From Civil Rights to Armalites: Derry and the Birth of the Irish Troubles, by Niall Ó Dochartaigh (Cork University Press), looks at how the foundations for a sustained conflict were laid in the early years of the civil rights movement. Ó Dochartaigh is a research officer with INCORE, the joint Institute on Conflict Resolution and Ethnicity of the UN and the University of Ulster.
In the book he says that there seems to be “a complete refusal to acknowledge that the security forces had been a principal party to the conflict and that their role and form of behaviour were issues at the heart of the conflict”.
In the mid 1970s the British adopted polices of ‘normalisation’ and ‘Ulster-isation’ which included using the RUC more widely, rather than the British army, to create the impression of a policing problem rather than a war.
Ó Dochartaigh writes that “the 1970s and 1980s had seen the RUC not alone professionalised but also massively expanded and militarised to allow it to take over many of the essentially military duties of the British army”.
Using Drumcree as a recent example of the bias against nationalists within the RUC he points out while 662 plastic bullets were fired at loyalists during the Drumcree situation, 5,340 were fired at nationalists during the rioting following the decision to allow the Orangemen march down the Garvaghy Road.
“As far as many moderate and even conservative Catholics were concerned, it demonstrated that while the security forces were not prepared to take on the Protestant community they were fully prepared to take on the Catholic community,” Ó Dochartaigh writes.
“The experience of Drumcree convinced many that, in times of severe political crisis, the RUC cannot and does not treat these two communities equally – whether it be equally harshly or equally gently,” he goes on.
“Events surrounding Drumcree in July 1996, where thousands of Orange Order members and loyalists gathered over a period of days and successfully forced the RUC to allow an Orange march to proceed past Catholic housing estates in Portadown, provided revision classes on lessons which had been learnt in 1968 and 1969 but which had been obscured by the shooting war of 25 years,” Ó Dochartaigh concludes.
Writing in the Irish News, March 10, Chris Ryder says he and David Cook were sacked in February 1996 to ensure unionist support for John Major’s Tory government during the vote on the Scott Report into arms sales to Iraq.
He says: “Unionist votes were crucial to the outcome of the vote, and during the days preceding it there was considerable horse-trading in the corridors at Westminster as unionists exploited their leverage to secure concessions from the ruling administration.
“Some weeks later, I learned from reliable sources in London, that, among other items on their shopping lists, both the Ulster and Democratic Unionist Parties had sought, and been given, assurances that our heads would roll.
“Cook and I had much earlier agreed that if it came to the crunch, we would not resign but force Sir Patrick [Mayhew] to sack us.” The split in the Police Authority developed from a row about flying the Union Jack over RUC barracks on July 12, the day of Orange Order parades, and the RUC oath of allegiance to the British queen. Ryder and Cook lost a vote of no confidence by the Police Authority on February 23, 1996 and refused to resign.
At the time Cook said: “I have to ask myself whether there is any good policing reason why the Union Jack should fly on police stations on July 12. I have not met anybody who is able to say to me why it is flown on July 12.”
A third youth, aged 11, was struck in the face by Limerick Special Branch Detective Brown in the incident, which happened after three carloads of the political police descended on a group of Republicans walking back from the ceremony in Mount St Lawrence’s Cemetery.
During the hearing of the case, in which Declan Curneen, a native of Kinlough, County Leitrim and a member of the Republican Sinn Féin Ard-Chomhairle faced three charges of assault several of the Branchmen – Dets Brown, Kearns, Hawke and O’Connor – were named as assaulting the Republicans. In addition a Detective Inspector in the witness box was given a “grilling” by the defence lawyer.
On March 14, the judge nevertheless sentenced Declan Curneen to three months, suspended under the Public Order Act for assaulting the Branchmen.
The Branch had earlier proposed a deal to Declan Curneen offering to drop the three assault charges if he pleaded guilty to lesser charges under the POA. This was refused but it was an indicator of the trumped-up nature of the charges and the concern of the prosecutors that the case be wrapped up quickly.
Because official complaints have been made to the 26-County police another police inspector was in court taking notes of the evidence in regard to the assaults by the Branchmen on Declan’s sons Ciarán (11) and Emmet (16) and their friend Seanann McGrath (16). These included punches and kicks on the street, in the Branch car and in Henry Street Barracks.
The events which the district court judge was “not happy” about can be seen from the statement made by 11-year-old Ciarán Curneen to a solicitor on January 8 last:
“Me, my father, my brother and Seannan McGrath were walking down the street in Limerick when three cars pulled up and started questioning my dad and my brother and Seannan.
“The policemen asked my dad his name and address and he told them. Then they arrested my dad. I ran over and tried to pull my dad back but one of the policemen punched me in the face and told me to ‘Fuck off’ and pointed his finger at me. I staggered back.
“Then my brother Emmet ran over and tried to help dad but he was punched in the face and kneed in the stomach. I was shouting ‘leave him alone’ a man was holding my brother’s head down and pushed him into a car and sat on his head.
“My dad was in the red car. One man was pulling my dad’s hair and pulling him across the back seat of the car. Three men got in on top of my dad in the car. Then they drove away very fast. I saw a man push Seannan McGrath into the same car as my brother was in. They twisted his ear and pushed his face up against the window. Then that car drove very fast after the other car.
“I was in pain and was frightened. I was worried about my father, my brother Emmet and Seannan. I was helped by some people that were there and taken back to their house.”
Mark Bellringer (22), of Thompson House, Antrim Road, and Christopher McMillan (21), Kansas Avenue, pleaded not guilty to the charge. John Creaney, prosecuting, said that Harley left a flat on Henderson Avenue around 7.30pm on the night in question. He was last seen walking down the Cavehill Road at around 7.45pm. His badly battered body was discovered in the Waterworks at 11pm by two brothers walking their dogs.
“A witness will describe that he met Bellringer and McMillan at the Cavehill Inn before 8pm,” Creaney said. “They had a dog and McMillan had an iron bar. Both were drunk. They walked with him into the Westland Estate and McMillan said they had beaten a Taig around the head in the Waterworks. “Statements will be made that they kicked and punched a man at the Waterworks. The Crown would use the term ‘they were boasting about it’,” Creaney said.
The trial continues.
Wright (36), received two concurrent eight-year sentences for threatening to shoot a Portadown woman, Gwen Reed and threatening her 15-year-old son, Thomas, on the same occasion on August 10, 1995. His co-accused Trevor Buchanan (29), and Dale Weathered (28), also of Portadown, received sentences of eight years and seven years respectively for assaulting Nicola Reed, the daughter of the Portadown woman Wright threatened and for causing grievous bodily harm to the girl’s boyfriend, Jason Hughes.
Wright’s jailing on this occasion is far from fortuitous with the shadow of Drumcree III hanging over the Six Occupied Counties. It is widely believed that his incarceration has more to do with the political threat he represents to the current process. In an article in the Sunday Tribune (March 9) journalist Ed Moloney put it thus:
“This weekend nationalists may be celebrating the incarceration of a man who had become a figure of terror for many of them. But there is another sobering aspect of his arrest and conviction.
“Like Johnny Adair, the Belfast UDA leader, Wright was suspected of involvement in a massive catalogue of violence but like Adair he was never brought to book for his alleged crimes.
“The RUC, unable to pin anything on either of them, did however manage to summon the skill and imagination to incriminate them when they became political threats; Adair to the 1994 loyalist ceasefire and Wright to the 1997 Drumcree protest. Food for thought.”
Walsh (33), from Broadway on the Falls Road was found guilty at a non-jury show-trial in December 1992 of possessing a coffee jar bomb in the Suffolk Road area 18 months earlier.
The new evidence from two west Belfastmen who claim they saw a “third man” in the alley off Suffolk Road on June 5, 1991 shortly before a British Paratrooper accused Christy Walsh of taking the explosive device from his pocket and placing it on a nearby wall could result in freedom for Walsh.
His lawyer Kevin Winter believes the evidence is strong enough to warrant a return to the appeal court. Despite the fact that Walsh was not wearing gloves at the time of his arrest, no finger-prints were found on the jar.
Forensic tests showed that the device which was covered in adhesive tape – much of it “sticky side out” – contained only a smudged glove-print.
No fibres from Walsh’s clothing were found. A previous appeal in January 1994 was turned down despite what many lawyers described as a flimsy prosecution case.
Robin Percival, on behalf of the PFC, stated that the BRG presented two papers to the Apprentice Boys during negotiations in August 1996 which “would have guaranteed the rights of Apprentice Boys to parade on the walls and within the city centre for the foreseeable future”.
This raises the question of what had been offered by these self-appointed committees to the Orange Order, supposedly on behalf of the Irish people within the Six Occupied Counties.
One Bogside resident expressed his disgust that compromising deals have been offered to the Orange Order without the permission of the people of the Bogside:
“This self-appointed committee is blatantly going against the wishes of the Bogside and the people of Derry by promising to support the Orangemen and basically working along a pro-British agenda. I remember fighting the Orangemen and cops from invading the Bogside and burning us out of our homes. Now it looks like this residents’ group has admitted to supporting the Orangemen last August. Are we going to let them get away with it again this year?”
As with previous British-backed death-squad attacks during their ‘ceasefire’ no organisation claimed responsibility. David Irvine of the PUP, speaking on television after the killing, accepted that loyalists may have been responsible for the killing but said that it was probably some group which was not aligned with the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC). This argument, that the CLMC ceasefire is intact despite what other mythical ‘previously unknown’ groups may do, has so far allowed the PUP and UDP parties to remain eligible for talks.
This sectarian assassination took place after the adjournment of the Stormont talks and the British, Dublin and US administrations hypocritically choose to ignore it. Once again, Six-County nationalists are being told their lives count for nothing and that their nightmare is continuing.
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