In May 1981 I took a bus from the city hall in Belfast to Rose Park House in east Belfast, an uncompromisingly ugly building, it was, on reflection a perfect place to recruit civil servants to run this part of the empire: dour, dank and reeking of colonization. Mrs Windsor greeted me at the door with a contemptuous look Amazing as it may seem one could smoke on the bus, indeed at the back of each bus the City transport authorities provided a cute little gizmo to enable the traveller to light one’s matches
The purpose of this visit was to be interviewed for a job in the NI Probation service. The context was simple. I was completing a master’s degree in social work at Queen’s University, had at last begun to understand complex terms and was finished my placement in Ballymena. It was while at Queen’s I learned that Sigmund Fred was in fact called Sigmund Freud, that there were two types of poor, the deserving and the non-deserving as well as the best way out of this two-year master’s degree in compliance studies was whatever you say, say nothing that would offend the Course Director. The placement in Ballymena was of course a lesson in compliance, shadowing a brutal bully who terrorized me and all the staff in this office. Her delusion that she somehow was sent by God to police crime-ridden areas such as Cargin, Newtowncrumlin, Martinstown, Dunloy and Cushendun. In the seven months there I learned power does indeed corrupt the soul and the innocent.
The interview went a treat; you know that when one of the panel says afterwards “Well done, I think you will be joining us, do you fancy working on the Falls Road?” Thanks, Mr Badd you are a star, and you sound like a good Catholic into the bargain.
Off I went proud as Punch, back to my Belfast in the Ormeau Road, and told my late mother her son had got a job in the Probation service and – wait for it, hold your breath – he will be graduating with a Master’s Degree, yep not a Bachelor’s but a Master’s. God love her, she didn’t really understand all this stuff. It was enough that any of her kids who of course were cut from a finer cloth than those ruffians from Hatfield Street or God forbid McClure street got into Queen’s , never mind get a degree out of it . I never saw her as happy. She told everyone in work, at St Malachys chapel, Holy Rosary, the local chippie known affectionately as Yellow Pat’s, she even told the parish priest, her lifetime friend big Denis Newbury. Such happy days.
The summer of 1981 changed this part of the empire forever. While I awaited my new job in the NI Civil service, ten men for some unexplained reason starved themselves to death in Mrs Windsor’s prison near Lisburn. Yes, the same Mrs Windsor who gave me that ghastly look before my so successful interview. While as a family we were far too nice and integrated into this wonderful place called Northern Ireland to know what these people were doing not eating as a protest, something seemed not right. The funeral of the first hunger striker attracted 100 000 mourners. For a criminal, I thought!!
The letter eventually came, unsigned and informed me that my candidature had not been successful. You know, I can still feel the sense of shock forty years later. I was told that I got the job and clearly this must have been an error, you know a typo sort of thing, clearly this letter was intended for someone else, like maybe in an area of social housing.
I gave the wonderful Mr Badd a ring to his office and in fairness he was as shocked as I was, couldn’t believe it, he said, as I was recommended for the position. He further added that the interview panel was very impressed by my honest and open answers and he would get this cleared up very soon.
Within two days he contacted me and asked me to come and meet him and the then Chief Probation officer in a PUB in Central Belfast. A pub, I thought. Clearly they are going to apologise for the mess-up and buy me a lunch, and that’s that, such happy days.
Mr Badd who was really good didn’t seem comfortable that day in the pub. He pointed out that what he was doing could seriously damage his career and that we must never mention this meeting, like ever under pain of death. I was as you can imagine a little bemused, a typo is a typo, hardly life-changing stuff. A quick pint and a wee curried chip, apology and when am I starting my new career?
“Jude”, he said, “I don’t really know how to put this, you have been security vetted, you are deemed an enemy of the state”. I replied “Can you speak English, please? What does that mean?” “It appears that you are an active member of the Republican Marxist Front, top bomb-maker, explosives expert, assassin and a character of low moral fibre. You will not get a position in this organization and my strong advice to you is to find employment in an area that does not require security vetting. I also would advise you to be careful in all matters of personal security.” Such a kind man, I thought.
“What did I do?” He replied “I don’t know, this comes from our security advisors”. There’s me sitting in a bar, listening to this clap-trap and still unable to see what it really was. I mean I was afraid of my shadow, I hadn’t the backbone to join the boy scouts, as I was terrified of sleeping in a tent on a mountain without my electric blanket.
After no lunch or drink I said “Thanks for your time”. Remarking in my naivety “This isn’t over, I will be back.” I returned home, told my mum and dad and even they gave me that look, you know the look no smoke without fire sort of stuff. In short, the police must be right, and I had indeed something in the closet that they didn’t know about.
Later that night I heard my mum say to dad “This isn’t right Doey [her nick name for him – not Jim!!! ( my real name)]. “He is afraid of the dark.” Hardly reassuring, despite the context.
Happy days gone.
What I embarked on after this non-lunch still haunts me and in some ways, I still feel responsible for bringing attention to our home by putting up a long but futile fight to find the truth. I feel somehow responsible for the bombing and death of my late mother. I should have had the wit to take it on the chin and leave it, keep the head down, say nothing and return to QUB, get the Master’s and disappear into permanent obscurity. In retrospect I wish I had and maybe today I would be visiting the old people’s home to take her out for the day.
My fight back began with a visit to see John Hume in Derry. He was a busy man and seemed totally disinterested. He also smoked a lot (perhaps Derry buses are like ours in Belfast, had a wee gizmo things to light the feg on the back of the seat). He also gave me that look, you know the one, no smoke without fire etc etc. He referred me to Briege Rodgers, she referred me to Sean Farren, he referred me to a rather pleasant portly man from Cookstown who loved classical music, Denis Haughey.
I arrived at his house and he bluntly told me he would leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of this dreadful injustice. He duly arrived at our home, 139 University Street, and entered our parlour, you know that room, the good room that no one is allowed into except the priest or one’s new girlfriend for one night only.
He sat straight-faced and told me and my parents that the NIO had a massive file on me.The word massive still bugs me a little. That my behaviour was a threat to national security and furthermore, the very act of him doing this public service was indicative of how wonderful the SDLP were and always will be.
For some bizarre reason he was smiling and gratefully accepted my mum’s cup of tea and two jammy dodgers, you know the nice ones with jam in the middle. After some time, my mum asked him what her son had done. He said “I don’t know as I haven’t seen the file”. “How do you know it’s massive, then?” said Dad. At that point the atmosphere changed, a little bit of the jammy dodger fell into his immaculate suit and tie. He was in retrospect honest enough to say that all this information was the result of a phone call. I began at that point to realize this is nonsense. His role was not to help and support people against injustice, but in reality he was a messenger for the NIO, he had no sense of empathy, support or basic kindness . My dad asked why we could not go to a solicitor and get a judge to rule on this. Those words, those awful cover all the words we now hear every day in this fag end of the empire: “National security”. He gave me that look again before he left, you know the one I am talking about.
I struggled on with further meetings. The late Cardinal O Fiaich – what a man! Radical priest Denis Faul and of course the wonderful and totally powerless Deans, Professors and an assortment of deluded academics who believe they count for something but who in reality are powerless in the fight for decency and human rights. I graduated from QUB with my Master’s. On the last day of the course it seemed all my student colleagues gave me that look, you know the one!!!! I have never seen any one of them from the class of 1982, ever again. I mean, would you try to get a pint with an international terrorist, bomb-maker and assassin, and talk of old times?
Two years later in November 1983 my mums’ home was bombed, her and dad being card-carrying members of the Alliance Party seemed to make them legitimate targets. The bomber, a young fella called David Maitland, blew himself up in the process. He lived only because my mother rang an ambulance on a pay phone with a 10 pence piece. I put a pillow under his injured bleeding head and promised him help was on its way. I see his face every day, usually but not always while asleep.
Three years later In April 1984, the UVF returned and murdered Mum along with a young policeman called Michael Dawson. He was from the Braniel estate in east Belfast. I attended his home to pay respects.
Four years later in September 1985, I was appointed by the Department of Justice in Dublin as a probation officer and posted to Kilkenny. It appeared my membership of the Republican Marxist front, chief bomber and international assassin did not stand in my way. None of these organizations ever heard of me and no record of income tax or national insurance contributions exists under my name. In short, a security risk north of Newry and professional officer of the court south of Dundalk.
(Jude Whyte is a victims campaigner in Northern Ireland. His home was bombed twice in the 1980s, killing his mother and Constable Michael Dawson.)