DÉJÀ VU: Jimmie Hargey was one of 24 men interned in 1969

GERRY ADAMS: It's time we came to terms with commemorations

ON Sunday last I spoke at the 40th anniversary commemoration of the killing by the SAS of IRA Volunteers Henry Hogan and Declan Martin in Dunloy, County Antrim. Declan was 18. Henry was 20.

I was also the speaker at the funerals in February 1984. At that time hundreds of  RUC and scores of Land Rovers surrounded Henry Hogan's wake house and myself, Martin McGuinness, Danny Morrison and Owen Carron linked arms with other mourners to create a human barrier around the house and the funeral to shield them from the RUC. That is the way many republican funerals were conducted in those days.

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It was part of a conspiracy between the NIO, the RUC, British Army and the Catholic hierarchy to stop patriot dead being buried with the national flag as part of their criminalisation strategy. It eventually failed as a strategy not least because of the resolve of the families involved, their neighbours and friends and local republican communities. 

Sunday’s event, which drew a huge crowd, was part of a weekend of discussions, music and remembrance in Dunloy. It got me to thinking of how this effort to criminalise our patriot dead is still the focus nowadays of some anti-republican elements and some lazy journalists. One  of the questions most asked of newly elected First Minister Michelle O'Neill is whether she will attend IRA commemorations. No questions to unionist representatives about their attendance at commemorative events. And neither should there be. 

I have no objection to them or others commemorating their dead. This includes British soldiers, RUC or UDR officers and unionist paramilitaries. I said this in Dunloy on Sunday. Of course all acts of remembrance should  be conducted in a dignified and sensitive way. They should also be held only in places which are generally receptive to such events. No-one should engage in provocative language or offensive behaviour. Respect should be the watchword. 

Incidentally there are no IRA commemorations. The IRA is gone. Republican commemorations are organised by groups like the National Graves Association or the National Commemoration Committee, which is responsible for 1916 events, or by local committees drawn from local communities, old comrades, families, Sinn Féin and others. They are not about – and should not be about – being provocative. We who have suffered in the conflict are not about glamourising or glorifying the war. We should be mindful always of the feeling of those who lost loved ones due to IRA actions. 

And others who often still describe republicans as terrorists need to ask themselves what is achieved by such offensive language. The war is over. The healing has begun for many people. This is for the good. Leaders can help this by tempering their language. We will probably never agree on the past. But we can agree to disagree. There is no single narrative. Only by including all the narratives will a complete picture emerge of what happened and why it happened. Understanding that is part of being enabled to prevent it ever happening again. 

Of course it is not only elements of the British or unionist establishment who continue to insult republican communities or the families of republican patriot dead. The Dublin establishment also repeats the same old story. Again and again. They don’t do irony. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin leads the chorus of 'Ooh aah good old Ra of the 1920s' while insulting the families of the 'Bad old Ra' of more recent times. 

Will he change his tune? Probably not. But we live in hope. I’m not even arguing for him to do so. Let’s keep our views of the past if that is all we can do, but let’s try to  articulate it differently. I’m arguing for us to move into a new phase of our process of change. A phase of healing and shaping the future. The past is gone. Let’s not repeat it.  Even rhetorically. 

Of course some victims cannot move on. Fair enough. That’s their entitlement. But others have and continue to do so. They are an example to the rest of us. Especially for those in political leadership. 

The leader of the DUP was once a member of the UDR, an organisation which the British government had to disband. The leader of the UUP is a former British soldier. I have yet to hear a Sinn Féin representative cast up about any of that.

So let’s reflect on how we commemorate our dead. Republicans need to continue to do so in a fitting manner, in tune with current political conditions and with a mind to building an inclusive future. 

Others should join us in this endeavour. 

A window on the past

Ask almost everyone you know about the date when internment was introduced and August 9, 1971 will be the popular answer.

That was the day 342 men and boys were dragged from their homes in the early hours of the morning to be beaten, interrogated and interned. Fourteen were the victims of planned torture – the Hooded Men.

What is less well known is that August 1971 was not the first time internment was introduced in the most recent phase of conflict. I was reminded of this by my good friend and comrade Tom Hartley – the noted historian and collector – who presented me with a photocopy of a page from the Irish Press, a Dublin based paper at the time, in which the names of 24 republicans interned in Crumlin Road Prison were published on August 22, 1969.

Internment was a favoured weapon of the British and of the unionist regime at Stormont. It was also widely employed by Britain’s colonial administrations across  its colonies. It was used by the British after the Easter Rising and by the Free State government during the Civil War. In the North the unionist government used it in 1922-23; 1925; 1935; 1938-45; 1950-51; and 1957-61. 

In August 1969, unionist mobs led by B-Specials and the RUC attacked nationalist parts of Belfast. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, thousands of families became refugees and people were killed. The unionist regime sought to blame republicans for these events. Even claiming to a disbelieving media that nationalist families had destroyed their own homes.

The unionist Prime Minister, James Chichester-Clark, issued a public statement in which he claimed that: “Well-disciplined and ruthless men, working to an evident plan, attacked the police at a number of points in the city.” He described this as “…a deliberate conspiracy to subvert a democratically-elected government.” The aim was to blame the IRA, not unionism, and its street mobs for the instigation of violence. 

As British soldiers were being deployed on our streets the RUC raided homes and arrested two dozen republicans. They were all interned under the notorious Special Powers Act. They included Prionsias MacAirt; Jimmie Hargey; John McGuigan;  J. McCann; Frank Campbell; Denis Cassidy; Denis Casson; M. Darity; J.J. Davey; Frank Donnelly; P. Duffy; R. Fitzpatrick; L. Johnston; D.J. Loy; H. Mallon;  P.J. McCusker; John McEldowney; F. McGlennon; Malachy McGurran; Liam McIlvenna; Billy McMillan; L. Savage; M. Toal; and F. White. I sent  Deirdre Hargey MLA the clipping Tom sent me for her mother. In turn Deirdre sent me an RUC photo of her father taken at his arrest.  

So there you have it. Another little example of the state we were in. 

Most of the 24 internees were released within weeks. Billy McMillan, Prionsias MacAirt and Malachy McGurran continued to be held. McMillan was eventually released in late September while Prionsias MacAirt and Malachy McGurran were held until the end of the year.

Ceasefire now

The European Union’s Foreign Policy chief Joseph Borrell took issue with US President Joe Biden and his remarks that the Israeli state’s offensive against the Palestinian people had been excessive. “If you believe that too many people are being killed maybe you should provide less arms,” Mr. Borrell said. "If the international community believes  that this is a slaughter, that too many people are being killed, maybe they have to think about the provision of arms.” 

Mr Borrell is right. The US administration, along with Britain and other European powers, are complicit in the Israeli state’s violations of international humanitarian law. It’s long since time for a ceasefire. The huge attendance at demonstrations across the world, including Ireland, shows there is popular support for an end to the genocide. People want peace. The Palestinian people deserve peace. Ceasefire now.