Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Kieran Conway

Freedom Fighters, Terrorists and Ordinary Decent Criminals

 

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 31 2015.

 

Colman's Column3

 

The world was horrified recently at the news that a co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had deliberately flown his plane into a mountain killing 150 people. Many have commented that this was the ultimate expression of modern narcissism, a trend for suicidal people to want to take others with them without their consent. I wrote last week about how Kieran Conway, in a book in which he calls himself a “freedom fighter”, admitted responsibility for killing 21 innocent young people in the cause of a united Ireland. No one asked those young people what they thought about it. Terrorism is another kind of narcissism.

There are fuzzy boundaries between war, terrorism, crime, politics and business. Politicians use terms like “war on terrorism”, “war on crime”, “war on drugs”. Some might believe that this is part of a plan to militarise civil society. “Freedom fighters” easily morph into criminals as they resort to bank robberies and drug dealing to raise funds for the cause. Many once considered as terrorists later take their place in government.  In Ireland, there was Eamon De Valera and more recently Martin McGuinness. In Kenya there was Jomo Kenyatta; today his son is president and has had his case dropped by the International Criminal Court.

MIA made it into the news again the other day. It was not for any recent achievement but merely about a gripe that she regurgitated concerning the way Oprah Winfrey had treated her some time ago. Suggestions that MIA was terrorist sympathiser led to some people dragging out that old chestnut: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Whenever this is said, no definition of “freedom fighter” is offered. No examples of bona fide freedom fighters are presented except for Nelson Mandela.

Ronald Reagan called the Nicaraguan Contra rebels freedom fighters. Reagan also frequently called the Afghan Mujahedeen freedom fighters during their war against the Soviet Union, yet twenty years later, when a new generation of Afghan men fought against what they perceived to be a regime installed by foreign powers, George W Bush labelled their attacks “terrorism”.

Professor Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Ottawa’s Carleton University, says the phrase “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” “is grossly misleading.” It assesses the validity of the cause when it should be addressing terrorism is an act. “One can have a perfectly beautiful cause and yet if one commits terrorist acts, it is terrorism regardless.

Distinguished scholars have devoted their lives to defining terrorism and have admitted failure. In the first edition of Political Terrorism: a Research Guide, Alex Schmid spent a hundred pages examining more than a hundred different definitions of terrorism. Four years and a second edition later, Schmid conceded in the first sentence of the revised volume that the “search for an adequate definition is still on”. Walter Laqueur despaired of defining terrorism in both editions of his  work on the subject, maintaining that it is neither possible to do so nor worthwhile to make the attempt.

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” seems to mean that state authorities sometimes delegitimize opponents, and legitimize the state’s own use of armed force. Critics call this “state terrorism”.

The UN’s attempts to define terrorism failed because of differences of opinion about the use of violence in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self-determination. Since 1994, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism: “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable”.

Although, in the international community, terrorism has no legally binding, criminal-law definition, there are definitions of “terrorism”. A study on political terrorism examining over 100 definitions of “terrorism” found 22 separate definitional elements. These can be summarised thus: violent acts, which deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants, intended to create fear, perpetrated for a religious, political, or ideological goal.

Bruce Hoffman wrote: “By distinguishing terrorists from other types of criminals and terrorism from other forms of crime, we come to appreciate that terrorism is :

  • ineluctably political in aims and motives
  • violent – or, equally important, threatens violence
  • designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target
  • conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia) and
  • perpetrated by a subnational group or non-state entity.”

 

Everyone agrees that  terrorism is a pejorative term, with intrinsically negative connotations. Use of the term implies a moral judgment.  According to David Rodin, utilitarian philosophers can (in theory) conceive of cases in which the evil of terrorism is outweighed by the good that could not be achieved in a less morally costly way. Michael Walzer argued that terrorism can be morally justified in only one specific case: when “a nation or community faces the extreme threat of complete destruction and the only way it can preserve itself is by intentionally targeting non-combatants, then it is morally entitled to do so”.

Those dubbed “terrorists” by their opponents rarely identify themselves as such, preferring to use other terms such as separatist, freedom fighter, liberator, revolutionary, militant,  guerrilla, rebel,  or patriot.

The use of violent and brutal tactics by criminal organizations for protection rackets or to enforce a code of silence is usually not termed terrorism. However, “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” often use their capacity to intimidate to engage in similar activities to organised crime. While they were purportedly striving to reunite the six counties of Northern Ireland with the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland, the Provisional IRA were also building up a criminal empire. While this might have begun as a means of financing the republican struggle, crime seemed to become an end in itself. The profits of crime might have been a reason for prolonging the conflict.

Raids on illegal distilleries in Ireland uncovered bottling and capping machinery and high- quality copies of brand labels. Many of the products were designed for use in pub optics. The IRA took the production of counterfeit spirits so seriously that it even had a quality control unit.

Conway writes about his participation in bank raids and gun battles. The IRA’s “elite robbery team” unit organised armed robberies using a tactic known as “tiger kidnapping”, where the family of an employee was held hostage to ensure co-operation. The unit played a central role in the theft of £26.5 million from the Northern Bank just before Christmas 2004 and organized three other robberies which netted a further £3 million in that  year.

According to Customs Revenue officers, about half of Northern Ireland’s filling stations sold fuel smuggled from the Irish Republic, where duty was considerably lower, at a cost to the Treasury of about £200 million a year. Fuel smuggling, much of it organized by the notorious South Armagh brigade, was probably the IRA’s single largest source of income.

The paramilitaries were involved in pirating DVDs and software and the IRA’s links with America gave it access to new releases. The IRA’s counterfeiting operations extended to fake football strips, designer clothes, power tools and a well-known brand of washing powder. A bottle of counterfeit perfume seized at a market was found to contain urine as a stabilizer.

Often the IRA invested as a silent partner in legitimate businesses. The IRA’s finance unit contributed to Belfast’s property boom by investing in houses.

The IRA received up to $6 million (£3.1 million) for helping to train  rebels in Colombia. The payment was allegedly negotiated by a former IRA “chief of staff” who had worldwide contacts — including in Libya, where republicans deposited some of the proceeds from their vast criminal empire.

The Irish gangster Martin Cahill was the subject of two feature films. In The General, Brendan Gleeson played him. In Ordinary Decent Criminals, Kevin Spacey played him. Cahill was involved in petty crime from an early age and turned to armed robbery after stealing arms from a police station. O’Connor’s jewellers at Harold’s Cross, Dublin was forced to close, with the loss of more than one hundred jobs after Cahill stole €2.55 million worth of gold and diamonds from the store.

In 1994, a gunman, who was armed with a .357 Magnum , shot Cahill in the face and torso, jumped on a motorbike and disappeared from the scene. The IRA said that it was Cahill’s “involvement with and assistance to pro-British death squads which forced us to act”. One theory is that John Gilligan, who was convicted of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin (also shot by a motorcyclist), had Cahill killed because he was trying to get a slice of Gilligan’s drug profits.

Gilligan effectively had the complicit support of the Dublin IRA and had members of the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) in his pay. He was importing enough cannabis to make everybody rich. He was even importing small arms, which he passed on to republicans as sweeteners.

The IRA established links with organized crime in the same areas of the Costa del Sol where many of Dublin’s top “ordinary” criminals, the “Murphia”, lived. The Murphia became the wholesale middlemen and women who supplied parts of the UK drugs markets after developing links with their British counterparts.

The dissident republican group the Real IRA was responsible for murders, attempted murders and pipe bomb attacks in the Republic. The group is believed to be extorting millions of Euros from targeting drug dealers — as well as business people — in Dublin and Cork. The Real IRA have taken over many of the security and protection rackets once run by the Provos. The dissidents are also believed to be selling some of these bombs to gangs including criminal elements within the Travelling community.

The Provisional IRA funded its terrorist activities with bank robberies and protection rackets. Martin McGuinness was the IRA Commandant for Derry. He and Gerry Adams were prominent in the labyrinthine negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and the IRA laying down its arms. As a minister in the government of the statelet of Northern Ireland, McGuinness   visited Sri Lanka to advise us on peace and reconciliation. Sinn Fein, which used to be seen by voters in the Republic as the proxy of the Provisional IRA, is a major Opposition force in the Dáil today and is often mentioned as a possible coalition member of the government. Fiachra Gibbons, in the New Statesman, described Sinn Fein as “a kind of cross between Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church, but with extra guns, paedophiles and front businesses.”

In Sri Lanka, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was mainly dependent for funding in its early days on robberies and extortion.  Trading in gold, laundering money and dealing in narcotics brought the LTTE substantial revenue to buy sophisticated weaponry. They also played a role in providing passports, other papers, and also engaged in human trafficking

Those who carried out the Easter Rising in 1916 are seen in a romantic light compared to the bombers of today. However, like the bombers of today, they  believed they were entitled, although they were but a small unelected group of conspirators in a democratic country, to stage a revolution in which many innocent people were killed. “Armed struggle” generally means fanatics killing innocents by remote control. The whole point of terrorism is to induce fear among non-combatants. It is a bit rich for those committing these acts of terror against civilians to call themselves freedom fighters. Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public for political purposes are abhorrent, whatever political or philosophical justifications are presented.

 

 

Who’s Sorry Now?

Colman's Column3A version of this  article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 24 2015.

