It Ain’t Necessarily So

The things that you're liable
To read in the Bible
It ain't necessarily so
-    Bronski Beat

In a piece that has caused a stir in some republican circles as of late, the former republican prisoner and hunger striker Laurence McKeown explained his discomfort at attending an event to protest the killing of the young British police officer, Ronan Kerr:

I attended because I felt it was the right thing to do. But it felt uncomfortable. I was standing alongside people who had often been condemnatory of the IRA. I wondered if they now felt vindicated, or morally righteous, that republicans now joined them to condemn the actions of other republicans.

No doubt they felt vindicated and morally righteous. They do so because former IRA volunteers like Laurence McKeown feel they have it in their hearts to turn out for such events whereas they do not have to reciprocate. How many of them have ever attended a protest or spoken out against prison staff violence in Maghaberry for example? In their worldview it is only right and fitting that past republican activists should turn up to protest current republican injustices. They see it as a mark of contrition which should be exclusive to republicans, a hair shirt which republicans alone should wear. They are merely protesting what they always protested.  As for current British injustices – well, republicans can turn out to protest against them on their own, and then be lambasted for doing so as trouble makers determined to take society back to a dark past.

I don’t know if those former republican prisoners genuinely angry at the killing of Ronan Kerr, turn out for protests against prison staff violence. It would be puzzling were they not to yet feel able to have a physical presence at a public protest against the wanton killing of Ronan Kerr. That should indeed make them uncomfortable to a greater degree than sharing space with the biased and the blind.  Turning out to condemn all violence is understandable. Turning out to condemn only republican violence but not British violence will raise many eyebrows.

That aside, Laurence McKeown has every right to protest the killing of Ronan Kerr. In my view his opposition to the use of republican political violence stands to his credit.  Whereas we might not all want to share physical space standing shoulder to shoulder with the one eyed moralists, the sentiment is the same, even when we prefer to express our serious misgivings through writing. Whatever the medium, what is being said is that this type of politically violent activity should have no place in society of today. That Laurence McKeown may stand in the company of more than a few who make him uncomfortable is no reason for not making his views felt. While he may wax schmaltzy in saying ‘feeling uncomfortable or uneasy is much better than someone else feeling grief’ there is logic therein. 

It is certainly okay for former republican prisoners to protest against what they see as wrong but not:

because it’s always been okay for republicans to condemn or criticise the actions of other republicans. In fact that has been the strength of the Republican Movement down through recent decades. Such criticisms were rarely voiced openly, people not wanting to give a hostile media yet another opportunity to condemn those from their own community, but they were voiced nonetheless, and more importantly, taken on board.

This is simply not borne out by the facts on the ground. Virtually everybody that parts company with Sinn Fein, regardless of their motives for doing so, are in agreement on one thing: all alternative arguments are treated as heresy. Many in fact departed because of the pervasive culture of censorship. None yet have said they left because there was too much discussion or toleration shown towards alternative viewpoints.

In short, it was made virtually impossible to express any criticism of the Provisional movement.  If in the course of discussion a view was expressed that coincided rather than cooperated with a strand of thought not known for its amity towards the IRA, the person airing the view would be pejoratively labelled and accused of siding with the Brits, the BBC, the unionists, the securocrats. Discussion and debate were never welcome companions of Sinn Fein or the IRA. People were told ‘this is the way it is’ even if it was entirely the reverse of the way it was a week earlier. Moreover, all manner of repressive methods were deployed to silence criticism. When I and Tommy Gorman publicly protested, through writing, the killing of Joe O’Connor, every bit as wrong as the killing of Ronan Kerr, few in Sinn Fein said it was legitimate to criticise the actions of other republicans. The party did not hold a vigil to protest the killing but rather sent a mob to our homes to intimidate us out of expressing our opposition to other republicans killing their internecine rivals.

If Lawrence McKeown out of moral conviction feels a compelling need to publicly stand in opposition to killings like that of Ronan Kerr, it is his call which he is entitled to make without being subject to a tirade of abuse. If he feels the need to justify his choice he should do so on the grounds of how he currently understands such activities rather than invoke the spurious rationalisation that he is being consistent because of republicans having always been able to criticise the actions of other republicans.

