BELFAST — Since late 2004, after the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) allegedly stole €33.5 million from a Belfast bank and IRA men murdered Belfast Catholic Robert McCartney, the world has once again turned much attention to the Northern Ireland peace process and the activities of the IRA and Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the group. This attention increased after 28 July, when the IRA publicly called an end to its war against British sovereignty over Northern Ireland, and on 26 September, when the group appointed to oversee the disarming of Northern Ireland’s paramilitaries said the IRA had given up all its weapons. But another community in Northern Ireland has recently gained much attention, as well. The Protestant community, though arguably less prominent internationally than its Catholic nationalist counterpart, makes up 56 per cent of the region’s population. Largely descended from Scottish Presbyterian and English Anglican settlers in the 17th Century, this majority seeks to remain part of the United Kingdom rather than see Northern Ireland become part of an all-Ireland state by merging with its economically more successful neighbor, which takes up five-sixths of the island.
DERRY — The three Irish Republican Army (IRA) men who re-emerged in Ireland eight months after disappearing from Colombia, where they were due to face 17 years in prison, remain missing in Ireland. The whereabouts of Niall Connolly, James Monaghan, and Martin McCauley – dubbed “The Colombian Three” – are still unknown six days after they revealed their return to an Irish television station. The men were sentenced to 17 years in prison in Colombia, convicted after an initial acquittal was overturned of training leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and of travelling on false passports. The Colombian vice-president and unionist parties in Northern Ireland have called for the men to be extradited to Colombia to face their sentences.
DERRY — Speaking on BBC TV over the weekend, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble called on voters to support “centrist” parties in Northern Ireland in Britain’s forthcoming general election. Trimble’s call amounted to asking Northern Ireland’s unionist population to vote for the more moderate nationalist party, the Social, Democratic, and Labour Party (SDLP), instead of the UUP’s rivals within unionism, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The SDLP is regarded as the moderate alternative to Sinn Féin – the political party linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – while the UUP sees itself as having a similar profile vis-à-vis the DUP. However, in an attempt to outflank Sinn Féin, the SDLP recently released a strategic paper outlining its proposals on Irish unity, which would see Northern Ireland merge with its larger neighbor, the Irish Republic, which covers most of the island of Ireland.
DUBLIN – Speculation is growing that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had a part in the theft of over €2 million in Dublin on Monday morning. In an operation bearing similarities to the theft of some €38 million from Belfast’s Northern Bank last December, an armed gang abducted a family on the north side of Dublin on Sunday night, before stealing what is estimated to be between €2 and €4 million from a security van. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern took the unusual step of commenting on what is ostensibly a criminal act, saying the robbery was the work of a well-organized gang. “It certainly does have the hallmarks of a well-organized paramilitary group, but as you know, paramilitary groups have moved into criminality and do their own thing as well,” he said.
DERRY — The Independent Monitoring Commission set up by the Irish and British governments released a report on Thursday, saying that senior Sinn Féin members had advance knowledge of the theft, allegedly by the IRA, of some €31 million from a Belfast bank in December. Both governments have endorsed the findings. In Dublin, Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell said some of the politicians implicated in the report were household names, but the report did not name anyone directly. Sinn Féin is said to be the political wing of the Irish Republican Army and its president, Gerry Adams, responded to the IMC report by challenging the Irish government to either have him arrested or cease what he termed “unsubstantiated allegations.” Early on Friday, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern described Adams’ comments as “a little bit childish…a little bit nonsense.”
DERRY — The Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced on Thursday that it would withdraw the offer to allow its weapons to be destroyed and to end activities that might endanger the 1998 peace agreement. “We are taking our proposals off the table,” the group in a statement issued through the IRA newspaper, An Phoblacht. The announcement follows weeks of turmoil after a power-sharing deal offered by the British and Irish governments in December fell through due to disagreement over how to verify the destruction of IRA weaponry. The crisis deepened with the December robbery of a Belfast bank, in which the equivalent of €31.3 million was stolen. Both governments, backed by police and intelligence experts, have stated they believe the IRA carried out the raid.
Does the answer lie in the past? Under British rule, particularly before the Great Famine in the 1840s, the manufacture of absinthe-potency alcohol known as poitín was a nationwide illegal cottage industry requiring little technical expertise or equipment. This quasi-hallucinogenic brew was widely popularised as both a symbol of defiance of British rule (the Royal Irish Constabulary and its antecedents had special units designed to stamp out the industry/custom, which were met with ingenious schemes to maintain underground production) and a quick, cheap means of getting hammered.