An Phoblacht

Frank Stagg dies on hunger strike - Remembering the Past


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Frank Stagg (click for larger view)

On 12 February 1976, 29 years ago, Frank Stagg died on hunger strike in Wakefield jail in England.

Frank Stagg, of Hollymount, County Mayo, came from a long line of Irish republicans. His father had fought in both the Tan War and the Civil War on the republican side. By the 1970s, Frank, who like so many from the West of Ireland had emigrated to England, worked as a bus conductor in North London. He joined Sinn Féin in Luton in 1972 and shortly afterwards joined the IRA.

In April 1973, he was arrested in Coventry and charged under the 19th Century Conspiracy Laws, which were used to convict all members of an IRA unit of the same crime, regardless of degree of involvement — so that a driver could be charged with a shooting or an unarmed man with possession of a gun carried by another man.

Frank Stagg and six others were convicted of conspiracy to commit arson. He was given a ten-year sentence.

Frank was taken first to Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight, where, demanding that he was a political prisoner, he refused prison work and was frequently punished with solitary confinement. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan joined a hunger strike begun by the Price sisters in Brixton and their comrades Hugh Feeney and Gerry Kelly, demanding repatriation to Ireland.

All were force fed by the authorities, despite the fact that such inhumane methods were being condemned by Amnesty International and the Court of Human Rights. The Price sisters, Kelly, and Feeney succeeded in achieving repatriation to the Six Counties but Stagg and Gaughan were refused.

Frank suffered force feeding for 70 days, a barbarous procedure that took the life of Michael Gaughan. Following Michael Gaughan's death, negotiations were begun and the hunger strike was called off. But the talks were a trick to halt the strike and prevent further highly publicised deaths.

Instead of meeting the demands, the authorities moved Frank to a solitary confinement punishment cell, where he remained under 23-hour lockdown. He was allowed no furniture, radio, newspapers or cigarettes, and prevented from sleeping by a bright light burning in his cell day and night.

In Wakefield Prison, on 14 December 1975, Frank Stagg began his fourth and final hunger strike, with the demand again for repatriation. Frank battled against starvation for 62 days before he died on 12 February 1976. He last request was "to be buried next to my republican colleagues and my comrade, Michael Gaughan".

Michael Gaughan had been buried in Ballina, County Mayo, with republican honours, which had embarrassed the then Fine Gael/Labour Government under Liam Cosgrave. Now they faced the prospect of another high-profile funeral of another Irishman who had died in an English prison while they had sat back and done nothing.

The plane carrying the coffin was diverted from Dublin, where Stagg's widow and friends were waiting, to Shannon, and the body was hijacked by 26-County security forces. It was taken by helicopter to the cemetery at Ballina and buried in a hastily arranged plot and covered over in concrete. A 24-hour guard was place to prevent the family and from exhuming the coffin. A Requiem Mass was allowed to the family, but they boycotted it in protest at not being allowed to have the funeral that Frank wanted.

The following Sunday, the Republican Movement held its own ceremony at the Republican Plot, despite a massive police presence. A volley was fired and following an oration by Joe Cahill, a solemn pledge was made that Frank's body would be moved to lie beside his comrades in accordance with his wishes.

Some six months later, when the guard had been removed, since the expense could not have been justified indefinitely, a party of IRA Volunteers tunnelled into the concrete under cover of darkness and buried him as he wished, next to Michael Gaughan.

The practice of hunger striking has deep roots in Irish culture. The ancient Irish under the Brehon Laws would use self-inflicted starvation as a means of discrediting someone who had done them wrong, as would unpaid poets or trades people, who would camp outside the home of an unjust patron and begin a hunger striking ritual until their wrongs were righted or their debts paid.

To fast on or against a person was called 'Troscad'; and to fast to achieve justice was called 'Senchus Mór'. If the striker died, the accused would suffer societal ostracism and would have to pay compensation to the dead person's family.

Since 1917, 22 republicans have been let die on hunger strike by British and Free State forces.

Belfast Telegraph

For survivors, Dresden is still an 'open wound' 60 years on

By Tony Paterson
12 February 2005

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Rudolf Eichner produces a blackened chess piece from the pocket of a tattered shoulder-bag. His attempt to give an "objective" account of what happened to him in Dresden on the night of 13 February 1945 fails before it has even started. Big shiny tears well up in his pale blue eyes.

Years after that terrible night, which he spent huddling for shelter from the savage air raid and the firestorm that razed 75 per cent of Dresden and killed 35,000 people, Mr Eichner, now 80, found the chess piece - a knight. It was on the small patch of ground where he had endured the onslaught.

"It is the only thing I managed to salvage from the bombing and every time I look at it I am overcome by emotions I can't control," he confessed this week.

In February 1945, Mr Eichner had recently returned from the Russian front. The 20-year-old machine gunner was billeted at a military hospital in a converted school in Dippoldiswalde Street, about a mile from the city centre, and was recovering from his wounds. "My father and I were chess players," he recalled. "My father brought his chess set to the hospital to help me while away the time. When the bombing started, I just thought I must hang on to the chess set."

In the end, only the board was any use - for beating out the flames on his and his companions' heads and, when all their hair had burned, to put out the flames on their clothes and skin.

By Dresden standards, Mr Eichner was better equipped than most to cope with the raid. His hospital had a team of trained fire fighters and he and his wounded comrades survived the first wave of bombing almost unscathed.

Together, they extinguished scores of RAF incendiary bombs that had burned their way through the roof of the building. "We were ready to go on fighting the fires until it was all over," Mr Eichner recalled. But then, at around 1am on the morning of 14 February, came the second RAF raid.

"There were no warning sirens," he said. "We were completely surprised and rushed back down into the cellars of the hospital. But these quickly became hopelessly overcrowded with people who could no longer find shelter in their own burning buildings. The crush was unbearable, we were so tight you couldn't even fall over."

The hospital received several direct hits. The lights went out and bricks from the safety wall over the windows were blown into the basement. "The air was thick with dust and smoke that was choking us. I remember seeing one woman throw herself across her baby's cot in an attempt to protect her child," Mr Eichner recalled.

Then someone shouted that the ground floor of the hospital was on fire. "We had to get out but we had no idea where to go," Mr Eichner said. "Apart from the fire risk, it was becoming impossible to breathe in the cellar because the air was being pulled out by the increasing strength of the blaze."

He and five other soldiers emerged from the hospital basement into the growing firestorm that was sucking air at hurricane force towards what by now was the inferno of the old town. "We could not stand up, we were on all fours, crawling," Mr Eichner said. "The wind was full of sparks and carrying bits of blazing furniture, debris and burning bits of bodies."

The six men found a spot in a front garden behind a pile of rubble and made a circle. "Our faces were covered in wet rags and we spent the next six hours beating out the fires that kept flaring up in our hair and on our clothes that were tinder dry. We just kept praying," he recalled.

By now the asphalt surface on many of the streets had melted and was tearing the shoes off Dresdeners who were fleeing the cellars of their burning homes. Many of the victims who suffered badly burned feet could not go on. They slumped to the ground and choked to death on the fumes.

Hundreds of others sought safety in large concrete reservoirs that had been built in the town centre a year earlier to help fire-fighters. However, these proved a treacherous refuge because the smooth-sided tanks were more than 10 feet deep and had no ladders. By daylight, many inside had drowned.

But, as the light of dawn became dimly visible through the smoke, Mr Eichner and his five companions knew they had survived the worst. They could hardly see - their eyes were swollen red from the smoke, and their skins were like parchment but covered in weeping blisters. They had all lost their hair, eyelashes and eyebrows.

Mr Eichner made his way towards the main railway station which had been packed with refugees at the time of the raid. He saw terrible scenes. "There were charred bodies everywhere," he said. The corpses were blackened around the torsos but the legs were "pink like pork". There at the station, Mr Eichner found his father. He had collapsed with exhaustion after spending hours shifting corpses. The two fell into each other's arms and made their way across the devastated city. They narrowly missed being crushed by the falling façade of a burned-out building.

In the days that followed, Mr Eichner remembers crossing the Altmarkt, the old town square, when SS guards - sent from a Nazi death camp - were supervising the burning of 6,865 bodies piled in a heap. The operation took two weeks to complete. Today, Mr Eichner will unveil a plaque on the Altmarkt in memory of the dead.

"The experience of the bombing was far worse than being on the Russian front, where I was a front-line machine-gunner before I was wounded," Mr Eichner said. "At the front, you were scared most of the time, but at least you had some freedom of action. During the firestorm, the worst thing was that you felt completely powerless. You could do nothing but wait and pray."

Despite the horror of his experiences that night, he doesn't blame the British: "No, like me, they were just fighting a war and trying to end it as quickly as possible."

As we walked through Dresden this week, Mr Eichner pointed to the city's granite paving stones - among the only original features to survive the firestorm and subsequent reconstruction. Nearly every stone is deeply scored by shrapnel splinters from the raid.

In photographs he took of Dresden in the early 1950s, the city centre is like a great moonscape - just three buildings marginally intact in an ocean of rubble. "Around here the houses were built so closely together that you could shake hands across the street from your bedroom window," he recalled as we crossed an area that is now a soulless, concrete arcade.

Despite the rebuilt Frauen-kirche - the main structure was completed last June - and the painstakingly restored Baroque buildings of the old town, once immortalised by Canaletto, Dresden is still a city with too many green empty spaces to feel at ease.

"For me, most of Dresden is an open wound," Mr Eichner remarked. It was hard to disagree.

Belfast Telegraph

A few minutes of terror which struck fear into a community
'He never even had a chance to waken'.

By Ben Lowry
12 February 2005

It was shortly after 6am on a Sunday morning that the quiet of an affluent Belfast suburb was shattered by a rampage by two brothers who burst into three houses in search of car keys.

In the first of these properties, 56-year-old Maurice McCracken lay sleeping beside his wife, when Gerard Michael Donegan (then aged 21) and his brother Kevin Barry Moyna (then 18), both of the same Ross Road address, entered the bedroom of the Strangford Avenue home.

Mrs Maureen McCracken later gave evidence that immediately after coming into the room on that morning in March 2003, the elder Donegan brother called her husband a "bastard" and began hitting him about the head with a hammer.

"He never had a chance to waken," she said.

The jury saw photographs of Mr McCracken's blood-soaked pillow, but for evidential reasons the nine men and three women were prevented by the judge from seeing horrific photographs of the victim in the aftermath of his operation.

Surgeons operated on for more than 12 hours, during which damaged parts of his brain were removed.

Mrs McCracken testified during the trial that her husband was "just a memory of the person I knew" who had "no intellectual capacity".

Other neighbours were injured as the brothers moved on to other houses. Mr John Harris was left with a depressed skull fracture as he attempted to defend his 88-year-old father Maurice Harris. Margaret, the pensioner's wife, later suffered a heart attack.

The pair then moved on to a third house, where they escaped in a car.

The rampage, which lasted a few minutes, destroyed a life but Donegan, the principal attacker, could be free in his late 20s if he gets early remission for good behaviour.

Belfast Telegraph

Thousands take to streets in water charges protest

By David Gordon
12 February 2005

Thousands of people took to the streets of Northern Ireland today to demonstrate their anger at Government plans to introduce household water charges.

Protests were held in Belfast, Londonderry, Enniskillen and Cookstown in what a senior trade unionist called a "ratcheting up" of opposition to the looming "tap tax".

But the Department for Regional Development, which is introducing the charges, today challenged its critics over the massive funding injection needed to upgrade water and sewerage systems.

Today's rallies were organised by the Coalition Against Water Charges, which involves the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), community groups, political parties and campaign organisations.

The biggest turnout was in Belfast. Protesters assembled at the Art College to march to a rally at the City Hall.

Tom Gillen, ICTU deputy assistant general secretary, today said: "It's quite clear from our contacts with communities and politicians that there is serious concern about water charges.

A DRD spokesman today argued that the "tap tax" is needed to raise money for modernising water and sewerage services.

Belfast Telegraph

Party in support call for young Ukranian woman

12 February 2005

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Oksana Sukhanova

The SDLP is calling upon the government to allow the young Ukranian immigrant, who lost her legs when she became homeless, to rebuild her life in Northern Ireland.

And young party members will today circulate a petition on the matter among MPs, Assembly members, councillors, delegates and members of the public who attend the party's annual conference in Derry.

The petition expresses horror at the plight of Oksana Sukhanova, who had both legs amputated at Christmas time.

The young woman had developed frostbite when she became homeless and was forced to sleep on the streets of Ballymoney after being made homeless.

The petition goes on to call on the government to allow the woman to remain in Northern Ireland so that she can recover fully and rebuild her life.

SDLP's chief whip John Dallat, who is heading the campaign, said: "Oksana's plight has been raised with the direct rule ministers and as a first step the party's youth wing is asking for an assurance that she will not be deported but will be given every opportunity to complete her rehabilitation and find a job.

"She is a wonderful young person who has shown remarkable courage and she must not be forgotten and allowed to be sent back to her village where there are no opportunities for her."


SDLP stands for true republicanism, says Hume

12/02/2005 - 21:05:18

The nationalist SDLP stands for true republicanism, former party leader and Nobel prize winner John Hume insisted today.

In his last party conference speech as the MP for Foyle, Mr Hume expressed disappointment that the Good Friday Agreement’s implementation was being frustrated.

And he also predicted that his protégé, SDLP leader Mark Durkan, would defend the party’s seat successfully in Foyle at the next general election.

He told party colleagues: “ The new generation of SDLP activists must work for the better Ireland we believe in. We stand for true unity of catholic, protestant and dissenter.”

And in a swipe at Sinn Féin and the IRA, he added: “We stand for true republicanism because it is not true republicanism to try to unite catholic, protestant and dissenter with a gun.”

Mr Hume, who has been the MP for Foyle since 1983, said his time as a public representative was now drawing to an end.

He urged the party to stand firm for a new agreed Ireland and said he would support them fully.

“This is the final time I will address our party conference as the member for Foyle,” he said. “By the time we meet again next year Mark Durkan will be a member of parliament for this constituency.

“There is no better man for the job and I have full confidence that the people of Derry will stand shoulder to shoulder with Mark.

“We know we need an MP who is trusted by the people of Derry, who will work for all the people of Derry, someone who will secure investment and fight our corner for better public services and ensure our needs are reflected at all levels.”

Belfast Telegraph

Conlon thanks SDLP over release campaign support

By Chris Thornton
12 February 2005

Gerry Conlon showing his letter of apology from the British Prime Minister Tony Blair on his arrival at the SDLP's 34th annual conference in Derry today

The SDLP got an emotional endorsement today from Gerry Conlon, the Guildford Four man who received an apology from Prime Minister Tony Blair this week for being wrongly jailed as an IRA bomber.

Mr Conlon, who spent 14 years in jail, thanked the party "from the bottom of my heart" for helping him, his family members and others who were wrongly jailed secure the apology.

Three days after hearing Mr Blair say sorry for the miscarriage of justice that left his father, Guiseppe, dead in prison, Mr Conlon spoke to the SDLP annual conference in Derry.

Speaking without notes, Mr Conlon ? whose story was told in the film 'In the Name of the Father' - said his family only got the meeting with Mr Blair because SDLP leader Mark Durkan "pushed for it".

He described the SDLP as "good people who are all tirelessly working to improve people's lives".

"Anyone who's living in Northern Ireland today, if you really want a change in your life, you have to get up and support the people working for it," he said. "It's no good sitting in your kitchen."

Mr Conlon's speech was greeted with a standing ovation.

Earlier, former SDLP leader John Hume opened the conference by giving his last address to the party as an MP. He is due to step down from Westminster at the next general election.

He told the party to "stand strong". "My time as a public representative is almost at an end now, but my commitment to the ideals and vision of this party will never end," he said.


Two held after ammunition find in Derry
12/02/2005 - 15:12:59

Police in Northern Ireland are questioning two people after seizing ammunition in Co Derry during investigations into terrorist activities in the areas, it emerged today.

A 25-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman were arrested after a search of a house on Avish Road in Derry.

Officers found a fire arm and a quantity of ammunition during the raid last night.

The search was linked to ongoing police investigations into terrorist activities in the north west regions.


12/02/2005 - 16:10:09

The gloves came off today in the battle for nationalist votes in the next General Election in the North as SDLP leader Mark Durkan launched his bitterest attack on Sinn Féin.

As the SDLP prepared to defend three Westminster seats in the face of a confident Sinn Féin electoral machine, Mr Durkan accused his rivals of besmirching the reputation of the nationalist community following the £26.5m (€38m) Northern Bank raid.

But as he launched his attack, Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness accused Mr Durkan of trying to make his party relevant following a series of electoral setbacks since 2001.

In a no-holds-barred attack on Sinn Féin’s refusal to accept the IRA was responsible for the bank robbery, Mr Durkan told the SDLP conference in Derry: “The reason we are in this crisis is because the Provisional movement has let down everybody who made leaps of faith in this process.

“So don’t anyone think that the answer is now to ask us to make leaps of fiction. When their (Sinn Féin’s) doublespeak runs out and their lies aren’t just believed, what do they seek cover in? Their mandate.

“But no nationalist voted for bank robberies. No nationalist voted for abductions or families being threatened with death.”

With the Northern Bank heist shattering any hope that power sharing could be restored early this year, Mr Durkan ruled out proposals to have devolved government without Sinn Féin.

Exclusion of Sinn Féin would play into the hands of the party, he warned.

Downing Street distanced itself, however, from earlier claims by Mr Durkan that British Prime Minister Tony Blair lobbied him to freeze Sinn Féin out of government by signing up to a voluntary coalition at Stormont with unionists.

A spokesman said: “The (British) government’s position is that it has to explore all the options being put forward by the various parties. That does not mean it has decided on a particular one option.”

Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness dismissed Mr Durkan’s claim.

“The NIO script always favoured a UUP/SDLP partnership and Seamus Mallon and Eddie McGrady encouraged this approach,” the Mid Ulster MP said.

“In reality, Mark Durkan’s remarks today are an effort to make his party relevant going into elections. The electorate has already spoken on this matter. They have ruled out exclusion and the abandonment of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin is confident that they will do this again in the upcoming elections.”

In a measure of the deep rivalry between both parties ahead of the Westminster and local government elections, around 15 republicans picketed the hotel which hosted the SDLP conference in Derry.

Sinn Féin believes it can take all three SDLP seats at the next election.

However, while Sinn Féin outpolled the SDLP in Newry and Armagh in the Assembly election, SDLP strategists point out they remained 3,915 votes ahead in 2003 on a lower turnout in Eddie McGrady’s South Down constituency.

The SDLP was also 1,532 votes ahead in Foyle where Mr Durkan will defend his mentor John Hume’s seat against Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin.

Mr Durkan today lambasted his rivals’ handling of recent negotiations, accusing Sinn Féin of not negotiating in the interests of all the people of Ireland but for themselves.

“It was about protecting the self-interest and self-image of the Provisional movement, their ex-prisoners on district policing partnerships, an amnesty for their on-the-runs, a blind eye to their criminality and no sight of their guns,” he alleged.

“And what was their deal breaker? The release of their garda-killing bank robbers.

“There’s only one thing Sinn Féin are true to – their name. Sinn Féin means ourselves. That’s all they care about. That’s who and what they negotiate for - themselves. So much for their Ireland of equals.”

Mural of Pat Finucane

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CRAZYFENIAN (Click here for larger view, more photos and links)

An Phoblacht

Sinn Féin opposed to return to conflict BY MARTIN McGUINNESS (Sinn Féin Chief negotiator)

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Photo: Martin McGuinness

The Sinn Féin leadership is totally opposed to any return to conflict. It would have devastating consequences for all of us on this island. Our priority in the time ahead is to defend the Peace Process, to pursue the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and to uphold the integrity of Sinn Féin and the rights of our electorate, alongside the rights of all others. It is for the two governments to decide where their priorities lie.

This crisis began with the DUP's refusal to support last December's comprehensive agreement and to join in power-sharing government. No amount of mudslinging and false allegations can alter that fact. But for whatever reason the two governments chose to acquiesce in the DUP position and their confrontational approach to Irish republicans ever since is making a bad situation worse.

A charitable description of this approach by the British and Irish Governments‚ would be that they have misread the events of recent months, with the resulting damage to the Peace Process. But, unfortunately, I don't believe that to be the case. Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair are far too experienced politicians and negotiators for this to be a simple case of misreading a series of events that they didn't anticipate. I believe that both governments have acted very deliberately in the hope that they may inhibit or reverse the electoral growth of Sinn Féin. They saw the Northern Bank robbery as an opportunity to smear republicans, and deflect people's attention away from the mess they made of the negotiations pre-Christmas all in one fell swoop.

The simple explanation for Bertie Ahern's offensive and unfounded personal attacks on the collective leadership of Sinn Féin in recent weeks is that he knows that a strong Sinn Féin in the South will expose the real criminality in Irish politics. The criminality of political sleaze, the brown envelope culture, offshore accounts and tax evasion by the great and the good in Irish society that has cost the people of Ireland billions of euro in Tribunals and lost Revenue.

Bertie Ahern and the other political leaders in Dublin fear Sinn Féin's determination to give a voice to those who are disenchanted with the political system because of the corruption and 'cute hoorism' rife in the establishment parties. He also knows that a strong Sinn Féin will force him and the political establishment to once and for all address the core cause of political conflict in Ireland - Partition.

Tony Blair too fears the growth of Sinn Féin as a political power, not just in the North but as the only Irish national party on the island. He recognises that a growing Sinn Féin electoral mandate throughout the island signifies increased broad support for Irish reunification and a demand for British withdrawal from Ireland.

And make no mistake about it; Tony Blair is a unionist. Tony Blair's hope when he helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement was that it would arrest the Sinn Féin vote, that the SDLP and the UUP would coalesce in a partnership of the centre and Northern nationalists would conform as obedient British subjects, thereby containing the Sinn Féin threat.

That's not what happened; in fact, the opposite occurred and nationalists and republicans recognised the Agreement as an opportunity to promote the benefits of all-Irelandism. Seeing the all-Ireland Ministerial Council, the Implementation Bodies and the areas of co-operation working, more and more people recognised the folly and waste of resources of having two of everything. Two economic systems, two currencies, two agriculture, education, health, infrastructure systems, etc, on a small island of just over 5 million people just didn't make sense.

The electorates, North and South bought into this analysis promoted by Sinn Féin and endorsed it at the ballot box. Irish unity was now firmly on the agenda and a vehicle to achieve it peacefully was available in the Good Friday Agreement. Rather than the Agreement securing the Union, as Tony Blair and the unionists believed, it actually increased support for Irish Unity and independence.

Sinn Féin was seen as the only party capable of driving that agenda. That is why the British Government — as its Chief Spymaster Joe Pilling and the British Secretary of State said publicly in the United States — is intent on stopping Sinn Féin becoming the largest party in the North.

But I detect a realisation by the governments that the confrontational approach that they have adopted towards Sinn Féin since Ian Paisley scuppered the chances for agreement last December will not work and could even backfire. Mitchel McLaughlin and I met with the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, in Derry on Friday and I have to say that it was a very cordial but forthright meeting. I came away from that meeting with the clear impression that the governments wish to reflect on how their approach is digressing from their stated aim to see the full implementation of the Agreement. So I hope that cooler heads will prevail in the coming days and we can leave all the distractions aside and concentrate on getting the Process back on track.

I have no doubt that the truth about the bank robbery in Belfast in December will eventually emerge and I have made my position on this matter crystal clear. Sinn Féin has no intentions of allowing those who wish to use that event as an excuse to stall the process or use it as an attention-seeking device to succeed. Whether it is this side of the Westminster election or following it this Peace Process has got to be put back together again. A lot of damage has been done and it will take a collective effort to repair it but repair it we must. The assertion by the two governments that the IRA is the only obstacle will only succeed in delaying progress and is downright dishonest. I believe progress will not be made unless and until the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern accept that unionist opposition to sharing power with nationalists and republicans and their opposition to all-Ireland institutions lies at the heart of our difficulties at this time.


Govt denies Sinn Féin 'freeze-out' claim

12/02/2005 - 12:40:56

Downing Street today distanced itself from claims by SDLP leader Mark Durkan that it canvassed its party vigorously on forming a devolved executive in the North which would freeze out Sinn Féin.

As SDLP members attended their annual conference in Derry, Mark Durkan claimed British Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed him on the issue of entering a voluntary coalition with unionists during a meeting in January.

Mr Durkan said: “He pushed us very strongly in the direction of voluntary coalition or exclusion, call it what you will. He was quite prepared to accept those terms as being interchangeable.”

The idea of a voluntary coalition at Stormont has been promoted by the Rev Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists and the cross-community Alliance Party.

However, the SDLP has been loath to sign up to it.

A Downing Street spokesman said the British government did not have a fixed idea on the way forward for the North following the failure to revive power-sharing institutions and the political mess in the wake of December’s £26.5m (€38m) Northern Bank robbery in Belfast.

“The government’s position is that it has to explore all the options being put forward by the various parties,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

“That does not mean it has decided on a particular one option.”

Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said Mr Durkan’s comments were designed to make his party relevant ahead of forthcoming Westminster and local government elections.

“It has always been clear that it was the hope of the British government that the Good Friday Agreement would see the emergence of the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP as the dominant parties in any institution of arrangement,” the Mid Ulster MP said.

The NIO (Northern Ireland Office) script had always preferred to SDLP and the UUP and they have been encouraged in this by Seamus Mallon and Eddie McGrady.

“In reality, today’s remarks by Mark Durkan are an effort by him to make his party relevant going into the election.

“The Electorate has always spoken on this matter and Sinn Féin in confident they will do this again in the upcoming elections.”


PM 'wanted voluntary coalition'

SDLP leader Mark Durkan opposes sanctions against Sinn Fein.

Tony Blair tried to persuade the SDLP to enter a voluntary coalition without Sinn Fein, Mark Durkan has said.

Following the Independent Monitoring Commission report on the Northern Bank raid, unionists urged the government to move ahead without Sinn Fein.

However, the idea of a coalition without republicans, favoured by both unionists and the Alliance Party, has always been stymied by SDLP opposition.

A Downing Street spokesman said the government had to explore all options.

He added that did not mean the government had chosen one.

Mr Durkan, the party leader, has reiterated his opposition to sanctions against Sinn Fein.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics on Saturday, he said the prime minister tried to persuade him to enter a voluntary coalition in a meeting in Downing Street at the end of January.

"He pressed and pushed us very strongly in the direction of voluntary coalition, exclusion, call it what you will," said Mr Durkan.

"And he was quite prepared to accept those terms as being interchangeable as well."

The comments co-incide with the SDLP's annual conference which is being held in Londonderry on Saturday.

It is to discuss a motion rejecting voluntary coalition and an assembly with diminished powers.

Gerry Conlon will be guest speaker at a session devoted to justice and policing.

Mr Conlon's family secured an apology from the prime minister on Wednesday over their wrongful conviction for the Guildford and Woolwich bombings.


Never Going Away

by Danny Morrison

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Frank Stagg (click for larger view)

I love St Valentine’s Day. But with it comes sad memories, especially of the year 1976. In subsequent years there were other sad memories, such as hearing, just two days after the killing of Pat Finucane, about the assassination of Sinn Fein Councillor John Davey, with whom I had been interned.

I think it was in the early morning of 12 February 1976 that we heard about the death of Frank Stagg on hunger strike in an English jail. He and his comrade Michael Gaughan had been on hunger strike in 1974 demanding to be transferred to a prison in the North. Michael Gaughan died in June of that year and, unfortunately, the solidarity protest movement on the outside was nothing of the order of the protests that we witnessed in 1980 and 1981.

This had been Frank Stagg’s fourth hunger strike and he died in Wakefield Prison, blind, weighing four stones after sixty-two days, his wife and mother at his bedside. There were some protests on the streets, but not many, some rioting and some IRA operations. I was standing at the corner of Brighton Street that night with a friend, Seando Moore, when we heard a muffled explosion from the direction of Iveagh. About half an hour later we learnt that a small bomb had exploded in a house in Nansen Street and that our friend and comrade, Sean ‘Stu’ Bailey, was seriously injured, along with several young people.

I wrote ‘young people’ there and it has just occurred to me that Stu himself was just eighteen. He had been in the IRA for over a year and had been very close to Paul Fox who had been killed on active service two months earlier. Stu had been shot and wounded by the Sticks in that disastrous feud of October 1975 and was still recovering. Days after the feud ended Stu, with his leg still in plaster from the gunshot wound, had gone to his brother-in-law’s wedding where the majority of the guests were Sticks!

That night of the explosion I went around to tell his wife, Geraldine, that he had been seriously injured and taken to the Royal. On the mantelpiece was a Valentine’s card from Geraldine and their young daughter, Seaneen, which Stu was never to see. Geraldine and, I think, Stu’s mother, Mrs Bailey, rushed to the hospital where he died a few hours later. He was a very funny fellow with an infectious laugh and I can still see his spirit in his daughter. It is hard to believe that that was twenty-five years ago. But all of us, from whatever walk or persuasion, carry around inside us these evocative reminiscences, with the images and voices of our dead friends asserting themselves, and not just on anniversaries.

Frank Stagg had made a will requesting that he be buried in the republican plot in Leigue Cemetery, Ballina, beside his comrade, Michael Gaughan. Before his remains were released, several other people lost their lives, including 17-year-old IRA Volunteer James O’Neill in North Belfast and 15-year-old Anthony Doherty on the Falls Road.

As Frank Stagg’s body was being flown home, and as the aeroplane was approaching Dublin airport, the Fine Gael/Labour coalition government ordered Aer Lingus to fly on to Shannon were the special branch seized the coffin. To this day I can still see Frank Stagg’s mother standing at Dublin airport, completely bewildered, but absolutely dignified. The government had split the family, with one son, Emmet, who is now a Labour TD, sanctioning the hijacking.

And so the special branch buried IRA Volunteer Frank Stagg and poured six feet of concrete on top of his grave to prevent republicans from re-interring his body alongside Michael Gaughan’s. The following day, republicans gathered in Leigue Cemetery where they heard Joe Cahill make a promise to Frank Stagg. He said: "I pledge that we will assemble here again in the near future when we have taken your body from where it lies. Let there be no mistake about it, we will take it, Frank, and we will leave it resting side by side with your great comrade, Michael Gaughan."

For six months the gardai were stationed in the cemetery watching the grave but eventually they gave up and left. And when they did, the IRA disinterred Frank Stagg’s remains and reburied them with Michael Gaughan, thus carrying out his last request.

When you consider all the state and loyalist violence, all the laws, all the sermons, all the editorials, all the censorship, that were used to stop republicans from being republicans and practising republicanism, what is left is mountain after mountain after mountain of failure, and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of republicans who haven’t gone away and never will.

INA/Irish Hunger Strikes Chapter 12

Irish Hunger Strikes Chapter 12
The Road to the "First" Hunger Strike
The 1970s: Part II

In 1974 and 1976, two Irish Republicans died on hunger strike in British jails in unsuccessful bids for political status, Michael Gaughan in Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight and Frank Stagg in Wakefield prison. Both Gaughan and Stagg were natives of Mayo. Perhaps the success of the Price sisters, Kelly, and Feeney in achieving repatriation to Irish jails, although not immediately, gave them reason to hope.

Michael Gaughan

At the time of Gaughan’s hunger strike, Brit policy for dealing with such protests remained one of forced feedings, a brutal process whereby the jaws were painfully forced open with clamps and a pipe rammed down the throat into the stomach. Sometimes it went down the windpipe by mistake. It was to be the last time the Brits would use force feeding as a tactic.

As the protesting Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh Women’s prison contemplated putting their names forward for the imminent hunger strike, and the prison command staff began the process of deciding who would be the ones to go on it in grim, successive waves, the deaths of Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg were the last that they could reflect on. It wasn’t very pretty.

The Demands

The basic demands of Gaughan and Stagg were essentially the same demands that were being put foreword by the hunger strikers of 1980: political status, the right to wear their own clothes [which really meant the right not to wear criminalizing prison gear], and not to be forced to do prison work like ordinary prisoners.

Michael Gaughan began his strike on 31 March 1974 and was force-feed from 22 April until his death, officially of pneumonia, a condition brought about as a direct result of the abuse his body took from the forced feeding. He steadfastly refused all medical treatment.

Gaughan received but one visit throughout his ordeal, his Mother just three weeks before he died. They both cried. What make his death even more pitiful was that the Brits had only a week earlier given in to the demands of several Loyalists who were also on hunger strike at the time. But as Tim Pat Coogan was to write in The IRA: a History, "... there would be no capitulation to the demands of a lone IRA hunger striker in a British jail." And so he was let die.
The Aftermath: Controversy, Tears and Posthumous Triumph

Gaughan’s death was to set off a major debate among medical professionals and self-professed British moralists: does a patient have the right to end his own life for any reason, political or otherwise? The use of forced-feeding by prison authorities was clearly a form of assault, not a benign gesture on the government’s part to save hunger strikers lives. It was a political strategy just as much as was the hunger strike itself.

Later, in a similar display of cynical righteousness, a prominent bishop of the Catholic Church in England by the name of Hume was to make the astounding pontification in 1981 that dying on hunger strike for one’s beliefs was the moral equivalent of suicide.

In any case, nothing in particular came of the whole controversy, at least not enough to effect the death on hunger strike two years later of Frank Stagg.

The controversy and publicity disaster the Brits endured over Michael Gaughan’s funeral and burial in his hometown of Ballina, Co. Mayo, was another matter. The British government was in a quandary as to what to do when it discovered that Gaughan was to be very publicly buried with full IRA honors, but not before a tearful yet triumphant funeral procession across the breadth of Ireland, from Dublin airport through the center of the country to a Co. Mayo grave in the Republican plot. If the Brits used physical force or overt political pressure to prevent this from happening, they would have been hammered in the press and elsewhere. To allow it to happen was perhaps even worse. But the Dublin government was in no position nor inclined to stop the funeral and so the Republican movement was able to pull off an emotional and political demonstration of strength in the face of the Brits, who were hopping mad at being flaunted in such an arrogant manner.

Hundreds of thousands participated in one form or another. The press went wild on both sides of the Irish Sea and in America. The classically romantic and poignant song "Take Me Home To Mayo" is a tearful reminder of those times. Whenever the opening words "My name is Michael Gaughan..." are heard it’s impossible not to get caught up in the emotions of his death, his love of his country, and the meaning of his sacrifice. Even if you never heard the name of Michael Gaughan before in your life, you knew something was calling you from the grave.

But as we know, the Brits do get even, or at least try to, regardless of the cost to themselves or others.

Frank Stagg

On 12 February, 1976, Frank Stagg died after 62 days on hunger strike in Wakefield prison for political status. Because of the Gaughan publicity disaster, the Brits were resolved not to allow the Republican movement to so publicly canonize another martyr for the cause of Irish freedom. Stagg’s last request as he lie dying, blind and his body wasted to a fraction of himself, was to be given an IRA military funeral along the same route that Michael Gaughan’s body was taken, from Dublin to Ballina, in Mayo.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

The world media waited in ghoulish anticipation at Dublin airport for the expected showdown between the British government and IRA supporters over the Frank Stagg’s coffin. But the clash never materialized as the Brit aircraft with Stagg’s body overflew Dublin, landed stealthily at Shannon airport, and whisked the remains to Leigue Cemetery in Ballina, where the Gardai [Irish police] hastily dug a grave in his family’s plot and buried him under 18 inches of solid concrete to ensure against his removal. His grave was within sight of Michael Gaughan’s, but it was not in the Republican plot which was his dying wish.

The next day Joe Cahill, undoubtedly the most publicly prominent Republican of the time, gave a powerful oration over Frank Stagg’s grave, promising that one day he would lie with his comrades. Joe must have also been thinking of his best friend Tom Williams lying in an unmarked Crumlin Road jail grave 30 years after his execution. It would be 50 years before Williams would be buried with honor. Frank Stagg didn’t have to wait that long.

The Gardai put up a 24-hour watch. But on 6 November, 1976, after the guards had removed their constant vigil, at around midnight a group of IRA volunteers accompanied by a priest dug throughout the night, tunneled under the concrete to recover Frank Stagg’s coffin, blessed it, and reburied Frank in the Republican plot just a hundred yards away.

The Past and the Future

These events were well known by the men and women Republican prisoners in Long Kesh and Armagh as they prepared for the much anticipated hunger strike in 1980. If they hadn’t heard of the hunger strike martyrs of the past before being imprisoned, they certainly found out about them now.


**Today marks the 16th year since the murder of Belfast human rights solicitor Pat Finucane

Timeline of Finucane murder probe

Pat Finucane was shot dead in Belfast in 1989

Solicitor Pat Finucane's murder in 1989 was one of the most controversial killings in Northern Ireland's Troubles.

Loyalist terrorists shot Mr Finucane in front of his family in their north Belfast home.

The following are the key stages in the attempts to solve his murder over the past 15 years.

Early 1987 - The British Army's secret agent handling team, the Force Research Unit, identifies former paramilitary Brian Nelson as a potential recruit. It persuades him to return to Northern Ireland and rejoin the Ulster Defence Association. The FRU initially pays him £200 a week to supply it with information.

Autumn 1987 - Brian Nelson, now codenamed 6137, begins supplying army intelligence with the UDA's list of possible targets. Nelson rises to become the UDA's intelligence chief.

November 1988 - Criminal charges are dropped against Patrick McGeown, accused of helping to organise the March 1988 killing of two army corporals. Pat Fincuane was Mr McGeown's lawyer.

12 February 1989 - Pat Finucane is shot dead in front of his family at his Belfast home. His wife Geraldine is injured in the foot.

Judge Cory said a public inquiry was more important than a trial

September 1989 - John Stevens, then deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire Police, is appointed to carry out an investigation into breaches of security by the security forces.

January 1990 - The Stevens team has identified Brian Nelson as a key suspect and plans to arrest him and others in a dawn raid. Officers return to their secure investigation HQ hours before the planned arrests to find a fire raging in their offices. Fire alarms, telephones and heat-sensitive intruder alarms are not working at the headquarters. The fire destroys many of their files, though others had been copied and moved to England. Brian Nelson flees Northern Ireland. He is eventually apprehended after he decides to try and return to Belfast.

January 1992 - UDA intelligence officer and former soldier Brian Nelson is revealed as an Army agent who tipped off his handlers about a plan to kill Mr Finucane during his trial on five counts of conspiracy to murder. He is jailed for 10 years.

April 1993 - The Stevens Inquiry was followed by Stevens Two, when the Director of Public Prosecutions asked for further investigation of matters raised in his first inquiry.

April 1998 - The government rejects a call by the UN for an independent inquiry into the Finucane murder.

April 1999 - Stevens Three. John Stevens, then deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is appointed to carry out an investigation into the Finucane murder.

Panorama broadcasts an investigation into allegations of collusion

June 1999 - Former UDA quartermaster William Stobie is charged with the murder of Mr Finucane.

October 1999 - A journalist wins a High Court action against an order to hand over notes of an interview with Stobie carried out soon after the killing of Mr Finucane.

November 2001 - Stobie, who admitted supplying the guns used in the killing but denied murder, walks free from court after the case against him collapses as a key witness refuses to give evidence.

December 2001 - Two months later Stobie was shot dead by loyalist gunmen.

April 2002 - Retired Canadian judge Peter Cory is appointed by the government to carry out an inquiry into six murders - including Mr Finucane's - where there were allegations of security force collusion.

May 2002 - Hugh Orde, in day-to-day control of the Stevens Inquiry into the Finucane murder, is appointed as Northern Ireland's new chief constable.

June 2002 - The BBC's Panorama programme broadcasts a special two-part investigation, "Licence to Murder", into allegations of collusion. The investigation details for the first time the workings of the Force Research Unit and alleges that elements of Northern Ireland's police and military intelligence collaborated with loyalist paramilitaries in relation to the death of Pat Finucane. It alleges a special branch police officer, who is not named, was involved in the killing of Mr Finucane by persuading loyalist to carry out the shooting.

April 2003 - Six days before the Stevens Report is issued, British agent Brian Nelson dies of lung cancer in Wales.

April 2003 - The "Stevens Three" report is published. It states that rogue elements within the police and army in Northern Ireland helped loyalist paramilitaries to murder Catholics in the late 1980s. The Finucane family reiterates its call for a full, independent, public inquiry.

May 2003 - Loyalist Ken Barrett is arrested and charged with the murder of Mr Finucane.


April 2004 - Judge Cory concludes the military and police intelligence knew of the murder plot but failed to intervene. He recommends a public inquiry. The government refuses until the criminal proceedings against Barrett are completed.

September 2004 - Barrett, who confessed in court to murdering Pat Finucane, is sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment.

September 2004 - Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy announces an inquiry. He said it would be necessary to hold the inquiry on the basis of new legislation to be introduced.


Derry Journal

RIRA Expel Strabane Men

By Bernie Mullen

Friday 11th February 2005

The real IRA have ordered two Strabane men to leave Ireland - for good.

The dissident republican group claims to have expelled the men, both in their 20s, earlier this week for alleged "criminal activity."

In a statement telephoned to the 'Journal' using a recognised codeword, the Tyrone Brigade of Oglaigh na h-Eireann accused the men of bringing the organisation "into disrepute."

The statement followed the Real IRA's recent admission that it carried out an incendiary attack at a hardware and agricultural business in Strabane which caused in excess of £1 million damage.

The Linton and Robinson Ltd outlet at Dock Street was completely gutted in the huge blaze and will have to be rebuilt.

It emerged yesterday that 20 staff employed at the firebombed store have had their worst fears confirmed after being told their jobs have also gone.

The Real IRA claimed they targeted the familyrun business because it was allegedly supplying materials to the police.

The group claims to have exiled the two local men in the wake of a subsequent attempted firebombing attack at the Safeway supermarket in the town. The Real IRA was also suspected of having targeting Safeway but the organisation issued a public denial through this newspaper.

The group this week again sought to distance itself from the incident at the Branch Road supermarket which employs around 200 people.

The Real IRA also disassociated itself from a recent spate of arson attacks at Orange Halls in the Castlederg, Douglas Bridge and Strabane areas.

The caller said: "We will not tolerate people using our name for criminal activity and those who bring 'the army' into disrepute will be seriously dealt with."

RIRA's Tyrone Brigade claimed that on Monday two Strabane men "were arrested by members of Oglaigh na h-Eireann while under investigation and [they] confessed." It is believed the men who were threatened left immediately and that they were ordered not to return in the foreseeable future.

Off-Duty Police On Alert Over Dissident Threats

Friday 11th February 2005

Police officers living in the Derry area have been placed on high alert amid a growing threat from dissident republicans, the Journal has learned.

PSNI personnel in the Waterside and areas around Eglinton were warned this week to remain vigilant after a massive security operation aimed at thwarting attacks on offduty members.

The force yesterday officiallly refused to give more details on their reasons for an increase in security in Derry earlier this week with checkpoints at border crossings, on main roads within the city and on the Foyle Bridge.

A spokesman did say however that there was a serious dissident threat and the force was responding to the threat.

On Tuesday night motorists reported British Army checkpoints at the Culmore Road border crossing and at Coshquin.

On both occasions the British Army seemed to be acting in support of the PSNI who were actually stopping the cars.

Later the same evening there were reports of a major joint PSNI/British Army checkpoint on the Limavady Road.

On Wednesday morning many motorists noticed a British Army/PSNI checkpoint on the Foyle Bridge which led to some delays.

There were also reports of helicopter activity in the Waterside area, again on Tuesday night.

The Journal can reveal however that the main alert centred on the village of Eglinton where British Army helicopters hovered well into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Police personnel living in the area were also contacted and told to step up their personal security at home by reverting to Troubles-style checks on their property and family vehicles.

There is also a real fear that dissident republicans may also have plans for a bomb attack on the village's part-time police station and patrols were stepped up there during the week.

Yesterday the PSNI claimed the heightened security was not in response to a specific incident but was part of a strategy to disrupt dissident republican activity in the area.

A spokesman however confirmed: "The public will be aware that a serious terrorist threat from dissident republicans exists in the North and West of Northern Ireland.

"Vehicle checks using army support is part of the PSNI strategy to prevent these attacks, which have caused thousands of pounds worth of damage and cost people their jobs over the last few weeks."

The police also said that the increased security activity was not 'directly linked' to reports they received of two men acting suspiciously in the Eglinton area in the early hours of Wednesday morning

A police spokesman said yesterday they had received reports but that this was not the reason behind the heightened security measures which they claIimed were part of a wider strategy to thwart dissident republicans.

In recent weeks there has been an upsurge in dissident republican activity with firebomb attacks in Derry and Strabane as well as other parts of the North.

There is a fear now however that tactics could change to include bombings and/or gun attacks on security force personnel.

Daily Ireland

Repairing despair

North Belfast hit the headlines in February last year when it was revealed 13 young men had committed suicide in the area over a six-week period. Media reports at the time dubbed the district, which has long been subject of deprivation and division, the “suicide capital of the North”.
The statistics spoke for themselves, with 18-year-old Bernard Cairns taking his own life just hours after attending the funeral of another 18-year-old suicide victim, Anthony O’Neill.
The chilling chain of events that unfolded in north Belfast coincided with the news that suicides among males aged 25 to 34 had increased by 104 per cent in the North of Ireland and 30 per cent in the South between 1992 and 2002, giving Ireland one of the highest youth suicide rates in the European Union according to the Samaritans.
Twelve months later, north Belfast is still struggling to come to terms with last year’s tragedies.
“The suicides we saw last winter had a cumulative effect on the community,” says a spokesman for Survivors of Trauma, a Belfast-based organisation that deals with those affected by conflict and suicide.
“Since then, we have tried to meet the needs of local residents but the response from the relevant agencies has been poor. Suicide still comes under the banner of mental illness in the North, meaning that there is little or no money to sufficiently deal with the problem.”
There have been some positive steps, however, with a host of initiatives set up to lend support to anyone affected by suicide or those thinking about ending their lives.
One such organisation is Pips – Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-Harm. It was set up in April 2003 following the death of the local teenager Philip “Pip” McTaggart.
Jo Murphy, health and social wellbeing development officer with the North Belfast Partnership, says, “Pips was established in response to the number of suicides taking place at the time, particularly in north Belfast.
“We named ourselves after Philip McTaggart as a way of personalising suicide and to show that, behind every death, there is a victim.”
The group includes community workers, concerned families, and members of the North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust. It works closely with local residents to deliver information and guidance to those affected by suicide and depression.
Ms Murphy says, “Our aim is to encourage those in trouble to seek help, to act as a ‘listening ear’ and to signpost people towards the support they need.
“On a ground level, we carry out home visits, and some of our members are trained counsellors. We want to make our community more aware of suicidal behaviour by advising them of the warning signs to look out for in the people closest to them.”
North Belfast is battling to make sense of last year’s events but the reasons why so many of the district’s teenagers chose to end their lives are still unclear.
“There are lots of theories for why people commit suicide but no hard evidence to back them up,” says Paul Corcoran, deputy director of the Cork-based National Suicide Research Foundation.
“The move away from religion and the fact that suicide is no longer the taboo it once was could mean that it is now seen as an option for someone in distress.
“Alcohol and drug use have also increased but again there is no strong indication that this is directly linked to rising suicide levels.”
It has been suggested that, in the North of Ireland, the prospect of paramilitary violence has played a part in the recent spate of youth suicides.
A spokesman for Survivors of Trauma says, “We ourselves have negotiated with paramilitaries to see if there are alternative ways to solve issues without resorting to the punishment beating of youngsters.
“In some cases, it may be fair to say that the possibility of paramilitary attack has been the straw that broke the camel’s back but there are also other causes at work.”
North Belfast is not the only community striving to control levels of self-inflicted death among young men.
Provisional figures for 2003 released by the Central Statistics Office in the Republic suggest that suicide has now overtaken road traffic accidents as the leading cause of death among Irish males aged 15 to 34.
Overall suicide rates appear to have fallen, however, with 162 people taking their own lives in the North in 2002 and a further 444 in the South – slight decreases from previous years.
John Connolly, a consultant psychiatrist and honorary secretary of the Irish Association of Suicidology, says, “For many years, suicide rates in the South were low at around five deaths per 100,000 people.
“By the late 1960s and early 1970s, they began to steadily increase. The figures reached a peak in 1998 when we had 13 suicides per 100,000 people. They have since fallen back to around 11 deaths per 100,000 people.
“It is not yet clear whether this is a statistical dip or the beginning of a new trend but the rise in youth suicide continues to keep the issue in the forefront of peoples’ minds.”
The reasons why young men rather than young women are more likely to commit suicide has been the subject of much debate among experts. “In the South of Ireland, there are 4.7 male suicides for every one female death,” said Dr Connolly.
“This is due to a number of factors – for example, women talk about their feelings more, they drink less and take fewer drugs and they are more adaptable to the employment market.
“They are also more religious, they consult doctors regularly and they are less inclined to try# to take their own lives by violent means, giving them a higher chance of surviving suicide.”
The National Suicide Research Foundation’s Paul Corcoran, whose organisation researches the phenomena of suicide and self-harm (or parasuicide), says, “We have taken part in several studies with young men and, when asked what they do when they are stressed, most say they get angry or turn to drink and drugs rather than talk to friends or family.”
For those who are feeling depressed or suicidal or are worried about someone they know, there is help available from a range of specially trained organisations.
“If you are concerned about someone you know, approach them and ask them what’s going on,” said Barry McGale, a suicide-awareness co-ordinator with the Western Health and Social Services Board.
“Adopt a broken-record approach and keep on at that person until they tell you what’s happening.
“I would also encourage people to use the ‘three-step’ plan – show that you care, ask the person you are worried about what’s going on and encourage your loved one to seek help.”

For more information on suicide levels in Ireland, contact The National Suicide Research Foundation in Cork on (021) 427 7499 or online at www.nsrf.org.

Pips in Belfast can be found by calling (02890) 752 990 or www.pipsproject.com.

Anyone experiencing depression or worried about a loved one can contact the Samaritans in the North on 08457 90 90 90 and in the South on 1850 60 90 90.


**from 2002

`New Lodge Six' killings to get independent inquiry

Sunday, November 03, 2002
By Kieron Wood

February 1973 was one of the bloodiest months of the Troubles in the North. In the first four days of the month, 14 people died and many more were injured in shootings across Belfast.

On Saturday February 3, the UDA had paraded from many parts of the city to Laddas Drive RUC station to demand the release of two of its men. This was the first time loyalists had been threatened with internment, and the first time the UDA, the Orange Volunteers, Vanguard and the Red Hand group had presented a united front at a public protest.

Later that night, in an incident still shrouded in controversy, six Catholics were shot dead in the New Lodge area of the city. The shooting began around 11pm when gunmen opened fire on IRA members James McCann (19) and James Sloan (18) who were standing outside Lynch's bar at the junction of the New Lodge and Antrim Roads.

As local people gathered on the street, they came under a hail of gunfire from several positions.

British soldiers -- using their new nightsights -- were firing from Duncairn Gardens down Edlingham Street and from the top of the Templar and Alamein flats.

Within minutes, four more men were dead. Among the victims was IRA member Tony Campbell, who had been out celebrating his 19th birthday with friends.

Two of the dead -- John Loughran (35) and Brendan Maguire (32) -- were killed coming to the aid of Campbell. Ambrose Hardy (26), the last to be killed, was shot dead as he emerged from the doorway of the old Circle Club, waving a white cloth above his head.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, the British army issued a press statement claiming that the deaths were the result of a battle with the IRA, and six gunmen had been killed. Republicans acknowledged that three of those killed were IRA members, but insisted that they were unarmed at the time. In a statement, the IRA said: "We are adamant that none of those killed or wounded were in possession of firearms at any stage. The people of the New Lodge Road can bear witness to the veracity of our claim."

Irish Times reporter Hugh McKeown reported that on the day after the shooting, the army informed the press that tests had proved that the six were armed.

But six months later, the Daily Mirror newspaper published a correction of this claim. It said: "In our report published in early February on the deaths by shooting of six men in the New Lodge area of Belfast, we included a statement that tests had been carried out to determine if the dead men had been carrying guns, and that all had proved positive. This statement came from an army source, the reliability of which at the time we had no reason to doubt. We are now informed that no tests had in fact been carried out when our report was published."

McKeown reported that of the tests later carried out on the bodies five proved negative, while the sixth body had traces of lead particles which could have come from the bullet which killed him.

SDLP MP Gerry Fitt called for an inquiry at the time, as he said there were so many contradictions in the evidence. Now, almost 30 years after the shootings, an independent inquiry is to try and discover the truth behind the shooting of the so-called New Lodge Six.

The inquiry, which will sit in St Kevin's Hall on November 22 and 23, will be headed by Don Mullan, author of Bloody Sunday: An Eyewitness Account. Other panellists include Gareth Peirce, the English human rights solicitor, Professor Colin Harvey, head of the human rights centre at Leeds University law school, and American lawyer Ed Lynch.

A spokesman for solicitors Madden and Finucane, who are organising the inquiry, said: "Three of the men killed were volunteers (but that) is not relevant, as none of the men was on active service.

"If these men had been on active service, or there had been a question about their innocence, then that aspect would have been focused on in the forthcoming inquiry. In this case though, all six men were proved innocent in forensics and their families awarded compensation from the government."

The panellists will consider evidence presented by two counsel over the two days.

The evidence will consist of eyewitness testimony -- with jurists allowed to question the witnesses -- as well as available documentation about the incident. The jurists will express a preliminary view at the end of the inquiry and will issue a final report within a month.

Irish Democrat

**from 2003

Report damns response to New Lodge killings

It is 30 years since six unarmed men were shot dead by either loyalists or the British army during a 90 minute killing spree in the New Lodge district of Belfast. Since then, the case of the New Lodge Six has met with a wall of official silence. Moya St Leger reports on the outcome of a recent community inquiry into the killings

ON THE night of the 3-4 February 1973 a terrible event took place in the New Lodge district of Belfast. Six unarmed men were shot by the British army, possibly with the assistance of local loyalists.

Even more shocking is the fact that no proper inquiry into these killings took place until 30 years later, and even that had to be organised not by the responsible British authorities, but by the local community.

The New Lodge Six community inquiry into the killing of Jim McCann, Jim Sloane, Tony Campbell, Brendan Maguire, John Loughran and Ambrose Hardy was held on the 22 and 23 November 2002 in St. Kevin’s Hall, Belfast.

For two days an eminent panel of jurists chaired by Don Mullan heard moving testimonies from witnesses, many of whom were relatives of the dead.

The jurists, human-rights solicitor Gareth Peirce: professor Colin Harvey, head of the human rights centre at Leeds University law school: US civil litigator Ed Lynch: solicitor Kate Akester, chair of mental health tribunals, London, and Belfast solicitor Eamann McMenamin, have now published their final report. Their findings are devastating.

In his introduction to the report, Don Mullan comments: “The fact that almost thirty years later the community of the New Lodge found it necessary to establish a community inquiry into the shooting dead by British security forces (with possible loyalist paramilitary collusion) is a shameful indictment of he democratic state -- a state that has demanded, and demands, high standards from its citizens, but which has failed to uphold and protect basic civil and human rights of some of those citizens”.

After thirty years the families of the six men killed are still waiting for justice. During the inquiry, jurists remarked on having heard nothing about these deaths at the time. In 1973 the New Lodge community had encountered so much contempt by the state and its allies in the British press that for thirty years no one there believed that they would ever see justice done.

Directly after the November hearings the panel issued an interim statement admitting its deep shock at “the state’s total failure to investigate the killings”. The panel also noted that there was “no evidence to indicate that any of the deceased and wounded were armed at the time of their shooting or acting in a manner which might have been interpreted as a potential threat to the security forces”.

The final report recommends further action to be taken by the British government to provide an effective investigation into the killings in compliance with its obligations under Article Two of the European Convention of Human Rights.

“We confirm that the official response to the killings including the investigation by the British Forces, the RUC and the inquests amounted to a breach by the British state of the Article Two rights of all deceased, ”the report concludes.

It goes on: “We further find the British state continues to breach the Article 2 rights of the deceased. Despite the passage of almost thirty years since the fatal killings in this case, we hold that it is neither impossible nor impracticable to hold such an investigation and accordingly the breach continues.”

Such an investigation should be carried out by “an outside police agency, totally independent of the RUC, PSNI and the Ministry of Defence, in a manner similar to the Stalker/Sampson inquiry”, it recommends.

The coroner’s inquest system in Northern Ireland is also severely criticised. However, the report concedes that the need for a “radical overhaul” of the system is now accepted by the British authorities.

The panel’s wide-ranging criticisms are all are aimed at creating complete transparency in cases of such breathtaking injustice as the case of the New Lodge Six. Among the panel’s suggestions is the creation of the post of army ombudsman in view of the failings of the internal investigations by the British army.

Regarding the need for changes to civil litigation, the panel recommends that “the British government take steps to legislatively introduce exemplary and/or punitive damages in cases where the deceased was the victim of arbitrary and unconstitutional actions by the state or its agencies.”

Legislation which would allow the next of kin of a deceased to “bring libel actions for damages against the media for deliberately of recklessly maligning a deceased person particularly when same is for the purpose of sensationalism and/or profit,” is also recommended.

It is to the great credit of the nationalist community in the north of Ireland that they learnt to organise themselves in their quest for justice. The New Lodge inquiry has been a prime example of this.

In summing up the aim of the inquiry, Paul O’Neill, chair of the New Lodge committee stated: “it our hope that ultimately the New Lodge Six community inquiry and report will play its part in moving us closer to the day when the British state will acknowledge its pivotal role in the conflict that destroyed the lives, the hopes and the dreams of so many”.


End of an era for Antrim Road vet
Mother and daughter call it a day after 50 years of looking after pets

A mother and daughter team that have looked after the health of pets in Belfast for over 50 years from their surgery on the Antrim Road have finally called it a day.
It’s the end of an era for Muriel McClay (88) who started up the practice in 1953 and her daughter Gillian Alcroft after she decided to spend more time with her family.
Gillian, a mother-of-two also provides respite care for the families of special needs children as well as looking after the family’s tiny herd of Chihuahuas.
From their house across the Antrim Road famous for its palm tree, the two women recall their time in North Belfast and a lifetime healing pet mammals, rodents, reptiles, exotic birds and even lion cubs.
“We’ve always been known as the corner house with the palm tree,” said Gillian Alcroft who took over her mother’s reins at the surgery when she retired in 1981.
“My mother was born in Birkenhead in England but she was brought up in Bangor after her parents returned to Ireland,” she recalled.
“She got interested in being a vet because she loved horses and cats.
“She qualified in Dublin at a time when becoming a vet wasn’t considered a woman’s job, but she never saw it as a man’s job and neither did her parents.
“However, her headmistress in school did. Even when I went to veterinary school there were nine out of 50 that were women and that was considered a huge number in 1973. When my mother went that figure was three out of 60.”
One of the family’s favourite pets was a lioness’s cub that they reared after its mother in Bellevue Zoo rejected it. But the home of the two vets has seen its fair share of other well-loved pets.
“From my mother being a vet we would have had a lot of animals dumped at the clinic and it’s our responsibility to try and rehouse them.
“I remember a wee dog being dumped the day before Christmas Eve and my mum calling the USPCA to come and get the dog.
“The following day was Christmas Eve and my mother went to get the dog out because she couldn’t bear that she had given away a dog at Christmas. Her name was Hanna, she was a mongrel and we had her for 14 years.”
But it was the family’s adoption of a lion that got people talking and saw local journalists flocking to the McClay’s door way back in 1966.
“Yes my mother’s lion cub was delivered by caesarean in the zoo.
“The city vet at the time didn’t have a lot of surgical experience so he asked my mother to carry out the procedure and we looked after one of the three cubs.
“We had Lisa for seven months before she went back to the zoo.
“The other two cubs that were left in the zoo sadly died, but Lisa did very well. She had a great sense of humour and when a group of journalists came to the house she growled at them and played to the gallery, but she was harmless.
“We’ve had loads of wildlife to look after such as hedgehogs, foxes and badgers, but when I came to the surgery in the 1980s we started to see more exotic animals such as lizards and snakes and I went to get training for that.”
But being a vet has its serious side and it’s a profession where cruelty can reveal a lot about the possible abuse and trauma of children, says Gillian.
“You see more cruelty to animals through ignorance rather than active cruelty. But if you see cruelty it shows what’s happening in people’s lives.
“I remember seeing a cat that was very badly injured and I was concerned. I contacted the NSPCC because if animals are being treated cruelly that can be part of a bigger picture of cruelty where children are involved.
“The NSPCC phoned back and told me that house was already under observation. There is certainly a responsibility on vets to look out for cruelty, certainly to animals, but that can be linked to children being injured or mistreated.
“But most of the time with bad conditions of animals it’s people not asking the right questions at the right time.”
Now that McClays is shutting up, the vet is keen to stress that she will still be working part time out of the surgery on the Ormeau Road, and it’s expected that an animal charity will be taking over the Antrim Road building later this year.
“It’s a very good charity and I’m very flattered with the responses of the people I have told.
“Letters will be going out to all the people on our database, which is about 13,000, to tell them the new arrangements.
“I still get stories of me in the pram outside the clinic and we have a lot of adults who say they first came to the clinic as children with their pets.
“I have two children who are now in secondary school and I think they need me more and I can’t give them the time I think they need.
“I didn’t have them not to look after them so I’m looking forward to spending more time with the family and of course the children I give respite care to.
“It’ll be an emotional farewell, but I’ll have more free time and after working all these years, finally, a life.”


Journalist:: Andrea McKernon


New Lodge six remembered

Relatives gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the murders of six New Lodge men by the British army 32 years ago this week.

Families of the victims who were killed on Saturday and Sunday, February 3 and 4 1973, gathered at the Donore Court memorial garden in the New Lodge to remember those killed.
Jim McCann, Jim Sloan, Tony Campbell, Brendan Maguire, John Loughran and Ambrose Hardy were shot dead at the top of the New Lodge Road and at the corner of Edlingham Street. All the men were unarmed at the time of their murders.
Two years ago a community inquiry held in St Kevin’s Hall and chaired by an international panel of jurists dismissed British army claims that there was a gun battle going on the area at the time the men were killed.
This year’s commemoration was the first time it had been held in the new memorial garden at night.
Gerry Kelly, MLA said the memorial which honours the victims of the conflict in the New Lodge was a “credit to the community”.
“This memorial is used as a place a lot of people go to reflect on the loss of loved ones and victims of the conflict,” he said.
He said calls for sanctions against Sinn Féin, reflected the criminalisation of the nationalist community in the aftermath of the murders of the New Lodge Six.
“In the context of what had happened the memorial and the setting up of the inquiry was a fantastic effort by this community. But it is in the similar context of the current criminalisation of the nationalist community and the so-called IMC report.
“Reports at the time said the victims were killed in a shoot out, but what actually came out of the inquest was the unstinting bravery of the people on the New Lodge at the time in helping the dead and wounded.”

Journalist:: Staff Reporter


Process of truth telling a success

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The truth telling process involved in the making of a book about Ardoyne and the people who died as a result of the conflict has been described as a substantial success by its authors.
The report compiled by Dr Patricia Lundy, lecturer at the University of Ulster and Dr Mark McGovern, lecturer at Edge Hill College in Lancaster, was launched on Tuesday detailing the impact the book Ardoyne: The Untold Truth had on the local and wider community.
The Untold Truth, produced by the Ardoyne Commemoration Project, told the story of the 99 people from Ardoyne killed as a result of the conflict.
For the report the researchers carried out interviews with relatives of the 99 victims, a cross-section of opinion within Ardoyne and representatives of other Nationalist and Unionist communities.
“We wanted to know what participants got out of engaging in such a process and what contribution it might make to conflict resolution,” Patricia Lundy said, speaking at the launch on Tuesday.
“And what most relatives told us was that this was about acknowledgement and recognition of what ordinary people had gone through.
“That was the most important impact the book had. It gave people the opportunity to tell their own story. The key to the project’s success was that it was carried out by local people.”
In the main, the findings of the report entitled Community, Truth-telling and Conflict Resolution showed that engaging in such a community ‘truth-telling’ process was an extremely positive experience for those who participated.
Supporting this the report states: “Clearly of importance was ‘giving voice’ and documenting previously excluded or marginalised voices. The value and symbolism in giving individuals the opportunity to ‘tell their story’ should not be underestimated.”
The report, which was funded by the Community Relations Council, also reveals that the groundbreaking work carried out in Ardoyne has been recognised internationally.
The book, which has travelled as far afield as Chile, South Africa and Sri Lanka, is also being seen as a model that could be used in other societies and communities.
Free copies of the report can be picked up at Intercomm, Holy Cross Church, Ardoyne Focus Group or by accessing cain.ulst.ac.uk website or by telephoning Patricia Lundy at the University of Ulster on 08700 400 700.



Bawnmore family is attacked by loyalists

Sinn Féin has blamed loyalists for an attack on the Mill Road at the weekend.

The house in a row of houses which fronts the Bawnmore estate was hit with breeze blocks in the early hours of Sunday morning. Homes on the road have been attacked numerous times before.
The attack happened around 6am while a woman was sleeping upstairs. The female victim and her husband, who wish to remain anonymous, said their house has been attacked at least half a dozen times over the past five years by paint bombs, petrol bombs and gunfire. The last time they said their house was attacked was November 2003.
“It’s an ongoing thing up here,” the woman said. “I think this is the sixth time we’ve been hit. This time round, we were lucky that they didn’t break the window. It’s toughened glass and God only knows what would have happened if they had got through.
“My neighbour heard them first. I was sleeping upstairs and I didn’t hear a thing. She said she got up when she heard the first bang she shouted out the window at them.
“She said she saw one guy in our front garden with his arms raised and about to hit our window again. She shouted at him to go away and he hit the window one more time. His mate was in a car, revving the engine with the door open. He hit the window again, made a move to run, slipped and fell and then jumped into the car.”
Speaking after the attack the homeowner said he thought the attack was very determined.
“This was quite a determined attack. They obviously came prepared, and seemed determined to break the glass,” the man said.
“It’s a sad thing, but we’re used to this kind of stuff. This house has been in the family for over 30 years and unfortunately these kind of attacks are starting to happen again.”
A spokesperson for the PSNI confirmed the attack and said inquiries were continuing. Newtownabbey councillor Briege Meehan said the attack was sectarian.
“Sinn Féin utterly condemns the attack on a house at Mill Road.
“These cowardly thugs have terrorised these families at the bottom of Mill Road and I call on the leadership of the UDA to call a halt to these despicable sectarian attacks on the nationalist people of Bawnmore.”

Journalist:: Staff Reporter


SF slams report

North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly has slammed the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), which states that senior members of Sinn Féin sanctioned robberies, including the £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery.

The IMC’s fourth report into the Northern Bank Robbery was published today [Thursday].
In the report it states: “In our view Sinn Féin must bear its share of responsibility for all the incidents. Some of its senior members who are also senior members of the PIRA were involved in sanctioning the series of robberies.”
The report agrees with PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde who claimed the IRA was behind the robbery earlier this year.
“We have carefully scrutinising all the material… which leads us to conclude firmly that it was planned and undertaken by the PIRA”.
Speaking to the North Belfast News on Thursday afternoon Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Justice and Policing said the credibility of the IMC was at stake.
“Let’s deal with the IMC as a body itself. It is not independent. Let’s use the words of IMC member Dick Kerr who said ‘the [British] government can use us, there’s no question’.
“He also said the IMC has no independent investigative methods.
“They deal in reportage, and they get their information from the same funnel of information, which is the PSNI, and which is not trusted by Nationalists.
“We now have this IMC report and we know that their information comes from the same PSNI funnel. We knew they were going to support Huge Orde.
“Bertie Ahern is against sanctions, but this is not good enough, we need to know if the Irish Government as an equal co-partner in this peace process, is going to block such sanctions.
“Sanctions have been used before, they do not work. Let’s deal with the peace process, let’s get it back on track. This type of confrontational approach doesn’t work.
“All they have done is add to the excuses the DUP use to walk way from power sharing and equality.”

Journalist:: Áine McEntee

Belfast Telegraph

Dogs trained to fight in city parks

By Jonathan McCambridge
11 February 2005

Parents were today given a sinister warning that fighting dogs are being trained in children's playgrounds in east Belfast.

A Belfast City Council sub-committee has confirmed that it is taking seriously the threat to children and that dogs had destroyed equipment at least three separate parks in the area.

There are known to be a number of dog-fighting rings in Northern Ireland where animals, such as pit bull terriers, are taught to attack each other.

A number of concerned parents complained to the council after they saw dogs being forced to attack park swing seats - believed to be a training method for fighting dogs.

A vandalism report given to the council's parks and amenities sub-committee showed there had been six such incidents discovered.

Council officials carried out £1,300 of repairs in Clara Park, Avoniel Playground and the Ravenhill Road playground in Ormeau Park recently.

Alliance councillor Naomi Long said she was concerned that children could be attacked by the dogs.

She said: "Park facilities are often vandalised, but I have received a number of reports that people with vicious looking dogs are encouraging their animals to attack the seats on swings.

"Witnesses suspect there is a sinister motive in that the dogs are being trained to be more aggressive by fighting with the seats.

"What happens if a dog escapes and there is a child on the swings? If the dogs have taught to attack the swinging seats, there is a chance that a child could be in real danger.

"I raised this issue at the council's park and amenities sub-committee meeting, and would like the public, park rangers, dog wardens and police to be aware of the situation.

"If reinforced seats can be eaten through, what chance would a child's leg have?"

Margaret Walsh, chairman of the parks and amenities sub-committee said the council took seriously claims that children might be endangered.

She said: "People found abusing park property like this will be prosecuted. We are concerned for the safety of children and have asked our parks rangers and dog wardens to be on the lookout for such incidents."


Stone 'may have to repay money'

Loyalist killer Michael Stone was released from jail in 2000

A convicted loyalist killer may have to reimburse compensation paid by the government to one of his victims.

The High Court has given permission to the widow to challenge the Compensation Agency's decision not to pursue Michael Stone for the money.

The ruling had been sought by Ann Marie McErlean, whose husband was one of three mourners killed by Stone at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast in 1988.

At an earlier hearing, it was claimed Stone had substantial assets.

These came from the sale of his paintings and his autobiography, it was claimed.

The Compensation Agency has said it cannot identify any assets which would justify an application for reimbursement.

However, the judge said that he could not accept that non disclosure of assets was a stopping point.

He gave the go-ahead on Friday for a judicial review of the Compensation Agency's decision not to pursue Stone.

Throwing grenades

Stone murdered three men at the Belfast funerals of three IRA members killed by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988.

About 60 people were injured as Stone ran through Milltown Cemetery, firing shots and throwing hand grenades.

Security forces caught him at the edge of the cemetery, and he was later sentenced to several life terms.

He was released early in June 2000, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

His autobiography was published in 2003.

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