Battle of Belfast 1996 1&2
Battle of the Ardoyne Giants
Both remembered with pride
With many thanks to: Eamon McAuley for the original posting on YouTube
With many thanks to: Eamon McAuley for the original posting on YouTube
“Welcome to my cell,” says ex-IRA prisoner, Brendan Hughes, as he opens the door of his tiny, threadbare flat on the Falls Road. “Sometimes, I’ve sat here crying for a week. I think of all my comrades’ suffering and I don’t even want to go out. You never really leave prison.”
Hughes killed and saw his friends die too. A former ‘officer commanding’ the Belfast Brigade, he’s a living legend among republicans. Small and swarthy with a mop of black hair, he was known as ‘the Dark’.
His bombs reduced the city to rubble; his gun battles with the British entered republican folklore; he spent 13 years in jail and 53 days on hunger-strike. His best friend was Gerry Adams. Hughes, 57, now lives on disability benefit in Divis Tower – the only part of the flats’ complex not bulldozed.
Over the past 35 years, around 15,000 republicans have been imprisoned on both sides of the Border. On release, those close to the Sinn Féin leadership usually fare best. A minority secure paid community jobs; the rest are employed in IRA owned or supporting bars and taxi-depots.
While some ex-prisoners start businesses independently, the IRA gives others businesses to run. But many former prisoners who – for personal or political reasons – are outside the loop, face greater difficulties.
Last week, an ex-IRA prisoner was one of three men charged in connection with the hijacking of a vodka lorry in Co Meath. Former security force members and prison officers received generous retirement and redundancy payments from the state. “We were decommissioned with nothing,” says Hughes. “IRA men and women, who gave everything to this struggle, got poverty, premature death, and mental problems in return.”
It’s the untold story of the Troubles, he claims: “People stay quiet out of loyalty to the movement.” Money never mattered to him, he says: “I was offered £50,000 to become an informer. I told them £50 million wouldn’t sway me. But it’s hard to see ex-prisoners destitute when the leadership are so wealthy and have holiday homes.”
Hughes mentions Kieran Nugent, the first IRA man on the Blanket protest in Long Kesh. “Kieran died in 2000. They called him a ‘river rat’ because he spent his last days drinking by the river in Poleglass.
“Why didn’t somebody in the movement not see he’d problems and help him? He was the bravest of the brave. The screws ordered him to wear the prison uniform and he replied, ‘You’ll have to nail it to my back.'”
Research suggests a third of prisoners suffer broken relationships. Hughes had a baby daughter and his wife was pregnant with their son when he was arrested. “My wife became involved with another man while I was in prison. The lads inside told me to give her a hard time.
“I called her to the jail and told her there was no problem – she was young and deserved a bit of happiness. She always said the war was my number one priority and she was right. I was selfish. I neglected my family. When I got out of jail, I went to her house and shook her partner’s hand.” Hughes is close to his grown-up daughter but has no relationship with his son.
He was released from prison without skills or qualifications. He began labouring. “A big west Belfast contractor paid us £20 a day. I tried to organise a strike but the other ex-POWs were so desperate, they wouldn’t agree. One of the bosses said ‘Brendan, we’ll give you £25 a day but don’t tell the others’.
“I told him to stick it up his arse, and I never went back. I wrote an article about it for ‘Republican News’ but it was heavily censored. People we’d fought for exploited us, and the movement let them.” Hughes never considered crime – “I’m not a thief” – but doesn’t blame those who do “so long as they target only big business”.
Prison left him with arthritis and weakened his immune system. He’s had pneumonia and heart problems, and suffers depression. “After jail, no-one mentioned counselling. I’d to arrange it myself. They say I’ve post-traumatic stress. The hunger-strikers’ faces are always before me.”
He speaks of dislocation after jail: “Everything was different. I went for a walk, just to be on my own. The old streets were gone and I got lost in the new streets. A man had to bring me home. Everything was noisy. I hate crowds. I only go to the pub in the afternoon when it’s quiet.”
Pictures of Che Guevara – laughing, smoking, drinking coffee – dot the living-room. “My brother is taking me to Cuba. The revolution improved ordinary people’s lives there. It was a waste of time here.”
Beneath a picture of the Sacred Heart, is a photo of two tanned, smiling young men in Long Kesh, arms around each other – Hughes and Adams. “I loved Gerry. I don’t anymore, but I keep the photos to remind me of the good times.”
Willie Gallagher from Strabane joined the Fianna at 13. Two years later he joined the IRA – “I lied about my age”. At 15, he was arrested with a gun. He spent 18 of his next 20 years in jail.
“I don’t feel I lost out because I’d no life to lose. I was the youngest in jail and my comrades spoilt me rotten. I remember digging a tunnel for an escape and thinking it a great adventure.” By now, Gallagher was with the INLA.
“At 20, he embarked on a 50-day hunger-strike after beatings by prison officers: “I lost my eyesight. It took me 18 months to recover. Then, I watched the 10 hunger-strikers die. Such brutality damaged me emotionally. I left jail at 25 and wasn’t interested in a normal life. I was full of bitterness. There was no point in killing Brits in ones and twos – I wanted to kill lots of them.
“I planted a no-warning bomb in a pub the security forces frequented. Then I went home, got washed and headed into town. Twenty people could have been killed and it wouldn’t have fizzed on me.” No-one died but 30 people were injured.
Gallagher went back to jail. His first marriage broke up when he was inside but he remarried within a year of his 1993 release. “My heart never hardened in my personal life, but my reputation means my wife’s friends think I’m aggressive. ‘Would Willie hit you?’ they ask.”
Compared to other prisoners, Gallagher, 48, is lucky. His wife owned her own home – they now have two children – and he secured a paid community job. It’s also harder for those whose don’t come from a republican family, “but my brothers were involved – two did 10 years – so I’d a lot of support.”
He runs a prisoners’ group, Teach na Failte. Funding has been suspended pending an official investigation amidst allegations of criminality which the group denies.
Gallagher has been arrested and questioned following a bank robbery in Strabane. The getaway car was bought under the name Robin Banks. “I wasn’t involved but if ex-prisoners were, good luck to them. I’ve no problem with cigarette or alcohol heists either. People who made enormous sacrifices in jail were left with nothing.
“I know one guy who was very fit and always training before he went into jail but he turned to drink and drugs on release and was found dead at 40. If former political prisoners’ records were expunged, they’d have far better employment opportunities and life wouldn’t be so hard for many.” Gallagher has no doubts about his own past: “It’s better to fight and lose than not to fight at all.”
Tommy McKearney from the Moy, Co Tyrone, served 16 years for a UDR man’s murder. One of his brothers was shot dead by the SAS, and another brother and an uncle were killed by loyalists while he was in jail.
“When I got out my father took me to see my brothers’ graves. But what struck me was the graves of the post-mistress and the baker. I couldn’t believe all the changes in our small community. The world had moved on without me. Many prisoners feel lost for so long.”
McKearney now runs Expac, a Monaghan-based group for ex-prisoners in Border areas. “There’s no ideal time to go to jail, but it’s probably best in your mid-20s. Jail stunts teenagers’ emotional development and prison is very hard in your 40s or 50s because you realise how little time is left.
“Serving more than four years affects people. They start to lose contact with the outside world and all but close relatives. After 10, they’re institutionalised. It’s like marathon runners ‘hitting the wall’. After a certain distance, the battle gets too much physically and psychologically.”
Ex-prisoners often feel their relatives are strangers and they left their real ‘family’ in jail. Those who were single when they went to jail, then “play catch-up” with children and mortgages in their 40s and 50s, McKearney says. “At retirement time, when life should be easing, they’re up to their necks in mortgages and debt.”
The situation has improved since the ceasefire, but ex-prisoners still face employment discrimination, he says. They’re officially barred from civil-service jobs and unofficially from many others. “How many become teachers or journalists?” McKearney asks. “I mightn’t reasonably expect to be able to join the gardai but I think I should be eligible for a job as local librarian.”
Even if ex-prisoners slip through the door, “it’s just like with women – there’s a glass ceiling”. Neither the Equality Authority nor the North’s Equality Commission recognise ex-prisoners as a vulnerable group, he says. “An employer can bin an ex-prisoner’s application form, admit it, and the law provides no protection.”
Low-paid jobs are no better: “A supermarket can draw up a list of 20 candidates for shelf-stackers and cashiers. Its head of security, an ex-Special Branch man, says ‘get rid of numbers one and seven’.”
The Special Branch also visit employers, demanding ex-prisoners are sacked, he says. “I was labouring and they ordered my boss to get rid of me. He told them to get lost, but 99% of employers wouldn’t be so principled.”
Still, it’s easier in Border areas than in parts of country where there’s hostility to republicanism and a smaller black/illegal economy. Ex-prisoners are usually barred from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where many would like to begin new lives.
Anthony McIntyre, who served 18 years imprisonment, says: “I laugh when I hear about an ‘IRA pension plan’. The IRA offered me a Christmas loan and nothing else when I was released. I’d two kids and, I’m not ashamed to say, I had to shop-lift to feed and clothe them.”
Today, Brendan Hughes won’t attend any 1916 parade but he’ll privately pay tribute at the IRA Belfast Brigade monument. “I keep wondering ‘what it was all about?'” he says. “The doctors tell me not to drink but I do. It eases the pain, it doesn’t kill it.” A picture of the hunger-strikers hangs in Hughes’ hallway. ‘Soldiers of our past, heroes of our future’, it says. Somehow, it doesn’t seem that way.
Follow this link to find out more: https://goo.gl/images/cUYJAc
With many thanks to: Antaine Mac Cathmhaoil for the original posting.
My heart is full of memories, with pride I speak your name, my life go’s on without you but nothing seems the same. I talk about you often, of the things you would say and do, I have so many memories, but I wish I still had you.
You are not just a memory silently kept, your a part of my life I will never forget. Gone from my sight, away from my touch, but in my memories, loved so much.
Always remembered with great pride, your loving son Kevin and grandson Donovan xxx.
Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA).
The structures of PIRA remain in existence in much reduced form. This includes a senior leadership, the ‘Provisional Army Council’ (PAC), and some ‘departments’ with specific responsilities. At lower level, there are some regional command structures. At this lower level, some activity takes place without the knowledge or direction of the leadership. We do not beleive the group is actively recruiting. The group took part in decommissioning between 2001 and 2005 but continues to have access to some weapons. PIRA has not conducted organised procurement of new weaponry in the period since the last IMC report of 2001. PIRA members believe that the PAC oversees both the PIRA and Sinn Féin (Shame Féin) with an overarching strategy. We judge this strategy has a wholly political focus. PIRA members have been directed to actively support Sinn Féin (Shame Féin) within the community including activity like electioneering and leafleting.
Some PIRA members are involved in gathering information of interest to the group including details of DR (dissident Republican) activities and the attempted identification of covert human intelligence sources (MI5), (undercover British Army) and (SAS). A small number are involved in the storage of remaining weaponry in order to prevent its loss to dissident republicans. Individual PIRA members remain involved in criminal activity, such as large scale smuggling, and there have been isolated incidents of violence, including murders.
The investigation into the murder of Kevin McGuigan is still ongoing;
However, we judge that the assessment put forward by the Chief Constable in his public statement on 22nd August remains accurate. The group is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist atracks against the state or its representatives. There have only been very limited indications of dissent to date and we judge that this has been addressed effectively by the leadership.
Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).
THE structures of INLA remain in existence but there is little indication of centralised control from the leadership. As a consequence, groups accross the North of Ireland operate largely independently of each other. There are indications that INLA is attempting to recruit new members. The group decommissioned weapons in 2010 but continues to have access to some weapons. There have been some efforts to redirect INLA towards community initiatives and a small number of members have taken roles in republican politics with the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP).
However, INLA members have continued to be heavily involved in criminality including extortion, drug dealing, distribution of stolen goods and fraud.
INLA has also been responsible for paramilitart-style assaults and intimidation attacks against alleged drug dealers. These activities have a significant impact on the local community.
Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)/Red Hand Commando (RHC).
THE structures of the UVF remain in existence and there are some indications of recruitment. A top leadership sets strategy for the group but there are lower levels of leadership who have some independence in decision making. The group took part in decommissioning in 2009 but continues to have access to some weapons.
The UVF leadership has attempted to steer its membership towards peaceful initiatives and to carve out a new constructive role. A small number have taken up roles in the politics with the PUP.
