seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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Patrick J. Hillery Inaugurated Sixth President of Ireland

Patrick John Hillery, Irish politician, is inaugurated as the sixth President of Ireland on December 3, 1976. He serves two terms in the presidency and, though widely seen as a somewhat lacklustre President, is credited with bringing stability and dignity to the office. He also wins widespread admiration when it emerges that he has withstood political pressure from his own Fianna Fáil party during a political crisis in 1982.

Hillery is born in Spanish Point, County Clare on May 2, 1923. He is educated locally at Milltown Malbay national school before later attending Rockwell College. At third level he attends University College Dublin where he qualifies with a degree in medicine. Upon his conferral in 1947 he returns to his native town where he follows in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.

Hillery is first elected at the 1951 general election as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Clare, and remains in Dáil Éireann until 1973. During this time he serves as Minister for Education (1959–1965), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1965–1966), Minister for Labour (1966–1969) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1969–1973).

Following Ireland’s successful entry into Europe in 1973, Hillery is rewarded by becoming the first Irishman to serve on the European Commission, serving until 1976 when he becomes President. In 1976 the Fine GaelLabour Party National Coalition under Liam Cosgrave informs him that he is not being re-appointed to the Commission. He considers returning to medicine, however fate takes a turn when Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan launches a ferocious verbal attack on President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, calling him “a thundering disgrace” for referring anti-terrorist legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality. When a furious President Ó Dálaigh resigns, a deeply reluctant Hillery agrees to become the Fianna Fáil candidate for the presidency. Fine Gael and Labour decide it is unwise to put up a candidate in light of the row over Ó Dálaigh’s resignation. As a result, Hillery is elected unopposed, becoming President of Ireland on December 3, 1976.

When Hillery’s term of office ends in September 1983, he indicates that he does not intend to seek a second term, but he changes his mind when all three political parties plead with him to reconsider. He is returned for a further seven years without an electoral contest. After leaving office in 1990, he retires from politics.

Hillery’s two terms as president, from 1976 to 1990, end before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which sets terms for an end to violence in Northern Ireland. But he acts at crucial moments as an emollient influence on the republic’s policies toward the north, and sets a tone that helps pave the way for eventual peace.

Patrick Hillery dies on April 12, 2008 in his Dublin home following a short illness. His family agrees to a full state funeral for the former president. He is buried at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, near Dublin. In the graveside oration, Tánaiste Brian Cowen says Hillery was “A humble man of simple tastes, he has been variously described as honourable, decent, intelligent, courteous, warm and engaging. He was all of those things and more.”


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George Mitchell Submits Final Good Friday Agreement Report

Former United States Senator George J. Mitchell submits his final report into the Good Friday Agreement in Belfast on November 18, 1999. He urges the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to appoint its representative to discuss disarmament on the same day the new power-sharing government is set up.

Since 1995, Mitchell has been active in the Northern Ireland peace process, having served as the United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland under President Bill Clinton. He first leads a commission that establishes the principles on non-violence to which all parties in Northern Ireland have to adhere and subsequently chairs the all-party peace negotiations, which lead to the Belfast Peace Agreement signed on Good Friday 1998, known since as the “Good Friday Agreement.” Mitchell’s personal intervention with the parties is crucial to the success of the talks. He is succeeded as special envoy by Richard Haass.

For his involvement in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, Mitchell is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on March 17, 1999, and the Philadelphia Liberty Medal on July 4, 1998. In accepting the Liberty Medal, he states, “I believe there’s no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. They’re created and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings. No matter how ancient the conflict, no matter how hateful, no matter how hurtful, peace can prevail.”


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The Omagh Car Bombing

The Omagh bombing, a car bombing in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, takes place on August 15, 1998. It is carried out by a group calling themselves the Real Irish Republican Army, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) splinter group who opposes the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement.

On the day of the bombing, the bombers drive a car, loaded with 230 kilograms (510 lb) of fertiliser-based explosives, across the Irish border. At approximately 2:19 PM they park the vehicle outside S.D. Kells’ clothes shop in Omagh’s Lower Market Street, on the southern side of the town centre, near the crossroads with Dublin Road. They are unable to find a parking space near the intended target, the Omagh courthouse. The two male occupants arm the bomb and, upon exiting the car, walk east down Market Street towards Campsie Road.

Three telephone calls are made warning of a bomb in Omagh, using the same codeword that had been used in the Real IRA’s bomb attack in Banbridge two weeks earlier. At 2:32 PM, a warning is telephoned to Ulster Television saying, “There’s a bomb, courthouse, Omagh, Main Street, 500 lb., explosion 30 minutes.” One minute later, the office receives a second warning saying, “Martha Pope (which is the RIRA’s code word), bomb, Omagh town, 15 minutes.” The caller claims the warning on behalf of “Óglaigh na hÉireann.” One minute later, the Coleraine office of the Samaritans receives a call stating that a bomb will go off on “Main Street” about 200 yards (180 m) from the courthouse. The recipients pass the information on to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), but are claimed to be inaccurate and police inadvertently move people towards the bomb.

The car bomb detonates at 3:10 PM in the crowded shopping area. The bombing kills 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injures some 220 others. Twenty-one people who are in the vicinity of the vehicle die at the scene. Eight more people die on the way to or in the hospital. The death toll is higher than that of any single incident during what are considered “the Troubles.”

The bombing causes outrage both locally and internationally, spurs on the Northern Ireland peace process, and deals a severe blow to the Dissident republican campaign. The Real IRA apologises and declares a ceasefire shortly afterwards. The victims include people from many backgrounds: Protestants, Catholics, a Mormon teenager, five other teenagers, six children, a mother pregnant with twins, two Spanish tourists, and others on a day trip from the Republic of Ireland. Both unionists and Irish nationalists are killed and injured.

It is alleged that the British, Irish and U.S. intelligence agencies have information which could have prevented the bombing, most of which comes from double agents inside the Real IRA. This information is not given to the local police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In 2008 it is revealed that British intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters, was monitoring conversations between the bombers as the bomb was being driven into Omagh.

A 2001 report by the Police Ombudsman says that the RUC Special Branch failed to act on prior warnings and slammed the RUC’s investigation of the bombing. The RUC has obtained circumstantial and coincidental evidence against some suspects, but it has not come up with anything to convict anyone of the bombing. Colm Murphy is tried, convicted, and then released after it is revealed that Garda Síochána forged interview notes used in the case. Murphy’s nephew, Sean Hoey, is also tried and found not guilty.

In June 2009, the victims’ families win a GB£1.6 million civil action against four defendants. In April 2014, Seamus Daly is charged with the murders of those killed, however, the case against him is withdrawn in February 2016.


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The Hyde Park and Regent’s Park Bombings

The Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings occur on July 20, 1982 in London. Members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonate two bombs during British military ceremonies in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, both in Central London.

At 10:40 AM, a nail bomb explodes in the boot of a blue Morris Marina parked on South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park. The bomb comprises 25 lbs. of gelignite and 30 lbs. of nails. It explodes as soldiers of the Household Cavalry, Queen Elizabeth II‘s official bodyguard regiment, are passing. They are taking part in their daily Changing of the Guard procession from their barracks in Knightsbridge to Horse Guards Parade. Three soldiers of the Blues & Royals are killed outright, and another, their standard-bearer, dies from his wounds three days later. The other soldiers in the procession are badly wounded, and a number of civilians were injured. Seven of the regiment’s horses are also killed or had to be euthanised because of their injuries. Explosives experts believe that the Hyde Park bomb is triggered by remote by an IRA member inside the park.

The second attack happens at about 12:55 PM, when a bomb explodes underneath a bandstand in Regent’s Park. Thirty Military bandsmen of the Royal Green Jackets are on the stand performing music from Oliver! to a crowd of 120 people. It is the first in a series of advertised lunchtime concerts there. Six of the bandsmen are killed outright and the rest are wounded. A seventh dies of his wounds on August 1. At least eight civilians are also injured. The bomb had been hidden under the stand some time before and triggered by a timer. Unlike the Hyde Park bomb, it contains no nails and seems to be designed to cause minimal harm to bystanders.

A total of 22 people are detained in hospital as a result of the blasts. The IRA claims responsibility for the attacks by deliberately mirroring Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher‘s words a few months before when Britain entered the Falklands War. They proclaimed that “The Irish people have sovereign and national rights which no task or occupational force can put down.” Reacting to the bombing, Thatcher states, “These callous and cowardly crimes have been committed by evil, brutal men who know nothing of democracy. We shall not rest until they are brought to justice.” The bombings have a negative impact on public support in the United States for the Irish republican cause.

In October 1987, 27-year-old Gilbert “Danny” McNamee, from County Armagh, is sentenced at the Old Bailey to 25 years in prison for his role in the Hyde Park bombing and others, despite his plea that he is not guilty. He is released from HM Prison Maze in late 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement.

On May 19, 2013, 61-year-old John Anthony Downey, from County Donegal, is charged with murder in relation to the Hyde Park bomb and intending to cause an explosion likely to endanger life. He appears at the Old Bailey on January 24, 2014 for the beginning of his trial and enters a not guilty plea. On February 25, 2014, it is revealed that Downey’s trial has collapsed after the presiding judge has ruled upon a letter sent by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to Downey in 2007, assuring him that he would not face criminal charges over the attack. Although the assurance is made in error and the police realise the mistake, it is never withdrawn, and the judge rules that therefore the defendant has been misled and prosecuting him would be an abuse of executive power. Downey is one of 187 IRA suspects who receive secret on-the-run letters guaranteeing them unofficial immunity from prosecution.

A memorial marks the spot of the Hyde Park bombing and the troop honours it daily with an eyes-left and salute with drawn swords. A plaque commemorating the victims of the second attack also stands in Regent’s Park.


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Sinn Féin Votes to Accept the Good Friday Agreement

Members of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican Irish Republican Army (IRA), vote to accept the Good Friday Agreement on May 10, 1998 effectively acknowledging the north-south border. This marks a major shift in modern republicanism as, up until now, Sinn Féin has regarded participation in a Northern Ireland body as a tacit acceptance of partition.

The agreement comes at the party’s annual conference, which includes about thirty IRA prisoners granted special leave in order to vote.

The British and Irish governments welcome the decision to formally approve the peace agreement signed at Stormont in April to create the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he now looks forward to an overwhelming “yes” vote in referendums on the deal later in the month. The British government praises Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams saying the decision marks a final realisation that violence does not pay.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam expresses her delight at the outcome, “I recognise how significant this decision is for republicans and pay tribute to the leadership of Gerry Adams in bringing his party to support the agreement, north and south of the border.” In what she describes as an “exceptional decision,” the IRA’s commanding officer, Patrick Wilson, who is confined in HM Prison Maze, is among the 30 republican inmates freed for the conference in an effort to bring about a “Yes” vote.

Sinn Féin also votes to amend its constitution to allow members to sit in a new Northern Ireland Assembly after Adams tells his members they have a real chance to influence the strategy of the party and the way towards a united Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Féin’s UK Members of Parliament (MP), tells the BBC he is optimistic about achieving a “Yes” vote in the referendum due to be held on May 22. “I think there are concerns naturally among a small section of the Sinn Féin membership, but I have to say I think the mood all over the island is that moving into the assembly to further our republican objectives towards our ultimate goal of a united Ireland is at this moment in time the sensible thing to do,” he says.

(Pictured: Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams)


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Bobby Sands Dies on Hunger Strike

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies on hunger strike while imprisoned at Long Kesh Prison on May 5, 1981.

Born in Belfast on March 9, 1954, Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of a large furniture company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at Long Kesh Prison, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.