vu was the dominant emotion experienced by Brendan
'Shando' Shannon as he stood on the Springfield
Road on Saturday. He had made the short trip there
from his home to do what he does every year. 'I
have been coming here along with a small number
of others from long before it was trendy to do so
in opposition to bigots marching.' The first time
he had went there to 'defend the area' was as a
boy of thirteen. In 1969 virulent loyalists, tails
up, were coming down Mayo Street intent on doing
what they do best, visiting their violent sectarian
hatred on innocent Catholics. Accompanied by men
much older, Shando took his place among the ranks
of the defenders.
he hailed from republican stock there was little
at thirteen that could have prepared him for what
lay ahead. He had no way of knowing that his act
of defenderism would hurl him into the deep end
of a protracted conflict that still goes on in perverted
form despite the peace process, in fact maybe goes
on because of it.
memory of the events of 1969 is hazy. But he does
recall that when the community were crying out for
defence, the traditional defenders of the IRA failed
to step up to the mark. Despite a deteriorating
political climate, which had for long been pregnant
with malign potential for sectarian conflagration,
few preparations for defence had been put in place.
On the day it was improvisation. Whatever weapons
the IRA claimed nominal ownership over in its arsenal,
they were not to be found on the streets of Belfast
in 1969. The story has it they were in Wales. The
IRA had, in the view of many nationalists, run away.
'Place your trust in the police,' was all the IRA
leadership could offer. Not a bad idea if the state
is a modern democratic entity where it may be compelled
to stand up for its citizens even if it would rather
not. But this was the view of the Northern Ireland
state least likely to have been found within the
republican mindset of the time.
Saturday Shando hurried to the Springfield Road
where it was anticipated there would be trouble
resulting from attempts by Orange marchers to walk
over the local residents. His concerns were exacerbated
by reports that loyalists from Sandy Row were trying
to attack nationalist homes in the Grosvenor Road.
When a Sinn Fein MLA stepped onto a boulder on the
Springfield Road to address the crowd, Shando couldn't
believe his ears. Here was a man with well-established
Provisional credentials telling his constituents
that the loyalists were preparing to throw blast
bombs, and his advice: move back and let the police
deal with the situation. It was 1969 and bigots
goosestepping all over again. Same spot, same speech,
different person. Shando challenged the Sinn Fein
man, asking was it not imperative on republicans
to defend the area themselves rather than place
their faith in the police force. In his words, 'Let
the police deal with it? We should be fighting these
people ourselves. It is what we did in 69.'
his perspective it made sense. After all, Sinn Fein
had been vigorously criticising the PSNI for failing
to tackle loyalists in North Antrim with the same
ardour reserved for nationalists. 'After all the
years of hard gained experience we were being asked
to accept that the sons and grandsons of the B-Specials
who burned the Falls in 1969 would somehow protect
us. The Sinn Fein speaker is a great guy and I have
a lot of time for him but on this one he is plain
had Shando spoken up when fascistic voices barked
at him. Three senior Provisional IRA members approached
him. One was more disagreeable than threatening.
Not a shrinking violet himself, Shando could live
with that. A verbal tirade was heaped upon him by
one of the other two. Lacking the SS runes but not
the attitude, he demanded that Shando 'shut up.'
Having failed to intimidate him, the Provisional
leader 'told me he would bury me. His colleague
leaned over and said, ''leave it for now. We will
do him later''.'
faces were distorted with sheer hatred and they
had the look of the deranged. All because I had
mildly disagreed with their speaker. They told me
I was a yellow bastard. This was a reference to
the time that they had kidnapped me, trussed me
up, hooded me, forced me to piss in a bucket back
in the 1990s because I had opposed them. I buckled
when they had me. It was not one of my braver moments.
I had faced the Brits, cops and screws, burned the
Kesh, escaped from it and did the blanket. Now I
was facing the authority of the IRA. The only authority
I had ever accepted as legitimate. I was unable
to psychologically face it down. It is a bit like
a child trying to hit its own mother. It is virtually
impossible to do. I have since rid myself of those
illusions. I never buckled to the Sticks. For that
reason I didn't buckle on Saturday when they threatened
me. They are just Sticks and I am determined that
no Stick will tell a republican that he will not
raise his voice against them in West Belfast. We
have a strong tradition here of not buckling to
the Sticks. It is a tradition I fully intend to
was at a conference in England when Shando's agitated
phone call came though. He outlined what had happened.
I sought to calm him down. He was adamant that he
had received a death threat. Maybe so, but it seemed
highly unlikely that the Provisional IRA would kill
him, and certainly not for something as minor as
heckling one of their elected representatives. That
might get him pistol whipped. Taking his life would
hardly carry well in the community when, like the
Official Republican Movement they had so virulently
condemned, they had stood with their arms the one
length in the face of certain loyalist onslaught.
He put an eyewitness on the phone. In much more
measured terms and in considerable detail the witness
took me though the events. I pressed him to get
a measure of how convinced he was that the threat
amounted to a death one rather than people venting
anger in a heat of the moment situation. Like Shando,
he too was of the mind that the threat should be
taken seriously given the seniority of the people
involved and the use of the word 'bury.'
mulled it over in my mind pondering the value of
pursuing it. It was a threat which in all likelihood
would never amount to anything more serious. At
the same time, the Provisional IRA was supposed
to have packed its business up with its July statement,
yet its most senior members were openly threatening
a republican in front of witnesses. Joseph Rafferty
in Dublin had been threatened and failed to take
the threat seriously. He now lies dead having been
blasted to death by someone most in the media world
believe to be a member of Sinn Fein's militia.
rang Shando back and asked him if he wanted me to
raise his concerns at the conference I would be
attending later in the evening. I explained that
many from the political and media world would be
present and the sheer act of mentioning it in front
of perhaps 200 people should suffice to stay the
hand of those who had issued the threat. He agreed.
I followed through on my offer and told those present
that republicans under threat from the violence
of the peace process often came to the Blanket
to raise their concerns. They would never go to
the PSNI. When I had finished detailing Shando's
experience I quickly realised that many people there
were interested in the threat made on the Springfield
Road that afternoon. Their offers to raise the matter
in a range of quarters meant that Shando would not
'go down a hole' as easily as some of his victimisers
says he is determined to face his critics. He argues
that he has as much experience at the coalface as
they and resents their efforts to promote themselves
as some form of republican elite.
will publicly debate with these people any time
or place, so long as I am not tied to a chair. I
have done as much for the IRA as they have. People
on this road know my record. One difference is that
I never sent kids out to do it. I did it myself.
Have these bullies the bottle to face me in public
debate on this question or are they afraid of the
red face syndrome? I am determined that the bullyboy
tactics will stop. My kids had the meat taken off
their plates in order that we could feed good IRA
men when they had to lie low. Now one of my daughters
is barred from a variety of pubs for no reason other
than she is my daughter. Barred by a man who is
universally known throughout the republican world
for not having done an operation in his entire life.
Even the media slag him off and have their own special
name for him.
has since penned a letter to his MP Gerry Adams.
In it he has named two men who were to the fore
in Saturday's incident. 'It is up to Mr Adams to
pursue the matter after that. He can hardly pretend
the people involved are not in the Provisional IRA.
He has known both of them for decades. Is he now
going to expel them on the grounds that thugs have
no place in his movement?'
remains steeped in the cultural world that shaped
him throughout his life. It seems he will take it
to the grave with him. Remarkably, his view of the
problem has not shifted over thirty odd years.
central problem in this state is that while the
British continue to run it, the government will
always fail to protect its Catholics. Republican
guns should not be immersed in concrete while this
threat exists. The only lesson that the people threatening
me learned from the Sticks in 1969 was that being
Sticks was something to aspire to. In that they
have surpassed the Sticks. Women were shouting at
the thugs hassling me on Saturday that the Sticks
never decommissioned their guns. It is an amazing
situation where we have the Orangemen marching down
the road and the only person these thugs on our
side could threaten was a republican.
may feel justified in publicly challenging the Sinn
Fein MLA. But in all fairness to the MLA, he had
a responsibility to his constituents to move them
out of harm's way and not have them exposed to the
danger of blast bombs just to maintain faith with
some sectional ideological interest. While it jars
with Shando's republican instincts the MLA's suggestion
that the police handle the matter was most likely
the one guaranteed to minimise casualties. In this
sense Sinn Fein's action was hardly inconsistent
with trying to address such issues democratically.
The major contradiction of course is the Janus face
of the Provisional movement. While Sinn Fein was
waxing democratic its militia friends were quite
prepared to resort to fascistic tactics. Rather
than seek to persuade Brendan Shannon that his alternative
to the party's suggestion may have left the nationalists
exposed to unnecessary risk, they sought in their
time-honoured fashion to intimidate him. Their self
serving right wing nationalism, no longer able to
vent itself on the traditional enemy, is perpetually
seeking to recast itself in the search for new opponents.
Having lost the war to the enemy without, the militia
men seem determined to create an enemy within so
that they might continue to justify their own existence.
People within long suffering nationalist communities
are growing tired of it and increasingly display
a diminution in respect for yesterday's men. The
war is over and it has been lost. Endlessly pretending
that there is somehow a current need for career
commanders merely devalues the effort expended in
the days when military commanders had some function
other than lording it over their neighbours.
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