Issue 4-2022 small

3 April 1997 Edition

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Editor's desk

''I'm not going to take the view that people are guilty simply because unsubstantiated views are laid against them.''
That was John Major on 1 April at an election press conference. What a hypocrite.

He was defending Neil Hamilton, one of his MPs who was afraid to sue when the Guardian called him a liar and a cheat. The evidence against him is hardly ``unsubstantiated''. He has admitted taking undeclared freebies, dishonestly claimed £1,500 tax relief, lied about taking £10,000 from a lobbyist and been accused by three witnesses of taking envelopes stuffed with cash from Mohammed Al Fayed.

Now cast your mind away from sleazy Neil to his colleague David Maclean, the junior Home Office minister. Three weeks ago it was revealed that, in a letter to a constituent of his, he had repeatedly referred to Roisín McAliskey as an ``IRA prisoner'' and wrote about ``the evil scum of the IRA''. And this despite her being a remand prisoner held on a German warrant saying her fingerprint has been found on a cigarette packet at a house a long way from where a British Army base was bombed. If there is a definition of ``unsubstantiated'' evidence Roisín McAliskey is being held because of it.

And what was John Major's reaction to Maclean's views? He defended him of course and attacked the media for misrepresenting him.

At first We thought it was an April Fool's Day set-up but with hindsight learnt that you can never underestimate observant An Phoblacht readers.

We were barely in the door on Tuesday morning when the succession of calls started all claiming a British warship was moored on the docks in Dublin. It had sneaked into the port under the cover of darkness, they said.

Cranks, we thought, but being dedicated investigative journalists, an active service sleuth unit was dispatched to the quays where we found the Bligh, a recently repainted, 2,576 tonne former British warship, known up to a month ago as HMS Hecla.

We wondered had it been brought to Dublin as tangible proof of Britain's commitment to prior decommissioning, but no, the answer was simple. Some enterprising people had bought the Hecla divested of all military hardware, we were assured, for a seven figure sum. It is to be used as a survey ship for oil exploration. The Pulitzer Prize will have to wait for now.

Have I noticed a falling-off of SDLP crying about Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy? I think I have. And I think I know why. You see, the SDLP is a semi-abstentionist party itself.

Pat Doherty, the Sinn Féin candidate in West Tyrone, pointed out that the only MPs with worse Westminster attendance records than the SDLP are those with terminal illnesses.

And this week Roy Greenslade in the Guardian, pointing out that the SDLP MPs regularly feature at the bottom of the attendance league (John Hume attended only 4.17% of votes last year), said, ``I don't denigrate Hume and his colleagues for this. Why should they attend a British parliament when it is not discussing their affairs? But does it not suggest that Northern Ireland is indeed separate from, and different to, Britain?''

Sounds like a good enough reason for not attending.

An Phoblacht
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