Richard O’Rawe BBC Talkback 6 October 2017

BBC Radio Ulster

William Crawley speaks to author Richard O’Rawe about his new book, In the Name of the Son The Gerry Conlon Story.

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William:  You’ll remember 1989, the 19th of October, Gerry Conlon burst out of the Old Bailey in London. He had spent fifteen years behind bars having been wrongly convicted of taking part in the Guildford pub bombings. He spoke to the crowds and the media outside the court and you could hear the rage in his voice at the injustice he and others had experienced.

Audio:  Gerry Conlon addressing the crowds outside the Old Bailey in London upon his conviction being quashed by the court. To see it click here.

William:  Well much has been written over the years about Gerry Conlon, who died in 2014 at the age of sixty, and much more will certainly be written about the botched justice meted out in the case of the Guildford 4, the Maguire 7 and the Birmingham 6. But in his new book Richard O’Rawe, a lifelong friend of Gerry Conlon, tells us about what happened to Gerry after he was released and the devastation that experience of imprisonment and abuse brought to his life. Richard, welcome. Good Afternoon to you!

Richard:   Thank you so much, William.

William:   Let me say the name of your book, it’s In the Name of the Son, obviously a play on the famous film, In the Name of the Father, the Gerry Conlon story. And it’s a tour – and by the way pacey, fascinating book that you’ve given us. It’s brilliantly written. But you get the sense of two different people here in Gerry Conlon: That rage for justice, that sense of the injustice pushing him into peacemaking – one ‘gets’ that, real focus on that – but also veering towards the edge of self-destruction in a cycle downwards at times.


Richard O’Rawe with William Crawley in the Talkback studio
6 October 2017
Photo: BBC Talkback

Well, you’re absolutely right. Gerry was actually two different people – there were two different personas. He had this sort of outward effervescence. He was a guy who, if you’d seen him in the street and been with him for a night’s entertainment etc he was the life and soul of the party but behind that facade there was a guy who was a very troubled soul – very, very troubled. He never, ever got over the death of his father. He never got over the imprisonment of his father.

Gerry Conlon, 1974
Upon his arrest

He couldn’t understand why he was in jail in the first place – because he had nothing to do with The Troubles or the IRA or nothing else – and to compound that there he had no perception of how his father ended up there. His father only went, only ended up in England, because he went over to try and get Gerry a solicitor and to help him with the legal arrangements that he was going to be facing and he ended up doing fourteen years – well being sentenced to fourteen years – and Gerry could never, could never get his head around that. And he felt this guilt his whole life. He carried it to his grave.

William:   You even say at the very last – I don’t want to give everything away in the book, obviously – we know a lot of this is in the public domain – but you say there when he was talking to the priest who was with him in his last days, Ciarán Dallat, that he talked about being ready to meet his father and some of the family are very clear that’s what he meant.

Richard:   Well that was Ann. Now, Ann – the priest actually, when he was reading the homily at the funeral, believed that when he talked about ‘the father’ he was talking about our Lord. And in actual fact Ann McKernan, Gerry’s sister, is adamant that: No, no, no – he was talking about Guiseppe. At the end of his life he was ready to meet his own father.

William:  And to find some kind of forgiveness.

Richard:  And he actually found some forgiveness and he actually found forgiveness – he finally forgave himself.

William:  And all that was done to him by someone else! All of that sense of guilt was put into him a kind of psychological abuse over the years.

Richard:  Well it was. You know, the fact of the matter was that the Guildford 4 were absolutely innocent. They were, by and large they were hippies. They were guys that were in England because they didn’t want to be in Ireland, they didn’t want to be – certainly Paddy Armstrong and Paul Hill and Gerry Conlon – they didn’t want to be in Ireland. They wanted to be, to live in a society where you had some freedom. At that time there was gun battles etc in the Lower Falls where they lived so they upped and went to try and get a life and live the life that they wanted to live. And they lived a very carefree, hippie life. And they were ripe for being stitched up – which is exactly what happened to them.

William:  In the end when the convictions were quashed and Gerry finally got some money – what did he get as a compensation?

Richard:  He got five hundred and forty-two thousand pounds, I think, from the British government.

William:   And given the psychological trauma he had been through and which continued after his imprisonment putting nearly a half a million pounds into his hands was actually another kind of problem for him.

