The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
In the Shadow of Fear
Anthony McIntyre • 15 September 2003

Brendan Shannon, or Shando, as he is more widely known throughout the republican community is a veteran republican. Hailing from a West Belfast republican family whose own involvement predated the peculiar phenomenon of Provisional republicanism, 47 year old Shando has a particular attachment to the values of traditional republicanism. Listening to him speak it is impossible to ignore his passion, a fervent belief that republicanism is almost genetically inherited, situated in and transmitted through the blood of his parents, both of whom were staunch republicans 'of the old school.' James Connolly stayed in his father's house on the Falls Road, beside the Mill. He was there to talk to the workers. His paternal grandmother kept the chair Connolly had stood upon from which to address his working class audience. An aunt, unfortunately, later broke it up and burnt it replacing it with a more fashionable one. Shando's father was attacked when he walked Leeson Street to court his furture wife who lived in that area. That was the "Devlin" era, when British Imperialism ruled the roost and seemed to have no shortage of supporters in the Falls. Shando's father took to carrying his hurl from then on and often needed it. Republicanism seemed thin on the ground in those days and according to Shando it seems like the past is once again visiting itself upon West Belfast and making republicans unwelcome in their own streets.

For many of us who were solely Provisional in constitution and outlook, 1916 and the values that traditional republicanism engendered while honourable is hardly something that substantively shapes our political perception or activity. More anti-British policy than British presence, quite often Crumlin Road Courthouse was as far as our attachment to the republican tradition went. Once in the dock we were unable to curb our eagerness to shout ‘guilty your honour’ loud enough so that the beak would be in no doubt that we meant it and would then go easy on us. All of the men and women of the GPO could not force us to turn our back on the cretin and face in the spiritual direction of Pearse and the certain frugality that would accompany it. We were happy to be placed firmly outside the MacSwiney paradigm of enduring rather than inflicting. For those of us not attired in the holy grail there was little essentially wrong with that. Settling for a life sentence when ten years was on offer seemed to be taking republicanism a step - or a lot of extra years - too far.

Generally speaking, this lack of being baptised and schooled in the republican tradition may go some way toward explaining why we ditched republicanism so easily and ended up happily discussing what is the most effective way to administer British rule and what type of RUC would we put up with. For those carved from the quintessential republican tradition such flexibility is a curse. It is tantamount to taking the white feather. In its dazzling white bosom there comfortably rests a fertile disdain for the type of compromises and capitulations that have come to characterise the republicanism of Sinn Fein. Fidelity to the Pearsean notion is very strong: For the 1916 icon any man who accepted:

anything less by one fraction of an iota than separation from England ... is guilty of so immense an infidelity, so immense a crime against the Irish nation, that one can only say of him that it were better for that man (as it were certainly better for his country) that he had not been born.

The republican tradition demands a lot from its adherents. We may dismiss them, find them out of touch, not living in the modern world, glorifying the use of physical force, incapable of dialectically comprehending leadership-led revolutionary summersaultism and progressive censorship, but we cannot wish them away. We armed them with guns and legitimacy, we told them who it was legitimate to kill, that one Irish person alone had the inalienable right to kill all and sundry so long as it was predicated on the intention to remove the British from Ireland. And now they hang there as a mirror letting us know that they are what we promised to be forever. The image we see there is so unlike what we are now that on occasion the impulse to lash out with the power of the Armani to obliterate the duffle-coat is so strong, that we might even kill or disappear them, all the while seeking to forget that each time we do so we kill and disappear part of ourselves. The republican tradition visited us with a readymade answer in 1969 and we embraced it. There is nothing we can do that will erase our fingerprints from it.

Shando professes loyalty to the republican tradition that Provisionalism wishes would go away. He was interned at the age of 17 and remained under lock and key until 21. In 1979 he was captured along with two others in possession of IRA weapons and received a 12-year sentence. He joined the blanket protest and stayed on it until its conclusion in 1981, living through the most intense and horrendous period in modern republican jail history. He was released in 1986. He insists that regardless of his past he is not a member of any political or military organisation. His republican activism these days is restricted to supporting republican prisoners. For this reason he has attended rallies organised by the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association which is aligned to the 32 County Sovereignty Committee. However, he claims that his support is for all republican prisoners including those belonging to the Provisional IRA. ‘I was in jail as a Provisional IRA volunteer. I am not going to turn my back on their volunteers who face a similar fate.’ In that sense he will strike many as being both more honest and loyal than the Provisional leadership who seem clearly embarrassed at the mention of Provisional IRA prisoners.

Despite being ‘a life long republican’ he now lives in fear that he may be killed by the organisation to which he gave so much of his life, merely because his political beliefs are no longer shared by his former comrades. A mere few hours before I interviewed him the PSNI had called to both his home and workplace to warn him of an imminent threat to his life. When I spoke with him he was articulate and witty. When I expressed my dismay at The Blanket having to meet him in a secret location, he quipped, ‘better than in a secret grave.' The fact that we knocked around together in prison helped relax him but beneath the garrulous surface it was easy to detect an anxiety. He genuinely fears becoming one of the disappeared. He doubts that the practice has stopped as ‘very few people are persuaded by Sinn Fein that the Provisional IRA did not disappear Gareth O'Connor.’

I put it to him that the Provisional IRA may be less concerned with attacking dissident republicans per se and may be motivated as a result of the recent Real IRA killing of Danny McGurk in the Lower Falls. People are unhappy at the death and the Provisionals may be responding to local pressure. And while his name was certainly not amongst those doing the rounds with the dogs on the street as one of the culprits the Provisionals may feel that with his standing within the republican world lending weight to Real IRA prisoners, they should mop him up as part of the internal housekeeping for which the British state seems willing to provide a certain latitude. He responded by saying that this was nonsense. The animosity of the Provisionals towards him results solely from ‘my refusal to agree with them anymore.’ He illustrates this by detailing his history of harassment at the hands of the Provisional IRA.

I was kidnapped by the Provos seven years ago and was accused of being a member of a dissident organisation. They told me that if I became in engaged in any military activity against the British they would kill me. Four years later I was summoned to meet them and when I agreed to go they told me that I was not to be seen in the company of more than four dissident republicans at any one time otherwise they would view this as evidence of membership of and loyalty to such an organisation and they would kill me as a result. You wouldn't get that type of law in South Africa under the apartheid regime. I take the Provisional threat very seriously, Gareth O’Connor is missing and Jo Jo O’Connor was murdered.

He claims that since 1995 he has more or less been at the receiving end of hassle from Provisional republicans who find it impossible to tolerate republicans who continue to hold the beliefs that the Provisionals themselves once killed and died for. I asked him when did he begin to have doubts about the direction in which the Provisionals were going.

When the peace process took off and the ceasefire was called I supported the strategy and was actually involved in heated exchanges at republican family meetings with those who expressed reservations about the direction of the movement. I took part in one of the first Sinn Fein protests up at Stormont during the peace process so it is not as if I am opposed to politics. It is the type of politics that I call into question. When was this ever part of the republican outlook? I will support solid and sound politics but not this farce. I was a staunch supporter of the peace process but that was when it still had a semblance of republicanism about it and we could stretch ourselves to the point of believing that it might be possible to advance republican objectives. Can any one truly say that republican objectives have been moved forward by all of this? It has become apparent that the leadership have been lying through their teeth. And now it has come to the point where they are prepared to kill and disappear those who refuse to accept the lies and are upfront about their opposition.

He did, however, at the time express concern to one senior republican and was told that 'we either have everything or nothing, Give it six months.' Now, nine years on ‘it is blatantly clear that we have nothing.’ Not prepared to wait as long as many others he severed his links with the Provisionals in 1995 when the six months passed and the only thing being discussed was the Framework document.

I was a member of the Sticks at 16 and I left them because they called a ceasefire and it was clear that they had got nothing. But I am not some rabid militarist. I actually supported the political strategy which the leadership promised would deliver. I did not leave the Provos because they gave up the war, I left because they give up republicanism.

I mused to myself that he could now claim to have left the Sticks twice. Resentment also formed part of his narrative.

My father brought guns in to the Falls in 1969. I remember him taking them out of a dirty oily bag. Then sound people got their hands on the weapons. Now that they are in the hands of dirty oily politicians, they are being given away and I am forced to ask what did my father ever bother bringing them in for to begin with and why did I have to go to jail for possessing them? I missed my kids growing up as a result of being in jail, they missed their father – all because of holding onto guns which the leadership have now given up. And to make matters worse, these people are prepared to let Scappaticci run about but kill me.

But could he not stand up and reject the physical force tradition as others including many of us at The Blanket have done - this might get the Provisionals off his back?

It hasn’t got them off your back. My political beliefs are the same as they have always been. If the British state is here through force of arms then the Irish people have the right to resist them through force of arms. This is the exact same sort of beliefs I had when I was with those who head Sinn Fein today.

But does that not mean that he is going to give succour and perhaps support to those groups that continue to wage armed campaigns which invariably result in defeat and leave a trail of human misery in their wake?

I merely want to get on with my life and bring up my kids. While I do not actively support any of those involved in physical force republicanism I refuse to join in with all the hypocrites and condemn any republican carrying on armed struggle. The position I hold on this was for long enough the position of Sinn Fein and I do not see why I should have to abandon it to suit the agenda of those who have given up their republicanism. Fascism is what characterises the Provos today. The war we fought was to secure democracy and now we are further away from democracy within these communities than ever. The very least I expected to obtain from this war was to be on equal terms with the unionists. Now I am further down the food chain than anybody. Touts and drug dealers get a better deal in republican communities than republicans who oppose the present strategy. Druggies, thieves and rapists can walk the streets unharmed but if you are a dissident republican then you are scum.

Would he not go to the mainstream media and try to highlight his case?

Are you serious? The media have been abominable. They simply do not want to upset the apple cart. The media are prepared to turn a blind eye while we have the absurd position whereby the Provos are prepared to kill so long as it is in defence of the peace process. What sort of process is it? We had the debacle at Stormont where the Alliance pretended to be Unionists for an hour to keep the whole farce up and running. And they are going to kill me - a republican - to maintain that.

Is there no one in authority he can appeal to or put pressure on in order to get the situation resolved?

The British Government stink. They are prepared to turn a blind eye to my murder. Tony Blair and Hugh Orde have both said that the IRA ceasefire is intact despite Orde conceding that they killed Gareth O’Connor. It means the IRA have a license to murder their own people but nobody else.

The British Government not being the type of authority I had in mind I asked him had he considered approaching his local MP?

Gerry Adams has the power to put a stop to this. He can call them off and prevent my murder and that of other republicans who oppose the direction in which his movement has gone. At one time I saw myself getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning to go out on his election campaign to ensure that he would be elected. And to what end? If he wishes to he can ensure that I or no one else is murdered or disappeared. I have spent my life fighting injustice and I am in contact with others who feel badly let down by the way this has worked out. We cannot stay silent on these matters. People in authority just turn a blind eye to all of this. There is a need for those of us opposed to what is happening to come together and build a republican group that will defend the rights of people in these communities. There are many problems in them but they cannot be solved by disappearing and killing people. If you are not in the Sinn Fein clique you are no better than human waste. Your life is of no value to Sinn Fein if you are not a member of the ‘yes’ gang. Sinn Fein have given up their beliefs and are now motivated by power. The ideals which lay behind our struggle are no longer sacrosanct.

It was with a large measure of regret that I left Shando to make the journey back home. We had spent many years in the H-Blocks winding, mixing, debating, backstabbing, furiously disagreeing with each other - myself and Tommy Gorman tortured him remorselessly as he lay in bed incapacitated by the flu. It was what he would have done to us given half a chance. It was simply all the usual things that prisoners do to put in the hours. Most of it was jovial. Our interview two days ago was the first time ever that sombreness dominated the exchanges. What saddened me most was that he was the same Shando from the jail, professing the same ideas and sentiments. And now he lives in the shadow of fear because in his view he was not prepared to succumb to groupthink because some dictator ordained that it should be so.

Shando holds to an analysis that I have long since abandoned. But on this I find common purpose with him: whatever the problems that afflict these areas capital punishment is infinitely worse than any of them. That more than anything else should be resisted. If the power structure is prepared to kill us for speaking out against it, all the more reason for speaking out.






 

 

 

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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



 

 

All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles



16 September 2003

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

In The Shadow of Fear
Anthony McIntyre

 

Derry's Disappeared
Deaglán Ó Donghaile

 

Bangers on the Blanket?
Kathleen O Halloran

 

Dialectics of Terror
M Shaid Alam

 

Prison Segregation
Republican Prisoners Support Network

 

Letter to the Chief Constable
British Irish Rights Watch

 

A Jackboot on my Presscard
Anthony McIntyre

 

The Letters Page has been updated.

 

11 September 2003

 

Seconds Out for Round Thirteen
Eamon Sweeney

 

UN Report on Human Development
Liam O Ruairc

 

No Sign Yet of an End to the Cold War
Anthony McIntyre

 

West Belfast - The Politics of Childhood
Davy Carlin

 

Review of Eoin O'Broin's Matxinada
Douglas Hamilton

 

Help Renew the Republican Dream
Gerry Ruddy

 

Three Meeting Announcements
Belfast & Dublin

 

 

 

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