seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Great Portlaoise Escape

Nineteen republican prisoners blast their way out of Portlaoise Prison in County Laois on August 18, 1974.

The escape is a timely reminder of the determination, tenacity and ingenuity with which Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers throughout the country fight against British rule in Ireland. It is also a reminder to the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government in Leinster House that their collaboration with the British and their attempts to defeat republicanism will not be an easy task.

The determination of republicans to escape from Portlaoise is demonstrated by the escape. In May 1974, an underground escape was planned but the 80-foot tunnel was uncovered and the prisoners’ hopes were dashed. However, almost immediately plans swung into place for a more daring escape operation.

A member of the Escape Committee spots a weakness in the jail security in the area of the prison where the laundry house is situated. The laundry leads to an outside stairway and down into the courtyard, where the Governor’s House and Warders’ Mess are located.

The prisoners discover that they can gain access to the laundry area quite easily. It is a doorway at the top of the courtyard which leads out onto the streets of Portlaoise town itself that give the prisoners hope that their plan will work. However, the Escape Committee decides that they need explosives to get through this gate and send word outside to this effect. The IRA on the outside, agreeing that the plan is “viable,” send in the materials and the plan is on.

The date for the escape is set for August 18, 1974 and planning proceeds inside the prison. The prisoners set themselves to work making prison guard uniforms. The idea is that when the escapees are running through the courtyard, the troops on the roof of the jail will not be able to distinguish between the escapees and the real guards and so will not open fire. This pre-planning proves to be a brilliant ploy as it gives those escaping vital seconds to clear the courtyard and make good their escape.

On the Friday before the plan is to proceed, a number of republicans are arrested in Portlaoise. This seems a bad omen and raises questions as to whether the authorities are suspicious that an escape is planned. However, the Escape Committee and those involved in the operation decide to press ahead with the plan anyway.

Sunday, August 18 duly arrives. According to prisoners who are in Portlaoise Prison at the time, no one can eat anything that day as the tension is unbearable. At 12:30 p.m., the designated time to put the plan into action, arrives and Liam Brown approaches the guard at the gate of the lower landing and asks to be let in. This is the signal for the first team of escapees to rush forward and get the key to the laundry. The guard is quickly overpowered and gives up the key with little resistance.

With this first stage of the plan successfully completed, the escapees open the door to the stairwell and rush through to the courtyard, followed by up to 25 other prisoners. As the prisoners race to the top of the yard to place the bomb at the outside gate, the soldiers on the roof are confused by the uniforms and cannot open fire.

The bomb then explodes, blasting the door to pieces. As the prisoners make the final dash for freedom, the soldiers fire warning shots over the heads of the fleeing republicans. Some of the prisoners drop to the ground fearing the worst but as the guards race from their mess they call on the soldiers to stop firing.

Those who are captured are brought into the Wing again and the governor demands a head count. The prisoners, however, refuse to comply, adding to the confusion and thwarting the prison authorities’ attempts to identify the escapees. It is only after the guards threaten to send in the riot squad several hours later that the prisoners allow a head count to be taken. When they realise that 19 men had escaped, the joy the prisoner experience is immense as they thought only 14 had got away.

In an attempt to capture the escapees, the Dublin Government launches a statewide search operation. Every outhouse in County Wexford is searched. The Irish Naval Service is even called in and put on the alert. The searches go on for over a week but to no avail. The nineteen men had gotten clean away.

Those who escape are Liam Brown, Paddy Devenny and Micky Nolan from Belfast; Tom McFeely and Ian Milne from County Derry; Thomas McGinty and Eddie Gallagher from County Donegal; Patrick Thornberry, Kevin McAllister and Martin McAllister from County Armagh; Francis Hughes and Kevin Mallon from County Tyrone; Oliver McKiernan from County Fermanagh; Bernard Hegarty and Sam O’Hare from County Louth; Michael Kinsella and Seán Kinsella from County Monaghan; Seán Morris from County Meath; and Tony Weldon from Dublin.

(From: “30 years on: The Great Portlaoise Escape,” An Phoblacht, http://www.anphoblacht.com, August 26, 2004)


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Birth of Michael Carruth, Olympic Boxing Gold Medalist

Michael Carruth, a southpaw Irish Olympic boxer, is born in Dublin on July 9, 1967. He is best known for winning the welterweight gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. He turns Pro in 1994 but retires in 2000.

Boxing as a lightweight at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, following a bye in the first round, Carruth defeats Satoru Higashi of Japan before being defeated by George Scott of Sweden.

In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Carruth steps up to the welterweight class. Following a bye in the round of 32, he defeats Mikaele Masoe of American Samoa on points in the round of 16. He defeats Andreas Otto of Germany on points in the quarter-finals and Arkhom Chenglai of Thailand in the semi-final. In the final he defeats Juan Hernández Sierra of Cuba on points.

Carruth’s medal is Ireland’s first ever gold medal in boxing, only a couple of hours after teammate Wayne McCullough has to settle for the silver in bantamweight. It is also the first Olympic gold medal for Ireland since Ron Delany won the Men’s 1500m event at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.

Within a few days of Carruth winning his Olympic medal the Government of Ireland announces that he has been instantly promoted to sergeant within the Irish Army in recognition of his achievement at the Olympics. And, on the day of his return to Ireland, local pubs drop the price of beer to that of 1956.

Carruth turns pro in 1994 after taking leave from his job as a soldier in the Irish Army. He is trained by former Irish boxing great Steve Collins. He has limited success as a pro, losing in both of his defining pro bouts: in 1997 against Mihai Leu for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) Welterweight title and in 2000 against Adrian Stone for the International Boxing Organization (IBO) Light Middleweight title. He retires in 2000, after the loss to Stone, with a career professional record of 18-3-0.

In 2006, Carruth competes on the TV series Celebrity Jigs ‘n’ Reels. He serves as an expert boxing analyst for RTÉ‘s Olympic coverage in 2008, 2012 and 2016. In 2020, he appears in the fourth season of the Irish edition of Dancing with the Stars. He and his professional partner, Karen Byrne, are eliminated on February 3, 2020.

During his short spell as senior Westmeath county football team manager, Brendan Hackett appoints Carruth as masseur in 2009.


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Anzac Day Centenary Services in Dublin

Some 600 people turn out on April 25, 2015 for the annual Anzac Day service at Grangegorman Military Cemetery in Dublin to mark the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli. The crowd is three times that which usually attends the service and reflects the increased interest in the Gallipoli campaign on the centenary of the military debacle.

The Australian ambassador to Ireland Dr. Ruth Adler and British ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott are both at the ceremony along with diplomatic representatives from both New Zealand and Turkey. The Irish Government is represented by Tánaiste Joan Burton, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Rersources Alex White and Minister of State for Communities, Culture and Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. Poems and prayers are recited and ten schoolchildren read out the names of Anzac troops who drowned when the RMS Leinster was torpedoed off the Irish coast on October 10, 1918.

Burton says so many people from all the nations involved in the Gallipoli campaign lost relatives there and it is important that such an event should never happen again.

Ó Ríordáin says his own great-uncle James Sheridan was killed at Gallipoli five days after the landings and now lies for eternity in V Beach Cemetery. He adds that the decade of centenaries has sought to “reawaken the dormant memories, the forgotten, the unspoken and maybe even dispel some of the shame there that might have existed. Like so many other Irish families I too have discovered in recent years to those who fought in World War I as well as those who fought for Irish freedom here”.

A wreath is laid at Grangegorman Military Cemetery on behalf of the people of Ireland by Minister for Communications White.

Later White and the British ambassador unveil at Glasnevin Cemetery eight paving stones commemorating Irish-born soldiers who won the Victoria Cross (VC) during the war. Four of the soldiers involved, Pte. William Kenealy from the Lancashire Fusiliers, Pte. William Cosgrove from the Royal Munster Fusiliers, Capt. Gerald O’Sullivan from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Sgt. James Somers also from the Royal Inniskilling, won theirs at Gallipoli.

Among those present at Glasnevin Cemetery is Joe Day, a relation of Corporal William Cosgrove.

At the unveiling ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetery, White reveals that he had two great-uncles who were killed at the Somme. He says a “great silence” had descended on Ireland after the first World War but he hoped that silence has now ended.

Chilcott says nine million soldiers served in the British Imperial Forces during World War I and only 628 were awarded the Victoria Cross, the equivalent of less than one in 10,000 of those who fought. “Those who earn it are certainly the bravest of the brave. These men are very special. That is why we honour them,” he says.

The other Irish VC winners who are honoured with paving stones are Lieuteant George Roupell from the Royal Irish Fusiliers, CSM Frederick Hall from the Canadian (Winnipeg Rifles), Major David Nelson from the Royal Artillery and William Kenny from the Gordon Highlanders.

The paving stones are paid for by the British Government and all 34 awarded to those who were from what is now the Republic of Ireland are placed around the Cross of Sacrifice in Glasnevin Cemetery.

(From: “Hundreds attend Anzac service in Dublin to remember Gallipoli dead” by Ronan McGreevy, The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com, April 25, 2015. Pictured: British Ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott (right) meets Joe Day from Whitegate in Cork, whose grand uncle William Cosgrove VC survived Gallipoli, at the Glasnevin Cemetery commemoration to mark the 100th Anzac anniversary. Photograph: Peter Houlihan/Fennells)


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Birth of George Plant, Member of the Irish Republican Army

George Plant, Irish Republican Army (IRA) member who is executed by the Irish Government in 1942, is born into a Church of Ireland farming family in Fethard, County Tipperary, on January 5, 1904.

Plant is the second eldest child and son in a family of six children. His parents are John William Albert Plant, a farmer, and Catherine Hayden.

One Sunday in 1916 George and his older brother Jimmy are arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) after being seen speaking to two well known republicans, Seán Hayes and Dan Breen. In custody the two brothers are beaten and mistreated resulting in a hatred of the RIC. He serves with the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and with the Anti-Treaty IRA in the Irish Civil War.

In 1923 George and Jimmy leave Ireland for Canada and the United States but continue as active IRA members. In 1929 they return to Ireland and carry out a bank raid in Tipperary on behalf of the IRA. They are arrested two days later at the family farm and subsequently sentenced to 7 years in prison. They are released in a general amnesty after the Fianna Fáil and Éamon de Valera election victory in 1932. He is a strong supporter of Seán Russell. In 1939 following the outbreak of World War II, known in Ireland as The Emergency, de Valera is determined to maintain Irish neutrality and is not going to allow the IRA to jeopardize this. The IRA links with Germany and campaign in Britain are severely straining Anglo-Irish relations so emergency legislation is introduced.

Russell, the IRA Chief of Staff, dies in August 1940 after taking ill on board a U-boat and Stephen Hayes from County Wexford becomes IRA Chief of Staff. In late August 1940 an address on Lansdowne Road Dublin is raided by the Garda Síochána. Among the men arrested is Michael Devereux, a 24-year-old married truck driver from County Wexford who is also Quartermaster of the IRAs Wexford Brigade. He is released after three days without charge. Shortly afterwards Gardaí in County Wexford find an IRA arms dump. Many in the IRA suspect that Devereux had turned informer, so Stephen Hayes orders Devereux’s execution. George Plant and another man, Michael Walsh from County Kilkenny, are ordered to carry out the order. Devereux meets Plant and Walsh who tell Devereux that Tom Cullimore, the Wexford Brigade’s OC is blamed for the arms dump and that they have shot him. They order Devereux to drive them to an IRA safe house at Grangemockler in south County Tipperary. Devereux, believing he is the prime suspect in a murder, stays willingly at the safe house. A week later, on September 27, 1940, Devereux is invited to go for a walk with Plant and Paddy Davern, the owner of the safe house. Somewhere along the walk Plant accuses Devereux of being an informer and shoots him dead. Plant is arrested nine weeks later on suspicion of IRA membership and brought before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin. On February 10, 1941 Radio Éireann broadcasts a radio appeal for Michael Devereux on behalf of his wife.

In September 1941 Stephen Hayes is accused of being an informer by a group of Northern IRA members led by Seán McCaughey. He manages to escape to a garda station. Shortly afterwards a large force of Garda Síochána and Irish Army descend on the area around the Davern farmhouse where they find Devereux’s car buried under an onion bed and eventually discover Devereux’s body, a year to the day after his death. Two weeks later, Plant, already in prison on IRA membership charges, is charged with Devereux’s murder. A trial is held with a senior IRA officer, Joseph o’Connor, also charged with Devereux’s murder. The first trial collapses after two days when Paddy Davern and Micheal Walsh, two of the prosecution witnesses, refuse to give evidence. This result leads to the court issuing a nolle prosequi order which should have meant the end of the affair, however both men are rearrested and recharged with the same offence, under Emergency Order 41f. Minister for Justice Gerald Boland transfers the case to a Special Military Court with army officers acting as judges. In addition to Plant, Paddy Davern and Michael Walsh are also now charged with Devereux’s murder. The second trial begins at Collins Barracks, Dublin in February 1942 with Seán MacBride, a former IRA Chief of Staff and future government minister as the defendant’s barrister. Davern states his original statement was given at gunpoint but under the new order even statements given under duress are admissible. The court only has two sentencing options – death or acquittal. Joseph O’Connor is acquitted and despite MacBride’s best efforts the other three are sentenced to death. Davern and Walsh have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, and are both released in 1946.

Just one week after sentence is passed, Plant is executed in Portlaoise Prison by a six-man firing squad drawn from the Irish Army. Much bitterness is caused by the treatment of Plant’s relatives. Neither his wife or mother or infant son are allowed to visit him in the week before his execution. Censorship ensures there is little mention in the newspapers so his family only learns of his execution from a brief radio broadcast shortly before they receive a telegram. He is buried in the grounds of Portlaoise Prison, but is reinterred in 1948, when he is buried with full IRA military honours in his local church St. Johnstown in County Tipperary, and a Celtic cross is erected over his grave.

Plant’s wife moves to the United States where she remarries. His brother Jimmy dies in London in 1978. The Plant’s family farm is now part of the Coolmore Estate.


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Irish Businessman Ben Dunne Kidnapped by the IRA

Ben Dunne, an Irish businessman, is kidnapped by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on October 16, 1981. Former director of his family firm, Dunnes Stores, one of the largest chains of department stores in Ireland, he now owns a chain of fitness centres established by his company Barkisland Developments Limited.

Dunne is born in Cork, County Cork on March 3, 1949 to Nora Maloney and Ben Dunne, a business man who founded Dunnes Stores. He is the last of six children.

In 1981, he is kidnapped by the IRA and held for seven days. He is released unharmed after his friend and fellow businessman, Patrick Gallagher, pays his £1 million ransom.

In 1992, Dunne is arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting while on a golf holiday in Florida. His arrest triggers the end of his leadership of Dunnes Stores, as family turmoil leads to control falling to his sister Margaret Heffernan and the company paying IR£100 million for his share of the business.

Dunne is again embroiled in scandal in the mid-1990s when it emerges he had given large amounts of money to a number of Irish politicians, mainly from the Fianna Fáil party including the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. He also gave money to Michael Lowry of Fine Gael. Justice Brian McCracken, sole member of The McCracken Tribunal which is established by the Irish Government in 1997, finds that Dunne knowingly assisted Lowry in evading his tax obligations. On March 22, 2011, the Moriarty Tribunal concludes of Ben Dunne’s dealings with Michael Lowry that “What was contemplated and attempted on the part of Mr. Dunne and Mr. Lowry was profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking.” The report refers to its finding Lowry sought to influence a rent review of a building part-owned by Dunne.

Dunne now owns a chain of fitness centres called Ben Dunne Gyms located in Dublin and Liverpool, which he personally promotes on radio, using recent Irish advertising legislation which allows direct comparisons to named competitors. He was working on a new health club, to open in Dún Laoghaire in Dublin, but abandons the project due to complaints from local residents.

In April 2005 Dunne pays £3,000,000 for a 21-acre site in Motspur Park, New Malden (South London), former home of BBC Football Club and other BBC sports facilities. His intent is to apply for planning permission to build a leisure and fitness centre, but he does not do so. Instead, in February 2008, his company Barkisland Developments Limited submits a planning application to the Kingston upon Thames London Borough Council for change of use of the sports ground to a cemetery. The application to change the former BBC Sports Ground into a cemetery is withdrawn on October 3, 2008 after it had become clear that planning permission was likely to be refused. Objections are lodged by many local residents, sports clubs, Sport England and the Mayor of London.


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Birth of Frank Stagg, Provisional IRA Hunger Striker

Frank Stagg, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker, is born in Hollymount, County Mayo on October 4, 1941.

Stagg is the seventh child in a family of thirteen children. His father, Henry, and his uncle had both fought in the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War. His brother, Emmet Stagg, becomes a Labour Party politician and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Kildare North. He is educated to primary level at Newbrook Primary School and at CBS Ballinrobe to secondary level. After finishing his schooling, he works as an assistant gamekeeper with his uncle prior to emigrating to England in search of work. Once in England, he gains employment as a bus conductor in North London and later becomes a bus driver. While in England he meets and marries fellow Mayo native, Bridie Armstrong from Carnacon in 1970.

In 1972, Stagg joins the Luton cumann of Sinn Féin and soon after becomes a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell is given twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.

Stagg is initially sent to the top security Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan join a hunger strike begun by the sisters Marian Price and Dolours Price, Hugh Feeney and Gerry Kelly.

Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this, he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end of the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. He is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.

In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, he embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. His demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands and Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.

Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy. Republicans and two of his brothers seek to have him buried in the republican plot in Ballina beside the grave of Michael Gaughan, in accordance with his wishes. His widow, his brother Emmet Stagg and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral.

In order to prevent the body from being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. Local Gardaí keep an armed guard by the grave for six months. However, unknown to them, the plot beside the grave is available for purchase. Stagg’s brother George purchases the plot and places a headstone over it, with it declaring that the “pro-British Irish government” had stolen Frank’s body. In November 1977, a group of republicans dig down into the plot that George had purchased, then dig sideways and recover Stagg’s coffin from the adjacent plot under cover of darkness, before reburying it in the republican plot beside the body of Michael Gaughan. The Republicans hold their own version of a funeral ceremony before disappearing back into the night.

Following the final burial, an anonymous letter is sent to Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Minister for Justice Patrick Cooney, Minister for Post and Telegraphs Conor Cruise O’Brien and Minister for Foreign Affairs Garret FitzGerald, informing them each that they have been “marked out for assassination” because of their government’s involvement with Stagg’s burials. Stagg’s widow Bridie and his brother Emmett are reported to be intimidated by members of the Provisional IRA due to their opposition to his burial in a Republican plot.

The IRA swears revenge over Stagg’s death, warning the British public it is going to attack indiscriminately. They explode about 13 bombs throughout England within a month after his death.


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Birth of Charlie McCreevy, Fianna Fáil Politician

Charles McCreevy, former Fianna Fáil politician, is born in Sallins, County Kildare, on September 30, 1949. He serves as European Commissioner for Internal Market from 2004 to 2010, Minister for Finance from 1997 to 2004, Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communication from 1993 to 1994 and Minister for Social Welfare from 1992 to 1993. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Kildare constituency (and later the Kildare North constituency) from 1977 to 2004.

McCreevy is educated locally at Naas by the Congregation of Christian Brothers, and later at the fee paying Franciscan Gormanston College. He studies Commerce at University College Dublin and goes on to become a chartered accountant. His family background is modest, his father and ancestors since the late 18th century are lock-keepers on the Grand Canal, a job carried on by his mother after the death of his father, when McCreevy is four years old.

McCreevy’s political career begins with when he wins a seat in the Kildare constituency at the 1977 Irish general election, which is a landslide for Charles Haughey‘s supporters in Fianna Fáil and he is re-elected at every subsequent election until he joins the European Commission. Between 1979 and 1985, he serves as an elected member of the Kildare County Council.

