Category: Archive

Military scaleback ‘vague waffle,’ Sinn Fein says

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — Long-awaited British proposals on scaling back its military presence in Northern Ireland have been furiously attacked by Sinn Fein, who described the announcements as "vague waffle."

The paper was due more than a year ago, and Dublin sources have already indicated that earlier drafts were considered inadequate and referred back, but the final version published just before Christmas was noticeably slim on detail, whatever its aspirations.

In the coming months, said the paper, two more RUC detention centers — at Gough barracks in Armagh, and Strand Road in Derry — are set to close. The strategy also envisions further troop reductions and a review of the use of plastic bullets.

But Sinn Fein leaders said the measures fell far short of what was expected by nationalists and republicans. Gerry Kelly, strongly criticized the paper, entitled "Security — Return to Normality," saying it lacked detail and substance.

"It is a report produced by securocrats who are still fighting a war and who are clearly intent on protecting their jobs," Kelly said. "Nationalists and republicans are not interested in vague waffle or minimalist and ineffectual gestures."

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In a reference to recent newspaper photographs of the British Northern secretary, Peter Mandelson, and his new pet puppy, "Bobby," Kelly said "Bobby the dog could have produced a better report."

The strategy paper sketches what it says is a plan for "normal security and policing" in Northern Ireland, but, it says, "the difficulty in predicting the activities of those who continue to use or threaten violence prevents us from establishing a precise timetable or sequence of measures to achieve normalization."

The Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, was also critical of the report. He wanted to see immediate demilitarization and was not, he said, interested "in papers or fine words."

Also in the days before Christmas, Mandelson met members of the Orange Order in Portadown in another attempt to end the dispute over the Drumcree march. A spokesman said the visit was a private one.

The meeting was welcomed by the first minister, David Trimble, himself an Orangeman and MP for Portadown, who said the parades impasse was a "running sore" that needed to be dealt with.

But Breandan MacCionnaith of the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition, who did not have a meeting with Mandelson, expressed his community’s suspicions about the visit, asking what was its purpose and why a similar meeting was not held with his group.

In his Christmas message, Mandelson said that paramilitaries must disarm as Northern Ireland enters the "age of grown-up politics." He said the past year had brought a "quiet yet quite astonishing revolution" and there was a "growing sense of calm optimism" and normality.

But he said that no one should have to live under threat of violence.

"That is why decommissioning has to happen. It is a voluntary act but one that is an essential part of the agreement, as all the parties have now accepted," Mandelson said.

He said the new British-Irish institutions set up under the terms of the Belfast agreement also reflected the new era.

"They are common-sense organizations with the issue of consent at the center, each designed to encourage partners to work together to solve problems, to share experiences and to find the best possible common solutions," he said. "All these are encouraging signs that the Good Friday agreement is working, but the transition must be complete, the agreement must be implemented in full."

Over the holidays, more than 120 of the remaining paramilitary prisoners in the Maze jail were given temporary freedom. Mandelson said he made the decision in recognition of the political progress that has been made in recent weeks.

Under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, more than 300 paramilitary prisoners have been released early, mostly from the Maze, which is due to close in the year 2000.

Those freed for Christmas include a prisoner from South Armagh, Seamus McArdle, sentenced to 25 years for his part in the 1996 Canary Wharf bombing. They also included Michael Stone, who killed six Catholics, including three during a funeral at Milltown Cemetery, and Sean Kelly, who was convicted of the 1993 Shankill Road bombing.

In a separate development, the speaker of the British House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, has said that MPs will have to debate a government proposal to allow the two Sinn Fein MPs to use the House’s facilities without taking the oath of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth.

Boothroyd made it clear that members, and not ministers, would decide on the proposal. She made her comments in a letter to the DUP leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, who has been critical of the proposal to allow Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to use the facilities without taking their seats.

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