Belfast terrorism probe hears of murky ‘agent provocateur – dpa international

The Free Derry Corner, marking the entrance to the Bogside, an Irish nationalist stronghold in the city (Simon Roughneen)

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.

Irish minister quits but EU commissioner defiant after apparent breach of virus curbs – dpa international

DUBLIN — Ireland’s agriculture minister resigned on Friday after seemingly flouting anti-coronavirus measures introduced earlier in the week by the government. Prime Minister Micheál Martin said former minister Dara Calleary’s appearance at a Wednesday golf event and dinner was “wrong and an error of judgement.” In a Friday statement, Martin said the event “should not have gone ahead in the manner it did given the government decision of last Tuesday.” Calleary told Mid West Radio, a local broadcaster in his Mayo constituency, that Martin was “entitled to be angry and disappointed.” Ireland’s police said that they were investigating the event over “alleged breaches” of health laws.

Irish peacemaker and politician Hume remembered at funeral by Pope Francis and Dalai Lama

Some well-known pubs in the centre of Derry (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The funeral took place on Wednesday of John Hume, the former Northern Ireland politician who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his efforts to end three decades of deadly conflict in the region. Tributes from Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and Bono were read out by Donal McKeown, the Catholic bishop of Derry, who presided over the funeral Mass. A Vatican statement said that Pope Francis was “saddened” to learn of Hume’s death and “sends the assurance of his prayers to his family.” Hume died on Monday at the age of 83 after a long illness. Hume’s “message about peace and non-violence in the resolution of conflict … will long survive him,” the Dalai Lama said. Bono, lead singer with Irish rock band U2, described Hume as “a man who made all our lives bigger.”

Leaders recall ‘political titan’ who pushed for peace in Ireland – dpa international

The Peace Bridge spanning the River Foyle as it runs through Derry (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The smiles and handshakes among leaders from the two parts of Ireland attending a meeting last week in Dublin were arguably the legacy of the late Nobel peace laureate John Hume, who died early Monday. Shortly after Hume’s death was announced, he was remembered by Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin as “one of the towering figures of Irish public life of the last century.” Martin last week hosted leaders from both sides of Northern Ireland’s ethnic and sectarian divide at a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council, a body set up in the wake of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, a peace deal which Hume helped negotiate.  British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that “without John Hume there would have been no Belfast or Good Friday Agreement,” referring to the 1998 deal, which was also endorsed by the European Union and the United States.

Irish Nobel peace laureate John Hume dies at 83 – dpa international

The Free Derry Corner, marking the entrance to the Bogside, an Irish nationalist stronghold in the city (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Former Northern Ireland politician and Nobel laureate John Hume, who helped broker a peace deal in the region, has died at the age of 83. In a statement released early on Monday, Hume’s family said they were “deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.” Hume, who co-founded the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble, who was head of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Leaders of the two biggest parties in Northern Ireland at the time, the men were awarded for their efforts to end three decades of violence in Northern Ireland via the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. Their partnership crossed the region’s ethnic and sectarian divide, with Hume’s SDLP campaigning for the non-violent unification of Northern Ireland with rest of Ireland and the UUP seeking to keep the region under British rule.

Pandemic and Brexit discussed as all-Ireland council meets after long hiatus – dpa international

DUBLIN — Ireland’s government hosted Northern Ireland’s regional administration on Friday in the first sitting in over three years of the island’s North South Ministerial Council. Discussions centred on the novel coronavirus pandemic and Britain’s departure from the European Union, leaders said. Speaking at a lunchtime press conference in Dublin Castle, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said a “critical phase” lies ahead in talks between Britain and the EU, with failure threatening to stymie movement across the border between Ireland, an EU member-state, and Northern Ireland, which is British-ruled. “We don’t want to see trade barriers, either north-south, or east-west,” said Arlene Foster, first minister of Northern Ireland’s Belfast-based regional administration. Foster pushed for further discussions on handling the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 2,319 people and infected 32,000 across the island, according to official tallies.

Irish political party accused of breaching coronavirus restrictions at funeral – dpa international

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.

Survey suggests tilt back towards polarisation in Northern Ireland – dpa international

On the bridge between Belcoo in the north of Ireland, part of the U.K., and Blacklion in the Republic of Ireland. The signage denoting the U.K. is in miles per hour while the Republic of Ireland is in kilometers per hour (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — People in Northern Ireland are more likely to identify with either Britain or Ireland since the 2016 British vote to leave the European Union, going by the latest annual Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. A majority of the region’s 1.8 million people view themselves as either “nationalist” or “unionist”  in the latest survey, which saw 1,200 people canvassed in late 2019 and early 2020 by researchers from Ulster University and Queens University Belfast (QUB). In 2018, half of those surveyed eschewed identifying as either nationalist or unionist. Paula Devine of QUB said “it is striking that 2019 also saw a strengthening of unionist and nationalist identities and growing pressure on the so-called middle ground.”

Singapore PM warns of impact on Asia of US-China power rivalry – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fears rising tensions between the US and China could undermine security and economic growth across Asia and called on both sides to pull back from confrontation. Lee flagged his concerns in an article titled “The Endangered Asian Century” published  in the US journal Foreign Affairs, which has a history of running watershed essays by policymakers involved international relations.Fearing that smaller Asian countries could be forced to take sides if intransigence grows between the world’s two biggest economies, Lee called for cooperation between the US and China, even as tensions rise over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others,” Lee implored.

Claims of Saudi donations resurface in ex-Malaysian PM’s graft trial – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Allegations of lavish contributions from Saudi Arabia re-emerged on Wednesday during one of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing trials over alleged theft of public money and related abuses of office. When lurid corruption claims were first levelled against Najib Razak in 2015, the then-prime minister said the largesse involved, said to be around 700 million dollars, was donated from the world’s biggest oil producer. In court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Najib’s defence team said that letters purportedly from Saudi royals meant Najib had no reasonable cause to question the source of money flowing into his bank account. The missives, the defence said, were shown to Malaysia’s central bank and anti-corruption commission before representatives of the latter travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with several princes.”If the letters were not genuine, there would have been denial on the spot,” said defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, who added that he was not claiming the donations took place.