Sunday, 26 June 2011

Irish history and socialism

Article written in 2008 by the late Peter Hadden (1950-2010)

Death on the rock of Gibraltar - 20 years since SAS killing of three IRA volunteers

It is twenty years since the execution style killing by the SAS of three IRA members in Gibraltar. In Northern Ireland these deaths sparked a brief but particularly bloody upsurge in violence. Over the next thirteen days a series of attacks involving the army, the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries left a further eight people dead and 68 injured. Two of these incidents will be vividly remembered by those who were around at the time, if only because they were captured live by TV cameras on the scene.

One was the attack by lone loyalist gunman, Michael Stone, on mourners attending the funerals of the Gibraltar victims, which left three mourners dead and scores injured. The image shown repeatedly on that day’s news bulletins of Stone fleeing through West Belfast’s Milltown cemetery towards the M1 motorway, attempting to hold off a chasing crowd with pistol shots and grenades, provided a stark illustration of the brutal reality of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

So did the footage taken three days later on the Andersonstown Road at the funeral of one of those killed by Stone in Milltown. This was of two plain-clothes British soldiers, who had driven aggressively into the funeral procession, being dragged by the crowd from their car, one brandishing a handgun. Shortly after this, they were handed over to the IRA who took them to waste ground behind nearby shops and shot them.

Today, twenty years on, Sinn Fein put a huge effort into organising a series of high profile events to commemorate the Gibraltar killings. There were rallies and a large public meeting in West Belfast. A special 12-page commemorative supplement on the killings and their bloody aftermath was produced and distributed through doors in Catholic areas of the city.

Public controversy soon developed over these commemorations, especially over the proposal to host a celebration of the life of Mairead Farrell, one of the three shot by the SAS in Gibraltar, in the Long Gallery in Parliament Buildings at Stormont. This produced a predictable knee jerk reaction from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who announced an event to celebrate the role of the SAS to be held in the same venue and at the same time. In the end, neither party got their way - new rules were rushed through in haste to make it more difficult to book the Long Gallery - and Sinn Fein went ahead with a low key meeting on Mairead Farrell’s life in their own offices at Stormont....

Twenty years on, the real lesson of all that happened at Gibraltar and after is the need to build a fighting socialist alternative to sectarianism and capitalism so that the energies of another generation are not wasted on ideas and methods that can never succeed.

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