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South Belfast News
20 May 2012
IN 2012, Belfast’s tourism scene is more about Titanic than the Troubles, but the city would be wise not to forget the political and historical value of what was once dubbed “dark tourism”.
Those were the words of West Belfast MP Paul Maskey, who issued a challenge to local tourism chiefs, citing the huge interest that remains in the Irish conflict from a historical and educational perspective – an interest that still brings hordes of international visitors into the heart of his constituency on a daily basis.
With this year marketed as ‘Our Time, Our Place’, the One City debate of the same name saw Mr Maskey joined by Tim Husbands, the CEO of the Titanic Signature project, which hosted a section of the conference.
As One City took place in the conference rooms upstairs in the spectacular building, the hundreds of visitors downstairs – even early on a Friday morning – proved that a new chapter in Belfast tourism has truly opened. And Mr Husbands revealed that since opening less than two months ago, the building has had over 120,000 visitors through its doors.
“We have enjoyed worldwide media coverage and it’s important we build further on that,” he said. “We are pleased to see that every agency is helping bring visitors to us, and product development is key. We are keen to link our project to other historically related sites in the city, including, for instance, Conway Mill.”
Mr Maskey told the debate, which was chaired by the NI Tourist Board’s Howard Hastings, that although the Titanic legacy was key in bringing visitors to Belfast, it may not be enough to keep them here.
“The fact is, political tourism is big, and I don’t think it’s given enough attention by the Tourist Board,” he said.
The murals and memorials across West, North and East Belfast are still a highlight for many visitors keen to learn about the conflict and social history of the city, and numerous black taxi, bus and walking tours keep cash flowing into the local economy.
“This political and historical tourism needs to be invested in,” he continued. “Unfortunately there was a stage when it was called ‘dark tourism’, which I think was horrendous.”
Mandy Patrick of the Park Avenue Hotel highlighted how other cities have dealt with a difficult legacy – while also forging a new identity – to the benefit of the local tourism industry, including Berlin.
Researcher warns that young people who witnessed worst years of conflict are turning violence on themselves as adults
26 Mar 2012
A British soldier searches a teenager in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the Troubles in 1971. (Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images)
People who grew up in the worst years of the Troubles are the most prone to suicide in Northern Ireland, an international conference on children in conflict has heard.
The legacy of the conflict has resulted in a higher rate of self-harming – particularly in Derry, UK City of Culture in 2013 – among children and young adults who witnessed the violence compared with other British and Irish cities.
Professor Mike Tomlinson, who has studied suicide rates over the last 40 years, told the Children in Conflict conference in Belfast that the overall rate of suicide in Northern Ireland doubled after the IRA’s second and decisive ceasefire in 1997.
“There are clear indications from the data … that the levels of psychic distress in Northern Ireland have risen dramatically in the period of the peace.
“This is something of a paradox since we have just learnt that Northern Ireland is the happiest region of the UK,” the Queen’s University of Belfast academic said.
In his research, Tomlinson said suicide rates for men rose from 13 per 100,000 of the population in 1997 to 24 per 100,000 by 2008.
“Having studied 40 years of data on age, gender and cause of death, my conclusion is that the cohort of children and young adults who grew up in the worst years of violence between 1969 and 1977-78 now have the highest suicide rates and the most rapidly increasing rates of all age groups.
“The highest suicide rate is currently for men aged 35-44, followed closely by the 25-34 and 45-54 age groups,” he said.
Tomlinson warned that some of those who witnessed the Troubles as children and teenagers were now turning the violence on themselves during peacetime.
“Those age groups with the highest suicide rates belong to the generations of people who grew up in the conflict and who experienced no other social context until the late 1990s. They are the people who were must acculturated to division and conflict, and to violence,” he said.
“In the period of peace, externalised expressions of violence and cultures of authoritarianism have gradually subsided, and to some extent violence has become internalised.
“At present, our young people are responding to the social crisis they face with the labour market not through mass political protest or social disorder, but through private solutions, including emigration, including self-destructive tendencies.”
Tomlinson’s research compared hospital admissions caused by self-harm in nine cities across Britain, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. It found that Derry had the highest such admissions, with 611 in 2009, while Dublin, which is currently suffering an ongoing recession, had 352 admissions in the same year.
Derry’s self-harm rate was higher than that of Manchester, Leeds, Oxford, Limerick, Cork, Galway and Waterford.
The conference, which began on Monday at Belfast’s Europa Hotel, focuses on the impact on children of violent conflict and social problems in various parts of the world.
Forty years ago this month Britain shut down Northern Ireland’s parliament, changing politics here forever. David McKittrick reports
20 March 2012
When two prime ministers, Edward Heath and Brian Faulkner, lunched together in Downing Street in March 1972, the menu included scallops and roast beef along with a particularly fine wine, Chateau St-Pierre Sevaistre 1955.
Heath also offered a dessert of cold orange souffle, but in political terms he offered cold comfort to Faulkner, the wily unionist politician regarded as Stormont’s last chance.
When the Northern Ireland prime minister pressed for a continuing tough security approach, Heath broke the news that he intended to strip Stormont of its law and order powers. Faulkner warned he would resign if this happened, but Heath went ahead.
Faulkner then promptly quit and the institution which had been the central focus of Northern Ireland’s politics for a half-century was brusquely shut down.
It was a hugely emotional and traumatic moment for unionists, who always regarded Stormont as their chief bulwark against nationalism and republicanism.
