From Irish Political Review: July 2006

Editorial Commentary

UUP's Assisted Suicide:

UUP leader Sir Reg Empey has been deluged with criticism for bringing David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, and by extension the Ulster Volunteer Force, into the Ulster Unionist Party fold in the Stormont 'assembly'. The UVF is not on Ceasefire and has not decommissioned. The aim of David Trimble's successor was to increase by one the Ministries held by the UUP in any revived power-sharing Executive under the Good Friday Agreement. The extra Ministry would be taken from Sinn Fein, an added bonus. Without such a manoeuvre the d'Hondt system would give 6 Unionist Ministers to 5 Nationalist (IN 15.6.06). All this is theoretical, as the Executive may not be re-established on 24th November, Hain's deadline.
Subsequently a Special Branch 'asset' was shot and nearly killed by his UVF colleagues, increasing the pressure on Empey. Mark Haddock—facing criminal charges—was about to reveal details of past UVF operations. Roy Garland of the PUP commented on the shooting: "Mount Vernon UVF is literally out of control albeit with elements controlled by Special Branch" (IN 5.6.060; implicit here is that the Special Branch was complicit in the crime).
UUP defections followed. Peter Bowles, a former Chairman of the Young Unionists, said: "The Ulster Unionists used to be the party of law and order and now it is linked to the UVF" (IN 12.6.06). Bowles was followed into the small Conservative Party group by Philip Smith, a former Ards Councillor; Tim Lewis, a "prominent businessman"; and Grant Dillon, ex-Mayor of Castlereagh. Liam Fox, Shadow Tory Defence Secretary, held a Belfast press conference to announce these accessions (at which Jeffrey Peel, the local Vice-Chairman, claimed that "we are the only party that has real influence at Westminster" (IN 13.6.06). Lady Sylvia Hermon, the sole UUP MP (and wife of the former police chief), has also publicly objected to the alliance with the PUP.
Unionism is angered because Empey's move lays bare the sectarian grounds for refusing to share power with Sinn Fein in the past. It is Fenianism, not paramilitarism, which is objected to—but that could be camouflaged under a heavy 'law and order' overlay up to now That is why the Democratic Unionist Party has been as vitriolic as elements within the UUP. Peter Weir, the 'baby barrister' who defected to the DUP in protest about Trimble's alleged 'softness' towards Sinn Fein, declared that:
"For the UUP to take on board a member whose party represents the UVF, a group not even on ceasefire, which deals in murder and prostitution in loyalist districts is “assisted suicide” for the UUP" (as summarised by Brian Feeney, IN 17.5.06).
Commentator Brian Feeney, formerly of the SDLP, has been scathing about the UUP/PUP alliance, but on different grounds. He accuses the PUP of succumbing to pan-Unionism at the expense of socialism:
"…it's a return to basics. Unionism used to be a tribal all-class alliance.
…Ervine can emit all the vapour he likes… but he will not get a single motion through the group. The UUP has captured him and his party…" (IN 17.5.06).
On the other hand, Mitchel McLaughlin, Sinn Fein General Secretary, is bitter about the double-standards now made explicit:
"The UUP repeatedly brought down the political institutions on the issue of IRA decommissioning.
"Yet, in an attempt to obtain an extra minister in a new Assembly, they are seeking to have the PUP leader join their Stormont group when the UVF has refused outright to decommission and continues to engage in violence.
"[This]… underlined unionist ambivalence towards loyalist violence in the starkest terms possible.
"The double standards of the UUP are breathtaking" (IN 15.6.06).

Fighting for survival for himself and his Party, Sir Reg Empey has argued on two flanks, neither of which will please traditional unionism. First of all he suggests that mainstream Unionism bears some responsibility for the continuing existence of Loyalist paramilitarism. In an interview in the Irish News, Empey was asked: "You defended the PUP deal by saying that throughout the Troubles mainstream unionism had 'used' loyalists. What did you mean?" The Unionist leader responded:
"Well what I meant was exactly that. If you get up in the Ulster Hall and if you wear paramilitary headdress and stand at the table and call for mobilisation, and say that structures have been created, and that 'this will lead to a show of strength', what do you think an impressionable young person at the back of that hall would deduce you were saying?
"If you appear on the streets, again with paramilitary headdress, and are accompanied by people in combat jackets carrying swagger sticks, what does that look like to somebody standing in the crowd?
"If you are being seen to inspect rows of men who are masked and are wearing Parker [sic] jackets in a field somewhere and using that to try and strengthen your case against the government, that's what I mean by 'using paramilitaries'.
"If you bring them into your house, and ask them to block roads in enforcement of a strike, what is that?
"Now, while primarily it's no secret that I believe Ian Paisley has a very large responsibility for that, I would have to say, even our own party in those days was less condemnatory than it ought to have been.
"Now because we didn't get involved and wear combat jackets and do all that sort of thing doesn't entirely absolve people of responsibility. So while our responsibility may be less than his, I don't think it is something you can cast aside…" (IN 12.6.06; Empey went on to point out that the UUP had a 14-year voting alliance with the PUP on Belfast City Council and had sustained its Hugh Smyth as Mayor).
In this interview Empey stresses the DUP's involvement with paramilitarism. Elsewhere (IN 27.5.06) he has 'regretted' his own involvement in Vanguard, the resistance movement created by Bill Craig (in which David Trimble was also active). (It will be recalled that the present UUP is a rejectionist split-off from Brian Faulkner's Official Unionist Party, which signed the Sunningdale Agreement for weighted majority power-sharing. And Ian Paisley's present platform ostensibly amounts to a return to Sunningdale power-sharing (but without the Council of Ireland), which he vehemently opposed in 1974.)
Unionism's culpability did not end in 1974. There can be no doubt that loyalism would have embraced the GFA, had it not been given a 'steer' otherwise by the politicians.
Empey did not mention that mainstream Unionist politicians set the modern UVF going and ordered a bombing campaign in the mid-1960s, at a time when the pre-split IRA was militarily insignificant and under the influence of Cathal Goulding and Roy Johnson. The Unionist object was to bring down Terence O'Neill who was obliging his Ministers to cooperate with their Irish counter-parts in all-Ireland initiatives of a minor nature. The militarist backlash gathered force as the Catholic civil rights movement became militant. Ian Paisley was a more marginal figure in those days, though the Protestant Volunteers he inspired did cooperate with UVF military actions. Loyalist militarism was brought into being by Unionist politicians, who continued to guide and direct it from a shadowy distance. (The IRA and Sinn Fein always had a quite different relationship.)

The first plank of Empey's defence is therefore to point out that Unionism itself did not have clean hands as far as paramilitarism was concerned, and was therefore in no position to criticise his alliance with David Ervine. The second is to assume the consequent responsibility for politicians to lead loyalism back into constitutional paths by providing political outlets.
A sign of the direction in which Empey is attempting to lead is the election of the first SDLP Mayor of Larne, Danny O'Connor. The Deputy Mayor is Mark Dunn of the UUP. Power-sharing was agreed last year. It is very much a token exercise as the SDLP has 2 Councillors out of 15. Accompanying these initiatives has been a sharp decline in sectarian attacks on Catholic homes in the area (IN 13.6.06).

'Devolution' Committee: Peter Hain has established this sub-committee of the 'assembly'. Sinn Fein is not boycotting the Assembly: it just refuses to participate in its pointless debates. The SDLP has been attending debates. Both parties are attending the 14-member, oddly-titled Preparation For Government Committee, colloquially known as the 'Devolution Committee'. The NI Secretary undertook a delicate balancing act in establishing it: hence the title which attempts to reconcile two opposing positions: the SDLP refused to participate in it unless the remit included negotiating the return of the GFA Executive and Assembly, while the DUP insisted that it would only be dealing with Government on this issue. The form of words allows each side to claim a victory. When the Committee could not agree a Chair, Hain issued an Order appointing two Deputy Speakers from the Assembly, Jim Wells (DUP) and Francie Molloy (SF), but as "impartial deputy presiding officers and not as party representatives" (Hain, IN, 13.6.06).
A NIO Press Release sets out that the task of the Committee is "to scope the work which, in the view of the parties, needs to be done in preparation for government". It "may choose to develop this remit by consensus over time or to establish sub-groups to address particular issues".
Tom Kelly, the SDLP-inclined commentator, agreed "110%" with the Gerry Adams approach of keeping Sinn Fein from participating in the assembly (SDLP Seems Too Eager For Government Scraps (IN 15.5.06). He is scathing about the Devolution Committee:
"A 'business committee' outside of a functioning executive, which has its agenda set, guests invited and venue set by the secretary of state is a feudal if not imperial form of governance" (IN 15.5.06).
Michelle Gildernew (SF MLA) states that she sat through three days of Devolution Committee proceedings "and it was clear not just to me but to everyone else around the table that the DUP had no interest in progress". That Party is "anti-agreement" and wants "a shadow assembly with no power" (letter, IN 13.6.06).
Sean Farren (SDLP) has said that the DUP is setting 12 pre-conditions for restoration of the Power-sharing institutions, which makes SDLP eagerness to participate in the assembly all the more puzzling.

Robert McCartney complained to Speaker Eileen Bell that the media was calling the new body "the Assembly", which was confusing the public:
"You, madam speaker will be aware that this is not the Assembly to which members were elected in 2003.
"It is simply a body to which the members then elected have been invited by the Secretary of State to attend."
Bell replied:
"…this is 'the assembly'.
"Under the act it is not the Northern Ireland Assembly and won't be the Northern Ireland Assembly until we restore full devolution…
"Everything in here, all matters of business are at the direction of the secretary of state…" (IN 16 & 17.5.06).
The confusion is of course intentional.

Brian Feeney wrote that in this—
"virtual assembly… the SDLP…appear intending to provide credibility… Do they not realise it is a lollipop for unionists who love any flummery which makes them believe they've got a parliament… They love having a speaker. They love playing at all this nonsense of 'Will my honourable friend agree with me…'
"Yet the SDLP, after first saying they wouldn't, have now decided to cooperate with the British administration to act as bit players while unionists preen themselves…
"…during the so-called debate on the economy… [the] DUP and UUP… simply ignored the SDLP whose members forlornly pleaded to be taken seriously…" (IN 24.5.06).

Libya & Omagh: Libya made its peace with US/UK a couple of years ago. As part of the deal Col. Gadaffi gave some low-level information about Iran's civil nuclear programme which caused that country some embarrassment. He also paid over a munificent bribe to the families of Lockerbie victims, even though Libya was probably not responsible for the bomb which destroyed the plane. Now 160 victims of the IRA campaign have filed an unlikely suit against Libya in America, alleging they were damaged by Libyan subsidy and arms shipments to the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s. As in the Omagh Bombs civil case brought by relatives, the leading lawyer is Ulster solicitor, Jason McCue of the London-based H20. This kind of civil action appears to swallow up huge sums of money in costs. In the first instance the Omagh relatives raised funds through a UK-wide newspaper publicity drive. When that was insufficient, Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer committed £800,000 of taxpayers' money under the Access To Justice Order 2006.
At the same time alleged Real IRA member Michael McKevitt, one of those the relatives accuse of complicity in the Omagh bombing, curiously had his legal aid to defend himself withdrawn after he was jailed on unrelated Real IRA charges (on doctored evidence, but that is another story). McKevitt brought a legal challenge in the NI High Court to the committal of public funds to a private legal action and was upheld in August 2005. But the Lord Chancellor is not to seek repayment of the £400,000 already paid to McCue's firm and says he will seek legal ways of continuing to subsidise the case (see IT and IN 10.9.06).
All this money is being wasted. The insurmountable problem for Omagh relations is that agents provocateurs were involved in the Omagh Bombing—which is why no criminal prosecution has yet been brought and why the Government is sponsoring the soft option of a civil case in which the standard of evidence would be lower. The defence is likely to bring out this fact in any court hearing. As for the Libyan action, whoever is funding that, it will not suit UK/US to have its deal with Libya unravel by encouraging extra demands.
Common assault: Richard Monteith (48) of Dromore Road, Lurgan, has been accused of common assault by his estranged wife. He was defended by former DUP representative Alan Kane. The case continues. A lawyer himself, the defendant won a libel suit against Sean McPhilemy for allegations in his book, The Committee. In recent years Monteith has represented Orangemen seeking to march on the Garvaghy Road before the Parades Commission and acted for defendants in the Robert Hamill and James Morgan killings (IN 5.5.06).

On appeal Peter Hain has obtained a reversal of a previous legal decision against his appointments to the Parades Commission. Hain argued there was no necessity to have nationalist objectors to parades represented on the Commission, nor was there any need that the Commission be representative (IN 25.5.06, 10.6.06). Objectors may bring a further appeal to the House of Lords.

The Organised Crime Task Force has leaked the fact that it will report to the International Monitoring Commission that "The IRA is moving away from organised crime" (it 19.6.06).
Allegations by the Sunday World that Martin McGuinness was a British spy code-named J118 were rejected by Sinn Fein as a further attempt to disrupt the Peace Process. The Sunday Times had previously refused to publish the Martin Ingram claim as unfounded. The story was then picked up by another of Sir Anthony O'Reilly's papers, the Sunday Tribune, which claimed that McGuinness's codename was The Fisherman (IN 29.5.06, 4.6.06).

Ulster Television is to drop the word Ulster from its "brand identity" and is to be known as UTV with the U not being the initial of Ulster (IN 27.5.06).

Willie O'Dea, Irish Defence Minister, has denied the claim of Labour Defence Spokesman Joe Costello that Irish troops are illegally serving in Kosovo. Present legislation allows participation only in actions in which the UN is involved; O'Dea says that new legislation will phrase this provision more loosely, but still maintain a triple lock on defence missions abroad (IN 12.6.06).

Labour News, Labour's official newsletter, now describes itself as the paper "of the Labour Party in Ireland".

The death has occurred of Fr. Faul, notable for campaigning on prisoners' rights. An Irish Times editorial criticised his opposition to integrated education (23.6.06).

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