The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Kelly's Cellars

Anthony McIntyre • 25 February 2004

I can recall last Thursday being a busy day but why it was so I can no longer remember. Nothing in particular stands out. Other days that week saw me doing ten mile jaunts in preparation for a sponsored walk on behalf of Palestine, attending a SEA conference in Derry, or meeting with the Green Party to exchange ideas. So when Geordie McCaul rang me to say that he wanted to be interviewed by the Blanket, I was relieved that he didn't want to do it there and then. I told him we could meet the following afternoon to which he suggested we should hook up outside Kelly's Cellars in the town at 5pm. Not having met him previously, I asked for a description. It is embarrassing going up to someone only to find out they are not who you thought, and then they look at you as if you have some contagious illness. He then told me he was in the company of Bobby Tohill and asked if I wanted to say 'hello'. I half-groaned. Bobby had spoken to me on the phone a few weeks earlier, seeking to have himself interviewed by the Blanket. It had slipped my mind and now I felt guilty. Bobby had been in the news lately as a result of conflict with Provisional nationalists and was eager to present his side of the story. I told Geordie, 'put him on.'

Bobby Tohill is a rapid fire speaker and my capacity for absorption had to call on its reserve stock to keep up with him. The gist of his concern was that he had been contacted by a reporter from the Andersonstown News who had told him that his name and considerable personal details were on a loyalist website, and the paper wanted to talk to him about this. He aired the view that the Provisionals were setting him up for assassination. I suggested that he be careful but explained to him that I would be meeting with Geordie the following day and if he wanted to drop by for a few minutes he would be more than welcome.

When I reached Kelly's Cellars the following afternoon I almost accosted a guy on crutches, thinking that he must be Geordie who, I imagined, would still be showing the signs of injuries sustained as a result of being shot in the legs in his mother's Twinbrook home last month. As he walked on by, ignoring my importuning eyes and probably thinking I was about to tap him, I scanned the street for a sign of the next man with a limp. Only minutes passed before Bobby and Geordie emerged from Kelly's. Both had a drink or two taken but neither were drunk. Geordie suggested that he and I head for McDonald's restaurant to do the interview. Seemed reasonable enough to me, as long as we did not have to break any lefty picket lines outside it. Besides, the pungent aroma of joints wafting from the Cellars convinced me that were I to sit in there I would emerge more stoned than knowledgable.

Before we set off, Bobby explained his predicament. He had given a lengthy interview to the Andersonstown News just an hour or two earlier in which he claimed to have told the paper that the Provisional movement was setting him up to be murdered and make it look as if the loyalists were responsible. What was the evidence for that I pressed him? He then reiterated what he had said the previous day, referring to the loyalist website. I suggested to him that it sounded more likely that the cops or loyalists were stalking him - how could the Provos upload material onto a loyalist website? He was not reassured. I then cautioned him about drinking in Kelly's Cellars if he genuinely felt that the Provisionals wanted him dead. He was defiant: 'what am I supposed to do - hide away from them?' We then slagged him that they would wait until he was full drunk some night and run him over with a car, pretend it was joy riders and then turn up to carry his coffin and pronounce him a strong supporter of the peace process. He winced but laughed. We shook hands, he returned to the bar while myself and Geordie headed across Royal Avenue to McDonalds.

An hour later, interview completed, I was walking up Castle Street. I passed a security cordon at Millfield and saw a car sitting in the middle of the road with its doors ajar. The PSNI were swarming the place and with exaggerated authority were directing vehicles towards the centre of town and away from the area of the seemingly abandoned car. I walked on thinking to myself, 'Real IRA, freeing Ireland again with useless bomb scares.' Ten yards became twenty but hardly any more before I got a call from Geordie McCaul who had just reached Kelly's. His voice was excitable as he explained to me that drinkers in the bar had told him the Provos had came in, battered Bobby to a pulp and put him in the back of a van which had them been stopped by the PSNI at Millfield. All of this while we were sitting in the alcohol free environment of an upstairs table in McDonalds. It was hard to take in. There was a sense of the surreal to it. The Blanket had interviewed Geordie in order to highlight an attack on him which he insisted was the work of the Provisionals. And in the course of that interview a man we had been speaking with just an hour earlier and who had expressed fears for his own safety, was apparently hauled from a bar after having been ferociously beaten. It seemed we were on a treadmill, using all our energy to go forward but ultimately ending up where we started.

Media reports since then, in particular the graphic detail provided by the Andersonstown News, have conjured up mental pictures of a mafia bar scene assault in the film Goodfellas superimposed on a subway attack by droogs from the film A Clockwork Orange. It should have reminded me more of gangland London during the reign of the Kray twins than republican Belfast under the halo of the peace process. But it didn't. Regrettably, intimidation, beatings, shootings, assaults and to a lesser degree killings have been a feature of life in republican communities since the ceasefires of the 1990s. While not all of it can be laid at the door of the Provisional IRA, the notion that the organisation does nothing other than exist is the belief of the unwary and naive.

Since Friday evening, Bobby Tohill has confirmed and then denied Provisional IRA involvement in the attack on him. Sinn Fein have disputed claims that the IRA was involved. The IRA has issued a statement claiming that it authorised no operation against Tohill. The problem for the Provisionals is that their accounts are finding few takers. And in the media world Sinn Fein spokespeople are allowing themselves to be depicted as possessing all the credibility of Iraq's Comical Ali.

Four men have appeared in court charged in relation to the events at Kelly's Cellars. Public pronouncements that the IRA as an organisation is responsible for the attack on Tohill cannot be extended to a presumption of guilt on the part of the individuals arrested at the scene. Their case is now sub-judice and their right to a fair trial is paramount. The need to ensure that they are protected from the violence of the Northern Ireland Prison Service is equally as pressing. Punishment beatings are not unknown to Maghaberry Prison, where in 1996, 36-year-old Jim McDonnell died after being attacked by prison staff.

The assault on Bobby Tohill has left one man badly beaten and four others in prison. Who or what gains from the infliction of pain or the deprivation of liberty? Certainly nothing that is just. Are these communities any better off with one in hospital and four in jail? They are certainly no safer.





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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.
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Index: Current Articles

25 February 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Naming Bobby Sands Street

Pedram Moallemian


Suspended Belief
J. Sean Burns


Kelly's Cellars
Anthony McIntyre


Stop Press!
Jimmy Sands


PSNI/RUC Occupies POW's Family Homes
Marian Price and Martin Mulholland


Did the Black and Tans Run From the Rifles of the IRA?
Liam O Ruairc


Stevens, Inquiries, Resistance to Change
David Michael


Provisionals Attempt to Censor and Exclude RSF in Scotland
Seamus Reader


Provisional Police?
George Young


20 February 2004


A Malignant Menage d'trois

Anthony McIntyre


On the Record
Kathleen O'Halloran


David Lidington
Eamon Sweeney


The Buck Stops Here
Brian Mór


Loyalist Racism and Terror Attacks
Paul Mallon


Foundations for Development Laid as Sinn Fein Goes Unionist
Eamonn McCann


All Are Targets
Mohammed Omer


Calendar of Events
Belfast Anti-War Movement




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