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History > 2008 > UK > Ireland / Northern Ireland (I)




MI5 targets dissidents

as Irish terror threat grows


Monday July 28 2008
The Guardian,
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
This article appeared in the Guardian
on Monday July 28 2008 on p1
of the Top stories section.
It was last updated at 02:55 on July 28 2008.

The security services are picking up more suspicious activity from Northern Ireland's dissident republicans than from any other radical group in the UK, the Guardian has learned.

Up to 60% of all the security services' electronic intercepts - phonetaps and other covert technical operations - have come from dissidents, despite the threat posed by hundreds of suspected Islamist extremists on the mainland.

MI5 is directing its attention to a hardcore of republicans, fearing they are determined to destabilise the peace process.

Sir Hugh Orde, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, has separately confirmed that the dissident threat is the highest since he took office.

With fears escalating over the intent of republicans opposed to powersharing in the province, security sources have told the Guardian that:

· 80 hardcore dissidents may be plotting terrorist attacks.

· The Real IRA and Continuity IRA's short- term goal is to kill a Catholic police officer in the hope of deterring young Catholics and nationalists from joining the PSNI.

· Dissidents' targets have also recently extended to prison officers.

· Police numbers are so stretched that officers with anti-terrorist experience are being transferred from Greater Belfast - once the crucible of the Troubles - to rural areas.

Orde agreed the threat from the anti-peace process republicans was real despite the arrest of dozens of dissidents. "It is as high as it has been in my time in the service," he told the Guardian. "Significant efforts are ongoing to tackle the threat. The aim where possible, is to arrest those involved, charge them and bring them to court and to date over 30 people have been arrested this year." Support within republican communities for the PSNI was helping in the anti-terror drive, he added.

Irish security sources confirmed the intelligence war was concentrated on counties Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh.

One senior Dublin official said: "Their prime targets are Catholic officers who they regard as vulnerable and politically more important in terms of their armed campaign."

He pointed to a relatively unreported landmine attack aimed at killing PSNI officers at Rosslea in Co Fermanagh, near the Irish border, last month as evidence that the dissident threat was the highest since the Omagh atrocity 10 years ago.

The Dublin security official pointed out that the June 14 attempt was the first landmine attack since the Provisional IRA's first ceasefire 14 years ago.

Although officially police have the lead in security policy in the province, MI5 has taken over surveillance operations against dissident republicans. Due to policing reforms the number of special branch anti-terrorist officers has dropped over the last five years. In some areas, such as West Belfast, the number of experienced special branch officers has halved.

Jeffrey Donaldson, a junior Stormont junior minister said he believed the threat from the anti-peace process republicans was extremely high.

Donaldson, who also represents Lagan Valley at Westminster and had two cousins in the police killed during the Troubles, confirmed that the Real IRA and Continuity IRA's target net had widened to include prison officers.

"It's in the nature of terrorism that they will kill anyone but I understand that their principal targets are Catholic members of the security forces ..." the DUP MP said. He said he had been told that a number of Catholic prison officers had been moved out of their homes recently after intelligence indicated they were being targeted for assassination.

MI5 targets dissidents as Irish terror threat grows, NYT, 28.7.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jul/28/northernireland.uksecurity






Midday BST

Man held

over 1977 IRA murder of British officer


Tuesday May 20 2008
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
on Tuesday May 20 2008.
It was last updated at 12:19 on May 20 2008.


The Grenadier Guards captain Robert Nairac talks to children in the Ardoyne area of Belfast days before he was murdered by the IRA. Photograph: PA

A South Armagh man who recently returned from the United States was today being questioned over the IRA murder of the SAS-trained army captain Robert Nairac 31 years ago.

The 57-year-old suspect was arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) serious crime squad in connection with the 1977 murder, which remains one of the most mysterious killings of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

Nairac conducted undercover surveillance against the IRA in Ireland's border region at the height of the conflict.

The suspect was being held at Antrim Town police station. A PSNI spokesman confirmed the man was being questioned in connection with Nairac's murder.

The force is understood to be in discussions with authorities in the US about the possibility of extraditing two other suspects in the case.

Nairac, who was 28 years old, was abducted by the IRA at Jonesborough, Co Armagh, on May 14 1977. He was taken across the border into a forest in the Irish Republic and shot dead. His body was never recovered, and the soldier has since been classed as "disappeared" - one of up to a dozen people who were killed and buried in secret by the IRA.

One theory put forward by the IRA informer Eamon Collins, who was later murdered by the Provisional IRA's South Armagh Brigade, was that Nairac's body had been put through a mincing machine in a local meat factory.

Six people were convicted in relation to Nairac's murder, five from Northern Ireland and one from the Irish Republic, but police believe three other republicans were involved. It is understood two of them are now living in the US.

Nairac, who was educated at Ampleforth public school and Oxford University, was abducted from a pub in Drumintee, south Armagh. He had been in the Three Steps Inn singing republican songs.

He was seized during a struggle in the pub's car park and taken across the border to a field at Ravensdale, Co Louth, where he was interrogated for more than an hour and then shot.

Two years after the murder, the Queen approved Nairac's posthumous George Cross, the highest gallantry honour in peacetime.

Nairac had penned an internal army document, Talking to People in South Armagh, which argued that the "war" against the IRA had to be intelligence-based rather than "out-ambushing or out-shooting" the Provisional IRA's most ruthless units.

    Man held over 1977 IRA murder of British officer, G, 20.5.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/may/20/northernireland.ireland






Irish Premier to Step Down


April 3, 2008
The New York Times


DUBLIN — Denying that he received corrupt payments, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders who was closely involved in the negotiations that brought peace to Northern Ireland, announced Wednesday that he would resign next month.

In emotional tones at a hastily-convened news conference here, Mr. Ahern, 56, said he would quit on May 6, just a week after a scheduled address to both houses of Congress in Washington on April 30, an event he termed “one of the proudest moments of my political career.”

His departure as Taoiseach, the Irish word for leader or prime minister, will remove a man of international stature brought low by a series of disclosures about his personal finances which have emerged at a public inquiry investigating illicit payments to politicians.

The announcement Wednesday sealed a reversal of fortunes for a man once nicknamed the Teflon Taoiseach for his ability to survive onslaughts by political foes.

After 11 years in office, Mr. Ahern’s planned resignation raised questions about the future of his coalition government and about his ambitions, hinted at by his supporters, of possibly becoming the first permanent president of the European Union, a new role being proposed for the 27-nation bloc.

“Ahern likes Europe,” said Sean Donnelly, a leading pollster who has worked for Mr. Ahern. ‘’He is not just going to walk away from politics.”

Other analysts, however, said Mr. Ahern’s prospects would depend on the outcome of a tribunal investigating allegations that Irish politicians received payments from real estate developers in return for favorable planning decisions.

The inquiry, called the Mahon Tribunal, is named for a three-judge panel led by a judge, Alan Mahon.“I want everyone to understand one truth above all else,” Mr. Ahern said Wednesday. “Never, in all the time I have served in public office, have I put my personal interest ahead of the public good.”

He went on: “While I will be the first to admit that I have made mistakes in my life and my career, one mistake I have never made is to enrich myself by misusing the trust of the people.”

“I have never received a corrupt payment and I have never done anything to dishonor any office I have held,” Mr. Ahern said.

The leader of the centrist Fianna Fail party, Mr. Ahern was re-elected last June for a third term in office which was due to run until 2012. At that time, he said he would not serve the full term.

The questions at the Mahon Tribunal relate to payments Mr. Ahern allegedly received in the 1990s while he was finance minister.

‘’All of these issues arose in a period when my family, personal and professional situations were rapidly changing and I made the best decisions I could in the circumstances in which I found myself,” Mr. Ahern continued at the news conference. “I know in my heart of hearts that I have done no wrong and wronged no one.”

While he forecast that the Tribunal would find that he had not acted improperly, he said he was quitting to prevent his government’s work being “constantly deflected by the minutiae of my life, my lifestyle and my finances.”

