Just a few words from me before I depart for Dublin in order to make the start of the Ard Fheis this evening.

I'm staying in Dublin tonight and I won't be back until late tomorrow night at which time I have a function to attend.

In light of some of the less than pleasant comments as of late I have decided to enable comment moderation until I return.

By all means post your comments however I can't guarantee that I will be online this evening to approve them, there is drinking to be done.


Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2008

The Sinn Féin Ard Fheis takes place in Dublin this weekend. The Ard Fheis is the supreme governing body of Sinn Féin, as laid out in 6.1.1 of the party constitution.

It is at the Ard Fheis that the leadership of Sinn Féin is elected, policy is decided upon and any changes to the constitution or rules are made.

This years Ard Fheis is one of the most critical that we have held in recent history, after our setback last year in the 26 counties it is here that we must get the basics right in order to regain our momentum.

Now at the time of our setback down South many reasons were bandied about for our failure, I made my own feelings quite clear.

Some would argue that we must head towards the centre, the worst possible path in my opinion.

There are some very interesting motions this year, the clár of which can be found here.

There is a motion which seeks to censure the national leadership after comments they made in relation to our corporation tax policy in the last 26 county general election.

There are also motions that seek to remove our disgraceful gender policy in relation to candidates for election and even motions which seek to change the membership of the Ard Chomhairle.

Abortion once again raises its ugly head with a motion that seeks to reverse our policy on abortion and make us a pro-abortion party.

My own Cumann's policing motion has already been debated on this site before.

For me though the most serious challenge to our raison d'être is a motion which seeks to remove from our constitution our goal of a 32 county socialist republic and have it replaced just with a 32 county republic.

For me that is totally unacceptable and indeed references to Clause IV are well made.

As Connolly said "The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland. The cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. They cannot be dissevered"

Any attempt to remove Socialism from Sinn Féin is unacceptable; we are a Socialist Republican party.

The Ard Fheis is a great time when you get to meet Comrades that you may not have seen since last year, it's a time when the rank and file of the party have their say.

I'm in Dublin for the weekend and it promises to be a very interesting Ard Fheis.


Prodigal son returns

Balrog's prodigal son, Seatanta, has once again joined out ranks. To be honest I don't really expect much posting from him and you shouldn't either.

It is important though that people remember that I don't write all the posts on Balrog, the vast majority but not all of them.

It will be interesting to see what kind of posts we get from Setanta.

A Bold Fenian Woman

It seems that Unionist's are none too pleased at Sinn Féin plans to honour the life of Mairéad Farrell as part of an International Women's Day celebration.

Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Belfast Jennifer McCann has defended her plans and said she did not intend to offend unionists.

'I'm not asking anyone to agree with what I am doing, but I am saying they should respect it. Stormont is a shared space and that's the way it has to be seen,'

It really is about time that Unionism began to accept that Nationalists and Republicans are here to stay, Stormont is no longer a Protestant building.

Mairéad Farrell was born in Belfast to a middle class family with no link to militant Irish Republicanism other than her grandfather, who was interned during the Tan War.

When she was 18 she joined the Irish Republican Army

On 5 April 1976 she and two others bombed the Conway Hotel in an attempt to kill members of the Crown forces. She was arrested shortly after.

At her trial she refused to recognise the court as it was an institution of the British State and was sentenced to fourteen years in Armagh jail.

When she arrived in Armagh Jail she refused to be treated like a criminal and so refused to wear prison uniform. She was the first woman to do so and the second person after Kieran Nugent.

Mairéad was OC of Armagh jail, when speaking of this she said “There's no real honour in this. I had to make decisions which affected all of the prisoners. And there were times when I felt very alone, even though I had the support of all the other prisoners.”

Mairéad instigated a dirty protest in February 1980. In December Mairéad, along with Mary Doyle and Mairéad Nugent, began a hunger strike in Armagh jail to coincide with the one already taking place in Long Kesh. It ended on 19 December, a day after the men's strike.

The dirty protest ended in March 1981 as the prisoner's rights' campaign was focused on the hunger strike being undertaken by Bobby Sands in the H-Blocks.

She was one of the H-Block/Armagh prisoners to stand for election in the 26 counties in the 1981 General Election, standing in Cork North Central and polling 2,751 votes (6.05%).

Upon her release Mairéad went to Queen's University, Belfast and again actively took part in the IRA's campaign.

At 31 years of age Mairéad was shot dead by the British SAS in Gibraltar on Sunday March 6th 1988 along with two other IRA GHQ colleagues, Sean Savage and Dan McCann.

The three Volunteers were unarmed and had been under surveillance for some time by both the British secret services and the Spanish. It is clear from all the evidence that they were lulled into a carefully-laid trap with the aim of killing them.

Mairéad was shot five times, twice in the head and three times in the body Dan Mc Cann was hot four times and Seán was shot at least 16 times. According to witnesses Mairéad and Sean were shot while attempting to surrender and while lying wounded on the ground.

After their deaths a campaign of smears and lies began by the British and their tabloid press.

In September 1995 relatives of those killed took the case to the European Commission of Human Rights. By a 10-9 majority it ruled that the 'Gibraltar Three' were unlawfully killed in breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights criticising the authorities for lack of appropriate care in the control and organisation of the arrest operation.

Father Raymond Murray described her as ''cailin gairiuel, diograiseach,'' - a smiling, earnest colleen. ''Death has not got the last word,'' he insisted. ''It never will.''

'The only people worthy of freedom, are those who are willing to go out and fight for it everyday, and die if necessary!' Maire Drumm

'Irelande Douze Pointe'

That's the song that will be Ireland's Eurovision Song Contest entry for Serbia this year. It will be sung by none other than the Irish turkey "Dustin".

This really isn't a joke, well it is a joke but it's also true!

I have never been a great lover of the Eurovision but the last couple of years has shown that it is no longer about songs, it's either gimmicks or a strong Eastern bloc vote.

Ireland seems to have some affinity with puppets as the Podge and Rodge show is one of RTÉ's most popular shows.

So there you have it, we Irish have puppets on the TV and Muppets in the Dáil.


Political Protocol is a denial of freedom

University of Ulster has in place what it calls a 'political protocol'; in effect it bars political parties from organising openly and freely in the Universities campus.

To date, all political parties organised in the University of Ulster have faced the brunt of the 'political protocol'.

Elected representatives are banned from attending Fresher's and where threatened to be forcibly removed by UU staff at Magee's recent Fresher's and the Ógra Shinn Féin Cumann at Jordanstown were also recently refused the right to set up a stall to promote the pressing issue of drug and alcohol awareness.

Ógra Shinn Féin are set to step up the campaign to overturn the 'protocol', and are asking other political organisations, college societies, the student body and general public to support the campaign and oppose the Universities blatant censorship and disregard for freedom of speech.

Urging people to sign the online petition, University of Ulster student and Councillor Johnny McGibbon said,

"I am calling on those who support freedom of speech and political expression to sign this petition which opposes the University of Ulster's 'political protocol.'

"As citizens in the North of Ireland move forward to a shared future, a future of mutual respect for diversity, and nurtured through discussion, the University of Ulster is stuck in a time warp."

"The University of Ulster is stating through this 'protocol' that politics is contentious, that debate and respect for diversity is wrong. This crazy decision instead of helping us fight the disgusting acts of sectarianism and racism in modern society, actually fosters the ignorance that creates these evils."

Free Speech

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" ~Voltaire

The statement above is the essence of any civilised democracy, it appears the University of Ulster still has not reached that standard.

As a former Chair of the Sinn Féin Cumann in QUB I know only too well the struggle that our comrades in UU faced in relation to the denial of their basic freedoms of speech and assembly.

I loved my University days; I made many life long friends, had a great time and completed my law degree. My involvement in the Sinn Féin Cumann, or "Save the Puppies" as some of my non-political friends called it, was central to that enjoyment of University life.

A lot of the people that I socialised with at University were either members of the Cumann or those associated with it. Many a drunken night was had in the Bot, Union, Renshaws and the Hatfield with QUB Republican's.

Most of my time in Student Politics, as opposed to Republican politics while in Uni, was devoted to annoying the DUP, such an excitable bunch that they were.

The one thing that I am proud about though during my time in student politics was that I helped the LGBT society and the Young Ulster Unionist Society become recognised in QUB.

When the LGBT society came up for recognition at a SRC meeting many of the DUP members present gave us the age old rendition of "Save Ulster from Sodomy".

I remember many of us addressing the floor in support of this group. None of us were gay but we all believed that everyone was entitled to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

The same was true of the Young Ulster Unionists. In fact it was because of Republicans that that society now has recognition at QUB. Myself and most of the QUB Cumann signed their petition for 25 student names, a requirement of recognition, and we all signed it as Sinn Féin members.

The DUP at QUB had tried to block this recognition for some time, the result of which was that they had to pay for a stall at Fresher's, couldn't book rooms like other societies etc.

It was Republicans who voted for their recognition at an SRC meeting.

If I was a student at UU I would be making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission as the Commission now has the power to take cases in its own right. I would also be contacting my solicitor and asking him to start proceedings against the University in light of their infringements of Section 75.

Why would you be surprised?

I see that Martin McGuinness has said that he would have killed every single British soldier in Derry after Bloody Sunday.

"There is no doubt whatsoever that in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday there was a renewed determination to oppose the British Army and the RUC,"

"If I had of had the opportunity to kill every single British soldier that was on the streets of Derry I would have killed every single one of them without any difficulty whatsoever."

Now I am sure that we will hear the usual pious condemnations from the usual quarters about this revelation, or lack thereof, from Martin.

Let's just think back to the facts of Bloody Sunday. 13 innocent people, 6 of whom were minors, were murdered by British Paratroopers on the streets of Derry that day. Another died of injuries a few months later.

They were marching for civil rights and this foreign army of occupation shot them because of that, some of them in the back as a further sign of cowardice.

As a former member of Oglaigh Na hÉireann I would be more surprised if Martin had felt any other way.

I wasn't born at the time of Bloody Sunday but my father told me that the anger on the streets was so raw that you could almost taste it.

Derry City coroner, retired British army Major Hubert O'Neill, issued a statement at the completion of the inquest into the people killed.

"This Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday and bloody it was. It was quite unnecessary. It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day and shot without thinking what they were doing. They were shooting innocent people.

These people may have been taking part in a march that was banned but that does not justify the troops coming in and firing live rounds indiscriminately. I would say without hesitation that it was sheer, unadulterated murder. It was murder."

Suffer in their coming and their going

In light of the recent deaths of Brendan 'The Dark' Hughes and Margaret Hughes, mother of legendary IRA volunteer and heroic H-Block martyr Francis, I decided that it was perhaps apt and poignant to once more reflect on the events of the 1981 hunger strike.

The death of Brendan once more highlights the poor health and the long term detriments that hunger strike can have on your health. However the dignity in which people like Brendan, Paddy Quinn and Brendan Mc Laughlin cope with this is commendable. Indeed it once more shows the courage that is needed to commit yourself to the hunger strike.

Indeed the ten men who died showed remarkable courage in the face of extreme adversity and pressure. Dying a slow, agonising death is never an easy option to choose, but then again the choice was pushed upon them by years of brutality, degradation and inhumanity in the H-Blocks. These young men chose to die on their feet rather than live on their knees as Mpzenza once famously said. No one can argue with their decision.

Brendan and other hunger strikers that I am acquainted with have often spoken at length of the physical pain of hunger strike. They would say of how they knew they were wasting away, and could smell their own rotten flesh. However several have spoken of the grief they knew that they were bringing to their family. I think in light of the death of Margaret Hughes and Alfie Doherty that we should examine the profound effect this has had on the families.

Oliver Hughes, Francis brother, spoke of how whilst his mother did not want Francis to die, she knew this was his decision and it had to be, and she was immensely proud of her son for his choice and the courage of his conviction. Indeed in her later years Margaret often prayed to Francis, offering him comfort in his eternal rest. In the words of the poem 'The Mother' by Pearse, he tells of how the mothers of Ireland's patriot dead "suffer in their coming and in their going". This could not be any more relevant than in the case of the hunger strikers.

The suffering of mothers whose sons are on hunger strike is indubitably a traumatic thing. It is often said that the greatest injustice is when a child dies before its own parents. In the case of the mothers of the H-Block martyrs they had to watch as their young sons faded away into nothing and died an agonising death.

This grief was compounded by the opprobrious actions of the Catholic Church, in particular that sadistic bastard Fr Faul. In the families' time of need, when they needed support and comfort, the RC Church provided unnecessary and immoral pressure on already suffering families. How men that are supposed to represent God can inflict such pain and suffering on fellow human beings is beyond my comprehension.

For the families of the H-Block volunteers, whilst they may be very proud of the sacrifice of their sons, the overwhelming sense of loss and grief will never subside. To them they are not simply the faces on the posters, the smiling faces that adorn gable walls in murals, or the names in songs. To them they were the sons, brothers, husbands and fathers that they knew and loved. Whilst republicans may remember them with pride, for their families this pride is tainted with extreme sadness.

I think that it is apt to conclude this post with the lines of a Christy Moore song. These lyrics are from the song 'The Time Has Come' that was written by Christy for Peggy O'Hara the mother of Patsy O'Hara.

"The gentle clasp that holds my hand must loosen and let go,
please help me through the door though instinct it tells you no,
our vow it is eternal and will bring you dreadful pain,
but if our demands are not recognised please don't call me back again".

New Rules

This last couple of days I have been pissed off at the very personal and childish nature of the comments on Balrog. This is a political site, not a playground. I'm sorry that I have been forced to change my rules on commenting but needs must.

From now on the rule of "play the ball not the man" will be in operation.

Anyone who engages in personal or foul mouthed abuse, blogger or reader, will have their posts removed and a yellow card issued. Further abuse will lead to a red card which will mean a banning for one week.

There will be no exceptions; the excuse of "I was only responding" will not hold sway.

Attack hard but attack fair!


Threats issued at Quinn Support Group meeting

The Chair of Newry and Mourne District Policing Partnership, Sinn Féin Cllr Brendan Curran, received death threats at the Quinn Support Group meeting in Newry last night.

Cllr Curran has asked the PSNI to investigate a threat on his life which was directed at him as he was leaving the meeting.

Just as Brendan was leaving the meeting he was surrounded by up to four men and told that he "would be fixed". He was also told that he would be "sorted out" and to "watch himself" as well as receiving other serious verbal and threatening abuse.

The Newry Councillor said that whilst the eighty or so people who attended the meeting had engaged in a well rehearsed two hour tirade of abuse on himself and Sinn Fein, he had been shocked at the issuing of these sinister threats against him by people who had been inside the Hall.

"I have no doubt that those who issued these threats to me were serious, and I have contacted the PSNI in relation to the incident"

"I attended the meeting and when I spoke to those present I reiterated what Sinn Féin representatives stated at the time of Paul Quinns murder and have stated many times since. Anyone who has any information related to this murder, no matter how small or insignificant they think it may be, should pass it on without delay to the Garda or the PSNI. There should be nowhere for the criminals responsible for this murder to hide. These are criminals because they committed a criminal act of murder"

"It is now unfortunate that I find myself the subject of death threats because of my attendance at the meeting organised by the Quinn Support group"

I am not surprised that this sort of thing has happened when you consider some of the criminal elements who are surrounding the Quinn Support Group.

We have a situation where a person very close to Jim McAllister has been caught on camera attacking the home of Vincent Traynor. We have a young fella attacked with a hammer outside a local disco by a thug who claimed to be doing it in support of the Quinn campaign and now we have these death threats against Cllr Curran.

The Quinn Support Group is going to have to look at the people who are supporting them, is this what their campaign has come too?

How long before someone else is killed?

This is a very sinister development in relation to this campaign.

Murphy urges all to sign petition

Sinn Féin Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy is calling on everyone in South Armagh to sign the Sinn Féin ambulance cover petition.

Conor Murphy and the entire Sinn Féin party in South Armagh are currently engaged in a campaign for adequate ambulance response times and a fully resourced ambulance service for the South Armagh area.

The response times in certain areas of South Armagh are well outside the recommended time periods and on many occasions lives are being put at risk because of this.

I personally know of one woman in Mullaghbawn who had to wait 3 hrs last week for an ambulance to come out, had it been a matter of life and death she would no longer be with us.

Sinn Féin members are currently bringing the petition around homes in the South Armagh area.

Contra bonos mores

I was disgusted when I picked up a copy of the Newry Reporter today. I was in such a foul mood because of what greeted me when I looked at the front page, Dominic Bradley and his lackey Feehan reading confidential files.

These confidential files were found beside a dump in the Camlough area last week. The documents concern as many as 30 schoolchildren from the Newry and South Armagh area over the last 40 years and include medical records and comments on parents’ ability to care for their families.

Dominic Bradley was passed these documents last week and had possession of them from last Friday. He didn't pass them on until this week and the manner in which he held and used these confidential documents is truly disgusting.

Instead of handing these documents straight over to the proper authorities, as is his duty, he decided to read them along with every other stoop lackey in the place.

He then proceeded to place these confidential documents before the press, revealing a lot of the private and priviliged medical and professional opinions of the children and families concerned.

I find this to be totally reprehensible on Bradley's part! This man is a qualified teacher after all!

I mean, when Dominic was working in St Paul's if he had found a confidential file about a pupil outside the school gate what would he have done? One would hope he would have brought the file straight back into the school, leaving the file unread with the privacy of the child protected and intact.

In this case Dominic simply threw the privacy of these children to the side in his attempt to make political capital off the back of their suffering.

Caitríona Ruane has said that an investigation is underway on this clear breach; I hope the actions of Mr Bradley will also fall under the remit of this investigation. Caitríona also said that the individuals concerned are being contacted.

I can guarantee you that if I was one of those mentioned in these confidential education files I would be straight to my solicitor in order to take legal action against Mr Bradley.

UPDATE 1: Newry Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady has called on the PSNI to fully investigate the entire circumstances in relation to the discovery of these highly sensitive and confidential education documents.

"Questions as to why these documents were held by individuals from a Thursday to a Monday before being handed back to the appropriate SELB officials need answered"

"I have been informed that many of these papers were taken by unauthorised people to an Office, examined and over a period of days placed into new files before they were given to the SELB. I am also aware that sections of the media were given photo copies and faxes of the material."

"I have also been contacted by families over fears that their confidential details were now, even after the return of some of the documents, still in the public domain."

"The PSNI need to investigate fully this entire incident. We need to know who had the documents, who really did find them and who else has them now."

UPDATE 2: It now seems that these confidential files were not just found "on the road", they seem to have been taken from a Council amenity site.

Cllr Pat McGinn has asked Council Officials to inform the Council as to why sensitive confidential education documents left in the Camlough Amenity site were removed from the Council property without authority from the Council or indeed without any explanation.

“It is my understanding that at least one person, a local elected representative walked into the Council site in Camlough and removed these documents from a Paper recycling skip. It is also my information that Council management was not informed of why this material was being removed, or any of the issues involved. Whilst the facts about where these confidential papers had previously been stored and why they were placed in the skip needs to be known, it is also imperative that the facts, that is the truth as to who found these documents, where they were all found, who all took them away, who was given access to either the originals or copies and where they were they taken to needs to be made public also”

“I like most within the local community feel that this issue from start to finish has been handled disgracefully and totally irresponsibly. There is a deep concern locally that highly sensitive and hurtful information about individuals and families from throughout south Armagh has been used as a pathetic attempt at cheap political point scoring. There is also a belief that some of the material, originals and copies is currently in the public domain and in the possession of unauthorised people "


Stoop Expediency

I watched the Assembly debate about Paul Quinn live on TV yesterday. A few points came to mind when I watched it. The notion of IRA involvement and the criminality tag.

1. IRA involvement

Dominic Bradley said a few very suspect things; you can find the full transcript of the debate here.

“This was no ad hoc gang that had hastily convened to beat a young man: instead, it was a group of up to 10 people who knew what they were doing, had probably been involved in similar beatings previously and who organised, planned and executed that dreadful deed with military precision”

What evidence does Dominic have for suggesting this? Last time I checked Dominic was a qualified teacher, not a Policeman or a forensic scientist.

“I do not believe that anyone in south Armagh believes that the IRA was not involved in Paul Quinn’s murder.”

Apart from being a totally ridiclous statement with no basis in fact, the SDLP don't represent the people of South Armagh. 84% of the electorate in South Armagh voted for Sinn Féin in the last election, not the SDLP.

“it became clear from the gardaí, the PSNI and the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) that what the family had told me was the truth — the IRA was involved in Paul’s murder.”

A clear lie!

Last week the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Brian Lenihan told the Dáil that the Gardaí have no information to show that the IRA was involved in the murder of Paul Quinn.

The PSNI have yet to show a single piece of evidence that would lead one to believe that the IRA were involved in the murder of Paul Quinn.

The IMC statement, by only one member, said the following

"the involvement in this crime of persons who are current or former members of the Provisional IRA, or who have associations with members or former members of the Provisional IRA"

As Conor said yesterday this statement is so vague that it's useless. The reality is that Dominic Bradley is now an associate of former members of the IRA given his support for the Quinn Support Group.

There is not a single person in South Armagh who is not at least an associate of former members of the IRA.

“It is equally naïve to expect people to believe that the murder was the result of a dispute between two criminal gangs"

Why is it naive to believe that? At the end of the day the stoops are now aligned with one of these groups, the same group that killed Oglach Keith Rodgers.

I can think of at least two criminal gangs located in the Crossmaglen and Culloville areas.

In fact Councillor Geraldine Donnelly made reference to them recently when she said the following in her statement "SDLP WELCOME MAJOR DPP MEETING IN CROSSMAGLEN 05.09.07 "

She said: “Car crime is an absolute scourge around here and there are anti-social elements who got a free run for years"

Yes there are Geraldine, the difference being that the SDLP are now in bed politically with these "anti-social elements".

Judge a man/woman by the company they keep and the stoops are keeping some very unsavoury company in this QSG.

2. The criminality tag

Conor was quite right to refuse to back down on this issue, to do so would be akin to the political expediency of the SDLP.

After Paul's murder, when questioned by reporters, Gerry Adams said the following

“it is fairly obvious to me that this is linked to fuel smuggling and to criminal activity"

Now this has caused uproar amongst the SDLP but I have yet to hear Dominic Bradley attack Jim Cusack of the Irish Independent when he said the following

"Paul Quinn is also believed to have been the driver of a disguised lorry containing thousands of litres of laundered diesel which was set on fire at the side of the main Saintfield to Lisburn road on October 10 last.

According to sources in south Armagh, the lorry had a flat tyre and Quinn, fearing his fingerprints would be found on it, decided to set it on fire and fled the scene.
Paul Quinn knew he was in trouble but local people said that as well as being cocky he was careful. He was prepared to go to the shed in Tullylorra near Castleblayney because he thought there was a fuel laundering plant there and he had a job to drive a lorry."

As anyone who reads the Indo will know, Cusack is no friend of Sinn Féin. I am not asking people to take the word of Cusack but it does go to show that Dominic is only concerned with attacking Sinn Féin. If he was really concerned about the criminality tag he would have attacked the Independent and the Irish Times as well.

Indeed Dominic has yet to mention the recent comments of Garda Superintendent Heller when he told the Northern Standard, a County Monaghan based newspaper

"that Gardai were awaiting the result of some forensic tests on items recovered in the course on the ongoing investigation which might assist the authorities in their probe....Detectives now believe some of those linked to the Quinn murder may have been associated with a major cross-border smuggling operation "

This fuel smuggling line is continuing to come up in relation to the Paul Quinn murder, why are the SDLP and the QSG trying to lead the Gardaí in the wrong direction in relation to Paul's murder?

The QSG have tried to suggest that fuel smuggling is not a criminal offence but I wonder how they square this with a statement from Councillor Geraldine Donnelly when she said the following on the 10.10.07, "DONNELLY CONDEMNS DIESEL DUMPERS"

"the diesel launderers are environmental criminals and should be treated as such by everyone in South Armagh.”

I really wish the SDLP would develop a clear line on this murder, their flip flopping and political expediency is fooling nobody.


Fidel Castro steps down

I see that the Father of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, has stood down as President and Commander in Chief of Cuba.

The new National Assembly is meeting for the first time on Sunday to pick the governing Council of State; Fidel has indicated that he will not be standing again.

“I will not aspire nor accept – I repeat I will not aspire or accept, the post of President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief,”

Thus ends his 50 years of rule in Cuba.

Fidel is a controversial character, loved by many and hated by many. This Cuban David has stood steadfast against the American Goliath for all this time and has survived nine US administrations, most of which have attempted to kill him.

Born Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz in 1926 to a wealthy family he did not start life as a socialist radical. He attended a private Jesuit school in Havana and trained as a Lawyer.

In the 40's he joined "Partido Ortodoxo" in the hope that he could free Cuba from her imperialist chains and her Uncle Sam playboys. When he qualified as a lawyer he represented the underprivileged.

Deciding to contest elections in 1952 was the beginning of a new chapter in his life. That same year General Fulgencio Batista, backed by the US, seized power in a coup and cancelled the elections.

On 26 July 1953 he led over 100 men and women in an attack on the Moncada Army Barracks. He was caught, imprisoned, sentenced to death and later released in an amnesty. He moved to Mexico in order to plan for a future revolution, it was there that "Movimiento 26 de Julio" was born and it was there that he first met Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

By 1956 he and 82 other revolutionaries came back to Cuba. After three long years of hard struggle they removed Batista and the Cuban Revolution was born. No longer would Cuba be a den for the American Mafia and wealthy capitalists. The brothels, casinos and seedy clubs were closed.

Cuba was no longer for sale!

The socialists implemented land redistributions, nationalised companies, expropriated properties from major US corporations, undertook a massive literacy crusade and abolished separate facilities for Blacks and Whites.

In the 1960's Cuba agreed to buy their oil from the USSR, when American owned refineries refused to process the oil they were nationalised.

In 1961 we had the disastrous US supported "Bay of Pigs", this rag tag bunch proved no match for the Cuban Army. After this undemocratic infringement of Cuban territorial integrity by the US and the CIA Cuba announced that it was on a Communist path.

1962 saw the start of the crippling US embargo shortly followed by the Cuban missile crisis.

Having been a constant thorn in the US side has led to a reported 638 assassination attempts on his life. They range from a poisonous cigar to a weird attempt to make his beard fall off.

The biggest challenge that has faced Cuba however has been the fall of the USSR.

That said they have managed to turn it around with the use of foreign tourism.

Cuba was transformed from a playground for wealthy Americans to exploit to an island that guarantees all its citizens basic requirements of cheap food, the right to employment, social security protections and free comprehensive healthcare and education.

There is one doctor per 165 inhabitants, boasting the best doctor-patient ratio in the world.

With the passing of Fidel from the political arena we are seeing the end of era. His place in history is assured however there is no doubt that historians will argue about him just as much as us.


Ian Óg walks the plank

I see that Ian Óg has just resigned as a Junior Minister in the Northern Executive. He has said that he will stay on until a replacement has been found and that he is staying on as an MLA.

At the end of the day this has been a long time coming, his dealings with Seymour Sweeney and all the other questionable activity made this day only a matter of time.

I am very pleased that this odious little piglet has been removed from the executive because let's be clear on this....he isn't standing aside, he has been pushed to all intensive purposes.

After last weeks routing by the Prodiban in Dromore there was always going to have to be some response.

I suppose getting Ian Óg to walk the plank seemed like a good idea to most in the DUP.

I wonder how long will the Punt wait before he makes his father walk the plank as well?


Kosovo and Independence

I see that Kosovo has declared itself an independent country. The assembly voted to adopt a declaration of independence read by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, declaring Kosovo 'an independent and sovereign state'.

I have never really looked at the different arguments in relation to Kosovo in much detail.

Serbs argue that Kosovo is an integral part of Greater Serbia and the indigenous Kosovo Albanians who make up 90% of the Kosovo population argue that they should be independent from Serbia.

When you look at Kosovo, like many deeply divided societies with deep constitutional arguments, you have to look at the history of the place.

Now, you can argue either way and with evidence for either proposition as to who were the first inhabitants of this region.

You see, I find the language and arguments of many in the West to be quite spurious in relation to the legitimacy of this independence. Ireland has said that they will recognise Kosovo as an independent nation but I find the arguments of Dermot Ahern quite surprising.

He said that “Serbia effectively lost Kosovo through its own actions in the 1990s"

Can a country ever lose part of its territory in this fashion?

I am sure that the Kosovo Albanians would not agree with Dermot Ahern's reasoning in this case.

1. Serb-Kosovo and the psyche of Greater Serbia

The first battle of Kosovo occurred on the field of Kosovo Polje on June 28 1389 when the Prince of Serbia, Lazar Hrebeljanović, was defeated (?) by the Turks.

While he was defeated many Serbs took heart by this great act of sacrifice and so it has been assimilated into the Serb psyche. "Our forefathers chose death over slavery. They lost kingdom on Earth for kingdom in the Heaven." became a common phrase.

Just before the fall of Communism in Yugoslavia Serb Nationalism began to gather pace and it was influenced by the actions of Slobodan Milosevic.

In 1987 he went to Kosovo to qualm the fears of local Serbs amid a strike by Kosovo Albanian miners that was paralyzing the province. In a famous speech televised throughout Serbia, he told the waiting crowd of angry Serbs, "You will not be beaten again."

For the Serbs it seems to be less the actual loss of territory but more about the damage it may do to a people who follow the mantra that "Only Unity Can Save the Serbs".

2. Kosovo Albanians-Independence

They claim to be the descendents of Illyrian tribes and as such the rightful inheritors of Kosovo. Their suffering at the hands of the Serbs can not be disguised; the identity cleansing that occurred in the early 1990's was only a snippet of the pain and hurt that these people have been forced to endure.

Russia is of course backing their Slavic ally Serbia in this dispute and they are refusing to recognise the independence of Kosovo.

For my own part I am still undecided as to the legitimacy of this declaration of independence. That said I don't hold any sympathy for the Serbs, when I see the word ethnic cleansing all I can think of is Srebrenica.

Their destructive racism has led them to this day; they have no one to blame but themselves.

RIP Brendan Hughes

I was sad to hear that Brendan Hughes has died at the age of 59 in hospital. Brendan had been in poor health for some time, a common occurrence amongst ex-prisoners.

Brendan was a former OC of the Belfast Brigade and Brendan was also the OC at the time of the 1980 Hunger Strike.

Against the wishes of the Army Council Hughes and six others, including Sean McKenna who almost died, went on Hunger Strike for 53 days. The strike was only called off upon the intervention of Cardinal O'Fiaich when the Brits offered a compromise.

It was because of the bad faith of the Brits that led to the second Hunger Strike and the death of 10 of Ireland's sons.

Brendan was a close friend of Gerry Adams for a long time but when Brendan opposed the current direction of the Republican Movement the two fell apart. That for me shows the sad reality of what happens when two friends and comrades meet a fork in the road and have to travel on different roads.

Gerry Adams said he held Mr Hughes "in high esteem" and had been "a very good friend and comrade over many years of struggle".

"Brendan will be missed, not least by his family, but also by the wider republican family with whom he dedicated such a large part of his life in furtherance of Irish republican goals,"

Brendan was a life long Republican, his opposition to the current direction of the movement will never change that.

All Irish Republicans will remember this brave Volunteer of Oglaigh Na hÉireann for his life long commitment to Republican ideals.

I measc Laochra na nGael a bhfúil sé


A pint too many????

It appears that the Bar Stool Brigade aka Real IRA have been drinking a few too many pints recently.

Fresh from the embarrassment of failing to kill two cops when it would have been harder to miss and still on a high after the absurdity of announcing their strategic aim of having the Brits once more lay siege to the streets of the 6 co's, they have now declared Deputy First Minister, life long republican and former IRA Oglach, Martin Mc Guinness a legitimate target!

Mc Guinness revealed that he was informed of a 'heightened threat' against his life from these, as he put it, 'no hopers'.

Have these deluded megalomaniacs and half wit idiots lost all leave of their senses?

No doubt this agenda is being pushed by their securocrat masters. After all, wouldn't the securocrats relish the prospect of the Army taking on this micro-group? They would have a wet dream at the prospect of a fully blown republican feud. Inevitably the Army would dispatch of these cretins with relative ease, but even that would not be in the best interests of the people of this island, as enjoyable as this may be.

The micro-groups must have been even more intoxicated when they stated this, than when they said they wanted the Brits back on the streets! I mean, being devoid of any popular support, surely they should be trying to endear themselves to the grass root republican support base. Threatening Martin Mc Guinness is most definitely not the way to do this! Their calls for a return of the Brits would even obtain more support than this ludicrous act!

These cretins and ego wounded boy soldiers have absolutely nothing to offer the republican cause. Getting a few hoods to riot in Newry and burning down the odd JJB store is hardly a blue print for achieving the reunification of this island. They have, as of yet, failed to offer a viable alternative to the present SF strategy. My God, they even said they wanted Brits back on the streets. How can one take anything this group purports to do seriously? Their candidates were laughed out of count centers across the 6 co's last March! The community they claim to represent want nothing to do with them!

It would be best if these idiots and dissidents disbanded and went back to their bar stools. They would save a lot of carnage and the ruination of many young live via incarceration and death. The only people they are fooling is themselves, and surely even they will get bored of self satisfying games after a while!!!!!

As someone commented to me recently "these people are not even at the bottom of barrel, these gangsters fell through the bottom a long fucking time ago!!!"


Prodiban at the Polls

Today will see the first electoral test for the "Prodiban" AKA Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) Movement.

This motley crew of flat earthers and bigots, led by the morally questionable Jim Allister, are contesting a by-election in Dromore.

The by-election was caused by the resignation of former Rugby player Tyrone Howe.

This is the same Jim Allister who was not opposed to power sharing with Sinn Féin; he just wasn't prepared to do it before last August.

So with that testing period a thing of the past what does the Prodiban actually stand for exactly?

Keith Harbinson is the Prodiban candidate and he will be facing Carol Black of the UUP and Paul Stewart of the DUP. Those three are the main contenders for the seat.

I have no idea who will win this irrelevant contest and to be quite honest I don't care.

This place has moved on and the sooner the Prodiban and others like them learn to accept that the better.


The tide turns..or does it?

Super Tuesday ended up being an almost dead heat between Barack Obama and Hillary "I am responsible for the Peace Process" Clinton. Obama won more states than Clinton but she won the big states like California and New York.

Last weekend saw Obama take a clean sweep in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington and Maine. Tonight sees the "Potomac Primaries" in Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia. Obama is expected to win all three primaries tonight.

Obama is now ahead of Clinton in terms of pledged delegates and only lags behind a short distance because of her Super Delegates. What is clear however is that the momentum is now with Obama, he is raising more money than her, his press is more favourable and he is slowly but surely attacking her key demographics.

Central to Clinton's success thus far has been her three lynch pins of Women, Hispanics and Blue Collar workers. Something that she believes will help her win the last 3 big prizes of Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania in March.

Obama should win the primaries tonight but he needs to start braking down the grip that she has on Women and Hispanics.

I wonder how long before the dirty tricks campaign starts with Clinton? If she tries to play the race card she is going to lose.

Can Obama beat Clinton? Yes he can and I hope he does!

UPDATE: Obama takes Virginia by 63% to Clinton's 38%. He has now overtaken Clinton in terms of total delegates (pledged and super).


Irish Blog Awards: The Shortlist

I see that the shortlists for the Irish Blog Awards are out. I am pleased to see that Balrog has been short listed in two categories.

1.Best Political Blog

2.Best Blog Post: "Sinn Féin, what went wrong"

I'm in Dublin on the 1st of March anyway as it's the last day of the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, I might just make an appearance on the night.

Best of luck to Mick and all the team at Slugger O'Toole, Mick Hall at Organized Rage and all those nominated.

The Policing and Justice Rubicon

The last few days have seen a flurry of statements in relation to the devolution of Policing and Justice Powers. According to the St Andrews agreement these powers were to be devolved by May this year.

It should not be underestimated how crucial this timetable was for Republicans when we decided to endorse the Ard Fheis motion on Policing.

The motion which was endorsed at the extraordinary Ard Fheis contained the following

"That the Ard Chomhairle is mandated to implement this motion only when the power-sharing institutions are established and when the Ard Chomhairle is satisfied that the policing and justice powers will be transferred. Or if this does not happen within the St Andrews timeframe, only when acceptable new partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement are in place.”

Now from this section of the motion a few things are very clear.

1. The motion could only be implemented once the power-sharing institutions were established

2.When the Ard Chomhairle were satisfied that the policing and justice powers would be transferred


3.If that did not happen within the St Andrews timetable "Only when acceptable new partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement are in place"

At the weekend we had Bertie Ahern and Gordon Brown calling for the last piece of the devolution process to be completed. This then led to a very irate Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley declaring that the May 2008 timetable would come and pass.

We even had to endure nonsense about the disbanding of the Army Council of the IRA; Alex Maskey quite rightly rejected that nonsense.

This element of confusion between the Assembly partners will not fill Republicans with much confidence that the deal we signed up to will come to pass.

It's because of this ridiculous situation that my own Cumann sent the following motion to this years Ard Fheis, set for the 29th of this month.

"This Ard Fheis mandates the Ard Chomhairle to set out, in public, the party’s position in relation to our involvement in the current policing structures should the British Government fail to devolve policing and justice powers by the 8th May 2008."

At the time of the policing debate within Republicanism certain assurances were made, Republicans will now be asking what Sinn Féin intends to do should the devolution of policing and justice fail to happen by May of this year.


Croppies won't lie down

I see that the Orange Order are returning to their tactics of the old Stormont days when they had Nationalists on their knees and crushed under the jackboot of Unionist misrule.

I am of course refering to the public demonstration held by the Orange Order in Banbridge this week. The Order are incensed at the removal of flags and emblems of the UDR and RUC from Council owned buildings.

They are bizzarely claiming that the removal is tantamount to "an attack on Unionist culture". This confuses me!

When was collusion with loyalist death squads and the murder of hundreds of Nationalists an aspect of Unionist culture or tradition? Were the Dublin/ Monaghan bombings, the Miami Showband massacre, the murder of Loughlin Mc Ginn or the Donnellys Bar bombing a part of Unionist culture?

Loyalist death squads waged a sectarian murderous campaign against Nationalists and Republicans, aided and abeted all the while by elements within both the RUC and UDR. This is a move of decency and respect to those murdered by these two Unionist militias, rather than an attack on Unionist culture. If the flags of the Army or INLA or micro-groups were on council property there would be up roar! Why should the emblems of other sectarain murder groups therefore be allowed to remain? This is a smoke screen for an agenda of a very different kind!

The scenes of Orange men besieging the streets of Banbridge were reminiscient of the days when Paisley would march them around the hills of North Antrim waving fire arm certificates in the ais. This has nothing to do with defence of culture, but rather is an attempt to marginalise the Nationalist community. However they have forget that this time the Croppies won't lie down!

SF councillor Dessie Ward made the valid point that the flags should be removed to create a degree of neutrelity, after all Nationalists pay rates too. The sooner these emblems are removed from other parts of the six counties the better. The Orange Order must realise that the six counties has moved on and they no longer call the shots!


Super Tuesday

Today's the day when almost half of the American will vote to decide who the candidates are in the 2008 Presidential election.

Thus far it is making for an interesting competition between the Democrat's with both Obama and Clinton with 7 states each. Look out for three key states namely New Jersey, Missouri, and California. Whoever wins two could be tonight's winner, particularly if one of those two is California.

Considering Clinton's long-held edge in New Jersey and California, Obama wins there would be huge. There would then be one frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and it wouldn't be Clinton.

On the Republican side McCain has picked up quite a few wins and Huckabee hasn't done that bad either. The big surprise is that the golden boy of the American right, Mitt Romney, has just picked up one state, his own.

Now the amount of Mormons in Utah make his victory there almost a cert however where else remains to be seen. If he manages to win California then all will be forgiven, if not then it's good night.

Thus far it reads


Obama- Illinois, Georgia, Alabama, Delaware and North Dakota
Clinton- Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, New York, and Arkansas


McCain- Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Illinois
Huckabee-West Virginia caucus, Alabama, and Arkansas

UPDATE 1: CNN has given Connecticut and Kansas to Obama, Utah to Romney and Oklahoma to McCain.

UPDATE 2: Obama set to take Minnesota.

UPDATE 3: McCain set to take Arizona.

UPDATE 4: Romney is set to take North Dakota. Are there many Mormons in North Dakota?

UPDATE 5: Romney set to take Minnesota.

UPDATE 6: Romney takes Montana. Obama takes Colorado and Idaho.

UPDATE 7: Huckabee takes Georgia.

UPDATE 8: Obama takes Utah.

UPDATE 9: Huckabee takes Tennessee.

UPDATE 10: Clinton takes Arizona. McCain takes Missouri.

UPDATE 11: Romney takes Colorado.

UPDATE 12: Clinton and McCain take the big prize tonight, California.

UPDATE 13: Obama takes Alaska and Missouri

Sinn Féin and the Lisbon Treaty

I see that Sinn Féin has launched its "No Campaign" against the Lisbon Treaty/EU Constitution.

Party members plan to distribute half a million leaflets throughout the 26 counties and hold a series of regional meetings over the coming weeks.

Sinn Féin will also outline central points of debate contained within the Treaty, including democracy, militarism, public services EURATOM & the developing world.

As the only major political party opposed to the Lisbon Treaty this campaign presents us with a major opportunity to reconnect with the public in the 26 counties. It was Vincent Browne who recently pointed out that with the No Vote going to be at least 25% on a very bad day this presents Sinn Féin with a unique opportunity.

Once people start to vote with Sinn Féin it becomes much easier for them to do so in the future. We have local and European elections next year and this is an opportunity that we simply can't afford to squander.

In order to make this a successful campaign from our point of view we need to follow a few key rules.

1. Southern Based leadership must lead this campaign

This is an absolute must! We need people like Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Senator Pearse Doherty, Aengus O Snodaigh TD, and Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald to be leading this campaign. The Northern members of the leadership need to take a serious step back on this issue. Our southern based comrades are more than capable of handling this campaign

2. No "Loony Left" stuff

We need to have an intelligent and rational debate with the electorate. We need to identify 6-10 key reasons why the Irish public should vote No in relation to the Lisbon Treaty. Anti-EU bashing has no place what so ever in this campaign. People need to feel that they can be Pro-EU and still Anti-Lisbon. We should explain in very simple language the reasons why Ireland and the EU as a whole would be better off if the Irish people voted a resounding No.

3. Informed TV debates

Who ever we choose to put on TV in relation to this issue must be fully briefed, I mean going-to-bed-with-papers-for-a-week briefed. No vague aspirations or notions, only clearly defined and supported arguments.

If Sinn Féin can manage to do those three key things in this campaign than I am certain that we will receive a huge boost politically.

This is an opportunity that can't be missed by us; on the information available thus far I am more than content that we will succeed.

Gan labhairt

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has criticised Aer Lingus for dropping Irish language messages on its new flights out of Belfast.

Fine Gael leader and fluent Irish speaker Enda Kenny asked if the Government, which owns 23% of the airline, was consulted on the issue.

“While Aer Lingus no longer is the national airline in that sense, the Government is a 23% shareholder.

I fly to Brussels with Aer Lingus occasionally to attend meetings and inevitably short formal announcements are made such as, "Failte romhaibh chuig an mBruiseil" (Welcome to Brussels).

I find it extraordinary that Aer Lingus, the carrier of the shamrock throughout the world for many years, would issue an instruction to its flight personnel and pilots that all announcements are to be made in English only.

Did Aer Lingus consult the Government on this matter?”

In replying to Enda Kenny the Taoiseach said

“Why Aer Lingus would believe it is necessary to drop Irish, I do not know. We were not informed and I do not believe it is any great hardship to anybody. In any of the meetings I have had, I heard nobody objecting to the effect that Irish should be dropped".

The Taoiseach said he agreed with Mr Kenny that Aer Lingus is the national airline and its profile should be based around that.

“I do not believe the few sentences would harm anyone and I do not believe anybody would object to them,”

The Taoiseach said that politicians and officials involved in North-South bodies use the Irish language if they are fluent.

“Even those of us who are not are using the Cúpla Focal it is totally accepted by all the parties in the North. Some people of the unionist tradition pride themselves, in respect of their Scottish language and Irish, that they are well able to use their Cúpla Focal and I admire them for that.”

It's an absolute disgrace that Aer lingus would drop Irish messages when flying out of an Irish city like Belfast (Béal Feirste).

Aer lingus carries the shamrock and the national flag on its planes, the fact that they seek to pander to a few bigoted nuts is a shame on them and their great reputation.

A Cúpla Focal never hurt anyone!


An Irish Wake

My mother received some bad news this morning when she learned that the sister of her closest friend had taken her own life.

The constant pain that one feels at the passing of a loved one and the fact that my Aunt passed away only four months ago has lead me to think about Irish Wakes.

Some of my American and British readers may never have experienced a traditional Irish Wake, indeed some of my Irish readers may not have either.

The Irish Wake is almost a part of our shared psyche, I myself have attended too many in my short life. They vary from joyous, almost party like, occasions for those who lived long and fruitful lives to heart breaking and soul destroying affairs for those who have left this world far too soon.

Be they sad and mournful or happy and celebratory they all share many common customs.

Coming from a rural and traditionalist part of Ireland like South Armagh means that traditional Irish Wakes are the norm rather than the exception. The only exception to this is that many families have started to go out for meals or "funeral parties" after the burial as well as having the Wake before the burial.

My own family don't believe in funeral parties and I myself have never attended one because of this.

1. What to expect at an Irish Wake

An Irish Wake is still a very individualistic affair and I can only say that my family would follow most of the traditions apart from keening.

When the person dies they are waked in their own home or the home of a close relative. The person, more often than not, will be collected from either the hospital or the funeral home. At the funeral home the priest or an elderly religious woman will say the rosary over the open coffin before the body departs for the wake house.

When the body arrives at the wake house the coffin is carried in and placed next to the window of the room in which the body will be laid. This is done to allow the spirit to leave the body and it is terribly unlucky to stand between the coffin and the window.

Only close family are in the room at this time. The priest will pray over the deceased and the rosary will be said again. The deceased will have rosary beads placed between their fingers and will be clean shaven and in their Sunday best. The window will be closed after two hours, so as to stop their spirit from trying to return to the body.

A box will be placed next to the coffin where visitors will leave Mass cards. Candles are always lit beside the coffin and holy water will be present. All the clocks in the house will be stopped as a mark of respect and all mirrors will be covered up or removed.

After the family has said their own personal prayers the wake will be opened up to everyone else. The male head of the family, usually the father, brother or son of the deceased will be at the front door to greet those who are attending the wake. The mourners then enter the room where the body is laid. This is the most solemn part of the wake.

It is customary to kneel and say prayers; most will touch the fingers of the deceased after they have said their prayers and close family will often kiss their cheek.

You are then brought into another room where tea, sandwiches etc will be offered. The length of time that is spent at a wake will depend on how close you are to the person who died; it can vary from 10 minutes to several hours.

Some people only wake the body for one night; my family have always waked the deceased for two nights. The body must never be left unattended during the entire wake and it is normally the women who spend most of their time with the body.

The first night of the wake usually lasts till about midnight and then the door is closed. The family and close friends sit up and normally have a glass of whiskey and tell stories. The family tend to get a couple of hours sleep this night.

On the second day the grave is dug, men who are friends of the family do it and a couple of bottles of whiskey are always left with the diggers. What happens when digging a grave is very similar to a stag party in one respect, what happens on tour stays on tour!

The funeral arrangements will normally be sorted out with the priest and they normally include the readings, offertory procession and prayers of the faithful. The priest, nun or local religious woman will once again say the rosary. The Rosary will always be said in Irish.

Friends and local shops will often leave hot food at the wake house as no real cooking is done during the wake. This is greatly appreciated by the family as there are only so many sandwiches one can eat.

The second night of the wake, or the wake proper, is normally the busiest night of the two nights. This is when the last sitting occurs and most of the family sit up the entire night. In all of our wakes the local men in the area also sit up and this is when the bottles of whiskey come out.

Any children who are related to the deceased are sent home or to someone else's house and this is when the drinking, stories and craic starts.

In my own aunt's wake a few months ago, my mother and aunts cousins came down and we all went into the back room with a few drinks. The girls are on the rather large side and are some of the funniest people you would ever meet. At one stage some of my female cousins had to leave the room as they were afraid they were going to wet themselves.

The laughing and joking at an Irish Wake can seem like a weird and even disrespectful act to many people. What people need to realise however is that because the family wake the deceased for two days they have the eyes cried out of their head, you need a release and it's what the deceased would want anyway.

Wakes can be a tense affair; if the deceased was separated etc it can leave for some very bad blood. At my aunts wake a few months ago nearly everyone from Dromintee attended despite the fact that she had left the area many years ago.

Her children were flabbergasted at the amount of people from the area that attended. Indeed the people that attended were in the same room for perhaps the only time in years. You would have had Republicans of all shades and colours but because of the dignity that an Irish Wake is held in to cause a row or have harsh words with someone would be a serious faux pas.

The dignity and tradition that Irish Wakes are held in make good behaviour at such sacrosanct.

A pregnant women is also not allowed to walk behind the coffin going to the church as it is very unlucky.

Many parts of the Irish Wake are a throwback to our pagan past and like most parts of the Catholic tradition in Ireland the Church has tried to include what they want and to remove what they dislike. The Church has tried numerous times (unsuccessfully) throughout history to abolish the consumption of alcohol at wakes.

The Irish Wake is actually strongest in the Northern part of the country. Many may find it unusual and not for them however for me it is an integral part of the grief process.

I hope it continues for a long time to come.


RIRA want British soldiers back on the streets

No, I'm not making this up!

This is actually what the so-called "Real IRA" actually want, British troops back on Irish streets.

In an interview with the Sunday Tribune (shudders!) they have said

"With more attacks on the RUC/PSNI we believe we can reach the stage where British soldiers are brought back onto the streets to bolster the cops,"

Have you ever heard such a ridiculous statement in all your life?

These people claim to be Irish Republicans yet they actually wish to see a situation develop whereby British soldiers are back on Irish streets.

Coming from South Armagh I am very glad that Sinn Féin and the IRA (The only IRA!) managed to achieve a situation whereby every British soldier, British Army helicopter and spy post was removed from our beautiful area.

Now we have these Muppets coming along and actually saying that they intend to make it their business to get them back on to our streets? Unbelievable!

How they have the cheek to call themselves Irish Republicans after a statement like that is beyond me.

This rabble of reprobates has also said that it views members of the Stormont executive, including Martin McGuinness, as "British ministers" and hence "legitimate targets".

So let's get this straight, Irish men and Irish women who were elected by Irish people to serve them are now considered legitimate targets?

Let's examine the dissident support in Martin McGuinness's constituency of Mid Ulster. In the 2007 Assembly election Sinn Féin in Mid Ulster received 21,094 votes, almost 50% of the entire vote, yet the dissident candidate only received 437 votes, a measly 1%.

Do they think that their 1% gives them the right to ignore almost 50% of the people in that constituency by declaring Martin McGuinness a legitimate target?

The GFA was endorsed by the Irish people, North and South, by a massive margin. Who are the RIRA to go against the will of the Irish people?

They need to realise that if they go against Sinn Féin and the Republican Movement then they are going to lose and lose heavily.

We are not going to bow down to micro groups with no mandate and no popular support.

Their "strategy" will end in only one way, with more of Ireland's sons either rotting in jail or rotting in the grave.

Any young Irish man or woman who considers joining this rabble should ask their prospective new "leaders" one question

When you send me out to risk my life and liberty, with no prospect of success, do you send me out alone or will you be with me?

We can secure a United Ireland and we will secure a United Ireland but it can't be done through the barrel of a gun. Those men and women who use armed struggle for the sake of armed struggle are guilty of treason against the Irish Nation.

No quarter should be given to them!


Better late than never!

I see that the Australian Government has announced that it is to make a formal apology to the Aboriginal people. The apology will be issued on 13th February when parliament reconvenes and follows on from a commitment by PM Kevin Rudd to do so.

The apology is primarily aimed at 'the stolen generation'. These are children that were taken away from their families by the govt. The govt viewed Aboriginal people as incapable of raising children. The heartache such a policy must have caused those affected is unimaginable.

Indeed up until 1967 Aboriginal people were not counted in the census and were subjected to laws of plants and animals, rather than as humans. This is wholly inexpiable, and a mere apology is hardly going to erase all the wrongs of the past system. It is, however, a start.

Their plight is not entirely dissimilar to that of the Irish. Indeed the Brits should consider making a similar apology to the people of Ireland. They tortured, maimed, murdered and imprisoned Irish people for 800 years and pillaged their nation.

Indeed they destroyed the lives of consecutive generations of Irish people through war and death, famine and oppression. Indeed on this the 40th anniversary of the NICRA surely the Brits should apologise for the discrimination they nourished when they created the bastard 6 county state.

In light of the recent debate on the war in the 6 counties and on the appointment of the Victims Commissioners surely such an apology would aid attempts to move forward and secure peace and reconciliation?


Political point scoring

It seems that some people have got themselves worked up into a frenzy over certain aspects of the newly appointed Victims Commissioners.

The Stoops are foaming at the mouth claiming that the four were appointed as a result of a secret conspiracy between SF and the DUP. What nonsense! Would they prefer the widow of a member of a sectarian murderous Unionist militia be installed as the sole Victims Commissioner thus effectively excluding Nationalists and Republicans from engaging with such a commission?

Unionists, not to be out done by their Stoop counterparts, have also raised some dubious grievances with the appointments. Primarily they seemed annoyed that Therese Mc Bride would describe herself officially as "the sister of an IRA volunteer killed on active service".

Am I missing something???

Was her brother Antoin Mac Goille Bhridghe (Vol. Tony Mc Bride) not killed on active service whilst engaging the SAS in combat? Why should he be labelled a 'terrorist'? The republican community do not view him as a 'terrorist'. This is already showing that some are trying to put the suffering of republicans as secondary to that of Unionists.

I see that they have no concerns that the wife of a member of a militia who colluded in the murder of hundreds of Nationalists and Republicans has referred to herself as the widow of an RUC man. What's the difference?

Furthermore they are not making a song and dance out of the fact that Mc Bride's father was murdered by a loyalist death squad. It appears that already some are attempting to create a hierarchy of victims. Indubitably they are trying to relegate republicans to the bottom of the pile and dismissing them as merely inflicting any victimhood upon themselves.

This is unacceptable. How can any such commission operate successfully in such an environment?

Unionists need to realise the republicans are by every standards equally valid victims in this British induced and waged war as Unionists.