The Michael Sam Story: Confronting Homophobia in Sport & Society

The American sporting world was dominated last week by the news that a talented young American football star, Michael Sam, had announced publicly that he was gay.

The University of Missouri defensive talent had declared himself eligible for the professional NFL Draft, the wonderfully communistic process in which young talent is selected in turn by teams in order determined by their performance in the previous season, with the worst going first, second worst thereafter until the Super Bowl winner eventually gets a pick. This process is repeated with a 2nd Round of picks, then 3rd etc.

Homophobia had already been a topical issue in the professional American football world due to two other prominent developments within the past 12 months.

The decision by Minnesota Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe, in September 2012 to publicly rebuke a Baltimore politician, Emmett C Burns Jr, who had written to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens team condemning a player who had expressed an opinion supportive of gay marriage, brought him into the public eye in a way that may have negatively impacted on his subsequent career in the game.

Kluwe was seen as the public face of the campaign for same sex marriages in the state of Minnesota, a decision that may have ultimately cost him his job. Last month, Kluwe went public over how he was treated by some coaches following his decision to publicly support the campaign (he was released as a player from the Vikings in May 2013.) Following his public allegations, the Minnesota Vikings hired a former Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice (Eric Magnuson) and a former Department of Justice trial attorney (Chris Madel) to lead an investigation into the matter.

Meanwhile, just yesterday, a much anticipated NFL-commissioned report into the troubled Miami Dolphins team concluded that the locker room was defined by a culture of intolerance which proved too much for one player, Jonathan Martin, whose decision to go public on his ordeal at the hands of fellow players- including the now suspended Richie Incognito-  has brought the issue of sporting workplaces even more firmly into the spotlight in light of Michael Sam’s pronouncement. Martin’s issue wasn’t exclusively about homophobia, but it was clearly an element of the abuse dished out to the young player and endemic within the locker room culture.

The reaction of many to the Michael Sam revelation has been heartwarming. Missouri is a fairly conservative state, and his Tigers side compete in the most competitive of college football leagues, the Deep South based South Eastern Conference (SEC.) Right wing chat show host, Michael Brown, struck a critical tone not typical of the public reaction which has seen amongst many others First Lady, Michelle Obama, praise the young prospect for his brave stance.

Immediate reaction also included anonymous but well placed sources from within the professional NFL world declaring that Sam’s announcement would ‘hurt’ his draft status.

Sam is regarded as the premium defensive talent in the best conference within the country (SEC teams won the college championship each of the past 7 seasons, and the team that beat Sam’s to get to this year’s BCS Final only lost to break that streak to a last minute touchdown.)

Yet speculation now has it that Sam will likely not be taken until the 3rd to 5th Round of the Draft, meaning every team will pass on the opportunity to select him 2, 3 or 4 times before one selects him, which will naturally affect his contract as early picks are regarded as prize assets and have most leverage when it comes to contract negotiations.

This speculation greatly angered veteran Dallas sports anchor, Dale Hansen, whose angry riposte has gone viral in recent days, lambasting those who would criticize Sam whilst highlighting the numerous NFL players who have been drafted and continued to play in the league in spite of their very public involvement in illegal activities ranging from manslaughter to domestic abuse and beyond.

Of course, this is not a problem exclusive to American football.

Just last week, English women’s soccer international, Casey Stone, publicly announced that she was gay, precipitating a discussion on attitudes in the soccer world, with results sounding very familiar. Former PFA Chairman, Clarke Carlisle, believes that an education programme targeted at players is required, whilst Bolton manager Owen Coyle is quoted in the article as commenting that attitudes in the game regarding homosexuality have changed little in 20 years.

And, of course, the attitude exhibited by many Russian leaders ahead of the Sochi Games has provoked much comment.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the tide of history is moving inexorably towards one where, on a global scale, increased tolerance defines the attitudes on display towards those who differ on grounds of sexuality.

I hardly need to stress how many within our own little world appear to be increasingly on the wrong side of history….

 

Surviving the job hunt part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how to survive the job hunt. Luckily for me things in that area have turned around and I am now faced with an exciting new challenge that I cannot wait to get stuck into.

I am writing this piece as I think it’s always good to illustrate when looking for jobs that in the employment market a month is literally an eternity. I was thinking today about a friend of mine who got a short term contract at very basic pay about a year ago and now because of that job he was able to get into a situation where he literally had firms competing over him. It is truly amazing how your fortunes can change very quickly.

Why does my recent change in fortune or my friend’s matter? When I wrote that last piece I was genuinely heartened by the tweets of support that I received from people who were in the same boat and the employers who took the time to actually put down their suggestions. All of these I was able to put to good use for my own job hunt and for that I sincerely thank you. If posts like this help even one person then they are well worth taking the time to write them.

So, what did I learn from my experience?

1) In an interview it is important to be yourself- DO NOT use jargon or try to imagine yourself as somebody else-people can spot when something is not right. If you are confident in yourself and your skills and aware of your weaknesses you will be fine. Employers do not expect you to be perfect at absolutely everything.

2) Use everything at your disposal- Depending on what area you are in there are likely to be agencies who have consultants that specialist in the jobs you are looking for. Make a point of ringing and making an appointment to have a chat about what you’re looking for-remember these people get a lot of emails every day and have a meeting with them is much more effective.

3) Apply ASAP!-If you’re using agencies the key thing is to apply for the job as soon as possible. Consultants will not wait to forward on CVs, if they get somebody through who meets the criteria they will recommend them for an interview, so do not wait. Most jobs are placed on websites such as NIJobfinder.co.uk and NIJobs.com

4) Attitude-I mentioned in my last post the importance of being polite, optimistic and energetic. This is so important I feel it worth repeating as this will get you through the slumps that you encounter and in a tough economy this will happen.

5) Be realistic-for a lot of younger people there is an assumption (I’m as guilty of this as anyone) that you go and get the degree and the £20k per year job should be waiting there for you after graduation. This does not happen and if it does happen to you then you should thank your lucky stars. You should be ready and willing to take temporary posts when they come up and be ready to gain that experience that will lead you to a permanent job down the line.

6) Get feedback-anytime you’re unsuccessful in an interview-please make sure you get the feedback from the panel and put it to good use the next time.

These are just six things that I learned from my experience, I am sure you have your own.

Just remember to keep your chin up, keep trying and always try to be a step ahead of others competing out there for jobs. It’s not always easy but here’s hoping that the green shoots of recovery that we are seeing can help get some more people back into work.

Hyde Park bombing suspect will not be prosecuted

The BBC are reporting that John Downey who was arrested and charged with killing four soldiers in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing will not be prosecuted because he was given a guarantee he would not face trial.

Downey was arrested in 2013 at Gatwick whilst en route to Greece.

From the BBC:

..over the course of legal argument, he asked the Old Bailey to halt the prosecution – saying he had received a clear written assurance from the government that he would not be tried.

He cited an official letter he had received in 2007 saying: “There are no warrants in existence, nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charging by police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you by any other police force.”

He said his alleged offences had been categorised as one of the “on-the-run” cases that would no longer be pursued in the light of progress in the peace process.

In his judgement halting the case, Mr Justice Sweeney said Mr Downey had received an assurance in 2007 that he would not face criminal charges, despite the fact that police in Northern Ireland knew he was still wanted by Scotland Yard.

The Crown Prosecution Service had argued that the assurance was given in error – but the judge said it amounted to a “catastrophic failure” that misled the defendant. A trial would therefore be an abuse of executive power.

Unsurprisingly the decision was welcomed by Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy but castigated by Tom Elliott and Peter Robinson. The most interesting response, however, came from Peter Hain:

“I was astonished to hear that this prosecution had been launched in the first place, because he had received a letter from the Northern Ireland Office after painstaking investigations into whether the evidence still existed to prosecute him as a suspect for this crime and he received a letter saying he was in the clear.

“This was a critical part of the peace deal that has brought Northern Ireland from horror and evil to peace and hope and the idea that it could be unravelled in his case was astonishing to me.”

Tom Elliott’s response was that it was an “appalling indictment of Peter Hain and the past Labour government in their behind-the-scenes dealings”.

Gradually some of the side deals agreed by the last government are coming out. This from the government which changed the law to allow prosecution of Nazi war criminals from many years before; proclaimed its “ethical foreign policy” and whose leader described himself as a “pretty straight sort of guy.” It leaves one wondering what other side deals and assurances were offered, who knew what and when and especially if any unionists knew anything of these deals. Finally: if the public had known of these sorts of deals with both the Belfast and St. Andrews Agreements would we have agreed to the deal in the first place.

How’s that story holding up for you now dFM?

