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Minister has 'no problem' with ex-IRA killer in top job

Gaeltacht Minister Eamon O Cuiv says he has "no problem" with the appointment of a former IRA man, convicted of murdering a 19-year-old part-time policewoman in Derry, to a senior position in the cross-Border Irish language funding quango Foras na Gaeilge.

Eoghan Mac Cormaic (52), now a Sinn Fein town councillor in Loughrea, Co Galway, was appointed deputy chairman of the funding organisation last month.

Foras na Gaeilge has a budget of around €15m of Irish taxpayers' money, which it disburses to Irish language groups mainly in the North, several of which have Sinn Fein associations and pay salaries to ex-IRA prisoners. It was set up under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Mac Cormaic served 15 years of a life term of imprisonment for the murder of Linda Baggley in June 1976. She was on foot patrol on the Dungiven Road in Derry with a male colleague when two IRA men came up behind them and opened fire at close range. Reserve Constable Baggley, who was unarmed, was shot in the neck and died 10 days later in hospital.

She had joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve after her father Bill was shot dead two years earlier by the IRA close to where she was killed.

After his release from prison, Mac Cormaic gave an interview to the Belfast Telegraph in which he said: "I was in prison for killing Linda Baggley. It was a tragedy and I'm sorry that she is dead."

Asked about the appointment, Mr O Cuiv said he knew Mac Cormaic and added: "I have no problem with it. You can't undo the past. It is what the peace process is about. It could be a loyalist who was appointed. It is the same way that my predecessors, our antecedents, had to come to terms with what was done in the civil war and work with each other. That is what Mandela did. You know what they say about forgiveness: you must forgive seven times 70."

Last month, Mac Cormaic was appointed deputy chariman of the board -- although at the first meeting of the board last Friday some members expressed a view privately that no such position as "deputy chairman" existed. Mac Cormaic is one of four Sinn Fein nominees. Another of Sinn Fein's representatives on the board is Seanna Breathnach (formerly Walsh), the IRA man and former prisoner who read out the statement calling the IRA's final ceasefire declaration in 2006.

Since the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein and ex-IRA prisoner groups have set up dozens of Irish language and cultural organisations in the North and the Border area which have been heavily subsidised by Irish, EU and British taxpayers. Hundreds of millions of euro have been paid out under the "peace" funding that followed the IRA ceasefire and the 1998 Agreement.

Foras disburses around €20m a year to groups some of which are Sinn Fein fronts. Fifteen million euro comes from the Irish Exchequer annually and the equivalent of €5m comes from the British.

Mac Cormaic (formerly McCormack), from the Bogside of Derry, learned Irish in the Maze, and on his release moved to Galway and took a course in NUI, where he was at one stage president of the students' union. He has been a contributor to Sinn Fein's newspaper An Phoblacht. Republican sources said he was regarded as one of the key ideologues in the party.

One of the key strategies employed by Sinn Fein in its efforts to become a dominant force in Ireland has been to influence the arts and cultural worlds as well as the media. An Irish-language activist in the North, who has no associations with Sinn Fein and did not wish to be named, said the party has been imposing a "hegemony" on the Irish language, particularly in west Belfast.

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"That is the problem with Irish language organisations. You have to fight people who have this active service unit mentality. No one has that sort of energy. You can't speak Irish in west Belfast unless you are in the organisation."

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