DUBLIN – Irish heritage conservationists fear that a rugged island off the country’s southwest coast could lose its prestigious Unesco listing because of a spike in visitor numbers, after scenes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi were shot there. An Taisce, Ireland’s national trust, is seeking government intervention over Skellig Michael, the site of an ancient monastic settlement described as “Ireland’s Machu Picchu” by National Geographic, but which the trust believes has undergone a “commercial re-branding” after being “swamped” by the Star Wars connection. However, Emma Hynes, press officer for Ireland’s Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said Unesco was informed of each episode of filmmaking and “has raised no correspondence whatsoever on the matter” “The Unesco status of the island is not in question nor is it contingent on a certain visitor level,” she said.
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.”
DUBLIN — Now almost 82, the long-time Ulster Protestant firebrand frontman Ian Paisley looks set to depart his formerly strife-torn region’s political scene. His son, Ian Paisley Jr, formally resigned his Belfast ministerial post late last week, after a drip-fed series of revelations showed the younger Paisley as too close to a property developer for the liking of rival politicians. With his father at his side, Paisley Jr said he was proud to have served in the power-sharing executive. “I leave with high hopes, good spirit, deep humility and with gratefulness in my heart,” he said. Ian Paisley paid tribute to his son’s contribution to government. “I would just like to say, as the first minister, a word of thanks […] to my son Ian for the hard work he did while he was in office.”
“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.
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.