DERRY – It has been two weeks since the Irish and British governments handed Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) its revised terms for the restoration of devolution to Northern Ireland, a key part of the 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of civil conflict in the region. Since then, both parties have consulted their grassroots, come up with responses and requests for clarification for the governments, and engaged in a series of talks with relevant policymakers in Belfast, Dublin, and London. However their respective dealings have not included face-to-face meetings as the DUP refuses to meet with a party it sees as indistinguishable from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). The discussions have so far been mediated by the Irish and British governments. This morning the DUP leader Reverend Ian Paisley was in London to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while a Sinn Féin delegation led by Gerry Adams was in Dublin to meet the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.
DERRY — On Monday the British government officially recognized the ceasefire declared by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Northern Ireland’s largest “loyalist” (Protestant) paramilitary group. The recognition came despite the publication of an Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report that said that the UDA continued to be involved in crime and internal feuding and exercised gangland-style control over loyalist urban areas in Northern Ireland. However the report noted a reduction in UDA activity since the last report was published six months ago. The IMC is a British-Irish taskforce appointed to assess the activity of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups. The move followed consultations between Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy and the Ulster Political Research Group, a think-tank affiliated with the UDA.
DERRY – Last week saw the first conviction for the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious political assassinations. Now, the British government has promised a judicial inquiry to discover the truth behind the killing, which has been one of a few murders tainted by allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries — regarded by many as terrorists fighting to maintain British control of Northern Ireland — and the British state security forces. On 16 September, Ken Barrett, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary group, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the murder of Finucane in February 1989. Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republicans, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force.
DERRY — Three days of intensive talks on Northern Ireland’s political future ended on Saturday afternoon without a deal. However the Irish and British governments remained positive in the aftermath of this latest failure to resolve the ongoing problems in fully implementing the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland’s landmark peace deal forged in 1998. Both British Prime Minster Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern believe that the basis is there for an agreement in the near future. Held at Leeds Castle in Kent in the south of England, the much-anticipated talks opened amid an uncertain atmosphere.
DERRY — The saga around one of Northern Ireland’s most controversial political assassinations reached a conclusion of sorts on Thursday with the jailing of a former loyalist paramilitary. Ken Barrett, 41, admitted to being one a group of masked gunmen who in February 1989 shot prominent Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane 14 times as he ate a Sunday meal with his family. Finucane was a high-profile lawyer who represented republican clients – but also worked with Protestants. Barrett, then a member the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), was given a minimum 22 year sentence. However, he could be released within just a few months as part of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland’s landmark 1998 peace deal. The peace deal included an amnesty for politically-motivated crimes committed during Northern Ireland’s 30-year civil conflict.
DERRY – Tuesday marked the 10-year anniversary of the first IRA ceasefire, the culmination of years of official and behind-the-scenes negotiation and confidence building. After yet more intricate and stop-and-start dealings, the way was paved for the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998, aimed at permanently settling the 30-year civil conflict in Northern Ireland. With the guns largely silent and the daily litany of bombings, assassinations, and sectarian murder now largely a thing of the past, the focus is on the current political impasse that has stalled the implementation of the landmark peace deal.
DERRY – The third major day of Northern Ireland’s marching season passed off without any major incidents, marking a relatively trouble-free summer during what is usually a confrontational and edgy time for the province.
On Saturday, over 15,000 members of the radical Apprentice Boys association – part of the Protestant or British “loyalist/unionist” camp, as opposed to the predominantly Catholic Irish “nationalist” or “republican” side of the divide – marched through Northern Ireland’s second city, Derry, also known as Londonderry.
The bowler-hatted and orange-sashed bands marched through the city’s predominantly Loyalist Waterside before crossing the Foyle River to pass through the mainly Nationalist Cityside, where over 60 per cent of the city’s population lives. The route passes close by the Bogside area, the city’s nationalist stronghold, before turning back to cross the Foyle River via The Fountain — the main loyalist enclave on the Cityside.
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.