Some have accused the broad Republican movement in Ireland of being deaf and blind to its own injustices, its own ill-considered actions and, yes, its own crimes too. The killing of Patrick Joseph Crawford in the earliest chaotic days of the Long War is one of many stains on the modern historical record of all those who claim the name of “Republican”. It is also a reflection of an Ireland long past, one where in the north-east of the country Britain’s terror-state and the Catholic Church’s para-state vied for control over some local communities in circumstances that now seem beyond contemporary understanding.
Patrick Crawford served as a Volunteer of the Belfast Brigade of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army until April 1973 when he and eleven others returning from a military training camp through the town of Newry were stopped by British soldiers of the infamous Parachute Regiment. After a lengthy interrogation at the Castlereagh torture-centre by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Britain’s then paramilitary police force in the north-east of Ireland, he was imprisoned without trial in the Long Kesh concentration camp.
While accounts differ about what happened next it seems likely that during his debriefing by the camp intelligence officers Crawford admitted that he had “broken” during his interrogation by the RUC, almost certainly while under violent duress by the paramilitary police. While on the face of it this may seem a serious matter during this period many Volunteers succumbed to physical or psychological torture and it was common practice to accept this as an inevitable by-product of arrest or detention. However during this same period the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army had suffered a series of successive military setbacks with the loss of members and munitions, and this was to have fatal consequences for Crawford when news of his “confession” was eventually communicated back to the city’s increasingly frantic Brigade HQ Staff.
Sixty-four days after his confinement in Long Kesh on Sunday the 3rd of June 1973 the then twenty-two year old Patrick Crawford – without charge or court-martial – was executed by hanging, his a death presented to the other POWs and camp authorities as a suicide stemming from despair at the deplorable conditions in the prison. Only four or five hand-picked IRA Volunteers were aware of what had happened or that the order for Crawford’s execution had come all the way from the GHQ Staff in Dublin, a staff struggling to keep abreast of events on the ground and which would soon find itself sidelined.
Though widely suspected in some Republican circles the truth about the brutal killing remained hidden for decades until it gradually emerged through the accounts of other POWs. At the same time it was revealed that Patrick Crawford, an orphan who has passed though the hands of the Roman Catholic Church at a time of widespread institutional neglect and abuse, was in fact the illegitimate son of Catherine Crawford, a single woman from the Nationalist community who been forced by her family to place her child into care. She later married and had ten children, all living and growing up in much the same district of Belfast as her son who she kept an eye on despite the non-cooperation of the church authorities. Just three months after Patrick Crawford was killed by a group of his comrades in Long Kesh nineteen year old Anne-Marie Pettigrew, a Volunteer of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army and Crawford’s half-sister, suffered horrific injuries in an explosion at an IRA arms-factory in the University area of the city, dying nearly fourteen days later on the 1st of September 1973. Though they knew each other from serving with the Republican Army neither were aware of their relationship. Unlike Patrick Crawford young Anne-Marie Pettigrew was buried in a full military ceremony and is named on the Roll of Honour of the Irish Republican Army.
If revolutionary republicanism in Ireland in all its manifest forms is to progress forward it must learn from the past. It must recognise its failures as well as its successes. The dead, as much as the living or those yet to be born, deserve better of those who seek to lead them. And those young men and women who gave so much, by their own violation or through the persuasion of others, must be remembered and in remembering honoured. “Paddy Joe” Crawford deserved more from those he served with, from the army he gave his oath of loyalty to, than to be made a scapegoat for the failures of others or sacrificed to the wayward gods of war. The onus of responsibility for what happened to him, from breaking under torture as all human beings eventually break under torture to his unwarranted and barbaric murder is ultimately that of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army.
The time to recognise and apologise for his death is long overdue.