The Divis Street Riots Of 1964

By Paul G Methven

(This is an academic paper written by Cardiff based historian, Paul Methven )

The 1964 West Belfast ‘Tricolour Riots’

Although nowadays less remarked upon than ‘Bloody Sunday’ in January 1972 or the riots that formed the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ in the summer of 1969, the disturbances that took place in the Divis Street/Falls Road area of West Belfast over four nights in September/October 1964 were notable in that they were the worst in the province for 30 years. These incidents therefore could be said to have been the first of several serious confrontations that would occur in Northern Ireland over the next decade. Aside from their immediate impact, the riots were pivotal within the careers and attitudes of two men who, as extreme sectarian opposites within the Ulster political scene, would wield increasing influence as time passed.

For the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley, leader of the Free Presbyterian Church, the occasion would stimulate a new level of political prominence as his tactics and threats appeared to provoke action by the authorities against republican election activities. For many years afterwards Paisley, although outwardly frowned upon by many fellow Loyalists for his stridency and unrestrained bigotry, would enjoy both tacit and public support from like-minded Unionist politicians and would consistently succeed in the various elections that he fought. And Gerry Adams, within his autobiography, asserts that the apparent injustices of the tricolour disturbances stimulated his political interests so that ‘within a few weeks of the Divis Street riots, I joined Sinn Fein’.

This research paper investigates the context of the Divis Street troubles and addresses some relevant issues highlighted by those events. It explores the amalgam of religion and sectarian politics, eloquently considered by Dervla Murphy (‘clergymen are the officers in Northern Ireland’s mental and emotional war’)as a factor which, when exploited by extremists, proved to be so acrimonious and alarming.7The paper also reviews the concept of ‘identity’ made visible by the battles and, since the whole affair started with a nationalist banner, notes the great significance of flags within Northern Ireland politics.The paper draws upon historiography as well as primary sources –contemporary newspapers, eyewitness reports and personal memoirs. Since, aside from TV, newspapers were the principal vehicles for communicating information about the riot.

The 1964 West Belfast ‘Tricolour Riots’ differing traditional loyalties are compared and contrasted.In addition,the vox populi in the form of ‘letters to the editor’ are examined so as to reflect some of the immediate reactions of people who felt themselves sufficiently concerned to express an opinion in writing.First of all some background to the Divis Street riots; in March 1963, following Lord Brookeborough’s retirement from ill-health after a 20-year tenure, Terence O’Neill was appointed Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Governor, Lord Wakehurst.

O’Neill also became leader of the Ulster Unionist party. Under Brookeborough’s lengthy premiership, the Unionists had appeared continuously ill-disposed towards the Catholic population; years previously Brookeborough had helped to create the quasi-military part-time reserve police force, the controversial Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), more widely-known as the B Specials,9and had remarked in 1961,‘Ulster has only room for one party’.

Later, in a press interview he would assert, in a reply to a question concerning Catholic rights to equal treatment from the state:-‘surely nobody is going to put an enemy where he can destroy you?’. There seemed to be, therefore, much scope for Brookeborough’s political successor to restore some harmony within a severely divided community. O’Neill, who had previously served as Finance Minister, seemed determined to revamp the economy of the province by encouraging external investment and replacing much of the infrastructure. He believed that this would result in reduced unemployment (running at c.10% at the time of his appointment) and that the improved economy would particularly benefit Catholics who were experiencing unemployment rates running at twice those of Protestants. O’Neill felt that such reforms would encourage greater Catholic participation within the state.

Perhaps most significantly, in order to encourage overseas investors, O’Neill sought to begin the repair of the sectarian divisions that had so beset the province since its foundation. He urged that ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ issues within a modern, revitalised economy should be irrelevant and that the mass of people should be more concerned with family economics than sectarian issues. O’Neill, whilst recognising that dissimilarities between the communities would continue, wanted sectarian antipathy to be eventually alleviated by (as he himself said):-‘the occupation of a broad area of middle ground by reasonable men and its steady widening in the course of time’.

Although generally supported at first, O’Neill’s liberal program was soon to be bitterly attacked by extremist Unionist politicians who were concerned about his efforts towards economic and trade cooperation with the Republic of Ireland and his gestures of comradeship towards the Ulster Catholic community. Motivated by a spirit of religious and constitutional affront, Dr.Paisley took particular exception to O’Neill’s message, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Government, of condolence to Cardinal Conway, the Catholic Primate of all Ireland, upon the death, in June 1963,of the 81-year old Pope John 23rd-together with the respectful lowering of the Union Flag that flew over Belfast City Hall -correspondence and actions which Paisley described as ‘eulogies now being paid to the Roman antichrist by non-Romanist leaders in defiance of their own historic creeds’. O’Neill’s letter to the Cardinal had been worded: ‘Please accept from the Government of Northern Ireland our sympathy on the great loss which your Church sustained on the death of your Spiritual Leader’.

He had won wide acclaim throughout the world because of his qualities of kindness and humanity. O’Neill’s visits to nunneries, Catholic schools and hospitals, the prospect of serious North-South economic co-operation together with ecumenical initiatives undertaken by various Protestant ministers similarly provoked the wrath of Paisley and many, perhaps less vocal,members of the Orange Order. O’Neill’s and church leaders’ efforts at promoting harmony between the two traditions came to be seen by many Protestants as ‘opening the gates to their political enemies’.

Paisleyites, in particular, saw O’Neill as a liberal weakling and believed that ‘his policies of reform and reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants were destroying the Protestant ascendancy’. The extremist warnings issued by Paisley as a curtain-raiser to the Divis Street clashes were thus as much of a challenge to O’Neill and the forces of reconciliation, as they were provocations to Catholics within their own domestic territory of West Belfast. During 1963 and 1964, previously inhibited sectarian strains within the province began to surface. The Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ), created to protest at anti-Catholic housing allocation and other inequalities – thus abhorred by extremist Loyalists as a front for republicanism – was starting to become prominent. The CSJ campaigns against sectarian discrimination seemed to be gaining support in the wider Catholic community and had been endorsed by the leader of the British Labour Party (shortly to become Prime Minister), Harold Wilson.

The prospect of O’Neill’s liberal reforms, and a rapprochement with the Republic represented the potential for erosion of their presumed supremacy.As Murphy notes, many had always felt it necessary to discriminate against Catholics ‘lest Romish authoritarianism might demolish Protestant freedom’. For that reason, ‘a liberal and tolerant society … has never existed in Northern Ireland’22; a pessimistic view perhaps,but one which seems appropriate to the 1964 tricolour dispute in West Belfast. So to the events of Divis Street. A general election had been called by Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the British Prime Minister, for the 15th October 1964.

In the marginal constituency of West Belfast, the incumbent Ulster Unionist MP, James Kilfedder was being challenged by candidates from the Northern Ireland Labour party (NILP), Republican Labour and Sinn Fein (campaigning under an‘Irish Republican’ designation since Sinn Fein had been proscribed in Northern Ireland). Kilfedder was sufficiently extreme in his Loyalism to be supported by Paisley – in other seats, Unionists who were supportive of O’Neill’s liberal reforms were opposed by Paisley’s ‘Protestant Unionists’.

Trouble began when Paisley objected to the Irish tricolour being flown in the window of the Divis Street offices of the Sinn Fein local campaign headquarters. However, this was within a staunchly Nationalist area and the RUC had hitherto turned a blind eye to such displays in spite of their illegality as determined by the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland, (1954).

Peter Berresford Ellis, the respected Celtic historian and novelist, as a young journalist at the time was an eyewitness to the events: ‘The first piece of trouble was that an Irish flag had been placed in the window of the republican campaign office in Divis Street. [I] soon learnt that the display of an Irish flag or symbol was illegal under legislation adopted in 1954 by the Stormont regime… On the Sunday, 27 September… Paisley had called a meeting at the Ulster Hall, having heard of the flag in the window of the Sinn Féin campaign headquarters. He declared that if the RUC did not remove the flag he would lead his followers in an attack on the election office. The Stormont minister of home affairs, R W McConnell, actually went in person to see Paisley to placate him and assure him that the RUC would go in. The day after I arrived ‘wide eyed’ in Belfast, district inspector Frank Lagan and fifty RUC men – the first time I had seen such heavily armed police in what was supposed to be part of the United Kingdom – smashed in the door of the election office, confiscated the flag and generally destroyed everything they could lay their hands on. A few days later the flag was displayed again in defiance and the RUC were soon back with pick axes. This time the office was destroyed beyond salvage…What struck me at the time was the young lads who, unafraid in the face of the grim paramilitary phalanxes of the RUC, were busy sticking tricolour stickers on anything they could reach while the uniformed and armoured lines advanced like stormtroopers. That night protests turned to rioting in West Belfast. The RUC then astounded the world by going into action with armoured cars, mounted with guns and water cannons lines advanced like storm troopers.’

Michael Farrell believes that the Government decision to placate Paisley by sending in the RUC was taken for electoral reasons since the seat was considered vulnerable and this was no time ‘to alienate their Loyalist supporters. Others, for example, Kevin Kelley, believe that the Government hostility, inflamed in reaction to Dr. Paisley, was due to Sinn Fein overtly displaying its ‘united Ireland sympathies’ (the tricolour was a symbol for republicanism as well as the Irish national flag) within a sensitive period such as a hotly-contested election campaign. Farrell’s practical explanation seems more credible; there was a real risk that Labour candidates could attract traditionally-Unionist voters from the Protestant working-class so that the injection of sectarian and National identity issues into a campaign previously dominated by economics and living standards would serve to consolidate the Protestant electorate around the Unionist candidate. From Paisley and the extremists’ viewpoint, the overt challenge to O’Neill and his liberal policies would also be meaningful. As Kelley has written, they could show themselves as, ‘true patriots.

Whipping up a frenzy of working-class hatred was a proven way ofpressurising timid Unionist politicians to revert to the old methods of governing the North.’ Back to the Divis Street position. Over the next two days the situation worsened after a further tricolour replaced the confiscated flag in the Sinn Fein office in front of a cheering crowd which sang the Republican Anthem, ‘A Soldier’s Song.’ This action provoked further attacks by the RUC this time with the help of an armoured car. On the Wednesday evening at around 11pm, several thousand Republican sympathisers gathered in the area and a pitched battle against the RUC, the protestors using rotten vegetables and ‘stones, bottles, chunks of metal and petrol bombs’, took place in full view of international TV crews. Several people from both sides were hospitalised, many were arrested, fortunately there were no deaths.

During a brief respite, O’Neill and church leaders from both traditions appealed for calm. On October 2nd, the Belfast Telegraph gave wide prominence to O’Neill’s statement condemning Republican candidates for ‘provoking disorder’ and asking for ‘all responsible people to behave at this time with the restraint they showed during the IRA troubles.’  Exactly who the audience was for O’Neill’s exhortation is unclear: the Catholic dissenters in the Falls Road area who had resisted the heavy-handed RUC action or any outraged Protestants who might be motivated to participate in support of the RUC, an escalation viewed as a real danger.

O’Neill’s reference to IRA troublescould be seen to be a cynical attempt to make political capital by identifying angry militant Catholic demonstrators with politically-active ‘traitorous forces. In this way, the Prime Minister may have been continuing to try to consolidate the Protestant vote within the constituency. Similarly the four Unionist candidates contesting each Belfast seat issued the following statement (which was presented in heavily emboldened text within the newsprint typesetting):-

We condemn the actions of the republicans in displaying the tricolour in Divis Street which is deliberately aimed at provoking the Loyalists of Belfast. We deplore the vandalism and hooliganism in the area and urge all citizens to support the police and refrain from provocative acts so that the election may proceed peacefully.

Far more conciliatory was the joint message from the church leaders which stated:- ‘We urge upon all citizens the necessity for a Christian restraint, tolerance and understanding of those with whom they differ in political  judgment’; the paper also reported upon the Republican and Labour statements which requested calm but did not (unlike the Unionist exhortation) attempt to make capital out of the riots against their local election opponents – indeed the republican message firmly blamed the ‘Minister for Home Affairs and the RUC’ for the trouble but hinted that the tricolour would not be flown again.

The Northern Ireland press of Saturday 3rd October reported on a third night of rioting. Since sectarian feelings can be stoked by slanted reporting and weighted editorial comment, comparison of the front pages of the Unionist News Letter with the Nationalist The Irish News for that day is revealing. Headlined:-

Women and children scream behind terror mile barriers 

The News Letter emphasised the culpability of the rioters.

In contrast, The Irish News for the same day focused more upon the violence of the police. Headlined:-

Steel Helmeted Police Baton Charge Demonstrators

MORE RIOTS ON FALLS

40 In Hosital : Dozens Arrested

The leading news article emphasised police charges and the fact that forty civilians and just four policemen had been hospitalised.

The Irish News followed its Republican credentials as, on the front page, there were reports on:- an unprovoked RUC attack upon a Nationalist MP (Austin Currie); complaints about the use of the RUC by the Home Affairs Minister (‘thus initiating the serious riotous disturbances’); a march in Dublin to protest to the British Ambassador about the forcible removal of the tricolour and the ‘barbaric treatment of the Republican people in Belfast’.

Front page photographs in The Irish News also depicted:- a youth being ‘frogmarched’ by the RUC ‘to a police van’; steel helmeted RUC men and a police dog ‘surging across Divis Street’; forlorn shopkeepers regarding their damaged premises.

In contrast, the News Letter reported on the excesses and misbehaviour of the demonstrators:- the looting of shops in the Falls Road; the deliberate hounding (by the crowd) of News Letter journalists (one of whom was ‘accidently’ struck by a police baton); the carrying of guns by demonstrators; the ‘trampling’ of an elderly woman. The solitary picture was of the same demonstrator depicted in

The Irish News only within the News Letter he was being ‘escorted’ rather than ‘frogmarched’.

Notably, within neither of these two papers, was there any serious evaluation of the politics underpinning the riotits origin and motivation, its implications for the future, its significance within the context of the upcoming general election. As Dervla Murphy has written, in Northern Ireland, ‘the media are on the whole so unanalytical’ so that, for many people, issues of cause and effect became totally subsumed and over-simplified by the particular sectarian leaning of the newspaper.

Perhaps significantly, neither the News Letter nor The Irish News reported that many of the demonstrators were youngsters – an aspect corroborated within the eyewitness account of Beresford Ellis who noted ‘the young lads … unafraid in the face of the grim paramilitaryphalanxes of the RUC.Perhaps these newspapers felt that reporting upon the rioters as youngsters might detract from the sectarian seriousness and partisan dimensions of the riot.

The Belfast Telegraph for the same day (3rd October), however, reported that ‘most of the outrages are the work of young hooligans and not by a core of politically motivated demonstrators’, thus adopting a more moderate Unionist position. Leading news articles within the Telegraph dismissed reports of guns being produced by demonstrators (thus contradicting the News Letter account) and gave wide coverage to appeals for calm from all sections of the community. The front-page headline focused on the leader of the NILP, Tom Boyd’s, request for a ‘fullscale public inquiry’ into the tricolour riots and Capt. O’Neill’s refusal to grant it. The headline (for 3rd October) thus contrasts with the other papers mentioned:-

Premier turns down request by Leader of Opposition

PROBE IS REFUSED

Of interest also is the Belfast Telegraph of October 6th which reports the views of the Unionist Lord Mayor of Belfast (William Jenkins) which blames the riots on ‘extremists on both sides’ and also gives prominence to a Nationalist view expressed within a Stormont debate that attacked Dr Paisley’s role in the affair – this seemed to be the only direct mention of Paisley within the ‘news’  items in the contemporary local press. The Letters page within the same edition portrays a range of anguished viewpoints that deplore the violence and the circumstances which led to the riot but also prints some letters which are indicative of extremism and a misplaced sense of national identity, for example:-

a) If people want to fly the tricolour they should go to the Republic of Ireland. Ulster is a very loyal place and the flag for Ulster is the Union Jack.

b) Rev. Ian Paisley is what I call a good Christian and Protestant minister. He is the only one to stand up for his rights (Jim Gibson Newtonards)

c) The remark by the Republican candidate that the RUC are unable to cope with their recent disturbances is nonsense.

d) If it had not been for the courage of the RUC and their ability to cope with trouble the casualties would have been much more serious and the damage worse.

e) A candidate in an Eire election could not fly the Union Jack, yet troublemakers come to Ulster and expect to be able to fly their flag, voice their hatred and threaten violence.

f) There is no place in religion for hatred and violence. If these people want the peace they seek, let them conform to decent methods and they will receive decent results. (Ulster Citizen  – Belfast 10)

While the Northern Ireland newspaper editorials seemed to focus on the detail of and responsibility for the Divis Street riots, in contrast, the editorial in the London Times endeavoured to position the fighting within a wider context as it maintained:- ‘there is no room in a small society, struggling hard and resourcefully to put its economy on a broader and sounder basis for indulgence in traditional feuds’. However the news reporting in respect of the riots within the Times was limited to approximately a quarter column on each day between the 1st and the 5th October competing for equal space with such items as the wedding of Emperor Hirohito’s second son and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson’s dispute with striking dock workers.  Clearly, riotous events within the province in October 1964 were not considered, at least by The Times, important enough to merit any extensive news coverage  – indicative perhaps of an English establishment view that Northern Ireland was really a curious peripheral area that did not merit serious concern. It could be argued on the other hand that, inevitably, the Times’  major news coverage during the riot period was focused upon election in mainland Britain. But if a riotous gathering of angry youths had been beaten and arrested for throwing Molotov cocktails, stones and bricks at police in armoured cars in the barricaded streets of Bristol or Edinburgh – then, perhaps the Times coverage might have been greater? After all, in the Divis Street riot, at least seventy police and civilians were injured and there were many arrests.

In contrast The Irish Press, published in the Republic, gave extensive front page exposure to the disturbances while taking a position, rather like the Irish News, of accentuating police severity and, in particular, their violence towards journalists. Church and community leaders’ appeals for calm were given wide prominence as were the views of a number of Nationalist politicians who condemned ‘the tragic onesided action of the Stormont Government’ and ‘those who for their own ends desire to promote and foment bitterness in the community’. Two pictures are captioned ‘an arrested girl pleads with a policeman as she is led away…’ and ‘police drag a youth along the street to a police tender’ – the message is self-explanatory. A protest at the British embassy in Dublin is also given front-page prominence noting that ‘several thousand’ had marched to object to the ‘Stormont authorities’ action in Belfast during the past few days’.

All of this press coverage cannot have failed to focus Northern Irish voter attention upon the election  – particularly in West Belfast. In the event, if the Government’s tactic in acquiescing to Paisley’s demand to remove the flag by force was indeed to consolidate the working-class

Protestant vote around Mr Kilfedder’s Unionist candidacy then the ploy was successful as, on October 15th he won the seat with 41.2% of the vote, his nearest rival, the Republican Labour candidate Harry Diamond, receiving just 28.3%. A grateful Mr Kilfedder thanked Ian Paisley for his victory:- ‘without whom, it would not have been possible’. Such a result in a seat previously considered to be marginal shows how easily, then at least, many working-class Protestant people could be persuaded to vote to preserve their sectarian supremacy in the face of a perceived threat (the flying of the tricolour) in preference to candidates who might have benefitted them from an economic or job-security viewpoint.

For an external observer, the extreme significance of flags within Northern Ireland as evidenced by the events in Divis Street, is difficult to comprehend; however it was not a new phenomenon neither was it one peculiar to the Protestant community. Consider the words of James Connolly writing in April 1916 shortly before the Easter Rising:- there should fly in Dublin the green flag of this country as a rallying point of our forces and embodiment of all our hopes. Where better could that flag fly than over the unconquered citadel of the Irish working class, Liberty Hall, the fortress of the militant working class of Ireland.

Consequently, there might be a view that explains extremist Protestant hostility to the flying of the tricolour as being a defensive action against a symbol which, as the above extract shows, had such presumed historical significance to the Republican community – a grouping who were anyway perceived as being potential threats to the status quo of Unionist dominance. But such an explanation would be grossly over-simplistic; it fails to understand the inculcated Protestant fear and animosity that many had for the Roman Catholic community – even from childhood. But such is the essence of aggressive sectarianism, consider these recollections of a Protestant working class Belfast boyhood by a writer who would have reached the age of 36 in 1964:-

‘The Pope! How we feared and hated him, we thought the Pope more terrible than Hitler when the German came to our notice, and certainly a greater evil than his disciple, Mr. De Valera. From the safety of the passing train we could boldly hurl abuse at the Mickeys’ houses and their papish murals… We shouted ‘To hell with the Pope’, a devout prayer on Ulster lips – and a favourite on and his ownflag memories of 12th July Orange celebrations:-

A Union Jack hung from every house and masses of bunting criss-crossed the street from upper windows … streamers, red, white and blue rosettes bloomed in a profuse garden of paper and linen.

Strictly speaking the RUC requirement for the Republicans to remove the tricolour was lawful according to the 1954 Act. Since Ian Paisley had threatened to remove the flag himself (with the support of his followers) then continued display would certainly have caused violent confrontation. Like much of the legislation within Northern Ireland, the only necessity required for the law’s enforcement was for a policeman to unilaterally decide a breach (or in this case a potential breach) had or might be committed. Note the implication within the (somewhat quaint) language of Clause 2 of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland), 1954:- where any police officer … apprehends that the display of  such emblem may occasion a breach of the peace, he may require the person … to discontinue such display or cause it to be discontinued’.

Paradoxically therefore, ironically even, Paisley’s threat to effectively cause a riot brought about RUC actions to enforce the law the consequence of which was – a riot! The significance of flags and other colourful symbols seems to run through Northern Ireland sectarian history since the province’s inception; even in June 2000 at an early meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly there was still bitter squabbling in respect of whether the Union Flag or the tricolour or both should be permitted to fly. 

Aside from instruction in respect of the heightened significance given to flags, what other conclusions can be drawn from the events of Divis Street as to the growing divisions in Northern Ireland society in the mid-1960s? Firstly, the Paisley tactic of threatening a march or demonstration by himself and his supporters had absolutely the desired effect as his threat caused the Government to introduce the RUC in order both to enforce the law (by removing the illegal flag) and to preventa guaranteed disturbance if Paisley’s adherents had entered West Belfast to remove it themselves. Threatening a march would become a tactic to be used increasingly by Paisley as demonstrations in support of the civil rights movement gained ground. Faced with the prospect of certain violence, the RUC and/or the Government would ban both marches thereby leaving a satisfied Paisley to settle for  a mass indoor rally (for instance) in the knowledge that civil rights protest voices had been quelled – on that occasion at least.

As Andrew Boyd notes, Paisley’s vocal tactics in the Divis Street dispute over the tricolour became his ‘model for the future so that the consistent alleging of a ‘threat to Protestantism in Ulster and the weakness of certain political leaders’ became thematic for future extremist campaigns and gatherings.

Maintaining the credentials of the Unionist Government as stalwart upholders of continued Protestant supremacy was also significant. Dervla Murphy has noted how the views and attitudes of ‘extreme Protestant religious leaders and traditionalist Unionist political leaders’ often overlapped particularly when ranged against more liberal Unionist opinion that might prejudice the enshrined No Surrender  ethos.

The Divis Street events were the first serious occasion whereby Terence O’Neill’s Loyalist steadfastness was put to the test by his more extreme Protestant/Unionist colleagues who were suspicious of any potential for relaxing the time-honoured hard-line Unionist approach.

O’Neill’s cleverly-worded (and prominent) condemnation of Republican candidates for provoking disorder mitigated some of the damage to his reputation brought about by his previous efforts at rapprochement with the nationalist segment of the community. He certainly seems to have survived the tricolour riots with his Loyalist reputation intact – the utilisation of the RUC as a paramilitary tool for enforcing Nationalist adherence to sectarian legislation, in this case the flying of a flag, consolidated his personal job security at least for a while. Conclusions in respect of national identity and allegiance can also be drawn from Divis Street. As well as harbouring deep seated suspicion of Catholicism, Loyalist extremists were additionally very sceptical not only of Catholics’ allegiance to the state, but their potential for subversively undermining its institutions. Loyalists were aware that reunification with the Irish Republic was a defined objective by Northern nationalists and was a key component within the constitution of the Irish Republic to the south. Such distrust was perhaps not conceptually misplaced since many Catholics had refused to recognise the State of Northern Ireland since its foundation.

However, whether a suspicion of treasonable activity (flying a flag?) was sufficiently valid to stimulate the use of such extreme force by the RUC in Divis Street is doubtful. Undoubtedly, a significant number of the rioters would have considered themselves victims of police oppression at the time; many, like the young Gerry Adams (as mentioned previously), would be witnessing their first exposure to such a profound expression of state-sponsored force and violence. As a consequence therefore, it could be argued that the state action to repress a treasonable display of sympathy to another country, itself stimulated many young Catholics to begin pursuing their own extremist solutions.

In conclusion the root cause of the Divis Street dispute, and the further conflicts and troubles that followed it, was essentially the active and reactive sectarian antipathy harboured by so many otherwise rational people. Related issues such as:- Republican violence, British disdain and obliviousness, Loyalist paranoia, injustices and Civil Rights, flags and symbols, gerrymandering, national allegiances, police excesses, the presence of the army, bombs and bullets, riots and protests, even the original act of partition itself and a myriad of other effects were just that  – the effects of religious bigotry and intolerance. However sectarianism, and all that flowed from it, cannot be presented as having been only due to the hostility and loudness of politicians and extremists – perhaps the Northern Irish poet Seamus Heaney should have the final word:-

Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us:

Manoeuvrings to find out name and school,

Subtle discrimination by addresses

With hardly an exception to the rule

That Norman, Ken and Sidney signalled Prod

And Seamus (call me Sean) was sure-fire Pape.

O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod,

Of open minds as open as a trap

The Tom Oliver Killing – Drew Harris’ Testimony To Smithwick Tribunal Challenged

Tom Oliver, alleged Garda Special Branch agent in Co. Louth, whose killing by the IRA is at the centre of a dispute involving Drew Harris, current Garda Commissioner and former PSNI Deputy Chief Constable

Controversial evidence given by current Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris to the Smithwick Tribunal investigating collusion allegations between the Provisional IRA and Garda detectives, which appeared to implicate the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams in the 1991 IRA killing of Co. Louth farmer and alleged Garda agent, Tom Oliver, has been challenged by IRA sources with intimate knowledge of the affair.

Although the sources declined to go on the record, the strength of their testimony derives not just from the detail of their denial but their long time opposition to Gerry Adams’ political and military strategy. Ordinarily, they would be the last people to come to Adams’ aid; in this instance it was Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris’ allegedly error-strewn testimony which was the principal motivating force.

Although the then PSNI Assistant Chief Constable declined to publicly name Gerry Adams at the Smithwick Tribunal or hint at his identity, Drew Harris wrote down the name of the IRA leader allegedly instrumental in confirming Tom Oliver’s death sentence on a sheet of paper which was handed to the tribunal chairman, Judge Peter Smithwick.

Despite the confidentiality surrounding this exchange there was almost immediate speculation in legal and media circles in Dublin, that Harris had named Gerry Adams.

Here are the competing versions of the IRA’s killing of 49-year old, father of seven, Tom Oliver, a dairy farmer from the Cooley peninsula near Dundalk, Co Louth.

First the account given to the Smithwick Tribunal by the current Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, when he was Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI responsible for intelligence matters, including liaison with the British intelligence service, MI5. Judge Smithwick makes it clear that he understands Harris version of events is shared and endorsed by MI5.

That is followed by the IRA’s explanation of events.

There is no meaningful common ground in the two versions except that at the end, the IRA took Tom Oliver’s life and justified their action on the grounds that the dead farmer and father was working for the Garda Special Branch. There is, however, much to ponder.

DREW HARRIS’ VERSION

Drew Harris in his PSNI days

When Drew Harris gave evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal in October 2012, he was an Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI in charge of intelligence matters and was the force’s official conduit to MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service.

He had strong reasons to loathe the Provisional movement and its leaders; in 1989, two years before the death of Tom Oliver, his father, Alwyn Harris, a Superintendent in the old RUC was killed in a booby trap car bomb planted by the IRA. He parents were en route to a church service when the device, planted under the driver’s seat of his car, detonated. Somehow, Drew Harris’ mother escaped serious injury.

These devices cause horrible and invariably deadly damage to the human body. Called ‘Up and Unders’ by the IRA, they consist of a small quantity of Semtex explosive which the bomber affixes to the undercarriage of the vehicle, directly underneath either the driver or the passenger, whichever is the target.

The bomb is activated when a small globule of mercury, trapped inside a glass tube, slides from one end to the other and completes an electrical circuit. This usually happens when the moving car encounters a slope. The force of the explosion, which is driven upwards by the road surface, causes horrible internal injuries, severing major arteries, amputating limbs and causing massive shock which usually kills.

