1916 - Irish patriots, Michael Mallin, Eamonn Ceannt, Cornelius "Con" Colbert and Sean Heuston are executed in Kilmainham gaol
1899 - The first production of the Irish Literary Theatre, The Countess Cathleen is performed. Like many of Yeats' plays, it is inspired by Irish folklore. In a time of famine, demons sent by Satan come to Ireland to buy the souls of the starving people. The saintly Cathleen disposes of her vast estates and wealth in order to feed the peasants, yet the demons thwart her at every turn; at last, she sacrifices her own soul to save those of the poor
You can read THE COUNTESS CATHLEEN here:
SF SLAMS RESTRICTION ON PARTY FUND-RAISING
Maeve Connolly - Irish News
The British government is trying to damage the democratic process by restricting the fund-raising of political parties, according to Sinn Féin.
NIO minister John Spellar announced yesterday (Thursday) that a special arrangement where Northern Ireland parties have been exempt from a ban preventing their British counterparts from accepting international donations above £200 would be terminated.
This loophole in the law will be closed once the relevant order expires next February, Mr Spellar said at Westminster.
Sinn Féin receives significant funding from US benefactors and has reacted angrily to the development.
The discrepancy between Northern Ireland and British parties has always been a source of discontent for unionist politicians who claim that nationalist affinity with the south of Ireland and US is an unfair advantage.
Foyle assembly member Mitchell McLaughlin accused the government of trying to "stop the electoral advances of Sinn Féin".
"This is just the latest in a series of measures to deny Sinn Féin sources of funding available to all other parties," he added.
Mr McLaughlin said his party had been denied £100,000 in policy development grants which are available to parties with more than two MPs.
"We had last week's decision by Paul Murphy to withhold £120,000 of assembly funding from our party and now this further attempt to restrict party fund-raising."
The bulk of donations are "spent in the countries of origin and studiously scrutinised by the respective governments" Mr McLoughlin said, adding that Sinn Féin was the only party in Ireland "to voluntarily open it books and sources of finance to public scrutiny".
Making the announcement, Mr Spellar said there was a greater need for transparency since the current arrangements were "open to abuse" and made a clear difference between the financial opportunities for parties north and south of the border as well as in Britain.
He acknowledged the Republic's special interest in the political climate of Northern Ireland.
"The government is therefore inviting views of what new arrangements might be made within those objectives and will aim to announce its decisions by the end of the year."
Responding to the announcement, the SDLP urged the government not to prevent it lobbying in the Republic.
Party chairwoman Patricia Lewsley also warned against making public the identities of donators – a move which she said could endanger lives.
Unionists and the Alliance party welcomed the proposals. East Antrim UUP MP Roy Beggs said it would correct "an imbalance in our democracy".
Alliance leader David Ford said people in the north and south of Ireland should have the same protection as those in England, Scotland and Wales.
May 8, 2004
This article appeared first in the May 7, 2004 edition of the Irish News.
**Click on above link to read entire article
Sectarianism and the DUP
Sean Fleming • 4 May 2004
The DUP is now the largest political party in the north of Ireland. It is a party made up of many people who adhere to a particular mode of Protestantism or Protestant fundamentalism. Its leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, perpetual moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church, is a Protestant fundamentalist preacher whose anti-Catholicism best defines this unique mode of Protestant fundamentalism that permeates all aspects of life in Northern Irish society. The Unionism of his party is inseparable also in its articulation of the sixteenth century Reformation and is totally unlike anything approaching contemporary understandings of British identity. If society here is to move forward this anti-Catholicism must be confronted because it dangerously continues to be the defining feature of the Northern Irish state and is a distortion of the genuine Reformed or Protestant tradition.
BULLETS SENT TO COUNCILLORS
The party says bullets were sent to three councillors in Newry
Bullets have been sent in the post to three SDLP councillors who are members of a County Down policing body, the party has said. The packages were addressed to the District Policing Partnership members at SDLP premises and council offices in Newry.
In recent months, there has been a series of threats and attacks on members of policing partnerships across the province.
Councillor Michael Carr said although the threats were distressing, it would not deter them from their work.
"We are appalled and very annoyed," he told BBC Radio Ulster on Saturday.
"There's not an awful lot we can do about it, if these are the tactics these people want to use.
"We are not in a position to control that, but it certainly makes us more aware."
District policing partnerships were set up across Northern Ireland under reforms initiated by a commission headed by former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten and implemented by the government.
The partnerships are made up of councillors and members of the local community, who work alongside the Police Service of Northern Ireland's 29 District Command Units in trying to meet local community policing needs.
**Right-click on photo for source
Video clip of funeral
From In Memorium: Bobby Sands
Well over 100,000 people marched behind Bobby Sands' coffin through his own Twinbrook Estate to Milltown cemetery. A lone piper marched at the head of the procession, playing a song made famous by the hunger strikers: "I'll wear no convict's uniform, nor meekly serve my time, that Britain may call Ireland's fight 800 years of crime.'' At the end, three IRA volunteers, amidst the cheers and tears of those around them, fired the volley that is the traditional republican tribute to the fallen hero.
And hero he was. He towers over those who sent him to his death. He was murdered because he wouldn't buckle in the face of injustice. In Bobby Sands' own words: "If they aren't able to destroy the desire for freedom, they won't break you. They won't break me because the desire for freedom, and the freedom of the Irish people, is in my heart. The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland will have the desire for freedom to show.
It is then we'll see the rising of the moon."
Archbishop Brady called for urgency in police reform
PRIMATE RAISES COLLUSION CONCERNS
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has criticised the government for failing to tackle the issue of collusion.
The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Sean Brady, described as "unacceptable" the delay over a public inquiry into the murder of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
Dr Brady said he wanted to highlight what he saw as the main issues on the way to finding a resolution.
He added that the political parties must go the "extra mile" to bring about police reform.
"I know that there is hope there, great hope, and I want to put on record recognition and appreciation of what has been achieved and pay tribute to politicians who have stayed with the process," he said.
"But at the same time, maybe by naming the obstacles people will begin to accept and see where the responsibility lies for the removal of those."
DUP assembly member and Policing Board member Ian Paisley Junior said the comments were unhelpful.
"It will destabilise the Catholic community whose support for policing has quite clearly been growing," he said.
"Now they are getting the message from their Catholic leadership: 'Just put the brakes on that support - we have to get more concessions before you can support the police with open arms'.
"I think it is a very sad reflection of the leadership he is prepared to give and I don't think it is in keeping with what Roman Catholics want."
The Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, described Dr Brady's speech as balanced.
However, in a statement on Thursday, Mr Orde said that some parts of the speech that had been highlighted did not give a true reflection of its overall balance.
The vice-chairman of the Policing Board, Denis Bradley, described Dr Brady's speech as "helpful".
Mr Bradley said the Archbishop helped highlight some of the problems communities had over policing.
"I think that the Catholic community does not yet fully accept that those reforms are happening and ongoing and I think it's up to the Policing Board, and people like myself to continue to assure the Catholic community that there actually is that change," he said.
The Archbishop's comments came in a speech he delivered in London on Wednesday on the topic Faith and Identity - a Catholic Perspective on Northern Ireland.
He said that Protestants had to accept the full implications of the Good Friday Agreement and the legitimacy of the nationalist aspiration to a united Ireland.
And he called for Catholics to "vigorously challenge" the actions of "non-democratic armed groups".
He described Northern Ireland as a society with an "inherent capacity to distrust".
EXHIBITION MARKS LENNON HERITAGE
John Lennon's widow has attended the launch of a very special art exhibition which marks her late husband's Irish heritage.
Yoko Ono said the exhibition was important because of her beliefs
Yoko Ono visited the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, where works by more than 100 of Ireland's contemporary artists are on display.
The art and an accompanying book are also on sale, with the proceeds going to the human rights group Amnesty International.
That group was close to the hearts of both John and Yoko.
She told the BBC: "It is very important, because he (John) had a lot to do with world peace and what we believed in, in terms of Amnesty.
"But also, John was Liverpool-Irish and he was very proud of his lineage."
Northern Ireland artists Wille Doherty and Paul Seawright have contributed pieces to the display.
Works by Guggi, a friend of U2's lead singer Bono, are also on display as well as those by perhaps the most famous of all contemporary Irish artists, Louis LeBrocquy.
The exhibition is open to the public from Friday until 23 May. Admission is free.
£100M PLAN TO TURN WEST BELFAST AROUND
West Belfast MP Gerry Adams yesterday welcomed a massive £100 million plan for the economic, educational, social and cultural regeneration of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill areas.
An integrated area strategy – based on the findings and recommendations of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Taskforces Report issued in February 2002 – was yesterday submitted to government minister, Ian Pearson, for his consideration.
The purpose of the strategy is to prioritise the needs of the area, link these priorities to the responsibilities of different government departments and maximise the potential benefits for people living in the area.
Work on the strategy was carried out by a Joint Working Group (JWG) drawn from the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Forces, Belfast and Lisburn City Councils, the Belfast and Lisburn Local Strategy Partnerships and relevant government departments. The group was co-chaired by John Simpson from the Task Forces, and a senior official from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Professional planning and evaluation assistance was provided by Deloitte consulting.
The JWG have registered a total bid of some £31 million from the new Integrated Development Fund, which was established last March, to support the £100 million regeneration plan for the area.
The balance of the £100 million will come from a variety of sources including local and central government, European funds and the private sector.
