The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Quis Separabit? The Short Strand/Markets UDA

Big Sam, Artie and me were drinking in the Lawnbrook Social Club. It was discussed that we go out and get a Taig … I remember Artie hitting him with a hatchet and telling him to keep quiet … I reached down and cut his throat with a butcher's knife
- Shankill Butcher Billy Moore

Anthony McIntyre • 29 May 2005

It is not as if republican society lacked some early warning system. It wasn't - nor did it have to be - state of the art, even mildly sophisticated, but it was there. So dispirited were local republicans in South and East Belfast that some had taken to terming the local IRA the 'hallion battalion.' Almost a year before sadists and psychopaths converged on Robert McCartney, murder in mind, the Times Ireland correspondent David Lister boldly asserted that:

In the Short Strand and Markets areas, "justice" is dispensed by an IRA unit which counts among its ranks a rapist, a paedophile, a former joyrider and a man who once attacked a woman by burning her breasts with an iron.

Knowledge about the incorrigible criminal nature of some republican activists on the other side of town was hardly the sole preserve of the Times of London. The Provisional Movement knew what it had in its ranks. Beatings, threats, intimidation were a way of life to what one Irish News letter writer termed the 'do you know who I am gang?' There was no republican objective associated with their activity, unless hanging out in bars a la the characters out of the movie Donnie Brasco, bullying those who crossed their paths at the pool table or who looked the wrong way - resulting in a forced visit to the toilets - had some discrete republican function that was never explained to the rest of us during political education sessions.

Yet they remained within the ranks of Provisional republicanism, for the most part parasitical on the sacrifices of comrades from a bygone era as they proclaimed themselves the 'Ra. On other occasions they would appear as Sinn Fein election workers seeking electoral support for the structure they believed would be most advantageous to allowing them to continue exercising malign power over their neighbours. Some of them avoided republican activism like the plague when there was a risk to personal safety or freedom, but with the Good Friday Agreement found it easy to puff the chest out and ask menacingly 'do you know who I am?' They were the muscle that the Sinn Fein leadership relied upon to fortify its position on the streets. Greenshirt thugs always at hand to break a leg or kidnap a critic. Now that leadership has joined their lengthy list of victims as they treat with self serving contempt the calls by Gerry Adams and others for them to do the honourable thing and make themselves amenable.

The latest IMC report has confirmed what was already public knowledge: that the IRA did not authorise the cutthroat killers of Robert McCartney to ply their savage trade. The organisation no more killed him than the RUC killed three men in Sinn Fein's Belfast offices in 1992 when an armed police killer gained access to the building and opened fire on anybody within reach. The killers on each occasion belonged to wider institutions but were on solo runs without the prior approval of those institutions. While it is easy to refute allegations of the IRA being responsible for the McCartney murder, it is more difficult to absolve IRA culture of culpability. This was brought out most vividly in a recent RTE reconstruction of the events surrounding the killing.

There have been few documentaries over the past decade exploring issues associated with the Northern conflict that have been put together so methodically as last week's Prime Time reconstruction of the events that occurred in Magennis's and beyond on the evening of January 30th. The public, arguably labouring under the fatigue of persistent media coverage, had their energy reserves topped up with a captivating account that is still being talked about almost a week later. If awards are to go to current affairs programme makers and the people behind this do not achieve one, all faith in the awards system will justifiably evaporate.

The graphic reconstruction of the circumstances pertaining to the death of Robert McCartney constituted a jolting assault on whatever complacency may have lodged itself in our minds in the four months since the murder. As the knife men, organised and purposeful, filed out of the bar some time after the initial clash - belying any notion that it was all a rush of blood to the head - in pursuit of their defenceless victims, the scene could as easily have been a Munich beer hall in the 1930s with a gang of armed Nazis homing in on their defenceless Jewish victims. Immersed in observing the key players the one surprise was that they did not address each other as Lenny, Artie, Basher, Big Sam or Billy - all of Shankill Butcher infamy.

In Chris Petit's book The Psalm Catcher, there is a horrific scene where a drunken UDA mob toot and hoot while some innocent is carved up while tied to a chair. Prime Time in bringing its viewers inside Magennis's Whiskey Bar in 2005 exposed them to a form of magic realism in which a door opened on a very dark era we thought we had left behind us thirty years ago. Suddenly the primordial savagery that reverses the order of things and leads us to think that apes descended from men was there in full-blown gore.

The sheer arrogance of the republicans in the bar, unable to brook that some people will not be deferential in their presence, has its roots in a militarist elitism that is as old as the Provisional IRA itself and shows every sign of wanting to outlive the conflict that give rise to its existence; a most ominous phenomenon. The IRA did not need to be in the bar as an organisation for the killing to have occurred. That its members were present, equipped with the attitude, 'we run these areas', was enough. IRA culture was drawn on heavily both to inflict the crime and to cover it up. It is the only 'bar room brawl' in over thirty-five years of conflict that was followed by a methodical forensic sweep on behalf of the brawling party.

Another casualty of the events that took place on the 30th January has been the political career of Deirdre Hargey, the young Sinn Fein activist who was present in the bar on the night of the murder. Her reputation has been damaged immensely by the Prime Time production. A much respected figure in the Markets where she followed in the footsteps of her late father Jim - who persevered despite long term health problems in trying to enhance the conditions of life for those within his community - Deirdre Hargey managed to sound like a leadership devotee who was ultimately more concerned with protecting her leaders than addressing the very real issues of justice that the McCartney murder had thrown up. That she was less than forthcoming in an RTE interview about the extent of her own knowledge, no matter how marginal, in relation to the McCartney affair has cast a shadow over a bright political future. A writer watching Deirdre Hargey 'drool' over the leadership, later told me that on witnessing such blind adherence she merely sighed 'Hitler Youth material.'

Although Deirdre Hargey's misfortune was largely self-inflicted, this acerbic observation seemed an inappropriate characterisation of a young woman who allowed herself to succumb to the anonymous pressure of the group. She played no part in the murder of Robert McCartney. While she certainly made a bad judgement call, for her to be dragged down into the gutter alongside the fiends who, John White like, grew excited at the sensation of human flesh yielding to the force of the knife, is a punishment that grossly outweighs her misdemeanour.

Others however deserve no such consideration. Amongst the many things achieved by Prime Time was confirmation of the view expressed by former republican prisoner Rosemary Caskey in the Irish News last month that those responsible for the murder were a bunch of lowlife gangsters who should now retreat back into their lairs. It also rubbished the already pathetic perspective of a critic of Caskey, himself too a former republican prisoner, Sean Montgomery, who argued that the knife murderers should not be condemned to a lifelong label of being criminals because of a 'drunken row.'

Republican activism is not a license to murder members of the nationalist community in pursuit of self-gratification. Those who engage in it should be given no cover. If they want the cloak of political legitimacy, then, if jailed, they can do their time as political prisoners on the UDA wing in Maghaberry. Jim 'Doris Day' Gray would make ideal company for them.

For now Robert McCartney is a name that hangs over the leadership of Sinn Fein like the sword of Damocles. A party that prided itself on challenging injustice will not be allowed to sleep easily until it delivers it. Prime Time was a Sinn Fein nightmare.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

31 May 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Justice is the Right of All Our Victims
Gemma McCartney

Quis Separabit? The Short Strand/Markets UDA
Anthony McIntyre

Civil Law as an Instrument of Resistance
Peter Mason

A Salute to Comrades
Dolours Price

Behaviour of Young Gets Worse
David Adams

Recognising Similarities, Delivering for the People
Mick Hall

One Republican Party
Dr John Coulter

Venezuela: A Common Brotherhood
Tomas Gorman

May Day versus Loyalty Day
Mary La Rosa

One Eyed Morality
Anthony McIntyre

Lying in Wait for the Dutch Tsunami…After the French Earthquake

Michael Youlton

22 May 2005

How Those In Power Respond
Anthony McIntyre

Seeking Clarity — And Safety
Justice for Jimmy Campaign

Behind the Betrayal
Philip Ferguson

Self-Deception and Distortion
Tomas Maguire

Civil Case/Witch Hunt
N. Corey

No Entry
Anthony McIntyre

The Moral Reason Never to Tell
Dr John Coulter

Venezuela: Beginning to Borrow Some Revolution
Tomas Gorman

Dangerous Drugs
Sean Fleming

Rebel City
Liam O Ruairc



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices