Monday, 26 May 2008
The Death of Brian Keenan
The death through illness on the 21st May 2008 of a former Provisional IRA commander who masterminded the organisation’s bombing campaign in England has raised questions about the future of its “Army Council”. Brian “The Dog” Keenan, the son of a Royal Air Force member who grew to become the Provos’ “chief of staff”, was once described as the single biggest threat to the British State.
With Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams paying tribute at the funeral of Provisional IRA leader Brian Keenan in Belfast there are a couple of interesting points to note. First up the Independent’s David McKittrick on Keenan’s “paradoxical duality in that he first helped build up the organisation and then, decades later, helped shut it down.”
It was the combination of Keenan’s Libyan and English exploits that led Jonathan Powell, formerly Tony Blair’s chief-of-staff, to describe him in his recent autobiography as “at one stage the biggest single threat to the British state”. Keenan’s importance was further reflected in one writer’s assessment that he was “regarded by his friends and enemies alike as possessing the best organisational brain in the IRA”.
This is how IRA / Sinn Féin’s newspaper An Phoblacht spins the life of this IRA Mr. Big;
“Brian Keenan tells us, in his own words, about how the IRA sustained a heroic guerrilla campaign against one of the most powerful nations in the world for decades until a viable alternative for political progress was presented. And this leading exponent of the most successful IRA campaign since the 1920s has a message for those who cling to armed struggle as a principle rather than a tactic.”
Aficionados of the genre will note the passive weasel words; “... until a viable alternative for political progress was presented.” Let’s kill people until we have viability!
The Patriot Game
By 1977 Keenan was the IRA’s director of operations, responsible for the conduct of its operations in Britain and Europe, having masterminded the detonation of a 200lb landmine under the car of Sir Christopher Ewart-Biggs, the British Ambassador to Ireland, six months earlier. The ambassador and a civil servant, Judith Cook, were killed instantly.
English cities came under severe assault from the IRA in the 1970s when Keenan was in charge. A warrant issued for his arrest in 1975 emerged from a visit he made to an IRA unit in London, where police were later able to find his fingerprints and handwriting. Four years later Keenan was arrested outside Banbridge, Co Down, and flown to England to face trial relating to the Balcombe Street Gang’s campaign of terror in England in the mid-1970s. At the time he was joint Chief of Staff of the Provos with Martin McGuinness.
He stood trial at the Old Bailey in 1980, defended by barrister Michael Mansfield, accused of organising the IRA’s bombing campaign and being implicated in the deaths of eight people including Ross McWhirter. He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. Two days after his arrest Sir Richard Sykes, the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, was shot dead by an IRA unit. The IRA did not claim responsibility until after Keenan’s conviction. Sykes had been in charge of an internal inquiry into the murder of Ewart-Biggs, suggesting ways to tighten security.
Euston Station 1991
Keenan served a dozen years, emerging in 1993. Those killed by his unit included ordinary civilians who died in up to 50 bombing and shooting attacks on London railway stations, hotels, restaurants, pubs and other places designated by the IRA as “establishment targets”.
One of Keenan’s last public appearances was a year ago when he sat in the public gallery of the Stormont Parliament, accompanied by other members of the IRA’s Army Council and just a few feet away from Tony Blair, to watch Gerry Adams, his mentor, going through the formalities of power-sharing with Ian Paisley, the Nemesis of the Provos. By then the Provisional IRA had declared its war over, had decommissioned and its political wing was administering British rule in a part of Ireland. To talk of a life’s work left in ruins is an understatement.
On the occasion of this IRA hardman’s death it is perhaps appropriate for the sake of balance to consider those who cannot express a view as they themselves were killed by his activities or had their lives destroyed. And for what? Brian Keenan and Gerry and the Peacemakers half baked brand of crypto fascism which says we can bomb the unwilling and uninterested into a United Ireland where by magic everything will get better because we have killed and maimed all these people in the name of human happiness.
Canary Wharf 1996
And consider the “establishment” targets destroyed by these comic book patriots. The bomb in a litter bin on the 18th February 1991 at Victoria Station which killed a 33 year old civil servant with shrapnel through the heart, on 12th October 1992 the bomb in the Sussex Arms pub in Covent Garden which killed a 31 year old male nurse out for a drink with his friends, or on the 10th February 1996 the truck bomb at Canary Wharf which killed 2 Indian newsagents and injured 40 others. Establishment targets indeed! And consider those who suffered from the euphemistically titled “fundraising” which enabled Brian and Gerry and the Peacemakers pay for their comic strip patriotism. There was Thomas Niedermayer, the German managing director of Grundig’s Belfast factory where Brian Keenan once worked who was kidnapped for ransom and whose body has never been found. Of course Brian Keenan was not there that wet dark night at Greystones pier in Co. Wicklow some years later when his widow, still consumed with grief, walked off the end of the pier. He was however, in West Belfast when Grundig closed down with a loss of 900 jobs, but he wasn’t at Balinamore Wood in Co. Longford when the Army and Gardai rescued the kidnapped managing director of an Irish Supermarket chain but not before the fleeing IRA gang killed two 19 year olds, a rookie cop and soldier, as they broke out of the cordon. Nor did he know the girlfriend of one of them who worked for me who had a breakdown as her life and future were so cruelly destroyed.
Jean McConville and three of her children
Or there was Jean McConville, a 37 year old Catholic mother of 10, who was abducted from her home, St. Judes Walk, Divis, Belfast, around Xmas 1972 when Gerry Adams was commander of the “West Belfast Brigade”. She was accused of giving water to an injured British soldier. Her remains were eventually recovered, on general instructions from the IRA, buried at Shelling Hill beach, near Carlingford, Co. Louth, on 27 August 2003. Or there was the brother of a friend who had acted as a lookout at an IRA “fundraiser”, a bank robbery in Tramore, Co. Waterford in the Republic where a 34 year old father of 2 was shot dead for getting in the way of the fund raising patriots. Many years later when the ring leader got out of jail my friends brother was “lifted”, tortured and shot as an informer and his body dumped on a border road where it could not be recovered for 3 days (due to the possibility of bobby traps). The fact that he was in a bitter separation from his wife who was also in the so called Republican movement and had made totally unfounded (and disproved) abuse accusations surely didn’t influence the patriots who acted as judge, jury and executioners. I remember well my friends’ expression when he returned from identifying his brother’s body in Craigavon mortuary. And then there was my friend Peter Nesbitt. Peter was the most caring of people and this instinct led him to want to give something back to the community. This he did in two ways, one by being a leader in a Scout Group in Ballysillan on the edge of the Ardoyne which was run, despite the polarisation of the area, by mixed Protestant and Catholic friends and secondly by being a reserve Constable in the RUC, the police force. Peter used to really enjoy visiting us in Dublin as he could leave the Walther PPK revolver he had to carry everywhere in the North behind. He used to joke how tall Dublin policemen were saying it was too dangerous to be a tall policeman in the North. Peter died by being nearly blown in two by a litter bin bomb answering a false robbery call in the Ardoyne near where he lived with and looked after his elderly parents. He didn’t quiet get the respectful funeral afforded to Brian Keenan as on the day of his burial the IRA planted a bomb in the gate lodge of Roselawn cemetery in Belfast and his funeral cortege had to be kept in a British Army base for six hours before he could be buried. Some “legitimate” targets.
So as Brian Keenan is buried with the rites of Mother Church and is eulogised by Gerry Adams let us remember those who could not make it to his respectful obsequies: They are remembered on the Cain Index of violent deaths caused by the IRA and others who feel it is right to kill for “Freedom”.