Category Archives: Sinn Féin

Qana, Derry: The Dead Lie in Familiar Shapes

Article by Eamon McCann originally printed on Counterpunch:

It was the sudden eruption at the back of the room upstairs at Sandino’s which brought us eventually to the burial ground at Qana.

At the edge of the village, pictures of each of the 28 victims were displayed on a wall around the canopied space where the graves are laid out in precise, neat pattern by the place where the building which they were crushed under once stood.

Qana Mayor Mohammed Atiya made a formal speech of welcome while relatives of the dead stood sentinel by the graves. Shane Cullen, who had designed the memorial plaque we’d brought over, explained that it had been hewn from Irish blue limestone because we wanted “to leave a little bit of Ireland here in Qana, as a sign of our sorrow.” I talked of how we’d heard of the massacre and why we’d occupied the Raytheon plant in Derry in response. Goretti Horgan sang a Gaelic lament. Jimmy Kelly played the tin whistle.

Afterwards, we were invited into the homes of some of the victims where we sat around awkwardly and sipped the glasses of sweet tea that were offered to us everywhere in Lebanon.

Our hearts grieve with yours, I told Maryam Shaloub, who had moved into the home of her sister to look after what was left of the family. Five had been among the 28 who’d perished in the basement when a Raytheon bunker-buster brought the house where they’d sought shelter tumbling down. Some were squashed to death, some choked on dirt and debris. Most were children.

She bustled around, affecting crossness with two teenage survivors for being tardy with the tea, then beaming with pride at how well they are doing in school. We grieve for our loneliness that those we loved are not here, she said with a determined smile of seeming serenity. But we do not grieve that they are dead. We are joyful to know they are in paradise. They are martyrs now.

But there was no semblance of joy from Hala, who had lost her husband, her two children, her mother and father; sitting on the sofa alongside me, she was stiff, immobile, unspeaking, impenetrable, her face a mask of frozen pain.

Although we’d had little appreciation at the time of the depth of the anguish which had hollowed happiness out from the families of Qana, this was the reason we’d trashed the Raytheon plant.The meeting at Sandino’s pub had been called by the Derry Anti-War Coalition (DAWC) on August 2 last year to hear from Joshua Casteel, a former US Army interrogator at Abu Ghraib, and Iraqi lawyer Hani Lazim. But the focus of discussion turned quickly to Lebanon and Qana. For two days, television bulletins and newspapers had featured pictures of children being carried in dripping bundles from the crumpled ruin. “We have to do something,” came the angry roar from the rear. “Raytheon’s down the road. Derry’s a total disgrace.”

The meeting voted to protest at the Raytheon premises, and scheduled a gathering five days later to decide on the detail of what would be done.

US company Raytheon is one of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers, with 73,000 employees in 45 countries and 2006 sales of $20.3 billion. It specialises in electronic guidance and control systems for weapons, including the Patriot, the Sidewinder, the Sea Sparrow, the Tomahawk, the Maverick, and the bunker-buster Paveway used at Qana, which carries 945 pounds of explosive tritonal, about 80 percent TNT, 20 percent aluminum. In April this year, Israel ordered 2,000 more units to replenish stores depleted in last year’s bombing of Lebanon.

The arrival of Raytheon in Derry, announced in August 1999 by John Hume and David Trimble on the steps of the Guildhall in their first joint appearance after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, was widely hailed as a down-payment on the “peace dividend” arising from the Belfast Agreement. Sinn Fein and the DUP quickly joined the peace laureates’ parties in praising the company for creating new jobs. None of the parties has flinched from this position since. Everyone at Sandino’s knew it very likely that Raytheon soft-ware had guided the Qana bomb (proof, in the form of the code-numbers on fuselage fragments, was soon to come to hand), and knew also that it would be futile to appeal to the political mainstream to speak against the company’s role.

And so we did what we believed we had to, entering the plant and barricading ourselves inside. Nine of us were arrested after eight hours inside the plant, during which we hurled computers from the windows, used fire extinguishers to put the mainframe out of action and destroyed any paperwork and computer discs we could find: we next appear in court on September 3rd. The DAWC thought it appropriate to send a delegation to Qana on the anniversary of the massacre to lay a memorial stone.

The inscription on the stone, in Arabic and English, comprised two lines from the narrative of Bloody Sunday in the Museum of Free Derry and two lines from Patti Smith’s poem, “Qana”.

Qana, Derry,
The dead lie in familiar shapes.
No-one who yearns for justice is a stranger,
No-one who dies for justice is forgotten.
Derry, Qana,
The miracle is love.

The 28 who’d perished came from two extended families, the Hashems and the Shaloubs. They’d been sheltering in a three-storey building at the edge of the village, because it was relatively new and built in the lee of a hill ­ and they reasoned that it offered better protection than their less sturdy homes. Villages in a strip along the Israeli border had been shelled and attacked by Israeli aircraft for more than two weeks. Qana had been repeatedly hit. But the two families were among many who had been too frightened to flee to the nearest town, Tyre. The seven-mile highway was a junkyard of houses in rubble and burnt-out cars.

On streets around the Imam Ali mosque today, chunks of concrete and mortar still dangle precariously from crooked iron rods jutting out from rubble and dust. But much of the village ­ the location, many believe, of a miracle when Jesus turned water into wine for a wedding feast ­ has either been rebuilt or resembles a construction site. On every roof, it seems, young men are hauling buckets of cement and cinder blocks up by pulley. They look mildly curious when our group straggles into view, smile and return thumbs-up signs.

The assault on Lebanon had begun on July 12th, when Hezbollah fighters crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others. They claimed they intended to bargain the captured men for some of the hundreds of Lebanese Muslims held without charge in Israeli jails. Israel responded by launching a land, sea and air bombardment against the Muslim areas of southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley and south Beirut, and against the infrastructure of Lebanon generally ­ roads, bridges, ports, power stations, fuel stores, Beirut airport, factories. Nowhere was remote from the targets. Nowhere was safe.

Lebanon is smaller than Northern Ireland, a mere 135 miles by 50; hemmed in by Israel, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea, it has a population of four million. In the course of the 34-day conflict, Hezbollah was to fire 3,900 rockets into Israel, according to the Israeli government killing 44 civilians and 106 soldiers; the Israeli air-force, meanwhile, flew 12,000 combat missions and its army fired 100,000 shells, killing 1,200 Lebanese, including 250 fighters, according to Hezbollah, 530 according to Israel. Villages along the southern border were attacked with particular ferocity—Tiri, Kafra, Zebquin, Aita El Shaab, Bint Jbiel, Tebnin, etc., etc. But Qana struck a particular chord.

Ten years previously, more than 106 Qana people, 41 of them under 16, had been killed in an Israeli attack on the UN compound where they’d sought refuge. There had been a chorus of protest across the world, although neither the UN (because of the certainty of a US veto) nor any western country issued a formal condemnation. Now the death storm of Israel had swirled across the border again.

At around one in the morning in the house where the two families huddled, as two of the men were making tea, a bomb slammed into the structure. Perhaps five minutes later, as local people rushed towards the scene and adults inside scrambled amid the smoke and screams to find who’d survived, a second bomb gouged into the earth alongside and exploded. It seems almost certain it was this second bomb that toppled the building.

The Israelis claimed their target had been Hezbollah positions nearby from which rockets had earlier been launched.

Muhammad Mahmud Shalhub, a farmer, 61, in the house when it happened, recalls: “When the first strike hit, the whole house lifted…I was sitting by the door. It got very dusty and smoky. We were all in shock…I started pushing people out ­ whomever I could find.

“Five minutes later, another air strike came…We could barely breathe and we couldn’t see anything. There were three rooms in the house where people were hiding. After the first strike, a lot of earth was pushed up into the rooms. Then the house and all the earth dropped down onto us.”

Ghazi Udaybi rushed to the house when it was hit. He says he and others pulled a number of people clear after the first strike, but could do little after the second bomb struck. He’s scornful of the Israeli explanation. “If Hezbollah was firing near the house, would a family of over 50 people just sit there?”

Another man recalls voices calling from inside the debris, “Don’t die, Don’t die!” or crying for fathers, mothers, brothers, “Ali! Mohammed! Mama!”

Sanna Shalhoub, 18, round face, bright brown eyes, a smile of instant friendship to greet us, who lost her mother, father, older sister and two younger brothers, readily recites her story for us, and for an Al Jazeera crew covering the anniversary: “I was scared, but normally when I’m scared I cry out for my mother or father. I stood up and shouted ‘Mum, Dad’. I said, ‘If you can hear me, answer me’. I screamed and screamed but no one answered…

“Before my parents died, it wasn’t like this. We were all together. But after I lost them, my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, there was no love anymore. There are times when I don’t just feel alone in the house or the village, I feel alone in the whole world. If I could have just one moment from the time when my mother and father were alive, for them to talk to me or just call my name, I would feel the luckiest person alive.

“Although the place has been knocked down and is just land, I like to go there and sit thinking that this is the place I was sleeping. Here, my brother and I used to eat. Here, my father and mother and I used to sleep. There are still some of their clothes by the side of the road. I look at them and remember how we used to live here.

“Everyone says that we should change these thoughts in our heads and that we must forget, especially the day of the massacre. Before the war, I didn’t believe that there was an enemy watching our every move. I didn’t know there was an enemy that was so desperate to destroy Hezbollah. Now, all my thoughts are political. I wonder if the day will come when I will seek revenge against the Americans and the Israelis. Could it happen that the tables will turn and I will see myself avenging my parents’ death with my own hands? Inshallah, God willing, it will happen like this.

“When I am lonely, I feel I must change this feeling, so I go to the graveyard. I read the Quran for my parents, talk to my brothers and sister. It makes me feel happier.”

It was 6.30 am before ambulances and rescue crews made it through from Tyre, having been turned back three times by continuing bombing. Bodies dragged from the devastation lay waiting to be loaded into a refrigerated truck. There was a flurry of hope when a baby, Abbas Ahmad Hashim, was cradled out by a medic, tongue protruding from a mouth filled with dirt, but he couldn’t be revived.

By evening, the bodies had been tagged and bagged in plastic and laid out on a floor at the hospital in Tyre. They were: Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 55; Ibrahim Hashim, 65; Hasna Hashim, 75; Ali Ahmad Hashim, 3; Abbas Ahmad Hashim, 9 months; Hura Muhammad Qassim Shalhub, 12; Mahdi Mahmud Hashim, 68; Zahra Muhammad Qassim Shalhub, 12; Ibrahim Ahmad Hashim, 7; Jafar Mahmud Hashim, 10; Lina Muhammad Mahmud Shalhub, 30; Nabila Ali Amin Shalhub, 40; Ula Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 25; Khadija Ali Yusif, 31; Taysir Ali Shalhub, 39; Zaynab Muhammad Ali Amin Shalhub, 6; Fatima Muhammad Hashim, 4; Ali Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 17; Maryam Hassan Muhsin, 30; Afaf al-Zabad, 45; Yahya Muhammad Qassim Shalhub, 9; Ali Muhammad Kassim Shalhub, 10; Yusif Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 6; Qassim Samih Shalhub, 9; Hussain Ahmad Hashim, 12; Qassim Muhammad Shalhub, 7; Raqiyya Mahmud Shalhub, 7; Raqiyya Muhammad Hashim, unknown.

The women shrouded in black who sat by the grave stones in the gathering dusk as we left, murmuring prayers from the Quran, glanced up and nodded as we presumptuously took pictures and faintly acknowledged our goodbyes. Children scampering at the edge of the burial place waved and smiled. A man whose back had been broken in the blast and was sitting in a wheelchair, waved and pointed to his lapel to show he was wearing the Black Shamrock badge we’d given him earlier.

As our minibus lurched out onto what passes for a main road, we all swivelled round to look back until the village of Qana had passed out of sight. “I’ll tell you,” volunteered Kieran Gallagher, “Fucking up Raytheon was the best thing I ever did in my life.”