In the 1979 Fianna Fáil leadership election, McCreevy strongly supports the controversial Charles Haughey, who narrowly wins the post. However, in a time of severe budgetary difficulties for Ireland, he soon becomes disillusioned with the new Taoiseach and his fiscal policies. In October 1982, he launches a motion of no-confidence in the party leader, which evolves into a leadership challenge by Desmond O’Malley. In an open ballot and supported by only 21 of his 79 colleagues, the motion fails and McCreevy is temporarily expelled from the parliamentary party.

In later years O’Malley is expelled from Fianna Fáil itself and forms the Progressive Democrats (PDs), espousing conservative fiscal policies. Although considered ideologically close to the PDs, and a personal friend of its erstwhile leader, Mary Harney, McCreevy chooses to remain a member of Fianna Fáil, where he eventually serves in joint FF-PD Governments.

For his first 15 years as TD, while Haughey remains leader, McCreevy remains a backbencher. In 1992, Albert Reynolds becomes Taoiseach and McCreevy is appointed Minister for Social Welfare. In this role, he is principally remembered for a set of 12 cost-cutting measures, collectively termed the “dirty dozen”, which are arguably minor in their direct impact but provide a major political headache for his party in the 1992 Irish general election.

In 1993, McCreevy becomes Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communication, which he holds until the government falls in December 1994. In opposition under new Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, he is appointed Opposition Spokesperson for Finance. In this role he is viewed as actively pro-enterprise, anti-spending and a key advocate for tax cuts.

In 1997, Fianna Fáil returns to power and McCreevy becomes Minister for Finance. His period coincides with the era of the “Celtic Tiger,” which sees the rapid growth of the Irish economy due to social partnership between employers, government and unions, increased female participation in the labour force, decades of tuition-free secondary education, targeting of foreign direct investment, a low corporation tax rate, an English-speaking workforce only five time-zones from New York City, and membership of the European Union – which provides payments for infrastructural development, export access to the European Single Market and a Eurozone country. He is a consistent advocate of cutting taxes and spending.

In 2004, McCreevy is selected by the Government of Ireland to replace David Byrne as Ireland’s European Commissioner. He is appointed to the Internal Market and Services portfolio, by President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso. At his confirmation hearings in the European Parliament MEPs describe him as “fluent and relaxed.” He also informs them that he has campaigned for the ratification of every European Treaty since 1972.

In October 2007, McCreevy, commenting on the Northern Rock bank’s loss of investor confidence, claims that banking regulations in the UK, which forces banks to be open to scrutiny from outside investors, caused the panic. He says if access to the banks dealings had been restricted, then the trouble could have been avoided.

Irish constitutional law requires a referendum to alter the constitution for such a major change as the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon. Interviewed beforehand, McCreevy says that he has not read the Treaty in full himself, though he understands and endorses it. The referendum is held on June 12, 2008 and the Irish electorate does not approve the Treaty. He is heavily criticised in the European Parliament and by the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, who demands on June 17, 2008, that McCreevy be removed as a European Commissioner. Schulz slightly misquotes McCreevy, whom he stated had contributed to Ireland’s rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon with remarks during the referendum campaign that no “sane person” would read the document.

Following McCreevy’s departure from the commission, he is forced to resign from the board of a new banking firm, NBNK Investments, after an EU ethics committee finds a conflict of interest with his work as a European Commissioner in charge of financial regulation.


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Blair & Ahern Meet in Aftermath of the Omagh Bombing

British Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Ashford Castle, County Mayo on August 26, 1998. They join forces to fight terrorism and discuss laws which will be introduced in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing, which took place eleven day earlier on August 15 in Omagh, County Tyrone, 110 kilometres west of Belfast, and resulted in 28 deaths.

Leading the way in a return to the past is Ahern’s Dublin government, which has introduced the toughest anti-terrorist legislation in the history of the Irish Republic. He concedes that the measures are draconian, but says that his government is determined to do everything in its power, “working closely with the British government to defeat and suppress this murderous conspiracy against the people of Ireland.”

