An Cogadh Fada (The Long War)

Time For Truth, An Fhírinne Anois

With thanks to the Mirror, a powerful video from the Irish victims support organisation “Relatives for Justice” which campaigns for truth and openess in relation to the former conflict in the north-east of Ireland. Though focused on those who suffered at the hands of the British Forces and their terrorist allies the pain and suffering on display here is applicable to all the victims of the Long War regardless of nationality or allegiance. Please watch it in full and share with your family and friends on your social media networks.

Tweet #Time4Truth and #AnFhírinneAnois.

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Only A General Amnesty Will Yield The Truth

Jean McConville, a Belfast woman suspected of being a British Army informer, was arrested and executed by the Irish Republican Army in December 1972 and her body hidden as one of the so-called “Disappeared” until August 2003

As the impact of the arrest of the veteran activist Ivor Bell continues to reverberate within Republican circles there is a lot to agree with in this analysis by Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe:

“Ivor Bell is awaiting trial in Belfast on charges he aided and abetted the murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 who in 1972 was abducted, shot, and secretly buried by the IRA after she was accused of being an informer.

Bell’s lawyer said Bell was innocent, but acknowledged that Bell was the man referred to as Mr. Z in a series of tape-recorded interviews made by a researcher hired by BC to compile recollections of republicans and loyalists who fought in Northern Ireland.

That researcher, former Irish Republican Army volunteer and prisoner Anthony McIntyre, told me from Ireland that he expects police to knock on his door any day. If they do, they’ll be wasting their time. “I wouldn’t even tell them hello,” he said.

Neither will Bell, 77, who was a senior IRA commander before his star dimmed…

Bell was among a group of IRA veterans who opposed the compromise accepted by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in 1998, effectively ending the Troubles.

Now, police would love Bell to implicate his former comrade turned foe, Adams, who has repeatedly denied involvement in McConville’s murder. Adams says BC naively allowed McIntyre, who openly opposed his leadership, to interview former IRA members who were inclined to implicate him for political reasons.

McConville’s children believe that Adams was behind their mother’s murder and insist he face justice. But this debacle has never been about justice. It’s about politics, specifically about sticking it to Adams and his party…

…the prosecution is so biased and politically motivated as to undermine all credibility.

The police in Northern Ireland have shown no interest in the other half of the oral history project: interviews with loyalists, who presumably could shed light on state-sanctioned murders they carried out with the covert assistance of the police and British military.

Ed Moloney, the journalist who oversaw the Belfast Project paid for and archived by Boston College, called Bell’s arrest “a cheap publicity stunt” by police and prosecutors who know that the oral histories, given to an academic by people who were neither under oath nor given legal warnings about self-incrimination, will not stand up as evidence in court.

As critical as he is of the authorities in Northern Ireland, Moloney said it wouldn’t have gotten this far if the US Department of Justice had rebuffed British authorities who asked their American counterparts to gain custody of the BC tapes, or if BC officials were willing to risk fines and even imprisonment to defy the government.

What a mess. An American university has been unwittingly and unwillingly used by a foreign government, with the acquiescence of the US government, to build a criminal case.

Oral history and academic freedom are dead and gone.”

The author Ed Moloney has suggested on several occasions that the pursuit of the forty-year old McConville case by Britain, and particularly by the PSNI or the British paramilitary police force in the north-east of Ireland, has more to do with the settling of old scores than any concerns over justice delayed. During the Irish-British conflict from the late 1960s to the early 2000s the RUC, the much-feared predecessor to the PSNI, incurred thousands of casualties amongst its officers while combating the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army and others. Though that came to an end with the Peace Process of the late-to-mid 1990s the negotiated settlement also brought an end to the RUC. However despite promised reforms many hardcore RUC men were kept within the ranks of the new PSNI or subsequently rejoined it when the political spotlight moved on to elsewhere. Under their influence, and that of some senior British government officials, retribution upon former opponents has become a primary impulse of law and order in the north-eastern region of Ireland. This post-conflict vendetta is one that anti-Sinn Féin elements of the Irish and British media have proven eager to pursue with little thought for the consequences (which in this case is a not inconceivable eruption of renewed armed conflict). Nor is SF itself blameless. Elected members of the party, notably Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, have been less than honest with their electorates and the Irish people as whole. While there were good reasons for their obfuscation during and in the immediate aftermath of the war those reasons are looking increasingly threadbare now that we have had over a decade of (near) peace. Furthermore Sinn Féin’s willingness to see former, now rival, Republican comrades and colleagues thrown to the PSNI wolves is less than edifying.

All this is not to excuse the Republican movement of any wrongdoing when it comes to the central issue of Jean McConville’s death. It is clear that after a considerable debate McConville was executed/killed/murdered by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army on the orders of senior officers within the organisation, her body hidden and her relatives left with no (honest) account of what had happened. Repeated claims by the news media in Ireland and elsewhere that McConville was killed because she had lent aid to a British soldier wounded outside her home by a sniper are completely unfounded. It simply never happened, as a 2006 investigation by the Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan made clear. Indeed the belief that such a gesture of simple human decency would elicit the ultimate penalty says much about the wilful ignorance of the conflict by observers both in Dublin and London.

While the O’Loan examination went on to find no evidence of McConville communicating with the British Forces, and specifically denied that she was a known informer, it did reveal that the British Army had initially insisted that her disappearance was a hoax or later that she had willingly deserted her children and was living elsewhere in Ireland. Whether that reflected poor intelligence or something more sinister has never been established (certainly such rumours may have originated with the IRA in an effort to confuse any potential investigation though local people were aware of her execution and the reasons behind it within weeks). Unfortunately Britain has refused access by journalists and members of the McConville family to the regimental records of British Army units deployed in Belfast during this period which is why so much of the case remains in the realms of speculation. However we do know that no serious investigation was carried out by the RUC into her disappearance until some considerable time after her death (and that the subsequent investigation was thrown off track by the misinformation supplied by the British military despite the RUC’s more informed sources). The evident reluctance of the British to address the disappearance of Jean McConville in 1972/3 remains the subject of much discussion, both fair and unfair.

The Irish Republican Army is adamant in its counter-claim that Jean McConville was a known informer who had been warned about her activities until finally discovered in the possession of a concealed military radio transmitter supplied to her by the British Army. Though we cannot be sure it seems likely that she was seized by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade the day before her known disappearance, interrogated (perhaps beaten) and then released. That would match British military reports and statements from some of her family relating to the discovery of a woman likely to be McConville in streets near her home in a state of some distress and confusion the day before she was abducted. With the radio transmitter in its hands the IRA must have discussed what actions to take based upon the evidence gained, no doubt in part spurred on by fears that Jean McConville would be spirited away to safety by the British now that her cover was truly blown or that she had further knowledge to impart to the enemy (her son, Robert McConville, was a member of the Official IRA and detained in the infamous Long Kesh concentration camp at the time of her death. During this period the OIRA and PIRA were bitter rivals, especially in Belfast and McConville remained a committed Republican activist going on to serve with the insurgent INLA). This resulted in her arrest the next day by the Irish Republican Army and transport across the border to the spot where she was shot dead. Or at least we can suppose that is the sequence of events. The truth is, of course, that everything to do with the killing of Jean McConville is supposition. We simply don’t know what happened during that dreadful period some forty years ago. However, as yet, no one has produced a plausible reason for the controversial killing of a mother of ten from an intensely closeknit community beyond that offered by the killers themselves.

The only legitimate way to end yet more years of speculation and anguish for the McConville family is for the governments of Ireland and Britain to agree a general amnesty that will allow all participants to the conflict, willing or otherwise, to give truthful testimonies free of fear or repercussion. Only then will we learn the truth about Jean McConville. Or about Gerry Adams.

The Crimea-Of-The-West

Meanwhile in the “Crimea-of-the-West” militants from the British separatist minority in the north-east of Ireland have staged another of their weekly demonstrations at the so-called Twaddle Twaddell Protest Camp in the city of Belfast. Several marching-bands carrying British military and terrorist banners gathered on the Crumlin Road to take part in a parade headed by military-style jeeps driven by militants wearing masks and British-issue combat uniforms. Amongst the marchers were bands from the Orange Order, a once-powerful British and Protestant fundamentalist organisation associated with sectarian and racist views. Accompanied by calls for weapons to be produced or displayed the gathering moved up to the line of officers from the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in the north of Ireland, where they were halted. Despite the conspicuous presence of paramilitary uniforms, masks and flags, all of which are illegal in the north-east of the country, no effort was made by the PSNI to detain or arrest any of the participants. Though several prominent politicians from the British Unionist minority have attended demonstrations in the past none were present last night, the role falling to members of more extreme Unionist parties like the PUP whose leader, Billy Hutchinson, recently claimed in a newspaper interview that his participation in the murders of two “Catholic” civilians in the 1970s helped prevent the reunification of Ireland.

So ends another night in Britain’s micro-colony on the edge of north-western Europe. Vladimir Putin couldn’t have done any better.

These Unionists in Ireland... I like their style!

These Unionists in Ireland… I like their style!

The Peace Process Elicits Irish Pride But British Shame?

An Active Service Unit of the Irish Republican Army

An Active Service Unit of the Irish Republican Army sets up a vehicle-checkpoint, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1994 (Image: © Rory Nugent, used with permission)

So suddenly the news media around the globe have become aware of one the most widely-known secrets in Irish and British politics. As part of the Peace Process of the late 1990s and early 2000s dozens of former Volunteers of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army sought by the British authorities were recognised as having de facto immunity under UK law. The so-called “on-the runs” (OTRs) were guaranteed non-prosecution in very carefully phrased legal language by the government of Britain, language that allowed the folks in London to keep face by not publicly acknowledging that the past actions of the insurgents were political or military in nature while in private doing exactly that. In politics as in war obfuscation is king.

Given that pretty much everyone knew that such an agreement had been reached between the various parties, and over a period of some years, why all the excitement now? Perhaps it is due to the fact that politicians, the media and much of the general public in Britain are still unable to face up to the realities of a peace process in Ireland that they actively sought and participated in? After decades of denying the political nature of the insurgency aligned against them (while covertly communicating with it the whole time) the British agreed to negotiate in open with their Irish Republican opponents in a carefully orchestrated dance of give-and-take throughout the 1990s. Yes, there are many criticisms to be made of that period and from all sides. They are well rehearsed and there are those both in Ireland and Britain who cry loudly about “sell-out” and “betrayal”, albeit from diametrically opposed viewpoints. However the relative success of the era of talks and counter-talks cannot be denied, even if some regard it as no more than a generational breather in an ongoing struggle (and one with an inevitable endpoint).

One outcome of all this is that Irish popular culture views the Peace Process very differently from British popular culture. In Ireland the 1998 Belfast Agreement and other accords are regarded as historic compromises and are largely praised as such. They remain touchstones for speeches, rallies and point-scoring in the political world. In contrast in Britain the Belfast Agreement and the negotiations around it are barely mentioned at all, as if the people of Britain are collectively unable to accept that an end to the Long War came at the price of Sinn Féin in regional government in Belfast and ex-IRA Volunteers treated as statesmen. The British tabloid press still act and publish as if 2014 was 1974. It is this dualistic perception of the Peace Process, the Irish positive, the British negative, which ironically carries within it the seeds for future misunderstandings and conflict.

Update: the Daily Mail, Britain’s hugely popular right-wing newspaper, carries some traditional Fleet Street reporting on the farcical arrest, detention and trial of John Downey, including some old school racial profiling:

“John Downey has always denied involvement. Two months after the bombing, police issued an artist’s impression – thickly bearded, with dark hair and rugged, Celtic features…”

Celtic features? Bring back the 1970s and ’80s when the British press used to tell its readers to watch out for “labourer-types” with ruddy faces, red hair and beards!

Death Squad Killers In The Land Down Under

Maria McGurk murdered by British state-controlled terrorists at McGurk's Bar

12 year old Maria McGurk, murdered by British state-controlled terrorists in 1971 at McGurk’s Bar, Belfast, Ireland. Another victim of Britain’s dirty war in Ireland

An update on the revelations late last year by a BBC news documentary examining the murderous activities of the British Army’s covert Military Reaction Force (MRF) during the early days of the conflict in the north-east of Ireland. From 1971 to 1973 the unit carried out a series of terrorist attacks against the civilian population and suspected Irish Republican activists, largely confined to Belfast, as well as acting in concert with various British terror factions (notably in the atrocity known as the McGurk’s Bar Bombing which took the lives of fifteen men, women and children). Now reports are coming in from Australia of attempts to bring former gunmen of the MRF living under assumed identities in the country to justice. From an article in WAToday:

“A member of a violent and secretive unit which allegedly hunted IRA members in Northern Ireland in the 1970s is thought to have fled to Queensland.

Former sergeant Clive Williams was a member of the Military Reaction Force, a group of undercover soldiers, who were active mainly in nationalist west Belfast in 1972.

He is understood to now be living in Queensland under another name, and the Australian government is being urged to investigate.

The MRF carried out a series of drive-by shootings in which two civilians were killed and 12 others were injured – even though there was no evidence that any were armed, or IRA members.

They included Patrick McVeigh, a 44-year-old father of six and 18-year-old Daniel Rooney, who was shot on St James Road.

Some members of the unit told a recently broadcast BBC Panorama program they ‘‘were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group”.

The MRF say they sometimes acted as bait, goading the IRA to come out and fight.

In the Panorama program, Mr Williams was confronted by reporter John Ware in Brisbane, but refused to answer questions.

In 1973, Mr Williams was put on trial at Belfast Crown Court accused of attempted murder, for shooting four unarmed men on the Glen Road in west Belfast.

Mr Williams claimed they had fired at him first. No guns were found at the scene and forensic tests on all four proved negative. None were members of the IRA.

Mr Williams told detectives he had fired from a standard army issue gun, but when confronted with evidence of bullet casings he said he had used a Thompson sub machine gun – a weapon frequently used by the IRA at the time.

He was subsequently promoted, left the army with the rank of captain and a military medal for bravery.”

From the late 1960s onwards the former subject territories of the British Empire have served as a convenient bolthole for British soldiers, paramilitary police, spies, informers and civil servants who participated in some manner in Britain’s dirty war in Ireland. At the expense of British taxpayers new lives and new identities, frequently in some splendour, were provided for those who needed to be placed beyond the reach of the law or journalistic endeavour. While members of the British Unionist minority in Ireland invariably choose Canada, South Africa or New Zealand, those from Britain favoured Australia. One wonders how many other former death squad killers, official or unofficial, are living the good life in lands faraway from those they brought such pain and misery to?

Paisley On Paisley

Ian Paisley sporting the beret of the Ulster Resistance, a British terrorist faction he helped found in 1986 before resigning its leadership some years later

Ian Paisley sporting the beret of the Ulster Resistance, a British terrorist faction he helped found in 1986 before resigning its leadership some years later

In a series of interviews recorded for television broadcast the reverend Ian Paisley, the former leader of the DUP and populist demagogue of the British Unionist minority in the north-east of Ireland, has admitted that the civil rights movement of the late 1960s was right in protesting the unfair treatment of the Irish Nationalist community under the old Unionist regime at Stormont. From the London Independent newspaper:

“During more than 40 hours of interviews to be broadcast by the BBC, the 87-year-old agreed that the then unionist government was unfair and unjust in refusing to grant the central civil rights demand of one man-one vote.

“The whole system was wrong,” he declared in his interviews. “It wasn’t one man-one vote. A fair government is that every man has the same power to vote for what he wants.”

The former firebrand said that the political system in Northern Ireland in the 1960s “was not acceptable, not acceptable at all”.

Dr Paisley added: “Those that put their hands to that have to carry some of the blunt and blame for what has happened in our country.

“If you vote down democracy you’re responsible for bringing in anarchy. And they brought in anarchy and they set family against family and friend against friend. It was bad for everybody.”

He insisted however that none of this justified the violence of the Troubles…”

However the Irish Independent reports that:

“IAN Paisley has effectively accused the then Irish government of provoking the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which claimed the lives of 33 people.

The 87-year-old former Democratic Unionist Party leader declared: “They brought that on themselves” as he revisited the standout moments of his political career for a new documentary on his life.

He said he had been very much shocked by the bombings, which are still the subject of controversy. However, he then continued: “But I mean who brought that on them? — themselves.

“It was their own political leaders, who they had endorsed in their attitude to Northern Ireland. At that time the attitude of the southern government was ridiculous.””

Which begs the obvious point. If one is willing to argue that the government and people of Ireland brought upon themselves the state-sponsored terrorist attacks on Dublin and Monaghan in the 1970s then equally the authoritarian Unionist regime in Belfast and the allied British government in London brought upon themselves the armed struggle that arose from the suppression of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Indeed, one can go further and argue that the adamant refusal of the “British”, both in Ireland and Britain, to accept the democratic wishes of the majority of the people living on the island nation of Ireland in the 1900s was in fact the cause of all the violence that we have witnessed over the last nine decades.

Ian Paisley leading a parade of British extremists in 1974, seven days after British terrorists carried out a series of car-bomb attacks that killed and maimed scores of people

Ian Paisley leading a parade of British extremists in 1974, seven days after British terrorists carried out a series of car-bomb attacks that killed and maimed scores of people

British War Hysteria – The Hibernoban!

British military helicopter brought down by ground-fire from an Active Service Unit of the Irish Republican Army, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1990s

British military helicopter brought down by ground-fire from an Active Service Unit of the Irish Republican Army, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1990s

So to another round of Fantasy Troubles as the news media in Britain, with a nod and a wink from domestic “security sources”, launch a febrile attempt to whip up some old fashioned anti-Irish hysteria in the lead up to Christmas. And how are they doing that, you ask? Why, by claiming that Irish insurgent groups in the north-east of Ireland have allied themselves to the Taliban of course. From the London Independent newspaper:

Republicans in Northern Ireland look to Taliban for weapons

Taliban-inspired technology is boosting the capacity of dissident republicans to wage war against the security services, with the discovery of advanced weaponry never seen before in Northern Ireland, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.”

Oh, so it’s “Taliban-inspired” rather than Taliban-supplied as the headline implies.

“The degree of technical sophistication is “unprecedented”, and experts are warning that it is part of a worsening picture that could include a sustained bombing campaign.

Police managed to foil an attack which had been planned in South Armagh using what the Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI) described as two “mortar type” devices. Dissident republicans had planned to bring down a helicopter using the rocket launchers, which took army bomb disposal experts three days to examine.”

Er, would that be the same make of mortar that the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army deployed in the Occupied North of Ireland in the 1990s to bring down British military aircraft including a helicopter landing at a military outpost in Crois Mhic Lionnáin in 1994?

“In the wake of the discovery, security sources approached Democratic Unionist MP Jim Shannon with their concerns. The weaponry, found in August, was unlike anything seen in Northern Ireland before. It is understood that it could be detonated remotely using an infrared laser – a tactic used by the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

Ordnance triggered by infrared lasers? As in a 1992 (P)IRA ambush of a vehicle patrol by paramilitary police from the later disbanded RUC, an event that occurred twenty-one years ago in the Irish town of An Iúraigh?

“He said the “deeply worrying” discovery confirmed that there are links between people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and those that made the bomb and mortar attack weapon in Cullyhanna.”

French TV crew are shown a mortar being prepared for an attack by a Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army, British Occupied North of Ireland, early 1990s

French TV crew are shown a mortar being prepared for an attack by a Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army, British Occupied North of Ireland, early 1990s

Oh yes, Commandant Mahamad Ó Néill, spokesperson for the GHQ Staff and Army Council of Óglaigh na hÉireann! But wait, maybe it is actually those ungrateful Irish peasants in British military khaki who are the real culprits.

“Independent MP Patrick Mercer, a former army officer who has served in Northern Ireland, speculated last night that another possibility was that military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq may be responsible for passing on details about the technology. “I have heard about this. This is all to do with light-sensitive devices,” he said. “But of course it’s no more or less than the fact that they’ve got people coming back from Afghanistan who have served over there who are able to pass on this expertise. There are many Irishmen serving in all branches of the services. It’s not unknown for loyalties to be split.”

Speaking under condition of anonymity, a senior military figure who commanded troops in Northern Ireland, admitted: “It is almost inevitable that ‘leakage’ of military skills from ‘us’ to ‘them’ happens over time and is disturbing and definitely of concern to the hierarchy.””

So the British admit that during the thirty years of the Long War the Irish Republican Army successfully infiltrated or cultivated agents in the British Armed Forces? And that this is happening again with contemporary Irish Republican insurgents who have less than a tenth of the strength or resources of the (P)IRA?

“But it is possible that “information exchange” between dissidents and the Taliban is taking place, according to Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan. “We did see in the past co-operation between Islamist extremists in the Middle East and the Provisional IRA.”

Earlier this year The IoS revealed how dissidents are using armour-piercing horizontal mortars similar to those used by the Taliban.”

The same horizontal mortars that the Irish Republican Army employed throughout the late 1980s and ’90s? The same weapons which successfully drove British Army vehicle and foot patrols off many rural roads in the north-east of the country and onto helicopter gunships?

So where is this fantastical (and farcical) British warmongering coming from? And why now?

Death Squad Britain – The Past That Won’t Stay Hidden

Force Research Unit Britain's notorious death squad in Ireland

Gunmen from the Force Research Unit (FRU), Britain’s notorious death squad in Ireland during the Northern War, pose with their weapons, 1980s

Regular readers of An Sionnach Fionn will know how many times we have examined in detail the activities of Britain’s various official and unofficial forces participating in its thirty year long counter-insurgency war against the Irish Republican Army and others in Ireland. Of the official forces perhaps the most infamous have been the covert units of the Military Reaction Force (MRF) and the Force Research Unit (FRU), collectively forming the heart of Britain’s “death squad culture” that permeated its campaign in the north-east of the country during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

In typically hesitant style the more liberal and open-minded parts of the British news media have finally caught up with everyone else in publicising the uncomfortable aspects of their nation’s Dirty War in this nation. From the Guardian newspaper:

“Claims that members of an undercover army unit shot unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland during the 1970s have been referred to the police, according to the Ministry of Defence.

The allegations against the Military Reaction Force (MRF) are contained in a BBC Panorama programme, Britain’s Secret Terror Force, to be broadcast on Thursday evening.

Seven former members of the plain-clothes detachment – which carried out surveillance and, allegedly, unprovoked attacks – have spoken to the programme. The existence of the MRF is well known but its unorthodox methods and the scope of its activities have been the source of continuing speculation.

Their weaponry was not always standard issue. On one occasion, the programme reports, a Thompson sub-machine gun was used. The men drove Hillmans and Ford Cortinas with microphones built into the sun visors; some were cars that had been stolen and recovered.

All the soldiers, however, denied that they were part of a “death” or “assassination squad”.

After 18 months’ duty, the MRF was dissolved in late 1972 following army concerns about the adequacy of its command and control structures.”

The Irish Times also reports on the revelations albeit in a more blunt fashion than their British counterparts:

“The British army ran an undercover unit that operated a sanctioned shoot-to-kill policy in Belfast during the Troubles, it has been claimed.

Former members of the Military Reaction Force (MRF) said that they killed an unspecified number of IRA members and shot them regardless of whether or not they were armed.

The force killed at least two men in drive-by shootings who had no paramilitary connections and injured more than 10 other civilians…

Panorama reports that there were several drive-by shootings carried out by MRF soldiers in which people were killed and wounded – even though there is no independent evidence that any of them were armed or were members of the IRA.

The force comprised about 40 men hand-picked from across the British army who operated in west Belfast for an 18-month period between 1971 and 1973, including all through 1972.

The MRF was the forerunner to other similar plainclothes undercover British army units that operated in Northern Ireland. Panorama said the overall commander was an army brigadier.”

Maria McGurk murdered by British state-controlled terrorists at McGurk's Bar

12 year old Maria McGurk, murdered by British state-controlled terrorists in 1971 at McGurk’s Bar, Belfast, Ireland. Another victim of Britain’s dirty war in Ireland

The replacement unit for the out-of-control MRF was the soon to be equally uncontrollable FRU, the killers behind the 1989 murder of the Irish civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane, an assassination for which the British prime minister David Cameron publicly apologised in 2012. I described the rise and fall of the MRF last year:

“In the early 1970s this band of out-of-uniform soldiers terrorised Irish Nationalist communities in the north-east of Ireland, in particular the city of Belfast, carrying out or organising random drive-by shootings of civilians, murders, kidnappings and bombings.

In its most infamous operation the MRF arranged for terrorists from the British UVF to attack McGurk’s Bar in Belfast on the 4th of December 1971 with a parcel bomb that demolished the building killing fifteen, including 12 year old Maria McGurk, and wounding seventeen others. In the aftermath of the atrocity the British Forces used the excuse of “follow-up operations” to swamp local neighbourhoods with troops and paramilitary police who carried out destructive house-raids and multiple arrests or detentions.

