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Capo di Tutti i Capi?: The Three Families
3 Part Series

Bridie McCloskeyDanny McBearty The Civil Rights Veterans

The Civil Rights Veterans’ Story
Crime does not well as politics - Alfred E. Newman

Anthony McIntyre

When we finally reached the home of veteran Derry political activist Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh, darkness had long since settled. It was still raining and the temperature had dropped. We were more than pleased with the spread Fionnbarra's mother laid down in front of us. We had travelled to this home for a reason. It was less to explore the specifics of this or that attack. Indeed, had we wished, we could have asked Micky Donnelly, who was with us in Fionnbarra's home, to detail his experience at the hands of the Provisionals’ thought police in Derry - the 'P' Specials. Our purpose was to try and establish a context which would serve as a template that would help explain why an organisation that had began its life defending communities was now allowing its members free reign to attack those who live within those communities.

Recently, Liam Clarke of the Sunday Times, writing on the UDA, referred to the observations of former revolutionary Regis Debray. He had found that when a guerrilla organisation fights on too long without winning or becoming completely absorbed into politics then the temptation to engage in corruption and racketeering becomes overwhelming. In July a Dublin based newspaper ran a disconcerting piece under the title ‘Godfathers of Greed.’

It claimed that:

neither the Dublin nor London governments seem to care that IRA guns are now trained almost exclusively on their own communities ...The Good Friday Agreement did indeed deliver a peace dividend - but it is the terrorists, and in particular the Provisional IRA, who are cashing in on peace. Terrorist godfathers on both sides of the sectarian divide have turned their organisations away from their previous ideals to cash in on criminal activities ...The Provos have diversified their activities to such an extent that they now rival the legendary Italian and Russian mafias ... As a result, the terrorists' work now closer resembles the activities of an organised criminal mafia than an idealistic band of freedom fighters, as the IRA likes to portray itself.

Normally, reporting like this can be read and discarded as run of the mill tabloid nonsense. But in this case matters were not so simple. The paper, often disparagingly referred to in some quarters as Sinn Fein on Sunday because of the blatantly partisan and at times sycophantic journalism indulged in by some of its staff, frequently depicted Provisional republicanism in glowing terms. Now it was saying something radically different and its conclusions could not be so easily swept away.

In terms of Clarke's reading of Debray, Provisional republicanism has certainly not won and has accepted the terms that the British state has laid down for its disengagement. Those terms are the same as they were at any time during the war waged by the IRA - that the British state would only withdraw if a majority of people in the North of Ireland wished it to do so. So while many in the Provisional leadership have been incorporated into working the system they sent others out to smash - suits and tuxedos to boot - there are those whose skills, temperaments or penchant for denims have not led them up the political garden path. What do they do now that ‘the revolution’ is over even if some of the rhetoric still remains?

For Micky Donnelly, there would appear to be much that Debray got right. Without ever referring to the one time comrade of Che Guevara he depicted a scenario very like what Debray had in mind when he was writing:

In this city there is no democratic republicanism. The Provisionals are controlled by the three families. They are into running the taxi service, protection rackets, CRJ, security businesses and a wide range of activity that most people would regard as ’criminal.’ They are trying to strike a deal with the Department of the Environment whereby the control of the taxis in the city will fall under their monopoly. This means that they are pressing those pirate taxi drivers - who are doing the double to make up their income - out of business. It is unbelievable just how extensively these people try to keep a grip on things and make sure that people stay down so that they themselves can stay on top.

He underscored his contention by pointing to the intellectual vibrancy that once characterised political debate at ground level in the city. During the old Stormont ‘we could at least go into the bars and openly debate the nature of the regime and of how it had repressed the people. We were always able to discuss the best form of strategy with which we could counter the prevailing form of political rule. But now many of us are under the cosh and fear speaking out.’ Micky Donnelly knows both the cosh and the fear that its use is intended to generate. The Provisional IRA once broke his leg and inflicted other injuries on him because he had persistently expressed his views about the shortcomings of Sinn Fein strategy. In spite of this he remains resolute in his determination that the Sinn Fein leadership will not silence him. Nor have they. Despite the party’s sustained efforts at intimidation Micky Donnelly has, as they say, continued to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable by refusing to be censored.

He argues for a democratic and decentralised republicanism which will ignore military conspiracies, leadership cliques and which will be genuinely republican. But what does that mean?

One that is of the people and by that I mean one that is not responsible for major human rights violations. How can you respect people or represent them if at the same time you are denying them the most basic of human rights?

Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh, does not demur from what he has heard his Civil Rights Veteran colleague say. He explained to us that ‘it has got to the stage where the Provisionals can no longer control people although they are still trying very hard to do so.’ He told us that he had been ‘called to the side’ and had been told to watch himself as his work on the internet had been upsetting some people in the three families and that he should stop in the interests of his own safety. Fionnbarra felt that the person who spoke to him had in turn been approached and asked to deliver the warning. Fionnbarra imagines that he would be the last person that they would want to attack given his civil rights veteran status but ‘there are some bad enough who would not let something like that stand in the way.’

Fionnbarra is of the opinion that it has been the accumulation of a number of factors over the years that has annoyed the local Provisionals. Holding to a radical position that the Sinn Fein leadership has been eager to desert in its race to become respectable like all those it criticised over the decades, he has firmly resisted pressure to desist from speaking out against the Good Friday Agreement on platforms which he has shared with Sinn Fein members. ‘They know the Agreement meets none of their objectives so they don’t like being publicly embarrassed about signing up for it.’

He speaks of an oppressive atmosphere that has descended on Derry. ‘People will talk in corners and express their concerns but they are afraid to speak openly. They do not want the intimidation brought to their door.’ In his view those who are most critical are the families of activists who died during the course of the conflict. Such people find it harder to slip into self-denial. Away from the meetings, commemorations and back slapping events they know instinctively that what was achieved does not in any way measure up to the sacrifices made. Families are supposed to approve or say nothing as Sinn Fein leaders strut about the national and international arenas seeking praise for essentially securing what their loved ones were sent out to kill and die in order to destroy.

It is sad that such a draconian cloud should hover over this city. After I was released from prison I found Derry an oasis in a totalitarian desert. While the thought police were tearing around Belfast like the book burning firemen in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, trying to extinguish any dissenting thought before it reached the ears of the leadership, Derry had a much more relaxed approach. It was tolerant, its leaders more laid back in terms of alternative viewpoints. Even Mitchel McLaughlin seemed not to mind too much when ‘ambushed’ by former republican prisoners from Belfast at a public meeting organised by the Bobby Sands Discussion Group in Derry. When the Adams leadership decided to smash the group rather than have it promote open discussion and critique, McLaughlin and other Derry republicans remained open to alternative ideas. Now Derry is as aggressive as Belfast in suppressing difference and as industrious in churning out public figures who are fluent in gibberish. Sinn Fein often flags up being in government as some sort of major success, something that both authenticates and gives meaning to the armed conflict. But are the Provisionals really in government or is government in them? If the gamut of repressive measures which ranges from the murder and beatings of republicans opposed to the Stormont state, through deionisation, to the censorship of their critics, is employed then the form of government Provisional republicanism resisted has won and has merely found a more insidious way of operationalising repression.

As we made our way over the Foyle Bridge on our journey back to Belfast I felt that we were merely moving from one coordinate of totalitarian culture to another. In both places it seemed that there was a Sinn Fein constructed intellectual purgatory, in which a customary disclaimer applied to all:

You are now entering the Sinn Fein Republic of Never Never - this is a thought free zone. The management cannot be held accountable for what happens to you if you think. Those who have independent thoughts do so at their own risk. Peace Process Is Watching You.

Capo di Tutti i Capi?: The Three Families

Bridie McCloskeyDanny McBearty The Civil Rights Veterans




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Index: Current Articles

1 December 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Blanket Special

3 Part Series

Capo di Tutti i Capi?: The Three Families

Part Three: The Civil Rights Veterans' Story
Anthony McIntyre


Asking the Awkward Questions
Terry Harkin


West Belfast Firefighters Support
Davy Carlin


Crime And The Family

Sean Smyth


Juliana McCourt
Anthony McIntyre


A Glimmer of Hope
Michael Dahan


28 November 2002


Blanket Special

3 Part Series
Capo di Tutti i Capi?:
The Three Families

Part Two: Danny McBearty's Story
Anthony McIntyre


The Price of Peace Is In The Pocket
Davy Carlin


Bastards and Traitors!
Billy Mitchell


Dr. Ruth Inexpert On Sexy "Irish State" Controversy

Paul A. Fitzsimmons


The Letters page has been updated.




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