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Birmingham Bombers To Be Named – ‘With IRA Permission’

The report below, carried in The Guardian this morning – updated last night – has interesting implications, if it is true.

The reference to ‘the current head of the IRA’ will be taken to mean that the Provisional IRA still exists, while the claim that ‘Witness O’ has been given permission to name the Birmingham bombers begs the obvious question: why not name the perpetrators in other violent incidents?

(Needless to say The Irish Times has avoided asking, much less answering such awkward questions. The Major lives on!)

Whether this claim from ‘Witness O’ is true or not remains to be seen but in the meantime here is the text of the report, written by Frances Perraudin.

A convicted IRA bomber known as Witness O has named four men he says were responsible for the Birmingham pub bombings, telling the inquest he had been given permission to do so by the current head of the IRA in Dublin.

Twenty-one people were killed and more than 200 injured when bombs were detonated in two city centre pubs – the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town – on the evening of 21 November 1974.

Giving evidence in court on Friday, the anonymous former IRA volunteer said he had been told by the head of the IRA six months ago in Dublin that he could name those he knew were involved.

Speaking over a secure videolink, he named the officer commanding the Birmingham IRA at the time as Seamus McLoughlin, who he said was the person responsible for selecting the targets. He said he gave McLoughlin’s name to two police detectives days after the bombings while he was serving time in HMP Winson Green, but heard nothing more.

He said Mick Murray was one of the bombers. Murray, who died in 1999, was one of two men named by the former Labour MP Chris Mullin in an article in the London Review of Books published in February.

Asked about James Gavin, who was also named by Mullin and died in 2002, he replied: “Well, he was [involved], I met him in Dublin and he said he was.”

Witness O was asked if Michael Hayes was in the bombing team. He said he was, but added, in apparent reference to the Good Friday agreement: “But he can’t be arrested. There is nobody going to be charged with this atrocity. The British government have signed an agreement with the IRA.”

He said that two other men he knew as Dublin Dave and Socks had also been involved, but that he did not know either man’s real name.

Witness O was also asked about the role of Michael Patrick Reilly – a man who has previously been alleged to be a perpetrator – but was unable to confirm his identity.

The inquest into the deaths was opened in November 1974, but was adjourned to allow for a criminal investigation. In 1975, six men – who became known as the Birmingham Six – were convicted for the bombings but were acquitted 16 years later in 1991.

Murray was tried alongside the Birmingham Six and convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions. Gavin was also tried alongside the Birmingham Six and convicted of the possession of explosives.

Murray, Gavin, McLoughlin and Hayes were named in 1990 in the Granada Television documentary drama Who Bombed Birmingham?.

Fresh inquests into the deaths were ordered in 2016 but were delayed by disputes over whether the hearings should examine who might be responsible for the bombings.

In January 2018, the high court overturned a ruling by the coroner Sir Peter Thornton that alleged perpetrators would not fall within the framework of the inquest. Thornton appealed against that decision the following July and the court of appeal ruled in his favour in September.

Speaking outside court on Friday, Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the Tavern in the Town, said: “Witness O has today named the bombers involved in the Birmingham pub bombings.

“I have a letter from David Thompson, chief constable of West Midlands police, that says this is an ongoing live investigation – as such we expect action. [We expect] information as a matter of urgency now as to what is going to happen, what, where and when.”

Speaking via videolink from Dublin on Thursday, the former IRA intelligence chief Kieran Conway said he knew the names of those who were responsible for the bombings but would not name them. He described the attacks as an IRA operation that went badly wrong and said the public outrage caused by the bombings had nearly destroyed the group.

Conway, who is a criminal defence solicitor in Ireland and was convicted of handling explosives in Derry in the 1970s, was asked if he thought the attacks constituted murder. He replied: “No, I don’t agree. I believe it was an IRA operation that went wrong.”

“Had the IRA deliberately targeted that pub with the intention of killing civilians then that would have been murder, yes. But in the circumstances, as I have been told, I don’t accept that it was murder,” he said. “I say that it was an IRA operation that went badly wrong.”

Asked how he would have described the deaths, he said: “I understand perfectly that this is unacceptable to the British people but I would categorise them as accidental.”

After the attacks, an internal IRA court of inquiry, convened in Ireland, cleared those involved in the bombings, Conway said, with IRA chiefs agreeing that the atrocity was down to the delay in calling in the coded warning because the chosen phone box was out of order.

Conway said that at the time of the bombings IRA operations in England were carried out by active service units autonomous of the organisation’s command in Ireland, who were picking bombing targets themselves. Civilian targets were “strictly and loudly forbidden”, he said.

Is There No End To Brexit-Inspired Bullshit On Ireland?

There are two only things that I can say with certainty about Brexit. One is that it has driven normally level-headed people off the rails; the other is that journalism seems to have been worst hit by this ailment.

I can’t explain the former, but the latter I suspect is due to the naivete and inexperience of the reporters covering the story, especially but not exclusively those working for London outlets.

It has been, remember, more than twenty years since the Troubles ended and many of those now reporting Brexit were in nappies, short pants or whatever young girls wear, when, in the mid-to-late 1990’s, the guns fell silent in Belfast. Their understanding of the why’s and wherefore’s of the Troubles is consequently lacking, to put it mildly.

And these are also days when an American reporter can make a whole seven trips to Belfast, write a book filled with stories that were first told nearly a decade ago, and Hollywood comes calling, movie contract in hand.

The problem is that so many in the ‘Hard Border Will  Rekindle The Troubles’ camp have accepted, without much consideration it seems, the following proposition: the Troubles were caused by the IRA trying to force the British out of Northern Ireland, abolish the Border and re-unite the country.

Since the IRA wanted to remove the Border, the Troubles were therefore caused by the Border. It follows that anything which strengthens the Border will anger the IRA, persuade them to reach for their guns again and thus endanger the peace deal enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.

Ergo, Brexit is a threat to peace on the island.

Much of the media appears to have swallowed this analysis uncritically; so has the European Commission, it seems, while the Varadkar government in Dublin has skillfully (and cynically) peddled this version of Ireland’s recent history in corridors of power around the world.

The real story of how the Troubles began is very different. They didn’t start because of the Border but because of the nature of the state erected by Unionists within the boundaries of the Border, a state that one historian memorably dubbed ‘A Factory of Grievances’, in which Catholics were discriminated against at virtually all levels of society.

Had the Unionist politicians who held power in those early days adopted a more generous attitude towards their Catholic citizens, it would all have been very different. But they didn’t. And so when the civil rights movement began, Unionist leaders chose repression, as they always had, as their response. For a few critical years the British either did nothing to ameliorate the situation, or so little it did not matter. And so began the slide into the Troubles.

The Border was scarcely mentioned by the civil rights protesters in those early days; it was only when internment was introduced and Bloody Sunday happened that Catholics in significant numbers began to ask whether the state ever could be reformed, and gave support in a significant way to the IRA, whose simple goal was to destroy Northern Ireland.

The first Unionist leader to try to stem this rising tide was Terence O’Neill. A former captain in the Irish Guards, his roots were in the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and arguably that gave him a better feel for the tide of events than many in his party.

As prime minister of Northern Ireland in the mid-1960’s, he attempted to assuage the Catholics community with a simple, if condescending philosophy: give a Catholic a job and a decent house and he’ll behave like a virtuous Protestant.

He visited Catholic schools and was filmed shaking hands with nuns, a sight that thrilled many Nationalists but horrified Unionists. He invited the prime minister of the Republic to Belfast where they sipped tea and munched biscuits in Stormont Castle – a gesture of friendship that went down well on the Falls Road but had the Orangemen of the Shankill up in arms.

Patronising and minimal as this was, it very nearly worked and probably would have had not a loud preacher by the name of Ian Paisley worked his voodoo magic and with the help of bombings of water pipes and electricity stations in Protestant East Belfast disguised as the IRA’s work, he was forced out of office and politics. With O’Neill went the last chance at peaceful reform.

The real point of the Terence O’Neill chapter in the North’s history is that many if not all Catholics/Nationalists would probably have settled for what he was offering them.

In those days the IRA in the North, especially Belfast, was a small, introverted group of dreamers, organised largely along family lines; political beliefs were inherited along with genes. Forced to choose marriage partners from within the republican clan and tiny in number, the IRA in the pre-Troubles era was largely disavowed and avoided by many Catholics.

The truth about Northern Catholics then, and even now, is that their demands were pretty modest. A large section of them, possibly a majority, would have settled for a fair swig from the jug over a united Ireland.

These days things appear to be different, but are they? Sinn Fein dominates Nationalist electoral politics but only because the party has ended the IRA’s violence and occupies ideological ground which once defined the SDLP.

