Catherine has a somewhat more jaundiced view of Alec Reid, one fashioned by the cleric’s extraordinary intervention in the wake of the vicious beating of Geoff Commander, a family friend and campaigner for the truth about her brother’s death, an intervention made on behalf of those who had administered the beating not the victim.
As this posting appears, the former US diplomat Richard Haass is in the final stages of negotiating an agreement with Northern Ireland’s politicians that will propose a way of dealing with the past, specifically designed to establish the truth of who did what to whom and why during the Troubles. We shall see if the agreed process, assuming there is one, is capable of telling the truth about Robert McCartney’s death.
Catherine McCartney, pictured at the time of her brother’s death
By Catherine McCartney
The death of Alec Reid has brought with it the usual outpourings of inflated eulogies and unexamined claims about the life of the Redemptorist priest. Media, politicians, church and the Catholic faithful lined up to pay homage to the humanity of this great man while the presence of unionist politicians at his funeral was hailed as illustrative of the fruition of his peace work.
I hadn’t heard of Alec Reid before 2005 and news of his death evoked a different emotion in me. In January of that year my brother Robert was murdered by the IRA outside a Belfast bar, stabbed to death in the most cowardly way and the killing covered up using the full resources of the IRA and its leadership. Ordinarily the murder of a man such as Robert, a working class Catholic from a republican ghetto – Short Strand, the smallest and most vulnerable Catholic area in Belfast – who was killed by his own, would have warranted little attention. However various factors combined to make the fall out a little more extraordinary.
First, was the reaction of my family. We went public, naming the IRA as responsible and demanding his killers be brought to justice – as did the community. For them Robert’s murder could not be placed within an ‘excusable context’ i.e. punishment beating for drug dealing or some other charge, an attitude that indicated that people in Short Strand were fed up with the IRA’s thuggish treatment of them.
Second, his murder came on the heels of the Northern Bank robbery in December 2004 just before Robert’s murder. The cockiness of the IRA at a time when it was supposed to be moving towards decommissioning its weaponry, was a result of the destructive approach that both the British and Irish governments had adopted to IRA criminality for the previous decade. Both London and Dublin had decided to ‘turn a blind eye’ to IRA excesses on the grounds that the Provo leadership needed to reassure its grassroots that no sellout was planned; every now and then a robbery or a killing served to give that reassurance and both governments were complicit in the deceit.
But the robbery put the brakes on the infamous ‘peace process train’ and many commentators concluded that it could be years before there was any further movement. The fall out from Robert’s murder presented an opportunity to the establishment to start the train up again.
As a result the IRA/Sinn Fein came under pressure from the political establishment and our campaign was an instrumental cause of this. They, that is the Provisional leadership, viewed Robert‘s murder as an inconvenience and they were damned if they were going to allow it to lessen any leverage they held within the process.
The IRA leadership’s core objectives were: protecting the murderers, shutting the family up and maintaining control of the community.
Between January and October of that year we received three death threats, there were bomb warnings, and pickets were placed outside the house; eventually we had to move out of Short Strand where we had been born and bred. Essentially it was us against the might of the IRA.
The climax to the intimidation came in September. The community remained angry at Robert’s murder and this spilled over into an altercation with local IRA thugs. This signaled a loosening of the IRA’s grip. To bring the community back into line and steady the ‘green jackboot’ on the necks of the people Geoff Commander, a friend of Robert’s, was brutally attacked by up to eight men as he walked home alone one night.
Geoff refused to be bowed and reported the thugs to the police and charges were brought. Various interventions were made by groups and individuals on behalf of the IRA e.g. Community Restorative Justice (this organisation was closely affiliated to the Provos) to dissuade Geoff from proceeding with the case.
These overtures failed and Geoff and his wife Sinead remained steadfast in their determination to get justice. It was into this very intimidating and volatile situation that Fr. Alec Reid stepped. It would be natural to assume that given the circumstances this intervention would have been of a pastoral nature. Being devout Catholics both would have welcomed the support of a priest. But they were to be disappointed.
Alec Reid rang the Commander household and spoke with Sinead. He asked her to persuade Geoff to drop the charges against those charged. He didn’t give any specific reason as to why the men should not face justice; the fate of the peace process didn’t depend on it, the interest of ‘peace’ would not be served by it, the ‘greater good’ was not at stake.
There was no discernible reason given as to why Geoff should allow his brutal attackers escape justice, and not only that but allow the IRA to retain its grip on the community by increasing people’s fear of the consequences of reporting its crimes to the police. Alec Reid didn’t ask after the family. Sinead was flabbergasted at his request and told him: ‘Father my husband could have come home to me in a box, just like Robert McCartney’. He merely muffled acknowledgement of this but repeated his request for consideration of the matter.
