Letter to Irish Examiner, May 31, 2011

Envoy’s absence a setback to good relations

I see the new British prime minister David Cameron, along with the incoming secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, have endorsed a proposed visit by Queen Elizabeth to the Republic sometime during the new British government’s term of office.

In his first interview as prime minister on matters relating to Ireland, Mr Cameron said he wished to see "very good relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland".

These good relations alluded to by Mr Cameron suffered a sizeable setback when the British ambassador to Ireland, Julian King, failed to attend the Great Famine commemoration in Co Mayo recently. Was it a considered decision or just political incompetence that the representative of the state that ruled, or perhaps misruled, Ireland during the famine years, despite a formal invitation, felt unable to attend the commemoration of the catastrophe which saw Ireland lose 2.5 million of her poorest children to starvation and emigration? This famine happened despite an abundance of food and despite Ireland being an integral part of the wealthiest and most powerful empire in the world.

Tom Cooper

(Cathaoirleach -INC)


Letter to Irish Examiner, Monday, May 22, 2011


 It has been a good week in Ireland for post-colonial southern unionists and those who have yet to shake off the generations of British cultural and military subordination. The laying of a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance by Queen Elizabeth, or her saying a few well chosen words in Dublin Castle does not suffice to heal the deep wounds of the past. Those of us who seek justice, not revenge, acknowledgement of the pain and hurt inflicted, not recrimination, will continue to campaign for wrongs to be righted.  Long after Queen Elizabeth has returned to Britain and the flag waving and general euphoria which her visit evoked in Ireland has subsided, the issues of suspected British collusion in many killings in this State will not have gone with her. The words Queen Elizabeth failed to utter have more significance than the words she did.

 It is my view that Queen Elizabeth's gesture of wreath laying at the Garden of Remembrance was not a key moment in the histories of Ireland and Britain, as has been suggested, but a well practised adherence to protocol and accepted political politeness which she has been engaged in throughout her 59 year reign. If Queen Elizabeth wished to create a key moment in the histories of both countries, she could have used the occasion to suggest to her government, whose prime minister was also in Ireland at that time, to comply with a cross-party resolution adopted by Dáil Éireann on 10th July 2008 to open files that were withheld from Judge Henry Barron's inquiries into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

 The pursuance of justice for the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the Miami Showband massacre, the killings of Dublin Bus workers in 1972 and 1973, are no less worthy than the pursuance of justice by the British government for those killed and bereaved at Lockerbie, nor is it any less worthy than the pursuance of the perpetrators of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001

 If the Irish government had in its possession files which might be of assistance in identifying those responsible for the Birmingham and Guildford pub bombings in Britain in 1974 in which 26 innocent people lost their lives, and if, following a request from the British government to release these files, they refused, would Ireland's head of state be afforded a British State visit?. Of course not. Both the British government and the British people would be rightly outraged. Ireland would be regarded as a pariah nation and treated accordingly. In seeking justice for those who were killed and bereaved in the Lockerbie bombing, the British government secured a trial, conviction, extradition and substantial compensation for the victims. Likewise, the USA went to war in defence of those killed at Ground Zero. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings are Ireland's Lockerbie and September Eleven.

 Why does the Irish government accept lesser standards of justice for her own citizens who have been murdered than the UK and US authorities do?.

Tom Cooper,
(Cathaoirleach - INC)


Letter to Irish Examiner, Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fawning attitude to monarchy

Your columnist Matt Cooper (April 15), commenting on the imminent arrival of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland, displays an abject servility towards British royalty not seen since former Taoiseach John Bruton grovellingly referred to his meeting with Prince Charles in 1995 as ‘the happiest day of my life’.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Mr Cooper was acting as Ireland’s indigenous public relations officer for the British royal family and not a columnist for a leading national Irish newspaper. Such a fawning attitude towards British monarchy is not alone embarrassing but repugnant to the republican ethos of this state.

Displaying a condescension which I have rarely witnessed, Matt Cooper urges us to behave "like good neighbours who can put aside little rows from the past". To refer to the imperial colonisation of this country and the horrors that followed in the form of the Penal Laws, subjugation, slaughter, famine, plantation and forced transportation as ‘little rows from the past’ is an affront to those who suffered appalling abuses from our former colonial masters.

Matt Cooper bizarrely refers to Queen Elizabeth as "the chosen representative of the British people" who "has a popular and proper mandate". In fact, the British monarch is an unelected head of state for life, inherited this privilege at birth and will pass it on to her successor. The monarch is also the unelected Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Only Protestant heirs may take the British throne. Neither Catholics, nor those who marry a Catholic, nor those born out of wedlock, may remain in the line of succession. Sons also take precedence over daughters and the right of succession belongs to the eldest son, therefore institutionalising not just religious discrimination but male primogeniture. To copper fasten this anachronism, elected members of the House of Commons are barred from debating the role of the monarchy.

Under the British ‘constitution’, the Sovereign ‘personifies the state’, is an integral part of the legislature, head of the executive and judiciary and commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Crown. The unelected and unaccountable monarch has the power to dismiss parliament, appoint prime ministers, bishops and governors, and can confer honours and peerages on selected subjects. Indeed, many ‘squireens’ in this country have been the recipients of these baubles which apparently are much prized by the Uriah Heeps and lickspittles.

Surely any society which accepts the principle that some are born to rule while others are born to be ruled is just one step away from accepting that some states are destined to rule while other states are destined to be ruled. It was this philosophical mind-set which gave birth to the British Empire and all the horrors and oppression that it entailed.

Tom Cooper 
(Cathaoirleach - INC)


Letter to Irish Examiner, March 01, 2011

Irish war dead being used cynically to attack Irish nationhood

 The former Fine Gael TD for Donegal North East, Paddy Harte OBE (Letters, February 8) appears to labour under the impression that Irishmen who fought for the British empire during the Great War have been ignored by the Irish state.

This is untrue. The fact that we give our primary allegiance to those who established the Irish state, not to those who tried to prevent it, does not constitute neglect of those Irish who went away and never returned.

For many years now Irish society in the South has been accused of failing to honour the memory of those who were slaughtered in the Great War. Can it be that Mr Harte is unaware that the Sunday nearest July 11 each year has been set aside to commemorate all Irish killed in all wars, including those who gave their lives on service with the UN. The President, Taoiseach, leaders of the opposition and religious leaders from all the main churches are invited to attend. This is truly a national commemoration to honour those Irish who died, with formidable respect and dignity but without the pomp and pageant of the British imperial military ethos so much associated with the British Legion version of Remembrance Sunday.

It is entirely appropriate that this National Day of Commemoration be held. What is not acceptable, however, is the effort to confer new respectability on the British army under the guise of honouring the Irish war dead.

Is Mr Harte suggesting we should forget that during the War of Independence, many Irish families with sons who had fought and fallen at the Somme and Mons were having their doors kicked in and were terrorised by men in British uniform?

These Irishmen in British uniform had been lied to and betrayed. Home Rule for Ireland was promised, but then suspended. Irish Party leader John Redmond had told them the war was a "just war, undertaken in defence of small nations and oppressed peoples". Redmond was referring to Belgium, but Roger Casement had exposed the real Belgium – a ruthless colonial power that practised genocide and slavery in Africa. Young Irishmen fought and died for freedoms that were being denied to their own country.

Why should the Irish state allow itself to become progressively more involved with the ceremonial of a quasi-military organisation like the British Legion that promotes British patriotic nationalism?

Why is the National Day of Commemoration – which remembers the barbarism inflicted on our great-grandparents’ generation – not sufficient for these revisionists? It is my view that the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in such an appalling conflict, which was more about colonial designs on Africa than the freedoms of small nations, is being used most cynically as a veiled propagandist attack on separatist Irish nationhood.

The memory of those who were mass murdered in such an inglorious, inter-imperialist conflict should be protected from political opportunists. The greatest nonsense arising from this issue raised by Mr Harte is the assumption that "poppy day" can be officially commemorated by a state that was born out of the Easter Rising. Only a naive, weak or silly government would entertain the idea that the Easter Week volunteers and the army which opposed them receive "parity of esteem" in state ceremonies. Is there any country anywhere in the world that honours its own heroes of liberation on the one hand and simultaneously the army of its colonial oppressor on the other? It would be more honourable if, instead of attempting to coerce the Irish state into commemorating a vast imperial war culture, which was responsible for the mass murder of millions across Europe, Mr Harte asked who was responsible for this unparalleled act of slaughter?

Tom Cooper

(Cathaoirleach - INC)


Letter to Irish Examiner August 11 2010

 Senator has weak hold of moral high ground

 I was tempted to check the date of your edition that carried the report from Senator Liam Twomey (‘Lenihan slammed as speaker for Collins commemoration, August 12’) objecting to a "Fianna Fáil minister like Brian Lenihan" giving the oration at the Michael Collins commemoration in Béal na mBláth next Sunday. It was not that I expected to see it dated April 1, but sometime in the 1930s. Apart from such bigoted and neanderthal views, Senator Twomey’s letter carries some historical inaccuracies.

Most important of these is his statement: "Fine Gael, the party that created the state under Michael Collins", which is factually incorrect. Michael Collins was killed on August 22, 1922, a full 11 years before the Fine Gael party was formed by the merger of Cumann na nGaedhael, the National Centre and the National Guard.

Commandeering the moral high ground, Senator Twomey claims Mr Lenihan and Fianna Fáil are ethically unfit to speak at the commemoration because "their predecessors" murdered Michael Collins. For the record, under Cumann na nGaedhael, in September 1922, Robert Erskine Childers was summarily executed for possession of a revolver presented to him by Michael Collins despite the fact that a writ of habeas corpus was pending. In December of the same year, Justice Minister Kevin O’Higgins ordered the summary execution of four prisoners – Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellowes, Dick Barrett and Joseph McKelvey – closely followed by the executions of a further 76 prisoners.

These executions were carried out by the predecessors of Senator Twomey’s Fine Gael party and could be regarded as being closer to murder than the killing of Michael Collins whose death was the result of military action during the civil war between pro- and anti-treaty forces.

Those of us who wish to see an end to civil war politics will welcome the decision of the Béal na mBláth commemoration committee chairman, Cllr Dermot Collins, to issue the invitation to Brian Lenihan. 

Tom Cooper
(Cathaoirleach - INC)


anniversary of deployment of Irish troops to the Congo

July 24th 2010

On Friday July 23rd the 50th anniversary of the deployment of Irish troops to the Congo was commemorated at a ceremony at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel in Dublin. This was a seminal event in our history as it remembered with pride the first occasion Irishmen in Irish uniform performed their duty as representatives of a sovereign independent Ireland. The Irish defence forces' were on duty with the United Nations, 26 of whom lost their lives during the four year tour of duty. These soldiers were on a peace-keeping mission with the UN and served with bravery and selfless valour. Ireland's defence forces' proud record of service around the world, not as a predatory army but as humanitarian ambassadors, is acknowledged worldwide and is a source of national pride.

Present at the ceremony were Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Minister for Defence Tony Killeen, army Chief of Staff Lt General Sean McCann and many army veterans and their families. The Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Defence forces President Mary McAleese, was not in attendance. That the President of Ireland as Commander-in-Chief of the defence forces was not present to honour those Irish who sacrificed their lives on peace-keeping duty with the UN is a source of regret.

Instead, the President was present at a passing out parade for 41 new PSNI graduates at the police training college in Belfast. As much as I welcome the new political ecumenism brought about by the Good Friday Agreement, I find it unfortunate that when faced with the choice of attending the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of Irish soldiers participation in UN missions or a passing out parade for PSNI recruits, the president chose the latter.

Tom Cooper
(Cathaoirleach - INC)


Justice for the Forgotten

July 23rd 2010

There have been many groups and organisations which have become victims of the recession by having their funding either reduced or withdrawn in full, not least of whom is Justice for the Forgotten, the organisation representing victims of the biggest mass murder in Irish history, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Also, in addition to the 1974 bombings, they represent victims of the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973 in which three Dublin bus workers were killed and scores injured, the Miami Showband massacre in which Fran O'Toole Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy were murdered by soldiers of the UDR, and killings in Belturbet, Castleblaney and Dundalk.

The 1972 bombings in Sackville Place and Liberty Hall which killed two Dublin bus workers occurred as Dáil Éireann was debating the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill. Defenders of civil liberties were expressing deep disquiet about the Bill and Fine Gael were unhappy and indicated their intention to oppose the Bill. The Labour Party were certain to vote against the legislation and the Bill was set for defeat. The British government was anxious to see the legislation passed. As word reached the Dáil Chambers about the bombings, it was assumed the IRA were responsible. Consequently, Fine Gael abstained and the Bill was carried. 

Reports in the media on the discontinuation of government funding for Justice for the Forgotten says the government has confirmed it is discontinuing its funding of the group's Dublin office because it is focusing its budget in the area on a crime victims' unit. This excuse is as pathetic as it is unacceptable.

The families of those killed and injured in the bombings must still be wondering why they have been treated so shabbily over the years. Just months after the Dublin and Monaghan atrocity, the Garda investigation was effectively wound down, Garda files relating to the bombing went missing, and Mr Justice Henry Barron in his report said that "the government of the day did not show much concern for those killed and injured in Dublin and Monaghan". The former Taoiseach Mr Liam Cosgrave who was in office during this period, was invited by the Sub Committee on the Barron Report to defend his government's actions in regard to the bombings, but he declined. No one was ever charged, arrested or questioned in relation to these bombings. 

Ironically, it was a Yorkshire Television programme, First Tuesday (Hidden Hand; the Forgotten Massacre) screened in July 1993 that provided names and interviews with some of those responsible for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. This was to eventually lead to the Hamilton, Barron and McEntee investigations.

That we are in the grip of an unprecedented recession and are teetering on the brink of financial bankruptcy is a fact, but are we so morally bankrupt that we would heap further callous disregard, suffering and insult onto those who have endured so much?. Recently, Mr Eamon O'Cuiv as Minister at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs awarded in excess of €250,000 to promote and organise Orange Order institutions in the Republic. If the Irish State can fund the sectarian Orange Order why can they not fund innocent Irish victims of British terrorism?.   

Tom Cooper
(Cathaoirleach - INC)


Letter to Irish Times March 7th 2010

The Edentubber Martyrs

The decision by Enniscorthy Town Council to approve the erection of a memorial to commemorate the Edentubber Martyrs, despite dividing local opinion is, I believe, the correct one (Home News, March 6th) These five young men were killed when a land mine they were assembling went off prematurely during the 'border campaign' in 1957. The decision has angered some, including local Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe, who said he was "hugely concerned" at the event. A spokesperson for Enniscorthy Town Council pointed out that the monument was 'neither erected nor funded by the council'. In expressing disapproval of the commemoration, Deputy Kehoe appears to be adopting double standards.

I do not recollect any expressions of concern from Mr Kehoe when Dún Laoghaoire/Rathdown County Council, at public expense, re-erected the memorial fountain to Queen Victoria in Dún Laoghaoire harbour in 2003. Queen Victoria was Ireland's monarch when in excess of three million Irish people either died of starvation during a time of abundance or left Ireland in 'coffin ships' to escape destitution. Records of the time clearly show that substantial shipments of food were being exported to Britain during the famine. Much of this food was produced by people who were too poor to purchase it for themselves.

Nor do I recollect any objections from Mr Kehoe when Cork County Council, again at public expense, sanctioned the erection of a memorial to the English pirate Sir Francis Drake in Carrigaline, Co Cork in 2005. In what can only be described as a bizarre event, a government minister and a detachment of the Irish naval service were in attendance to honour Drake who had been responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of Catholics on Rathlin Island off the County Antrim coast in 1575.

In 2004, Mr Kehoe was again silent when a memorial to Sergeant Major Cornelius Coughlan was unveiled in Co Mayo, yet again at public cost. Sergeant Coughlan, a British soldier of the Gordon Highlanders was being honoured for his role in putting down the so-called Indian Mutiny in 1857. During the military campaign that followed, in excess of ten million Indians died fighting for their independence from the Empire.

It appears that Irishmen who died fighting for imperial Britain merit public commemoration, yet those like the Edentubber Martyrs who died opposing imperialism are demonised. This I find grotesque, perverse and obscene.


Tom Cooper

(Cathaoirleach - INC)



the late Conor Cruise O'Brien

December 2008

By any standards, the contribution to political life in Ireland over many decades by the late Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien has been both enormous and controversial. In acknowledging his many and varied talents and the passionate manner in which he approached his subject, Dr O'Brien nonetheless failed to define the Northern conflict as a political problem preferring to regard it as a law and order issue, which in turn resulted in the introduction of some of the most repressive legislation in Western Europe. His handling of the crisis in the North as the Labour Party spokesman on Northern Ireland was nothing short of disastrous, a view held by his constituents as they made clear in the 1977 general election.

The period of the 1973-1977 coalition government saw the emergence of the "Heavy Gang". These were members of An Garda Síochána who specialised in the extraction of confessions amid claims of ill-treatment while in Garda custody. Dr O'Brien was made aware of these allegations yet decided to ignore them. Such was Dr O'Brien's irrational take on the Northern conflict that it was assumed that if one expressed even mild support for a united Ireland one was likely to be regarded as a 'fellow traveller' of the Provos. Such paranoia made decent law abiding citizens wary of expressing an opinion that deviated from the perceived consensus as espoused by Dr O'Brien.

Not even the President of Ireland was permitted to express concerns about the constitutionality of some emergency legislation which emerged from Dáil Éireann without evoking irrational criticism. Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan almost precipitated a constitutional crisis by his unwarranted attack on President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh who referred legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality. The President felt obliged to resign when Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave refused to accept Mr Donegan's resignation.

Despite being the biggest mass-murder in the history of the state, the investigation into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings was effectively wound up after just a few  months. In the 1973 Interim Report on the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, the Inquiry stated "that the Government of the day showed little interest in the bombings". Almost 35 years later, those killed and bereaved are still seeking justice.

Also, attempts were even made to censor letters to newspapers which expressed political opinions that conflicted with those of the government. The intention was to suppress the opinions of ordinary citizens, and was indicative of how far that government was prepared to go to silence alternative viewpoints. Dr O'Brien may well have been an intellectual giant, but he was also a political pygmy.

Tom Cooper
(Cathaoirleach - INC)