GALWAY — Defence lawyers representing six people charged with terrorism in Northern Ireland told a Belfast court on Monday that a British security forces “agent provocateur” played a role in the suspects’ arrests. The six, who appeared on video from a nearby police station due to concerns about spread of the novel coronavirus, are accused of membership of the “New” Irish Republican Army (IRA) and of planning terrorist attacks. “Did an MI5 agent organize and finance these meetings?” one of the lawyers asked, referring to a British spy agency.
DUBLIN — The funeral took place on Wednesday of John Hume, the former Northern Ireland politician who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his efforts to end three decades of deadly conflict in the region. Tributes from Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and Bono were read out by Donal McKeown, the Catholic bishop of Derry, who presided over the funeral Mass. A Vatican statement said that Pope Francis was “saddened” to learn of Hume’s death and “sends the assurance of his prayers to his family.” Hume died on Monday at the age of 83 after a long illness. Hume’s “message about peace and non-violence in the resolution of conflict … will long survive him,” the Dalai Lama said. Bono, lead singer with Irish rock band U2, described Hume as “a man who made all our lives bigger.”
DUBLIN — The smiles and handshakes among leaders from the two parts of Ireland attending a meeting last week in Dublin were arguably the legacy of the late Nobel peace laureate John Hume, who died early Monday. Shortly after Hume’s death was announced, he was remembered by Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin as “one of the towering figures of Irish public life of the last century.” Martin last week hosted leaders from both sides of Northern Ireland’s ethnic and sectarian divide at a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council, a body set up in the wake of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, a peace deal which Hume helped negotiate. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that “without John Hume there would have been no Belfast or Good Friday Agreement,” referring to the 1998 deal, which was also endorsed by the European Union and the United States.
DUBLIN — Former Northern Ireland politician and Nobel laureate John Hume, who helped broker a peace deal in the region, has died at the age of 83. In a statement released early on Monday, Hume’s family said they were “deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.” Hume, who co-founded the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble, who was head of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Leaders of the two biggest parties in Northern Ireland at the time, the men were awarded for their efforts to end three decades of violence in Northern Ireland via the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. Their partnership crossed the region’s ethnic and sectarian divide, with Hume’s SDLP campaigning for the non-violent unification of Northern Ireland with rest of Ireland and the UUP seeking to keep the region under British rule.
DUBLIN — Ireland’s government hosted Northern Ireland’s regional administration on Friday in the first sitting in over three years of the island’s North South Ministerial Council. Discussions centred on the novel coronavirus pandemic and Britain’s departure from the European Union, leaders said. Speaking at a lunchtime press conference in Dublin Castle, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said a “critical phase” lies ahead in talks between Britain and the EU, with failure threatening to stymie movement across the border between Ireland, an EU member-state, and Northern Ireland, which is British-ruled. “We don’t want to see trade barriers, either north-south, or east-west,” said Arlene Foster, first minister of Northern Ireland’s Belfast-based regional administration. Foster pushed for further discussions on handling the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 2,319 people and infected 32,000 across the island, according to official tallies.
DUBLIN — People in Northern Ireland are more likely to identify with either Britain or Ireland since the 2016 British vote to leave the European Union, going by the latest annual Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. A majority of the region’s 1.8 million people view themselves as either “nationalist” or “unionist” in the latest survey, which saw 1,200 people canvassed in late 2019 and early 2020 by researchers from Ulster University and Queens University Belfast (QUB). In 2018, half of those surveyed eschewed identifying as either nationalist or unionist. Paula Devine of QUB said “it is striking that 2019 also saw a strengthening of unionist and nationalist identities and growing pressure on the so-called middle ground.”
BELCOO, NORTHERN IRELAND — On the short bridge between Blacklion and Belcoo stand two clues that the crossing links not only a pair of towns, but two countries. The road-sign speed limits for Blacklion in the Republic of Ireland are in kilometers per hour. In Belcoo, in Northern Ireland, miles are used. Over the last two decades — particularly since the 1998 peace deal which ended three decades of civil war in Northern Ireland — Belcoo, population 540, and Blacklion, population 194, have are effectively operated as one town. “There are no barriers, it’s how people want it,” said Eugene McCann, who runs a well-stocked grocery store and post office in Belcoo, his hometown.
DUBLIN — Northern Ireland MP Iris Robinson’s affair with Kirk McCambley, now 21, prompted her to announce last month that she would be stepping down from politics as she seeks treatment for depression. Robinson, 60, is the wife of Peter Robinson, first minister in Northern Ireland’s regional government and the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest pro-British political party in Northern Ireland. The couple are to be investigated by Northern Ireland’s committee on standards and privileges after Iris Robinson admitted she secured £50,000 ($81,400) from two developers to help McCambley set up a restaurant business in Belfast. The fallout from the scandal has led to Peter Robinson temporarily stepping down as First Minister, but remaining as DUP leader.
When Irish Taoiseach (or Prime Minister) Brian Cowen joins political leaders from Northern Ireland in Washington for next week’s St Patrick’s Day jamboree, President Barack Obama will hopefully show them more courtesy than he did UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week. He should, because rather than bore the new president with wonkish jabbering about the merits of the G20, the Irish will give Obama a spin on the time machine, a Tardis ride to an older Ireland assumed to be but an artifact. Given the context, that all might come off as somewhat glib. An old anecdote tells of a British pilot, making his landing announcement on a flight from London to Belfast, sometime in the early 1970s. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are commencing our descent into Belfast. Please set your watches back 300 years” – in reference to Northern Ireland’s seemingly anachronistic sectarian disputes.