Posts by irishdissent

Lecturer in Literature and Cultural History

Derry’s New Secret Police Force

In the second such attack to have occurred in Derry within the past two months, a teenage boy was beaten up last week in the city by a gang of masked men armed with iron bars and a gun (in the previous one, a teenager suffered two broken legs and a broken arm). Nobody knows who did this, or why these two attacks took place, of course. That’s because this is how secret policing works – it occurs very discreetly, almost invisibly, insidiously reminding us that, below the surface of society and always after night falls, a secret police force is active. Violent secret policing can be so clandestine that, when it does take place, it can feel at first almost as if it hasn’t happened, unless, of course, you are one of the people on the receiving end of it. Although it feels unreal to many among the wider community, its repeated occurrence burrows into the public mind where its corruption, though often overlooked, is impossible to conceal.

This secret police force is so obscure that nobody knows who or what is behind it, other than someone’s profound desire to control people. In the absence of identifiable organisational responsibility (those involved are so secretive that nobody knows who they are) we could also describe this very Secret Police Force as Sinn Féin Mark 2. Indeed, they resemble Sinn Féin’s party militia so much that the people of Derry could be forgiven for thinking that those who are behind these attacks might have been, at some stage, apostates who were driven from that organisation. In any case, the new Secret Police have assumed all the characteristics of their old role models.

 

Old Tactics in New Clothing
Derry’s secret policing structures aren’t new or unique. They have been seen before, and resemble very closely what might be termed “the McGuinness pattern”. Organised and directed by people who want to establish themselves as unofficial figures of authority in the city, they operate according to a very familiar design. This has always served those who believe that they should be revered but ultimately feared by their own as far, at least, as limb-smashing can be interpreted as the good work of defending the community from its wayward youth. So, once again, we are being confronted with the work of false radicals and mock liberators. They know that beating people up with iron bars appeals to a very special kind of imagination, and this is where the secrecy of Derry’s Secret Police might be of benefit to everyone. Who would want to know whether a friend, neighbour or even a relative was involved in this kind of policing? This type of best-kept secret is best kept, well… very secret, indeed.

Despite what the Secret Police want you to think, they are not a manifestation of what happens “in the absence of acceptable policing” because that lazy, self-serving cliché died of exhaustion a very long time ago when it was last uttered by Sinn Féin. Anyone capable of independent thought knows that there are always alternatives to battering young people with iron bars unless, that is, they are the very rare kind of person who is addicted to doing, ordering or beholding it (a dependency for which all kinds of medical and psychiatric treatments are available). The simple fact is that broken teenage limbs are not the organic products of a supposedly measured or reasonable process that concludes with community-sanctioned violence. This brutality, along with the desire for authority and validation that it represents, is an artificial imposition that follows a logic that is as brutal for the entire community as it is for the young person who has been accused of, somehow, “offending”. The entire process is deliberately engineered to appear vague and its indeterminate quality is intended to cultivate a collective response along the lines of “Well, he must have done something”.

 

The Silent Terror
We can assume that an allegation of some kind of offence has been levelled by the Secret Police during its thoroughly concealed process of judgment – even secret tribunals, after all, have to justify their existences to themselves. The accusation circulates only within this bubble, away from public scrutiny where, undisclosed, the infraction is proven by faceless judges before a Secret Police squad is mobilised, armed, and then deployed. The “offending” young person is beaten up and in the subsequent public discussion about the mystery (“What did he get it for, anyway?”) the perceived problem evaporates, like reason under a dictatorship. Nobody says anything; everybody moves along like they’re told to and supposed to because there’s nothing to see here, nothing at all. So, the reality principle sinks while the self-perpetuating myth of the enforcer, so reliant upon the damnation and isolation of broken-limbed teenagers, endures.

With its methodically-planned politics of erasure and dedicated to the erosion of truth, this organised and highly structured violence is reinforced by the ripple-effect that it causes across the wider community.  All of this benefits those who direct it and carry it out in a number of ways. Firstly, it reinforces the perception that those in command of the Derry Secret Police have of themselves as a source of authority: “people will fear us now”, they think, “we’ll have more respect”, “all we’ll ever have to do is glare at somebody and they’ll get the message”, and so on. Secondly, the people who carry these attacks out on their behalf have, in their own turn, become blooded. Assimilated within the circuitry of this local, unofficial and unspoken power and embedded in it, they now have status, belonging, a role and a meaning greater than anything that they have ever experienced or amounted to before. In their own eyes and, they believe, in the view of the broader community, they will finally matter. Imbued with this new sense of purpose and superiority, they’ll genuinely feel important and, from this moment onward, they’ll exist under the impression that they, too, are now to be feared.

 

Political Fear and the Closure of Consciousness
No group has claimed these attacks, and none will, because silence is the currency of terror. Fear travels along the ruined and collapsed channels of reason because it depends upon the closure of imagination. Once thinking is checked, it transmits rapidly from one consciousness to the next via these now-quiet paths. In doing so, it seals mouths and closes minds, extinguishes thought and tightens its grip over the popular imagination where it is internalised, amplified and projected further inward with ever greater intensity following each attack. In this way, fear reproduces itself, by generating wider acceptance of organised thuggery and condemns entire communities to long-running cycles of quiet, uncommunicated dread. At the back of the mind of every parent will be the final, awful question: “Could this happen to my child?”

Questions now need to be asked about those who benefit from secret policing, and answers should be demanded as to which local hierarchies and dynasties are being served and facilitated by the Secret Police. The people of Derry have a right to demand what qualifies someone for a role in this clandestine force, to know who gets to make secret policing decisions and on what authority these decisions are being taken. Given that this organisation operates according to a programme of its own, people also have the right to know who writes the rules of secret policing and why. We have the right to know what gets said when secret policing matters are discussed: who, for example, discusses whom during these meetings? We have the right to know what qualifies anything or anyone for inclusion in these secret discussions, and we have the right to know what will happen if the Secret Police come up with more secret “offenses” that they believe will need to be policed with even more severity.

The deepest wounds caused by secret policing and its unofficial violence are always inflicted on the psyche of a people. The worst damage of all is caused by the silences that inhibit thought, restrict free speech and threaten to crush open criticism. If allowed to take hold, these restrictions will dominate the material, political and cultural prospects of the people of Derry, along with their psychological wellbeing.  If they are not resisted another generation will be forced to endure the authority of cabals and militias, while the prospects of young people will be permanently hindered by the shadow of this unofficial violence.

 

More Than Just a Museum

 

On Friday, 2nd June, a protest was held at the so-called “Museum of Free Derry” in opposition to its memorialization of British forces killed in Derry during the early 1970s. I refer to this institution as the “so-called Museum of Free Derry” because, with its commemoration of the British state’s highly paid, heavily armed and judicially-protected professional murderers – agents of state violence whose brutality peaked (but did not end) with the massacre of 14 Civil Rights demonstrators on January 31st, 1972 – it has distanced itself irrevocably from the concept and philosophy of liberation that Free Derry stands for in the popular imagination. As one protestor suggested, we should rename it “The Museum of Unfree Derry”; I would add that the title, “The Crown Forces Museum of Unfree Derry”, will reflect even more accurately the ideology that this institution serves and promotes.

Free Derry was the part of Derry City, comprising the Bogside, Brandywell and Creggan districts, that had been liberated from police control following the decisive defeat of heavily-armed RUC, B-Special and Orange Order attackers by an unarmed popular insurgency, known as the Battle of the Bogside, that took place in August, 1969. Notwithstanding the efforts of Paddy Doherty to have barricades dismantled and the RUC redeployed in the Bogside, Free Derry persisted until the entire city was overrun by British troops during Operation Motorman in July, 1972. During this three-year period, Free Derry became recognized globally as a site of intense resistance to British political, military and police control.

Last week’s protest was called because the museum, which many people regard as a Sinn Féin-controlled front organization, has installed an exhibit recording the names of British troops and police killed in Derry. This has outraged a broad spectrum of people who have confronted the issue because they recognize it as contributing to the wider, decades-long policy of “normalization”: the policy whereby the aberration that is the British presence in Ireland is represented as normal, even natural. A fundamental policy of modern imperialism, normalization (also referred to during the 1970s and 1980s as “Ulsterization”) was also the key strategy behind the 2003 Iraq invasion and occupation, where it became known as “Iraqi-isation”. (1)

Power and Its Discourses: From Burke to Kitson
These ideas and policies can be traced back to Edmund Burke’s conservative political theories, as outlined in his 1790 book, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Here, Burke described the authority of kings as “the natural order of things”, and claimed that the subjugation of people by imperial and monarchical authority was an organic, and therefore just, phenomenon. (2)  In his earlier work, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), Burke also argued that the natural human response to displays of power should be one of surrender because power and terror, the basic currencies of political authority, were inseparable from one another.

While these ideas have influenced British imperialism and guided its coercionist policies since the late eighteenth century, they were very significantly modernized by the British army brigadier, Frank Kitson. Having participated in and directed counter-insurgency efforts in Kenya, Malaya, Oman and Cyprus, Kitson updated the sublime object and function of imperial power by urging the state to facilitate its flow through every circuit of military, police and civilian organisation in a thoroughly integrated pattern of oppression and violence.  The key to controlling entire populations, Kitson urged in his 1971 book, Low Intensity Operations, was to ensure that the interests served by state violence should become so normalized as to be obscure, untraceable, unidentifiable, even invisible.

In doing so, he brought Burke’s theory of the invisibility of power into the modern imperialist age: “To make anything very terrible,” Burke advised, “obscurity seems in general to be necessary”, (3) and state violence is no exception to this very basic rule. Whereas, for Burke, power was best administered from the Olympian position of the aristocracy, Kitson, by 1971, saw the need to co-opt local organizations directly into its grid and to create compliant front-groups (he called these “pseudo-groups”) that were loyal to the deep state. As we have seen since the ceasefire of 1994, these state-funded front organizations have spawned very rapidly, although study of their boards and memberships reveals very familiar patterns and networks of interest.

 

2017: A New Start for Counter-Insurgency
Kitson’s policy eventually succeeded with the total integration of Sinn Féin and its party militia into the British establishment, and this is most apparent (for those who look beyond the obscuring veil of Stormont power) in the fusion of their pro-British terror tactics with official policing. However, while this objective has been achieved, total control remains the final objective and, as every reader of Orwell knows, controlling the present depends very heavily on exercising dominion over the past: this is what every colonial power pursues through means of coercion, violence, manipulation and co-option. Through various fronts disguised as “community groups” controlled by Sinn Féin, which is itself controlled by MI5, this policy has been intensively pursued since the mid-1990s on political, economic and cultural fronts. Those who remember the various “peace groups” that emerged to serve British interests during the 1970s and 1980s, many of which were directed by the Officials and their political front, the Workers’ Party, will recognize an emerging pattern here.

The Crown Forces Museum of Unfree Derry is the latest addition to this long line of front organizations working in the service of British state power. Its inclusion of British military and police personnel in its exhibitions is a significant move towards normalizing the brutality and violence unleashed on the people of Derry from the late 1960s (and, indeed, since the inception of the state in 1922), and their present activity should be considered against this longer history of normalization.

Indeed, the museum’s spokesman, Robin Percival, has a long record of service to Sinn Féin front organizations since he first joined the party. Since then, he has been appointed to prominent roles within the Pat Finucane Centre, The Bogside Residents Group (from which he graduated onto the Parades Commission), the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum, the Gasyard Centre, Cunamh and the Bloody Sunday Trust, as well as this museum. His close friend and colleague at the Pat Finucane Centre, Paul O’Connor, participates in Sinn Féin electoral videos, exposing that organization’s very close ties to the party. During last week’s protest, Percival took photographs of those who had come to voice their opposition to the memorial, and it can only be assumed that these images will be shared with his friends in Sinn Féin (these associations can be seen by checking the organizations’ boards and memberships on the Companies House website).

In a letter sent to the Pensive Quill website in 2014, Percival responded to criticism of the museum’s earlier but unsuccessful plan to build a garden that would commemorate crown forces personnel. He stated: “there never was a plan to construct a memorial garden to include British soldiers in the Bogside…. Nor are there any plans to construct a memorial to include British soldiers now or in the future. The focus of the Bloody Sunday Trust (which manages the museum) is about civilians killed by the state.” Percival publicly announced that he had “no plan to construct a memorial… to include British soldiers in the Bogside.” (4)  However, things can change very rapidly in the world of colonial doublethink, and now he is defending the projection of the names of British personnel on his museum’s walls.

 

The Long Line of Cooperators
Frank Kitson argued that co-option and cooperation are the basic requirements of colonial political control. Percival is among a long line of cooperators, ranging from Paddy Doherty and Brendan Duddy to the present class of professional, managerial “community representatives” and mysteriously-appointed “spokespeople”. While these figures have, largely, been involved in the political and economic management of the people of Derry on behalf of Sinn Féin, Stormont and the British establishment in London, what is novel about this museum it is dedicated to controlling the present through its representation of the past.

The normalization policy outlined by Kitson and the principles that he first proposed in 1971 are very relevant today. The museum operates entirely into line with British policy and represents a watermark of what he termed “civil-military relations” – the conscious fusion of military and civilian interests through long-term “popular projects” serving the occupier’s “single effective policy” : “the necessity for close co-ordination between the civil and the operational effort is apparent to everyone”, wrote Kitson in 1971. It remains so today because it is through this “unity of effect” that oppression becomes normalized and authority internalized by the target population, and how a people’s sense of their own selfhood is softened and eroded. It is the latest manifestation of psychological operations (still abbreviated by militaries, police forces and governments as “psy-ops”): the use of psychological means to distort and undermine a population’s sense of its own place in the world and in history, and to subvert its own understanding of itself. (5)

 

Identifying with the Oppressor
The museum has a single purpose: encouraging people to identify psychologically with the British army and police, and with the colonial violence that has repressed them for centuries. The British army’s infamous Bloody Sunday Massacre of January 1972 was key to the wider counter-insurgency policy that began in August, 1969, and its impact can still be felt in Derry, over four decades later. The Crown Forces Museum of Unfree Derry is dedicated to convincing the people that they should see something of themselves in the very murderers who shot down children, women and men during this period of particularly brutal state violence. It symbolizes a false and misleading ideology of reconciliation based on the assumption that we have much in common with these professional agents of colonial violence and the structures that they serve.

Last week’s demonstration registered popular refusal to conform to this ongoing process of normalization. The philosophy and practice of liberation that was practiced and displayed four decades ago by the people of Free Derry showed the world that refusal is a very powerful weapon. This protest articulated and renewed that refusal by addressing the still current problem of state violence and the ideological coercion that accompanies it, exposing its acceptance by organizations such as this museum, all of which, ultimately, act in the interests of the state.

The fundamental strategy of any empire is invasion, and this requires a considerable degree of integration on a number of levels, particularly within the cultural, political and psychological spheres. Imperialists occupy the physical territory of the countries that they invade with their military and police forces but they also work hard to colonize the minds of those whose lands they occupy with the relentless propaganda and distortions of the past that are circulated by their local agents. In Derry, however, this is being resisted because there are plenty of minds and imaginations that still remain free.

 

Sources:

1. See Paul Reynolds, “Rush to Iraqi-isation”, BBC News, 12th November, 2003 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3263545.stm), accessed 8/6/1017. See also “Letter (declassified): Rycroft to Baker”, 3rd June, 2003, The Iraq Inquiry (http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/212061/2004-06-03-letter-rycroft-to-baker-iraq-prime-ministers-meeting-3-june.pdf), accessed 8/6/2017.
2. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, The Works of Edmund Burke, Vol. 3 (London, John C. Nimmo: 1887), p.296.
3. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, ibid, Vol. 1, pp.131-2.
4. Robin Percival, “No Plan to Construct a Memorial Garden to Include British Soldiers in the Bogside,” The Pensive Quill, Friday, 8th August, 2014 (http://thepensivequill.am/2014/08/no-plan-to-construct-memorial-garden-to.html, accessed 31st May, 2017).
5. Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping (London: Faber and Faber, 1971, reprinted 1991), pp.51-3, 71.

 

 

 

 

From Brexit to Britzkrieg

This week, people started looking out of their front windows to make sure that they weren’t living in a Jonathan Swift novel, a Rudyard Kipling poem, or some strange fusion of both. This was because, within days of the British government’s formal announcement of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, its defence secretary, Michael Fallon, egged on by Michael Howard, also announced his willingness to go to war.  For a short while, the Tories took a break from normalising their domestic war against the poor to propose another one, this time against Spain.  Howard even invoked the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, the not long-dead Iron Lady who, he believes, has been reincarnated in the body of Theresa May.   Thus the Conservatives addressed an imagined threat to British sovereignty that is being posed, in their minds, by a friendly neighbour, some of whose territory they seized and colonized in 1713, telling the world that Britain will do anything to protect its imperial interests in 2017.

The argument about the non-negotiability of Gibraltar’s Britishness is a familiar one to anyone who has had to endure the contradictions of partition: “We’re going to look after Gibraltar”, Fallon said. “Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way because the sovereignty cannot be changed without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar…”.   The colony’s puppet First Minister, Fabian Picardo, went even further by declaring that “the United Kingdom goes to war over the principle of consent all over the world.”  This is the political equivalent of last summer’s English football hooligans, and of the more frequent weekend spectacle of those steroid-addled morons who can’t have a drink without wanting to beat up passing teenagers for delivering perceived but non-existent insults.  By declaring their resolution to go “all the way” with a nation that has tolerated centuries of British military and strategic presence within its own national territory, the British establishment revealed what it really thinks about the principle of peace within Europe.

But it’s not all thuggery, to be fair.  The implication here is that, as with Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, the Brits don’t really want to be in Gibraltar anyway, and they never did want to be there, either.  They only want to start a war over it because they need to protect the democratic rights of the English people who live there, including the 96% of whom who voted to remain within the EU.  Manufactured colonial consent, with its distortion of mandates, is the same justification given for the permanent, if secret, war footing that they assume in Ireland (even though they don’t think that publicly announcing this instance of low-visibility violence would be as acceptable as sending a spectacular military “taskforce” to sort out their new “Spanish-speaking” enemies, as Michael Howard described them).   According to this long-standing imperial rationale, occupiers never want to occupy anywhere – they only want to help people, according to a very familiar, if rather worn-out, proposal that has been doing the rounds a lot lately, and especially since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The principle of false consent has always been built into the practice of colonial land-grabbing once, of course, the occupying power has planted enough consenters and then terrorised, imprisoned, dispossessed or expelled anybody else who disagrees with it.  What we are hearing now is the a minimally-adapted articulation of Britain’s geopolitical interest in Ireland, and the jingoization of Gibraltar expresses the equally self-contradictory claim that part of Spain is part of Britain, simply because they once planted enough colonists and troops there.  As with the occupation of Ireland, the British political and military presence in this part of Spain is central to the ideology and practice of the permanently-armed and forever war-ready imperial state.  Portraying their rush to belligerence as a quaint, harmless and even amusing manifestation of a deluded sense of self-importance, as some have done, misses the key point that the military grasp of colonial territory has a very practical resonance: every empire, ultimately, depends on the acquisition and possession of land, and this is achieved through force.  Occupation is power, and as Fallon keeps telling us, so too, in post-Brexit world, is a permanently poised, war-ready military complex.  In Gibraltar and in Ireland, British occupation today means British control in the future.

“This isn’t a bargaining process”, Fallon reminded viewers of the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, because “we happen to have the biggest defence budget in Europe, we have the biggest navy in Europe.”  He added that his government is sending 800 troops to Estonia, more to Poland and reminded the British public that they’ll be footing the bill for lacing Romania with heavily-armed Typhoon fighter planes, just in case they were curious about where the savings from all of those hospital ward closures, benefit cuts, student finance “savings” and bedroom taxes might be going (in 2016 alone, Britain spent £392 billion on weapons procurement).

The Gibraltarians will be sorely tested when they’re fenced in by the European border.  Perhaps they’ll be forced to leave en masse, but if that happens, it’s unlikely that the local British military garrison, or “permanent regional operating base”, as it’s officially known, will follow them.  In the meantime, like the Irish, they’ll have to get used to having an intensively policed boundary, all over again, and one that the vast majority of them voted against.  And with its imposition, they’ll be reacquainted with the experience of having their vehicles and persons searched whenever they want to go out for a drive.  As the Irish novelist, Eoin McNamee, recently warned, and as we’ve just seen this week on the Andrew Marr Show, there’s no such thing as a soft border.

The Death of a Traitor

 To the memory of my mother, Martina Donnelly

The only unfortunate thing about Martin McGuinness’s death was that it came at a time when I was very busy with work and unable to respond sooner. I am not at all bothered about his slow and, apparently, very painful end because in 1998 the Sinn Féin militia, under his direct orders, attacked my family.  Armed with guns, nail-studded baseball bats (yes, you have read that correctly – they used baseball bats that had nails hammered into them), iron bars and mace gas, they attacked us.  They did so with a ferocity that cannot be imagined by those who have not witnessed such horror unless, perhaps, they have had it described to them in detail by someone who has experienced it.  My three little sisters, aged 11, ten and six years old, were all hospitalised with trauma wounds, including punctures on their arms, legs, backs and heads caused by those nails, and they also suffered poisoning from the mace gas.  My father’s leg and hand were broken and, along with his children’s injuries, his puncture wounds had to be treated for infections that were caused by the nails.  My mother was also very badly wounded, and suffered the worst of us all: as a result of the injuries that she endured that night, she developed the ovarian cancer that would take her life some years later.

 

Violence-as-Pacification

Violence is a singular and totalising phenomenon, and it is never more so than when it is inflicted in the name of power against children. The violence that was inflicted on my family at 10pm on the night of Sunday, June 28th, 1998 (just days after the formalisation of the Pacification of Ireland Process with the re-opening of Stormont) was the latest incarnation of British colonial violence, camouflaged by its local deliverers: British proxies from the Sinn Féin militia who were posing as Irish republicans.  The British state attempted to disguise its presence in our home but immediately, in the hours, days and weeks that followed, and then during the years that have passed since, what was hatched on that night became so obviously apparent that it is now a matter of public (if unofficial) record, and is being spoken about openly.  Even in the darkest times of state terror and government violence – for this was government violence, committed in the name of Stormont, Westminster and the Blairite imperialism that would later on murder over a million people in Iraq – the truth has a strange way of coming to the surface.  It does not, of course, appear in the official discourses of the press and the establishment, but resides instead in the resistant consciousness of people who recognise colonial power and its agents, and who choose to speak out against it.

 

An Agent of Colonial Violence

Years before they established death squads in Iraq, New Labour acquired valuable practice in deploying them in Ireland with the help of their local puppets. In Derry and elsewhere, Martin McGuinness was a key agent of this power and, as its principal native avatar, he was the one to whom the British could always turn whenever spectacularly violent forms of pacification were needed.  He was the one who could activate the required force in all of its barbarity, and they were the ones who believed that they could use him to silence dissent and erase, with the application of this terror, the possibility of a United Ireland (I am referring here to the real possibility of Irish unification and not the empty simulation of it promoted by Sinn Féin, then and now).

Murder and brutalisation were sanctioned with the official and unofficial blessing of the state from its local to its highest levels, and what we have seen with the death of Martin McGuinness is the closure of a very significant node within its grid of power. To be sure, its light had been faltering for some time, and its value was rapidly diminishing before he was ever diagnosed with the amyloidosis that killed him.  For some time he could not walk the streets in Derry without being jeered at for being a traitor, and it was with the greatest irony but without, of course, any grasp of the concept, that he pressed charges against a young man who threw eggs at him in the Bogside.  That power, which circulates across all of its circuits, dominating them until they are burned out and extinguished, now no longer illuminates one of the most important contacts in the history of British intelligence and counterinsurgency.

 

The Question of Power

From the then-Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam (who, while expressing her “love” for McGuinness, insisted that such attacks were not ceasefire violations but the good and necessary work of “internal housekeeping”) to the judge who, reluctantly convicting Hugh Sheerin, one of the attackers who broke into our home and lauded him as a family man, to the police who arrived on the scene, minutes after my father had been stopped and questioned about his movements by them, under threat of immediate arrest under the Special Powers Act if he did not reveal where he was going and when (“to home”, he replied, “are you sure? Are you sure about that?” they kept demanding), this shared power percolated through the entire system, along with their shared violence.  That night, my father remarked to me about the strangeness of the police’s questions because, despite a lifetime of harassment at their hands, he had never experienced them being so determined to establish beyond any doubt the fact that he was going home, and precisely how soon, as they did just then when they stopped him while driving on a journey from a shop that took less than two minutes.  Just as he told me this, the gang burst through our front door, and this happened within less than another two minutes of his arrival: exactly as long as it took him to tell me about his strange questioning at the hands of the RUC.

When the police appeared, again only minutes after the Sinn Féin gang had left, their only expression of surprise at what had happened was over the fact that we had fought back and that so many of the attackers were themselves injured. We also witnessed the reality of official consternation at a plan gone wrong when they discovered that their proxies had left behind, along with a lot of their own blood (which, of course, was never converted into DNA evidence), a mace gas spray canister that my mother had knocked out of one of their hands.  “Who else saw this?  Who else knows about this?”  they kept shouting.  Of course, they made sure that nobody else would ever know about it or see any reference to in the official narrative of what happened that night: this piece of evidence was quickly disappeared for good when, in their words, “it was just lost in the Strand Road” – i.e., hidden by them in their local barracks.

 

In the Service of Colonial Power

This week, apologists for Martin McGuinness have been trying to explain what did on behalf of the British state as the result of a very dense political process, the very meaning of which is so complicated that it lies beyond the comprehension of ordinary people (they used to call it “the bigger picture” but now it’s just referred to as “the complexity of the process”). They are also claiming that their party is not wilfully serving the furtherance of British policy in Ireland, while telling their supporters that they must keep facilitating the mysterious, ever-shifting dynamic and rituals of a system and structure that is beyond their understanding.  The mystery, they insist, requires complete submission to the rules of power, forever demanding further demonstrations of their prostration in increasingly humiliating displays of obedience.  For the thoroughly unthinking, these proposals aren’t difficult to absorb – they’re just what you do when you’re told to, because “that’s politics”, and “the way things work”.  Orwellian doublethink of this kind has always had a profound hold over the weak-minded, and as Orwell warned, state terror is where official thought control always begins.

The final defilement, committed during a life that spiralled ever-downward into an abyss of degrading servility, was the moment at which McGuinness, with his trademark leer, posed for photographs with Elizabeth Windsor and clapped while physically stooping his body as a portrait of the English queen, for which he raised the funding, was unveiled in London. As images of this incident were circulated around the world, politically conscious people were asking, “What have the British got on him?”  It was, without doubt, the most revealing public incident during his parallel careers, both official and unofficial, in the service of British authority, and it will forever be his epitaph.  It reveals an individual who, entirely bound by his own practice of betrayal, desperately served the commands of his handlers.  Having become so immersed in the game of power, he really had no choice but to crawl along its corridors in Westminster and Chelsea, where he found his true home as a flatterer of the establishment.  There was no greater humiliation in the history of constitutional Irish nationalism and there certainly is not a lower depth to be plumbed than this.

All of this predates Orwell, and the doublethink that he identified has its origins in the colonisation of Ireland where, throughout history, we find that true subjugation begins and ends within the minds of the conquered. In 1914, James Connolly defined this as the practice of “ruling by fooling” and in Ireland colonial political control has been exercised through this means for centuries.  It was established through the system of “surrender and re-grant” during the sixteenth century, when chieftains bent to the English crown, and modernised in the coercion measures that were imposed throughout the 1800s and officially entitled “Peace Acts”.  Today, it is visible for those who choose to recognise it in the internment of Tony Taylor.  His illegal incarceration is now labelled “detention”, just as it was in 1971, because this is a more palatable noun with which the British government can promote coercion and a much less frightening concept for the public to grasp, just as it also was for the Apartheid régime in South Africa.

Today, the rest of us have a choice. We can choose to submit to such lies and believe those who, in praising Martin McGuinness as Bill Clinton and Alastair Campbell did, continue his work of distorting the past, controlling the present and condemning the future.  Or we can choose to challenge them and, in so doing, liberate ourselves.