Fr. Sean McManus’ Foreword to Ciaran Mac Airt’s Hard-copy Book, Trope.

Posted By: December 07, 2021



Ciaran MacAirt. December 6, 2021
“Trope: Essays and Articles has victims and their stories at its heart. For these reasons alone, Fr. Seán McManus was my first and only choice to write the foreword as nobody has done more to commemorate victims and elevate their stories throughout his international human rights work, and especially in America’s corridors of power.

It is a great honor that he consented, too, as families across our community in Ireland hold him in such high esteem. His tireless campaigning, lobbying, and networking have ensured that doors are opened to ordinary families in the United States Congress and our voices are heard.

The importance of this is evident this very day as Congress is a bulwark against the British government’s threat to bury its war crimes in Ireland, protect its killers, and deny our families equal access to due process of the law.”

Fr. Sean McManus’ Foreword to Ciaran Mac Airt’s Hard-copy Book, Trope.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”—James Baldwin

Fr. Sean Mc Manus, President, Irish National Caucus Washington, DC. (April 20, 2018).

Over the past 45 years in America, I have met — as part of my work with the Irish National Caucus—many victims of The Troubles looking for help from the U.S. Congress.

I was honored, indeed, blessed to meet them—Protestants and Catholics alike. And it was always my prayer that in helping them and in showing solidarity, I would in some little measure absorb some of their suffering, helping them to “Carry their Cross” —while never intruding on their deep personal loss or using them to advance any agenda other than their own. To me, that is a sacred trust.

Of all the many extraordinarily brave and devoted men and women I’ve met, no one’s star has shone more brightly than that of Ciaran MacAirt. I was immediately impressed by his dedication, his determination, his ability, and his single-minded pursuit of truth.

He has turned his great sense of loss — caused by the death of his grandmother Kathleen Irvine in the McGurk’s Bar Bombing— into a mission of justice and truth so that others will not have to suffer the way his family has. And, perhaps, this is one of the best ways of all to deal with suffering and loss, though each victim must find his or her own personal way. One thing, however, is for sure: forgiveness and the search for truth and justice are not mutually exclusive.

Indeed, forgiveness can free people to do great things for others. But, again, to each his/her own.

Ciaran has gone on to do remarkably effective work, beginning with his foundational book The McGurk’s Bar Bombing and all his meticulous, forensic truth-searching, which he modestly calls “digging;” his effective activism and writings like those in this book; and his brilliant, both in concept and implementation, Paper Trail: Legacy and Archive Research.

Ciaran’s work is of the utmost importance because the British government is not going to willingly expose the deep secrets of its Dirty War in Northern Ireland — the government most certainly will not do the “digging.”

While the vital work continues, we always have the courtroom of historical memory.

Holding the British government accountable for its systematic policy of collusion in murder is of supreme importance. As the American novelist and social critic James Baldwin (1924-1987) said, ” Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

My work with the Irish National Caucus has essentially been about getting the U.S. Congress to stand up for justice and peace in Ireland, to highlight individual cases, and to expose the simple, constitutional fact that the British government was fundamentally responsible for The Troubles and that in no way was it ” an honest broker.”

In Washington, one of the classical ways to frame an issue, to highlight individual cases, and to expose State-sponsored violence and collusion is to initiate a Congressional Hearing— a formal act of the U.S. Government. That is the first court of appeal in order to speak truth to power: and in THE one forum, the British government feared more than any other.

Therefore, I knew my first duty on arriving in the United States on October 2, 1972, had to be arranging a Congressional Hearing on human rights in Northern Ireland.

Within a year and one week, I had succeeded. The Hearing took place on October 9, 1973. I had my brother Frank, then MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, and the late Ruairi O’Bradaigh, then president of Sinn Fein, testify.

It was a major coup, but the retaliation was fierce: I became Public Enemy #1 of both the British Embassy and Irish Embassy.

Since this book speaks about the fundamental importance of truth, then here is an essential part of the truth: The Irish Embassy from 1974 to 1995 colluded with the British Embassy in having a Congressional ban placed on Human Rights hearings on Northern Ireland—and that Garret FitzGerald and other Irish leaders co-opted prominent Catholic political leaders in The North into supporting the ban, backed by Big Name Irish Catholic Members of Congress. One can argue about their motivations, but it is an indisputable, historical fact that they colluded in blocking Congressional Hearings.

Garret FitzGerald —the main villain of the piece— at the time, and in his memoirs, shamelessly boasted about his key role in the ban. How was such betrayal tolerated by the people in the Irish Republic? By thus blocking Congressional Hearings, the Irish government, in effect and in consequence, covered-up for years British murder and collusion—there is no way of escaping that awful truth. Instead of trying to get American pressure on the British government, the Irish government’s concern was to keep the Irish National Caucus from exposing the truth in the U.S. Congress: that’s the effect of blocking Congressional Hearings.

And the utterly specious reason given for the ban was that it was in order to stop terrorists having a platform in the U.S. Congress. That ignored the fact that starting in 1974 Irish Republicans and IRA leaders were banned from entering the United States. Furthermore, people cannot just show up and testify at a Congressional Hearing—they must be invited by the Chairman of the appropriate Committee.

So, consider this: For 21 years—between the awful and deadly years of 1974 to 1995– were it not for the Irish government, we could have had Congressional Hearings every year exposing British government murder in Northern Ireland. How many lives might have been saved, how many years of collusion might have been stopped? It was an outrageous and disgraceful cover-up which Irish-Americans will never forget.

(Of course, there is now an all-out effort to rewrite the history of that time to give the impression that Garret FitzGerald and his ilk patriotically mounted— almost Fenian-like— powerful Congressional pressure on the British government, exposing their collusion in murder in The North. It is an odiously false narrative).

But thank God —and thanks to many non-Irish and non-Catholic members of Congress— the Irish National Caucus prevailed in the end—and now since 1995, there are Congressional Hearings on The North almost every year. When my great friend, the late Jewish-American Congressman Ben Gilman (R-NY) became the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the first thing he told me was: “Fr. Sean, you are going to have your Hearing and lots of them.” No wonder I called Ben the best Irish man in the U.S. Congress!

I must acknowledge here that I could not have done my work for the past 25 years without the absolutely indispensable leadership of Barbara Flaherty, Executive Vice President of the Irish National Caucus.

I also want to acknowledge the splendid work done by so many individual and victims’ groups in Northern Ireland. It has been a great honor and privilege to work with them. In particular, I want to mention the only one Protestant victims’ campaigner who has actually testified before Congress about British government collusion—Raymond McCord, Sr.

Raymond has shown remarkable courage and relentless determination in his struggle to expose British government collusion in the brutal murder of his son Raymond, Jr. in a quarry outside Belfast in 1997. In her ground-breaking Report on collusion, “Operation Ballast, ” Ombudsman Nuala O’ Loan publicly acknowledges that it was Raymond’s dogged campaign that led to her Report.

In May 2009, the Irish National Caucus brought Raymond to Capitol Hill to lobby on his son’s case. When I brought him to meet numerous Congressmen/women, I always began with:” For years, Congressman, you have heard me continuously tell Congress about how the British government was colluding in the murder of Catholics. Now I have brought you a proud Belfast Protestant to tell you about how the British government colluded in the murder of his Protestant son.”

The effect was electric. I just knew that Raymond was in the process of ending all doubt about British collusion. He was driving the final nails into the coffin of British denials for all time. Yousee, the British government were well used to dismissing accusations about killing Catholics. But being also accused of killing Protestants was something they did not know how to deal with—and they still don’t know how.

Within minutes of our meeting with him, the then Chairman of the House Sub Committee on Human Rights, Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA), committed to holding a Hearing with Raymond as the star witness. On October 22, 2009, the Hearing took place— and Congress was told by a Protestant father how the British government—his government— colluded in, and covered-up, the murder of his Protestant son. … It had never happened before in the U.S. Congress. It was not only of intrinsic merit and of great credit to Raymond Mc Cord, but it also had profound symbolism to me personally. Reconciliation and ecumenism are at their best and  truest when Catholics and Protestants work together for truth, justice, equality, and respect—in solidarity and unity: true foundation of the Beloved Community.

And, of course, that spirit, too, animates the life and mission of Ciaran MacAirt.

God rest Kathleen Irvine, and God bless the work of Ciaran MacAirt. His grandmother would be (is) proud of him.