Sinn Féin leaves ex-IRA blanketman out in the cold
prisoner who lay in the H-Block cell next to dying
hunger-strikers Francis Hughes and Raymond McCreesh says he has
been snubbed by Sinn Féin.
who endured years of inhuman conditions in jail, wasn't invited
to the first ever re-union of former blanketmen last weekend.
other ex-prisoners from across the North attended the
ground-breaking gathering in Belfast. McGlinchey, from the
staunchly republican village of Bellaghy in south Derry, is
devastated by the snub.
"I was the
longest-serving blanketman in the H-Blocks. For five years, I
lay naked in my cell with only a blanket to cover me. There
wasn't even a mattress to sleep on, only a three-inch bit of
sponge on the ground," he said.
"There was no
glass in the cell window. When the rain and the snow came in,
I'd cover the window with my blanket which meant I was
completely naked. At times, I thought I'd freeze to death."
alleged he was "beaten black and blue" by prison officers: "I
don't regret the sacrifice I made but I've been treated like
dirt by certain Sinn Féin leaders and supporters."
A group of
ex-prisoners spent over a year organising the blanketmen's
reunion which they pledged was non-party political. But
McGlinchey accused South Derry Sinn Féin figures of intervening
behind the scenes to ensure he wasn't invited.
over 1,000 people. How they could accidentally forget me? The
first I knew of the re-union was when I read a newspaper article
about it by Sinn Féin official Jim Gibney five days after the
admitted he was "angry and emotional" about the snub: "Who the
hell are these people to have me excluded? I earned the right to
be at that re-union."
gathering, 400 medals were awarded to ex-blanketmen. Laurence
O'Neill, a founding Provisional IRA member, said: "If anyone
deserved a medal for their sacrifice in the H-Blocks, it's Paul
McGlinchey. He's been treated disgracefully."
is a brother of murdered INLA leader, Dominic McGlinchey. Paul
McGlinchey was the second republican to join the world-famous
blanket protest in 1976. He was sentenced to 14 years in Long
Kesh for IRA membership and arms' possession.
"I was ordered
to wear a prison uniform. I said, 'I'm no criminal, I'll die
rather than do that'. So they threw me naked into a cell," he
recalled. "Many other republican prisoners complied and wore the
uniform. Only one prisoner, Kieran Nugent, was on the blanket
The ex-IRA man
claimed he was brutally beaten because of his family: "The
prison officers were vicious because I was a McGlinchey. They'd
demand I call them sir. When I refused, I was punched and
kicked. Once, they beat me non-stop for an hour. Then, they took
an iron bar and shoved it repeatedly up my back passage until I
Tom McElwee who later died on hunger-strike, heard McGlinchey's
screams of agony: "Tom shouted, 'Hang on in there, comrade!'"
McGlinchey joined the dirty protest in 1978 when prisoners
started smearing their cells with excrement in the campaign for
years, we lived in appalling conditions. The dirt and stench was
over-powering. I'd wake up in the morning with maggots crawling
over me," he said.
and Raymond McCreesh lay dying in the next cell until they went
to the prison hospital."
admitted: "I've never really left the H-blocks. I carry its
horrors with me every day." He became a senior Sinn Féin
activist after his release but left the party in 2007 when it
supported policing. "Since then, I've been excluded from every
ex-prisoner event in South Derry.
"When I lay
wreaths on Francis Hughes' and Tom McElwee's graves, the cards
with my name on the wreaths are removed. When I apply to
ex-prisoners' groups for a bursary for my children, they don't
even reply whereas other former IRA men secure funds easily."
stressed he wasn't a dissident: "I'm completely against a return
to armed struggle. I've no animosity to ordinary Sinn Féin
members. My brother Sean is the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Limavady.
But in South Derry if you disagree with party policy, you're
October 19, 2011
appeared in the October 16, 2011 edition of the