Hated are the peacemakers: Smears have put members of a small but vocal Irish peace group at risk, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

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The Independent Online
HENRY is a frightful nuisance to all terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. He and his colleagues in Families Against Intimidation and Terror (Fait) have the dubious distinction of being hated by the worst people in Ireland. They encourage members of both communities to stand up against the fascists in their midst, and day in and day out they publicly tell the brutal truth about the torturers, killers and racketeers of the paramilitary world.

It is a subject about which Henry knows a great deal. At 18, as a member of the Official IRA, he knee-capped an ex-member of the Provisional IRA who had been fighting with one of his paramilitary friends. He remembers the rush of adrenalin. 'It's a macho thing, a feeling of utter control. That's how you advance your argument, sticking a gun at someone.' Fortunately for Henry, he was caught and spent two and a half years in jail, where he concluded that there were better ways to spend his life.

At 32, Henry is a passionate democrat and a single- minded enemy of terrorism. He fights the paramilitaries with the weapons he respects: words, wit and courage. He and his colleagues know that many people would like them dead. But even depraved Northern Irish killers realise that murdering peace campaigners is not a good public relations move.

The people running Fait, however, are not like most peace campaigners. They are neither sentimental nor woolly-minded. Understanding the nature of evil and having the courage to confront it, they simply tell the truth: that the paramilitaries are fascists, that their aim is power, not peace, that appeasement never works and that to defeat terrorism, democrats have to get tough.

Henry is intense about the need for democratic governments to face up to terrorism, as Italy and Spain did, and adapt modern counter-terrorism techniques.

Fait media successes have included a new sophistication in American reporting on Northern Ireland. In April, for instance, an 18-page New Yorker article, which included interviews with Henry and some of his colleagues, provided a devastating indictment of the misery caused to ordinary people by terrorism.

Fait pickets have been seen on news broadcasts around the world. So far attempts by heavies to put the frighteners on have failed. One ploy was to take photographs of everyone on the picket line. Henry henceforward brought along a camera and took photographs of Adams's minders.

Gerry Adams, in particular, has good reason to be absolutely sick of Fait and their friends. They spoilt his triumphant return to Dublin from New York; they stood outside the Sinn Fein annual conference for its whole duration; and most recently, when he addressed a largely Provo audience in Dublin last week, they were standing patiently outside with their banners denouncing murder and torture.

As Peter Bottomley MP, a former Northern Ireland minister and joint President of New Consensus, said recently: 'What the IRA cannot stand is democratic opposition,' so what they needed was to have Fait discredited and Henry declared 'a legitimate target'. In their warped world such people can be murdered with a clear conscience.

Legitimate targets include soldiers and police (serving and retired) along with civil servants and cleaners, carpenters or caterers used by the democratic government. (Innocents often find it particularly repellant that Protestant paramilitaries target 'ordinary' Catholics. The plain fact is that, not having the luxury - like the Provos - of tens of thousands of 'legitimate' targets, in frustration they declare every Catholic to be a republican. It is a warped but chillingly simple logic.)

Since Henry doesn't fall into any of those categories - broad as they are - the good old MI5 smear is the only solution. And by an interesting coincidence, a Dublin satirical magazine called Phoenix last Friday announced that Fait was funded 'from the MI5-run Political Department at the Northern Ireland Office'. Fait, it explained, was run by Henry Robinson, 'a converted terrorist' or 'CT' (a term British intelligence have used since Sir Maurice Oldfield invented it in the Malayan colonial campaign, and which basically means an informer). Its funding had been cut: 'Times are tough, even for converted terrorists (CTs) who are assisting Her Majesty's security experts to grapple with the forces of darkness in Ireland.' However, there had been no decline in 'donations' which flow into Robinson's organisation from unnamed 'backers in Britain' who enable him to deliver propaganda against the Sinn Fein-IRA peace process.

Fait is an independent and miserably poor organisation with a niggardly grant from a Northern Ireland Office department that funds peace and reconciliation groups, many of them in Gerry Adams's heartland of West Belfast. Its honourable volunteer workforce try to put their own sufferings from terrorism to positive use.

Henry's colleagues include Fait's founder, Nancy Gracey, whose son was knee-capped for having annoyed a Provo and Sally McCartan, whose many appalling family tragedies include one brother-in

law tortured to death and another shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries and a son shot eight times in the legs for refusing to give his car for

an IRA operation. Sally joined Fait and went public to save another son from being

mutilated.

All these people have been smeared as workers for British Intelligence, but Henry has been targeted directly. In Provoland to be called an 'informer' is to be given a death sentence. It is only three weeks since a woman so labelled was tortured and murdered by the IRA.

Sometimes people are tortured and murdered even when the allegations are completely unjustified: afterwards the Provos either stick to their story (for how can anyone be proved not to be a spy) or say 'Ooops. An honest mistake.' Through malice or criminal irresponsibility, Phoenix has put Henry in serious danger. The rest of us can help by nailing the lies.

(Photograph omitted)

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