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While everyone is entitled to their own view on the past, the shouting of IRA slogans shows why we need independent historians to write a single narrative

Letter to the Editor

As I watched a news report on the ABC network here in Australia, which showed jubilant supporters of Sinn Fein celebrating their electoral successes by singing a pro IRA ballad from the republican repertoire of anti-Britishness, I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I once lost control of my car descending an icy Glenshane Pass.

David Cullinane TD of Sinn Féin, who shouted ‘Up the Republic, Up the Ra and Tiocfaidh are La,’ pictured with McDonald at an election count in Dubin on Monday. Elsewhere, party supporters sang an IRA ballad.



They were not singing about Dublin rents, medical care or homelessness.

The were exulting in their narrative of ‘armed struggle’ and their ‘fight for freedom’.

There are many people in Northern Ireland who do not wish to deny any group a historical perspective but the time is overdue when a body of independent historians could produce a single narrative, which would become part of the curriculum of all schools in both of the jurisdictions in Ireland.

George McNally, Port Melbourne, Australia

With many thanks to the: Belfast News Letter and George McNally for the original posting of his letter

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PSNI/RUC data: European court rules policy breaches human rights

The PSNI/RUC retains convicted offenders’ fingerprints, photos and DNA profiles. Image copyrightGETTY  IMAGES

The indefinite storage of a convicted drink driver’s DNA profile, photo and fingerprints by police is a breach of human rights, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.

The ruling follows a decade-long legal battle by Fergus Gaughran against the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Mr Gaughran, from Newry, was convicted in 2008, but challenged the PSNI’s policy of keeping offenders’ ID data.

The ruling said a lack of safeguards in the data policy had been “decisive”.

Time limit
Mr Gaughran, who is now in his 40s, pleaded guilty to driving with excess alcohol after he was stopped by PSNI officers near Camlough, Country Armagh, in October 2008.

The County Down man was banned from driving for a year and his conviction was spent in 2013.

His long-running legal battle was based on his argument that the PSNI’s blanket policy of storing all convicts’ biometric data indefinitely was a breach of his right to privacy and took no account of the seriousness of his offence.

He began a test case in the UK courts in 2009, but it was dismissed by the High Court in Belfast in 2012 and again by the Supreme Court in 2015 .

Mr Gaughran then took his case to the European Court of Human Rights and, on Thursday, he won a unanimous judgement that his rights had been breached .

The seven judges agreed that the PSNI’s decision to retain Mr Gaughran’s personal data indefinitely was a “violation” of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They said Mr Gaughran’s biometric data and photographs had been retained “without reference to the seriousness of his offence and without regard to any continuing need to retain that data indefinitely”.

The court noted that the UK is one of the few Council of Europe jurisdictions which permits the indefinite retention of DNA profiles.

The majority of member states which use the European Court of Human Rights put a time limit on storing offenders’ biometric data.

‘Obscure powers’
The judges ruled that “having chosen to allocate itself the most extensive power of indefinite retention”, the UK had a responsibility “to ensure that certain safeguards were present and effective”.

In previous human rights cases, people who were acquitted of an offence have successfully challenged the lawfulness of keeping their data indefinitely.

Mr Gaughran’s case is significant as he admitted his crime and was convicted.

During his arrest by the PSNI in October 2008, he provided a breath sample, which tested positive for excess alcohol.

The PSNI also took his fingerprints, his photograph and a DNA sample, in the form of a mouth swab.

The following month, Mr Gaughran pleaded guilty to driving with excess alcohol, was fined and served a one-year driving ban.

His decade long legal battle against the PSNI started in Belfast in 2009, when he asked for a judicial review of their policy of retaining identity data for an indefinite period.

Drink-driving convictions are spent within five years in the UK.

Facial mapping
Mr Gaughran’s conviction was spent in 2013 and his physical DNA sample was destroyed at his request in 2015.

However, the PSNI has kept hold his digital DNA profile. along with his photo and fingerprints.

Thursday’s ruling emphasised the importance of examining privacy rights “where the powers vested in the state were obscure and where the technology available was continually becoming more sophisticated”.

The judges gave the example of facial mapping technology which had “already moved on” since Mr Gaughran’s case was examined by the UK courts.

They also pointed out that the PSNI were only empowered to delete biometric data and photographs “in exceptional circumstances”.

The effectively meant that Mr Gaughran could not request a review of the retention of his data, as there was “no provision permitting deletion if conserving the data no longer appeared necessary in view of the nature of his offence, his age, or the time that had elapsed and his current personality”.

With many thanks to: BBC NewsNI and Eimear Flanagan for the original story 

Raymond Johnston: Police appeal two years on from ‘brutal’ murder

Raymond Johnston Image copyrightJOHNSTON FAMILY


Police have renewed an appeal for information about the murder of Raymond Johnston in west Belfast on the second anniversary of his death.

The 28-year-old was shot in front of his partner and her 11-year-old child on 13 February 2018.

No-one has been charged with his murder.

At the time, police said they believed the dissident republican group Arm na Poblachta – the army of the republic – was behind the killing.

Det Ch Insp Darren McCartney said it only took 10 seconds “to take Raymond’s life and ruin the lives of all those who loved him”.

CCTV footage captured outside Mr Johnston’s home at the time shows two hooded men approaching the house at around 19:45 GMT and making their way inside.

Mr McCartney said one of the men was clearly armed with a weapon and both men emerged from the house within 10 seconds.

He said: “Did you see these two men, one of whom was wearing what is believed to have been a blue coat with fur around the hood and possibly a balaclava, enter Raymond’s home in Glenbawn Avenue?

“Did you see them get into a dark-coloured car and leave the Poleglass area at speed at around 20:00 GMT, after they shot Raymond?”

Police have also appealed for anyone who spoke to Mr Johnston or met him on the day of the murder to contact them on the non-emergency number 101, quoting reference 1192 13/02/18.

With many thanks to: BBC NewsNI for the original story 

MI5 report on RUC Special Branch to remain secret

Watchdog says police do not have to disclose 1973 report which recommended shake-up

The Morton report on the RUC Special Branch is so sensitive that it took Britain’s freedom of information watchdog 18 months to reach a decision. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP




An MI5 report on policing compiled at the height of the Troubles will remain secret nearly half a century after it was written, Britain’s freedom of information watchdog has ruled.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said police in the North do not have to disclose the so-called Morton report, which recommended a shake-up of RUC Special Branch in 1973.

In reaching its verdict, however, the ICO confirmed for the first time how significant the report could be for understanding the history of policing in the Troubles.

The ICO said the report was instigated by the head of MI5, Sir Michael Hanley, who suggested to then RUC chief constable Sir Graham Shillington that a senior security service officer conduct a review of Special Branch in June 1973.

The officer chosen was Jack Morton, a former colonial police chief in India.

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A year after Morton wrote his report on Special Branch, the UVF killed 33 people and an unborn child in a series of car bombs across Dublin and Monaghan. It was the deadliest attack of the Troubles.

Barron inquiry
An inquiry by former Irish Supreme Court judge Henry Barron later concluded: “A number of those suspected for the bombings were reliably said to have had relationships with British intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch officers.”

Morton’s report on the Troubles is so sensitive that it took the ICO 18 months to reach a decision, in what became one of the watchdog’s top 10 longest-running cases.

More than 20 academics from Britain and Ireland had called for the Morton report to be released for their research, but to no avail.

This month, the commissioner ruled the report could stay secret after MI5 confirmed it had originally supplied the document to the RUC.

Daniel Holder, deputy director of Belfast-based NGO the Committee on the Administration of Justice said the decision was “difficult to conceive”.

“There is a right for such information to be put into the public domain,” Mr Holder said.

“The application of blanket national security vetoes over historic information is not human rights compliant,” he warned, “particularly when the documents in question may contain evidence of past security policies and practices that involved or facilitated human rights violations.”

Mr Holder said the report should be disclosed to prevent “a repetition of past practices that fuelled conflict”.

With many thanks to: The Irish Times and Phil Miller for the original story 

DUP MP and Shame Féin MLA trade insults

THE DUP’s Sammy Wilson and Shame Féin’s John O’Dowd clashed online after the unionist MP described the republican party as “pretty useless” in government.

“Catholics are sub-humans” – “Gays are perverts” DUP MP Sammy Wilson

Mr Wilson was reacting to the surge in support for Sinn Féin in the Republic’s general election, which could see party president Mary Lou McDonald become the next Taoiseach. The East Antrim MP said on Twitter: “Sinn Féin are a good party of opposition where they can make all sorts of promises which bear no resemblance to reality, but are pretty useless party of government as we have learned over a number of years at Stormont.”

Big John, Big John… Big Bad John

Mr Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesperson, served in Stormont’s power-sharing executive alongside Sinn Féin from 2008 to 2013 as environment minister and finance minister. His comments prompted a critical response from Sinn Féin Upper Bann MLA John O’Dowd (pictured above), who was Stormont education minister from 2011 to 2016. Mr O’Dowd replied on Twitter, accusing Mr Wilson of being “central to the collapse of the assembly and failed attempts to restore it”.

MP Nigel Dodds and DUP leader Arlene Foster Nigel Dodds lost his Westminster seat to Sinn Féin

“He was central to the DUP’s disastrous Brexit strategy in Westminster which cost his party two seats and a fall from power. He now wants to destabilise the current assembly,” he said. The Shame Féin MLA branded Mr Wilson a “wrecker”, adding: “We need builders.” Mr Wilson was not part of the Stormont executive when it collapsed for about three years from early 2017 in the wake of the RHI scandal. He was among the DUP Mps who propped up former British Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority Conservative  government in a confidence-and-supply deal.

The DUP had pushed for the North of Ireland to leave the EU on the same terms as Britain, but found itself cast aside as Mrs May’s successor Boris Johnson agreed a Brext deal which aligns the North of Ireland with EU rules.

With many thanks to the: Irish News and Brendan Hughes for the original