Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ireland's population growth rate up till 2010 will be the highest in Europe, at 1.3%, according to United Nations projections

Angela Long:

Figures just released by the UN Population Fund say our urban growth rate, at 1.8%, also outstrips all countries in northern and eastern Europe. In all of Europe, only Albania has a higher forecast, at 2.5%.

Most countries have growth expectations of around half a per cent, while Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania are expected to shrink by that amount.

The population of the world's cities is increasing by more than one million people every week, UNFPA says, and this presents a huge challenge to governments, especially health authorities.

By next year, more than half the global population, 3.3 billion people, will be city-dwellers.

The increasing 'urbanisation' could create a crisis if sensible measures are not taken now, the UNFPA warns in a comprehensive report, Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth.

Sean Hand, who is Irish and head of human resources at the Population Fund headquarters in New York, said governments had to act now, by measures such as making basic serviced land available around urban centres.

"If we don’t plan now for that rate of growth, major difficulties will occur, even catastrophic consequences," Mr Hand told the launch of the report in Dublin.

"Urbanisation is inevitable, and the majority of people living in cities will be poor," he said. Even in countries where governments had made determined efforts to keep or relocate people in the countryside, such as India and China, the trend was too great to reverse.

The UNFP says mega-cities of more than 10 million people, such as Seoul or Sao Paolo, will continue to grow, but most people will be living in cities of 500,000 or fewer.

Of 31 countries across Europe, Ireland came 18th in health expenditure, as percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in the report. Ireland spends 5.8% of its GDP, less than countries such as Serbia and Montenegro (7.2%). The UK spends 6.9%.

Life expectancy of Irish men now is 75.9 years, the report says, while for women it is 81.

Luxembourg : GDP first preliminary estimates for 2006

Taxation in EU: Rise in overall tax burden in the EU27 to 39.6% of GDP in 2005: Stamp duty and capital taxes have pushed Irish burden up since 2001

Pat Finucane's murder is part of the last conflict demon

Michael Finucane:

The decision by the director of public prosecutions not to prosecute any army or Royal Ulster Constabulary officers over the role in the murder of my dad, Pat Finucane, is disappointing but not surprising. Perhaps the most curious thing about the decision is that it makes a perverse kind of sense. After all, why prosecute people for doing the job you asked them to do in the first place?

This is what is at stake in the issue of collusion, and prosecuting people would have opened a murky world the government wanted kept hidden. In fact, the word "collusion" has become the adjective of choice for what was, in reality, British government policy in Northern Ireland since the 1970s.

The official version was that state agents were infiltrating Loyalist paramilitary organisations in order to prevent what they were planning to do. There are problems with this explanation. Firstly, the activities continued despite the existence of agents, and many people were still being murdered. Secondly, this explanation conflicts with the internal reports of one of the main agencies responsible for running the agents.

State collusion with paramilitaries remains a festering sore in the way of rehabilitation from conflict-riven wasteland to modern, autonomously governed democracy. The responsibility here lies firmly with the government, which has never accepted that the state was a participant in the conflict.

This is the last conflict demon to be exorcised in Northern Ireland and if the society we hope to create is to have the best chance of overcoming the past then the truth must out. The answer is to expose and confront the facts. An independent public judicial inquiry, invested with all necessary powers and autonomy to do the job required, is the only vessel capable of bringing Northern Ireland across its last Rubicon.

Hibs want McGuinness to skip festival

Victims angry at remarks

RUC whistleblower calls for collusion prosecutions

Ahern unhappy over Finucane move

Families of five UDA victims to take civil actions against police

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Smithsonian snubs Irish nationalists

Cahir O’Doherty:

DEMOCRATIC Congress-man Eliot Engel of New York, the co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs, has written a strongly worded letter to the organizers of the Smithsonian’s Northern Ireland Folklife Festival in Washington later this month, protesting what he calls the lack of equal community representation at the forthcoming Northern Ireland Folklife Festival, citing the inclusion of the Orange Order without equal participation from the Nationalist community.

In his letter the Congress-man said, “It is important to note that the Orange Order is known for its violently anti-Catholic sentiments and actions. I question whether inviting them as representatives from the Protestant community is an action that expresses neutrality and emphasizes resolution. Because the Folklife Festival takes place on the National Mall, there is potential for this strictly cultural event to unintentionally appear political.”

Nancy Groce, the Smithsonian’s curator of the Northern Ireland program at the Folklife Festival disagreed with Engel’s partisan assessment however, noting that it is a cultural program and not a political program, and that the Smithsonian’s organizers have already sent a reply to his letter.

“The congressman is voicing very real concerns, and it is a question of balance, but we don’t want to get into a situation of tit for tat,” Groce told the Irish Voice. “We don’t want label people Nationalist or Unionist, and we don’t want to say that the GAA participants are a balance for the participation of the Orange Order – because that’s not accurate. The truth is no politicians have been invited except to open the ceremony – and they are Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.”

It understood that both the Sam Maguire and McCarthy Cup, the trophies for winning the All-Ireland football and hurling titles, will be displayed for the first time during the festival.

Said Groce, “The Sam Maguire Cup and the Liam McCarthy Cup are both national treasures. We will display them in a limited way during the Folk Festival, but they will be available for viewing at the Irish Embassy. The Northern Irish Bureau and the Irish Embassy have been closely involved in the planning of the event.”

The program is being produced in partnership with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure of Northern Ireland and with the cooperation of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Councillor claims snub over USA festival invite

British colonial students are leaving the north of Ireland

News Letter:

ALARM has been expressed at the low number of Protestant students choosing to attend higher education institutions in Northern Ireland.

Tom Elliott, Ulster Unionist Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, said he was shocked to discover just how many more Roman Catholics are staying in the Province to study - suggesting a Protestant brain drain.

As a result of an Assembly question on university students, he discovered that the number of Protestant full-time and part-time students in 2004/2005 was 12,761 compared to 17,207 Roman Catholic students.

And in the year 2005/2006, the number of Protestant students was 13,806 to 18,798 Roman Catholic students.

“These figures show 5,000 more Roman Catholic students each year are studying in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Elliott.

“They clearly illustrate that a large number of Protestant students are choosing to attend universities on the mainland rather than attend universities in Northern Ireland.

“This is an important issue as many of these students who travel to mainland universities do not return to work in the Province, hence the long established debate about the ‘Northern Ireland brain drain’.”

Good riddance to the British colonial scum!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Unemployment among Catholics is twice that of Protestants in the north of Ireland

James Stinson:

The gap has narrowed since 1990 but in employment as in many other areas, Catholics are still worse off than Protestants, according to official figures.

They are contained in the latest edition of the government's 'Labour Force Survey Religion Report'. The survey was carried out in 2005 but the figures have just been released.

It shows that in 2005 Catholics accounted for around six out of 10 unemployed people in Northern Ireland with 19,000 Catholics

unemployed compared to 12,000 Protestants – despite Protestants making up the majority of the population.

While there is an obvious disparity in the fortunes of the two communities and their success in finding work, the same report does highlight an improving situation over the last decade and a half.

Unemployment rates have decreased significantly in both communities with the fall greatest among Catholics.

The gap between the respective unemployment rates has fallen from 9% in 1992 to 4% in 2005.

Still, ironing out the inequalities between the two communities will not happen overnight. In almost every area covered in the report – from housing to employment – it paints an unbalanced picture for the minority community.

Protestants are more likely to have a job and own their own house whereas lone parent families are more common among Catholics. Catholics are also more likely to be on disability or sickness benefits.

Both communities fare badly in this respect, with one in five adults in Northern Ireland claiming to have a disability.

Catholics make up a greater proportion of the population than they did in 1990. Among the young they are now the majority.

The Protestant population is older, accounting for more than six in 10 people aged 60 or over.

At the other end of the age scale, Catholics account for 47% of people aged between 16 and 24 – up from 44% in 1990. That compares to 46% Protestants – down from 49% in 1990.

Another area where Catholics are in the majority is in education where a far higher proportion (9%) are full-time students compared to Protestants (5%).

Protestants account for 53% of the aged-16-plus population (down from 56% in 1990), while Catholics account for 40% (up from 38%), with 7% other.

Labour Force Survey Religion Report

Major's dealings with Ireland a total failure

British urged to honour Irish vow

Young men face soaring suicide rate as Ulster leaves the Troubles behind

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Wage inequality rises in 18 of 20 OECD countries - Ireland and Spain are only exceptions


The figure shows that in all countries except Ireland and Spain, the earnings of the 10% best-paid workers increased more than the earnings of the 10% least-paid workers, over the 1995-2005 period (i.e. earnings inequality widened)

Rather than seeing globalisation as a threat, OECD governments should focus on improving labour regulations and social protection systems to help people adapt to changing job markets.

That is the message from the 2007 edition of the OECD’s annual Employment Outlook. It reviews the possibility that offshoring may have reduced the bargaining power of workers, especially low-skilled ones. Whether real or threatened, the prospect of offshoring may be increasing the vulnerability of jobs and wages in developed countries.

Wage inequality is also rising. In 18 of the 20 OECD countries where data exist, the gap between top earners and those at the bottom has risen since the early 1990s. Ireland and Spain are the only exceptions to this trend (see graph attached).

The OECD report makes a number of recommendations on policies governments should put in place to create more and better jobs.

In countries where social security contributions are high, such as Belgium, France and Sweden, the OECD suggests moving to broader sources of financing public social protection. Social contributions are largely based on wages and act as a tax on labour, limiting job creation. Given the falling share of wages in national income, it is key to reduce the role of social contributions and increase that of broader tax bases, such as income taxes and/or VAT, to fund social protection.

Globalisation requires mobility to ensure that workers are not trapped in jobs with no future. The report praises the so-called "flexicurity" approach adopted in Austria and Denmark to address this. In Austria, for example, workers have individual savings accounts, instead of traditional severance pay schemes, that move with them as they move jobs. If they lose their job, they can choose to withdraw funds from the account or save the entitlements built up towards a future pension.

Job losers should be compensated through social protection systems which are employment-friendly, the report notes. This can be done by providing adequate benefits hand-in-hand with "activation" policies which increase re-employment opportunities. Experience of Nordic countries and Australia shows that such policies, if well-designed, improve the job prospects of laid-off workers, thereby easing their fears about globalisation.

Monthly Minimum Wage Earnings in EU 27 - 2007: Varies from €92 to €1,570; Ireland ahead of France but 17% of French workforce at lowest level compared with 3% in Ireland

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ten years after the main paramilitary ceasefires the north of Ireland remains divided, a BBC survey into children's attitudes has indicated

BBC News:

State of Minds: The Children is the largest survey of its kind.

It reveals the results of the survey which probes children's attitudes to their national identities, friends, political awareness and sports.

Professor Paul Connolly, from Queen's University, said that prejudices are still there.

"The key message emerging from our research is that many Catholic and Protestant children here still tend to live parallel and separate lives," he said.

"Our research raises fundamental questions for us as a society in terms of how we should deal with the segregation that exists."

Here is how indigenous Irish (i.e. Catholic) and British colonial (i.e. Protestant) children see themselves:

Among the findings of the study was that Catholic children were five times more likely to see themselves as Irish compared to Protestant children (51% compared to 10%).

Conversely, 58% of Protestant children saw themselves as British compared to 15% of Catholic children.

British Seek to Block Inquiries

Friday, June 15, 2007

A leading medical officer has found that genetic make-up puts Irish women at risk of cancer

John Fallon:

Professor Michael Kerin, Director of the National Breast Cancer Research Institute (NBCRI), says that specific elements in the genetic profile of Irish women leave them predisposed to certain breast cancers.

Professor Michael Kerin said researchers at the Galway-based institute have been looking at the genetic profile of 1,000 Irish women with breast cancer. They have been comparing it with the genetic profile of a similar number of older Irish women who never had breast cancer. Both profiles are then compared to international studies, with a view to identifying specific areas that leave Irish women more predisposed to certain breast cancers.

Although the study is yet to be completed, early indications are that its findings will be significant.

"In our own assessment of the situation, we have found individual changes in the Irish population that are related to breast cancer," said Professor Kerin.

"What we've done is we've targeted individual areas that are likely to prove responsive and we have identified specific issues in the Irish population in relation to that which corroborate some other work that's being done internationally," he added.

Prof. Kerin said they were looking at specific areas of the genome - the complete DNA sequence of one set of chromosomes - when making comparisons.

He said the major issue now in terms of breast cancer treatment is to individualise therapies.

"We now know that there are very many different types of breast cancer. There are at least six different types based on the genetic profile and one of the key issues now is to target and individualise therapies for women based on the kind of breast cancer they have.

"In an effort to individualise treatment, what we are doing is we are growing some cells from individual people's breast cancer in the laboratory to address what individual therapies they respond to," he said.

Up to 2,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in Ireland each year. As yet, breast cancer cannot be prevented; its incidence can only be reduced by early detection. The cause and mechanism of action of breast cancer remain unknown.

The National Breast Cancer Research Institute which was launched in 1991, is a voluntary based charity located at the Clinical Science Institute, University College Hospital, Galway.


Ireland: Real GDP growth will come in at between 5.0% and 5.5% in 2007

Conor Keane:

THE Exchequer will be in surplus by around €500m as against a deficit target for the year as a whole of €546m (0.3% of GDP), according to Bloxham’s quarterly economic review.

Bloxham economist Alan McQuaid said that while much of the media focus has been on the property/construction sector, the major area of concern at the moment in is inflation.

“Headline inflation appears to be stuck around the 5.0% level, and indeed is now forecast to average that level for the year as a whole. The bottom line is that if inflation is let get out of control, it will have serious negativeconsequences for competitiveness.

“However, the problem is that we have no control over what happens to interest rates and/or oil prices, and as such we are very much at the mercy of the gods as regards developments on these fronts. Therefore, there is an onus on the next government to do everything in its power to contain the price rises in the public service, and that includes pay,” he said.

Mr McQuaid added that judging by the amount of negative media coverage in recent weeks one could be forgiven for thinking that the Irish economy is headed for a serious slowdown.

“We think that the majority of official statistics released in the year to date point to an economy that is still growing strongly in 2007, although GDP growth is unlikely to be as high as last year’s 6.0%.”

