Monthly Archives: June 2017

Sinn Fein Eyes May’s Millions & Drops Foster Condition As Deal Nears

According to Henry McDonald in tomorrow’s Guardian, Sinn Fein has “quietly dropped” the insistence that Arlene Foster step aside from the First Minister post while the wood pellet scandal is “investigated”.

A sure sign that the party has decided to cut a deal? We’ll see. But it makes sense. Better to have a share in spending all of Theresa May’s spondoolicks than leaving it to Brokendick, or whatever he’s called, to fritter away.

Whatever happened to “Sinn Fein: The Voice of Principled Leadership”?

Here’s what the Grauniad says:

Prior to these latest talks Sinn Féin had insisted that Foster could not be re-nominated by the DUP as first minister while a high powered independent inquiry takes places into the RHI scandal.

However, it appears the party has quietly dropped this demand as one of its so-called ‘red lines’ in the negotiations.

‘History Repeats Itself First As Tragedy, Second As Farce’ – Karl Marx


I decided some time ago that if the B.B.R. [Jeremy Corbyn, the ‘Big Bad Red’] came within eight votes, the Orange card would be the one to play. Please God it may turn out the ace of trumps and not the two.

(Theresa May)

Seymour Hersh On Trump’s Syrian Missile Attack….

Famed American journalist, Seymour Hersh could get no US outlet to publish his investigation into Donald Trump’s Tomahawk missile attack on Syria last April, carried out in retaliation for an alleged nerve gas attack which killed civilians and children.

Hersh writes that the attack was authorised by Trump despite the absence of any US intelligence to support the claim of Syrian responsibility.

Unable to interest any American publication in his article, the one-time sorrespondent for The New Yorker magazine instead had to go to Germany where the magazine Die Welt agreed to publish it. Here it is:

Trump‘s Red Line

Von Seymour M. Hersh | Stand: 12:41 Uhr | Lesedauer: 24 Minuten

On April 6, United States President Donald Trump authorized an early morning Tomahawk missile strike on Shayrat Air Base in central Syria in retaliation for what he said was a deadly nerve agent attack carried out by the Syrian government two days earlier in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite having been warned by the U.S. intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.

The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack, including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all U.S., allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region.

Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president’s determination to ignore the evidence. “None of this makes any sense,” one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. “We KNOW that there was no chemical attack … the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth … I guess it didn’t matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.“

Within hours of the April 4 bombing, the world’s media was saturated with photographs and videos from Khan Sheikhoun. Pictures of dead and dying victims, allegedly suffering from the symptoms of nerve gas poisoning, were uploaded to social media by local activists, including the White Helmets, a first responder group known for its close association with the Syrian opposition.

The provenance of the photos was not clear and no international observers have yet inspected the site, but the immediate popular assumption worldwide was that this was a deliberate use of the nerve agent sarin, authorized by President Bashar Assad of Syria. Trump endorsed that assumption by issuing a statement within hours of the attack, describing Assad’s “heinous actions” as being a consequence of the Obama administration’s “weakness and irresolution” in addressing what he said was Syria’s past use of chemical weapons.

To the dismay of many senior members of his national security team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense briefings and decision-making. In a series of interviews, I learned of the total disconnect between the president and many of his military advisers and intelligence officials, as well as officers on the ground in the region who had an entirely different understanding of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was provided with evidence of that disconnect, in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4. In an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction, U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter (the Russians speak on behalf of the Syrian military). This information is supplied daily to the American AWACS surveillance planes that monitor the flights once airborne. Deconfliction’s success and importance can be measured by the fact that there has yet to be one collision, or even a near miss, among the high-powered supersonic American, Allied, Russian and Syrian fighter bombers.

Russian and Syrian Air Force officers gave details of the carefully planned flight path to and from Khan Shiekhoun on April 4 directly, in English, to the deconfliction monitors aboard the AWACS plane, which was on patrol near the Turkish border, 60 miles or more to the north.

The Syrian target at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Americans at Doha, was depicted as a two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town. Russian intelligence, which is shared when necessary with Syria and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had established that a high-level meeting of jihadist leaders was to take place in the building, including representatives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-affiliated group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. The two groups had recently joined forces, and controlled the town and surrounding area. Russian intelligence depicted the cinder-block building as a command and control center that housed a grocery and other commercial premises on its ground floor with other essential shops nearby, including a fabric shop and an electronics store.

“The rebels control the population by controlling the distribution of goods that people need to live – food, water, cooking oil, propane gas, fertilizers for growing their crops, and insecticides to protect the crops,” a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, told me. The basement was used as storage for rockets, weapons and ammunition, as well as products that could be distributed for free to the community, among them medicines and chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial. The meeting place – a regional headquarters – was on the floor above. “It was an established meeting place,” the senior adviser said. “A long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition.

One reason for the Russian message to Washington about the intended target was to ensure that any CIA asset or informant who had managed to work his way into the jihadist leadership was forewarned not to attend the meeting. I was told that the Russians passed the warning directly to the CIA. “They were playing the game right,” the senior adviser said. The Russian guidance noted that the jihadist meeting was coming at a time of acute pressure for the insurgents: Presumably Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham were desperately seeking a path forward in the new political climate. In the last few days of March, Trump and two of his key national security aides – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley – had made statements acknowledging that, as the New York Times put it, the White House “has abandoned the goal” of pressuring Assad “to leave power, marking a sharp departure from the Middle East policy that guided the Obama administration for more than five years.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told a press briefing on March 31 that “there is a political reality that we have to accept,” implying that Assad was there to stay.

Russian and Syrian intelligence officials, who coordinate operations closely with the American command posts, made it clear that the planned strike on Khan Sheikhoun was special because of the high-value target. “It was a red-hot change. The mission was out of the ordinary – scrub the sked,” the senior adviser told me. “Every operations officer in the region” – in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, CIA and NSA – “had to know there was something going on. The Russians gave the Syrian Air Force a guided bomb and that was a rarity. They’re skimpy with their guided bombs and rarely share them with the Syrian Air Force. And the Syrians assigned their best pilot to the mission, with the best wingman.” The advance intelligence on the target, as supplied by the Russians, was given the highest possible score inside the American community.

The Execute Order governing U.S. military operations in theater, which was issued by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide instructions that demarcate the relationship between the American and Russian forces operating in Syria. “It’s like an ops order – ‘Here’s what you are authorized to do,’” the adviser said. “We do not share operational control with the Russians. We don’t do combined operations with them, or activities directly in support of one of their operations. But coordination is permitted. We keep each other apprised of what’s happening and within this package is the mutual exchange of intelligence. If we get a hot tip that could help the Russians do their mission, that’s coordination; and the Russians do the same for us. When we get a hot tip about a command and control facility,” the adviser added, referring to the target in Khan Sheikhoun, “we do what we can to help them act on it.” “This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the adviser said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a regular 500-pound conventional bomb – would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear. Military grade sarin includes additives designed to increase toxicity and lethality. Every batch that comes out is maximized for death. That is why it is made. It is odorless and invisible and death can come within a minute. No cloud. Why produce a weapon that people can run away from?”

The target was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before midnight in Washington. A Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military later determined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syrian bomb triggered a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. According to intelligence estimates, the senior adviser said, the strike itself killed up to four jihadist leaders, and an unknown number of drivers and security aides. There is no confirmed count of the number of civilians killed by the poisonous gases that were released by the secondary explosions, although opposition activists reported that there were more than 80 dead, and outlets such as CNN have put the figure as high as 92. A team from Médecins Sans Frontières, treating victims from Khan Sheikhoun at a clinic 60 miles to the north, reported that “eight patients showed symptoms – including constricted pupils, muscle spasms and involuntary defecation – which are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds.” MSF also visited other hospitals that had received victims and found that patients there “smelled of bleach, suggesting that they had been exposed to chlorine.” In other words, evidence suggested that there was more than one chemical responsible for the symptoms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syrian Air Force – as opposition activists insisted – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no percussive or ignition power to trigger secondary explosions. The range of symptoms is, however, consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.

The internet swung into action within hours, and gruesome photographs of the victims flooded television networks and YouTube. U.S. intelligence was tasked with establishing what had happened. Among the pieces of information received was an intercept of Syrian communications collected before the attack by an allied nation. The intercept, which had a particularly strong effect on some of Trump’s aides, did not mention nerve gas or sarin, but it did quote a Syrian general discussing a “special” weapon and the need for a highly skilled pilot to man the attack plane. The reference, as those in the American intelligence community understood, and many of the inexperienced aides and family members close to Trump may not have, was to a Russian-supplied bomb with its built-in guidance system. “If you’ve already decided it was a gas attack, you will then inevitably read the talk about a special weapon as involving a sarin bomb,” the adviser said. “Did the Syrians plan the attack on Khan Sheikhoun? Absolutely. Do we have intercepts to prove it? Absolutely. Did they plan to use sarin? No. But the president did not say: ‘We have a problem and let’s look into it.’ He wanted to bomb the shit out of Syria.”

At the UN the next day, Ambassador Haley created a media sensation when she displayed photographs of the dead and accused Russia of being complicit. “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” she asked. NBC News, in a typical report that day, quoted American officials as confirming that nerve gas had been used and Haley tied the attack directly to Syrian President Assad. “We know that yesterday’s attack was a new low even for the barbaric Assad regime,” she said. There was irony in America’s rush to blame Syria and criticize Russia for its support of Syria’s denial of any use of gas in Khan Sheikhoun, as Ambassador Haley and others in Washington did. “What doesn’t occur to most Americans” the adviser said, “is if there had been a Syrian nerve gas attack authorized by Bashar, the Russians would be 10 times as upset as anyone in the West. Russia’s strategy against ISIS, which involves getting American cooperation, would have been destroyed and Bashar would be responsible for pissing off Russia, with unknown consequences for him. Bashar would do that? When he’s on the verge of winning the war? Are you kidding me?”

Trump, a constant watcher of television news, said, while King Abdullah of Jordan was sitting next to him in the Oval Office, that what had happened was “horrible, horrible” and a “terrible affront to humanity.” Asked if his administration would change its policy toward the Assad government, he said: “You will see.” He gave a hint of the response to come at the subsequent news conference with King Abdullah: “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies – babies, little babies – with a chemical gas that is so lethal … that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line . … That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact … It’s very, very possible … that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”

Within hours of viewing the photos, the adviser said, Trump instructed the national defense apparatus to plan for retaliation against Syria. “He did this before he talked to anybody about it. The planners then asked the CIA and DIA if there was any evidence that Syria had sarin stored at a nearby airport or somewhere in the area. Their military had to have it somewhere in the area in order to bomb with it.” “The answer was, ‘We have no evidence that Syria had sarin or used it,’” the adviser said. “The CIA also told them that there was no residual delivery for sarin at Sheyrat [the airfield from which the Syrian SU-24 bombers had taken off on April 4] and Assad had no motive to commit political suicide.” Everyone involved, except perhaps the president, also understood that a highly skilled United Nations team had spent more than a year in the aftermath of an alleged sarin attack in 2013 by Syria, removing what was said to be all chemical weapons from a dozen Syrian chemical weapons depots.

At this point, the adviser said, the president’s national security planners were more than a little rattled: “No one knew the provenance of the photographs. We didn’t know who the children were or how they got hurt. Sarin actually is very easy to detect because it penetrates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sample. We knew there was a cloud and we knew it hurt people. But you cannot jump from there to certainty that Assad had hidden sarin from the UN because he wanted to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.” The intelligence made clear that a Syrian Air Force SU-24 fighter bomber had used a conventional weapon to hit its target: There had been no chemical warhead. And yet it was impossible for the experts to persuade the president of this once he had made up his mind. “The president saw the photographs of poisoned little girls and said it was an Assad atrocity,” the senior adviser said. “It’s typical of human nature. You jump to the conclusion you want. Intelligence analysts do not argue with a president. They’re not going to tell the president, ‘if you interpret the data this way, I quit.’”

The national security advisers understood their dilemma: Trump wanted to respond to the affront to humanity committed by Syria and he did not want to be dissuaded. They were dealing with a man they considered to be not unkind and not stupid, but his limitations when it came to national security decisions were severe. “Everyone close to him knows his proclivity for acting precipitously when he does not know the facts,” the adviser said. “He doesn’t read anything and has no real historical knowledge. He wants verbal briefings and photographs. He’s a risk-taker. He can accept the consequences of a bad decision in the business world; he will just lose money. But in our world, lives will be lost and there will be long-term damage to our national security if he guesses wrong. He was told we did not have evidence of Syrian involvement and yet Trump says: ‘Do it.”’

On April 6, Trump convened a meeting of national security officials at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The meeting was not to decide what to do, but how best to do it – or, as some wanted, how to do the least and keep Trump happy. “The boss knew before the meeting that they didn’t have the intelligence, but that was not the issue,” the adviser said. “The meeting was about, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do,’ and then he gets the options.”

The available intelligence was not relevant. The most experienced man at the table was Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who had the president’s respect and understood, perhaps, how quickly that could evaporate. Mike Pompeo, the CIA director whose agency had consistently reported that it had no evidence of a Syrian chemical bomb, was not present. Secretary of State Tillerson was admired on the inside for his willingness to work long hours and his avid reading of diplomatic cables and reports, but he knew little about waging war and the management of a bombing raid. Those present were in a bind, the adviser said. “The president was emotionally energized by the disaster and he wanted options.” He got four of them, in order of extremity. Option one was to do nothing. All involved, the adviser said, understood that was a non-starter. Option two was a slap on the wrist: to bomb an airfield in Syria, but only after alerting the Russians and, through them, the Syrians, to avoid too many casualties. A few of the planners called this the “gorilla option”: America would glower and beat its chest to provoke fear and demonstrate resolve, but cause little significant damage. The third option was to adopt the strike package that had been presented to Obama in 2013, and which he ultimately chose not to pursue. The plan called for the massive bombing of the main Syrian airfields and command and control centers using B1 and B52 aircraft launched from their bases in the U.S. Option four was “decapitation”: to remove Assad by bombing his palace in Damascus, as well as his command and control network and all of the underground bunkers he could possibly retreat to in a crisis.

“Trump ruled out option one off the bat,” the senior adviser said, and the assassination of Assad was never considered. “But he said, in essence: ‘You’re the military and I want military action.’” The president was also initially opposed to the idea of giving the Russians advance warning before the strike, but reluctantly accepted it. “We gave him the Goldilocks option – not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” The discussion had its bizarre moments. Tillerson wondered at the Mar-a-Lago meeting why the president could not simply call in the B52 bombers and pulverize the air base. He was told that B52s were very vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in the area and using such planes would require suppression fire that could kill some Russian defenders. “What is that?” Tillerson asked. Well, sir, he was told, that means we would have to destroy the upgraded SAM sites along the B52 flight path, and those are manned by Russians, and we possibly would be confronted with a much more difficult situation. “The lesson here was: Thank God for the military men at the meeting,” the adviser said. “They did the best they could when confronted with a decision that had already been made.”

Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles were fired from two U.S. Navy destroyers on duty in the Mediterranean, the Ross and the Porter, at Shayrat Air Base near the government-controlled city of Homs. The strike was as successful as hoped, in terms of doing minimal damage. The missiles have a light payload – roughly 220 pounds of HBX, the military’s modern version of TNT. The airfield’s gasoline storage tanks, a primary target, were pulverized, the senior adviser said, triggering a huge fire and clouds of smoke that interfered with the guidance system of following missiles. As many as 24 missiles missed their targets and only a few of the Tomahawks actually penetrated into hangars, destroying nine Syrian aircraft, many fewer than claimed by the Trump administration. I was told that none of the nine was operational: such damaged aircraft are what the Air Force calls hangar queens. “They were sacrificial lambs,” the senior adviser said. Most of the important personnel and operational fighter planes had been flown to nearby bases hours before the raid began. The two runways and parking places for aircraft, which had also been targeted, were repaired and back in operation within eight hours or so. All in all, it was little more than an expensive fireworks display.

“It was a totally Trump show from beginning to end,” the senior adviser said. “A few of the president’s senior national security advisers viewed the mission as a minimized bad presidential decision, and one that they had an obligation to carry out. But I don’t think our national security people are going to allow themselves to be hustled into a bad decision again. If Trump had gone for option three, there might have been some immediate resignations.”

After the meeting, with the Tomahawks on their way, Trump spoke to the nation from Mar-a-Lago, and accused Assad of using nerve gas to choke out “the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many … No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” The next few days were his most successful as president. America rallied around its commander in chief, as it always does in times of war. Trump, who had campaigned as someone who advocated making peace with Assad, was bombing Syria 11 weeks after taking office, and was hailed for doing so by Republicans, Democrats and the media alike. One prominent TV anchorman, Brian Williams of MSNBC, used the word “beautiful” to describe the images of the Tomahawks being launched at sea. Speaking on CNN, Fareed Zakaria said: “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States.” A review of the top 100 American newspapers showed that 39 of them published editorials supporting the bombing in its aftermath, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Five days later, the Trump administration gathered the national media for a background briefing on the Syrian operation that was conducted by a senior White House official who was not to be identified. The gist of the briefing was that Russia’s heated and persistent denial of any sarin use in the Khan Sheikhoun bombing was a lie because President Trump had said sarin had been used. That assertion, which was not challenged or disputed by any of the reporters present, became the basis for a series of further criticisms:

– The continued lying by the Trump administration about Syria’s use of sarin led to widespread belief in the American media and public that Russia had chosen to be involved in a corrupt disinformation and cover-up campaign on the part of Syria.

– Russia’s military forces had been co-located with Syria’s at the Shayrat airfield (as they are throughout Syria), raising the possibility that Russia had advance notice of Syria’s determination to use sarin at Khan Sheikhoun and did nothing to stop it.

– Syria’s use of sarin and Russia’s defense of that use strongly suggested that Syria withheld stocks of the nerve agent from the UN disarmament team that spent much of 2014 inspecting and removing all declared chemical warfare agents from 12 Syrian chemical weapons depots, pursuant to the agreement worked out by the Obama administration and Russia after Syria’s alleged, but still unproven, use of sarin the year before against a rebel redoubt in a suburb of Damascus.

The briefer, to his credit, was careful to use the words “think,” “suggest” and “believe” at least 10 times during the 30-minute event. But he also said that his briefing was based on data that had been declassified by “our colleagues in the intelligence community.” What the briefer did not say, and may not have known, was that much of the classified information in the community made the point that Syria had not used sarin in the April 4 bombing attack.

The mainstream press responded the way the White House had hoped it would: Stories attacking Russia’s alleged cover-up of Syria’s sarin use dominated the news and many media outlets ignored the briefer’s myriad caveats. There was a sense of renewed Cold War. The New York Times, for example – America’s leading newspaper – put the following headline on its account: “White House Accuses Russia of Cover-Up in Syria Chemical Attack.” The Times’ account did note a Russian denial, but what was described by the briefer as “declassified information” suddenly became a “declassified intelligence report.” Yet there was no formal intelligence report stating that Syria had used sarin, merely a “summary based on declassified information about the attacks,” as the briefer referred to it.

The crisis slid into the background by the end of April, as Russia, Syria and the United States remained focused on annihilating ISIS and the militias of al-Qaida. Some of those who had worked through the crisis, however, were left with lingering concerns. “The Salafists and jihadists got everything they wanted out of their hyped-up Syrian nerve gas ploy,” the senior adviser to the U.S. intelligence community told me, referring to the flare up of tensions between Syria, Russia and America. “The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”

The White House did not answer specific questions about the bombing of Khan Sheikhoun and the airport of Shayrat. These questions were send via e-mail to the White House on June 15 and never answered.


The Humming Birds Are Back…..

It’s my favorite time of the year, when the humming birds return from Brazil for a summer of supping nectar – or the nearest we can get – in upper New York State. A depressing question, though: how long before Trump’s climate policies kill them off?

There Is No Principled Reason Anymore Why Sinn Fein Should Not Take Seats At Westminster

I was mildly amused last week to see Sinn Fein’s luminaries reclaim one of their founding principles in the wake of the recent UK election – the one that says true republicans cannot take their seats at Westminster, aka abstentionism – even though the underlying doctrine, the refusal to accept British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, has been repeatedly gnawed away by the same people during the last two or three decades.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that Sinn Fein would not be where it is now, with members elected to the three relevant parliaments in these islands, unless it had, in various ways, some big, some small, accepted that Britain, with the Queen as its titular head, is the sovereign power in the North.

The question of Sinn Fein dropping abstentionism at the House of Commons had never raised its head properly, however, until the recent UK general election, followed by the Grenfell fire, created a crisis for the policy of neo-liberal austerity, an arithmetic dilemma in the House of Commons for Theresa May and a generalised horror in Britain at the prospect of a troglodytic DUP calling the shots in government.

The arguments for Sinn Fein taking their seats at Westminster right now are thus pretty strong, some would argue, incontestable on both political and moral grounds.

First the arithmetic. If Sinn Fein was to take up its seats in the present UK parliament, the party could make Theresa May’s putative deal with the DUP very rickety indeed, perhaps even unsustainable.

With seven SF MP’s at the Palace of Westminster, the Tory-DUP majority could be reduced to two or three, meaning that a delayed taxi ride carrying a restaurant table full of Conservative MP’s to a late night House of Commons division, could precipitate another election and the downfall of what is rapidly becoming, in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, the most unpopular not to say detested UK government in recent memory.

By taking their seats in these wretched circumstances Sinn Fein would amass a bucket load of goodwill with everyone in Britain left of Kenneth Clarke, while sharpening rancour towards the DUP and the Unionist cause. To say that sympathy for the cause of Irish independence, and a new respect for Sinn Fein, would be strengthened as a result may not be an exaggeration.

But no, it was not to be.

Here is Gerry Adams writing in The Journal the other day and asking ‘….what kind of Irish leader would swear loyalty to the English crown?’:

To take seats in Westminster requires that a successful Irish republican MP begin their political life by accepting that the British state has the right to sovereignty over Ireland or a part of the island. It also means that their first political act as an MP is to take the oath which states:

“I … swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to Law. So help me God.”

Let me be very clear. I am an Irish republican. I believe in the sovereignty of the Irish people. I am against monarchies and elites of all kinds. As the MP for west Belfast I was very proud to represent all of the people of west Belfast for decades. Those who voted for me in election after election saw no disadvantage in my being an active abstentionist.

Where Sinn Féin fundamentally differ from the Dublin establishment parties is in our commitment to Irish national self-determination, to the unity and sovereignty of this island and the ending of partition. Their demand that Sinn Féin MPs should take the Oath of Allegiance and accept British sovereignty has nothing to do with what is good for the people of the North, or for those who voted for us on the basis of our abstentionist position, it is about trying to do what the SDLP failed to do – present Sinn Féin as a party that refuses to represent its electorate.

Fianna Fáil especially has a short memory. Its founding leaders stood on a platform of abolishing the British oath to the Dáil. The war cry was “Dismiss the Imperialists – Abolish the Oath – Vote for the Fianna Fáil candidates – One Allegiance Only.”

Is Micheál Martin now telling us that if his party ever stands candidates in the North, and they are successful, that they will take the Oath to the English Queen? What kind of Irish leader of a party which claims to be “The Republican Party” would ask Irish men and women to ignore their electoral mandate, swear loyalty to the English Queen, or legitimise the British Parliament’s role in Ireland?

Danny Morrison chimed in as well, writing on his blog:

How can I object to Britain interfering in Irish affairs if I go over and interfere in theirs?

Well, I hate to have to remind people of their own history but surely Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison cannot have forgotten that under their guidance and leadership, virtually every principle that Sinn Fein and the IRA said they believed in, especially those dealing with British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, was essentially dumped during the journey towards the Good Friday Agreement.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the 1998 deal would not have been possible otherwise. And throughout this process, the manoeuvre was accomplished by redesignating ‘principles’ as ‘tactics’.

Why, then, cannot they do the same with Westminster abstentionism?

It all began, ironically enough, in the IRA, back in the 1970’s when internment was phased out and the British turned to a new policy to defeat the IRA, one that depended on no-jury courts processing confessions, many of which were extracted by, to say the least, dubious methods employed by RUC interrogators.

The jails were filling up thanks in great part to an IRA ‘principle’ which said that its members could never recognise the courts in the North because they were British courts. To recognise them by submitting a not guilty plea and mounting a defence was regarded as being tantamount to recognising British sovereignty and the role of the British Crown in the judicial and political process.

Sheer pragmatism and the knowledge that strict adherence to the principle could precipitate the IRA’s defeat, forced a change. IRA members were allowed to submit pleas and put forward a defence in court. This may not have resulted in a flood of acquittals but it certainly slowed the conveyor belt to the Maze prison.

Once that principle was discarded, and replaced by a tactic, it became so much easier when, a decade or so later, the peace process began to take shape and it became necessary for the Provo leadership to confront other, once hallowed principles.

The list of discarded principles and newly discovered tactics that followed is a long one. Here are some of the highlights:

At the top of the list is the IRA’s armed struggle and its retention of weapons. Both of these were once untouchable principles but they both were discarded when judged necessary by the leadership and were relegated to the status of tactics, on a par with fighting elections and getting bums on the back seats of ministerial cars.

The principle here was that since politics implied compromise, politics would not achieve British withdrawal. Only violence could do that.

Here was another. For decades republicans would have nothing to do with the RUC, except when under arrest, because to do so – for instance by filing for police permission to hold parades or protests – was tantamount to recognising the RUC’s authority and thus the legitimacy of the state the IRA was pledged to destroy. But that principle also became a tactic to be dropped, and by the mid to late 1980’s republicans were trooping down to their local police stations to fill out the necessary forms.

In fact any interaction with the institutions of the Northern Ireland state, its officials, council chambers and bodies – which hitherto had been forbidden because it amounted to recognition of British sovereignty – became an acceptable tactic during the early years of the peace process. Like other, once un-crossable lines, it could be bent, broken or passed over in the overarching search for the deal that brought us the GFA.

Nowhere was this theological shift more central to subsequent events than the traditional republican attitude towards the two states in Ireland, a stance that translated into a traditional, utter refusal to accept or recognise the institutions created by the 1921 Treaty.

The parliaments in Dublin and Belfast were created by the British government as the central features of an imposed settlement at the conclusion of the Anglo-Irish war, and symbolic of this is that members of both bodies were obliged to swear an oath of fealty to the British Crown, at least initially.

To accept Stormont or the Dail – the latter once known dismissively by the IRA as ‘Leinster House’ – implicitly means accepting the right of the British government, and Crown, to set and keep these institutions in place and to determine, at least at the outset, their rules and limitations.

That is why the non-subscribing IRA refused to recognise or take seats in either institution and dedicated itself to their destruction. The people of all Ireland in an election in 1919, repeated in 1921, had voted for complete independence, which the IRA asserted in arms, and here was the Treaty throwing those votes into the garbage.

To do otherwise than rejecting the 1921 settlement meant, for traditional republicans of the 1969 Provo vintage, accepting the legitimacy of the British Crown and the legality of partition, the exact same reason Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison now give for  refusing to take their seats on the Labour benches behind their old buddy, Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet both Adams and Morrison proposed and accepted SF taking seats in the other two parliaments involved in the partition settlement.

But it doesn’t stop there. When the Queen, or any other member of the Royal Family visits Northern Ireland, they are on a trip to a part of the kingdom over which the House of Windsor claims suzerainty.

So when Martin McGuinness met the Queen, and stood in a line to shake her hand, was he not implicitly, and even explicitly, accepting the legitimacy of this royal claim? And what, pray, is the difference between that and stating the same, courtesy of a parliamentary oath, that asserts, as Gerry Adams put it, that:

‘…..the British state has the right to sovereignty over Ireland or a part of the island’.

On one famous occasion in the early years of SF’s journey to peace, when the British insisted that those elected to the North’s councils would have to sign an oath of non-violence, the party agreed to do so, even though some of those councillors were IRA members and others accepted its ultimate authority.

Danny Morrison had a solution to this difficulty; if he was elected, he declared, he would sign the oath:

‘….with his tongue stuck so far into his cheek, it would come out through the top of his head.’

Why cannot Sinn Fein’s MP’s now do the same next week at the Westminster parliament and stick their tongues deep into their cheeks? That would at least be consistent with all they have done over the last two decades or more. After all once a principle is breached even in part, it is breached for good and in its entirety.

Sir Billy Connolly?

Seriously? What a shame…..The Big Yin sells out, Big Time! Anyway here is Billy Connolly, pre-Hollywood, when he still did the Glasgow circuit and was known only to a small and select following, with his maybe best ever rendition, ‘The Crucifixion’. Oh the memories of Wednesday nights in Malone Ave, McGuffin and a few joints! And Ben from Crossmaglen!  Enjoy:

Trump’s America Cont’d…….

Harper’s weekly update on the Trump horror show:


June 16, 2017
By Joe Kloc

U.S. President and Celebrity Apprentice executive producer Donald Trump, whose campaign speeches encouraged supporters to “knock the crap” out of Democrats, whose butler said former president Barack Obama should be “hung,” and whose campaign advisor said his former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton should be “put in the firing line and shot,” stated in response to the shooting of Republican representative Steve Scalise that Americans are “strongest” when they are “unified”; and then tweeted that the Democratic party should be investigated for its ties to Russia. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general and former campaign surrogate, told Congress he did not “believe” he had any contact with agents of Russian companies during Trump’s presidential run, and a lobbyist for a state-run Russian energy company said Sessions had hosted him for dinner on two occasions during the campaign. Former FBI director James Comey testified that prior to being fired by Trump he had not been investigating the president directly for his campaign’s ties to Russia, and Trump said that he was “100 percent” willing to testify before Congress. It was later reported that special counsel Robert Mueller had opened an investigation into Trump for firing Comey, and the White House said Trump was not willing testify before Congress. Trump tweeted that the Russia probe is a “witch hunt” being led by his own deputy attorney general, and it was reported that Mueller had begun investigating Trump associates for money laundering and that the charity foundation of Trump’s son Eric paid the Trump Organization more than $1 million for the use of a Trump golf course, which Eric had previously said had not charged the charity. Eric, who said it wasn’t inappropriate that he still discussed Trump Organization profit reports with his father, said that his father had “zero conflicts of interest”; and Trump selected Eric’s wedding planner to run the multibillion-dollar federal housing department in New York. Trump’s daughter Ivanka published photos of her condo depicting an art collection that was not disclosed to the federal government by her husband, Jared Kushner, who is a senior advisor to Trump and whose former real-estate company reportedly offered potential Chinese investors green cards in exchange for financing a New Jersey housing development. Five members of Congress from Oregon joined a lawsuit alleging that Trump has illegally received money from foreign governments, citing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s ownership of a floor of Trump World Tower, the United Arab Emirates’ leasing of space in Trump Tower, and foreign diplomats’ booking of rooms at Trump International Hotel, which is located five blocks from the White House. Mueller hired 13 lawyers to assist him in his probe of the Trump administration, Vice President Mike Pence hired a lawyer, and the personal lawyer for Trump, a former casino owner who was once sued for non-payment by lawyers who had defended him against claims that he hadn’t paid his workers, hired a lawyer.

Sinn Fein Meet May, Complain And Then Go Away……Move On, No Story Here

……and Sinn Fein will do precisely what about it?

Meanwhile at least one SF MP has her priorities right:

Take Major’s Warning Over A DUP-May Deal With A Large Pinch Of Salt

“The last thing anybody wishes to see, is one or other of the communities so aggrieved that the hard men, who are still there lurking in the corners of the community, decide that they wish to return to some form of violence.”

This was the warning about the consequences of a DUP-May deal issued by former British prime minister and green pea aficionado John Major on the BBC this morning, words that have been uncritically reported by outlets as disparate as The Intercept, Russia Today and The Indian Express.

It is of course complete nonsense, drummed up either by desperate Tories who would rather have the insufferable Boris strutting his stuff in Number Ten than any more of the robotic mannequin Theresa May; by opportunistic Corbynistas eager to turn the Irish card to their advantage for a change, or journalists too lazy or stupid to know any better.

The only corners in which the people who were operators for the Provos lurk these days are in bars and restaurants they run on behalf of their former military bosses, cottages in Costa del Provo in Co. Donegal, or luxury apartments in Portugal, all acquired thanks to the generosity of the Northern Bank, aka as ‘Big Bobby’s Mutually Assured Retirement Fund’.

They are either there or in the back offices of Leinster House, sucking at the hind teat of the Irish state or anxiously pacing the bars at the Stormont Hotel, wondering just when they’ll be allowed to get their noses back into the trough at the pile at the top of the hill.

Suggest to them that if Theresa May cuts a deal with Arlene Foster they might ‘return to some form of violence’ and you’re likely to get a very rude answer. These guys’ fighting days are done. You’d better believe it.

Which leaves the dissidents.

I rest my case.

The Guardian Has A Crisis But Won’t Admit It…..

Thanks to LA for bringing these pieces to my attention.

Visit the dentist and he pulls the wrong molar and you can sue him. If your surgeon removes a healthy kidney instead of a diseased liver you can sue him and get him struck off. He might even end up in jail. If your lawyer forgets to file your mortgage approval you can report him to the Law Society where he might lose his licence to practice.

But if a journalist gets a story wrong and the editor of the newspaper sits on his or her hands there is nothing really that you can do about it, apart from choosing an alternative morning read.

David Hearst used to be a reporter for The Guardian where, inter alia, his beat for a while was Belfast, which is where I remember him from. He went on to become a distinguished foreign correspondent but these days he is editor-in-chief of The Middle East Eye, a web-based magazine that specialises in intelligent, informed coverage of the various crises in that unfortunate part of the world.

In the wake of the recent UK general election, Hearst turned his attention to his old employer’s disastrous coverage not just of the recent election but of British politics in general and came to the damning conclusion that the paper’s reportage has been wrong all the time.

As he writes:

My former colleagues on The Guardian hold an enviable record in the annals of political journalism. They have succeeded in getting the result of every major political event in the country wrong.

Even if you tried consistently to be wrong, fate would decree that occasionally you would get one result right. Their consistency in getting things so wrong, for so long, challenges the theory of random number generation. The infinite monkey theorem holds that a monkey hitting keys of keyboards at random ad infinitum would eventually type the works of Shakespeare. This is not true. The Guardian never gets a political result right.

And, in relation to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s performance against Theresa May, he opines:

After spending two years trashing the possibility that Corbyn could win elections, The Guardian’s coverage must be judged harshly. An apology is due.

You can read his piece in full, here.

If he is looking for a mea culpa from his old employer, I would advise him not to hold his breath. At least if post-election journalism in the Grauniad is anything to go by. Here is Polly Toynbee, one of the paper’s star columnists, writing before the election, and after the election in articles that were separated by less than eight weeks:

And Toynbee had the utter audacity to write:

Nothing succeeds like success. Jeremy Corbyn looks like a new man, beaming with confidence, benevolence and forgiveness to erstwhile doubters, exuding a new father-of-the-nation air of authority, calmly awaiting his imminent elevation to power. When I met him on Sunday he clasped my hand and, with a twinkle and a wink, thanked me for things I had written.

‘Thanked me for things I had written’ – that’s called sarcasm Polly and a sly dig which translates as, ‘Thanks for showing the world what a plonker you are’. In the Guardian’s offices, she is not alone.

Meanwhile, The Grauniad sails on as if nothing untoward has happened at all.