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30 June 2013 Edition

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Opinion: The SPAD Bill and the witch-hunt against ex-prisoners

• Anti-Good Friday Agreement unionist Jim Allister’s SPAD Bill which discriminates against former political prisoners was passed after Alasdair McDonnell’s SDLP criticised it but refused to vote against it

At what lower point on Alasdair McDonnell’s pecking order of victims does Seán Fox sit? Where do his mother and father and siblings sit on the lower end of the scale reserved for republicans? Does the involvement of both men in the IRA render their parents and siblings undeserving of the status of victims?

BY TOMMY QUIGLEY

Former political prisoner

THE Sunday press witch-hunt is on for ex-prisoners after the SDLP let Jim Allister’s Special Advisers (SPAD) Bill pass. Newspapers now want to know where do they work and how can ‘we’ get rid of them?

Apparently it is an affront for an ex-prisoner to sing for his living, drive a taxi, or do any type of civilian security work, whether it is door security or drive a car for anyone connected to government.

The SDLP has linked the employment of political ex-prisoners to the victims’ issue. The SDLP line from MLA Conall McDevitt and leader Alasdair McDonnell is:

“It would have been abhorrent to people across this island, who endorsed the Agreement just over 15 years ago, for a blanket amnesty to have been available to paramilitary prisoners.”

There are a great many people in Ireland and across the world that abhor the fact that British state murderers have received a blanket amnesty and immunity from prosecution throughout their entire history of interference in this country. During the negotiations of the Good Friday Agreement, the SDLP had the chance to highlight that issue and abhorrence but chose not to, as when previous ministers had life-sentence prisoners as Special Advisers.

Paul Kavanagh spent 16 years in jail. His brother, Albert, was killed on an IRA operation. Paul Kavanagh is “well down the pecking order” when it comes to the hierarchy of victimhood, the SDLP says. How far down the pecking order are Albert Kavanagh’s mother and father?  At what point on the SDLP descending scale of victimhood do Paul’s siblings rank? Does his family rank at all?

Albert Kavanagh was an unarmed IRA Volunteer on a bombing mission of a telephone exchange on the Boucher Road in Belfast. It was March 1972, the worst year of the conflict. He was 18 years old. A warning was given.

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•  ‘Apparently it is an affront for an ex-prisoner to even drive a car for anyone connected to government’

Along with his comrade, Seán Fox, their escape route was cut off by armed members of the RUC paramilitary police force. Seán jumped a chain-link fence but was shot in the back after running a few yards. As he lay on the ground, unable to move, he could see Albert standing on the other side of the fence with his hands in the air. The RUC man who shot Seán approached him, stood over him and shot him five times in the chest. Believing that Seán was dead, the RUC man went back towards Albert, who was now viewed as a witness to a summary execution.

At Albert’s inquest, the forensic evidence showed that he had been shot twice in the back – the RUC man who shot him claimed Albert had been running towards him when he shot him! None of this evidence was challenged. Seán Fox was not allowed to appear or give evidence at the inquest.

As Seán lay on the ground, a unionist mob from the nearby Village area surrounded him, piled wood on top of him and attempted to set him on fire. The RUC killers looked on.    

A British Army ambulance arrived and two soldiers attempted to intervene. The soldiers had to draw their weapons and force the mob back. Only then was Seán Fox given medical attention by the soldiers and put in an ambulance. The RUC man, realising Seán was obviously still alive, demanded that he go with him in the ambulance. The British soldier would not let him, almost certainly saving his life. Incredibly, Seán survived. A bullet still sits in his lower back, too close to his spine to operate on, 41 years later. 

The RUC men involved were never arrested, prosecuted, or convicted of anything and so qualify to be SPADs.

At what lower point on Alasdair McDonnell’s pecking order of victims does Seán Fox sit? Where do his mother and father and siblings sit on the lower end of the scale reserved for republicans? Does the involvement of both men in the IRA render their parents and siblings undeserving of the status of victims?

SDLP veteran Seamus Mallon’s intervention in this process is unsurprising.

For him, republicans and nationalists must accept that elements of the Good Friday Agreement can be ignored if some unionists object to their implementation.

Seamus Mallon tried to sideline Sinn Féin out of the negotiations process that brought about the Good Friday Agreement. According to him, they were irrelevant.

The Peace Process would never have got started if John Hume had bowed to Seamus Mallon and his kind. But John Hume did not give up. These are changed times, Seamus should realise – and so should Jim Allister and the other unionist parties.

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