The plan is based around seven themes and involves the following projects:
• a special Task Force initiative for the education of children and young people. This project is designed to make a well-targeted and focused effort to ensure that more of the young people growing up throughout West Belfast and Greater Shankill are encouraged and motivated to take fuller advantage of their early years of learning in preparation for the world of work
• projects aimed at improving the employability and earning prospects of people who live in the area which will be advanced by new training investments proposed by the Belfast Institute for Further & Higher Education, and by the ground-breaking work of the recently-created Employment Services Board
• a number of projects directly linked to efforts to provide jobs. Invest NI’s development of the Forth River Business Park project on the former Mackies site is underway and will provide a major support to the regeneration plans.
In addition, more units for new businesses are proposed, as well as the creation of an Enterprise Council to co-ordinate ideas for enterprise development
• a new flexible fund to support social economy projects aimed at assisting ‘hard to reach’ groups into employment has been proposed, as well as projects to provide sustainable employment for ex-prisoners and to increase childcare facilities in the Suffolk area
• major schemes to improve and regenerate the living and business environment along major arterial routes across the Task Force area, including parts of the Falls Road, the Shankill Road, the Springfield Road and the Crumlin Road. Linked to these is a similar scheme for the Colin neighbourhood (Twinbrook, Poleglass and Lagmore)
• a number of projects aimed at enhancing the prospects for job creation, cultural promotion and tourism in the Greater Shankill area
• plans for the development of a Gaeltacht area in West Belfast and the refurbishment of Conway Mill.
John Simpson, Co-Chair of the Joint Working Group, said: “In analysing the core needs which must be addressed in these areas, the Joint Working Group came to the view that developing a package of measures aimed at tackling the basic issues impacting upon literacy and numeracy across all wards in the Task Force area was of overarching significance and importance.
“In this context, the project proposed as a special Task Force initiative for the education of children and young people is considered to be particularly important.
“The remaining projects submitted as part of our bid to the Integrated Development Fund represent a package of interventions across a number of cross-cutting strategic themes. As such, progress on the entire package provides a greater potential contribution to the socio-economic and physical regeneration of the Task Force areas than the sum of the individual projects.
“The Joint Working Group sees the entire package as worthy of support.
“It is also important to note the significance of the Joint Working Group which has brought together people from each of the two Task Forces. They have demonstrated an ability to work in true partnership to develop an integrated approach to regeneration which will benefit both areas.”
The proposals have now been presented to the responsibile Minister, Ian Pearson MP, for his consideration, and the Joint Working Group hope to arrange a discussion with the Minister and OFMDFM officials to ensure that decisions about funding can be made at the earliest opportunity.
West Belfast MP Gerry Adams yesterday welcomed the application by the West Belfast Taskforce Joint Working Group to the Integrated Development Fund.
“I would hope that today marks a turning point in the process of regenerating West Belfast,” said Mr Adams. “The bid is ambitious and of a scale to make real change across the constituency.
“It contains projects which, taken together, will make a real change to the people of West Belfast and contribute significantly to the economy of all of Belfast.
“The projects included in the bid are designed to complement each other and build a holistic approach to regeneration. The projects seek to promote West Belfast as a place to invest in, they seek to break down the barriers to employment and to build on the positive aspects of life in West Belfast.”
Mr Adams said that when he first urged for the establishment of an Economic Taskforce for West Belfast over a decade ago it was in belief that the poverty facing the community was not intractable.
“It could be ended by positive action to redress inequality. We needed a co-ordinated strategic plan devised and agreed by government departments, local business people and community organisations.
“This work was progressed under the sponsorship of local ministers and the Task Force Report was delivered on time reflecting the urgency of the situation across West Belfast.
“Our task now has to make the Task Force Report a reality. The establishment of the Employment Services Board last month was an important part of this implementation. The application to the Integrated Development Fund is another.
“I would hope that the urgency of the situation is reflected in the government’s consideration of this bid.”
Journalist:: Staff Reporter
GO, MOVE, SHIFT!
Traveller family flees dream home after neighbours hold protest. Young mum claims that she’s scapegoat after Megan McAlorum murder...
An angry mob of 15 Poleglass residents have prevented a young Traveller family from starting a new life in a local house.
Mary Cawley and her six children arrived at their new home at Hazelwood Avenue to begin moving in their belongings only to find the crowd of protesters milling around outside the front door. Mary said she was told by the crowd that she wouldn’t be allowed to live in the house because of “the situation”. She said that she believes that to be a reference to heightened tensions between the Travelling and settled communities in the wake of the murder of 16-year-old Glencolin girl Megan McAlorum. Two members of the local Travelling community have been charged in connection with Megan’s murder.
Traveller forced to flee new home
A member of the Travelling community has said she has been embarrassed and humiliated by a group of residents who refused to let her move into her new home in West Belfast.
Mother-of-six Mary Cawley was due to move into new accommodation in Hazelwood Avenue. She says that she and her young family were intimidated by a group of between 10 and 15 residents who gathered outside the house and voiced their objection to the family moving in.
Local community workers who have been in contact with Mrs Cawley and who visited the house condemned the incident as “disgraceful” and said that the people involved were “cowards”. However, residents have said that they objected to the move because Mrs Cawley is involved in a Traveller feud – a claim she has categorically denied. Following the incident, Mary Cawley has had to return to her previous address in South Belfast and is currently seeking another home.
Mary was granted accommodation under the Housing Executive’s ‘Single Let’ system, which operates in conjunction with a private landlord. She had moved half her belongings into the house on Friday last when two people came to her door.
“A man and a woman came to the door and a man shoved a piece of paper into my face and told me to ring the number,” said Mary. “I asked him to give me his name and he wouldn’t tell me it, he then phoned my landlord and told him to come to the house immediately.”
Mary said that she is in no doubt that the residents in Hazelwood wanted her out because she is a Traveller.
“They told me that I would have to leave because of ‘the situation’. I asked what situation and they wouldn’t tell me. I am convinced that this is to do with the murder of Megan McAlorum, but they can’t tar all of us with the same brush.
“They also said that I would have to leave or face the consequences,” she added.
Mary said that her nine-year-old daughter, Margaret Rose, had been left traumatised by Friday night’s events.
“My wee girl Margaret Rose kept asking me, why do they not want us here? “I don’t want to ever go through anything like this again,” said Mary.
Joseph Brennan of Brennan Properties, who own the house, witnessed the incident. Mr Brennan said that he had been asked by the Housing Executive to house the Cawley family at his property and had no problems in letting the house to members of the Travelling community.
“I met the family before they were due to move in and I knew they were from the Travelling community. I can’t and won’t discriminate against anybody, and gave the keys to Mrs Cawley on Friday morning,” he said.
“I got a call later from someone to say that residents objected to them moving in and I went up to the house. By this stage there was about 10 or 15 people gathered outside.
“I spoke to some of the people who said that they objected to the Cawleys moving in because they were involved in a family feud and didn’t want any trouble.
“I won’t discriminate against any race, creed, colour or political background. “We do, however, take residents’ feelings into consideration,” he added.
Deirdre Groves from Community Restorative Justice said that she had been contacted by Mrs Cawley and went to the house accompanied by fellow community worker Annie Armstrong on Friday evening.
“I would condemn this behaviour, it was disgraceful,” said Ms Groves. “These people would not come forward and give their names to Mary or the reasons why they didn’t want the family to move in, they are cowards,” she added.
Ms Groves said that CRJ plan to call a meeting in Hazelwood to make it clear that racism will not be tolerated.
“CRJ treats everyone equally,” she added.
A member of the Hazelwood Residents Association, who did not wish to be named, said that residents had good reasons for objecting to the Cawley family moving into the area.
“We heard through a reliable source that she was involved in a feud,” said the resident.
“We objected to the family moving in because we were concerned about the safety of our children. When Travellers become involved in feuds things can get heavy-handed.
“We have nothing against Travellers and this is not, as has been suggested, anything to do with the murder of Megan McAlorum.
“If another family from the Travelling Community moved in we would have no objections just as long as they are not involved in a feud,” he added. A spokesman for the Housing Executive said that the Housing Executive had received reports about the incident.
“We understand that this family was recently prevented from moving into temporary accommodation. We are working to identify suitable alternative temporary accommodation for the family pending the allocation of a permanent tenancy.”
Journalist:: Roisin Cox
Twenty-three years ago today Bobby Sands died on hunger strike.
5 May 1981
God bless you Bobby
--from Bobby's own poem, "A Sad Song for Susan"
I'm sitting at the window, I'm looking down the street
I'm looking for your face, I'm listening for your feet.
Outside the wind is blowing and it's just begun to rain
But it's being here without you that's causing me such pain.
My mind is running back again to when you were here
And I wish I had you now, I wish you were near.
Remember the Winter nights when you warmed me from the cold
And the Spring when we walked through green fields and skies of gold
You're gone, you're gone, but you live on in my memory.
**The following excerpt is from TEN MEN DEAD by David Beresford and begins after Bobby has been elected MP.
In the prison the hunger strike was continuing inexorably. As the count had got under way down in Enniskillen, Hughes was being moved to the prison hospital. Patsy O'Hara was beginning to feel the effects, telling the doctor that when he touched his left side, or his stomach, a pain shot up his body. The doctor said it was to be expected and would only get worse. A few days later, on the 15th, both he and Raymond McCreesh followed Sands and Hughes to the hospital, both of them getting rousing send-offs in their wings.
Quite apart from the overall political significance of the election result, it had destroyed the Government's short-term strategy for handling the hunger strike. It was obviously no longer possible to continue trying to ignore it. Instead it was decided to present a reasonable front - to be seen to be doing everything possible to resolve the dispute, short of meeting the demands. So when Sands put in a formal request to be allowed a visit from three members of the Dublin Parliament, it was quickly granted; so quickly that Sands himself was caught short - the outside leadership had not got around to telling him what was the purpose of the visit. He was getting short-tempered by this stage and was irritated by the lapse. He had had the last rites on Saturday the 18th. Medical staff had begun rubbing cream into his body and checking his condition every two hours. He was sleeping on a sheep-skin rug, on a waterbed, to try and protect his skin. His eyes were hurting all the time and he was finding it difficult to read the smuggled comms.
The three Irish Parliamentarians were also members of the European Parliament: Sile de Valera, a statuesque blonde and granddaughter of the founder of the present Irish Republic, Eamon de Valera; Neil Blaney, a former Irish Cabinet minister slung out of government after a scandal over alleged gun-running to the IRA; and John O'Connell, a medical doctor, editor of the Irish Medical Times and son of a British soldier.
They met at the Fairways hotel in Dundalk, just south of the border in the early hours of Monday morning, having been told that the RUC wanted them across the border by 7.30 A.M. for security reasons. Owen Carron and Danny Morrison met them at the hotel and they piled into Carron's car. On the other side of the yellow line marking the border the police were waiting. Two armoured Cortinas loaded with officers pulled out, one in front an one at the back, and they roared up the A6 to the Kesh.
As they went into the prison hospital John O'Connell turned to the other two and said that he was planning to ask Sands to end the hunger strike. They walked the cell, looking dapper - all three of them wearing suts - as the warder said: 'You've got visitors, members of the European Parliament.' Sands was lying on the bed looking gaunt, his face marble white, almost blending with the white sheets; he was very different from the chubby-faced picture everyone knew on the election posters and in the media. His eyes seemed glazed at first, but he brightened and sat up when he saw them. O'Connell looked at him critically, as a patient; he had little experience of starvation, only a couple of patients suffering anorexia nervosa, but the diagnosis he offered up mentally was easy: emaciated, needs nourishment fast, intravenously. They took his hand in turn - Sands too feeble to lift his - and introduced themselves. O'Connell made a quick medical check before they started talking: eyes shrunken and sight fading. He flashed a hand in front of his face: wink reflex going. The pulse was weak and, slipping a hand into his pyjama jacket, he felt the heart was feeble. About five or six days to live.
They sat down on the right-hand side of the bed. How could they help? they asked. Sands launched into an account of the hunger strike, explaining why the five demands had been devised and how they could be met by Britain without loss of face. They listened intently, struck by the clarity of his thinking. Then O'Connell appealed to him to come off, telling him that he had proved his point and that all three of them would fight for him and demand that Thatcher make the changes. It was right to stand and fight for what you believed in, but there was no use dying for it. Surely it was better to live and fight than to die. Sands clarified: 'I knew you would say that,' he said. No, he would not be coming off. They talked for about forty minutes - no limit had been set on the visit - when O'Connell decided Sands should be allowed to rest and said they had better be going. He took Sands's hand in his own, putting the other on his shoulder, and said: 'We'll do everything we can to help.' De Valera had tears in her eyes and put a hand behind him; for a moment O'Connell thought she was going to sweep him into her arms, like a mother cuddling a child. Blaney, big and toughh of reputation, bent over to say goodbye and caressed Sands's face with the back of his hand in a gesture of intense gentleness. As they looked back from the door all three knew they would not be seeing him again: there was no doubt in their minds that Sands was going the distance. De Valera turned to the warder and asked why they kept food at the bottom of the bed. 'In case he wants to eat,' said the warder.
They were taken out of the prison through a side gate, because there was a Loyalist demonstration taking place at the front against their visit. They had planned to go to Belfast to hold a press conference, but their police escort insisted they had to return south. So they headed back to Dundalk to organize an alternative press conference in Dublin and despatch a telegram to Thatcher, appealing for a meeting to discuss the prison dispute. Mrs Thatcher, still in Saudi Arabia, retorted at a press conference: 'It is not my habit or custom to meet MPs from a foreign country about a citizen of the UK, resident in the UK.'
Desperate moves were afoot in Dublin. The Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Gaetano Alibrandi - the Vatican's ambassador to Ireland - despatched a telegram to the Pope, outlining the growing crisis. The Prime Minister, Charlie Haughey, was becoming increasingly anxious. He had planned to hold an election in May and the groundwork was well advanced; the campaign song, 'Arise and Follow Charlie', had even made it into the pop charts. But if he held an election with the hunger strike still on, it could be disastrous for him. Sands had shown the impact the H-Blocks could have on an election and a few thousand votes stolen from Fianna Fail - the 'Republican Party' - by the prisoners could be enough to give FitzGerald power. He called in the British Ambassador for half an hour for discussions. Haughey, together with John Hume and the Bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daley, was busily trying to arrange for an intervention by the European Commission for Human Rights. The European Commission had been involved in the H-Block issue before, although in completely different circumstances.
The commission was established to monitor and act under the European Convention on Human Rights, enacted and signed by twenty states in 1953. Staffed by about twenty lawyers, housed in a modern building behind the Council of Europe Assembly in Strasbourg, their brief was to investigate complaints, mediate between complainants and, where they were unable to resolve the issue, to refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights for a ruling, or to the Council of Europe's Foreign Ministers for diplomatic action. In June 1980 they had rejected a complaint over the H-Blocks issue, brought by Kieran Nugent and three other prisoners, ruling that there were no grounds under international law for the claim to political status and that conditions in the prison were self-inflicted, and therefore no cause for complaint against Britain. But at the same time they had criticized Britain, expressing concern 'at the inflexible approach of the State authorities which has been concerned more to punish offenders against prison discipline than to explore ways of resolving such a serious deadlock'. It was the phrase which Haughey and Hume believed could give the opening to Britain to now act - because it could be presented as a reaction to the commission, rather than to the hunger strike. The problem was that the commission's constitution specified that complaints could only be lodged by signatories to the Convention, or 'any person, non-governmental organization, or group of individuals claiming to be the victims of the violation'. So the complaint had to come from the prisoners - preferably Sands. Hume, with his powerful contacts in Europe, had nearly persuaded the commission to allow two members, the Danish acting president, Professor Carlaage Norgaard, and a Norwegian, Professor Torkel Opsahl, to act as mediators. But a row had ensued at the commission's Strasbourg headquarters, with other members protesting that such an informal initiative might damage the commission's standing. So Haughey decided he would have to get a formal request out of the Sands family for the commission to intervene.
He had an hour-long meeting with Bobby's sister, Marcella, and their mother, at which he told them the only chance for him was to get the commission into the Kesh. Britain was looking for an opening for a settlement. It was a formality. He produced a prepared document - a complaint to the commission over the treatment of Sands in prison - and persuaded Marcella to sign it. It was a three-point complaint against Britain, for violating Sands's rights to life, to protection from inhuman treatment and to freedom of expression - the last a reference to the refusal of the authorities to allow him access to the media before the election and to have normal contact with his constituents since becoming an MP.
Within hours Professor Norgaard and Professor Opsahl were on their way, together with two commission officials, Mr Michael O'Boyle and Dr Hans Christian Kruger. They stopped off at London and had a ninety-minute meeting with Foreign Office officials, agreeing that while Marcella Sands's complaint was sufficient grounds for them to make the journey, it would have to be confirmed by Bobby Sands himself if they were to take it any further.
They went into the Kesh on Saturday the 25th, and ran straight into problems. Sands, through his lawyer, Pat Finucan, flatly refused to see them unless his 'advisers'- McFarlane, Gerry Adams and another senior Sinn Féin official, Danny Morrison - were present. The commissioners asked if they could see McFarlane to discuss it and he was brought across to the hospital to meet them. They asked him if there was any way they could get in to see Sands on their own, just to get confirmation of Marcella's complaint. McFarlane said that the conditions had already been agreed among themselves and would have to be met before Sands would agree to see them. The commissioners said rules of procedure by which they were bound wuld not allow it. The commission always conducted its business in confidence and the presence of 'witnesses' had a ring of publicity about it which worried them. McFarlane, as always looking for the opening to wrong-foot the Government, asked who had prevented them from bringing in Adams and Morrison. Professor Opsahl said it was the Government, but Dr Kruger cut in, saying the Government would prevent them if asked. McFarlane said that was only an assumption unto they made the request. Kruger said that was correct, but they did not feel able to make such a request. McFarlane said they had already set the precedent by asking to see him. There was no question of his asking Sands to change the preconditions. O'Boyle said talk of preconditions indicated inflexibility. McFarlane retorted that they had made many attempts to settle the issue in the face of British inflexibility.
With the argument unresolved McFarlane went in to see Sands for ten minutes. Sands could hardly talk. He was not incoherent, but his speech was slurred and slow, as if he was running up a hill. McFarlane outlined what was happening and Sands told him to stand fast. McFarlane went out to see the commissioners again, reaffirmed Sands's position and told them that if they could get permission to have Adams and Morrison in, it could lead to talks. He was taken back to his cell.
After eight hours in the Kesh the commissioners gave up. They slipped out of the prison through a side entrance, avoiding a demonstration by 200 followers of the Reverend Ian Paisley, who were waving placards demanding. 'Did 2,000 dead have human rights?' and brandishing hangmen's nooses. Later the commissioners issued a three-paragraph statement, pedantically headed: 'Marcella Sands v United Kingdom number (Application number 9338/81) It said Mr Sands did not wish to associate himself with his sister's complaint, although he was prepared to see them in the company of three colleagues. 'After further consultations the delegation concluded that in the circumstances it was not possible to see and confer with Mr Sands and accordingly no meeting took place.'
That night Sands had a crisis. His family were called up to the prison hospital and for a while it was touch and go whether he would make it through the night. Outside tensions rose. Bakeries in Catholic areas reported a run on bread supplies as stockpiling began. The IRA staged a show of strength in Armagh, setting up a road block with fifteen masked men carrying Armalites and sub-machine guns. The 'Ulster Army Council', a defunct umbrella organization which had been created to coordinate Loyalist paramilitary action, was revived and met to agree strategy for the defence of Protestant areas if civil war broke out. The UDA announced it was mobilizing 2,500 men in Belfast to protect Protestant areas. In Andersonstown, West Belfast, the INLA dumped a hijacked lorry in the middle of a road, blocking traffic. A police patrol arrived and Constable Garry Martin, aged 28 and the father of two baby sons, climbed into the cab to move it, dying instantly as it exploded. Near the town of Castlewellan, in Co. Down, IRA gunmen opened fire on an unmarked van carrying three soldiers. The driver lost control and the vehicle turned over, killing Lannce Corporal Richard McKee of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Across the Province police started rounding up H-Block campaigners for 'questioning'. In Belfast 13,000 took part in a march, showing the strength of Nationalist emotions. In London one end of Downing Street was padlocked as police, discreetly began introducing security measures. The Government seemed resigned to the death of Sands and the ensuing mayhem.
But at 4.30 P.M. on Tuesday the 28th the twice-hourly shuttle service to Belfast took off from Heathrow with another VIP on his way to try and settle the dispute at the Kesh: this time it was the Pope's secretary.
Fr Magee was an Irishman, born in Newry in 1936. He had studied philosophy in Cork before going out to Nigeria, working there for six years as a missionary teacher. In Nigeria he had been befriended by Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli, then papal delegate in Lagos, under whose patronage he was to have a meteoric career in the Church. Ordained in Rome in 1962, he was invited by Cardinal Pignedoli to join the Secretariat for Evangelization of Peoples in Rome. In 1975 he had been appointed personal secretary to Pope Paul VI, a personal friend of Cardinal Pignedoli. Fr Magee established a close relationship with Paul VI, who mentioned him in his will, but after his death was asked to remain secretary to John Paul I. It was Fr Magee who found the pontiff dead in his bed, thirty-three days later. When the Polish Paul II was elected he also asked Fr Magee to stay on, explaining: 'I don't know anyone around here at the Vatican.' Later the Pope appointed a Polish priest to share the secretarial duties with him.
Fr Magee had discussed papal intervention in the hunger strike with Cardinal O Fiaich, by phone to Armagh, a few days earlier. The Irish Cardinal was not particularly enthusiastic, feeling that it was too late and that to have an emissary come over from Rome in a blaze of publicity and then fail to settle the dispute would be worse than nothing. But the Pope and the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Casaroli, after consultations with the Catholic hierarchy in England as well as the Irish Government, decided the intervention was worth it. Fr Magee phoned Cardinal O Fiaich again on Tuesday 28 April to say he was on his way. The British Embassy in Rome was advised of the priest's plan and it was agreed that no announcement would be made until he actually got to Belfast and into the Kesh, to avoid Loyalist demonstrations on his arrival. But when he arrived on his Alitalia flight at Heathrow en route for Belfast he found the press had been alerted and the airport was swarming with journalists. He was met by the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Peter Blaker, and had a brief talk with him in an airport lounge before taking the flight to Belfast.
In Belfast Cardinal O Fiaich had discovered that the police were arranging to pick Fr Magee up at the airport. He tried to persuade them not to, because it might identify him too closely with the authorities. But the police insisted, on security grounds. At the airport the cardinal suggested to Fr Magee that he go to Fr Murphy's home and then into the Kesh under the aegis of the prison chaplain. Fr Magee agreed, but police insisted on his making the trip to Fr Murphy's in a bulletproof limousine. So they set off in convoy, the cardinal in his car, Fr Magee in the police car and press cars tagging along behind. It was turning into a circus. At Fr Murphy's house, a. few miles from the Kesh, they had to talk in the bedroom, to avoid the heads peering in through the windows downstairs.
Fr Magee went into the Kesh twice, seeing Sands three times as well as meeting Hughes, McCreesh and O'Hara, making a personal appeal on the Pope's behalf to them to try to settle the dispute. He also spent an hour with Humphrey Atkins, finding the Secretary of State surprisingly hostile. He left Northern Ireland with nothing achieved, issuing a statement to 'assure all that the efforts of the Holy Father will continue in seeking-ways to help people in Northern Ireland, indeed in Ireland as a whole, to work out solutions to their communal problems in accordance with Christian teachings.'
The tension continued to rise, with some help from the Secretary of State, who announced he had knowledge that the IRA was planning to try and start sectarian warfare in the event of Sands's death; he claimed that in one area of Belfast they were intending to evacuate residents and burn their emptied houses, blaming it on Protestant paramilitaries to fuel sectarian conflict. When it emerged that the area he was referring to was the Short Strand - a Catholic enclave, in Protestant East Belfast - the claim was met with ridicule; one community leader in the area, making the point that virtually every family there had IRA connections, asked sarcastically: 'Whose house will they burn first?'
In Rome the Pope called on Roman Catholics to 'pray for our Catholic and non-Catholic brethren in Northern Ireland in the time of grave tension they are going through, which it is feared may again erupt in new and most grave acts of fratricidal violence'.
In the village of Toomebridge Bernadette McAliskey was appealing for calm. 'In the event of Bobby Sands dying we do not want a single riot, a single stoning, or a single petrol bombing,' she told several thousand demonstrators at an H-Block rally. 'If Bobby Sands can die for the five demands, we can hold our tempers.'
Inside the Kesh the tension was having its effect on McFarlane. He had anxiously asked the Falls Road for advice on what would happen if a settlement were reached while Bobby was in a coma. Would doctors be able to intervene, legally, if they had not had his prior permission? On the Monday night, after the commissioners had gone, he dreamed he was talking to Cardinal O Fiaich. The cardinal was giving him a verbal lambasting. Adams was standing behind the Primate, pissing against a wall and glaring at McFarlane menacingly over horn-rimmed glasses. It was beginning to dawn on McFarlane that maybe the Brits were not going to do anything: they were just going to let Bobby die.
Brownie [Gerry Adams] 29.4.81 from Bik
Comrade, Mor, got your very welcome comm today. Good to hear from you. This is really some situation isn't it? A terrific thought struck me two days ago and that was that there was every possibility the Brits will not say anything at all or make any attempt at dipping in attractive offers, but just stand back and let things run their course. I think your analysis of the Brit mentality is about as close as anyone can come i.e. their stupidity is unbelievable. I still don't think they have learned that oppression breeds resistance and further oppression - further resistance!! As for their arrogance - I never saw the likes of it (of course I'm not a much travelled individual but I reckon I'd have to go a long way to meet persons of a similar 'superior' nature). However, as you said, they will regret their stupidity. How I wish I were out - just to light the blue touch paper and retire if you know what I mean!! Old habits die hard though some of mine had to be re-diirected as you well know. Anyway, one day I'll make a few noises in the right sectors. Now, where was I? Yes, Brit arrogance. I mind Tom McKearney quoted me a bit of Rudyard Kipling (I think that's the guy who makes exceedingly good cakes!). According to old Rudy the British are immune to logic - a sensible enough assertion I would say. They're the only people I know who are perfectly correct when they are entirely wrong. I was over there a couple of years and found that this attitude was prevalent among all classes. Though I suppose its wrong of me to generalize in such a manner. Oh balls to the British - why waste skibs and ink? As you know I saw Bob on Saturday - it was quite an experience and in all honesty I haven't felt the same since. I just had a short yarn with him and when I was preparing to leave he said quietly: 'I'm dying Bik.' Don't think I can describe how I felt just then. I couldn't say anything except God Bless. I told him I'd see him again very soon and he just gave me quiet laugh. Man, what a feeling!! ...
To Liam Og 29.4.81 12.30 A.M. (of 30th)
. . . I think it's becoming increasingly more obvious that the Brits are going to hold fast. It's a nightmarish thought comrade which is taking on the form of cold hard reality with each passing day. . .
Liam Og from Bik 30.4.81
Comrade, just after reading your comm for the third time. What can I say? You should have been a psychologist - that was an invaluable therapy session on three skibs. The truth is you are perfectly correct in drawing the conclusions you did from my last comms as I have been worried of just such a situation you mentioned, i.e. a last minute life and death struggle, with the Brits trying to panic me. There is only one answer I suppose and that is to be strong - stronger than the Brits in fact and to have faith in oneself and those pulling with you. As you say - maintain the line and refuse to be panicked. I know Bob will see it through so I reckon 100 per cent effort must be forthcoming from the rest of us. It's just that this situation is exactly what you said it was - overwhelming - and it takes a bit of effort staying with it. However your comm had a sound effect on me - reassuring and solidifying I would say. You're really quite a chap you know and you needn't apologize for things which may hurt - very often they prove the only recipe for success. By the way it didn't hurt. Try harder next time (Ha). You're not really the 'B' you say you are though there are those who would say you were worse. Just on what you say about other men going hunger strike - I take your point about committing the Movement on men's personal opinions and agree that only the best interests should dictate our actions. You already know my feelings about replacing a dead comrade - I still feel we should do this though I did accept last week's decision of the Army Council. I believe that this situation has become even bigger than we imagined it would and therefore we should examine all strategies which may help to achieve a victory. I know we are speaking here of a terrible cost in terms of men's lives. Anyway the first four hunger strikers and then a possible repetition with those who follow. But high stakes will demand a high price. I know all the arguments against protracted hunger strike and basically speaking I have been in agreement with them. However if changing circumstances offer us other avenues which at one time considered infeasible are now thought feasible we should explore them. That's about it I reckon. I've enclosed the names of the first four replacements from my original list. I'll get them to comm you as soon as possible. They are 1. Joe McDonnell H5 Lenadoon. 2. Brendan McLoughlin H5 North Derry. 3. Kieran Doherty H6 Andersonstown. 4. Kevin Lynch IRSP H3 Dungiven. There are others which you won't need at present - just the first four OK. I haven't much else for you just now . . .