Drew Harris would not be human if, when he meets Sinn Fein activists in his new manifestation as Garda Commissioner, he did not pause and remind himself that these are people whose paramilitary colleagues killed his father.

Enmity between Harris and the Provo leadership was further stoked when as head of the PSNI Crime department, he ordered the arrest of Gerry Adams for questioning about the disappearance of Jean McConville. Adams had been named by Brendan Hughes in the Boston College archive and his arrest infuriated the Provos. When Drew Harris was later nominated for promotion to PSNI Deputy Chief Constable, the SF representative on the policing board withdrew in protest.

While Drew Harris has kept any negative feelings he has about the Provisional leadership out of the public arena, Gerry Adams and his confreres have made no secret of their hostility towards him, although Adams’ successor as SF leader, Mary Lou McDonald has been anxious to be seen, smiling and apparently amiable, in the new Garda Commissioner’s company.

Mary Lou McDonald meets new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, November 2018

Drew Harris was not initially scheduled to give evidence to the Smithwick tribunal. That was supposed to be the sole task of PSNI Chief Superintendent Roy McComb, who initially submitted just three items of intelligence to the inquiry.

McComb told Judge Smithwick when cross-examined in May 2012, ‘…that the PSNI held no more intelligence relevant to the terms of reference.’

Then, a few weeks later, Drew Harris turned up, bearing no less than seventeen extra items of intelligence for the Tribunal, a total of twenty intelligence reports, and asked if he could give evidence.

Judge Smithwick agreed: “Assistant Chief Constable Harris had more knowledge of the intelligence than his colleague Detective Chief Superintendent McComb, and had, unlike Detective Superintendent McComb, access to all the raw intelligence upon which the 20 precis were based“.

Drew Harris’ evidence was heard in camera, although a suitably redacted version was eventually published by the Tribunal.

He was asked why, if so much intelligence existed on Garda collusion with the IRA, Chief Superintendent McComb had told the Tribunal that the three items he had brought with him were all that existed in the PSNI’s files?

Harris’ explanation was that some of the extra seventeen intelligence reports were only received after May 2012, when C/S McComb had given evidence, while others were in the files but were only retrieved afterwards. “Accordingly, Detective Chief Superintendent McComb was not aware of them“, Harris said.

It must be remembered that Tom Oliver was killed in 1991, yet Harris claimed that some of the new intelligence had only been received in the summer of 2012, some twenty-one years later

Drew Harris then told Judge Smithwick that he was ready to stand over the newly presented testimony.  While he was not in a position to give a grading to each item, he himself “had viewed the underlying raw intelligence” and was happy to stand over it as being “accurate and reliable“.

The Assistant Chief Constable went on to assure the Tribunal chairman that the PSNI (and presumably MI5) was happy about the sources, which were both human and “technical”, i.e. obtained electronically, presumably via bugs, that the intelligence was not “circular”, i.e. the same information repeated by different individuals who knew each other, and was not derived from “mischievous or ill-informed sources” but had been reliably corroborated.

But then came a thunderbolt. Previous intelligence evidence given to the Tribunal by the PSNI had been supported by the raw, underlying, unredacted intelligence which had been made available by the Northern police to Judge Smithwick.

But not this new evidence, the seventeen new items added by Drew Harris to the three items submitted by Detective Chief Superintendent McComb.

Judge Smithwick explained: “….this was a deviation from the normal practice whereby the PSNI allowed the Tribunal access to unredacted intelligence so as to verify that the precis accurately reflected the essence of the intelligence. (Harris) explained that this new procedure had to be applied in respect of ‘live and of the moment’ intelligence: ‘Given the sensitivity of the information that is being provided. I think this is the prudent way of dealing with this and managing the risk that we are taking in providing the information’.

In other words Drew Harris was telling Judge Smithwick that he had some dynamite evidence to give but only on condition that nobody involved in the Tribunal would get to see where it came from or be able to judge how reliable it was. The judge and everyone involved in the Tribunal would have to take Harris’ word for it.

And thus was the killing of Tom Oliver made part of the Smithwick Tribunal and with that, the allegation that Gerry Adams had given the final order to kill the Cooley farmer.

The first two new alleged pieces of PSNI/MI5 intelligence linked the Tom Oliver killing to the assassinations of the two RUC officers, Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan, whose killings, amid allegations that the IRA had inside information about their movements from Garda moles, led to the establishment of the Smithwick probe.

The Garda detective who had set up the two policemen for the IRA then, according to Drew Harris, told the IRA about Tom Oliver’s spying activity, effectively sentencing him to death.

The relevant written testimony provided by Harris read: “Strand 5: Intelligence indicates that this AGS (An Garda Siochana) officer also provided information in relation to Tom Oliver and continued to provide a variety of information to PIRA for a number of years. It is believed that this AGS officer is now retired. This AGS officer was handled as a source by a senior member of PIRA“.

Screenshot 2020-08-17 at 16.55.48

Gerry Adams outside Sinn Fein’s Falls Road headquarters

 

Without this claim, the IRA’s killing of Tom Oliver would have fallen outside the terms of reference of the Smithwick tribunal and the associated claim of involvement by Gerry Adams might well have remained a secret, assuming that it was based on real intelligence in the first place.

The evidence provided by Drew Harris which led to that speculation concerning Gerry Adams was contained in three strands of PSNI intelligence, items 16, 17 and 18. They read thus:

21.14.13 Strand 16:
Sinn Fein/PIRA members remain concerned that the Smithwick Tribunal continues to disclose possible damaging information. Sinn Fein/PIRA members remain concerned that specific detail regarding the murder of TOM OLIVER may be disclosed.”

21.14.14 Strand 17:
Intelligence indicates that a senior PIRA Army Council member was directly involved in ordering the murder of TOM OLIVER. The senior PIRA Army Council [“PAC”] member had been approached by several PIRA members and others requesting that TOM OLIVER not be killed. Despite these requests, the senior PAC member directed that OLIVER be executed.

21.14.15 Strand 18:
Further intelligence suggest that a senior PIRA figure sought direction and instruction from a senior PAC member in relation to the discovery of allegations of TOM OLIVER being an AGS informant. The senior PAC member subsequently ordered OLIVER to be executed.

Judge Peter Smithwick then remarked: “The name of the senior PIRA figure referred to in this intelligence was provided to me by Assistant Chief Constable Harris in writing during the course of his evidence to the Tribunal.”

It wasn’t long before Gerry Adams’ name was circulating, first in the law library in Dublin and then amongst the media. RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan put the allegation directly to Gerry Adams, which he denied, in an interview in March 2015.

Summary: Drew Harris’ intervention at the Smithwick tribunal with seventeen pieces of new intelligence came after the PSNI representative had told the hearing that the three items he had submitted was the sum of PSNI knowledge of Garda collusion with the IRA. Drew Harris told the tribunal that he would submit his seventeen new pieces of intelligence, which included a claim that a senior IRA figure, said to be Gerry Adams, gave final approval to Tom Oliver’s killing, on condition that no PSNI supporting evidence for his claims would be given to the tribunal. His new evidence could not, and would not be checked. But if he did bring false information to Judge Smithwick, that was a huge risk to take, one that would, if exposed, almost certainly end his policing career in disgrace.

PROVISIONAL IRA VERSION

I am calling this the ‘Provisional IRA’ version of Tom Oliver’s death since at the time the farmer was killed, the source was a senior figure in that organisation, but has since left it.

The Provisional version of the Tom Oliver killing rests upon the claim that the dairy farmer was a much more important source for the Gardai than media reports have claimed or that the authorities have admitted.

These suggested that Tom Oliver had stumbled upon a cache of IRA weapons on his land, had reported it to the police and, in revenge, was then killed by the Provos who recorded him talking by phone to his handler in a local Garda station.

(This reporter listened to portions of the tape back in 1991 and very little of what I was able to hear was either clear or convincing.)

The Provo version paints Tom Oliver as a much more serious police agent who was working with the Garda Special Branch in an effort to locate an IRA explosives factory located in the Cooley mountains adjacent to his dairy farm on the Cooley peninsula. The factory processed sodium nitrate fertilizer (of the sort which recently devastated Beirut) for use in IRA bombing operations in Northern Ireland.

Discovery of the facility would deliver a serious blow to the IRA and make Tom Oliver, in the eyes of the IRA – and presumably the Garda Special Branch – an important source.

Screenshot 2020-08-17 at 15.35.56

Part of the Cooley mountain range

It was the threat that he supposedly represented to the IRA’s bombing capability which helps explains the savagery of his death: seven bullets fired into his head. That was done, the IRA later claimed, to send a message to people in the area tempted to work for the Gardai.

The IRA version also strongly disputes Drew Harris’ claim that there was an appeal-type process in which ‘several PIRA members‘ approached ‘a senior PIRA Army Council (PAC) member‘ seeking mercy for Tom Oliver. This, presumably, was Gerry Adams, whose family has had a holiday caravan on the Cooley peninsula for many years.

Despite this, said Harris’ intelligence, ‘….the senior PAC directed that OLIVER be executed.’

Not possible, say IRA sources.

In the IRA procedure against alleged agents or informers, the process culminates in two members of the Army Council examining the evidence and questioning the accused and his/her interrogators before then, assuming the accused has admitted guilt, confirming the sentence or, in the absence of an admission, agreeing the accused’s guilt or innocence.

In other words an appeal process, if such it can be called, had already happened and the effort to involve Gerry Adams could not happen and did not happen.

Summary: Like Drew Harris’ testimony to the Smithwick tribunal, the IRA version can not be tested and nor does any independent evidence exist to support their claim that Tom Oliver was an important spy. His family continue to insist on his innocence. The IRA’s internal procedures are usually kept secret so there is no independent source to verify internal procedures when dealing with alleged spies. But the account of how such matters are dealt with, and the sheer brutality of his death do not sit easily with the version given by Drew Harris’. Equally, the sources have no reason whatsoever to wash Gerry Adams’ dirty laundry.

 

 

The Official IRA and Workers Party In The Wake Of The De Rossa Split

I received the piece below as a comment on an article I wrote on the recent split in what remains of the Workers Party and Official IRA. ‘Helmut Oberlander’ is the undoubtedly fictitious byline that came with the article but knowing a little about the organization involved, I cannot blame the author for seeking refuge in such a deep blanket of obscurity. That aside, I think what ‘Helmut’ has to say about his former comrades at the time that Prionsias de Rossa led most of the WP’s TD’s into the new Democratic Left party, carries the ring of truth and authenticity as well as fascinating revelation. And so dear reader I recommend it to you. Enjoy:

Helmut Oberlander

The latest split in the so called workers party comes as no surprise. In the early nineties the democratic left taking all their TDs in the Irish Republic. When it came to the big vote in Dun laoghaire, bus loads of supporters of the WP and OIRA members were given stamped, up to date party cards and were told to vote against any proposals put forward by De Rossa and his ‘gang’. Gang was the term used by the anti De Rossa group by the northern leadership and what was left of the official IRA. Following that in the late nineties, another crack developed in the now failing WP. For those who do not know, the vast majority of WP members in Belfast and Newry were official IRA members and most were ex prisoners and seasoned veterans of the robbery squad and the hit squads. Ironically the hit squads (group B) were never used defend the Catholic, nationalist and republican community, the people who they were supposed to protect. They were used by the leadership to protect the senior members and the businesses that they controlled. While loyalist gunmen murdered all around them, the only people that retaliation would be used against was the PIRA. But when the businesses started, no response would follow any attacks on ordinary members and supporters were attacked. The pubs, clubs, the building construction company and the property deals took first place over everything else. To get back to the point, rank and file members tried to discuss the problems of the downward slide of the party and the movement. This was met with threats of violence including murder and kneecapping to anyone who disagreed with the ‘leadership’. I use the term leadership very lightly as they controlled the party and group B like the Stalinist animals that they ARE! Just to remind anyone who can’t remember what the split was about, the now Official republican movement wanted to discuss three points, Number 1, no democracy in the movement, Number 2, No accountability for any money that was going through the movement (party) and Number 3, the movement had lost its way politically, they had too many friends in police stations, very comfortable relationships with loyalist paramilitaries, especially when it came to building construction contracts, building site security and God only knows what else. As for being republicans, that was a total farce, republicans were now forced to be socialists, communism was the way forward and even though the once mighty USSR had fallen, member were now told to admire the perfect example of socialism, the D.P.R.K= North Korea, funny, they don’t talk about that place much now. No more $100 Dollar bills. Now there’s another chapter 😂. Thankfully the armed wing of the workers party did not go ahead with the threats against the O.R.M but they are still there, to the best of my knowledge the last person to be shot by them in 2019 was a member of group B, he was clipped for selling their guns and told to leave the country. So without giving it all away, I think that it is a case of watch this space and see what happens 💥🤣. Seamus the shit 💩 has a lot to answer for. As for me, for anyone who would like to question my credentials, I’m a veteran, a grandfather, nothing to prove to anyone, been there, T Shirt and the rest. People before profit, remember that one

‘Kamala Harris Is A Cop’

Democrats live up to expectations: Biden & Harris. Just like Obama and Biden except the other way round but possibly worse. Reason magazine takes a caustic look at the former California Attorney-General. You can read it here.

Putting John Hume’s Peace Process Role Into Perspective

John Hume, who has died aged 83, did more than any other person to shepherd Northern Ireland to peace and reconciliation, a feat that earned him global acclaim, including a Nobel prize” – The Guardian, Aug 3rd, 2020

“Mr Hume, who spearheaded the finally successful efforts to end the violence of the Troubles and who is viewed as the architect of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, was in a nursing home and had been ill for a long time” – The Irish Times, Aug 3rd, 2020

“Mr. Hume’s most dramatic initiative played out in the late 1980s and mid-’90s, when he held secret peace talks with Mr. Adams at a modest rowhouse in the city of Derry, which those seeking to retain close ties to Britain refer to as Londonderry” – The New York Times, Aug 3rd, 2020

 

So, was John Hume really the spearhead and architect of the peace process, the politician/activist who did more than anyone else to bring the Troubles to an end? Or has the media, swayed by the emotion of the moment, gone overboard in their assessment of a contribution that was vital in its way but no more or less worthy of acknowledgement than the contributions of many of the host of players in a drama that played out over two decades?

The theatrics that would propel the Troubles in Northern Ireland to an extraordinary and, at the time, unthinkable conclusion began at the end of what was already an historic week. On Wednesday, October 20th, 1982 NI’s voters had gone to the polls to elect the members of a new experimental Assembly which the recently appointed British Secretary of State, Jim Prior hoped might evolve into a parliament which would see Unionists and Nationalists share power and by so doing create the basis of a longer lasting peace.

The election would produce a bombshell result which shocked political opinion on both islands, but especially in the Republic of Ireland. Virtually the entire British and Irish media and political establishment accepted the conventional wisdom that the Provisionals were an unrepresentative minority, rejected by most Catholic voters who gave their support instead to the SDLP, the party led since 1979 by John Hume. And so, Sinn Fein’s trouncing at the polls that October was the bookie’s, and the Irish political establishment’s, favoured and expected outcome.

That was always a questionable assumption which ignored the reality that by this point the IRA had been fighting a war for the best part of a decade and to do so must have had significant popular support in Nationalist areas.

But the IRA had also just gone through a lengthy prison hunger strike, during which ten prisoners, most of them in the IRA, had died and during which support for the organisation had surged.

The hunger strikers’ leader Bobby Sands had been elected to the House of Commons, and after his death his election agent then replaced him as MP. Sands’ funeral, from his home in west Belfast, attracted one of the largest crowds ever seen in recent Irish history.

Election victories later in the summer of 1981 by some of Sands’ colleagues in the Republic’s general election provided more compelling evidence that, like it or not, the IRA had a significant popular political base.

Nonetheless political and media orthodoxy was still stuck in an earlier time zone. So it was that when Sinn Fein won five seats in the Assembly poll and came close to taking two more in that October’s Assembly election, winning a total of ten per cent of the vote, the political establishment in Ireland reeled in shock.

But the deeper significance of this result evaded most observers: republicans now had a political alternative to the IRA’s violence while the result injected a new tension between the two wings of the republican movement: IRA violence could erode or hamper the growth of Sinn Fein’s electoral support, and vice-versa – but neither could prosper at the same time. This new tension within the Provisionals, more than the efforts of any one individual, would determine the direction and pace of the peace process in the ensuing years.

It would be difficult to contrive a more dramatic example of this scenario being played out than the events of the Friday morning following that dramatic election result. Early that morning, 54-year-old Tommy Cochrane, a Protestant and Orangeman from Markethill in Co. Armagh was making his way to work at a linen mill in the village of Glennane by motorcycle when a pursuing car knocked him into a ditcCochrane, who was also a sergeant in the Ulster Defence Regiment, a part time British militia widely suspected of links to the Loyalist paramilitary underworld, was bundled into the car which then sped off in the direction of South Armagh, an IRA redoubt known popularly as ‘Bandit Country’.

As people imagined the terrors and torture that Cochrane was enduring or soon would, Northern Irish Catholics knew there would be Loyalist reprisals. And there were. The first to be killed was 48-year old Joseph Donegan, an unemployed Catholic carpenter from Ballymurphy in West Belfast who was kidnapped, tortured and then killed by a notorious Loyalist gang based in the Shankill Road led by Lennie Murphy, a killer who had terrorised Belfast’s Catholic community for years. Thirty-two people, Catholics, Protestants, IRA members, policemen and soldiers, would die in the post-election paroxysm of violence before the year ended,

Fr, Alec Reid knew that something like Joe Donegan’s death would follow Tommy Cochrane’s violent abduction and that added urgency to his mission. A Redemptorist priest from County Tipperary, who had been based in the Order’s monastery in the Clonard district of the Falls Road throughout most of the Troubles, Reid had a long history of conciliation work, intervening to end violent feuds between the rival factions of the IRA and attempting to negotiate an end to the IRA prison protest to achieve political status.

When Tommy Cochrane’s kidnapping became known, Fr Reid hurried to Gerry Adams’ home off the Glen Road on the Upper Falls Road in a bid to secure the unfortunate man’s release. His intervention came too late but his visit began a conversation with the Sinn Fein and IRA leader that would produce what later would be recognised as the peace process, a political alternative to the IRA’s violence.

It would be many years before the effort bore fruit but the seeds were planted when the IRA knocked Tommy Cochrane off his motorbike and spirited him off to the hills of south Armagh.

Much was to happen in the subsequent years that served to strengthen Sinn Fein’s political wing. In 1983, Gerry Adams was elected as MP for West Belfast, and the accompanying message was clear: Sinn Fein could win seats elsewhere if the circumstances were right.

The following year Adams saw off a putsch orchestrated by his once close political ally, Ivor Bell who suspected that Adams was leading the IRA to a ceasefire and a significant ideological compromise. This was prompted by suggestions from Adams for a pan-Nationalist political initiative or front. Bell reasoned, correctly, that this could only happen if Sinn Fein significantly diluted its Brits Out ideology since none of the constitutional Nationalist parties would have any truck with Sinn Fein otherwise.

In 1985, the Thatcher government in London and Garret Fitzgerald’s Fine Gael-Labour coalition in Dublin crafted the Anglo-Irish Agreement, giving the Dublin authorities a consultative say in the day to day affairs of Northern Ireland in the hope that this would strengthen constitutional Nationalists in their struggle with Sinn Fein.

It did. The A-I-A was a huge boost to the SDLP since it demonstrated that constitutional politics could bring results. Sinn Fein’s fortunes began to dwindle. The party’s share of the vote had fallen in the 1984 European elections but any hope in Sinn Fein that this was due primarily to John Hume’s personal popularity rather their their own  deficiencies – or the IRA’s –  were dashed the following year when SF’s share of the vote in council elections also fell.

One bad election result can be written off as a fluke but not two in a row. It was time for a radical move.

It came in 1986, in the shape of not one but several profound changes in direction by the Sinn Fein leadership all of which, with the benefit of hindsight, edged the IRA closer to a ceasefire and, ultimately, the acceptance of what would become the Good Friday Agreement.

Firstly, Fr, Reid wrote to Charles Haughey proposing talks with the Sinn Fein leader.

Then the British government, in the shape of new NIO Secretary Tom King was approached, with Fr Reid once again the intermediary. Via the Redemptorist priest, Adams wrote to King, asking him six questions which I reproduced in my book ‘A Secret History of the IRA‘ .

These ranged from ‘What is the nature of the British government’s i?’, through to: ‘In the context of dialogue free from interference, will the British government publicly state its intention to withdraw from Ireland and give a date by which such withdrawal will be complete?’

King’s private and secret reply to Adams contained a phrase in answer to Adams’ first question, which would, when Peter Brooke, King’s successor, repeated them publicly in 1989, be the key that would unlock the door to talks with Sinn Fein and ultimately the Good Friday Agreement.

His formulation read thus: ”Britain of course has an interest in Northern Ireland which is to respond with a warm goodwill and friendship to the needs of the people of Northern Ireland as a whole…..But let me be very clear! In the second half of the twentieth century no matter what has been the position in the past the British government has no political, military, strategic or economic interest in staying in Ireland or in the exercise of authority there that could transcend respect for the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland.”

When Peter Brooke succeeded Tom King in 1989 he made this declaration public policy.

In 1986 the IRA held its first Convention since 1969 and passed a resolution allowing IRA members to take their seats in Dail Eireann, the Dublin parliament, thus recognising the legitimacy of the Southern state for the first time in the history of the post-1921 IRA. A few weeks later, in October 1986, Sinn Fein followed suit at the party’s annual ard fheis. The way had been opened for Sinn Fein to recognise the Irish government and to participate in talks led by the authorities in Dublin.

