Friday, November 27, 2015

Meeting the challenge of climate change

Climate change is one of the defining challenges facing our society today. Consequently next Monday’s climate change conference in Paris, which will see representatives from almost 200 states across the globe participate, is of huge importance. The conference will run from November 30th to December 11th.
Far from focussing only on environmental issues around stabilising the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere - it is in reality a critical political and security negotiation about the future – including the island of Ireland. I believe that the Paris conference has to be about citizen’s fundamental human rights over the vested interests of big business or individual States. 
Climate change has often seemed for many, a scientific debate and phenomena far removed from most ordinary people's everyday reality – until now.
Several weeks ago representatives from the Pacific islands met in Fiji. They warned of the danger of large parts of their landmass disappearing in the coming decades.
They have also warned of the re-emergence of diseases which create significant health challenges, malaria, typhoid, dengue fever, and a range of diarrhoea linked illnesses. The World Health Organisation expects around 250,000 deaths globally as a consequences of this and climate change.
The Fiji foreign Minister put it bluntly: “Unless the world acts decisively in the coming weeks to begin addressing the greatest challenge of our age, then the Pacific, as we know it is doomed”.
The reason for this concern is justified. NASA recently revealed that the world’s sea level has already risen nearly 8 cms since 1992. The United Nations has estimated that a metre or more is now expected by the end of the century.
According to a recent analysis by the research group Climate Central a two Celsius increase in the world’s temperature will see 130 million people around the world lose their homes. If the temperature increase reaches four degrees Celsius that number could reach 600 million. Belfast and Dublin would effectively disappear.
For low lying areas of the world, around the coasts of countless states, including this island, the impact of rising temperatures is enormous. It is not just about flooding. It is also about coastal erosion and saltwater getting into the water table. It’s about hurricanes and cyclones and storms in greater ferocity than ever witnessed before.
While I was in Cuba recently every government Minister I spoke to expressed their concern at climate change, including the problems of drought which is affecting part of the Caribbean island.
Under the EU Commission’s ‘Energy and Climate Package’ of 2008 the 26 counties is required to deliver a 20% reduction in non-Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This was not an ambitious target. But it was crucially important.
The European Environment Agency has reported in recent weeks that while the EU is expected to exceed its 2020 reduction targets the south will not and will be lucky to achieve half of this. In the Irish state more than 30% of Greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, the single biggest contributor to overall emissions, followed by energy and transport at around 21% each. 
The challenge is to decarbonise the economy in the short to medium term and phase out the use of fossil fuels. 
The island of Ireland is already experiencing significant climate change. Six of the warmest years we have experienced have occurred in the last 25 years. There has been a reduction in the number of frost days and a shortening of the frost season.
We have witnessed an increase in the annual rainfall in northern and western areas with decreases or small increases in the south and east. These changes will impact on our natural environment and on agriculture. The increasing acidification of the ocean will also impact on our marine economy.
Scientists are predicting that Ireland faces not just a rise in sea level but water shortages, adverse impacts on water quality and changes in the distribution of plant and animal species.
An ambitious deal in Paris is therefore very much in all our interests.
Rising temperatures are changing our global weather systems undermining the ecosystems on which life itself depends. While the threat posed by climate change to our food security or public health here at home compared to those countries ravaged by drought, hurricane storms, extreme flooding and disease is hugely different, we too are becoming more alert to the effects of climate change and what action we must take for the future.
Many Irish citizens are doing so for instance by generating their own renewable energy sources to heat and light their homes, or even the use of new electric cars as their mode of transport. Solar panels on the roofs of houses would once have been the exception. Now they are an integral part of planning.
In the two small economies on this island we have an opportunity to develop new business models and technologies which will be increasingly required to drive decarbonisation across the globe. This also offers us the opportunity to create new jobs as well as driving competitiveness and exports, innovation, energy security and reducing expenditure on imported fossil fuels.
How to power Ireland with clean renewable energy and transition our transport systems to electricity and gas, how to continue to improve our agriculture, protect our fisheries, expand our forests and natural resources are all critical to how we now adapt to a changing global environment and maximise new economic opportunities across our island. 
This requires a plan from the Executive and from the Irish government.
Negotiators at next week’s Paris conference must connect with a wider audience and get a deal which is ambitious but which can also be the basis for meaningful delivery of the long term goal of keeping global warming under 2ºC. 
It is our moral duty to find solutions to climate change now as our first choice, rather than last resort. US President Barack Obama tweeted recently, "We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it."
You can make your voice heard, and more importantly count this Sunday, 29th November by joining the People’s Climate marches which are taking place in over 70 countries as part of a global day of action. 
You can join marches in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Galway and be part of the change.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Free Arnaldo Otegi – Bring them home


Thursday saw the launch of the Free Arnaldo Otegi and Bring Basque Political Prisoners Home campaign in Ireland.

The event took place in Leinster House and was jointly sponsored by myself; Maureen O’Sullivan TD; Finian McGrath TD and involved speakers including Robert Ballagh, Artist and social justice campaigner; Urko Airtza, Basque Senator and human rights lawyer; Pablo Vicente, and Fermin Muguruza, famous Basque musician.

On my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin, I extended solidarity greetings from the event to Arnaldo. I also warmly welcomed today's initiative and pledged Sinn Féin's full support.

Sinn Féin and the Basque people have a long history of solidarity in struggle. I and other Sinn Féin leaders have been active in travelling to the Basque country in support of efforts to achieve a peace process and agreement.

Regrettably the dialogue for peace has been largely one-sided. The people of the Basque country, represented by a range of political parties and civic organisations, have been involved in recent years in a substantial dialogue around building a peace process. Their objective has been to bring an end to violence while creating the conditions for democratic and peaceful political change, including independence.

They took as their model the Irish peace process and the South African model. The strategy that has emerged, based largely on language and principles agreed here, commits Basque activists to using ‘exclusively political and democratic means’ to advance their political objectives. It seeks to advance political change ‘in a complete absence of violence and without interference’ and ‘conducted in accordance with the Mitchell Principles.’ And its political goal is to achieve a ‘stable and lasting peace in the Basque country’.

The key to making any progress is dialogue. The Spanish government needs to talk. Thus far it has refused. This runs entirely counter to Nelson Mandela’s oft quoted mantra that to make peace we have to make friends with our enemy. That cannot be done in the absence of a dialogue. It cannot be done in the absence of respect for the rights of citizens to vote for elected representatives of their choice.

In this context the continued imprisonment of Arnaldo Otegi (Secretary General of SORTU) makes no sense and is deeply unhelpful. In the course of recent years I have met Arnaldo here and in the Basque country. I support his efforts and  those of the Basque independence parties to construct a peaceful and democratic resolution to the conflict in the Basque Country.

Arnaldo is a courageous and visionary leader who has taken real risks for peace and despite speaking many years in prison on spurious charges he has never faltered from promoting the path of peace.

The policy of dispersal of Basque prisoners from prisons close to their families is not helpful to the peace process. It mirrors the policy of ‘ghosting’ that was regularly used against Irish republican prisoners held in Britain. Families would make the difficult journey to the north of England for a visit with a loved one only to be told that they were moved the previous day to a prison in London. This policy, which has no security dimension to it, was simply about hurting the families and demoralizing the prisoners. So too with Basque prisoners.

It is also a truism of every peace process I know of that the release of prisoners was an indispensable part of building confidence. Invariably the prisoners themselves played a crucial role in assisting the peace.

The refusal of the Spanish government to engage in dialogue, the continued imprisonment of Arnaldo Otegi and its punitive regime against Basque prisoners, are evidence of a government reluctant to embrace the potential for peace.

The Spanish Prime Minister has an opportunity to take a step change in advance of elections in December by releasing Arnaldo Otegi, and ending its reprehensible dispersal policy and allow Basque political prisoners to go home to the Basque Country.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A new opportunity for progress

The agreement reached at Stormont on Tuesday is far from perfect. But it is the best that was possible at this time. It is the culmination of over three months of intense and difficult negotiations that arose following a series of crisis in the political process.

Last year’s Stormont House Agreement was a genuine effort to secure a deal that would protect the most vulnerable in society, to safeguard the rights and entitlements of citizens, to grow the economy and to enhance the working of the institutions.

But resistance to change, which is particularly strong within elements of unreconstructed unionism and the British security system, and the ideological commitment of the British Tory party to austerity saw the agreement come under immediate pressure.

The contrived political crisis by the Ulster Unionist Party following the murders of Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan in Belfast led to the virtual collapse of the institutions.

Martin McGuinness and others in our negotiating team have worked hard to find solutions to all of the core issues. Our focus was on defending public services, while dealing with outstanding issues. These include the Bill of Rights and Achta na Gaeilge, contentious parades and identity. Securing the full implementation of the legacy proposals from last year’s Stormont House Agreement was also critical.

On Tuesday, following progress in the talks, a new agreement was achieved. Not all issues were resolved but this is an important development which seeks to stabalise the political institutions, tackle some of the outstanding matters, and allow for progress. Sinn Féin has successfully negotiated a package of measures, including in excess of half a billion in new money; and additional flexibilities to invest in public services and the economy. We have also negotiated a fund of £585 million over four years to support the vulnerable and working families.

A panel headed by the renowned advocate Dr. Eileen Evason is to report on how best to use the £500 million fund to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. These measures will mitigate some aspects of Britain’s austerity policies but will not cover in their entirety the cuts being imposed by the Tories on working families, claimants and the block grant. The British approach is unfair, fundamentally undemocratic and economically counter-productive. Sinn Féin will continue to oppose this policy.

The agreement reached also seeks to deal with the issue of criminality and the continued existence of armed and active groups.

Of particular concern is the British government’s refusal to honor last year’s Stormont House Agreement on full disclosure to meet the needs of victims arising out of the conflict. Several weeks ago the British government introduced legislation, in direct contravention of the Stormont House Agreement, which seeks to prevent the victims of British state terrorism from getting the truth.

Using the pretext of ‘national security’ a British secretary of state can close down an investigation and push aside the genuine needs of victims. These proposals are unacceptable. As a result no agreement has been possible on dealing with the legacy of the past.

The British objective has been to prevent full disclosure to the families of victims of the conflict. The British government and its security and military apparatus continue to cover up the action of their agents, informers, army, police and political establishment by using a ‘national security’ veto. This is unacceptable.

What conceivable ‘national security’ concerns can exist for events, many of which occurred 30 and 40 years ago? What ‘national security’ interests are now served over 40 years later by a British government refusing to unlock the files to the Dublin Monaghan bombings or the actions of the Force Reconnaissance Unit or the role of Brian Nelson and others?

 Will the efforts of the hooded men to get to the truth of who in the British cabinet sanctioned their torture come up against the excuse of national security?

Will the Ballymurphy families or those who believe the British agent Stakeknife played a part in the murder of their loved ones, or the hundreds of other victims and their families of British counter-insurgency strategies find their efforts thwarted by the overriding demands of British ‘national security’?

Will the truth about the apartheid south African arms shipment, involving MI5, which saw the capacity of the UVF and UDA and Ulster Resistance to kill Catholics in the late 1980s and 90s significantly increase, be hidden from the families of the two hundred people who were killed as a consequence?

The refusal of Theresa Villiers to implement the agreement she made last year is about covering up the extent to which the British state created and organised and provided information to unionist paramilitary gangs in the killing of citizens.

It is not acceptable to those victims who survived gun and bomb attacks or the families of those who died. Nor is it compatible with the Stormont House Agreement.

Finally, the Irish government has not asserted its role as co-equal guarantor of the Good Friday and other agreements. It has played the part of junior partner and has acquiesced to British demands, especially around the issue of legacy. Their role should have been to hold the British government to account. They failed to do this.

We should not be surprised by this. In economic terms, Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party have consistently made common cause with the British Conservative Party in their relentless pursuit of austerity.

In the time ahead Sinn Féin will continue to stand up for the rights of the vulnerable, working families, our economy and our public services.

We believe the new agreement offers the best hope for a new start – a new opportunity to build a better future.

It is also an opportunity for Republicans to show that the union with Britain is not in the interests of citizens in the north. The price of the union is that a London government, unelected by citizens here, is imposing policies that will attack the vulnerable, the elderly and the young, while denying the Executive the resources to invest effectively in our economy. That doesn’t make sense. Uniting Ireland and building an all-island economy, rooted in equality makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Paris Attacks condemned - Adams

Today the Dáil heard expressions of sympathy on the attacks in Paris last Friday which saw 129 killed.
To understand those events it is necessary to set them in their context.
Below is the text of my remarks in the Dáil in which I condemn in the strongest possible terms the deplorable, murderous attacks perpetrated in Paris last Friday" ... extend my sincerest sympathies and solidarity to the French Ambassador, to the victims, their families and to the people of Paris and of France with which Ireland has deep, historic and cultural ties”... urge citizens to make a "stand against fundamentalism, bigotry, sectarianism and racism" and set it in the wider context of western militarism and imperialism and the failure to support the rights of the people of Palestine."
Expressions of Sympathy - 17th November 2015
On behalf of Sinn Féin I want to condemn in the strongest possible terms the deplorable, murderous attacks perpetrated in Paris last Friday.
Thar ceann Shinn Féin ba mhaith liom cáineadh láidir a dhéanamh ar na hionsaithe uafásacha a tharla Dé hAoine i bPáras.
Seasann muid leis na daoine a maríodh agus a gortaíodh agus lena muintir.
I wish to extend my sincerest sympathies and solidarity to the French Ambassador, to the victims, their families and to the people of Paris and of France with which Ireland has deep, historic and cultural ties.
France and Ireland enjoy extremely good relations, not least through our shared revolutionary history and republican values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
And people on this island have, like those all over the world, watched with deep shock and horror as the events in Paris unfolded.
The victims of these dreadful attacks were innocent people, many of them young people, enjoying a Friday night out with friends and family. They come from at least fifteen countries.
They posed no threat to anyone but were targeted without cause, without justification or without mercy.
Families were cruelly robbed of their loved ones - sons, daughters, spouses, parents and siblings.
We have seen, through widespread and heartening messages and demonstrations of solidarity, that Ireland and the world stands united with the people of Paris and of France at this awful time.
All of us also need to stand against fundamentalism, bigotry, sectarianism and racism.
Agus muid ag amharc ar imeachtaí oíche Aoine, smaoinigh muid siar ar na hionsaithe gránna i bPáras i mí Eanáir.
The deaths of journalists, cartoonists and satirists - as well as civilians - in Paris on January 7th provoked justifiable outrage.
So far this year 47 journalists have been killed around the world.
Tragically, the violence that we witnessed in Paris on Friday has also been mirrored in countless other barbaric acts.
Last Thursday twin explosions in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, killed 43 people and wounded more than 200 others.
Last month bomb attacks in Yemen killed 35 people.
In the years of civil war in Syria over a quarter of a million men, women and children, mostly civilians have been killed.
In October twin blasts in Ankara claimed the lives of over 100 civilians.
A bomb was responsible for destroying the Metrojet that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31st.
All 224 people on board were killed.
51.2 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide.
Approximately 3,500 people have died at sea since January making the desperate crossing to Europe in the coffin ships.
These victims too were ordinary, innocent civilians.
Sin iad na deartháireacha agus deirfiúracha s’againne.
Like the citizens of Paris who played no part in these events, the people of the Middle East are entitled to live in peace and to pursue happiness and prosperity.
And while we think of the victims in Paris, Beirut, Yemen and Syria let us also remember the thousands, mainly civilians, including hundreds of children who were killed in brutal assaults in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In the summer of last year 2,000 people, mainly civilians, including 500 children, and 13 journalists died during the Israeli assault on Gaza.
Like the Israeli citizens who also died at that time, they bleed like the rest of us, they grieve like the rest of us and they are equally deserving of our sympathy, compassion and solidarity.
Those behind the attacks in Paris and those who are daily perpetrating horrendous violence and injustice against civilian populations in Syria and Iraq are the enemies of all lovers of freedom and justice.
This is not a conflict between East and West, or between Islam and Christianity but between fundamentalism and freedom.
Whatever our religion, the colour of our skin or our nationality there can be no excuse for these attacks.
Wherever injustice or oppression or hatred exists, it must be confronted and challenged.
Wherever anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or sectarianism or racism exists it must be vigorously opposed.
So too, must poverty, injustice, inequality, discrimination, and imperialism.
ISIS and other fundamentalist groups thrive on the chaos and destruction wrought on Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East as a direct result of western military and political interference.
This reality cannot be ignored.
The world has become a more violent, less secure place since September 11 2001.
The horrendous attack on the World Trade Centre in New York resulted in a misguided war with Western forces first bombing and then occupying Afghanistan.
This had major long-term implications for neighbouring countries and, indeed the rest of the world.
The Afghan war played straight into the hands those seeking to promote Western militarism all over the world.
Under the leadership of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, war in Afghanistan developed into a general global conflict and to war with Iraq.
As one war leads to another, Iraq developed into a war in Libya and north Africa and the death toll has grown ever since.
The so-called ‘war on terror’ has extended to Africa with the bombing of Libya and Mali and the growth of Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as the continued problems in Somalia.
The US and Coalition forces have carried out 8,125 bomb attacks in Iraq and Syria in the last 12 months.
We have also witnessed conflict in the Ukraine and growing tensions between Russia and the West.
There has to be a much deeper understanding, both of the causes of wars and their consequences for everybody.
Alongside the dead and injured in Paris those suffering the most from the actions of ISIS are the citizens of the Middle East.
Serious questions need to be asked about the funding and arming of groups such as ISIS.
Unfortunately the west has an inconsistent and duplicitous track record in its dealings with Islamic fundamentalist groups in the Middle East.
It is clear that arms from Western powers have ended up in the hands of these groups.
London’s Independent newspaper in 2013 claimed that the British government made £12 billion from arms sales around the world mainly in the Middle East and Africa.
Western duplicity and cynicism towards the Middle East must end if there is to be a peaceful, democratic future for the citizens of that region.
And the running sore that is the treatment of the Palestinian people must be faced up to once and for all if there is to be peace in that part of the world.
The horrific attacks in Paris must not become an excuse for attacks on Islam or on the rights of Muslim people; or to target or turn away from our responsibility toward the hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving in Europe, many of whom are fleeing the same fundamentalist forces who carried out the Paris attacks.
The actions of ISIS, the attacks in Paris and the alarming rise of far right parties must act as a catalyst for European governments and the European Union and Commission to counteract this sentiment.
Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs has said all of the attackers from Friday’s massacre in Paris so far have been identified as European Union nationals.
So, the European Union must do more to combat alienation and to promote integration, equality and respect for diversity.
It is our responsibility to stand united in defiance of murder, threats and intimidation. And to stand with the people of France and of Paris.
It is also our responsibility as political representatives and political leaders to go beyond mere rhetoric.
I welcome the Taoiseach’s assertion today that in formulating the international response we must seek to tackle the root causes.
That means Ireland needs to pursue a foreign policy based on peace making and human values. NATO has expanded globally and there are efforts through the Lisbon Treaty to link in the EU. Irish neutrality continues to be weakened.
This has included decisions to join NATO lead Partnership for Peace (PfP), and the utilisation of Shannon Airport to transport troops to join the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Despite plans for the creation of a Common European Army, Irish citizens deeply value our neutrality and oppose any Irish role in the growing militarisation of Europe.

The government must reflect this view and move to defend and promote Irish neutrality.
No matter how difficult it is there is an urgent need to find a durable settlement to the conflict in Syria.
We have a duty to understand and confront the causes of violence and division.
Our thoughts today are with the people of Paris and with all victims of conflict across the globe. We can only imaghine the pain and hurt they feel.
We can only imagine the panic, the shock, the grief of Parisians and of the people of France.
We are confident that their strength, their courage, their humanity will see them through. We stand in solidarity with them.
Sna laethanta amach romhainn caithfimid a chinntiú nach gcuireann freagra an phobail domhanda leis an chrautan agus an phian atá ann faoi láthair.
We know from our own troubled history that there are no purely military solutions.
Diplomacy, negotiations and political resolution of conflict is key.
As a lasting tribute to the victims in Paris – and to all victims of global conflict  – world leaders must redouble efforts to resolve conflict and to build peace.
We and our government have a positive role to play in that.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Grilled filet mignon for mains

Some of the Irish media got carried away last week with the success of the annual Friends of Sinn Féin dinners in New York and Toronto. The $500 a plate event in the Sheraton Hotel on 7th avenue got the most attention. There were glossy pics of tables laid out for guests and the menu attracted lots of interest. The reported how “As guests arrived for the cocktail hour in the Metropolitan West Ballroom, traditional Irish musicians played songs including The Town that I Loved so Well, Grace and Whiskey in the Jar… As we revealed last night, guests dined on a meal of Mediterranean salad to start, with grilled filet mignon for mains and pastries and cookies for dessert.”

It was all a little bizarre. Far from filet mignot we were reared.  And to this mix was added the mock outrage of Joan Burton, the Labour Leader and Enda Kenny our Taoiseach, bemoaning the fact that Mary lou and I were going to miss the debate on the social welfare Bill in the Dáil. We were actually only missing a bit of it. Their concern was touching. But as I assured our New York and Toronto guests both Mary lou and I would be back in the Dáil holding this government to account for its bad policies.

That struck a chord with some of our exiles in the room who are among the half a million who now live on that side of the Atlantic because government policies forced them to search for jobs overseas.

Sinn Féin has long ago understood the importance of the Irish diaspora and its ability to use its political influence to assist the peace process. This was especially true in the United States. Our success there, as elsewhere, is very much down to the fact that we engage in an on-going dialogue with the diaspora. Sinn Féin representatives travel to Australia, and Britain, to the USA and Canada and other places where there are strong Irish communities. We update the diaspora on whatever is happening in the peace process and answer any questions they may have.

Other parties, including Fianna Fáil, and Fine Gael and the SDLP have tried to do this, as well as to fundraise. But none have been successful. Perhaps that’s part of the issue – begrudgery and jealousy in equal measure.

Sinn Féin is not the first Irish republican organisation to understand this. In his book ‘America and the 1916 Rising’ Dr. Ruan O’Donnell, senior lecturer in history at the University of Limerick, details the political and financial connections between the Irish Republican Brotherhood – the 1916 Rising – and Irish America.

Did you know that five of the seven signatories of the Proclamation had engaged in political activity in the USA in the decade before 1916? I didn’t. I knew of Tom Clarke and James Connolly but not the others. Ruan also makes the connection between those who fled Ireland during and after An Gorta Mór – the great hunger and the Fenians, Clann na Gael and the planning for revolution and rebellion in Ireland. Read his book and you are left in no doubt that the Rising was funded in large part by Irish America. By the children of the Great Hunger. For this reason and for the political support it offered the Proclamation talks of “and supported by her exiled children in America.”

America and the 1916 Rising  is a commendable book which was published by Friends of Sinn Féin in the United States and given to every guest at the two dinners I spoke at.  It is part of the celebrations leading to next year’s centenary for the Rising and the Proclamation.

For their part those I met wanted to know what the current crisis in the political processes is really all about and what are the prospects of finding solutions?

I reminded them of the prescient words of George Mitchell who chaired the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. On the day the Agreement was achieved George said to Martin McGuinness  and me that that was the easy bit – the hard bit would be getting it implemented. And how right he was. I have lost count of the number of times negotiations have collapsed or the institutions have been suspended or a crisis was threatening to bring it all to an end.

The canker at the heart of these difficulties is the resistance to change and to equality from those in the British system who believed they could win the war, and from those in unreconstructed unionism who resent power sharing and equality.

This is the context of the current crisis. For our part Sinn Féin is involved in the negotiations to find solutions and to move the process forward.

The next six months will also be among the most challenging we have faced in many years and potentially the most rewarding. Sometime in the spring the Taoiseach will call a general election. In May there will be an Assembly election in the north.

Both of these elections present real opportunities for political growth and for advancing Sinn Féin’s objectives of unity and independence. That’s what our political opponents in Britain and Ireland are afraid of.

They fear a strong Irish republican party focussed on uniting Ireland, and committed to achieving real change, and advancing citizens’ rights instead of the two tier Ireland with its elites, privileges and inequalities.

We hope to do well in the General Election and in the Assembly election. We are seeking a mandate to be in Government. On both sides of the border. Our opponents fear this also. Especially our opponents in the media.

They know a strong Sinn Féin party, organised across Ireland and with mass support, and in government in Belfast and Dublin is the best vehicle to deliver Irish unity and the end of Partition and the Union. They also know that we represent a viable alternative to the right-wing conservatism and austerity of the establishment parties.

So, negative campaigning by our political opponents or elements of the media will not deter us. It only stiffens our resolve and that of those who think we are doing a good job.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Spies and Spooks: The same old story

As long as Britain has been involved in Ireland it has bought or cajoled or intimidated some people into acting as their eyes and ears, their spies and spooks, and advocates. Some of these do so because it suits their own politics and prejudices. But the end result is that citizens die and freedom is denied.

These strategies are not unique to Ireland or indeed to the British. They are as old as wars. However, in the most recent period of conflict their use became an indispensible part of Britain’s counter insurgency strategy in Ireland. As I have recorded in these columns before the foremost counter-insurgency stratgist was the British Army’s Frank Kitson. When he arrived in Belfast in 1970 he set about restructuring the RUC and British Army approach based on his experiences in post second world war  British colonial wars.

The British Army brought with it the techniques of torture; of counter-gangs; of propaganda, and of media and political manipulation. The key objective for Kitson, and for others in the British intelligence and security services, was to reshape the government, the law, the judiciary and the media to defeat Irish republicanism. It didn’t matter how this was done or what the consequences were.

Kitson who served in many of Britain’s counter-insurgency campaigns wrote: ‘The fundamental concept is the working of the triumvirate, civil, military and police, as a joint and integrated organisation from the highest to the lowest level of policy making, planning and administration.’

For example Kitson rationalised the use of death squads and the corruption of justice: ‘Everything done by a government and its agents in combating insurgency must be legitimate. But this does not mean that the government must work within exactly the same set of laws during an emergency as existed beforehand. The law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, in which case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public.’

Of course, he wasn’t the first to apply these arguments. The stories of spooks and spies, of agents and informers working for the British state during the centuries of Ireland’s long struggle for freedom are legion. An informer called Owen O’Connally gave information to the British during the 1641 rebellion that led to the arrest and executions of two of the leaders, Lord Maguire and Colonel McMahon. Money was his reward.

The 1798 rebellion by the United Irish movement was bedevilled with informers. Many are named in the history of that period. Men like Leonard McNally and Samuel Turner and Thomas Reynolds were informers. In his ‘History of the Irish Rebellion of 1798’ WH Maxwell writes: ‘The prisons were crowded with persons denounced by those infamous informers, Armstrong and Reynolds, Dutton and Newell, with a list of subordinate villains acting under the direction of police agents, themselves steeped deeper in iniquity than the perjured wretches they suborned … Numbers, innocent in most cases, through the instrumentality of those bad men, were brought hourly to the scaffold.’

In later years agents and informers remained an integral part of Britain’s colonial class in Ireland in their efforts to subvert the Young Irelanders; the Fenians; the Land League and Charles Stewart Parnell.

It was the evidence of Pierce Nagle, who met Chief Inspector Mallon each week in Dublin Castle that led to the arrest of the Fenian leaders O’Donovan Rossa, John O’Leary and others. It was also at this time that the Special Branch was established. Mayo man Michael Davitt, leader of the Land League, recorded some of the actions of the spies and spooks at work against the tens of thousands seeking land reform. In his book, ‘The Informer’s’ by Andrew Boyd writes: ‘Davitt accused the British government of employing terrorists to lure young Irishmen in political crime and them have them arrested, imprisoned and even hanged’.

The Tan War saw the use of agents and informers increase enormously as the British sought to defeat the IRA. For its part the IRA dealt with such spies ruthlessly. Michael Collins execution of 14 British agents on the morning of Sunday November 21st is one of the best remembered actions of that period. But there were hundreds of others killed as informers. One occasion two IRA volunteers brought one man out onto a river and drowned him rather than shoot him.

In the most recent decades of conflict the application by MI5 and the RUC Special Branch and British Military intelligence of evolving and increasingly complex technologies to listen, record, monitor, track and trap their enemy became an essential element in all of this. Recent court cases show that this is still going on.

Forty years ago these same organisations were involved in the establishment of armed loyalist paramilitary groups which they then supplied with information and weapons to kill Irish citizens and foment sectarian strife.

The recent publication by the British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers of the MI5 report into allegations of paramilitarism but specially the IRA, is an example of how the use by Britain of agent provocateurs, and of spies and spooks continues. The political exploitation of this report to attack Sinn Féin, especially by some elements of the Dublin based media, is also evidence of the deep desire on the part of some to use any excuse to criticise republicans. They are unconcerned about the bone fides of the authors.

So, the fact that MI5 has been involved in the murder of countless hundreds of Irish citizens, including those murdered by the Dublin-Monaghan bombs, and has no credibility as an independent source, is deemed irrelevant.

One contemporary example of this emerged within days of the publication of the panel report. The Public Prosecution Service in Belfast revealed that it was initiating a major investigation into the role of an MI5 agent – named Stakeknife – and his alleged involvement in the murders of between 24 and 40 people. Critically this investigation will also examine the roles of all of those in the RUC Special Branch and MI5 who were involved in running Stakeknife.

But Stakeknife was not alone. MI5 and other British security agencies ran hundreds of agents. Whether it was people like Mark Haddock, a loyalist serial killer in north Belfast, or those who murdered human rights lawyer Pat Finucane, MI5, British Military Intelligence and the RUC colluded in the murder of citizens.

Today there are still some in those organisations who believe that the peace process was wrong. That it was possible to defeat the IRA. And who resent deeply the growth and popularity of Sinn Féin.

In my view the report from Theresa Villiers was and is primarily aimed at undermining the political institutions and the Good Friday Agreement. It is regrettable but not surprising that elements of the Irish political establishment and sections of the Irish media are willing to exploit this specious report to attack Sinn Féin.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Protecting Moore Street and Dublin’s Battlefield site

In six months the centenary celebration of the 1916 Rising will take place. Central to that act of remembrance will be the GPO. It was there that much of the fierce fighting that followed the Rising took place.  A short distance away is Moore Street where the last meeting of the Provisional Government and of the key leaders took place.

With the GPO in flames the republican garrison made its way under fire to the corner of Moore Street. Tunnelling from house to house they eventually stopped in number 16. There the final moments of the Rising were played out as the leaders, including Pádraig Mac Piarais, Joseph Plunkett, Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada and the wounded James Connolly decided their next steps.

It was from there that Pádraig Mac Piarais and Elizabeth O’Farrell walked to the Moore Street barricade where the document of surrender was signed.

Moore Street holds a special place in the history of Ireland. The streets and laneways around it are part of the battlefield site where Irishmen and women took on the might of the British Empire in pursuit of Irish freedom.

It also is part of the ‘laneways of history’ that include Tom Clarke’s shop on Parnell Street; to the GPO; to Henry Street where the Proclamation was signed; to Moore Lane and Moore Street where the GPO Garrison retreated; to the spot where ‘The O'Rahilly’ died; to the Rotunda where the garrison was held by the British; and where the volunteers were founded three years earlier; these are all places intimately connected to the Rising and to the men and women who participated in it.

These modest buildings and back lanes provide a tangible link with the great ideas that were given expression in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

For years now the families of the executed leaders and many others have campaigned for the Moore Street buildings to be preserved as a national monument and the area developed as a revolutionary quarter. In reality the dilapidated and neglected condition of the buildings is a metaphor for the state we are in. One hundred years after the Rising successive governments have ignored this historically significant battlefield site in much the same way as they have ignored the ideals and principles of the Proclamation.

Most of the terrace and that part of O Connell Street adjoining to it where owned by developer Joe O Reilly of Chartered lands. It was his intention to develop a huge shopping mall fronting on to O Connell Street and taking up most of Moore Street. However, this property is now owned by the National Asset Management Agency - NAMA – in other words by the taxpayers – and is part of what is called the Project Jewel loan portfolio.

Last year the government announced that it would - through NAMA - invest five million euro in refurbishing and restoring the section of Moore Street which has been designated as a national monument, that is, Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street. The remainder of Moore Street is to be demolished to make way for the Mall and Hotel development.

At the end of September it was revealed that Hammerson and Allianz are to purchase the Project Jewel loan portfolio from NAMA. This decision has caused considerable anger and a real concern that commercial interests will be allowed to override the national and historical significance of a site which the National Museum of Ireland described as the ‘most important historic site in modern Irish history.’

I recently met the families of the 1916 leaders. They are deeply concerned by the failure of the government to defend the battlefield site.

They have asked the Public Accounts Committee in the Dáil to seek answers to a series of questions, including what are the terms and conditions of the transfer of ownership of the National Monument at 14-17 Moore Street to the state; what buildings will be demolished in the Project Jewel/Chartered Land loan portfolio; did NAMA have the site assessed, surveyed and valued for including it in the Project Jewel Loan Portfolio auction; where is the five million euro set aside for the restoration of the derelict National Monument and why are the buildings being allowed to deteriorate further?

These are all important questions deserving the fullest response but the campaign to save Moore Street must go beyond questions by the Public Accounts Committee.

Specifically the role of the government in defending Moore Street needs to be seriously questioned. Last week NAMA unexpectedly withdrew the Westport House estate from another of NAMA’s loan portfolios – in this case it is the Project arrow portfolio of loans. NAMA had just announced that U.S. investment fund Cerberus – which is at the centre of the controversy over the sale of the Project Eagle portfolio of loans in the north - as the preferred bidder for that project.

The decision to withdraw Westport House from the Project Arrow portfolio came about after the government intervened over the sale of this major tourist attraction in the Taoiseach’s constituency of Mayo. The Minister of State for Tourism, and Westport TD Michael Ring, has already confirmed that he arranged a meeting between Mayo County Council and NAMA.

Westport House is a stunning tourist destination which attracts tens of thousands of tourists to Mayo each year. Securing its future is an important political and economic initiative.

The same arguments also apply to the Battlefield site around Moore Street where the economic benefits to Dublin would be greater; the number of jobs created would be higher, and the national historical significance of the site is greater.

But thus far the government has not adopted the same approach it has in respect of Westport House. Last week Sinn Féin TD Aengus O Snodaigh raised this issue in the Dáil and urged the Minister for Finance to intervene in the sale of this property. He has the authority to do so and he and his predecessor have used that authority on at least 15 separate occasions since 2009. However the response from Labour Minister Alex White was dismissive and at this time it seems likely that the government will opt for destroying the ‘laneways of history’ around Moore Street.

In the battle over the future of Moore Street we see the culture of naked consumerism as exemplified by the desire to build another mall in a city of malls challenge the valour and self-sacrifice and national pride of 1916.

Moore Street and its environs are the heart and soul of the 1916 Rising. But if consumerism and the rush to profit have their way the buildings and lanes around Moore Street will be effectively obliterated. Historically, culturally, politically, and emotionally there can be few other places on this island that are of greater significance.