Monthly Archives: December 2018

Here Is That ‘MI5 Letter’ – Make Of It What You Will

Ronan McGreevy, the author of The Irish Times article on the alleged MI5 letter claiming spookish involvement in the 1987 Enniskillen bombing, has made the full text available on his Twitter feed.

You can read the letter, which runs to two pages, below.

It makes for interesting reading and as you might expect the letter produces more questions than answers, the most puzzling question being the letter’s authenticity.

Was it a genuine cri de coeur from an disillusioned spy, or a dirty trick perpetrated – perhaps by the IRA’s intelligence department – to confuse an Irish government under pressure to respond to the twelve deaths at Enniskillen with stepped up security co-operation with the British?

First of all here is the letter which runs to two pages:

The alleged agent wrote that he joined MI5 in 1976 and for the last year and a half – since May 1986, if my maths is correct – was attached to a section of the security service which specialised in infiltrating and manipulating groups like the IRA.

Michael Bettaney

He – or she (the gender of the author is not known) – adds that he knew Michael Bettaney, the MI5 agent who was convicted of spying for the Russians, and was friendly with him, although until now, he didn’t believe all that Bettaney told him about the dirty tricks that MI5 employed in Northern Ireland.

In that paragraph lies enough biographical evidence for MI5 to narrow down the number of suspects who wrote the letter, assuming that the letter was genuine.

So the first question that jumps out of the letter is this: would a trained intelligence agent reveal so much about his or her background, knowing that if his masters in MI5 acquired a copy of the letter, this detail would considerably shrink the range of suspects and greatly increase the chances of discovery?

Mary McGlinchey, with her two boys

Or are the details deliberately false, designed to send the hounds chasing after a false scent?

He – or she – had become more and more ‘disaffected’ by his unit’s work, the letter continues, and MI5’s tinkering with the Enniskillen bomb made him/her decide he/she ‘must do something’. Hence the letter.

But what was the purpose of the letter? What did the author expect Irish Foreign Affairs minister Brian Lenihan to do with it, except to think twice before conceding to Britain’s demands for better security co-operation? Therein lies a motive, perhaps, to send a bogus letter.

He – or she – then lists a series of dirty tricks that his section of MI5 had played on the IRA, but principally against the INLA.

These included continuous monitoring of arms dumps particularly in Derry, Belfast and Sligo (why Sligo?) with a view to placing tracking devices or booby traps. The MI5’s unit manipulation of the INLA took the form principally of encouraging a vicious feud during 1987. This was done, the author claimed, by playing on Dessie O’Hare’s infatuation with his wife and child, but how this was achieved is not explained. The goal of all this was to create an atmosphere in the Republic conducive to extradition and other harsh law and order measures.

He/she writes:

My disaffection started with the shooting of Mary McGlinchey in Dundalk and I became very frightened and horrified with the treatment of Dr O’Grady.

Dr O’Grady was the Dublin dentist kidnapped by Dessie O’Hare. During his kidnapping ordeal two of Dr O’Grady’s fingers were amputated and posted along with a ransom demand sent to Gardai.

Dessie O’Hare

The author of the MI5 letter does not say how, but implies that MI5 were somehow complicit in O’Hare’s activity. Nor does he/she say what part, if any, MI5 played in the death of Mary McGlinchey, wife of the INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey.

On the Enniskillen bombing, the author writes:

Our section became aware through the use of Technical surveillance of the plans by the local I.R.A. in Enniskillen. Having gained the knowledge of where and when this I.R.A. gang was going to place this bomb, (we also knew of its size and technical make-up), our section decided to change the timing device and let the explosion take place so that the I.R.A. would score an own goal and create a massive backlash against itself. Our section also calculated that in the climate of a backlash against the I.R.A., all kinds of security measures could be implemented, including Extradition.

So there is the alleged MI5 letter. Is it a genuine expression of disenchantment with MI5, or a clever hoax designed to make the Irish government think twice before implementing tougher cross-Border security measures?

I have to say that the part of the letter that most causes me to question its authenticity is the biographical detail given by the author. There are too many clues there pointing to the writer’s identity. A more careful writer would have excluded such detail or invented a false curriculum vitae to distract and confuse his or her trackers.

But then again, perhaps that is exactly what the author of this letter did. I guess we will never know.

Did MI5 Or The IRA Kill The Enniskillen Dead? The Evidence May Be In A Letter We Cannot See

Sometimes, I just despair of The Irish Times.

There are times when it is not just essential to publish all the evidence behind a story but actually obligatory. And not to do so is a journalistic sin beyond comprehension.

In to-day’s (internet) edition of the Times, there appears a story which qualifies sans pareil for the above injunction.

The story deals with a letter purportedly written in mid-November 1987 by an MI5 officer working in Northern Ireland and addressed to Brian Lenihan, the then Foreign Affairs minister in Dublin

The letter claims that British intelligence knew in advance about the IRA’s plan to bomb the Enniskillen cenotaph in November 1987 but did nothing to stop it because it would create ‘a massive backlash’ against the IRA.

Civilians flee the scene of the Enniskillen cenotaph bombing

In fact, a careful reading of the story about the letter suggests much more: that not only did MI5 do nothing to stop the bombing but, according to the letter’s anonymous author, the spy agency actually manipulated the bomb’s timing mechanism so that it would cause the maximum damage to the IRA, i.e. kill the most civilians.

In other words, MI5 may have actually murdered the twelve civilians, not the IRA – although the IRA made it all possible.

The Times quotes the alleged agent as writing:

“Our section (of MI5) decided to change the timing device and let the explosion take place so that the IRA would score an own goal and create a massive backlash against itself,” he wrote.

“Our section also calculated that in the climate of a backlash against the IRA all kinds of security measures could be implemented including extradition.”

“If I had more courage I would come out openly and prove with more what I am now saying,” he wrote.

The Enniskillen bomb killed twelve people and dozens more were injured, some horribly, when they were engulfed in rubble. The backlash against the IRA was indeed considerable and arguably intensified a debate about strategy between the military and political wings of the Provos which ultimately took shape in the first IRA ceasefire of the peace process six years later.

The author of the letter describes him or herself as someone who had been working for  MI5 in the North for eighteen months or so in a section of the intelligence agency which specialised in infiltrating paramilitary groups.

He was so scared of being discovered, he wrote, that he crossed the Border to post the letter, which has now been released as part the 1988 tranche of government papers eligible for publication.

There is no way of knowing whether this story is true or someone’s sick fantasy, or if the author of the letter was a real MI5 agent or the product of someone’s overactive imagination.

But it is surely not without significance that the Department of Foreign Affairs considered the letter important enough to preserve in the files and now to make public in the annual festival of governmental openness.

The Irish Times‘ readership, especially those who follow the newspaper on the internet, might be helped in their efforts to discern the truth, if they could actually see and read the letter, as The Irish Times‘ journalist who wrote the story evidently did.

In this day and age of iPhone and iPads capable of taking photos anywhere, and the ease with which the products can then be displayed on the internet, surely the paper’s readers should have been allowed that basic right?

Here is the Times‘ story in full:

The Public And Private Lives Of Roger Casement – Extract From New Bio

What appears to be a fascinating new study of the life of Roger Casement, penned by Martin Duberman, was published last month by University of California Press. It is called: Luminous Traitor – The Just and Daring Life of Roger Casement, a Biographical Novel

The following extract, dealing with Casement’s expose of Belgian terror in the Congo, a part of the world which arguably has never recovered from its exposure to European colonialism, gives a flavour of the book and some insights into Casement’s public – and private – life. Enjoy:

The Congo

The ivory trade, long the chief source of wealth extracted from Africa, is by the turn of the century being rapidly overtaken by a sudden growth in the need of rubber. Following the 1890 invention of an inflatable rubber tire, the popularity of bicycle riding soars—seven million bikes are in circulation by 1895—and, soon after, the market for automobile tires also expands rapidly. The double development leads to a huge demand for rubber. In the forests of the Congo, the wild rubber vine, easily tapped, abounds, and as the need—and price—for the product mounts, the region’s economy is transformed. Between 1890 and 1904, earnings from rubber increase year after year by leaps and bounds, with profits reaching 700 percent. The “Congo Free State”—Leopold’s personal fiefdom, independent of Belgium—becomes the most profitable colony in all of Africa.

To maximize his profits and to keep potential European competitors at bay, King Leopold—a mere six years after signing the 1885 Berlin “free-trade” agreement—takes absolute and exclusive control of a hundred thousand square miles of the Congo’s richest rubber-producing region. He issues what becomes a protracted series of secret decrees to his officials in Africa, declaring himself the sole owner of not only the land but also the forests and minerals, and ordering them to see to it that the previously thriving trade between the native people and merchants from European countries be swiftly ended. Henceforth, Leopold declares, the Africans are tenants of the Congo Free State and subject to its authority; they may own only the small patches of cultivated land surrounding their huts; all the rest is declared “vacant”— which is to say, the property of Leopold.

In 1888 Leopold establishes the Force Publique, armed native troops chosen to serve in areas distant from those of their birth and under the command of European officers. He also instructs his agents zealously to ensure—at the point of the bayonet if need be—that the “slothful” natives be transformed into a rigorously productive workforce. The harsh regime of the commissaires is henceforth to hold sway. As agents of the Congo Free State, they are to work strictly on commission; if they wish to maximize their income, it’s up to them to create, by whatever means necessary, a diligent and dutiful army of laborers.

The effect on the native workforce is catastrophic. As the demand for rubber soars, so too does the level of barbarity inflicted on the indigenous population. Several of the braver missionaries—William Sheppard, for one—are among the few to speak out against the endemic cruelty. The most forceful voice is that of the Swedish Baptist missionary E. V. Sjoblom; so vigorous and unyielding are his complaints that the local authorities threaten him with five years imprisonment. Undaunted, Sjoblom takes his case directly to London.

Richard Fox-Bourne, secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society, organizes a public meeting in the spring of 1897, at which Sjoblom speaks: “Within my own knowledge,” he tells the crowd, “forty-five towns have been burnt down. Soldiers are stationed in every village—the so-called sentry- system—they live off the people, and drive them into the forest to gather india-rubber. I saw one soldier seize an old man who, to keep from starving, had dared to fish for food in the river; they shot him dead right in front of me. If the natives’ quota of rubber is short, I’ve seen sentries beat them so badly that some die, then they cut off their hands and bring them to the Commissioner as proof they’re doing their job. One day, when I crossed the stream, I saw some dead bodies hanging down from the branches in the water. As I turned my face away from the horrible sight, one of the native corporals—Leopold’s agents employ natives from distant or hostile tribes— said, ‘Oh, that is nothing, a few days ago I brought the white man 160 hands and they were thrown into the river.’”

Sjoblom’s revulsion at the endemic cruelty in the Congo is far from typical. The large majority of the missionaries keep mum about the horrors they see around them, fearing that their calling to bring Christianity to Africa might be compromised. Yet a few, like Sjoblom, are conscience-stricken, and by the late 1880s their outspoken accounts have begun to trickle through. One such account reports native women being forced into concubinage, another of women and children being bayoneted and thrown into the river, a third of widespread starvation as the people, dragooned into gathering rubber, are prevented from planting and tending crops. “This rubber traffic is steeped in blood,” one missionary writes, “and if the natives were to rise and sweep every white person on the Upper Congo into eternity there would still be left a fearful balance to their credit.” In 1900 these are still voices in the wilderness, anguished cries that Leopold’s unctuously clever reassurances—abetted by clamorous praise in the press for his wondrous expansion of European commerce and Christianity—easily drown out.

Roger returns to London on sick leave in July 1900. He explains to the Foreign Office that he’s suffering from a “general condition of rundownness,” compounded by an attack of jaundice. He omits mention of a return bout of piles, as well as his doctor’s recommendation for additional surgery for the fistula-in-ano—a common side effect of frequent anal intercourse—for which he’d been operated on five years earlier. As his health gradually improves, Roger spends a month traveling in Europe, with his sister Nina accompanying him for part of the trip. In Spain he attends his first bull-fight—and finds the spectacle appalling: “an exhibition of bad butchery carried on in the bloodiest and most revolting manner.”

Italy—“my eternal joy and delight”—helps erase the memory of Spain’s national “sport” of “blood lust.” He adores Naples above all. In a letter to his fellow Englishman Richard Morten—they first met in Africa and then (as with Herbert Ward) became close friends—Roger sends a glowing report replete with sexual innuendo: “It is the most human town in Europe. People there do what they think. . . . It is a last link with the outdoor life of the ancient world, when men were quite natural. Whether it is better to hide our hearts—to muffle up our lives—and to live the truer part of our lives in secret as we do today, the future only knows—for my part I cannot help feeling that the world lost something when discretion became the first of the ten commandments.”

Roger returns to Africa at the end of 1900—though not to Kinshasa, as expected. e Foreign Office has changed its mind and decided to locate its new consulate instead at Boma, the coastal administrative center of the Congo Free State. Roger has of course heard the ugly talk about Leopold’s policies, and his own recent audience with the king had confirmed his distrust. But what is wanted, Roger feels, is more concrete proof of Leopold’s misdeeds, the sort of evidence William Sheppard has been unable to provide. Even before taking up his consular duties at Boma, Roger decides to organize a trip into the Congo interior to see for himself what conditions are actually like. What he nds leaves no doubt in his mind that gross mistreatment of the natives is even more widespread and horrendous than suspected and that Leopold, during their private interview, had simply been lying.

Roger sends off a dispatch to the new British foreign minister, Lord Lansdowne, describing his findings. “By a stroke of the pen,” Roger writes, “the Congo has become the private property of one individual, the King of the Belgians.” Aware that commercial arguments will have more impact at the Foreign Office than humanitarian ones, Roger stresses in his report that the 1885 Berlin accord that supposedly guaranteed free trade in the region has not been even marginally honored. A month later, after completing another inspection tour to the interior, Roger sends Lansdowne a still more forceful call for action. Leopold’s Commission for the Protection of the Natives, Roger reports, has proven worthless, less than a fig leave. The situation has become so grave that Roger urges Lansdowne to intervene directly: “The only hope for the Congo, should it continue to be governed by Belgium, is that its governor should be subject to a European authority responsible to public opinion, and not to the unquestioned rule of an autocrat whose chief preoccupation is that autocracy should be pro table.”

Lansdowne rejects Roger’s suggestion out of hand. Should the Foreign Office rebuke Leopold, Lansdowne replies, the aggrieved king might seek support from Germany; meddling in the Congo could, in Lansdowne’s view, result in swelling the territorial possessions of both Germany and France. He smugly assures Roger that the Foreign Office will keep its Congo Atrocities File updated should the time ever come when intervention seems more appropriate than it does at present. Roger gets the message: the Foreign Office is focused on imperial ambition, not on the welfare of “savages.”

Dispirited, Roger is forced to bide his time. Bereft of compelling work or sustained companionship (except for his beloved dogs), he grows lonely and restless. His distress is accompanied by a (temporary) spell of disenchantment with Africa itself, along with a deepening (and permanent) revulsion over the British Empire’s lofty arrogance. Africa, he writes Richard Morten, “isn’t the Earthly Paradise I once felt it—or rather I’m no longer the bird of that Paradise. I’ve grown old and grey—and now I want peace and music— and nice people round me. . . . I shall try for some nice healthy post.”

As for the empire, the Boer War and the hideous conditions of the concen- tration camps into which the British had thrown its prisoners had horrified Roger. He is no less appalled at the importation of Chinese laborers to work in the British-owned South African mines, where conditions are deplorable— the men confined in prison-like compounds, cut o from their families and (thanks to Lord Milner’s approval of flogging) subjected to harsh punishment. From Roger’s perspective, the British government has proved willing to encourage, and collude with, the abysmal greed of the mine owners.

Granted an extended leave of absence in England, Roger returns to Africa in the spring of 1902 with his energy considerably recharged and his outlook somewhat more positive. He decides on another inland expedition to track down concrete evidence of the Congo Free State’s inequities, but no sooner are his investigations begun than he comes down with a recurrence of malarial fever, made more miserable still by “bleeding badly a ” from a series of sexual encounters. His doctors insist this time on a sustained period of rest, and the Foreign Office concurs. A er several weeks of recuperation in the Canary Islands, Roger’s condition improves, yet he’s still unsure if his uncertain health will allow him to stay in West Africa long enough to make a difference. It’s in this depressed state—with the Foreign Office detached and unresponsive and the rumors of atrocities mounting in tandem with the exponentially expanding rubber trade—that Roger happens upon a set of articles by a young journalist named Edmond “E. D.” Morel.

Born in France, Morel is a naturalized Englishman, and his background is strikingly similar to Roger’s: both their fathers died penniless, both left school at fifteen, both got their first jobs with the Elder Dempster shipping firm, and both had earlier been somewhat conventional imperialists. Morel has initially discounted reports of atrocities in the Congo put forth by what he then called the “misinformed philanthropists” Charles Dilke, MP, and Richard Fox-Bourne, secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society. Adopting what was then the conventional defense of colonialism, Morel characterizes Dilke’s and Fox-Bourne’s tales of mutilations and massacres as—even if true—inescapable byproducts of an essentially benign enterprise: no European nation “which has undertaken the heavy responsibility of introducing the blessings and vices of civilization into the Dark Continent,” Morel writes, “can claim immunity for its representatives in this respect.” Morel, unlike Roger, initially shares the common assumption of the day among Europeans that the black race is inherently inferior (a view, in diluted form, Morel will continue to hold, later denouncing France during World War I for using black troops—for, as he would write, “thrusting her black savages . . . into the heart of Germany,” where “primitive African barbarians” would become a “terror and a horror”).

Morel’s shifting views on the blessings of empire begins not with a direct protest about the exploitation of Africans in the Congo Free State but with Leopold’s interference with the right of free trade mandated under the terms of the 1885 Berlin agreement. It’s the same emphasis Roger had earlier placed—for strategic reasons—when appealing to the Foreign Office for action, knowing that commercial rights would be of far more concern to the powers-that-be than native rights. But once Morel, like Roger before him, begins to study trade reports from the Congo Free State, he’s led, like Roger, to the inescapable conclusion that native laborers are unwilling slaves, not salaried employees—that forced labor is systemic in the Congo, the foundational stone for the huge profits of the rubber trade.

Morel writes up his findings from the trade reports in a series of articles that catch the eye of those longtime reformers, Dilke and Fox-Bourne. The three men organize a protest meeting at the Mansion House on May 15, 1902. The turnout is small, but it marks the beginning of an attempt to rouse public opinion against the man Morel calls the “royal megalomaniac.” A number of other British journalists take up the cry, and articles against Leopold’s rule start to appear in publications as diverse as the Morning Post and the Manchester Guardian. The Foreign Office, however, continues to shrink from any involvement; when Dilke appeals to Lord Lansdowne for action (just as Roger had earlier), the foreign secretary makes it clear that in his view any reopening of the Pandora’s box of the 1885 Berlin agreement could be tantamount to risking a reconsideration of the partition of Africa that has turned out so splendidly for Great Britain.

Morel persists. In May 1903, working through his humanitarian allies, and Dilke in particular, he gets a Congo resolution through the House of Commons, calling for the signatories to the Berlin act “to abate the evils prevalent in the Congo State.” The sponsors acknowledge, however, that before a paper resolution can be converted into action, much more eyewitness evidence of widespread mistreatment is needed. Though they aren’t aware of it, Roger has already set the wheels in motion for achieving precisely that end. His plan hinges on the fact that Leopold’s agents have been hiring black West Indians, themselves British subjects, to serve as overseers in the Congo, and word of their discontent has reached Roger’s ears.

Here is the entering wedge he’s been waiting for. Roger personally arranges for the repatriation of several West Indians who’d been illegally jailed in the Congo—and reports this “abuse of British subjects” to the Foreign Office. The tactic works. Lord Lansdowne denounces the “terrible story” and authorizes the Colonial Office to warn West Indians against signing up to work in the Congo. Capitalizing on this success, Roger cables for permission to mount another expedition into the Congo interior to gather additional information. By return cable the Foreign Office authorizes him to proceed whenever he feels ready.

As Roger is making final preparations for the trip, news arrives that Sir Hector Macdonald, an army major general who’s served for thirty years in India and South Africa, has committed suicide. It turns out that Macdonald decided to take his own life on his way to face court-martial proceedings in Ceylon on charges of homosexuality. Roger records his dismay in an emotional entry in his newly inaugurated diary, characterizing the news—though he’s never met Macdonald—as “pitiably sad! The most distressing case this surely of its kind and one that may awake the national mind to saner methods of curing a terrible disease than by criminal legislation.”

It’s here, in relation to Macdonald’s suicide, that Roger uses for the first and only time the word “disease” (or anything comparably pejorative) to describe same-gender sexual relations. Perhaps the shock of Macdonald’s death set off in him a level of self-scrutiny—and self-doubt—he ordinarily skirts; perhaps too the incident shakes his confident sense of invulnerability, causing him briefly to employ the derogatory terminology then current and only beginning to be challenged by the new “science” of sexology being pioneered in Germany by Magnus Hirschfeld and in England by Havelock Ellis and Edward Carpenter.

Roger makes the prudential decision to employ a severely truncated shorthand—a kind of crabbed, telegraphic code—for any diary entry he makes that relates to his sexual activities:

[CAPE VERDE]: “Enormous, stiff and music”
[LIVERPOOL]: “Walk.Medium—but mu nua ami monene monene beh! beh! [in the Kikongo language: “in my mouth very big”]

[MADEIRA]: “Augustinho—kissed many times. 4dollars.”

[DUBLIN]: “Enormous. Came, handled and also came.”

[LONDON]: “Walked. Dusky—depredator—Huge. Saw 7 in all. Two beauties.”

And so on . . . “Saw 7 in all”—that comment will serve as grounds for particular disgust once hostile eyes later read his diary. Yet the meaning of the phrase isn’t transparent: “saw” doesn’t necessarily equate to “had.” Nor can the transient nature of most of Roger’s encounters be automatically equated with anonymity; the particular musculature of an arm, the bulge of a thigh, the way the hair is parted on the head—any physical property of a total stranger—can instantaneously trigger an emotional memory or cue an attraction (or revulsion) based on some earlier event barely recalled, if at all, more often than can any polite verbal exchange. It’s possible, of course, that Roger did actually have seven orgasms that evening, which could be regarded, depending on one’s value set, either as “depravity” or as an enviably prodigious sexual energy.

Roger also starts to keep, intermittently, a second, much fuller diary that, unlike his shorthand erotic journals, expounds expansively and often in great detail on aspects of his public life. This unusual disjunction between two kinds of diary keeping represents not—as sometimes claimed, then and now—a “soul divided” or a schizoid personality but rather a sensible decision, mandated by social convention, to make some effort at concealing those aspects of his behavior regarded at the time as transgressive (at best) or “degenerate” (at worst). Of course, Roger need not have kept a sexual diary at all: the surest way to keep his “offensive” behavior secret would be to never write about it, never to run the risk that other, disapproving, eyes might see it.

But the daredevil in Roger overrides his cautionary side. The rebel who defies authority and courts danger is a distinctive element in his private as well as public life. The temperament that allows Roger to challenge public arrangements of power also expresses itself in his challenge to current norms of personal behavior—and all but guarantees that in any contest between defiance and discretion, he will almost certainly choose defiance. The mind- set is reminiscent of Gwendolen Fairfax in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, when she brazenly announces, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Roger is finally able to set out for the interior with a file of porters—and his beloved bulldog John—on June 5, 1903. Having briefly been in the Congo interior sixteen years before while serving a youthful apprenticeship, Roger has a personal frame of reference against which he can measure recent changes in local conditions. The changes are profound—beyond anything he anticipated, though he thought himself prepared for the worst.

He reaches the upper Congo by early July and spends the next two and a half months investigating conditions there. Early on, one missionary confides to him that (as Roger writes in his diary) “the rule of the State has swept off the population wholesale.” Roger confirms the statement with his own eyes when he arrives at Chumbiri on July 6. It’s a village he’d visited on his trip in 1887, when “the settlement contained from 4,000 to 6,000 people.” What he finds in 1903—as he’ll later describe the scene in his 1904 Congo Report to the Foreign Office—is that most of the villages “are entirely deserted, the forest having grown over the abandoned sites, and the entire community at the present date cannot number more than 500 souls.” Sleeping sickness, he discovers, has been a factor in decimating the population; another is flight— to another village, into the forest, or across the border—all to escape the onerous hand of the state.

Carefully interviewing survivors, Roger concludes that those who haven’t taken flight have been forced to labor long hours—primarily in hunting for rubber but also in cutting wood to supply government steamers, keeping the undergrowth clear for the government’s telegraph line, preparing kwanga (cassava root), and carrying the food a considerable distance to the government post. The villagers complain bitterly to Roger about having received no payment—the recognized currency is in brass rods—for a year, or payment only in short rods that undervalue what is owed. Their forced labor, they tell him, has become so exhausting and time consuming that they’re unable to plant and weed their own plots of land. If they complain, they’re beaten—or killed.

Moving farther north into the interior, Roger stops next at Bolobo. He knows the place from his earlier visit as the thriving center of the Bobangi tribe, remarkable for their skill as traders and hunters. The town’s population back in 1887 had been around forty thousand; it’s now “not more than 7,000 or 8,000 souls.” Where numerous large canoes once plied the river, Roger can locate almost none. The surviving inhabitants, Roger gradually comes to understand, are on call at all times to answer the needs, or whimsies, of state officials. Should the order come to cut wood, hoe and weed, or prepare and serve food, they must comply on the instant or face beatings, imprisonment, or death. One long-standing project that began when Roger earlier visited is still underway: the construction of a wooden pier to enable visitors to disembark. Roger estimates that the Bobangi have already been forced “as a public duty” to cut down some two thousand trees and saplings and carry them a considerable distance to the pier site—for which they have been rewarded with neither food nor pay.

By the third week in July, moving still farther into the interior, Roger arrives at two large villages of the Batende tribe. He discovers that fully half the population are Basengili refugees, skilled blacksmiths and brass workers, who’ve sought asylum with their friends, the Batende. “Life had become intolerable,” Roger writes in his report, “nothing had remained for them at home but to be killed for failure to bring in a certain amount of rubber or to die from starvation or exposure in their attempts to satisfy the demands made upon them.” He makes a point of checking on the accuracy of these accounts and all his sources, including a local Baptist missionary, confirm it.

At the town of Mpoko he visits a Basengili blacksmith’s shed; the five men in the shed stop working and, with the help of an interpreter, talk to Roger at some length. He asks them why they decided to leave their own villages. One of the men replies, “I am Moyo. These other two beside me are Wankaki and Nkwabali. . . . Each village had to take twenty loads of rubber. These loads were big: they were as big as this.” He produces an empty basket that comes up nearly to the handle of Roger’s walking stick. “ That was the first size. We had to fill that up, but as rubber got scarcer the white man reduced the amount. We had to take these loads in four times a month.”

ROGER: “How much pay did you get for this?”

ALL FIVE MEN: “We got no pay! We got nothing!”

MOYO: “Our village got cloth and a little salt, but not the people who did the work. Our chiefs eat up the cloth, the workers get nothing. . . . It used to take ten days to get the twenty baskets of rubber. We were always in the forest, and then when we were late, we were killed. We had to go farther and farther into the forest to find the rubber vines, to go without food, and our women had to give up cultivating the fields and gardens. Then we starved. Wild beasts—the leopards—killed some of us when we were working in the forest, and others got lost or died from exposure and starvation, and we begged the white man to leave us alone, saying we could get no more rubber, but the white men and their soldiers said, ‘Go! You are only beasts yourselves, you are nyama (meat).’ We tried, always going farther into the forest, and when we failed and our rubber was short, the soldiers came to our towns and killed us. Many were shot, some had their ears cut off; others were tied up with ropes around their necks and bodies and taken away. . . . Some white men were good. . . . these ones told us to stay in our homes . . . but after what we had suffered we did not trust more any one’s word, and we fled. ”

ROGER: “How do you know it was the white men themselves who ordered these cruel things to be done to you? These things may have been done without the white man’s knowledge by the black soldiers.”

NKWABIL: “The white men mocked the soldiers: ‘You kill only women; you cannot kill men. You must prove that you kill men.’ So then the soldiers, when they killed us”—here Nkwabali stops and points to the genitals of Roger’s bulldog John, asleep at his feet—“then they cut off those things and took them to the white men, who said, ‘It is true, you have killed men.’”

ROGER: “You mean to tell me that white men ordered your bodies to be mutilated like that, and those parts of you carried to him?”

ALL THE MEN SHOUTING: “Yes! Many white men!”

ROGER: “You say this is true? Were many of you so treated after being shot?”

All, shouting: “Nkoto! Nkoto! (Very many! Very many!)”

Writing up his account that night, Roger concludes that “there was no doubt that these people were not inventing. Their vehemence, their flashing eyes, their excitement, was not simulated. Doubtless they exaggerated the numbers, but they were clearly telling what they knew and loathed.”

Roger adds a kind of coda: “Poor frail, self seeking vexed mortality—dust to dust—ashes to ashes—where then are the kindly heart, the pitying thought—together vanished.” He elaborates his anguish further in a letter to cousin Gee: “I know not where to turn to, or to whom to make appeal on behalf of these unhappy people whose sufferings I have witnessed and whose wrongs have burnt into my heart. How can they, poor, panic-stricken fugitives, in their own forest homes, turn for justice to their oppressors? The one dreadful, dreary cry that has been ringing in my ears for the last six weeks has been, ‘Protect us from our protectors.’”

As Roger proceeds further in his investigation, he does find reason now and then—a missionary’s kindness, a black soldier’s sympathy—to feel a modicum of restored faith in human nature, but the bulk of the evidence he continues to gather clusters heavily on the side of dismay. The tales are often so horrific that Roger fears Europeans might discount them out of hand as yet another instance of the “childlike exaggerations” typical of the “savage” imagination. When it later comes time to draw up his formal report, Roger will append a number of signed and witnessed affidavits, making sure to include some by “reliable” (i.e., white) missionaries.

He also makes sure to implicate Africans whenever he finds them collaborating with the authorities in enforcing ruthless punishment. Near Lake Mantumba, he comes across a training camp at which eight hundred native troops are being drilled by a European staff to join the notorious Force Publique—Leopold’s personal army, the largest in Central Africa, equipped with rifles, bayonets, and machine guns. All the officers are white, and most of the soldiers black. Ill-paid and ill-fed, flogged for minor infractions, they sometimes resist and run away (one large-scale uprising lasts for three years). But the white officers shrewdly play on existing intertribal hostilities and post black sentries in villages inhabited by their traditional enemies, where— like their white masters—they too sometimes engage in rape and other atrocities, including use of the chicote, the whip made of hippo hide that cuts deeply into the flesh.

One such episode involving Africans—it becomes widely known as the “Epondo Case”—involves a young boy of fourteen or fifteen, answering to the name Epondo. Roger comes across him in the Bonginda area; the boy’s left arm is wrapped in a dirty rag, and when Roger removes it, he finds the arm has a bullet wound and has been hacked off at the wrist. When Epondo tells him that a sentry has done it, Roger succeeds in finding the man and in front of the chief and headmen of the town, accuses him of the crime:

ROGER (TO EPONDO): “Who cut off your hand?”

EPONDO: “ The sentry Kelengo there.”
(Roger calls several of the headmen, and they testify to the same effect.

Nearly everyone present, numbering some forty people, shout out that Kelengo is guilty of cutting o Epondo’s hand. Roger now calls Kelengo himself to testify.)

ROGER (TO KELONGO): “Did you cut off this boy’s hand?”

KELENG: “Kelengo is not my name. I am Mbilu.”

ROGER: “Answer the question.”
KELENGO: “Thepeople of this place have done bad things to me.”

ROGER: “Please confine your answer to the question I asked. We can talk later of other matters. Your refusal to reply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a direct and simple question leaves me convinced that you cannot deny the charge.”

KELENGO: “I know nothing about Epondo’s hand being cut off. Perhaps it was the first sentry here before I came, who was a very bad man and cut people’s hands off.”

ROGER: “How long have you been in this town?”

KELENGO: “Five months.”

ROGER: “You are quite sure?”

KELENGO: “Five months.”

ROGER: “Do you then know this boy Epondo? Have you seen him before?”

KELENGO: “I do not know him at all.”
( The crowd roars with laughter. Several people shout out their mocking praise of Kelengo for his skill in lying.)

KELENGO: “It is finished. I have told you all. I know nothing of it.”

Roger finally accepts no for an answer, but he subsequently files a report with the governor general of the Congo Free State, insisting on an investigation. There is no reply. Epondo then recants his testimony, now claiming that a wild animal had bitten off his hand. Roger isn’t persuaded. He points out that Epondo also has a gunshot wound; did that too come from a wild animal?

In his notes Roger focuses his indictment not on Kelengo the individual but on the system that spawned him. In the course of his further inquiries he learns of many more cases, besides that of Epondo, of dismemberment—including one youth who had both hands beaten off by a rifle butt against a tree trunk and another who after losing a hand stayed absolutely still on the ground for fear that the soldiers would kill him if they realized he was still alive.

Later, when Roger comes to write up his final report—amply documented with photographs he’s taken—one Belgian newspaper will insist that unfortunates like Epondo suffer from cancer of the hands. Another will maintain—declaring it inconceivable that any European would participate in such practices—that severing limbs has long been a customary punishment among African tribes and that Epondo and the others are victims of fellow Africans.

The writer Joseph Conrad will be among those who deride such complacency. More than a dozen years earlier, he’d met and admired Roger when their paths crossed at Matadi; Conrad had then described him in his diary as “most intelligent and very sympathetic.” When in 1903 Roger tries to solicit Conrad’s public support (“he will, I hope, move his pen when I see him at home”), Conrad replies that he is too busy to get involved in advocacy but adds, “It is an extraordinary thing that the conscience of Europe which seventy years ago has put down the slave trade on humanitarian grounds tolerates the Congo State today. It is as if the moral clock had been put back many hours. . . . the Belgians are worse than the seven plagues of Egypt.”

While still in the field gathering evidence, Roger discovers that even when punishment takes less barbaric forms, due process is entirely lacking.

Summary arrest and imprisonment—men are often taken from their homes and never seen again—are the rule. The African prisoner is given no recourse to legal aid, has no trial, and is indefinitely detained rather than sentenced to a fixed period. Some are carted to to a distant government station where, bereft of family and tribal ties, they’re subject to hard labor dawn to dusk; others are dragooned into the Force Publique, some to die in a distant part of the country, others to risk desertion and flee into the forest, and still others to discharge their own rage by brutalizing strangers.

Roger insists on asking, and then asking again, what specific law has been broken, what “crime” committed—other than refusing to be a slave lab- orer—that warrants these capricious proceedings. He scours the penal code of the Congo statute book but finds no legal sanction that the Free State can cite—assuming it cares to bother—to justify its arbitrary policies. If punishments are to be inflicted for infractions of the law, Roger asks, what law has been disobeyed? Where are fines enumerated for given infractions, or prison terms mandated and their length specified? Where does it say that a certain tax is to be levied and that those who fail to pay it must work out their debt deep in the forest, foraging for rubber vines—while their wives are kept as hostages to ensure good behavior?

If, as the state claims, the native population is content—or consists solely of liars and rogues, as the state alternately insists—why are so many armed men needed to keep them in line; why are so many wearing iron neck braces or rope braces that cut deeply into the skin? “You insist that forced labor is necessary to prevent the natives from spending their days in idleness,” Roger asks, but why then do the natives tell me they no longer have time to till their fields, to practice their skills in basketry and brass, to build their canoes, to fish in the waters—or to supply their children with sufficient food?

By mid-September 1903 Roger realizes that he’s gathered so much damning information to refute the Congo Free State’s claim to “benign intent” that further efforts would be redundant. He cables the Foreign Office that he has “convincing evidence of shocking misgovernment and wholesale repression.” The point now is to return to Britain, write up a formal report, and let the facts speak for themselves. But facts never do, and Roger is about to discover that what seems irrefutable can be distorted and denied, that governments prefer to ignore what they cannot discredit, and that pious Christian gentlemen can be expert at moral evasion.

Martin Galvin Leaves Radio Free Eireann

Go to 9:32 for the details:

After Strokestown: Northern Paramilitaries And The Private Security Industry

Paisley and McGuinness helped open industry door to ex-paramilitaries; Drew Harris helped draw up the rules

The Private Security Industry, with its ability to provide employment to their unskilled members and lucrative income to its owners, has long been a target of Northern-based Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups.

The three men who helped open the private security business to former paramilitaries: Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness and Drew Harris

So it is no surprise that in the wake of the eviction riot near Strokestown, Co Roscommon at the weekend, there were allegations, so far unconfirmed, that former paramilitaries, allegedly of a Loyalist persuasion, were involved in the fracas.

For many years the police in both jurisdictions on the island had and (in the case of anti-GFA republican groups) still have special squads with a remit to keep a close eye on paramilitary involvement in the private security industry.

But the magnitude of the problem was not officially acknowledged until the 2000’s when the paramilitary ceasefires were monitored by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), whose conclusions were simple: there had been a significant level of infiltration of the industry by paramilitary groups.

This is what a Northern Ireland Office consultation paper on ‘Regulating the Private Security Industry in Northern Ireland’ had to say in August 2006:

The industry is particularly vulnerable to penetration by paramilitaries because of low barriers of entry to those wishing to provide a private security service. There have been examples in Northern Ireland of private security services being subverted to act as a cover for criminality, for example, the provision of security guards to provide cover for running a ‘protection racket’.

……The Fifth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that there was direct evidence of paramilitary involvement in the private security industry in Northern Ireland, resulting in many firms suffering from extortion. They stated that the current, temporary control regime in Northern Ireland was “less stringent” than the regime in England, Wales and Scotland, and was insufficient in preventing paramilitary infiltration into the industry.

……In their recent report into organised crime, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) has identified the potential for exploitation of the industry by paramilitaries and organised criminals. It recommended that the area of regulation of the private security industry in Northern Ireland be dealt with as a matter of priority. It also identified the need for appropriate training and registration of door supervisors, and noted the problems with the form of self- regulation that is encouraged by some, but not all, councils throughout Northern Ireland.

The only bar to the issuing of a licence to operate a private security firm was evidence that a paramilitary group stood to gain directly, or indirectly – a difficult proposition to prove, especially if there was a court challenge.

To solve this problem of under-regulation, direct rule ministers decided to put Northern Ireland under the control of the same Home Office-based organisation which regulated the industry in England, Scotland and Wales.

It was called the Security Industry Authority (SIA). In Nov 6, 2007, according to correspondence published by the NI Assembly, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris was appointed by the PSNI Chief Constable to be the force’s representative in discussions with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the SIA to draw up the rules governing private security firms in the North.

Drew Harris was in charge of crime at the time, in which capacity he liaised with MI5. He is currently the Garda Commissioner.

The SIA published the following guide to the employment of former paramilitaries by the private security industry, It opened the door to the legal employment of former paramilitaries by invoking guidance issued by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in early May 2007, a few days before they officially took office as the inaugural First and Deputy First Minister in the post ceasefire Stormont government.

Here is the full text of the SIA document; the relevant paragraph is the final one:

Conflict-Related Convictions

This information applies to conflict-related convictions that pre-date the Good Friday Agreement (April 1998). It should be read in conjunction with our supplementary guidance document.

Supplementary Guidance on Conflict Related Convictions (download size: 85kb)

When you apply for an SIA licence there are three possible outcomes:

  • Grant – the criteria for licensing have been met
  • Refuse – the criteria for licensing have NOT been met
  • Consider additional factors – depending on other factors, the criteria may or may not have been met. This is not an immediate refusal: we invite you to supply to us (within a specific time period) additional information before reaching our final decision.

If you have conflict-related convictions these convictions will be assessed under ‘consider additional factors’ in line with guidance for employers from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

When we consider additional factors the following points are taken into account in relation to conflict convictions:

  • The criteria we apply in deciding whether to grant a licence are approved by the Secretary of State (section 7(5) of the Private Security Industry Act 2001).
  • We have a statutory duty to apply those criteria in our decision making (section 8(3) of the Private Security Industry Act 2001).
  • When considering a criminal record, we take into account the relevance, seriousness, recency and the disposal of each offence.
  • We consider all offences on a person’s criminal record, regardless of whether in other circumstances they might be considered ‘spent’.
  • The fact that an offence was conflict related and pre-dates the Good Friday Agreement will be taken into account when considering the whole of a person’s criminal record.
  • We believe that our approach to considering offences is consistent with the judgement of Kerr J- this link opens in a new window in Damien McComb application for Judicial Review [2003] NIQB 47. Kerr J ruled that the fact a person has been released under the Good Friday Agreement (in accordance with the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998) and has been determined as no longer a danger to society was a relevant consideration as to whether or not a licence can be granted for working as a taxi driver.
  • We believe that our approach to considering offences is consistent with the guidance- this link opens in a new window to employers issued by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which states that any conviction for a conflict-related offence that pre-dates the Good Friday Agreement (April 1998) should not be taken into account unless it is materially relevant to the employment being sought.

The Paisey-McGuinness guidelines are too lengthy to reproduce in full here, but here is a link to the entire document.

In the meantime, here is the relevant section:

The key principle arising from the work of the group is:
“……that conflict-related convictions of ‘politically motivated’ ex-prisoners, or their membership of any organisation, should not generally be taken into account [in accessing employment, facilities, goods or services] provided that the act to which the conviction relates, or the membership, predates the Agreement. Only if the conviction, or membership, is materially relevant to the employment, facility, goods or service applied for, should this general rule not apply”

For what it is worth here is my read of all this: If you are a paramilitary group that is keeping, by and large, to your ceasefire commitments then HMG will turn a blind eye to the fact that the head of your security company used to be on the Brigade Staff of the IRA, or UDA or RHC.

And as long as you run a clean ship, you’ll be able to employ a rogues’ gallery of ex-IRA/Loyalist cons. In fact there is a big plus for HMG in all this because you’ll be putting money in pockets and keeping potential malcontents busy and reasonably content – even if from time to time someone’s iPhone might film them behaving in embarrassing ways.

Ain’t the peace process just great?!

Reported Death Of Sean Garland, Official IRA Strategist And Political Flimflam Man

It is being reported tonight (Thursday, NY time) that Sean Garland, the former Official IRA and Workers Party leader, has died. With his death and that of Des ‘the Devil’ O’Hagan three-and-a-half years ago, a chapter in the extraordinary history of left-wing Irish republicanism has come to a close.

Sean Garland in his later years

Garland and O’Hagan were the major architects of a hugely successful con trick played on the Irish people which lasted from the late 1970’s to the Spring of 1992. Complicit in the con, indeed vital to its success, was a significant section of the Irish media.

The con trick was to persuade a significant section of the population that the military group that they led, the Official IRA, no longer existed, that it had wound up in the mid to late 1970’s, after the last of the feuds with the INLA and the Provisional IRA, and that via the Workers Party, those who had been active in that organisation were now completely committed to peaceful political methods.

It was, of course, a lie. The Official IRA continued to exist, not least to protect Workers’ Party activists north of the Border against the Provos and the INLA, but also as a fund-raising organisation for the political wing, especially south of the Border where the WP enjoyed remarkable electoral success until the party split in the early 1990’s.

The con trick was successful largely because the Official IRA’s continuing paramilitary activity was concentrated north of the Border, out of sight of southern voters and – significantly – many of the young, professional types in the South who were attracted by the WP’s class-based politics.

Under Garland and O’Hagan, the Official IRA was partitioned. It existed in the North but south of the Border its existence was continually and often angrily denied.

The Irish media played a significant role in peddling the lie. The media – RTE and The Irish Times in particular – were targets for successful penetration and journalists who did try to write the truth about the Officials, notably Vincent Browne and myself, were excoriated.

The hostility was not confined to angry words. I learned from a senior UDA source that two well-known members of the WP had told them that I was an intelligence officer for the INLA. Suspicious about this tale’s bona fides, the UDA checked it out and discovered it was nonsense. Nonetheless it was a serious attempt to kill me.

 

A young Sean Garland

The power of the Officials in The Irish Times in particular, could not be exaggerated. When I was Northern Editor at the time that the Workers Party made a deal to keep Fianna Fail Taoiseach Charlie Haughey in power, I wrote a two-part Northern Notebook on the WP-Official IRA.

One part dealt with the Officials’ political journey, North and South, and that duly appeared on the Saturday morning. The second part, which dealt with the continued existence of the armed wing, disappeared into the ether. I was neither informed beforehand that it had been spiked, nor why.

Eventually, some years after myself and the Times parted company, I had the chance to put the record straight. A good friend and legal worker put me in touch with an RUC document which detailed the discovery of an arms dump in Turf Lodge which had been discovered by police as a result of a tip off. The RUC document was unequivocal. The arms dump belonged to the Official IRA.

So there it was in black and white. The lie that the Official IRA no longer existed, was just that – a lie.

At around this time Shane Harrison of the BBC Spotlight programme approached me about research he was doing on a possible special on the Workers Party. He was particularly interested in any evidence that the armed wing still existed.

So, I let him have a copy of the RUC document and that was enough to persuade his bosses in the Beeb to make the documentary.

The film was duly televised and with the BBC’s imprimatur stamped all over it, the allegation had to be taken seriously. As it was, a Gorbachev-style wing had sprouted up in the WP and the Spotlight programme was just the ammunition they needed to force a break with the Garland-O’Hagan faction.

The WP split at a special ard-fheis in 1992 and the Democratic Left was formed as a breakaway party, joined government in 1994 along with Fine Gael and Labour, and eventually were absorbed into the Irish Labour Party. The WP quickly and finally disappeared into the sinkhole of history.

As for Garland he soon had more serious matters to worry about. The US applied for his extradition on charges that he had assisted the North Koreans, with whom the WP had friendly relations, to distribute counterfeit, so-called ‘super dollars’. Somehow he managed to dodge that bullet.

So that was my little part in the downfall of Sean Garland’s ambitions. I never did get an explanation from The Irish Times for the censoring of my article on the Official IRA. But what the heck! The story had a happy ending, and that is all that matters.

The ‘Self-Inflicted’ Death Of Maze Medical Officer Dr David Ross: ‘The Eleventh Hunger Striker’

The late IRA commander and leader of the 1980 prison fast for political status, Brendan Hughes called him ‘the eleventh hunger striker’, and believed that Dr David Ross, the Maze prison’s medical officer, had been so deeply affected by the deaths of the ten IRA prisoners on the second protest in 1981 that, five years later, he took his own life.

In sharp contrast, Hughes’ colleague, Bobby Sands, who was the first IRA prisoner to die on the 1981 hunger strike, disagreed. Dr Ross, he told Hughes, was ‘a mind manipulator’ and he did not trust him. Ever since, their argument has divided the IRA prison population of the day.

Hughes’ told the story of the two IRA prison leaders’ interaction about Dr Ross in his interviews with Anthony McIntyre for the Boston College oral history archive. The account was later published in ‘Voices From The Grave‘.

Support for Brendan Hughes’ verdict on Dr Ross has, however, now come from an unexpected source.

In an account of his career as the Maze prison’s Deputy Governor and Head of Security during much of the Troubles, Tom Murtagh ascribes Dr Ross’ suicide to the ordeal of shepherding ten republican prisoners to often painful and difficult deaths during the politically torrid year of 1981.

Murtagh also discloses that, by grisly coincidence, Dr Ross took his own life during a spate of suicides by prison staff at the jail in 1985/86.

The suicide scene in the garage at Dr Ross’ home

According to the now retired senior prison official, by 1986 the Maze prison was an angry cockpit in which paramilitary prisoners, by now unofficially segregated in separate Republican and Loyalist Blocks and/or wings, were in a constant psychological and physical struggle with prison staff for control.

The picture he paints is of a jail that, in the years following the 1981 hunger strike settlement, gradually appeared to be falling under the sway of the inmates, and out of the charge of the staff.

By his account the warders were suffering the consequences; some sought escape in drink or feigned sickness to avoid work. Others were ‘turned’ by the paramilitary inmates and agreed to work for the IRA or their Loyalist equivalents. Some sought a more final solution, by taking their own lives, although Murtagh does not quantify the toll:

……it is clear that all staff working in the segregated wings were under immense psychological strain, the effects of which naturally varied from one individual to another. While many strived to cope, others just went sick causing further difficulty in an establishment that was already substantially understaffed. Others turned to alcohol. In 1985/ 1986 a number of The Maze staff took their own lives.

There is evidence that, by this stage, both Republican and Loyalist prisoners were having success in corrupting and recruiting prison officers. The extent of this is difficult to quantify in that the PIRA carefully protected these individuals by insisting that they appeared to be doing their job properly and remained above suspicion.

It must also be assumed that the Loyalists were also having success on this front as they became more confrontational and aggressive in their dealings with staff at all levels. A Block Governor described them as ‘constantly in your face, abusive and threatening, often for no other reason other than that they were getting away with it’.

Dr David Ross worked away, tending to the medical needs of prisoners and warders alike in the midst of this undeclared war. But when he decided to take his own life, on June 13th, 1986, Murtagh believed that what drove him to such a drastic and final act was not the strife in the H Blocks, but the mental scars left by the 1981 hunger strikes, five years earlier:

Though it is difficult to be sure what drove them (the suicidal warders) to such despair it seems reasonable to conclude that their work environment was a contributing factor. One of those who sadly died in such circumstances was the Medical Officer, Dr David Ross who had cared for the prisoners on both hunger-strikes and despite his efforts had to watch ten of them die. He was clearly affected by the experience and on 13th June 1986 he took his own life.

Murtagh’s story, told in the book, ‘The Maze Prison: A Hidden Story of Chaos, Anarchy and Politics‘, was published in February this year.

From the little that is known about his background, Dr Ross was born and reared in Ballymena, Co Antrim – the heart of Ian Paisley’s North Antrim Westminster constituency. He later became a GP in nearby Ballyclare.

His background and rearing would in all probability have been typical of many Unionists and Protestants of his generation. Distrust and abhorrence of Irish republican goals and violence, and those who advocated them, would have been in the political DNA of all those he mixed with, not least at the Maze prison.

All of which makes even more remarkable the evident human sympathy he was able to show, as Brendan Hughes attested, for the IRA prisoners in his charge.

He was 57 years old when, in the garage of his home in the northern suburbs of Belfast, he put the barrels of a shotgun to his stomach and then his neck and pulled the trigger. He died in the Royal Victoria Hospital four hours later.

An aerial view of the Maze prison/Long Kesh

The former Head of Security at one of Europe’s toughest and most dangerous jails, pens a portrait of Dr Ross that strikingly mirrors Hughes’ depiction of a caring and sympathetic physician. Describing Ross’ work during the second hunger strike, Murtagh wrote:

According to Hospital Chief Officer (Frank) Smith, David Ross hardly ever left the prison (day or night) throughout the months of the hunger-strike. Ross was a quiet spoken and caring man who maintained a constant dialogue with the hunger-strikers to ensure their comfort and care at all stages of their fast. His dedication was recognised by most of the prisoners…..

Murtagh quotes one of Dr Ross’ junior assistants, who is not named in the book, as echoing the view that the hunger strike had troubled the physician. Speaking of the impact the hunger strike had on warders and Dr Ross alike, the aide said:

When you are caring for these guys, getting to know them and their families and watching their grief, you are only human and you have your feelings. It had an impact on all of us. I know Dr Ross, who never seemed to leave the hospital, was badly affected by his experience with the hunger-strikers.

Several years ago thebrokenelbow.com made a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) for a copy of Dr Ross’ inquest file. A long silence followed. Eventually a more productive route was opened up to the Public Record Office in Belfast but even with generous and kind assistance from staff at the office, it took the best part of two years before the file was handed over.

Much of the file has been redacted, notably the identity of witnesses who gave evidence and/or statements to the inquest. But the file does reveal that at the time of his death, the medic was receiving treatment from a psychiatrist for what the report called ‘recurrent depressive illness’. Another document suggests that this specialist was based at Belfast’s then major mental health institution, Purdysburn hospital.

