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.
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.
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.'
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.
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
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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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