A Bogside woman and Provo justice

  • 1 October 1978
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THE Provisional IRA recently tied a 22-year-old mother of three children to railings outside a pub in Derry City and poured paint and feathers over her shaved head. She and the 17-year-old girl who was similarly punished alongside her had admitted to the armed robbery of two shopkeepers who had asked the IRA to intervene.
Around the same time, the RUC entered a former "no-go" area, by invitation of the victims, to investigate the breaking, enterring, and robbing of a working class home from which records had been stolen.

The Provos returned the proceeds of the robbery to the shopkeepers within 24 hours. The morning after the police investigation the house was again broken into and the radiogram removed.

Both the IRA and the RUC claim the invitation as evidence of the community's allegiance to them. The IRA do stroll about with rather more acceptance than the RUC, which can still only enter such areas in sudden swoops by vehicle, armed with machine guns, accompanied usually by equally armed British soldiers. It may not be normal policing but it is policing of a kind and their presence pokes a sore thumb in the eyes of Provo propagandists.

The IRA say that the upsurge in antiibehaviour in Derry reflects a world trend rather than a need or desire for an RUC

presence in such areas as Bogside. They do concede that they cannot cope with the vandalism that has escalated of late and see that as the only weakness in their protecction of the community. The alarming increase constitutes a large weakness though, and the RUC is increasingly being asked to fill the breach. Petty thieves may yet provide a Trojan Horse for a police force which is, in all other respects, still rejected.

In the propaganda war centred on law and order, justice is often found wanting. Precisely because of that lack, the RUC was expelled from the Bogside ten years ago. The Provisionals are counting on the same community to accept that the law and order they now administer involves a necessarily rough justice. Operating without bureaucratic benefit of the reesources necessary to rehabilitate, their hands are as tied, they suggest, as the hands of the mother they tied to the railings.

Her situation was appalling. The Provos, by their actions, have not relieved it.

THE woman was orphaned at the age of ten. She and her brothers and sisters were separated and scattered into institutions throughout the North. She has not seen three of them since that time. When she returned to Derry at the age of 16 she became pregnant and immediately married. Her young husband shortly afterrwards joined the Official IRA. One year ago he was remanded in jail where he now awaits trial, on charges of shooting a British soldier in 1972. The Official IRA claimed responsibility at the time for the killing, which occured after Bloody Sunday.

The woman was left to rear three children on social security payments of £29 a week, from which a punitive nine pounds towards rent and rent arrears was deducted weekly by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, a British Government organisation which is currently subject to an inquiry into internal fraud and corrupption.

Faced with the added burden of buying food parcels for her jailed husband and paying travel costs to see him in Belfast, the woman applied to a member of the Republican Clubs in Derry for the "pension" which is normally paid to the dependents of volunteers. As the local Republican Club and Official IRA in Derry were both disbanded after they had fallen into disrepute, her case was put to the parent organisation, Sinn Fein, the Workers Party, headquarters in Dublin.

Her application was refused. Dublin replied that the man left the Official IRA before it was disbanded. Resentment was expressed at the fact that her husband, in a confession to the police, had implicated three other men in the killing of the soldier. He had been picked up on matters unconnected with the killing, had a genuine alibi, and had "squealed, without even being tortured." One of the men implicated had been hospitalised following RUC interrogations and all three are with the husband in jail, on remand.

The Irish National Liberation Army stepped in and provided the woman with free transport. The INLA felt a moral obligation to her, they told me, because they had once been members of the Official IRA and her husband was an exxcomrade. The INLA, an independent para-military group, expresses approval of the political objectives of the Irish Republican Socialist Party which broke away from Sinn Fein, the Workers Party.

The woman supplemented her social security meantime with a part-time waitress job which required work at night in a drinking establishment. She left the job after her father-in-law accused her of infidelity and beat her up. Two weeks after she gave up work she was approached by a member of the IRSP who knew where to find a gun that was being held for the INLA. This man had already been shot in the legs for petty theft. He suggested that the woman and a 17 -year old girl conduct armed robberies. The 17 -year old's family background was described to me by her former schoolteacher as "hopeless. Her parents are so defeated by life they take turns at entering the mental hospital for a rest. "

Out they both went. The woman claimed to me that she understood the prooceeds were to go to the INLA prisoners fund, after she had taken a cut of the money with which to provide for her family.

She drove the getaway car while the girl held up the two shops. Both were recognised and reported to the Provisional IRA, who rounded them up within hours. The Provos contacted the INLA, who rounded up the IRSP man, tried him, and shot him in both legs. The IRSP expelled the man from their party .

The two females, tried by the Provos, were shaved, painted, and feathered.

A member of the INLA, whom I interrviewed, said he thought that the woman "though she's a scatter-brain and has a bit of a bad reputation," had been harshly treated by the Provos. They did not feel I morally obliged to intervene and plead on her behalf, however, though they had been involved via the gun and the man who proovided it. The INLA intervened only when directly involved and they would prefer not to engage in a security role which would detract from their first priority, the struggle against the British Army. He criticised the Provos for having the same attitude to law and order as the RUe.

The Provisional IRA were adamant that the woman's background, of which they were aware, had to be measured against the seriousness of the offence. "It was armed robbery. Someone might have been killed." They did not believe that she had stolen money in order to provide food for her children. "She's been whoring and drinking for some time now and out at night when she should be in looking after her children. "

(When the IRA took the woman from her home at nine in the evening for a trial which lasted until two in the morning, the children were left in the care of a fifteennyear-old girl who was visiting the house at the time.)

The Provos said that they did not mind a person having a drink and that maritial relations were none of their busiiness. They did expect, in regard to members of their own movement, that a woman should inform her jailed husband of adulterous relationships rather than let him hear of it, while inside, from other sources. "It might be hard but its easier on him in the long run." No current members of the IRA engaged in excessive drinking, they said. The volunteers would be seen drunk only at weddings or other special social occasions.

The Provos did accept, as their duty, responsibilty for administering law and order in the community. In fairness to I them, that is rather more than has been I accepted by any other group, including the elected ones, which is on record as opposing the RUC and the British administration of Northern Ireland.

The woman's need of help, so dramatically clarioned in her public punishment, met with only one response in Derry. The woman's Refuge for Battered Wives went to see her. As a result, accommodation has been arranged for her in a sister refuge in London, where the woman has expressed a desire to settle.

"I want to get out", she told me. She had applied for a job as an air hostess, and she said she didn't want an early interview. "I intended having my hair cut for it, but not this short." Her plans are as vague as her dreams. At the end of the affair, however, she is still young enough and free enough to dream.

The Provos say the RUC would have jailed her.