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The secret justice bill will normalise security force abuses – and undermine the Northern Ireland peace process
The Guardian – Comment is free
27 August 2012
John and Geraldine Finucane, the youngest son and wife of Pat Finucane, the murdered Northern Irish lawyer, in Dublin last February as part of an Amnesty International campaign for a judicial probe into the 1989 killing. (Photograph: Reuters)
‘The right to know and effectively challenge the opposing case has long been recognised by the common law as a fundamental feature of the judicial process” – so said Lord Kerr in a recent supreme court judgment.
However, the justice and security bill now going through parliament would give the government the power to decide that certain evidence in civil proceedings might cause “damage” or “harm” to the public interest, and therefore must be given in secret. It would use the special advocate procedure, which excludes non-state parties from a hearing or from any knowledge of the secret evidence given in these “closed material proceedings”. Those of us campaigning on human rights in Northern Ireland are particularly concerned about the impact of this legislation in our region.
The Northern Ireland dimension is important for three reasons. First, the legislation is a breach of the common law principle of open justice, which is at least 300 years old. Second, similar measures have been trialled in Northern Ireland and led to miscarriages of justice. Third, applying this law here would add to the cover of secrecy over the past and present actions of security and intelligence agents – threatening to undermine the peace process and nurture a culture of impunity.
The establishment of a parallel “anti-terrorist” justice system would lead to the kind of human rights abuses that fuelled the conflict in Northern Ireland and marginalised communities. And this legislation risks weakening the peace process in one crucial way. One of the gaps in that process is the lack of a comprehensive method of dealing with the legacy of the past, especially in terms of unsolved murders and other crimes. Instead there is a patchwork of measures, including public inquiries, the historical inquiries team, ongoing investigations by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the police ombudsman and inquests.
Thankfully, the secret justice proposals do not relate to inquests. But a range of civil proceedings dealing with the legacy of the conflict would be affected, including any future judicial reviews of investigations into conflict-related deaths, challenges relating to decisions not to prosecute, and civil actions for damages that concern miscarriages of justice, cases of ill-treatment or unlawful killings. This legislation would in effect close off all the other legal avenues that victims or their relatives are trying to use to get at the truth.
Many of these cases revolve around the actions of state agents – whether uniformed policemen or soldiers, or the shadow army of agents and informants recruited by a range of secret agencies during the secret war in Northern Ireland. There is a pattern emerging of covering up these activities and refusing to properly investigate cases where state agents may have been involved in unlawful killings. This pattern includes the refusal of an inquiry into the murder of the human rights lawyer Pat Finucane – the most prominent and serious collusion case admitted by the UK prime minister.
There can be little doubt, however, that the experience of waging a 30-year dirty war within the borders of the UK has deeply corrupted the British security establishment. It is arguable that its long experience in Northern Ireland has normalised human rights abuses in the pursuit of “counter-terrorism”. Today the dirty war is not confined to Northern Ireland but has a global theatre of operations. And, under the same lid of secrecy, a culture of impunity for the security establishment corrupts and rots the very fabric of democracy and the rule of law.
• Brian Gormally is director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, a human rights NGO in Northern Ireland
28 August 2012
It has become a symbol of hardline unionism over the years after becoming caught up in Northern Ireland’s most contentious parade.
But now the church at Drumcree is to host an exhibition telling the true story of two Irish republicans who were married there.
The Church of Ireland in Portadown is the venue for the ‘Musical Love Story of John Mitchel and Jenny Verner’.
The pair were Young Irelanders involved in the 1848 rebellion and in the American Confederate states.
Organisers Altnaveigh House and the Young Ireland Fund say they have combined to cast a cold eye on the rebellion, to turn on its head the idea that controversial periods of history must divide people.
Jenny tried to elope with Mitchel at 16, married him in Drumcree, and travelled to Van Diemen’s Land with her young family to be with her convict husband.
She struggled through the jungles of Central America, crossed the Altlantic and Pacific oceans, was shipwrecked and ran the Union blockade to be with Mitchel, who would become a leading figure in the Young Ireland rebellion.
“This project has been supported by a variety of churches and groups on both sides of the community, both sides of the border,” said Anthony Russell, chairman of the Young Ireland Fund. “Jenny Verner and John Mitchel, both Irish republicans, both American Confederates, one a supporter of slavery, were married in Drumcree on the February 3, 1837.
“The story is more romantic, more adventurous than Titanic, Gone With The Wind and Ryan’s Daughter, but it is a true story. It is fascinating, complex and tragic,” he added.
The exhibition will take place from September 5-8.
Ailin Quinlan explains why Irish women failed to stay on the national political stage despite making such an impact during the early 1900s and the War of Independence
By Ailin Quinlan
25 August 2012
During the War of Independence, more than 10,000 women were active campaigners for the cause of Irish Republicanism. Yet within 20 years, only a handful remained in national politics — by 1940, there were virtually no prominent women of power on the political stage in Ireland.
The causes were many: divisions caused by the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty led to a fatal splintering of the women’s Republican organisation Cumann na mBan, while the effects of internment during the Civil War on female prisoners and the growing dissension within remaining Cumann na mBan members over policy and ethos all played a part in the disappearance of women from the national political stage.
And it had started so well.
Women first started to emerge on the Irish political scene in the 1890s and early 1900s in various cultural, nationalist and suffrage organisation.
Then, explains author and historian Ann Matthews, the founding of the Irish Suffrage Movement in 1908, and the establishment of Cumann na mBan six years later, saw women become increasingly politically active.
Cumann na mBan was the first female military force in Ireland. Its function was to support and help the Irish Volunteers who were actively seeking the freedom of Ireland.
However, it was not until about 1916, when Cumann na mBan became involved in the Easter Rising, that women really came to the forefront.
The years 1917 and 1918 saw the organisation grow rapidly, and women were elected to the executive council of a reformed Sinn Fein party, which had Eamon de Valera as president.
Britain’s threat to extend conscription to Ireland — meaning that Irishmen would be forced to join the British army to fight in World War One — was strongly opposed.
“Cumann na mBan joined in the wholesale opposition to this proposal right across the country, and the organisation was very much to the forefront in this campaign,” says Ann Matthews.
As a result, its profile was significantly heightened, and it attracted even more members and expanded rapidly.
The general election of late 1918, after which Sinn Fein set up the first Dail, also helped its profile. What’s more, Cumann na mBan was very vocal in support of Sinn Fein candidates in the election campaign, which further boosted public awareness.
By now, the organisation had 600 branches around the country. Throughout the War of Independence in 1919, the organisation was very active in support of the IRA. Members carried guns to ambush sites, acted as couriers and nurses, carried out first aid and supported Michael Collins’ intelligence system.
Some members — women ranging in age from their late teens to mid-30s — hid men who were on the run, while others carried guns and ammunition in their prams and in their voluminous underwear.
“You could carry an armalite in your knickers,” says Matthews. “They wore bloomers that stretched down to the knee and women sometimes carried guns inside them, because the bloomers were gathered by strong elastic at the knee.”
Records show that by October 1921, Cumann na mBan had up to 12,000 members and more than 800 branches.
Very much perceived as the female arm of the IRA, they were not, however, a visible force. “In rural areas you could be arrested for membership,” explains Matthews.
Nevertheless, women such as Jennie Wyse-Power, who had been the first president of Cumann na mBan, were well known.
Sinn Fein had more than 8,000 female members, including high-profile figures such as Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington who was a founder of the Irish Suffragette movement, Dr Kathleen Lynn, a member of the Sinn Fein Party, and Countess Markievicz, who was Minister for Labour in the first Dail.
However, in 1921 storm clouds also began to gather. Eamon de Valera signed a truce with Lloyd George and the Anglo Irish Treaty was negotiated, resulting in partition and the creation of the Irish Free State.
Dail Eireann voted in favour of the Treaty, but there was a major split and the issue created discord in the wider republican movement.
“The IRA and Cumann na mBan divided into three parts: those who supported the Treaty, those who opposed it and those who maintained a neutral stance,” says Matthews.
“Cumann na mBan effectively splintered into three groups; a development which signalled the demise of the organisation.”
The anti-Treaty group was the smallest faction, and although it was the one to keep the name Cumann na mBan, it quickly declined into a rump organisation.
“Those who adopted a neutral stance simply stepped back from the political stage, and those who supported the Treaty formed a new organisation called Cumann na Saoirse,” explains Ann Matthews.
Meanwhile, 645 members of Cumann na mBan were interned for opposing the Free State.
The organisation had started to crumble and by 1924, when the Civil War ended, Cumann na mBan was a fraction of its former self.
Determined to rebuild, in 1926 the organisation created the Easter Lily symbol to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising.
However, the organisation never regained its former influence and its decline continued to such an extent that by 1932 there were more British Legion Ladies Clubs in the Irish Free State than Cumann na mBan branches.
Then, in 1925, Cumann na mBan was rocked by another split: Countess Markievicz left the organisation to ally herself to Eamon de Valera, and Fianna Fail was formed in 1926. Kathleen Clarke, another leading light, and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington followed suit.
Following the formation of Fianna Fail, the Republican movement splintered in many different directions, and by 1934 both the wider Republican movement and Cumann na mBan were in disarray.
In 1934-1935, another major convulsion rocked the organisation, this time over the group’s political ethos. Leading light Mary McSweeney left, accompanied by 16 prominent members, to form Mna na Poblachta.
“Eamon de Valera dismantled the Irish Free State, created the Presidency and wrote the 1937 constitution we have today,” Matthews says.
“But because of the fragmentation of the Republican movement in general and the decline of Cumann na mBan and Sinn Fein, the unified female voice represented by both organisations had effectively disappeared.”
There was no strong female voice, no influential women’s lobby group to object to to the controversial Article 41, which perceived women’s role in society as a subordinate one very much confined to home and family.
“By 1940 there were no prominent political women of power on the political stage in Ireland,” says Ms Matthews, “primarily because of the infighting and disagreements in the Republican movement over the previous 20 years.”
• ‘Dissidents: Irish Republican Women 1923-1941’ by Ann Matthews is published by Mercier Press. €18.99
17 August 2012
**Poster’s note: Thank you, Mr Waters, for writing a cogent article addressing the morons who took Katie to task for her articulation of faith and who said that she should keep her religious views separate from her sports life and mostly to herself. When I read one article at ‘Irish Central’, for example, I could not believe the stupidity and arrogance of the writer for criticising Katie. What a fool he is, and a pompous one at that.
The boxer’s faith makes interviewers squirm but is intrinsic to her world view, her personality and her right hook
THE OLYMPIC victory and homecoming of Katie Taylor has been one of the most telling episodes of Irish public reality in quite a while. Before our eyes, Katie became the centre of a drama in which our culture’s developing understanding of human life and possibility became briefly visible.
Were the implications less serious, it would have been entertaining to observe the squirming of sports presenters and journalists confronted by Katie’s matter-of-fact understanding of the centrality of God in her life, their discomfiture as she expressed her gratitude for the contribution to her success of the prayers of other believers.
Each time, it was as though she had not spoken or had said something else – as though she had been talking about her training regime or wittering about the thrill of winning a medal. Her interlocutor would jump upon some smaller dimension of what she had just said, as though terrified that the “religious” dimension of Katie Taylor might cause the medal to melt.
If, instead of referring repeatedly to Jesus, Katie had referenced her aunt Margaret, or Richard Dawkins, we can be certain that there would have been lots of follow-up questions, and that the newspapers next day would have provided chapter and verse of the life, times and perspectives of the credited mentor.
But it was as if Jesus had never been mentioned, as if each of us who had heard Katie Taylor speak His name had been suffering from some odd tic of hearing that had made some other word (perhaps “busier” or “easier”) seem to come out as “Jesus”.
They tell us that Katie is a “simple” and “humble” girl. Allow me to translate: “Katie is a great girl when it comes to the boxing. We wish she were more like us and did not have her head stuffed with this simple-minded stuff about Jesus, but in the circumstances we are prepared to overlook this eccentricity.
“Normally we would insist she keep her religious beliefs to herself, but we are tolerant people and, since she is the most successful Irish sportswoman for aeons, will not make an issue of it. Please understand, though, that in our endorsement of her there is no approval of the delusions which she, in her simplicity, insists upon purveying.”
When I look at and listen to Katie, I do not detect simplicity, nor is “humble” a word that springs to mind, anymore than it might in respect of Muhammad Ali. The word that occurs is “grace”, followed shortly by “centred”, and “whole”. I see a woman inspired by a singular, irreducible idea, who as a consequence shines more brightly than gold.
There is nothing simple here: such certainty about reality requires long reflection, contemplation and asking. Humility? Perhaps – if you have in mind the idea of a human creature contemplating her place amid the dizzying firmament and understanding what power really means.
Katie Taylor understands her own heart. In her I see an intensely lived humanity of a kind being rendered atypical by the crudity and stupidity of contemporary culture. Katie is totally at ease in the world because she has come to understand reality as coherent and positive. This understanding is not an extraneous, add-on element of her personality but intrinsic to it, generating her smile, her ease, her right hook.
When she refers to Jesus there is no hint of piety or preaching. Her tone doesn’t change or shift gears. There is always the sense that she is speaking about something obvious. And when she thanks her supporters for their prayers it is as though she has never contemplated the possibility that she could have won without them. The whole thing is a seamless exposition of an understanding of reality in which boxing is just one element – and by no means the most important one.
Occasionally nowadays, the culturally imposed banality and meaninglessness of Irish public reality is punctuated by some famous sporting achievement, provoking a massive expression of vicarious triumphalism.
In the disproportionate commotion of the occasion it escapes mention that such moments increasingly serve as a destination point for the collective imagination, generating a feeling that, with the addition of injudicious quantities of alcohol, seems vaguely to pass for a “reward” for the attrition of the quotidian grind.
An Olympic medal, or a creditable appearance by an Irish team in the finals of some international competition, is proposed as something fundamental, rather than a mere passing cause for celebration. This enhanced sense of meaning can be detected not just in the intensity of the partying but in the repeated invocation of the concept of “hope”, which the sporting victory is deemed to have delivered.
And it is indeed as if such successes occur to provide a kind of hope by proxy for the entire population, for whom more enduring forms of hope are nowadays culturally inaccessible. Sport, in this schema, stands as a shield against the nothingness that is the logical end of the collective thought process, a fragile, short-lived distraction that usually ends in drunken tears.
But here’s the news, folks: the medal belongs to nobody but Katie, who alone seems to know that it’s but a token of the embrace that enfolds her.
17 August 2012
It might be nice to think that he would solve everything by having a few bankers shot and wresting back our sovereignty from the IMF; but remember that as Dail Minister for Finance, and by training and aptitude, he was an economic, fiscal and social conservative.
He was antagonistic towards any form of public agitation not controlled by the independence movement, and his civil war record up to August 22, 1922, demonstrates that he had no time at all for the grievances of landless men or underpaid workers.
Nor was he a proto-feminist, nor an early eco-warrior.
Historians also debate the extent of Collins’ attachment to democratic politics, given his use of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood and his inclination to involve himself in matters outside his ministerial and military remits.
Collins was a man of extraordinary talents. Anyone looking at the records can see this from what he himself said and wrote. He was a prodigious issuer of concise, clear instructions.
His Post Office training was reflected in his insistence, even in the midst of civil war, that every penny must be counted and receipts secured.
He was an organisational genius, he was someone who commanded great loyalty and admiration, he was an able public speaker and he was a ruthless director of violence — not only against British agents in the War of Independence, but against his civil war opponents.
Once battle was joined, he deployed tools such as assassination and arbitrary execution without compunction.
Yet in death he became the darling of Winston Churchill, himself a forthright proponent of State terror in Ireland and Iraq between 1920 and 1923.
More recently, the Belfast Telegraph, on June 27, 2012, declared that through shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth, Martin McGuinness would become ‘the Michael Collins of our times’. This is a truly amnesiac accolade, given Collins’ involvement months after signing the Treaty in the preparations for the IRA’s abortive northern campaign, not to mention the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson in June 1922.
We must hope that Mr McGuinness does not let the compliment go to his head.
Diverse political parties now lay claim to Collins and his legacy. You can buy a Michael Collins hurley for €24.99 online from the Sinn Fein shop, if you are not distracted by the whiff of Zapatista Coffee (€7.50) or the practicality of a Loughgall Martyrs Hoodie Top (€24.99).
Fine Gael, unfortunately, do not have an online shop through which to sell Collins golf clubs or blue hoodies, but they still claim Collins as their founding father.
Two years ago, a cardboard cut-out of Collins in military uniform loomed over the Fine Gael stand during the Trinity College Freshers Week. I wondered why not WT Cosgrave, the first leader of Cumann na nGaedheal in 1922 and the maker of Irish democratic government?
Or why not Fine Gael’s first President, General Eoin O’Duffy, over whose memory there would be no unseemly custody battle with Sinn Fein or any other party other than, perhaps, Greece’s Golden Dawn?
We should remember that Collins was not universally popular either with his cabinet colleagues before and after the Treaty split, or amongst the fighting men. It was not just Dev versus Mick.
Even in Cork, the steely Sean O’Hegarty, O/C of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, did not get on with Collins in 1920-21 despite their shared belief in killing without hesitation or compunction.
When the Treaty terms were announced in December 1921, O’Hegarty suggested killing Collins and the other delegates “as soon as they got off the boat in Dublin”.
Mick Murphy, also of the Cork IRA, recalled laughing when he heard that Collins had been shot at Beal na mBlath. He was reproved by de Valera: “It’s nothing to laugh at when an Irishman is killed by another.”
Collins’ greatest military achievement was not the War of Independence, where his role is overstated, but the civil war.
As Commander in Chief, he deserves much of the credit for the fact that, by the time of his death, the conflict was all but done in strategic terms, although the planning and execution of the operations which secured the Provisional Government’s victory was the work of his military staff.
Neil Jordan’s 1996 film Michael Collins has had a lasting impact on the iconography of its hero. The film was brilliantly cast, because it simplified the plot for anyone who might not appreciate the nuances of Irish politics.
Collins was played by Liam Neeson, fresh from his humanitarian heroics in Schindler’s List. The role of Eamon de Valera went to Alan Rickman, already feared and loathed by audiences across the world as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Collins’ death 90 years ago is still shrouded in controversy. A range of theories have been offered to explain how and why he died. The most persuasive account I have read remains Meda Ryan’s The Day Michael Collins Was Shot.
I think it was a fluke shot that killed him, as he and his drink-addled party processed through West Cork. His companion Emmet Dalton, a First World War veteran, remarked to one republican years later that “Mick wouldn’t keep down. If he had ever been in a scrap he’d have learned to stay down for I was flat down and so Mick was killed standing up”.
Great leaders do not have to be great fighters — in fact the two roles may be incompatible, as suggested by the anti-Treatyites’ civil war campaign.
Michael Collins never made the mistake of unduly ruminating on what previous generations of Irish revolutionaries have done in the circumstances in which Ireland found herself between 1919 and 1922.
He judged war, politics and government in the present tense, looking to prospects for the future. Our political class should put their rhetorical ouija boards aside and follow his example. Ireland’s future is their responsibility, not his.
• Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the Ernie O’Malley notebooks in the UCD Archives.
Eunan O’Halpin is Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College Dublin
Received via email from Caroline Carr
Donegal County Museum
15 August 2012
Below are details of some of the free events we have on during this forthcoming Heritage Week.
Saturday 18th August – Historic Donegal Battlefields Sites – Talk and Demonstration
Donegal County Museum in association with National Heritage Week presents a unique opportunity to learn about the battlefields of County Donegal including the Battle of Scarrifholis on Saturday 18th August at 2pm. There will also be a display of military equipment and weaponry. All provided by Oireas Historical Services. Admission is free and young and old are welcome.
Contact Donegal County Museum, High Road, Letterkenny, Co Donegal – T 074 9124613.
Wednesday 22nd August – Making Butter in the County Museum
Donegal County Museum in association with National Heritage Week invites you to join Seamus & Tessie Harkin at 1pm on Wednesday 22nd August to learn about traditional butter making and to hear stories and traditions associated with it. At the end of the demonstration, you will be able to try the country butter on Tessie’s homemade brown bread. Admission is free and young and old are welcome.
Contact Donegal County Museum, High Road, Letterkenny, Co Donegal – T 074 9124613.
Olympics 1900 – 2012
Currently on display in the Donegal County Museum is an exhibition of Olympic Games posters and related memorabilia, from 1900 right up to this year’s London Olympics. This exhibition draws on Paul Foley’s Olympic poster and memorabilia collection. This diverse collection of images includes official posters for the football tournament held in the summer games. The posters broad popular appeal and ability to relay messages through eye-catching and memorable imagery means that many of them are now prized souvenirs or collectable works of art and design. Admission is free and young and old are welcome.
Contact Donegal County Museum, High Road, Letterkenny, Co Donegal – T 074 9124613.
Until End of September – ‘Walking the Colours’ Exhibition
Donegal County Museum is hosting the exhibition ‘Walking the Colours’ in association with the Causeway Museum Service until the end of September. The exhibition looks at the origins of parades, marches and processions and at the organisations that ‘Walk the Colours’. It will include items from The Ancient Order of Hibernians, The Freemasons, The Orange Order, Irish National Foresters and others. It considers civic, sports, remembrance and honor parades. The Project is funded under the European Union’s PEACE III Programme and is managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by the North East. Admission is free and young and old are welcome.
Contact Donegal County Museum, High Road, Letterkenny, Co Donegal – T 074 9124613.
SOMETIMES I JUST GO TO BED AND CRY FOR ORAN
Five years after the Omagh bomb claimed the lives of 29 people including a woman pregnant with twins, Irish News Chief Reporter Sharon O’Neill spoke to Bernie Doherty whose eight-year-old son, Oran, was one of three children from Buncrana killed in the blast.
Oran Doherty (8), from Buncrana, County Donegal, Republic of Ireland. Oran was one of three boys from Buncrana to die in the explosion. His family said that he had been looking forward to going to Omagh all week.
Buncrana – a small town on the banks of Lough Swilly in Co Donegal – is a haven for thousands of northerners escaping the normally turbulent summer months across the border. But as visitors enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, some of its residents will be rallying around families devastated by the indiscriminate hand of paramilitarism.
Buncrana, tucked away on the eastern shores of Inishowen and with a population of just 5,000, has suffered unimaginable pain inflicted by both loyalists and dissident republicans.
Sinn Féin councillor Eddie Fullerton was shot dead by the UFF in 1991 and ever since nationalist residents had feared their return.
But 12 years later the emergence of a dissident republican group, the Real IRA, cast another shadow over the town that has yet to lift following the murder of three children in the Omagh bombing.
Oran Doherty (eight), Sean McLaughlin (11) and 12-year-old James Barker were on a trip to the Co Tyrone town on Saturday August 15 1998, with a group of Spanish students when they were caught up in the horror that snatched away their young lives.
Spaniards Rocia Abad Ramos, a 23-year-old group leader and Fernando Blasco Baselga (12) were also murdered in the bombing that killed a total of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, leaving hundreds injured – many permanently scarred for life.
Their deaths will be remembered in a small but poignant candle-light vigil in Knockalla Drive – where Oran and Sean lived just doors from each other.
Bernie and Michael Doherty still have a bag of sweets their son Oran left on the bus that took him to Omagh that day.
Five years on, Bernie recalls with distinct clarity the excitement of the eight-year-old as he was about to embark on a journey which unknown to everyone would end in carnage.
“Oran was hard to get up in the morning and the night before the trip he said ‘you better shake me hard in the morning’,” says Bernie, a mother-of-seven.
“When I woke him up I thought, for a split second,‘will I just let him lie?’ because I wasn’t happy about him going.
“He was only eight and had never been away before. It was his first time to go on a trip with students.
“But I thought no, it wouldn’t be fair not to let him go. When I called him he was up like a flash.
“He had a bath and I helped him to get dressed. His cousin Emmett called up to make sure he was still going. We only had punts and I had to get sterling. He was all excited when he saw the new £2 coin and kept looking at it.
“When Sean (McLaughlin) called they were sorting out the money for the bus and how much they had to spend.
“I remember him saying ‘ach, can I keep this (£2 coin)’. It was the last thing he said to me and I told him to watch himself.
“They were going to the Ulster American Folk Park. Spanish students would have a trip every Saturday and local children could go if they wanted to.
“They left here with one of the Spanish students my sister was keeping at the time. It was five boys and five girls from the town. When they got off the bus they separated from the girls. The five boys were caught up right in the middle of it.”
The 45-year-old full-time mother was unaware of the frightening events unfolding across the border until relatives of others boys on the trip came running to her door.
“Caoimhe (her daughter) was only eight months and sitting in her pram. I was standing in the front room looking out the window.
“They came running into the house and I just knew something was wrong.
“They said they were looking through text for football results and read the news that a bomb had gone off in the centre of Omagh.
“I lifted Caoimhe out of the pram and ran over to a neighbour’s, waiting for a call back from gardai.”
It was an agonising wait as conflicting news emerged about the boys.
“I kept thinking maybe they were still in the folk park, but then found out they were in Omagh,” says Bernie.
“I hoped the police would have them in a safe place. I kept thinking ‘I wonder what Oran is thinking. Is he frightened?’. Everybody gathered in Knockalla and my sisters who lived nearby came up.
“Some time later we were told some of the children were caught up in the bomb.
“Then we heard they left Omagh, they were on the bus and had got caught up in traffic but I still couldn’t content myself.
“At around 6pm my sister got a phone call to say Emmett (Oran’s cousin) had been taken to Enniskillen Hospital and had shrapnel removed from his bowel.
“There was still no news about Oran.
“Patricia Mc-Laughlin (Sean’s mother) kept saying ‘Oran will be all right, he is with Sean’. We just kept on hoping.
“Then we heard the bus was coming back, so my brother drove me up to meet the bus. There was no-one on it.
“My brother asked the driver if he knew where Oran and Sean were. He said ‘no. there are only Spanish students coming in on the other bus’.”
Several hours passed and the uncertainty was replaced by dread as more definite news started to filter through.
“There was still no word of them at 9pm, we were frantic,” says Bernie.
“My husband (Mickey) and Sean McLaughlin’s daddy and a lot of local people went to Omagh. We waited by the phone and gave descriptions to the RUC but still no word.
“Then at around 10pm a garda in the town rang and said ‘is your husband there?’ I said ‘no, he is in Omagh’. She said ‘I have to come back and talk to you, on your own’.
“I was expecting her to tell me my son was dead. She came back with a doctor from the town and told me three boys were missing, one was Oran. I let out an almighty scream.
“It was a long wait overnight. As the night went on, Mickey phoned and said he was at the leisure centre but there was still no word.
“He said: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find the wee man and bring him home.’ I replied ‘please do’. I couldn’t sleep, the house was packed as we waited for word.”
By early morning the whole of Buncrana was immersed in grief for the loss of three young boys.
“At around 7am, I could see from my sister’s window that Patricia McLaughlin had some word through – there were people hugging each other outside.
“My sister’s phone rang, it was Mickey (her husband), He said ‘did you hear the news?’, I said ‘Ah, wee Sean is dead’, he then said: ‘Our Oran is dead too’.
“I just threw the phone to the ground.
“It is now all a blur to me. That night my brother and one of my sister’s took me up to the makeshift morgue to see Oran.
“It was late before we got to see him. It was so horrible. It was a cold place.
“His hair seemed to be all wet. There was a big bruise on his cheek and he had a lot of burns on his wee fingers and a deep cut on his forehead.
“His bottom lip was pushed out. I kept thinking he must have been crying when he died. I only found out at the inquest, two years later, that his lip was cut and had swollen.
“I looked at the body for a while and then returned home. It haunts me to this day that I left him there.
“When I feel low, I think I shouldn’t have left him.
“I still have the sweets he bought in the folk park. They were found on the bus with his wee bag. He was so innocent, he was hoping to come home and tell us all about his day.
“We still have his sweets, but not him.
“There was no need for this.”
Ex-Celtic star Mark Rieper helped carry Oran’s coffin and the young football fan was buried alongside his friends, Sean and James, whose body was later moved when his parents moved back to England.
“If we only had one child it would have been more difficult – they (the children) depended on me,” says Bernie.
“My family helped me, I have seven sisters. They were great.
“An unbelievable amount of people, Catholic and Protestant, came to visit and attended the wake.
“People have asked how did I cope but if there hadn’t been many people about I think It would have been far worse.”
Wall space in Bernie and Michael’s living room is at a premium with Oran’s smile lighting up the darkest of corners.
“Oran was full of fun – a real character. He loved his football and fishing with his daddy,” says Bernie.
“He wanted to either work in a sweet shop or play for Glasgow Celtic when he grew up.”
Oran is a regular topic of conversation after dinner with his death affecting the large family in many ways – but some emotions are too deep and too painful to expose.
“Not a day goes by when we don’t think about him. The girls talk about him but Gearoid (who was 12 when Oran died) doesn’t unless you bring it up,” says Bernie
“When something like this happens it is really the parents people think of, the children can sometimes be forgotten.
“I am very worried about Oisin. He was three-and-half at the time. He was there that day with me, he wouldn’t leave my side from the minute we heard the boys were missing.
“I didn’t want him to see Oran in the coffin because of what I thought it might do to him.
“I remember a few weeks later when we were going to see President Clinton in the leisure centre, I had the television on that morning and Eamon Holmes was interviewing someone at the bomb site, Oisin looked at me and said ‘mummy is that heaven’.
“I couldn’t tell him what happened. Later, someone told me to tell him as much of the truth as possible and I sat down with him and told him there had been a bombing and said God took Oran and Sean to heaven.
“I couldn’t tell him about Oran’s injuries, I was afraid of it affecting him. He wonders who did it and why would they do such a thing. It is so hard to explain.”
The youngest two in the family Caoimhe, who is five-and-a-half and Cillian, who is three-and-a-half, did not know Oran but are nevertheless inquisitive about their brother.
“Cillian knows Oran from his pictures. Caoimhe wouldn’t have remembered Oran, but she would talk about him and say: ‘Where did Oran go? Why is he dead, why won’t he come back’,” says Bernie.
“They talk away about him and laugh about the things he used to do. They have coped well.”
Cillian was born 12 months after Oran’s murder, but new life did not immediately bring fresh hope.
“The pregnancy wasn’t planned,” says Bernie.
“Cillian was great, he was a healthy baby but it didn’t help ease the pain over Oran.
“In fact, it was really sad at the time. I found it very hard, I wanted Oran to see him.”
It’s been a tough five years, but Bernie is slowly beginning to feel more upbeat.
“I now go out and enjoy myself like I used to. But there are times when you feel as sad as you were that day.
“Sometimes I just go to bed and cry my eyes out for Oran. Two daughters have got married since Oran died and there was a sadness on those days.
“It feels so long since I last saw Oran or spoke to him, but other times it seems like only yesterday.
“When I’m out walking I feel I have to walk to the graveyard or I feel guilty. For the first few weeks after Oran died I couldn’t go to the graveyard. I kept thinking Oran was with me anyway, I don’t have to remember him by going to the graveyard.
“Then one day I felt I had to go. I remember walking to the graveyard thinking ‘imagine, this is where I’m going to see my son’.
“I will always remember Oran, it doesn’t have to be in a graveyard. I wouldn’t say I will ever get over it but I will go on, I know I will.
“At the time, when it happened, I thought I would never do anything ever again. Anytime I saw a friend of Oran’s it was so hard but I have coped well.
“There is a big hole in my life. Rita Restorick whose son Stephen (a British soldier) was killed by the IRA wrote to me and said ‘the emptiness you feel now will be filled with memories as time goes on’ and I am now beginning to do that.
“Mickey found it harder. He would talk away about Oran but finds it very hard talking about the bombing itself.
“But we probably are a bit stronger, especially myself. I remember hearing my father saying at the wake to people ‘our Bernie is very weak, I don’t know how she is going to cope’.
“People in Buncrana, even to this day, say to me that they still think about it (Omagh). It was a big shock for the town.”
Although the Omagh families have the tragic events of that day in common, for Bernie other mothers whose children died in other circumstances, have been her source for healing.
“We are friendly but we don’t meet or discuss anything. Myself and Patricia (McLaugh-lin) cope in different ways.
“I meet up with a group of local women once a month who have lost children through sickness or accidents.
“We remember our children and light a candle for them. I find that a great help because none of us (the Omagh families) really got together.
“These other mothers share the same feelings even though our children died in different circumstances.
“It made me realise there are other people too, it is not just us that has lost a child, there are so many parents out there who have also suffered.”
Like many relatives Bernie is angry about the now well documented flawed original RUC investigation into the bombing.
While a number of those suspected of being behind the Real IRA attack are behind bars on unrelated offences, Bernie is adamant that only charges for murder will satisfy her quest for justice.
“They (police) know who they (killers) are. Police in Omagh that day were very good but I believe there has been a cover-up by those higher up. I still have questions,” she says.
“I can’t see them charging anyone with murder now. The punishment should fit the crime. These people should be convicted for murder.”
About the civil action by some families against those allegedly involved the bombing, she says: “It is a pity it had to be like that because so many people are running people down over the civil action because they don’t agree with it.”
The mother is scathing in her criticism of Sinn Féin.
“I think Sinn Féin could have helped to do more to bring these people to justice for they know who they are. Just because they don’t want to help the RUC/police,” she says.
“They seek justice for victims of loyalist and British killings, so why shouldn’t they want justice for ours?”
Asked for her thoughts about the Real IRA, she replies: “The two people who walked away from a car, left it in a crowded street full of people and children, I want to know how could they have done it.
“How would they feel if this had of been someone belonging to them? I would like to say to them how can they go on, being involved in an organisation.
“Stop this now, it is not worth it. Do you want to see more innocent people die?
“If they had stopped after Omagh, maybe some day I would have been able to forgive. But they are still a group, still together and still planning to take lives.
“If they are really sorry for all those innocent lives, they should stop now. If the Provos are willing to have a ceasefire, why can’t they? I can’t forgive them – I should as a Catholic, but I can’t. Maybe some day…”
Bernie had hoped that the bomb would have been a watershed in paramilitary activity but fears more innocent lives will be taken by those bent on violence.
“People were saying at the time ‘at least if there are no more lives lost now’, but I thought ‘why should Oran have had to die?’ ” she says.
“I kept thinking, I don’t care what happens any more, but as time went on I had hoped it had stopped. But now I see something happening again.
“I certainly don’t want anyone else belonging to me or any other innocent caught up in something like that again, but the way it is going….I can see it happening again…
“I can see more lives being lost.”
Should all paramilitaries disband? “Yes, all sides. I have no time for any of them, no right-thinking person does.”
“My daughter Amanda works in Derry and I would hate to think that she could be caught up in a bomb or anybody else killed by paramilitaries again.”
The conflict shattered their lives but Bernie wants nothing but permanent peace.
“We listened to the news about what was happening and sympathised but it wasn’t until it hit our own doorstep that we knew the suffering some people went through.
“I would just love to see lasting peace, Protestant and Catholics living together.”
August 15, 2003
This article appeared first in the August 14, 2003 edition of the Irish News.
14 August 2012
• Links and articles at the Guardian on the Omagh bombing
Victims of the Real IRA bombing in Omagh on 15 August 1998
THE 29 victims of the Omagh bomb were remembered at the Memorial Garden in the town on Sunday afternoon, 14 years on from the atrocity.
The eleven Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympic Games 40 years ago as well as the victims of Bloody Friday were also remembered in a poignant inter-denominational service.
A number of ministers gave readings during the service, which also included a performance by St Eugene’s brass band and gospel singer Leslie Matthews.
Several members of the local Jewish community also attended the service and a representative read out a poem written this year to remember the Israeli athletes killed at Munich by Palestinian terrorists. An estimated 500 people turned out to the service despite the wet weather, including Justice Minister David Ford, chairman of Omagh District Council Errol Thompson and representatives from the Northern Ireland Office and the Irish government.
Spokesperson for the Omagh Support and Self-Help Group Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aidan died in the 1998 bomb, said the families were gratified by how many people had turned out to the service.
He said: “There is a determination to get to the truth, and why those responsible were never brought before the courts,” he said.
“We have commissioned a report that we gave to the Secretary of State in June, to Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter in July and we gave a copy of it to Justice Minister David Ford at this service.
Those murdered were: James Barker (12), Seán McLaughlin (12) and Oran Doherty (8), from County Donegal, Fernando Blasco Baselga (12) and Rocío Abad Ramos (23) from Spain, Geraldine Breslin (43), Gareth Conway (18), Breda Devine (1), Aidan (or Aiden) Gallagher (21), Mary Grimes (65), Brenda Logue (17), Brian McCrory (54), Seán McGrath (61), Jolene Marlow (17), Avril Monaghan (30; pregnant with twins), Maura Monaghan (1), Elizabeth Rush (57), Philomena Skelton (39); Deborah-Anne Cartwright (20), Esther Gibson (36), Olive Hawkes (60), Julia Hughes (21), Ann McCombe (48), Samantha McFarland (17), Alan Radford (16), Veda Short (56), Fred White (60), Bryan White (26), Lorraine Wilson (15). (Seán McGrath died from his injuries on 5 September 1998.)
11 August 2012
Bloody Sunday campaigners have urged local supporters of their long – and ultimately successful – justice campaign to throw their weight behind a march in Belfast to support the families of the Ballymurphy Massacre.
This week marks 41 years since troops from the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment murdered eleven innocent civilians in the Ballymurphy housing estate in West Belfast – six months before they moved to Derry and committed the further atrocity of Bloody Sunday.
John Kelly, whose brother Michael was murdered on Bloody Sunday, is organising a bus to the annual Ballymurphy March this coming Sunday, August 12, and there are still seats available for those wishing to attend.
“Just as they wholeheartedly supported us during our quest for truth and justice, it is imperative that the people of Derry now show support for the families in Ballymurphy who are still waging their own struggle for truth and justice,” he said.
Mr Kelly spoke of the “major connection” between the two campaigns. “Let’s not forget that the paras who murdered people on our own streets on Bloody Sunday are the very same soldiers who, six months earlier, committed this atrocity which took the lives of eleven innocent people in Ballymurphy. This fact has, until now, largely been ignored.”
“It is so important that the families of the Ballymurphy Massacre see support coming down to them from Derry,” Mr Kelly went on.
“It will certainly give them heart in their journey towards truth and justice. Just as they showed so much fantastic support to us over the years, now it is our turn to support them every step of the way.”
On Monday, August 9, 1971, Interment Without Trial was introduced in Northern Ireland and over 600 British soldiers entered the Ballymurphy area, raiding homes and rounding up men.
Many, both young and old, were shot and beaten as they were dragged from their homes without reason. Eleven unarmed people were murdered over three days by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment, including a parish priest and a 45-year-old mother-of-eight. No investigations were carried out. Had those involved in Ballymurphy been held to account, it is believed the events of Bloody Sunday may not have happened.
The Bus to Ballymurphy will leave Rossville Street at 10am this Sunday, August 12, with tickets priced £10. Contact: 71 360880 to book your place.
As part of the Gasyard Féile, the city’s Bloody Sunday campaigners were given a special award on Friday in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the community.
The annual An Darach award was presented at Derry’s Gasyard to campaigner Geraldine Doherty, niece of Bloody Sunday victim Gerald Donaghey, who accepted it on behalf of the wider families and wounded.
Ms Doherty said she was “honoured” to receive the award, especially as she continues to campaign to clear the name of her 17-year-old uncle Gerald – the only victim of the Derry massacre left with a stain upon his reputation in the 2010 Saville Report.
7 August 2012
A crowd outside the Mansion House, Dublin, in the days before the truce was signed in the Irish War of Independence, July 1921. Image from the National Library of Ireland, via Wikimedia Commons
The Bureau of Military History was established in 1947 to gather information on Ireland’s fight for independence from 1913 to 1921. In March 2003, the statements, documents and photographs assembled by the bureau were opened to the public, and today they will reach a wider audience online.
The bureau spent 11 years compiling the history of the events that led to Ireland’s independence, speaking to members of the Irish Volunteers (later the Irish Republican Army), Fianna Éireann, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Clann na Gael, Cumann na mBan, Sinn Féin, the Irish Citizen Army, and relatives of the deceased. But, when the task was completed in 1957, the archive contents were considered highly sensitive and were boxed up and locked away in the Department of An Taoiseach until 11 March 2003 when the collection was formally made available to the public at the National Archives of Ireland.
In all, the collection contains 1,773 witness statements, 334 sets of contemporary documents (such as pamphlets, publications, letters, drawings and posters), 42 photograph collections, 210 photographs of actions sites taken by the Air Corps, 12 voice recordings and a selection of press cuttings.
The historic archive recounts events such as the Howth gun-running in 1914, the Easter Rising in 1916, and the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1919.
Today, this archive will be made available online at www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie. Archivists have spent years preparing the archive for online viewing, digitising the documents and making every word searchable.
The initiative comes from Military Archives, a site launched in conjunction with the National Archives of Ireland.
3 August 2012
You refer in your editorial (Northern Ireland: keep focused, 28 July) to the case of Marian McGlinchey (nee Price). I should be grateful for the opportunity to set out the facts.
Marian McGlinchey received two life sentences in 1973 for her part in the Old Bailey bombing. She was subsequently released on licence in 1980. At the same time she was granted the royal prerogative of mercy (RPM) in respect of a separate conviction which carried a 20-year fixed term sentence. The RPM did not cover her life sentences.
All life sentence prisoners remain on licence for life. They can be recalled at any time if they breach the conditions of their licence or pose a risk of serious harm to the public. A similar system was endorsed by the previous government in the legislation to give effect to the part of the Belfast Agreement that dealt with the early release of prisoners.
Before revoking a prisoner’s licence under the Life Sentences (Northern Ireland) Order 2001, however, the secretary of state must first seek a recommendation from the wholly independent parole commissioners. This is what I did in the case of Marian McGlinchey; their recommendation was that she was in breach of her life licence. Consistent with my overriding responsibility in Northern Ireland for public safety, and in accordance with the law, she was returned to prison.
The independent parole commissioners are now reviewing the case in full. If they are satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined, then they may direct the prisoner’s release. The prisoner has full legal representation and can challenge the case made against her; Marian McGlinchey has yet to do this. The decision of the parole commissioners is final and cannot be overruled by the secretary of state.
It would be outrageous for any secretary of state to do anything other than adhere strictly to the law. Yet the clear inference in your editorial is that I should discard due process and interfere politically in this case. That would fatally undermine the rule of law in Northern Ireland. That is not something I am prepared to do.
Owen Paterson MP
Secretary of state for Northern Ireland