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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:

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

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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Ireland

Growing dissent over Micheál Martin's leadership

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An abysmal performance by the Fianna Fáil Party in a Dublin by-election last week has seen Micheál Martin’s (pictured) position as Taoiseach or prime minister in the Irish government come under increasing threat. As Ken Murray reports, sharks are circling within his Party as a growing number of disgruntled back-benchers want a new face to win back lost support.

There’s an old saying that goes: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer still."

That’s a phrase that Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach Micheál Martin may have to keep in mind over the coming months as he comes under increasing pressure from within his own ranks if he wants to continue leading his party and government.

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According to the favourite to be next party leader Jim O’Callaghan TD, “I would have thought that it’s unlikely that in 2025 Micheál Martin would be leading Fianna Fáil into an election, that’s just my own view,” he said over the weekend as the current coalition government continues its battle to get the economy back on the road after the ravages of Covid 19.

The Party’s support is down and a combination of Covid fatigue, issues over housing and a closed economy, failure to get its message out or the fact that it entered in to an unthinkable three-way coalition are being cited as some of the reasons for the drop in support.

The current Irish Government whose time in office has been dominated by tackling the spread of the Covid 19 virus, is currently comprised of a unique coalition arrangement following the general election in February 2020.

The election to the 160-seat Dáil or parliament saw Micheál Martin’s Fianna Fáil win 38 seats or 22.2% of the national vote, Sinn Féin 37, Fine Gael 35, the Greens 12 with an array of left-wing and independents taking the remainder.

After much exploration on the acceptable options to form a new government, Fianna Fáil, led by Micheál Martin, which describes itself as a centre-left republican party, eventually entered office in June 2020 with the centre-right Fine Gael Party led by former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

As part of the coalition deal, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are operating a rotating Taoiseach arrangement. Martin is in the top job until December 2022 when Leo Varadkar will then succeed him for the run-in to the next election.

Such a coalition would have been unthinkable up to recently as both opposing parties were founded almost 100 years ago following a bitter hostile split from the old Sinn Féin over the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 which saw the British divide Ireland and the ongoing turmoil that followed.

The Green Party is also part of the new coalition but is only ‘inside the tent’, so to speak, to keep the modern-day Sinn Féin out!

To say Micheál Martin’s time as Taoiseach has been tough would be under-stating it.

For all Leaders across the World, Covid-19 and the subsequent lock-down measures have been politically unpopular. In Ireland, the ruling Fianna Fáil has taken something of a hammering from Covid measures in successive opinion polls due to delays in re-opening the economy.

A Red C survey for The Business Post newspaper last month saw Fianna Fáil at 13 per cent, a drop of almost half on its general election performance of 2020 while opponents Fine Gael were up to 30%.

With increased rumblings amongst FF party back-benchers over its performance in government, the recent by-election in the mainly affluent Dublin Bay South constituency was seen by many as a test of the Party and Micheál Martin’s popularity with a worn-down electorate that has been somewhat house-bound since March of last year due to Covid restrictions!

When the votes were counted on Friday last in the by-election, both Fine Gael, which originally held but vacated the seat and Fianna Fáil, got something of a kicking from the local electorate with the seat surprisingly going to Ivana Bacik of the Labour Party which only picked up 4.4% of the national vote last year!

The Fianna Fáil candidate, Deirdre Conroy, received 4.6% of the vote, the worst in the history of the Party! The FF fall in support was 9.2%!

Not surprisingly, a number of Micheál Martin’s disgruntled back-benchers who were overlooked for Cabinet positions last year, have been, metaphorically speaking, sharpening their knives!

Jim O’Callaghan TD who was director of Deirdre Conroy’s ill-fated election campaign pointed the blame for the performance in Micheál Martin’s direction.

Asked if the Taoiseach should lead Fianna Fáil into the next election, were it to go ahead as planned in 2025, Mr O’Callaghan replied in subtle voice, “We’ll have to think about that.”

Barry Cowen TD, who was sacked by Micheál Martin as Agriculture Minister last year after it emerged he wasn’t fully forthcoming over a drink-driving offence, also made it clear that the time has come for his boss to go.

In a statement to fellow TDs or MPs, senators and MEPs, he said that Fianna Fáil’s dismal share of the vote was ‘alarming but strangely, not surprising.”

He went on to call for a special meeting of the parliamentary party during the Summer so that members could discuss in person “the latest bad results and last year’s dismal general election.”

Another party rebel TD calling for a change at the top is Marc McSharry, whose father Ray was EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development between 1989 and 1993.

Questioned on Newstalk Radio in Dublin as to whether Micheál Martin should step down, Marc McSharry said, “the sooner the better. It’s not my preference he would lead us in to the next general election.”

Matters haven’t been helped in recent months for Micheál Martin with the news that large numbers of young people are being denied the opportunity to purchase houses due to a sweet-heart tax deal done by the Government with cash-rich foreign vulture funds who’ve ‘invaded’ the Irish market and bought up new housing estates which they in turn rent out at inflated rates to married couples desperate to own a home of their own!

The PR fall-out from this has been disastrous for the Government but moreso for Martin as he is the one in the Taoiseach’s office.

The revelation has caused much anger with younger first and second-time voters who feel the Government has abandoned them, a development that has contributed to a drift in FF support.

Speaking in the aftermath of the Dublin Bay South by-election, a defiant Micheál Martin told reporters that he would lead his Fianna Fáil Party in to the next General Election which is scheduled for 2025.

"My focus is on the government and the people of Ireland, getting through Covid-19, is extremely important. And it is my intention then, [after] the first half of government [when] we do the transition and I'll become Tánaiste [deputy Leader] and it's my intention to lead the party into the next election," he said.

If Fianna Fáil don’t see an improvement in opinion polls over the coming months, his Party may decide it’s time for change at the top.

In the meantime, the political sniping from disgruntled back-benchers in the Party looks set to continue.

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