The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

We Shall Not Be Challenged

Nationalists in the north are once again feeling the heat, caught between two states - Jim Gibney

Anthony McIntyre • 14 September 2005

Déjà vu was the dominant emotion experienced by Brendan 'Shando' Shannon as he stood on the Springfield Road on Saturday. He had made the short trip there from his home to do what he does every year. 'I have been coming here along with a small number of others from long before it was trendy to do so in opposition to bigots marching.' The first time he had went there to 'defend the area' was as a boy of thirteen. In 1969 virulent loyalists, tails up, were coming down Mayo Street intent on doing what they do best, visiting their violent sectarian hatred on innocent Catholics. Accompanied by men much older, Shando took his place among the ranks of the defenders.

Although he hailed from republican stock there was little at thirteen that could have prepared him for what lay ahead. He had no way of knowing that his act of defenderism would hurl him into the deep end of a protracted conflict that still goes on in perverted form despite the peace process, in fact maybe goes on because of it.

Shando's memory of the events of 1969 is hazy. But he does recall that when the community were crying out for defence, the traditional defenders of the IRA failed to step up to the mark. Despite a deteriorating political climate, which had for long been pregnant with malign potential for sectarian conflagration, few preparations for defence had been put in place. On the day it was improvisation. Whatever weapons the IRA claimed nominal ownership over in its arsenal, they were not to be found on the streets of Belfast in 1969. The story has it they were in Wales. The IRA had, in the view of many nationalists, run away. 'Place your trust in the police,' was all the IRA leadership could offer. Not a bad idea if the state is a modern democratic entity where it may be compelled to stand up for its citizens even if it would rather not. But this was the view of the Northern Ireland state least likely to have been found within the republican mindset of the time.

Last Saturday Shando hurried to the Springfield Road where it was anticipated there would be trouble resulting from attempts by Orange marchers to walk over the local residents. His concerns were exacerbated by reports that loyalists from Sandy Row were trying to attack nationalist homes in the Grosvenor Road. When a Sinn Fein MLA stepped onto a boulder on the Springfield Road to address the crowd, Shando couldn't believe his ears. Here was a man with well-established Provisional credentials telling his constituents that the loyalists were preparing to throw blast bombs, and his advice: move back and let the police deal with the situation. It was 1969 and bigots goosestepping all over again. Same spot, same speech, different person. Shando challenged the Sinn Fein man, asking was it not imperative on republicans to defend the area themselves rather than place their faith in the police force. In his words, 'Let the police deal with it? We should be fighting these people ourselves. It is what we did in 69.'

From his perspective it made sense. After all, Sinn Fein had been vigorously criticising the PSNI for failing to tackle loyalists in North Antrim with the same ardour reserved for nationalists. 'After all the years of hard gained experience we were being asked to accept that the sons and grandsons of the B-Specials who burned the Falls in 1969 would somehow protect us. The Sinn Fein speaker is a great guy and I have a lot of time for him but on this one he is plain wrong.'

Hardly had Shando spoken up when fascistic voices barked at him. Three senior Provisional IRA members approached him. One was more disagreeable than threatening. Not a shrinking violet himself, Shando could live with that. A verbal tirade was heaped upon him by one of the other two. Lacking the SS runes but not the attitude, he demanded that Shando 'shut up.' Having failed to intimidate him, the Provisional leader 'told me he would bury me. His colleague leaned over and said, ''leave it for now. We will do him later''.'

Their faces were distorted with sheer hatred and they had the look of the deranged. All because I had mildly disagreed with their speaker. They told me I was a yellow bastard. This was a reference to the time that they had kidnapped me, trussed me up, hooded me, forced me to piss in a bucket back in the 1990s because I had opposed them. I buckled when they had me. It was not one of my braver moments. I had faced the Brits, cops and screws, burned the Kesh, escaped from it and did the blanket. Now I was facing the authority of the IRA. The only authority I had ever accepted as legitimate. I was unable to psychologically face it down. It is a bit like a child trying to hit its own mother. It is virtually impossible to do. I have since rid myself of those illusions. I never buckled to the Sticks. For that reason I didn't buckle on Saturday when they threatened me. They are just Sticks and I am determined that no Stick will tell a republican that he will not raise his voice against them in West Belfast. We have a strong tradition here of not buckling to the Sticks. It is a tradition I fully intend to keep with.

I was at a conference in England when Shando's agitated phone call came though. He outlined what had happened. I sought to calm him down. He was adamant that he had received a death threat. Maybe so, but it seemed highly unlikely that the Provisional IRA would kill him, and certainly not for something as minor as heckling one of their elected representatives. That might get him pistol whipped. Taking his life would hardly carry well in the community when, like the Official Republican Movement they had so virulently condemned, they had stood with their arms the one length in the face of certain loyalist onslaught. He put an eyewitness on the phone. In much more measured terms and in considerable detail the witness took me though the events. I pressed him to get a measure of how convinced he was that the threat amounted to a death one rather than people venting anger in a heat of the moment situation. Like Shando, he too was of the mind that the threat should be taken seriously given the seniority of the people involved and the use of the word 'bury.'

I mulled it over in my mind pondering the value of pursuing it. It was a threat which in all likelihood would never amount to anything more serious. At the same time, the Provisional IRA was supposed to have packed its business up with its July statement, yet its most senior members were openly threatening a republican in front of witnesses. Joseph Rafferty in Dublin had been threatened and failed to take the threat seriously. He now lies dead having been blasted to death by someone most in the media world believe to be a member of Sinn Fein's militia.

I rang Shando back and asked him if he wanted me to raise his concerns at the conference I would be attending later in the evening. I explained that many from the political and media world would be present and the sheer act of mentioning it in front of perhaps 200 people should suffice to stay the hand of those who had issued the threat. He agreed. I followed through on my offer and told those present that republicans under threat from the violence of the peace process often came to the Blanket to raise their concerns. They would never go to the PSNI. When I had finished detailing Shando's experience I quickly realised that many people there were interested in the threat made on the Springfield Road that afternoon. Their offers to raise the matter in a range of quarters meant that Shando would not 'go down a hole' as easily as some of his victimisers might wish.

Shando says he is determined to face his critics. He argues that he has as much experience at the coalface as they and resents their efforts to promote themselves as some form of republican elite.

I will publicly debate with these people any time or place, so long as I am not tied to a chair. I have done as much for the IRA as they have. People on this road know my record. One difference is that I never sent kids out to do it. I did it myself. Have these bullies the bottle to face me in public debate on this question or are they afraid of the red face syndrome? I am determined that the bullyboy tactics will stop. My kids had the meat taken off their plates in order that we could feed good IRA men when they had to lie low. Now one of my daughters is barred from a variety of pubs for no reason other than she is my daughter. Barred by a man who is universally known throughout the republican world for not having done an operation in his entire life. Even the media slag him off and have their own special name for him.

Shando has since penned a letter to his MP Gerry Adams. In it he has named two men who were to the fore in Saturday's incident. 'It is up to Mr Adams to pursue the matter after that. He can hardly pretend the people involved are not in the Provisional IRA. He has known both of them for decades. Is he now going to expel them on the grounds that thugs have no place in his movement?'

Shando remains steeped in the cultural world that shaped him throughout his life. It seems he will take it to the grave with him. Remarkably, his view of the problem has not shifted over thirty odd years.

The central problem in this state is that while the British continue to run it, the government will always fail to protect its Catholics. Republican guns should not be immersed in concrete while this threat exists. The only lesson that the people threatening me learned from the Sticks in 1969 was that being Sticks was something to aspire to. In that they have surpassed the Sticks. Women were shouting at the thugs hassling me on Saturday that the Sticks never decommissioned their guns. It is an amazing situation where we have the Orangemen marching down the road and the only person these thugs on our side could threaten was a republican.

Shando may feel justified in publicly challenging the Sinn Fein MLA. But in all fairness to the MLA, he had a responsibility to his constituents to move them out of harm's way and not have them exposed to the danger of blast bombs just to maintain faith with some sectional ideological interest. While it jars with Shando's republican instincts the MLA's suggestion that the police handle the matter was most likely the one guaranteed to minimise casualties. In this sense Sinn Fein's action was hardly inconsistent with trying to address such issues democratically.

The major contradiction of course is the Janus face of the Provisional movement. While Sinn Fein was waxing democratic its militia friends were quite prepared to resort to fascistic tactics. Rather than seek to persuade Brendan Shannon that his alternative to the party's suggestion may have left the nationalists exposed to unnecessary risk, they sought in their time-honoured fashion to intimidate him. Their self serving right wing nationalism, no longer able to vent itself on the traditional enemy, is perpetually seeking to recast itself in the search for new opponents. Having lost the war to the enemy without, the militia men seem determined to create an enemy within so that they might continue to justify their own existence. People within long suffering nationalist communities are growing tired of it and increasingly display a diminution in respect for yesterday's men. The war is over and it has been lost. Endlessly pretending that there is somehow a current need for career commanders merely devalues the effort expended in the days when military commanders had some function other than lording it over their neighbours.


 

 

 


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Index: Current Articles



15 September 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Treating the Symptoms Will Not Cure the Disease
N. Corey

We Shall Not Be Challenged
Anthony McIntyre

Riots for 'Recognition'
Brendan O'Neill

Decontamination
Dr John Coulter

Ireland: Nationalists Resist Loyalist Intimidation
Paul Mallon

Facing the Truth About the North
David Adams

Mowlam and the Status Quo
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh

Exports for the North Mean Exploitation for the South
Cedric Gouverneur

Snapshots from Occupied Bil'in
Greta Berlin

'Send in the Clowns!'
Mick Hall

Times Are A-Changing, Part II
Michael Youlton

Along Baltimore City's Peace Path
William Hughes

The Critic and the Clown
Anthony McIntyre


29 August 2005

Historic Censorship Battle Set for High Court
Factotum

Evident Steps Needs Support
Tara LaFreniere

Reading the Tea Leaves
Dr John Coulter

London death shows North policing problems not unique
Eamonn McCann

Mo Mowlam
David Adams

A Snapshot of Gerry Fitt
Fr Sean Mac Manus

The Big Picture in Colombia
Mick Hall

Hypocrisy
Fred A Wilcox

Times Are A-Changing
Michael Youlton

Blame Vulture Capitalism, not God, for Pat Robertson!
William Hughes

Fundamentalist Holyman: The Singing Bigot
Anthony McIntyre

Of Lesser Imps and Demons
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain

No Victory So Sweet
Anthony McIntyre

 

 

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