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Sunday 15 November 2015


Paris, Balcombe Street and unusual US donors

The Islamists in Paris and the IRA in London - they're just as bad as each other, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams

On Friday night, Gerry Adams complained on Twitter about his garrulous teddy bears. "For such a quiet un when he talks Ted talks a lot. Tom never stops. Talking that is." And then he heard about the Paris carnage.

"The deplorable attacks tonight in Paris are to be condemned," he tweeted. "My thoughts at this time are with those killed or injured."

Martin McGuinness was tweeting too: "Shocking news from Paris. Thoughts & prayers with the families of those killed & injured. #Sad".

How soon they forget.
At a Sinn Fein conference in Dublin in May 1998, four men just released from prison appeared on the platform and were presented to the audience by Adams.

As they raised their clenched fists and grinned joyously, these celebrities, known to the public as the Balcombe Street Gang, were given, said An Phoblacht, "a tumultuous welcome which lasted for 10 minutes of foot-stamping, applause, cheers and tears".

It was personally a sweet moment for the triumvirate who ran and still run the Provisional republican movement, for among the four was Hugh Doherty, brother of Pat. Mary Lou McDonald's predecessor as Sinn Fein vice-president, Pat Doherty would become MP for West Tyrone in May 2002 and be named under parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons as a member of the IRA Army Council.

Those Sinn Fein called "our Balcombe Street heroes" had been in jail because of their role in a six-man IRA unit terrorising London over 14 months in the mid-1970s. Their bombing and shooting campaign aimed at civilians involved 40 explosions, the murder of 35, and the maiming and traumatising of hundreds.

Since they wanted to kill without dying themselves, the suffering they caused was not quite on the scale of Paris, but they were driven by the same fanaticism, nihilistic hatred and absence of human feeling as the Islamist gunmen in Paris on Friday.

The exploits for which they were celebrated by Sinn Fein just 17 years ago included hurling bombs into busy restaurants.

When Ross McWhirter, a co-founder of the Guinness Book of Records, offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to their arrest and conviction, Doherty and his colleague Harry Duggan drove to McWhirter's house, where Duggan murdered him in front of his wife.

Spotted by police in December 1975 as they fired into yet another restaurant, they were cornered in Balcombe Street, burst into a council flat and took the residents hostage. During most of the six days negotiating with the police, the four refused food for themselves and their prisoners.

They were the only IRA terrorists to be given a whole-life tariff, but they were released under the Good Friday Agreement, described by our would-be Taoiseach Gerry Adams as "our Nelson Mandelas", and embraced by our would-be President, Martin McGuinness.

One of the achievements of that unit was blowing up oncologist Professor Gordon Hamilton-Fairley, who was passing by the car of his neighbour, Conservative MP Sir Hugh Fraser, husband of Lady Antonia Fraser, when the bomb underneath went off. This was a lucky break for Sinn Fein, as Fraser was about to drive his young house guest to her art-appreciation course. Killing John F Kennedy's daughter Caroline might have made fundraising in America quite a challenge.

In New York, at the $500-a-plate Friends of Sinn Fein dinner on November 6, Adams celebrated 20 years of fundraising, blamed the Irish and British governments for using spooks to damage Sinn Fein, praised Irish-America for financing the Easter Rising and thanked it for all its work in helping the party's electoral chances. The main donors now are not the glitterati we remember from the early days: these days, the big benefactors are the slightly odd combo of a trade union and a few construction companies.

Pat Donaghy of Structure Tone and Favour Royal (which have given $120,000 over the years), is also from Tyrone, where Favour Royal owns a huge property. Structure Tone is doing very well, despite the hiccup in 1999 when it pleaded guilty to corruption charges over bid-rigging for a $500m contract and paid $10m in fines. He was in the place of honour beside his good friend Adams. Sinn Fein, Adams promised the guests, "will never let you down".

Even Ted might wonder how he has the nerve to criticise Fianna Fail about the Galway Tent. Tom, who is an unreconstructed Fenian bear, is babbling about how Paris brought back glorious memories of IRA heroes.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards