Category Archives: relatives for justice

Thousands unite in march for truth

Belfast truth marchAndersonstown News reporter Evan Short reports in the 14 August edition:

The British government was challenged by thousands of marchers yesterday to reveal the full role it played in the murder of nationalists and republicans over the last 40 years.
Upwards of 7,000 marchers from all over Ireland, including the relatives of victims, descended on Belfast City Hall to demand that the British government disclose the part it played in helping loyalist murder gangs.
Those gathered heard from representatives of a number of campaigns aimed at finding the truth about the killings of loved ones, and listened to Gerry Adams say Sinn Féin would be continuing to raise the issue with the British government.
“If there is to be an inclusive healing process and a genuine process of reconciliation then the British government must face up to its responsibilities,” said the West Belfast MP.
“It is in the interest of all our people that there is a genuine and successful healing process [and] all political leaders have a responsibility to promote this.
“That means thinking beyond any sectarian, sectional, party political or self interest,” continued Mr Adams.

Thousands of marchers from the four corners of the city descended on the City Hall yesterday to demand the British government own up to its role in the murder of its own citizens.
In bright sunshine up to 7,000 people of all ages, carrying placards and wearing black ribbons, heard the families of the victims of state violence speak of their suffering at the hands of the British government and its policy of using loyalist proxies to attack the nationalist and republican community.
As the march passed, the names of West Belfast men Pearse Jordan, Pat Finucane and Tony Fusco loomed large among the hundreds who were remembered by their loved ones.

Recollections
The daughter of Donegal Sinn Féin councillor, Eddie Fullerton, was first to speak and told a tale familiar to many of those who looked on when she described how loyalists used a sledgehammer to break down the door of her father’s home before shooting him as he lay in bed with his wife.
Her recollection of having to deal with a disinterested legal system, both North and South, was another part of the harrowing recollection that struck a nerve with the crowd.
“Several media investigations have revealed links between British army intelligence and their informers within loyalism that facilitated the murder of my father,” said Amanda Fullerton.
“Four years ago we received information proving collusion between the loyalists and the RUC.
“We have also learned that the Garda Síochána were given this information but had not acted on it.
“We were always told the border was a major problem in the investigation. We know now the border was not a major problem.”
Amanda was followed by Relatives for Justice Director, Mark Thompson, who himself lost a brother to a loyalist killer gang.

Murders
He said that republican and nationalist attempts to assert their rights as citizens with public rallies had always drawn a sharp response from the British and their proxies within loyalism.
“The UDA and UFF murdered over 100 people in this city – most of whom were killed by informers working for the British government – that was policy.
“These agents helped bring in consignments of weapons that were used to kill over 300 people across the North – that was policy.”
Delivering the keynote speech, Gerry Adams said the truth issue would be central to future negotiations with the British.
“The objective of this march and rally is to draw attention to collusion and British state violence; a policy which resulted in many thousands of victims who were killed or injured or bereaved; and the administrative and institutional cover-up by the British government and its state agencies.

Black ribbon
“The black ribbon is the symbol of this event.
“Wearing it today is an act of solidarity with the victims, their families and the campaign groups.
“It also sends a clear message to the British state that we are determined to pursue the truth,” he added.
“We are determined to campaign even though it may take a long time, until the British state acknowledges its administrative and institutional use of state violence and collusion.”
He also said that the issue of the British manipulation of members of the republican movement should be put under the same scrutiny.
“Yes the British recruited, blackmailed, tricked, intimidated and bribed individual republicans into working for them and I think it would be only right to have this dimension of British strategy investigated also.
“If the British state used former republicans to do its killing for it, then the victims of that policy have the right to truth also.

Collusion
“The infiltration of organisations, the tactic of divide and conquer, of counter gangs, has long been a hallmark of British policy.
“But to compare, as anti-republicans do, this policy with the structured control and direction of unionist paramilitaries in the conduct of their war is disingenuous.”
Mr Adams added that the presence of so many at a rally in the city centre showed that the strategy of collusion, like British militarism in Ireland, was a failure.
“Both strategies have a number of things in common – they were about the defeat of republicanism.
“And they failed.
“That objective has not been achieved. And it never will be,” he added.

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Filed under belfast, British government, collusion, Gerry Adams, human rights, ireland, Irish peace process, loyalist, pat finucane, relatives for justice, republican, RUC, Sinn Féin, truth, UDA, UFF

Truth last big issue to be resolved in conflict

From Jim Gibney in this week’s Irish News via Newshound:

This Sunday thousands of people from all over Ireland will march to Belfast’s City Hall in memory of the 10 hunger strikers behind a banner calling on the British government to tell the truth about its role in the conflict.

The march organisers – Sinn Féin and a number of relatives’ organisations – are focusing on the word truth because they believe the truth is the last big issue to be resolved in the conflict.

By and large the truth is known about the role played by the IRA and loyalist organisations because they claimed responsibility for their actions which caused the deaths of hundreds of people.

Thousands of republicans and loyalists were also imprisoned for their part in the conflict.

It is also public knowledge that the crown forces killed hundreds of people, some of them in massacres in the early 1970s like Bloody Sunday in Derry and in areas of Belfast like Ballymurphy and the New Lodge Road, yet only a few members of the crown forces spent time in prison.

The fact that the public know the extent of the involvement in the deaths of thousands of people by the various armed groups of course does not make it any easier for the relatives of those killed to carry their burden of grief.

This was painfully obvious last Tuesday when the relatives of 11 people gunned down by the British army in Ballymurphy over a four-day period following the introduction of internment in August 1971 recalled the horror of the time.

As part of the Feile programme Relatives For Justice assisted the relatives of those killed in Ballymurphy to tell their frightening and heart-breaking tale.

The relatives of the dead have struggled for over three decades to force the British government to tell the truth about the circumstances in which the Paras, the same regiment responsible for Bloody Sunday, shot their loved ones dead and then lied to the world about it.

For many relatives the burden of grief is more difficult to deal with when the people charged with protecting life and upholding human rights, in this instance the British government, are in fact guilty of fragrantly violating both.

For relatives of those killed this violation is made much worse by the British government’s refusal to acknowledge the part it played in the conflict and the cavalier manner in which it dismisses demands from relative’s organisations for them to tell the truth.

Thirty-six years after the killings in Ballymurphy the British government has yet to say those killed were innocent; it has yet to apologise to the relatives.

The British government’s refusal to face up to its part in the conflict stems from its belief that its actions in Ireland were morally superior to for example the IRA.

That its presence here is legitimate and on that basis whatever its armed forces do is in defence of democracy against terrorists.

This is reflected in the myth peddled by the British government and its apologists that its military occupation here is in fact a peace mission; that it was not involved in a war.

The absurdity of this view has many consequences and is particularly felt by relatives seeking justice who lost a loved one at the hands of the crown forces.

It is also reflected for example in the production in July past of an equally absurd British army publication about ‘Operation Banner’ the British army’s version of its occupation or as is likes to call it ‘campaign on British soil’ by the “armed forces of a developed nation against an irregular force”.

This denial of the reality of what everyone else accepts also leads the British government to continue perpetrating yet another grave injustice: the cover-up of its involvement in the murder of hundreds of people, mainly Catholics through collusion with loyalists.

Despite overwhelming and documented evidence which proves hundreds of people were killed as a result of collusion with loyalists, the British government continues to refuse to admit it orchestrated this murder campaign through its crown forces – the British army and RUC.

The relatives’ determination has the British government in the dock of public opinion.

There it will remain until it cries truth.

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Filed under belfast, Bloody Sunday, British army, British government, collusion, human rights, hunger strikes, ireland, Irish peace process, Jim Gibney, Operation Banner, policing, relatives for justice, RUC, Sinn Féin, truth

Does this happen to you too?

I’m only recently back from a 3 week trip to Belfast, and as is often the case when one returns from a vacation (of sorts), I’ve been asked by friends, family, acquaintances, and workmates what I did while I was away.  So I discuss–or attempt to discuss, as the case may be–exactly what I did.  And about 9.999 times out of 10, the person I am talking to stares off into the distance, their eyes glaze over, and they blink repeatedly.  And say nothing.  No questions, no polite, “oh wow that’s really interesting”–usually no reaction at all.  It’s usually something circumstantial that breaks us out of that temporary standstill, like if I’m at work one of us has to leave suddenly to do something, or if I’m at a restaurant the server comes over and fills up the water and then suddenly there’s the exit we’ve both been waiting for.  “Is it supposed to rain today?”

I know it’s not me.  I’m certainly not a confrontational person, nor am I inclined to boast about much of anything.  This sort of thing has happened before though.  When I first got to graduate school, I can’t tell you how many parties, events, or classroom settings in which I found myself discussing what I had been doing before I came to school.  I’m in an environmental program, so most if not all of my fellow students had worked in the field or a related one prior to coming to UM.  I did what I’ve pretty much always done; I had a job that would pay my bills and then I used my “free time” to do important political work.

Before grad school I was a volunteer caseworker at Centurion Ministries in Princeton, New Jersey. CM is an independent investigative agency that works to get innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of rape and murder out of prison.  It remains the most meaningful, powerful, and inspiring work I’ve ever done.  The most incredible stories of the most amazing, strong, determined, thankful people you’ll ever meet.   I could go on…

So this was the story I would tell when it was my turn to share where I had been before Michigan.  The response?  The same far-off stares, the same glazed over eyes and the same flutter of the eyelids.  (Are there wheels turning in there…or does the brain work overtime so that you do not process my words?!)  I remember only one person in my program who ever engaged me in a conversation about this.

And so I came to the conclusion that the idea of people being wrongfully convicted of heinous crimes and left to rot in prison was something that was just so far out of the frame of (white, middle class) reference of these people that they literally had no idea how to respond.  Or that their minds were working so hard to NOT process what I had said (please don’t mess with my rosy pink worldview), to not have to think about how folks live outside the bubble that their gears just momentarily stopped shifting (hence the glazed over, fluttering eyes) until the subject changed and they were safe.

Come on, people–do you really need to know someone personally who is in jail to acknowledge that this is a serious issue?  Perhaps even a bit more pressing than paper vs. plastic?  So much for your understanding of NIMBY-ism (that’s Not In My Back Yard–and guess what people, it applies to more than dumping).  But I digress.

So when I get back from a place like Belfast and you ask me what I did and I begin to tell you and I see your eyes begin to glaze over, I’ll probably assume you just want to hear about all the Guinness I drank, or about how fucked up I got, or if I went to any shows or sweet parties.  Since I don’t expect you to be fully informed (or even well-informed–or informed!) about the conflict or the peace process (and your eyes tell me you’re not interested in politics), I’ll probably just tell you about the time I went to Dundalk for the night with a bunch of really great ladies to go to the dog races (of all things!), how we started drinking on the bus on the way down, went to the disco (my boobs popped out of my dress, several times, and Linda ended up on the floor trying to recreate a scene during that song from Dirty Dancing).

But boy will you be missing out, because I won’t tell you about the experiences I had that really touched me.  I won’t tell you about the afternoon in the park, eating ice cream cones with my friend, who is struggling for justice for his murdered son, a victim of collusion; about how he reminisced about his childhood, talked about his kids and grandchildren, how we literally stopped to smell the roses.  About how his story is unfortunately one of many.  This is a place where people are carrying so much pain, but at the same time it’s also a place that bubbles over with humor, hospitality, and humanity.   It’s too near, too close to me, and  I’m tired of sharing with people who choose to numb their minds to reality (and it is a choice).  So I won’t tell you about the community organizations that I worked with, and will continue to work with.  I won’t tell you about the amazing, inspiring people I met, how the potential I see fills me with hope.  You won’t even come close to understanding why I might be so drawn to this community, with its painful past so close to the surface as it struggles to make the small portion of the earth that it occupies a better, safer, inclusive and sustainable place.

A word of advice: don’t ask if you really don’t want to know.  Or at least be polite and say something if I tell you and you decide you don’t really want to know.  But from where I stand, you’re missing out.

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Filed under belfast, Centurion Ministries, collusion, environmental justice, ireland, Irish peace process, political prisoners, relatives for justice, UVF, war

Justice for the families of collusion victims

rfjpanelblog.jpg(At long last, I am finally writing this blog post.) Last month I had the opportunity to spend a week in DC with the Relatives for Justice collusion delegation, and what a week it was. Read about the trip’s details in their own words on their blog, Relatives for Justice Collusion Delegation in the USA. [Pictured, from left: Theresa Slane, Clara Reilly, Mark Thompson, Paul McIlwaine, Raymond McCord and Pauline Davey-Kennedy.]

The families were here to gather American support to expose the extent of British state violence in Ireland and the great lengths that the British government has gone to prevent the truth of their policy of collusion from coming to light. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “collusion,” in this context it refers to the arming and directing of loyalist paramilitary death squads by successive British government administrations throughout the 30+ years of the conflict in Ireland.

There were six people in the delegation:

Mark Thompson is the Director of RFJ, and Clara Reilly is its Chairperson. Both have been involved in helping families fight human rights violations for decades. Though Mark’s brother Peter was killed by the British army in a shoot-to-kill operation in January 1990, and Clara’s brother Jim Burns was murdered by the UVF in February 1981 (in a clear case of collusion), neither one spoke of their personal tragedies during the Congressional meetings that I attended. I can only imagine that this was due in part to their positions as spokespeople for RFJ and all the hundreds of families that they support and were here to represent.

Raymond McCord, Sr. was one of two Protestants who were part of the cross-community delegation. The UVF beat his son Raymond Jr. to death in November 1997. Raymond Jr.’s killing was sanctioned by the notorious UVF killer Mark Haddock, who was also a paid RUC/PSNI Special Branch agent (and responsible for up to 23 other murders). Those who follow Irish politics may be familiar with the McCord case; in January Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan published a scathing report into the circumstances surrounding his death. The report has helped to expose how deep and systematic the policy of collusion was. You can read a copy of that report here. Raymond Sr. has received death threats for pursuing his son’s case and for bringing the issue of collusion to the halls of Congress.

Paul McIlwaine is a Protestant from Portadown. His 18-year-old son David was brutally murdered along with his friend Andrew Robb in February 2000 during the UVF/LVF feud. Though neither had any paramilitary connections and the boys were not the initial intended targets, both were sadistically killed in a knife attack that left David nearly decapitated. Evidence has emerged that shows the investigating officers concealed evidence to protect the killers (and the senior UVF commander in the area who is a Special Branch agent) and that the RUC were aware of the UVF plan to kill two people on that night and did nothing to prevent it.

Pauline Davey-Kennedy, herself a former Sinn Féin councillor, was in DC to highlight the murder of her father John Davey, a Sinn Féin councillor on Magherafelt District Council. Davey was murdered by the UVF on 14 February 1989 (two days after the murder of Pat Finucane). Davey had been subjected to all sorts of harassment before his death, including intimidating phone calls, letters, detention, arrest, and death threats from both the British army and RUC Special Branch that they would have loyalists kill him. Sinn Féin has had more members and elected representatives killed than any other political party, and its elected reps were denied the special protection given to other politicians by the Northern Ireland Office (protection that could have certainly protected many lives like that of John Davey). Davey was ambushed and shot after leaving a council meeting in 1989.

Theresa Slane’s husband Gerard was murdered by the UDA in September 1988. Slane’s murder had been planned and directed by the British Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU), the same unit responsible for the murder of Pat Finucane. A map of the Slane home had been drawn during an RUC raid the week before Gerard’s murder. Slane’s personal details were given to the infamous Brian Nelson, who would later plead guilty to conspiracy in the murder of Slane and four others. Nelson made a deal with the British Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions to keep silent. In return, Nelson was given a lenient sentence and a new identity, home, and financial resettlement package upon his release.

Now, after reading only a few of the details of each person’s case, you may understand why it has taken me so long to write about the trip. I’m sitting here at my desk a month later, trying to reflect on my experiences and I’m still having a hard time. I was blown away by the strength and determination of everyone I met.

Raymond McCord, whose son’s case has been in the media spotlight for some time now, was the first to say what a shame it is that it is only really now that people are starting to pay attention to the collusion issue when republicans have been speaking out against it for decades. McCord and McIlwaine, the two Protestant participants, spoke of how they had always believed collusion to be republican propaganda until their own sons were killed. Unfortunately, they have had an unbelievably hard time trying to get unionist politicians to give them the time of day.

Relatives for Justice argues, and I firmly believe, that the opportunity to expose British collusion is now. From the press release issued in advance of their trip:

Irish American support in lifting the lid on British state violence in Ireland has been crucially important, particularly in this past decade. The Irish lobby has undoubtedly impacted hugely in advancing this issue and has made the objective of fully exposing British collusion a reality that is now within our grasp. This includes exposing the role of British Military Intelligence and the fact that collusion was a political and military policy both sanctioned and financed at the highest authority within Whitehall and Downing Street. Collusion claimed countless lives including unionist and nationalist alike. This is a human rights issue. It now needs to be addressed in the context of peace building and transitional justice. Your support is vital as the struggle by hundreds of families to seek truth and accountability as part of transition continues and reaches a crucial point. The truth must be established and your continued rold is required more so now than at any other time.

Now is a unique time and opportunity for the families to build on these developments and push for the truth about collusion and British state violence in Ireland. Irish America has an imperative role to play in collectively standing shoulder to shoulder with the families. We urge your support.

rfjblog1.jpgIn other news from the week, the Senate unanimously passed the Finucane Resolution, H. Con. Res. 20. The resolution has now passed both houses of Congress, putting more pressure on the British government for a full, public, independent inquiry. Though Peter Hain immediately stated that the inquiry would have to be held under the notorious Inquiries Act of 2005, let’s hope we can increase the pressure to do away with that. [Pictured, from left: John and Geraldine Finucane, Rep. Chris Smith, Mary Noonan, and Mike Glass.]

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Filed under collusion, Irish peace process, margaret thatcher, pat finucane, policing, relatives for justice, Sinn Féin