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10th,September 2009 
News Letter
09 September 2009

A NEW book reveals how unionists and nationalists from across west Belfast's political divide fought and died together during the First World War.

Belfast Boys – which was launched last night at Queen’s University – tells the story of the volunteers who stood side-by-side on the Western Front, as well as forgotten west Belfast men from throughout the Armed Forces.

Speaking before the launch, author Richard S Grayson said he could not have written the book without contributions from the Northern Ireland public.

“They helped to shape the overall scope of the book,” he said.

“They also helped with specific stories which are crucial to the book.”

Describing the project as “a big personal journey”, he said his research had made him aware “how important exploring ancestral service in World War One is to so many people”.

He said he had found “between 8,176 and 8,484” west Belfast men who had served during the First World War, as well as uncovering new information about his own great-uncle, James Powell, who had died in battle in 1915.

“I found that my great-uncle wasn’t killed at Loos, as we previously thought, but in the Hooge area,” he said.

“I also heard from his descendants in Australia, with whom we had lost contact.”

Dr Grayson said that writing the book had changed his perception of the Great War.

“I spent a lot of time immersed in deeply personal letters from the front, and became more emotionally engaged with the torment of families who had lost loved ones than I ever had been before.”

It has been said that the men from the Shankill and the Falls were fighting for Britain with the aim of achieving different political outcomes after the war.

Nationalists had hoped to secure Home Rule by fighting for the King, while unionists wanted to defeat Home Rule by showing their loyalty.

But Dr Grayson – who is head of politics at Goldsmiths, University of London – believes that many men did not sign up for political reasons.

He said: “They fought for a wide range of more personal reasons, and those would have been shared across the Shankill and the Falls.”

Yet he believes it is important not to “skate over the differences” between the men.

“I’ve been careful not to do that because all the war did was put a lid on the differences for four years,” he said.

“However, I think there is a shared history.

“It is tempting for people in the Shankill to think that their ancestors did one thing in 1916, while those in the Falls would think that their ancestors did another.

“In fact, they were, by and large, doing the same things on the Somme.”

Dr Grayson – who was born and brought up in England, but has family roots in Lurgan – said he has known west Belfast for about 10 years.

“I have spent time getting to know the locality of the Shankill and the Falls.

“Although many of the old houses have gone, the basic layout is much the same.

“I have walked the streets to try to get a sense of what was close to what from 1914 to 1918.”

And with the recent deaths of the last surviving First World War veterans, Dr Grayson believes it is important to preserve the west Belfast soldiers’ stories for future generations.

“The striking thing is that there is much more still to discover,” he said.

“We are now in a position where we can not only keep stories alive, but also tell many of them for the first time.”
Derry Journal
09 September 2009

Hardline republicans have used angle grinders and saws to cut down newly erected gates in Derry's Bogside.

The removal of the gates - which link Joseph Place and Fahan Street - follows a protest on Monday morning organised by the Irish Republican Forum for Unity - an umbrella group made up of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, Republican Network for Unity, and the IRSP.

At the protest, they called for the gates to be taken down.

The group claimed the gates had been erected by the Northern Ireland Office and the PSNI against the wishes of local people. They produced a petition containing 140 names calling for the removal of the gates.

However, a number of residents of Joseph Place welcomed the erection of the gates and said they were already helping to reduce problems in the area.

Fahan Street resident Noel Nash says those responsible for removing the gates were not acting on behalf of local residents.

“I saw them cutting down the gates and it was like mob rule,” she said. “They are not from the area and I want to know who gave them the right to remove the gates. We, the residents, asked for the gates to be put up and, while there may have been problems with access, cutting them down has in no way served the cause of people living in Fahan Street and Joseph Place.”

Colm Barton, from the Triax neighbourhood management team, says the views of the community are being ignored.

“The people who removed these gates did so on their own terms and for their own reasons. They are clearly not interested in any opinion that does not concur with their own. They have ridden roughshod over the views of residents who were supportive of the erection of the gates as an attempt to reduce anti-social problems in the area.

“As someone who is aware of the well-documentated problems in the area and has carried out consultations in this area concerning these gates, it is disappointing to see the views of residents being ignored,” he said.

Sinn Féin councillor Patricia Logue said it was important that the gates were replaced as soon as possible.

A PSNI spokesperson said: “We can confirm that the peace gates at Fahan Street in Derry were taken from their hinges sometime on Monday night. One of the gates was later found intact in Rossville Street while the second was found damaged in a car park at the rear of Joseph Place.”
Derry Journal
09 September 2009

If you or someone you know is affected by depression, Aware Defeat Depression can help. The organisation's local self-help support group, for all those affected by depression, meets every Tuesday at 7.30pm, at 10 Clarendon Street.

Speaking about the group, Aware’s Support Services Assistant, Colette Ramsey says: “Depression is a very common and devastating illness which affects almost 1 in 4 of adults in Northern Ireland, regardless of age, gender, or social background. People affected by the illness often do not get the help they need either because they do not recognise the symptoms or because they are reluctant to seek help. The support group provides an opportunity to meet with others who have personal experience of the illness so that they can share experiences, support each other and find out more about it.

“The meetings are facilitated by local volunteers and are very relaxed and informal. New members are always made to feel very welcome. There is no need to register – just come along on the evening. A range of literature about depression is also available, including our booklet “Depression the Facts”.

Local volunteer Mary says: “As a local person, I know that there is a great need for the group in thisrea and I would say to anyone who is currently living with depression – please give the group a try – it can have great benefits. I know that people can feel anxious about coming into a room with people that they do not know, but I can assure you that they will be made to feel very welcome. Members can stay in the group for as long as they choose and can speak as little or as much as they like. Some people feel more comfortable just listening to others at their first few meetings. We also emphasise confidentiality at the start of each meeting – so that everything discussed stays in the group.”

For further information about the group please call 02871-260602 or e-mail collette@aware-ni.org
Johann Hari
Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Gerry Adams is such a respected statesman that it's hard to remember that his name was once inextricably linked with terrorist brutality. And yet – as the current outcry about compensation for IRA victims shows – such matters are also hard to forget. Johann Hari tries to dig out his true story

As the long war in Northern Ireland has ended, the IRA has emptied its weapons dumps – but will its memory dumps ever be opened? When I was a child, Gerry Adams was presented as a bearded demon, personally responsible for every bomb that blew up across my city, London. His voice was not allowed to be broadcast on British television, as if he could hypnotise us with his Irish drawl. Today he is widely regarded as an international statesman, a man who risked his life to make the journey from Armalite to peace. He has just received a fresh batch of threats from the "Real IRA", pledging to execute him for his "treachery" in accepting a compromise with the British. It is as though a younger, violent version of Adams has risen up to smite the peacemaking older man he has become. But even now, Adams has not told the full story of how he played perhaps the key role in ending a conflict that had squalled bloodily for 400 years.

Adams lives in a Shakespearian mist of ambiguity where the recent past is obscured from view. He has not explained how he went from cheering the bombing of Downing Street to being a regular visitor. Is he a thug who took his chance to go legit, or is he a principled warrior against anti-Catholic persecution who took up arms when he had to defend his people, and laid them down when he could? I could not find the answers in his oblique autobiography, filled as it is with gaps and elisions, or in the strangely-distanced comments of people who know him. For that, I had to go to the man himself.