Mr McQuaid said that while the doom and gloom merchants have pointed to the fact that the export side of the economy looks increasingly vulnerable as a result of rising domestic costs and an appreciating euro, CSO figures paint a different picture.

“Official CSO data for the first three months of 2007 show the merchandise trade surplus running €300m higher in value terms than in the same period in 2006. On the output side, manufacturing production was 13.5% higher in January-April 2007 than in January-April 2006, again according to the latest CSO numbers.

“Meanwhile, on the personal spending front, retail sales in the first four months of 2007 were up 7.2% in volume terms on the same period in 2006 while new car sales in the January-May period were 7.0% higher than in the first five months of last year,” he said.

“Labour market trends also remain positive, with the opening quarter of 2007 posting an annual increase in employment of 76,800 or 3.8%. These numbers taken together hardly reflect an economy heading for a major downturn. At this stage, we see little reason to change our view that real GDP growth will come in at between 5.0% and 5.5% in 2007.”

A word to the wise

The DUP's double standards are nauseating

Brian Feeney:

Every few days some DUP MLA or MP, or someone who's both, comes on the airwaves to announce how the DUP is going to monitor Sinn Féin, or make sure Sinn Féin reaches democratic standards, or hold Sinn Féin to account or decide whether or not justice and policing powers can be devolved, and so on in that vein.

Strangely, they manage to get away with this superior attitude. Interviewers seem to accept that DUP members can speak with some authority on such matters.

For example, Jeffrey Donaldson appears to believe that his assembly committee will be critical in deciding whether summer 2008 is the right time to transfer justice powers to the assembly, or at least that's the pose he struck on BBC at the weekend. Yet the DUP leader has already committed the party to that date and it will happen and Jeffrey Donaldson knows it will.

Besides, how would anyone in the DUP, no matter how sanctimonious they may sound, know anything about policing and justice, let alone democratic standards?

The very thought would make a cat laugh.

The holier-than-thou-stance the DUP has adopted since becoming top dog in unionism has successfully airbrushed away its unsavoury past. In fact the DUP is a party oozing with hypocrisy.

This is a party which refused to talk to anyone in Sinn Féin but happily voted for members of the PUP in Belfast City Council while the UVF was engaged in a campaign of sectarian murder. The party even helped elect a PUP member lord mayor at the height of the UVF campaign. DUP councillors regularly hob-nobbed with senior UVF members in Belfast's lord mayor's parlour for drinks after council meetings.

Both UVF and UDA men have had dual membership of the DUP.

DUP members still happily march behind UDA and UVF bands whose drums are emblazoned with the names of men who killed Catholics, solely because they were Catholics. In elections the DUP remains the party of choice of UDA members. Why would that be?

Perhaps because of their love of justice and policing?

As for democratic standards, well, it's not simply a matter of sharing power with nationalists, something the DUP has still not officially subscribed to despite sitting round the table at Stormont with SF and the SDLP.

It's a matter of the DUP's whole attitude to the principles of modern liberal society as it has developed in Europe since the Enlightenment and inspired revolution in the US and France and produced democracy all over Europe – principles like religious toleration, the separation of Church and state, meritocracy, abolishing hereditary privilege, not to mention the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

The DUP opposes all of these principles and much else besides. In short it is not recognisable as a modern political party.

Being led by a clergyman self-appointed for life does not do anything to demonstrate the party's democratic credentials.

The attitude of people such as Jeffrey Donaldson and Gregory Campbell, and many other DUP figures who appear on TV, gritting their teeth at having to be civil to Sinn Féin people is best described in an Afrikaans word – Staatsvolk.

It means the people who own the state as the Afrikaners did.

Not anymore they don't.

Nor does the DUP, even though it still hasn't come to terms with its loss of caste.

With the DUP, as with the deposed Staatsvolk in South Africa, there is no repentance for discrimination, both political and economic, which, given the opportunity, members exercise still in councils.

There is no repentance for the collusion between the police and UDR and loyalist murder gangs, some of whose members the DUP knew as friends.

Any danger of the great party of Laurna Order giving evidence to the police about its knowledge of loyalist killings?

On the contrary, Raymond McCord stood in the recent elections to protest at the inaction of unionist politicians. Yet it constantly repeats demands for Sinn Féin members to give evidence about IRA killings.

The truth is that DUP double standards are nauseating.

Let's hear no more nonsense about keeping any other party up to scratch on any matter.

Let's hear someone in the DUP admit they are part of the problem.

Sinn Féin strategist slams leadership's performance

SF must learn from election result says Gerry Adams

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The SDLP risked a major split in the party if it had supported a Sinn Féin Lord Mayor

Ciarán Barnes:

On Monday night Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers was elected Belfast’s first citizen with SDLP and DUP support.