The Protestant sense of betrayal was deep and palpable: so, too, was their fear that unionist control had gone forever and their worry that the Union with Britain was being weakened.
In this they were correct. The mothballing of Stormont did not reduce violence, or bring stability, as Heath hoped. Nor did it result in a durable new political settlement: it would be many years before that took shape.
But its removal did establish the central fact that the days of one-party government were over and that never again would one community be allowed to govern the other: the days of majority rule were consigned to the past.
It took years years for unionists to grasp that majority rule would not return, but in the long term the idea took root after many twists and turns and it eventually led to the modern compromise arrangement.
The politics of the early-1970s were a different world from those of today, where unionism and republicanism share power. In 1972, unionism was adamant that there was no place in government for figures such as Gerry Fitt and John Hume.
The years before the fall of Stormont were turbulent, with civil rights marches giving way to riots and widespread violence and the appearance of the Army on the streets.
Faulkner had assumed office as Northern Ireland’s last prime minister in March 1971, attempting to achieve stability by combining minimal political concessions with a tougher security approach.
But the continuing violence simultaneously produced a rising death toll and a poisonous atmosphere, leading the SDLP to boycott Stormont.
In something close to desperation, Faulkner persuaded Heath to agree to introduce internment without trial in August 1971.
It was something close to a last throw of the dice, but the move proved disastrous, sending the death-rate soaring as the IRA and loyalists escalated the violence.
In addition, there was a dramatic increase in general nationalist alienation.
Senior Belfast civil servants, who carried out a review, concluded that ‘a breakdown in government might occur in a matter of weeks’.
The sense of crisis deepened after Bloody Sunday in January 1972, causing Heath to cast around for radical approaches. He considered, but rejected, ideas such as repartition, joint rule of Northern Ireland with the Republic and an eventual united Ireland.
The Army was extremely nervous about the idea of introducing direct rule, warning that unionists might not co-operate with it.
A military document warned the government of a nightmare scenario ‘in which the Army was either fighting both sides in the middle of a civil war, or having virtually to run Northern Ireland’.
Heath, nonetheless, judged that something dramatic had to be done. He noted in his memoirs: ‘The atmosphere had now grown more poisoned than ever and I feared that we might, for the first time, be on the threshold of complete anarchy.’
Faulkner, meanwhile, continued to resist the idea of sharing power with nationalists, histrionically arguing this would result in “a bedlam cabinet, a kind of fragmentation bomb virtually certain to fly apart at the first meeting”.
His objection was to having the SDLP in government: we can only wonder what he would think of governing along with Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, who, in those days, were wanted men on the run.
Finally, Heath, concluding that Faulkner could deliver neither security success nor political progress, decided to close Stormont as an irreformable institution. His conviction was that a power-sharing government had to be put together and that, in his words, “only direct rule could offer us the breathing-space necessary for building it”.
Considerable upheaval followed the closure, with a two-day protest bringing Northern Ireland to a virtual standstill, up to 200,000 workers downing tools.
Around 100,000 people made their way to Stormont for a rally at which Ulster flags outnumbered Union flags – a sign of Protestant anger with London.
Meanwhile, in the back streets, working-class Protestants were banding together in paramilitary groups, such as the UDA and UVF. In 1972, they were responsible for 121 deaths, while the IRA killed 277.
In all, almost 500 people lost their lives that year, which was both the most lethal of the Troubles and an important turning-point which changed the face of Northern Ireland politics forever.
By Stephen Quirke
Monday, March 12, 2012
It’s hard to write about nonviolence in Northern Ireland when so much violence has happened and so much of it has been glorified, even sacralized. Growing up as a Catholic in Ireland, as I did, you are presented with one outlook and one outlook alone. Obey the word of God and love thy neighbor, unless he’s a Protestant.
For my generation and the ones before and ever after, the creation of a free Irish Nation and a unified island is a dream worth fighting for. Countless men, women and children fought and laid down their lives so that their children might have a chance at peace and freedom.
Some of the leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) are regarded as some of Ireland’s greatest heroes. Michael Collins, James Stephens and Charles Kickham are names that every school child knows. Heroes all!
The IRB staged the 1916 Easter rising which formed the Irish Free State and later became the IRA but in the infancy stage it was a much more ideological than military organization. My great grandfather has an IRB medal. It was awarded to him for bravery to the cause of Irish Freedom. It has pride of place in my Uncle’s farmhouse in Ireland. The medal was handed down to him from his father. His father’s father received it for being part of a guerilla style ‘flying column,’ in the late 1800’s. The actual recognized act was the physical dismantling of a stone bridge that was used to cross a river between a British Army garrison and a local town and regional center.Through many visits to the bridge under cover of darkness, my great grandfather and other members of his brigade chiseled and loosened the rocks and stones in the bridge until finally it was destroyed. A primitive terrorist-type act; is a terrorist act nonetheless, since civilians were likely to be hurt when it collapsed.
For me as an adult, the most striking thing has been the realization that my perspective on violence has been imbued with what I can only describe as a romanticized view. Terrorism is, of course, defined as a crime but by a Jihadist it’s a holy war. Depending on your viewpoint, everything is different. Isn’t war then, just as much a crime, depending on your viewpoint? As Kent D. Shifferd writes in his book From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years; sadly, the truth remains, “whatever your political stance, Bombs fall on people and objects, not on ideas.”
Ireland has a large and long history of violence, driven on by economic factors and under the banner of Religion. Many men served in both World Wars. Another relation of mine took “the King’s Shilling” and fought for the British. Risking public shame and ignominy, some Catholics fought for the crown for no better reason than a wage. The pay was more than any Irish peasant could make and it even afforded men enough to send money home to keep up their own families and farms. Irish fighters also fought in the Mexican-American war of 1846 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick_Battalion) so its clear to see that there is a history of war for many reasons in our Irish past.
Bobby Sands is one of the best-known Catholic martyrs; he died during a nonviolent hunger strike in a makeshift prison nine miles outside of Belfast. He was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. During his hunger strike he became a member of the United Kingdom Parliament but died 25 days after being elected. His nonviolent death caused a new wave of violent riots in Belfast and cemented his image in Republican lore. Every child knew who he was but none was told of why he was in prison first. He was an active member of a military campaign; he was a major suspect in both bombings and shootings. That’s not what you see in the streets though. You see children wearing Glasgow Celtic (the Catholic team in the Glasgow Old Firm) Jerseys with Sands’ name printed on the back. You still see young boys playing and fighting trying to get the ‘Brits out.’
Maggie Thatcher—then the British Prime Minister—made certain that her people all knew that Sands was not nonviolent and that they wouldn’t care if Sands lived or died, as he was no Gandhi. She famously told the House of Commons in 1981 “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organization did not allow to many of its victims.” From our side of the fence it was political martyrdom of the highest degree. The crimes he was arrested for, he would not have committed if there were not a reason to. He was defending his own land.
I was raised to be a staunch Republican, to believe our side and be a good patriot. No one can ever question the cruel foreign rule Britain forced on the Irish people, but not until I became an adult and learned how to think for myself, did I ever question that the way to fight oppression was with violence. The idea behind democracy is to inform the electorate and it clearly works poorly in a pool of information and influence the size of whatever you’re handed down. Education is meant to increase your intellectual inheritance, and, for me, it has as I ponder the best way forward for my beloved homeland.
Loretta Napoleoni covers the point I am trying to make in her book Terrorism and the Economy: “What is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? It depends on the angle from which one is looking.” I can regard my Irish heroes from the past with reverence whilst knowing that there is a better path for our future.
* * *
Stephen Quirke studies at Portland State University in Oregon. This commentary was distributed by PeaceVoice, a program of the Oregon Peace Institute.
3 March 2012
An exhibition of everyday items in use during the ‘Troubles’ will go on display at First Derry Presbyterian Church on March 5.
The exhibition has been organised by Healing Through Remembering (HTR) – the cross-community organisation that focuses on ways of dealing with the conflict, with the aim of achieving a peaceful future for all.
The project is called “Everyday Objects Transformed by the Conflict” and will be open to the public at the Magazine Street church between March 6-28 (Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm).
Derry exhibitors include the the Museum of Free Derry, Maiden City Festival, the Tower Museum and private collector Frankie McMenamin.
Items on show at the exhibit – which is curated by Buncrana woman Triona White Hamilton – will include:
* A CS gas canister turned into a working lamp. The canister was fired by the RUC during the Battle of the Bogside in 1969.
* A binlid – used as a communication tool and a means of protest in nationalist areas.
* An armoured clipboard carried by police at vehicle checkpoints in ‘high-risk’ areas. It was to give protection to officers if threatened with a handgun.
* A ‘sponger’ badge worn by loyalists in protest at strike leaders being called “spongers” by the then Prime Minster, Harold Wilson.
Entrance to the exhibition and workshop participation are free.
People who would like more information about the project, or who would like to book a workshop, should contact: Triona White Hamilton, exhibition curator/co-ordinator, at Healing Through Remembering on Tel: 028 9023 8844 or via email at email@example.com
29 Feb 2012
An “open and all inclusive” service to remember those killed or injured during the Troubles will take place in Belfast at the weekend.
According to organisers, the service, held at St Anne’s Cathedral on Sunday (3.30pm), is intended to represent both sides of the community who have been caught up in the violence — including those killed by both paramilitaries and the security forces.
Organiser Alan McBride of the WAVE Trauma Centre said he had personally invited both The First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness — along with MLAs and TDs from the Republic and religious representatives.
“It’s for people injured, family of the Disappeared, people who were bereaved, children who lost parents and those who were traumatised,” he added. “It’s also for those killed by security forces and armed groups, both loyalist and republican.”
Mr McBride’s wife Sharon and his father-in-law were killed in the Shankill bomb in 1993.
By Sean McLaughlin
Monday 13 February 2012
The early days of the Troubles affected the lives of thousands of Derry people as they attempted to get on with their daily routines in a society fast spiralling out of control, writes SEAN McLAUGHLIN.
View the picture special by clicking here
To the outside world, Northern Ireland, in 1970, was quickly becoming known as a place that time had left behind. It represented all that was negative, unacceptable and contradictory.
Of course, this image was, in many respects, quite wrong.
As these photographs from the 1970 archives of the ‘Derry Journal’ show, while confrontation was never far from the surface, life – for better or worse – still continued beyond the barricades.
As the 1960s bled into the 1970s, tensions between the two communities were running high and relations between nationalists and the security forces were deteriorating with every day.
The honeymoon period which the British Army had enjoyed since their arrival in the city in August 1969 was rapidly ending as, more and more, they came to be seen as an occupying force.
However, 1970 wasn’t all doom and gloom. It was, of course, the year in which a teenager from the Rossville Flats shot to stardom by winning the Eurovision Song Contest.
In March of that year, Rosemary Brown – or, Dana, as she was to become better known – wowed both judges and audience at the RAI Congrescentrum in Amsterdam with her rendition of ‘All Kinds of Everything’. The song became a million-seller and the singer an international star.
All in all, 1970 was a turning point in Northern Ireland.
Not only was the IRA splitting in two – into the Officials and the more militant Provisionals – Ian Paisley was elected to Westminster on a fundamentalist ticket, opposing the “soft” approach by Unionists like Terence O’Neill.
It was also the year in which the SDLP was formed out of the civil rights movement, spearheaded by charismatic young Derry man John Hume; 1970 also saw the notorious ‘B’ Specials replaced by the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).
However, given the explosion of political violence about to erupt across the North – peaking in 1972 when nearly 500 people, just over half of them civilians, lost their lives – in retrospect, 1970 could be said to mark the calm before the storm.
As the photographs in this special supplement testify, the story of Derry in 1970 really was ‘A Tale of Two Cities’: while the TV cameras focused on a society tearing itself apart, there was another world out there – one in which ordinary people lived their lives, albeit, in extraordinary circumstances.
These unique images bring Derry’s past to life in a way that written records alone cannot. You come face-to-face with people from the past and wonder where they came from, where they went and what their story is.
It is a fascinating and evocative journey through our recent past.
By Eamonn McCann
27 January 2012
From the dusty wastelands of Afghanistan to Desertcreat in Co Tyrone, the G-men keep the memory of the B-men alive. The B Specials provided a sizeable percentage of the first recruits to RUC Special Branch. Now the FBI is sending its own recruits over here to learn from the Branch’s experience.
The first wave of G-men and G-women anxious to access local expertise gained in the battle against terrorism is expected to arrive at the £140m emergency services college near Cookstown in spring 2015.
“We have a real product to sell here,” said PSNI deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie last month. Facilities on the 250-acre Desertcreat site will be “world class”, she promised. “The FBI and other international law-enforcement agencies are interested in using the facilities for anti-terrorism and public order training”.
Counter-terrorism lore from the fight against the IRA and other paramilitary organisations will be passed on to FBI operatives in state-of-the-art surroundings, including a mock-up prison where conflict between staff and inmates can be re-enacted and a street complex where US law-enforcers can draw on Northern Ireland experience to practice and perfect their crowd control tactics.
What the paranoid schizophrenic cross-dressing closet queen J Edgar Hoover would have made of it all we can but guess. Irish subversives were by no means top of his target list during 48 years as FBI director. The Reds, the Mob and uppity blacks took priority.
But files released four years after his death, in 1976, contained 2,871 pages recording warrantless wiretapping, electronic eavesdropping and so forth directed against suspected IRA fundraisers and gunrunners. Some local veterans sharing their knowledge of conflict at Desertcreat seminars may find the students well ahead of them.
Experience in subverting republican and loyalist paramilitaries is also proving a valuable commodity elsewhere in the war against miscreants trying to subvert the new world order.
Charismatic Iraq war rhetorician Tim Collins’ New Century group last year won a $45m (£29m) Pentagon contract to train the Afghan army and police how to “find and cultivate informants among the Taliban”.
The Intelligence Online website reports that “most of the instructors are not US, but Northern Irish, former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which for many years was in the frontline of Britain’s combat with the IRA.”
The biography for Collins issued by New Century refers only in passing to his Iraq involvement, highlighting instead his experience as “opera- tions officer of 22 SAS and subsequently commander of the Royal Irish Regiment in east Tyrone (Northern Ireland) . . . has worked closely with the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch . . . assumed command of 1R[oyal] Irish in Jan[uary] 2001, where he led the battalion on operations again in Northern Ireland, for which he was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service.”
Three years ago, Collins wrote in the Daily Mail that, “the PSNI . . . is so riddled with political correctness that many good, old-fashioned coppers – who were expert in terrorism and the communities they worked in – have simply been sidelined.”
He will have had in mind such old-fashioned coppers as retired chief superintendant Norman Baxter, formerly chief liaison officer between Special Branch and MI5, now New Century’s director of doctrine, standards, audit and training.
Mark Cochrane, consultant programme manager (training and compliance) served for 28 years in the RUC/PSNI.
“For over 20 years, he was employed in counter-terrorism duties . . . was the officer in charge of covert police training within the PSNI.”
Human resources manager Steve Smith is a former commando who has “served on eight operational tours in Northern Ireland in support of the RUC/PSNI in areas as diverse as south Armagh and west Belfast”.
New Century’s training co-ordinator in Afghanistan is Mike Wilkins who, from September 2006 to September 2010, was based in Belfast as senior investigating officer with the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
The company’s roster of political advisers is headed by Nancy Soderberg, her intelligence credentials apparently established during her stint as Bill Clinton’s point-woman on the north.
The $45m success of New Century shows what a tradable commodity experience gained in the fight against the IRA and other paramilitaries has become.
Now DCC Gillespie is bringing it all back home and making it available, at competitive rates no doubt, to the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies worldwide.
The two main parties, which together have spearheaded the drive for the Desertcreat facility, will be chuffed at how favourable the auguries now seem.
Gives the lie to begrudgers who claim that the struggle wasn’t worth it and brought nothing worthwhile.
