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Mairéad Farrell

Mairéad Farrell

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Mairéad Farrell was an Irish volunteer
Volunteer (Irish republican)
Volunteer, often abbreviated Vol., is a term used by a number of Irish republican paramilitary organisations to describe their members. Among these have been the various forms of the Irish Republican Army and the Irish National Liberation Army...

 of the Provisional Irish Republican Army
Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provisional Irish Republican Army is an Irish republican paramilitary organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion...

 (IRA). She was killed by SAS
Special Air Service
Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

 soldiers during Operation Flavius
Operation Flavius
Operation Flavius was the name given to an operation by a Special Air Service team in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988 tasked to prevent a Provisional Irish Republican Army bomb attack...

, a British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 operation to prevent a bombing in Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

.

Early life


Farrell was born in Belfast
Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

 to a middle class
Middle class
The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class....

 family with no link to militant Irish Republicanism
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 other than her grandfather, who was interned during the Irish War of Independence
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence , Anglo-Irish War, Black and Tan War, or Tan War was a guerrilla war mounted by the Irish Republican Army against the British government and its forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. Both sides agreed...

. She was educated at Rathmore Grammar School
Rathmore Grammar School
Rathmore Grammar School, normally referred to simply as "Rathmore", is a Catholic grammar school in Finaghy, Belfast, Northern Ireland. The current principal is Thérese Hamilton who succeeded Sr. Ursula Canavan as principal at the beginning of academic year 2009/10.Rathmore is situated in Kingsway,...

, Belfast
Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

 which she left, aged 18, to work in an insurance broker
Insurance broker
An insurance broker finds sources for contracts of insurance on behalf of their customers. The three largest insurance brokers in the world, by revenue, are Aon, Marsh & McLennan, and Willis Group Holdings.-Purpose of insurance brokers:...

's office. She met an IRA volunteer named Bobby Storey
Bobby Storey
Robert "Big Bobby" Storey is an Irish republican from Belfast, Northern Ireland.He spent in total 20 years in jail, almost all on remand charges. He also played a key role in the Maze prison escape, which was the biggest prison break in British penal history.-Early life:The family was originally...

, who persuaded her to join the Provisional IRA.

First term of active service, 1975-1976


On 1 March 1976, the British Government revoked Special Category Status
Special Category Status
In July 1972, William Whitelaw, the British government's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, granted Special Category Status to all prisoners convicted of Troubles-related offences...

 for prisoners convicted from this date under anti-terrorism legislation. In response, the IRA instigated a wave of bombings and shootings across Northern Ireland; younger members such as Farrell were asked to participate. On 5 April 1976, along with Kieran Doherty
Kieran Doherty
Kieran Doherty TD was an Irish republican hunger striker, Teachta Dála and a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army ....

 and Sean McDermott, she attempted to plant a bomb at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry
Dunmurry
Dunmurry is an urban townland, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Located between Belfast and Lisburn, it was once a rural village, but is now within the Greater Belfast conurbation...

. She was arrested by Royal Ulster Constabulary
Royal Ulster Constabulary
The Royal Ulster Constabulary was the name of the police force in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 2000. Following the awarding of the George Cross in 2000, it was subsequently known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC. It was founded on 1 June 1922 out of the Royal Irish Constabulary...

 (RUC) officers within an hour of planting the bomb. Her boyfriend Sean McDermott was shot dead by an RUC Reservist at a nearby housing estate. McDermott and two other members of the IRA active service unit
Active Service Unit
An active service unit was a Provisional Irish Republican Army cell of five to eight members, tasked with carrying out armed attacks. In 2002 the IRA had about 1,000 active members of which about 300 were in active service units....

 had entered a home not realising it was a police officer's. The RUC officer managed to shoot McDermott dead whilst Keiran Doherty and another man managed to run off.

At her trial she refused to recognise the court as it was an institution of the British state and was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for explosives offences to be served in Armagh Women's Prison
Armagh Women's Prison
Armagh Prison in Armagh, Northern Ireland is a former prison. The construction of the prison began in the 1780 and it was extended in the style of Pentonville in the 1840 and 1850s. For most of its working life Armagh Gaol was the primary women's prison in Northern Ireland...

.

Imprisonment, 1976-1986


When she arrived in Armagh Gaol, Farrell refused to wear prison uniform in protest at the designation of paramilitary prisoners as criminals. She was the first woman to do so although the second person after Kieran Nugent
Kieran Nugent
Kieran "Header" Nugent was a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army and best known for being the first IRA 'blanket man' in the H-Blocks...

, a prisoner in the H-Blocks of HMP Maze
Maze (HM Prison)
Her Majesty's Prison Maze was a prison in Northern Ireland that was used to house paramilitary prisoners during the Troubles from mid-1971 to mid-2000....

. Farrell instigated a dirty protest
Dirty protest
The dirty protest was part of a five year protest during the Troubles by Provisional Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners held in the Maze prison and Armagh Women's Prison in Northern Ireland.-Background:Convicted paramilitary prisoners were treated as ordinary...

 in February 1980. This meant that prisoners refused to slop-out and would smear excrement and menstrual material on the walls of their cells instead of risking being attacked by the guards while slopping out
Slopping out
Slopping out is the emptying of buckets of human waste when the cells are unlocked in prisons in the morning. Inmates without a toilet in the cell have to use a bucket or chamber pot while locked in during the night. The reason that some cells do not have toilets is that they date from the...

. On 1 December Farrell, along with Mary Doyle and Mairead Nugent, began a hunger strike in Armagh prison to coincide with the one already taking place in Long Kesh. It ended on 19 December, a day after the men's strike. The dirty protest ended in March 1981 as the prisoner's rights' campaign was focused on the hunger strike
1981 Irish hunger strike
The 1981 Irish hunger strike was the culmination of a five-year protest during The Troubles by Irish republican prisoners in Northern Ireland. The protest began as the blanket protest in 1976, when the British government withdrew Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners...

 being undertaken by Bobby Sands
Bobby Sands
Robert Gerard "Bobby" Sands was an Irish volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and member of the United Kingdom Parliament who died on hunger strike while imprisoned in HM Prison Maze....

, leader of IRA prisoners in the H-Blocks. She was one of the H-Block/Armagh prisoners to stand for election in the Republic of Ireland in the 1981 General Election, standing in Cork North Central and polling 2,751 votes (6.05%).

Second term of active service, 1986-1988


Upon her release from prison in October 1986, Farrell enrolled at Queen's University, Belfast for a course in Political Science and Economics, although she dropped out to play a larger role in the IRA's armed campaign. The IRA sent her with Sean Savage
Seán Savage
Seán Savage was a volunteer of the Provisional IRA who was shot and killed by British Army Special Air Service soldiers in Operation Flavius.-Early life:...

 and Daniel McCann
Daniel McCann
Daniel "Danny" McCann was a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army who was killed by British Army Special Air Service soldiers in Operation Flavius.-Background:...

 to the British overseas territory
British overseas territories
The British Overseas Territories are fourteen territories of the United Kingdom which, although they do not form part of the United Kingdom itself, fall under its jurisdiction. They are remnants of the British Empire that have not acquired independence or have voted to remain British territories...

 of Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 to plant a bomb in the town area. The target was the band and guard of the First Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment during a ceremonial, weekly changing of the guard in front of Governors' residence
The Convent (Gibraltar)
The Convent has been the official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar since 1728. It was originally a convent of Franciscan friars, hence its name, and was completed in 1531....

, on the 8 of March,1988.
The British Security Service was made aware of their plan and the SAS
Special Air Service
Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

 was deployed to prevent the bombing. Farrell and her two partners were shot dead (see Operation Flavius
Operation Flavius
Operation Flavius was the name given to an operation by a Special Air Service team in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988 tasked to prevent a Provisional Irish Republican Army bomb attack...

). Farrell was shot three times in the back and once in the face, Savage and McCann were shot by the SAS whilst walking towards the frontier with Spain, at the Shell filling station on Winston Churchill Avenue. Some witnesses to the shooting stated that Farrell and McCann were shot while attempting to surrender and while lying wounded on the ground.

No radio to remotely control a bomb was found on the bodies, nor was there a bomb in the car in Gibraltar which had been identified as belonging to the team. However, keys to a car found in Farrell's handbag led to the discovery in Spain of five packages totalling 84 kg of Semtex
Semtex
Semtex is a general-purpose plastic explosive containing RDX and PETN. It is used in commercial blasting, demolition, and in certain military applications. Semtex became notoriously popular with terrorists because it was, until recently, extremely difficult to detect, as in the case of Pan Am...

 explosive. These packages had four separate detonators attached. Around this was packed 200 rounds of ammunition as shrapnel. There were two timers, marked 10 hrs 45 mins and 11 hrs 15 mins respectively, but they were not primed or connected.

According to the details of the briefing given to the soldiers quoted in the ECHR report: "Use of a remote-control device was considered to be far more likely since it was safer from the point of view of the terrorist who could get away from the bomb before it exploded and was more controllable than a timer which once activated was virtually impossible to stop." However, the arrest-operation that resulted in Farrell's and her companions' deaths took place on a Sunday - the changing of the guard occurred on Tuesdays, meaning that even if there was a remotely-controlled device it would not have been activated as the arrest happened.

At the inquest, soldiers "A", "B", "C" and "D" stated that they were told at the briefing that the device would be radio-controlled. "Soldier C" said that "E" stressed to them that it would be a "button job".

The Gibraltar inquest


At the inquest into the deaths held in Gibraltar the jury returned a verdict of lawful killing by a 9-2 majority. The coroner in summing up of the evidence to the jury told them to avoid an open verdict
Open verdict
The Open verdict is an option open to a Coroner's jury at an Inquest in the legal system of England and Wales. The verdict strictly means that the jury confirms that the death is suspicious but is unable to reach any of the other verdicts open to them...

. The 9-2 verdict is the smallest majority allowed. Paddy McGrory, lawyer for Amnesty International, believed that it was a 'perverse verdict,'and that it went against the weight of the evidence.

Ms Proetta, an independent witness, told Thames television, ‘They [security forces] didn’t do anything ... they just went and shot these people. That’s all. They didn’t say anything, they didn’t scream, they didn’t shout, they didn’t do anything. These people were turning their heads back to see what was happening and when they saw these men had guns in their hands they put their hands up. It looked like the man was protecting the girl because he stood in front of her, but there was no chance. I mean they went to the floor immediately, they dropped.’

Stephen Bullock, a lawyer by profession, who was 150 metres from the shooting, and another independent witness saw Dan McCann falling backwards with his hands at shoulder height. At the inquest into the killings Bullock stated, ‘I think with one step he could have actually touched the person he was shooting’.

The researcher for Thames Television which made the programme Death on the Rock
Death on the Rock
Death on the Rock is a British Academy Television Award-winning episode of Thames Television's current affairs series This Week, first aired by the British television network ITV on 28 April 1988. On 6 March 1988, three Irish Republican Army members, Danny McCann, Sean Savage and Mairéad Farrell,...

believed Ms Proetta’s evidence as it coincided with another account they had received. The scientific evidence by pathologist Professor Alan Watson also corroborated the evidence of Proetta, Bullock and a third witness Josie Celecia.

Five independent civil liberty organisations have criticised many aspects of the proceedings during the inquest, and have called for further inquiries into the killings in Gibraltar. They are the International Association of Democratic Lawyers
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
International Association of Democratic Lawyers is an international organization of jurists' associations.-Subsidiaries and affiliated organizations:Local:* Bangladesh - Democratic Lawyers Association of Bangladesh...

, Inquest the National Council for Civil Liberties
Liberty (pressure group)
Liberty is a pressure group based in the United Kingdom. Its formal name is the National Council for Civil Liberties . Founded in 1934 by Ronald Kidd and Sylvia Crowther-Smith , the group campaigns to protect civil liberties and promote human rights...

 (London), the International League for Human Rights
International League for Human Rights
The International League for Human Rights is a human rights organization with headquarters in New York City.Claiming to be the oldest human rights organization in the United States, the ILHR defines its mission as "defending human rights advocates who risk their lives to promote the ideals of a...

 (New York) and Amnesty International
Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

.

The report by Amnesty International stated that the inquest failed to answer ‘the fundamental issue … whether the fatal shootings were caused by what happened in the street, or whether the authorities planned in advance for the three to be shot dead.’

European Court of Human Rights


The relatives of McCann, Savage and Farrell were dissatisfied with the response to their case in the British legal system, so they took their case to the European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a supra-national court established by the European Convention on Human Rights and hears complaints that a contracting state has violated the human rights enshrined in the Convention and its protocols. Complaints can be brought by individuals or...

 in 1995. The court found that the three had been unlawfully killed. By a 10-9 majority it ruled that the human rights of the 'Gibraltar Three' were infringed in breach of Article 2 - right to life, of the European Convention on Human Rights
European Convention on Human Rights
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is an international treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by the then newly formed Council of Europe, the convention entered into force on 3 September 1953...

 and criticised the authorities for lack of appropriate care in the control and organisation of the arrest operation.
In sum, having regard to the decision not to prevent the suspects from travelling into Gibraltar, to the failure of the authorities to make sufficient allowances for the possibility that their intelligence assessments might, in some respects at least, be erroneous and to the automatic recourse to lethal force when the soldiers opened fire, the Court is not persuaded that the killing of the three terrorists constituted the use of force which was no more than absolutely necessary in defence of persons from unlawful violence within the meaning of Article 2(2)(a) of the Convention


In the Judgement the court said that the actions of the authorities lacked 'the degree of caution in the use of firearms to be expected from law enforcement personnel in a democratic society.' Some newspapers reported the decision as a finding that the three were unlawfully killed.

The ECHR also ruled that the three had been engaged in an act of terrorism
Terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

, and consequently dismissed unanimously the applicants’ claims for damages, for costs and expenses incurred in the Gibraltar Inquest and the remainder of the claims for just satisfaction.

The Court is not empowered to overrule national decisions or annul national laws.

Related events



In the aftermath of the shooting on Gibraltar, violence escalated in the Belfast area and resulted in at least six further deaths.
The three bodies were returned to Belfast on 14 March. That evening an IRA sniper, Kevin McCracken, was shot dead in Norglen Crescent, Turf Lodge, Belfast while preparing to attack British soldiers. Those attending the return of the bodies said that the security services were harassing them and that he was attacking the security services to deflect their attention. According to witnesses, McCracken was beaten while lying wounded by members of the security services.

At the funeral of the 'Gibraltar Three' on the 16 March, three mourners were killed in a gun and grenade attack by Loyalist
Ulster loyalism
Ulster loyalism is an ideology that is opposed to a united Ireland. It can mean either support for upholding Northern Ireland's status as a constituent part of the United Kingdom , support for Northern Ireland independence, or support for loyalist paramilitaries...

 paramilitary Michael Stone
Michael Stone (loyalist paramilitary)
Michael Stone is a Northern Irish loyalist who was a volunteer in the Ulster Defence Association . Stone was born in England but raised in the Braniel estate in East Belfast, Northern Ireland. Convicted of killing three people and injuring more than sixty in an attack on mourners at Milltown...

 in the Milltown Cemetery attack
Milltown Cemetery attack
The Milltown Cemetery attack The Milltown Cemetery attack The Milltown Cemetery attack (also known as the Milltown Cemetery killings or Milltown Massacre took place on 16 March 1988 in Belfast's Milltown Cemetery...

.

At the funeral of IRA member Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh on 19 March - one of the three men killed three days earlier by Michael Stone - two British Army corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, drove into the funeral cortège, apparently by accident but mourners evidently feared an attack similar to Stone's was taking place. Scenes relayed on television showed the two corporals being cornered by black taxis and dragged from their car before being taken away to be beaten, stripped, and then shot
Corporals killings
The corporals killings was the killing of corporals David Robert Howes and Derek Tony Wood, two British Army soldiers of the Royal Corps of Signals killed on 19 March 1988 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The non-uniformed soldiers were killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army , after they...

.

On 10 September 1990, the IRA attempted to kill Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Terry
Peter Terry
Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter David George Terry GCB is a retired senior Royal Air Force commander.-Royal Air Force career:...

 at his Staffordshire
Staffordshire
Staffordshire is a landlocked county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. Part of the National Forest lies within its borders...

 home. Sir Peter had been a prime target since his days as Governor of Gibraltar, where he signed the documents allowing the SAS to pursue IRA members. The attack took place at 9pm at the Main Road house. The gunman opened fire through a window hitting Sir Peter at least 9 times and injuring his wife, Lady Betty, near one of her eyes. The couple's daughter, Elizabeth, was found to be suffering from shock. Peter Terry's face had to be rebuilt as the shots shattered his face and 2 high-velocity bullets were within millimetres of his brain.

In 2008 Sinn Féin asked to hold an International Women's Day event in the Long Gallery at Stormont commemorating Ms Farrell. The Assembly Commission which runs the Stormont estate ruled that it could not go ahead.

The families of the three shot visited Gibraltar in March 2008 to lay wreaths.

Media comment


The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

, reviewing a Frontline documentary examining the circumstances of Farrell's death, stated: "Mairead Farrell might be dismissed as some wild-eyed fanatic except that part of her life has been preserved in several home movies and a television interview taped shortly before her death. What emerges is a portrait of a soft-spoken, attractive woman determined to end what she perceived as the injustices surrounding her everyday life.... The program leaves us pondering the obvious conclusion: "To the people of Falls Road she was a patriot. To the British she was a terrorist. To her family she was a victim of Irish history.""

See also

  • Death on the Rock
    Death on the Rock
    Death on the Rock is a British Academy Television Award-winning episode of Thames Television's current affairs series This Week, first aired by the British television network ITV on 28 April 1988. On 6 March 1988, three Irish Republican Army members, Danny McCann, Sean Savage and Mairéad Farrell,...

    ; a controversial documentary
    Documentary film
    Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

     about the shootings.

Further reading