More from the Vixens this morning, this time concerning Martin McGuinness’s status within the IRA post the 1974 date he gave in the Presidential election of 2011:

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 11.45.43

The extent to which I struggle to understand SF’s reasoning can be measured precisely in that odd decision to Martin a public leave date from the IRA. All it does is incentivise people to prove he didn’t…

NI Justice Minister: “It is important to note that, in setting some minimum standards, I am not prohibiting the Board from adding to these minimum criteria…”

Whilst Brian may regard them as “surely sensible” changes to the criteria for the next Chief Constable, and they may well be, as I mentioned in updates to a previous post, no sooner had the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, the Alliance Party’s David Ford, announced those changes than the NI First and deputy First Ministers promptly agreed to exercise their prerogative to call his decision into the dysfunctional NI Executive semi-detached polit-bureau  [Where it will be put to the sword... - Ed].

By this morning, as the BBC report, the NI Justice Minister was being attacked as a “little Nero” by the DUP’s Jonathan Craig, and for “[attempting] a solo run” by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly.

Still, at least by agreeing, this time, those two parties have avoided another costly visit to the High Court…  Although the SDLP’s Dolores Kelly has accused the NI First and deputy First Ministers of “a dangerous precedent of political interference in policing” – “It is more worrying, however, that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister believe they can interfere in policy making decisions of the Policing Board.”

ANYhoo…  According to Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:  “David Ford’s unilateral decision to  change the recruitment criteria for the  position of Chief constable is unwelcome and ill-timed.

“He has  taken this decision without seeking the agreement of the Executive or  indeed the Policing Board whose responsibility it is to recruit to this position.”

But it’s worth noting the detail from the NI Justice Minister’s initial press release

David Ford said: “In light of changes to appointment procedures and requirements elsewhere in policing, during the second half of 2013, I sought the views of the Policing Board, the PSNI and other key stakeholders with regard to the criteria when appointing a new Chief Constable in Northern Ireland. This is part of an ongoing review of police terms and conditions in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

“I have decided to remove the mandatory requirement that the Chief Constable must have served as (at least) an Assistant Chief Constable for two years elsewhere, but that such experience should be retained as a desirable criteria for the Policing Board when appointing a new Chief Constable. I have also added the mandatory requirement that the successful candidate will have successfully completed the Strategic Command Course (or an equivalent).

I considered it important to ensure the criteria allows for as wide a pool of candidates as possible. It is however for the Policing Board to consider the experiences of those involved and whether they consider applicants to be suitably qualified.”

David Ford continued: “It is important to note that, in setting some minimum standards, I am not prohibiting the Board from adding to these minimum criteria as they consider the skills, experience and competencies required of a new Chief Constable.” [added emphasis throughout]

[They can still sack the Justice Minister! Ed]  For now.  But they’d need to agree a replacement first, and they’d need to hurry up…

Adds  The subject of the proposed changes to the criteria for the appointment of a new Chief Constable was the focus of most of the topical questions to the NI Justice Minister in the Assembly today.  Here are the relevant parts of the exchanges from Hansard.

1. Mr Brady asked the Minister of Justice to comment on his intervention to change the legislative stipulation on the criteria for the appointment of a new Chief Constable and whether he thinks that it is appropriate to do so as he did not discuss it with the Policing Board, and to outline the implications of his intervention now that the First Minister and deputy First Minister have forced him to take it to the Executive. (AQT 621/11-15)

[...]

Mr Ford: I am sure that Mr Brady’s comments will be picked up by his colleagues if I fail to answer them adequately at this stage.  I must, first of all, correct his suggestion that I did not consult the Policing Board.  The Policing Board raised the issue with me in May last year.

Given the significant interest in this issue over the past 24 hours, I hope, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, that you will allow me to take a little longer than I usually take to answer questions to set out my position, because it is important that the issues are properly understood and that debate and comments are informed by the facts.  I fear that we have heard a number of public comments reflecting a lack of understanding about the process and the implications of my decision.

The post of Chief Constable is a vital one, and my sole intention has been to ensure that the process for appointing a Chief Constable is governed by fairness, common sense and equality.  I have no agenda beyond that.  Indeed, my decision gives me as Minister less control over the process and gives the Policing Board more control.  It might be helpful if I outline, first of all, my powers in this area, which are set out in regulation 11 of the Police Service of Northern Ireland Regulations 2005.  The regulation states:

“no person shall be appointed as Chief Constable of the police service unless he holds or has held such rank, in such force and for such period,”

— as the Minister —

“shall determine in respect of such an appointment.”

