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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Death of Kevin Boland, Fianna Fáil Politician

Kevin Boland, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as Leader of Aontacht Éireann from 1971 to 1976, Minister for Social Welfare from 1961 to 1966 and 1969 to 1970, Minister for Local Government from 1966 to 1970 and Minister for Defence from 1957 to 1961, dies in Dublin on September 23, 2001. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1957 to 1970. He is one of six TDs appointed as a Minister on their first day in the Dáil Éireann.

Boland is born in Dublin on October 15, 1917. He attends St. Joseph’s, Fairview, leaving in 1933. He is the son of Gerald Boland, a founder-member of Fianna Fáil, and the nephew of Harry Boland. Despite this, he fails to get elected to Dáil Éireann on his first two attempts, standing in the Dublin County constituency at the 1951 Irish general election and again at the 1954 Irish general election. Double success follows at the 1957 Irish general election, when he is not only elected to the 16th Dáil but is appointed to the cabinet as Minister for Defence on his very first day in the Dáil. This is due to the retirement of his father who had served in every Fianna Fáil government since 1932.

The Defence portfolio is largely considered a safe and uncontroversial position, so Boland makes only a small impact. As a Minister, he proudly displays a fáinne (gold ring) on the lapel of his jacket, which indicates that he is able and willing to speak the Irish language. He frequently conducts his governmental business in Irish. In 1961, he is moved from Defence to become the Minister for Social Welfare. He remains there until the retirement in 1966 of the Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, when Fianna Fáil faces the first leadership contest in its history. He is then appointed Minister for Local Government which post he holds until he leaves government in 1970.

The leadership race immediately erupts as a two-horse battle between Charles Haughey and George Colley. Both of these men epitomise the new kind of professional politician of the 1960s. Things change when Neil Blaney indicates his interest in running. Boland supports him in his campaign, as both men hail from the republican and left wing of the party. There is talk at one point of Boland himself entering the leadership race. In the end Jack Lynch is chosen as a compromise, and he becomes the new Taoiseach. Boland is made Minister for Local Government in the new cabinet.

In 1969, events in Northern Ireland cause political chaos over the border in Ireland. It is the start of The Troubles in Northern Ireland and Fianna Fáil’s policy with regard to the North is coming into question. One crisis meeting is held after another, in which the possibility of decisive action is discussed. The “hawks” in the cabinet urge a symbolic invasion of Northern Ireland to protect nationalists near the border, and to draw international attention, while the “doves”, who ultimately prevail, urged caution. These cabinet meetings are heated events. On one occasion Boland is alleged to have been so angry that he resigns not only his cabinet position but also his Dáil seat and goes home to his farm in County Dublin to make hay. The resignations are rejected by Taoiseach Jack Lynch after a calming-down period. In what becomes known as the Arms Crisis, two ministers, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney, are sacked from the government in May 1970, for allegedly being involved in a plot to import arms for Republicans in the North. Boland resigns in solidarity with them and in protest about the government’s position on the North. Later that year his criticism of the Taoiseach (whom Boland and many others within the Party maintain had authorized the arms importation) leads to his expulsion from the Fianna Fáil party.

One of Boland’s most famous incidents takes place at the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis in 1971. Just before Jack Lynch’s speech Boland storms a nearby podium, interrupting Patrick Hillery in the middle of his speech. He openly defies the party leadership and his opponents, holding his arms wide open and shouting to the crowd, “Come on up and put me down.” While there is a lot of booing and clapping in an effort to drown him out, many of his supporters start cheering and chanting “We want Boland.” An enraged Patrick Hillery grabs his microphone and famously replies, “If you want a fight you can have it…You can have Boland, but you can’t have Fianna Fáil.” At this point the government supporters are ecstatic with cheering and Boland is carried out of the hall.

After this episode Boland founds his own political party, Aontacht Éireann (Irish Unity). It wins very little support and he fails to be elected to the Dáil in 1973, which effectively ends his political career. He and his colleagues resign from the party in 1976 after it is taken over by a number of far-right individuals. He remains an outspoken critic of the Republic’s Northern Ireland policy, particularly the Sunningdale Agreement. He makes one last attempt to reclaim a Dáil seat, standing unsuccessfully in the Dublin South-West constituency at the 1981 Irish general election. He then retires from public life completely.

In 1996, Boland sues the Irish Independent for libel after a January 20, 1993 article incorrectly states that he had appeared before the court in the Arms Trial in 1970 and had been dismissed as a Minister by Taoiseach Jack Lynch. He is awarded £75,000 in damages.

Kevin Boland dies at the age of 83 in Dublin on September 23, 2001 following a short illness.


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Death of Edward Daly, Catholic Bishop of Derry

The retired Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dr. Edward Daly, whose photograph becomes the iconic image of Bloody Sunday in 1972, dies at the age of 82 on August 8, 2016.

Daly is born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, but raised in Belleek, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. He attends and boards at St. Columb’s College in Derry on a scholarship, after which he spends six years studying towards ordination to the priesthood at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. He is ordained a priest of the Diocese of Derry in Belleek on March 16, 1957. His first appointment is as a Curate in Castlederg, County Tyrone. In 1962, he is appointed a Curate in St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, with responsibility for the Bogside area of the city. He leaves briefly in the 1970s to serve as a religious advisor to RTÉ in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland but spends the majority of his career in Derry.

During his time in Derry, Daly takes part in the civil rights marches. He has first-hand experience of the Battle of the Bogside in 1969, the early years of the Troubles, internment, and the events of Bloody Sunday, in which British soldiers fire on unarmed protesters on January 30, 1972, killing 14 people. He becomes a public figure after he is witnessed using a blood-stained handkerchief as a white flag in an attempt to escort 17-year-old Jackie Duddy, a wounded protester, to safety. Duddy dies of his injuries soon after and Daly administers the last rites. He later describes the events as “a young fella who was posing no threat to anybody being shot dead unjustifiably.”

Daly gives an interview to the BBC in which he insists, contrary to official reports, that the protesters were unarmed. He testifies as such to the Widgery Tribunal, though he also testifies that he had seen a man with a gun on the day, to the anger of some of those involved. The Widgery Report largely exonerates the British Army, perpetuating the controversy. Years later, he says that the events of Bloody Sunday were a significant catalyst to the violence in Northern Ireland, and that the shootings served to greatly increase recruitment to the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Prior to Bloody Sunday, Daly is sympathetic to the “old” IRA, of which his father was a member, but the events of Bloody Sunday leave him of the opinion that “violence is completely unacceptable as a means to a political end,” which leads to tension with the Provisional Irish Republican Army throughout his career.

Daly is appointed Bishop of Derry in 1974, a position he holds until he is forced to retire in October 1993 after suffering a stroke. He continues in the role of chaplain to Derry’s Foyle Hospice until February 2016.

Daly makes headlines in 2011 when he says there needs to be a place in the modern Catholic Church for married priests. He addresses the controversial issue in his book about his life in the Church, A Troubled See. Allowing clergymen to marry would ease the church’s problems, he says.

Daly is awarded the Freedom of the City by Derry City Council in 2015 in a joint ceremony with Bishop James Mehaffey, with whom he had worked closely while the two were in office. He is “hugely pleased to accept [the award], particularly when it is being shared with my friend and brother, Bishop James.” The city’s mayor, Brenda Stevenson, announces that the joint award is in recognition of the two bishops’ efforts towards peace and community cohesion.

Daly dies on August 8, 2016 at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry, having been admitted after a fall several weeks previously. He had also been diagnosed with cancer. He is surrounded by family and local priests.

Daly’s remains are taken to St. Eugene’s Cathedral, where he lay in state with mourners able to file past. His coffin is sealed at midday on August 11, 2016 and buried after Requiem Mass in the grounds of St. Eugene’s Cathedral alongside his predecessor as Bishop of Derry, Neil Farren. The bells of the cathedral toll for one hour on the morning of Daly’s death while many local people arrived to pay tribute. The mayor of Derry, Hilary McClintock, opens a book of condolence in the city’s guildhall for members of the public to sign. The funeral, conducted by the incumbent Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown, is attended by multiple religious and political leaders from across Ireland and retired leaders from throughout his career. A message from Pope Francis is read aloud at the beginning of the service. Hundreds of members of the public also attend the funeral, some lining the route from the cathedral to the gravesite. His coffin is greeted with applause as it is carried out of the cathedral for burial.

(Pictured: Father Edward Daly, waving a blood-stained white handkerchief as he escorts a mortally-wounded protester to safety during the events of Bloody Sunday (1972) in Derry, Northern Ireland, an image which becomes one of the most recognisable moments of the Troubles)


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Murder of Journalist Eugene Moloney

Eugene Moloney, an Irish journalist renowned for his coverage of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, is found dead on Camden Street in Dublin after being attacked and struck on the head while walking in the early morning of June 24, 2012. He had worked for The Irish News in Belfast and later the Evening Herald and Irish Independent in Dublin among other newspapers.

Moloney, aged 55, who lives alone at Portobello Place on the south side of Dublin, is on his way home when he is attacked. He is punched in the side of the head and falls to the ground as the two men in their 20s attack him. The incident is caught on CCTV and police make quick arrests just hours after the murder. Officers believe Moloney may have been robbed as he lay unconscious on the ground, as his wallet and identification are missing.

A murder investigation is launched after a post mortem examination confirms that Moloney had died from serious head injuries as a result of the assault.

Formerly with The Irish News in Belfast and the Irish Independent in Dublin, Moloney had been freelancing on his return from a spell teaching in Vietnam. His final article, on the Ulster Bank IT crisis, appears in the Irish edition of the Daily Mail just hours before his death.

Group Managing Editor of Independent Papers Ireland Ltd. Michael Denieffe pays tribute to Moloney in telling the Irish Independent, “On behalf of Independent Newspapers, I want to express our shock at the untimely death of our former colleague, Eugene Moloney. He was a resourceful and fearless journalist. It is a tragic irony that Eugene has died in an incident similar to many he would have recorded in his years working for the Evening Herald and the Irish Independent. Our sympathies go to his family and friends.”

The Irish News editor Noel Doran tells the paper he is deeply shocked by the death of his good friend Eugene Moloney. “Eugene and I studied journalism together at the former College of Business Studies in Belfast in the late 1970s, and went on to share flats over a number of years. Eugene was a talented and respected reporter with The Irish News during the height of the Troubles and was also the paper’s music columnist for a lengthy period.”

(From: “Journalist Eugene Moloney murdered as attempted robbery goes wrong in Dublin” by Patrick Counihan, IrishCentral, http://www.irishcentral.com, June 25, 2012)


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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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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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Disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary

The Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve special constable police force in Northern Ireland commonly called the “B-Specials” or “B Men,” is disbanded on April 30, 1970 following the release of the Hunt Report.

The USC is set up in October 1920, shortly before the partition of Ireland. It is an armed corps, organised partially on military lines and called out in times of emergency, such as war or insurgency. It performs this role most notably in the early 1920s during the Irish War of Independence (1920-22) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) Border Campaign (1956-1962).

During its existence, 95 USC members are killed in the line of duty. Seventy-two of these are killed in conflict with the IRA in 1921 and 1922. Another eight die in air raids or IRA attacks during World War II. Of the remainder, most die in accidents but two former officers are killed during the Troubles in the 1980s.

The force is almost exclusively Ulster Protestant and as a result is viewed with great mistrust by Catholics. It carries out several revenge killings and reprisals against Catholic civilians during the Irish War of Independence. Unionists generally support the USC as contributing to the defence of Northern Ireland from subversion and outside aggression.

The abolition of the B Specials is a central demand of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement in the late 1960s. On April 30, 1970, the USC is finally stood down as a result of the Hunt Report, produced by a committee headed by John Hunt, Baron Hunt in 1969. Hunt concludes that the perceived bias of the Special Constabulary, whether true or not, has to be addressed. One of his other major concerns is the use of the police force for carrying out military style operations.

It has been argued that the USC’s failure to deal with the 1969 disturbances were due to a failure on behalf of the Northern Ireland government to modernise their equipment, weaponry, training and approach to the job. Upon the disbandment of the USC, many of its members join the newly established Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), the part-time security force which replaces the B Specials. Unlike the Special Constabulary, the UDR is placed under military control. Other B Specials join the new part-time Reserve of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The USC continues to do duties for a month after the formation of the UDR and RUC Reserve to allow both of the new forces time to consolidate.

In the final handover to the Ulster Defence Regiment, the B Specials have to surrender their weapons and uniforms. Despite the government’s concerns about the handover of weapons and equipment, every single uniform and every single weapon is surrendered.

After implementation of the Hunt report, the last night of duties for most B Men is March 31, 1970. On April 1, 1970 the Ulster Defence Regiment begins duties. Initially, the Regiment has 4,000 members who work part-time while the new special constabulary, the RUC Reserve which replaces the B-Specials, initially consists of 1,500 members.

Since disbandment the USC has assumed a place of “almost mythic proportions” within unionist folklore, whereas in the Nationalist community they are still reviled as the Protestant only, armed wing of the unionist government “associated with the worst examples of unfair treatment of Catholics in Northern Ireland by the police force.” An Orange Order lodge is formed to commemorate the disbandment of the force called “Ulster Special Constabulary LOL No. 1970.” An Ulster Special Constabulary Association is also set up soon after the disbandment.


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Birth of Robin Eames, Primate of All Ireland & Archbishop of Armagh

Robert Henry Alexander “Robin” Eames, Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh from 1986 to 2006, is born in Belfast on April 27, 1936, the son of a Methodist minister.

Eames spends his early years in Larne, with the family later moving to Belfast. He is educated at the city’s Belfast Royal Academy and Methodist College Belfast before going on to study at Queen’s University Belfast, graduating LL.B. (Upper Second Class Honours) in 1960 and earning a Ph.D. degree in canon law and history in 1963. During his undergraduate course at Queen’s, one of his philosophy lecturers is his future Roman Catholic counterpart, Cahal Daly.

Turning his back on legal studies for ordination in the Church of Ireland, Eames embarks on a three-year course at the divinity school of Trinity College, Dublin in 1960, but finds the course “intellectually unsatisfying.” In 1963 he is appointed curate assistant at Bangor Parish Church, becoming rector of St. Dorothea’s in Belfast in 1966, the same year he marries Christine Daly.

During his time at St. Dorothea’s, in the Braniel and Tullycarnet area of east Belfast, Eames develops a “coffee bar ministry” among young people but is interrupted by the Troubles. He turns down the opportunity to become dean of Cork and in 1974 is appointed rector of St. Mark’s in Dundela in east Belfast, a church with strong family links to C. S. Lewis.

On May 9, 1975, at the age of 38, Eames is elected bishop of the cross-border Diocese of Derry and Raphoe. Five years later, on May 30, 1980, he is translated to the Diocese of Down and Dromore. He is elected to Down and Dromore on April 23 and that election is confirmed on May 20, 1980. In 1986, he becomes the 14th Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland since the Church of Ireland’s break with Rome. It is an appointment that causes some level of astonishment among other church leaders.

Drumcree Church, a rural parish near Portadown, becomes the site of a major political incident in 1996, when the annual Orangemen‘s march is banned by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary from returning to the centre of Portadown via the nationalist Garvaghy Road after attending worship at Drumcree Church. Public unrest and violence escalates over the next three summers as other parades come under first police and later commission sanction.

Eames, as diocesan bishop and civil leader finds himself immersed in the search for a resolution to the issue. Within the wider Church of Ireland there is unease as it is a broad church in theology and politics including within its congregations nationalists in the south and unionists in the north. Eames, along with the rector of Drumcree, has to navigate this political and social controversy and seeks political assistance to diffuse tension. Some bishops in the Republic of Ireland call for Eames to close the parish church, including Bishop John Neill who later becomes Archbishop of Dublin. He refuses to do so, believing this action could precipitate greater unrest and possible bloodshed.

Eames is, for many years, a significant figure within the general Anglican Communion. In 2003, the self-styled ‘divine optimist’ is appointed Chairman of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, which examines significant challenges to unity in the Anglican Communion. The Commission publishes its report, the Windsor Report, on October 18, 2004.

At the Church of Ireland General Synod in 2006 Eames announces his intention to retire on December 31, 2006. Church law permits him to continue as primate until the age of 75 but he resigns, in good health, at the age of 69. On January 10, 2007, the eleven serving bishops of the Church of Ireland meet at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and elect Alan Harper, Bishop of Connor, as Eames’s successor.


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Formation of the Sinn Féin League

The nationalist groups, Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs, combine to form the Sinn Féin League on April 21, 1907.

The ideas that lead to Sinn Féin are first propounded by the United Irishman newspaper and its editor, Arthur Griffith. An article by Griffith in that paper in March 1900 calls for the creation of an association to bring together the disparate Irish nationalist groups of the time and, as a result, Cumann na nGaedheal is formed at the end of 1900. Griffith first puts forward his proposal for the abstention of Irish members of parliament (MP) from the Parliament of the United Kingdom at the 1902 Cumann na nGaedheal convention. A second organisation, the National Council, is formed in 1903 by Maud Gonne and others, including Griffith, on the occasion of the visit of King Edward VII to Dublin. Its purpose is to lobby Dublin Corporation to refrain from presenting an address to the king. The motion to present an address is duly defeated, but the National Council remains in existence as a pressure group with the aim of increasing nationalist representation on local councils.

Griffith elaborates his policy in a series of articles in the United Irishman in 1904, which outline how the policy of withdrawing from the imperial parliament and passive resistance had been successfully followed in Hungary, leading to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and the creation of a dual monarchy, and proposes that Irish MPs should follow the same course. These are published later that year in a booklet entitled The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland. Also in 1904, Mary Ellen Butler, a friend of Griffith and cousin of Ulster Unionist Party leader Edward Carson, remarks in a conversation that his ideas are “the policy of Sinn Féin, in fact” and Griffith enthusiastically adopts the term. The phrase Sinn Féin (‘Ourselves’ or ‘We Ourselves’) had been in use since the 1880s as an expression of separatist thinking, and was used as a slogan by the Gaelic League in the 1890s.

The first annual convention of the National Council on November 28, 1905 is notable for two things: the decision, by a majority vote (with Griffith dissenting), to open branches and organise on a national basis; and the presentation by Griffith of his ‘Hungarian’ policy, which is now called the Sinn Féin policy. This meeting is usually taken as the date of the foundation of the Sinn Féin party. In the meantime, a third organisation, the Dungannon Clubs, named after the Dungannon Convention of 1782, has been formed in Belfast by Bulmer Hobson, and it also considers itself to be part of ‘the Sinn Féin movement.’

By 1907, there is pressure on the three organisations to unite — especially from the United States, where John Devoy offers funding, but only to a unified party. The pressure increases when Charles Dolan, the Irish Parliamentary Party MP for North Leitrim, announces his intention to resign his seat and contest it on a Sinn Féin platform. On April 21, 1907, Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs merge as the ‘Sinn Féin League.’ Negotiations continue until August when, at the National Council annual convention, the League and the National Council merge on terms favourable to Griffith. The resulting party is named Sinn Féin, and its foundation is backdated to the National Council convention of November 1905.

In the 1908 North Leitrim by-election, Sinn Féin secures 27% of the vote. Thereafter, both support and membership fall. Attendance is poor at the 1910 Ard Fheis, and there is difficulty finding members willing to take seats on the executive. While some local councillors are elected running under the party banner in the 1911 local elections, by 1915 the party is, in the words of one of Griffith’s colleagues, “on the rocks,” and so insolvent financially that it cannot pay the rent on its headquarters in Harcourt Street in Dublin.

Following the Easter Rising in 1916, Sinn Féin grows in membership, with a reorganisation at its Ard Fheis in 1917. Its split in 1922 in response to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which leads to the Irish Civil War leads to the origins of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two parties which have since dominated Irish politics. Another split in the remaining Sinn Féin organisation in the early years of the Troubles in 1970 leads to the Sinn Féin of today, which is a republican, left-wing nationalist and secular party.

(Pictured: Arthur Griffith, founder (1905) and third president (1911-17) of Sinn Féin)


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Introduction of the Special Powers Act 1922

The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is an Act introduced by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. The much larger group (nationalists) are mostly Roman Catholic, identified primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. The smaller group (unionists), concentrated primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identified primarily as British and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom. In the years before World War I, both groups establish armed militias intended to enforce their aims and protect their communities from the other side’s militias. The British government resolves to partition Ireland in an effort to alleviate unionists and nationalists, with the six most Protestant counties of Ulster forming Northern Ireland while the rest of Ireland achieves self-rule. This is accepted by most unionists as the best deal they are likely to get, but bitterly disappoints many nationalists, especially those who live in the six counties which become Northern Ireland. Many nationalists on both sides of the border feel that their country has been unjustly divided, and for many decades the Irish government claims that Northern Ireland is rightfully its territory.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Special Powers Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enable the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. The Minister of Home Affairs is empowered to make any regulation felt necessary to preserve law and order in Northern Ireland. Anyone who breaks these regulations can be sentenced to up to a year in prison with hard labour, and in the case of some crimes, whipping. A special summary jurisdiction is enabled to hear cases involving such crimes. The Minister of Home Affairs is also permitted to forbid the holding of inquests if he feels this is required to preserve order and peace.

The Schedule to the Act specifies actions which the government can take in order to preserve peace, although the body of the Act enables the government to take any steps at all which it thinks necessary. Actions specified in the Schedule include the closing of licensed premises, the banning in any area of meetings and parades in public places, the closing of roads, the taking of any land or property, and the destruction of any building. The Schedule also forbids the spreading by word of mouth or text any “reports or…statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to subjects of His Majesty.”

Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Special Powers Act is initially current for only one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent. According to John Whyte, this happens because, from 1925, nationalist MPs begin sitting in the Stormont parliament which they had initially boycotted. Unsurprisingly, they object strenuously to the renewal of the Act, and it is felt by the Ulster Unionist Party Minister of Home Affairs that it would be better to make the Act permanent than for Parliament annually to “wrangle” over it.

Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial, outlined in Paragraph 23 of the Schedule. In the period from May 1922 to December 1924, 700 republicans are interned under the Act.

Political violence declines dramatically by 1925, and the government gradually shifts its emphasis from broad measures designed to return civil order to the province to more preventative regulations aimed at suppressing the threat posed by republican aspirations. Regulations banning meetings and parades and restrictions on the flying of the Irish tricolour become more common. Between 1922 and 1950, the government bans nearly 100 parades and meetings, the vast majority of which are nationalist or republican. No loyalist gathering is ever directly banned under the Act, although a few are caught in blanket bans against parades or meetings in a particular area. From 1922 until 1972, 140 publications are banned, the vast majority of which express republican viewpoints.

After the troubles of the early 1920s has died down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s border campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of the Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the Provisional Irish Republican Army amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.

The Act encounters further controversy in the 1970s due to the deployment of the British Army in Northern Ireland and its role in maintaining order and similar policing-style duties. In 1972, the government is forced to amend the Act in order to legalise the detention of internees arrested by soldiers. Martin Meehan had been arrested after escaping from Crumlin Road Gaol and charged with escaping from lawful custody. At his trial he successfully argues that under the Special Powers Act a soldier has no power of arrest and, as such, he has the legal right to escape. He is awarded £800 in compensation for being illegally detained for twenty-three days.