LM Archives
  2:11 AM BST
LM Commentary Review Search
Comment Current LM Web review Mailing
lists Discuss Chat Events Search Archives Subject index Links Merchandise Overview FAQ Feedback Toolbar

No peace without freedom

Sharon Clarke questions the dominant response to the Warrington bomb

The British authorities and media responded to the Warrington bomb which killed two boys in March by pointing the finger of blame at the British left.

Alongside the familiar condemnations of the IRA came reports of a new police offensive against 'extreme left-wing groups' (Sunday Times) or just 'Reds' (Sunday Telegraph) said to be suspected of involvement in the IRA campaign in Britain. These stories smack of an attempt to find some post-Cold War work for the idle hands of the British security services. They should act as a warning sign of how the state is now seizing every opportunity to silence dissent and extend its political control over British society.

It is ironic that the authorities should seek to hold the British left responsible for Warrington in this way. The problems which lead to such bombings certainly do begin in Britain - but with the British government, not left-wing groups. The authorities over here must bear ultimate responsibility for the casualties which the Irish conflict creates on both sides of the Irish Sea.

'Evil psychos'

What is the true cause of the violence? The key phrases used to describe the IRA in the post-Warrington discussion were 'evil psychopaths' and 'terrorists'. Look at the bombing as a snapshot of destruction, in the way that the authorities want us to, and those words might seem to make sense. But look at what happened in Warrington in its proper context, and they do not.

The IRA has been conducting its military campaign in Britain and Ireland for more than 20 years. There are people involved in the Irish republican movement today who were not born when that campaign began. And they still have the support of a large enough section of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland to sustain their campaign, despite all of the measures that the British state has taken against them.

How can all this be explained away as the work of a few 'evil psychopaths'? Are we to believe that generations of Irishmen and women are somehow 'born bombers'? Or that entire districts of Northern Ireland are populated by violent lunatics?

Irish republicans must feel that they have good cause, to take such action for so many years. And the cause is freedom. Freedom from being ruled by a foreign power - Britain. Ireland may not be Africa or India, but British rule on Irish soil remains a form of colonialism all the same. It is imposed on the nationalist community against its will, and enforced in classic colonial style by an occupying army of 30 000 troops and paramilitary police, backed by draconian laws and no-jury courts.

Of course the authorities present things differently. In their version, the British forces are neutral peace-keepers in a feud involving both republican and Loyalist gangs. As the republican movement has become more isolated of late, so the British have been better able to portray the conflict in this way. The reality is, however, that there are no neutrals in Northern Ireland.

Two sides

When it comes down to it, there are only two sides in the Irish War: those who support British rule, and those who want to end it. On one side stand the British forces and administrators, and the Loyalists fighting to protect the relative privileges which British rule brings to their community (Catholics are still more than twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants in Northern Ireland). On the other side stand the nationalists, and the Irish republican movement which thousands of them continue to support.

The fact that the Loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces are on the same side can best be seen in the cases of collusion, as Fiona Foster reports opposite. But even when the authorities disapprove of their sectarian excesses, the Loyalist gangs terrorising the nationalist supporters of Irish unity are effectively doing the British government's dirty work.

Whichever way you try to look at it, the British colonial presence in Northern Ireland is the cause of the problem. The IRA campaign is only a consequence. Those who are serious about finding a solution need to get at the root of the conflict, not the symptoms. As has been said before in Living Marxism, if there were no British guns in Ireland, there would be no Irish bombs in Britain.

The British authorities seek to distract from their own responsibility for the conflict in Northern Ireland by branding the IRA as 'terrorists'. It is an emotive label. But what does it mean?

British law defines terrorism as 'the use of violence for political ends'. Yet from the Falklands to the Gulf to Northern Ireland itself, the British government is always using massive force for political ends. This is not called terrorism. Obviously, then, it is not the violence which defines whether something is a terrorist act, but the political end for which it is used.

If you use violence in pursuit of the political end of protecting British power, you are a soldier. If you do so in pursuit of the political end of Irish freedom, you must be a terrorist.

Around the world, only the oppressed are accused of terrorism and political violence. The oppressors are always called peace-keepers, policemen, righteous crusaders. Typically, in March, the news headlines reported that Israel was clamping down on the occupied territories after a 'wave of Arab violence' had left 17 Jews dead since December. You had to look long and hard at the reports to discover that the Israelis had killed at least 76 Palestinians in the same period. In similar fashion, the British authorities and media milk the two Warrington deaths for all that they are worth, while playing down what is being done to Irish nationalists.

Strip away the hysteria and the prejudice, and the truth about the Irish War is very different from what we have been led to believe. The British authorities who now call for peace are responsible for causing and sustaining the conflict. They must take the blame for the suffering which it creates. A British withdrawal is the way to bring freedom to Ireland. And freedom is the precondition for a peaceful solution.

'Business as usual'

While all eyes were focused on Warrington, few in Britain seemed to notice a new wave of sectarian assassinations by Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Fiona Foster reports on the background to the murder campaign----and the evidence of collusion between Loyalist gangs and the security forces

There are people in what is supposed to be part of the UK who cannot go to bed at night without pulling steel shutters across their windows and putting bars across double-locked doors. They fear for their lives from gunmen who have murdered nearly 100 of their number since January 1990. Yet their plight has not featured in the massive media hysteria about violent crime.

Perhaps that is not surprising, since these people do not fit the media stereotype of victims. They are Catholics from the nationalist community of Northern Ireland. And far from looking to the police to protect them, they believe that the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary collude with the Loyalist death squads which murder their relatives, friends and neighbours.

Having lived for years in Birmingham, Fiona O'Hagan might have found the green fields of South Derry liberating. But when her husband stood for Sinn Fein in the local council elections, they had to turn their new home into a mini-fortress. Bernard's predecessor, John Davey, was one of several Sinn Fein councillors shot dead in recent years. 'I made Bernard put flowery wallpaper over the steel shutters in the bedrooms and paint the steel door, to make them kind of blend in.'

While Fiona tried to make life as normal as possible for their three children, Bernard did his best to stay alive. He varied his daily route to the college where he taught and, to the delight of Unionist councillors, arrived at and left council meetings at different times. 'We tried to protect the kids from things. When they bent down to look under the car they were only imitating their daddy - they didn't know what they were checking for.'

In their own home

In September 1991, as Bernard O'Hagan walked across the car park to work, he was shot eight times by two unmasked gunmen who walked calmly into the road and disappeared.

Anthony Fox from Dungannon has never made any secret of his opposition to the military occupation of his country. For this he is subjected to constant harassment by the British forces and regular death threats from Loyalist paramilitaries. Last year his 65-year old father and 58-year old mother were slaughtered in their own home by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Anthony had left home two years earlier, after the RUC told the family that the police files on Anthony and his brother had mysteriously 'fallen into the hands' of Loyalist death squads. This kind of visit is now commonplace in nationalist areas.

Anthony's brother-in-law was also murdered by Loyalists last January. Shortly afterwards Anthony was told by RUC officers that he had been the intended target of that attack. 'I see these attacks as part and parcel of Britain's strategy to defeat republicans by deflecting them from fighting the Brits and drawing them into a sectarian feud. In fact they make me and people like me more determined to be rid of Britain.'

Anthony Fox, like many relatives of the victims of Loyalist attacks, is convinced that the security forces colluded in the murder of his parents. British soldiers are notorious for blazing away at teenage joyriders or anybody else who fails to stop at checkpoints. Yet when a car seen to be carrying armed men went through a roadblock on the night of his parents' death, the Army simply put out a radio message to police patrols. Of 12 police cars in the Dungannon area that night 11 had apparently turned off their radios. The one car that responded failed to find the armed men. Within half an hour Anthony's parents were dead.

Fiona O'Hagan is also left wondering why soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment were seen in fields photographing their home in the weeks before Bernard's murder. Or how it was that the two men who shot her husband could walk away so calmly down a road known for the heavy presence of police and Army patrols.

Sick joke

Last year Northern Ireland minister Patrick Mayhew banned the Loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA), supposedly as a sign of the government's will to deal with violence in an even-handed way. Coming soon after the revelations that UDA killer Brian Nelson was a serving member of the British Army while he planned the murder of Catholics with the full knowledge of his Army handlers, the ban was a sick joke for many nationalists.

The UDA is clearly not too concerned about this cosmetic ban, judging by the 'Business as usual' sign displayed in their Belfast HQ. Their confidence is well placed. Despite a few arrests not one Loyalist has been charged with murder in connection with the killing of 23 Catholics in the mid-Ulster area since 1990.

Meanwhile the security forces arrest republicans on trumped up charges, so fingering them for the Loyalists. Three men from Cookstown were recently charged with 'going equipped for terrorism', after being found in possession of a roll of insulating tape and a pair of washing up gloves. When the three were released on bail, a UVF death squad was despatched to execute one of them. When the UVF discovered that the man they murdered was a friend of the intended victim who had been helping to decorate his house, they said they would be back for their real target.

The British authorities are keen to bury any suggestion of collusion. When Channel 4's Despatches programme revealed the extent to which Loyalists and RUC members had cooperated in sectarian murders like that of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, it infuriated those intent on strengthening Britain's image as a neutral peace-broker in Northern Ireland. Ben Hamilton, the researcher, was arrested in a dawn raid at his home and charged under anti-terrorist legislation with withholding information. Channel 4 and Despatches received hefty fines.

War obscured

Barry McElduff, leading Sinn Fein member in Mid-Ulster, believes that the government's sensitivity to allegations of collusion reflects a determination to obscure the fundamental conflict in Northern Ireland. 'When the SAS were shooting people in threes, sixes and eights, it was clear that the British military were engaged in a war against the IRA. Having marginalised the republican movement to some extent, they can now stand back and let the Loyalists do the job for them. That way it looks like the paddies are fighting among themselves and the Brits are only here to keep us apart.'

Not only did British Army intelligence pay Brian Nelson £200 a week to work within the UDA, they also allowed him to bring in a consignment of sophisticated modern weaponry from South Africa. It is estimated that these weapons, which the British Army admitted to 'losing track of', have already been used to kill 70 Catholics including those gunned down in the indiscriminate attacks on the Ormeau Road and Old Park bookmakers in Belfast.

Belfast has borne the brunt of Loyalist attacks. Gerard McGuigan is the Sinn Fein councillor for the Ardoyne, a nationalist enclave in North Belfast notorious for indiscriminate killings of Catholics. 'We can't leave the Ardoyne without going through a staunchly Loyalist area', says McGuigan. 'Loyalist gunmen can come in, shoot us and escape back to their own areas. We have nowhere to run, we can't go beyond that street.

'The risk I run as a Sinn Fein councillor is not much greater than those faced by the most apolitical Catholic. We're all legitimate targets to the Loyalists. Since the war began in 1969 nearly 500 Catholics have been murdered by Loyalists in North Belfast. I see it as a kind of community punishment.'

Rocket attack

The community is being punished for its continued support for the IRA in its war against the British occupation. Sinn Fein hold three out of six council seats for North Belfast. Days before the last local elections in 1989, McGuigan survived a Loyalist rocket attack on the Ardoyne Sinn Fein office. Last year he and his family narrowly survived a gun and grenade attack on his home. Just after I spoke to him, he was again a target of Loyalist assassins during the latest spate of attacks in March.

When his home was attacked last year, an RUC/Army foot patrol was stopping cars at the only entrance to the estate. Yet the police didn't arrive at the McGuigan home for 45 minutes. The Ardoyne area is kept under constant surveillance by the massive tower on top of the local barracks which allows the police and Army to monitor every movement of this hostile community. Yet Loyalist death squads appear to carry out their missions with impunity.

McGuigan experienced the 'even-handedness' of the British authorities when his application for a gun licence for his personal protection was refused by the RUC and the Home Secretary. 'Ken Kerr, a Unionist councillor who has been convicted of arms offences and who to my knowledge has never suffered an attempt on his life was on Channel 4 News brandishing a legally held Browning automatic pistol. Here's me with no convictions and two [now three] very close shaves with death and I'm refused.' Derry councillor Kerr is a leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, widely considered to be a political voice of the UDA.

McGuigan compares the role which Loyalist gangs play for Britain to president FW De Klerk's sponsorship of Inkatha against the ANC in South Africa: 'It's the old colonial device of divide and rule.'

Four more Catholic men (one an IRA member) were shot dead by Loyalist gunmen on 25 March, as their van arrived for work in Castlerock, County Derry
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 55, May 1993

Subscribe to LM




Mail: webmaster@mail.informinc.co.uk