According to the inquest file, the Maze medical officer was being treated with ‘anti-depressant and anxiolotic drugs’ for his depression, the last prescription for which was dated April 7th, 1986. Anxiolotic drugs are used to treat extreme anxiety.

That Dr Ross committed suicide is accepted by all those involved in investigating his case, although under Northern Ireland law, inquests do not deliver judgements which accord blame or responsibility for deaths; they merely investigate and inquire into the cause of deaths.

Northern Ireland inquests can however, deliver ‘Findings’ which implicitly and inevitably do ascribe some responsibility for deaths. Although the 58-page inquest report is redacted in places, sometimes heavily, and the names of some witnesses – including, it seems, the Purdysburn psychiatrist and his report – are blacked out, enough of the ‘Findings’ survive to explain what happened.

Much of the other witness statements have also been redacted, but again the task was done somewhat sloppily. For example, Dr Ross’ wife’s statement is redacted to hide her identity and relationship to her husband, but whoever was given the task, left her name, ‘Gladys Ross’, untouched as well one reference to ‘My husband…’.

According to witness statements collected by RUC officers and submitted to the coroner, James Elliot, there was little about Dr Ross’ behavior earlier that day, June 13th, 1986, to suggest that it would end so tragically.

Two prison officers, one a warder, the other a catering officer, interacted with the doctor on the morning of his death and saw nothing to cause concern.

One told investigating police officers:

(Dr Ross) appeared to be his normal efficient and busy self at no time did he give me the impression that he was under stress or preoccupied….During the past week I had dealings with Dr Ross at various times and found him to be his usual self.

The catering officer said:

At 1110 hrs Dr Ross visited the kitchen to sample the dinner meal as he does on a daily basis The dinner menu for that day was creamed potatoes, carrots, vienna steak and curry sauce – steamed pudding and vanilla sauce, he did not eat the full meal but left a small portion. No comment was made about the meal and he signed the menu book. We chatted for about ten minutes and then he left. He gave no indication of being depressed or feeling low.

But another member of Dr Ross’ medical staff thought that not all was well with his boss:

On Friday 13 6 86 I was i/c Phase 4 surgery Compound Maze, which Dr Ross SMO attended to carry out the sick parade. Dr Ross appeared to be in normal form, but I did notice that he did seem to be a little quieter than usual, as if he had something on his mind. He would normally, always be in more of a hurry to get the morning’s work cleared up, but on Friday morning did not seem to be in any hurry at all. Other than the above, I did not notice anything else unusual in his behaviour.

Gladys Ross’ account chimes with that provided by the first two warders above. Her husband returned to their home in Templepatrick on the northern outskirts of Belfast at about 2 pm that day and there was nothing to portend the impending tragedy:

He had about an hours sleep. He then had a cup of tea. We then put flowers in the garden. He then took (redacted) dog for a walk. He would have been away for approximately 30 minutes. I was in the house when I heard a bang. I saw the dog run out the back with its head down. I went into the back boiler house which is attached to the rear of the garage. I then went into the garage. I saw (redacted) lying on the floor. I thought he had had an accident with the car. The time would have been about 6.20 pm. (Redacted) has not been suffering from any ilnnesses.

On 6th May 1986 (redacted) and I had come back from a holiday in America, we had a great time. On Friday 13th June when (redacted) and I were doing the garden he told me he had bought daisy killer and he said that maybe next week the weather would be suitable to put it on the lawn. During the last four weeks he was happy and full of plans for what he was going to do over the summer in the garden. Such as building a green house and planting trees. At the several social occasions we attended recently he was cheerful, outgoing and chatty, and afterwards he said how much he enjoyed himself. (Redacted) had been sleeping well, eating well and was full of interest.

The inquest did not call Dr Ross’ death ‘suicide’ but the meaning of the words chosen by the coroner was clear; the circumstances of Dr Ross’ death, he wrote, ‘were consistent with self-infliction’.

But what happened inside Dr Ross’ mind in the four hours or so between the Maze medical officer arriving home from a shift at the prison, apparently in a good mood and with no outward sign of mental distress, and his decision to put a double-barreled shotgun to his stomach and then his neck and pull the trigger remains a mystery.

 

What follows are the relevant documents in the story of Dr David Ross, beginning with extracts from Brendan Hughes’ interview with Anthony McIntyre, followed by facsimiles of the relevant inquest papers:

“But Sean was not the only one – Sean was the weakest … So all those weaknesses were there. After Sean asked me, I gave him a guarantee that I would not let him die. A few days later –now, I want to try and get the sequence correct here. Dr [David] Ross – he was the main doctor looking after the hunger strikers – came and informed me that Sean had only hours to live. It’s possible they were playing brinkmanship with me at this stage. And it’s possible that the cells were bugged and that they picked up what I had said to Sean. And they knew that if Sean went into a deep coma, that I would intervene. And that’s exactly what happened. Dr Ross came to me and told me that Sean would die within hours and he wanted permission … to take Sean to hospital. And this took place. There was a sudden rush of activity; prison orderlies took Sean on a stretcher up the wing. I was standing in the wing with Father Toner, Father Reid and Dr Ross … and I shouted up after Dr Ross, ‘Feed him.’ I had no guarantee at that point that anything was going to come from the British, no guarantee whatsoever. We all knew that they had offered us this deal but we had no guarantee that the deal would go through. We only had their word for it. The hunger strike was called off before the British document arrived. It was only later that night, I think; it was very late at night that Father Meagher and Bobby [Sands] arrived at my cell with the document.

Q. So is it fair to say that the hunger strike then did not end as a result of the document but the hunger strike ended prior to the document and it was in many respects the humanitarian decision on your part –you were bound by your word?

A. Yeah.”

“… a footnote to all this is that myself and Bobby had disagreements about the doctor who was in charge at the time of the hunger strikes. Bobby believed Dr Ross to be a mind-manipulator. I didn’t believe that. I believed him to be OK. But it’s important to remember that after the second hunger strike, Dr Ross blew himself away with a double-barrelled shotgun. He shot himself in the stomach and then blew his head off. I don’t know if it was to do with the hunger strikes [but] I believe it was. And I would sometimes refer to Dr Ross as the eleventh hunger striker, the eleventh victim of the hunger strike. I mean, anybody who could stand by and watch ten men die and not be affected … is a very, very ruthless man indeed … and I don’t believe that Ross was as ruthless as that. Bobby had no time for him, did not trust him, believed him to be, as I say, a mind-wrestler, trying to get inside people’s minds. But he used to sit on my bed for so long sometimes I would wish he’d go, [but] he would talk to me about fishing, about the mountains, the rivers and the streams. And for a man to bring in spring water every morning for the hunger strikers because he believed it to be much richer and would help the prisoners was not a ruthless man. That’s what he did, every morning he brought spring water in instead of the tap water that we had. And you know during a hunger strike it’s awful to drink salt and water. And I remember throwing it up, many’s a time throwing it up. But you had to try … the memory of that salt water and the sickness and … and the smell and watching your flesh. I mean, the body is a fantastic machine –it’ll eat off all the fat tissue first and then it starts eating away at the muscle to keep your brain alive. When that goes, all that’s left is your brain, and it starts to go as well. And that’s when the brain damage sets in. Your body needs glucose, and the last supply of glucose is in your brain.

INQUEST DOCUMENTS

Statement of Gladys Ross:

Witness list. No 5 appears to be the psychiatrist from Purdysburn hospital:Another reference to Purdysburn hospital:

Statement of Prison Hospital Warder:

Statement of Catering Warder:

Statement of Prison Hospital Warder:

Inquest Findings: