Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Tamil Tigers

Corbyn and the Tamil Tigers

CorbynTigers

 

 

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 1 2016.That  article was written for a Sri Lankan audience which did not need to have the awfulness of the Tamil Tigers explained to them. This version for a foreign audience gives more illustrations of Tiger crimes. Presumably Corbyn is aware of those crimes, just as he must have been aware of the atrocities being perpetrated on children in his constituency.

https://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20160701CT20161030.php?id=4912

Colman's Column3

Part of the dissatisfaction with Corbyn arises from his tendency to espouse causes which have little to do with the reality of practical politics in the UK itself in 2016. As recently as April 2016, Jeremy Corbyn said he fully supports Tamils in their struggle to achieve self-determination in Sri Lanka.

Corbyn Supports Freedom Fighters

To a certain western mind-set everything is black or white, minorities are always oppressed and discriminated against, governments must be bad, and rebels must be romantic freedom fighters. I recall that in the 1970s, my own trade union in the UK was contributing funds to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers) because they were obviously “freedom fighters” defending the oppressed Tamil minority.

In 1983, Jeremy Corbyn became an MP. In Sri Lanka, 1983 is remembered  with horror for the pogrom known as “Black July”. Thirteen soldiers were killed by the LTTE. Anti-Tamil riots ensued and lasted for ten days with property being destroyed and up to 3,000 people being killed and 200,000 displaced.

Action and Reaction

Over many years before 1983, there had been incidents where ill-disciplined police or military had carried out savage reprisals, rather in the manner of the Black and Tans in Ireland, on innocent Tamils after atrocities by the Tigers – action and reaction. July 1983 was a paradigm shift in terror.

05-rioters-1983-borella-colombo1

These horrific events left an indelible mark on the Tamil psyche. Atrocities were perpetrated on innocent Tamils all over the country and many fled to the north for refuge. Those who could afford to fled abroad, from where they provided ongoing financial support for the LTTE.

Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian and anthropologist looked back on these events:” The militant movement for separation gathered thousands of new Tamil recruits and a rejuvenation of commitment among most SL Tamils, as well a wave of support in international quarters. Sri Lanka also received pariah status on the world stage.”

Many SL Tamils fled to Tamil Nadu, where those of a militant tendency were trained and armed by the Indian government. Many who might not want to engage in violence themselves fled to Canada, Australia and Europe. Many of them prospered and supported the armed struggle vicariously by providing funding. Many Tamils who remained in Sri Lanka were disillusioned at the futility of trying to defend their interests by peaceful means within the existing state apparatus.

http://www.sangam.org/2011/01/Tamil_Question_4.php

Tiger Atrocities

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The LTTE was guilty of many crimes over the thirty years of the conflict. They assassinated former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Sri Lanka President Premadasa in 1993. An attempt on the life of President Kumaratunga in 1999 failed but she lost an eye. In that attempt, 23 civilians were killed.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, right, is overcome by emotion at her residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka Wednesday December 22, 1999 after winning a second term in office. Kumaratunga survived a suicide bomb attack on Saturday during her final rally of the election campaign. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In 1985, LTTE gunmen shot dead 146 Sinhalese civilians and injured 85 others as they were praying at a sacred Buddhist shrine in Anuradhapura. A further 18 people fleeing from that massacre were shot dead in Wilpattu forest. Later in the same year, in Dehiwatta village, 100 LTTE men hacked to death 15 women and children as they were sleeping.

In 1986, an LTTE bomb exploded aboard an Air Lanka flight carrying mainly French, British and Japanese tourists killing 21 (including 13 foreigners –2 British, 2 German, 3 French, 2 Japanese, 1 Maldivian and 1 Pakistani) and injuring 41.

tristar

Throughout 1988 and 1989, there seemed to be an LTTE massacre of innocent villagers every day. In June 1990, the LTTE marked the breakdown of ceasefire talks by overrunning police stations throughout the north east of Sri Lanka. The LTTE killed 600 police officers who had surrendered. On June 10, over 400 unarmed police officers were shot dead in police stations across eastern Sri Lanka.

On August 3, 1990, 30 Tigers attacked four mosques in the Kattankudy area, where 300 Muslims were prostrate in prayer. The Tigers sprayed automatic fire and hurled hand grenades at the worshipers. Most of the victims were shot in the back or side. Speaking to the New York Times, Mohammed Ibrahim, a 40-year-old businessman said, “I was kneeling down and praying when the rebels started shooting. The firing went on for 15 minutes. I escaped without being hit and found myself among bodies all over the place.” Mohammed Arif, a 17-year-old student who also survived the massacre said: “Before I escaped from a side door and scaled a wall, I saw a Tiger rebel put a gun into the mouth of a small Muslim boy and pull the trigger.” I do not want to post disturbing pictures of these atrocities but they are available on the internet. https://mbinm.wordpress.com/kattankudy-mosque-massacre/

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kattankudi_mosque_massacre

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Killings continued on a daily basis over the years. In 1994, presidential candidate and opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake (we know his son-in-law) was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber who exploded herself at a campaign rally in Colombo. Fifty others were killed in the blast and a further 75 were seriously injured.

The deadliest LTTE attack on a civilian target in the history of the group’s operations occurred in 1996. The Central Bank (located in the twin towers of the Colombo World Trade Centre) was bombed and 90 people were killed and 1,400 injured. In 1997, another bombing at the WTC killed 13 and injured hundreds.

Scene-of-mayhem

In 1998, a Black Tiger squad drove an explosives-laden truck into the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, a major Buddhist shrine, killing seven and injuring 25. The attack took place just days before foreign dignitaries were expected to attend celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Sri Lankan independence at the temple.

Later that year the LTTE shot down a plane with 55 passengers (including 48 Tamils) and crew while it was flying over LTTE held territory. Everyone onboard was killed.

In 1999, Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam, a Tamil, who was working on a constitutional package aimed at ending the decades-long conflict, was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber.

In May 2000, the LTTE celebrated the holiest day of the Buddhist calendar, Vesak Poya, by detonating a bomb hidden inside an ice-cream box on a bicycle killing 20 people and injuring 75.

In 2001, a 14-man suicide squad attacked an air force base and the adjoining international airport. They destroyed many aircraft, crippling the country’s economy and reducing tourism.

In 2006, the award-winning author Nihal de Silva and seven Sri Lankan tourists were killed by an LTTE land mine in Wilpattu National Park.

In the same year, The LTTE bombed a bus carrying 140 civilians in the north east. The blast killed 68 civilians including 15 school children, and injured 78 others. It was caused by two claymore mines placed side by side which sprayed the packed bus with millions of ball bearings upon manual detonation. Survivors, including school children, of the blast were shot as they ran away.

In the same year, several civilians were killed in an attempt on the life of defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. A suicide bomber in a truck killed 103 sailors on buses going or returning from leave at a transit point and wounded 150 other sailors.  Two people passing the site were killed and 14 others wounded, mostly civilians.

There are many more instances of LTTE cadres hacking to death unsuspecting villagers at home or at prayer, or on buses or trains (often using multiple bombs in several carriages) on the way to work or school.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_attacks_attributed_to_the_LTTE

The LTTE proved efficient at destroying any other Tamil groups that threatened to undermine their dominance. Elements of the “international community” were able to build a false picture of the LTTE as romantic freedom fighters. That is far from reality. The LTTE had always employed forcible recruitment; every family had to sacrifice a child to the cause of Eelam. This gained pace as defeat loomed in 2009 when Corbyn was trying to save the LTTE.  Children under twelve were recruited. Civilians who resisted were executed.

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/the-tamil-question-in-sri-lanka-part-2/

No Ban

As far back as 1998, Jeremy Corbyn was offering support to these butchers. At a pro-LTTE rally in London on February 1, 1998, Corbyn was one of the keynote speakers from the British Parliament and delivered a strong condemnation of the Sri Lankan government. The rally was led by a life-sized poster of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran and was followed by LTTE flags and people shouting pro-LTTE slogans.

In 2001, Corbyn was one of only 17 MPs who voted against banning Al Qaeda from Britain just six months before 9/11. Corbyn, then a backbencher, voted against banning 21 militant groups from entering Britain. The Tamil Tigers were on the list as well as Hamas and Hezbollah.

In 2005 Jeremy Corbyn helped create a petition aimed at lifting the proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. “The Sri Lanka government is carrying out an undeclared war against the Tamil people who have been struggling for more than two decades for the legitimate right to self-rule.” Corbyn was guilty of a conflation here that was also indulged by the BBC, the Independent, the Irish Times, the New Statesman and Le monde diplomatique. The Sri Lankan government was not fighting “the Tamils” it was fighting a brutal terrorist organisation that was oppressing Tamils.

Cease Fires

In 2002, I came to live in Sri Lanka. We had decided it was safe because a cease-fire was in operation. As today, there was a prime minister from the United National Party and an executive president from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The prime minister then was Ranil Wickremesinghe and the president was Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Today Ranil Wickremesinghe is once again prime minister. The peace in 2002 was an uneasy one – there were checkpoints, soldiers and armed police everywhere. Norway was invited to help with the peace process.

Corbyn explained himself thus: “Twenty-one organisations are due to be banned from operating in this country, causing a great deal of disquiet in the Islamic, Turkish and Tamil communities. That is not because people support terrorism, but because they want to encourage a peace process. They recognise that some of the organisations are currently engaged in ceasefires in their own countries, and are actively engaged in the search for long-lasting peace that will bring about the resolution to conflict.”

The LTTE constantly broke the cease fire. They used the “peace process” to regroup and re-arm. Sections of the Tamil community abroad funded the terrorism.

Constructive Ambiguity

Martin McGuinness made a less than helpful intervention in Sri Lankan affairs when he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. McGuinness told Sri Lanka: “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”. Despite the efforts of Corbyn and McGuinness and other members of the international community there was a resounding military victory. Peace still prevails. There has not been a single terrorist incident since May 2009.

To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved in Northern Ireland because of exhaustion on all sides and through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993, after Bill Clinton listened to Sinn Féin. On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement.

No Surrender

praba

Prabhakaran never had any intention of compromising. The LTTE fought for 30 years for a separate Tamil nation. A separate state was Prabhakaran’s bottom line which Corbyn still supports today. In May 2011, Jeremy Corbyn addressed a rally that also featured Tamil Diaspora organisations. Also present were Father SJ Emmanuel of the Global Tamil Forum, Ravi Kumar of the British Tamils Forum, Bairavi Ratnabal of the Tamil Youth Organisation and Jan Jananayagam of Tamils Against Genocide. The rally featured swathes of LTTE flags and condemned the Sri Lanka government. Corbyn’s current enemy, John Mann MP, also attended the rally.

There were accusations of war crimes against the Sri Lankan Army.The army claimed that civilian casualties occurred because the LTTE were using them as human shields.

The numbers game and reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Lobbyists for and against Sri Lanka

It is interesting to read the Hansard record of a debate in the House of Commons on 8 Jan 2013. All the usual anti-Sri Lankan suspects were there – Siobhain McDonagh, Paul Burstow, Barry Gardiner, Gareth Thomas, Lee Scott and Robert Halfon.

However, there were some interventions more supportive of Sri Lanka. Aidan Burley questioned McDonagh’s knowledge: “… when did she last visit Sri Lanka and see for herself—at first hand—some of the things that she is alleging are happening there?” She had to admit that she had never been to Sri Lanka: “Just as I have not been to Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and—it has to be said—most countries in the world”.

Ian Paisley Jr told the House: “I have visited Sri Lanka on a number of occasions, both as a private individual and with constituents who had business there, as well as on a cross-party parliamentary trip. My experience was very different from what I have heard from propagandists not in Sri Lanka”. Paisley continued: “I have met both Tamil and Sinhalese families, and their united wish was to present a picture of hope for their country, not a picture of division. It was a community that wanted to move forward.” Paisley described how his Sinhalese and Tamil guides embraced each other and spoke about how they were now new brothers in a new land. “In many aspects, Sri Lanka has made more measurable gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland.”

Adrian Burley had, unlike McDonagh and Scott, actually visited Sri Lanka: “British politicians should understand Sri Lanka’s reconciliation and help it to demine, so that communities can move back to their own lands. I saw that happening with my own eyes; I saw the minefields being cleared through the HALO Trust, and I saw houses being rebuilt and crops being grown on the old minefields.”

James Wharton agreed with Paisley that people he had met in Sri Lanka did not want to talk about the horrors of the past but were more interested in securing their future. “The tone of debate in the House too often worries me, because we focus on what we can do to punish the Government of Sri Lanka…Such things will not damage the Government of Sri Lanka; they will damage progress towards peace and the prosperity of the people who live in Sri Lanka. The tone of the debate here needs to change. We need to work constructively with the Government of Sri Lanka to put pressure where it is due and, where we can, to deliver improvement.”

Corbyn was not interested in the future. He has never been to Sri Lanka and preferred to reminisce about demonstrations he had taken part in thirty years previously. Burley chastised Corbyn and McDonagh and urged them to talk to people living in Sri Lanka rather than their own constituents: “I found a country at peace with itself. That is what we should be debating and supporting: helping Sri Lanka to build a better future for itself, rather than letting extremists in the UK divide it.”

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/curse-of-the-conflict-junkies/

marriage_2

 

This wedding took place at Kilinochchi on January 27, 2012, The groom was EMD Sandaruwan, a former member of the Gajaba Regiment of the Sri Lankan Army. He had participated in the defeat of the LTTE .The bride was, Chandrasekaran Sharmila, an ex-LTTE child soldier, who had since been a participant in a government rehabilitation programme. There are many such stories to tell. It is not easy to get the western media to listen to them.

Regime Change

Stressing that human rights abuses have not been fully addressed in Sri Lanka despite regime change, Corbyn announced as recently as April 2016: “We as a party, are very committed to the issues of human rights and justice. We are very committed to the rights of peoples, the Tamil people in this case to achieve their self-expression and their self-determination.”

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/partisan-people-and-fissiparous-parties/

Jeremy Corbyn is proud to have participated in the London rallies in May 2009, demanding that the international community intervene to end the war. “I remember to this date and I am still angry about the utter silence of the majority of the British and world’s media to the demonstration as well as the cause and the issue.”

Child Brothels in Corbyn’s Constituency

Corbyn did not feel interested enough to take action when he was told that children were being cruelly sexually abused in his own constituency of Islington North. In fact, he made a complaint to the Speaker in 1986 when another MP tried to draw attention to the abuse. In his Spartist agit-prop fantasy world, it seemed more important to him to interfere in the way sovereign state thousands of miles away was dealing (successfully) with its domestic terrorist problem. Unlike the UK Labour government, Sri Lanka did not invade other countries.

 

Easter 1916

April 24 2016

 

There has been a great deal written about the centenary of the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916. Many events commemorated the Rising on Easter Monday March 27 2016. However, because Easter is a moveable feast, the insurrection actually took place on April 24 1916. I am going to use that as an excuse to draw together some of my thoughts about the Rising.

 

England’s Difficulty

 

The aim of the 1916 Rising was to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was occupied with World War I. “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. Joseph Plunkett travelled to Germany in April 1915 to join Roger Casement to seek help from the German government. They also met the German Ambassador in Washington to seek German support for Irish independence. Plunkett and Casement presented a plan which involved a German expeditionary force landing on the west coast of Ireland. That plan did not work out, although Casement brought guns into Ireland from Germany.

The Rising had no popular support. As the rebel prisoners were marched away under arrest, they were attacked by working-class women, who pelted them with rotten vegetables and emptied chamber pots over them. Many of these were “separation women” – recipients of separation allowance as wives of Irishmen serving in the British Army.

 

In his eyewitness account, The Insurrection in Dublin, James Stephens (poet, novelist and short story writer) wrote: “Most of the female opinion I heard was not alone unfavourable, but actively and viciously hostile to the rising. This was noticeable among the best-dressed classes of our population; the worst dressed, indeed the female dregs of Dublin life, expressed a like antagonism, and almost in similar language. The view expressed was ‘I hope every man of them will be shot’.”

The Rising began on Easter Monday, 1916, and lasted for six days. Only about 1,600 rebels turned out in Dublin, with activity in the rest of the country mainly limited to parading. There were isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, but the orders for a general uprising were countermanded by Eoin McNeill, Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers. He had no role in the planning of the Rising, which was carried out by IRB infiltrators. When McNeill found out that Patrick Pearse had duped him he placed a last minute news advertisement advising Volunteers not to take part. McNeill was supported by Bulmer Hobson and The O’Rahilly but O’Rahilly joined in the rebellion and was killed in action.

 

The Seven

 

Irish historian Ruth Dudley Edwards has a new book just out – The Seven. This refers to the seven men who made up the Military Council of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood. Following the establishment of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, whose purpose was to resist Home Rule for Ireland, by force if necessary, the IRB were behind the initiative which eventually led to the inauguration of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913. The IRB intended to use the Volunteers to seek a republic, recruiting high-ranking Volunteers into the IRB, such as Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, and Thomas MacDonagh. These men, together with veteran Fenian Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDermott, Eamonn Ceannt and James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, constituted the Military Committee. It was just these seven who decided to wage war on the British Empire. On the morning of Easter Sunday 1916, they met in Dublin’s Liberty Hall. By noon, they had printed and issued the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, in which they declared themselves to be the provisional government of an entity that claimed the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman, even though the people had not been consulted.

Patrick Pearse was a poet and playwright who founded schools to which the Gaelicist intelligentsia sent their offspring to be raised in the high tradition of mythical hero Cuchulainn and to learn the Irish language: “better is short life with honour than long life with dishonour”. Pearse developed an unhealthy obsession with blood sacrifice.  “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me”.

 

Though not obviously a fighter, Pearse was enthused by the sight of armed Ulster loyalists and wanted to emulate them: “we might make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people: but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing”. He developed a messianic and sacrificial notion that his cause was, through a symbolic loss of life, comparable with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Pearse expressed an ecstatic view of the energising force of the sacrifice of death in the First World War. He frequently celebrated the beauty of boys dying bravely in their prime, before the shoddy compromises of adult life corrupted them.  Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote: ““It would be frequently remarked of Pearse that he had no understanding of the mundane day-to-day concerns that precluded others from showing the same fanatical dedication to his successive causes: he lived and died for a people that did not exist.”

James Connolly was more hard-headed, a socialist and trade unionist who responded thus to an article by Pearse: “We do not think that the old heart of the earth needs to be warmed with the red wine of millions of lives. We think that anyone who does is a blithering idiot”.

Nevertheless, Connolly did sacrifice himself. The rising was planned as a “blood sacrifice” for a society that had become apathetic. There were disagreements among the rebels. Eoin McNeill wished to proceed only on a basis of realistic hope of success rather than staking everything on a gesture of moral revivalism. He thought the blood- sacrifice option intellectually flaccid. Many, however, like 18-year-old medical student, Ernie O’Malley, who had no previous record of nationalist involvement, were strangely stirred by Pearse’s peculiar theology of insurrection. O’Malley became a key organizer and leader in the later guerrilla war as well as one of its most prominent literary chroniclers.

 

Martyrdom and Separatism

 

Four years ago, I posted an article on Groundviews, a Sri Lankan website, in which I explored the theme of martyrdom in the militant separatism of Irish rebels at the beginning of the 20th century and of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) from the 1970s.

 

http://groundviews.org/2012/03/17/martyrology-martyrdom-rebellion-terrorism/

 

The article got 5,000 hits and 115 comments. There was a heated debate, some comments were stimulating, others silly.

 

I posted the article again on Facebook recently to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising. One commenter on Facebook said that she could not see the point of the article. I told her that it had been addressed to a Sri Lankan audience and was warning of the dangers of Sri Lankan Tamils elevating Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran to the status of a martyr for the cause of Tami nationalism. She responded that my article was “intellectually flawed” because it did not deal with the “800 years of oppression” that preceded the 1916 Rising.

 

She presumed to know that her long-dead Irish grandfather would take pity on me for my lack of respect for those who “Fought against subjugation of brutal British rule for centuries”. Professor Liam Kennedy has coined an acronym to cover this kind of thinking – MOPE (Most Oppressed People Ever).

 

Imperial Oppression

 

My critic chastised me for not mentioning Cromwell, the Famine and Irish slaves in the West Indies. I have written on all of those subjects elsewhere. It should not be forgotten that Irishmen were also slave traders and overseers. The Scots were the main force in turning Ceylon into a tea monoculture but Irishmen played a role too, backed up by Irish nuns and priest. Thousands of Irish men were loyal servants of the army of the British Empire.

 

How oppressed was Ireland in 1916? The leader of the Home Rule party in the Westminster parliament, John Redmond, in a speech of 1915, claimed that by 1900 the struggle over land was effectively won. Many historians since have claimed conditions were improving in Ireland by 1916. The writer Sean O’Faolain (born John Whelan, his father served the Empire as a policeman), who had made bombs for the revolution, later wrote that by 1916, the historical grievances justifying armed violence, had become a “purely emotional impulse”.

 

Liam Kennedy, Emeritus Professor of Economic History at Queen’s University, Belfast, states: “…the island of Ireland, when viewed comparatively, was favourably circumstanced in terms of soil, climate and biological conditions”. Professor Kennedy contends that no major war was fought on Irish soil after the seventeenth century. With the exceptions of Switzerland and Iceland, “it is difficult to think of any major European society which has enjoyed the degree of isolation Ireland enjoyed from the immediate depredations of war”. During the last three centuries, there have been no major invasions of Ireland. Unlike most Europeans, the Irish have never experienced military conscription. “During the most brutal century that Europe has ever known – the twentieth- Ireland escaped relatively unscathed”.

 

As an economic historian, Professor Kennedy confidently states that Ireland was among the fastest growing economies in Europe at the time of the Easter Rising. Apart from slow growth in particular sub-periods such as 1932-38 and 1951-59, “Over the twentieth century as a whole, the growth performance of the Irish economy has been close to the western European average and well ahead of eastern Europe. The Irish Republic and Northern Ireland today rank among the richest regions in the world in terms of income per head”.

 

Professor Kennedy also challenges received wisdom that the introduction of the Penal Laws at the end of the seventeenth century repressed the religious rights of the majority Catholic population of Ireland. Kennedy contends that after 1715, the Penal Laws were fiercer on the statute book than in practice. By the 1790s, Catholics and dissenters in Ireland enjoyed freedom of worship, Catholic churches and dissenters’ chapels dotted the Irish countryside and a state-subsidised national seminary for Catholic priests was founded at Maynooth and funded by the British goverment. At the same time, there was vigorous persecution of religious dissent on the European mainland.

 

The nineteenth century saw the uninterrupted progress of the Catholic Church in Ireland as it developed a vast infrastructure of churches, presbyteries, convents, monasteries, bishops’ palaces. Perhaps most important was clerical control of the school system with funding from the British state. Clerical education and clerical appointments were free of state control. As a child, I used to enjoy the rousing hymn Faith of our Fathers. Whatever the words of that hymn might claim, Irish people, from the 1740s, were able to worship without fear of “dungeon, fire and sword”. Kennedy says that at a deep level “there was the image-world of Christianity and its symbolic representation of pain, sorrow and exile – universals of the human predicament – which could be exploited selectively to colour the Irish collective experience”. Patrick Pearse was a master of this. After Ireland became independent the church’s power reached totalitarian proportions.

Another economist, David McWilliams, wrote recently, “sometimes we get dewy-eyed about the reality of the Irish state”. McWilliams claims that in 1913, Ireland was one of the richest countries in Europe, with income per head matching that of Sweden, Norway and Finland. 75 years after the Rising, Irish income per head was half the income of the Scandinavians. McWilliams asserts: “The Empire project enriched all of Britain and Ireland. In the later part of the 19th century both Irish and English tradesmen got richer together”. During the Famine, Irish carpenters and fitters earned about 90% of what their English counterparts did. In the decades leading up to 1913, both English and Irish tradesmen saw rapid increases in their wages. Wages of unskilled Irish workers and farm labourers rose rapidly after the Famine. The various Land Acts from 1870 to 1909 began the mass transfer of land from the Anglo-Irish aristocracy to the local farmers. The Irish stock market doubled in the late Victorian era. Large-scale sanitation and infrastructural projects were undertaken such as bringing clean water to Dublin from Roundwood Reservoir.

Although it was a hotbed of rebel activity, Cork did well out of the British Empire. I spent many happy childhood times in Cobh, County Cork. I walked through a public park called The Battery to get to a beach. In 1962, I sat reading Ulysses at White Point and looked across the bay to see imposing 18th century buildings. Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour was a major British naval base and defence against Napoleon. Cork exported salted beef, pork and butter to the West Indies and fed the British navy. The unrivalled ability of Cork Harbour to shelter the biggest fleets assembled during the American War of Independence and, later, during the Napoleonic Wars was a major factor in the expansion of the provisions trade in Cork.

 

Collateral Damage

 

On the 96th anniversary of the Rising someone commented in the Irish Times: “This tragic and misguided terrorist action started off with the cold-blooded murder of an unarmed policeman. No amount of rationalization can transform that first murder into an act of heroism and the misleading euphemism of the War of Independence for the subsequent terrorist campaign is dishonest and a travesty of the reality of those years. The warped so-called principles embraced by the terrorists of those times continue to be adhered to by the likes of the Real IRA. “

 

By the time Pearse surrendered after six days, only 64 rebels had been killed. In the World War, 25,000 Irishmen died fighting as members of the British Army. After the Easter Rising, the British Army reported casualties of 116 dead, 368 wounded and nine missing. Sixteen policemen died, and 29 were wounded. Rebel and civilian casualties were 318 dead and 2,217 wounded. The Volunteers and ICA recorded 64 killed in action, but otherwise Irish casualties were not divided into rebels and civilians. All 16 police fatalities and 22 of the British soldiers killed were Irishmen. The majority of the casualties, both killed and wounded, were civilians. Details of the 30 children who were killed can be found here:

 

http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/children-of-the-revolution/

 

British and rebels shot civilians deliberately on occasion when they refused to obey orders such as to stop at checkpoints. There were at least two instances of British troops killing civilians out of revenge or frustration, at Portobello Barracks, where six were shot and North King Street, where 15 were killed. Most of the civilians killed were victims of indirect fire from artillery, heavy machine guns and incendiary shells. The British seem to have caused most non-combatant deaths. One Royal Irish Regiment officer recalled, “They regarded, not unreasonably, everyone they saw as an enemy, and fired at anything that moved”.

 

Anglophobia

 

One young Sri Lankan who commented on my Groundviews article confidently stated that all the Irish hated the English. Because of the close proximity of the two countries, because their histories are intertwined, because most Irish people have family living in England, the relationship is bound to be more complex than that. John Horgan noted that “the Irish mass audience for TV has never found it difficult to combine a deeply rooted and at times visceral republicanism with a deep fascination with the activities of the House of Windsor”. The residents of the Irish Republic are avid followers of Coronation Street and East Enders and readers of the Sun and the Daily Mirror.

 

Look at the backgrounds of some who have claimed to speak for the Irish to the extent that they thought they had the right to kill the Irish for their own good.

 

Rosamond Jacob visited England on many occasions and wrote contemptuously about everything from the landscape to the faces of people on the street. Desmond Coffey told his girlfriend Cesca Trench that the revolution was necessary so that it would be possible “to hate the English comfortably from a position in which they can’t look d-d superior and smile”. Mabel Fitzgerald wrote to her former employer, George Bernard Shaw that she was bringing up her son to speak Irish and to adopt “the sound traditional hatred of England and all her ways”. Shaw responded: “You must be a wicked devil to load a child’s innocent soul with old hatreds and rancours that Ireland is sick of”. He said she should be telling her son “that the English are far more oppressed than any folk he has ever seen in Ireland by the same forces that have oppressed Ireland in the past. Shaw scoffed at the fantasy of seeking “authenticity in rural life and hoping that the uncorrupted values of the Irish peasantry would rub off on them”. He warned Mabel that her son would probably rebel against her: “Nothing educates a man like the desire to free himself by proving that everything his parents say is wrong”.

 

Many of the most active Republicans were born outside Ireland. Tom Clarke was born in the Isle of Wight and spent his childhood in South Africa where his father was a British soldier.

 

James Connolly was born in Scotland and spent the first part of his life in Edinburgh. He served in the British Army.

 

Liam Mellows was born in Lancashire.

Mellows

Margaret Skinnider was a sniper and the only woman wounded in the action at Easter 1916. She was mentioned three times for bravery in the dispatches sent to the Dublin GPO. She was born in Coatbridge, Scotland.

Illuminations-Skinnider-M

 

Many of those involved in the Rising did indeed revel in hatred of the English and of the British Empire. Many of them hated the English because they were English themselves and Anglophobia was part of a romantic rebellion against their own privileged backgrounds, against families which had long been pillars of the British Empire.

 

Robert Erskine Childers, son of British Orientalist scholar Robert Caesar Childers, was born in Mayfair, London. He grew up steeped in the most irreconcilable sort of Unionism.  He was educated at Haileybury, the elite public school for future army officers and colonial administrators, whose distinguished alumni include prime minister Clement Attlee and the bard of Empire, Rudyard Kipling. Childers was quite well known in England after his success with a spy novel, The Riddle of the Sands, which showed the Royal Navy in a good light, Erskine was initially a steadfast believer in the British Empire and fought in the Boer War but later came to identify himself closely with the country of Ireland, albeit at that stage from the comfortable viewpoint of the Protestant Ascendancy.

Childers

Childers did some gun running for the rebels on his yacht the Asgard. He became a nationalist so intemperate and fanatically obsessed that his opposition to compromise is sometimes blamed for bringing about the Irish Civil War. He survived the Easter Rising because he was in London. Childers was later secretary-general of the Irish delegation that negotiated the Anglo-Irish treaty but was vehemently opposed to the final agreement. He fought on the losing side in the Civil War. The author Frank O’Connor was involved with Childers and wrote that he was ostracised by the anti-treaty forces and referred to as “That bloody Englishman”. Childers was executed by his former comrades in the Free State government. Churchill said of Childers: “No man has done more harm or done more genuine malice or endeavoured to bring a greater curse upon the common people of Ireland than this strange being, activated by a deadly and malignant hatred for the land of his birth.”

 

Childers shook the hand of every man in the firing squad and asked his 16-year-old son to seek out everyone who had signed his death warrant and to shake them by the hand. I met that son, Erskine Hamilton Childers, in 1974 when he was visiting Cobh as President of Ireland. He had also been born and educated in England and had a distinctive upper class English accent.

Countess Markievicz was a member of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. She was born Constance Georgine Gore-Booth in London. During the Rising, Lieutenant Markievicz supervised the setting-up of barricades and was in the middle of the fighting all around Stephen’s Green, wounding a British sniper. In prison, she was the only one of seventy women prisoners who was put into solitary confinement. She was sentenced to death, but General Maxwell commuted this to life in prison on “account of the prisoner’s sex.”

markievicz

Yeats’s muse, Maud Gonne, was a fervent Irish nationalist despite being born near Farnham in Surrey, England, the eldest daughter of Captain Thomas Gonne of the17th Lancers, whose own ancestors hailed from Caithness in Scotland.

Gonne

Cesca Chenevix Trench was born into an Anglo-Irish Protestant Unionist family and grew up in a vicarage in Kent. The family contributed much service to the British Empire and Anthony Chenevix-Trent was headmaster of Eton in the 1960s. Cesca changed her name to Sadhbh Trinseach.

Cesca

The Hon Albinia Lucy Brodrick came from an English Protestant aristocratic family which had been at the forefront of British rule in Ireland since the 17th century and were pillars of the British Empire worldwide. The family colonised the part of Ireland in which I lived. Albinia’s brother, St John Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton was, in the words of one biographer, “consistent in his low opinion of the Irish [and] he held imperialist views that warmly embraced much of the jingoism associated with social Darwinism”. Albinia initially shared these views but following regular visits to her father’s estate in County Cork, she began to educate herself about Ireland and developed an interest in the Gaelic Revival. She was a staunch supporter of the Rising and joined both Cumann na mBan and Sinn Féin. She changed her name to Gobnait Ní Bhruadair.

Lady_Albinia_Broderick-240x300

Percy Frederick Beazley at the age 23 in Bootle wrote in his diary: “Shall I be despised? Shall I live a poor weak puny life- I who have the strength and will and a fire within me which will not rest”. He fervently idealised Ireland as a result his childhood holidays. “I shall wake up the Gael, appeal to him, trust in him”. He changed his name to Piaras Béaslaí.

Portrait_of_Piaras_Béaslaí_1919

Roger Casement was born in Dublin but served the British Empire as a consul in its diplomatic service and received a knighthood. His father, Captain Roger Casement, served in the (The King’s Own) Regiment of Dragoons. The family lived in England in genteel poverty. Roger’s mother died when he was nine. They returned to Ireland to County Antrim to live near paternal relatives. When Casement was 13 years old his father died, having ended his days in Ballymena dependent on the charity of relatives.

 

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/143/

 

Cathal Brugha (Charles Burgess) was born in Ireland but the family came from Yorkshire. Patrick Pearse’s father was born in Birmingham.

brugha

Michael Collins’s chief intelligence officer, W J Brennan-Whitmore, was born in Wexford but his name worked against him. Tom Clarke despised Brennan-Whitmore, saying “never trust a hyphenated Irishman”. He joined Sinn Fein in 1910, was active in the Irish Volunteers in North Wexford and fought at North Earl Street in the 1916 Rising. He has been written out of Irish history possibly because he contributed to several ultra nationalist anti-Semitic journals. He was a prolific correspondent writing regular diatribes against the European Union in the Irish Catholic press.

Brennan-Whitmore

The Provisional IRA leader in the 1970s, Sean Mac Stíofáin (who was baptized John Stephenson in Leytonstone, England, as a Catholic, despite the fact that neither of his parents was Catholic). His Irish was spoken with a Cockney accent. The leader of the Official IRA, Cathal Goulding, was particularly scathing about “that English Irishman”. “Sean’s problem is that he spends all his time going around trying to prove to everybody that he’s as Irish as they are, and in the IRA he had to show that he was more violent than the rest. “

 

A Motley Crew

The British reaction to the Rising was extreme and incompetent and made martyrs of those who had previously been regarded as clowns. As WB Yeats wrote in his poem “Easter 1916”:

 

Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn

 

Yeats and his friends had mocked the rebels but the Rising and the British reaction to it changed everything. Yeats had particular reason to loathe one of those executed, John MacBride  – “a drunken, vainglorious lout” – who had married and mistreated the poet’s muse Maude Gonne.  A “terrible beauty” was “born” during Holy Week, which marks the occasion of Christ’s sacrifice. The Easter Rising is both crucifixion and resurrection.

 

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

A middle class background is often glossed over. Sighle Humphreys and her O’Rahilly cousins went to exclusive private schools, lived in huge houses with servants and fleets of cars. The Plunketts moved between a series of large houses with many servants and were wealthy from rental income. MacSwiney’s wife Muriel was a Murphy and wealthy from the family’s brewing of the nectar that is Murphy’s stout.

 

Many of the revolutionaries came, like Bulmer Hobson and Ernest Blythe, from wealthy Ulster unionist families. The Gifford sisters came from a strict unionist background from Dublin’s upper middle class. Grace  married Joseph Plunkett,  Muriel married Thomas MacDonagh. Both men were executed for their part in the Rising. Kevin O’Shiel and Eimar O’Duffy were brought up in wealthy Catholic homes and were radicalised at exclusive boarding schools in England as were Mary MacSwiney, Maire Comerford and Muriel Murphy. These people reacted against their privileged backgrounds and seized on advanced nationalism and Irish-Ireland values as Roy Foster puts it, “part of general rebellion, partly fuelled by a sense of guilt and compensation”.

bulmer hobson

Bulmer Hobson

Many of those involved in the Easter Rising had advanced views. People ran away together to found communist communes in Donegal. The lesbianism of many key figures went unconcealed. Roger Casement was a homosexual as was Eoin O’Duffy, who went on to lead the fascist Blueshirts. Rosamond Jacob (Róisín Nic Sheamuis)   was an enthusiast for Freud’s writing. Although many of these middle class revolutionaries were bent on self-transformation, the Irish revolution moved from artistic, social and sexual experimentation to repressive conservatism.

 

Theatre of War

 

The Rising had been called a revolution of poets but playwrights and actors were more prominent. Even James Connolly had written plays about the 1867 Fenian Rising for the drama group of the Irish Citizen Army. The theatre was an influence on developing nationalism. Martin Esslin wrote that the theatre is where a nation “thinks in front of itself”. Yeats stated that in the theatre the mob becomes the people”. The Abbey Theatre with Yeats and Lady Gregory put on plays about Ireland’s mythical past and allegorical plays which carried a contemporary message about English domination corrupting Ireland. Arthur Griffith was put off by Lady Gregory’s Ascendancy hauteur (her husband was Governor of Ceylon) but recognised that these plays chimed with Sinn Fein’s call for psychological as well as political autonomy. Roy Foster describes the Abbey Theatre as the “Established Church” with networks of overlapping little theatre companies making up “dissident congregations”. One of these groups was the Theatre of Ireland – its best playwright was Padraic Colum. Patrick Pearse’s brother Willie started the Leinster Stage Society. Their productions did not impress the critic from the Irish Times. He noted that the plays tended to concern “our old friends the fairies, who seem to have fallen on evil days since the introduction of railway trains”. Foster describes the atmosphere of the theatrical world of Dublin as “incestuous and mutually critical”.

 

More than one commentator has noted that the Easter Rising seemed choreographed as if theatre had taken to the streets. When the insurrection broke out several people mistook it for street theatre. Constance Markievicz was asked by passers-by at Liberty Hall if she was rehearsing a play for children.

 

Did the Revolution Improve Social Justice?

 

Professor Kennedy does not deny that Ireland suffered injustice. “It would be an act of denial… to fail to acknowledge that Irish history is replete with instances of persecution, of evictions, of famines. These form part of a European historical experience that was, time out of mind, brutal, bloody and oppressive. One does not have to go all the way with Hobbes to conclude: the past is not a pleasant place”.

 

However, he sees the ever-present danger of keeping historical resentments alive. “The library of past and present wrongs, including those of an economic nature, were articulated in a continuous present tense that seemed to give historical depth and legitimacy to newly-minted notions of nationalism”.

 

There were undoubtedly social injustices in the Ireland of 1916 (as there were in England). Horace Plunkett of the Cooperative movement produced statistics to show the extent of urban poverty. The death rate for Ireland in 1917 was 16.8 per 1,000 of the population compared to 14.4 for England and Wales. In Ireland there were 2.2 deaths per 1,000 from TB; in England and Wales it was 1.62.Todd Andrews, veteran Irish republican born in 1901, wrote in his autobiography Dublin Made Me about the bleak existence of those at the “bottom of the heap”. “Even those who had regular work were seldom above the poverty line and very many were below it…when I was child, every mother of young children lived in constant dread and sometimes real terror of sickness”.

 

I remember when Cork was dirt poor. Ancient black-shawled women, like one might see in Greece, Sicily or Portugal, moved like shadows in the warrens of alleyways that climbed the steep streets. Beggars sat on St Patrick’s Bridge. However, this was long after the Imperial oppressor had been ejected.

 

Apart from those around James Connolly, not many of those who fomented the 1916 Rising were much concerned about social conditions. The writings of Pearse are concerned with a more spiritual Ireland. Likewise, Standish O’Grady used the legendary figure of Cuchulainn “to galvanise the weakened generations of Ireland into an awareness of their heroic masculinity”.

My father, Jeremiah O’Leary, was still in the womb of Hannah Noonan O’Leary when the rebels took over the GPO. He was born on 29 June 1916, two months after the Rising. Economic circumstances forced him to go to England to find work when he was  in his twenties. His younger brother joined him. My father joined the British Army when the Second World War broke out. Independence precipitated a massive flight of people from Ireland. In the 1950s, 450,000 Irish people emigrated to England alone. The Irish-born population there peaked at over 700,000 in 1971.

 

Pensions Fit for Heroes?

 

In his book A Nation not a Rabble Diarmaid Ferriter has unearthed some interesting material from what does not seem an exciting source – MSPC (Military Service Pensions Collection). “The archive reveals so much about the revolution’s afterlife”. Ferriter notes that there is a huge gulf between the numbers of applications and awards made. Those affected by the events of Easter Week were in drastic financial circumstances and “it is clear that civil war politics intruded in some of the decisions that were made”. One cannot but suspect that simple bureaucratic bloody-mindedness and parsimonious penny-pinching were behind the obstructive behavior of the assessors.   Even James Connolly’s family and Joseph Plunkett’s widow were subjected to delays and humiliations.

 

There was no doubt about the bravery of Margaret Skinnider or of the seriousness of her wounds. She was wounded while she was in command of a squad of five men trying to cut British lines in Harcourt Street. She suffered a bullet wound near the spine and another in her right arm where a bullet had ploughed through the flesh upwards and had blown away the flesh connecting the arm and shoulder. None of this mattered to the Board which adjudicated that Skinnider was ineligible simply because she was a woman. Her wound was not a wound because she was a woman. “It would be illogical… to include female sex under ‘wounded members’…Section 3, which applies to this case, uses the words ‘any person’ as referable only to the male sex…The definition of ‘wound’ in Section16 only contemplates the masculine gender”. Skinnider was informed that her claim was not admissible because the Army Pensions Act “is only applicable to soldiers as generally understood in the masculine sense”. She appealed but had to wait 13 years before she got a wound pension.

 

William Maher’s file covers twenty years of frustration and no pension at the end of it. Ferriter comments: “The reason for the department’s stalling was an obvious desire to prevent payment of money legitimately due to pensioners”. The Army Finance Officer was given a definite steer which Ferriter interprets as “a cynical move that sought to make savings from the hoped-for ignorance of those affected, and the probability that many of them would not have the means to pursue legal action”.

Post-Revolution

 

Kevin O’Higgins asserted in the Dáil in March 1923: “We were the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution”. De Valera wrote to Mary MacSwiney: “Every instinct of mine would indicate that I was meant to be a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, or even a bishop, rather than the leader of a revolution”. John Banville described de Valera’s Ireland as “a demilitarized totalitarian state in which the lives of its citizens were to be controlled not by a system of coercive force and secret policing but by a kind of applied spiritual paralysis maintained by an unofficial federation between, the Catholic clergy, the judiciary, the civil service and politicians”.

 

Countess Markievicz boldly stated “the Catholic church is one of the greatest influences for evil in the world” and found it “incomprehensible how any sane person of any intelligence could be a Catholic”. In spite of this, her revolution established a state which was dominated by the regressive and reactionary ideas of the Irish Catholic church. The economy was ruined and the state even begrudged paying pensions to those who were wounded in the fight for freedom. Some met a worse fate and were executed by former comrades. The material questions around which republicans had organised, including trade union militancy, land seizures and the establishment of soviets, became embarrassing for the national leadership. As historian Tom Garvin put it: “whenever social protest began seriously to threaten the interest of men of substance, republicanism ostentatiously dissociated itself from agitation”.

 

Diarmaid Ferriter wrote: “The revolution did ‘change the relationship between one class of Irishman and another’, not through the creation of a new socialist regime, but through the existence of a hierarchy of benefit”. He quotes Francis Stuart, “we fought to stop Ireland falling into the hands of publicans and shopkeepers”. That seems to be  a fail.

 

Declan Kiberd suggested that the work of Samuel Beckett reflected the failure of the revolution; its rhetoric had been merely aspirational without a grand inclusive programme for Irish development. Beckett saw Irish society as pastiche with no overall purpose and responded by putting futility and despair on stage for people to laugh at.

 

The Rising Today

 

The Rising failed and was followed by a war of independence and a bitter civil war. Although de Valera fought against the treaty partly because of partition, anyone fighting for a united Ireland during De Valera’s long reign was likely to be interned or executed. A republic was not declared until 1949. Ireland is still divided. One might ask whether the violence and suffering of the war of independence and the civil war were worth it.

 

The Republic of Ireland had a general election on February 26 2016 in which the two parties which developed out of the civil war reached a stalemate and Sinn Fein increased its seats. Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny) was the anti-treaty party of De Valera.  Fine  Gael  was  the  pro-treaty party  of  Cosgrave,  Collins  and  the  Free  State  government.  De  Valera  fought  against  the  treaty because  it  left  Ireland  divided,  part  of  the  Commonwealth  and  owing  allegiance  to  the  Crown. Ireland is still divided and its freedom of action is restricted by the European Central Bank.

 

As I write, (24 April 2016, one hundred years to the day after the Easter Rising) the Republic of Ireland is without a government.

 

 

Martyring Innocents

 

Someone commented on my Groundviews article: “The IRA and the LTTE had to make the best of whatever resources they had. People, be they majorities or minorities will rise up when they can no longer put up with the oppression that they have to face. The French Revolution, Russian Revolution and the Cuban Revolution were inevitable due to the oppression that people had to face.”

 

The same commenter wrote about “the struggle for freedom – to preserve one’s culture at any cost… There is such a thing as a ‘national consciousness’ in which the abuses of the past are not forgotten but remain vibrant and alive in the form of a collective memory. It is to this category that the ‘martyrs’ belong. They are not remembered for going on hunger strikes or surrendering at the very end – which your article makes a mockery of – but for the stand they take against injustice. Many of them are revolutionaries. None are afraid to die, which is where the hero-worship comes into play. Whether or not you agree with their cause is irrelevant; the mark that they leave on the collective consciousness of a people or nation is indelible.”

 

He continued: “there are many who are willing to live on their knees, but then there are the few who would rather die on their feet then live on their knees be it for a united Ireland or for a separate state called Tamil Eelam…don’t forget that William Wallace or Prabhakaran did not wake up one fine day and decide that they must fight the British or the Sinhala armed forces. It was the many years of oppression that their people had to undergo which made them take up arms against their oppressors.”

 

We need to unpack lethal clichés like these. Where do you draw the line between national consciousness and delusional, dangerous myth-making? The commenter’s knowledge about William Wallace seems to rely solely on Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart which had no foundation in historical fact. Print the legend!

 

Is it a good thing to keep alive the abuses of the past in order to continue the bloodshed? Ernest Renan wrote that nationhood requires forgetting many things. He cited the massacre of Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day as a symbol of the kind of thing France needed to forget in order to be a nation.

 

The Easter Rising of 1916 was not a simple case of a minority being oppressed by a majority. The rebels were ethnically and religiously part of the majority population. The enemy was the imperial power which had colonised Ireland for 800 years. The rebels were a minority in that they had no popular support. I am asking if it was legitimate for them to take it upon themselves to opt for violence in the name of the Irish people as a whole when the Irish people as a whole took no interest in the matter. This happened 100 years ago but has resonance today because a small band of people are still engaged in a bombing campaign with no mandate from the Irish people for a cause that hardly anyone cares about. Innocent people will continue to be killed.

 

Seamus Heaney wrote:

 

History says, Don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

 

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a further shore

Is reachable from here.

 

Seamus Heaney The Cure at Troy

 

Enough of martyrs. Enough of revenge. Let us hope a further shore is reachable, in Sri Lanka and Ireland.

 

 

I consulted the following books for this essay.

 

The Big Fellow                                                            Frank O’Connor                       1937

Michael Collins                                               Rex Taylor                               1958

The Black and Tans                                         Richard Bennett                      1959

The Easter Rebellion                                       Max Caulfield                                     1963

Ireland’s Civil War                                          Calton Younger                       1968

The Secret Army                                             J Bowyer Bell                          1970

Roger Casement                                             Brian Inglis                              1973

Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure          Ruth Dudley Edwards              1977

Modern Ireland 1600-1972                            RF Foster                                 1988

Paddy and Mr Punch                                       RF Foster                                 1993

The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000     Diarmaid Ferriter                   2004

Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion                     Charles Townshend                 2005

Terror in Ireland 1916-1923                           David Fitzpatrick (Ed)              2012

Rebels: Voices from the Easter Rising                        Fearghal McGarry                  2012

Myth and the Irish State                                 John Regan                              2013

The Seven                                                        Ruth Dudley Edwards              2016

Unhappy the Land                                           Liam Kennedy                         2016

A Nation and not a Rabble                              Diarmaid Ferriter                   2016

Churchill and Ireland                                      Paul Bew                                 2016

Vivid Faces                                                      RF Foster                                 2016

James Connolly                                               Sean O’Callaghan                   2016

 

This Divided Island

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on 10 March 2016

 

Colman's Column3

SubrCover

Last week, I reviewed Sri Lanka – the New Country  by Padma Rao Sundarji. This week I am taking a look at This Divided IslandStories from the Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramaniam.You can guess at the difference between the two books just by looking at the titles. Rao is positive; Subramaniam is negative. Rao concentrates on the present and sees hope for the future; Subramaniam focuses on the past and sees dark clouds ahead; Rao wishes for peace; Subramaniam admits nostalgia for a war he did not suffer.

The top army man in the north, Major General Hathurasinghe, appears in both Padma Rao’s book and in Subramaniam’s. A Tamil woman tells Ms Rao that Hathurasinghe heard that her baby needed urgent heart surgery and came with a doctor who took the mother and baby to Colombo by plane. The baby was operated on and has been fine since. “Even today, the officers come frequently just to see how she is faring.” In Subramaniam’s book we see a different Hathurasinghe. He threatens to shoot the children (or so the author is told – he does not ask Hathurasinghe) of a woman who is asking questions about the whereabouts of her husband, Elilan, one of the top Tigers.

Subramaniam’s book received good reviews from distinguished writers –Amit Chaudhuri called it “excellent”; William Dalrymple called it “brilliant” –“a remarkable book by one of India’s most talented young writers of non-fiction”; and Kenan Malik called it “superb”. I am afraid that for a foreigner, like myself, who has lived in Sri Lanka for 14 years, yet another book about Sri Lanka by an outsider with no specialist knowledge has to work hard to justify its existence. I seem to have been reading a different book to the one reviewed by Dalrymple who believes that Subramaniam shows himself “capable of journalistic persistence and occasional moments of real bravery”.

I really do not see where “the real bravery” comes in, although the author tries his best to talk up the dangers. The war ended in May 2009 but Subramaniam did not make his first visit Sri Lanka to research this book to until 2011 (ten years later than me) although he had been for a week’s holiday in 2004. As far as I can tell from a careful reading of the book, he did not witness a single act of violence and was never in any danger. The tone irritated me right from page one when he makes a huge drama out of setting off from Colombo for the hill country at 5 a.m. “The streets glowed of sodium-lit emptiness, and Uncle W’s hatchback skimmed eastwards in silence”.

There is a ludicrous episode where he persuades someone to take him on a motor-cycle to an army base in the north. His companion advises him not to look directly at the camp lest they both be arrested. They do not attempt to take any photos. None of the soldiers takes a blind bit of notice of them. Our brave reporters get bored and ride off.

Early in the book, a snarky tone is set when he describes a meeting arranged by police to deal with the Grease Yakas phenomenon. Subramaniam writes: “Sri Lankans still felt tense, and the peace was already curdling into something sour and unhealthy. Old fears continued to throb; old ghosts transmuted into new ones”. I wonder why the author felt the need to superciliously mock the authorities for doing their best at a difficult time. There was real danger of vigilante action because of the panic. I wonder what the author means by, “before slipping into a little abstract music about communities living happily together”. Throughout the book the author makes it clear that the concept of communities living happily together bores him. War and violence is what he wants to write about. Early in the book he admits: ‘there is now no other Sri Lanka for me but the Sri Lanka of its war.”

Subramaniam gives a reasonably good account of the Tigers’ crimes as well as the army’s, although Sri Lankan readers might raise an eyebrow when he writes of the “manner in which the army had finished the war, rampaging through Tigers and Tamil civilians without distinction”. He covers the massacre at Kattankudy and the expulsion of Muslims from the north. He provides a vivid description of Black July and of the lesser grievances which preceded that horror. He deals with more recent events such the BBS persecution of Muslims. He talks to someone who was abducted in a white van and tortured.

However, he adds no new value (apart from florid prose) to old information that he has gleaned from his reading and interviewing. There are many long passages which consist only of reports of conversations he has had with people who, to my mind add nothing to what is already known, and may be unreliable narrators. The author, bizarrely, vicariously shares his interviewee Raghavan’s nostalgia for the good old days of the LTTE: “suddenly I could see it too: the glamour of the ideological life lived just outside the law, the impossible romance of a fraternity of young men out to change their world”. Just outside the law? The “impossible romance” of butchering babies in the dark?

An Indian reviewer, Mekund Belliappa, wrote, “the use of the word ‘war’ in the subtitle is misleading (or a marketing gimmick.)…There are no ‘war stories’ in This Divided Island: the author witnesses not a single violent act.” Subramaniam writes: ”Sri Lanka was a country pretending that it had been suddenly scrubbed clean of violence. But it wasn’t, of course. By some fundamental law governing the conservation of violence, it was now erupting outside the battlefield, in strange and unpredictable ways. It reminded me of a case of pox, the toxins coursing below the skin, pushing up boils and pustules that begged to be fingered and picked apart”.

“Within our tight circle, the conversation pulsed with nervousness and fear. Above Sri Lanka, the skies brooded and faded to black”. Throughout the book, the author employs this technique  of taking a normal peaceful scene and bigging it up with melodramatic vapourings. Is this the genre known as “creative non-fiction”? Kenan Malik did the same thing after visiting Sri Lanka for a few days. He had the gift of ESP in the north: “the ghosts of conflict still haunt Jaffna”. Subramaniam was similarly gifted. He writes of “inchoate dangers,” the “rank odour of menace” and many “sullen” faces. Even when he is comfortably ensconced in Colombo he “would get a glimpse of the hidden warts and scars, the anxieties and tensions.”

Subramaniam claims to be looking at Sri Lanka as a “forensic gumshoe visiting an arson site, to examine the ashes and guess how the fire caught and spread so catastrophically.” The way he finishes that paragraph gives me a queasy feeling: “but also to see if any embers remained to ignite the blaze all over again”. One cannot help but suspect that it would give him a vicarious thrill if the conflagration were to resume.

 

 

Sri Lanka – This Divided Island by Samanth Subramaniam was published by Atlantic Books in February 2015. It is available on Kindle.

The Numbers Game and Critical Thinking

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on February 19 2016.

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Critical Thinking and Ethics

I have long gained deep intellectual satisfaction from the application of critical thinking. A number of writers have analysed the obstacles to successful critical thinking. Reams have been written to define the  term but Webster’s has the short definition: “the mental process of actively and skilfully conceptualising, applying analysing, synthesising, and evaluating, and evaluating information to reach an answer or  conclusion”.

I would have expected to be able to engage in calm and rational discussion on most topics. Sadly, this has not always happened. It seems to be impossible to discuss Sri Lankan politics without encountering bizarrely false assumptions about my character, beliefs, allegiances and associations. I have been called both a government stooge and a Tiger sympathiser sent by sinister foreign agencies to undermine the state.

Kenan Malik

My taste for critical thinking with an ethical and humanist background led me to the writings of Kenan Malik, a lecturer and broadcaster who has published many books and articles defending rationalism and humanism in the face of what he has called “a growing culture of irrationalism, mysticism and misanthropy”.

I was dismayed when Mr Malik used his visit to the Galle Literary Festival in January 2016 to recycle the fictional figure of 40,000 plus civilian casualties at the end of the war against the LTTE. I have given this matter of “the numbers game” a great deal of thought, researched the topic extensively and discussed it with many people. I do not think that Mr Malik has had the time in his busy schedule to study the matter in so much depth. This has not deterred him from putting forward strong views on the topic.

Darusman Report

Mr Malik claims to have “done his homework” before intervening in Sri Lankan affairs but seems to be unaware of the vast amount of research that has been done. He responds to criticism by Professor Michael Roberts by citing what he calls “The 2011 UN report on the final stages of the war” as if it were a neutral and accurate investigation of the last days of the war. In reality, this was not an official UN report but a report by a “panel of experts” called by the UN General Secretary as a preliminary to further investigation and action. The panel did not carry out any investigations of its own (and recognized that it had no mandate to do so) but had to rely on second-hand “evidence” that was not evidence in the normal sense of the word. The Marga Institute evaluation of the report said that this forced the panel “into an adversarial stance with the Government” in which it assumed the role of prosecutor.

Moving the Goalposts

In his response to comments by Professor Roberts and myself, Mr Malik shifted his ground and brought in the idea of “apologists for the Sri Lankan Army.” “The question of numbers dead in the final phase is not central to the argument I was making.” He continued: “where the figures are disputed, it makes sense to settle for those provided by more objective collectors of those figures, which is what I did.”

I would contend that the figures I cited were even more objective as many of them were calculated by Tamils, including Navi Pillay of the UNHRC and the Tigers’ own website. Mr Malik’s argument now seems to be that the SLA deliberately targeted Tamil civilians and that anyone who disagrees with that position is an “apologist”. The true number of civilians killed is crucial to that very argument. If one looks at a spectrum from the zero casualties ludicrously asserted by the government at one time, to the 147,000 claimed by Frances Harrison, zero casualties would demolish the contention that the SLA was targeting civilians (unless their aim was very poor). If it is true that 147,000 were killed, the case that there was deliberate targeting becomes very strong. The numbers do matter.

War Crimes Apologist?

Mr Malik is putting words in Professor Roberts’s  mouth when he says Roberts was arguing that “the actions of the LTTE somehow justified the actions of the Sri Lankan Army”. I have read and re-read Professor Roberts’s words and he is saying nothing remotely like what Mr Malik attributes to him. The actions of the SLA may legitimately be discussed and if necessary condemned, but, if they behaved badly, it was not a tit-for-tat because the LTTE behaved badly. Malik claims “You do not, as far as I can see, contest the empirical claim that the Sri Lankan Army fired into what it had declared to be No Fire Zones or on hospitals or civilian areas.” Michael Roberts and many others have indeed contested that claim.

Universal Expertise

In his helpful book Thinking from A to Z, philosopher Nigel Warburton list alphabetically the many tropes used to manipulate argument. One trope is “truth by authority”. Warburton writes: “Unwary members of the public may make the unreliable assumption that because someone is a recognised authority…in a particular area he or she must be capable of speaking with authority on any other subject”. The problem is that when one covers a vast array of subjects, one exposes oneself to the danger of being downgraded from polymath to dilettante.

Tropes Employed by Online Commenters

One Facebook commenter chose to place his trust in the UN. He wrote: “I doubt if the UN plucked this figure out of thin air”. He ignored the many analyses which showed in detail why it seemed that the UN figure was plucked out of thin air. He does not explain why he refuses to  accept criticisms of the Darusman Report but relies on faith: “The UN report was done by eminent legal personalities and it is doubtful if they would quote numbers which they cannot defend in a court of law. If not their reputation would be in tatters.”

Immunising Strategies

In his book Believing Bullshit philosopher Stephen Law uses the term “immunising strategies”. He shows how Young Earth Creationists counter the arguments of evolutionists by claiming that, however much evidence is presented, they will still claim it is provisional and incomplete. Those who claim high figures of civilian casualties dismiss contesting calculations with responses like: “It was a war without witnesses” or: “No-one can know without forensic evidence”. Informed estimates have been made which could be refuted or accepted. “Comparing high-resolution satellite images of the second No-Fire-Zone between February and April 19, indicates that the No-Fire-Zone as a whole did not witness anything like the scale of sustained bombardment required for there to have been more than 40,300 fatalities” contends the IDAG report. There were witnesses. Murali Reddy was embedded with the SLA and wrote about what he saw for the Tamil Nadu magazine Frontline.

Guilt by Association

It is a common trope on comment threads, particularly with Sri Lankans, to avoid discussion by saying “He’s not worth considering because he has an agenda or he is close to so and so or his father did blah”. I have decided to call this move “The Mandy Rice-Davis Trope”. One commenter claimed that he had inside knowledge that two of the people whose calculations I cited were “buddies of Gota”. He refused to say which two so we could concentrate on the others.

 

I asked  why would Sir John Holmes (of the UN) , Navi Pillai (of the UNHRC), Tamil Net (website of the LTTE), Rohan Guneratna (head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research), the Voice of the Tigers (the LTTE media organisation), the South Asia Terrorism Portal, Dr Rajasingham Narendran, Dr Muttukrishna Sarvananthan (of the Point Pedro Institute of Development), Dr Noel Nadesan, the Independent Diaspora Analysis Group – Sri Lanka, all come up with lower figures? “Are they all buddies of Gota? Have you read any of their arguments?”

Do Numbers Matter?

The aim of the SLA (the legitimate armed forces of a democratically elected government trying to end an insurrection within the borders of its sovereign territory) was to defeat the enemy (at that point the most vicious terrorist group ever known with no democratic mandate) with as little harm to civilians as possible. It was not to punish Tamil civilians for the crimes of the LTTE. Many will disagree with me, but I do not believe that civilians were targeted as a matter of policy. I do believe that the aim was to limit the number of civilian casualties as far as possible in a situation where the enemy was using its own people as human shields. In this context, the number of dead being cited is of crucial importance if one is making the assumption that the government deliberately engaged in the punitive “mass killing of civilians”. Mr Malik, having raised the issue brushes it aside as “not central to his argument” when challenged.

A longer version of this article with footnotes can be found here:

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/the-numbers-game-and-critical-thinking/

 

Omagh Part Two

Colman's Column3This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Monday September 14 2015

Mandy2

The Law’s Delay

 

On 15 August 1998 at 3.04 p.m. a 500lb bomb exploded in the centre of Omagh, County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, killing 31 people (including unborn twins) and injuring 220. This was done in the pursuit of a united Ireland by dissident republicans who were against the peace process. There had been a warning call to Ulster Television in Belfast at 2.29 p.m. saying there was a bomb timed to go off in 30 minutes outside the Courthouse on Main Street. There was another call at 2.31 to the Samaritans in Coleraine. That caller said the bomb was about 200 yards up from the Courthouse on High Street. There was another call to UTV at 2.31. The callers used a code word associated with the Real IRA.

Warnings and Hoaxes

Perhaps the various brands of IRA terrorists might seem more “civilised” than the Tamil Tigers – they do tend to give warnings before they slaughter civilians. That is of small comfort to the thousands of people affected by their tactics. At Omagh, the first of three confused warning calls came less than half an hour before the car bomb went off. Superintendent William Baxter told the inquest in September 2000 that since August 15 1998 there had been 68 hoax bomb alerts in the town. Although many thought the warnings on August 15 were a hoax, the police took them seriously and immediately went into action with well-established procedures. The duty sergeant, Phil Marshall, was pleased that they managed to clear 200 premises in the short time available. “My initial thought that it was perfect, that we couldn’t have done better. Omagh was like a ghost town, I thought, if anything goes up now, it’s buildings only”.

There is no Main Street in Omagh. The courthouse is roughly 400 metres from the spot where the car bomb was parked in a stolen maroon Vauxhall Cavalier. It seems that the courthouse was the intended target but the bombers could not find a parking space and left the car outside SD Kells’ clothes shop in Lower Market Street, on the southern side near the crossroads with Dublin Road. The police had, in effect, been evacuating people towards the bomb rather than away from it. The bombers claimed it was not their fault and that they had given adequate warnings. If they had been concerned about loss of life they would have triggered the bomb at 3 a.m. not 3 p.m. on a public holiday when the streets were full of people.

Civil Action

On January 20 1999, Mo Mowlem, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief constable of the Royal Irish Constabulary, pleaded with the MP Andrew Hunter not to use his parliamentary privilege to name six suspects in the Omagh bomb murder inquiry. They told Mr Hunter, chairman of the Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland, that such action would prejudice any prosecution.

Frustrated by delays, the families took action. On 28 October 2000, the families of four children killed in the bombing – James Barker, 12, Samantha McFarland, 17, Lorraine Wilson, 15, and 20-month-old Breda Devine – launched a campaign to bring a civil action against the suspects named in a BBC Panorama programme. On 15 March 2001, the families of all twenty-nine people killed in the bombing launched a £2-million civil action against RIRA suspects Seamus McKenna, Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy, and Seamus Daly.  The civil action began in Northern Ireland on 7 April 2008.

Jason McCue

Human rights solicitor Jason McCue fought the case for the families over many years. He has been described as a “rock ‘n roll lawyer” – he married TV celebrity and journalist Mariella Frostrup (her father was Norwegian but she was brought up in Ireland) and they hang out with George Clooney. He wrote of the families: “Their achievement is important for Ireland and for the UK. It is a happy irony that their civil action did more to unite Ireland than the murderers that killed their families. But more than that, the Omagh civil action drew support from across the 32 counties and when the verdict came in, households throughout Ireland raised a toast to their achievement.”

Peace, Compromise, Impunity

The case was not concluded until 2009. Why did it take so long to bring the murderers to any kind of justice and why was it left to “ordinary” people to make such an effort? They had, as historian Ruth Dudley Edwards puts it, “to take on not just a terrorist organisation, but most of the Dublin, Belfast and London police, justice and political establishments, who for varied reasons thought their actions misguided, counterproductive or unhelpful to the peace process”. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness expressed their support but refused to give any information that would help bring the bombers to justice.

Peter Mandelson

Former Northern Ireland secretaries Peter Mandelson, Tom King, Peter Brooke, Lord Hurd, Lord Prior, and Lord Merlyn-Rees signed up in support of the plaintiffs’ legal fund. Mandelson took the lead in coordinating this.

In 1999, Peter Mandelson had succeeded Mo Mowlem as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Mowlem was popular with the British media and public; her willingness to speak her mind, often without regard to the consequences, was seen as strength. Mandelson was regarded as a cold Machiavellian manipulator. However, the campaigners warmed to him and he to them. Mowlem wanted to do everything to avoid undermining the peace process which was her monument.

Ruth Dudley Edwards was heavily involved in the campaign and wrote a book about it. She had worked in the British civil service, and was impressed that, soon after taking office, Mandelson had taken the unusual step of writing to her, commending her article in the Telegraph. He wrote that such articles “play an important part in changing the environment in which the terrorists operate”. “I agree with you entirely that everything possible should be done to try and bring those responsible for the Omagh bomb to justice”. He was distancing himself from Mowlem, who had seemed, according to Edwards, more comfortable with ex-terrorists than with victims and whose seeming indifference to the Omagh relatives had been “scandalous”.

Mowlem had discouraged ministers and civil servants from meeting the families and wanted to play down expectations of bringing the bombers to justice. Mandelson insisted on meeting the families. He was so affected by an exhibition of children’s art work. One of the relatives said: “Peter Mandelson is the nicest man, the best man…He cried, he cried in there and he put everyone out of there, even his Private Secretary. All politicians want to do is look after themselves. They don’t care about anything, but Peter Mandelson did care”. The Mail published a picture of his grief-stricken face. He said: “I feel a tremendous sense of loss every day I wake up and find yet another day has passed without these prosecutions taking place”.

Mandelson continued to offer practical help after he ceased to be Northern Ireland Secretary. He played a very active role behind the scenes and with the media. He also contributed generously from his own money.

An End to Terror?

Just two months after Omagh, two planes, flew into the World Trade Centre. That was supposed to change the context of terrorism. Different conditions post-9/11 helped in the defeat of the LTTE. Did Omagh help the Irish peace process? After the carnage many tried to adopt a positive outlook, hoping good would come out of evil. It was thought that the strength of public outrage would shame the Real IRA into giving up an “armed struggle” that was killing unborn babies.

Unfortunately, the Real IRA are still in business. Recent events indicate that the Provisional IRA might also still be active. Eternal vigilance is essential. Could the LTTE also rise like a Phoenix?

More next week about the unraveling of peace in Northern Ireland.

 

Death Coaches

A version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday May 5 2015

Colman's Column3

Horrendous bus crashes are not newsworthy – happens all the time.

On April 16, I posted on Facebook. “We never hear sirens here. In the past hour we have heard lots of sirens.”  What is going on?  There have been no terrorist incidents since the LTTE were defeated in May 2009. Were the Tigers back again? Were Rajapaksa loyalists staging a coup?

I Googled  for news and found this: “Thirty seven persons suffered injuries when a private bus veered off the road and toppled down a steep slope in the 2nd mile post area along the Maddolsima-Passara road. According to the police, 23 women were among the injured. According to our correspondent, 13 of the injured who were in critical condition were transferred to the Badulla General Hospital. Further investigations into the accident have been launched by the police.”Local people told  us that  five people died instantly at the scene. I have not seen fatalities mentioned elsewhere.  I have not been able to find out anything else on the internet.

Statistics

According to the Ministry of Transport, there were 2,436 deaths on the roads of Sri Lanka in 2014. The total number of road accidents in that year was 28,012. Of those accidents, 9,166 involved motor cycles and 6,467 involved three-wheelers. One can understand why there are so many traffic police stopping motorcycles and three-wheelers. However, 2,936 accidents in 2014 involved private buses. Motorcycles and three-wheelers are a nuisance but a bus driven recklessly at top speed by a drunk can cause a lot more damage. A  Police Media Spokesperson said that the possibility of small vehicles falling prey to large ones had increased. According to a 2002 report from Peradeniya University, on average, road traffic accidents killed six people every day in Sri Lanka. In Western Province, 17% of accidents involved buses.

Demon Bus Drivers

There are more than 21,000 private buses and 3,000 state-run buses. According to police statistics, from January 1 to July 31 2014, private bus drivers were responsible for 2,733 cases of dangerous and negligent driving, 2,260 speeding offences, 367 drunk-driving arrests and 2,117 cases of unauthorised parking or stopping away from bus halts.  3,944 violations concerned buses operating without insurance and licence. Traffic experts say that the problem with private bus drivers is much worse than official figures indicate.

Two Boys

Several years ago, we became integrated into our local community because of tragedy. We were invited to a funeral home and were introduced to many of our fellow villagers and many bhikkus. The dead young man had just won a place at an Australian university and was looking forward to a successful career in IT. He was to be best man at his friend’s wedding the next day. The two boys had been born on the same day and had been friends all their short lives. Born on the same day and died on the same day. They were on a motor bike going to Passara to do some last minute shopping when they encountered an out-of-control bus. The driver was in a hurry to overtake and the boys were killed instantly. Last minutes of promising lives. The parents were mad with grief. The father suddenly became an old man as all the hope and joy drained out of him.

What to do?

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 2011 to 2020 the Decade of Action for Road Safety.  We are now four years in to the Decade. Had you noticed?  Among the recommendations are: establishing a lead agency for road safety in the country involving partners from a range of sectors; encouraging the development and adoption of model road safety legislation and sustained or increased enforcement of road safety laws and standards; public awareness and education; reduce drinking and driving and speeding. Former National Transport Commission Chairman and senior lecturer at Moratuwa University, Professor Amal Kumarage said that action in Sri Lanka under the Decade of Road Safety in 2012 has been limited to the launching ceremony.

Suggested Improvements

To this observer, bowser drivers seem to be the Gentlemen of the Roads of Sri Lanka.  Perhaps bowser drivers drive at a more sedate pace because they are carrying highly inflammable material. However, bus drivers should remember, when racing  to the next stop, that they are carrying highly fragile women and children. Most bowsers have a phone number on the back inviting other road users to make complaints about bad driving. Private buses should be made to do the same.

Police should ride in buses as “mystery passengers” or bus marshals, reporting traffic violations. Everybody has a mobile phone these days – passengers and other road users should photograph the number plate and driver of errant vehicles and report violations to the police.

