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Seamus Heaney Disputed

January 31, 2009 by  

The depiction of a meeting between poet and Nobel Literature Laureate Seamus Heaney and myself prior to the 1981 hunger strike is at odds with my recollection of events. Recently, a new book, ‘Stepping Stones – Interviews with Seamus Heaney’ by Dennis O’Driscoll , was published in which Heaney speaks about his reaction to the situation in the northern jails. Bobby Sands had famously written about poets:

The poet’s word is sweet as bird,

Romantic tale and prose.

Of stars above and gentle love

And fragrant breeze that blows.

But write they not a single jot

Of beauty tortured sore.

Don’t wonder why such men can lie,

For poets are no more.

In the book Seamus Heaney is reminiscing about old train journeys when he is asked a question by O’Driscoll: Another memorable journey, clearly, was the one you memorialized in ‘The Flight Path’, where you’re hectored by the Republican spokesperson about not writing something for the Republican cause. The poem is stated to be ‘for the record’, so I assume you described the encounter as it happened.

Heaney replies: “The account of what went on in the train is as it happened, yes. I make the speaker a bit more aggressive that he was at the time, but the presumption of entitlement on his part, which was the main and amazing aspect of that meeting, is rendered faithfully.

How public was the confrontation?

“It was all done pretty discreetly, actually. My interlocutor was the Sinn Fein spokesman, Danny Morrison, whom I didn’t particularly know at the time. He came down from his place in the carriage and sat into the seat in front of me for maybe eight or ten minutes. There was nothing loud or noticeable about it; it was as if two people who discovered themselves on the same train by coincidence were getting reacquainted. I didn’t feel menaced. It was a straightforward fact-to-face test of will or steadiness. I simply rebelled at being commanded. If anybody was going to pull rank, it wasn’t going to be a party spokesman. This was in pre-hunger-strike times, during ‘the dirty protest’ by Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks. The whole business was weighing on me greatly already and I had toyed with the idea of dedicating the Ugolino translation to the prisoners. But our friend’s intervention put paid to any such gesture. After that, I wouldn’t give and wasn’t so much free to refuse as unfree to accept.”

This is not how I remember things. If Seamus wrote a contemporaneous account of what happened, for example, a diary entry, and is quoting from this and not memory then I will bow to his opinion. However, in a letter published about fifteen years ago in a newspaper, I think I am right in saying that he at first said it was Kieran Nugent [the first blanket man] who had approached him. My recollection of our meeting is different. In 1979 and 1980 I had approached many people in public life to ask them to make some kind of statement objecting to the treatment of the blanket men and the women in Armagh Prison. For example, I saw Douglas Gageby, the late editor of the ‘Irish Times’, in Dublin Airport as both of us were returning from abroad and I lobbied him. He agreed to meet up and I had a meeting with him in Westmoreland Street which resulted in Gageby writing an editorial in the paper.

I saw Seamus Heaney sitting two seats down across the carriage from where I was. I went over and asked if he minded me sitting down and talking to him. He was very polite. Back then I would not have had the media profile I later had so I explained who I was. I told him about the dire situation in the jails and the fact that the prisoners were talking about going on hunger strike. I asked him to consider if there was anything he could do on their behalf, if he could add his voice to the growing complaints. For example, Archbishop O Fiaich had, by this time, visited the H-Blocks and, to the embarrassment of the British government, had compared the prison to the sewers of Calcutta.

Seamus told me he was writing a poem and had been thinking about the prisoners. He told me the story from Dante’s Inferno of Count Ugolino who was imprisoned with his children and grandchildren underground and left to starve, Ugolino’s eating his dead children’s flesh to delay his own starvation. Seamus said he imagined that this could be some sort of metaphor for hunger striking though I was lost as to what he meant.

In ‘Stepping Stones’ he says that he felt he was being ‘commanded’ and for that reason changed his mind and didn’t dedicate his Ugolino translation to the prisoners. I find that explanation hard to reconcile with the fact that after our conversation we parted with a handshake, he gave me his address and telephone number and agreed to read the poetry of Bobby Sands [which included criticism of artists and poets for their silence in the face of oppression] and which we were later to publish as the pamphlet ‘Prison Poems’. I sent him the poems and he brought them back to the Sinn Fein offices in Parnell Square, Dublin, a week or two later and left a message for me in which he said that the trilogy ‘The Crime of Castlereagh’ read like or was derivative of Wilde’s ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ [which, of course, its metre was based on].

And that was the extent of our contact. The collection he had been working on was later published as ‘Station Island’ and in the eponymous poem he refers to Ugolino and, indeed, there is a reference to Francis Hughes. I mention ‘Station Island’ in my introduction to the essays on the Hunger Strike the Bobby Sands Trust published in 2006.

Apparently, given that the poem ‘The Flight Path’ was not published until 1996 in the collection ‘The Spirit Level’, it was sixteen years after our discussion before Seamus creatively reacted and in a way, given his explanation and claims in ’Stepping Stones’, that I feel has distorted and exaggerated the nature of our exchange.

In ‘Stepping Stones’ Seamus Heaney elaborates further on 1981. O’Driscoll says: During the H-Block hunger strikes, it must have been impossible not to feel something like guilt at not being able to help alleviate the situation or contribute to its resolution.

“It was impossible, yes. This was during the time when ‘Station Island’ was being written, and the self-accusation of those days is everywhere in the sequence. Also in individual poems such as ‘Chekhov on Sakhalin’ and ‘Sandstone Keepsake’ and ‘Away From It All’. Because of my earlier brush with Mr Morrison on the train, during ‘the dirty protests’, I was highly aware of the propaganda aspect of the hunger strike and cautious about being enlisted. There was realpolitik at work; but, at the same time, you knew you were witnessing something like a sacred drama. If I had followed the logic of the Chekhov poem, I’d have gone to the prison, seen what was happening to the people on the hunger strike and written an account of it, ‘not tract, not thesis’. In truth, I was ‘away from it all’ during those months: at a physical remove, living in Dublin, going on holiday in France.

In ‘Frontiers of Writing’, you touch on the evening when the body of Francis Hughes – a neighbour’s son and the second hunger striker to die – was being waked in his home in County Derry. You were not only in Oxford when he died, but staying – of all places – in a British cabinet minister’s rooms.

“It was bewildering. Charles Monteith had brought me as his guest to that year’s Chiceley dinner in All Souls College. The Fellow’s room I was assigned for the night was one that belonged to Sir Keith Joseph, the then Minister of Education in the Thatcher government. It took me ten years to come back to that occasion and see it as emblematic of the general stalemate. Francis Hughes was a neighbour’s child, yes, but he was also a hit man and his Protestant neighbours would have considered him involved in something like a war of genocide against them rather than a war of liberation against the occupying forces of the crown. At that stage, the IRA’s self-image as liberators didn’t work much magic with me. But neither did the too-brutal simplicity of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘A crime is a crime is a crime. It is not political.’ My own mantra in those days was the remark by Milosz that I quote in ‘Away From It All’; ‘I was stretched between contemplation of a motionless point and the command to participate actively in history.’

Whatever your proper doubts about the ‘propaganda aspect’ of the hunger strikes, had you some sympathy for the men, even some admiration for their courage?

“Of course I had. That was part of the cruelty of the predicament. At the same time, I was wary of ennobling their sacrifice beyond its specific history and political context. Uneasy, for example, about seeing it in the light of Yeats’s The King’s Threshold, his play about a hunger strike in the heroic age, in the other country of the legendary past. Anthropology didn’t get you out of the moral corner you were backed into. One thing that had some point, if not great resolution to it, was when I attended the wake of Thomas McElwee, the eighth man to die. He was a cousin of Francis Hughes and lived adjacent. It happened that I was up in County Derry when his remains were returned to his home. I remember the sunny August afternoon when I walked across their yard, into the room where the corpse was laid out. The usual ritual of paying last respects. It gave some relief, to me at least. The family would have known that I wasn’t an IRA supporter but they would also have known that this crossing of their threshold was above or beyond the politics that were distressing everybody.

Did they, or the Hughes family, seek your intervention or intercession?

“Never. By that time, I’d been away from the Bellaghy area for twenty years and probably didn’t figure much in their minds as a local who could be appealed to.”

Did literary friends like Seamus Deane and the Australian poet Vincent Buckley encourage an overt pro-hunger-strike stance?

“I don’t recall being pressed by them to change my ways but equally they left me in no doubt that they took a different view. I realized that Vincent Buckley had an unflinching loyalty to the hunger strikers when he began a sequence of poems about them, even naming them individually. As far as I was concerned, Vincent was romanticizing the situation that pertained by then. He was caught in a time loop and was holding on to a late-1960s, early-1970s vision of ‘the struggle’. He’d been involved early on in Australia, I think, in fundraising for the internees’ families, and had retained contacts with various Republican sympathizers in Ireland. I don’t mean IRA volunteers, although Vincent was closer to being a political activist than I could ever have been.”

‘Stepping Stones – Interviews with Seamus Heaney’ is published by Faber and Faber Ltd  at £22.50 and can be ordered through Amazon

For reviews of ‘Stepping Stones’ see the Sunday Observer ; the Daily Telegraph the Scotsman and the Times

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‘Inside Northern Ireland’s Dirty War’

January 26, 2009 by  


BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme last Tuesday [27th January] began its new season of investigative documentaries with a feature on the wrongful convictions of myself and seven others in relation to the alleged kidnapping of IRA informer Sandy Lynch, and British FRU agent Freddie Scappaticci’s part in the conspiracy to set us up. Those with internet service providers based in Britain or the North can access the programme here:
There were parts of the documentary I disagreed with but I also received emails from friends some of which are reproduced below. I dispute that Sandy Lynch saved Cecil Walker’s life. My sources in the IRA told me that it was Lynch who kept promoting such an assassination and that the IRA was not interested. The question is put to the two CID men, why wasn’t Scap charged when he returned to Belfast. They replied that the evidence – his fingerprints on a battery that was used in an IRA anti-bugging device found at the scene of Lynch’s interrogation – wasn’t strong enough. The question that begged to have been put, besides the evidence of the battery, was why didn’t they simply bring back Sandy Lynch to give evidence against Scap, given that Lynch’s less colourful, less incriminating evidence against, for example, Gerard Hodgins, was enough to get Hodgins twelve years in jail. These are some of the emails I received:
“excellent stuff last night, particularly that final quote from you. But what about Scappaticci’s statement? Is he in denail? What does it all mean? – R”
Fascinating. I had never heard the whole story before. What strikes me is the obvious plan to disarm, either by assassination or jailing, those young articulate, educated media savvy republicans. Lawyers/ Sinn Fein members. Dangerously believable and impressive. Whether the masterplan belonged to the spooks or politicians? Who will ever know now. Anyway well bloody done old bean. – N”
“Watched your interview last night. Pity the programme leaves only questions and few answers. Good all the same… – B”
I’m not sure if ‘enjoyed’ is the right word – but it was a gripping documentary. Well told and clear to the point. I think you’re due that long overdue visit to America – to be paid for – by those who interrupted your life. Powerful work. – C”
“Just wanted to say that you spoke very well on the Spotlight programme about your case and well done – and your hat is fuckin brilliant. – C”
“Thought Spotlight was really strong… your comment about the State on the moral high ground/lecturing us was right on the button. – P”

“There was nothing new in the film, that wasn’t covered in detail in the book Stakeknife. In fact, the book is a much better reference point. Spotlight missed an enormous opportunity to move the story on, not least the chance to ask the CID officers how gutted they are that their best ever collar was a fraud. There was no probe into Scap’s role or that of other agents in the affair. A real let-down from the BBC. – H”

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Dealing With The Past

January 25, 2009 by  


Saturday 24th January: spoke at symposium in the Waterfront after a matinee performance of Martin Lynch’s new play, ‘The Chronicles of Long Kesh’. Sunday 25th January: interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence.

The subject of the discussion in the Waterfront was Experiences in Political Conflict. It was chaired by Noel Thompson from the BBC. On the panel was Rona Fields from Washington DC (an internationally renowned psychologist specialising in political violence); Brian Erskine (a former prison officer); myself; Billy Hutchinson (former UVF lifer) and William McQuiston (former UDA prisoner who also was on the blanket protest for a time).

Part of this discussion was filmed and is available through Slugger O’Toole:

Few of the participants gave ground from their political stances but a constant theme from the loyalists on the panel and from the floor is the frustration loyalists feel for the way they are depicted in drama, literature and film as “going around like Neanderthals trailing their knuckles on the ground”, to quote Billy Hutchinson (who was very critical of the play). I referred to the David McKittrick article on that very subject which is posted on the Bobby Sands Trust website:

At the end, Noel Thompson referred to the leaked proposals from the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past, among which is a controversial proposal to pay each family of all those killed £12,000. Noel asked for a straw poll and only one person in an audience of around 120 thought it a good idea.

That proposal – and others leaked in advance of the Commission’s official publication of its report next Wednesday – was debated on Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence, chaired by William Crawley, which I participated in. The discussion begins at just over 33 minutes into the programme which can be heard here:

The other panellists were Derek Wilson (one of the founders of Corrymeela), Mike Nesbitt (one of the four Victims Commissioners), Methodist Minister the Reverend David Clements (whose father, a Methodist lay preacher and RUC officer, was killed by the IRA in 1985) and myself.

Apparently the main proposals from the Lord Eames- Denis Bradley Consultative Group on the Past are:

– £12,000 payment to families of all those killed in the Troubles, regardless of circumstances: expected to say there should be no hierarchy of victims and that everyone should be treated in the same way.

– £300 million overall to deal with the past.

– Legacy Commission chaired by international commissioner and two other members to oversee how legacy of the Troubles is comprehensively addressed.

– Information recovery unit which will privately collate and report on information from paramilitaries and British security forces to help establish how and why victims were killed in conflict.

– New investigative body to replace Historical Enquiries Team to investigate some 3,000 killings of the Troubles.

– £100 million for projects to tackle sectarianism.

– An end to future public inquiries into controversial killings.



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Experience in Conflict

January 22, 2009 by  

There will be on a panel discussion this Saturday [4.40pm, 24 January] in the Waterfront Hall after a matinee performance of ‘The Chronicles of Long Kesh’. Taking part will be Billy Hutchinson [former UVF prisoner], Brian Erskine [former prison officer], William McQuiston, Rona Fields from Washington DC [an internationally renowned psychologist specialising in political violence] and myself. It will be moderated by BBC’s Noel Thompson [Newsline & Hearts and Minds] and will be on the stage at the Waterfront Studio Theatre.

This is the second symposium as a spin-off around Martin Lynch’s new play. It was reviewed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Arts Extra programme on Monday night and I was, again, one of the panellists. It can be heard for up to five days on the BBC iPlayer by clicking on the link below. The review begins 11 minutes into the programme. 


