Monthly Archives: April 2019

Michael Lavery QC RIP

I was greatly saddened to hear yesterday of the death of Michael Lavery, one of the most distinguished, talented and comradely members of the Northern Ireland Bar.

Michael Lavery QC

I had known Michael almost as long as I have been a journalist; his encyclopedic knowledge of, and insights into local politics, his willingness to talk about important cases that he was involved in and his readiness always to offer a helping hand made him a good friend as well a greatly valued adviser.

Michael was my barrister when we challenged Scotland Yard’s subpoena attempting to confiscate my notes of interviews with the late Billy Stobie, the UDA quarter master and RUC Special Branch agent who had supplied the weapons used to kill Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

Stobie mantained that he had told his handlers about the UDA’s request for weapons from a dump under his control although he did not know until afterwards that the intended victim was Pat Finucane. But after the killing, he  informed his handlers about the murder weapon’s movement. No effort was made by the police to interdict the gun.

Scotland Yard’s effort to force me to hand over the Stobie interview notes foundered when, at judicial review, Michael persuaded the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Carswell to deny the Scotland Yard subpoena on the grounds that the police do not have an automatic right to such information.

Michael was one of the last of a great generation of Northern Ireland lawyers, amongst whom one could count Desmond Boal and Paddy McGrory, all of whom are now dead. Michael’s passing marks the end of an era in the Belfast law courts. He will be sadly missed.

Lyra McKee’s Funeral – Part Two

By Joan McKiernan

I watched the conclusion of Lyra McKee’s funeral on Facebook’s live feed and was struck by the hypocrisy of the politicians as they lined the steps of the cathedral to pose for the mob of TV crews. They applauded as Lyra’s coffin, bedecked with flowers in rainbow colors, a symbol of her life as a gay activist, was driven off to its final destination.

I read that Lyra intended to propose to her partner. But here’s the thing. If they were to be married where would the ceremony have happened? Not at home in the North because the same politicians who saluted her cortege had forbidden that. They flocked to a cathedral in Belfast to salute her coffin but would have denied her the chance to marry in the same place.

Those ‘great and good’ also preside over the only place in those islands where women must travel to England to get an abortion. And how many of the editors who waxed angrily about her violent death will now admit they refused to give space to her stories about the Rape Crisis Center being starved of cash. And presiding over this hypocrisy at Belfast cathedral was Theresa May, prime minister of the UK.

May is head of a government, supported at Westminster by the DUP and in the North by Sinn Fein, which has imposed horrific austerity, poverty, unemployment, and insecurity in working class areas. One such area, hard hit by May’s policies was the Creggan, where Lyra was killed.

Lyra McKee’s Funeral

In the name of all that is good, why were those politicians invited to Lyra McKee’s funeral, and why were they permitted to dominate it? Why was the death of a journalist turned into a demeaning and always doomed effort to revive Stormont, when it could and should have been a celebration of the search for truth that Lyra cherished? Why were a bunch of politicians given an incomparable photo-op, and allowed to bask in the reflected light of Lyra’s goodness, when they didn’t deserve to? One had toured the offices of Europe’s leaders shamelessly exploiting fear of the violence that would claim Lyra’s life to advance his country’s Brexit interests, while the other had given the most reactionary political party in those islands a billion pounds so she could cling on to power and they could avoid sharing it with their enemies? Why were such people there, at Lyra McKee’s funeral?

Was Lyra McKee A Victim Of Dublin’s Brexit Scare Tactics?

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar mourns for Lyra McKee on the steps of Government Buildings in Dublin on Friday

Last October, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar presented European leaders in Brussels with a copy of The Irish Times from 1972 to bolster his claim that a hard Brexit would or could re-ignite the Northern Troubles.

The paper featured a story on an IRA bombing of a customs station in Newry, Co. Down in August of that year which went badly wrong. The device detonated prematurely, killing nine people, three of them the bombers, the other six being civilians or customs officers.

To borrow a phrase, the Taoiseach’s ploy was the opening shot in an Irish government campaign which was intended to persuade – and alarm – European and American allies that a hard Irish Border of the sort envisaged by the British government’s Brexit plans could re-ignite the Troubles.

It was at best a deeply flawed argument. The 1968-1998 Troubles in the North were never about Border customs posts. The 1956-62 IRA campaign maybe, but look what happened to that.

No, the roots of the violence which were to plague Northern Ireland for the final three decades of the last century lay miles away, in the back streets of the Falls Road and Ardoyne or in the Creggan and Bogside, where anger at British Army and RUC violence drove scores of young men and women into the IRA.

They didn’t join the IRA because a customs officer could stop them and ask for identification but because a British squaddie shot their neighbor, or a RUC man called them ‘Fenian bastards’ and batoned them to the ground.

Lyra McKee

Lyra McKee – killed against a background of Brexit alarmism from Dublin

Nonetheless it is not difficult to see why it has suited the Irish government to pretend otherwise, especially to sympathetic ears in Europe. After all a hard Border would be an economic disaster for the Southern economy but who, outside the island and a few friends in Strasbourg, could really get agitated about that?

On the other hand a collapse of the peace in Northern Ireland, the threat that the island could be plunged once more into bloodshed was a horse of a different color. And both Europe and the United States had heavily invested in the project; they were part owners of the peace.

And so the Taoiseach and his ministers decided to play what was, for want of a better phrase, the Provo card, invoking the spectre of the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement and a slide back into the bad old days of violence.

It was not a hard sell. It had been two decades or more since the Troubles ended and journalists dispatched to cover the story from around the world were hopelessly ignorant of the complex roots of the Troubles; they were ripe for the sort of simple narrative the Irish government had prepared.

It was an undemanding version of history, easy to understand, even easier to write or broadcast: the Troubles would never have happened but for the Border, but the peace and EU membership had made it more or less invisible. Reversing that was bound to be a recipe for disaster. Q.E.D. a hard Border meant bad trouble.

You can bet that foreign politicians and journalists were not the only people listening to this beguiling message. The dissident republican groups also have ears and eyes and could appreciate that what the Taoiseach, his ministers and the media were predicting was good news for them.

Suddenly they were important and relevant again, qualities that had eluded them since Omagh.

In these circumstances you could hardly blame the dissident leaders for thinking that at long last their day might have come. Or even for believing that there might be elements in the Dublin establishment who would not be averse to some pre-Brexit flexing of muscles on their part – like a recent bomb in central Derry followed by last week’s Creggan riots – to reinforce the Taoiseach’s message that it could be much worse once a hard Border was in place.

Doubtless the Dublin political establishment would be scandalised at the suggestion but this, undeniably, was the background to the riots that led to the death of Lyra McKee.

Few would go so far as to suggest that Leo Varadkar and his colleagues have Lyra’s blood on their hands but it would be interesting to know how well they slept when news of her murder came through.

Lyra McKee – A Tribute

I can think of no more fitting tribute to Lyra McKee than her own words below, describing what was essentially her journalistic credo, written to me not long after we had first made contact in late 2012.

Separated by some 3,000 miles, me in New York, she in Belfast, we met via email and in one of her first messages she set out her trenchant views on the state of journalism in Northern Ireland.

Journalism was in Lyra’s DNA. She lived and breathed it and I have no doubt that had she been spared, Lyra would have developed into one of Ireland’s finest writers and most principled of journalists. She was already the sweetest and most generous of human beings.

Ireland is poorer for her loss. A curse on the hand that pulled the trigger that killed her.

Pistachio Wars – The Link Between California’s Drought, Iranian Sanctions & The Israel Lobby

Here is a preview of a fascinating upcoming documentary which explains the link, and an article on Max Blumenthal’s blog, The Gray Zone, which goes into more detail:

A Reminder Why the UK And US Are Pursuing Assange

The UDA and UVF In England & Scotland During The Troubles

Interesting piece on the ‘Writing The Troubles‘ website by James Bright on the activities of the UVF and UDA in Scotland and England during the Troubles: