Agence France Presse
January 22, 2004 Thursday 8:07 AM Eastern Time
International News

In some corner of a foreign field, Bobby Sands still hassles the Brits

"He was a terrorist. And if the Iranians want to appear serious about
fighting terrorism, one place to start is changing the name of that street."

The call comes from a member of Her Majesty's Foreign Office, and the
offending road is Bobby Sands Street, a classic example of the wit and
wisdom of revolutionary Iran, situated as it is next to the British embassy
in Tehran.

Bobby Sands led a dramatic and ultimately fatal hunger strike in 1981 aimed
at having him and his fellow Irish Republican Army prisoners jailed for
fighting British rule in Northern Ireland classed as political detainees
and not common criminals.

"Sixty-six days of no food, and he was dead," as one regular customer at
Tehran's Bobby Sands snack bar -- another odd Iranian tribute to the IRA
man -- faithfully recalled. "He was a martyr in the Jihad against the

In all, ten men died in one of the most turbulent episodes in the Irish
conflict, made all the more traumatic for Downing Street because Sands was
also elected to the British parliament before his death.

For Iran, then in the midst of exporting the revolution and celebrating the
battle against Western oppressors, Sands' death at the age of 27 struck
something of a chord.

Having overthrown the US-backed shah of Iran themselves, the country's
clerical leaders immediately felt an affinity with the IRA's armed struggle
against occupation and the then hardline British premier Margaret Thatcher.

Allegations that Iran, along with Libya, was arming the IRA then followed.

But some bright revolutionary spark here also thought what better place to
honour Sands than the road behind the British embassy, then called Winston
Churchill Street. The great imperialist, after all, was hardly suited for a
place on the Islamic republic's new roadmap.

Two decades on, British ties with Iran have improved markedly, while
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is pressing on with a peace process in
Northern Ireland that has seen IRA prisoners who once served alongside the
hunger strikers amnestied.

British diplomats, therefore, say they feel it's time for the street name
to be changed, especially in a period where a global war against all things
"terrorist" means that such honours no longer even amuse.

During the third of five trips to Iran by Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack
Straw over the course of the past two years, Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal
Kharazi was politely and discreetly nudged to do the necessary, according
to a British Foreign Office official accompanying Straw and Iranian foreign
ministry sources.

After all, as one British official once famously pointed out, how would
Iran like it if its London embassy address were "Shah Pahlavi Avenue"?

Britain may find the street name embarrassing, but its diplomats are
generally extremely cautious not to label Sands a terrorist, given the
contentious nature of Irish history.

"There are probably more important things to worry about, and it is not on
the top of our list of priorities," asserted Andrew Dunn, a British
diplomat and embassy spokesman in Tehran.

All he would acknowledge is that "if asked by the Iranians if we wanted it
changed, we would probably reply yes".

Irish republican historians are at pains to point out that Sands was never
even convicted of what could be classed as an act of terrorism, even though
he was a declared member of the IRA.

Back in 1977, Sands was arrested near the scene of a bombing. At his trial,
the judge acknowledged there was no evidence to pin the crime on him and
the other three men also arrested, so instead sentenced the group to 14
years' imprisonment each for the possession of just one revolver found in
their car.

And pushing the issue too much is also seen as futile, with Iran's Shiite
Muslim clerical regime generally not adept at making polite diplomatic
gestures to foreign powers.

There is now a precedent -- Tehran's municipal council agreed this month to
change the name of a street honouring the Islamist assassin of Egyptian
president Anwar Sadat, which is a hurdle to the restoration of ties between
Cairo and Tehran.

But there is no such pressure to do the same with Bobby Sands Street.

Many Iranians also have something of a soft spot for the hunger striker.
For example, Vice President Mohamed Ali Abtahi -- a jovial and prominent
reformist -- once told AFP he felt Sands was a "great man".

Sands, oddly enough, did have a fair bit in common with Shiite Muslims and
Persians -- a dislike of the English, an extraordinary willingness to
embrace "martyrdom" and a passion for poetry.

In light of that, he is one of just a few non-Muslims honoured with a
street name here.

Diplomats at the embassy of the Republic of Ireland in Tehran admit the
street is something of a tourist attraction for Irish nationals visiting
the 25-year-old Islamic republic, saying it drew large crowds during an
Ireland-Iran World Cup football qualifier in 2001.

In addition, Irish visitors are sometimes greeted at Tehran airport's
passport control with a smile from normally gloomy-faced staff, a raised
clenched fist and the statement: "Bobby Sands, no food. Welcome to Iran".

Britain's ongoing irritation over the matter -- while far from representing
anything close to a diplomatic spat -- must nevertheless be leaving Sands
grinning in his Belfast grave.

" Of course I can be murdered," the hunger striker scrawled in a toilet
paper diary smuggled out of prison before his death. "But I remain what I
am, a political POW, and no one, not even the British, can change that."

Two decades on, however, the fight continues.



Editorial 24.1.04

As the peace process hurtles towards its most dangerous crisis since the IRA destruction of Canary Wharf in February 1996, all eyes are on Bertie Ahern’s government and their forthcoming meeting with the DUP.

Nationalists, buoyed by the Irish Government’s pre-eminent position in the European Community, are hoping for an uncompromising message for the Paisleyite party from the Fianna Fáil Taoiseach and his no-nonsense Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen.

But be warned: this is a government which hasn’t broken any records in defence of Irish national interests. Not only has it opposed calls for a public enquiry into the MI5-sponsored loyalist bombings of Monaghan and Dublin but it also is the only sovereign government in Europe which has agreed NOT to categorise its first official language as an official working language of the European Union.

Add to that the unhelpful presence of Justice Minister Michael McDowell and there is in fact real reason for concern that the future of the peace process now lies in Dublin’s hands.

All is not lost, however, if Bertie Ahern decides to approach the upcoming review of the Good Friday Agreement with an unwavering determination to see the nationalist nightmare ended.

To do so, he must face down the British Prime Minister’s insatiable demands for more acrobatics from an IRA which jumped through one hoop too many in October last only to find itself with no return for its momentous act of decommissioning. But the Irish Government must also make it clear to the DUP that there’s no going back to 1969 or 1690 for Northern nationalists.

While Mr Ahern might like to think of the DUP as normal political rivals ready for the cut and thrust of negotiations, nationalists in the Six Counties realise that they are nothing less than wolves in wolves’ clothing.

For the Paisleyites, allocating housing and jobs on merit was a concession too far for those who worship in the Catholic Church.

And their every action since 1969, including whipping up support for the murderous campaigns of the loyalist paramilitaries, has been designed to drive nationalists back into the dole queues, the internment camps and the ghettos.

The DUP are the political dinosaurs of Europe. Outside of the fascist fringes of Serbia or Saudia Arabia their brand of fanatical fundamentalism, their politics are abhorred.

They want to make the North their very own Jurassic Park....complete with Bertie as live bait.


BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | UDA 'not on ceasefire'

**DUH! Come to the party, Jane ffs

UDA 'not on ceasefire'

The loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association cannot seriously be considered to be on ceasefire, Security Minister Jane Kennedy has said.
She blamed the organisation for recent hoax bombs across Belfast and attacks on prison officers' homes at a meeting with the Ulster Political Research Group, which speaks on behalf of the UDA.

"This morning's meeting was an important opportunity to remind those who have influence with paramilitary organisations of just how clearly and directly the activities of those groups are viewed by government and ministers," she said.

"We will work with those who want to engage in democratic politics, but there can be no place for paramilitary activities.

"The recent attacks on the homes of prison officers or the hoax bombs at schools and elsewhere in the city and criminal activity - none of that is acceptable."

They wanted to speak to me specifically about the situation at Maghaberry prison and we discussed that

Jane Kennedy

Mrs Kennedy said the UPRG accepted that such activity undermined it.

"They wanted to speak to me specifically about the situation at Maghaberry prison and we discussed that."

Police said the UDA was behind a series of security alerts which brought parts of Belfast to a standstill last week.

'Cards on table'

They said it was in response to the situation at Maghaberry prison in County Antrim where loyalist prisoners were behind serious disturbances.

Frank McCoubrey from the UPRG described the meeting with Mrs Kennedy as constructive.

"Obviously a lot of the time was taken up with what had happened in more recent times in relation to the prison.

"It was touched on about the attacks on people's homes. The UPRG and the prison spokespersons for our group have come out and clearly said that attacks on anyone are wrong.

"We put our cards on the table - it was an open and honest meeting and I'm looking forward to more of them."

Last August, the UDA called on the British Government to recognise its ceasefire.

The UPRG said members of the paramilitary organisation were disillusioned by the government's response to its six-month-old initiative aimed at reducing trouble in loyalist areas.

The UDA said it believed loyalists were being treated more unfavourably than republicans.

The ceasefires of the UDA/UFF and Loyalist Volunteer Force have not been recognised since October 2001 when the then secretary of state, John Reid, declared them over following a series of sectarian pipe bombings, murder and attacks on the police.


ic Derry - Detained Derry Men Could Be Held For A Year

Detained Derry Men Could Be Held For A Year Jan 20 2004

THREE DERRY men being held in the US awaiting deportation have been told that they could be held there for up to a year before being sent back to Ireland.

Don Brown, Damien McCafferty and David Curtis were arrested when they arrived at Boston Airport in November after irregularities on their immigration forms.

All three were accused of lying about previous convictions on their waiver forms and held in custody.

On November 26 the three pleaded guilty to the charge of 'fraudulent use of a visa' and were sentenced to time served and ordered deported to Ireland.

Each of the three was also placed on supervised release for three years.

Following the hearing the three were handed over to the immigration authorities to organise their deportation.

Since then the three have been held in custody in the US and have now been told officially that they will definitely not be deported until at least March 1.

Supporters in the US are hoping to mount a campaign to highlight the case of the three and demand their immediate deportation.

The three have started a letter writing campaign to appeal to politicians both here and in the US to try and have their deportation brought forward.

In the letter the three men appeal to the politician's 'sense of justice' and ask them to use their political power to 'help us leave this legal limbo and return home to our families and our businesses.'

The men point out that they have been held in custody for 70 days and still have no indication of when they will be returned to Ireland.

The letter points out that since the time they were ordered deported there have been seats available on every Aer Lingus flight going from Boston to Dublin.

The three point out that their detention entails being locked up 24 hours a day with no fresh air or any exercise at all.

They said: sIn fact, we have not even seen the light of day since then.

"There are no windows and we are under fluorescent lights night and day. Neither do we have access to reading materials whatsoever.

"We are locked up with immigrants who have committed primarily violent crimes and who number approximately 250 men in total."

One of the three, David Curtis, pointed out that he had made 22 previous trips to the US in the last 15 years.

The three added: "Many of the staff that work here at South Bay Correctional Institute are in shock. They say, in 30 years of employment, that we are the only tourists they have seen who are imprisoned like this.

"Our lawyer, Judge William Joyce, said that, in his career as a judge, he has never seen a case like this involving Irish citizens."

They added: "We have recently been told by James Morrison, the Irish Consular in Boston, that the INS informed him that we will not be released before the 1st of March and that they have the right to detain us for an entire year if they so desire.

"We are outraged at this treatment and blatant disregard for our human right to be free after we've served our sentence. We are not trying to stay in the US."

IOL: SF: 'Blair knows about extent of security force collusion'

SF: ‘Blair knows about extent of security force collusion’
20/01/2004 - 13:49:17

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has claimed that British Prime Minister Tony Blair knows that the RUC and British army colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in the North.

Mr McGuinness said it had become obvious at private meetings with Mr Blair that he realised the extent of the collusion between loyalists and his own security services.

"I believe that he believes in private that for several decades, Tory administrations and the NIO and elements of British military intelligence and the RUC were up to their necks in controlling the activities of unionist paramilitaries who were intent on murdering Catholics," he said.

Mr McGuinness was speaking as he announced details of planned pickets in London next month by families who claim their relatives were murdered as a result of British collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

The Sinn Féin MP said 100 victims of what he called "state-sponsored murder" would picket MI5 headquarters, Conservative Party headquarters and the British Ministry of Defence offices on February 4.

He said Sinn Féin supported and endorsed the planned protest, which was organised by Firinne, an organisation representing the victims of "state violence".

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein justice spokesman Gerry Kelly has welcomed the Belfast High Court's decision for the widow of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane to gain leave to seek a judicial review of the British government’s refusal to publish the Cory Report into his murder.

A lawyer for Geraldine Finucane told the High Court the failure to publish the report had undermined public confidence in the rule of law and had compounded the distress of the Finucane family.

He also said the delay in publishing the report could lead to vital evidence being lost.

Mr Kelly said it was a disgrace the family were being forced down the legal road by the British government.

The North Belfast Assembly member said Tony Blair had long ago committed himself both to publishing the Cory Report and to acting on its recommendations.

“The British Government have been in possession of the Cory Report since last October. They are hiding behind security and legal matters in yet another stalling exercise to prevent the truth about their involvement in a collusion policy from coming out,” he said.

The situation was not tenable and the Government needed to realise the families of those killed through collusion would not simply stop demanding answers and demanding the truth, said Mr Kelly.


Finucane family granted review

Pat Finucane was a high profile Belfast solicitor

The family of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane has been granted leave to apply for a judicial review of the decision not to publish a report into his killing.
In court on Tuesday, the government was accused of adding to the grief of the Finucane family by their delay in releasing Judge Peter Cory's report into the murder.

The judge granted an application by Mr Finucane's widow, Geraldine, for the holding of a judicial review into the failure of the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, to publish Judge Cory's reports, which he received last October.

Mr Finucane was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries, the UDA, in front of his family at his home in Belfast in 1989.

The retired Canadian judge examined allegations of collusion surrounding some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

These included the murder of Mr Finucane, the killing of Catholic man Robert Hamill in Portadown in 1997, the murder of Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright in the Maze Prison in 1997 and the murder of Rosemary Nelson in Lurgan in 1999.

A lawyer for Mrs Finucane said the delay in publishing the reports had undermined public confidence in the administation of justice.

Seamus Treacy QC said the government's decision was in stark contrast to the Irish Government's decision to publish the judge's reports and also the decision of Judge Cory himself who contacted the families of those affected by his report to inform them he had recommended public inquiries.

'Arguable case'

Mr Treacy said the judge had told the family he did not think it was fair to make them wait any longer.

A lawyer for the government said the issue was the time frame.

Declan Morgan QC said the Irish Government only had two murders to deal with while the British Government had four.

Mr Justice Weatherup said "an arguable case had been made" and the case has been adjourned until March.

Judge Cory was appointed by the British and Irish Governments in 2001 to examine allegations of collusion surrounding some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Last October, he delivered six reports to the London and Dublin administrations on eight killings.

The British Government says it is still considering the legal and security implications of publishing the judge's findings.

Belfast Telegraph

Christmas crash boy out of coma

By Jonathan McCambridge

20 January 2004

Darren Shaw with some of the gifts he received from Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson

A BELFAST father today recounted the emotional moment when his son, seriously injured in a horrific car crash before Christmas, awoke from a life-threatening coma.

Michael Shaw is now looking forward to bringing 13-year-old son Darren home in the coming weeks as the teenager continues to make a remarkable recovery from the head injuries he suffered after being struck by an out of control car on the Springfield Road on December 19.

His brother, 11-year-old Christopher Shaw and eight-year-old Emma Lynch both lost their lives in the tragedy.

Darren, an avid Manchester United fan, has been boosted in his recovery by a personal message of support from Sir Alex Ferguson and an invite to Old Trafford.

Darren had battled for his life over the Christmas and New Year holiday as his family maintained a bedside vigil in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

His father Michael said: "It was a terrible Christmas for us with Christopher's funeral and Darren so ill; the doctors said it was touch and go for a while.

"However, he finally woke up about a week and a half ago and it was a massive relief for us all. They have said he is now out of danger.

"We have been here at his bedside the whole time and now this has given us a tremendous boost. Darren is very excited by the news that he will be travelling to watch Manchester United play in March."

The trip for the Shaw family has been organised by the Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club who contacted manager Sir Alex Ferguson to tell them of Darren's plight.

Sir Alex sent Darren a letter which read: "I was sorry to hear that you are not feeling too well at the moment.

"I thought I would drop you a line to let you know that the players and myself are thinking about you and wishing you a quick recovery.

"I know that it might take some time and that you will have to be patient, so I do hope that you will listen to your doctors and hopefully it will not be too long before you are feeling better."


::: u.tv :::

MONDAY 19/01/2004 18:02:03
Loyalist inmates stage hunger strike

Two loyalists prisoners in Northern Ireland's troubled Maghaberry Prison have launched a hunger strike, it was claimed tonight.

By:Press Association

They are protesting about conditions in the jail and in support of their demands for total segregation from republicans, said Tommy Kirkham, a spokesman for the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) which gives political advice to the Ulster Defence Association.

A third inmate will join the hunger strike tomorrow and others on successive days, he said.

The Northern Ireland Prison Service said it was not yet regarded as a hunger strike.

``A couple of blokes have refused a couple of meals - we don`t count it as a hunger strike until they have refused for over 24 hours,`` he said.

The claimed action followed extensive trouble in the prison last week when loyalists went on the rampage causing hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage and cutting heating and electricity supplies.

Mr Kirkham complained on behalf of the prisoners: ``Since last week they have been given a mattress on the floor, they have no heat, no light, they have absolutely nothing``.

He claimed things came to a head today when food was thrown at inmates. ``They feel they are being treated like dogs kept in some sort of pound.``

He said he knew the men who had started the fast - one from north Belfast and the other from south east Antrim - and they were resolute in their determination to continue to refuse food.

He appealed for either someone from the UPRG or from the churches to be allowed in to talk directly to the prisoners.

The Prison Service is putting the finishing touches to a £7 million refurbishment scheme which will enable them next month to enact the recommendation of a report last year saying the 35 loyalist and 25 republican inmates should be held separately as a security measure.

The Government has insisted it will not mean a return to the segregation which used to operate in the Maze Prison where paramilitary inmates ran their own sections of the jail.

Meanwhile, as tensions remained high army bomb disposal experts defused a pipe bomb outside the Co Down home of a Maghaberry prison officer.

Several homes in the village of Killyleagh were evacuated while the bomb was made safe after being found by the warders` wife.

It was the latest in a series of attacks on prison officers` homes which is linked to the dispute in the jail.

Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, predicted the violence against his members by loyalist paramilitaries would escalate.

``These people want complete control in the prison and they will stop at nothing to get it.

``We are the only people who stand between them and that, and that is why the violence will continue,`` he said.

Irish author&writer from Belfast, Ireland Danny Morrison

Buried Secrets and Brutal Truths
--Danny Morrison

‘The Blade’ is a relatively small family newspaper in the Ohio city of Toledo with a reputation for investigative journalism. A few months ago it published a series of articles, ‘Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths’, after being tipped off about some classified documents. Two journalists spent eight months piecing together the story of Tiger Force, a platoon of the US military operating in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1967. (This is distinct from the My Lai massacre of 500 defenceless civilians in March 1968.)
This is what they unearthed through talking to Vietnamese survivors and former soldiers. That for seven months the platoon of 45 paratroops slaughtered unarmed farmers and their wives and children, and tortured and mutilated victims. One sergeant, William Doyle, who killed so many civilians he lost count, took the scalp off a young nurse to decorate his rifle. Private Sam Ybarra slit the throat of a prisoner with a hunting knife before scalping him. He later shot dead a 15-year-old boy because he wanted the teenager’s tennis shoes. When these didn’t fit he cut off the teenager’s ears and placed them in a ration bag. Other soldiers wore severed ears around their necks as souvenirs.
A baby was decapitated for the necklace he wore. A 13-year-old girl’s throat was slashed after she was sexually assaulted. Twenty-two paratroopers raped then executed a Vietnamese peasant. A medic pumped swamp water into the heart of a prisoner before he was fatally shot. When villagers fled from the approaching soldiers and hid in underground bunkers the paras dropped grenades down the shafts where they were hiding. Setting up camp nearby, the soldiers heard their dying cries coming from the underground shelters throughout the night.
One soldier, Gerald Bruner, turned on his own men and ordered them to stop shooting civilians or he would open fire. For this, he was berated by a commanding officer and told to see a psychiatrist.
‘ The Blade’ discovered that the Army secretly investigated Tiger Force for four-and-a-half years after a soldier, Sergeant Gary Coy, brought the massacres to its attention. Updates were sent to the White House and the Secretary of Defense. A decision was taken not to prosecute. Some of the soldiers involved in the killings were later promoted. The only soldier disciplined in the case was the one who complained, Gary Coy.
‘The Blade’ also discovered that archives on war crime cases between 1965 and 1971 were destroyed, that crucial records documenting some of the worst atrocities of Tiger Platoon are missing and that the Army will not release records of its investigations from 1972-74 that could explain why the case was dropped in 1975.
AFTER enquiring into the death of Sammy Devenney at the hands of the RUC in Derry in 1969 an English Chief Constable, Sir Arthur Young, regretted that he could not identify those responsible because of what he described as “a conspiracy of silence” among the police.
British soldiers lied about the events surrounding the civil rights march in Derry in January 1972 when they shot dead thirteen civilians and are still lying to the Saville Inquiry over thirty years later. Whilst the British government set up the new inquiry to establish ‘the truth’ the British Ministry of Defence, even after the inquiry was announced, destroyed vital evidence, such as weapons that were used by the Paras.
The Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, John Stalker, never got finishing his inquiries into the series of ‘Shoot-to-Kill’ incidents. RUC suspects lied to him, he was waylaid, conspired against, found himself the subject of trumped-up charges back in Manchester and was suspended and removed from his investigation. The report finished by his successor, Colin Samson, was never published.
Brian Nelson, the British agent within the UDA/UFF responsible for streamlining the state-sponsored assassination campaign against nationalists and republicans, was offered a generous plea-bargain negotiated by the British Attorney-General with the Lord Chief Justice in the North that effectively suppressed the truth about Britain’s ‘dirty war’.
Sir John Stevens, after carrying out numerous inquiries into state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries published only a fraction of his report.
The British authorities, whose agents are suspected of aiding the UVF in the Dublin and Monaghan car bombs of 1974, refused to fully cooperate with Judge Barron’s inquiry into those massacres.
The British government – to date – refuses to publish the Cory Report and its recommendations that public inquiries be carried out into four high-profile cases of suspect state collusion in killings.

IN a fortnight, over the ‘Bloody Sunday’ weekend, there is to be a panel discussion on the subject of Truth Commissions, organised by the Pat Finucane Centre. I have agreed to be one of the speakers. I imagine many nationalists when they hear the term Truth Commission probably think it an excellent proposal, on a par with the one held in South Africa, when former apartheid officials and ANC activists could speak in public about what they did and why they did it, so that ‘the truth’ of the conflict could at last be aired and the relatives of victims would have some closure with some understanding of why their loved ones died.
I am not convinced of the merits. Nor do I believe that there is equivalence between the actions of people fighting for their freedom (though some of their individual acts might be morally repugnant) and those fighting to suppress them and deny them their rights.
Were it not for dogged journalists on a small newspaper in Ohio the truth of what happened in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1967 would be buried forever. The issue isn’t whether some US soldiers are going to be held to account (because they’re not): the issue is that those who were ultimately responsible – those in government – will not allow an investigation that might pinpoint their moral culpability, if they have not already covered their tracks.
Even had we a Truth Commission here, I believe that once again the British government would evade the truth. We would never get passed the private or the sergeant, the colonel or the general to establish the fact of state terrorism, sanctioned from the top. The hearings would be dragged out for years upon years. Documents will have been shredded or gone missing, witnesses have died off, memories ‘faded’.
We should be wary of clamouring for a Truth Commission. In the end it might just suit the British government as a way of avoiding Public Inquiries that might, just might unearth some buried secrets and brutal truths.

BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | SDLP man defects to Sinn Fein

SDLP man defects to Sinn Fein

Saying that Sinn Fein matched his political ideals, a County Londonderry councillor has switched allegiance from the SDLP to Sinn Fein. Billy Leonard, who is a former member of the police reserve, informed party officials at the weekend that he was quitting.

A former Protestant lay preacher, Mr Leonard becomes the first Sinn Fein member of Coleraine Borough Council.

The married father-of-six, who is originally from Lurgan, said he was frustrated by the SDLP's general lack of direction.

He said he joined Sinn Fein because it had the vision, strategy and commitment which matched his political ideals.

"I put a lot of work into the SDLP but I feel that despite the efforts of some they have not positioned themselves for the challenges of this period."

"At the same time, I can still work as a local councillor dealing with the issues for all the people, for all the members of the community," he added.

He told the BBC there was "no conflict" in him having served in the part-time reserve of the RUC for about five years in the 1970s, saying that was a long time ago.

Mr Leonard said he had left the SDLP without acrimony.

"My reasons are entirely political. I put a lot of work into the SDLP but I feel that despite the efforts of some they have not positioned themselves for the challenges of this period.

"More and more people recognise this, therefore my move is a personal reflection of a larger trend. They clearly see the major role Sinn Fein is playing and will definitely continue to play."

When asked if he was a Protestant who believed in a united Ireland, he said he did not take any religious labels now because he was in politics.


But he said he believed in a united Ireland which he thought was a "valid objective".

Speaking on behalf of the SDLP East Derry constituency council, John McAuley, said he was "disappointed and puzzled" at Mr Leonard's decision.

"We share a deep disappointment with those who worked to elect him and those who voted for him," he said.

"The most honourable course of action for Councillor Leonard to take now would be to resign his council seat and allow for the co-option of an SDLP councillor.

"People in Portstewart and Portrush elected an SDLP councillor. That is what they should have."

Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said Mr Leonard's decision was taken after a long period of reflection and discussion with his family.

He added: "It is a courageous decision and I am sure was not taken lightly."

The SDLP has been recovering from the loss of six seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly election last November.

Sinn Fein overtook the SDLP by capturing 24 Stormont seats to the SDLP's 18.


Ciaran Ferry Legal Defense Fund

***It has been 353 days since Ciarán was illegally imprisoned by the U.S. Government.***


Sunday Business Post

One in six excluded from Assembly poll

18/01/04 00:00

By Paul T Colgan

New analysis of voter registration figures in the North reveals that almost one in six people lost their right to vote in last year's Assembly elections.

Warnings from many of the Northern parties apparently went unheeded, most strikingly in the case of younger voters.The Electoral Fraud Act of 2002 - ostensibly designed to eliminate voter impersonation - has had a major impact on voter registration among those eligible to vote for the first time.

The legislation requires annual registration by voters. Previously, registration was done only once, on a household-by-household basis.

If the missing voters had been included on the register, the results in a number of key constituencies could have been much different, with a radical impact on the political landscape in the North.

In addition to the 110,000 people who failed to re-register after being removed from the electoral list, almost 58,000 voters entitled to vote for the first time did not claim their vote.

Figures from the census, published in 2002 by the British government research and statistics agency NISRA, when compared with voter registrations recorded by the Electoral Office, show that the vast majority of first-time voters did not claim their vote. The final number of the disenfranchised is thought to be even larger, taking into account the many voters who did not receive proper photo-graphic ID in time for the Assembly poll.

Some observers estimate that tens of thousands of voters were turned away at the polling booths for failing to carry proper ID as specified under the new legislation. This is thought to have hit the elderly the hardest.

Registration among potential first-time voters last year in some areas slumped from 80 to 50 per

cent. The trend is borne out across the North's 18 constituencies.

In South Down, only 1,283 of a potential 3,582 new voters registered - a deficit of 64.2 per cent. A nationalist stronghold,the constituency returned two Sinn Féin and two SDLP Assembly members in November's election. In many wards, more than 80 per cent of potential new voters did not appear on the electoral register. Unionist wards were also heavily affected - for example, 75 per cent missed out on registration in Kilkeel.

The Electoral Office and Electoral Commission, whose responsibility it is to ensure maximum levels of voter registration, have both come in for criticism over their handling of the process.

Sinn Féin Assembly member for South Down, Caitriona Ruane, questioned the integrity of the registration process. "We have two publicly-funded bodies, NISRA and the Electoral Office, operating at the same time, with very similar work to do - going door to door and getting people on the register or census.One of them,the Electoral Office, failed to register at least 57,683 new voters," she said.

"The question needs to be asked: is this professional incompetence or is it something much worse? The Electoral Office constantly argue that there is rolling registration, but the process is a joke. It is obvious to everyone that they are putting block after block to stop people registering."

Ruane,who is Sinn Féin's human rights and equality spokeswoman, said that registration forms were returned to people for slight errors and electoral hearings were organised at inaccessible hours in inappropriate venues.

Sinn Féin plans to counter the disparity in registration with a campaign designed to raise awareness of the new voting regime.

"I am calling on political parties who supported the Electoral Fraud Act from its inception to review their position on it and demand

changes. In England, Scotland and Wales, there are voter awareness programmes and they search for ways to get more people voting. Here,inthe Northof Ireland, it would appear that there have been considerable steps to disenfranchise people," said Ruane.

Critics point out that the Electoral Commission's planned publicity campaig n started two months later than it should have, large numbers of young people and first-time voters did not receive forms and photographic ID was not issued in time for the election.

"There were definitely people who did not get their photographic ID, either because of postal problems or because they applied too late," said Queen's University politics lecturer Dr Sydney Elliot. "The figures about first-time registration would certainly cause concern. Either the process is not sufficient in getting people onto the register or it is because many young people are not at home during the year. The mechanics of getting Johnny or Sean, who are in university in Glasgow or Bristol, to fill in the forms might just be too much for many parents.

"The new system now requires that people fill out forms as individuals. It is up to them, not the head of the house, to ensure they are registered.The new form needs a signature, a date of birth and a national insurance number. If one digit is wrong, then the form is returned to you. Many people may not have bothered filling in the forms again. We haven't got to the stage where the sense of the system has got through to people."

Elliot said that the Act would need to be re-examined in the coming months. "If all these procedures were needed to cope with whatever level of fraud existed - and that has never been quantified - and they are actually making it difficult for people to register, then you've got to look at those procedures.

"If the Electoral Commission is saying the current register is only 86 per cent effective,whereas a couple of months ago they claimed it to be in the region of 93 per cent effective,then it's got a lot of work to do," he said.

A n U lster Unionist Party spokesman said that the stop-start nature of the Northern Assembly had put off young voters, but that many of the UUP's voters had also encountered problems with the registration process.

"It was tough for a lot of people - there were all sorts of problems before the election, with people ringing in saying they had filled in forms correctly and hadn't received a vote.

"While we think the legislation is a good thing in many respects, there is no doubt that people found it difficult to register," he said.

