It’s time we had a proper debate on the Union versus Irish unity

Irish unity from a Unionist point of view

I’M NOT really sure why some unionist politicians got so worked up by Leo Varadkar’s recent comments: “Our constitution is clear on this: Our constitution aspires to there being a united Ireland. I share that aspirition. But only on the basis that it is done by consent, and when it does come about I would like to see it command a degree of cross-community support. And thats the way I would envision it. I very much follow the school of thought of the great John Hume, who talked less about a united Ireland and more about an agreed Ireland and a set of relationships that we can all be happy with. That’s the way it should be.”

That’s more or less been the Irish governmen’s official position since the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. It’s not really all that different from the British government position, that the “North of Ireland will remain a part of the United Kingdom for so long as a majority wish it”. Put bluntly, both governments are saying that it’s up to the people in the North of Ireland to decide for their own constitutional future.

Some unionists appear to believe that Varadkar should keep his nose out of ‘our’ affairs. Yet, thanks to the Brexit result, ‘our’ affairs have become their affairs. Nationalists in the North of Ireland are worried. They fear that an identity they thought was guaranteed by membership of the EU will no longer be guaranteed. They fear the North of Ireland being ruled by a succession of isolationist ‘little Englander’ governments in London. They fear that the continuing absence of a local assembly – and the increasing possibility of direct rule – means that there will be nobody to represent them at local level.

The Brexit result changed everything and completely upended the political dynamics on both sides of the border. It changed the nature of the relationship between London and Dublin – leaving it tetchier than it has been for 35 years. It cteated an enormous problem between the Leave Camp (consolidated around the DUP) and the Remain Camp (consolidated around SF, but also embracing SDLP, Alliance, Green). It has made it much more difficult for an executive to be established; because even if they could find agreement on some areas, there would be no agreement on a Brexit deal.

The DUP speeks for the terrorists

And yes, the result has had an unforeseen and entirely unprepared for impact on the Good Friday Agreement. So it’s no surprise that the border and Irish unity are now occuping minds in that way that wasn’t even a possibility three years ago. The uptake in Irish passports is one manifestion of concern. The fact that the leaderships of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are openly discussing the possibilities of unity is another manifestation. Sinn Féin’s vote increase is another. The recent joint letter from over 200 Irish citizens in the North’ to Leo Varadkar is another. The recent findings in LucidTalk’s poll about support for Irish unity and a couple of polls from Dublin is another manifestation. Other manifestatations will become apparent over the next year.

At an event at the West Belfast Festival in August (where I was on a panel with Michelle O’Neill), a veteran member of Sinn Féin said to me: “I never really beleived that Irish unity would happen in my lifetime, Alex, but Brexit has changed everything. We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.” As it happens – and I did tell him so – I think he’s wrong about unity any time soon; but he is right about a new palpable air of optimism within republicanism. And it’s that optimism which unionists need to address.

So attacking Varadkar for ‘poking his nose in’ is a wasted response. Pretending that nothing has changed is a wasted response. Ignoring the reality that nationalists (especially those who have been reasonably content to side with the UK in the unity debate up to now) are worried is a dangerously sanguine response. Beleiving that attacking Varadkar is better than sitting around a table with him (he may well be taoiseach for quite a long time) is a self-defeating response.

The UK vs Irish unity debate is going to dominate politics for the next few years – probably right through the centenary of the North of Ireland in 2021. That’s no bad thing in my opinion. It’s about time that the pro-Union arguments were set out, while the Irish unity arguments were deconstructed, piece by piece. And it’s not just an North of Ireland audience which needs addressed: we also (and yes, I write as an unambiguous unionist) need to address audiences across Ireland and the rest of the UK.

With many thanks to: Alex Kane, The Irish News for the origional story.


How can amnesty serve the demands of justice?

ON THE floor of a nondescript building in Sarajevo, beside the city’s Catholic cathedral, you will find a long, carefully lit corridor. Occupying most of the space on one wall is a large panel.

Irish Children shot dead by brave British State Forces. Another reason I would never wear your blood stained Poppy.

Impossible to ignore, it pins you to the spot, painfully catching your eye as if it were a magnet dropped in a box of nails. About the length of a bus and around six foot tall, it is covered in neat type, the words roughly the size used in the headlines on the pages of this newspaper. The words are in fact names. They are arranged alphabetically, making it obvious that the same surnames are repeated many, many times.

Their first names are male, and there are 8, 372 listed in all. These men and boys – grandfathers, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins – all died in and around the town of Srebrenica within a bloody few days of each other in the middle of July 1995.

On that July 11th, while we were getting excited about Drumcree in our own petty sectarian squabble, thousands of miles away on the far side of Europe Serb forces began systematically murdering thousands of Bosnians because they were Muslims.

Drumcree 1995

Hubris meant that the Serb army filmed many of the atrocities they committed in Bosnia for the entertainment of the audience at home – footage later used to help secure convictions for war crimes. The latest of those was delivered this week. On Wednesday Ratko Mladic, the Serb general, was found guilty of genocide by the special United Nations court that has been considering war crimes perpetrated during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Even before he and his troops rolled into Srebrenica in July 1995, Mladic was known as ‘the butcher of Bosnia’.

Ratko Mladic – The Butcher of Bosnia – was sentenced to life

What happened next were crimes “among the most heinous known to humankind”,  as presiding Judge Alphons Orie put it as he read out the court’s judgement and gave Mladic a life sentence. The survivors of Srebrenica didn’t need anyone to tell them that Mladic was guilty. They knew already, because they were there. They were there when thousands of refugees fled Srebrenica and crammed into an old battery factory at Potocari, a few miles away; it should have been a safe haven, as it was under the control of UN peacekeepers, in the guise of Dutch soldiers. There were there when Mladic threatened to systematically kill all of the Muslim men – a hallmark of genocide – and taunted the peacekeepers.

Old battery factory at Potocari

They were there when the Dutch, hopelessly outnumbered on the ground and lacking support, capitulated and effectively handed them over to Mladic. Chilling eye-witness accounts speak of summary executions and rapes as Serb soldiers picked victims at random from the crowd at Potocari.

It would be crass to draw comparisons too tightly, but there are at least resonances between the Bosnian experience – with its competing views of nationalism, religion and the past – and our own Troubles

A baby had its throat slit because its mother could not stop it crying; children were beheaded; a woman pregnant with twins was cut open and the babies beaten to death. Television footage shows Mladic’s soldiers, disguised as UN peacekeepers, trick groups of fleeing Muslim men into the open and shooting them. Men and boys were loaded on to buses and lorries and brought to execution sites, where they were dumped into mass graves. It is unspeakable and seems otherworldly – until you remember that these horrors happened in Europe, to people like you and me, as recently as 22 years ago.

It would be crass to draw comparisions too tightly, but there are at least resonances between the Bosnian experience – with its competing veiws of nationalism, religion and the past – and our own Troubles. There are post-conflict echoes, too.

Politics hasn’t worked there either, nor is there any agreement on how to deal with legacy issues or victims. We have had a fresh reminder that this week with the spectre of a Troubles amnesty returning to haunt what passess for our own political debate. It goes to the heart of how we consider justice.

Do we take the view of Darko Mladic, who not only denounced the judgement against his father as wrong but also said: “It does not achieve anything….. and will be an obstacle to future normal life in the region.”

Enniskillen bombing

In the North of Ireland’s terms, that’s the ‘let sleeping dogs lie, victims and society should move on’ position, the ‘let’s not bother with investigating collusion or atrocities like Loughinisland and Enniskillen’ argument; let’s offer an amnesty, because raking over the coals of the past will just re-ignite old enmities in the future. Would Mladic, a soldier who argued he was following orders, deserve an amnesty?

Or do we follow Munira Subasic, a Remembering Srebrenica ambassador and president of the Mothers of Srebrenica Association. She explained how her world had changed when her son and husband “were taken from me in the most brutal and inhumane way imaginable”. ” I have now waited for over 20 years for the man responsible for their deaths to face justice and I am pleased he has finally been held to account but this verdict will never bring back the thousands of lives he has destroyed.”

An amnesty for Mladic and his cronies just wouldn’t have cut it; her words will resonate with many victims of the Troubles hungry for justice in the circumstances around their own bereavement, life-changing injury or trauma. How we face up to our own troubled past remains just about most vexed question facing our society. Justice demands that we deal with it correctly.

With many thanks to: William Scholes, The Irish News for the origional story.


The Wife of Tony Taylor, Lorraine tells of detention impact


Mr Taylor’s wife Lorraine, at an earlier protest for the release of Tony Taylor. And calling for an end of Internment in the Six Occupied Six counties of Ulster.

The wife of Derry Republican Tony Taylor has spoken about the impact his detention without charge is having on their family.

Taylor, pictured above, has been held at Maghaberry Prison since his early release licence was revoked by former secretary of state Theresa Villiers in March last year.

Campaigners, including nationalist politicians, have voiced concern about his continued detention. Speaking at the ard fheis of hardline republican party Saoradh in Derry at the weekend. Mr Taylor’s wife Lorraine, pictured above, said the family has been left “traumatised” by her husband’s detention.

“Tony’s continued absence is having a devastating impact on his family. I am at my wits’ end to understand how the British government, after nearly two years, can be allowed to keep Tony in prison without any due legal process, this in reality internment without trial,” she said.

“As a family we are all physically and emotionally drained both because of Tony’s continued detention and absence from his family. “I would also wish to outline the impact on his dentention on his elderly parents, both of which are not in good health.”

Meanwhile, Co Tyrone republican David Jordan has been reelected as chairman of Saoradh. In his address to delegates he criticised Sinn Féin and the DUP and voiced his party’s support for Brexit.

“Saoradh should support strategically any initative that quickens the end of one of the most repulsive and destructive nations that ever existed,” he said. “That which weakens and fragments Britain is good for Ireland. Let us hope that Brexit is as hard as hell and helps usher in the dimise of the last section of the cruel British empire.”

With many thanks to: Connla Young, The Irish News, for the origional story.



Cemetery arson attack an inexcusable violation of burial sanctuary says priest

THE Catholic Church has said it will review security at Milltown Cemetery after vandals set fire to the gates in a “shocking” attack. 

The front gates of Milltown Cemetery in West Belfast, which date back to 1896.

The front gates at the West Belfast cemetery, which dates back to 1896, were set alight on Friday night after traffic cones and a wheelie bin were placed behind them and set on fire by a gang of youths. The fire service attended the scene and extinguished the blaze. A spokesman for the diocese of Down and Connor last night described the attack as “shocking” and said “significant damage” had been caused both to the gates and the entrance of the cemetery.

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey described the incident as “disgusting behavior”

Fr Eddie Magee said that security would be reviewed in the wake of the attack. “This was a dangerous, inexcusable and deliberate act of vandalism which violated the sanctuary of a site of burial. “This action is particularly shocking because it is not only a manifestation of anti-social behavior but it also engenders a sense of distress among the local community whose loved ones are buried within this sacred place,” he said. “Places of burial hold deep significance for all within the community and such places should not be targeted for criminal acts.”

The area has been plagued by antisocial behaviour in recent times with traffic routinely targeted by stone throwing youths who gather in the Falls Park facing the cemetery. West Belfast MP Paul Maskey described the incident as “disgusting behaviour” and urged parents to monitor their children’s whereabouts. “This is unacceptable behaviour. Enough is enough,” he said. “I’m sure those responsible for this unacceptable behaviour have relatives interred in Milltown like many of us. “This is disgusting behaviour and I will be meeting with agencies over the weekend and early next week to try and get a resolution to this problem.”

Alliance councillor Sian O’Neill described the fire as an attack on the whole community. “It is deeply sad to see the disrespect some people have for our dead, in what is supposed to be an area of respect,” the South Belfast councillor said. “My thoughts are with the loved ones of those buried there, who may have been affected by this incident.

Making an appeal for information RUC/PSNI, area commander for West Belfast, chief inspector Kellie McMillan said: “This is a cemetery, a graveyard, a place for quiet reflection to peacefully pay respects to loved ones who are no longer with us. I cannot understand what any human person would feel could be gained from such thoughtless, criminal vandalism. “Police will be working with the community in West Belfast to prevent this behaviour and stop further hurt being caused to families and friends of those whose lives are remembered here. This is not acceptable behaviour and a robust response from policing and the criminal justice sector is required. “I am appealing to parents and guardians to know the whereabouts of their children and who they are with, and to play a role in preventing them from becoming involved in behaviour which could see them end up with a criminal record.”

With many thanks to: Gareth McKeown, The Irish News. For the original story. 

RUC/PSNI make first loyalist arrests under terrorism laws on crackdown on the UDA in West Belfast.

Storm Ophelia exsposes the face of UDA recruits

UDA searches: Four men arrested and ammunition and drugs seized. 

The men, aged 24, 32, 34 and 36, were arrested in the north of the city on suspicion of being UDA members.

Paramilitary uniforms, drugs, a gun holster and ammunition were seized during a two-day operation which included 13 searches in north Belfast, Holywood, Co Down, and Portadown, Co Armagh.
UDA ties, badges and flags were also seized, along with steroids, cannabis, mobile phones and tablets.
Two of the men, aged 34 and 36, have been released pending a report to prosecutors over UDA membership. The 36-year-old man will also be reported for supplying class C drugs.
The 24-year-old man and the 32-year-old man remained in custody last night.
Detective Inspector Heather Whoriskey appealed to anyone with information about paramilitaries to contact police.
“I understand that people feel afraid to speak out against these paramilitaries, but police need information from local people – as we will act on information we receive,” she said. “It may not always be visible and immediate but please be assured that every piece of information is assessed and acted on.”
With many thanks to: The Irish News. 

Policing Board must maintain authority

THE GUARDS have got themselves into a right mess. A controversy a day has resulted in the loss of two chief of police within a short time. The amount of commentary and advice coming from all quarters has ensured that there is probably less public clarity now than there ever was. As one of the advice givers, I need to confess to some niggling guilt.

I get asked to comment on the affairs of An Garda Síochána because I was on the first Policing Board for the PSNI. I have written a few articles and done some media about what should happen to the Guards and I think that my views are straightforward. To bring change and efficiency to as big and as powerful an organization as An Garda Síochána, it needs to be clear in law and in the public understanding as to who is responsible for what. That there should be clear operational responsibility and clear policy responsibility. That a strong oversight body (with political represention) is best placed to oversee the necessary change and bring about as much transparency and accountability as possible.

It was the same argument and recommendation as in the Patten Report that established the PSNI and the Policing Board here. The niggle is that every time I made the argument the question popped up in my head as to how well (or badly) the Policing Board here is doing. I am always slow to comment on something of which I was a part but it was so long ago (ten years) that I am long relegated to another Joe Soap who has no inside information but has a continuing interest in the subject. The niggle was that I was out arguing its role and merits and all the time there is a voice in the back of my head saying that I am far from sure how the Policing Board here is doing. 

When, out of interest, I make the odd inquiry from other Joe Soaps as to who is on the board and what it does, there is an increasing number of vacant stares and shoulders. 

Then I open this newspaper during the week to learn that the board is in limbo and can’t reappoint its human rights lawyer. It is reported as another example of the result of the present political impasse up at Stormont. But the truth is that the board has been in limbo long before the impasse. When, out of interest, I make the odd inquiry from other Joe Soaps as to who is on the board and what it does, there is an increasing number of vacant stares and shrugs of shoulders. It doesn’t appear to have a presence. I seldom hear of it except as an aside to something happening in the polcing world. I know it publishes annual reports. I know it sets targets and reports on the achievements and failures of the police and I presume that if I took the bother to go looking I would find such reports. But being Joe Soap, I am sometimes too lazy and sometimes too busy to be going looking. I would appreciate some of it in my face.

The board has many responsibilities, the primary one to hold the chief constable (the police) to account for their performance. It does that job on behalf of the public and so it is important that it keeps the public informed and interested. I don’t expect it and I don’t want it to be in the news every day but policing is never a completed, done job. There are so many issues that need ongoing analysis, debate, scrutiny; issues such as drugs, paramilitaries, domestic violence, community policing, to name just a few. And then, of course, is the question of the quality of the service that is being delivered, something that needs constant monitoring. I hear the police view on many matters but I can’t remember the last time I heard the board’s view. I there is a public meeting every month or so, but that is the board asking asking questions of the police – it is not the view of the board. I don’t know who the spokesperson is. I know how difficult or impossible it is to get a consensus view on anything and the present political impasse makes it even more difficult. But all the more reason for a strong, authoritative, challenging voice that gives the public some sense of comfort and security. I think the Policing Board had established that authority and had been given a lot of trust from the public. That trust is easily lost and extremely difficult to reestablish.

With many thanks to: Denis Bradley and The Irish News. 

BBC forced to clarify claims about Pengelly’s father after candidates’ TV clash!

WESTMINSTER  Westministor ELECTION 2017.

Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and DUP’s Emma ‘Little’ Pengelly. Clash on TV’s ‘The View’ on the BBC.

THE BBC had to issue a clarification at the end of it’s flagship programme after Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir made claims about DUP rival Emma Little Pengelly’s father.

Above: former DUP leader Peter Robinson, second left, with Noel Little, fourth from left, at an Ulster Resistance rally.

The pair clashed on The View during a debate between South Belfast candidates for next week’s Westminister election broadcast from St George’s Market on Thursday night. In a heated exchange, Mr Ó Muilleoir refused to appologise for mentioning Mrs Pengelly’s father Noel Little after she urged the Sinn Féin MLA to condemn IRA bombings.

Ulster Resistance, which Noel Little, father of Emma ‘Little’ Pengelly, was a leading founder.

Mr Little was a founder of Ulster Resistance. In 1989 he was arrested in Paris in connection with a plot to exchange a missile stolen from Shorts for South African guns. The weapons sought were destined for the UVF, UDA and Ulster Resistance. After spending two years on remand, he and two others received suspended sentences and fines.

‘The Loyalist’ UDA Propaganga Magazine, endorsing DUP’s Emma ‘Little’ Pengelly. For her “hard work the DUP have been doing in the community for everybody”.

The well known and often bought magazine “The Loyalist” is mainly bought and sold wihin the loyalist community of North & West Belfast. Only to members of the UDA & UVF. Facing criticism from Mr Ó Muilleoir, she accused him of hypocrisy and urged him to condemn IRA acts of violence including the 1996 Manchester bombing. In response, Mr Ó Muilleoir said: ‘I wasn’t sure what point of this conversation I would get to mention your father, Emma, who when my father was being discriminated against working in the Harland & Wolff, was bringing in guns into this country which led to the slaughter along the Island.”

On the far left, former DUP leader and member of the “Ulster Resistence” ex-DUP leader Peter Robinson. Third (on the right), Mrs ‘Little’ Pengelly’s father, Noel Little.

Mrs Pengelly interacted: “I’m going to stop you there.

His name was raised after Mrs Pengelly defended her Westminister candidacy being endorsed in a magazine connected to the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group. Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw called on Mrs Pengelly to publicly reject the endorsement.

Mrs Pengelly said the DUP has “clearly called for the UDA to go away, and all paramilitary organisations”. She added that the article in The Loyalist endorsed her because of the “hard work the DUP have been doing in the community for everybody”. Facing criticism from Mr Ó Muilleoir, she accused him of hypocrisy and urged him to condemn IRA acts of violence including the 1996 Manchester bombing.

Mrs Pengelly interjected: “I think its absolutely appalling for Máirtín to sit there and just say that. Because I think when Máirtín goes back to his group meeting of the MLAs from Sinn Féin and he looks left and right and he sees people in his party that have committed horrendous crimes, and I want him to think how would you feel, how would you feel, if their children – who had no responsibility for the actions of your colleagues – had to sit in a studio and hear abuse like you have given me. It’s a lack of respect, it is wrong and I am going to call you out on that.”

Asked by host Mark Carruthers if he wished to apologise, Mr Ó Muilleoir said: “I will not apologise for bringing up the question of Noel Little who brought in guns to this country. “But if Emma had any self-respect, she would not be trying to lecture other people on the terrible conflict we have been through. “You are the last person, to be lecturing.”

Mrs Pengelly said she has “clearly condemned all paramilitary violence”. At the end of the pre-recorded TV programme, a BBC continuiy announcer said: “We have been asked to point out that Noel Little was never convicted of arms importation to the North of Ireland. “He was given a suspended sentence and fined in a French court for his part in an intelligence plot.”

With many thanks to: Brendan Hughes, The Irish News, for the origional story.