Revisiting 1969: Declaration to the people of 26 Counties

Statement as published, Irish Press 18th August 1969:

We, Paddy Devlin, Paddy Kennedy and Paddy O’Hanlon, being elected representatives of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, address the people of the 26 Counties and state the Unionist Government are now pursuing a deliberate policy of genocide against the Catholic population of the six counties of Northern Ireland.

We further state that: they have armed their most fanatical supporters with automatic weapons and have acquiesed in their barbarous and brutal excesses. They have consistently refused to listen to protests, appeals or prayer to grant social justice and to put an end to the present murder, shooting, pillage and burning of Catholic homes. They have now embarked. upon a course of action similar in intent and method to that of the Hitlerite regime in its policy against the Jews.

At the moment, thousands of our families are homeless and in great physical distress. Our people are living on the charity of a dedicated few but their resources of food, clothing and medical supplies are nearly exhausted. While aid to refugees from the six counties is welcome the direct need at the moment is to get food, clothing, medical supplies and other appropriate material through to the beieagued areas in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere. If this is not done immediately the loss in life will dramatically multiply.

We appeal in desperation to the Irish people and their Government to assist us now. We implore the Government to make this aid available to our people without delay, as delay may prove fatal. We ask the people of Ireland to make representation by every means in their power to the Government and to insist that the aid we have requested be given forthwith.

Chichester-Clark’ s statement that the extremist Republican elements are responsible for the disorders in Northern Ireland is a pack of lies. His function now is reduced to deception of the British public about the murderous activities of his extremist supporters. This trouble stems not from Republicans but within his own party and is related to his efforts to retain-leadership in the Unionist Government.

Signed: Paddy Devlin, M.P. Paddy O’Hanlon, M.P. Paddy Kennedy, M.P.

The previous day Devlin, who was to later be a founding member of the SDLP, spoke at a public meeting in front of the GPO in Dublin. He told the meeting that “As we stand here tonight people are being shot down and the only way they can defend themselves is with guns. We have not got these and we need them badly.” (Sunday Independent, 17th August 1969).

Devlin was one of a number of figures who made public calls for weapons or for the Irish Army to invade the north. Here is then President of the Union of Students in Ireland and a later founder of the Peace People, Ciaran McKeown (in footage recorded by Thames TV) speaking at another rally at the GPO, this time on the 17th August 1969.

And one final clip. This time an unnamed member of the governing Fianna Fáil party speaking at the same rally outside the GPO.

If anyone knows who the speaker is, please give us some more information in the comments area!

Paddy McGrath: an Easter Rising veteran executed by De Valera

Paddy McGrath

It is well known that those who saw service during the Easter Rising in 1916 and were executed, were summarily tried by a military tribunal, shot, then buried in unmarked graves. What is less well known is the last such execution of an Easter Rising participant was that of Paddy McGrath, ordered by De Valera’s Fianna Fáil cabinet in 1940.

Despite being founded long after both events, according to the party’s plans to commemorate 1916:

It would be logical that an organisation that was so connected to the Rising and the War of Independence would commemorate its own history.

If that is the case, it might want to revisit its treatment of at least one participant, Paddy McGrath. On 16th August 1940, Special Branch officers, led by Denny O’Brien, stormed 98a Rathgar Road, guns blazing, hoping to get reward money from a slush fund used to encourage similar raids against known IRA bases. In the ensuing gun battle, two branch men were killed, Sergeant McKeown and Detective Hyland, and a third wounded. An IRA staff officer, Thomas Harte from Lurgan, was wounded and captured along with a senior IRA officer Paddy McGrath who had broken free but returned to assist Harte (eg see the account given in Bowyer Bells The Secret Army).

According to Donnacha Ó Beacháin (in Destiny of the Soldiers), there were no autopsies held on McKeown or Hyland. An internal inquiry into the shooting was reportedly suppressed by Gerry Boland, the Minister for Justice. Nevertheless, McGrath and Harte were tried by the Military Tribunal, which could only impose a death penalty, and, had just had its right of appeal removed. Without an autopsy or forensic evidence, there was no attempt to establish who had fired shots (and the suppressed internal inquiry was claimed to have identified that McKeown and Hyland were killed by ‘friendly’ fire). Regardless of the lack of due process, McGrath and Harte were condemned to death four days after the shooting, on 20th August. De Valera’s Fianna Fáil cabinet met the next day and confirmed the sentence. It met again on the 23rd and re-affirmed its decision while postponing the decision for a few days (Harte’s family in Lurgan were never even formally advised of his death sentence). On 4th September, De Valera convened his Fianna Fáil cabinet yet again and, despite the fact that no attempt had been made to identify who had actually shot McKeown or Hyland, and, presumably, through Gerry Boland, aware of what was being suppressed from the internal inquiry, they decided that McGrath and Harte should be executed two days later on 6th September 1940.

Paddy McGrath, a veteran of the Easter Rising, a Frongoch internee, who still had a bullet near his heart from a shooting by the British in 1920, was shot along with Thomas Harte, and interred in an unmarked prison grave, just as were the Easter Rising leaders 24 years beforehand. This time, though, the executions had been ordered by De Valera and his Fianna Fáil cabinet.

Their remains were finally released for formal burial in 1948, the 150th anniversary of the 1798 rebellion. Speaking at McGrath’s burial, Brian Ó’ Higgins was scathing:

Make believe and insincerity have been loudly vocal on the battlefields of ’98 this summer. Those who condemned to death the IRA of their own generation, have been praising the IRA of 150 years ago…

Neither is the case of McGrath and Harte unusual among the executions carried out in the 1940s. No court would realistically uphold almost any of the death sentences imposed by De Valera’s Military Tribunal. Notably, another 1941 execution has recently been revisited and is to be overturned due to prosecution failures (indeed some Fianna Fáil TDs had campaigned for it). Perhaps, among the Fianna Fáil events for 2016, should be a campaign to address its ‘history’ and overturn Paddy McGrath’s sentence, and others, for lack of due process.

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