Reflecting on exchanges, in the comments section of the ‘What England Get Out of Ireland Means’ recent article, between Steve R and AM about allegations around ethnic cleansing, I was pulled back through time.
And though I can readily understand many in Steve’s community did have a perception, and still retain it, that attacks on part-time security personnel were but cloaked attempts at ethnic cleansing I too, like AM, respectfully but vehemently reject those interpretations.
Having been told accounts from republicans who were active in border areas and where operations were aborted because they did not meet the criteria of legitimate targeting (current membership of Crown Forces), I therefore can’t accept accusations of ethnic cleansing as sustainable.
I recall one pertinent case I heard of, from way back in the '70's where a IRA volunteer was pulled off - and pulled off at the eleventh hour - from an assassination assignment of a very active UVF cell leader operating in Fermanagh. The local IRA had the UVF man under close observation for some time and had acquired evidence linking him to alleged involvement in the murder of Patsy Kelly, an Irish Independence Party Councillor from Trillick in Tyrone, and also had identified the UVF man in question as allegedly the shooter in the assassination attempt on Frank McManus. Frank was the Westminster MP for the area at the time (he miraculously escaped with minor flesh wounds). It is also now a matter of record that same individual was also the chief suspect for the bombing of Belturbet in 1972 in which a 15 year old girl and a 16 year old boy lost their lives. (link to
The UVF man had at one time been in the UDR but for whatever reason had no longer been spotted in uniform. Nonetheless because the intelligence was substantial for his involvement in Loyalist terrorism an operation to eliminate was urgently set in train. In fact, it had reached an ‘all ready to go’ stage based on the assumption it'd be sanctioned without question. However, McGuinness, then Director of Operations Northern Command, wouldn't green-light it because the target wasn’t fully confirmed as a serving member of the security forces. After a dash back into the operational area by McGuinness’s emissary the IRA volunteer, who was by now armed-up and secured in an overnight billet close to the planned ambush point, was pulled of the op.
This particular disclosure remains memorable as it was to unfold with ironic and tragic consequences.
The pulled IRA volunteer was arrested in the following months on a subsequent operation and went down for eight years. When he was in prison the UVF man, the one that had been mysteriously spared (most likely by McGuinness but maybe by the dispatcher), murdered a brother of the said IRA volunteer.
The brother who was later murdered, I'm told, sometimes collected his sister - a resident of Balinamore in County Leitrim - and drove her all the way to Belfast to visit her IRA brother in the Crum, where he was being held awaiting trial on possession and membership charges.
The one who drove her, having opposed the path his brother had taken, chose to wait in the car while the sister went on the visit; such were the differences between both men.
Robert Bridge, known locally as Bridges was detained for questioning after the assassination attempt on Frank McManus. No charges were brought in relation to that nor was he successfully pursued about UVF bombings in Monaghan or Belturbet which had links back to Enniskillen.
He was though subsequently arrested, tried and convicted for the murder of Paddy 'Pio' O’Reilly and sentenced to life.
‘Pio’ O’Reilly was a brother of IRA Vol. Malachy O’Reilly, the same volunteer who had been tasked with taking Bridges out.
Malachy O’Reilly as a young volunteer cut his teeth as a Republican soldier in Dáithí Ó'Conaill's Teeling Column on the Border Campaign of the 50's. During that phase he was captured while attending his father's funeral and interned without trial in Crumlin Road Gaol. Refusing to ‘sign out’ he would remain there for the next 4 years until ‘Operation Harvest’ was wound-down. On release he moved to England for work, returning and reporting back to the IRA on the outbreak of renewed hostilities.
On release from prison again, and having been advised of internal security breaches in his operational area during his period in gaol, he was urged to cross the border immediately if he wanted to avoid likely further and longer prison time. If I remember the story correctly, the late Frank Maguire MP (one time fellow-internee) collected O’Reilly at the camp gates in an attempt to thwart possible re-arrest and got him swiftly across.
A single man, he lived out the rest of his life peacefully, and generally with his usual good cheer, in the Kildare/Dublin area where he remained ensconced in the broad republican family. I remember one time when visiting and hanging out with him being introduced to Billy McKee who was also working/living in the same establishment as he.
Malachy O’Reilly died some years ago and is buried in the same graveyard as his brother ‘Pio’ at Coa, a few miles outside Enniskillen, in his native Fermanagh.
⏩ Henry Joy is a frequent commenter on TPQ.