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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Mary McGurk - Giving Voice To The Abandoned

We adopted political assassination as a principle. We turned the whole thoughts and passions of a generation upon blood and revenge and death; we placed gunmen, mostly half-educated and totally inexperienced, as dictators with powers of life and death over large areas. We decided the moral law, and said there was no law but the law of force, and the moral law answered us. Every devilish thing we did against the British went full circle and boomeranged and smote us tenfold; and the culminating effect of the whole of it was a general moral weakening and a general degradation, a general cynicism and disbelief in either virtue or decency, in goodness or uprightness or honesty.
- P.S. O'Hegarty (1879-1955) a member of the IRB Supreme Council during the 1916 Uprising and a historian of Sinn Fein

Anthony McIntyre • October 2005

West Belfast murder victim Danny McGurk's second anniversary had just passed when I was approached by a man I had not previously met on the city's Grosvenor Road. He was scrupulously polite as he proceeded to introduce himself as a brother of the slain father of six and explained that with two years having passed since his younger sibling had been gunned down in front of his wife and children, the family were still frustrated by an inability to gain any answers about the circumstances pertaining to the death. He had seen me on television discussing the murder of Robert McCartney and felt it would be strange indeed were I to think that justice is best applied selectively; that the mother of Robert McCartney should be treated with courtesy while the mother of Danny McGurk should be shown contempt. He asked would I be interested in talking to his mother who lived only a matter of yards away. I was in no great rush to reach an alternative destination and, generously, he offered a lift to me once I had finished talking with his mother. Our short journey to his mother's home took only seconds.

In a living room with one of her grandchildren, Mary McGurk, in her mid seventies, looked very tired as she spoke of the pain of having lost her son. This impacted little on her lucidity as she articulated her desire to keep his memory alive and to secure justice for him. I listened and then fumbled for words when she asked me what I intended to do. Sheepishly, I replied that there was little I could do. While I would do my utmost to highlight her concerns through the medium of a written article, I also knew that once it was done I would move on to something else, an option not available to her. There is no shortage of issues that require written about, and no small number of people who want grievances, legitimate or otherwise, aired. As always, the power that enables a speedy resolution of these issues lies elsewhere. All I could offer her was an outlet through which she could tell her story. The value of these things remains indeterminate, but if it gives solace to those bereaved by injustice, it is not without merit.

Mary McGurk is as aware as the next person living in these communities that despite the discourse of justice that is churned out on a daily basis, vested interests would want her silenced; that some people in this society who, because they belong to any one of a range of organisations, treat others with contempt, on occasion exercising the power of life and death over them. They think that if seven of them can sit around a table, call themselves an army council, or an inner council, depending on what flag they like to shove in your face, and Ouija-like summon up the long discarded spirit of something higher, which they alone have access to, that those they deem 'legitimate targets' suddenly lose any rights against them. In spite of this Mary McGurk, a Falls Road senior citizen, armed only with her faith in a just God and the support of her children, would have her say. We parted, having agreed to sit down at a later date.

I have been in a quite a few homes of the abandoned over the years; those people whom power and authority had consigned to the margins, where they could exist untroubled if they maintained their silence and did nothing to ruffle the feathers of the local war lords. In these homes there is invariably nothing of the rich trappings that the powerful adorn their own places of abode with. For the most part the abandoned are those left behind after a loved one is murdered by loyalists or the British state. On other occasions their misfortune had been inflicted by their supposed defenders. When I visited the home of Jo O'Connor's mother after he had been gunned down in a Ballymurphy street five years ago, my first impression was that the poor are punished for their poverty. O'Connor was a member of the Real IRA. Hardly a reason for murdering him. But those who shout loudest about community rights and ostensibly are the shrillest opponents of murder on our streets, see nothing wrong with a little murder when it dovetails nicely with the maintenance of their own power within a community. As George Carlin has said, murder is negotiable, determined by who is murdered and who is murdering.

On my return visit to her house Mary McGurk seemed surprised to see me. I sensed that as one of the abandoned, she had grown used to many unfulfilled promises since the death of her son. One more would hardly make a lot of difference. Her home, like most others in a poverty-plagued West Belfast, is hardly a palace. In the same track as other working class mothers she has over many years put effort into making her environs clean and comfortable. Surrounded by four of her children, it was clear that they greatly valued her contribution to their lives. Their respect and care for her was touching, as was their willingness to jump to her side at the fist sign of discomfort; gestures she calmly dismissed with a 'stop fussing over me' frown. It was hard not to be smitten by her.

We sat and drank tea while the murder of Danny McGurk was narrated to me. It is well rehearsed from experience. His mother must feel she has told it a thousand times. In spite of that she is no less passionate in telling it, although getting it out seems to be less than cathartic for this woman. She is not content to have her story listened to. She wants it acted on, wants someone in authority to speak to her, explain to her why her son was gunned down; she wants to know why there has been a public silence from the Real IRA - the organisation blamed by almost everyone of whatever republican persuasion and further afield for the murder.

The event which catapulted Danny McGurk into a fatal vortex was something so innocuous that elsewhere it would have been forgotten about almost as soon as it happened. But where secret societies are concerned, a membership that likes to delude itself about its own importance can often take major affront at minor flouting of its grossly inflated sense of prestige. Inadvertently letting the air our of such delusions may have been what Danny McGurk set in motion when he vigorously protested being denied access to a West Belfast pub which happened to be hosting a fund raising function for republican prisoners. He had no interest in the function for its own sake. The venue was one of his locals and normally handy for a drink. He held no fixed or firm views on the body the prisoners belonged to - the Real IRA - one way or the other. While having defended their heavily outnumbered members during his time in prison where they were under attack from loyalists, he saw this as simply helping fellow nationalists in the face of assault from a common enemy. At the time he was serving a six-year sentence, having been convicted of involvement in an incident, which resulted in the death of a local man. Whatever role he played in the act which lead to his imprisonment, his mother readily admits that Danny was 'no angel.' She described her son as a 'hard man' who was handy with his fists and who could look after himself. 'But he was popular enough. There were over 1200 mass cards arrived at house for Danny. He had more friends than enemies.'

After he had been refused access to the function on the grounds that he had had too much to drink already, a minor fracas developed. Danny allegedly pushed a leading member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, after which he was 'gripped' outside the bar by others and had a gun placed to his head. He was informed that he would have to turn up at the Rock streets the following day to be shot in the legs. When his sister Mary learned of this her alarm coupled with her anger was such that Danny bent to her will, took her advice, and declined to turn up.

Concerned at the way events had developed and instinctively knowing that such minor disputes can quickly become a vendetta Martin McGurk, Danny's brother, met two members of the Real IRA in a bid to resolve the matter. They seemed unconcerned and assured Martin that his younger brother had made a mountain out of a molehill. As far as they were concerned that was the matter over with.

And so it seemed to be. Over the next four weeks nothing happened. The calm was ruptured, however, on a Saturday evening when members of the Real IRA drinking in a house in the Lower Falls took exception to a man urinating against a wall in the street. The man was part of a separate group of three drinkers, whose number included another brother of Danny. Danny at this point arrived on the scene and intervened to protect his brother. The Real IRA members backed off but within a short time period two carloads of reinforcements arrived at the scene and began to beat Danny with a wheel brace. Danny was furious at being beaten like this and seethed with anger. The following evening he promised to get those who hammered him one by one. It was a high-risk venture. People didn't join the ranks of the Real IRA because they valued settling differences peacefully.

Indeed two days before he died Danny McGurk told his mother that he feared he was being set up for death by someone in the Real IRA. The following evening, unable to swallow it, he went in search of his attackers, first in a taxi depot and then a bar. That sealed his fate. The next morning as he sat at home his killers pushed their way in and shot him in the legs and back.

Despite widespread public accusations that the Real IRA carried out the killing, the organisation remained mute. Mary McGurk finds this aspect frustrating. 'They claimed responsibility for the Omagh bomb. Why are they running away from my son's murder? Are they ashamed?'

Some people have speculated that the reason the Real IRA have remained silent on the matter is that it was either not sanctioned or was a punishment beating that went wrong. Mary McGurk disputes this, claiming that the family know it was a murder ordered from above. 'My son was killed as a result of a personal grudge or some sort of vendetta.' She claims to know the identity of his killers and states that as not one of them knew Danny personally and had presumably no reason to kill him, they could only have been responding to orders 'They were told to kill Danny. They must have been.'

Given that the Real IRA puts forward no spokespersons, Marian Price is the figure Mary McGurk homes in on. This is because the former IRA prisoner, who was jailed for life for her role in the London bombings of 1973, is the spokesperson for the body that looks after the interests of Real IRA prisoners.

When Marian was on hunger strike in the 1970s we, along with everybody else, had the poster up supporting her and her sister. She almost died to show the world that republicans were good people. Does she really know the type of people in the Real IRA? The talk down here is that they are criminals and drug traffickers. Marian Price condemned the killing of my son at Clonard Monastery but said she would not do it publicly because Sinn Fein never do these things publicly. I don't know what that has to do with it but we need Marian Price to help us get right to the bottom of this. Given her record as a republican she would be sick if she knew what these people really are. I would love her to come and talk to me. I would listen to her but I would like her to listen to me as well.

So what type of people masquerade under the banner of the Real IRA and who used their membership of the organisation to murder her son? Mary McGurk is unhesitating as she answers. She describes them in the most unflattering of terms:

drug traffickers and criminals who are the devil's disciples and who will get their day. Before they came to kill Danny they spent the night in a house taking drink and drugs. One of my son's murderers never threw a stone at the cops in his life. Another is one of the worst thugs ever to walk through this community, who is probably stealing cheques as we talk. A third was a wife beater. What right had people like that to take my son's life? What right have they to pose as republicans?

After the killing local people wanted to protest outside the homes of local Real IRA members but Mary McGurk's family objected, feeling it was not right to take the issue to the homes of families who lived lives much the same as their own and who had no responsibility for the murder. The Real IRA apparently fled the area after murdering Danny but with the passing of time 'have drifted back in.'

Mary McGurk's husband who was suffering from cancer at the time of his son's death, simply lost his will to live. Mary recalls that when Danny was laid out in his coffin her husband heartbreakingly gazed on his corpse and said, 'that should be me in the coffin, son.' Six months after losing her son, Mary McGurk was a widow. 'I lost another son twenty years ago' she explained to me. 'Danny was not the first time I have gone through this.'

On top of the grief the family feel it has been subject to intimidation. Mary McGurk's disability car has had paint thrown over it by people she claims are supporters of the Real IRA. Each time the door bangs or there is a noise in the street Mary jumps in her chair visibly startled. Her children look at her and offer words of reassurance, 'it's alright Mammy, it's just kids banging a door.'

There has been no progress made in the case to date and on more than one occasion the family have wondered if there is a reluctance to pursue the investigation because of the possibility that some of the PSNI's own agents may have been in involved in the murder. Given the recent reports about the PSNI having gave UVF informer Mark Haddock a license to murder this is not an unreasonable supposition.

Like many other families labouring under the burden of the grief that comes with having lost a loved one, the McGurks feel they cannot move on properly. They need the matter resolved. If the Real IRA were responsible as an organisation the family want a full public explanation of why Danny was murdered. They argue that if the operation was not sanctioned and was the result of three Real IRA members deciding to murder him of their own volition, then the Real IRA should do what the Provisional IRA did at the time of the Robert McCartney murder and wash their hands of those responsible. The police should be allowed to deal with it and witnesses should be free to go forward without any fear: At this point one of Mary McGurk's daughters added her voice: 'We do not want revenge, we do not want them shot or hurt in any way. But they should be dealt with and the only just way to do that is through the courts.'

When I left her home, I did not envy Mary McGurk's uphill battle. She had watched with admiration how the McCartney women had fought tooth and nail to prevent the murder of Robert being swept under the carpet as just one more statistic. While she fully supported the efforts of the six women she felt that her own son's death had been forgotten about. She also knows that despite all their efforts the McCartney women would regularly see some of those who murdered Robert walk the streets. The McGurks have a similar experience and feel if the strength of the McCartney campaign has proved insufficient to clear the community of those willing to murder their neighbours, then their own task is daunting.

Nevertheless, the family remains undeterred. Mary McGurk will not rest until she has the outcome she wants. Her children worry that it is too much for her but none of them would raise a voice against her as she pursues her quest. They have shared her suffering and support her objective.

To the casual onlooker it must seem perplexing that organisations like the Real IRA can live off the legitimacy painstakingly accrued over the years by the sacrifices and energy of Provisional IRA and INLA volunteers. As a fighting force the Real is considered a very shabby pretender to the IRA throne. Stephen Hawkins would be hard pushed to come up with a reason for its existence. If its armed activities are the sole means of removing Britain from Ireland, the world will implode from the effects of global warming before Ireland is united.

The Real IRA should forget questions of grand strategy. After almost a decade in the field it should accept that it is not fit for purpose. While it can do absolutely nothing to shake the grip of the British state on the North, it can do something to alleviate the suffering of a family caused by the actions of its members. It does not take a genius to work out that Mary McGurk, already in her mid-seventies, is not going to be around forever. The Real IRA, if there is anything real about it, should find the integrity to tell this grieving mother and her children the real circumstances behind the murder of her son. Then it can withdraw from the field secure in the knowledge that despite its now legendary incompetence it managed to get one thing right.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

7 November 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Mary McGurk — Giving Voice to the Abandoned
Anthony McIntyre

It Is Only the Intellectually Lost Who Ever Argue
Marc Kerr

Prospects for the Left in Ireland
Eugene Mc Cartan

Bartering the Infinities
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

The Political Police
Anthony McIntyre

Herrema's Kidnapper Explains Motive
Eamonn McCann

Revenge is a Dish Served Cold
Dr John Coulter

Causes and Effects
Mick Hall

Speaking Truth to Power
Fred Wilcox

The Bush SATaff Goes to Morals School
Mary La Rosa

A View of the H-Blocks
Anthony McIntyre

23 October 2005

Badges? We Don't Need No Stinkin Badges
Mags Glennon

A Long Way Down
Anthony McIntyre

A Party of Their Own
Mick Hall

Reid's Sectarian Slur
Eamon McCann

Repeal Anti-Catholic Section of Act of Settlement 1701
Fr. Sean Mc Manus

Nicola McCartney & the Facts About Irish History
Seaghán Ó Murchu

Usual Suspects
Anthony McIntyre

Socialism in Ireland
Francis McDonnell

Turning "Smoke ban" thing into ANTI-DIOXIN movement
John Jonik

From the Classroom to the Grave
Anthony McIntyre

Yet More Voices Against Censorship
Davy Carlin

The Death Fast Enters its 6th Year
Tayad Committee

Setting Up Abbas
Jeff Halper



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