Monthly Archives: April 2014

Maidstone Escaper Suggests Gerry & Martin Have Alzheimer Problem Over IRA Membership

I have always had a soft spot for the BBC’s Dublin correspondent, Shane Harrison. I first met him when he was a reporter for Spotlight back in the late 1980’s and grew to regard him as a journalist of integrity and courage, a rare creature in our business then as now.

Shane Harrison, BBC Dublin correspondent

Shane Harrison, BBC Dublin correspondent

Not least of the reasons for my high regard of him was his willingness to go where most of my peers would run away from, their hair aflame and the air vibrating with their shrieks of fear and outrage.

The “where” back then was the big lie of 1980’s Nationalism, that the Workers Party (WP), which in the South was becoming a major political force, did not have an active military wing called the Official IRA and the lie, sad to say, mostly went unchallenged by the mainstream media.

Somehow, I know not how, Shane managed to persuade the brass in the BBC to investigate this claim and the result, a well-researched and damning programme called, aptly, ‘Sticking to their guns’, was broadcast in June 1991.

Almost immediately the programme became a bone in a vicious fight between warring factions in the WP, one which wanted to stay aligned to the post-Soviet Communist world – then disappearing into the North Korean mist – and modernisers who wanted to embrace free market economics and the electoral respectability and gains that would bring.

Shane’s programme, which demonstrated convincingly not only that the Official IRA did exist but that it was armed and was involved in a string of criminal enterprises all designed to raise money for the WP’s election campaigns south of the Border, was used by the modernisers as a stick (excuse the pun) to beat the old Stalinists. Eventually, at a heated special ard-fheis in February 1992, eight months after the Spotlight programme, the WP split irrevocably.

Today, Shane has a piece questioning the modern republican lie, the Adams and McGuinness lie about their non-membership of the IRA, and its power is derived from the source, who was a participant in one of the most daring and famous IRA prison escapes of the Troubles; his Provo credentials are therefore impeccable.

Harrison does what most journalists do not do when reporting Martin McGuinness’s IRA links, which is to point out that the deputy First Minister claims to have left the ranks in 1974 and thereafter to have had no association at all, a claim that stretches credibility to a painful extent.

Most reporters instead prefer to dwell on his admission of membership before 1974, favourably contrasting this to Adams’ flat denial of any links at all. In fact it is at least arguable that McGuinness is telling more lies about his IRA past than Adams.


Peter Rogers is one of the four surviving members of the so-called ‘Magnificent Seven’, the seven IRA internees who escaped from the prison ship, RMS Maidstone in Belfast Lough by slipping into the ice-cold water and swimming  400 yards to the opposite shore. They staged their break in January 1972, possibly the coldest time of the year and probably survived the extreme temperatures because they had smeared their bodies with butter and boot polish which insulated them.

Once on land they hijacked a bus, which Rogers, a former bus driver, drove to the Markets districts where customers in a bar in Verner Street gave them dry clothes. From there they made their escape by car and then appeared at a press conference in Dublin to give the IRA a pretty spectacular publicity coup.

The seven IRA escapers in Dublin

The seven IRA escapers in Dublin

Rogers stayed in the IRA and appears to have been very active, so active that in 1980 he was asked to ferry explosives to England for a renewed bombing campaign and it is this incident which forms the core of his interview with Shane Harrison.

Rogers says that he was reluctant to take the explosives because they were unstable and so he was summoned to a meeting with IRA commanders in Dublin. And those commanders he says, were none other than Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (then Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff respectively) who more or less ordered him to take the explosives, unstable or not. The two men’s claim nowadays not to have been in the IRA or to have left it long before 1980, Rogers describes, with only a hint of sarcasm, as the possible product of alzheimer’s disease.

Peter Rogers

Peter Rogers

As he was ferrying to explosives to England, Rogers was intercepted by the Gardai, there was a shoot out and one policeman was killed and another wounded. Rogers was captured, initially sentenced to death but then his sentence was commuted to forty years. He was though released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and was, he says, motivated to go public with this story by Sinn Fein’s decision to hold its recent ard-fheis in Wexford, the home town of the policeman he killed. He has, he said, attempted to apologise to the dead Gardai’s family but his overtures have been rejected.

Shane Harrison’s interview with Rogers can be heard below. There is an intriguing but unexplained aspect to the Peter Rogers story and it is that his disenchantment with the Provo leadership appears to be fairly recent. In 2002 he gave two lengthy interviews about the Maidstone escape with that most leadership-friendly of figures, Jim Gibney for what was still called An Phoblacht-Republican News which you can read here and here.The falling out seems to happened after this but exactly why is not clear.

Anyway here is the interview:

The Irish Times Censors Its Cartoonist

‘Can Cartoonists go too far? Yes. Should we go too far? Yes’, Steve Bell in The Guardian 16/7/08
Martyn Turner - his cartoon has been censored by the Irish Times

Martyn Turner – his cartoon has been censored by the Irish Times

Back in 1982 when I was Northern Editor of the Irish Times one of my duties was to write weekly column, called the Northern Notebook, which would take a look at the issue of the week as it affected the North’s politics.

It was always a great opportunity to present analysis and some investigative journalism and what’s more I got to design a cartoon along with the late Rowel Friers, which was always fun. I think it fair to say that the Northern Notebook, which appeared every Saturday but which alas no longer exists (why not?), was a favourite with many readers.

