Talking Turkey

A long-time friend, Seamus Scotchy Kearney, is due for release from Maghaberry Prison next month. He was sentenced to life but under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the British state is obligated to release him after two years served. That will be in addition to the last ten he served as a result of conflict related activity.

Scotchy was convicted for killing RUC member John Proctor in an IRA operation in South Derry in 1981 some months after the death on hunger strike of iconic South Derry republican activist Frank Hughes. Tensions were at a premium that year and as the months wore on the conflict assumed an even more bitter intensity than it had already been infused with. The death of John Proctor took place against such a backdrop.

It had always struck me as one of the IRA’s most pitiless killings in the course of its entire campaign. The RUC man was shot dead, having just left The Mid Ulster Hospital where he had visited his wife and newly born son. I recall the morning my own daughter was born in 2001, making my way down the Grosvenor Road to cross the busy West Link, more road conscious than I was normally given to. That powerful urge to be alive for my daughter must have been present in the mind of John Proctor, and because he was in the enemy camp there seems no reason to lack empathy for his family or acknowledge what both he and they were denied. 

While knowing absolutely nothing about the circumstances I had no reason to believe Scotchy was responsible, and having sat through part of his trial in a British court in Belfast two years ago, I feel I have no more reason to be convinced that he was. The thing stank from beginning to end and not merely of cigarette butts. As a senior legal figure commented shortly after the verdict – justice is something to be got in brothels, courts are where you go to get screwed.

Immediately after the trial concluded, courtesy of the judge announcing he would reserve judgement, we both went on the “swally” in a city centre pub. We discussed the case against him which looked anything but robust – indeed it had been thrown out earlier but was revisited by somebody determined to get a result no matter how - but we knew it was a Northern court where the rule of law was a euphemism for the law of Kenneth Diplock. 

Lord Diplock as he was widely referred to, was secretary to the highly secretive British wartime Executive Committee – “Torture Central.” The perfidious ethos that guided him then, he remained faithful to throughout his reactionary career. The spin put on Diplock Courts, which denied the accused any right to be tried by jury, was that they were to prevent juror/witness intimidation. Their real purpose was to secure convictions on the basis of a statement alone no matter what police violence or skulduggery might be used to extract it. While neither police violence nor a confession figured in this case, the point is that Diplock courts were never put in place to deliver just outcomes, but to secure verdicts suitable to the police.

Since the handing down of the life sentence it has been impossible not to be cognisant of the retributive motive that underlies some demands for justice. Not all victims are satisfied with obtaining what they regard as the truth alone. Some clearly want revenge although we are not supposed to point that out, but rather merely acquiesce in the idealised construct of the victim.

When Seamus Kearney was sent down John Proctor’s widow, June McMullan said “we welcomed the verdict. Now we can move on with our lives." 

Moving on with her life is something that has thus far remained elusive to Mrs McMullan. Whether unable or unwilling to settle for the truth she claims to have secured through prosecution, she has been determined on seeing Seamus Kearney further punished. 

This was first made manifest when she expressed satisfaction that “we’ll have our Christmas dinner and he won’t.” I recall thinking how wrong she was about that. Seamus would have his Christmas dinner, just not at home. At the time the thought occurred to me that here we were going through this ridiculously prohibitive prosecutorial process on the pretence of securing more truth when it was a means of guaranteeing less, and for what? So that Scotchy Kearney could go without a bit of turkey or at least have it served up in a jail canteen rather than at home.

It would be gratuitously insensitive to belittle loss of the magnitude June McMullan sustained: human, fatuous and genuine all at the same time, her turkey comment nevertheless served to trivialise the issue while sketching a somewhat more nuanced hue into the motivational tapestry that is victimhood.  

This year June McMullan delivered a petition signed by three thousand people urging the Justice Minister:
to stop individuals convicted of terrorist-related offences committed before 1998 from being granted day release any time during their subsequent two-year sentence.

Maybe there was solace of a sort to be derived from this initiative but there was no escaping the whiff of pettiness that accompanied it.  

Perhaps what June McMullan really wants was revealed during comments she made in response to an announcement of a second inquest into the deaths of eight IRA volunteers at Loughall in 1987. "we would have saved a lot more money if a bullet had been put in him instead of wasting all of this money on this court case." 

An unvarnished honesty for which she can hardly be condemned. No pious pretence about vengeance being the last thing in her mind. Yet, for advocating considerably less Dee Fennell was charged by the PSNI and remanded in custody. June McMullan can advocate extra judicial execution - don’t bring people to court, just kill them and spare everybody the cost and bother – and the cops will not caution her because it is permissible to advocate murder to the sound of state trumpets. 

Sort of what fuelled the conflict to begin with.


  1. Depite the witty black humour in the title, the pathos of the past for the many and of the present for a few does beg ponding upon and poses the following fundamental questions:

    Given all of what you, I and others have said and knowing what we presently know, what would we collectively as a society like to have happen now?

    Can that happen?

    What needs to happen next?

    Unless we attempt these questions then surely its all just more gobbledygook?

    Indeed, let's Talk Turkey

  2. Henry Joy,

    there will be more talking bull about the past that talking turkey. People will arrive at their own conclusions about the fatuousness of the no Christmas dinner comment but in her own way coupled with her desire for vengeance she is talking turkey that many others seem to want to avoid. I am blue in the face making the point that the past and its "truths" are more about recrimination than reconciliation.

  3. AM

    agreed there is recrimination and the potential for even more exists too.
    That's why I believe keeping a future-orientated perspective is potentially much more useful. Granting primacy to the future over that of the past, in my opinion, is where we will collectively be best served. There are no shortage of advocates for remembering the past as you well know. We need advocates for a peaceful and workable shared future.
    It seems to me that having consensus about an as well as can be prudently defined shared future is a requisite to successfully reconciling ourselves to 'our own' side's painful and violent past as well as reconciling ourselves to the pain, hurt and violence inflicted upon us by 'the other side'.

    Continued prosecution of the past is to some degree an act of recrimination and as such in my opinion isn't particularly useful when viewed in the round.

  4. Is her bitterness different to Brian Keenan's when he uttered 'The only way to knock the nonsense of the prods is to be ten times more savage'?

    I am not meaning to make a straw man, but Mrs McMullan's lifetime of remembering the circumstances of the taking of her husband life she and her daughter will be reminded of every single year on her child's birthday.

    I am not negating anyone's loss, but grief is a terrible thing and that particularly cold action would undoubtedly cause revulsion in any society and at any time.

    I totally agree with AM, there are far too many 'settling of scores' that so many people are looking backward they cannot see where they are heading.

    Right back to square one.

  5. Steve,

    if Keenan made the said comment his would be much worse than her comment given that the latter is born out of personal grief. The problem is the source for the Keenan comment. I don't recall meeting anyone else who verifies Keenan actually saying it. And he said some harsh things.

  6. Fair enough AM, you would be in far better position to know than I.

    There still needs to be a point in time were everyone says..

    'Y'know what? We all did and said horrible things during the conflict and trying to best each other on the validity of their grief and perceived slights against us led to thousands of deaths. How about this time we just let it lay and get on with making a better society for our children?'

    The true tragedy of the above statement is that people love to feel like they are the one's in the right and perpetual victimhood is addictive.

    Catholics were oppressed for centuries in Ireland, Protestants have a huge chip on their shoulder from the Reformation.

    Sadly, it appears unlikely to change anytime soon.

  7. Steve

    sadly it seems as if its a tendency of the human condition to be overly attached to being right and overly attached to one's position regardless of evidence to the contrary and regardless of current or future consequences.

    Loss of the familiar evokes irrational fear in many. Perhaps as a result it seems to others change comes too slowly.
    Gauging change accurately is somewhat like a sailor leaving port; if he keeps his eye fixed on the distant horizon he won't get the same sense of distance travelled nor achievement as if s/he'd thrown an occasional glance back towards shore.

    In relative terms, especially so for those of us who lived through the entirety of the last phase of our troubles, I am of the opinion a majority of us have travelled a significant distance. Not sure we're on course for the original destinations personally hoped for but the consensus seems to be that we're happy enough, relatively speaking, to be in calmer waters.

    What's over the horizon?
    I don't know, lets wait until we getter a little closer to it. ^_^

    What I do know though is that there's a reluctance and consensus about turning about into the eye of yet another storm. Accordingly its not to be unexpected that those who persistently dissent are likely to be corralled and quarantined with some of the more belligerent forced to walk the plank if control or viability of the vessel is threatened by the mutineers.