Eamonn McCann: The Murder of Sam Marshall

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The Murder of Sam Marshall
Conway Mill Education Centre Belfast
15 March 2012

Eamonn McCann makes the closing address at a public meeting held to mark the thirteenth anniversary of the murder of Rosemary Nelson and to promote the publication of The Murder of Sam Marshall. Rosemary’s work continues…

Eamonn McCann: One of the things that struck me, the first thing that struck me at the meeting here was when Padraigin talked about people challenging her right to hold meetings, to investigate and to highlight a killing when there was a reason to believe it was state collusion. And she said anybody’s got the right to do that because it’s in everybody’s interest to bring out the truth when the state kills its citizens. And that lies at the heart of what we’re talking about here today.

When the state murders citizens every single person has got a vested interest in bringing the state to account and unearthing the truth about what had happened. Because unless we do it, we are giving the state the right to kill other people. We’re telling them that it’s okay for you to do that as long as there’s some facade to cover it up. And that’s not just a Northern Irish thing or an Irish thing or a British thing.  It happens everywhere. But it happens particularly in this place of course because of the political situation that we’ve had as the result of colonialism and sectarianism and all the other aspects, the ugly aspects of life in this part of the world.

The Force Research Unit

And I would say – Brendan was doing the power point presentation there and looking up at that like little group sort of gunmen like a Hole in the Wall Gang all posed sort of in front of their cars with their weapons. And one of them of course, one of the guys in the front there is Ian Hurst. People who know what I’m talking about. Ex-member of the FRU (Force Research Unit) and the guy’s had a very colourful career since. He’s actually involved in the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking in Britain at the minute. He’s one of the reasons why there is a Leveson Inquiry. He’s one of the reasons that there was such a scandal over phone hacking and the invasion of peoples’ emails and all the rest of it.

Because of course he fell out with the FRU. He fell out with his British intelligence masters afterwards and involved himself a lot controversy and under a number of names, issuing statements and writing up his memoirs and all the rest of it. So they decided to investigate him and they went in and hacked his phone. And who did he get to hack his phone? Why some of those very useful people who were also in the pay of Rupert Murdoch and News International.

See the point that I’m making is that once you go into these things the connections go everywhere. The connections spread around from country to country, from area to area and you get into places and scandals that at first sight seem to have nothing to do with Sam Marshall or anything that happened here. And you begin to understand and to see that these thing don’t happen because, solely because of circumstances in the North. They don’t happen solely for political reasons here. They happen because it’s something to do with the very nature of the state that we’re dealing with. And we deal here with the British state although the same points could be made about other states that preside over oppression and colonial exploitation and all the rest of it. And I’ll give you some examples of it.

Mark Duggan, to some of you the name Mark Duggan might ring a little bell. He’s the young black guy who was shot by the London Metropolitan Police in Tottenham during last summer. He’s the guy whose death lead to all the riots and they burned half the country down and some of the young people and everybody said this was a terrible thing to do. Which I suppose in a way it was. (McCann quips) Although I must say I find it difficult to work up the required level of outrage about the riots over there because I’m an irresponsible person. (all laugh)

But the point I’m making is had it not been for that reaction, had it not been for the fact that his family went and stood outside the cop shop on Tottenham High Road and when they didn’t get satisfaction, drew other people to them, the younger members of whom then went to burn the police car, more cops came in, they fought the cops. The next thing you knew, there were forty centres in Britain in flames. If it hadn’t been for that, had it not been for his family standing up, had it not been for other people, initially his own community and then young people of all persuasions and skin colors coming out and fighting the cops in the street, had it not been for that…there would never have been an admission, which was finally produced: That he had been unarmed. That he hadn’t pulled a gun. There’s no question of him threatening the cop. But they shot him in cold blood. There’s still no justice in that case of course – there’s still a long, long way to go but even that tiny bit of the truth would never have come out without the campaign.

