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Prismatics – so now you know. June 11, 2013

Posted by guestposter in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics, Terrorism, The Left, US Politics.

Gé Bruite writes in a timely post on the Prism issue…

I don’t know about you, but the past few days has significantly changed my view of the world. We now have a much more concrete picture of what many of us suspected was the case, thanks to Edward Snowden and the journalists who are working with him. We know significantly more about how mass surveillance works in the western Capitalist world as it converges towards Chinese-style authoritarian oligarchic capitalism.

This is my current picture of how mass digital surveillance works:

a) There is a reciprocal trade in data, allowing political state police to get around domestic judicial niceties preventing them from collecting data en mass about their own their own citizens. David Blunkett (in possibly his first useful act since he jumped into bed with the Blairites) has revealed that the Americans offer data to the British Security State to avoid the latter having to ask for it. I’m fairly sure that a similar relationship exists between the NSA and German BND, given the close relationship historical/founding relationship between the two. Israel is certainly there as an outsource possibility, given that it’s economic is based around military and surveillance technology. I’ll leave the political possibilities that these unofficial clientelist relationships offers to your imaginations.

b) All the major online social networks, operating system manufacturers and search engines cooperate in mass surveillance at least whenever they are asked by the NSA and it’s partners. They are compelled by gagging orders and/or concerns about their reputation to deny the existence of this cooperation. According to Snowden this is done at the whim of any agent sitting in a data centre with little oversight. Again, think of the motivation to ‘build a case’ against a chosen target, even in pure career advancement terms. Then think about the possibilities the technology offers in manufacturing digital evidence.

c) The NSA, and probably their partners, have out-sourced at least some of this work to private companies. Again think about the conflicts or interest there, and the possibilities for non-state agents with sufficient resources to enter the game.

d) Taking b) and c) into account there are no visible, transparent or democratic oversights preventing the framing of an arbitrary individuals or groups as ‘terrorist’, and at the very least subjecting them to comprehensive surveillance.

e) If you think that the Irish government is not involved in this in their own small way, I suggest you are being somewhat naive.

What do you think? If you agree with at least some of my analysis, what does this mean for organising in the digital world?

The Upsurge in Violence and the Lessons of History March 10, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Northern Ireland, Terrorism.

So after Saturday’s attack on soldiers and pizza delivery drivers that resulted in the deaths of two soldiers, we now have a policeman murdered in Craigavon. The first attack was carried out by the Real IRA, and it seems likely it carried out the second shooting too. Having said that, Craigavon has been a centre for dissident activity, and several groups are active there, both paramilitary and political, and so it could be another group. Three deaths. Doubtless those responsible believe that this represents a great success, that it proves that they are serious players, and that in doing this they have asserted Ireland’s right to freedom in a way parallel to that of Easter Week.

All this of course is rubbish. They have not struck a blow for Irish freedom. They have not brought unity a step nearer, and have in fact put it further off by increasing the resolve of unionism and British public opinion. They have not raised their reputation among the massive majority of the people of Ireland who reject their means, or increased national consciousness. What they have done, however, is raised their status in the eyes of the politically-bankrupt who think that the republican struggle involves threatening traffic wardens in west Belfast, or detailing your exploits (such as punching an MLA and being out of your head) on Bebo.

What, then, is the republican struggle in the eyes of these people? We know it is about independence. But what sort of independence? An independence achieved by uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter? An independence achieved through the political mobilisation of the mass of the people of Ireland? Apparently not. The RIRA and its associated political group, the Thirty Two Country Soveriegnty Movement, has deliberately avoided forging a political programme beyond national sovereignty. It is, then, an independence that will be forged through a deliberately apolitical campaign of violence. They are back to the view held among some in the wake of the Treaty that politics automatically meant compromise and defeat, that only the gun was reliable (although having said that, I don’t think that this strain was as strong as some historians would have us believe). Even to take these people on their own terms, independence movements in Ireland have always been at their strongest when they have mixed national with social and economic politics. And if we look elsewhere, most of the successful struggles for independence in the second half of the twentieth century did the same. This retreat into naked militarism seems to fly in the face of both Irish history, and that of other countries.

In the twenty first century, the dissident worldview is simply unsustainable. We are in an unprecedented situation. While the MI5 base in Hollywood and the garrisoned troops are regularly pointed to as examples of how nothing has changed, the reality is that all has changed. Utterly. The political institutions of the northern state enjoy almost total acceptance among the population. The structural circumstances that led to the Troubles have gone; discrimination in jobs and housing, unequal political rights, a powerful reactionary loyalism opposed to and able to frustrate any form of compromise have left the stage. It is also hard to believe that the state could carry out an action that would cause a massive upswing in alienation and support for violence on the scale of the Falls Curfew or internment. The effort of the dissidents have until this weekend called to mind Marx’ famous dictum about history repeating itself. However, this weekend, tragedy has replaced farce. We can only hope that the tragedy does not spread to encomapass more people, through a heavy-handed state response, or loyalists carrying out sectarian murders, or the dissidents succeeding in killing more people.

UPDATE The Continuity IRA has claimed responsibility for the murder of the policeman. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time it has killed a member of the security forces since it was formed in 1986. Let’s hope it is the last. RSF clearly has more politics than the Real IRA, though I strongly suspect the programme espoused by Ó Bradaigh et al scarcely reflects the type of people who join the CIRA in the north.

First as Tragedy… February 6, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Irish History, Terrorism.

Back in December, I wrote about History Ireland’s special edition on the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Fenians. Today, I see that at least one idiot, and possibly more, is now using the name to claim the launch of a new nationalist terrorist organisation. Here are some extracts from the Belfast Telegraph report.

Using a codeword, a statement was issued on behalf of the so-called IRB saying that it has “concrete foundations, and an army with active members throughout the island of Ireland”.

It continues: “Our aims and efforts are simple but solid. We believe in free communities for our future. Including drug-free communities. Safer communities.”

A caller added that that they would be “targeting” drug dealers with warnings and then serious violence if they refuse to co-operate. “We will be undoubtedly taking severe action against those found to be involved with these activities within the drug trade and followers of foreign rule.

“Our main objective is to free our fellow brothers and sisters who have been trapped under foreign rule for far too long now,” the statement says.

And it adds: “There will be no man or no government who will stand in the way of our efforts. We will remove British rule from this island and secure a united Ireland for the better future of our families and prevail victorious. And until that day is upon us, Ireland shall never be at peace.”

I wonder what followers of foreign rule are? The northern police? Cleaners in police stations? The Dublin government? People who read the Sunday Independent? Celtic fans (whether they object to foreign games in Croke Park or not)? This whole thing may well be a joke. But regardless of whether it is real or not, some people need to grow up.

Torture and Television February 2, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Television Shows, Terrorism, United States.

Among the first things done by President Obama last month were to sign an order for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and to put an end to certain extreme interrogation techniques; or, as they used to be called, forms of torture, used by various branches of the US government. Also last month, 24 returned to our screens on Sky One. The two issues are more linked than they may at first appear. Most readers will probably have heard that the US military asked the producers of the show to cut down on the torture that regularly appears as Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, seeks to extract information to prevent a nuclear bomb going off, or such like. The reason being that its soldiers were watching it, and coming to the conclusion that there was no reason not to do the same when question prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, the morals of the US military were being perverted by the fantasy world of television.

Today’s Guardian has an interview with Kiefer Sutherland about these issues. Sutherland puts up a persuasive case that this is the US military trying to shift the blame for its own failings to train its troops properly, or control them once they got their hands on prisoners. While the pictures coming from Abu Ghrahib were not that big a surprise to anyone with any awareness of the attitudes of ordinary US soldiers to the population of foreign countries (a point made clear not only in the TV show Generation Kill currently on FX, but also in the interviews with the “elite” US Rangers involved in the battle of Moghadishu in the book Black Hawk Down), the interview with Sutherland reminds us that the officer corps is also rife with a belief in torture. For that reason, as well as the fact that 24 is a great show, the interview is worth reading.

Big Spoilt Brats with Guns: The Baader Meinhof Complex November 30, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in Film, History, Terrorism.


Everyone should go and see The Baader Meinhof Complex. It’s an exhilarating film, based on Stefan Aust’s book of the same name, and the two and a half hour running time whizzes by. It hardly needs saying, but the film is the story of the emergence and activities of the Red Army Faction, or Baader Meinhof gang, as it is more commonly known. The film covers the period that led to its creation until the events of autumn 1977 (the German Autumn) that saw desperate terrorist attempts by the RAF to have their leaders freed, and the controversial deaths of those remaining leaders of the first generation of the RAF, including Andreas Baader, in Stammheim prison. I am unable to judge the historical accuracy of the various scenes portrayed, but the atmosphere of the film is certainly very convincing. I won’t try to go into all the issues it raises here, but concentrate on those that struck me most.

The film begins with Ulrike Meinhof and her husband and two daughters at the beach, giving a glimpse into the secure family life of this influential left-wing columnist, who had joined the banned Communist Party in 1959. It is during a visit by the Shah of Iran and his wife’s visit to west Germany, and Meinhof pens an open letter to the Queen discussing the poverty and oppression suffered by the people of Iran. While clearly of the further left, she has not yet come close to adopting the ideas she later became synonymous with. One of the successes of the film is to track her gradual radicalisation, although the lack of dates given in the film can make it hard to be sure what is happening when.

The first key scene is a protest against the Shah and his wife in west Berlin in 1967. Iranian students – all male, suited, and heavily built – supporting the visit launch an attack on the disparate band of lefties, young and old, protesting against the march. In order to do so, they walk through the police lines, meeting no opposition, before the police mount their own attack on the shocked demonstrators, beating all round them. For an Irish audience familiar with the stories of the civil rights movement at home, this seems familiar territory (and in fact the sometimes criticised Simon Prince may also be inclined to blame the German leftist protestors for provoking the violence, as in Derry, as the film shows some flour bombs being thrown by them before the attack). However, unlike the attacks on the NI civil rights marches in 1968, the German police shot one of the protestors dead. This event convinced many – particularly students – that the west German authorities remained riddled with fascist attitudes and fascist sympathisers, and radicalised many, adding to the momentum that would culminate in 1968. There was a great deal of truth in this, and the film conveys it very effectively.

The radicalisation not just of Meinhof but of Baader and the effective co-founder and joint leader of the RAF Gudrun Ensslin, a preacher’s daughter, continues apace amidst the Vietnam War and the attempted murder of the radical leader Rudi Dutschke. The film shows the attack on the Springer publishing group that followed. Around the same time, Baader and Ensslin begin their violent activities with an arson attack on a department store. The recklessness with which Baader treats the process of making the firebombs is representative of his portrayal in the film – impatient, impetuous, obsessed with things being done his way, casual in his attitude to planning and violence, and hostile to criticism. This is demonstrated again and again, whether it is when he encourages his lawyer to steal a woman’s purse, during training in Lebanon or at his trial. The leniency with which the arsonists are treated when captured and released several months later pending an appeal somewhat undercuts their idea that west Germany was a fascist state, and this is true later in the film, when Meinhof, Ensslin and others are able to exploit similar leniency to arrange his escape. This is the fateful moment in Meinhof’s life, when she breaks with the original plan, and decides to go underground with the others.

This portrayal of the radicalisation of those involved is one of the main strengths of the film, relating this aspect sympathetically and convincingly, but not shying away from the mixed motivations and character flaws of those involved (such as the young people clearly looking for a way to avoid their personal problems through violent activism). So while this part of the film may seem to be sympathetic to the people who would go on to found the RAF, the rest of the film is much more critical.

The Germans in the training camp in the Middle East show no respect for their hosts, whether it is their cultural traditions regarding the separation of men and women and nudity, or for their professional expertise. The willingness of the leaders to use violence and deception to rid themselves of unwanted elements speaks badly of them, and their internationalism seems skin deep when confronted with the reality of the Palestinians and their struggle. This may be revolution, but it will be on their terms whatever the consequences.

The most effective part of the second half of the film is its portrayal of the naivety and futility of the whole RAF project. This is perhaps best summed up by the image of one of the terrorists firing a pistol at an armoured personnel carrier the police have when coming to arrest him. The increasingly extreme tactics adopted by the police hunting for the gang as they travel across the country carrying out robberies, bombings and shootings form a central part. The police chief in charge of hunting them understands better than his masters that the RAF represents a political as well as a policing problem. One in four Germans under 30 – 7 million people – declared themselves sympathetic to them in the early years. Faced with such odds, the police adopt increasingly sophisticated tactics, becoming more and more the authoritarian and surveillance state of the RAF’s propaganda. Yet the RAF is itself becoming increasingly isolated. Bombs kill and injure innocent workers, while the world has moved on since 1968. More and more, they are likely to be turned in by ordinary citizens. One is caught when she leaves a gun in a jacket while going into a changing room, the victim of her own amateurish stupidity and a hostile sales assistant who call the police. Nevertheless, new generations continue to be recruited and to remain active, although it is now much harder for the police – and the audience – to understand the attractions.

As the film moves on into the 1970s, the story does increasingly resemble 6 against 60 millions. The targets increasingly become industrialists and businessmen as the terrorists desperately try to free their leaders from gaol. In prison, the RAF is waging a campaign over its conditions. In the opposite situation to Ireland, they demand the same conditions as criminal prisoners. A hunger strike is inaugurated, culminating in the death of one of the prisoners, who is denied treatment by the authorities at the end. The four leading prisoners – including Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin – receive good conditions, including the freedom to associate and cooperate in planning their defence, but they become irrevocably split, and the psychological disintegration of Meinhof as she becomes isolated from and hostile to the other prisoners is vividly portrayed. It is clear that the filmmakers regard her death as a suicide, although the other prisoners claimed in court it was murder, and there would be a similar controversy over their own deaths in the future. The desire for revenge forms a major motivation of the subsequent generations of the RAF, who even Baader regards as too extreme. They take the struggle to free their leaders far beyond Germany. The more vicious later generations in fact seem more motivated by nihilism, vengeance and terrorism than anything else, though they are never developed as characters in the same way.

This is not a film that glamourises terrorism or the RAF. On the contrary, the main message I saw in it was the utter futility of their terrorist campaign, even by their own lights. Rather than lionise the participants, it shows them for what they were – deeply flawed people, motivated by an imprecise ideology and above all a commitment to action. It is never really made clear what exactly the ideology of the RAF actually was, perhaps because they themselves never really knew, beyond a commitment to revolution that would be inspired by anti-imperialist struggles in the developing world and urban terrorism in the west. In the film’s portrayal of their ideology and actions, we can detect the influence of the Frankfurt School critique of commercialism, we see Ensslin reading Trotsky in the bath and the usual Che posters, the RAF assert the link between sexual and political revolution, and we hear the words of the communiques issued after attacks, and the lionising of the urban guerilla; but it is clear that it was the excitement of the guns, the bank robberies, and the bombings that formed the main plank of their ideology. The lack of a clear ideology or strategy is above all what isolated them from the people, even those initially sympathetic, and ensured they would slowly shrink and die off, and the RAF eventually disbanded in 1998.

Theirs was a legacy of needless death, with nothing positive. One aspect that was missing that I thought would be made more of was the issue of support from the DDR, which was at best implied. It was a major mistake of that regime ever to give any credence whatsoever to people who were ultimately vain, shallow, adventurist dilettantes playing at being revolutionaries, without the commitment, discipline or willpower necessary for sustained and successful political struggle, and who represented the very opposite of the Marxist-Leninist tradition of political struggle. Watching the film, I could not but dwell on the necessity for organised and disciplined political action by a political party of and for the working class, while thinking of Lenin’s denunciation of left-wing communism, the infantile disorder.

The killing at Coolacrease…A secret history of anti-Protestant Republicanism? Maybe, maybe not… but certainly an instructive example of how some people want us to read ‘history’. November 9, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in History, Irish History, Religion, Republicanism, Terrorism, Unionism.


There’s something very odd about the Coolacrease controversy. Something very odd indeed. And it’s not the actual case itself.

That can be boiled down to a contested (although not by either an IRA or British military investigation) incident in which two young men belonging to a fringe Protestant denomination were shot dead by the IRA in 1921. The accounts presented in an article by producer Niamh Sammon (working with Eoghan Harris on the program) and Anne Marie Hourihane in the Irish Times suggest that the shooting was unprovoked and while there is a larger debate beyond the pages of the IT it is there that we see some of the most interesting aspects of the ‘controversy’.

Sammon posits that:

No doubt June 30th, 1921, began like any other for the Pearson family of Coolacrease, Co Offaly. Life on that day would have revolved around the usual farm chores, but today, there was an extra task at hand. With the sun in the sky, two sons of the family, Richard (24) and Abraham (19), and a friend of theirs, William Stanley, were saving the hay, determined to make the most of the good weather…

Late in the afternoon, Stanley looked up from his work to see a gang of armed IRA men converging on the hayfield from all sides. He knew something terrible was coming, and yelled to Richard and Abraham to run for their lives….

Within the hour, the Pearson women were driven from their home, which in turn was burned to the ground. As the house blazed, they saw Richard and Abraham lined up and shot – their father William and another brother Sidney, would have met with the same fate, had they not been away that day. Mrs Pearson and her daughters nursed Richard and Abraham for many hours as they slowly bled to death.

Anne Marie Hourihane argued some days later that:

…the truth is that most Irish people would much rather not get in touch with the past, thanks very much all the same. In Ireland the past – the truth about the past – is a bit of an unnecessary complication.

This reluctance to look at what has happened in Irish history comes not just from the descendants and friends of those who perpetrated dreadful crimes but, much more remarkably, from the descendants and friends of the innocent victims.

and that…

the Pearsons were a farming family who lived in Co Offaly. After a spate of slanderous rumours, and an outburst of land envy – the Pearsons owned and worked a 340-acre farm – two of the Pearsons’ four sons, Richard (24) and Abraham (19), were shot by about 30 IRA men on June 30th, 1921. They were initially approached while out saving hay… Both Richard and Abraham were shot in the genital area, and then in the buttocks, in front of their siblings and mother, and the house was burned. It took Richard six hours to die and Abraham 14.

The manner of this shooting is shocking enough, reminiscent to modern eyes of the mutilation of the bodies of black men who were lynched in the southern states of America. Even more shocking was that the television programme managed to find people, in this day and age, prepared to defend and justify the murders. It is perhaps not so surprising that old men, steeped in the dangerous myths of other times, should be prepared to talk about how “the Pearson girls were aggressive – more aggressive than their brothers”, and how the Pearson brothers, who died in agony, “were executed and that was that”. But to see a young man blithely talking about how the Pearsons had shown profound disdain for local republicans “and in particular for Irish Volunteers” sent a chill through the blood. It was like someone saying: “the Jews had too much money.” Terrifying.

Sammon enquires:

what had this family done to deserve such a dreadful retribution? The Pearsons were members of a peaceable, non-political, dissenting Protestant sect known as the Cooneyites, and their attackers were drawn from the local Catholic community. These were their friends and neighbours; people they must have greeted on the roads around Cadamstown, lads who’d sat with them at school. What forces had changed these friends into the enemies who came to their home, burned it to the ground, and shot them in a brutal manner as their helpless mother and sisters looked on?

These are the questions that leaped out at me just over a year ago when a friend gave me a book by Alan Stanley, the son of William Stanley who’d escaped with his life that day. Alan had written a powerful account of the single most defining event in his family’s history. He told how, after the killings at Coolacrease House, the Pearsons fled to Australia, and of his own search to trace their descendants. In this slim volume, Stanley published his correspondence with the Australian Pearsons, who were desperate to try and understand how the country of their forebears had turned so violently against them.

The story he had unravelled was the starting point of the journey toward making a television documentary about the truly hidden history of what happened at Coolacrease. It seemed that this was the kind of history you don’t learn about in school and, notwithstanding Ken Loach’s film dramatisation of the period in The Wind that Shakes the Barley, here was proof of a much darker side to the republican fight for independence. They say that the victor writes the history, but was that as true in Ireland as elsewhere?

Hourihane asks:

Of which other group of crime victims would commentators be allowed to speak in this way in modern times? Certainly not of the victims of rape. These statements made the viewer realise that the murder of the Pearsons could happen again tomorrow.

That, notably in the Border counties, similar murders – miserable, vicious, laden with local gossip – happened yesterday. There was never a shred of evidence to justify the Pearson murders, and there still isn’t. Here was an otherwise excellent – a groundbreaking – programme that was far too balanced in its efforts to give both sides of a lamentable story.

Pat Muldowney writing in the Village has argued that the case is not quite as presented. He argues that:

..it is not surprising that the programme challenged the validity of the Irish Court Martial ruling, held in June 1921, which found the Pearsons guilty of staging an armed attack on an IRA unit engaged in road block activity in resistance to the Black and Tan terror aimed at suppressing the democratically elected Irish government; for which the Court passed the death sentence.

But this was not the only Court that met to adjudicate on the fate of the Pearsons. This Hidden History programme supposedly set out to examine forensically what happened on 30 June 1921, the day of the executions. So how did it happen that the programme never mentioned – not once – the other Court, which met on 2 July 1921 to do exactly the same thing?

It is not that Hidden History did not know about the British Military Court of Enquiry, which met on that day in Crinkle Military Barracks, Birr.