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On This Day

January 20, 2009 by  

In 2004 I wrote for the Andersonstown News and said about Barack Obama: “as a potential Presidential candidate many years from now he is streets ahead of Hilary Clinton.” I called the piece, ‘A Politician to Watch’. Maybe now I’ll get a visa to enter the USA and promote my books!

A Politician To Watch

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a President who was voted into office by inbred, hillbilly, Bible-thumping, ignoramous hicks. We just happen to live in a country with 58 million of them. That’s why the rest of the world is so confused by us…”

So wrote a despairing North American on a bulletin board during the week. But, amid the depression, the dark, the gloom, the probability of ‘Four More Wars’ resulting from the victory of George Bush, there was some measure of relief in the election of another politician, Barack Obama.

Forty-three-year-old Obama made history as only the third African-American to be elected to the US Senate in the past 125 years. He will be the only African-American in the 100-member Senate and although the Republican majority there and in the House of Representatives will be able to effectively block progressive legislation they won’t be able to silence Obama’s remarkable oratory. He is a mesmerising speaker, confident, radical (relative to US politics, of course) and as a potential Presidential candidate many years from now he is streets ahead of Hilary Clinton.

Obama’s father, who herded goats, came from Nyangoma-Kogelo, a Kenyan village of several hundred. Obama’s grandfather was a cook, a domestic servant to the British, whose own father had become a Muslim convert. Barack Obama himself is a Christian. In the 1950s Obama’s father won a scholarship to a US university, left Kenya, qualified as an economist and married a woman from Kansas. They gave their son an African name, Barack, which means ‘blessed’.

After young Barack graduated (around the time we here in Ireland were going through the period of the hunger strikes) he worked as a community organiser in the toughest and most deprived parts of Chicago. He returned to university to study law and afterwards worked as a civil rights lawyer fighting employment discrimination cases in federal and state courts. He then successfully stood for the Illinois Senate and shone as a defender of the poor on issues such as education, day-care facilities, health coverage (including increased funding for AIDS prevention), investment in depressed areas and reform of the death penalty system.

It was his powerful address to the Democratic National Convention in July that brought him national and international attention as he wooed the audience with the story of his own life and his belief in equality and civil liberty.

“If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

“It is that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.”

He attacked the divisive use of faith “as a wedge to divide us”. He said that “in a dangerous world, war must be an option sometimes, but should never be the first option.”

Last week, when news of his election to the Senate reached the village of Nyangoma-Kogelo, Obama’s 82-year-old grandmother, a devout Muslim, declared, “Praise be to Allah!” President Kibaki of Kenya sent him a message of congratulation which said, “You have proved to be a role model not only for the American youth, but the many young people in Kenya and indeed in Africa.”

In Illinois 70% of whites and more than 90% of African-Americans voted for him. In his victory speech he reminded supporters of what the sceptics had said, that “there was no possibility that someone who looked like me could ever aspire to the United States Senate… someone named Barack Obama could never hope to win an election – and yet here we stand!”

Obama has that common touch that many politicians lack. But his real gift is to explain an idea or a passion or a conviction not through ideology or theory but by making it flesh and blood. He has an ability to tell interesting stories such as the one about the woman he met while canvassing who promised him her vote.

Her name is Margaret Lewis and she will be 105 next week. He said that for days afterwards he couldn’t get this African American woman out of his mind, “born in 1899, born in the shadow of slavery. Born in the midst of Jim Crow. Born before there were automobiles… [or] airplanes in the sky… before televisions and cameras… cell phones and the Internet. Imagining her life spanning three centuries, she lived to see World War I; she lived to see the Great Depression; she lived to see World War II; and she lived to see her brothers and uncles and nephews and cousins coming home and still sitting in the back of a bus…

“Finally, she saw hope breaking through the horizon and the Civil Rights Movement. And women who were willing to walk instead of riding the bus after a long day’s work doing somebody else’s laundry and looking after somebody else’s children. And she saw young people of every race and every creed take a bus down to Mississippi and Alabama to register voters and some of them never coming back. And she saw four little girls die in a Sunday school and catalyze a nation…

“She saw people lining up to vote for the first time and she was among those voters and she never forgot it. And she kept on voting each and every election… thinking that there was a better future ahead despite her trials, despite her tribulations, continually believing in this nation and its possibilities. Margaret Lewis believed. And she still believes at the age of 104 that her voice matters, that her life counts, that her story is sacred…”

Yes, Barack Obama, a name, a politician, to watch.




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Dirty Fighting

January 13, 2009 by  

I have a feature in G2, today’s magazine section of The Guardian, on the dirty war and the background to the Appeal Court overturning the convictions of my co-accused and I. Here is also a link to the feature –

Former Sinn Fein spokesman Danny Morrison was found guilty in 1991 of kidnapping an IRA informer. Last year his conviction was declared unsafe and overturned – but the reason remains a state secret. So what was the murky role of the intelligence services

It was a bitterly cold January night in 1990 in Belfast and I was on my way to meet a man who had just confessed to being a police informer. Things were relatively quiet. There had been some raiding in the north of the city but there were no army surveillance helicopters in the air and I had encountered no checkpoints on the way to the rendezvous.

At the time, I had a high profile as national director of publicity for Sinn Fein, as the former editor of the party’s weekly newspaper, a spokesperson for Bobby Sands during the hunger strike, and a former member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In 1981, I had made the so-called “Armalite and ballot box” speech, which summed up what subsequently came to be the dual strategy of the republican movement and Sinn Fein’s involvement in electoral politics. I was a familiar figure to most British journalists.

The man I was on my way to meet was an IRA volunteer called Sandy Lynch who had been unearthed as an informer. But the information he had given to the police weeks earlier had led to the death not of any IRA volunteer but of an RUC officer, Ian Johnson. Two undercover police units, one of which was acting on Lynch’s information that the IRA were preparing an ambush from a house, and neither aware of the other’s covert presence, had opened fire on each other and killed a colleague.

Lynch told the IRA that his special branch handlers were furious, had blamed him, and were pressing him to set up for assassination two north Belfast republicans, Sean Maguire and Kevin Mulgrew, in reprisal. Here was proof that the police were operating a shoot-to-kill policy. Furthermore, Lynch told the IRA that he was prepared to appear at a press conference and name his handlers. I had the responsibility for clearing all press conferences and wanted to make sure that Lynch was not a Walter Mitty.

With a friend, Anto Murray, who knew the address, I arranged to go to the house where Lynch was. On our way there, I noticed a car, parked across the entrance to a school, containing what looked, in the dark, like a courting couple. It was suspicious – they could have been undercover soldiers – and unnerved us.

We approached the house. The front door was open and the inner hall door unlocked. As Anto and I walked in, we could hear the roar of military jeeps racing into the cul de sac. I became very apprehensive. Anto ran to a window on the landing and shouted, “It’s the fucking Brits! They’re coming here!”

Instinctively, I bolted through the house to the back garden. A soldier lying in wait called upon me to halt or he’d shoot. I climbed into the next garden, tried the door and it opened. I walked into the house and told the startled family that there would be a raid but to say that I had been visiting. The family were speechless and frightened. I felt guilty and decided to leave, but before I could, the cavalry came through the door and arrested me.

Lynch had been interrogated by the IRA in an upstairs bedroom. Lynch said they left after his confession. They were replaced by local men, awaiting my arrival. When the army and RUC were heard outside, these men had ushered Lynch down the stairs and reminded him that he had done a deal, that everything would be OK, and to say they were all there just watching a football match on the TV. During the raid, Lynch simply sat watching television. When he was asked and gave his name, the police pounced on him and trailed him out of the house. I, the four men with Lynch, Anto, the married couple who owned the house and their son, a merchant seaman on leave, were all arrested.

After being interrogated by the RUC for several days, I appeared in court, charged with conspiracy to murder, kidnapping and IRA membership. I had never met Lynch, was never upstairs with him and at our trial he gave no evidence against me. He told the trial judge that he agreed to do a Sinn Fein press conference but really believed that he was to be killed. I took the witness stand before the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Hutton (who later carried out the inquiry into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly, in relation to the war on Iraq). His hostility was palpable.

My arrest had been a big news story and was very embarrassing for Sinn Fein. Some of the charges were later dropped or amended but my comrades and I were eventually convicted and I was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, serving five and a half.

While on remand in Belfast prison in 1990, we were approached by prisoners from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the organisation to which Lynch had once belonged. They said they had suspected he was an informer – though they didn’t bother telling the IRA when Lynch subsequently joined it. They claimed we were certain to walk free if we used a particular piece of information.

This information concerned one Peter Duggan, a young man from Downpatrick, about 20 miles from Belfast. He had been a restless youth who had joined the French Foreign Legion and, after his return to Downpatrick, had become friends with some INLA people. In January 1988, the INLA abducted him and accused him of being an informer. He later said: “I was interrogated on and off by various people, including the ‘fat man’.” Duggan’s blindfold was not very effective and through a gap he could make out the man who eventually took him into a derelict house to finish him off.

“I heard a clicking noise,” said Duggan later. “Very shortly afterwards, I heard three shots and fell to the ground. I looked up again and saw the ‘fat man’, who stood for a short while before moving away. I lay bleeding for a while before crawling out of the house.”

Duggan survived the attempted murder. He says the police threatened that if he didn’t give evidence against two women whose house he had been interrogated in he would be charged with associating with the INLA and “collecting information for terrorists”. He drew a photofit picture for the police of the “fat man” but they showed no interest. Duggan gave evidence against the women, who were convicted. He was forced to flee Ireland. The police gave him a passport in a new name, an undisclosed amount of money and put him on a plane for France, although he complained that his resettlement money was inadequate.

In jail, the INLA told us that it was Lynch who shot Duggan. Given that Lynch must have already been a police informer for seven years, this implicated the special branch in kidnapping and covering up an attempted murder. At our trial, Lynch denied having shot Duggan.

Lawyers for my co-accused – the men who had been upstairs in the house with Lynch – argued that Lynch had entered into a deal with the IRA to do a press conference and the proof of that was the fact that when the police raided he did not suddenly declare himself to be a kidnapped victim. When a lawyer asked Lynch why he didn’t embrace the raiding party as his saviours he said, “Ehhh, I don’t know.” But in his summing-up, Lord Hutton proffered an explanation that neither Lynch nor the DPP had even suggested. He said that perhaps Lynch thought he could not approach the RUC because he had just informed on his handlers to the IRA.

When we were sentenced, the Sunday Times claimed that Lynch got £100,000 for putting me away. His photograph was shown alongside mine on the television news. Duggan, now back in England, immediately recognised Lynch as the “fat man” and contacted the RUC. Senior police officers flew to England and Duggan accused the RUC of protecting Lynch because he was working for special branch. He offered to attend an ID parade and said he could pick out Lynch.

Duggan signed an affidavit in the presence of my lawyer in London, pledging to show up at our appeal, his accusations constituting new evidence. But he completely disappeared and has never been seen or heard of since. We heard that the police had promised to sort out his complaints about inadequate funding and that he had been given £4,000. We lost our appeal and served out our sentences.

There were other troubling aspects to our arrest and for years we had suspicions about one or two other IRA people who had interrogated Lynch. They had fled south of the border after our arrest. There was forensic evidence linking some of them to the bedroom in which Lynch had been interrogated. One man had been named by Lynch as the chief IRA interrogator, Freddie Scappaticci. Yet, Scappaticci – or Scap, as he is better known – returned north after a few years, was briefly arrested and released, and Lynch was never brought back to be used as a prosecution witness against him.

There had also been media rumours about a senior IRA informer within the IRA’s internal security unit. It was alleged that in November 1987 loyalists were about to assassinate this man – not knowing that he was working for the British – but that when British intelligence officers learned of this plot they, through their own senior agent within the UDA, Brian Nelson, redirected the assassins to another target, an innocent 66-year-old west Belfast Catholic, Francesco Notarantonio, who was shot dead.

In 2003, I discovered by accident that the police ombudsman’s office was inquiring into “the actions of RUC officers involved with the conduct of the original investigation” into the circumstances surrounding my trial.

Then, in 2004, a book called Stakeknife – Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland, jointly written by Irish journalist Greg Harkin and a former British intelligence officer, under the pseudonym Martin Ingram, was published. It alleged that Stakeknife was really Scappaticci and that he was allowed by his British military intelligence handlers to capture and kill suspected informers (usually those whose usefulness to the state had expired) in order to maintain his cover within the IRA. Scap denied the charge but eventually fled Ireland when a secret recording from 1993 for ITV’s The Cook Report was aired, in which all who knew him recognised his voice and could hear him betraying former comrades.

The book claimed that the sole purpose of the Lynch abduction was to entrap a senior republican such as myself. Scap had offered Lynch the opportunity of appearing at a Sinn Fein press conference and then sent for me.

My lawyer wrote to the DPP for a response to these allegations and whether, unknown to us at the trial, there had been any application made for a public interest immunity certificate. PIICs are legal mechanisms for placing restrictions on evidence but in Ireland are notoriously used by the state in the interests of “national security” to block evidence from trials and inquests in order to cover up state terrorism. The DPP replied: “The Director is not in a position to comment on the accuracy of the information other than to state that it was not available to the Director of Counsel instructed on his behalf.”

Four years ago, we asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to investigate the matter and after much correspondence – in which they talked about the “sensitivity of the material” – they eventually referred the case back to the court of criminal appeal.

Normally, the CCRC gives a “statement of reasons” as grounds for an appeal but in our case this was withheld “for reasons associated with the principle of public interest”. Instead, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and the appeal court were supplied with a “confidential annexe” to which we were not privy.

Last November, it was clear that the PPS and the court of appeal (without even reading the confidential annexe) had no objection to our convictions being overturned. My lawyer argued that we needed to know why the conviction was unsafe. I was convicted in an open court in a fanfare of anti-republican publicity, so equally the reasons for my conviction being overturned should be spelled out.

Last week the appeal court agreed to suppress the information we sought while stating that, had it been available to the prosecution at the time, we would probably not even have been charged. As they pointed out it in their judgment, “we consider that, if this material had been made available and if the trial had not been discontinued, it would have been open to the appellants to make such an application. We further consider that it is highly likely that it would have succeeded.”

Sir John Stevens spent 15 years inquiring into collusion between the state and paramilitaries and was only allowed to publish 17 pages out of a 3,000-page report. The rules for the inquiry into the assassination of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane, and others, have been changed to protect the interests of the state. The peace process is supposed to represent a fresh dispensation in which we can have faith in the new institutions and a judiciary free from political interference. In 2007, Peter Hain established the Eames-Bradley consultation group on how to deal with the legacy of decades of conflict. It is anticipated that it will be proposing a truth and reconciliation process.

I now know exactly what that means: truth expected from everyone but the special branch and intelligence agents – agents who, in the name of the British people, were involved in a dirty war and in directing state terrorism.


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Violence in Gaza

January 11, 2009 by  

I was on RTE radio last night, discussing the ‘just war’ theory in relation to the Israeli assault on Gaza. In particular, one panellist clashed with the rest of us – Tom Carew of the Ireland/Israel Friendship League. His apologia for Israeli violence and the disproportionate force being used against the Palestinians disgusted me. Anyway, you can judge for yourself as the programme is available on the web:,null,200,




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Evidence Was Hidden, says Court

January 9, 2009 by  


Gerard Hodgins, Danny Caldwell and I were in Belfast High Court this morning, almost nineteen years to the day when we and our co-accused were charged, to hear whether the Appeal Court would give its reasons why our convictions in relation to the alleged kidnapping of police informer Sandy Lynch were quashed last October.Back then, after another hearing, the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Kerr, had stated that he and his two Appeal Court colleagues had read ‘the secret annexe’ sent to the Court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and could see no reason why it shouldn’t be made public. The Public Prosecution Service then appealed for secrecy on the grounds of ‘national security’. Today, it was revealed that the PPS had two meetings with the judges, from which the lawyers of we, the former defendants, were excluded. Unsurprisingly, the Appeal Court now agrees with the PPS to suppress that information whilst, at the same time, stating that had the information been available to the Deputy of Public Prosecutions at the time we would probably not even have been charged.

It should not be forgotten that our appeal was based on revelations in the book ‘Stakeknife’ by Greg Harkin and a former British Military Intelligence Officer who goes under the name Martin Ingram, published five years ago. In their book they stated that IRA man Freddie Scappaticci [who had entrapped me] was ‘Stakeknife’, an agent who had been allowed to kill while working for British Intelligence.

I am writing a feature for The Guardian on the background to the case which will be published next week.

Find below today’s judgement.





Before Kerr LCJ, Higgins LJ and Coghlin LJ


[1] This matter was referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission under section 10 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995.  The report of the Commission contained what were described as ‘confidential annexures’.  We declined to read these materials until we had heard submissions from counsel for the appellants and the Crown.  In the event, all counsel were unanimous in requesting the court to consider the materials.  We concluded that each member of the court should read the annexures separately.  Having done so, each of us came independently to the conclusion that the convictions of the appellants could not be regarded as safe and the court duly quashed the convictions.

[2] Having received submissions from the parties as to the nature of the judgment that should be given, we indicated that we were minded to deliver an ‘open’ decision since, in our view, there was nothing about the content of the annexures which on its face would infringe the public interest or the interests of justice if the information that had led us to quash the convictions was disclosed.  At the request of the Crown, however, we agreed to hear an ex parte application that a ‘closed’ judgment (i.e. one in which the reasons for quashing the convictions are not explicitly stated) should be given.  Two private hearings took place.  As a consequence of material and information received by us in the course of those hearings, we have concluded that it is not possible for us to disclose all of the reasons that led to the quashing of the convictions.  The judgment which follows contains as much information as we feel able to give in light of the constraints that we now recognise ourselves to be under in consequence of the information that we have received in the course of the private hearings.

[3] It is now clear to us that there was directly relevant material on the question whether a trial of the appellants should take place which had not been made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions when he decided that they should be prosecuted for the offences of which they were subsequently convicted.  He was therefore not in a position to give full and proper consideration to whether the appellants should stand trial on those charges.

[4] Because certain material and information was not provided to the Director, the extent of disclosure to the appellants that in fact took place was not sufficient.  We are satisfied that if that material and information had been provided to the Director, he would have been bound to disclose it, if the trial was to proceed.  He was therefore not in a position to perfect his duty of disclosure both before and during the trial.

[5] Because the material was withheld from the defence, the appellants were deprived of the opportunity of applying for a stay of the proceedings on the basis that their being continued would amount to an abuse of the process of the court.  We consider that, if this material had been made available and if the trial had not been discontinued, it would have been open to the appellants to make such an application.  We further consider that it is highly likely that it would have succeeded.

[6] In what we consider to be the unlikely event of the proceedings continuing and any abuse of process application being unsuccessful, had the material and information been provided, it is now clear that evidence which was not in fact produced during the trial could have been given which would have had a significant effect on its outcome.  We are of the view that, had the trial continued, the giving of that evidence would almost certainly have led to the acquittal of the appellants on all charges.

[7] We wish to record that this court has been informed that, upon the conclusion of this appeal, the Director of Public Prosecutions will exercise his powers under section 35 (5) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 to request the Chief Constable of the Police Service for Northern Ireland to obtain and provide to the Director information relating to certain matters which arise from the report of the Criminal Cases Review Commission.  In the estimation of the Director, these matters require to be investigated as they may involve the commission of offences contrary to the law of Northern Ireland.





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Books over Christmas

January 4, 2009 by  

Read Big Bad Love by Larry Brown, a collection of short stories sent to me by Deborah Kehoe from Oxford, Mississippi, who knew the author. Brown died four years ago at the age of 53 from an apparent heart attack. His characters are unhappy folk who love beer, brawling and their pickups more than other human beings (or so it sometimes seems). Reminded me somewhat of the style of Daniel Buckman (like Brown a Vietnam vet) two of whose novels I read, Water in Darkness and The Names of Rivers. Am looking forward to reading another of Brown’s books which Deborah sent, his unfinished novel, A Miracle of Catfish.

Read Forgotten Soldiers – The Irishmen Shot At Dawn, a very worthy book by BBC journalist, Stephen Walker, about the campaign for a pardon for the twenty-six Irish men who were shot at dawn for a variety of offences as soldiers during the First World War. (Three hundred others from Britain were also executed.) The men were not conscripts but Volunteers and most were from the nationalist tradition. Walker writes that: “The issue of different treatment for officers and rank-and-file soldiers was investigated by the Irish government. Its report cites the cases of eight officers who were court-martialled and found guilty of military offences but who were later reinstated and often pardoned… It is clear that the court martial system was simply mirroring a class divide that existed in Britain at that time…”

Walker states that, “Research suggested that Irish soldiers were three to four times more likely to be sentenced to death than any other men in the British army, with the exception of non-European recruits. Figures showed that in most British formations one in every 3,000 soldiers was sentenced to death, yet for every 600 Irishmen who enlisted one would be sentenced to death following a court martial…About one in every fifty recruits to the British army was Irish – yet one in every thirteen men condemned to death was Irish.

Among the stories told is that of Private George Hanna from Belfast who lost three brothers in the war and was charged with desertion and was eventually shot at dawn.

Of course, when those who survived the war returned they came home to a very different Ireland – one in the throes of a war of independence. “Many ex-soldiers,” says Walker, “felt disillusioned about their war service, unsure why they had volunteered. Some felt they had fought the wrong war, against the wrong enemy, and began to doubt the intentions of a British government that they had entrusted to grant Home Rule after hostilities with the Germans had ended.” Unionists, on the other hand, returned confident that as a result of their sacrifice Britain would rule politically in their favour – and they were right.

In November 2006 a pardons amendment was introduced in the House of Commons and the reputations of the forgotten soldiers was slowly being restored.

Read Focus, Arthur Miller’s only novel, which was given to me as a Christmas present by my friend Joelle. It was published in 1945 and is a story about anti-semitism in New York. The main character Lawrence Newman, a Gentile, suffers from poor eyesight and has to get a pair of glasses which suddenly make him look like “one of them”, a Jew, “a kike”. He goes through a number of phases, of first trying to ingratiate himself with racists but then begins to see what it is like to suffer racial discrimination and begins to fight back.

Read a book of essays on Francis Stuart, Writing Ulster 1996, Special Issue. Stuart is quoted as saying: “the imaginative writer, the poet or the novelist shouldn’t be adamant about anything.” There is also a quote from Frank Kermode’s The Romantic Image, which was basically Stuart’s view as well. With Yeats in mind, Kermode asserts that the artist is not just separate but alien: “He must be lonely, haunted, victimised, devoted to suffering rather than action – or, to state this in a manner more acceptable to the twentieth century, he is exempt from the normal human orientation towards action and so able to intuit those images which are in truth, in defiance of the triumphant claims of merely intellectual disciplines.”

I remember Kevin Myers powerfully rebutting the view of the artist as “exempt” from normal behaviour/values at the time of either the controversy over Stuart being made a Saoi of Aosdána in 1996 or at the time of his death in 2000 when Myers was claiming that Stuart’s admirers deliberately downplayed his role as a Nazi collaborator/sympathiser. The old argument of whether a work of art can ever be treated separately from the artist. One of Stuart’s defenders (who was also persuasive in his arguments, which I lean to) was Fintan O’Toole. On an absolutely and completely irrelevant point Fintan O’Toole’s writings often remind me of what Cyril Connolly had to say about George Orwell: “He could not blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry.”

Read John Cheever – The Journals (published 1991) absolutely brilliant and one of the best works of literary non-fiction I have read in a long time. The accounts of his prodigious drinking (like the accounts of the drinking of Evelyn Waugh in his Diaries, which I am leisurely reading) are gob smacking. Cheever eventually quit drinking in 1975 and died of cancer in 1982. I’ll come back with other comments on this fascinating book at a later time because the sun has just come out and I should go for a walk in the park!


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The Literature of Long Kesh – BBC Arts Extra

January 2, 2009 by  

 [An edited recording of this discussion will be broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster’s Arts Extra on Thursday,  8th January, at 6.30pm. Available here ]


A panel discussion exploring some of the literature that has

 been written about Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison

(includes a question and answer session with the audience)

Featuring Panel Members:


Sam Millar

William Mitchell

Danny Morrison

Graham Reid

Moderated by:


Marie‐Louise Muir

Presenter: “Arts Extra” & “Sounds Classical”, BBC Radio Ulster

Wednesday, 7th January 2009 7.30pm – 9.00pm

Location: Belfast Exposed

23 Donegall Street, Belfast

Admission is free. Reservations recommended: 02890 291 555

(limited seating)

Presented in conjunction with the premiere of Martin Lynch’s new play –

               Chronicles of Long Kesh