The North's chief electoral officer, Denis Stanley, dismissed the criticisms as "complete and absolute rubbish". He said the Electoral Office had done its utmost to register people, though he acknowledged that there were particular problems in getting young voters to register.

"It is difficult to see how people could say we didn't go out of our way to register people. The onus is on the individual to register - we will continue to do our best to facilitate people in doing that," he said.

The new requirements may also have disenfranchised a significant section of the border community. Many residents of the Republic who have married someone in the North and now live north of the border are no longer able to vote as they don't have a British national insurance number.

Someone from Dundalk who moves across the border, marries and continues to work in Dundalk would not be entitled to vote.

Sinn Féin has made a number of recommendations to improve the registration system, including a lengthier period for registration, such as the lifetime of the Belfast Assembly or the British parliament. The party also proposes a "focused canvas" by the Electoral Office between elections, targeting young people, people with learning disabilities and areas of deprivation, as well as the installation of photographic ID booths at council offices and the inclusion of district councils in the registration process.

The new legislation is at odds with the policy adopted by the British government in England, Scotland and Wales. Critics point out that Tony Blair's government has taken a proactive approach in encouraging people to use their vote, concentrating particularly on ethnic minorities and deprived communities.

The legislation was introduced after claims that republican supporters had engaged in widespread voter impersonation. At one point in the 1980s,the British government claimed that 20 per cent of Sinn Féin's vote was obtained illegally.

Republicans say that the allegation has now been proved bogus. Sinn Féin recorded its largest-ever vote in the North last November, taking 24 seats in the Assembly and reducing the SDLP's share to 18.

This result was despite the new legislation and the fact that many of the party's core voters, the young,were unable to vote.

The British Electoral Commission has questioned the existence of widespread voting fraud, which the act was designed to counter. A report into the act published last month noted that "there are no statistics to support these widely-held perceptions and there have been few, if any, successful prosecutions."

The report concluded that "individual registration tended to have an adverse impact on the disadvantaged, marginalised and hard-toreach groups. Young people and students, people with learning disabilities and other disabilities, and those living in areas of high social deprivation were less likely to be registered and encountered specific problems with the new registration process."

Sunday Life

Cops save jail boss from murder gang

By Alan Murray

18 January 2004
A PRISON governor was dramatically evacuated from his home, last week, amid fears that a UDA gang was on its way to kill him.

The governor was the man loyalist claim ordered the removal of a sentry from a tower overlooking the Maze prison courtyard, where LVF leader, Billy Wright, was shot dead.

The 45-year-old senior officer was hurriedly placed in a police car, outside his house, on the outskirts of south Belfast, 10 days ago, after information was received that loyalists planned to assassinate him.

It is believed the attack was intended to be the UDA's 'big hit' against the Prison Service, following a statement read by masked men before TV cameras days earlier.

"He literally didn't have time to pack a bag of clothes," a colleague said.

"It was virtually a case of, 'we're the police, you need to get into that car now, we've to get you out of here pronto'."

A spokesman for the Prison Service confirmed that a governor was moved from his home in recent days, because of a loyalist threat to kill him.

It is believed police had received vital intelligence information, that the UDA and the LVF had agreed to mount a joint operation to kill the governor that evening, at his home, where it's understood he lived alone.

"They were insistent that he left that night, not the next morning or in an hours time even, so they must have received a late tip-off that the gunmen were literally on their way to his house," a Prison Service source said.

Loyalists have previously claimed that the senior officer was the duty governor, in charge on the day Billy Wright was gunned down inside the Maze Prison by INLA inmates, in December, 1997.

Wright was shot dead in the exercise yard of H-Block 6 as he sat in a prison van, waiting to be driven to a rare Saturday morning visit.

No explanation was given, at the inquest into Wright's death, why the tower was left unmanned that particular morning.

H6 was the only H-Block shared by deadly enemies in the LVF and the INLA, and the tower was normally manned around the clock.

A governor who gave the order for the sentry to be stood down did not give evidence at Wright's inquest, and it is not known if he was made available to speak to retired Canadian Judge Peter Cory, who has recommended an inquiry into Wright's murder.

The name of a governor, who allegedly gave the order, has appeared on websites linked to the illegal LVF.

Sunday Life

UDA chief in slammer bets probe

By Stephen Breen

18 January 2004
A PROBE is under way at a crisis-hit Ulster jail, after a prison officer was accused of placing bets for caged loyalist, Andre Shoukri.

Sunday Life has learned an investigation was launched, at Maghaberry prison, after an employee was allegedly caught putting on a number of £600 telephone bets, for the UDA's north Belfast 'brigadier'.

It is believed the man may have been intimidated into placing bets for the feared UDA boss.

It is understood the officer has been accused of placing horse racing and football bets for Shoukri, 25.

The latest development comes after loyalist inmates went on a 10-hour wrecking spree at the jail, on Wednesday.

Shoukri - believed to be a heavy gambler - is due for release in March.

It is not clear when the alleged betting incidents occurred.

Said a jail source: "It is the talk of the jail. Nobody knows if the man was putting on these telephone bets for Shoukri, because of pressure from the paramilitaries or for cash.

"Everyone knows the matter is now being investigated, and it will be interesting to see what the authorities do about it."

A spokesman for the Prison Service told Sunday Life the allegations against the prison officer were being investigated.

He added: "The investigation includes the influence prisoners are trying to exert over staff."

Sunday Life

Mo blamed for wrecking clink

By Alan Murray

18 January 2004
A TOP UDA boss could be placed in solitary confinement in Maghaberry Prison, this week, because of last week's rioting and destruction.

West Belfast UDA leader, Mo Courtney has been identified by prison staff, as the leader of the inmates in Bann House, who caused an estimated £550,000 worth of damage to a dining area, landings and an office used by prison staff.

Heavy electrical wiring was destroyed by the intensity of the blaze, which gutted the office, even though it was protected inside heavy conduit trunking.

Prison staff suspect the UDA had planned to hold out in Bann House. in a siege-type situation, for up to seven days, while and conducting negotiations with jail bosses.

"After they were put back into their cells we found basic rations near a microwave oven, which we think they planned to use to provide basic food for a number of days," one source said.

"But, they were overrun by the specially trained TRG units and gave up," one source said.

The specially trained prison officers used welding torches to cut through metal barricades and walls in Bann House. Sources say thermos flask inserts, filled with lighter fuel and stuffed with rags, were recovered in Bann House, after the prisoners returned to their cells.

Said a prison officer: "We warned the management that permitting these flasks to be held by prisoners was a security risk, and we were right, they turned them into Molotov cocktails. Luckily nobody was burned with them this time".

The possibility of bringing criminal charges against the 36 prisoners, who barricaded themselves inside Bann House, has not been ruled out by the management of the jail, but there has been a reluctance to follow such a policy to date.

Whether Courtney will be subjected to a Rule 32 charge, and taken to the special segregation unit at Maghaberry, will be decided by the prison governor and the Prison Service Director General, this week.

Sunday Life

Sands running out on Tehran tribute

By Stephen Breen

18 January 2004
UK pressure is mounting on Iran, to rename a street in the nation's capital honouring IRA hunger striker, Bobby Sands.

For the street, in the heart of Tehran, is home to the British Embassy!

Sunday Life understands British officials have made fresh moves to persuade the Iranian government to change the name, in a bid to improve relations.

The avenue was named in honour of the IRA man, shortly after he starved himself to death, in May 1981.

There are several streets in Tehran named after notorious terrorists, from around the world.

It is believed the British moves were prompted as a result of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Egypt.

Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, insisted on the renaming of a Tehran Street honouring the man who assassinated his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, as a condition of restoring full ties.

Now the British are trying to get the authorities in Tehran to change the name of Bobby Sands Street.

A series of meetings, between British and Iranian officials, are due to be held next month, to discuss the matter.

The name has long been a thorn in the side of UK authorities.

In one well-reported incident, in 1981, the British ambassador tried to persuade the Iranians to change the name, by asking a Tehran official how he would like the street in which the Iranian mission was based, in London, to be renamed in honour of the deposed Shah.

The British are keen to improve relations with Iran, and other countries in the Middle East, following on from the major breakthrough, last year, when Libya's Colonel Gaddafi promised to destroy all the weapons of mass destruction he possesses.

A Foreign Office source agreed that renaming the street would help improve relations.

Said the source: "The street's name is not a major issue for the British officials in Iran, but clearly it is something they are not happy about.

"They obviously can't tell the Iranians who they should name their streets after, but the British nationals employed at the embassy don't want to be located in a street named after a man whose organisation brought terror to the UK."

An official Foreign Office spokesman confirmed the Government was continuing to "build on" relations with Iran.

Added the spokesman: "Britain now has good diplomatic relations with Iran, and will continue to work on these relationships.

"It is ultimately up to the Iranian authorities who they name their streets after. Nothing has been decided yet, on the possibility of Bobby Sands Street being renamed."

sbreen@belfast telegraph.co.uk

Sunday Life

UDA truce 'teetering on brink'

By Alan Murray

18 January 2004
FIVE of the UDA's six 'brigadiers' are in favour of ending the terror group's 11-month ceasefire.

Only south Belfast leader, Jackie McDonald, supports a policy of maintaining the ceasefire, which was declared last February.

The UDA has not denied it was behind two days of bomb hoax disruption around Belfast, on Thursday and Friday.

And sources in the group predict more "activity" can be expected, over the coming weeks.

McDonald said he was "fighting a losing battle" to maintain the ceasefire, which was declared after politicians persuaded UDA chiefs to call a halt to internal feuding and sectarian attacks.

Said McDonald: "I don't want to see the ceasefire ended, but there are men in the organisation who are extremely angry about what has happened to our members in prison, and there is also the feeling that the NIO won't recognise what we have achieved, over the last 12 months."

A member of the Ulster Political Research Group, which was instrumental in persuading the UDA to declare its ceasefire, echoed the frustration over the NIO's attitude.

Tommy Kirkham said: "Had it been the IRA, we wouldn't have been out of Stormont or Hillsborough Castle, seeing the Secretary of State.

"In the 11 months since the ceasefire, we haven't even met Paul Murphy.

"We have made numerous requests to meet him, but haven't secured a meeting, so people are drawing their own conclusions."

A spokesman for the NIO confirmed Mr Murphy had not facilitated a meeting, but added there had been regular contact with the UPRG, including meetings with ministers.

"A meeting with the Secretary of State has not been ruled out," the spokesman added.

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