The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Mothers throughout Haiti threaten their children with the legend of Ton Ton Macoute, the malevolent spirit who comes in the night and steals bad children from their beds. What these women and their children do not realize is that the danger is very, very real, and it's not just the bad children who are taken.
Anthony McIntyre • 2.11.03

When Brendan Rice called to my home, it was the first time I had met him. He and a relative had made the journey from Newcastle, County Down. It is only an hour’s drive from Belfast and the road between the two has been well covered by holidaymakers for as long as people care to remember. Hardly surprising that Newcastle deservedly makes the news as a tourist attraction and not as a town at the hub of political controversy and violence. Throughout my time in prison, the amount of Newcastle men I met could just about be counted on the fingers of one foot. Well, there was one, possibly two.

I had previously spoken to one of the men, who now sat at my kitchen table, on the phone. Earlier, an approach had been made via a third party. I took the number and made a mental note to ring but it went clean out of my head. Within days the third party was back on the phone pressing me to contact the Rice family. The matter was urgent and it had escaped me. Perhaps it was because the type of incident that was to be raised had been dealt with so many times before that it had sort of become routine. Brendan Shannon, Stephen Moore, Kevin Perry, Danny McBrearty … and on it goes. Totally unfair to those in search of help when those they seek it from file away their concerns as if it were yesterday’s newspaper. I thought of other situations, much worse than our own sordid and squalid bickering which we continue to dignify with the term ‘conflict’ and ‘which we are in ‘struggle’ trying to resolve. I recalled Jacabo Timerman, meeting families of loved ones hauled off by the Argentinean military while he was a newspaper editor before he too was hauled off and tortured for championing the cause of the disappeared. I wondered if he ever grew complacent. A momentary lapse in Buenos Aires could mean the difference between life and death; a roll on effect beginning with a call not made, an official paper authorising continued detention or release not signed, a helicopter journey for some drugged and tortured victim to a watery grave not aborted.

Our task here is immeasurably easier. While we do our utmost to protect those republicans under threat from pro-state factions, there is no real comparison that can be drawn between the repression those republicans experience and that undergone by Argentinean leftists. Since the ceasefires there have been at most two physical force republicans murdered by forces loyal to the Stormont regime. We don’t live in constant fear of Sinn Fein coming round to spirit us away in the middle of the night and ghost us off to an unmarked grave. When asked by people do I think the Sinn Fein leadership will ever order the murder of any of The Blanket’s writers, I invariably respond, ‘probably not.’

I rang the number passed on to me and after a short conversation arranged a meeting. When they arrived I was struck by the sense of anger they exuded. It was the anger of impotence in the face of abusive power. I had seen it before, felt it traverse through my veins while trying to prevent my face from making contact with the urine stained black floor of a H-Block corridor in the 1970s and ‘80s; during the mirror search while on blanket protest when solitariness, nakedness and silence come face to face with organised teams, uniforms and harsh commands.

Brendan Rice’s story was simple. I could have narrated it myself by now. The experience is the same, only the names and locations are different. Around 10pm on a Saturday evening a number of weeks ago he was about to enter his home when a group of men approached him and began to attack him. ‘They used their fists and feet and threatened to shoot me if I did not stop resisting them’. Although they told Brendan they were armed they did not produce any weapons. Once he was subdued they stated that they were members of the Provisional IRA and told him that he was under arrest. ‘With or without their PSNI uniforms?’ I enquired of him, sarcasm lacing my words.

Once his captors secured him by binding his wrists and ankles with plastic straps, he was kicked in the face and sustained a broken nose. The image of H-Block 4’s Senior Officer letting me have his soft black boot full throttle in the face in September 1978 as I lay on the floor with my hands pinioned behind my back flooded my mind. Power loves to kick in the face when its victim is sprawling and defenceless. It is enamoured of the notion that its target can actually see the boot coming but is helpless to deflect it.

Brendan Rice was then bundled into a van, trussed up and blindfolded, and driven for some distance. He was taken out of the vehicle and then put in an outbuilding for approximately 15 minutes before being transported to a car and then to the roads once again. At the end of this second journey he was taken to another outbuilding and was questioned throughout the night by three men taking it in turns to be his interrogator. The allegations they levelled at him were that he was involved in extortion. ‘Did you answer them?’ I asked, hoping that his reply would have been that he told them his name, address and that he was over 21. That’s what we always told cops and nothing could induce us to volunteer anything more than was required by law. Why treat Sinn Fein’s cops any differently?

I couldn't answer questions I knew nothing about. Yet they continued to beat me about the head with their fists and they kicked me also. They threatened to shoot me or put me in a barrel of water and hold me under until I told them what they wanted to hear. They then asked if I was a member of the Real IRA. They said if I was I was only a small fish. They made allegations against other people including members of my family and said they 'would get them.' They also tried to frighten me by suggesting I could be disappeared; that I was a single fella - who would know what had happened to me? After a while they told me they knew I was not involved in extortion and that they believed I had a drink problem. I would be released. After securing a promise from me not to attack them they cut me free.

Brendan was then put into a car, all the time blindfolded. The car was driven for a while before drawing to a halt. He was then taken put and put face down on the ground where his blindfold was removed.

Then they started to give me a third kicking. All of this happened after they told me I had a drink problem and was not involved in extortion of any kind. I was pointed in the direction of what they said was a phone box and told to get on my way. I did as they ordered and eventually I met a woman who made a call for me. A relative came and picked me up.

The relative of Brendan Rice who sat with him throughout the interview for The Blanket said that he felt the kidnapping of Brendan was in response to work a family member had done in support of republican prisoners in Maghaberry. He claimed that it was not the first time a member of the Rice family had been kidnapped. In 1975 a brother of Brendan, Frankie, was abducted and murdered by loyalists.

It took place on a Saturday night. Throughout Sunday morning the family had to sit undergoing terrible anxiety before they finally learned that Frankie was dead. Now on this occasion the family had to go through a similar experience. Thankfully, Brendan returned home but these people who did this to him have the cheek to call themselves republicans and claim to be protecting us.

During Brendan's ordeal other family members went to a Sinn Fein councillor to see if he could secure Brendan's release.

While he went off to find out what he could he stressed that he believed it might have been the work of dissident republicans. This was nonsense and he must have realised it himself. The question that the Rice family now ask is this: Are the people who carried this out behaving with the approval of the Provisional republican leadership? If not then does that leadership accept that the community can now regard the kidnappers as common criminals? Our family has been heavily involved with the Republican Movement over three decades. Our door was always open. Now we find that those who call themselves republican are stooping to the levels of loyalists, kidnapping, terrorising, threatening and beating other republicans they don’t like.

Brendan asked: 'Are people willing to vote for these thugs? Is this the vision of the new police force they have been promising to achieve for years? Do we really need a police force that is worse than the RUC ever were?'

They left my home to make their way back to Newcastle. The path they beat to and from my front door had been well trodden by others who came here to put on public record their experiences at the hands of Stormont republicanism. Later in the day as I reflected on our exchange, it struck me that in the discourse of those they seek to repress, Provisional IRA volunteers feature ever more frequently as some sort of right wing militia eager to defend whatever reactionary position the leadership adopts in its lurch for respectability. Some observers try to explain it away in terms of the ranks being populated by former joy riders and ex-hoods determined never to be caught in possession of a political idea and who see value in having some political cover for their otherwise self-serving activities. Other commentators have noticed that a common refrain in working class nationalist areas is 'big house, big car and big wallet.' Although from what I can see, those on the ground who fought the war seem to have little in the way of material assets to show for it. Many eke out enough just to get by on the margins of the economy, struggle daily with poverty, live frugally, are not revellers on the junket circuit and do not own the latest model jeep or 'houses on the hill' - a form of destitution that cannot be said to extend to their leaders. Perhaps there are some around grassroots level who do feel that if the leadership's idea of knitting both parts of Ireland together is for leaders to own houses on each side of the border, then they too should have a slice of the cake. But they, like the former hoods and joy riders, are a minority amongst volunteers and can hardly be considered the primary determinant governing the strong arm behaviour and political thought policing that IRA activists are increasingly associated with.

A more sustainable explanation is that the Sinn Fein leadership, which admires alternative ideas as a vampire does sunrises, is determined to muffle if not effectively silence those who oppose its writ. The merest hint of dissent infuriates it by publicly reminding it, in spite of its narcissism, of how little it actually achieved in return for all the people it both put to and sent to their deaths. As JK Galbraith said 'nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.' The realpolitik of the peace process, however, means that the leadership cannot murder 'the opposition' at will, but like a bully will operate on the principle of instilling fear in those considered less powerful - an insidious activity which both British and Irish governments pretend not to see - who was the last cop to face a punishment attack? IRA volunteers, who today support the opposite of what they supported yesterday, would have little internal difficulty persuading themselves that if the Sinn Fein leadership want somebody roughed up or worse then there must be a good reason for it. And in their hopelessly apolitical way they are willing to serve as the cutting edge: an Irish version of the Ton Ton Macoute determined to protect the venal power structure that sponsors it. As I persistently remind a black friend, gays and blacks living in these communities may hope the Sinn Fein leadership does not come to view them as they do guns - something to be got rid off in the hope of increasing the vote. On past form, who in the ranks of the IRA would say ‘no’?




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

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

2 November 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Memo to Adams: Remember That Every Political Career Ends in Failure
Tom Luby



Anthony McIntyre


Ballot Papers and Elysium
Eamon Sweeney


Republican Prisoners and their Families Put at Risk due to Prison Strike
Martin Mulholland


Trust Without Honesty in the Peace Process?
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


The Letters Page has been updated.


31 October 2003


Cieran Perry of Working Class Action Interviewed
Anthony McIntyre


Republican Socialist Alternative Economic Strategy

Liam O Ruairc


The Ultimate Obscenity
Thomas Gore


The Chomskybot Code
Mary La Rosa


CAFTA Thumb Screws - The "Nuts and Bolts" of Free Trade Extortion
Toni Solo




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices