In the year since the Good Friday agreement, media attention has focused on how hardliners discipline their "own." John O'Farrell of Belfast's Fortnight magazine reportsby John O'Farrell / April 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Published in April 1999 issue of Prospect Magazine
Maureen Kearney is a republican. Her father was in the IRA at the same time as Joe Cahill and Gerry Adams’s father. During the hunger strike in 1981, she placed ten candles in the window of her Twinbrook home. Since then, she has placed a candle in her window every Christmas “for the prisoners.” She, like most of her family, voted Sinn Fein (SF) in last year’s Northern Ireland assembly elections. This did not stop eight IRA men killing her son in New Lodge flats last July. Andrew Kearney was sitting up late, minding his two-week-old daughter, Caitlin Rose, as his girlfriend Lisa caught up on some sleep. The baby was asleep on Kearney’s chest when the door was kicked in. Baby and mother were put into the bedroom. Things went quiet, before the sound of feet being dragged across the carpet was heard, followed by gunshots. Kearney was dumped in a lift, bleeding heavily. The phone was ripped out, costing valuable time. By the time an ambulance came, he had bled to death. Kearney was a big, tough man. He played professional football for Distillery. He was a fit 33-year-old father of four children, three from his first marriage. He was popular in Twinbrook, he had voted SF himself, but had managed not to get “involved.” Then last summer he went for a drink to the Red Devil, a bar on the Falls Road dedicated to Manchester United. He intervened in a row, where it seemed that a man in his mid-30s was bullying a 17-year-old youth. The man, who for legal reasons will be referred to as “Mr B,” is said to be the commander of the IRA in north Belfast. The youth knew that, as did Kearney. Mr B challenged Kearney to a fight. Kearney accepted, then made the biggest mistake of his life: he won. Within a fortnight, he was dead. “He fought the wrong man,” says his mother. On the night of the murder, Mr B was seen in Ta Lockeys, a pub within half an hour of the murder. Maureen Kearney claims that a “member of the command staff of the Belfast Brigade” told her that the assault was cleared by the head of the Belfast Brigade, but not the IRA leadership, indicating that it was an “unauthorised action.” Even so, the IRA have done nothing to discipline the men involved. Maureen Kearney states that “punishment” beatings are “anti-republican.” She adds: “It’s about absolute control of their areas, they’re terrorising their own areas. I don’t call them republicans, they’re scum, gangsters, mafia. This new breed is taking the republican name, and dragging it through the gutter. They’re in it for power over their community.” She says that she is getting support from her neighbours. Over Christmas, she was cheered in a west Belfast shopping mall when she saw Mr B and confronted him with a Mass card. Mr B gathered his family and walked off. Although she works with Families Against Intimidation and Terror (Fait), she is not a member. “I am fighting a one woman war.” She also met David Trimble at Stormont, at Fait’s invitation. “That was just nosiness. I didn’t even know where Stormont was!” Maureen Kearney is a dangerous woman, because she is challenging republicans on their own terms. At the press conference with Fait and Trimble, she insisted that SF should be in the Northern Ireland executive because “to bring Sinn Fein out would be like internment-look at their vote, it would be kicking the catholic people in the face again.” Indeed, all the local SF councillors were at Andrew’s funeral, “and all the local IRA men,” who were at school with him. She says she respected them for coming; many apologised; some cried. Gerry Adams called to commiserate, but disappointed her for not staying in touch. Maureen Kearney wants something more from the republican movement. She went to Connolly House and presented SF with the funeral bill. There was no reply, so she returned with the bill and will do so again. “It’s not the money, I would have burnt it. I want to make them accountable for my son’s death.” Her task now is to help raise four children, who need to be fed, clothed and educated. It is those children for whom she demands compensation; not from the government, but from the republican movement.