Monthly Archives: July 2015

September Rain: Jack H.

September Rain.

Compound 21. Long Kesh. A place of residence. But  never home.  I’ve been here over 8 years.   In special category.  Inside a cage of high wire, lights and 20 foot concrete walls. Escape is around the wire, not over it. Run every day. Gusty started the routine of running twice a day.  7 Laps to a mile. Round and round.  Past the screws hut. All lit up and quiet. Past the toilet block.  Stickie’s  on the right in cage 20.  Past the end hut, the middle hut, the half hut and the gym hut. Right angle corner at the end.  Up past the screws sentry box. Round by the open yard. The long straight. Can just about see the hills of Lisburn. Into the tight corner at the air lock – the gates. The gates to everywhere.  What to think of while I churn out the miles?  We have endless hours. Holding onto those previous memories that slowly get washed out. Think of anything; football; the troubles; music. For some reason school memories start to return. Never was one for poetry but some of that English literature stuff now floats back.  I get into a rhythm.  Nearly trance like. The miles roll on. Poetry. Not my thing yet it comes creeping in.  How does that go?

Once in Persia reigned a king, Who upon his signet ring,

Graved  a maxim wise and true, Which if he held before his eyes…

The rain rolls in from the west. Im totally soaked but I just run on.  The cloud lowers and there  is a feeling of running in a large grey box. Darkness descends. Feet beating out a watery tune.  September telling us what type of winter awaits. The mood of grey that covers the country outside. The real world. The free world. The rain bites into my bare legs. One good thing- the rain keeps people in the huts. There’s less of the mundane slagging/ bantering that goes on. ‘Hey you, get the lead out’ and ‘get the hump up, ye boy ye.’  Got boring after the hundredth time.  So many smartarses; so little space. I’ve lost feeling in my hands ages ago.  My breathing is laboured. The sweat top is getting heavier.  I can feel chaffing start.  Some of the men like Gusty have knocked out a marathon. Could I? I’m feeling good. So onto the half marathon.  Why not, not exactly going anywhere special to night.

Gave counsel at a glance, Fit for every change and chance

Solemn words and these are they, Even this shall pass away.

The compound life carries on around me but out here – I’m on my own.  For now. All but 2 of the 60 men do some form of exercise. Some are well into their weights. Big Rab, our Arnie. Some are into their boxing. The Mad Major.  But some excel at the running. We are allowed once a week onto the football pitch. It is a blessing to get out into a wide area. Less corners. More removed from confinement. Space.  Openness.  Some sort of freedom?  The miles mount up. The wind has picked up and the rain is smarting on my face. My old geography teacher would be proud of me.  Metrology on a Monday morning. Whoopee. This is nimbostratus.  A long and very wet period.  I do some maths. How many seconds in a year. In two years’ time I will have spent one third of my life in here. Nearly all my adult life.  Got to keep going.  Fight the wee voice that says ‘stop, that’s enough’.  The words keep coming.

Struck with palsy, sere and old, Waiting at the gate of gold

Said he with his dying breadth, Life is done but what is death


I finally finish.  I walk round to warm down. My breath streams out in front of me. Steam rises from my sweatshirt. I go to my cube, (room) get my wash gear and head for the showers. The rain is still falling. My hair is plastered to my head but I feel pleasantly tired.  Knackered actually. The warm water is a blessing.  It bites and stings at first. Some days there is no warm water. Bummer.  I have a towel wrapped round me.  I run round to the middle hut dodging the puddles. I get in, dry off and get something warm to eat. Most of us would walk 1 hour before lock-up at 9. Not tonight Josephine. One soaking a day is enough. Some brave souls do walk round. Screws are in at 9. They looked pissed off. And very wet. It’s dark now. One of those nights we are not too unhappy about being locked up.   The hut is a bustle of noise.  T.V. on, men playing cards, some chat, some make handicrafts, beds being made, letters written.

I’m in bed early. Always find that a soaking like that makes me very drowsy and tired.  I have an end cube. I have a window in the gable wall and I can look out over the yard. The lights struggle to shine in the menacing night. Rain pelts of my window. I read for a while with the noise of the rain as background music. It competes with the laughter of the men down the other end at the TV.  I finish reading.  Another means of escape.  I lie down and watch the rain run down the window pane.  The wind has picked up. The round roof is made of corrugated tin sheets.  It won’t be so quiet tonight.  The noise becomes deafening. The wind threatens to lift the roof.  The rain catches a loose sheet and sounds like some mad drummer having a breakdown.  I try to drift of but can’t get that poem out of my head now.

Then in answer to the king, fell a sunbeam on his ring

Showing by a heavenly ray, even this shall pass away.

Jack H.








Churches Must Ditch Altar Ego’s: Dr. John Coulter

Churches must ditch altar egos: Unite to form Christian party


(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

This island urgently needs the formation of an Irish Christian Party to combat the potentially fatal crisis which has befallen many churches.

The time is nigh for Christians of all denominations to set aside their theological differences, launch the ICP and get candidates elected to the Dáil and Stormont.

ICP activists must show the same zeal to succeed in getting elected as their forefathers in the Spanish Inquisition and the Puritan witchfinders.

The ICP is not a movement for pussy-footing whimps, who seem to dominate many churches in modern Ireland.

The depth of the crisis facing Irish Christianity cannot be swept behind the pulpit.

If the slide continues, within a generation there will be more people in Ireland who are non-Christians or non-worshippers than currently exist in the pews.

Practically, when – not if – this becomes a religious reality, Catholic chapels will close and the smaller Protestant denominations will cease to exist.

The clerical abuse scandals within Catholicism have created the false stereotype that only predator homosexuals and child molesters want to become priests or join Holy Orders.

At one time, Ireland was one of the Vatican’s beacons of Catholicism in Western Europe. Families saw it as a badge of honour when they proudly declared a son was entering the priesthood or a daughter becoming a nun.

Has it become a case that folk who feel called to religious orders prefer to conduct their vocation overseas away from Irish eyes for fear of being falsely branded a pervert?

Many Protestant churches find themselves in an equally precarious position.

There are more than two dozen different denominations all claiming to be the one, true Protestant faith.

The Irish Catholic Bishops got a right kick in the theological balls when the Republic voted in favour of same-sex marriage.

The island’s largest Prod denomination, the Church of Ireland, is at war with itself over same-sex marriage.

The gay debate is about to split Presbyterianism as liberals and evangelicals lock horns, with some clerics supporting same-sex marriage; others vehemently opposing it.

Some clerics in many churches need to grow a set of balls when it comes to dealing with the problems of young people, as they are more interested in their image in the community than helping folk.

The fundamentalist churches are more interested in fighting over types of worship, women’s hats, men’s ties, what translation of the Bible to read, going to the cinema, heavy metal, and when, where and how to have sex!

Christians of whatever faith need to face the bitter reality that to survive as an influential community in Ireland, they must unite and organise politically. The IPC must copy the tactics and zeal of their opponents.

In less than a generation, the gay community has gone from having homosexual acts branded as a crime to being the most vocal and powerful lobby on the island.

The IPC must adopt this strategy. It must dispel the myth that it is a bunch of fringe religious nutcases to become the majority voice of order, reason and control in parliament and council chambers.

The IPC must instil in its membership the same discipline for Christian devotion as Islam has created among moderate Muslims.

Just as thousands now flock to gay pride events across Ireland, the IPC must sell its message through a series of massive Christian Pride Festivals.

The IPC must rekindle the spirit of the famous 1859 religious Revival which swept across Ireland.

Forget denominational rituals and traditions. When Catholic and Protestants get together under the banner of the Irish Christian Party, they will find there are more issues which unite them than divide them.

July 28, 2015 ________________


British and Irish Labour Parties Should Merge: Dr. John Coulter

Dr John Coulter is a columnist with the Irish Daily Star and Tribune magazine. In this extended version of his Ireland Eye column in Tribune, he puts the case for a merger of the British and Irish Labour Parties to form a single Labour Party of Ireland given the growing warmth in relations between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.


The British and Irish Labour Party – that should be the priority of Labour’s new leader, no matter who gets the post. So far as Irish politics are concerned, it doesn’t matter if British Labour swings to the Left or the Centre, the sole agenda is about contesting elections in Northern Ireland and rebuilding a labour movement in the Irish Republic. Given the way austerity cuts are biting across the whole of Ireland, the border has become irrelevant so far as poverty is concerned. The various agreements since Good Friday of 1998 have cemented Anglo-Irish relations forcing parties to think of an all-island identity. At first sight, this should favour Sinn Fein, which is one of the very few movements organised across the entire Emerald Isle.  While Southern Irish Sinn Fein champions itself as the main anti-austerity party, Northern Sinn Fein along with its Democratic Unionist partners at Stormont have to implement tough cuts if the Assembly is to survive. British Labour is organised in Northern Ireland, but the party hierarchy in London has so far thrown cold water on contesting elections – especially with a crucial Stormont General Election due next May. Irish Labour – like the Southern Green Party – has got its fingers badly burned in the past by entering a coalition government in Dublin’s Leinster House.

There’s only one solution – copy the communists! At one time, Southern Irish communists had the Irish Workers’ Party, and Northern Irish communists had the Communist Party of Northern Ireland. Both merged to form the Communist Party of Ireland.
The Southern Irish Labour Party boasts of being one of the oldest movements on the island. In Northern Ireland, there have been various attempts to develop a meaningful labour movement, but like the Titanic of old, all have eventually hit their fatal political icebergs. The most successful labour movements were the old Northern Ireland Labour Party, which chalked up a couple of MPs in the original Stormont Parliament before 1972, and a small-lived labour party which had two seats in the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue – the fore-runner of the current Assembly. For many years, British Labour’s London leadership fobbed off Northern Ireland socialists by telling them to join its ‘sister’ party – the moderate nationalist SDLP. But since Nobel peace prize winner John Hume stepped down from its leadership, the party had suffered major electoral batterings at the hands of Sinn Fein. The tactics are now simple – park the debate as to whether the labour movement in Ireland should be Marxist or social democratic. A new, all-island party must be created with the merger of the Irish Labour Party and Northern Ireland British Labour activists.

And you can also have the debate over what to call it, be it the Labour Party of Ireland, or the British/Irish Labour Party. Just get the movement up and running in time for next year’s Stormont and Dail elections.
The new British Labour leader should not ignore the significant of 18 Westminster seats in Northern Ireland. With Scotland currently lost to the SNP, if Labour is to return to 10 Downing Street, it must think outside the box – and that means outside London! As well as battering the Tories in inner cities and middle England, it must snatch vital seats from the Welsh nationalists – and contest Commons seats in Northern Ireland. Even if it could win half a dozen of those 18, that could be enough to tip the balance in favour of Labour. And in the Republic, Sinn Fein remains the hot favourite to become a coalition partner in the next Dail along with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael – unless an all-island Labour Party can emerge as part of a rainbow coalition of parties.
Sinn Fein’s problem is that too many voters still see it as the Provisional IRA’s political wing or the Communist Party under another name. Sinn Fein still has to get over the awkward centenary in 2020-2022 that it was its members who refused to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty and sparked the bloody Irish Civil War which saw republican inflict atrocities on republican on a scale far more brutal that the Black and Tans did during the War of Independence. British Labour candidates should not ‘spoof on’ about party unity or a socialist alliance so far as Ireland is concerned – a single party for all of Ireland is the only workable alternative.



Time to Wipe Out ISIS Fanatics: Dr. John Coulter

It’s time to wipe out ISIS fanatics: West must get extreme


Western democracies need to waken up to the bitter reality that the only solution to the threat posed by Islamic State and other radical groups is to use chemical weapons and biological warfare.  Sounds brutal, but given the fanaticism of these radicals, conventional tactics will never defeat this type of new millennium suicide terrorist.  Next month marks the 70th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ended World War 2.
The Allies had calculated that given the fanaticism of the Japanese people, it would have cost up to a million casualties to capture Japan. Okay, so hundreds of thousands of Japanese died directly or indirectly because of the two nukes. But how many Allied soldiers lived to enjoy their children and grand-children because they did not have to fight a bloody battle to capture Japan?  Ireland is now constantly commemorating the centenary of events and battles of World War 1.
How many Irish troops died or suffered in the trenches because of German mustard gas attacks?  Next to the Zyklon B gas used by the Nazis in their death camps, mustard gas was the most notorious chemical weapon of the 20th century.
Boots on the ground is not the solution to the global Islamic radical terror threat. The Russians and Allied forces learned nothing from the actions of the Crusaders in the Middle Ages. All the Crusades did was unite the various sectarian-ridden muslim tribes under a single commander, Saladin. The might of the Soviet empire could not tame those muslim tribes in Afghanistan. Eventually, with casualties mounting heavily, the Russians left with their tails between their legs. The same has happened British and American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Gulf Wars may have stopped Saddam Hussein; they didn’t stop the Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al Qaeda, or ‘Basher’ Assad in Syria. The Allied powers must swallow the bitter medicine that the only way to protect their nations from Tunisia or Paris-style massacres is not an invasion of Syria or explosive drone strike – they must use mustard gas against ISIS. The Allied nations must adopt the same mindset in 2015 as they did in 1945 when they realised victory could not be achieved by conventional means – atomic bombs were the only solutions. No doubt, the do-gooders who believe passionately in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the arms control treaty organisation which seeks to limit chemical weapons, will be calling for my head for suggesting the use of mustard gas to eliminate ISIS. But Ireland could lead the fight for an extermination of Islamic State.

Stormont and Dublin want to pump with little educational cash is available into the STEM subjects – Science, Technology. Engineering and Mathematics. What an accolade it would be for Ireland if our STEM students and scientists developed the mustard gas needed to be dropped in ISIS strongholds. Think of the number of tourists who could return to sun traps without any fear of Islamic radicals. More importantly, think of the number of jobs which could be created in Ireland for Irish people who develop these mustard gas weapons to exterminate ISIS?



Latte There be Love:Shinners Should Try To Woo Liberals: Dr. John Coulter

The Shinners can further undermine the Union by sucking up to the rapidly emerging legion of Latte Libs in the Prod community.


Latte what, I hear you ask? Unionists are in electoral fear of the so-called Garden Centre Prods.These are stereotype Protestants who stay at home on polling day, creating the impression these Unionists would rather visit a garden centre than a voting booth.But in recent years, and especially since the signing of the notorious Stormont House Agreement, a new weapon has emerged for republicans to bash the Brits – the Latte Libs, short for Latte Liberals from the Protestant community.
The stereotype is that these Prods drink copious amounts of latte coffee while planning how to undermine any Unionist to the Right of the Alliance Party. While Garden Centre Prods remain at home, the Latte Libs are active in political life, especially in the Alliance and Green parties, and have many activists within the mainstream Presbyterian Church, the North’s largest Prod denomination.  Such has been the quietly growing influence of the Latte Libs that even the once-hardline Unionist parties, the DUP and UUP, are locked in a bitter battle for the centre vote in the North.
The Shinners should abandon their policy of baiting the Orange Order and the Unionist parties and leave the job to the Latte Libs.  Northern Sinn Fein should focus on finishing off the Stoops and ensuring an electorally serious dissident republican political movement does not emerge.  The Latte Libs have as much dislike for the Prod Loyal Orders as the nationalist residents groups who oppose contentious parades.
Many of these Latte Libs are luke-warm on the Union. The more the Shinners can create the impression in London and Dublin that Latte Libs represent the majority voice in the Prod community, the more the Union can be undermined from within.  If Stormont can survive until next year’s Assembly poll, republicans should give their preferences after Sinn Fein to Alliance, the Greens and whatever is left of Basil McCrea’s NI21.   The more of these Latte Libs who get elected, the less Unionism’s majority over the Shinners becomes.
If Marty McGuinness can concentrate on smashing the SDLP, and let the Latte Libs kick the Unionist parties in the electoral balls, he’ll be First Minister by 12 July next year.
The DUP and UUP have generations of expertise in beating the Orange drum, but both parties are complete amateurs when it comes to courting the centre ground in Irish politics.  Both think this means sucking up to Catholic Unionists. In reality, the centre ground is dominated by pluralist and liberal Protestants.
It’s a case of history repeating itself for Unionism, as a century ago Unionist leaders Carson and Craig were constantly haunted by the spectre of liberal Protestantism.  And Shinners can deliver a double whammy on Unionism – they can also suck up to the Fundie Faction of Irish Christianity’s so-called ‘born again brigade’.   Many of these fundamentalists, once they become ‘born again’ Christians, or ‘saved’, abandon the Prod Loyal Orders, loyalist band scene and even the Unionist parties.
They adopt the strict Biblical advice of ‘Come Ye Out From Amongst Them.’ This is the view that once a Christian becomes ‘born again’, they should leave the worldly organisations they were part of – including Orangeism and Unionism.  The Sinn Fein tactic should be to publicly challenge all Christian Churches to turn their backs on the Loyal Orders.   In the meantime, the Shinners’ double-edged sword must entail a charm offensive with Latte Libs and the Fundie Faction. Do this, and it’s a case of ‘United Ireland, here we come!’


A Lifetime of TV: JHA

A Lifetime of TV.

      Serving out a life sentence means obviously that one is not out in society doing all the usual things that people do. Therefore so much of the historic events that took place are viewed by the life sentence prisoner by the medium of TV.  TV viewing in the Crum was sporadic to say the least. I entered the Crum in  1977 when the ‘day in day out’  system worked. Republicans one day,  loyalists the next. When I say a day out I mean 3 hours out of the cell.  Washing in the morning. Walking in the  afternoon and TV in the evening.  The C wing rec’ room was a large drab room with a black and white TV high up in the wall fixed securely on iron brackets. The room was always awash with noise and tension.  I was in the rec’ room one evening when the news came on about a Provo getting a  natural life sentence.  There was a quietness while the news sunk in to many of us sitting there.  Only 4 natural life sentences  were given during the Troubles. And I had been speaking to Basher and Billy earlier.

1977. I recall the 1977 FA Cup Final. (21st May) Whether you were a  Liverpool or United fan (or other) this was a big match.  As luck had it was our day out that Saturday. It was pure escape for 45 minutes on what I recall was a tight game by both sides.  No goals by half time.  The screws let us see the first half then locked us up for the second half.  Nice one.   The rest of the match was listened to by radio. For those who had one.  The local connection for us was Sammy Mc Ilroy,   Jimmy Nicholl and wee Mc Creery.  All United men.

1978. The TV incident of the year for me was the Lan Mon house slaughter. (17th February)  By this time I was in Compound 21 awaiting trial.  The bombing took place at 9 pm  so the TV crews didn’t have time that evening to broadcast the devastation. But C.21 was very news aware and we knew that something very bad had taken place. I was in the middle hut. We had been locked up for the night.  We were used to,  ‘Here is a news flash’ , remember them?  There was a silence to hear what had happened, then a buzz of talk. People went to their cubes to discuss the latest atrocity. The horror of it was very visible the next day.  The dead , the injured. The funerals that would follow.  1978. A year to forget. I was given my life sentence later that year.



1979. ‘I don’t like Mondays’.  (Jan 29th)  I was settling into prison life by starting my degree, getting serious about my training and producing quite a bit of art work.  Life in 21 was still busy with high numbers and many characters that lifted the gloom.  We knew of the H Blocks and protests but that was still a distant worry. One way of coping with indefinite imprisonment was music. The Boomtown Rats had produced the album (remember vinyl albums?) – A Tonic for the Troops.  The main song I recall is ‘I don’t like Mondays’. (Although it was an excellent album all round).  Apparently this was said by a 16 year old Brenda Spencer to explain why she killed 2 and injured many children in a very American type educational shooting.  She walked into the Grover Cleveland Elementary school in San Diego with the Ruger rifle her father had bought her for Christmas.  Nice one Dad.   It was a strange event to contrast our ongoing troubles. Sadly the type of event would become common in the USA.  (Whatever happened to her?)





1980 Iranian embassy storming. (5th May)  The TV event of the year for me interrupted watching Alex Higgins in the final of the Embassy World snooker Championship in Sheffield.  Out of the blue the live coverage was disrupted by events unfolding at South Kensington,  London.  We knew of the siege but no one had seen what was coming.  The hostage takers had executed one hostage and dumped his body. A group of us stood around the TV in the middle hut wondering what was going on.
It was no surprise when the news came through that all but one of the 6 terrorists had been killed. It was a stunning success. All but one of the 26 hostages were rescued.



1981. ( 5th May. )   Those of us in the cages or compounds had Special Category Status. The British government had recognised the special nature of the troubles and granted those  involved in the troubles a recognition.  From the Crum’ most of the men,  Gusty leading the UVF/ Red Hand group, went to the Nissen hut style POW camp at the Long Kesh- an old RAF air strip. From 1976 there was a process of criminalisation or the blatant retelling of a plain fact that most of the paramilitaries were not criminals but those involved in inter communal conflict.  The H blocks kicked in around 1976. Various protests,   no work, no wash and dirty had taken place. There was only one protest left to bring the situation to a head. We were all too aware that was happening over the wall in the H Blocks would touch us sooner or later.  I recall that brinkmanship was the order of the day.  There had been one abortive hunger strike. Surely Sands would not die? I was up at 7am on the 5th of May. I took the only radio out of our middle hut to the study hut so that I would not wake anybody. I put Radio Ulster on and it didn’t take long. Belfast was alight after Sands had died in the early hours. The rest is part of our sad history.  There wasn’t a mummer in the cages.




1982  (23rd May) HMS Antelope.  The Falklands war was a TV war. We often watched the 9 o clock news to see what had happened that day.  There was one TV between 30 men. We would stand and listen before heading off to our cubes. There were many iconic images from that summer ; the HMS Coventry, HMS Sheffield,  Sir Galahad.  The Belgrano. We got used to John Nott,  Brian Hanrahan and of course Maggie.  A quiet year. Marking time.


1983.  25th September.  1983 was a strange year. The new romantics were shuffling of the stage while synthpop was making inroads.  It was a year of mixed music with UB40, the Police, and Human League all hitting the musical heights.  Sinn Fein were on the rise with Gerry A winning west Belfast. George Bush and wife visited Dublin while his government sent Cruise missiles to Greenham Common, England. The cold war was heating up.  The prison was relatively quiet after 10 republicans had starved themselves to death. It was a good summer with days spent in shorts and sandals. There was no immediate indication in the cages that something big had taken place ‘across the wall’. Sunday was always a quiet day in the cages. No visits, no classes, no football.  We didn’t even hear the shooting that took place. But the news soon caught up with what turned out to be one of the largest British prison escapes. One of the  consequences was even tighter security. For everyone.



1984. 6th March. The  Miners’ strike.  Our numbers were starting to drop. A new name has started to enter our discussions. Apparently there is a brand new super prison that’s going to open at Maghaberry. Another disused airstrip. Is there not enough prison sin our wee country? Ronnie Reagan came to Ireland and  John stalker was looking at the shoot to kill. The prisons had gone of the front page.  Big Benny Redfern from Compound 17 died during an escape attempt in the cages. Many of our men were entering their second decade in prison.  Another power conflict was being played out in mainland Britain. It had the air of a war that moved on a daily basis. Arthur Scargill became the love him hate him figure beloved of the printed media.



1985 13th July   Live Aid. The last of the fixed sentence men left the compounds. 6 had been sentenced to 20 years each in 1975. We were left with only lifers.  The prevailing mind-set was that we were all staying until the troubles stopped.  However  this year seen 2 juvenile lifers being taken to the  Crum to prepare for release.  Did a chink of light just come on?  I had my first case review. I got knocked back 2 years. The prevailing mind-set was that we were all staying until the troubles stopped. We all had done something to raise money for Live Aid.  Make handicrafts and sell them. Money sent to charity. We did watch Barry Mc Guigan win the world title.  Nerves wrecked.  But the13th July was a glorious Saturday. Up early and to the gym to  get training completed.  An early run. And it was an early start.  A long day of good music.  A great excuse to sit in front of the box all day. Quo. Bowie. Cars. Queen. Even better we could watch the American part later on that evening.



1986 January 28th.  Challenger disaster. I recall the day as being bright and dry. The Mad Major ( our term of endearment)  had called me in and said ‘did you see that’.  I was into the whole space thing. This was through the day.  Could not believe what we were seeing on TV along with the rest of the world.  A strange year. Men were getting their cases reviewed but the sting in the tail was getting a 2 year knockback.  I declined mine. What was the point?  A long year that seen our numbers drop as some men voluntarily left to go to the dark side- the H blocks.  The Sticks (official IRA) had already gone to the Crum because they were down to single figures.  I got my degree this year and started on my Honours.



1987. 8th November.  The year starts with all sorts of rumours about the end of Special Category.  There are tensions as some men are due for release. Others are not.  I got another case review, I didn’t go out. I got put back another 2 years.  Most of us carry on training, studying and completing handicrafts. Much of it is now at a very high standard. Some have gained qualifications in football , coaching and athletics.  The Remembrance Day slaughter hits the world headlines. I recall Maggie T being there in Enniskillen. Hardly one of the main arenas for the troubles. Some of us wonder was it a deliberate act of revenge for what happened in Loughgall on the 8th May.  There is a feeling of going backwards. Some men wonder what impact these outside events will have on reviews?




1988.  19th March. A year to change everything.  I had just spent my 11th Christmas in prison.  The NIO had deniable talks with the prisoners in the cages. A gentleman’s agreement. Leave the Nissen huts, the jungle of  razor barbed wire and  go to the H-Block and out you go.  After a new set of reviews,  of course. Bit of a trust issue there but it was agreed by the large majority.   We ended up in H2. There were 3 events this year which just rolled into one. First Gibraltar, (6th March),  then Stoner at Milltown (16th March).  Then the true horror of what had been happening for years. Savagery,  barbarity, madness, suffering, death.  Two (more) humans are killed in broad daylight for the world to see.  Were things getting better or worse?



1989.  9th November. I was in the H Blocks but I had been granted, like most others,  Christmas Parole.  Amazing.  The world seemed to be changing with ours.  The writing was on the wall. Special Cat’  aka Political status,  was ending.  A new world waited. I was transferred to the Crum to prepare for release. My focus was on my family and settling back in but the Cold war had loomed large and heavily over all of us on the ‘80s. Yet here was a clear symbol of division becoming redundant.  The Berlin wall was breached. People crossed through unharmed.  Time magazine said it was an unparalleled year. South Africa, China, Iran, Poland. The world had changed. The Berlin wall was down.  The walls that had held me for over a decade was also down. I came out to a different world in so many ways.


Orange Order’s Flag Day: Tricolour Must Be Reclaimed: Dr. John Coulter


Orange Order’s Flag Day: Tricolour must be reclaimed


(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

Orangemen, especially those in the Southern border counties, should reclaim the Irish tricolour as part of their heritage and history.

Orangeism likes to boast about its brother organisations across the globe, such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia as well as the African states of Togo and Ghana.

The Order’s new European Union-funded Orange Heritage Museum in east Belfast has up to nine different flags associated with Orangeism.

But the Order has delivered a massive two-fingered salute to four of its thriving county lodges in the Republic – Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan and Leitrim.

In a few days’ time, those Southern lodges will host one of the most popular of the Orange commemorations in the Republic – but not a tricolour in sight.

Southern Irish-based members of the Loyal Orders must be the only brethren and sisters who cannot parade proudly behind the national flag of the state in which they live.

Using its cartoon character, Diamond Dan, the Order has launched a charm offensive in Catholic schools to convince young pupils that Orangeism is not about ‘hating Fenians’.

So it’s okay for Orange historians to lecture young Catholics about the history of the Order, but it’s not proper for its own Orange members to walk behind the national flag of a country where it has a substantial presence.

The pathetic spin which the Order pumps out is that all its Southern members see themselves as pro-British in culture and, therefore, prefer to march behind the banner of St Patrick, noting that St Paddy’s Cross is part of the Union Jack.

More militant Orangemen may point to the fact that IRA and INLA murder gangs used the Republic to launch sectarian genocide against the Northern Protestants from the safety of their bases.

They point how dead IRA men would often be honoured with the Irish tricolour bedecking their coffins.

And it was supporters of that same flag which ambushed Orangemen at prayer in the Tullyvallen Orange Hall massacre in the 1970s.

But the Order has got to start thinking with its head and not its feet. The Shinners would be left in a real mess if Orangemen paraded through the Donegal seaside resort of Rossnowlagh with the Irish tricolour at their head.

With the formal centenary of the 1916 Rising less than a year away, the Order could really pull a fast one by getting as many of its Southern lodges to make the Irish flag as part of their colour parties.

After all, the tricolour and Union flag have already been displayed side by side at a few events to mark the centenaries of some of the bloodiest battles of World War One.

Folklore has it that Rising boss James Connolly wanted the tricolour to symbolise the coming together of the Orange and Green traditions in a new, independent Ireland.

But a leading Orangeman once told me the Irish tricolour was really the Papal flag of the Vatican couple with the green of nationalism.

I once preached a Gospel sermon in a Protestant church during which I produced the Irish flag as my prop! I got out alive, too!

The green stands for the green hill of Calvary where Christ was crucified; the while for the Great White Throne where God will sit on Judgement Day; the orange for the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Using this religious interpretation of the Irish flag, perhaps churches hosting all Loyal Order services could have the tricolour on display.

The Orders must recognise that the Irish tricolour is as much as part of their heritage as the Union flag, rather than just an emblem to be burned. That would be a unique 12 July Resolution for the traditional Demonstration Fields!


Ulster Loyalists: A Proud People Demeaned by the Virtual World: Jamie Bryson

It is a common, and at times cynically perpetuated analysis that those who are opposed to the peace process are by extension opposed to peace.  Or that those who want to express their single identity culture are sectarian bigots. This simple, narrow and broad brush approach is often used by those who seek to suppress and silence dissenting viewpoints, quite often to suit their own political agenda or by those who wish to neutralise single identity cultural expression.


Republicans lament anyone from the Protestant community that dares to dissent or resist the pro peace process mood music as ‘sinister elements’ or declare that anyone articulating an opposing viewpoint is ‘hostile to peace’ or that such persons only want to go back to the ‘bad old days’. Anyone who dares to celebrate their culture- even strenuous pro agreement advocates within the PUL community- are sectarian bigots.


Common sense would tell you that Sinn Fein wants to suppress and demean any anti-agreement Unionist voices because the peace process is the greatest weapon they ever had, and they are using it to their full advantage to wage an unrelenting attack on the PUL community.


Supporting this suppression of any form of dissent we also have those who self-identify as the ‘silent majority’ or as Brian John Spencer (a blogger) referred to the group he purports to be a part of- ‘the muzzled majority’.


A respected academic remarked to me only this week that when you read Brian John Spencer’s blogs what comes through clearest is his inferiority complex, his need to cram as many unorthodox words  or obscure references into his pieces as possible, so as to somehow make himself feel like everything he wants to be.


This need to attach cliché after cliché to everything that comes from his mouth could be best summed up by his car crash appearance on UTV. Reviewing the papers with Allison Morris he left the presenter, and most of the viewing audience, speechless with his horrific performance.


The supposed vehicle for this muzzled majority group of people to unshackle themselves from the so called ‘us’ and ‘them’ politics was NI21- and look how that has turned out. It has largely been left to Basil McCrea, and his assistant at Stormont Gary Kirby, who has went from an administrator of LAD to an employee of NI21 at Stormont- paid with tax payers money!


The muzzled majorities, LAD and NI21’s of this world are acceptable, the sub culture of civic society demands that they have a voice and that their voice is respected- but loyalists are fair game. It is fine for ‘satire’ sites such as LAD to make the speech of loyalists- flag becomes fleg- or the spelling or academic ability of those engaging online, the butt of their rather tedious jokes. What those hiding behind this sort of ‘satire’ fail to grasp is that whilst many within the PUL community may be unable to write an essay with all the correct spelling and grammar- they are not stupid people.


Those who may appear intellectually inferior via social media quite often are people with real social skills, real life skills and a sharp brain. On the flip side of that coin I have encountered many of the ‘bloggers’ or online superheros-  and they have zero social skills, they walk along with their shoulders hunched and head down and are unable to hold a conversation, their online ‘profiles’ are everything they want to be- but in reality what you see and read from these people is put through the filter of their own vision of how they want others to see them, and using the tool of a computer- they often succeed in portraying themselves as something they are not.


The most venomous trolls are more than likely people who have sadly been bullied at school or who suffer from deep anxiety. They get their own back on the world, and those who they despise- because they epitomise what they wish they were- by acting out their revenge via the medium of social media. The same people would cross the street if they saw you outside of the ‘virtual world’.


All of the above feeds into an accepted culture of attacking, demeaning and mocking working class loyalist communities at every opportunity. Would it be acceptable to make fun of how Anna Lo’s accent or speech sounds? Of course not, there would be outrage, but when it comes to loyalists- we are a socially acceptable group to attack and demean. It is almost fashionable. And when you have a loyalist who also happens to be on the anti-agreement side of the loyalist family- then there is double the amount of legitimacy to troll, demean and ultimately try and silence and suppress those views. It is fashionable to attack loyalists, and it is even more fashionable to attack anti agreement loyalists.


Being a loyalist is not something to be ashamed of; we are a proud people and a proud tradition. Many within the loyalist community may not have the best spelling in the world or be able to articulate their arguments cloaked in the Brian John Spencer dictionary- but these people have real life experience, real stories to tell and legitimate viewpoints. Perhaps some of those who the online trolls or self appointed ‘satirists’ attack worked their whole life in the ship yard or a factory, they have life experience and social skills that would dwarf those who hide behind a computer to call them dumb or mock their spelling. Whilst the trolls shuffle along with their heads down and shoulders hunched, uneasy and uncomfortable outside their virtual world- those working class loyalists that they attack, walk with their heads high, greeting their friends and neighbours as they walk to the local shop to get a paper or to the bookies to place a bet or maybe to the pub to socialise with old friends. They make new friends effortlessly using the social skills that they learned working endless hours in the shipyard, playing on the streets or marching with their local band or lodge.


The trolls, dictionary eaters and satirists that make up the muzzled majority want to present a view of loyalism through the lens of their own narrow virtual world. In doing so they console themselves in the belief that loyalism is an uneducated pack of sectarian bigots who should be shunned, derided and ultimately who are responsible for all the ills of this society. That is the face of loyalism that has been constructed by the muzzled majority, who have devoted many hours in their bedroom, to designing and nurturing their image of loyalism as an inferior class of people.


Had the virtual soldiers taken a trip down the Newtownards Road on Wednesday night their virtual world would have been shattered. The true face of loyalism, residing in the real world, was on display. Children playing in the streets waving their flags or throwing their band poles up in the air, the buzz of excitement waiting on the bands, political debates between old men who had forged their friendship over years in the yard or during service in the UDR and families mingling, using the warm hospitality of Ulster loyalists, to embrace new friends and converse with old ones. And no one really cared what the muzzled majority thought, they are but a fleeting thought in the minds of a proud people.


The virtual world is just that, an online platform for those who themselves feel inferior to create myths and demean those whom they despise, it is a place where you can become part of the online sub culture by joining in on attacking whoever it is fashionable to attack at the time. You can feel you are part of the pack of attack dogs, in reality you are really nothing more than sheep shouting baa at lions.


Ulster loyalism is a proud tradition and our backbone is the life experience of the older folk in our community, our traditions, culture and the defiant spirit that has seen Ulster loyalists survive our darkest hours. The Provisional IRA could not make Ulster Loyalism bow the knee with decades of bombs and bullets- with this in mind I seriously doubt our community, or those within it, will falter due to a siege of satirists, trolls and Brian John Spencer’s!

Jamie Bryson



Facing Austerity and Saving Stormont: Dr. John Coulter

Facing Austerity and Saving Stormont


First the South had to endure the pain of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy and the humiliation of the multi-million euro bailout; now the North is dealing with its so-called ‘fantasy budget’, bouncing cheques for funding – and the prospect of Stormont folding once again.
Austerity cuts will bite deep on both sides of the Irish border, but the Northern crisis over welfare reform has been caused by Sinn Fein riding two economic horses – both now running in opposite directions.
The one-time apologist for Provisional IRA terror has now realised it cannot bring about Irish unity with a bombing and shooting campaign in Northern Ireland.
So Sinn Fein has changed direction and is now focusing on becoming a minority government partner in the Republic after next year’s expected Dail General Election.
It has remodelled itself as the voice of anti-austerity. But as a government partner in Stormont with the DUP, it was in danger of having to implement welfare reform sparking the query – will the real Sinn Fein please stand up?
Sinn Fein has tried to delay the implementation of welfare reform in Northern Ireland long enough so that Southern voters can elect the party into power in Leinster House.
But Sinn Fein has taken its eye off the ball in Northern Ireland to the extent that it has been backed into a dead-end political cul-de-sac. The solution is brutally simple. The Unionists will have to compromise to get Sinn Fein out of this corner, otherwise Stormont will collapse.
The British Government wants the Stormont House Agreement implemented. The two clubs to be juggled by Northern politicians are how to implement these stinging welfare reform cuts, while at the same time preserving the Assembly.
If the Assembly parties refuse to implement welfare reform, Westminster will step in and do the job for them – but the cuts will be considerably deeper than anything which the DUP and Sinn Fein have to impose.
Another solution is to let Stormont fold, and transfer many of its powers either to the newly-formed 11 super councils, which came into existence formally in April, and even divest additional powers to the North-South bodies and British-Irish institutions.
This sounds like Home Rule by the back door, or Joint Authority of Northern Ireland by Dublin and London. With the loyalist marching season about to reach its peak in less than a month, it is in everyone’s interest to keep the militant loyalist genie in the bottle for the next few months.
The harsh political reality is that the new super councils are still bedding in, so it would be an act of sheer stupidity to dump even more powers on them.
And with Sinn Fein – unlike the Scottish and Welsh nationalists – still refusing to take their Commons seats, the imposition of Direct Rule from Westminster suits the Unionists, especially if Cameron needs a few extra votes if his Right-wing backbenchers start to rattle cages over the European Union.
The compromise to get out of this latest politically tasteless Irish stew is a watered down version of the Stormont House Agreement. Welfare reform can be implemented in tiny steps by the Northern Ireland parties, rather than by giant leaps from Westminster.
The DUP still gets to keep its beloved Assembly and Sinn Fein quietly brushes cuts under the green carpet so that it remains the champion against austerity in the Republic, yet imposing the same measures in the North.
Republicans will then have to juggle two versions of the same party. A hard Left party in the South, and a softly, softly Right-wing movement in the North.
Could this ‘dual image’ tactic put an irreparable strain on the Sinn Fein leadership piloted firmly by party president Gerry Adams in the Dail and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont?
Republicans will be hoping the centenary celebrations for the doomed Easter Rising next year can paper over any ideological cracks in Sinn Fein, which lead to the splits in the movement in the early 1970s between Official Sinn Fein and Provisional Sinn Fein, and in 1986 between Provisional Sinn Fein and Republican Sinn Fein.
As yet, the dissident republican movement has limited itself to a stop/start terror campaign rather than the IRA’s ‘long war’ vision. Politically, dissident republicans are leaps and bounds behind Sinn Fein.
Perhaps with Sinn Fein riding two horses, it’s time for a new moderate nationalist party to emerge to replace the split-ridden SDLP?



Anger As Parades Commission Blocks Part of Derg Parade

Anger as Parades Commission blocks part of Derg parade

Thursday, 2 July 2015


AN emergency meeting is to take place this morning (Wednesday) with the Parades Commission after it blocked a loyalist band from parading through what has been described as “a well-known Protestant area in Castlederg”.

Castlederg Young Loyalists Flute Band had applied to parade on July 11 night through the town from McCay Court taking in Main Street, John Street, High Street, Lurganboy Road to the junction of Breezemount Park and turn (Edwards PS entrance), Lurganboy Road, Hospital Road, Young Crescent, Upper Strabane Road, William Street, Diamond, back through Main Street before dispersing at McCay Court.

However, a ruling issued this week by the Commission has banned the parade from marching along the Lurganboy Road, which Unionist representatives says has been “tradition” in the past.

Derg-based Ulster Unionist councillor, Derek Hussey, has blasted the decision and says he has been granted a meeting this morning with Commission representatives to challenge the determination in respect of the parade, which has been the subject of a High Court challenge in the past.

Meanwhile, West Tyrone DUP MLA., Tom Buchanan, also “unreservedly” condemned the decision and accused the parading body of going out of their way to “penalise the law-abiding citizens of Castlederg”.

‘Blind eye’ He said: “This is at the same time where they reward nationalists who have held unlawful protests of which the Parades Commission were never notified. In these instances the Parades Commission appear to turn a blind eye,” he said in a statement.

The Drumquin man also levied blame at the feet of the Orange Order and Ulster Unionist Party, who, he claims, have been involved in behind-closed doors discussions with Sinn Féin and the Parades Commission regarding parading in the town.

“What concerns me most about this decision is that senior members of the Ulster Unionist Party, alongside members of the Orange Order, have been holding numerous meetings with the Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty and other Sinn Fein elected representatives with the Parades Commission regarding the parading situation in Castlederg.

“I have no doubt that as a result this parading route which has been the long-standing traditional route has been sacrificed to appease republicans. This is outrageous,” he said.

Mr Buchanan said the decision to block the parade along the Lurganboy Road had come at a time when members of the Unionist community had “tolerated” the recent Tyrone Fleadh celebrations in the town, wherein he claimed participants had paraded past three protestant churches and delayed other members of congregations from getting to their place of worship.

“It is completely unacceptable that the protestant community, who constantly abide by the rules and respect the rule of law, are continually targeted by the likes of the Parades Commission aided and abetted by those who should know better.

Every last bit of our protestant culture is being eroded by the Parades Commission and it is not helped by other unionist politicians, who are happy to sacrifice our culture in their efforts to appease republicans.”

‘Absolute disgust’ Speaking yesterday (Tuesday) Mr Hussey, a member of the Castlederg Young Loyalists Old Boys band, who will also be parading on the night, expressed his “absolute disgust” at the ruling.

He revealed that he would be meeting this morning with the Parades Commission over the decision not to allow the annual parade along a “well-known Protestant area” of the town.

He also claimed that the successful challenge to a previous prohibition had bred “resentment” within the parading body. “This particular part of the route had in the past been prohibited by the Parades Commission but they had to withdraw the prohibition in the face of a High Court challenge to their determination which was successful.

There would now appear – within the Parades Commission – to be some resentment in regard to this previous defeat. “I have already been in contact with the Parades Commission and will be meeting them at 10am on Wednesday morning to challenge their totally illogical determination,” Mr Hussey said.

Turning to Mr Buchanan’s comments on the talks, he said that he had not been aware of any such discussions having taken place on this parade.

“In regard to claims of negotiations in regard to this particular parade with any other elected representatives, I am certainly not aware of these having taken place,” he remarked.

Mr Hussey said that he is willing to meet with any residents who live on the route, namely Lower Lurganboy Road/Breezemount, adding: “But I do not believe that any would be expressing a concern in regard to this pre-Twelfth procession.”

Sinn Féin were also contacted for a response on the matter, but a spokesperson told this newspaper that it did not wish to do so.

This article first appeared in the Tyrone Consttitution Newspaper