Pennsylvania News

Remembering the Bogside Massacre

The Lackawanna County Ancient Order of Hibernians met in downtown Scranton at the John Mitchell Monument on Jan. 29 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Sometimes called the “Bogside Massacre,” Bloody Sunday happened on Jan. 30, 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, in which 26 unarmed civil rights protesters and by-standers were shot by soldiers of the British Army.

The Lackawanna County AOH consists of John F. Kennedy, Division 1, Scranton; Msgr. William Farrell, Division 2, Carbondale; O'Neill Brothers, Division 3, Minooka; Paul "Hook" O'Malley, Division 4, Scranton; Firefighter Joseph Flannery, Division 5, Taylor; and Father Patrick D. Healey, Division 6, Scranton. Officers and members of all Divisions had a candlelight vigil with Gary Duncan, Lackawanna County President, Todd Frick, President of John F. Kennedy, Division 1 and Vice President of Lackawanna County and Sister Gilmary Speirs, IHM spoke of the tragic day in Derry. Roll Call of the 26 was read and prayers were recited.

Communion Breakfast honors Hosie, Toolan and Moran

The Msgr. William Farrell, Division 2, Carbondale, Ancient Order of Hibernians, held their Annual Communion Breakfast on Feb. 26 at Saint Rose of Lima Parish. Mass was celebrated at by Msgr. David L. Tressler, pastor and Division 2 chaplain. Following Mass, a reception was held in the Family Center of the Church. There were members from all Divisions of Lackawanna County, John F. Kennedy, Division 1, Scranton; O’Neill Brothers, Division 3, Minooka; Paul “Hook” O’Malley, Division 4, Scranton; Firefighter, Joseph Flannery, Division 5, Taylor; and Father Patrick D. Healey, Division 6, Scranton. This year, there were two AOH Members honored with Hibernian of the Year awards. The two members received this award for their perpetual service and dedication to the Hibernian. These two brothers live our motto of Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity each day.

T. Gerard Hosie and William Toolan received the honors. They were presented with a proclamation, a walking stick, and a Waterford Crystal cross. Proclamations were issued: one from Jermyn Mayor Bruce Smallacombe declaring Feb. 26 as Gerard Hosie Day in Jermyn, and another from Carbondale Mayor Justin Taylor declaring Feb. 26 as William Toolan Day in Carbondale.

Also, John Moran received the Trinity Award for his outstanding dedication and hard work in keeping the Trinity Club what it is today. He also received a Black Thorn Walking Stick.

At the dais, from left, were Joe Hosie, PA State Board Director; Katie Hosie, President of Jermyn Council; Bill Pryle, Division 2 President; Frank Burnett, Vice President, Division 2, and Master of Ceremonies; Gary Duncan, Lackawanna County President; and Patrick O'Malley, Lackawanna County Commissioner and Past President Division 4.

Congrats From Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams TD, Sinn Fein President

I want to congratulate Clara Reilly on receiving the AOH 2011 Sean McBride Award. This is a prestigious award hugely deserved by Clara.  Clara Reilly has been a champion for justice for over four decades of activism in the north of Ireland.

As a founding member of the Association for Legal Justice in the early 1970s she gave unstintingly of her time in defense of those citizens denied basic human and civil rights in the north of Ireland.

Following the pogroms of 1969, the serious militarization of the north by the British state, the introduction of new repressive laws and the introduction of internment Clara Reilly and a small number of human rights workers, including Leo Wilson and Fr. Brian Brady and others, worked day and night providing legal advice to families of citizens detained by the British forces.

They also played a key role in exposing the torture and brutality of the British Army and RUC toward detainees in the days after hundreds were arrested under the internment legislation.

Clara has been centrally involved in key campaigns around shoot to kill actions by the British state; demands for the right to inquests by victims’ families; the taking of cases to the European Court of Human Rights; policing; institutionalized collusion between British state forces and unionist paramilitaries and the use of plastic bullets by the British Army and RUC.

Despite having a young family, and receiving threats from the British state, Clara’s door was always open to those in need. She traveled widely speaking out against state repression.                 Her outrage at the murders and injuries, particularly on children, perpetrated by the use of rubber and plastic bullets took her to Dublin  London, Washington and beyond in her fight to expose brutal reality of these deadly weapons.

Through her work with the Relatives for Justice she has ably demonstrated the hypocrisy and double standards of the “Hierarchy of Victims” attitude of the British government and its allies.

Clara’s clear and unequivocal demand for equal treatment for the victims and families bereaved by the killings of their relatives by the British Army, the RUC and their agents and surrogates has been heard in Ireland and around the world.

Clara has shown enormous bravery, skill and determination in raising her voice in demanding equality of treatment and dignity for victims and their families over very many years.

I am pleased to extend my congratulations to Clara on the awarding of this significant honor to her and to thank all of you for recognizing the importance of her work.

