Thursday, May 18, 2017

Victory to the Hunger strikers

 Last week, we remembered with pride Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes, who died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh in 1981. At the weekend the anniversaries will occur of Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara. And in July and August we will celebrate the lives, sacrifice and courage of other six hunger strikers who died 36 years ago; Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine.
I was reminded of all of this as I read the An Phoblacht/Republican News from July 18th 1981. The paper is a miniature copy that the Sinn Féin POW department and the AP/RN staff produced for smuggling into the H-Blocks and Armagh and to other prisons. The miniatures were four inches by six. They were printed on thin paper to make it easier for them to be concealed for smuggling. The July 18th edition had the one word ‘Sadness’ over three photos. One was a picture from Martin Hurson’s funeral and the other two were of Martin and of Joe McDonnell. This edition of the paper was reporting on their funerals. It also carried a profile of Kevin Lynch who was to die three weeks later.
In 1995, on my first visit to South Africa, I met former ANC prisoners who told me of their experience of hunger strike and of their admiration for Bobby Sands and his comrades. The hunger strike as a means of protest has a long tradition in Ireland and especially among Irish political prisoners in English prisons. But as in South Africa it has also been used in other places.
Two and a half thousand miles away there are over one thousand Palestinian political prisoners in the fifth week of a mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons. Entitled, ‘Freedom and Dignity’ their hunger strike reflects much that is similar with the 1981 hunger strike, especially in the response of the British and Israeli states.
In a letter I received from Marwan Barhouti, the imprisoned Palestinian leader who is leading the hunger strike, he says: “Palestinian prisoners have always suffered from injustice and violations of their rights. But in recent years Israeli occupation authorities have ever deprived us of rights acquired through prior hunger strikes.”
The Palestinian hunger strike is about the inhumane treatment of and the appalling physical conditions currently being endured by Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons. It is also has its roots in the all-pervasive oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli state; the poverty and deprivation that is the daily experience of Palestinians; the military raids; the theft of Palestinian land and water; the separation Bill, and the construction of illegal settlements.
I know from my own visits to the west Bank and Gaza in recent years that there is a deep sense of despair, helplessness in the face of an Israeli state that Europe and the USA refuse to stand up and hold to account by international laws. As a result there is a lack of hope, and lots of anger, especially among young people, and there is huge frustration within the Palestinian refugee camps, the Gaza Strip and the west Bank.  
Currently there are six and a half thousand Palestinians held I Israeli prisons. Approximately 300 of these are children. 53 are women and nearly 550 are being held under what the Israeli’s like to call administrative detention – in effect internment without trial. According to Addameer, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel in the last 50 years.
The conditions under which the prisoners are held are appalling. Torture has been documented. Addameer has reported the case of Arafat Jaradat who died six days after he was arrested by the Israelis in 2013. The post mortem showed he had six broken bones in his spine, neck, arms and leg. He died of cardiac arrest.
The hunger strike among the prisoners, as well as some former prisoners on the outside of the prisons, has already seen one Palestinian hunger striker, Mazan al-Magrebi, die. The prisoners are protesting the mass incarceration of Palestinian people by the Israeli authorities as well as the serious deterioration of prison conditions. The prisoners are seeking basic demands, including access to books, newspapers and clothes, and the resumption of bi-monthly family visits. They are also seeking the installation of air conditioning in prisons where summer temperatures can regularly be over 40 degrees centigrade; an end to the extensive use by the Israeli Penal Service of solitary confinement and access to study and educational facilities, including exams. 
Several months ago the worsening crisis in the region saw the United States and Israel succeed in having a United Nations report entitled: Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid – withdrawn after just two days.
The report was published in March by the United Nation’s ‘Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia’ (ESCWA). It examines the practices and policies of Israel with regard to the Palestinian people in its entirety. It concludes that ‘Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Aware of the seriousness of this allegation, the authors of the report conclude that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.’
The report draws heavily on international law and specifically refers to the definition of apartheid in article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. It defines apartheid as; ‘… inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.’
An Israeli spokesperson described it as “despicable and constitutes a blatant lie,” while the Israeli Foreign Ministry likened the report to Nazi propaganda. The head of ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, resigned rather than withdraw the report.
All of this amounts to an escalating crisis in a region which has known little else. Some Palestinian leaders, exasperated and outraged by the Israeli stance, and speaking about a possible intifada, have said there is an onus on the United Nations, and all those genuinely interested in peace in that region, to speak out against Israeli aggression.
Just over two years ago a Sinn Féin motion calling on the Irish government to formally recognise the state of Palestine received unanimous support in the Dáil. The Irish government has refused to take that necessary diplomatic step. Sinn Féin will raise this issue this week in the Dáil. In the meantime, there are a growing number of protests in support of the Palestinian hunger strikers taking place across the island. Support them if you can. Organise protests if you are able. In words that resonate with those of Bobby Sands, Marwan in his letter writes: “Some believe that this is the end of the story, that II will perish here in solitary confinement. But I know, even in this forced solitude, that we are not alone. I know millions of Palestinians and many more around the world stand with us.”

36 years ago the hunger strikers and the political prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh Women’s prison were uplifted by reports of international solidarity. Let’s send our Palestinian brothers and sisters a message of hope and support and solidarity. Victory to the Hunger Strikers.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Let’s make history

Last week Arlene Foster told an election rally in Derry that a poll on Irish unity should not be allowed because it would destabilise the North. Do you think she was at all conscious of the huge irony in making that comment in a city that suffered more than most under unionism? I suspect not. The leader of political unionism is blind to its faults and to its role in creating and sustaining decades of political instability, injustice, poverty and conflict.
Talk to most unionist representatives about the deep rooted religious and political discrimination that prevailed in Unionism’s apartheid state and they dismiss it out of hand as propaganda. No senior unionist leader has ever accepted any culpability on the part of the state for creating the conditions for years of inter-communal conflict.
What they do instead is frighten their supporters with dire warnings of what equality for nationalists would mean for them. The loss of privilege. The end of dominance. The boot on the other foot. This has been the tried and tested strategy of unionist leaders from the latter part of the nineteenth century. Then as now British Conservatives allied themselves with northern unionists and the Orange Order. At that time it was about opposing a Home Rule Bill being introduced into the British Parliament by Gladstone. Now it’s about pushing through Brexit.
In 1885 the Tories, unionist business class, landed aristocracy, and the Orange Order working together stirred up memories of the conflict resulting from the plantation centuries earlier. They claimed that Home Rule would mean domination by the Catholic Church. It would also bring about, they said, the loss of industrial jobs in Belfast at a time when the northern economy was booming.
This so-called ‘constitutional issue’ – the constitutional connection or Union with Britain - has dominated northern politics since. Every election fought before and since partition has been dominated by this single overriding issue. Rarely do bread and butter matters get raised in northern elections by unionist candidates, except as side issues. The big question is where you stand on the Union. Are you for or against it? And if you are a unionist which party do you believe is more able to protect your interests. Fear of change is exploited mercilessly.
As a political strategy it has proven to be an effective weapon for unionist parties in mobilising and maximising their vote. This week the DUP leader rolled it out again. She told the media launch of her candidates, At this election, we will seek a mandate for the union that really matters – the union with Great Britain… In recent months, there has been increased noise about the possibility of a united Ireland.  Rather than be concerned about that debate we need to seize the moment and positively present the case for the union that matters most to the future prosperity and well being of Northern Ireland – the union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”
However, the Brexit referendum vote last year, the Assembly results in March, and the census conclusions from 2011, are evidence of a shifting demographic and political dynamic in northern politics. Those who defined themselves as ‘British’ in the census were for the first time in almost 100 years a minority in the northern state. The Assembly election saw the hardline unionism of the DUP and UUP lose its majority in the Assembly. The DUP and UUP leaders are mindful of all of this. For that reason they are engaged in a degree of co-operation in several constituencies in the June 8th election.
For the rest of us the Westminster election is an opportunity to challenge the folly of Brexit and demand that the North be designated a special status within the EU. And an opportunity to win more support for the objective of Irish unity.
The contradiction in Arlene Foster’s position now stands exposed. You can’t claim, as the DUP leader does, that she is confident in the pro-union position in the event of a poll on Irish reunification and then deny citizens the opportunity to make a choice. While I would not claim that last June’s remain was a vote for Irish unity, nonetheless 56% of citizens voted to remain within the EU. The figures indicate that a significant section of unionist opinion voted to stay in the EU. The economic arguments warning of the disastrous consequences of Brexit on the northern economy and society obviously had an impact. In this context the decision last week by the EU Council, that in the event of Irish reunification all of Ireland will automatically be in the EU, substantially changes the political dynamic around the question of Irish unity.
There is now a powerful argument, as a result of the threat Brexit poses to communities, to jobs and the economy, which if properly articulated can persuade more and more people that our economic self-interest is best served by an all island approach.
This election is an opportunity to put forward our alternative Republican vision and policy proposals. The outcome will be closely scrutinised. It will shape the talks to re-establish the Executive. It will be seen as another measure of support for the potential of Irish unity.
Sinn Féin currently holds 4 of the 18 seats in the North. There is real potential to increase this. And to build on the Assembly election result. Every vote will count. The deadline for postal and proxy votes is 18 May. The deadline for registration is 22 May.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Designated Status for North best solution to Brexit

