From the talented Nina Paley.
From 1975 to 1982 a British terrorist faction nicknamed the “Shankhill Butchers”, part of the militant UVF, carried out a series of attacks designed to instil terror in the Irish Nationalist community of Belfast, randomly targeting men, women and children living in isolated enclaves around the city. Like Al-Qaeda in Iraq during the intercommunal conflict the Unionist grouping simply didn’t kill their victims. Armed with guns, explosives, axes and butchers knives they kidnapped, tortured, mutilated, hacked the limbs and cut the throats of those they encountered, often using various pubs and bars around the city to carry out their murderous activities (sometimes with the full knowledge of staff and customers). Fuelled by alcohol and drugs they boasted of the time it took to slay their captives or of how many they had killed that week, from ten year-old Kevin McMenamin to forty-eight year Marie McGrattan. Existing in the twilight world of British colonial culture on the island of Ireland, nationalism and religion fused together, they came to represent all that was evil on the ideological fringes of Unionism. Eventually their frenzied behaviour and ancillary criminal ways became too much for the British authorities and paramilitary police and they were brought to heel, arrests and assassinations (both internally and by Irish Republicans) breaking the back of their amorphous organisation.
One of their number was Eddie McIlwaine, a serving British soldier with the infamous Ulster Defence Regiment, who helped the group secure weapons, intelligence information and safe passage through British security cordons and checkpoints (though he was not the only one to do so). He was convicted in 1979 of kidnapping, assault and possession of weapons, the least of the charges that could have been brought against him. His only admitted victim was Gerard McLaverty, a young man the gang grabbed off the street while posing as police officers, beat, strangled and slashed with a knife before leaving for dead. Back then McIlwaine was an acknowledged psychopath, a dangerous soldier-cum-terrorist addicted to inflicting human suffering. Today he is an honoured and all-but venerated member of the Orange Order, the anti-Catholic and anti-Irish fraternity devoted to fundamentalist Protestantism and Britishness. From the Belfast Telegraph newspaper:
“One of the Shankill Butchers stewarded an Orange Order parade past a Catholic church in Belfast last weekend.
Eddie McIlwaine was filmed by Carrick Hill residents ushering members of the loyal orders past St Patrick’s on Donegall Street on the Twelfth.
McIlwaine was jailed for eight years in 1979 for being part of the Shankill Butchers gang that killed 19 Catholics and Protestants.
Last year Sunday Life pictured him parading through east Belfast during the UVF’s 100th anniversary parade.
He wore a UVF armband emblazoned with the words ‘UVF West Belfast 1’, and a medal understood to signify time spent in prison.
McIlwaine’s involvement with the Orange Order was first revealed a decade ago when he was pictured carrying a banner commemorating UVF killer Brian Robinson at the controversial Whiterock parade.
A spokesman for the Orange Order defended the Shankill Butcher’s role in the organisation, saying: “I can confirm that Eddie McIlwaine is a member of that lodge and in good standing…
“As long as Mr McIlwaine upholds the principle of the institution and has paid his debt to society he has done nothing wrong.””
Politicians, journalists and observers sometimes claim a moral equivalence between the actions of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army, the British Occupation Forces and the British Terror Factions during the conflict in the north-east of Ireland and beyond. They argument goes that they all were equally guilty of militarism and violence. This is simply untrue. While the IRA can be justifiably criticised and condemned for many of its actions, up to and including war crimes, more often than not it exercised restraint. As dreadful as the war was it could have been far worse had the IRA chosen to act entirely outside the norms of western European behaviour at the end of the 20th century (or what the communities who supported it were willing to tolerate). That is not to negate the suffering caused by the Republican Army, the many innocent victims both direct and indirect left by its actions. The litany of its barbarisms, deliberate or otherwise, is lengthy and bring no credit to anyone. The war was not a clean one. Heroes are few and far between.
However the terrorist gangs organised and functioning under the aegis of the British state, acknowledged or otherwise, are a different matter. It was these factions which embraced as a weapon of war the policy of “ethnic cleansing” as the ultimate solution – or fallback – to the conflict and the defeat of their enemy. Acting as the cutting edge of Britain’s counter-insurgency strategy they engaged not armed opponents, guerrilla fighters or their commanders, but ordinary Irish men, women and children.
35% of all those killed by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army were civilians.
51% of all those killed by the British Occupation Forces were civilians.
85% of all those killed by the British terror factions were civilians.
When the Orange Order permits the membership of someone like Eddie McIlwaine, a literal butcher of human beings, when it elevates him to a position of authority in its organisation, however slight, it sends a message to the people of Ireland as a whole. It is the same message that ISIS, the would-be Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sends to Shia Moslems and Arab Christians or Israel sends to the Palestinians of Gaza: you and yours are unhumans.
