is said that in ancient times, when news of defeat
or calamity was conveyed by runner or rider, monarchs
occasionally dealt with news of disaster by killing
the messenger. Such a response was obviously misdirected
and misguided. Harsh realities would never be
made less harsh nor less real by targeting messengers
who only brought word of events for which they
were in no way responsible. Killing the messenger
may be emotionally satisfying momentarily but
is never an effective political strategy.
At present, we seem to be witnessing a refinement
of this misdirected strategy. Britain's latest
terms promulgated at St Andrews have jolted unexpected
numbers of Republicans, as if from a Friday the
13th nightmare. Concerned Republicans who risked
much and suffered much in the struggle to remove
British crown forces and British rule, searched
for some means of denying fealty to the British
crown constabulary. Some began to speak, organize
private meetings and sponsor public debates. Some
have urged prominent Republicans to take an unsought
stand as candidates as a way of allowing others
to vote no against the British RUC-PSNI. The initial
response is apparently an orchestrated campaign
to kill the candidate messengers by character
assassination, misrepresentation or intimidation.
early target of such tactics has been Gerry McGeough.
It is easy to understand why Republicans in Tyrone
might look to him. A very close friend of this
columnist, Liam Ryan, who was himself murdered
by loyalists in collusion with the RUC, spoke
of Gerry McGeough in a category with Jim Lynagh
and Pete Ryan. Those familiar with the war in
Tyrone will recognize that there is no possible
higher praise for any IRA volunteer in this or
any previous generation, nor any more impeccable
is a matter of public record that Gerry McGeough
was given exclusion orders from England for suspected
IRA activity, jailed in a German isolation dungeon
after a series of IRA attacks on British troops
in Holland and Germany had successfully forced
thousands of such troopers to be confined to barracks
in fear, then extradited to America where he was
jailed for conspiracy to obtain arms including
SAM missiles for the IRA. McGeough's book, DEFENDERS,
bespeaks a detailed knowledge of IRA ambushes,
methods and tactics in Tyrone which would be impossible
to gather except by inside first- hand experience.
was appointed to serve as a Sinn Fein leader in
Tyrone during the1981 Hunger Strike campaign,
in which one of the patriot martyrs was his fellow
Tyrone man Martin Hurson. Following his return
to Ireland from an American prison, McGeough would
be elected to the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle, after
an electrifying Ard Fheis speech in which he opposed
biting the bullet of decommissioning.
McGeough was then sidelined, undermined and resigned
after being forced to choose between party advancement
and his Republican principles. These actions were
undertaken with a good deal of tactical foresight.
McGeough's voice, as those who heard him last
week in Derry will attest, would not have been
well received by anyone asking support for the
RUC-PSNI either at the recent Ard Comhairle meeting
or at the upcoming special Ard Fheis scheduled
at that meeting.
identical attack on Gerry McGeough has appeared
in two Irish- American newspapers with direct
sources in Sinn Fein. A discredited piece of gutter
journalism has been retrieved from the trash bin
where it had been long ago consigned. The writer
cited did not trouble himself to interview Mr.
McGeough before fabricating fictional quotes for
print in a much sued scandal sheet. One paper
added a quote from a pro-Sinn Fein connection
that Gerry McGeough is "not a Republican.
" Being a Republican once meant adherence
to a 32 county Irish Republic free of British
rule imposed by British crown forces and governed
in accordance with the principles of liberty,
equality and religious freedom enshrined in the
1916 Easter Proclamation. What more would be required
of Gerry McGeough before he might qualify? What
re-branding of Republicanism would cover backers
of the RUC-PSNI within its mantel while excluding
those who oppose British crown forces?
group targeted for this kill the messenger strategy,
were Sinn Fein representatives including Geraldine
Dougan and Davy Hyland who were cast aside as
Sinn Fein candidates apparently because they could
not stomach an endorsement of the RUC-PSNI. These
representatives are being publicly pilloried in
the Andersonstown News and elsewhere. It
is now being gossiped that such representatives
only objected to the RUC-PSNI after their removal
is another insidious form of character assassination.
The charge is that such individuals did not really
hold strong principled objections against backing
the crown constabulary but were jumping ship because
the party preferred others to them as candidates.
The implication is that such individuals were
never committed Republicans who unselfishly dedicated
themselves to the party until forced to take a
stand as a matter of principle. The implication
is that any and all such individuals were careerists.
fact any sincere loyal party member would have
voiced objections to endorsing the crown constabulary
long and hard within the party structure before
considering going public. A loyal Sinn Fein member
would raise principled objections internally,
hoping to bring the party back to its Republican
course. Both Davy Hyland and Geraldine Dougan
have said that they kept their objections within
the party until a formal RUC-PSNI endorsement
made staying silent impossible.
very loyalty is now being twisted to malign their
character, commitment and patriotism merely because
they are elected representatives who might be
asked to stand as independent Republicans fighting
for the very same Republican beliefs which had
once led them to join Sinn Fein.
more blunt form of this kill the messenger policy
was made public by two more respected Republican
icons, Brendan Hughes and John Kelly. Brendan
Hughes is of course a legendary figure within
Belfast Brigade, and leader of the 1980 hunger
strike. John Kelly was a founding member and veteran
leader of the Provisional IRA, and a former elected
Sinn Fein representative.
men published a joint letter in the Irish News
denouncing a strategy of threat against Republicans
seeking to meet and question the issue of giving
fealty to the RUC-PSNI.
is profoundly sad that these former IRA leaders,
who volunteered because of their patriotic determination
to resist British rule and the British crown constabulary
who inflicted violence and intimidation, would
find themselves duty bound to stand against friends
who are acting to silence opposition to the RUC-PSNI.
Some have argued that if sanctioning the RUC-PSNI
is good enough for Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness
their stature should override all doubts. Others
would retort that the vehement opposition of Republicans
of the credentials of Brendan Hughes and John
Kelly should prove those saying no to the re-named
RUC are right without a doubt.
is also now being reported that the courageous
Peggy O'Hara, may be asked to stand as a candidate.
In a simple but eloquent statement she said that
she was forced to watch her beloved son Patsy
taken and beaten by the RUC, railroaded by RUC
perjury in a crown Diplock court, tortured in
the H-blocks of Long Kesh because he would not
accept criminalization and endure a hunger strike
to the death. Now, after an anniversary year of
commemorations in which public tributes were paid
to Patsy and nine other patriot martyrs, Mrs.
O'Hara believes that the principles for which
he and his companions died are being betrayed
by a call to back the RUC-PSNI, British crown
courts, and criminalization, which jailed, tortured
and killed them. Mrs. O'Hara believes she could
not betray her son by being silent. Hopefully,
no one will be so lacking in decency and dignity
as to stoop to invent some nonsense to malign
this great lady.
the most defamatory of all the slanders touted
to dismiss any and all Republican voices raised
against the RUC-PSNI, is the nonsense that they
are only against Sinn Fein and the leadership.
The implication is that such opposition is somehow
driven by petty personal dislikes or generalized
no matter what strategy is pursued by the party.
at those speaking. How many of those like Brendan
Hughes, Gerry McGeough, John Kelly, Laurence O'Neill,
Paul McGlinchey, Tony Catney and so many others,
volunteered years of their lives in the fight,
spent years in jail, saw friends and family murdered,
but continued to make untold sacrifices because
of loyalty to the struggle and to the leadership.
One can only imagine what it was like for someone
like Brendan Hughes to question, then doubt, then
break with and publicly stand against Gerry Adams.
It has been heart breaking for many Republicans
to walk away from those they trusted, fought alongside,
were jailed alongside, and befriended. Many were
shunned, threatened or slandered. They did not
take such a stand because of petty quarrels, dislikes
or careerism. They do not seek to block the party's
advance but rather to rescue them from a British
trap. They are not against the party or party
leaders but loyal above all to the struggle and
its objective of Irish national freedom. They
believe that endorsing the RUC-PSNI would be a
disastrous mistake which will set back the struggle
and prolong British rule in the north. They are
Republicans and many say that it has been taken
far more courage, and a more profound commitment
to try to pull the Republican community back from
the brink of an irreversible final descent into
Britain's long pursued strategic goals of Ulsterization,
normalization and criminalization, than anything
else they have ever done.
Republican community deserves better than a strategy
of killing the messenger, by distorting their
views, mischaracterizing their motives or silencing
them by threats. These Republicans are messengers
reflecting the profound anger and indignation
at any embrace of the RUC-PSNI crown constabulary.
Targeting these messengers will not make those
facts any less harsh or less real. It is only
a confession of weakness.
the party took two other steps which appeared
to signal tacit acknowledgements of defeat in
the debate within the Republican community and
a withdrawal or consolidation within party circles.
After participating in the debates in Belfast,
and Toome the party sent excuses to a packed hall
at the Tower Hotel in Derry. No one from the many
party representatives in Derry would represent
the party in the debate. They were unable to attend,
because of the party's "ongoing responsibility
to facilitate an intensive programme of discussion
and engagement with the wider nationalist and
Republican community". To those in attendance,
the party seemed to be saying that it was too
busy with discussions and debates within the wider
nationalist and Republican community, to spare
anyone to speak at discussions and debates. Many
in attendance judged that the party's backing
for the RUC-PSNI would have been indefensible
by Declan Kearney or any Derry representative
in a fair and open debate. The party recognized
it had lost at Conway Mill and Toome and decided
to cut its losses. Better to boycott and say it
was unimportant because we were not there and
leave some uncertainty about the outcome then
to participate and end all doubts.
reality the party seemed to be retreating from
actual debates which gifted them with an opportunity
to reassure doubters, challenge opponents and
answer genuine questions in a convenient venue
with a dignified format and impartial chair. Instead
the party would only attend its own meetings,
where outside speakers and questioners could be
controlled. These could then be portrayed as debates
rather than controlled and stage-managed party
second step was a public invitation from Gerry
Adams to meet with both political and military
groups opposed to the RUC-PSNI endorsement. It
is a general rule that genuine invitations for
dialogue are communicated privately, through established
channels. Public invitations extended through
the media are intended for public relations and
media consumption. Most of the invitees have interpreted
the invitation in this fashion and rejected it
as a cosmetic exercise, intended to give the appearance
of willingness to engage in genuine dialogue,
while retreating from real debates which would
actually provide such a dialogue.
invitation raised some intriguing and ironic issues.
First it would be hard to imagine leaders of any
Republican military organization revealing themselves
to party members who are pledging full cooperation
with the RUC-PSNI.
organizations might well have chosen to release
a public response asking whether such a dialogue
would be without a pre-determined outcome. If
Sinn Fein seeks to convince other Republicans
to endorse the crown constabulary, is it open
to consider and possibly be convinced by the arguments
against such an endorsement? Would the party be
free to reject such an endorsement or is it not
bound by its pledges to the British?
invitation mentioned Republican prisoners and
conditions at Maghaberry. Does the party accept
that Republican prisoners are political prisoners
who should not be subject to a British policy
of criminalization nor subjected to repressive
measures to enforce criminalization?
questions might include what full cooperation
with the RUC-PSNI might entail, whether the endorsement
betokens an acceptance of all collusion murders
including those involving current members of the
RUC-PSNI, whether the use of Diplock courts upon
request by crown prosecutors will mean all cases
involving Republicans, and most central how would
endorsement of British crown constabulary not
copper fasten British rule, and make the party
a crown force recruiter. Any future invitation
by press release might well be answered, with
a public response outlining such questions.
questions like these to be answered it will likely
be far better to proceed by personal invective
against the character and bona fides of the messengers
of opposition than by actually engaging them in
a fair, public and open Republican debate.