Saturday, September 17, 2005

We Shall Not be Challenged

We Shall Not Be Challenged

Nationalists in the north are once again feeling the
heat, caught between two states - Jim Gibney

Anthony McIntyre - 14 September 2005

Déjá vu was the dominant emotion experienced by
Brendan 'Shando' Shannon as he stood on the
Springfield Road on Saturday. He had made the short
trip there from his home to do what he does every
year. 'I have been coming here along with a small
number of others from long before it was trendy to do
so in opposition to bigots marching.' The first time
he had went there to 'defend the area' was as a boy of
thirteen. In 1969 virulent loyalists, tails up, were
coming down Mayo Street intent on doing what they do
best, visiting their violent sectarian hatred on
innocent Catholics. Accompanied by men much older,
Shando took his place among the ranks of the

Although he hailed from republican stock there was
little at thirteen that could have prepared him for
what lay ahead. He had no way of knowing that his act
of defenderism would hurl him into the deep end of a
protracted conflict that still goes on in perverted
form despite the peace process, in fact maybe goes on
because of it.

Shando's memory of the events of 1969 is hazy. But he
does recall that when the community were crying out
for defence, the traditional defenders of the IRA
failed to step up to the mark. Despite a deteriorating
political climate, which had for long been pregnant
with malign potential for sectarian conflagration, few
preparations for defence had been put in place. On the
day it was improvisation. Whatever weapons the IRA
claimed nominal ownership over in its arsenal, they
were not to be found on the streets of Belfast in
1969. The story has it they were in Wales. The IRA
had, in the view of many nationalists, run away.
'Place your trust in the police,' was all the IRA
leadership could offer. Not a bad idea if the state is
a modern democratic entity where it may be compelled
to stand up for its citizens even if it would rather
not. But this was the view of the Northern Ireland
state least likely to have been found within the
republican mindset of the time.

Last Saturday Shando hurried to the Springfield Road
where it was anticipated there would be trouble
resulting from attempts by Orange marchers to walk
over the local residents. His concerns were
exacerbated by reports that loyalists from Sandy Row
were trying to attack nationalist homes in the
Grosvenor Road. When a Sinn Féin MLA stepped onto a
boulder on the Springfield Road to address the crowd,
Shando couldn't believe his ears. Here was a man with
well-established Provisional credentials telling his
constituents that the loyalists were preparing to
throw blast bombs, and his advice: move back and let
the police deal with the situation. It was 1969 and
bigots goosestepping all over again. Same spot, same
speech, different person. Shando challenged the Sinn
Fein man, asking was it not imperative on republicans
to defend the area themselves rather than place their
faith in the police force. In his words, 'Let the
police deal with it? We should be fighting these
people ourselves. It is what we did in 69.'

From his perspective it made sense. After all, Sinn
Féin had been vigorously criticising the PSNI for
failing to tackle loyalists in North Antrim with the
same ardour reserved for nationalists. 'After all the
years of hard gained experience we were being asked to
accept that the sons and grandsons of the B-Specials
who burned the Falls in 1969 would somehow protect us.
The Sinn Fein speaker is a great guy and I have a lot
of time for him but on this one he is plain wrong.'

Hardly had Shando spoken up when fascistic voices
barked at him. Three senior Provisional IRA members
approached him. One was more disagreeable than
threatening. Not a shrinking violet himself, Shando
could live with that. A verbal tirade was heaped upon
him by one of the other two. Lacking the SS runes but
not the attitude, he demanded that Shando 'shut up.'
Having failed to intimidate him, the Provisional
leader 'told me he would bury me. His colleague leaned
over and said, ''leave it for now. We will do him

Their faces were distorted with sheer hatred and
they had the look of the deranged. All because I had
mildly disagreed with their speaker. They told me I
was a yellow bastard. This was a reference to the time
that they had kidnapped me, trussed me up, hooded me,
forced me to piss in a bucket back in the 1990s
because I had opposed them. I buckled when they had
me. It was not one of my braver moments. I had faced
the Brits, cops and screws, burned the Kesh, escaped
from it and did the blanket. Now I was facing the
authority of the IRA. The only authority I had ever
accepted as legitimate. I was unable to
psychologically face it down. It is a bit like a child
trying to hit its own mother. It is virtually
impossible to do. I have since rid myself of those
illusions. I never buckled to the Sticks. For that
reason I didn't buckle on Saturday when they
threatened me. They are just Sticks and I am
determined that no Stick will tell a republican that
he will not raise his voice against them in West
Belfast. We have a strong tradition here of not
buckling to the Sticks. It is a tradition I fully
intend to keep with.

I was at a conference in England when Shando's
agitated phone call came though. He outlined what had
happened. I sought to calm him down. He was adamant
that he had received a death threat. Maybe so, but it
seemed highly unlikely that the Provisional IRA would
kill him, and certainly not for something as minor as
heckling one of their elected representatives. That
might get him pistol whipped. Taking his life would
hardly carry well in the community when, like the
Official Republican Movement they had so virulently
condemned, they had stood with their arms the one
length in the face of certain loyalist onslaught. He
put an eyewitness on the phone. In much more measured
terms and in considerable detail the witness took me
though the events. I pressed him to get a measure of
how convinced he was that the threat amounted to a
death one rather than people venting anger in a heat
of the moment situation. Like Shando, he too was of
the mind that the threat should be taken seriously
given the seniority of the people involved and the use
of the word 'bury.'

I mulled it over in my mind pondering the value of
pursuing it. It was a threat which in all likelihood
would never amount to anything more serious. At the
same time, the Provisional IRA was supposed to have
packed its business up with its July statement, yet
its most senior members were openly threatening a
republican in front of witnesses. Joseph Rafferty in
Dublin had been threatened and failed to take the
threat seriously. He now lies dead having been blasted
to death by someone most in the media world believe to
be a member of Sinn Féin's militia.

I rang Shando back and asked him if he wanted me to
raise his concerns at the conference I would be
attending later in the evening. I explained that many
from the political and media world would be present
and the sheer act of mentioning it in front of perhaps
200 people should suffice to stay the hand of those
who had issued the threat. He agreed. I followed
through on my offer and told those present that
republicans under threat from the violence of the
peace process often came to the Blanket to raise their
concerns. They would never go to the PSNI. When I had
finished detailing Shando's experience I quickly
realised that many people there were interested in the
threat made on the Springfield Road that afternoon.
Their offers to raise the matter in a range of
quarters meant that Shando would not 'go down a hole'
as easily as some of his victimisers might wish.

Shando says he is determined to face his critics. He
argues that he has as much experience at the coalface
as they and resents their efforts to promote
themselves as some form of republican elite.

I will publicly debate with these people any time
or place, so long as I am not tied to a chair. I have
done as much for the IRA as they have. People on this
road know my record. One difference is that I never
sent kids out to do it. I did it myself. Have these
bullies the bottle to face me in public debate on this
question or are they afraid of the red face syndrome?
I am determined that the bullyboy tactics will stop.
My kids had the meat taken off their plates in order
that we could feed good IRA men when they had to lie
low. Now one of my daughters is barred from a variety
of pubs for no reason other than she is my daughter.
Barred by a man who is universally known throughout
the republican world for not having done an operation
in his entire life. Even the media slag him off and
have their own special name for him.

Shando has since penned a letter to his MP Gerry
Adams. In it he has named two men who were to the fore
in Saturday's incident. 'It is up to Mr Adams to
pursue the matter after that. He can hardly pretend
the people involved are not in the Provisional IRA. He
has known both of them for decades. Is he now going to
expel them on the grounds that thugs have no place in
his movement?'

Shando remains steeped in the cultural world that
shaped him throughout his life. It seems he will take
it to the grave with him. Remarkably, his view of the
problem has not shifted over thirty odd years.

The central problem in this state is that while
the British continue to run it, the government will
always fail to protect its Catholics. Republican guns
should not be immersed in concrete while this threat
exists. The only lesson that the people threatening me
learned from the Sticks in 1969 was that being Sticks
was something to aspire to. In that they have
surpassed the Sticks. Women were shouting at the thugs
hassling me on Saturday that the Sticks never
decommissioned their guns. It is an amazing situation
where we have the Orangemen marching down the road and
the only person these thugs on our side could threaten
was a republican.

Shando may feel justified in publicly challenging the
Sinn Féin MLA. But in all fairness to the MLA, he had
a responsibility to his constituents to move them out
of harm's way and not have them exposed to the danger
of blast bombs just to maintain faith with some
sectional ideological interest. While it jars with
Shando's republican instincts the MLA's suggestion
that the police handle the matter was most likely the
one guaranteed to minimise casualties. In this sense
Sinn Féin's action was hardly inconsistent with trying
to address such issues democratically.

The major contradiction of course is the Janus face of
the Provisional movement. While Sinn Féin was waxing
democratic its militia friends were quite prepared to
resort to fascistic tactics. Rather than seek to
persuade Brendan Shannon that his alternative to the
party's suggestion may have left the nationalists
exposed to unnecessary risk, they sought in their
time-honoured fashion to intimidate him. Their self
serving right wing nationalism, no longer able to vent
itself on the traditional enemy, is perpetually
seeking to recast itself in the search for new
opponents. Having lost the war to the enemy without,
the militia men seem determined to create an enemy
within so that they might continue to justify their
own existence. People within long suffering
nationalist communities are growing tired of it and
increasingly display a diminution in respect for
yesterday's men. The war is over and it has been lost.
Endlessly pretending that there is somehow a current
need for career commanders merely devalues the effort
expended in the days when military commanders had some
function other than lording it over their neighbours.

From The Blanket


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