Belfast murder victim Danny McGurk's second anniversary
had just passed when I was approached by a man I
had not previously met on the city's Grosvenor Road.
He was scrupulously polite as he proceeded to introduce
himself as a brother of the slain father of six
and explained that with two years having passed
since his younger sibling had been gunned down in
front of his wife and children, the family were
still frustrated by an inability to gain any answers
about the circumstances pertaining to the death.
He had seen me on television discussing the murder
of Robert McCartney and felt it would be strange
indeed were I to think that justice is best applied
selectively; that the mother of Robert McCartney
should be treated with courtesy while the mother
of Danny McGurk should be shown contempt. He asked
would I be interested in talking to his mother who
lived only a matter of yards away. I was in no great
rush to reach an alternative destination and, generously,
he offered a lift to me once I had finished talking
with his mother. Our short journey to his mother's
home took only seconds.
a living room with one of her grandchildren, Mary
McGurk, in her mid seventies, looked very tired
as she spoke of the pain of having lost her son.
This impacted little on her lucidity as she articulated
her desire to keep his memory alive and to secure
justice for him. I listened and then fumbled for
words when she asked me what I intended to do. Sheepishly,
I replied that there was little I could do. While
I would do my utmost to highlight her concerns through
the medium of a written article, I also knew that
once it was done I would move on to something else,
an option not available to her. There is no shortage
of issues that require written about, and no small
number of people who want grievances, legitimate
or otherwise, aired. As always, the power that enables
a speedy resolution of these issues lies elsewhere.
All I could offer her was an outlet through which
she could tell her story. The value of these things
remains indeterminate, but if it gives solace to
those bereaved by injustice, it is not without merit.
McGurk is as aware as the next person living in
these communities that despite the discourse of
justice that is churned out on a daily basis, vested
interests would want her silenced; that some people
in this society who, because they belong to any
one of a range of organisations, treat others with
contempt, on occasion exercising the power of life
and death over them. They think that if seven of
them can sit around a table, call themselves an
army council, or an inner council, depending on
what flag they like to shove in your face, and Ouija-like
summon up the long discarded spirit of something
higher, which they alone have access to, that those
they deem 'legitimate targets' suddenly lose any
rights against them. In spite of this Mary McGurk,
a Falls Road senior citizen, armed only with her
faith in a just God and the support of her children,
would have her say. We parted, having agreed to
sit down at a later date.
have been in a quite a few homes of the abandoned
over the years; those people whom power and authority
had consigned to the margins, where they could exist
untroubled if they maintained their silence and
did nothing to ruffle the feathers of the local
war lords. In these homes there is invariably nothing
of the rich trappings that the powerful adorn their
own places of abode with. For the most part the
abandoned are those left behind after a loved one
is murdered by loyalists or the British state. On
other occasions their misfortune had been inflicted
by their supposed defenders. When I visited the
home of Jo O'Connor's mother after he had been gunned
down in a Ballymurphy street five years ago, my
first impression was that the poor are punished
for their poverty. O'Connor was a member of the
Real IRA. Hardly a reason for murdering him. But
those who shout loudest about community rights and
ostensibly are the shrillest opponents of murder
on our streets, see nothing wrong with a little
murder when it dovetails nicely with the maintenance
of their own power within a community. As George
Carlin has said, murder is negotiable, determined
by who is murdered and who is murdering.
my return visit to her house Mary McGurk seemed
surprised to see me. I sensed that as one of the
abandoned, she had grown used to many unfulfilled
promises since the death of her son. One more would
hardly make a lot of difference. Her home, like
most others in a poverty-plagued West Belfast, is
hardly a palace. In the same track as other working
class mothers she has over many years put effort
into making her environs clean and comfortable.
Surrounded by four of her children, it was clear
that they greatly valued her contribution to their
lives. Their respect and care for her was touching,
as was their willingness to jump to her side at
the fist sign of discomfort; gestures she calmly
dismissed with a 'stop fussing over me' frown. It
was hard not to be smitten by her.
sat and drank tea while the murder of Danny McGurk
was narrated to me. It is well rehearsed from experience.
His mother must feel she has told it a thousand
times. In spite of that she is no less passionate
in telling it, although getting it out seems to
be less than cathartic for this woman. She is not
content to have her story listened to. She wants
it acted on, wants someone in authority to speak
to her, explain to her why her son was gunned down;
she wants to know why there has been a public silence
from the Real IRA - the organisation blamed by almost
everyone of whatever republican persuasion and further
afield for the murder.
event which catapulted Danny McGurk into a fatal
vortex was something so innocuous that elsewhere
it would have been forgotten about almost as soon
as it happened. But where secret societies are concerned,
a membership that likes to delude itself about its
own importance can often take major affront at minor
flouting of its grossly inflated sense of prestige.
Inadvertently letting the air our of such delusions
may have been what Danny McGurk set in motion when
he vigorously protested being denied access to a
West Belfast pub which happened to be hosting a
fund raising function for republican prisoners.
He had no interest in the function for its own sake.
The venue was one of his locals and normally handy
for a drink. He held no fixed or firm views on the
body the prisoners belonged to - the Real IRA -
one way or the other. While having defended their
heavily outnumbered members during his time in prison
where they were under attack from loyalists, he
saw this as simply helping fellow nationalists in
the face of assault from a common enemy. At the
time he was serving a six-year sentence, having
been convicted of involvement in an incident, which
resulted in the death of a local man. Whatever role
he played in the act which lead to his imprisonment,
his mother readily admits that Danny was 'no angel.'
She described her son as a 'hard man' who was handy
with his fists and who could look after himself.
'But he was popular enough. There were over 1200
mass cards arrived at house for Danny. He had more
friends than enemies.'
he had been refused access to the function on the
grounds that he had had too much to drink already,
a minor fracas developed. Danny allegedly pushed
a leading member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement,
after which he was 'gripped' outside the bar by
others and had a gun placed to his head. He was
informed that he would have to turn up at the Rock
streets the following day to be shot in the legs.
When his sister Mary learned of this her alarm coupled
with her anger was such that Danny bent to her will,
took her advice, and declined to turn up.
at the way events had developed and instinctively
knowing that such minor disputes can quickly become
a vendetta Martin McGurk, Danny's brother, met two
members of the Real IRA in a bid to resolve the
matter. They seemed unconcerned and assured Martin
that his younger brother had made a mountain out
of a molehill. As far as they were concerned that
was the matter over with.
so it seemed to be. Over the next four weeks nothing
happened. The calm was ruptured, however, on a Saturday
evening when members of the Real IRA drinking in
a house in the Lower Falls took exception to a man
urinating against a wall in the street. The man
was part of a separate group of three drinkers,
whose number included another brother of Danny.
Danny at this point arrived on the scene and intervened
to protect his brother. The Real IRA members backed
off but within a short time period two carloads
of reinforcements arrived at the scene and began
to beat Danny with a wheel brace. Danny was furious
at being beaten like this and seethed with anger.
The following evening he promised to get those who
hammered him one by one. It was a high-risk venture.
People didn't join the ranks of the Real IRA because
they valued settling differences peacefully.
two days before he died Danny McGurk told his mother
that he feared he was being set up for death by
someone in the Real IRA. The following evening,
unable to swallow it, he went in search of his attackers,
first in a taxi depot and then a bar. That sealed
his fate. The next morning as he sat at home his
killers pushed their way in and shot him in the
legs and back.
widespread public accusations that the Real IRA
carried out the killing, the organisation remained
mute. Mary McGurk finds this aspect frustrating.
'They claimed responsibility for the Omagh bomb.
Why are they running away from my son's murder?
Are they ashamed?'
people have speculated that the reason the Real
IRA have remained silent on the matter is that it
was either not sanctioned or was a punishment beating
that went wrong. Mary McGurk disputes this, claiming
that the family know it was a murder ordered from
above. 'My son was killed as a result of a personal
grudge or some sort of vendetta.' She claims to
know the identity of his killers and states that
as not one of them knew Danny personally and had
presumably no reason to kill him, they could only
have been responding to orders 'They were told to
kill Danny. They must have been.'
that the Real IRA puts forward no spokespersons,
Marian Price is the figure Mary McGurk homes in
on. This is because the former IRA prisoner, who
was jailed for life for her role in the London bombings
of 1973, is the spokesperson for the body that looks
after the interests of Real IRA prisoners.
the killing local people wanted to protest outside
the homes of local Real IRA members but Mary McGurk's
family objected, feeling it was not right to take
the issue to the homes of families who lived lives
much the same as their own and who had no responsibility
for the murder. The Real IRA apparently fled the
area after murdering Danny but with the passing
of time 'have drifted back in.'
McGurk's husband who was suffering from cancer at
the time of his son's death, simply lost his will
to live. Mary recalls that when Danny was laid out
in his coffin her husband heartbreakingly gazed
on his corpse and said, 'that should be me in the
coffin, son.' Six months after losing her son, Mary
McGurk was a widow. 'I lost another son twenty years
ago' she explained to me. 'Danny was not the first
time I have gone through this.'
top of the grief the family feel it has been subject
to intimidation. Mary McGurk's disability car has
had paint thrown over it by people she claims are
supporters of the Real IRA. Each time the door bangs
or there is a noise in the street Mary jumps in
her chair visibly startled. Her children look at
her and offer words of reassurance, 'it's alright
Mammy, it's just kids banging a door.'
has been no progress made in the case to date and
on more than one occasion the family have wondered
if there is a reluctance to pursue the investigation
because of the possibility that some of the PSNI's
own agents may have been in involved in the murder.
Given the recent reports about the PSNI having gave
UVF informer Mark Haddock a license to murder this
is not an unreasonable supposition.
many other families labouring under the burden of
the grief that comes with having lost a loved one,
the McGurks feel they cannot move on properly. They
need the matter resolved. If the Real IRA were responsible
as an organisation the family want a full public
explanation of why Danny was murdered. They argue
that if the operation was not sanctioned and was
the result of three Real IRA members deciding to
murder him of their own volition, then the Real
IRA should do what the Provisional IRA did at the
time of the Robert McCartney murder and wash their
hands of those responsible. The police should be
allowed to deal with it and witnesses should be
free to go forward without any fear: At this point
one of Mary McGurk's daughters added her voice:
'We do not want revenge, we do not want them shot
or hurt in any way. But they should be dealt with
and the only just way to do that is through the
I left her home, I did not envy Mary McGurk's uphill
battle. She had watched with admiration how the
McCartney women had fought tooth and nail to prevent
the murder of Robert being swept under the carpet
as just one more statistic. While she fully supported
the efforts of the six women she felt that her own
son's death had been forgotten about. She also knows
that despite all their efforts the McCartney women
would regularly see some of those who murdered Robert
walk the streets. The McGurks have a similar experience
and feel if the strength of the McCartney campaign
has proved insufficient to clear the community of
those willing to murder their neighbours, then their
own task is daunting.
the family remains undeterred. Mary McGurk will
not rest until she has the outcome she wants. Her
children worry that it is too much for her but none
of them would raise a voice against her as she pursues
her quest. They have shared her suffering and support
the casual onlooker it must seem perplexing that
organisations like the Real IRA can live off the
legitimacy painstakingly accrued over the years
by the sacrifices and energy of Provisional IRA
and INLA volunteers. As a fighting force the Real
is considered a very shabby pretender to the IRA
throne. Stephen Hawkins would be hard pushed to
come up with a reason for its existence. If its
armed activities are the sole means of removing
Britain from Ireland, the world will implode from
the effects of global warming before Ireland is
Real IRA should forget questions of grand strategy.
After almost a decade in the field it should accept
that it is not fit for purpose. While it can do
absolutely nothing to shake the grip of the British
state on the North, it can do something to alleviate
the suffering of a family caused by the actions
of its members. It does not take a genius to work
out that Mary McGurk, already in her mid-seventies,
is not going to be around forever. The Real IRA,
if there is anything real about it, should find
the integrity to tell this grieving mother and her
children the real circumstances behind the murder
of her son. Then it can withdraw from the field
secure in the knowledge that despite its now legendary
incompetence it managed to get one thing right.