Monday, June 27, 2022

The Collectors Story: No Smoking

 

Tom with Minister Deirdre Hargey and mise

The Collectors Story

I have known Tom Hartley for 55 years. During that time he has given decades of service to the republican cause. He has been an organiser, a writer, a propagandist, a leader. During the anti-internment protests of the early 1970s, and then the H-Block/Armagh campaign he was in the front line. He was Chair of Sinn Féin in Belfast and then during the hunger strikes in 1980 and1981 he was responsible for the Sinn Féin Prisoner of War dept ensuring that we had a line of communication with  the prisons.

In the 1980s Tom was Ard Runai of the party. With the development of the Sinn Fein peace strategy Tom, along with Jim Gibney, led our effort to engage with political and civic unionism and the Protestant Churches. Later Tom became a popular Belfast City Councillor and Mayor of the City

Among Tom’s many talents – a bodhrán maker and player par excellence with a fine taste for good food and fine wine – he is also an historian who has written about the people and history of Belfast through his books on the City Cemetery; Milltown Cemetery, and Balmoral Cemetery.

Tom decided many years ago that the republican history of the city – often ignored by the more established institutions – needed to be told and preserved. So Tom became a collector. Posters, leaflets, badges, publications, books, speeches, in fact anything that wasn’t nailed down would find its way into the Linen Hall library for the perusal and preservation of this and future generations. Mostly republican but his collection also reflects the differences of opinion and politics within our society.

In 2016 the Ulster Museum began its ‘Collecting the Troubles and Beyond’ project to which Tom has donated over 2,000 objects.  Last week Tom opened his own unique collection. A Collectors Story.  At the well attended event he said: “If you’re not seen – you’re not heard. When you’re not heard someone else will steal your voice, either distort or silence your narrative.”

So, take the time to go to the Ulster Museum. You won’t be disappointed. Tom has made an invaluable and innovative contribution to the story telling of Ireland. Well done chara.

 

No Smoking

Back in the day my generation, or most of us, used to smoke. It was the social thing to do at that time. Gallagher’s Blues, Park Drive, Woodbine were the ‘feg’ of choice. Some shops sold them as single cigarettes. Some were also available in packs of five. I came upon an empty packet of 5 Woodbine recently. It sparked memories and a regret that I ever smoked. It was Joe Magee’s fault. Joe was a neighbour and a childhood friend. Joe is my pal to this day. He lives in Australia now. He introduced me to nicotine.  

Later when he joined the Merchant Navy Joe brought home duty free Capstan, Benson and Hedges, Marlboro - I think that featured a cowboy in its adverts.  He also brought Peter Stuyvesant and Camel into our lives. And our lungs.  Once he went very arty with Gauloise Bleu before descending to rolling his own. Rizla cigarette papers wrapped around Golden Virginia tobacco. There was even a little machine for rolling cigarettes, complete with filter tips. When Joe and I started smoking filter tip cigarettes weren’t so popular. 

Trips to Dublin introduced us to Sweet Afton and Major Extra Size along with Carrolls Number 1. It seemed everyone smoked in those days. In this current smoke free era it is hard to imagine how smoggy public places could be back then. Talk of smoke filled rooms? Pubs, cafes vied with Picture Houses and Concert Halls, Committee Rooms and Changing Rooms for that title.

And our houses were the same. Most homes had ash trays. Some were rather stylish perched on their own column of brass or glass or wood. Now they are rarely to be seen except as treasures on the Antique Road Show.  Nowadays smokers stand outside in doorways and little shelters, like banished children of Eve, clustered together in all types of weather having a wee drag. I am told that romance often flourishes in these close encounters. 

I used to smoke everything. Everything legal that is. Cigarettes, Cheroots, Cigars. The Pipe. Sometimes all at the same time. Well not exactly all at once. My mouth isn’t as big as that, contrary to the claims of the usual jealous detractors. 

Then I caught myself on. I started to try to give them up. I did it so many times I got good at it. Sometimes when I was trying to stop I used to keep a few fegs in a packet in my pocket. When the urge was on me to smoke I would take out a cigarette and talk to it. 

‘Do you really think you’re gonna break me?’ I would tell it. 

Some times that worked. Other times the cigarette faced me down. No matter how tough I talked it was well schooled in ant-interrogation techniques. It said nothing. I must confess, pardon the pun, that when I told the cigarette everything I knew about  smoking  and after I strenuously disassociated myself from and repudiated all connections with it, occasionally I broke and succumbed to the urge for one ‘last’ smoke. 

It was the same in prison as it was out of prison. I struggled with my addiction.  Cigarettes are like currency in prison. Especially among the Ordinary Decent Criminals, as the Brits call them. To distinguish them from the political prisoners. Tobacco used to be king in those penal circles. 

Toítíní  was also a highly prized commodity for us politicos. Especially in punishment regimes where they were mostly forbidden. Or very scarce. I remember one comrade smoking tea leaves wrapped in toilet roll. He only managed two drags. Others scrounged discarded cigarette butts and shredded them into rollups. Sometimes using pages from The Bible. Holy Smokes. 

Colette smoked too. Though she confined herself to cigarettes. Then our oldest lad, alerted in school to the dangers of smoking, started to admonish us. So I stopped. But then I broke again. I never let on. It was a temporary lapse I told myself.  

One day I was having a sneaky puff in the toilet. I neglected to lock the door. The oldest lad burst in. He caught me feg in hand. He was so let down and disappointed in me there was only one thing I could do. I stopped smoking there and then. One of the best things I ever did for my health. Go raibh maith agat Gearóid. 

Colette stopped as well, some time afterwards. But better late than never. Since then we live in a smoke free zone.  

 

Three books: International Brigade against Apartheid: Secrets of the People’s War that Liberated South Africa’ Ronnie Kasrils: On the Blanket by Eoghan MacCormaic: United Nation by Frank Connolly

 Three Books

I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate an occasional column to books. We can return to Brexit, the Protocol and other such matters at another time.  So in this column I am reviewing three books. United Nation by Frank Connolly. On The Blanket by Eoghan Mac Cormaic and International Brigade against Apartheid: Secrets of the People’s War that Liberated South Africa’ By Ronnie Kasrils.

These are clearly political books which may not surprise any of you. I am also conscious that these three are written by men. So less I give you the wrong impression let me make it clear that my reading activity is not limited to political books or to male authors. I binge read, so Sebastian Barry’s The Sacred Scripture, Billy Connolly’s Windswept and Interesting are also on the go along with Sylvie Simmons I’m Your Man about Leonard Cohen. I dip in and out of them when I get the chance. I also prefer real books to Kindle or other electronic models. Richard is a Kindleman. But a book is a book and for me there is no substitute. I am also always taken by a nicely presented tome. Imelda May’s A Lick And A Promise is o great example of that. And her poetry is wonderful. I whole heartedly recommend A Lick And A Promise.

International Brigade against Apartheid: Secrets of the People’s War that Liberated South Africa’ Ronnie Kasrils.

I have known Ronnie Kasrils for many years. He is a friend of Ireland and a champion of those struggling around the world for freedom and justice. In 1961 he was a founding member, along with Nelson Mandela and others, of Umkhonto we Siswe – MK for short – the armed wing of the African National Congress. In the post apartheid South Africa he was the Minister for Intelligence and Minister for Water.

Ronnie is currently in Ireland promoting his new book ‘International Brigade against Apartheid: Secrets of the People’s War that Liberated South Africa’ which provides a remarkable insight into the international solidarity that was crucial in achieving a free South Africa. Last week I had the honour and pleasure of launching the book with Ronnie at an event in Áras Uí Chonghaile.

During his long years of service to MK and the ANC Ronnie spent much of his time in exile organising those outside of South Africa who were part of the anti-apartheid campaign as well as those who assisted MK. The International Brigade Ronnie writes, “served a just cause for freedom against tyranny, and were composed of volunteers motivated by the spirit of international solidarity.”

Irish citizens were hugely supportive of the struggle against apartheid. The stand taken by the Dunnes Store workers remains a shining example of the solidarity of workers in one country for workers in another.

Irish republicans too have long had close fraternal links with the ANC and MK. Kadar Asmal who founded the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and was later a Minister in post Apartheid South Africa revealed in his book ‘Politics in My Blood’ that the MK attack in June 1980 on the Sasolburg oil refinery – South Africa’s most important – involved the IRA.

In the introduction to his book Ronnie refers to the concept of Ubuntu. It is a recognition that we are all connected together in our humanity. This is the essence of international solidarity. Where we see injustice either in our own place or in Palestine or South Africa we have a responsibility to help end it. Ar scath a cheile a maireann na daoine.

Ronnie’s book is a must read for anyone interested in national liberation struggle. His remarks at the Belfast launch were inspirational and insightful.

Well done Ronnie. 

On the Blanket by Eoghan MacCormaic

Eoghan Mac Cormaic is one of our most willing cheerful modest and clever writers. He is part of that growing band of republicans, particularly former political prisoners, who have produced an account of their experiences. This new book by Eoghan is based on his Pluid-Scéal na mBlocanna H 1976-81. Published by Coiscéim in 2021 it tells the story of Eoghan’s life On the Blanket, mostly in H Block 5. In this English language version he takes us through the A to Z of Prison Resistance. Very clever. And funny as well. Eoghan always had a way with words. He used to produce crosswords in English and Irish for the entertainment of the other blanket men. In 1989 and 1990Sinn Féin’s POW Department published two books of Irish crosswords Eoghan compiled and years later he published another one himself. He still produces a crossword puzzle for Éire Nua, the quarterly on line United Ireland magazine.

Eoghan brings the same quirkiness with words to On The Blanket. His A - the first chapter - gives us A for Arrival, Agóid, Aire, Authorities, Administration and AGs, Aifreann, Achs. And so on through the alphabet.

But what of Z or X I wondered to myself. No problem to Eoghan. X gives us X-rays and Xenophobia. Z gives us ZZ Top a popular band of musicians of that era with long wild beards much like many of the blanket men. Zinc, part of soft metal tooth paste tubes which were used to write on the cell walls.

Eoghan describes the culture which underpinned the blanket protest, ‘ …confined by the prison but not compliant to the prison. Although locked up twenty four hours a day this community was free from and rejected prison rules. For a period of five years or so they, we, became a people apart with our own rules, our own customs. We showed no respect for the prison, its screws, its governors, its rules, or its buildings because the only respect we had in that place was for ourselves. Degraded and terrorised we prized and maintained our self respect always.’

One of the most moving letters in Eoghan’s alphabet is C for Comradeship. In a page and a half he spells out what this meant in the H Blocks and Armagh Women’s’ Prison. It should continue to guide us today as should the generosity, bravery of our hunger strikers. I was also shocked to read that a third of those who served their time on the blanket are now dead. I don’t know if this is attributable to their prison experience or a sign of the age our generation is at.

Eoghan has ensured that they will not be forgotten.

 

United Nation by Frank Connolly




It took Frank Connolly two years to write United Nation. When he started Brexit negotiations were meandering towards a ‘no deal’. It was just before the arrival of the Covid pandemic. In this very readable book Frank has opted for a narrative style which spells out events like this as they developed instead of a more formal set up dealing with questions on the economy, agriculture, education, health, the environment, constitutional law and the other pertinent issues.

This approach works well. Frank is a very good writer and an accomplished journalist. He has published best sellers including NAMA-LAND and Tom Gilmartin. United Nation is a very accessible and compelling read and an important and timely contribution to the growing debate on the future of Ireland.

Frank also interviews scores of people. These include senior political players from all quarters and experts on various aspects of social, economic, constitutional matters. But he also has a representative sample of opinion from the arts community with singers, writers, actors and poets as well as grassroots community activists, particularly from the north.

As he said at the Belfast launch in the historic Linen Hall he also sought the contributions of those with wisdom and experience on the key areas that required research …. ‘Brendan O’Leary and Colin Harvey on the constitutional questions and future political structures, David McWilliams and Seamus McGuinness on the potential of the all island economy, Dr Gabriel Scally on health and Tony Gallagher, Jarlath Burns and Áine Hyland on education, Mike Tomlinson on social welfare, John Sweeney on the environment, agriculture, transport, Dermot Walsh on the legal system and policing, Patricia King and Orla O’Connor on the rights of workers, of women, migrants and of other cultural and ethnic minorities in a new Ireland……..’

He sought advice and knowledge on the future relationship with Britain, the role of the EU and the US and of wider global relations along with influential figures from a unionist and loyalist cultural background who were willing to discuss the question of Irish unity. He also spoke to a number of academic researchers, historians, political representatives and activists.

Frank Connolly is a longstanding and active United Irelander but this book is not about his opinion on what a new, unified Ireland would look like. Instead United Nation is based on factual and informed research and the views of a wide range of interesting people, their representative organisations and communities.

There are a number of core themes running through United Nation. They include the reality that the type of independent, inclusive, integrated and united Ireland cannot happen without radical transformation in the delivery of basic needs for all our citizens on the island. It has never been about merely joining six and twenty six counties.

Most of those interviewed are agreed, no matter about their different opinions, that the future most be planned.

I will give the last word to Frank Connolly. He says; ‘It is perhaps an irony of history that it will require a strong left wing and radical government to make such a deep and profound transformation.’

The three books reviewed here are available at An Fhuiseog,55 Falls Road, Belfast BT12 4PDinfo@thelarkstore.iehttps://www.facebook.com/AnFhuiseog/  

 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Confronting sectarianism: A wedding and a strike: I am not guilty – I want to go home, Leonard Peltier

Confronting sectarianism

The posting online of a vile video showing members of the Orange Order mocking the murder of Michaela McAreavey has been widely condemned. Last week in another video Pastor Barrie Halliday appeared on social media describing Catholics as ‘rats that need to be murdered with rifles and grenades.’

Both of these actions are evidence of an existing underlying sectarianism within northern society that has its roots in English colonialism and in the deliberate fostering by the British state in Ireland of division between Catholics and Protestants. The Loyal Orders have long played a prominent role in promulgating this.

That sectarianism still exists is not surprising. Unionist political leaders and their British allies often play the Orange Card as they seek to maximise their electoral vote or secure an advantage in a negotiation.

Since partition there are few Catholic families in the North that have not had direct experience of sectarianism, of discrimination in employment or housing, of collusion involving unionist death squads, the B Specials, the UDR, RUC and British Army or of pogroms. Orange marches with their ‘kick the Pope bands’ and sectarian songs – like The Famine Song; their posters of nationalist politicians or of religious statues on bonefires and their desire to parade triumphantly through or past nationalist areas have long been part of the nationalist experience.

The dignity and grace of Michaela‘s family is an example to us all.

Words like ‘abhorrent’ or ‘shameful’ or ‘despicable’ readily spring to mind when sectarianism rears its head. But if society is serious about challenging sectarianism there is a need to go beyond the rhetoric of condemnation. The fact is that sectarianism is written into the DNA of the northern state. The celebration/commemoration of the centenary of ‘Northern Ireland’ and the Orange Hall event which was a part of this, are a case in point. It is important to note that those involved are a bigoted minority. But they have to be stood up to.

So, what to do? The reality is that sectarianism will not be wished away. It cannot be ignored. The starting point must positive leadership from political, cultural, religious and civic society. The law and the enforcement of the law also has a crucial role to play in this. That means a new legal definition of sectarianism entrenched in law with legal sanctions and robust incitement to hatred provisions.

All cultural celebrations and expressions should be governed by the principles of respect, equality and parity of esteem. And the allocation of all public funds must be disbursed fairly and proportionately, and on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity for the identities and aspirations of others. Bigotry and sectarianism should not be publicly funded. It should be illegal.

Frank Connolly

A wedding and a strike

James Connolly is one of my heroes. He was a socialist, a republican, a writer, a thinker, a trade union leader. He fought for the rights of workers and against their exploitation. He joined with Pearse and Clarke and Ceannt and others in the Irish Republican Brotherhood at Easter 1916 in striking for Irish freedom and for the right of the people of Ireland to independence and self-determination. He was vehemently anti-sectarian. Working in Belfast he experienced at first hand the despicable way in which sectarianism was used by unionist and business leaders to divide workers.

Áras Uí Chonghaile – on Belfast’s Falls Road - is a unique tribute to Connolly. It is an exceptional historical and educational interactive experience, containing artefacts from Connolly’s life and from the 1916 period. It is close to 1 Glenalina Terrace, which was Connolly’s home for the last five years of his life.

Last month the Royal Society of Ulster Architects named Áras Uí Chonghaile as the Building of the Year. The distinctive portrait of James Connolly on the perforated-metal gable wall also won the Integration of Art Award.

Last Saturday Frank Connolly, author, SIPTU official and one of Ireland’s leading investigative journalists, formally opened the Leabharlann Uí Chonghaile/James Connolly Library.

The library which is situated on the first floor is a welcoming space in which the visitor can sit and read some of the many books available. It contains accounts of Connolly’s life, including those by his daughters Nora Connolly O’Brien and Ina Connolly Heron, as well as works written by the man himself. It also contains books on politics in Ireland and internationally.

In his remarks Frank Connolly (no relation) described James Connolly as an “extraordinary socialist agitator, writer and anti-imperialist revolutionary...He was killed, not just for his role in organising the Easter Rising, as Commander in the GPO of the Irish Volunteers and members of the Irish Citizen Army, who combined during those weeks to form the Irish Republican Army. It was also because he was a threat to the capitalist class”

But the conversation wasn’t all serious. Frank recalled a letter sent by James Connolly to his future wife Lillie. In it he wrote: “It is such a long time since we met, but I trust we will meet to part no more. Won’t that be pleasant. By the way, if we get married next week, I shall be unable to go to Dundee as I promised as my fellow-workmen in the job are preparing to strike on the end of this month for a reduction in the hours of labour. As my brother and I are ringleaders in the matter it is necessary we should be on the ground.”

His daughter Ina remarked: “I have always thought it the hallmark of my mother’s character that she should accept the hand of a man who could mention wedding plans and a strike action in the same letter.”

Leabharlann Uí Chonghaile is now open for those who want a quiet place to read, to think, to write. Its museum experience is amazing and I would strongly encourage readers – if you haven’t called in yet – to make it a point of visiting Áras Uí Chonghaile. For information:

ÁRAS UÍ CHONGHAILE
374-376 Falls Road
Belfast, BT12 6DG

Telephone: 02890 991 005Email: info@arasuichonghaile.com

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I am not guilty – I want to go home

This week I wrote again to Leonard Peltier, the native American rights activist who has been imprisoned for 46 years. Regular readers will know that over the years I have written about his continued wrongful imprisonment – he is America’s longest serving political prisoner.

Leonard was convicted in 1977 of the killing of 2 FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota. He has always protested his innocence. Last year James H. Reynolds the former US Attorney General whose office handled the prosecution in the Leonard Peltier case appealed for Leonard’s sentence to be commuted. In recent months three Democratic Senators – Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Brian Schtaz and Sen. Mazie Hirono urged President Biden to show clemency and free

Leonard. President Biden has an opportunity to do the right thing.

In an interview recently with HuffPost Leonard said: “I’m not guilty of this shooting. I’m not guilty. I would like to go home to spend what years I have left with my great-grandkids and my people.”

If you have a moment write a letter or send a card. Remember Leonard Peltier.

Leonard Peltier

#89637-132 USP Coleman

US Penitentiary PO Box 1033

Coleman,

FL, 33521

USA

 

Monday, June 6, 2022

The Planter and the Gael: Time for Truth: The Springhill/Westrock Massacre


Last week US Congress member Richie Neal, Chair of the Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill, led a Congressional delegation from Washington to Brussels, London, Dublin, the Blasket’s, Derry and Belfast. The delegation met with a very wide range of political representatives including Government representatives as well as civic society. 

The Blasket’s you ask?  Why there? Well, in 1953 the last people who lived on the Blasket islands were forced to leave their beautiful islands off the coast of Kerry because of the lack of necessary services. Some of them went to Springfield in Massachusetts in the USA. That’s Richie’s district. So naturally a visit to Ireland had to include a visit to Dunquin and then a short helicopter flight to the Great Blasket. I wonder what Peig would have thought of that? 

But I digress! 

‘Aris,’ says you. 

So, to the point of this epistle. In the course of his visit to our part of Ireland Congressman Neal spoke of the Planter and the Gael. Now way back in the day one of my Adams ancestors was almost certainly a Planter. So I have a certain connection with that term. Although I am avowedly a Gael I have no wish to ignore my roots.  We all have to come from somewhere.   Indeed I would love to have the time to delve into my Planter history.

Richie Neal’s comment was benign. The first time I heard the phrase the ‘Planter and the Gael’ was when Peter Robinson used it in a speech in  2004. He said: “When I speak of 'our people' I speak of those who share my unionist philosophy and those who do not – I speak of both the Planter and the Gael," he said. 

He was talking at that time about his hopes of an outcome to negotiations. 

He used the same term again in 2006 when a deal was put together. 

"I hope that the sons and daughters of the Planter and Gael have found a way to share the land of their birth and live together in peace," he said.  

I liked Peter’s remarks at that time. I still do.  I saw his use of Planter and Gael as being well intended. Like Richie Neal’s comments.  

I was puzzled then last week to learn that some Unionist leaders had taken umbrage at Richie. They claimed the Planter term was offensive. Maybe in a different context they might have a point. But if they didn’t take the needle at Peter Robinson why be offended by Richie Neal?

All of us who live here should know by now that this is where we all belong. This is our home. Wherever we came from this is now our native land. So we should make the most of it and make this the best place it can be, inclusive of all of us. 

Poets John Hewitt and John Montague did that very well in a series of readings they conducted across the North in November 1970. The poems they read were published by the Arts Council.

They are available at:

https://wakespace.lib.wfu.edu/bitstream/handle/10339/95550/Planter_and_the_Gael.pdf?sequence=1

 

I recommend them. I am a fan of both John Montague and John Hewitt. In this collection both poets explore their experience of Ulster and the tradition which shaped their verses.  As the Arts Council introduction says “The two bodies of work complement each other…” 

Much like we should do. Unless we want to be separate. Unless we believe in division. No sensible person would want that surely? It is much better to live in harmony and equality with a benign tolerance for difference. 

As Peter Robinson said:  "I hope that the sons and daughters of the Planter and Gael have found a way to share the land of their birth and live together in peace," 

Let’s get on with it and make that happen. 

 

Time for Truth

Natasha Butler’s grandfather Paddy was killed by the British Army on the evening of 9 July 1972. He was one of two adults and three children shot dead during the Springhill/Westrock massacre. The 50th anniversary of this event will take place in five weeks.

This week Natasha posted a video asking the public to support a sponsored walk by the Time for Truth campaign which is being held on Saturday morning 4 June. The walk will take place on the National Trust land on the Black Mountain and Divis Mountain.

Natasha Butler

The aim of the walk is to raise public awareness around the British government’s current efforts to pass legislation in the British Parliament that will protect British Army and RUC personnel responsible for the deaths of over 700 people. The law, which has been branded a Bill of Shame by victim’s relatives, will make it virtually impossible for victims and their families to secure truth.

In her video, which is available here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K1qOmb0sUU

Natasha says:

My name is Natasha Butler. My grandfather Paddy Butler was 38 years old when he was shot dead by the British Army here in Springhill in July 1972, along with 3 local teenagers and our parish priest. My mother was only 20 months old at the time.

For 50 years my grandmother, my mother and now myself, have fought to have the truth told about what happened during the Springhill/Westrock Massacre.

The British Government are now telling those Legacy Families who are still waiting for their Inquest dates that they have no right to the truth.

No right to justice.

To them, we are irrelevant. We are invisible.

I and the other Legacy families will never accept this.

This Saturday the 4th June the Time for Truth campaign will hold sponsored walks along Divis Mountain to raise funds to help continue our campaign for truth and justice.
I do not want my children to have to carry on this fight. We have all suffered long enough. It MUST stop here, with my generation.

I am asking you to help us keep the pressure on the British government. We need your help for this campaign.

So please, walk for Time for Truth, walk for the Legacy families or sponsor someone who will.

Stand with us as we tell the British Government that we are not invisible.

Stand with us as we tell the British Government it is not invincible.

Walk for Time For Truth this Saturday 4th June.

Thank you from us all.”

The walk was very successful. Thanks to all who participated. 


The Springhill/Westrock Massacre

On a quiet summer’s evening in July 1972 British soldiers shot dead Fr. Noel Fitzpatrick as he went to administer the last rites to the dead and dying. 38 year old Paddy Butler died after he was hit by the bullet that killed Fr. Fitzpatrick. 19 year old Martin Dudley was shot in the back of the head by a second British Army sniper and seriously wounded as he got out of a car. 17 year old John Dougal was shot dead and his friend Brian Pettigrew was seriously injured as they tried to assist Martin Dudley. 13 year old Margaret Gargan was shot dead by another British Army sniper. And 15 year old David McCaffrey was shot dead as he tried to pull Fr. Fitzpatrick and Paddy Butler out of the line of fire.

The British propaganda machine immediately went into action and, as they had done the previous August in Ballymurphy and in January in Derry after Bloody Sunday, the British Army branded those they had murdered as ‘gunmen’ killed during a gun battle with the IRA. 

The local community and the families knew that there had been no gun battle. They knew that no one had fired at the British Army. But in the media reports the lie was told and repeated.

The Springhill/Westrock Massacre inquest is part of the series of legacy inquests that are being held. The Springhill/Westrock families and their legal team hope it will be listed before the end of April 2023 and are pressing the Coroner’s office to list it for a preliminary hearing. However, the British government’s Bill of Shame now places a concern over this.

The Springhill/Westrock Massacre families are to be commended – like those hundreds of others in similar circumstances - for their courage and resilience in the face of British government intransigence and efforts to cover-up the violent and criminal actions of its forces.

 

Monday, May 30, 2022

British government cannot be trusted with our future: Acht na Gaeilge – Anois: Defending journalists

Sunday marked 24 years from the historic referendum in May 1998 that saw almost three quarters of people in the North vote in support of the Good Friday Agreement.  Despite the twists and turns in the years since then the Agreement has proved resilient in maintaining peace and in plotting a course for constitutional, political and economic change in the North and across these islands.

Now the Good Friday Agreement is under threat. Arguably that has always been the case as far as elements of unionism are concerned. But for their part successive British governments have refused to implement parts of the Agreement. The Tories in particular have been guilty of this. Especially the current crowd.

The Agreement was a defining moment in our recent history.  It underpinned the peace process. However the Good Friday Agreement was not a settlement. It provided the space in which our different political and constitutional perspectives, that are part of our shared colonial experience, can be debated and discussed and out of which a new future can be agreed.

For those of us who want it the Agreement provides a mechanism to  achieve self determination  and an opportunity to undo the disaster of partition and achieve a united Ireland democratically. 

This essential part of the Agreement is now being targeted. The Agreement is clear. A majority is needed for constitutional change. However, there is currently a sinister effort underway by some to attack this core principle of the Agreement. There is a suggestion being made that it might be time for the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement to be rewritten. The Tánaiste Leo Varadkar went so far as to propose that any decision on a unity referendum should have a role for The Assembly. 

The real politic is that any decision on a referendum will be taken by the two governments – not by a British Secretary of State. It is above his/her pay grade. Clarification on the criteria for this may be useful but any suggestion that the Good Friday Agreement should be rewritten and this crucial aspect of it be amended, must be resisted.

The Good Friday Agreement has stood the test of time. Its flaws rest primarily with the failures of the two governments to fulfil commitments made. The British Government is not to be trusted with our future.  That is for the people of this island to decide.

The Agreement and the people of the North have not been well served so far by the current Irish Government. An Taoiseach Micheál Martin has allowed relationships with the British government to almost disappear. Arguably this is the British Governments fault. I accept that.  But An Taoiseach has done little to counter this. He rarely mentions the North unless it is to attack Sinn Féin. His instinct on the issue is not good. For months there was no worthwhile contact between the two governments. That surely is An Taoiseach’s responsibility.  

His government has refused to challenge the British Government in a strategic and consistent way. When moved, by dint of public pressure, for example on London’s Amnesty for its forces or their  allies, its attitude has usually been rhetorical and without real substance.

So the Irish Government has a lot to do. It should be planning for the future in an inclusive, transparent democratic way. And it should be defending and implementing the Good Friday Agreement. 

 

Acht na Gaeilge – Anois

The echo of thousands of cheerful, excited voices raised in defiance reverberated off the buildings along Royal Avenue and into Donegall Place to the front of Belfast City Hall. The raised voices called for Irish language rights – for equality and respect. The slogans demanded:

Acht na Gaeilge – Anois (Irish Language Act – Now!!).

Tír gan teanga, tir gan anam (A country without a language is a country without a soul.

Saturday’s Lá Mor Dearg march, organised by An Dream Dearg, was undoubtedly one of the most colourful, exuberant, and spectacular protest marches that Belfast has witnessed in many years. From just before noon they began to arrive in their hundreds at An Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road. Most were wearing the familiar red tee shirt with the white circle that is the symbol of Lá Dearg - the campaign for Irish language rights.

By 1 pm the hundreds had become thousands. A sea of red stretching across the Falls Road and packed into the small streets around it. Families pushing prams, parents carrying small children on shoulders, other children carrying their home made little posters -‘Acht Anois’; young people in their thousands. Laughing. Enthusiastic. Eager. Animated. Determined.

Banners from solidarity groups, trade unions, political parties. Colourful ethnic groups singing and dancing.  

Unsurprisingly the march was late starting but as it slowly made its way down the Falls Road in bright sunshine the extent of the huge number of people participating quickly became apparent. One enterprising activist put up a drone. The video footage is startling. The Falls Road and Belfast City Centre are filled by a long river of red shirts. The chants of the marchers can be heard plainly.

Cearta Anois, Acht anois (Rights Now, Act Now).

Támid dearg: Dearg le fearg (We are red, Red with anger).

Saturday’s march and the growth in Irish medium education is an example of what can be achieved even when British governments and unionist political leaders refuse to honour commitments and legislate for rights. The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 said that; “All participants recognise the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity” in respect of the “Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland.”

Specifically, and in relation to the Irish language the British government committed to take “resolute action to promote the language” and to “facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand” and to “seek to remove, where possible, restrictions which would discourage or work against the maintenance or development of the language”.

These commitments were not honoured. Eight years later at the St. Andrew’s negotiations the British government committed to the introduction of Acht nba Gaeilge. In the 16 years since then one promise has followed on from another and all have fallen as one deadline for Acht na Gaeilge has passed without the  legislation being introduced.

Despite the prevarication, the stalling, the discrimination and antipathy toward the Irish language and Gaelgeoirí the resilience and resolve of Irish language activists and those citizens who support language rights has frustrated the naysayers and begrudgers. The use of the Irish language and the numbers of young people attending Irish medium education has grown year on year.

If you were not able to get along to Saturday’s Lá Mor Dearg then click onto the link and watch six minutes of video that will do your heart good. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAhzTS-avtc




Defending journalists

The shameful decision by Israel to cover-up the murder of Palestinian/American journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh by refusing to hold a criminal investigation into her killing will have come as no surprise to most people. In our own situation there are victims groups, representing hundreds of families struggling for truth decades after their loved ones were killed by British state forces. Last week the London government introduced its so-called ‘Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill’ which makes future efforts at truth almost impossible for victims.

Its real objective is set out in the second paragraph of the Bill which states: For too long, veterans and former service personnel have lived in fear of prosecution for actions taken whilst serving their country in order to uphold the rule of law”.

This is what rogue states do. They cover-up and protect the criminal actions of those charged with defending the policies, strategies and self-interests of governments involved in conflict. The apartheid Israeli regime has a long track record of this. So too have the British.

The families and victims are in the front line of challenging these decisions. So too are journalists many of whom are the target of vilification, censorship, threats and increasingly death.

According to Reporters without Borders Shireen Abu Akleh is one of 35 journalists to have been killed and 144 to have been wounded by the apartheid Israeli regime since 2000.

Israel isn’t the only dangerous place for journalists. In the North Martin O’Hagan and Lyra McKee were both killed as they carried out their work as journalists. Since the invasion of Ukraine media reports have put the number of journalists killed at around 20. Last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisaiton (UNESCO) reported that 55 journalists were killed worldwide.

There is an imperative on governments and the international community to defend a free press and to protect journalists.

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