John Redmond is probably one of the more divisive figures in Irish history and rightly so. The patrician head of the Irish Parliamentary Party whose followers eulogised him with an almost messianic fervour while excoriating any and all critics he was the self-proclaimed “leader of Nationalist Ireland” who bullied and cajoled thousands of young Irish men into sacrificing their lives in the service of the British Empire from 1914-18. While opposing “militant” nationalism at home he was a devout defender of British militarist nationalism abroad, a committed if “devolutionist” imperialist whose desire for Home Rule was driven as much by self-serving political ambitions as justice for the Irish people as a whole. Like his followers Redmond believed that Ireland was the personal fiefdom of the Irish Parliamentary Party and acted accordingly. Dissent was rarely tolerated and when rival forces arose, like the disparate Irish Volunteers in 1913, they were quickly appropriated or side-lined.
His conservatism shaped his political, economic and social world-view. Limited autonomy for Ireland within the so-called United Kingdom based upon exploitative class lines little different from that under the existing British administration allied to the diktats of the Roman Catholic church. The conformist, anti-pluralist state shaped in the 1920s by the Irish counter-revolution and the political forerunners of Fine Gael was in many ways the embodiment of Redmond’s constitutional ambitions, albeit with considerably more independence than he would perhaps have felt comfortable with.
So given John Redmond’s deplorable track record on the separation of church and state, women’s rights, employee rights, opposition to comprehensive health and social care, and generally early 20th century “neo-liberal” socio-economic outlook it is surprising to see Rónán O’Brien, a Labour Party activist and former advisor to several Labour ministers in government (at the cost of €114,000 per annum, a chairde!), defending Redmond’s tarnished political legacy in the Irish Times. Albeit in a self-defeating manner:
“It is not difficult to understand why a man who called on Irish nationalists not only to defend the island of Ireland during the first World War but to volunteer for the British army has been written out of a national narrative based on Easter 1916.
It is not difficult to see either how a man whose Irishness was matched by an affinity to the British Empire was forgotten in independent Ireland.
And it is not difficult to see how a man hostile to women’s suffrage (unlike his brother) would be disregarded by at least half our population.
But none of these things should detract from the contribution made by him and his party to Irish independence.”
Actually, I think you’ll find that they should. And do.
Philip Weiss links to a shocking and profoundly disturbing video of a Palestinian father unable to accept the killing of his young son during an Israeli military attack on a civilian population centre in the Gaza Strip. This the reality of Israel’s latest campaign against the besieged population of Gaza while supposedly countering the military forces of the Hamas-led government and assorted Palestinian insurgents. This will also be the consequence of Israel’s actions following the warning that a quarter of a million people living in northern Gaza have just 24 hours to flee their homes in gross violation of international law.
The atrocious murder of three Israeli teenage boys does not justify the murder of over a hundred Palestinian men, women and children. Especially when the vast majority of those men, women and children had nothing whatsoever to do with the former event. It is arbitrary and collective punishment of entire families and communities. So what is the difference between what Israel is doing now in Occupied Palestine and what Russia did in Crimea and is still doing in eastern Ukraine? Or what Assad is doing in Opposition-held Syria? Or what ISIS is doing in Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan?
The ongoing military operations being carried out against the civilian population of Gaza and Occupied Palestine as a whole by the Israeli defence forces and government in pursuit of Palestinian insurgents are dreadful and may well fall into the category of war crimes. However the use of deliberately egregious language to describe or condemn those operations, especially language that knowingly harks back to World War Two and the Third Reich, is not only offensive but counter-productive. Six million men, women and children from a Jewish background, however tenuous, died in the concentration camps or the killing fields of Europe between 1939 and 1945. To refer to an “Israeli blitzkrieg” on Gaza as An Phoblacht did today is to echo language normally used in relation to the Nazis. It is both insensitive and unnecessary. Likewise the Israeli government, however much it is influenced by sectarian and racist views, is not a “Zionist regime”. It is all the more ironic that this article comes from the newspaper of Sinn Féin, a party that sits in a regional power-sharing government in the north-east of Ireland with another grouping whose isolationist world view is not so far removed from that of the current governing parties in Israel.
As if the dreadful loss in human life and untold misery inflicted upon tens of thousands wasn’t enough the internecine struggle in Syria now rivals the conflict in Iraq for the irreparable damage it has caused to the physical heritage of the Middle East and its many peoples. A thoroughly depressing report from the BBC:
“Syria, graced with thousands of historic sites, is seeing its cultural heritage vandalised, looted and destroyed by war…
In March the Syrian air force bombed the world’s best preserved Crusader Castle, the 12th Century Krak des Chevaliers in Homs province.
In November a mortar shell, fired from rebel-held areas in the north-eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, struck the priceless mosaics on the facade of the 8th Century Great Mosque – the spiritual heart of the city.
Among the 2,000-year-old remains of the Roman oasis city of Palmyra, to the north-east, the army has dug a road and earth dykes, and installed multiple rocket launchers inside the camp of the emperor Diocletian.
Further north, Aleppo’s Great Mosque, founded in the early 8th Century, has come under heavy fire. Its 50m-tall Seljuk minaret, a masterpiece of elegance dating from 1095, was considered one of the most important monuments of medieval Syria.
The minaret, whose height made it a useful rebel lookout and sniper position, collapsed as a result of shelling in March 2013.
Aleppo’s souks, dating back in parts to the 13th Century, were considered the finest of any in the Middle East, with more than 12km of winding alleys. Not just a major tourist attraction, they represented the beating heart of the commercial city, founded in the 2nd Millennium BC.
Free Syrian Army rebels established a headquarters in a bath-house near the old souk, making it a target for bombardment.
The Old City of Homs suffered more aerial bombardment than any other city in Syria. Many ancient buildings, including several active churches and monasteries, were flattened. Umm Al-Zinnar Church boasted a relic from the belt of the Virgin Mary.
Far to the south, the 2nd Century Roman amphitheatre of Bosra, once the capital of the Roman Province of Arabia, is concealed within a 13th Century fort not far from the Jordanian border. It has been occupied during the current fighting by army snipers and shabiha militia, its windows piled with sandbags, firing at rebel pockets in the Old Town of Bosra.
The famous tells or archaeological mounds of Mesopotamia – rich repositories of man’s earliest history once carefully dug by the likes of Agatha Christie’s archaeologist husband Max Mallowan – are now systematically being plundered with heavy machinery to fill the coffers of Islamist militant group Isis. While some ancient artefacts are traded for weapons or cash, others that represent humans or animal gods are seen by Isis as heretical to Islam and destroyed.
Isis has also bulldozed statues of lions along with Sufi and Shia shrines in the Raqqa province, the militant group’s headquarters.”
Whatever about removing modernist symbols of relatively recent oppression in various nations around the world, Queen Victoria in Ireland, Stalin in Ukraine, Pol Pot in Cambodia, using contemporary political or religious ideology to justify the destruction of ancient monuments indicates the facile nature of those beliefs.
In the “better late than never” category Britain’s Left-leaning newspaper, the Guardian, has published a special investigation by Ian Cobain into the infamous Ballymurphy Massacre of August 1971. During the course of three days rampaging British troops in an isolated Irish Nationalist enclave on the edge of West Belfast murdered ten civilians, 9 men and boys and one woman, while wounding dozens more. If you are a regular reader of An Sionnach Fionn you will have read my own description of the terrifying events that summer some forty years ago. You will also be aware that the government in Britain has refused to hold an official inquiry into the war crime, largely on the grounds that it would not be in the public interest do so. That would be the British public interest, of course.
“One of the most tragic and controversial episodes of the conflict in Northern Ireland will be relived in a Belfast courtroom on Friday when a preliminary hearing is held into the deaths of 10 people shot dead more than four decades ago.
All 10 were killed in one small neighbourhood of west Belfast over little more than 36 hours in August 1971 during the disturbances that were triggered by the introduction of internment without trial.
Drawing upon hundreds of pages of contemporary witness statements, police reports and pathologists’ records gathered for the inquest, the Guardian has reconstructed the events surrounding the killings.
What emerges is a picture that is complex and confused, but which points to a prolonged killing spree by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment, several months before troops from the same regiment massacred protesters at Derry on Bloody Sunday.
Among the nine men and one woman fatally wounded in the streets around Ballymurphy between the evening of 9 August and the morning of 11 August were a local priest, shot twice while giving the last rites to a man who had also been shot, and a 44-year-old mother of eight, shot in the face.
At least eight of those who died appear to have been shot by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment. A ninth was shot by a soldier from a different regiment, while the 10th was shot by an unidentified sniper, possibly a soldier. Another man died of heart failure, allegedly after being subjected to a mock execution by soldiers.
Unlike on Bloody Sunday, however, no journalists were present, no camera crews captured the events, and there was no international condemnation of the killings.”
Meanwhile the Guardian also reports on new revelations surrounding the assassination by British terrorists of Sergeant Joseph Campbell, a paramilitary police officer with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), in 1977. A recent investigation by the Police Ombudsman in the north-east of Ireland has discovered that the planned killing of (the Roman Catholic) Campbell was known before hand by senior commanders in the RUC who did nothing to prevent it. In fact there is considerable suspicion that they permitted the shooting to go ahead in order to protect corrupt and terrorist-supporting men within their own ranks.
“Campbell had been a well-known and respected police officer in the County Antrim community for many years. The shooting took place on the evening of 25 February 1977 and since then his widow and children have campaigned for more information about the circumstances surrounding his death.
The Campbells have always believed their father was murdered by one of the most notorious loyalist paramilitary killers of the Troubles – Robin “The Jackal” Jackson. Jackson was an assassin for the Ulster Volunteer Force, whose targets were mainly Catholics living in the so-called murder triangle of North Armagh and Tyrone.
Since Campbell’s murder there have been allegations that the police officer was shot dead because he discovered links between Jackson and a rogue member of RUC special branch who was organising criminal activities including armed robberies in County Antrim.
The police ombudsman is currently involved in a legal battle with the PSNI over its refusal to allow him access to sensitive historic files on unsolved Troubles crimes.”
If the name of the gunman Robin “The Jackal” Jackson seems familiar to you that is because we discussed him before in relation to the killing of RUC Superintendent Harry Breen in a 1989 ambush by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army. In a sworn affidavit to a tribunal set up by the government of Ireland an ex-RUC officer-cum-terrorist, Sergeant John Weir, testified that Harry Breen supported the campaign of violence and mayhem by British militants in the mid-Ulster region, led most notably by Jackson. Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s serving and former British police officers and soldiers in the so-called Glenanne Gang staged a series of gun and bomb attacks against the local Irish civilian population in the counties of Armagh, Tyrone, Monaghan and Fermanagh, a region soon dubbed the “Murder Triangle” by the contemporary news media.
The more we uncover the secrets of Britain’s “Dirty War” in Ireland, the dirtier it gets.
Paddy Ashdown is a former British marine commando and intelligence officer with MI5, the ex-leader of the Liberal-Democrat party (which is now the minority partner in Britain’s coalition government), and a senior European and UN diplomat. So his view on the conflict in the British Occupied North of Ireland and how it relates to his studies of the resistance movements of German Occupied Europe during WWII is interesting, to say the least. From the Daily Telegraph:
“His latest book, The Cruel Victory, which is published today, chronicles the largely neglected story of the French Resistance fighters on the Vercors plateau near Grenoble. They attempted to help in their country’s liberation as Allied troops fought on the beaches of Normandy in the days following D-Day, but were badly let down by General de Gaulle.
He believes Francois Huet, who commanded the Maquis (as the Resistance was known, after a scrub that cover the hillsides) was a heroic figure. “The thing that drove him was decency,” he reflects.
Huet survived, but too many of his comrades did not. The Sten guns and patriotism of the 4,500 Maquis fighters could not match the might of 12,000 well-trained Germans, who set about a campaign of rape and execution.
Some 840 French men and women were killed, 500 houses burnt to the ground and 650 more severely damaged.
Farmhouses were looted and burnt and animals were tied up in their barns before they, too, were set alight.
Ashdown relates all of this with real empathy for the Maquis, informed by his own service in the Royal Marines and Special Boat Service before he entered Parliament. So, I wonder, does he identify with their spirit of resistance? His reply is not what I expect.
“If I had been a Catholic, discriminated against in the way they were in Northern Ireland, would I have been a member of Sinn Fein or the IRA? Given my hot nature and my slightly romantic view of life, it’s quite difficult to say that you can completely discount the fact.”
He does not, of course, condone the IRA or its “murderers of the first order”, but he believes “you are the child of your circumstances”.
“If you were brought up in a community that has been discriminated against and has had their human rights denied, what are you going to do?
“I imagine at the very least I would have been a political activist on behalf of Sinn Fein. Whether you tip that over into something else, I can’t tell you – but I ask myself the question.””
So the News and Current Affairs Department of RTÉ, our self-proclaimed “national broadcaster” (no sniggering, please), has suddenly become aware that there were two sides to the conflict that raged in the north-eastern part of our island-nation during the 1970s, ‘80s and 1990s. Yes, the war wasn’t solely caused by Irish Republicans (actually it truly began with British soldiers-turned-terrorists back in 1966) and the British Armed Forces participated in it too (y’know, the same ones we used to shoot at during the War of Independence when they patrolled the streets of Dublin and Cork – and Belfast and Derry). RTÉ’s much-hyped documentary broadcast last night revealed the levels of government-authorised torture inflicted by Britain on Irish citizens living in the fifth of our country retained under the British Occupation following the 1916-21 revolution (y’know, the one that was staged and fought on the streets of Dublin and Cork – and Belfast and Derry). The programme was titled “The Torture Files” and the horrifying stories contained within were presented as if something startlingly new and unbeknown to the people of Ireland (except, y’know, the fifth of our population forced to live under the British Occupation despite having supported the same historic struggle fought on the streets of Dublin and Cork – and Belfast and Derry).
Of course the revelations were anything but new or unbeknown. If fact they were widely reported for decades though you might have missed all that if you had relied on RTÉ for such information any time between 1968 and 1998 (or even 2014!). God be with the days when the apparatchiks of the Workers Party controlled the news and current affairs output at Montrose, when state censorship was second to ideological censorship enforced with an iron fist by a closed coterie of journalists and editors. They all thought the same, they all talked the same. Though of course that is not too hard when most of them were screwing each other too (one way or another). Ah, wine and coke parties in Dublin 4; look at us with our beards, our manifestos, our white lines and our ABBA albums too. Fun, fun, fun in the know-nothing sun (of the empire upon which it never sets… ahem).
Here at An Sionnach Fionn, gadfly of the establishment, such items of historical enquiry have been a regular feature for the last three years. Again and again accusations have been levelled, proof has been offered, yet the critics cry: oh no, that cannot be true, it would simply be too dreadful a vista to contemplate…
Yet it was and is true. All of it.
So here are some select highlights from the campaign for truth waged by one lonely blog against the closed face of Irish media denial:
Seriously, have people lost all sense of reality in relation to the admittedly bitter divisions within the broad Republican movement stemming from the Boston College Oral History controversy? Yesterday the Pensive Quill, the personal website of writer and Boston Tapes’ researcher Anthony McIntyre, posted an article featuring an interview by the New York-based Radio Free Éireann with the veteran Irish journalist Suzanne Breen, which focuses on the fascinating claim by Gerry Adams that the PSNI accused him of being an agent of MI5, the British security service, during his recent arrest and detention. The allegation focused on 1972, the year the suspected British Army informer Jean McConville was murdered, and some people are now treating this like some sort of revelatory confession by Adams. Even worse Breen needlessly gilded her reporting lilly by repeating the risible second-hand claims by the British “super-spy” Martin Ingram that the bullets used in the attempted assassination of the Sinn Féin leader in 1984 by British terrorists had been rendered less effective by the British military to prevent his death.
If Sinn Féin have been hoisted by their own petard in relation to the politicised enquiries by the RUC Dissidents within the PSNI in the form of the aptly dubbed “Get Adams!” campaign and generally emerged with we-told-you-so egg all over their faces, then those Republicans who oppose SF’s current leadership are descending into the territory of “Fenians in Wonderland“. While those who benefit from Republican in-fighting sit back and rub their hands in front of the self-immolating conflagration that has become Ireland’s revolutionary tradition activists and supporters from across our island nation – and beyond – are happily piling more fuel on the fire. The British state did not bring about the “defeat” of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army. It did not “win” the war. The role of spies and informers, agents and traitors, in the conflict has been blown completely out of proportion. Yes, by the early 1990s the British had done a good job of penetrating the ranks of (P)IRA. Of course they did. But penetration does not equate with absolute control or even influence. More was gained from emergent “Big Brother” technologies in that era than was ever gained through human assets. By all means understand one’s enemy but don’t transform him into an unstoppable Hercules when he was – and is – nothing more than a Goliath waiting for his David, a Balar ready to fall to a Lúgh.
If Gerry Adams was recruited in 1972 as an agent for MI5 inside (P)IRA and the cessation by (P)IRA took place in 2005 that means it took 33 years for MI5’s secret plan to “defeat” the (P)IRA to work. Surely that would make MI5 the most incompetent bunch of spooks in human history? In truth Adams is no more a “tout” than Anthony McIntyre, however much one may disagree with either or both. And if a former generation of Republican activists wish to tell their story in their own words then who has the right to stop them, even if the manner in which it was done was flawed or mishandled (or contaminated by as yet unclear political agendas)?
In the early 1970s the Military Reaction Force or MRF was a covert unit of the British Army which operated as death squad in and around the city of Belfast, its members orchestrating scores of gun and bomb attacks on the Irish civilian population in co-operation with local British terror factions. Last year former soldiers of the MRF appeared on a British television documentary to boast of their actions, confirming their role in a series of assassinations, random drive-by shootings, kidnappings and “false-flag” operations designed to deepen the crisis in the north-east of Ireland. Now the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force, has announced that none of the unit’s members will face arrest or prosecution despite their on-air confessions. This news follows the recent arrest and prolonged detention of Gerry Adams TD, the leader of Sinn Féin, in relation to activities by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army in the early 1970s and sustained attempts by the PSNI to secure a criminal case against him.
“A decision by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) not to conduct a full investigation into a British Army unit, the Military Reaction Force, which was implicated in the murders of unarmed civilians has been labelled a “travesty of justice” by a leading human rights group.
“The PSNI decision reinforces our long held view that the PSNI cannot under any circumstances be trusted to carry out impartial, independent investigations into so-called ‘legacy or historic’ cases”, Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) told RIA Novosti.
A BBC special investigations documentary broadcast in November 2013 detailed how a unit of the British Army was established and ordered to carry out random attacks on civilians.
The film linked the Military Reaction Force (MRF) to the murders of at least ten unarmed civilians over an 18 month period in West Belfast, a community perceived to be sympathetic to the republican IRA. The film included interviews with former British Army soldiers who were members of the unit and detailed how captured IRA weapons were used to carry out the shootings with the aim of discrediting the republican paramilitary organisation.
In a short statement the PSNI confirmed detectives from the Serious Crime Branch had “studied” the film but concluded there was no specific “admission of criminality” by individual soldiers. RIA Novosti understands none of the former soldiers who appeared in the film were interviewed by detectives.
Although the MRF was disbanded in 1973 another similar force was established by the British army in the early 1980s and known as the Force Research Unit and linked to British military intelligence. It has been implicated in the murders and disappearance of dozens of people in Northern Ireland and accused of collusion with loyalist terror groups.”
The infamous Force Research Unit (FRU) was the covert British military grouping behind the terrorist assassination of the Irish civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989. The BBC carries a brief report on the PSNI refusal to investigate the British Army’s previously denied actions:
“Families of people allegedly killed by an Army undercover unit have been told former members of the unit who appeared on TV admitted no crimes.
The Military Reaction Force was the subject of a BBC Panorama programme last November.
Former members said the unit had shot people who may have been unarmed.
The PSNI investigation has found none of the men featured “admitted any criminal act or being involved in any of the incidents portrayed”.
The unit was disbanded in 1973, after 18 months.
The plain-clothes soldiers carried out round-the-clock patrols in Belfast in unmarked cars.
One of the soldiers said they were “not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group”.”
In April the PSNI and British government announced a similar refusal to investigate the Ballymuphy Massacre of 1971 when dozens of civilians were killed or wounded in a three-day shooting spree by British soldiers in an isolated Irish Nationalist enclave of west Belfast. Yet again the urgent need for a general amnesty and truth commission is overwhelming.
Tweet: #Time4Truth #AnFhírinneAnois
As the fall-out from the arrest and detention of Gerry Adams TD continues to rumble on (“coinciding” with moves by the minority Conservative Party government in Britain to seek the possible support of Unionist parties in the north-east of Ireland post the 2015 British general election) here are some more views on the Boston Tapes controversy. The first piece is from Paul Larkin, journalist and TV documentary-maker, with an exposé of the rarely discussed hand behind the Boston College Oral History Project, none other than Baron Bew of Donegore aka. Paul Bew, the well-known Unionist historian and activist (and lately the president of the Airey Neave Trust, the “anti-terrorist” think-tank named for the Tory politician assassinated by Irish Republicans in 1979). This is followed up by another article by Larkin on the early concerns expressed within Boston College about the project, including detailed excerpts of the relevant criticisms. Then there is Tim Pat Coogan, former newspaper editor and writer, with more questions about the current crisis and the motivations of those involved. Finally we have historian John Dorney with some pertinent observations on how past conflicts in Ireland, great and small, have been brought to an end. It is hard to disagree with this:
“There appear to be many anomalies in how this question is being approached within Northern Ireland. Only a few months ago it was revealed, to the fury of unionists, that the London government was giving assurances to former IRA members that they were no longer being actively sought for offences committed prior to 1998 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Furthermore, under the terms of that agreement, all paramilitary prisoners (republican and loyalist) whose political organs had signed up to the deal were freed, regardless of how long they had served of their sentence.
To make Adams’ situation stranger still, it has been made clear that although the identities of British soldiers who shot and killed civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972 are known, they will not be prosecuted. In November of 2013, a BBC documentary retraced the steps of an undercover British Army unit charged with assassinating republican paramilitaries in the early 1970s, who were responsible for at least ten killings of unarmed civilians. No calls were made by Police to the journalists in question to force them to hand over their interviews, nor to reveal the identity of their interviewees.
So it appears that Gerry Adams and Ivor Bell (the latter charged with the McConville killing) both of whom were reputed to be senior figures in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA in the early 1970s, have been singled out for special treatment. Why this is and who is behind it this article does not know and cannot speculate. Suffice to say that the killing of Jean McConville; a mother of ten, shot and secretly buried by the IRA as an alleged informer; has a particularly high emotional resonance and that both Bell and especially Adams were and in the latter case still is, an extremely senior member of the republican movement.”
While I have been quite critical of Sinn Féin and others in their responses to all this it is only by hearing the views of all sides that we may arrive at a balanced judgement. Not something you are likely to find in Ireland’s national news media.
In relation to the arrest of Gerry Adams TD and the debacle surrounding the Boston College Oral History Project the Derry Diary makes some excellent points on the importance of historical narrative. There are also some tough questions for Sinn Féin on the fostering of a dualistic mind-set that permits the political persecution of some people while expecting immunity for others. One doesn’t need to be hostile to SF to question this level of hypocrisy or to predict the dangerous consequences of it.
“In recent times the Boston College Oral History Project has been described as a “touting programme” and participants described as being “anti-Sinn Féin and “anti-peace process” with the contents of the project referred to by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams as dubious. Now unless Mr. Adams was afforded the time to listen to each recording then how does he know?
These allegations are not only one-sided coming from those who have a vested and political interest but are very damaging and dangerous to the contributors involved or alleged to be involved in the project. My question to those behind such allegations is have you ever considered that contributions may be detailed in the first party without naming other people? Ultimately are these people not entitled to put their perspective on historical record? If not can someone explain why?
There are a range of historical archives that bring periods of our history to life, firsthand accounts that provide insight into the motivations and actions of people involved at different stages of the conflict from the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War through to the IRA’s Border Campaign and the most recent phase known as “The Troubles”.
These have been in many forms, memoirs such as those by Ernie O’Malley whose books “On Another Man’s Wound”, his record of the War of Independence, and “The Singing Flame”, O’Malley’s writings about his role in the Irish Civil War, are both critically acclaimed records of a period of Irish history that we may not have the same insight into had we not had O’Malley’s insightful works to read.
The Free State Government’s Bureau of Military History have complied an archive of primary source material for the revolutionary period in Ireland from 1913 to 1921. The Bureau of Military History Collection is a collection of 1,773 witness statements. This archive is among the most important primary sources of information on this period available anywhere in the world.
If we didn’t have access to such materials how would we know that just after the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was printed that Countess Markievicz was threatening to shoot Eoin O’Neill, only to be warned off by James Connolly? Or would we know that due to the lack of type fonts that a letter “E” used in the document had to be made from a letter “F” and some sealing wax? If it hadn’t been for the testimony of Christopher Brady who was involved in printing the Proclamation.
The recently released book “In the Footsteps of Anne” has female ex-prisoners tell their stories and give a vivid insight into life as republican prisoners. Would we have an archive of the stories of the hardship and camaraderie if those women hadn’t told their stories and given their firsthand accounts?
The problem with the Boston College archive is not that people have given their stories to a historical archive, the problem is one of control. It would seem that only sanitised versions of primary sources are acceptable in line with party and governmental positions.”
That and the failure to secure a general amnesty for all politically-related offences committed before 1998 by members of named organisations ranging from the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army to the British Army.
So Gerry Adams TD, the leader of Sinn Féin, has been released after several days of detention and interrogation by the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in Ireland. Despite the pressure of SF’s political rivals, north and south, not to mention the country’s ideologically anti-Republican news media no charges were laid against him though a file has been sent by the PSNI to the northern Director of Public Prosecutions (and what a political hot potato that will be). Am I the only one struck by the irony of Irish newspapers and politicians welcoming the arrest and detention of a democratically elected member of Dáil Éireann, the national parliament of Ireland, by a foreign-controlled police force under foreign-imposed laws in our country? Forget the Ukraine, we have our very own Crimea complete with enemies-within right here on our island nation. In any case Gerry Adams was given a hero’s welcome upon his release despite the presence of a crowd of militant flag-wavers from the British Unionist minority outside the PSNI base where he was being held (Adams left by the back door while the Unionist extremists demonstrated impotently out the front). In a fairly lengthy press conference the Sinn Féin leader proved yet again why a recent poll named him the most popular party leader in Ireland. Though one can legitimately make many criticisms of Adams a lack of intelligence and natural charm cannot be counted among them. If the expectations of the Irish and British establishments was the rolling back of the rising SF electoral tide what may have seemed likely a few days ago may well prove to have backfired in the days to come. Only time will tell.
However even allowing for the possibility of SF emerging intact from the current controversies one must highlight some uncomfortable home truths for the (Provisional) Republican movement. Simply put Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin have brought this trouble on themselves through their overweening pride and their too-frequent willingness to turn a blind eye when the draconian foot was on the political neck of someone else. For several years Republicans in Ireland, within SF as well as independent or non-aligned, have been warning the party that they were pursuing the wrong policies in relation to dealing with “legacy issues” of the Long War as well as the ongoing administration of justice in the north-east of the country. Again and again activists called for the establishment of a general amnesty tied to a South African-style truth commission while Sinn Féin vacillated on the issue. When observers highlighted the failure to truly reform policing and the slow infiltration of the PSNI with ex-RUC personnel they were ignored or shouted down. When former comrades pointed to the veto on political and legislative progress exercised by Unionists they were denounced or cold-shouldered. Blaming one-time (P)IRA Volunteer and writer Anthony McIntyre or veteran journalist Ed Moloney for the arrest and interrogation of Gerry Adams is not only unfair it is politically self-deluding. One can question motivations all one wants, that will not obscure Sinn Féin’s own failures. Additionally attacking rival Republican parties or organisations for their alleged role in “felon setting” is simple cowardice and chicanery. When former Volunteers of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army face arrest and imprisonment for their past actions in the conflict while former soldiers of the British Army face comfortable, well-pensioned retirements for their actions then the fault is entirely that of (Provisional) Sinn Féin and no one else.
The leadership of SF need to turn their gaze and ire inward. They were presented with numerous opportunities to put in place a “fix” (or many “fixes”) to all the questions and points raised by others over the last decade and consistently failed to do so. Instead the line of least resistance was followed while advantage was taken of potentially booby-trapped mechanisms to side-line rivals and critics. While accepting the obvious political motivations driving the campaign to criminalise Gerry Adams and the nexus of interests that favour it one cannot help but think that what goes around comes around.
The pretence that the media establishment in Ireland is anything other than anti-Republican in terms of its collective political ideology has pretty much gone out the window over the last week. The arrest and prolonged detention without charge of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams TD by the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in the north-east of Ireland, in relation to the 1972 death of Jean McConville has been manna from heaven for the conservative press. With Sinn Féin predicted to do well in upcoming European and local elections across Ireland the opportunity to reverse that electoral steamroller has been seized upon and the propaganda is coming fast and thick from the party’s opponents. If anyone was under the illusion that we on this island nation have a free and pluralist media they will have been bitterly disappointed. Instead we live in a country under the axis of a media consensus that Fox News or other right-wing pundits in the United States could only dream of. There is an old Irish political term known as “Felon Setting”. At its most basic it means setting someone up, through public announcements or actions, for arrest and imprisonment by the British colonial authorities in Ireland (or elsewhere for that matter). In times past it was one of the gravest charges in the Irish political lexicon. The number of revolutionaries who paid with their freedom or their lives through this process of labelling is countless. Our history is replete with examples and more often than not it was fellow Irish men and women doing the labelling for their own personal, political or financial advantage.
So rather than fair and balanced reporting or level-headed analysis we have had the media acting as judge, jury and executioner. It says much for the parlous state of journalistic ethics in Ireland that even some of the press in Britain have proved more rational in their reporting than their Irish equivalents or that one must turn to the United States to escape the ideological feeding frenzy at home. The latest example of that latter phenomenon comes from the Irish Independent newspaper which has published some long public photos implying that these prove that Gerry Adams was linked to those allegedly behind the killing of Jean McConville. It reeks of desperation and displays the utter contempt the media have for the intelligence of their own readers. However, just to show how these things can be turned on their head, here are some examples that display the double-edged nature of the the sword the journalistic establishment is attempting to wield. Sic pilum iactum est!
Pictured above is Ian Paisley, the former leader of the DUP and First Minister in the north of Ireland, wearing the maroon beret of the Ulster Resistance (UR), the British terrorist organisation he helped found in 1986 with the co-operation of a number of known militants from within the British Unionist community. The UR participated with others in the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Ireland from southern Lebanon to rearm the British terror factions in the country during the mid-1980s. These armaments were procured through the Whites-only government of apartheid-era South Africa under the aegis of the British Security Service MI5 (and the tacit permission of the Israeli government) and were used to carry out hundreds of gun and bomb attacks over the following decade. Amongst the more notable victims of the British-procured weapons was the civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane, murdered by a UDA death squad in Belfast controlled by British Military Intelligence.
In the first image below we have Peter Robinson, the current head of the DUP and First Minister, marching alongside other uniformed members of the Ulster Resistance including a convicted terrorist. Robinson himself was convicted in an Irish court of militancy in 1986 after he led five hundred extremists in a cross-border “invasion” of the small village of Clontibret, a Crimea-style stunt that earned him his stripes with his peers. Underneath that we have the DUP politician posing with an AK47 assault rifle during a visit to Israel, close to the Lebanese border. From this same region some years later Unionist terrorists under the direction of Britain’s intelligences services smuggled hundreds of AK47s to Ireland. In the third image Robinson is pictured with former DUP party member and local candidate John Smyth Jr. The same Smyth who is the son of DUP councillor and convicted terrorist John Smyth Sr. and who was himself later tried and found guilty on charges of conducting terrorism.