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Sunday 10 December 2006

Vulnerable suffer as bigots and freaks sit down at the top table

I KNOW you're bored with Northern Ireland. Indeed, I have to admit that I sometimes fall asleep as I read the latest account of the Rev Ian's difficulties with literal-minded supporters, appalled that he might enter government hand-in-hand with the antichrist; or the sainted Gerry's problems in persuading Shinners that police uniforms are to be a must-have accessory for ambitious young republicans, rather than the garb of a legitimate target.

However, just sometimes, I am jerked awake by something startling. The sublime farce of the fifty-something arthritic Michael Stone being clubbed with his own replica gun as he got jammed in Stormont's revolving doors owing to the bulkiness of his weapons of mass republican destruction kept me laughing for a while.

But what's happening about Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) keeps me awake by making me feel sick.

I met an amiable MP at a party the other night who told me he was on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee looking into the British government's plans to legitimise and finance CRJ schemes.

Now CRJ can be cuddly. The general idea is that, in the unlikely event that the little swine who scratched your car or stole your mobile is caught, instead of being taken to court he can be called to account within the community, and will become a better person by being shown how his bad behaviour has distressed his victims and his own locality.

This MP had been impressed by what he had heard about the scheme from some of those already who run it in Northern Ireland, including Harry Maguire, director of training for CRJ Ireland, which operates in republican ghettos and has up to now been financed by an Irish-American charity.

Peter Hain, the most cynical Secretary of State ever wished upon Northern Ireland, is anxious to please the IRA by having it paid for by the British taxpayer.

A quid pro quo will be that their loyalist counterparts will also be bribed not to kill people by being on the same payroll.

I AGREE with David Trimble that just because you have a past doesn't mean that you don't have a future, but there are limits.

Call me an unforgiving old bitch, as some of my correspondents no doubt will, but I have difficulty in seeing Mr Maguire as a role model for wayward youth.

In 1988, he was one of those responsible for the bestial treatment of two British Army corporals who accidentally strayed into an IRA funeral in West Belfast three days after Michael Stone had murdered three mourners at the funeral of three wannabe bombers.

Mary Holland, in a devastating report, described watching Corporal Derek Wood being dragged past a phalanx of journalists: "He didn't cry out, just looked at us with terrified eyes, as though we were all enemies in a foreign country who wouldn't have understood what language he was speaking if he called out for help."

As Mary recorded with shame, no journalists tried to help him, any more than did the bystanders - who included Gerry Adams.

Like Corporal David Howes, Wood was beaten savagely, stripped to his underpants and shot dead.

Harry Maguire was one of those convicted of bringing about their murder. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he was released in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement.

These days, Maguire is a pillar of the republican establishment in CRJ Ireland (CRJI), an organisation which Sinn Fein set up - in the words of Catriona Ruane, one of their assembly members, "to offer a viable alternative to the PSNI": unlike their smaller loyalist counterparts, they refuse to co-operate with the police.

Garret FitzGerald is one of those appalled that the British government seems minded to encourage this "new kind of vigilantism".

CRJI members are running people out of town.

A couple of weeks back, Peter Hain - in introducing a Bill to legitimise his concessions to the DUP/Sinn Fein wish list (aka the St Andrew's Agreement) - contemptuously spoke of how "a marauding media picks away at the fragilities" of Northern Ireland deals.

Well, Mr Hain, like Garret FitzGerald, I'm a marauder, who hates the notion that - through a combination of wishful thinking and cynicism - the British and Irish governments are prepared to offer up the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland as a sacrifice to two groups of bigots and control freaks.

"I came from an innocent background without the experience of the Troubles and so, in a way, I come with perhaps too open a mind on it," said Lord Clyde, the commissioner charged with overseeing changes in the Northern Irish criminal justice system, as he lauded CRJ to the Select Committee last month.

There's nothing innocent about Peter Hain. He knows, as do his officials, that in the wrong hands CRJ is an instrument of oppression.

The trouble is, I don't think he cares.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards