The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The Needle Has Entered
A crime is the violation of the right(s) of other men by force (or fraud). It is only the initiation of physical force against others - i.e., the recourse to violence - that can be classified as a crime in a free society (as distinguished from a civil wrong). Ideas, in a free society, are not a crime - and neither can they serve as the justification of a crime.
- Ayn Rand

Anthony McIntyre • April 25 2003

When Conor Dobbin arrived at my home in West Belfast he had to be assisted by a friend. He was in a wheel chair, courtesy of being shot in both ankles in what has come to be known as a punishment shooting. The injured man and his helper had both made the journey from Downpatrick in County Down. Accompanying them were members of a republican family from the same town who while severely critical of anti-social activity in the area felt that the maiming of young men only peppered the streets with disabled people and did nothing to clear them of crime.

When they arrived they tried to ease their palpable tension by banter - claiming that when they saw the tricolour festooned working class neighbourhood in which I live that they almost did a wheelie in the road and make their way back out again. Momentarily, I wondered if the middle class areas in which many republican leaders like to live were as well adorned in republican symbolism as our own. I introduced myself and asked them what they wished to talk to me about. I was also interested in their reason for choosing to come here.

Conor did the talking. By his own admission a ‘criminal and thief especially when cash is short’ throughout his adult life, he had been advised that The Blanket, while a republican journal, nevertheless practiced its republicanism by allowing those who disagreed with republicanism to express their opinion and give their own explanation of events. He felt that the mainstream media were not interested in people like him. The peace process was of more importance than a few ‘hoods’ and if as a result of their alleged activities they fell foul of the local power structures within their communities, better that silence be maintained than have the peace process questioned. He went on to explain that he had been convicted on a number of occasions for handling stolen goods and suchlike. I probed him: ‘any convictions for violence against people?’ He shrugged. ‘Just against cops.’ Stealing a line from Reservoir Dogs, I commented ‘no real people.’

I explained to him that while neither I nor those who work on The Blanket would ever endorse the activities of the hoods who inflict a regime of crime on deprived communities and prey on the vulnerable, there was still a need for open discussion of the manner in which republicanism responds to such activities: it being the one way to check the ever increasing totalitarian trend that is emerging within the once radical body of thought. All too often I hear the fascistic view that neither hoods nor their families should have a voice. While abhorrent, if not expressed for the purposes of reinforcing social control, I can at least understand it. As I sat discussing his case with him my mind drifted back a week to a funeral I had attended - that of a young man, Rossa Quigley, his life cut short by thugs as they sped through the streets of North Belfast undoubtedly aware - they can hardly submit lack of experience in their defence - that they were exposing people’s lives to risks by their wanton violent behaviour. Shooting them in the ankles seemed five or six feet too low. I worked to quell those thoughts and the anger that welled up inside me. They were wholly inappropriate to the situation in which I was in, listening to the experience of the young man who sat in front of me. He had not murdered Rossa Quigley. And as much as I may not like what he might have to say he had a right to vent what was on his mind. It is not my place to allocate voices, merely record them and through the airing of them better inform public debate of the issues that concern us.

Conor Dobbin outlined his story. In it he told me of how the Provisional IRA had questioned a number of his friends or associates about burglaries that had taken place in the locality in which he lived. The organisation seemed keen to extract information from them about Conor. ‘You must have been at something to come to their attention’, I pressed him. He explained that two years ago he had a conflict with local Provisionals when he had improvised a mini oil tanker for the purpose of smuggling diesel which in turn would allow him to make a quick profit. In his view it was a victimless scam. They demanded that he hand over his tanker. He torched it before they could get their hands on it. Thwarted, Conor feels, they have had it in for him ever since.

Prior to Christmas he and three friends were summoned by the local IRA and told that the organisation wanted £2000 from them - 500 out of each pocket. They were informed that the money was compensation for those from whom it had been stolen in the first place: if they handed over cash up front their safety would be assured. In the words of Conor, ‘this was nonsense. The IRA didn’t know any of the scams I had been involved in at the time. The money was not going to go to anybody. It was probably to be used in one of their Christmas time card schools.’ I asked the republican family who had accompanied Conor and his friend what was their view of this. One of them responded, ‘the talk is that the local O/C is building a new house and is in need of some money to get it up.’ Years ago I would have dismissed such an allegation out of hand, but today it is but one amongst many, all centring on the same activity: local republicans - many of them unable for whatever reason to milk the Stormont or community network gravy trains - seeking to make a quick financial killing, by fair means or foul. Conor continued:

We had to pay up. We were not allowed to go and give it to the IRA. They insisted on coming to one of our houses. When they arrived they insisted on all doors being closed and blinds being drawn. Only then did they take the money. What was all that about? They were creaming it off for themselves. The organisation itself never set eyes on that money.

Conor alleges that on two separate occasions the local IRA took him to a house where they subjected him to beatings and made demands for money. He further alleged that another man who was shot a week before his own shooting had earlier been told by the local IRA that if he handed over £1000 he would be okay. The man concerned admitted privately to Conor that he had met this demand only to be shot anyway.

The day Conor was shot the IRA visited the family home and informed him they wanted to talk to him. They then tried to tie him up and when he resisted he was dragged out the back of the house and shot in each ankle. As part of a process of justifying the attack on him, Sinn Fein had fed the local paper, the Democrat, a line that the PSNI had questioned Conor over a burglary carried out at the home of an elderly couple in nearby Clough. But the PSNI denied ever having questioned him in relation to this offence. The Democrat subsequently withdrew its claim and apologised for having made it to begin with. However, against the backdrop of the initial story coming out, people claiming to be from the IRA visited the Dobbin home on the day it was published and left word with his brother that the wounded man was being expelled from County Down.

After the shooting his girlfriend, fearful for the future of the couple and their two young children, contacted the Housing Executive and asked for a house in Meadowlands. Within hours of the request being made the IRA arrived at the Dobbin family home in the Model Farm estate and left word that Conor would be shot in the arms and legs if he attempted to move into Meadowlands. All those with Conor as I interviewed him seemed angry that people could not raise matters of concern in confidence with officials of the Housing Executive. One of them commented ‘somebody there is obviously running off carrying stories to Sinn Fein and then the heavy hand comes down on the back of your neck.’

Conor is now calling on Sinn Fein to have the expulsion threat against him lifted. But he has been warned by the IRA not to go ‘knocking doors’ in a bid to get the matter resolved. The organisation also told this girlfriend that under no circumstances was he to contact the media - confirmation of an authoritarian trend elsewhere identified so long ago by Henry Miller: 'the military clique may bluster, threaten, and clamp down on everything which is not to their liking'. Or as Buddy Grizzard responded more recently to Gloria LaRiva on totalitarian tendencies, 'it's funny how communists get when they don't control all the information.' Conor now sees his children but once a week, arguing that this is no way to sustain a parent-child relationship.

Before he left for wherever he now resides, Conor hit out at the hypocrisy and double standards of local republicans. He spoke of having sold stolen tools to ‘one of the biggest hoods in Downpatrick’ who in turn sold them to a leading Sinn Fein figure in the town. ‘There was no way (he) did not know the stuff was stolen. Yer man never had straight tools in his life.’

As republicanism stumbles on from one pseudo crisis to another, which provide the cover for a leadership trying to trade it in for positions of power, an adverse effect is manifesting itself ever more worryingly. As every principle of republicanism is being jettisoned, an aimless standing army on the ground is being forced to inhabit a dangerous moral vacuum. Sufficient evidence emanating from working class nationalist areas suggests that republicanism is now seriously afflicted by a corrosive malaise. Tales relating to the IRA no longer centre around armed struggle or military-political operations and are more linked to the phenomenon of social control, bullying and in some cases corruption and outright criminality. As this shows little sign of abating the likelihood increases that more histories of republicanism are going to be written through the prism of the present. The outward signs of the struggle’s conclusion are going to be presented as evidence of its causes and dynamic. Such a judgement would be a travesty, casting the shadow of criminality over a political conflict which saw so many die rather than submit to a British policy of criminalisation. Perhaps in a bid to avoid being wound up, grassroots IRA volunteers, in a futile exercise to demonstrate their own continuing relevance, are 'remaining active'. But the type of activism they on occasion pursue is arming both their own leadership and their adversaries with ever more compelling arguments for putting the organisation out to graze. IRA volunteers need to ask themselves if they want the judgement of history to conclude that there was no real distinction between them and Group B - the armed wing of the Workers Party.

Wiser counsel needs to prevail. Inseparable from the republican leadership having accepted the British state’s alternative to republicanism, the IRA stands poised to be transformed out of all recognition and effectively dissolved. IRA volunteers should allow that leadership to take full culpability for trading in an army with a genuine sense of its own legitimacy and history rather than helping to convince most people that the army had so lost its way that a lethal injection was the only honourable thing the leadership could do. But it is most likely too late for that. The needle has entered - the long and final sleep is all that awaits.


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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

27 April 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Needle has Entered
Anthony McIntyre


Congress Must Investigate How Brian Nelson Lived in US

Fr. Sean Mc Manus


The Capitalist Veto
Liam O Ruairc


Easter Rising Statement
Oglaigh na hEireann


Letter to the Irish News
Tommy Gorman


Profiles in Hypocrisy
Maitiu Caomhánach


Do You Regret Being American?

Annie Higgins


Propaganda Stinkers

Paul de Rooij


24 April 2003


Collins Abu!
Tommy Gorman


Who Wants to be Non-Doctrinaire?
Jimmy Sands


Wooden Spoon
Anthony McIntyre


The Restoration of National Soverignty is Not a Right Wing Aspiration
Andy Martin


Shame, Shame, Shame
Aine Fox


Savage "New" Times Government Lie

Karen Lyden Cox




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