You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2010.
28 Feb 2010
Since the Real IRA gun attack at Massereene barracks in which two British soldiers were killed, republican dissidents have grown steadily, rather than spectacularly, in strength.
Within 48 hours of Massereene, the Continuity IRA shot dead police officer Stephen Carroll in Lurgan. Over the past year, republicans have inflicted no further fatalities on the security forces, although they came dangerously close last month when an under-car bomb by Óglaigh na hÉireann, a Real IRA splinter group, severely injured police officer Peadar Heffron.
Forensic officers examine the scene of the blast in Newry last week
As Sinn Féin becomes increasingly tied into the political status quo, anti-Agreement republicans gain scope to grow in working-class nationalist communities which have benefited little from the peace process.
“Morale is high in Real IRA ranks,” says one source. “It’s higher than at any time in recent years.”
The security services are extremely worried about the situation in east Tyrone where there have been widescale resignations from the Provisionals amid growing disillusionment with the peace process.
The level of attacks is nowhere near that of Provisional IRA activity at the height of the conflict. However, the fact three incidents linked to dissidents occurred in the past week – and the geographical spread of the activity – shows they remain a constant threat.
The device which went off outside Newry courthouse on Monday night was the first dissident car bomb to explode in the North after countless failed attempts over a decade. It means the bomb-maker has the “mix” right. The Real IRA?has claimed responsibilty for the attack.
Three days earlier, dissidents abandoned a mortar close to Keady police station in South Armagh. On Wednesday the Real IRA in Derry shot dead one of its own members allegedly involved with a drugs’ gang.
Last month, the Real IRA was behind a pipe bomb attack on a British Army base in north Belfast. Although it caused minimal damage, it was the first attack the organisation had carried out in the city – where it has been previously weak – in many years.
Such attacks are training exercises for inexperienced Real IRA members. Recruits continue to be a mixture of disillusioned ex-Provisionals and young people with no paramilitary past.
The family of Mark Quinsey – one of two soldiers shot dead by the Real IRA at Massereene barracks last year – tells Suzanne Breen the British Army ‘treats young soldiers like dirt’
28 Feb 2010
She gave the medal away. Mark Quinsey’s mother was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Cross at a special ceremony in Massereene British Army base where her son was murdered by the Real IRA.
“Pamela doesn’t want a medal, she wants her son back,” says her uncle Steve Hughes.
“Why would she want a useless piece of metal? It was an insult for the army to give her that. They’re pretending to respect Mark now he’s dead but they had no respect for him in life. Had they valued him and the other young soldiers, there’d have been proper security at Massereene.
“The deaths of Mark and Patrick Azimkar were entirely avoidable. The army go through the motions; they say all the right words but they don’t give a shit about ordinary soldiers.”
Next Sunday is the first anniversary of the Real IRA attack. Sappers Mark Quinsey (23) and Patrick Azimkar (21) died in a hail of bullets as they collected food from two pizza delivery cars outside the Co Antrim base. Two other British soldiers and the two pizza men were injured.
Mark was Pamela Brankin’s only son. “She couldn’t have wished for a better one,” says Hughes. “Pamela misses him so much. The army have lied to her time and time again about what happened that night at Massereene.
“They lied about the CCTV footage of the shooting and they lied about why the base wasn’t properly protected. Pamela is very angry with them. She says she gave the army her son, her lovely boy. She thought they’d look after him but they let her and Mark down.
“Young soldiers who put their lives on the line for their country are treated like dirt. The army top brass couldn’t care less about them.” Hughes, Mark Quinsey’s great uncle, has conducted his own investigation at Mark’s mother’s request into security at Massereene which he says shows fatal flaws that led to the double murder. “If the army had done even one thing in a chain of events differently, these boys would be alive today.”
Hughes has talked to soldiers present that night as well as other security and political figures.
Thirty-six hours before the shooting, the then Northern Ireland chief constable, Hugh Orde, warned the threat against police and soldiers was at its highest level in a decade.
Hughes says the soldiers in Massereene, who were due to fly to Afghanistan in hours, should have been assembled and warned of the danger they were facing.
“They should have been confined to barracks. Instead, some went out for a drink and others stayed in Massereene and ordered pizzas. It wasn’t their fault. They were young lads who’d never served in Ireland during the Troubles. They were blind to the risks facing them.”
Hughes says despite Orde’s warning, Massereene wasn’t put on high alert: “Soldiers have told me that the only base where security was raised was MI5 headquarters in Holywood – that shows where priorities lie.”
The previous month, dissident republicans had abandoned a car bomb destined for Ballykinler barracks in Co Down so the army knew its bases were targets, Hughes says. Yet these bases remained protected not by heavily armed military or police – as are English barracks – but by the Northern Ireland Security Guard Service, a civilian force employed by the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
“Had there been military personnel in the sangar at Massereene that night, armed with SA 80s or A2 assault rifles – as is the norm in British bases – the Real IRA would have abandoned their attack or else they’d have been overpowered,” Hughes says.
“Instead, the army had civilian guards on duty armed with side pistols – no match for the Real IRA’s AKs. They were probably scared to death when they heard the republican gunfire.”
Hughes says an eyewitness saw the car carrying the Real IRA unit parked on the road, opposite the base, minutes before the shooting began. He questions why this vehicle, which would have been visible on CCTV, didn’t arouse suspicion.
Hughes says he has been told the two gunmen left the car and hid in bushes waiting for the pizzas to arrive and the soldiers to leave the base to collect them. When this happened, one gunman opened up on the barracks’ sangar [sentry post]. The second shot at the soldiers and the pizza men.
Some soldiers managed to run back into the base but other soldiers and the pizza men fell to the ground injured. Hughes says both Real IRA gunmen then moved in to “finish off” the wounded. Last April, the Real IRA told the Sunday Tribune its gunmen then actually entered the base looking for the soldiers who had run inside.
The army hasn’t confirmed or denied this. Hughes says: “It’s a sad day when I believe the republican murderers’ version of events before that of the British Army. But I’ve talked to soldiers who were hiding from the gunmen and who saw at least one terrorist in the base. “The army and the MOD are covering this up. They’re on a damage limitation exercise.”
At no stage did the civilian guards return fire. Although, the Real IRA opened fire on the sangar – believing a guard was inside – Hughes wonders if the sangar was even staffed at the time and also whether the guards’ pistols were loaded.
Hughes curses “the bastards” who killed his nephew but his greatest anger is directed at brigadier George Norton, the British Army’s commanding officer in the North.
When asked why the Massereene guards didn’t once challenge the Real IRA gunmen, Norton retorted to journalists: “Are you suggesting people should have fired into a closely packed group including my soldiers?”
Hughes says: “Brigadier Norton is talking nonsense. There were plenty of opportunities for the guards to target the gunmen without endangering the soldiers. After the initial shots they fired, the gunmen could have been targeted as they crossed the road to ‘finish off’ the soldiers.
“When the gunmen were at the barrack gates, they were easily distinguishable from the wounded soldiers and pizza men who were lying on the ground. The Real IRA men were the only people standing. They were perfect targets.
“The soldiers were wearing desert fatigues, in preparation for going to Afghan- istan so they couldn’t have been confused with the gunmen. Again, when the Real IRA men were returning to their getaway car, they could have been targeted.
“The civilian guards didn’t even fire a warning shot in the air which would have unsettled the gunmen. It was a disaster.”
When asked by reporters if security was lax at the base, Norton replied: “I would deny that completely.”
Hughes says: “It wasn’t lax, it was non-existent. I guarantee if it was Brigadier Norton or the army’s top brass at risk in Massereene, the most stringent security would have been in place.”
Hughes says the poor security was also illustrated when the pizza cars, which didn’t carry the company logos, weren’t subjected to ID or other searches after they pulled up at the base and “the soldiers were allowed to wander out, with no armed cover, to meet those cars”.
Mark Quinsey’s mother, Pamela Brankin, was originally told by the army the only CCTV footage was of the two pizza cars and there were no images of either the soldiers or the gunmen available. “That was another lie and it later emerged there was CCTV footage of the entire attack,” Hughes says.
“The army also lied to Pamela when she asked them why the guards at Massereene weren’t armed with SA 80s. They told her: ‘Those big guns aren’t good at short-range, they wouldn’t have saved Mark’s life.’
“When Pamela went to visit one of the soldiers injured at Massereene, he told her that SA 80s would have blown the heads off the gunmen.” Brankin received the Queen Elizabeth Cross at a special service at Massereene in October. She gave it to Mark’s father, Bill , from whom she is separated.
She told relatives she couldn’t bear to look at it – she was so angry she felt like putting it in the bin. She also gave away the photograph of Mark, signed by the Queen, that the army had given her.
“The only good part of the ceremony for Pamela was when she talked to the ordinary soldiers who were Mark’s friends.
“Pamela wants nothing from the army except them to say sorry. She doesn’t want to take them to court for the appalling security at Massereene. All she asks is for them to have the decency to apologise.”
Uncle of soldier murdered by Real IRA blames British army for his death
28 Feb 2010
The uncle of a British soldier killed by the Real IRA at Massereene has lambasted the army over security at the base on the night of the attack and has accused the military of a cover-up.
Speaking ahead of the first anniversary of the attack, Steve Hughes, whose nephew Mark Quinsey (23) was killed with Patrick Azimkar (21), highlighted a string of failings in security at the Antrim base.
Mark Quinsey with his mother Pamela (left) and sister Jaime
“The deaths of Mark and Patrick were avoidable,” Hughes told the Sunday Tribune. “The army say all the right words but they don’t give a shit about ordinary soldiers.”
Next Sunday marks the anniversary of the double murder.
Thirty-six hours before the Real IRA shot the soldiers as they collected pizzas at the barrack gates, the then PSNI chief constable, Hugh Orde, warned that the threat to police and soldiers from republicans was at its highest in almost a decade.
Despite this, Hughes said Massereene wasn’t placed on high alert: “Soldiers have told me the only base where security was raised was MI5 headquarters in Holywood – that shows where priorities lie.”
Hughes said soldiers at Massereene should have been warned of the imminent threat and confined to barracks: “Instead they were allowed to wander outside in uniform, with no armed cover, to pick up pizzas. They were young lads who had never served in Ireland during the Troubles. They were blind to the risks.”
Massereene was protected by civilian guards armed only with side pistols which were “no match for the Real IRA’s AKs”, Hughes said: “After Orde’s warning, the civilian guards should have been immediately replaced by soldiers with SA 80s or A2 assault rifles, which is normal practice in Britain anyway. That would have deterred the Real IRA or ensured their attack wasn’t successful.”
Hughes claimed MI5 advice that the guards’ weapons be upgraded was ignored. He questioned why the Real IRA gunmen’s car wasn’t challenged when it parked outside Massereene.
