seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Jim Mitchell, Fine Gael Politician

jim-mitchellJim Mitchell, senior Irish politician who serves in the cabinets of Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, loses his three-year battle with cancer in Dublin on December 2, 2002.

Mitchell begins his political involvement when he supports Seán MacBride, leader of the radical republican Clann na Poblachta in the 1957 general election. He joins Fine Gael in 1967, becoming that party’s unsuccessful candidate in a by-election in 1970. He seeks a party nomination to run in the 1973 Irish general election. However he agrees not to contest the seat to allow Declan Costello, a senior figure in his party and son of former Taoiseach John A. Costello, to be elected. Costello goes on to serve as Attorney General of Ireland in the 1973-1977 National Coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

Mitchell is elected to Dublin Corporation in 1974. In 1976, at the age of 29, he becomes the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Dublin. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann in the 1973 general election in Dublin South-West and loses again in the 1976 by-election in the same constituency, to Labour’s Brendan Halligan.

In the 1977 general election he is elected to the 21st Dáil for the new constituency of Dublin Ballyfermot. With the party’s loss of power in 1977, the new leader, Garret FitzGerald appoints Mitchell to the Party’s Front Bench as spokesman on Labour. At the 1981 general election Mitchell is elected for the Dublin West and Fine Gael dramatically increases its number of seats, forming a coalition government with the Labour Party. On his appointment as Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald causes some surprise by excluding some of the older conservative ex-ministers from his cabinet. Instead young liberals like Mitchell are appointed, with Mitchell receiving the high profile post of Minister for Justice, taking responsibility for policing, criminal and civil law reform, penal justice, etc. The Fine Gael-Labour government collapses in January 1982, but regains power in December of that year. Mitchell again is included in a FitzGerald cabinet, as Minister for Transport.

As Minister for Transport, Mitchell grants the aviation license to a fledgling airline called Ryanair on November 29, 1985. This is granted despite strong opposition by Ireland’s national carrier Aer Lingus. The issue of the license breaks Aer Lingus’ stranglehold on flights to London from the Republic of Ireland.

Mitchell, who is seen as being on the social liberal wing of Fine Gael, is out of favour with John Bruton when he becomes Fine Gael leader in 1990. When Bruton forms the Rainbow Coalition in December 1994, Mitchell is not appointed to any cabinet post.

Mitchell contests and wins Dáil elections in 1977, 1981, (February and November) 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1997. He runs for his party as its candidate to become a member of the European Parliament in the 1994 and 1998 elections. He also is director of elections for Austin Currie, the Fine Gael candidate, in the 1990 presidential election.

In 2001, Bruton is deposed as Fine Gael leader and replaced by Michael Noonan. Mitchell serves as his deputy from 2001 to 2002. He also chairs the key Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. The Committee’s work under his chairmanship is widely praised for its inquiry into allegations of corruption and wide-scale tax evasion in the banking sector.

Though regarded in politics as one of Fine Gael’s “survivors,” who holds onto his seat amid major boundary changes, constituency changes and by attracting working class votes in a party whose appeal is primarily middle class, Mitchell loses his Dublin Central seat in the 2002 general election. That election witnesses a large scale collapse in the Fine Gael vote, with the party dropping from 54 to 31 seats in Dáil Éireann. Although Mitchell suffers from the swing against Fine Gael in Dublin, he is not aided by the fact that Inchicore, which is considered his base in the constituency has been moved to Dublin South-Central. He chooses not to run in that constituency as his brother, Gay, is a sitting Teachta Dála (TD) running for re-election for that constituency.

Mitchell earlier has a liver transplant in an attempt to beat a rare form of cancer which had cost the lives of a number of his siblings. Though the operation is successful, the cancer returns. Although he appears to be making a recovery, Jim Mitchell ultimately dies of the disease on December 2, 2002.

His former constituency colleague and rival, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, describes Jim Mitchell as having made an “outstanding contribution to Irish politics.”

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The Funeral of Hugh Coveney

hugh-coveneyThe funeral of Hugh Coveney, politician and former Lord Mayor of Cork, takes place at St. Michael’s Church in Blackrock, Cork on March 18, 1998.

Coveney is born into one of Cork‘s prosperous “merchant prince” families on July 20, 1935. He is educated at Christian Brothers College, Cork, Clongowes Wood College and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. He works as a chartered quantity surveyor before entering politics.

