Monthly Archives: November 2014

‘And Then A Call Came Through From Belfast….’ – Kieran Conway On The Day He Quit The IRA

In the wake of the publication of his memoir of life in the IRA – Southside Provisional – From Freedom Fighter To The Four Courts – Kieran Conway last week gave a twenty minute or so radio interview to RTE’s Sean O’Rourke which can be heard here.

Towards the end he explained in a little more depth the sequence of events that persuaded him to leave the IRA (he was also a member of Sinn Fein) on the same day that the Downing Street Declaration was unveiled at Downing Street on December 15th, 1993.

John Major and Albert Reynolds address the media outside Downing Street on the day the Declaration was published

John Major and Albert Reynolds address the media outside Downing Street on the day the Declaration was published

He deals with his resignation from the IRA in general terms in his book but this exchange with O’Rourke added fascinating detail which sheds new light on this most crucial episode in the history of the peace process. It begins about 20’40” minutes into the interview. Here is the transcript:

Q – What about where it all ended up? Not just the Downing Street Declaration, John Major, Albert Reynolds but the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement; do you think that was a good outcome?

A – I don’t. It certainly wasn’t the outcome that people died for, and that people killed people for. So the outcome is a disappointment to me but it is two decades on and my bitterness has abated somewhat.

Q – Why did you leave on the day of the Downing Street Declaration?

A – I left on the day of the Downing Street Declaration because…..I was down at the An Phoblacht office with a lot of other people watching it. We expected certain things to be said. We expected in particular some sort of indication of a British interest in leaving Ireland. That didn’t happen. Then a call came through from Belfast and the caller, who was Gerry Adams, said that people should settle down, that they could work with it and I thought ‘right….’. The gloom in the room evaporated and I thought ‘right, I’m off…..’ and went home.

A central thesis of my study of the IRA’s journey to the peace process, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ is that there was in fact two peace processes in place during the 1990’s, one that IRA activists like Kieran Conway thought was happening and another, kept hidden from most republicans, which is the one that Gerry Adams and his close confidantes in the Provo ‘Think Tank’, Fr. Reid and the two governments had developed and which ultimately triumphed.

The peace process of Kieran Conway et al was supposed to culminate in a Downing Street Declaration (aka the Hume-Adams Agreement) or some equivalent document which would commit the British to withdrawal from Northern Ireland and to a timescale for that to happen, although the IRA Army Council had conceded that this could be many years in the future.

The real Downing Street Declaration, the one that persuaded Conway to walk out of the An Phoblacht office that December day, not only gave no such commitment but it actually enshrined and, arguably, cemented the principle of Unionist consent as an agreed pillar of inter-governmental policy on the North.

There was no timescale for British withdrawal and instead the Provos would be wedded to the notion that Ireland could never be independent and united until or unless the Unionists agreed – a principle they had spent nearly twenty-five years trying to overturn.

Unless they walked away and resumed their war.

This mural, which reflected the real mood of grassroots Provos, appeared on the Falls Road in the wake of the Declaration but it was soon painted over.

This mural, which reflected the real mood of grassroots Provos, appeared on the Falls Road in the wake of the Declaration but it was soon painted over.

That option, most likely, reflected the mood in the An Phoblacht office as Kieran Conway and his colleagues watched events unfold in London. Until the call came in from Gerry Adams to re-assure people that “they could work with it” and the despair lightened.

The Army Council felt the same way as the pre-Adams’ phone call crowd in the An Phoblacht office. It voted to reject the Downing Street Declaration but Adams managed to persuade the Council to keep the decision secret. At the same time the IRA & Sinn Fein rank and file was assured there would be no ceasefire.

That bought precious time which the various governments used to sweeten a very bitter pill and effectively to make rejection by the Provos a very expensive option. It also created space for Adams and his allies to nudge their colleagues towards inevitable acceptance.

The truth was that when the Provos refused to instantly reject the Downing Street Declaration they were bound to accept it, and it was only a matter of time before acquiescence became formal, de facto if not de jure. (Although he did not say as much, Conway seems to have regarded Adams’ phone call as prefiguring precisely this.)

So the days, weeks and months after the Downing Street Declaration saw an elaborate dance unfold whose ending was almost pre-scripted.

Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds repealed Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, meaning that Provos could, for the first time in three decades, appear unfettered on the national airwaves while US President Bill Clinton allowed Gerry Adams to make a four-day trip to New York. There Irish-America feted him as re-born Eamon de Valera and the US media treated him as an irish Che Guevara. The fact that the British objected – or perhaps acted as if they objected – to the visa was a bonus.

Going back to war after such concessions, which is what rejecting the Downing Street Declaration meant, would justify the most extreme repression of the IRA by the British and Irish governments – with American approval – and everyone knew it. Rejection of the Downing Street document would bring military defeat and almost certain political isolation.

Buying time was also the Provo leadership’s priority. The demand was raised for clarification of the Downing Street Declaration and weeks were wasted on what everyone knew was a futile and even bogus exercise (how does one discover a hidden meaning in this sentence, for instance:

[The Taoiseach] accepts, on behalf of the Irish Government, that the democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland?).

In the wake of the Downing Street Declaration, the Adams Think Tank devised the TUAS strategy for a pan-Nationalist alliance consisting of Irish government, SDLP and Sinn Fein which together would pressure the British to move in the right direction (whatever happened to that idea by the way?).

The TUAS acronym was cleverly devised. Appropriate for a peace process that was full of double meaning not to mention dissimulation, the Provo grassroots were told it stood for Tactical Use of Armed Struggle while the media, governments and so on were led to believe it meant Totally UnArmed Strategy.

Its effect internally was to calm grassroots nerves, suggesting that renewed warfare was still a possibility, while re-assuring the governments and the media that alternatives to violence were under discussion. Nothing captured the ambiguity and double meanings of the peace process better than that four-letter acronym.

Together all of these responses, from the governments and from the Provo leadership, were sufficient to muddy the waters, buy time and create the atmosphere within which the ceasefire of August 1994 could be called. By the time that happened, the Downing Street Declaration had been all but forgotten, its effective acceptance by the Provos quietly accepted all round.

Kieran Conway’s account describes how the Provo side of all this started, at least in the Dublin headquarters of Sinn Fein, and places Gerry Adams firmly in the role of persuader and enabler. One can only imagine that this was only one of many phone calls made by the Sinn Fein president that day.

Such an insight demonstrates the value to future generations of exercises such as Southside Provisional. One can only hope that Kieran Conway’s example will inspire others to tell their own stories.

We shall see…….

 

 

Southern Political Leaders & Media Need To Watch These Programmes Before The Next General Election And Ponder The Future

Congratulations to the BBC in Belfast, and especially Spotlight producer Lena Ferguson and her team, for making these two excellent documentaries detailing expenses corruption and fraud committed by individual members of, and political parties represented in the Northern Assembly – in particular Sinn Fein and the DUP, the two principal parties that make up the power-sharing government at Stormont.

Lena Ferguson with former BBC colleague Alex Thomson pictured outside Stormont Castle

Lena Ferguson with former BBC colleague Alex Thomson pictured outside Stormont Castle

Here are the links to the two Spotlight programmes and readers should know they have 28 days or less in which to view them. Viewers outside Ireland and the UK can watch the BBC iPlayer via Hola.org, a VPN which by-passes blocks on foreign viewers imposed by the BBC.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04phkz5/spotlight-18112014

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04q0l31/spotlight-25112014

All the parties involved in the peace process deal, bar Alliance, get a touch in the Spotlight shows but while the SDLP and the Official or Ulster Unionists do not emerge unscathed they are in the ha’penny place compared to the DUP and Sinn Fein while the DUP is in the minor leagues compared to Sinn Fein.

The inference from the Spotlight expose is that in Sinn Fein’s case the corruption is organised, extensive and centralised, with money that was supposed to go towards meeting MLA’s office expenses instead pouring into the party’s central bank account in West Belfast.

What happened to that money – which must be a sum of seven figures if, as seems likely, all or most of Sinn Fein’s MLA’s expenses since 2006 got paid into a central account – is not known as Sinn Fein’s bank is under no obligation to reveal such details to the media.

Follow the Money - did Sinn Fein MLA's office expenses get diverted into the party's central coffers?

Follow the Money – did Sinn Fein MLA’s office expenses get diverted into the party’s central coffers?

But this writer would not be surprised to learn that a substantial slice made its way south of the Border to help finance Sinn Fein’s bid to enter government in Dublin, which now seems a very likely outcome of the next general election there.

Sinn Fein’s enormous wealth on that side of the Border and the impact it is likely to have on the result of the next general election is the 500 pound gorilla in the room which few people are yet prepared to talk about.

The possibility that Sinn Fein’s entree into Government Buildings in Dublin might be greased by corruption in the Belfast Assembly is one thing that should cause concern to the political parties in Dublin. But it is not the only worrying aspect.

While none of the South’s political parties are exactly snow white when it comes to corruption allegations there is a difference. Corruption in parties like Fianna Fail tends to be centred on individuals such as Charles Haughey, while the evidence from the Spotlight probes suggests that in the case of Sinn Fein it is both wholesale and centralised and that implicitly it is being directed as part of a political strategy rather than for personal enrichment.

These are the tell-tale fingerpints of a party under the control of a centralised authority which is able to exert its will over individual MLA’s because they accept the sovereignty of that authority (why else would MLA’s fail to protest when their office expenses are taken from them?).

For some reason it evokes memories of that famous IRA Staff document discovered by the Irish police when Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey was arrested in 1977: “Sinn Fein should come under Army (i.e. IRA) organizers at all levels”. That document heralded the Adams-led takeover of the IRA and Sinn Fein which ultimately led to where we are now.

So here is one issue that should now be of paramount concern to political leaders in Dublin: if what has been exposed by Spotlight is how Sinn Fein behaves in a Mickey Mouse parliament and government like that in the Stormont Assembly what on earth will they get up to if they enter a government in Dublin which exercises real power?

The other issue is this: is Sinn Fein still controlled by the IRA? Has the Twomey directive ever been rescinded and if so when? If not, shouldn’t we be told?

 

 

A Guest Column – ‘Dark Threats from the Big Lad’

This is from Henry McDonald’s blog. Enjoy!

Gerry Adams’ Letter Box…..

Inquiry Into Rape Claims Against Irish Republican Army

Among those supplying information to the authorities is Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, an Irish nationalist political party that had close ties to the I.R.A. during the conflict in Northern Ireland. Mr. Adams, who is now a member of the Irish Parliament, confirmed that he had recently passed information to the Irish authorities, and not for the first time.

“I have brought forward information that I have received, and I have no reason to doubt its authenticity,” he said in an interview Monday with the Irish state broadcaster RTE. “It came to me anonymously. It was left in the letter box of my home in Belfast.” He said he would cooperate fully with the police investigation. – New York Times, Nov 25, 2014

 

magnum-letterbox

Okay, So Who Were The South Dublin Professionals Helping The IRA In 1974?

Kieran Conway’s account of his life in the IRA – ‘Southside Provisional’ – hit the streets today and having read it before it went to the book stores, I guess I have a bit of jump on all you poor schmucks who have to make your way to the local Eason’s, Waterstones, Amazon website or wherever to get your copy.

So, I don’t want to spoil it for any of you either by revealing too much of its contents (what’s really interesting about the book, by the way, is a) the engrossing detail about life as an IRA activist, b) the evident pride he has in taking part in a struggle that most of us would have shrunk from – he would do it again, he writes, but for the way it ended – and c) the fascinating pen portraits of some of the IRA’s leading figures, characters that decades of conventional media coverage have turned into cardboard cut-outs).

Anyway, to amuse my legions of readers here’s a little guessing game arising from his appointment in late 1974 as the IRA’s Director of Intelligence by Seamus Twomey, who took over as Chief of Staff from Eamonn Doherty, easily the least known of all IRA leaders:

Among the intelligence contacts I was given was a man I will call ‘the Banker’ with whom both Dave O’Connell and Eamonn Doherty used to stay. The Banker, in turn, introduced me to a circle of well-placed people in and around the south Dublin area where I had grown up, most of who were as clean as whistles. They included journalists, stockbrokers, lawyers and other professionals, a number of whom became quite famous in the course of their careers. It was a fantastic human infrastructure which I was never able to properly exploit and we ended up simply using many of their houses for meetings and to billet visiting volunteers.

And this from a section on the IRA inquest into the disastrous Birmingham bombs of November 1974 which killed 21 people:

The then England O/C and adjutant had made it home and were debriefed by O’Connell and another member of the leadership at the home of a well-known journalist in south Dublin, to where I had been brought as well for different reasons. I met both men and, though I took no part in the actual debrief, I was later told by Dave that the early indications were that the casualties were the result of yet another failure in the warning system, a succession of phone boxes from which the warning might have been relayed having proved to be inoperable.

So here’s the question: who were these South Dublin professionals who helped the IRA out back in the day? A bonus prize for anyone who can name the “well-known” journalist or journalists. Answers on a postcard to: The Stepford Wives Trust, c/o The GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin 1, Ireland.

First prize: Breakfast with Mary Lou McDonald;

Second prize: Breakfast & lunch with Mary Lou McDonald;

Third prize: Breakfast, lunch & dinner with Mary Lou McDonald;

Bonus prize: A nice bedtime cup of hot chocolate with MLMcD to round off a perfect day!

How Liberal Neocons Like Samantha Power Sent Libya To Hell In A Hand-basket!

That awful woman, Samantha Power was on the Jon Stewart show last week and my heart bled for the comedian host. Interviewing Power was a bit like interrogating a plank of wood, except a plank of wood would have interesting splinters, knots and nails sticking out.

Power, who has risen to become Obama’s ambassador at the United Nations, is known as a liberal interventionist. That is diplo-speak for someone who is a neocon but wants to make it in the Democratic Party, where neocon is still a dirty word associated with Bush, Cheney and the invasion of Iraq.

Conventional neocons want to invade other countries to advance American interests, or those of their allies like Israel, and make no bones or pretence about it, whereas liberal interventionists want to do the same but dress their motives up in sham humanitarian clothes.

So it was that in the Spring of 2011, Power became one of the loudest voices in the Obama White House for the proxy invasion of Libya, arguing that the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi was threatening to slaughter the citizens of Benghazi because of their support for regime change, qua the Arab Spring. Without intervention by the West there would be a bloodbath, she and others shrieked.

In fact, as one well sourced study discovered, the threat was enormously exaggerated; there never was a chance of a bloodbath and the citizens of Benghazi agitating for Gaddafi’s removal turned out to be jihadis who had returned from places like Afghanistan where they had been trying to kill American infidels.

Fast forward nearly four years and the jihadis are almost running the place, turning what had once been a pleasant, prosperous country run by a man who, in his late middle age, had actually prostrated himself to the US & Europe, abandoning his old anti-imperialist ways to become one of the West’s most reliable if rather pathetic allies (who for instance obligingly tortured Al Qaeda suspects for the CIA) into a horror show.

The latest development is that the nice people from ISIS have arrived on the shores of Libya and have set up shop not far from Benghazi where they have begun happily chopping off the heads of anyone who says boo to them.

For some reason Samantha Power hasn’t got much to say about Libya these days. And Jon Stewart had the good grace not to ask, not even: “How did that Libyan thing work out for you, Sammi?”

The truth is that ISIS in Syria and Iraq was created by American and Israeli neocons, i.e. Bush, Cheney and Netanyahu (with lots of help from T Blair) while ISIS in Libya was created by Barrack Obama and Samantha Power (with a little help from David Cameron). Neocons all, no matter what they call themselves.

Here is a depressing update about ISIS in Libya:

‘Southside Provisional’ – A Former IRA Leader Tells His Story

CoverKieran Conway is that most unlikely of IRA activists. Reared in affluent Killiney and educated at prestigious Blackrock College, he was the epitome of a Dublin Four, middle-class anglophile, headed for a career in the law and a conventional, comfortable life amid the detached splendour and manicured lawns of Southside Dublin.

If his life had worked out as his parents hoped, the most exciting event of his life each year would have been the Ireland v. England rugby international at Lansdowne Road.

Except in 1970, his life took a completely different course. The late 1960’s were the years that radical, left-wing student politics swept across Europe and the US and it was no different in Dublin, especially at UCD where Conway was briefly a student.

In the US and elsewhere in Europe it was the Vietnam war which was the catalyst but in Ireland the North was a fiery spark and Kieran Conway’s life was changed. And so in 1970 he decided that he wanted to join the IRA, any IRA. Rebuffed by both the Officials and Provisionals in Ireland he learned that it was easier to join up in England and so he set off for London and by that backdoor route began one of the most unusual and intriguing stories of life in the Provisional IRA.

Conway had two spells in the IRA, from 1970 to 1975 and from 1981 to 1993, when finally, disillusioned with the direction the IRA was taking, he drifted away, the cord not so much cut as frayed away. His career in the Provos took him to the IRA’s GHQ Staff as Director of Intelligence via a spell on active service in Derry at a time when Martin McGuinness was a rising military star, and some jail time in Long Kesh, imprisoned on an arms charge.

Kieran Conway finally made it to the law, was briefly a barrister and now runs a solicitor’s practice in Dublin. A couple of years ago he sat down to write the story of his life as an IRA activist. (Disclosure: I was happy on a couple of occasions to give him some advice.)

The result, ‘Southside Provisional – From Freedom Fighter to the Four Courts’, will be published next Wednesday, Nov 19th by Orpen Press and his book deserves to take its place among the better first-hand accounts by an IRA activist in this or past campaigns.

It is certainly head and shoulders above the few experiental expositions of the Provisional IRA that have seen daylight thus far. One or two of those accounts are notable for their dishonesty whereas what shines out from Kieran Conway’s story is a refreshing and much needed candour that reveals but not recklessly so.

Time will tell whether Kieran Conway’ decision to tell his story has a wider impact, persuading others to follow his example. One thing is for sure: up to now activists’ accounts have been characterised by dissembling, obfuscation, sleight of hand, too much hiding of the truth. Those who would like to change that do not have time on their side.

It is time to write the true story of the IRA; otherwise the lies will survive to prevail. Kieran Conway has made a valuable start.