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How To Steal Votes

May 16, 2017 by  

The electoral office has been reported in local media as stating that there has been a large increase in applications for postal and proxy votes. Fermanagh and South Tyrone topped the list with 1,500 proxy votes and Newry and Armagh with over 1200.

The story gave rise to a scare story in today’s News Letter: ‘Foster voices fears over explosion in proxy voting’.

But Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea told the paper, “it’s entirely lawful”. She added, “no systemic practices that are untoward or illegal” had been drawn to her.

This did not prevent SDLP leader Colum Eastwood adding to the scare by tweeting: “A lot of concern about huge rise of postal & proxy votes in nationalist areas. I can assure people – the SDLP hasn’t been orchestrating it.”

However, after a number of people tweeted that the SDLP itself had been out lobbying people to apply for postal/proxies, Eastwood tweeted: “For the record – there is absolutely nothing wrong with LEGITIMATE postal/proxy votes. We help people all the time.”

People are astute enough to recognise the use of the block capitals for ‘legitimate’ and the intended slur.

Thousands of voters – 60,433 – were removed from the electoral register last year, prior to the Assembly election on the grounds that they had not returned an electoral registration form during the last canvass of electors in 2013. The constituency affected the most was West Belfast were 5,759 lost their right to vote. In Britain people can register online, but not here.

Fourteen years ago I wrote a feature for the Andersonstown News that so-called attempts to clean up the electoral rolls often appeared to have as their objective the removal of voters! I think it timely to reprint the piece so here it is again.

Britain Northern Ireland Election

Stealing Votes – The British Way!
The Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 was introduced to eliminate voting irregularities and impersonation. But the restrictive nature of the new legislation has had the effect of wiping out thousands of bona fide voters across every constituency in the North.

In 1999, a year before the controversial Presidential elections in the USA, Katherine Harris, George Bush’s presidential campaign co-chairperson and Florida secretary of state in charge of elections, called in researchers from Database Technologies to sift through Florida’s electoral rolls. Their brief was to systematically remove anyone “suspected” of being an ex-felon.

Thirty one per cent of all black men in Florida have a felony on their record and they were immediately struck off, as were thousands of other blacks who had had their voting privileges reinstated (after misdemeanours). Black people overwhelmingly vote Democrat – that is, would have been potential Al Gore supporters. But, as Michael Moore points out in his book, Stupid White Men, the brief to Database Technologies went further and it was instructed to include not just felons, but those blacks who shared similar names to those of felons or had similar social security numbers.

To contest and reverse this mass disenfranchisement would – as the architects, of course, knew – take years, wading through a bureaucratic quagmire for which few people would have the patience or energy. As a result, 173,000 registered voters were placed on the ineligible list; 66% of those who were removed in Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest county, being black.

So, long before all those arguments about ‘hanging chads’, and what were the voters’ true intentions, Al Gore was robbed off the Presidency even though across the USA he received 539, 898 more votes than George Bush. Perhaps, there would have been no difference between Gore’s foreign policy and Bush’s, and he too would have impatiently sidelined the work of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. Perhaps, he too would have rushed us to war? We’ll never know.

WHAT Katherine Harris did for the voters of Florida the new Electoral Fraud Act 2002 is doing for ‘democracy’ in the North. The right to vote and to exercise one’s vote is critical in determining just who goes into government, opposition or retirement. Mary Harney knows what it is like to sweat for a quota. In the last Westminster election Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew took Fermanagh and South Tyrone from the Ulster Unionists by a majority of just fifty three.

Long before Sinn Fein stood for elections in the North electoral malpractice was common – ‘Vote Early, Vote Often’, being the legendary catchphrase of campaigners who correctly assumed ‘the other side’ was equally engaged in impersonation.

However, when republicans entered the electoral fray and enjoyed success, much of their success was written off as the results of mass impersonation. It was in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 1981 that IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands, whilst on hunger strike, was elected MP and unwittingly initiated Sinn Fein’s embracing electoral politics. Up to then, republicans had been accused by the British government of being a mere criminal conspiracy without popular support and had been repeatedly challenged to seek a mandate.

However, Mrs Thatcher’s reaction to Sands’ election was the first of many moves to manipulate the political process. In her case she amended the Representation of the People Act, barring any other prisoner from standing for election, rather than negotiate an end to the prison crisis.

In 1982 when five Sinn Fein candidates were elected to the Assembly Northern Ireland Office ministers were instructed not to meet them on constituency matters and to cut them off from receiving salaries and expenses, government publications and press releases. Every time Sinn Fein made inroads the rules were changed: candidates were required to make declarations repudiating the use of violence for political ends; council election deposits were increased from £100 to £1000; former prisoners were barred from standing for five years after their release; and, finally, voter ID was introduced to stamp out what was alleged to be widespread impersonation.

But the Sinn Fein vote continued to increase and in 2001 the party outpolled the SDLP.

Still, the myth was perpetuated that the vote was down to impersonation and multiple registration, even though the only candidate to be brought before an electoral court and found guilty (on an overspending charge) was Joe Hendron of the SDLP.

Last year the British government introduced a new law which required every individual voter to fill out a form, supply their National Insurance Number, date of birth and sign it personally. To vote, an elector has to produce photographic ID: a British or Irish passport, a driving licence, a Senior SmartPass (for pensioners) or the new Electoral Identity card.

The Electoral Office began distributing forms and canvassing last September but when the new electoral register was published in December it showed a drop of 130,000 voters from the previous register. All the main parties in the North had voted at Westminster for the new restrictions and so they couldn’t really raise objections. But when Sinn Fein complained that thousands of people were being disenfranchised, it was upon Belfast West, seat of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP, where the drop was most dramatic with 11,000 voters gone missing, that the media and unionists zeroed in. The implication was that the Sinn Fein impersonation conspiracy was exposed at long last.

This story received wide coverage but was never balanced by the fact that every constituency registered a drop. In fact, Belfast South, with 10,000 missing voters wasn’t far behind Belfast West.

Privately, the Ulster Unionists have been expressing concern with the inefficiency of the registration, while there is anecdotal evidence that the reason for the gung-ho attitude of Paisley’s DUP (which accuses David Trimble of trying to avoid an Assembly election in May) is that it is confident it has registered its supporters.

The Electoral Office, which initially congratulated itself on compiling a list of over one million voters, has been forced to take on board some of the criticisms. How, for example, could there be such a discrepancy between their returns and the official census returns which show that, actually, not 130,000 voters have gone missing, but closer to 187,000? Have they all died in a year, emigrated or were they all imposters?

There is little voter apathy in the North. But there is considerable evidence that forms were not distributed, that homes were not canvassed, that the new forms were not explained to either the elderly or those with learning difficulties, that many forms were not collected, in addition to the fact that those without official ID would find it inconvenient and time consuming to go to the electoral office to be photographed for their Electoral Identity card.

Sinn Fein cite example after example. In one ward in nationalist Newry consisting of over 900 households, almost one hundred (including entire families) have been disenfranchised.

In Gerry Adams’ constituency, an entire side of one street (houses 1-80) in Cullingtree Road, did not appear in the December register.

A comparison of the census returns and the electoral returns show that at least 50,000 first-time voters (and young nationalists tend to vote for Sinn Fein) are not registered.

The restrictive nature of the new legislation, the failure of a more pro-active and cooperative approach from the Electoral Office, and unevenness in the distribution and collection of completed forms have left registration in a mess, with little time left to correct that mess if there are Assembly elections in May. And come May, many people will arrive at polling stations to discover not that their vote has been stolen but that their ID which once sufficed is no longer acceptable.

Katherine Harris must look jealously at the Westminster architects of the ironically, well-named, Electoral Fraud Act. She herself could not have devised a better way of eliminating voters from the register.


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Through RUC Eyes

May 13, 2017 by  

Nights in Armour coverI’ve just finished a very good book, Nights in Armour by Blair McMahon, written in the main from the perspective of several RUC men around the time of the hunger strikes and the death of Bobby Sands. There are other minor points of view, including that of a republican prisoner, but they don’t ring with verisimilitude or have the same power as the scenes of barrack life or convey the tension and raw fear of patrolling a republican heartland.

I was surprised to learn that it was published as long ago as 1993 because I had never heard of the book before. Nor does it appear to be mentioned in any of the collections of what is loosely termed ‘Troubles literature’; nor does it appear to have been reviewed in the mainstream media. There has long been a snobbery towards novels released through small, informal publishing houses and Nights in Armour was released through the since defunct Ulster Society based in Lurgan. Furthermore, Blair McMahon is a nom de plume (or nom de guerre) as he was a serving RUC officer at the time of publication and thus for personal security reasons unable to promote the book through interviews or public appearances.

Presumably the real author’s loyalties remain tied to his upbringing, his hearth and home and with former comrades, yet to his credit those ties have not circumscribed or restricted his depiction of character and their prejudices, and what we get is the flawed, honest human being behind the gun and uniform; the crutch of masculinity, the broken marriages and relationships, the suicides, the alcohol-dependency, the rivalries, the guilt, the camaraderie.

One Catholic policeman who is moved into the section is nicknamed ‘the token mick’. Another colleague, a police woman, ‘Diana Death’, is a weirdo of a necrophile who likes to be first on the scene after a killing so that she can take photographs for her personal collection.

About the death of one RUC officer we get this simple, yet profound statement: “Colin McKnight is gone. He exists in old family photographs and the fading memories of friends.”

Despite my having diametrically opposite experiences of some of the scenarios McMahon describes – including attacks on republican funerals – the novel does not read as propaganda.

It is an unvarnished view of what makes an RUC man tick. There is brutality, ugliness and hatred, and humour and love. Some of the detailed descriptions of the aftermath of a booby-trap bombing or a shooting are appalling and not for the squeamish.

The character we are drawn to most is Reid, an anti-hero, a natural leader of men who is fearless under fire and who is determined to see off the threat from the IRA, to outlive them. This passage below is, incidentally, reminiscent of the grim city also brilliantly portrayed by Eoin McNamee in his novel, Resurrection Man, published in 1994, a year after Nights in Armour:

‘Night. To Reid, it seemed the only time to do policework. The science became pure. He had no annoying despatches to deliver: no silly calls to people locked out of their cars or children annoying neighbours. At night a different breed of person walked the streets. Main thoroughfares and pedestrian zones which bustled with shoppers during the day, became no-go areas at night; people passed through them quickly and only if they had to. Burglars moved invisibly; car thieves hid in the shadows. Drunks, prostitutes and gunmen all took to the streets and claimed them as their own. Things happened…

‘Reid loved to prowl the empty streets, searching for the thieves and thugs who made life a nightmare for others. He wanted to balance the scales, pay something back to those who stole and brutalised with such casual indifference. Instead, he sat in the back of a police car listening…Retribution would have to wait.’

The flaws in the novel are minor in comparison to the good writing.

Every republican my age has come across the delusional cop or screw who’ll genuinely tell you about how great things were in the “wee Pravince” before the IRA came along. Such a ‘Leonard Sachs’ actually does appear in the book with that view, reminiscing about that mythical era, belief in which persists among many unionists and which bedevils us ever agreeing on the past: “the good old days, a golden age that ended forever in August 1969” before which “Northern Ireland had been one of the most peaceful, law-abiding societies in Europe. A few weeks later, troops with fixed bayonets maintained order in smouldering streets. What went wrong?”


There has been a dearth of good fiction writing from the unionist perspective and Nights in Armour is a welcome addition to the canon (if you’ll excuse the phrase).

The depiction of unionism/loyalism on stage and on screen hasn’t been an entirely flattering one either.

I remember an angry Billy Hutchinson at a discussion after a staging of the play The Chronicles of Long Kesh express frustration at the way loyalists in particular were presented in drama, literature and film, as “going around like Neanderthals trailing their knuckles on the ground”.

Playwright Gary Mitchell (from Rathcoole, from where he and his family were eventually evicted by angry loyalists) has said that, “There is a deep-rooted ignorance of the arts within loyalist communities…They do not trust drama. They will tell you coldly that drama belongs to the Catholics. Drama belongs to the nationalists.”

Fred Cobain, former chief whip of the Ulster Unionist Party, once said: “Republicans represent the struggle of the small man fighting the big man. Unionism, on the other hand, represents the government. The republicans are romanticised as being involved in some sort of human rights struggle against despotism, looking for democracy and freedom.”

The veteran journalist David McKittrick once wrote a feature for the London Independent titled, ‘Why are all the Troubles’ films about republicans?’ He said: “…few writers or producers – inside or outside Northern Ireland – find the Protestant community interesting, few identify with it and few have sought to champion it or even express its concerns. As a result republicans have basically had the big screen pretty much to themselves…

“The perceived Protestant narrative, however, is one of a reactionary frontier community grimly holding on and opposing change… they find the republicans intriguing but the Protestants problematic.”

The Times journalist Kevin Maher wrote about IRA representation in film thus: “the gun-slinging underdog remains an irresistible iconic draw.”

That may be so, but there are many stories still to be told – and from all sides; personal experiences to be rendered through fiction or drama to universal appeal and empathy; stories which can open our eyes to polar opposites, to help us see things and people as they are, from their perspective, which will take us out of our comfort zone and into another’s land.


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Marwan Barghouti

April 29, 2017 by  

This profile of Marwan Barghouti, who is currently on hunger strike in an Israeli Jail, appears in my book Rebel Columns, and was first published in 2003.

Back Danny

In a dangerous or threatening situation one or two individuals within any group will remain cool and rise above the rest who seem paralysed and incapable of action. Such individuals will exercise a focused judgement, will make decisions that may save or partly redeem a bad situation, will, in other words, show leadership (which is kin to showing courage) and in the process will become – often in opposition to their own humility – true heroes.

Similarly, throughout history, when a people finds itself in subjugation, oppressed and dispossessed – that is, facing a permanent threat which has dispirited and demoralised them – the righteousness of their cause amounts to nought in the absence of leadership, organisation and strategy.

Today (October, 2003), in the 21st century, right before our eyes, the Palestinian people are being destroyed by one of the cruellest and most cynical regimes in the Middle East, Israel, a state that is bankrolled by the US government. In flagrant breach of UN Resolution 242, first issued in 1967 and reaffirmed many times in the subsequent 36 years, Israel refuses to withdraw from the territories it occupied following the Six Day War. It continues to conquer, to build settlements – indeed, to build a Warsaw Wall through the West Bank, ghettoising the Palestinians and rendering impossible any viable Palestinian state.

It does this despite the fact that through superior violence and murder it has won from mainstream Palestinian groups recognition of the state of Israel. And in reaction it has spawned the phenomena of the suicide bombers.

I watch CNN fairly regularly. I was hooked on it especially during the debacle of the Florida count in the US presidential election in 2000. CNN has incredible resources, journalists or stringers in every capital of the world and breaks news with breathtaking speed. Millions in the US watch the channel and perhaps have their political opinions influenced by what they receive.

What I noticed – and this might not be the fault of CNN but rather a regrettable feature of the quality of Palestinian representatives and/or circumstance – is that in the aftermath of a particularly violent incident or dramatic development, the Israeli spokesperson is usually in a studio. He is suave, his English is impeccable (and often delivered in a North American accent) and he is questioned courteously.

On the other hand, the Palestinian spokesperson is often interviewed on a street corner or a makeshift studio. There is distortion or atmospherics on the feed; he usually speaks in broken English (unless, of course, it is Hanan Ashrawi) and is placed on the defensive by being pressed to distance himself from Palestinian violence.

A few years ago I noticed one Palestinian spokesperson in particular who stood out in stature above many others, including Yasser Arafat and the prime minister, Abu Mazen.

That man is Marwan Barghouti. He is articulate, confident and popular among his people.

I remember seeing him being interviewed in early August 2001 when there was a tremendous explosion on the street. A missile fired from an Israeli helicopter hit his office or his car, killing another Fatah member. Of course, since then the Israelis have murdered and assassinated several hundred alleged militants – collaterally killing children, women and men who shouldn’t be out in the sun in broad daylight.

Someone who interviewed El-Barghouti told me that after his arrest in 1982 he was on hunger strike and said that he drew inspiration from Bobby Sands and his comrades and could cite that Bobby died on May 5th 1981. In prison he mastered Hebrew from his jailors and can speak it far more eloquently than many Israelis.

He was born in 1959 to a West Bank farmer. At the age of 16 he joined Fatah and earned a master’s degree in international relations at Bir Zeit university. He is married with four children. During the first intifada of 1987 he was deported by Israel. He supported the peace talks with Israel in the early 1990s, returned to the West Bank in 1994 and ran programmes for Israeli and Palestinian youth. He became secretary of the Fatah movement and was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority and has spoken out against corruption within the Authority.

However, in April 2002 Israeli forces in Ramallah arrested him. He was interrogated for several months for 18 hours at a time. For three months he was allowed to sleep for only two hours at a time and then only in a chair with his hands tied. He was denied food and water, has been regularly placed in solitary confinement and denied access to his lawyers. He was charged with directing the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, which is linked to Fatah and which has been responsible for many of the suicide bomb attacks, mainly against innocent Israeli citizens. He was condemned even before his trial. The Israeli Attorney-General said he was “an engineer of all acts of killings and a thug.”

From his prison cell he played a crucial role in Palestinian dialogue and encouraged Hamas and Islamic Jihad to call a truce last June (which later broke down).

He has been tipped to replace Arafat as chair of the Palestinian Authority and Israel fears his leadership. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres remarked that if that happened, “this will not be a positive development for Israel.”

El-Barghouti’s trial ended last Monday and judgement is expected in November. He refused to recognise the court in Tel Aviv and said that Israel’s grip on the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be in the dock instead. He accused Israel of violating 30 international treaties, including the Geneva Convention and of committing war crimes against humanity.

The alleged evidence against him was confessions from 21 Palestinians, none of whom appeared in court. Israel is notorious for its abuse of prisoners and has been condemned of torture by many human rights groups. During earlier court appearances his attempts to speak were interrupted but finally he managed to say: “We are a people like all other people. We want freedom and a state just like the Israelis. Israel must decide: either it allows for a Palestinian state alongside it, or it becomes a state for two peoples.”

One of the three judges interrupted him and said: “We are not historians nor government representatives. If it were in our hands we would issue an injunction ordering peace!”

To cheers from European Parliament observers El-Barghouthi replied: “Why don’t you just get up and say ‘I am against the occupation’!”

He said: “I am against killing innocents. But I am proud of the resistance to Israeli occupation. To die is better than living under occupation.”

Marwan Barghouthi – a true hero to the Palestinian cause.

Their Nelson Mandela.


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The Salmon Run

April 6, 2017 by  

Danny Doherty, from Carrigart, County Donegal, is the son of Mary and Pat Doherty (MP for West Tyrone). Martin McGuinness was a familiar visitor to the family home from when Danny was an infant. In this poem Danny pays tribute to the former republican leader (a keen fisherman) who died on March 21st and whose funeral was attended by scores of thousands of people who made their way to Creggan Cemetery to lay him to rest.

Martin 6


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Creating False News

March 22, 2017 by  


On BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback today (22nd March) a story about Martin McGuinness was repeated, a story aimed at illustrating that Martin McGuinness was callous towards victims and not sincere in his attempts at reconciliation. Stories like this can affect people’s attitudes, and responses, and, arguably, even the decisions they make.

The first time I heard the story was in a report about a meeting in Stormont organised two weeks ago by TUV leader Jim Allister to commemorate ‘European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Terrorism’.

One of the speakers was David Kelly.

David Kelly was just nine years of age when his father, Patrick Kelly, a private in the Irish Army, was killed by the IRA in Leitrim during an attempt to rescue kidnapped supermarket executive Don Tidey in 1983. Mr Kelly’s widow and her four sons later moved to England, where the family suffered terribly and were deeply unhappy. David moved back to Ireland in 2008, at the age of thirty-four. Another of his brothers joined the Irish Army to honour his father and because of his pride in him.

Mr Kelly told the Stormont meeting that in 2011, when Martin McGuinness was running as a candidate in the Presidential election, he confronted him and asked for help in finding his father’s killers, but was told “to move on”. Then he qualified this remark: “He [McGuinness] told me it was time to move on. He said that to my face. My father was doing his duty, providing for a young family, gave his life for his country.”

There is a huge difference between “move on”, which suggests “get out of my way”, and “time to move on”, as I shall illustrate by the actual contemporaneous reports of Mr Kelly’s confrontation with Mr McGuinness in 2011.

The account of the confrontation can be found in the Irish Times, 11th October, 2011, and can be read here

It reports:

‘“I don’t know who was responsible for the killing of your father but I fully and absolutely sympathise with you,” Mr McGuinness replied. “I have been at the heart of a very important peace process in the North over the last 20 years which has brought conflict and violence and death to an end and I am going to continue with that work because that’s the work of peace.”

‘“This is in the past you are heartbroken on account of it and my sympathy is 100 per cent with you and your family,” he added.’

‘Mr Kelly continued, “I just want to say to you before there can be any reconciliation in this country there has to be truth”.

‘Mr McGuinness replied: “Absolutely and we have proposed that there should be an international independent commission on truth.”’

The journalist who witnessed the exchange, Eoghan MacConnell, makes no mention of McGuinness telling David Kelly “to move on” or, even, “it’s time to move on”, or even that anyone in McGuinness’s entourage told him to move on.

But one local journalist, Karen Downey, does quote Mr Kelly himself as using similar words:

‘“I asked him to reveal the identity of those killers, those killers directly should go to the guards, do the decent thing, go to the authorities and hand themselves in and then we might have some justice, some truth and then maybe we can think about moving on in this country,” he [Mr Kelly] told the Westmeath Independent.’

Other reports of the confrontation in the Irish Independent, Irish Examiner and on RTE make no reference to the “move on” comments attributed to McGuinness.

In July 2012 when David Kelly accepted the Military Star Medal, awarded posthumously to his father, he makes no such claim about Mr McGuinness.

Again, when speaking before Westminster MPs last November at the launch of a book, Mr Kelly makes no such claim about Martin McGuinness.

So, how did the perception arise that Martin McGuinness used those words which would add great pain and distress to someone who had already lost a loved one at the hands of the IRA?

It was the News Letter on the 13th March which used the ambiguous headline, “Martin McGuinness told me to ‘move on’”. It also reported that when the audience heard the alleged remarks it prompted “a collective gasp of horror.” Clearly, the audience understood the words to mean that McGuinness was cold and heartless towards a son whose father was a victim of the IRA.

But it was on BBC2’s Newsnight, only hours after the death of Martin McGuinness, that the totally false construction on words that McGuinness hadn’t even used was reinforced.

Austin Stack’s father, Brian Stack was the chief prison officer at Portlaoise Prison and was mortally wounded by the IRA in 1983. He told Newsnight:

‘“My friend David Kelly, whose father private Paddy Kelly was shot by the IRA… David approached Martin McGuinness asking him for answers in 2011 and Martin McGuinness shunted him away with the words ‘just move on, you’.”’

Hundreds of thousands of viewers received that news as fact, last night, and, again, on Talkback this afternoon. People in the South, people in the North. These include unionist voters whose support for power-sharing, reconciliation and the resolution of legacy issues is crucial, but who are as vulnerable as we all are to crude propaganda, often which it is impossible to discern.

The anger, passion, loss and sense of injustice felt by victims of the IRA towards republicans is completely understandable.

But what Austin Stack is saying about Martin McGuinness is not only unfounded but is patently untrue. His reasons for saying it might be understandable – to paint Martin McGuinness in as bad a light as possible.

But it is also understandable that those who admire and revere Martin McGuinness and his memory will call out a lie about him, especially when such a lie may well influence people and can affect judgements about the peace process and its future.


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The Evenings

March 10, 2017 by  

“Old people cause a lot of the world’s misery. They contaminate our lives. They spread a sour smell in the tram. Like a pot of fruit preserves that has been opened and then forgotten. Everything over sixty should be done away with.”

“Why not everything over forty?” Louis asked.

“You wouldn’t hear me complain,” Fritz said, “but we have to stay humane. Between forty and sixty there are still signs of life.”

InsideThat’s from The Evenings by Dutch writer Gerard Reve about ten December evenings until New Year’s Eve, 1946, in the life of twenty-three-year-old office worker, Fritz Egters.

Fritz lives a boring, mundane life, a life of futility, in Amsterdam with his elderly parents who drive him crazy and who only half get on. He wanders from bar to cinema to the homes of his brother and friends and acquaintances and they talk the greatest shite in the world.

Though amounting almost to a study in misanthropy I really enjoyed this book for its stylish writing. I found it captivating despite the deliberately stilted and sometimes tedious dialogue.

We are granted the privilege of observing Fritz’s inner life, what he thinks in comparison to what he actually says, and it is so funny it had me laughing aloud and reminded of a novel I read many years ago, also a first novel, The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman by Bruce Robinson. Robinson also wrote the screenplay of The Killing Fields and wrote and directed Withnail and I. There are many preposterous scenes in that book involving fifteen-year-old Thomas. One in particular sees him steal some photos from his grandfather’s ‘amazing collection of pornography’ which he shows to his friend Maurice, the vicar’s son, who is ill in bed, smoking a pipe and drinking a mix of gin and sherry.

“You’re telling me you’ve got a photo of a woman with a duck up her arse?” says Maurice.

“That’s right. A mallard.”

“How did they get the duck up?”

“They oil them.”

Well, The Evenings is as mad and as scatological as that. Fritz has vivid, wild and monstrous dreams and he is obsessed with baldness (not his own, that of others), loves to share stories about acts of sadism and can be quite tactless, cruel and sexist on occasion, yet he is a sad creature given the tedium of his life at home.

Visiting his friend Joosje he comments about her one-year-old child: “It is, in truth, a terrible little monster…The nerves have developed all wrong. It probably doesn’t have long to live…The head is bound to become distended as well…It is growing all crooked, like a plant to the light, mark my words.”

Fritz loves going to funerals or talking about cancer and terminal illnesses and horrible ways of dying. He is morbidly obsessed with newspaper stories involving death and always likes to share ‘nasty stories’. Like the one about the farmer on top of a wagon who calls for someone to throw him a pitchfork. He peers over the edge of his wagon just as it is thrown and the tines penetrate his eyes and kill him. A child playing daredevil with an axe and block cuts the hands of his friend because his friend thought he wouldn’t go through with the strike and the child thought his friend would pull his hand away on time.

Fritz talks excitedly about a child killed by an exploding grenade (‘Glorious”) or the seven-year-old who accidentally detonates an anti-aircraft shell he hits with a hammer. “It always ends with: he will have to do without his left hand. Or: the child breathed his last on the way to the hospital.”

Another story he tells – “a real whopper” – involves a woman bathing her child. Her father, in another room, is playing with their other child – throwing her in the air – when he drops her. She lies dead on the floor and he screams. The mother runs in to see what has happened, then remembers the baby in the bath, runs back, only to find that the toddler has drowned. “You should tell that one when there are women around, you’ll laugh yourself silly.”

Reve, who died in 2006, was the first openly gay writer in Holland and is considered one of the greatest post-war Dutch authors. A controversial figure, many of his later writings feature violent and sadomasochistic themes. The Evenings is now considered a modern masterpiece and has been voted the best Dutch novel of all time.

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Hasn’t Gone Away Ya’ Know

February 23, 2017 by  

Last October Glenn Bradley* wrote a feature here on the immediate impact the result of the referendum had on his business which trades in providing paving materials or bespoke associated art-scape features for public realm and private hard landscaping projects. This is his assessment of developments since then.

IN the piece I wrote here four months ago I finished by saying the following:

Glenn“What I am certain off is: the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot stand still and needs to be on the same page pro-actively leading to protect this small place. Such protection does require a buffer against the economic tsunami ahead of us where, with their boots firmly at ground truth reality, not pie in the sky temporary economics by academics, they challenge the British government regarding our unique post-conflict situation, and collaborate with all sections of business and our closest neighbours on this island to generate trade, protecting workers’ livelihoods.”

The RHI scandal became a catalyst which drove a two-edged sword into the heart of our partnership government resulting in most politicians blinkered to electioneering or worse, some, focused on sabre rattling & beating the tired, worn, battle drum presently. Despite my plea, the Northern Ireland Assembly is standing still and is doing nothing as a co-operative partnership to protect this small, fractured economy from the economic, social & political tsunami before us.

BREXIT negotiations are on-going and lobbying across these Islands by various business bodies and leaders continues unabated.

Then I heard these words from senior DUP politician Nelson McCausland: “I wouldn’t care what sort of situation I face as long as I’m out of Europe!”

I think for a full ten seconds I’d an utter, mouth-dropping, gasp of incredulity that anyone involved in the governance of this place could so whimsically dismiss qualified business advice, and the electorate here who, overwhelmingly, voted for REMAIN in the referendum last year.

Nelson McCausland, from the (presently) largest political party here, was saying that he does not care about the impact on jobs, the economy, trade or indeed any of the harm that leaving the EU will do to this little north-east region of Ireland, constitutionally linked to the UK.

He spoke those words on the very day that one of our largest and home-grown companies, ALMAC, stated that to assure continued export customer market access they had opened a protective site in Dundalk while awaiting the outcome of BREXIT negotiations.

ALMAC have stated they will have to relocate production to Dundalk resulting in the loss of jobs here should there be no tariff deals.

Is McCausland’s ambivalence an indication of his party’s view? If so, such an attitude will damage business here, and is unwelcome, especially from a public servant whose wages are paid from taxation achieved through dynamic business success.

There is a disorderly and desultory way in which BREXIT is going forward, and no one, absolutely no one on the BREXIT lobby appears to have a plan. The political turmoil on this island (Enda Kenny is in the departure lounge) and our very own RHI catalyst here, while important, become small fry to the juggernaut scale of what BREXIT means for both jurisdictions in Ireland.

We in Northern Ireland are being dredged out of the EU against our will, and despite ‘conservative & unionist’ party wishful-thinking that the Republic would follow suit, it will not happen (any time soon).

There will be a border, and I cannot see how it will be ‘aqueous’ regarding customs non-tariff issues concerning the processing for manufactured products entering or leaving here.

Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI has already stated “estimates for non-tariff costs in the guise of Certs of Origin, International CRMs, LCs and so on would be in the region of £475 per load.” Some might say that is a small expense but not to a business moving many loads of products or goods daily. Such laborious processes and costs for non-tariff custom procedures will drive the business economy here downwards which weighted with the withdrawal of EU funding to our farming & agricultural sector, along with the withdrawal of EU funding to our infrastructure construction projects, makes here, a very dull place. Indeed, we become an economic basket case region on a level the conflict never even got near.

I reiterate the call again, it is essential that the Northern Ireland Assembly fights to protect workers lives, and equity with free trade which is a necessity for our unique economy. It is essential that our post-conflict evolution is recognised and we secure special status zone category with the EU. In size and scale this is not Britain; our small population of 1.8 million who land border the EU (our southern neighbours) require continued free movement, trade and ongoing EU peace & financial commitments to continue unabated (finance that I do not see the UK government rushing to guarantee!).

*Glenn Bradley is the Regional Manager Ireland of an international hard landscaping material supplier. He is committed to eradicating labour and human rights abuse in global supply chains via ethical trading initiatives where he is a trainer, and is the ascending Chair to the Business & Human Rights Forum here in the North. A former soldier he is also involved in peace-making and is a member of Veterans for Peace, made up former ex-services personnel who are against war as a solution to problems. You can follow Glenn on Twitter @Bradleygj or on Instagram @BelfastBrad


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The Killing of Sir Henry Wilson

October 13, 2016 by  

My imagined ‘letter’ from Reggie Dunne to the IRA after the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson in 1922, and a recording of the letter being read by the actor Will Howard, will remain on display at Reading Prison for a further two months after the exhibition was extended until December 4th. It is part of the ArtAngel project around themes of imprisonment, in particular the experiences of Oscar Wilde who was incarcerated in Reading for two years.

combine_imagesOn 22nd June 1922, Sir Henry Wilson, the unionist MP for North Down, and chief security advisor to the newly-established Northern Ireland state, was assassinated in broad daylight by Irish republicans outside his London home.

Two men, English-born of Irish parents, were charged with his killing.

Reggie Dunne and Joe O’Sullivan were former British soldiers who had both been wounded in France, O’Sullivan losing a leg at Ypres.

In Southern Ireland the IRA had split over the terms of the recent Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Michael (Mick) Collins headed a provisional government against a breakaway IRA garrison led by Rory O’Connor which wanted to fight on.

Then came the assassination of Wilson.

From Wandsworth Prison Reggie Dunne sends a smuggled letter to the leader of the IRA in London.

18th July, 1922

Commandant. It’s all but over. Joe and I are to be hanged in three weeks’ time, on 10th August. The trial lasted three hours, then the jury were out. As our solicitor was trying to keep our spirits up in the holding cells, the sergeant shouted through the bars that we were wanted back up in court, they had reached a decision. The jury took just two minutes to find us guilty! Even the sergeant said it was the quickest verdict he had known but that everybody was in a rush today to catch “the biggest wedding of the century”, Lord Louis Mountbatten was getting married to some wealthy English heiress.

So, we left the Old Bailey for here much earlier than anticipated. But that shouldn’t have mattered, nor affected your plans. As we had known we would be, and as had previously been described to you, we were handcuffed and locked in the back with two guards for what we thought was our last journey. The driver was repeatedly blowing the horn at pedestrians. At one stage the fool opened the grill and took great delight in telling us that there were thousands flocking the streets, out to kill us. By our bearings we thought we had just crossed Blackfriars Bridge. Shortly after, there was a dull thud and we all shot forward as the van suddenly braked. The driver was shouting and we could see our guards’ faces turn pale. Joe and I nodded to each other, braced ourselves, and were convinced, “This is it”. I thought of my parents and the young woman whose heart I’ve broken. Then, the driver cursed the dog that must have darted onto the road and across our path. We could hear the old thing whimpering and children crying. After a few moments we resumed the journey.

Commandant, when escape plans fell through, we meant it when we told you to blow us up in the van. You were our last hope. If the Mountbatten wedding or extra police on the streets thwarted the plan, then there’s nothing we can say, no complaint can we make. But I would not like to think that you had qualms about despatching us this way. Don’t misunderstand me. Joe and I will go to the gallows with our heads held high – and our secrets well kept – but we would have preferred to deprive these people of the pleasure of hanging us.

Churchill’s claim that we were caught with papers linking us to Rory’s garrison was a downright lie. There were no documents on us.

We kept our mouths shut in Gerald Road Police Station. Even our interrogators initially hadn’t a clue who we were. Joe was charged under the alias ‘John O’Brien’ and I as ‘James Connolly’. You should have seen the mortified look on the Detective’s face when he discovered that they had already shot ‘James Connolly’ in 1916! I laughed when he had to re-arraign me under ‘Reginald Dunne’.

But he came in the next day all cocky and threw down the dailies, inviting me to read them. I never flinched. He read out Rory’s denial of involvement, which I expected. But to be honest, the condemnation of the killing and the strong language from Mick’s spokesman was bloody hypocritical. The Detective then gleefully read out Churchill’s ultimatum to Mick that if he didn’t deal with Rory’s defiance of the Treaty, the British army would. That put me in good form, as I thought, yes, our plan is falling into place.

But you can guess how sick Joe and I were when Mick bowed to Churchill and attacked the garrison, capturing Rory and his men. If Churchill had tried that every volunteer would have flocked to Rory’s cause. And now there are attempts to blame Joe and me for the fighting that has now broken out. We can see through that but our poor families are badly shaken and confused and have asked what we thought we hoped to achieve. And of course because our visits are closely monitored we cannot speak plainly to them.

One day, be it years from now, when the dust has settled, the rest of the world can be told that Reggie Dunne and Joe O’Sullivan were not mavericks or renegades but were soldiers of the Republic on official business aimed at killing a tyrant and re-uniting the IRA against the common enemy.

I’ll not see Joe again, until the morning of 10th August. I’ll miss him over the next few weeks. He holds himself responsible for my arrest and, now, for my death. I remind him that it was me who picked him for the Wilson job and that I knew well beforehand that he was no ‘sprinter’! That made him smile a little. After the shooting a hue and cry was raised and we had to run in a different direction than planned, away from our car. Let our driver know, we do not blame him. We were chased by a hostile crowd and by policemen blowing whistles. Joe, because of his war wound, losing a leg in France, was much slower than me and was quickly overtaken by the mob shouting, “Lynch him!” When I looked back I could see that he had fallen and was being pummelled by the mob. We were always in this together and I would never have left him. I turned back and threatened the crowd with my Webley and could have taken a few had I wished. I was overpowered from behind and beaten unconscious before we were taken into custody.

In court we admitted shooting Wilson but refused to plead, so a Not Guilty plea was entered on our behalf. One of our prosecutors was a fellow called Humphreys who I found out had in his younger days acted for Oscar Wilde in the same court.