Adams suggests that we meet in a community centre at the heart of his grey, dilapidated West Belfast constituency, where he is speaking in praise of a local trade union that fought to keep a car plant open. This, he seems to be saying, is the life I live now, the life I always wanted to live – a peaceful man of the left.

>>More Johann Hari Articles

He is preceded by two Sinn Fein security men – big and burly, in casual clothes – and he strides up the stairs behind them with an almost athletic air. He is surprisingly tall. His beard is peppered with shades of grey and white, but he looks younger than I expected and more vital. He leads me into an empty room and settles down at a round table. The security men pace outside, like vaguely aggravated bouncers, watching out for gunmen.

I: Where's My Photo?

He starts with a story – a small story, but one that perfectly distils how he would like us to see his wider life. "Not long after the photos of the torture in Abu Ghraib prison [in Iraq] came out, I wrote an article asking – where's my photo? Because when I was taken and battered by the British squaddies, they took photos of us. The photos were trophies.

"So somewhere in the British Army Museum, or regiment headquarters, or on the top of somebody's wardrobe, in a shoebox, there's a photo of me, being treated like that. A few days after I wrote it, I got into the lift in Stormont [the castle where the Northern Ireland Assembly sits], and a British man got in after me. We were the only people there. I nodded at him, and he said, 'You don't recognise me, do you?' I didn't. He said: 'I want you to know that I'm one of the soldiers that beat you.'"

Adams lets this hang in the air, his face expressionless, unreadable. "So I said – do you promise not to do it again?" And he bursts out laughing, a genuine, relief-filled laugh. "We shook hands and had a wee laugh about it."

Is this tale – of Adams as a victim who magnanimously forgives his persecutors – true? It has a tang of truth when it comes to Adams' early life. He was born in 1948 into a dirt-poor Catholic family, in a statelet run by Protestants for Protestants. "It was a one-party state," he says. Catholics were given the worst houses, locked out of the best jobs, and threatened by marauding loyalist militia, while the political system was gerrymandered to ensure Catholic votes didn't count. "The sense of exclusion was immediate," he says. The Adams family lived in what he calls "our miserable little slum room" in "another jerry-built dumping ground for many young families". The Ballymurphy estate was "badly built, badly planned and badly lacking in facilities, but it nonetheless possessed a wonderful sense of openness, there on the slopes of the mountain. Beyond us, the city of Belfast stretched towards the lough." The family was so poor that Gerry was sent to live with his grandmother down on the Falls Road. He became a nervous, stammering boy.

The other Gerry Adams – his father – was determined to overturn this imposed squalor and fear by force. At the age of 17 he had joined the IRA and shot an officer of the RUC, the almost entirely-Protestant police force. He was released from prison only a year before Gerry Junior was born. His father had been humiliated. "Whenever he was sent looking for a job by the employment exchange they informed his prospective employers of his record and status," his son says. He ended up travelling door to door, selling fruit and vegetables from a cart.

Adams says he didn't really understand the divisions in Northern Ireland. Why was there this strange suspicion in the air? Why was he supposed to stop fumbling around with the Protestant girls across the street? But then an angry Protestant Reverend called Ian Paisley stormed into his life. When Adams was 16, a shop owned by Catholics in Divis Street put the Irish flag, the tricolour, in its window. Paisley – a local firebrand evangelical who claimed that Catholics worshipped "the Antichrist" – announced that if it was not torn down within two days, he would lead a mob to do it himself. The RUC smashed their way into the shop and took the flag. Local Catholics started to riot, and they were bludgeoned and beaten. Watching this brouhaha, the young Adams was bemused: "Why did it need to be so illegal to fly a flag? What kind of state was this?" Within a week, he had joined Sinn Fein – and many believe, the IRA, an organisation that was at that time tiny and had only a few rifles left in its rusting arsenal.

Over the next few years, Catholics in Northern Ireland – stirred by the black civil rights movement in the US, and the dream of Martin Luther King – started to peacefully organise to demand equality. Adams dropped out of school, working in a Protestant pub in the evenings, and campaigning for Catholic equality during the day. "There was a sense of naiveté, of innocence almost, a feeling that the demands we were making were so reasonable that all we had to do was kick up a row and the establishment would give in," he says. But the civil rights marches were met with extraordinary ferocity. Protestant mobs attacked the demonstrators, and then the RUC swooped in to smash them up.

"I was here when it all happened," he says, looking out the window, into the distance. "I was here when the pogroms took place." On 14 August 1968, a loyalist mob gathered on the Shankill Road and marched on to the Catholic streets, throwing petrol bombs and shooting at fleeing residents. The next morning, "The old familiar streetscape was shattered. The environment I had grown up in was gone. For ever. The self-contained, enclosed village atmosphere of the area and its peaceful sense of security had been brutally torn apart. A sense of devastation entered our hearts. Barricades were going up everywhere."

Adams isn't exaggerating when he says the sheer number of Catholics who fled made this "the biggest forced movement of population in Europe since the second world war" at that time. The IRA barely existed any more and those old gunmen who lingered had mostly run away. Indeed, many Catholics joked sourly after the attacks that the initials really stood for "I Ran Away". Did Adams experience this as a humiliation, and a spur to rearm? "No, I didn't have that feeling. Because I remember, actually, being one of the young people that resented the fact that other people who didn't do anything were blaming the IRA. If you militarise a situation, you beg for an armed response. And then, after a short while, what had been a very passive and legitimate campaign for a very, very basic rights, then becomes 'terrorism'. And then, the whole machine kicks in ... Once the armies are in it, there will be a natural resistance. If there is an army occupying Britain tomorrow, there will be exactly the same response: people who would be passive normally, people who would be law-abiding normally, will fight back." The graffiti at the time said: "God made the Catholics, but the Armalites made them equal."

He is impassioned now. "You can only judge anything that happened in the times, in the times that that happened. And it's no accident that wars are fought by 18-year-olds. I think that the conditions were ripe here for what became, certainly from 1969, a popular uprising. People came here from Palestine or South Africa and they said they'd never seen anything like it. Every one of these main roads had huge Army tanks, there was choppers everywhere, and a shoot-to-kill policy. So the point I'm making is: in those conditions, it's almost inevitable. And war is horrible. War ... some people glamorise war and glorify war. It's not nice, from whatever point of view you come from."

He is talking quickly, angrily. "I remember, in the middle of Iraq crisis, I was going to London, I was watching on TV what was happening in Iraq, and I was meeting with the people who were responsible for that. And in their souls or in their minds, they were not affected by it. Here we were affected every day. Our homes were being bombed or raided, our offices were being shut up, our friends were being shot. I think there is a huge responsibility upon governments to understand the consequence of their decisions."

Most people in Northern Ireland believe that Adams joined the swelling wave of young Catholic men who signed up to, as they saw it, defend their community. So what did he do? Some people claim that as he rose through the IRA – which was structured on the model of a national army, and imposed "discipline" on its own ranks and on the wider Catholic community – he became crazed with power and hateful. Sean O'Callaghan, who became a British informer within the IRA, claims he bragged: "I'm prepared to wade up to my knees in Protestant blood to get to a United Ireland." Adams says this is "ridiculous". The Irish Times reporter Kevin Myers says that he once saw Adams settling a bar-room brawl in which a man had his eye gouged out by identifying the man who started it and saying to a local IRA volunteer: "Shoot him." (This would have meant shooting off his kneecaps, not murdering him.) Adams says this is "rubbish".

I don't want to get into a sterile round of defensive denial, so I try asking a different question. If there was a truth and reconciliation commission in Northern Ireland – one where all sides, including the British military, admit what they did – are there things you would like to get off your chest that you can't talk about to me now? At first he wriggles. "Well, South Africa's different, you see, because ... in South Africa, it was a matter of domestic policy. The South Africans were in charge. So, so ... " Yes, yes. But would you want to talk to it? "I don't quite know whether 'commission' would be the right word ... " Oh come on! "If there was an international-run, neutral, objective process with terms of reference that could be agreed, then I think everybody has a responsibility to talk to it."

Adams will talk freely about the period up to 1968, and the period after 1998. But when I ask about the 30-year gap in between, his flowing sentences often dry into staccato clichés. Did you do anything in this conflict you later regretted? "Well, I didn't have to do things, but I do think that there are actions that were carried out, and not even retrospectively, but at the time, that I knew instinctively were wrong, and were surely wrong, and where I could, I said so. I either said so privately, or I said so publicly, if that was the appropriate thing to do." It is an answer designed to shut down the issue, rather than open it up – an attempt to seal the memory dump with steel.

II. The Body in the Attic

The British state certainly thought Adams was a leading figure in the IRA – and they tortured him for it. He knew what would happen if he was captured, so for several years he lived on the run, in disguise. "The British Army were threatening to shoot me on sight, so I was always on the alert," he wrote in his autobiography. "Very rarely did I turn directly down a street; instead I crossed the street and as I did so I would look down first. I avoided streets where there were stretches without doors."

Adams, centre

He describes a surreal world, where he was the bearded Pimpernel of Belfast, always one step ahead of the squaddies. At one point, he says, the Brits kidnapped his dog, Shane. "Not long after, I saw him going up the street with a patrol, and I waited until they were a good distance away before I whistled to him. He went mad, broke away, and came to me." But some responses were less funny. His family's house was attacked repeatedly. "CS gas was fired into it, and neighbours had to come and rescue the children [his younger siblings]. My youngest brother Dominic developed a speech impediment in the trauma of that time. On another occasion a firebomb was thrown at the house from a Saracen and hit the post of the porch. If it had come through the window all inside would have been burned to death."

He met his wife, Colette, while in hiding: she was active in Sinn Fein. One night British soldiers were firing outside and they were lying on the floor, trying to be silent, when he whispered to her: "If we get out of this, I'm going to marry you." When they heard a rumour Adams had married, British troops turned up at Colette's family home. "You know who your daughter is married to?" they asked. "No," claimed her father. "Gerry Adams," the soldier said. Adams' father-in-law smiled and said: "Well, God help him!"

When they finally caught Adams, they were ruthless and ignored all human rights protections. "British Army officers came and trained RUC officers in sensory deprivation techniques. They took these people – they called them guinea pigs – and they cuffed them and put black hoods over their faces so they couldn't see anything for six or seven days. They were taken up in helicopters and pushed out backwards. They didn't know they were only a few feet off the ground; they thought they were going to die. And that continued. It happened to me – each occasion that I was arrested some of the methods were brutal. It's happening in Iraq. That's what armies do when they engage in pacification programs ...

"They took me back to another interrogation room and put me up against a wall, spread-eagled, and beat me soundly for hours around the kidneys and up between the legs. The beating was very systematic and quite clinical. There was no passion in it." (British doctors later confirmed that these practices were used in Northern Ireland.)

Did this leave you traumatised? Do you get flashbacks? "I know that there are some people who either succumbed to alcoholism, to drug dependency, and would then go to generally bad health. And there are others who arguably have never properly recovered." But suddenly he looks like he has revealed too much, and seems embarrassed. He sticks his chest out in an odd gesture of pride. "But me? I've been too busy. But no, I'm OK. I'm grand." And he laughs – a strange laugh I can't quite read – and smirks at his press officer, as if this emotional talk is a silly effete indulgence.

Adams was locked away in Cage 11 of the Maze Prison. It was made of corrugated sheets, and there were sometimes 30 to a cage. In the column he wrote anonymously at the time for a Republican newspaper, he said: "We read a wee bit, talk a great deal and engage in a little sedition." He also raged at "our impotent abnormality", but when I ask him what he meant, he changes the subject.

He tells me about Army officers who were involved in torture at that time in Northern Ireland – he gives their names, but I can't for legal reasons – and says they were retained by Tony Blair because he needed them in Iraq. "Here you have a Prime Minister who did a decent thing in Ireland, [and then] does an enormously wrong thing in Iraq. And the people who he had to take on [and challenge] in Ireland, he needs for the Iraq and Basra." He shakes his head. "You could just talk for hours on this. In Ireland, we don't have the old boys' network, the breeding grounds for the permanent government, the military establishment. We don't have that." He adds later: "Martin McGuinness and I begged Blair not to go into Iraq. We said – you're forgetting everything you learnt here."

He won't talk about what he did when he was released – through the period of the bombings of pubs in Birmingham and shops in London – except to deny any involvement in such events. "The IRA at different times failed, or, in fact, committed actions which were counterproductive, or which did not advance the struggle. So I'm not here as an IRA defender, or thinking that the IRA was doing everything right – not at all," he says.

Yet there is one incident in particular that seems to have troubled his conscience – and on which he made a revealing slip. In 1972, a 37-year-old Catholic widow called Jean McConville, with 10 children, was murdered by the IRA. She was living in a place called the Divis Flats, which was used as a base by the IRA at that time, and she agreed – in return for a small sum of money – to pass information about their movements to the British. When the IRA found out, she was shot, and her body dumped in a hidden grave. Her children were all dispersed to different foster homes. Ed Moloney, one of the most respected investigative journalists working in Northern Ireland, says: "It is inconceivable such an order would have been given without Adams' knowledge." When, a few years ago, Adams met two of her children, he told them: "Thank God I was in prison when she disappeared." But he wasn't. He was jailed more than six months later. Is she the body in his mental attic, the one he can't forget?

"Well, that shouldn't be taken out of context. I met the family and I got confused about the dates. And I quite quickly realised that I hadn't been imprisoned, and I told them that. So, we shouldn't ... " Yes, but it's an obvious confession that you were a senior figure in the IRA, isn't it? Otherwise, what difference would it make whether you were in prison or not?

His usually long sentences begin to fracture. "I meet victims of the IRA. On quite a regular basis. And I do think that I have a responsibility. And I try to the best of my ability to fulfil this. When people come to me, looking for the truth. For answers, looking for ... whatever they're looking for ... if I can do it, I feel that I have a responsibility. As part of closure. And giving them what they're entitled to. That's part of my job. Yes." And he looks like he has run out of words. There is a long silence.

"Those particular cases were particularly tragic, because she was a woman, because she had a large amount of children. I met many of her children as adults, and they ended up in foster homes, they ended up in just ... " He stops talking for a moment. "That's a particularly tragic case."

This thought hangs in the room. He looks down, then away. Then he continues, talking to the wall, faster and more fluently now.

"I think I have met all of the families who were victims. And I've met them collectively on a num

ber of occasions, and I've met them individually. And some of them are Republican families. Some of them are families which actually have strong Republicans in them. So, it obviously is, there's, it's hard to describe this." He looks perplexed. "It's you're dealing with neighbours. You're dealing with... people who might not necessarily forgive you, or forgive other Republicans, for what's happened. But you're not dealing with enemies."