However, a large number, including some senior figures, are extensively involved in organised crime including drug dealing, extortion and smuggling.
The UVF are involved in conducting paramilatary style assaults. In some cases UVF members are heavily involved in violence and crime.
The UVF leadership is committed to transforming the purpose of the group to community focused initiatives but have only limited control over the activities of its membership.
Ulster Defence Association (UDA).
THE UDA structures remain in existence but have become increasingly fragmented. The organisation is split in a number of geographical areas, each with its own structures which act almost completly autonomously.
The UFF ( Ulster Freedom Fighters), previously used as a front (cover name) for the UDA, no longer exists.
Organisation decommissioned in 2010 but continues to have access to some weapons. There are some indications of recruitment. There are members who have continued to steer the group into positive community based activism. However, others have been resistant to change and remained active in criminality and violence. Individual members and senior figures within many UDA areas are involved in organised crime including drug dealing, robbery, extortion and the distrubution of conterfeit goods.
There has been an increase in paramilitary activity in the North Antrim area resulting in a murder (Brian McIlhagga) for which a murder investigation is ongoing.
The UDA leadership are committed to transforming the group but have only limited control over its membership.
South East Antrim UDA
SEA UDA remains a separate entity from the mainstream UDA. It retains structures similar to those within the mainstream UDA and its membership is engaged in the same types of criminal and violent activity.
During the Union Flag protests in 2012 individual members were believed to have been involved in serious disorder in the Carrickfergus area.
Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF)
THE LVF exists only as a criminal group in Antrim and Mid-Ulster.
With many thanks to: The Irish News.
UNIONIST politicians have voiced their “disgust” after a ‘rebel song’ commemorating 10 brave Irish republicans who died in the 1981 Hunger Strike reached number 24 in the UK singles’ charts.
The Roll of Honour rocketed up the ‘hit list’ this week after Celtic supporters in Scotland launched a campaign to see it reach number one by Sunday by downloading via the internet. The move came after the Scottish authorities outlawed the singing of Irish ‘rebel songs’ at Scottish football grounds under the Offensive Behaviour At Football Act. The campaign is being organised by a Celtic supporters’ umbrella group, Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC), which has been given permission to release the song by folk band, The Irish Brigade. Originally penned in the 1980s, the song pays tribute to 10 IRA and INLA members who died during the 1981 Hunger Strike. The song’s lyrics include the line: “England you’re a monster, don’t think that you won, we will never be defeated while Ireland has such sons.” And in the final line calls on people to “fight on” for a free Ireland. A number of people have been convicted for singing the song at Scottish football grounds while several are currently awaiting trial.
Despite this, last April a Celtic fan was cleared of inciting public disorder by a Scottish court after he was detected singing the song at a football game in Dundee. Ulster Unionist Party justice spokesman Tom Elliot said the FAC campaign was an “absolute disgrace and I condemn their actions without reservation.” He also urged Celtic Football Club to take action. “This is not an issue that can be swept under the carpet. Stern action is required so that the club’s good name is not tarnished by assocation with people who would seek to glorify terrorism,” he said. Loyalist victims’ groups have also condemned the campaign. Rebel songs have been sung by a section of the Celtic support for many decades. Other songs with an Irish theme regularly heard at Celtic games include The Fields of Athenry and the ballad of Aidan McAnespie – a young GAA player shot dead by the British army near Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone in 1988. A spokesman for FAC defended the download campaign. “The campaign is not about encouraging people to sing the song, it’s about saying this song should not be a criminal offence to sing,” she said. “It’s not a criminal offence unless you are a football fan. “The Offensive Behaviour At Football Act is a bad law which attempts to restrict freedom of expression and that is wrong.” A sectarian song associated with Rangers supporters led to months of unrest and the creation of a new parades flashpoint in Belfast after it was played by a loyalist band outside St Patrick’s Catholic Church in North Belfast. The anti-Catholic lyrics of The Famine Song instruct the Irish community in Scotland to “go home”. Loyalist Billy Hutchinson called the campaign “insensitive and childish.” The Progressive Unionist Party leader said: “Many people will find this initiative callous and insentive, particularly those who have been victims of republican violence and terror. “There seems to be an increase in sectarianism associated with fans of Celtic FC and I think it is time the club acted to address this. “This really amounts to nothing more than a pathetic and childish act, and those responsible need to grow up.”
With many thanks to: Connla Young, The Irish News.
TWO IRA men were shot in the back by SAS soldiers in Co Tyrone 30 years ago, a report has found. The families of Colm McGirr (23) and Brian Campbell (19) on Monday 30th December said they planned to sue the British government and wanted fresh inquests into their deaths.
The news came as US diplomat Richard Haass failed to make the party’s in the North of Ireland come to an agreement on dealing with the past, parades and flags. Among the issues holding up the progress have been mechanisms for giving evidence to Historical inquires by bodies taking over the functions of the PSNI‘s/RUC‘s Historical Enquires Team (HET) and the Police Ombudsman. The fresh report into the Co Tyrone killings was carried out by a forensic pathologist for the HET. It appears to contradict accounts given by the undercover soldiers who claimed the pair were shot dead while pointing weapons towards them. Mr McGirr and Mr Campbell, who were members of the Provisional IRA, were murdered by the SAS in a field on Cloghog Road near Coalisland, Co Tyrone, on December 4 1983. A third man was injured but escaped. Their deaths fuelled claims of a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy by the British government against IRA members.
Testimony from the soldiers had claimed that the men were removing weapons hidden in the field and on being challenged “Colm McGirr turned and pointed a shotgun towards one of the soldiers who then fired several shots at him”. Forensic pathologist Richard Shepherd reviewed the postmortem examination scene photographs and statements from four of the six soldiers prescent. He said he did “not believe Colm McGirr would have turned far enough to threaten soldiers” and “no shots had struck Brian Campbell from the front”. In his report, which the families have received, he concluded that because Mr McGirr was right handed, he did “not believe he would have turned far enough to threaten soldiers” if he was holding a weapon. “In my opinion therefore it is more likely that [Mr McGirr] received shots to his right side and back as he was facing into or towards the bush,” he said. The SAS also claimed one of the squad, known as Soldier A, then fired towards Brian Campbell who was holding an armalite rifle and had also turned and was facing them” However, Dr Shepherd concluded that “no shots had struck Brian Campbell form the front”. “I cannot exclude the possibility that the injury to the left upper back was inflicted as he lay on the ground,” he said, without ruling out the soldiers’ version of events in both cases. The IRA men’s families have now called for a fresh inquest into their deaths/murders. Solicitor Padraig O Muirigh, acting on behalf of the relatives said they would also take legal action against the British government.
“This report raises serious concerns in relation to the original soldiers’ statements,” he said. “In light of the disclosure of the Dr Shepherd’s report the families have made an application to the attorney general to direct a fresh inquest into the deaths/murders of Colm McGirr and Brian Campbell. “They will also be issuing civil proceedings against the minister of defence in relation to the unlawful actions of the soldiers.” Colm McGirr’s brother Brian (58), from Coalisland, claimed the British army discovered the arms cache three days earlier on December 1, but the weapons were not removed or disabeled. “We have no doubt that a carefully planned ambush was set by undercover British security forces that evening,” he said. “Through the 30 years that have passed we have sought the truth of what happened. We were led to bbelieve that the PSNI’s/RUC’s Historical Enquiries Team would make every effort to achieve the truth. “As part of this, a second pathologist has confirmed that the shootings could not have happened as described by security forces. Both men, Colm and Brian, were shot in cold blood in the back.” Mr McGirr said the families have been informed that the HSE investigation “is at an end and will proceed no further”. “We lived with a charade of an inquest in early years with no evidence of any sort offered as to what occurred. The McGirr and Campbell families will continue to demand that a new inquest is held to fully investigate all that occourred on that evening.” Reacting to the findings on Monday nnight, Dungannon Independent Republican councillor Barry Monteith said he was “not surprised” by the pathologist’s review and accused the British government of operating a ‘shot-to-kill policy in the North of Ireland. However, Dungannon DUP councillor Samuel Brush said he had no confidence in the HET. “There are dozens and dozens of murders around this area in South Tyrone that have not been looked at,” he said. “It baffles me that these things didn’t ccome to light then and can be turned up. “All we can do is work on reports as they come but is this report any better or any worse than the previous ones?”
With many thanks toto: The Irish News.
THE mass escape of 38 PIRA prisoners from the Maze Prison, near Belfast on September 25 1983 in which a prison warder was stabbed to death, is detailed in previously confidential files. Like many files in this year’s releases, that relating to the prison escape is partially closed to 2069.
The official report claims that Gerry Kelly (Old Baily bomber), one of the PIRA escapees and now a Shame Fein MLA, shot a prison guard in the head. Confidential reports prepared for the Secretary of State Jim Priors shed new light on the event and the role of a British military guard at the prison. In a report on the events of that dramatic Sunday, penned the following day, W J Kerr, director of prison operations in the North of Ireland, described how at 16.45 hours he was informed of ‘an incident at the Maze’. He immediately proceeded to the prison where he ‘was informed that H7 Block had been taken over by armed prisoners who had hijacked the kitchen lorry and had proceeded to the main gate.’ There follows a diary of the events on that Sunday. The day began normally with prisoners unlocked for breakfast and exercise. At 11.15 Fr Rooney, the Catholic chaplain, celebrated Mass in the H Block with 54 prisoners in attendence. Dinner was served at 12.15 hours after which all prisoners were returned to their cells. Suddenly at 14.45 hours prisoners in H Block 7 overpowered staff on duty and took control of the block. Various weapons were used including guns.
The prisoners commandeered the prison meals delivery van and 38 prisoners forced the prison officer driver to drive the van from the block through segment gates one and eight to the prison main gate. The escapees then overpowered the staff on duty at the gate and, although eventually the alam was raised, they managed to get out of the prison proper. The prisoners at this point disappeared and fled in different directions.’ Among the prisoners in H7 were Gerry Kelly, aged 30, (the present Shame Fein MLA for North Belfast) and Brendan ‘Bic’ McFarlane who had been a spokesman for the hunger strikers during the 1981 Hunger Strike. Kelly had been convicted at Winchester in 1973, along with Marian Price/Mc Glincy and Dolours Price (The Price Sisters) and Hugh Feeney, for setting off car bombs in London. In all he had made four previous escape attempts. McFarlane (then 31), described in the file as ‘a PIRA leader deeply involved in the organisation’ was sentenced to five life terms for the 1975 bombing of the Bayardo Bar on the Shankill Road in which five people died. The sequence of events at the prison began when prisoner Mead overpowered a senior officer while ‘Prisoner Storey entered the principal officer’s office carrying a gun and pointed it at the senior officer’s head.’ Storey then took charge, “forcing the officer to answer the telephone in a normal manner”. Meanwhile, other officers were being overpowered and tied up throughout the H Block. “Officer Leak was in the toilet when he heard two shots. He left [to see] Prisoner 58 [Gerry Kelly] pointing a pistol into the control room. “Kelly turned the gun on Leak and forced him into the officers’ tea room. Leak was tied up and hooded. Kerr added at this point: “This would establish that prisoner Kelly shot officer Adams who was on duty in the control. It is not clear if the control grille was locked before Mr Adams was shot.” As the IRA inmates gradually seized control of the wings they approached the inner gates where ‘Bic’ McFarlane told the prison guard that he had been “sent to clean the sentry box”. The officer was then overpowered by armed prisoners. Meanwhile, officer McLaughlin was on duty as kitchen van driver and at 15.25 hours had passed through the lock gates of H Block to deliver afternoon tea. “As officer McLaughlin started to unload the meal from the van, prisoner Storey put a gun to his head and forced him into the medical inspection room.
“Whilst there he was threatened by prisoner [Gerry] Kelly who told him to do as he was told or he would be ‘blown away’.” McLaughlin was then forced to drive the van from the block to the main gate through the inner gates. According to the report the van proceeded through the first gate unchallenged to a parking lot where most of the uniformed prisoners ddisembarked. At the main gates they seized the controls and got outside. However, Kerr stressed, the staff in the Tally Lodge “resisted strongly and in the ensuing affray one officer was stabbed and died shortly afterwards. “By this time the alarm had been raised and two officers sitting in their cars outside the gate drove into the area, blocking the exit.” In the resulting melee 10 escapees were captured including a man called Murray who was wounded by an army sentry in a watch-tower. At the time of the report on 26 September, 21 inmates remained “unlawfully at large”. In his conclusion, Kerr highlighted a number of aspects of the PIRA escape which gave him concern. In particular, the fact that the inmates were in possession of firearms suggested that they and their supporters outside were able to breach the security measures at the Maze. He was particularly alarmed at the ease with which prisoners were able to gain access to the secure entrance into the blocks and the main gates. He also questioned how the escaping prisoners were allowed to drive a hijacked vehicle through two inner gates without being challenged and why five officers in H Block 7 were permitted to be off their posts at the same time. Claims by the DUP leader, Ian Paisley that the military guard had failed to open fire prompted a memo to the secretary of state from an NIO official, P W J Buxton on September 28 1983 on the reaction of the soldiers who formed a 150-strong prison guard. He reported that in the watchtower on the main gate had shot an escaper whom he had just seen shot a prison officer. The position of a soldier shooting escapers was quite clear, Buxton noted; ‘the Yellow Card’ applied. Thus, unless the escaper is presenting a direct threat to life, or has just killed or injured someone and there was no other way of arresting, he is not authorised to shoot.
With many thanks to: Eamon Phoenix, The Irish News.
THREE of the North’s most senior dissident republicans have been taken off the streets after a second Belfast city centre attack. With a manhunt under way on both sides of the border for a firebomber injured by his own device, the three dissident chiefs were charged on Tuesday with an array of serious offences.
Colin Duffy, Alec McCrory and Harry Fitzsimmons all have a history of republican activism dating back to the Provisional IRA. Dissident republicans have been particularly active in the run-up to Christmas with shots fired at police in North and West Belfast, a bomb left in an entertainment area of the city on one of the busiest nights of the year and an attempt on Monday to firebomb a city centre shop. The trio, in their forties and fifties, were arrested on Sunday, 48 hours after a bomb exploded in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter while it was packed with Christmas parties. Duffy is accused of IRA membership and plotting to murder security-force members. McCrory and Fitzimmons are charged with attempting to murder police officers travelling on Crumlin Road in North Belfast on December 5. All three are also charged with conspiracy to possess firearms and explosives with intent to endanger life and belonging to a proscribed organisation. McCrory and Fitzisimmons face further charges of aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm. The alleged offences cover a period between January 1 and December 16 this year.
Amid heavy security at Belfast Magistrates Court, supporters of the three accused packed the public gallery on Tuesday. At one stage the defendents declined to stand up as some of the charges were put to them. A detective said he could connect them to the charges and no applications for bail were made during the short hearing. The trio waved at friends who clapped as they were remanded in custody to appear again by videolink in four weeks’ time. Meanwhile, two arrests were made outside the court complex as tensions heightened briefly. There were minor scuffles amid a heavy police presence at the Oxford Street exit as supporters of Duffy, McCrory and Fitzimmions left the building. North Belfast men Daniel Lundy and Aidan Fergusion, both from Ardoyne, were arrested and taken to Musgrave Police Station and charged with assaulting police, disorderly behaviour and resisting police. They were released on bail to appear before Belfast Magistrates Court on January 13.
With many thanks to: The Irish News.
Mr Adams has come under attack from a number of politicians and commentators for his comments on the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal. He said that Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan had a laissez-faire attitude to their safety. It was an insensitive remark, but what if someone else had made thatt point, would it have been acceptable? As it happens, someone else did make that remark – more or less. Quoted in Toby Harnden‘s book “Bandit Country” Sir John said of the late Bob Buchanan‘s activities on the day he died: “He did not follow basic, elementary security procedures.” Hermon claimed that Mr Buchanan did not beleive in taking precautions because, as a devout Christian, he beleived God was in control. If Sir John was right, so was Mr Adams – although Sir John does not appear to have been vilified. Reaction to the Adams comments tells us three things: any inquiry into the past is interpreted as political ammunition for the present; too many politicians do not want the truth about the past, they just want their prejudices confirmed and, thirdly, personalising our politics tends to suffocate valid political tends to suffocate valid political comment.
With due respect to the two dead RUC officers and their families, Smithwick’s significance is political rather than legal. Using the word “collusion” has major political implications. It is a heavily loaded word, which would probably be worth a million points in Irish political Scrabble. But the possible existence of one or even two Garda informants does not represent collusion. Gerry Adams said that Smithwick’s idea of collusion is very different in form and scale from the collusion that occoured in the North. Mr Adams is right. The IRA presumbly had moles in many organnisations, possibly even the RUC. But Smithwick’s findings allow unionists to use the word collusion (without firm evidence) thereby giving them a higher moral ground than previously. Unionists suggest there was also collusion in 1969 when the Provisional IRA was founded. There was certainly an attempt by some elements in Fianna Fail, the Irish intelligence service and assorted Catholics to take control of the Civil Rights Movement and to direct the then IRA away from socialism. Some of those involved at the time say as early as Sunday August 24 1969 – just over a week after the burning of Bombay Street – older, non-active IRA men meet these elements and agreed to break away from the existing IRA leadership in Belfast in return for money from Dublin.
There were two founds for Northern relief – the official Irish government fund for refugees and a Fianna Fail fund. The two may well have become intermingled, but there is no evidence that the government as a corporate body was intent on anything more of that was a political window dressing. However, the lack of evidence on collusion then and 1989 does not vindicate the Provisional IRA campaign of violence. It was unnecessary, sectarian, brutal and futile. The deaths of Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan, for example, broke the Geneva Convention by killing unarmed men and, in particular, by killing one who was injured and trying to surrender. If the IRA was fighting a war, then this was a war crime – along with all their other war crimes from Kingsmill to the Birmigham pub bombs. That is where Sinn Fein is open to critcism. What was the Provisional IRA campaign for? Pearse Doherty TD said this week that the campaign was to defend local communities. (Whom does he think the 21 dead in the Birmingham pub bombs were going to attack?) However, also this week, John O’Dowd described it as ” a conflict between nations and communities”. This largely confirms that Sinn Fein has finally abandoned Irish Republicanism and opted instead for Britain’s two nations theory, by suggesting that only Catholics can be Irish. The political impact of Smithwick’s is that it nudges our history towards the erroneous veiw that the violence here was carried out by two sets of paramilitaries, each backed through collusion by different national governments. The two nations theory is slowly becoming official which, oddly, suits Sinn Fein. The above comments represent valid veiws on Sinn Fein policies, past and present. You can agree or disagree with them. In that the context you can agree or disagree with Mr Adams, but no one has the right to disagree with the truth just because they dislike the person speaking it. Personal attacks are no substitute for political analysis.
With many thanks to: Patrick Murphy, The Irish News.
THE CONCLUSION of the Smithwick Tribunal that Garda officers colluded in the murder of superintendent Breen and Buchanan is deeply disturbing and if true that one or more members of An Garda Siochana ( the guardians of the peace) colluded with the IRA in the murders of superintendents Breen and Buchanan then not only are they guilty of murder but they let down an entire police force.
Unfortunatley there are now unionist politicians who remained silent or indeed excused compelling evidence of collusion in the North over the years but delighted to rush to the media to smear the entire Garda Siochana and that is not only unjustified but it must not be allowed to happen. Garda officers, many of them now retired, were stationed in the border areas during the best part of their lives to protect life and limb. Is history now to be rewtitten, as it often is, to misrepresent those officers as villains involved in collusion leading to the murder of police in the north? I should think not. During the period from the 1970s to the 1990s the Republic, with very limited resources, spent more per head of population on security than the British did, much of that in the border areas. Often Garda stations on the southern side of the border had more manpower than their counterparts on the northern side and they worked for a fraction of the salary their RUC conterparts but they did it not for money but to protect the lives of people.
They were noble officers who were not influenced by the IRA or any other illegal organisation. Is this now to be dismissed because there may have been one or perhaps more rotten apples in the barrel? Like police forces all over the world the Garda have had their problems and the need for reform but they do not deserve the kind of abuse which is now emanating from the usual suspects who ignored, dismissed or excused widespread collusion in the north but now want to present themselves as the voice of perfection ignoring the fact that Garda officers made a massive contribution to limiting the number of people who may otherwise have died in those days of total madness.
With thanks to: John Dallat MLA, SDLP, East Derry.