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5 September 2002 Edition

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Brits fail the process

Wednesday 4 September marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Peter McBride. In 1992, the 18-year-old father of one from north Belfast had just been stopped and searched by a Scots Guard detachment when two of their number, Mark Wright and James Fisher, shot the unarmed teenager in the back.

This week, spokespersons for Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance in the Six Counties have publicly rebuked the British government for allowing the killers to remain in the British Army, despite being convicted of murder. The pair were released after less than four years and were allowed to return to their regiment.

Former British Labour Party spokesperson on the Six Counties, Kevin McNamara was most forthright in his criticism of Tony Blair's stance on this issue.

In a message to Peter's mother, Jean, McNamara expressed his sorrow that the British government and Ministry of Defence establishment has "had such little regard for a mother's grief and displayed a stubborn and callous insensitivity to the feelings of the community of the New Lodge.

"I am shocked that Tony Blair cannot act to end this contemptible injustice," he said. "For the Prime Minister to assert that the government can have no policy on the issue of whether convicted murderers should be permitted to pursue a career in Her Majesty's Armed Services is frankly deplorable."

But such arrogance and blindness to the facts is a mark of this British government. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Reid visited the beleaguered Short Strand, but all he had to offer the embattled nationaluist community, who have endured months of loyalist attack, was platitudes. But then the official line on the Short Strand siege looks beyond the truth to a tit-for-tat scenario that suits the establishment and the securocrats. The disgrace is that most of the media has blindly and unquestioningly followed this lead.

As the people of the Short Strand let John Reid know on Wednesday, his government has afforded loyalists with ample opportunities to create and manipulate sectarian tensions.

Last week, the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets was forced to respond to claims that it had been consulted by the Independent Assessor of Military Complaints procedures in its review of the use of plastic bullets by the British Army in the North.

The campaign let it be known that it had plenty to say about the growing use of plastic bullets but had never been asked for its views. It was impossible to argue with their analysis that the review was carried out with a predetermined outcome.

None of this inspires confidence in a government, supposedly wedded to the Good Friday Agreement, but which has failed to honour its commitments and has acted instead to sustain unionist intransigence.

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