ConwayBook

Freedom Fighter

Kieran Conway says he is very sorry. What could this respectable-looking white-haired 60-year-old man in his smart suit and red silk tie possibly be guilty about?

Well, there is the small matter of blowing 21 innocent people to giblets while they were out enjoying a quiet drink.

On top of that is the fact that six innocent men each spent 15 years in prison for what Mr Conway and his friends did.

In a recently published book, Southside Provisional : From Freedom Fighter to the Four Courts, Conway, who ran the Provisional IRA’s intelligence-gathering in the 1970s, made the first formal IRA  admission that it had carried out the bombing of the Tavern in the Town and the Mulberry Bush pubs in  central Birmingham. Notice that he thinks of himself as a “freedom fighter”. Conway claimed that the civilian casualties had not been intended. One is reminded of the sentiments expressed by Padraic Pearse, leader of the 1916 Easter rising: “we might make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people: but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing”.

conwayyoung

Birmingham Bombings

I was living in Manchester on 21 November 1974. One of my close friends had recently moved to Birmingham. I had often visited him there and become friends with many of his new friends. I knew the city well because I had been visiting since before I was ten years old to see my cousin Pat Saward, who was also captain of the Republic of Ireland team, playing football for Aston Villa. When I heard the news of the bombings, I was immediately concerned for my friends. I had often been in the Tavern on the Town. I could picture the streets where the atrocity was perpetrated.

pub

The bombs killed 21 people and injured 182. The dead and wounded were mainly young people between the ages of 17 and 25, including two brothers: Desmond and Eugene Reilly (aged 22 and 23 respectively). Their names clearly indicate that they were of Irish extraction and not British imperialists. The Mulberry Bush was on the lower two floors of an office block called the Rotunda. The police began checking the upper floors of the Rotunda but did not clear the crowded pub at street level before the bomb exploded at 20:17. Ten people were killed in this explosion and dozens injured.

boys

At 20:27 a bomb exploded at the Tavern on the Town, a basement pub 50 yards away on New Street. It killed a further 11 people and left many with severe injuries. Several victims were blown through a brick wall. Their remains were wedged between the rubble and underground electric cables; it took hours for firemen to free them. A passing West Midlands bus was wrecked in the blast and passersby were struck by flying glass from shattered windows. The fact that two bombs had exploded  close together meant it was difficult to get casualties to hospital in the chaos.

bus

One of the victims, 18-year-old Maxine Hambleton, had only gone into the Tavern in the Town to hand out tickets to friends for a party. She was killed seconds after entering the pub and had been standing beside the bag containing the bomb when it exploded. Her friend, 17-year-old Jane Davis, was the youngest victim of the bombings.

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Birmingham Six

Evening-Mail-mcdade

On the night of the bombings, six Irishmen were arrested at Heysham Port while about to board a ferry to Belfast. They became known as the “Birmingham Six”.  The six were from Belfast but had lived in Birmingham for some time. They were going to Belfast for the funeral of James McDade who was killed in a premature explosion while planting an IRA bomb at the Coventry telephone exchange. One of the six was also intending to see an aunt in Belfast who was sick and not expected to live.

West Midlands  police were under great pressure to make arrests and the British government were under pressure to clamp down on the IRA. Someone had to pay and it did not really matter who the sacrificial victims were. The Birmingham Six – Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker—were quickly arrested and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975. The West Midlands Police tortured them- they were deprived of food and sleep, they were interrogated sometimes for up to 12 hours without a break; threats were made against them; they were punched; fierce dogs  were allowed close to them; there were  mock executions.


sixmugs

Forensic scientist Dr Frank Skuse used positive Griess test results to claim that Hill and Power had handled explosives. Dr Hugh Kenneth Black of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, the former HM Chief Inspector of Explosives at the Home Office challenged Skuse’s interpretation. The men had been playing cards on the train and that could have given the same results as explosives. The judge (and the jury) preferred Skuse’s version.  In October 1985, a  World in Action TV documentary In The Interests of Justice concluded that the real Birmingham pub bombers had gone free. Days after the TV programme, the Home Office retired Skuse, aged 51, from the Civil Service on the grounds of “limited effectiveness”. All 350 of Skuse’s cases, dating back to 1966, were re-examined. In 1991, the Court of Appeal stated that the Griess test should only be used as a preliminary test and that Dr Skuse’s conclusion was demonstrably wrong, judged even by the state of forensic science in 1974.

Dr-Frank-Skuse

The convictions of the Birmingham Six were declared unsafe and unsatisfactory and quashed by the Court of Appeal on 14 March 1991. The six men were later awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million. They had each spent 15 years in prison.

 

six

Guildford Bombings – Legitimate Targets?

Kieran Conway is now a criminal lawyer in Dublin. He says in his book that where off-duty soldiers were the targets of bombings, “I had little sympathy for either the soldiers or the unfortunate civilians who had been sharing their drinking space.”

The bombing of the Horse and Groom and the Seven Stars in Guildford in October 1974 would be acceptable to this freedom fighter because those two pubs were popular with off-duty soldiers from the barracks in Pirbright. Four soldiers and one civilian were killed, whilst a further sixty-five were wounded. Once again innocent people –

Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson

-each spent 15 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Conlon had been in London at the time of the bombings, and had visited his aunt, Annie Maguire. A few days after the Guildford Four were arrested, the Metropolitan Police arrested Auntie Annie and her family, including Gerry Conlon’s father, Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon. The Maguire Seven were falsely convicted of providing bomb-making material in March 1976 and sentenced to terms varying between four and fourteen years. The Guildford Four were held in prison for fifteen years, while Giuseppe Conlon died near the end of his third year of imprisonment. All the convictions were overturned years later in the appeal courts after it was proved the Guildford Four’s convictions had been based on confessions obtained by torture whilst evidence specifically clearing the Four was not reported by the police.

Gerry Conlon, despite being portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis in a film, did not have a happy life. He died last year at the age of 65. He spent 25% of his life in prison for a terrible crime committed by someone else and had mental problems as a result.

conlon

 

Paul Hill did rather better. He moved to the USA. In 1993, married Courtney Kennedy, a daughter of assassinated American senator Robert F. Kennedy and a niece of assassinated president John F Kennedy. They had a daughter in 1999, but legally separated in 2006.

paul hill

Troubled Times

 

The year 1974 was a particularly uncomfortable one in which to be Irish in England. I recall sitting in the Irish Club in Gloucester with my sainted aunt who was on a visit with her son and his wife. Our pleasant evening was marred by a brick being thrown through the window. A work colleague vehemently told me that she was boycotting Kerry Gold butter because of the IRA.  One had to be constantly vigilant. When I worked in a social security office in Manchester, we evacuated the building when a security guard found a suspicious parcel in a toilet. It turned out to be a package of sausages. When I worked in London for Sir Arthur Armitage at the Social Security Advisory Committee, I had the building, near Lincolns Inn Fields, cleared when an unidentified parcel arrived addressed to Sir Arthur. Sir Arthur was an eminent lawyer and Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University. We were planning our annual visit to Belfast and he was very nervous about it, having received threats. I was not at all embarrassed when the parcel turned out to be a tape of an interview he had done. Because of the actions of Conway and his friends, we had to live with fear and even today, people in the UK are living with the effects of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Confession

In his book, Conway writes about his participation in bank raids and gun battles and his encounters with leading IRA figures. He refers to Gerry Adams as “a mendacious, lying bastard”. Conway  told the Irish Independent newspaper: “For much of its existence, Sinn Fein was a support group for the IRA, a junior and not terribly effective part of the republican movement. Though always controlled from a distance by the IRA, the IRA leadership decided in the late 1970s that the party would come under IRA control at every level.” This sounds similar to the relationship between the LTTE and the TNA.

adams

Conor Cruise O’Brien pointed out 30 years ago that those who carried out the Easter Rising in 1916 believed they were entitled, although they were but a small unelected group of conspirators in a democratic country, to stage a revolution in which many innocent people were killed. “Armed struggle” generally means  fanatics killing innocents by remote control. Revolutionary leaders presume a lot. Pearse might nobly say: “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me”. The majority of the casualties in the Easter Rising were civilians. Did Prabhakaran ever ask Tamils civilians  if they wanted to be martyrs? Was there a referendum on martyrdom, a focus group?

Despite the undoubted success of the Good Friday Agreement a handful of unelected die-hards do not want peace. They want to create new martyrs for Ireland. Today, after so much bloodshed, Ireland is still not united. Today, after so much bloodshed, there is no Eelam.

How Sorry Is Conway?

Maxine Hambleton’s family and the campaign group Justice4the21 met Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper last week to ask for her support for new inquests. They have also met Home Secretary Theresa May and are preparing a case for the European Parliament. Inquests were opened days after the bombings and closed in 1975 without hearing evidence, because of the guilty verdicts on the Birmingham Six.

While Conway was heading the IRA’s intelligence department, the Provisionals killed 140 people. Conway said in an interview: “I have no doubt that actions of mine resulted in serious harm to people and worse, and I regret that. I very much regret it in view of the outcome… The IRA has disappeared into history having taken a position on how to achieve Irish unity which is identical to that of the British government it fought against for 25 years and that is not a good outcome,” ”

Julie-and-Brian-Hambleton

Julie Hambleton is asking why this “freedom fighter” is not questioned about his role in the murder of her sister following his admissions in his book.

 

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