Main speaker Tommy McKearney on Republican Ireland 2012 - What is to be done?
Large crowds expected.Come early to avoid disappointment.Refreshments available.
Brendan Hughes was approached to join "the movement" in 1969. He went on the run in Belfast in 1970. Very few members of the IRA have such a dramatic record of activism as the man known as "The Dark".
Today Brendan Hughes is a man who gets by on income support and feels bitter about what happened in the period after the hunger strikes. He believes that the Republican movement to which he has devoted his life has drifted from its base, betraying its principles and its working class roots.
"On a normal day in the 1971-2 period, you would have had a call house [a safe meeting place] and you might have robbed a bank in the morning, done a float [gone out in a car looking for British soldier] in the afternoon, stuck a bomb and a booby trap out after that, and then maybe had a gun battle or two later that night."
When Hughes arrived in Long Kesh in 1973, he thought his war was over. Instead he soon escaped, rolled up inside a mattress that was left out as rubbish. The bin lorry that served the camp unwittingly took Hughes to freedom. He was arrested again, convicted of possession of firearms and explosives, and sentenced to 15 years. He was sent back to Long Kesh.
When he was moved from the old POW-style compounds to the new jail, he refused, as others had also done, to don the prison uniform. In the autumn of 1980 Hughes decided the only option was hunger strike. On 27 October 1980 he refused food, as did six other prisoners.
"The first day I went on hunger strike, I was still in this shitty cell. But I remember thinking to myself that night, 'The cell doesn't look that bad.' Because that is the day you start to die. After a while you can actually smell your body wasting away."
By 18 December negotiations were at a critical point. But Sean McKenna, one of the hunger strikers, was close to death. Believing that the prisoners' demands had been met, Hughes called the strike off.
"I blamed myself for years," says Hughes. "I used to believe that if I had let Sean die, that would have ended it, which would have stopped ten men dying [in the second hunger strike]. During one period I was almost at the point of jumping off a bridge.
"I don't think it's been worth it. If someone had told me 20 years ago, you're going to go to jail, you're going to get tortured, you're going to go on hunger strike, you're going to watch loads of men dying to get this... I'd have told them to forget it."
"We were decommissioned with nothing," says Hughes. "IRA men and women, who gave everything to this struggle, got poverty, premature death, and mental problems in return.
"People stay quiet out of loyalty to the movement." Money never mattered to him, he says. "I was offered £50,000 to become an informer. I told them £50 million wouldn't sway me. But it's hard to see ex-prisoners destitute when the leadership are so wealthy and have holiday homes."
He was released from prison without skills or qualifications. He began labouring. "A big west Belfast contractor paid us £20 a day. I tried to organise a strike but the other ex-POWs were so desperate, they wouldn't agree. One of the bosses said, 'Brendan, we'll give you £25 a day but don't tell the others.'
"I told him to stick it up his arse, and I never went back. I wrote an article about it for Republican News but it was heavily censored. People we'd fought for exploited us, and the movement let them."
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Comrade and Friend
Brendan Hughes was a man of principle, an idealist who devoted his life to the cause of removing all vestiges of the British presence in Ireland.
Those who would term Brendan a "No-Hoper" are wrong. Brendan was, as we are, full of hope that will will find and realise our hopes for a free and unfettered Ireland.
Those who lost hope have embraced Britishness with open arms and open hands.
Brendan could not be bought. He lived humbly in his last years; let those who have prospered from this war hang their heads in shame as they cruise between their various properties in their four wheelers.
Brendan was aware very early on that the "buy out" known as the "Peace Process" was directed at those who craved power and money. Now they run the British Administration in the six northern counties for the enemy. Treachery beyond all anticipation.
Brendan Hughes sought no personal gain. He was a giant of a man, a Republican leader who led from the front. He asked no volunteer to do what he would not do himself; he fought side by side with his volunteers.
If, as Martin McGuinness has described those of us opposed to the agreement with Britain, if Brendan was a "no hoper," then he stands amongst a brave and valiant crew. Cathal Brugha, Harry Boland, Maud Gonne, Mary MacSwiney, all, and many more, castigated because they were uncompromising Republicans.
Those who once professed to be Republicans and now act as British Administrators in the six counties, let them hang their heads in shame at the way in which they treated Brendan in his last years. Let them look into their souls and ask, "Could I have been that brave?"
They rose to prosper on the back and bravery of Brendan; he had no time for personal gain or power. He served that old lady, "Republicanism" and served her well. Today we lost that great Republican.
I am proud to call him comrade and friend.
Dolours Price • 17 February 2008
Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided … that other men be ready to intone our funeral dirge with the staccato singing of the machine guns … 'Che' Guevara
Brendan Hughes was one of a small group of Republicans in the Lower Falls (Belfast) who split from the IRA in 1970 to form what was later to be known as the Provisional IRA. In the sometimes violent split within the movement at that time one of the first victims was his cousin, Charlie Hughes, who was shot dead in a gun battle in the Lower Falls by members of the Official IRA.
After almost three years on the run, Hughes was arrested, along with Gerry Adams. They were tortured for over 12 hours in Springfield Road barracks and then Castlereagh before being flown to the cages of Long Kesh. Within 5 months Hughes had escaped from Long Kesh, crossed the border, and within 10 days was back in Belfast with a new identity, to assume command of the Belfast Brigade.
Captured again, 6 months later, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on weapons, explosives and documents charges. Hughes, as Brigade O/C (Officer Commanding) was caught with what the press called a "Doomsday Plan" which was the IRA plan for the defense of the Nationalist community in Belfast.
While O/C of Republican prisoners in Long Kesh, Hughes was charged in connection with a prison riot and given an additional 5 years. However, at this time, the process of Ulsterization and criminalization had begun and he was taken from court to the infamous H-Blocks.
"That morning" said Hughes, "I left Long Kesh, Brendan Hughes, O/C Republican prisoners, recognized as a political prisoner and that afternoon, I was Hughes, 704, in the H-Blocks."
Photo of Brendan HughesIn the H-Blocks Brendan Hughes was instrumental in organizing the men on the blanket protest and was elected O/C with Bobby Sands as his adjutant. As the protests by the men escalated, without any movement by prison authorities or the Thatcher government to resolve the prisoners demands to end their inhumane treatment, he called for volunteers to join him in a hunger strike.
Hughes resigned as O/C, to be replaced by Bobby Sands and was joined by 6 of the 90 men who had volunteered to go on hunger strike. After 53 days without food, with Sean McKenna within hours of death and the others in very serious condition, the strike was called off as the government delivered a document which satisfied the prisoners demands.
After the government reneged on their agreement the strike led this time by Bobby Sands commenced with deadly consequences.
In our interview Hughes discussed a wide range of topics on the Irish political landscape.
G21: Share with us your opinions on the Good Friday Agreement.
HUGHES: The decision was taken from the top down, there were no discussions, there was nothing taking place.
What we heard was, 'The Hume/Adams Document' and I am very annoyed at this because, I have spent my whole life in this Republican movement and all of a sudden everyone is talking about 'The Hume Adams Document' and I asked if I could see it . To my knowledge no one has ever seen it.
I thought it was a disgrace that John Hume knew where this movement was going [and] I didn't know where it was going. I didn't know anything about 'The Hume Adams Document', what the hell is it? Then, 'The Hume Adams Document', developed into the 'Good Friday Agreement'.
What was the Good Friday Agreement all about? All of my life I spent attempting to bring down Stormont, attempting to remove the British from Ireland and all of a sudden, all of that language was gone. We no longer talk about a British declaration of intent to withdraw from this country and we have got to the stage where we were actually fighting to get down to the Stormont, that we just spent 30 years trying to bring down. The loyalty factor eventually burnt out with me, the loyalty factor was no longer there.
G21: So what is your opinion of the Sinn Féin leadership?
HUGHES: Stormont is OK as long as we're in it. What was developing here was a sort of a class thing within the Republican movement. You had the "Armani Suit Brigade" and a lot of these people I had never come across before. I had never spent time in prison with them and their politics drifted away from me -- their politics -- I didn't drift away from my politics, their politics drifted away from me to a stage where I believed I needed to say something, because these people are running away with my movement.
The suffering and everything that we represented was no longer there anymore and these people had it, they were wining and dining at Stormont.
I believe very shortly, we will be wining and dining in Westminster. I believe that they have run away with the politics, the real politics of the Republican movement, the Republican struggle, and I believe that they have to be resisted. Which I am doing.
It wasn't easy for me to go public and criticize all these things that were going on, but I feel a moral responsibility to do so. Even though it puts me on the fringe and I am called a dissident and other names. But I know damn well, that what I am saying, is representative of the ordinary people on the ground. The Republican Movement
I believe this Republican movement belongs to the people. I don't believe that people like me should walk away and form another small group to oppose this group. This group is the Republican movement. We have fought, we have gone through an awful lot of struggle and I believe it has been hijacked by a handful of people who have gone in a particular direction that I disagree with.
But it is my movement. I don't want to form another movement, I want my movement back to what we fought for.
I don't believe that it is totally hopeless. I believe it can be won back. If I thought it was hopeless, I would probably leave the country. I believe that I have a moral responsibility and a duty to carry on the struggle. It's not easy, a lot of the people I am talking about are comrades and friends of mine. I wish they could change and turn this thing around and bring it back to the people. Bring the movement back to the people. Not a political party that's running to Stormont, running to Westminster with their Armani suits on and jutting about in their State cars. The same regime that's been oppressing us for so many years, they have become a part of.
G21: So what's your position on decommissioning?
HUGHES: The IRA has been asked to decommission. We were all told that there would be no decommissioning. When you bring a stranger to a dump, an IRA dump, and point out where that dump is, to me that is decommissioning.
I certainly would not go near that dump again, so that dump is, by and large, decommissioned. Forget about it. It has been identified.
Yet I am told there will be no decommissioning.
To me that is decommissioning.
People are telling lies. We are doing everything we were told would not happen. We still hear at some commemorations people getting up on platforms and telling blatant lies. 'The war is not over'. By and large, the war is over. The current joke in the town at the moment is:
Q. 'What is the difference between a Sticky (Official IRA) and a Provie (Provisional IRA).
A. Twenty years.'
The only difference is that the Stickies didn't have to decommission.
G21: The controversy about the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) still rages. What are your thoughts?
HUGHES: What I was beginning to see was the reintroduction of a different type of philosophy. The words they were using 'the RUC has to be changed' no longer 'disbanded.'
G21: Your feelings on commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Hunger Strike?
HUGHES: Anyone who is going out to commemorate the Republican struggle should commemorate the people who died in the struggle. It should be about respect and to commemorate the sacrifice that these people made. I believe the party of the working class is entitled to commemorate the working-class people who died.
I believe a party of the Middle or Upper-class should not be allowed to capitalize on those people's deaths. Those people died for working-class issues and I believe that the only people who should be allowed to capitalize on that are working-class people who are fighting for working-class issues. I don't believe the leadership of the Republican movement, at present, is fighting for working-class issues or fighting for the issues that these people died for.
G21: So it sounds like you might be accused of advocating armed struggle.
HUGHES: We are sitting in Divis Towers now and there is £10 million of equipment on top of this roof, there are armed British troops on top of this roof.
As long as there is one British soldier on this roof, I believe that people have a right to oppose that. Unfortunately, the occupation forces are still here and unfortunately, the leadership of the movement that I belonged to have become a part of that, they have become a part of the problem."
Poem courtesy of Ciara Ni Tuama
For the Dark.
You wore a suit that shined
Burtons not Armani
And it was worn as a uniform
Or rather, a disguise
Not with pride or to conform
You could hide in it
To achieve your sabotage
Others lay on the cloth that is supple
Tailored, of course, why not?
In a feint of subversion but more
A desire to be part
I suppose the difference really is
in the cut of the cloth
You wouldn't have thought it
And many have argued the toss
But you knew the depth of the symbolism
And how readily your people understood
We come to say goodbye to you today
I am so glad we did not bury you after your final journey
It is fitting that we followed you once again through the streets
And then said goodbye as your spirit went up in the flames
That reignited our hearts
Our personal Phoenix
I did not expect the catch in throat upon seeing you
coffin clothed with beret atop lifted by many hands and the lilt of a pipers lament
I miss you, I missed you, and understood I think what those stark names etched in black
did to you each time you paused to remember
You carried them all in your heart so many years
As today we carried you.
Rest in peace, my love, my friend, comrade, volunteer. The true peace that cannot be bought.
Sometimes, I've sat here crying for a week. I think of all my comrades' suffering and I don't even want to go out. You never really leave prison – Brendan Hughes
Article reproduced courtesy of the author Anthony Mc Intyre