Our solicitor asked the judge could I read out a brief statement. The judge asked to see it. His jaw kept dropping the further he read, then he said he was impounding it because it was nothing but a political manifesto! We then instructed our defence team to withdraw.

That forced the judge to address us directly. He asked if we had anything to say before he pronounced sentence so I spoke. I said I was sorry that the jury was denied the chance of hearing our statement which explained why two former servicemen with exemplary war records, both wounded in action, would kill their former commander.

Try and get what I said published as it is important that the public hear the truth about how our struggle for freedom was subverted by Wilson and his ilk.

I said that for England I had killed many German soldiers, most of whom were conscripts. Ordinary working men, farmers, students and teachers – teachers just like myself. I and thousands of other Irish soldiers volunteered to fight in the European war. Thousands of our fellow countrymen died for Britain because we were told that if we did so then Ireland would be treated fairly and given her rights at the end of the War. But this was a huge lie. We were praised to the high heavens, in press and from pulpit, for savaging men by bullet and bayonet. But for killing one man for Ireland – a scourge, who encouraged the British army to mutiny against Irish Home Rule, who divided our country, who had the blood of thousands on his hands, and who had been rewarded and elevated and indulged by Britain for his role – we were being slandered as criminals and condemned to die on the gallows.

When they took two minutes to find us guilty, Joe said with that dry wit of his, “Your speech certainly won them over, ‘Mr Connolly’. You were very persuasive!”

Shortly afterwards we were taken back to here from where we shall not be moving. Any appeal will be heard in our absence.
We have a bully of a warder. ‘Kitchener’ is his nickname. Apparently, he gave himself that name when Lord Kitchener’s ship went down. Everyone is afraid of him. He constantly gives us a rough time and he tries to goad us.

“I see Michael Collins has disowned you and is now shooting your comrades in Ireland,” he said, when news came through about the fighting in Dublin. When he cracks what he thinks is a joke he belly-laughs until he almost falls over. He soon shut up when I asked him what regiment he had fought with. Turns out that the white feather coasted through the war in charge of the borstal wing while Joe and I and our comrades were up to our eyes in muck and blood in Flanders.

When we found that out we turned the tables on him. I shouted across the landing to him for all to hear. “Hey Kitchener! Is it true, Your Country Didn’t Need You?”

“Be fair,” said Joe. “He had a terrible bunion in his big toe which meant he couldn’t retreat.”

When we were first being assigned our cells some weeks ago and led through the gaol we were spat at and called murderers and cutthroats by the other prisoners. But that was to change, especially when they saw our attitude to authority. Today, when we got back after court we were allowed briefly into our own cells to gather some things before being moved to the condemned cells in E-Wing. It was strange being taken down through the landings. Even though the environment was alien on Day One, our wing had become familiar to us in the past few weeks as relations with the other inmates thawed.

Old Syd, the orderly, Wandsworth’s veteran jailbird, stopped mopping, came forward and pressed his precious ration of tobacco on Joe, against regulations. Kitchener bawled like a madman and ordered a warden to place Syd on punishment. From behind their doors prisoners banged their tin mugs and shouted messages of support to us. Kitchener warned us not to reply or encourage ‘contumaciousness’, his favourite word, or we would be punished!

Joe said with sarcasm, “How punished? What are you going to do, draw and quarter us!”

Each day on the way to the exercise yard we passed Oscar Wilde’s old cell mid-way up the long gallery, where he had contemplated suicide before being moved to Reading Gaol. As we passed it tonight for the last time I thought of his torturer, Sir Edward Carson, the man who opposed our freedom and helped divide Ireland. A man whom we should have shot in 1920 when we had the opportunity.

The man who shall deliver this to you is trustworthy and expects no reward. But please give him something because he has a young family and is taking a great risk which would land him in gaol and make him unemployable in this society. I have taken the opportunity of including another letter. It is for a friend, a young woman I had been seeing, though no one but Jack knew about this or is aware of her identity. She was only vaguely aware of my activities and I feel a great guilt for potentially compromising her and placing her in jeopardy.

Commandant, the organisation must promise, that one day, be it in five or fifty years’ time, our remains are removed from this prison yard and that we are laid to rest in the soil of Mother Ireland. That is where we want to be buried, even though we were born and grew up here in London. This is not our home.

And so it is goodbye, my old friend and comrade. Many have trod this well-worn path, the path to Freedom, before me. I love my countrymen and I love Ireland and I trust that God will have mercy on the souls of Reggie Dunne and Joe O’Sullivan.

Up The Republic!

Dunne and O’Sullivan were executed on 10th August, 1922. Twelve days later Michael Collins died in the civil war which engulfed the south of Ireland, killed in an IRA ambush.

Forty five years after their execution, the bodies of Dunne and O’Sullivan were exhumed from Wandsworth Prison and re-interred in the Republican Plot, Deansgrange Cemetery, Dublin. Sean MacStiofain, himself English-born, and who two years later was to become the Chief of Staff of the reorganised IRA after the split in 1969, gave the main oration. An IRA firing party emerged from the crowd and fired a volley of shots over the grave of Reggie Dunne and Joe O’Sullivan.

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BREXIT – On the ground

October 8, 2016 by  

Glenn Bradley, born and raised in West Belfast, is the Regional Manager Ireland of an international landscaping material supplier. He is committed to evolving ethical trade and is a stalwart of the Business & Human Rights Forum as well as a trainer for the Ethical Trading Initiative. A former soldier he is also involved in peace-making and is a member of Veterans for Peace, made up former ex-services personnel. He supported the Remain campaign in last June’s referendum on Brexit and in this feature warns of the immediate & anticipated threats the decision to exit the European Union represents to the local economy.

glenn-and-sammy-douglasI was up at Parliament Buildings today to receive a briefing with regard to a forthcoming trip to China as a delegate with the Assembly & Business Trust.

I ran into a few MLAs, and it was great to see some friends like Seán Murray on the policy staff for Sinn Féin, and Doug Beattie the Ulster Unionist MLA.

During all conversations BREXIT was the topic or at least part of the topic. As a businessman largely in the import sector, I left feeling slightly short changed with sound bites by some (I must hasten to add not by Doug or Seán). Here’s why.

As a member of the Institute of Export, I understand how exports play an important role in the UK and/or Irish economy. I get how exports influence levels of economic growth, employment and the balance of payments.

However, I’m also a pragmatic realist. Ireland (both constitutional jurisdictions) is the most westerly geographical point of the European archipelago and, as such, imports, with our household consumption of same, always accounting for more of the GDP.

This is especially true for a small region like Northern Ireland that has an overzealous and damning inherited reliance on public sector employment.

The impact of the BREXIT referendum on a local business trading in imports was immediate. On the day of the vote and overnight GBP-Sterling against the US Dollar dropped from 1.5 to 1.3. Putting that into context that meant that, for example, a sea container movement from Xiamen to Belfast which cost USD$675 ROE (rate of exchange) 1.5 = £450 on Thursday became USD$675 ROE 1.3 = £519 on Friday, a 15% increase and a sum that was not/could not be budgeted for.

In reaction to the falling GBP-Sterling and by the Monday post referendum, the international shipping lines then applied a freight rate rise from USD$675 to USD$1000. Putting that into context that meant, for example, a sea container movement from Xiamen to Belfast which cost USD$675 ROE 1.5 = £450 on Thursday became USD$1000 ROE 1.3 = £769 just five days, a 71% increase, which is a sum no business could ever budget for and trade competitively.

In addition, production costs in global markets increased. For example, on the day of the Referendum Vote the GBP-Sterling against the Euro was at 1.27 then overnight that dropped to 1.13. In context 1 square meter (sqm) of say Granite Tiles from Portugal on Thursday cost €60 per sqm ROE 1.27 = £47. But by Friday, €60 per sqm ROE 1.13 = £53 per sqm, an 11% increase and a sum unlikely to be budgeted for.

No matter how much of a risk-taker or embracer of change management I may be as an individual, no one could have budgeted for the immediate and dire negative consequence to imports that the BREXIT Referendum result generated and which worsens daily. This is largely because no one in business knows what the future holds as the government fails to reassure or provide direction nationally or internationally.

In the competitive world of globalization, being exceptional ensures permanence and government is sadly lacking right now. This lackluster leadership increases insecurity and fuels the stalling of orders and generates knee-jerk negative reactions across international trading lanes and risks GBP£ devaluing further. The short term consequence is now becoming increased costs for all households consuming imported goods, while medium-to-long term some companies in import trading operations presently may cease to exist thus risking livelihoods, increasing unemployment and social poverty.

sterling-graphAs import business suffered immediately, some politicians and exporting businesses rubbed their hands with glee in the belief that a weak and devalued pound is advantageous long term. However, such glee is temporary because inflation is definitely on the horizon and more importantly if an exporter has to rely on devaluation to trade then the business cannot be sustainable. The long term benefits of devaluation are zero, and to suggest anything different is temporary, sound-biting smokescreen.

Out of the Top Ten export partners the UK has, seven are in the EU, and those exports have been successful in large part due to reduced tariff barriers, and certainly the removal of bureaucratic customs formalities. Free trade has prevailed. Post-BREXIT, and in particular the hard BREXIT Prime Minister Theresa May is hinting at, will see tariff barriers increase, as will the bureaucracy at borders for cargo movements. To suggest otherwise is to deny economic and fiscal reality.

As for private sector innovation, especially in this most westerly region of the European archipelago, there is no magic wand. Export growth is not the sole answer and those hanging their (political) hat on it will come undone. There is only so much government can do to promote private sector productivity (import or export). Competitiveness depends on new products, new technology and, equally important, management passion and techniques, as much as any government policies.

As inflation rises, and tariff barriers are imposed post-BREXIT, the export sector will not save our economic skins especially in this small place.
With the benefit of hindsight (oh, that wonderful thing!) I wish our local politicians had challenged the initial Referendum question based on a UK-headcount. I wish someone had realized that by sheer volume of constituency numbers that England and Wales could override any decision Scotland or Northern Ireland made. I wish someone had boldly claimed “hold on, we are at the peril of English nationalism intoxicated on immigration fear”. I wish someone had thought the referendum needs to be four regions with equal input to the question. I wish, I wish, I wish – but BREXIT is about to happen.

I’m thus weary of politicians who pretend that it’s all going to be all right or cite sound bites regarding export growth. Rough days are ahead and it will impact negatively on all citizens.

What I am certain off is: the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot stand still and needs to be on the same page pro-actively leading to protect this small place. Such protection does require a buffer against the economic tsunami ahead of us where, with their boots firmly at ground truth reality, not pie in the sky temporary economics by academics, they challenge the British government regarding our unique post-conflict situation, and collaborate with all sections of business and our closest neighbors on this island to generate trade, protecting workers’ livelihoods.

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Putting Conflict Behind Us

July 1, 2016 by  

Beechmount Commemoration 1The most recent edition of An Phoblacht carries in full the oration I gave on 11th June in Beechmount, Belfast, at a commemoration in honour of Seando Moore who died six years ago. The event was part of a number of commemorations for Beechmount IRA Volunteers to be held throughout the centenary of the 1916 Rising. This is my speech:

Go raibh maith agaibh. I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak at today’s event commemorating our old friend and comrade Seando Moore. I cannot believe that he is dead six years. Maybe it is because we talk about him so often or that his name comes up in many conversations that his passing seems so recent. Certainly not six years.

It being the 35th anniversary of the hunger strike and it being the centenary of the 1916 Rising I have been speaking around the country in different places. And at these meetings and at the small exhibitions associated with them, people will talk about the great Seando Moore, his humour, his dedication. At some of the exhibitions a letter or photograph or artefact would be missing or would be mislaid or arrive late and people would say, “That wouldn’t have happened if Seando had been in charge.”

And that in itself is a small tribute to the work that he undertook when armed struggle had ran its course, when armed struggle had ended, and other work and other forms of struggle and strategies were adopted, and difficult decisions made, in the same pursuit of freedom and independence and an end to British rule in Ireland that he actively fought for.

Yes, Seando would have been in his element this year, covering all 32 Counties with the republican message.

There is an old republican song: ‘Who Fears To Speak of Easter Week/Who Dares Its Fate Deplore.’

We know who were terrified of the centenary of 1916 – the Irish government, the Irish establishment. Their first foray into the centenary celebration plans was to produce a video which did not include any mention of the Rising or of the executed signatories. After some criticism they produced a second video which was even worse than the first. For not only did it exclude the names of the leaders – as if they would contaminate today’s youth – they included footage of Ian Paisley, David Cameron, the British Queen, and such republican stalwarts as Field Marshall Bono and IRA guerrilla leader Bob Geldof!

Also this year, in the run-up to the centenary, the Dublin establishment was busy defending knocking down Moore Street and the houses where the Army Council of the Provisional government last met. Thanks to a campaign by relatives and supporters this work was stopped and the houses are now marked as national monuments.

Compare that to the brilliant exhibition – Revolution 1916 – organised by Irish republicans at the Ambassador Theatre in Dublin.

This exhibition features the largest private collection of 1916 artefacts, with over 500 items on display. I was there two weeks ago with a friend from the USA, a 70-year-old supporter, Johnny Norby from Seattle. Near the end of the 1916 exhibition there are panels dedicated to a modern event – our ‘1916’ – the 1981 hunger strike which the establishment in the South would rather we forgot. Just as they have forgotten to challenge the British for their role in the slaughter of civilians in Dublin and Monaghan.

Johnny and I went over to a glass case and there was Seando’s famous smuggled crystal set radio from the blanket protest, the one christened Maggie Taggart after the Radio Ulster journalist. On it the prisoners secretly heard the news of Bobby’s victory in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone be-election and on it they heard the sad news of Bobby’s death in the early hours of Tuesday, May 5th, 1981, and the news of nine more comrades between then and the 20th August that year.

So, I was explaining the history of the radio to my friend and I noticed an old woman on my left, an elderly woman, who had obviously been listening to us. She stepped forward and asked me quietly did I know the men. I proceeded to tell her that Joe McDonnell’s future mother-in-law, Mrs Healy, who lived in Number 22, across the street from us in Corby Way, Andersonstown, was there at my delivery in Number 17. That as a teenager I had been interned with Joe and that I was with him in the prison hospital two days before he died. I told her that Kieran Doherty was a year below me in school and that his brother Michael was in my class. I told her how long I had known Bobby, about our writing to each other over many years, my publishing his writings and being one of his spokespersons during the hunger strike.

Then I came across a photograph or memory card of Martin Hurson and told her that it had been my role to visit his family and that when I drove up the lane of their farm in Cappagh, Martin’s father John was cutting the hedge. As I stepped out of the car he said to me, “I know why you’re here.” I was there to tell him that on May 29th Martin would be joining the hunger strike.

And as I told Johnny and this complete stranger this story, I burst into a flood of tears and could not speak. I burst into tears in the middle of the Ambassador Theatre. And then I pulled myself together and apologised. I asked the woman where she was from and she said Dublin. And then she said: “We didn’t know. We didn’t know.”

