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Bobby Tohill: Pub Brawls and Death Threats


Liam O Ruairc • 10 March 2004

The Northern Whig seems a very unlikely place to meet life long Republican and Socialist Bobby Tohill. Perhaps it was the statues built by the Communist Party of Czeckoslovakia that made him feel at home among a crowd of Belfast yuppies and new bourgeoisie. The "Tohill Incident" as it is known has destabilised the whole 'peace process'. Bobby has already given a number of controversial and contradictory interviews about the incident. It is partly on their basis that the government is going to decide whether or not the Provisional IRA was involved in an abduction and murder attempt. Is it wise for Bobby to give this interview now ? Should it not be better for him to keep his mouth shut? And what are the chances that he is going to retract what he saying in this interview? Tohill feels that it is necessary "to put the record straight". He said that his other interviews had been "used and abused", and feels that he is "being used as a pawn in a game of political football". He is also confident that The Blanket more than any other publication won't misrepresent what he is saying.

First of all, Bobby distanced himself from an article published in the Sunday World after his attack. He reiterates that the incident in Kelly's Winecellar was a "pub brawl", that "it wasn't a Provisional IRA operation", that he was "not abducted", that he "never made any complaints to the PSNI" and does not intend to provide any information on the incident to the International Commission in the future. "There is no way they can justify keeping these men in prison because of me."

That is the version of the incident that Bobby Tohill sticks to and will hold on to in the future.

Bobby Tohill is very weary about how this incident is being manipulated by elements of the British and Southern establishments to further their own agenda and to add increasing pressure on the Provisional movement. He does not want to be used by them. He has no intention of adding anything that could objectively benefit them.

Bobby also denied another report from the Sunday World according to which the Provisional IRA guaranteed his safety in exchange for making no official complaints and denying versions of the story that he was abducted. "This didn't happen" says Tohill. He said that as a Republican, deal or no deal, he would never consider giving evidence to the PSNI. "Keeping my mouth shut like a dignified Republican is a matter of principle to me."

But does Bobby Tohill then also distance himself from another interview he gave to the Sunday World last September where he claimed he was under death threat from the Provisional IRA?

Bobby admits that he has had "grievances" with "elements" from the Provisional movement, because of political differences. This is because he has been "very vocal" in condemning some of their activities within their own communities, such as the punishment beatings, a practice he deems "barbaric". Tohill entirely agrees with John Kelly's recent assessment of the Provisionals. He is also appalled by how the Provisional movement is trying to suppress dissent and all the other Republican organisations such as the 32 CSM and the Republican Socialist Movement. "I feel so saddened to think how Republicans can attack, intimidate, suppress and oppress other Republican organisations because they want to carry out their own thing."

Tohill has received "five death threats within the space of six months" by "elements" within the Provisionals. On the same day this interview took place, Bobby was informed by the PSNI that he was under "immediate death threat", and that the Provisional IRA had four places he was reputedly staying in (two in South Belfast and two in West Belfast) under surveillance. But is he under threat from the Provisional IRA as an organisation or just from elements within it? Tohill calls for the Provisional movement to state clearly whether this has been sanctioned or not. Tohill explains that what he fears is not being shot, but dying in "mysterious accidents". He constantly has to watch his back, he thinks his killing will be likely to be disguised as being run over by some 'drunken driver', being stabbed by some 'hoods'. 'falling down the stairs' and other tragic circumstances apparently unconnected to politics. [Such as, perhaps, a "pub brawl". - Ed.]

Tohill is particularly upset by how some Provisionals attempt to "demonise" him and blacken his name. Bobby asks why he has to go through this, given that he has devoted his whole life to the cause of Republicanism and suffered much for it. As a result of this, like many other ex-combatants, he suffers from severe post traumatic stress disorder.

Bobby comes from a solid Republican background. At one time, four of his brothers were in prison at the same time, serving long sentences while they still were teenagers. For years, his mother collected money for POWs, and was given a massive funeral only last year. Tohill was one of the youngest to be imprisoned during this phase of the conflict. When still a schoolboy, he was charged for a bomb attack in Divis Flats which killed two British soldiers. As a "schoolboy prisoner" he was involved in escape tunnels and the burning of Long Kesh. When released from imprisonment, he never failed to return to active service unit with the famous Provisional IRA D Company - on at least four different occasions. All this for the Provisional movement, which now wants to silence him. He later became involved with the INLA. Imprisoned on the word of Harry Kirkpatrick in the early 1980s, he took part in a hunger strike which contributed to shake the 'supergrass' system. When released from prison, Bobby played a prominent role in defending the Republican Socialist Movement against the IPLO's attempt to forcibly disband the movement. On this occasion he was shot and wounded. After that he moved to Dublin, where he became involved in anti-drugs activities. It should be noted that Bobby Tohill is no stranger to controversy. On a number of occasions, he has been the victim of punishment shootings by both the Provisional IRA and the INLA for running into trouble with those organisations. He has the reputation of being a 'loose cannon'. More recently, he has run into conflicts with a well known Dublin criminal. And last August, his name was associated with the killing of [Danny] McGurk. There are also reports that he is a prominent member of the Real IRA. Bobby refused to discuss these issues and allegations. "They are outside the scope of this interview, they can be discussed another time."

Bobby Tohill is frustrated by the fact that the media (like the Irish Star or the Sunday World) is only concentrating on his "macho" image, and totally ignores his own personal political thinking. Tohill has been deeply influenced by the ideas of his late friend (and political strategist of the Republican Socialist Movement) Thomas 'Ta' Power. He believes that because many Republicans come from a military background, and as in armies people have to obey orders rather than discuss them, too many of them can't think for themselves and blindly obey whatever their leadership says. Bobby thinks that priority should be given to a process of politicisation and political education of the activists. Political education should proceed at the level of people's understanding, if it is too abstract and too intellectual nobody will listen to it and it will be irrelevant. Tohill laments the fact that Irish Republicanism is now "an abyss of despair". His analysis is that the British state has been very successful in reducing the Republican threat by encouraging divisions and animosities within Republican ranks. There are now no fewer than four IRAs and two organisations calling themselves Sinn Fein. He deplores that there is so much bitterness and hatred between different Republican factions, and that as long as those disputes continue, believes that they won't be able to mount a significant political challenge. He believes that at this stage "the armed struggle is over" and that Republicans should concentrate on developing a political alternative to the current status quo. Bobby also feels that it is highly unfortunate that an increasing number of people are involved in Republican politics because of financial gain rather than ideological conviction. This can only add a dimension of moral bankruptcy to an already weakened cause. Concerning both the Kelly's Winecellar incident and the future of the struggle, Bobby Tohill concluded: "Let the people make their own minds…"

It is not the task of the present interviewer to pass judgement on whether the content of Bobby Tohill's account is true or not. Many people will remain sceptical of his claims. The man is controversial and his account is certain to be disputed. There are still many unanswered questions. This interview was a means to help Bobby put his message across in a way other newspapers did not allow him. The aim was to facilitate him articulating his own ideas, and analyse the situation as he sees it. As long as the current climate of intimidation, censorship and manipulation prevails within Republicans circles, The Blanket will provide a space for those marginalized voices.





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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

12 March 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Try Not to Forget It
Brian Mór


Time to End the Silence on Stakeknife
Martin Ingram


Confident No More
Mick Hall


Sinn Fein & Democracy Be Damned: Interview with Martin Cunningham

Anthony McIntyre


Bobby Tohill: Pub Brawls and Death Threats
Liam O Ruairc


Ardoyne Suicides
Eamonn McCann

Independence Day
David Vance


The Half Loaf of Good Friday Will Never Satisfy
Liam O Comain


Special Exclusive on Special Relationship
Matthew Kavanah


The Proposed UK-US Extradition Treaty: Concerns
Francis Boyle


The Decolonization of Northern Ireland
Francis Boyle


1 March 2004


The Enforcers

Anthony McIntyre


Reference Guide to Provisional IRA Attacks on Republicans, 1998-2004


Stand Down, Mr Hyde
Liam O Comain


Civilian Adminstration?
George Young


Adams Nearly Quit Sinn Fein - Peace Process Hero Angered by IRA's Violence
Barney de Breadbin and Eamonn Codswallop


Double Standards - Questions Need Answering
Raymond Blaney


Brilliant, Bloody Brilliant
Brian Mór


POWs and the Challenge of Partnership
Aoife Rivera Serrano




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