1982 would be a tumultuous year for myself and the Irish Times and the Northern Notebook would play a part in the drama. In the autumn of that year the then Northern Secretary Jim Prior called elections for a new Assembly at Stormont and the poll provided Sinn Fein with the first opportunity to really test out its electoral strategy under the party’s flag.

Sinn Fein’s foray into elections had its roots of course in the 1981 hunger strikes when in the North, first Bobby Sands and then Owen Carron had stood successfully for the Fermanagh-South Tyrone Westminster seat in by-elections, while an election south of the Border saw hunger strikers either win Dail seats (including Gerry Adams’ current Louth constituency) or come very close, close enough to scare the pants off the southern political establishment (although as it turned out they didn’t really have that much to worry about).

For three years or more before all this, key figures in what I would later learn was the Provo ‘think tank’, a secret committee created by Gerry Adams to devise and implement Sinn Fein and IRA policy, had been telling me that eventually they would like to contest elections, including south of the Border, but such were the ideological difficulties and sensitivities surrounding the issue, especially considering the Provisionals’ fractious origins over opposition to electoralism, that they could only foresee a very modest beginning, perhaps running for council seats in Belfast, and then many years ahead. In those days, standing for elections was officially a heresy although clearly it was being actively discussed in policy-making circles.

What the hunger strikes did was to provide an ideal, never-to-be-repeated opportunity for the ‘think tank’ to dramatically fast forward this programme, to get into parliamentary elections in one fell swoop – under the Sinn Fein banner rather than a surrogate such as H Blocks or hunger strike candidates – with the enthusiastic support of many grassroots supporters.

It is why I find Richard O’Rawe’s thesis about the 1981 hunger strike so credible, since sabotaging a British offer to end the protest – as O’Rawe effectively contends is what happened – ensured Owen Carron’s success in the August 1981 by-election to replace Bobby Sands as MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone. And Carron’s victory acted as a springboard for that October’s Sinn Fein ard-fheis endorsement of the new strategy of contesting elections as a matter of principle. That was the ‘armalite and ballot box’ ard-fheis made famous by Danny Morrison. Without Carron’s victory, without Bobby Sand’s election agent standing on the ard-fheis platform as evidence that the strategy could succeed, the path would have been so much more difficult.

Anyway, the new Assembly elections rolled around a year later and it was obvious to a blind elephant that Sinn Fein was going to do well. Nationalists were still so angry over what they saw (we now know mistakenly) as Margaret Thatcher’s cold-blooded obduracy during the prison protest that the SDLP was forced to stand on an abstentionist basis, something which actually contradicted their raison d’etre since it forced them to share the same ideological ground as the republicans.

And you didn’t have to travel very far out of the office to find Nationalists who were quite happy to tell you that the election was a perfect opportunity for angry Catholics to give Mrs Thatcher a vigorous two-fingers, i.e. by voting for the political wing of the IRA.

A photo of a Rowel Frier's cartoon drawn for a Notebook written after the result. The IRA man depicted in the cartoon was not the only one smirking.....

A photo of a Rowel Frier’s cartoon drawn for a Notebook written after the result. The IRA man depicted in the cartoon was not the only one smirking…..

So, when it came to writing about all this in the run-up to the election one of the vehicles I used was the Northern Notebook. I predicted that Sinn Fein was probably going to win three seats, very possibly could win five and had a chance of winning as many as seven. As it turned out they won five seats, ten percent of the total electorate and some forty per cent of the combined Nationalist vote. Except for regular readers of the Northern Notebook, the outcome came as an outrageous and horrific shock which sent the the Irish political establishment into an hysterical spin.

Sinn Fein winning five seats doesn’t sound like a big deal now, but it was then; a very big deal. Apparently my coverage was greeted in the newsroom with a mixture of appalled horror, anger and political venom, with some claiming that what I was writing was what I wanted to happen, which at least was an insight into how such people approached their own journalism.

A few years later I would learn just exactly what was being planned out of my sight and hearing during these weeks. A colleague who was privy to the events and was in a position to be an eye-witness and participant told me that if my prediction had been wrong, the powers-that-be had decided that I would have been out of the Belfast office so fast my feet would not have touched the ground.

To which I had this thought in response: if my memory is correct, and I think it is, I was the only journalist or at least one of the very, very few journalists in Ireland who got that election result right. Virtually every other reporter took the accepted, establishment line that no-one in their right mind would place an ‘X’ or give a preference on the ballot paper in favour of the IRA’s political wing; at most, they chorused, Sinn Fein would get one or two per cent of the vote.

They all got the story wrong, badly, terribly, completely off-the-board wrong, but how many of them would get the sack (as arguably in such an important election, they should have)? Answer: None. Conclusion: In journalism, especially in Ireland at that time, getting the story wrong for the right reasons is perfectly acceptable, even laudable.

That was the second time the Northern Notebook got me into hot water with the powers that be in D’Olier Street. The first occasion also concerned an election but this one was south of the Border and it produced a hung Dail in which the majority leader, Fianna Fail’s Charles Haughey needed the support of independents to form a government. Which he did. Tony Gregory did a deal with him in return for money for inner city Dublin and so did Neil Blaney and the three Workers Party TD’s, whose success in the February 1982 poll, marked a breakthrough for that party’s own electoral strategy.

(Incidentally, I remember one of the ‘think tank’ people commenting bitterly to me afterwards that the Stickies’ (Workers Party) vote down south in 1982 was really their vote, i.e. Sinn Fein’s vote, which they had stolen. Stupidly, I didn’t think through the logic of that remark although I understood its significance many years later: the Workers Party’s success was made possible not just as a consequence of their appeal to a section of the dispossessed in Ireland but also because a) the WP had recognised the legitimacy of the Dail and had abandoned abstentionism, and b) they had put away the gun, at least for use against the British. If that ‘think tank’ person was right and the WP electoral support really belonged to Sinn Fein, then reclaiming it implied adopting the same attitude on those two crucial issues, the Dail and the use of violence. Southern voters were willing to vote for the Provos in times of emotion, such as the hunger strikes, but otherwise, as SF’s first miserable electoral forays down South demonstrated, they would not vote for a party linked to the IRA that did not accept state institutions.)

Anyway, to return to the aftermath of the 1982 Dail election. The really interesting aspect of it was the success of the Workers Party. It had won three seats and would a few years later have seven TD’s in the Dail, as well as an MP in the European parliament. This alone seemed to be a vindication of the split with the Provos back in 1969/70 when differences over abstentionism, along with the IRA’s failure to defend the Northern Catholic ghettoes, led to a parting of the ways.

The Officials, or Sticks as they became known, wanted to abandon abstentionism, recognise all three parliaments and contest for electoral support on a radical left-wing platform. Well, winning seats in the Irish parliament is as resounding an endorsement of this policy switch as you can get.

That alone, would merit a Northern Notebook. But there was another aspect of the Sticks which made them an interesting subject to write about, an aspect in fact that a journalist could not, should not ignore. The WP’s leaders had claimed that the military wing which they led back in 1969/70, which became known as the Official IRA and which until 1972 had fought the British every bit as vigorously as had the Provos, had been disbanded and that all vestiges of militarism had been cleansed from the party’s ranks.

It was in fact a lie, an outrageous lie. Not only did the WP have an armed wing but it was very active, was engaged in sporadic acts of violence against rivals and heavily involved in many criminal conspiracies, including running brothels with the UVF and building site rackets with the UDA, whose aim was to raise funds for the electoral wing so that the WP could get TD’s elected to the Dail.

It was the 1980’s equivalent of Gerry Adams’ ‘I was never in the IRA’ lie of the post-1998 era, and being the sort of journalist I am, when a lie is so outrageous it becomes offensive and so big it cannot be ignored, then I think it is our duty as reporters to expose it.

And so, along with a few souls like Vincent Browne, I set out as often as I could to demonstrate precisely why and how it was a lie (incidentally those who accuse me of being obsessed with Adams used to say, in exactly the same way, that I was obsessed with the Sticks. What they miss in both instances is that a) it has nothing to do with the person or people involved and b) is all to do with the scale of the lie and rage at the fact that so many in the media happily ignore it).

So, I composed a Northern Notebook in two parts. The first dealt with the WP’s political rise and the second with the Official IRA. The Notebook was usually written on a Thursday morning and the cartoon designed the same afternoon in liaison with Rowel Friers, then dispatched on the Thursday night for Saturday’s paper.

Come that Saturday I picked up the Irish Times and there was the part of the Notebook dealing with the electoral rise of the Workers Party. But of the Official IRA there was no sign. It had been disappeared, just like one of those old photos which airbrush Trotsky out of scenes that have Lenin, Stalin and other comrades celebrating the latest revolutionary exploit in early Soviet Russia.

I never did get an adequate explanation why the Irish Times chose to remove half the Northern Notebook nor who was responsible – and needless to say the paper’s readers were told nothing of this. At the time however the WP’s influence in D’Olier Street was considerable and I suspect their sympathisers had a hand in this episode and in the threat to sack me over my coverage of the Assembly election later that year.

Fast forward to 2014 and the people and party responsible for this and many, many other instances of media censorship in Ireland are, thankfully, fast becoming dim memories, as dim as the Berlin Wall which was for so long their monument.

So, it is all the more disturbing to read that the Irish Times has returned to the ways of censorship, last week removing from its web editions all copies of a cartoon drawn by Martyn Turner dealing with the Irish Catholic Church, the sexual exploitation by priests of young children and a new law which properly obliges people to report any knowledge they have of child sex abuse to the authorities. The Church is using the confessional seal to claim a status above and separate from the rest of Ireland to excuse priests from complying with the law and, arguably, the Church has seized upon a Martyn Turner cartoon as a convenient cudgel with which to batter a law they do not like.

In this respect the Church is acting in exactly the same way as the Workers Party used to, which is to use its not inconsiderable political clout to censor a point of view which they find embarrassing and difficult to deal with. And the Irish Times is indulging the Church just as it indulged the Workers Party back in the 1980’s. The Irish Times and some, maybe even most of its readers, may not like Martyn Turner’s cartoon but they do not have the right to prevent us looking at his cartoon just as they did not have the right to stop its readers from reading about the Official IRA back in 1982. Shame on the Irish Times.

Below I reprint an informative article by Michael Nugent who dissects the issues behind the censoring of Martyn Turner with commendable skill. I thoroughly recommend it:

Martin McGuinness In White Tie & Tails Wows ‘Em At The Windsor Blowout

First State Visit Of An Irish PresidentDavid Cameron: “I’m telling you Enda, Gerry is far too cute to be seen at a place like this but Martin here can’t get enough of it, just laps it up. Isn’t that right Marty?”

Norman Baxter? Who’s Norman Baxter? Oh Right, That Norman Baxter!

That one-man argument for the disbanding of the RUC, Norman Baxter emerged from his Afghan hideout yesterday to make an appearance at Ian Paisley Jnr’s House of Commons committee at Westminster investigating the OTR controversy to make the claim that in 2007, British prime minister Tony Blair, at the request of Gerry Adams, had asked the PSNI to release two men, Gerry McGeough and Vincent McAnespie from police questioning about the attempted killing of a UDR soldier in 1981. You can read the reports here and here.

Baxter, a former Detective Chief Superintendent and the PSNI’s liaison with MI5 in his final years of service (the mind boggles!), took the line that the British were bending over backwards to appease pro-peace process republicans and that as a result IRA victims were being denied justice. On the face of it that might sound like the sort of complaint one would expect most policemen to make except that Norman Baxter who was once courted as a DUP election candidate, has a most definite Loyalist political agenda and is living proof that the ghost of D I John Nixon still walks the corridors of police headquarters at Knock, the peace process notwithstanding.

Here is a great piece that Eamonn McCann wrote for Counterpunch here in the U.S., (great except that he misspells my surname!) a couple of years ago detailing Baxter’s shady role in the Boston College subpoenas, his visceral hatred of Gerry Adams and his dubious part in helping to create a police Special Branch in Afghanistan. All fascinating stuff. Why was none of this mentioned in the reports of Baxter’s evidence to Paisley’s committee? Silly question.

February 13, 2012
Getting Gerry Adams

Norman Baxter’s Long Crusade


Norman Baxter may find policing in Kabul these days more congenial than policing in Belfast. The former RUC and PSNI Detective Chief Superintendant is one of a number of senior Northern Ireland police officers who have decided that the new, reformed force is not for them, have taken redundancy and signed up with a private firm of “security consultants” with a contract from the Pentagon to help train the new Afghan police force.

Since leaving the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2008, Baxter has spoken and written of his anger and frustration at changes which have seemed to him to belittle the sacrifices of Royal Ulster Constabulary in the long fight against the IRA and at policies brought in under the peace process which he believes now hamper the force in its continuing fight against terrorism. A year and a half ago, Baxter joined New Century, founded and led by Belfast-born Tim Collins, a commander in the Royal Irish Rangers who became a star of the British tabloid press in 2003 for a stirring speech he is said to have delivered to troops in Kuwait on the eve of their advance into Iraq. (The only record comes from an embedded Daily Mail reporter who claims that she took verbatim notes of the desert oration.)

The inclusion in New Century of a contingent of former NI police officers, as well as British soldiers with experience in covert operations in the North, indicates that Collins’ involvement in Iraq and now in Afghanistan hasn’t occluded his interest in affairs back home. Writing in the Daily Mail a few days after the Real IRA gun attack in Co. Antrim in 2009 which left two soldiers dead, he declared:  “The emasculation of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary, once the world’s most effective anti-terrorist force, is largely to blame for this shambles…In its new guise as the PSNI, the force is so riddled with political correctness that many good old-fashioned coppers…have simply been sidelined. Nowadays, these old RUC professionals who haven’t been driven out work for MI5 as collators or clerks but take no part in operations. This is a disgrace.”

Collins’ rationale for throwing the doors of New Century open to those in the RUC/PSNI who hankered after the old days and the old ways is easily understandable. He will have anticipated that the techniques and experience which the RUC and British security services developed over 30 years combating the Provos and other paramilitary groups will have equipped them with the special skills needed to mentor Afghans training to fight the Taliban once Nato forces have left.

Baxter, a high-ranking officer who had become chief liaison officer between the police and MI5 in the North, will have been a natural. He has been joined in the upper echelons of New Century by a cluster of colleagues, including Mark Cochrane, former RUC officer in charge of covert training; David Sterritt, a 29-year RUC/PSNI veteran and specialist in recruitment and assessment of agents; Joe Napolitano, 25 years in the RUC/PSNI, retiring as a Detective Inspector running intelligence-led policing operations; Raymond Sheehan, 29 years a Special Branch agent handler; Leslie Woods, 27 years in the RUC/PSNI, with extensive Special Branch handling the selection, assessment and training of officers for covert intelligence-led operations. And many others.

Experience in the North is the single most common factor among recruits to senior positions with New Century.

New Century’s presence in Afghanistan and the involvement of veterans of the Irish conflict briefly surfaced in the mainstream British media last June when a former RUC man working for the company was killed in action in Helmand. Ex-RUC officer Ken McGonigle, 51, a father of four from Derry, died in an exchange of fire with two escaped Taliban prisoners.

Baxter had been a relatively well-known policing figure in the North for some years, regularly interviewed to provide a police view on security matters. His most prominent role had been to head the investigation of the Omagh bombing in August 1998, the most bloody attack of the Troubles. It is widely accepted now that the Omagh investigation was botched to an embarrassing degree – although there is no agreement on where blame lies. Baxter is not alone in believing that political considerations and the protection of security service “assets” North and South were major factors in the failure to bring the case to a conclusion

After leaving the PSNI in 2008, he was able to speak out with less restraint. He took a particular interest in the alleged involvement of senior Sinn Fein figures in IRA activities in the past.