Simply The Best

Clara Reilly was born and raised in the St. James district of West Belfast, the eldest daughter of 12 children born into the proud Irish family of James and Bridget Burns.  She is the wife of Joe Reilly, the mother of 6 children, 18 grandchildren, and 1 great-grand child. But to us, her children, she is our teacher, our advisor, our cook, our coach, our babysitter, our role model, our inspiration, our rock; the glue that holds our family together.

When we reminisce about the good old days and not-so-good old days we find ourselves in awe of our mother’s stamina, courage, sacrifice, and dedication as she balanced a house full of demanding kids, two jobs outside the home, and an arduous battle for human rights and justice in the British-occupied North of Ireland.

Our Mother’s crusade began in the early 1970’s, when she grew increasingly alarmed over the injustices perpetrated by the British Army and RUC, who brutalized working-class Catholics daily in the North of Ireland.   She believed strongly that discrimination should be confronted and eradicated, especially discrimination committed by forces disguised as “law and order.” Soon she became actively involved in the Association for Legal Justice (ALJ), where she documented, from her kitchen table, cases of torture and unlawful imprisonment of innocent people.  As word spread in the area about Clara’s volunteer work with the ALJ, our home quickly became the first port of call for distressed families whose loved ones had been savagely beaten and then hauled off to undisclosed locations.  Our mother would offer a cup of tea and comforting words to the families, before taking their statements and commencing her barrage of telephone calls to all the British barracks in an attempt to locate the missing person.  She was relentless in her pursuit – and the Brits quickly learned she would not cease until she had obtained accurate information on the victims.

The RUC soon took note of our mother’s human rights work, as they did with anyone who challenged their tactics, and they certainly did not appreciate her persistence and her knowledge of British law.  Her goal was to obtain information on detainees as well as to send a clear message that the community would not tolerate the violation of their human rights and the perversion of law.  Our Mother phoned the barracks so often the RUC started to recognize her voice before she even introduced herself.   On a few occasions she shamelessly had her daughter make the call anonymously, in her best attempt at a proper English accent…..Hey, desperate times called for desperate measures.

In 1972 we lived in Turf Lodge, West Belfast.  There had been a lot of tension in the area and more so on one particular day when the British Paratroopers, clad in full combat uniform, were patrolling the area with their tanks and guns, harassing and arresting residents.  When our mother heard screams from one of our neighbors as the soldiers set upon their 14-year-old son, punching him and kicking him with their steel-toed boots, she ran to the scene in an attempt to defuse the situation. She quickly realized these Paratroopers were ruthless, dangerous thugs who showed no respect to human beings, least of all to Catholics.  The soldiers spouted vulgarity towards the women.  Witnessing their depravity, the ladies retorted with slogans of resistance.   Suddenly, and without provocation, a soldier aimed his weapon toward the women and fired a rubber bullet.  (The British army murdered 3 Catholics with rubber bullets before they upgraded to their “safer” plastic bullet which has claimed the lives of 17 people, 9 of them children.)   One neighbor quickly assessed the situation and reported that no one was hit.  As soon as the Brits fled the street Mom collapsed to the ground.  She had in fact been struck by the bullet! Thankfully she did not sustain any permanent physical injuries.  When questioned afterward as to why she did not react immediately to being wounded, Clara answered, “I wouldn’t give those British bastards the pleasure of knowing they had shot another Irish person.”

By 1973, four of Clara’s brothers were interned in Long Kesh and served years behind bars without benefit of a court trial, a basic legal right. One brother, Kevin, who had not yet been scooped, fled to the Free State for fear he would be the next victim of British tyranny in the Nationalist community.  It was years before Kevin could return to the North to be with his family.  This was a difficult time for Clara and her family.

In 1974 Clara’s husband Joe intervened when he saw a young lad being brutally assaulted by the British Army.  Joe was subsequently beaten and arrested.  He was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for this incident.  Six of those months were served in solitary confinement, a harsh punishment for an act of bravery.  Our mother’s journey became more challenging as she struggled to maintain some semblance of normalcy in a war zone.

In 1976, on a quiet residential street in Turf Lodge, our mother witnessed the murder of 13-year-old Brian Stewart.  Brian was killed by a plastic bullet.  To this day, the British soldier who fired the shot has never been prosecuted for ending this innocent boy’s life.  It was after Brian’s death that Clara became a founding member of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets.  Then and now, she has always believed, with every fiber of her being, that we must seek truth and justice, and has actively pursued both.

Early one morning in 1977, the Reilly family awoke to thunderous banging on their door.  It was the British army’s “friendly” wake up call.  The six children, whose ages ranged from 8 to 16, staggered sleepily out of bed.  Our mother, who was well-versed in her legal rights, had passed some of her knowledge onto her children, including the fact that legally we were only required to provide the soldiers with three pieces of information: our full name, where we were coming from, and where we were going to.   One son answered: Joseph Reilly, bed, and hopefully back to bed.

Apparently, the soldiers had orders to arrest Kieran Reilly, who had recently turned 16 years old.   (In the 1970’s it was common, albeit illegal, to arrest anyone over the age of 16 for a 4-hour screening process, during which the person would be questioned, interrogated, and in many cases beaten.) The soldiers, who could not pronounce the name Kieran and who thought it was a girl’s name, decided to arrest the only female child in the house, 13-year-old Coleen. (Hmmm…..Coleen, Kieran — close enough!  Arrest her!)  A scuffle ensued when the family envisioned the horrific possibilities of allowing a 13-year-old girl to be released into the hands of brutal thugs.  Even the baker delivering his bread that morning joined in the protest.  He loaded his arms with his best ammunition and proceeded to fire freshly baked Baps (Irish bread) at the soldiers.  In hindsight it was pretty funny……We believe we were fed that same bread for breakfast later that morning — Mother was also very resourceful!  Finally, the soldiers abandoned their mission, without an arrest. They realized they had botched up the assignment and vowed they’d be back.

In 1981 we received another wake-up call, this time to arrest our Mother.  The family braced themselves for another bread-tossing battle.  But, our mother did not resist.  For years she had taken statements from victims describing their brutality at the hands of the British government and now she too would experience the infamous 4-hour screening process.  So, with a rifle pointed at her back, she was taken to Springfield barracks where the Brits attempted their routine interrogation techniques on her……Fools!  Didn’t they know Clara had documented these techniques for years? She could predict their every move.  Needless to say, the exasperated RUC soon released her.   Clara, with the help of attorney Pat Finucane, subsequently took the British government to court for wrongful arrest.  Both Pat and Clara sat side by side in High Court to hear the ruling: “The process of interrogation the RUC called “screening” was ILLEGAL.” Clara and Pat were elated; they both punched the air in delight.  Finally, a small victory for justice.

By this stage our mother had become a thorn in the sides of both the RUC and British Army.  When she wasn’t tending to her family and work, she was campaigning vigorously for justice and basic human rights and equality for all.  We feared for her life back then and even more so after the murders of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

During the early 1980’s, the unemployment rate was very high in Catholic West Belfast, so it was with great delight that Clara’s son Terry informed his family that he had been offered a job with the state-run Northern Ireland electricity service and that he would soon receive a confirmation letter.  One Saturday morning Clara entered Terry’s bedroom with the letter in hand.  Terry excitedly sat up in bed and ripped it open.  His joy quickly turned to dismay when he discovered he had been rejected. He was devastated.  He couldn’t grasp what had happened since he had been verbally notified he had been accepted.  Clara sadly explained to her son the harsh reality of discrimination and injustice.  Clara fought the discrimination through legal channels.  However, she was blocked by the British establishment.  The Secretary of State had signed an order claiming Terry was a threat to national security.  He was 16 years old and had never been in trouble with the law in his life.  He was not alone.  John Hume (MP) had later raised the fair employment issue in the House of Commons that outlined the discrimination toward applicants who were denied employment based on their religion or their family’s views on British oppression.   At this point the best our mother could do to console Terry was to encourage him to never accept second best. She inspired Terry and all her children to look at these discriminations merely as setbacks in life’s many challenges.  Moreover, she taught us to never accept the unacceptable, to never allow injustices to go unchallenged and to never give up hope.

Over the years our home had become an open door for many people from all over the world who were interested in learning the truth.  Regrettably, we did not keep guest books of the hundreds of journalists, organizations, and concerned individuals who were welcomed to our humble pad, who received a warm bed, a traditional Irish breakfast, and an ordinary chat with an extraordinary woman.

There are many more stories we could share about our mother, but not enough ink and paper to do them justice here. Perhaps one day they will all be revealed in a book.  But, for now, we hope the few memories we have imparted will give you some insight into this remarkable Mother’s personal life.  An average working-class woman with a not-so-average resilience, perseverance and courage, who managed to pursue her passion for truth and equality without comprising her family. They don’t make too many woman of this caliber anymore.

In the words of our Mother’s favorite singer, Tina Turner, she is “Simply the Best.”

We are very proud and grateful to be the children of the 2011 AOH McBride award recipient, Clara Reilly, ar mathair.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

The Reilly Clan

Hibernians to Present MacBride Award to Belfast’s Clara Reilly

MacBride Award Chairman/AOH National Vice President Brendan Moore and MacBride Award Representative/LAOH National Vice President Maureen Shelton announced that Clara Reilly, Northern Ireland human rights crusader, has been selected as the 2011 MacBride Award recipient based on balloting conducted among National Board members and State Presidents of both the AOH and LAOH.

The purpose of the prestigious Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award is specifically stated in the AOH National Constitution: To memorialize the human rights contributions made by Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Sean MacBride and to recognize the efforts of others who make similar contributions in the cause of peace, justice, and the economic well-being of the Irish people.  Moore stated that “nominees for the MacBride Award are outstanding individuals derived from within and outside of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. Actual voting takes place only after those eligible to vote have had ample time to study and reflect on the biographies of all those who have been nominated.”

Despite raising six small children when internment in Northern Ireland was introduced, having all male members of her family interned, and subsequently losing two brothers and a cousin in the conflict, Clara Reilly’s name became synonymous with justice in Ireland. The 1970’s saw her documenting arrests of Nationalists, taking prisoner statements, and ensuring legal representation for those detained by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. While frantic relatives sought news of family members, she telephoned across Belfast and across the Six Counties on a daily basis seeking the whereabouts of those removed from their homes and as well as those arrested on the streets.

Reilly gradually emerged as a frontline advocate for her besieged community. She negotiated with senior Royal Ulster Constabulary and British army officers on behalf of those being victimized. She later lobbied the Irish government to initiate action against the British in the European Court on Human Rights, where Britain was eventually found guilty of both torture and inhumane treatment. Working with human rights attorney Pat Finucane, successful litigation forced the British army to end its random arrests for “screening “purposes. Reilly went on to found the Campaign Against Plastic Bullets and became the Founder and Co-Director of Relatives For Justice, a support group for families of those injured or killed in the conflict.

Recently asked if she now has any regrets about committing thirty-five years of her life to the tremendously difficult campaign to promote justice and equality in Northern Ireland, Clara Reilly unhesitatingly responded: “I have never regretted one day of my work for human rights, despite the highs and lows of that struggle.” Moore concluded: “Clara is assuredly a most worthy recipient of our Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award, which will be presented to her in conjunction with the AOH National President’s Testimonial Dinner in Philadelphia on October 8, 2011.”


Ballymurphy Families Seeking Justice

Pictured (L-R) Briege Foyle, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) Alice Harper, Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) and John Teggart

On December 9th, 2010, nearly 30 years after eleven people were slaughtered by the British Army in the Ballymurphy Massacre three relatives of the victims have taken their campaign for justice to Capitol Hill. These families have survived without public recognition or legal redress for all this time – meetings with Members of Congress are their latest effort for justice and the light of truth.

The massacre took place in the immediate aftermath of Internment by the British Government on August 9, 1971 – yet the horrific events in Ballymurphy between 9th and 11th August 1971 have remained hidden from public knowledge and focus. With the holding of the public inquiry into Bloody Sunday it has become clear that, had the Parachute Regiment been held to account for the murders in Belfast they could not have gone on to murder 14 more civilians with impunity six months later.

Father Sean Mc Manus, President of the Capitol Hill-based Irish National Caucus, said: “I was delighted and honored to meet with John Teggart and his sister, Alice Harper, son and daughter of Daniel Teggart and Briege Foyle, daughter of Joan Connolly”. Daniel Teggart (44) father of 13 and Mrs. Joan Connolly (50), mother of 8 were both murdered on August 9, 1971. The nine other victims were killed over the next two days, August 10 and 11.  Fr. Mc Manus called on all Irish-Americans worth their salt to fully support the campaigners’ just demand of an independent, international investigation into the Ballymurphy Massacre.

The sought after outcome of the families of the 11 murdered include the recognition of the injustice they have all experienced as a result of near 40 years without accountability to this massacre – this through an international investigation examining all of the circumstances. They appeal for the British Government to admit accountability for their horrendous crime and cover-ups, hoping to grant a sense of healing and closure.

Michael Collins

I’m absolutely delighted to be here today at the 2010 Biennial National Conference of the AOH and the LAOH.  I want to thank your National President and our good friend Seamus Boyle for inviting me here.  Our Consul General in Chicago will also be with you during these days.  I would like also to salute and acknowledge the presence of deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Despite its long history and early beginnings, the Ancient Order of Hibernians is an integral part of Irish America.  Although the challenges we face are new and ever changing, the Order has an importance today just as it had 174 years ago.  The roots of this organisation can be traced back to some of the darkest hours in Irish history – A time when freedom was more an idea than a reality.  Today our country is at peace and our fortunes greatly improved, but the work of this Order goes on, particular on this side of the Atlantic.

We salute you for your commitment and support of Ireland.  I particularly applaud the solidarity of the AOH with the Bloody Sunday families.  You have long supported the families and survivors of Bloody Sunday and rightfully share in their joy that those who died and were injured were innocent. The Saville Report on 15 June makes clear that the shootings by the British Army that day were “unjustified and unjustifiable”. Thus, for the families and after 38 years, the gaping wound of the injustice wrought by the Widgery Report was healed.

AOH involvement in education programs to ensure a greater appreciation of Ireland’s National heritage is a welcome priority. I was delighted to present at the awards last year at the National History Day.

The Good Friday Agreement is the bedrock of the precious peace that Ireland enjoys today.  Its great strength derives from its endorsement by the people North and South.  The recent election results in Northern Ireland were a ringing endorsement for those wanting to work together in the devolved institutions for the benefit of all the people.  We now have a unique opportunity to build sustained peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland. Today, Northern Ireland enjoys partnership Government and the various institutional structures of the Agreement are all in effect.

There has been a transformation of relations on the island of Ireland and also between Britain and Ireland.  The Taoiseach met with Prime Minister Cameron on 23 June at which the PM confirmed that the British Government was fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement.  Just last Monday there was a meeting in Dublin of the North South Ministerial Council chaired by the Taoiseach and the First and deputy First Minister. The Council is a vital part of the Good Friday Agreement architecture and provides the forum for Ministerial colleagues from North and South to address the key issues of the moment. And on Monday obviously the economic challenges that we all face were centre stage.

The devolution of Policing and Justice earlier this year marks an important milestone in fulfilling the full vision of the Good Friday Agreement. Ten years on from the Patten Report the responsibility and authority for policing and justice are now where they ought to be – at local level, accountable to and operating for the benefit of all the community.

There remain those who refuse to accept the will of the people. We deplore the acts of these dissidents and we are committed North and South to defeating them.  The work of reconciliation is a generational task. I welcome the ongoing support of the U.S. in helping us to underpin peace in Ireland, including through the International Fund for Ireland.

It will come as no surprise to many of you that Ireland has challenges of its own right now. Ireland, like most countries, has gone through a period of economic turbulence. However, the Government has taken the hard decisions necessary to deal with the effects of the global economic and financial crisis by stabilising our public finances, repairing our banking system and cutting costs to boost competitiveness. We are pursuing a detailed and well-planned strategy to ensure our economic recovery into the future.  It is evident that we are living through tough and difficult times, but we are meeting challenges head on and we will emerge stronger than before.  The U.S. is a key economic partner and foreign direct investment from here is vital to our economy.  But our economic relationship is also now a two way one reflecting the increasing investment by Irish companies in the U.S.  The Farmleigh Global Irish Economic Forum last September was an important initiative of the Irish Government to engage with our global family in a new and modern way. It has proven to be very successful.  We have also been engaged in a strategic review of our relationship and last year published the result of that review entitled “Ireland and America – Challenges and Opportunities in a new context”.

We say this is the year to come home to Ireland.  Tourism from the U.S. is very important to us.  I welcome the comments made by President Obama last Thursday in which he called for renewed efforts in establishing comprehensive immigration reform. The President stated it was time to “squarely confront our challenges with honesty and determination”. I would like to acknowledge the work and support of the AOH in this area. It is very important for our undocumented that this issue is resolved.  It is also important for us that we secure future flows through what we call the E3 programme.

I want to thank the Ancient Order of Hibernians for their work and their friendship. In you we have a formidable partner, and with you at our side we know that Ireland, and its people, will continue to flourish both at home and abroad.

Thank you.

Martin McGuinness

We share the same objectives of Irish Reunification by Peaceful and Democratic means. We know that it is not enough to hold the aspiration; it is about what we do to make our objective real. I am proud that the AOH, LAOH and the bulk of Irish America has worked to make our shared objective of reunification a job under way.

Tom Paulin in his poem, ‘The Wild Birds Act of 1931’, likened the experience of nationalists and republicans in the northern state as being like tapping through granite with a spoon. We have always recognized that our struggle would not be easy. No grand gesture by a few would win freedom. Change comes from the small steps, and the resolute actions of the many.

38 years ago the British Army shot 27 innocent people on the streets of Derry. 14 of them died. These were people who were on a march for civil rights. A march which was banned from entering the centre of their own city!  The British compounded that tragedy by setting up the Widgery Tribunal and claiming that those killed were in some way guilty and complicit in their own deaths. They maintained that lie for 38 years.  But Bloody Sunday cannot be taken in isolation from the many acts that led up to it. The actions of the same troops in Ballymurphy left 11 innocent people dead. The same army enforced the Falls Curfew and internment without trial! It cannot be divorced from the countless acts of collusion, shoot to kill and intimidation that was visited on the nationalist community.

I also recognize and sympathize with that loss endured by the unionists and other communities due to the actions of Irish Republicans. Over the most recent period of the conflict in Ireland we have all suffered grievous loss. No one was exempt.       But over that period we built a movement for peace, a movement for equality and a movement for reunification; we had many partners including the Irish Government and British Government led by Tony Blair. We have moved from conflict, through negotiations and towards an inclusive power-sharing administration in the North.

At times it did indeed feel like tapping through granite with a spoon.  But by working together with the Irish Government other political parties and the involvement of America we have achieved:

–          Ceasefires

–          British Army being taken off the streets and returned to barracks

–          The signing of the Good Friday Agreement

–          The ending of the IRA campaign

–          The establishment of the Executive and Assembly

–          The establishment of the North South Ministerial council. Only last Monday a crucial meeting with Taoiseach Brian Cowan and Cabinet sitting with Ministers from the north including Unionists to share ideas and solutions for economic recovery took place in Dublin.

–          The signing of St. Andrews agreement which led to the establishment of power sharing between Ian Paisleys ‘s party the DUP and ourselves in Sinn Féin

–          Most recently we have successfully negotiated for the return of policing and justice powers from London to our administration in the North. We have now a policing and court service which recognizes human rights and is accountable to the people it serves.

–          And over the last two elections Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in the North.

At all these junctions we were told that no further progress could be made. But we continued. In all of this progress we have been accompanied by the AOH, LAOH and our friends in Irish America and the American political establishment. Clinton, Bush and Obama and Hilary Clinton

The recent release of the Saville Tribunal into Bloody Sunday demonstrates how far we have travelled together. A British Prime Minister recognized that those killed and injured on Bloody Sunday were innocent. He said that the actions of the British Parachute Regiment were unjustified and unjustifiable. Maybe now after nearly 4 decades the British media will call it what it was in the words of the coroner of the time, ‘Unadulterated Murder’. When David Cameron apologized on behalf of the British Governments and acknowledged the injustice of Widgery his words were beamed directly into the centre of Derry where the families were gathered. The very place to which the original march was barred!

This only came about because of the lobbying and campaigning by the families of those injured and murdered. It came about because of the pressure of those who marched every year in the biting wind of January to mark the anniversary of the original march.  The people of Derry and the north are grateful for the support of the AOH and LAOH who marched loyally with us in Derry and who were part of making the apology possible. For the past 38 years, the AOH and LAOH have marched in support of the families. When others thought that it was pointless you persevered. I was delighted to be invited here, because the families and the people of Derry owe the AOH and LAOH a debt of honor. You stood with the people of Derry and we never forget our friends.

Yes a thousand spoons tapping through granite long and hard enough can reduce a mountain to rubble. Yet we cannot rest on our laurels if we are to achieve our objective of a unified Ireland.  We support reunification because it is the right of the Irish people in the fullest sense to define our own destiny. We support reunification because it makes sense. It makes economic sense, it makes political sense and it is the way to heal the divisions in our society.

We need to continually build support here and at home for peaceful democratic change.  I thank the many legislative and other bodies across this great nation that has supported resolutions in favor of reunification.  We also have much to do to build support at home for reunification.  Partition had an impact not just along the border. It infested a mindset in the 26 counties that turned its back on the north and it entrenched community division and promoted sectarianism in the North.

We need to unpick 90 years of partition and knit our society back together. We are working with Unionists and the Irish government in this regard.  The visit to the Bogside of the leaders of the main Protestant Churches in the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday Report to meet with the relatives of those killed and injured was inspiring. It was an act of leadership born out of compassion and respect for the families and people of Derry. I know you will applaud them for it.   Everyone in the community needs to feel the benefits of peace and change. As we build our coalition to support reunification there are those that seek to take us back to conflict, whose actions seek to have the British Army returned to our streets. They offer no strategy or plan to achieve Irish reunification and have repeatedly been rejected by the community. They should now go away.

I am mindful that we are in the lead up to the 12th July at home. A tense time for many communities! A time when another fraternal organization celebrates its heritage! I am of course referring to the Orange Order. I think that the Orange Order has much to learn from the open, generous and pragmatic approach to marching and working with host communities demonstrated by the AOH at home.

We recognize that the Orange Order is part of our shared heritage. They are part of our diverse nation and history. There is no greater symbol of this than our national flag. A symbol of peace and equality between green and orange!

All communities want to move forward together with equality and respect. I look forward to the day when the leaders of the Orange Order are willing to engage positively with the political and civic representatives of the Nationalist people of the North in the process of creating a better future for all our people.  Recent attacks on Orange Halls, places of worship, GAA, Sinn Féin Offices and other premises are to be unreservedly condemned for the hate crimes they are and I know you will all wholeheartedly agree with me that sectarianism like racism has no place in the New Ireland which is under way.

In republican parlance we refer to the cause of reunification as ‘the struggle’. We use the term because it will only be achieved by hard work, commitment and sacrifice. I am confident that it will be achieved. I am confident it will be achieved when I look back at how far we have come working together. And I am confident because it is the way to secure prosperity, inclusion and peace for all in our diverse community across Ireland.

Bloody Sunday Deemed Unjustifiable

The day that the Saville report was to be released was a day of overwhelming anxiety for the families of those 27 shot and 14 killed on the streets of Derry some 38 years ago by the British Army.  The families were seeking a resolution – seeking the truth to come from a report that was headed by Lord Saville in a report that many felt would once again cover the facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday in 1972.  The original Widgery Tribunal that investigated the tragic shootings claimed that those killed were in someway guilty and complicit in there own deaths. The British Government maintained that position for 38 years.

On June 15, 2010, 4,520 days after the inquiry had begun, the findings were to be provided by British Prime Minister Cameron to the British House of Commons and broadcast live on television.  A large video screen was set up in Derry in front of the city’s Guildhall to accommodate a large crowd of viewers.  That day the families of the victims that have awaited justice for so many years and their supporters walked together through the streets of Derry to Guildhall to watch the report’s findings on the large screen.  They carried posters containing the pictures of those victims that did not survive those many years ago.  Their faces were distraught with the fear that once again those innocent victims would not meet justice and the facts would again be covered up by the British government.

Several Bloody Sunday family members now walking in Derry awaiting the report’s release had come to Washington, DC a few months earlier to meet Representative Chris Smith at his Capitol Hill office.  The meeting had been organized by Sean Pender our Freedom for all Ireland chairman.  A congressman from New Jersey, Chris is a great friend of the AOH and was the first chairman of a congressional committee to ever hold hearings on Northern Ireland.  These families came from Derry to request support from the Chris Smith and the U.S. Congress to pressure the British Government to be open with the release of the report, not delay it any longer and to not redact [conceal] vital information in the report when it was released.  Chris expressed his solidarity with the families and said that he would keep pressure on based upon the outcome of the report.

The inquiry took 12 years to produce – the longest public inquiry in British history at an estimated cost of £190.3 million (as of February 2010).  Investigators interviewed and received statements from around 2,500 people and 922 of these were called to give oral evidence including 505 civilians, nine experts and forensic scientists, 49 members of the media including photographers, 245 military, 35 paramilitary or former paramilitaries, 39 politicians and civil servants including intelligence officers, 33 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and 7 priests.  The evidence included 160 volumes of data with an estimated 30 million words. This included 13 volumes of photographs, 121 audiotapes and 10 videotapes. The finished report is 5000 pages long and weighs 45 pounds.

The large crowd in Derry watched the live video as the findings were made public.  Anticipating the worst, they watched with growing anxiety.  Then the words of Prime Minister Cameron, the Conservative Party Leader wrung out on the large televised screen in the public gathering like victorious church bells signalling the enemies defeat.  “There is no doubt. There’s nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong,” Cameron told the House of Commons.  “It was an act of murder that cried out for justice and truth,” he continued, “The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the [British] government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

The families and the crowd gathered in Derry reacted with cheers and fists pumped into the air.  They were jubilant; their smiles, tears and happy faces showed that justice had finally come.  Their long struggle for the truth had now become their victory with the words emanating from the screen.

The report concluded that the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by British soldiers and no warning was given to civilians. None of the casualties was carrying a firearm and while there was some shooting by republican paramilitaries, none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties.  It also determined that the British soldiers had lost their self-control and that that some of those who were killed or injured were clearly fleeing from paratroopers, or going to the assistance of others who were dying.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams expressed that, “The facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday are clear. The British Paras came to Derry and murdered 14 civil rights marchers and injured 13 others. They were unarmed, they posed no threat and they were completely innocent.”  Adams added “Today, Saville has put the lies of Widgery into the dustbin of history and with it the cover-up which was authorized of the highest levels within the British establishment and lasted for almost four decades.”

In a letter to AOH President Boyle one family member stated, “I never understood what an impact this could have had – probably because I thought it would never happen, it did and I wish everyone who is reading this could have felt the atmosphere in the City that day and since. It was amazing – a large dark cloud was lifted and people were taken back in time, Derry City will never be the same. The injustice that was done not only on the day but by the Widgery report ripped the life out of a once proud people. My mother’s family was deeply affected and regularly harassed by the British army – raids on houses etc. all is in the past. My Uncle Mickey was wearing his Sunday best; he was walking towards a civilian who was shot to help get him to safety. He was subsequently shot in the head by a high velocity bullet… he did not die yet and I will not go into further details at this point but his body went missing for several hours before any doctor was allowed to examine him.”  He added, “The 15th of June 2010 banished the ghost of the British Army from our streets; today our dignity and pride remain intact. We will continue to work peacefully until we are free from foreign interference. One Island, One Ireland. I felt compelled to write this to thank the AOH in the USA. Not a year went past from 1972 that AOH members from all over the U.S. did not congregate on our streets to demand TRUTH. Now we have it my friends, this is a victory for you as much as for us. You are always welcome on the Streets of Derry.”

Back in Washington, Representative Chris Smith joined his New York colleagues and Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, Eliot Engel .Peter King and Joseph Crowley to say, “With the release of the Saville report on the ‘Bloody Sunday’ tragedy of January 30, 1972, and its principal findings that British paratroopers initiated gunfire without warning and that the fourteen men they killed were unarmed, the British government has finally given the families and friends of those killed a measure of justice. Nothing can return to them their husbands, fathers, and sons. Yet the report and the British Prime Minister’s apology and statement that the British army’s actions “were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ is an official recognition of truth and a prerequisite for a lasting peace and justice throughout Northern Ireland. We thank the survivors—the families of those killed—for their faithfulness in the quest for truth, and recognize the service they have performed for Northern Ireland.”


On June 15th like many others I nervously awaited the release of the Saville Inquiry, it would be hard to believe that the truth could somehow be once again be delayed or worse denied, but after so many years of waiting I was not going to take anything for granted.  At work I was lucky enough to be able to access the live BBC coverage online.  Just prior to 10:30 a.m. EST the BBC switched to the Guildhall in Derry City, television cameras panned the windows of the building and showed what seemed to be hands of family members of those lost in Bloody Sunday, pointing to the what looked like a document and signally thumbs up.  Was it possible that after almost waiting for 40 years the truth would be told?

Before those thoughts could sink in the cameras were now broadcasting from the English Parliament. What I heard next took even more time to sink in.  The new Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron had no sooner started his address to Parliament when he said, “The conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt. There is nothing equivocal. There are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong”. Regarding the actions of the British soldiers that day Cameron said “you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible”.

Cameron then spoke the words that the families of those murdered and injured had waited 38 years for: “What happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day – and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our Armed Forces acted wrongly. The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the Armed Forces. And for that, on behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.  I would also like to acknowledge the grief of the families of those killed. They have pursued their long campaign over thirty-eight years with great patience. Nothing can bring back those that were killed but I hope, as one relative has put it, the truth coming out can set people free.”

When the speech ended and the BBC cameras switched back to the Guildhall, the next half hour of coverage was something that I will never forget. Tony Doherty whose father Patrick was murdered profoundly stated “When the state kills its citizens, it is in the interests of all that those responsible be held to account. It is not just Derry, or one section of the people, but democracy itself which needs to look out. The British people need to know, the Irish people need to know, the world now knows.”

The cameras showed the family members coming outside of the Guildhall on the steps and stage, I saw the people we have marched with for years in Derry and it was as if you could actually see the weight that was lifted off their shoulders. I saw John Kelly raise his fist in vindication and thought of what he had told me just a few months earlier in Washington DC.  Like so many parents who lost sons on Bloody Sunday John’s mother never recovered from the loss of her son Michael or stopped striving for his justice.  She passed away several years ago but on her death bed John told me that the family decided to tell her that Michael had been finally exonerated, they couldn’t let her die without some sort of justice.  On this day Mrs. Kelly, her son and all those that died and were injured finally got the justice they deserved.  Rest in peace Mrs. Kelly and to all the parents and family members who have passed away waiting for justice.

Later the cameras showed Jean Heagarty, whom I also had met in Washington, she approached the stage and very symbolically ripped a copy of the Widgery report in half; relegating it once and for all for as the lies and garbage that it was.

As the large screens that flanked the stage showed a picture of the murdered and injured a family member of each victim took the stage to read their loved ones name, cite from the Saville inquiry the true events surrounding their murder and very symbolically announce to the world their innocence.  Truth and vindication and it only took 38 years.  The emotions of that morning are something that I will never forget, it was as powerful a moment as I have ever experienced.  I am sure that so many in the AOH and LAOH felt the same way especially those that have made the trips to partake in the commemoration marches.

In the aftermath of June 15th I would speak to a friend who aptly said; if prior to the release of Saville if they had given us a blank piece of paper and asked us to write what we would think would be the best case scenario we could not have said it any better than Cameron did.

Near the end of his speech to Parliament Cameron said; “this report and the Inquiry itself demonstrate how a State should hold itself to account… and how we are determined at all times – no matter how difficult – to judge ourselves against the highest standards. Openness and frankness about the past – however painful – do not make us weaker, they make us stronger.”  He added that “neither will we hide from the truth that confronts us today.”

I commend the words, actions and straightforwardness of David Cameron on June 15th; it is extremely unfortunate that none of his predecessors had the courage or fortitude to admit the truth which they no doubt knew.  For Cameron’s words to be more than just sound bites in response overwhelming evidence it is critical that he understands that there remain hundreds of other victims who deserve the same vindication that the Bloody Sunday victims and families have just received.  The high standards that the state should hold itself to, the openness and frankness about the past no matter how painful are the standards by which the English government should approach its need to tell the true story of its involvement in the North.  The family of those that were killed in acts of collusion by state security, those killed by paramilitaries, or any unresolved death also deserve no less.

Mark Twain once said “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” It will not take multimillion dollar inquiries to get the truth; it just requires the truth and a vehicle where the truth and not necessarily prosecution is the main objective.  If the Saville inquiry has taught us anything it is that the truth does not cost anything but when the truth is concealed and suppressed deliberately the quest to right that wrong will cost society something much more expensive than money.  Prime Minister Cameron we will judge your words on your future actions.