Richard:  You’re absolutely right, William. He actually said himself giving a miscarriage of justice victim money, he’s quoted as saying this – was like giving them a bottle of whiskey and revolver and saying: Now, go shoot yourself. Gerry had no appreciation of money. When Gerry went into prison a pint was 20p. When he came out it was about four pound. He had no appreciation of money. He didn’t – the money didn’t really play a big part in his life. He gave most of it away! He took a lot of it, he spent a lot of money on drugs. He was continually trying to get out of his head so that he wouldn’t be thinking about his father – so that the demons would leave him alone.

William:  Gambling?

Richard:   He was, well he was always a gambler. You know – he was a typical Belfast guy from – a working class guy. He loved to bet every day. But he was betting big money when he had the big money, right? And he was a lucky enough gambler but he was just an ordinary guy. He loved the horses. He loved sitting at the house watching the horses and cheering his horse on for wins. Happy Days! Let’s go for a pint! or whatever.

William:   And he ends up scavenging amongst the bins in London!

Richard:   Oh, absolutely! Well the point of that was that the money that he got he spent most of it on drugs. Now, when I say he spent most of it on drugs Gerry would’ve spent ten thousand pounds on a drug deal, right?

William:   In one deal?

Richard:  In one deal but he would have bought the whole…

William:  …You say a hundred and twenty grand here in a six week period.

Richard:   Yeah. He’d have bought ten thousand pound worth of drugs and he’d have rounded up all these characters, they’d’ve all had been there and then they would’ve went into a room and they would have smoked the crack cocaine or whatever it was and he was paying for everybody. It was if he didn’t want the money. He’d seen the money as a bit of a curse, you know? And he was, you know…

William:  …He wanted the momentary liberation, that euphoria, that he got away from the trauma through the drugs.

Richard:  Absolutely! That was the crucial element – that was the crucial element for Gerry. Gerry detested sleeping. During the research for this book I spoke to a lot of his friends.

Available everywhere in paperback and as an eBook.

I spoke to several of the ladies with whom he had a long relationship and they were all on the same wavelength that when Gerry went to sleep he went into another kingdom. The bedclothes would have been soaking – the sweat – he’d have been shouting and squealing in the middle of the night. And this wasn’t a one off – people have nightmares, everyone does – this was every night. So what Gerry tried to do in many ways was to take cocaine, take crack cocaine, take whatever it took – go to parties, bring the lot back to the house, keep taking away, right, keep the party going so that he wouldn’t sleep.

William:  What more did you find out about the false conviction, the police investigation, leading up to that? Because you have new information.

Richard:   Yeah. Well, it’s very interesting, William. It was actually the BBC contacted me last October, this time last year, and they said to me that under the Freedom of Information Act they had recovered six files from the seven hundred files that had been embargoed during the Sir John May inquiry, which was the inquiry into the Guildford 4 – the circumstances in which they were arrested. So the BBC flew me over to the National Archives in Kew. And I was sitting there and most of the stuff that I was reading was fairly mundane – it was what a barrister does and what a solicitor does and I was here and I was there – and then a couple of lines just jumped out at me. And those lines were absolutely critical. There was actually a memo from a leading prosecutor to the leading forensic expert on the Guildford 4 and the Balcom Street trials telling him to doctor his statement.

William:   And that’s just sitting there.

Richard:   That’s just sitting there. Sitting there all that time and nobody seen it. Nobody seen it because these files were locked up. And I have no doubt that see, whoever released them they didn’t see this either. Or they wouldn’t’ve been released.

William:  And that information, of course, being presented at the trial…

Richard:  It would have punched a massive hole. But they didn’t even present the forensic guy. They didn’t let, he wasn’t- the defence didn’t know that he existed – that he had this statement. Alright? At the Guildford trial the forensics guy didn’t show up because had he have done that – he made the statement and included Woolwich – he actually included Woolwich and five bombings, right? That he said were done by the same people. For three of the bombings the Guildford 4 were in prison. So therefore they couldn’t have done any of the bombs if the same people done the whole five of them! So rather than let that go to trial they just withheld it. And then it came out, it had to come out at the Balcom Street trial because it was so interlocked with the Birmingham 6 because the Balcom Street guys did it. And then they discovered, whoa! Then I discovered it, to be honest – it just jumped out off the page to me – here is a Crown prosecutor doctoring statements.

