Hillsborough Report: Truth at last but now for the justice

Having waited 23 years and been denied the truth and the full story on so many occasions, I would suspect that many of the families of victims of the Hillsborough disaster and survivors would have walked into the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on Wednesday morning with some degree of scepticism.

But no-one could have anticipated the strength of a nearly 400-page report based on the scrutiny of 450,000 documents which blew away the lies that for so long have permeated British society about what happened on 15 April 1989.

Truth at last.

I’ve been writing a lot about the report and its aftermath in recent days as part of my day job.

You can read the main findings of the report here, a round-up of the momentous day that was Wednesday, 12 September 2012 here, what Rafa Benitez – who I spoke to yesterday – thought of it all, and what a delusional Sir Norman Bettison continues to believe despite all that has happened.

I’ve even written something praising David Cameron for his powerful words in the House of Commons on Wednesday and the imperative of all politicians of all persuasions following up their words with actions.

Hillsborough: Hoping that the truth will out and justice will prevail

Today, the Hillsborough Independent Panel will publish a report on the hundreds of thousands of documents related to the 1989 stadium disaster in Sheffield that it has spent the last two-and-a-half years scrutinising.

After 23 years, the survivors, the families of the victims and everyone affected by the events of 15 April 1989 will, hopefully, have a greater idea of not only what happened that day but what authorities did afterwards to cover for their dreadful inadequacies on that fateful day.

We will know, perhaps just what senior government figures really thought about what happened at Hillsborough and we will know just what could have been done to avert the awful death toll if the coroner did not impose the 3.15pm cut off point which has effectively meant that in one case the strong evidence assembled by Anne Williams about her son, Kevin, and his survival until nearly 4pm day that has never been officially recorded.

For anyone affected by the disaster it can only be hoped that today marks not the end but the beginning of the end and that the fight for justice will be greatly enhanced by the evidence that will be put before the world to see. At long last.

Questioning the thinking of an economic think tank…

Just a quick thought…

This week, Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) issued some cautious growth figures for the Irish economy in its quarterly economic review.

In its commentary the ESRI warned that weak economic growth in the UK and the United States could impact on Ireland’s recovery because they were two of our largest export markets.

But what was picked up on by the media for the most part was the ESRI’s belief that €4 billion and not €3.6 billion should be cut in the coming budget in December.

So used to dealing in billions, some would probably think it’s no big thing. Even the leader of Fianna Fáil agreed in amidst trying to save his leadership of the main opposition party .

However, that’s €400 million, a lot of money. Predictably it has drawn the ire of the trade unions.

But what is most interesting and indeed a bit confusing is that the ESRI calls for more cuts yet warns of the effects of weak growth in the UK, weak growth largely considered to be a result of the epic slashing of budgets and spending being carried out by Chancellor George Osborne.

Although he wouldn’t say that himself. He’s so far blamed the weather, the royal family, the last government and Jedward* for weak economic growth, or practically none at all.

Now of course, economic circumstances in both countries are much different but Ireland, domestically at least, is seeing its economy growing just as the UK’s was before Osborne made his first round of budget cuts.

Surely to institute even more cuts than we already need to as mandated by the EU/IMF would be fallacy. Not least because of what we can all see is happening with “them across the water” to quote Aprés Match.

You would have thought the ESRI might have seen that itself but then again, wasn’t it the think tank which said something about a “soft landing”

* No, not really.

Whelan, Houghton, RTÉ, The Irish Sun and why it matters

Over the last few days I’ve been extensively covering the controversy surrounding what was the proposed appearance of former Liverpool stars Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton on an Irish TV programme sponsored by The Irish Sun.

The story is pretty well encapsulated here, and now appears to have reached its conclusion following the decision that neither of the two men will appear on ‘Premier Soccer Sunday Live’ on 1 May.

How it unfolded 

The issue of Houghton and Whelan’s appearance was raised by Irish Liverpool fans earlier this season when it was originally announced.

I’ve been told that there were a “small number” of complaints made to RTÉ about the issue and that these were “dealt with” but it became a very live issue in recent days as Liverpool fans brought it to the media’s attention.

The story was newsworthy on the basis that two former Irish internationals and Liverpool stars were seen to be associated with a boycotted newspaper, angering fans who had hoped that all connected to Liverpool FC would honour such a boycott as the club itself does in asking current players not to deal with the tabloid.

It also raised questions about the conduct of Ireland’s state broadcaster and as to whether or not they knew about the sensitive nature of the Liverpool/Sun relationship.

On Sunday, the Irish Sunday Independent newspaper ran the story on the front page of their sports section and both Houghton and Whelan indicated they were not aware of the sponsorship deal and said they would have to talk to RTÉ about it.

I attempted to contact both men on Sunday. I only spoke to Whelan who said he was wasn’t going to comment but I asked him did he know? Was he aware of the sponsorship deal? He responded: “not fully”. Make of that what you will.

By Monday, the story was in a number of newspapers and continued to be the subject of much debate among Liverpool fans and in a poll that TheJournal.ie ran.

The matter was actively under discussion between the relevant parties. I understand that Houghton had raised the issue when he made his regular appearance on ‘Premier Soccer Saturday’ over the weekend.

Then just before 7pm on Monday evening I received a statement from RTÉ which read:

RTÉ Sport can confirm, as of today, that the panel for the Premier Soccer Sunday live programme will consist of John Giles, Kenny Cunningham and one additional panellist (to be confirmed). Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton are no longer appearing on the panel on May 1st.

In my eagerness to break the story before anyone else I reported that Whelan and Houghton had withdrawn from the programme, when in fact the statement did not say that (The story was later amended).

I contacted both Whelan and Houghton just before 8pm for comment. Neither seemed pleased to hear from me.

Whelan was still not prepared to comment and said he would deal with it when he was back in Dublin (He had been away in Dubai).

With Houghton, the phone line was not great but he referred me to RTÉ: “It’s down to them I’m not going to say anymore,” he added.

I asked him was he going to honour the boycott of The Sun as I am sure many Liverpool fans were keen to know. He responded that he was “not prepared to answer a question like that.”

And there the conversation ended.

The devil is in the detail. The RTÉ statement never said anything about the pair withdrawing, only that they would no longer appear on the programme.

If Houghton and Whelan wanted to go about rebuilding what is now a damaged relationship with many Liverpool fans, they could have said they were withdrawing upon being made aware of the sponsorship deal. But they didn’t.

Either they had no interest in speaking to me personally, not being affiliated to a major news organisation, or there is something else going on…

Questions

Questions remain as to whether or not Houghton and Whelan were in any way aware about the sponsorship deal, and also whether RTÉ notified them of the complaints, however small in number, that came in about the deal both earlier in the season and in recent days.

If RTÉ did not make the players aware, then why didn’t they? Surely the makers of ‘Premier Soccer Saturday’ knew of the sensitivity surrounding Liverpool and The Sun?

Why are Houghton and Whelan not willing to comment on whether or not they are as committed to the boycott as fans and even Liverpool FC are?

These are questions that linger and neither Houghton, Whelan, nor RTÉ seem prepared to comment any further on the matter now it has been dealt with.

That will not please Liverpool fans.

Why it matters

Many will ask why this even matters and what is to be got from boycotting The Sun and its Irish version, 22 years on from Hillsborough.

It matters to Liverpool fans and indeed the people of Merseyside because when four days after the disaster, The Sun – under a headline reading ‘The Truth’ – alleged that Liverpool fans had pickpocketed dead supporters, urinated on police, and beat up an officer who was trying to save a victim, it did untold damage to their reputation and their efforts to achieve justice.

No one has ever been prosecuted for what happened at Hillsborough and what happened was a systematic and disastrous failure of police management, in a dilapidated stadium, where preconceived notions among many police officers about how football supporters should be handled led to a catastrophe and the death of 96 men, women, and children.

The importance of Hillsborough and laying bare the full facts of what happened through the Hillsborough Independent Panel – set up in the aftermath of the 20th anniversary of the disaster – is of paramount importance to families of those who died and survivors.

It matters so much that a former government minister said only last week: “that no other single issue is more important to me.”

And that’s why Liverpool fans get angry when two of their own – who witnessed what happened that day – are seen to be in someway associated with a newspaper that proclaimed to tell the truth, yet told a dreadful and destructive tale of lies.

New Year, fresh blog and good intentions

Like many of us, I hold good intentions for the year ahead.

One of these is to blog more which is why starting today/tonight and happening (hopefully) regularly I intend to bring you the best of the web or at least what I consider to be the best from the web.

Those who follow me on Twitter will know that I post a lot of links to various articles that I have read online. They range from quirky stories from Ireland to sometimes obscure political matters in the US, with a bit of UK, world and Liverpool FC related news in between.

The intention of the ‘News Picks’, as I have decided to call them, will be to bring all these links together under one blogging roof. It will consist of stories you may have missed or that you may not have heard about. It may be an alternative view on a story you’re familiar with or it may be totally useless.

In any case I hope it is a fun, quick read that enlightens your day.

Wikileaks diplomatic files not as shocking as we’re being told

We may have been shocked by the revelations of the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs and the brutality of war that was laid before us in a way we’ve never seen before.

But the initial revelations of Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables are not as shocking as many in the media are having us believe. Embarrassing for sure but not shocking.

Channeled through those doyens of investigative journalism The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times the leaks reveal a lot of honest and forthright views of mainly US diplomats about their foreign counterparts.

But looking at the BBC’s useful breakdown of the main “revelations” there’s nothing truly groundbreaking. Instead much of the releases so far confirm what any of us who have an interest in international affairs probably already expected was going on.

The US has many concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear activity and the level to which they may be exposed to nuclear terrorism. Whilst on the other side Pakistan is reluctant to allow the US to establish any more interest in their domestic affairs than it already holds for fear of a backlash from their own people. This has been widely reported for many years.

The Chinese government engages in computer hacking…as if we haven’t heard that before.

The US looks to tap the sensitive biometric details of those within the UN. Not specifically something reported before but allies spying on allies and involving the Americans is nothing new.

There are also a selection of strong and honest views about various world leaders.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described as “Hitler” by one diplomat. Given Ahmadinejad’s views on Judaism it is hardly an extraordinary leap to associate the two.

Italian president Silvio Berlusconi described as a “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader”. As if we didn’t know that already given the string of embarrassing revelations in recent years.

Russian president Dmirty Medvedev a “Robin” to Vladimir Putin’s “Batman”. Many analysts said as much when Medvedev was “elected” in 2008.

And Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe,  a “crazy old man”. It would be funny if it wasn’t for the plight of the Zimbabwean people.

So there is little that shocks as much as Wikileaks most explosive leak to date – Collateral Murder

But needless to say it’s embarrassing for the US and all the other countries implicated. And the news coverage over the next few days will remind us of that as well as discussing the wrongs and rights of Wikileaks releasing such material. Simon Jenkins in The Guardian puts that argument to bed in my view.

Perhaps the real story here is not the sheer quantity and seriousness of some of the information released but the extraordinary story of a 22-year-old US army private from Oklahoma, Bradley Manning, who has changed forever the way in which wars and diplomatic relations are conducted.

Sarah Palin – President of the United States?

If the above scares you then you’re not alone.

One the many reasons why the majority of Europeans have had such favourable view of Barack Obama is likely to be because the alternative involved Sarah Palin being a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Right from the moment she literally came from nowhere to be Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008 stories have emerged that have been laughable, disturbing and downright scary.

Any politician subject to as much ridicule as she has been should surely be kept well away from the White House.

If Sarah Palin can’t even tell you what newspapers or magazines she reads, would you really trust her with the nuclear launch codes?

But the US is a strange and wonderful place and Palin commands a strong support base aided by the influential but disjointed Tea Party movement.

Much of it and Palin’s supports stems from the growing and in some cases justifiable disillusionment with President Obama two years into his presidency.

The hope and rhetoric that catapulted him into the White House after a historic election has drained away as Obama has found himself immersed in the same old Washington game he promised to change.

The result is that next week Republicans are likely to have taken control of the House of Representatives. They could even take the Senate although this is unlikely.

In the same way that the Democrats taking control of both houses in 2006 turned George W. Bush’s final two years into a “lame duck” presidency next week’s changes could harm Obama’s next two years as well as his re-election chances.

This is where Palin enters the overcrowded field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Some argue she won’t run but she has taken the steps normally associated with a presidential bid such as forming a political action committee, meaning its worth considering the possibility she might.

In this week’s New York magazine, political author John Heilemann, does just that as well going further and outlining the way in which Palin becomes president.

It relies heavily on the idea that Michael Bloomberg, the independent but fabulously wealthy mayor of New York, makes a run as an independent in 2012, splitting the vote three ways, meaning no candidate takes the magic 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidential election.

In such situations, the decision falls to the House of Representatives as to who becomes the next president. With this likely to pass into the control of Republicans after the November 2 mid terms that would open the door to a President Sarah Palin.

And suddenly the fate of the world rests in the hands of a woman who cites an example of her foreign policy experience as having once governed a state that’s quite close to Russia.

A worrying thought.