Monthly Archives: December 2017

Irish Media’s Coverage Of State Papers Just Not Good Enough

UPDATE – See comment below from on UVF letter. The blog specialises in covering Loyalist paramilitary matters. It echoes my reservations re the UVF letter to Haughey……


At the end of December or beginning of January every year we go through the  ritual of reading reports about what the government of the day thirty years ago said or believed about this or that. Sometimes the subject matters deal with very important events; very often they keep the juicy bits from view.

We get to read the reports in The Irish Times or watch/listen to them on RTE but we never actually get to see the documents themselves, so we can a) read the whole thing and not depend on the judgement of some reporter whose beat may normally be something entirely different; or b) make up our own minds about the credibility of the source.

That is especially the case this year when we were told that the UVF had written a letter back in 1987 to then Taoiseach Charles Haughey stating that MI5 had allegedly incited the UVF to assassinate him and that they had also supplied the detonators in the bombs which killed the Miami Showband in 1975 (the bombs also exploded prematurely killing the UVF bombers).

Now I have never, in all my years covering the Troubles, seen or heard of the UVF sending letters, never mind one to an Irish prime minister. What does a letter with UVF letterhead look like? What address do they give? How did the government of the day check its authenticity? Did anyone bother to drive up the Shankill to ask? Is it a real letter or an elaborate hoax? I’d like to know and seeing a copy of the original would help me, and other readers/viewers decide.

In this age of smart phones and iPads/tablets equipped with sophisticated cameras there is no excuse for newspapers and TV companies not to demand from the government the right to reproduce the documents in their entirety. Very little bureaucratic hassle would follow and they are, after all, the peoples’ papers. They have a right to see them, even if only on the publication’s website. It happens here in the US routinely, so why not in Ireland?

Strangest Trump Moments Of 2017

Gerry Adams And The Loughgall Ambush – Some Necessary Background

There are a number of important caveats to bear in mind when considering reports in the Irish & British media today – see here, here and here – that Fr. Denis Faul, the Dungannon priest and human rights activist, had heard rumours, which he passed on to the Irish government, that Gerry Adams had set up the East Tyrone IRA unit to be wiped out by the SAS at the Loughgall ambush in May 1987.

Not least of these is the fact that Faul and the Provos were by 1987 at daggers drawn and Faul had reason both to dislike the Sinn Fein leader and to believe that he was capable of conniving at such cold-blooded slaughter.

Initially seen as an IRA sympathiser, so much so that the UDA once contemplated assassinating him, Fr Faul had fallen out badly with the Adams’ leadership during the 1981 IRA hunger strikes.

He had concluded, and was not alone in doing so, that a peaceful settlement of the protest had been sabotaged by Adams and his allies for political advantage, not least the anger at the British stirred up in the Catholic community.

Fr. Denis Faul

So, if Faul believed that Adams had connived at the death of comrades on hunger strike, he would also think him capable of doing the same to those gunned down at Loughgall. Faul died in 2006, so what he really meant by these reported comments went with him to the grave.

Eight crack IRA activists died in a hail of bullets at Loughgall – one estimate suggested 1200 rounds were fired – as they bombed an empty RUC station in the Co Armagh village on a balmy early summer evening. One Catholic civilian, caught up by chance in the ambush, also died and his brother was badly wounded.

The IRA death toll was the highest suffered by the organisation during the Troubles and the loss had an incalculable impact on the slowly developing peace process, not least devastating and demoralising the IRA and its support base in one of the strongest republican areas in the North, one expected to be the least sympathetic to the compromise inherent in the peace process strategy.

Fr. Faul had his reasons to suspect that Gerry Adams’ hand lay behind the ambush, but there were other, equally credible explanations, including mistakes made by the IRA team as well as routine British surveillance or the activities of informers unconnected to the republican leadership.

But in East Tyrone republican circles, the suspicion that the removal of the Loughgall unit was not a chance event and was somehow connected to subsequent political developments, has persisted.

When I set out to write about the IRA as it neared the end of its campaign in my book ‘A Secret History of the IRA’, I therefore devoted a whole chapter, called ‘Death in Tyrone‘, to Loughgall and its aftermath.

Below, you can read The Irish Times account of Fr Faul’s report to the Irish government and underneath that I have reproduced the chapter in ‘A Secret History’ devoted to the IRA in Tyrone after Loughgall.


Sinn Fein denies Gerry Adams ‘set up’ IRA Loughgall ambush

State Papers 1987: Sinn Féin president was accused of being behind the killings

Peter Murtagh, Ed Carty

The eight-man IRA unit killed in a shoot-out with soldiers following the bombing of the Loughgall RUC station. Clockwise from top left: Gerard O’Callaghan, Antony Gormley, James Lynagh, Eugene Kelly, Declan Arthurs, Patrick McKerney, Seamus Donnelly and Patrick Kelly. Photograph: PA

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams was rumoured to have set up a notorious IRA gang for ambush by the SAS as they tried to blow up a police station in May 1987, previously secret files have revealed.

A Sinn Féin spokesman on Friday dismissed the claim as ‘utter nonsense’.

Eight members of the Provisional’s East Tyrone Brigade were shot dead after they loaded a 200lb bomb onto a stolen digger and smashed through the gates of the RUC barracks in Loughgall, Co Armagh.

British Army special forces were lying in wait and killed them all, along with innocent bystander Anthony Hughes.

Declassified documents released through the National Archives in Dublin revealed that ballistic tests on weapons found on the dead were used in 40-50 murders, including every republican killing in Fermanagh and Tyrone in 1987.

Three civilian contractors had been murdered in the counties that year along with officers in the RUC and British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment.

The rumour about Mr Adams was passed on to the Department of Foreign Affairs by the highly respected Fr Denis Faul about three months after the Loughgall operation.

The priest, who had been at school in St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon with Padraig McKearney, one of the IRA gang, said the theory doing the rounds was that “the IRA team were set up by Gerry Adams himself”.

Fr Faul said he was “intrigued” by the theory.

Mr Adams declined to comment on the contents of the file when contacted in recent days.

A spokesman for Sinn Féin said on Friday the suggestion that Mr Adams might have “set up” the Loughgall gang was “utter nonsense”. He said he had spoken with Mr Adams’s office about the matter but not with the former party leader.

Fr Faul, a school teacher and chaplain in Long Kesh prison who died in 2006, said the rumour was that two of the gang – Jim Lynagh, a councillor in Monaghan, and McKearney – “had threatened to execute Adams shortly before the Loughgall event”.

It was being claimed that Lynagh and McKearney “disliked Adams’ political policy” and that they were leaning towards Republican Sinn Féin.

Weapons recovered

Eight guns, including six automatic rifles, a shotgun and a pistol, were recovered from the bodies of the attackers. In a letter to Brian Lenihan – then tánaiste and minister for foreign affairs – dated May 20th, Northern Ireland secretary Tom King disclosed that ballistic tests showed that “the weapons recovered were responsible for every single murder and attempted murder in Fermanagh and Tyrone this year, and indeed further afield as well”.

Those killings included three civilian contractors as well as members of the RUC and Ulster Defence Regiment.

Details of the government’s response, and reactions to it, are contained in State papers relating to Lenihan. They show how the government held firm in the face of criticism from republican elements in Ireland and the United States, as well as from within Fianna Fáil, but also baulked at a suggestion from King that an appreciative letter from him be made public to underscore joint British-Irish resolve to defeat terrorism.

On May 9th 1987, the day after the attack, the tánaiste condemned it as a “futile act of violence of the Provisional IRA”, which he said had “warped policies”.

In a follow-up statement to the Dáil on May 12th, Lenihan branded the IRA’s campaign of violence “morally wrong” and instanced how it had murdered a civilian and used his body “as bait to murder two policemen” as well as torturing informers.

Lenihan said the only way to address injustices in the North was through politics and not “indiscriminate violence”, a position not adopted by Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing until 1996.

‘Security benefit’

Two days after that Dáil statement, Daithí Ó Ceallaigh, an Irish diplomat at the Anglo-Irish Secretariat (the Belfast-based bureaucracy operating the Anglo-Irish Agreement), cabled Dublin following a briefing from the British giving details of the attack and noting that “one particular security benefit has been the removal of three very experienced paramilitaries – Lynagh, Paddy Kelly and McKearney”.

The cable also says King was very grateful for Lenihan’s Dáil statement, which he felt would have “significant benefits in convincing unionists in Northern Ireland of the determination of the Irish government to co-operate with the British government on security matters” and bolster nationalists who support constitutional methods and eschewed violence.

He wished to write a letter of thanks to Lenihan and to publish it.

“Speaking personally,” wrote Ó Ceallaigh, “I told my opposite number that I saw no advantage in publishing such a letter. I have consulted [Michael] Lillis [head of the Irish team in Belfast], who considers it would be very damaging to publish any such letter.”

Dublin cabled back that it agreed fully with this – “the sec. state should not repeat not publish letter”, it said.

