Brendan "Darkie" Hughes 1948-2008 R.I.P

Brendan Hughes annual Lecture 2014 - DC Club, Belfast

Brendan Hughes Lecture 2013 - Derry

Former Republican Hunger Striker Gerard Hodgkins delivered the 2013 annual Brendan Hughes memorial lecture in Derry on the 1st of May.




Being asked to come here tonight and present this lecture is an honour which I feel I do not deserve. Brendan Hughes was my friend and my comrade in life and in death he remains an inspiration to me, and many others; because if the life and times of Brendan Hughes have taught me anything it is that it is possible to remain a principled and decent human being both amid the smog of war and the lessening of moral codes that all wars bring and more importantly during the post-war carve up when unscrupulous politicians rise like scum to the surface and hoover up all the gains of the sacrifices for their own personal ends. 

The Dark had the strength, the integrity, the care for his comrades and people to be able to resist the temptation to sell-out for significant personal gain. He was literally an ordinary man with extraordinary talents and could have applied his hand to any field but he was born into a society divided along sectarian lines and the poverty he endured at home he also experienced when he was on the boats and witnessed the appalling conditions and treatment of poor Blacks in South Africa. His experiences of poverty I believe propelled him into the socialist ideology and because he had lived under the unequal distribution of power in the Orange State and witnessed similar conditions internationally with other disadvantaged people he never blamed the Protestants, he never developed the sectarian mindset which has poisoned political discourse here well beyond its use-by date. He understood the connection between the political class and the business class and how in order to maintain their positions of privilege they will sow dissent and disharmony among the working class because it is true that so long as we fight each other we are not noticing our true oppressors and challenging them. 

In our own case the tool of division was and still is sectarianism. It is the same sectarianism the British have and are assiduously and ferociously cultivating in Iraq between Sunni and Shia Muslims in an attempt to cover up and mask the total mess they have made out there. 

It is the same corrosive sectarianism the British fostered between Arab and Jew when Britain took the mandate for Palestine post-First World War and set about ensuring instability and enmity between Jew and Arab so the British interests and class system could be maintained. Sir Ronald Storrs, the first governor of Jerusalem under British rule in the 1920s explained British policy as “forming for England a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”. This policy would be enforced by The Palestine Police, a counterinsurgency force raised specifically for the task which was not only modelled on the Black and Tans but most of its early recruits came from actual Black and Tans, and Auxiliaries, who found themselves unemployed after the Tan War. The brutality and aggression these soldiers of fortune brought to Ireland they then exported to Palestine. 

Years later when Margaret Thatcher came to power and set about restructuring and reorganising the RUC to turn it into a formidable counter insurgency force in the drive to re-establish supremacy of policing she found an ally in Sir Kenneth Newman a former operative with the Palestine Police. Newman had been appointed RUC Chief Constable in 1976, the year the British thought that by a stroke of a pen they could criminalise the radical republican tradition in Ireland. 

Yet the roots of our particular sectarianism had as much to do with economics, and the making of a few bob, than religion alone. When the English were looking for a new monarch to rule over them and us they decided on inviting William of Orange over from Holland because the Dutch had the most advanced financial systems in the world at the time. The Dutch, like the English had established overseas colonies and extracted great wealth from them at great cost to the colonised, but they had the advantage of possessing the technical banking systems for making money work, for making money make money, for developing and oiling a growing capitalist system. So England, with Dutch expertise, got King William and The Bank of England from the Glorious Revolution which brought religious liberty to all – except the Irish Catholic and any other colonised people who by virtue of their status as conquered could never be conceived of as equal in the eyes of God and the English. 

Even the partition of Ireland and the creation of an emasculated Ulster had more to do with economics than religion alone. The partition of Ireland was originally to have bequeathed the nine counties of Ulster to the new state of Northern Ireland; but hard-nosed business men of the Ulster Unionist variety who managed and reaped the benefits of the industrial power house that Belfast was in that time with the massive ship-yards of Harland and Wolfe and the engineering and linen industries which were at the centre of the power house that was the British Empire realised that a nine county Ulster would soon see a Fenian majority and a threat to their position, privilege and wealth; and done the math to work out that by abandoning a few counties and cutting back to The Six Counties, Unionism could hold the balance of power for long enough to develop systems to control it indefinitely. To help itself on the way the first act of the new Unionist government in Stormont was to abolish a specific aspect of the Government of Ireland Act which they didn’t like – proportional representation, which would have given too many votes to the Catholic underclass of the new statelet to ensure its long term survival. Thus gerrymandering, voting rights bestowing multiple votes to the privileged class and all those other horrible aspects of a sectarian state crept into everyday life in a one-party state. Proportional Representation was built into the Government of Ireland Act to guarantee safeguards for the Catholic minority in the North and the abandoned by the Empire Unionist minority in the Free State, and to their credit the Free State never abandoned their proportional representation system of voting to this day. 

Pogroms and unspeakable acts of violence were carried out against the Catholic underclass in the birth-pangs of Northern Ireland but equally unspeakable acts of violence and pogrom were carried out against “the rotten prod”; Protestants by community designation but who nevertheless held Socialist, Communist, humanitarian attitudes and never related to their neighbour as the enemy, non-sectarian protestants who suffered like we did. In the 1920 pogrom it is estimated between 8 and 10 thousand Catholics were violently evicted from their places of employment in Belfast, along with 1800 ‘Rotten Prods’. 

The 20th Century opened optimistically with revolutions in Ireland and Russia challenging the old world order and proceeded to see decolonisation as the war of the flea challenged the old colonial order in the post-WW2 era. On waves of optimism South East Asia expelled the old colonial oppressors, Africa gained independence, Cuba took its place among the free nations of the world, Palestine was on the conscience of the world and apartheid had been destroyed. 

Yet in 1990 George Bush announced the New World Order: a unipolar world of uncontested US military supremacy and Western economic domination. The collapse of the Soviet Union was hailed as the end of history where conflict and war between ideologies would be replaced by a world where the market decided on disputes. The Free Market reigned supreme and with no alternative counter balance to worry about Western capitalism could dispense with all notions of welfare and social security and set about the privatisation and deregulation of regulations guaranteeing basic human rights, economic rights and health and safety rights, of every facet of life: the true free marketeers are inspired by Milton Freidman who contends that the state should play no part in social provision: schools, hospitals, social security, drug policy, housing, sanitation, wages, transport, rural development, fisheries - all must be left for the market to decide and balance out. Friedman also believed that political freedoms are incidental, even unnecessary, compared with the freedom of unrestricted commerce – a belief which undoubtedly eased his conscience [if he had one] as he jumped into bed with every military dictatorship in Latin America among them the architects of the First 9/11. The 9/11 they never really talk about or refer to much, because the Americans and the British were in up to their balls in the overthrow of the democratic government of Salvadore Allende in Chile in 1973 and opening the door to Milton Friedman and his noxious economics. 

The major downside with this policy is a few at the top of the pile get super wealthy with a small sea of administrators below them getting wealthy in varying degrees keeping the machine running, while the mass of the people, the working and vulnerable classes get stuffed so as to pay for the privilege of living in an increasingly expensive free world. Prices increase while money levels remain at best the same or decrease. This is the outworkings of a free market economy dominated by the influence of Milton Freidman and his Chicago School economists; this is the holy mantra of an unfettered and rampant economic system. 

In its present format in Ireland today it is manifested in deteriorating rights and conditions in all areas of society. Care Homes are closing because they are not profitable, essential medical services are being centralised to the most economically profitable locations – not the most essential locations. Even a stay in hospital now is an expense nearing as expensive as a stay in a hotel: if you want to do basic things to pass the boredom of a hospital stay, like watch a T.V or make a telephone call to friends and family: You Pay – through the nose! And when visitors come to visit: they pay exorbitant rates for parking rights in their humanitarian gesture of visiting the sick! We live in a Free World which is becoming increasingly expensive to survive in. 

The IRA and the ANC entered the arena of political dialogue and negotiation with their respective enemies around the time of the new world order dispensation: both crumbled under the pressures of the process and abandoned basic principles for self preservation of their privileged elites. The ANC leadership jettisoned their Freedom Charter and all notions of radicalism and social reform for membership of the political-power club. Ireland was no different, once the whiff of limited political power arose (and the financial benefits that go with it) the sacrifices of generations were abandoned and the quest for Irish freedom was reduced to a quest for a few houses and a few bob for the few. 

Between Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990 and his election as President of South Africa in 1994 the ANC had been ideologically annihilated. In negotiations which ran on parallel tracks Nelson Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa negotiated with De Klerk on the political reforms securing the right to vote, civil liberties and majority rule; while parallel and not so sexy and interesting ran the economic negotiations led by Thabo Mbeki, successor to Mandela and President of South Africa, 1999-2008. In these negotiations the economic sovereignty of South Africa was handed over to the global neoliberal financial institutions. The Black South Africans could have their country; they could have the vote, but not their economy. The wealth of the nation would remain in the hands of foreign capitalists. 

Mbeki and his team were outmanoeuvred and even agreed to retain former Apartheid ministers to maintain control over the Finance Ministry and Reserve Bank; and if that wasn’t insulting enough they even agreed to pay the bill for the Apartheid regime’s war. 

We live in a world where the Rights of Man have been insidiously degraded to the right to be enslaved to financial and banking systems immune to sanction for failure. When they succeed they reap big profits; when they fail they still reap big profits because for their mistakes and failures they can legally make us pay. The Golden Circle of parasites who feed off the misery of South Africa, the agonies of Palestine and the torment of Ireland are the same mendacious parasites who tell us that only their way can work – low wages/high prices, rich get richer/poor get poorer. We can have whatever political veneer we want, but we can’t question or challenge the free market economics they espouse as gospel and impose without mercy or care – only an eye to profit. 

The imperfect peace we settled for is one which allows for the British state to selectively nit-pick the past and persecute those they could not break in youth but now can rob them of their latter years in a final act of vengeance. Yet General Mike Jackson or Derek Wilford O.B.E. have yet to spend as much as an hour in a police station for the massacre on Bloody Sunday. 

The apparatus of surveillance and oppressive intrusion has been updated and refined via one-generation-ahead-of-us integrated computerised systems to monitor record and collate practically every facet of our public and private life. 

And if all that fails there is the “secret evidence” clause where an upright English gentleman or woman of the security services can have us interned on an undisclosed and incontestable allegation. The same people who warned of imminent danger from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq precipitating a war which led to mass destruction of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children; the use of chemical and biological weapons against civilian populations whose effects remain very real today with abnormally high rates of pitiful birth defects in children with no hope. They have no hope because ravaged by twelve years of crippling economic sanctions followed by a disastrous war they have no money and Iraq became the latest test tube case of total destruction of a society and its rebuilding on the Milton Freidman model of supremacy of the market. 

The rise to power of “New Labour” in 1997 heralded the final rout of the left wing in that party and the ascendancy of right wing free marketers eager to integrate into the global crusade for dominance of the markets. Tony Blair became the global cheer-leader for the new world order which would be secured by American and British firepower in the event of a disagreement between the new world order and local indigenous peoples. 

While Blair and U.S. President Bill Clinton sponsored Sinn Fein’s entrance into the political power club, they were simultaneously pursuing crippling neoliberal economic policies against states which didn’t dance to their tune, imposing severe hardships and poverty upon millions of people across the globe. Deregulation and mass privatisation policies imposed upon Russia caused the greatest peacetime collapse of an industrial economy in history, driving millions into poverty. Adherence to the economic authoritarianism of Blair and Clinton was the price to be paid for their sponsorship. Hence, the IRA leadership like the ANC leadership betrayed their own bases and bought into the new world order scenario. Poor black workers are still gunned down for striking for a fair wage in South Africa; Irish republicans are still interned and prisoners abused in British prisons on Irish soil. Maghaberry Prison and the conditions reminiscent of the H-Blocks thirty five years ago pertaining today for Republican prisoners is a shameful stain on those who were once heralded as such great and tough negotiators. 

The draconian repressive laws we fought against were not abolished, rather they were refined and finessed for public consumption. Former revolutionaries embraced privatisation policies with an enthusiasm Margaret Thatcher would be proud of. They impose Tory cut-and-slash policies upon the most vulnerable sectors of people in obedience to their financial masters. This is not what the IRA fought a war for. We did not engage in war to become reflections of our enemy continually lying to and deceiving our own people. 

Green-varnish semantics and calls for border polls make for good sound-bytes and controversy, the lifeblood of journalism, but they also expose the paucity of ideas and policies to challenge the neoliberal nightmare being imposed upon us by foreign financiers and speculators – who really don’t mind what way Ireland is configured politically so long as it is imbued with the neoliberal economic doctrines of austerity, deregulation and lies. 

The worst form of conservative is penultimately a revolutionary. Our political gurus believed all the guff the British propaganda machine spun about them being hard and tough negotiators during the long process; while the British were walking them into rationalising a system of government which resurrected Brian Faulkner's internment and instilled in them a slavish adherence and obedience to neo-conservative economics. 

We were annihilated ideologically, just like the ANC; our socialism was jettisoned and we are left with a bunch of tweedle-dee tweedle-dum, closet capitalist social climbers who are more concerned with ingratiating themselves with the ruling class than they are in liberating the working class. My ex-Chief of Staff had the opportunity of requesting of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth 2 if she had any recollection of signing a Royal Prerogative of Mercy for Marian Price, a former volunteer of his, but by-passed it for a kiss in the arse. 

