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Posts Tagged ‘ the Troubles ’

Be Who You Want To Be, Not What Society Expects You To Be

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On the 2nd of November 2013, in the Lone Star State of Texas, as he has done for many years, the incredibly talented Oscar Award Winning Screen-Writer and LGBT activist Dustin Lance Black encouraged people to “tell your stories and you can change minds”. I am a heterosexual, 22 year old student from Dublin and I am ready to speak out. I am ready to express my disgust at some of my fellow citizens.

My story begins nearly 54 years to the day before I was born. On the 1st of July 1937 the people of the Irish free state decided with an
overwhelming majority to accept the provisions of a new constitution, Bunreacht na hEireann, that would set Ireland free and open up a new window of opportunity by giving Irish people the chance to succeed.

However, we are still awaiting the full enactment of the constitution. The constitution states that “all citizens, shall as human persons, be held equal before the law”. That simply is not worth the paper it’s written on. People will give me the spiel about Ireland being a democracy but I would not be writing this today if that was the case. A democracy is not just a country in which people can vote but in which people can live and not just exist. Of the group I will talk about today, the LGBT community, people, my fellow countrymen and women, find this community or group of people, hard to comprehend, hard to accept. How can people who engage in that sort of activity actually exist at all? People make choices in life and in a so called democracy they have the right to live their lives as they and only they wish to do so. Continue reading

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Northern Irish AG Proposes End To Pre 1998 Prosecutions

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Northern Ireland’s Attorney General has proposed an end to prosecutions linked to events that took place during the Troubles before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

John Larkin said the rule, which is bound to cause major controversy, should be applied to paramilitaries, the police force and the British army, who were responsible for the death of 3,500 people during three decades of conflict. Continue reading

Northern Ireland – Sharing the State Means Sharing Responsibility

Castlederg. Photo: Kenneth Allen.

Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, has called on the organisers of a Republican commemoration to call off their plans. A demonstration is planned for this Sunday in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, commemorating the deaths of IRA members killed during the Troubles, including two members killed when a bomb they had planned to plant in Castlederg exploded. Unionists have called the planned event a glorification of terrorism, while DUP leader Peter Robinson has gone on record to denounce the commemoration as ‘insensitive’ and ‘inappropriate’. An event is held by Republicans in Tyrone every year and this year marks the 40th anniversary of the deaths of the would be bombers.

Continue reading

McConville Case Still Resonates Within Northern Ireland

An interesting showdown, with potentially important ramifications for both journalism and academia, has been slowly unfolding over the course of several months, involving a journalist in the middle, paramilitary soldiers seeking to tell the truth on one side and the PSNI and the families of the so-called ‘disappeared’ on the other.

The controversy circles an academic historical endeavour known as the ‘Belfast Project’, conducted by Boston College, whose aim is to create an oral history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a history which would offer a much more frank and realistic view of the conflict, from both sides of the coin. Paramilitary volunteers from either side were interviewed for the large scale project. None of the Republican interviews, however, were authorised by the IRA. In fact, the only reason they were given by the participants was on the condition that they be released only after their deaths. Understandably this was because the IRA was and is very secretive and controlling, and those interviewed revealed operational secrets, the IRA’s methods and often criticised key decisions and people within the organisation. At present, the interviews are kept under lock and key at the college. However, on July 6th the first circuit court of appeal ruled that the College and Ed Moloney, the journalist in charge of the project, didn’t have the right to promise to withhold the information they were given, and have ordered that information be turned over to the PSNI by next month. This test case has brought out academics and journalists decrying the court’s decision, proclaiming source protection as sacred. The National Union of Journalists in particular, which is a joint British-Irish organization, has condemned the ruling. General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet has argued that the ruling has “significant implications” for academic and journalistic research, while others have criticised the College for not acting like other journalists and protecting their sources to the point of going to prison.

One of the main reasons the PSNI want to get their hands on this treasure trove of information is to help them discover what happened to certain people during the conflict, a collective known as the ‘disappeared.’ This is the name that has been given to sixteen people who vanished during the Troubles at the hands of the IRA, believed to have been abducted and killed, then buried in shallow graves. In 1999, the IRA admitted to killing nine of the victims on that list, and gave up the burial sites, although only three were found at that time. Since then, a further four bodies have been recovered. The most infamous of these cases was that of young mother, Jean McConville, whose body was finally discovered in 2003 by a family out on a walk, a mile from the location the IRA had given for her grave. McConville was born into a Protestant family in East Belfast though converted to Catholicism when she married her husband, Arthur. One of her sons, Robbie, was in Long Kesh for Official IRA related activities although he defected to the INLA in 1974. In December of 1972, she was abducted from her home by 12 members of the IRA, men and women, and killed by a single bullet to the back of the head, her remains buried on a nearby beach. The IRA refused to admit responsibility for many years, and then claimed that McConville had been a British spy, passing information on local republicans to British security forces through a radio transmitter. Her children have consistently rejected this claim, and have repeatedly called on the IRA to clear their mother’s name. An official investigation revealed no evidence to prove the IRA’s claims. Enter Boston College and their Belfast Project. One of those believed to be have been interviewed, Dolours Price, could reveal she was part of the murder as the driver of the car which took McConville to her death, and more importantly, the role of Gerry Adams in all of this. Such allegations concerning Adams are nothing new. In Voices from the Grave, based on two interviews from the Boston project, former IRA operative Brendan Hughes said as much of Adam’s role, claiming that it was Adams who established the IRA unit which killed McConville, and he who gave the order for her secret burial, to avoid the negative publicity surrounding the murder of a women and the orphaning of her children.

But the families of those disappeared by the IRA during the Troubles aren’t the only ones who could be affected by the court’s ruling. Those still living ex-IRA members and their families could be in for trouble should their testimonies reach the light of day. Carol Twomey, wife of Anthony McIntyre (former IRA gunman who conducted the interviews) believes that her husband and other ex-IRA men will risk being killed should the interviews be handed over, and used to secure prosecutions. Retribution, she argues, is a very real fear for men who have been branded by some as ‘touts’ for revealing IRA secrets.

Then of course there’s the impact on Northern Ireland and the peace process to be considered. The country may be at peace but nobody can deny it isn’t somewhat shaky. If Hughes’ allegations are confirmed by a second IRA member’s testimony, given in the knowledge it wouldn’t be revealed until after her death, what does this do for the stability of Northern Ireland and its government, bearing in mind that Gerry Adams always shrugs off accusations of IRA membership, and leadership. It’s hard to predict the reaction from the Republican camp. A Northern Irish government which is dependent on its members possible past criminal lives being ignored isn’t exactly a solid foundation in the first place. But it has worked thus far. And an appeal is already in the works. Several prominent politicians in America, including the former presidential candidate John Kerry have lobbied for the interviews to remain sealed. It just might stick and it could be years before the Boston tapes see the light of day, and all those involved are dead and buried, and a new generation will have to deal with the mistakes of their forbearers.

So, to reveal or not to reveal? Do we make an attempt to forget our past in the interest of the future or do we strive to excise all of its demons. It’s a tricky one. How do you decide which is more important – the need for truth and closure on the part of Jean McConville’s family, and any others who might have something new to learn about the disappearance of their loved ones or the fact that to reveal the identities of any former IRA members who participated in the Boston project is to pass a very possible death sentence on them. Some might argue that death is what they deserve for the activities they and their Loyalist counterparts were involved in during the Troubles but to essentially have them killed makes us no better than what they are and were. The truth shall set you free, it has been said. But in this case, perhaps it might just do more harm than good. Should Gerry Adams be finally proven to be an utter liar, should he be proven to have been in the IRA command when he said he wasn’t, such a thing wouldn’t be a terrible event by any stretch of the imagination. But if Boston College can be forced into giving up these precious oral histories of such an important and tragic part of our history, where does it stop? So many hidden histories, so many stories are dependent on the assurance that can be provided by the interviewer that the identity of their source will be protected at all costs. So who in their right mind would ever again trust a journalist or in particular an academic into telling their story?

No, let sleeping dogs lie, as they say. Wait until those involved are dead and gone. With any luck, Gerry Adams and co will still be alive when that time comes. If not, then we can see the contents of that historical treasure trove for ourselves, and history can be the judge of it all.

Voices from the Grave

A recent Community Relations Council Report had two surprising revelations. Firstly, one of the less anticipated results of the peace process is the emergence of places like Derry city and Belfast as centres of urbanisation, witnessing the birth of a ‘cappuccino culture’ with rich people enjoying consumerism more than the tribalism the province is famed for. Indeed, Belfast hosted the last MTV awards, and Derry was awarded the City of Culture contract. Think back fifteen or twenty years. Northern Ireland would be the last place anyone would think to hold such events.

The second revelation is far darker, hearkening back to the days before the peace process that brought about the end of the war between the Provos and Loyalist paramilitaries. Between 2005 and 2009, Derry city saw 452 sectarian attacks. Violence on the part of anti-peace  Republican offshoots, such as the Real IRA, is ongoing. Para-militarism has by no means been dealt with satisfactorily and the various issues that divided each side of the conflict are still bubbling beneath the surface. Dr Paul Nolan poses a very interesting question –“Which is it to be? Are we leaving the Troubles behind, or does the continuation of sectarian division mean that at some point in the future the underlying tensions could see a violent eruption?”

The book on which the 2010 RTE documentary Voices from the Grave was based draws heavily from the interviews of two major players from either side – former senior IRA member Brendan Hughes and David Ervine, who had been in the UVF. Both were interviewed at length by Boston College, which traces the movements of the conflict from the two perspectives, offering a hugely intimate and insightful view into the politics and plans of the Republican and Loyalist movements. Hughes was involved with the IRA from the beginning of the conflict, commanding IRA units in Belfast, operating right under the noses of the RUC and the British army. He boasted an impressive Republican pedigree, one which protected him from discreditation by Sinn Féin in his later years spent criticising the movement, and included a daring escape from Long Kesh prison. Of particular interest is Hughes’ (now deceased) revelations about Gerry Adams, who continually denies any involvement in the IRA and the resentment of old Republicans at his actions.

“If Gerry had told me [in the Seventies] that tomorrow was Sunday when I knew it was Monday, I would have thought twice, that maybe it was Sunday, because he said it,” Hughes said. “Now, if he told me that today was Friday, even though it was Friday, I’d call him a f—— liar.”

Hughes maintains the order for the murder of Jean McConville, a suspected British informer, came directly from Adams who later claimed he was still in prison at the time of her death. So too, Hughes claims, did the order for the killing of another suspected informer – IRA man Paddy Joe Crawford – come from Adams. Crawford was hung in Long Kesh, and reported as a suicide.

Unfortunately the memoirs of David Ervine are almost overshadowed by the frank and often startling revelations by Hughes which is a pity, as Ervine too was a senior man in his own organisation. Still he reveals interesting if less monumental facts; the links between Republican and Unionist paramilitary prisoners who aided one side in the feud between the UDA and the UVF, and the less than respectful view many Loyalists had of Ian Paisley, the firebrand preacher who was seen to say one thing then eventually do another.

Despite their blunt admissions about their involvement in para-militarism and the violence that came with it, the two are almost excused as the result of outside and ancient forces. Hughes came from a long line of Republicans; his father spent time in prison for his actions, and grew up around the presence of former IRA heroes and the need to protect the Catholic community, while David Ervine’s participation is seen as the inevitable outcome of the attacks on his own community. One thing is certain and clear – the effect of the conflict on the moral compasses of both sides. Both are presented as normal human beings, with friends and family, who are forced by the conflict to do terrible things, with some regret. Hughes showed some remorse over the killings of innocent bystanders though none over the deaths of soldiers or Loyalists, legitimate targets in his eyes. Ervine makes some attempt on his part to criticise the actions of the Shankhill butchers, but stresses his opposition was on a personal level, hinting that murders effectively did their job – terrorising the Catholic population.

The two lived out starkly separate and differing lives as the conflict moved to its close. Hughes left the IRA a disillusioned man, never happy with the peace process and those who brought it about and died in 2008, sad and bitter in a Belfast flat. At his funeral, Gerry Adams was prevented from giving the oration for his former colleague, an indication that the rift between the two and what they stood for had never healed. On the other hand, Ervine, who died a year earlier in 2007, moved towards the respectable side of political Unionism, joining the Ulster Unionist group in Stormont.

Essentially, Voices from the Grave charts the worst moments of the conflict that marred Northern Ireland for several decades, and gives its reader a stern warning and caution for the future, should those dark days ever seem likely to return.

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