire-raisers. They need no equipment like petrol bombs or any material which could incriminate them.

The result is instantly catastrophic to the house, so the residents have no alternative but to leave. This fate has befallen a number of Catholic families in the greater Belfast area but also, needless to say, in other parts of the north where Catholics are prey to murderous sectarian attacks.

Sunday's arson attack in the Whitewell district was a repeat of arson on oil tanks there last summer, which is why there were metal railings round the tank set on fire. Eventually loyalists will succeed in killing people when they carry out one of these attacks.

No-one has ever been convicted for one of these attacks. Indeed it would be interesting to know how many, if any, have even been arrested for questioning about one of these attacks.

At least in this recent case the police said they are treating the arson as sectarian. Usually trying to get the police to admit an attack is sectarian is like pulling teeth. Their normal and ridiculous response is that they are 'seeking a motive'.

In Whitewell the police know that the attacks are organised, that they come from an area which the UDA dominates and that for some time the UDA there has been organising provocative sectarian attacks to 'blood' its junior members. So far the police response has been sadly inadequate.

However, it's par for the course. Over the last few years when loyalist gangs have mounted sectarian campaigns against Catholics the police have been slow to take action and have largely failed to protect the Catholic population by doing anything proactive. That's what happened in Larne, in Ballymena and worst of all, Ahoghill.

Who can forget the crass intervention of the PSNI deputy chief constable Paul Leighton last summer who explained away sectarian attacks there as "disputes between neighbours" and because people weren't "getting on with each other"?

The fact is that sectarianism is endemic in the north – always has been. Go back 40 years before the UVF started shooting Catholics in an organised fashion and you'll find regular sectarian attacks taking place, though largely on property – Catholic schools, Orange halls, GAA grounds.

It doesn't change. Each summer there's a crescendo coinciding with the marching season as nationalist yahoos burn property associated with Orangeism and unionist yahoos attack Catholics.

What's remarkable is that nothing is done to address this most distinctive feature of the north, the feature which makes the place the cesspit it is.

Repeatedly British administrations here have refused to bring in effective anti-sectarian legislation, even on incitement to hatred.

The Equality Commission told a House of Commons Select Committee they couldn't enumerate sectarian incidents yet they can easily do it for racial incidents, even though the word 'racial' is a misnomer for most of the incidents.

Is there a special police unit to counter sectarian attacks? Has anyone ever been given a heavier sentence for a sectarian attack?

Here's what the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference agreed on July 25.

"The conference condemned recent sectarian incidents across Northern Ireland and recalled with deep regret the killing of Michael McIlveen in May. The two governments called on all those in positions of influence and leadership to work to combat all manifestations of sectarian hatred in their communities. For their part, they undertook to do all in their power to foster good community relations and to tackle the scourge of sectarianism."

Pathetic, isn't it?

After all these years, still just so much hot air.

'Burn Catholics' man was in UVF

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sectarian gang tries to burn Catholic family alive

Ciarán Barnes:

A young Catholic family is considering moving out of their new north Belfast home after it was targeted by loyalists in an arson attack.

A loyalist gang from the White City area yesterday tried to burn down the Old Throne Park home of Mickey Magennis.

His girlfriend, Juanita Magennis, and 12-week-old baby daughter Mollie narrowly escaped injury in the blaze that left the house in the Whitewell district, extensively damaged.

Mr Magennis told Daily Ireland his family is lucky to be alive and are now considering moving out of the area.

“We only moved into the house in February,” said the 27-year-old father of one.

“We have a mortgage and are trying to make a life, and then something like this happens.

“This could have been much worse. My girlfriend woke up when she heard the window smashing. If she had not got up both her and the baby would have burned to death.”

Mr Magennis said he was considering asking the Housing Executive to buy the house under the Special Purchase of Evicted Dwellings (SPED) scheme. A number of his neighbours, who have also been the victims of loyalist attacks, have had similar requests turned down by the Housing Executive.

Sinn Féin councillor Tierna Cunningham hit out at the loyalist gang behind the arson attack. She accused them of attempted murder.

“They are a young couple with a young baby, trying to make a start in life, and this type of thing, in this day and age, is not on,” sh said.

“The grass is completely covered with oil, the windows are burned ou and the house is completely black at the back. The attack amounts to attempted murder.”

Firefighters who battled the blaze said the flames were 20 feet high when they arrived.

Station Commander Mark Beresford said the Magennis family was fortunate to escape.

“I think they were alerted fairly early on. One of the neighbours knocked the door and at the same time, the windows started to smash so the woman and the child were able to get out fairly quickly,” he said.

“They were fairly lucky, if it had been much longer this coul have been a tragedy.”

Attacks on Catholic homes in the Whitewell have increased in recent weeks. At the beginning of the month, there was a tense stand off between rival groups amid claims a Catholic man had been assaulted and a Protestant teenager hit by a car. Last year three homes on Old Throne Park suffered severe damage in a sectarian arson attack. Loyalists set light to an oil tank at the rear of a property which spread to neighbouring houses.

Family calls for new look at massacre

Loyalists blamed for arson attack

Partition’s devastating effect on the border counties

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Church of Ireland minister has said that no true Protestant should be a member of the Orange Order

Mick Hall:

The Reverend David Frazer, of Laytown in Co Meath, said the order had never been an upholder of “a true Orange tradition of ‘civil and religious liberty for all’” in Ireland.

He said the order’s present “crisis” was a reason to rejoice for those wanting to see “an island of equals”.

Mr Frazer said: “It is an organisation that no longer has the leadership of the ‘big house’ and one can see that its lumpenproletariat membership has no positive conceptual ability.

“Anyone in the institution who is able to think above the tribal gut-reaction level should get out of a body that is caught in a late 18th-century and early 19th-century mindset.”

Mr Frazer was responding to comments made by the Reverent Brian Kennaway, a former senior Orangeman, during a book-signing event in Belfast, that formed part of the Féile an Phobail programme last week.

Mr Kennaway, author of The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed, suggested that “an island of equals” could be achieved by adhering to the basic tenets of both the 1916 Proclamation and the Orange tradition in Ireland.

He argued that, although the order had always stood for “civil and religious freedom for all and special privileges for none”, it needed to reassert its authentic religious values above the political, paramilitary and cultural influences currently dominating it.

“This would help bring about “a new dispensation” in Ireland”, he added.

Mr Frazer said he welcomed Mr Kennaway’s “thought-provoking comments” as reported by Daily Ireland but questioned whether the order could be transformed into a benign religious institution.

“The problem with the Orange Order is that it was set up by the gentry and clergy of the established Church of Ireland in the troubled days of the 1790s to uphold the Williamite settlement that made the British throne Protestant,” he said.

“It was never meant to be simply a fellowship of people who were united in their allegiance to the reformed tradition of western Christianity.

“The Orange Order was founded because of the fear that many Protestants were being attracted to the principles of republicanism that were being enunciated by the United Irishmen.

“In a reactionary move, the Anglo-Irish ascendancy created an institution that would uphold privilege and perpetuate division.”

“Its members are still indoctrinated into the ascendancy way of thinking.

“Its marches are territorial, coat-trailing exercises that are intended to let Roman Catholics know that Protestants are top dogs in society,” he said.

The order’s support for the union with Britain is conditional on the British throne “remaining in Protestant hands”, which also excludes Presbyterians in Ireland, he said.

“No genuine, free-thinking Protestant of any denomination who believes in democracy should belong to such an organisation.”

He added: “It is bizarre that a 17th-century dynastic struggle between an English Roman Catholic king and his usurping Dutch Protestant son-in-law (who was supported by the pope of the day) should continue to be used as a central theme of any group identity in the 21st century.”

Police ombudsman to recommend charges against former officers

‘Damning’ evidence of state collusion in murder

Top trade unionist says state promotes sectarian bigotry

Fresh investigation into UVF murder of teenager

Lord Saville, why are we waiting?

Towards Joint Authority

Trick of bending language to tell it like it isn’t

A leading geneticist has developed a DNA test for Scottish ancestry

Karin Goodwin:

Dr Jim Wilson, of Edinburgh University’s public health sciences department, claims his test can tell whether people are descended from the Picts, who inhabited Scotland until the 10th century.

The test, which is based on the DNA pattern of Scotland’s ancient inhabitants, is due to be launched this week and is expected to cost about £130.

It involves checking a saliva sample against 27 genetic markers and is expected to be particularly popular among Americans searching for conclusive proof of Scottish ancestry. In addition to his scientific work, Wilson also runs Ethnoancestry, a firm with branches in Edinburgh and California that offers tests for Norse and Anglo-Saxon descent.

“We started this work a few years ago, looking at the Norse component, and we proved that a large proportion of people on Orkney are descended from Vikings,” he said.

“Now the markers have moved on massively and we have discovered that we can trace back the component of the indigenous Picts by looking at the unique grouping of their Y-chromosome. We believe that this would have been found only in Scotland.

“The test will appeal to the US and Australian markets, who want to confirm their Scottish roots, but also to people in Scotland and elsewhere in the British Isles to see whether they have Pictish, British, Anglo-Saxon or Viking roots.”

James Fraser, a lecturer in early Scottish history at Edinburgh University, said he believed that many people in Scotland have Pictish ancestors. “This is potentially very significant,” he said.

“I’d expect it would be found in anyone whose ancestry is from the northeast but I’m sure it will be traced right up and down the east coast too.”

The first written record of the Picts was made in AD297 by the Roman orator Eumenius, who implied that they had been troubling their southern neighbours for some time.

Duncan MacNiven, registrar general for Scotland, said he expected the DNA test to be popular. “People have always been curious about their ancestors but the growing availability of information has really driven the growth,” he said.

“Almost everything has been recorded since 1855, but before that it was the responsibility of the church and that was done diligently in some places and not so carefully in others.

“It can be frustrating to find that you can only go back so far so I think people will find this genetic test interesting. Being able to trace your roots back to the Picts or the Vikings is sure to capture the imagination.”

More than 60% of those searching for their ancestors in the Scottish records are from the UK and about 20% are from the United States and Canada.

Interest in genealogy has been fuelled by television programmes such as BBC2’s Who Do You Think You Are, where celebrities including Moira Stuart and Jeremy Paxman have discovered surprising details about their ancestors’ lives.

VisitScotland estimates that genealogy tourism is worth more than £150m a year to the Scottish economy, with 97% of visitors making repeat trips.

Ewan Colville, international marketing manager of VisitScotland, said: “This test gives a new perspective to genealogy. Picts are the original people of Scotland and this would take the traditional search to its ultimate conclusion. It provides a novel way of tracing your genetic make-up to the indigenous people of Scotland.”

The blood of the vikings - Orkney's genetic heritage

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ex-RUC detectives held in loyalist killing probe

Owen Bowcott:

Three former detectives have been arrested and questioned by investigators working for Northern Ireland's police ombudsman as part of a far-reaching inquiry into loyalist paramilitary murders.

Chief Superintendent Tom Meek and Constable Trevor McIlrath, were interrogated about an alleged attempt to pervert the course of justice and misconduct in public office, before being released last night. Their homes were also searched.

A third former detective was being questioned last night after returning from a holiday abroad. Johnston "Jonty" Brown was arrested at Belfast international airport as part of the inquiry into the handling of RUC special branch informers.

His home has been searched and computer equipment and other items taken. The retired sergeant had previously been interviewed voluntarily since he left the force in 2001 and began revealing embarrassing and damaging details of police special branch work with paramilitary informers. He was involved in the police undercover operation which led to the 1994 arrest and conviction of feared loyalist commander Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair.

The investigation by the ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, was triggered by a complaint about the way officers carried out the inquiry into the murder of Raymond McCord, who was beaten to death in Newtownabbey, on the northern outskirts of Belfast, in 1997 by members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). At least one of those responsible was allegedly working for police special branch at the time.

Over the past three years, as more allegations emerged, the investigation has steadily expanded. Killings committed as long ago as the 1980s are being re-examined. Most involved the UVF.

The handling of intelligence and informers by what was then the RUC's special branch has been the focus. The most controversial issue is whether informers were permitted to become involved in murders and serious crimes without facing prosecution.

The investigation is the largest undertaken by the ombudsman's office since its inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bombing. The full report is likely to be published before Christmas. No one has been charged but an interim file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service.

The two former detectives arrested yesterday were once CID officers. Both Mr McIlrath and Mr Brown worked on the McCord inquiry when members of the RUC.

The ombudsman's office confirmed that another of the murders being re-examined was that of a taxi driver gunned down by the UVF 13 years ago, and the subsequent RUC investigation. Sharon McKenna, 27, a Catholic from Newtownabbey, was shot at the north Belfast home of an elderly friend where she had gone to make his dinner.

Find raises questions about UVF ceasefire

Third former detective arrested

Dealing with the remnants of fear and loathing

Speculation growing that Bloody Sunday report is being delayed for political reasons

Bombings inquiry report extended

DUP vetoes Irish street signs

UDA may stand down rapist leader

Wind up, shut up

Time to start thinking about selling the north to the south

Loyalist flags still flying despite promised removal

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

IIB economist says IMF report is overly pessimistic about the Irish economy

Ireland Online:

The chief economist with IIB has disputed the IMF's contention that Ireland's economy is becoming "increasingly imbalanced" due to a heavy reliance on construction and the property market.

In its latest assessment of Ireland, the International Monetary Fund expresses concern about this imbalance, despite predicting a strong economic performance in Ireland over the coming year.

IIB economist Austin Hughes says he believes that, while the IMF is right to point out risks to the economy, it may also be overstating the dangers posed by the level of reliance on construction.

"I don't think that the economy is quite as unbalanced as the IMF is suggesting, because certainly we need to boost our infrastructure, and that means the construction sector will remain strong," he said.

IMF warns against giveaway budget in December

Growth strong but unbalanced - IMF

An all-island economy

Thursday, August 03, 2006

SDLP is irrelevant - report

Anton McCabe:

An appendix to the report gives a detailed analysis of the party’s vote in last year’s local elections.

It said there had been an above-average swing from the SDLP to Sinn Féin in 43 of the North’s 101 district council electoral areas.

Five of these areas are in North Antrim, with swings to Sinn Féin ranging from 29 per cent in both Ballycastle town and the Glens areas, to five per cent in Ballymena North.

The SDLP currently holds an assembly seat in North Antrim but the constituency is to lose one of its two nationalist quotas given the boundary changes to be implemented before the next assembly election.

In East Derry, there were swings of 21 per cent in Limavady town and 19 per cent in Bellarena.

The SDLP only increased its vote in ten of the electoral areas.

The appendix also detailed how the areas where the SDLP did worst were mostly core nationalist areas in which the combined nationalist vote exceeded 50 per cent.

Former SDLP deputy chairman Eddie Espie said the report showed the party was in terminal decline.

“In 1969, the main opposition party in the North was the Nationalist Party,” Mr Espie said.

“Two years later, it was gone. A precedent was set back then, proving when the critical mass of electoral support drifts away from a party and reaches a certain point, the end becomes unstoppable.”

'Rope-a-dope' strategy has one little snag

Differing values leaves north in a poorer state