seamus dubhghaill

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


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Murder of IRA Paramilitary Eamon Collins

eamon-collinsEamon Collins, a Provisional Irish Republican Army paramilitary in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is beaten and stabbed to death near his home in Newry, County Down on January 27, 1999.

Collins grows up in a middle-class Irish family in Camlough, a small, staunchly Irish republican town in County Armagh. After completing his schooling, he works for a time in the Ministry of Defence in a clerical capacity in London before studying law at Queen’s University Belfast, where he becomes influenced by Marxist political ideology. He eventually drops out of university and, after working in a pub for a period, joins Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise Service, serving in Newry, and goes on to use this internal position within the administrative machinery of the British Government to support IRA operations against Crown Forces personnel.

Collins joins the Provisional IRA during the blanket protest by Long Kesh inmates in the late 1970s and he becomes involved in street demonstrations. He joins the South Down Brigade of the IRA, based around Newry, and is appointed its intelligence officer.

Collins becomes noted within IRA circles for his hard-line views on the continuance of armed campaign, and later joins its Internal Security Unit. Around this time he has a confrontation with Gerry Adams at the funeral of an IRA man killed in a failed bombing over how to deal with the funeral’s policing, where he accuses Adams a being a “Stick.”

Despite his militarist convictions at this time Collins finds the psychological strain caused by his involvement in the terrorist war increasingly difficult to address. His belief in the martial discipline of the IRA’s campaign is seriously undermined by the March 11, 1982 assassination of Norman Hanna, a 28-year-old Newry man, in front of his wife and young daughter. His uneasy state is further augmented by being arrested on two occasions under anti-terrorism laws, the second including a week of detention and intense interrogation.

Collins subsequently states that the strain of the interrogation merely exacerbates increasing doubts that he has already possessed about the moral justification of the IRA’s terrorist paramilitary campaign and his actions within it. These doubts are made worse by the organization’s senior leadership quietly deciding in the early 1980s that the war has failed and now slowly manoeuvering the movement away from a military campaign to allow its political wing, Sinn Féin, to pursue its purposes by another means in what would become the Northern Ireland peace process.

In 1987, after being charged with several counts of murder and attempted murder, Collins is acquitted as the statement in which he admits to involvement in these acts is ruled legally inadmissible by the court. On release from prison he spends several weeks being counter-interrogated by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, after which he is exiled by the organization from Ulster, being warned that if he is found north of Drogheda after a certain date he will be executed.

After his exile Collins moves to Dublin and squats for a while in a deserted flat in the impoverished Ballymun area of the city. After several years in Dublin, he subsequently moves to Edinburgh, Scotland for a period, where he runs a youth centre.

In 1995 Collins returns to Newry, a district known for the militancy of its communal support of the IRA, with numerous IRA members in its midst. The IRA order exiling him from Ulster has not been lifted, but with a formal ceasefire from the organization and renunciations of violence by all the paramilitary organizations in the province, he deems it safe to move back in with his wife and children who had never left the town.

Rather than maintaining a low profile Collins decides to take a prominent role in the ongoing transition of Ulster’s post-war society, using his personal history as a platform in the media to analyze the adverse effects of terrorism. In May 1998 he gives evidence against leading republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy in a libel case Murphy has brought against The Sunday Times, over a 1985 article naming him as the IRA’s Northern Commander. Murphy denies IRA membership, but Collins takes the witness stand against him, and testifies that from personal experience he knew that Murphy had been a key military leader in the organization. Murphy subsequently loses the libel case and sustains substantial financial losses in consequence. Collins and his family receive numerous threats after the trial.

Collins is beaten and stabbed to death by one or more unidentified assailants early in the morning of January 27, 1999, while walking his dogs near the Barcroft Park Estate in Newry along a quiet stretch of country lane at Doran’s Hill. His body also bears marks of having been struck by a car moving at speed. The subsequent police investigation and Coroner’s Inquest comment upon the extremity of weaponed violence to Collins’ head and face used during the attack.

Rumoured reasons behind the murder are that he had returned to Ulster in breach of the IRA’s banning order, and further he had detailed IRA activities and publicly criticized in the media a multiplicity of Irish terrorist paramilitary splinter groups that had appeared after the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, and that he had testified in court against Murphy.

After a traditional Irish wake, with a closed coffin necessitated by the condition of his face, and a funeral service at St. Catherine’s Church in Newry, Collins’ body is buried at the town’s Monkshill Cemetery, not far from the grave of Albert White, a Catholic former Royal Ulster Constabulary Inspector, whose assassination he had helped to organize in 1982.

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The Downing Street Declaration

major-and-reynoldsTaoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Albert Reynolds, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Major, sign the Downing Street Declaration (DSD) on December 15, 1993, at the British Prime Minister’s office in 10 Downing Street. The joint declaration stipulates that, if the Irish Republican Army (IRA) stops its campaign for three months, Sinn Féin will be allowed to join all-party talks.

The declaration affirms both the right of the people of Ireland to self-determination, and that Northern Ireland will be transferred to the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom only if a majority of its population is in favour of such a move. It also includes, as part of the prospective of the so-called “Irish dimension,” the principle of consent that the people of the island of Ireland, have the exclusive right to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent.

The latter statement, which later becomes one of the points of the Good Friday Agreement, is key to produce a positive change of attitude by the republicans towards a negotiated settlement. The joint declaration also pledges the governments to seek a peaceful constitutional settlement, and promises that parties linked with paramilitaries, such as Sinn Féin, can take part in the talks, so long as they abandon violence.

The declaration, after a meeting between Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and American congressman Bruce Morrison, which is followed by a joint statement issued by Adams and John Hume, is considered sufficient by the Provisional Irish Republican Army to announce a ceasefire on August 31, 1994 which is then followed on October 13 by an announcement of a ceasefire from the Combined Loyalist Military Command.

(Pictured: (L to R) John Major, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Albert Reynolds, Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland)


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Irish Ferries Protest

irish-ferries-protestNearly 150,000 people take to the streets on December 9, 2005, as the Irish Ferries protest mushrooms into the largest public demonstration the country has seen for two decades.

The national day of protest is called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which is demanding Government action to combat exploitation of migrant workers and the displacement of jobs. There are rallies in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Sligo, Athlone and Rosslare.

An Garda Síochána estimate that 40,000 people take part in the march in Dublin, although organisers claim the figure is far higher. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party and John Gormley of the Green Party participate in the march in the capital. Staff on board the MS Isle of Inismore in Pembroke and the four engineers holed up in the ships control room say they are overwhelmed by the level of support shown by marchers in the rallies.

Bus and rail services are disrupted during the protest but return to normal for evening rush hour.

The Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) strongly criticises the National Day of Protest. In a statement, ISME Chief Executive Mark Fielding says the protest is undermining the industrial relations process in this country and has very little to do with the Irish Ferries dispute and is in fact an attempt by the unions to influence negotiations in advance of any new national pay agreement.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Services Industrial Professional Technical Union (SIPTU) President Jack O’Connor says the rallies give workers the chance to take a stand.

Director General of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) Turlough O’Sullivan says there is nothing to be gained from disrupting business and the general public. He adds that whatever one’s views on the Irish Ferries dispute, nothing can justify calling a national work stoppage when discussions are already underway in a bid to resolve the row.


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The Founding of Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin, a left-wing Irish republican political party active in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is founded on November 28, 1905, when, at the first annual Convention of the National Council, Arthur Griffith outlines the Sinn Féin policy, “to establish in Ireland’s capital a national legislature endowed with the moral authority of the Irish nation.”

The phrase “Sinn Féin” is Irish for “ourselves” or “we ourselves,” although it is frequently mistranslated as “ourselves alone.” The meaning of the name itself is an assertion of Irish national sovereignty and self-determination; i.e., the Irish people governing themselves, rather than being part of a political union with Great Britain under the Westminster Parliament.

Around the time of 1969–1970, owing to the split in the republican movement, there are two groups calling themselves Sinn Féin, one under Tomás Mac Giolla, the other under Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. The latter becomes known as Sinn Féin (Kevin Street) or Provisional Sinn Féin, and the former becomes known as Sinn Féin (Gardiner Place) or Official Sinn Féin. The “Officials” drop all mention of Sinn Féin from their name in 1982, instead calling itself the Workers’ Party of Ireland. The Provisionals are now generally known as Sinn Féin. Supporters of Republican Sinn Féin, which comes from a 1986 split, still use the term “Provisional Sinn Féin” to refer to the party led by Gerry Adams.

Sinn Féin is a major party in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is the largest nationalist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the second-largest overall. It has four ministerial posts in the most recent power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive. It holds seven of Northern Ireland’s eighteen seats, the second largest bloc after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), at Westminster, where it follows a policy of abstentionism, refusing to attend parliament or vote on bills. It is the third-largest party in the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland. As Ireland’s dominant parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are both centre-right, Sinn Féin is the largest left-wing party in Ireland.

Sinn Féin members have also been referred to as Shinners, a term intended as a pejorative.


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Birth of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams

Gerard “Gerry” Adams, Irish republican politician who is the president of the Sinn Féin political party and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Louth since the 2011 general election, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on October 6, 1948.

Adams attends St. Finian’s Primary School on the Falls Road, where he is taught by La Salle brothers. Having passed the eleven-plus exam in 1960, he attends St. Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School. He leaves St. Mary’s with six O-levels and becomes a barman. He is increasingly involved in the Irish republican movement, joining Sinn Féin and Fianna Éireann in 1964, after being radicalised by the Divis Street riots during that year’s general election campaign.

In the late 1960s, a civil rights campaign develops in Northern Ireland. Adams is an active supporter and joins the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967. However, the civil rights movement is met with violence from loyalist counter-demonstrations and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In August 1969, Northern Ireland cities like Belfast and Derry erupt in major rioting.

During the 1981 hunger strike, which sees the emergence of Sinn Féin as a political force, Adams plays an important policy-making role. In 1983, he is elected president of Sinn Féin and becomes the first Sinn Féin MP elected to the British House of Commons since Philip Clarke and Tom Mitchell in the mid-1950s. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he is an abstentionist Member of Parliament (MP) of the British Parliament for the Belfast West constituency.

Adams has been the president of Sinn Féin since 1983. Since that time the party has become the third-largest party in the Republic of Ireland, the second-largest political party in Northern Ireland and the largest Irish nationalist party in that region. In 1984, Adams is seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by several gunmen from the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), including John Gregg. From the late 1980s onwards, Adams is an important figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, initially following contact by the then-Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader John Hume and then subsequently with the Irish and British governments.

In 1986, Sinn Féin, under Adams, changes its traditional policy of abstentionism towards the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, and later takes seats in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. In 2005, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) states that its armed campaign is over and that it is exclusively committed to democratic politics.

In 2014, Adams is held for four days by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for questioning in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972. He is freed without charge and a file is sent to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, which later states there is insufficient evidence to charge him.

In September 2017, Adams says Sinn Féin will begin a “planned process of generational change” after its November ardfheis and will allow his name to go forward for a one year term as Uachtaran Shinn Fein (President Sinn Fein).


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Long Kesh Prison Hunger Strike Ends

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger strike is called off at Long Kesh prison – later known as HM Prison Maze –  on October 3, 1981. While the IRA does not win immediate concessions, in some ways it is a Pyrrhic victory for Margaret Thatcher’s government. It galvanises support and membership for the IRA and generates huge sympathy for the strikers in the United States where fund-raising is a major priority. The death of the first hunger striker, Bobby Sands, creates a martyr and an iconic figure.

In January 1981, prison authorities begin to supply the prisoners with officially issued civilian clothing, whereas the prisoners demand the right to wear their own clothing. On February 4, the prisoners issue a statement saying that the British government has failed to resolve the crisis and declares their intention of a hunger strike. The hunger strike begins on March 1, when Bobby Sands, the IRA’s former officer commanding (OC) in the prison, refuses food. Unlike the first hunger strike the previous year, the prisoners join one at a time and at staggered intervals, which they believe would arouse maximum public support and exert maximum pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The republican movement initially struggles to generate public support for the second hunger strike. The Sunday before Sands begins his strike, 3,500 people march through west Belfast. During the first hunger strike four months earlier the marchers had numbered 10,000. Five days into the strike, Independent Republican MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Frank Maguire dies, resulting in a by-election. There is debate among nationalists and republicans regarding who should contest the election. After negotiations they agree not to split the nationalist vote by contesting the election and Sands stands as an Anti H-Block candidate against Ulster Unionist Party candidate Harry West. Following a high-profile campaign, the election takes place on April 9, and Sands is elected to the British House of Commons with 30,492 votes to West’s 29,046.

Sands’ election victory raises hopes that a settlement can be negotiated, but Thatcher stands firm in refusing to give concessions to the hunger strikers. The world’s media descends on Belfast, and several intermediaries visit Sands in an attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike, including Síle de Valera, granddaughter of Éamon de Valera, Pope John Paul II‘s personal envoy John Magee, and European Commission of Human Rights officials. With Sands close to death, the government’s position remains unchanged.

On 5 May, Sands dies in the prison hospital on the 66th day of his hunger strike, prompting rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. More than 100,000 people line the route of his funeral, which is conducted with full IRA military honours. Margaret Thatcher shows no sympathy for his death.

In the two weeks following Sands’ death, hunger strikers Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara die. Following the deaths of Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson, the families of some of the hunger strikers attend a meeting on July 28 with Catholic priest Father Denis Faul. The families express concern at the lack of a settlement to the priest, and a decision is made to meet with Gerry Adams later that day. The following day Adams holds a meeting with six of the hunger strikers to outline a proposed settlement on offer from the British government should the strike be brought to an end. The six men reject the settlement, believing that accepting anything less than the “Five Demands” would be a betrayal of the sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers who had died.

The hunger strike begins to break on July 31, when the mother of Paddy Quinn insists on medical intervention to save his life. The following day Kevin Lynch dies, followed by Kieran Doherty on August 2, Thomas McElwee on August 8 and Michael Devine on August 20. On September 6, the family of Laurence McKeown becomes the fourth family to intervene and asks for medical treatment to save his life, and Cahal Daly issues a statement calling on republican prisoners to end the hunger strike.

The strike is called off at 3:15 PM on October 3, 1981. Three days later, James Prior, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announces partial concessions to the prisoners including the right to wear their own clothes at all times. The only one of the “Five Demands” still outstanding is the right not to do prison work. Following sabotage by the prisoners and the Maze Prison escape in 1983, the prison workshops are closed, effectively granting all of the “Five Demands” but without any formal recognition of political status from the government.

(Pictured: A Belfast mural of the Long Kesh hunger strikers)


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Ireland Approves Same-Sex Marriage by Popular Vote

Ireland becomes the first nation in the world to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote on May 23, 2015, sweeping aside the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in a resounding victory for the gay rights movement and placing the country at the vanguard of social change.

With the final ballots counted, the vote is 62.1% in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and 37.9% opposed. The turnout is large with more than 60% of the 3.2 million eligible voters casting ballots. Only one of the 43 districts, Roscommon-South Leitrim, votes the measure down.

With early vote counts suggesting a comfortable victory, crowds begin to fill the courtyard of Dublin Castle, a government complex that was once the center of British rule. By late morning, the leader of the opposition, David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, concedes the outcome on Twitter: “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done.”

Cheers break out among the crowd of supporters in the courtyard of Dublin Castle when Returning Officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile announces in the evening that the ballot has passed.

In recent history a vote such as this would have been unthinkable. Ireland decriminalizes homosexuality only in 1993, the church dominates the education system, and abortion remains illegal except when a mother’s life is at risk. But the influence of the church has waned amid scandals in recent years, while attitudes, particularly among the young, have shifted.

“Today Ireland made history,” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says at a news conference, adding that “in the privacy of the ballot box, the people made a public statement.” He also adds, “This decision makes every citizen equal and I believe it will strengthen the institution of marriage.”

Alex White, the government’s Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, says, “This didn’t change Ireland — it confirmed the change. We can no longer be regarded as the authoritarian state we once might have been perceived to be. This marks the true separation of church and state.”

Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, says, “There are two Irelands, the elite Ireland and the hidden Ireland. And today the hidden Ireland spoke.”

Nick O’Connell, who is from a rural area in County Kilkenny, cradles a celebratory drink in a Dublin pub. He says he had been too afraid to come out as gay until his mid-20s. “Today I’m thinking of all those young people over the years who were bullied and committed suicide because of their sexuality. This vote was for them, too.” He adds, “This is different from other countries because it was the people who gave it to us, not a legislature.”