DERRY — The European Parliament on Tuesday voted to provide funds to the family of Robert McCartney, who was murdered in Belfast in January by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), for their quest for justice in the controversial case. In an unprecedented move, a large majority of European parliamentarians voted to fund a possible civil action by the family, should the current criminal case continue to falter. McCartney, a 33-year-old unmarried father, died in January after a brawl inside and outside a Belfast pub. A Catholic from the pro-Sinn Féin enclave of Short Strand, he was stabbed a number of times by IRA members. The McCartney family believe that the current criminal enquiry is being obstructed by lack of cooperation by witnesses, who are either fearful of giving evidence against the IRA members involved, or refuse to cooperate with what is regarded as a pro-British police service.
DERRY — As expected, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) emerged as the big winner in the Northern Ireland part of the UK general election held on 5 May. Friday’s results saw the party led by preacher Ian Paisley gain three seats. The DUP increased its vote share by 11 per cent over the 2001 election results to become the largest Northern Irish party at Westminster, taking half of the 18 seats representing the province. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), historically the main representative of pro-British sentiment in Northern Ireland, lost four of its five seats, including the constituency of party leader and 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble. In response to the crushing defeat, Trimble resigned as party leader on Saturday afternoon.
DERRY — When the Queen’s subjects go to the polls on Thursday, they will essentially be voting in two very different elections. The three main political parties on the British mainland have campaigned on issues such as the legality of the US-British invasion of Iraq, immigration policy, education, and leadership personalities, while the polls in Northern Ireland will feature an entirely different set of actors and factors. In April, a delegation from the recently elected provincial legislature of Basra, Iraq visited Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s two largest cities, to learn about Northern Ireland’s peace process. For the prime minister’s advisers, the visit from Basra is an opportunity to put a positive spin on Tony Blair’s unpopular decision to participate in the US-led invasion of Iraq. Drawing parallels between Iraq and Northern Ireland allows Downing Street to deflect attention from the original rationale for the attack – Iraq’s alleged banned weapons stockpiles – and to recast the invasion as an effort to replace dictatorship with democracy. To others, it represents a measure of how far Northern Ireland has come since the quarter-century of civil conflict ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) peace deal.
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.
DERRY — The Irish Republican Army (IRA) on Thursday said it was considering Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams’ request to give up its armed struggle and adopt a peaceful, democratic political campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland. The paramilitary organization said it was giving “due consideration” to Adams’ request, adding that a definitive response would be given “in due course.” The leader of Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the IRA, welcomed the paramilitary group’s pledge to address his appeal, and responded to critics of the speech, saying that it was “a genuine attempt to drive the peace process forward.” While some welcomed Adams’ statement as significant, others said it was a disingenuous campaign ploy.
DERRY — Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams on Wednesday urged the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to accept peace and give its total support to democratic politics in Northern Ireland. In what is being described as either a landmark speech or as unconcealed electioneering in the run-up to the 5 May general elections in Britain, Adams said the “struggle had reached a defining moment.” He appealed directly to the IRA leadership to become activists in a movement to rebuild the struggling Northern Ireland peace process and push for a single all-Ireland state. “The way forward is by building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and winning support for those objectives internationally,” Adams said.
DERRY — Assets worth over UK£5 million, including properties and back accounts linked to Protestant Loyalist paramilitaries, have been frozen by Northern Ireland’s main criminal assets agency. Late on Wednesday night, the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) seized several properties in Northern Ireland and in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, as well as an apartment on the Cote D’Azur in France. In total, 49 properties came under the remit of the ARA action, which had been permitted by Belfast’s High Court. Eight bank accounts were also frozen. The assets belonged to an individual named Colin Armstrong, who has allegedly been involved in drug smuggling from the continent, with links to crime groups based in Belgium. Armstrong is said to have links with two Protestant paramilitary groups – the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), and the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), which split from the UVF in the early 1990s. Properties seized were in the Portadown and Craigavon areas south of Belfast. Both towns are LVF strongholds.
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 Orange Order, the largest non-religious Protestant organization in Ireland, has severed its century-old formal link to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), adding strength to the claim that moderate forces in Northern Ireland have been put on the defensive. At a Saturday meeting of the Order’s ruling council, or Grand Lodge, the organization decided that political change meant that a link with any political party was no longer in its interests. Speaking after the meeting, Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulters said: “The Loyal Orange Institution will continue to lobby for the unionist cause as events require and we will seek to establish good relationships with all those engaged in the political interests of the unionist people.”
DERRY — In a bizarre twist to the McCartney murder saga, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) late on Tuesday offered to shoot those it believes killed the 33-year-old Belfast man on 31 January. In a lengthy statement, the organization said that it had conducted its own internal investigation into the killing. It concluded that four men, two of whom were IRA members, bore greatest responsibility, and offered to execute these alleged perpetrators. McCartney’s family immediately distanced themselves from the statement, saying that they wanted justice for their brother via the court system. McCartney, a Catholic from the IRA stronghold in Short Strand, an enclave in mainly pro-British east Belfast, was stabbed repeatedly before having his throat slashed outside a Belfast bar on 31 January.