SF CAVAN MONAGHAN CAMPAIGN

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Sinn Fein candidates Sen. Kathryn Reilly & Caoimhghin O Caolain TD

Sinn Fein launched their general election campaign for Cavan-Monaghan in Cootehill. The election has not yet been announced but deputies are widely expecting to get their marching orders next week when the Taoiseach will probably set a date. The Sinn Fein duo of Senator Kathryn Reilly seeking #1 votes in Cavan and Caoimhghin O Caolain looking for first preferences in Monaghan seem confident they can take two of what will now be four seats up for grabs.

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Launch of SF election campaign in Cavan and Monaghan

A large chunk of West Cavan with 36 DEDs centred around Ballyconnell and Swanlinbar has been chopped off and added to Sligo/Leitrm which also takes in a small part of south Donegal including Ballyshannon and Bundoran.

The troops were rallied by MEP and national director of elections Matt Carthy from Carrickmacross.

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SF supporters at the campaign launch

See next week’s Northern Standard for a full report.

Speaking at the launch, Sinn Féin Senator Kathryn Reilly said:

“In 2016, we have an opportunity to take a further step towards achieving the vision of 1916.

“There is a lot of positivity, energy and enthusiasm around this campaign.

“We have been out knocking on doors for months now and I have been getting a very warm response, which is encouraging. Ordinary people are genuinely angry and fed-up at the way they have been treated by this government. They are looking for a Government who will stand up for them. They are crying out for effective representation in the Dáil.

“Sinn Féin is confident of winning two seats in Cavan/Monaghan. We will be running a positive campaign, offering solutions to the chaos of the Fine Gael/Labour Party government.

“Sinn Féin will be offering the people of Cavan/Monaghan a real alternative to the crisis in housing & health care caused by this government and its Fianna Fáil led predecessor.

“By electing a strong team of Sinn Féin TDs to the Dáil, you are sending a clear message to those politicians who have for too long had the reins of power in this state and presided over failure. You will also send a message that the people of Ireland do not want a situation where the people serve the economy, but a situation where the economy that serves the people.

“Sinn Féin has clearly set out a range of progressive, fully costed proposals, which would bring about a fairer, more equal and inclusive society. Our message is resonating. A Sinn Féin government will deliver a fairer recovery, with decent jobs. We would defend and invest in our critical public services. We want a fair and progressive tax system. We would scrap both water charges and the property tax.

“It is up to ordinary workers, communities and families across this constituency, who have suffered as a result of this Government’s policies, to join with us in the campaign and help us to make history in 2016 by returning two Sinn Féin TDs for Cavan/ Monaghan. I am inviting everybody who believes in that vision to come along to my launch on Friday night to show your support.”

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MAIRIA CAHILL

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Mairia Cahill arrives at St Mary’s for the Gerry Conlon lecture Photo: Michael Fisher

Sex abuse victim Mairia Cahill delivered the Gerry Conlon summer memorial lecture at the West Belfast Féile an Phobail festival in which she criticised Sinn Fein. Ms Cahill talked about the sequence of events in 1997 in which, while working for a radio station linked to the Feile festival, she alleges she was raped by a member of the IRA. The organisation allegedly later conducted a “kangaroo court” bringing her face to face with her abuser against her wishes.

Delivering the talk at St Mary’s University College, Ms Cahill said she disclosed the abuse to a Sinn Féin MLA between 1997 and 1998 but that subsequent to that the alleged abuser was still a member of the Féile management committee. However, Ms Cahill said that not all members of the committee were aware of the abuse.

Ms Cahill also said the First Minister had told her that if the MLA had not later resigned from the Assembly the Sinn Féin representative could have been investigated by Stormont’s Standards Commissioner. Ms Cahill said it was “unforgivable” that the man she alleges abused her was still involved in the Féile management committee after she had disclosed the abuse and added that as a result “children were put at risk”.

A court case against the alleged abuser collapsed after Ms Cahill withdrew her co-operation as a result of failings in the handling of the case by the Public Prosecution Service, who later apologised to Ms Cahill. In October 2014 Ms Cahill’s allegations were aired on the BBC (NI) ‘Spotlight’ programme.

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SDLP MLA Alex Attwood chaired the talk  Photo: Michael Fisher

In the lecture, Ms Cahill also claimed that the alleged abuser was able to go on a community group residential with children after senior Sinn Féin figures were aware of her disclosures. Around 150 people attended the Féile event, where Ms Cahill, a relative of the late republican Joe Cahill, said she would not back down to pressure from lawyers.

It has been reported that the organisers of Feile an Phobail were advised that some of those allegedly involved in the “kangaroo court” would hold the festival liable for any defamatory or abusive remarks against them.

Sinn Féin later replied to the News Letter that “anyone who has any information whatsoever about any child abuse should come forward to the authorities North or South and they will have the full support of Sinn Féin in doing so.”

 

A BRIDGE TOO FAR?

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

Proposed Narrow Water Bridge

First things first. If you came here looking for a commentary on the Allied advance in the Second World War and battles such as the bridge at Arnhem, then you will be disappointed. I am sorry if I misled you. But the title seemed appropriate for the ongoing controversy over the proposed bridge at Narrow Water at the head of Carlingford Lough. They have been talking about the project since 1976 when the East Border Region committee was formed by ten councils on both sides of the border, years before the Anglo-Irish agreement or the Good Friday agreement.

The proposed structure would link County Down just beyond Narrow Water Castle with the opposite side of the shore near Omeath in County Louth. The project eventually received planning permission and the prospect of EU funding of €17.4m last year. This green light was welcomed by the East Border Region Committee Chair, Councillor Jackie Crowe, a Sinn Féin member from Monaghan.

Proposed Bridge

Proposed Bridge

The approved scheme is for a single carriageway cable-stayed bridge across Carlingford Lough, which will be able to open to enable tall ships, leisure craft and other marine vessels access to Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin in Newry. The total length of the scheme is 620m while the towers have a height of 90m and 37m respectively. The design is by Roughan O’Donovan Consulting Engineers, who were also responsible for the new Boyne Bridge on the M1 near Drogheda.In his statement welcoming the project on 24th October 2012, Councillor Crowe is quoted as saying that the proposed bridge was:-

a genuinely symbolic cross border project providing the first bridge linking Ireland and Northern Ireland and will provide a momentous tourism and economic catalyst for the whole of the region. The Bridge development will provide much needed jobs in the construction sector in the short term and will undoubtedly enhance the tourism potential of the region as it acts as a gateway to the Mournes and Cooley Mountains”.

And I thought Sinn Féin always referred to the island of “Ireland” as a 32-county entity……but perhaps this was a statement drawn up by someone else. It also seems to contain an error often repeated by others that this is the first such cross-border bridge. Surely Councillor Crowe has heard of the projects successfully pursued with the Irish government by his party colleagues in Monaghan to get two small cross-border bridges rebuilt which the British Army had blocked in the early 1970s? Annaghroe and Knockaginny bridges across the River Blackwater connected Glaslough in County Monaghan and Caledon in County Tyrone and were re-opened in October 2010 by the then Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, whose colleague in government Dermot Ahern was very supportive of the Narrow Water project as a Louth TD and Minister for Justice.

It seems the progress of the Narrow Water project, described by its promoters as “iconic” and “histooric”, is not going to be as smooth as they hoped. Is it a bridge too far for unionists? Last November the First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson requested an investigation into the decision to grant EU funding. He rejected a claim by the SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie that he wanted money channelled away from North-South infrastructure schemes towards community projects involving former loyalist paramilitaries. The following month, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson told the Assembly there was a “political smell” about the application for funding. He questioned the speed with which the Stormont Environment Minister, Alex Attwood of the SDLP, had granted planning permission for the bridge.

Margaret Ritchie MP

Margaret Ritchie MP

Now Margaret Ritchie has accused Sammy Wilson of dragging his feet and hiding behind other government departments when it comes to approving funding for the project. She quoted Mr Wilson’s argument that he could not approve the outstanding £2m for the Narrow Water Bridge until the Department of Regional Development had prepared a Roads Order. Ms Ritchie said she had now received confirmation from the Department for Regional Development that it is currently preparing the draft Roads Order, which is expected to published next month. But according to the Minister Danny Kennedy, she said, the formal making of the Order will not happen until the Department for Finance approves the business case.

Ms Ritchie said this response clearly states that the Minister for Finance can make the decision to approve the Narrow Water Bridge funding now and that this decision is not held back by the work of the Department of Regional Development, despite claims to the contrary. She said if it remained the case that Sammy Wilson is not prepared to approve the funding then the First and Deputy First Ministers must ensure a decision is taken without further delay, in the interests of the wider community and the tourism industry in the Mourne area and throughout the island. Furthermore as this is an important North-South economic development project there is now a clear need for the direct intervention of the British and Irish Governments to ensure that this project faces no more unnecessary delay, she added.

The MP has taken a keen interest in the project since her involvement with the East Border Region Committee as a Councillor in 1985. She paid tribute to people such as her predecessor Eddie McGrady, Jim McCart, Donal O’Tierney and Barney Carr, who she said had never faltered from their belief in the bridge and who had shaped the economic debate for it and kept the project alive during very difficult political times in the North.

Narrow Water project

Narrow Water project

UNIONIST DIS-UNITY

Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt

What happens next is what happens next”   That’s my nomination for quote of the week. You can now see why ex media star Mike Nesbitt is leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. His ability to state the obvious with ease and not answer any difficult questions from interviewers, now that he is on the other side of the microphone or the camera. Mike had been asked on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster (1:58:00) about the future direction of the UUP and whether there would be other agreed unionist candidiates in future elections. The question arose following the resignation from the party last night of former deputy leader John McCallister MLA, over the UUP/DUP decision to run an agreed unionist candidate in the Mid-Ulster by-election, which I wrote about yesterday. Mr Nesbitt described the move as a “one-off”, but some wondered if it would just be the start of the end for the UUP and its amalgamation with the larger party led by Peter Robinson.

Then came a second bombshell for the UUP. Lagan Valley Basil McCrea MLA did an interview with the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster in which he announced his resignation. He hinted that plans were underway for the formation of a new “opposition” party along with Mr McCallister and the East Londonderry independent MLA David McClarty (formerly UUP).

Mr McClarty told the same programme on the BBC anybody who was a betting person would have put their money on John and Basil going at some stage. It happened extremely quickly, and it wrong-footed an awful lot of people, he said.  Mr McClarty said the UUP had lost its way. The Ulster Unionist Party is sending out mixed messages; they want to be progressive and pluralist, he said, yet they really have now turned this bye-election into a sectarian head count and we’re back to tribal politics. The three will be keeping in contact over the next few weeks and it remains to be seen what plans they will come up with.

One of the criticisms made by Basil McCrea was that the choice of one candidate on the unionist side (who is unlikely to win the seat anyway, given the current level of support for nationalist parties) would lead to a sectarian dogfight on the campaign trail. DUP leader Peter Robinson rejected this and said unionism was not sectarian.

The agreed unionist representative is Nigel Lutton, an orangeman who has worked with Protestant victims’ groups and whose father was shot dead by the IRA in 1979, shortly after he had left the RUC Reserve. Sinn Féin are putting forward Francie Molloy and the SDLP candidate is deputy party leader Patsy McGlone.

Patsy McGlone

Patsy McGlone

He hit out at the decision by the two unionist party leaders to back Mr Lutton and said it had the potential to reduce the by-election into a bitter sectarian struggle, echoing the views of Basil McCrea. He felt it would only create deeper tribalism. He claimed that Mike Nesbitt was leading the Ulster Unionist Party into electoral oblivion and was denying the electorate a choice. Eric Bullick will run for the Alliance party.

INEZ MCCORMACK: TRADE UNIONIST

Inez McCormack: ICTU Picture

Inez McCormack: ICTU Picture

Sad news this evening (Monday) about the death at the Foyle hospice in Derry of the leading trade unionist and human rights activist Inez McCormack, aged 69. As a trade union lay representative in the NUJ I met her on a number of occasions. The most memorable event I connect her with is when through her work behind the scenes President Mary Robinson came to a community function on the Whiterock Road in West Belfast in June 1993 and shook hands with the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. The gesture was made away from the glare of the media. It was one of the moments recalled by Mary Robinson in her autobiography published last year. The significance of the event was that at the time Sinn Féin were still out in the cold, subject to censorship, and the IRA ceasefire would not happen until the following year.

Inez McCormack with Patricia McKeown, Alan McBride & Geraldine Finucane

Inez McCormack with Patricia McKeown, Alan McBride & Geraldine Finucane

The last time I saw Inez was at a fringe meeting in Derry in April last year during the ICTU (NIC) biennial conference. She was sharing a platform with Geraldine Finucane, Patricia McKeown her understudy and successor at UNISON and ICTU, and Alan McBride of WAVE. I wrote about it in a blog “Pat Finucane case and dealing with the past”. I recalled how as NI Secretary of UNISON Inez had helped to set up the handshake between Gerry Adams and President Robinson at Rupert Stanley College. I remembered that occasion as one when the media were kept firmly outside the door in order to ensure that no pictures of the handshake were taken. Yet it was a defining moment in the lead-up to the IRA ceasefire the following year. Here is one account of the occasion from the Independent.

In 1999 Inez McCormack became the first female President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions since its formation in 1959. She held the post for two years. She was the first woman full-time official of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) from 1976-90. She became the first female regional secretary of UNISON in 1993. Inez was the first woman to be elected to the Northern Ireland Committee of Congress in 1980 and four years later became the first woman to succeed to the post of Chair.

During US President Bill Clinton’s first visit to Ireland, the First Lady Hilary Clinton paid tribute to her work and ever since then they remained friends. Mrs Clinton also mentioned Inez when she was in Belfast last month.

Inez stands out amongst the extraordinary people I have worked with over the last 17 years. She inspired and motivated me, challenged me often. One of Inez’s comments will always remain with me: there are so many more ties that bind us than divide us”,  she said.

A BBC Northern Ireland report recalls how in 2011, Ms McCormack, along with Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep and Mu Sochua (a Nobel Peace Prize nominee from Cambodia), was named by US publication Newsweek as one of ‘150 Women Who Shake the World’. Her lifetime work enabling women to improve their lives by spreading the values of human rights was immortalised when the Holywood legend Meryl Streep played her in a Broadway play. At the time Ms McCormack said: “It is very humbling to have your life story represented in this way and a privilege to have an Oscar-winning actress and strong female character like Meryl Streep involved in the dramatisation. I have had the privilege of spending a lifetime at the service of warm strong women, who challenged injustice not just for themselves but for the people and communities they cared for and whose only affirmation has been that of their own conscience.”

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN Human Rights commissioner:

“Inez was a remarkable woman with a remarkable capacity for friendship. It was from Inez I learned that you can achieve much more if you don’t need the credit. Her support to me as a close advisor when I served as President was invaluable, but she never appeared in photographs or in the front row.”

Mrs Robinson has also written an obituary, which appeared in The Guardian.

Mark Durkan, former SDLP leader:

“Inez McCormack was impressive and effective in all she did. She stood for workers’ rights, for women’s rights, for equality and public services. As an organiser and as an advocate she championed the right of those serving others for lower pay than they deserved. She was articulate, compassionate and steadfast.  She was immensely charming as well as being intense in her convictions.  Her contribution to public life went beyond her primary role as a worker’s defender as she helped to benchmark the values, principles and protections that were needed for a fair and stable society. Her positive outlook, compelling analysis and valid stances won international recognition as a standard bearer for social justice and a role model for all who seek economic emancipation.”

ICTU President Eugene McGlone:

“Her track record in women’s and human  rights was unequalled. Her work in promoting the cause of labour and social justice in Northern  Ireland was known world-wide. Inez’s commitment to social justice began in the ’60s when she became active  in the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. She followed this on when she became a trade union and equality activist  before becoming the full-time official of the National Union of Public  Employees.  She also held the post when NUPE was reconstituted in a merger as Unison. Her unstinting passion was recognised and she received many justifiable  accolades. Her work included campaigning to organise and revalue the work and contribution of the ‘forgotten’ workers, most of whom were women. Inez also led major campaigns for strong equality laws and to assert the rights of the most disadvantaged. In 1998, she led a successful campaign for such inclusive equality and human rights provisions to be included in the Good Friday Agreement.”

Patricia McKeown, regional secretary of UNISON:

“The sad day thousands  of workers and trade union members have been dreading has come and Inez  McCormack, has left us – but only in the flesh. Inez will never leave us in  spirit. She has touched the lives of thousands of ordinary women and men and she has succeeded in what she set out to do. She has made a difference.”

Inez McCormack recalled in the Belfast Telegraph five years ago how her participation in the famous civil rights march at Burntollet in County Derry, in which she accompanied her boyfriend and later husband Vincent, would be an inspiration to campaign for justice. Truly one of the remarkable mná na hÉireann. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis. Rest in peace.

Funeral arrangements: Inez will be buried at the City Cemetery, Derry tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday 23rd January). Her remains will be removed at 2pm from her brother-in-law’s house at 18 Belmont Crescent, Culmore Road (not far from the Foyle Bridge). The death notice says family flowers only and house private.

Memorial Service: The Londonderry Sentinel reports that a celebration for the life of Inez will be held on Saturday 23rd March at the Elmwood Hall in the University Road area of South Belfast from 2pm to 4pm. The ‘Out of the Ballrooms; Peace, Participation and Equality’ event is being organised by Participation and the Practice of Rights organisation (PPR), which Inez founded in 2006.  Seats are available by registration at www.pprproject.org.

REPORTER THREATENED

As the union flag protest continues in Belfast, there was another sinister turn when it was revealed that a local journalist who had been writing about the issue was sent a bullet in the post. The bullet was intercepted before it reached the journalist. At the same time a bullet was sent to a leading SDLP politician and the home of an SDLP Councillor in Belfast was attacked. Since the start of the protest, some Alliance party politicians have also been targeted in a similar manner, specifically the East Belfast MP Naomi Long and Jutsice Minister David Ford. Bullets were also sent to two Sinn Féin representatives. Such intimidatory actions need to be condemned without reservation as they are a threat to democracy.     nujlogo_burgundy

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists expressed grave concern at confirmation that the Police Service of Northern Ireland had intercepted a letter containing a bullet addressed to a Belfast-based journalist. The journalist was advised by the PSNI that the letter containing a bullet was intercepted at the weekend. The letter was sent following the journalist’s reporting of Loyalist rioting in Belfast. NUJ President Barry McCall described the letter as the latest in a series of despicable attempts to intimidate journalists working in extremely difficult circumstances in Northern Ireland. He said the posting of a bullet to a newspaper, addressed to a named journalist, represented an attack on journalism and on democracy. “This incident must be seen in the context of recent attacks on journalists and elected public representatives and should be condemned by all who support the democratic process”, he added. NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said the incident emphasised the need for vigilance on the part of journalists and media organisations in Northern Ireland. She said employers and journalists – staff and freelance, needed to be alert to the very real dangers which arose when covering conflict situations. She said the lack of respect for the rights of journalists to work unimpeded presented a particular challenge. The bullet sent in the post was clearly indeed to send a signal to the media. “Over many years journalists have stood firm in the face of intimidation and they continue to do so”, she said.