Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Irish President’s husband helped UDA chief get fast-track Irish passport

UDA boss Jackie McDonald was given a fast-tracked Irish passport by the husband of Irish President Mary McAleese so he could attend a Rangers game.



In First Citizen: Mary McAleese and the Irish Presidency, the south Belfast brigadier glowingly speaks of his relationship with the McAleeses — which began following a meeting in the Taughmonagh social club in February 2003 — saying he hoped they would be “friends forever”.

He explains that when he realised visa problems were going to prevent him from attending the Rangers match, Martin McAleese, who he had just met months earlier, helped him get an Irish passport in time so he could attend.

In the biography on the Irish President’s life, written by journalist Patsy McGarry, McDonald says “southern intermediaries” collected his application in Belfast before bringing it to Dublin for “speedy processing”, the Irish News reported.

Once it was approved, Mr McAleese presented the loyalist leader with the passport in Farmleigh House, Dublin, after he met Mrs McAleese for the first time.

The book also revealed that last year, Mr McAleese arranged tickets for the Ireland versus England rugby match at Croke Park for McDonald and three of his friends and that when the south Belfast brigadier met the Irish President for the first time he presented her with champagne, a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates, an Ulster flag and a Rangers scarf for her father.

It also contains details of their second meeting at Aras An Uachtarain, Mrs McAleese’s residence in Phoenix Park, where he gave her a rose bush telling her: “I hope it blossoms like our friendship”.

The third time they met McDonald bought a crystal clock engraved with Mr and Mrs McAleese’s names and the words “a united notion”.

McDonald was jailed for 10 years in the 1980s for blackmail, extortion and threats to kill.

His relationship with the McAleeses has been well publicised and led to a series of meetings with other dignitaries in the Republic, including former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who he met at Mrs McAleese’s second inauguration in 2004.

In the book, McDonald said he asked the president to stand for a second term and initially turned down an invitation to the inauguration because he “didn’t want to get her into bother”.

“But she said: ‘You are my friend’,” he said.

It was there that he met Mr Ahern.

“That contact helped. A lot (in Northern Ireland) are very wary of supporting people like myself but because of Bertie and the president, it has made it easier for others to talk to me,” McDonald said.

Asked about his relationship with the prominent couple, he added: “I hope we will be friends forever. They are fantastic.”

The biography also charts the president’s journey from her nationalist, working class background to becoming a law student at Queen’s, marrying husband Martin — after a brief engagement to another man — working as a reporter at RTE and eventually being elected as president.

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