3 March 1957|
Belfast, Northern Ireland
6 March 1988 (aged 31)|
|Cause of death||Internal haemorrhaging caused by multiple bullet wounds|
|Resting place||Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, Northern Ireland|
|Other names||Máiréad Ní Fhearghail / Ní Fhearail|
Mairéad Farrell (Irish: Máiréad Ní Fhearghail or Mairéad Ní Fhearail) (3 March 1957 – 6 March 1988) was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary group. She was shot dead by the British Army whilst engaged in an attempt to plant a car bomb in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988.
Farrell was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland to a middle class family with no link to militant Irish republicanism other than a grandfather who had been interned during the Irish War for Independence. She was educated at Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast. After leaving school at the age of 18, she was hired as a clerical worker for an insurance broker's office. At the age of 14 she was recruited into the Provisional IRA by Bobby Storey.
First term of IRA activity, 1975–1976
On 1 March 1976, the British government revoked Special Category Status for prisoners convicted from this date under "anti-terrorism" legislation. In response, the IRA instigated a wave of bombings and shootings across Northern Ireland; younger members such as Farrell were asked to participate. On 5 April 1976, along with Kieran Doherty and Sean McDermott, she attempted to plant a bomb at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry, as that hotel had often been used by British soldiers on temporary duty to Northern Ireland. She was arrested by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers within an hour of planting the bomb. Her boyfriend, Sean McDermott, was shot dead by an RUC reservist at a nearby housing estate. McDermott and two other members of the IRA active service unit had broken into a home, not realising it was the private residence of a policeman. The RUC officer shot McDermott dead; Doherty and another man escaped.
At her trial, she refused to recognise the court as it was an institution of the British state. She was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for explosives offences, firearms offences, and belonging to an illegal organisation.
At Armagh Jail, Farrell was the official Officer Commanding of the female IRA prisoners.
When she arrived in Armagh Gaol, Farrell refused to wear a prison uniform in protest at the designation of republican prisoners as criminals. She was the first woman to do so, and the second person after Kieran Nugent, a prisoner in the H-Blocks of HMP Maze. Farrell instigated a dirty protest in February 1980. This meant that prisoners refused to slop-out and would smear excrement and menstrual material on the walls of their cells instead of risking being attacked by the guards while slopping out. After 13 months, Farrell, along with Mary Doyle and Margaret Nugent, began a hunger strike in Armagh prison to coincide with the one already taking place in Long Kesh. It ended on 19 December, a day after the men's strike. The dirty protest ended in March 1981 as the prisoners' rights campaign was focused on the hunger strike being undertaken by Bobby Sands, leader of IRA prisoners in the H-Blocks. She was one of the H-Block/Armagh prisoners to stand for election in the Republic of Ireland in the 1981 General Election, standing in Cork North Central and polling 2,751 votes (6.05%).
Second phase of IRA activity and subsequent death
Upon her release from prison in October 1986, Farrell enrolled at Queen's University, Belfast for a course in Political Science and Economics. However, she dropped out of university to re-engage in IRA activity. The IRA sent her with Sean Savage and Daniel McCann to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a car bomb in the heavily populated town area. The target was the band and guard of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment during a weekly ceremonial changing of the guard in front of Governors' residence, on 8 March 1988. According to interrogated IRA members, Gibraltar had been selected as a target because it was a part of the "British Empire" that was in dispute, and that it was an area with lighter security measures than at that time had become endemic at British military instillations elsewhere due to the IRA's campaign.
The British Government's domestic intelligence service MI5 had become aware of their plan, and a detachment from the British Army was specifically deployed to Gibraltar to intercept the IRA team and prevent the attack. Farrell, Savage and McCann were confronted by un-uniformed soldiers from the Special Air Service Regiment whilst they were engaged in a reconnaissance in Gibraltar pending the delivery of the car-bomb. Farrell was shot three times in the back and once in the face, her two accomplices were also killed in a operation code-named "Operation Flavius" by the British Government. Some witnesses to the shooting stated that Farrell and McCann had been shot while attempting to surrender, and while lying wounded on the ground. The three IRA members were all found afterwards to be unarmed. Keys to a hire car found in Farrell's handbag led the Spanish Police, who had closely worked with the British security services in 'Operation Falvius', to the discovery across the border in Spain of five packages totalling 84 kg of Semtex explosive in a car which the IRA team had intended to subsequently to drive into Gibraltar for the attack. These packages had four separate detonators attached. Around this was packed 200 rounds of ammunition as shrapnel. There were two timers, marked 10 hrs 45 mins and 11 hrs 15 mins respectively, but they were not primed or connected.
The Gibraltar inquest
At the inquest into the deaths held in Gibraltar the jury returned a verdict of lawful killing by a 9–2 majority. The coroner in summing up of the evidence to the jury told them to avoid an open verdict. The 9–2 verdict is the smallest majority allowed. Paddy McGrory, lawyer for Amnesty International, believed that it had been a "perverse verdict," and that it had gone against the weight of the evidence.