III. "This is the only IRA campaign that has succeeded"

At some point in the 1980s – amidst the beating and the torture and the bombings – Adams made a dramatic decision. "I said: there are two choices here," he argues, pointing his finger. "There's the easy way. The easy way is that the war continues until it can continue no more. And then, we'll meet at commemorations, or we'll meet for a jar, and we'd discuss the good old days. Or we will take the high-risk route of actively trying to bring about a conflict resolution based upon politics," he says. He chose to drag Sinn Fein and the IRA – often against its will – towards the path of politics.

But the vision of failure he is presenting is his father's life, summarised in a few visual images. He fought; he went to prison; he nearly died; and for what? To meet for a jar and talk about the good old days in a Northern Ireland just as broken as ever. When I put this to Adams, he says without reflecting: "I think that's fair enough." But then he seems to physically shrug off this insight, adding quickly: "You have to live in your own time. What I suppose I'm influenced and shaped by is: it was always political. Always. Sometimes the politics were dormant, or subverted entirely. But when we had a chance to pursue politics, we did."

He chose not to be his father. He chose to get something for all his sweat and fear and beatings. "Whatever you think about the IRA, it is one of the few extra-parliamentary or guerrilla organisations which actually sued for peace," he says. "It could have fought on for another 20 years. Of course it could. But that's not what it was about. It was about trying to bring about a change in the lives of the people on this island."

He decided to shift his goal: to aim for full equality for Catholics within a partitioned Ireland, and argue for reunification solely at the ballot box. "This has been the only IRA campaign that has succeeded. Because every other one fought and then another generation had to pick up the fight, and continue fighting."

The gamble Adams was taking was drastic, in a way that still hasn't been widely understood. Ed Moloney's masterpiece, The Secret History of the IRA, is hardly soft on Adams – it accuses him of being complicit in murder – but it says that Adams played the main and essential role in leading the IRA rank and file, often against their will, to a peaceful compromise. "It was Gerry Adams who launched, shaped, nurtured, and eventually guided the peace process to an eventual conclusion," he writes. It could just as easily have ended with a bullet in his head: the ghost of the last Irish leader to sue for peace, Michael Collins, hung heavily over his story. He risked his life to make this change. At every stage, he had to drag a recalcitrant group of armed men who could have killed him for "betrayal".

Yet Moloney says this has left Adams in an ironic position. "While others have collected plaudits and the glittering prizes," he writes, "Adams has been forced to stay silent, biting his lip lest by accepting the praise of the establishment he undermine the peace process in the eyes of his supporters." If he admits what he did – skilfully manoeuvre the IRA into giving up its weapons and accepting peace, after so long fighting, with so little to show for it – he will lose his support.

Does he agree? "Well, I have learnt that the toughest negotiation is with your own side. It isn't with your opponents ... But the role that I had and continued to play in the peace process, is what falls upon me to play. I'm not interested awards, or any of the ... rest of it. I'm happy enough to be an outsider. I'm happy enough to be a subversive – in the most positive interpretation of that word." Then he adds, letting a little vanity slip through: "I still meet people who would complain to me – and that's gratifying for me – that I or Sinn Fein don't get the proper acknowledgement of the role that we played."

He even ended up sitting down with the man whose threats and rages made him join Sinn Fein as a teenager – Ian Paisley. "For all that he may have been involved in up until he became the First Minister, he was respectful, good-humoured, [and] I think, entirely genuine about the process. The only one who could have done it was Ian Paisley. He's the only one that could have brought in his ring of unionists. And he did it. I think he did a great service to everybody." Together, they steadily removed the barriers against equality for Catholics, after all this time. It seems surreally forgiving, on both sides.

Yet for a moment this year, it seemed as though the hardline Republican backlash Adams worked so hard to avoid had finally happened, in an unexpected burst of fire and blood. A group calling itself the Real IRA declared that Adams had "betrayed" everything he once fought for, and that the armed struggle was beginning once again. They shot two British soldiers, and they have started issuing death threats against Adams.

Does it feel strange to be getting death threats from your old comrades? "No," he says flatly. "The authorship of a death threat is totally academic to me."

The Real IRA is, he says, "very small. They have no popular base of support within Republicanism. You have a mixture of adventurers, old-style physical forcers, bar-stool revolutionaries, and – interestingly enough – some people who are definitely agents of the British crown." What does he mean? He proceeds to claim that several figures in the Real IRA – again, he names them, but for legal reasons I can't – are in the pay of the British. But why? What's in it for Britain? He says that in the British state machine – MI6, or the Army – there are people "who just have never bought into the fact that there's a new dispensation. In fairness to them, they fought in a war. And they lost. They lost. Who's the deputy first minister? [Martin McGuinness]. Who's in the executive? From their point of view, the people who they depicted as terrorists, the people who they tried to torture and gas, water cannon, shoot, all that, they won."

He is speaking more animatedly than at any other point in the interview. The intricacies of this conspiracy fire him up. Suddenly, I have the feel of being in a smoky bar in the paranoid world of 1970s paramilitarism, seeing connecting threads and secret agendas everywhere. "There are people in the intelligence services who would know that the sensible way forward is politically. But there's another tendency ... I remember one meeting we had during negotiations with the British Government – about policing, and Army bases – and what we were putting forward was a very, very simple and basic and common-sense proposition. But it was taking a dreadfully long time to get a positive answer to it. The senior British representative that we were dealing with kept going back into another room, so I – as if I'd made a mistake – walked into the other room. There was a sizeable group – five or six men – in plain clothes. I didn't know who they were. When I recounted that to a senior Irish Government official, he said, 'That's the nub of the problem, Gerry. Because they're the spooks, and they haven't given up.' They have been trying to defeat Republicanism for 30 or 40 years, and they have not been defeated."

Can this be true? Where's the evidence? Rather than answer, he returns to the Real IRA with disgust. "There was one IRA with the capacity and the popular support, the longevity of struggle and the courage to declare for peace. These [Real IRA] people are ... " he waves his hand through the air contemptuously. "No, there's no-one, really. We shouldn't elevate, no, we shouldn't elevate this so-called 'Real IRA' to something that it isn't ... It could continue – four or five people here could put together an ability to go and carry out some armed action. But you will never succeed, and you will never be able to perpetuate that, unless you have popular support. And you will not have popular support unless people agree with what you're doing. And they don't. That is over now."

IV. Falls Memories

Adams and McGuinness, 1987

With the interview over, Adams is returning to the Sinn Fein offices on the Falls Road. He agrees to give me a lift in his armoured car. "If we get into a fire fight, though, you're on your own," he says with a chuckle, as the door slams shut. We drive through the drab streets of Belfast. Where once there stood barricades on which Adams shouted, now there is a Gap, a KFC, a Starbucks.

What does Adams see when he looks out over this landscape? In his 1982 book Falls Memories he says this city is for him "a rubble-filled wasteland filled with ghosts". In that memoir, every corner of this cursed city makes him free associate. "Remember hearing about the girl volunteer, her face streaming with tears and her body racked with sobs as she tried to exact vengeance on a hovering helicopter with an aged .303 rifle which was too big for her to shoulder properly? I never found out who she was. Maybe she never existed. Just another story? You never know. I heard she stood there, on her own, firing away and all the time muttering 'You bastards, you bastards' to an implacable sky and a whitewashed wall, which had probably seen it all before."

Is this ghost still there in his mind? Can we trust him on this, or anything? How much of his account of his life should be subject to the clause he slips so ruefully into this tale: "Just another story? You never know."

He gets out and starts chatting to two old women who were wandering down the street. They tell him "how proud" they are of him, and he beams, and charms them. The mural of Bobby Sands stares out over them, and the street, and the drizzly Belfast sky. I watch him chatting and try to untangle all this moral ambiguity. Adams grew up in a Protestant supremacist state where there was discrimination against his people. When they tried to organise peacefully for equality, they were beaten and savaged. He almost certainly fought back with violence. Some of that violence was explicitly targeted against civilians who had nothing to do with the conflict.

Some of that violence was directed against other Catholics who disagreed with these tactics. And then – once he had fought back against real grievances with immoral tactics – he chose a path of peace and reconciliation. He risked his life. He is risking it still. And he got there – he got to peace. Should we remember the violence, or the reasons for it, and the risks he took to leave it behind?

While I am reeling with these thoughts, Gerry Adams shakes my hand briskly and disappears – into the Sinn Fein offices, into the history books, and into the moral mists where, I suspect, he will remain forever shrouded.

To read Johann Hari's latest article for slate, visit: www.slate.com/id/2225905
By Tom Brady Security Editor
Wednesday September 09 2009

Police on both sides of the border were on red alert last night after the biggest bomb planted by dissident terrorists for several years was defused.

Anti-terrorist officers believe the massive 600-pound bomb, which had been planted in concealed drums on the northern side of the Louth-Armagh border with the detonation unit hidden in the Republic, was intended to blow up a PSNI patrol.

Officers believe dissident republicans are behind the planned ambush and that it was most likely the Real IRA.

The homemade bomb, composed mainly of ammonium nitrate and sugar, was defused by British army ordnance officers at Carrive Road, outside the village of Forkhill, in south Armagh.

A bomb disposal team from the Defence Forces was involved here in examining the command wires, which stretched from the device along the roadside to the townland of Dungooley on the Dundalk to Armagh road.

The bomb had been planted in drums in a field close to the road and concealed behind briars and undergrowth. It was defused following a week-long security operation by the PSNI in south Armagh.

The alarm was raised after a telephone tip-off was made to a local newspaper. Police moved in slowly because of the danger that the device had been booby- trapped and gardai and Irish troops became involved at the weekend when it was realised that the command wires and timer unit were based on the southern side of the border.

A large portion of the bomb was taken from the scene yesterday afternoon for a detailed forensic examination by explosive experts. Officers pressed home the point that the huge device was 20pc bigger than the Real IRA bomb that killed 29 people in Omagh in August 1998.

Gardai evacuated one house on the southern side and set up traffic diversions from the scene over the past four days while troops remained mainly on stand-by. Residents in a further 20 homes were evacuated in south Armagh as the bomb disposal team moved in.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, who lives outside Dundalk, said last night: "We spent years negotiating with the British to demilitarise the border. That hard work led to the complete removal of oppressive watchtowers and massive cuts in troop numbers.

"Those involved in this action are trying to reverse that work -- stopping normalisation, remilitarising the border and cutting North from South once more," he added. "Their actions are anti-republican. In the vote on the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish people, in the first act of all Ireland determination since 1918, completely rejected violence. Those behind yesterday's bomb need to heed the will of the Irish people," he added.


Senior police officers on both sides warned that the planned attack represented a major escalation of the terrorist threat in the border region and it has sparked off a fresh assessment of the dangers posed by the dissidents in the area.

Last March the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA killed two British soldiers outside their barracks and shot dead a policeman during an ambush in the worst upsurge in dissident violence in more than a decade.

In August, republican terrorists, armed with rifles and a missile, set up a roadblock in the village of Meigh, about four miles from yesterday's bomb scene, and police were forced to retreat to avoid a battle.

The Newry and Mourne police commander, Chief Insp Sam Cordner, said the bomb was targeted against PSNI officers but had it been detonated, it would have demolished nearby houses, killing the occupants.

"The actions of terrorist criminals in planting this device put local people and police officers at significant risk," he added.

"They did not care who they killed or injured."
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Wednesday September 09 2009

The body of a girl who was found in the rubble of her destroyed house following an Israeli air strike on a house in Zeitoun [Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP]

ISRAELI'S official figures seriously underestimated the civilian Palestinian death toll exacted during its onslaught in Gaza early this year, according to new research to be published today.

The first detailed casualty figures from an Israeli human rights organisation since the war ended puts the number of children under 16 killed in the offensive at 252 as opposed to the 89 cited by the military.

>>B'Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), which carried out "months of meticulous investigation and cross-checks with numerous sources", gathered death certificates, photos and testimonies relating to all 252 of the children.

Unlike the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) B'Tselem also made public the names of all those it said were killed.

It said that since the IDF had refused to furnish the agency with its own detailed list, it was impossible to compare the names but that "the blatant discrepancy between the numbers is intolerable".

The IDF is currently investigating allegations that a soldier shot and killed two young Palestinian girls and wounded their sister as they walked from their house with their parents and grandmother, who was waving a white flag.

It is one of several investigations still under way into the conduct of Operation Cast Lead, which the IDF have repeatedly insisted was conducted according to international law.

B'Tselem's total Palestinian death toll exceeds by more than 200 the 1,166 cited by the IDF, which said that around 709 of the dead were "Hamas terror operatives" and that a total of 295 "not involved" Palestinians were killed.


By contrast, B'Tselem puts the total figure for those who "did not take part in the hostilities" at 773 and is calling for an "independent and credible" probe into the military's conduct of the war.

While acknowledging that the numbers did not themselves prove "that Israel violated the laws of war", they should be considered along with "numerous testimonies" by IDF soldiers and Palestinians during and after the operation, B'Tselem said. (© Independent News Services)

- Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
09/09/09 12:21 EST

SDLP leader Mark Durkan has accused Peter Robinson of trying to engineer a review of the Good Friday Agreement.

On Tuesday the First Minister delivered a speech in Belfast, in which he called for a change to the voting systems in both the Assembly and Executive.

Mr Durkan said the British or Irish governments should be aware the DUP would demand a high price for the devolution of policing and justice.

"I think what Peter Robinson was possibly trying to create a situation that was tantamount to a virtual review of the Good Friday Agreement as the context in which the DUP would consider the devolution of justice and policing," Mr Durkan said.

"That has happened in this process before", he added.

"They put all sorts of other issues on the table to be battered and bundled, and of course the two governments have made the mistake of always allowing that to happen."

Mr Durkan also accused Mr Robinson of 'double-standards' after blocking the SDLP from the new justice ministry while attempting to change voting systems at Stormont.

On Tuesday, Mr Robinson insisted the present system entrenched division and was undemocratic.

"As a moral and practical matter community designation (the present system) is fundamentally flawed," he said.

"It is deeply undemocratic; it entrenches community division and hinders the development of normal politics in Northern Ireland, and in practice means that the votes of all Assembly members are not equal."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness later accused him of playing fantasy politics, insisting the rights and safeguards secured under the Good Friday Agreement could not be changed.

Reacting to the political fallout following Peter Robinson's comments, the Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said it was time for the Executive to act in the interests of everyone.

"I think that we're out of touch with where the public are," Sir Reg said.

"At the present moment we have a disaster in our education system; we have the most difficult economic situation Northern Ireland has faced in many years. I do not think that the general public want to go down that road at this stage. I think they want to see their politicians working on their behalf and delivering on their behalf. That is clearly not happening", he added.
By Allison Morris
Irish News

A gay constituent of DUP MP Iris Robinson has told how she reported him to police after he challenged her views on homosexuality.

The 44-year-old said a detective questioned him after Mrs Robinson claimed he had called her a Nazi during a meeting at Stormont.

However, the Public Prosecution Service has decided he has no case to answer.

In March police said they would not pursue a prosecution against Mrs Robinson herself following complaints about comments she made publicly.

The Strangford MP, pictured, who was then chair of the assembly’s health committee, had said homosexuality was an “abomination” and claimed that gay people could be “turned around and become heterosexuals”.

Angered by her remarks, an op-enly gay professional man contact-ed Mrs Robinson’s office and arranged to meet her last November.

“I had never done anything like this before but I felt so strongly that I requested a meeting,” the man, who asked not to be named, said.

“From the outset I explained that my lifestyle posed no risk to her or anyone else.

“I also asked her as a politician did she not think there were more important social and economic issues she should be pursuing.

“She was polite and courteous throughout until I said that her politics seemed to have a lot in common with the fascist regimes at the beginning of World War Two, at which point she became very heated.”

The man claimed Mrs Robinson said there was a campaign against her involving prominent gay people in the media and other areas.

“I’m not one for confrontation and was quite taken aback. It was shortly after this the meeting ended,” he said.

The man said that a few weeks later he received a phone call from a senior police officer informing him that Mrs Robinson had made a complaint about him.

“I was interviewed by a detective inspector for 45 minutes and it was the first time in my life I have ever been in a situation such as that,” he said.

“I spent the next few months waiting with anticipation on the outcome. It was incredibly stressful.

“I’ve been open about my sexuality since I was 17 and it’s never hindered me privately or professionally in any way – but by challenging an elected representative about her views I’ve been made to feel like a criminal.”

A spokesman for the DUP said: “Mrs Robinson’s office deals with thousands of cases each year, offering a first-class constituency service to all who seek help.

“The overwhelming majority of cases and meetings are dealt with and resolved satisfactorily.

“It was unfortunate that in one case Mrs Robinson and her staff felt so threatened by a constituent during a meeting that they felt the police should be involved.

“It is hoped that no elected representative, whilst working on behalf of their constituents, is put in a similar position again.”
By Bimpe Archer and Valerie Robinson
Irish News

LOYALIST paramilitaries vowed to hunt down and “punish” a witness due to give evidence against a police officer charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the Robert Hamill murder case.

Further evidence was being heard yesterday at an inquiry into the death of the 25-year-old Catholic, who died in hospital of brain damage 12 days after being kicked unconscious by a loyalist mob in April 1997.

Witnesses have claimed police officers in a nearby Land Rover failed to prevent the killing.

One of the officers at the scene,

reserve constable Robert Atkinson, was also accused of calling a key suspect and warning him to dispose of the clothes he was allegedly wearing on the night.

Andrea McKee, who along with her husband provided an alibi for Mr Atkinson, later retracted it following the couple’s estrangement.

She moved to Wales with her young son and began training to be a nurse.

The inquiry heard that it was while in Wales in 2003 that she received a sinister threat purporting to come from the LVF.

At the time she was preparing to give evidence at a trial against Mr Atkinson.

The threat said it would be her “one and only warning”.

“If you do appear in court you will be punished for your actions,” it read.

“At a time convenient to us your property will be attacked and destroyed, burned out.

“You yourself will be located and beaten for your actions.”

It was signed “on behalf of the LVF, Protecting the Protestants of Portadown for God and Ulster. No surrender”.

The inquiry heard that Ms McKee still appeared determined to give evidence, although she was later rejected by prosecutors for not being a credible witness. The charge against Mr Atkinson was withdrawn in 2004.

Detective Chief Superintendent Maynard McBurney, head of CID for the region at the time of Mr Hamill’s murder, defended his handling of the case during taped interviews with lawyers for the inquiry in May 2006 – three years before his death.

“I can assure you that from my point of view, there was absolutely no bias,” he said.

“From the outset I did all in my power, strategically and physically, to bring these crimes to a logical conclusion.

“And I did it in a determined way, with a degree of patience. And I suppose from my point of view, there’s not a great deal more I can say.”

Meanwhile, the inquiry heard yesterday that a police officer involved in the case went on sick leave after being assaulted by the father of one of the witnesses, Bobby Jameson (father of Timothy), during an unconnected matter.

Mr Jameson, brother of murdered UVF leader Richard Jameson, did contract work for police and was described during Mr McBurney’s statements in an earlier hearing as a “top loyalist”.

Richard Jameson was killed by members of the LVF in January 2000.
By Suzanne McGonagle
Irish News

Semtex: the scene immediately after the Shankill bombing in 1993, in which 10 people, including one of the bombers, died. Two of the victims were children.(Photo: Pacemaker)

LIBYAN arms have been used in several devastating paramilitary attacks in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles.

Links between the IRA and Libya have been evident since 1972 with Colonel Gaddafi providing weaponry, particularly large quantities of explosives.

In 1973 a ship carrying five tonnes of weaponry supplied by the Libyan government was intercepted off the coast of Waterford.

Veteran IRA man Joe Cahill was arrested during the operation.

In 1987 another boat was stopped on its way to Northern Ireland carrying a massive haul of arms including 1,000 AK-47 machine guns.

A million rounds of ammunition, more than 50 ground-to-air missiles and two tonnes of Semtex were found.

Just a week later and the IRA’s links to Libya provided one of its most horrific attacks when 11 people were killed during a Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen.

The Libyan-supplied Semtex was also believed to have been used in the June 1988 bombing in Lisburn, which killed five soldiers taking part in a fun-run.

A month later and eight soldiers were killed in the Ballygawley bus bombing – another deadly attack using Libyan Semtex.

In 1993, an IRA bomb in Warrington, which caused the deaths of two children and injuries to 56 people, is also thought to have been made with Libyan Semtex.

The Shankill bombing in 1993 saw an IRA bomber, using Semtex believed to have been provided by Libya, kill nine protestant civilians and himself in a fish shop.

The provisional’s bombing of Canary Wharf in 1996 was also linked to its Libyan ties.

Two people were killed and hun- dreds injured after the bombers used Semtex as a booster charge to set off explosives.

Former RUC chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan is due to give evidence at the Robert Hamill inquiry on Thursday.

Mr Hamill died 11 days after he was kicked and beaten by a loyalist mob. The inquiry is investigating if there was police malpractice in the killing.

Flanagan is likely to be questioned about allegations against a former officer accused of advising a suspect in the murder to destroy his clothes.

He will also testify about the briefing he gave Secretary of state Mo Mowlam.

Flanagan, who now lives in the Middle East, was chief constable of the RUC and then the PSNI between 1996 and 2002.

Earlier this year, he testified at the inquiries into the murders of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson and Portadown loyalist Billy Wright.
Nres Letter
10 September 2009

DERRY'S republican mayor has defended his participation in a project commemorating the deaths of nine people murdered by IRA bombs.
Although the IRA has never admitted the atrocity in Claudy on July 31, 1972, it is widely believed that the Provos were responsible

The Police Ombudsman is currently finalising a report on the bombing which is expected to be published shortly.

Derry's Sinn Fein first citizen Paul Fleming issued a short statement after the son of a man killed in Claudy told of his anger at the mayor's attendance at the unveiling of a stained glass window created as a memorial to the victims.

David Miller, 60, was one of the nine killed in the atrocity, and his son Gordon said yesterday that he was still trying to come to terms with the presence of Mr Fleming - a former prisoner - at the ceremony in Claudy.

Similar windows have been unveiled in Omagh and Buncrana by families affected by the Claudy and Omagh bombs.

Although the Claudy memorial event happened 11 days ago, Mr Miller said he only discovered last week that the man he shook hands with - thinking he was the mayor of Buncrana - was actually a Sinn Fein politician.

Mr Miller said he was outraged at Mr Fleming's involvement, adding: "It's made me sick and every time I see that window now it will bring it all back. If my father knew, he would turn in his grave."

He added: "I was standing at the window when he came over and shook my hand. I didn't know who he was, I thought he was the mayor of Buncrana because I knew he would be there.

"It was only days later when I saw the picture in a paper and read who he was. I had to sit down and I'm not over it yet - I am sick thinking about it. He had no right to be there.

"This has destroyed the whole thing for me. It added insult to injury, and I can't express in words how it's made me feel."

Ulster Unionist councillor, Mary Hamilton, who was standing beside David Miller when the bombs exploded, said: "I was unable to be at the recent ceremony and I was sorry about that because I really wanted to go. But then I heard that the Sinn Fein mayor was there - this was far too sensitive an occasion for him to turn up. He should have stayed well away - he wasn't welcome and he must have known that."

A spokesperson for Derry City Council said the Window of Hope initiative was managed by the Shared City Project with funding from the Community Relations Council, to create and design four identical stained glass windows in memory of those killed in the Omagh and Claudy bombs.

She added: "The windows were created with the help of the victims' families and were launched at three ceremonies in Buncrana, Omagh and Claudy.

"Representatives from the relevant councils, churches, funding bodies, support groups and community organisations were invited to attend the launches. The mayor, as the council's civic leader, was representing Derry City Council at the event."

Mr Fleming said: "As part of the Windows of Hope project I attended recent events in Buncrana, Omagh and Claudy.

"These were family-centred occasions, which were carried out in a dignified and reflective manner, and I was grateful for the opportunity to represent the city and district in my capacity as mayor."

Residents on the Oldpark Road in north Belfast have said they are suffering from an orchestrated campaign of violence and intimidation.

Although there has been sporadic trouble on the road for many years, they say the attacks have become almost daily in the last few months.

One resident, who did not want to be identified, said they were being let down by the police.

He said he was in two minds about whether to stay in the area.

"On two occasions we called the police, the people in the other houses were getting attacked and they called the police.

"They never came out until the next day, they said they hadn't enough resources, but that's a joke especially up around a flashpoint area" he said

"Are they saying they've only two Land Rovers to cover the whole of north Belfast?"

The man said it felt like living in a prison as people did not leave their homes in the evening.

He called for CCTV cameras to be put up and more police patrols in the area.

Former Ulster Unionist councillor Fred Rodgers said he believed the attacks on the Protestant residents were sectarian.

"It's deplorable that people are living in fear down there," he said.
News Letter
10 September 2009

THE political fallout over the planting of a huge bomb by dissident republicans continues with questions still being raised about the PSNI's capability to deal with the security threat.

The bomb at Forkhill in south Armagh contained around 600 pounds of home-made explosives and was designed to kill police officers. A command wire led across the border.

The operation to defuse the device lasted days and caused families living nearby to be evacuated from their homes.

The PSNI said if the bomb had been detonated, it would have killed anyone nearby.

A dissident republican group known as Oglaigh na Eireann is being blamed for the attack.

Forensic experts are now examining the remains of the device for clues.

Unionists have said the latest act by the dissidents suggests that the military should be called back in to help, or that the PSNI should be given significantly greater resources to combat the threat.

The NIO has said explicitly that the Army will not be called back in.

DUP Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt says he believes that if the threat continues to escalate, the police are on "a collision course for the military to be brought back".

Mr Spratt said the Chief Constable had a duty to protect his personnel.

He said there was evidence given at the Policing Board that the police had been stretched to the limit on several occasions.

"There may be some point in time, if the situation continues to deteriorate, where the Chief Constable may be forced to go to the Government and ask for additional resources," said Mr Spratt.

"If we got to that point, then there is only one option and that is call the military back in, so I think it's very foolish of a security minister or Secretary of State to say that under no circumstances will the Army come back in."

The PSNI yesterday insisted it is capable of dealing with the danger posed by dissident republican splinter groups.

Local area commander Chief Inspector Sam Cordner said: "The PSNI have the resources at its disposal to police south Armagh on a continuing basis.

"We are committed to providing this community with the level of policing it deserves and requires."
News Letter
10 September 2009

THREE more police stations have been recommended for closure under new proposals by the PSNI.

Facilities at Hillsborough, Randalstown and Ballyclare have all been earmarked for closure following a meeting of the relevant District Policing Partnership.

The move, which follows the announcement of the closure of numerous PSNI stations across the Province during the summer, will need to be ratified by the Policing Board.

A PSNI statement said: "Hillsborough station has had very limited opening hours in the recent past while Randalstown has been closed to the public for quite some time.

"Ballyclare station has been attended by an average of fewer than six callers a day.

"As a publicly funded organisation, the PSNI has a responsibility to ensure that all of our resources - officers, staff, equipment and buildings - are used in the best and most effective way to support frontline policing."

Unionists have reacted with fury to the latest cutbacks.

South Antrim DUP MLA Trevor Clarke revealed the Randalstown station has recently undergone a major refurbishment.

"I am shocked and angry at the proposal to close the Police stations in both Randalstown and Ballyclare. Both these stations provide an important service for the community living in South Antrim," he said.

"This decision calls into question the whole management of the Policing budget by the District Commander.

"Questions have to be asked and heads have to roll. Are these decisions in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland? I do not think so and my constituents won't either."

Party colleague Jonathan Craig spoke out against the proposed closure of Hillsborough police station.

Calling for the decision to be reviewed, he said: "Local people will be shocked and angry to see this station close and do not see any good reason for it. The station has also provided a base for new recruits to receive operational training after being put out on duty. The station was refurbished not so long ago to accommodate this at a cost to the public purse."

By Barry McCaffrey
Irish News

MAJOR CHANGES: Lord Patten, who says the PSNI deserves credit for having implemented his recommendations to such an extent that Sinn Fein felt able to give the police service its backing two years ago

ON September 9 1999 the Patten Commission produced its report, A New Beginning: Policing in Northern Ireland.

It contained 175 symbolic and practical recommendations to change dramatically the way in which Northern lreland was policed.

Among the most controversial were the replacement of the RUC with the PSNI, the establishment of a Policing Board and district policing boards and the creation of a police ombudsman.

Other recommendations included a new badge and uniform, the abolition of the oath of allegiance to the queen and the introduction of a positive 50/50 recruitment policy to increase the number of Catholic officers.

One of the most controversial proposals was the incorporation of Special Branch into CID.

The report angered unionists but it did not go far enough to meet republicans’ calls for the formal disbandment of the RUC.

The then DUP leader, Ian Paisley, warned that the union was in “greater danger than it has ever been”.

“The RUC are about to be eclipsed by a new police service that will no longer be a scourge to criminals but will succour the terrorists,” he said at a public meeting of those opposed to the changes.

His Ulster Unionist counterpart, David Trimble, branded the report an attempt to undermine the “Britishness” of policing in Northern Ireland.

While the SDLP gave a guarded welcome to Patten, Sinn Fein would continue to withhold support for policing for a further eight years.

Lord Patten says reforming the face of policing in Northern Ireland was a “daunting” task.

“Before the implementation of our report the police ser-vice was right at the heart of the political argument in Northern Ireland,” he recalls.

“In many ways it was unfair to the police.

“The only issue which couldn’t be agreed at the Belfast Agreement talks was policing because the role of policing was such a toxic issue.”

As Patten was drawing up his report in 1999 Sir John Ste-vens had returned to Northern Ireland to carry out a third investigation into allegations of police involvement in collusion with paramilitaries.

Lord Stevens would later reveal security-force collusion in the murders of Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane and Protestant teenager Adam Lambert.

The police ombudsman subsequently revealed that RUC Special Branch had allowed a UVF gang from north Belfast’s Mount Vernon estate to carry out more than a dozen murders.

Lord Patten acknowledges that the reputation of the RUC had been severely tarnished by the time his report was published.

“It’s a simple fact that the force was the subject of much controversy in the past, not necessarily by their own doing but by the perception of what they were alleged to have done,” he says.

However, he insists that, a decade on, such criticisms no longer exist.

“I think the police themselves and the local community need to be congratulated that there has been no single major incident where anyone can call into question their credibility during the last decade,” he says.

Lord Patten rejects the suggestion that hundreds of veteran RUC officers opted to retire rather than serve under his new vision of policing.

“All my contacts within the police suggested to me that most serving police officers understood the need for change, however sensitive they were – understandably – to the criticism levelled against them,” he says.

Lord Patten says Sinn Fein’s decision in January 2007 to support the PSNI has dramatically changed the face of policing.

“The police service deserves a great deal of credit that they have made it possible for Sinn Fein to endorse them,” he says.

“I am only sorry it took them so long but I’m pleased that republicans have joined the Policing Board and are supporting the police.”

The former Hong Kong governor says the PSNI is a role model for other police services around the world.

“It has made far more pro-gress than most police services in the rest of the United Kingdom in adapting to the needs of the community,” he says.

“Academics in other countries now look at the reform of policing in Northern Ire-land as the ideal model as to how best to police a divided community.”

THE inclusion of former Northern Ireland ombudsman Maurice Hayes on the Patten Commission was seen as key to ensuring nationalist support for the changes in policing.

He recalls the terms of reference under which the commission worked as having been “very clever”.

“The objective was to create an acceptable police force which could attract the support of the whole community but particularly young nationalists,” he says.

“I think history has shown that was achieved.”

However, Mr Hayes voices concern that some of Patten’s key recommendations have still not been implemented.

“An important part of Patten was accountability and to a great degree that has been achieved but there’s still the outstanding issue of the transfer of powers to the assembly,” he says.

“I think that it’s hugely important for local politicians to be seen to be in charge. The symbolism has changed, the number of women joining the police has increased – but Patten was also about community policing and I don’t think that has been achieved yet.

“Ten years after our recommendations, there is still no new police college.”

The former senior Catholic civil servant says not enough has been achieved in linking the PSNI with other statutory agencies and outside police forces.

“We are still in a sense very much tied to old-style policing,” he says.

“I feel there could be a stronger relationship with the gardai.

“Crime knows no boundaries. Drugs do not recognise borders.

“I’m not saying it’s the fault of the PSNI or gardai but I think there are people on both sides who seem content to keep things as they are and I don’t feel that’s progressive.”

Mr Hayes says dissident republican violence will not succeed in destabilising continued advances in policing.

“I don’t think the process will be derailed,” he says.

“People have faith in the police now. As long as the police are accountable it will work.

“That is the essence of what it was all about.”

As AN assistant chief constable, Peter Sheridan was the most senior Catholic officer in the PSNI during the past 10 years.

However, after 30 years as a police officer he retired from the PSNI in 2007, saying he would be “working for practically nothing” if he remained in the service under Patten.

Almost 2,000 officers were earmarked to retire with generous payouts under the Patten scheme offered to those with 30 years of service or more.

“I was left with no other alternative but to retire but that is something which I accepted and moved on from,” Mr Sheridan says.

He says Patten has dramatically changed how Northern Ireland is policed.

“There is no doubt that Patten represented a major strategic shift in policing in Northern Ireland,” he says.

“The introduction of 50/50 recruitment was important because it helped redress the imbalance in the force.

“The level of international scrutiny of the new PSNI meant that Patten’s recommendations had to become a reality because we were so closely monitored by outside agencies.”

Mr Sheridan says the PSNI’s level of accountability, particularly since the establishment of the Policing Board, was Patten’s greatest achievement.

“Having to address the Policing Board created many uncomfortable days for senior officers like myself but it was healthy for policing to have to account for our actions,” he says.

“Patten also allowed politicians to move on and to begin supporting the police.

“There was a long time when we didn’t have the support of the SDLP or republicans.

“Patten allowed all that to change.”

Mr Sheridan says it was necessary to do away with the mentality of a “force within a force” by amalgamating Special Branch and CID.

“I have always said that there is very little need for secrets within policing,” he says.

“There was a level of accountability required to build confidence across the whole of society and that was achieved.”

Mr Sheridan rejects the suggestion that the PSNI was critically flawed due to hundreds of senior officers retiring under Patten.

“Police officers are reflective of society,” he says.

“Why should people be surprised that some officers were enthusiastic about the chan-ges, others were circumspect while others were strongly opposed to change?

“It was indicative of the feelings of wider society.”

However, the 49-year-old says the PSNI still faces a major challenge to address community policing.

“The big issues of human rights, 50/50 and accountability have all been tackled but the next 10 years must deal with community policing,” he says.

“Hugh Orde and ourselves took policing to one level but the new generation of officers need to take policing to the next level and that is close-quarter policing with the community.

“That is the biggest task now facing the PSNI.”

Relatives For Justice director Clara Reilly has campaigned against police use of baton rounds for 30 years.

She feels that the Patten proposals have failed to produce an effective and accountable police service.

“We were promised a new beginning by Patten with the emphasis on respect for human rights and new policing methods,” she says.

“In 2007 Hugh Orde expressed regret for the 17 people killed by plastic bullets and said that he would no longer use them for public order, crowd control or in a riot situation.

“But on July 13 this year we watched in horror as the PSNI fired 17 plastic bullets in Ardoyne.

“My fear is that it is only a matter of time before someone, most probably a child, is killed by a plastic bullet.

“If that happens it will put policing back years.

“How do they expect nationalists to join the PSNI knowing that they could be forced to use this lethal weapon against their own community? Patten recommended the phasing out of plastic bullets but 10 years on they’re still in use.”

The victims campaigner says the PSNI remains alien to many nationalists.

“The old RUC mindset is still there within the PSNI,” she says.

“People within the nationalist community feel that the PSNI is not delivering on day-to-day issues like ordin-ary crime. There’s ample evidence against people involved in serious crime but no convictions.

“Some people feel that the PSNI is actually going backwards rather than forwards.”
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