He said the civilian guards should have opened fire on the gunmen. While condemning “the bastards” who killed his nephew, his greatest anger was at Brigadier George Norton, the British army’s commanding officer in the North.
Norton has denied security at the base was lax and has defended the guards’ failure to fire at the gunmen.
“Brigadier Norton is talking nonsense. If it was Brigadier Norton or the army’s top brass at risk in Massereene, the most stringent security would have been in place,” Hughes said.
“Mark and Patrick were cannon fodder for the army. Brigadier Norton called them ‘magnificent individuals’. Well after they were killed, these ‘magnificent individuals’ were denied a ramp service on board an RAF aircraft.
“Instead, they were packed into tin boxes, bubble-wrapped and sent home to their parents in the cargo hold of a commercial airline along with the passenger luggage. The Ministry of Defence didn’t want to give the impression Britain was still at war in Northern Ireland.”
Hughes showed the Sunday Tribune an army letter suspending an internal inquiry into security at Massereene on the grounds that it could prejudice the trial of two men charged with the attack. “I don’t accept that. The investigation isn’t happening because it would reveal the shambolic security that night,” he said.
A hoax device was used to lure police officers into an area of Craigavon in County Armagh where they were attacked with flagstones and other missiles.
Police said the attack near the Drumbeg and Meadowbrook estates on Saturday was an attempt to injure or kill officers.
Three police vehicles were damaged and officers fired three baton rounds at rioters during the attack.
An explosive device was fired at Brownlow police station in the town during a separate incident.
Chief Inspector Jason Murphy, said the attack in the estates on Saturday night was “disgraceful”.
“Missiles, masonry had been thrown at the vehicles and actually individuals approaching the vehicles with iron bars, trying to break the windows with iron bars, and get access to my officers,” Mr Murphy said.
“I have got no qualms in saying this was an attempt to kill or injure my officers, no doubt at all.”
The Police Ombudsman has been informed and is investigating the incident where the baton rounds were fired.
The PSNI said they received reports that the police station was targeted, but not hit, on Saturday evening.
They have advised anyone who comes across any suspicious objects to contact police.
Upper Bann MP David Simpson said: “Whether or not there was a device credible to do damage, it dragged the officers into a riot situation.
“There could have been serious injury or loss of life.”
Pc Stephen Carroll was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon last March.
Garda officer who was accused of perjury during original trial suffered ill-health after Murphy conviction quashed
By JIM CUSACK
Sunday February 28 2010
THE garda detective who was cleared of committing perjury during the trial of Omagh bomb suspect Colm Murphy died as a result of the stress and anxiety caused by the case and his suspension from duty, say former colleagues.
Garda Detective Liam Donnelly lived alone and his health slowly deteriorated after the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the conviction against Murphy in January 2005 on the grounds that gardai falsified notes. Murphy was subsequently retried and acquitted last week.
Gda Det Donnelly died last May, aged 53.
Gda Det Donnelly and Detective Garda John Fahy, who was also cleared of perjury, were responsible for the one major breakthrough in the Omagh investigation.
They detected two mobile phones — one belonged to Murphy and the other which had allegedly been borrowed by him — used in south Armagh and Omagh on the day of the bombing in August 1998 which claimed the lives of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injured 220 others. Telephone company records retrieved with the help of the RUC showed one of the phones was used in Omagh shortly before and immediately after the car which carried the device was parked in the centre of the town.
During the course of writing, Gda Det Donnelly realised something was not correct and tore out the sheet and started again. Forensic examination of the notepaper showed the original writing and it became a central plank of the defence case that the detective had “lied” when he said notes were not re-written.
But according to colleagues, he simply forgot about the correction as it was not in any way significant to the actual bombing investigation. “The Special Criminal Court was satisfied, as indeed is this court, that no particular significance, if any at all, attaches to these portions of evidence,” ruled the Court of Criminal Appeal. “However, and it is a matter which is conceded by the prosecution on the hearing of this appeal, the alteration was potentially one of considerable significance.” By the time the case against Murphy came to trial in December 2001, Gda Det Donnelly was unable to give a satisfactory answer under cross examination as to why notes had been re-written. The statement contained no reference to the bombing. This was acknowledged in the previous hearings and again last week by Mr Justice Paul Butler when he observed there was “nothing incriminating” of Colm Murphy in the statement taken by Gda Det Donnelly. Murphy’s alleged admission to knowing that a bomb was being taken into Northern Ireland was made in a completely separate statement taken by two other detectives.
At the original trial, Gda Det Donnelly was branded a “liar” by Mr Justice Robert Barr. One colleague said: “Liam put his heart and soul into that investigation, for two-and-a-half years, night and day. He was determined.
“The car had come from our side (the car used in the bombing was stolen in Monaghan). The job was Liam’s whole life. He was brilliant.
“He was unique in that he was a Dub who came up to Cavan and served there all his life. The Dub’s usually never settle in the country. He was highly respected. No one ever spoke a bad word about him.
“There was a huge crowd at his funeral.”
During the Omagh investigation, Gda Det Donnelly and Gda Det Fahy discovered that 11 phone calls were made to and from a mobile phone belonging to Colm Murphy on the day of the bombing, the court cases heard.
Six of the calls were routed through mobile phone masts on the Vodafone network in Co Tyrone, and five were routed on the Eircell network south of the border.
The two detectives were cleared of perjury, an offence which could carry up to seven years; imprisonment, in October 2006, by which time Gda Det Donnelly’s health had deteriorated. He was medically discharged from the force shortly after.
Colleagues said he began drinking heavily. “He enjoyed a pint, no more than any man, but it got to him alright,” said one colleague.
With Colm Murphy’s acquittal there seems little hope of a criminal prosecution, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
By Ruth Dudley Edwards
Sunday February 28 2010
THE bereaved and the mutilated of Omagh have had another terrible week. There was the huge bomb in Newry last Monday, which is thought to bear the hallmark of the Omagh bomb-maker. And there was the acquittal in Dublin of Colm Murphy — whose mobile phone was used by a bomber on that dreadful day in August 1998 when 29 people and two unborn children were murdered — on charges of conspiracy to cause an explosion.
Although a civil case brought by some of the families in Northern Ireland resulted last year in damages being awarded against Murphy and three other men, there has been no successful criminal prosecution. So the victims see that the Real IRA are undefeated and no one is serving time for the atrocity in Omagh.
Even after the bitter disappointment of the collapse in December 2007 of the trial of Sean Hoey, Murphy’s nephew, charged with 29 murders, the families had maintained some hope.
Sentenced to 14 years by the Special Criminal Court in 2002, Murphy’s conviction had been overturned in 2005 because the gardai had altered interview notes. His retrial has just collapsed because the judges consider that garda fabrications — never explained by the two gardai in question — tainted all garda evidence.
I know some families think otherwise, but I’ve no doubt whatsoever that the court had no legal alternative to giving Murphy the benefit of the doubt. “I am glad to see it’s all over,” said Murphy outside the court. “Find out who was behind it — MI5 agents setting people up.”
“We feel,” said the families’ spokesman, Michael Gallagher, “that this is the end of the line for the criminal process.”
Though I have known and cared about many Omagh victims for years now, since I became first involved in fundraising for the successful civil case in 2000, the picture dancing before my eyes now is that of another victim — the pathetic Terence Morgan.
Barely literate, Morgan was a hard-working decent man, happy to be employed as a foreman on the Dublin building site of his second cousin, publican and contractor Colm Murphy, even though commuting from his Northern Ireland home meant his days were very long.
He had no interest in politics. Did he even know that Murphy had convictions for firearm possession with intent to endanger life (1972) and IRA membership (1976), and that in 1983 in the US he was given five years and deported over offences arising from the purchase of machine guns?
Morgan was questioned by the RUC in February 2001 when it was discovered that a mobile he was known to use was in Omagh that day along with Murphy’s. Reluctantly he eventually admitted that he had lent his phone to Murphy for the weekend and he gave evidence to that effect in November 2001 in Murphy’s first trial.
But on the penultimate day, Morgan returned to the witness box and retracted the story, which he said had been extracted under police pressure: his phone had simply disappeared from his van and been mysteriously returned on the Monday.
The judges “decided to accept as truthful Mr Morgan’s original evidence and rejected Mr Morgan’s purported retraction of evidence having observed his demeanour and having noted the general tenor of his evidence on both occasions”.
Years later, I watched this broken little man giving evidence during the civil case, heavily medicated and sweating and shaking as he said he could remember nothing about the phone.
He was in an even worse state this January, giving evidence by video link from Belfast, continually wiping his face and drinking water as he said over and over again that he could not even remember working for Colm Murphy. “My head is blank,” he said, when asked about his statement to the RUC. A judge described him as “terrified”. There have been many other decent men destroyed in Ireland by circumstances beyond their understanding.
The families want a public inquiry, but interestingly, Nuala O’Loan, the ex-PSNI Ombudsman, who has championed their cause, disagrees. She believes that forensic science is making such strides that there may yet be successful criminal convictions.
We must hope so: in the past week, besides the Newry bomb, there has been a murder of a suspected informer in Derry and a mortar attack on an Armagh police station.
Dissidents are engaged in shootings and beatings, in armed robberies, in attacking police stations and many other terrorist activities.
South Armagh has become extremely lively, which means that local Provos are — at the very least — turning a blind eye. Bereft of experienced anti-terrorist officers and of army escorts, the PSNI are ceasing to police dangerous areas. What do the dissidents have to do to get the authorities to take them seriously?
28 February 2010
Irish terrorists are threatening a bomb attack in the run-up to the general election, security sources warn. They fear republican dissidents, like the Real IRA, plan a mainland outrage on the anniversary of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising which aimed to end British rule.
It is believed the plot involves blowing up a “significant” government building, creating chaos for the Northern Ireland peace process. The People can reveal that Irish gardai intercepted a similar bomb threat just four months ago when a trailer linked to rebels was found in Dublin.
A security source said: “The fear is of more plans for a series of bombings in the run-up to the election.”
Easter weekend is April 2-5 and the polling date is likely to be early May.
MI5 was made aware of the Garda probe, which contributed to raising the UK security alert from “substantial” to “highly likely” – one notch down from “critical”.
Mp Patrick Mercer said: “The republican threat has certainly not gone away.”
A special church service is taking place in Newry to mark the 25th anniversary of the IRA mortar attack on Corry Square RUC base.
Nine police officers were killed in what was the single biggest loss of RUC life in the Troubles.
The service was to have been held at Downshire Road Presbyterian Church, which was damaged in last Monday’s bomb attack on the courthouse.
However, it has been moved to Sandys Street church.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, whose cousin, Chief Inspector Alexander Donaldson, was one of those killed in the attack, is among those attending.
“We should all be standing together at this time. Not just to remember those who tragically lost their lives, but also to redouble our efforts and to renew our support for the peace process,” he said.
Saturday, 27 February 201
The man shot dead by the Real IRA on the outskirts of Derry was not an informer or a drug dealer, his family said.
Kieran Doherty, 31, who was shot in the head, was left stripped and tied up in a remote laneway close to the border with the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday night.
A family statement released to local journalist Eamon McCann insists that Mr Doherty wasn’t a criminal.
“The family strongly reject and resent the suggestion that Kieran was in any way involved in drugs”, Mr McCann told UTV.
They also claim that he had been under “continuous harassment” from the secret service MI5 in the months before his death.
The victim, from the Brandywell area of Derry, was the father of a two-year-old daughter and was due to marry his partner, Mairead, in three months.
The family admitted he had served time in prison, reportedly for a robbery in Co Donegal, but claimed he had been trying to get on with his life.
“He was neither an informer nor a criminal. He was never in his life associated with drugs”, the family statement says.
“Kieran was under continuous harassment by MI5 in the months before his death”.
“Repeated attempts were made to recruit him as an informer. He rejected all these attempts,” the family also alleged.
They have called for a police inquiry into MI5’s involvement with Mr Doherty.
The statement added:
“Kieran was a good and decent man trying to lead a normal life, looking forward to getting married.”
They said that in the last months of his life Mr Doherty was stressed and had lost weight.
They said he was treated in hospital for depression and was sometimes almost unable to speak to his partner.
On Friday police confirmed post-mortem reports suggested he died from gunshot wounds.
His body has been returned to his family.
A SENSATIONAL account on the aftermath of the Omagh bombing atrocity by the husband of one of the victims is expected to make uncomfortable reading for the PSNI, the British and Irish Governments and will also raise hackles at Omagh District Council.
Controversial figure Kevin Skelton, whose first wife Philomena was killed in the explosion, will make hard-hitting allegations in a ‘no holds-barred’ new book that chronicles his life.
Entitled ‘Sent By An Angel’ and co-written by Dublin-based author Fiona Kinsella, the book is a tragic love story and is set to hit the shelves at the beginning of April.
In it, the outspoken Mr Skelton speaks forthrightly and emotionally about the carnage, utter devastation and the personal pain caused by the 1998 Real IRA atrocity that claimed the lives of 31 people, including unborn twins.
Confirming that the book is to be launched shortly, the straight-talking Drumquin man refused to make any comment regarding its contents.
However, it is understood that the controversial writings will make uncomfortable reading for the British and Irish governments, the Gardai and the PSNI.
Sources indicate that the contentious Mr Skelton is highly-critical of the investigation into the 1998 bombing which he alleges was allowed to happen for purely political reasons.
It is understood that Omagh District Council and some of its senior figures are also lambasted over their handling of the Memorable Garden project at Sedan Avenue.
The UHealso understands that the opinionated Mr Skelton speaks about requesting to meet Liam Campbell – found liable for the bombing in a civil trial along with Michael McKevitt, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly, having run-ins with British ministers John Reid and Jack Straw.
There will also be an account of how he jammed the phone lines of a New York radio station after slamming Irish Americans for financing the buying of semtex for militant republicans.
As well as highlighting Mr Skelton’s trials and tribulations, the book tells the story of Mr Skelton the happily married family man before the worst atrocity in the history of the Troubles, of his work with Romanian orphans and how he met his current wife Maria.
The title ‘Sent By An Angel’ is direct reference to his daughter Gabriella, who was born in October 2005. Co-author Fiona Kinsella is involved in multi-media production and Mr Skelton has refused to deny that the book may be turned into a film.
25 Feb 2010
The family of West Belfast man Seamus Wright who was killed by the IRA in 1972 are challenging Dolours Price over claims she has information about his disappearance, saying, “we will be eager to hear from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victim’s Remains (ICLVR) if Dolours Price has anything useful to say, or if she is motivated solely by the immunity of the ICLVR for her own ends”.
Speaking to Belfast morning newspaper the Irish News last week, Dolours Price, a former republican prisoner, maintained it was her who transported Wright across the border where the IRA executed and secretly buried him.
However in a statement to the media, which An Phoblacht carries below in full, the Wright family are calling on Price to bring forward any information she might have to the ICLVR.
The family said that if Price is involved in a “self-serving exercise driven by a personal vendetta”, they wanted “no part” in it.
Dolours Price was among eight republicans convicted of carrying out a number of bombings in England in the early 1970s. She was transferred to Armagh prison from where she was released in 1981.
In recent years Price has been treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Below is the full text of the Wright family statement.
“We the family of Seamus Wright wish to respond to the article in the Irish News on 18 February 2010, in which Dolours Price is reported as saying that she has information about the disappearance and death of our brother Seamus in 1972.
Our family have not commented publicly about Seamus since he disappeared.
Following the admission by the IRA, in 1999, that they had killed Seamus and secretly buried his body and the subsequent establishment of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victim’s Remains (ICLVR), we were given hope that our family could finally achieve closure.
Sadly our mother died last year without that closure.
We have resisted the urge to respond at various stages over recent years when some have attempted to use our family for their own selfish ends.
All we have ever wanted was for a successful conclusion to the search for Seamus’ remains so that we could give him a Christian burial and lay him to rest with our parents and our sister.
The IRA killed Seamus. They have identified the location where Seamus was buried. We accept the validity of that information.
It is clearly understood by many, including the ICLVR, that a number of factors have hindered the search for Seamus’ remains. These have included the impact of the passage of time on people’s memory, the deaths of some of those directly involved in these events and the hostility of some who may have information towards those republicans who are trying to help bring closure.
We have been treated with dignity and respect in all of our dealings with the ICLVR and we are thankful to all those who remain committed to genuinely helping us find Seamus’ remains.
If Dolours Price is not engaged in a self-serving exercise driven by a personal vendetta, in which we want no part, then we have some questions for her.
When Seamus’ case and that of others was first brought into the public domain in 1999 did she respond to the calls by the IRA and others to bring forward information?
Was she asked for information and if so how did she respond?
Why has she waited until now to comment on Seamus’ case?
She is reported to have been present when Seamus was taken “to the Republic” and as having information about Seamus’ “last days”.
Does she have any worthwhile information that can help locate Seamus’ remains?
If Dolours Price has nothing to add to the search for Seamus’ remains, then we ask her and those around her to stop using our family for their own selfish reasons.
We will be eager to hear from the ICLVR if Dolours Price has anything useful to say, or if she is motivated solely by the immunity of the ICLVR for her own ends.
We would call on anyone with information that can help locate the remains of any of those known as the disappeared to bring that information forward to the ICLVR.
It is those families who are deserving of our prayers and best wishes not those who seek to use our grief for their own narrow political ends.”
25 Feb 2010
The Phoenix Historical Society was recently formed in Cork to encourage more republicans to get involved in the restoration of local plots and graves, but also to offer a chance to learn more about the history, locally and beyond, of the struggle for Irish freedom. To that end the new group organised a trip to Dublin last weekend, where they visited Kilmainham Gaol (pictured), Arbour Hill, and Glasnevin cemetery. Seventeen people of all ages, including two Cork City Sinn Féin councillors, attended on the day, and all found the experience inspiring. The organisers hope to grow the newly formed society. If anyone would like to join, they can contact either Mick Nugent 0876755793 or Colum Radford 0872111508.
27 February 2010
THE widow of a police officer killed in the IRA’s single most devastating blow against the RUC has spoken of her enduring pain.
Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the mortar attack on Newry police station, which killed nine RUC officers and injured more than 30 others.
Two-and-a-half decades have failed to heal the heart of Ida Donaldson, who lost her husband, Chief Inspector Alexander Donaldson, in the attack.
The last time Mrs Donaldson saw her “fantastic” husband leave for work, he promised he would give her “a wee hug” when he got back that evening, but he never returned.
Mr Donaldson was just 41 years old when he was killed in the Newry blast, leaving his wife behind with three young children. Dignified in her grief, she told the News Letter she bears no anger towards the killers.
The anniversary has particular relevance, coming only days after a dissident republican bomb attack on Newry Courthouse.
Last night, a peace vigil was held in the city calling for an end to violence. Tomorrow will see a church service in the city to remember the 1985 atrocity.
27 Feb 2010
A candlelit vigil for peace has been held in Newry city centre.
Around 30 people gathered at the Town Hall on Friday night, close to the courthouse, the scene of Monday’s car bomb attack.
Downshire Road Presbyterian Church was damaged in Monday’s bomb attack
SDLP councillor Gary Stokes organised the demonstration and said he felt “10 minutes of silence” was a “fitting response”.
He said the message was that the people of Newry “will not stand for what happened on Monday night”.
Newry traders and community agencies have sent a letter to local newspapers saying it is “business as usual” following the bomb attack in the city which was blamed on dissident republicans.
28 Feb 2010
A police investigation is under way following reports that an explosive device was thrown at a police station in Craigavon, County Armagh.
The PSNI said they received reports Brownlow police station was targeted, but not hit, on Saturday evening.
Brownlow police station was not hit, the PSNI said
A road has been closed after reports of second suspicious device, it said.
Police have asked members of the public to obey road closure signs. Any suspicious objects should not be approached but reported to the police.
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: “Republican dissidents seem to be upping their game and becoming more emboldened by recent events.”
Democratic Unionist MP for the area David Simpson said the incidents were “very reckless” coming on the back of other recent incidents.
Sinn Fein assembly member John O’Dowd said the attack was pointless.
“I would challenge those who claim to speak politically for these factions to tell the republican and nationalist community exactly how these sorts of activities, or indeed the recent murder in Derry advance the cause of a united Ireland one iota,” he said.
Pc Stephen Carroll was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon last March.
A car bomb exploded close to Newry courthouse in County Down on Monday.
On Wednesday night, Kieran Doherty, 31, was bound and shot by the Real IRA in Londonderry.
At the time of Monday’s car bomb, police said it was a “miracle” no-one was killed or injured. Officers had been evacuating the area when the bomb went off in New Street.
Dissident republicans opposed to the peace process are being blamed for that attack.
It came days after a mortar bomb was abandoned near a police station in the village of Keady, about 20 miles away.
In the last few years a number of large car bombs been have planted but have either failed to detonate or only partially detonated.
25 February 2010
The High Court has been hearing a judicial review initiated by a Co Galway man who wishes to have his criminal trial presented before a bilingual jury.
Mr Peadar Ó Maicín, from Ros Muc in the Connemara Gaeltacht, is seeking to overturn a decision of the Circuit Court in Galway last year which refused his request to have his case heard before a jury which understands both Irish and English.
In an affidavit read to the court today, Peadar Ó Maicín claims his trial may be compromised if the case against him is heard solely in English, or with the aid of an interpreter.
He also stated that Irish was his first language, and only in his teens did he master the English language.
Mr Ó Maicín stated in his affidavit that he was constitutionally entitled to have his case heard solely in Irish.
Speaking in Irish on his behalf, Mr Seamus Ó Tuathail, SC, said he believed that in this case a representative bilingual jury panel could be assembled and cited Census figures for Co Galway and the Staidéar Chuimsitheach Teangeolaíoch Ar Úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht research commissioned by The Department Of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to make his case.
Peadar Ó Maicín was charged in Galway Circuit Court last year with assault on another man in Co Galway. He denies the charge.
His request for a bilingual Jury was turned down by Mr Justice Raymond Groarke at the time.
The hearing continues in the High Court tomorrow.
Two brothers who admitted involvement in the murder of UDA man Tommy English have agreed to give evidence against nine other men charged with the murder.
They are Newtownabbey UVF men David Stewart, 35, of Carntall Rise, and Robert Stewart, 39, of Ballyearl Court.
Both men were members of the outlawed UVF
Belfast Crown Court was told they should be given significantly reduced sentences for helping the police.
It was revealed that David Stewart had converted to Catholicism after being counselled by priests in west Belfast.
The counselling took place at Clonard Monastery, the court heard.
The brothers walked into Antrim Police Station in August 2008, and told detectives they were involved in the murder of English.
The court was told on Friday that the brothers have also signed agreements to co-operate with the police investigation into the murder and other offences.
They are to give evidence against nine other alleged UVF members charged with the killing.
Describing it as an “exceptional and unique case” their lawyers urged the judge, Mr Justice Hart to give them significantly reduced sentences because of their “high level of co-operation” with the police.
One lawyer revealed that a major investigation into a UVF gang based in the Mount Vernon area of north Belfast was based solely on their evidence.
Mr Justice Hart said that he would consider their submissions and pass sentence as soon as possible.
At an earlier hearing the brothers admitted to more than 70 other offences over 13 years.
Robert Stewart, admitted 30 charges, including kidnapping and supplying drugs and David Stewart admitted 21 charges including conspiracy to murder.
Together they admitted to a further 22 charges including blackmail, having funds for terrorist purposes, kidnapping, possessing guns, a pipe bomb, bullets and weapons, making and throwing petrol bombs, arson, causing grievous bodily harm and wounding with intent.
All the offences, which have come by way of a “voluntary bill” of indictment, were alleged to have occurred on various dates between January 1994 and July 2007.
Among the numerous charges, the brothers confessed to intimidating Ballyclare pub doorman Trevor Gowdy from giving evidence in an assault trial on 12 September 2003.
After pleading guilty to aiding and abetting others in the murder of UDA chief Tommy English, both brothers have been jailed for life, but have yet to have their minimum tariffs set.
English was gunned down in front of his wife in his Ballyduff home on 31 October 2000 during a bloody UVF – UDA feud.
The term “supergrass” rose to prominence in Northern Ireland during the early 1980s.
They were informers, or suspects, prepared to testify in court against their alleged ex-comrades in return for rewards such as immunity from prosecution, lenient sentences, and new identities.
Informers would testify against their former comrades
The trials in Northern Ireland in which they featured were some of the largest ever conducted in the UK, with the evidence of a single witness being enough to convict dozens of accused.
The practice became discredited when doubts began to be raised as to whether they were reliable witnesses.
In one 1983 supergrass trial, 22 IRA members were given jail terms totalling 4,000 years.
They were convicted largely on the evidence of Christopher Black, who was granted immunity from prosecution and is thought to have fled abroad after the trial.
• The term grass comes from the lexicon of the London criminal underworld of the 1930s, to refer to an informer.
• The first supergrass was Bertie Smalls in 1973.
• The leading member of a gang of London bank robbers after being arrested he offered to help the police by naming his accomplices in return for his liberty. His evidence resulted in 16 convictions.
• More recently Darren Mathurin became Britain’s first black supergrass with the second trial he testified at ending recently at the Old Bailey.
• The 29-year-old drug dealer, with the street name Spider, from the Stonebridge estate in London, has testified at two trials and has had a murder tariff reduced from 22 to eight years.
Eighteen of those convicted on Black’s evidence had their convictions quashed three years later.
The IRA trial followed another case involving members of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force.
Key evidence in that trial came from Joseph Bennett, who was also granted immunity, which led to 14 men being imprisoned – two for life terms.
Christopher Black and Joseph Bennett were among about 30 former paramilitaries who turned informant and their evidence led to more than 300 convictions.
They also included Raymond Gilmour from Londonderry, who was in the INLA and the IRA. When he decided to testify it led to the arrest of about 100 republicans in the city, 35 of whom were charged with terrorist offences.
The case collapsed when the then Lord Chief Justice dismissed his evidence as being “unworthy of belief”.
Three years ago he appealed to be allowed to return to Derry.
But for supergrasses there can be little chance of going back, those who work for the authorities or are suspected of being agents still face extreme dangers.
In an interview with the Sunday Tribune in 2009 the Real IRA named five men they wanted to kill, two of them were Christopher Black and Raymond Gilmour.
The last supergrass trial was in 1985, when 25 members of the INLA were jailed on the evidence of Harry Kirkpatrick.
By December 1986, 24 of them would have their convictions overturned.
For the security services the trials removed suspected terrorists from the community, albeit in most cases only for a short time.
But they raised serious concerns about how justice in Northern Ireland operated, with the Earl of Longford commenting in one debate in the House of Lords: “You cannot cast out Beelzebub by Beelzebub.”
26 February 2010
Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) have claimed responsibility for the shooting of a 29 year-old man in the Creggan area of the city on Tuesday night.
The man was shot in both legs in the incident at Rinmore Drive. He is still recovering in hospital.
In a statement to the ‘Journal’, RAAD claim they warned the individual last year about alleged activities.
“He failed to heed the warning and was punished,” the statement added.
The shooting occurred at 6.30pm in an alleyway which runs from the Creggan shops alongside Rinmore Drive.
RAAD are believed to have been behind more than a dozen shootings in Derry in the last 18 months.
26 February 2010
Four women sit around a kitchen table in the Devine family home at Courtrai Park in Strabane and one stark fact stares you in the face.
The four men who once resided here have all died in tragic circumstances.
Brothers Michael (22) and David (16) joined the IRA and met their deaths at the hands of the SAS in February, 1985.
Their brother Hugie, who had been interned for five years in Long Kesh, died nine months previously after collapsing following a football match. The family believe that a severe beating he received from the British army a week earlier brought on his death.
Their father Billy, to all intents and purposes, died a broken man in 1992 having lost all three sons.
The matriarch of the family, Patsy, will be 81, as she says, “if God spares me,” on St Patrick’s Day. She’s surrounded by her three daughters Cathy, Antoinette (Anto) and Sheila.
The Devines didn’t regard themselves as a republican family 25 years ago. They live right in the shadow of the town’s police station and always got on well with their Protestant neighbours who stood by them during difficult times.
Michael was renowned as a highly talented snooker player dubbed the next ‘Hurricane’ Higgins. His younger brother Davy was a punk rocker who loved his blue suede shoes as much as his Doctor Martens.
His mother Patsy believes the RUC “ran him into” the IRA because he was harassed so much as a schoolboy.
“There was always a (police) car waiting at the bottom of the lane. They never give him a minute’s peace,” she said this week.
When he hadn’t returned home that morning they weren’t alarmed as he had phoned his father the night before saying he was babysitting for a friend.
It came as an even bigger shock to them that Michael was in the IRA as he had never mentioned political beliefs at home.
Patsy and Billy Devine had heard the shooting in the distance and activity in the adjoining police yard that morning but never imagined it would hit so close to home.
Patsy headed out to her work as a carer unaware that her last two remaining sons were lying dead side by side in a hillside less than a mile away.
One woman couldn’t fathom why Patsy was laughing and joking in the supermarket that morning, others were asking how she was doing but afraid to tell her. Even when someone indicated that two Devines had been shot she assumed they they were brothers from another part of the town as it was a fairly common name in the area.
By the time “the penny started to drop,” Cathy Brennan was running down to meet her mother who was making her way back home. The police were raiding their home and the priest had come looking for a photo of Michael.
Cathy recalled: “Daddy said ‘you better go and see where your mother is’.” Fr McCloskey returned to break the news that David was dead. When he came back a further time to say Michael was also dead, their father collapsed into a chair.
“I thought Billy was dead,” Patsy said. “Fr McCloskey said he couldn’t identify Michael because of the blonde hair but Antoinette had dyed it two days earlier.”
Anto said: “We believe that Hughie was lonely and he needed the boys. All the boys are gone out of the house and the women are left. The boys are together for a reason and us women are left for a reason together; that keeps us going.”
“Michael and David just fell to pieces after Hughie died, they still hadn’t dealt with their grief. David used to lie upstairs and cry. He was with Hughie when he died.”
The loss of all three sons was too much for their father to bear, they said.
Cathy said: “It killed daddy. He just threw in the towel after all that.”
“He had a bible with the family tree in it. Whenever Michael and Davy died he just closed the bible and said that’s the Devine names finished,” said Sheila, who called her children Michael (7) and Billy-Mae (10) after them. As a 17-year-old, she said she felt numbed for years by the deaths.
The Devines said they were verbally abused in the street by RUC men after the shootings and during the inquest.
Patsy said: “They used to shout, ‘are you going out to the pantomime again today?’ We just tried to get on with it but we were tortured. They were giving us the fingers and shouting, ‘two little ducks.'”
They claimed the police had tried to run David down with a Land Rover, “they never left him alone,” said Anto.
“When he was at St Colman’s (High School) he used to come over to my house for his lunch. One day not long before he was killed he looked out the window and saw a car with Belfast number plates and he said: ‘They’re going to shoot me.'”
Cathy said: “We were angry and devastated by their deaths because they could have been arrested. It was the people of the town who brought us through it, they were very good to us even long after it.
“The 25th anniversary has been very painful and emotional but we were with people who are feeling the same pain. There were grown men coming out of the exhibition in tears.”
The Devine women said they still hold out hope all these years later that those who ordered or carried out the shootings will admit the truth.
Anto said: “We always live in hope that some soldier might on his death bed, or write a letter. You just live and hope that someone’s conscience will trigger off and give us closure.”
Patsy added: “Billy always said a conscience is a terrible thing.”
Anto said: “It is a comfort to us that none of the boys died alone, there was always a brother there. The men couldn’t do without each other.”