I see parallels in all those things. I see parallels and the point that I’m making is that if British people were to say: ‘That has nothing to do us. This is the type of thing that happens over in Northern Ireland where there’s all sorts of crazy people fighting about religion’ – or whatever their understanding of it is here insofar as they say that they’re leaving themselves vulnerable.

Three hundred people! Three hundred people in the last fourteen months (Ed Note: Eamonn later corrects this. He should have said 14 years.) have died in the custody of the police in England and Wales. Isn’t that a remarkable fact? This is in police stations or after arrests or arrested. Three hundred! Nobody convicted! One or two charges against cops but nobody convicted at all. What’s the reasons for that? Is that people don’t get together and fight about it.
Admittedly the circumstances are different. We’ve got a political situation here in which we can relate things like that, the killings to collusion to wider aspects of our society. And there’s then a readiness of people here in the North, for historical reasons, to mobilize around these things and to fight them. When that’s not there. it happens silently. Three hundred deaths in custody and hardly anybody knows that it has happened? How many cops over there are guilty of murder? How many of them are still walking the streets saying Hello! Hello! Hello! and all the rest of it – seeing old ladies across the pedestrian crossings and so on or whatever it is they claim is their function in society.

Murderers! Liars! Conspirators! And we if know that because we see it from outside and can piece these things together the authorities know it! The Home Office knows it. Whatever his name is today, the Justice Department or whatever it is over there. Senior civil servants know it. Major politicians in government of various parties – they all know it!

Sometimes they say that they are people over here in this part of the world: ‘They’ve got blood on their hands’. Owen Paterson was saying it just a couple of weeks ago – there are people here with blood on their hands. Well maybe there are. Well if they’re people here with blood on their hands he and his government are steeped in blood from head to foot! And not one bit ashamed or embarrassed about it at any time!

And if we allow one case to go unremarked, without a campaign about it, without every effort being made to extirpate the evil, to bring the truth out into the open – for as long as you allow that to happen you’re allowing that in the future for it to happen to you, too, and that’s irrespective of what community you come from.

I spent long years, many hundreds of other people campaigning on Bloody Sunday. Halfway through that campaign, about ten years ago, I came across the case on the Shankill Road of Robert Johnston and Robert McKinney. (Ed Note: Both Mr. Johnston and Mr. McKinney were civilians and Protestants.) Robert Johnston and Robert McKinney were shot by the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment on the first week of September in 1972. So that was seven months or whatever that is after Bloody Sunday. One of the soldiers who killed him, not just the same regiment that killed people on Bloody Sunday, not just the same battalion, not just the same company, but the same soldiers! One of them: the man code named ‘Soldier F’, in relation to the killing in Derry when he killed at least five people and possibly seven out of the Bloody Sunday dead. ‘Soldier F’ killed a man called Robert McKinney, sorry Robert Johnston; Robert Johnston and Robert McKinney were the two men.

Robert Johnston was an old guy, an alcoholic, a bit of a character around the streets on the Shankill. Just before he died, the inquest evidence showed him waving his hands in the air about two o’clock in the morning and shouting: ‘I walked these streets in my bare feet in the 30’s’ — that’s when the bullet hit him – waving his hands. And he stood back like this (Eamonn pantomimes aiming a rifle) ‘Soldier F’, (Eamonn mocks Soldier F) – now there’s crazy old galoot there – we’ll do him. Bang! Shot him. Self-loading rifle. Lethal at a thousand metres. Did him at about forty yards. Old man. Drunk.

Why did they believe they could do that? Robert Johnston (Correction: Should be Robert McKinnie) was a man who’d just come back he’d been away in Canada for fifteen years. It was his first day back from his first trip ever. And he went out around the area and they shot him as he was driving his car up Manor Street. And you might think it’s a bit odd, coming from sort of an odd angle to be talking about two guys shot on the Shankill Road by the Paras at this meeting, but there is a connection and there is a lesson to be learned from it.

Why did the Paras think they could get away with all that murder in Derry? Well, one of the reasons was that they had gotten away with it in Ballymurphy the previous August where they murdered ten people! So why wouldn’t they believe they could go down to Doire and shoot into another crowd of people from the same background sort of – out, it was Internment Weekend, Internment Day in Ballymurphy when that started and of course the Bloody Sunday March was an anti-internment march. They got away with it.

And then they come along to the Shankill and they can think: What the hell. We got away with it at Ballymurphy, we got away with it in Derry (or so they thought) so we’ll get away with it here.

And the point is that when Gregory Campbell and people say that Bloody Sunday issue – it has nothing to do with us. That’s just for the Nationalist community – the fact of the matter is is the fact that they got away with it in relation to the Nationalist community which emboldened them in other circumstances to shoot Protestants, too!

It’s in everybody’s interest to stand up against the state to demand the truth from the state when these things happen, when they take the lives of citizens.

And there’s a general truth about this, which goes out across societies and which covers all sorts of people and politics….I’m not a Nationalist in politics. I don’t follow any national flag. Couldn’t case less. Other people take a different view, and I don’t mean to be upsetting anybody, but I don’t care two balls of blue about national flags, or green or anything else.

But I do know this: That in any class-divided society, anywhere where there’s oppression about Catholics or black people or gay people or anything, when we have got a state that is presiding over that the potential is always there, always there for the state to kill citizens and when it does it always covers up. The reason why there hasn’t been an inquest, no – into Sam Marshall is not that they say: ‘Well, we know all the facts’. Well, if you know all the fact then admit all the facts because there’s more facts been said here by Tony and Colin and Brendan tonight that have come out in relation to it than any official inquest or any official investigation.

It’s not the difficulty of establishing the truth about these matters which prevent them investigating – it’s the fact that there’s no difficulty! That’s why they don’t hold an inquest or anything else. There’s no difficulty! The facts are as plain as day. A child could work out whether there was collusion in the killing of Sam Marshall. Yes there was. That’s a fact. It’s not a theory. What we need is an admission of the fact. An acknowledgment of the fact.

Just as it was always clear, at least with the Bloody Sunday case, what had actually happened and who had been responsible. People were never marching to find out the truth. They were marching to insist that the truth be acknowledged. And a bit of it was. They never fully acknowledged the truth of course. They never! You can’t become a minister in a British government with the state forces arranged around the world unless that you can prove that you’re a liar! You wouldn’t be allowed to be in the government if anybody suspected you of being a truth-teller. Because how could you operate? How do you operate at all, there’s so much to cover up,…there’s so much that you have to actively collude in.

And of course – just occurred to me: For example, in relation to one of their big – the glorious British democracy and all the rest of it – is the fact that they told the truth about Bloody Sunday. And Saville came out and everyone applauded. I applauded, too. The families got their acknowledgment And everybody that had been shot and wounded were innocent and that was a great achievement – a great day for the families. Not a bad day for the Brits either mark you. Because the only people who got blamed for it were a bunch of squaddies and one undisciplined officer. Nobody else responsible. Nobody else responsible!

The guy who was the second in command on the streets of Derry at the time, Michael Jackson. I’ve heard some people here, certainly one or two from Derry, fed up listening to me talking about Michael Jackson – General Sir Michael Jackson to give him his full ringing title. I’ll never be fed up about talking about General Jackson, that General Jackson is a murderer! He murdered, He murdered people in Derry and got away with it. Why did he get away with it?

Well, one reason is that between Bloody Sunday and Saville, The Saville Inquiry General Sir Michael Jackson had risen steadily right up the ranks of the British Army until he reached the very top: Chief of the General Staff. Britain’s Number One soldier. That’s what he was in October 2003 when he gave evidence at the Westminster Hall in London. Think about this: If Lord Saville had pointed the finger as he ought to have done, all the evidence was there, if he had pointed the finger at Michael Jackson and said: ‘He shares responsibility for the killings on Bloody Sunday.’ And he was the Chief of the General Staff by that stage could David Cameron have stood up in Westminster and said: ‘These soldiers who did this terrible thing are totally unrepresentative of the British Army and we disown them.’ He couldn’t disown the Chief of the General Staff, could he?

It was politically necessary to get Jackson off the hook and they put Wilford, who was his Commander-on-the-Day, a sort of the other half-mad lechico who commanded the First Battalion there in Derry, they put him on the hook and take Michael Jackson off. Political considerations dictated the percentage of the truth which was going to emerge. And it’s all like that!

The struggle against that, that goes on forever as you said it didn’t start suddenly with Sam Marshall in Lurgan as you said, and it didn’t end with the most recent killings. It’s part of the conditions of life under this type of government. And what we have to do it seems to me for a start we’re doing something here. At least we’re ensuring that these things aren’t forgotten, that the issue is still raised and that it’s still out there demanding to be answered. It also seems to me that every chance that we get we have to broaden some of these things out.

(inaudible) call for the family of Mark Duggan – that Colin or somebody or whoever, the appropriate the person could go over say: We can give you loads of other examples of people being murdered by the state and the truth not been told and nobody been brought to book about it. It’s in your interest that you fight with us and that we fight with you and fight for the truth and the same thing.

Because if we don’t do that what are we’re doing? If we don’t do that we’re accepting that the state has the right to mistreat people, to murder people, to cover up that murder and just to write people off as if their lives were rubbish, as if they meant nothing. We know that they think that of us! But it’s not often that they’ve expressed it in the murderous bloody way that they’ve done in these cases.

My conclusion that I draw from all this and from this case is that you have to concentrate on the first instance, on the specifics, in the case of Sam Marshall and all the other individual cases of which the list never ends. You have to concentrate on them. You have to get the truth about them and fight them all the way.

But at the same time I think that you have to connect that fight to other aspects of the society that we live in, to other aspects of politics, to get the widest possible backing for this type of thing … and that will come. …it will come… it may not come tomorrow or next year but it will come if we all keep at it. And we all understand the identity of interest which ordinary people have across communities and across boundaries.

I believe that if everybody, in the North of Ireland and the whole of Ireland, everybody should stand by those members of the Nationalist community who were murdered by British forces. It shouldn’t just be other members of the Nationalist community. It is not simply a community thing. It’s far bigger and broader than that. And we should begin to argue that far more openly. And we should argue it across the water- we should argue it in America.

But I’m not in favour of arguing it in the White House with the people over there. George W. Bush, in one of his more recent statements, he’s hardly said a word since he left office, but he talked about his joy at the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Now, I’ve not have much time for Osama Bin Laden I have to say, don’t misunderstand me, but compared to George W. Bush at times I think Osama Bin Laden was a gentleman. (all laugh) Because they murder people with drones and the rest of it all around the world.

Do you know that there’s drones being used in sixty countries? American drones. Sixty countries around the world! They’ve got these unarmed, cowardly machines flying in the air ready to kill people that they don’t like down below. Everybody sitting in the bases in Nevada, in Langley in Virginia and they’ve got these sort of video games and these guys in their early twenties just looking …. (McCann mocks and all laughs) Who’s that there with the turban on? Kill him! They don’t know who they are talking about. And that’s sanctioned! And the Hillary Clintons and the Barack Obamas, Bush In Blackface as I call him, and all the rest of them; the entirety of them. They have no time for us. They have no respect for ordinary people.They place no value on the lives of ordinary working class people.

And when a particular circumstances, like we have in the North of Ireland, where one community can be seen to be in revolt against the system, then every member it is vulnerable and as I say, more broadly, every other citizen as well is vulnerable. So when we stand up and demand the truth about collusion in the murder of Sam Marshall, we’re not simply doing it for the family, although that’s a good enough reason in itself, we’re not simply doing it to vindicate the interest of the community that he comes from, we are doing it for everybody. We are doing it for ourselves!

It’s in our own interest to do it and that’s why, I hope, that this meeting can be seen not just as some anniversary event or something that’s a once off but as part of a continuing and broadening campaign to get the truth admitted about the murder by the British state of Sam Marshall and in so doing to get some of the truth about the nature of the state brought out into the open for the good of all.

Thanks very much. (ends)