Coveney is interested in yachting throughout most of his adult life. His yacht Golden Apple of The Sun, designed by Cork-based designer Ron Holland, is a successful competitor in the Admiral’s Cup in the 1970s. A later 50-foot yacht, Golden Apple, is used by the family for the “Sail Chernobyl” project. The family sails around the world to raise €650,000 for Chernobyl Children’s Project International, a charity which offers assistance to children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Coveney is Lord Mayor of Cork from 1982 to 1983. He is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD) for Cork South–Central constituency at the 1981 general election. He loses his seat in the first general election of 1982 but regains it in the second election in the same year. He loses his seat again in the 1987 general election and does not contest the 1992 general election. He is elected to the Dáil again in 1994 in a by-election.

Coveney is first appointed to the Cabinet in 1994 under John Bruton. He is appointed Minister for Defence and Minister for the Marine. However, he is demoted to a junior ministry the following year after allegations of improper contact with businessmen.

In March 1998 it becomes publicly known that the Moriarty Tribunal has questioned Coveney about whether he had a secret offshore account with Ansbacher Bank, a bank which had become notorious for facilitating tax evasion. Ten days later, on March 13, 1998, Coveney visits his solicitor to change his will. The following day, he dies in a fall from a seaside cliff while out walking alone. His son, Simon Coveney, insists that his father had never held an Ansbacher account. It later emerges that Hugh Coveney had $175,000 on deposit in the secret Cayman Islands-based bank. The account was closed in 1979.

Simon Coveney is later elected to succeed his father in the resulting by-election on November 3, 1998.


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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.


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Birth of Crime Reporter Veronica Guerin

Veronica Guerin, Irish crime reporter, is born in Artane, Dublin, on July 5, 1958. Guerin attends Catholic school where she excels in athletics and later studies accountancy at Trinity College, Dublin. She plays for both the Ireland women’s national basketball team and Republic of Ireland women’s national football team, representing the latter in a match against England at Dalymount Park in May 1981.

After she graduates, her father employs her at his company but, following his death three years later, she changes professions and starts a public relations firm in 1983, which she runs for seven years. In 1983–84, she serves as secretary to the Fianna Fáil group at the New Ireland Forum. She serves as Charles Haughey‘s personal assistant, and becomes a family friend, taking holidays with his children. In 1987 she serves as election agent and party treasurer in Dublin North for Seán Haughey.

In 1990, she changes careers again, switching to journalism as a reporter with The Sunday Business Post and Sunday Tribune, working under editor Damien Kiberd. Craving first-hand information, she pursues a story directly to the source with little regard for her personal safety, to engage those she deems central to a story. This allows her to build close relationships with both the legitimate authorities, such as the Garda Síochána, and the criminals, with both sides respecting her diligence by providing highly detailed information. She also reports on Irish Republican Army activities in the Republic of Ireland.

From 1994 onwards, she begins to write about criminals for the Sunday Independent. Using her accountancy knowledge to trace the proceeds of illegal activity, she uses street names or pseudonyms for organized crime figures to avoid Irish libel laws.

When she begins to cover drug dealers, and gains information from convicted drugs criminal John Traynor, she receives numerous death threats. The first violence against her occurs in October 1994, when two shots are fired into her home after her story on murdered crime kingpin Martin Cahill is published. Guerin dismisses the “warning.” The day after writing an article on Gerry “The Monk” Hutch, on January 30, 1995, she answers her doorbell to a man pointing a revolver at her head. The gunman misses and shoots her in the leg. Regardless, she vows to continue her investigations.

On September 13, 1995, convicted criminal John Gilligan, Traynor’s boss, attacks her when she confronts him about his lavish lifestyle with no source of income. He later calls her at home and threatens to kidnap and rape her son, and kill her if she writes anything about him.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, Gilligan drug gang members Charles Bowden, Brian Meehan, Kieran ‘Muscles’ Concannon, Peter Mitchell and Paul Ward meet at their distribution premises on the Greenmount Industrial Estate. The following day, while driving her red Opel Calibra, Guerin stops at a red traffic light on the Naas Dual Carriageway near Newlands Cross, on the outskirts of Dublin, unaware she is being followed. She is shot six times, fatally, by one of two men sitting on a motorcycle.

About an hour after Guerin is murdered, a meeting takes place in Moore Street, Dublin, between Bowden, Meehan, and Mitchell. Bowden later denies under oath in court that the purpose of the meeting is the disposal of the weapon but rather that it was an excuse to appear in a public setting to place them away from the incident.

At the time of her murder, Traynor is seeking a High Court order against Guerin to prevent her from publishing a book about his involvement in organised crime. Guerin is killed two days before she is due to speak at a Freedom Forum conference in London.

Guerin’s funeral is attended by Ireland’s Taoiseach John Bruton, and the head of the armed forces. It is covered live by Raidió Teilifís Éireann. On July 4, labour unions across Ireland call for a moment of silence in her memory, which is duly observed by people around the country. Guerin is buried in Dardistown Cemetery, County Dublin.


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The 1996 Manchester Bombing

manchester-bombing-1996The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a powerful 3,300-pound truck bomb on Corporation Street in the centre of Manchester, England, at 11:17 AM on June 15, 1996. The biggest bomb detonated in Great Britain since World War II, it targets the city’s infrastructure and economy and causes widespread damage, estimated by insurers at £700 million.

The IRA sends telephone warnings about 90 minutes before the bomb is detonated. The area is evacuated but the bomb squad, using a remote-controlled device, is unable to defuse the bomb in time. More than 200 people are injured, but there are no fatalities. At the time, England is hosting the UEFA Euro ’96 football championships and a match between Russia and Germany is to take place in Manchester the following day.

The Marks & Spencer store, the sky bridge connecting it with the Arndale Centre, and neighbouring buildings are destroyed. The blast creates a mushroom cloud which rises 1,000 feet into the sky. Glass and masonry are thrown into the air and people are showered by falling debris behind the police cordon a half mile away. A search of the area for casualties is confused by mannequins blasted from shop windows, which are sometimes mistaken for bodies.

Since 1970 the Provisional IRA has been waging a campaign aimed at forcing the British government to negotiate a withdrawal from Northern Ireland. Although Manchester has been the target of IRA bombs before 1996, it has not been subjected to an attack of this scale. The IRA had ended its seventeen-month ceasefire in February 1996 with a similarly large truck bomb attack on the London Docklands.

The bombing is condemned by John Major‘s government, the opposition, and by individual members of parliament (MPs) as a “sickening”, “callous,” and “barbaric” terrorist attack. Early on, Major states that, “This explosion looks like the work of the IRA. It is the work of a few fanatics and…causes absolute revulsion in Ireland as it does here.” Sinn Féin is criticised by Taoiseach John Bruton for being “struck mute” on the issue in the immediate aftermath. The President of the United States, Bill Clinton, states he is “deeply outraged by the bomb explosion” and joins Bruton and Major in “utterly condemning this brutal and cowardly act of terrorism.” On June 20, 1996, the IRA claims responsibility for the bombing and states that it “sincerely regretted” causing injury to civilians.

Several buildings near the explosion are damaged beyond repair and have to be demolished, while many more are closed for months for structural repairs. Most of the rebuilding work is completed by the end of 1999, at a cost of £1.2 billion, although redevelopment continues until 2005. The perpetrators of the attack have not been caught and Greater Manchester Police concede it is unlikely that anyone will ever be charged in connection with the bombing.


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The 1996 Docklands Bombing

docklands-bombingThe Docklands bombing, also known as the Canary Wharf bombing or the South Quay bombing, occurs on February 9, 1996, marking the end of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) seventeen-month ceasefire.

At about 7:01 PM on February 9, the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonates a large bomb in a small lorry about 80 yards from South Quay Station on the Docklands Light Railway in the Canary Wharf financial district of London. The bomb, containing 500 kg of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and sugar and a detonating cord made of semtex, PETN, and RDX high explosives, is placed directly under the point where the tracks cross Marsh Wall.

The IRA sends telephone warnings 90 minutes prior to the detonation and the area is evacuated. However, two men working in the newsagents shop directly opposite the explosion, Inam Bashir and John Jeffries, are not evacuated in time and are killed in the explosion. Thirty-nine people require hospital treatment as a result of the blast and falling glass. A portion of the South Quay Plaza is destroyed and the explosion leaves a crater ten metres wide and three metres deep. The shockwave from the blast causes windows to rattle five miles away.

Approximately £100 million worth of damage is done by the blast. The Midland Bank building is damaged beyond economic repair and is demolished. South Quay Plaza I and II are severely damaged and require complete rebuilding. The station itself is extensively damaged, but both it and the bridge under which the bomb is exploded are reopened within weeks.

The bombing marks the end of a 17-month IRA ceasefire during which Irish, British, and American leaders work for a political solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland. IRA member James McArdle is convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but murder charges are dropped. McArdle is released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in June 2000 with a royal prerogative of mercy from Queen Elizabeth II.

dockland-bombing-damageThe IRA describes the deaths and injuries as a result of the bomb as “regrettable,” but says that they could have been avoided if police had responded promptly to “clear and specific warnings.” Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Condon says, “It would be unfair to describe this as a failure of security. It was a failure of humanity.”

Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA, speaks of the need to continue the peace process. British Prime Minister John Major says there is now “a dark shadow of doubt” where optimism has existed.

On February 28, Prime Minister Major and Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland John Bruton, announce that all-party talks will be resumed in June. Major’s decision to drop the demand for IRA decommissioning of weapons before Sinn Fein is allowed into talks leads to criticism from the press, which accuse him of being “bombed to the table.”