Show Me The Man
The Martin Meehan Official Biography
“Martin Meehan, Come out with your hands up, this is the F.B.I”
Reflecting on the arrest, trial, and sentence, Martin later remarked, “I believe I was a test case, if the R.U.C got away with jailing me on the evidence of an informer, then it opened the door for further and greater use of informers, and particularly super touts.” Consider that two of the men responsible for the kidnapping pleaded guilty to the charges and supported Martin’s claims of innocence. Martin revealed, “Dermott Brophy and Francis Steele pleaded guilty and told the R.U.C during interrogation that there was no way I was involved. Their evidence was never heard in court, if they framed one person they could do it again and again which is exactly what they did. That’s why I went on hunger strike, I was determined to fight the conviction, not just for me but for everyone else who was a target.”
The reader may wonder why Martin chose to go on hunger strike; but such was his nature that even here he recognised the injustice of the situation. Martin felt passionately about British injustices, not only for himself but for, and maybe especially, where others were concerned. He took every opportunity to champion their cause and his ultimate goal was to further the Republican cause. Martin’s sentence presented an opportunity to highlight the farce that was the British Justice System in the Six Counties; even if it cost him his life.
Sixty six days into the hunger strike, Martin’s weight had dropped from 15 stones to six and a half, with the final six days seeing him engage in a thirst strike as well. Martin said, “My own family was devastated. I remember my kids coming up and seeing me; they were hysterical. It was a very bad time for me and my family and I regret putting them through that. There was a good reason why I went on hunger strike and a good reason why I came off it. I am not crying because I was framed. As a Republican you have to accept things like that will happen, it’s one of the dangers. You expect to be railroaded by the police; it wasn’t a shock but it doesn’t mean you have to sit back and take it”.
The day before Martin came off the hunger strike, Briege his wife, brought their baby, Bronagh, along to the prison, but his arms were so withered and weak he couldn’t even reach up to take her, and said, “Briege, place Bronagh on my chest, let me touch her.” It was a sad and tragic sight but one that has been experienced down through centuries of Irish history, and will no doubt again be witnessed before real peace and freedom comes to this lovely land. The then Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, intervened and persuaded Martin that his death was not necessary to highlight the injustice of his case.
The following statement was released by Martin’s family:
“ Martin has as at this moment in time finished both his hunger and thirst strike which he had undertaken some 66 days ago to protest his own innocence and to bring to bear upon the administration of justice in this jurisdiction, the focus of world opinion and press.
He has been convinced by his family and friends that to thirst and hunger to death would achieve nothing further in the general or particular. He has, according to the latest bulletin from the Northern Ireland Office, gone to deaths door. His condition is extremely grave and it will take some long time for his health to be restored if possible at all after this long time without food and water.
It must be said that the intercession of Cardinal O’Fiach through the Prison Chaplain went a long way in helping him arrive at his decision. For this we are grateful.
The intervention of Amnesty International however must be considered a most important development in that this body of integrity and international repute must have seen the justification of Martins reaction to the injustice perpetrated against him. He looks forward to Amnesty’s work in this area in the future.
We all know that Martin has achieved much more than anyone could have expected or anticipated. The interest generated by his sacrifice we are sure will not be lost in the future.
The lack of justice in the 6 counties is crying out for recognition. By his action Martin has caused this fact to be internationally recognised both generally and particularly through the facts of his own case. This is monument to his long fast and thirst.
On his behalf and on that of his family I wish to thank all who have helped both locally and internationally to bring this happy conclusion to a traumatic period for us all. He knows that those who have pledged future support are honourable persons. Perhaps this can the beginning of on era which will find its conclusion in a just society free of Special Courts, H Blocks and suffering.” Mrs Briege Meehan.
Martin was released in 1985, and despite a strong campaign to have the case re-opened, Martin never did get a chance to prove his innocence. As a personal friend to Martin, I followed his case closely and was witness to the evil manipulation of the legal system by those who were supposedly set apart to uphold the law. I would hope that through the pages of this book, history will record Martin’s innocence in the McWilliams Kidnapping Case.
As for the I.R.A informer, Peter Valente, he was found shot dead in an alleyway at the bottom of steps leading into the Protestant Highfield estate, on the Springfield Road on November 14th 1980. Those who shot him had apparently pressed a new £20 note into his hand as soon as his body hit the ground, a sure signal to his R.U.C handlers that one of their informers had been uncovered and punished.
According to a 1980’s newspaper report, Valente had begun as a low level informer, but due to his high level status within the Republican Movement, he was later upgraded by the R.U.C. A meeting between Valente and an R.U.C man had been arranged to take place in the ‘Waterworks’ on the Antrim Road. Apparently, the R.U.C man wanted to pass on information to him about an informer, Stephen McWilliams, which the R.U.C wanted fed to the I.R.A saying, “This will give you a lot of credibility with them.” Little did Valente know that his whole conversation with the R.U.C man was being filmed from a distance by under cover Special Branch men. The R.U.C was prepared to sacrifice McWilliams in the hope of gaining Valente - a higher placed informer. A day or two later the Special Branch arrested Valente and brought him to the infamous Castlereagh interrogation centre where they showed him the film of him talking to the R.U.C man in the park. The message was clear; work for us or this film could fall into certain hands, meaning of course the I.R.A. Valente caved in and became a full time I.R.A informer.
Peter Valente was reported missing on November 12th 1980, and was found dead two days later, having paid the price for his treachery. There is no doubt that MI5 and British Military Intelligence viewed it as imperative to have informers placed in Ardoyne and quite recently another informer, Roy McShane, was outed, and has since fled to England under MI5 protection. It is not insignificant that McShane lived in Farrington Gardens in Ardoyne for a period of time in the 1990’s, a time when MI5 would be very anxious to discover what was going on behind the scenes in this Republican heartland..
After his release from prison in 1985, Martin and Briege decided to visit Martin’s sisters, Ann and Mary who lived in America. Of course there was no way could he get a visa, nor could he travel on his own passport so he obtained a false passport and visa and with those documents, the couple set off, driving first to Dublin where they were to board the plane to New York. At the time Bronagh was still very young, so they brought her along having left the other older children in the care of family members. They passed through Customs and Immigration without any difficulty before travelling onwards to his sister Ann’s home just upstate.
In the first week of the trip, he and the family visited Manhattan, taking in the sights of New York City and then travelling to South Carolina for a week; they had a wonderful time and still had another two weeks left to enjoy.
They arrived back at Ann’s house on what was coincidentally, Bronagh’s sixth birthday, and were just settling down when the phone rang. Martin being nearest to it picked it up and said “Hello”, and a voice said “Hello, can I speak to Martin Meehan please?” Immediately Martin thought he was about to hear that something had happened to the kids at home, and he quickly answered, “Hello, yes this is Martin”, and suddenly the phone went dead. Within a few seconds a loud voice was heard throughout the very quiet neighbourhood, “Martin Meehan, this is the F.B.I - come out with your hands up!” It had been the F.B.I on the phone. Looking out the window Martin saw at least a dozen police cars with lights flashing, as well as other cars, probably belonging to F.B.I men which had surrounded the house, while a helicopter hovered over head. Briege thought for a moment that they were back in Ardoyne; by this time Martin had opened the front door. Briege and his sisters went out into the garden and were arguing with the F.B.I. Briege put on an American accent, for she too had travelled on a false passport and was hoping that the F.B.I was not aware that she was Martin’s wife. With the ongoing commotion neighbours started to come out of their and looked on in amazement at the dramatic scene. Later in conversation, they asked Ann what had happened and she told them that it was a movie company making a film.
Martin was taken away to a holding centre and after a few days was offered ‘Voluntary Deportation’ - that is to leave the U.S.A of his own accord and not fight extradition, which made Martin laugh. One of the F.B.I man asked, “What do you find humorous about that?”
Martin answered, “No offence to you my friend, but if you are implying that I might be trying to take up residence in your country you’re mistaken, I am here on holiday to visit my sisters only. Nice as your country is, I wouldn’t give you a green field of Ireland for your whole country; I agree and accept voluntary deportation. ”
Martin was surprised when the F.B.I man said, “We didn’t expect you to do otherwise, your love of Ireland is well known here in the States, and we will make your stay here as comfortable as possible until the arrangements are made for you to return home.”
Of course now that Martin’s identity had been discovered it meant he could not return to Ireland on his illegal passport, he wouldn’t be allowed in. After visiting him at the detention centre, his sister Ann worked with Briege to get his real passport sent on as quickly as possible so he could leave.
The passport arrived and was handed in for Martin at the centre while, at the same time, Briege and Bronagh were to return home on their scheduled tickets. Having been left to the Airport by Ann and Mary, Briege handed in her and Bronagh’s false passport and just like when she left Dublin four weeks earlier, not an eye brow was raised. They boarded the plane and took their seats. Imagine their surprise when Martin was escorted onto the same plane by a couple of F.B.I men. It seemed that it was sheer coincidence that Martin actually was put on the plane that he was originally booked on to travel back home; he gave Briege a discreet wink as he took his seat a few rows behind her. Arriving in Dublin the family made their way to the car park, picked up their car and drove home exactly at the time they had originally planned, but with one hell of a funny story to tell, and no doubt Bronagh will never forget her sixth birthday.
