A new mural recently opened in the Village area of South Belfast dedicated to our friend and comrade Stevie McCrea, fondly known as “X-ray”.
30 years ago 16th February 1989 Stephen had just finished his last day of work at the Belfast enterprise zone on the “work out” ACE scheme.
Stevie, a highly thought of Red Hand Commando operator, was sent to Long Kesh on Halloween Night in 1972 and went on to spend the next fifteen years of his young life in those bleak, soul-destroying cages and was not re-involved in any paramilitary activities upon realease. It is well known that there was a strict policy that ‘Lifers’ are not to be involved in current activities. Stevie, while in prison was involved in a marathon escape bid from Long Kesh Camp. At the time, he was being held in Loyalist Compound 19 as a Special Category prisoner. An ‘x-ray’ van was driven into the Camp for the purpose of taking chest x-rays of all prisoners. Stevie realised that the attending Prison Officers were not monitoring the van and making a spontaneous decision, seized the moment and dived underneath the van and climbed onto the axle stand. During the head count that evening one of his comrades done the ‘Colditz Shuffle’ and was counted twice covering for him. Stevie endured two long and freezing days and nights lying under the ‘x-ray’ van wearing only a thin denim jacket and jeans. On the third evening he managed to climb inside the van itself and conceal himself in a cupboard. When leaving the camp the following day it successfully got through the security checkpoint at the Prison Officer’s gate but Stevie was discovered by a young Squaddie at the main gate. He was hastily taken to the punishment cells and held for three days in solitary confinement.
Upon his release from ‘solitary’ Stevie returned to the Compound and from that day on became known as ‘x-ray’ McCrea.
Stevie, in his short period of freedom posed no threat to anyone and sought to re build his life settling down and enjoying the remainder of his life in peace.
On that day after cashing his last pay cheque, he and several of his work colleagues went for a lunch-time drink in the local Orange Cross Club. The drink, was to bid their friend farewell after working together for the past year.
At 1.15 p.m the security buzzer sounded. As the door opened, three IPLO gunmen brushed inside and ordered the men in the room to stand at the bar. In an effort to get people to let their guard down during those murderous days, they pretended it was a robbery. When everyone lined up as instructed the gunmen opened fire indiscriminately. Stevie, in this moment of chaos, thought only of his friends safety. One friend described the scene:
‘I stood in line whenever the first shot was fired and all of a sudden Stevie McCrea dived in front of me. The shots rang out and we all hit the floor. By this time the gunmen had run out of the room and we all stood up again. That is, except for two other men and Stevie McCrea. He had saved my life alright but lost his own in doing so’.
Two days later Stevie passed away at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. Upon realising they had murdered a former Loyalist prisoner the IPLO issued a gloating statement in which they claimed to have singled Stevie out for attack, a blatant lie. The truth is that Stevie had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and it was nothing but blatant sectarianism.
We are free to express ourselves.
We are free of oppression.
We are free of fear.
We all owe our freedom to them.
Honour – Service – Sacrifice
Lamh Derg Abu
Lest we forget
Today is reformation Sunday which marks Martin Luther’s actions at Wittenberg prompting the beginning of the Protestant Faith which remade Christianity in the West. The reason for our very existence.
On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the wooden doors of the local church in Wittenberg, Germany. In his theses, Luther attacked the Catholic church’s corruption and the indulgence-for-sale system that had grown popular.
The impact of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation has been enormous on global Christianity. In contrast to the extra-biblical traditions and works-based practices of Roman Catholicism, Luther called the Church back to the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Luther believed the Word of God was the supreme authority for the Christian faith, rather than tradition or papal decrees. In the process of bringing the Scriptures to the common person, Luther translated the Bible into German, published numerous books and sermons of biblical teachings, and composed numerous hymns based on biblical themes. Many of his hymns are still sung today.
Luther was brought to trial before the church, and the court attempted to force him to recant. Luther’s response is often quoted: “I cannot choose but adhere to the Word of God, which has possession of my conscience; nor can I possibly, nor will I even make any recantation, since it is neither safe nor honest to act contrary to conscience! Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God! Amen.”
From Germany, the Protestant Reformation expanded through Europe, influencing the work of John Calvin in Geneva, Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, and John Knox in Scotland. The Reformation Luther led also sparked the Anabaptist (free church) movement and the English Reformation. These movements, in turn, influenced the spread of Christianity to the Americas and throughout the world where European exploration took place. South Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand all felt the impact of Luther’s hammer in Wittenberg.
Robert Rothwell has noted, “Today, Luther’s legacy lives on in the creeds and confessions of Protestant bodies worldwide. As we consider his importance this Reformation Day, let us equip ourselves to be knowledgeable proclaimers and defenders of biblical truth. May we be eager to preach the Gospel of God to the world and thereby spark a new reformation of church and culture.”
Reformation Day remains a central rallying point for all of those who choose to follow Christ by faith according to His Word. The holiday commemorates the actions of a man who was willing to stand against the ideas of his day and to present God’s Word as our guide for salvation (John 3:16) and Christian living.
The reformation was and still is about the Lord.
“In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no one by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philipp and Amsdorf, the Word … did everything.”
Loyalists stop riots, create jobs, challenge racism and promote inclusion, so why do we only ever hear about regressive elements who want to turn the clock back?
East Belfast loyalist Mr Wilson of REACH, who describes himself as ‘a former combatant’ linked to the RHC, said there was “a lot of anger” at the meeting.
“Loyalists feel that if they use the same threats that they might achieve their ends. And that has to be answered by people in the Alliance Party, the SDLP and Sinn Fein who said that there could be violence if the border was reinstituted.”
Jim Wilson of REACH is correct. In the video within the link he asks “if threats of violence on one side achieve something, do you not think the other side will turn around and say the only way that we are going to get a decision for us is to bring violence to the streets? And that is the problem”.
For years our country has been at the mercy of Republicans with threats of violence when something doesn’t suit their agenda. Bend as we normally do? Call their bluff? Brexit is a trying time for our country and the United Kingdom as a whole. We need a government with a backbone!
Today members of Dalaradia/RATH. Community Group hosted Mr Bryan Wockley from the office of the US Consulate General in Northern Ireland.
Mr Wockley who hails from Vermont has held a number of posts including the Human Rights Officer of the U.S. Embassy. He visited various areas within North Belfast including Rathcoole, the second biggest housing estate in Europe and the largest Loyalist estate within the United Kingdom.
During his visit he was given a brief history of our group and sub groups aswell as a short tour of the various murals within the area including a new addition yet to be finished in Derrycoole Way.
It was a pleasure hosting him and many thanks to him for taking the time to visit.
As usual, we have seen scaremongering and threats of violence from Republicans when something doesn’t suit them. Just hours ago during a channel 4 interview a representative of the “new” IRA stated any border infrastructure would be a “legitimate target for attack”.
Referring to the troubles he added: “Whilst many volunteers have experience of that era, the majority of our volunteers in 2019 have no experience of that, in fact were born after 1998.” (See video here – https://youtu.be/sK5S3GQ5MXA)
How many violent dissident Republican groups continue to bite at the ankles of this beautiful country’s people? They contribute nothing to society and their very existence is both tiresome and embarrassing and is bred off of hate for another ethnic group. All the while Loyalism works tirelessly behind the scenes to avoid such things ever repeating itself. Jim Wilson of REACH was correct in his assertion when he stated “there is no dissident Loyalists out there”. Referring to young men being on the streets within Unionist areas he added “I don’t want to see another one of our kids going through that again”.
“On the Shankill Road on Saturday they were remembering William ‘Plum’ Smith and marking the 25th anniversary of the loyalist ceasefire due on October 13.
It was a Smith-family initiative and exhibition supported by the project Action for Community Transformation (ACT).
These types of events, documenting key moments in our history, are so important, and for this reason – that even as close as the 1990s, as we reach back into our past, so much critical memory has already been lost.
I was invited by William Smith’s niece – Mandy McDermott – to speak at Saturday’s event; speak at a time of political turmoil and with the legacy and Brexit trenches becoming deeper.
Back in August 1992, I interviewed Smith for the BBC – an interview that coincided with 3000 deaths in the conflict period; and I also spoke with the former Presbyterian Moderator Dr Jack Weir, the then Bishop of Derry Dr Edward Daly and the republican leader Martin McGuinness.
Think of that collective memory and knowledge that is no longer with us.
In his interview, Smith said the following: “If the Provisional IRA and other republican groups were to call a ceasefire, then there would be no justification for loyalist paramilitary violence; and, I believe, the loyalist people would let loyalist paramilitaries know that…In practical terms, I would say if the republicans made the first step, then loyalists would be duty-bound to reciprocate.”
In the blizzard of 1992, none of us could see those developments. Yet, by August 1994 – just two years later – the IRA had declared a “complete cessation of military operations” and loyalists had reciprocated by October.
The historical record shows that the then Combined Loyalist Military Command had been prepared to announce its ceasefire FIRSTLY but that initiative was derailed by events on the ground – the targeting and killing of prominent loyalist figures.
Of the seven who sat at the top table for the loyalist announcement, four are now dead – Smith, Gusty Spence, David Ervine and Jim McDonald; no longer here to tell their stories and to give their context and explanations of the hell that this place was.
Saturday’s exhibition was also a reminder of the influence of the loyalist leadership of that period stretching beyond the ceasefires to the political agreement of 1998.
Similar leadership is needed today; authentic, credible, voices to engage in the next big conversations and dialogues. Those voices still exist within loyalism, too often not heard above the noise.
HOW SAFE IS THE UNION?
The ceasefire of 1994 confidently stated: THE UNION IS SAFE; but, 25 years later, there is a new and difficult question.
In the political turmoil of today, how safe is that union now? It is a real and present question; some might say there is a real and present danger.
So, in the conversation to address it, loyalists must be involved – loyalists standing on their own two feet as they did in that period 1994-98.
Would David Trimble have been able to accept the Good Friday Agreement without loyalist cover and support back then and with Ian Paisley and the DUP shouting from the outside in?
We all know the answer to that question.
LOCKED IN HELL
I told Saturday’s audience, which included a number of prominent loyalist figures among them Winston Irvine and Harry Stockman – that a few days earlier I had watched the film of the book Lost Lives.
It was a grim reminder of that hell that this place was, and there should be no return to that place; no urging or encouraging another generation into organisations or pushing them towards jail or their graves. We have been through that mess.
This applies across the board; the challenge for the nationalist/republican community and leadership IS to find an initiative that brings the dissident threat to an end. I asked again on Saturday: where is the John Hume of 2019?
Saturday’s exhibition and event was important, not just in remembering that historic period of 94 to 98, but as a reminder of the road yet to travel.
Where will we be in 25 years from now?
(Thank you to William Smith’s wife, Liz, and niece, Mandy, for inviting me to speak at Saturday’s event and to others who made that possible)”