seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Murder of Joseph “Jo Jo” O’Connor

Joseph “Jo Jo” O’Connor, a leading member of the Continuity Irish Republican Army according to security sources in Northern Ireland, is shot to death in west Belfast on October 13, 2000. Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) gunmen are blamed for the murder.

The 26 year old O’Connor is shot dead as he sits in a car outside his mother’s house in Whitecliffe Parade in Ballymurphy. He comes from a well-known republican family and is understood to have been involved in welfare work for “Real IRA” prisoners. Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) sources do not suggest a motive for the shooting, except to say it is not sectarian and they believe it is a result of an inter-republican dispute. Continuity IRA sources deny their organisation is involved and the killing is condemned by Republican Sinn Féin.

O’Connor had just left his mother’s home and got into the passenger seat of a car when two hooded gunmen approach on foot and shoot him at point-blank range. He is hit in the head and dies instantly. A relative who is in the driver’s seat is uninjured.

O’Connor’s cousin, who lives nearby, says, “I heard one shot, then a silence, and then four more shots in quick succession.” Tensions between mainstream and dissident republicans at the time are high in Belfast but without serious violence.

O’Connor, who lives nearby in the Springhill Estate, is married with two young sons. His grandfather, Francisco Notarantonio, was shot dead by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in highly controversial circumstances at the same house 13 years earlier. That killing is at the centre of a legal battle between the British Ministry of Defence and the Sunday People over allegations of security force involvement.

O’Connor’s killing is condemned by First Minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble. He calls on the RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, to state who he believes is responsible. “I understand a police operation is still ongoing and there may very well be further developments, but the question we will all ask is who was responsible for this murder.”

The killing is condemned by Republican Sinn Féin. A Sinn Féin councillor, Sean McKnight, says local people are “shocked” by the killing. “We call on those responsible for this deliberate shooting to declare themselves and spell out to the people what their motives are,” a spokesman says. “Local sources indicate the deceased man was associated with the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Republican Sinn Féin has no hesitation in condemning this action and points out the obvious dangers that lie ahead.”

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) representative for Belfast West, Alex Attwood, condemns the murder as pointless but says no one should “rush to premature judgment” about who is responsible. “The overwhelming mass of political and wider opinion is determined to consolidate the political and peace process and no words, no acts and no narrow politics will destabilise it.”

(From “Leading ‘Real IRA’ member is shot dead in Ballymurphy” by Suzanne Breen, The Irish Times, October 14, 2000)


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The Ballymurphy Massacre

ballymurphy-massacre-muralThe Ballymurphy Massacre is a series of incidents that take place over a three day period beginning on August 9, 1971, in which the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment of the British Army kill eleven civilians in Ballymurphy, Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of Operation Demetrius. The shootings are later referred to as Belfast’s Bloody Sunday, a reference to the killing of civilians by the same battalion in Derry a few months later.

Two years into The Troubles and Belfast is particularly affected by political and sectarian violence. The British Army had been deployed in Northern Ireland in 1969, as events had grown beyond the control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

On the morning of Monday, August 9, 1971, the security forces launch Operation Demetrius. The plan is to arrest and intern anyone suspected of being a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The unit selected for this operation is the Parachute Regiment. Members of the Parachute Regiment state that, as they enter the Ballymurphy area, they are shot at by republicans and return fire.

Mike Jackson, later to become head of the British Army, includes a disputed account of the shootings in his autobiography and his then role as press officer for the British Army stationed in Belfast while the incidents happened. This account states that those killed in the shootings were Republican gunmen. This claim has been strongly denied by the Catholic families of those killed in the shootings, in interviews conducted during the documentary film The Ballymurphy Precedent.

In 2016, Sir Declan Morgan, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, recommends an inquest into the killings as one of a series of “legacy inquests” covering 56 cases related to the Troubles.

These inquests are delayed, as funding had not been approved by the Northern Ireland Executive. The former Stormont first minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) defers a bid for extra funding for inquests into historic killings in Northern Ireland, a decision condemned by the human rights group Amnesty International. Foster confirms she had used her influence in the devolved power-sharing executive to hold back finance for a backlog of inquests connected to the conflict. The High Court says her decision to refuse to put a funding paper on the Executive basis was “unlawful and procedurally flawed.”

Fresh inquests into the deaths open at Belfast Coroner’s Court in November 2018 under Presiding Coroner Mrs. Justice Siobhan Keegan. The final scheduled witnesses give evidence on March 2-3, 2020 around the fatal shootings of Father Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn on waste ground close to an army barracks at Vere Foster school in Springmartin on the evening of August 9. Justice Keegan sets a date of March 20 for final written submissions from legal representatives. A decision is still pending.

The killings are the subject of the August 2018 documentary The Ballymurphy Precedent, directed by Callum Macrae and made in association with Channel 4.

(Pictured: A mural in Belfast commemorating the victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre)