Time to end IRA's code of omerta
By LIAM CLARKE – 9 November 2010
REGULAR readers may be interested to hear that I am currently being described as "anti-republican scum" who should have been shot by the IRA years ago. The mini hate campaign is being run by a number of posters on the website IRISHREPUBLICAN.NET sub titled "for a thirty-two county democratic socialist republic".
It is one of the areas of the blogosphere where supporters of Sinn Fein and republicans who dissent from them, not always violently, meet to do ideological battle.
It is hard to be sure, but the posters who would most like to see me dead seem to be mainstream republicans nostalgic for lost chances but presumably now committed to the paths of peace. Here's hoping.
During the troubles demonizing somebody in graffti, pamphlets or latterly on the internet often become a prelude to attacks, so they can't be entirely ignored.
In my case, a serious security scare, when the IRA attempted to lure me to a meeting, was preceded by a period of verbal criticism in which I was accused of being too close to the police and British administration, a black propagandist.
Since then a number of former IRA members have told me that, in the cold light of day, the stuff I was writing was generally accurate.
That was the problem with it. Reporting the IRA's internal power struggles damaged morale and once disputes were publicly aired they became more difficult to resolve.
On the other hand, I was also arrested and injuncted for revealing details of British army and RUC undercover operations. I never felt that it was a journalist's job to give people in positions of power a quiet life free from scrutiny.
My more recent offences haven't been to reveal secrets but to express views which some republicans fnd distasteful, though others have stuck up for my right to express them.
Particular offence was taken at a column I wrote in which I accused the UVF and dissident republicans of exploiting young people by involving them in rioting. I argued that the police should be able to publish the youngsters' photos as a child protection issue, before their lives were "twisted" by the terrorists.
Another offending column looked at the way in which republican insiders who broke
ranks from the official line, or spoke out of turn, were marginalized.
I referred in particular to Richard O'Rawe, a former H Block prisoner and Sinn Fein PRO who revealed that the 1981 hunger strike could have been resolved on the basis of an offer which was not shown to the prisoners.
Last week, he kindly invited me to speak at the launch of his second book on the subject, "Afterlives", which contains a searing account of the pressure he was put under. The invitation was largely because I had sued the Freedom of Information Act to uncover written details of the offer and proof that it had been personally authorized by Margaret
The documents, reprinted in O'Rawe's book, challenge the standard republican narrative that Thatcher had been implacable throughout the hunger strike.
Her position shifted in July 1981 after the first three deaths. After that, she used a secret channel of communication to Gerry Adams to float proposals which would have conceded most, but not all, of the prisoners' five demands. The offer was declined, apparently for political reasons.
Such secrets still stir deep passions. Former IRA members are still expected to abide by the republican omerta code, described by Martin McGuinness as "the IRA's honor code" at the Bloody Sunday Tribunal. O'Rawe suffered for breaking it; "H Block Traitor" was written up outside his home after he broke ranks. Before that he was visited by the IRA's adjutant who advised him not to go public.
Anthony McIntyre, another ex- prisoner, left Belfast following pressure when he wrote political commentary which contradicted the authorized Provo account of the troubles. A few weeks ago, Gerard "Whitey" Bradley was found dead in his car, he had been ostracized for writing a memoir which was not authorized by the republican leadership.
It is long past time we were free of this heavy hand, this atmosphere of threats and intimidation for anyone who tries in a serious way to shed light on the Provisional IRA's campaign. After a conventional war history is written, former combatants tell their story and inevitably some will question the decisions of the generals, even the rationale for fighting in the first place.
The Provisionals must accept that this will happen to them, too.
Responding to any sign of informed debate about their past with threats, boycott and intimidation leaves them with little moral ground to challenge the dissidents who, at the end of the day, are simply copying their example.
As you can see from the opening paragraph, Liam Clarke is a somewhat controversial figure in Irish Republican circles. His writing throughout the time of the Troubles was not what you could call supportive of the republican cause. Although he has mellowed to some degree, every now and again he will write something that reminds his readers of his former attitude toward the republican cause. In this article, however, he simply admonishes those readers to recognize that there are two sides to every story. Certainly men like Richard O’Rawe, Anthony McIntyre, Gerard Bradley, and others who endured the inhumane treatment of being on the blanket protest have every right to express their views on allegations that an offer was made by the Brits to end the Hunger Strike. To deny them that right in a free society is nothing short of unconscionable