IRA rebuff for Adams prison ally
Former hunger striker Brendan Hughes rejected as go-between in republican feud.
Henry McDonald writing in the Observer
Sunday November 5, 2000
Twenty years ago this weekend Brendan Hughes was an IRA icon who had just started the second week of his hunger strike for political status. But in an Orwellian twist two decades later the former Belfast IRA commander is deemed by his former comrades as ‘unacceptable’ even to mediate in a potentially murderous republican dispute.
Hughes, a former cellmate of Gerry Adams in Long Kesh, was a hero of the republican movement in 1980 after fasting for 53 days in the struggle for political status.
Last Saturday the one-time IRA leader and close confidant of Adams offered himself up as a go-between to stop the intimidation of republican dissenters such as former prisoner turned academic Anthony McIntyre.
McIntyre’s home in Ballymurphy – the republican estate where Adams grew up – has been picketed by a Sinn Fein-organised crowd on two occasions over the past fortnight simply because he publicly blamed the IRA for murdering Real IRA member Joe O’Connor in the area.
The Republican Writers’ Group, comprising former IRA prisoners such as McIntyre, has demanded a ‘community inquiry’ into O’Connor’s death. McIntyre and his American partner Carrie Twomey believe the pickets are a precursor to them being driven out of Ballymurphy or even killed.
Hughes also said he was prepared to speak to the Real IRA to dissuade them from taking revenge for the murder of O’Connor, who was shot in Ballymurphy on 23 October. His family said the Provisional IRA was responsible.
‘I asked Billy McKee [a former IRA leader] to offer ourselves up as intermediaries to try to stop any blood-letting that might take place. I got agreement from him and then I went to the IRA and put our names forward. But I was told by the IRA that I was not acceptable as a mediator,’ he said.
The reason he was given was that he had been on a picket along the Falls Road calling for the same rights he went on hunger strike for in 1980 – political status for republican prisoners.
‘I went on a white line picket for a Continuity IRA prisoner after long thought. I knew it would cause a bit of controversy even though I am not a member or supporter of Republican Sinn Fein.
‘That was one of the reasons I could not be acceptable as an intermediary. I made it clear to the people on the picket that I was there for the simple demand for political status for their prisoners, that was the reason why I went on hunger strike. Yet that makes me unacceptable to the IRA. It is truly Orwellian,’ he said.
A legend in the IRA and the republican community, Hughes led the organisation’s Belfast Brigade from internment to his arrest in a plush, south Belfast suburb in 1974. Posing as a respectable businessman, Hughes ran some of the IRA’s most daring and ruthless operations including the bugging of British Army headquarters in Northern Ireland. His long track record in the Provisionals, he admits, makes it difficult, even painful, for him to speak out publicly against his old comrades.
‘A few young Real IRA members approached me at Joe O’Connor’s funeral and asked me for advice. I told them they should put the guns away, that the war was over and they were going to get themselves killed. The war has been fought for 30 years and there is no more it could achieve.’
McIntyre, who served 16 years in the Maze for the IRA, said he was disturbed that Gerry Adams, writing in the Irish-American paper The Irish Voice , labelled him as a ‘fellow-traveller of the Real IRA’.
‘Mr Adams knows what he says is untrue. I am on record as saying the Real IRA should put away their guns, call off their campaign and cease to exist. The slur is extremely dangerous and is being used to suppress peaceful dissent and free thinking.
‘I really believe that if they can get away with it they will expel us or worse, kill us. This is guilt transferral and what’s more the Provisional IRA who killed Joseph O’Connor sent out a message. That message is that the use of the gun to sort out political disputes is still legitimate post-Good Friday. This message reinforces the intellectual pool from which armed republicans drink,’ McIntyre said.
Carrie Twomey, who is six months pregnant, was alone in the house when the pickets descended on her door last Wednesday evening.
She called on Bairbre de Brun, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister and Sinn Fein Assembly member for the Ballymurphy area, to demand an end to the pickets.
‘I am concerned how the stress of the last few weeks has affected my child,’ she said.
‘If the Health Minister who’s from my area is concerned about the health of her constituents, how does that square with her party sending mobs to my house?’
The Observer put this question to de Brun’s department on Friday but to date the Sinn Fein Minister has failed to reply.
Hughes meanwhile, who is still held in high regard by many ordinary IRA members across Ireland, is bewildered over Sinn Fein’s entry into a Stormont parliament he once set out to physically destroy.
‘The British Army is still occupying Divis Towers on the Falls Road, so why don’t they hold pickets about that instead of picketing a republican home such as Anthony’s and Carrie’s.
‘Now they’re calling me a dissenter for speaking out in defence of free speech and asking who shot Joe O’Connor.’
He added: ‘I don’t mind being labelled a dissenter, I’ve been a dissenter all my life.’