Prime Minister Blair promises that he too plans to introduce extreme measures. “We will bring in similar measures to those proposed by the Irish government, so we will then have the toughest anti-terrorist measures for the whole of Ireland, the Republic and Northern Ireland, that we have ever seen.”

With no plans to recall the British parliament, it is thought that existing legislation will be applied, since it already includes measures similar to those announced by the Irish government.

Oppressive British legislation has sustained British rule in Ireland for decades. This includes internment without trial, non-jury courts, entry and search of homes without a warrant, seven-day detention with unrecorded and unsupervised interrogation, denial of access to lawyers, exclusion orders and more. Most of these are still in use in 1998.

The Ahern package includes withdrawal of a suspect’s right to silence — refusal to answer questions can be used as evidence that a suspect is a member of an illegal organisation, the seizure of property that has been used for storing weapons or making bombs, and the creation of a new offence of directing an unlawful organisation. This is expected to carry the penalty of life imprisonment.

Omagh is 75% nationalist, with good cross-community relations, and has largely escaped the worst of the conflict. Although Republican dissidents have carried out a spate of similar bombings in the previous year, the towns targeted are mainly Unionist and further east.

In the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, Republican splinter groups remain on a military footing. These groups — the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA — have announced their determination to fight on.

The group that claims responsibility for the Omagh bombing is the Real IRA, which was formed in protest at the IRA’s 1997 cease-fire. Irish police have insisted that the Real IRA is the military wing of the recently formed 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), although this is denied by that organisation.

Although both the INLA and the Real IRA have declared a unilateral cease-fire since the Omagh bombing, media focus has settled on Bernadette Sands McKevitt, sister of the 1980s IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, who is a leading figure in the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Sands-McKevitt has condemned the Omagh bombing, but her home in Blackrock, County Louth, has since been targeted by local townspeople who have staged protests against her and her family. She has also been denied a visa to enter the United States on a speaking tour.

The Omagh bombing could not have come at a better time for Britain. With the war formally over and Sinn Féin penned, the bombing delivers an opportunity to smash the Republican left once and for all and wrench it from any semblance of ongoing support in Ireland.

All nationalist opponents of the Good Friday Agreement must now cope with being stained by the blood of Omagh. With the massive referendum vote in favour of peace to back them up, the British and Irish governments can be satisfied that the Good Friday Agreement now looks more in place than at any other time. As one nationalist describes the situation, “If the Good Friday Agreement was a defeat for the cause of Irish nationalism, the Omagh bombing has turned it into a rout.”

(From: “Blair, Ahern make the most of Omagh bomb” by Dave Riley, Green Left (www.greenleft.org), August 26, 1998)


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Establishment of the Special Criminal Court (SCC)

The Special Criminal Court (SCC), a juryless criminal court in Ireland which tries terrorism and serious organised crime cases, is established on May 26, 1972.

Article 38 of the Constitution of Ireland empowers Dáil Éireann to establish “special courts” with wide-ranging powers when the “ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice.” The Offences against the State Act 1939 leads to the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for the trial of certain offences. The scope of a “scheduled offence” is set out in the Offences Against the State (Scheduled Offences) Order 1972.

On May 26, 1972, the Government of Ireland exercises its power to make a proclamation pursuant to Section 35(2) of the Offences against the State Act 1939 which leads to the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for the trial of certain offences. The current court is first established by the Dáil under the Offences against the State Act 1939 to prevent the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from subverting Ireland’s neutrality during World War II and the Emergency. The current incarnation of the Special Criminal Court dates from 1972, just after the Troubles in Northern Ireland began.

Although the court is initially set up to handle terrorism-related crime, its remit has been extended and it has been handling more organised crime cases after the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire in the 1990s. For instance, members of the drugs gang which murdered journalist Veronica Guerin were tried in the Special Criminal Court.