I have made clear my intention to change the arrangements.  A determination by me would issue in accordance with regulation 46 of the 2005 regulations.  No other legislative process is required, so the decision will not delay the process of appointment.

It is also essential to understand the board’s role and, indeed, primacy in the appointment of a Chief Constable, which is enshrined in section 35 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000.  The section clearly states:

“The Board shall, subject to the approval of”

— the Minister —

“appoint the Chief Constable.”

My intentions are aimed solely at enabling the board to have more latitude, and I remain entirely respectful of the board’s primacy.

Let me summarise how the matter has been dealt with.  Criteria for the appointment of a Chief Constable in England and Wales were amended in 2012 to remove the criterion relating to experience gained outside the current force.  In May 2013, the Policing Board made contact with my Department to ask that the matter be raised with me, pointing out concerns about the current arrangements.  I was clear in my response that I wished to know what level of support changes might receive from the board.

As required by legislation, and to take the issue forward, I launched a wider consultation exercise, going beyond the bodies that I am required to consult.  I consulted the Police Advisory Board for Northern Ireland, on which the Policing Board, the Chief Constable and staff associations are represented.  I also sought the view of the Equality Commission and the Justice Committee.

It has become clear from correspondence with the Policing Board and from the Justice Committee appearance that agreed positions have not been reached.  It falls to me, therefore, in accordance with my powers in the Regulations, to reach a view and issue a determination.  I announced yesterday my intentions and I welcome the opportunity to set out now the benefits of the changes.

[...]

Mr Ford: As things stand, and as originally pointed out by the Policing Board in May 2013, it may be anomalous to retain a provision that is no longer applicable in other forces.  Specifically, the requirement for two years’ service outside Northern Ireland may impact unfairly on certain groups; for example, females or those with dependants or a disability.  The Equality Commission tends to the view that the provision could constitute indirect discrimination.  I am keen, therefore, that we remove any such unnecessary barriers to the widest and fairest candidate pool, while retaining the board’s power to decide itself on the best criteria.

This is not a question of balance.  It is perfectly possible, in my view, to achieve both aims, simply by removing the current mandatory requirement for service outside Northern Ireland.  I am asking the board to consider outside service to be desirable, as a minimum, but not essential.  It is then entirely open for the board to decide whether that outside service is essential in the forthcoming competition.

In summary, my intention is to further empower the board to define its requirements for Chief Constable.

I am aware that there has been some comment to the effect that I have intervened in the middle of a recruitment process.  Mr Brady made that point, but that is not my intention and nor has it been the case.  The board is at the earliest stage of responding to Matt Baggott’s recent decision, and the recruitment process is absolutely not under way.  I hope that all involved can at least agree the changes that I intend to make as that will clearly aid the board in constructing and delivering its own way forward.

I am grateful for this opportunity.

[...]

3. Mr Dallat asked the Minister of Justice whether he can give an assurance that he is in control, given that he will be aware that the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister has now intervened in the affairs of the Minister of the Environment and the Minister for Regional Development. (AQT 623/11-15)

I am sure that the Minister will forgive me for returning to the subject of the first question.

Mr Ford: I thank Mr Dallat for the question.  The issue is related to the power of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to call in procedures to the full Executive and the proportionality of their doing that.

I am absolutely certain that my decision was correct.  It was appropriate, proportionate and has not created the difficulties that were highlighted by a number of people who were ill informed about the circumstances.  On that basis, I would be very happy to go to the Executive meeting on Thursday to explain for the benefit of Ministers the details of what has been done, why it is appropriate and why it is my role as Justice Minister to carry that out.  I will also be putting that explanation in an Executive paper over the next day or so.

Mr Dallat: I thank the Minister for his answer.  When he goes to the Executive, will he explain to them in the impassioned way that he can that an awful lot has been done to take politics out of policing?  Now that we are back in the quagmire, will he do everything that he can to minimise the damage that has been done by this row?

Mr Ford: I thank Mr Dallat for making the point.  I certainly have no intention of creating any damage to policing through this row.  I did not start it; I carried out my statutory duties in a way that was entirely appropriate in order to enhance the role of the board in carrying out its statutory duties.  I will certainly explain that to the Executive.  I am not sure that I will do it in an “impassioned” way, as he described; I will explain it in as level and straightforward a way as I can, as indeed the Principal Deputy Speaker allowed me to do in the House just now.  We will see how other Ministers respond when presented with the facts rather than some of the ill-informed comments that we have heard recently.

[...]

6. Mrs Cameron asked the Minister of Justice whether he thought it was appropriate not to bring the significant and controversial issue of the changing of the requirement regarding the appointment of the Chief Constable to the Executive and whether he will accept the Executive’s decision on the matter. (AQT 626/11-15)

Mr Ford: It was a narrowing of my role to enhance that of the Policing Board.  Making a very modest change — the changing of a particular criterion from “essential” to “desirable” — is not, in my opinion, relevant for referral to the Executive.  It is not controversial, except in the minds of some people recently; it is not a cross-cutting issue; and it is a matter that, in statute, is clearly the responsibility of the Minister of Justice.

“Residents also protested outside the local Sinn Féin offices…”

As the BBC reports, local residents have continued their protest against the planned £70million redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast.  From the UTV report

Around 100 residents took part in a demonstration on Saturday afternoon. They say they are now considering taking legal action.

One woman said: “The main thing is the height of it, it’s going to be about 129ft and right around the whole outskirts of the houses.”

A man said: “It’s an absolute monstrosity. The residents are not going away – we were here before the GAA and we’ll be here after.”

Another woman said: “We’ve seen people power in other aspects of the community over the years and we’re fighting for our neighbourhood. The next step will be talking to our solicitors and looking at ways to take a judicial review over the planning application.”

And the BBC report adds

[The protesting residents] said they were concerned that the height of the structure would cast their houses into permanent shadow.

The GAA said it wanted to continue to engage with residents but the chair of the residents association, John Crossey, said that was not happening.

Residents also protested outside the local Sinn Féin offices – angry their political representatives were not doing more.

Sinn Féin MP for west Belfast, Paul Maskey, said he has done all in his power to facilitate negotiations between the GAA and residents and he will continue to do so.

As I pointed out previously, with his party being, partly, responsible for the divvying up of the ”package of circa £138million [to] be used to upgrade regional stadiums at Windsor Park, Ravenhill and Casement Park” the local MP is as patronising sympathetic as you’d expect…

Planning permission for the Casement Park redevelopment was announced on 19 December 2013.  And the Northern Ireland Sports Minister, Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín, was so delighted there was not one, but two consecutive press releases to confirm funding for the scheme.

That was promptly followed by the Minister’s announcement of approval for the funding agreement with the Irish Football Association over the £31million funding for the redevelopment of Windsor Park in South Belfast.

But no mention, that I can find, of a resolution to Carál Ní Chuilín’s previously reported concerns over the governance of the Irish Football Association…

The IFA scrapped the requirement for suitability assessments for senior officials earlier this year [2013].

“I need to be assured that appropriate governance and accountability structures have been maintained,” said Minister Ní Chuilín in the Assembly [Hansard 10 September 2013].

“Until that happens, I can’t sign off on any agreement.”

Then again, as BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport mentioned back in March 2011

…one aspect of the announcement which is questionable is its very symmetry. If the Executive took a needs based approach rather than a politically expedient route, would both the GAA and Soccer require exactly £61.4 million? I know it’s a sporting cliche to talk about a “game of two halves”, but is this the sporting equivalent of the judgment of Solomon?

It stirs memories of the symmetrical solution to the Victims Commissioner dillemma – we can’t agree on one so let’s appoint four.

Indeed.

How the system of “comfort letters” developed. Secrecy was important, Hain admits

Much of the ammunition Peter Robinson needs is already in Mr Justice Sweeney’s lengthy judgment in the Downey case. Key points in this Belfast Telegraph summary.

The administrative scheme began in 2000 to rectify the anomaly because as on the runs, they weren’t eligible for the early release scheme. The overall picture is of Gerry Kelly as Sinn Fein’s point man  with the British government on the issue,   coming forward regularly with new names and the legal authorities  led by successive UK Attorneys General refusing a collective approach more appropriate  for a legal  amnesty and insisting on a laborious case by case approach. That is why the system dragged on to 2007 . Clearly the process is initially  driven personally by Tony Blair and his chief of staff Jonathan Powell, with the lawyers dragging their feet. Powell   now claims that unionist rage is “completely misplaced.”

I don’t see why a letter to someone telling them they are not wanted for a crime is something relevant for anyone to know apart the police and the people they are writing to,” said Mr Powell.

“Again we are missing the point between an agreement on On the Runs which was very public – we were negotiating about it and failed to reach agreement on it – and factual letters saying you are not wanted.

But why were OTRs who for example  had escaped  from jail ” not wanted? ” You can hardly argue for lack of evidence there. And even if individual letters were  to be confidential, should not the  system  have been openly declared?

With all the to -ing and fro -ing  you can just about follow how such a catastrophic error as omitting that Downey was wanted by the Met even from the length of email chains. However for the wider purpose the judgment gives insight into how the system was supposed to operate. These extracts from the full judgment give a flavour.

Also on 2 May 2000 there were meetings at the Irish Embassy in London between officials from both governments and Sinn Fein. The Minutes of those meetings record that Jonathan Powell (the Government’s Chief Negotiator) indicated that the Government was prepared to operate a similar system in relation to OTRs to the one then being operated by the Irish Government. He indicated that if the Government was given a list of names, it would clarify with the police and the prosecuting authorities the position of those individuals and, where appropriate, would review whether it remained in the public interest to pursue a prosecution. He further indicated that it was thought that the Government could deal with, say, 12 names in a month– but no guarantee could be given on the outcome of any review, because that was an independent decision for the prosecuting authorities under the Attorney General.

It was against that background that on 5 May 2000, following negotiations at Hillsborough Castle which resulted in agreement as to a process for disarmament (and during which private assurances were again given to Sinn Fein that, one way or another, the OTR issue would be sorted out), and in the continuing absence of a legislative solution, the Prime Minister wrote to Mr Adams, as follows: “I can confirm that, if you can provide details of a number of cases involving people ‘on the run’ we will arrange for them to be considered by the Attorney General, consulting the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Police, as appropriate with a view to giving a response within a month if at all possible. You have also questioned whether it would be in the public interest to mount any prosecutions after 28 July for offences alleged to have been committed before the Good Friday Agreement, since by then all remaining eligible prisoners will have been released, and have raised other related issues around the 28 July date. I would be willing to have these matters considered rapidly, with the aim of deciding the way forward before 28 July. Prosecution decisions are, of course, a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General…..”.

 

From Peter Hain’s written  statement about how the failed  OTR legislation in 2005 was designed  to supersede the  administrative system  that  legal officers plainly disliked.. An amnesty is always on the list but quickly discarded. Invariably they revert  to the administrative system.  

  I was involved in the extensive discussions that surrounded attempts to bring legislation and/or to consider alternative mechanisms. When these could not be achieved, it was the administrative scheme that persisted. There were a number of exceptional features to the scheme. The first, of course, involved Sinn Fein being formally put on notice; individuals who otherwise might not know with any certainty that they could be subject to arrest were alerted. The second was that the scheme progressed in a non public manner. Confidentiality was maintained for the individuals who submitted their names to the scheme; neither the names of the applicants nor the outcome of the applications were subjected to publicity. There was in consequence an enhanced reliance upon internal checks being correctly done and correctly notified as the recipient was dependent upon and trusting in the sole evidence of an assurance, namely the letter he/she (or on his/her behalf Sinn Fein) received from the Northern Ireland Office. I am informed that the Court has been provided with internal documents that show that at a number of junctures discussion took place with a view to reducing to burden of verification that rested upon the departments concerned, but this was rejected on the basis that corners could not be cut.

 

In his first witness statement Mr Kevin McGinty ( civil servant adviser in NI matters to the Attorney General).

 I believe it was understood by all that at best this administrative scheme would identify those cases where individuals were not in fact wanted or where the evidential test could no longer ever be met. The prosecuting authorities accepted the administrative scheme with some reluctance. In part this was because the actual and perceived impartiality of the prosecution authority was of crucial importance to the maintenance of public confidence and the administrative scheme would only benefit one side of a divided community.

The letters made clear that the assessment was based on the evidence then available. That position could change. It was to the forefront of the minds of the prosecutors that if an individual who had received such a letter returned to the jurisdiction and started commenting publicly through the authorship of books, articles or appearance on television that they had in fact been involved in terrorist activity (which was not as farfetched as it may seem) public confidence in the criminal justice system would require the authorities to be able to act. It followed that the letter sent could never amount to an amnesty of absolute and final promise not to prosecute.

Peter Hain commenting  on the care taken by the NIO, ironically interesting in the  light of the error over the Downey letter for which  the PSNI was responsible      

… the British government did not intend individuals to be misled into believing they were safe to return to the jurisdiction and then be arrested. The opposite was the case; it was intended at all times that they should know with accuracy their position; hence the exceptional step taken from that time of the Weston Park talks and thereafter, of positively notifying Sinn Fein that particular individuals who had put their names forward were liable to arrest, an indication that no doubt allowed each to decide whether or not they might enter the jurisdiction in full knowledge of the risks if they did so. If despite what had been said in a letter to the contrary, Sinn Fein was thereafter informed that the individual concerned was still “wanted” he or she would have no doubt immediately been told; a transparent precautionary step would have in these exceptional circumstances been appropriately taken that would have allowed for the individual as well as the well being of the process as a whole to be protected from unintended risk, consistently with both the letter and spirit in which this unique scheme had been constructed.

 

Cunningham changes plea on Northern Bank robbery money-laundering charges

65-year-old Cork-based financier Ted Cunningham has re-joined the list of those convicted as a result of “Operation Phoenix”, a huge cross-border investigation into the December 2004 Northern Bank robbery – “involving anti-terrorist units, fraud squads and the Criminal Assets Bureau.”  His original 2009 convictions, and his 10 year sentence, were overturned on appeal in 2012, after the Irish Supreme Court ruled that certain search warrants used had been unconstitutional.  As an Irish Independent report noted at the time

The three-judge [Court of Criminal Appeal] quashed the convictions on the basis that the warrant used to search his home was under section 29 of the Offences Against the State Act, and therefore not valid.

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, sitting with Mr Justice Michael Moriarty and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, ordered Mr Cunningham face a retrial on nine of the 10 counts against him.

However, he will not be retried on the 10th count, which referred to a £2.4m allegedly found in his home on February 17 2005, on foot of a Section 29 search warrant.

The other nine charges relate to smaller sums of money allegedly transferred by Mr Cunningham to other people.

Cunningham had continued to deny the nine remaining charges.  Until, as the Irish Times now reports, he “changed his plea to guilty on the fourth day of his trial”.

He was re-arraigned on two of the charges and on pleaded guilty to those, prosecution counsel, Tom O’Connell said those pleas were acceptable to the DPP.

Today, Cunningham pleaded guilty to money laundering £100,040 stg on January 15th 2005 by transferring it to John Douglas in Tullamore, Co Offaly.

He also pleaded guilty to money laundering £175,360 on February 7th 2005 by transferring it to John Sheehan in Ballincollig, Co Cork and receiving three cheques totalling €200,000.

The charges state that Cunningham committed money laundering on both occasions while being reckless regarding the monies involved being the proceeds of a crime, the Northern Bank raid.

The RTÉ report adds

Around £26.5m sterling was taken in the raid at the Northern Bank Cash Centre on Donegall Square West in Belfast on 20 December 2004.

Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin granted an application from the defence to adjourn sentencing.

He remanded Cunningham on bail for sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court on 27 February.

Update  And on that date Ted Cunningham was given a five-year suspended sentence and banned from working in the financial services area.  The Irish Examiner report notes

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said, in the interests of protecting the public, Cunningham should have nothing to do with this type of work to which he was entirely unsuited.

His plea of guilty is a significant matter. It puts his involvement beyond all doubt. Out of his own mouth he admits his guilt publicly now. There are no appeals, there is no doubt.” [added emphasis]

The judge noted that Cunningham’s plea of guilty to recklessly laundering money from the robbery came at a time in his recent trial when a legal argument failed to prevent the prospect of evidence of the late John Douglas senior, a Tullamore jeweller, being given from a stenographic note of his testimony in the original trial five years ago.

Before this evidence could be read to the jury, the accused had pleaded guilty to two of the nine charges, which brought the case to an end.

And from the RTÉ report

Ted Cunningham from Farran in Co Cork had protested his innocence on the charges for almost a decade.

The suspended sentence imposed on him reflects the fact that he has already served three-years in jail after he was convicted by a jury at his original trial.

The Court of Criminal appeal later ordered a retrial where he again pleaded not guilty but changed his plea after four days.

Almost £3m seized by gardaí from Cunningham’s home and from other locations has been forfeited to the State.

The December 2004 Northern Bank raid was the biggest robbery ever on the island of Ireland.

It is believed to have been organised by the IRA and a gang escaped with over £26.5m in Northern Bank notes.

Public Meeting on the slashing of cross border funding for NI based language groups

Foras na Gaeilge: centralising resources in Dublin, ending funding for POBAL, Iontaobhas Ultach, Altram and Forbairt Feirste

Thursday 30th January 2014 at 7 pm

Room RS062, St Mary’s University College, Falls Road

POBAL is organising this public meeting to give the Irish speaking community and those who support the language to look at the implications of decisions Foras na Gaeilge announced on 17.1.14. On that day, Foras announced that it had appointed 6 organisations to do work across 6 work areas. Not a single one of these organisations is located in the north. Foras will end core funding for all of the other organisations on 30th June 2014.

POBAL, Altram, Iontaobhas Ultach and Forbairt Feirste will have a chance at the meeting to describe the implications Foras’s decisions will have on them and there will be a chance to ask questions and talk through the next steps.   More info: 028 90 438132

The meeting will be held in English and Irish.

#ShinnersList and the unravelling Chamber of Secrets…

On the principle of blog what you know, publish learn more and then blog more, here’s as much sense as I can currently squeeze out of this OTR business. I’m sure more will emerge over time.

1 After a day of talking up two divergent matters (Hain’s controversial administrative deal with SF, and the general issue of OTRs) and the ongoing issue of the OTRs, it finally became clear from Gerry Kelly last night that Peter Robinson was never let directly in on this particular arrangement. However it is also true that there was an indirect description of the process given to the Policing Board, although it falls far short of the sort of resolution process described by Peter Hain yesterday.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 00.44.492 Robinson’s furious response is likely calculated in the first place to chime with the public anger within the Unionist ‘community’ and broader the middle classes. Hanging a resignation ultimatum on a judicial inquiry aimed at unearthing the facts is also politically useful. The demand that all letters be rescinded, not quite so much.

3 That’s because the letters in and of themselves are not controversial. All they do is inform an individual whether the police are interested in them, or not. This one became controversial, because Mr Justice Sweeney took the view that the state had de facto promised John Downie that he was not being looked for, when in fact he was. If this proves to be the only anomalous case there may genuinely be nothing to see here.

4 Despite the fact that the issuing of letters continued to be issued by the NIO under the current government, Dominic Grieve, the Conservative Attorney-General, decided that “the matter should be tested in court” rather than accept that it would “automatically prevent Mr Downey’s prosecution”. He believes there’s no grounds for an appeal, but effectively ‘busted’ the issue out into the open for the very first time.

5 Although Sinn Fein were trying yesterday to put some distance between themselves and this process, the party’s reasoning and their central involvement in the mechanics of this process is clear, not least from the Sweeney judgment. SF gathered their own list, gave it to the British, who had it checked and then the letters handed back to SF who then distributed them to the list members.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 01.00.39

6 The Downey case helps date the controversial deal. On 13th April 2007 (ie, months after those conversations referenced by Powell in his book) the Met confirmed to the PSNI that John Downey was still wanted. Yet by 22 July, John Downey receives his letter of assurance from Mark Sweeney at the Northern Ireland Office. According to the PSNI, those assurances for the NIO went further than they were told by the PSNI. That, potentially, would switch the story from Police error, to surreptitious political deal.

7 There are some questions for Sinn Fein at the end of this too. As recently as May 2012 Sinn Fein were pressing the Tanaiste in the Dail to ”see that the British Government implement Article 20 of the Weston Park Agreement.” He replied that the official means to do so was dropped “when the only supporting party, Sinn Féin, could not accept certain aspects of the proposed legislation”.

8 All of this was done in the knowledge that they already had a secret deal extended exclusively to OTRs on Sinn Fein’s own private list. By its very nature the secret terms could hardly apply to those OTRs outside the SF machine, like Gerry McGeough for instance. (See the Vixens for some useful questions in this and other regards).

9 Last night, Arlene Foster suggested that “we [the DUP] entered a process in Haass based on a deceit”. Naomi Long who played a large role in the Haass deliberations also expressed a degree of exasperation with Sinn Fein. If Richard Haass knew about the concessions already given SF no one else seems to have had a notion they already had a deal in their back pocket.

10 Politically, the content of Haass may still have a decent half life. But the First Minister (ever determined not to waste a good crisis) and his threat to resign if there is not some considerable openness about the undisclosed side deal probably kicks Haass a little further down the road, as another briefly fabled deadline melts into another imagined timeline.

As footnote, its interesting that on Nolan last night, Foster referenced Gerry Adams words (text) to the Taoiseach at Leader’s Questions yesterday, “listen to what is being said in here and take this matter out of the political realm by going straight into an independent inquiry.” If only it were that simple. But it’s hard to deny it’s a decent place to start?