Walls of Silence: inner and outer realities…

I picked up Katherine McCartney’s book Walls of Silence at the airport on Saturday, and began reading it on the plane back to England. Unusually for any book about the Northern Irish troubles it makes for gripping reading. That’s possibly because it outlines a problem that is more than modern history: indeed, the killing of her brother Robert by what was at the time an active unit in the IRA is indicative of a range of social order problems that have persisted long after the Troubles have largely dissipated. Much of the value in the book is its dense recapitulation of a complex story that took McCartney and her sisters days weeks and months to untangle. Much of those events were documented here on Slugger. But it contains some telling detail, not least the way Sinn Fein politicians were prepared to tell them one thing privately and then say something completely different in public.

She says that Gerry Kelly, who earned himself the nickname “I can’t answer that” amongst the sisters over the course of a year, told the sisters that direct sanctions could not be carried out by the IRA on the perpetrators because:

‘… a lot of republican families would be upset… these people have familikes; they don’t want them to leave the area; they shouldn’t be made victims of this’. I pointed out that the IRA was not prone to showing sympathy to families of those it chose to punish. After an hour long meeting, Kelly was left in no doubt as to what we wanted. ‘Ideally we would like everyone who looked at him wrong that night, but that is not going to happen. We want the fifteen,’ he was told.

Shortly afterwards, she quotes Kelly to ‘illustrate the inconsistency between Sinn Fein’s public face and that of its private one’:

I would like to see the family get justice in this, and the people who were involved in this brutal slaying should be rejected entirely by the community… and brought to justice.

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  • aquifer

    A quote and some older quotes:

    Gerry Gregg, writing in Magill Magazine 2005:

    George Orwell, writing about the appeasement of Nazi Germany, described the current predicament that all Irish democrats now find themselves in: ‘There has been a raising-up of evil by a lowering of good, a lowering of truth by an ascendancy of lies.’ The ancient Greeks had a chilling word for this state of affairs: anomie. It refers to a condition of lawlessness, in which moral criteria are abandoned and the hierarchy of human values is allowed to disintegrate.

  • colm

    A more modern word for the whole sags surrounding this issue and the reason for the failute of justice would be ‘expediency’. The succesful continuation of the the peace process renders the effort involved and disturbance that would ensue if real justce was served not worth it.

  • Colm

    Ooops, the 8th word in that sentence above should read ‘saga’.

  • New Yorker

    The inescapable conclusion regarding McCartney, Quinn and others is that your society still approves of murder. It is no longer kill someone of the other community and it is OK but if someone is killed and it might upset the establishment that’s OK, best sweep it under the carpet. There is still a long way to go before normalcy is reached.

  • The Raven

    And we have the neck to discuss the notion of truth and amnesty in other threads on this very site?


  • éireannach saolta

    New Yorker it is true that our society approves of murder. Just look at the condoners of murder both sides elect such as Sinn Féin and the DUP. The same can be said of American society and the Iraq war

  • Steve

    When will the McCartneys own up to the fact their brother started trouble he was incapable of handling, while his murder could never be justified neither can this on going witch hunt for “justice” for their “innocent” brother

  • The Dubliner

    “A more modern word for the whole saga surrounding this issue and the reason for the failute of justice would be ‘expediency’. The succesful continuation of the the peace process renders the effort involved and disturbance that would ensue if real justce was served not worth it.” – colm

    Which accepts a hidden constitution that degrees that the right to life of the state citizens is not absolute but is subject to operational expediency of the state. The state may kill its citizens by act or omission and may overlook the killing of its citizens by non-statists as it deems appropriate. When you accept that hidden constitution, you cease to be a constitutional democrat who is imbued with human rights and you become the disposable property of the state.

    I think most nationalists and unionists hold to that sentiment even if they wouldn’t articulate it or consciously incorporate it into their political philosophy. They would claim to hold the state to a higher standard, when the evidence – not least from the degenerates who are elected to political office – is wholly otherwise.

    It’s depressing that people can be so easily manipulated, allowing their standards to be lowered to accommodate the low moral standards of those who would violate human rights on an epic scale as a means of self-advancement – and there isn’t any vermin lower on the moral scale than PSF. It shows how much of nationalists’ opposition to the state’s murder of its own citizens was just propaganda – murder than was justified by the state (on the occasions when it could not deny it) of pragmatic ‘expediency’ i.e. that a greater goal was served which meant that some innocent people were ‘regrettably’ killed by the activities of agents but that more lives were saved than were lost.

    “I give, of course, considerable weight to the fact that he passed on what was possibly life-saving information in respect of 217 threatened individuals.” –
    the judge at the trial of Brian Nelson, British FRU agent and mass murderer, giving a lenient after being told by Gordan Kerr, British Army Colonel and mass murderer, that expediency (i.e murder) saved lives.

    “I could only find maybe two cases where the information given by Nelson may have been helpful to the Security Forces in preventing attacks.” – Nicholas Benwell of the Stevens Inquiry, pointing out that the paradox of murder means saving life is mere propaganda.

  • ulsterfan


    You classify the search for murderers of McCartney as a witch hunt, others consider this to be a search for justice and truth.
    Until this is achieved the search will continue and be supported by all who believe in law and order.
    It is not important if he was a saint or sinner.
    He was a person who was entitled to life , a life so brutally taken.
    Be patient and we will have the truth.

  • The Dubliner

    Steve’s disparagement of the dead is the same ploy used against Pat Finucane by those who supported the expediency of cover-up of the state’s role in that murder in order to protect the state’s interests. Now that nationalists find that their own interests are best served by similar expediencies, they reverse their objection and engage in them with Orwellian zeal: “Four legs good, two legs better!”

  • Bobby O’ Malley

    Steves comment is typical of SF’s supporters all throughout the internet trying to defend the undefendable. Just look at Indymedia.ie sometime and see their views on Robert McCartney, Jean McConville etc, etc. Robert McCartney didn’t deserve to die and his murderers don’t deserve to get away with it.