William:   Did Gerry come to a moment of peace near the end of his life?

Richard:   Gerry – that’s a good question. He was certainly more peaceful. He got off the drugs. Gerry had a very hard fight as apparently everybody does to get off crack cocaine – it’s very addictive. But 1998 he stopped taking drugs – he literally went cold turkey and he went through a horrendous time. And he was very fortunate because he got help from a psychiatric nurse called Basil Walle, or Barry Walle, sorry, who helped him through it. But it was horrendous for him.

Gerry Conlon holding the apology from the British government.
Photo: The Belfast Telegraph

And as the years went on he did get stronger and he did get his apology from the British government and then he met someone with whom he had a relationship eighteen years earlier – out of the blue. And this lady, who wishes to be anonymous, told him that he had an eighteen year old daughter. And that changed him completely. All of a sudden Gerry had the responsibility of fatherhood and he was up for it. And he built the relationship again with this lady who was so good for him – really, really good for him. And he loved her and vice versa. And him and this lady were together ’til the end of his days – she was actually there when he died. So from that point of view he got great solace and he also got back into what he did best – which was fighting against injustice. So if you say to me: Had he peace at the end of his days? I would say given the circumstances in which he found himself that he had as much peace as he could possibly attain.

William:  Richard, thank you very much.

Richard:  You’re welcome.

William:  Richard O’Rawe, whose book is entitled In the Name of the Son The Gerry Conlon Story. It’s just been published. Lot of newspaper coverage of what’s in this book as well – fabulous read, actually, really interesting insights into not only Gerry Conlon’s case but the nature of justice as well. (ends time stamp ~59:50)

Richard O’Rawe RFÉ 17 June 2017

Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
listen on the internet: Saturdays Noon EST

John McDonagh and Martin Galvin speak to author, political analyst and former PRO during the 1981 hunger strike, Richard O’Rawe, via telephone from Belfast, who provides his analysis on the results of the general election in the United Kingdom. (begins time stamp ~35:49)

Martin:   And on the line we have the author and a great political analyst, also – it’s one of the people that I turned to just for ideas or analysis – that’s Richard O’Rawe. He is the author of Afterlives, which was about the secret offer made during the hunger strike. He’s the author of Blanketmen, about what it was like in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. And also he is the author of a book that will be published soon, hopefully in September, In the Name of the Son, it’s about Gerry Conlon – somebody who was up in these studios and I believe it also includes a lot about Sandy Boyer, former co-host of Radio Free Éireann, and John McDonagh and some of Gerry Conlon’s work with Sandy and with Radio Free Éireann on behalf of other political prisoners and on behalf of other causes. Welcome back, Richard.

Richard:   Thank you so much, Martin.

Martin:    Okay. (station identification) Alright, Richard – last week we talked briefly about the results of the British general election and how Theresa May was short of a majority to go back as British Prime Minister – her party got three hundred and seventeen votes – and in order to put her over the top she needed the ten votes of the DUP, the Democratic Unionist Party, led by Arlene Foster, founded by Ian Paisley, formerly led by Peter Robinson, and that deal seems to be about to materialise behind what’s called ‘the Queen’s Speech‘. But I didn’t realise at the time – there were cartoons that we talked about last week in which Theresa May bends the knee to Arlene Foster and says ‘Your Majesty, can I form a new government’ and Arlene’s there with a crown – but I didn’t realise the way in which that deal would be viewed in England.  The Daily Mirror, for example has a front page picture of Theresa May with the headline, ‘Coalition of Crackpots’ – and you see pictures of – I believe it’s Peter Robinson wearing a beret and other members of the DUP. There was a cartoon in the London Times – ‘A Victory Parade’ – and you see a number of Orangemen with bowler hats and they hoisted up Theresa May being hung on a banner pole. The Independent said these are – they have a profile – these are the terrifying views of the party now propping up Theresa May.  There was a ‘Changes at Downing Street’ – it was put out by a DUP Councillor, where you have a UVF, an Ulster Volunteer Force, the Loyalist paramilitaries, in front of Downing Street and the kerbstones in front of Downing Street painted red, white and blue – not for the United States but for Britain. And finally there was another Twitter post that was put up: You see Theresa May out in front of Downing Street, behind her in view of the religious fundamentalism that many members of the DUP have – you have Moses with the Ten Commandments pointing at her and saying what to say. Richard, how is the DUP really regarded? I didn’t realise – I know how Irish Nationalists and Republicans think of them – but I didn’t realise how the British public would think of them. In fact, there’s already been a petition with hundreds or thousands of signatures, there was a big demonstration, Theresa May actually went to the scene of a tragic fire that occurred in London and was told to go back to the DUP – how is the DUP regarded now in England by some of the people who are going to see her in co – well, if not in coalition in a side deal with Theresa May to prop up Theresa May as Prime Minister?

Richard:  Well, the thing is – it’s very interesting, Martin, the revelations that have come out – and particularly what you were actually saying there, the fact that these guys, the DUP, are religious fundamentalists, right? Religious Christians. They believe in creationism, for example. They don’t believe in gay rights, right? They don’t believe in abortion. They have an ultra-right wing take on everything and the interesting thing that I have noticed is, just exactly what you said, all of a sudden simply because they’re talking to May about doing a deal to keep May’s government propped up they are an item of interest. And the item of interest that the British people are seeing they don’t like. And it begs the question: Did they never, ever, prior to this elevation of the DUP, did they never ever look into them properly and see the type of people they are…

Martin:  …and the type of people that the British government has always propped up and supported and used – just bowed to their influence where ever they could in terms of The North of Ireland.

Richard:   Absolutely! But here’s the point, Martin: Supposen they do do a deal, the DUP and the Tories, and the idea behind this deal is that there’ll be a pot of gold for Northern Ireland – that there will be extra money coming from the British Exchequer to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Even if they do do that deal the fact of the matter is, without an Executive, the DUP will not be able to disburse that money. They will have no control over because it will be disbursed, if there is no Executive, by civil servants and a British Tory minister and that is the key element in all of this. There is no Executive and, therefore, whatever deal they get is totally at the discretion, in terms of its disbursement, of British ministers.

Martin:   Okay, John McDonagh wants to ask you the next question, Richard. John, are you with us?

John: Yeah, Richard – I wanted to tackle it now even from the Sinn Féin point of view – now they have Members of the British Parliament and you know representing you know slash Derry/Londonderry – and to let our audience know that with these MPs of the British Parliament – that Sinn Féin has offices in Westminster, they collect the Queen’s shilling. But I thought it was a joke during the week when I was looking on Facebook and there was a picture of the representative of Sinn Féin from Doire – when she put up a picture of the hotel room saying just to show you people in Doire – you know we’re not living high on the hog – look how small my hotel room is and that this is like – it’s a disgrace – at this stage. And Richard, I can tell you when people in the Republican Movement came to New York they were staying on couches up in The Bronx, out in Queens and where ever they were being sent around the country. You know, people were driving them – they weren’t certainly going first class and now the attitude of Sinn Féin members complaining that they have to fly first class to Australia because it’s a very long trip. And now they’re complaining about hotel rooms in London and maybe you could explain to us the room that was that was given to Her Majesty – gave to you – when you were in Long Kesh – but it beggars belief that this is the complaint that Sinn Féin now has – is the size of their hotel room!

Richard:  Well, here’s the point, John: At the end of the day that is very succinct – this whole business – Oh! Look at the size of my hotel room! And what she’s trying to do there is to say: Look, I’m still ‘of the people’. I’m still working class. But the fact of the matter is they’re now of the political class. The fact of the matter is that her life has changed irrevocably and the whole Sinn Féin thrust in all of this, as far as I can see, is to make money. I don’t really see any reason why, John, they’re not taking their seats in Westminster. I mean, they take their seats in Stormont. They take their seats in Leinster House – what is the big deal with not taking them over in Westminster? And you know, there’s a, there’s a like a charade going on here where these guys portray themselves as working class and they’re not. I mean, they’re all on good money. They’re all on extremely good money. And their friends is on good money; their acolytes is on good money. There are people – the working class, by and large, have been left behind by them – they have moved on in terms of their own monetary value while people in The North are still – have the yolk of austerity around their necks, you know? And for Republicans, I mean for Republicans of any hue, Sinn Féin – a cornerstone of Sinn Féin’s whole ethos is that there are no principles and there are no principles that should stand in the way of progress – that was one of the things that came out of the 1986 Ard Fheis – Tom Hartley actually said it – and Martin McGuinness actually said at that time: ‘The war against the British must continue until freedom is achieved’, right?  He said we have no intention of going into Westminster or Stormont.  They’re in Westminster – sorry – they’re in Stormont. They’re in Leinster House. I don’t see no reason why they’re not in Westminster and whether they should or shouldn’t take their seats it’s a matter for them but I mean, I just don’t understand their position in all of this. And it’s not because it’s a ‘principled position’ because they really have no principles.

Martin:   Alright. Richard, Gerry Adams, during the week said – he was talking about going back to Stormont – and he said we think, strategically, that is the way to a united Ireland. And he also said that Theresa May is playing fast and loose with the Good Friday Agreement and he was supposed to have stood up to her to say that. Is there anything that Sinn Féin can do in terms of whether Theresa May makes this deal, number one, and number two, Sinn Féin was in coalition with the DUP for a number of years – how has that moved ahead any step forward towards a united Ireland? How is there any strategic way, out of any of this political success that you’ve talked about, that seems to be heading us towards, or leading us towards, a united Ireland?

Richard:   Well I don’t think there is to be quite frank with you. I mean what they have done is that they have replaced the SDLP (Social and Democratic Labour Party) as the dominant Nationalist party but other than that I don’t see much more that they have done in terms of a united Ireland. Gerry Adams said that Stormont is the way forward but he doesn’t explain how it’s the way forward. What is he talking about? Is he talking about Nationalists out-breeding Unionists and then coming to the position where they have more than fifty percent of the popular vote and then we’d have a border poll which’ll lead to a united Ireland? Or is he talking about trying to persuade Unionists not to be Unionists and to be Republicans? He doesn’t say.

And you know, I just keep coming back to the point that to me, there is a, there’s always a money aspect to this – I’m not saying that’s entirely the concept behind it all – but it is an element in this and there is, I mean there is no – Adams needs to explain to us, to the people who – to the Nationalist electorate – what he means by: ‘Stormont is the way forward towards a united Ireland’ because I don’t know how it is and I just don’t see – I just, I mean I can’t understand that statement at all.

Martin:    Okay. Now, originally or first, I think people are going to be looking at how much money – and the British are going to be handicapped because if they give money to The North of Ireland well, they’re going to have to turn around to people who voted for them in Scotland, they’re going to have to turn around to people who voted for them in Wales – they’re going to have to do similar things under British formulas, economic formulas, now to give any kind of money. But beyond that, they have re-appointed James Brokenshire to be May’s Secretary for The North of Ireland. James Brokenshire, one of those people from England, he gets to ‘audition’ for a job he’d rather have that would be located in some place he’d rather be by administering, or running, The North of Ireland for the British. He’s somebody who’s already come out on the side of no prosecutions for British troops, about the imbalance. He’s somebody, certainly, the Ballymurphy Families are very concerned about as they finally get a date for an inquest – their families were murdered by the British – shot down over three days – and how they finally have a date for an inquest – they’re concerned about that.

Quinn Brothers’ funeral 1998

People on the Garvaghy Road are worried about whether the British government, down the road – not up front, but might do something with the Parades Commission – allow Orange parades in areas such as the Garvaghy Road where they have been kept from for a number of years. What is it that, you know, you expect or what are some of the things we should be concerned about from this unholy alliance between the DUP and Theresa May as time goes by and Theresa May seems to, you know needs votes on certain issues, and needs to go back to the DUP for a supply of those votes?

Richard:    You’ve just highlighted one of the most contentious issues. And one of the most contentious issues in terms of the resumption of the Stormont regime is legacy. And both Theresa May has come out, and even before the election, and offered her support for an amnesty for British soldiers who were involved in, as you say, in Ballymurphy, the Ballymurphy Massacre and Bloody Sunday attacks and the New Lodge Road Massacre, etc – all these things and she supported that and the DUP most definitely supports it so I’d be very surprised if, after this process, after these talks finish that – maybe not immediately but certainly not long after – that you will find that there’ll be some indication that British soldiers are going to get an amnesty for the atrocities that they carried out – you know, the killing of young children with plastic bullets, etc, the mass slaughter in Doire on Bloody Sunday – I think that they’re going to get that, in honesty, for that. I also think that that in itself is going to be – if that were to happen – I think that again would, absolutely – well it should – but it could absolutely scupper any chance of resumption of the Stormont Assembly.

Martin:  Alright. Richard, after the last election it seemed that Nationalists were saying this shows there’s been a big surge forward, we’re a lot closer to a united Ireland – that was after the Assembly election. It seems as if Arlene Foster was on the way out in a very much weakened position. It seems now as if she has been in the strongest position of any DUP member for some time and it seems as if, now that the Unionist vote came out in response to those claims, that a united Ireland is as far away as it has been for many years. What’s your comment on that?

Richard:  Oh, I think that the person responsible for this is Gerry Adams. I think Gerry could not resist blowing his own trumpet when the Sinn Féin vote was so high and he made a statement that we’re now within sight – I’m paraphrasing him here – we’re now within sight of a united Ireland. And what he did, what he did – and by the way when he was doing that he was looking over his shoulder at the Ruairí Ó Brádaighs and the Mickey McKevitts and all those guys who split from the Republican Movement and formed their own movements over the last twenty-thirty years – and he was still like: I’m right. My strategy is right. Look where I’ve brought Republicanism – we’re on the thrust of a united Ireland. And what he did he woke a sleeping giant and that sleeping giant exercised itself at the last Westminster elections and you saw that the combined Sinn Féin-SDLP vote was only forty-one percent. It’s was about four percent for independence and all the rest was Unionist…

Martin:  …it seems like it…

Richard:  …and that is why Foster is in such a strong position now – that is why she got such a powerful vote – Gerry Adams galvanised their vote.

Martin:   Alright. John, I believe, has another question. John?

John:   Well you know what it is – Richard, it would be hard to explain to people here in America about the marching season that’s coming up – maybe when it’s finally here. Bundoren in Co. Donegal, they always said, looks like the Falls Road on July Twelfth. But maybe quickly explain what’s going to happen there, which probably wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else in the United Kingdom, but how Nationalists will now be fleeing in the next week or two to The South, and particularly over to Donegal. What’s it like to live there on July Twelfth?

Richard: Well it’s pretty, John – it’s pretty harrowing to say the least. Not in the least because the Orange Order has traditionally walked through Nationalist areas – and that would be akin to the Ku Klux Klan walking through Harlem or some coloured area in New York – it’s exactly the same synopsis. And these guys on The Twelfth they, I mean – it’s very intimidating. Belfast City Centre, for example, is not a place on the Twelfth of July were you’d find too many Catholics – I mean it just isn’t because there’s hundreds of thousands of Orangemen and Loyalists and Unionists, etc on the streets marching and everything else. 

Bonfire on the Shankill Road

And then there’s the bonfires and then some of these of these bonfire are very, very big and they’re very sectarian – they burn effigies of the Pope, they would burn effigies of Gerry Adams, Gerry Kelly, Bobby Sands – all of this. I mean it is a real – it is a real intimidating environment and it is usually a pain when Nationalists, and traditionally it’s still the same – Nationalists keep their heads down. And if you do have a house in Donegal, if you’re lucky enough to have the money to have a nice place in Donegal – well, it’s the place to go to get away from it.

Martin:   Alright, Richard, we’re just about out of time – we could go on with this for a lot longer. I want to thank you for being with us.

Richard:   You’re welcome.

Martin:   We’re looking forward – you’re going to have that book, In the Name of the Son, about Gerry Conlon. I believe you make some references in it to Sandy Boyer, our former co-host, and to John and some of Gerry Conlon’s work – his appearances in this studio, Radio Free Éireann, how the work and the progress and the fight for Irish prisoners that he made in these studios – that that plays a part in the book – we’re looking very much forward to reading it and we very much appreciate your analysis today and the analysis you give me whenever I call for a question about what’s going on for events so I can present it to the audience and pretend it’s my own ideas. Alright.

Richard:   You’re more than welcome, Martin. And it’s good to talk to you and John again. (ends time stamp ~ 55:39)