1985 ended on a happy note for Martin and Briege when on November 25th, they married in Dublin and returned to Belfast that same evening for a huge wedding reception attended by friends and family at the Ardoyne G.A.A Club.
The next major event in Martin’s life came about on July 11th 1989, the night when traditionally the Protestant and Loyalist people celebrate the victory by the Dutch, Protestant King William over the English, Catholic King James by lighting bonfires. Stephen McCabe, who was a serving T.A (Territorial Army) soldier from the Loyalist Westcircular Road area, was stopped by Ardoyne vigilantes. These men were patrolling their area in anticipation of violence being directed towards it from local Loyalists. When it was discovered that McCabe was a soldier, they took him to a house in Holmdene Gardens. The soldier later identified Martin as being present at that house but perhaps luckily for the soldier, an informer was already contacting his handlers to alert them to the fact that a soldier had been abducted and was being held at a house in Holmdene Gardens, and that Martin Meehan was there. The British Army quickly raided the house but Martin and another volunteer were able to make an escape through the back door and into a house in Eskdale Gardens. Eventually the Brits raided the house in Eskdale Gardens where they found Martin and another Volunteer concealed in the loft. Martin was holding down the trap door of the loft when suddenly one of the Brits shouted up, “If you don’t fuckin’ come down I am gonna blast you!” Martin quickly realised that the quarter inch plywood door was not going to save him, so he answered, “We are coming down!”
Years later Martin liked to tell the story of how when he was standing there, the other guy in the loft missed his footing and came tumbling through the ceiling, landing on top of Martin. This was very convenient for the Brits, Martin Meehan lying on the floor; needless to say their boots and rifles butts were soon put into action.
Once again Martin found himself in court where he was sentenced to 15 years and whilst in prison, he was attacked by a number of prison screws - although he later took a successful court action against them and was awarded £14,000. None of the screws appeared in court to give evidence which caused the judge to remark that this proved they had no defence; however, the D.P.P later ruled that none of the screws should face prosecution.
It was during this sentence that Martin wrote to a friend, “... As for myself I am doing well, I have just over three years left so the light is starting to shine through the darkness. As for Briege and the family, she has been a tower of strength behind me over the years and I respect and love her very much, maybe the man above will let us share a little happiness when I get out this time round. At the minute I am getting a concert boxed off for the lads at Christmas, just love to see the lads enjoy themselves, I am still running and lifting the weights, I just won’t give in, all the young lads call me the oldest swinger in town, Ha ha. Please pass on my best wishes to all. As you know I am now a grandfather four times over, now don’t be telling anyone. By the time I finished this sentence I will have done 22 years inside. Thank God for the wee breaks I had in between, Ha Ha. I recall my dear father saying in 1966, ‘Hey boy, I hope you realise it is a long hard road ahead of you.’ However I wish you and the family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Show me the Man? .It is OLD man now, Ha Ha, Martin.”
There is no doubt that I993 was a significant year, I won’t use that over used word ‘Historic, ’ but it became apparent that the British Government and the I.R.A were engaged in secret talks for a number of years in an effort to negotiate a settlement. A statement was issued from Downing Street on December 15th, in which the British Prime Minister, John Major, and the Irish Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, agreed in principle to talks on the future of the Six Counties. It also said, “any party that renounces violence" is invited to take part; opening the way for Sinn Fein if it could prove that the I.R.A was committed to giving up its weapons.
One year later, 1994, Martin was released on parole to a rapidly changing political scene, which, although at times was riddled with contradictions, especially from Patrick Mayhew, the then British Minister of State for the Six Counties. In January that year the censorship on broadcasting was lifted from Sinn Fein, while Mayhew admitted that two “unauthorised” meetings had taken place between the British Government and the I.R.A.
Gerry Adams said at the Ard Fheis in Dublin,
"... does anyone really expect the I.R.A to cease its activities so that British civil servants can discuss with Sinn Féin the surrender of I.R.A weapons after we have been "decontaminated"?" (Irish News, 28 February 1994)
The Irish Republican Army called a three-day ceasefire (Wednesday April 6th 1994 to Friday April 8th 1994).
At a press conference in Belfast, May 30th, Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), described James Molyneaux, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), as "a Judas Iscariot".
But for all the name calling, suspicions, allegations, and counter allegations, it was obvious to all that massive steps were being taken to bring some kind of peaceful solution.