Hind Legs

Anthony McIntyre reflects on Gerry Kelly's support for British state prosecution strategies against former IRA activists.

On occasion I relay the story of having received George Orwell’s Animal Farm from Gerry Kelly in the cages of Long Kesh in 1978. For Kelly there was something of the self-fulfilling prophecy to the book, which I had first been put through in primary school but then thought it was about animals. The politics of it all had not yet been imparted to us. By ‘78 I knew the story was about political animals who were much worse than the normal ones. 

As nine-year olds we still believed in Santa although by the age of nineteen we had grown up and replaced one make-believe being with another who delivered as little as the first - revolutionaries. Kelly, alert to those who would abandon radicalism for a jaunt on the parliamentary gravy train, was keen to forewarn people to the shallowness and opportunism of those who set out on their activist odyssey full of revolutionary bombast just to end up standing on their hind legs, squealing like pigs and more closely resembling those they fought against than those they fought alongside.
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
Gerry Kelly was widely regarded by many – although not by Brian Keenan – as a capable and effective IRA commander. While not of the school of thought which prefers a ballot box in one hand and an armalite in somebody else’s, as a senior leader he would have overseen activity conducted by IRA volunteers on the ground,  Even Keenan could hardly dispute his personal courage.

It might be difficult for the same former volunteers to listen to one of their erstwhile leaders now endorsing their arrest by the British police, their prosecution by British authorities and their subsequent trial in a British juryless Diplock court, followed by a spell in prison. If they are perplexed by Kelly’s willingness to see them jailed, it is only because they have not yet come to accept the distance that Kelly has covered in the course of his political career.  From Provo to Pigo, an upright citizen in so far as he has learned to stand on his hind legs.

In a contribution to a radio documentary, Drawing A Line Under the Troubles, produced by Peter Taylor, the first of many Provos to bomb London expressed his opposition to an amnesty for former combatants. He disputed claims by ex-British service personnel that the British government’s comfort letters to OTRs were tantamount to an amnesty, insisting that if new evidence emerges the British should be able to charge former IRA volunteers.

This comes at a time when his party is waxing angry about British police attempts to extradite John Downey to the North so that he might go through the process Kelly endorses. The basis for Sinn Fein’s opposition is therefore difficult to comprehend. Gerry Kelly believes former IRA members should be prosecuted by the British if new evidence emerges. If in the case of Downey there is new evidence, there is little for Sinn Fein to gripe about, having got what they wished for. Stand by to be shafted John Downey. 

Party members will be instructed to believe that while the British have every right to arrest, prosecute and jail people for past IRA activity, the real manners are being put on the PSNI. If they continue to fall for that Benjamin Franklin’s response is appropriate: “we are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

The corner British state strategies of legitimation have painted Sinn Fein into is one where if the PSNI or MI5 find new evidence about the IRA activities of the republican generation of Bobby Sands, Kelly et al have no position to take other than argue that they should be pursued and prosecuted by the British, including those MLAs who were on hunger strike in the H Blocks. Having died protesting this deferential strain of logic, Sands has been spared the agony of being witness to the wholescale upending of everything he strived to assert. In the politics of the Pigos, his death permanent, his ideals a temporary expediency for themselves.

Given Kelly’s conversion to British justice standards, his media interlocuters may consider probing him on what his advice is for people who have information about past IRA operations that might constitute new evidence or at least open lines of investigation that could lead to new evidence. Should they give that information to British police or on what grounds should it be withheld? Kelly has previously expressed his enthusiasm for informing to the British police, but that seems to have been in respect of the current crop of republicans. Now that he is signalling the green light to the British pursuit of the men and women volunteers of the Sands generation, some clarity around his position on assisting the PSNI via informing is needed.

Moreover, he could also be invited to explain his stance on Operation Kenova, being managed by the British police officer John Boutcher. The investigation into Scappaticci prompted Britain’s then chief prosecutor for the North, Barra McGrory to say that it is not the state but IRA volunteers who carried out the associated killings “who have most to fear from the Stakeknife investigation.” This could lead to some of Kelly’s fellow Sinn Fein leaders being prosecuted, those who as army council figures perhaps signed off on the execution warrant. Might we witness the very strange spectacle of Bobby Storey, in deference to party policy, thundering how dare they not arrest his leader?

Kelly’s delegitimization of the Provisional IRA armed struggle is significant. Hypothetically placing him in the 1960s and 1970s, it is not counterintuitive to imagine him calling for volunteers who fought in the War of Independence or the Easter Rising some four or five decades earlier to be prosecuted by the British based on new evidence. As hopelessly pro-British as Liam Cosgrove, Paddy Donegan, Conor Cruise O’Brien or Paddy Cooney were, there appears to be nothing that would show them having called for the British to prosecute and imprison survivors from the Rising.

Gerry Kelly is too fluent in the language of flip-flop, failure and fiasco to begin learning a new tongue or to acquire a politics of his own. He is left only with the politics of what Gerry Adams thinks. He can never comprehend that it is immeasurably more radical to be the prosecuted than the prosecutor. Being able to stand on hind legs is no guarantee of farsightedness.

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.

Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

19 comments to ''Hind Legs"

  1. I’m sure Scap would think Animal Farm (the “Danish” one) is one of those rare instances of a film being better than the book.

  2. I remember when I was a shinner years ago and my wee brother was in town. He wasn't a Republican per se but on spotting Kelly he strolled up to him and insisted that he bought a drink. Needless to say there was no reciprocation from the road runner. People always put other peoplr on pedestals, they see something they might lack and worship their new found God.
    People are people, with all the fragilities, fuck ups and betrayals of everybody and everything that might stand in their way.
    I truly think its a tragedy, not about the famous ones that would inevitably turn like Judas once did
    The tragedy is the countless volunteers they chewed up, spat out and used for agendas that were never disclosed to those on the front line.

  3. Like Orwell's allegorical pigs, Gerry Kelly and Gerry Adams keep changing the messages daubed on the walls, and having reached a place of comfort and security in the house, they remind the others, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." The propagandist Squealer is clearly Danny Morrison. But who is the revolutionary idealist Snowball, the Trotskyite who takes a stab at leading Animal Farm, either literally or in the hearts and minds of the other animals, only to be chased away, to wither in exile?

  4. Babaroo Kelly is merely evolving from "4 legs good, 2 legs bad" to "4 legs good but 2 legs better" Orwell captured the importance of fine manipulation of repetative chants and slogans to mask hypocracy.

  5. When you put it that way it does sound macarbre. When you sit back and think of it in light of day it's so incredible that word's really can not describe it. The logic of it is that perhaps the pigs would like to apply for warden in special compounds for their ex comrades convicted by word of psychopaths in secret courts of the enemy. However they would be in positions of power that they could make life bearable for inmates.

  6. I'd love to read a profile study of such combatants turned politicians who led two lives. The first half a committed principled volunteer ready to die for the cause and the second half a revisionist who seeks to change history to suit their current circumstances as the Provisional project post 1994 is loaded. There appear to have been many who didn't get on the bus to revisionism, many who got off at the first stop when their fears were confirmed and more and more as the bus neared its destination. Now that the bus has arrived anyone still on it has no grounds to complain about being called out as a sell out. I'd like to understand more why RSF didn't swell with ex Provos given they parted company on what appears to be a sales pitch from the Mcguinness and Adams leadership on why compromising Republican ideals was the way to go. There's no doubt that modern SF has some good politicians but none are revolutionaries and do not seek revolution merely power within the status quo.

  7. Enjoyed reading that but dismayed at how so many have fallen...could British Intelligence have laid so many traps......

  8. My how the mighty have predictably fallen.

    But the candidates for Snowball Awards are many!

    They are any Irish Republican who has openly clashed and run from the Provos.

  9. Paddy Mooney,

    “...I'd like to understand more why RSF didn't swell with ex Provos given they parted company on what appears to be a sales pitch from the Mcguinness and Adams leadership on why compromising Republican ideals was the way to go...”

    One of Anthony’s key insights into the conflict was that it was sustained/energised not by the British presence here in and of itself, but their behaviour whilst they were here. In that context , if they could reign in their behaviour to a level where those who wanted to ignore it could, then the Provo’s fidelity to an idea , or RSF’s adherence to another is rendered unimportant.

  10. Daithi, I do get that though despite the effectiveness being irrelevant in that respect why were there not more defections and the setting up of organisation after organisation in much the same guise. The ideological differences with the INLA were more apparent than that of the RIRA or CIRA on the face of it. Was it down to personalities. Any prospect of potency was diluted on each split and new organisation.

  11. Paddy M.,

    let me tell you a short story about a family long steeped in Republican resistance which might serve to answer your question. You may even know one of them, Tom Cull though originally from Arigna, a mining village near the Roscommon shores of Lough Allen, a long time RSF stalwart and some time resident in Dublin?

    His uncle, Captain Michael Cull, was killed on active service at Ballyconnell on the Fermanagh/Cavan Border by the forces of the 26-County State on January 6, 1923. 7 to 8 weeks later Capt. Michael's brother Comdt Séamus Cull and Volunteer Patrick Tymon were killed by Free State forces on February 27, 1923. Seamus Cull and Paddy Tymon had retreated into a dugout in the Arigna Valley after engaging Free-State troops. The Staters surrounded the dugout but Cull & Tymon refused to surrender. The Staters gassed the men to death in the dugout.

    Almost 50 years later Capt. Michael & Comdt Séamus's nephews Tom & Jimmie followed in their footsteps and became involved in the cause their late uncles had died for. Come '86 the nephews went different ways ... Jimmie voted with Adams & Guinness and Tom against before following Rory out of the Mansion House.

    Tom was livid with his brother and challenged Jimmie later on his decision. As Tom tells it, Jimmie had made his decision based on disinformation. Those who'd approached him before the '86 Árd Fhéis had assured him that Tom, like McGirl and many others locally, where supporting Adams. So Jimmie thought he was following his brother Tom.

    The point of my story is that people often make decisions on others' leads. Sad as it might be, some follow personalities rather than principles. (And having followed personalities they imagine it unprincipled to change their minds!)

    I've often imagined the debates between Vols. before the Civil War and seen in my mid's eye some thumping the table and declaring 'Well if its good enough for Mick Collins, (then) its good enough for me'!

    Its one of life's truisms Paddy that people make un-reasoned choices. Its equally true that once having made those choices few can swallow their pride and admit their short-comings.

    (Dáithí D's reply is also valid when seeking understanding of these matters).

  12. HJ, I wonder if those that endured the Blanket protest for example could do because they were motivated more by solidarity to their comrades than some fidelity to a cause , which would be following personalities rather than some Republican principle. This isn’t a criticism , I think it’s logical and rather admirable. In that sense, how could decades spent in those conditions not institutionalise the practice, as demonstrated in those following PSF into the peace process. It makes Gerry Kelly’s actions detailed above all the more stark and unforgivable.

  13. Two pages from the end of SAY NOTHING, Patrick Radden Keefe includes part of a conversation between Mackers and The Dark. Hughes uses an analogy to explain the change from 1969 to the GFA. In the conversation, Hughes likens the IRA's armed struggle to the launch of a boat and says it was like "getting a hundred people to push this boat out. This boat is stuck in the sand, right, and get them to push the boat out and then the boat sailing off and leaving the hundred people behind, right. That's the way I feel. The boat is away, sailing on the high seas, with all the luxuries that it brings, and the poor people that launched the boat are left sitting in the muck and the dirt and the shit and the sand, behind."

  14. DD,

    though I was in the Kesh and in Portlaoise in my time, thanks be to fuck it was only on visits. So I can't speak with much experiential authority on the no doubt intense bonds forged between prisoners.

    Outside the jails the camaraderie between active republicans had to be intense too. They were after all placing their lives and freedom in each others trust. For me it was a heady experience to be so deeply connected with a small band of brothers. It was all central to one's identity. I guess this was generally replicated right through the movement. I think your comments are near enough the mark. Camaraderie is a visceral experience with tangible others and as such will generally trump intellectualised principles. More informed choices though will factor in both head & heart.

  15. HJ, of course a similar dynamic evolved on the outside, I was a little unclear there after the example of the Blanket. I was always amazed at the reporting of the MMG/Pat Doherty meeting with O Bradaigh around/after the ‘86 Ard Fheis split where they threatened to have O Connell shot if they started a rival army to PIRA, people that they had worked with for over 15 years. PIRA understood the importance of not allowing a damaging split such as those that hobbled Republicans through they centuries, perhaps this required level of ruthlessness is why not everyone is suitable to be a leader.

  16. DD,

    Check out Ron Jones' 'Three Wave Experiment'. Dissent must be squashed!
    Not all leaders have fascist tendencies. The pattern laid down with O'Bradaigh and O'Connell would be repeated time and time again.

  17. IRA members who witnessed suspected informants being tortured at the height of the Troubles have come forward to help an investigation into a high-level Army mole.

    Does that make the former Provisional's who are now helping (helped) Boutcher, informers, touts, whistle blowers or something different?

  18. (didn't have the link linked in last quote----same article Daily Telegraph) Torture witnesses come forward to help investigation into Army's IRA mole 'Stakeknife'

    He said: "We have spoken to members of the IRA who have come forward and told us that they were present when people were held, when people were tortured, and have named the people involved.

    "I am now bringing in all those people that I think were responsible for offences.

    "I want to get those people who still know something, who felt that Kenova would just get closed down, or that Kenova would never result in any prosecutions, who now see things differently, who are beginning to have more confidence that Kenova is going to deliver on promises we made, to do our best to investigate things.

  19. Anthony,

    Exquisite,sublime....just some of the adjectatives that have always come to mind whilst reading a formidable intellectual and journalistic mind.


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