We live in a very unequal world but it is not a world which cannot be challenged and changed. Brendan Hughes believed he could challenge and change the world and he did – he challenged it in his legendary days as a guerrilla fighter, in our unending tangle with England, through his deeds which were not only courageous but merciful. 

He changed it not only through his personal actions as an ordinary Belfast man in a time of war but more importantly through his example to history that it is possible to be a soldier, a leader and a major thorn in the ass to an enemy and still remain incorruptible and noble in the aftermath of defeat: he refused to buy-in to the low wage/fuck-you-Jack out-workings of “the system”. He brought a contemporary manifestation of it to the notice of Sinn Fein and was obstructed and censored in persisting in having an article published about it in An Phoblacht – but his revelations didn’t go un-noticed: Sinn Fein hired the building firm in question to renovate the old Sevastopol Street site of their H.Q.in Belfast. 

While reading through old online documents retrieved from the Long Kesh computers I came across a critique of the way the camp had developed and the need for change and to end the culture of designating men as “negatives” and sidelining them because they didn’t fit in with the new dispensation. The piece was written in March 1995 and included the following quote which is testament to the high esteem our old friend and comrade Brendan Hughes was held: 

For 10 or 15 years the outgoing O/C has recommended the incoming candidate. This has created a stale and paralysed staff and a too cosy elite. Potential cadres are selected at a very early stage on entry into the camp and work their way up through the positions. 'Negatives' likewise are quickly labelled and restricted from all but the most inconsequential positions. The system has allowed a self-perpetuating group to develop in the camp. We propose a change in this system, a 'Dark Hughes' who has not been bred in the system and who can make the necessary root and branch changes from the top down and create a system that will encourage rather than stifle comradeship, that will get rid of this elitism that prevails, and redirect energies towards the real enemy, and to work towards creating an atmosphere in which men can do whatever time they have to do with as much dignity and self-respect, and in as relaxed an atmosphere as possible. It is not the personalities but the system that is ultimately at fault.

Brendan Hughes Commemorative lecture June 27th - Cookstown

 

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."

If you wish to submit articles for inclusion email : sceal@live.ie

 

 

 

Brendan Hughes

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

 

Ashes

 

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

Travelling into the heart of the Cooley Mountains for the spreading of Brendan Hughes’ ashes was an experience given to quiet reflection. I had met Tommy McKearney close to the border and we made the winding drive deep into the mountainous area, the location where Brendan had requested most of his remains be scattered. The Hughes clan had family origins there and Brendan had always loved the freedom of the place and the solitude it afforded him, far from the madding crowd.

The quiet reflection far from being brooding had something uplifting about it. I have always found it with cremations as distinct from burials. Whenever I have gone to collect the ashes of family members there was a sense of having got the lost one back again. In a burial they are handed over to someone else for their remains to be disposed of. The hands-on style of goodbye is always truncated by the intervention of the grave digger. The mourner is reduced to a powerless spectator with burials which is redeemingly absent with a cremation.

Moreover, it has always rested uneasily with me that anyone who had been in prison should ever want to be buried. As if we had not spent enough time already banged up without having to do it for eternity. Brendan being scattered in the Cooley Mountains was an act of setting him free; like a bird cupped in hands which open to the whispered word ‘farewell.’


Tommy McKearney spoke at the short secular ceremony attended by around 30 family and friends. Tommy and Brendan had been old comrades and had come through both the blanket protests and 1980 hunger strike together. He delivered a very powerful oration about the role that Brendan had played in ensuring that whatever judgement one could make on the IRA campaign it had forced the British state into ending the policy of croppy lie down. No longer could the surrounded Catholics of Belfast be held hostage as a means to secure nationalist good behaviour and enforce conformity throughout the North.

Following Tommy was Arthur Morgan the Sinn Fein TD for Louth. Arthur was another old comrade and whatever views Brendan had of Sinn Fein and the peace process he never lost his strong personal warmth for Arthur who always made him feel welcome whatever the political climate. The Sinn Fein TD carried on in the same vein as Tommy McKearney, reinforcing the point made about Brendan’s role in pushing back British and unionist malignancy.

In the Cooleys there was a dignified serenity about it all more in keeping with Brendan’s outlook, which was not in evidence at the funeral in Belfast three days earlier. There, the clash of perspectives manifested itself in scowls, silences and jockeying for position. That serenity lends to the Cooleys a sense of being a ‘natural’ resting place for the remains of a man who cherished peace of mind. Now when I look on the Cooley Mountains thoughts of the ‘wee Dark’ roaming free somewhere deep within the hills warm me. They can never bring him together for the purpose of caging him in again. He is beyond all that now.

The following day in Belfast some remaining ashes were being scattered in the Falls Commemorative Garden. It was a place revered by Brendan. We had sat in it alongside him one Sunday morning while tears streamed down his face as he remembered those comrades who had gone before him. I am not aware of other ashes having been spread in the garden but it seemed a worthy spot to receive Brendan. He had a deep love for his comrades.

I missed that ceremony, unable to catch a taxi up the Falls Road in time. When I arrived the crowd that had gathered was dispersing. A volley of shots had been fired. It was in keeping with the tradition represented by Brendan. Although some claimed it was intruding on the grief of his family, few could argue that it would have contravened his wishes. He had been an IRA volunteer and traditionally those volunteers have received that form of salute.

Imposing itself on the discussions about the merits or otherwise of the armed salute was a gulf that has polarised many on the ground including those who once shared the comradeship of the IRA. While present for the Falls scattering of Brendan’s ashes were those who unambiguously supported the firing of the volley, they mingled with others publicly committed to informing the PSNI on anyone engaged in that type of action.

There is a very good convention which holds that we can never say with authority where the dead would have stood today. It is a custom we should stick with come what may. At the same time, Brendan lived along enough to see the lurches and spins of the peace process and wince at the staggering fumbling shambles which the republican struggle had been reduced to as a result. Try as they might no one managed to persuade him that informing on republican firing parties could somehow be spun as an act of revolutionary touting.


February 2008
 
Article provided courtesy of Anthony Mc Intyre

 

Please click on picture above to read more from Anthony Mc Intyre.

 

 Fear Dorcha

 

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
after all.

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.

 

A Year Without The Light of The Dark

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

Time zooms by. The past year seems to have been the quickest since records began; all subjective but for me at any rate the fastest in living memory. On this day in 2008 the left wing IRA leader Brendan Hughes died. The turmoil he had endured for years would no longer plague him. With the spreading of his ashes he would never be contained behind concrete walls again. Beyond all crying and suffering he really did leave the psychological prison that had long confined him.

Although his death had been anticipated, given his illness coupled with progress reports from his family, it was no less a blow when it did occur. I vividly recall spending the evening with my wife and Dolours Price, seeking consolation in each other’s memories; then travelling to Belfast on three consecutive days after his death. The last trip was made with my wife and children for his funeral, accompanying him to the crematorium. Later the same week I made the journey to the Cooley Mountains for the spreading of his ashes and then back to Belfast the following day with my children for a similar procedure at the Falls Road Commemorative garden. On that occasion we arrived minutes too late due to being delayed in town. As we arrived people were just leaving. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. A volley of shots had been fired in Brendan’s honour presumably by members of one of the IRAs still opposed to partition and unwilling to be co-opted into Britain’s establishment in the North.

Some time later again I was back in the same Cooley Mountains for the erection of a monument to him. It was an occasion considerably less sombre than his funeral. Yesterday in Belfast a plaque was erected in his memory at Divis Flat where he had lived up until his death. On this occasion I was too fatigued to make the trip, having put in a busy week with too many late nights and early mornings, without even the benefit of drink as an excuse. By all accounts yesterday’s event was a well attended affair. Brendan, a powerfully charismatic individual always had that pulling power.

As I write his photo is again adorning our mantelpiece as it did this time last year. There are candles in front of it, just as there were then; the establishment of a sort of family tradition. My wife feels it is a poignant way to honour him. I do too but could hardly claim to have come up with the idea myself.

There is little that has happened in the year since he died that would have surprised Brendan. He would have been hurt by some of it but hardly shocked. The calls by the Sinn Fein leadership for people to inform to the British police on republicans still wrapped up in the physical force tradition would have gutted him. He had led too many young men during the black years of blanket protest who were jailed for doing what other young republicans are doing today. As wrong as they are undoubtedly are to persist in their armed activities, ignoring all the lessons learned from futility, they are no different in motivation from those of us who braved the blanket protest in defiance of criminalisation. Nor are they any different from Harry White and Charlie Kerins, IRA leaders when the IRA was a micro group and one that the IRA to which Brendan belonged claimed continuity from.

With senior British government officials openly admitting to writing Sinn Fein leadership statements, there can be no real sense of awe that criminalising republicans now features so prominently in such statements.

A year seems such a short time whereas thirty years ago has the feel of an eternity; when it was Thatcher labelling republicans as criminals. Brendan never succumbed to any of that. To the end, always The Dark, he stayed light years away from her and her legacy of criminalisation.

 

Article reproduced courtesy of the author Anthony Mc Intyre