Monthly Archives: December 2017

Is A Fine Gael-Sinn Fein Coalition Just Too Far-Fetched?

During the Brexit/Irish Border crisis recently I suggested, somewhat light-heartedly, that FG Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s opposition to a hard Border was so SF-friendly that it made the inconceivable, an FG-SF coalition government (sans Gerry Adams of course), seem not too far-fetched.

It appears from this article in the Irish edition of The Sun that others are having similar thoughts. Still, it is far too early in the game to tell (Gerry hasn’t even quit yet or given us time to judge whether he has really left the political stage).

Even so, an interesting straw in the wind.

A FINE Gael TD has left the door open for a coalition with Sinn Fein after the next general election, saying: “Anything could happen.”

Deputy Kate O’Connell said yesterday that Mary Lou McDonald, tipped to replace Gerry Adams as leader, was a friend and a “very capable lady”.

So far Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has ruled out talking to Sinn Fein about forming a future Government.

FF leader Micheal Martin has said the same. But a number of Fianna Fail TDs have indicated they’re open to striking a deal with the Shinners.

When quizzed if such a coalition could happen, FG Deputy O’Connell responded: “It is a numbers game. I don’t see a confidence-and-supply arrangement ever again.

“There are huge difficulties there. It was necessary at the time. I commend Fianna Fail for acting responsibly. I don’t see it as a way to govern.

“As for Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, anything could happen.”

Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell made the comment.

She told RTE Radio’s Claire Byrne: “Sinn Fein have a mandate, they have a good whack (of TDs) so you have to respect that people voted for them.”

In November, Sinn Fein passed a motion at their Ardfheis allowing it to enter Government in the Republic for the very first time as a minority party.

But Taoiseach Varadkar has ruled out doing any business with them, saying: “The faces in Sinn Fein might be getting younger but their ­policies are the same.”

Deputy O’Connell is more receptive to a deal and indicated recent Brexit negotiations may have changed the stance of some in Fine Gael.

She said: “The arrival of Brexit has changed the way we look at the island of Ireland. Both Taoiseach and Tanaiste feel strongly about representing both sides of the Border.

“I consider Mary Lou a friend of mine. We are from the same area. I see her as a very capable lady.”

Her comments have infuriated colleagues in the parliamentary party with one labelling them “a disgrace”.

The Fine Gael TD said: “We knew she was keen on the Me Fein party but now we know she’s also in favour of Sinn Fein. On both counts, she’s alone within the party.

“Her decision to even contemplate going near SF after their track record of bullying women is extraordinary. They leave a bad taste in the mouth of ordinary decent people.”

Trump’s Judicial Nominee Knows Nothing About The Law

One of Donald Trump’s nominees for a job on a federal court bench is quizzed by Senators about his knowledge and experience of the law. The result is truly alarming:

The Death Of The Internet (In The U.S. For Now, But Coming To A Computer Near You Soon!)

No better man to tell the tale:

Trump’s America (continued)

Moore Problems
By Joe Kloc

Roy Moore, a former Alabama chief justice accused of having molested a 14-year-old girl he met outside a child-custody hearing, concluded his special-election campaign for a seat in the US Senate. Moore, who was also accused of having assaulted a 16-year-old girl and who defended himself by saying he had never dated “any girl” without “the permission of the mother,” attempted unsuccessfully to hold a rally in a barn owned by the director of an advocacy center for survivors of child sexual abuse, and then announced a “kid friendly” rally at another barn. A Moore spokesperson told journalists that the campaign wanted to “make it clear that there is a group of non-accusers” who had not alleged that Moore was guilty of sexual assault, and Moore, who was allegedly banned from his local mall and YMCA when he was in his 30s for hitting on teenagers, sat down for an interview with a 12-year-old girl, with whom he discussed his policies on immigration, a consumption tax, free trade, and military readiness. Moore, who once said that America was great during the time of slavery because it “had direction” and on another occasion said that the legalization of gay marriage was “worse” than a nineteenth-century Supreme Court ruling that black people were property, held a final campaign rally at which his wife argued that he was not a racist because he had “many friends who are black” and an attorney who “is a Jew.” A veteran said that he and Moore once went together to a Vietnamese brothel with “very young girls” and Moore did not want to have sex with them, a campaign surrogate said that Moore “probably” thinks being gay should be illegal, and a neo-Nazi praised Moore for having “correctly” quoted Adolf Hitler on a radio show in 2011, on which Moore also said that he wanted to know “what really happened” on 9/11, an event he later suggested was an act of God meant to punish the United States for legalizing abortion. “If you don’t believe in my character, don’t vote for me,” said Moore, who then put on a cowboy hat, mounted a horse named Sassy, galloped to the polls, voted for himself, and lost the election. “Neigh,” said Sassy.


Dead Men Walking!

Full Transcript Of Brian Nelson Trial

This is an important and historically valuable document. It is the full transcript of the three-day trial in January/February 1992 of Brian Nelson, the UDA intelligence chief who was also a key agent for the British Army’s Force Research Unit, which alongside MI5 and the RUC Special Branch, represented one of the three blades in Britain’s intelligence sword against the IRA.

Which of the three was the sharpest and most deadly blade will long be a matter of debate, but with Brian Nelson of the UDA and Freddie Scappaticci of the IRA’s Internal Security Unit both on their books, the Force Research Unit certainly has a strong claim.

Brian Nelson

The document below comes in three parts. The first, some 31 pages long, covers the hearing on January 22, 1992, in front of Lord Justice Basil Kelly, a former Attorney General in the pre-Troubles Unionist government, at which Nelson pled guilty to a number of charges, including two counts of conspiracy to murder, arising from his UDA job as its chief of intelligence department.

Basil Kelly

To call the two day hearing a trial would be something of a misnomer. It became very clear early on in the prosecution’s presentation that a deal had been done. Nelson would plead guilty to a number of offences, especially those in which he admitted not fully informing his British Army handlers, and in return a series of other charges would be dropped and Nelson would get a relatively lenient sentence.

John Creaney QC

To ensure the deal was delivered a QC representing the British Attorney-General shared a table with the prosecution team, represented by John Creaney QC.

Two charges of first degree murder were dropped and Nelson pled guilty to twenty other offences, including five conspiracy to commit murder counts. He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He died in April 2003, not long after his release from prison, reportedly from a brain haemorrhage aged 55. Where he was living and what his circumstances were at the time are still not known.

Much of the remainder of the document, from page 32 onwards, deals with the exculpatory evidence given by the head of the FRU during Nelson’s time, Col. Gordon Kerr. This took place exactly a week later on January 29th, 1992. This part of the document is 44 pages long.

Col. Gordon Kerr in Gordon Highlander Mess Uniform

A third part, a short one-day session on February 3rd, 1992 deals with the sentencing of Nelson.

Known initially only as ‘The Colonel’ to the court, but later as ‘Colonel J’, Kerr claimed that Nelson had given information that had led to the saving of some 200 lives, including that of Gerry Adams who the UDA had planned to assassinate with a limpet mine attached to the roof of his car in Belfast city centre.

Adams regularly visited a Housing Executive office and the attack was planned to take place as he left. Of the UDA plan to kill the Sinn Fein chief, Kerr told the court he was convinced that Nelson had saved his life:

I have no doubt whatsoever that that attack might well have taken place without anyone’s knowledge.

Col. Gordon Kerr, a Scotsman and a member of the Gordon Highlanders regiment, who was later promoted to Brigadier and made British military attache at the embassy in Peking, justified Nelson recruitment with these words to the court:

….in order to gain inside knowledge which we desperately need of the terrorist organisations in order that we can save life, that we can prevent attacks taking place, that we can prevent assassinations, that we can make arrests, that we can get recoveries of weapons and explosives, you must have an agent who is in a terrorist organisation.

That was the only time that the subject of ‘arrests’ was raised during the trial. Nelson had saved 217 lives, Kerr claimed, but he made no mention at all of the arrests of UDA activists made as a result of Nelson’s intelligence, or indeed if there had been any at all.

Kerr’s remarks about UDA ‘arrests’ being one of the goals of Nelson’s recruitment raises some important questions.

Desmond Boal QC, Brian Nelson’s barrister

If one of the purposes of recruiting Nelson had been to put the UDA out of business there surely would have been arrests, lots of them – but arrests in significant numbers only happened after Nelson’s role was exposed to the Stevens team.

Doubtless the valid argument could be made that too many arrests would have raised dangerous suspicions and possibly compromised Nelson; but so would using his information to frustrate murder attempts, which was the other major reason given by Kerr for recruiting the agent. When one operation after another is frustrated, suspicions are bound to sharpen.

I have always suspected that at a time when the UDA was moving more and more towards targeted assassination of Republican activists rather than indiscriminate murder of Catholics, the security forces would be concerned that their agents and informers in the IRA might be lost. Nelson would be useful to give them advance warning and the time to take protective measures.

Nelson’s role was known in detail only to the FRU, senior officers in the RUC Special Branch and two senior figures in MI5; he was run outside the terms of Home Office guidelines on informers which stipulate that such agents must not themselves become involved in criminality.

These restrictions would be impossible to follow in Northern Ireland, Kerr told the court:

(The Home Office guidelines) were more appropriate for dealing with the criminal fraternity in the East End of London rather than the reality of the terrorist situation in Northern Ireland.

Kerr gave monthly briefings based on Nelson’s intelligence, inter alia, to the British Army GOC, the Commander of Land Forces, the Director and Co-ordinator of Intelligence (i.e. head of British intelligence in NI) and various MI5 officers. Sometimes he would also brief the Secretary of State. All in all, Brian Nelson was a very valuable agent.

Here is the trial transcript. Enjoy:

How Trump’s Jerusalem Decision Could Come Back To Bite Him

A very interesting and thoughtful piece from Patrick Cockburn in Counterpunch critiquing Trump’s Jerusalem decision, which he suspects will harden opinion in the Arab and Muslim world against the USA:

Trump’s Jerusalem Decision Risks Uniting the Entire Arab World Against the US

Photo by Kristoffer Trolle | CC BY 2.0

President Trump and the Israeli government will have foreseen and discounted a Palestinian “day of rage” and protests among Muslims everywhere in the wake of the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to move its embassy there. They assume that this will all blow over because US allies such as the rulers of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt will be satisfied with pro-forma protests, and the Palestinians are too weak to do anything except demonstrate ineffectively.

The US and Israel could be miscalculating: when I lived in Jerusalem I came to believe that many dramatic events in Israel, such as shootings and bombings, often had less effect than the outside world expected. But anything involving Jerusalem itself, and above all its Muslim holy sites, had a much bigger impact than anybody had imagined.

The immediate consequence of Trump’s action is that the US becomes weaker because it has carried out another initiative of which the rest of the world disapproves. A superpower at the height of its strength might get away with such a demarche, but not a politically divided US, its influence already ebbing because of failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The move is so obviously against US foreign policy interests that it will further persuade other world leaders that Trump is an impossible ally.

The move could have other dangerous consequences. There is a myth that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle was not an issue that concerned Osama bin Laden or played a role in the rise of al-Qaeda. In fact, bin Laden’s speeches and writings are full of references to the Palestinians – and his first public utterances in the 1980s were calls for a boycott of American goods because of its backing for Israel.

The connection between the Palestinian question and 9/11 was played down at the time, particularly by neocon pundits and think tanks who claimed that the US could safely ignore the issue while pursuing an aggressive policy in Iraq. It is true that 9/11 damaged the Palestinians because they were marginalised as the US and its allies began a series of wars during which they largely disappeared from the news agenda.

But as the wars in Iraq and Syria come to an end, focus will shift back to Israel and the Palestinians. Isis and al-Qaeda have been defeated in their efforts to change regimes in Baghdad and Damascus. If they are going to survive and get support in the Muslim world, they will need to find a new enemy. Battered they may be, but they have far more activists and resources than bin Laden at the time of 9/11. The declaration on Jerusalem throws al-Qaeda-type movements a lifeline, just as they are facing complete defeat.

Trump inherited the war to eliminate the self-declared Caliphate from President Obama and has continued it unchanged. Most decisions about the conflict have in any case been taken by the Pentagon and not by the White House. Up to now the biggest change in US policy in the region has been the effort to end Obama’s détente with Iran and build up an anti-Iranian coalition. This will now become a more difficult job.

In October, Trump de-certified the nuclear deal with Iran, demonising the Iranians as the source of all instability in the region. He and his administration tend to conflate Iranians and Shias in much the same way as do Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchs of the Gulf. His National Security Adviser H R McMaster said in late October that “what is most important, not just for the United States but for all nations, is to confront the scourge of Hezbollah and to confront the scourge of the Iranians and the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps].”

It is unclear how far this belligerent rhetoric is going to turn into real military action. If Trump does want to confront Iran and the axis of states and paramilitary organisations it leads, then he has left it a bit late. The Iranian Shia side has triumphed in the war in Syria and Iraq against predominantly Sunni resistance, which was once backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The role of Hezbollah and the Shia paramilitary, Hashd al-Shaabi, will naturally diminish because there is no longer a war to fight and the central governments in Baghdad and Damascus are becoming stronger.

The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will make it easier for Tehran to call for all Muslims, Shia and Sunni, to stand together in defence of the Palestinians and the holy sites. It will make it more difficult, though not impossible, for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to act with the US, move closer to Israel and portray Iran as the greatest threat in the region.

There is a broader consequence of the switch in US policy: there are some 1.5 billion Muslims in the world who are the majority in some 50 states and make up 22 per cent of the world’s population. None of them will be pleased by Trump’s latest action. The population of many of these countries, including some of the largest such as Turkey (80 million) and Pakistan (193 million), were already very anti-American before the Trump presidency. In 2012, polls showed that 74 per cent of Pakistanis considered the US as an enemy. Even this high figure is surpassed by Turkey where 82 per cent said this summer that they had an unfavourable view of the US. Divided about everything else, Turks agree on their dislike of the US, which will again make it more difficult for the US to act against Iran.

President Putin is to visit Istanbul on Monday to speak to President Erdogan about Jerusalem and Syria, a sign that it may be difficult to isolate the issue of the Israeli capital from other conflicts.

All these important developments are happening, though nothing has really changed on the ground: Israel already treated Jerusalem as its capital, and the so-called peace process with the Palestinians has been a sham for years. The US can no longer pretend to be an even-handed mediator, but then it never was one in the first place.

By recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump and Israel may have broken a political rule which says it is dangerous to mess with de facto situations others have informally come to accept. Doing so can have unexpectedly disastrous consequences. A good example of this happened less than three months ago when President Masoud Barzani held a referendum demanding Iraqi Kurdish formal independence, though the Iraqi Kurds had enjoyed de facto near independence since 2003. The Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian governments, who had accepted the previous situation for years, reacted furiously and within three weeks the Kurds lost control of Kirkuk and much of their territory. It may be that President Trump and Israel will likewise find that they risked more than they imagined and will pay a heavier price than expected for formalising Israeli rule in Jerusalem.

Starving Polar Bear Video – Don’t Worry Folks, Trump Says It Is A Chinese Hoax

Here is The New York Times story that accompanies this heartbreaking video:

Trump’s America (continued)

December 11, 2017
By Joe Kloc

(see video below)

A jury in Arizona heard closing arguments in the trial of a Mesa police officer charged with the murder of Daniel Shaver, a twenty-six-year-old traveling pest exterminator who was staying at a La Quinta Inn when he was shot and killed by a response team after guests in a hot tub outside his window mistook for a rifle the pellet gun he’d used to eradicate birds from a local Walmart and reported him to the hotel staff. The prosecution told the jury that the officer, Philip Brailsford, was a “killer” for forcing Shaver, who was unarmed and intoxicated, into the hallway and then shooting him as he crawled on the floor crying and asking not to be shot; and Brailsford’s lawyer said Shaver was “not a bad person” but that “his actions” had gotten him killed, referring in part to the defendant’s claim that a hand movement of Shaver’s while he was on his knees made it appear as if he might have been reaching for a weapon in the waistband of his basketball shorts, which at that point had fallen down. The judge continued to disallow the public release of Brailsford’s body-cam footage, and the jury spent less than six hours in deliberation before returning a verdict of not guilty. The police then released the video, showing Brailsford pointing his AR-15 assault rifle at Shaver while a sergeant asked him if he understood that there was “a very severe possibility” he would “get shot”; Shaver attempting to reply as the sergeant told him to “shut up,” not move, put his hands on his head, “interlace” his fingers, “cross” his left foot over his right foot, and put his “eyes down”; the sergeant telling Shaver if he moves he “may not survive” and then ordering a woman a few feet away from him to move; the sergeant telling Shaver not to “make a mistake” and to keep his “legs crossed,” put both hands “palm-down straight out in front” of him, and “push” himself “up to a kneeling position”; Shaver’s hand falling; the sergeant telling him if it happened again he would be shot; Shaver asking the officers not to shoot him; the sergeant telling him again that if his hands dropped down they would shoot him; Shaver weeping as the sergeant said “crawl toward me”; Shaver saying, “yes, sir” and continuing to weep; the sergeant again shouting “crawl toward me”; Shaver moving his hand; and Brailsford opening fire, shooting Shaver in the back and neck five times with his AR-15, on which he had etched “you’re fucked.” “If the situation happened exactly as it did that time, I would have done the same thing,” said Brailsford, who, as an Arizona law-enforcement officer, was required to receive 585 hours of training, less than half the amount of time required by the state in order to become a barber.

Jim Cullen, RIP – His Role In The Billy Stobie Scandal Can Now Be Told

Jim Cullen, who has died in New York. A former US military judge and prosecutor who helped pursue the My Lai killers, he was also a Wall Street lawyer and later headed up Friends of Sinn Fein in the US.

I first met Jim Cullen on the day after the Good Friday Agreement was reached in circumstances that at the time seemed quite normal but in retrospect were as bizarre as they could be.

About a month or so earlier Jim and a number of colleagues from the Brehon law society in New York had placed an advert in The Irish News offering a financial reward and help getting a Green Card (i.e. legal status in the USA) to any member of the Northern security forces who could supply information about the background to the killing of Belfast solicitor, Pat Finucane by the UDA.

A few years before this I had been introduced to Billy Stobie by another journalist who had got himself into a terrible moral tangle. Stobie was a UDA quartermaster in the upper Shankill Road area who had contacted the reporter to tell him about the Finucane killing and his role in it.

He told the reporter that he, Stobie, was an RUC Special Branch informer who had supplied one of the guns used to kill Finucane, and had disposed of it afterwards, telling his police handlers at or about the same time what was happening. The RUC had taken no action, either to pre-empt the killers or to catch them afterwards.

Billy Stobie, with his girlfriend outside Belfast law courts

Armed with this information the journalist had blurted it all out to the senior RUC press officer at a drinks reception at police headquarters, Stobie was quickly arrested and very nearly got into serious trouble. By coming to me, the journalist was hoping to get rid of a dangerous millstone hanging around his neck.

Anyway I met Stobie, interviewed him at length and then made contact with his lawyer, a Belfast solicitor by the name of Joe Rice. Together we agreed that nothing should be done for fear of endangering Stobie’s life but if Stobie and Joe Rice agreed that the time had come to go public, they would alert me and I would write the story up.

That day eventually arrived, some eight or nine years later in June 1999 when the Stevens team, then investigating collusion between the Northern security forces and Loyalists,  arrested Stobie and charged him with the Finucane murder. I got a phone call from Joe Rice and the green light to write the Billy Stobie story.

You can read what appeared in The Sunday Tribune here and here.

Anyway, to return to the late Jim Cullen, I had read his offer in The Irish News and so I contacted Joe Rice. What about getting Billy Stobie to tell his story to the Brehon law society, I asked? Joe talked to Stobie who was, not unnaturally, excited at the prospect of money and a move to the US, and so I contacted Jim Cullen to tell him someone wanted to meet him who could shed light on the Pat Finucane killing.

Joe Rice

We, that is Stobie, Joe Rice and myself, agreed to meet Cullen at an hotel on the Dublin Road outside Dundalk and the date chosen was the Sunday after the Good Friday Agreement was finalised (although we didn’t know that at the time it was arranged).

It would be nice to say that the story had a happy ending. But it didn’t. Jim Cullen was not interested in Billy Stobie’s story, or at least not interested enough to take it to the next stage.

He had his heart set on hooking a policeman or an MI5 agent and so we returned to Belfast disappointed and not a little disillusioned. After all there was realistically little or no chance that a security force member would defect to Irish-America, certainly not for something like a Green Card which they could probably obtain legitimately; not only that but it was unlikely the money the Brehon people could pay would make up for the loss of pension rights suffered by the whistleblower.

The truth was that Billy Stobie was as good as it was going to get – and what he had to say was pretty damned good.

And so a great opportunity was missed to open up the Finucane scandal a year earlier and in circumstances that could not be controlled or manipulated by those who were accused of allowing the solicitor to be killed. And Billy Stobie would not have been shot dead by fellow Loyalists and might still be alive and  living somewhere in the Bronx, or Brooklyn.

I thought Jim Cullen made a bad mistake in turning down Billy Stobie, just as I thought he made a bad mistake agreeing to be the public face of Sinn Fein in America. I liked him, he was always good to me and supported me when, as a result of my dealings with Billy Stobie, I was later pursued by Scotland Yard.

I understood why he had the political sympathies that he did have, but he should have kept some distance from those who gave him the job of fronting for the Provos in the US. And of course I later had reason to ask myself the following question: had he shared what myself, Stobie and Joe Rice had told him with the Shinners? If he was loyal party man, he probably had, with consequences impossible to predict. Read his obituary here and you will understand why I say all that.