Ms Proetta, an independent witness, told Thames Television, 'They [the security forces] didn't do anything ... they just went and shot these people. That's all. They didn't say anything, they didn't scream, they didn't shout, they didn't do anything. These people were turning their heads back to see what was happening and when they saw these men had guns in their hands they put their hands up. It looked like the man was protecting the girl because he stood in front of her, but there was no chance. I mean they went to the floor immediately, they dropped.'
Stephen Bullock, a lawyer by profession, who was 150 metres from the shooting, and another independent witness saw Dan McCann falling backwards with his hands at shoulder height. At the inquest into the killings Bullock stated, 'I think with one step he could have actually touched the person he was shooting'.
The researcher for Thames Television which made the programme Death on the Rock believed Ms Proetta's evidence as it matched another account they had received. The scientific evidence provided by pathologist Professor Alan Watson also corroborated the evidence of Proetta, Bullock and a third witness Josie Celecia.
Five independent civil liberty organisations have criticised many aspects of the proceedings during the inquest, and have called for further inquiries into the killings in Gibraltar. They are the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Inquest the National Council for Civil Liberties (London), the International League for Human Rights (New York) and Amnesty International.
The report by Amnesty International stated that the inquest had failed to answer 'the fundamental issue… whether the fatal shootings were caused by what happened in the street, or whether the authorities planned in advance for the three to be shot dead.'
European Court of Human Rights
The relatives of McCann, Savage and Farrell were dissatisfied with the response to their case in the British legal system, so they took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in 1995. The court found that the three had been unlawfully killed. By a 10–9 majority it ruled that the human rights of the 'Gibraltar Three' had been infringed in breach of Article 2 – right to life, of the European Convention on Human Rights and criticised the authorities for lack of appropriate care in the control and organisation of the arrest operation.
In sum, having regard to the decision not to prevent the suspects from travelling into Gibraltar, to the failure of the authorities to make sufficient allowances for the possibility that their intelligence assessments might, in some respects at least, be erroneous and to the automatic recourse to lethal force when the soldiers opened fire, the Court is not persuaded that the killing of the three terrorists constituted the use of force which was no more than absolutely necessary in defence of persons from unlawful violence within the meaning of Article 2(2)(a) of the Convention
In the Judgement the court said that the actions of the authorities lacked 'the degree of caution in the use of firearms to be expected from law enforcement personnel in a democratic society.' Some newspapers reported the decision as a finding that the three had been unlawfully killed.
The ECtHR also ruled that the three had been engaged in an act of terrorism, and consequently dismissed unanimously the applicants' claims for damages, for costs and expenses incurred in the Gibraltar Inquest and the remainder of the claims for just satisfaction.
The Court is not empowered to overrule national decisions or annul national laws.
In the aftermath of the shooting on Gibraltar, violence escalated in the Belfast area and resulted in at least six further deaths. The three bodies were returned to Belfast on 14 March. That evening an IRA sniper, Kevin McCracken, was shot dead in Norglen Crescent, Turf Lodge, Belfast while preparing to attack British soldiers. Those attending the return of the bodies said that the security services were harassing them and that he was attacking the security services to deflect their attention. According to witnesses, McCracken was beaten while lying wounded by members of the security services.
At the funeral of IRA member Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh on 19 March – one of the three men killed three days earlier by Michael Stone – two British Army corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, drove into the funeral cortège, apparently by accident but mourners evidently feared an attack similar to Stone's was taking place. Scenes relayed on television showed the two corporals being cornered by black taxis and dragged from their car before being taken away to be beaten, stripped, and then executed.
On 10 September 1990, the IRA attempted to kill Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Terry at his Staffordshire home. Terry had been a prime target since his days as Governor of Gibraltar, where he signed the documents allowing the SAS to pursue IRA members. The attack took place at 9 pm at the Main Road house. The gunman opened fire through a window hitting Sir Peter at least nine times and injuring his wife near one of her eyes. The couple's daughter was found to be suffering from shock. Terry's face had to be rebuilt as the shots shattered his face and two high-velocity bullets were within millimetres of his brain.
In 2008 Sinn Féin asked to hold an International Women's Day event in the Long Gallery at Stormont commemorating Farrell. The Assembly Commission, which runs the Stormont estate, ruled that it could not go ahead.
The New York Times, reviewing a Frontline documentary examining the circumstances of Farrell's death, stated: "Mairead Farrell might be dismissed as some wild-eyed fanatic except that part of her life has been preserved in several home movies and a television interview taped shortly before her death. What emerges is a portrait of a soft-spoken, attractive woman determined to end what she perceived as the injustices surrounding her everyday life.... The program leaves us pondering the obvious conclusion: "To the people of Falls Road she was a patriot. To the British she was a terrorist. To her family she was a victim of Irish history.""
- Death on the Rock; a documentary about the shootings.
- Rolston, Bill. Unfinished Business: State Killings and the Quest for Truth. Beyond the Pale Publications. p. 155. ISBN 1-900960-09-5.
- "Beirt idirnáisiúnaí a chronófar" (in Irish). An Phoblacht. 8 May 1997. Retrieved 9 November 2007.
- "Tiocfaidh A Lá" (in Irish). An Phoblacht. 19 November 1999. Retrieved 9 November 2007.
- Pg 300, Tírghrá, National Commemoration Centre, 2002. PB) ISBN 0-9542946-0-2
- Mia Bloom (2011). Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorists. Hurst & Company, London. p. 94.
- Mia Bloom (2011). Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorists. Hurst & Company, London. p. 94.
- Lost Lives pp637-638
- Mia Bloom (2011). Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorists. Hurst & Company, London. p. 79.
- Mia Bloom (2011). Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorists. Hurst & Company, London. p. 79-80.
- Mia Bloom (2011). Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorists. Hurst & Company, London. p. 80.
- "A very serious situation arose in Armagh Prison on 7 February 1980. There were serious allegations from the women that they were beaten by male officers. They then escalated their 'no work' protest to follow the example of the men in the H-Blocks, Long Kesh, in the 'No wash' 'No slop-out' protest. They were then locked up 23 hours a day in their cells. The soiled cells were left dirty for the first six months." Hard Times, Armagh Gaol 1971–1986, Raymond Murray, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1998, ISBN 1-85635-223-4
- Aretxaga, Begoña (2006). States of Terror. University of Nevada, Reno. pp. 60–61. ISBN 978-1-877802-57-7.
- Taylor, Peter (1997). Provos The IRA & Sinn Féin. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 229. ISBN 0-7475-3818-2.
- Coogan, Tim (2000). The IRA. Harper Collins. p. 490. ISBN 978-0-00-653155-5.
- Bishop, Patrick & Mallie, Eamonn (1987). The Provisional IRA. Corgi Books. p. 363. ISBN 0-552-13337-X.
- Bowyer Bell, J. (1997). The Secret Army: The IRA. Transaction Publishers. p. 482. ISBN 1-56000-901-2.
- Mia Bloom (2011). Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorists. Hurst & Company, London. p. 84.
- ElectionsIreland.org-Table showing 1st preference results for 1981 election
- English, Richard (2003). Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA. Pan Books. p. 257. ISBN 0-330-49388-4.
- ECtHR review: Paras 13 and 17
- ECtHR review: Para 15 and 17(b)
- paragraphs 70–72
- ECtHR review: Para 98 -99
- BBC News Story about the inquest to the killings
- State Violence: Northern Ireland 1969–1997, Raymond Murray, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1998, ISBN 1-85635-235-8 , pg. 203
- State Violence: Northern Ireland 1969–1997, Raymond Murray, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1998, ISBN 1-85635-235-8 , pg. 193
- cited. The Windlesham/Rampton Report on Death on the Rock, p.92, par 85, Faber & Faber, London 1989.
- State Violence: Northern Ireland 1969–1997, Raymond Murray, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1998, ISBN 1-85635-235-8 , pg. 201
- United Kingdom: Investigating Lethal Shootings: The Gibraltar Inquest: Summary, p. iii. Amnesty International, April 1989.
- State Violence: Northern Ireland 1969–1997, Raymond Murray, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1998, ISBN 1-85635-235-8 , pg. 191
- Judgement of the Court, Section 213
- European Court of Human Rights, Judgement, paragraph 212, Strasbourg, France, 27 September 1995
- State Violence: Northern Ireland 1969–1997, Raymond Murray, Mercier Press, Dublin, 1998, ISBN 1-85635-235-8 , pg. 204
- New York Times
- Shooting similar to Gibraltar IRA deaths
- Haughey govt helped SAS – Adams
- Summary and full judgement by the ECtHR
- "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 13 April 2008.
- CAIN:Sutton Index of Deaths
- Adams G (2003). Hope and History: Making Peace in Ireland ISBN 0-86322-330-3
- An article In Republican News about the funerals
- Belfast Murals[permanent dead link]
- "Judges free man jailed over IRA funeral murders" The Daily Telegraph
- IRA gun attack on ex Governor
- Event celebrating the life of IRA member banned
- O'Connor, John (13 June 1989). "Television Review: An IRA Member from Several Angles". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 January 2007.
- Death on the Rock – documentary about the shootings.
- Murder on the Rock – book about the shootings.
- Relatives for Justice Site
- Summary and full judgement by the ECtHR
- Adams, G, Hope and History: Making Peace in Ireland, Brandon Books, 2003. ISBN 0-86322-330-3
- New York Times (June 13, 1989) review of the Frontline documentary, Death of a Terrorist