Written on: 25. 7. 2022 in the category: Uncategorized


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Bloody Friday, July 21 1972, when twenty-one IRA bombs killed nine people in Belfast and injured one hundred and thirty, many grievously and permanently, is one of the most important days in Irish history. However, what makes it important is not what happened that day, but what didn’t happen thereafter. What should have followed was a tidal wave of revulsion sweeping through nationalist Ireland, in its heartlands in the North and through all the fabric and the institutions of the Republic, so that the Provisional IRA was physically and ruthlessly repressed by the forces of decency.

There was no such revulsion. Within days, the IRA had conducted a comparable massacre in Claudy in County Derry, and this too was not followed by a wave of revulsion.

Instead, the purest moment of psychological liberation occurred. On this road to a truly murderous Damascus, the IRA had discovered that it was immune to the otherwise immutable law of consequence. And so it was to remain, over the coming decades as republican atrocity followed republican atrocity. The names ring in my memory and that of my generation, but they find no echo in the minds of the young: Birmingham, Guildford, M 62, Harrods, Warrington, the Shankill Furniture Warehouse, Coleraine, La Mon, Ewart-Biggs & Cook, Mullaghmore, Narrow Water, Enniskillen, Frizell’s, Teebane and Kingsmill amongst many others.

What does the wilful failure to crush the national socialism of Sfira in the 1970s and 1980s spell today?

They spell the peace process, the steady and deliberate erosion of the interconnected moral values of both democracy and civilised scholarship, solely to accommodate unrepentant republican killers. The many who clung fast to the decencies of restraint, of civility and of forbearance have been made to give way to those who, far from sharing those values, actively detested them. Yet in receiving this hospitality, the members of Murder Inc were not expected to disavow or regret their past, and certainly not to apologise for it. Quite the reverse was the case. They still exulted in their exploits. A children’s playground in Newry was named after a man who had helped massacre ten Protestant workmen, and the man who had ordered the Bloody Friday atrocity and the abduction and murder of a widowed mother of ten later that year was duly elected to both Westminster and Dail Eireann.

How was this possible?

The first reason was the negotiable and often wholly flexible public morality of nationalist Ireland. Even after perhaps the worst day of the Troubles – 27th August, 1979 – when 23 people were killed and scores injured in IRA attacks, an opinion poll showed that 20% of the people of the Republic still supported the IRA and 40% supported its aims, namely the forcible incorporation, against their will, of the unionist people of Northern Ireland into the Republic. These were and remain aspirations that could only exist in a moral order wherein the laws of consequence have been magically suspended: in other words, in a state of perpetual coprophagic infancy.

The second reason was that Ireland lacked the kind of forceful leaders that had in the 1940s and 1950s seen off the IRA. The reverse was true this time around. The Minister for Finance in 1970, Charles Haughey had stolen government money to fund the formation of the Provisional IRA. It was the double-atrocity of Warrenpoint/Narrow Water that had caused the Taoiseach Jack Lynch to agree to limited overflights by the British in Border areas, and it was this limited concession, which existed only in principle but never in practice, which led to him to being overthrown and replaced by the IRA’s financial backer, Charles Haughey. From the Provisional IRA’s first shot in 1970 to the last, whenever that might be, possibly when it has finally captured the Departments of Justice and of Defence, the Irish Republic has avoided the necessary legal, military and policing investment that would have enabled it to crush the IRA.

The consequence?

The bottomless pit of iniquity that is the peace process, which will probably consume Irish democracy in the next election.

But back to the birth-mother of that pit; Bloody Friday, when the leaders of the IRA realised to their astonishment that they really could get away with mass murder. To be sure, the Special Criminal Court was formed soon afterwards in Dublin, but its powers were so limited that the IRA rapidly learnt it could evade its measures. How utterly fatuous that it freed one of the Mullaghmore murderers, a well-known IRA terrorist, Francis McGirl. How completely absurd that the IRA in the Republic felt free to murder a Fine Gael senator, a prison officer, an Irish Army soldier and many gardai, without the iron heel of the state ever falling upon its neck and choking it to death.

It came as no surprise to me that not a single television or radio news or current affairs programme asked me for my memories of Bloody Friday. My report on RTE TV News of that terrible day – not because of anything that I did, but because of the bright idea of my cameraman that we should do a skyline piece-to-camera that revealed the horrific scope of the bombing– was shown around the world in 1972, and it is still being shown. But of course, had I been interviewed on the fiftieth anniversary, I would have pointed the finger unwaveringly at the IRA and the dystopian moral hell that lay in its evil heart. Instead, RTE in particular remembered the day, but without naming the authors: the Provisional IRA. Youngsters could even blame the UDA, the British army or possibly even Martians, but not the real villains, because they are the nice people today who promise jobs, houses and health services for free, all to be paid for by taxes on the evil rich…..

One of men who helped organise the Bloody Friday bombings was Gerry O’Hare, whom I had first met earlier than year in the company of Michael Farrell, the organiser of the insanely provocative Burntollet march of January 1969 and today a member of the President’s Council of State. O’Hare’s job – as he was later to tell me – was to synchronise hoax bomb alerts for that day. The IRA’s later claim that the scale of the casualties was quite unexpected is simply incompatible with the parallel project to cause the security forces maximum chaos as the IRA bombers were delivering high-explosives to their densely populated targets.

Ten days later, in Operation Motorman, the British Army retook the various nationalist areas in Belfast, Derry, Portadown and Armagh from which the IRA had been able to operate with relative impunity, and in West Belfast the army occupied various key-points where it would remain for many years. One of these new bases was GAA’s Casement Park, which soon became the focus for IRA-organised riots. On August 6th 1972, I witnessed a particularly ferocious riot outside Casement’s main gates, and in the forefront of the rioters, and very visible to British Army cameras, was Gerry O’Hare.

During a pause in the rioting, I asked him why he was making a point of being obvious.

“Because if I don’t get arrested by the peelers, I’ll be shot by the Brits for what I done on Bloody Friday.”

It was not an unwarranted fear. A previous assassination attempt by the army’s MRF in May that year had ended instead with the murder of a friend and ex-serviceman, Paddy McVeigh. And sure enough, as intended, he was soon arrested by the RUC at his Ladybrook home and appeared before the Resident Magistrate William Staunton, an affable man and a Catholic who happened to be my landlord. Instead of sentencing O’Hare to six months imprisonment, the usual tariff for riotous behaviour, and presumably because he had seen footage of the riots, Staunton sentenced him to a year’s imprisonment.

From Long Kesh, O’Hare sent out for fellow IRA-man Sean McDermott, aged just seventeen, to visit him. There he ordered McDermott to murder Staunton. On October 11, 1972, as Staunton was dropping off his two daughters at St Dominic’s High School on the Falls Road, IRA assassins on a motorbike shot and fatally injured him, and he died after fifteen weeks in a coma. Sean McDermott was later interned for his role in the murder, and after release was himself shot dead by a police reservist in 1976. His former girlfriend, Mairead Farrell, was shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988 as she prepared an IRA bomb-attack on British army bandsmen.

O’Hare went on to be a senior IRA man in Dublin before joining The Irish Press, where he became tourism correspondent. He delighted his colleagues with his hilarious stories of his time in the IRA, though I think the enchanting tale how he had had a man murdered in front of his two screaming daughters probably did not make it into the list of funny anecdotes. O’Hare died in October 2020, almost on the 48th anniversary of the shooting of William Staunton. His obituary in The Irish Times’ observed: “In assessing the extraordinarily colourful life of Gerry O’Hare….. it can be asserted that he was one of the more significant journalists of his generation.” Almost as an afterthought, the obituary added, as if there were no moral component to this next admission – “He was also a former member of the IRA who had served three terms of imprisonment related to this.”

However, the obituary rapidly corrected O’Hare’s posthumous image with the observation: “He had an unlikely start to his journalistic career….” and went on to applaud his book-keeping skills. These no doubt had come in useful when organising bomb-hoaxes, though no mention of this was allowed to contaminate the chirpy upbeat tone of this final tribute to him.

More than just nine people were killed and 130 injured on Bloody Friday. Something else died that day: the ability to speak the truth and be heard.  The sirens of falsehood have since triumphed, and the dead are forgotten. But not just the dead. A week after Bloody Friday, three young Protestants – Thomas Reid, William Smith and Ronald “Flint” McCullough – went looking for a Catholic – any Catholic – to kill. From their car, they saw a young student called Joseph Henry Hall. They knew nothing about him, just that he was probably a Catholic because he was walking along Upper Library Street. Drawing up alongside him, they shot him thirteen times in the neck and chest, two bullets passing through him and eleven remaining in his body. Ten of these were removed by surgeons, the eleventh was irremovably lodged in his left hand. Equally permanent was the injury to his spine, severed at the neck.

Joe was a law student from a desperately impoverished Catholic family in the Bone area of North Belfast who had left school early. He had gone to England to work in a surveyors’ office and studied part-time to get the A Levels to advance in life. Having finally achieved the necessary qualifications, he had been accepted by Queen’s University Belfast to study law. On the night he was shot he was studying late before walking home to save himself the cost of the bus fare. His would-be murderers were all sentenced to just ten years in prison each, an absurdly light sentence which you might think was reflecting the unionist sympathies of the judge, except he was Turlough O’Donnell, like William Staunton, a Catholic. One of Joe Hall’s fellow law-students at Queen’s was, through a quite evil coincidence, the sister of Sean McDermott, he who had arranged William Staunton’s murder.

Poor paralysed Joseph Henry Hall has rather helpfully vanished from the pages of history, to join the vast army of the mad, the maimed, the blinded, the speechless and the brain-damaged, and all forgotten as history is being ruthlessly rewritten in the service of the IRA. According to RTE, the IRA did not bomb Belfast into a terrified paralysis fifty years ago, killing nine and injuring one hundred and thirty.  Meanwhile, in 2020, forty eight years after he had paralysed the city’s security forces with hoax calls and reduced it to a state of abject terror mixed with the murderous anger that was to turn Joe Hall into a quadriplegic, The Irish Times dutifully recorded of Gerry O’Hare: “He had an unlikely start to his journalistic career…..”





















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