17 January 2002 Edition

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Mala Poist

Abortion referendum reply

A Chairde,

Eilis Nig Raollaigh (Mála Poist, Jan 10, 2002) believes the government proposals on abortion are 'a mature, compassionate and sensible way to deal with the matter for once and for all'. How so?

Surely a mature approach would recognise that each of us hold differing moral positions on abortion and that coercing women to adhere to one particularly set of morality is not the sign of a mature, or indeed, compassionate society.

While the majority of Irish people are, undoubtedly, opposed to abortion in principle, in practice thousands of Irish women, for a variety of reasons, choose to have abortions. A sensible approach would trust women to judge whether they can continue with a pregnancy and would accept that it is for them to reconcile this decision with their belief systems, personal morality and conscience.

Equally, a mature approach would acknowledge that Ireland does have the abortion on demand Ms Nig Raollaigh fears - albeit limited to those who can raise the 700 odd pounds and other essentials needed to travel abroad.

Whatever the government proposals are, mature, compassionate and sensible they aren't. I am also at a loss to understand how Eilis Nig Raollaigh believes the government proposals will deal with the issue of abortion for 'once and for all'.

For whatever way the referendum goes, hundreds of women will continue to travel, week on week, year on year, undeterred by the moral majority's hand wringing.

Kerry Lawless
Dublin 1

Blaming the blameless

A Chairde,

Fintan O'Toole's commentary on the UDA killing of Catholic postal worker Daniel McColgan blurs the line of condemnation. He implicates the Good Friday Agreement in the killing: "the Belfast Agreement... institutionalises sectarianism" and is "being exposed on the streets of Belfast" (Irish Times, 15 Jan).

It is Partition and the explicit identity of unionism with Protestantism that institutionalises religious sectarianism. It forms the ideological basis for loyalist politics and loyalist violence against the nearest available Roman Catholic target. Since the state was founded, unionist policy drove nationalists or Catholics (the terms more or less synonymous) out of civil society. This policy was carried out through political and violent means. The evidence is easily available and well known. Ordinary Catholics have been targeted by loyalists since Partition. Attacks increased when nationalists were perceived to be rising above their designated station in life or when Partition was seen to be under threat (these also seen as synonymous).

That is why I take issue with Fintan O'Toole's clever but intellectually disingenuous stance. Commentators like him attempt to stand above the conflict and to place the blame on 'both sides'. It is a fact that the vast majority of attacks are by loyalists against Catholics. There is no question of nationalists having a difficulty with Protestant people or those of no religion working with them or on their behalf (the historical record speaks for itself). Organisations which make an issue of religion or which have a record of attacking people on the basis of their religion are the DUP, the Orange Order and the UDA. The only fear in this regard is experienced by people living in unionist areas, who cannot speak out because they fear for their lives. Irish unionism cannot come to terms with the end of the Partition project. At one end of the spectrum attacks on Catholics of all ages (from school children of four years and up) intensify. At the other end the middle class opts out.

'Normal' politics or 'majority rule' in the Six Counties is sectarian politics. The Good Friday Agreement began a process which reverses this process, undermines the ghetto state of Northern Ireland and begins the creation of structures on an all-island basis. If anything, it is a last-chance saloon for unionism. If Fintan O'Toole wants to abolish the institutionalisation of sectarianism then he should argue for the end to Partition itself. Arguing against the Good Friday Agreement is to argue with the UDA and rejectionist unionism. Fintan O'Toole may not like these bedfellows but (to borrow his phrase) he has "politically corralled" himself.

It is to be hoped that the determined stand by ordinary workers and the trade union movement will cause a halt to the sectarian attacks on Catholic workers. Uniting against the perpetrators of sectarian attacks will send out the right message. Blaming the blameless will not.

(Cllr) Nicky Kehoe
Sinn Féin
Dublin 7

Catching the killers?

A Chairde,

Isn't it strange that the PSNI seem to be able to prevent almost all dissident republican activity and capture INLA arms caches within days of their use, yet there have been very few arrests, charges or convictions of violent unionists, even after over 300 pipebomb attacks and at least a dozen killings by the UDA/RHD?

This, despite the good intelligence that British forces have on the UDA as demonstrated by the Pat Finucane case, where the death squad's Intelligence Officer, Quarter Master and Trigger Man all appear to heve been British Army and/or RUC agents.

It seems that the "new" police is even less effective in combating loyalist violence than the "old" RUC.

Given this continuing bias, it is ludicrous to call on Sinn Féin to join the Policing Board until the Patten proposals are fully implemented and the malign dominance of the Special Branch is curbed.

Similarly, David Trimble's threats against Sinn Féin over IRA decommissioning, when violent unionists have failed, not only to decommission, but to maintain a ceasefire, and when nationalists are again being left unprotected, is playing directly into the hands of those who wish to wreck the Agreement.

Seán Marlow
Dublin 11

Tyrone commemorative book

A Chairde,

A fresh initiative has now been undertaken by Tyrone National Graves Association to produce a commemorative book in honour of all those who gave their lives for Irish freedom. In addition to those listed on the Roll of Honour, we will take this opportunity to pay tribute to the many other republicans who played a part in the struggle at some point during their lives.

We realise that many people in County Tyrone will welcome this opportunity to have the contribution of a family member properly recognised in a book. At the same time however, we are very conscious that a family could be offended due to someone being inadvertently left out. Therefore, we have taken the step of circulating this letter to the local and national newspapers.

If a deceased member of your family or close relative played an active part in the republican struggle, then a tribute can be included in this book. The following details will be required:

1 Photo - Preferably colour.

2 Name, Date of death, Age, General address - town, village, townland, etc.

3 A 200-word tribute - outlining role in struggle and accomplishments.

All photos and tributes must be delivered to the following address by Friday 15 February.

NGA Book Project
Sinn Féin Advice Centre
60 Irish Street
Co. Tyrone BT70 1DQ

(Tel/fax; (028) 8772 2776)

The onus lies with the next of kin to respond. However, we would like to emphasise that this opportunity should not be allowed to slip past. Once the book is published, there could be disappointment in your family due to an omission. Therefore, it is important that you send us a prompt reply even if some details have to be gathered up later.

Finally, we fully recognise that some families will prefer to keep the contributions of their loved ones anonymous. This wish will be fully respected.

P. Teague (Rúnaí)

Misrepresenting reality

A Chairde,

The New Year brings the unseemly spectacle of the Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael leaderships vying to bestow their dubious favours on apprehensive Labour and Greens. What would make this debate a truly appalling vista would be for it to remain bereft of any alternatives or policy content or for the future of this island to be perverted by the misrepresentation of reality.

An Irish Times editorial of 8 January on Martin Ferris's recent speech identifies a crucial issue, in that if IRA demilitarisation is not completed and a new police service is not accepted across the community, the Belfast Agreement will fall in time. However, it fails to balance this with the other half of the equation which is respect for the position of Nuala O'Loan, the NI Police Ombudsman, and the implementation of her report on the investigation of the Omagh bombing. Indeed, that self-avowed opponent of the peace process, Kevin Myers (The Irish Times, 9 January 9), ignores entirely the major actions of dissident republicans immediately prior to Omagh, the bombing of other 'Unionist' town centres in an attempt to provoke Loyalist terrorist into (yet another) massacre of Catholics so that this would in turn provoke the IRA into ending its ceasefire and making no act of demilitarisation. Instead, eschewing the wisdom of a "better safe than sorry" policy even after Omagh, he dismisses the warnings from the security services' own agents as "worthless fragments".

If Kevin Myers' line were followed and the findings of the O'Loan report were not implemented or she herself was subjected to pressure to consider her position, or the tenure of the present NI Chief Constable were to be artificially prolonged, it cannot be overstated how serious an obstacle to continued IRA demilitarisation and nationalist confidence in the new structures could thus be created. Minister for Justice John O'Donoghue's concerns about Sinn Féin may have been more balanced if he had given an indication of Fianna Fáil concern that the O'Loan report be implemented.

Fortunately, wiser heads may see some hope of these issues being resolved and a new political formation, which could even address foreign change and the effects of globalisation, growing from the establishment of something like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission or an "experience commission" which can cover all the main events of the Troubles, as recently suggested by Dr. Peter Shirlow in presenting the findings of his research into segregation in Belfast (The Irish Times, 4 January).

Joe Murphy
Co. Dublin

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1