This was how I came to know of Alec Reid. Alec Reid chose to stand with those responsible for the murder of an innocent man, the attackers of Geoff and the IRA in the intimidation and isolation of my family. By intervening on behalf of the IRA to have assault charges against Geoff’s IRA attackers dropped, Alec Reid intervened against the vulnerable, against right and against justice.
When I am asked what I think of Alec Reid my simple response is, ‘Provie priest’. In Belfast everyone knows what that means.
The Mass Card reproduced above is the only photograph I was ever able to trace of Paddy Joe Crawford and it may be, for all I know, the only representation of the 22-year old Provisional IRA victim in existence.
There ought to be something very special created to remember him, for his was not only one of the saddest deaths of the Troubles, it ranked as one of the most barbarous. Now a Belfast songwriter by the name of Dave Thompson has done just that and created a fitting memorial. So, I am grateful to have this opportunity to unveil his tribute to, and remembrance of Paddy Joe, a song called ‘Falling’.
But first a few words of explanation.
Accused of informing but denied the opportunity to defend himself, Paddy Joe Crawford was taken by IRA comrades in the internee huts at Long Kesh in June 1973 and hanged – lynched might be a more fitting word – with all the macabre and grisly ceremonial that accompanies such executions. As if that was not enough, the IRA went on to lie about his death, circulating the story that Paddy Joe had taken his own life.
For nearly four decades that lie was pinned to Paddy Joe as firmly as the accusation that he was an informer, although the lie was purely for public consumption; inside the IRA the reality of his death was a well known secret, something most activists knew about but like the deranged sister locked away in the upstairs attic, would never talk about.
The truth of Paddy Joe’s death appears to be that like scores of young men who joined the IRA in those early years of the Troubles – none of whom were ever trained in counter-interrogation techniques – he broke under questioning. But only he was singled out for death, presumably to warn others of what might happen if they spoke too freely to the police or army.
He was not an informer in the accepted sense, he did not act as an agent, regularly passing on information on a group he had infiltrated to handlers he met in secret. Just a frightened boy who blurted out the truth to people in uniforms, authority figures of a sort that had dominated his life ever since he was handed over to a religious order for rearing a mere eleven days after his birth.
It is hard not to believe that it was his orphan status, his lack of a close family that singled him out for hanging by the IRA. Who would care about Paddy Joe Crawford? Who would ask the awkward and necessary questions about the manner of his death? And so Paddy Joe Crawford was disappeared by the IRA, every bit as completely as Jean McConville, Joe Lynskey, Seamus Wright, Kevin McKee or Eamon Molloy.
Until that is Brendan Hughes came forward to tell the truth about his death in interviews with Boston College. I wrote about Paddy Joe Crawford at some length in Voices From The Grave not just because it was a relevant story but because it affected me. It made me angry and sad but not in equal measure; I was furious at the lie that defined the entire rotten episode. I also wrote it in the hope that a new inquest might be held into his death, his name restored and his killers shamed. Alas that has not happened.
But then on November 9th, I got an email from Dave Thompson and his partner Lorraine telling me about the song he had written and recorded. Today I heard from Dave that the final version had been perfected and a CD produced with ‘Falling’ the last song on the recording. So here is the song ‘Falling’, followed by the lyrics, the email I got from Dave Thompson and an extract from Voices From The Grave dealing with Paddy Joe Crawford. Please enjoy ‘Falling’, track ten of ten on ‘Newsprint Sky’ by Dave Thompson:
Orphaned at eleven days; never settled long in one place.
Hardly had the chance to know, who you’d become.
Raised beside the pebbled shore; then seething city streets once more,
To a back room and a bed, inside a storm.
Hostility let loose, the old world blown apart,
Anger couldn’t be contained, collapsed the house of cards,
You were falling, You were falling.
You were falling, You were falling.
* * * *
Seeking purpose and a wage; finding brothers in the fifth cage,
Until life behind the bars, fell through the cracks.
No resistance, nothing said; no recording of the charges read.
Only voices from outside, a pulse away.
Body trembling as you climb onto, makeshift steps draped in black,
Nothing left for you to hold onto, hands bound tight behind your back.
You were falling, You were falling,
You were falling, You were falling.
* * * *
Milltown lay below a leaden sky; single figures came to say goodbye,
Liked by everyone they said; so how come?
Only a few possessions left; you didn’t even own your death,
Buried in full view, but disappeared.
We turned the decade still in shock, standing on the precipice,
Several hundred lights gone out, we plunged into the abyss,
We were falling, We were falling, falling, We were falling.
Nov 9th email:
Hard to find a way to start this email, but here goes…
I read ‘Voices’ in the summer of 2011, and was struck by your account of the death of Paddy Joe Crawford. I have been a quiet, amateur songwriter most of my adult life, and I decided that I would like to respond, in some way, to what you had written and of course to what happened. I made a few notes at the time, but didn’t really get anywhere. I came to these notes last summer and wrote a little more, and then finished the song later in the year. For the life of me, I wasn’t really sure why I was doing it, or what I should do with it…
At the end of June I was asked to perform a short set of songs…..along the theme of the arts and social justice, and so I decided to include this song. It was then I had to think carefully about it. What gave me the right to sit in a pleasantly extended semi-detached house in……Belfast, and write about the life of someone who lived forty years ago in circumstances I knew little about?
The conclusion I came to was that Paddy’s life actually mattered. No political ideology or revolutionary ideal should ever become so big, that the lives of ordinary people are trodden on. Paddy Joe should have been protected. So I played the song as part of the set, and in my introduction I noted my discomfort about trying to say something about a time and incident that I had little understanding of. But I also said that as an artist, you respond to what’s around you. It’s not a song making demands of the Republican movement, it’s my response to what happened, and it continues to tell a story that should be told.
EXTRACT FROM VOICES FROM THE GRAVE, pp 132-145
On Sunday, 3 June 1973, IRA internees housed in Cage 5 of Long Kesh made a gruesome discovery: from a wall heater in the wood-working room of the hut used for recreation hung the lifeless body of one of their comrades, twenty-two-year-old Patrick Crawford from West Belfast, known to everyone as Paddy Joe. His death was regarded then, and ever since, as a suicide, thanks in no small way to the prison authorities’ speedy assertion, issued that same afternoon, that ‘foul play was not suspected’ in the death. That Sunday, IRA internees had taken part in a march and parade to commemorate comrades who had been killed in the Troubles, and so the huts in Cage 5 had seemingly been emptied of their occupants at
the time of Crawford’s death. When the parade ended, Crawford’s body was discovered by other internees, or at least that is what the story was. One of the first on the scene, within ‘five or ten minutes’ of the grim find, was Father Denis Faul, the Dungannon- based priest who celebrated Mass weekly in the camp for IRA detainees and was a popular figure with the prisoners, thanks to his staunch critique of British security policy and his sympathy for the Republican cause. Some two weeks later, the IRA staff at Long Kesh issued a statement that said that the dead man had been found by two internees immediately after the parade and attempts to revive him were made by prisoners, prison officers and Father Faul. After twenty or thirty minutes these were abandoned and Crawford was declared dead. Paddy Joe, the statement said, was ‘one of the most liked [internees] by all men’.
The suicide theory was widely accepted and Nationalist politicians lined up to blame prison conditions, internment and the British for Crawford’s untimely end. A group of nine priests, led by Father Faul, said the ‘inhuman and degrading conditions of Long Kesh’ had driven Crawford to suicide, adding, ‘Death was his hopeless protest against the whole situation of which Long Kesh is the symbol.’ SDLP leader Gerry Fitt and his colleague Paddy Devlin called on the International Red Cross to investigate the reasons for his ‘suicide’ – although later Fitt, alone of all the Nationalists, would accuse the IRA of hounding Crawford to death – while the Mid-Ulster MP, Bernadette McAliskey, called for the closure of the prison. The Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP, Frank McManus, said of Long Kesh, ‘The entire camp is a torture chamber .’
But Paddy Joe Crawford did not take his own life. In his interviews with Boston College, Brendan Hughes revealed that the IRA killed Crawford by hanging him, supposedly because he was working as an informer for the British. But Hughes was convinced that his only crime was to break during police interrogation, like countless other young IRA activists who were never punished as harshly. It was, he said, ‘a brutal, brutal murder’.
Hughes’s belief was that the order to kill Crawford had come into the jail from Gerry Adams, who was still Belfast Commander at the time. Hughes was not present, he admitted, at the Brigade staff meeting that discussed Crawford’s fate and at the time of the hanging he believed that Ivor Bell had sent in the order. But when he discussed the matter with Bell some years later Bell told him that it was Adams who had issued the order, not him. Boston College’s researcher, Anthony McIntyre, interviewed former IRA internees held in Long Kesh at this time in an effort to confirm Hughes’s account and they corroborate his claim that Crawford was hanged. But they say that Adams’s role in the affair was to refer Crawford’s case to GHQ in Dublin which then ordered his death. If true this would mean that, ultimately, permission for the killing was probably given by the then Chief of Staff, Seamus Twomey, the most senior figure on GHQ.
According to this account, the usual IRA procedures for handling accusations of informing were ignored both inside and outside Long Kesh. Although the IRA’s justice system was inherently flawed, Crawford should none the less have been court-martialed and given a chance to defend himself from charges that, inter alia, alleged that he had led British troops to arms dumps and IRA safe houses, and had identified fellow IRA members, admissions he had purportedly made when he was debriefed in Long Kesh by IRA intelligence officers. But he was not court-martialed; instead his life was ended on an improvised gallows by fiat of an IRA leader, whether in Belfast or Dublin it is not certain, and the decision made to lie about what had happened. Whatever the truth about who ordered Paddy Joe Crawford’s execution, it is clear that the Belfast Brigade leadership and the IRA’s GHQ were both fully complicit in his wretched death.
