Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
John McDonagh marks the nineteenth anniversary of the death of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson (d. 15 March 1999) with an audio clip of the 20 March 1999 Democracy Now! episode in which host Amy Goodman played the full 4 April 1998 Radio Free Éireann interview with Rosemary as part of her news report on Rosemary’s assassination by Loyalists. (begins time stamp ~24:24)
John: Now we’re going to do you know another ‘blast from the past’. We’re going to play you a clip from Democracy Now! in 1999. She played an interview that we did on Radio Free Éireann (myself with Sandy Boyer and Brian Mór Ó Baoighill) and it was with Rosemary Nelson. She’s a lawyer from Lurgan and she was over highlighting what was going on in The Six Counties at that time and the pressure that she was under and the death threats that she was getting and during the interview I asked her, I said you know: How do you protect yourself? Do you feel afraid? And she said: Yes, I feel afraid but, she said, You know, what can I do? If they’re going to come for me – that’s it. And not long after that interview she was killed by Loyalist death squads. So I wanted to play this in her honour – it’s the nineteenth anniversary of her death. And then when we come back we’re going to head over to Dear Ol’ Donegal and talk about the Donegal Donkey Sanctuary.
Audio: Clip of Democracy Now! begins.
Amy: (station identification) Northern Ireland’s predominantly Protestant police force faces allegations that it rejected a request to protect human rights lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, who was killed on Sunday by a car bomb outside her home in Lurgan thirty miles away from Belfast. Nelson had represented a number of defendants accused of belonging to the Irish Republican Army. The Red Hand Defenders, an anti-Catholic group, has claimed responsibility for the killing. Representatives of Sinn Féin yesterday accused Northern Ireland’s police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary known as the RUC, of culpability in Nelson’s death saying the force had refused to provide security for Nelson’s protection. Protesters who took to the streets in the hours after the murder also accused the police force of complicity in the murder. The RUC flatly denied that any application for protection had ever been made on Nelson’s behalf. These charges came as Northern Ireland’s police chief, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, announced the British police would head the investigation into Nelson’s killing and he also requested help from the FBI. Today Rosemary Nelson is being buried. There is a funeral for her in Northern Ireland. And on this day we decided to play you an interview that Pacifica station WBAI did with her last April. It was part of the programme, Radio Free Éireann, which is a weekly Irish programme on WBAI that is run by John McDonagh and his collective. This is Rosemary Nelson:
I’m out on this tour at the invitation of the Irish-American Labor Coalition and I’m very indebted to them for giving us this opportunity to highlight lawyer intimidation in The Six Counties over here because the United Nations recently published a report which has been presented and deals solely with lawyer intimidation and the difficulties faced by people defending people of certain political persuasions within The Six Counties.
John: What type of intimidation are you talking about? Is it from the state itself?
Rosemary: It’s from the RUC. It’s from members of the RUC. It’s not a new problem. It’s a problem that has been going on for a long time – it was there prior to Pat Finucane’s death and has gone on subsequent to his death. It can vary from physical assault to death threats. Now, death threats are fairly regular; they’re relayed regularly to you through clients and, in fact, I was physically assaulted by the RUC and called a ‘Fenian effer’ on the Garvaghy Road last year when the police lines moved in.
John: Right. Maybe explain to our audience: Who exactly was Pat Finucane?
Rosemary: Pat Finucane was a lawyer who defended quite a few high-profile Republican cases, quite a few high-profile Republican clients. Pat Finucane was shot dead. In any other jurisdiction in the world that calls itself a democracy the killing of a lawyer for defending their clients would have been attacked, would have been questioned, would have been investigated but, simply because of the allegations of collusion which were raised at the time and continue to be raised, the British government didn’t want to address this – the RUC obviously didn’t want to address it – so Pat Finucane died. He was simply shot dead for defending people with whose views the RUC didn’t agree.
Sandy: What has been your personal experience with threats from the RUC?
Rosemary: I’ve had death threats. I’ve had death threats from the RUC. I’ve had threatening telephone calls to the house. I mean, it’s fairy difficult to describe. Any contact at all with the RUC – the hatred’s absolutely palpable. It’s frightening. I mean, this is a frightening organisation. And this isn’t particular to me. This is particular to any defence lawyer who touches this type of work.
Sandy: But I understand that there are relatively, perhaps because of this intimidation, there are relatively few defence lawyers who are willing to touch this kind of work.
Rosemary: Absolutely! Yes. I think the number of defence lawyers who touch this type of work are restricted to something like thirty-forty and in that context, in fact, thirty-three lawyers within the past two or three months issued a media statement basically calling for disbandment of the RUC and pointing out that there’s a crisis of confidence in the rule of law in The Six Counties. People cannot and will not rely on getting justice while the RUC is the RUC and remains unreformed.
Brian Mór: Why is it there seems to be such an interest in the Finucane case right now?
Rosemary: The interest in the Finucane case has just recently resurfaced. It appears that new evidence has emerged after the role of Brian Nelson and British Intelligence handlers in this. Now this was addressed, the case was addressed specifically in the UN report and you’re right! It’s a case that’s gone on for far, far too long – it hasn’t been looked at. And the response of the British government to the report has been totally inadequate. The British government says that the matter’s been investigated twice and won’t be investigated again. The fact is the matter was investigated twice by the RUC and it’s against the RUC that these allegations of collusion are made! We need openness and impartiality.
Sandy: Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about these revelations, about Brian Nelson and his role in the assassination of Pat Finucane?
Rosemary: Yes, certainly. Brian Nelson was a UDA (Ulster Defence Association) man. Brian Nelson in fact was a British agent who infiltrated the UDA. He eventually was charged with a number of very, very serious charges including murder. It emerged that during the time the British intelligence services were handling Brian Nelson he had indicated to these people that Pat Finucane was actively being targeted and was going to be shot. Pat Finucane wasn’t warned. The RUC didn’t warn him. British Intelligence did warn him. Therefore, he died. He was shot dead. Now as I said, Brian Nelson was charged with very, very serious charges – it appeared that he actively took part in some of these terrible acts. He made a statement apparently. He made a statement of some eight hundred pages admitting his involvement and admitting the involvement of British intelligence services in a lot of terrorist incidents in The Six Counties. That case never came to trial because the Attorney General who prosecuted – who at the time, incidentally, was Sir Patrick Mayhew – who briefed Brian Kerr, who’s now Mr. Justice Brian Kerr, as his counsel – withdrew several of the most serious of those charges including murder charges. And in fact, the court was told at the time that those charges were withdrawn and – this is a quote – after ‘a rigourous examination of the interest of justice.’ Well, who’s justice? Certainly not Pat Finucane’s.
John: Maybe was can describe how this climate is created with the Loyalists – there’s certain things they drop to Loyalist prisoners, the RUC. You can speak about that MP getting up in the House of Commons – how they create an atmosphere where your life is in danger. What do the RUC say? Where they can really back off and say: Listen, we had nothing to do with this. But I understand through interrogations of Loyalist prisoners they drop maybe your name or Pat Finucane’s name.
Rosemary: Yes, well they will do that when interrogating Loyalist prisoners they’ll say things like: I don’t know why you don’t shoot those Republican solicitors you have. I don’t know how they can be allowed to live. I don’t know why they don’t die? I mean clients of mine are arrested on fairy routine matters and they’re told: Don’t request Nelson. She won’t be about much longer. She’s going to be shot. Now, if they say that long enough and they get someone suggestible enough who’s to say what’s going to happen? It’s a dangerous practice. It worked. Pat Finucane died. And quite, I mean quite a few very competent, very able lawyers simply don’t touch this type of work because they’re afraid because it can seriously endanger your health.
John: Also with us in the studio is Jean Forest, she’s with US Voice of Human Rights in Northern Ireland. Yes, Jean – who are we defending now?
Jean Forest: Rosemary, the UN report is something like thirty-two pages long but could you give us some of the highlights? What they’re bringing out? Naturally, the British have officially rejected the tone of the report. (I picked that up on the internet last night.) Could you give us a summary of some of the highlights of that report?
Rosemary: Yes, indeed. The United Nations report found, quite categorically, that there’s routine, systematic and concerted intimidation of defence lawyers within The Six County jurisdiction as a result of the type of work they do. It called for an open investigation into allegations of intimidation against defence lawyers – and incidentally when this happens who do we report it to? The RUC? The RUC finds itself invariably innocent in cases like this – and it’s called for an open, impartial and independent investigation into the death of Pat Finucane. Now I think after ‘rigourous examination of the interest of justice’ this case demands openness.
John: I want to get to one of the other things you do – you represent some of the community where the Orangemen are marching through the Garvaghy Road…
Rosemary: …That’s right…
John: …and I remember last year you were in negotiations with the British government, I believe maybe even Mo Mowlam, up until like two in the morning when, it was later found out, they were just having you there and just leading you on – I mean, why would anybody want to negotiate now with the British government especially after what they did to you last year? Because I believe I read somewhere you were up until two or three in the morning the day before the march having legitimate negotiations about what to do and meanwhile they brought in all the British troops and forced the Orangemen through. I mean, is it possible to go back this year and do the same negotiations?
Rosemary: Well, what actually happened last year was: I represent the coalition, the Garvahy Road Residents’ Coalition. These people sought to act within the law. These people had me there so that I could challenge a decision in a court, in a court of law. I remained there for that. In the end no decision was made. No decision was notified. These people were denied access to the courts for a change. Now, whether or not that will happen this year is totally out of my hands; it’s up to the residents’ coalition but I can say that that’s a community that has suffered and suffered greatly. Now I was downtown today at a Martin Luther King memorial rally and I saw some great posters there (actually which I mean to bring back) which said: ‘I Am Somebody’ – that’s what these people need to believe – that they are somebody. So far they’ve been told they’re not. And I sincerely hope that will change this year.
Sandy: Rosemary, we had on the sister, on I believe it was on Saint Patrick’s Day, with Jean, the sister of Robert Hamill, a case that you had the misfortune, I’d say, of handling…
Sandy: …a young man who was kicked to death on the streets of his hometown simply for being a Catholic and the RUC was involved in that case as well I believe. Can you tell us about that?
Rosemary: I can. That case is absolutely horrific. It’s appalling. And it’s something that should not take place in any democracy under any circumstances. This, again, was coming up to the marching season in Portadown. Nobody can underestimate the atmosphere in Portadown coming up to this march. Robert Hamill was returning home with a few friends after a night out. A Loyalist crowd began to gather. Somebody was walking down in front of Robert Hamill as the crowd cried: A Catholic! approached police in a Land Rover who were parked some yards from where the crowd had gathered, warned the policeman that Robert Hamill and his friends were coming down and may need protection because of the extent of the hostility. Robert Hamill and his friends saw the van, felt safe (because they were policemen) and walked down the street. They were attacked by the Loyalist mob. Robert Hamill died and the RUC didn’t even open the door of the Land Rover to see what had happened. Robert Hamill died within full view and within yards of an RUC Land Rover.
Sandy: And what do they say happened to the RUC men who sat in the van while he was kicked to death?
Rosemary: Well this is all very interesting because I mean, obviously, as legal representative for the family, I’ve been writing to the Secretary of State, I’ve written to the RUC, I’ve written everywhere – I can’t get any official identification as to who these people were – they won’t even tell me who they are. But I do know that they’re not suspended from duty. I do know that they’re still actively serving within the RUC. And they’ll not give any answers. They’ll not tell us why it happened. Robert Hamill, it appears, was dispensable. He was just another life.
John: Rosemary, I want to get back to you. You’re describing all the death threats you’re getting, the RUC cursing at you in the streets. What do you do for your own protection?
Rosemary: Nothing. I mean, what can you do? You sort of stay in your own area and of course you can take security precautions – and I sure do all that sort of thing. I’m married. I have a young family. I’ve got three young children. I’d like them to live as normal a life as possible and I don’t want them to be polluted by RUC threats if it’s at all avoidable.
John: But then this brings up: Why do you take on these cases because like you said all your other fellow solicitors are now backing away after what happened to Pat Finucane and they know the headaches that you get when you take on some of these cases – why you consistently do this?
Rosemary: I live in Lurgan. I’m local to the town. I live around the Lurgan-Portadown area. I can’t say to these people: I’ll handle your personal injury claims, I’ll handle your property transfers but if you get into trouble – don’t ask for me.
Amy: Rosemary Nelson – the late Rosemary Nelson – she’s being buried today in her hometown. Violent protest in the Northern Ireland town and the killing of a former Protestant guerrilla overshadowed the Saint Patrick’s Day peace appeals yesterday by Irish and British politicians and by President Clinton. Violence erupted in the town of Portadown on the eve of Rosemary Nelson’s funeral today, the human rights lawyer who was killed this week by a group tied to a pro-British paramilitary outfit – it’s called the Red Hand Defenders. She was interviewed on Pacifica station WBAI last April by Radio Free Éireann, a weekly Irish show that includes John McDonagh, Sandy Boyer and Brian Mór. (station identification)
Audio: Clip of Democracy Now! ends.
John: (station identification)
We’re now live and we just replayed that because it’s the nineteenth anniversary of Rosemary Nelson being killed by Loyalist death squads and it was a very eerie interview. At the time you didn’t think much about it – asking her about her safety – but that was played on Democracy Now! so that went nationwide. And for me, it was just great to hear Sandy Boyer’s voice and hearing Brian Mór and that and we’ll probably play it again next year. That interview got worldwide attention on the BBC, RTÉ and Democracy Now!. (ends time stamp ~39:56)