Joe O’Connor killed in Belfast – his mother Margaret blames the Provos

Joe O’Connor killed in Belfast – his mother Margaret blames the Provos
John Meehan

A Cháirde,

I write to draw attention to a very dangerous event in Belfast last Friday October 13 – Joe O’Connor, a republican, was killed in Belfast.

His mother Margaret says the Provisional IRA were responsible: “They killed Joe because he would not toe their line and opposed them going into Stormont” (The Observer, October 15 2000).

The Observer correspondent Henry McDonald says Joe O’Connor was a member of the Real IRA.

Joe O’Connor was a relative of Francisco Notarantonio, an innocent man killed by the Ulster Defence Association in 1987. Last month the British government Defence Minister Geoff Hoon tried to gag newspaper allegations that this killing was organised by British Intelligence agent brian Nelson to protect a high level IRA informer code named “Steak Knife”. The Notarantonio family recently met Sinn Féin MP Gerry Adams in pursuit of their campaign for an enquiry into the Francisco Notarantonio killing.

After Joe O’Connor’s murder Victor Notarantonio, Francisco’s son, says “we always voted for Adams, but never again”.

All the facts so far released about this killing back up Margaret O’Connor’s statement.

It is essential to draw a line here – political differences among republicans are one thing, but killing political opponents must be rigorously and actively opposed. It is essential to mount a political defence of the elementary right to hold opinions that differ from the Provisional leadership. I understand the Irish Republican Writers’ Group has called for an independent enquiry into the killing of Joe O’Connor – this should be supported.

Other political initiatives must also be taken – I call on independent activists to make their voices heard on this issue – support for the right to politically “dissent” should extend well beyond the very small number of people who agree with Joe O’Connor’s criticisms of the provisional leadership.

Independent activists who support the GFA (or who may be sympathetic to aspects of it) have a particular duty to speak up at this time.

Nothing could be worse than the starting up of a military republican feud – now is the the essential time for political activists to speak up and act.

At the same time socialist, democratic, and republican political opponents of the GFA should point out that there is a hideous logic in this killing – the dangers of the situation were analysed in the article below, written in February 1999.

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An article critical of the Good Friday Agreement in The Red Banner magazine contained this warning :

“A more immediate worry is that the Provisionals will become unofficial police officers of potential dissidents. We know that the Official IRA played this role as they began to politically degenerate in the 1970’s. There is now a pattern of incidents indicating the current IRA could go the same way.” (Hard Truths after the Good Friday Agreement, Red Banner Number 3, November 1998)

Perhaps some readers doubted this pessimistic analysis – they might have considered the “visits” to the homes of several republican dissidents nothing to worry about; in any case the RIRA and its sympathisers deserved criticism and ostracism in the wake of the Omagh atrocity.

The case of Paddy Fox should focus people’s minds. He is a recent victim of a Provisional kidnapping and beating.

Fox is a former IRA Volunteer who was sentenced to ten years’ jail in 1992 for carrying an IRA bomb. Both his parents were killed by the loyalist paramilitary group the UVF as he began his jail term. Fox is linked by marriage to two other legendary Tyrone republican families; between the three families (the Foxes, the McKearneys and the Grews), eight members have lost their lives either as victims of Loyalists or at the hands of state forces while engaged in republican activity.

Paddy Fox went on the run in mid-January 1999, not from state forces or loyalists, but from the Provisionals.

He explained the reasons in an interview with Henry McDonald of “The Observer” (Irish Edition, January 31 1999). “I have no interest in talking to them (the IRA). I don’t want to sit with a bag over my head for six hours. That seems to be the price of dissent inside the republican movement these days, or even worse”.

Three masked men and a driver who was not disguised tried to snatch Fox near his home in Dungannon. Fox says the driver is “a local supporter of the Good Friday Agreement”.

At 3 am on January 31 the Provisionals made a second successful kidnap attempt : six men snatched Fox from a Monaghan hotel. Although he was released battered and bruised hours later, Ed Moloney reports that “”Few in the family believe that but for the publicity surrounding a previous kidnap attempt he would possibly have suffered a worse fate” (Sunday Tribune, February 7 1999).

In his Observer interview Fox said that “this has to stop. People have the right to speak out and dissent”. He himself “stayed in the party up the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, but now believes it is a sell-out of basic republican principles and that the IRA and Sinn Féin have signed up to a pro-unionist settlement”.

A few days later all the major media outlets in Ireland ran with a story that the IRA had “admitted” (in a statement carried by the Sinn Féin weekly An Phoblacht/Republican News[AP/RN]) that some of its weapons had been stolen by republican dissidents. This appeared to be their response to the criticism building up among their own supporters of the Fox kidnapping. Three days earlier Maggie O”Kane reported a different assessment from an “IRA source”: “This is nothing to do with Sinn Féin. I doubt if Adams or McGuinness (the SF MP’s for West Belfast and Mid-Ulster) would have known much about it. The crackdown and the lifting of Paddy Fox is much more to do with the appointment of a new IRA chief of staff – they know there’s going to be pressure to decommission so they have to come down hard on people like Paddy Fox. Tighten up the discipline. It looks bad for Sinn Féin but they don’t give a fuck about that” (Guardian, February 1 1999)

No mention there of stealing arms – raising the justifiable suspicion that the IRA statement was a cowardly attempt to excuse the inexcusable. A “Tyrone source” confirmed to Ed Moloney that the kidnapping went down badly in the county and “smacked of Free Statism”. [This is a reference to the despised supporters of the 1921 Treaty with Britain who set up a partitioned 26 County State “Free State”, brutally suppressed republican opponents in the following Civil War, and abandoned the nationalist minority in the North-Eastern 6 Counties to decades of Unionist misrule].

All serious analysts know there is no real risk of a major republican armed campaign at the present time. However, such a thing would suit the various forces that have thrown so many resources into the “Peace Process”. That is why we are reading hysterical Fleet Street reports of a possible dissident bombing campaign – aided and abetted, it has to be said, by a wretched Continuity IRA video of what looked like a grenade launcher, broadcast on British TV’s Channel 4.

All this is an ironic inversion of the mainstream media’s role during the IRA’s armed campaign. Hostility to the provisionals in Ireland was so intense that both imposed and self-censorship flourished in most media outlets. The same forces – fear of being labelled as in favour of violence and seeing your career disappear – are at work in favour of the peace process. Most journalists give Sinn Féin leaders like Gerry Adams an easy ride over incidents like the Paddy Fox kidnapping, and muddle it up with dubious stories about the stealing of weapons.

Sinn Féin may even have made this a part of their strategy. When the IRA announced its August 1994 ceasefire, the journalist they used to convey the message to the world was Charlie Bird of the Irish State Broadcasting organisation RTÉ. A few years before Bird resigned from the journalists’ union, the NUJ, after it announced it was challenging the Irish censorship legislation (Section 31) in European Courts.

The message was clear: the Provos were going respectable and it was OK for respectable journalists to deal with them.

John Meehan, 9 February, 1999

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