This mythologizing of a republican past in order to justify current anti-violence perspectives, wholly legitimate in their own right, is an exercise in revisionism that darkens rather than illuminates any genuine understanding of our collective republican past. Massaging the past in order to bring it into line with the present simply drains current opposition to republican political violence of a moral potency it might otherwise lay claim to.


  1. Never understood how anybody could conform to the point, that they would feel compelled to attend such a protest.

    The fact that volunteer Kerr was well paid and highly trained to kill people like myself, I find impossible to ignore. This man spent hours looking down the barrel of a gun, training to kill and maim with and array of weaponry.

    As long as there are people with guns in Ireland, it seems there will be people with guns in Ireland.

  2. "People were told ‘this is the way it is’ even if it was entirely the reverse of the way it was a week earlier."

    That's SF in under four lines Mackers.

    It's sad the way things turn out; it wasn't more than a few years ago that I illustrated Big Laurney's children's book on Bobby Sands. He sat in my living room a few times, I attended his book signings and we drank together in the town.

    Then I made it known publicly that I believed Big Ricky O'Rawe and soon Big Laurney was referring to us as if we were people with drink problems. Did he forget that former comrades died with drink problems or suffer it still?

    Laurence McKeown is no fool, in fact I'd say he is highly intelligent. Therefore now could he not now see that an offer was made on July 5th 1981 that could have saved six lives had the Adams clique accepted it; yet they the Hunger Strikers weren't told about it?

    He said it himself in his own book 'Nor Meekly Serve my Time' that Adams told them in late July that the Brits had made no movement whatsoever....

    Surely someone with half Laurence's sense would now see that they had indeed made movement towards resolving the Hunger Strike some weeks earlier. Even Brendan Duffy verified that.

    Yet why did Laurney ignore Ricky when he asked him this publicly in the press?

    Why? Because like 'The Six Hundred'

    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die:

  3. Anthony

    Doing something because one believes it to be "the right thing to do" is to be true to oneself, if even those around you disagree. Given your own arduous background and the tone of this blogg there is no doubt that you are able to make room for those who may not agree with you; my point however would be that one cannot truely extend oneself to do the right thing only in expectation that someones else reciprocates --then it becomes negotation and politics. Somethings must be done with no strings attached --paying respect to a grieving family and attending a funeral is probably one of them.

    Though I get your point --and well observed that, "Many in fact departed because of the pervasive culture of censorship. None yet have said they left because there was too much discussion or toleration shown towards alternative viewpoints."

  4. Dixie,

    I spoke with Laurny after Richard’s book came out. I think he was genuinely angry as distinct from just wanting to have a go at those who shared Richard’s narrative. And he had his own views of why it went the way it did. His perspective was very much shaped by the malign nature of the Brits. And in that he was no different from many of the rest of us. Richard makes such a shocking case that our minds did not have the shock absorption capacity to deal with it. But over time his unrelenting logic burrows its way in and the case he makes becomes unassailable. I think all those who read his books and have followed his debates while contrasting his position with the very shaky case made by his critics, must know that something needs seriously explained and no satisfactory explanations have been forthcoming. Every time Richard shook the tree the fruit landed in his arms; each new revelation, each new witness – it all reinforced what Richard had to say. I imagine Laurny like others having reviewed the evidence knows that something untoward occurred. I think a concern of many of them is that the Brits should not get off the hook. Richard does not let them off the hook but explains things in a much fuller manner.
    I was more concerned in this case with the presentation of the past as something other than it was. Laurny was always someone I could exchange ideas with even at the worst of times. That we did not agree was secondary to the fact that we could discuss. I am sure there are things he regrets but don’t we all? None of us are ever right all the time, none of us are ethical all the time. Orwell once said he wanted to be good – but not too good and not all the time. That is the best we can aspire to!
    Yet that idealised depiction of the past where different ideas were made welcome simply did not exist. I think much of the current animosity that exists has its roots in the suppression of discussion.

    The drink problem argument is inapplicable because drink is not a problem exclusive to one sector. I look at the many who stayed with the Provisionals who had serious drink problems, just as many who severed their ties had drink problems. Using it explains nothing. Not having been afflicted by it I tend to say there for the grace of jail go I. Others feel that jail was a causal factor in their drink problem.

    At the end of the day the arguments need to be viewed just as that, not the result of drunks, whores, egotists, mental illness, malcontents or whatever – all the type of thing the Shinners have thrown the way of their critics for years.

  5. AM,
    Yes, I think the major problem (re: the hunger strikes), was that our brains couldn't/wouldn't contemplate Adams and co. throwing people to the wolves for the sake of political expediency. Oh, how wrong we were! I genuinely feel physically sick when I look at the same people now (and well before now) and realise that they would have did anything to further their own agendas. On a side note, I wonder how many people on this blog have read a booklet called "the good old IRA" (which, if I'm not mistaken, was edited by or written by Danny Morrison), in the early 80's about how each generation venerated the previous armed republicans and villified the present incarnations, if anyone on here hasn't, please try to get a copy of it. The more things change, etc.

  6. Bet your car on the Reds beating the mancs, goals from SG and Suarez.There goes my reputation ? Why can't Mart M speak Irish ?

  7. It Ain't Necessarily So


    There is much to be said for that. However, I don’t believe I advocated that it should only be done as a gesture of mutual reciprocity. I mentioned the lack of reciprocity only as an observation on what was occurring.

    I think you make a good philosophical point but having said that, in the day to day world we live in negotiation is a omnipresent process. We inhabit an interdependent world and more often than not calculate the cost of our actions. If Laurny thinks he did the right thing – and I can’t for the world of me see it as the wrong thing for him to do – then that’s it. He should be able to make that decision and not be labelled some sort of traitor for doing so. I am not in the slightest interested in having a go at him but simply wanted to address the issue he raised. My contention with him is the presentation of the past in the way that he did. It simply does not compute in terms of my experience.

    Ruairi Joseph

    Maybe less a case of conforming and more one of coming to believe that republican armed campaigns are not productive and that cops should not be killed. Laurny, I presume, supports the PSNI. I do not. But there is hardly a cigarette paper to be squeezed between our respective positions in relation to targeting them. Neither of us give it any support whatsoever.

    Ronan Kerr was a cop, and would do what cops do which is a lot wider than the activities you outline. While we might not support the PSNI, there is a need for policing in the North as in any society. How threatening to kill anyone who joins serves any purpose, I fail to see.


    I think he said he found it too difficult to master in the limited time he had. But that he shall if wins the Presidency.

  8. AM

    Absolutely we need a police service like any society anywhere, this is how we have been held to ransom for so long.

    Yes Kerr would be expected to perform duties besides those that I have outlined, but the guns that the PSNI carry everywhere, are carried for the same reason that the RUC and the RIC before them, carried theirs.

    Guns were meant to be taken out of Irish politics, but actually only guns from one side it would seem, and we are expected to accept this and, oh yeah, move on... Right??

    I for one just can't get past and ignore armoured cars full of gunmen. I just don't have the imagination I suppose and why should I??

    If there is no response to armed Unionism then we accept that Unionist consent is a democratic principle in Ireland.

  9. My view on this is quite simple, if any of my "kids" (they are all late teens and early twenties) joined the PSNI/RUC, they would be ostracised from our house. The engine that always drove/drive that force is the special branch/MI5. They still recruit informers/drug dealers and scum of any kind, so what would any decent person be thinking of to even contemplate joining a group like that?

  10. I also say that there is a need for a police service as opposed to a "force" to serve the needs of all communities, irrespective of religion, colour or race. So far I haven't seen it. Just look at what happened in Ardoyne and what happened in east belfast.

  11. Belfastgit

    How wrong we were indeed. And how wrong some are still determined to be.
    I never read the "the good old IRA" but recall hearing of it. Now the good old IRA shouts ‘traitors’ at the bad old IRA.

    Ruairi Joseph,

    It seems you are opposed to an armed British police force rather than a British police force, or at least your objection is much stronger and more hostile if it is armed.

    The problem with Unionist consent is that is democratically underpinned by a majority of people in the country. While we have every right to dissent from that underpinning, if we decide to violently attempt to subvert it then we are doing what we accuse the British of doing – undermining the democratic will of the Irish people. It is a circle that armed republicanism seems unable to square.

  12. AM,
    No, mo chara, "the good old IRA" are shouting NO, at the "new IRA".

  13. AM,
    I'll try to get you a copy of "The Good Old IRA" and post it online for you. It tells tales of horses being shot dead for pulling british coal, and, of a woman in her 50's who told the guys taking over her house that: "I'm not afraid of your pop guns", and she was immediately shot dead. There's more in it, but that's just a flavour. (I think she was in her50's but I could be wrong, maybe older)

  14. i have had conversations with SF and ex SF people recently. The SF people are alergic to any sensible questioning. The ex SF people say its true that Adams was never in the 'RA coz they didn't accept cunts.

    Liverpool in for it tomorro mackers...
    YNWA.. you'll never work again lol

  15. Mackers,
    you are right, people should be able to give empathy to a family and show abhorence if that is how they really feel.
    However, there was something quite superficial and sickeningly hypocritical about Adams, McGuinness and their entourage at the Kerr funeral.
    Poachers turned gamekeepers always look decidely out of step and less than sincere.

  16. AM

    'The problem with Unionist consent is that is democratically underpinned by a majority of people in the country'

    Define 'democratically'

  17. Nuala,

    You are absolutely right. Master was no more genuine at Ronan Kerr’s funeral than he was at the Dark’s.

  18. Gerry was never in the ra,Marty was hardly in it,Mc Keown was angry at the killing of the psni officer by republicans,yet strangely silent about O,Connor. and Mc Cartney murders by his comrades,he is a f##kin hypocrite and a liar like his bosses,plain and simple as that.would Mc Keown have been at Kerr,s funeral if the other two clowns hadnt been there I think not.Marty will greet the queen as president but not as deputy dawg,did you ever hear such nonsense,never mind the fact that republicans are opposed to any form of royalty,we have the sight of this eejit trying to outdo the previous eejit of that office,I think this is some form of experiment,conducted by the bosses in Whitehall,the same ones who told Cameron to tell the Finucane family to fuck off,just to see how much shit they can actually shove down the throats of those members of psf. great post as usual Anthony a cara.

  19. AM

    LMcK attended in his personal capicity because he thought it the right thing to do and not on behalf of SF. Personal acts from 'the other side' have been present throughout the conflict years one need only reflect on Troops Out and individual former soldiers gestures of goodwill, not least, that of Bob Harker who was one of two squadies shot while on patrol in Ballymurphy his colleague was killed and he survived. On being honourably discharged from the army he gave his service medal to Julie Livingston's family in protest against the use of plastic bullets. Apparently he and The Dark often exchanged running banter in who actually shot him. Or how Rita Restorick conducted herself admirably on the loss of her son who was shot dead while on duty at an army checkpoint on the border. Or, former BBC Journalist and English woman Anne Cadwallader who left her position to live and works tirelessly to this day on human rights issues relating to the Conflict. The actions of Rev David Latimer could also be viewed in the light of extending a hand of friendship.

  20. PS: was there not a protestant from Tigerbay in Belfast who not only a member of the IRA but did not meekly serve his time in the H-Blocks?

  21. Tiarna,

    There is a lot of heartfelt sympathy expressed in the way you outline it. However, I don't think any human rights activist working tirelessly would have written the following piece.


    thanks. There are always questions of inconsistency that arise. I am not persuaded that they are to be explained away as hypocrisy.

  22. AM

    I have heard former clients of Pat Finucane's grumble about the quality of his services that have merited him the attribute of human rights lawyer. Obviously she has writen such an article which perhaps is more in line with what you wrote earlier, that, "in the day to day world we live in negotiation is a omnipresent process" the same might be said for a journalist writing on a sensitive issue. I have often read bloggs here about Gerry McG as he campaigns about his own unfair treatment, which is fair enough, but there is never an oppurtunity missed to pump his admiration and appreciation that Sean Brady and the Catholic Church give him the time of day --he legitimises the Catholic Churches concern at the expense of those who have been victims of the systemic abuses perpetrated by that brand of human righst violators.


  23. Tiarna,

    in this case I don't accept that. That article was written with the clear intention of not reporting the story. It was a story so easy to get to. That article chose not to but to muddy the waters. And I have other reasons for not buying into this working for human rights angle.

  24. Marty,
    you raised a very important point, would 'Laurny' Mc Keown have showed up at that funeral if it had not been given the political ok? I would agree with you absolutely not!
    I don't know him, but I would say his behaviour towards Dixie, speaks volumes.

    I have never heard any utterances from him in relation to the brutality or injustices served against republicans.
    His discomfort that day was probably more the result of an over active conscience than any moral or ethical dilemma.

  25. Belfastgit

    ‘I also say that there is a need for a police service as opposed to a "force".’

    A necessary characteristic of its role is that it is performs both functions.

    I would not want my own kids to join it nor would I approve of it. I most certainly would not want them to be regarded as legitimate targets if they did join it.

    I’ll pick up the good old IRA book some time. It will be handy to have in the library. Thanks all the same.

    Ruairi Joseph

    Democratically would be defined at its most simple as a majority of people on the island of Ireland have endorsed partition and gave it a democratic basis. We may not like it and have every reason to dissent from it but it does not make it less real for that.


    there were a couple of Protestants who served time for the republican cause.

  26. AM

    'Democratically would be defined at its most simple as a majority of people on the island of Ireland have endorsed partition and gave it a democratic basis. We may not like it and have every reason to dissent from it but it does not make it less real for that'

    Indeed we may not like it. Wasn't a 32county republic endorsed on this island, democratically underpinned as you put it? What happened with that? Demanding that republicans go fetch another mandate, which in theory could be again ignored, I suspect holds little water with many, and obviously leads some to consider violence as an option. This is often dismissed nowadays as rhetoric or history, but for some at least, it seems a principle that they are prepared to risk their all to defend.

  27. Ruairi Joseph,

    ‘Wasn't a 32county republic endorsed on this island, democratically underpinned as you put it?’

    It was.

    ‘What happened with that?’

    The Brits violated it.

    In the years that followed the bulk of Irish people voted for something different – they voted to endorse a situation that existed at the time they voted. Nobody has made a persuasive argument that they were under threat. In fact as time has gone on the threat they perceive themselves to be under is that of republican armed force seeking to coerce them against their democratically expressed wishes.

    What they did was to determine that the people in the North would only come into a unitary state once they in the North decided that they wanted to. When this was flagged up within SF years before the GFA it was of course denied that any such thing would be acceptable. The purpose of flagging it up was to draw attention to the major challenges it posed to republicanism. Now republicanism has major challenges, greater than at any time over the past four decades. The rest is history.

    That republicans need another mandate ‘I suspect holds little water with many, and obviously leads some to consider violence as an option.’ It seems to hold a lot of water with the vast bulk of people in the country.

    That some might risk their all to defend violently subverting the views of the bulk of the country does not make their use of armed force right. It puts them in a position whereby they state to the people of Ireland ‘you have no rights against our use of force. We not you will will determine your future.’

    Setting aside all of that plus whatever moral calculations people might wish to introduce, it seems that very few republicans now feel there is a strategic merit in political violence. Few strategic arguments for its use are even made. Those who argue in favour of it seem to do so on ideological grounds. It does not mean that republicans are happy with what exists.

    But that is a discussion that has been flogged to death on this site prior to your own contributions.

  28. AM

    'The Brits violated it'

    Ok then, let’s just hope they wouldn't again. To me it is predictable, that some republicans will continue to use alternative methods when all mandates have been respected but theirs. Difficult to see how we can get republicans in the north of Ireland, to accept what was never acceptable in any of the 26 counties. Hypocritical in the extreme!

    'But that is a discussion that has been flogged to death on this site prior to your own contributions'

    Better just to be flogging Sinn Fein to death then I suppose.

    ZZZZZZzzzzz What’s that, McGuinness is a Bastard… ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  29. Ruairi Joseph,

    we will just have to allow others to make up their own minds on the matter.


    you might want to correct your introduction

  31. Jamdonuts,

    I will if you tell me what is wrong with it. I checked the link but whatever it is has escaped me!

  32. Tierna

    Harry Murray, from loyalist area did time in the blocks...big 'L'

  33. tiarna,
    if a person takes a stand against something they perceive to be unjust, they should be applauded.
    I doubt I LmcK would have footed that funeral had his bosses frowned on it.
    I have not heard him utter a sentence about the unjustice in Maghaberry or Gerry Mc Geough or Marian, no the done thing! and people like him will never deviate from the done thing!

  34. David Russell form Derry was a protestant Vol died 1974