Newton Emerson: PSNI's inaction over UDA leaves it open to ridicule - The Irish News
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Newton Emerson: PSNI's inaction over UDA leaves it open to ridicule

The controversy over government funding loyalist-linked organisations refuses to abate - head of Charter NI's Dee Stitt with First Minister Arlene Foster

As controversy over funding loyalist-linked organisations refuses to abate, a UDA member has spoken anonymously to the BBC about the organisation’s rampant criminality, its grip on communities and its refusal to let people leave. One of the most affecting parts of the man’s testimony was his appeal to the PSNI to take action via the sweeping powers and intelligence it has available, instead of just appealing for information it knows people cannot give for fear of their lives. The PSNI’s repeated insistence that it needs community cooperation to arrest loyalists is inaccurate, blames the victim and looks like an excuse to do nothing. In an age of catch-all anti-terror legislation, with a police service that can launch endless initiatives on racism, drugs, prostitution and everything else the UDA does as long as the UDA is not doing it, the idea that no action can be taken against a proscribed organisation without receiving a complaint is transparently ridiculous.

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The European Commission is proposing a new electronic visa waiver scheme for the Schengen zone, based on a similar US system. Non-EU citizens would be charged €5 for a five-year pass, allowing multiple entry with pre-cleared security. Because the UK and Ireland are outside Schengen this would not affect our common travel area. However, it would put British and Irish citizens in very different positions when flying to Europe out of Dublin, for example. One obvious fudge would be for London to pay for passes for Northern Ireland residents - but would that be required for half the population or all? The Brexit fun never ends.

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Loreto girl’s grammar in Omagh has earned the ire of Sinn Féin after a visiting PSNI officer briefed pupils on “opportunities with RAF Cadets.” Local assembly member Barry McElduff, who led the outrage, seems unaware the RAF defends the whole of Irish airspace, north and south, in an understanding with the Irish government revealed after 9/11. So an RAF career is ideal for any Irish patriot. Sinn Féin senator Niall O Donnghaile also stepped into the fray, tweeting: “Is this a joke? Surely this is a joke???” In 2011, while he was mayor of Belfast, O Donnghaile became a bit of a joke himself after refusing to present a Duke of Edinburgh award to a female army cadet. All he needs to do now is freak out at a girl in a Sea Cadets uniform and he has the set.

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Unionists have freaked out about young children in paramilitary uniforms at a Lurgan dissident republican parade, with several representatives referring the incident to children’s commissioner Koulla Yiasouma. She has said she will ask the PSNI for assurances on child welfare but has had to point out the parade was legal. The role Yiasouma is increasingly being expected to fill here would correctly be described as ‘Parenting Ombudsman’, which is to some extent the opposite of her remit. However, as there is virtually nothing to do within her remit, she might still like to take the work on.

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Amnesty International has launched a UK-wide campaign against repeal of the Human Rights Act, mainly on the grounds that it “threatens the Good Friday Agreement.” The methodology behind this claim is truly remarkable. A national poll was commissioned in which 74 per cent of respondents “who expressed a view” said they were unaware the Act was part of the Agreement. These people were asked a further leading question about whether they were worried the agreement might need to be redrafted, with 49 per cent “who expressed a view” saying yes. Amnesty then presented this as “1 in 2 people in UK worried by prospect of peace agreement having to be redrafted”. No actual threat to peace was cited and no wonder, as the Agreement only requires the Act to be incorporated into Northern Ireland Law, which is under no threat whatsoever. The irresponsibility of implying otherwise never seems to occur to the rights sector.

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After some political confusion, Sinn Féin infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard is pressing on the Yorkgate junction upgrade. Its design has been greatly improved through public consultation, with separate bus and cycle lanes added in both directions - except at one point, where cyclists will emerge behind buses straight onto the turn-off for a sliproad, with no chance for drivers to spot them. A civil service inspector noted this in consultation but nothing can be done, according to the Bikefast blog, because the sliproad ends just off the junction plan’s map. Officials might like to consider how they will sound repeating this at an inquest.

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With a new world bogeyman in the shape of Donald Trump, the race is on in Northern Ireland to cast comparative aspersions. Some have likened the president’s social policies to those of the DUP, while others have noted his trade policies match Sinn Féin’s. But there is only one precise match at Stormont for Trump’s odd mix of opposing abortion while supporting gay marriage - and that, delightfully, is the SDLP. Perhaps he and Colum Eastwood would have plenty to talk about at the White House after all.

newton@irishnews.com

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