The following year Charles Haughey’s Fianna Fail party emerged as the largest single party in that year’s February general election but fell three votes shy of a parliamentary majority. Nonetheless Haughey was able to put together a government and the moment had seemingly arrived for Fr Reid and Gerry Adams.

In May, Fr Reid wrote a lengthy letter to Haughey suggesting that if he held talks with Gerry Adams in a bid to create a pan-Nationalist policy on the Northern conflict, the outcome could be an IRA ceasefire and eventual talks to end the violence. Haughey was intrigued and instructed a key aide, Martin Mansergh to open talks with Reid. Adams contributed to the dialogue, dispatching written messages which were passed on to Haughey.

But Adams’ efforts to open a face-to-face dialogue with Haughey were rebuffed and for compelling reasons. Long accused of conniving at the creation and arming of the Provisional IRA in 1969, the disclosure that Haughey was now involved in secret talks with the IRA’s leader, no matter how well intentioned, could destroy him. And so Haughey refused.

But Haughey proposed a compromise which eventually Adams and Reid embraced. John Hume would be invited to talk to Adams and asked to report back to Haughey via Martin Mansergh. But, fearing that Hume would either gossip about the earlier contacts between Haughey and Adams or carelessly let it slip, Hume was kept in the dark about the Reid-Haughey-Adams conversations.

And so, Fr Reid wrote to Hume nn Haughey’s behalf inviting him to open talks with Adams on the basis that the Irish government approved and would act accordingly on any progress made. When Albert Reynolds succeeded Haughey as Fianna Fail leader and then as Taoiseach, the secret arrangement continued with Martin Mansergh re-employed as the go-between.

(It was a tip off from a government source in Dublin that Martin Mansergh’s continuing role in the Reynolds Taoiseach’s office was unusual enough to be worthy of deeper investigation that set this writer on the path to researching and writing what became ‘A Secret History of the IRA‘)

And so it was that John Hume believed that he had fired the starting pistol which led  Gerry Adams to accept the Good Friday Agreement, a belief which in the absence of any contrary version, most of the media were content to accept as the truth.

But it was not true. Hume knew nothing about the lengthy interaction Haughey had with Adams that had preceded his involvement. He believed he had started the dialogue with Adams and that he had persuaded the SF leaders to take the journey that became the peace process. It was a version of a story that was meat and drink to most of the media.

In 1994, Bill Clinton gave Gerry Adams a 48 hour visa to visit New York. It was clearly a seminal moment in the peace process and myself and the senior staff in The Sunday Tribune decided it was an appropriate moment to make some of this public.

For many months I had been interviewing Charles Haughey about his memories of this period. I made many trips to Kinsealy and the former Taoiseach had been generous with his time and access to some of the vital documents still in his possession. At one point he showed me his entire archive of the conversations with Adams which he had arranged in a sort of tower on the floor beside his desk. It was at least three feet high.

I rang Haughey to ask if it was okay with him if some of what we had talked about for my book was made public in the Tribune and unsurprisingly he agreed. A photographer was dispatched to Kinsealy.

We also alerted Sinn Fein about what was coming down the pike and asked for their reaction. Rita O’Hare rang back with a pithy response: ‘You’re a bastard,  Moloney’.

John Hume was disbelieving and initially angry, first at me for defying and denying what he had for so long believed had been the truth and then, I would like to think, at those who had deceived him. But who knows. He lapsed into silence at the end, seemingly digesting slowly what I had told him.

I don’t know this for sure, but I did often wonder afterwards as the myth about his role persisted that it didn’t really matter what I wrote or said or how many editions of my book were published as long as most journalists continued to hail him as the hero of the peace process – as so many of them did this week. And he did have that Nobel Peace prize to flourish in the face of the doubters.

None of what I have written here is meant to diminish the role that John Hume did play. He was central to events, although not as central as he liked to think. But if anyone set the IRA and Adams on the road to the Good Friday Agreement it was Alec Reid, Charles Haughey and Martin Mansergh – and Adams himself. But not John Hume.

Nonetheless John Hume’s gospel of dialogue, non-violence and compromise did run through the peace process like Blackpool through a stick of rock.

But John Hume was honoured when other more deserving candidates were not. I wrote at the time that ‘A Secret History…‘ was published that the Nobel Peace Prize should really have been awarded to Gerry Adams. I still believe that.

 

 

New MI6 Chief The Grandson Of Cork IRA Man

Thanks to Danny Morrison – yes, that Danny Morrison – for circulating this story on Twitter that the British government has promoted the grandson of an IRA veteran of the War of Independence from Cork to be the new head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service.

New Head of MI6, Richard Moore is the grandson of an IRA veteran from Cork.

According to the internet news site ‘Cork Beo‘, Richard Moore, a former spy for MI6, also known as SIS, or Secret Intelligence Service, who saw service in Malaysia, Turkey, Vietnam and Pakistan is the grandson of Jack Buckley, described as “a Cork IRA fighter who joined the group in 1916”.

This is how the BBC, which failed to note Moore’s IRA antecedent, reported the appointment. And Cork Beo’s report can be found here. The London Independent’s profile of the new ‘C’, as of the chief of MI6 is widely known, also missed the IRA link.

Danny Morrison’s Tweet is reproduced below. I don’t think too many people will take his ‘SLEEPER’ jibe too seriously except, perhaps, to comment that the organisation Danny belongs to is hardly in a position to point fingers about sleepers in the ranks.

Thanks to anon for the tipoff.

Los Angeles Cops Defend Democracy From Gravest Threat Yet

John Ware And Me

I see that the new leadership of the British Labour Party has agreed to pay hefty libel damages to BBC reporter John Ware and a group of former Labour Party workers who, in the course of a BBC-produced TV documentary, had made allegations of anti-semitism in the Corbyn-led Labour party.

As readers of this blog will be aware, John Ware and myself have crossed swords more than once, especially over the extent of official British knowledge of the activities of IRA double agent, Freddie Scappaticci.

But I was not aware how strongly he felt about me or my journalism until we found ourselves chasing the same story, to wit the Brian Nelson saga.

One day, myself, a long time journalist friend and John Ware found ourselves by chance in the company of Tommy Lyttle in the north of Belfast.

By this point Tommy had taken over leadership of the UDA from Andy Tyrie; he was the go-to source on all matters concerning Brian Nelson’s UDA history  and everyone wanted to talk to him.

People who know me well enough are aware that I contracted polio as an infant and while I have been able to overcome the disability sufficiently to lead a more or less active and normal life, there is a limit to how fast I can muddle along.

That day I found myself lagging further and further behind the other three as they accelerated along the sidewalk until eventually I gave up and made my way home. In those days I was much fitter than I am now, but even so I could not keep pace.

Some time after that I had my own meeting with Tommy Lyttle and, somewhat shamefacedly, he apologised and told me what had happened. “Ware wants you off the story”, he said.

Tommy then told me that John Ware had come to him and asked that I be excluded from the Brian Nelson story. To Tommy’s credit he refused.

‘American Protestantism’s Troubling History With Racism’

A fascinating article in the current edition of The Consortium describing how the roots of American anti-Black racism can be traced back to the Anglo-Protestantism of the so-called ‘Founding Fathers’. You can read it here.

Trump’s Niece Dishes The Dirt On Donald

You can read about it here.