If ever there was a man who stuck to his principles from birth to death, no matter what the cost, it was Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. He was born and raised as a hard-line Republican and he died a hard-line Republican as well, a little over eighty years later.
Lawyers are a group of people in an occupation that everyone loves to hate. Endless jokes use them as the punchline, there’s an eternal stream of songs and stories about how evil they are, and it seems that no matter which area of law they practice, they’re always hated by someone. It takes a thick skin, an obsessive attention to detail, endless patience, and a lot of manipulation to succeed in the field. In the North of Ireland, the law not only takes over their lives, but sometimes it ends them. It is not a job for the weak.
Rosemary Nelson lived her life trying to make the world a better place for everyone. She lived in a hotbed of Sectarianism during the Troubles but she represented people on both sides of the religious divide in small matters for years and went to bat for those that other people would ignore. She fought on behalf of the Garvaghy Road residents during the long Drumcree conflict in nearby Portadown, which thrust her firmly into politics and ruined any rapport she had with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the RUC). That relationship only got worse when she decided to represent Colin Duffy, a man accused of killing their officers. That case would change her life and it ultimately took it as well. In the North, there have been many cases where certain factions of the population are unable to separate the lawyer from the criminal, and the assumption is that they’re one and the same. Even before she got Duffy released on a successful appeal, she was getting death threats from officers and Loyalist paramilitaries alike, just for representing him. There were twenty serious and documented death threats over a two year period, and two of them allegedly came directly from police officers. She dutifully reported each one, but was consistently refused protection by the police and the government, even after the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur stated on television that he felt her life was in danger. He recommended that the British government take action. They chose not to. She eventually testified about the threats before a committee of the United States Congress that was investigating human rights in the North of Ireland. It seems everyone was concerned about Nelson, except the very people whose job it was to take care of her.
The British government, MI5, and the RUC did not investigate any of these threats, nor did they ever give her protection. In case you feel like they didn’t do anything, rest assured that they did – they put Rosemary herself under surveillance for criminal activity. Between 1994-1998 security reports about her life increased until her home was bugged. She was seen as a criminal, rather than an attorney; and a threat, rather than a victim.
Rosemary Nelson was killed when a bomb planted under her car exploded on March 15th, 1999. The Red Hand Defenders, a Loyalist paramilitary group that was mostly made up of members of the LVF and the UDA, took credit for her assassination. Many of the members of the Red Hand Defenders were also RUC officers and British Army soldiers – people who belonged to the same organizations that had ignored her complaints for years, even while they were watching her every move. Strangely though, they didn’t have much in their records to investigate when it came to her death, despite all the surveillance – at least nothing they were willing to share with anyone else. There were a few inquiries into her murder and the final reports stated that all three agencies (the Government, MI5, and the RUC) had failed to protect her and had helped “legitimize” her as a target in the eyes of Loyalist paramilitaries. It also stated that these agencies and their employees had publicly threatened her and that their intelligence information had been “leaked”, making it easier for the murderers to get to her. It noted that numerous requests and warrants for surveillance footage or reports had been ignored completely. The inquiry couldn’t prove definitively that anyone in these departments had directly been involved in her death, but it certainly couldn’t prove otherwise either and their report clearly stated that investigators could not rule out the possibility that officers or soldiers might have aided the murderers.
Nelson was awarded the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage Prize after her death – an award that honors “extraordinary heroes of conscience.” Her humanitarian status was celebrated and mourned world-wide in the aftermath of her murder – and while some Loyalists still see her as a symbol of hate, those who she spent her life trying to help remember her as an incredible and determined woman, who wanted justice for everyone whether they were young, old, Catholic, or Protestant. Today would be her birthday and I humbly suggest doing something wonderful in her honor. Help someone in whatever way you can, large or small, friend or stranger. I’m sure she’d want to be remembered in that way, rather than for the horrific way she was targeted, abandoned, and killed.
For many people a romper room is a play room full of games and toys or a television show that they grew up watching. It evokes a carefree and silly time in childhood that is full of play, puppets, and joy. For others, particularly in the North of Ireland during the Troubles, a romper room is a place of absolute horror, torture, and death – a room that is akin to a slaughterhouse or a snuff film set. These romper rooms were usually derelict homes or businesses where drinking, dancing, torture, and killing could occur without much fear of discovery or interference. One of the more brutal murders of that era took place in a UDA-controlled romper room in the Sandy Row area of Belfast, 41 years ago today. The victim’s name was Ann Ogilby and her killers were all female members of the UDA (Ulster Defence Association). It wasn’t really a political killing even though the murderous women involved were loyalist paramilitaries – it was more of a jealous feud that ended in Ann’s horrific torture and savage beating death. The story was so repulsive and put such a spotlight on the women’s group that it resulted in the total dissolution of their unit.
A little over 60 years ago, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) managed one of the cleanest military heists in history. It took about six months to plan, along with an IRA volunteer who actually enlisted in the British Army, and a whole lot of luck, but the raid was incredibly successful and they pulled it off without firing a shot or spilling a single drop of blood. Continue reading
Remember the idea that the Good Friday Agreement would end the Troubles and bring peace in the North? It’s a tenuous peace at best, and certainly not as tranquil as most Americans believe. There are still shootings, bombs, and more every day in the region. We don’t hear about it in America most of the time because the Good Friday agreement was the jewel of the Clinton administration but it happens more than anyone would hope. In the last week or so, there were at least four pipe bombs planted under cars resulting in mass evacuations and one explosion. There were also at least two “paramilitary-style” shootings, two large protests, a vandalized memorial, another bomb scare in Derry, and an article on the people who are already amassing tires and pallets for their bonfires in July. A Catholic church was spray painted with Sectarian graffiti that supports the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and in other areas you can see an ever increasing number of tags supporting the IRA. The Union Jack will fly on some government buildings for the first time in nearly a decade. Martin McGuinness has been warned of a serious assassination plot against him where he’d be killed with a rocket – not a gun or a bomb, but a rocket. How peaceful does this sound to you?
Peter Taylor has been extensively covering the Troubles and their aftermath for decades. In his new and fascinating report, he asks, Who Won the War? Who indeed…
It’s amazing how much can change, and how little truly does over the course of a lifetime. If you have the time and the inclination, this is worth a watch.
Operation Banner is the official name for the 38+ years that the British Army was officially deployed in the North of Ireland. It was launched on this day in 1969, in part because of the Battle of the Bogside and the riots and protests that the battle set off in the rest of the north.
It was clear that the Royal Ulster Constabulary could not handle the rising voices of the Civil Rights movement, nor could it control the protests and riots that unfolded during that time. The civil unrest was made worse by the obvious bias that the RUC had against Catholics, Nationalists, and Republicans. Originally those communities welcomed the Army, thinking the soldiers would be more impartial and supportive. It soon became apparent that was not the case and as the British Army paired up with the RUC, a gradual souring took place within the community. This led to an up swell in those willing to fight against them and the enrollment in the Irish Republican Army and other paramilitary groups boomed.