Michelle O'Neill in the Oireachtas for the visit of Michel Barnier

Michelle O'Neill and Mickey Brady travelled down from the North this morning to attend the joint sitting of the Dáil and the Seanad for the address by the EU's Chief Negotiator on Brexit Michel Barnier. As well as meeting political leaders and travelling to the border this morning he addressed a joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad. Find below my contribution to the debate with bullet points at the outset to highlight some of the more important points, including Sinn Féin wanting a referendum on Irish Unity within the next five years.
  •  Sinn Féin wants a different type of European Union. We want a social Europe which promotes peace, demilitarisation, economic and social justice, international solidarity, and greater democratic accountability.
  • ·         Brexit is not just an issue for the north. It will adversely affect our entire island - if we let it. It is vital its challenges are met on that basis.
  • ·         The aim of the European Union should be to prevent a land frontier between the EU and Britain on the island of Ireland.
  • ·         To achieve these goals the North of Ireland should be afforded designated special status within the European Union.
  • ·         Ireland should also have a veto on any agreement reached between the EU and the British Government that does not include this position.
  • ·         Designated special status is an imaginative solution that addresses the complexities of the problem.
  • ·         It does not affect the constitutional status of the North.
  • ·         Designated special status for the North within the European Union is not about a hard Brexit, or a soft Brexit. It’s about the best interests of our economy, our peace process and our people. It is also a democratic imperative.
  • ·         Special status would ensure the North’s trading relationship with the rest of Ireland and the EU – particularly in relation to business, tourism, the all-Ireland energy market, agriculture and agri-foods – will be maintained
  • ·         It’s about protecting the rights of citizens in the North, who have a right to Irish citizenship, and therefore to citizenship of the European Union.
  • ·         Sinn Féin would like a referendum on Irish Unity within the next five years.

Full Text of Speech on visit of Michel Barnier to the Oireachtas
Ceád Mile Fáilte go Éire, Mr. Barnier.
Tá súil agam go mbeidh do chuairt faisnéiseach agus Suimiúil
My name is Gerry Adams. 
Is Uachtarán Shinn Féin mé.
Sinn Féin is an Irish Republican party.
We are an all-Ireland party.
We have the largest group of Irish MEPs in the European Parliament.
Sinn Féin has TDs, MLAS, Senators, MPs, MEPs and Councillors.
We have a significant mandate and are the only party substantially organised across this entire island.
Sinn Féin is opposed to the partition of Ireland.
We are a United Ireland party that wants an end to British involvement in Irish affairs.
We are working for the unity of all the people of this island based on equality, respect and reconciliation.
We believe absolutely in the core values of equality, liberty and fraternity.
With others, Sinn Fein has played a central role in the development of the peace process and in the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements.
We helped to create, and we were part of, the national and international efforts which brought an end to conflict on this island – not least with the EU as a critical partner for peace over the past twenty years.
For those who were previously denied the right to work peacefully for a United Ireland the Good Friday Agreement commits the governments to legislate for a United Ireland if the people consent to this.
Sinn Féin campaigned against Irish membership of the EEC in 1973.
Since then every European treaty has taken further powers from the Irish state.
Sinn Féin wants a different type of European Union.
We want a social Europe which promotes peace, demilitarisation, economic and social justice, international solidarity, and greater democratic accountability.
Today’s European Union is wedded to neoliberal policies.
These have created widespread hardship as austerity, deregulation and privatisation have undermined the social function of states and the rights of citizens, including the rights of workers.
Increasingly people across the EU are uncomfortable with its direction.  
This has assisted the growth of far-right parties which exploit people’s fears.
Brexit is a consequence of that.
During the Brexit referendum, Sinn Féin campaigned for a Remain vote in the North.
It is clearly not in interests of the people of this island, whatever their background or views, to have one part of the island outside of the EU and the other part inside.
I know that you value the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.
I am sure you are aware that any agreement by the EU that violates an international treaty - which is what the Good Friday Agreement is - would contravene EU Treaty obligations.
Brexit is not just an issue for the north.
It will adversely affect our entire island - if we let it.
It is vital its challenges are met on that basis.
It is clear that Brexit will have a serious and detrimental effect on Irish jobs and businesses, in particular in the agriculture and agri-food sectors.
It is already having a major negative impact.
The aim of the European Union should be to prevent a land frontier between the EU and Britain on the island of Ireland.
To achieve these goals the North of Ireland should be afforded designated special status within the European Union.
Ireland should also have a veto on any agreement reached between the EU and the British Government that does not include this position.
Designated special status is the best and only way to ensure that the entire island of Ireland remains within the European Union.
It is an imaginative solution that addresses the complexities of the problem.
It does not affect the constitutional status of the North.
That will only be changed by a referendum.
Designated Special Status within the EU is the position endorsed by this Dáil.
It is endorsed by the majority of MLAs in the Northern Assembly.
It also recognises that the people of the North voted to remain part of the European Union.
It is the solution being advocated by representatives of our border communities.
Some of them are in the public gallery here today and I welcome them.
The Tory government in England should not be allowed to reject that vote and drag the North out of the EU against the democratic wishes of citizens.
Designated special status for the North within the European Union is not about a hard Brexit, or a soft Brexit.
It’s about the best interests of our economy, our peace process and our people.
It is also a democratic imperative.
It’s about retaining the freedom of movement of goods, people and services on the island of Ireland.
Any restriction on the freedom of movement would represent a hardening of the border.
This would severely damage social and economic cohesion.
It would be unacceptable to people living in border communities and to people right across the island.
Special status would ensure the North’s trading relationship with the rest of Ireland and the EU – particularly in relation to business, tourism, the all-Ireland energy market, agriculture and agri-foods – will be maintained
It is about allowing all of Ireland to remain in the Customs Union, the Single Market and under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
It’s about maintaining the European Convention on Human Rights.
It’s about protecting the rights of citizens in the North, who have a right to Irish citizenship, and therefore to citizenship of the European Union.
Access to EU rights and services across employment, workers conditions, social security and healthcare must also be protected.
None of this is beyond our collective wisdom or ability.
It requires political flexibility from the EU.
Of course, the little Englanders may object.
But remember they are looking for special arrangements with the EU for themselves
There are already unique arrangements in place for other states.
The European Union has been flexible.
There are different forms of integration and relationships for member states and non-member states.
These include Overseas Countries & Territories Status, the European Free Trade Association and Separate Customs Union.
In light of the provisions for Irish unity in the Good Friday Agreement, the European Union should not diverge from EU norms.
Sinn Féin would like a referendum on Irish Unity within the next five years.
However, the immediate challenge facing the EU and the people of Ireland is how to meet the threat of Brexit.
The only way to adequately deal with that is through a designated special status for the North of Ireland within the European Union.
Many thanks, Mr. Barnier for your presence and your attention.
Merci Beaucoup.
Go Raibh Maith Agat.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The future of two Unions

Last week the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, made the bizarre claim that the other 27 member states are ‘lining up to oppose’ Britain over Brexit. It was as if the other EU members are somehow being unfair in agreeing a united position before they enter into the Brexit negotiations with Britain. What did Mrs May expect they would do? Accept her terms quietly, stoically, and meekly acquiesce to British demands?
Of course not. This is May very cynically playing to the conservative and jingoistic tendencies within the British electorate. The propaganda spin is simple. It’s Britain – alone - against the rest. The recent talk, in some right-wing media, of war with Spain if the status of Gibraltar changes; the constant harking back to Britain’s Imperial past – as if that is something to be proud of, are just some of the xenophobic elements coming to play in the current debate around Brexit.
It is part of a much wider propaganda battle between Britain and the EU. Evidence of this emerged at the weekend when the Sunday Express reported that May “chastised” the EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker over dinner last Wednesday in Downing Street. The Express – which enthusiastically supports Brexit - claimed that; “Details of the awkward meeting are beginning to emerge after Mr. Juncker apparently insulted the hospitality he was offered – which was paid for by UK taxpayers.”
But a different account is reported in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ). According to the Economist magazine FAZ states that EU officials were ‘astonished’ by Theresa May’s lack of understanding of the complexity of the negotiations. "The more I hear, the more skeptical I become" said Juncker.” May and her Brexit Minister David Davies then claimed that Britain does not owe the EU any money and that the “EU could not force the UK to pay the bill. OK, said Juncker, then no trade deal.”
It is clear that the economic and political stakes for Britain and for the EU are immense. That is why the position of the Irish government is so crucial. It will be at the negotiating table where, with the right strategies, it can promote and defend the interests of the people of this island. But with the wrong strategies it could be disastrous.
Several weeks ago the EU set out its draft guidelines for the Brexit negotiations. I expressed my concern at that time that the Irish government had failed to ensure that the interests of the people of this island, the future of the Good Friday Agreement, and the option of Irish unity, were sufficiently strongly reflected in those guidelines.
On Saturday, according to one EU source it took only four minutes for the 27 leaders of the EU to conclude the final negotiating guidelines, with minimal alteration. The focus was on the broad terms for Brexit and on those issues that must be resolved before a trade deal between Britain and the EU will be agreed. Among these is agreement on the divorce Bill – an estimated £50 billion - that Britain will have to pay, and the status and protections for EU citizens living in Britain post Brexit.
While it is not part of the guidelines the minutes of the summit state that in the event of Irish unity, “in accordance with International Law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would this be part of the European Union.” This is a welcome development. But it is not the ‘coup’ that some have claimed. It reflects the position of the Good Friday Agreement. It is a proposition that Sinn Féin has consistently argued for on the basis of the approach adopted toward the reunification of Germany and a similar agreement in respect of Cyprus.
However, the Irish government failed to get this clause included as part of the EU negotiating guidelines. In the four weeks since the publication of the draft guidelines Mr. Kenny succeeded in securing one minor amendment to Article 11 of the guidelines dealing with Ireland. It involved the addition of three words – ‘in all its parts’ - a reference to the Good Friday Agreement.
The government failed to secure a commitment that no agreement on the border or the status of the North could be achieved between the EU and Britain, without a separate and binding agreement between the Irish government and Britain. This would have provided the Irish government with a veto similar to that secured by Spain in respect of Gibraltar.
Instead what we have is a commitment to “flexible and imaginative solutions” with the “aim of avoiding a hard border”. This is an aspirational, wishy-washy piece of rhetoric. It is meaningless in the world of a substantive and difficult negotiation. It is not good enough.
There is solid support for the island of Ireland among our partners in Europe and for the peace process and the unique and special circumstances faced by Ireland as a result of Brexit. The Taoiseach failed to harness this support. He failed to stand up for Ireland’s national interests and put these before any other consideration. Mr. Kenny also broke a commitment he gave two month ago to publish a consolidated paper on the Irish government’s negotiating priorities in advance of last weekend’s Summit.
Sinn Féin will be challenging the Taoiseach on all of this and we will be challenging him to set out the criteria and context against which the Irish government will judge it is time to support the calling of a referendum on Irish unity.
Brexit is the single greatest challenge to the people of this island in many years. The formal negotiations between the EU and Britain will begin next month. They are expected to last two years but will almost certainly take longer. All of the indications from Saturday’s EU Summit, and the differing media spins, are that the negotiations will be difficult and that the outcome will be a hard Brexit. The French president, François Hollande, told the media: “There will inevitably be a price and a cost for Britain, it’s the choice they made… it is clear that Europe knows how to defend its interests, and that Britain will have a less good position outside the EU than in the EU.”
The implications for jobs and investment for the island of Ireland, the border region and the North are enormous. Sinn Féin’s objective of achieving designated special status for the North within the EU offers the best hope for protecting the rights and jobs of citizens. It also points the way to reunification.
Key to this is persuading the Irish government to support designated status inside the EU. The majority of TDs in the Dáil, like the majority of MLAs in the Assembly, already do. Our energy and our focus must be on persuading the Taoiseach or his replacement, to make this a priority. Their goal must be to ensure that all of Ireland can remain a member of the Single Market and the Common Travel area, that EU funding streams can continue to be accessed, that the rights of Irish citizens in the north are protected and that trading arrangements, north and south and between Ireland and Britain are secure. 
But Brexit is also about the future of two Unions. The European Union on the one hand, and the British union on the other.
The June 8th election will be fought primarily on the single issue of Brexit. The DUP and UUP are for Brexit. Sinn Féin and others are against it. We are for a different union. A union of the people of the island of Ireland.
A strong vote for Sinn Féin – a strong vote against Brexit and for Irish unity– are essential on June 8th.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Gardaí and Government have questions to answer following Omeath shooting

Last week RTE broadcast a special investigative programme about events in Omeath on 11 October 2015 which left a Garda Officer, Tony Golden dead, Siobhán Phillips, a young mother of two fighting for her life in hospital and the gunman Crevan Mackin also dead after taking his own life. Like everyone else I was shocked when the news broke. Omeath is a quiet, tranquil village on Carlingford Lough. It is a beautiful part of the Cooley Mountains.

In the aftermath of the shootings the news reports appeared to suggest it was an open and shut case. No one else was involved in the incident and the perpetrator, Crevan Mackin, was dead. However, four days after the shooting I received anonymously to my office in the Dáil a copy of the Statement of Charges relating to the arrest in January of that year of Mackin. The detail contained within the document raised serious and fundamental questions about the role of elements of An Garda Síochána in the circumstances surrounding Mackin’s arrest in January 2015, their relationship with him subsequently, and the multiple shooting in Omeath.

I immediately contacted the office of the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, and then wrote to both her and An Taoiseach providing them with a copy of the Book of Statements and setting out my concerns.

The document revealed that Mackin was arrested on 16th January 2015 at his home in Omeath under Section 30 of the Offences against the State Act. The warrant accused him of being a member of the IRA on the 16th January 2015 and in possession of explosives in suspicious circumstances. The Gardaí believed that he had six handguns, as well as explosives, ammunition and timing devices.

During subsequent interrogation in Dundalk Garda station Mackin denied the membership charge but admitted possession of weapons and explosives. According to his family and solicitor he was taken at one point from the station to a house at Edentubber where two hand guns were recovered. Later Mackin was charged with membership but not with the possession of the explosives or weapons.

His family say that Mackin told them later that he did a deal with his Garda interrogators that in return for working for them he would not be charged with the firearms and explosives offences. He told his family that the Gardaí wanted him to go on to the dissident wing in Portlaoise as their informer. However when the dissident prisoners refused to accept him Mackin’s bail conditions were significantly dropped from twenty thousand euro to five to allow for his release.

Both the evidence of the Statement of Charges and the accounts given by his family show that with the knowledge of some in An Garda Síochána, Mackin continued to have access to at least four other handguns.

On Saturday 10 October Crevan Mackin’s partner Siobhán Phillips contacted her father Sean and step mother Norma. She told them that Mackin had savagely beaten her overnight from the Friday evening into the Saturday morning and that he had attacked her with a knife. Sean and Norma brought Siobhán to Dundalk Garda station but the Duty Officer refused to take a statement from her. This was despite the family telling him that Mackin was currently out on bail and had threatened to kill them and all of their immediate family.

The family drove to Daisy Hill hospital in Newry where because of her injuries, the staff contacted the PSNI. They took notes and photos of Siobhán’s injuries. When they left Daisy Hill hospital at 11.30 pm on the Saturday night the family drove toward Carlingford intending to make a complaint at the Garda station there. On route they flagged down a Garda car whose occupants referred them to Garda Tony Golden. It was arranged that he would meet Siobhán at 3pm on the Sunday. The next day Siobhán, and her father Sean, met Garda Golden who took a statement and then offered to bring Siobhán to her home to collect some things. According to Sean shortly after Garda Golden and Siobhán entered the house shots were fired. Garda Golden was killed. Siobhán was shot four times and grievously wounded in the head, and Crevan Mackin then shot himself.

In the 18 months since the Omeath shooting I have written to the Minister for Justice eight times and to the Taoiseach four times. I also handed over all of the information to the Garda Officer in charge of the investigation. And when it appeared that the government was not taking this matter seriously I made a formal complaint to the Garda Ombudsman.

The ramifications of this case are far reaching for An Garda Siochána and for the government, especially in light of the number of Commissions of Investigations and scandals currently surrounding the Gardaí.

Crevan Mackin was an individual with known serious mental health issues. Despite having admitted possession of weapons and explosives he was not charged with these but with– membership – an accusation he consistently denied. All of the available information indicates that some in the Gardaí – in particular the Special detective Unit - were aware that Mackin was still in possession of other handguns, including two Glock handguns. It was a Glock that Mackin used in the Omeath shooting.

Informers and agents are regularly used by police services to provide information on individuals and organisations. However, it is widely accepted that such informers should not act as agent provocateurs or engage in criminal actions or encourage others to do so. In the North the use by the RUC and British security agencies of informers and agents has long been a major source of controversy. The Crevan Mackin case has turned the spotlight on the Gardaí and how it recruits and runs informers.

Why was Mackin not charged with the more serious offences which he had confessed to? Why was he allowed to retain possession of a significant number of handguns? Were local Gardaí informed that Mackin still had access to weapons? Why were Siobhán Phillips and Garda Golden placed in such a perilous situation? Had Garda Golden no means of checking Mackin’s record before approaching the house? What assurances and protections were given to Mackin by the Special Detective Unit?

There is also the very serious matter of the Garda’s treatment of Siobhán Phillips, a victim of significant violence by her partner. When the family sought to make a complaint at Dundalk station they were refused. Why? What protocols are in place with An Garda Síochána for dealing with victims of domestic violence? Clearly the treatment of Siobhán Phillips is evidence that any protocols that might exist are inadequate. It is worth noting in this regard that only two weeks ago the Garda Commissioner was forced to admit that the Garda’s statistics on murder and domestic violence may be wrong and that it is now re-examining all of its statistics.

The responses of both the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice to my correspondence have been unsatisfactory. I have never received any indication that the government was taking this matter seriously.

Those responsible must be held accountable and, if necessary, they must face a criminal investigation and possibly charges. Just days before the RTE programme was broadcast Siobhán Phillips, Crevan Mackin’s sister, and I received letters from GSOC. I was told that the Garda Ombudsman now intends to conduct an investigation in the public interest into the information I gave it.

Separately the family of Siobhán Phillips have called on Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to establish a public inquiry into the incident. This week they will begin proceedings in the High Court in Dublin.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hopes for peace in the Basque country

In the midst of the ceremonies last week to complete the process of putting the weapons and explosives of ETA beyond use, the figure of former Methodist Minister Harold Good was centre stage. In 2005, along with my very good friend the late Fr. Alec Reid, the two men played a key role as independent witnesses, in the process by which the IRA put its weapons beyond use.
Last weekend Rev. Harold Good was in Bayonne, a city in south west France. It is part of the extended Basque country. He was there to take part in the final act by ETA of putting its weapons beyond use. It was a simple ceremony held in the City Hall. It involved a list of arms dumps being handed over to the international witnesses providing the location of these dumps. The French police then took possession of them. Outside tens of thousands of Basques celebrated this momentous decision and held aloft white cards containing the symbol of a dove of peace.
The decision by ETA to take this historic step has the potential to transform the relationships between the Basque country and the Spanish and French states.
I want to commend the leadership of ETA on this momentous initiative. I also want to commend Basque Civic Society, the International Verification Commission and EH Bildu for their courageous efforts over many difficult years to build the peace process. This is a truly defining moment, a milestone, in the efforts to build a lasting peace in that region and to achieve a political settlement that respects Basque self-determination.
There is an enormous responsibility now on the Spanish and French governments, and all of the political parties, to grasp the opportunity provided by this extraordinary development.
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. Consequently, myself and other Sinn Féin have leaders travelled regularly to the Basque country to participate in this debate and to encourage its development. Sometimes the discussions were held in the Basque country, sometimes in Belfast and on a number of occasions senior Sinn Féin representatives travelled to Geneva for meetings with Basque representatives and other international players.
The strategy that emerged, based largely on language and principles agreed in the Irish peace process, 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’.
There is a long affinity between Irish people and the people of France and Spain and the Basque country. Sinn Féin’s efforts to assist in building a peace process there go back to the Good Friday Agreement. In that time there have been moments of great hope but also of despair as the opportunity for peace suffered setbacks.
The Irish peace process, despite its imperfections, has demonstrated that with imagination and dialogue and a commitment to achieve peace it is possible to make progress. In Donostia in October 2011 I said that: “Violence usually occurs when people believe that there is no alternative. Transforming a situation from conflict to peace requires therefore that an alternative is created.”
Making peace is hugely challenging and enormously difficult. It demands that we seek to understand what motivates, what inspires, what drives our opponent. Ultimately, as Madiba - Nelson Mandela - said, we have to make friends with our enemy. Each conflict is different but it is possible to discern broad guidelines or principles that can contribute to a peace process. These include: putting in place a process of inclusive dialogue; tackling the causes which lie at the heart of the conflict; ensuring a good faith engagement by all sides; creating an inclusive process – with all parties treated as equals and mandates respected; all issues on the agenda; no pre-conditions; no vetoes; and no attempt to pre-determine the outcome, or preclude any outcome. There should also be time frames. 
Confidence building measures are also crucial. In Ireland this meant, for example, improving conditions for prisoners, including moving those who were in England closer to their homes in Ireland. It meant demilitarizing the environment and ending the use of emergency laws and repression, a new beginning to policing and the release of political prisoners.
In this context I would appeal the Spanish and French governments to respond positively to this very important development with generosity and imagination. As a first step both should engage in dialogue with the representatives of all of the Basque people. Addressing the treatment of Basque political prisoners – including ending the policy of dispersal of Basque prisoners and moving those who are a significant distance from their families closer to their homes - previous to an early release process - would also be an important confidence building measure.
The Basque people have repeatedly demonstrated in elections and on the streets their support for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in that region. The initiative by ETA is an opportunity that must not be squandered.

The Spanish and French governments have a key role to play now in promoting a process of dialogue that can advance the goal of a just and lasting peace in the Basque Country and of bringing to a permanent end one of the last European conflicts.