Monthly Archives: November 2018

Future Screenings Of ‘I, Dolours’…….

A number of people have been asking where and when can they see ‘I, Dolours’. It was screened in sixteen cinemas in all four provinces during the summer but not since then.

However, RTE, which partially funded the production, have the right to screen the documentary on television. When, or even if that happens, I cannot at this moment say. But I would be surprised if the national broadcaster did not exercise its right to show the film.

When we have a firm date, I will be sure to let readers of this blog know in good time.

‘I, Dolours’ Wins International Prize For Docudrama

Congratulations to Kate McCullough who was Director of Photography on ‘I, Dolours’, for winning best docudrama prize at the prestigious Energacamerimage festival, held this year in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

You can read the full story here.

The Appalling Idiot, Michael Gove

Am in Dublin en route to a screening of ‘I, Dolours’, at the Foyle film festival in Derry and the Brexit story in London is totally dominating the headlines in Ireland.

Teresa May’s future as British prime minister is the subject of intense speculation and Michael Gove is at its centre. It is conventional wisdom that if he joins those who have resigned from May’s Cabinet in protest at her Brexit deal, then she is toast.

Apparently he has turned down May’s offer of replacing the former Brexit Secretary, someone called Raab who quit the Cabinet in protest, saying that he would only take the job if she gave him a free hand to renegotiate the deal she struck with Brussels. Predictably that was a non-starter.

Before Gove became an elected politician he was a leader writer for The Times newspaper and one day, not long after the first IRA ceasefire in 1994, I got a phone call ffrom him.

I didn’t know much about the guy then and it was only later that I learned that he was a signed-up, fervent neo-conservative. You’ll remember the neo-cons, dear reader, they were the people who, amongst a cornucopia of other horrors, brought us the Iraq war, the destruction of Libya and, in their wake, those nice people from ISIS.

The neo-cons saw left-wing, terrorist plots everywhere. And so it was with the Irish peace process.

Gove proceeded to bounce the neocon analysis off my good self. It ran something like this: it was all a sham; Gerry Adams and his friends intended to gull everyone into a false sense of security and donning a new respectable face to present to the world, the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein would gobble up the SDLP and dominate Nationalist politics in NI.

Once that was done and there was no longer a genuine, moderate Nationalist party to hamper the Provos, the IRA would resume its war and a disenchanted and demoralised British government would collapse and Irish unity, in defiance of Unionism, would be achieved.

What did I think, he asked?

My regular readers will guess at my response but when Gove realised he was speaking to the wrong man, he got quite shirty.

As we all know, Gove’s prognosis was wildly, wildly wrong. To be fair to him he has recently changed tack somewhat – but considering that the IRA had given up all the weapons it was supposed to use in Gove’s, post-SDLP demise offensive, he really didn’t have much choice.

But what to make of a political system in which such an appalling idiot can be made king or queen-maker or destroyer?

Patrick Keefe, Jean McConville And The Radio That May Have Killed Her

Patrick Radden Keefe, the American author of ‘Say Nothing’, a new book about the IRA’s disappearance of Jean McConville, failed to report documented evidence showing that ten months before her murder, handheld radios of a sort the IRA claimed to have found in McConville’s Divis Flats apartment had been issued to units of the British Army in Northern Ireland.

Instead Keefe cited a former RUC Special Branch officer claiming that such radios were not in use by the security forces at this time.

The ignored evidence said that the radios, called Stornophones, were used by British soldiers in Derry at the time of the Bloody Sunday shootings of January 30th, 1972 because they were more effective than conventional military radios in built up areas like the Bogside. This was nearly a year before Jean McConville was killed and disappeared by the IRA.

The use and distribution of Stornophones was recorded in the report of the Saville Tribunal’s inquiry into the deaths of 13 Derry civilians at the hands of the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment during an anti-internment march in the city.

Separate evidence, in the form of a memoir of a tour of duty in Belfast by a former British Army officer published earlier this year, which appears to have been missed by Keefe, shows that by July 1972, Stornophones were issued widely to British units serving in Northern Ireland. This was four months or more before Jean McConville’s disappearance.

I brought the section of the Saville report dealing with Stornophone radios to Keefe’s attention while he was writing and researching the Belfast widow’s death but it failed to make it into his book.

Keefe instead quoted Trevor Campbell, a former RUC Special Branch officer, who maintained that hand-held radios were not in use by the security forces at the time of Jean McConville’s death, least of all to contact informants.

