Over the past few days, graffiti emerged in parts of West Belfast, sending out a shivering message to former Irish Republican prisoner Danny McClean. One of these messages appeared on a gable wall on Lenadoon Avenue saying: “Danny McClean UDR RIP.”
In early January, McClean’s stood trial for IRA memberships charges, accused of being a member of the paramilitary group Óglaigh na hÉireann. However, Judge Smyth “agreed to leave the IRA charge ‘on the books and not to proceed with’ in the case of (…) Daniel Joseph Anthony McClean (52) of Lagmore Gardens”. What has happened since then that McClean fell from grace so quickly?
In the past weeks, it has emerged that McClean is a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, an infantry regiment of the British Army established in 1970 whose members were involved in sectarian killings. Moreover, he was initially a member of the Territorial Army. The TA is the active-duty volunteer reserve force and integrated element of the British Army. It is understood that throughout his later involvement in Óglaigh na hÉireann, McClean concealed his past involvement with the British Army from Irish Republicans.
Member of the British Army?
His military records cover the period from February 1991 to December 1996. He initially joined the TA. In December 1993 he transferred to the Royal Irish Regiment and left it exactly three years later. It is understood that the home address he had given to the British Army was in Killough just outside Downpatrick, Co South Down.
Some years later, McClean got involved with Irish Republicanism. He had been accused of membership in Óglaigh na hÉireann, also known as ONH. ONH is one of the four main Republican paramilitary organisations active since the decommissioning of the Provisional IRA in 2005. The other three are the Irish National Liberation Army, the Continuity IRA, and the Real IRA, later absorbed into the New IRA. In January 2018, ONH declared a ceasefire.
Member of Óglaigh na hÉireann?
In June 2014, McClean was among four men charged with membership of the IRA between 1 December 2013 and 25 June 2014. Following his sentence, he spent 16 months on the Republican wing Roe 3 in the high-security prison HMP Maghaberry. The prisoners’ welfare group Cogús supports most of the prisoners on Roe 3.
In November 2018, McClean appeared in court again. He was again among four men accused of IRA membership. The senior prosecution barrister said, “that they are members of the IRA, carrying out activities on behalf of the IRA.” During 15 interviews, McClean remained silent. His trial ended in early January.
Graffiti on Lenadoon Avenue
Over the past week, graffiti appeared in parts of West Belfast issuing a chilling warning to McClean. One of these graffiti appeared on a gable wall on Lenadoon Avenue. Below a mural on Dungloe Crescent remembering the Irish Republican women’s organisation Cumann na mBan, the letters “Danny McClean UDR RIP” are sprayed widely visible in light-green colour. Similar graffiti appeared in white in other parts of West Belfast.
The number of paramilitary-style attacks by both Republican and Loyalist groups over the past years shows that these are no idle threats. Although the number of paramilitary shootings halved in 2018, there were still 13 causalities of paramilitary-style shootings; all but two of them were carried out by Republicans, and all but two of them occurred either in Belfast or Derry.
Irish Republicans and their UDR past
It is understood that McClean had left the British Army in December 1996, over 22 years ago. However, the threats against him show that former members of the British Army are still considered as enemies, and likely seen as informers, in parts of Northern Ireland; even though he joined a Republican organisation and served time on the Republican wing in HMP Maghaberry in later years. For Irish Republican, even former prisoners are not immune of the “informer” label. Why McClean kept his past involvement in the TA and the UDR/RIR secret is unknown. It is understood that McClean has not explained his reasons for first joining the British Army and then Irish Republicans to anyone of his former comrades or the general public.
The treatment of Danny McClean stands in stark contrast to a similar case of a former Republican prisoner. While the graffiti in West Belfast can undoubtedly be understood as death threats against McClean, another former member of the UDR/RIR, Gabriel Mackle became the leader of the Continuity IRA prisoners in HMP Maghaberry. Although Mackle’s past involvement in the British Army is in public domain and he had to leave the Republican wing in HMP Maghaberry eventually, he was supported by other Republicans. Today, he is still actively involved in Republican Sinn Féin.
On the contrary, the case of Danny McClean underlines that even 23 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, former members of the British Army are still not welcome in parts of West Belfast.
Photo credits: Dieter Reinisch