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The secret actions of the British military in Northern Ireland are about as funny as Carry On Sergeant
Eamonn McCann, 01 Mar 2001
I can't keep meeting Maggie Walshaw like this. Every time I go for a ramble around the internet, there she is. US sites, Aussie pages, Trotskyite domains, Maggie's everywhere. Except in the front pages of the daily papers and on the nine o'clock news.
Maggie - or British Army Sergeant Margaret Walshaw BEM, as it's said she prefers to be known (not that she prefers to be known) deserves wider recognition. Her contribution to the history of our little country has been considerable.
Maggie is a fully-made member of the intruiging (it's rare you'll see that word properly deployed) Force Research Unit (FRU) which for years waged a campaign to protect Northern Ireland from democracy. Established in the early 1980s, the FRU brought much-needed order into the previously higgledy-piggledy world of counter-intelligence.
None of us might ever have become aware of the FRU, or bumped into Maggie, had it not been for the botching of the Pat Finucane business. Not that there was anything cack-handed about the killing itself. The 1989 offing of the troublesome solicitor was impeccably planned by the Ulster Defence Association's intelligence officer, Brian Nelson, the efficiency of the operation being in no small way attributable to the FRU, with whom the versatile Mr. Nelson was double-jobbing at the time.
Maggie was Nelson's handler.
As many as a dozen inconvenient Catholics are said to have been gotten rid of by the FRU in this way during Maggie's sojourn in the North. Last year, we heard of the 1987 killing of 66-year-old Francisco Notorantonio, supposedly eliminated in order to protect the identity of a British plant in the IRA code-named "Stakeknife".
There may be much more to the Stakeknife/Franccisco Notorantonio story. The key fact in relation to Maggie is that Mr. Notorantonio couldn't be more dead.
A few weeks back, on UTV's Insight, an ex-member of the FRU broke ranks to confirm that in Belfast in the late 1980s Military Intelligence had had a policy of "shoot to kill by proxy", which had been implemented by the FRU as "judge, jury and executioner".
It was "immoral", he mused, "and probably unlawful".
Maggie's FRU boss in this immoral and probaby illegal business was Lt Colonel Gordon Kerr, whose cover was effectively blown when he appeared at Belfast Crown Court to verify Brian Nelson's strange tale. (Charged as an "ordinary" terrorist, Nelson had had to produce corroboration of his claim that he'd been acting at the direction of government agents.) Kerr has since been promoted to Brigadier and is stationed in the British Embassy in Beijing as military attaché.
As to Maggie's present whereabouts, I'm saddened to say I don't know. Although I tend to believe that Brig. Kerr knows.
On the naughty but nicely chosen date of April 1st 1998, Maggie was commissioned as an officer, a reward, no doubt, for work well done. The later presentation to her of the "British Empire Medal" by HM the Queen also testifies to the high regard in which she is held. Sadly, time constraints preclude my searching Maggie out to congratulate her in person. But any reader prompted to pursue the matter, and Maggie, might usefully begin by contacting Brig. Kerr at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him I sent you.
Not nearly enough attention has been paid to the decision of Stormont Health Minister Bairbre de Brun to sign an order bringing the North into line with Britain in relation to the morning-after pill. From now on, the pill will be readily available to women in the North from age 16, over the counter in pharmacies.
In the Belfast paper Sunday Life last month, the Democratic Unionist Assemblywoman and candidate for the Strangford Westminster seat Iris Robinson launched a scathing attack on de Brun for signing the order. The morning after pill is an abortfacient, insisted Ms. Robinson. De Brun was facilitating abortion.
This will ring bells down South, where the medical establishment agrees fully with Ms. Robinson that the pill is an abortifacient, with the result that it is outlawed entirely.
So here we have a case of a Sinn Fein Minister in a Stormont parliament choosing to introduce British standards rather than Irish standards to the Six Counties, and being denounced by the Paisleyites for doing so.
The pill works by preventing a fertilised egg becoming implanted in the womb. It is because Ms. Robinson believes, as does John Paul II, that life begins at fertilisiation, that she believes the pill induces abortion.
De Brun, implicitly, says no. Life begins, at the earliest, at implantation - a view frequently and fervently denounced by the Vatican. So, on this issue at least, Iris Robinson is a better Catholic than Bairbre de Brun.
And there's another thing. There's a logic to giving 16-year-olds access to the morning-after pill in England, Scotland and Wales. Sixteen is the age of consent over there. But although 16-year-olds in the North, too, are now entitled to the pill, the age of consent for young Northerners remains 17.
Such are the tangles we entwine ourselves in when we base our politics on irrationality.