BELCOO, NORTHERN IRELAND — On the short bridge between Blacklion and Belcoo stand two clues that the crossing links not only a pair of towns, but two countries. The road-sign speed limits for Blacklion in the Republic of Ireland are in kilometers per hour. In Belcoo, in Northern Ireland, miles are used. Over the last two decades — particularly since the 1998 peace deal which ended three decades of civil war in Northern Ireland — Belcoo, population 540, and Blacklion, population 194, have are effectively operated as one town. “There are no barriers, it’s how people want it,” said Eugene McCann, who runs a well-stocked grocery store and post office in Belcoo, his hometown.
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.”
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.
DERRY — Northern Ireland’s largest pro-British unionist party reacted sceptically to an announcement on Monday that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had destroyed all of its weapons. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley said there was no real verification of IRA decommissioning in Monday’s announcement, adding it showed the duplicity and dishonesty of the British and Irish governments as well as of the IRA. Paisley said the Commission had simply taken the IRA’s word at face value. “Not one iota was given to verify that assurance,” he said. At a news conference earlier Monday, the head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) said the IRA has completed its disarmament.
DERRY — Protestant loyalists attacked local police and British troops in Northern Ireland for a third day on Monday in clashes prompted after the authorities rerouted a planned Orange Order march. Masked men and youths confronted police across Belfast and other towns, and extremists shot at police backed by British soldiers late on Sunday. At least 50 police officers were hurt in the violence, which saw petrol bombs, blast bombs, and pipe bombs thrown at police. After some of the worst violence in Northern Ireland since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the blame-game is being played by all sides.
DERRY — In his first public interview since the Irish Republican Army (IRA) vowed to end its armed campaign in July, hardline Protestant unionist leader Ian Paisley on Sunday gave a positive assessment of the troubled region’s political future and said he would agree to meet the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Speaking to Irish state broadcaster RTE, Paisley said he believed peace in Ireland was possible in his lifetime. Paisley – the leader of Northern Irelands largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – has long been an ardent opponent of Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland, and of the Catholic Church. He is now the leading political voice in pro-British unionism in Northern Ireland Paisley, who opposes the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended the over 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland, went on to say he was willing to meet the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady. Paisley’s political opposition to Irish nationalism has been influenced heavily by his religious opposition to Catholicism.
DERRY — On Monday a new grassroots campaign dubbed “Love Ulster” began disseminating newsletters across Northern Ireland aimed at denouncing alleged nationalist dominance of the political process. The Love Ulster campaign will disseminate 200,000 free newsletters across Northern Ireland, highlighting unionist concerns at political concessions granted to Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) since the latter’s statement that it was ending its nearly four-decade campaign of violence against British rule. In the days after the statement, the British government announced radical plans for demilitarization in Northern Ireland – a move unionists view as premature at best and a betrayal at worst. They see the disbandment of the British army’s Royal Irish Regiment as a move that will harm unionist culture. William Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Love Ulster campaign, told ISN Security Watch that unionists were “shocked at the speed of the [British] concessions [after the IRA statement].”
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.