A former head of the British Army has rejected a suggestion that it tried to cover up the shooting of civilians in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in August 1971.
Giving evidence at the inquest into the deaths, retired General Mike Jackson described the claim as preposterous.
He was responding to questions from Michael Mansfield QC, representing the family of Joseph Corr, who died after being shot on 11 August 1971.
The barrister began his questioning by stating that Mr Corr “was not a gunman, wasn’t armed, wasn’t a member of the IRA and wasn’t associated with the IRA.”
Mr Mansfield said there was no evidence that any soldiers who fired their weapons on the day that Mr Corr was shot had been interviewed by the Royal Military Police at the time.
He said this was a breach of the British Army’s policies and asked General Jackson if that was because there was a desire to cover up what happened.
“That is a preposterous allegation to make,” said the retired general, who was a captain with the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy at the time of the shootings. “It simply doesn’t add up.”
He told the inquest he did not know whether any soldiers had been interviewed at the time, and that it was possible there may have been a break in the British Army’s normal procedures because of the pressure it was under at the time.
“What I do know is we don’t do conspiracies,” he said.
The comment was greeted by muted laughter from the packed public gallery, while relatives of those killed shook their heads.
Earlier, General Jackson accepted it was likely that he was a Parachute Regiment captain quoted in a newspaper report on 11 August 1971 stating that two men shot dead by soldiers early that morning had been IRA gunmen.
He told the court part of his duties included briefing the media about the regiment’s activities.
Questioned by Sean Doran QC, representing the coroner, he accepted that no weapons had been found on the two men shot dead that day.
In his statement to the inquest, which was read to the court, Mr Jackson said he had “absolutely no doubt” the IRA had engaged members of the regiment in a fierce gun battle that morning.
The statement said 600 soldiers had come under a “hail of gunfire” when they moved in to remove barricades in the area. It also said two gunmen had been shot dead and their bodies recovered.
Mr Jackson confirmed that he had witnessed the men being shot or seen their bodies. “In retrospect of course I should have said alleged gunmen,” he added.
Mr Doran then asked the retired general if he wished to say anything to relatives of those who were killed, 15 of whom were sitting directly across from him in Court 12 at Belfast Laganside Courts.
“Let me say to the families who so long ago lost their loved ones, for me it is a tragedy,” he said.
“It’s a tragedy which is hugely that is hugely regrettable, but I would say anybody who loses their loved one as a result of violent conflict is also a tragedy. I too have lost friends so be it.
“My sympathies to you and I’m sorry that it is only now after so long that you feel you can come to terms.”
With many thanks to: RTÉ News and Vincent Kearney (Northern Correspondent) for the original story
The recent tragic death of Lyra McKee in the Creggan area of Derry City has raised fears that the peace in Northern Ireland is now under threat. Dissident republicans, calling themselves the ‘New IRA’ have admitted to causing her death while attacking the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
McKee came to prominence in 2015 when her blog went viral. It was a letter to her 14-year-old self who was suffering with the fact of being gay in Northern Ireland. It was later made into a short film. Her much-anticipated book, The Lost Boys, is an exploration of eight young men and boys who disappeared during the ‘Troubles’.
The sprawling Creggan Estate on the outskirts of Derry is one of the poorest working-class estates in the UK. Crime, vandalism, carjacking, joyriding, drugs, punishment shootings and heavily armed police raids against dissidents are commonplace. Because of this, the estate has become something of an attraction for journalists and filmmakers. Former BBC presenter Reggie Yates was in the area on the day McKee was shot, making a documentary for MTV about extreme and unusual places. Sinead O’Shea’s 2018 documentary A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot is set in the Creggan. It follows the life of the O’Donnell family after the mother voluntarily brings her son for a punishment shooting because he was dealing drugs.
Depictions of the Creggan paint a depressing picture of a community left behind by the peace dividend that was supposed to follow the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA). Commenting on police raids around this time last year, local independent councillor Gary Donnelly told Derry Now that the PSNI are ‘unreformed from the Royal Ulster Constabulary’ – the police force that was officially disbanded in 2001 as part of the peace process. ‘Their role remains the same, as they enforce British rule in Ireland’, he said. The fact that operations are ‘carried out by heavily armed officers, backed up by armoured vehicles and air support, bears testimony to this’. ‘The PSNI clearly mark themselves out in working-class republican areas as an oppressive occupying force far removed from the smiles and PR spin of their hollow “community neighbourhood policing” facade’, he added.
What, then, will the future hold for working-class nationalist communities like the Creggan, which were once a bedrock of support in the struggle for a united Ireland? Do those who are condemning the New IRA as ‘robbers and murderers who draw strength from a revolution the Irish refuse to let lie’ understand the residual tensions in Northern Ireland? Did the communities there endure all the repression and privation of the war years only to be abandoned by their own political leaders?
It was the New IRA who pulled the trigger on the PSNI and McKee. But Sinn Féin, the once-republican party, is to blame for much of the current mess and chaos in the Creggan. It sold the people a lie that the peace process would achieve a united Ireland. In truth, the GFA was nothing more than a coded ratification of the republican movement’s defeat. While there is still significant support for Sinn Féin in those communities, bitterness and disillusionment are increasingly apparent.
The dissidents of the New IRA are a symptom of Sinn Féin’s failure on many fronts. The party has also failed to address the social and economic deprivation that blights places like the Creggan, preferring to highlight issues like the Irish language, gay rights and abortion rights. It doesn’t focus on these issues just to goad Unionists. Sinn Féin believes that by concentrating on identity politics, its politicians can leave their nationalist/republican pasts behind and become ‘respectable’ political players.
Sinn Féin’s references to a united Ireland are increasingly muted, mentioned mostly at election time to retain their support in working-class communities – but only ever as a dream for a far-off future. In fact, the party might be about to take a step that would be unprecedented for an Irish republican party. Speaking at the recent Easter Rising commemoration in Belfast, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that in the continued absence of a power-sharing administration, ‘a new British-Irish partnership, a joint authority’, was needed in Northern Ireland.
In other words, Sinn Féin are openly willing to participate directly with the British government in maintaining the status quo in Northern Ireland. This can only further contribute to the bitterness felt in working-class nationalist communities, inspiring further support for dissident republicans like the New IRA. But the dissidents’ campaign is futile. There is no appetite for a renewed fight for Irish independence in the wider nationalist community. Their activity can only invite more repression for their communities and certain imprisonment for the young men who join them.
Responding to Lyra Mckee’s killing in a joint statement, party leaders said: ‘It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere.’
But what does this 20 years of progress amount to? A digital mapping project by Dr Matthew Doherty published in 2017, using government census data between 1971 and 2011, reveals that the geographical split between Catholics and Protestants remains pretty much as it was in 1971. There is little or no cross-community integration that might indicate any softening of identities. In the supposedly vital arena of education, it is evident that the integrated-schools movement has lost momentum, enrolling under seven per cent of students in 2017. Outside Belfast City Hall, tour guides and buses wait to take the tourists to see the famous Peace Walls – or ‘interface barriers’, as they are euphemistically called – which crisscross many working-class areas of the city. In 2014, the government set a target of 10 years for the removal of all barriers – there are still 60 across Northern Ireland. There has actually been an increase in wall-building since the GFA in 1998. This suggests that relations between the two communities, notwithstanding the fact that the war is long over, are deteriorating. Any optimism about the future is in short supply.
The most recent edition of the Irish Pages, a Belfast literary publication, surveyed 42 of the leading intellectuals, poets and writers on the subject of the GFA. The heading for leading literary critic Edna Longley’s contribution summed up the survey: ‘The Belfast Agreement and Other Oxymorons.’ Novelist Glen Patterson voted Yes for the GFA, but now thinks he ‘can’t overlook the fact that almost from the get-go our politicians, and therefore the electorate who voted them in, did their best to fuck the whole thing up’.
More recently, Unionist poet Jean Bleakney complained of being assailed by ‘Brexit-bashers, republicans, civic nationalists, DUP-haters, academics, rights activists, journos’, arguing that ‘more than ever, somehow, everything was the fault of the Brits’. During the 1970s and 1980s, when the war in Ireland was raging, Unionists felt that the British government and state would always be on their side – and it was. Following Brexit, many feel that their position is no longer so secure.
Historian and leading architect of the GFA Paul Bew argues that ‘the people at the top of the UK government are paralysed by imperial guilt’. This is apparent among the British intellectual and political elites, where there is a desire to escape the embarrassment of Britain’s colonial and imperial past – a past to which Unionists are wedded. This is particularly evident in the attitude of many Remain voters in the Brexit referendum. They disparage any form of British nationalism or sovereignty as racist or fascistic and prefer to look to a new European identity for salvation.
The GFA’s core principle – that all the people of Northern Ireland can by birthright identify as ‘Irish or British or both as they may so choose’ ” is now cast in a different light as Britishness (and particularly the Unionist version of it) is now considered problematic. This identity crisis, combined with the collapse of the Stormont power-sharing assembly, Brexit, and the DUP’s role in shoring up Theresa May’s government, means that Ulster Unionists and their political culture has come under a new and fearful scrutiny. Their stance on issues such as gay rights, gay marriage and abortion have been condemned, and there is a growing sense that they are an embarrassment to much of the political elite in Britain.
It’s not just the political elite who are losing interest in Unionism. A few statistics from the ongoing Future of England survey reveal that 83 per cent of Leave voters believe that the collapse of the Irish peace process is a price worth paying for Brexit. Only 25 per cent of Leave voters believe that ‘revenue raised from taxpayers in England should also be distributed to Northern Ireland to help Northern Irish public services’. The Spectator has traditionally been one of the most pro-Unionist publications in Britain, but in one of its recent podcasts, the editor Fraser Nelson discussed how the DUP’s insistence that Britain and Northern Ireland remain fully aligned had tied the British into a Soft Brexit. They chose to play out the discussion with a tune by Paul McCartney called ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’ – a song banned from UK airwaves in 1972. As the Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole worriedly pointed out, there is now a sentiment in the Tory circles which wishes that the ‘Irish (including the DUP) should bugger off and leave us to our own grand project of national liberation’.
So how is all this playing out in Unionist communities in NI? Journalist and Unionist commentator Newton Emerson summed it up when he wrote the following in the Irish Times:
‘Unionism’s largest party has consigned the UK to a zombie government, keeping Labour out of office but the Tories barely in power. The British public, having been forced to notice the DUP, has had every nationalist trope of Unionism’s awful “un-Britishness” seemingly confirmed. The same public has demonstrated its indifference, certainly at the ballot box, to the Labour leadership’s past sympathies with the IRA.’
Unionist fears are further compounded by the demographic clock. Dublin economist David McWilliams, who famously predicted the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, married into a Unionist family. His observation reveals something of the change in Northern Ireland:
‘I’ve been travelling around Ulster recently, taking in the views from rural Markethill in South Armagh to the prosperous King’s Road, Belmont and Stormont suburbs of east Belfast, and from coastal fishing villages of the Ards Peninsula to the council estates of Cookstown in Tyrone. I have seen Union Jacks and even UVF flags where I never saw them before. The anxiety of Unionism about the ticking demographic clock is captured by this “backs-to-the-wall” display of extravagant loyalist pageantry on the streets. On present trends, Catholics will be in the majority in Northern Ireland by the end of the next decade.’
Is there a future for a united Ireland? Would the Irish political class allow a referendum on it? And, more importantly, would they respect the democratic decision? Taking up his role as the spokesman for the southern Irish political elite, Fintan O’Toole thinks it will not stand: ‘The simplistic notion that a quick transition to Irish unity will solve the problem is utterly unconstitutional. The Constitution requires a profound reconciliation between diverse identities. That in turn requires people to be secure and confident in their sense of belonging.’
O’Toole is trying to put a legal cover on the reality of current political trends. The southern Irish elites did not respect the democratic decisions of their people in two referendums on EU treaties. Their British counterparts have shown the same attitude in refusing to respect the Brexit vote. Even if a border poll was demanded by the public, a united Ireland by democratic means seems an unlikely prospect.
The tide of history is turning in the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland. Both nationalism and Unionism are now equally despised. The attempt to articulate a new political dispensation through culture and identity, which is central to the peace process, is producing not reconciliation, but a deeper and more dangerous personal enmity. Ireland needs a vision for a future that can prevent this slide into a repressed misanthropy.
With many thanks to: Spiked and Denis Russell for the original story
On the day the UK was supposed to leave the EU, Professor McAleese said the Brexit process is driving a constitutional change both North and South.
Following the result of the Brexit referendum, then Taoiseach Enda Kenny secured an agreement with the EU that Northern Ireland would seamlessly re-join the bloc if the North and South were to reunite.
Prof. McAleese said it has always been known that the issue would come onto the agenda.
Taoiseach to hold Brexit talks with French President and German Chancellor
She said: “The issue of the ending of partition would come onto the agenda driven by demographics, the demographics in Northern Ireland are changing rapidly towards a Catholic/Nationalist majority.
“That’s a reality that has to be taken into account, but Brexit put a different spin on things.”
With many thanks to the: Irish Examiner for the original story
Watchdog widens inquiry after RUC/PSNI ‘failure to disclose’ information on 1992 mass murder at Belfast betting shop
The Police Service of Northern Ireland is facing a barrage of criticism and questions for failing to disclose to a police watchdog “significant” information about loyalist paramilitary murders during the Troubles.
The head of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Michael Maguire, on Wednesday asked the Department of Justice for an independent review into why the force did not share information about a mass shooting of five Catholics at a betting shop in Belfast on 5 February 1992.
The PSNI has apologised and blamed human error, citing “complex challenges associated with voluminous material”. It denied deliberately withholding information.
The release of the information has prompted the ombudsman to pursue new lines of inquiry into about 20 loyalist murders across Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in the 1980s and 1990s. Ombudsman reports into those killings, which were expected in coming weeks, have been delayed.
“It would seem information which police told us did not exist has now been found,” said Maguire.
The ombudsman’s office learned of the information when police prepared to disclose it to relatives of those killed in the 1992 attack as part of civil proceedings.
“Following a request from this office police released this material to us which helped identify significant evidence relevant to a number of our investigations,” said Maguire. “Following on from this police have now also identified a computer system which they say had not been properly searched when responding to previous requests for information.”
The Good Friday agreement is 20 – and Britain can’t afford to forget it
The ombudsman called for an independent review in the interests of “public confidence” into a force set up after the 1998 Good Friday agreement, in the hope the force would win more support from Catholics and nationalists than its predecessor, the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The PSNI responded swiftly on Wednesday with an apology and promise to overhaul the way it disclosed information.
“We deeply regret that the researchers responding to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland’s request were unable to find and disclose it,” said the deputy chief constable, Stephen Martin. The varying levels of experience and knowledge of researchers accounted for the ombudsman receiving incomplete information but ombudsman staff would now receive “full and unfettered access” to material relating to the crimes, he said.
But groups representing victims expressed dismay and said the incident revived concerns about police collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. The Committee on the Administration of Justice said: “[It] is deeply shocking and the claim that it is due to human error simply insults our intelligence.”
Another group, Relatives for Justice, said there was a systemic problem in disclosure of details about killings involving collusion. It said the independent review should start as a matter of urgency.
Tommy Duffin, whose father, Jack, was one of those killed in the attack at the Sean Graham betting shop, on Ormeau Road, told the BBC that relatives were frustrated by the decades’ long quest to uncover details about the massacre. “All we have got is knock-back after knock-back, and this has nearly broken the camel’s back.”
Sinn Féin requested an urgent meeting with police chiefs to discuss what it termed an “appalling and unacceptable” failure.
With many thanks to: The Guardian for the original story
Britain has decided to “tear up” the Good Friday Agreement by going ahead with Brexit, a former Irish prime minister has said.
He argued a no deal will lead to a hard border on the island.
Mr Bruton also said Sinn Féin’s refusal to take their seats in Westminster was a “tragedy”.
“Unfortunately in Ireland we had no say in this [Brexit] – the British people decided on this freely. In so doing, they effectively negated a referendum we had in Ireland,” Mr Bruton told BBC’s Today programme.
“Remember, we changed our constitution, took certain articles out of our constitution in return for an international commitment from Britain to the Belfast Agreement which guaranteed fair treatment of both communities in Northern Ireland, that neither community would be isolated.
“We changed our constitution to make that deal and Britain then comes along unilaterally and essentially decides to tear that up by proceeding with Brexit… and that’s why we have insisted on a backstop to protect the Good Friday Agreement, so that Britain can’t do that.”
Mr Bruton served as Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997. He was later appointed as the EU’s ambassador to the US between 2004 and 2009.
On Tuesday, members of parliament in the UK are expected to hold their vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for the UK’s withdrawal and future relationship with the European Union.
The key vote has been delayed from 11 December 2018.
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
“One suspects that those who object to the backstop are people who don’t really ever expect there will be an acceptable agreement that would avoid a hard border in Ireland or between Ireland and Britain,” added Mr Bruton.
On Sinn Féin’s policy of abstention at Westminster, he said: “Ireland was partitioned in 1920 when Sinn Féin refused to take their seats after the 1918 election.
“Sinn Féin have refused to take their seats on this occasion and the most serious threats to the position of Northern nationalists are now about to be realised – with no Sinn Féin, no Northern nationalist voice there to argue a different case.