The former IRA members interviewed by McIntyre, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added disconcerting detail to the story. The hanging was accompanied by a macabre ceremonial: a black cloth was draped over the improvised steps from which young Crawford was pitched into eternity and his wrists were taped
behind his back. Afterwards the cloth, a vital piece of evidence, was removed. They also say that he went meekly to his death. Paddy Joe Crawford was a strong young man and could have fought his executioners – and by so doing could have created enough forensic evidence to cast doubt on the suicide theory – but for reasons still unfathomable, he chose not to resist. Four men helped to hang Crawford. One of them was Harry Burns, known as ‘Big Harry’ to his friends, a prominent Belfast IRA man who was related by marriage to Gerry Adams. During the hanging a group of internees inadvertently burst into the hut and saw everything. Afterwards the word spread among other inmates. ‘Prisoners were simply told he had taken his own life. But people knew, although they did not talk,’ one of the sources told McIntyre.
Paddy Joe Crawford’s death was in one essential respect no different from the deaths of those who had been disappeared before him by the Belfast IRA: Joe Linskey, Seamus Wright, Kevin McKee and Jean McConville. While his body, unlike theirs, was not hidden in a secret grave, the truth about his death was buried just as securely. And he has been disappeared from the death lists of the Troubles as well, made a non-victim by those who ordered and arranged his hanging. Neither Lost Lives nor the Sutton Index of Deaths, the two most extensive and reliable records of Northern Ireland’s death toll, list him among those who were killed in the conflict. Paddy Joe Crawford has simply been forgotten, his story erased from the narrative of the Troubles and, for over three decades, lies told about why and how he died.
Paddy Joe Crawford rightly belongs in the list of the IRA’s disappeared victims because, other than wreaking vengeance on him for his alleged treachery, his death, like theirs, was pointless. Fabricating his suicide meant that killing him could never have a deter- rent effect on other IRA members who might have been tempted to work for the British, since only a very small number of people would know the real facts of his death.
It is difficult not to wonder if the reason why Patrick Crawford was chosen to die, rather than other IRA members who had broken
during interrogation, was that no one would kick up a fuss afterwards, or ask awkward questions about what had happened, much less campaign for years for the truth. Others who were disappeared, such as Jean McConville, left behind relatives to fight for them and, eventually, they persuaded powerful politicians to back their efforts. Apart from one childhood friend, Paddy Joe Crawford really had no one to fight for him afterwards; he was an ideal candidate to be dis- appeared in the way he was.
Paddy Joe Crawford was an orphan, brought up by nuns in Nazareth House in South Belfast after he was abandoned by his mother. According to records kept by the orphanage, Crawford was born on 5 March 1951 and admitted into care just eleven days later, on 16 March. The Poor Sisters of Nazareth, to give them their formal title, no longer look after children. Nowadays they care for the elderly but in the Belfast of the 1950s and 1960s their convent on the Ravenhill Road was home to scores of rejected waifs. Founded in Hammersmith in London in the mid-nineteenth century, the Poor Sisters built a veritable empire of children’s homes in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The Order spread to America, to Australia, Canada and New Zealand, where more homes were built. Paddy Joe Crawford stayed with the Poor Sisters until he reached the age of eleven, when he was transferred to the De La Salle boys’ home run by the Christian Brothers at Kircubbin on the picturesque eastern shore of Strangford Lough in County Down. He stayed at Kircubbin until he was fifteen years old, the school- leaving age, when he was transferred to digs in West Belfast and a job found for him. He lived with a family in Broadway in the heart of the Falls Road and became a builder’s labourer. He and other orphans from the Nazareth and De La Salle homes were members of St Augustine’s Boys Club, run since the early 1970s by Father Matt Wallace, a Wexford-born priest and one of the most loved and popular clerics in West Belfast. Father Wallace helped Paddy Joe Crawford get a job, gave him the last rites an hour after he died and officiated at his funeral, during which his coffin was carried by members of the youth club. To this day Father Wallace tends his
grave in Milltown cemetery and that of other Nazareth and De La Salle boys killed in the Troubles.
Like other Catholic religious orders in Ireland and around the world, the Poor Sisters of Nazareth and the De La Salle Christian Brothers in Kircubbin have both been embroiled in scandals arising out of allegations from former residents of physical and mental cruelty, of neglect and sexual molestation. Legal suits against the Poor Sisters have been filed as far apart as Aberdeen in Scotland and San Diego in California, where in 2007 former Nazareth residents won part of a $198 million settlement against the local Catholic hierarchy. One elderly Poor Sister from Scotland was convicted in 2000 of cruelty, and former inmates of the Scottish homes have been financially compensated for their ordeals. Former residents of the Belfast home are similarly seeking redress for alleged ill-treatment through the courts. The De La Salle Order in Kircubbin has similarly been caught up in scandal. The home was extensively investigated by the RUC in the mid-1980s after allegations surfaced of physical and sexual abuse and a government report published in 1984 strongly criticised management at the home for employing abusers. In 2001 two former residents were awarded £15,000 each in out-of-court compensation for sexual abuse committed when they were sixteen years old and charges were filed but dropped against a former principal at the home alleging buggery and other offences.
Frances Reilly was two years old when her mother left her and her two sisters with the Poor Sisters in Belfast and ran off to England. That was in 1956 and many years afterwards, when she read about the court case in Scotland, she decided to write her life story, a heart-rending account of physical, mental and sexual abuse, which was published in January 2009. It was a story, she claims, no Catholics in Belfast at the time would believe. What makes her story relevant to events in Cage 5 of Long Kesh in 1973 is that she and Patrick Crawford would have been residents at the Belfast home at around the same time – albeit in segregated sections. There is no evidence that Patrick Crawford experienced the sort of physical and
sexual abuse that Frances Reilly claims happened to her – nor that he was ever abused at Kircubbin – but it is impossible to read her book and not wonder if he did.
As it is, the story of his life and death has to be one of the saddest of the Troubles: abandoned at just eleven days old, he was destined never to know a mother’s love. Instead he was brought up by nuns and brothers, some of whom allegedly ill-treated those in their care, and when he reached twenty-two, his life was brutally ended, hanged in jail by the IRA on disputed charges, and then the truth about his death covered up for over three decades.
How or why Patrick Crawford joined the IRA are questions that cannot now be answered, but it seems that he may have become a member not long before he was interned. He and seven or eight other young men were stopped on the border near Newry by British paratroopers as they attempted to cross to the Republic in a van in April 1973. Their story was that they were on a fishing trip but when the soldiers searched their vehicle they could find only one fishing rod. It looked as if they were really en route to an IRA training camp, and if so this suggests that Crawford was a relatively new recruit. He was arrested, questioned and then sent to Long Kesh.
After Crawford’s death, the IRA in Long Kesh had described him as one of the most liked of prison comrades but it seemed this feel- ing was not shared by the organisation outside the prison. Although an IRA member, he was not given a Republican funeral. There was no Tricolour on his coffin or guard of honour around his cortège and there were no crowds lining the streets around Milltown cemetery to pay respects to or merely gawk in curiosity at this man whom the British had allegedly driven to suicide in Long Kesh. An eyewitness account of the event, given recently to the author by a Sinn Fein member who attended the burial, described a funeral that had been shunned by West Belfast Republicans:
There were just a few people [there], a couple of Nazareth nuns at it, a hearse followed by a single car, that was all. Just members
of the family who had taken him in and perhaps one or two of their neighbours and friends. There was nobody from the organisation at all, not one single person. I thought it would be a Republican funeral. None of the general public who come out to look at Republican funerals turned out. There wasn’t a soul when I went down. It was really a sad funeral, it was so small. I’ll never forget it. I was the only Republican who went. I was the only one there I knew.
Years later, this Sinn Fein activist was told the truth about Patrick Crawford’s death by a former IRA prisoner: ‘I must have been the only one in West Belfast who didn’t know,’ the source now says.
Inquests on victims of the Troubles have often been the occasion for controversy and further conflict. Juries are limited in the verdicts they can deliver, something Nationalists have long believed is intended to spare the police and military authorities deserved scrutiny. They cannot make a finding such as ‘unlawful killing’, while inquests into some high-profile victims, such as people killed in disputed circumstances by the police or Army or where security- force collusion with paramilitaries has been alleged, have still to be held years after the deaths occurred. The inquest on Paddy Joe Crawford happened with remarkable speed. On Friday, 15 June 1973, just twelve days after his lifeless body had been discovered in Cage 5, a jury sitting in Hillsborough courthouse, a few miles from Long Kesh, delivered a verdict in the Coroner’s Court saying that Crawford had ‘died by his own act’, echoing the prison service’s statement hours after his hanging. His inquest file, provided to the author on foot of a Freedom of Information request, contains no evidence that the authorities harboured suspicions about the way he died or that anything approaching a vigorous investigation of the death had taken place.
Crawford was, his autopsy report said, a young man of ‘strong, muscular build’ and was six feet tall and healthy. He was wearing a blue T-shirt, a green V-necked pullover and a pair of denims, in the back pocket of which was a plastic comb. An RUC Inspector called
James Black said that his body was hanging by a linen rope, apparently torn from a mattress cover lying on the floor near by, fixed to an iron strut which was attached to the wall of the hut, some ten feet from the floor. Directly underneath the strut were two plastic chairs with boot marks on one of them and near by a steel locker lying on its side. Inspector Black surmised that Crawford had placed one of the chairs on top of the locker and climbed up to secure the linen rope to the strut. A pair of boots, thought to be Crawford’s, were sitting in the centre of the floor and his coat was draped over one of the chairs. There is nothing in the policeman’s deposition to suggest that any check was made on the boots to determine if they were Crawford’s or if they matched the marks on one of the plastic chairs. Nor were any of Crawford’s fellow prisoners questioned.
The IRA Commander of Cage 5, whose name has been redacted in the released documents, refused to give evidence at the inquest but on the evening of the hanging he provided a handwritten statement to a senior prison officer which purported to explain why Crawford might have taken his own life. Along with this, the IRA leader handed over a note found in Crawford’s personal belong- ings which could be read as a suicide letter. The IRA Commander’s account is peppered with anecdotes that reinforced the view that Crawford was behaving irrationally before his death, including a suggestion that he might have killed himself to put a spotlight on conditions in Long Kesh. There is no evidence in the inquest documents, however, that the police attempted to interview the IRA Commander about his statement or any of the inmates mentioned by him, while the question of why the IRA had possession of Crawford’s personal effects instead of the detectives investigating the death was left unasked.
The IRA Commander’s statement read:
The day before his death he made a number of gestures to his friends in Hut 28 that he might be leaving them soon. The first gesture he made was when he gave his pipe to a friend and told
him to keep it as he would not need it any more. Then in a conversation with his friends he started talking about Long Kesh not getting enough publicity and what it needed was a death to high- light the place. Later on that night he was walking round the cage with a friend and told him that nobody in the cage would talk to him and that they were all against him. This of course is wrong as he got on well with everyone. According to some of the men in Hut 28 he was acting very strange over the past few days, but at no time did anyone think he was about to hang himself. At about 9.00 o’clock that night he went round to the workshop to work on a plaque and he was the last one to leave that night. According to a number of other men he was in the workshop every day for a week before his death and spent long hours in it for reasons unknown. On the morning of his death the Hut O/C woke him up at the normal rising time of 12.00 o’clock and he told the Hut O/C that today would be the last time he would be wakening him. When the O/C asked him what he was talking about, he told him to forget about it. The last time he was seen alive was about 1.55 that day when he was seen walking towards the workshop. At about 2.30 two men went to the workshop to learn music and they found him hanging by a rope from the first heater on the left when you enter the workshop. They then informed me and I ran round and found him hanging there. I then ran to the gate and told the Officer to get a Doctor as a man had hanged himself. When I got back the men and the Officers in the cage had him cut down and tried to help him but it was to [sic] late as he was dead. In his personal belongings he left a note that read, ‘When I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep and if I die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless everybody. P. J. A. Crawford’. This is all the information I can find. Signed —— O/C Cage 5.
In the context of all that was said in the IRA statement, the two-page note found in Patrick Crawford’s belongings could be regarded as the last words of someone who is about to kill himself.
Except that the part quoted by the IRA Commander, which has the word ‘poet’ written beside it, is actually a well-known bedtime prayer said by Catholics, something that he would almost certainly have been taught by the nuns in Nazareth House, and evidence only of a Catholic upbringing, certainly not of suicidal tendencies. It is written at the top of the first page, which is headlined ‘Notes’, and underneath the prayer is listed the sort of information that might be given out during a geography or general studies class: a list of the counties of Ireland, its provinces, the two capital cities and some historical sites in Dublin. On the second page Crawford had made a list of precious stones and the countries whose soccer teams played in the 1970 World Cup tournament. All this prompts a question: why would Crawford add all this to a suicide note? It is of course the signature that makes it look as if self-destruction was on Paddy Joe Crawford’s mind when the poem cum prayer was written. After all, suicide notes are always signed, or at least that is what many people believe. But there are problems with this as well. The signature is written at the side of the prayer, not directly underneath, which is where it should have been placed. The line immediately underneath the prayer is where the list of Irish counties begins and the signature seems to have been written by a different pen, as if it was added later. The question is by whom: Paddy Joe Crawford or one of those who hanged him?
It has proved impossible to answer that question and the authenticity or otherwise of Paddy Joe Crawford’s signature remains undecided. To determine properly whether the same or a different hand wrote his name, the original note would have to be examined and the signature expertly compared to other writing on the paper. The inquest file released by the Northern Ireland Court Service is a photocopy and, according to one forensic expert consulted by the author, is useless for this purpose. Only the original copy, which lies in the Court Service’s archive, can tell the full story and permission to release the document to the NI Forensic Laboratory in Carrickfergus was denied. For the moment, the truth remains locked away in the file.
The real story of Patrick Crawford’s sad and miserable death was for decades an open but never admitted secret among many in the Provo community. His hanging was witnessed by several prisoners and, through them, Paddy Joe Crawford’s murder was known about widely, albeit only by Republican activists. Yet for some thirty-five years they kept it hidden from the rest of the world. Now, thanks to Brendan Hughes, a member of the Belfast leader- ship when the order to kill him was sent into the jail, the truth about Patrick Crawford’s harrowing end can be told.
Patrick Crawford was, well, I don’t even believe he was a tout. He broke during interrogation and then gave intelligence and information to his interrogators. He was then interned and he was put in Cage 5. He was executed by the IRA in the prison; he was hanged. And the order was given by Gerry Adams . . . I believed for a long time that it was Ivor [Bell] but it wasn’t . . . There was no purpose to it. The only reason that you execute someone is [to make] an example and [create] a deterrent to others. To hang someone who broke and then deny it and say he hanged himself was brutal, brutal murder. [During] that period I remember so many . . . going into the cages, kids who had broken . . . When other people broke they were just sent to Coventry. No one spoke to them. They were put in a small hut of their own. It was a brutal regime. And that’s the sort of mentality that brought about the death of Crawford. [If he had lived] Pat Crawford probably would have been on the blanket* as well. I mean, I know so many of them who are grown men now. They were brought into the IRA, they were given a weapon, they were given a bomb, they went out and they did the job well. When they were arrested by the RUC, the Special Branch, or whatever, [and] brought into a room, beaten, interrogated and tortured . . . some of them broke. What do you expect? You don’t hang someone who is going through a war. I mean, if every American soldier or British soldier was hanged for breaking during interrogation by the
* IRA prison protest to restore political status.
Japanese or by the Nazis, there’d [have been] an awful lot of deaths. I had this understanding because I recruited so many of these young lads. They went out and they did what they were told to do, but they were never trained in anti-interrogation [techniques] or how not to break when they were caught. So I had a lot of sympathy for people like Pat Crawford, and others. And I know so many others, like —— and so forth, who was ostracised in the jail, who was recruited into the IRA when he was fourteen, and was very, very good at operations. There were loads of others, young ones, and some of them broke.
Two people, both of them close to Paddy Joe Crawford, have for years harboured doubts and suspicions about his death. One of them is Father Matt Wallace, who told the author, ‘I remember going to the inquest and it was a routine thing, that he died by his own hand. I was so young and stupid I didn’t even question it at that time but I was never satisfied that Paddy Joe did take his own life. I argued that he was in an institution all his life so Long Kesh would have been easier for him than for other young men at the time because he . . . knew nothing else except institutional life.’
The other is Gerry McCann, a fellow orphan and resident at the same time in both the Nazareth and De La Salle homes, although McCann was six years younger: ‘Paddy Joe was one of the older boys and he would be like a protector for me. If you were being bullied as a five-year-old Paddy Joe would have been there for me and I always got on well with him. He was a bubbly, outgoing per- son, out for a bit of craic but a soft, gentle person. His very presence would lift the atmosphere, full of spontaneous laughter and a teller of jokes. He was a tower of strength to those who knew him well.’ Gerry McCann had suspicions ‘from day one’ that Paddy Joe had been killed in Long Kesh: ‘My gut feeling was that he had been taken out,’ he told the author. But for over thirty years he kept his doubts to himself: ‘I was afraid of going into something that would burn my hands. I was a wee bit gullible [back in 1973] and only later did I realise that this was a minefield.’ McCann made a success of his life
and now manages a golf club in Belfast. He got married and had a son and as his boy approached his thirtieth year, Gerry McCann felt the need to tell his life story and so he began writing a book which he hopes one day will be published. It was then that he decided to try to find out what really happened to Paddy Joe Crawford, a mission that would send him knocking at Sinn Fein’s door.
In January 2008, Gerry McCann contacted Gerry Adams via the Sinn Fein website to ask for a meeting and, on 7 March, he and the Sinn Fein President got together at the party’s offices on the Falls Road to discuss Paddy Joe Crawford’s untimely death. While Adams’s role in ordering Crawford’s killing is open to question, there seems little doubt that the Belfast Brigade staff, of which Adams was the leading member, did play a central part in the events. But like Jean McConville’s family before him, Gerry McCann met a wall of denial from Gerry Adams. ‘The meeting was very cordial,’ recalled Gerry McCann. ‘I gave him a working document with questions. Was Paddy Joe an IRA Volunteer, which I knew he was, and Adams said he wasn’t. I didn’t believe he took his own life at the time and I still believe that he didn’t take his own life and I told Gerry that. His reply was that under no circumstances was he killed by his own people.’ Adams told McCann that he wasn’t in Long Kesh at that time and had no personal experience of the event but he would try to contact people who were and they might be able to tell him more.
The matter rested there but nothing happened for five months until McCann contacted Sinn Fein to ask when Adams would deliver on his promise. After that he got his second meeting, not with Gerry Adams but with Bobby Storey, who was a seventeen- year-old internee in Cage 6, next door to Paddy Joe Crawford’s cage in June 1973. Bobby Storey is, as Gerry McCann put it, ‘Gerry Adams’s right-hand man’, named in the House of Commons by the former Unionist MP David Burnside as the then Director of IRA Intelligence and the alleged moving force behind some of the IRA’s more spectacular operations in the last years of the peace process. Among the many tasks Storey has undertaken for the Sinn Fein
leadership was handling the delicate issue of the disappeared, in particular the potentially explosive case of Jean McConville. As Adams had done, Bobby Storey denied any IRA hand in Crawford’s death: ‘I asked him’, recalled McCann, ‘was Paddy Joe taken out by his own people and Bobby’s response was decisive and direct: “Under no circumstances could this tragedy be attached to the movement or any inmates.”’ Gerry Adams had told Gerry McCann that Paddy Joe Crawford wasn’t an IRA Volunteer but the Sinn Fein President’s right-hand man had a different answer: ‘Storey said he was,’ Gerry McCann recalled, ‘which raises the question why there were no Republican trappings at his funeral if he had committed suicide. It beggars belief.’
As everyone reading this blog will know by now Nelson Mandela died this evening New York time, bringing to an end a tumultuous chapter in Africa’s history which saw the end of apartheid in South Africa and the political empowering of the millions of black Africans who were denied the most basic political and economic rights by their white rulers.
Mandela flourishes a revolutionary’s fist
Understandably, much of the media coverage in the coming days will dwell on Mandela’s role as the courageous inspiration and figurehead of the struggle against apartheid – with special emphasis in the West on his allegedly non-violent role – but sadly very little of it will subject the South African state to the sort of scrutiny such a passing demands.
In particular do not expect many in the media to ask whether and to what extent black South Africans really achieved the goals and won the liberation, economic as well as political, that Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) set out to accomplish at the start of their journey. The death of the leader of the ANC’s revolution is surely the appropriate moment to assess the extent to which they failed or succeeded in this mission.
To compensate for that, here are two aids to the process of judging just what the ANC revolution has really meant for South Africa.
A revolutionary tamed? Mandela with Prince Charles and The Spice Girls
The first is a short but telling biography of Cyril Ramaphosa, the former trade union and ANC leader, compiled by Forbes magazine in its profile of Africa’s richest men. Irish readers will remember Ramaphosa as being one of two international monitors called in to keep a watch on a number of IRA weapons dumps during the early days of decommissioning.
I remember attending a Sinn Fein rally at the Ulster Hall not long after his appointment and it was clear from his performance that evening that his role was to assure the Provo grassroots that no sell out was on its way and that isolating IRA weapons in monitored dumps was essentially meaningless. How could it be otherwise? Cyril Ramaphosa was himself a revolutionary and would never collaborate in such an enterprise!
In a critical sense Cyril Ramaphosa represents the failure of the ANC revolution to liberate the black masses from the real system of apartheid, that which was and still is based upon their economic exploitation. The truth about the ANC’s revolution is that it ended in a sordid bargain with the white rulers: South African blacks would get the right to vote and its leaders propelled into power but the ANC would leave the white economic establishment and its sources of wealth untouched.
The result is a country in which the whites still enjoy enormous privilege and wealth while the blacks, although able to vote, still live in shanty towns.
To be sure some black South Africans have risen to wealth and privilege thanks to the ANC and Mandela’s efforts. And Cyril Ramaphosa is their symbolic leader. Once a leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, Ramaphosa is now a successful businessman with a finger in half a dozen corporate pies. Forbes estimated his wealth at $700 million. Read his bio, it is hugely revealing.
Last August, South African police opened fire on striking platinum miners protesting for better conditions at the Marikana mine, killing forty-four of them. Most were shot in the back and the massacre was deemed the largest loss of life at the hands of security forces since the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. The day before the killings, Cyril Ramaphosa had called for action against the miners, accusing them of ‘a dastardly crime’. The next day the police obliged.
The second is a memorable film made by John Pilger about the basis of the deal to end white rule. Titled ‘Apartheid Did Not Die’, Pilger’s film was made in 1998 and he charts the the ANC’s journey to its historic compromise with white South Africa.Although made nearly fifteen years ago, it is still relevant.
The deal that ended apartheid can be seen as the West’s quintessential template for ending all such struggles: the former revolutionaries obtain political power for themselves while agreeing to leave the economic and, if appropriate, the political system largely untouched. It is arguable that in this context Sinn Fein’s infatuation with the ANC during the peace process was hardly a coincidence.