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This week in 1977 | From the Observer archive

A particularly brutal week in Ulster

Because the Ulster crisis is so intransigent, we often fail to see the wood for the trees. But there is one sharp, uncomfortable and tragic fact that no citizen of the United Kingdom or the Irish Republic should forget. It is that what began, more than eight years ago now, as a campaign to achieve fuller civil rights in Northern Ireland has culminated in the loss of the greatest civil right of all – the right to freedom from murder.

We must not allow our capacity for human horror and pity to be calloused. The past week has been particularly horrible. It is possible to produce statistics to show that violence is not so bad as in previous years, but the facts are nastier than the statistics:

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Published on 18 March 2018 | 6:05 am

A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot review - corruption and violence in Free Derry

Northern Ireland’s Troubles are still far from over as Sinead O’Shea’s film gets to grips with the trauma and bitterness surrounding ‘punishment shootings’

“This is my favourite weapon – it’s a hatchet. You can use it to disintegrate the head,” says 12-year-old Kevin Barry O’Donnell in the opening scene of Sinead O’Shea’s sobering documentary. As it turns out, wee Kevin Barry also knows his way around a crowbar, and a saw (“this is my torture weapon – I can cut someone’s finger off if they annoy me”), gleefully parading his collection of deadly weapons like a prized box of toys. The camera cuts on his smile.

Related: I found out what happened when a mother took her son to be kneecapped in Northern Ireland | Sinéad O’Shea

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Published on 17 March 2018 | 4:40 pm

Irish border remains a Brexit hurdle, say EU sources

Progress to a transition deal contingent on solution to hard border issue

The UK cannot get a legally watertight transition deal until it resolves the status of the Irish border as part of a wider divorce settlement with the EU, sources have said, as Brexit talks move into an intense phase.

Senior UK and EU officials are due to meet this weekend in Brussels, ahead of an EU27 Brexit summit on Friday, when Theresa May hopes to bag the transition deal that British business demands.

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Published on 16 March 2018 | 10:06 pm

This DUP-Tory pact will fall apart – but we’ll have to live with its toxic legacy | Mary Lou McDonald

The Good Friday agreement belongs to the people of Ireland, and Tory Brexiteer talk of shredding it is utter madness

• Mary Lou McDonald TD is leader of Sinn Féin

Modern history is punctuated with significant dates marking the changed relationship between Ireland and Britain. The Easter Rising of 1916; the advent of the civil rights campaigns in 1968; the hunger strikes of 1981; and the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998. We can now add to those dates the Brexit referendum of 2016. In the words of WB Yeats, all has changed, and changed utterly.

This vote has placed the progress made since 1998 in jeopardy. The vote of the people of the north of Ireland to remain in the European Union has been ignored. The Irish government, as joint co-equal guarantor of the agreement, has been sidelined.

Related: The Good Friday agreement is under attack. Can we really risk ditching it? | Ian Jack

The DUP is acting against our will and our interests in pursuit of a narrow party-political objective

Related: I’ve walked the Irish border – Brexiters are trampling on fragile territory | Garrett Carr

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Published on 16 March 2018 | 2:59 pm

EU diplomats tell May to back down over post-Brexit Irish border

Downing Street told it must rethink prospect of Northern Ireland staying in customs union

Downing Street’s stance on the Irish border is under severe pressure with EU diplomats telling Theresa May she must back down over Northern Ireland’s place in the customs union and MPs warning that hopes of a technological solution to a hard border are unrealistic.

Ahead of three days of talks on the issue this weekend, EU officials said the British government would have to reconsider the possibility of Northern Ireland effectively staying in the customs union and single market, a position it has previously rejected.

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Published on 16 March 2018 | 11:08 am

London tourism flatlined in 2017 due to terror fears, rail issues and cost

Northern Ireland and Scotland saw big increases, according to figures from Association of Leading Visitor Attractions

Rail problems, fears of terrorism, and the high cost of getting to and eating in London have contributed to a “flatlining” of tourism in the capital last year.

But the newly released figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva) also show big tourism increases in Northern Ireland, and Scotland in particular.

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Published on 16 March 2018 | 12:01 am

Wizard’s Wilson beats Rover’s Alf | Brief letters

Comic book superstars | Gillingham | Happiest countries | Monarch mnemonics | Belfast weather

Rob Canon’s assertion (Letters, 14 March) that Alf Tupper of the Rover had “the odd fag” is wrong. Alf never smoked. Furthermore, John O Machin’s point (Letters, 13 March) that Alf was the first to do the four-minute mile is also wrong because William Wilson of the Wizard ran the mile in exactly three minutes in 1943, running four metronomic laps of 45 seconds. In the amended repeat of The Truth About Wilson in 1949, Wilson’s time was changed to 3:48, presumably to make the time more realistic, but still impossible to achieve. However, Seb Coe beat it in 1981, and El Guerrouj ran 3.43 in 1999.
Derek Marsden
Maghull, Merseyside

• The residents of Gillingham might have something to say about being referred to as villagers (Villagers told to stay indoors during search, 15 March [print headline only]. Gillingham has been a town since the late 18th century with small industries, a former cattle market and, most importantly, a railway station on the Waterloo to Exeter line which still serves this corner of north Dorset. The population has grown significantly in recent years and the town now even boasts a Waitrose. How many villages have those?
Jane Mathieson
Stockport, Greater Manchester

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Published on 15 March 2018 | 4:40 pm

UK defends secrecy deals for firms involved in border consultations

Non-disclosure agreements reportedly signed in planning stage for post-Brexit border

The government has defended asking businesses to sign secrecy agreements in private discussions about the UK’s future border arrangements with the EU, which reportedly include laying out scenarios for a no-deal Brexit.

