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6 December 2001 Edition

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A week in politics

MICHAEL PIERSE rounds up the week's news, which included further claims about British orchestration of UDA killings and some uncharacteristic comments from Peter Mandelson

Adams meets Ahern

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Dublin South West Sinn Féin Leinster House candidate, Cllr Seán Crowe are pictured following a meeting on Monday with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Adams told the Taoiseach in Dublin that it was his view that, following a successful result in Saturday's UUC meeting, it is time to push ahead with the implementation of the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement.

The need for progress on policing, demilitarisation, and equality and human rights issues also featured in their discussions. Regarding Monday's revealtions of British agent Brian Nelson's knowledge of UDA killings, Adams said: "I will be asking the Taoiseach to press Mr Blair to agree to a full public judicial inquiry into the Pat Finucane case and into other related cases. I have also written to Tony Blair on this issue."

UUC all over again

While UUC meetings were once an annual event, last Saturday's was the ninth since April 1998 and the usual issues of IRA decommissioning, vetoes and imperial symbolism dominated the agenda.

Noticeably missing, however, was the PD Syndrome - no, not that debilitating malaise that has reduced Mary Harney & Co. to representing little more than the Ballsbridge Bridge Club - but the 'Poor David' Syndrome, that has been gnawing at the heels of progress for some time now.

Trimble had a swagger and pomp about him that, however unsightly, provides welcome relief from the usual frenetic concerns about the "beleaguered" leader of the UUP. This confidence in the Trimble leadership has manifested itself solidly over the past few weeks, most obviously in the voting down of motions from anti-Agreement UUP members on Saturday.

An original motion calling for the party's withdrawal from the Executive on 1 March unless the IRA decommission fully by 28 Febuary 2002 was withdrawn in favour of a "compromise" motion from David Burnside. This motion called for the UUP's Decommissioning Review Group to be reactivated, for the word "Royal" to be restored to the PSNI name, for the British flag to be flown at PSNI/RUC stations, for the Crown to be retained on the PSNI/RUC badge, for the Royal Coat of Arms to be retained in courts of law. If these demands were not met, the motion proposed, the UUP should withdraw from the North-South Ministerial Council.

However, the UUP sensibly opted to reject the Burnside motion by a majority of 56 per cent to 44, nipping in the bud a negativity campaign orchestrated by Trimble's opponents within the party over the previous week.

Burnside and Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson had switched from harping on about IRA arms to a new, and equally artificial theme - the "cold house of unionism". But tapping into unionist disaffection didn't work for them this time, with Assembly chief whip Jim Wilson issuing the strongest rebuff. "This was a dying ditch challenge for the leadership, and Jeffrey failed," he said. "How many times is he going to come back?"

No doubt the much-speculated upon prospects of Donaldson's becoming the next UUP leader received a significant dint.

UDP never again

Now that the UUP have begun to wind down the frequency of their UUC gatherings, maybe the Good Friday Agreement institutions can get on with their's. Not so for the now defunct UDP.

The party was wound up last week by the UDA who, like bats recoiling from the rising sun, have retreated further into the recesses of their caves.

UDP spokesperson John White, who has amassed a considerable fortune from, ahem, "prison craft", explained that the UDA had "lost respect" for the UDP. With five killings and over 200 sectarian bomb attacks under their belts this year so far, one would presume that "lost respect" applies to more than just their political representatives.

Gary McMichael, formerly the UDP's most articulate and outspoken representative, had been missing from the public arena for the past year. It was revealed that he has decided to pursue a career in drugs counselling - which definitely puts him on the opposite side of the fence from his former UDA colleagues.

UDA and MI5

And as the UDA continues to thrive on sectarian barbarism and drug dealing, it is worth remembering that it does so as the Frankenstein creation of British Military Intelligence.

Further revelations about the role of former MI5 and UDA double-agent Brian Nelson in sectarian killings emerged this week.

The revelations emerged when the Irish News obtained a copy of a journal Nelson kept while on remand in the Crumlin Road jail in 1990. The journal, which was in the possession of British forces, detailed the British agent's knowledge of eight murders, two attempted murders and conspiracy to murder on 36 other occasions.

Nelson admitted involvement in, or prior knowledge of the killings, while he was the UDA's most senior intelligence officer from 1984-1990. Nelson's double role has long been at the centre of controversy over the role of the British government in orchestrating UDA killings and attacks.

In 1990, Nelson pleaded guilty to murder charges and was sentenced to ten years, but only served five, in an English jail. He has been in hiding ever since.

Martin Finucane, the brother of one of the eight victims named in Nelson's journal, Belfast human rights solicitor Pat Finucane, questioned why the evidence was kept secret and wasn't acted upon for such a long period of time.

"It is clear to our family and the families of a lot of other people who were killed in controversial circumstances that the state's hands are not and never have been clean," he said.

Flanagan bows out

One of those who might have a case to answer is Ronnie Flanagan, who made a formal announcement this week of his incipient resignation as RUC Chief Constable.

This follows a number of senior RUC figures leaving the force - pocketing massive severance payments and retirement packages in the process.

Flanagan, the son of a north Belfast shipyard worker, joined the RUC in 1970 and became Chief Constable in 1996.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern paid tribute to Flanagan on Friday, saying that he had done "immense work" during what he termed the recent "difficult and painful transition" of the RUC. Ahern omitted to mention the 'difficulty and pain' endured by those who have had to put up with the RUC for the past 80 years of partition.

Mandy heralds Taoiseach Adams

Not to labour the theme of retired human rights abusers and their apologists, but Peter Mandelson made his most positive contribution yet to the peace process this week, choosing the unlikely pages of the January issue of GQ magazine.

The former direct ruler, in an exposition of British policy in Ireland, said that Britain has "no stomach or will" to fight the IRA and that Gerry Adams will probably live to see a united Ireland.

Mandelson even goes as far as saying that he believes Adams will end up as a minister in the government of the 26 Counties and could even become head of state of a united Ireland.

Madelson says that "British policy is to negotiate with the IRA through its political wing rather than defeat it.

"Physical force republicanism has been put to one side (although not the means of resuming it, if the threat needs to be spelled out)" he warns. "But political republicanism has received a huge shot in the arm from the media orchestration of the IRA's gesture of disposing of an amount of its arms."

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