So what are the implications of all this for the other political fantasy spawned by Brexit, that if there was a referendum on Irish unity, a majority would vote Yes.

The latest contribution to this frenzy came in, of all places, an opinion column in the New York Times on March 16th, written by one Timothy Egan and titled: ‘A St Patrick’s Day Miracle: United Ireland‘.

His argument is that the Good Friday Agreement makes allowance for a Border poll (wrong, that possibility has been in place since 1972, long before the GFA), and, he writes:

From the depths of British bungling, hubris and incompetence is emerging a St. Patrick’s Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland……After more than 800 years, it’s not just possible but also seems inevitable that London’s ruling reach will no longer extend to part of the island west of the Irish Sea.

The solution? It’s there in the not-so-fine print of the peace agreement. Should a majority of Northern Ireland residents desire to leave Britain, it is required to call for a vote of those people.

That majority is fast approaching…….Catholics, long a persecuted minority, will soon be a majority in Northern Ireland if demographic trends continue.

Except, as Mr Egan might have discovered had he done a bit more research, the reality is a tad more complicated. He is making the same mistake that hard-line Unionists did when they ditched Terence O’Neill, assuming that all Catholics share a passion for Irish unity when the reality is that the Catholic community in Northern Ireland is a complicated beast and has a range of views on the matter and not all favour Irish reunification.

He would have done well before writing his piece to have consulted an MRBI poll on this subject published in The Irish Times on March 7th, in plenty of time for his column. Evidently he missed it.

Now, some people will remember me as the guy who routinely preached that the results of opinion polls in Northern Ireland should be regarded with great scepticism. But that was when the Troubles were still raging and I believed then that such polls routinely understated support for the extremes, as in support for Sinn Fein, because those being questioned did not want to admit their true feelings to a stranger.

But that was then, and this is now and I have come to the view that current opinion polls conducted in these more peaceful times do not suffer from that particular deficit.

The results are interesting, to say the least, although a likely disappointment for those who share Mr Egan’s exuberance.

Asked whether there should be a referendum on Irish unity, 45 per cent of all respondents said No; 38 per cent said Yes. Broken down further, 22 per cent of Protestants believed there should be a referendum while 62 per cent said there shouldn’t be. Fifty-five per cent of Catholics said there should be a poll, 30 per cent said there shouldn’t be.

Asked how they would vote if there was a referendum, 45 per cent said they would vote No; 32 per cent said Yes and 23 per cent were Don’t Knows. Broken down into religious persuasion, 75 per cent of Protestant plumped for No while just 9 per cent said Yes. Fifty-eight per cent of Catholics said Yes but 18 per cent said No while 22 per cent said they Didn’t Know. The Don’t Knows on the Protestant side came in at 16 per cent.

What these results say seems to confirm the analysis of political loyalities outlined in the early part of this article. Protestants are pretty solid in their opposition to Irish unity (75 per cent No; 25 per cent either Yes or Don’t Know) while Catholics are much more uncertain about the merits of Irish unity (58 per cent would vote Yes in a referendum, while 40 per cent would vote No or did not know how they would vote) and implicitly would be happy in a Northern Ireland that treated them well.

If this opinion poll is meaningful, and I suspect it is, then Mr Egan and his ilk have got the story badly wrong. A Border poll is likely to produce the same result it did in 1973, when the first and only referendum was held.

Can we now have a sane and fact-based discussion on the implications Brexit may have – or not have – for politics in Northern Ireland?

Bloody Sunday Decision

The headlines all read: ‘One soldier to be charged…..etc’. Shouldn’t they really read: ‘Only one soldier to be charged…..’?

‘I, Dolours’ Now On Hulu, United States

You can access it here:

‘I, Dolours’ Wins At Washington Irish Film Festival

I, Dolours‘ has won a prize for ‘Audience Favorite’ at the Capital Irish Film Festival (CIFF) at Silver Springs, Maryland just outside Washington DC last weekend.

The theatre at Silver Springs was packed and the following day at the Chicago Irish Film Festival there was standing room only. Irish-America appears to have taken to ‘I, Dolours‘ in a big way.

Our thanks to the organisers in Washington and Chicago for their hospitality and kindness!

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‘I, Dolours’ Now On Netflix UK

A Socialist Review Of ‘I, Dolours’

You can read the original here:

Barney Cassidy reviews I, Dolours, now available on Netflix.

As a child growing up in a Belfast Republican family, Dolours Price was given a particular responsibility when she reached the age of nine. Her maternal aunt Bridie lived with them. She had lost both her eyes and her hands and the young Dolours had to hold her cigarettes while she smoked. This had happened during the 1930s IRA campaign when Bridie was moving a bomb from its hiding place. It exploded prematurely leaving her mutilated for the remaining forty years of her life.

Dolours’ father had been involved in the IRA bombing of English cities in the same decade and spent several years in prison. One of his friends was hanged after being wrongly accused of having planted a bomb which killed five people in Coventry. This family was part of the thin green thread of physical force Republicanism in Belfast during the decades when it was a tradition preserved through a few families rather than a political movement.

To her dying day, Dolours believed that only a united Ireland would give meaning to the suffering of her aunt and the human cost of the struggle to achieve it.

Maurice Sweeney’s film is based on an interview that journalist Ed Moloney did with Price in which she talked freely about her early student radicalism in People’s Democracy (the group which later evolved into the Irish section of the Fourth International), her recruitment to the IRA, her role in transporting informers to be killed, her leadership of a failed IRA bombing mission in London, her hunger strike and subsequent rejection of the current leadership of Sinn Fein. It is essential viewing for anyone who wants to get an understanding of that period of Irish history.

Price was a member of the 1968 generation of working class young people who were the first in their families to access a university education. Like many others across the world she was drawn into political activity inspired by events in the United States, France, Vietnam and Prague. She initially rejected her family’s physical force Republicanism, returning to it when she was among those students attacked by a loyalist mob supported by police on a demonstration. She joined the IRA shortly afterwards.

Initially her role was to transport weapons and explosives across the border. She was talent spotted and recruited to a counter-intelligence unit which reported to Gerry Adams, the IRA commander in Belfast. This group was tasked with identifying and executing informers. Price
was unrepentant till the end about the military necessity of doing so. Her voice hardens audibly when she expresses contempt for people who betray their comrades to the enemy.

Her most controversial claim is that Gerry Adams ordered the killing of Jean McConville. Moloney revealed in his book Voices From the Grave that British military intelligence had given the widowed mother of ten a radio transmitter to pass on information about the local IRA. Adams self-evidently denies Price’s claim that he ordered either the killing or that McConville’s body be hidden in the remote location where it was eventually found in 2003. The viewer is obliged to decide to choose whom they believe – a woman giving an interview she knew would only be made public after her death or a politician denying his role in a killing.

Hunger strike and force feeding

In the film Price comes over as an intelligent, reflective and sardonic woman who was willing to question much of what she did and the reasons for it. But she doesn’t offer any insight to her commitment to the strategy of an armed campaign which failed as horribly in the 1970s and 80s as it had in the 1930s. Lacking any real understanding of the British labour movement or working class, Republicans frequently resorted to the futile short cut of planting bombs in British cities as a way of achieving a united Ireland.

Price volunteered, at a meeting she said Adams organised, to join a bombing mission to England along with her sister Marian. Even at that time, the British had informants at very senior levels in the IRA and the would-be bombers were all arrested after an attack on the Old
Bailey. Price is scathing about the drunken amateurishness of the men with her but they were already compromised.

Both sisters received long prison sentences and campaigned to be sent to a prison in the north of Ireland. Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins refused. The sisters went on hunger strike for over 200 days and were force fed for 167 of them. They didn’t break. The dramatisation of this is extremely harrowing to watch, the almost sexualised nature of the torture by male prison staff compounding the brutality

Jenkins eventually sent them to Armagh, the primary women’s prison in the North of Ireland. Five and half months of torture by inserting tubes and liquids into their bodies left the women deeply traumatised. Both were eventually released because they’d been rendered so anorexic that doctors advised they’d die of starvation if kept in prison.

Price died in 2013 from an overdose of painkillers and sedatives, still a Republican. We hear her fulminating against what she saw as the betrayal of the Good Friday Agreement, the deal which made Sinn Fein a pillar of the state it had vowed to destroy. But her critique is
the traditional Republican one: that the leaders had sold out, there were too many informers and not enough bombs. These were the ideas she had learned from her family. The obvious futility of her father’s armed struggle and her own hadn’t changed them.

Yet for all this, at a time when almost every wall in Republican areas in the north of Ireland is covered with murals and slogans which do nothing but propagate a dishonest myth and pull in clueless tourists, I, Dolours is a vital setting straight of the historical record.