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Another gentle step towards a united Ireland

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Rioting on the streets of Belfast and Derry City in the past week by British loyalists which saw 27 policemen injured followed by subsequent arrests have raised concerns that Northern Ireland might be slipping back to a life of hostilities that originally took over 25 years of sectarian warfare to eradicate. As Ken Murray reports from Dublin, a number of events coming down the line could make an already fragile atmosphere even worse.

Recent rioting on the streets of Belfast and Derry City has threatened a delicate and successful peace process that has been carefully evolving for the past 23 years.

When the so-called ‘Good Friday’ Agreement was signed on April 10th 1998 between London and Dublin with Washington looking on, everyone on the island of Ireland prayed that ‘The Troubles’, which claimed over 3,500 lives, were finished.

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However, in a bitterly divided society where protestant unionists wish to remain under British rule and catholic nationalists want to unify the island of Ireland since it was divided by London in 1921, tensions have been coming to the surface which threaten to turn back the clock.

A decision last week by the Police Service of Northern Ireland not to prosecute senior members of Sinn Féin for breaching Covid-19 restrictions while attending the funeral of one of their chief strategists Bobby Storey in June 2020, caused uproar in the unionist community with many prominent politicians suggesting special treatment was being applied for appeasement purposes!

As a result, angry protestant youths took to the streets of Belfast and Derry and rioted their anger against the police.

In her Easter message, Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Leader of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster said: “The people are hugely frustrated.

“I appeal to our young community not to get drawn in to disorder which will lead to them having criminal convictions and blighting their own lives,” she said.

Her comments come as anger is growing elsewhere within the unionist community over the Northern Ireland protocol, a part of the British exit from the EU which has seen the establishment of checks at ports in Belfast and Larne on trade goods entering NI from GB.

As unionists see it, the notional ‘border’ or imaginary line down the middle of the Irish Sea psychologically isolates Northern Ireland from GB and is another gentle step towards a united Ireland.

The matter hasn’t been helped by the fact that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rowed back on a prior commitment not to impose such a ‘border’ between GB and NI.

Johnson promised delegates at the annual DUP Conference in November 2018: "If we wanted to do free trade deals, if we wanted to cut tariffs or vary our regulation, then we would have to leave Northern Ireland behind as an economic semi-colony of the EU and we would be damaging the fabric of the union.”

Johnson did the proverbial u-turn on the DUP which, ironically, kept the Conservative Party in Government during Teresa May’s time in 10 Downing st, and his cunning betrayal has enraged British unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland who feel that incrementally, London is off-loading the costly province in to the hands of Dublin, a scenario they vehemently oppose.

To complicate matters moreso, the Loyalist Communities Council which represents protestant terrorist groups such as the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando, said its members have now withdrawn support for the 1998 Peace Agreement in protest at the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol by London.

The recent upsurge in rioting may be linked to this move with newspaper reports suggesting that the LCC want to see the collapse of the regional Northern Ireland parliament to ensure that direct rule from London is re-introduced so that unionist issues and concerns in the province receive greater attention while simultaneously reducing Sinn Féin influence.

In the meantime, as Northern Ireland finds itself at yet another political crossroads, a number of milestone events are coming down the line that are likely to enflame tensions moreso.

When the Northern Ireland Assembly elections take place in May 2022, it is 99.99 per cent likely that Sinn Féin will win more seats than the DUP putting Irish nationalists in the dominant position for the first time since 1921.

Added to that, the results of the Northern Ireland census will be published in Summer 2022 with catholics tipped to surpass the number of British protestants for the first time in over 300 years, a move that will speed up the call for an all-Ireland referendum and all that before the outcome of the Scottish Assembly elections increases demands for independence there!

As Sinn Féin MP John Finucane put it recently: “A united Ireland is not a case of if, but when.”

On paper, all the dynamics and trends are working against British unionists in Northern Ireland, suggesting that the recent rioting may be a rehearsal for what is to come.

European Commission

Commission lays out practical solutions for medicines supply in Northern Ireland in the framework of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, and for sanitary and phytosanitary measures

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On 26 July, the Commission published a series of ‘non-papers' in the fields of medicines and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, in the framework of the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland. A non-paper specifically on medicines lays out the Commission's proposed solution to ensure a continued, long-term supply of medicines in Northern Ireland, from or through Great Britain. This non-paper was shared with the UK prior to the package of measures announced by the Commission on 30 June 2021, to address some of the most pressing issues related to the implementation of the Protocol in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland.

Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said: “These solutions have an unambiguous common denominator – they were brought about with the core purpose of benefitting the people in Northern Ireland. Ultimately, our work is about ensuring that the hard-earned gains of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement – peace and stability in Northern Ireland – are protected, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU Single Market.”

The solution on medicines involves the EU changing its own rules, within the framework of the Protocol, so that regulatory compliance functions for medicines supplied to the Northern Ireland market only, may be permanently located in Great Britain, subject to specific conditions ensuring that the medicines concerned are not further distributed in the EU Internal Market. The medicines concerned here are primarily generic and over-the-counter products. The solution demonstrates the Commission's commitment to the people in Northern Ireland and to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, with a legislative proposal expected in the early autumn in order to be able to finish the legislative process on time.

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The other non-papers published today relate to a solution identified by the Commission to ease the movement of assistance dogs accompanying persons travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and a proposal by the Commission to simplify the movements of livestock from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and to clarify the rules on EU-origin animal products that are moved to Great Britain for storage before being shipped to Northern Ireland. All these papers, outlining the flexibilities offered by the Commission, have been shared with the UK and EU member states, and are available online.

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Ireland

Irish victims' groups to lobby US President

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The proposal by the British government to cease all investigations, inquests and legal actions against the murky conduct of its soldiers in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1998, has caused fury. Families of those that died from the guns and bombs of British soldiers as well as Irish and British terrorists, are determined that Boris Johnson will not be allowed to get away with this development, which undermines all the principles of justice in a modern democratic society and stands to let his army veterans off the hook. As Ken Murray reports from Dublin, a number of victims’ groups look set to lobby US President Joe Biden (pictured) in the hope he will lean on the British PM to back down.

Some readers may find it extraordinary that 23 years after the British-Irish Peace Agreement was signed in 1998 and brought a formal end to ‘The Troubles’, families of those that died in the conflict are still wrapped up in costly, frustrating and lengthy legal actions against the UK government seeking compensation but, more importantly, elusive answers!

The British Army’s role in some of the most horrific killings during the conflict include the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry City where 14 innocent victims were shot dead by soldiers from the Parachute Regiment.

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Not only did the British make a mess of its explanation for the killings but Lord Widgery in his subsequent Report lied to the World saying ‘the [British] soldiers had been fired on first’!

His poor attempt at a whitewash Report resulted in IRA numbers swelling beyond its wildest dreams which helped to pro-long a conflict which was still in its early days.

After persistent pressure on successive British Governments, a second Bloody Sunday Inquiry lasting 12 years running to 5,000 pages headed by Lord Saville and costing the British taxpayer just under £200 million, produced a different result saying the shooting of innocent victims was ‘unjustified’ resulting in Prime Minister David Cameron issuing a public apology in the House of Commons in June 2010.

In the meantime, the emergence that certain British soldiers and MI5 officers had been working in unison with terrorists in the Ulster Volunteer Force to murder targeted Irish republicans, has seen a growing number of catholic families seeking answers about the controversial killings of their loved ones.

Not surprisingly, the British have been playing hardball in all subsequent legal actions.

As Stephen Travers, a survivor of the 1975 Miami Showband massacre-as seen on Netflix- told Newstalk Radio in Dublin last week, “the British establishment is playing the long game by applying the three Ds, namely, deny, delay and die.”

In other words, if the UK Government can drag out the growing number of legal actions they are facing from victims’ families, the likelihood is that those either taking the litigation or the British soldiers who are defending themselves, will be dead by the time they get in to court thus cancelling the justification for such a case therefore letting the British off the hook for their alleged murders!

In recent months, the pressure has been mounting on the British to come clean on its illegal activities after a Coroner ruled last May that ten catholics shot dead by Her Majesty’s Army in Ballymurphy Belfast in 1971 were entirely innocent.

The Ballymurphy finding has set a precedence that up until last week, was shaping up to be an embarrassment and financially costly one for the London Government, one that has the potential to reveal that certain elements in the British Army deliberately murdered innocent Irish catholics without a valid reason!

To add to the frustration being experienced by families who lost loved ones in the conflict, earlier this month, the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service announced its intention to withdraw proceedings against two former British soldiers – Soldier F for the murder of two men during Bloody Sunday in 1972 and Soldier B for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty six months later, a signal perhaps that the UK Government is prepared to go to any length to protect its own.

When Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis announced last week that a statute of limitations is being proposed to close down all investigations, legal actions and procedures to deal with actions against British security services as well as catholic and protestant terrorist groups, his remarks provoked outrage across the island of Ireland.

For the first time in a long time, British unionists and Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland were, surprisingly, united for once over the same issue!

Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “the announcement was unacceptable and amounted to a betrayal.”

The Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was somewhat more diplomatic saying, “the Irish government has a very different view… as do NI political parties & victims groups.

 “This is not a fait accompli,” he added on Twitter. 

To complicate matters, the British actually agreed with the Irish Government at the 2014 Stormont House talks to deal with legacy issues assuring suffering families that their respective issues would be dealt with satisfactorily.

However, last week’s surprise announcement by Brandon Lewis even caused anger on the opposition benches in Westminster.

The Shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Labour MP, Louise Haigh said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson needed to properly explain the move.

“This Government gave victims their word [that] they would deliver the proper investigations denied to victims and their families for so long.

“To tear up that pledge would be insulting and to do so without the faintest hint of consultation with those who lost loved ones would be staggeringly insensitive.”

Meanwhile Victims’ group are looking across the Atlantic Ocean for political pressure to be applied on the British.

Dublin-based Margaret Urwin, who represents ‘Justice for the Forgotten’, said “I’m calling on the Irish Government to lobby US President Joe Biden.

“They have nothing to lose,” she said.

Eugene Reavey’s three innocent brothers were shot dead by the UVF with the support of rogue British Army personnel at their home in south Armagh in January 1976.

He jointly heads up TARP-the Truth and Reconciliation Platform-and has vowed that until the day he dies, he will follow the London Government to the ends of the earth to get justice for his brothers and those murdered by the British Army.

Talking to eureporter.co this week, he said, “I am writing to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and pleading with her to lobby President Biden to lean on the British to ensure this statute of limitations is not implemented.

“Nancy Pelosi’s son in-law is Irish and Joe Biden’s ancestors were Irish. We have influential support in Washington and we aim to ensure to use it to the max to ensure the British don’t get away with this one.

“They’ve been at it for centuries and it’s time their lies and evil deeds were finally exposed to the wider world.”

Margaret Urwin and Eugene Reavey’s calls are unlikely to fall on deaf ears.

Last year as the EU/UK Brexit withdrawal deal was reaching a conclusion, President Biden said he would not support a US trade deal with London if actions by the British undermined the 1998 [Good Friday] Peace Agreement.

It looks like it could be an uncomfortable few months ahead for the stiff upper lips in the British establishment.

ENDS:

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Ireland

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Ireland's recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Ireland's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €989 million in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility. This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Ireland's recovery and resilience plan. It will enable Ireland to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission assessed Ireland's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposals. The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800 billion (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. A press release, Q&A and factsheet are available online.

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