In other countries, people wishing to work as drivers of vehicles that carry passengers have to have a special driving licence for which they have to pass a rigorous test, following intensive training.  National Transport Commission (NTC) Chairman Renuka Perera said, in September 2014, that the NTC would in, 2015, introduce a special exam for bus drivers who would get a Public Transport Licence. Do not hold your breath.

Police should stop all buses being driven dangerously or belching out black smoke. They should test the driver for narcotics and alcohol and check his licence and insurance. He should be taken to court and banned from driving if found guilty.

Police issued a circular ordering that all offenders would taken to court. Private Bus Owners Association President Gemunu Wijeratne threatened an island-wide strike and the police withdrew the circular. Police hope to issue a new circular to allow them to charge and take to court bus drivers guilty of traffic violations that are specific to passenger transport vehicles.

Police Can Stop Buses

Before May 2009, it was a common sight on the roads of Sri Lanka to see passengers lined up at the roadside while police searched buses. Academics may rack their brains to find a solution to road deaths, but one simple fact presents itself to this non-academic.  Occam’s Razor – police should be stopping buses. Under normal circumstances, one never sees police stopping buses. They have stopped my car without prior cause on many occasions to check my licence and insurance. While they are doing so, they are oblivious of badly maintained private buses careering down the road belching out black smoke in a race to get to the next stop before a rival.

A Special Police Team was deployed during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year from 11 to 16 April 2015. In the first news reports, I noticed that three wheeler drivers and  motorcyclists predominated and there were no bus drivers. However, the final count was 1,122 drivers charged with  drunk driving; 600 motorcyclists, 404 trishaw drivers, 33 motor car drivers, 17 van drivers, 37 lorry drivers and five private passenger bus drivers.

Counting the Cost

Road safety gets too low a profile in public debate. A respected public figure seemed rather dismissive about the fact that I was writing about buses. I contacted a Facebook friend who had been posting pictures of wrecked buses asking for his views on road safety. He thought that people were currently distracted by the political situation and the debate over the constitution and not concerned about road safety.

He told me the pictures he posted were of bus bombings by the LTTE in mid 2000. I pointed out to him that although bombs are no longer destroying buses, buses themselves are making our roads deadly. From 1977 to 2007, 120,848 accidents were reported in which 40,000 people died and 370,000 were injured. More than 75% of road deaths were from the age group 20 to 55 years – family  breadwinners. The estimated cost of road trauma in Sri Lanka was Rs. 10.25 billion, nearly 2% of GNP, as long ago as 2001.

A “concerned citizen” wrote to a newspaper: “Private buses seem to be run entirely to suit the owners, drivers and conductors. The passengers are important only till they pay their fare. After that what happens to them is nobody’s business… I am told that the police are also in tow with these maniac drivers. You never see police officers pulling up bus drivers…. Probably they are getting a cut from the bus drivers, so they turn a blind eye to their faults. I do hope this letter will catch the eye of the authorities and make them catch both the errant bus drivers as well as the misguided police officers who are behind such men.”

“Concerned citizen” wrote in 2002. Researching Sri Lankan newspapers back to the year of the Peradeniya report, I was depressed that people are still saying the same things thirteen years on, and nothing has changed.

 

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.

 

Tsunami Today

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday December 30 2014.

 

Colman's Column3

tsunami today2

I wonder what little Liam Cutler in Melksham, Wiltshire, would think of the current politicking for the presidency in Sri Lanka. Well, Liam is not so little any more. Ten years have passed since Liam’s heart was broken by the tsunami. He must be around seventeen years old by now. Have things improved in Sri Lanka since Liam decided to do something positive at the age of ten?

I wrote in these pages recently about the art of giving and the nature of the gift relationship. Reactions to the tsunami ten years ago highlighted many aspects of the gift of giving and the relationship between people and politicians. It is particularly instructive to examine the actions ten years ago of two politicians who are still in conflict today – Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa.

International Compassion

The feel-bad effect of the disaster triggered a feel-good factor internationally as people rushed to make donations for the relief effort. Tessa Doe is a friend I met on a tour of South India in 1994. Tessa and Frank live in rural Wiltshire in the UK. In 2005, Tessa sent me some cuttings from her local newspapers showing what the residents of Seend Cleeve and Melksham were doing in response to the disaster.

Melksham resident  Pete King took it upon himself to travel to Sri Lanka to deliver and distribute 700 kilos worth of supplies from Wiltshire hospitals and pharmacies which Krishan Perera of Sri Lankan Airlines agreed to carry free of charge (the same man was very helpful to us when we transported our three cats from Ireland to Sri Lanka). Pete King reported: “Over the last two weeks I have seen many individuals in Sri Lanka doing their bit … every little effort helps”.

Seend Cleeve village primary school organized bring-and-buy sales. One pupil, Hannah, was in Thailand when the tsunami struck but was safely inland. Many of the pupils expressed empathy with those who were suffering. Jenny said: “It’s amazing how the whole world is sticking together and sending money to the places worst affected. Even if people didn’t get killed themselves, they probably have lost family and have nothing”.

Seven-year-old Liam Cutler was so upset by his Aunt Sara Mapp’s experience in Thailand that, according to his mother, he “stayed very quiet. He always keeps his worries inside him.” He asked to speak to a teacher in private and came up with the idea of setting up a cake stall for the benefit of tsunami victims. “He has organized the whole thing himself. He got most of the parents making cakes and the rest of his class making posters to advertise the event.”

A group called Mums of Melksham held an auction of men in the Assembly Rooms. Sheila Ward said: “I decided to get involved after seeing mothers and children separated because of the tsunami. It must be horrendous and I can’t bear to think what it would be like to rebuild your life without your children”.

I was particularly touched to read about the children at St Michael’s school who raised money for the appeal by decorating and selling heart-shaped biscuits. The interesting thing about this was that the children were encouraged to undertake this task quietly with soothing music and to meditate upon the suffering of those whose lives were devastated by the tsunami. Headteacher Beverley Martin said: “We wanted the children to think about what it would be like to have no clean water, no food, nowhere to live, no clothes and, most importantly, no family left.”

Feelgood even in Sri Lanka.

Amid all the suffering, there was a hint of a feel-good factor even in war-battered Sri Lanka itself. Unlikely partners were working together, including combatants on both sides of the conflict. There was initially hope that there might be harmony with the Tamil Tigers as everyone pulled together to cope with the tragedy. Alas, this was not to last long. There was a fragile cease-fire in operation at the time but the Tigers were using this to re-arm, re-group and to impose even more securely their grip on the territories they held.

Susantha Goonathilake wrote in his book, Recolonization, about the influence of foreign NGOs on Sri Lanka: “Those affected by the tsunami rushed into temples where they were received with warmth. These temples along the coast became havens of shelter, not only for Buddhists, but also for Hindus, Muslims and Christians. There are innumerable stories of the incredible generosity of these temples. Monks gave up their robes to bandage victims, looked after their children and babies, fed them from whatever little provisions they had, and comforted them. Illustrative of the genuineness of this response was the remote Eastern province temple of Arantalawa. Here LTTE death squads had once hacked to death young Buddhist monks. Now Arantalawa opened itself to nearly 1,000 refugees, most of whom were from the Tamil community and may well have included the very assassins who had hacked the young Buddhist monks”.

Even within the government itself, harmony was short-lived. The immediate state response was weak and the government took some time took some time to set up a co-ordinating committee. Despite government failings, an effective, spontaneous immediate response was organized locally, followed by the government and international agencies. Temporary shelter for the displaced was provided in schools, other public and religious buildings, and tents. Communities and groups cooperated across barriers that had divided them for decades. Sinhalese and Muslims wanted to go to the North and East with supplies but the LTTE refused to allow them into  areas under its control. Up-Country Tamils went to the South to help Sinhalese victims.

Role of the Army

Today there are concerns about the role of the army in various aspects of life after the victory over the LTTE. After the tsunami, twenty thousand soldiers were deployed in government-controlled areas to assist in relief operations and maintain law and order after sporadic looting. It is probably inaccurate to call this looting. As in the immediate aftermath of Katrina people had to get supplies from somewhere and normal conditions did not pertain.

Some security personnel lost their lives trying to save civilians during the tsunami. Tamils in refugee camps flocked around soldiers without any fear. Members of the armed forces even helped Tiger cadres. The LTTE too helped save affected security personnel. On our first visit to Hambantota in January 2005, Major Gamage, of the Sri Lanka Army, made introductions for us at a temple next to the Grama Niladhari at Samodarama. All the soldiers we met were compassionate and the Major helped us to target our help for the next visit. Cynics had warned us that soldiers would pilfer relief supplies. Our experience was that soldiers refused to take supplies from us saying that people would appreciate receiving gifts from our hands while looking us in the eyes.

On our visit three months after the tsunami, there was no sign of the army.

 

P-TOMS

CBK set up the Post Tsunami Operation Management Structure (P-TOMS), the joint mechanism, after a Sri Lanka donor conference in mid-May indicated that much of the promised $S3 billion in aid depended on a resumption of peace talks. Many critics saw this as in irreversible step towards conceding Eelam. Wimal Weerawansa said the JVP would “defeat this betrayal with the sacred intention of safeguarding our motherland”. He accused Kumaratunga of taking the decision without informing her coalition partners.

Tsunami Today

Part of the reason for the muddled initial state response was the rivalry, which continues to this day, between CBK and MR. As prime minister, MR set action in progress from Colombo in the absence of CBK who was on holiday in Britain. According to DBS Jeyaraj, as soon as she returned, she set about unpicking his plans and placing all reconstruction and relief under presidential control. Mangala Samaraweera has his own view of MR’s contribution.

Worldwide sympathy for the victims meant that funds were flowing into the country. However, CBK decided to go for over-ambitious plans, which excluded not only input from victims but also input from the rest of the government or the opposition parties or politicians from affected areas. Government spokesman, Tilak Ranaviraja, admitted to the media that after five weeks 70% of the tsunami victims in government-controlled areas had not received government aid.

Speaking recently at an event at Crow Island in Colombo to mark the tenth anniversary of the tsunami, CBK recalled that soon after the tsunami, political parties had united for one cause and this ensured the country recovered from the disaster within a short period of time. She said that the unity among the several political parties backing Maithripala Sirisena for President guaranteed they could win.

Mangala Samaraweera, who once served as MR’s foreign minister, previously served as CBK’s media advisor, and previously planned Sarath Fonseka’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, also brought up the tsunami in the current election campaign. In a speech on December 26 2014, he gave CBK credit for the public’s generosity. “Ordinary citizens across the world stood in solidarity with us, and on then President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s request gave generously of their resources and time.” He contrasted this with “a man who is contesting to be President of this country does not care for people’s suffering. He has consistently put his own private gain above the people’s pain.”

Ten years ago, the tsunami generated harmony and compassion. Today it is exploited for political advantage. I wonder what Liam Cutler, Pete King, Sheila Ward and Beverley Martin in Wiltshire, would think.

 

 

 

Choosing Martyrdom?

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday March 252012

Two months before my father’s birth, Irish rebels fought the British Empire. My father encouraged my interest in Irish history and told me about “800 years of British oppression” and the genocide caused by Cromwell and later by the free trade dogma that allowed the 1845 famine to be so lethal.

In my callow youth I wondered whether, had I lived in Ireland in the 1920s, I would have been out there fighting the British. However, even reading, when I was a child, mainstream history and popular biographies about the Easter Rising, I realised that the Easter rebels had no popular support. The interpretation of this used to be that the general populace was feckless and needed waking up by the sacrifice of these brave men. Look at the shiftless Dublin jackeens in Sean O’Casey’s plays.

Pearse and his colleagues believed they were entitled, although they were but a small, unelected group of conspirators in a democratic country, to stage a revolution in 1916 in which innocent people were killed.

On St Patrick’s Day, I posted an article on Groundviews examining the idea of rebellion and martyrdom. I was prompted to write the article by disturbing comments on Colombo Telegraph by one ‘Thanga’ glorifying Prabhakaran: “Prabhakaran is the only leader whose birthday is celebrated right around the globe in a grand scale! Prabhakaran was a brave, selfless and dedicated leader who lived by example. A leader who never slept on a mat or used a pillow!” For some Tamils, Prabhakaran had the status of a demi-god. A Tamil Catholic priest, Fr S. J. Emmanuel, compared him to Jesus. As recently as May 2011, in Tamil Nadu, MDMK chief Vaiko was saying the war for Eelam was not over; Prabhakaran was not dead and would emerge from hiding at the right time. According to Victor Rajakulendran, the LTTE remains a shining example, a ‘good history,’ for all Sri Lankan Tamils to follow.

http://groundviews.org/2012/03/17/martyrology-martyrdom-rebellion-terrorism/

 
One commenter wrote, seemingly approvingly, about a ‘national consciousness’ in which the abuses of the past are not forgotten but remain vibrant and alive in the form of a collective memory. Another seemed to approve of the use of martyrdom as a reward offered “to the young recruit if they die during the battle against the oppressors because they do not have anything else to offer”. Another said: “The IRA and the LTTE had to make the best of whatever resources they had.” The best resources the Real IRA have are about 150 volunteers and bombs with which to kill tourists and pregnant women.

 
The leading figure in the 1916 rising was Padraic Pearse, a poet and playwright, founder of a number of Gaelic schools. Pearse welcomed martyrdom: “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me”. “We might make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people: but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing”. He developed a sacrificial notion that his cause was comparable with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Pearse wrote about the beauty of boys dying bravely in their prime, before the shoddy compromises of adult life corrupted them.

 
The logistics of the Easter Rising were designed to maximise ‘bloody sacrifice’ of civilians. Buildings were chosen for occupation to maximise injury to persons and property.

By the time Pearse surrendered after six days, only 64 rebels had been killed (including 15 executed). In the World War, 25,000 Irishmen died fighting as members of the British Army. The majority of the killed and wounded were civilians. Both sides, British and rebel, shot civilians deliberately, on occasion, when they refused to obey orders such as to stop at checkpoints. All 16 police fatalities and 22 of the British soldiers killed were Irishmen. Rebel and civilian casualties were 318 dead and 2,217 wounded.

The rebels who were executed were regarded as martyrs and prayed to as well as for. A tradition of hunger striking meant there were Provisional IRA martyrs up to the 1980s.The death of Bobby Sands in 1981 resulted in a new surge of IRA recruitment and activity. His sister Bernadette and her husband Michael McKevitt founded the Real IRA, who refused to accept the Good Friday Agreement. Sands’s sister said: “Bobby did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers. He did not die for nationalists to be equal British citizens within the Northern Ireland state”.

On 15 August 1998, 29 people died and 220 were injured as a result of a Real IRA bomb at Omagh, County Tyrone. The victims included Protestants, Catholics, a Mormon, nine children, a woman pregnant with twins, Irish tourists and two Spanish tourists. Bobby may have made a conscious decision to “die for Ireland”. The victims of Omagh did not.

 
Former Provo, Danny Morrison, explained in a Pearse documentary Fanatic Heart, that Pearse’s rhetoric was useful to the Provos when they were making war, but is inconvenient when they are trying to make peace. Did the 1916 Rising set an unfortunate and tragic precedent? Omagh is a result keeping past abuses alive in the national consciousness. Omagh represents an example of using whatever resources are available in the fight against the oppressor.

How will the Real IRA be celebrating the 96th anniversary of the Easter Rising? As I write, car bombs are being found all over Ireland.

 

 

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/feature-issues/item/4309-choosing-martyrdom?.html#sthash.oK6Kmecu.dpuf

 

Channel 4 – Once Again!

A version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday October 29 2014.

Colman's Column3

 

 

Last week, I wrote an article commenting on the news that Channel 4 had been nominated for an Emmy award for its documentary about alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. Callum Macrae, who directed the programme, read the article and made contact.

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My Position

 

Before I address Mr Macrae’s specific points, let me summarise my general position. I am a foreigner who has lived permanently in Sri Lanka for twelve years. I have tried, in a small way, to contribute to the welfare of the country by becoming involved in my local community in Uva province. In spite of what the rabid trolls on Colombo Telegraph might say, I do not have any connections with the government. Because I am a foreigner, I have no emotional attachment to SLFP or UNP (or Fianna Fail or Fine Gael or Sin Fein).

When I first came to Sri Lanka, there was a cease-fire and people had a taste of peace. I thought it was safe to live here. I was dismayed when Mahinda Rajapakse was elected president because he had a reputation as a hardliner. I was further dismayed when the government decided to go for the military option against the LTTE. Dismayed because I knew that it meant civilians would be killed; dismayed because I did not think the SLA could win. My compatriots Martin McGuinness and John Hume advised against the military option and I bought the received wisdom that such conflicts could only be ended by negotiation.

I now know that I was wrong. The LTTE was firmly against negotiation and used cease-fires to regroup. They had to be defeated. They were defeated and Sri Lanka is a far better place today than it was when I first arrived.

Mr Macrae’s Objections

 A

  1. The Emmy nomination is for a programme made in 2013 not for the first Killing Fields programme broadcast in 2011.
  2. “He [Padraig Colman] also seems to have taken a fair amount of his information from the book Corrupted Journalism – the anonymously funded and written book which was so carelessly written and which has been so completely discredited.”
  3. “Mr Colman claims over and over again that we failed to criticise the LTTE “.
  4. “Why doesn’t Padriac (sic) Colman actually address the evidence around the death of the child Balachandran Prabhakaran? “
  5. “He is also silent on the fact that even since then further photographic evidence has emerged again showing prisoners (including Isaipriya) alive in the custody of identifiable SLA soldiers.”
  6. “Because Mr Colman appears to be defending a government which claimed throughout the last few months of the war, not just that they had a policy of Zero Civilian Casualties – but that in practice not a single casualty had died as a result of government action! Now Mr Colman is arguing about whether the fact that the UN said during the war that at least 7000 had died (which they did) and that in the light of more information they revised that figure upward considerably.  But how does he explain the government’s claim of zero civilian casualties. There is not a word on that”.

My Response

 

Let me now deal with Mr Macrae’s points:

  1. I thank him for the clarification. Channel 4 are still using the title The Killing Fields, thereby making a ludicrous link with what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. There have been previous awards and nominations for these Channel 4 programmes, including one for the Nobel Peace Prize (previous winners of that include Kissinger, the EU and Obama; previous nominees include Hitler, Stalin and Theodore Roosevelt). My critique was aimed at the Channel 4 project as a whole. I do not think it is contributing to peace in Sri Lanka.
  2. I published criticisms of Channel 4 before Corrupted Journalism was published. The authors cite me several times in their endnotes but I also detected my influence in the sections on churnalism and factoids. In Channel 4’s immediate response, Ben de Pear flippantly called the book a heavy tome even though it is merely a 222-page paperback. Mr Macrae has pointed me in the direction of a more serious response to the book. This also refers to the book as “hefty”.
  3. “Mr Colman claims over and over again that we failed to criticise the LTTE”. I have read and reread various drafts and versions of my article. I do not say even once that Channel 4 failed to criticise the LTTE. That said, I think that viewers who do not know the historical background will come away from these programmes with the impression that it was SLA committing all the atrocities. Mr Macrae needs to make a programme with vivid visual images of children massacred by the LTTE. Perhaps he could make a programme calling for Adele Balasingham to be tried for war crimes. She gave cyanide to 13 year old girls and is, I understand, now living comfortably in New Malden.
  4. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Wittgenstein. The idea of a 12 year old boy being executed is indeed distressing. I was silent on the subject because I had nothing useful to say, no special knowledge to add. I would certainly not defend it. People who have not remained silent on the topic have reminded us of the young Buddhist monks executed by the LTTE at Anuradhapura or the 147 Muslim boys and men slaughtered while at prayer at Katankudy mosque. Perhaps Mr Macrae could make a film about those incidents. Did the government not provide Prabhakaran’s parents with pensions and medical care? Did the government not airlift Daya Master to hospital for heart surgery and then give him transport back to the war? The widow of Colonel Soosai, leader of the Sea Tigers, was captured along with her children, by the Sri Lankan Navy in May 2009. She said: “The Sri Lanka armed forces have treated us very well and afforded us all the facilities we never had before that. Today we are living happily with my children who are continuing their education well. My parents are also living with me. The story about certain LTTE leaders coming to surrender raising white flags is a fairy tale.”
  5. I am silent also about the circumstances surrounding the death of Isaipriya because I have no special knowledge on the subject. I do know that she was not a civilian non-combatant.
  6. Mr Macrae seems a little muddled about what I have written about civilian casualties. I have not been silent about the numbers of civilian casualties. I have written many articles on this, some of them lengthy with extensive footnotes. In these articles, I have said quite clearly that I think the idea of zero civilian casualties is ridiculous. Mr Macrae misleads himself by mistaking me for a defender of the government.

Panel of Experts –Completely Discredited

In The Uncorrupted Truth, Mr Macrae states: “But our findings have also been separately confirmed by the UN Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka appointed by Ban Ki Moon. The Panel found credible allegations associated with the final stages of the war. Between September 2008 and 19 May 2009, the Sri Lanka Army advanced its military campaign into the Vanni using large-scale and widespread shelling, causing large numbers of civilian deaths”.

The Marga Institute described the report as “tendentious”. Credible allegations are not the same as established facts. “On the basis of reasonable assumptions, the Panel could have built on the UN estimate of 7,721. They reject this estimate saying ‘it is likely to be too low’ and ‘many casualties may not have been observed’. The Panel opts for a much higher estimate of 40,000 without indicating the basis for this estimate…There is a strong impression left that the Panel is not satisfied with a low estimate as that would call into question its interpretation of government strategy”.

Corrupted Journalism

I have read Mr Macrae’s detailed rebuttal of Corrupted Journalism. I do not intend to deal with it in detail myself, partly because I do not have the time, space or expertise, but mainly because, just as it is not my job to defend the government, it is not my job to defend Engage Sri Lanka. When I read about the book in the Sri Lankan press, I groaned at the naivety of setting such great store by the views of AA Gill. I read the book carefully and, like many others with whom I have discussed it, I found it fairly substantial. I understand why Mr Macrae does not agree.

I urge my readers to examine Mr Macrae’s case at:

www.channel4.com/microsites/…/The%20Uncorrupted%20Truth_R7.pdf

Mr Macrae is highly offended that Engage Sri Lanka should accuse him of corruption. However, he dismisses any criticism of the Channel 4 programmes as sinister and portrays himself as the underdog, despite the fact that his work has received much publicity all over the world. Everyone but Callum Macrae has ulterior motives. He knows nothing about me (and misspells my name) but calls me a “defender of the government”. He suggests I am being petty for questioning the number of civilian casualties bandied about. I have written many times about GOSL’s PR ineptitude. Sometimes they just cannot win He asserts that Engage Sri Lanka are dubious because they are anonymous and mysteriously funded. He swats away other critics because they write for “pro-government” publications. Don’t take points made in Lies Agreed Upon seriously because it is a Sri Lankan government propaganda film. SLA’s attempts to clear its name can be discounted because, well, they would say that wouldn’t they?

Then What?

 After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

TS Eliot Gerontion

Mr Macrae has fashioned a good career from covering the Sri Lankan tragedy. There is no mileage in him making a film about how things have improved here. I do not have Channel 4’s resources and have no chance of making a good career from arguing with Mr Macrae. I urge my readers to watch all his Channel 4 programmes and to read The Uncorrupted Truth. I will now move on and devote my time to writing poetry and erudite articles about philosophy and nature and posting pictures of cute puppies and kittens on Facebook.

Before retiring from the fray, I would like to pose the question: what is the purpose of these Channel 4 programmes? Is this regular drip-feeding of horror stories likely to make the lot of any individual Sri Lankan, Sinhalese or Tamil, any better? What would satisfy Mr Macrae? If the government punished individual soldiers for specific crimes, would that suffice? I doubt it. Does he want Gotabhaya Rajapaksa or Sarath Fonseka to stand trial? Would he be satisfied only if President Rajapaksa were put in the dock? As this is not likely to happen, are we to look forward to programmes on The Killing Fields in perpetuity?

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