15 March 2001 Edition

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Racist Peebles jailed


Self-styled Protestant `pastor' Clifford Peebles has been jailed for ten years after admitting possession of two hand grenades and a pipe bomb on Thursday 8 March at his trial in Belfast Crown Court. The devices were found in his car in October 1999 when he was stopped on the M1 motorway as he approached Dungannon, Country Tyrone. The court heard that he was on a ``mission'' to attack Catholics.

These charges were the latest in a long line of allegations of sectarian attacks made against him over the recent years. In April 1999, for example, Peebles was arrested but released without charge in connection with loyalist attacks on nationalists throughout the Six Counties, and in November 1998 a number of similar grenades were discovered at a mission hall used by Peebles. Again, although arrested, he escaped without charge. The grenades were part of a cache of explosives which had been put on display by the Orange Volunteers as an accompaniment to their threats against Catholics. Peebles is suspected of being the `pastor' who blessed the explosives before members of the Orange Volunteers used them in attempting to kill nationalists.

His associate, James McGookin Fisher, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Peebles and was sentenced to eight years. In sentencing Peebles, Justice Gillen told him that he could ``find no uplifting thread in your previous conduct. The fact that you adopted the mantle of leadership in your local community serves to underline the wickedness of the crime you have committed.''

Peebles was well-known as a supporter of the LVF, regularly visiting the organisation's prisoners inside Long Kesh before being held there himself to await trial. Prior to that he was also involved for a short time with the discredited and now defunct FAIT (Families Against Intimidation and Terror) after his flower shop was wrecked by loyalists.

This experience did not, however, deter him from his deep commitment to the loyalist cause and its exponents and his connection falls squarely within the long tradition of close association between fundamentalist protestant clergymen and loyalist paramilitaries. This involvement has often been shrugged off or entirely ignored by unionist politicians and religious leaders, who pointed a finger at a Catholic church which in reality has, with a few individual exceptions, been unrelentingly hostile to republicanism.

Indeed, many unionist politicians have been content to share a platform with Peebles and others of a similar ilk, most notably the Lord Mayor of Belfast Sammy Wilson who, like his friend the pastor, oozes sectarian loathing from every pore. Together with DUP Councillor Jack McKee, Wilson shared a hall with a number of LVF men and the platform with Peebles in April 1998 as the latter burned a copy of the Good Friday Agreement and launched into frenzied anti-catholic rhetoric. Hours later, a few miles away in Crumlin, Ciaran Heffran was murdered by the LVF.

Nevertheless, like many other unionist politicians and clergymen before them, Wilson and McKee have been adept at washing their hands of any responsibility for the human cost of their rhetoric, indulging in moral gymnastics in order to exonerate themselves from the consequences of their stoking of the fires of sectarianism. Unionists through the ages have been quick to abandon their erstwhile comrades the very second they come unstuck. In this, of course, they have as their role model the most notoriously shameless of fundamentalist clergymen, Ian Paisley. With his made-up church (celebrating its 50th anniversary this week) and his made-up doctorate, Mr Paisley's greatest skill has not been his political nous or his ability to manipulate and exploit the fears of his constituency to advance his personal ambitions, but to avoid being directly implicated or held to account for the crimes against Catholics which his language has done much to inspire. His enthusiasm, to this day, for employing the discourse of 16th century priest-hunters in his obsessive ravings against Catholicism has been matched only by his willingness to flounce around in a red beret waving his gun licence whilst simultaneously berating and disowning those who have acted on his words.

Although Clifford Peebles is predictably friendless in his hour of need, he will perhaps, as Paisley did in his time, try to apply a veneer of religiosity to his imprisonment and present himself as a martyr to the cause of Protestantism. Maybe there are those who will buy such nonsense. Most of the rest of us, however, will see him for what he actually is - a murderous racist who lived and breathed blind, unthinking hatred.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1