A radio allegedly used by Jean McConville to communicate with her British Army handlers has played a central part in the controversy over whether or not the IRA had evidence suggesting she was spying against the organisation.

In his interviews with Boston College interviewer Anthony McIntyre – published in part in Voices From The Grave – and in confidential interviews with myself for ‘A Secret History of the IRA‘, former IRA Belfast commander, Brendan Hughes claimed that a radio was found in her Divis Flats apartment, and that Jean McConville admitted it was used to communicate with her handler.

Jean

Jean McConville – A British Army radio is at the centre of IRA allegations that she was a spy

The IRA decided to let her go with a warning, Hughes said, because of her domestic circumstances, viz. the fact that she was a widow with ten children to look after. Later the IRA changed its mind and she was sentenced to death. She was ferried across the Border, shot dead and buried in a secret grave on the Co Louth coast.

Whether such a radio was in military service in 1972 is thus pivotal to the Jean McConville narrative.

Keefe

New Yorker writer Patrick Keefe – his book, ‘Say Nothing’, fails to mention evidence in the Bloody Sunday tribunal report that small, hand-held radios were issued to some military units nearly a year before the McConville murder.

If the British Army did not have such a radio in service in 1972 then Jean McConville could not have used one to contact her alleged handler; in such circumstances it is likely the IRA invented the charge against her. But if such a radio was in service, and was suitable in size, weight and ease of use, then it is possible the IRA was telling the truth.

So what are the known facts?

When the British Army first arrived in Northern Ireland in August 1969, it had two radio systems, neither of which were suitable for agent use, especially in a place so heavily built up and lacking in privacy as Divis Flats. Both radio systems were heavy and cumbersome.

One system was made by Pye, an electronics manufacturer based in Cambridge, England which was eventually taken over by the Dutch multinational, Philips. The military radio made by Pye was a hefty, bulky machine which was usually placed in a permanent location, where it was powered from the mains, or on a vehicle.

A smaller version existed but this was the size of ‘a clunky briefcase’. Neither version of the Pye radio would have been suitable for agent use, so they can be dismissed as candidates for Jean McConville’s radio.

The other transmitter used by the British Army was the Larkspur and for many years it was a common sight on the streets of Belfast. The lightest version weighed between 38 and 45 pounds, and was strapped to the back of the unfortunate squaddie assigned the task. A telephone-type transmitter enabled the patrol commander to speak to his base.

The Larkspur needed a lengthy aerial to operate effectively in Belfast because it was really designed for battlefield use in wide, open spaces, meaning it would be hard to hide in a place like Divis. The built up streets of the Bogside in Derry or Divis Flats in Belfast were less than suitable terrain for the Larkspur. A lighter version weighing ten pounds was available but it had a shorter range.

Between its weight and limited capability both versions of the Larkspur can also be ruled out as a candidate for the radio in the Jean McConville case. (All information on these radios was derived from the Saville Report on Bloody Sunday, paragraphs 181.8 to 181.12)

The soldier in the foreground is carrying a Larkspur radio on his back

Thanks to research done by James Kinchin-White and first published on this blog, we were able to show that it was possible that Jean McConville could have had access to a radio small and efficient enough to communicate with someone like an agent handler.

Kinchin-White located a photograph of a member of the Gloucester regiment using a Stornophone radio, a small, hand-held, two-way radio that could easily fit into someone’s pocket. The photograph was found on the Gloucester regimental website and it shows a soldier using the transmitter in Divis Flats in 1971/1972. The Gloucesters were based in the lower Falls Road between December 1971 and April 1972.

A soldier in the Gloucester regiment uses a Stornophone radio in one of the corridors of Divis Flats

But was the Stornophone in regular use by the British Army in Belfast in 1972?

According to a recently published memoir, the answer is yes. Titled ‘Down Among The Weeds‘, Harry Beaves’ memoir partly covers his time as a junior officer in the Royal Artillery based in Casement Park GAA ground in the aftermath of Operation Motorman in July 1972. His book was published at the end of January 2018, some nine months before ‘Say Nothing‘ appeared on the shelves.

Beaves has two sections dealing with use of the Stornophone radio by the military. Here is the first (these extracts are from a Kindle copy and so page numbers cannot be cited):

The delight of Northern Ireland was that we were able to use Stornophone handsets similar to those used by the emergency services. The set was small enough to fit into the breast pocket of a combat jacket and had fixed frequencies that required no tuning, so that each (patrol) commander was able to carry his own radio without the need for a dedicated signaller.

