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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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‘I Am Protest Incarnate’

June 3, 2016 by  

ChekhovJust finished re-reading Vol I of my favourite short story writer, Anton Chekhov, beautifully produced in a four volume illustrated collection by The Folio Society, London. My favourites in this book are The Steppe and Gusev, but particularly Gusev which was written in 1890.

It is set in the sick bay of a ship returning to Russia from the Far East. The main characters are Gusev, a discharged soldier who is delirious and dreams of going home but is dying from tuberculosis, and Paul Ivanovich, a soldier and a proud member of the revolutionary intelligentsia. Both men will die and Gusev accepts his fate but Ivanovich rails against society and injustice and comes off with some powerful lines:

“Yes, I never mince my words, I fear nothing and no one – there’s a vast difference between me and you [Gusev] in this respect. You’re a blind, benighted, downtrodden lot. You see nothing – and what you do see you don’t understand. People tell you the wind’s broken loose from its chain – that you’re cattle, savages. And you believe them. They punch you on the neck – and you kiss their hand. Some animal in a racoon coat robs you, then tips you fifteen copecks – and, ‘Oh, let me kiss your hand, sir,’ you say. You’re pariahs, you’re a pathetic lot, but me – that’s another matter. I live a conscious life, and I see everything as an eagle or hawk sees it, soaring above the earth. I understand it all. I am protest incarnate. If I see tyranny, I protest. If I see a canting hypocrite, I protest. If I see swine triumphant, I protest. I can’t be put down, no Spanish Inquisition can silence me. No sir. Cut out my tongue and I’ll protest in mime. Wall me up in a cellar and I’ll shout so loud, I’ll be heard a mile off. Or, I’ll starve myself to death, and leave that extra weight on their black consciences. Kill me – my ghost will still haunt you. ‘You’re quite insufferable, Paul Ivanovich’ – so say all who know me, and I glory in that reputation. I’ve served three years in the Far East, and I’ll be remembered there for a century. I’ve had rows with everyone. ‘Don’t come back,’ my friends write from European Russia. So I damn well will come back and show them, indeed I will. That’s life, the way I see it – that’s what I call living.”



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The Bloody Somme

May 19, 2016 by  

Somme 1Former soldier and Shankill Road-born Glenn Bradley responds to criticism about an invitation to Martin McGuinness to attend a Somme centenary commemoration, a service at the Ulster Tower in France on July 1. It has also been reported in the media that some veterans are threatening to boycott the service if Martin McGuinness shows up (though clearly these veterans aren’t actual veterans of the Somme since all survivors are now dead).

THERE are moments, as I live here, that I witness crass insensitivity and gross hypocrisy that is so off the scale I actually cringe, grinding my teeth which with my aging body generates jaw pain.

Martin McGuinnessIt’s been happening today, and over the past few days as I read and listen to some reaction regarding the invitation extended to Martin McGuinness MLA, and Deputy First Minister of this State who is invited to attend the 100 year commemorations of the Battle of the Somme.

The self-righteous drivel being spewed by some of the self-appointed guardians of ‘The Somme’ over the last few days is jaw breaking (for me) and so I jot a few notes which, I hope, are beyond propaganda and myth, rising above the political tribalism others wish to wallow in. I thank Danny for the platform.

The Battle of the Somme was fought by the British & French Empires against the German Empire from July to November 1916, and resulted in the death of around 731, 000 British & French soldiers and around 236, 238 German soldiers. Allowing for other casualties, it is fairly safe to state, over 1 million where slaughtered on an industrial scale in five harrowing months: over 1 million!

Citizens from across Ireland, participated in the Battle, largely through their service with the 16th, 36th and 10th Divisions, which recruited across the 32 counties in droves. Amongst those recruited where individuals who’d put their hand up as Irish and Ulster Volunteers, at the time following directions from the respective political leaders of their Movements, to enlist.

It is estimated by leading academics that 25% of the then Ulster Volunteers enlisted; while 31% of the then Irish Volunteers enlisted to the ranks of the British Imperial Army. The Ulster Volunteers supplemented the 36th, while the Irish National Volunteers largely the 10th & 16th though as with any Army individuals and small units cross-transferred or came under the operational control of others.