In the following days, another Belfast-based Irish official, David Donoghue, embarked on a series of meetings with Catholic religious figures and the deputy leader of the SDLP, Seamus Mallon, filing reports back to Dublin each time, each marked “Secret”.

Bishop Cathal Daly wanted the RUC to give a full account of what had happened, nationalist reaction to which he thought would not benefit Sinn Féin in west Belfast.

Bishop Edward Daly said Lenihan “got it about right” in his reaction to Loughgall. The bishop told Donoghue he was “struck by the lack of sympathy in the Derry area with the dead IRA men”, whom he described as having been “armed to the teeth”.

The bishop was “affected by his own abhorrence of the Provisional IRA and the disgust he felt at their hypocrisy”, Donoghue reported.

“As a further example of the IRA’s hypocrisy, [Daly] mentioned a recent case in which a Derry post office was robbed by two men, one of whom the post mistress recognised as a prominent Sinn Féin spokesman. Within half an hour a Sinn Féin councillor had called round to sympathise with the postmistress and, within an hour, Sinn Féin had issued a statement deploring such anti-social acts.”

‘Madman’ Lynagh

Bishop Joseph Duffy told Donoghue that Sinn Féin had tried to organise the funeral of Lynagh but he had refused to deal with them, talking only to the family.

Duffy told Donoghue that Lynagh, who came originally from Monaghan, “was regarded locally as a ‘madman’ who would ‘have to have been put away, one way or the other’,” and had been responsible for “some 20 murders”.

Other voices, however, attacked the government’s condemnatory response.

Lenihan responded to Rev Joseph McVeigh from Fermanagh that he would “make no apology for condemning the campaign of violence of the IRA”.

The Irish United Counties Association of New York, of which Martin Galvin – director of Noraid, Sinn Féin and the IRA’s US fundraising arm – was secretary, wrote to Lenihan, asserting the IRA men had been “summarily executed”.

“The Irish Republican Army volunteers were Irishmen fighting on Irish soil for the freedom of a portion of Ireland. The British barracks which they intended to attack, as well as the British troops, constitute an illegitimate fort and foreign army of occupation,” said their letter, signed by Galvin and the organisation’s president, Frank Feighary.

Uinseann MacEoin, an architect and republican activist, told Lenihan he had been “viciously anti-Irish”, a view rejected by the minister who told him and a handful of Fianna Fáil members who objected to his comments that they were in line with party policy of supporting peaceful politics only. – Additional reporting PA

Trump’s America (Continued)

December 28, 2017
By Joe Kloc

Three days before Christmas, US president Donald Trump held a signing ceremony for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which will provide middle-class households with an average tax break of $900 and will give the top one percent of earners an average savings of $90,000, an amount greater than the income of 70 percent of Americans. “We did a rush job,” said Trump, explaining that he wanted to sign the bill before Christmas so that he would not be criticized on the television news he reportedly watches for up to eight hours a day. Trump signed the bill into law with a large black marker; said that the press had given him “no credit” for signing more legislation than any other president in “the history of our country,” which he had not done; and added that he had some “beautiful pens” on his desk that he wanted to give to the boom-mic operators in his office, whose industry-wide average income in 2013 was about 0.3 percent of the additional annual tax savings the president is expected to receive. Trump, who has said the bill was “for the middle class” and would cost him “a fortune,” flew to his private club in Palm Beach; told a table of members that they “all just got a lot richer” from the tax bill, which allows corporate sales agents to take deductions for bar tabs; and traveled to West Palm Beach, where he played golf at one of his private courses and then visited a local fire station. “How’s your 401k,” Trump asked a group of firemen, who under the new tax law will no long be able to take deductions for the cost of cleaning their uniforms. Trump tweeted that companies had begun “showering their workers with bonuses”; a spokesperson for Wells Fargo, whose CEO made 527 times the average salary of a US bank teller in 2016, said the company would raise its minimum wage from $13.50 to $15 per hour; the CEO for AT&T, who received $16.1 million in stock awards and $5.7 million in non-equity incentives on top of his $1.8 million salary in 2016, said the company would give 200,000 employees a $1,000 bonus; an AT&T spokesperson confirmed that the company planned to lay off at least one thousand workers; and the former director of the Puerto Rican budget office said that the tax bill would raise the price for companies on the island manufacturing high-end goods, an industry that employs 75,000 workers and has an annual market value of about half the estimated cost of repairing the 200,000 homes damaged by Hurricane Maria. “MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!” tweeted Trump, who in the 1980s banned Christmas trees from the lobby of one of his Manhattan apartment buildings as part of an effort to drive out longstanding elderly tenants and replace their homes with a luxury tower. “Business is looking really good for next year.”

