Tory posturing over soldier’s crimes could worsen violence in the North of Ireland

As more shocking details emerge from the Ballymurphy inquiry, memories are being stirredand Tory MPs are being deeply irresponsible.

Families of those murdered in the Ballymurphy Massacre outside the Inquiry, 8th May 2019| Liam MC Burney/PA Images

This week the Ballymurphy Inquiry, currently underway in Belfast, heard shocking evidence that a former paratrooper stationed in Northern Ireland used the skull of Henry Thornton, a man killed in the area, as an ashtray.

Other soldiers have testified that their former colleagues ran sweepstakes and awarded winnings based on the number of civilians a person killed, about crude language and jokes made about those shot, and of a general attitude that anyone walking around in certain areas (always working class) could be presumed to have IRA involvement, and so was fair game to kill.

One paratrooper broke down in tears as he described how many fellow soldiers were honest, professional and did the right thing, but some were “psychopaths and dangerous to be around”, boasting after shootings that “the army would give them cover for whatever they had done”.

Comments made in recent weeks suggest several high-profile Tories are inclined to do just that. Last week, Johnny Mercer announced on Twitter that he would stop voting with the government on non-Brexit issues until May promised to end “the macabre spectacle of elderly veterans being dragged back to Northern Ireland to face those who seek to re-fight that conflict through other means.”

Johnny Mercer

Back in March, when the Public Prosecution Service announced it would prosecute the man known as Soldier F for involvement in the Bloody Sunday massacre that occured a few months after the Ballymurphy massacre, Mercer said in an interview on Channel 4 that the inquiry probably hadn’t been fair – but couldn’t offer any explanation as to how.

And a few hours after the PPS’s decision, Gavin Williamson penned a statement promising that the state would fund Soldier F’s legal costs, and decrying the unfair treatment of the armed services.

Previous inquiries have already found that Soldier F had perjured himself, and that he admitted to having killed 4 civilians, including Patrick Doherty, shot in the back as he crawled away, and Barney McGuigan, who witnesses report died waving a white flag.

Karen Bradley, not to be outdone, provoked an outraged response from victim’s families in the same week, when she stood in the House of Commons and called the actions of soldiers in Northern Ireland “dignified and appropriate”.

References to fairness and being “dragged back to Northern Ireland” appear to deliberately evoke images of elderly, low level soldiers being dealt shadowy justice by armed paramilitaries, simply for the crime of doing their job.

In reality, a legitimate legal process has shown that several individuals behaved in a deeply disturbing way while stationed in Northern Ireland, acting with disregard for the lives of the people of the people who lived there.

The protest comes as Parachute Regiment flags and banners backing former troops have appeared in loyalist areas in recent weeks. And goes to prove there was collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British Crown Forces

Such behaviour shames army members who acted properly, and it is deeply worrying that any politician should seek to defend it.

It is also worth remembering that lots of what happened during the Troubles was unfair and disquieting, but still legal.

My mum was a child living in the Bogside area of Derry during the 1970s, she remembers how it was normal for soldiers looking for scraps of information to ransack houses and hold men in prison overnight.

She remembers regular instances when: “Soldiers would come to the house, break down the door, break a random few plates, turn over a few beds, break a window, hold my brother (who was 10) up against a wall and pretend to shoot him, then go outside and pretend to shoot a dog.”

Male relatives would vanish for days at a time, held under dubious pretexts, and people lived in a constant climate of fear. This was all legal, and for the sake of the Peace Process Northern Irish people have had to let go of resentment over being treated like this.

The price of peace has been a collective swallowing of pride over such harassment, but the murder of civilians is another matter.

Recent inquests into Bloody Sunday, and now the Ballymurphy Massacre, have dealt in specifics: the impossibility of a soldier’s statement when his bullets were found in a body; the things people were said to have been doing, and the positions in which their bodies were found; bodies in morgues wearing clothes they had never worn in life; and guns held in dead hands in strange, unlikely positions.

The collective memory is more general: caked blood, an overwhelming funeral with 13 coffins, and the sense of unfairness at a civil rights march turned into something far more violent.

In the weeks leading up to Bloody Sunday, rising tensions between the local community and the army had led to the Bogside having been sealed off “in a kind of ghetto”, as my mum describes it, with people unable to access schools or hospitals, and forced to smuggle in food from across the border in Donegal.

A few days before the march, the army broke into the community and “bombarded everyone living there, kids and everything, with tear gas.”

Locals sensed it wouldn’t be safe to have young children there and she was sent to Donegal for the day itself but, 45 years later, she remembers the aftermath vividly: “I remember passing all the hardened blood in the street.

Seeing it all there. There hadn’t been rubbish collection for weeks because we’d been barricaded in for so long, so it was rubbish covered in blood. People put flowers on the street, and nearly every place you walked had blood somewhere.”

Northern Irish people are British citizens, and Tory MPs should represent their interests before soldiers found guilty of murder but, in a way, it is understandable that those like Johnny Mercer, Gavin Williamson and Karen Bradley feel no affinity with the working-class communities most impacted by The Troubles.

Mercer, now 37, was a 17-year-old at private school in Surrey the year the Good Friday Agreement was signed, Gavin Williamson was at University in Bradford and Karen Bradley was working as a senior tax advisor in London; all a world away from the violence and terror in Northern Ireland at the time.

Careless statements made by Tory politicians have charged the already polarised atmosphere in Northern Ireland by fostering an “us and them” narrative of British soldiers and Nationalist paramilitaries with nothing in between.

You can’t condemn the army, the argument seems to go, since then the paramilitaries get off scot free. Actually you can, and should, condemn both.

Sara Canning with Arlene Foster

Sara Canning, the partner of the young journalist Lyra McKee, who was murdered by a sectarian gang, gave a masterclass in doing so in an interview several weeks after losing the love of her life, saying, “Soldiers who indiscriminately opened fire in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday are no different to the thug that opened fire on Creggan on Holy Thursday and shot Lyra.

They shot a gun indiscriminately towards a crowd. There is no difference.” Why is it that some MPs are unable to present a similar critique review without resorting to point-scoring bias?

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With many thanks to: Open Democracy and Rachel Connolly for the original story

International body backs Irish language role

Graffiti in Belfast calling for an Irish Language Act

Language commissioners from six countries have supported a similar role being established in the North of Ireland.

Members of the International Association of Language Commissioners voiced their support in a letter to the Irish language organisation, Conradh na Gaeilge.

An Irish language commissioner was a key feature of previous proposals for an Irish language act.

However, the proposals have been politically contentious.

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Both main unionist parties have opposed a standalone act, but other parties have supported calls for one.

The International Association of Language Commissioners is an umbrella body for language commissioners in a number of countries.

Eleven commissioners from Canada, Spain, Wales, Ireland, Kosovo and Belgium have signed the letter of support.

Five of the signatories are from regions of Canada, while both the Basque and Catalonian language commissioners from Spain have put their name to the letter.

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The principal role of an Irish language commissioner would be to promote and facilitate the use of the language.

They would also police the standards required of public sector bodies in delivering services in Irish.

The letter said that language commissioners brought many advantages.

“In our view language commissioners can be central in the protection and preservation of a language that is spoken by a minority,” it read.

Dr Niall Comer, from Conradh na Gaeilge, said that independent commissioners were vital in protecting language rights.

“Language rights and rights-based legislation are afforded to minority and indigenous language communities across these islands and indeed across the world,” he said.

“If anything we are the anomaly.”

A working group on rights, languages and identity has been established as part of the ongoing talks between the political parties at Stormont.

With many thanks to: BBCNI and Robbie Meredith NI Education Correspondent for the original story

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Dutch court blocks extradition of man due to ‘inhumane conditions’ in UK prisons

Judges say suspected drug smuggler at real risk of degrading treatment

A broken window in a cell at HMP Liverpool in September 2017 when inspectors conducted a surprise inspection

 

Judges in the Netherlands have refused to send a suspected drug smuggler back to the UK because of concerns that conditions in British jails are inhumane.

Prison riot squad officer’s in the UK who use full force in restraining prisoners and in some cases break bones and seriously harm the prisoner concerned. In the North of Ireland (which is classed as being part of the UK) the riot squad are used to restrain and strip search Irish Republican prisoners.

An initial application to extradite the unnamed man, who had been on the run for two years, was refused this week due to the reported state of HMP Liverpool where he would probably be sent.

A prison cell in the North of Ireland

The court of Amsterdam heard how inspectors had found “some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen” and “conditions which have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century”, in reference to report on the state of prisons in the UK published last July.

A surprise inspection of HMP Liverpool in September 2017 found it was infested with rats and that inmates lived in squalid conditions, afraid of being attacked because of increasing violence. Similar conditions were found in HMP Birmingham and HMP Bedford.

The Dutch judges said on Wednesday they were concerned the man, who was wanted in relation to cocaine and heroin smuggling on Merseyside, was at “real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment” if returned.

The man had been made the subject of a European arrest warrant at Liverpool magistrates court in July 2017.

His lawyer argued that the extradition should be refused based on the prison inspectors’ reports.

“The UK judicial authorities state that British prisons are doing quite well, but the circumstances discussed in the reports are still the same as before, even though more staff may have been appointed,” the lawyer said, according to documents first reported by the Liverpool Echo.

“The situation is still not good and the letter of 24 April 2019 [from the director general of prisons] gives no assurance that the situation is now different from before. Nor is there a guarantee that the person claimed will not be placed in HMP Bedford, HMP Birmingham or HMP Liverpool after surrender.”

Citing article three of the European convention on human rights, the Dutch judges said they did not have sufficient evidence that the man would not be returned to such conditions.

They told the court: “What has been put forward by the UK judicial authorities is too general and insufficient to assume that the detention conditions in the aforementioned prison institutions have significantly improved.

“In these circumstances, the expectation that the situation will improve rapidly is not sufficient to assume that the real risk of inhumane treatment has actually disappeared. The already established real danger of inhuman or degrading treatment in these establishments has not been eliminated.”

The court said it would delay its final decision on the extradition “until it obtains additional information on the basis of which it can rule out the existence of such a hazard”.

A letter written by the director general of prisons to the court insisted that steps had been taken to improve the jails. “We do not accept those conditions anywhere in our prisons amount to inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to article three,” the letter said.

A UK government spokesman said overcrowding was being reduced and that new governors had been appointed at the three jails.

With many thanks to: The Guardian and Daniel Boffey in Brussels for the original story

‘Academic vandalism’ – unique archive of the Troubles under threat

Scholars voice outrage at Ulster University’s plans to confine ‘impartial’ records of conflict to history

General view of Milltown cemetery in West Belfast

 

 

It is one of the most important sources of information about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a historical memory bank of data, stories and images used by scholars around the world.

The Conflict Archive on the Internet (Cain) website, based in Derry, has taken two decades to build up an unrivalled encyclopaedic digital record of the conflict. It includes oral histories, election results, political memorabilia, public records, bibliographies and the names and details of more than 3,600 Troubles-related killings in Northern Ireland, Ireland, the UK and continental Europe. The information is free to access and responsive to requests and queries ranging from school students, professors and former paramilitaries.

But perhaps not for much longer. Ulster University, which hosts the archive’s three-strong team at its Magee campus, is threatening to pull the plug. The university says the cost, estimated at £170,000 a year, is unsustainable.

Academics are appalled. Some say that to cripple the archive would be an act of intellectual vandalism when there is urgent need to understand Northern Ireland’s conflicts, past and present.

“It’s a global resource,” said Goretti Horgan, a lecturer in social policy at Ulster University and policy director of Access Research Knowledge, a social policy information hub shared by Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast, which is affiliated with the archive. “The contribution it makes to civil society in Northern Ireland cannot be underestimated. It’s neutral – a big word to use here. Every aspect of the Troubles is contested. Cain provides reliable information. Anybody, Catholic or Protestant, can access it and know they’re not getting a one-sided view.”

Katharine Clarke, the North of Ireland’s representative of the University and College Union. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

 

The Troubles began in 1969 and largely ended in 1998 with the Good Friday agreement. But continuing violence, sectarian sentiment, political tensions and new inquiries into old atrocities make for a fraught, complex and unfinished legacy. On 19 April the New IRA, a dissident republican splinter group, shot dead Lyra McKee, 29, a journalist, during rioting in Derry, just half a mile from the Magee campus.

In the absence of white knight donors riding to the rescue, or the university having a change of heart, supporters fear the archive in its current form will itself become history. Academics and journalists have mounted a campaign to save it as a live research project. They say that to destroy it would be academic vandalism that would zombify a living, breathing resource, which fields queries and corrects, revises and updates information. The consultation period on the archive’s future is due to end on 2 May, with a decision expected soon after.

Katharine Clarke, the Northern Ireland representative of the University and College Union, which represents the archivists, accused the university of dissembling in response to the international furore over the archive’s fate. A university spokesman said it had “invested significantly in covering the costs of Cain”. He added: “But, against the backdrop of the current funding challenges for higher education in Northern Ireland and with grants insufficient to secure viability, the archive remains unsustainable in its current form. One potential outcome is that Cain will remain as a static digital archive, fully accessible through the university’s library.”

That would preserve the material online but not as an impartial, living, maintained database. Martin Melaugh, the director of Cain, and his colleagues Brendan Lynn and Mike McCool could face redundancy. “There’s no shortage of work to do,” said Melaugh. “Political progress has stalled and Brexit has increased the debate around the unification of Ireland and a potential border poll.”

Forgetfulness about an earlier cycle of violence between 1920 and 1922, when 501 people died in Belfast, paved Northern Ireland’s tragic slide into renewed conflict in 1969, he said, and greater knowledge of the Troubles – and the border – could help avert a third cycle.

External funding largely dried up in 2016, leaving Ulster University to pick up most of the tab while the archive sought new backers. They didn’t materialise, so the university is now proposing to fold the service into its library. “Our issue is that we’re trying to manage the website and assist people, so we don’t fit exactly into the models of academic funding. That’s the dilemma,” Melaugh said.

Meanwhile, Clarke points out that Ulster University will host a conference titled Beyond Sectarianism on 14 May, drawing a spotlight at an awkward time, said Clarke. “If I were being cynical I’d say they’re giving conflicting messages to avoid embarrassment.” She said the university has every reason to be embarrassed. “This is an example of knowing the cost of something but not the value.”

With many thanks to: The Guardian and Rory Carroll for the original story

 

Nancy Pelosi: US Speaker set for Brexit discussion on North of Ireland trip

US Government will block the UK for any trade-deal outside the EU if Ireland is not granted Special-Status North & South

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to visit the North of Ireland

 

 

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will visit Northern Ireland next week as part of a US Congressional delegation.

In a statement, her office said she will meet “senior government officials and local leaders” with discussions focusing, in part, on Brexit.

The delegation’s timetable also includes visits to Stuttgart, London, and Dublin.

Mrs Pelosi’s schedule in Northern Ireland has yet to be announced.

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She said part of the focus of the trip would be about expressing “America’s enduring commitment to a peaceful and prosperous future for all who live [in the UK and Ireland]”.

“The United Kingdom and Ireland each have a deep and special bond with the United States,” she said

“Our distinguished delegation is travelling at a critical moment for two of our closest allies, and we look forward to high-level discussions about the path forward on our shared security and economic interests.”

Put the border in the Irish 🍀Sea – Keep British & American food out of Ireland and that sorts out the border between North & South. We don’t want below standard food 🍴🍕🍔 products in any part of Ireland “NO MINNOSORTA”

It had previously been announced that Speaker Pelosi would address the Dáil [Irish parliament] on Wednesday to mark its 100th anniversary.

On the same day, the Congressional delegation will also meet Irish President Michael D Higgins.

Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal and Congressman Brendan Boyle are also part of the Congressional delegation.

With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story.

Follow these links to find out more: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-chlorinated-chicken-food-standards-agency-no-ban-imports-food-us-fsa-a7869561.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/26/chicken-health-fear-chlorine-washing-fails-bacteria-tests-brexit-salmonella-listeria

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/uk-47440562

Legal change could deny Irish citizens EU rights, campaigners fear

Some Irish citizens could lose EU rights because they are also British, in move rights groups say threatens Good Friday Agreement

A bus crossing between the North and southern Ireland passes a sign campaigning against a so-called hard Brexit, on February 2nd, 2017 in Newry, North of Ireland
Campaigners fear Irish citizens will have different rights

 

 

 

People born in the North of Ireland have expressed outrage at a legal change they say will deny them EU rights they claim as Irish citizens.

Researcher Emma DeSouza drew attention to new rules stating British citizens cannot also be EEA (European Economic Area) citizens – a clause that applies to Northern Irish who claim dual Irish and British nationality.

Despite Home Office insistence that dual citizens’ rights will be unaffected by Brexit, Sinn Fein politicians have said the case “proves” the British government was “in breach of the Good Friday Agreement”.

Under the 1998 deal – which secured peace in the North of Ireland after decades of violence – people born in the North of Ireland have the right to be British, Irish, or both.

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Under current law, however, Irish citizenship is an entitlement, while British citizenship is automatically conferred on everyone in the North of Ireland – a system some object to.

“Being able to have Irish citizenship is a core thing about the Good Friday Agreement. One of the reasons nationalists got behind it is because they were told their Irish identity would be protected,” Ms DeSouza said.

“When a government tells you your identity is not what you think it is and they remove rights from you on that basis, it is emotional.”

Like some other Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, Ms DeSouza had hoped to claim settled status as an EU citizen in the UK after Brexit.

She hoped the move would secure her status as an Irish EU citizen, and rights available to EU but not British citizens – in particular the ability to be joined by non-EU family members in the UK.

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The change, she believes, prevents that, creating a “two-tier system” in which Irish citizens in the Republic of Ireland are classed as EU citizens, while those in the North are not.

“Someone who was born in Donegal will have EU citizens’ rights, while someone who was born in Derry won’t,” Ms DeSouza said.

Hundreds responded to Ms DeSouza’s campaign with the hashtag #WeAreIrishToo, with one person describing the move as “emotionally devastating” and another “tantamount to ripping up the Good Friday Agreement”.

Daniel Holder, of Irish human rights group CAJ told Sky News that by treating all of the Northern  Irish citizens as British, the British government was blocking EU citizens from retaining EU rights after Brexit.

“Now if you are Irish and you are told your British that really annoys people in terms of their identity – as it would the other way round,” he told Sky News.

“As Irish citizens remain EU citizens and everyone born in the North of Ireland either is or is entitled to be an EU citizen, you have up to 1.8 million EU citizens here who are being obstructed from retaining even EU citizens rights under the proposed Brexit agreement.”

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The benefits of EU citizenship include the right to bring non-EU partners to live in the EU – a process notoriously difficult under UK immigration rules.

Northern Irish citizens including Ms DeSouza have struggled to secure residence for non-EU partners because their British citizenship is seen to override their rights as EU citizens.

Campaigners fear that if they cannot be defined as EEA citizens after Brexit more problems like this will affect the 1.8 million citizens of the North of Ireland.

In a statement, the Home Office confirmed that people in the North of Ireland who are British or dual nationals cannot be granted status under the settlement scheme, but said “their rights and entitlements are not affected by the UK leaving the EU”.

“How the people of the North of Ireland can be joined in the UK by their family members is being reviewed,” a spokesperson said.

However immigration minister Caroline Nokes, responding to an urgent question by SNP politician Stuart McDonald, later said it would not carry out a “formal review” and said there was no timescale for the work.

Mr Holder said it was critical to handle the issue well, but expressed concerns.

“The government’s institutional memory of the Good Friday Agreement and the importance of appears to have been lost,” he said.

“Quite often they appear clueless as to the implications of actions like this are going to have.”

With many thanks to: Sky News and Bethan Staton News Reporter for the original story

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Brexit: Ireland committed to protecting citizens’ rights in the North of Ireland

Helen McEntire said the Irish government had “noted” there had been an update to the UK immigration rules Image copyright © REUTERS

 

The Irish government has stressed its commitment to protecting the rights of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland.

It follows social media concerns that a change in UK immigration rules could mean some lose rights after Brexit.

Under the Good Friday peace agreement, anyone born in Northern Ireland has the right to be British, Irish or both.

The issue of citizenship was raised the last time Theresa May was in Northern Ireland and she said she would pass the concerns to the Home Office.

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On Wednesday, the issue was raised in the Seanad (Irish senate) by Sinn Féin senator Niall Ó Donnghaile.

He said it was “crunch time” and called on the Irish government to give clarity after the speculation that a “tiered level of citizenship” could come into existence.

In response, Ireland’s European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee, said it was “vitally important” the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement were upheld.

“We are fully aware of the concerns that have been raised here today and concerns from many that these statements raise for Irish citizens in Northern Ireland particularly, given so much of the uncertainty that surrounds Brexit at the moment,” she said.

Mrs McEntee said her government had “noted” there had been an update to the UK immigration rules “in order to give effect to the UK settled status schemes and the letter from the UK minister of state for immigration, Caroline Nokes”.

“It is important to be clear that these statements in no way change the position that the EU citizenship of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland continues in all circumstances,” she added.

“As EU citizens, they continue to enjoy the right to live and work throughout the EU and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality.”

In a statement, the Home Office told the BBC that it respected identity rights, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story