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 — Leaders of Irish political party Sinn Féin were among hundreds who gathered in Belfast on Tuesday for the funeral of Bobby Storey, a senior figure in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who died nine days ago aged 64. After the funeral was criticised on social media for seeming to breaching rules meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in Northern Ireland – which cap funeral attendances at 10 people – some of Sinn Féin’s political rivals took aim. Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), said at a Tuesday press conference that “no person” is “above the regulations and guidance we have laid down on how we combat Covid-19.” Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) parliamentarian Gregory Campbell called for “police action,” claiming that Sinn Féin leaders “showed no respect” for the restrictions – which it previously said should be applied without exemption. A police spokeswoman later told The Belfast Telegraph newspaper that officers will review footage of the funeral. Though Sinn Féin shares control of Northern Ireland’s devolved administration with the DUP, the two parties are ideological rivals. The DUP – and Swann’s UUP – oppose Sinn Féin’s aim of ending British rule in Northern Ireland.
DUBLIN — As Archbishop Charles Brown takes up his new post of papal nuncio to Ireland, he will face what some see as unprecedented difficulties for the church in Ireland. After the publication of a series of reports outlining gruesome cases of sexual abuse by priests in Ireland over recent decades, coupled with a falloff in church attendance, and less quantifiably, a perceptible decline in religious belief and practice, it’s little wonder that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin predicted that his archdiocese faced its toughest challenge “since Catholic Emancipation,” the 1829 changes to British law that removed many of the discriminatory provisions against Catholics in the United Kingdom, of which Ireland was then a part. Archbishop Martin was commenting on a drop in Mass attendance in Dublin to 14% and declining priest numbers, but the remarks were seen by many as appropriate to the wider church in Ireland, which now operates within what Irish writer John Waters described to the Register as “the most anti-Catholic country in Europe.”
“Tiocfaidh ár lá!” is a well-known Irish rallying cry in Sinn Féin neighborhoods in Northern Ireland. Translated into English as “Our Day Will Come,” this piece of political eschatology points to the day when Northern Ireland will form part of a unified all-Ireland state joined to the Republic of Ireland, which takes up most of the island. But after a dismal performance in the 24 May parliamentary election in the Republic, Sinn Féin’s meager four seats in the new Irish Parliament (out of 166 up-for-grabs) means that the day envisioned remains somewhat distant. While Sinn Féin’s role in Northern Ireland is relatively well-known, and its ambitions to merge the mini-province with its larger neighbor to the south are long-held, less clear to outside observers is its presence in the Republic of Ireland and the centrality of its Dublin strategy for achieving its aims in Belfast. Sinn Féin had hoped to gain 10 to 12 seats in the Republic – potentially enough to make itself a viable coalition partner for the larger parties. Becoming even a minor coalition partner in a sovereign state – which has been Europe’s most dynamic economy for almost a decade – has been a long-standing ambition for the party.
DUBLIN — A report released last week gave a remarkably positive assessment of the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) self-emasculation, 14 months after it declared an end to its three-decade war against Northern Ireland’s status as part of the UK. The report, released by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), an Irish-British intergovernmental watchdog set up to monitor Ireland’s paramilitary groups, stated: “It [the IRA] is now firmly set on a political strategy, eschewing terrorism and other forms of crime. In this process there has been a loss of paramilitary capability.” However, various vested interests on the part of all protagonists may combine to scupper a potential deal this week, as the British and Irish governments and Northern Ireland’s main political parties discuss reviving the devolved government set up after the 1998 peace agreement.
DUBLIN — A year after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced the end to its almost-40 year armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, political progress remains piecemeal in the long-divided region. The IRA’s ongoing reticence to disarm was a key constraining factor in Northern Ireland’s slow-moving peace-building process. But now despite the organizations’ disarmament, ongoing wrangles have prevented the revival of the regional political institutions, which give Northern Ireland significant devolved authority from London. These institutions remain core aspects of the 1998 ‘Good Friday’ peace agreement. The British and Irish governments have stated their intention to put some of the institutions into ‘cold storage’ if a 24 November deadline for restarting devolution is not met by the political parties.
DUBLIN — A second employee of Sinn Féin, the Northern Ireland political party linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), has emerged as a long-time British agent, the second such revelation in recent weeks. Richard Lavelle from Fermanagh, near the border with the Irish Republic, admitted on Thursday that he was an agent for the Special Branch of the UK security services, which worked to counter the activities of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The statement follows the 9 December revelation that Denis Donaldson, a senior Sinn Féin official and former IRA man who served a prison sentence for an attempt to bomb a distillery and government buildings, had been a British agent for over 20 years. Lavelle is said not to be a current Sinn Féin party member, but had, by the party’s own admission, worked on electoral campaigning. Donaldson ironically had been one of three Sinn Féin workers suspected of intelligence gathering on behalf of the IRA at the Belfast headquarters of Northern Ireland’s devolved government. He also claimed that the spy ring was a fiction created by British intelligence.
DUBLIN — Some two months after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced on 28 July the end of its 40-year armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IMC) said the IRA had “met its commitment to put all arms beyond use in a manner called for by the legislation.” Before that, Northern Ireland’s peace process had stalled. Now, the hope is that IRA disarmament will mean an eventual return to the devolved executive and assembly – the institutional centerpieces of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement – and the development of a more stable post-conflict transition. Allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the devolved institutions headquarters led to the suspension of those institutions in October 2002. Throughout the peace process, the IRA’s retention of its arsenal and its alleged adherence to criminality were repeatedly cited by unionists as the reason they could not cooperate with Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the IRA, in a devolved executive in Northern Ireland. Now, as Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader Mark Durkan told ISN Security Watch, “the big boulder – the refusal of the IRA to disarm – has been removed, that stone has now been rolled away.”
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 — A leading former member of Northern Ireland’s largest unionist-loyalist paramilitary group was assassinated at his home in Belfast. Jim Gray, a former commander in the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), was shot late Tuesday several times at close range in his doorway by two gunmen. His killing came six months after his ouster from the UDA, of which he was a commander, following a dispute with his former colleagues. The 43-year-old ex-militant was out on bail and awaiting trial on money laundering and stolen property charges. Gray was arrested near the border of the Irish Republic in April, and was thought to be trying to leave Northern Ireland.