Since its foundation in 1970, the Provisional IRA’s ‘Army Council’ has authorised War Crimes (in the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, serious violations of article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949) of five main kinds.
I am going to start by examining one of them – the IRA’s enlistment and exploitation of children and usage of them to participate actively in the IRA’s self-declared hostilities.
Most particularly in the Belfast Brigade of the IRA, a decision was taken early on to enlist children into IRA activities as child soldiers, and most especially (but not exclusively) in ‘D’ company activities in the Ballymurphy area.
Legendary IRA Belfast Brigade commander Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes – pictured in an embrace with Gerry Adams in Long Kesh – offered the following admission to Gill & Horgan:
“There was a major influx of youngsters coming in . . . you had the Fianna at this time, young kids, from twelve to sixteen, [but] they had to be over fifteen to be trained in weapons, both Fianna and the Cumann na gCailini [girl’s version]. They were potential recruits [to the adult IRA]; they did scouting work, for instance . . . on their way to school.”
Hughes was referring to the IRA’s historical organisations for child soldiers, namely Fianna na hEireann for boys and Cumann na gCailini for girls, which were both resurrected in 1970/71 for activities in support of the mainstream IRA.
IRA volunteer and former Fianna na hEireann member himself, Robert McClenaghan, told Gill & Horgan:
“We were the junior so we would have been out in front looking to see if there was any British army, looking to see if there was any RUC. The older volunteers in the IRA—they would have come out and done the shooting or whatever it was they were involved in. They would have given the weapons to us and then we would have took the weapons away and put them into a safe place.”
Predictably, notions of keeping these children apart from dangerous IRA activities withered on the vine and child casualties quickly occurred in Belfast.
On 12.08.73, twelve-year-old Cathy McGartland was ‘killed in action’ and is memorialised as a Cumann na gCailini combatant.
Gerry Adams unveiled a memorial in Ballymurphy which includes her name under the heading ‘Volunteers’. Her brother, Martin McGartland, was later unveiled as a British agent within the IRA [‘Fifty Dead Men Walking’].
On 23.03.72, thirteen-year-old Fianna na hEireann Sean O’Riordan was ‘killed in action’ when participating in an attack on a British Army foot patrol in Cawnpore Street on the Falls.
On 19.02.72, fourteen-year-old David McAuley accidentally shot himself in the head with a weapon he was handling. He was O.C. of the local Fianna na hEireann ‘slua’ [group] in Ardoyne.
On 18.05.73, fourteen-year-old Eileen Mackin was ‘killed in action’ and is recorded on a Cumann na mBan mural on the Ballymurphy Road. While she was reported as shot when an IRA sniper opened fire on a British Army vehicle, it was also said that she was shot during an arms training session when an Armalite rifle discharged. She has been both recorded and erased from various conflicting Rolls of Honour over the years.
On 13.05.72, fifteen-year-old Michael Magee was killed by the accidental discharge of a weapon on the Whiterock Road following the bombing of Kelly’s Bar.
On 23.03.75, fifteen-year-old Robert Allsopp was killed by the accidental discharge of a gun at home in the New Lodge. A thirteen-year-old girl was said to have left the scene with the weapon.
On 29.08.75, fifteen-year-old James Templeton was shot dead on the Ormeau Road.
This list excludes the many sixteen-year-old Fianna and IRA youth deaths.
One of the few republicans and later prominent Sinn Fein personalities to have admitted to a war crime in Northern Ireland is well-known Derry republican and Irish language activist, former chairperson of Northern Sinn Fein, former Mayor of the city and former member of the Policing Board, Gerry O’Hara/Gearoid O’hEara. During the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, a strange competition took place between O’Hara and informer Paddy Ward to be recognised as the Officer Commanding of Fianna na hEireann in the city.
Paddy Ward, who was sixteen years old on Bloody Sunday, was giving evidence damaging to Martin McGuinness, claiming McGuinness had given him nail bomb detonators and orders to use nail bombs around the Guildhall in the city centre after the Bloody Sunday march. The Derry Brigade of the IRA strove to discredit everything Ward said in order to protect McGuinness, who was represented at the enquiry by Barra McGrory.
This resulted in the extraordinarily public and competing claims by both Paddy Ward and Gerry O’Hara to have been Officer Commanding of Fianna na hEireann in Derry on Bloody Sunday, each with different stories of what really happened.
In his haste to discredit Ward and to deodorize McGuinness’ Bloody Sunday narrative, O’Hara forgot that he was the only republican admitting to a war crime in having commanded a militant grouping which was grooming children/youths to both support the IRA and to join it later.
On Saturday, November 14th 2009, O’Hara delivered the keynote address at an Ógra Shinn Fein dinner dance in the Holiday Inn, Belfast, to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Na Fianna Éireann. There is a video of the address on YouTube in which O’Hara admits to having outed himself at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and declares that while many people may have imagined Fianna members to have been scouting, ‘most people’s experience of it was that people ended up almost on the front line’.
O’Hara went on to say that when he Googled Fianna na hEireann, Wikipedia described its latest incarnation as Ogra Sinn Fein [Youth Sinn Fein], but that in the struggle that was developing in the 1970s, ‘the Fianna were involved in an armed struggle situation and played a key role in preparing activists for leadership, for activity, for activism on the streets’.
O’Hara went on to repeat the false and empty mantra that they ‘remember the names of those young men who gave their lives at such an early age’. Not a single name was mentioned of either a young boy or girl during his keynote address.
O’Hara and the IRA’s Army Council members do not recognise that the Geneva conventions exist to try to prevent the very child exploitation to which he has publicly admitted. Child soldiers did not ‘give’ their lives – their lives were taken from them when they were immature and vulnerable by the exploitation of the IRA organisation and by self-proclaimed adult leaders of Fianna na hEireann like Gerry O’Hara.
This is a violent form of grooming and child abuse, not alone resulting in the deaths of children as outlined above, but also in burdening the consciences of very young people with acts of violence while many paramilitary leaders cynically kept themselves and their own family members far from any participation in the ‘armed struggle’.
O’Hara went on to express the hope that the young people in the room were going to finish the project to ‘roll back 800 years of colonial exploitation of this country’.
They would be wiser to roll back the thirty years of paramilitary brainwashing of an entire community by the death cult of SFIRA.
Whoops! Didn’t the IRA and ETA constantly refer to the kinship and similarities of their armed struggles?