And the second:

We had three means of communication: Stornophone down to each rifle section and up to Regimental Ops, GPO telephone lines (as it was then), and the standard Larkspur military radio sets.

So, by the summer of 1972, months before Jean McConville was abducted, the Stornophone radio was standard British Army issue in Belfast and thanks to the set, patrols were able to communicate directly with their operation rooms at headquarters.

The Stornophone radio

But by late 1972, according to military sources, the Stornophone was phased out and replaced by the Pye Pocketphone, a small radio attached to the soldier’s jacket which was regarded as much more secure from interception than the Stornophone.

The Stornophone operated on fixed frequencies which could be accessed by pressing buttons. Anyone could operate it and if one fell into the IRA’s hands it could be used to listen into British Army communications.

So by late 1972, the military had switched to the much more secure Pye Pocketphone and the Stornophone had ceased to be standard  military issue. This meant that if Jean McConville was using a Stornophone and it was recovered by the IRA, the wider threat to British Army communications would be non-existent. In that sense the Stornophone was an ideal instrument to use to contact an agent by radio.

In ‘Say Nothing‘, Patrick Keefe appears to have been unaware of Harry Beaves’ recollections, even though his book was published months before his own.

Here is some of what Keefe writes about this matter, in a short chapter titled ‘The Mystery Radio’, which quotes a former RUC Special Branch source as denying that Stornophone-type radios were used at the time by the North’s security forces:

There was also a mystery relating to the detail of the radio itself. Some former police officers like Trevor Campbell, maintained that neither the army nor the police were using hand-held radios to communicate in those days, much less to communicate with informants.

Two pieces of evidence exist to contradict Trevor Campbell. One was the photograph unearthed by James Kinchin-White, which Keefe was aware of and wrote about. The second is Harry Beaves’ memoir which appears to have escaped Keefe’s attention, even though it was published some nine months before ‘Say Nothing‘ appeared.

But there is a third, and it comes from an irreproachable source. It appears in paragraph 181.13 of the Saville Report into Bloody Sunday and reads as follows:

We should also record that there is evidence that before Bloody Sunday some of the resident battalions were, at platoon level only, using Stornophone radios in place of Larkspur radios. A number of former soldiers serving in Londonderry recalled having Stornophone radios available on 30th January, 1972. Often nicknamed ‘Stornos’, these radios, like the Pye radios discussed above, were a commercially produced system purchased by the Army. There is little doubt that the use of Stornophone radios was a consequence of the fallibility of Larkspur radios in built-up areas.

To summarise: Saville says the Stornophones were in use by some British Army units in January 1972; James Kinchin-White’s photo shows a regiment in Divis Flats using a Stornophone some time between December 1971 and April 1972; and Harry Beaves’ memoir says Stornophones were standard military issue in July 1972.

In any hierarchy of evidence, most people would put Saville at the top of this list, partly because of the status of the source and partly because it is the earliest confirmation that Stornophones were available to the British military for use in areas where the IRA was active.

There is, however, no mention of Saville in Keefe’s book. But it is not as though he did not know about what the report had to say about Stornophone radios because I brought it to his attention many months before his book was finished.

Not only did I tell Patrick Keefe about this extract from the Saville report, I sent him an email, citing the paragraph number.

Here it is (addresses and non-relevant material have been redacted):

But it never appeared in ‘Say Nothing’.

The MRF File – Part 9: Why Did The MRF Call Its IRA Double Agents ‘Freds’?

From James Kinchin-White and Ed Moloney

Well, according to former British Army officer Harry Beaves, writing in his recently published autobiography, ‘Down Among The Weeds‘, which deals mainly with his time in Northern Ireland at the time of Operation Motorman in 1972, the ‘Freds’ were christened ‘Freds’ after a popular cartoon strip at the time called ‘Fred Basset’, based on the life of a family pet and Basset hound.

It probably helped that the cartoon’s creator, Alexander Steel Graham, served in the British Army with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders.

According to dogtime.com, the Basset hound was bred to hunt small game such as rabbits but has to be bribed to obey orders – the human version recruited to the MRF was, in some notorious cases, disastrously similar, as shall be revealed in coming posts.

A Belfast Housing Crisis Grows As Catholics Seek ‘Lebensraum’

Thanks to CM for this tip.

The Economist charts a burgeoning housing crisis in Belfast as Catholics seek to move into Protestant parts of the city:

economist.com

Belfast’s Catholics wait longer for homes than Protestants

Nov 1st 2018 | BELFAST

IN BELFAST, THE past is constantly passed. Protestants heading to the shops might walk by a mural of “King Billy”, as they call William of Orange, who helped ensure English domination of Ireland in the 17th century. In a Catholic area the subject might be Bobby Sands, a republican who died on hunger strike in 1981. But even without such clues, it is not hard to get your bearings, for there is more vacant land on one side of the sectarian divide than on the other. “You can tell a Protestant part of the city because it’s green,” says Neil Jarman of the Institute for Conflict Research, a charity.

Belfast, which was settled by Protestants in the 1600s, has been segregated since rural Catholics moved to work in its linen mills a century later. The sectarian “Troubles” of 1968-98 reinforced the pattern, with “peace walls” built to protect each side from the other’s troublemakers. Middle-class areas have integrated a fair bit since the ceasefire, but social housing remains divided. “The west is Catholic, the east is Protestant, the south is wealthy and the north is a mess,” says Mr Jarman.

Although the area inhabited by each community has shifted only a little since the early 1970s, their respective shares of the city’s population have changed sharply. In 1971, 28% of Belfast’s residents were Catholic and 54% were Protestant. By 2011, Catholics outnumbered Protestants, thanks to a higher birth rate and a disproportionate number of Protestants moving to commuter towns. “The Catholic population is expanding and needs more land,” says Brendan Murtagh of Queen’s University Belfast. “The Protestant population is retreating and needs less.”

Enduring tensions and physical barriers between communities make it hard to match supply with demand. Social housing is scarce on both sides, but a report last year by the province’s Equality Commission found that Catholics waited longer to be housed than Protestants. In 2013-14 the neediest Catholics waited an average of 28 months for a home in west Belfast, whereas Protestants waited only a little over a year. The mismatch cannot be solved by building in Catholic areas, which are already packed. “We’ve built on every postage stamp,” says Colm McQuillan of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), which maintains social homes. In some Protestant areas, grass grows in empty lots.

Many Catholics will not consider moving to Protestant estates. Carrie-Louise Delaney, a mother of three who has been on the waiting list for more than two years, has Protestant friends but would be afraid to live in their part of town. “If you could just lift all the houses over there over here, it’d be OK,” she says. Sectarian murals and paramilitary flags create what NIHE calls a “chill factor”, deterring outsiders. Four-fifths of Northern Irish people tell pollsters they would like to live in a mixed neighbourhood, but most social-housing applicants opt to live in their own communities. Ten new integrated estates have been built across the province, but in one such development four families claimed to have been intimidated out of their new homes by loyalist paramilitaries.

Location, location, location

Politicians do little to dispel these fears. Both sides have an interest in maintaining segregation. “It makes it easier for parties to know where to campaign and direct their resources,” says Mr Jarman. They have wrangled over housing since at least 1968, when a council home was allocated to a Protestant single woman ahead of two Catholic families, inspiring civil-rights marches that sparked the Troubles.

Caral Ni Chuilin of Sinn Fein, the main nationalist party, accuses NIHE of bowing to unionist pressure not to develop vacant sites. On a tour of a Protestant neighbourhood, Nelson McCausland, a unionist ex-housing minister, points out every child to bust the “myth” that the population is ageing. He claims to support development, so that Protestants who left Belfast might return. But he fears a Catholic “surge” across the north of the city: “Sometimes a siege mentality is the result of a siege reality.”

The system used to allocate properties compounds the problem. Prospective tenants are asked to specify two of more than 80 areas of the city where they would like to live. After six months on the waiting list, their search area is expanded, but only a little. A points system designed to identify the neediest applicants allows victims of intimidation to leapfrog the rest. Housing officials suspect some people game the process by fraudulently claiming to have been threatened. One charity worker says people pay paramilitaries to put bullets through their letterboxes. Ms Delaney says someone “intimidated himself” out of a property by scrawling abuse on the walls.

Proposals to abolish intimidation points and allow applicants to search in broader areas were unveiled last year by the province’s Department for Communities but are unlikely to get far while its political parties refuse to work together. Northern Ireland’s assembly has been suspended since January 2017. The delay is “extremely frustrating”, says Mr McQuillan. “Things here move at glacial speed.”