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Report From Northern Ireland

Dr. Michael Glass, director of statewide training at Mercer County Community College, recently spoke at a conference on state violence in Belfast, Ireland and brought formal greetings from Congressman Christopher Smith, Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (commonly know as the Helsinki Commission) and Dr. Mitchell Reiss, President Bush's Special Envoy to Northern Ireland. While in Belfast, he also met with Nuala O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, to gain updates on several of the many collusion cases her office is investigating and to discuss with her how the United States can lend additional support to her efforts.

Glass also met with Dean Pittmann, the new US Consul General in Northern Ireland, who was recently reassigned from Baghdad, Iraq. Glass arranged a meeting for him with several community groups involved in important cross community work in the areas of education, counseling, and training. The population of Belfast and Northern Ireland has been fractured along religious lines for some time, but there is an increasing number of community groups working together on delivery of their services in several vital areas of need. Families and individuals in Northern Ireland have endured 30 years of difficult political and social times, and there is a high suicide rate and growing rate of crime. Some of these organizations are Relatives for Justice, Shankill Stress and Trauma Center, and the Holy Cross Trust. There will be a concert in August at the Trenton Hibernian Club to raise funds to support the work of the Holy Cross Trust, which is trying to reopen a Family Center at the very site of troubles involving school children being harassed and intimidated in 2001. The Center will be planned, constructed, and used on a cross community basis.

British elections were on May 5, and Glass served as an observer in the days leading up to the elections and on election day itself. Before the last election, the voting procedures were changed in Northern Ireland at the last moment disenfranchising many voters and intimidating others by moving polling places. All voting is conducted on paper ballots, one for the Parliament elections and one for local elections. Local elections are conducted by proportional representation, in which each voter can specify their top five preferences per office as opposed to one candidate. Counting these ballots is very time-consuming and leaves many opportunities for voting irregularities. The election results yielded great changes in the British Parliament and Northern Ireland. Prime Minister Blair's Labour Party lost over 60 seats in Parliament to the Conservatives, and in Northern Ireland, many conservatives were elected as well. One of the architects of the Good Friday agreement, moderate conservative and Noble Peace prize winner David Trimble, lost his seat. Sinn Fein, the nationalist party, made some gains, but bringing the General Assembly back into existence in Northern Ireland may be difficult.

Michael G. Glass, Ed.D.
Director, Statewide Training
609-586-4800, x3530
glassm@mccc.edu