The minutiae of an attack on an ex-UDR men is given some detail. The personalities involved, how it was done, and by whom.
Scenes of crimes officers discuss why a shotgun was used as well as a high-powered assault rifle. Their theory was that a blast to the face and head was a message to the “dozen part-time UDR men” working in the dairy. The close quarters, mutilating coup-de-grace was a message to them, to “put the wind up them” as the detective said. The fifth IRA murder in the area in a row not to be solved. Those familiar with Castlederg, and South Armagh, will not be surprised at how many times republicans got away with picking off, seemingly at will, UDR and RUC men.
Special Branch, interrogations, and informers
A scene between a Special Branch officer and an informant in a republican group is interesting. The SB officer goes out of his way to humour his tout. I couldn’t help noticing that to the SB man, the tout is more important than his fellow RUC officer, the loose cannon, Reid. The informer is well placed to do serious damage, and understandably is very wary. The two men have an awkward friendship. One can easily imagine that that was the way of things.
The author confronts the violent reputation of Castlereagh in a chapter titled “Interrogation” acknowledging, through narration, that some of the “numerous” allegations had “substance.” The interrogation depicted for the reader takes place in a room with CCTV, and the detectives replying on more subtle methods than the “slap and tickle” that had “become part of Northern Ireland’s folklore.” The RUC interrogators use drama, theatre, and intense preparation, along with the information they have from other sources, to try and “break” Lynch. Lynch uses republican beliefs and his training to withstand them – “they are the criminals” he thinks. One of the detectives, Hoycroft, believes that he understands Lynch’s motivations for becoming a republican activist – volunteers like him were motivated by a sense of wanting to belong; or else local status. Or more sinister motives, like bigotry, or hatred. There were “Che Guevara” types, but Hoycroft doesn’t believe there were many of them in republican ranks – one of the reasons for Hoycroft’s “hate” of the organisation.
Despite this, he concedes his subject is a “tough wee bastard” when discussing the interrogation later on in the RUC canteen.
“Collusion” and the Ulster Defence Regiment
A chapter called “Revenge” has echoes of the killing of a republican by a UVF unit with strong security force connections. “Revenge” details the frustrations of UDR members, their feelings of vulnerability to attack, their penchant for boozing, and, for some of them, their decision to engage in paramilitary activity. It’s difficult to develop this too much without giving some of the story away, but the attitudes of the UDR, and of the RUC to them, are interesting.
Also in “Revenge” is another altercation between the RUC and angry, drunk locals. The violence is visceral, as is the deeply interpersonal nature of the confrontation. In the next chapter, titled “Chinks in the Armour”, there is recrimination within RUC ranks at who did, and did not, come to the aid of one of their number felled by the man he was trying to arrest, and beaten by the crowd. The reader is given an insight into the lasting effects of being subjected to mob violence. Is it unsettling, and effective, writing.
As Bobby Sands nears death, a Catholic RUC officer, O’Donnell, is with an increasingly combative Reid in an RUC Land Rover as hundreds of demonstrators protest opposite. Reid has dubbed him “the token Mick.” O’Donnell challenges Reid with “I don’t think you can take a crowd of ‘H-Block’ protestors as typical of all Catholics.” Reid doesn’t see it like that, citing Sands election as an MP. Another officer, Clark, thinks that he will have to tell O’Donnell about Reid’s background; his experiences of sectarianism at the hands of Catholic vigilantes; of the friends lost to the IRA.
As Reid continues his rant against the protestors, and the lack of robustness in facing them down, O’Donnell retorts “you’re just itching to get stuck in, aren’t you?” Reid acknowledges it, saying he hates the crowd, seeing them “make heroes of the bastards” that killed his friends. The acrimony alarms others in the Land Rover, one of whom hates “political” talk, “the curse of the RUC.”
Reid challenges O’Donnell “why shouldn’t I hate them” – O’Donnell replying “because you’re a policeman.”
The book’s final few chapters arrive at pace. The characters that the reader has spent time relating to, in a different but all too believable and familiar way, emerge from the turbulence of the hunger strike era. The fate of Reid, in particular, stayed with me for some time after I finished the book. A complex character, all too human, and all the more vulnerable for it.
As I have already said, I highly recommend this book. It is a good standalone novel, but it is more than that. It’s a detailed and engaging look back to an extraordinary time in Irish politics, through the eyes of members of a participant in the high drama of one of the most contentious historical moments of the Troubles.