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are reported to have been signed with logistics companies and industry bodies who have been part of a consultation on the future UK border, according to Sky News.

If you have any experience of being a Freemason we'd like to hear from you.

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Published on 15 March 2018 | 2:09 pm

I found out what happened when a mother took her son to be kneecapped in Northern Ireland | Sinéad O’Shea

Paramilitary punishment shootings and beatings are rising. But, as with the Brexit border issue, the UK doesn’t seem to care

A report this week by the Guardian revealed police figures showing that paramilitary punishment shootings and beatings have risen in Northern Ireland by 60% in the last four years. One shocking detail of the report that was barely remarked upon was that some parents, turning to paramilitaries for policing, have been voluntarily taking their own children to the gunmen to be punished, drugging them up with alcohol or painkillers first.

This is a horrifying development, and yet, in common with much else to do with Northern Ireland, it has barely registered as an issue within the rest of the UK.

Related: 'He fired at my legs': Northern Irish 'punishment' victim still living in fear

Some of the people I met during the making of my film are just waiting for an excuse to return to the Troubles

Related: Northern Ireland 'punishment' attacks rise 60% in four years

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Published on 15 March 2018 | 12:25 pm

Brexit threatens Good Friday agreement, Irish PM warns

At US event, Leo Varadkar says Brexit could ‘drive a wedge’ between Britain and Ireland, adding he has no hidden agenda

Ireland’s prime minister has warned that Brexit threatens the Good Friday agreement and could “drive a wedge” between Britain and Ireland.

Leo Varadkar also sought to reassure unionists, who fear that his government is using the moment to push for a united Ireland, that he does not have “a hidden agenda”.

Ireland’s taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has been much more sceptical than the UK about the potential for avoiding border posts via virtual checks on importers. Whilst agreeing with British ministers and EU negotiators that it is inconceivable for there to be a return to a hard border with the north, Dublin argues that the best way for the UK to achieve this would be by permanently remaining in a customs union with the EU and seeking single market membership like Norway through the European Economic Area. The UK has conceded that some of this will be necessary in its interim phase after Brexit, but hopes clever technological solutions can allow it have looser economic links in the long run. Varadkar is not alone in being sceptical about whether such a cake-and-eat-it customs and trade strategy is viable.

Related: I’ve walked the Irish border – Brexiters are trampling on fragile territory | Garrett Carr

Related: Can Theresa May set out a viable Brexit vision? If not Labour is ready | Keir Starmer

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Published on 14 March 2018 | 12:38 pm

Give us Brexit clarity or risk constant talks, Juncker tells May

PM’s ‘wishes’ must be turned into a concrete blueprint, European commission head tells MEPs

The European commission president has warned Theresa May that Brussels urgently needs her “broad suggestions” on the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU to be turned into workable solutions.

Jean-Claude Juncker used a speech in the European parliament to appeal for May’s “wishes”, sketched out in her Mansion House speech on 2 March, to be turned into an achievable blueprint and reiterated that the EU will stand by its “backstop” plan to keep Northern Ireland under EU law to avoid a hard border with the Irish Republic.

Related: How Brexit looms over the Irish border: 'It's the Berlin Wall approaching us'

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Published on 13 March 2018 | 5:32 pm

'He fired at my legs': Northern Irish 'punishment' victim still living in fear

‘Rob’ says he was attacked after joining protests over the killing of a boxer by dissident republicans

Rob can still remember the burning sensation that coursed through his legs as the gunman fired four bullets into his limbs.

“It might have been eight years ago but I still can remember every second of it,” says Rob (not his real name), as he stands near Derry’s 17th-century walls and the museum dedicated to the Troubles.

Related: Northern Ireland 'punishment' attacks rise 60% in four years

The cops know who is doing what but don’t seem interested in stopping them

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Published on 12 March 2018 | 11:23 am

Northern Ireland 'punishment' attacks rise 60% in four years

Exclusive: police recorded 101 shootings and beatings by paramilitary groups last year

• He fired at my legs: ‘punishment’ attack victim still living in fear

Paramilitary-style “punishment” shootings and beatings have surged again across Northern Ireland, with a 60% increase in such attacks over the past four years, according to the latest police figures obtained by the Guardian.

News of the rise in dissident republican and Ulster loyalist assaults on people within their respective communities came as the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland revealed that some victims’ parents were drugging and getting their loved ones drunk before they were beaten or shot to offset the pain.

This is child abuse of a kind comparable to the actions of paedophiles

Related: 'He fired at my legs': Irish 'punishment' attack victim still living in fear

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Published on 12 March 2018 | 10:29 am

Abortion rights in Ireland, north and south of the border | Letters

Readers respond to Suzanne Moore’s piece about the ongoing fight for the right to legal abortion

Irish women have been travelling to Britain for abortions for decades. In 1975, when I was a young English woman working as a union officer in Dublin, a desperate male friend asked how his wife’s 15-year-old sister could get an abortion (We must never stop fighting for the right to legal abortion, 8 March). Without knowledge of or access to contraception, her first sexual foray had left her pregnant. As a Brit, it was assumed I knew how to use my own country’s still new abortion law.

I scrabbled to find information about the Liverpool clinic; girl and mother took the boat and the deed was done. Anxious to prevent a repeat, the clinic provided a priest to reassure the girl she wasn’t eternally damned, plus contraceptive advice and a supply of pills, which she hid in her knicker drawer. Her mother found the pills and threw them away. Fifteen months on, the girl was pregnant again – and married.

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Published on 8 March 2018 | 6:31 pm

Northern Ireland gets £410m budget boost from DUP-Tory deal

Westminster government’s budget includes £200m for infrastructure projects and £30m for mental health

More than £400m of the £1bn the Democratic Unionist party extracted from the Conservatives to prop up Theresa May’s government has been added to a new budget for Northern Ireland.

Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, set out on Thursday the areas in which the extra cash from the confidence and supply arrangement will be spent.

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Published on 8 March 2018 | 6:16 pm

EU chiefs acting like gang leaders over Brexit threats, says Liam Fox

Trade secretary and DUP’s Arlene Foster criticise European leaders for plans to ‘punish’ UK

EU chiefs have been compared by Liam Fox and Arlene Foster to gang leaders who are “throwing threats of violence around” to get what they want on Brexit.

During a charged series of speeches to the British Chambers of Commerce, Fox, the UK international trade secretary, and Foster, the Democratic Unionist party [DUP] leader, attacked the EU’s hardening stance on both trade and the Irish border.

Related: Arlene Foster: Brexit brinkmanship rooted in a border childhood

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Published on 8 March 2018 | 4:18 pm

How many murders can a police informer get away with?

Last year Northern Irish paramilitary Gary Haggarty pleaded guilty to hundreds of violent crimes, including many killings – while working for the British state. By Ian Cobain

One day earlier this year, two prison officers led a portly, middle-aged man into court and instructed him to sit in the dock. He was wearing an ill-fitting grey suit and a grey tie; his hair was grey, and so too were his handcuffs. The only flash of colour came from his florid and slightly sagging face. In the public gallery, 10 feet behind the dock, a handful of people sat and stared at the back of the man’s red neck. Outside, 30 armed police officers were standing guard.

In the dock, Gary Haggarty sat and listened for almost an hour and a half as the judge explained the sentence he was about to receive, for offences to which he had already pleaded guilty. It took so long because there were so many crimes to be considered: 201 of them, in fact.

Related: Former UVF commander turned informer admits to 200 terrorist offences

Related: How Britain did Gaddafi’s dirty work

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Published on 8 March 2018 | 6:00 am

MPs from all sides call for abortion law in N Ireland to be relaxed

Letter follows UN declaration that forcing women in Northern Ireland to travel to England is human rights infringement

More than 100 MPs and peers from all parties have written to the home secretary, Amber Rudd, calling for women in Northern Ireland to be allowed access to abortion services locally rather than having to come to England.

The letter, signed by 131 parliamentarians including eight Conservatives such as the former education secretary Justine Greening and the former chancellor Ken Clarke, the former Liberal leader David Steel and the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, follows a UN declaration that forcing women to travel for an abortion is an infringement of their human rights.

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Published on 7 March 2018 | 5:55 pm

Technology cannot make post-Brexit Irish border frictionless, says academic

Analysis of various Brexit outcomes concludes some check and stops will be necessary

Technology cannot make the Irish border completely frictionless after Brexit, a leading academic in Belfast has said.

Katy Hayward analysed every possible Brexit scenario for Northern Ireland and found that some checks and stops will be needed on the border after the UK leaves the EU.

Related: Irish prime minister dismisses Theresa May's border idea

We do like slides here at team @MichelBarnier ... and these seem well done https://t.co/v8pJHTbFHL

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Published on 7 March 2018 | 2:34 pm

BBC film about IRA funeral murders to air in March

Exclusive: The Funeral Murders will focus on atrocity at Milltown cemetery and the revenge attack

Unheard testimony from the families of victims of an attack on an IRA funeral by the loyalist paramilitary member Michael Stone and of a revenge attack at a subsequent funeral that killed two British corporals is to be revealed in a BBC documentary to mark the 30th anniversary of the atrocities.

The Funeral Murders features accounts from family members of the three men killed by Stone at the first funeral – Kevin Brady, Thomas McErlean and John Murray – who the BBC said have not spoken to the media until now about the day their relatives were murdered.

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Published on 7 March 2018 | 12:01 am

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