seamus dubhghaill

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


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Signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement

anglo-irish-agreementThe Anglo-Irish Agreement, an accord that gives the government of Ireland an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, is signed by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on November 15, 1985, at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, Northern Ireland. Considered one of the most significant developments in British-Irish relations since the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the agreement provides for regular meetings between ministers in the Irish and British governments on matters affecting Northern Ireland. It outlines cooperation in four areas: political matters, security and related issues, legal matters, including the administration of justice, and the promotion of cross-border cooperation.

The agreement is negotiated as a move toward easing long-standing tension between Britain and Ireland on the subject of Northern Ireland, although Northern Irish unionists, who are in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom, are themselves strongly opposed to giving their southern neighbour a say in domestic matters. Many political leaders, including Thatcher, who has been strongly committed to British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, have come to believe that a solution to years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland can only be achieved by means of an all-Ireland arrangement.

Such an attempt had previously been made in 1973. A power-sharing executive, composed of Irish nationalists as well as unionists, was set up in Northern Ireland, and Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave participated in talks with British Prime Minister Edward Heath that resulted in the Sunningdale Agreement. That accord recognized that Northern Ireland’s relationship with Britain could not be changed without the agreement of a majority of its population, and it provided for the establishment of a Council of Ireland composed of members from both the Dáil Éireann (the lower chamber of the Oireachtas) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That agreement collapsed in May 1974 because of a general strike inspired by unionist opponents of power sharing.

In 1981 FitzGerald launches a constitutional crusade to make the reunification of Ireland more attractive to Northern Ireland’s Protestants. At the end of the year, the Irish and British governments set up an Anglo-Irish intergovernmental council to discuss matters of common concern, especially security. In 1984 the report of the New Ireland Forum, a discussion group that includes representatives of political parties in Ireland and Northern Ireland, sets out three possible frameworks for political development in Ireland: a unitary state, a federal state, and joint sovereignty. Of Ireland’s major political parties, Fianna Fáil prefers a unitary state, which Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party regard as unrealistic. They prefer the federal option.

Also in the early 1980s, in Northern Ireland, John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and a member of the British Parliament, gathers the support of prominent Irish American political leaders in condemning the use of violence and urging Irish Americans not to support the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization that often uses violent means to bring an end to British rule in Northern Ireland. Hume’s group also encourages United States President Ronald Reagan to persuade Thatcher to pursue closer relations with Ireland.

In the improved political climate between Britain and Ireland, leaders of the two countries sit down to negotiations. Ireland and Britain agree that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, and an intergovernmental conference is established to deal with political, security, and legal relations between the two parts of the island. The agreement is a blow to Northern Ireland’s unionists, because it establishes a consultative role for the government of Ireland in the affairs of Northern Ireland through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and other unionists denounce the agreement, and UUP members of Parliament resign their seats over the issue, although 14 are returned in by-elections in 1986. The party organizes mass protests and boycotts of local councils and files a lawsuit challenging the legality of the agreement. However, these efforts, which are joined by the Democratic Unionist Party, fail to force abrogation of the agreement.

Contacts between the Irish and British governments continue after February 1987 within the formal structure of the intergovernmental conference. Fears that the violence in Northern Ireland would spill into Ireland as a consequence of closer Anglo-Irish cooperation in the wake of the agreement proves unfounded, and the UUP decides to participate in new negotiations on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in 1990–93. After republican and unionist forces declare cease-fires in 1994, the UUP reluctantly joins discussions with the British and Irish governments and other political parties of Northern Ireland. No deal accepted by all sides is reached until the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, which creates the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions.

(From: “Anglo-Irish Agreement,” Lorraine Murray, Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com, November 12, 2010)

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IRA Refuses to Disband in Response to Ultimatums

gerry-adams-2002On October 27, 2002, after comments by the British prime minister Tony Blair that the continued existence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is an obstacle to rescuing the Northern Ireland peace process, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams says the IRA is never going to disband in response to ultimatums from the British government and from unionists.

Nationalists throughout Ireland wish to see the end of the IRA. In a response to a major speech by Adams, Mark Durkan, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), says IRA activity is playing into the hands of anti-Agreement unionists and calls on the IRA to cease all activity.

Adams tells elected Sinn Féin representatives from both sides of the Irish border in Monaghan that he can envision a future without the IRA. He also admits that “alleged” IRA activities are boosting the cause of those opposing the Northern Ireland peace process. However, he also tells Tony Blair that the IRA will never disband in response to ultimatums.

“He needs to recognise, however, that the Agreement requires an end to paramilitarism and that nationalists throughout this island fervently want one. It is time that republicans took heed of their call.”

The former Deputy First Minister in the devolved administration at Stormont says he welcomes Adams’ recognition that IRA activity is exacerbating the difficulties within unionism. “The reality is that IRA activity is playing right into the hands of anti-Agreement unionists. And letting the nationalist community badly down,” he said.

“It is also welcome that Gerry Adams has begun to recognise Sinn Féin’s credibility crisis. Too often republican denials have proved to be false in the past – be it over Colombia or Florida. This too has served only to create distrust and destabilise the Good Friday Agreement,” he adds.

In a major speech billed by his party as a considered response to the Prime Minister’s demand for an end to Republican-linked violence, Adams declares “Our view is that the IRA cessations effectively moved the army out of the picture – and allowed the rest of us to begin an entirely new process.” His speech is understood to have been handed in advance to both the British and Irish governments.

Adams says the continued IRA ceasefire and decommissioning initiatives demonstrated the organisation’s commitment to the peace process. “I do not pretend to speak for the army (IRA) on these matters but I do believe that they are serious about their support for a genuine peace process. They have said so. I believe them,” he said. He adds, “The IRA is never going to respond to ultimatums from the British government or David Trimble.”

Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern later says he welcomes and is encouraged by many aspects of Adams’ speech. He says the Sinn Féin leader’s strong statement of determination to keep the peace process intact and the recognition of the need to bring closure to all the key issues is a positive contribution at this difficult time in the Northern Ireland peace process.

(From the Irish Examiner, October 27, 2002)


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Murder of IRA Paramilitary Eamon Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Funeral of Loyalist Billy Wright

billy-wright-funeralThousands of Ulster loyalists pack the streets of Portadown, County Armagh, on December 30, 1997 for the funeral of Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) commander William Stephen “Billy” Wright.

Wright, born in Wolverhampton, England on July 7, 1960, is a prominent Ulster loyalist paramilitary during the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles. He joins the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1975 and becomes commander of its Mid-Ulster Brigade in the early 1990s, taking over from Robin “The Jackal” Jackson. According to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Wright is involved in the sectarian killings of up to 20 Catholics, although he is never convicted for any. It is alleged that Wright, like his predecessor, serves as a double agent of the British security forces.

Wright attracts considerable media attention at the Drumcree standoff, where he supports the Orange Order‘s desire to march its traditional route through the Catholic/Irish nationalist area of Portadown. In 1994, the UVF and other paramilitary groups call ceasefires. However, in July 1996, Wright’s unit breaks the ceasefire and carries out a number of attacks, including a sectarian killing. For this, Wright and his Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade are stood down by the UVF leadership. He is expelled from the UVF and threatened with execution if he does not leave Northern Ireland. Wright ignores the threats and, along with many of his followers, defiantly forms the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

In March 1997 Wright is sent to the HM Maze Prison for having threatened the life of a woman. While imprisoned, Wright continues to direct the LVF’s activities. On December 27 of that year, he is assassinated at the prison by Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners as he is led out to a van for a visit with his girlfriend. The LVF carries out a wave of sectarian attacks in retaliation.

Owing to his uncompromising stance as an upholder of Ulster loyalism and opposition to the Northern Ireland peace process, Wright is regarded as a cult hero, cultural icon, and martyr figure by hardline loyalists. His image adorns murals in loyalist housing estates and many of his devotees have tattoos bearing his likeness.

Wright’s funeral procession moves at a snail’s pace on a grey and windy day. Groups of mourners take turns carrying the coffin. Women carry a wreath that simply says “Billy.” Twenty men with tight haircuts and white shirts with black armbands flank the cortège. There is heavy security. Troops stand guard on bridges and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Land Rovers prowl the housing estates. A spotter plane flies overhead. A lone piper plays “Abide With Me” before a banner bearing the letters “LVF.”

Wright is buried at Seagoe Cemetery, Portadown, Northern Ireland.


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The Downing Street Declaration

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

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

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

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

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


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Ahern & Blair Conduct Talks at Hillsborough Castle

ahern-blair-hillsboroughTaoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair conduct talks at Hillsborough Castle on March 3, 2003, in the latest bid to salvage the floundering Good Friday Agreement. The negotiations last eight hours.

This meeting is very important, as it is Tony Blair’s last chance at intensive negotiation before his attention is totally caught up in the Iraq War. Progress cannot afford to slip further as the Stormont Assembly election has to be formally declared by March 21 if it is to take place as scheduled on May 1.

David Trimble, representing the unionists, has said the Irish Republican Army (IRA) must “go out of business” before his party will re-enter a coalition government with Sinn Fein. In late 2002, he uses the word “disbandment” but he is now careful to avoid being overly prescriptive.

He wants visible, verifiable decommissioning to restore unionist confidence, severely damaged by the IRA spy ring allegations which led to the collapse of devolution in October 2002. Trimble is also urging sanctions to punish republican politicians if the Provisionals renege.

The key demands of the republicans are demilitarisation, guarantees that unionists cannot pull down the Stormont Assembly again, devolution of policing and criminal justice, further police reforms, and a dispensation for 30-40 fugitive IRA members to go back to Northern Ireland without prosecution.

Republicans insist discussions must not revolve around getting rid of the IRA. They prefer to interpret the prime minister’s talk of “acts of completion” as an admission of failure to implement his obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, shortcomings they outlined in a 57-page dossier handed in to Downing Street.

Tony Blair claims he does not want to get involved in a bartering game – but in fact the government is prepared make major moves in return for IRA concessions. The prime minister is offering a radical three-year plan to withdraw 5,000 of the 13,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and tear down a large number of border watchtowers and military bases.

Sinn Fein wants written guarantees on troop withdrawal and police reform, criminal justice and on-the-run terrorists. But important details need ironing out.

Policing and the return of fugitive paramilitaries are extremely sensitive issues for both republicans and unionists. A balance must be struck so that on-the-runs, mostly republican, are freed on licence after some sort of judicial process but not given amnesty, unacceptable to unionists.

Government sources claim Sinn Fein is poised to join the policing board, endorsing the police service for the first time, but this too will require delicate handling to ensure unionists don’t walk away.

One British government source states, “Everybody knows what has to be done, the question is if the will is there to achieve it. One of the problems is no one is absolutely clear what the IRA is prepared to do.”