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30 September 2012 Edition

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Inside the An Phoblacht Archives 2002

In January, An Phoblacht noted a little-reported recognition by British former Secretary of State Peter Mandelson in a Channel 4 documentary about Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers that the IRA were freedom fighters and not terrorists.

SUBSCRIBERS to An Phoblacht will eventually be able to access all our available archives online at www.anphoblacht.com which are in the process of being digitalised – a labour-intensive and time-consuming process but one which we are progressing as quickly as we can.

At the moment we have succeeded in putting online editions from 2012 back to 2001 (as well as back issues of IRIS – The Republican Magazine) and here we take a look back at what was in An Phoblacht – then published weekly – a decade ago, in the year 2002.

2002 opened with the siege of Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School (which had begun the previous June) reignite.

Unionist bully-boy bigots forced little schoolchildren to brave a gauntlet of insults, missiles and even pipe bombs to get to school from Ardoyne via loyalist Glenbryn in an ordeal that was to end only at the end of November 2002.

A series of frenzied and savage knife attacks “reminiscent of the Shankill Butchers” added to the fear felt in north Belfast. And in rural areas, loyalist attacks continued, with 70 in the north Antrim/south Derry area.

On the evening of 9 January, loyalists launched a co-ordinated attack on Ardoyne during which three residents were shot and wounded by a UDA gunman. Four days later, a UDA murder gang gunned down 20 year-old Catholic postal worker Daniel McColgan as he drove to work. This would be the first in a series of killings and shootings by the UDA/UFF that year which left nine people dead, including 19-year-old Gerard Lawlor, murdered in July (see last the feature ‘Justice for Gerard’ in August 2012 An Phoblacht).

In January, An Phoblacht noted a little-reported recognition by British former Secretary of State Peter Mandelson in a Channel 4 documentary about Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers that the IRA were freedom fighters and not terrorists.

Martin Ferris predicted that Sinn Féin “will make an impact as never before” and he was right

It was revealed that RUC Special Branch agent Ken Barrett had confessed to his handlers that he was the gunman who pulled the trigger in the UDA assassination of Belfast civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989 in front of his family.

Joe Duffy

On a lighter note, An Phoblacht highlighted how the nominally impartial RTÉ Radio star Joe Duffy showed his true colours by writing for the first-ever (only?) edition of the SDLP’s Social Democrat newspaper and wishing Sinn Féin’s rival “every success under the inspired and inspiring leadership of Mark Durkan”!

Gerry Adams, speaking in New York on a panel that included David Ervine and David Trimble: “Republicans are committed to ensuring that a united Ireland is not a cold house for unionists.”

Forty thousand marched to mark the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the co-producer of TV movie ‘Sunday’, Stephen Gargan, spoke to An Phoblacht.

A young fella by the name of Pádraig Mac Lochlainn was introduced as a co-option on to Buncrana Urban District Council, pictured with another young one called Pearse Doherty.

The abortion referendum initiated by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in government was covered in successive issues in February and March before its defeat by progressive groups, including Sinn Féin.

Also in March, in the North, the British authorities claimed the IRA was behind a break-in and theft of highly secretive documents from Castlereagh Interrogation Centre on St Patrick’s Day. ‘Castlereagh Raid was Inside Job - Finucane, Nelson, Omagh Files Missing?’ was the front page headline on the 21 March edition of An Phoblacht after it was revealed that many of the files which disappeared involved suspected reports on collusion between British state forces and loyalist gangs. Inside, it was dubbed ‘Branch-gate’.

Danny Morrison paid tribute to Spike Milligan (‘Goon But Not Forgotten’), who had just died, and Gerry Kelly  paid tribute to the late Sr Sarah Clarke, a tireless campaigner for political prisoners in England.

‘Historic move by IRA leadership’ was the front-page headline of An Phoblacht as the Army dramatically confirmed at Easter 2002 that it had “unilaterally placed a second tranche of weapons beyond use as part of its ongoing commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and in order to stabilise the Peace Process”. An Phoblacht carried in full the statements of both the IRA and General John De Chasterlain.

Reiterating that it was an IRA leadership initiative, the IRA added: “The securing of a democratic peace settlement is not solely a task for Irish republicans and we are mindful of the primary obligation of the British government and of the unionist leadership. This process can work if there is the political will to make it succeed; the IRA has once again demonstrated that will.”

‘The Brigadier’

May Day was described by An Phoblacht cartoonist Cormac as the “a most appropriate date” for the funeral of lawyer John McGuffin, famous as the author of the ground-breaking exposé of British state torture of internees in Guinea Pigs but also the writer behind the acclaimed and bitingly satirical An Phoblacht column, ‘The Brigadier’.

In the Dáil general election of May 2002, Sinn Féin made a massive breakthrough taking five seats. ‘5 Star Result!’ was how the paper described it. Despite weeks of hostile media reports against the party and the use of opinion polls to undermine Sinn Féin’s position (an Evening Herald editorial gleefully snatched at one poll result to ask wishfully ‘A mortal blow for Sinn Féin?’), Arthur Morgan, Martin Ferris, Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Crowe all won seats for the first time while Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin retained his in Cavan/Monaghan.

2002 Sinn Fein

Breakthroughs continued with the election in June of Alex Maskey as Mayor of Belfast (with 26 of 51 votes), “the first time a republican has held a position for many decades jealously denied to any nationalist representative”.

In an unprecedented move on 16 July, the leadership of the IRA issued a statement to An Phoblacht to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Bloody Friday. The statement offered “sincere apologies and condolences” to the families of non-combatants killed and injured by IRA actions.

In June, the UVF was blamed for orchestrating attacks on the Short Strand community in east Belfast and two Sunday Times journalists gave evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that

Throughout the year, An Phoblacht also closely followed the trial of three Irish men arrested in Colombia accused of training FARC left-wing rebels in guerrilla warfare techniques.

Batasuna outlawed

The end of August saw the shocking decision by the Spanish Government to outlaw Basque political party Batasuna. Images showing Spanish riot police raiding Batasuna offices and arresting workers, including MEP Karmela Landa, were published in the paper which said such images were reminiscent of the openly fascist Franco regime.

On 12 September, the leadership of the IRA gave its most comprehensive and wide-ranging interview of recent times to An Phoblacht. The IRA placed the onus on the British Government to “honour their commitments and obligations” to the Peace Process. The interview also dealt with the Colombia Three, ongoing interface violence, and attempts by the Ulster Unionist Party to exclude Sinn Féin from the Executive.

Fears that the Good Friday Agreement was not going to survive dominated the headlines in October after PSNI officers raided Sinn Féin’s offices in Stormont. “Stormtroopers trample agreement” blasted An Phoblacht. The raids followed weeks of attempts by the UUP to expel Sinn Féin from the Executive. Eventually, the British Government suspended the institutions on 14 October and many emergency talks were held. The IRA also announced that it was withdrawing co-operation with the  decommissioning body. Despite the setbacks, Gerry Adams told An Phoblacht that the Good Friday Agreement was “the only show in town”.

The year ended with a Budget in the south which saw working people hit by Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McCreevy as coal, gas and ESB prices were all hiked while the farcical trial of the Colombia Three was adjourned in complete disarray after two of the main prosecution witnesses failed to show up.

The unionist feud between the UDA and UVF continued throughout Christmas with the shooting dead of a UDA member at a house party in Belfast.

All this – and much more – can be got online with a yearly subscription to An Phoblacht for just €10.

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