Monthly Archives: January 2018

Well, Hello Mary Lou……

If there was a touch of a Soviet-era change of ruler in Mary Lou McDonald’s ascension to the leadership of Sinn Fein, this weekend – at a meeting of the SF ard-comhairle held, intriguingly, in the Balmoral Hotel in West Belfast – then it is hardly surprising.

There was ever only one candidate to succeed Gerry Adams and the process by which Mary Lou was chosen is every bit as opaque and lacking in open debate as was the transition from Brezhnev to Andropov to Chernenko, a series of successions decided by anonymous Kremlin committees behind firmly closed doors.

In the case of who would be chosen to succeed Gerry Adams, the overwhelming belief is that the decision was Adams’ alone to make and for the rest of the party to endorse. If a committee was involved, it was indubitably not a Sinn Fein one.

This raises two questions which will haunt Mary Lou, at least until she settles them to the satisfaction of everyone, not just the cynics and sceptics.

Goodbye Gerry, Hello Mary Lou?

One is whether Gerry Adams will continue to exercise influence behind the throne. As of now, we have no idea what his role is likely to be in Mary Lou’s SF. Will he retire to the hills of Donegal, take up a teaching post in a women’s college somewhere in New England or, as the smart money has it, plot his bid to succeed Michael D. in the Park?

If it is the latter, then he will run as the Sinn Fein candidate and people can hardly be blamed for viewing him as the real leader of that party, and Mary Lou as a bit of a place holder.

The other closely related question is what influence the IRA will continue to exert over Sinn Fein under a Mary Lou chieftancy?

First of all, be under no illusion. The IRA has really not gone away, you know! And it probably never will.

It exists not in the numbers and strength it once had to be sure, but in skeleton form, with an intelligence department, an armed unit to protect the leadership from dissidents and other enemies, and a leadership which decides policy.

More importantly it keeps control over the IRA’s considerable portfolio of properties and businesses, from holiday homes in Portugal to security firms in Dublin. It is this hoard of valuable assets, in Ireland and abroad, which gives the IRA its real raison d’etre. That, and its unique possession of the united Ireland dream.

The reason people are entitled to ask whether the IRA will intrude into a Mary Lou SF leadership is that there has never been any public repudiation of an IRA edict, uncovered at the time of the 1977 arrest in Dublin of then Chief of Staff, Seamus Twomey, declaring that Sinn Fein had to come under IRA control ‘at every level’.

The order was part of the re-organisation of the republican movement spearheaded by Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Ivor Bell and their then allies in the movement, part of which was intended to make the IRA, via Sinn Fein activity, more politically relevant and thus help it to sustain a so-called ‘long war’. It was a Gerry Adams-inspired plan for the Sinn Fein which he led and directed for the next 35 years.

It may be that rather than publicly announcing that it no longer applies that the edict has been allowed to quietly lapse. But we don’t know because not even the original command has been publicly acknowledged, even though anyone who has had dealings with the Provos knew it was the guiding principle.

If Mary Lou wishes to convince people that her leadership will genuinely usher in a new, IRA-free/freer Sinn Fein – a Sinn Fein that Fine Gael would be able to join with in government – then she must address this issue substantively and persuasively. The banishment of Barry McElduff was a start but Mr Varadkar et al will be looking for much more.

Otherwise, like her predecessor, the IRA will haunt her.

If she does what she must, then we will also see how the North adapts to le nouveau regime. Interesting times lie ahead.

Miami Showband Survivor Calls For Apology To Eugene Reavey

Steven Travers, one of the two surviving members of the Miami showband, has called for an apology to be made to Eugene Reavey, who was falsely accused by the Rev Ian Paisley of organising the Kingsmills massacre in revenge for the UVF murder of his three brothers.

Paisley made his accusation in late January, 1999 under cover of House of Commons privilege, claiming that a security force dossier in his possession had named Eugene Reavey as one of those behind the attack.

Ian Paisley Snr’s action was defended by his son, Ian Paisley Jnr who at the time told the media that no apology would be made for the allegation.

The then RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan strongly denied Paisley’s charge, saying the alleged dossier in Paisley’s possession did not emanate from his force and that Mr Reavey was not considered a suspect in the killings.

Ian Paisley Snr is now dead but his son, Ian Paisley Jnr who took his father’s place as MP for North Antrim is still alive. He was quoted in a 1999 Guardian reports as saying:

“The report that my father quoted from was a confidential police dossier. There is not the slightest chance of an apology being offered.”

Eugene Reavey, pictured outside his home in 2015 has emailed Ian Paisley Jnr with a copy of this post, asking if he was now prepared to apologise to Mr Reavey on behalf of his father.

Stephen Travers was badly wounded in the attacks which killed three members of the band and wounded one other in July 1975. They had played a gig in Belfast and were en route to Dublin when they were stopped at a bogus military checkpoint which was really manned by members of the UVF.

The UVF planned to leave a bomb in their car which was set to explode some time later, thus creating the suspicion that the showband was smuggling explosives for republicans. However the bomb exploded prematurely killing two UVF men.

Stephen Travers

The surviving UVF gunmen opened fire on the showband members, killing Fran O’Toole, Brian McCoy and Tony Geraghty and wounding Stephen Travers and Des Lee.

Stephen Travers made his call for an apology in a tweet responding to a post dealing with the Paisley allegation against Eugene Reavey. Two of Reavey’s brothers were shot dead and a third fatally wounded when UVF gunmen broke into their home in Whitecross in south Armagh two days before the Kingsmill massacre.

How Trump Handed His Israel Policy To American Evangelicals

Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has infuriated much of the Arab world, dismayed Europe but delighted American evangelicals, who see the move as fulfilling a Biblical prophesy about the second coming of Christ.

Jane Eisner, editor of the progressive Jewish magazine, The Forward tells the story of how right-wing US evangelicals, led by Vice President Mike Pence in alliance with wealthy Jewish Americans, have hijacked Trump’s Middle East policy:

Trump Has Handed The Israel Lobby To Evangelicals. That’s Terrifying.

Jane Eisner, January 15, 2018

Vice President Mike Pence’s on again, off again visit to Israel is apparently on again for next week, but the actual timing was never the real thing. Pence and other deeply conservative white Christian evangelicals now driving American policy toward Israel and the Palestinians are playing a very long game that extends far beyond one news cycle.

They are turning public support for Israel — which largely had been bipartisan and religiously pluralistic — into an effort propelled by members of one political party and one religious worldview.

Their belief that Jews, and only Jews, must rule over Jerusalem to herald the return of Jesus Christ influenced President Trump’s decision in December to reverse nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Their absolute fealty toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their antipathy toward the Palestinians are reflected in the itinerary for next week’s trip: Pence is not scheduled to meet with any Palestinian leader, the first time in decades for a top American official.

Some may welcome the way that the Trump administration has tilted the scales toward Israel and its current hard-line government. But there is real reason to worry when foreign policy is in the grip of fundamentalist ideology, when political issues become biblical ones.

And this shift is not confined to America. The president of Guatemala, one of the few leaders to so far follow suit and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, also relies on the support of his country’s influential Christian evangelical community.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee remains the largest, richest and dominant Israel lobby in Washington, and its “big tent” approach still defines support for Israel in Congress and beyond. AIPAC prides itself on being bipartisan, and its annual convention attracts scores and scores of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. While the number of yarmulke-wearing Orthodox Jews attending that convention has increased over the years, AIPAC still finds support in all Jewish religious denominations, and has actively courted other faith groups into its fold.

But after Trump’s unlikely victory, AIPAC is now directly challenged by Christians United for Israel, an evangelical lobby whose more hardline and partisan approach aligns with those setting the agenda in the White House.

As Pence watches on approvingly, Trump brandishes the document promulgating his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

AIPAC supports a two-state solution; CUFI does not. AIPAC was slow to endorse the Taylor Force Act to strip the Palestinian Authority of some funding; CUFI is in favor of defunding the PA entirely. AIPAC largely stayed on the sidelines in pushing for the Jerusalem decision; CUFI was out front.

CUFI has strong personal ties to the White House now that Pence is hovering over Trump’s shoulder. Pence visited Israel with CUFI in 2014, and addressed its annual conference this year. The son of its chief Washington lobbyist is a senior Pence aide.

“The vice president has been a lifelong friend to Israel,” Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s founder and chairman, told Politico after the Jerusalem decision was announced.

In the same interview, Hagee said words that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Orthodox Jews: “(F)or millions of evangelical voters, the president’s position on Israel was a central factor in their support for him in the 2016 election. I think over the past year, and of course in the past week, we’ve seen that our trust in President Trump was well-placed.”

And, perhaps not coincidentally, Trump and CUFI share a major benefactor: the mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who publicly broke with AIPAC some years ago.

These political shifts, expected when new administrations assume power and new parties ascend, are made more consequential because they are rooted in a fundamentalist religious doctrine. Whereas AIPAC embraces many strains of Jewish practice (or none at all) the white evangelical Christians who have Trump’s ear are absolutely certain of their faith-derived convictions.

“This runs deep. It is a core value,” Richard Land told me in an interview. “I can’t imagine that Jewish people and Israelis can have a stronger ally than the evangelical Christians who believe as I do. Even if they attack us, we are going to turn the other cheek. There’s nothing we’re going to do that will stop us from being pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli.”

Land is the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, and formerly ran the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Evangelical Protestants, the majority of them, believe that God made certain promises to Israel and that those promises are still in force,” Land said. “That the Jews are still God’s chosen people. That he gave the land of Canaan to the Jews forever, in obedience and disobedience.”

Since Land and others like him believe that Jesus Christ will only return as the Messiah when Jews reside in Canaan and rule over Jerusalem, the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 is considered a fulfillment of one aspect of biblical prophecy. Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem is another one.

That’s because their faith is predicated on Jews playing a major role, though one that can make many of us uncomfortable.

And while Americans of many faiths subscribe to the idea that Jews, Muslims and Christians pray essentially to the same God, evangelical Christians like Land do not. “The God of Islam is not the father of our lord savior,” he told me. “It’s a different God entirely. I see no resemblance between the God of Islam and the God of Christianity and Judaism. I don’t recognize the God of the Koran.”

So while Jews have a starring role to play in this biblical drama, Muslims decidedly do not. And this isn’t just about what’s going to happen in the Middle East today. Land believes that God will only bless America if America blesses the Jews. And America blesses the Jews by pursuing a foreign policy that ensures Jewish autonomy over all of ancient Israel, including Jerusalem. Including the Temple Mount.

“The Jews being back in the land and being in control of the land, is part of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, “ Land insisted. “If we were, as a country, to thwart the Jewish people and their desires and their God-given right to occupy that land, then God would not bless us as a people.”

This explains how and why a segment of Americans of very deep faith can support not only Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, but also the many other ways he has singled out, demeaned and harmed Muslims. They are simply not blessed. We Jews are.

Policy that is shaped by religious belief has a place in the American public square. But when fervent religious belief is entwined with political power, when the resultant policy is perceived to be divinely ordained, it can become dangerous. It becomes impervious to compromise. It can flare into a holy war.

Politics can make some very strange bedfellows. But before American Jews — Israelis, too — embrace this new alliance for what it may deliver temporarily, we should consider the long-term consequences. Evangelical support for Israel may be heartfelt, but in the end it is transactional. And Jews may ultimately pay the price.

Contact Jane Eisner at or follow her on Twitter, @Jane_Eisner. Sign up here for her weekly newsletter, Jane Looking Forward.

Kingsmills Killings: Look What I Found In The Archives!

The DUP should be a little careful with its commentary on the Barry McElduff affair in the next few days, methinks. This little story from February 1999, which involves the two Ian Paisleys – pere et fils – has somehow escaped the media in Ireland in the last wee while.

So it is worth putting back into circulation as a reminder that no-one in Northern Ireland has a monopoly on bad taste or causing offence – or in this case endangering and destroying another person’s life.

Ian Paisley – accused the brother of three men killed by the UVF of organising Kingsmills in revenge. His allegations were based on a bogus RUC dossier but he avoided any comeback by making his claim under the cover of House of Commons’ privilege.

Barry McElduff’s video stunt has certainly upset the relatives of those killed by the IRA and angered the sole survivor, Alan Black. But Ian Paisley Snr put an innocent man in mortal danger and ruined his life over wildly inaccurate allegations about the Kingsmills perpetrators.

Remember that old saying about people who live in glasshouses…..? Arlene Foster and Co should perhaps think on that before saying anything more about Mr McElduff.

Here is the Guardian report of the affair, dated February 12, 1999, written by John Mullin:

Eugene Reavey’s life was turned upside down 16 days ago. He first learned of it when a neighbour rang. She had caught Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, using parliamentary privilege to name him in the Commons as mastermind of one of the worst atrocities in Northern Ireland’s history.

His son, also Eugene, eight, came home from school the next day. He was upset and shouted at his father: “Did you shoot them? Did you shoot them?” The talk in the playground was of nothing else.

It is the same in the farming world, where Mr Reavey, aged 51, a father of seven, makes his living from breeding French pedigree Limousin and Charolais cattle. He fears his business will collapse because he no longer travels to markets in Unionist areas. He fears a loyalist revenge attack and doubts whether anyone would do business with him. People will say there is no smoke without fire, he says.

Mr Paisley, quoting from a document he claimed was a police dossier, named Mr Reavey in connection with the Kingsmill massacre in 1976, when republican terrorists ambushed a minibus and shot dead 10 Protestant mill workers on a quiet country lane. Another Protestant survived, maimed for life, while a Catholic was allowed to flee.

But Sir Ronnie Flanagan, RUC chief constable, said Mr Paisley, who named 20 men in connection with IRA activity in south Armagh, was wrong. He denied the document Mr Paisley quoted was an RUC dossier, and it is believed it emanated from the now disbanded Ulster Defence Regiment.

After seeing Mr Reavey and Brendan Ferris, another accused, Sir Ronnie said: “We have no evidence whatsoever to connect them with the Kingsmill massacre and there are no outstanding matters that we would intend to interview these gentlemen about.” He is understood to be furious at Mr Paisley’s use of parliamentary privilege.

Mr Reavey was in mourning when the Republican Action Force, a cover name used by the south Armagh IRA when carrying out sectarian attacks, killed the workmen. Loyalists killed his three brothers, John Martin, aged 25, Brian, 22, and Anthony, 17, at the family’s house the previous night. He spent the day organising funerals.

“I have no idea why I would be named,” said Mr Reavey. “It baffles me. I have never been involved with any of the paramilitaries. None of the family has. Paisley is a despicable man. What he was fed was wrong. He should have checked his facts.

“We are terrified. My wife, Roisin, can’t sleep. She’s a teacher and it’s been difficult at work for her. This village is very close to loyalist areas, and about 30 people have been killed during the troubles on the road out there. I’ve hardly been out of the house.

“I was very impressed with Sir Ronnie Flanagan, but no matter what he says, there will be people who think Paisley’s word is sacrosanct. Mud sticks.

“What I want is for Paisley to withdraw his remarks in the Commons. I want an apology for the worry he has put my family through.”

Martin O’Brien, director of the committee for the Administration of Justice, a civil rights group, said: “MPs need to think long and hard before they play with people’s lives in this way.”

Detectives investigating the source of Mr Paisley’s accusations will interview him today. His son, Ian Paisley Junior, a DUP assembly member, said: “The report that my father quoted from was a confidential police dossier.

“There is not the slightest chance of an apology being offered.”

Barry McElduff’s Resignation: The Two Questions That Follow

Barry McElduff’s decision to resign was probably less than voluntary. It is more likely he was told to quit and had no choice.

It followed what is being widely described as a powerful interview with one of the Kingsmill survivors by Miriam O’Callaghan on her RTE Radio One programme yesterday, ‘Sunday With Miriam’.

That gives a clue about the source of pressure on McElduff to quit, i.e. from the Southern section of SF and in particular the party’s leader-in-waiting Mary Lou McDonald who must have been painfully aware of a) the damage McElduff could do to SF’s electoral prospects in the South, and b) that otherwise she would soon meet the same fate as Gerry Adams, pursued in every media interview by endless questions about the IRA’s bloody past.

If this was the case then the significance cannot be understated for it marks the beginning of a process in which Sinn Fein’s political interests in the South leads it to increasingly separate itself not just from the IRA but from Sinn Fein in the North.

The IRA’s place in the Northern Nationalist psyche is deeply embedded and always will be as long as there is a political conflict with Unionism and as long as security policy is riddled with contradictions. The South may find it easy and straightforward to leave the IRA behind; the Northerners not so much.

Here’s an example: if Judge McCloskey had been allowed last Friday to confirm his dismissal of the Police Ombudsman’s report claiming police collusion with the Loughinisland killers, Barry McElduff’s idiocy would have mattered a lot less to Nationalists, notwithstanding O’Callaghan’s interview. He may return to court to do just that this week and if he gets his way, the fallout will be interesting.

And in a comment sent to this blog last week, Eamonn McCann, as shrewd an observer of Northern matters as can be found, spoke for many Nationalists with this remark:

‘…..when it comes to giggling and gloating about the killing of people of a different religion, the Provos have never been a match for the Loyalist paramilitaries. That doesn’t excuse McElduff or SF. But it points up the fact some of the Loyalists, including members of the DUP, who have been caterwauling about McElduff’s sectarian stupidity are liars, frauds and abject hypocrites.’

So the two question that follow McElduff’s resignation are these:

  1. Did Mary Lou McDonald demand his resignation? and,
  2. Are we witnessing the start of a North-South schism in Sinn Fein?

Martin McGuinness, Barry McElduff And Kingsmills

I read recently, in a piece penned for The Belfast Telegraph by Malachi O’Doherty, that if he had lived long enough to witness Barry McElduff’s Kingsmills video, the late Martin McGuinness would have expelled the West Tyrone MP from Sinn Fein.

As Malachi put it:

(McGuinness’) project included assuaging unionist anxiety about the IRA. We can’t know how he would have dealt with Barry McElduff. I suspect he would have kicked him out of the party.

This sort of judgement derives from a natural tendency when dealing with dead enemies who changed their ways at the end, or appeared to have done so, to view them through rose-tinted glasses, to ascribe to them qualities they may never really have had in life.

The man in question, after all, had spent a large slice of his life lying, to both friend and foe. And if the late Catholic Bishop of Derry, Eddie Daly, is to be believed was capable of the most monstrous, self-serving deceit.

So is Malachi indulging in wishful thinking? Or was this an outrageous rewrite of (McGuinness’) history? How about a shallow and inadequate assessment of a much more complex character?

Let’s deal with the essence of the Kingsmills’ massacre. It was carried out – and I think most observers agree on this – in response to an outburst of Loyalist violence which had seen six Catholics – three men from each of two families – shot dead in their rural homes by the UVF in the days beforehand.

The Kingsmill massacre that followed was intended as a deterrent by the Provos, saying this to the UVF: ‘this is what happens to yours when you do that to ours; continue down this road and you’ll see more’. I have argued elsewhere that this captured the Defenderist essence that in large measure defined the Provisional movement, at that time as now.

There were other examples. I would include the ‘Siege of St Matthews’ and the mayhem and death caused by the IRA in North Belfast on the same June 1970 day in that category.

This is how Loyalists saw those incidents and my own research tends to award their view considerable merit, which is that the violence that day was designed to send a simple message to Belfast Catholics; forget August 1969, we now have your back.

Martin McGuinness was still in the Officials when all that happened and was in Portlaoise prison when Kingsmill took place. So no direct responsibility for those events can be laid at his door.

But Kingmills spawned a cousin, a more distant relative for sure but no less deadly. In January 1981 the IRA shot dead the 87-year old former Stormont Speaker, Sir Norman Stronge and his son James in the library of their home, Tynan Abbey in Co Armagh. They then burned the mansion to the ground.

The Stronge’s had been singled out because a few days beforehand, UDA gunmen had shot and seriously wounded civil rights and H Blocks campaigner Bernadette McAliskey and her husband Michael at their Coalisland, Co Tyrone cottage.

By a miracle they survived but the IRA nonetheless decided to kill the Stronge’s to send a message very similar to the one delivered by Kingsmills. At Kingsmills it was: ‘kill ordinary Catholics and we will kill ordinary Protestants’. At Tynan Abbey it was: ‘go for our leaders and we’ll go for yours’.

And who was Chief of Staff at the time of the massacre at Tynan Abbey? Well, none other than Martin McGuinness.

Given the profile of the victims and the likely political fallout it is very possible that the local IRA sought a green light from Martin McGuinness himself, since he was the bossman. In other words he may have sent the gunmen on their way that fateful and bloody night.

At the very least McGuinness would have had to justify the action within the IRA’s leadership circles afterwards although I would be astonished to hear that  criticism or reservations were voiced by anyone at the time, not least by McGuinness himself.

The truth is that within the Provo community, and outside it as well, actions like Kingsmills and Tynan Abbey were popular at the time.

So, if Martin McGuinness were alive today and was pressed to follow John O’Dowd’s example (and the key aspect of John O’Dowd’s much-praised role in the post-McElduff controversy is that he was never associated with the IRA, was never convicted of any IRA activity and never spent a day in jail for the IRA), I suspect he would make a straightforward calculation.

It might go like this: ‘If I was to condemn McElduff and kick him out of SF, how will that go down with my old comrades, especially those with long and accurate memories. Would they praise me, as the media would, or would they accuse me of disowning them and all we stood for? Would people say Sinn Fein are going soft? And what hay would the dissidents make with that?’

On the other hand if he was to endorse Malachi O’Doherty and expel McElduff, we could truly say that Sinn Fein was finally and fully free of its IRA past. But, conspicuously, that has not happened.

This, at the end of the day, may be the single most important lesson from the Barry McElduff affair.

Sinn Fein’s unwillingness to do what Malachi O’Doherty believes Martin McGuiinness would do, tells us that the IRA have still not gone away.

But you knew that anyway, didn’t you?

Boston College Hires US Attorney Who Pursued IRA Tapes

You couldn’t make this up if you tried.

When the British government and the PSNI pursued the Troubles-related oral history archive at Boston College using subpoenas and the full weight of the federal court system, the American official in charge of the operation was Massachusetts US Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

Former US Attorney for Massachusetts and now Boston College law lecturer, Carmen Ortiz

Once Donald Trump replaced Barrack Obama in the White House, Ortiz was out of a job. But not for long. Boston College has hired her to join the law faculty for a semester.

So the woman who took the oral history achive away from Boston College has now been given a job by Boston College.

You can read the full story here. As I said, you couldn’t make it up.