Atheist Irelandhas written to the Minister for Education and the Comptroller and Auditor General about the misuse of public funds for in-service training of religion teachers in conjunction with Roman Catholic Diocesan Advisers. This is the letter that we have sent to the Minister.

We also attach a letter from the then Minister for Education in 2001 which acknowledges that it is not possible to have Diocesan Advisors at inservice courses for Junior Certificate Religious Education and that funding for local inservice by Diocesan Advisors is not possible.

Dear Minister Foley,

We are seeking information on the amount of State funds used over the years for in-service between the Religious Education Support Service, the PDST and the Catholic Church. We believe that this is a misuse of public funds. It is also an endowment of religion forbidden by Article 44.2.2 of the Constitution and religious discrimination under Article 44.2.3. We are also making a formal complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General in relation to the misuse of public funds.

The Information Commissioner has recently ruled in favour of Mr. John Hamill of the Freethought Prophet podcast and blog that the Department of Education was not justified in refusing access to certain records relating to the PDST on the grounds that they are not held by the Department or do not exist or cannot be found.

The PDST are jointly presenting at in-service for curriculum Religious Education teachers alongside Catholic Diocesan Advisers. The curriculum Religion Teachers who attend these in-service days are from schools under Catholic patronage as well as ETB schools and colleges including non designated Community Colleges. As far as we are aware the PDST do not present or attend any other in-service days with other religions or beliefs.

Curriculum Religious Education is a core subject in the vast majority of schools. Parents and students are coerced into the course on the basis that it is not religious instruction but religious education despite the fact that the Supreme Court has found that the rights of parents in relation to the Religious and moral education of their children under Article 42.1 must be read in conjunction with Article 44.2.4, the right to not attend religious instruction (Justice Barrington, Campaign case 1998).

Diocesan Advisers are employees of local Catholic dioceses whose concern is the catechetical programme in post primary schools. Their primary role is to ensure that the provisions for teaching religious instruction and formation are upheld, particularly in terms of content and in terms of timetabling allocations. Diocesan Advisers organise an annual in-service for the religious education teachers of a diocese.

This gathering introduces teachers to leading speakers in the catechetics of faith development. Diocesan Advisers also organise other less formal in-services which are arranged on a local (school cluster) basis. See “The Role of the Diocesan Advisor for Post-Primary Religious Education” published by the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference in 2004. See press release.

A recent article in the Sunday Times and Irish Examiner has focused on the fact that a curriculum Religious Education teacher was given an anti abortion video as a resource for curriculum RE during in-service between the Catholic Church and the PDST.

When curriculum Religious Education was introduced it was made clear by the then Minster, Michael Woods, to Fr. Donal O’Neill, Chairperson of the National Association of Post Primary Diocesan Advisers co-ordinators that it was not possible to have Diocesan Advisers present at in-service courses for Junior Certificate Religious education and why funding for local in-service by Diocesan Advisers was not possible. We attach below this letter from 2001.

We are also providing a link to an article by Mr. John Hamill of the Freethought Prophet podcast and blog, who has been trying for years to get information on these particular in-service courses. This article refers to comments by Noel Farrell, an Assistant Principal Officer within the Department of Education and Skills (DoES) who has described the position of the PDST at these events as providing curriculum and pedagogical expertise. He stated that there were no documents in relation to reports or payments because these were not PDST events.

The PDST was established in 2010 and is funded by the Teacher Education Section of the Department of Education and is managed by Dublin West Education Centre. The attendance of the PDST at any in-service events organised by the Diocesan Advisers uses state resources because the staff are paid by the State and there are also transport cost involved. In addition curriculum RE teachers are paid by the state to attend in-service for Catholic faith formation and instruction.

The Department of Education are aware that PDST staff who are funded by the Department are providing curriculum and pedagogical expertise for curriculum Religious Education teachers at events organised by Catholic Diocesan Advisers for a Catholic catechetical programme in post primary schools whose primary role is to ensure that the provisions for teaching Catholic religious instruction and formation are upheld.

These events between the publicly funded PDST and the Catholic Church undermine the constitutional right of parents in relation to the religious and moral education of their children. It uses state funding to legitimise the integration of catholic faith formation (The Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic students) in curriculum Religious Education in a course that the Department claims is for all religions and none and where most schools and teachers inform parents that it is suitable for all religions and none.

Atheist Ireland’s recent Legal Opinion found that integrating faith formation into curriculum religion without the possibility of opting out was an attack on the rights of parents and the right to freedom of religion and belief. Your Department funds in-service for curriculum Religion teachers to integrate Catholic faith formation into the subject.

We look forward to hearing from you.

 ⏩Atheist Ireland ➖ Promoting Atheism, Reason And An Ethical Secular State.

The Department Of Education Misuses Public Funds For In-Service Training Of Religion Teachers

Lynx By Ten To The Power Of Sixty Eight

National Secular Society An inquiry's report has highlighted the barriers which regulators face in dealing with child abuse in religious charities. Megan Manson says this should prompt reforms – including in how charity law deals with religion.

Megan Manson

Religions have a privileged place in charity law. 'The advancement of religion' is a recognised charitable purpose under the Charities Act 2011, which means an organisation can effortlessly become a registered charity by virtue of promoting religion.

As a result, an immense number of religious organisations are registered charities. There are approximately 34,000 faith-based organisations registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales – about 20% of all charities.

These figures were included in the Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)'s recent report on child protection in religious organisations and settings. It's not surprising that so many faith groups take advantage of their privileged status in charity law. Becoming a registered charity endows significant tax benefits, including the potential to claim Gift Aid.

Many would expect that an organisation given generous tax exemptions would be robustly regulated to ensure it adheres to the highest professional standards – including, of course, safeguarding the welfare of children.  

Continue reading @ National Secular Society.

Why Can’t Charity Regulators Tackle Child Abuse In Faith Groups?

Right Wing Watch ✒ Lauren Boebert Says Government Should Be Run by ‘Righteous Men and Women of God.’
 Kyle Mantyla

Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado spoke Saturday at a conference held by the Truth & Liberty Coalition, a religious-right political organization founded by right-wing pastor Andrew Wommack.

Addressing a crowd of conservative Christian activists gathered in the auditorium at Wommack’s Charis Bible College, Boebert called on the audience to put faith into action by calling on God to remove ungodly leaders in Washington, D.C., and replace them with “righteous men and women of God” who realize that the government should be taking orders from the church.

“When we see Biden address the nation and the world and show more contempt and aggravation and aggression towards unvaccinated Americans than he does terrorists, we have a problem,” Boebert said. “And that’s why I have articles of impeachment to impeach Joe Biden, Kamala Harris.”

“We cannot take another 18 months, we cannot take another three years of this poor, failed leadership,” she continued. “We are sons and daughters of revolutionaries. They went to battle for a lot less.  

Continue reading @ Right Wing Watch.

Evangeliban Should Run America


A Morning Thought @ 1194

Christy Walsh looks at the British Amnesty controversy.

Rex non potest dare gratiam cum injurid et damno aliorum

The King cannot confer a favour on one subject which occasions injury and loss to others.


This article makes no judgment on whether, or not, any former combatants warrant prosecution for unlawful killing’s that they may have committed during the Conflict.  

It is, however, intended to provide more information than is commonly available to remove the current confusion and misconceptions over the function and remit of an amnesty.

Pardons, clemency and amnesties mean the same thing; where the latter is the collective or composite term used when applied to a large class of people such as insurgents or political agitators[1]. Pardons can be implemented in various individual arrangements, such as conditional, free, full, posthumous or pre-charge pardons and they can all be applied collectively as an amnesty.

Amnesty: A sovereign act of pardon and oblivion for past acts, granted by a government to all persons (or to certain persons) who have been guilty of crime or delict, generally political offenses,—treason, sedition, rebellion,—and often conditioned upon their return to obedience and duty within a prescribed time.[2]

Full pardons bring an end to a criminal penalty or void any sentence passed at the end of a trial; also, the pardoned person might even be compensated for any time spent in jail: “however, [it] does not erase the conviction nor imply innocence.” [3] In other words, pardons only negate the penalty but not the actual validity of the conviction. On that basis, there is no precedent of a pardon being granted to prevent investigations or judicial process where prima facie evidence of guilt exists. Whereas, conditional pardons involve an alteration of the original sentence. The terms ‘commutation’ and ‘remission’ are forms of conditional pardons where their objective is to remit, reprieve or otherwise reduce the severity of a sentence. For example, on 27th April 1948, the Lord Chancellor announced that “prisoners who are serving sentences of penal servitude for the part they took in the I.R.A. outrages in 1939 and 1940” were to be released “earlier than in the ordinary course”. [4] The early release scheme under the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 are a good example of a statutory amnesty for the early release of paramilitary prisoners.[5]

Leslie Sebba, at the Institute of Criminology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem asserts that an:

amnesty was an event of considerable social impact. Moreover, the elation generated among the offending population companied by a concomitant degree of concern on the part of the public in general and the police in particular.[6] 

It was for these reasons that the UK Government was extremely uncomfortable during the Northern Ireland peace talks in the 1990s when it came to prisoner releases. The use of the word amnesty was, for many, a trigger word particularly among those who had been victims of non-state actors to the conflict;as is now evident among the families of those murdered by state actors.

Pardons or amnesties are intended to relieve offenders from a criminal penalty where their otherwise unlawful conduct attracted the penalty or is likely to do so. The Queen’s Pardon is said to forgive and forget an offence committed against the Crown on the undertaking that it will not be repeated. The current proposed statutory amnesty is intended to relieve former British Soldiers from criminal punishments for any murders they may have committed during the conflict. 

However, the amnesty presently being considered is being viewed as a means of preventing any further prosecutions against former British Soldiers from commencing in the first place. A pre-trial pardon or amnesty cannot, in itself, prevent prosecutions where the test for prosecution has been met. While Parliament has the power to enact statutory amnesties, such acts must be compatible with international human rights law and any other relevant international agreements and treaties.

Pre-Charge and Pre-Conviction Pardons

A pardon may be granted any time after the commission of an offence and before judicial proceedings have been undertaken or during their pendency.[7] “A pardon is valid even if the one pardoned has not been indicted or convicted.”[8] However, the grant of a pre-conviction pardon does not have the authority to upset or prevent ongoing legal proceedings because of "the constitutional doctrine that the sovereign cannot exercise judicial power except through her courts.”[9] In other words, a pardon can be granted as a surety against any resulting penalty but cannot prevent the actual trial from proceeding to the normal conviction and sentencing stages: “If granted before conviction, it prevents any of the penalties and disabilities consequent from conviction from attaching.”[10] A pre-conviction pardon cannot prevent the Court from performing its function, but any subsequent conviction would be in name only, because the pardon: "operates as an extinguishment of the penalty inflicted by the judgment of conviction, and all its attending circumstances.”[11] The Court would have to consider if continuing with a prosecution and trial without punishment served the public interest. Unfortunately, because the purpose of the amnesty is in the best interests of former state-actors, the Courts would have to take into consideration Government policy intention to ride roughshod over individual victims’ rights. However, the Court would have to take into account how compelling the evidence against the accused was and if it was against the interests of the public to discontinue legal proceedings.

It is worth comparing the South African model for amnesty and truth recovery. Boris Johnson’s suggested amnesty is primarily focused upon ending all prosecutions of former British Soldiers who may have committed murder and war crimes during the Conflict. In South Africa, a combatant could obtain immunity from prosecution if they revealed and discussed their unlawful acts as part of the healing and truth recovery process. Whereas, Johnson’s model potentially shuts down any further truth recovery in disregard of the interests of victims rights.

Note: Amnesty and immunity can be mistakenly interpreted as meaning the same thing; In the context of this article it is to be understood that pardons relieve a person from a penalty post-conviction and not from being prosecuted per say, whereas, immunity from prosecution allows a person to impart their role in an unlawful killing without fear of being prosecuted.

Beneficiaries of the Proposed Amnesty

Those to whom the proposed amnesty is intended would have to identify themselves to avail of the amnesty. For example, after the Rebellion of the United Irishmen in 1798, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Cornwallis, issued a proclamation on 22nd September 1799 “requiring every person in County Galway who had been engaged in the late rebellion to apply for pardon under the Act of Amnesty.” [12] Whereas, any new amnesty introduced today would lay in abeyance until someone indicated that they wished to avail of it; “Like any other deed, a pardon must be brought judicially before the court by plea, motion or otherwise.”[13] This might only occur once a prosecution has been initiated against someone or they are aware that one is imminent. To comply with modern equality laws, the amnesty would have to include former Loyalists and Republican paramilitaries and not just the intended target of former members of the British Army suspected of committing murder or war crimes.

It would be a matter for the prosecution service or the Court to decide if continuing with a prosecution would be in the public interest. The amnesty itself is unlikely to have the legal or constitutional power to enforce the discontinuance of investigations or prosecutions; though the fact that, ultimately, no penalty can be enforced might itself be persuasive enough for discontinuation of all legacy related prosecutions on the grounds of costs and in the public interest. A prosecution is not evidence of guilt so an innocent British Soldier could potentially seek to rely upon the availability of the amnesty simply to avoid the understandable distress of being prosecuted in error.

However, if the prosecution were to continue in the public interest a successful conviction might be seen as just satisfaction enough. Although the convicted person might not spend a day in jail they would forever stand convicted of murder and must disclose that fact when officially obliged to do so. A pardon "does not obliterate the fact of the commission of the crime [and] it does not wash out the moral stain;” rather, it involves a desire for “forgiveness and not forgetfulness".[14]

In light of the proposed amnesty, both the Court and Prosecution would have to consider, in advance, if it is in the public interest to proceed to trial in such cases. It would be for that technical reason why prosecutions might not be pursued and not because an amnesty has any legal or constitutional authority to stop prosecutions or investigations; “A pardon, while it absolves the offender, does not touch the rights of others.”[15] In addition, any proposed amnesty cannot, in any way, limit or prevent, citizens from pursuing civil actions.
30th March 1972 Statutory Amnesty

The first codification of pardons was introduced by King Charles II through the enactment of An Act of Free and General Pardon Indemnity and Oblivion [1660]. The Act was to bring to an end the English Civil War and as a commitment from the King that he would not seek revenge against the Rebels. In return, the Rebels would recognise Charles II as the lawful king and all standing armies would be re-commissioned into service under the crown. The pardons were intended to be complete, in that all offences and punishments were null and void, including the Rebels involved in beheading his father King Charles I. Lands and other property were to be returned.[16]

British troops arrived in Northern Ireland on 14 August 1969, at the request of the then Prime Minister, James Chichester-Clark, while the Battle of the Bogside was raging in Derry. Internment was then introduced on 9th August 1971 by a new Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner. Countless Internees suffered serious physical injuries during their arrests[17] that eventually lead to the Irish Government taking the UK to the European Court of Human Rights for torture and other physical abuses.[18] Regarding the brutality meted out during interrogations, in his Report, Lord Parker concluded as follows:

The blame for this sorry story, if blame there be, must lie with those who, many years ago, decided that in emergency conditions in Colonial-type situations we should abandon our legal, well-tried and highly successful wartime interrogation methods and replace them by procedures which were secret, illegal, not morally justifiable and alien to the traditions of what I believe still to be the greatest democracy in the world.[19]

John Hume and others challenged Brian Faulkner’s authority to introduce Internment and order the British Army to carry his orders out. On 29th March 1972, the Court concluded that section 4(1) of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 limited the Northern Ireland Stormont Government’s powers to introduce new laws or regulations “under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922 which purported to confer powers on officers and members of Her Majesty's forces on duty.”[20] In other words, Mr Faulkner had no authority to give commands to members of Her Majesty's forces in the “navy, the army, the air force, the territorial army, or any other naval, military, or air force”[21]. In other words, he treated the British Army as Stormont's standing army and the Army took orders from him as if they served Stormont and not the Crown.

The Court concluded that all orders and commands given to Her Majesty’s forces by Faulkner “relating to military matters which had been created by legislation by or under the Parliament of Northern Ireland was void and of no effect.” This effectively derives from the 1660 Act of Oblivion that there should be no standing armies other than those under the command and service of the sovereign. Sir William Searle Holdsworth observes that Parliament has never consented to the raising, or keeping, of a standing army since 1660 and the introduction of the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement.[22] This means that, while acting under authority of Faulkner, every interaction between the Army and civilian population, if even a 5minute stop at the side of the road, was unlawful.

Within 24 hours, on 30th March 1972, in response to the Court’s judgment in Hume and Others, Parliament introduced a statutory amnesty under the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972, wherein, no British soldier would stand trial for any unlawful act committed under the direction of Stormont and the NI Prime Minister. Section 6(1)(b)[23] asserted that all unlawful laws, regulations or orders issued by the NI Government or its Minister are to, retrospectively, be treated as “references to the Secretary of State or any person appointed by him to discharge the relevant functions.” The legislation created a new Northern Ireland Office (NIO), supervised by a new Secretary of State, Mr William Whitelaw.[24] Section 6(2) of the Act retrospectively legalised all unlawful acts committed by the Army: “This Act shall not invalidate anything done before it comes into force."

In effect The Temporary Provisions Act served as a statutory amnesty to all members of the British Army for their part in the widespread unlawful detentions, arrests, house searches, imprisonments, beatings and/or shootings that they had carried out in pursuance of Stormont's orders. Hence, any British soldier who might have ordinarily been prosecuted for his crimes had, within 24 hours, been speedily pardoned in advance of any charges. Under both common law and Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the law can not make unlawful arrests and imprisonments without trial, retrospectively lawful.

Although members of the British Army had been granted immunity from their criminal liability, no remedy was provided for those unlawfully detained, mistreated, imprisoned and even murdered by the British Army between 9th August 1971 and 29th March 1972.


The proposed introduction of another statutory amnesty to shield former members of the security forces from accountability for crimes committed during the course of the NI Conflict ought not to escape the scrutiny that the 30th March 1972 statutory amnesty did. The 1972 statutory amnesty was introduced at a time when lawyers and the public were not as aware of human and civil rights as they are today.

There is no precedent in UK law where a pardon relieved a suspect from scrutiny; pardons only relieve the guilty from any subsequent penalty for their criminal conduct and not an investigation. If prosecutions are not pursued where there is prima facie evidence of guilt, it would be because it was considered contrary to the public interest in cases where a penalty cannot be implemented or enforced on account of the proposed pardons. Taking a lesson from South Africa, immunity from prosecution was available where Combatant’s were prepared to give a full and open account of any unlawful killings they may have been involved in.

Finally, any valid grounds for civil action against British Soldiers would remain unscathed by any amnesty because citizens’ rights cannot be forfeited or negated on foot of any pardon or amnesty.

(1) In 1848 the UK Parliament debated extending pardons to include 3 Canadian political agitators who had been not been pardoned along with others, see Pardon of Political Offenders, HC Deb 06 April 1848 vol 97 cc1369-90

(2) Black's Law Dictionary Containing Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern, 2nd Edition, West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota, 1910, at page 66:

(3) The Queens Pardon, C.H. Rolph, Cassell and Collier Ltd, 1978, pp.35-36

(4) Written Answers, 27th April 1948, Volume 155. 

[5] Daniel F. Mulvihill, "The Legality of the Pardoning of Paramilitaries under the Early Release Provisions of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement," Cornell International Law Journal, Volume 34, Issue 1 2001, Article 6, at page 241.

[6] Leslie Sebba, "Amnesty—A Quasi-Experiment", The British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 19, No. 1 (January 1979), pp. 5-30, at p.6.

[7] W W Thornton, 'Pardon and Amnesty' (1885) 6 The Criminal Law Magazine 457, at 471

[8] Pardon and Amnesty, The Criminal Law Magazine, Vol. VI. July 1885. No. 4. pp.457-500, p.485

See also, Ex parte Garland, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 333 (1867), p.380. And, n50,p.3.

[9] R (On the Application of Michael Shields) v Secretary of State for Justice [2008] EWHC 3102 (Admin), para.22.

[10] ibid, p.2.

[11] W W Thornton, 'Pardon and Amnesty' (1885) 6 The Criminal Law Magazine 457, at 486.

[12] James G. Patterson, "Republicanism, Agrarianism and Banditry in the West of Ireland, 1798-1803", Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 35, No. 137 (May 2006), pp. 17-39, at page 33.

[13] W W Thornton, 'Pardon and Amnesty' (1885) 6 The Criminal Law Magazine 457, at 493.

[14] F. Gregory Murphy v. Gerald R. Ford, as President of the United States, 390 F.Supp. 1372 (1975), p.3 citing Page v. Watson, 140 Fla. 536, 192 So. 205, p.208.

[15] W W Thornton, 'Pardon and Amnesty' (1885) 6 The Criminal Law Magazine 457, at 358.

[16] ibid, at Section II. "Abettors of such Treasons and other Crimes pardoned and restored to their Lands."

[17] Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors Appointed to consider authorised procedures for the interrogation of persons suspected of terrorism, Chairman: Lord Parker of Waddington, March 1972. 

[18] Ireland V United Kingdom (1979-80) 2 EHRR 25.

[19] Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors appointed to consider authorised procedures for the interrogation of persons suspected of terrorism, Chairman: Lord Parker of Waddington, March 1972. 

[20] Regina (Hume and Others) V Londonderry Justices [1972] NI 91 QBD, at the conclusion.

[21] ibid.

[22] W. Holdsworth, A History of English Law, 3rd Edition, 1922-1923, London, Volume 6, p.241.

[23] The Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972.

[24] University of Ulster: CAIN Web Service - Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland; Chronology.

⏩ Christy Walsh was stitched up by the British Ministry of Defence and spent many years in prison as a result.

Amnesty ➖ A Tonic For The Troops

S.J. Wilson ✒
 Back in 1992, James Carville, who was Special Advisor to Presidential candidate Bill Clinton, (the Americans call them Aids), was tasked with creating the potential strapline slogans for the campaign, and coined the neologism that would become a phrasal template: “It’s the Economy, stupid”.

Now my interpretation that Sir Jeffery Donaldson’s threat to collapse the N Ireland Assembly “it’s not about the Protocol, stupid” will never become a snowclone classic in the Carville genre, but it will hopefully alert the readers to what can be discerned as a DUP response to their slump in opinion poll support from a buoyant 23% to the current 13%, reducing them potentially to the minority or fringe unionist party behind the more civic liberal UUP and harder line (Old Paisley) TUV.

Of course, opinion polls are seldom re-enacted at the ballot box, but two elements rattled the new DUP – third one this year – leader. First, a 10% drop goes way beyond opinion poll inaccuracy, and secondly, it was compounded by mounting anecdotal evidence from the constituencies.

The latter was best illustrated by the fact that South Antrim TUV Constituency Branch could host their annual barbecue in the grounds of Burnside Orange Hall with Jim Allister and Baroness Hoey as “after burger” speakers. Apart from the fact that previously the branch could have been accommodated in a phone box, the Burnside hosts have a reputation for collective high energy and opinion making in the Protestant plebian community. Small wonder Paul Girvan’s mobile was red hot.

The reasons for the decline in DUP popularity are not monocausal. It began with Peter Robinson’s defeat in East Belfast in 2010. Robinson (a pertinent footnote should ask why he has not been elevated to the House of Lords?), endorsed the DUP’s “cunning plan” to recover the prestigious seat. Sufficient to say the plan aimed at discrediting the unionist credentials of the Alliance Party, but incurred the unfortunate corollary of the flag protest that left many young loyalists with a criminal record for protest and disorder. But it worked. Gavin Robinson – he made it very clear he was no relation - recovered the seat. Sometimes in pursuit of real politick Northern Irish style a party can - once in a while - ride the tiger.

The DUP have been in power since 2008. There is a feeling that amongst the unionist demographic that such longevity can fester arrogance and even corruption. The party appeared to be Teflon proof against the allegations of Red Sky and Nama misdoings, but the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal shook it to the core.

Ulster Protestants have always subscribed to the ethics of hard work, fair play and above all, honesty. We can recall how Harold Wilson’s jibe about being “spongers”, effectively empowered the 1974 UWC strike. For years they had thrown stones that Charlie Haughey’s Free State and its brown paper envelopes. Now they had to recognise that their own political establishment was built of glass.

These factors, and the weak style of Foster’s leadership prompted a harkening back to the good old days when the party could claim could to a righteous people, blessed by God and a string of election victories celebrated with a lusty rendition of Psalm 100. For Edwin Poots it was not political opportunity. It was a spiritual calling.

The ensuing leadership battle revealed the deep tactical dichotomy that has rent the DUP asunder. Around the Poots camp are those who believe that their Reformed fundamentalist beliefs should shape their political policies and that they should legislate their brand of morality of everyone.

The Donaldson camp takes a slightly more liberal view: that whilst the majority of these beliefs can be held at personal level, the reality is that the majority of the unionist electorate perceive themselves as “cultural Protestants.” God fearing Ulster has, post-Troubles succumbed to the secularisation paradigm. Indeed, I would argue that the high levels of church attendance/religion practice during the Troubles was not primarily testimony to faith but rather, a form of political expression. (Wilson, 2009).

To the voters who normally support the DUP, this very public schism was accentuated by Donaldson’s initial – howbeit guarded – acceptance of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This gave Jim Allister space to attack it as a major threat to the Union, and for Doug Beattie to construct a protocol pragmatism that explores agreed innovative solutions. This qualified position probably chimes with the bulk of moderate unionist electorate, and puts the UUP in a good position in its contest with Alliance whose Europhilia looks increasingly naïve. (Emerson, 2021). Hell, it will even attract Catholics who are unionist with a small pragmatic “u”!

So, when the opinion polls forecast a DUP disaster, the party backroom boys looked for a tiger with a potential saddle. They found it in constructing a last ditch stand against the Protocol.

Thus, Sir Jeffrey’s speech on the Protocol had as its Primary Target Audience (PTA), not the UK and Irish governments or even the EU negotiators. No, it was unionism, loyalism, the Orange Order, the Loyalist Community Council (which has representation from elements of the paramilitary groupings who refuse to leave the stage), and one emerging key player, the younger loyalist band demographic who have provided the boots on the ground behind a series of anti-protocol protests over the past few months. (Kane, 2021).

With their fundraising parade season over, this demographic is vulnerable to dog whistle politics and radicalisation as was demonstrated a decade ago in the flags protest when they were sacrificed as water cannon fodder. (Glendinning & Wilson, 2014).

Donaldson’s prime mission now is to ride the Protocol tiger, save the DUP and restore it to the top dog position within unionism. His personal views on the Protocol matter less than the need to tap into the unsettled voter bases that have been nudging towards Jim Allister’s TUV; a party which opposes GFA power sharing and is happy to see the collapse of the Assembly as acceptable collateral damage in the campaign to dump the Protocol. (Kane, ibid).

If Donaldson can use the tiger to round up that scattered unionist flock, herd them away from the TUV pen and scare the older more traditional base of the UUP the gamble will have paid off. However, this unsettled voter base has now been exposed to the broader platform of TUV manifesto dogma; total opposition to the Achtna Gaeilge and the refusal to nominate a Deputy First minister should Sinn Fein secure the primary post. Pulling down the Executive is a way for the DUP to avoid taking a more moderate stance on these contentions issues and thus check further TUV bound slippage. (Feeney, 2021).

One thing we can say. Only uncertainty about the Protocol and being able to weaponize it keeps the iron hot for the DUP. A resolution based on the Shirlow-Sheridan initiative removes the perceived threat and kills the tiger.

Finally, there is a question of collusion by HMG in the DUP threat. Will Frost and Co present the collapse or even imminent collapse of the Assembly as a clear and present danger to the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement? Will they use it as an argument for a legitimate triggering of Article 16? And all at a time when the EU is growing visibly weary of the Protocol squabble. As they say in Tyrone, “it's a breaking ball, but for it to end in a goal it will needs one hell of a Hail Mary.”


The Death Of God In Ulster, S.J. Wilson (University of Edinburgh, 2009)

Empty Stormont threats over protocol, Newton Emerson, (Sunday Times, September 12)

Flagging it up: a case study of the flags protest, (W.Glendinning & S J Wilson, CRC, 2014)

Falling support forces Donaldson’s hand, Alex Kane, (Irish Times September 9th )

If Donaldson pulls down Stormont, Brian Feeney (Irish News, September 15th, 2021)

S.J. Wilson is a scundered unionist, ex-combatant, trade unionist, retired academic & Pound Shop Alex Kane.

It’s Not About The Protocol, Stupid!


A Morning Thought @ 1193

Davy Clinton ✒ Some, contrived, furore today over the non-attendance of the Irish President, though not my President as I can't vote for him or any other candidates. 

But leaving that aside - and I'll not be surprised if there is some backtracking on this, what concerns me is that Church leaders are rushing to this event. It's not a celebration we are told. Yes it fucking is. It's a celebration of this rotten undemocratic state. A state that for its first 50 years was openly run by a Protestant parliament for Protestant people. Where Catholic working classes were second class citizens controlled by the most Draconian laws in the world. Where the Catholics were refused jobs and housing. Where tens of thousands of them were forced to leave their homes in pogram after pogram. And when these people said Stop, that they wanted basic human rights they were batoned off the streets and then murdered in the streets.

And now we find " the great and the good" going to head soon to Armagh in celebration of all this.

I would never have doubted for a minute the the Protestant church leaders would be there. They never raised their voices when their Catholic neighbours were being treated as second class citizens. They stood square behind the status quo .... I would expect nothing less. But for the leader of Ireland's Catholics to attend this event is scandalous. But you know what, I expect nothing less from him either. That church will always support the status quo too.
Imagine all those Catholics over decades, driven from homes and workplaces, discriminated against in every facet of live, arrested, tortured interned, shot down in peaceful protest and treated as complete second class citizens. And now their supposed religious leader supports the status quo and the normalisation of all that happened. 

He is a disgrace.  

Davy Clinton is a life long Glasgow Celtic supporter. 

A Thundering Disgrace

Lynx By Ten To The Power Of Sixty Seven

Christopher Owens 🔖 The notion that to solve a crime holistically, one would need to solve the entire society in which it occurred, is a fascinating one which various writers have played about with for years (notably Douglas Adams, Alan Moore, Eoin McNamee, and David Peace).

While it’s certainly a fun literary game, there is truth in that crimes can often be the result of socio-political circumstances as well as random acts of violence from detached sociopaths. And the case of Robert the painter is such an example.

Long forgotten, the case of Robert Taylor and how he escaped the hangman’s noose after being found guilty of the murder of middle-aged Catholic woman Mary McGowan in 1949 is one that could be seen to encapsulate the pre-conflict Northern Ireland: chummy aristocracy, casual sectarianism, and seemingly corrupt RUC officers.

From Lower Meadow Street, Taylor was an apprentice painter (who had worked in Mary McGowan’s house a few times) who had been fired from several jobs over allegations of theft. Add in a pregnant girlfriend whom he was required to marry, a gambling habit and a shortage of cash, it was always going to end badly.

How badly?

On the morning of Holy Saturday, 16 April 1949, Taylor called at a public house he often frequented and begged the owner for the loan of £20. Rebuffed, and now desperate, and perhaps with feelings of personal bitterness and sectarian animus as well, he called on Mrs. McGowan at 12.10pm or shortly after. She was alone; her husband was in hospital; her daughter (an only child) had gone to visit an uncle in Newry; and she had met and spoken to Taylor outside the local bank a short time before noon. When she answered the door, he asked to use her phone, and she agreed. Once inside, he closed the door, put a cord round her neck and tried to strangle her. She resisted strongly and he dragged her into the scullery, where he seized a carving knife and inflicted wounds up to twelve inches long on her head, face, and neck; blood covered the floor and spattered the walls up the ceiling. He then pushed her to the floor, kicked her violently, and finally poured a pot of boiling soup over her. Then he rifled her purse (leaving its coins), ransacked the main bedroom, left, and went home.

Although an isolated incident, McAlinden places it in the context of the political and sectarian conflicts of the day (the infamous Belfast Celtic vs Linfield game had occurred a few months previously, and The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 was to come into force a day after the murder). While most tend to think of this period as being one of relative peace and respite following the Blitz, we still had likes of Basil Brooke happy to whip up tension by making bellicose statements like, I ask you to cross the Boyne…with me as your leader, and to fight the same cause as King William fought for in days gone by” in relation to the upcoming local elections.

Such rhetoric would have been directed at working class Protestants like Taylor. Although he didn’t appear to be driven by a fanatical hatred of Catholics a la Lennie Murphy or Johnny Adair, it’s evident that he certainly held the typical view of Catholics being below him. Add in the class factor (the McGowans lived in Ponsonby Avenue, in those days a middle-class area) as well as the previous allegations of theft, and it would seem you had a spide with a chip on his shoulder. Factor in the previously discussed elements of the story and it was the perfect storm.

While both trials are depicted as being handled fairly (the first one was derailed by the jury being unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the second saw a ‘guilty’ verdict) and damaging for Taylor (who, when asked why there was blood present on his clothing when he was arrested, offered up the excuse that he suffered from nosebleeds due to painting and that this had been a common occurrence for the previous few years), the handling of the jury (which is how Taylor escaped death) is a murkier affair. Despite specific instructions from the judge, the jury were allowed to be separated on a day out to Donaghadee. The RUC officers involved were allowed to give statements which meant they couldn’t be put in the witness box and a judge decided that, although the jury were people of integrity, the fact that the process had been violated meant that Taylor did not get a fair trial.

McAlinden recalls that:

The only immediate after-effect of the affair recorded by the newspapers was the jubilation of Taylor’s supporters at the court, outside the jail and the Taylor home. The press, however, did not record that a cheering crowd of these supporters, waving Union Jacks, marched home by way of Eia Street and Duncairn Gardens. At the top of Duncairn they gestured and jeered across at Ponsonby (visible at the other side of bombed-out waste ground), intent on registering another defeat for the Fenians. As they approached our house, my mother, fearful of what might be construed by the marchers and the RUC as provocation, called my inquisitive younger brother in from the front gate, locked the door, and drew all the curtains.

Coupled with gerrymandering, job discrimination and corruption over housing matters, is it any wonder the Civil Rights Association took off the way it did so many years later?

The story and the various twists (plus links with the Patricia Curran murder a few years later) make this a compelling read, even if the book itself has some flaws in terms of spelling (not many, but enough to be noticeable) and lack of citations. Although McAlinden makes it clear that he has pieced together the narrative from reports in the Irish News, the Belfast Telegraph, the News Letter, the Northern Ireland Law Reports, PRONI as well as interviews from people associated with the case, the lack of citations mean that you’re always a little wary of taking everything at face value (even when you’ve no reason not to).

Long out of print, Bloodstains … helps us see how the society that existed in Northern Ireland in 1949 could allow a murderer to go free and live in obscurity.

Thomas McAlinden, 2006, Bloodstains in Ulster: The Notorious Case of Robert the Painter. The Liffey Press. ISBN-13: 978-1904148913

⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.  

Bloodstains In Ulster


A Morning Thought @ 1192

Matt TreacyThe disappearance and death of 14 year old Belfast teenager Noah Donohoe in June 2020 continues to be the subject of investigation, and some mystery. 

There have been several preliminary inquests, and the formal inquest will be held in Belfast on January 10, 2022, where Noah’s mother Fiona and supporters hope that all aspects of Noah’s tragic end will be thoroughly examined.

As things stand, there is a comprehensive but incomplete timeline of Noah’s last hours, and accounts of the involvement of others in the disposal of some of his belongings. However, other claims in relation to his disappearance and death remain unsubstantiated.

On June 21 2020, Noah, who was a pupil at St. Malachy’s, left the home he shared with his mother close to Queen’s University off the Ormeau Road, south Belfast at 5.40 pm. He was to meet friends at Cave Hill Park which is just under seven miles away. He was said to be going there to meet them to discuss their plans to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh programme.

Noah had a backpack in which he carried his laptop and books including Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. There is extensive CCTV surveillance that operates across the city, but just 8 minutes and 42 seconds of film of Noah has been recovered. That evidence does however provide some insight into the time he left his home and the last time he was seen less than 30 minutes later.

At 5.49 pm Noah was seen cycling through Victoria Square in the city centre and one minute later at the corner of High Street and Victoria Avenue. He was fully clothed and did not appear distressed. However, three minutes later he was captured passing the Ulster University and his backpack is missing. It was discovered several days later leaning against one of the college buildings.

At 6pm he was seen by a driver falling off his bicycle but remounting and continuing on his journey and two minutes later at 6.02pm he was seen entering the Northwood Road estate without his backpack or jacket. Even more bizarrely, he was then seen by a woman cycling past her home naked at 6.08pm.

That was the last time anyone saw Noah alive and some two hours later his bike was found in the front garden of a house in Northwood estate, but none of his clothes have ever been discovered. On June 24, Daryl Paul, a criminal with almost 200 previous convictions, attempted to pawn the contents of Noah’s backpack. He was arrested and convicted of theft, but his account of how he found the bag, and that he had no personal contact with Noah, were accepted.

On June 27, Noah’s body was found in a storm drain behind Northwood Road. There have been questions raised about access to the drain which will presumably form part of the inquest. The post mortem ruled that Noah had died by drowning and that there was no evidence of assault or head trauma (as might have been expected had the fall from his bike caused him to behave erratically) and that the toxicology tests had been negative.

Noah’s phone had been discovered in a playground on North Queens Street several days after his body was found but it revealed no evidence of suspicious communications.

Over the past year, there have been a number of developments that have added to the mystery of what happened to Noah Donohoe. Certainly, the last descriptions of him, the fact that his clothes have never been discovered, and indeed why he had cycled into Northwood estate prior to ending up dead raise a whole series of questions.

Some of the speculation has been unhelpful, and the publication of a book on Noah’s death was condemned by his mother and described as both “against the wishes of our family” and that it had nothing to do with the campaign that has been organised to seek full closure on the tragedy.

Some of the speculation, as formed the centre of the book, has focused on a possible sectarian motive for the attack in the light of the fact that Noah’s last moments were spent in a part of the city where a Catholic schoolboy might certainly have been at risk. That has been compounded by a media report that a prisoner was supposed to have confessed to another inmate of his involvement in Noah’s death and a loyalist connection to the cover up of the circumstances.

The person who is said to have made the confession was interviewed on his release by an independent investigator who passed the transcript to the PSNI. However, the person in question was identified and contacted by the Sunday World and told them that his cellmate had made the whole thing up.

The PSNI stated in July following a meeting with Fiona Donohoe regarding the transcript, that:

While our investigation to date has not identified any evidence that supports the claims that have been made, we are committed to exhausting every investigative opportunity.

The family’s legal representative Niall Murphy has appealed for greater effort to uncover CCTV or other sighting evidence.

Murphy also referred to the possibility that someone in the “homeless community” around the public housing for persons with drug addiction problems around the Queen’s quarter on University Street might have knowledge of an anonymous report that Noah was assaulted in that area. This is close to where Noah lives and a good distance from where Noah was last seen after falling from his bicycle and without his clothes and backpack.

The trauma experienced by Noah’s mother and all those who knew him can only be imagined. For all of their sakes, it must be hoped that this will come to an end with as definitive as possible conclusion to the investigations, and that this takes place at the inquest in January.

Matt Treacy has published a number of books including histories of 
the Republican Movement and of the Communist Party of Ireland. 

The Unanswered Questions Around The Tragic Death Of Noah Donohoe