Jim Gibney, a senior Sinn Féin official, had just been in to see McCreesh. He was in good shape. Gibney was walking down t he corridor when he saw Sands's door open. His mother, father and sister, Marcella, were alongside the bed. Bobby was wearing a crucifix given to him by Fr Magee on the Pope's behalf.
How are you?' asked Gibney.
'Is that you, Jim?' asked Sands.
'It is, Bobby.' He took his band.
'I'm blind. I can't see you. Tell the lads to keep their chins up.'
With speculation in the media that the end was only hours away for Sands, the Province settled into a deathly wait. On Thursday night he slept in snatches, from hour to hour. He had been managing to hold the water down, but was battling to get it out again. His hearing was going as well as his sight - noises seemed to echo in his head. Pain in his stomach and chest was constant. Friday was May Day and Labour's spokesman on Northern Ireland, Don Concannon, chose the occasion to fly over from London for a hurried visit to the Kesh, to inform Sands of his party's backing for the Government on the whole issue. Concannon, who as former minister at the Northern Ireland Office responsible for prisons had presided over the withdrawal of special category status, explained afterwards that he had gone in because he did not want Sands misunderstanding the Opposition's position.
Later in the day Carron was allowed in for time. He found Sands in no shape to talk. He was lying on the waterbed, his left eye was black and closed, the right eye nearly closed and his mouth twisted as if he had suffered a stroke. He had no feeling in his legs and could only whisper. Every now and then he started dry retching. He managed to ask Carron if there was any change. The Fermanagh man said no, there was no change. Sands said: 'Well, that's it.' He told Carron: 'Keep my ma in mind.' Carron bent over the bed, hugged him and kissed him.
* * *
'Do not tell me the IRA represents people in Northern Ireland,' said the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, on Independent Radio. 'They have no status, they are not accepted by anyone,' he added.
Over the weekend one last, despairing bid was made by Haughey and, the Church. Fr Murphy went in to see McFarlane to relay the suggestion, from Cardinal O Fiaich, that if the prisoners would compromise with two or three demands - say their own clothing, the right not to work and perhaps free association - it would give Haughey more leverage in dealing with Mrs Thatcher. The Government had been insisting that the five demands amounted to political status, so that they could not claim that three demands also amounted to status. It would put them in an embarrassing position. McFarlane replied sarcastically: 'Why was. it only at the last minute that everyone wanted to put pressure on the Brits?' There was no way that they were going to provide escape hatches for 'Amadon' -'the Fool', as he called Haughey - in his dealings with 'Tinknickers', Mrs Thatcher. Obviously Britain did not want a settlement, so it did not matter whether there were fifteen demands or one demand. They were using the prisoners to try and break the IRA and were prepared to let men die to achieve that. And if that was the case then men would die, because they were not surrendering.
'You are looking for a victory over them and they the same over you, which means someone loses.' said the chaplain. 'What I'm looking for is a settlement whereby the prisoners get basically what they want and the Brits don't come under the accusing finger of surrendering to terrorism, which they won't do anyway.'
McFarlane said that if the Brits really wanted a solution they would agree to fifteen demands and call it Man on the Moon Status. The prisoners were sticking by five demands.
'I hope you win.' said Fr Murphy, as he left.
On Sunday Sands lapsed into a coma. His parents, brother Séan and Marcella were with him to the end, which came at 1. 17 on the morning of Tuesday 5 May 1981.
It was announced by the Northern Ireland Office thirty- five minutes later with a terse statement: 'He took his own life by refusing food and medical intervention for sixty-six days.' -the Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas, rose to tell Parliament with the words.. 'I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Robert Sands Esquire, the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.' He pointedly failed to extend condolences to the family, which are traditionally offered by the Speaker on the death of a Member.
Reaction flooded in from around the world. The US Government issued a statement expressing deep regret. The Longshoremen's Union announced a twenty-four-hour boycott of British ships. The New Jersey State legislature voted 34-29 for a resolution honouring his 'courage and commitment'. More than 1,000 gathered in St Patrick's Cathedral to hear New York's Cardinal Cook offer a Mass of reconciliation for northern -Ireland. Irish bars in the city closed for two hours in mourning. The New York Times said: 'Despite proximity and a common language the British have persistently misjudged the depth of Irish nationalism.' In San Francisco's Irish community the mood was reported to be 'subdued, courteous enough, but curiously menacing, as if everyone is waiting for a message as yet undelivered'. In Rome the President of the Italian Senate, Amintore Fanfani, stepped into the breach left by the British Speaker, expressing condolences to the Sands family. About 5,000 students burnt the Union Jack and shouted 'Freedom for Ulster' during a march in Milan. In Ghent students invaded the British consulate. Thousands marched in Paris behind a huge portrait of Sands, to chants of 'The IRA will conquer.' The town of Le Mans announced it was naming a street after him, which the British Embassy said was 'an insult to Britain'.
The Hong Kong Standard said it was 'sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe's religious wars'. The Hindustan Times said Mrs Thatcher had allowed a fellow Member of Parliament to die of starvation, an incident which had never before occurred 'in a civilized country'. Tehran announced Iran would be sending its ambassador in Sweden to represent the Government at the funeral. In Oslo demonstrators threw a balloon filled with tomato sauce at the Queen, who was on a visit to Norway. In India Opposition members of the Upper House stood for a minute's silence in tribute. Members of Indira Gandhi's ruling Congress Party refused to join in. In Portugal members of the Opposition stood for him. In Spain the Catholic Ya newspaper described Sands's hunger strike as 'subjectively an act of heroism' while the conservative ABC said he was a political kamikaze who had got his strategy wrong. Die Welt said in West Germany that the British Government was right and he was simply trying to blackmail the state with his life. In Russia Pravda described it as 'another tragic page in the grim chronicle of oppression, discrimination, terror and in violence' Ireland. In Poland Lech Walesa paid tribute. In Toulouse a bomb exploded in a warehouse used by the British tyre firm, Dunlop, and a slogan was found sprayed on a wall saying: 'English power kills.' A second bomb blew a hole in the door of the British Chamber of Commerce in Milan and a third exploded outside the Royal British Club in Lisbon. In London a parcel bomb addressed to the Prince of Wales was intercepted at High Holborn sorting office.
On the streets of West Belfast the women took to the streets, banging dustbin lids - in the days of internment used as the alarm to signal the troops were coming. By 2 A.M., as the news had spread throughout the ghetto areas, barricades were burning and Molotov cocktails arching their way towards police and army bases and patrols.
In cell 6, D Wing, H3, baby-faced Jake Jackson lay on his back in the top bunk, staring at the ceiling. He was remembering a day back in December 1965. He had been six years old, living with his granny in the Ardoyne. It had been snowing outside, which had added to the feeling of desolation. He had gone downstairs to his Aunt Mary and said: 'My Granny won't wake up.' Then Mary was crying and neighbours were running in and out. On the day of the funeral his mother had come back without his father and he'd said 'Where's daddy?' and his sister had said 'Your dad fell down. the hole and they filled it in' and he had cried and cried and cried. And on his bunk he cried quietly in the silence of the H-Block. Below him Bik was scribbling.
To Brownie 2.15 A.M.
Comrade mor, I just heard the news - I'm shattered -just can 't believe it. This is a terrible feeling I have. I don't even know what to say. Comrade, I'm sorry, but I just can't say anything else. May God in his infinite mercy grant eternal rest to his soul. Jesus Christ protect guide us all.
xoxo Bik xoxo
Liam Og Tue 5.5.81 8.00 A.M.
Comrade, this grief is unbelievable. I know you all must be wrecked out there. Words fail me to tell you the truth. I always was prepared for this and thought it would come but I was always praying and hoping that we could avoid it. When it did come it stunned me and I still feel numb. I can't really say much at present. I've enclosed a short note to the Sands family and Ricky has done one from the blanket men OK? Let's stay together comrade and hammer the bastards into the ground. I'll be in touch again soon. Could you get the signer [lawyer] up on Thursday just to get me out of this concrete box. God bless.
5.5.81 from Séanna H6
Got words on visits about Bob. No need to tell you how we feel. Also we got comm from you this morning. Screws not saying anything to lads, but slobbering and cracking jokes amongst themselves. Just before lock-up tonight they searched a few cells and wrote slogans on the walls. Screws weren't regulars . . . A few of the things they wrote, 'Goodbye Bobby, Bobby Sands RIP etc.' ...
To: - Frank - Ray + Patsy - Hospital
Comrades, the death of our comrade Bob has left us all in great sorrow and though we had prepared for such a tragic event it nevertheless stunned each of us. I feel a great sense of personal loss also - in fact we all do - blanket men are more than comrades - they are brothers. Therefore our loss is all the greater. We all feel a bitterness of immeasurable depth and a very great anger at this callous act by the British Government. From this has come an even greater determination, to resist and to fight back harder. It is a time for total commitment by each of us as we think on the ultimate sacrifice Bob made and of the torture each of you are enduring this very instant. We have taken strength from his death and from your resolve and I can tell you now that these men have responded in a true Republican spirit - totally disciplined and determined. We all stand with you and we shall not be shaken. We can succeed and we will succeed. May God take care of each of you and Bless you. -
To Liam Og from Bik 5.30 P.M.
Comrade, I've been following all the news and trying to keep a clear head at the same time. Things must be hectic out there. In here it's quiet - no trouble - no talk from screws - no problems. Hope you got all my stuff today. There's not a lot I can tell you at present - I'm ready and waiting for any moves anyone may make, but I don't reckon they are coming - not just now, anyway. I hear Frank is in a bad way now. Dear God what a place!! Your advice re people trying to put pressure on me, and what way I should get was sound. That's what Index was at this morning in his bungling fashion. I paid no heed comrade - such tactics aren't worthy of a reaction. Well mate, it's been a heartbreaking day for us all. We lost someone we all loved very dearly and we can't cry in case someone is looking. Who made these rules, eh? Love to all.
To Liam Og from Bik 5.5.81 1.00 P.M.
Comrade, got your comm a few minutes ago - sound enough. Not really much to say. My sorrow is now paralleled by an extreme bitterness comrade, but I'm sound enough. I've kept the lads on a tight rein and they have responded well. It's now ,1.30 and index has just left me. We didn't talk much though he asked if there was anything in my power to prevent the Hughes family going through the same agony next week. I told him that power lay with the Brits and if they didn't implement a solution then there would be more deaths and as far as I was on the cards. He said a prayer for Bob and just after he started he turned to me and said - 'we're praying for two Roberts aren't we-?' (referring to my father) - I just said - that' s correct. That's the heap. I'll get back to you tomorrow. Take good care and God Bless. Bik.
6.5.81 From Riasteard PRO
Alright comrade? Will you put an insertion in the paper on behalf of the blanket men using the following verse. 'They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn't want to be broke.' That's it cara, it is of sentimental importance to a lot of us for Bobby more or less adopted it as his motto ...
To Liam Og from O/C H5 6.5.81
... The tension in the block prior to Bobby's death was running very high. There was an incident on Monday concerning a petty screw and one of our lads (Paddy O'Hara, Tyrone). There were words exchanged and when the screw started into Paddy's cell he was clocked. The screw got a black eye. Paddy at his point was alright, but he was then put between the grilles with the same screw and we heard scuffles there and believe Paddy may have received a severe beating. The men are now stunned and shocked at the reality of Bob's death. The tension is still there and the screws are not taking any chances, letting too many out at the same time ...
His body was brought home the following afternoon to his parents' house on Laburnum Way in Twinbrool Estate where it lay in state in an open coffin under the front window of the drawing room. Local youths built a shrine out of boxes across the road, with a crucifix painted black-the words 'peace', 'justice' and 'freedom' inscribed in white - a tiny statue of Christ in Glory and, fluttering above in the slight wind, the tricolour and the flags of the ancient kingdoms of Ulster, Munster, Connacht and Leinster. Relays of young IRA men and women in black masks, IRA uniforms and dark glasses stood, guard of honour night and day, one at each end of the coffin, watching as neighbours, friends and the curious walked through to pay their last respects. Several top IRA men who had never personally known Sands slipped by, kissing his cold and rouged face.
A Sinn Fein official whispered to Rosaleen Sands that there was an English journalist outside who wanted to see him. She did not want him in, but then someone said, 'Why not, let them see what they've done.' So he came in and stood uncertainly by the coffin, nodded to Mrs Sands who stared implacably back, and hurried out ...
A news agency photographer the Sands family £75,000 for a picture of Bobby in his coffin. During his time in internment a group photograph had been taken of him and fellow prisoners, with a smuggled camera, and the blurred picture had become one of the most famous in the world. His family turned down the offer of a new one.
The funeral was held on the Thursday. The Sands family had been refused a 'concelebrated Mass' - the Church did not want to make a fuss about Sands's death. The people did.
It was pure guesswork as to how many attended, but the general estimate was that more than 100,000 people lined the route from St Luke's church, a few yards from the Sands home, to Milltown cemetery. It was the silence of the numbers which made the deepest impression - not frightening, but awe-inspiring. The tricolour and gloves and a white rose were pinned to the coffin. It wended its way down the Stewartstown Road, past the army base at Lenadoon, where huge screens had been erected to protect a nearby Protestant housing estate from the sight of an IRA martyr's funeral. The procession was led by a piper, playing an H-Block song:
But I'll wear no convict's uniform
Nor meekly serve my time
That Britain may call Ireland's fight
Eight hundred years of crime.
It was raining and at Milltown the red clay was being churned by shuffling feet between the dangling Christs and the marble Marys watching over the tombstones. Mourners had ducked under their umbrellas and television cameramen and photographers from America, Europe, Japan and even Thailand clung to a scaffolding erected to give them a bird's eye view of the grave. The coffin was carried with the pomp of the slow march, 8-year-old Gerard smart in brown jacket with a Beatle-style haircut, clutching his grandmother's hand and following behind, looking bemused by the funeral rites for a father he had not known.
In the crowd a middle-aged woman in black leather coat and boots, her hair done up in loops, craned to try and see Mrs Sands. Peggy O'Hara whispered to her daughter, Elizabeth, in explanation that she was trying to see what a mother looked like who could stand by and let her son die.
They played the Last Post, rolled up the tricolour and gave it to Mrs Sands with the beret and the gloves. Owen Carron delivered the oration. He was tired - he had been up all night at Liam Og's house, writing it - but he said the required things, ending with the declaration: 'Bobby Sands, your sacrifice will not be in vain.' The coffin was laid in the grave. The family took turns shoveling in a symbolic clump of earth. Gerard had to be helped with the heavy spade.
The Secretary of State marked the day with a statement defending the Government against the charge of inflexibility. 'Is murder any less murder because the person responsible claims he had a political motive?' he asked. 'The answer is no,' he said.
The army's Spearhead battalion, on stand-by in Britain for emergencies, flew into the Province.
In Dublin there was a knock at the door of Garret FitzGerald's home. Mrs FitzGeraid opened it and saw a beggarman. English newspapers said the beggar was a gunman dressed in paramilitary uniform, come to assassinate Garret for criticizing the IRA.
Inside the Kesh, after the dinner dishes had been cleared away and the warders had started the night watch, McFarlane called down the corridor: 'Parade, fall in!' Behind the steel doors bare feet stamped to attention. 'Stand easy!' Jake Jackson had been working on the oration since the day before. Now he started reading from the four sheets of toilet paper he had used to write it on: 'Comrades, we are gathered here to commemorate the death of a friend and a comrade and a great Irishman . . .'
THE TROUBLES ARE FAR FROM OVER
Report by MICHAEL TIERNEY May 03 2004
The farthest part of a scaffold pole surrounding the steeple of Holy Cross Church, Barney Cairns hung by his neck, his body jolting and wriggling, like a fish trying to breathe in human hands. Deliberately, theatrically, the teenager had climbed the highest and most visible point in Ardoyne to take his own life. It was around 3.30 in the afternoon of February 14, a clear, sunny day. The church, which is under renovation, bisects the two local cultures that have divided Belfast for years: on one side a loyalist stronghold, on the other the Catholic district. Two years ago the twin spires of Holy Cross dominated the skyline around Ardoyne for another reason, providing a dramatic backdrop to one of the most bitter sectarian disputes in Northern Ireland.
In the distance Barney would have seen the layered outlines of Cave Hill and Belfast loch. Wearing blue jeans, a striped shirt and trainers, he removed his fleece jacket and looped it around the pole. He breathed deeply, then tied the fleece tightly around his craned neck, his skin pale and freckled. He leaned forward and dropped into the void beyond. Because Barney was slight and the drop was short, his death resulted from slow asphyxiation. His face became engorged, his tongue protruded, his eyes popped, he probably defecated while his limbs resisted violently.
Earlier that day the youngster had attended the Holy Cross funeral of his best friend, Anthony O'Neill. Anthony, known as Cheetah to his friends, had committed suicide three days previously – the 18-year-old was found hanging from his belt in the roof space of his Ardoyne home. In February 2003 he had received a punishment beating from the republican splinter group the Irish National Liberation Army. Barney had refused to carry the coffin in case he dropped it. He had a limp from the time he had been shot in each leg by the INLA, more than 18 months previously, after being accused of fighting with one of its members. After the funeral Barney, along with his parents George and Angela, headed to the nearby Star social club.
"I watched him going round people," says Angela, sitting at home, her voice momentarily warmed by the memory. "He was talking, shaking hands, eyes full of mischief." Later Barney turned to his mother and asked for a kiss. "So I gave him a small kiss. 'I want a proper kiss,' he said. 'Kiss me, mammy.' And he kissed me. It was like something a boyfriend would do. I looked at him and laughed. 'People are watching.'" She could feel the little trace of a moustache on his lip. "Then he went down-stairs to see his daddy. He borrowed a few bob and then went out for cigarettes." Back and forward she rocks unconsciously, feeling the pulse in her wrist.
A few hours later Father Aidan Troy, from Holy Cross Church, climbed the scaffolding to the top of the tower with a fellow priest and, unable to reach Barney, administered last rites from a platform. When the fire brigade arrived the youngster was placed inside a body bag, lowered by pulley and then put in an ambu-lance beside a gathering crowd for his father George to identify. "His father went inside," says the priest. "He just cradled his boy and whispered gently in his ear. It was one of those private moments that I'll never forget, wonderful but tragic."
Barney Cairns was 18. His life was not yet concrete or even substantial. "I think he killed himself," says George, "before the INLA did." The day he was buried, Barney was due to start work as a trainee mechanic.
The deaths of O'Neill and Cairns brought the total number of suicides in north Belfast since Christmas 2003 to at least 13, yet contrary to media reports not all have been INLA-related and not all the deaths have been in the Catholic community. Four suicides have been in the Protestant community, two of which were young girls. The rest are nationalists, one of whom was in his sixties.
And it's not just north Belfast that is suffering: in the past few weeks there have been at least four more suicides in west Belfast. For many people around here, often too inured to violence to be shocked, the recent suicides have highlighted a post-ceasefire epidemic, a long, painful disembowelment, where guns and violence remain at the heart of Ulster politics. In all its manifestations north Belfast has become a mute monument of misery, with little sign of any peace dividend.
Angela sits straight-backed, perched forward on the couch, her hands clasped tightly. An intense woman, she speaks slowly but her tracks of memory are indiscrete and muddled. "It's a whole life that's been lost, not a part of one," she says, crying. The sound is terrible, almost unrecognisable. More than a year has passed since I interviewed Barney in his wheelchair, his mother at his side, following his shooting by members of the INLA, a small hardline republican faction who believe in the creation of a socialist republic. Barney had spent most of his life in Ardoyne, but when he was 15 the Cairnses moved to another part of north Belfast a couple of miles away, along with their ten children. But Barney continued to spend most of his time with friends in Ardoyne. When he was shot, it changed everything. "They put me in a car," he said at the time. "They pulled the coat off my head and I heard two loud bangs. My leg bones snapped through my shin."
According to Angela, in the months before his death there were numerous suicide attempts. Her son needed specialist help. She shakes her head vigorously when I tell her the INLA believes it has a mandate from the people of Ardoyne to act as it does. "They are just scumbags," she says. "They murdered my child. Broke his mind, then broke his body. The INLA tormented him." Her voice sounds dead. She pauses. "I'm not afraid of any of them, not one of them." She pauses again. "The sins of the fathers will fall on the sons."
Later that afternoon, after trawling the basic facts of Barney's story (in her distress she could offer little more than that), I visit the family of Anthony O'Neill in Ardoyne. The ghetto of Ardoyne is a heavily populated, brooding and melancholic Catholic enclave that has seen many of the frontline problems associated with the Troubles. Here and there small houses sit alongside scrubby patches of grass and slabbing; there are few other districts in Northern Ireland that have experienced the intensity of violence and underlying social problems as Ardoyne over the last three decades.
By all accounts Anthony had yet to recover from being abducted from his home, bound at the wrist and ankles, taped at the mouth, beaten and hung down a manhole then threatened with being shot. He escaped, but the fear fed on itself and he sank deeper into depression. O'Neill first attempted to take his life last year – with a massive overdose – and later tried to hang himself. The INLA would not leave him alone.
"They would taunt him in the streets, playing with his mind," says his mother Audrey, pursing her lips angrily. She tries to say something else but the words get caught in her throat so she grapples with them for a minute, then gives up. Like Angela, she wanders for a while, her memories existing almost outside her body, physically detached. "He would cut his arms very badly," she says, finally. "It was a cry for help. He was just a typical, wayward teenager, no angel, but he never deserved what happened."
On the day he died O'Neill bought new clothes; then, in a tragic valedictory note that was found in his bedroom, wrote: "Dear Mum, as you know I've tried to kill myself for some time now. Life's too hard. I love you all. Tell Maria [his girlfriend] I love her. I'm sorry but I'm away to join my da." Patrick, his father, died when Anthony was seven. He signed the note "love, Cheetah".
Audrey looks out the window. "We'll take it in our own hands now," she says, with adamant fury. "I'll be done for murder." According to Audrey, boys of 13 are approached in Ardoyne as they play in the park and told they will soon be eligible for their first shooting. Anthony is buried now with his father in Milltown cemetery.
The events of the last few months have left Fr Troy groping for a spiritual foothold. Six weeks ago he attended a house where a 15-year-old had attempted suicide but was saved by his sister as he hung in his bedroom: on St Patrick's night another youngster tried to hang himself from the railings at the front of the chapel; then there was the girl of 11 who e-mailed him recently threatening to kill herself.
"That is the sort of thing that is happening here," says the priest, who came to international recognition for his work during the stand-off at Holy Cross school in 2001. "The girl told me where and the three songs she wanted played at the funeral. I went to her school and her mother. It turns out that the group she belonged to had been very touched by the deaths of these young men and suicide had become the main topic of conversation.
"Although they all have different motivations there is an element of the young ones following each other. Some say paramilitaries, while others say deprivation, lack of facilities, drugs or family problems. In truth it's probably all of these factors. Everyone is beginning to realise the enormity of what is going on. It is extremely sad and extremely worrying." He pauses. "It's been going on for longer than people imagine." Resignation furrows his forehead, a look of exhaustion is etched on his face. "I would appeal to them [the INLA] to stop. If they don't, we are going to be burying other young people."
The curtains are pulled shut. Two settees stand alongside an armchair. Walls are decorated with leftist slogans and a small, arthritic heater sits in the middle of the room. Four men, volunteers A, B, C and D of the north Belfast INLA, have agreed to be interviewed for the first time over allegations that Cairns and O'Neill were hounded to their deaths by an INLA punishment squad.
The two youths, says the INLA, had come to its attention for repeated antisocial behaviour – which can include joyriding, drug-dealing and drinking on street corners. The INLA also says it carried the attacks out in response to local pressure, yet denies it is partly responsible for their suicides. "The top half of Ardoyne is not a good place to be for antisocial behaviour," says B, his voice full of surprising propriety. "The INLA went down one night and moved Barney Cairns and he attacked them. That was OK, he was full of drink. He came back into Ardoyne another night with a knife asking for certain individuals who would be connected with the INLA in that area. This is what led Barney Cairns to be punished."
O'Neill, they say, had been causing trouble to the point where they were approached by one of his own older brothers, asking them to take him away and scare him. "He asked us to threaten to burn his own businesses if Cheetah didn't stop," says B, stressing the request was not acted upon. When the youngster was later "arrested" it was, allegedly, for further "anti-community" behaviour. "There is a backlash because the wee fella is now dead," adds volunteer D. "The INLA have been left with no option following a catalogue of events. But there are other alternatives and we are trying to put those in place."
These alternatives include a centre in Ardoyne, ostensibly run by the INLA, which will act as a mediation unit between victims and perpetrators. Have the young people here, I wonder, not become convenient scapegoats for adults worn down by social problems and political unrest? "The community comes to the INLA and they react," says C. "The INLA don't want to be involved with these actions but they do them because the community asks as a last resort." Should the INLA not wake up and compromise with political reality? Volunteer A smiles. The INLA speaks of the "peace process" with heavy irony. The message seems clear: there will be no retreat from purist armed republican socialism. It will lead the people to happiness – with an iron fist.
Responding to this, Fr Troy – and a number of other individuals in the community who do not wish to be named – disagree. "The INLA do not have a mandate here," says Fr Troy, "and I think they need to recognise this. They cannot do this to their own."
"The thing about Ardoyne is that there is nothing to do around here," says a local woman, "and so the kids are targeted by the paras." "There are problems here," adds another voice, "but the INLA make matters worse." Tracy O'Neill, Anthony's sister, says: "The INLA strut around as if they own the place. I've known half of them since I was at school. They were bullies at school and have turned into bullies."
Fr Troy adds: "There is a very big drug industry going on here and I have no doubt there is paramilitary involvement. I have no proof, but from everything I hear I have reason to believe that they are involved."
The INLA denies being involved in the drug trade, claiming that two years ago it arrested 36 people over a period of weeks who were involved in drugs. Two were physically punished. "We confiscated about £30,000 of drugs that was handed over to Fr Troy. He phoned the police. We are not a police force but we do have a responsibility and we reserve the right to protect sections of our community."
How would they feel, I wonder, if they lost a child as a result of a punishment beating, whether directly or indirectly? Just for a moment there is an audible silence before volunteer A mumbles something risible and phlegmatic.
What about the members of the INLA who appear to be over-exerting their authority? "There have been people in the INLA in the north of the city," says C, "involved in what you're saying, and those people have been physically punished and are no longer part of this organisation."
If punishment beatings are successful then why are sections of north Belfast not listening? "Six-million-dollar question," says volunteer C. "Why do people re-offend? You can get 110 different answers to that."
Community workers blame a policing vacuum in an area where officers have no trust, youngsters have poor prospects and there is a generation feeling worthless. Most teenagers rarely leave Ardoyne: they move from one street corner to the next, the slow, inexorable ritual of defeat evident in their gait. Other factors are high levels of alcohol and prescription-drug addiction. Mental health problems are wide-ranging, and it can take months to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. Add to this mix the paramilitary cocktail and there is more potential for suicide here than in just about any place in the UK. There were 132 male and 30 female suicides in Northern Ireland in 2002, with Belfast registering 28 of the total. According to Alan Wardle, project manager of the Shankill Stress and Trauma Group, since September 2003, in the predominately Protestant Greater Shankill area (including lower Shankill, Springmartin, Tigers Bay and Glencairn), there have been more than 30 suicides. The most recent official figures show that north Belfast has a suicide rate of 19 per 100,000 people, compared to 11 for Northern Ireland and 13 per 100,000 in the UK. A recent survey by the North Belfast Partnership found that the average age of drug users in the area is around ten. The figures, however, only serve to euphemise the devastation.
Speak to any group of youngsters and the response is the same: "There's nothing to do." Most of the youngsters who mill around these estates, caught in a world of antisocial behaviour, look more tranquillised by boredom than drugs. In three streets at the top of Ardoyne there are roughly 200 houses with around 450 young people under the age of 19 living in them. There are few facilities – a boxing club, a football club and a few youth clubs.
But not all the young people round here are immune from blame. Marie Gallagher is a shopkeeper in Ardoyne who has been bullied and attacked by thugs: she supports what the INLA is doing. "The hoods have been targeting people here for years – nine, ten and 11-year-olds, full of drink, terrorising people. The Chinese shop next door gets attacked. I lived through the Troubles and we never had these problems. Just now we need the likes of the INLA." Another man agrees. "We don't trust the PSNI [the Northern Irish police force], but we need someone to keep an eye on the hoods."
Unwittingly, the harbinger of the recent massive suicide trend may have been 17-year-old Phillip "Pip" McTaggart, a close friend of the two dead youths, who hanged himself in April last year in the Grove, part of the grounds of the Holy Cross Church. According to Pip's mother Angela, the youngster had spent most of the previous eight months at home after receiving a warning from the IRA for fighting.
"I thought at the time it was a good thing," she says softly, biting on her lip, when we meet a few days later. "A wee scare. Phillip wasn't an angel – but nothing bad, just what every wee lad done."
The night he died he had allegedly smashed a window of a car: there were rumours it belonged to an IRA member. "I don't believe Phillip intentionally killed himself," Angela says, "but he thought he had to get out of that situation. But I couldn't just blame the paramilitaries."
Around this time there were reports that a 14-year-old among Pip's circle of friends was tarred and feathered and shot through the back of his knee after the INLA accused him of being a police informer. The boy has since claimed the leader of the group threatened him with rape. The INLA told me there is an ongoing internal investigation into this.
Barney, Pip and Cheetah grew up on the same street and were part of a close-knit group of seven teenagers who attended St Gabriel's College in Ardoyne. Three other friends – Gary Black, 23, David Anderson, 18, and Piers Doherty, 18 – died in January when the car they were driving became, literally, airborne and smashed into a building at a height of 20ft. There were rumours the boys had formed a suicide pact. It is believed one of the victims, who had made a previous attempt on his life weeks earlier, was also expecting an INLA kneecapping.
Following Pip's suicide, his father – also Phillip; separated from his wife since his son was three – helped set up a group called the Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-Harm [Pips]. "We don't just believe it was the case of paramilitary involvement," he says. "There are other issues involved here. A young person doesn't just go off and take his life for one specific reason. We've had over 100 cases since Christmas of people trying to kill themselves and there is little or no funding to deal with the crisis. Counselling services need to be improved as a matter of priority."
Phillip McTaggart's face is a picture of anger and searching questions. According to Pips, there are four times as many girls attempting to take their lives in north Belfast than young men. More men lose their lives because they try it more violently.
When Evelyn Benson lost her daughter to suicide she was another typical casualty of the anarchic suicidal reality here. In November 2003 Evelyn found her 19-year-old daughter Sarah-Jane hanging from her four-poster bed. The girl had been indecently assaulted when she was 13. In the years that followed Sarah-Jane had ridden the downward spiral of glue-sniffing and the deaths of her brother and father, culminating in a serious beating by a group of more than 20 teenagers who accused her of being the "Fenian [Catholic]" who used to go out with a Protestant. Since her daughter's death, Evelyn has attempted to take her own life twice.
"Suicide is an epidemic here," she says, retaining the look of a woman awakened into a nightmare. "My friend's wee boy has threatened to her that he'll kill himself. He's 17 and he wishes he had the guts of Sarah-Jane. It's harder growing up now for the young ones than at the height of the Troubles. When the rioting was going on, that was exciting for them. When it stopped there was nothing to do. Children have been raised to rebel here, so how were they supposed to change overnight?"
It's a similar story in the Shankill, a place that, even in Belfast, conjures up images of despair. Much of the area has been written off as socially ruined, almost beyond help. Despite initiatives by the authorities to bring about improvement there has been a continuing degeneration.
Edward O'Neill was 35 when he took his own life. He hanged himself in Glasgow, following the break-up of his relationship with his partner. Yet according to his mother Jean, who lives in the Shankill, her son grew depressed following repeated threats from associates of her ex-partner who were allegedly "involved with [the paramilitaries] and he just couldn't cope. These people just scare the life out of you." On Christmas Day 2003 a young Protestant girl hanged herself and was found by her mother, who has since similarly attempted to take her own life.
Alan Wardle puts many of these incidents down to tensions and underlying problems that have been suppressed during the past 30 years. "Pre-ceasefire the youth of our communities would be involved in what you might call recreational rioting – stone-throwing et cetera. Post-ceasefire there is a huge vacuum where young people have nothing to do, drugs have become very problematic and they have become disconnected from the political process. The culture of suicide is seen as an easy way out of this turmoil."
Back in the living room of Angela Cairns's house, her face is a blank. She is shaking from the medication she is on. She is crying now, very pale. She has trouble sleeping and looks fuddled. Another hard burst. It takes 15 minutes for her to calm down.
She is holding a picture of her son. Barney seems the spit of his mother. Mother and son, one dead, the other barely alive, have become an embodiment of the tragic history of this city. "We're going to move back to Ardoyne," she says, and there is no expression in her eyes. She wants Barney to have a presence in the world. Her heart is racing. "They [the INLA] will not scare my family away. Not ever."
As a message to her son's tormentors it is as profound as the suicide of Barney Cairns. In north Belfast it might prove just as fatal.
Tohill charge linked to his refusal to make statement to police
04 May 2004
By Alan Erwin
THE dissident republican at the centre of an alleged IRA kidnap plot yesterday stormed out of a courtroom where he faced a threat-to-kill charge.
Bobby Tohill, aged 46, claimed he had been framed as he resisted attempts to keep him in the dock at Belfast Magistrates Court.
Tohill walked out but remained in custody after a detective denied his arrest was because he refused to make a statement about the suspected abduction which provoked a political crisis in Northern Ireland.
The court also heard how the former INLA prisoner gave a scathing assessment of the police investigation into his case to the ceasefire watchdogs brought in to examine whether the IRA were behind the attempted kidnapping in February.
In a devastating dossier on ongoing paramilitary activities, rushed out last month because of the furore over the Tohill case, the Independent Monitoring Commission backed Chief Constable Hugh Orde's claim that the IRA planned and carried out the attempted kidnapping.
Tohill was accused of threatening to kill a man named as Patrick Ward on March 27 and he was also charged with possessing a real or imitation gun and going into a west Belfast tower block armed with a pistol and a baton with intent to cause Mr Ward grievous bodily harm.
He made no reply when charged with the first offence and denied the other two charges.
A detective sergeant insisted he could connect him with the alleged offences.
Defence solicitor Shane O'Neill asked the sergeant if he was aware that Mr Ward had made two retraction statements.
The detective confirmed he knew of one withdrawal, as he had recorded it.
He was unaware that police had twice stopped Tohill since the alleged offences but reassured him he was not wanted for any crimes, the court was told.
Mr O'Neill then challenged the sgt as to whether "the police decision to charge Mr Tohill been related to his refusal to make a statement to the police in respect of his alleged abduction?" to which the sgt replied: "no."
The kidnapping incident dealt a massive blow to attempts to restore Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive, which was suspended 18 months earlier over an alleged IRA spy-ring inside the government.
Outraged unionists demanded tough sanctions against Sinn Féin after Mr Orde blamed the IRA for the abduction.
In response, the IMC brought forward its first report on paramilitary activity and included a section on the Tohill case in which it pointed the finger at the Provisional IRA.
In his absence, Resident Magistrate Harry McKibben remanded him in custody until May 28.
**And in another mighty-white-of-them move the pissni say:
Police union willing to talk to republicans on pay
03/05/2004 - 14:02:45
Rank-and-file PSNI officers pledged today to talk to republicans once they endorse Northern Ireland’s new force.
Even though the IRA killed hundreds of their colleagues, the Police Federation insisted it would deal with Sinn Féin if the party ends its boycott.
A spokesman for the union, which represents 10,000 officers up to the rank of chief inspector, accepted the move would be tough but necessary.
“It will grate with guys to have to do that, given what has happened in the past,” he said.
“But if Sinn Féin are on the policing board inevitably we will talk to them. They will have responsibility for pay and conditions so we would be determined they hear it as it is.”
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have given no clue that their party is ready to join the authority which holds Chief Constable Hugh Orde to account.
With Sinn Féin holding out for further reforms to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, many observers believe it could be another year before republicans take the plunge.
But, despite the sensitivities involved in co-operating with the IRA’s political representatives, the federation is determined to portray itself as a progressive organisation.
Senior representatives travelled to Dublin last week to urge Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to back their bid to win a reprieve for the 1,600 full-time reserves set to be axed from next April.
As part of its attempt to clarify its role and attitude, the federation has stressed that once republicans become part of the policing set-up they will not be shunned.
“There’s always been this view that we are stuck in the dark ages,” the spokesman added.
“But we are making a hypothetical point that if Sinn Féin are involved in the fullness of time we will talk to them.”