Wednesday, 6 January 2016

New Year: Same old story...

So, it’s a new year and it's also an election year in both jurisdictions of this little island.  Politicians on both sides of the border have their sights set on these upcoming elections: and that does not just mean Sinn Fein, who will be contesting both.

New elections bring new promises and commitments however the electorate is still waiting on the old promises to be fulfilled.  ‘Dealing with the Past’ is one such commitment that has yet to be addressed.  The latest failed attempt, from our political representatives, to tackle this toxic legacy, was the ‘Fresh Start Agreement’.  Some have labelled this as the ‘False Start’ but a more apt characterisation could be that we were served up a ‘Fresh Turd’.  Now that we have had time to digest this agreement our first impressions have not been improved upon: we are still left with a bad taste in the mouth.

Previous efforts to address the past met a similar fate.  Last minute spanners were strategically thrown into the new machinery that was designed to process the toxic sludge of conflict, and its effluence.  This time that spanner is called ‘National Security’.  We are told that to reveal the intricacies of the ‘Dirty War’ would threaten the security of the State and certain individuals.  Whereas the real truth is that it is the integrity and legitimacy of the State which would be tarnished.  It is to the benevolent State that we look for protection.  To reveal otherwise, that the State was in virtual control of many of the violent protagonists, would strip away the longstanding tenet that Her Majesty’s Government was a neutral referee between two warring tribes.  As many of us already know, and sing in unison, “The referee’s a W**ker”.

On a more sympathetic note, it is unfair to put all of the blame at the door of our own local elected politicians, and those MPs across the water, for that matter.  It is evident that a democratic mandate is not strong enough to bring about any real change.  Political commentator Brian Feeney has often claimed that even the Secretary of State is politically impotent; that the big decisions ‘are above her pay grade’.  I would put it that the big decisions are above the ‘pay grade’ of all elected politicians, even Prime Ministers.  The real power to deal with the past lies with those who don’t need to concern themselves with trivial matters such as 'pay grades'.  The Establishment will never need to worry about the ‘Dirty War’ coming up through their sewers.  Their plumbers in MI5 and MI6 are on top of everything: a convenient spanner here and a bung over there will clog up the machinery for many years to come.

So what are we left with over here in the Big House on the Hill?  The Fresh Start Redux is coming down the line, we are told.  More negotiations.  What’s the old saying…you can’t polish a turd?  Next week will see the unveiling of our new marriage of convenience between the DUP and Sinn Fein.  First we had the jovial ‘Chuckle Brothers’, then came the incompatible ‘Step-brothers’, and now it’s Martin and Arlene.  One possible portmanteau for this relationship springs to mind: Marlene (why do I hear Boycie from Only Fools and Horses in my head?).  Will they hit it off or will their honeymoon be stopped short by the oft poisonous election fever? 

Time will tell but I suspect that ‘whataboutery’, mutual resentment, and a good dose of ‘othering’ will resurface well before the ink has dried on the Wedding Register.  Maybe if they followed the wisdom of Marlene Dietrich herself who held that “Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast” would we see the oFMdFM work in partnership, as it is supposed to; for the betterment for all of us in this part of the world.

Injured On That Day

The following is a piece I wrote, a few years ago, for a book ('Injured On That Day') published by the WAVE Trauma Centre which describes my experience of events in my home on 6th January 1994.  Events which changed my life in an instant.  Events which put me on a new path and have brought me to where I am today, on the 6th January 2016.

The second piece below is something I wrote, in 2014, on the 20th anniversary of that day, entitled 'Epiphany'.  

The web link further on will take you to an audio clip which I made with 'The Theatre of Witness'.  This also touches upon my journey through trauma and acceptance.  It is called 'Everyone Is My People'.

I dedicate all of these pieces to my family, my friends, and my fiancee Sammie.

'Injured On That Day'

When you hear many of the stories about shootings and killings in this country, they usually contain the line that the victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  On 6th January 1994 I was in the right place at the right time.  I was a 21 year old man in my home in Lenadoon about to sit down to my dinner.

A rap at the door.  My 15 year old sister, Joanne, goes to answer it and is pushed aside by an intrusion of wooly faces brandishing their hardware.  “We are the IRA and we are taking over this house.”  When the IRA come into a house in Lenadoon you sit down and shut up.  So that’s what my mother Mary Jane, my 18 year old brother Damien, my sister and I did.

The Crystal Maze was on TV but nobody was watching.  Joanne was frightened.  The fat, wooly face had his machine gun pointed at her.  She was crying.  I asked the black head to stop pointing the gun in her direction.  After giving me a cold look out of his sweaty mask he pointed the muzzle to the floor. 

After a long 20 minutes the front door knocked again.  Another of the gunmen came down into the living room from upstairs.  He instructed me to go to the door, open it and bring whoever it was into the living room where we were being held.  “If you do anything stupid, I will shoot your family.”  

There was no argument.  I went out to the hall and opened the door to my father, Paul.  He had a few drinks on him but noticed that there was something wrong.  We walked into the living room and the door was closed behind him.

I sat down while he stood there in the middle of the room.  “What the fuck is going on here? What are you all doing in my house? ”.  The little, wiry monkey one pulled out a big black hand cannon and pointed it up to my da’s forehead.  “If you value your life, you will sit down now.”  Joanne was hysterical now.  “Da, just sit down.   It’s the Ra.  They’ll be out of here soon.” I said.  He sat down beside Joanne.  We were all a lot more nervous now. 

Ten minutes later the door knocked again.  “Just bring them in here!”  I got up and went out to the door.  It was a few of Joanne’s friends.  Wee girls.  “Joanne’s already out with her other friends” says I.  I was not bringing these wee girls into this situation.  I closed the door and went back in.  The white eyes in the black heads weren’t too happy, but unlucky!  “You don’t need to bring those wee girls into this”.  I sat down again.

They all left the room and closed the door behind them.  We all looked at each other and just sat there.  The door was kicked open.  “Operation’s over,” was the shout.  Then a loud crackle of bangs rang out and they were gone.  “Is everybody alright?” asked my mum. 

“I’m not alright” says I, to myself.  “I’ve been shot here”.  But nobody could hear me.  Five bullets had pierced my body.  My arm, my femoral artery, my lung, my spleen, my spine.  I was in shutdown and melting into the sofa.  A strong smell of cordite filled the air.  “There’s something wrong with Paul here”, says Damien.  Keep him awake. Phone an ambulance.  Get a towel.  Stop the bleeding.  Keep him awake.  Slap his face.  Stay awake screams Dee.  Stay with us.  Where’s that ambulance.   Pandemonium.

I was quite happy and content.  An enormous sense of warmth was flowing through my body.  But I was falling away and I knew it.  Damien was pulling me back out, he had a tight grip on my arm, both in my mind and literally.  Stay with us.  I started to come round a bit but I was only running on adrenalin.  “I’m ok, I’m here” I thought, but I could not open my eyes. 

The ambulance came and the boys got on with their job.  They got me in the back and it was away we go.  “I’m alright, don’t be worrying yourselves, lads” says I.  That must have been some strong gear they gave me because I was in the clouds.  We arrived at the RVH and it was like a movie scene.  The stretcher banging through the doors, the strip lights above.  “Paul, would you please stop that chanting?” requested one of the doctors.  “Ay ya hi ya, ay ya hi ya” was all I could shout for the previous five minutes.  My inner shaman was keeping me awake.  Then the anaesthesia kicked in and that was that.  

I woke up many, many hours later and was told that I was in intensive care.  I had a very long breathing tube down my throat and could not speak.  I motioned to get a pen and paper and scrawled ‘Don’t worry, be happy.  Jah Lives’.  My inner Bob Marley was in control.  Back to the morphine.

The week in that bed was a nightmare.  The heat was oppressive and the pain was here to stay, for good.  After a few days I was told by the surgeon that I would never walk again.  I was paralysed from the waist down.  It was hard to take and it was even harder to express this on an Alphabet card.  That bloody tube.

The next few months in Musgrave Park Hospital Spinal Injuries Unit were long but I was able to meet many more people who, in my eyes, were worse off than me.  I still had my arms and that breathing tube was gone.  A wheelchair couldn’t be that bad.  I still had my family and all of my friends with me.

By the way it wasn’t the IRA after all.  Turns out, the UFF did it.  Their intended target, a neighbour, didn’t arrive so ‘any Fenian will do!!’.  Who knows?  Who cares? 


In Western Christianity January 6th is the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany in its most basic sense is an experience of sudden and striking realisation.  I view what happened to me on that day twenty years ago as a sudden and striking realisation of how my life was going to be.  The beginning of a new chapter.

That was the day that the men with hard steel in their hearts and cold steel in their hands paid a visit to my home.  They had come to attack my neighbours. Instead, they attacked me.  Twenty one, eldest son, facing the wrong end of a gun.  I was inches away from becoming the first story of the 1994 chapter of ‘Lost Lives’.  Bullets riddled me.  Blood drained from my body. Organs were removed. Spinal cords severed.

In spite of all of this violence and trauma inflicted upon me by the brave defenders of Ulster, I woke up. I survived. I lived.  It was a new life though.  No longer, was I the same young man; tall and fit and ready for life.  My identity would change.  My ambitions would change. My physicality and bodily integrity would change. I would feel severe burning pain from my injuries for the rest of my life. I was now crippled, within and without.  There would be many barriers put in front of me.  This was my epiphany and I had to deal with it.

I look back on the past twenty years as a time of personal compromise, pragmatism and struggle.  I had to fight every day to retain my sanity through some tough times.  The 1994 ceasefires were perhaps the hardest time for me.  To see people parading around the streets in celebration really hit me hard.  Why could it not have come that little bit sooner for me? A selfish thought, I know. Many more people were yet to lose their lives in the years since to this futile violence.  It continues to this day.  There may always be political and sectarian violence in this part of the world and it may be impossible to stop.

What I came to realise was that I could do my bit to use my new identity as a victim/survivor to help others who had been hurt and were still suffering.  I joined victims and survivors groups.  I met people who had been hurt the same as me.  People who had been paralysed forty years ago, thirty years ago, twenty years ago and ten years ago.  The milestone anniversaries keep coming and going.  As the years go by the pain has become worse but the determination to bring relief and to ensure the non-repetition of the Troubles has grown amongst my fellow injured friends and I.

I pay tribute to my friends within the WAVE Injured Group for the campaigning they have done in the past few years on some of the issues that affect people like me.  Their collective strength has given me new determination to carry on with their Campaign for Recognition.  This campaign has seen the collection of a ten thousand strong petition; the lobbying of our politicians and an input into how we can ‘deal with our past, present and future’.

It just so happens that today marks twenty years since I was shot, but for people like me every day is a reminder of January 6th 1994.  That is not to say that I look back on that day with a morbid fixation.  I certainly do not.  I have moved on.  I have grown from that traumatic event.  I have had inspiration and support from my own inner self and resilience, from my family, from my friends and from my community.  Others have not had such support structures.  They need more help to move on and I will now focus my determination for the next twenty years to help alleviate this suffering in whatever way I can.

I hope that on this day, the feast of the Epiphany, that many of our self-professing Christian politicians, communities and those without faith will experience a sudden and striking realisation that there can be another way.  A way of compromise, pragmatism, utilitarianism, hope, love, mutual understanding and true peace in this place I call home.  Where are the Wise Men when we need them?