Some Advice (Possibly Too Late) For Gerry Adams

Before Gerry Adams offered himself to the PSNI for interview and questioning over the Jean McConville disappearance, perhaps he should have watched this video:

What Did Britain’s Richest Daddy Think Of The IRA Circa 1972?

By Ed Moloney & Bob Mitchell

What is the difference between ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ of the early 1970′s and ‘Downtown Abbey’ in the 2010′s, apart from the obvious four decades or so (and the quality of writing, which is vastly superior in ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’)?

They were both set in English stately homes and dealt with the contrasting lifestyles of the rich and privileged masters and mistresses and their servants, so superficially there seems no difference worth speaking of.

Except watching ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’, you couldn’t help but think that you were witnessing a relic, a piece of history that truly belonged in the past, that the vast inequalities it portrayed would never be revisited on English society.

Watching Downtown Abbey however you get a very different impression, that the class differences of ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ are making a comeback and that while we may not see the stately home return with its footmen, butlers and kitchen skivvies, courtesy of Thatcher, Blair and now the Bullingdon set presided over by Cameron, Osborne and the execrable Boris, the income inequality that characterised pre-welfare state Britain and which made the stately home possible is back.

Confirmation of that came recently from Oxfam which published research that showed that the richest five families had more wealth that the poorest twenty per cent of Britain’s population, or some 12.6 million people.

The 6th Duke of Westminster

The 6th Duke of Westminster

The richest of the five, with more wealth than most people can dream of, is the Duke of Westminster. Here below you can read how much he has and where he gets his wealth, which derives mostly from property in central London and the ritziest parts of the West End.


His daddy, the 5th Duke of Westminster and former MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone

His daddy, the 5th Duke of Westminster and former MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone

The current Duke of Westminster, the sixth, lives permanently in London but his father, the fifth Duke, lived mostly in Co Fermanagh in a house called Ely Lodge on an island on Lough Erne, commuting to London when he needed to take care of estate matters.

He was very active in Unionist politics and for many years was the Westminster MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone (although he didn’t live long enough to see his seat captured by Bobby Sands, one wonders what would have gone through his mind if he had).

Ely Lodge, Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh - the family seat

Ely Lodge, Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh – the family seat

Below are two letters the sixth Duke wrote to prime minister Ted Heath around the time of the June/July 1972 IRA ceasefire and unearthed recently from the National Archive at Kew. It would be difficult to find a more revealing insight into the mind of a certain Anglo-Irish type at the height of the Troubles, in this case expressing frustration and anger over the inability to defeat the IRA.

We reproduce them here without comment, since that would be superfluous, except to note that in the second letter to Heath he proposes something very similar to Operation Motorman and mentions that “two Generals” (unnamed alas) he had spoken to recently were of a similar mind. By the end of the month something very like the military operation he suggested was put in place.

An Even Shorter Response To Gerry Adams


Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams

I don’t intend to spill a lot of ink responding to Gerry Adams’ recent statement taking yet another swipe at the motives of those who were interviewed and who did the interviewing for the Boston College oral history archive.

That is because I have already answered a very similar charge from Mary Lou McDonald.

Essentially Gerry Adams is saying that anyone who is interviewed about the Provisionals who is not with his programme and makes allegations about his IRA career and history that he contests and denies, must be making them up for malicious and mendacious reasons.

Implicitly he is also saying that such people should not be allowed an audience and should be ignored or even silenced.

The core issue is the denial of his IRA membership from which all else flows, including the Jean McConville affair. Without that denial of their shared lives, and the shunting of responsibility onto others that it implies, I seriously doubt whether Brendan Hughes would ever have given Boston College an interview and I don’t think Dolours Price would have gone to the Irish News to speak of her role in disappearing Jean McConville (it is conveniently forgotten, incidentally, that she never mentioned Jean McConville in her interviews with Boston College).

And if they hadn’t spoken, the Jean McConville business would never have emerged in the way it has. It is important to remember that Gerry Adams brought all the business about his IRA membership and role in Jean McConville’s death on himself. If he had not denied his IRA past (and that does not mean admitting it either) none of this would have happened.

Personally I do not give a tinkers whether Gerry Adams is, was or ever wanted to be in the IRA. But when a major political leader tells such an obvious falsehood about a defining part of his life – and by extension must be capable of telling lies about other issues of more direct relevance to others’ lives – then I do believe that it the journalist’s job, and the historian’s too, to subject that claim to the most stringent scrutiny.

Let me give an example from the place where I now live, the United States. Let us imagine that as a journalist I had been covering the career of Barack Obama for some years and was intimately familiar his family history. I knew for example all about his White mother from Kansas and his Black father from Kenya.

And let us suppose that when Barack Obama decides to make a run for the White House he suddenly changes his life story. Now he claims, in an effort to maximise the African-American vote, that his mother was actually a Black woman from South Carolina or the Bronx, not a White one.

What should the ethical journalist do? Should he or she just tamely report the claim and leave it there – perhaps at most noting en passant that not everyone accepts his story – or energetically investigate it and if he or she finds that Obama is lying then say so? There is no doubt in my mind what the principled journalist should do.

Well, ignoring the central falsehood in Gerry Adams’ life story would be very much like accepting Barack Obama’s Black mother claim – and equally unacceptable to any journalist with integrity.

Even though the US media is a shadow of what it was pre-9/11, I would like to think that enough journalists there would rise to the challenge and show Obama to be a liar.

Can we say the same about the Irish media in relation to Gerry Adams’ life story? I would like to say yes but I am not sure I can. But I can understand why and I have full sympathy for those in the media so affected.

The reason why Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald attack myself, Anthony McIntyre and the Boston archive in the way they do is not just because they dislike us, or the little bit of the product which they know of, that has come out of the archive.

No, it is to intimidate others in the media so as to discourage them from delving too deeply into the Provisionals’ secrets. The message is clear: dig too deep and we’ll do to you what we have done to Moloney & Co, we’ll call you the same names and behind your backs we’ll blacken your reputation to your colleagues and your employers. Now, see if you like that!

The problem is that it works.

A Short response To Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald

On last night’s Late Late Show on RTE, Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein trotted out the hoary canard that the Boston College oral history archive had a political agenda when choosing who to interview or not interview for the project.

Long before I left Ireland to live in America, Sinn Fein was employing the same tactic against myself, accusing me of political bias in my coverage of the peace process and in particular claiming that I was prejudiced against and even obsessed with Gerry Adams. It was clear to me then as now what the real purpose of this slur was.

This is an old public relations trick designed to intimidate other members of the media by demonstrating what could happen to them if they followed my example and probed too deeply into the opaque depths of the Provisionals’ internal politics. Unfortunately such tactics all too often work and their result is always to the benefit of the initiators, in this case less scrutiny of their business.

In relation to the Boston project, Mary Lou cites two interviewees to justify this accusation. One was Brendan Hughes, the other Dolours Price. Is she really saying that when it comes to compiling a history of the IRA and the Troubles, the woman who led the first IRA bombing team to London and the man who was Gerry Adams’ closest buddy and whose IRA career is the stuff of which legends are made should be excluded because they and Sinn Fein had fallen out?

So who then, Mary Lou should be allowed to speak for the history books for Sinn Fein and the IRA? Only those who parrot the party line of who was or was not in the IRA? Really? What sort of history would that produce?

No, the truth about the Boston project in this regard is disappointingly prosaic. The biggest problem we had was persuading anyone to be interviewed at all and we accepted what we could get in many instances. Inevitably some people will be more motivated than others for reasons to do with their experiences with the IRA but that is the nature of the beast and their stories are as valid as anyone’s.

We also attempted to spread the interviews among different organisations so that this would not be a project dominated by Provisionals.

Mary Lou makes her allegation in complete ignorance of the truth. She does not know who we interviewed. She only knows about two of them out of nearly thirty and from that small sample she draws huge and in this case erroneous conclusions.

In the circumstances I am more than ready to forgive her; after all she joined this organisation when the war which so scarred the lives of Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes – and many others – was thankfully over. She has no personal, first-hand experience of these issues and has to rely on others in her party for her information. I can therefore understand why she has got the story so badly wrong.

“Political Policing Preventing Democracy In Forthcoming Elections” – Guest Column by Ciaran Mulholland

I decided several months ago after lengthy deliberations, discussions and meetings throughout the community that I would throw my hat into the ring and run in the forthcoming local government elections as an Independent Candidate, offering an alternative to the toxic and failed politics of established parties. Standing on a socialist republican ticket I felt that there was a serious need for urgent change and a political appetite was evolving that demanded an alternative.

The campaign has great momentum in West Belfast with a strong visible presence on the ground highlighting the flaws of the political parties and the social and economic deprivation of the Ward. I have been concentrating on the bread and butter issues, and displaying a credible drive to tackle the poverty and social changes our community are about to experience.

The fact that I am running as an Independent Candidate, affiliated to no political party, is a core reason why many socialists, republicans, community activists and others felt comfortable in supporting and assisting the campaign. Furthermore, given my open declaration that if successfully elected I will be solely answerable to my community, has facilitated many endorsements from the wider socialist republican family in Belfast, and beyond.

These determined and driven individuals are the backbone of the election campaign and come from all walks of life; the campaign as such, has provided a common platform for all who are genuine in seeking an alternative voice elected to bring positive change and honest representation to west Belfast.

Given the viable alternative being offered and the enthusiasm met on the doorsteps of the Black Mountain Ward, it is unfortunate, yet expected, that the scaremongers and smear campaigns have been instigated by the status quo that fear real and positive alternatives.

It is of grave concern that several members of my election team are now incarcerated, essentially, interned by remand. Others have had their homes raided recently by the PSNI and integral members of the election team have been arrested, including that of my election manager Ivor Bell.

These are serious issues and should be condemned by all, including the constitutional parties who have been elected on the back of human rights abuses. This is an attack on all our human rights and a threat to democracy. Let it be known to those who support the idea of political policing, that this will not deter the hard work or voice of the working class and the will of our people will only be strengthened by such actions. We are confident and determined to succeed.

“If you strike at, imprison, or kill us, out of our prisons or graves we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, raise a force that will destroy you! We defy you! Do your worst!”
James Connolly

Independent Candidate for Black Mountain Ward

‘On The Runs’ Trickery By Blair Shows How The Future Is Trapped By The Past

The article below, dated June 2007, by Belfast Telegraph reporter, Chris Thornton highlights two potentially destructive pitfalls in the path of the still not-quite-stable peace process in Northern Ireland.

One is that the trickery and sleight of hand that characterised Tony Blair’s handling of the Iraq invasion, and pretty much everything else during his time as British prime minister, was also evident in his dealings over the peace process in Northern Ireland. The other is the potential of the past to hold the future hostage.


Reading Chris’ piece it is quite apparent that Blair told the DUP one thing about the way wanted IRA fugitives – ‘on-the-runs’ or OTR’s – would be treated and quite another to the Provos. The Shinners were seemingly told that the OTR’s, some 187 of them, would not be pursued by the police. The DUP on the other hand appear to have been told that the OTR’s would get no special treatment and would be hauled before the courts if caught. But no public announcement was made, meaning officially the issue remained unresolved.

It is all very typical of the chicanery and dissimulation that Blair employed when he played politics; all that mattered was the endgame. How you got there, who you lied to and what happened way in the future in terms of damage was secondary to getting results in the here and now. And even if people did eventually find him out, it would probably be too late to make a difference.

Except the issue of the OTR’s touches the third rail in NI politics, the unresolved issue of the past, of who did what to whom and why and who, ultimately, is to blame for the violence of three and a half decades? Unlike most of the domestic English and Welsh issues which Blair and New Labour dealt with in this way, the matter of blame for the Troubles is something that could only be dealt with honestly and openly.

Anyway read Chris Thornton’s article and make up your own minds (incidentally I did a pretty comprehensive search of newspaper archives and Chris’s was the last article on OTR’s in any of the major Irish newspapers until the recent Downey row):

More than 100 republicans still on run from justice
By Chris Thornton
747 words
22 June 2007
Belfast Telegraph
(c)2007 Independent News & Media (Northern Ireland). All Rights Reserved.
Dozens already cleared to return but ‘no plans for fresh legislation’

Another 84 OTRs – the initials stand for on the runs – have already been cleared to return to Northern Ireland without facing jail time, according to statistics released to the Belfast Telegraph by the Attorney General’s office.

That includes almost 50 people who spent at least a decade on the run but who were never wanted in the first place.

Material released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the number of OTRs is far higher than previous estimates.

The names of almost 200 people have been passed to the Government by Sinn Fein over the past seven years, while London wrestled with mechanisms to allow them to return.

The most recent list was passed last September – a month before the DUP declared it had killed off the issue.

During the eight years that OTRs have been a political issue, one fugitive has been recaptured. Michael Rogan stood trial for bombing Thiepval Barracks and was cleared in 2005.

Of the 193 other people whose cases have been considered, 84 have been told they are free to return without fear of arrest.

Forty-seven have spent at least the last decade thinking they were being sought by police, but the Attorney General said checks have shown they were not wanted by any police force in the UK.

Outstanding warrants were dropped in 15 cases when the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was not a sufficient case to bring to court.

Another 22 had already been convicted: 11 of them – mainly Maze escapees – had served the two years in prison necessary to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement.

The other 11 – including escapees from the Crumlin Road jail who were sentenced but did not serve time – were freed under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

Currently, 75 people remain wanted, and they form a sticky political wicket for the Government.

Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised Sinn Fein he would allow the fugitives to return, but attempts at legislation have twice run into the sand.

Sinn Fein says there is an anomaly that needs to be resolved, but the DUP says the Government has killed off the issue and there will be no further moves to allow OTRs to return.

There have been suggestions that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, could drop their cases in the public interest.

But the legal authorities have resisted that suggestion, with Lord Goldsmith declaring that the offences concerned are too serious to be dropped.

Of the 75 people who remain wanted, eight are wanted for return to prison, meaning they have not served sufficient sentences for an Agreement release.

Another 46 are wanted for questioning by police and 21 are wanted to face trial.

Another 34 cases are still being reviewed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Previous published estimates of the number of OTR cases put them far lower than the 194 now confirmed by the Government.

Between 60 and 80 names were thought to have been put forward by Sinn Fein, although some republicans accurately forecast 200 names at an early stage of the process.

The Northern Ireland Office said it accepts that the  issue of OTRs will have to be dealt with at some stage.

A spokesman said: The Government’s position on OTRs remains the same: we accept that OTRs are in an anomalous position and the issue will need to be addressed at some stage, but we have no plans for legislation or amnesties.

That’s not the DUP’s understanding. Last year, it declared that this matter is put to rest once and for all.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said at the time: The Prime Minister has made it clear that there is going to be no amnesty for IRA terrorists on the run.

Neither will it be done by reintroducing the deeply offensive legislation or by some kind of back door deal.

Sinn Fein once indicated that Tony Blair would deal with the issue before leaving office, but that now looks unlikely.

The Attorney General’s office refused to disclose the names of those individuals who are wanted, saying it could cut the chance of them being caught.

The Belfast Telegraph will appeal that decision on the basis that details of the case have been given to third parties, and presumably those individuals know they are on the wanted list.

The American Prison Torture – Solitary Confinement

I should have been writing about the solitary confinement of prisoners in America long before this and I have been prompted to take pen to paper by the gratifying news that at long last this most cruel but unfortunately usual form of punishment in America is at last on the political agenda.

(A note of explanation to Irish readers: IRA and Loyalist prisoners regularly experienced solitary confinement in places like the Maze but nothing like what exists in America; paramilitary prisoners could face a few weeks ‘on the board’ and consider themselves hard done by. In America it is not unusual for terms of solitary confinement to last for years; in California the average is 6.8 years; 78 prisoners there have spent more than 20 years in solitary. In Louisiana, the Angola Three have spent between 29 and 40 years in solitary. The federal jails can be worse: one prisoner has spent 28 years in solitary. Compared to this the Maze was a Butlin’s holiday camp!)

That the reform of solitary is being discussed seriously and with a view to reform is due in no small measure to the heroic efforts of a couple of friends of mine, Jim Ridgeway, who is something of a legend in American journalism, and Jean Casella who a few years back created the website ‘Solitary Watch’ to highlight this uniquely American form of prison torture which at the most recent count, in 2005, had over 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement.

American prisons, as Jessica Mitford wrote four decades ago, are a business, except nowadays a huge and very profitable business which relies on a steady stream of mostly African-Americans being incarcerated, often for extraordinarily lengthy terms to generate income and dividends for the corporations that own and run America’s prisons.

Many are convicted on drugs charges that are disproportionately leveled at Blacks rather than Whites; for example recommended sentences for possession white powder cocaine, the drug du jour of Wall Street are considerably less than for crack cocaine, widely regarded as the drug of the ghetto.

In the antebellum South, Black slaves were exploited for huge profit in the cotton fields of Mississippi and Alabama; thanks to America’s draconian drug laws, their offspring perform the same function for the likes of the Corrections Corporation of America in 2014. It’s not called slavery any more but it might as well be.

At the last count some two million people were incarcerated in America; to put that in perspective, that is twenty-five per cent of the world’s jail inmates from a country that has only five per cent of the globe’s population, the largest per capita prison population in the world, a captive and cheap source of labour.

I know that Jim & Jean will not welcome being singled out for their role in highlighting the horrors of solitary confinement but the fact is that when they started their website, it was one of those subjects that was so far down the agenda in this country that it seemed, at least to me, very unlikely to make an impact.

It was a bit like campaigning for gay rights in the 1950′s; laudable and worthy but marginal.

The sad truth is that this is a law and order country which elevates its police and security agencies to an unreal status. There is also a disturbing toleration of cruel punishment in the criminal justice system which ranges from obscenely long sentences to solitary confinement, sometimes for decades. And of course there is capital punishment.

The conventional wisdom always was that tampering with the system of solitary confinement was a political taboo. Inflicting such punishment was so popular with the voters that no politician would dare suggest changing it.

But the winds of change are gently blowing through parts of America. Fewer and fewer States execute prisoners for instance and now New York has announced a major reform of the solitary confinement system while the US Senate is holding hearings that are so well attended they have had to move to a larger room. Other States are debating change. The mainstream media has also started to show an interest and coverage is widening. It is as if Americans are beginning to realise the shame such practices bring upon their country.

None of this was happening when Jim & Jean started their work. They saw the change coming before others and then helped speed it up,. They say that for mountains to move, thousands of pebbles must first roll down the hillsides. As pebbles go, ‘Solitary Watch’ has done one hell of a job.

Below is a fascinating if disturbing video interview with Sam Mandez who spent over 15 years in solitary. His story is an awful indictment of the American prison business.