The fact that the policing changes had been specifically designed to coax Sinn Fein into acceptance of the Northern State and thereby into a share of Executive power did nothing to sooth the disgruntlement of police officers resentful of reform. Baxter’s particular animus against Gerry Adams came through in a column in the Belfast Newsletter on March 30 2010, in which he urged the PSNI to launch a new investigation into the Sinn Fein leader’s alleged role in the 1972 abduction and killing of Jean McConville, the mother of 10 whose “disappeared” body was finally located on a beach in Co. Louth in 2003. He appears to have been the first figure of any note – certainly the first with a media presence and extensive police connections – to call publicly for action to subpoena video tapes held by Boston College, Massachusetts, in which two ex-IRA members claim that Adams, as a senior IRA commander in Belfast, had ordered the killing of Mrs. McConville and others of the “disappeared”.

Baxter’s intervention came within 24 hours of the publication on March 29 of “Voices From The Grave”, the book by Ed Maloney based on interviews with senior IRA figure Brendan Hughes and UVF leader and Progressive Unionist Party politician David Ervine. Both men had recently died, allowing Maloney to publish the material: he had given assurances that none of it would be used while they were alive. The same assurance had been given to more than 20 other former paramilitaries, most of them ex-IRA, who had been interviewed by Maloney and his researcher Anthony McIntyre – himself a former IRA prisoner – and the tapes lodged with Boston College.

In the book, Hughes, once a close personal friend and paramilitary comrade of Adams, told that the man who was now an internationally respected figure had orchestrated the abduction and killing of Mrs. McConville.

“Although Brendan Hughes is now dead,” wrote Baxter in the Newsletter, “his evidence, which was recorded, may provide evidence which could lead the police to build a case for criminal proceedings.” His intense personal feelings were evident in his description of a recent appearance by Adams in a Channel 4 religious programme as “sickening” and in a suggestion that Mrs. McConville may have heard herself condemned “from the lips of a demon of death”.

The level of hatred – it is not too strong a word – of Baxter and many of his colleagues at the new status of individuals they had striven to extirpate from Northern Ireland society was unconcealed. “Sinn Fein and the IRA have a record of human rights abuse that would equal some Nazi units in the Second World War, and yet they currently wear the duplicitous clothes of human rights defenders with such ease.”

The pursuit of Adams and others will be seen by Baxter and his colleagues as unfinished business.

Baxter will have been well aware that a taped record of a conversation with a man who had since died is no basis for charging a senior political figure – or anyone – with murder. In the Newsletter, he urged Mrs. McConville’s family to try instead, or as well, to bring civil proceedings – where the standard of proof is less daunting than in a criminal case. Referring to Mrs. McConville’s daughter, he made a public appeal: “Helen McKendry should not be left in isolation to seek justice for her mother through civil proceedings. Civic society and democratic politicians should come together in a campaign to financially and morally support the McConville family.”

His bitter experience heading the Omagh investigation might have put the option of civil proceedings in Baxter’s mind. He had come to believe that shadowy forces had contrived to thwart his efforts.

At Omagh library in February 2006, Sam Kinkaid, the most senior detective in the North, told a meeting of relatives of the victims that MI5 had known months in advance that a bomb attack was planned for either Omagh or Derry, that one of those involved was an Omagh man whose name was known and that the bombers would use a Vauxhall Cavalier. MI5 passed this information to the gardai in the South, he went on – but not to the PSNI in the North. Baxter was seated alongside Kinkaid as he spoke, nodding vigorously. Kinkaid resigned from the PSNI  the following morning.

Meanwhile, the Garda Special Branch had been running an informer who supplied information about a series of planned cross-border bomb raids by the Real IRA. Gardai decided to let a number of bombs through so as not to compromise the identity of the informer. Police in the North were not told about this. So there were no special security measures in place in or around Omagh when the bomb in a Vauxhall Cavalier was parked in Market Street on August 15, 1998.

Even after the explosion, with 29 people dead, none of this information was passed to Baxter’s investigation either.

The only person eventually charged with the Omagh atrocity was Sean Hoey, an electrician from south Armagh. He was acquitted in November 2009. The trial judge, Mr. Justice Weir, then launched a scathing attack on the investigation, accusing the police of “a slapdash approach” and condemning two named officers for “reprehensible” behaviour.

Remarkably, however, none of the relatives of the victims interviewed afterwards blamed Baxter or the men under him. Victor Barker, whose 12-year-old son James had perished in the blast, placed the blame much higher: “It is the appalling inefficiency of (Chief Constable) Sir Ronnie Flanagan that has meant that Chief Superintendant Baxter has not been able to secure a conviction”.

Many of the families were at one with Baxter in believing that the investigation had systematically been stymied by senior figures in policing and politics who had reason to be nervous about the full facts emerging and whose political agenda may have taken precedence over the safety of citizens and the pursuit of the perpetrators.

A number of families took Baxter’s advice and initiated a civil case for compensation against four men they believed had been involved in the bombing. In 2009, the four were found to have been responsible.  Two were cleared on appeal. But the families were able to express some frugal satisfaction that at least they’d seen somebody held publicly accountable for the devastation which had befallen them.

It is hardly fanciful to trace Baxter’s loud advocacy of civil proceedings against Adams back to the Omagh experience which had confirmed his belief that “the world’s most effective anti-terrorist force” had been prevented from winning its war against the IRA by the machinations of people with no stomach for the fight. Getting Adams now, whether by civil or criminal proceedings, was a part of getting even.

It was against this background that the British authorities launched legal action to recover the Boston tapes. The suggestion came from the Historical Enquiries Team, established in 2006 to re-examine more than 3,000 unsolved cases of Troubles-related murder. The 100-strong team included Mike Wilkins, head of the Special Branch in Warwickshire in England until seconded to the HET in 2006. He had become HET chief investigations officer by the time he left in September 2010 – to join Baxter as training coordinator for the Afghan project. This was six months after Baxter’s call in the Newsletter for a new police investigation into the McConville case. The interconnections between these events have, inevitably, provided fodder for fevered speculation in Republican circles and on blogs and websites over recent months.

To the dismay of Maloney and McIntyre, Boston College decided not to contest a lower-court order to hand the tapes over. The archive is now in the custody of the court while Maloney and McIntyre continue legal action to try to prevent the material being passed on to the PSNI. It is a matter of speculation what the implication will be for Adams and others who have left paramilitarism behind if the tapes are handed over.

As he looks back on more than 30 frustrating years policing in the North, even as he assumes his new and more wide-ranging – and enormously more lucrative, one imagines – role in the global war on terror, Baxter may take grim satisfaction from the fact that he has some of his old enemies still in his sights.  He may be cheered, too, by the thought that he won’t be confronted by the same defeatist attitudes and dark maneuvers in the freewheeling fight in Afghanistan as he faced in the constrained circumstances of Northern Ireland, that this time the good guys will get to win. Of course, he could be wrong about that.

EAMONN McCANN can be reached at



Mick Hall On The Boston College Tapes And The Provos

An interesting piece from Mick Hall in Organized Rage that introduces some much-needed balance on the subject of the Boston College tapes:
Why have the Boston College tapes and the death of Mrs Jean McConville become entwined.

“It’s the obligation of a researcher to destroy their material before allowing it to fall into the hands of anyone who would bring it to harm. Boston College had an obligation to engage in an act of civil disobedience.” –Anthony McIntyre

The furore over the Boston College Tapes has been slow burning and it is worth recapping how we reached where we are today. The tapes were part of a Belfast oral history project which was under the auspices of the Irish studies department of Boston College a prestigious US academic institution. They consisted of a series of interviews with former members of Irish republican and loyalist paramilitaries. Those who agreed to participate did so after receiving guarantees the tapes would not be released until they were dead.

The lead researcher in Ireland Anthony McIntyre believed his interviewees had a solid guarantee from the college that their recollections were secure. He certainly wasn’t aware of MLAT a US-UK treaty, although he might have been if the college had carried out its duty of care and checked with their lawyers before collecting an archive of interviews in which former members of the PIRA and UVF spoke in some detail about their paramilitary careers.

During the period when the Belfast Oral History Project (BOHP) was being set up, a firm belief was developing amongst a number of former members of the PIRA that the history of their struggle was being rewritten in an attempt to justify the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and not just by the British government and their mainstream media friends but also by the current leadership of Sinn Féin.

As one former IRA man said to me: “Not one volunteer went to war so Martin McGuinness could become deputy first minister in a British owned statelet but that is how our struggle is being spun today.”

It’s true on the republican side the majority of those who were interviewed for the oral history project were no longer supporters of Sinn Féin, however if the Sinn Féin leadership had not placed a three line whip against its members participating it may have been more balanced, but just because this was not the case it does not invalidate it as Gerry Adams recently said.

It’s not true as some have claimed the republican interviewees belonged to, or supported dissident republican groups. Far from it in fact as most, including Brendan Hughes and McIntyre, welcomed the ceasefire, and the ending of the military campaign. The line they would not cross was Sinn Féin’s support for British institutions in Northern Ireland, especially the police. Which is not really surprising as opposition to British institutions in Ireland has been a bedrock policy of Irish republicanism since the 19th century. Even many of those who remain in SF will tell you accepting the writ of the PSNI has been a very bitter pill to swallow.

The Belfast Oral History Project (BOHP) is an academic study which collated first hand accounts about why, and how the men and women interviewed volunteered for Óglaigh na hÉireann and fought the bloodiest military insurrection against the British State since the English civil war. Surely a worthwhile project which would have had great value for future historians and political strategists.

Gerry Adams was being disingenuous when he claimed last week the project was “flawed and biased from the outset. It was an entirely bogus, shoddy and self-serving effort. It was not a genuine or serious or ethically based history project.” Not least because he has attempted to airbrush out of Republican history former comrades who went on to disagree with his strategy and tactics.

If he had his way some of the most prominent players within the IRA over the last four decades would have been permanently consigned to the cutting room floor. The whole purpose of oral history is to give people a voice in the future which is far too often denied them. As L P Hartley said: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” The BOHP was an attempt to ensure when future generations study the PIRA’s insurgency it will not alone be through the prism of the British and Irish establishments and the mainstream media. The BOHP would have at the very least preserved a public record of those who fought on the losing side in that conflict, yet refused to make the compromises demanded of them.

Although we do not know what is on all of the tapes, only Moloney and McIntyre know that, we have caught a glimpse of their importance to future historians The interviewees have undoubtedly revealed information about the inner workings of the IRA and shed new light on important historic events.

The trust and confidence the republican interviewees have in Anthony McIntyre is best demonstrated by the fact since this brouhaha blew up not one has publicly criticised him or doubted his integrity. As one of them said: “I needed to know the guy I was telling this to could be trusted one billion percent.”

The Project begins to unravel
Sadly the thing started to unravel after the death of two of its participants, David Irvine, a former member of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and later a leading politician and member of the Progressive Unionist Party, and Brendan Hughes, a senior member of the IRA who along with Ivor Bell and Gerry Adams made up the trio of northerners who developed and oversaw military strategy and tactics for much of the 1970s.

In March 2010, Ed Moloney’s book Voices from the Grave was published, which featured interviews with Hughes and Ervine, compiled by researchers for Boston College. Moloney, who was the project director of the Belfast Oral History Project, based the book on the interviews given by Hughes and Ervine. Excerpts from the book have Hughes discussing his role and the role of Gerry Adams in the IRA, including their alleged role in regards to the contentious disappearance of Jean McConville, a mother of ten who was executed by the IRA for acting as an informer for the British Army. In October 2010, RTÉ also broadcast a documentary co-produced by Moloney based on Voices from the Grave in which similar accusations were made.

Once this book was published the British police in Ireland took a keen interest in the tapes and with the full support of the UK government they eventually asked and then demanded access to the Boston College tapes archive under the mutual legal assistance treaty, as they claimed they were relevant in an ongoing murder enquiry.

To cut a long story short the first subpoena arrived on May 5, 2011. Its contents were under seal. Boston College was told the U.S. Department of Justice, acting under a mutual-legal-assistance treaty with the UK, was seeking the interviews of Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, for help in a criminal investigation in Northern Ireland involving kidnapping and murder.

Within weeks Boston College turned over the Hughes interviews to the US Justice Department and it became clear the college had no intention of fighting within the US legal system to uphold an imported academic principle. Thus Moloney and McIntyre decided to continue the struggle on their own, although they fought a rearguard action and did gain some support in the USA, but without the college in their corner it was always a long shot, and by issuing the following statement the college spokesman Jack Dunn had clearly moved into the camp of the Justice Department:

“Had our efforts gone to Congress in identifying supporters, to work with the State Department and the Department of Justice, we could have been more effective. But our efforts were involved in legal matters and distancing ourselves from the reckless rhetoric of Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre.”

Eight months after the first subpoena was served, Judge William G. Young of the U.S. District Court in Boston ordered Boston College to turn over Dolours Price’s interviews as well as 85 interviews of seven other former IRA members that he deemed relevant to the investigation. It should be noted by fighting their rearguard action in the US courts McIntyre and Moloney did restrict the British police gaining access to all of the tapes.

Given Mr Adams harsh criticism of the Belfast oral history project I feel it is only fair to remind him what Judge Young said about the project after reading the transcripts of the tapes.

“This was a bona fide academic exercise of considerable intellectual merit … These materials are of interest, valid academic interest historian, sociologist, the student of religion, the student of youth movements, academics who are interested in insurgency and counter-insurgency and terrorism and counter-terrorism. They’re of interest to those who study the history of religions.”

That is a long way from what Gerry Adams claimed:

“…..flawed and biased from the outset. It was an entirely bogus, shoddy and self-serving effort. It was not a genuine or serious or ethically based history project.”

What can one make of this brouhaha?
For the wider world what this case highlights is treaties between the USA and less powerful nations are not the harmless entities they’re often portrayed as. There is a reason why they are signed under the radar, they are designed to chip away our democratic rights and freedoms as is witnessed here by the use of the mutual legal assistance treaty. (MLAT)

Since the middle of the last century there has been a move away from the great man theory of history to how ordinary people shape big historical events. As most people do not write books or leave a written narrative of their lives, oral history has come to be seen as a way of filling a massive gap.

With the English ruling class once again firmly in the political saddle they are trying to turn this march of time back, and turn the historical spotlight back onto them and theirs. One only has to watch historical documentaries on TV today to understand this. If those who participate in historic times which challenge the force of the state lose confidence in the security of oral history projects, understandably they will refuse to participate and we and future generations will be the losers.

Sadly this is already happening, according to Richard English, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, he has heard from a number of researchers seeking advice about whether to pursue research on political violence if it includes interviewing those involved in conflict. “I think the fallout is much wider than Northern Ireland,” he says. “There has been a shadow cast over this kind of research.”

Perfidious Albion
What made the PSNI with the full support of the British government go after the Boston College Tapes with such vigour? Only they know for sure, but as most lawyers seem to believe they could not be used as evidence in a criminal trial, it may have been a shot across Sinn Féin’s bows as Gerry Adams does seem to be the main target. Could their purpose have been to pressurise SF to agree not to pursue their demand that members of the British security forces who shot dead 13 civilians on Bloody Sunday and colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in the murder of Pat Finucane and others be brought before a court of law. Was it a case of you leave us alone and we will leave you alone and especially your leader Gerry Adams.

There is another hypothesis, it’s of the who will rid me of this troublesome priest variety. It’s possible the British security services are sick and tired of Anthony McIntyre continuingly snapping at the heels of their Irish agents of influence? People have had their lives ruined by the police and security services for far less.

As to the Belfast history project, I will let former IRA man Dixie Elliott have the last word, as he brings some dignity to this whole sorry charade. Read it and you get an idea why history demands ‘ordinary’ IRA volunteers are heard.

“Lets get this straight those who left testimonies on those tapes were Republicans who had risked their lives and freedom for decades, they were not, as some seem to claim, naive nor easily led.
They knew what they were doing and that was to ensure that recent history was recorded in way that future generations could decide what was and was not the truth.
While young men and women carried guns and bombs in the hope of achieving freedom, Adams and McGuinness only carried their coffins to early graves.
They urged that the fight would go ahead while talking about ending it behind the backs of those they encouraged to fight. If they weren’t in the IRA then they were nothing other than demagogues.
History demands that the truth is left behind and that is precisely what the Boston Project was about.”
Mick Hall


The PSNI & The Ivor Bell Case: Some Thoughts On Motives And Consequences

As I post this article reports are coming in from Belfast that the 56-year-old man arrested by the PSNI this morning in connection, according to evident police leaks, with the disappearance of Jean McConville has been released. Hardly surprising since he was only 14 in December 1972 when the unfortunate mother & widow was abducted by the IRA.

That makes the PSNI’s cull so far a 77-year-old man, who was not with the Sinn Fein programme since the mid-1980’s and someone who was 14 when the crime took place. Meanwhile as far as I know the PSNI has yet to respond to the offer to present himself for questioning made by Gerry Adams, who has been named as the man who actually ordered her disappearance.

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There is one thing that every lawyer I have spoken to since the arrest and charging of former Belfast republican activist Ivor Bell can agree on and it is that the charge against him in relation to the disappearing of Jean McConville amounts to, as my French friends would say, une cruche de merde.

In fact the charge is so inadequately supported by other evidence that the bringing of it against Bell raises valid questions about the PSNI’s motives.

Ivor Bell - his arrest raises questions about PSNI motives

Ivor Bell – his arrest raises questions about PSNI motives

First of all some basic facts about the evidence. So far the PSNI have not even been able to establish that the Boston College interview in the name of ‘Z’ was actually given by Bell. Apparently the Crown believes it can link him via something called the jigsaw method but if the prosecutors were so confident they could do this in any sort of definitive or conclusive way, I doubt they would be leaking to the media that they would really like to get Boston College researcher Anthony McIntyre into the Antrim interview suite to confirm it (not that he ever would).

Then we get to the interview itself. It is what is called hearsay evidence and while it is technically admissible under UK rules that is only part of the story. The interview was not taken under caution – in US terms ‘Z’ was not Mirandised beforehand – and that means that the interview is arguably largely inconsequential as a piece of evidence since it does not bear resemblance to the normal form such testimony should take. Unless someone is warned that anything they say can be used as evidence against them, what they do say is, well, just hearsay. Not much better than gossip.

The caution-free interview given by ‘Z’ would however carry much more weight if it was backed up by supporting evidence, such as an admission, by witness statements or by forensics and/or ballistics evidence. But from what we have heard out of the two bail hearings none of this exists.

The chances in a normal courtroom of a conviction being secured on the basis of an alleged interview not recorded under caution, with no supporting evidence worthy of the name which deals with events that took place forty-two years ago (how is your memory about what happened in December 1972, dear reader?) should be minimal. In fact in most judicial systems this case would likely not even make it to a courtroom. I add the qualifier ‘should’ because after all this case literally reeks of politics and when politics intrude normal rules can go out the window!

The PSNI are not stupid people. They know all this as well as I do. So why are they insisting on proceeding with a charge against Ivor Bell that has next to no chance of success?

Well, one obvious reason jumps to mind. Denied the ability to confiscate entire sets of interviews by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and not able, thanks to the work of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez, to allow the interviews to be used in a civil case against Gerry Adams or anyone else, there is an onus on the PSNI to show that all the sturm und drang, not to mention angst of the past three years have been worth the effort.

I would certainly go along with this. But sometimes motives can be seen in the effect that actions can have and that is where the charging of Ivor Bell becomes really interesting. Another way of putting that is to ask the question, cui bono (who benefits?)

Bell’s appearance in court has one clear consequence and that is to whet the Unionist appetite for the prosecution of other senior IRA figures, up to and including the most valuable trophy of all, Gerry Adams.

And as long as there is a chance that Adams might appear in the dock, or at the least evidence that harms him may feature in a trial or two, then the Unionists will be in no mood for a Richard Haass-type agreement on dealing with the past, especially one in which everyone will be expected to confess their sins.

And if they are in the mood, Mr Allister will quickly disabuse them of the notion (isn’t it extraordinary how little Unionist politics have changed since the days when Ian Paisley had the O’Neillites on the run?).

And who stands to gain most from that? Well for one all those security agencies, whose initials and names will be very familiar to readers of this blog, some of whom were disbanded only to re-appear wearing different clothes, others to whom those people ultimately answered. Their dark and dirty secrets will remain locked up in filing cabinets and encrypted computer files for eternity as long as there is no meaningful truth-telling process in Northern Ireland.

As motives go for charging Ivor Bell on the basis of questionable evidence, that is as good as it gets. But no-one, least of all myself, knows whether this was a real motive for charging Ivor Bell and even if it was I seriously doubt that the evidence would ever surface.

I do think, however, that the consequence of this case is clear, that the chances of securing a way forward in dealing with Northern Ireland’s ever-present, ever-destructive past have been uniquely diminished by the PSNI action. And absent that sort of deal the peace process will continue to lurch from one crisis to another. Who would have believed that two decades from the first IRA ceasefire we’d be at this stage of political intertia?

The PSNI assault on the Boston College archive is a textbook example of why, when dealing with something like a violent and disputed past such as Northern Ireland had, the police should never, ever be accorded a role.