The problem for the Hidden History/Eoghan Harris line was that the British Military Court of Enquiry, operating completely independently, found exactly the same as the Irish Court Martial. The Chief Inspector of the Queen’s County RIC testified to the Court that “the two Pearson boys a few days previously had seen two men felling a tree on their land adjoining the road, had told the men concerned to go away, and when they refused, had fetched two guns and fired and wounded two Sinn Feiners, one of whom it is believed died”.

Muldowney also contradicts Hourihanes and Sammons accounts of shootings to the genitalia by saying that:

…what the medical evidence given to the Court describes is a range of injuries from the legs to the shoulders, all of them superficial, and none to the genitals. According to the evidence, none of the wounds were fatal, and the men died from shock and blood loss. If they had received timely and adequate medical attention it seems their lives could have been saved.

Apparently the shootings were to the groin area, not the actual genitalia. Awful. Revolting, but again not quite as presented in the program.

Now, to me as a neutral bystander, that presents us with a serious problem in our assessment of the propositions made by Sammon and Hourihane. Firing upon IRA members during the War of Independence is a far from neutral act. That the men suffered grieviously for their actions is clear. But without a context – and neither Sammon nor Hourihane present us with that context we are given a misleading picture of the events.

A bit more context. Muldowney had an account of the killings published by the Aubane Historical Society – which as we should know after months of careful analysis of the ICO and BICO material is a post-BICO grouping. Still, axe to grind or no, he does appear to have certain aspects of the historical record correctly researched.

The response in the Irish Times was instructive. A quick look at the IT website indicates that in the week following the original article by Niamh Sammon and the screening of the programme (on October 23rd) there was precisely no letters on the subject. Indeed the first letter to appear was on October 31 praising the programme and the article by Anne Marie Hourihane.
Subsequently two letters appeared on November 2nd, one agreeing, one not with the former letter. On November 5th there were a further three letters. So, to date, six letters in all. Granted it has featured on Liveline and there it has been fairly heated. But not a huge outpouring of controversy in the pages of the IT.

Which is interesting because under the heading Sensitive strands of our history Hourihane yesterday once more wrote that:

The two brothers were approached while out saving hay on their farm by a party of up to 30 IRA men. They were taken back to the farmhouse where they were shot and died much later, in front of their mother and sisters and one younger brother. Their father and a fourth brother were away from the farm on that day.

Now in contrast to her statements some weeks back where she said that “…the truth is that most Irish people would much rather not get in touch with the past, thanks very much all the same. In Ireland the past – the truth about the past – is a bit of an unnecessary complication.” she argues that…

The reaction of normal people to this sorry story will naturally be one of regret – that the shootings of the Pearsons was a terrible thing, even by the standards of that terrible time, and should never have happened.

But most would also agree that it happened a long time ago and now the best thing to do is to acknowledge the tragedy and let them rest in peace.

In fact, this does seem to be the reaction of most people who have heard about the Pearson killings, which have now become the subject of a book, a television programme, of debate in the letters column of this newspaper and now on Liveline.

Now that’s odd on a heap of different levels (not least the term ‘normal’). There had been no letters since the 5th of November on the issue. Okay, that’s only three days. But a desultory six hardly a controversy makes. So what is the function of her current article? Simply to keep the pot boiling?

She continues:

…Irish history is so fragile to some, and so sacred, that they confidently assert that the Pearson brothers must have been British spies, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, not pacifists at all but given to taking pot shots at IRA men, arrogant towards their Catholic neighbours – in other words, asking for it.

It appears impossible for these people, standing guard over Irish history, even to countenance the possibility that the Pearsons were innocent men.

This seems to me to be a bizarre reading of the situation. In effect she appears to demand that people take as read the account she and Sammon serves up, that this was an unprovoked attack by the IRA on a family, something between a land grab and sociopathic ethnic cleansing. Then when people question that, or provide evidence that the situation is more complex than she presents she resiles from her original position that ‘this is a history that shouldn’t be forgotten’ by suggesting that this is a history which really should be forgotten once an appropriate response is forthcoming. In other words she is demanding that history and the response to that history must conform to her precepts. Worse again she clearly must be aware of the critique Muldowney presented. Yet in an act of remarkable intellectual sleight of hand (for want of a better term) she chooses not to address it.

This is problematic because it is wildly ahistorical. In order to understand why two young men were murdered it is necessary to consider the motivations of those who murdered them. If one narrative is presented as ‘fact’, when it is difficult to assess the actuality, it is entirely reasonable that others might present a counter-narrative as ‘fact’. This is part of a process of engagement with historical events. And it is curious that Hourihane is blind to or that she ignores this and presumes that the version she champions is somehow uncontestable [incidentally, although Hourihane hasn’t mentioned the British report it has been dismissed as based on hearsay by others involved in this – a curious charge, and one which I doubt would be leveled in any other circumstance].

But consider again the questions that Sammon raises.

It seemed that this was the kind of history you don’t learn about in school and, notwithstanding Ken Loach’s film dramatisation of the period in The Wind that Shakes the Barley, here was proof of a much darker side to the republican fight for independence. They say that the victor writes the history, but was that as true in Ireland as elsewhere?

My problem with all of this is that no-one with even the most glancing knowledge of Irish history during the period from 1912 onwards to the mid-1920s could possibly be unaware of the fact that there was indeed a ‘much darker’ side to the Republican fight for independence. There were a list of atrocities committed by all sides, British, Republican, pro-Treaty forces, anti-Treaty forces. From the sacking of towns by the Black and Tans, to Ballyseedy, to the later assassination of Kevin O’Higgins [a flawed man, but far from the caricature some would paint of him] this is a period stained in blood.

