13 March 2008 Edition
Thousands honour Gibraltar 3 and Milltown Martyrs
THE thousands who turned out on Sunday, 9 March, to attend the 20th anniversary march to commemorate the Gibraltar 3 and Milltown Martyrs were standing shoulder to shoulder with the families of seven brave young Irish people who were killed by the British war machine.
And clearly the large turn-out on Sunday illustrated the fact that the events of March 1988 have left an indelible mark on the psyche of republicans throughout Ireland.
The sequence of events that began with the SAS killings of Volunteers Dan McCann, Mairéad Farrell and Seán Savage in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988 led to the deaths of Volunteer Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, John Murray and Thomas McErlean on 16 March 1988. They died heroically in defence of the mourners who had come under attack from British agent Michael Stone.
In between these killings, on 14 March, Volunteer Kevin McCracken, from Turf Lodge, was shot and mortally wounded by the British Army as he carried out an operation against soldiers harassing mourners near the home of Volunteer Seán Savage.
And the violence did not end there.
As Volunteer Mac Brádaigh’s cortege made its way to Milltown Cemetery on Saturday, 19 March, two British soldiers drove into the crowd of mourners. Fearing an attack similar to that carried out by Stone three days earlier, mourners overwhelmed and disarmed the soldiers, Corporal Derek Wood and Corporal David Howes. They were subsequently executed by the IRA.
Reacting to the capture and deaths of the soldiers, the British and Irish establishments and unionist politicians aided and abetted by the media, embarked on a campaign of vilification against the people of West Belfast in particular and republicans in general.
That systematic demonisation of people whose actions, in other circumstances, would have been lauded also left deep scars.
So when people gathered at the Felons’ Club on the Andersonstown Road in Belfast on Sunday, 9 March, they were there as an unbowed and proud people remembering their dead. As they marched to the Republican Plot in Milltown Cemetery they were walking on the wreckage of a British strategy that aimed to break republican resistance.
As the huge crowd stood around the Republican Plot in Milltown, many glanced towards the Westlink, towards where Michael Stone ran, on that fateful day 20 years ago, in an attempt to flee
They were no doubt remembering the events of that day as they listened to the oration of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.
“If it wasn’t for those young men and the three that died, more people would have been killed,” Adams said.
“The courage shown by those unarmed mourners is a huge tribute to them and their families.”
Adams went on to highlight the British Government’s role in the Milltown killings
“Michael Stone wasn’t just a mindless thug working alone. He was working for the British and taxpayers’ money was used to fund the operation and to provide him with weapons. And it is not acceptable that a British establishment can carry out or use its surrogates to carry out atrocities and then cover them up.
“We should all support the calls for an independent inquiry into these killings.”
As we stood at the Republican Plot on Sunday, among the relatives of the dead, on ground that is hallowed, we listened as Gerry Adams recounted how, over the years, republicans were censored and banned and put down at every opportunity.
Yet the irony of Sunday’s commemoration is that while we were in Milltown remembering our dead we were not just looking back.
No. We were looking forward to the next phase of struggle and the cornerstone of this new phase is the bravery and commitment of people like Mairéad Farrell, Dan McCann, Seán Savage, Kevin McCracken, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, Thomas McErlean and John Murray.
Their bravery and commitment can only inspire us.
Carmen Proetta speaks in West Belfast
By Laura Friel
“I TOLD the truth and my life was destroyed,” Gibraltar eyewitness Carmen Proetta told a West Belfast audience last week.
Speaking at St Mary’s University College last Thursday, Carmen said she had travelled to Ireland “out of respect and in sympathy with the families” of Mairéad Farrell, Seán Savage and Dan McCann.
“I told the truth because that’s what you do. My life was destroyed and to this day my health suffers because of what I endured,” Carmen said.
When Carmen Proetta witnessed the summary execution of three unarmed IRA Volunteers by a covert unit of the British SAS in Gibraltar her life changed forever.
As the key witness to the SAS shoot-to-kill operation, Carmen became the focus of intensive media attention and, by circumstance, a thorn in the side of the British propaganda machine that routinely accompanies summary execution by British state forces.
When Carmen first described the detail of the gunmen and their victims she was unaware of the political and military significance of what she had witnessed. The SAS operation was essentially a state-sanctioned killing outside accepted international standards of engagement.
An essential element in the ‘success’ of such an operation is the subsequent cover-up. The tactics employed in the immediate aftermath have been outlined by a former British Army officer involved in what he calls “psychological operations”
“The important thing is to get saturation coverage of your story as soon after the controversial event as possible. Once the papers have printed it, the damage is done. Even when the facts come out, the original image is the one that sticks.”
Within an hour of the killings the British media was being flooded with disinformation with the Ministry of Defence ‘confirming’ “a suspect bomb found in Gibraltar and three suspects shot dead by civilian police”. Other reports spoke of “a fierce gun battle”, armed suspects and a bomb being defused.
There was no bomb, the victims were unarmed, there were no warnings, and the gunmen had been a covert unit of the British Army specifically flown in and out of Gibraltar at the behest of then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
By simply telling the truth, Carmen Proetta inadvertently acted against the interests of the British state. Their response was to vilify Carmen and attempt to discredit her evidence. The British media was, of course, the primary – and willing – medium deployed.
In a determined attempt to discredit her evidence, Carmen Proetta was branded anti-British, a criminal and finally a prostitute with the infamous British tabloid headline “The Tart of Gib”. Rumours were circulated suggesting Carmen’s evidence was so suspect that she was unlikely to give evidence at the inquest.
Meanwhile, alternative accounts, curiously more favourable to British interests, from other “witnesses” (whose actual existence has never been established) flooded the press with contradictory information.
Twenty years later, Carmen Proetta’s testimony has been corroborated but Carmen herself has never been exonerated of the personal smears invented by the media to discredit her evidence.
“When the European Courts ruled that the killings were as I said, there was no line of press to my door, as there had been when they were persecuting me for telling the truth, to say Carmen, ‘You were right.’”
Martyrs’ families honoured
THE families of the seven Milltown Martyrs were honoured at a presentation night in West Belfast on Saturday, 8 March.
The families of IRA Volunteers Mairéad Farrell, Seán Savage, Dan McCann, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh and Kevin McCracken as well as Thomas McErlean and John Murray were guests of honour in a huge crowd at the Devenish Complex for the presentation night.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness delivered the main address of the night before he and Bobby Storey, Chair of Belfast Sinn Féin, presented the families with cut-glass vases and a framed picture of the recently-painted Milltown Martyrs mural.
In his speech, the Deputy First Minister praised the families for their courage over the years.
McGuinness was also full of praise for Belfast republicans, many of whom he had got to know over the years of travelling into the city. “They are the salt of the earth,” McGuinness said.
As well the presentation to the families, a moving pageant in memory of the dead was held. Banners depicting each of the martyrs was unfurled while Michelle O’Neill recited a biography of each one.
Anniversary marked in Queen’s and UCD
ON Wednesday, 5 March, the Sheena Campbell Ógra Shinn Féin Cumann hosted the opening event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Gibraltar Three at Queen’s University Belfast.
It began with a black flag vigil outside the university front gates for 30 minutes as a mark of respect to those killed in Gibraltar and Milltown.
Following the vigil there was a talk and a showing of a film in Queen’s.
The speakers at the event were Seamus Finucane, partner of Mairéad Farrell when she was tragically killed; Jennifer McCann MLA, who was a close comrade of Mairéad, having been imprisoned with her in Armagh Jail and also a close friend of Dan McCann; and West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff, who was a student at Queen’s at the time of the deaths of the Gibraltar Three.
Ógra activist Eunan Carlin chaired proceedings.
All three speakers talked about the significance of the Gibraltar and Milltown killings and gave a personal account of the individuals. They all spoke of Mairéad as a confident, educated and articulate woman driven by her passion for freedom. Having already been imprisoned in Armagh, Mairéad on her release immediately got reinvolved in the struggle and also took up studying at Queen’s.
They spoke of Dan McCann being a very capable and dedicated Volunteer who was massively respected amongst Belfast republicans, and Seán Savage, who was only 23 when he was killed, was said to have possessed great leadership skills.
They spoke about the bravery of those who pursued Michael Stone in Milltown Cemetery when he launched that murderous attack. Their selfless actions saved the lives of dozens of others.
Barry McElduff also recounted the student take-over of the Chancellor’s office at Queen’s when Mairéad was killed.
The event was very emotional, informative and deeply inspiring. The engaging film and the personal accounts captured the audience and ensured everyone left the event better educated of the tragic events of 20 years ago.
On Thursday, 6 March, the UCD Ógra Shinn Féin MacDonagh/Farrell Cumann hosted a public meeting and vigil to mark the 20th anniversary of the murders of the Gibraltar Three.
The public meeting was addressed by Rose Dugdale, who spoke of how the murders of Mairéad Farrell, Dan McCann and Seán Savage had a lasting effect on the Republican Movement. Rose spoke particularly about Mairéad’s life and her inlfuence on republicanism in the context of International Women’s Week.
Activists distributed leaflets detailing the lives of the Volunteers and their untimely death on the streets of Gibraltar. A public vigil was held by the lake where placards and flags were held up in remembrance of the three Volunteers.
Mick Reynolds (UCD MacDonagh/Farrell Cumann) said later:
“This event was a great success. It was truly an honour to commemorate such brave and dedicated republicans. We are inspired by the stories of their life and extraordinary times every day.”
Tyrone recalls Gibraltar killings
ON Friday evening, republicans from County Tyrone assembled at the Garden of Remembrance in Carrickmore to commemorate the lives of Mairéad Farrell, Seán Savage and Dan McCann, who were shot by the SAS in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988.
The torchlight proceedings were chaired by local Councillor Ann Marie Fitzgerald. In her opening remarks, Councillor Fitzgerald reflected on the events of 1988. She pointed out that the SAS killings in Gibraltar followed shortly after the killing of her cousin, Aidan McAnespie, by the British Army at Aughnacloy.
Councillor Fitzgerald also recalled that, later that year, local men Gerard and Martin Harte and Brian Mullin were shot by the SAS at nearby Drumnakilly.
Councillor Fitzgerald then introduced local MLA Barry McElduff, who addressed the commemoration. In his contribution, Barry vividly recalled the events of Gibraltar and Milltown.
As a student at Queen’s University Belfast in 1988, Barry recounted:
“It was traditional to lower the university flag to mark the death of a student. In the case of Mairéad Farrell, the university authorities decided to ignore protocol. However, in an act of defiance and out of respect for Mairéad, our fellow student, with like-minded undergrads – including the late Michael Ferguson – we took over the Chancellor’s office and lowered the flag ourselves.”
Barry also reflected on the local connection with Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, one of the mourners killed at the funeral of the Gibraltar Three in Milltown Cemetery.
“When Danny Morrison was elected to represent the Mid-Tyrone area in the Assembly in the early 1980s, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh spent a considerable amount of time with Danny in the district. I recall Caoimhín as a quiet, unassuming young man who always had his shoes polished to a shine.”
Barry also paid tribute to local republican Paddy Grogan, who died during the week.
The commemoration was then addressed by Tyrone republican and former POW Poilin Quinn. Poilin served time in Armagh Jail with Mairéad Farrell in the 1980s and gave a very personal reflection on her life:
“Mairéad was an inspirational figure who had an infectious smile and was very human and warm. She had a love of music, with a particulatr preference for Cat Stephens.”
The proceedings were concluded with a decade of the Rosary recited by former POW Bronwyn McGahan, from Cramlome, and Liam Lappin sang a powerful rendition of The Streets of Gibraltar.
Speaking after the event, Councillor Fitzgerald said “This evening’s commemoration in the Garden of Remembrance was a very fitting way to remember the lives of the three republicans who were killed in such brutal circumstances in Gibraltar 20 years ago. It is particularly important that we continue to show solidarity with their families and highlight the enormous price that so many have paid in the struggle for freedom and justice.”
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.