The Great Escape! – Review of Out of the Maze

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 89 September 1989

h blocks

Out of the Maze by Derek Dunne. Gill and Macmillan, 170pp., £5.95, 1988.

Out of the Maze is the story of how the IRA pulled off the impossible. Like the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic, the Maze/Long Kesh prison was built of watertight compartments. Each of the 8 H-blocks a prison within a prison, beyond the blocks a further two sealed compounds, a double ‘airlock’ main gate stood between the prisoners and the countryside beyond.

Basing his book on the accounts of a number of participants, Derek Dunne has produced a lively narrative of a truly epic event (the largest breakout in Europe since the Second World War) without losing sight of the political context amidst the drama. The significance of the escape is explained in terms of the current phase of the struggle for Irish freedom. The planning of the escape took place at a time when the movement had been suffering a number of setbacks. The supergrass strategy was in full swing. Not only were scores of people suffering internment by remand, but many had also been convicted on the word of paid perjurers such as Christopher Black and Raymond Gilmour. The aim of this strategy was to put Republican activists behind bars.

In 1983 British strategy received two devastating blows. As Belfast street murals put it, ‘Lean comes clean’. In October ‘supergrass’ Robert Lean retracted at a Sinn Fein press conference, having given his RUC Special Branch minders the slip and driven off in their car. The same Belfast walls were still freshly painted from the month before celebrating ‘Meals on wheels for 38’. The IRA had taken control of H-Block getting 38 republican prisoners out on the daily food lorry.

This book is very revealing, not only in terms of the ingenuity and organisation of the IRA, but also in terms of the nature of the prison-struggle in the period following the defeat of the 1980/81 hungerstrikes. Dunne shows how the British administration was forced to recognise the Republican command structure which remained solid throughout, how the British authorities were outmanoeuvred in their attempts to end segregation of republican prisoners, and how ending the no-work protest was used to gain access to the workshops either to disrupt them or use them for the prisoners' own purposes.

The collaboration of the 26-County state is highlighted. Those who were not recaptured within a short space of time (about half of the escapees) have had to stay on the run. The 26-County neo-colonial state has even handed back Paul Kane. With the recent collapse of Christopher Black’s evidence, he should have been a free man, but the 26-County neo-colonialists have sent him back to the Six Counties on the sole charge of escaping from a sentence that has been quashed.

Dunne reckons these people have played an important role in reorganising the IRA, allowing it to step up its activity again after a period of heavy blows from the RUC and British Army. His examples are convincing. Padraig McKearney in particular was involved with developing the strategy of targetting isolated RUC barracks so that a ‘third phase’ of the struggle could be achieved in which isolated pockets of resistance could be held. Between January 1984 and the end of 1986, 70 such attacks were mounted.

However, Gerry Kelly, one of the escapees, recently told FRFI that he would see the significance of the escape differently: ‘It had a great political impact … the morale among nationalists was low and the escape did a lot to change that. It showed that prisoners and the Republican Movement could, in a period when things were bad, hit the Brits back in a place where they felt safest.’

But as to the role of individuals: ‘I could think of people who got out who had a great effect on the movement, but if the insinuation is that the Republican Movement really needed them, the movement has gone on for a very long time and has lost a lot of its best people through assassination, hunger strikes or into gaol. We are a confident people. There is no one person who is not expendable in the sense that we cannot do without them.’

Some of the escapees have fallen victim to Britain’s shoot-to-kill strategy. On 8 May 1987 Padraig McKearney died during the 22nd attack that year. All eight IRA men were shot dead by the SAS at Loughgall RUC barracks. Most of Britain’s assassinations have gone unnoticed outside of the Six Counties, contracted out to Loyalist murder-gangs supplied with all the necessary details from military intelligence or the RUC to carry them out. One such assassination was the shooting of Larry Marley – Papillon – who masterminded the Escape from the Maze, an utterly selfless act in which he could not directly participate. The character-study here of Larry Marley is a monument to the calibre of the politics and people involved in the IRA, and the description of his funeral a testimony to the political level and determination of the nationalist people whose cutting edge is the armed campaign of the IRA against the British occupation forces. 