Section 35(4) and (5) of the Offences against the State Act 1939 provide that if at any time the Government or the Parliament is satisfied that the ordinary courts are again adequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order, a rescinding proclamation or resolution, respectively, shall be made terminating the Special Criminal Court regime. To date, no such rescinding proclamation or resolution has been promulgated. Following the introduction of a regular Government review and assessment procedure on January 14, 1997, reviews taking into account the views of the relevant State agencies are carried out on February 11, 1997, March 24, 1998, and April 14, 1999, and conclude that the continuance of the Court is necessary, not only in view of the continuing threat to State security posed by instances of violence, but also of the particular threat to the administration of justice, including jury intimidation, from the rise of organised and ruthless criminal gangs, principally involved in drug-related and violent crime.

The Special Criminal Court has been criticised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for its procedures and for being a special court, which ordinarily should not be used against civilians. Among the criticisms are the lack of a jury and the increasing use of the court to try organised “ordinary” crimes rather than the terrorist cases it was originally set up to handle. Critics also argue that the court is now obsolete since there is no longer a serious terrorist threat to the State, although others disagree and cite the continuing violence from dissident republican terrorism, international terrorism and serious gangland crime.

Under the law, the court is authorised to accept the opinion of a Garda Síochána chief-superintendent as evidence that a suspect is a member of an illegal organisation. However, the court has been reluctant to convict on the word of a garda alone, without any corroborating evidence.

The Sinn Féin political party in the past has stated that it is their intention to abolish the Special Criminal Court as they believed it was used to convict political prisoners in a juryless court, however Sinn Féin are no longer in favour of its abolition. Some prominent Sinn Féin members, including Martin Ferris and Martin McGuinness, have been convicted of offences by it. In 1973 McGuinness was tried at the SCC, which he refused to recognise, after being arrested near a car containing 250 pounds (110 kg) of explosives and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition. He was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

(Pictured: The Criminal Courts of Justice complex in Dublin where Special Criminal Court (SCC) sittings are usually held)


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Bertie Ahern Requires Second UN Resolution Prior to Iraq War

On February 19, 2003, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says a second United Nations (UN) resolution is a political imperative before any military action against Iraq can take place. But Ahern refuses to state whether the Government of Ireland will halt the use of Shannon Airport by the United States military if the George W. Bush administration undertakes unilateral action against Saddam Hussein without UN backing.

The United States and the UK are forced to push back their plans for a second UN resolution on military action as more countries come out against the use of force in Iraq. Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says she is fearful of the consequences of a war without UN backing.

In an interview with RTÉ News Ahern says the most important issue for this country is the primacy of the United Nations. He disagrees with the United States on whether or not they legally needed another UN Resolution before launching an attack on Iraq. He says other countries, including Ireland, have another point of view.

The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party unanimously passes a motion calling for a second resolution from the United Nations Security Council prior to the consideration of military action against Iraq. The motion also expresses “full confidence” in the efforts of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, to reach a peaceful outcome to the crisis.

The leading United States Congressman, Jim Walsh, welcomes the support that the Taoiseach has given to the United States in relation to Iraq. After a meeting with Sinn Féin in Belfast earlier in the day, he says that he recognises that it is a difficult time for the Irish people.

In the meantime, the UK has told its nationals in Iraq to leave the country immediately. In a statement the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) says it has issued the alert because of increasing tension in the region and the risk of terrorist action. The office says anyone considering going to Iraq should remember that UK nationals were held hostage by the Baghdad government in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War.

The British embassy in Kuwait City advises its citizens to leave Kuwait unless their presence in the emirate is essential. It also orders dependants of embassy staff to leave. “We advise you not to make any non-essential travel including holiday travel to Kuwait and, if already in Kuwait, to leave unless you consider your presence there is essential,” the embassy says in an advisory note.

An estimated 4,000 British nationals are resident in Kuwait. Britain has no diplomatic relations with President Saddam Hussein’s regime, and therefore cannot give consular assistance to British nationals inside Iraq. The current travel advisory for Israel warns against “any non-essential travel including holiday travel.”

(From: “More countries call for second UN Resolution” by RTÉ News, originally published Wednesday, February 19, 2003)