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Topics - Trevor Hill

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General discussion / Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« on: January 18, 2010, 12:28:52 AM »
Quite an interesting article in the Sunday Times, while not quite relevant to the Liam/Gerry Adams thread, I think it raises an issue that some may have missed. If Gerry does resign because of his brother, there really is no one to take over.

Shortly after last June’s local elections, a private document wended its way through the backrooms of Sinn Fein headquarters. Marked for the attention of party leaders, it painted a dark and pessimistic picture of the state of Sinn Fein.

A “culture of fear” pervaded the organisation, it said, leaving members disempowered and frustrated. The party’s bright hope for the future, Mary Lou McDonald, had little hope of securing a seat in Dublin Central in the next general election, while Aengus Ó Snodaigh was also likely to lose his Dublin seat. “Sinn Fein is in serious and potentially critical decline in Dublin,” it said. “We are one election away from being totally irrelevant in Dublin, and the south in general.”

Six months after writing the internal review, Killian Forde had still not received a response from his party leaders. He took this to be further evidence of a refusal by Sinn Fein to engage with anyone who spoke out of turn.

The silence was compounded by a public rap across the knuckles from the party for voting for the Dublin city council budget. The 39-year-old councillor decided he had had enough. Last week he announced his intention to jump ship and join the Labour party.

The resignation of a local representative would not normally merit the attention of the national media, but Forde’s defection marked a trend: he was the fourth Sinn Fein councillor to leave the party in six months. To lose one might be regarded as misfortune; to lose four signals political danger.

With the peace process in excellent health in Northern Ireland and a growing appetite for socialist politics in the republic, Sinn Fein should be thriving and expanding. So why would any councillor choose now to leave?

Is it, as party officials have valiantly claimed, an insignificant blip in an otherwise prospering organisation? Or has the absence of a leader in the republic, combined with the infamous party discipline, made it unattractive to both voters and politicians alike? Is there any truth in Forde’s claim that Sinn Fein is one election away from oblivion in the republic?

FOR party headquarters, the figures don’t add up. Between 1999 and 2004, Sinn Fein enjoyed unprecedented electoral success, increasing its number of council seats from 21 to 54 and its TDs from one to five. But instead of it continuing to ride that wave of popularity, the tide seems to have gone out.

Far from achieving its publicly stated objective of doubling the party’s Dail seats in the 2007 elections, Sinn Fein lost a TD when Sean Crowe was defeated in Dublin South West. Suddenly, all the pre-election speculation about a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition seemed rather premature.

Last year, the party managed to hold its 54 council spots, but McDonald was unseated from the European parliament by Joe Higgins, a socialist rival. McDonald’s €160,000 budget, about four times the amount spent by Higgins, wasn’t enough to convince the electorate.

Pearse Doherty, Sinn Fein’s Donegal-based senator, said it was simply unrealistic to expect big wins at every election.

“Last June we consolidated the huge growth we had made in the previous elections,” he said. “We have also been attracting lots of new members to the party. Last year was one of our best years for that.”

Sure enough, figures from party headquarters show that between 2007 and 2009 there was an increase in the numbers joining the party, as membership grew from 4,366 to 4,823. College applications in particular are booming, with 1,300 students joining the party last year.

It seems to fit with Doherty’s claim, the profile of a small party that is building steadily, after a brief spurt in growth. But closer inspection by one political analyst reveals a considerably more volatile situation.

“If you look at what happened to Sinn Fein in Dublin between the 2004 and 2009 elections, you see there was a huge turnover of councillors,” he said. “Six left and were replaced in Dublin city council, there was another in Tallaght, and even in places like Donegal there were resignations.”

A certain level of turnover is expected in every party between elections, but the analyst said this was well above the norm.

“The last time I saw anything like it was in 1991, when there were mass defections from the Green party,” he said. “It points to something being radically wrong somewhere in the party. With another four having resigned in the past six months, you start to see there’s a definite trend. They might say they’re not worried about it, but they would have to be. It’s actually more surprising and more concerning for Sinn Fein than it would be for other parties, because one thing they are renowned for is their discipline.”

Forde believes that it is precisely this notorious discipline that is driving members away.

“At the time of the peace process it was very important that no one stepped out of line, and I think we all understood that,” he said. “But when you spend 15 years punishing people for being off message, you get a situation where people are afraid to express any view that is different or new. You would notice that people who spoke out were isolated or just didn’t appear on a particular committee any more. When people see how militant it is, they just don’t stay. Hundreds of people have left from the Dublin organisation in the last couple of years.”

Doherty denied there was any problem with democracy in the Sinn Fein organisation, saying that one of the reasons Forde left was that he could not accept the democratic decision of the party to reject the Dublin city council estimates.

“Killian Forde also left because he wanted to advance his own political career,” he said. “If you want a career in politics, Sinn Fein is the wrong party for you. We are not in it for ourselves: we’re there to serve the people.”

It’s a noble sentiment, but a startling one too. Running a party on the basis that nobody looking for a career need apply seems a sure-fire way of driving the most talented and ambitious young politicians into the arms of the opposition parties.

“I don’t think so,” said Doherty. “It’s that type of attitude that is at the core of what Sinn Fein is about, and that will attract the type of candidates we want — the people who see it as a privilege to serve the party.”

Unfortunately for Sinn Fein, there seems to be a dearth of such politicians in Ireland.

Doherty himself is one of the new hopes for the party, and is tipped to take the seat vacated by Fianna Fail’s Pat “the Cope” Gallagher in Donegal when the government gets round to holding a by-election.

McDonald and Toiréasa Ferris are also regularly name-checked by party officials when defending the ageing profile of their public representatives.

Ferris, who failed in her bid for a European parliament seat in Ireland South in June, caused some controversy last year when she claimed Sinn Fein meant “nothing to the bulk of people in the south” and was viewed as a “northern-based party, irrelevant to the everyday concerns of people in the 26 counties”. She later said these remarks were taken out of context.

McDonald, in particular, was being groomed by the party to take a leadership role but despite huge resources being pumped into her 2007 general election campaign and European election bid, she failed to get elected.

“McDonald is just a defeated docket at the moment,” said one Labour analyst. “We haven’t seen or heard a thing from her since last June. Things can obviously change quickly in politics, but at the moment that project has definitely failed.”

In the absence of any obvious successor, it seems Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, will soldier on in the position he first took up in 1983. Even though former and current members of Sinn Fein are reluctant to admit it, Adams is becoming one of the party’s biggest liabilities in the republic.

“The lack of leadership in the south is a huge issue for them,” said one analyst. “Adams is very confident talking about the north, but ask him about the economic crisis here and he looks completely lost. He was totally shown up in the leaders’ television debate before the last general election, and that did Sinn Fein a lot of damage. If they want to stop the tide going out, they need to get a strong southern leader.”

But even if Sinn Fein can successfully grapple with its organisational difficulties, can the party convince the Irish electorate to take it seriously?

On paper, Sinn Fein has some potentially strong selling points, such as the fact that their TDs and senators continue to earn only the average industrial wage, which, in the midst of a recession, should give them a moral advantage over their rivals, the Labour party. They have deep-rooted socialist policies, which should appeal to an electorate scarred by our recently imploded capitalist economy.

“I think we have the right policies and the right politics, but we’re not telling people about it in the right way,” said Ferris. Doherty, too, believes that the party is failing to communicate what it is offering. Both reject the allegation from some commentators that Sinn Fein was a “one-trick-pony”, and that the success of the peace process has, conversely, spelled the death of the party in the south.

Forde also rejects this assessment. “We actually produced a very sound and comprehensive document about the banking crisis,” he said. “The problem is, the crisis happened in October, and it took us until March or April to get it out, so obviously no media organisation wanted to cover it then. Sinn Fein needs to change its mindset from crisis management to normal, routine party work, but that change has to come from the top, and it’s not coming.”

But with no leader in the republic to speak to the media on crucial issues, and the party’s slow reaction to events robbing them of media coverage, Sinn Fein has found itself consistently outshone by the Labour party.

It has also struggled to maintain good relations with its socialist comrades, and is finding itself increasingly isolated in both the Dail and at local level. Christy Burke, the former Sinn Fein councillor who, last June, resigned from the party after 30 years, said Sinn Fein’s refusal to compromise was one of his primary reasons for leaving the party.

“Somebody in head office needs to cop on and realise that you can’t go looking for all the gravy and never dish it out,” he said. “We will never get anywhere if we vote against everything all the time. The Sinn Fein councillors who voted against the Dublin city council estimates thought they were voting against bin charges, but they were also voting against money for playgrounds and swimming pools and community development. I left because I wanted to be a player, to start having a real influence. Sinn Fein has to get real. If they want to see results, they have to start co-operating with other groups.”

In 2007, there did seem to be some glimmer of hope for such co-operation, when Labour and Sinn Fein made history by agreeing to a pact for the Seanad elections. It led to intense speculation that a left-wing collaboration might be in the offing, but since then there has been little sign of any further co-operation between the two parties.

Despite this, Doherty envisages a future “left alliance” involving Sinn Fein, the Labour party, and left-wing independents. “Irish politics can’t always be about the Tweedledum and Tweedledee combination,” he said. “We have seen huge changes in the political landscape in the past few years. People want something different. The left parties and left-wing independents could come together and give voters the option of a majority left government for the first time in this country. That would be a real alternative.”

The Labour party is considerably less enthusiastic about this prospect. Asked if the party would now consider an alliance with Sinn Fein, one Labour analyst laughed. “Of the 80 seats that Fianna Fail lost in the local elections, we took more than 30 and Sinn Fein didn’t take any,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds for them. But the Labour party is the left alliance.”

General discussion / UDA set to confirm weapons dumped
« on: January 05, 2010, 10:40:50 PM »
The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is expected to announce on Wednesday that it has put its weapons beyond use.

The loyalist paramilitary group has five weeks to meet the government's 9 February deadline to complete the decommissioning of its weapons.

Once this deadline passes, any UDA weapons discovered by police would be forensically tested and evidence could be used in future court cases.

The Ulster Volunteer Force completed decommissioning last year.

It is understood that the leadership of the UDA put its weapons beyond use in recent weeks.

Details of the process are expected to be announced at a news conference on Wednesday morning and confirmed in a statement from General John de Chastelain, the head of the international decommissioning body which witnessed the act.

General discussion / The Sunday Times
« on: January 03, 2010, 12:19:41 PM »
Is it just my local shop, or has everyone else's Sunday Times been a bit light of late. We haven't had the Home/property section for a month now, but it is supposed to be there every week. I asked this morning in the shop and they say they haven't been getting it. Has anyone had it lately? Its my favourite part of the paper.

GAA Discussion / Wicklow v Down. Aughrim 3pm Saturday. Live on RTE
« on: July 12, 2009, 06:54:44 PM »
Its winnable  :)

GAA Discussion / Down v Laois
« on: July 05, 2009, 06:14:04 PM »
Happy days.
Repeat of last years game at the same stage of the qualifiers. Could go either way, but you would hope for a win and build a wee bit of momentum.
Will Clancy be in the running for an oscar after this one?

GAA Discussion / Round 1 Predictions
« on: July 04, 2009, 12:47:39 AM »
Donegal v Carlow
Monaghan v Armagh
Meath v Waterford
Wicklow v Fermanagh
Wexford v Offaly
Louth v Tipperary
Down v London

Leitrim v Longford   

GAA Discussion / GAA unveils new Ticket Package
« on: July 02, 2009, 10:55:32 AM »
The GAA has launched a new range of ticket packages to cover the closing stages of the GAA Football and Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championships.

A total of six deals - five of which are new - will be on offer in the coming weeks allowing followers of football and hurling to combine quarter-final and semi-final games.

The Hurling Heaven package priced at Eu90 includes tickets for one hurling quarter-final and two semi-finals.

The Football Feast deal offers supporters tickets for two football quarter-final days and both semi-finals and costs Eu99, meaning matches cost less than Eu25 each.

On last year's ticket prices these packages offer savings of Eu35 and Eu60 respectively.

Other offers include a quarter and semi-final package covering one quarter-final and a semi-final costing Eu65 and a Dual Deal for the quarter-final and semi-final stages of both the football and hurling championships priced at Eu175.

There are also Club Pass and Group Pass offers.

GAA President Criostóir Ó Cuana, who unveiled the new packages at the GAA's new Ticket Shop at 53 Lower Dorset St, Dublin 1, said the new arrangements offered supporters real value for money for attractive high profile games at the business end of the championship season.

He said: "We have been very happy with attendances at our games to date this year but we have said all along that in these challenging times we would continue to review our ticketing arrangements in an effort to offer our members and followers value for money.

"By producing these packages we believe that's exactly what we have done. We have attempted to cater for different types of GAA supporters by offering combined football and hurling deals and a variety of options and we are confident that followers of our games will take up deals that will provide excellent live sporting entertainment at an affordable price."

The GAA has also finalised admission prices for this weekend's GAA All-Ireland Football Championship qualifier games. Entry to stands will cost Eu20 and admission to terraces has been reduced by Eu5 to 10.

GAA Discussion / London v Down July 4th
« on: June 21, 2009, 06:24:07 PM »
Looks like Ross will get to keep his job for another 70 minutes at least.

General discussion / UVF in decomissioning move
« on: June 18, 2009, 12:48:01 PM »
from the bbc.

There are strong indications that a Northern Ireland paramilitary group has decommissioned a significant amount of its weapons.

It is believed the government was told of the Ulster Volunteer Force move.

General John de Chastelain, the head of an international decommissioning body, is believed to have witnessed the act.

The commission said it would not comment other than to say "we expect to be reporting to the government at the end of August".

Four years ago the IRA put its weapons "beyond use" in decommissioning witnessed by two churchmen.

The move comes ahead of Secretary of State Shaun Woodward's August deadline for significant progress on loyalist arms.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson said any move by loyalists towards decommissioning would be "welcome".

"Over the last nine months the DUP has been engaged in ongoing discussions with both the UDA and UVF leaderships," he said.

"The objective of the discussions has been to assist the organisations' transformation from paramilitary organisations into people who are playing their full part in a peaceful and democratic Northern Ireland with violence and criminality being firmly a thing of the past."


He said they were aware the groups had been engaging with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, but said they did "not want to pre-empt the outcome of this process".

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said the move showed "the progress that Northern Ireland has made".

"Although the timing is somewhat later than we had hoped, we do welcome this move as the way forward and we will be working on the ground to ensure that it is completed," he said.

Alliance leader David Ford said the development appeared to be significant.

"For decades, paramilitary groups from both sides have held communities in their grip of fear. I hope that this move will lead to the end, not simply another endgame,"he said.

The UVF was formed in 1966 and is believed to have murdered more than 500 people during the Troubles.

In 2007 it declared that it was renouncing violence.

The UVF announced just over two years that it had put its weapons beyond the reach of its membership.

The Ulster Defence Association has also been engaged in a series of meetings with the general, but it is not yet clear if the organisation has started the process of decommissioning.

GAA Discussion / Are there too many games on TV ?
« on: June 13, 2009, 08:08:44 PM »
Its a beautiful summers evening in June, yet Páirc Uí Chaoimh was not full for the Cork v Kerry replay. A game that should have been a sell out. Dr Cullen Park is less than half full for the Kildare v Wexford game and even Tyrone v Armagh, on one of the best days of the summer so far, was not a full house. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot with all these live games. Two games today, two tomorrow and probably the same again next week. The sunny day supporters are staying away in numbers, maybe due to the recession, but the GAA has to do something and do it soon to attract people back to championship games.
I don't think that we need all these games on TV, yes its great to see the likes of Cork v Kerry and Armagh v Tyrone, but do we really need to see Fermanagh v Down or Kildare v Wexford if it means that games are being played in half full grounds.

GAA Discussion / County Grounds You Have Been To.
« on: June 06, 2009, 11:46:28 PM »
Myself and a few friends were talking recently about all the different grounds we had visited and which was our favourite. Of all the county grounds in Ireland the only one I think I havent been to is Nolan Park in Kilkenny, though there may be a few others. Has anyone actually been to all 32 grounds?
My favourite ground is Breffni Park and my least favourite is Pearse Park.

General discussion / Epic Fail
« on: April 27, 2009, 04:24:52 PM »

GAA Discussion / Ros Comáin v An Dún
« on: April 09, 2009, 11:18:35 PM »
Down team v Roscommon.

1 Brendan McVeigh
2 Ciaran McGovern
3 Aidan Carr
4 Luke Howard
5 Damian Rafferty
6 Conor Garvey
7 Declan Rooney
8 Peter Fitzpatrick
9 Stephen Kearney     
10 Brendan McArdle
11 John Boyle
12 Daniel Hughes
13 Brendan Coulter   
14 Ronan Murtagh
15 Paul McCumiskey

General discussion / Germany's Phantom Serial Killer: A DNA Blunder
« on: March 28, 2009, 01:05:41 PM »
Quite a fitting story for the week just gone.,8599,1888126,00.html

The murderer dubbed "The Phantom of Heilbronn" had been baffling German investigators for two years. The criminal was a rarity, a female serial killer, and a very busy one: Police had linked DNA evidence from 40 crimes — including the famous homicide of a policewoman in the southern German town of Heilbronn — to the same woman.

Police had found her DNA on items ranging from a cookie to a heroin syringe to a stolen car. They had put a $400,000 reward on her head. Profilers from around Europe were called in to help hunt her down. The police even consulted diviners and fortunetellers in the hopes of discovering her identity. The papers declared the case "the most mysterious serial crime of the past century." (See pictures of fighting crime.)

The police thought they'd been looking everywhere. But it turns out they should have been looking down — at the cotton swabs they were using to collect DNA samples. On March 26, German police revealed that the cotton swabs they use may have all been contaminated by the same worker at a factory in Austria — and that the Phantom of Heilbronn never existed.

For the second time in a week, DNA evidence has led German police down a dead end. "Are the heads of our police stuffed with cotton wool?" asked a headline in this week's Bild newspaper. The Phantom is now considered the most embarrassing lapse in German DNA analysis yet.

The Phantom became a national celebrity in 2007, with the murder of 22-year-old policewoman Michele Kiesewetter. All of Germany watched the case unfold, and Heilbronn police alone racked up 16,000 hours of overtime pursuing the culprit. Police announced they'd found DNA traces matching that of The Phantom on several cold cases, including a murder dating back to 1993. (See pictures of cults that went wacko.)

But as they studied the evidence, contradictions emerged that possibly should have raised red flags. The Phantom was not only a brutal killer — suspected of committing six homicides — but also a common thief. She had been involved in a car dealership robbery and a school break-in, but in both cases others convicted of those crimes denied her existence.

The Phantom's list of accomplices showed no pattern, ranging from Slovaks to Serbs, Albanians to Romanians, and her territory stretched throughout Germany and into Austria and France. No one had ever seen her, no security camera had ever captured her image. But when witnesses described her, they sometimes said she looked like a man.

It wasn't until earlier this year that investigators figured something had to be very wrong. Trying to establish the identity of a burned corpse found in 2002, they were re-examining the fingerprints of a male asylum seeker taken from his asylum application made many years earlier. The fingerprints contained the Phantom's female DNA. Impossible, they thought, so they repeated the test with a different cotton swab — and this time found no trace of the Phantom's DNA.

This raised suspicions that the DNA found at all the Phantom's crime scenes might be traced to a single innocent factory worker, probably employed to package the swabs. Cotton swabs are sterilized before being used to collect DNA samples, but while sterilizing removes bacteria, viruses and fungi, it does not destroy DNA. (Read a TIME cover story on DNA.)

Earlier this year, Austrian authorities began decommissioning all cotton swabs manufactured by Austrian company Greiner Bio-One International AG after they had made a similar discovery, with a different mysterious DNA donor. On Thursday, several German states admitted to using that same brand of cotton swab. An investigator from the state of Baden-Württemberg told Bild newspaper: "The things were double-packaged, we thought they were the Mercedes of cotton swabs." But the Austrian manufacturer hurried to declare Thursday night that "Greiner Bio-One cotton swabs are not certified for DNA analysis."

Berlin Police spokesman Michael Merkle tells TIME that the city's investigators are now checking whether they also use cotton swabs from Greiner Bio-One. "A consequence of the present case may be to start randomly checking the cotton swabs we are supplied with for traces of DNA — which, in turn, harbors the risk of contaminating them," he says.

Stefan König of the Berlin Association of Lawyers says that the case of the phantom Phantom illustrates the risks of basing an investigation solely on DNA evidence. "DNA analysis is a perfect tool for identifying traces," he says. "What we need to avoid is the assumption that the producer of the traces is automatically the culprit. Judges tend to be so blinded by the shiny, seemingly perfect evidence of DNA traces that they sometimes ignore the whole picture. DNA evidence on a crime scene says nothing about how it got there. There is good reason for not permitting convictions on the basis of DNA circumstantial evidence alone." (See the retail DNA test.)

And the case isn't closed yet. Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office is investigating the theory that certain batches of cotton swabs could have been contaminated at some point in their production, from when the raw cotton was picked to when the swabs were packed. Forensic analysts in Stuttgart have been testing unused cotton swabs for the Phantom's DNA, but say so far they have found no evidence of contamination. For the German police, it would be a relief to discover that the mysterious female serial killer doesn't actually exist. But, it would also be a bitter confirmation of the thousands of man hours wasted chasing a ghost — and the 40 criminal investigations that are now back to square one.

GAA Discussion / An Dún v Uíbh Fhailí
« on: March 23, 2009, 06:35:12 PM »
Anything less than a win and its division 3 for another season. Down have to field their strongest 15 from the start, the time for experimenting is over. I doubt we will have it as easy as we did in Tullamore last summer.

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