In 1971, there was a stand-off or virtual split for a very short time in the Derry Brigade of the IRA. Creggan and other units wanted a particular IRA man to be the new O.C. – Roddy Carlin – while the Bogside and Brandywell units wanted a different IRA man – Robby Griffin – to be the O.C.
It wasn’t a stand-off that was likely to be violent or even hot-tempered. It was a cool, calm and quite friendly difference of opinion as to who was best-suited to command the local operations (which continued in spite of the debate over who should rise to be Office Commanding).
The difference of opinion went on for some weeks and eventually – I know not how – it came to the attention of the Belfast Brigade. I have my suspicions that a Derry family with highly-placed IRA relatives in Belfast must have mentioned the matter to their Belfast RA-relative.
Representatives of both camps were summoned to the Belfast Brigade of the IRA to make their respective cases, and I – young as I was – was chosen to represent Creggan.
A prominent non-republican family (still alive) provided neutral transport to Belfast and, after a stop at a well-known republican house in Crocus Street, it was off to meet the IRA leadership in its secret HQ.
Of all places – and to my enduring surprise – the IRA HQ was located in Clonard Monastery.
There in a smoke-filled room I made the Creggan case to a number of senior IRA persons who asked some questions and said the matter would be considered.
These senior IRA persons were on-the-run and ‘wanted’ by the police and army. One of them was rumoured to be Chief of Staff of the IRA and a member of the IRA’s governing Army Council. [He was arrested some time later in Belfast in a blaze of publicity.]
The Clonard Monastery locus was a fully-functioning, operational HQ and was not in any way, shape or form a ‘conflict resolution’ centre – it was the very opposite, a conflict provocation centre.
I have no idea how long Clonard Monastery offered HQ facilities to the Belfast Brigade of the IRA.
The truth of such matters will probably never be told – northern nationalism and catholicism are in the throes of Big Secrets and Lies these days – not forgetting ‘mental reservations’ – and there they want to remain.
How many people were murdered by the IRA while it was ensconced in Clonard Monastery? Does anybody really care?
Clonard was not the only Catholic monastic community in Northern Ireland to offer succor to the IRA in 1971/72.
Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey, Portglenone, County Antrim is a well-known Cistercian monastic community founded in 1948. Two members of its community, Fr. Thomas O’Neill and Brother Patrick Joseph Skeehan, appeared before Belfast’s Magistrates Court on January 22nd, 1972, charged with aiding IRA escapees from Belfast Prison.
They were jointly charged with five others, one of whom was also charged with possessing explosives. Supporters outside the court, The Guardian reported, later gave them a ‘heroes’ welcome’ and they were driven off in a car.
The Cistercian monks had been arrested driving the two prison escapees toward the border with the Republic of Ireland.
Then there was the old fake news yarn about the priest visiting his brother in Long Kesh and being held against his will and tied up while his IRA brother took his clerical garb and escaped posing as him – wait a minute – it actually happened to Fr. Gerard Green whose brother, Francis, overpowered him, dragged off his priestly clothing and had him tied up by other IRA prisoners while he escaped dressed as him in September 1973 – geddit?
I have written elsewhere about the new warm relationship between the Catholic church and the IRA – the IRA that has stepped sideways lock, stock and barrel into various roles in the new hybrid Sinn Féin party, the party that also functions as a cash cow for former shooters and bombers, the party which might yet launder them into the body politic, partly deodorized.
Here I want to look at how the IRA leadership managed to negotiate itself out of an armed struggle without in any way, shape or form repenting the hundreds of murders it committed from Northern Ireland to England, from the Netherlands and Germany back to the Republic of Ireland.
The IRA’s repentance need not have any religious motifs, but if it had any moral or ethical basis, it would have been moved to come clean to the thousands of victims of its armed struggle by giving them the reparation of the truths of their relatives’ maimings, tortures and murders – truth was what they mostly wanted, not mi££ions released to obfuscating legacy mills making lawyers very wealthy.
As things stand, the IRA has totally stonewalled victims since the beginning of the peace process and leading members – Martin McGuinness and others – have brazenly lied on the record about their IRA activities and about their lack of knowledge of IRA atrocities. McGuinness took thousands of IRA secrets to his grave. Sinn Féin is a puppet of the IRA Army Council and of no use to victims seeking truth.
So, if the road to
Damascus, no, to Stormont was not paved by repentance of any kind, what else might have been the motive of the IRA’s endgame?
Nobody knew better than the IRA’s various leadership echelons the degree of its penetration by informers and agents right to the very top. The fact that agents worked alongside the highest leadership – Denis Donaldson, Alfredo Scappaticci and many others – meant that the British side could at any moment have arrested and charged IRA leaders with very many murders, some of them horrific in their detail as outlined by Scappaticci when he was secretly recorded talking to television journalists about the torture and murder methodology of the IRA’s internal ‘nutting squad’.
Journalist Ed Moloney in his 2002 book, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ has publicly described the ‘nutting squad’ as having been founded by Gerry Adams himself, whom Moloney has described as an IRA leader in Belfast at the time.
Strangely, litigious Gerry never bothered to seek a defamation case against Moloney or to block his book’s publication.
So, the IRA leadership had a choice – fall into line with the dictates of the two governments motivated by the threat that British Intelligence would activate its informers and agents in a series of show trials of, say, Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and others or else – as has most likely happened – the IRA’s leadership was guaranteed (in secret talks) immunity from prosecution (and a raft of OTR letters) if it shut down the IRA, decommissioned its weapons and – like shamefaced schoolboys – played by the rules in the classroom in Stormont from then on.
The problem is – why have leaders and members of the IRA never repented their many murders? Why have they come to believe that their murders need no repentance of any kind? Why have they felt able to stonewall all their victims?
The IRA’s failure to repent in any moral or ethical manner may only have two possible explanations.
One perfectly credible explanation may be that the majority of the IRA’s leadership – if not membership also – has no particular belief in God or in the traditional Christian forms of repentance.
The second explanation is much more likely, based as it is on the clergy involved in the peace process. If republican leaders like Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and others preferred the close association of clergy – religious men in religious garb – why have these religious not prompted the kind of repentance that we might expect from the IRA, whereby victims of violence might have gotten reparation in the form of the respect and truths they deserved?
Did these clergy fail in their task, or did they not even try to achieve this kind of repentance? Did they themselves not believe that the IRA owed this kind of repentance and reparation to victims and to wider society?
Unquestionably, one of the leading clergymen involved in the peace process foisted on Northern Ireland was Fr. Alec Reid, a member of a religious order within the Catholic church, the Redemptorists in Clonard monastery in Belfast. [It’s important to note for non-Catholics that religious orders are semi-independent within the Catholic church – answering to their own leaders and not necessarily to the diocesan bishops outside the walls of their monasteries. This accords their monks a generous degree of freedom not available to diocesan priests who are almost totally subject to the discipline of their bishops.]
During the peace process, Reid one evening lost his temper in a public meeting in Belfast and referred to Unionists as ‘Nazis’. He recovered quickly enough, but it was a telling insight into his deeply held republican beliefs which made him so attractive to leading republicans like Gerry Adams.
It was a grossly offensive and racist insult for a clergyman to utter, for all his other efforts.
Another Clonard monastic participant in the process was Fr. Gerry Reynolds.
Reynolds betrayed spiritual confidences I gave to him in Long Kesh directly to IRA members within minutes of talking to me.
He infamously opined that it was ‘stupid’ to ask Gerry Adams if he was an IRA member. Reynolds was a dyed-in-the-wool IRA supporter.
There was no way either Reid or Reynolds were ever going to broach a traditional Christian view of repentance to IRA members – on the contrary, they had bought into the IRA’s legitimacy arguments lock, stock and car bomb.
I wrote about Reynolds here – and I included this paragraph:
“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.”
In State Papers released some months ago, Gerry Adams’ former parish priest, Fr. Hugh Forde, noted to diplomats from the Republic of Ireland that Adams had stopped attending his Ballymurphy parish church and had instead moved his religious observance – whatever that was – to Clonard monastery, which Fr. Forde described as less likely to ask searching questions of him, composed as it was of a lot of Southern religious.
A former Belfast seminarian – trainee priest – who attended a St. Malachy’s College vocations’ evening back then heard a current northern bishop refer openly to Clonard monastery as “D” Company [of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA].
The truth of Clonard monastery’s support for the IRA’s bloodiest campaign years in the early 1970s may never be fully known.
However, the consequences of Clonard’s participation in formulating the IRA leadership’s perverse ‘mental reservations’ about the truths of IRA atrocities and in formulating the IRA leadership’s supposedly-legitimate ‘mental reservations’ about reparation of truth to victims – these consequences are now coming home to roost in Northern Ireland.
A monastic wing of the catholic church teaching the IRA and Sinn Féin ways to legitimize telling Big Lies and keeping Big Secrets is the last thing the peace process needed.
The IRA’s brazen belief that it may legitimately worship its own past violence and its own former killers and bombers – while stonewalling and disrespecting victims of its thousands of denied human rights’ violations – is the basis of the very real distrust and discord not only affecting Unionists but also many catholic nationalists who abhor the new cosy relationship between the catholic church and the IRA.
How is it possible to build a real peace process on a foundation of Big Secrets and Lies maintained by the new pan-nationalist front of IRA/Sinn Féin, the catholic church in Northern Ireland and cadres of one-eyed republican lawyers getting wealthy on British monies?
Until the IRA, Sinn Féin and the catholic church admit and acknowledge the IRA’s thousands of human rights violations – and declare that worshipping bombers and murderers is fatal to the peace process – and set about giving the reparation of truth to innocent victims without quibble – we are condemned to Wilfred Owen’s ‘profound dull tunnel’ – a hell of our own making.
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