Bring Back The IRA!!: “Provo Social Club” would keep Dissidents in Line. Dr. John Coulter

Time to bring back the ‘IRA’: ‘Provo Social Club’ would keep dissidents in line

 

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

Bring back the IRA to combat the dissident debacle!

I haven’t contracted Magaluf Madness; the IRA I’m talking about is an Irish Republican Association of ex-jailbirds, former terrorists and current members of the Provos.

This Association would operate along the lines of the Royal British Legion where anyone connected to the Provisional IRA could keep in touch with each other.

The Legion and other ex-service associations have played a sterling part in helping old soldiers, sailors and airmen maintain a social contact.

That social contact is sadly lacking in the modern republican movement and has been a significant factor in the growth of the anti-Shinner dissident republican cause.

Today is my birthday and I remember the enthusiasm I felt two decades ago when the Provos announced their first formal ceasefire.

But what has constantly amazed me is even though Sinn Féin has acquired bucket-loads of benefits for the nationalist community compared to loyalism, the threat from dissident republican terror factions is just as fearsome today as it was when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

Unionism – and especially the loyalist working class – has not been able to reap the benefits of the peace process compared to republicans.

While there may be constant rumblings about the emergence of a dissident loyalist movement, the reality is that hardline Protestants seem more intent on attacking each other and feuding over drugs profits than murdering Catholics.

So why have police chief constables since the Belfast Agreement consistently warned about the threat of dissident republicans?

The best birthday present these dissidents could give me is to copy what the Provos did in 1994 and declare a ceasefire.

The Provos carried out decommissioning of their arsenals and some suspect that they disbanded their terror cells in certain areas.

Hindsight is a wonderful gift. Perhaps disbanding was a hasty move in terms of maintaining discipline within the republican communities – and I’m not advocating punishment beatings or knee-cappings.

The problem with the current republican leadership is that they will all soon be pensioners and a generation of young republican is emerging for whom the 1994 ceasefire is part of their school history lessons.

An Irish Republican Association could also have become a focal point, not just for internal discipline within the terror movement, but also as a discussion base for current and former Provos to prevent defections of experienced terrorists to the ranks of the dissidents.

Such an Association could also still operate as a back channel between mainstream republicans and the various dissident factions to bring about the latter’s permanent ceasefire and decommissioning.

Just as the muslim community has had to cope with the threat of young Islamic radicals, so too, as the centenary of the Easter Rising looms will the republican community have to deal with the potential radicalisation of young nationalists.

As the ex-IRA jailbirds steadily lose their influence in the republican movement, 21st century Sinn Féin is becoming increasingly dominated by the ‘draft dodger generation’ – those republicans who have never served an apprenticeship in the ‘RA.

Ever since the pre-Cromwell 1641 Irish rebellion, each generation of nationalism has thrown up a violent phase.

With rumours that some dissident republican factions have climbed into bed politically with Islamic radicals, how long before the next generation of Troubles kicks off?

Hopefully, I won’t be waiting another decade before nationalists think smart and launch the Irish Republican Association.

September 2, 2014________________

 

This article appeared in the September 1, 2014 edition of the Irish Daily Star.

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Russian Alliance is not such a Vlad Idea: Just Putin it out There!!..Dr. John Coulter.

The Russians are coming!

   No, it’s not an invasion or the beginning of World War Three, merely a recognition that a Celtic-Russian Alliance would be a sound economic base for the Emerald Isle.

Russian boss Vladimir Putin may be ex-KGB, but when it comes to leading his nation, he’s the type of ‘no punches pulled’ president which the UK and Ireland can only dream about.

In the bad old days of the Cold War, the Hard Right in Britain used to scream their pants off about Ireland becoming Europe’s Cuba.

Groups like the Tory Monday Club always warned the old commie Soviet Union could overrun the UK through the neutral Irish Republic.

Ironically, this ‘Red Under The Bed’ scare was the same tactic Churchill slabbered on about when Ireland was neutral during World War Two.

There was much talk the IRA had teamed up with Hitler’s Nazis to use the South as an invasion launch pad into the UK.

If Britain votes in 2017 to leave the cash-strapped European Union, Ireland will have no other choice but to follow ‘The Auld Enemy’ out of the EU.

Sounds like bitter medicine for the South to swallow. But there is an even bigger nightmare for the Republic.

If Scotland opts for independence next month, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has vowed to keep the new nation in the EU.

This could leave the South and the Scots as a lonely backwater region on the a**hole of Europe. Not a pretty sight!

Putin wants to rebuild the Russian empire. The West and the Yanks might be mouthing off about Putin’s tactics in Crimea and the Ukraine, but the Russian boss has proven he doesn’t give a crap what the Allies think do!

What would be so wrong economically about the Irish climbing into bed with Putin and forming the Celtic Russian Alliance?

Republicans like to boast about the Irish American links. But with the US facing its own economic meltdown under Barack Obama, the American cash cow – like the EU cash cow – has been milked dry.

The EU simply doesn’t have the euros for another Irish bailout.

When the Brits eventually quit the EU, they will need more political clout than some of the former African colonies to make the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association a viable economic alternative to the EU.

If the UK could team up with Stalin’s Russia to conquer Hitler’s Nazis, the UK could also allow Putin’s Russia to become a CPA member.

And given the Brits’ military record in Iraq and Afghanistan, the English need not pontificate about Putin’s kick ass policy in Ukraine.

If the Dail and Stormont along with the Kremlin were to do a formal deal, it could pave the way for Putin joining the CPA.

In spite of Putin’s KGB background, the Christian Church is flourishing in Russia, and there’s talk of a return of the Tsarist Russian royal family.

Putin has the dosh to bring Ireland firmly out of economic recession.

Think of the financial benefits for the Emerald Isle if Putin persuaded Russian tourists to visit Ireland, and students to continue their education at Irish colleges and universities?

Travel most anywhere in the globe and you’ll find an Irish community. Rather than head for a jobless future in the US or Australia, why can’t our young people travel to Moscow and other Russian cities to broaden their horizons?

If King Kenny really wants to remain as Taoiseach, and Marty McGuinness wants to be First Minister, they should be on the phone to Putin and make my Celtic-Russian Alliance a money-spinning reality.

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The ACT Initiative – Greater Shankill

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It’s Time To Call On The Saggers:Shinners Must Save Stormont: Dr. John Coulter

Bring back the Saggers to save Stormont!

Saggers? What, I hear you say. Is this some secret neo-Masonic cult dreamt up by the Brits, you might ask.

The Saggers was a nickname given to a group of Assembly members who comprised the Speaker’s Advisory Group, which kept Stormont afloat when the Assembly went into suspension during the David Trimble era.

The Saggers were all MLAs from the Stormont Commission, which is the Assembly’s inner circle.

These Sagger MLAs considered material and documents, then made a series of recommendations which were given to the Assembly Speaker, who in turn passed them to the Northern Secretary.

The Saggers team also linked up with very senior Northern civil servants. Sounds like a complicated system.

But it kept Stormont alive and prevented the Assembly from being dumped into mothballs like its original 1972 predecessor.

Even the Shinners gave support to the Saggers’ work. That’s why it’s now so vital the Saggers be re-activated if the current Northern Secretary is forced to suspend Stormont again as relations between Sinn Fein and its DUP hit rock bottom.

The Shinners also need to realise they need to retain Stormont if they want to become minority government partners in the next Dail.

The Shinners have realised that the only route to Irish unity lies through Dublin, not Belfast or London.

The DUP isn’t worried by a Stormont collapse as its MPs take their Westminster seats so they can do a deal with Brit PM Dave Cameron.

As Sinn Fein still operates its outdated abstentionist policy on Commons seats, a dead fly would have more influence in the Commons chamber than Shinner MPs.

Sinn Fein has a massive image stereotype to overcome if Louth TD Gerry Adams is to emerge as Tanaiste after the South’s general election next year.

Banging the anti-austerity drum may get the Shinners a few extra TDs, but it won’t propel Adams into that office.

But if the Shinners can save Stormont using the Saggers, it will help convince Southern voters the party can be trusted in government in the Republic as well.

And what a mountain Sinn Fein has to climb to get those voters to move on from the past.

Would you vote for a party which snubbed thousands of republicans who went off to fight Kaiser Bill in 1914?

Would you vote for a party which organised the doomed Easter Rising in Dublin while those thousands of republicans were being slaughtered in the trenches?

Would you vote for a party which brought the wrath of the Black and Tans upon the Irish people in the War of Independence?

Would you vote for a party which didn’t accept the Treaty and condemned the island to months of slaughter as republican butchered republican?

Would you vote for a party which pussy-footed with Hitler’s Nazi scum during the Second World War?

If Sinn Fein wants the keys to the Tanaiste’s office, it must first use the Saggers to unlock the Stormont logjam.

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Strategic Alliances: Defeating Sectarianism..Dr. Tony Novosel

There are all types of Political Prisoners housed in the Camp and the miracle of the matter is that there is a great absence of factional tension. Men of common sense know that all are Prisoners and have resolved that Sectarianism must not be allowed to rear its head in Long Kesh.  . .the unanimity which exists might travel further afield.

Joint Camp PROS (Public Relations Officers)[1]

“In Long Kesh we, Republicans and Loyalists, have attempted to bridge the gap by engaging in constructive dialogue without conceding principles.”[2]

 

On the 17 April 1991, the Combined Loyalist Military Command called a ceasefire to provide breathing space for the Brooke talks then taking place in Northern Ireland.  The CLMC maintained this ceasefire until 4 July 1991, even in the face of an IRA campaign that killed 13 people and resulted in bomb attacks on Protestant housing estates.[3]

 

While this ceasefire did not immediately thrust loyalism in to the political arena, as many politicians and political parties ignored it, it did show that loyalism could think politically, act in a disciplined manner and was a force that had to be included in any settlement that would take place in Northern Ireland.  This undercut the Provisional IRA narrative that the conflict was only between it and the British government. In this account, loyalists were not independent actors; they were simply puppets of the British state.  (This narrative still exists and may even be stronger today than it was in 1991.)  As a result of this and other factors, Sinn Fein and the IRA, who were already questioning the effectiveness of the armed struggle, issued the following statement at Bodenstown in 1992,

 

We know and accept that the British government’s departure must be preceded by a sustained period of peace and will arise out of negotiations. We know and accept that such negotiations will involve the different shades of Irish nationalism, and Irish unionism engaging the British government either together or separately to secure an all-embracing and durable peace process. We know and accept that this is not 1921 and that at this stage we don’t represent a government in waiting.[4]

 

This is not to say, that the Provisionals based their analysis strictly on what the CLMC did in 1991. However, one cannot escape the obvious conclusion that the Provisionals, in the wake of the CLMC ceasefire and, again, other factors, realised that they would have to engage with “other” community in Northern Ireland, in any sort of settlement.

 

Fast forward to the summer of 2014 and the 12th of July marches in Belfast and the Apprentice Boys march in Derry/Londonderry.  The Unionist political parties, the Orange Order, the paramilitaries and ordinary unionists put aside their political differences and disagreements to ensure that the parades went off peacefully. They acted within the context of the law and made sure that there was no repeat of the violence of 2012-2013. Furthermore, they put their message across politically.  At the same time, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Orange Order and the Black Preceptory have developed The Maiden City Accord to deal with parading, a document that has even gathered support from Sinn Fein.  In other words, contrary to the narrative of unionists and loyalists as simple bigots, backwoodsman, and sectarians who cannot think or act politically, these groups have acted in a concerted, lawful and political manner to make their point. Just as in 1991, this concerted and disciplined action undercut the popular narrative of unionism and in particular loyalism.

 

It has also caused concern for Sinn Fein as was evident on the 10 June 2014, when Gerry Kelly coined the phrase ‘pan-unionist front’[5] when talking about what unionism demanded.  Billy Hutchinson recognised Sinn Fein’s concern about this ‘unionist unity’ on the 10 August 2014, when he referred to Sinn Fein’s use of this term in his speech at Twaddell.  While arguing that this is a cultural war, something that Brian Spencer has called into question on eamonnmaillie.com, Hutchinson made it clear that the united front would continue and all unionist and loyalist actions would be done through concerted and democratic action.  In other words, unionism and loyalism would use the law and the democratic process to deal with any attacks and/or ‘perceived’ attacks on their community from Sinn Fein.  This is crucial for this analysis.

 

As it was in 1991 and then 1994-1998, loyalism is now in a position again, in its alliance of convenience with unionism — and we should be in no doubt that it is an alliance of convenience — to inject itself in to the political arena and to act politically to represent its own community and, I would argue the entire community of Northern Ireland.

 

How do they do this?

 

Well, we have witnessed something that many people on all sides did not think could happen; ‘unionist unity.’ In other words, a strategic alliance has developed that ignores all the issues that separate the various groups and parties within unionism and loyalism.  This is very important. Ask yourself, what unites TUV and the PUP other than “culture” and “nation?”  How do the progressive loyalists and unionists square their alliance with conservative loyalists and unionists, except on the national and cultural question?  The answers are that they have little that unites them and you really cannot square the alliance. However, because of the perceived attack on the whole unionist/loyalist community they have put what separates them aside and now are working together to protect the interests that they believe are important to all of them.  Thus, groups and individuals that have very little in common, have put aside what separates them to defend what unites them.

 

This brings us to the main point of this piece.  We know that loyalists and republicans in Long Kesh worked together on areas of common interest without sacrificing principles and they did it while minimizing conflict and containing sectarian feelings. The historical record demonstrates their cooperation over visitation, food and even treatment by the guards, as well as the creation of the Camp Council and the Downtown Office scheme.  They did this, in their words, ‘without conceding principles’ or descending into sectarian violence.

 

As mentioned above, we now see this same phenomenon taking place within unionism as unionists and loyalists now engage in constructive dialogue and bridge their gaps to work for the future of their community.

 

This then begs a most important question.  If those with radically different conceptions of nationality situated in the most extreme of circumstances inside Crumlin Road and then Long Kesh could overcome divisions to work together, as well as contain sectarianism; and those within unionism and loyalism can now put their very different conceptions of Northern Ireland aside to work together, then why can this not ‘travel further afield?’[6]  By this I mean, why can those on both sides of the divide, not engage with each other on the issues that affect all the citizens of Northern Ireland?  Is it impossible to act like unionists and loyalists are doing now in the ‘pan-unionist front’, and the prisoners did in Long Kesh? In other words, is it not time to put to the side, those issues which they know that they cannot agree on and that only prevent any progress in Northern Ireland, to work on the very real problems that affect everyone’s life?

 

Everyone’s concern must be, as Dr. John Kyle put it last year at the PUP Party Conference,

 

We’re not opposed to Protestant poverty, we’re opposed to poverty. We’re not opposed to Protestant unemployment, we’re opposed to unemployment. Unemployment is a curse and wherever it is in our country or our city we are working to get rid of it.  Sectarianism is looking after yourself and if we act only in narrow self interest then morally we’re bankrupt. Sectarianism is corrosive and damaging to our communities and we don’t need it.

 

This is particularly important now, under the Conservative-LibDem Coalition. In Northern Ireland, the Con-LibDem alliance, committed to the austerity programs, which we know are now discredited, cuts the NHS, Education, Welfare, Arts and on and on. Where is the response? The divided communities cannot act in concert because of the national question and lingering and sometimes outright sectarianism that exists in both communities. Consequently, the government continues its assault on the welfare state.  These attacks, in particular the cuts to education, social welfare and the NHS affect everyone.  Therefore, there has to be a coordinated response to these attacks.

 

So, how do we break out of the narrow confines of only caring about Protestant or Catholic poverty or Protestant or Catholic problems?  This is where the strategic alliances come in.  I would argue that this means, as someone here told me many years ago, the creation of “a society where you’ll see some unholy alliances, an alliance against those who’ve benefitted from the “Troubles” by keeping the lower classes apart.”  I would argue that it is now time for this “unholy alliance” and the creation of the alliances across party lines and sectarian and ethnic divisions to work for the betterment of all the people of Northern Ireland on the key social, economic and educational issues. Like the prisoners in Long Kesh, you do not need to surrender your principles to work on issues that are important to everyone. However, you need to suppress sectarianism and be willing to put aside the irreconcilable differences to work on common interests.

 

I believe everyone in Northern Ireland recognizes that the moment has come where talking about the problem/s stops and the difficult work of finding a way to solve the social, economic, and educational issues, begins.  The strategic alliances across the many divides may be the start of that process.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] “The Long Kesh Visits,” Orange Cross 51 (March 1974).

[2] Garland, Roy, Gusty Spence (Belfast:  Blackstaff Press, 2001), 282-283

[3] Taylor, Peter, Loyalists: War and Peace in Northern Ireland, (New York:  TV Books, L.L.C., 1999), 216-217.

[4] Jim Gibney, “Annual Bodenstown Speech 1992 Address by Sinn Féin’s Jim Gibney” Sinn Fein, June 1992, www.sinnfein.ie/files/Speech_Bodenstown92.pdf, (7 May 2011).

 

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHgvXwtdTKw

[6] “The Long Kesh Visits,” Orange Cross 51 (March 1974).

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I Was Only Kidding………..: Mea Culpa

I was only kidding.

 

 The place is the middle hut of Compound 21 in the Kesh prison. It is 1981. We are 90 odd loyalist paramilitary prisoners.  We have special category status.  We live as prisoners of war.  Each hut has an officer in charge and overall is Gusty. Our OC. It is a life of tedium,  conflict and uncertainty. Studying, the gym, weekly visit, locked up at 9pm, card schools, TV, football and so. Same old pattern every week. Some of us are life sentence prisoners. I am a lifer. We are going nowhere. The long termers have a mix of fixed sentences ranging from 15 to 20 years. They know their release dates. Some are serving short prison sentences like 8 and 10 years.  So anything to relieve the boredom and tension is to be welcomed. The odd ‘stand to’ with the screws. Well nearly every summer something happens. They just can’t do their time the way we can.  The odd prank to get tongues wagging and some poor sod humiliated.  Daily slagging about football,  girlfriends, mates and so on.

One stunt I pulled concerned the old style Belfast Telegraph. Only one copy came in that night and the screw shouted on me from the compound gate to bring it in. Before leaving it out for reading I went to the study hut where my typewriter was. It was an old Remington with black and red  typewriter ribbon and keys that flew up and down as you typed.  The typeface and size just matched in nicely. The Tele usually had, in those days, a blank column- ‘Stop Press’ -on the back page,  bottom right hand column. It usually was filled with details of the latest atrocity in N.Ireland.  It was blank tonight and I proceeded to type that the NIO had granted two thirds remission to all prisoners in NI. (This was the situation in England at that time) Fixed term prisoners in N.I.  had half of their sentence knocked off,  ‘for good behaviour’.

I left the Tele  on a table in the end hut and said nothing.  No one was about. Thank heavens as it turned out. It wasn’t long before the buzz started.  For any lifers this was not relevant or important news so they didn’t join in. However for any fixed term man this was electric news. For some it would mean they effectively had served out their term and could be released in days. For the 20 year men it meant years knocked off their sentence. The place was alive with speculation. People asked for radios to hear what the local stations would say. The 9 o clock news was on every TV to see what commentators would make of this audacious move.  The brass were puzzled as they usually had a sneak warning of important stuff coming back the track.  They had been speculation in the media but nothing serious. But here it was. In black and white. In the papers. And the Belfast Telegraph no less. It had to be true.

Well,  talk about throwing petrol on a fire. Very earnest conversations took place between the short termers as calculations unfolded about possible new release dates. I knew I was in the shit when I heard someone  talking about spending Xmas at home. Whoops.  Some were bursting to get a message to their family as soon as possible.  Someone asked me if I had heard anything about the two thirds being introduced.  ( I had a reputation of being a news junkie)  I said ‘no’.  Which in a way was the truth. I certainly had not heard that the two thirds was coming in. But I had doctored the paper to say that. No one asked had I done this and I didn’t feel like enlightening them just at that time.  I did spend some time thinking I should own up and say it was a prank. And maybe we would all have a good laugh and a chuckle. hmmm. Maybe not.  The local news came and went. Nothing. The morning papers, Newsletter and Daily Mirror came. There was a bloody queue to read those papers. Scoured back to front.  Nothing.

Theories  abounded. Maybe the paper leaked the story but it was so politically sensitive that it is being kept under wraps? Or. Maybe the screws had done this to wind the prisoners up?  The usual nutters muttered about mind games, British intelligence and black operations working on the loyalist prisoners.  As time went on, peace and quiet returned slowly.  I never did own up to any of the fixed term lads. Of all whom were released in due course. Some of them were good friends.  So now, after 30 odd years,  a belated apology to all. Sorry.  I was only kidding.  Better late than never.

Mea Culpa

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Republic Would be EU’s Whipping Boy: Dr. John Coulter

They’ve ‘Scot’ no chance! Republic would be EU’s whipping boy

 

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

An independent Scotland will not result in Irish unity.

The Achilles’ Heel in Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s dream of a Yes victory in September’s independence referendum is that a Scottish republic would be part of the rapidly failing European Union.

The rise of Nigel Farage’s anti-EU Ukip suggests the majority of Brits will vote to leave the EU in the planned 2017 In/Out referendum.

Given traditional Euro-skeptic support in Ireland, north and south, the Brits will want a nation to team up with when what’s left of the UK dumps the EU.

A Scottish republic will become the EU whipping boy. Scots must vote to leave all the Unions, both the UK and EU.

Otherwise, by the end of this decade, Scotland will be going bonnet in hand to Brussels asking for bailout money in the same way the Dáil had to plead for euro millions to keep the Irish economy afloat.

Even if Scotland votes to remain in the Union, London will make those naughty Scottish nationalists pay heavily in new taxes for daring to defy Westminster rule.

The race is tight in the polls – around 10% dividing Yes and No camps – so the Old Firm voters of Rangers and Celtic could decide the outcome.

Unless, of course, the Brits are planning a series of regional English parliaments as part of an ‘England Alone’ policy.

The Scotland referendum comes slap bang in the middle of commemorations to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War in 1914.

The pro-Union camp will counter the memories of previous Scottish victories at Stirling and Bannockburn with images of the role and sacrifice of Scots at the Somme, Ypres and Cambrai – some of the bloodiest battles of World War One.

This same pro-Commonwealth lobby in the London Establishment will be using identical tactics with the Irish Republic by reminding Southerners of the sacrifice which thousands of Irish nationalists made in the Great War, too.

It will be a case of ‘Okay, you can remember those who died in the failed Easter Rising, but a lasting tribute to the dead, wounded and those from Ireland who served in the Great War would be for the Republic to rejoin the Commonwealth!’.

From now until 2018 and the centenary of World War One ending, stand by for a palace-load of English royals invading the South to ram this Commonwealth message home.

With Sinn Féin on the rise again, many non-Shinner Southern nationalists may be taking the political view – better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven! Or, better to rule in Commonwealth Hell than serve with Shinners in Dáil Heaven!

Shinner guns can be spiked if the Dáil joins forces with Westminster to push a Commonwealth solution, especially if England faces the threat of Islamic radicals setting up Sharia law communities in Britain.

With the Anglican Communion losing ground in numbers to radical Islam in England, could the long-term plan be for a future King Billy to relocate the Blue Bloods in Ireland?

Dump the Scots and EU, keep the Northern Unionists and Welsh in check, and set up a new Christian home in Ireland.

Sounds to me like the foundations of the Empire Mark Two have already been laid!

July 29, 2014________________

 

This article appeared in the July 28, 2014 edition of the Irish Daily Star.

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Flashbacks: Turas

FLASHBACKS.

The huge metal gate is for vehicle access only. The screws crack if you, a prisoner,  try to walk through the gate when it opens for a prison mini bus. Each gate has a smaller wicket gate for people to go through.  The Kesh, a hard world of barbed wire, walls and gates. The gate is rusting. We don’t see it. Each gate has a screw that opens and shuts as needed. We will spend over a decade and more of our lives behind these metal barriers.  We go through the metal monsters to see our loved ones. To go play football, talk to a solicitor or to go to the hospital.

My first impressions of this world famous gate is that it does not look much like a gate. But a trip to Berlin isn’t complete with a trip to the Brandenburg gate. I get a photograph taken along with many others doing exactly the same.  The Berlin wall is long gone but reminders remain in the city. A concrete wall. A metal gate.  For tourists. It prompts a memory. There are people from everywhere here. Asians, Italians, English, Americans.  It’s a long way from the Kesh to the Brandenburg.

I am in a punishment cell.  Solitary. For refusing to strip on a screws order.  It is a 10 feet by 6 feet concrete box. A living coffin for bad boys. The window is covered over and daylight filters in. the air is fetid and the heat turned up even though it is summer. I ask for the heat to be turned down. ‘We cant do that’,  even know we know they can. It is quiet. The bed is a concrete slab topped by hardwood. The mattress is taken out through the day. There is no chair. No radio. Nothing. I start by doing press ups and sit ups. Then some yoga.  I think back to my days on the farm. My memories secure me. I walk back and forth for hours. I can never look at a zoo animal in the same way again.  The day drags in. Meals come and go. I check for spit in the food. The sunlight is replaced by the lights of the Kesh.  I turn in for a fitful sleep and get another day over. I will be back here.

I have travelled to Knoydart. They call it the last great wilderness in Europe. It is amazing.  It is a three hour drive for me. I canoe along the long loch for easier access.  I have climbed to the top of a mountain and there is nothing but rolling hills.  They go on forever. There are no houses. No pylons. No walls. There are billions of midges. It is a world of purple heather , green ferns and hillside brown. Herds of red deer roam wild. One stag stops to stare at me. The loch below sparkles diamond white in the July sunshine.  A gentle breeze cools me from my exertions. The sky is the brightest blue with wisps of white cloud. It is July. Warm and sunny. To the west is the restless sea and the Atlantic.  North is the highlands of Scotland. This is a place apart. A long way from the Kesh to Knoydart. .

 

Day after day I walk round the wire wall that hems us in. We jog round the compound. 7 laps to the mile. Some have run marathons here. A lot of laps. In the evening before we are locked up for the night we walk and talk along the wire. It is heavy gauge metal, 10 feet tall topped with razor wire. Wooden posts every 12 feet have small lights that stay on all the time. Behind the wire wall is the concrete wall. Over 20 feet high and covered by the stalags look outs. A film producer could use this as set of a prisoner of war film. If we weren’t here.  Today it is raining. The grey ground merges with the grey wire and wall into a grey expanse of cloud. We are in a grey hell.  There is no colour. Only in our huts is there bright colours. Our identity.  Our resistance to a world devoid of sensation. We have painted our walls ourselves.

I stand in front of the grave. He was my grannies big brother. He died in 1915. His headstone is grey like millions of other Commonwealth war graves here in France.  I have a picture of him on my wall at home.  I look up. It is summer time. It is quiet and beautiful in this small cemetery.  I place our family tribute on his grave. I bought the flowers  in Albert. They are a mix of orange, red and purple.  They look great. Other graves have their small bunches of flowers. There are small plants growing by the graves. Outside the cemetery wall is a sea of red. Poppies are everywhere.  The rolling fields are a mix of green;  some dark, some yellow hued.  They stretch on to the sky topped by a cloudless brilliant blue sky. It is a long way from the Kesh to Albert.

 

There are over 30 men in the half round Nissan hut. It is home for over a decade of my life. It is warm in the summer and freezing in the winter. There is always life in the hut. You can never escape from the others. In the Kesh you can never be on your own unless you go to solitary punishment. As soon as you wake till you sleep there are people. Lots of people. You share a cube (room),  you train with others, eat with others,  walk and talk with others.  You go to see your family and a screw is in tow at every point. You see the doctor and a screw is there.  The TV is on in the hut, a radio is blaring. Someone wants a record on the old Dansette record player. A group is playing cards and shouting. Someone is telling a joke. The hut is jumping.  It is alive. At night the lights are out. The TV is off. But there are sounds. A man snores. A man grapples with his dreams. Or nightmares.  I hear the pages turning as someone reads the night away.  A tin pressure cooker full of people going nowhere.  You are never alone.

I sit on a cold stone slab. The roof rises way above my head. There is quietness in the vast space. It is summer and the bright light invades the interior.  The building is hundreds of years old and legend has it that St Columba came here to start his church.  Each stone put up by hand. A building that seen past glories, went into decline and was raised again. I am relaxed. There is no one else in the abbey.  It has power in its history and stones. In the distance I faintly hear the birds as they wheel about the graveyard.  I can hear my own breathing. There is peace here. A place on the very edge of Europe.  I am finally on my own. I am happy. It is a long way from the Kesh to Iona.

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Songs That Made Life In The Cages Easier: Sultans of Swing

SONGS THAT MADE LIFE IN THE CAGES EASIER

SULTANS OF SWING

                                                                    

 

Around mid 1978 we in Compound 21 were in the formative stages of a kind of perestroika—well—at the least the UVF version.  The special category system had been granted nigh on 6 years and the loyalist side of the jail was probably at its fullest.  Apart from 21, 19 and 18 were also in existence to house sentenced prisoners.  A large percentage was life sentence men and there were many serving very long sentences.  We still got the odd trickle of men coming through who had been sentenced after the cut off date of March 1976, but by and large, it was the same old gubs we looked at each day.  The militaristic regime was starting to give way to a more relaxed environment..something welcomed by most..although we still had our inspections and parades, the obligatory lectures and classes had gone.  Education had taken over and by the next year the Open University would see a new dawn in the edification of many of the men.
On the whole the body of prisoners relied heavily on the television..And to a lesser extent the radio..To provide the bulk of the entertainment.  There were those who had their favourites..documentaries..wild life programmes..avid news watchers..those who watched anything..including The Dot…and contrary to popular belief I don’t remember anyone standing for the Queen at the end of the night…..Well…not outside their cubicles anyway.   Football of course was the thing that assured most seats on bums although thinking back now it’s a wonder we were able to differentiate between two teams who looked like they were playing in slightly different shades of grey kits.  Such were the delights of black and white televisions.  Music played a major part in everyday life behind the wire and the whole array could be heard during a 24 hour period.  There were only a few music programmes on TV around this time and of course Top of the Pops would have been the most popular.  Thinking back to those days and to the drivel that adorned the charts I firmly believe that the only motivation for watching TOTP could have been to see Pans people..or perhaps they were Legs and Co by that stage.  For those who had an alternative genre to sugar coated pop there was always The Old Grey and the dulcet tones of Whispering Bob.
In July 1978—in between Argentina winning the World Cup and us preparing..bulling and shining for the 12th day..a new—short lived programme appeared on ITV.  A late night “progressive and asthetic” show..seen as an alternative to the TOTP generation.  Revolver aired on a Sunday evening and had the comedian Peter Cook as a co-presenter.  Great things were predicted but sadly the plug was pulled after only 8 shows.  During that short run though we were lucky enough to catch acts like Ian Dury…replete with Blockheads…a new and exciting Jam…Elvis Costello….Siouxsie…..Kate Bush and many others who previously we had only caught a glimpse of.  The acerbic Cook may well have been the reason for the brief run as I recall he could be very disparaging towards some of the acts.
In our hut ..the middle one..Messines..there was quite a few of us who considered ourselves to be music aficionados.  We exchanged NME’s and Melody makers and lent each other the new albums..to be played during your allotted time on the record player which sat in the study hut.  If memory serves me the most played albums around July 1978 were Bat out of Hell and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours which had came out the year before.  Street Legal by Dylan had only came out and it’s fair to say that it became another one that “done the rounds”.
On one of the first shows..it may well have been the first in fact…a dozen of us sitting watching..had our ears well and truly pricked with the introduction of a “new” band.  Dire Straits.  Even the most knowledgeable amongst us drew a blank here, so didn’t know what to expect.  Being late at night the television was turned down to a very low level of volume..to placate those who went to bed early.  Even still, when Mark Knopfler starting picking and strumming his was through Sultans of Swing we collectively knew we were hearing something different…a new rawness..a departure..and something that heralded a vibrant, burgeoning talent.  The lyrics, on first hearing were a divergence from the saccharin sweetness of what was being served up in the Top Forty…after all John Travolta and Olivia Newton John were firmly planted at the top of the pile at this time with Rod Stewart on their coat tails with the Scottish World Cup anthem.  The lyrics delivered in a sexy gravelly tone, were street wise and immediate.  There were instant comparisons to Dylan and other memorable singer songwriters of the time.  Those who weren’t seated with us for Revolver, soon appeared.  The peeked out through their cubicle curtains…they shuffled in behind us clad only in Y Fronts .  Before the song ended most of the guys in the hut had gathered.  Save those who were sleeping or the ones that couldn’t see past Jim Reeves and Charlie Pride.  The rest of Revolver that night was tendered inconsequential and was lost in a babble of approval and a chorus of intent..to buy the album..of the same name..at the earliest opportunity.  Bobby Hat—the hut OC—poked his head out the curtain…not to join in the revelry..but rather to tell us all to “turn that TV and get into bloody bed.
It being a Sunday many of us wouldn’t have visits for 6 or 7 days.  And being a time before mobile phones the done thing was to write a letter to inform your folks to have the album in your next parcel.  This was done as a matter of urgency—many writing letters that night—for fear of being the tube that didn’t get the album.
Frankie C went one better.  He put his name down in the welfare book and got a phone call out to his Mum..who was able to get the album on Monday morning and have it brought up with the papers the same day.  How we were tortured that night..when he refused to let any of us hear it….Get Yer Own!!  One by one as we got our visits and parcels we got the album..LP’s they were called in those days.  And one by one we trooped out to the study hut to take our turn on the ancient Danzette…we even carried our own needle too…so we couldn’t accuse the previous participant of gathering a fur coat on the end of the communal needle.  Sultans of Swing was an anthem that summer.  It inspired those hitherto guitar buffs to go back to the drawing board..or in some cases the Bert Weedon manual.  First thing in the mornings the ablutions echoed to the refrains of the chorus..hummed and sang.  Today it is as relevant as ever…at least to me.  It still retains that immediacy that made me shift in my hard plastic sheet all those years ago, and sagely nod my head in recognition of something special.

“They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band-
It aint what they call Rock and Roll……..”

 

Beano

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Capital Idea For Unionist Leaders: Loyalists Need Dublin Input: Dr. John Coulter

Capital idea for Unionist leaders: Loyalists need Dublin input

 

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

Take the Dublin road and set up a Unionist Embassy in the Dáil and in no time King Kenny will be begging Dandy Dave Cameron to let loyalists tramp where they like!

That’s the graduated response Unionists should be taking if they have any titter of wit.

Walkouts did not work in 1985/86 against the Anglo-Irish Agreement – and it won’t work now.

Unionists need to start thinking with their heads, not tramping with their feet. As for the Orange Order and the other Loyal Orders, they need to return to their religious roots.

Rather than focus on trying to get along contentious parade routes, they should concentrate on getting as many of their members back into Christian churches.

Unionists need a reality check that this is not 1974 when Sunningdale could be toppled by massive street protests.

It’s 2014 and the PSNI has a new top cop in Geordie Hamilton, who takes a no-nonsense approach to people who breach any Parades Commission rulings.

The Brits have learned from their mistakes in ’74 when they caved in to the loyalist paramilitary muscle of the Ulster Workers’ Council.

And the Unionist leaderships need to finally wise up and realise they don’t possess the same discipline over loyalists on the streets as republicans have mastered.

Republicans have the skills to fully control the tap of violence which they can turn on and off at will.

When Unionists call loyalists onto the streets, uncontrolled mayhem always follows. And it’s equally clear that Big Hammy has converted his PSNI riot units into well-trained carbon copies of the Garda Siochana’s elite riot cops.

Republicans took major leaps ahead of marching Unionism in the late 1980s when they used the Belfast Accord to set up the Maryfield Secretariat.

That gave Dublin its first major say in the running of the North since partition.

A Maryfield-style Unionist Embassy in Leinster House is the only graduated response loyalists should implement.

It should be manned by all the Unionist parties plus the Loyal Orders and should bombard King Kenny with a whinge list of all that is wrong with the South, republicanism, and the Catholic Church.

Phase Two would be use the North South Ministerial Council to demand loyalist representation in the Dublin Senate.

Unionism needs radical Right-wingers in the Senate; not liberal token Prods.

Kenny is crapping himself at the advance of the Southern Shinners. His nightmare scenario of having Gerry Adams as his Tanaiste after next year’s Dáil poll is now a big reality.

The last thing Kenny needs is Unionists moaning about Southern ills and chirping daily about the political dangers posed by Sinn Féin.

Cameron also knows his Lib Dem partners will also be screwed after next year’s Westminster poll. Dave needs a new Commons buddy to stay in Downing Street – so enter the DUP!

My Unionist Embassy solution is a workable graduated response for loyalists – provided they are smart enough to stay off the streets.

As for Sinn Féin, how can it stop the Unionist Embassy buggering up its agenda?

Simple, ‘retire’ Gerry and Marty and fill the party with draft dodgers who have never served their Shinner apprenticeships in the IRA.

July 15, 2014________________

 

This article appeared in the July 14, 2014 edition of the Irish Daily Star.

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