Me, too.

Eamon McCann lives in Ireland and can be reached at: Eamonderry@aol.com

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Filed under Bloody Sunday, Derry, DUP, Eamon McCann, human rights, ireland, Irish peace process, Israel, Lebanon, middle east, Qana, Raytheon, Sinn Féin, war

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

Eoin Ó’Broin at the AMC

Mark your calendars!  Eoin Ó’Broin will be giving a presentation about Belfast’s republican murals and more at this year’s Allied Media Conference in Detroit this June 22-24.  If you want to be a part of this incredible conference, or just come to see and hear Eoin, you will first have to register for the AMC!!

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Filed under Allied Media Conference, Detroit, Irish peace process, Sinn Féin, youth

Devolution Day in the north of Ireland!

DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness–two political polar opposites– took office at Stormont today (as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively), marking the first time ever that all of the main nationalist and unionist political parties have agreed to share power together. Direct rule by London ended as of midnight last night.

Martin McGuinnessSpeaking from Stormont, McGuinness said, “What we’re going to see today is one of the mightiest leaps forward that this process has seen in almost 15 years.” Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said today is “another significant landmark in the process of
transforming life on this island. Today is a good day for Ireland. I want to thank and
commend everyone who worked to achieve this.”

Ian Paisley

And I suppose I should include this quote from Paisley, “In politics as in life, it is a truism that no one can ever have 100 per cent of what they desire. They must make a verdict when they believe they have achieved enough to move things forward,” Dr Paisley said.

I’ll not include the comment about the nationalist community endorsing policing, despite the “hostility” that that community has shown for policing for decades. I suppose he wouldn’t be Paisley if he didn’t stick that last bit in there.

In any case, many in the nationalist community see this as another step forward to a united Ireland…

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Filed under Irish peace process, policing, Sinn Féin, Uncategorized

Hunger strikers force-fed at Guantanamo

The BBC is reporting that 13 hunger strikers at the US-run concentration camp at Guantanamo are now being force-fed. (Many of you might miss the headline, as the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s child apparently gets top bidding.) In any case, it is no surprise that the official statement on behalf of the US Navy is that the force-feeding is “required to ensure the good health and nutrition of the detainees.”

Gerry Kelly, an Irish republican ex-prisoner and Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast (soon to take a junior post in the new Office of First and Deputy First Minister in May), was force-fed 170 times over a 205-day hunger strike in an English jail in an effort to be transferred to a prison in the north of Ireland. He described the horrors of being force-fed to the North Belfast News in 2004:

They press their knuckles into your jaws and press in hard. The way they finally did force feed me was getting forceps and running them up and down my gums. I opened my mouth, but I was able to resist after that. Then they tried ­ there’s a part of your nose, like a membrane and it’s very tender ­ and they started on that. It’s hard to describe the pain. It’s like someone pushing a knitting needle into the side of your eye. As soon as I opened my mouth they put in this wooden bit with a hole in the middle for the tube. They rammed it between my teeth and then tied it with cord around my head. Then they got paraffin and forced it down the tube. The danger is that every time it happens you think you’re going to die. The only things that move are your eyes. They get a funnel and put the stuff down.

Still, the US government maintains that force-feeding is a very safe, common medical procedure.

Last year around this time, I wrote an article to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Irish hunger strikes in which I highlighted the horrors of Guantanamo. From that article:

Morrison and many others believe that the lack of popular British support enabled Thatcher’s intransigence and allowed ten men to die as a result of the Irish hunger strikes in 1981. There is an eerie similarity to the United States government’s arrogance regarding Guantánamo, as the Bush administration continues to deny the internees their basic human rights under federal and international law and maintains its position that the “enemy combatants” currently being held are a threat to national security despite rapidly surmounting evidence to the contrary.

This classification as a non-person, in both the legal and social realms, allows the government to manipulate people’s fear of terrorism into a calculated dismissal of the conditions of the prisoners at Guantánamo.

Has anything changed?

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Filed under force-feeding, Guantanamo, hunger strikes, political prisoners, Sinn Féin, Uncategorized, 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