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9 September 1999 Edition

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Top Basques visit Ireland

By Eoin O'Broin

A TOP-LEVEL delegation from the Basque Herri Batasuna party travelled to Ireland last week for a round of meetings.

Nafarroa Assembly and National Executive member Pernando Barana, head of European relations Elena Beloki, and former political prisoner Mitxel Sarasketa had nine meetings aimed at bringing them up to date with political developments in Ireland.

On Thursday, 2 September, they met with Relatives for Justice co-ordinator Mark Thompson, Jim McCabe, whose wife Nora was murdered by the British Army in 1981, and Hugh and Theresa Jordan, whose son Pearse was murdered in a shoot-to-kill operation by the RUC in 1992. All four members of the relatives' group expressed concern at the way in which victims and survivors of state violence were being ignored, despite a clear obligation towards them in the Good Friday Agreement.

Later that day, the Basques met with Sinn Féin Assembly member and spokesperson on policing Bairbre de Brún. Focusing primarily on policing, the meeting dealt with the pending release of the Patten Report.

Friday morning was spent in Long Kesh, with the republican prisoners' leader, Padraig Wilson. He outlined the role played by republican prisoners in the development of the peace process, describing meetings with Sinn Féin negotiators, British civil servants and ministers, and the internal debates within the prisoners' group. In turn, Mitxel Sarasketa described the current situation of the Basque political prisoners.

In the afternoon, both Mitxel and Elena were made honorary members of Cumann na Meirleach, otherwise known as the Felons' Club, in Andersonstown. This was followed by a meeting with Lawrence McKeown and Rosie McCorley of Coiste na n-Iarchimí detailing the rapid development of former political prisoners' self-help organisations throughout the 32 Counties.

On Friday night it was back to the Felons' Club for the Tom Williams commemoration, where the Basque delegation received a resounding welcome. Barana and Sarasketa addressed the audience, offering their support and solidarity. Sarasketa spoke of the huge inspiration which he and other Basque political prisoners felt through watching developments in Ireland from the Hunger-Strike period through to today. He also explained how, while in jail, he had translated the writings of Bobby Sands into Basque. The delegation was presented with copies of Jim McVeigh's book on the story of Tom Williams by the National Graves Association.

On Saturday morning, the Basques met with SDLP Assembly member Dennis Haughey, and that afternoon they travelled to Dublin to meet senior Sinn Féin negotiator Martin McGuinness.

The evening was spent in Lurgan and Portadown with Sinn Féin Assembly member Dr Dara O'Hagan, where they discussed this year's Orange marching season and the ongoing siege of the Garvaghy Road.

Speaking about the trip, Pernando Barana said that the Irish situation was a very important one for Herri Batasuna: ``We watch very closely the developments in Ireland with a view to what we can learn. We have a deep solidarity with Irish nationalists and in particular with Sinn Féin and the republican struggle.''

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