seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Maze Prison Escape

The Maze Prison escape, known to Irish republicans as the Great Escape, takes place on September 25, 1983 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh, is a maximum security prison considered to be one of the most escape-proof prisons in Europe, and holds prisoners suspected of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during the Troubles. In the biggest prison escape in UK history, 38 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners escaped from H-Block 7 (H7) of the prison. One prison officer dies of a heart attack during the escape and twenty others are injured, including two who are shot with guns that had been smuggled into the prison. The escape is a propaganda coup for the IRA, and a British government minister faces calls to resign. The official inquiry into the escape places most of the blame onto prison staff, who in turn blame the escape on political interference in the running of the prison.

IRA volunteers regard themselves as prisoners of war with a duty to escape. During the Troubles, Irish republican prisoners escape from custody en masse on several occasions between 1971 and 1981.

Prisoners had been planning the 1983 escape for several months. Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly start working as orderlies in H7, which allows them to identify weaknesses in the security systems. Six handguns are also smuggled into the prison. Shortly after 2:30 PM on September 25, prisoners seize control of H7 by simultaneously taking the prison officers hostage at gunpoint in order to prevent them from triggering an alarm. One officer is stabbed with a craft knife, and another is knocked down by a blow to the back of the head. One officer who attempts to prevent the escape is shot in the head by Gerry Kelly, but survives. By 2:50 PM the prisoners are in control of H7 without an alarm being raised. A dozen prisoners also take uniforms from the officers, and the officers are forced to hand over their car keys and details of where their cars are, for possible later use during the escape. A rearguard is left behind to watch over hostages and keep the alarm from being raised until they believe the escapees are clear of the prison, at which time they return to their cells. At 3:25 PM, a lorry delivering food supplies arrives at the entrance to H7, whereupon Brendan McFarlane and other prisoners take the occupants hostage at gunpoint and move them inside H7. The lorry driver is told the lorry is being used in the escape, and he is instructed what route to take and how to react if challenged.

At 3:50 PM the prisoners leave H7, and the driver and a prison orderly are taken back to the lorry. Thirty-seven prisoners climb into the back of the lorry, while Gerry Kelly lay on the floor of the cab with a gun pointed at the driver, who is also told the cab has been booby trapped with a hand grenade. At nearly 4:00 PM the lorry drives toward the main gate of the prison, where the prisoners intend to take over the gatehouse. Ten prisoners dressed in guards’ uniforms and armed with guns and chisels dismount from the lorry and enter the gatehouse, where they take the officers hostage.

At 4:05 PM the officers begin to resist, and an officer presses an alarm button. When other staff respond via an intercom, a senior officer says while being held at gunpoint that the alarm had been triggered accidentally. By this time the prisoners are struggling to maintain control in the gatehouse due to the number of hostages. Officers arriving for work are entering the gatehouse from outside the prison, and each is ordered at gunpoint to join the other hostages. Officer James Ferris runs from the gatehouse toward the pedestrian gate attempting to raise the alarm, pursued by Dermot Finucane. Ferris had already been stabbed three times in the chest, and before he can raise the alarm he collapses.

Finucane continues to the pedestrian gate where he stabs the officer controlling the gate, and two officers who had just entered the prison. This incident is seen by a soldier on duty in a watchtower, who reports to the British Army operations room that he has seen prison officers fighting. The operations room telephones the prison’s Emergency Control Room (ECR), which replies that everything is all right and that an alarm had been accidentally triggered earlier.

At 4:12 PM the alarm is raised when an officer in the gatehouse pushes the prisoner holding him hostage out of the room and telephones the ECR. However, this is not done soon enough to prevent the escape. After several attempts the prisoners open the main gate, and are waiting for the prisoners still in the gatehouse to rejoin them in the lorry. At this time two prison officers block the exit with their cars, forcing the prisoners to abandon the lorry and make their way to the outer fence which is 25 yards away.

Four prisoners attack one of the officers and hijack his car, which they drive toward the external gate. They crash into another car near the gate and abandon the car. Two escape through the gate, one is captured exiting the car, and another is captured after being chased by a soldier. At the main gate, a prison officer is shot in the leg while chasing the only two prisoners who have not yet reached the outer fence. The prisoner who fires the shot is captured after being shot and wounded by a soldier in a watch tower, and the other prisoner is captured after falling. The other prisoners escape over the fence, and by 4:18 PM the main gate is closed and the prison secured, after 35 prisoners had breached the prison perimeter. The escape is the biggest in British history, and the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Outside the prison the IRA has planned a logistical support operation involving 100 armed members, but due to a miscalculation of five minutes, the prisoners find no transport waiting for them and are forced to flee across fields or hijack vehicles. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary immediately activate a contingency plan and by 4:25 PM a cordon of vehicle checkpoints are in place around the prison, and others are later in place in strategic positions across Northern Ireland, resulting in the recapture of one prisoner at 11:00 PM. Twenty prison officers are injured during the escape, thirteen are kicked and beaten, four stabbed, and two shot. One prison officer, James Ferris, who had been stabbed, dies after suffering a heart attack during the escape.

The escape is a propaganda coup and morale boost for the IRA, with Irish republicans dubbing it the “Great Escape.” Leading unionist politician Ian Paisley calls on Nicholas Scott, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to resign. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement in Ottawa during a visit to Canada, saying “It is the gravest [breakout] in our present history, and there must be a very deep inquiry.” The day after the escape, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior announces an inquiry to be headed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, James Hennessy. The Hennessy Report is published on January 26, 1984 placing most of the blame for the escape on prison staff, and making a series of recommendations to improve security at the prison. The report also places blame with the designers of the prison, the Northern Ireland Office and successive prison governors who had failed to improve security. Prior announces that the prison’s governor has resigned, and that there will be no ministerial resignations as a result of the report’s findings. Four days after the Hennessy Report is published, the Minister for Prisons Nicholas Scott dismisses allegations from the Prison Governors Association and the Prison Officers Association that the escape is due to political interference in the running of the prison.

Fifteen escapees are captured on the day, including four who are discovered hiding underwater in a river near the prison using reeds to breathe. Four more escapees are captured over the next two days, including Hugh Corey and Patrick McIntyre who are captured following a two-hour siege at an isolated farmhouse. Out of the remaining 19 escapees, 18 end up in the republican stronghold of South Armagh where two members of the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade are in charge of transporting them to safehouses, and given the option of either returning to active service in the IRA’s armed campaign or a job and new identity in the United States.

On October 25, 1984, nineteen prisoners appear in court on charges relating to the death of prison officer James Ferris, sixteen charged with his murder. A pathologist determines that the stab wounds Ferris suffered would not have killed a healthy man. The judge acquits all sixteen as he cannot correlate the stabbing to the heart attack.


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Sinn Féin Joins Northern Ireland Peace Process

Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), joins the Northern Ireland peace process on September 9, 1997 that aims to determine the future of Northern Ireland, after renouncing violence as a political tool.

The move paves the way for Sinn Féin’s first face-to-face talks with British Cabinet ministers since 1921, when the country was partitioned. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and party secretary Lucilita Bhreatnach agree behind closed doors at Stormont Castle in east Belfast to abide by the guiding principles underlying the Northern Ireland all-party talks.

These principles were set up in January 1996 by former United States Senator George J. Mitchell, former Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. John de Chastelain and former Prime Minister of Finland Harri Holkeri. They are generally referred to as the “Mitchell Principles,” and require negotiators to affirm their commitment to the tenets listed below:

  • Democratic and peaceful means of resolving political issues. Total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations. The disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission.
  • Renounce for themselves and oppose any effort by others to use force or threaten to use force to influence the course or outcome of all-party negotiations.
  • Abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree.
  • Urge that “punishment” killings and beatings stop, and take effective steps to prevent such actions.

Sinn Féin pledges to honor the Mitchell Principles exactly 51 days after the IRA stopped its decades-old violent campaign against British rule of Northern Ireland. “This is a watershed. There is an expectation and understanding out there of the importance of this moment,” Adams says.

Paul Murphy, minister for political development in the province, says the Sinn Féin pledge marks a new phase in the peace process. “The significance I am sure is that we are now entering a new era … in the sense that the gun is going out of politics in Northern Ireland and that here Sinn Féin is ascribing to those principles of nonviolence, of democratic government.”

“I believe people outside these buildings, outside Stormont, are of the view that enough is enough, and that change must come,” Murphy adds. “But that change must be change which encompasses everybody’s aspirations and which will last for generations.”

The pledge to honor the Mitchell Principles means that the ten parties involved can proceed with round-table talks on the future of Northern Ireland on Monday, September 15, as planned.

However, two mainstream Protestant parties that favor continued British rule of Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the UK Unionist Party (UKUP), plan to boycott the talks. In addition, the powerful Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), is expected to decide on Saturday, September 13, whether to attend the crucial new round of negotiations.

In a statement, the Ulster Unionists call Sinn Féin’s commitment “a charade.” “The subscription of Sinn Féin to the Mitchell Principles will completely lack credibility. Actions matter much more than words,” the statement says.

The London and Dublin governments agree that sovereignty in Northern Ireland can only be changed through the ballot box. While Protestants generally are determined to remain British, most Catholics favor making Northern Ireland part of Ireland.

(From: “Sinn Fein gains access to Northern Ireland talks” on CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com, September 9, 1997)


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The Holy Cross Dispute

The Holy Cross dispute begins on June 19, 2001 and continues into 2002 in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast. During the 30-year conflict known as the Troubles, Ardoyne becomes segregated – Ulster Protestants and Irish Catholics living in separate areas. This leaves Holy Cross, a Catholic primary school for girls, in the middle of a Protestant area. During the last week of school in June 2001 before the summer break, Protestant loyalists begin picketing the school, claiming that Catholics are regularly attacking their homes and denying them access to facilities.

On Tuesday, June 19, Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers have to protect children and parents entering the school after they are attacked by loyalist stone throwers. Police describe the attack as “vicious.” Following the incident, a blockade of the school develops, with loyalists standing across the road and RUC officers keeping the children and their parents away.

The following day, the school is forced to close when loyalists block the entrance. During the evening, up to 600 loyalists and nationalists clash with each other and with the police. Shots are also fired at the police and over 100 petrol bombs are thrown. During the riots the police fire a number of the new ‘L21 A1’ plastic baton rounds for the first time. Thirty-nine RUC officers are injured. Nine shots in total are fired – six from loyalists and three from republicans. The trouble comes after an explosion at the rear of Catholic homes next to a peace line. Both loyalist and nationalist politicians blame each other for the violence. This is the first of many large riots to take place in Belfast within more than a year.

The morning blockade continues on Thursday, June 21. About 60 of the school’s 230 pupils enter the school through the grounds of another school. Senior Sinn Féin member Gerry Kelly says, “It’s like something out of Alabama in the 1960s.” Three Protestant families leave their homes in Ardoyne Avenue, saying they are afraid of a nationalist attack. During the evening and night there are serious disturbances in the area around the school. Loyalists fire ten shots, and throw six blast bombs and 46 petrol bombs at police lines. Two Catholic homes are attacked with pipe bombs, and a child is thrown against a wall by one of the blasts. Twenty-four RUC officers are hurt.

On Friday, June 22, a number of schoolchildren again have to enter the school through the grounds of another school. This is the last day of school before the summer break.

Talks between the protesters and the schoolchildren’s parents take place over the summer, but no agreement is reached. On August 20, a paint bomb is thrown at the home of a Protestant man in Hesketh Park, smashing a window and causing paint damage to furniture. The man had taken part in the loyalist protest.

The picket resumes on September 3, when the new school term begins. For weeks, hundreds of loyalist protesters try to stop the schoolchildren and their parents from walking to school through their area. Hundreds of riot police, backed up by the British Army, escort the children and parents through the protest each day. Some protesters shout sectarian abuse and throw stones, bricks, fireworks, blast bombs and urine-filled balloons at the schoolchildren, their parents and the police. Death threats are made against the parents and school staff by the Red Hand Defenders, a loyalist paramilitary group. The protest is condemned by both Catholics and Protestants, including politicians. Some likened the protest to child abuse and compare the protesters to North American white supremacists in the 1950s. During this time, the protest sparks bouts of fierce rioting between Catholics and Protestants in Ardoyne, and loyalist attacks on police. On November 23, the loyalists end the protest after being promised tighter security for their area and a redevelopment scheme. The security forces remain outside the school for several months.

In January 2002, a scuffle between a Protestant and a Catholic outside the school sparks a large-scale riot in the area and attacks on other schools in north Belfast. The picket is not resumed and the situation remains mostly quiet. The following year, the BBC airs a documentary-drama about the protests.


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The Droppin’ Well Bombing

The Droppin’ Well bombing or Ballykelly bombing occurs on December 6, 1982, when the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) explodes a time bomb at a disco in Ballykelly, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The disco, known as the Droppin’ Well, is targeted because it is frequented by British Army soldiers from nearby Shackleton Barracks. The bomb kills eleven soldiers and six civilians and 30 people are injured, making it the most deadly attack during the INLA’s paramilitary campaign and the most deadly attack during The Troubles carried out in County Londonderry.

The bomb is manufactured by the INLA in nearby Derry. One of those involved later reveals that the INLA unit had carried out reconnaissance missions to the Droppin’ Well to see if there were enough soldiers to justify the likelihood of civilian casualties.

On the evening of December 6, 1982, an INLA member leaves a bomb inside the pub. There are about 150 people inside. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) believe that the bomb, estimated to be 5 to 10 pounds of commercial (Frangex) explosives, is small enough to fit into a handbag. It has, however, been left beside a support pillar and, when it explodes at about 11:15 PM, the blast brings down the roof. Many of those killed and injured are crushed by fallen masonry.

Following the blast, it takes a few hours to pull survivors from the rubble. The last survivor is freed at 4:00 AM, but it is not until 10:30 AM that the last of the bodies is recovered. Ultimately, 17 people die and 30 are injured, some seriously. Five of the civilians are young women and three (Alan Callaghan, Valerie McIntyre and Angela Maria Hoole) are teenagers. Angela Hoole is celebrating her engagement to one of the soldiers who survives the incident. Of the eleven soldiers who die, eight are from the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment, two from the Army Catering Corps and one from The Light Infantry. One of those on the scene is Bob Stewart, then a company commander in the Cheshire Regiment. He loses six soldiers from his company and is deeply affected as he tends to the dead and injured.

Suspicion immediately falls upon the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), who denies involvement. By December 8, the British Army is blaming the INLA on grounds that the IRA, in a mixed village, would have made greater efforts not to risk killing civilians. Shortly afterwards, the INLA issues a statement of responsibility.

The INLA describes the civilians killed as “consorts.” The attack is criticised by many on both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland due to the high loss of civilian lives. Soon after the INLA had issued its statement, the government of the Republic of Ireland bans the INLA, making membership punishable by seven years imprisonment.

In an interview after the bombing, INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey says that the Droppin’ Well’s owner had been warned six times to stop offering entertainment to British soldiers. He adds that the owner, and those who socialise with the soldiers, “knew full well that the warnings had been given and that the place was going to be bombed at some stage.” It later emerges that the INLA may also have targeted Ballykelly because it believed that the military base was part of NATO‘s radar and communications network.

Six days after the bombing, RUC officers shoot dead INLA members Seamus Grew and Roddie Carroll near a vehicle checkpoint in Armagh. The officers say they believed that the two men were ferrying McGlinchey into Northern Ireland. Neither was armed, nor was McGlinchey in their car.

In June 1986, four INLA members, sisters Anna Moore and Helena Semple, Eamon Moore (no blood relation) and Patrick Shotter, receive life sentences for the attack. Anna Moore later marries loyalist Bobby Corry while both are in prison. Anna’s daughter, Jacqueline Moore, is given ten years for manslaughter as the court believes she had been coerced into involvement. She is pregnant during her arrest and later gives birth in jail. All of those convicted are from Derry.

(Pictured: The Droppin’ Well bar and disco in Ballykelly destroyed by a Irish National Liberation Army bomb in 1982. Credit: PA Wire)


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The Greysteel Massacre

The Greysteel massacre is a mass shooting that takes place on the evening of October 30, 1993 in Greysteel, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

On October 23, 1993, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb prematurely explodes as the bombers carry it into a fishmongers on the Shankill Road in Belfast. The IRA’s intended target is a meeting of Ulster Defence Association (UDA) leaders, including brigadier Johnny Adair, which is to take place in a room above the shop. Unknown to the IRA, the meeting had been rescheduled. Eight Protestant civilians, a UDA member and one of the IRA bombers are killed in the blast. This became known as the Shankill Road bombing.

The UDA launches a number of “revenge attacks” for the bombing. Later that day, it fatally shoots a Catholic delivery driver after luring him to a bogus call at Vernon Court, Belfast. On October 26, the UDA shoots dead another two Catholic civilians and wounds five in an attack at the Council Depot at Kennedy Way, Belfast.

The massacre is carefully planned. The order for the attack comes from the UDA leadership and it is believed Greysteel is chosen partly because it is well away from Belfast, where security force activity is intense after the Shankill bombing. Those involved in planning and organising it include Billy McFarland, ‘Brigadier’ of the UDA’s North Antrim & Londonderry Brigade. Stephen Irwin, Geoffrey Deeney and Torrens Knight, all members of the brigade, are to carry out the shooting. The gunmen are first briefed on the plans for the massacre on October 27 in an office owned by the Ulster Democratic Party at Bond’s Place, Londonderry. Before the massacre, the gunmen go to the pub to familiarise themselves with the layout and choose the best positions to shoot from.

On Saturday, October 30, the gunmen drive to the pub in an Opel Kadett, with UDA member Brian McNeill driving a ‘scout car’ in front. Just before 10:00 PM the three gunmen, wearing blue boilersuits and balaclavas, enter the “Rising Sun Bar” in Greysteel. There are at least 70 people inside attending a Halloween party and at first some believe the men are playing a Halloween prank. Stephen Irwin yells “trick or treat” as he opens fire with a vz. 58 assault rifle on the packed crowd in the lounge. He keeps shooting until the magazine empties, quickly reloads and continues shooting. Geoffrey Deeney opens fire with a 9mm handgun at a fleeing woman, but it jams after one shot. Torrens Knight, armed with a shotgun, guards the entrance while the shooting is taking place. There is panic and screaming as people scramble for cover and women plead for mercy. The scene in the Rising Sun is described as “hell-like”; bodies lay everywhere and the lounge and dancefloor are covered with blood and broken glass. The gunmen, laughing, then make their escape in the Opel Kadett driven by Knight. While driving away from Greysteel, the getaway car’s wing mirror is hit by a police car speeding towards the scene. The gunmen drive the Kadett to a pick-up point near Eglinton, where they meet McNeill and burn the car.

Seven people are killed outright and nineteen are wounded, with another later dying of his wounds. The dead are Karen Thompson (19), Steven Mullan (20), Moira Duddy (59), Joseph McDermott (60), James Moore (81), John Moyne (50), John Burns (54) and Victor Montgomery (76). Six of those killed are Catholic civilians and two are Protestant civilians.

The following day, the UDA claims responsibility for the attack using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (UFF). Its statement says that the “Greysteel raid” is “the continuation of our threats against the nationalist electorate that they would pay a heavy price for last Saturday’s slaughter of nine Protestants.” A UDA West Belfast Brigade member claims that his organisation “had information that senior IRA men drank in the Rising Sun… Unfortunately they were not there on Halloween but our boys acted on the briefing they had been given.” Afterwards, the gunmen are said to have boasted about the killings.

The UDA members involved are arrested shortly after the massacre. During their first court appearance, Knight is filmed laughing, taunting and shouting abuse at the victims’ relatives as he is led from the building. In February 1995, Irwin, Deeney, Knight and McNeill are sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement in the attack. Knight is also convicted for the Castlerock killings. In 2000, they are released early, along with other paramilitary prisoners, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The pub is still open in Greysteel. There is a memorial to the victims outside the building that says: “May their sacrifice be our path to peace.”


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Assassination of Irish Republican Ronnie Bunting

Ronnie Bunting, a Protestant Irish republican and socialist activist, is assassinated on October 15, 1980 when several gunmen enter his home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown.

Bunting is born into an Ulster Protestant family in East Belfast. His father, Ronald Bunting, had been a major in the British Army and Ronnie grew up in various military barracks around the world. His father became a supporter and associate of Ian Paisley and ran for election under the Protestant Unionist Party banner.

Having completed his education and graduating from Queen’s University Belfast, Bunting briefly becomes a history teacher in Belfast, but later becomes involved in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and then with Irish republican organisations.

Unlike most Protestants in Northern Ireland, Bunting becomes a militant republican. His father, by contrast, was a committed Ulster loyalist. Despite their political differences, they remain close.

Bunting joins the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) around 1970 as he is attracted to their left-wing and secular interpretation of Irish republicanism and believes in the necessity of armed revolution. The other wing of the IRA, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is seen to be more Catholic and nationalist in its outlook. At this time, the communal conflict known as the Troubles is beginning and the Official IRA is involved in shootings and bombings. He is interned in November 1971 and held in Long Kesh until the following April.

In 1974, Bunting follows Seamus Costello and other militants who disagree with the Official IRA’s ceasefire of 1972, into a new grouping, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Immediately, a violent feud breaks out between the Official IRA and the INLA.

In 1975, Bunting survives an assassination attempt when he is shot in a Belfast street. In 1977, Costello is killed by an Official IRA gunman in Dublin. Bunting and his family hide in Wales until 1978, when he returns to Belfast. For the remaining two years of his life, he is the military leader of the INLA. The grouping regularly attacks the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Belfast. He calls in claims of responsibility to the media by the code name “Captain Green.”

At about 4:30 AM on October 15, 1980, several gunmen wearing balaclavas storm Bunting’s home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown. They shoot Bunting, his wife Suzanne and another Protestant INLA man and ex-member of the Red Republican Party, Noel Lyttle, who has been staying there after his recent release from detention.

Both Bunting and Lyttle are killed. Suzanne Bunting, who is shot in the face, survives her serious injuries. The attack is claimed by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), but the INLA claims the Special Air Service are involved.

Upon his death, Bunting’s body is kept in a funeral parlour on the Newtownards Road opposite the headquarters of the UDA. On the day of the funeral, as the coffin is being removed, UDA members jeer from their building. The Irish Republican Socialist Party wants a republican paramilitary-style funeral for Bunting but his father refuses and has his son buried in the family plot of a Church of Ireland cemetery near Donaghadee.


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Mitchell Returns to Belfast to Save the Peace Process

george-mitchellFormer United States Senator George Mitchell returns to Belfast on September 13, 1999 in a bid to prevent the Northern Ireland peace process from coming apart at the seams.

The soft-spoken but firm Mitchell leads a review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which he played a crucial part in brokering. The aim is to halt a renewed drift to violence by pro-British Protestant and pro-Irish Catholic paramilitaries, and to persuade the two communities to begin cooperating in the province’s elected assembly.

“The peace process is mired in mistrust on both sides of the sectarian divide,” says a British government official, who declines to be identified. “It will need somebody of Mr. Mitchell’s political caliber and neutrality to find a way forward.” The future role of the Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), will be “part of the tangle [Mitchell] has to unravel,” the official adds. The 92% Protestant force, in a society where Catholics make up 42% of the population, is widely seen as requiring urgent attention.

The Protestant political leaders are unwilling to accept the good faith of Sinn Féin, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). They are also attacking Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam for having refused to acknowledge that republican paramilitaries have breached the cease-fire despite several violent incidents and the discovery of an alleged plot to send arms to the IRA from the United States.

Mowlam’s decision enraged David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s main Protestant political party and first minister-designate in a devolved Belfast government. Trimble and his senior lieutenants called for her to be fired. Trimble also launches a bitter attack on the Patten Commission after a leaked report indicates it would recommend allowing active IRA members to join the RUC police force.

Mitchell’s main contribution to the peace process has been to insist that the issue of decommissioning terrorist arms must be addressed in parallel with talks on future political structures in Northern Ireland. But he still has to find a formula that will satisfy Unionists for the IRA to begin handing in its weapons and explosives. Trimble and other Protestant leaders insist the IRA must agree to decommission before Sinn Féin is allowed to join a devolved Belfast government. Sinn Féin says that was not part of the 1998 peace accord.

Most worrying for Mitchell is the recent outcry over IRA tactics that makes a solution to the problem of law and order all the more important. The IRA is known to use threats and so called “punishment beatings” to maintain law and order in areas under its control, where RUC forces dare not tread. Six Catholic youths are in hiding in Britain after being threatened with violence, even death, if they remained in Northern Ireland.

According to the RUC, the youths have been targeted because of their refusal to accept the authority of sectarian paramilitaries in the areas where they live. Vincent McKenna, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, says, “The IRA thinks it has the right to police its own areas, and it is determined to punish anyone critical of the political direction of the Sinn Féin leadership.” He adds that since the Belfast agreement was signed 16 months earlier, 757 young people have been “exiled” by the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups.

Mowlam reportedly says that if the Patten Commission can come up with a blueprint for the police that gives Catholics a larger role in legitimate law enforcement, the scope for policing by paramilitary groups will be reduced.

(From: “Mitchell returns to N. Ireland tinderbox,” The Christian Science Monitor, September 2, 1999)


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The Tullyvallen Massacre

tullyvallen-orange-hallThe Tullyvallen massacre takes place on September 1, 1975, when Irish republican gunmen attack an Orange Order meeting hall at Tullyvallen, near Newtownhamilton in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The Orange Order is an Ulster Protestant and unionist brotherhood. Five Orangemen are killed and seven wounded in the shooting. The “South Armagh Republican Action Force” claims responsibility, saying it is retaliation for a string of attacks on Catholic civilians by Loyalists. It is believed members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out the attack, despite the organisation being on ceasefire.

On February 10, 1975, the Provisional IRA and British government enter into a truce and restart negotiations. The IRA agrees to halt attacks on the British security forces, and the security forces mostly end their raids and searches. There is a rise in sectarian killings during the truce. Loyalists, fearing they are about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increase their attacks on Irish Catholics/nationalists. They hope to force the IRA to retaliate and thus end the truce. Some IRA units concentrate on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations causes unruliness within the IRA and some members, with or without permission from higher up, engage in tit-for-tat killings.

On August 22, loyalists kill three Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Armagh. Two days later, loyalists shoot dead two Catholic civilians after stopping their car at a fake British Army checkpoint in the Tullyvallen area. Both of these attacks are linked to the Glenanne gang. On August 30, loyalists kill two more Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Belfast.

On the night of September 1, a group of Orangemen are holding a meeting in their isolated Orange hall in the rural area of Tullyvallen. At about 10:00 PM, two masked gunmen burst into the hall armed with assault rifles and spray it with bullets while others stand outside and fire through the windows. The Orangemen scramble for cover. One of them is an off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. He returns fire with a pistol and believes he hit one of the attackers. Five of the Orangemen, all Protestant civilians, are killed while seven others are wounded. Before leaving, the attackers also plant a two-pound bomb outside the hall, but it fails to detonate.

The victims are John Johnston (80), James McKee (73) and his son William McKee (40), Nevin McConnell (48), and William Herron (68) who dies two days later. They all belong to Tullyvallen Guiding Star Temperance Orange Lodge. Three of the dead are former members of the Ulster Special Constabulary.

A caller to the BBC claims responsibility for the attack on behalf of the “South Armagh Republican Action Force” or “South Armagh Reaction Force,” saying it is retaliation for “the assassinations of fellow Catholics.” The Irish Times reports on September 10: “The Provisional IRA has told the British government that dissident members of its organisation were responsible” and “stressed that the shooting did not have the consent of the organisation’s leadership.”

In response to the attack, the Orange Order calls for the creation of a legal militia, or “Home Guard,” to deal with republican paramilitaries.

Some of the rifles used in the attack are later used in the Kingsmill massacre in January 1976, when ten Protestant workmen are killed. Like the Tullyvallen massacre, it is claimed by the “South Armagh Reaction Force” as retaliation for the killing of Catholics elsewhere.

In November 1977, 22-year-old Cullyhanna man John Anthony McCooey is convicted of driving the gunmen to and from the scene and of IRA membership. He is also convicted of involvement in the killings of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier Joseph McCullough, chaplain of Tullyvallen Orange lodge, in February 1976, and UDR soldier Robert McConnell in April 1976.


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The Founding of Clann na Poblachta

sean-macbrideClann na Poblachta, a radical new republican party, is founded in Barry’s Hotel, Dublin, on July 6, 1946 by former members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who are very unhappy at the treatment of IRA prisoners during “The Emergency” and who are prepared to try and engage in parliamentary politics. The party lasts 19 years but fails in its objectives due to internal feuds and lack of unity.

The group includes people such as Con Lehane and former IRA Chief of Staff Seán MacBride. Some members of Fianna Fáil also join the party, many of whom have become disillusioned with the leadership of Éamon de Valera, the party’s approach to partition and its economic policies.

Clann na Poblachta realises that it has to place an emphasis on practical improvements to living standards and welfare issues such as public health. These policies attract a number of younger members such as Noël Browne and Jack McQuillan. One potential problem for the future is that almost the entire Provisional Executive is resident in Dublin and the party has no organisation in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

In 1948, Éamon de Valera dissolves the Dáil and calls an election for February. Clann na Poblachta wins only ten seats in the 1948 Irish general election, fewer than the breakthrough expected, caused in part by the error of running multiple candidates in many constituencies. The party believes there will be a landslide in their favour like the 1918 Westminster election but 48 of their 93 candidates lose their deposits. The party wins 13.3% of the vote but only 6.8% of the seats. Of their ten Teachtaí Dála (TD), six are elected in Dublin constituencies, two in Tipperary and one each in Cavan and Roscommon.

The party surprises everyone by joining the first Inter-Party Government with Fine Gael on condition that Richard Mulcahy, against whom many members had fought during the Irish Civil War, does not become Taoiseach. As a result, John A. Costello becomes Taoiseach without being leader of his party, the only time to date that this has happened. Seán MacBride becomes Minister for External Affairs and Noël Browne is named Minister for Health.

The party is the driving force behind the 26 counties exiting the Commonwealth of Nations and the all-party Anti-Partition Campaign.

The controversy of the “Mother and Child Scheme,” a progressive healthcare programme opposed by the Catholic Church, helps bring down the government and leads to the disintegration of the party. Many of the party’s TDs resign in solidarity with Noël Browne and his scheme, so the official party wins only two seats in the 1951 Irish general election.

In 1954, Clann na Poblachta agrees to give outside support to the Fine Gael-led government. In this election, three TDs are returned – MacBride, John Tully and John Connor. Controversy dogs the party as Liam Kelly, a Northern-based Clann na Poblachta senator, is also active in Saor Uladh and leads a number of military raids in County Fermanagh and County Tyrone against the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Clann na Poblachta withdraws its support from the Government in late 1956 due to the its anti-IRA stance. The party wins only one seat at the 1957 Irish general election with MacBride being defeated by Fianna Fáil. John Tully remains the only Clann TD until his retirement in 1961, after he loses his seat. However, Joseph Barron is elected in Dublin South-Central on his fourth attempt.

In 1965, Tully wins back his seat but he is in effect an Independent as the party only stands four candidates. There had been negotiations between MacBride and Brendan Corish, the new Labour Party leader about forming a political alliance but this does not come to fruition.

A special Ard Fheis, held on July 10, 1965, agrees to dissolve Clan na Poblachta.

(Pictured: Sean MacBride, former Chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army and founder of Clann na Poblachta)


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The Loughinisland Massacre

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 90The Loughinisland massacre takes place on June 18, 1994 in the small village of Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, burst into a pub with assault rifles and fire on the customers, killing six civilians and wounding five. The pub is targeted because it is frequented mainly by Catholics. The UVF claims the attack is retaliation for the killing of three UVF members by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) two days earlier.

About 24 people are gathered in The Heights Bar, also known as O’Toole’s Pub, watching the Republic of Ireland vs. Italy in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. It is thus sometimes referred to as the “World Cup massacre.”

At 10:10 PM, two UVF members wearing boilersuits and balaclavas walk into the bar. One shouts “Fenian bastards!” and opens fire on the crowd with a vz. 58 assault rifle, spraying the small room with more than sixty bullets. Six men are killed outright and five other people are wounded. Witnesses say the gunmen then run to a getaway car, “laughing.” One witness describes “bodies … lying piled on top of each other on the floor.” The dead were Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Barney Green (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O’Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39), all Catholic civilians. O’Hare is the brother-in-law of Eamon Byrne and Green is one of the oldest people to be killed during the Troubles.

The UVF claims responsibility within hours of the attack. It claims that an Irish republican meeting was being held in the pub and that the shooting was retaliation for the INLA attack. Police say there is no evidence the pub had links to republican paramilitary activity and say the attack is purely sectarian. Journalist Peter Taylor writes in his book Loyalists that the attack may not have been sanctioned by the UVF leadership. Police intelligence indicates that the order to retaliate came from the UVF leadership and that its ‘Military Commander’ had supplied the rifle used. Police believe the attack was carried out by a local UVF unit under the command of a senior member who reported to the leadership in Belfast.

The attack receives international media coverage and is widely condemned. Among those who send messages of sympathy are Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II and United States President Bill Clinton. Local Protestant families visit their wounded neighbours in the hospital, expressing their shock and disgust.

There have been allegations that police (Royal Ulster Constabulary) double agents or informants in the UVF were linked to the massacre and that police protected those informers by destroying evidence and failing to carry out a proper investigation. At the request of the victims’ families, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland investigate the police. In 2011 the Ombudsman concludes that there were major failings in the police investigation, but no evidence that police colluded with the UVF. The Ombudsman does not investigate the role of informers and the report is branded a whitewash. The Ombudsman’s own investigators demand to be disassociated from it. The report is quashed, the Ombudsman replaced and a new inquiry ordered.

In 2016, a new Ombudsman report concludes that there had been collusion between the police and the UVF, and that the investigation was undermined by the wish to protect informers, but found no evidence police had foreknowledge of the attack. A documentary film about the massacre, No Stone Unturned, is released in 2017. It names the main suspects, one of whom is a member of the British Army, and claims that one of the killers was an informer.