Irish Blog Whacked

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Memories of Jim McAllister

In memory of Jim McAllister


The following oration was delivered by former councillor Pat McNamee at the graveside of former colleague Jim McAllister who died of cancer last month.
Ta failte romhaibh uilig anseo inniu chuig cuireadh Jim McAllister. Silim ghfuil se oiriunach cur tus leis mo chuid cainte as Gaeilge. Ba ghaeilgeoir Jim comh maith le gach rud eile.
Most of you will have known Jim McAllister as an Irish republican and political spokesperson from South Armagh. It is appropriate for me to use a few words of Irish as Jim was a Gaeilgeoir and loved his language and his culture as well as his country.
It is a difficult task for me to speak about such a great man. Jim wasn’t a big man in stature but he was a great man in heart and mind. As well as being a gaeilgeoir and a politician he was a father and a husband, he was a craftsman with many skills. He was self educated in Irish History and politics and he was well read in the folklore and legend of Ulster and Ireland. Indeed Jim might say that it can be hard to distinguish nowadays between the history and the folklore or more recent times. Jim was also a songwriter and a poet. One of the best things of all about Jim was that he could tell a great yarn, he had humour and wit and he was mighty crack to be with. I am proud to speak about Jim today for his family Turlough, Aoibhinn and Brendan.
Turlough was released this morning at 8.00am from Magilligan Prison to be here today. Jim hoped the he was going to live long enough to see Turlough released in less than 18 months time but in recent weeks Jim knew that his time was running out. The family requested that Turlough would be released to see his father before his death. They refused. Some people tell us that we are ‘moving forward’.
I won’t try to cover all of Jim’s life but I want to give you a snapshot of the man that I came to know as a comrade and a friend. I met Jim when I was a teenager when Jim returned home having worked in England. I heard of him first as the author of a famous poem in the Crossmaglen/Cullyhanna area, the ‘Daffodil man from Kiltybane’. I’ll return to that later.
Jim was an Irish republican and he grew to be a republican as he educated himself in Irish history and politics. He believed in the republican vision set out the Easter Proclamation of 1916 and he stood by the values and principles contained in it. He believed in ‘the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible’. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. Jim believed in those principles and stood by them all his life.
In 1982 there were elections to be held to the First Northern Ireland Assembly. There was a SF meeting organised in the Oul School, as we called it then, now known as Rathkeeland House. The purpose of the meeting was to select a candidate to stand for Sinn Fein in Newry Armagh There was a lot of talk about the need for republicans to put up a candidate to build the republican vote. There weren’t any volunteers but eventually Jim McAllister said he was willing to stand.
A local man, Paul Rooney, asked ‘who will replace Jim when he gets shot?’ At that time Sinn Fein members and elected representatives were being targeted by loyalist murder gangs assisted by British forces and the RUC. Jim stood for the election and was elected to the Assembly knowing that he was putting his life and family in danger. Following his election he had to have his home fitted with security glass, security doors and cameras as indeed his life was put under threat..
Jim stood on an abstentionist basis because he believed that if you took part in the system of government at Stormont you would become part of the system. The first assembly failed to get off the ground.
Jim went on to be elected to Newry & Mourne District council in 1985 and he was re-elected in 1989. He worked hard for the people as a councillor both inside and outside the chamber. As a councillor he knew every government form inside out. He filled in Social Security forms, Housing Benefit forms, VAT forms and Grant forms. Any form the government could produce Jim could master it.
I spoke to an Irish News journalist recently and he told me that they had a file on Jim containing press statements issued by him during his time as a councillor. One of those statements was a handwritten piece of paper that Jim had posted in. There was no fancy office, no typewriter and no fax machine. There was no secretary, no computers and there was no special advisor. It was a hard time to be a Sinn Fein Representative in those days.
In 1992 Jim’s wife Margaret passed away after a difficult illness. Jim didn’t contest the council election in 1993. However he had a different reason not to stand again as a candidate for Sinn Fein. Jim had an independent mind and he didn’t just go with the flow. Jim issued his press statements from his heart based on his republican principles. The peace process was sprouting and some of Jim’s statements were too strong for the Sinn Fein agenda. Jim hadn’t changed his position but others had changed theirs. Jim was told not to issue any further statements unless they were approved by the six-county office. Jim wasn’t going to be gagged or have his comments sanitised.
Jim distanced himself from Sinn Fein and was opposed to the partitionist government in Stormont. He was ostracised and isolated by some of those who had been his former comrades. He was forgotten by so many that he had helped over the years. Some people go with the flow. Jim stood to his republican principles.
Jim was a natural public speaker.
As a republican Jim travelled the length and breadth of Ireland speaking at funerals, commemorations, public meetings and protests. Jim didn’t need a script, a text or any much notes. Not like some of us.
Jim could hold the attention of any crowd and is remembered for his oratory around Ireland. I travelled with him to Ardboe in Co Tyrone in the early 90’s for the funeral of Pete Ryan. Pete was a volunteer killed in Coagh by the SAS along with Lawrence McNally and Tony Doris. I knew Pete, and Jim was giving the oration. I told Jim what I knew about Pete and Jim wrote a couple of words on the back of an envelope. At the graveside Jim spoke at length and at leisure and received a great applause.
GaeilgeoirJim was a gaeilgeoir and enjoyed speaking his native language. He and I had many a good crack in Irish and the Irish would be better after a couple of pints. Cuireann an ol leis an cainte.
Jim would speak in Irish to the British soldiers and the RUC at the many checkpoints that were prepared for him. He gave his name, address and other details in Irish. The RUC charged him with obstruction and refusing to identify himself. Jim was duly taken to court and the judge dismissed the case. Paul Quinn
In more recent years Jim was the spokesperson of the Paul Quinn Support Group that was established after the brutal and savage killing of Paul Quinn. Jim campaigned for justice for the family of Paul Quinn who were his close friends. In spite of the fierce intimidation Jim campaigned publicly and the killing was debated in the Assembly and the Dail. Jim didn’t cower in fear from British forces and he wouldn’t cower in the face of others.
FamilyYou would wonder how Jim managed to have a life outside of all that he did as a political activist. Indeed Jim had a beloved wife Margaret and they had their 3 children, Turlough, Aoibhinn and Brendan before her untimely death 21 years ago. Jim knew the importance of his family and acknowledged that he wouldn’t have been able to be a political activist without the support of his wife in the early years and his children in later years.
Jim was a tiler, a painter, a plasterer and a clockmaker. He loved his clocks and his books. As well as being great historian he was a practical man and could turn his hand to anything. He was an active participant on Facebook having taught himself how to use a computer. There are not a lot of 68 year olds that are on Facebook.
Last DiscussionOne of my last discussions with Jim was only a few days before he died. We were communicating by email which was easier that the phone because Jim’s voice was weak.
He had read a recent publication on the lives of Brendan Moley and Brendan Burns in the weeks before his death. The book was written to mark the 25th anniversary of their death. Jim had known both volunteers well but he was hurt and disappointed at the account given in the book about the oration given at Brendan Burns Funeral. The account stated that ‘A local SF representative gave a graveside oration’. It didn’t state who the representative was.
The book quoted the speaker’s comments. In relation to Brendan Burns the book said:
He (Brendan) realised that that the solution was an end to partition, he realised that the British presence was the problem and that until they are gone from our country there is no prospect for the future of this country.
The speaker was quoted further, ‘The two Brendan’s didn’t believe they would get freedom by asking for it, they believed they had to fight for it’. The speaker was of course Jim McAllister but his name was whitewashed out of that account. Jim said, ‘They were happy to quote me at length but they hadn’t the grace to mention my name.
Jim was resigned to the fact that his time was running out and he expressed no fear of death. I had to ask him if he had any wishes in relation to his funeral arrangements. It was not an easy question to ask to a friend of many years and it wasn’t an easy question to answer. Jim wanted to be acknowledged as a republican by some of his close friends and comrades. He wanted to be remembered that he stood firm on the true values and principles of republicanism and that he had been an elected representative at a time when it was a dangerous thing to be a Sinn Fein representative. Jim wanted to be remembered as an unapologetic, unreconstructed republican.
I have said that Jim was a bard, a song writer and a poet amongst his many talents. Many of you will have heard of the Daffodil Man from Kiltybane. I want to finish by reciting a piece of that poem that captures Jim’s love of his country and the people in it.Armagh’s the orchard county, the home of honest men
It runs fron North of Lurgan town down south to Crossmaglen
from County Down to the Monaghan hills it stretches East to West
With County Louth as it’s southern friend and it’s North by Lough Neagh caressed
It’s name is steeped in history, St Patrick loved its soil,
It gave succour to the hunted and hunter it’s mountains would foil.
But it isn’t m intention to sing all it’s praises in rhyme
I’m telling a different story at this present moment of time.
I’m bringing to your notice a story of renown
How a bunch of golden daffodils arrived in our fair town...
(The story of the suitors)
...The moral of the story lads would seem to go like this
If you would go a courting pluck flowers for your miss
And now this story is over but one thing’s left unclear,
What will Thomas Henry do when the sad news he does hear?
That the daffodil man from Kiltybane has won sweet Bernie’s hand
And that Garvey is the chosen one of Keenan’s bachelor band.
By James McAllister

IRA leaders divided on armed struggle, say Thatcher memos


The British government was aware before the 1981 hunger strike that some senior Provisional IRA figures were privately opposed to the use of physical force, according to secret documents found in the papers of Margaret Thatcher.
Official secret memos contained in the archives of the deceased former British Prime Minister reveal that she was told that “some” in the IRA wanted its campaign to stop, and held political ambitions instead.
The revelation in her papers on the 1981 hunger strikes has raised a fresh controversy over the decisions taken by the republican leadership at the time.
In a message sent to Mrs Thatcher on July 6th, at a delicate stage in the hunger strike, the then British Direct Ruler in the north of Ireland confirmed that there were “some” in the IRA leadership who wished “to consider an end of the current terrorist campaign”.
According to the papers, discussions at the time included a potential offer from the British government to settle the hunger strikes in the first week of July, following the deaths of four of the prisoners. However the negotiations failed to secure a deal in time to save the life of the fifth hunger striker to die, IRA Volunteer Joe McDonnell, after which contacts ended. The protest went on to claim the lives of another five prisoners.
At the height of the protest, a memo from the then British cabinet secretary Robert Armstrong stated: “There is reason to believe that the PIRA have been thinking seriously about an end to the campaign of violence, but feel they need a success, an avenue to pursue their aims politically, and something more on the prison regime.
“The Fermanagh by-election has given them the success, and a political opening, which there is reason to think they hope to follow up in the local government elections.”
The release of the memos has renewed claims that a British proposal on prison conditions should have saved the lives of at least five of the hunger strikers. Those claims chiefly by republican author Richard O’Rawe remain strongly contested, most notably by Danny Morrison, who served as a spokesperson for the prisoners before becoming Sinn Fein press officer.While the documents suggest the British believed that an offer of a deal could have been useful to the more politically-minded republican leaders, O’Rawe and others have controversially claimed an offer was rejected by the Sinn Fein leadership in Belfast so that the hunger strike would continue. The status of the alleged British offer remains the subject of debate and dispute, and it remains unclear if any formal proposal was accepted by the prisoners, as O’Rawe claims.
The hunger strike took place at a time when republicans such as Daithi O Conaill and Ruairi O Bradaigh, viewed as being more militarist, appeared to be in the ascendant within the broad movement although they were under pressure from northern republicans led by Mr Adams, Mr Morrison and the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
It is widely accepted that the hunger strikes created the conditions for Sinn Fein to expand politically, and boosted support for the Belfast-based leaders.
It wasn’t until two years later that the northern leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness fully took over the (Provisional) republican movement. This month’s Sinn Fein ardfheis marked Mr Adams’s 30th year as Sinn Fein president.

Fears for prisoner ‘under terrible pressure to inform’

The mother of a remand prisoner has said she fears for his mental health after attempts were made to recruit him as an informer while under 24-hour lock-up behind bars.
Anne McDaid said two approaches had been made to her son Gary McDaid since he was arrested in March. Since his arrest he has been held in Maghaberry Prison’s Bann House, which accommodates non-political prisoners.
“It’s hard to know who is doing this. He says it’s not the police,” Mrs McDaid said, suggesting British military intelligence (MI5) was at work.
“The pressure is terrible and is driving him out of his mind.
“He just sits there all day and doesn’t know when they are going to come for him.
“He is in his cell 24 hours a day and I am fearful for his mental and physical health.
“He has lost over a stone in weight since he went in there.”
On Sunday, a prisoner in the same area of the jail died in a suspected suicide.Mr McDaid’s requests to be transferred to the jail’s republican Roe Four wing have been turned down.
It has been suggested that Mr McDaid’s safety might be at risk if he was moved to the jail’s republican wing.
Derry assembly member Raymond McCartney, himself a former republican prisoner, met Mr McDaid and republican prisoners last week.
“I am wholly satisfied that there is no threat to the safety of Gary McDaid and therefore he should be moved to Roe House immediately,” he said.
Meanwhile, a human rights group has called for clarity on the status of MI5 within the north’s prison system.A Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) report found that although prisons are managed by justice minister David Ford, all matters designated as “national security”, including MI5 activity, fall under the control of British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers.
Such matters also includes the management of political prisoners as well as surveillance and intelligence gathering inside prisons.
The report says all applications to join the republican wing at Maghaberry Prison are considered by Britain’s Northern Ireland Office (NIO). In addition, it claims that when staff in prisons are engaged in “national security” matters, they are only accountable to the British government.
CAJ director Brian Gormally said there needed to be more accountability.
“The point is if a case raises credible evidence of improper pressure being put on someone to become an informer, then there is an issue as to who is in charge here, which presumably is MI5 at some level, or the NIO are getting evidence from MI5,” he said.

Prosecutors condemned after retrial acquittal

Brian Shivers has been fully vindicated after the terminally ill Magherafelt man walked out of Belfast Crown Court last Friday, his lawyer said this week.
The acquittal in the non-jury case came after the Court of Appeal had quashed guilty verdicts at Mr Shivers’s original trial. It means both of the prosecutions in the aftermath of the ‘Real IRA’ Massereene attack of 2009 have failed to secure a conviction.
In his judgment, Justice Donnell Deeny strongly questioned elements of the forensic evidence presented by the prosecution after new evidence cast doubt on its veracity.
Outside court, Mr Shivers’s lawyer said his client “has suffered the horror of having been wrongfully convicted in what now must be described as a miscarriage of justice.”
Mr Shivers was originally tried in a non-jury case at Antrim Crown Court alongside high-profile republican Colin Duffy. Mr Duffy was acquitted of all charges at the original trial.
At both trials, the prosecution case against Mr Shivers was based on DNA evidence on matchsticks and a mobile phone discovered in and around the partially burned-out getaway vehicle used in the shooting.
However, Mr Justice Deeny noted a number of mistakes in how the forensic exhibits had been collected and that there had been different interpretations of the DNA evidence presented.
The head of Mr Shivers’ legal team referred to other acquittals in the north involving DNA evidence, and strongly criticised the prosecution services.
Standing beside Mr Shivers at the gates of the Laganside court complex, Niall Murphy said the original convictions had been overturned on a “narrow legal basis”.
“But it was only during his retrial that important new material was disclosed which completely undermined the case against him,” Mr Murphy said.
“This failed prosecution - another failed prosecution - is a cautionary tale against the reliance upon tenuous scientific evidence in high-profile criminal cases.”Mr Murphy also said his client had not received appropriate medical care during the year he spent in side Maghaberry prison in County Antrim following his original convictions.
“He was sentenced to a life term of imprisonment which would have seen him die in prison,” he said.
“He is a seriously ill man and when he was in prison he was persistently denied access to medication and access to medical facilities.”
CRAIGAVON TWO LAWYERS SEEK CCRC ROLEWith public attention once again focused on the actions of Crown prosecutors in the North, all eyes are now on the pending appeal by two men, Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton, against their conviction for a Continuity IRA attack in Craigavon. That attack took place two days after the Massereene ambush and both cases were brought amid draconian attempts to secure convictions.
Lawyers for the men known as the ‘Craigavon Two’ are seeking an order for the Criminal Cases Review Commission to examine the PSNI arrest and intimidation of a new witness in the case. They are also making a separate application to the Police Ombudsman to look into the operation.
Last week Appeal Court judges were told the PSNI had tried to sabotage the appeals with the arrest of the new witness -- who was held and interrogated for two days -- and the inevitable legal tussle over his evidence.
This man has made a sworn court statement branding his relative a compulsive liar. The PSNI arrested him in an evident bid to force him to withdrawing his evidence, warning him he would be discredited if he testified.
Lawyers for the two men now want the Court of Appeal to direct the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to examine these events. Judges listed their application for a hearing next Wednesday.


drumcreeorangebig.jpgA decision to allow the anti-Catholic Orange Order to gather in a public park surrounded by Catholic homes in Portadown has been described as ‘an act of unionist political madness’ by the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC).