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Posts tagged ‘United Republic of Ireland’

Sinn Fein’s divisive leader to step down after over 30 years

November 19, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Gerry Adams, the divisive politician known around the world as the face of the Irish republican movement as it shifted from violence to peace, announced Saturday that he was stepping down as leader of Sinn Fein next year after heading the party for over 30 years.

The 69-year-old veteran politician — who has been president of Northern Ireland’s second-largest party since 1983 — told the party’s annual conference in Dublin he would not run in the next Irish parliamentary elections.

“Leadership means knowing when it is time for change and that time is now,” he said, adding the move was part of an ongoing process of leadership transition within the party. A divisive figure, some have denounced Adams as a terrorist while others hail him as a peacemaker.

He was a key figure in Ireland’s republican movement, which seeks to take Northern Ireland out of the U.K. and unite it with the Republic of Ireland. The dominant faction of the movement’s armed wing, the Provisional IRA, killed nearly 1,800 people during a failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the U.K. It renounced violence and surrendered its weapons in 2005.

Although many identify Adams as a member of the IRA since 1966 and a commander for decades, Adams has long insisted he was never a member. Adams was key in the peace process that saw the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the formation of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

Many believe Sinn Fein’s popularity among voters is hampered by the presence of leaders from Ireland’s era of Troubles. The party is expected to elect a successor next year. Current deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was seen as a favorite to succeed Adams.

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N Ireland party signs deals to support UK Conservative gov’t

June 26, 2017

LONDON (AP) — The leader of a Northern Ireland-based party struck a 1.5 billion pound ($1.9 billion) deal with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives on Monday to support her minority government in a crucial vote on her legislative package later this week.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said the funding would “address the unique circumstances” of Northern Ireland. As part of the deal, funds will be provided to boost Northern Ireland’s economy and offer investment in new infrastructure, health and education.

May said that the two parties “share many values.” “We also share the desire to ensure a strong government, able to put through its program and provide for issues like the Brexit negotiations, but also national security issues,” May said. “So the agreement we have come to is a very, very good one.”

But the figure is certain to raise questions at a time of funding pressure to support police and security services following several extremist attacks as well as a national housing crisis following a devastating fire in a London high-rise that killed at least 79 people. The other parts of the United Kingdom are also certain to object to special consideration for Northern Ireland.

Foster’s party had demanded tangible benefits for Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and investment in order to offer its support for May, who lost her majority in the House of Commons in a snap election earlier this month. The prime minister needs the DUP’s 10 lawmakers to back her legislative program in order to stay in power.

As part of the deal, money will be earmarked to address a bottleneck between three busy roads in Northern Ireland, and to open up “new opportunities for growth and connectivity” in digital infrastructure.

In an annex outlining the deal, the government said it “recognizes that Northern Ireland has unique circumstances within the United Kingdom, not least as a consequence of responding to challenges of the past,” and would therefore allocate 50 million pounds a year for two years “to address immediate pressures in health and education.”

But critics, including members of May’s Conservatives, have objected to any kind of alliance with the DUP because of some of its views, including opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. Northern Ireland’s other political parties have also objected to any kind of alliance with the DUP, as it jeopardizes the government’s pledge to be a neutral arbiter as part of the Good Friday agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of sectarian strife.

UK leader May strikes tentative deal with N Ireland party

June 10, 2017

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May struck a deal in principle with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party on Saturday to prop up the Conservative government, stripped of its majority in a disastrous election.

The result has demolished May’s political authority, and she has also lost her two top aides, sacrificed in a bid to save their leader from being toppled by a furious Conservative Party. The moves buy May a temporary reprieve. But the ballot-box humiliation has seriously — and possibly mortally — wounded her leadership just as Britain is about to begin complex exit talks with the European Union.

May’s office said Saturday that the Democratic Unionist Party, which has 10 seats in Parliament, had agreed to a “confidence and supply” arrangement with the government. That means the DUP will back the government on key votes, but it’s not a coalition government or a broader pact.

Downing St. said the Cabinet will discuss the agreement on Monday. The announcement came after May lost Downing St. chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who resigned Saturday. They formed part of May’s small inner circle and were blamed by many Conservatives for the party’s lackluster campaign and unpopular election platform, which alienated older voters with its plan to take away a winter fuel allowance and make them pay more for long-term care.

In a resignation statement on the Conservative Home website, Timothy conceded that the campaign had failed to communicate “Theresa’s positive plan for the future,” and missed signs of surging support for the opposition Labour Party.

Some senior Tories had made the removal of Hill and Timothy a condition for continuing to support May, who has vowed to remain prime minister. May’s party won 318 seats, 12 fewer than it had before May called a snap election, and eight short of the 326 needed for an outright majority. The main opposition Labor Party surpassed expectations by winning 262.

May announced later that Gavin Barwell — a former housing minister who lost his seat in Thursday’s election — would be her new chief of staff. May said Barwell would help her “reflect on the election and why it did not deliver the result I hoped for.”

Conservative legislator Nigel Evans said the departure of the two aides was “a start,” but there needed to be changes to the way the government functioned in the wake of the campaign. He said the Conservative election manifesto — which Hill and Timothy were key in drafting — was “a full assault on the core Tory voters, who are senior citizens.”

“It was a disaster,” he said. “Our manifesto was full of fear and the Labor Party’s manifesto was full of promises.” Martin Selmayr, senior aide to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, responded to the resignations by tweeting the word “bauernopfer” — German for the sacrifice of a pawn in chess.

May called the early election when her party was comfortably ahead in the polls, in the hope of increasing her majority and strengthening Britain’s hand in exit talks with the EU. Instead, the result has sown confusion and division in British ranks, just days before negotiations are due to start on June 19.

May wanted to win explicit backing for her stance on Brexit, which involves leaving the EU’s single market and imposing restrictions on immigration while trying to negotiate free trade deal with the bloc. Some say her failure means the government must now take a more flexible approach to the divorce.

The Times of London said in an editorial that “the election appears to have been, among other things, a rejection of the vague but harshly worded prospectus for Brexit for which Mrs. May sought a mandate.”

It added that “the logic leading to Mrs. May’s departure from Downing St. is remorseless.” The Downing St. resignations came as May worked to fill jobs in her minority government and replace ministers who lost their seats on Thursday. Her weakened position in the party rules out big changes, and May’s office has said that the most senior Cabinet members — including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd — will keep their jobs, but she is expected to shuffle the lower ranks of ministers.

The arrangement with the DUP will make governing easier, but it makes some Conservatives uneasy. The DUP is a socially conservative pro-British Protestant group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and once appointed an environment minister who believes human-driven climate change is a myth.

The DUP was founded in the 1970s by the late firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, and in the 1980s was a key player in the “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign, which unsuccessfully fought against the legalization of gay sex.

Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, said she had asked May for assurances that there would be no attack on gay rights after a deal with the DUP. Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. in which same-sex marriage is illegal.

“It’s an issue very close to my heart and one that I wanted categoric assurances from the prime minister on, and I received (them),” said Davidson, who is engaged to be married to her female partner. DUP Leader Arlene Foster recently denied the party was homophobic.

“I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality. That’s not a matter for me,” she said. “When it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage.” A deal between the government and the DUP could also unsettle the precarious balance between Northern Ireland’s British loyalist and Irish nationalist parties.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, riding a wave of acclaim for his party’s unexpectedly strong showing, called on May to resign. Newspaper headlines saw her as just clinging on. “May fights to remain PM,” said the front page of the Daily Telegraph, while the Times of London said: “May stares into the abyss.”

But she seems secure for the immediate future, because senior Conservatives don’t want to plunge the party into a damaging leadership contest. “I don’t think throwing us into a leadership battle at this moment in time, when we are about to launch into these difficult negotiations, would be in the best interests of the country,” Evans said.

Ireland’s likely next PM would be first gay, minority leader

June 02, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Ireland’s governing Fine Gael party on Friday elected Leo Varadkar, the gay son of an Indian immigrant, as its new leader and the country’s likely next prime minister. Varadkar defeated rival Simon Coveney in a contest to replace Enda Kenny, who resigned last month.

“If my election as leader of Fine Gael today has shown anything, it is that prejudice has no hold on this republic,” Varadkar said after his victory was announced in Dublin. Coveney won the votes of a majority of party members, but Varadkar was backed by most lawmakers and local representatives to give him victory under the center-right party’s electoral college system.

He is highly likely to become prime minister in Ireland’s coalition government, although not immediately. Kenny will remain in place for a couple more weeks while Varadkar holds talks with other parties and independents propping up the Fine Gael-led government.

His confirmation as Taoiseach — Ireland’s prime minister — would come when the lower house of parliament resumes after a break on June 13. At 38, Varadkar would be Ireland’s youngest prime minister, as well as the first from an ethnic-minority background and the first openly gay leader.

Varadkar was born in Dublin in 1979, the son of an Indian doctor and an Irish nurse. He came out publicly as gay in the run-up to a 2015 referendum that legalized same-sex marriage in Ireland. If confirmed as prime minister, Varadkar will lead a country still emerging from the shadow of the 2008 global financial crisis, which hit the debt-fueled “Celtic Tiger” economy particularly hard.

He also will have to steer Ireland during complex divorce negotiations between Britain and the EU. Brexit has major implications for Ireland, the only EU country to share a land border with the United Kingdom.

Varadkar said he was “aware of the enormous challenges ahead. I’m ready for those challenges, as are we as a party.”

Martin McGuinness, Irish rebel turned politician, dies at 66

March 21, 2017

DUBLIN (AP) — Martin McGuinness, the Irish Republican Army commander who led his underground, paramilitary movement toward reconciliation with Britain, and was Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister for a decade in a power-sharing government, has died, his Sinn Fein party announced Tuesday on Twitter. He was 66.

The party said he died after a short illness. He suffered from amyloidosis, a rare disease with a strain specific to Ireland’s northwest. The chemotherapy required to combat the formation of organ-choking protein deposits quickly sapped him of strength and forced him to start missing government appointments.

“Throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness,” Sinn Fein’s President Gerry Adams said. “He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the re-unification of his country. But above all he loved his family and the people of Derry and he was immensely proud of both.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins said: “The world of politics and the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the difficult times of the peace process, and his commitment to the values of genuine democracy that he demonstrated in the development of the institutions in Northern Ireland.

McGuinness’ transformation as peacemaker was all the more remarkable because, as a senior IRA commander during the years of gravest Catholic-Protestant violence, he insisted that Northern Ireland must be forced out of the United Kingdom against the wishes of Protestants.

Even after the Sinn Fein party — the IRA’s legal, public face — started to run for elections in the 1980s, McGuinness insisted as Sinn Fein deputy leader that “armed struggle” remained essential. “We don’t believe that winning elections and any amount of votes will bring freedom in Ireland,” he told a BBC documentary team in 1986. “At the end of the day, it will be the cutting edge of the IRA that will bring freedom.”

Yet within a few years of making that stubborn vow, McGuinness was exploring the opposite option in covert contacts with British intelligence that led eventually to a truce, inter-party talks and the installation of the IRA icon in the heart of Northern Ireland’s government.

Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole argued in January 2017 that McGuinness had been “a mass killer — during his period of membership and leadership the IRA killed 1,781 people, including 644 civilians — whose personal amiability has been essential to the peace process. If he were not a ruthless and unrepentant exponent of violence, he would never have become such a key figure in bringing violence to an end.”

Unlike his close Adams, McGuinness never hid the fact that he had been a commander of the IRA — classed as a terrorist organization by the British, Irish and U.S. governments. Nor could he. Born May 23, 1950, he joined the breakaway Provisional IRA faction in his native Londonderry — simply Derry to Irish nationalists — after dropping out of high school and working as an apprentice butcher in the late 1960s. At the time, the Catholic civil rights movement faced increasing conflict with the province’s Protestant government and police.

He rose to become Derry’s deputy IRA commander by age 21 as “Provo” bombs systematically wrecked the city center. Soldiers found it impossible to pass IRA road barricades erected in McGuinness’ nearby Bogside power base.

McGuinness appeared unmasked at early Provisional IRA press conferences. The BBC filmed him walking through the Bogside discussing how the IRA command structure worked and stressing his concern to minimize civilian casualties, an early sign of public relations savvy.

In 1972, Northern Ireland’s bloodiest year, McGuinness joined Adams in a six-man IRA delegation flown by the British government to London for secret face-to-face negotiations during a brief truce. Those talks got nowhere and McGuinness went back on the run until his arrest on New Year’s Eve in the Republic of Ireland near a car loaded with 250 pounds (110 kilograms) of explosives and 4,750 rounds of ammunition.

During one of his two Dublin trials for IRA membership, McGuinness declared from the dock he was “a member of the Derry Brigade of the IRA and I’m very, very proud of it.” Historians and security analysts agree that McGuinness was promoted to the IRA’s ruling army council following his November 1974 parole from prison and would have overseen many of the group’s most spectacular and divisive attacks. These included bomb attacks on London tourist spots and the use of “human bombs” — civilian employees like cooks and cleaners at British security installations — who were forced to drive car bombs to their places of work and were detonated by remote control before they could raise the alarm.

His central role in the IRA command was underscored when Britain in 1990 opened secret dialogue with the underground group in hopes of securing a cease-fire. An MI6 agent codenamed “The Mountain Climber” met McGuinness several times as part of wider diplomatic efforts that delivered a 1994 IRA truce and, ultimately, multi-party negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future and the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998.

Northern Ireland’s first power-sharing government, formed in 1999, was led by moderates and afforded only minor roles for Sinn Fein and the most uncompromising Protestant party, Paisley’s Democratic Unionists. When Sinn Fein nominated McGuinness to be education minister, many Protestant lawmakers recoiled and insisted they would never accept what one called “an IRA godfather” overseeing their children’s education.

That first coalition collapsed under the twin weight of Paisley-led obstruction and the IRA’s refusal to disarm as the Good Friday pact intended. McGuinness served as the lead liaison with disarmament officials.

After election results vaulted the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein to the top of their communities for the first time, pressure mounted on the IRA to surrender its stockpiled arsenal. This happened in 2005, paving the way for Paisley to bury the hatchet with the group he called “the Sinners.”

No observer could have foreseen what happened next: a genuine friendship between First Minister Paisley and Deputy First Minister McGuinness. Belfast wits dubbed them “The Chuckle Brothers” because of their public warmth, an image that quickly eroded Protestant support for Paisley and forced him out as Democratic Unionist chief within the year.

McGuinness maintained more businesslike relations with Paisley’s frosty successor, Peter Robinson. Together they met Queen Elizabeth II for a historic 2012 handshake in Belfast and were guests of honor at Windsor Castle two years later. All the while, McGuinness expressed newfound support for the police as they faced attacks from IRA splinter groups — a U-turn that exposed McGuinness and his relatives to death threats in their Derry home.

His relations with the newest Democratic Unionist Party leader, Arlene Foster, turned sour with surprising speed. When Foster rebuffed Sinn Fein’s demands to step aside, McGuinness resigned in January, toppling power-sharing in the process.

“Over the last 10 years I have worked with DUP leaders and reached out to unionists on the basis of equality, respect and reconciliation,” a frail, weak-voiced McGuinness said as he resigned as deputy first minister. “Today is the right time to call a halt to the DUP’s arrogance.”

McGuinness is survived by his wife, Bernadette, two daughters and two sons.

Mythic creatures dance through Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2017

DUBLIN (AP) — Performers dressed as colorful creatures from Irish myth and legend danced Friday down the chilly streets of Dublin as Ireland commemorated its national saint in a St. Patrick’s Day parade witnessed by hundreds of thousands.

Throngs of tourists and Dubliners, many of them donning leprechaun costumes, braved gusty winds to pack the route for the parade as it traveled down O’Connell Street across the River Liffey and on to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Dublin’s parade, by far the largest of dozens nationwide, forms the centerpiece of a four-day festival that marks the start of Ireland’s tourist season.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife, Sabina, and other dignitaries watched the hour-long procession from a bandstand. The spectacle was heavy on artistic flair and worldwide connections, featuring marching bands from Germany, France, Switzerland, the Bahamas and the U.S. states of Illinois, Indiana, Oregon and Washington. Firefighters from Berkeley, California, and Westchester, New York, also marched.

Before the parade, Higgins took part in a Roman Catholic service during which sprigs of shamrock were blessed. In his holiday address, the president noted that St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated worldwide because the Irish have been emigrating in great volumes for centuries.

This globe-trotting tradition represented “a constant feature of the Irish experience, defining us as a people,” he said. This week, Prime Minister Enda Kenny and 27 government ministers — virtually the entire government — left Ireland to promote the country’s business, arts and culture at more than 100 events in 27 nations.

On Thursday, Kenny met U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, continuing a holiday tradition that dates back to the Eisenhower administration. Since 2010, Ireland tourism boosters have worked with governments worldwide to floodlight famous landmarks in green each March 17. The Tourism Ireland agency said Friday that this year’s “Global Greening” program transformed a record 275 sites in 44 countries, including Niagara Falls, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Rome, the Manneken Pis statue in Brussels, and the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

Sinn Fein surge creates new Northern Ireland landscape

March 04, 2017

DUBLIN (AP) — Northern Ireland’s snap election has left the rival extremes of politics virtually neck and neck for the first time — and facing a bruising battle to put their Catholic-Protestant government back together again in an increasingly polarized landscape.

The big winner from Saturday’s final results to fill the Northern Ireland Assembly is the Irish nationalist party that triggered the vote, Sinn Fein. Already the major voice for the Catholic side, Sinn Fein reduced its previous 10-seat gap with its erstwhile Protestant colleagues in government to a single seat in a 90-member chamber. Sinn Fein came within 1,168 votes province-wide of becoming the most popular party for the first time in a corner of the United Kingdom that its leaders long sought to make ungovernable through Irish Republican Army carnage.

The party’s new leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, called the outcome “a great day for equality.” In another first, the leading British Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, won’t have enough votes to block legislation on its own, a power long employed to block gay rights legislation backed by all other parties. Never before has the Protestant side’s status as the in-built majority in Northern Ireland felt so precarious.

The outcome from Thursday’s election, forced by a surprise Sinn Fein withdrawal that collapsed the previous unity government, caught other parties off guard. The Democratic Unionists finished with 28 seats, Sinn Fein 27. The political affiliations of smaller parties meant the new assembly will have 40 unionists committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom versus 39 nationalists seeking to merge the once Protestant-dominated north into the Republic of Ireland.

The whole point of power-sharing — the central goal of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord — is to promote compromise between two evenly balanced blocs. But analysts and politicians from all factions agreed Saturday that they cannot see any quick revival of cooperation between two parties that, against the odds of history, had governed Northern Ireland in surprising stability until their partnership unraveled spectacularly over the past year.

Sinn Fein leaders said Saturday’s result meant the day was drawing closer for an all-Ireland referendum on uniting the island politically outside the U.K., an issue given greater importance because of Britain’s determination to withdraw from the European Union. Northern Ireland is heavily dependent on EU aid, a majority of its voters rejected “Brexit” in last year’s U.K.-wide referendum, and only the Democratic Unionists supported the move.

The immediate question facing all sides is whether the new assembly, when it meets for the first time Monday, will have a life beyond a few weeks of uncompromising, fruitless negotiations. Sinn Fein is demanding that the Democratic Unionists’ leader, Arlene Foster, step aside as a first condition on forging any new alliance.

Publicly, Democratic Unionist lawmakers say they won’t let Sinn Fein dictate who their own leader should be. Privately, many hope Foster — a combative speaker known for mocking opponents rather than building bridges — will resign voluntarily after barely a year on top. She stumbled trying to defend her oversight role in a wasteful “green energy” scheme that funneled tens of millions in subsidy payments to chicken farmers, including relatives of party figures.

“People knew we were in a difficult place and sought to kick us when we were down, but we were tough enough to come through it,” said DUP lawmaker Edwin Poots. “We will lead for Northern Ireland and we will not let our case go by default. Sinn Fein can be absolutely assured that there will be no caving in to them.”

If the two sides cannot quickly come together, Britain would be obliged to step in and resume governing the territory from London. That system, known as “direct rule,” supposedly ended for good when Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists struck a stunning power-sharing pact between lifelong enemies in 2007.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has made clear it doesn’t want Northern Ireland back on its plate full time while it focused on plans to leave the EU. The moderate forces that led Northern Ireland’s first power-sharing government from 1999 to 2002, the Ulster Unionists and the Catholic-backed Social Democratic and Labor Party, won 10 and 12 seats respectively. The only traditional party seeking support equally from both sides of the divide, Alliance, won eight.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt announced his resignation Friday night. He said the failure of more reasonable middle-ground politicians to achieve any breakthrough demonstrated “that this society is now more polarized than ever.”

“Someday, Northern Ireland will vote as a normal democracy. We will vote in a post-sectarian election,” Nesbitt said. “But it is now clear that it will not happen during the duration of my political life.”

Shawn Pogatchnik has covered Northern Ireland for The Associated Press since 1991.

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