Full abortion rights for women in Ireland - Éirígí statement

The RCG is happy to reproduce a statement by Éirígí on abortion rights in Ireland:

Gerry Adam's Ard Fheis statement that women 'deserve and are entitled to be trusted' is flatly contradicted by his party's position on abortion rights.

Sinn Féin is now in favour of a repeal of the 8th amendment and the introduction of abortion in limited circumstances including rape, abuse and situations where there is a threat to the health or life of the woman, but critically they refuse to support 'abortion on request'.

Read more ...

Ireland: Devil’s deal

ireland devils deal

The £1bn Tory deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) cast a sharp light on splits in the British ruling class and compelled those moving against the current administration to feign shock at the politics of a party with whom they have shared the Commons benches since 1971. To Labour’s Shaun Woodward the deal was simply ‘reprehensible’. We remember that at the time of Westminster’s last hung parliament in 2010, Woodward – then shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – drew up Labour’s own ‘economic package’ to coax the DUP into coalition. This time around, as Labour politicians lined up to express their newfound outrage at aspects of the DUP’s politics, claims surfaced in the press that they themselves were in discussion with DUP negotiators – heaping further pressure on Theresa May’s ‘team’ to concede on key Unionist demands.

The DUP intends to play the space between government and opposition, sidling up to Labour as necessary to increase its leverage over government. Its alliance with May remains fruitful for as long as her government’s ability to win key votes in Parliament remains precarious. Of course, this suits Labour too, making closer ties with the DUP an attractive prospect. And so off went Labour’s Owen Smith to join in with Orange Order festivities in Belfast – the new shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland celebrating loyalist supremacy on the Twelfth. Truly reprehensible.

Read more ...

The DUP and Ireland


A speech given by Nicki Jameson at a London RCG meeting on 28 June

After failing to secure an overall majority, the Conservatives have been negotiating with the DUP and have finally done a deal to secure the votes of its ten MPs on key questions. This deal will provide £1bn for state sector spending in the north of Ireland.

Everyone in Britain outside of Tory HQ is bristling with indignation of one sort or another. Regional governments in Scotland and Wales, which are already a poor relation, subsidy-wise compared to the north of Ireland, are incandescent; while Labour supporters point out that the DUP seems to have had no problem locating that magic money tree that Corbyn was ridiculed by Amber Rudd for relying on. Outraged commentators are asking if ‘cash for votes’ is legal (which it clearly is!) and, ever since the negotiations started, supporters of Corbyn have been going on about the hypocrisy of the government talking to the DUP - which has clear links to loyalist paramilitaries - while having made propaganda out of Corbyn’s earlier support for Sinn Fein, the IRA and Irish republicanism.

Much has been made in the press of the DUP’s reactionary politics – its stances against abortion and gay rights, and in favour of creationist education. But relatively little has been said about why the DUP exists at all. Why indeed the little statelet of ‘Northern Ireland’, which has been propped up by subsidies from Westminster for many a year, exists.

Read more ...

Ireland: reaction north and south of the border

apple billions protest tax
The Irish government assisted Apple to appeal against a decision by the European Commission to order the company to pay €13bn in taxes to the Irish states.

Ireland: caught in the crossfire

On 17 May Enda Kenny announced his long-awaited retirement as leader of Fine Gael – the right-wing party that heads the ruling coalition in the Twenty-Six Counties. Having wanted to get rid of him from time immemorial, his party and the Irish media now praise his ‘extraordinary leadership’ in tackling ‘the Brexit issue’, elbowing his way into the great chambers of Brussels and securing his nation a prominent place at the negotiating table. Ireland has indeed found its way to the table – not as a ‘player’, but as a Brexit bargaining chip. Today’s ‘Irish question’ sits between the exit bill and citizens’ rights – ‘progress’ on all three being an EU precondition for commencing trade talks with Britain. As rivalry sharpens between the major imperialist powers, Ireland – chained to foreign capital – finds itself caught in the crossfire.

Read more ...

Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed