Donal Billings: A Memory by Ronnie McCullough

Last week “Extreme” Republican Donal Billings was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for a plot in which he intended to kill either the Queen or another member of the Royal family in 2011.
Former Loyalist prisoner Ronnie-Flint-McCullough remembers meeting Billings for the first time 44 years ago in Long Kesh prison camp.




Donal Billings



One lazy sunny afternoon in 1972, after returning from our remand appearance, to compound  7, we stood motionless to see one of the most curious republican remand prisoners (Donal Billings) standing in the middle of our compound.  


Under normal circumstances, republicans would not be deliberately placed in a loyalist cage.  It seemed more than unusual.


As he stood, alone and in a defiant posture, fists gripped tight together, with a black plastic bag at his feet, we wondered.


It soon emerged that the republican had defied the screws and had suffered physical assault from them. He was bloodied and bruised yet defiant, as he stood motionless, glaring towards us.


Some loyalists proposed that we should attack him because he was an alleged member of the Saor Eire movement, which was a hard-line southern-based republican group.

He was a known republican extremist whose distinct ginger hair and beard was well known amongst us. Whilst on remand in Compound 8 he was inclined to walk around the perimeter of the cage on his own.  It seemed that he did not mix readily with the other republicans in the compound.


We discussed the situation and found that a visit from an external humanitarian group similar to Amnesty International were due to visit the camp and inquire on conditions. It became clear that the screws were hoping that, should we attack him, we would be the perceived as the perpetrators of the assault, which caused him earlier injury.


In so doing the screws could state that his visible injuries were received at the hands of loyalists thereby clearing them of their involvement.


I approached him and told him he had nothing to fear from loyalists given the circumstances.

He seemed perplexed, yet tense and prepared to defend himself.  We walked away.


Once the screws realised that we would not attack him they waited for a while before removing him to his proper compound.


Later that evening he beckoned me to the wire from compound 8 and stated, “That’s one favour I owe you boys!”


Sure enough, less than a month later, a lone loyalist was being driven back from the visiting area in the back of a van containing no less than eight republicans including the notorious Ballymurphy provisional leader, Jim Bryson.  At that time there was no policy of non-aggression between the loyalists and republicans.


It was a tense moment when several of the republicans moved towards the loyalist. Suddenly a ginger-haired republican stood between them and made it clear, “I owe these fella’s a favour, so stand back!” Donal Billings honoured his earlier promise.






The above account is an extract from the memoires of Ronnie McCullough whilst serving ten years in Long Kesh.






Regressive Policing: Jamie Bryson

The below piece by Jamie Bryson first appeared in the Irish News on 25 November 2016:


 On 16 November the Secretary of State announced a consultation on the potential to further extend the use of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland. This legislative mechanism came to fruition in 2007.

 The April 2003 joint-declaration clearly gave commitments to repeal the Northern Ireland- specific parts contained within Section VII of the Terrorism Act 2000.

  And, in 2006, the Government announced they were to phase out the use of Diplock courts.   There are two issues that arise from the provisions the Secretary of State is now reviewing. The first is whether- in the context of a ‘Fresh Start’- that such emergency provisions are still required to deal with terrorist-related offences, or whether this draconian practice actually strengthens dissident republican terrorism by bestowing upon them a ‘political’ status, rather than simply dealing with them as criminals.

The second issue is how this provision has been used in cases in which no terrorist related charges have been brought, and a certificate has been issued simply on the basis of ‘soft intelligence’, which given Section 7 of the Act cannot be challenged by or within a court.


There is also an argument around at which stage Article 6 of the Human Rights Act becomes engaged and whether the mode of trial falls under the protections of Article 6, namely “everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

 Given that the prosecution alone make the decision to issue a certificate, removing one of the basic tenets of British justice- to be tried by a jury of your peers- how can this be described as an ‘independent and impartial tribunal’? 

 I believe the answer to both the aforementioned issues, which are generally related but distinct points of debate, is that there is a clear and compelling case for an end to non-jury trials per se.


 If there was any jury tampering then the Criminal Justice Act 2003 has provisions to allow for the suspension of a jury trial. This should be sufficient.

 In the case of terrorism related charges I believe that that bestowing conflict-related provisions upon dissident republican terrorism is actually bolstering their propaganda efforts to present their actions as being politically motivated, rather than simply criminal.  

 Most seriously, however, is what I believe is prosecutorial overreach in terms of issuing non-jury certificates, on the basis of uncorroborated ‘soft intelligence’ that wouldn’t reach either a civil or criminal evidential threshold, for charges totally unrelated to terrorism.

 A political fresh start cannot go hand in glove with a regressive policing and justice strategy.


 Jamie Bryson


Fresh Start-The Past Cannot Be Allowed To Police The Present: Jamie Bryson

Fresh Start- The past cannot be allowed to police the present. 



The Fresh Start agreement provides a unique opportunity for genuine transformation initiatives. The opportunity is there for loyalism to create positive pathways in order to bring previously disengaged communities or organisations into the realm

of purely democratic activism, undertaken in the spirit of lawfulness. 


It is a chance for current loyalism to leave future loyalism on a sound footing; equipped to fight effectively on a lawful community, civic and political battlefield. It is also a chance to provide care and help for those suffering from mental health or other issues as a result of the conflict. 


This positive work should not, as has often been the case, be viewed by loyalism as simply an opportunity to access money. Endless funding streams may benefit a select few gatekeepers, but it does nothing to build the capacity of the grassroots.  

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Rent Regulation System for NI: William Ennis

This was a motion presented by William to the PUP conference on Saturday 15th October 2016.




Good morning conference.

I propose that we, the Progressive Unionist Party, should enshrine in policy a principled demand for a system of Rent regulation in Northern Ireland. 

The reasons I believe Northern Ireland should follow other regions such as New York, Paris, Singapore and Berlin in implementing such a measure I shall now lay out before you, after which I shall go into a bit more detail as to how I believe this proposal could be implemented. 

Not enough social housing stock exists, that’s the reality. reports that “the total number of applicants on the waiting list (with no existing NIHE/Housing association tenancy) on the 31st March 2015 was… 

Anyone want to guess? 

“…  39,338”.

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Changing times?

On my recent trip to France with the Green and White Army to support Northern Ireland one topic kept raising its head: the national anthem.

For all of my life the singing of God Save The Queen (plus the wee No Surrender bit) at Northern Ireland matches was sacrosanct; not anymore. More and more GAWA are arguing for a neutral anthem and I am one of them. The sight of the team lining up before a game with the prods mumbling away and the micks looking nervously at the ground is not a unifying or inspiring time for the players. Sure the Scots have Flower of Scotland and Wales have Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, while the Irish rugby team have the unifying Ireland’s Call so surely the time has come to get our own anthem. And while we’re at it why not get a new flag? There is no great desire, north or south, for a united Ireland so why not get on with making our wee country less hostile to the non-British that live here. I don’t need flags or anthems to remind me of my nationality. The NHS and the pound in my pocket do a better job of that. A neutral anthem and flag is a no-brainer for me. The IFA will be discussing it soon so I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

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The Annual Bonfire Debate: Jamie Bryson


Today, with only 6 days until the 11 July bonfires, once again debate raged around the yearly cultural events. 


There has been a long term agenda to bring all bonfires under the umbrella of a statutory enforcement scheme, which would have eventually sought to neutralise and finally eradicate bonfires.


I have written extensively about this in the past as well as successfully  raising legal points challenging the validity of statutory led schemes. This led to a reversal in North Down and Ards- some articles can be found here;


During today’s debate we consistently heard the Alliance party’s Paula Bradshaw mention the need for regulation. This was echoed by commentator Chris Donnelly. Mr Donnelly’s call for regulation stems from his desire to eradicate bonfires per se. Looking at the success Nationalists have achieved using the Parades Commission to wage war on Unionist culture, they see the benefit in statutory regulation and therefore are continually attempting to bring flags and bonfires under such a remit. 


Such statutory regulation, which again would be designed to limit and police the cultural expressions of primarily one community, must be strongly resisted by Unionism. 


Any form of racism is absolutely disgraceful and should not be tolerated. You, quite simply, cannot be a loyalist and a racist. Therefore, it is in this context that I say the racist slogan on an East Belfast bonfire is not  reflective of loyalism. 


Given the widespread agenda to demonise bonfires and to find some mechanism of opening the door to statutory enforcement, I am not wholly convinced that the racist slogan wasn’t placed there by an agent provoctetour in order to give an excuse for statutory intervention and thus opening the door for a precedent being set for the PSNI to remove items from bonfires. 


The East Belfast Act initiative deserve credit and praise. As soon as it became apparent the slogan was on the bonfire, East Belfast Act representatives had it removed and, I understand, will continue in discussions with local residents and bonfire builders about a range of issues pertaining to that particular bonfire. 


I believe such positive leadership within loyalism should be showcased and promoted. Often the positive deeds within loyalism go unnoticed, perhaps due to a reluctance to engage positively with the media 


Chastising the media for covering stories about bonfires and flags will only serve to deepen the alienation and isolation of loyalism. Instead loyalism must engage and challenge the negative narratives, whilst promoting the positive work being undertaken. 




The Battle Of The Somme And ‘An Englishman’s Betrayal’….

As most readers of this blog will know, tomorrow, July 1st, is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, perhaps the bloodiest and most pointless occasion of slaughter during the First World War.

For the North’s Loyalist community, this date is on a par with the Nationalist celebration of the Easter Rising, to be celebrated with pride and militaristic manifestations. July 1st, known in Belfast as ‘the Wee Twelfth’, regularly witnesses some of the most rumbustious Orange parades of the marching season.

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Remembering and learning at the same time

I found it by accident.

My great aunt didn’t speak in much detail of her two brothers who were both dead except to say that they were soldiers who had died during World War One.

In fact this was not quite right. One brother, Thomas, a sergeant in the Inniskilling Fusiliers died in action on the 1st July 1916. Sergeant Thomas Bailey it says on the card that bears his name and photograph. It has a black border and a small black ribbon on the front and it was this that I discovered in a box of items kept in a drawer. I wasn’t looking for it.

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Listening to the quiet voices of The Somme


on 1 July 2016 , 12:20 am 0 Comments | 72 views
Poppy edited 2As a child I was forever fascinated by a random collection of oul ‘things’ in a rarely-approached cupboard at home.

It was the sort of place where unflattering school reports and old medical cards lay alongside broken spectacles and stringless yoyos, the theory being that they might some day be read, repaired or resurrected.

There were a few medals – the full relevance of which I never discovered – but what especially caught my imagination was a bloodstained Nazi armband, taken from a soldier at Dunkirk by a Lurgan man who brought it home as a memento of battle.

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Marching, Brian Rowan


Every word will be scrutinised – when the fine detail of the north Belfast marching formula is revealed.

This is not just about unblocking a parading route from the Woodvale up part of the Crumlin Road – and it is not just about marching and protesting.

Think of the policing money that runs down the drain at this time every year and upon what else it could be spent – and think also of the battered image of Belfast and how this place, supposedly at peace, is undermined.

There is nothing dramatically new about the proposed agreement.

This idea of a return march to complete the banned 2013 twelfth parade has been on the table before – as a last return march.

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