Alongside former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and senior American officials including Senator George Mitchell, Mr. Ahern was a central figure in coaxing Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants to end more than 30 years of violence known as the Troubles.

More than 3,700 people died in sectarian fighting and conflict with the British Army in Northern Ireland that sometimes spilled into England in bomb attacks.

Mr. Blair, who is also a potential contender for the proposed European presidency, said Wednesday that Mr. Ahern played a “crucial role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland.”

During Mr. Ahern’s tenure, Ireland’s economy underwent a transformation to become on of the most robust and fast-growing in Europe, earning the nickname ‘’the Celtic Tiger.” But, more recently, economic growth has slowed.

Despite opposition calls for an election, Mr. Ahern’s most likely successor is the deputy prime minister, Brian Cowen, who is also expected to take over the leadership of the Fianna Fail party.

As to Mr. Ahern’s next job, Irish bookmakers began taking bets on his likely next employer. The proposed European Union presidency emerged as a strong favorite among Ireland’s gamblers.

Eamon Quinn reported from Dublin and Alan Cowell from London.

    Irish Premier to Step Down, NYT, 3.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/world/europe/03ireland.html?hp






Profile: Bertie Ahern


Wednesday April 2 2008
Peter Walker
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Wednesday April 02 2008.
It was last updated at 12:39 on April 02 2008.


Despite a reputation for immunity from scandal summed up in his "Teflon Taoiseach" nickname, Bertie Ahern's otherwise successful decade as Ireland's prime minister has been regularly undermined by allegations of financial impropriety.

In particular, Ahern, now 56, has faced persistent questions over claims that a Cork-based developer, Owen O'Callaghan, gave him money in return for planning approval when he served as finance minister in the early 1990s, a period when Ahern's first marriage was breaking up.

Ahern has consistently denied any wrongdoing, reiterating this stance at today's press conference in Dublin – although he admitted that concerns about "incessant publicity" over the issue were the reason he brought forward his resignation to next month.

In September last year, the prime minister gave a pugilistic performance in testifying to the Mahon tribunal, which investigates allegations of corrupt payments to politicians.

Ahern said he had never taken a bribe in his 30 years in politics, during which he became lord mayor of Dublin, then finance minister and finally prime minister in 1997.

"I have done no wrong and have wronged no one," he said.

Reports in Irish newspapers about his finances were based on forged documents, Ahern claimed, saying there was a political conspiracy designed to bring down him and his ruling Fianna Fáil party.

Today, Ahern said that while he had made many mistakes in his political life, "one mistake I've never made is to enrich myself" through bribes.

"I look forwards to comprehensively dealing with these matters at the [Mahon] tribunal," he said.

Away from the corruption claims, Ahern has enjoyed many triumphs, not least three election victories, in 1997, 2002 and last year.

During his period in office as Ireland's second-longest serving prime minister, Ahern helped negotiate the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland and led Ireland's six-month turn holding the rotating EU presidency in 2003.

His tenure coincided with a somewhat golden period for the Irish economy, during which the once rural-dominated nation emerged as the so-called Celtic Tiger, a magnet for migrants from new EU nations and, in Dublin, home to one of the world's most fevered recent property booms.

This prosperity has brought some legitimate personal benefits to Ahern. A 14.6% pay rise last year saw his salary boosted to almost £220,000, comfortably more than that earned by the US president, George Bush.

Announcing his resignation today, Ahern called his time in power "an unrivalled era of peace, prosperity and progress on this island".

Born Patrick Bartholomew Ahern in September 1951, he was brought up in a strongly republican family in the working-class Dublin suburb of Drumcondra.

A career politician, he has served in the Irish parliament since 1977, also serving as Dublin's lord mayor from 1986 to 87.

He became leader of Fianna Fáil in 1994. Three years later, a post-election coalition deal with the Progressive Democrats saw Ahern, at 45, become the country's youngest prime minister.

Ahern's celebrity has spread to others in his family: one daughter, Cecilia, is a best-selling novelist, while another, Georgina, married a member of the boy band Westlife.

    Profile: Bertie Ahern, G, 2.4.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/02/bertie.ahern.profile






Era Ends in N. Ireland

as Paisley Says He’ll Retire


March 5, 2008
The New York Times


LONDON — Ian Paisley, the 81-year-old Protestant evangelist who spent decades in implacable opposition to a compromise settlement of Northern Ireland’s sectarian violence before agreeing last year to join Irish nationalists in a power-sharing government, announced Tuesday that he will resign in May as the province’s first minister and as the leader of the Democratic Unionist party he founded.

The resignation was not a surprise; Mr. Paisley told associates months ago that he planned to leave office sometime this year. Political commentators in Belfast, the Northern Ireland capital, said the announcement was prompted partly by the approach in May of the first anniversary of the deal that made Mr. Paisley a partner in government with Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein leader who was previously a senior commander of the Irish Republican Army.

The I.R.A.’s campaign of armed resistance made it Mr. Paisley’s nemesis in the years when he barnstormed across the province condemning any deal that opened the way for power-sharing with the Catholic minority. For decades — first as the founder of a splinter evangelical church, the Free Presbyterians, and later as founder of the Democratic Unionists, who functioned as the church’s action wing — his style was characterized by his fire-and-brimstone rhetoric.

But aides who have watched as Mr. Paisley and Mr. McGuinness have governed together say there has been a remarkable absence of rancor between them. Though Mr. Paisley is first minister and Mr. McGuinness is deputy first minister, they govern as effective equals under the complex power-sharing arrangements reached last March. Mr. McGuinness, 52, has taken care to show deference to Mr. Paisley, reaching out a hand on more than one occasion to help steady him on public occasions.

Mr. Paisley’s announcement brought a flow of valedictory compliments from British and Irish political leaders. The former British prime minister Tony Blair told the BBC: “In the final analysis, he made it happen. The man famous for saying no will go down in history for saying yes.”

Ironically, Mr. Paisley’s resignation appears not to have been hastened by any disillusionment with the nationalists, who he has depicted as having accepted “British rule,” but by growing fractiousness within his own Democratic Unionist Party.

Powerful elements within the party have remained unreconciled to the deal with the nationalists, and its standing has slipped among Protestant voters, who gave the Paisley party its first election victory in 2003. In January, it lost an important by-election, and there was widespread talk in party ranks of a move to oust Mr. Paisley.

On Tuesday, Mr. Paisley told the BBC in an interview that he had “a thick hide,” and that the “ups and downs” of his political career had equipped him to deal with any political challenge.

He also denied that his decision had been influenced by the problems of his son, Ian Paisley Jr., who resigned from a ministerial post in the government last month after a welter of published allegations about his links to a controversial property developer in the province.

The favorite to succeed Mr. Paisley as the party leader, and as first minister, is Peter Robinson, who is finance minister in the power-sharing cabinet.

In a recent interview, Mr. Robinson, evidently expecting a challenge for the leadership from opponents of the power-sharing deal, took a hard-line stance against any further compromises with the nationalists. Like Mr. Paisley, he insisted that “British rule” in the province is permanent, and that it was the nationalists who surrendered the goal of a united Ireland when they joined the government.

    Era Ends in N. Ireland as Paisley Says He’ll Retire, NYT, 4.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/world/europe/05paisley.html?hp







Key facts

about Northern Ireland's Ian Paisley


Tue Mar 4, 2008
2:23pm EST


(Reuters) - Fundamentalist Protestant cleric Ian Paisley will step down as Northern Ireland's First Minister in May.

Here are some facts about him:

* Born in 1926 in Armagh, the son of a dissident Baptist minister, he delivered his first sermon aged 16 and founded his own breakaway Free Presbyterian Church in 1951. Critical of the Catholic Church, Paisley once called the Pope "the Anti-Christ"

* Emerged as a political force in the 1960s, leading protests over issues such as the flying of Irish flags in Belfast. In 1971 he founded the Democratic Unionist Party which became the province's biggest political party in 2005.

* His defense of Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom -- encapsulated in the war cry "No Surrender" -- and his hostility toward the Catholic Church made him a hero to many Protestants but a rabble-rousing bigot to many Catholics.

* First elected to the British parliament in 1970 and to the European parliament in 1979, he was viewed as a spent force after opposing a 1998 peace deal but his uncompromising stance later won him support from disillusioned Protestants.

* Paisley became First Minister in May 2007 after a deal to share power with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein. He and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness -- a former IRA commander -- have been dubbed "the chuckle brothers" following a string of unexpectedly jovial joint appearances.

(Reporting by Paul Hoskins)

    FACTBOX: Key facts about Northern Ireland's Ian Paisley, R, 4.3.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL0424769920080304







Victory for sex-abuse killer

who exposed Catholic school's

dark past


January 31, 2008
From The Times
David Sharrock, Ireland Correspondent


Paul Gordon has waited 30 long years for justice. This week the former “pasty-faced and weak” schoolboy, who was sexually abused by a religious order who paid off his father, finally saw his tormentors sent to jail.

The sex abuse case is the latest to hit the Catholic Church in Ireland, whose moral authority has been destroyed. A government-funded compensation process has been established, involving up to 15,000 claimants at a cost of more than a billion euros.

From the mid-1960s, St John’s National School in Sligo, northwest Ireland, was a dangerous place for children. Police believe that at least 50 boys, and probably many more, were abused by religious and lay teachers.

The chairman of St John’s board of management said that he thoroughly regretted the school’s dark past. “What has occurred was terrible and the school acknowledges these terrible happenings,” Father Hever said. “We are making every effort since then, in terms of child protection, to ensure that such incidents would never happen again.”

Victim support groups demanded government action. “The question has to be asked, who was managing this school during this reign of abuse?” asked Deirdre Fitzpatrick, advocacy director of One in Four, a charity and support group for victims of sex abuse.

“As the law stands the boards of management have ultimate responsibility for child welfare, and if something goes wrong they are accountable. This loophole was highlighted two years ago and we have been calling on the Department of Education to step in and take responsibility since then.”

Martin Meaney, a former member of the Marist order, who was known as Brother Gregory during his time at St John’s, was jailed this week for two years on five sample abuse charges. Meaney, who has already served nine years of an 18-year sentence for indecent assault and rape at another school, denied that there was a paedophile ring at St John’s. When asked by police whether he was acting alone, he said: “I thought I was the only one.”

He admitted preying upon Mr Gordon. “He was a pasty-faced, weak little lad, pale and sickly and I felt sorry for him. I did feel for boys who were deprived. I did pick the weakest lad in Paul Gordon,” he said.

Mr Gordon, 44, told the trial that Meaney was one of three Marist brothers who abused him. His alcoholic and violent father would receive cash in envelopes in return for the abuse.

A fifth Marist brother and former teacher at St John’s is facing a retrial this year after his conviction was quashed on appeal.

The abuse drove Mr Gordon to kill his father in 1983 and he was jailed for eight years for manslaughter. His claims of sex abuse at St John’s were ignored. “I was basically told by a garda [police officer] that I had brought enough disgrace on my family and that my complaints would go nowhere,” he said.

Mr Gordon persisted and in 1999 a police investigation team was established and eventually uncovered the scale of sex abuse at St John’s.

In 1999 and again in 2001, the retired teacher Michael Cunnane received suspended sentences for indecently assaulting eight boys at the school. In 2005 Peter White, 74, formerly Brother Agnellus, was sentenced to three years after pleading guilty to eight sample charges of indecent assault on two boys. In the same year Patrick Curran was found guilty of indecently assaulting nine boys.

He denied 237 counts of indecent assault between 1966 and 1984, but the judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison and described him as “a determined paedophile”. He was dismissed from St John’s in 1999 after the allegations emerged.

Sentencing Meaney, the judge expressed shock that so many teachers could be “debauching their pupils” in the same school.

Victory for sex-abuse killer who exposed Catholic school's dark past, Ts, 31.1.2008,



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