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Monthly Archives: June 2014Image
REVISED AT 22.04 EST
There are many things one could say about the sad and troubled life of Gerry Conlon, whose tragically premature death from cancer has just been announced, and the cruel miscarriage of justice that cost his father his life and himself so many years of imprisonment for an offence he had nothing to do with.
But for the time being I would like to confine my reaction to the role of the Irish media in the story of Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four.
In the next few days we will, I am sure, be treated to acres of coverage from Ireland about how awful the treatment of the Guildford Four was at the hands of British justice, how pernicious was the climate of anti-Irish racism in England in the 1970’s and how corrupt was the British police service.
All true of course but one thing you will not hear from the Irish media is that at the time that Gerry Conlon and his father, Guiseppe were sent to jail, not one major newspaper or electronic media outlet would have had the courage to have even thought of saying such things.
The truth is that after their conviction a disgraceful silence descended on mainstream Irish newspapers’ and RTE coverage of the Guildford Four’s concocted conviction that was extended to the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Five and Judith Ward. The Irish media’s shameful and contemptible shunning of this extraordinary catalogue of judicial corruption lasted during all of the 1970’s and most of the 1980’s.
I began my career in journalism not long after the conviction of the Guildford Four and already it was clear that there was evidence of a serious and scandalous miscarriage of justice that cried out to be probed by the media. But in those days to write that people like Gerry Conlon might be innocent, or to suggest that the Birmingham Six might have been framed, or that the notion that Anne Maguire, a member of her local Conservative Party Club in London, lived a secret life as an IRA bomber was sheer nonsense, was tantamount to an admission of IRA membership and was fatal for the career of an ambitious Irish reporter. So mainstream Irish journalists – and here I am talking primarily of the Dublin-based media – learned to keep away from such stories.
There were exceptions of course. Hibernia magazine, for which I then worked was one, as was Vincent Browne’s Magill magazine and there were many individual journalists who tried to get the story out but ran up against a brick wall of Irish media cowardice. The vast bulk of editors and media chiefs just would not give space to a story that even suggested that the IRA might be right to complain about British justice.
Instead, as with so many controversial stories during the Troubles, it was left to the Brits to do the decent thing, especially those who worked in current affairs television. And so World in Action, Yorkshire TV, Thames’ This Week and the BBC’s Panorama amongst many others did the job that the Irish media was too timid and spineless to do.
It was stalwart work by British lawyers, most of them left wing or progressive, which secured the acquittal of Gerry Conlon and his confreres as well as the Birmingham Six and others, but the British television media set the tone that made it all possible. It is a fundamental truth of the story of the Troubles that the British media often did what most of their Irish counterparts were too craven and yellow-bellied to even contemplate.
If the story had been left to the Irish media to cover, Gerry Conlon would have died in a prison cell.
By Henry McDonald
The American and Irish governments have been challenged to investigate an alleged spying operation directed at a family at the centre of the Boston College-IRA archive controversy that led to Gerry Adams’ arrest in April.
Ireland’s prime minister Enda Kenny and the US secretary of state John Kerry have received letters from the Belfast Project’s director urging them to back a thorough criminal inquiry into claims that private communications from an American citizen and the US embassy in Dublin were illegally intercepted.
American-born Carrie McIntyre’s husband, an ex-IRA prisoner, recorded the taped testimonies of Irish republicans for the Belfast Project. She has made a formal complaint to the Garda Síochána about how her private messages to US diplomats ended up in an Irish Sunday tabloid last month.
Ed Moloney, the Belfast Project’s director, has also written letters to the leader of the Irish Republic’s main opposition party Fianna Fáil and a powerful US senator calling on them to back an investigation on both sides of the Atlantic into how Carrie McIntyre’s communications were made public.
In his letter to Kerry, Moloney states that “while we do not know for certain sources that I trust strongly suggest the involvement of a proscribed organisation rather than an agency of the Irish state”.
Moloney points out to Barack Obama’s peace envoy to the Middle East that he has also called on the Irish premier to support a trans-Atlantic criminal investigation into the spying claims.
“I believe that this is part of a mounting campaign of threat, menace and intimidation of the McIntyres. I fear for their safety and wellbeing and I expressed the hope that the prime minister would leave no stone unturned in the search for those responsible.”
And in his letter to the taoiseach, Moloney says: “I am writing to ask you to leave no stone unturned in the search for those responsible and in the effort to make them amenable under the law. Tapping the phones of Irish citizens in any circumstances is unpleasant and offensive even when it is carried out within the law by legitimate agencies. But when it is done by illegal organisations and involves intercepting communications by an important ally it is, I am sure you will agree, a direct challenge to the authority of the state.”
The award-winning journalist and world authority on the IRA has also written to senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the US Senate’s foreign relations committee, and Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin about the alleged spying operation on Irish soil.
The Sunday World newspaper last month reported that McIntyre had written to the embassy and the US consulate in Belfast seeking political asylum for herself, her children and her husband. She has denied reports that her family are seeking asylum and that she ever worked on the Boston College project.
McIntyre told the Guardian she had made no contacts with the paper and would be prepared to bring forward a large number of friends and acquaintances who would sign legal documents stating they had no knowledge of her communications with the US embassy in Dublin, let alone spoke to any newspaper about them.
There is no suggestion whatsoever that the Sunday World itself carried out any illegal hacking or act of interception regarding Carrie McIntyre’s communications with US diplomatic staff in Ireland.
Her husband Anthony recorded and collated the testimonies of dozens of former IRA activists, some of whom have claimed on tape that Adams ordered the death and secret disappearance of Jean McConville in 1972. The Sinn Féin president has always denied any involvement in the kidnapping, killing and covert burial of the widow, whom the IRA accused of being an informer for the British army. Among those who accused Adams of playing a central role in the McConville murder scandal was the late Brendan Hughes, the former Belfast IRA commander whose taped testimony has been made public.
Since Adams’s arrest in connection with the McConville murder, McIntyre and Moloney have faced sustained verbal attacks. Sinn Féin councillors and their supporters have labelled them “Boston College touts” – a euphemism for informers.
By Ed Moloney and Bob Mitchell
On April 15, 1972 the Official IRA legend, Joe McCann was shot dead by British paratroopers near Joy Street in his native Markets district of Belfast as he fled a joint RUC Special Branch and military patrol attempting to arrest him.
Controversy surrounded his death with allegations quickly following that he had been finished off after being wounded. The alleged presence of ten empty shell cases lying on the street around his remains was cited as evidence. Conspiracy theorists also speculated that since pro-ceasefire elements in the OIRA leadership would gain by the death of this strongly militant leader, they had somehow had a hand in his death. The fact that OIRA called a ceasefire a few weeks later added weight to this theory.
Whatever the truth McCann was a popular figure throughout the then fractured republican community. He had joined the IRA, reputedly along with Gerry Adams and Denis Donaldson, in the mid-1960’s and thus spanned the breach that came with the Provisional-Official split in December 1969 and January 1970.
Some believe that if he had lived he would have sided with Seamus Costello when the Officials split, essentially over resuming armed struggle, in the mid-1970’s and so the British paratroopers who gunned him down arguably denied the resulting INLA a potentially influential and charismatic leader.
Anger at McCann’s death, and especially the manner of it, united the two wings of the IRA and they launched fierce attacks on the British military in the following days which cost at least three soldiers their lives.
A letter discovered by Bob Mitchell in the Irish national archives – correspondence between the Irish ambassador in London, Donal O’Sullivan to the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, Hugh McCann – reveals the concern of the then NI Secretary, William Whitelaw that killing Joe McCann made him a martyr and led to an upsurge in IRA violence.
The letter also demonstrates an abiding feature of British policy in Northern Ireland, a stubborn adherence to the ‘wishful thinking’ school of policymaking. Whitelaw wrote that McCann’s death came at a time “….when support for (the IRA) is, according to all his information, noticeably on the wane”.
Remember this is just three months or so since Bloody Sunday when anger at the British throughout Ireland reached unprecedented levels. How Whitelaw or his intelligence officials could reach such a contrary conclusion defies understanding. The prevalence of such attitudes probably explains why and how the British kept screwing things up in NI.
Two other interesting points: the SDLP leader Gerry Fitt told Whitelaw that there were some IRA gunmen in Long Kesh who should never be released from jail. And British concern at Unionist reaction to a proposed dinner between Whitelaw and his opposite number from Dublin, Foreign Affairs minister Patrick Hillery to be held at the Irish embassy in London led to the encounter being downgraded to a meeting in Whitelaw’s office.
Here’s the letter:
On Saturday May 31st, one of Ireland’s most celebrated broadcasters, Marian Finucane conducted a lengthy, near hour-long interview with the North’s deputy First Minister and former IRA Chief of Staff, Martin McGuinness on her RTE radio show.
During the interview Martin McGuinness distanced himself from the IRA’s practice of ‘disappearing’ people it had killed and, as significantly, from the people who are most closely associated with it. In what has to be one of the strongest condemnations of the policy by a member of the Provisionals, he called the practice “shameful”, “absolutely terrible” and “awful” and said he was “horrified” when it once happened in Derry.
In his interview McGuinness cited his opposition to the disappearance of a man from Derry in the early 1970’s who had been accused by the IRA of informing and shot dead. He claimed that his opposition, voiced to local leaders, led to the man’s remains being exhumed and returned to his family. But was the former IRA chief telling the truth about his role in this case and if not, how genuine then was his expression of distaste for the policy of ‘disappearing’ people to Marian Finucane?
Below, former Derry IRA activist and prisoner Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliott, who shared a prison cell with Bobby Sands, examines the evidence.
“I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.”
– Garrison Keillor
By Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliott
First, here is the transcript of the part of the Marian Finucane interview that deals with Martin McGuinness’ views on ‘disappearing’ people and his experience of a victim of the IRA policy in Derry. The full interview can be heard here.
MF – Can I ask you a question? Why did the IRA decide to disappear people after they’d been shot?
MMcG – Yea, Terrible. Absolutely terrible. And very, very wrong in my opinion. It was awful and I suppose in the context of what was a very bitter conflict where terrible things were happening on all sides this was one of the worst things that ever happened.
MF – Can you give us an insight into discussions that might have happened about that?
MMcG – Well, I wasn’t involved in any of those discussions at all. What I was involved in….
MF – Presumably you noticed it, presumably you knew, you knew…..I’m not asking you to name people or anything like that because…..but you knew people who were involved in the policy decision.
MMcG – No, I didn’t know people who were involved in the policy decision except to say when I became aware that this was happening I was very much of a view that everything possible should be done by republicans, and we’ve issued countless appeals to republicans who were involved in these scenarios to bring forward information. With considerable success. But there are still outstanding cases to be resolved.
MF – I appreciate that and I know how difficult it is for the families and all of that, very much so. But I thought that if somebody was a tout and they were going to be shot, that they would be shot and they would be left there as an example. What thinking came round to disappearing people?
MMcG – Well, only the people who took the decision can answer that question. I mean I remember, I remember, I remember being in Portlaoise prison in 1974 I think it was, and a man from Derry had been shot and the story was that he had been disappeared and had been buried somewhere or wherever and I was absolutely furious about it and it was actually when I got out of prison I met with local republicans and voiced my opposition and criticism of what happened and very soon afterwards that man’s body was returned.
MF – And what did they say to you when you said to them this is a new low or whatever language you would use, I don’t know? What was the argument back? That’s what I can’t figure out.
MMcG – Well as far as I was concerned they had no argument….
MF – But they had one. What was it?
MMcG – I think it was more, I think it was more to do with whatever the person was alleged to have been involved in, whatever accusation had been made against and for me there was no rationale, it was absolutely unforgivable that those families have been subjected to the terrible trauma that they have been subjected to by republicans over those years.
MF – But what I am trying to do….because you must have heard arguments. You knew, if you didn’t know the specific people, you knew people who had been olved like you say, you spoke to republicans in Derry. What, what were the arguments?
MMcG – Well the arguments that they made to me was that the person in this particular case was someone from the local area and from their perspective they thought at a time when they were in conflict with the British, that it wasn’t from their perspective that they wanted to be publicly associated with, and that was the public execution of people who were from their own community who had been in the employ or agents for the British….I don’t accept that argument and I said so at the time.
MF – Because they felt it would alienate people from them?
MMcG – I think it was more because they wanted the focus to be more on the conflict between the IRA and the British Army and British state forces as opposed to civilians. But that’s only my assessment of what was said to me in that particular incident at that time. It wasn’t something that I wanted, I argued against it and to be quite honest I was horrified when I heard that this had happened and argued, well I think I argued to a point where I convinced people that they should remedy the situation.
MF – Because….it’s just something that has gone around in my head, why people would do it and you must have heard discussions about it even if it was just discussions criticising it?
MMcG – Well, I was very, very critical of it and I think the example that I gave about the situation in Derry probably could be applied to other areas. I don’t think it is an argument that holds up. I think that the way in which these families were treated…was absolutely wrong and republicans have to hold their hands up in accepting one of the most shameful situations that occurred during the course of something like 25 years of conflict.
The case Martin McGuinness referred to was that of Patrick Duffy, a 37 year old father of seven children, from Derry’s Creggan estate, who was taken from a bar in Buncrana, County Donegal on the 9th August 1973 and shot dead as an informer.
His body was then secretly buried in a bog, something which not only caused outrage among the public, politicians and the clergy in Derry but also local Republicans who were interned in Long Kesh. These Republicans believed that although he had been executed as an informer his family had every right to bury his body with dignity and not allowing that was anathema to the principles of Republicanism.
Patrick Duffy was disappeared, not in 1974, as McGuinness claimed but on the 9th August 1973 when McGuinness was free but on the run in the South. He had served a 6 month sentence in Portlaoise jail earlier in 1973 after he and another member of the IRA were arrested after abandoning a red Cortina containing explosives and ammunition in the South on New Year’s Eve 1972 but he was released on the 16th May 1973, three months or so before Patrick Duffy was killed and disappeared.
He didn’t see the inside of a prison cell again until 11th February 1974 when he was sentenced to 12 months for membership of a proscribed organisation and three months concurrent for withholding information, again in Portlaoise jail. That was six months or more after Patrick Duffy was killed. His claim to Marian Finucane that he was in jail at the time of Duffy’s disappearance is therefore simply unsupported by the verifiable facts.
Far from being inside a prison cell at the time of Patrick Duffy’s killing and disappearance, Martin McGuinness was actually on the run and living in his grandmother’s house in Illies outside Buncrana, Co. Donegal. It was there that he received a note carried by the wife of one of the republican internees from Derry informing him that if the body wasn’t returned to the family then they would condemn Duffy’s disappearance publicly, an act that would cause huge embarrassment and discomfort to the Derry IRA leadership.
The name of the internee’s wife and the nature of her mission to Martin McGuinness is well known to Derry’s republican community.
And far from being inside a prison cell at this time of Patrick Duffy’s death, McGuinness actually showed up on the streets of Derry just nine days after the alleged informer’s death and burial in a secret grave and shared a platform with another republican who condemned clerical criticism of Duffy’s killing and disappearance.
According to the Derry Journal, 21st August 1973, Martin McGuinness ‘made a dramatic public appearance’ at a Provisional IRA commemoration ceremony on the 18th August to mark the 2nd Anniversary of the death of Volunteer Eamonn Lafferty. About 700 Republicans attended the ceremony at which McGuinness spoke before Barney McFadden, a leading member of Derry Sinn Fein, who condemned local priests who had called for the return of the body at Mass that morning. The priest’s condemnation and that of politicians was carried on the same page of the Journal.
The threat from Long Kesh worked. Patrick Duffy’s body was dug up and left in a brand new coffin inside a car which was abandoned on the Buncrana Road on the Northern side of the border on the 24th August, 1973. It was the pressure from Derry Republicans who were interned which eventually brought about the return of the body and not, as Martin McGuinness claimed to Marian Finucane, his insistence to the IRA in Derry that they should “remedy” the situation.
Martin McGuinness told two lies to Marian Finucane. One was that he was in jail, well away from the scene of the crime, when Patrick Duffy was shot and buried in a Donegal bog. The second was that he had intervened and secured Patrick Duffy’s return to his family because of his abhorrence and anger at the dead man’s disappearance. Not true. It was the fear of IRA internees turning against the Derry IRA leadership which achieved that. If Martin McGuinness misled Marian Finucane about what really happened in the Patrick Duffy case then how can anyone believe that his condemnation of the IRA policy of disappearing people is at all genuine?
Once more, we see a leading member of Sinn Fein rewriting history in order to distance himself from his own past and to lay the blame on those who merely took orders. The blatant lies like the one above are proof that if the contents of the Boston Project are destroyed and lost forever then future generations will not be able to learn from the mistakes and indeed the wrongs of the past.
Only the truth will convince those coming behind us, in particular future Republicans, that war is dirty, it wastes lives and when so called leadership figures decide that a change of direction better suits their interests then it is the people fighting the war who go to the wall and not those leading from a safe distance.
Announcing his retirement at the end of this month, earlier than expected, outgoing PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot had these words to say to his last meeting of the North’s Policing Board yesterday, as quoted by the BBC:
I’m a great believer, as my colleagues are, in both justice and truth. But dealing with the past is both debilitating and toxic to confidence in today’s police service.
It is time to deal with the past in a different way, which does not ignore it, but moves it to one side and puts leadership, investigation and resolution in different, independent hands.
Well, there’s an easy way to live up to those words Matt. Cancel the new subpoena apparently being prepared to serve on Boston College for the remainder of the archive. Unless of course the real authority in the PSNI lies elsewhere, in MI5 headquarters for instance and you are powerless to stop them?
In the frenetic and often chaotic days that followed the arrest of Gerry Adams, I entirely missed this story by Peter Schworm in the Boston Globe reporting that Boston College had pledged itself to resist the threatened new subpoena from the PSNI.
Now, after three heartbreaking and demoralising years of following Boston College’s slow but sure surrender to the PSNI, I have to say that it will take more than Schworm’s reporting, excellent though it may be, to persuade me that the leopard of Chestnut Hill has changed its spots.
Nonetheless Jack Dunn’s pledge is now on record and if it should happen that Boston College does keep this promise then I will be the first to raise my hat, albeit timorously until I see how long the pledge is kept (being painfully aware that BC had to be blackmailed by my leak to the New York Times to challenge the first subpoena and abandoned the fight at the first opportunity, when the Boston Federal District Court ruled in favor of the PSNI).
If, however, Mr Dunn was being economical with the truth and made this pledge in case anything less would have been seen as abject cowardice by the gathered media, then I hope he is held to account in all the appropriate ways.
Anyway here is Peter Schworm’s story:
Northern Ireland seeks all Belfast Project interviews
By Peter Schworm
May 23, 2014
Boston College will contest a new legal bid by British law enforcement to seize the entire trove of interviews from the university’s Belfast Project, university officials said Friday, joining a renewed battle over the controversial archive.
In a statement Thursday, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said it would seek to obtain the collection of interviews with former members of militia groups that clashed during the decades-long conflict known in Northern Ireland as the Troubles. But police did not specify a course of action or timetable.
“Detectives in Serious Crime Branch have initiated steps to obtain all the material from Boston College as part of the Belfast project,” the Police Service said. “This is in line with PSNI’s statutory duty to investigate fully all matters of serious crime, including murder.”
A spokesman for Boston College said Friday that the university had not received any information about the move to acquire the archives. But the spokesman said the blanket request for all materials, including interviews with more than a dozen members of a militia group loyal to Britain, seemed aimed at rebutting critics who have accused British authorities of using the archives for political purposes.
“The [Police Service of Northern Ireland] has been criticized for only pursuing the interviews of former IRA members,” said spokesman Jack Dunn. “This appears to be an attempt to deflect criticism that their actions were politically motivated.”
A spokesman for the Police Service declined to comment.
From 2001 to 2006, researchers interviewed former members of the Irish Republican Army, who sought a united Ireland, and former members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, a paramilitary group that wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Dunn said Boston College would fight to protect the interviews and hoped that US authorities would reject the legal request.
“Since the first subpoenas were issued in 2011, Boston College has pursued legal, political, and diplomatic efforts to oppose the effort of British law enforcement to obtain the interviews in an effort to protect the enterprise of oral history and the peace agreement in Northern Ireland,” Dunn said. “We will continue to do so and hope that the State Department and the Department of Justice will reject this latest request.”
A spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office in Massachusetts declined to comment.
Former militia members consented to interviews for the oral history project with the assurance that their statements would be kept confidential until their death. But Northern Ireland authorities, using a mutual legal assistance treaty with the United States, pursued the interviews as potential evidence of past crimes.
The treaty requires the nations to share information that could aid in criminal investigations.
After a lengthy court battle, Boston College was compelled to hand over 11 interviews with former members of the Irish Republican Army, leading to the recent arrest of Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, in connection with the notorious 1972 killing of Jean McConville.
After being released without charges earlier this month, Adams said interviews from the oral history project formed the basis for his arrest. Adams has denied any involvement in the killing of McConville, a mother of 10 who the IRA believed was an informer.
McConville was abducted and secretly buried. Years later, the IRA admitted responsibility for her death.
Information from the interviews also led to the arrest of Ivor Bell, a former IRA member who was charged in the slaying of McConville.
The arrests have led to criticism that Northern Irish authorities are exploiting the archives to cause political damage to Adams and Sinn Fein, the former political arm of the Irish Republican Army. Adams has criticized researchers for focusing on former IRA members who became critics of Adams and the peace process.
After Adams’s arrest, Boston College said it would return interviews to any participants who requested them and would not keep copies. Several people had already made requests.
Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist who led the project, blasted the British authorities’ latest bid to obtain the archives.
“I call upon the US government to resist this fishing expedition by the PSNI and to remember that the major consequence of this bid to invade an American college’s private archive will be to undermine a peace deal that was in no small way the product of careful American diplomacy and peace building,” he wrote on his blog.
“I also call upon Boston College to vigorously resist this action and to rally the rest of American academe in the cause of research confidentiality,” he wrote.
NBC News has also requested that previously subpoenaed materials be unsealed, writing that “any case involving incidents of terrorism and criminality . . . is a matter of great public interest.”
Sarah Wunsch — staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which backed two project researchers in their effort to protect the interviews — called on American authorities to reject the police request.
“I think it’s time for the US government to call a halt to this, which is not only damaging to oral history and academic freedom, but also immensely damaging to peace in Northern Ireland,” she said.