The Blanket

Blanket Special
Capo di Tutti i Capi?: The Three Families
3 Part Series

Bridie McCloskeyDanny McBearty The Civil Rights Veterans

Bridie McCloskey’s Story
The one who throws the stone forgets; the one who is hit remembers forever - Angolan Proverb

Anthony McIntyre

When Micky Donnelly’s article about Provisional republican ‘policing’ methods in Derry featured in The Blanket, it was obvious that something was seriously wrong in the North West. Donnelly, a former republican internee and outspoken critic of current Sinn Fein strategy, had some years earlier been attacked by the Provisional IRA in his Derry home and sustained a broken leg and other injuries in a blatant attempt to suppress his critique. His wife and young children were also traumatised by the attack. Had that incident been the only one of its type it would have, like so many others, faded in the public consciousness, the latter being subject to a constant culling process which aims to obliterate seditious thoughts that ‘are not helpful to the peace process.’ But since the case of Joseph McCloskey, so ably articulated and highlighted by his mother Bridie, had failed to be suffocated by the peace process, it was clear that more questions needed to be asked about the nature of the relationship between some elements in the general Provisional Republican Movement and those communities in which it is situated.

I don’t mind in the slightest not being helpful to the peace process. A peaceful process rather than the charade we have at present would be more appealing and worthy of working towards. But there is no imaginable reason why people should be disempowered through enforced silence by a process which is so patently self-serving for the increasingly prosperous republican political class. So, one cold Monday morning accompanied by a colleague and political activist I headed for Derry. We expected to be there an hour and then, interviews completed, on our way back along the Glenshane Pass and home. Our wishes were to be foiled. Our homeward journey across the Foyle bridge had still not commenced by 10 in the evening - detained, as we were, by the litany of complaints of abuse that we listened to.

Bridie McCloskey was in fact our second interview of the day. We had already been up to Donegal to speak with a still incapacitated Danny McBrearty who managed to move only with the greatest of discomfort as a result of being attacked and shot a number of weeks earlier. But Bridie’s story is one which sets the scene because resulting from that Danny McBrearty met his fate.

It is hard to be unimpressed by Bridie. She had taken her struggle for justice right into the den of Sinn Fein. There would be no refuge for the party whether in their local offices which Bridie and her grandchildren stood outside protesting nor in Rathgael House where the Minister of Education has his government office. As she sat in the living room of her Derry home her fighting spirit and resilience were infectious. She rested on the floor, back against a chair and regaled us with the details of how she reluctantly became a figure of public interest. A woman consumed only with getting through life with the minimum of fuss, her concern for her family has led to her becoming a relentless opponent of ‘thugs and gangsters.’ While not viewing herself as a human rights activist per se her experience has left her feeling that the greatest threat to human rights in Derry comes not from the forces of the state but from those who were once tasked with protecting nationalist communities from human rights violations by the state.

Her saga can be traced back to May of last year when her son Joseph fell foul of some local republicans. He was turning a pound to keep wolves away from the family door by putting in the hours as a doorman in one of the city’s bars - Jackie Mullen’s. His attitude was one of ‘I work here to pay debts and feed my family not to fight.’ One evening he was approached by a young man seeking admittance. In accordance with regulations and safety requirements Joseph explained to the man that ‘the quota is reached and you can’t get in.’ According to Bridie McCloskey what happened next indicated the crude nepotism which some seem to take for granted in the city. The affronted youth stated that ‘I am the Education Minister’s son.’ Joseph responded ‘that makes no difference.’ The man claiming to be the Education Minister’s son then threatened get the Provisionals to deal with Joseph. The latter paid no heed to him thinking he was drunk and would remember none of it the following morning. Whether the son of the Education Minister or not the youth set in train a series of sinister and violent events.

Joseph had been in England for ten years and just recently returned to his native city. He had a wife and six children. He had no enemies within the Provisionals or any reason to fall foul of the organisation. He can think of no reason other than the dispute with the man who claimed to be the son of the Education Minister that would have acted as a catalyst for his subsequent difficulties with the main republican body in Derry. A month after this incident he was again confronted on the premises by another man intent on being abusive. After repeatedly warning the aggressor to wind his neck in Joe had to physically expel the man from the premises. The following day Joseph received a phone call informing him to turn up at the Sinn Fein office, which he did. There he met with Noel McCartney of Community Restorative Justice, the O/C of Greater Shantallow IRA, the local Sinn Fein councillor Tony Hassan, and a Derry taxi driver who had witnessed the fracas. Joseph’s side of the story was dismissed and he was told that he could not work on the door for a period of two weeks. This was rescinded almost immediately after other door men went to Sinn Fein to register a complaint.

Some time later, while out with his brothers in the pub Joseph, although not on duty, intervened to protect a fellow door man who had been assaulted by someone who allegedly was a volunteer in the IRA. Armed with a black belt in judo it was no great difficulty for Joseph to restrain the aggressive volunteer. A fight developed and when one of Joseph’s brothers, Paschal, made to intervene he was told by a member of the IRA ‘do you know who you are talking to big man? We can arrange to have you killed when ever we are killing your brother’. Pachal McCloskey then despatched the volunteer out the door with a punch.

Matters had barely settled down when the McCloskey brothers received word that two cars manned with IRA volunteers were on the way to the pub to sort them out. The brothers departed for their homes. A few days later Joseph went to England on family business. While there it came to the attention of his mother that his house was being monitored. A complaint was made to Noel McCartney of CRJ who is reported to have said, ‘if I was that young fella I’d stay in England. He’d be safer there.’

Joseph, on completing his business, returned to Derry. At home one evening he received a call alerting him to the fact that a team of IRA members were on the way to his house to shoot him. When the attackers arrived they tried to break their way into the house with sledgehammers. One occupant in the house warned them that ‘we are armed; can we discuss this tomorrow in the Sinn Fein office in Cable Street?’ The response was ‘we are the ‘RA open fucking up.’ This was followed by shots from the people trying to get into the house. Two people in the besieged building returned fire hitting one of the people outside. Fearing for his life Joseph fled to England where he remained up until the threat against him was lifted earlier this month. He is now home in Derry.

When we met with his mother, Joseph was still in England and Bridie had no idea if and when he would be allowed to return. Relentlessly publicising his plight seemed the only means of not letting the issue slip from the public interest radar screen. Sitting in her living room as her family nonchalantly milled past doing one thing or another, I asked Bridie if she was a republican. ‘I’m just what you see sitting here.’ She explained how she had been very friendly with many republicans and summed up her life as generally being one of ‘live and let live.’ She continued ‘I was brought up being taught Irish songs and to respect the Irish tradition. I was never brought up to go out and kill anybody.’ In her own words, her life’s philosophy existed in one sentence ‘if they don’t come near me and mine I won’t bother them.’

According to Bridie, since she took up her stand, Provisional republicans have been employing a strategy of isolation whereby rumour and innuendo have played a central part. This has become a characteristic of Provisional republicanism. Anybody who is remotely suspected of harbouring the slightest admiration for Christopher Hitchens’ United Front Against Bullshit is immediately labelled as ‘bitter wee men and women’ suffering from mental illness, alcoholism, sex addiction, egotism, self-promotion, rejectionism - the slurs go on ad infinitum to a point where nobody but the faithful blind claim to believe them. And while some friends are no longer there as a result of their own fears a number of ex-prisoners have called to Bridie’s home to offer her support and have reassured her that there are republicans who are not happy with the manner in which the defenders have become the attackers. They praised her for continuing to highlight the issues although they confessed to being afraid themselves. Bridie says ‘in a round about way I have been told to watch myself as I could be bumped off.’ Friends and other people who have known Bridie over the years have called and expressed concerns for her safety. Surely the Provisionals would not physically attack her or put her life in danger? ‘There is a real fear about how far these people will go to settle scores. They don’t want you speaking up. It is unbelievable that they can threaten you with death for something as trivial as this.'

When asked what measures she had taken to resolve the issue Bridie was at her most voluble and fluent.

Mitchel McLaughlin was on radio one day dodging questions about our situation. He told the presenter that he was willing to talk to me at anytime. I went and waited outside that very same radio station on him but he declined to come and see me. Only after I sent word to him that I would not leave Radio Foyle did he send word to me that he would meet with me at Channel 9 TV but that I was to come via the goods entrance.

McLaughin, she claims, avoided her. Weeks later she confronted him outside Woolworth’s and asked him ‘when are you going to talk to me?’ In a curt response that seems a bit inconsistent for a politician who complained for years that unionists wouldn’t talk to republicans, McLaughlin is said to have snapped ‘I don’t have to talk to anyone.’ Bridie alleges that he went on to admonish her -‘you have got up everybody’s nose including my own.’ His gripe was that the media were embarrassing the party. And an aide of McLaughlin later informed Bridie after one BBC Spotlight programme that nobody would help her now as she had allowed the media to use her. Eventually as a result of Bridie’s persistence, Mitchel McLaughlin relented and agreed to a meeting in Cable Street Sinn Fein office.

Before the meeting took place Bridie was approached by the party and asked who would be accompanying her to the meeting. Bridie feared that there would be attempts to entice Joseph to meetings so that he could be killed. ‘The same type of ruse was used with Frank Hegarty. He turned up for one of their meetings and never came back. This is their hallmark.' When the meeting did take place McLaughlin allegedly insisted ‘none of our men were there.’ He also asked her which of her son’s party had the weapon. He further wanted to know who had wired the family off that someone was on the way to harm them. He then asked for the names of everybody who was present in the house when the shots were fired. His demeanour was described as patronising. He had a - ‘and you thought they were our men’ - attitude. He hinted that the outcome of Joseph’s case would be determined by the trial of the man who was shot and injured while allegedly at the scene of the attack on the McCloskey home. Bridie found the whole affair akin to an interrogation: ‘he was interrogating me but thought I was too stupid to realise that he was interrogating me.’ The three main themes that McLaughlin returned to, according to Bridie, were the names of those involved, who had the weapons and who had informed Joe of the impending attack.

‘When I went to offer him the names of the Provisional IRA members who carried out the attack he refused to take them.’ He then introduced another person whom he said would deal with the case from that point on. The other guy said that enquiries would be made but that it would take a while. After this meeting in the Sinn Fein office Bridie felt that she and some of her family and close friends were being followed in cars. She returned to Sinn Fein and demanded that this harassment through surveillance and tracking cease. ‘I took all the car numbers and handed them into Sinn Fein.’

In a follow up meeting Danny McBrearty, an uncle of Joseph and one of the men who had returned the fire of the IRA, accompanied her to the Sinn Fein office. There they met Councillor Tony Hassan who was accompanied by another man. He said he could merely repeat what McLaughlin had already said - that there was no exclusion order.

I asked could Martin McGuinness not talk to the IRA on behalf of the family. Both men looked at each other then laughed. I put it to them that he had no problem talking to the IRA when it came to the peace process. Hassan insisted that McGuinness could not talk to the IRA. At this point I banged my hand on the table and called them liars and told them they had been sitting talking for the IRA for the last twenty minutes. Danny offered them the names and units of those involved. The two republicans in the office grew furious and but for the table between them and Danny, the man accompanying Tony Hassan would have lunged for him. He shouted at Danny ‘you shot an IRA man.’ At that point Danny walked out protesting that he didn’t have to take this.

According to Bridie McCloskey and others that we spoke to in Derry those involved in the attack on Joseph’s house were all interrelated and it seems very much to have been a family affair. A frequent expression employed by those we spoke to was the 'three families'. Sensing that it was being run like a dynasty I asked Bridie was it more like the Sopranos than what she expected the IRA to be. She smiled and said - ‘there is enough trouble for me and mine without inviting them back round to the house by agreeing to that.’ She did go on to point out that since the ceasefires the IRA has gone on to become a law onto itself; its attitude is ‘don’t do as we do, do as we say.’

Bridie and her son Joseph were in the House of Commons twice. On one occasion a debate on the exiles took place. Harry Barnes booked a room for Martin McGuinness and Mitchel McLaughlin to meet with them but neither politician showed up. McGuinness later promised Harry Robinson that McLaughlin would be in touch with Barnes but like so much else that Bridie has experienced, little came of it. In a letter sent by the Derry MLA to Harry Barnes he stated:

I am aware of your interest in a number of cases involving individuals who for many reasons have been excluded from their communities . .. I recognise the unenviable situation that these individuals find themselves in but must point out that in many cases it was brought about by the conscious actions of the individuals themselves … After carrying out extensive enquiries as promised, I informed Mrs McCloskey that I could find no evidence of any expulsion order or death threat issued by the IRA against her son, Joseph McCloskey ... I see no reason to meet to specifically discuss this case.

Harry Barnes then wrote to Martin McGuinness. In an additional letter to McGuinness in September, sent this time by Joseph McCloskey, the following points were raised:

I want to return home to Ireland. You are the only person who can make this happen…You and I both know you have the power to do it…when Danny McBrearty gave you first hand details of what happened you weren't prepared to do anything … Now it is common knowledge everyone knows nothing is done without the O/C’s consent. The O/C of for the Greater Shantallow area was there (at the attack) before he cleared off for his alibi.

At the House of Commons debate Eddie McGrady was the only nationalist MP to turn up but he proved useless, holding whatever opinions he may have had on the matter to himself. John Hume asked if Bridie would meet with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in Shropshire which she agreed to but nothing came of it. She remains particularly scathing of the party. ‘They have drifted in and out and have only been half hearted in their support for us on this issue.’ Pat Ramsey was the SDLP representative whom the family usually dealt with. The most he could suggest was that they do something through the statutory bodies but like everything else the SDLP did it came to nothing. The Catholic Church proved equally useless. Bishop Hegarty listened to what Bridie had to say but responded that he couldn’t get involved in politics. Bridie noted this posture with a measure of irony. Pointing out that it was a human rights issue she commented that the bishop had little difficulty in supporting the Colombian Three ... When it was put to her that Denis Bradley of the new RUC board might be in a position to help, her response was curt: 'when I needed Denis Bradley he could not be got.' What about the position of the Dublin Government?

Ahern has so far ignored it. They are all worried about their Good Friday Agreement. But sure the people shouting loudest about saving the Good Friday Agreement were the people who broke it when they launched an armed attack on Joseph’s home. When Stormont collapsed McGuinness appeared on TV to say how much he was in favour of human rights. What respect for human rights was shown at the home of Joseph? When the Good Friday Agreement came in human rights for nationalists in Derry went out.

Bridie McCloskey's 'lack' of political nous - others would say a lack of bias - may be seen in her warm attitude towards some of those who have displayed a concern with her case. 'The unionist MPs came up and praised us for our work.' Gary Kent assisted her also and she is effusive in her praise for former FAIT activist Henry Robinson. He once accompanied her to the House of Commons. But Sinn Fein would claim with some justification that unionists and others are interested in the case only in so far as it provides a chance to embarrass republicanism as was demonstrated recently by their appalling silence in the aftermath of the crucifixion of Harry McCarten in Belfast’s Seymour Hill, a medieval form of punishment carried out by the UFF.

When it was put to Bridie that the CRJ may be able to help her the response was one that suggested that CRJ for her was more a case of Chucks’ Retribution Junta:

I have no faith in the Community Restorative Justice to resolve this issue. It was a member of CRJ who started these problems. One member of CRJ was boasting that he had sought the death penalty for Joseph. Noel McCartney is director of elections for Sinn Fein in the city. How can we trust CRJ to do any thing when that sort of link exists? If CRJ is independent why did Noel McCartney have to take Joseph to a Sinn Fein office?

This is a view shared by Joseph McCloskey. In a letter sent to a local newspaper he complained that ‘Noel McCartney is on TV and the papers saying about the PSNI breaking down his brother’s door among others but he never said anything when the IRA was breaking down mine . …If the CRJ is not Sinn Fein/IRA why was Noel McCartney doing his affairs in Sinn Fein offices?'

As a result of the persistent pressure applied by Bridie including profiling her son’s case case in the media, a man described as ‘a message boy for the Provos’ came in a bid to cajole the family into saying that the person injured in the attack on the house was merely running after a taxi and was not involved in anything illegal. The 'message boy' said that the family would be best to seek the advice of a solicitor as to how this should be worded.

For Bridie McCloskey the issue is simple. 'The fact that one of the republican hard men in the town got put in his place by Joseph in the pub has caused them embarrassment. The family pushing it are a key republican family and one of them said ‘Joseph is never getting back into town.' Adams and McGuinness are claiming to be pushing for equality of treatment for all nationalist citizens. What sort of equality are they overseeing when this thuggery is allowed to go on?'

Since The Blanket interviewed Bridie McCloskey, her son Joseph has been allowed to return to Derry. For the time being it seems he is safe although he would do well not to drop his guard. He is no hood or drug dealer. He poses no threat to the social peace that people crave in the face of much violent anti-social activity. His 'crime' it seems is to have stood on the toes of made-men who demand 'respect'. But respect, unlike fear, is earned, not imposed. That we as a republican community have to - in order to protect the self image of the made-men - isolate working class middle-aged women like Bridie McCloskey, engage in evasiveness, stay silent in the face of self-serving non-political violence aimed at social control is the total negation of what our participation in this struggle was all about. Is Bridie McCloskey not one of the oppressed? Napoleon seemingly was not far off the mark when he commented that 'amongst the oppressed are those who like to oppress.' Our quiet complicity in these matters leads to us being nothing other than silent witnesses to the criminalisation of our republican political culture by people who are where they are largely as a result of others dying to ensure that no such criminalisation would ever be imposed upon us. While many members of the Provisional Republican Movement are not the type described by Bridie McCloskey there is clearly an element within Derry Provisionalism - seemingly those who hegemonise it if what all our interviewees claim is factual - who have both inverted the ethos of republicanism and subverted its function for their own ends. Have our efforts over the past three decades been for little other than to produce that situation Edmund Burke warned his readers of?

Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to anything but power for their relief.


Capo di Tutti i Capi?: The Three Families

Bridie McCloskeyDanny McBearty The Civil Rights Veterans




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

24 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Blanket Special

3 Part Series

Capo di Tutti i Capi?: The Three Families

Part One: Bridie McCloskey's Story
Anthony McIntyre


A Wilderness of Mirrors
Seaghán Ó Murchú


Revenge of a Child
Uri Avnery


Political Violence's Victims

Paul A. Fitzsimmons


22 November 2002


House of Cards
Michael Dahan


It's Gone - Hip, Hip, Hurrah!
Sean Smyth


In Search of an Alternative World
Anthony McIntyre



Brian Mór


Kilroy Nouveau

Brian Mór


Kilroy Redux

Brian Mór




The Blanket




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