The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Time to Go

Anthony McIntyre • 21 February 2005

When I visited the Short Strand home of one of the sisters of the late Robert McCartney, it was the third time in a week that I had been drawn to the area. The previous evening, while travelling through Belfast city centre in a friend's car, a call came through from a member of the McCartney family circle. I was asked would I be able to call over and see Robert's sisters. They had buried their brother two days earlier and were concerned that the sound of the earth that had thudded onto his coffin was uncannily like the sound of Provisional movement attempts to cover up for the crime of murder carried out by an element of its membership. With each crack of its intimidatory rod a further piece of the evidence was pushed under the surface never to see the light of day again.

Then the courageous intervention of Gerard Quinn, a cousin of the murdered man, who had asked in the letters page of the Irish News, "How does murdering the innocent 'protector' of a 'respected family' in the local community build an Ireland of equals?" defied the rod. Two journalists in major newspapers picked up on the story and the lucid reporting that appeared in their subsequent coverage thrust the issue centre stage. Throughout the following week the name Robert McCartney blazed like a flaming torch, as his sisters and partner, with incredible dignity and composure, held it aloft, bringing light to areas and matters that have been concealed for years.

Three decades ago, as a young IRA volunteer I had stayed in the Short Strand area while 'on the run'. The community was tough, resilient and generous. There was never any difficulty in finding a bed, a meal or a bath. The owner of one of the homes I stayed in was later murdered by loyalists as he went about providing for his young family. The son of another couple met a similar fate. These people were outstanding; their hospitality always something to be remembered. They were a people worthy of nothing less than the highest regard.

The tiny enclave's IRA membership was a determined lot. Their ranks, much depleted by the constant attrition of the British state forces, always managed to be replenished by teenagers willing to defend, but never to torment their own community. Some of the area's volunteers never experienced life beyond their teens. Their lives were wrenched violently away from them; 'killed in action' in the ranks of an army for which active service meant service to the community and not service to one's own sense of power over that community.

As a sign of the rapid arrest rate, many of those I met in the Strand would later end up in prison by my side. They had a tendency to clannishness but this had its roots in the sense of siege an isolated community experiences when cut of from its wider hinterland. Their collective stand, many of them mere teenagers, in the face of terrible deprivation and prison management brutality, was driven by a raw courage and a total anathema to any attempt to portray as criminal either they or the community they hailed from. Kicked, beaten, tortured, hosed, starved, they were always first to the door to shout 'up the Ra' after every wing shift.

When I sojourned in the Strand it was part of the Belfast Brigade's Third Battalion which covered virtually all areas outside of West Belfast. The latter had two Battalions all to itself. Later, during the 1975 ceasefire the Third Battalion would be split up. The Strand, Markets and Lower Ormeau Road became the spine of the new Fourth Battalion. Within it, the Strand assumed the greatest importance. Battalion or battalion council meetings were invariably held in the Strand. Most operational matters had to go through it. In 1976, it was two of the areas volunteers who lost their lives along with a brigade staff volunteer in leading a major attack on a British Army installation in the Gasworks.

Republicanism in the Short Strand was robust and always had a good relationship with its support base. As elsewhere much of this was borne out of necessity. During the armed conflict with the British state, IRA volunteers could never have endured were it not for access to myriad resources provided by the local population. The community had to be treated with respect otherwise it would never have taken the risks that it did to help sustain the armed struggle. The IRA was home to a large body of people willing to use force. It was never populated by shrinking violets and pacifists. But the aggression that its volunteers were all too able and willing to display was never directed against its own community. People can debate the rights and wrongs of punishment attacks, but these actions were never viewed by IRA volunteers as attacks on the community. Nor were they the work of sadists only too eager to give vent to their urges by thrashing wayward kids.

Today many in the IRA have lost their way. The need for immediate community support is not pressing. There is no quid pro quo between IRA volunteers and the community dictated by necessity. Certainly, Sinn Fein need votes and cannot afford to have republicans standing on the toes of the electoral base. But a vote in a year or two's time does not have the same disciplinary or constraining effect on an IRA volunteer as would the need to have access to someone's kitchen or wall cavity within which a weapon can be concealed.

When members of the IRA and Sinn Fein election workers thrashed Robert McCartney with sewer rods and stabbed him, they plunged their knives not only into his body but also into the hard earned legitimacy and rich history of republicanism within the Strand. Their vicious criminality has placed clear blue water between them and the Short Strand volunteers of the Blanket protest. There would be no need to nail a prison uniform to their backs. It should fit them like a glove.

While the Sinn Fein and IRA leadership has given the public appearance of distancing itself from such thugs, many are coming to view this as a cynical ploy. Robert McCartney's killers walk the streets of the Short Strand without a word of protest from the Provisional movement - a potent reminder to any who might think of testifying. RTE's Tommie Gorman, reporting on a Sinn Fein rally held at the Hilton Hotel in the shadow of the Short Strand, tonight informed viewers that neither Sinn Fein nor the IRA showed any sign of expelling the killers from their ranks. When independent republican councillor Martin Cunningham turned up for this evening's district development committee meeting of Newry and Mourne District Council, Sinn Fein councillors, led by Pat McGinn, called him a 'tout' and 'informer'. What earned him such abuse was newspaper coverage of his support for the family of Robert McCartney. Copies of the newspaper were strewn throughout the council premises by McGinn in an attempt to demonise Martin Cunningham for his firm stand with the bereaved family.

The family of Robert McCartney have displayed courage and commitment in trying to bring his killers to justice. Many others have a vested interest in seeing the entire matter fade into the background. Neither Sinn Fein nor the IRA should be allowed to feign a humane concerned approach to the family in public while simultaneously on the streets undermining its search for justice.

Murder, cover up, intimidation - it's time to go.





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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.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

21 February 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Time to Go
Anthony McIntyre

Stand Together in Pursuit of Justice for Robert
Catherine McCartney

The Murder of Eoin Morely
Ivan Morely

Exclusion Orders
Brian Mór

The 'Gud Auld' Days
Dr John Coulter

The Courage of Ward Churchill
Ghali Hassan

Awaiting the Prisoner of Zion From Within Israel's First Circle
Mary La Rosa

18 February 2005

"Death by Suicide"
Margaret Quinn

But Will Anyone Object
Brian Mór

Seeking Justice for a Brother
Davy Adams

Perspective and Perception
Eamonn McCann

Only One Option Left, Really
Mick Hall

Trust Your Leaders!
James Connolly

A perfect 10 for Bertie's volte-face on the peace process
Anthony McIntyre

Distress vs Illness: Social Control
Sean Fleming

Double Visions Conference
Seaghan O Murchu

No More Lies



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