An estimated 16,000, that is around 2% of the British and French Empire dead killed at the Somme, where Irish from mainly the 36th and 16th divisions. It is a matter of record that the 36th whose courageous but foolhardy charge on the 1st July morn saw almost 5,500, alone, from the Division killed during the opening three days of the Battle (1-3 July 1916), amongst them my great maternal grandfather, and other relatives who where also West Belfast Ulster Volunteers. It’s also a matter of record, that many of the 36th had advanced so far into enemy lines that they became detached from the wider front of the British advance, and where killed, by their own artillery.

It’s a matter of record that the 16th courageously took the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy. In doing so the Division lost almost 4,500 men, and gained a reputation as first class shock troops. A reputation that would inflict further heavy casualties on the Division in later battles as they where ‘sent in first’.

There is no doubt that both Divisions wore unregulated sentimental clothing and symbols going into battle. The Germans reported members of the 36th yelling a war cry of “No Surrender” as they swept through the first German lines, shooting and bayonetting their enemy, many in Orange sashes.

The Germans in Ginchy also reported members of the 16th (having captured their objective) continue to chase after fleeing enemy troops yelling “No Kaiser, For Ireland”, many wearing green ribbons.

Nine Victoria Crosses where won for bravery during the Somme and of these four were to members of the 36th (during the Great War 1914-18 there where a total of 32 Irish VC recipients from all 3 Irish Divisions).

Today, the dead of the Somme, lie side by side, irrespective of their Unit, religion, political ideology or allegiance. All died following their orders, some in their service to the then deceit “that small Nations might be free” while others to their notion of camaraderie, friendship or brethren.

None of us, living today, regardless of our own recent violent experience, can actually know the horror of Trench Warfare or the carnage of the Somme.

While many of us today can claim ancestry or heritage to those that fought, it is pathetically sad that some individuals or body of people, now in 2016, attempt to claim they ‘absolutely’ represent all the dead of the Somme or propose the suggestion that some dead are more ‘credible’ than others.

In 2016, it is befitting that all Citizens, born on this Island, from either present jurisdiction and regardless of political aspirations for the future of this place should pause to remember and/or commemorate the Irish contribution to the Imperial Army, because it was huge.

Thus my tuppence worth: as an Irishman hailing from the proud province of Ulster who once also carried a rifle in service to the Crown, it is right, that an invite was sent to the DFM Martin McGuinness MLA to attend the commemoration at the Somme, France, this July 2016. It is correct that political representatives commemorating from any nation reflect the diversity of the dead of that awful battle. Now, in 2016, it is legitimate and perfect sense that all the Irish dead of the Imperial Army are commemorated.
Fág An Bealach!
Glenn Bradley
18th May 2016



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The Gun Inside The TV

March 11, 2016 by  

BOOK COVERIn the early days of the northern conflict, former Lieutenant-Colonel Colin ‘Mad Mitch’ Mitchell was asked for his advice on how to cope with the IRA.

“The weapon I should like to introduce is the gun inside the television camera. I mean, what I’d like to do is to have a machine gun built into every television camera and then say to the IRA ‘Come out and let’s talk’… and then shoot the lot. Hypothetically, if the Prime Minister – it would be the wisest thing he ever did because he would get the thing off his chest – if he said to me tonight, ‘Mitchell, you are going to Ulster to sort this thing out, what do you want? I should say, ‘Well, the first thing I want are full powers (like Harding in Cyprus and Templer in Malaya) and these full powers would be, first of all, the death penalty for carrying arms.”

Mitchell said he would hang republicans in prison or just start shooting them. “…by the time you have knocked off ten, take my word for it, the other ninety will be in Killarney. They’ll go. They can’t stand up to it. So you have solved the problem.”

Mitchell believed that “it was entirely right that the British should rule a large part of the world.”

And almost every part of the world which Britain ruled kicked them out, the natives not appreciating the ‘civilising agenda’ that was their reward for handing over their land, their labour, their oil, their ports, their language and culture to the British.

I don’t know enough about modern Yemen and the current power struggle being played out in the once busiest ‘British’ port of Aden (first occupied in 1839 as a refuelling station for ships heading to India) except that mistrust and old rivalries again have the various groups in Southern Arabia at each other’s throats.

A Sunni President, recognised by the ‘international community’ (usually code for western interests), has been displaced by Shia Houthi rebels. The beleaguered President is supported by Saudi Arabia which has been bombing both civilians and the rebels who are supported by Iran (Saudi Arabia and Iran being the major regional powers). To complicate matters, the President and the Houthis are opposed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which, has long been the subject of a US drone war. To further complicate matters all of the above are opposed by an affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) which seeks to eclipse AQAP.

It’s a nightmare. Just days ago gunmen stormed a Catholic retirement home in Aden, opened fire and killed at least sixteen people, including old people, nuns, cleaning staff and security guards.

The most recent book on Aden has been written by the historian Aaron Edwards (from Belfast). Edwards interviewed me in 2010 and 2012. On the first occasion he was a Visiting Research Fellow in Politics at Queen’s University and was researching the British Army’s information policy in the 1970s and 1980s and the connections between British military operations and political approaches in the colonial contexts of Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Aden and the north of Ireland. On the second occasion he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Huddersfield and was planning to write a book, with the working title, Britain’s War Against The IRA.

Since then he has become a Senior Lecturer in Defence and International Affairs at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. No surprise therefore that his latest book, Mad Mitch’s Tribal Law – Aden And The End Of Empire*, reads as if it is being addressed to British military students.

Although Edwards includes many criticisms of his subject, Lietenant-Colonel Colin Mitchell, Commanding Officer of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the book is somewhat of an apologia for the controversial officer, who was so controversial (especially over the Crater affair, of which more later) that Britain refused to decorate him. Ironically, Mitchell, although later a Conservative MP for four years, subsequently set up his own company and did productive work (and presumably not as a spy) clearing land mines from war-torn countries.

My interest in the book was to look out for parallels, comparisons and contrasts between the British government and British army’s behaviour in Aden, and its behaviour in the North of Ireland.

In 1962, in the capital Sanaa, radical army officers overthrew the ruthless, conservative regime of Ahmad bin Yahya Hamidaddin and established the Yemen Arab Republic. Britain, Saudi Arabia (and Israel) armed and financed the dethroned royalists and their mercenaries. Beyond, and including British-controlled Aden, the British Conservative government established the puppet state of the Federation of South Arabia. (The Conservatives lost the 1964 general election and Labour’s Harold Wilson then became Prime Minister.)

Two groups opposed the British: the National Liberation Front (NLF) supported by Egypt’s Nasser (until 1965); and its rival, the Federation for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). Their campaign of assassination, ambush and bombing undermined the morale of the pro-British Federal Regular Army, the Armed Police and the civil administration. The insurgents wanted unity. The Aden Trade Union Congress also opposed the Federation. Its newspaper was closed down, its general secretary and many members were arrested and interned. During a general strike in 1962 the British army fired on marchers, killing a demonstrator.

Hands upOnly 3,666 miles from home, in a country into which they were not invited, here is the arrogant mentality which fuels imperialism: “Arabs should not be left to their own devices”; the Arab was “half rational, half mystical, and wholly oracular.” One British soldier cut through the pretence: “We treated everyone as the enemy.”

Whilst Edwards does concede that some tribesmen showed “great courage and skill’ and were “expert guerrilla fighters” his terminology in the main reflects that used by the imperialist: those opposed to the British were ‘subversives’, ‘terrorists’, ‘ruthless individuals’, whereas the SAS men have “cool heads and steady nerves”. And, of course, the padre was always there to assure the soldiers that “God is on their side”. What a laugh.

The marxist NLF carried out most of the attacks such as assassinating government and administrative figures, attacking and killing by bomb and grenade soldiers drinking in bars, or in the Officer’s Mess (killing, on one occasion, the 16-year-old daughter of a medical officer). The RAF retaliated by bombing villages and rocketing ‘the odd house’.

What is interesting is that many of the chief protagonists on the British side had earlier been involved in other counter-insurgency campaigns. They just can’t get enough of it. Sir Richard Turnbull, the High Commissioner “was relentless in advocating what he regarded as tried and tested ‘experiences’ with Mau Mau terrorists in Kenya.” It was under Turnbull that “a special programme of interrogation began to extract whatever paltry intelligence could be gleaned from detainees.”

During its time there, the British army set up a covert ‘Special-duties squad’ or the Special Branch Squad which operated independently of the main army command, and dressed in civilian or Arab clothes. Sounds like MRF and FRU, doesn’t it, or the Cairo Gang? It was claimed that “they arrested suspects, captured and killed grenade throwers and gunmen, and discovered huge quantities of arms and ammunition.”

Given what we know of the methods deployed by undercover soldiers in the North we can reasonably guess the saintly way they carried out their duties. In Aden the Colonial Courts did not have the authority to try members of the armed forces for ‘offences against the law of the territory committed whilst on duty.’ In the North the state protects its actors through the use of Public Interest Immunity Certificates.


Just think, only four years after being humiliated and driven out of Aden, where it acted repressively, with shoot-to-kill incidents, and had interned many people (including trade unionists), Britain was introducing internment in the North and once again torturing detainees (as it would do in Iraq in the early 21st century).

In Aden the British established a secret network of detention centres (just as there were such centres for the ‘hooded men’ in 1971). For Fort Morbut Interrogation Centre, from which could be heard “bloodcurdling squeals”, read Castlereagh. Medical records frequently note detainees suffering perforated eardrums – a similar and regular type of injury reported by Dr Erwin about Castlereagh detainees. In Aden it was ‘advanced interrogation’ methods; in the North it becomes ‘deep interrogation’. The ‘five techniques’ of interrogation (including the use of ‘white noise’) used against Yemeni and Irish prisoners were first practised by the British in Brunei in 1963.

At the time of the allegations of torture in Aden, the British government came under pressure to order an inquiry, and even refused to let journalists interview those who claimed to have been tortured. The allegations of torture were, alleged the government, part of a dastardly smear campaign! The same defence that was to be used in the North and faithfully repeated by a compliant mainstream media.

Later, the government appointed Roderic Bowen QC, a former MP and Deputy Speaker of the Commons. A safe pair of hands, like Widgery. His task, though, was not to investigate allegations of torture but to come up with recommendations for dealing with complaints by detainees in the future! He patriotically reports that “the allegations of torture were found to be overblown.” Bowen said: “I certainly gained the impression that speaking generally they [the interrogators] discharged their onerous duties with great restraint.”

The North had its very own Roderic Bowen report. Sir Edmund Compton’s 1971 Report into allegations of the torture of detainees ruled that “none of the forty complainants whose allegations the committee had investigated ‘suffered physical brutality as we understand the term’.” Prisoners (having been thrown out of helicopters) and being forced to run over broken glass and barbed wire to get away from snarling Alsatians “may have suffered some measure of unintended hardship.”

What about prisoners being forced to do press-ups for hours on end to avoid being beaten? This “must have caused some hardship but [we] do not think the exercises were thought of and carried out with a view to hurting or degrading the men who had to do them.”

And that is why, when it comes to investigating the past and British violations of human rights and the right to life, it cannot be left to the British government to set the terms, to nominate the judicial investigators, their own cronies.

Edwards is honest enough to describe what happened, or reports or allegations about what happened (“sometimes brutal, interrogations…”), but is loath to conclude that these methods, repression, state torture, murder – are the norms of British imperialism, indeed any imperialism. These immoral methods were the only way the empire could have been established and sustained. So, unless you teach these truths to your soldiers your army is condemned to repeat over and over again the same tried and failed measures, and poor people around the world will continue to suffer and die from the same imperious mentality.

When in 1967 the police mutinied (described as ‘Arab disloyalty’) and attacked the British army, the army was temporarily withdrawn from the rebel stronghold of Crater, home to 70,000 Arabs.

Brendan Behan use to say, “I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn’t make it worse.”

And so into Aden struts that very peeler, Colin Mitchell, later described by the Daily Express in what it thought was a flattering epithet as “Mad Mitch”, head of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Back in Britain Defence Secretary Denis Healey (one of those “squeamish politicians” according to Mad Mitch), could see that the writing was on the wall and that the empire was actually a liability. They were committed to a policy of decolonisation, preferably installing a government sympathetic to British economic interests. They announced their intention of giving South Arabia (consisting of the colony of Aden and the Federation of South Arabia) its independence by 1968 but were actually forced out and humiliated in 1967.

But before withdrawal, Mitchell’s position was that ‘disloyal Arabs and their terrorist bedfellows’ needed to be taught a lesson. Operation Stirling Castle involved his soldiers retaking Crater (for 144 days), entering Mosques without permission, and bayoneting civilians whom they described as ‘wogs’ or ‘gollies’.

Mad Mitch – ‘protector of the empire’ – loved the press, the publicity. He was a megalomaniac. And delusional: “The Argylls did the best they could to ensure life carried on as normal: that children could get to school, that bills were paid and that food got to the market.”

In 1981 a former soldier admitted that they had been involved in a litany of murder, thefts and wilful criminal damage, and looting; that they stripped the dead of money belts and other valuables. Another soldier later suggested that they slaughtered civilians in Crater as they queued for water at stand pipes.

This was “gruesome stuff”, says Edwards, but was “never substantiated”.

Never substantiated, especially given that a committee of two administrators and a Special Branch officer before withdrawal began burning Aden’s incriminating files, whilst other files sent to London remain under seal to this day.

British servicemen, said Mad Mitch, were ‘Britain’s best ambassador’! Their objective was “to bring ideas of democracy, peace, prosperity and freedom to those who needed our help,” but who didn’t want it or asked for it.

You couldn’t make it up.

You could not make it up.

*Mad Mitch’s Tribal Law – Aden And The End of Empire by Aaron Edwards is published by Mainstream Publishing, £8.99


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Race For The South Poll

January 27, 2016 by  

jamie_askaBy arrangement I met Jamie Bryson in the café of Linenhall Library for our interview. I had read his – now banned – book on Nama (The Three Headed Dog), in which he alleged financial and political corruption within the DUP involving property deals and kickbacks, a charge strenuously denied by Peter Robinson, but a story which is still playing out. I had also been impressed – and I think the DUP were also taken by surprise – by Bryson’s composed and articulate performance before the Stormont Finance Committee last September.

Bryson, of course, is best known as the face of the flag protest, but is now back in the news as the campaign manager for expelled South Belfast DUP Councillor Ruth Patterson in this May’s Assembly election. Patterson, a former UDR soldier and outspoken loyalist, who received 3,800 votes in the 2011 Assembly election, had expected that she would automatically replace her 2011 running mate, DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt, upon his retirement on health grounds last September.

Emma Pengelly

Emma Pengelly

Instead, Spratt was replaced by Emma Pengelly who, four weeks after her elevation, was appointed a junior minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFM/DFM). On Twitter Pengelly’s handle is @little_pengelly.

Little is her maiden name. I have met her. She is a lawyer and an accomplished, professional person, highly articulate and impressive – which explains her meteoritic rise within the DUP and which might explain her initial shyness about her father, Noel, a former UDR man. He was once pictured alongside Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson, was arrested in a Paris hotel in 1989 along with an apartheid South African diplomat and a US arms dealer by the French Security Services and served two years in jail. Little, who worked in Short Brothers at Castlereagh, offered South Africa stolen ground-to-air Blowpipe missile technology to destroy Angola’s MPLA and Namibia’s SWAPO, which were supporting imprisoned Mandela’s ANC’s anti-apartheid struggle.

Despite her profile and office Pengelly has yet to be elected, whereas Ruth Patterson had, at the last count, a considerable following of thousands in South Belfast and has the potential to take an Assembly seat.

Ruth Patterson

Ruth Patterson

She has softened her image in recent times with the aim of attracting right-wing, middle-class unionists. Councillor Ruth Patterson was also once in the dock. Sinn Féin was organising a parade in Castlederg, its first in nineteen years. On social media Ruth supported an imagined gun attack on the republican march, and said, “We would have done a great service to Northern Ireland and the world.” She was later charged and apologised.

There are few surprises within unionism and loyalism. Their numbers are few. There was Brian Faulkner’s conversion to power-sharing and a Council of Ireland. And there was David Ervine, a former UVF P.O.W., an Irish passport-carrying loyalist, who was prepared to upend the norms.

In recent years I have watched Jamie Bryson – who is not Sandy Row- or Shankill Road-born, but from Bangor in North Down.

This is our conversation which appears in this week’s Andersonstown News.

“Explain South Belfast,” I asked.

“When Ruth decided to run as an independent she contacted me and asked would I act as her campaign manager. We had known each other from the flags protest but I was also working in the background with her when she was ‘exiting’ the DUP late last year. She missed out narrowly in 2011 and I think that vote is still there. I look forward to the contest and think that personally it will be an opportunity to articulate a better vision to keep Unionism moving forward.

“I’ve made no secret that I have political ambitions myself, but for now my sole focus is on winning South Belfast along with Ruth Patterson,” he said, clearly a reference to the fact that if Patterson does get elected to the Assembly she could ‘gift’ her City Hall seat to Bryson as her replacement.

“You know,” I said, “that the DUP will portray a gain for Ruth as a gain for Sinn Féin which will increase the possibility of Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister.”

Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness

“That’s a ridiculous argument to make. Robinson, and now Arlene, can’t sign a letter without McGuinness okaying it. Any unionist that doesn’t recognise that is being conned by the DUP. It’s a joint office. That argument plays into the fear politics and it’s aimed at intimidating others, within Unionism, with a different view from standing against the DUP. Even as First Minister, McGuinness will not have any more power after May than he has now. The core problem is the ludicrous system of mandatory coalition that allows that joint office, and it is the DUP that props that arrangement up.

“I hope that as many unionists as possible get elected. And if Emma Pengelly (DUP) is one of those, then great. But on the other hand, if Ruth gets elected at the expense of Emma then I won’t shed any tears over that. I had a long tussle with Peter Robinson and well, Emma is where she is because of Peter’s patronage in my mind.

“South Belfast is a huge challenge. It’s difficult to get an independent elected anywhere. I’m sure the DUP will pour in vast resources to this fight. Ourselves, we are relying on small donations and many voluntary workers, working-class people, middle-class people.”

You have to admit, I said, that you have nothing to offer nationalists.

“Well, if I was a nationalist I wouldn’t think of voting for a unionist! But I am an unashamed unionist. But if a nationalist came to Ruth with a constituent problem then the door is wide open with a welcome.”

I asked him why he wasn’t a member of the TUV and why Patterson wasn’t running under Jim Allister’s banner, which would seem the natural home for them both given their anti-Agreement stance.

“If I joined the TUV the first thing I would be asked would be to condemn loyalists and say that their actions had been wrong and I couldn’t do that.”

So, does that mean there’s room for loyalist paramilitary activity currently?

“No. Absolutely not. There’s no need for any paramilitary activity but there is a need for community activism. Loyalist ex-prisoners and ex-combatants are positively working within the community and that must be supported and encouraged.

“Today the only way forward is through democratic politics.”

If that’s the case, I asked, why doesn’t he accept the democratic results of the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement when the majority voted for power-sharing?

“The essence of democracy is the right to challenge the status quo and I don’t accept the status quo of the Belfast Agreement,” he said.

“There is no obligation on me to accept something that I disagree with. There is an obligation on me to obey the law, so long as that is the law of the country, and the only way to change it, to fight it, is through democratic politics and the law. I articulate my opposition to the Agreement within the law.

“I don’t disagree with power-sharing per se. I disagree with the mandatory coalition nature of power-sharing here. The system of government that in my mind perverts democracy. It engenders mistrust between the two communities. In terms of the, let’s say, ‘conflict generation’ there will be many within unionism who will look at people who were active in the IRA and say, ‘I couldn’t trust them, they’ve blood on their hands.’ I am sure many republicans would look at unionists who were involved in the Third Force or UDR and say, ‘they’ve got blood on their hands.’ Now, of course, I don’t agree with that narrative but I can understand why nationalists may feel that way.

Michelle O'Neill

Michelle O’Neill

“When you go beyond that to, I suppose, my generation, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill’s generation, for example, it would be ridiculous for me to say that I couldn’t work with an individual like her because she, or they, do not have the historical baggage. What I disagree with is the very basis of the Belfast Agreement where it says we will always have the mandatory veto for both sides, because you can never ‘trust’ your neighbour to govern. I feel that is wrong.”

I said that the nationalist community doesn’t trust the unionist parties, given their experience since 1920. And that’s why they demand mandatory power-sharing.

“But how long, in that sense,” he replied, “does that go on for?”

“Until there’s a united Ireland,” I said. We both laughed.

“Well, obviously that’s why I say that that mandatory veto is proof of a long-term republican strategy. You are absolutely entitled to strive for a united Ireland, as I’m entitled to oppose you. But are republicans saying that, for now, they don’t even trust my generation to govern, the under-40s? We didn’t discriminate against you.

“Yes, years ago, I would have taken the view, in hindsight a sectarian view, that discrimination and other things were justified, in the sense that unionists at the time of partition had to secure their position, secure the status quo. But when I looked into it I came to the decision that what nationalists suffered was totally wrong. The state was biased in favour of my community and we trampled down another community. Totally unjustified. We could have done things differently to preserve the Union.

“But we now have to trust each other. If I said to Michelle O’Neill that I don’t trust you because of what the IRA did, and she said I don’t trust you because of what unionists did, we would be in a perpetual cycle of mistrust.”

I pointed out that just a year ago Sinn Féin thought they had a done deal with the Stormont House Agreement only to discover, as a result of a leaked civil servant document, that the DUP was deliberately wiping its eye with regard to the actual figures covering those on welfare. Had Simon Hamilton’s paper been passed in the Assembly then unionists would have rolled around laughing as Sinn Féin struggled to explain its ineptitude at the ambush.

“Well, you can’t be fly,” he said. “You have to be honest about what you are doing. You have to place your cards on the table.”

I said that as a republican I am using the Good Friday Agreement and cross-border bodies to create a harmonisation which will make a united Ireland, however it is configured, much easier. But that this process is open and transparent, there is no threat, no duress. I said that in my opinion so much has been achieved regarding nationalists that the gun is no longer justified and we have to make sure that conflict does not break out again.

“But I would like to reverse the Belfast Agreement,” he said. “But not revert to a position of gerrymandering or discriminating. As a unionist, the Agreement gives nationalists an advantage, a number of key mechanisms assist in moving towards a united Ireland and I am entitled to oppose it. For the preservation of the union, it would not be a smart, strategic move to concede to the terms of the Agreement where so much of the trajectory works in favour of nationalists.

“In Gerry Adams’ words ‘equality’ is the republican Trojan Horse, aimed at destroying the union. It’s all about achieving your ultimate goal of creating a united Ireland and I am entitled to oppose it. Take for instance the invitation to the Northern Ireland team and the Republic of Ireland team to a reception at Belfast City Hall. It’s an attempt to create parity. But the Republic is a foreign jurisdiction. To fete the two teams as equal is part of the wider republican agenda to create parity, harmonisation and eventually a united Ireland.

“If republicans sign up to there being no change to the union without the say-so of a majority in Northern Ireland then the flip side of that is that they have to recognise that we are part of the UK and therefore the national team for us is the Northern Ireland team and the national flag is the Union flag and it should have prominence. I respect that you see this as an occupied state. But how can I, as a unionist, willfully concede mechanisms that are going to help you advance your goals. That wouldn’t be a strategically clever move! When I say that I want to reverse the Belfast Agreement I want to reverse it because I see the dangers, the dangers for unionism, and not that I want to trample over nationalists. I want us to be equal.”

Okay, I said. Would you accept a 51% majority in the North voting for a united Ireland?

“I would have to. But I would be a liar if I sat here and said that I’d be happy. It’s easy being a democrat when things are going your own way! How would I feel if that was to happen? I don’t know. That’s the honest truth. At this time, at the end of the day, democracy suits my purpose,” he said, smiling.

I told him of my suspicion, given the original artificiality of the six-county state. I told him about the response of the late Harold McCusker, an Ulster Unionist MP for Armagh, to the question of what if a nationalist majority emerged in the North and peacefully voted for a united Ireland. “We would simply re-partition”, said McCusker. So, nationalists would be robbed again, as they were with the first, second and third Home Rule Bill.

“Yeh, we’ll end up with about two counties!” he joked.

I said, if you’d been cute you would have gone for four counties! “You would have been so secure and confident that you wouldn’t have needed to do away with PR elections, gerrymander or discriminate.”

Flag Protest, City Hall

Flag Protest, City Hall

We returned to the flag protest. I said that the Union flag still flies above the City Hall on designated days, the same as over Buckingham Palace. (He had yet to be interviewed on Radio Ulster’s Talkback when he called for the ending of the weekly flag protest.) I also conceded that perhaps Sinn Féin did not anticipate the magnitude of loyalist anger.

“Well, did it do Sinn Féin much good in the long term? It stalled moving things forward in Stormont. It made life harder for the DUP because you now had people like me and like Jim Allister raising our voices and being heard. The flags protest energised our people and gave us a platform.

“Even before the flags protest I was opposed to the DUP but I was written off as a maverick, a lunatic shouting in the wilderness. But as a result of the political climate created by the flag protests our grievances were aired, we got across our anti-Agreement message with many, many unionists, which made it difficult for the DUP to move.”

I said that the DUP was defending unionism and the union.

“They hounded Trimble about guns and government. They’re now in government and the IRA Army Council still exists and the IRA still have guns! How can they do that? I suppose the DUP and their supporters will always say I took the wrong road and I will always say they took the wrong road. There really is no reconciling that.”

I told him it’s called realpolitik.

“Might be pragmatic, but from my point of view, as someone who wants to take power from them and reverse the concessions they have conceded, it’s a stick to beat them with.”

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Jamie paid for the coffee!

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