DERRY — Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party has threatened to delay talks on restarting the stalled peace process. Meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday in London, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) outlined its position on political talks aimed at restoring the devolved government to Belfast. DUP leader Reverend Ian Paisley said the party would require a “prolonged period of assessment” to ascertain whether the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had truly given up its armed campaign. He called for “total decommissioning that everyone can be satisfied with”. In contrast, Sinn Féin (SF) leader Gerry Adams, who met with Blair separately on Thursday, said he believed there was no reason devolution could not be reintroduced quickly.
DERRY — The British government has announced an overhaul of its military and security structure in Northern Ireland, pledging to halve its troops to just over 5,000, end army support for the police, and close down 26 of 40 army sites in the region. The move follows an announcement last week by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that it “formally ordered an end to the armed campaign” against British control of Northern Ireland. On Tuesday, Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, said the British government’s pledged would be “achievable within two years” provided the “enabling environment is established and maintained.”
BELFAST — In what is being described as a historic move, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on Thursday announced an end its armed campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland. The announcement was read by a former IRA prisoner, and stated “All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.” The statement called for two independent witnesses – a Catholic and Protestant clergyman – to act as independent witnesses to the destruction or “decommissioning” of the IRA’s arsenal.
DERRY — Eighty police were injured last night as violence erupted in a Catholic-nationalist area of north Belfast after a day of Protestant Orange Order parades throughout Northern Ireland. Tensions were high in the run-up to the parade through the mainly nationalist Ardoyne area of north Belfast. While the morning parade passed off peacefully, the return of the Orangemen through the area on Tuesday evening proved troublesome. Last year, British Army units were attacked by nationalist rioters alleging a heavy-handed response to peaceful protests at the Orange Order march through the Ardoyne.
DERRY — Sir Reg Empey was elected as the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) on Friday, after gaining 53 per cent of the party vote in the second ballot, replacing the David Trimble as the embattled party’s head. Empey, a member of Northern Ireland’s suspended legislative assembly, succeeds Nobel Laureate Trimble, who resigned after the UUP’s heavy defeat at the May General election. After his victory in Friday’s ballot, Empey said he would remain as leader for no more than five years. Empey is only the 13th leader in the party’s history, and takes over at a time when the party is at its weakest ever. Until 2001, the UUP was the largest party in terms of political support and political representation in Northern Ireland. Its share of seats at the UK parliament in Westminster dropped from ten in 1997 to five in 2001, as Protestant-unionist disenchantment grew with the post-peace agreement political stasis in Northern Ireland.
DERRY — Police arrested two men on Wednesday in connection with the January murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast. A 49-year-old man was detained in Belfast. The other, aged 36, was arrested in Birmingham. Meanwhile, follow-up searches have been taking place in the Markets area of Belfast, close to where the killing took place. McCartney was murdered on 31 January outside a pub near the Catholic-nationalist Short Strand enclave in East Belfast.
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.