25 January 2012 08:32
Protestants have been migrating out of the south Armagh area for some years, according to local research.
David Hanna is chairman of Altnaveigh House, an Ulster-Scots umbrella organisation in Newry which supports some 170 groups.
His group has commissioned extensive research into the migration of Protestants in the broad Newry and Mourne area, which takes in most of south Armagh – though not the area where Aghavilly and Keady Primary Schools are located.
Mr Hanna said: “Our research in 1999 and 2003 showed that the Protestant people who were staying were the parents and grandparents, while the young people were going to university in England and Scotland but not returning.
“We found that young Protestant people in the area were travelling to the north and north west to socialise, to Hillsborough, Portadown, Banbridge, Dromore and Belfast.
“In part it is a legacy of the Troubles. In future we could see an even bigger effect on the demographic mix which impacts on the viability of schools and churches.”
In Newry town, Protestants make up only five per cent of the population and only 8.5 per cent across the borough, outside of the Mournes.
Ross Chapman is an elder of the Quaker meeting house in the south Armagh village of Bessbrook. The village itself was built by Quakers in the mid-1800s as a centre for the linen industry.
“But they didn’t have a stake in the land like farmers so when the industry dwindled there was an exodus from the area,” he said.
Anyone who attends the Meeting House now comes from Banbridge or further north, with just Ross and one other person from the Newry area. Altnaveigh House’s findings about young Protestant people moving out of their area applies equally well to Quaker young people, he said.
However Mr Chapman lived for a time in Co Louth and although the Protestant population there was smaller than in south Armagh, he notes that it was a “very stable” community nonetheless.
“I guess Protestants in the Republic of Ireland have accepted their position there and now see themselves as citizens – they don’t run away from it. In fact, in some places Protestant communities have grown in the past 10 years, for example in Kilkenny.”
Filming on Divis Tower
A NEW documentary film featuring a popular community worker and McGurk’s Bar campaigner has been named as ‘Best Debut’ at the Netherlands Film Festival.
‘When the War Ends’ which features Robert McClenaghan is directed by Dutch filmmaker Thijs Schreuder and was shot in and around west Belfast in the run-up to Christmas last year.
It examines how local people have coped with the legacy of the Troubles after the conflict ended. The film was given an exclusive screening in the Felons club recently to a rapturous response and will be shown as part of next year’s Belfast Film Festival.
Speaking to the Belfast Media Group Thijs said he initially came to Belfast to film a different type of documentary.
“I wanted to do something on how the borders of Europe were disappearing yet new borders were appearing within countries,” said Thijs.
“I arrived in Belfast and spoke to Coiste na nIarchimi [the ex-republican prisoners support group] and EPIC [Ex-Prisoners Interpretative Centre for loyalist prisoners]. I was struck by their stories and so my plans changed. In Holland the war in Northern Ireland is seen as over, but from doing this film I found that people are still fighting the war in their heads. It was a subject I was interested in.”
Thijs and his crew were filming around Belfast when the area was covered in heavy snow. He chose to focus on Robert McClenaghan, whose grandfather Phillip Garry was murdered in the McGurk’s Bar bombing and who also works as a guide for Coiste’s political tours, as he felt viewers “would connect with him”.
“The story also has to be understood by an international audience not familiar with the conflict here so I knew people would connect with Robert,” said Thijs.
“He is a unique character with a unique outlook on life who has the capability to reflect on his own life. Some people are on the edge of collapse after coming through conflict while others find a way to cope, and Robert found a way to cope. It was also important that we filmed the documentary in the run-up to Christmas as it’s traditionally a time of reflection and the heavy snow adds to the overall feeling of the film.”
Thijs said the film received a very positive reaction when shown in the Felons.
“There was one scene when Robert is sitting on a chair at home reflecting on his past and this person came up to me after the screening and said, ‘I was that man sitting on that chair and I recognise that feeling. I am stuck in that chair and it’s good to see that I am not alone’.
“That’s what I wanted to achieve in this film and I am grateful to Robert for sharing his story.”
Speaking about his involvement in the film, Robert said he saw it as a opportunity “to explain to a wider audience how our politics and our community developed from the conflict”.
“They started following the tours and then they would ask the guides questions about the tour group and how it came about,” said Robert.
“Then that in turn led to questions about our own pasts as part of the republican movement and that’s how I got involved. I spoke about what happened to us as a community after the likes of the Falls curfew, internment and other incidents and how it changed people – people either buried their heads in the sand or, in our case, they stood up and fought back. My generation of people became very politicised by those incidents, incidents like losing my grandfather [Phillip Garry] in the McGurk’s Bar bombing in 1971.”
Robert said he’s pleased with how the film turned out.
“It was very intimate in terms of my family life as they ended up following me for 26 days,” he said. “I think it’s an excellent attempt to tell a complex story of 30 years of conflict through one man.”
13 Jan 2012
Politicians from both sides of the Border have praised a Co Armagh group that helps people affected by the Troubles and tries to keep the young away from dissident groups
IAN BOTHWELL, who met a cross-Border delegation of politicians at Darkley House in south Armagh yesterday, was in nearby Keady on Tuesday night going about the regular work of the Crossfire Trust, which he runs and which he founded in 1986.
With volunteers he was meeting young people “who have been affected by the Troubles, who may be feeling the temptation to get back into violence or go into violence and who are feeling very anti-establishment”, he explained.
The cross-community Crossfire Trust is based in Darkley – a townland and a name that is synonymous with one of the darkest deeds of the Troubles: the 1983 INLA attack on the local Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church in which three worshippers were murdered – William Brown, John Cunningham and David Wilson.
The past is very present amid these rolling hills of south Armagh, Mr Bothwell said.
He briefed the politicians on the work of the trust, which has earned plaudits from the likes of former president Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth and former US president George W Bush. He told how it had moved on from dealing with the immediate effects of the conflict, to how it is now, in peacetime, trying to assist people still suffering trauma from the Troubles – and also trying to redirect young local people from taking up with dissident groupings.
The delegation he met is called the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and included politicians such as its TD chairman Dominic Hannigan, and other TDs such as Joe O’Reilly, Martin Ferris and Frank Feighan, and MPs Pat Doherty and Margaret Ritchie. “We were extremely impressed with the inspiring work of the trust,” said Mr O’Reilly.
Mr Bothwell told The Irish Times that after the Belfast Agreement in 1998 there was a general feeling that things would get better.
“But in reality I don’t think they are better. They are different, except for those who were able to move into the political arena and into the machinery of peace-building and community development.”
At any one time Darkley House can have anything from three to 20 residents, people like former prisoners, or people suffering from drugs and drink addiction or mental health problems, mostly brought on as a result of the Troubles – in some cases from direct involvement in that conflict.
Mr Bothwell and the trust’s workers and volunteers also engage in outreach work – such as in Keady on Tuesday night – going to local towns and villages to engage with people, to discuss their problems, to provide quiet counselling and assistance.
The Troubles, understandably, are out of most people’s consciousness, but they are still very real in south Armagh, said Mr Bothwell. “The mental health situation in south Armagh is acute; it’s fresh, it’s powerful, and people try to find comfort in alcohol and in drugs,” he said.
Addressing issues of guilt, regret and “what was it all about” is a huge element of the trust’s work. “There is a need for people to be able to talk about their past,” he explained.
The concept of the Crossfire Trust is as a “safe house, a place of sanctuary and hope”. He added that while he is of a Protestant background, the IRA right from his arrival in Darkley House “came to terms with me and accepted I was sound”.
He has noted “a growing resentment towards Stormont, a feeling of betrayal”, while also referring to the social disconnect between local people struggling to make ends meet and those who live in very large houses in the south Armagh Border area as a result of what he euphemistically terms the “oil industry”.
The Oireachtas-Stormont group also met the Justice for the Forgotten group in Monaghan, which is campaigning for full disclosure of the truth behind the 1974 Dublin-Monaghan bombings, local politicians and officials in Armagh, and also civil servants from the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh.
25 Dec 2011
Northern Ireland’s first police ombudsman says independent unit with powers of search and arrest would bring ‘huge efficiencies’
Northern Ireland’s first police ombudsman has called for a single unified body to deal with all the unsolved crimes of the Troubles and arrest suspects even in cases that are decades old.
Nuala O’Loan, who as ombudsman from 1999 to 2007 exposed the state’s use of informers who killed while in the crown’s pay, said such an inquiry unit should also be granted full powers of prosecution.
Most of the 3,269 murders committed during the conflict since it began in 1969 remain unsolved. More than 30,000 people were injured, many seriously.
In an interview with the Guardian, O’Loan said she was convinced that the police had deliberately destroyed evidence in “a lot” of killings involving the security forces. “That will inhibit the possibility of a full investigation.”
As up to a dozen loyalists await the verdict of a trial triggered by her investigation into the actions of state agents in the Ulster Volunteer Force, O’Loan said there could still be a “limited number of prosecutions” over deaths in the Troubles.
But the former ombudsman, now Lady O’Loan, stressed that a “Waking the Dead” style unit investigating Ulster’s recent conflict would not be tantamount to a truth commission like that which dealt with the apartheid era in South Africa.
“There should be one unified operation to deal with the past and it must be independent,” she said.
“It is not a truth commission because it would require that all the parties to the conflict tell the truth and I see no evidence that the parties are ready for that yet. And I am not sure that they ever will be.”
The victims were owed something, she said, and that should be a single independent historical investigations unit.
“This unit should have full police powers to arrest, to search, to seize property and material, anything relevant to the investigation.
“If you had all those powers and a single unit you would get huge efficiencies because we would not have three organisations doing the same work effectively trawling over the same ground.”
At present, crimes of the Troubles are examined by the historical enquiries team and the legacy branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Families of murder victims unhappy with investigations can ask the police ombudsman office to intervene.
O’Loan said dealing properly with Northern Ireland’s recent violent past would undermine the justification for the armed campaigns by the Real IRA and other dissident terror groups.
Revealing the truth and the reality behind all the armed actions of the Troubles would remove the argument for further violence, she said.
“I think if we are to manage the problem of the Real IRA we have to deal with the historic problem of criminality, murder etc in our time.
“I know that people say this will disturb the peace process by investigating the past but we are moving on and we need to do so on a sound, just basis.”
Referring to the loss of her unborn child in an IRA bombing while she was in a class at the University of Ulster, O’Loan said thousands more had been affected by the violence beyond the families of the 3,200 plus killed. She said that up to 150,000 to 200,000 people in Northern Irish society would have been damaged in the conflict.
“The impact on the whole of the community given that figure is huge. When you have a situation where there are people who can see others still walking down the street whom they know committed murder, that is not the foundation for a just society.”
The human rights campaigner denied she was “kicking at sleeping dogs” in her demand for the single unsolved crimes unit and creating the conditions to destabilise the political settlement in Northern Ireland.
“You would argue that the investigations the police ombudsman’s office have carried out have set people free,” she said. “In the case of the loyalists in North Belfast, as a result of these inquiries in that area ordinary people are freer than ever from the paramilitaries. It has changed the balance of power.”
She accepted that in many cases there would not be prosecutions of killers because evidence might have been destroyed in explosions at police stations or at the forensic headquarters the IRA blew up in 1990.
In addition, anyone convicted of a Troubles-related crime before the Good Friday agreement of 1998 is subject to a de facto amnesty under the peace accord and would not spend long in prison.
Truth and justice regarding the Troubles, however, may be sacrificed for pragmatic political reasons, O’Loan warned.
On her suggestion for a unified investigatory body with powers to arrest and prosecute she added: “I have seen nobody who wants to do that.
“My reading of what the politicians are saying is that they would much rather bury this stuff; that they want to live in the present. But the problem with living in the present is that if you don’t deal with the past then you don’t learn from it and you don’t prevent it from recurring.”
Three different approaches
The police ombudsman’s office
The office was established at the end of the 90s and any member of the Northern Ireland public can demand an inquiry into police malpractices or failings during or after the Troubles. The office has been at the centre of major controversies over crimes including the single biggest atrocity, the Omagh bomb massacre. O’Loan investigated claims that the RUC and Garda Síochána ignored tipoffs about the bomb plot in 1998 because they were more concerned with protecting their agents and sources inside the Real IRA. In Operation Ballast, O’Loan explored the role of police agents in the North Belfast UVF who were involved in crimes including murder, even while on the state’s payroll. Ballast led to the first so-called supergrass trial based on the evidence of a terrorist-turned-crown witness, which has put up to a dozen loyalists in the dock. As a result there will now be a second trial in 2012 using another supergrass, which could involve even more senior UVF figures.
The historical enquiries team
With more than 100 investigators and a budget of about £32m, the HET only reviews cases about the deaths and disappearances of loved ones during the Troubles. It has reopened files on more than 100 cases where British troops were involved in fatal shootings and has also investigated IRA atrocities such as the 1972 bombing of Claudy village in Co Derry, which found that a Catholic priest played a central role in transporting the bomb that killed nine civilians. HET, however, has no powers of prosecution.
The legacy unit
This section of the PSNI can carry out arrests and recommend prosecutions over past crimes carried out since 1969. Its results have been patchy and in some cases the wrong suspects have been arrested.
By PETER BERRESFORD ELLIS
Camden New Journal
15 December 2011
During the period 1969-1997, at various times, a total of 500 men and women were serving terms of imprisonment in England in relation to IRA activity.
By the spring of 1977, of 27 presumed Irish Republicans serving life or “indefinite” terms, 11 were destined for exoneration as victims of miscarriages of justice. Many more were serving lesser sentences, imprisoned on questionable evidence.
Large numbers of prisoners sustained injuries from beatings in prison, and by 1977 several prisoners had died in suspicious circumstances. Of these, Michael Gaughan was killed while being forcibly fed and Noel Jenkinson “officially” died of a heart attack.
Seán Ó Conaill was allowed to die through inadequate medical attention (after a cancer diagnosis was apparently ignored), while Frank Stagg died as a result of his injuries while on hunger strike.
Professor Ruán O’Donnell, author of Special Category: The IRA in English Prisons, calls it “an iniquitous and bizarre phase in the history of British justice”.
With the passing of the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), an atmosphere of fear pervaded the Irish communities in Britain. In the first seven years of the PTA some 5,000 “suspects” were arrested and held – of which 7 per cent were charged, and 98 per cent of those found innocent.
Arrests were often based on little more than the “suspects” being members of Irish cultural organisations. The phrase “innocent until proved Irish” was popular.
The conflict which brought this about had begun in the mid-1960s as a campaign for civil rights in Northern Ireland – a campaign against the oppressive Unionist legal system, which had been admired by both Hitler and Johannes Forster of Apartheid South Africa.
The conflict was allowed to escalate into full-scale guerrilla warfare to reunite Ireland, which had been undemocratically partitioned in 1922, thus depriving one third of the population under Unionist control of any hope of equal citizenship.
The oppressive British reaction to civil rights marches was a disaster. Nationalist communities armed themselves and began to fight back. British troops were sent in and the “Long War” commenced.
From 1973, IRA units had began to concentrate on taking their fight to Britain itself, and the result of the campaign led to a significant Irish prison population.
Irish republican prisoners in Britain were at first recognised as “political” by use of a “special category” status, which was available from June, 1972.
However, Britain’s Labour Party leadership had never been able to understand the “Irish question” – not even at the time of the 1916 uprising or the subsequent War of Independence, 1919-21. Michael Foot, in 1949, had actually written a paean of praise about the Unionist regime in the Daily Herald.
Perhaps it was no surprise, therefore, that it was Labour which started to pursue policies in 1976-77 which ensured not only an escalation of the conflict, but serious confrontation with IRA prisoners in Britain as well as Northern Ireland.
Government Ministers Merlyn Rees and Roy Mason began a “criminalisation” of prisoners, as well as deploying Special Forces (notably the SAS).
Republican prisoners refused to be criminalised, rejecting both prison uniforms and prison work requirements.
Left naked in their cells, conditions deteriorated into a spiral of punishment and protest which, by 1981, cost the lives of dozens of prisoners and warders.
For centuries, the hunger strike had been a standard protest of Irish political prisoners against the British. This was now used in an effort to obtain the return of the prisoners’ political status.
Throughout the “Long War” it was obvious that successive British governments viewed the conflict with a simplistic and misleading analysis. As Professor O’Donnell points out: “Mason’s autobiography revealed his incapacity to grasp the most basic political nuances demanded of his office.” Mason’s interpretation of the conflict was that it was an inexplicable sectarian civil war in which Britain had no interest or involvement except the role of “keeping the peace”.
Obviously, unless he was being disingenuous, Mason was totally ignorant of the history of these islands.
Labour’s policies, so enthusiastically taken up by the Thatcher administration in 1979, ensured and fuelled the continuance of the “Long War”.
But by the late 1970s it was clear to any intelligent and informed commentator, both in Ireland and in Britain, that no purely military solution could be achieved by either side.
Professor O’Donnell’s book shows how, in spite of their fears, many ordinary people came together in various movements in Britain to protest about the conditions that Irish prisoners were facing in Britain, as well as against the wider conflict.
Prisoners Aid Committees, lawyers struggling to challenge the injustices, the IRA prisoners themselves, with their alternative prison structures, discipline, planning and participation in escapes, successful and unsuccessful, prison riots and protests, are all documented in this excellent book.
• Special Category: The IRA in English Prisons Vol 1: 1968-1978. By Ruán O’Donnell. Irish Academic Press, Dublin, hardback £45 / paperback £19.95
• Peter Berresford Ellis, historian and novelist, is the author of many works including A History of the Irish Working Class (1972), and Eyewitness to Irish History (2006).
Tuesday 13 December 2011
The exoneration of Daniel Hegarty at a new inquest into his killing in 1972 may open the floodgates for fresh enquiries into flawed investigations during the Troubles.
On Friday night a jury in the inquest into the shooting dead of the 15 year-old Creggan boy by a British Army soldier during Operation Motorman on July 31, 1972 found that Daniel “posed no threat to anyone”.
A solicitor, acting on behalf of teenager’s family, said the findings could open the floodgates for a wave of cases which were not properly investigated during the 1970s and 1980s. The PSNI’s Historical Enquiries team found that the RUC investigation at the time was “hopelessly inadequate and dreadful”.
And the inquest into the teenager’s death heard last week that at the time of the killing (between 1970 and 1973) an agreement existed between the British Army and the RUC that the Royal Military Police (RMP) would take the lead in investigating any incidents involving troops. The inquest heard that the neither the RMP or the RUC interviewed the platoon commander in charge of the soldier who shot Daniel Hegarty almost 40 years ago.
Des Doherty, solicitor for the Hegarty family, told the ‘Journal’ that the believes there are many cases in which similar flawed and even “illegal” investigations took place. He referred to another fresh inquest into a historical case which was heard recently – that of UDR soldier Bernard Adamson who was fatally wounded after a colleague accidentally fired a live round instead of blanks during a training exercise in 1972. He said it was very similar to the Hegarty case “in terms of background”.
“The investigation in that case was also flawed because it was dealt with by the Royal Military Police,” he said. “In my view, in the cases I’ve been asked to look at, there is a welter of cases now in existence that I believe should be looked at very, very carefully because there are quite a number of inquests which took place during the 1970s and 1980s that may in fact be unlawful.”
He agreed that the high profile Daniel Hegarty case set a precedent, adding: “It’s a matter now for Government and the Attorney General’s office to look at this.”
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Senior Coroner John Leckey is to consider whether to refer the case of Daniel Hegarty to the Public Prosecution Service.
Mr Leckey said he would consider whether the findings of a jury, which completely exonerated 15 year-old Daniel Hegarty, indicate the commission of any criminal offence.
After almost four hours of deliberation, a ten-strong jury in the i- quest into the shooting dead of the teenager during Operation Motorman on July 31, 1972 found that he “posed no threat to anyone”. The jury further found that no “sufficient warnings” were given prior to the shooting and “no attempt” was made to render assistance to Daniel or his cousin Christopher (17), who was wounded in the head by a round from the same general purpose machine gun.
Speaking the ‘Journal’ after the verdict, Daniel’s sister Margaret Brady said the killing was “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
She added: “We’re very happy with the outcome but we didn’t come here for revenge, we came for truth and justice.”
1 December 2011
THE long-term impact of the Troubles on those affected by the violence is much worse than many people imagine, Health Minister Edwin Poots has said.
At a seminar organised by the Eastern Trauma Advisory Panel, Mr Poots said one in 10 people here have lost a relative in the conflict.
“Many more were physically or psychologically injured,” he said.
“Although the facts are there for everyone to see, there is widespread ignorance of the impact of this on the health and wellbeing of our population.
“We know that in Northern Ireland people most directly affected by the Troubles are more likely to experience poor mental health.”
He said the work of the Trauma Advisory Panels was vital in addressing these problems.
“The support and guidance they provide does make a difference in helping people recover and heal.
“Their aim is to ensure that services provided for these people reflect current best practice and can make a real difference to their lives.”
The minister launched a DVD demonstrating the panel members’ best practice and the benefit of accessing support and services through the groups and organisations for victims and survivors.