not a member? click here to sign up
Joining America's Disappeared
I’m sorry to hear of an old acquaintance, John Eddie McNicholl, taking a hit from the Bush regime, and even sorrier to note the reaction of an influential element of Irish-America.
Eamonn McCann, 20 Aug 2003
I met John Eddie a couple of times away back in the early ’70s. He was a member of the Official IRA from near Dungiven, went with the INLA at the split in 1974. He was charged in 1975 with murder and attempted murder, escaped from remand in Long Kesh in May 1976 and eventually made his way to the US.
Now 51, married with three children, he had been living under his own name in Philadelphia for 19 years, working as a pipe fitter. He wasn’t wanted by his former jailers. Had he been in custody in the North, he would have qualified for release under the Belfast Agreement.
On July 18, he was arrested outside his home at 5.30am as he left for work, taken to jail and, a few days later, deported back to Ireland. The Dublin authorities accepted him: the alternative would have been indefinite detention in the US. His wife, Frances, from Derry, now a US citizen, says of her children: “They don’t know what’s going on. They just want their dad back. This is the only home they have ever known. The authorities allowed him to walk the streets for 20 years. They always knew where he was. Now they say he is a high risk.”
What had changed was the onset of Bush’s “war on terrorism”. This was recognised in an article in the pro-Sinn Fein US weekly, the Irish Voice, which suggested that the incident arose from the “post-September 11th... overreaction of some in the Bush administration.”
“Is this America?” the editorial demanded. “Is this a country where a man can be snatched outside his home and bundled on an airline?”
The answer is that of course it is. Since September 11, many hundreds (there is no official tally) of US residents have been snatched from their homes. A number have been bundled onto military aircraft, and transported to, for example, Egypt for torture. Those still held in the US are in prison without charge or trial. None has been allowed legal representation. The distress of their families will be all the more deeply-felt for the fact that they have been given no information about where their fathers, sons, brothers are being held, what is alleged against them, what evidence exists for the allegations, for how long they will be kept or what sort of shape they are in.
Meanwhile, at Guantanamo, around 650 men and boys are held in a concentration camp in conditions which amount to torture.
You might think that, having focused on John Eddie’s case, and noted the relevance of Bush’s “war on terrorism”, the Voice would have gone on to express a more general concern about the administration’s systematic assault on human rights. But no. The editorial concludes, “The Bush administration owes the Irish community an explanation for this dreadful act... President Bush and his advisors would be far better off chasing al-Qaeda than innocent Irishmen.”
What a repellent attitude is revealed in that last sentence. Leave off the Irish, runs the message, it’s a distraction from putting the boot into Muslims.
If I remember John Eddie aright, he’d be dismayed at the character of some of the the support offered to him.
But then, nationalism everywhere tends in the end towards foul narrow-mindedness of this sort.
I gather that Albert Reynolds is well-placed to profit from the plight of Iraq.
This isn’t as cynical a thought as it might seem. The New York Times estimates that 50,000 companies worldwide are bidding for business in occupied Iraq. The Iraq Reconstruction Reporter, a specialised Internet service offering information on upcoming contracts, has built up 52,000 subscriptions in two months. Why shouldn’t Life, Energy & Technology (LET), an American firm of which Reynolds is chairman, make a play for a share of the action?
Reynolds’ qualifications include the fact noted by Le Monde that, “he has entrée to the White House.” Reynolds himself has reminded Irish journalists that he “did business” with Iraq “prior to the first Gulf War.”
The phrase “prior to the first Gulf War” may convey that the business stopped when the Hussein regime put itself beyond the pale of moral society. But not so.
On March 16 1988, Hussein’s forces used chemical weapons against Iranian and Kurdish fighters who had the previous day captured the Kurdish town of Halabja. As many as 4,000 civilians, as well as perhaps 1,000 fighters, were choked to death. News of the atrocity spread across the world rapidly, as the Iranian government and Kurdish groups protested and appealed for support. In Dublin, Reynolds was Minister for Industry and Commerce in the government led by Charles Haughey.
At this time, Anglo Irish Beef Processors, owned by a friend of Reynolds and a Fianna Fail funder, Larry Goodman, had a contract to ship huge quantities of beef to the Hussein regime. A problem had arisen. There was no guarantee Hussein would pay up on the due date, and no obvious way to force the issue if he defaulted. Goodman had a solution – Export Credit Insurance. That is, a guarantee that the Irish tax-payer would foot the bill if Hussein reneged. Unfortunately, the legal limit on export credit had already been reached.
Here, according to evidence to the Tribunal of Inquiry under Judge Hamilton, is how the golden circle was squared.
Two months after Halabja, in May 1988, Reynolds and Goodman had a meeting at which Goodman stressed the urgency of his need for tax-payer back-up. Three weeks later, on June 8th, Reynolds told the cabinet he’d be bringing in a bill to increase the ceiling on export credit from £300 million to £500 million. The bill was introduced in the Dail on June 22nd, as a measure to enhance Irish export prospects generally. There was no mention of Larry Goodman or Iraq. Only two TDs responded to Reynolds, neither opposing the change. There was no vote.
On October 21, Reynolds told a meeting of senior officials of his department that the government had agreed to “further increases for expert credit insurance in Iraq... at the discretion of the Minister for Industry and Commerce.” The official record of the June 8 cabinet meeting refers to no specific decision in relation to Iraq and makes no mention of giving the minister the “discretion” described by Reynolds. The Dail record of June 22nd shows that TDs were not alerted to the Iraqi dimension of the matter, or to the claimed cabinet decision to put export credit to Iraq at Reynolds’ discretion.
Reynolds used his discretion. Literally within an hour of the October 21 meeting at his department, Goodman got the go-ahead. The result was that almost half the total export insurance liability of Irish tax-payers to all countries in the world was in favour of one transaction – Goodman’s beef shipments to Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi army got fed. Goodman pocketed millions. The Irish tax-payer got caught. Reynolds went on to become Taoiseach.
Fast forward to the present and Reynolds is now chairman of LET as it bids for a $1.3 billion contract to supply 200 mobile electric power stations to the Occupation Authority. The deal would mark a quantum leap for LET, which has so far managed to sell exactly two (2) of these machines, at $6.5 million each (to the city council of Beirut.)
If you read the business and finance pages of our broadsheets, you will learn that Reynolds’ prominent involvement in this potentially hugely profitable affair is taken as evidence of international recognition of our former Taoiseach’s business brilliance. There is more than a hint that we all might feel a certain patriotic pride at the implicit confirmation of Southern Ireland’s status as a thoroughly modern