The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The Enforcers


If you create an unnecessary power it will be unnecessarily used and abused - Danny Morrison

Anthony McIntyre • 27 February 2004

I had never met Geordie McCaul before, having only spoken to him for the first time twenty-four hours earlier when he contacted The Blanket by phone to arrange an interview. I was aware of who he was and had earlier written about an attack on him at his mother's home in Belfast's Twinbrook estate in January. If what he and his friends had stated publicly was true then he was the latest to be targeted in a focussed series of Provisional attacks on those republicans who disagree with Sinn Fein's etatism.

Not every republican who opposes by word or deed, Sinn Fein, is dragged from his or her home to be beaten and shot. But the fear is sufficiently strong to have apparently prompted a letter writer in the Irish News to dissent from Brian Feeney's view that those seeking to critique the nationalist party in the paper's pages should avoid the use of pseudonyms. The writer in question claimed that such a course would lead to a beating from the party's armed militia. A friend underlined the point at the start of the week from his South Down home. 'Kidnappings and beatings are a matter of routine in this part of the world.' Seemingly, the reporting of them does not match the frequency with which they occur.

Most of the Provisionals' violent policing of dissent is directed at those who belong to groups that have some military dimension. The IRSP and INLA seem to be an exception, perhaps because the Provisionals assume that there might just be a sting in the tail of that particular tiger if they were to tweak it too aggressively. For this reason Sinn Fein's spokesperson on justice is said to have urged his colleagues at an internal North Belfast party meeting to organise protests outside the homes of INLA activists in response to the suicide phenomenon, rather than physically molest them. The suicides are induced, some believe, by punishment attacks. Unionists are hardly alone in not wanting him as justice minister, where the rule of thumb would be 'punish the crimes of our enemies and reward the crimes of our friends.'

Methods other than the direct application of violence are generally used when policing those, whose critique of Sinn Fein is not organisationally situated, such as ostracism, whispering campaigns, exclusion from the job market, political discrimination and to a much lesser extent, house picketing. Sinn Fein never sleeps as it bids to make the areas it controls a cold house for those who think differently.

Most of those who are victims of Provisional nationalist violence, invariably deny that they have any military links and tend to speak in euphemisms. In a mirror image of Sinn Fein, almost all state that the bodies to which they belong is essentially political and dismiss suggestions to the contrary that they have a military wing as Provisional mischief making or British propaganda.

When I sat down with Geordie McCaul in an upstairs section of McDonald's Restaurant in Belfast's city centre, I had no idea that a matter of yards from us a story would shortly unfold that would send seismic shocks through the political process, and make Sinn Fein appear like a circus clown on stilts trying to navigate an ice rink. And at the eye of the storm was the man we had just left at Kelly's Cellars - Bobby Tohill.

Geordie McCaul tells an interesting tale. He left Belfast in 1981, arriving in Los Angeles on the day Bobby Sands was being lowered into his grave at Milltown Cemetery's republican plot. He rapidly immersed himself in protests outside the British Consulate at Wiltshire Boulevard. He also became involved in Noraid functions and threw his energy into a boycott of British goods. On top of that he joined a campaign aimed at persuading people to dissociate themselves from any companies in the US, which were linked to the British prime minister of the day, Margaret Thatcher. Other dimensions of his activism pertained to efforts being made to halt the deportation of former political prisoners and the extradition of INLA and IRA escapees. In short he says he 'was very active in Irish politics out there and on occasion spoke on radio on Irish related issues.' In between times, he kept the wolves from the door by working as a bodyguard for the occasional Hollywood star or international sporting personality - Jack Lemmon and Mohammed Ali numbered amongst those who availed of McCaul's services.

What possessed him to leave a country of some diversity and imagination to return to Belfast and its stifling atmosphere of monotonous conformity? He simply shrugged and said, 'personal reasons, things don't go the way you think they should and people move on. Same as everywhere else.' In 1999 he returned to West Belfast where he surveyed the republican political scene and concluded that the prisoners most in need of help were those supported by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and later the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association - for the most part Real IRA members. I asked him had he ever been a member of the Real IRA - it was an allegation that people in Sinn Fein were quite ready to make? He dismissed this, saying that his only involvement was in prisoner support work. 'They probably do believe in their warped minds that I am a member of the Real IRA. But I am not.'

In February 2002, as he stood in a bar on the edge of the Twinbrook estate, he was approached by a man, who said that he wanted to talk with him. McCaul claimed that he had no illusions about the power behind the 'request' just put to him - 'the Provos.' Once outside the bar he was put in the back of a car, where his head was forced down between his knees to prevent him seeing either the route of his journey or his destination. His abductors kept in touch with their colleagues via walkie-talkie radios. When he reached the interrogation centre, thoughts crept into my mind of how the Argentinean secret police would on occasion take their captives to private house for the purposes of interrogation. It was an exercise designed to flood the victim's being with abject fear and utter powerlessness: an atmosphere pregnant with the sinister portent of, 'nobody knows you are here and we can do what we want with you.' Fortunately, for Geordie McCaul, his abductors did not intend physical harm, at least not that night.

Stripped down to his boxer shorts, he was forced to wear a boiler suit and was blindfolded, while 'a well spoken guy asked all the questions.' Again the imagery of South American secret police practices pierced through, this time as depicted in the film Death and The Maiden where the cultured voice of a rapist-torturer had burrowed so deeply into the memory banks of a former captive, that when made audible again she recognised it instantly. McCaul's interrogator quizzed him about what was alleged to be his membership of the Real IRA. He denied it, insisting that he only carried out voluntary work on behalf of prisoners.

They asked about a phone number in my back pocket. The way the questions were coming made me assume that all my answers were being written down. I just wanted out and gave them a promise that I would no longer work on behalf of republican prisoners. This seemed to satisfy them as they then told me they would release me. There was no maltreatment, other than being tied up. But they terrified me when they told me just as I was about to go that they would have no problem whatsoever in taking me up the mountains and killing me. When you hear that said to your face, by people who have the power of life and death over you, it sends a real shiver right through you.

Before being set free, McCaul claims that his captors told him that under no circumstances was he to take them for fools. It was explained to him that the onus was on him, rather than they, to convince the Provisional leadership that he had in fact cut all ties with any group they did not approve of. When he was freed, he felt so frightened that he decided he would not help the prisoners any more. It was too dangerous. But over the following weeks he began to feel guilty about the undertaking he had given to his captors. Then anger set in as he pondered their arrogance. But, he claimed, 'I was under no illusions this time. It was not just a matter of going about your daily routine helping out. I knew from that point on I could be shot. There would be repercussions in some way, shape or form.'

His apprehension increased when a friend, who was also on good terms with some Provisionals, suggested to him that his relationship with the 32 County Sovereignty Movement would not pass unnoticed in West Belfast. It didn't. And once again, last month, Geordie McCaul came face to mask with the men he felt were prepared to end his life. Nine of them, all hooded, piled through the front door of his mother's working class home. He later found out that another four had placed themselves at the rear of the house to prevent any escape attempt, while two scouts took up position on a hill overlooking the area. And all the while Freddie Scappaticci went about his business unmolested a mere two miles down the road. Instructive when it comes to understanding Provisional priorities.

I was asleep on the couch when they appeared. One of the men identified himself as a member of the Provisional IRA. My mother was pushed over a chair and had her arm severely bruised as a result. My brother had a gun pointed at his head and was strangled by the throat. Once they identified me as the person they were looking for I was dragged out to the back garden. I could hear my mother screaming. She thought they were going to kill me. I was shot in both legs and felt an awful burning sensation. Then the blood started to seep through my socks, which were white and made the wounds look even worse than they were. At no time did they even explain why they were doing this to me.

Geordie McCaul, his right foot fractured by a bullet and his left lacerated, in spite of his injuries, dragged himself across the back garden and into the living room. The PSNI arrived on the scene and asked him if he had done anything, which could account for the attack on him. He was sickened by the question, a typical RUC one where the victim is blamed.

The peelers knew as well as I did why it happened. It was a show of force to intimidate the community; that what had been done to me could also be done to my friends. When their houses get raided they are the first out to scream about no democracy. They are now the biggest human rights violators within their own communities.

Geordie McCaul was forced to move out of his mother's home, it no longer being a safe refuge. He now 'makes do with whatever bed my mates make available.' I asked him had he no recourse as an American citizen? He explained that when he first went to the US consulate to raise the question of his kidnapping three years ago the consulate agreed to write a letter to the MP for West Belfast, Gerry Adams. But after a number of visits to the building he was told that as he associated with a group that had been banned in the US the consulate could do nothing on his behalf.

I was badly let down. But I should have expected no better. Just look over the years at some of the company the American government has kept. At one time Saddam was their mate and then Bin Laden. But once they fell out with them they set out to kill them. With me, I just don't support the same team as they do in Ireland so they have simply deserted me.

Life for Geordie McCaul at the minute is one of looking over his shoulder and living on his nerves. He fears that the injury to one of his legs may have a permanent effect leaving him with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life. Although concerned with his own future, he nevertheless stresses the plight of the prisoners:

I think it is diabolical that in this road that when a premises is booked for a function to raise money to aid prisoners the Provos come up and threaten the owners and make sure they pull out - would you not if the alternative is to be burned to the ground? I dread to think that some of those who either kidnapped or shot me may have been in jail at a time when I was campaigning on their behalf on American streets. The Provos are heart scared of losing Belfast. They are determined to clamp down on anyone who is an activist of any type and this includes people who simply support the prisoners.

Geordie McCaul shuffled away from me as we left McDonalds. He told me that later in the evening he would attend a function in West Belfast that was being staged to help prisoners. As I watched him hobble in the direction of Kelly's Cellars, it seemed bizarre to me that people should be maimed in this manner. There is no wider background of war, merely vigilantism. What is the purpose of it other than to maintain control for Sinn Fein politicians and place-seekers within the new dispensation?

The powerful and the prosperous of West Belfast are persistently facing the unpalatable; that there is a multiplicity of narratives circulating including that of Geordie McCaul. The idea that there should be one unchallenged grand narrative - that scripted by Sinn Fein - lends itself to a totalitarian mindset. History is not made by kings and queens. Nor is it carved out by party leaders, vigilante commanders, media moguls or corrupt builders. Ordinary people trudging the streets, doing mundane things like trying to make ends meet, are the history makers, although unfortunately not the history writers. Recording their voices, their accounts, is essential to a fuller understanding of the times in which we live. The totalising, violent, repressive Sinn Fein regime of truth will prevail for so long as it is not challenged and subverted by 'fearless speech'. Or are we so docile, malleable, subservient to power, seekers of a quiet life, that we shall wallow in our own silence while the Provisional power structure paints a picture of our lives in which we fail to recognise ourselves, but pretend that it really is us all the same?




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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

1 March 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


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


25 February 2004


Naming Bobby Sands Street

Pedram Moallemian


Suspended Belief
J. Sean Burns


Kelly's Cellars
Anthony McIntyre


Stop Press!
Jimmy Sands


PSNI/RUC Occupies POW's Family Homes
Marian Price and Martin Mulholland


Did the Black and Tans Run From the Rifles of the IRA?
Liam O Ruairc


Stevens, Inquiries, Resistance to Change
David Michael


Provisionals Attempt to Censor and Exclude RSF in Scotland
Seamus Reader


Provisional Police?
George Young




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