Thankfully though we have people known as ‘historians’ whose function is to research historical events in a reasonably dispassionate manner and to whom we can turn to offer answers to the sort of questions Sammon raises.

Let’s refer to Joseph Lee (some, but perhaps not those who have contributed to the IT on this debate, will be aware that he one of Ireland’s historians). He has written that:

‘if the contemporary historian is not himself to become an agent of yet further fragmentation, he must strive towards total history, not in the futile sense of trying to write everything about everything, but in the sense of seeking to reveal the range of relevant linkages between the varieties of activity with which he is concerned’

The problem is that we’re not being presented with a total history, not even close. We’re served up a partial history by people who are not historians, who seemingly consciously eschew historical methodologies. Lee has some sharp points to make about the period.

Foul deeds were done during the civil war. It was natural that memories should be bitter. But it is necessary to keept the scale of the conflict and even its viciousness, in perspective. The most apposite analogy appears to be witht he Finnish civil war of 1918. His took place in a newly independent country with the same population as the free State. But it claiemd far more victims. Even if the probably exaggerated estimate of 4000 Irish casualties be accepted this still falls far below the 25,000 Finnish fatalities. It may be, however, that the manner of death leaves a more searing psychological scar. Did not the notorious 77 executions turn the heart to stone? But the 77 falls short of the 8300 executions in Finalnd, to say nothing of the 1500 private enterprise murders, or the 9000 who died in prison camps.

As an aside, Dennis Kennedy, also of the Irish Times and the Cadogan Group, once wrote an illuminating if somewhat partisan book that covers some of this matter in The Widening Gulf: Northern Attitudes to the Independent Irish State, 1919-49 It is a while since it was last published but its available on Amazon. Well worth a read.

But of course there is a larger agenda. And Hourihane touches upon it when she says:

The invaluable service that they are providing is that they are so annoying, so patronising and so irrational that they are succeeding where 86 long years of silence have failed: they are making modern Protestants so furious that they are ready – almost, almost ready – to come out and talk about their families’ experiences in the War of Independence and the Civil War.

These are not the stories of the Big House burning, with the paintings and the piano on the lawn. These are the stories of quite ordinary people – I imagine mostly rural people, but this might not be correct – who were pushed out of the new State.

What evidence does she present of this? Why none. No evidence at all. If she ‘imagines…but this might not be correct’ then we have no basis for judging the accuracy of her statement. This is John Waters territory, is it not, where things are right because we ‘feel’ they are right. And it is ‘feelings’ that are at the heart of this approach because in a most interesting statement, that one both hopes and fears is a Freudian slip she writes:

Thousands of us enjoyed the Hidden History television documentary about the Pearson killings simply because we had never heard about them before.

‘Enjoyed’ is a strange word to use. It appears a rather shallow and vicarious way to treat of actual events of horrible dimension. Even were the IRA entirely legitimate in their actions, and at this remove how on earth could there be any definitive reckoning of that, the idea that one ‘enjoy’s an account of the shooting of two (or let’s be honest, three including the IRA volunteer) young men is… well, I’ll say it again, strange.
But there is no limit to her intuitions…

It aroused the suspicion in us that there are other stories like it – and we have no way of knowing how many, or how few, there might be – burning underground, stories that live on in the families of those who suffered, passed on in the deep privacy of family life so that, as one man told me last week: “It’s as if it would be disloyal to talk about it.”

Which again is simply a way of saying, “I have no evidence that any such actions took place and therefore I’m simply stirring the pot”.

He meant that it was as if it would be disloyal to talk about it in public. Within his family such matters were not discussed routinely, but only when he and his father were feeling particularly close to each other.

They became a family secret, in a country too full of family secrets. And so these stories, these whispers, are lost to the larger, Catholic population – perhaps forever.

It might be time now for the larger, Catholic population to ask itself: are we happy about this? Would we like to look at this small slice of our history, not in order to condemn men and women long dead, but because it is interesting and true?

Well, let me declare an interest. I am fortunate in coming from a background where both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland (and indeed also atheism) played a prominent role in my immediate family. Being brought to two different religious ceremonies worshipping the same God tends to lend one a certain… shall we say… critical detachment (and attachment) on such issues – and others. Certainly it was an example in pluralism which I’ve never forgotten.

Now, perhaps Protestantism in the South is a cowed tradition. But having been on the inside, to some degree, I rarely found it so. Nor did I find that there was any sense of a fear of sectarian animosity dating from the Independence period. Indeed if anything, quite the opposite. To some degree I found that there was a strong identification with this state – an identification not entirely dissimilar to that expressed by Michael McDowell whose avowed and I suspect entirely genuine Republicanism and identification with the institutions of this state was of a sort I could identify from previous expressions and would broadly share (one of the most entertaining aspects of the view of Protestants held by non-Protestants is that they are per definition closet monarchists and unionists – I often wonder why that is. Does it give a little frisson, some sense of the ‘other’? That the Protestant is truly ‘different’. Let me be the first to disabuse all who harbour such thoughts….). Perhaps that is simply my experience. Perhaps there is a vast and silent history of murder and mayhem out there beyond my knowledge. But if so it simply isn’t reflected in the statistics from the period.

And to offer up a counter-narrative (and in a sense a touch of ‘whataboutery’ which in the context of the shallowness of the arguments put forth in the IT I make no apology for), I also have a very very close relative whose father fought on the Republican side during the Civil War and after imprisonment was effectively barred from working and living in the Free State. Eventually, and ironically, he had to move to England. He wasn’t the only one. Many thousands left. Many many never returned. That is what happens during these sort of spasms of violence. But we weren’t Finland. There wasn’t a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Protestants, and if something close to ethnic cleansing was taking place on the island it was hundreds of miles to the North in Belfast in a polity supposedly untouched by the WoI or the Civil War.

I have no special insight into the events at Coolacrease. Who does? Who can tell with absolute accuracy what happened on that day? Who can easily judge the motivations and self-justifications of those involved? I knew a man, this time a distant relative, who went ashore on D-Day with US forces. I thought of him – and still do to a great extent – as something approaching a hero. He, by contrast, saw the journey he made across the sands of Normandy as something that had to be done. And everything thereafter too, whatever it involved. That’s a basic dynamic in wars and conflict, the grim pragmatism that is forced upon people by these events. But we are asked to put all that aside in favour of a different and arguably entirely unrealistic narrative.

What I am certain of is that it is of dubious merit to attempt to draw any general lesson from such a specific event as Coolacrease. I’m hugely suspicious of the idea that people are unaware of “a much darker side to the republican fight for independence”. That seems to me to be part of a typically patronising and faux-naive narrative constructed by certain people for their own ends. One that engages with history only as a means to re-represent the present. One that ignores factual evidence because it doesn’t fit with the overall thesis. That we have certain leading lights with a history in particular organisations that consciously sought to reconstruct an Irish historical narrative more to their liking on both sides of this debate is unsurprising. They always want to teach us, the people(s) of this island their particular lessons de jour, however those lessons may change to suit themselves. And what lesson is it that is sought today? To suggest that Protestants in Ireland were subject to a vicious campaign of repression and murder? That Republicans were (or should that be ‘are’?) beasts. Neither is true. Neither is useful. And to implicitly suggest that there is something ‘abnormal’ about a critique of a program about an historical event – or about Irish people in their general response to this period, is neither useful nor true.

The internet. A new front in the so-called War on Terror. November 6, 2007

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, European Union, Freedom of speech, Internet, Islam, Media and Journalism, Terrorism, The War On Terror.

Great news in the war for freedom and against people of a different religion and darker skin pigment than ours. According to Examiner Breaking News, the European Commission is to unveil proposals today to make it a criminal offence to promote acts of terrorism on the internet.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini wants a new law making illegal ‘public provocation to commit a terrorist offence’ including under the definition of ‘public provocation’, ‘the distribution, or otherwise making available, of a message to the public, with the intent to incite…’ terrorist acts. Note that it is a crime to incite acts of terrorism regardless of whether an act of terrorism actually results from that incitement, something which would anyway be very difficult to prove.

According to the Examiner, Commission officials insist, presumably with a straight face, that this will not impinge on the expression of political views or analysis of terrorism. Also worth noting that though the Commission is stating that the internet and the use of it by terrorists is the main motivator behind this, the law will apply to all forms of communication.

Statewatch have an analysis up here.

In a related story, the EU Observer has an interesting piece about another EU Commission in the fight against terrorism to increase the amount of air passenger data stored by EU member states and to store it for up to 13 years. The proposal, which would require unanimity, would see name, address, credit card number, passport data, telephone numbers, travel agent, flight history and, my favourite, seat preference, join a great deal of other information in computers in European capitals.

Statewatch again:

According to Tony Bunyan from UK liberties group Statewatch “this is yet another measure that places everyone under surveillance and makes everyone a suspect without any meaningful right to know how the data is used, how it is further processed and by whom”.

“The underlying rationale for each of the measures is the same – all are needed to tackle terrorism”, Mr Bunyan said, referring to the mandatory taking of fingerprints for passports and the mandatory storage of telecommunications data.

“There is little evidence that the gathering of mountain upon mountain of data on the activities of every person in the EU makes a significant contribution. On the other hand, the use of this data for other purposes, now or in the future, will make the EU the most surveilled place in the world”, he concluded.

Terrorists seek to destroy our freedoms but worry not, the European Union will erode our civil liberties first in a weird kind of scorched earth policy. And in case there’s some confusion, wherever I use the word ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’, I do so with more than a little cynicism. Terrorists after all are the people with the small guns and the tiny bombs. The ones with the big guns and gigantic bombs are defending our diminishing freedoms by abolishing those of others.

Within the wave… three possible terrorist attacks in the UK June 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Terrorism, The War On Terror.


So, that’s possibly three attacks so far. Two car bombs found in London and thankfully made safe, although the unbelievable detail that one was unknowingly towed away bomb and all is quite something else. And now an incident at Glasgow airport by four people in a Jeep Cherokee which according to the BBC:

A Whitehall spokesman said the incident was not being treated as a national security threat however the prime minister is being kept informed of developments and is expected to chair a meeting of COBRA – the emergency committee later.

Two thoughts strike me. Firstly the low level nature of these attacks, assuming Glasgow is an attack, which is not to say that they might not have potentially been lethal in effect had they succeeded. The technology used was bare bones stuff. Gas canisters, nails, petrol. These are everyday items, easily accessible. And that tells us something about the nature of these attacks. They are not part of a serious co-ordinated campaign such as was seen during the 1970s through to the early 1990s with PIRA. Instead they seem to blossom from tight social groupings who act, not quite on impulse, but with a seeming lack of any long term (or even mid-term) strategy. Their access to serious weaponry appears, thankfully, to be limited.

The problem here being that this sort of DIY terrorism is enormously difficult to contain by the sort of security measures that eventually brought the PIRA to a stand-off. In fact it is arguable that the sort of intensive high surveillance operations that blanketed the North would quite simply be unacceptable in Britain and perhaps impossible to implement. And that gives considerable opportunity to those who want to utilise violence in this fashion. All they need, as the most recent events seem to imply, is a car and some petrol. And that in and of itself can shut down a major transportation centre.

But what is also striking is the rather muddled and contradictory nature of these events. What exactly are the political effects they are supposed to produce? The new British Cabinet appears to be tilted towards the anti-Iraq war position in a very public way. Milliband was outspoken in criticism of the Lebanon interventions by Israel last Summer. John Denham resigned over the Iraq invasion. Mark Malloch Brown was, as Deputy Secretary General of the UN, strongly critical of both the invasion and the US administration. There is credible evidence that British involvement is being scaled down in Iraq. This is not a cabinet which would support intervention in Iran. This is a cabinet which might find itself non too pushed ultimately (and I’d argue wrongly) to support a continuing presence in Afghanistan.

So a bomb campaign would appear – in terms of the aspirations of those carrying it out – to be at best pointless, at worst counterproductive. This really does seem to be purely gestural political violence. A reminder.

And it is that lack of focus which is so striking. The bombings aren’t intended to achieve anything concrete. Instead they’re almost a sort of rhetorical flourish, demonstrative. An indication that the forces which resulted in 7/7 remain active, perhaps will be strengthened, as was suggested on Channel4 News last night, by a newer generation of radical Islamists.

If true, then we are within a wave of such attacks. There might be more as some seek to emulate the current events. And there will presumably definitely be others. Low level, probably with very long gaps between events, often displaying an amateurish but stupidly effective lethality , sometimes not, but likely to recur again and again and again.

And worst of all essentially immune to whatever changes there are in the political environment.

Welcome to the future.

Speaking about further-left violence: The Bologna Station Bombing, Gladio and Taca na hÉireann? April 13, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Terrorism, The Left.
1 comment so far

Meant to add on to the Rote Zora piece. There was one very curious sentence in the Guardian article, the final one which dealt with Adrienne Gershäuser’s partner Thomas Kram.

Kram, who is still in custody, has long been wanted in connection with kidnappings, shootings and hijackings, and the bomb attack on Bologna station in August 1980 in which 85 people were killed.

Now why is that curious, one might ask? Well, the Bologna station bombing is notorious as arguably the largest single post-war neo-Fascist terrorist action in Europe. Following on foot of mbari’s points about how the Revolutionary Cells tipped over into anti-Semitic violence perhaps that might seem like a predictable end point. But I’ve been unable to find out anything today which would corroborate his involvement in the bombing. And it’s only fair to point out that directly after the Bologna bombing an attempt was made by the Italian government to point the finger of blame at the Red Brigades (who were waging their own extremely unpleasant pocket war against the Italian state – and really take Moro, what was the possible justification for murdering him). But it’s generally accepted that it was indeed neo-fascist organisations which were responsible and perhaps Kram’s name entered the picture due to his own particular connection with further-left violent activities. Still, if people know any more about that I’d be interested.
Anyhow, that also had me looking at other connections and linkages to Bologna and there are some rather conspiratorial theories which place it’s origin in the shadowy networks of NATO sponsored paramilitary groups and organisations which were intended to provide some form of ‘behind the lines’ resistance in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. These networks have been popularly named Gladio, and there’s some quite good evidence for their existence, although perhaps not on the scale that some of the wilder theories might suggest. Frankly I’ve often wondered why NATO would take them particularly seriously were the Soviets to have overrun Italy or Germany.

Reading the wiki entry about Gladio was sort of surprising. For in a long listing of affiliated national groups allegedly part of the broader organisation was the following:

‘The existence of these clandestine NATO armies remained a closely guarded secret throughout the Cold War until 1990, when the first branch of the international network was discovered in Italy. It was code-named Gladio, the Latin word for a short double-edged sword [gladius]. While the press said the NATO secret armies were ‘the best-kept, and most damaging, political-military secret since World War II’, the Italian government, amidst sharp public criticism, promised to close down the secret army. Italy insisted identical clandestine armies had also existed in all other countries of Western Europe. This allegation proved correct and subsequent research found that in Belgium, the secret NATO army was code-named SDRA8, in Denmark Absalon, in Germany TD BJD, in Ireland Taca na hÉireann[citation needed], in Greece LOK, in Luxemburg Stay-Behind, in the Netherlands I&O, in Norway ROC, in Portugal Aginter, in Switzerland P26, in Turkey Counter-Guerrilla, In Sweden AGAG (Aktions Gruppen Arla Gryning, and in Austria OWSGV. However, the code names of the secret armies in France, Finland and Spain remain unknown.

Perhaps I’m being unduly cynical, but could it be that someone is having a joke at the expense of Fianna Fáil there and another unlamented group known as Taca (which by the way means ‘Support’)?

Surely not.

24, Jack Bauer and torture… February 5, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Television Shows, Terrorism.

Okay, so far in it’s myriad seasons we’ve been treated to Jack Bauer torturing enemies of the US, traitors to the US, colleagues who have been misled by said enemies, colleagues who have been misled by said traitors, former friends turned enemy, former friends turned traitor and now this very evening his own brother who maybe an enemy, maybe a traitor or most likely is both.

Where left to go?

Presumably next season in order to get the necessary information to move the plot along we can expect to see him torturing himself.

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