In other words the MRF was a British military death squad. Its purpose was simply to cause murder and mayhem in the Irish communities of the north-east that continued to live under the British Occupation by killing innocent and “guilty” alike. However the MRF’s reckless nature eventually brought about its own downfall and its operations were uncovered by the Intelligence Unit of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army in mid-to-late 1972. After extensive surveillance units of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Belfast Brigade attacked soldiers of the MRF at two different locations in the city on the 2nd of October 1972, killing or wounding several and causing panic in the British Army as intelligence operations over the following weeks effectively collapsed.

By early 1973 the now discredited MRF was disbanded but its tactics, techniques and most of its personnel went on to become part of the Special Reconnaissance Unit (or the SRU though it was also known by the cover name of the 14th Intelligence Company) and the Force Research Unit (FRU). All of them contributed to the evolving culture of Death Squad Britain.”

The latest news on the murder squads comes just hours after a senior advisor under the British legal administration in the North of Ireland publicly suggested that all investigations by paramilitary police relating to events before the signing of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 should be stopped. And this a few weeks after revelations that those self-same police were examining the possibility of prosecuting British soldiers for the murders of fourteen Irish citizens in the city of Derry during the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1972. Not unrelated to this are the detailed accounts of the activities of the British Terror Factions in parts of the north-east of the country publicised in recent days where soldiers and policemen by day acted as gunmen and bombers by night (or as one British ex-police officer / terrorist memorably put it last weekend: “It had nothing to do with the UVF – it was only a bunch of policemen involved!“).

James Cromie murdered by British state-controlled terrorists in the McGurk Bar Bombing

13 year-old Irish child James Cromie murdered by British state-controlled terrorists in the McGurk Bar Bombing, Belfast, Ireland, 1971

From 1969 to 2001 over 51% of all those killed by the British Occupation Forces in Ireland, military and paramilitary, were non-combatant civilians. In the same period over 85% of all those killed by the British Terror Factions in Ireland, the proxy forces of Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign, were non-combatant civilians.

Which begs the question: in the so-called “Troubles” in the north of Ireland who exactly were the “terrorists”?

(With thanks to An Lorcánach and others)

Paul Theroux And The Boston Bombing

Pat Finucane Irish human rights lawyer assassinated by British state-sponsored terrorists

A memorial to Pat Finucane, the Irish human rights lawyer assassinated by British state-sponsored terrorists in the Occupied North of Ireland, 1989

On the 16th of May 2013 the Daily Beast published an article by the Massachusetts-born travel writer and author Paul Theroux where he expressed his views on the terrorist attack in the city of Boston on April 15th.

“For several decades, starting in the early 1970s, I traveled regularly from London, where I lived as a resident alien, to Boston, where I grew up, and each time it was like a tumble through the Looking Glass.

Arriving in Boston was like landing upon the bosom of serenity from the derangement of a war zone. Britain at that time was in the grip of a bombing campaign by well-funded and feuding nationalists in Ulster, who were driven by spite, folklorism, and religious bigotry and were tribalistic in their antique grudges, absurd in their speechifying.

London was weary and anxious, and by the mid-1970s there had been a number of bomb outrages…

The astonishing fact is that these unspeakable events in England were not as hideous as the everyday horrors in Ulster. Belfast was full of no-go areas and bomb craters throughout the 1970s and ’80s, and the mildest country town was not spared.

Boston seemed innocent of the terror, or else conniving in it, making a conscious political statement, to the extent that one of the notable features on Boston roads were the bumper stickers supporting the IRA. It is well documented that a portion of the money collected in the U.S. by Noraid (the Irish Northern Aid Committee) was used to support the IRA bombing campaigns, and in another grotesque irony, some of the money used to buy weapons from the U.S. came from Libyan bagmen sent by Muammar Gaddafi, as one of the colonel’s many hobbies was the propagation of mayhem.

After the bombing in Boston, a banner was lifted by rebels in Syria: BOSTON BOMBINGS REPRESENT A SORROWFUL SCENE OF WHAT HAPPENS EVERY DAY IN SYRIA. DO ACCEPT OUR CONDOLENCES.

Boston did not deserve this—no city does—and it is lamentable that Boston has come to resemble the wider world of wreckage and bereavement.”

Several points immediately spring out from this opinion piece. Firstly Theroux very deliberately ignores the actions of the British Forces, military and paramilitary, during the four decades of the conflict in the north-east of Ireland. He presents the war as entirely originating with the Irish Republican Army and driven by that guerilla force without any explanation of its origins and how it rose as a response to Britain’s colonial presence in Ireland. The shrunken British colony on the island of Ireland that was the brutal Apartheid-state of “Northern Ireland” is completely glossed over.

Joint footpatrol of British UDA terrorists and British Army soldiers

Joint footpatrol of British UDA terrorists and British Army soldiers, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

Indeed the existence of the separatist British Unionist minority in the country is barely hinted at nor are the terrorist factions that existed within that community, violent groupings that sparked the conflict in the mid-1960s. One wonders if Theroux makes little reference to these British terrorist organisations because he and we now know (thanks to the efforts of numerous journalists and several official enquiries) that those terror gangs were integral to Britain’s counter-insurgency war in Ireland? Would he prefer that American readers were unaware of the existence of British terrorist groups on the island of Ireland that were organised, financed, armed and fed intelligence information by the British government or that such groupings contained significant numbers of serving or former British soldiers and paramilitary police officers, not to mention agents of Military Intelligence and MI5?

What about the largest and most notorious British terror faction, the Ulster Defence Association or UDA? Remarkably under Britain’s jurisdiction this was a legal terrorist organisation. Yes, you did read that right. The UDA, a terror faction responsible for the murder and maiming of hundreds of Irish men, women and children, was a legal terrorist organisation in the North of Ireland and in Britain for over twenty years. This of course was not at all unrelated to the fact that in the mid-1980s a quarter of the UDA’s membership was made up of serving or ex-soldiers and police officers and that two-thirds of the leadership were agents of various British Intelligence services, including the notorious Force Research Unit.

Another obvious point is Paul Theroux’s apparent comparison between the conflict in the north-east of Ireland, and Irish-America’s support for a just and lasting peace in the country, and the unwarranted attack on the Boston marathon that was carried out with the purposeful intent of inflicting civilian casualties. Is he in effect stating that what goes around comes around? That this is some sort of circuitous – and frankly grotesque – way of saying to the people of Boston: well, back in the 1970s to 1990s some of you supported the Irish Republican Army and the slowly evolving Peace Process in Ireland therefore this is what it feels like to be involved in a guerilla conflict. And deservedly so?

James Cromie murdered by British state-controlled terrorists in the McGurk Bar Bombing

13 year-old Irish child James Cromie murdered by British state-controlled terrorists in the McGurk Bar Bombing, Belfast, Ireland, 1971

I didn’t comment or draw attention to Paul Theroux’s original article when I first read it as I thought it to be something of an aberration. However not content with that obvious case of adding insult to injury he has now expressed similar views again, this time in a question-and-answer session with the National Geographic magazine:

You’ve spent your career traveling to some troubled places—Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, and others—and you’re also a native of Boston. How have your travels influenced the way you view those terror attacks in your hometown?

We need to remember the past. There were communities in Boston that supported the IRA in Northern Ireland. They were very sentimental about the Irish. They thought the Irish were fighting for their freedom, that’s the way it was put: The IRA were freedom fighters. They were fighting against the Protestants and the British soldiers. And the method that the IRA used in Northern Ireland and in England was the nail bomb.

I lived in England for 18 years. What happened in Boston on that horrible marathon day was a very common occurrence in Belfast, even in London.

And no one in Boston condemned it. And when Gerry Adams [the leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA] came to Boston, he was marched around like a conquering hero.

The idea that our people are chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” because a punk has been cornered and another one killed isn’t really reason for rejoicing. Go see what’s happened in the past, how other people have suffered. What the Tsarnaev brothers did was grotesque and appalling. But I lived in England when this was a common occurrence, and there was no sympathy from Boston.”

Good lord. Here is a man, a respected American author and commentator, who seems to be taking something akin to satisfaction in viewing the suffering of the people of Boston as the result of a terrorist outrage. Who seems to believe that it was some sort of retributive justice visited upon the many citizens in Boston who in times past opposed Britain’s war in Ireland. A dirty and squalid war that one presumes Theroux believes was quite justified and apparently not open to question or criticism.

One is prompted to ask: how is Paul Theroux in his stereotyping and misrepresentation of the Irish-American communities of Boston any different from the Islamic fundamentalists and their stereotyping and misrepresentation of the American people as a whole?

British troops pose with British Unionist terrorist symbols, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1990s

British troops pose with British Unionist terrorist symbols, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1990s

Finally, some facts for the causal American reader should they stumble across this article. Perhaps someone might be kind enough to forward them on to Mr. Theroux so that we can liberate him from his mental prison of Anglophile apologisms (or if one were being more uncharitable in thought, simple Hibernophobia).

The majority of causalities inflicted by the Irish Republican Army during the Northern War were members of the British military and paramilitary forces. Fact.

The majority of casualties inflicted by the British military and paramilitary forces during the Northern War were members of the Irish civilian population. Fact.

So if the killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism who were the terrorists during the war in the North of Ireland?

Please follow the link for more on Ireland’s British Troubles.

Margaret Thatcher And The “Valiant” UVF

Joint footpatrol of British UDA terrorists and British Army soldiers

Joint footpatrol of British UDA terrorists and British Army soldiers, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

Throughout the late 20th century and into the early 21st century the Ulster Volunteer Force or UVF was one of the largest British terrorist organisations on the island of Ireland. From its establishment in 1965 to its cessation of attacks in 2007 the grouping was responsible for thousands of acts of major and minor terrorism. Indeed the forty year war which blighted the north-east of Ireland under the euphemistic title of “the Troubles” began in 1966 with a series of gun and bomb attacks by the UVF that left several people dead, including a 74 year old grandmother and an 18 year old teenager.

Yet the organisation was intimately connected to the British military and paramilitary forces in Ireland, and beyond them the British government itself. Many members of the UVF were serving or former members of the British Army or of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the notorious paramilitary police in the Occupied North of Ireland. They served as soldiers and policemen by day – and gunmen and bombers by night.

Margaret Thatcher touring the British Occupied North of Ireland in 1981 wearing a beret of the UDR, an infamous British Army militia responsible for scores of terrorist attacks during the 1970s, '80s and '90s

Margaret Thatcher touring the British Occupied North of Ireland in 1981 wearing a beret of the UDR, an infamous British Army militia responsible for scores of terrorist attacks during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s

From the early 1970s onwards the British military and intelligence services organised, trained, armed and financed all the main British terrorist factions in Ireland including the UVF. However, despite the fact that they supposedly fought as part of Britain’s counter-insurgency war against Irish Republicanism the British terror gangs rarely targeted other combatants. Tellingly some 86% of the UVF’s victims were members of the civilian population: Irish men, women and children.

This was not counter-insurgency. This was state-terrorism.

So much so that by the late 1970s even the British no longer could tell the difference between their military, paramilitary and terrorist arms in Ireland. From the Irish human rights organisation, the Pat Finucane Centre, come’s this revelation about Margaret Thatcher’s knowledge of the war against the “Irish liars“:

“As Margaret Thatcher is laid to rest we thought it appropriate to publish two documents we found in the British National Archives. Both have been published before in the chapter we contributed on Loyalist [British terrorist] infiltration of the UDR.

The first document contains the minutes of a meeting between the then head of the Conservative opposition in 1975 (Margaret Thatcher) and the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, just weeks after the Miami Showband Massacre involving members of the UDR. At page 3 the following fascinating admission is made:

the Secretary of State said….

‘Unfortunately there were certain elements in the police who were very close to the UVF, and who were prepared to hand over information, for example, to Mr Paisley. The Army’s judgement was that the UDR was heavily infiltrated by extremist Protestants, and that in a crisis situation they could not be relied on to be loyal.’

Let no-one claim that the levels of collusion between the RUC, UDR and Loyalist paramilitaries was not known at the highest levels of the British Government and opposition.

The second document also concerns the UVF only by this stage, 1979, Thatcher is the Prime Minister. In a hand written note she urged mention of the‘Volunteer Ulster Defence Regiment (? Is that the name)’. Her officials clearly had difficulty reading her handwriting and the typed version of her comment reads.

(viii) The Prime Minister would also like to see some reference to the valiant work being carried by the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Apparently neither she not her officials were fully cognisant of the difference between the UDR, the largest regiment in the British Army, and the UVF, a Loyalist paramilitary group. On this point at least she found herself in agreement with the [Irish] Nationalist/ Republican community.”

Indeed.

The British government acknowledges the infiltration of the RUC and the UDR by the British terror factions in Ireland, London, 1975

The British government acknowledges the infiltration of the RUC and the UDR by the British terror factions in Ireland, London, 1975

British prime minister Margaret Thatcher confuses the UVF, a British terrorist group in Ireland, with the UDR, a British Army militia in Ireland, 1979

British prime minister Margaret Thatcher confuses the UVF, a British terrorist group in Ireland, with the UDR, a British Army militia in Ireland, 1979

Margaret Thatcher – She Came, She Saw, She Failed

Margaret Thatcher touring the British Occupied North of Ireland in 1981 wearing a beret of the UDR, an infamous British Army militia responsible for scores of terrorist attacks during the 1970s, '80s and '90s

Margaret Thatcher touring the British Occupied North of Ireland in 1981 wearing a beret of the UDR, an infamous British Army militia responsible for scores of terrorist attacks during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s

As a citizen of Ireland there is only one Margaret Thatcher that I remember. From the archives of the Guardian newspaper:

“Margaret Thatcher horrified her advisers when she recommended that the government should revive the memory of Oliver Cromwell – dubbed the butcher of Ireland – and encourage tens of thousands of Catholics to leave Ulster for the south.

A year after she was nearly killed in the IRA’s 1984 Brighton bomb, the then prime minister expressed dismay at Catholic opposition to British rule when they could follow the example of ancestors who were evicted from Ulster at the barrel of a Cromwellian gun in the 17th century.

Lady Thatcher’s extraordinary solution to the Troubles has been disclosed by her advisers at the time of the negotiations on the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement.

Sir David Goodall, then a diplomat who was one of the most senior British officials negotiating with the Irish government, told a BBC four-part documentary, Endgame in Ireland, that Lady Thatcher made the “outrageous” proposal during a late night conversation at Chequers.

“She said, if the northern [Catholic] population want to be in the south, well why don’t they move over there? After all, there was a big movement of population in Ireland, wasn’t there?

“Nobody could think what it was. So finally I said, are you talking about Cromwell, prime minister? She said, that’s right, Cromwell.”

Lady Thatcher’s “outrageous” plan did not stop at reviving the memory of Cromwell.

Sir Charles Powell, then her private secretary, told the programme that she also called for Northern Ireland’s border with the republic to be redrawn.

“She thought that if we had a straight line border, not one with all those kinks and wiggles in it, it would be easier to defend,” he said.

The zigzag border is notoriously difficult to patrol. But Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, then cabinet secretary, told Lady Thatcher of the folly of her idea.

“It wasn’t as simple as that because the nationalist communities were not all in one place, not all in Fermanagh and Tyrone and South Armagh and so on,” he told the programme.

“There were many in Belfast, and the idea of partition in Belfast or moving large numbers of population didn’t seem to be very attractive.”

However, she would not abandon her idea and called for a “security zone” on both sides of the border to help the British army and the RUC to chase IRA terrorists who used to slip over the border after attacks in the north.”

Over on Bloomberg News Timothy Lavin offers an analysis of the effects on Ireland of Thatcher’s premiership:

“…the conflict did not bring out the best in her.

It showed how the character traits for which she is best remembered had some very dark consequences, and how her celebrated “resolve” often came at a brutally high human and moral cost. In Northern Ireland, in fact, that resolve directly obstructed the cause of peace.

The most illuminating example is the hunger strike in the Maze (or Long Kesh) prison from 1980-1981. In many obituaries published today, the story goes that Thatcher “faced down” Irish Republican Army hunger strikers, as the BBC put it. By “faced down” they mean “let them starve to death.” This is often treated as a victory of democratic determination over terrorism.

But history shows quite the opposite: Thatcher’s uncompromising treatment of the hunger strikers led only to an increase in terrorism and the ascension of the IRA as a potent political force.

Violent deaths related to the conflict rose to 101 in 1981 from 76 the year before, including 44 members of the security forces. Injuries rose to 1,350 from 801. Shootings increased to 1,142 from 642, and bombings reached nearly 400 that year. Far from demonstrating that the IRA’s struggle was a lost one, Thatcher only intensified its opposition to rule by what it considered an ever more brutal occupying force.

The other significant consequence of Thatcher’s unyielding position was that public sympathy for the hunger strikers quickly morphed into political support for Republicanism. Bobby Sands, one of the strikers, was elected to the British House of Commons for Fermanagh-South Tyrone while imprisoned. His victory “undermined the entire shaky edifice of British policy in Northern Ireland, which had been so painfully constructed on the hypothesis that blame for the ‘Troubles’ could be placed on a small gang of thugs and hoodlums who enjoyed no community support,” wrote David Beresford in “Ten Men Dead.”

In 1983, Sinn Fein — the IRA’s political wing – gathered 13.4 percent of the Westminster vote in Northern Ireland, compared with 17.9 percent for the moderate nationalists of the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Gerry Adams, then Sinn Fein’s vice president, was elected in West Belfast over the moderate Gerry Fitt. For the British government, these were ominous omens. Today, Sinn Fein is the largest nationalist bloc in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the fourth-largest party in the parliament of the Irish Republic.

Still, “a crime is a crime is a crime,” Thatcher insisted at the time. “It is not political, it is a crime.”

This was to deny reality, especially as international sympathy for the strikers surged. But Thatcher never took a particularly realistic approach to the hunger strike, or to Northern Ireland generally.

[she was] …someone who could occasionally show a staggering indifference to human suffering.”

As Levine continues in the Comments underneath:

“…it isn’t hard, in this case, to differentiate between what violence is “political” and what isn’t. The men in the Maze prison didn’t become political prisoners because they went on a hunger strike. They became political prisoners because they were arrested — often without trial — for violence or activism intended to overthrow what they viewed as an oppressive political order and an illegal occupation.

Let me be clear: This doesn’t make violence a legitimate response.

But the fact that the political order in Northern Ireland at the time violated Catholic civil rights on a grand scale is beyond dispute. And the IRA itself was an objectively political organization: Its terrorism, although reprehensible, was intertwined with a legitimate movement for Catholic civil rights and a party, Sinn Fein, that adhered to an overt platform of political objectives. (Roughly the same platform, as it happens, that Irish revolutionaries had been asserting for 800 years.) Most crucially, the IRA’s intended targets were the military and security forces of occupation and other paramilitaries — not civilians.”

My own feelings on hearing of her passing are best summed up in this post by Football Clichés and another by author Terry Glavin. Like other British leaders who brought war to Ireland she has passed but we the Irish people have endured.

Guns For Hire – From RIC To RUC

In the 1920s, following the British defeat in Ireland’s War of Independence, many serving members of Britain’ paramilitary police force in Ireland, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), went on to become “guns-for-hire” throughout the waning British Empire. What they failed to do in Ireland, the defeat of an anti-colonial revolution, they attempted to do in many an outpost of the Pax Britannica. The most infamous of these ex-RIC officers were the former gunmen of the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve (the loathed Black and Tans) and the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (the notoriously barbaric Auxies). Many ended up in the Middle East fighting with Britain’s Palestinian Police Force, the Transjordan Frontier Force and other paramilitary outfits against Arab and Israeli nationalists while others served in India and the Far East.

A decade after Britain’s compromise peace in the North of Ireland some former members of the British paramilitary police force in the north-east of the country, the hated Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), are once again turning up in Britain’s overseas conflicts, in an eerie rerun of history. Journalist and Irish civil rights activist Eamonn McCann touches upon this in an article for CounterPunch:

“Norman Baxter may find policing in Kabul these days more congenial than policing in Belfast. The former RUC and PSNI Detective Chief Superintendant is one of a number of senior Northern Ireland police officers who have decided that the new, reformed force is not for them, have taken redundancy and signed up with a private firm of “security consultants” with a contract from the Pentagon to help train the new Afghan police force.

Since leaving the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2008, Baxter has spoken and written of his anger and frustration at changes which have seemed to him to belittle the sacrifices of Royal Ulster Constabulary in the long fight against the IRA and at policies brought in under the peace process which he believes now hamper the force in its continuing fight against terrorism. A year and a half ago, Baxter joined New Century, founded and led by Belfast-born Tim Collins, a commander in the Royal Irish Rangers.

He has been joined in the upper echelons of New Century by a cluster of colleagues, including Mark Cochrane, former RUC officer in charge of covert training; David Sterritt, a 29-year RUC/PSNI veteran and specialist in recruitment and assessment of agents; Joe Napolitano, 25 years in the RUC/PSNI, retiring as a Detective Inspector running intelligence-led policing operations; Raymond Sheehan, 29 years a Special Branch agent handler; Leslie Woods, 27 years in the RUC/PSNI, with extensive Special Branch handling the selection, assessment and training of officers for covert intelligence-led operations. And many others.”

The whole article is essential reading for anyone wanting to know why the echoes of Britain’s dirty war in Ireland continue to rumble so loudly. And why it continues to be unfinished business.

Fantasy Troubles Part III – Britain’s Superspies!

Back in December 2011 I addressed the grossly exaggerated issue of the alleged penetration of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army by British Intelligence agents and double-agents in the 1980s and ‘90s, concluding that:

“The majority of tactical intelligence gathered by the British Forces, the sort of intelligence that saw weapons and explosives captured, ambushes and attacks thwarted, IRA Volunteers and Active Service Units counter-ambushed, arrested or assassinated, whole regions of the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland closed down for days or weeks on end, was derived from the new modes of electronic and computer-coordinated intelligence, surveillance and bugging that were made possible by the advances in technology that began to make their presence felt in the late 1980s and ‘90s.

British listening devices placed in phones, homes, cars, shops, pubs, regular meeting points, the use of long range, long term covert cameras (with real-time satellite and landline feeds), tracking devices placed on or into vehicles and other equipment (including guns and explosives), the widespread use of CCTV in urban areas accessible to the then RUC and the British Army, routine and co-ordinated communication interceptions and monitoring, indexing of suspected or known IRA Volunteers and continuous observation of their movements, homes, cars, work places (and of their families, friends and work colleagues), all these techniques were what powered the cutting edge of the British war machine in Ireland. The central collation and study of data, thousands of individual facts and figures, over a period of months or years, and the redistribution of that data to those who needed to know it is what weighed heavy in favour of the British in the closing years of the conflict.

Not the double-agents and “touts”, mythical or otherwise.”

My piece was followed up by Mick Fealty over on Slugger O’Toole, and now Paul Larkin casts a critical eye on the ongoing controversy in the Guardian:

“The refusal of the star witness, journalist Toby Harnden, to undergo cross examination at the Smithwick Tribunal in Dublin has thrown the whole inquiry into disarray and leads to questions about holding one in the first place.

The tribunal was set up by the Irish government to investigate claims that in 1989 a member of the Garda Síochána (Irish police) helped the IRA to murder two high-ranking RUC officers: Harry Breen and Ken Buchanan. This is despite the fact Canadian judge Peter Cory had already investigated these killings in 2003 and ruled that the IRA did not need the help of a traditionally hostile southern Irish police force to kill the two officers.”

The conclusion reached by Judge Cory after a lengthy series of investigations was clearly stated by him in his 2003 report:

“The intelligence reports received within days and the early weeks following the murder all suggest that PIRA members committed the murders without relying upon any information that the Gardaí or its employees could have supplied.”

He further recommended a public enquiry to examine the sources of the allegations of the claimed co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the Irish Republican Army in the assassination of the two RUC officers – not the claims themselves which he effectively dismissed. But to return to Larkin’s article:

“In a now familiar pattern, the Garda/IRA story was first circulated by former low-ranking agents of the British army’s force research unit (FRU). Most Irish people saw the decision to extend the Cory investigation as a sop to Unionists – a perverse quid pro quo for all that Irish republican fuss about Pat Finucane and the hundreds of other victims of Britain’s dirty war.

Perhaps the Irish government should have listened more closely to Judge Cory, who cast doubt on Harnden’s evidence in relation to the murders, saying he took unattributable testimony from security force or intelligence sources and repeated these as fact: “Statements and allegations were put forward as matters of fact, when in reality they were founded upon speculation and hypothesis.”

In the case of the two murders, for instance, FRU operatives say the formidable IRA units from north County Louth and South Armagh, which carried out the killings, were “riddled with spies” and that their favourite spy for Britain in the IRA, Freddie Scappaticci, knew all about these killings. This is pure fantasy; deadly IRA cells would have no need or desire to consult with anyone before launching this kind of attack – least of all a Belfast man like “Scap”. Territory is important in Ireland.

But don’t take my word for it. A high-ranking RUC Special Branch officer (witness 62) told the Smithwick tribunal: “No agent of the state or anyone who was recruited at that time was in any way involved in the shooting.” [ASF: For more on the evidence of the ex-RUC officer see here where he dismisses the testimony to the Tribunal of the wandering British "spy" Peter Keeley/Kevin Fulton]

[Freddie Scappaticci] was a member of a debrief unit that questioned IRA volunteers after certain operations and in certain areas. He was never briefed about upcoming operations. He was never in a so-called “nutting squad” and never in a position to walk into a particular area and demand prior details of an operation or the head of an IRA volunteer on a plate. Yet this FRU-inspired myth has become the accepted narrative.

The repeated (and incorrect) assertion that MI5 was running the IRA and pushing the peace process feeds the ire of armed groups in Ireland who oppose the Good Friday agreement. A headline that says “IRA riddled with spies” is, in that sense, an incendiary device and undermines our democratic all-Ireland decision to try another, unarmed, way to find justice and peace and ultimately end partition.”

Indeed, as I pointed out back in December the exaggerated claims in certain quarters about the numbers and successes of British intelligence agents placed in the Republican Movement is less about the past war and more about the present war.

As for Freddie “Scap” Scappaticci, the alleged head of the IRA’s Internal Security Unit (ISU), despite the tens of thousands of words written about him he remains as big a question mark as ever. His first name is Freddie yet the media frequently call him “Alfredo”. A serving IRA Volunteer from 1970 onward he was interned in 1971 and 1974 (along with his brother Umberto), and we are told that he turned traitor in 1978 after a personal dispute with a more senior (unnamed) IRA officer in Belfast. Shortly thereafter he was subject to a “punishment beating” by the IRA on the orders of this officer, leading Scappaticci to apparently walk into a local RUC paramilitary police base several days later offering up his services as an “informer”. Initially this was with the RUC Special Branch before he was “passed on” in the early 1980s to the deliberately disingenuously named Force Research Unit (FRU), which controlled a number of British Army spies and agents in the Irish Republican Army (and at least one leading member of the terror squads of the British separatist minority).

However other sources claim that Scappaticci became a double-agent after being arrested by the RUC in 1982 for a drink-driving offence and that he was immediately recruited by the FRU. Some have conflated both these events, while others have challenged the “foundation myth” that Scappaticci was attacked by fellow IRA Volunteers as part of a personal vendetta (a vendetta that seems to have never gone beyond a story in a number of British newspapers since there is no further history of it), stating that the “beating” taken by Scappaticci was the result of a youthful, drunken fistfight, a dispute over IRA policies with another IRA Volunteer or that it never happened in the first place.

Take your pick!

It is claimed by the conspiracy advocates that the FRU facilitated Scappaticci’s rise through the IRA’s ranks by eliminating rivals and giving him a number of “successes” against the British Forces (in other words a section of the British Army co-operated in guerrilla attacks upon its own soldiers!). By the mid-1980s he was now commanding the IRA’s security and counter-intelligence department (however, yet again, other sources claim that Scappaticci was in fact second-in-command and never rose beyond that position). This group, the Internal Security Unit (ISU), was in charge of the IRA’s counter-intelligence war: which primarily meant investigating some IRA operations that went wrong or were aborted in suspicious circumstances, individuals suspected or known to be agents or informers, the loss of munitions to “enemy action” where no reasonable explanation existed, conducting counter-surveillance operations or checks, and sometimes executing those convicted of “capital offenses” in IRA courts martial.

Many journalists (and some anonymous but much quoted “security sources”) have stated that the ISU “vetted” all new IRA recruits. This is untrue. It rarely acted in this manner. The ISU’s remit was largely restricted to the interrogation of suspected informers (and their families and friends) or people of a “dubious” background. Most individual IRA Active Service Units recruited their own Volunteers (relatively) free of interference from anyone higher than Brigade Staff-level, usually based upon personal or family links or recommendations.

The only real exceptions were in the case of the English Department, the IRA’s fighting arm in Britain and Europe, which was attached to the General Headquarters. Yet even here the ISU’s vetting seems to have been mixed, with most Volunteers being recruited from within the IRA’s existing ranks or through personal contacts or familiarity with senior IRA officers. In any case by the mid-1990s the traditional command-and-control structures for operations in Britain were being increasingly by-passed with greater reliance placed on Special Service Units recruited and directed by the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade and associated personnel (which was not the first time that local IRA units in Ireland took control of attacks in Britain).

Bizarrely we have Freddie Scappaticci’s own words from an anonymous interview he gave in 1993 for a British television documentary, “The Cook Report”, produced in order to publicly name senior alleged members of the IRA, including Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams. How Scappaticci came to make the interview, and how his British Army “handlers” permitted their “prized spy” to give it in the middle of the ongoing conflict, remains one of the strangest episodes of Britain’s long and dirty war in Ireland. What marks it out, amongst other things, is the list of casual inaccuracies about the IRA’s internal structures that are surprising in someone supposedly at a high level within the organisation:

Scappaticci: McGuinness? Oh, I know him very well. I know him about twenty years, you know. Basically, see the thing you were putting across on the programme the other night that he’s in charge of the IRA. He’s not as such. It’s a technical thing, right. The IRA’s split in two. There’s another command, a Southern Command. He’s in charge of Northern Command. He’s the Northern Command OC [ASF: Actually he was called the General Officer Commanding or GOC not OC]. There’s a Southern Command, it has nothing to do with the Northern Command. The Northern Command basically takes in the nine counties of Ulster, right [ASF: Wrong. The Northern Command comprised 11 counties not 6]. He controls all of that. He’s also on the IRA Army Council. There’s a five-man Army Council [ASF: Wrong. The Army Council had 7 members not 5]. He’s one of them. Nothing happens in Northern Command that he doesn’t okay, and I mean nothing. Now, he’s nothing to do with England. See what happens in England, he’s nothing to do with that. The person who controls England is a south Armagh fella, right? [ASF: Wrong again. At this time the Army Council controlled the English Department through the GHQ Staff and officially continued to do so]”

Elsewhere in the interview, Freddie Scappaticci claims that:

“No. Danny Morrison had nothing to do with it. Nothing to do with it. He was director of publicity, but he was also on the IRA Army Council. But he’d no balls. That’s basically, right? He was a pen-pusher if you want to put it that way, right?”

Which is a rather odd allegation to make since many commentators believe Danny Morrison, Sinn Féin’s director of publicity for much of the 1980s, was not a member of the Army Council.

We are told that the 2003 revelation of Scappaticci’s identity as Britain’s chief spy in the IRA, the infamous “Stakeknife”, came from other British ex-agents angry over their lack of financial reward for the “dirty work” they did in Ireland:

“WE have, apparently, two other disgruntled double agents to thank for the unmasking of Stakeknife. The pair, Kevin Fulton [ASF: aka Peter Keeley, the "spy" dismissed as a virtual fantasist by the former senior RUC officer above] and Samuel Rosenfeld, passed his real name, Alfredo Scappaticci into the public domain, because the British Ministry of Defence was refusing to provide them with pensions.”

So, one wonders how much of this is simply disinformation, “black propaganda” designed to strike fear into the Irish Republican enemies of Britain, past, present and future? And how much is simply personal vendettas: disgruntled ex-spies embittered former employees and ego-boosting fantasists?

Update 17/02/2012: There is more on this issue, and a very heated debate in the Comments section involving several of the people mentioned here, over at Slugger O’Toole.

British Ethnic Terrorists In Ireland – Still At War?

While in recent months the main focus of the national and international news media has been on the actions of Resistance Republicans, various terrorist groups belonging to the British separatist minority in Ireland have continued to operate a low-intensity conflict that rarely makes the headlines. The South Belfast News or SBN (via the Belfast Media Group) carries a report detailing the latest attack by the British militants in the north-eastern part of the country with the attempted murder of an Irish teenager, James Turley:

“Loyalist paramilitaries [ethnic British terrorists] were behind the vicious attack on a Catholic teenager working on a film set in South Belfast this week, the SBN can reveal.

UVF thugs embarked on the brutal assault on an 18-year-old film extra in the Village last Friday (January 6), after discovering Catholic teenagers from the Short Strand were working on the film.

Since the vicious attack, which saw the teenager badly beaten, placed in a wheelie bin and left for dead, local UVF men have visited a local community centre which hosted the film crew to warn them not to bring anyone else into the area “without their permission”.

The paramilitary group also ordered community workers not to speak to the press about the attack, saying “there would be consequences” if they disobeyed.

The crew, which was filming for a number of days for the movie The Good Man starring The Wire actor Aiden Gillen, were in and around Frenchpark Street and Ebor Street on the day of the attack. They had been using the nearby Windsor Women’s Centre as a base of operations while continuing to film around the Village.

However around 3.50pm, a group of loyalists confronted the crew, hurling sectarian insults and threats. As the crew went to drive off, 18-year-old James Turley was caught by the mob who beat him severely before placing him in a wheelie bin. The vicious assault only stopped when his attackers thought he was dead.”

Do not expect see this story being reported or followed-up in most of the Irish, British or global news media. It doesn’t match the agreed narrative of life in the “new” North of Ireland. And it certainly doesn’t match the British government’s insistence that the British terrorist organisations in the north-east of Ireland are on “ceasefire”. An insistence that grows ever more hollow with each passing week.

Silent Voices

Concubhar Ó Liatháin, an Irish journalist and blogger, editor of the now closed Lá Nua newspaper, and presently a member of the board of management of TG4, has written an article for the Irish Independent strongly condemning the TV channel for broadcasting a series of programmes featuring former female members of the Irish Republican Army, titled Mná an IRA (“Women of the IRA”).

“Dr Rose Dugdale was arrested in 1974 for her part in the robbery of several old masters from Russborough House in Co Wicklow and the attempted bombing from the air of Strabane RUC station.

Decades later, she turned up on TG4 last week to retrospectively justify her actions. It certainly soured Nollaig na mBan for me, following what was a very successful Christmas season of programmes on TG4.

Mna an IRA is a new series on the Irish language station, which prides itself for its ‘suil eile’, and it will profile women who were involved in that illegal organisation over the next six weeks. If the first programme is any indication of what’s to come, it will be nauseating and heartbreaking for the victims of the IRA and their relatives.

As a board member of TG4, appointed in September 2010 following a public competition, I am generally proud of what is being achieved by the station. It has won several awards for its documentaries and other programmes and has recast the Irish language as an integral part of Irish culture that is attractive and useful. Mna an IRA is a stain on this record of achievement.

Right from the title sequence, where Dr Dugdale was described as a ‘saighdiuir/ soldier’ and a member of ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’, Mna an IRA struck the wrong chord with me. How could Dr Dugdale be described as a ‘soldier’ despite never having enlisted in a real army, bound by international laws and conventions regarding human rights, as opposed to an illegal paramilitary force?

How could a programme, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and broadcast on TG4, be allowed to describe the Provisional IRA as ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’ when the only force on this island to legitimately use that name is our Defence Forces?”

Ó Liatháin, who is a long-standing critic of Sinn Féin, then goes on to condemn the programme for an alleged lack of balance and a failure to challenge Rosie Dugdale’s views and statements.

“Republicans have reviled the revisionists over the years for giving an alternative view of Irish history, which cast the IRA and Sinn Fein in a poor light. As evidenced here, revisionism isn’t a one-way street as it appears republicans can be as revisionist as any of those they reviled in order to paint their actions in the best possible light. That’s fair enough for An Phoblacht TV — but TG4, as a publicly funded TV station, needs to abide by higher standards lest its impressive record be tarnished by shoddy, one-sided productions such as Mna an IRA.”

Rather unfortunately Ó Liatháin links the programme to a coincidental attack on a PSNI paramilitary police officer in the North of Ireland:

“That the programme was broadcast on the same night as the dissidents attempted to blow up a member of the PSNI underlines the dangers of broadcasting programmes such as Mna an IRA without a rigorous examination of the content of the programme and their relevance in contemporary Ireland.

I have an abhorrence of those who attack TG4 and who would deny those who speak Irish such a vital resource as a modern television station, as if Irish speakers were second-class citizens.”

Concubhar Ó Liatháin may undoubtedly abhor those who treat Irish speakers as second class citizens but judging by the reaction to his article he has given them plenty of ammunition to do so in the future including a new name for TG4 that is now spreading amongst the extreme edges of the Anglophone media and online community in Ireland: “An Phoblacht TV”.

The matter is examined further in the Irish Times:

“MANAGEMENT AT TG4 has defended a series of programmes about women in the Republican movement, in response to criticism by a member of the station’s board.

Concubhar Ó Liatháin accused the programme makers of Mná an IRA of bias and described the first programme, on Dr Rose Dugdale, as “slipshod” and “one-sided”. The programme was broadcast last Thursday.

Mr Ó Liatháin, a former editor of the now defunct Lá Nua newspaper, said the programme “went against everything I know to be holy writ about making programmes as in there is another side to the story”.

He said no attempt was made to interview the victims of Dugdale’s actions and her views as an unrepentant Republican were not challenged.

However, TG4 deputy director general Pádhraic Ó Ciardha said the station was standing by both the Dr Rose Dugdale programme and the rest of the Mná an IRA programmes.

He confirmed they had received letters from Mr Ó Liatháin, and said these would be responded to.

He said the board was the proper forum for board members to bring up issues of importance.

“We don’t make any comment on internal discussions,” he said.

Mr Ó Liatháin said two of the four contributors to the programme, Séanna Breathnach, the former officer commanding of the IRA in the H-Blocks, and Ite Ní Chionnaith, a former member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of the INLA, were supporters of the Republican cause and there was no attempt to provide balance from those who opposed the armed struggle.

The programme also featured contributions from former Limerick Labour Party councillor Frank Prendergast and academic and human rights lawyer Fionnuala Ní Aoláin who spoke about the effects of violence on those who perpetrate it.

Future programmes in the series will be about former Republican prisoners Josephine Hayden and Rosaleen Walsh; Pamela Kane, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail for a bank robbery in Enniscorthy; Sinn Féin MLA and junior minister in the Northern Assembley Martina Anderson; and Rosie McCorley, who was sentenced to 66 years for IRA activities but was later released under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.”

Ó Concubhar’s criticisms echo those found earlier in the Herald, albeit in a far more insidious manner:

“AS the centenary of 1916 approaches we can expect all manner of documentaries commemorating this apparently glorious event, although hopefully some brave programme-maker (which obviously excludes anyone from RTE) will allow, say, Kevin Myers the leeway to present the view that the Rising was a terrorist atrocity which only led to even more barbarity.

Unsung rhetoric aside though, TG4 really stirred up a raft of publicity yesterday with the brouhaha surrounding a new documentary series which began last night.

One might expect a programme called Mna an IRA to be a look back at times past, featuring interviews with old grannies recalling the days when they were Bridie, Warrior Princess of Cumann na mBan or Mary Kate, She-Wolf of the ‘Ra, but no, this focused on those who’d seen service in the IRA ‘in modern times’.

Coming soon to TG4 — ‘Victims of the IRA’. Don’t hold your breath.”

Concubhar Ó Liatháin has stated on several occasions his opposition to the Official Languages Act of 2003 (which enshrines to a limited degree a level of equality between Irish and English speaking citizens) and the Language Commissioner (who oversees the fair implementation of the Act and deals with complaints by citizens in relation to its contravention by state bodies). His view is that the legislation, as currently formatted, is largely irrelevant to the needs of Irish speakers. However there is no doubting his commitment to the Irish language, and the Irish speaking communities of the Gaeltachtaí in particular, and the breadth of his vision for TG4 in the coming decades is both impressive and welcome. However in airing this public criticism of TG4 in a notoriously anti-Irish newspaper Ó Liatháin has done the Irish language station or the cause of the Irish speaking communities of Ireland no favours. Such views should have been made internally on the board of management of TG4, and with whatever vigour Ó Liatháin felt necessary. If that failed to meet his satisfaction then a resort to a public statement on the issue would have been understandable.

As it is this alleged controversy will simply add more fuel to the campaign by the Anglophone zealots in our political and media establishments to close TG4, and while Concubhar Ó Liatháin cannot be accused of creating the controversy in the first place he has certainly not helped in dampening it down. All that said, in the interests of free speech and the value of opposing opinions, I hope Concubhar Ó Liatháin is not forced to resign his position from the TG4 board, as some are now calling for. Though I regard the position taken by him as censorious, and a reminder of the draconian days of Section 31 when a plurality of views in this nation on the conflict in the north-eastern part of the country became unacceptable, I believe that opinions like his, which undoubtedly many people share, should be heard. Free speech is just that. The freedom to speak as one would wish.

After all, these are the same principles which underlie the making of the Mná an IRA documentary series in the first place.