He beat off the challenge of Sinn Féin councillor Tierna Cunningham, who had been favourite for the post.

Had the SDLP supported Ms Cunningham, rather than the Ulster Unionist, Ms Cunningham – who is originally from Ladybrook but represents the Castle ward in North Belfast – would have taken the top job.

The Andersonstown News understands half of the SDLP’s eight City Hall councillors were prepared to back the Sinn Féin candidate, but vocal opposition from other councillors resulted in a change of heart.

Rather than risk a split in the party, the SDLP group voted for Jim Rodgers.

In return for this the Ulster Unionists backed SDLP councillor Bernie Kelly’s successful bid for Deputy Mayor.

Despite having only eight councillors and being one of the smallest parties in the City Hall, the SDLP has dominated the top jobs over recent years.

Pat Convery was Deputy Mayor in 2005, Pat McCarthy was the 2006 Lord Mayor, and now Bernie Kelly is Deputy Mayor.

Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey accused the SDLP of doing a “dirty deal” with the Ulster Unionists.

“They [the SDLP] were determined to stop Sinn Féin getting the Lord Mayor’s post,” he said.

“We have been meeting with the SDLP for weeks but they struck a deal with the Ulster Unionists 30 minutes before the vote. Despite being the largest party in the City Hall, Sinn Féin has once again been denied the Mayor’s job.

“Had Tierna been elected she would have been only the second female mayor in the City Hall’s 110-year history, and only the second republican.”

This just shows what a mess the SDLP is when it is considered less controversial to support a Unionist politician over a fellow Nationalist.

There have been vitriolic attacks on Sinn Fein in the Irish media since the recent election because of the party’s poor performance

Niall O’Dowd:

Sinn Fein won only four seats, a major setback as they were widely expected to have at least 10 seats after the election. Of course, that led to an outburst of doom and gloom among hostile commentators. The Sunday Independent, long a bitter enemy of Sinn Fein, attacked the party in several articles on Sunday, mostly along predictable lines.

Much more remarkable was this comment in The Irish Times from Ed Moloney, former Northern Ireland-based journalist and author, who now lives in New York.

“It would be no exaggeration to say that the strategy carefully crafted and implemented by the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams to underpin the IRA’s move from war to peace effectively lies in ruins this week in the wake of Sinn Fein disastrous performance in the Republic’s general election,” Moloney wrote.

The statement it so ridiculous that it can hardly be taken at face value. Last time I looked the Sinn Fein peace strategy was resulting in worldwide headlines as leaders gathered in Stormont to announce a new era, with Sinn Fein in power with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the North. The Irish elections are hardly likely to impact on that development in the slightest.

The English-born Moloney is an important figure, however, whose book on the IRA, A Secret History of the IRA, has received widespread praise from reviewers.

But he is also indicative of a breed of journalists and commentators who have had it in for Sinn Fein ever since they had the temerity to embark on the risky road called the peace process, wrong-footing numerous media folk in the process.

There are more than a few in the media who made their livelihoods out of bashing Sinn Fein and the IRA. The Sunday Independent made it their signature issue, and much to their dismay have since been desperately trying to justify their criticism in light of the success of the peace process,

Others have made their careers as self-styled experts on the IRA and their campaign in Northern Ireland. When that campaign stopped it proved highly inconvenient.

Moloney certainly wrote knowledgeably about the IRA and their inner workings, as well as quite bravely about Loyalist paramilitaries groups. For many years he was considered an exceptional journalist on the topic.

However, he called the peace process wrong, seemingly believing it had little hope of success. As a result he was constantly predicting it and Sinn Fein’s doom. The problem was, that never happened.

It will hardly happen now that an election has gone against the party. The Sinn Fein strategy which now sees them in power in Northern Ireland and winning the allegiance of almost one-third of a million voters on the island of Ireland is actually an incredibly successful one which can absorb the occasional inevitable setback.

When you consider that Sinn Fein had less than 2% of the vote in the north and a negligible presence in the south as recently as 1980 that is quite an incredible climb.

Indeed, 140,000 people voted for Sinn Fein in this most recent election, an increase of over 20,000. Contrast that with the Progressive Democrats, who have been in government with Fianna Fail during a period of huge prosperity, yet saw their vote shrink to just 56,000.

The Green Party, a darling of much of the media, has a total of 100,000 votes, still putting them behind Sinn Fein in the south. As Sinn Fein official Jim Gibney noted in the Irish News last week, putting the totals of all the political parties on the island of Ireland together, Sinn Fein comes in third after Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Nonetheless, the party does have to reconsider its role in the Irish Republic. The results were disappointing on several levels, not least the expectations that had been raised after the successful peace deal in the North.

Sinn Fein in the south, however, still needs coherent and individual economic policies that reflect a post-Celtic Tiger era which Ireland seems to be heading into. They also need to develop figures in the south who can rival leaders such as Adams and Martin McGuinness, who tower over the current crop of leaders there.

None of that is impossible, however, and the party is exceptionally good at the type of internal critical analysis which will be vital after this election.

As other parties have learned to their cost when it comes to Sinn Fein, it is never over. There is merely another phase.

Over there comes over here

Equality fault-line opens

Friday, June 08, 2007

Rival loyalist terrorist groups may have joined forces to murder a Catholic teenager in Antrim almost six years ago

BBC News:

A detective told the inquest the killing of 19-year-old Ciaran Cummings was "absolutely brutal".

Mr Cummings was shot with a sawn-off shotgun as he waited for a lift at Greystone Road roundabout in July 2001.

The inquest was told that there were four separate claims of responsibility after the shooting.

Two came from the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name sometimes used by the UFF, another by the Orange Volunteers, while a fourth from the Loyalist Volunteer Force denied any involvement, but blamed the rival UVF.

Detective Chief Inspector Frankie Taylor told Belfast Coroner's Court: "It indicates to me that there was perhaps one, maybe two organisations involved.

"Perhaps one organisation carried it out with the logistical support of another.

"It would be my assessment that the Red Hand Defenders were involved. They would have had support from the mainstream UVF."

Mr Cummings tried to flee after being hit by the first blast from the shotgun fired by a man on the back of a motorcycle.

The pillion passenger then get off the bike and chased him.

After he stumbled and fell the gunman pinned him down with his feet and fired again from point-blank range.

Despite nine arrests, no-one has been convicted of the welder's murder and DCI Taylor said a new review of all evidence is to be carried out.

The murdered teenager's father, Robert Cummings, told how he rushed to the scene, thinking his son had been knocked down.

Mr Cummings said: "I checked Ciaran's pulse, but there was nothing.

"Then I took a mobile phone out of Ciaran's pocket as it was ringing. It was his girlfriend Catherine."

Coroner John Lecky said the murder was sectarian and he hoped the police's efforts to bring the killers to justice would be successful.

AOH Says No to Orangemen in D.C.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

UDA gangsters shouldn't have it all their own way

Susan McKay:

There was a moment of bleak hilarity in a documentary the BBC made a few years ago about the UDA, when a furious woman vented her indignation against the hard men of the faction which had shot into her home in a bid to kill her husband. "Youse have shot the chihuahua, youse bastards," she said.

It came to mind this weekend, with reports of a new 'crisis' in the UDA over the threat by the SDLP's minister for social development, Margaret Ritchie, to withdraw the money her direct-rule predecessor gave the UDA in yet another bid to wean it away from its guns. The verb is apt. Expect much bawling from these babies.

The minister's harsh words are said to have shocked the sensitive souls of the UDA's 'inner council', at a time when they were already upset because one of the former 'brigadiers' had been seen to shake hands with a former IRA man.

"You know many people probably thought something like this would happen but it's it actually happening that threw them," one of them told a journalist. "It's hard to explain."

Evidently so. The drama of this handshake might, the distraught source went on, might have so 'spooked' people that they had started putting up Ulster 'independence' flags in Ballymena, in the territory of 'the Mexican', as the local 'brigadier' is styled.

Meanwhile, another news report gave details of a falling-out in Rathcoole which led to a young man being beaten up while his home was wrecked.

A spokesman for the 'inner council' spoke of the need for the "regime of terror" in the area to be dismantled so that the "good guys" can regain control.

It is quite obvious that, apart from everything else, these people are just far too emotionally unstable to be in charge of lethal weapons. There is no need for us to listen to any more tiresome blather about what differentiates the 'good guys' from the 'bad guys'.

Rule of thumb – 'good guys' get to play golf with Martin McAleese and he gives them grants to paint nice pictures on gable walls to replace the nasty ones they put there before.

Speaking of the president's husband, the SDLP does not like to speak ill of the saintly dentist but the truth is he has a lot to answer for in regard to the dishing out of lollypops to the 'good guys' of the UDA. His initiative was misguided and naive and based on the same principles as the one Ritchie is now opposing.

Ritchie has spoken out bravely and it is great to see one of the few women on the executive being the first to do so.

"If this funding is to continue, then the UDA will have to decommission their arsenal," she said.

She said that she was demanding this as the minister responsible for delivering the money and that the public was also demanding it.

She is right that there was no popular support for the grant but it remains to be seen if she will be able to carry out her threat. The contract for the three-year project to transform UDA men into community leaders has already been signed and £1.2 million has been committed.

The UDA said all along that decommissioning its weapons wasn't even being considered.

"I am deeply concerned about this. I inherited it – I wouldn't have done it," she said yesterday (Monday).

All she can do is to scrutinise the contract and, if she can't find a legal loophole, insist on a rigorous process of evaluation.

She said she is currently consulting the PSNI, the Community Relations Council, the Independent Monitoring Commission and Farset, the organisation which has undertaken the weaning, and that she will bring her findings to the executive.

Yes, the UDA must transform. We don't need a band of paramilitary killers and we could do without drug dealing, pimping and extortion too.

It is safe to say that the UDA will make far more than £1.2 million on these activities over the next three years.

It won't willingly hand over its guns to save this project.

In the world of community development, decent pay and three-year contracts are rare, even for highly skilled, well-trained staff who have given years of committed service. They work for low pay on short-term contracts within communities ruined by decades of conflict and gangsterism. Why should the UDA have it both ways?

Support for Bloody Sunday view

Major push for Irish language law

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Dan McLaughlin, Chief Economist at the Bank of Ireland, says that he expects the Irish economy to grow by 5% in the medium term

The Post:

A leading economist has stated that Irish economy is currently in a “very strong shape” and slammed reports that did not give a true picture of how the economy is performing.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Dan McLaughlin, Chief Economist at the Bank of Ireland said that that he does not know where all the negative talk about economy is coming from because he feels that the situation “very healthy”.

He was echoing recent comments made by the Bank of Ireland’s chief executive Brian Goggin who warned about the dangers of “talking the country into a recession”.

Mr McLaughlin said that “misleading headlines” in the media were not giving a true reflection of economic reality and were “taking things out of context”.

He said that reports about the rising number of redundancies, was one such example.

He said that the number of redundancies in Ireland per is currently 2,000 per month, or 24,000 per year.

“That has been pretty constant over the last five or six years,” he said, adding that tens of thousands of new jobs have been created over the same period of time.

“Redundancies are a fact of every modern dynamic economy, even one as successful as Ireland's,” he added. “Newspaper headlines are one thing the reality of the economy are another.”

Mr McLaughlin said it was “completely ridiculous” to suggest that “suddenly in 2008 that the economy will fall off a cliff.”

He said that the available indicators are that the economy is broadly growing at the same pace as last year at around 6%, and that he expects that the economy will grow by 5% in the medium term.

He said that in the first three months of 2007 retail spending, car sales, employment and exports and industrial production are up.

He said that he has no problem with predictions that things will slow down over the next five to 10 years, but said it was “difficult to believe that it will decline sharply in the next few years”.

He added that a slowdown in the rate of economic growth does not mean that the economy will decline.

“People see recessions around every corner,” he said.

'Dumbed down' exam claim denied as higher grades soar

There was only one question on the minds of Sinn Fein activists across Ireland last week - what went wrong?

Colm Heatley:

The general election was supposed to be the breakthrough election for the party, which expected years of work cultivating its vote in the Republic to pay off.

The restoration of the Assembly in the North on May 8 was expected to boost Sinn Fein and make the party at least kingmakers in the next Dail, if not coalition partners.

For a party that has orchestrated electoral victories in the North and the Republic over the past decade, defeat and losses weren’t in the script.

But the party is now facing the reality that the vast majority of the electorate in the Republic has rejected it, even with the historic deal in the North completed.

In Belfast, the engine room of the party, Sinn Fein activists were left scratching their heads. Electoral success in the Republic is of such paramount importance to Sinn Fein’s strategy that the results of the election cannot be ignored or glossed over.

And the importance of electoral success in the Republic cannot be overstated. Entry to the Dail was what led to the split in Sinn Fein in the mid1980s, resulting in the creation of Republican Sinn Fein.

Even then, in the midst of the violence in the North, Adams had identified gaining power - or at least real influence - in the Republic as a key objective.

Since the 1990s, and certainly since 2002, when the party had its first real taste of success in politics in the Republic, the idea of Sinn Fein holding power north and south has been a lynchpin of its strategy.

Difficult issues, especially policing in the North, were partly sold to the party on the basis that electoral success beckoned in the Republic.

Some party activists complained last week that the policing debate was rushed through earlier this year with the general election in mind.

Working solely within the Stormont Assembly has limitations for Sinn Fein. The party wants to emphasise the notion that the Assembly operates in a wider all-Ireland context and there would be no better way to do that than by being in power in the Republic.

More importantly, Sinn Fein would have real power if it was in government on both sides of the border. The party had hoped that good election results would allow it to push through its proposals for speaking rights in the Dail for northern politicians, but that is now in cold storage.

As part of its strategy in the Republic, Sinn Fein has consciously portrayed itself as the ‘can do’ party and has targeted certain groups - the young, the urban poor, the marginalised - with some success. But it has not been enough to move the party beyond its current support base.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest problem areas for the party is its economic policies, which are at best confusing and, at worst, scaring off voters.

The party’s willingness to ditch its corporation tax policy just weeks before the election suggested desperation.

Privately, Sinn Fein acknowledges that getting its economic policies in order is a key priority. Economic policies were never central to Sinn Fein strategy and while the party is beginning to address its shortcomings, its commitment to left-wing policies means it will always be vulnerable to accusations that it will damage the Celtic Tiger.

The party’s failure to attract any significant numbers of transfer votes was a key factor in its failure to capture seats. Even in the North, Sinn Fein has found that attracting transfers from SDLP-inclined nationalists is still a real issue.

While Sinn Fein claims that the strong performance of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael lessened its vote in the election, it has not explained why floating voters did not give the party second or third preferences in any real numbers. The lack of transfers was a crucial factor in the failure of Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty to win seats.

The public perception of Sinn Fein as a northern party with no understanding of issues in the Republic is widespread, and was not helped by party leader Gerry Adams’ admission that he did not get around to dealing with certain issues in the Republic because of events in the North.

While Sinn Fein has won some recognition and praise for its work on the peace process, it has still to prove its credentials as a party that understands the electorate in the Republic.

Nearly all of its best-known members are from the North, so the failure of McDonald and Doherty - two fresh-faced southerners - was a blow, not just in terms of seats, but overall strategy. Sinn Fein must now try to achieve credibility on issues in the Republic such as the economy, while still putting Irish unity at the top of its agenda. It must do this as one, cohesive, all-Ireland party.

That won’t be easy. Irish unity and partition are real, live issues that affect almost all aspects of civil and political society in the North. For many in the Republic, however, Irish unity is an abstract notion, an aspiration rather than a reality of day-to-day life.

Sinn Fein has been sustained in the North by the appetite of a significant section of the population to end the existence of the state. But that is simply not the case in the Republic and the party will have to recognise that reality.

There is no single reason why Sinn Fein’s vote did not materialise, just lots of smaller ones, which need to be addressed.

Some of those reasons are within the party’s power to change - its economic policies, Adams’ performance in live debates, the public perception that it is a single issue party.

Others are outside of the Sinn Fein leadership’s control - the hostility of all the major parties to Sinn Fein being in power in the Republic, the fact that for many, the republican leadership is still ‘beyond the pale’, the fact that events such as the Northern Bank robbery and the McCartney murder are still routinely used against the party.

How then will Sinn Fein seek to get its strategy back on track in the Republic? Clues may be found in its strategy in the North since the early 1980s,when it entered local councils and gained a reputation for hard-work and exposing widespread malpractices.

Until the late 1970s, Sinn Fein was a weak party that was subservient to the IRA. But by building up local political networks and a reputation for on-the-ground work, the party had, by the 1990s, developed into probably the best organised, most sophisticated political machine in the North.

To this end, Sinn Fein will focus on the 2009 local elections as an opportunity to significantly strengthen its party machine in the Republic for the next general election. The Assembly will also be used as a ‘shop window’ for Sinn Fein when the next elections are called.

If all goes according to plan, the party will by then have experience of government, of delivering on issues other than the peace process, and the North will quite possibly boast a healthier economy. Sinn Fein will claim credit for any of those successes and hope that the experience will make it more electable.

All the while, the party will look to develop its policies in the Republic, promote its candidates in the Republic and position itself as a party in tune with issues in the Republic.

The challenge for Sinn Fein is to do that without abandoning its electorate in the North or its emphasis on Irish unity.

Warning to UDA: give up your arms or the money runs out

'uda blackmailer' loses £107,000 in assets to Agency

UVF victim's family believe collusion is at the heart of murder

Friday, June 01, 2007

A new study has ranked Ireland as the fourth most peaceful nation

RTE News:

The Global Peace Index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, looked at 24 factors to determine how peaceful each country was.

The study ranked Norway as most peaceful country in the world.

Norway, which brokered the 1993 Oslo Middle East accords and has also sought to resolve fighting in Sri Lanka, is followed on the list by New Zealand in second place and Denmark in third.

121 nations, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, were assessed on factors including levels of violence, organised crime and military expenditure.

Iraq was rated as the least peaceful, with Russia, Sudan and Israel also faring poorly. The US was placed at number 96.

The authors say it is the first attempt to produce such a wide-ranging league table of how peaceful countries are.

Overall the study found that small, stable countries, which are part of regional blocs such as the EU, were most likely to be peaceful.

It was found that income and education were crucial in promoting peace, while countries which had turbulent times in the 20th century, such as Ireland and Austria, were found to have emerged as 'peace leaders'.

10 Most peaceful

1. Norway
2. New Zealand
3. Denmark
4. Ireland
5. Japan
6. Finland
7. Sweden
8. Canada
9. Portugal
10. Austria

10 least peaceful

112: Angola
113. Ivory Coast
114. Lebanon
115. Pakistan
116. Colombia
117. Nigeria
118. Russia
119. Israel
120. Sudan
121. Iraq

First Global Peace Index Ranks 121 Countries