Ex-Provo gives new life to Irish clerical fascism

This article was published in Searchlight Magazine August 2006

A former senior Provisional IRA member, who until 2003 sat on Sinn Fein’s national executive, is reorganising the extreme nationalist right in Ireland by attempting a takeover of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), the largely moribund marching organisation seen as the Catholic equivalent of the Orange Order.

Gerry McGeough, 47, from Tyrone, now living in Dublin, has been described by the FBI as a “dedicated terrorist” and “senior commander” in the IRA. He makes no secret of his Provisional IRA past and his extreme anti-gay and pro-traditional Catholic views. McGeough is believed to have served on the PIRA’s “headquarters staff” and overseen its international arms buying and military operations during the early 1980s. He has served eight years in total in American and German prisons, awaiting trial for an IRA attack on a British barracks in Germany in 1988 and attempts to purchase surface-to-air missiles in the US. Until recently he was the editor of the large circulation Irish Catholic newspaper the Irish Family.

Now he has turned his attentions to saving Ireland from “sodomy” and immigration and returning it to “Catholic Faith and Gaelic Heritage“. In May McGeough, as editor, and Charles Byrne, a 28-year-old from Drogheda, launched a monthly magazine called The Hibernian, dedicated to “Faith, Family and Country”. Seemingly well funded and run from premises in the border town of Drogheda, the magazine acts as a publicity vehicle for McGeough and the extreme right in Ireland. Some of its contributors are associated with Youth Defence, an extreme anti-abortion group, and the Society of Pope Pius X, others are those attempting to infiltrate and take over the AOH.

In recent months local newspapers in rural southern Ireland and the border area have carried advertisements for those interested in joining a revitalised AOH which is to focus on the promotion of so-called “Hibernian” values. McGeough says that a significant number of persons associated with his brand of homophobia and extreme Catholicism have now been recruited into existing AOH “divisions”, the term for local units of the organisation, and have formed new “divisions” in Dublin and other areas of Ireland.

The AOH in Ireland, and Scotland, is controlled by the AOH “Board of Erin”. It has a largely middle-aged membership and confines itself to small parades and charity work. Unlike its sister organisation in America, which runs the New York St Patrick’s parade and controversially refuses to allow Irish-American gay groups to take part in the event, the Board of Erin has largely stayed out of Irish politics since the 1940s. Before this the “Hibs” were strongly associated with conservative parties and its members were often involved in physical fights with IRA supporters.

The first outing of McGeough’s new look AOH was a televised speech on 26 May by Michael McDowell, the Irish Minister for Justice, on civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The speech was interrupted when a jug of water, a number of cups and copies of the Irish constitution were thrown at the minister by eight men in the audience who accused him of seeking to pervert Irish children. The men, who were eventually escorted from the building, identified themselves to the media as members of the AOH. On the same day the website of The Hibernian carried a press release stating: “We, the General Tom Barry Division No. 1975 AOH, Cork and the Naomh Lorc O’Tuathail Division No. 31 AOH, Dublin, wish to state that we carried out today’s protest at the launch of a conference on homosexual ‘marriage’ …

We contend that the farce in regard to so-called civil unions for homosexuals is merely a prelude to the introduction of adoption ‘rights’ for practicing sodomites. As we made clear at today’s protest, Irish children must be protected from the attention of such perverts and for the State to even contemplate enshrining laws to allow them direct ‘guardianship’ access to helpless Irish children makes a mockery of our Constitution …”

However not all in the AOH were supportive of the actions of some of their new members. A week later Tony Carroll, the AOH public relations officer, said: “We saw the pictures on TV and everybody was amazed at what went on”. He pledged further to investigate the disruption and take “appropriate action”. However McGeough believes the days of mere charity work by the AOH are numbered. He said, in a taped interview forwarded to Searchlight: “I am part of a new group of people in the organisation who want to take a more pro-active stance on Catholic issues. If the leadership have a problem with Catholic teachings, then they should take it up with the Pope. The organisation which was moribund for years under that leadership is now attracting huge numbers of new people. We only have a convention every three years. but I believe we will see a radical shake-up at the next election.”

The former terrorist first emerged as a figure on the Irish extreme right when he accompanied Justin Barrett on a lecture tour of Irish towns in March 2004 in support of Barrett’s bid for election to the European Parliament. Barrett was a founding member of Youth Defence and former leader of the “No to Nice” campaign which opposed Irish ratification of the EU’s Nice Treaty. In an initial referendum held in June 2001 the Irish public voted against ratification.

Support fell away from Barrett following the exposure of his and his supporters’ links to European neo-fascist groups connected to Roberto Fiore’s International Third Position by Searchlight and the Sunday Mirror in September 2002 during the second Nice referendum campaign. At this vote the Irish people voted in favour of the treaty. Barrett and another Youth Defence founder, Niamh Nic Mhathuna, had attended conferences of Fiore’s neo-fascist Forza Nuova in Italy.

Barrett had also attended the German NDP’s “National Day of Resistance” rally in Passau in May 2000 at which former members of the Third Reich spoke along with international neo-fascist figures such as Udo Voigt, leader of the NDP. Youth Defence had also written a letter to Candour, an independent British far-right and antisemitic magazine, requesting funding at the time of its foundation in 1992. When confronted by video film of brown-shirted skinheads marching with neo-nazi flags through the conference on national television, days before the second Nice referendum, Barrett’s defence that he was unaware of the nature of the meetings became a national joke.

It was during this period that McGeough, then acting as organiser of the Sinn Fein anti-Nice campaign, became involved with Barrett and his cohorts. The two are still in close political contact although McGeough says he does not agree with Barrett’s vocal opposition to immigration. In his book The National Way Forward Barrett stated he believed immigration to Ireland was a “genetic” problem.

McGeough is seeking to attract support from republican activists disillusioned by the political direction of his former party. With the Provos focusing now on mainstream politics, fringe republican groups have increased their political activity.

Because of his IRA activities McGeough had a strong following among some Provo supporters. He was elected to the Sinn Fein national executive in 1999 while studying history in Trinity College. He became the party’s national campaigns organiser in 2001 and remained on the executive until 2003. During that time he, along with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, led Sinn Fein election campaigns and toured the country addressing republicans on behalf of the party.

The former terrorist is scathing of his former comrades in the leadership of Sinn Fein. In the Searchlight interview McGeough said: “Sinn Fein has been heavily infiltrated by homosexual activists and British double agents in recent years. A lot of republicans can’t fathom the liberal values of the leadership. They do not understand why they are pursuing a liberal British agenda. Immigration is a massive concern and there are a lot of people who are not happy with the level of immigration.”

However McGeough stresses that he is not a “racist”, stating that he has a Spanish wife and his children have black Nigerian friends. In an earlier interview he said: “I welcome new blood into the country but there’s a difference between that and being deluged by scam-mongers”.

The reality of McGeough’s and his cohorts’ ideas are more clearly expressed in The Hibernian. The professionally produced magazine has carried articles outlining the threat to Ireland from “multiculturalism”, as well as prayers, pictures of the Virgin Mary and long pieces in each edition promoting the infamous Father Fahey. Fahey, a 1930s Irish priest, called for the destruction of the “worldwide Jewish, communist and Freemason conspiracy”, however he did not support the Nazis, suspecting they were also part of the Jewish conspiracy.

The magazine has also featured articles promoting the Society of Pope Pius X, the extreme Catholic sect whose members include Fiore, Barrett and Derek Holland, formally of the British National Front and now believed to be in Ireland. It was in one of the sect’s churches that James Charles Kopp, the US abortion doctor murder suspect, worked while on the run in Ireland in 2000.

The only two websites that have links to The Hibernian are “Irish nationalism”, an openly racist site, and the “Irish Bulletin”. The second site, which has a banner proclaiming “Dispatches from the battle to defend Irish unity, culture, tradition and orthodoxy”, is the only outlet that initially promoted The Hibernian. It also carries “news” reports similar in content and style to those on The Hibernian’s website. Under the heading “European Nationalist Movements and Philosophies” the Irish Bulletin has links to the websites of Forza Nuovo, the International Third Position publication Final Conflict and the neo-nazi National Democratic Party of Germany among other extremist groups.

Interviews by McGeough were also approvingly reproduced in June 2004 in the magazine of National Vanguard, the extreme racist and neo-nazi organisation in the USA. According to Republicans McGeough had contact with nazi gangs while imprisoned in Louisiana until his release in 1996.

The links that Barrett and Youth Defence have with McGeough maintain a tradition of involvement with former terrorists. Fiore, who has a terrorism conviction, was wanted in Italy for questioning over his knowledge of links between members of his terrorist group the Armed Revolutionary Nuclei (NAR) and renegade Italian secret service officers who were later convicted. NAR members were implicated in the bombing of Bologna railway station in 1980, which killed 85 people.

Youth Defence also helped establish another former Ulster paramilitary, James Dowson. In the late 1990s Youth Defence supplied money to Dowson, who has convictions for firearms offences and UDA tattoos, to set up his extreme anti-abortion group Precious Life. Dowson is now a self proclaimed Protestant pastor and attends British National Party rallies and International Third Position education conferences in London. Youth Defence and Precious Life maintain “sisterly” relations.

Mags Glennon, a researcher who writes for the Republican Socialist magazine Fourthwrite, said: “Irish Republicanism has traditionally been secular and open to all religions. McGeough’s magazine speaks of a ‘crusade’ and ignores any historical figures not white, straight and Catholic. It also has extremist anti-contraception and anti-women articles. The Catholic right constituency it is aiming for is rapidly diminishing in Ireland, but he is attempting to marry strict Catholicism with nationalism and anti-immigration views.’”

Although the comical Barrett might now have retired from the media frontline following deeply embarrassing election and referendum campaigns, the Irish extreme right may have another liability in McGeough. He managed to single-handedly destroy the Provos’ arms network in the US when he attempted to buy missiles to take down “warships in the sky” (his name for helicopters) from undercover FBI agents in 1982. A former student who knew McGeough during his years at Trinity also has a tale of duplicity: “Gerry was friendly with a lot of people around college political circles. He was always very much a Catholic and his traditionalist views did not always go down well with some in Sinn Fein. He could be a bit of a rogue though and used to wear a pioneer pin [a symbol that the wearer has taken a Catholic pledge of abstention from alcohol] but was always fond of the odd pint.”

© Searchlight Magazine 2006