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21 April 2005 Edition

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The 5th Column

SDLP's ugly sister

WHILE republican leaders Gerry Adams and Mitchel McLaughlin were meeting the Foyle Search and Rescue and Rescue Team, the May Day distress message sent out by the sinking SDLP was answered by the right-wing Progressive Democrats president and Justice Minister, Michael McDowell.

Dublin 4's Witch-finder General took time off from deporting asylum seekers to boost the flagging fortunes of SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell in South Belfast, an area that has the highest level of racist attacks in the Six Counties (a bit like Michael Howard campaigning with John Prescott).

McDowell rejected republican criticism that he was abusing his position as a serving Minister in the Irish Government by partisan campaigning.

Embarrassed SDLP spin doctors at first claimed that the reviled McDowell simply happened to be on a personal visit to his old chum, and — oh, gosh — just coincidentally in the middle of a general election campaign!

McDowell "insisted" to the BBC that he was campaigning for the SDLP "in a personal capacity in a bid to capture the South Belfast seat".

But the BBC reported on Friday, ahead of this week's visit: "Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell will visit Belfast on Monday to show his support for the SDLP's election campaign, the BBC has learned. Mr McDowell will carry out an engagement with the SDLP deputy leader, Alasdair McDonnell. He will also have a private meeting with Secretary of State Paul Murphy."

So was the meeting with Paul Murphy as president of the PDs or as Justice Minister?

When the plain Mr McDowell and the truly plain Mr McDonnell summoned the press corps to a media briefing at the Wellington Park Hotel, protestors from the Anti-Racist Network were bundled out and had their placards torn up by SDLP councillors! Then McDowell put the conservative icing on the Social and Democratic Labour Party's cake with the surprise announcement that he was in Belfast "as president of the PDs".

But the SDLP's sister party in 26 Counties and the Socialist International is supposed to be the Labour Party, which is nominally the mortal enemy of McDowell's conservative party. Does the PD Justice Minister's SDLP electoral alliance herald a new sister act?

Melvyn the Menace

THE PD Justice Minister wants to imitate Britain's Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) to tackle 'yob culture' by introducing them to the 26 Counties.

An ASBO in Britain looks good on the surface by seeming to offer some relief to hard-pressed communities threatened by thugs (so why doesn't the police just use the criminal law to nick them?), but it doesn't do exactly what it says on the tin.

Take the case of Melvyn Drage.

The radical Schnews network in England reports that Melvyn was threatened with an ASBO for putting leaflets against the Iraq War through his neighbours' doors. The 48-year-old graduate was shocked when Manchester City Council officials decreed his delivery of 50 Communist Party leaflets to local flats (just the once, mind you - not repeatedly at strange hours of the morning or anything bizarre or intimidating) was threatening the "peace" of local tenants by suggesting to them that the war in Iraq may not be just about freedom and democracy but possibly about power and oil money too.

Obviously a menace to society who must be stopped at all costs. What on earth does he think Britain is: a free country?

Little racket over UUP

DAVID TRIMBLE'S Ulster Unionist Party postponed their manifesto media launch last week because they didn't want it overshadowed by the scandal of political figures accused of racketeering and money laundering — particularly involving its very own East Belfast UUP Assembly member, Michael Copeland.

Castlereagh Councillor Copeland's home and his two political offices in Belfast were raided by the PSNI but, surprisingly, without TV cameras being on hand, which must have been a great comfort to his wife, who is a member of the PSNI. Mr Copeland was a member of the disgraced UDR unionist militia.

Acting under the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Peelers removed a computer, bank statements, credit cards and mobile phones from Copeland's home as part of a probe into money laundering. They also hit his office at Castlereagh Borough Council and his Assembly office at Albertbridge Road during the raids on Friday morning.

Interestingly, the UUP man blamed his being probed on Ian Paisley's DUP!

Spice Boys cross over

ALSO IN EAST BELFAST, UDA figures around the ousted and arrested glamourous local UDA 'brigadier', Jim Gray, are reported to have sought sanctuary with the UVF.

The so-called 'Spice Boys' were close to the previously pouting glamourpuss, Gray, nicknamed 'Doris Day' by his UDA camp followers for his bleached-blonde hair, pastel sweaters draped over his shoulders and "bling" lifestyle. Gray's perma-tan puts Robert Kilroy Silk's in the shade.

Gray is now preening himself in jail, accused of possession of criminal property and concealment of criminal property contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

His girlfriend, 34-year-old Sharon Moss, appeared in court this week on 16 money laundering charges. Gray has been named as her co-accused.

Belfast estate agent Philip Johnston has been accused of involvement in money laundering by the same team of PSNI detectives, who searched ten premises in Belfast, including the offices of a law firm, estate agent and accountant.

Play it again

ROYSTON BRADY, the failed Fianna Fáil Euro candidate who went into hiding BEFORE he lost his election, is certainly sticking it to his former patrons in the Soldiers of Destiny and his erstwhile mentor, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Now a chat show host on Dublin radio station Newstalk 106, a still bruised Brady took over the mid-morning City Edition slot with the following public service announcement:

"And a very good morning, you're joining me, Royston Brady, who's standing in for Declan Carty and actually Declan is going to join you at lunchtime. He's standing in for Damien and Damien was standing in for Eamon earlier on, so it's one big happy family here. It's one place where they pull together and look after each other — not like some organisations I was involved with in the past."

His new bosses at Newstalk are so thrilled with Royston's rancour that they've posted it on their website.

Things can only get better

TORY CANDIDATE Lucille Johnston got a baptism of fire this week when she started canvassing in Easington, County Durham, in the north-east of England.

"The first door I knocked on, I was told to 'burn in hell'. I felt things could only get better after that."

The Labour majority last time round was 21,949.

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