Monthly Archives: November 2013

Fr. Alec Reid & The Two Corporals: The Day The RUC Turned A Blind Eye

Fr. Alec Reid - Bloodstains on his face were from attempts to give mount-to-mouth resuscitation

Fr. Alec Reid – this iconic photo shows bloodstains on his face which were from his attempts to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dying British soldier

The Tipperary-born Redemptorist priest, Fr Alec Reid, who died today, will always be remembered for two things. One was his role in the peace process as the secret envoy, from as early as 1982, for SF leader Gerry Adams as he reached out to the Irish and British governments with proposals for an end to the IRA’s war and Sinn Fein’s entry into constitutional politics. That all culminated, as history records, in the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998.

The other was his part in one of the most extraordinarily violent few days of the Troubles, which began with the SAS execution of three IRA would-be bombers in Gibraltar on March 6th, 1988, was followed by Loyalist freelance gunman, Michael Stone’s pistol and grenade attack on mourners at their funerals ten days later and then the deaths a couple of days after that, at the hands of a mob, of two British corporals who had accidentally strayed into the path of the funeral of one of Stone’s victims.

Driving into the funeral crowd in a civilian car, the pair were evidently mistaken for Loyalist extremists. They were dragged out of the vehicle, bundled into a nearby sports ground where they were searched, stripped and beaten and then driven by black taxi to waste ground where a single gunman shot them dead.

I once watched the British Army’s ‘heli-teli’ footage of the incident, shot from a helicopter overhead, and it was the one of most riveting and disturbing pieces of film I ever saw. What sticks in my mind is the way the crowd surrounding the soldiers’ car behaved as a single organism, swaying backwards and forwards almost like a flower opening and closing, or a wave crashing against rocks and ebbing away, when one of the soldiers produced a pistol and brandished it out of the driver’s window.

When the soldier produced his pistol, the crowd swayed as if a single organism.

When the soldier produced his pistol, the crowd swayed back and forth like a single organism.

Fr Reid was there that day and there is a photograph of him, which I can’t immediately locate, of him deep in conversation with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as they followed the cortege.

When the crowd abducted the two corporals and threw them over a gate into the sports ground, he followed them and by all accounts pleaded for the soldiers’ lives. When the pair were taken away by black taxi he followed and attempted to resuscitate them after they had been shot.

There was a massive RUC investigation afterwards which centred on identifying those who had surrounded the soldiers’ car and had carried them away to their deaths. Provo stewards confiscated dozens of film rolls from press photographers to make the police’s job harder and I remember watching Sinn Fein officials emptying bags of them inside the party’s press centre not long afterwards.

The police were able nonetheless to identify a large number of participants from surviving media photos and brought prosecutions but their search for witnesses who might have been able to further help their inquiries was less successful.

One man who had a ringside seat, as it were, was Fr Reid, who was on a first name basis with many of the Provos at the funeral, not least some of those who helped kill the corporals. I don’t know if he knew the identity of the gunman who pulled the trigger (who was a very senior Belfast IRA figure) but if he didn’t, he knew most of those who had delivered the soldiers to death at his hands.

The RUC wanted to question him but they never did. The reason why I can now tell, given that Fr Reid is no longer with us and the promise I gave more than a decade ago to keep silent no longer holds.

The story gives a remarkable insight into what was supposedly a highly secret and barely developed process and it suggests that the journey to the GFA was way more advanced at that early point (six years before the first IRA ceasefire) than anyone would dare admit.

Knowing that the police would want to question him and that he if told the truth and identified the soldiers’ assailants his usefulness as an intermediary for Gerry Adams and the Provo peace camp would end, Reid approached a senior official in the Northern Ireland Office to explain his problem.

The NIO was well aware of the IRA’s slow journey towards constitutionalism by this point. Fr Reid had already been in touch with Tom King, the then NI Secretary to explain the process and to win his support for it while the most senior officials at the NIO had been assigned to work on it (similar advances had been made to Charles Haughey in Dublin and 1988 also saw Sinn Fein and the SDLP meet followed by the so-called Hume-Adams talks, encounters that were designed to disguise Haughey’s role in the process).

The peace process was actually very well advanced and everyone seemed to know it except the general public – and of course the Provo grassroots.

So, Reid explained his difficulty to the man at the NIO and soon contact was made with the RUC Chief Constable, Sir John Hermon and the order was quietly passed down: on no account should detectives investigating the corporals’ killings bring Fr Alec Reid in for questioning.

People who were involved in those two deaths – murders in the eyes of the State – escaped prosecution thanks to the NIO/RUC decision to put the infant peace process ahead of the needs of criminal justice.

It is worth bearing this in mind when judging the sanctimonious cant about victims’ needs for justice that has flowed in the wake of John Larkin’s remarks this week that there should be a halt to all pre-1998 prosecutions for the sake of a peace process that these days looks far from healthy.

John Larkin & The Past – The Hidden Translations

Today’s Irish Times carries reactions from British, Southern and Northern Irish politicians to Attorney-General John Larkin’s suggestion that there be a moratorium on Troubles-era prosecutions as well as a halt to pre-1998 inquests and inquiries. What the Times did not do was provide the all-important translations of those remarks, the real meaning hidden behind the flowery press statements. Happily, is able to correct that oversight. Irish Times reports are in italics.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued a measured response by saying the suggestion would be hard for families who had lost loved ones in the Troubles to accept. ‘I think it would be difficult for families on either side of the dark time in Northern Ireland if you were to follow, for instance, that advice and put in place what the Attorney General recommended,’ he said in the Dáil yesterday.

Translation: “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding. Give up the biggest stick I have to hit that bastard Adams with? No way!”

British prime minister David Cameron insisted the British government had no plans to legislate on any form of amnesty, and added: “The words of the Northern Ireland Attorney General are very much his own words.”

Translation: “Golly, John! Terribly brave of you and so many thanks for taking the heat. Just wish I had been able to do the same for poor Rebecca. The CO of 1 Para has personally asked me to pass on his deep gratitude. Now, about that vacancy on the bench. Any chance you might settle instead for honorary membership of the Bullingdon Club?”.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the needs of the victims and their families had to be the priority. “There is already an agreed way for dealing with pre-’98 cases. I have not yet heard a convincing argument for changing that,” he said.

Translation: “Thank fuck they’re not digging into that East German printing press and that very special North Korean paper. Made perfect $50 bills. Or so I’m told. I never saw any, of course. You do realise that, don’t you? Never! As for Seamus Costello, or those brothels that were run with the UVF in Belfast or the building site rackets that certain comrades in the Markets ran, I knew absolutely nothing about them. Hi Tonto, how are ye after all these years!”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said he was deeply suspicious about the timing of the proposal coming at a time when US diplomat Dr Richard Haass is trying to reach agreement on how to deal with the past, flags and parades.

Translation: “You know, I really should have stayed at UTV. They had a great pension plan.”

Sinn Fein TD Gerry Adams said “whatever mechanisms are agreed in the future they need to be victim centred”.

Translation: “So long as they don’t include Joe Lynskey, Seamus Wright, young McKee, that bloody woman McConville and Paddy Joe Crawford then I’m all for it.”

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said “there are 3,000 unsolved murders in Northern Ireland and those families are entitled to the right to pursue justice”.

Translation: “Except the Fenian ones.”

Support for the idea came from former British Labour Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain. “I think the Attorney General said what needed to be said. He was right to put his head above the parapet, because this issue is not going to go away.”

Translation: “Can’t we do this in Iraq as well? Tony told me he’s be most grateful if we could. And you know how grateful Tony can be these days.”

The leader of the new NI21 party, Basil McCrea, also expressed support.

Translation: Who is Basil McCrea?

John Larkin’s Priceless Quote

Comments by the Northern Ireland Attorney General, John Larkin urging an end to all Troubles-era prosecutions in Northern Ireland as well as inquests and inquiries has blown up a predictable storm in the usual circles. The details can be read here in a balanced BBC report which, interestingly, quotes PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot using words which clearly signal his approval of Larkin’s remarks. Did Larkin run his ideas past the PSNI before going public? And if the PSNI want this, will it happen? Interesting questions.

John Larkin, NI's Attorney General, recommending end to Troubles-era prosecutions

John Larkin, NI’s Attorney General, recommending end to Troubles-era prosecutions

Anyway, there will be plenty of time for analysis and examination of the AG’s proposal in the coming days. For the time being, I just want to highlight one wonderful quote from his interview with, I believe, The Belfast Telegraph. Here it is:

 What I am saying is take the lawyers out of it. I think lawyers are very good at solving practical problems in the here and now, but lawyers aren’t good at historical research.

The people who should be getting history right are historians, so in terms of recent history, the people who are making the greatest contribution are often journalists.

Just Who On Earth Has Glenn Greenwald Agreed To Work For?


Like myself, I am sure that many regular readers were intrigued by Glenn Greenwald’s announcement last month that he was leaving The Guardian to start a new online journalism venture funded by eBay founder and billionaire Pierre Omidyar. The former lawyer and blogger has teamed up with Laura Poitras, with whom he worked to publish Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, and Jeremy Scahill, famed for his acerbic and penetrating coverage of America’s adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.

Glenn Greenwald, leaving Guardian for job with internet billionaire

Glenn Greenwald, leaving Guardian for job with internet billionaire

Understandably, the new venture received a largely warm welcome from many in the mainstream media not just because it promised added scrutiny of a security state gone AWOL, but because it also provided a business model, albeit one dependent on a very rich sugar daddy, that might rescue the US media from decline and despair.

I have to say that my own curiosity cum anticipation was tempered by concerns about that last matter. Why would a multi-billionaire internet tycoon invest $250 million of his own cash unless he expected to get something out of it? After all these guys are not exactly renowned for their charity work.

Added to that are my own niggling doubts about Greenwald. There’s no doubt that when it comes to excessive state power, Glenn is the guy to take on the Washington behemoth, as his NSA coverage has demonstrated. But what about Wall Street’s excessive power, or the exploitative business models that internet billionaires like Omidyar have created, or the untrammeled economic domination of American life exercised by corporations in this country. I just can’t remember Glenn Greenwald getting as upset by those issues as he has done over the erosion of privacy rights. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not belittling his work just pointing out an obvious gap.

Pierre Omidyar - his micro-financing ventures in India drove people to suicide

Pierre Omidyar – his micro-financing ventures in India drove people to suicide

I also wonder what due diligence he, Poitras and Scahill carried out before they agreed to go into business with Omidyar. I ask because I have just come across a disturbing profile of the eBay founder and his business practices and reading it one has to ask did Greenwald et al know any of this before signing on a dotted line or were they just bewitched by the prospect of spending someone else’s $250 million on something they love doing?

The article, ‘The Extraordinary Pierre Omidyar’, has just appeared in that excellent publication ‘nsfwcorp’, and I reproduce it below with a hearty recommendation that you read it. Once you do, I am confident that like myself, you will ask yourself the obvious question: what on earth is Glenn Greenwald doing, working for this creep?

TweetNo-one, least of all myself, would suggest that Glenn Greenwald does not write or has not written about subjects like Wall Street excess, corporate greed or inequality. Of course he has. But let’s face it, when you think of his name you associate him with exposing the awfulness of government in America, particularly the horrors of US foreign policy and the seemingly inexorable growth of the Big Brother state. And very good and necessary journalism it is as well. But one does wonder and is entitled to ask that if he was better known for the sort of journalism that, for instance, Matt Taibbi makes his speciality, journalism that calls for regulation of the economic system rather than the deregulation of the state – as so many of these internet billionaires seem to favor – Mr Omidyar would have been so quick to reach for his check book. The acid test is a simple one: will this new journalistic venture expose the crimes of businesses that drive poverty-stricken Indians to suicide, as Omidyar’s micro-financing outfits have, as eagerly and deeply as the crimes of the NSA?

Over To You, Gerry…………