It is easy to be cynical and dismissive but censorship of the truth of what was happening to the nationalists in the North was of major self-interest to the Southern establishment – else they might have had to address the state they left us in and do something about it. Much easier to blame the IRA when it became a response to British state violence. It comes as no surprise then that when the IRA withdrew from the situation as a result of the peace process, the Southern establishment found itself in knots over how to cope with the question of the North and the rise of republicanism. Much easier to demonise Sinn Féin than confront the British.

In looking at Martin Hurson’s photograph in that display I was also reminded of the tremendous human cost of conflict, of war, on ordinary people as well as the protagonists. It reminded me, if I needed reminding, of how awful war is, the suffering and pain and personal loss to my community but also to those who lost their lives or limbs, soldiers, policemen and civilians, at the hands of republicans.

In a struggle as long as ours, and a Movement as big as ours, it is obvious that down the years differences of opinions would emerge over strategy and decisions taken or over personality differences. It is loyalty to the cause and to each other and to unity of purpose which gives us our undoubted strength – and Seando Moore was one of the most loyal republicans I know.

I was in the H-Blocks when the ceasefire was called and I supported its call. But within hours I was angered and prepared for the IRA to go back to war because of the triumphalist response of the British Prime Minister John Major and that of the unionists. They don’t want peace, I thought. But I was being emotional, not strategic. Then I heard the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, James Molyneaux, in a slip of the tongue say that the ceasefire represented the greatest threat to the union in sixty years. And I knew then that what the leaders of unionists feared most was their attitudes and actions, which were fundamental to the outbreak of the conflict, being scrutinised properly for the first time in a long time. That their ingrained anti-nationalist hostility would be exposed and that the dynamic of peace would drive them towards compromise. That their position was unsustainable. A ceasefire – in which the IRA would ultimately withdraw from the scene – would show that the problem was not the IRA but the sectarianism behind the six-county state and British support of that state by hook and by crook and by spook.

Of course, much has happened since then, relationships have thawed, progress has been made, albeit very slowly. Friendships have been made between former enemies. Greater understanding and appreciation of each other’s positions have been realised.

Post-1994 there were many other challenges, changes and compromises, some of which I had no problem with and others which presented myself and other republicans with difficulties. But again, unity is strength and there is strength in numbers and it has been the loyalty of the republican base, and the loyalty of the bulk of former republican activists and ex-prisoners, which has seen us through to this day where Sinn Féin has become the largest party in Ireland.

Some former comrades, small in number, had difficulties with these changes. Others decided that they could resume an armed struggle. The media very soon unfairly branded them all as dissidents, just as it had branded the IRA and its supporters ‘the Provisionals’ or ‘Provos’ from a statement in 1970 when the reorganised IRA spoke of setting up a provisional army council for a limited period. I know some republicans hated and hate that term as being pejorative and others embraced it. Many of us certainly sang heartily along with the song written by IRA Volunteer John ‘Bap’ Kelly, who was killed on active service in 1975, ‘Say Hello to the Provos!’

I have no problem with those groups who are opposed to the political process, who criticise Sinn Féin or who stand against Sinn Féin in the North, should they be new organisations or comprised of former mainstream republicans who feel disenchanted, disillusioned or disappointed. I would, of course, prefer they were with us. But, their appearance should be seen as a potentially positive development, as healthy for politics and will help sharpen perspectives, priorities and direction. There is no place for arrogance. Sinn Féin has no royal right to represent the nationalist community; it is up to the community to vote whatever way it chooses and we must respect its choices, even if we think it unfair given the amount of work Sinn Féin does on the ground. The electorate has the right to be right and the right to be wrong.

But I do have a problem with those small groups who oppose not just the political process but, more importantly, the peace process and who continue armed activity without strategy, debate, direction or articulation, as if armed struggle is a principle and not a tactic. They usurp my having a say and other comrades deciding on the most appropriate way forward for the future of our children. Indeed, they criticise fellow republicans more than they do the British presence or unionist sectarianism.

They claim nothing has changed and that is a lie; that is not true.

This state is not the state I was born into and grew up in. It has radically changed – but of course it has not changed radically enough. The huge task we face is to un-partition this island, is to overturn not just a state embedded within British constitutional law and supported by violence for almost a hundred years, but to compel the 26-county state, the Republic of Ireland, to face its responsibilities towards all of the Irish people. Many southern politicians are diehard partitionists, are complacent and comfortable with what they’ve got, and practise the deceit of increasingly describing the Republic of Ireland as ‘Ireland’, which it is not, to further distance themselves from us. To quote Frank Gallagher: Six Counties were sacrificed so that Twenty-Six could have their freedom.

Armed actions by micro-bands of republicans are a distraction from the battle to improve conditions for the unemployed, the low-paid, the sick and the elderly. They are a gift to otherwise redundant securocrats and their parrots in the media. Their armed actions are actually ineffectual by any objective standards and, presumably their own, if they are honest.

Ask former RUC men if they think nothing has changed? Many of them felt a sense of betrayal at the Patten reforms, a betrayal of their comrades who had lost their lives in the conflict. Ask the flag protestors if they think nothing has changed; ask those for who marching through Catholic Garvaghy Road is a distant memory. Ask those camped in Twaddell? Ask the unionists parties who were going to smash ‘Sinn Fein/IRA’ and are now in government with republicans. Ask those border communities who no longer have to negotiate interminable checkpoints, whose roads and lands are free of military occupation.

People forget how awful the conflict was. The times when the British army would seal off entire streets for house-to-house searches; would arrest young people at will, take them up entries and give them a hiding or throw them out on the Shankill Road from the back of an armoured car. Back then the conflict was widespread, there was anger, there was support for armed republicanism.

The background to our resistance was the pogroms of 1969, the gassing of entire streets in the Falls, internment and the torture of prisoners, the massacre of civil rights marches. The killing of women and children by plastic bullet. Our comrades were killed. Volunteers like Albert Kavanagh, Jimmy Quigley, Paddy Maguire, Stan Carberry, Paul Fox and Sean Bailey – to mention those of just my generation. Dozens of others from this area went to prison.

And so I would appeal to those small groups engaged in armed actions to consider just how wrong and pointless your campaign is.
There is no way will you ever be able to replicate the tempo or magnitude of the IRA’s armed struggle or be in a similar position to negotiate terms, such as the release of prisoners.

Because you have an AK47 doesn’t make you a freedom fighter. That status can only be conferred by the people you claim to represent, whether they consider themselves oppressed and disenfranchised, whether they consider themselves alienated to the point of opening their doors to you, marching for you, financing you, defending and arguing for you. If you think this is the case then you are delusional as well as being a danger to yourselves but, more importantly, to others.

Any of us could have found a reason to bow out of supporting the struggle. And that’s why I come to praise the loyalty of people like Seando Moore who could adapt to and overcome any circumstance: be it being assaulted and beaten in Springfield Road Barracks, or Castlereagh; be it in the Cages where we had political status and he kept up our morale through raids and beatings, or in the H-Blocks where he fought the system every day and every night through his blanket protest; to his all-Ireland work after the ceasefire when, despite being gravely ill with cancer, he remained loyal especially to the hunger strikers and blanket men of the H-Blocks and the Armagh Women.

Seando Moore was one of the most loyal republicans I have ever come across. He was a loyal son of Ballymurphy and his adopted, beloved Beechmount. He was a loyal husband to Patricia, a loyal father and grandfather. He was a true Irish republican and a freedom fighter in the truest sense of the word.

Our friend, our old friend and comrade, Seando.


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