Why Was George Smiley Never Sent To Belfast? – Le Carre Responds (Well, Sort Of…)

It is one of the ironies of John le Carre’s extraordinary career as the master of spy novels that while the British intelligence chief widely regarded as the model for his fictional MI6 hero served his country in Belfast in the war against the IRA, his celebrated imaginary facsimile never set foot there.

David Cornwell, better known as the spy writer John le Carre

Sir Maurice Oldfield, thought to be the model for le Carre’s spy chief, Smiley

The late Sir Alec Guinness, who played George Smiley in the BBC miniseries based on le Carre’s ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’

Maurice Oldfield, the head of MI6 from 1973 to 1978, was drafted to Northern Ireland in the autumn of 1979 after the assassination of Lord Mountbatten and the deaths of eighteen British soldiers in the Warrenpoint ambush, all at the hands of the IRA.

Oldfield’s task was to get the RUC and British Army intelligence operations working together against a common enemy but the following year, 1980, he left Belfast under a cloud after admitting he had used the services of male escorts.

George Smiley, Le Carre’s Delphic spy chief, who many believe was modeled on Oldfield also had sexual difficulties, but his were of the heterosexual sort and mostly revolved around his adulterous wife, Ann. And he never served in Belfast.

Given the centrality of the Troubles to British life during much of Le Carre’s writing career and the fact that the war between the IRA and the British was largely fought out in the dark world of agents, informers and their handlers, this begs the obvious question. Why did Le Carre never send Smiley across the Irish sea?

Both myself on this blog, and Village magazine in Dublin were prompted to write articles posing that question. You can re-read the pieces here.

I decided to take the matter a step further and wrote to le Carre himself to ask the question and to wonder whether he might write a few words on the matter for this blog (if you don’t ask, you don’t get!).

First my letter to John le Carre (real name David Cornwell) followed by the response. At least I tried:


Is The Cyst In Dog’s Ear Really Trump Hiding From The FBI?

The photo on the left is of a cyst in a dog’s ear. On the right is a pic of Trump. I’d bet the mortgage the cyst would make a better president.

Watch This Trump Video But Keep The Zinc Bucket Close By

The Other Side Of The Manchester City Story

Human rights researcher, Nicholas McGeehan has written the piece of the soccer season so far on the tawdry background to the rise of Manchester City football club, currently riding high in the Premier League in the UK and almost certain to win the championship.

With ambitious plans by City’s Gulf state owners to build a soccer empire spanning several continents, the article is inspired by Amazon UK’s planned and likely to be less than critical documentary series on Man City, currently in production, and delves into the background of the unsavoury ruling clan of Abu Dhabi which owns the club – specialties: torturing business rivals with electric cattle prods, bombing the hell out of Yemeni civilians, criminalising gays and buying up expensive soccer players.

This is the royal family of Abu Dhabi in all its glory, “the most sinister benefactors” of modern football, McGeehan writes, who have accumulated some £850 million losses at Manchester City since 2009 in order to advance their takeover and transformation of world soccer.

In the last fortnight both The Guardian and The Financial Times have published glowing, panegyrical articles on the Abu Dhabi ambitious soccer plan, what the FT called ‘the Disneyfication’ of soccer. The articles shone bright spotlights on the success story of Man City, but this other side of the story? Not so much.

Here is a YouTube video of the torture scene. You won’t see this screened on ‘Match of the Day’:

The Men Behind Man City: a documentary not coming soon to a cinema near you

By Nicholas McGeehan (Human Rights Watch)

Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, surveys his armed forces.

I have had an idea for the opening scene of Amazon Prime’s in-production fly-on-the-wall documentary about Manchester City’s 2017/2018 season. It begins with a sombre warning from a US TV news reporter from 2009: “A reminder that what you are about to see is extremely violent and disturbing.” Then an ominous pause followed by some menacing music as they introduce the grainy footage of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan using a cattle prod on a former business partner who is being held down by police officer somewhere in the desert outside Abu Dhabi. The menacing music gives way to the sound of Manchester City supporters hailing their owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan — Sheikh Issa’s brother — to the tune of kumbaya. “Sheikh Mansour m’lord, Sheikh Mansour,” roars the crowd as we see Issa beating the man with a board with a nail protruding from it, pouring salt into his wounds, electrocuting him, and setting him on fire. At this stage the producers must resist the urge to lighten the mood by showing some exquisite interplay between Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva. Instead the camera follows Sheikh Issa driving repeatedly over his victim in a Mercedes SUV, as City supporters continue to acclaim the royal family of Abu Dhabi, whose money has financed their rise to the top tier of European football.

The scene is now set for an incendiary analysis of modern football’s most sinister benefactors.

Now having hooked you into this yarn, I’m sorry to have to report that the producers and I have creative differences over this documentary. According to Manchester City’s website, “this ground-breaking, multi-episode series will follow the Club throughout the current campaign, offering fans an insight into the day-to-day workings of the club,” and there’s stuff about “taking fans into the inner sanctum of the Club’s world-leading training facilities,” as well as “interviews with the manager and access to executive meetings.” So, unfortunately there will be no Al Nahyan torture video intro and no subsequent examination of how unscrupulous actors feed off and manipulate supporters’ passionate love of their clubs. This will be a warm, fuzzy, we’re-just-a-bunch-of-dedicated-guys-pulling-together type of affair.

European football’s other emerging superpower is Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain, but whereas that project is held up as a rather gauche attempt to buy instant success and divert attention from their appalling treatment of migrant workers as they prepare for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, Abu Dhabi’s Manchester City is increasingly held up as an example of How To Run A Modern Football Club. A long-read in the Financial Times on December 9, which referred to the Manchester City project and its global spin-off franchises in New York and Melbourne as the ‘Disneyification’ of football, is the latest example of a very well-sourced article reassuring us that the men behind Manchester City are focused on building a self-sustaining football empire. Well it was the latest example of such an article. Less than a week later, on December 15, The Guardian’s long-read was titled “Manchester City’s plans for global domination,” and once more the project was viewed in soft focus. David Conn and James Montague have chronicled football’s portfolio of Faustian pacts in impressive and entertaining detail and both have been rigorous in their scrutiny of Abu Dhabi’s actions and motives, but the sunny assessments of the Manchester City project far outnumber the critical ones.

In 2012, when Manchester City were just beginning to hit their stride in England, a senior investigative journalist at a large British broadcasting company told me that their colleagues in sport would be very displeased if negative news coverage of the Abu Dhabi government’s links to Manchester City led to them being denied access to the club and its players. Now that Manchester City look to be on the brink of an era of domination, at least in England, it’s perhaps time to take another look at who is really behind this project and why.


The initial face of the Abu Dhabi takeover in September 2008 was that of Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim. “I find myself as chairman, as owner, even our official press release said I was the owner. It was nice, I like it. I like it when they put my picture in the news,” he told James Montague, a few weeks after the deal was struck. The men who were really behind the deal did not like seeing Al Fahim’s picture in the news and he was quietly moved aside. Manchester City is nominally owned by Sheikh Mansour Al Nahyan, who is so enthused by his investment of nearly £1 billion that he has attended one match in nine years. “Mansour did not like the fuss it caused”, was the rather implausible explanation that a City source recently proffered to Giles Tremlett to explain the Sheikh’s aversion to attending games. A simpler explanation might be that Sheikh Mansour has nothing to do with Manchester City and that it’s not his money that is responsible for its remarkable transformation.

Abu Dhabi is the wealthiest and most powerful of the seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The man who controls Abu Dhabi and dictates policy is Sheikh Mansour’s brother, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. And the men who run Manchester City are Mohamed bin Zayed’s key lieutenants, not Mansour’s. Chief among them is Khaldoon Al Mubarak, club chairman since 2008, and the Crown Prince’s right-hand man. Mubarak is also CEO of Mohamed bin Zayed’s mega-corporation Mubadala, which has assets of £50 billion, and invests vast sums of money around the world in sectors as diverse as real estate, pharmaceuticals, and aeronautics. Mohamed bin Zayed is also the driving force behind the UAE’s efforts to develop a domestic defence industry, which means he can now manufacture weapons and sell them to his own increasingly active army. All powerful and unencumbered by the need to justify his war-mongering in places like Yemen, which he has helped to destroy, Mohamed bin Zayed is fast becoming a one-man military-industrial complex.

Another key member of the team is the Australian Simon Pearce, also a Manchester City director, and Abu Dhabi’s head of strategic communications. Pearce made his name at the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, whose work with clients such as Nicolai Ceaucescu, Blackwater and Union Carbide led to the famous quote “when evil needs public relations, evil has Burson-Marsteller on speed-dial.” Abu Dhabi made a direct hire and Pearce is charged with protecting and promoting Abu Dhabi’s reputation. In examining their motives for buying Manchester City it helps if you think of Abu Dhabi as a corporation as well as a city-state, and Pearce is as comfortable offering advice on business deals as he is advising on matters of domestic and foreign policy.
This isn’t speculation on my part, you can read some of his emails online at The most interesting ones about football are the ones he sends to Yousef Al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States.


“He’s slick, he’s savvy, and he throws one hell of a party” ran the byline of the Huffington post’s 2015 profile of Otaiba, or ‘Brotaiba’ as he was known in the corridors of the US State Department. Unfortunately for Otaiba, this savviness did not extend to using a properly encrypted email account, and the ambassador’s Hotmail account, (yes, seriously), was hacked and the emails dumped online. The Intercept have revealed the scandalous contents of Otaiba’s emails in numerous fascinating articles, but almost no attention has been paid to the emails pertaining to Abu Dhabi’s American soccer franchise, New York City FC. In an email sent on May 5, 2013, Simon Pearce briefs Otaiba, whom he calls “Chief”, on the public relations implications of concluding the franchise deal, which had recently come to light in the media.

“Now that the deal is in public play, delaying a decision further on the franchise and stadium creates additional risk to the project as well as to ownership group reputation,” writes Pearce. In a list of “downside considerations” Pearce states that “AD/UAE vulnerabilities” will be put in play and lists them as “gay, wealth, women, Israel.” Another downside he lists is the fact that “ownership group already defined by media, politicians, community as Abu Dhabi not CFG [City Football Group].”

Pearce describes the option of walking away from the deal as a “major setback for CFG business plans” and a “missed opportunity for big NY play.” Obviously, Pearce and co felt that the benefits of pursuing the deal outweighed the reputational risk, and two days later, on May 7, 2013, New York City Football Club was registered as a corporate entity in New York state, becoming the newest franchise in Major League Soccer.

When you look at how Abu Dhabi has been greeted in Manchester, it’s easy to see why they felt this was a risk worth taking.

Abu Dhabi made its ‘big play’ in Manchester in 2013 when it entered into a £1 billion property deal with Manchester City Council. A report which set out “the detailed commercial arrangements” for the joint venture was kept secret because it “involved consideration of exempt information relating to the financial or business affairs of particular persons.” The Guardian attempted to obtain the report through a freedom of information request, but the council denied the request, citing “the risk of prejudice to the commercial interests.” It’s not clear if they meant the commercial interests of the council or the commercial interests of Abu Dhabi, which in the case of this deal are managed by a company registered off-shore in the tax haven of Jersey.

Having been made aware of the council’s close business links to the Abu Dhabi government, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International wrote to the two most senior figures in the council, Sir Richard Leese and Sir Howard Bernstein, asking that they “take some simple and principled steps that would support victims of serious human rights violations and ensure Manchester’s commercial relationships with senior figures in the UAE government do not besmirch the city’s reputation.” The March 2016 letter made reference to the council’s celebration of the city’s radical past. (In 1862 Lancashire mill workers — at great personal cost — refused to touch any raw cotton picked by American slaves. Abraham Lincoln wrote to them, praising their heroism, which, he said “has not been surpassed in any age or in any country.” Mohamed bin Zayed would have had them maced and thrown them in jail. He’d have come up with something more devious for Emily Pankhurst, whose suffragette movement began at her Manchester home in Nelson Street.)

Leese responded, describing the Abu Dhabi government as “exemplary business partners” (which suggests he hasn’t seen the video of Sheikh Issa Al Nahyan using a cattle prod on his former business partner), and saying that the “alleged” abuses detailed in the letter were beyond the council’s sphere of influence. If that was debatable then, it’s laughably untrue now — last month Sir Howard Bernstein took up a job with the City Football Group.

Pearce’s emails provide a fascinating insight into Abu Dhabi’s motivations for buying football clubs. There is certainly a public relations angle to these initiatives, but it’s a lot more subtle than mere reputation laundering, a criticism I have levelled in the past. Pearce doesn’t want the media and the general public to associate New York City FC with the Abu Dhabi government, but rather with the City Football Group, because the “vulnerabilities” of the Abu Dhabi government could jeopardize the business interests of Abu Dhabi Inc. By “vulnerabilities”, Pearce means government policies that jar with the progressive image City Football Group needs to project in order to prosper. In Pearce’s view the main issues are the UAE’s criminalization of homosexuality, its poor record on women’s rights, and its failure to recognize the state of Israel.

It’s highly doubtful that club ownership is primarily about generating income either, at least not directly. As stand-along businesses, the football clubs do not and will not generate the type of profits that interest these types of investors. Manchester City make much of the fact that the club has turned a net profit of £32.2 million in the last three years, but the net losses of the previous five seasons totaled £491.3 million — £121.3 million in 2009/10, £197.5 million in 2010/11, £97.9 million in 2011/12, £51.6 million in 2012/13, £23 million in 2013/14. When you throw in the cost of buying the club, estimated at £210 million, the losses from the 2008/2009 season, which the club do not appear to have published, and the £161 million net spend on players since it signed off its latest accounts, the net loss is probably close to £850 million. If the idea is to generate alternative revenue streams for the post-oil economy, they’re not doing a very good job of it.

What’s clear is that Manchester City FC and New York City FC enable Abu Dhabi to gain footholds in centres of power and influence, and provide a platform for the pursuit of further business opportunities which themselves consolidate and strengthen Abu Dhabi’s political influence. What’s not clear is whether that’s the primary purpose of their football interests, but Pearce’s emails point in that direction. Placing an abusive dictatorship under such bright spotlights is a high-risk strategy, as Pearce makes very clear, but he appears supremely confident of his ability to manage the reputational risks. He does this in three ways: firstly, by presenting the clubs’ owner as a wealthy benevolent businessman (Mansour), rather than an all-powerful statesman (MBZ); secondly by flooding the media with puff-pieces about how progressive the UAE is; and thirdly by attacking the credibility or the motives of groups and individuals who criticise the UAE’s abuses. Unfortunately, he’s very good at his job.


Speaking about Manchester City on the excellent Second Captain’s podcast, Ken Early recently referred to Manchester City as a “host organism”. Early didn’t go so far as to compare Abu Dhabi’s rulers to a malicious virus, but when you look at how the men behind Manchester City exert their influence abroad, “host organism” is the perfect metaphor.

In 2012, Simon Pearce wrote briefing notes for Mohamed bin Zayed in which he urged David Cameron’s government to take steps to end what Pearce described as Islamist infiltration of BBC Arabic — Pearce advised MBZ that he should demand the prime minister’s “help … with the BBC in particular.” In return for silencing the British press and other favours, Pearce’s briefing notes indicate that Cameron was to be offered lucrative arms and oil deals for British business which would have generated billions of pounds for BAE Systems and allowed BP to bid to drill for oil and gas in the Gulf. Abu Dhabi also invests millions in Washington DC, much of it on the type of think-tanks that seem to think mostly about money. After successfully encouraging the neo-conservative analyst Michael Rubin to write an article questioning the credibility of Human Rights Watch research on torture in the UAE, Pearce could scarcely disguise his glee in the email he sent to Yousef Al-Otaiba. “Happy new year!!” it began. “The [Rubin] article demonstrates that we have now empowered the right to make legitimate demands of the left wing Human Rights lobby.” (In the interests of transparency, I should point out that I researched and wrote the Human Rights Watch press release on torture that Rubin criticised.) In France, the UAE was keen to empower the far-right, as documented by French journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, whose book “Nos Très Chers Émirs” contained the revelation, repeated elsewhere, that the UAE was at the ready to provide $2 million to Marine Le Pen’s presidential campaign in France in 2015.
Things aren’t much better on the home front. MBZ has few qualms about keeping his own subjects in line the old-fashioned way, and his thuggish state security apparatus do that to devastating effect, roaming the streets in custom-made 4x4s with shackles built-in to the frame. Anyone who tweets out of turn is toast. One of the people languishing in Abu Dhabi’s jails is the award-winning human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. To describe Ahmed as a human rights activist seems rather reductive, he’s always been a lot more than that and his imprisonment — he tweeted criticism of the Abu Dhabi government and of the Sisi government in Egypt just before his arrest in March 2017 — weighs very heavily on everyone who ever had the pleasure of his company.

As Sheikh Issa’s torture tape shows, the Al Nahyans charge sheet extends beyond human rights abuses to outright criminality. Sheikh Issa was never actually convicted of anything — a UAE court acquitted him of torture, concluding that he had been injected with drugs and was the victim of the most elaborate and stupid blackmail plot in history — but Al Nahyan family members who have been charged with committing serious crimes abroad haven’t been able to rely on a corrupt judiciary to get them off the hook. In July 2008, a few months before the Manchester City takeover, eight Al Nahyan princesses were arrested on trafficking charges in Brussels after their domestic servants escaped from the Hilton Hotel and found their way to the police. It took nine years for the case to reach trial, but in June 2017 the eight princesses were convicted in absentia on trafficking charges.

And then there’s Yemen. Abu Dhabi has played a key role in the wilful and needless destruction of one of the world’s poorest countries, and bears significant responsibility for the humanitarian disaster unfolding there. The Saudi-led coalition has bombed schools, hospitals, wedding and funerals, and more than 1000 of the 5000 civilians they have killed since March 2015 were children, according to the United Nations. In September 2015, by which time Amnesty International had already documented “a pattern of raids targeting heavily-populated sites, including a mosque, a school and a market,” Yousef Al-Otaiba sent an email in which he outlined a strategy to limit the political fall-out. “At least temporarily, urge caution when selecting military targets,” advised Otaiba, which suggests he was quite happy for indiscriminate targeting to resume once the political heat had died down. One of the people to whom he sent the email was Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak.

There’s more — there’s a lot more — but suffice it to say that while Abu Dhabi may not be the most abusive government in the world, they are easily the most abusive government running a football club. Qatar run them a close second of course, and there should be no PSG supporters taking the moral high ground. A quick glance at the bookies odds for this year’s Champions League reveals the extent to which top level European football is now dependent on funding from either Abu Dhabi or Qatar. Manchester City are currently the favourites followed by Paris Saint-Germain. Third favourites are Bayern Munich, whose shirts are now sponsored by Qatar, fourth favourites are Barcelona, who only recently ended a seven-year sponsorship deal with Qatar, and fifth favourites are Real Madrid, who have sold the naming rights to their new stadium to Abu Dhabi.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed an economic blockade, accusing Qatar of aligning itself with Iran and supporting Islamic terrorist groups. However, while these accusations masked ulterior motives, the antipathy is very real and it would come as no great surprise if the Al Nahyans decided to rename Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium the “Qatar/ISIS Alliance Arena.” How this squabble will play out on the proxy battleground of the Champions League is anyone’s guess but don’t expect either Qatar or Abu Dhabi to put grievances aside out of any love of the game.

They have no love of the game nor any interest in its well-being.

So tune into that Amazon Prime documentary if you must, but you’ll have to wait for mine to get the full story. Funding has proven a bit of an issue and it doesn’t have a title yet, but the first episode is going to be called “Sheikhs’ Lies and Videotape.”

New ANC Chief Played Pivotal Role In Disarming The IRA

Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African trade union leader turned business tycoon (wealth estimated at between $450 and $700 million) who has just been elected the new leader of the scandal-riven African National Congress, played a decisive role in edging the Provisional IRA towards full decommissioning of weapons.

Along with former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari, Ramaphosa was one of the two weapons inspectors appointed by the British and Irish governments to confirm that IRA weapons placed in secure dumps had not been moved or used since they were last inspected.

Marti Ahtisaari, Cyril Ramaphosa, Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair pictured after their appointment as IRA arms inspectors

In itself a pretty pointless exercise, not least since the IRA still had plenty of weapons elsewhere to use had it wished, the value of the operation was almost entirely psychological.

It got the IRA membership and base accustomed to the idea that weapons would be parlayed in exchange for further progress in the peace process, an example of the dictum ‘slowly, slowly catchee monkey’ in practice.

And so, by the time of the 9/11 incidents in New York city when Sinn Fein risked political isolation by refusing to divest itself of terrorist weaponry, the republican base was ready to accept final and full decommissioning of IRA weapons.

Ramaphosa was also a regular visitor to Belfast and Dublin in these years when he gave rousing, pro-peace process speeches to Sinn Fein crowds, including once in the Ulster Hall. He was friendly to all the Sinn Fein leadership of that era and hosted both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness on their trips to South Africa.

Once a left wing trade unionist and close ally of Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa lost a bid to become ANC general secretary and then moved into business where he made his fortune.

He is blamed in some circles for the notorious Marikan massacre of miners, thirty four of whom were killed in police gunfire, after Ramaphosa had urged the government to send more police to the gold mine where workers were on strike for better wages and conditions.

A Trump Caption Contest

The man pictured below, with his back to the camera, likes to be pissed on by Russian prostitutes, according to a former MI6 officer. He has been divorced more times than most people have flown in aeroplanes. He has boasted of grabbing women ‘by the pussy’, has been bankrupt so often no US bank will lend him money and his business partners have included east European dictators and Russian mobsters.

Yet here, in a photo published by Religion News Service, he is in the Oval Office of the White House surrounded by American evangelicals, some of whom have their hands on him, and they are praying for his success as US president. I must say my first thought was: ‘What on earth is going on in his mind at this moment, what does he really think about these people, with whom he has absolutely nothing in common’?

So the caption contest is just that. What is Trump thinking at this moment? The best responses will be published and the top three will get the customary prize, a lifetime subscription to

Evangelical supporters place hands on and pray with President Trump in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo courtesy of Johnnie Moore