Bombing Derry

Anthony McIntyre shares his thoughts on the weekend bomb attack in Derry. 

The online commentary from Derry citizens exudes a collective sigh of relief that their young people had the good fortune to escape being killed in a bomb attack on a public place by one of the armed republican militias in the city. That relief is fused with a palpable anger that the bombers targeted Derry streets in the first place. A flavour for the feeling is captured in the raw Twitter comment from Derry:
They represent no one, they are not patriots they are criminals. When your fight for freedom restricts the lives of the people you claim to fight for, its futile … Fuck every last one of you and your 'cause'.
Strong stuff, seemingly reflecting a much wider band of sentiment as well. There is no room for doubt that the people of Derry want to bury the republican physical force tradition, not their children.

The New IRA as it is colloquially known has been blamed although to date no republican body has been willing to come out and stand over the indefensible and reprehensible. Apart from some contextual mumblings and stale rhetoric from fraternal groups or individuals, there has been no admission of responsibility. The public of Derry, seemingly, is not permitted to know who is bombing it or why it is being bombed. The rule of Closed Material Proceedings appears to apply.

The PSNI have encouraged the perception of New IRA culpability through its arrest of several Saoradh activists. There is a common perception that both groups drink from the same well, with more than a few observers of the republican scene willing to see the relationship between Saoradh and the New IRA much like that which existed between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. Arrest Saoradh activists and by extension the New IRA is in the frame plus a legal political party is smeared in the process. A cop version of buy one get one free. It is sleight of hand. As the PSNI is so at ease with public lying, there is no particular reason to attach any weight to its justification for the arrests that “everything we do has to be lawful, proportional and necessary” when in fact much of what the force does is laughable, disproportionate and gratuitous. A more persuasive case has been made by solicitors acting on behalf of one of the arrested men:
There was never any question of charges in this case. This arrest was particularly cynical. Not a shred of incriminatory evidence was put to him in two days of interviews.
The independent political activist Emmet Doyle has reinforced scepticism towards the PSNI statement by saying:
despite all the whoha, four of the five people arrested by police are home, without charge. No doubt the fifth will follow so the question is why kick doors in and drag people to Musgrave for nothing?”
While the PSNI are simply unworthy of belief, they did not plant the bomb but took risks with their own lives shepherding the people of Derry to safety from a lethal device placed in Bishop Street by people who thus far have lacked both the moral and political conviction to stand over their actions.

21 years after the unmitigated and unpardonable atrocity inflicted by republicans on the civilian population of Omagh, it seems unfathomable that there remain republicans so divorced from the concept of rights other than their own, that they would still consider detonating a car bomb in a population centre. Whatever the purpose – we do not know because nobody from the militarist camp has told us - the discernible military effect was noise. Republicanism advanced not one solitary step either strategically or politically. The opposite in fact. Republicans of the armed sort have once again allowed themselves to be depicted as troglodytes who now and then emerge from tenebrous caverns to hurl spears at wider society. This, after having consulted some strange hieroglyphic drawings on the walls of their caves which they interpret as bestowing upon them the right to risk killing and maiming citizens. There is need for neither consultation nor approval, just the endorsement of the wall. Like some conceit-saturated British aristocrat from the film Braveheart claiming jus primae noctis.

It takes no leap of the imagination to conjure up the horrendous vista that the civilians of Derry were exposed to. The result of Saturday night’s attack could easily have been a homicidal catastrophe of Omagh scale proportion. Yet somebody still thought making a lot of noise was worth the risk. The video footage of a crowd of Derry youth being permitted by the bombers to walk past a primed bomb with absolutely no awareness of the danger they were placed in was nothing short of villainous negligence. When juxtaposed to the footage of one of the bombers running away from the scene to ensure his own safety, the image may yet become damningly defining for armed republicanism. The old pejorative of I Ran Away that so stung and helped fuel the emergence and rise of the Provisional IRA, has acquired an added inflexion and will possibly endure.

Such injurious intonations add to the serious credibility problem that republican militias face. In the South, even if the persistent accusation against them is untrue – that they licence the criminal drug trade via taxation – and they have not therefore criminalised the physical force tradition by such arrantly criminal funding mechanisms, their warring with drugs cartels has caused people to regard them as something straight out of a Love/Hate set. The public see no 1916 type rebellion against the British, just street executions related to the drugs trade.

In Drogheda here, those who have commented about it discuss the Derry bombing as if it was an extension of the local bomb incidents that have plagued the town recently. Those occurrences are the result of an ongoing inter gang feud, and events in Derry are viewed in much the same light, just something that happens further up the road. When people invoke Nidge and Fran from Love/Hate in conversation to articulate their view of modern armed republicans, futility induced fatigue prevents me even attempting to disabuse them of their perception.

In the North, the current military prowess of armed republicanism has long been a standing joke amongst former Provisional IRA activists, for the most part seen as resembling the Provisionals’ civil administration teams, up to the task of beating the local hood, but little else. Many who took part in a serious guerrilla war are wary of dignifying the current posturing as a “war”, seeing the “revolutionary acts” as the make believe of pretenders performing a militaristic rain dance, put on for the purpose of headline grabbing. An oft quoted term to describe the leaders of the various grouplets is “egos”.

Even if such perceptions are false or exaggerated, their pervasive existence should alert any serious thinkers within armed republicanism to the impossibilist nature of the task they have undertaken and the incalculable damage being done to republicanism and its history. Since the Omagh bomb at least, the reputation of physical force republicanism has been in tatters.

Given that republicanism most certainly did not benefit in the slightest from the bombing of Derry, there is one very clear answer to the eternal political question of cui bono? British security services, eager to expand their security empire by exaggerating the threat posed by armed militias. Being beneficiaries is a far cry from the security services having any involvement. Still, various republican militias are legendary for their ineptitude and underachievement compared to the Provisional IRA. And as the latter’s competence in the field of internal security was nothing to write home about, it is easily conceivable that today’s militias, being even less competent are even more penetrated. We know from Omagh that the British security services are not easily absolved from blame or black operations.

The IRSP has taken to admonishing one of their members for stating publicly what others are speculating privately. Yet, if the hidden hand of the British was not involved in the bomb attack on Derry - there is no evidence thus far to show that it was - then we are left to conclude that some republican activists all on their own and without any nudging from the British are so rotten to the core that they would wilfully endanger the lives of Derry youth. A most sobering and shuddering thought.

As the author of an upcoming book on “dissident republicans”, Marisa McGlinchey, makes clear, there are many from that dissenting school of thought who simply would not countenance the Derry attack. That wider body of republican opinion needs to purge itself of this revolutionary arrogance which holds that the community of Derry has no right not to be bombed and that some masked militia has the right to bomb it. If republicans are insistent on freedom, then the right of a community to be free from republican violence must figure top of the agenda. Violence if ever resorted to has to be the last resort, never the first. It must also be strategically not traditionally driven. Republicans have no more right to bomb population centres in defence of republican doctrine than priests would have to burn people at the stake in defence of Catholic doctrine. In our current political climate where Ireland has rebelled against antiquated institutions and cultures which insist that their laws trump societal law, the republican physical force tradition now appears quasi fascist. Canon Law of the clerics or physical force law of the militarists can have no application to wider society.

Of course, this will be heresy to the heretic hunters. Evolution of ideas is invariably anathema to fundamentalists. As keepers of the flame with which they seek to burn others, without the flame they have nothing to keep, their raison d'etre extinguished with its final flicker. Nevertheless, their ahistorical view of a precept possessing a timeless immutable quality, unable to adapt to climate or circumstance, is ultimately pushed aside by the power of evolution.

The republican physical force tradition is not immune to that trend. Once an adjunct of republicanism, it is now an aberration. The popular working class nationalist mood has unquestionably shifted from one of Brits Out To Bombers Out. Republicanism, if it is not to belie itself, is ultimately a foil to absolutism of any hue, whether monarchical, political, military, clerical inter alia. As a creature of the Enlightenment it is bound by progress not regress, by the latitude of innovation rather than the deadweight of tradition. A gaggle of the self-appointed and the self-anointed is an apostolic succession better shunned by republicanism than deferred to. There is no intellectual or ethical basis for republican coexistence with absolutism. Dictatorships of army councils, like psalters of bishops, who seek to inflict their archaic and destructive doctrines on society should be told where to go.

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.

20 comments to ''Bombing Derry "

  1. Great piece Anthony

    A bomb explodes in Derry city on the 100th anniversary of the first RIC men to be shot dead that began what became known as the War of Independence to free Ireland from the colonial power The British.
    Soloheadbeg was the townland in Tipperary were all the bombing and shooting in the name of the IRA began, 4 to 10 men with guns and blast bombs decided they would drive the British out of Ireland without a mandate from the people and went against the rules of the IRA not to engage with the Brits.
    On that weekend of commemorating the Soloheadbeg ambush and the First Dail sitting in Leinster House Sinn Fein were telling us that a United Ireland was just one more push , and condemned the people who set off a bomb in Derry city the home of republican icon Martin McGuinness, what would Martin have said about these people who had carelessly placed bombs in the centre of Derry city, more than likely he would have stood on the steps of the Guild Hall with the Chief Constable and called for their arrests.
    I think Martin Ferris PIRA gunrunner and current TD in the Dail summed up revolutionaries very well when questioned about how he felt about his dealings with Whitey Bulger once America’s most wanted man, he replied “well you can’t get arms and bombs from “the legion of Mary “

    Are you confused I am and I wrote this, the question being asked is WTF is it all ab

  2. Boyne Rover - appreciated.

    The responses of some who defend the attack online towards Derry people calling for no return to bombs was one of total arrogant contempt. It was the absolutist dismissal of those who didn't want to see their children blasted to bits - "let them eat bomb", type stuff. A Derry republican observed to me that people up there were not afraid to vote against Sinn Fein for people like McCann, but now the anger has been focussed on the bombers. Every which way, nothing republican was remotely advanced by that attack.

    1. I would be highly surprised if the of Derry would of their own accord vote against Sf. I was in Derry over the weekend and unfortunately ended up in a futile conversation with an ex pow (well it started as a conversation) the minute i critisized the Sf leadership and the current direction of the party it all went pete tong. I was Immediately and very verbelly labelled as a dissidend and very vocaly informed to leave or my immediate well being would be cut very short. Make no mistake this was a very real threat. It appears to me that to simply dissagree is the same as to be dissident in the eyes some Republicans and will not be tolerated. I would imagine that this is exactly what would happen to any locals who would have the audacity to also dissagree

  3. Mick Hall says

    I was hoping you would comment of this, today there is a statement issued in a Belfast paper from an ‘alleged’ IRA which is pathetic. It basically boils down to they are targeting drug dealers and I presume addicts who are at street level often one and the same. What right do they have to police working class communities when they cannot even police effectively their own organisation. Irish republicanism can do better than this.

  4. Forthright, honest and well articulated piece Anthony.

  5. Anthony, well stated!

    But when is it ever okay for revolutionary groups or anyone else to bomb?

    Isn’t indiscriminately targeting civilians, to terrorize the enemy, standard policy?

    “Churchill was particularly keen on chemical weapons, suggesting they be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment". He dismissed objections as "unreasonable". "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes _ [to] spread a lively terror _"

    As a bombardier (in the US Army Air Force) during WWII, (the left historian) Howard Zinn dropped napalm bombs in April 1945 on Royan, a seaside resort in southwestern France.

    The bombing of Cambodia lasted until August 1973. While the exact number of Cambodian casualties remains unknown, most experts estimate that 100,000 Cambodians lost their lives, with an additional two million people becoming homeless.

    1974, 21 November: Birmingham pub bombings: IRA bombs exploded in two pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 people and injuring 182.

    The total tonnage of ordnance released (by US & British Air Forces) over Iraq between March 1 and November 13 this year was 126.4 tonnes. This is an average of nearly 15 tonnes a month - a 60% increase over last year.

    So, hasn’t a precedent been set by among others the IRA and the British Air Force?

    Whether in Ireland, London or Iraq?

    Consider my questions here rhetorical.

    Because I have always opposed anyone attacking and killing civilians.

    It never made moral or tactical sense to me.

  6. This is an incisive and justifiably hard-hitting piece, Anthony. Your analogy with Catholic clerics is one that unfortunately fits traditional physical-force repubicanism all too well. Once any political movement begins to care less about the concerns and opinions of the people they claim to represent than its own ideological purity, it is no longer engaged in politics. It has become a priesthood.

    The very same point that Norman Finkelstein made about left-wing politics applies here:
    "You can’t go beyond where people are at. You just lose them. So you have to find the maximum point of reaching people because you want the most enlightened, the most progressive goal. … I think that the major challenge is to reorient the way we think about politics. It’s not about us. Politics has to be about reaching masses of people. Otherwise, to me, it’s not politics."

  7. Thanks Alfie - the contempt and indifference towards the population is reminiscent of the clerics. Why render yourself deeply unpopular with actions that are futile? Who actually benefits from insurgents being rendered unpopular? Counter insurgents. Motive can often explain quite a lot about who is behind an action.

  8. The bomb in Derry, I am with Boyne Rover for the date choosen. And as Eoghan showed it is the kettle calling the pot black. Personally the maths aren't adding up in my head.

    If I am to believe the security forces have thwarthed countless bombs, have penetrated PFR as well as they say, have more technology than James Bond could hope for...things add up even less. Maybe my thinking is wrong but in 1993 a short fused bomb if newspaper reports are to be believed was known about before hand by the security forces, who did nothing to prevent it that killed 10 innocent people and shortly after we had the Downing Street Declaration, that played into a British agenda. Then in 1998 we had the GFA that reinforced partition and to rubber stamp it there was a bomb in Omagh, that British and American Spooks had prior knowledge about and again did nothing to prevent.

    Isn't possible that spooks within the security forces knew in advance a bomb was going to go off in Derry, didn't care who lived or died or if it was on a short timer and so they could advance again a British agenda like a hard border and Brexit and discredit Republicans?

  9. Mick/Frankie - thanks for the comments.

    Did the spooks know in advance?

    Most of the republicans I have spoken to think they either did or they ran it.

    I don't think we have any evidence to show that other than considering cui bono? But if they are 700 MI5 people in Belfast (we have read about Palace Barracks being a duplication centre in the event of catastrophic failure elsewhere, so the spooks don't sustain a knock out blow. So we know they are not in the city to merely combat armed republicanism) then it makes a sense to justify the need for numbers and resources. The bomb did nothing for republicanism. So disadvantageous was it to republicanism that no republican body would claim it. The cops have did a pretty good job in focussing attention on the New IRA and smearing Saoradh. While there is no claim people will feel justified in assigning the blame to whoever the cap fits.

  10. Dixie Elliot says

    I put it to the former bomber Gerry Kelly who condemned the Derry bombing on Twitter, "Why do these things usually happen on the run up to an election?"

    More so when the Sinn Feiners, especially here in Derry, are feeling the wrath of those people affected by their surrender of Welfare Reform back into the hands of the Tories. The problem for them in Derry is that the worry of 'a Unionist taking one of our seats' doesn't exist here.

    I'm not the only cynical Republican asking that question, "Why do these things usually happen on the run up to an election?" Gerry Kelly didn't of course give me an answer...

    Dixie Elliott

  11. I would be dubious with regards to the people of Derry voting against Sf. I was in Derry for the Bloody Sunday march at the weekend. I ended up in a heated and angry conversation with an ex pow simply because i had the adasity to critisize the current Sf leadership and the direction the party was going. That critisism was enough to have me labelled as a dissident and and justification for him to start phoning friends to the detriment of my safety. It seems to me that in Derry at present to disagree is tantamount to be dissident. So much for free speach

  12. Doesn't smell like spooks, why would they use such a crude device? Surely there would be more political capital to be garnished by using a smaller but more sophisticated IED? At least that would definitely put the wind up the shinners. Has McCann condemned it yet?
    The smokie looked amateurish, probably a youngling with no training or access to proper hardware.

  13. Steve - don't think anybody is saying the spooks drove up from Belfast and planted their own device. They could easily have had knowledge of it in advance and did nothing about it. They were not entirely blameless in Omagh. Nevertheless, there is nothing to indicate the spooks had a role. I think what fuels the suspicion is the seriously limited thinking behind the bombing - it did nothing to advance a republican agenda so who else gained? Are some republicans so lacking in nous that they would do something so useless? Of course. In you effort to see the point you should not miss it.

    1. Ah, get your now AM. Fair enough but even ELINT isn't infallible, codewords/circumstances can change right at the last minute-far from prying ears.

  14. Certainly agree with the comments pointing toward a spook op , what with budget cuts and the new financial year just around the corner , the sheer volume of British state operatives in Ireland must be enormous , seems like they're pumping even more money and resources into the North than they did when the troubles were on , just a thought......

  15. Writing way back in 1943, Jean-Paul Sartre summed up his philosophy when he wrote that humans are “condemned to be free”.

    It's a given that sometimes in life we will be burdened by outcomes arising from our choices. In formulating those choices, it's incumbent that one must remain cognisant of consequences not just for one's own welfare but also for the well-being of others. In sum, the ecology of our actions ought be well-considered.
    Those who cling to militant ideals, knowing full well the likely ineffectiveness of their propositions, not to mention the inherent potentials for unintended consequences following on to their actions, seem oblivious to individual and collective responsibilities for choosing well; choosing with a modicum of intelligence and also choosing with decency in mind.

    The reactionaries involved in the Derry operation, regardless of whether the ‘spooks’ figured or not, have shown themselves unable to shoulder the limitations of living in the real and lived world. Instead, they have been seduced by ideology and inhabit a chimera. In pursuing their quest for their illusionary and impossible Republic they have renounced the responsibilities connate to existential freedom.

    Their efforts at 'liberation' might bare better fruit had those undertakings a more internal focus.

    1. Begs the old question whether they 'believe' that armed action would defeat the British or whether they use such actions are symbolic; a form of attrition to keep the leviathan's focus to where exactly they want it HJ.

    2. Steve R

      its risible to suggest that any of these groups have much military capacity. Politically they haven'y anything of substance to offer either. Let's be real here, they couldn't be considered a threat to the status quo in any meaningful way.

      I'd hazard a guess many of these people know deep-down that the game is more or less over; more or less over except perhaps for the odd little symbolic nod to the past.

      Of course, we can never rule out risk completely and we will still have to continue to live with some uncertainty in these matters.

      Like most sensible and decent people though, I suppose we'll just have to hope that their activities are held in check.


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