At the beginning of September, 1985, after ten years in top security prisons around Britain, I was transferred back to Northern Ireland. After nine years as a Category ‘A’ High Risk prisoner, I had been a Category ‘B’ prisoner in Blundeston prison in Suffolk for some months where there was very little security. Only two prison officers accompanied me in a taxi to Birmingham airport for a civilian flight to Belfast – no police, no army. The Home Office had finally accepted that I was no longer interested in the IRA.
Upon arrival in Belfast, we noticed a large contingent of police and army and their vehicles waiting for us at the tarmac. My top security high risk rating had been reinstated by the Northern Ireland Office. When I arrived in the ‘H’ Blocks of The Maze Prison/Long Kesh, an Assistant Governor met me and asked me if I was going to the IRA controlled blocks. I replied that I wasn’t. He was dumbfounded. He said that all prisoners from my background were expected to go onto the IRA controlled wings. I repeated that I wasn’t going to do so since I had resigned from the IRA some eight years earlier and no longer wanted any association with a paramilitary organisation. He told me that they had nowhere else to put me and I was placed in solitary confinement while they assessed a former teenage London bomber who did not want to enter the IRA controlled ‘H’ Blocks. My transfer from England to Northern Ireland was big in the news at that time.
After nearly a week in solitary confinement, the Assistant Governor told me that since the only wing he could offer me contained criminals and sex offenders, it was obvious that I would reconsider and agree to go over to the IRA controlled blocks. I told him I had no problem mixing with criminals and sex offenders – didn’t all of the IRA prisoners in prisons across England do so routinely and hadn’t I already done so for ten years? He reluctantly moved me to an ODC [ordinary decent criminal] wing of the ‘H’ Blocks and there I remained.
Meanwhile, the regular Catholic prison chaplain, Fr. John Murphy, who was widely respected in the prison system by both prisoners and authorities, was not always available. A priest visited me unannounced and unasked in my prison cell within days of my arrival in the ‘H’ block – a Fr. Gerry Reynolds. He immediately questioned me about my refusal to go to the IRA blocks. Why was I refusing? I told him I wanted no more association with paramilitarism and with an organisation that might even now be pressurising prisoners to smuggle ‘comms’ out of the prison with information that might lead to the murders of prison officers, governors, loyalist prisoners and/or even some former republican prisoners. I wanted no part of murder and of the sin of murder on my soul.
I told him, in answer to further questioning, that I wanted to owe no favours to a paramilitary organisation and to receive no favours from it either. He continued questioning me as to my objections to the IRA-controlled blocks. I told him that my repentance some years earlier was owing to reading the four Gospels and that I wanted to avoid sin, hell fire and any service of the diabolical – I wanted to repent my past and serve the Lord. My repentance, my letters of apology to my victims and my association with Bishop Edward Daly of Derry had been widely publicised for many years.
He seized upon the reference to the diabolical and asked me if I believed in the devil and if I believed that the prisoners on the IRA-controlled ‘H’ blocks were serving the devil. I replied that according to Scripture, anyone participating in a campaign of murder of his neighbours was in the service of the devil. I could see that Gerry Reynolds was shocked by this argument. He finally left my cell and went off to the IRA blocks.
The very next evening I received a number of angry ‘comms’ from the IRA blocks questioning my views that they were allegedly serving the devil, about my views that the IRA was a sinful organisation that required repentance and demanding to know, incredulously, if I was not willing to associate with republicans because of sin and the diabolical and so on and so forth – the very content of my confidential conversation with Fr. Gerry Reynolds of the day before.
Catholic priest Gerry Reynolds had scuttled over to the IRA blocks eager to curry favour with the IRA commanders by betraying my confidence to them, without any respect for my repentance, for my belief in his Gospels, for my association with his Catholic church. He confessed my conversation to the IRA commanders destroying my belief in his integrity and endangering a vulnerable prisoner attempting to stand alone in the paramilitary controlled ‘H’ Blocks. Having betrayed me, he never came to see me again in my cell during the next four years before my release. In this instance, he undoubtedly served the IRA better than he served his Lord.
I recall this matter because I have for some time argued elsewhere that the Northern Ireland peace process is entirely lacking an ethical dimension – the dimension that should have achieved an acknowledgement of guilt by the paramilitaries for their maimings, tortures and murders, an acknowledgement of their sins before God, a requirement that they repent of their sins and offer the reparation of truth to their victims and to an injured society and that they wear something of the sackcloth and ashes of humility as people who have committed mass murder no less.
Instead, the paramilitaries are strutting their stuff proudly, with Northern Bank monies stuffed away in secret, with unsolved and unadmitted murders covered up, with refusal to admit leadership of the campaign of murder going back decades, with triumphant commemorations of murderous escapades and with the barefaced lie that their campaign of murder was ‘necessary’ and in the service of civil and human rights – did ever bigger lies than these stalk the land?
And so I ask myself where are the fingerprints of the self-congratulatory Christian/Catholic peacemakers in this unethical peace process? Where in the discourse of the process are the following Christian fingerprint words: SIN, GUILT, REPENTANCE, REPARATION TO VICTIMS, TRUTH?
They are nowhere to be found, which leads me to believe that the Catholic priest peacemakers failed in their overarching duty to preach sin and salvation to murderers and bombers and the requirements of repentance, reparation and truth to victims as the keys to true peace and salvation.
How could a catholic priest like Fr. Gerry Reynolds ever have held that asking Gerry Adams if he was in the IRA was ‘a stupid question’? How could a follower of Christ ever hold that victims of murder and bombing – and society in general – would be ‘stupid’ to ask for truth? After 30 years of brave and often unpopular church teaching that all murderous violence was utterly wrong in all circumstances there now appears to be a more popular but corrupted clerical consensus that a paramilitary organisation might after all create its own paramorality and be retrospectively excused from the requirement to tell the truth about some of the worst atrocities ever committed in Britain and Ireland. There is the very real possibility that McGuinness and Adams have been the victims of spurious spiritual direction by beguiled priests encouraging them in their arrogant silence before God and their victims.
Following revelations about British Intelligence direct and indirect meetings with IRA leaders going back many years, it is perfectly possible to believe that the deals necessary to bring paramilitary violence to an end did not actually require any of the activities of Catholic priests or Christian pastors. Whether or not, what is clear is that these clergy utterly failed to bring about any repentance on the part of the strutting paramilitaries.
And with Bishop McKeown of Derry’s offer of a state funeral and paramilitary trappings to the funeral of IRA leader Martin McGuinness – without a single reference to the massed ranks of paramilitary leaders at the funeral about sin, repentance or reparation to victims – it is clear that the current Catholic church leaders have sought to curry favour with paramilitary leaders and have knowingly betrayed Bishop Edward Daly, Bishop Cahal Daly, Fr. Denis Faul and Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich and Jesus Christ and His Gospels.
And so we have the spectacle of Birmingham bomb victims and Regents Park victims begging for donations from members of the public to pay for court actions to try to discover who murdered their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters while Church leaders smilingly pose for selfies with paramilitary leaders in celebration of a peace process that lacks any ethical dimension and while millions of pounds are being dropped on paramilitary projects as ‘peace dividends’.
We are alive to witness a sell-out of any Christian values and Victims in Northern Ireland as homage is paid to unrepentant paramilitaries.
Take a bow, Bishop McKeown – Bishop Eddie Daly surely shifted in his grave when you surrendered to the IRA’s funeral demands for Martin McGuinness.