Brothers In Arms: Can talking silence the guns?

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It had been many years since I had last spoken with Jimmy Doran.

In the pre-ceasefire period he was one of a small number of actors who were regular visitors to the BBC; in and out of the building to voice the words of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and others during the years of the broadcasting ban.

This was the Thatcher era and, in her thinking, the ban was about denying the oxygen of publicity to terrorists and their supporters.

Years later we would find out that the British Government was in secret contact with the republican leadership during some of the worst periods of violence.

But that ban, introduced in 1988, meant as journalists we were not allowed to broadcast the voices of Sinn Fein spokesmen.

And, instead, after interviews, we would transcribe their words, which would then be voiced by that small group of local actors including Doran.

The ceasefires of 1994 changed things.

And almost 18 years on, Doran reminded me of a moment in the BBC when I brought a bucket into one of the edit suites jokingly suggesting it was for a collection for the actors as the voices of Adams and McGuinness returned to the airwaves.

A few days ago I met Jimmy again as he rehearsed for a new play Brothers In Arms – written by former republican prisoner Sam Millar and directed by Martin Lynch.

Doran plays a dissident republican, someone who spent long years in jail, and is now part of a torn community and family in which he sees the politics of Sinn Fein and Stormont as a sell-out.

Lynch asked me to say a few words at the launch of the play, and I brought two statements with me both under the title of Oglaigh na hEireann.

One was handed to me and my journalist colleague Eamonn Mallie in a house on the Falls Road in July 2005, by the IRA’s P O’Neill; the historic statement announcing a formal end to the armed campaign.

The second – much more recent – was a scribbled note after a rushed call to my mobile phone from the dissident faction now calling itself Oglaigh na hEireann.

It was what is called a claim of responsibility; a statement admitting it had placed a bomb inside a soldier’s car in north Belfast.

The intention had been to kill, but the device was discovered.

And, the gap between the two statements – both under the name of Oglaigh na hEireann – represents the divide in today’s republican community.

In their very different messages you read the challenge.

It is about ending all armed actions as part of a dialogue that engages and involves the many different parts of that community.

This is the unfinished business – its story told in part in Brothers In Arms.

The play is part of a trilogy – alongside Paisley by Ron Hutchinson and Standing at Menin Gate by Martin Lynch.

They put a spotlight on republican divisions, on Paisley and the Protestant community and on the victims question, and are part of what Lynch calls an “audit” of our peace and political processes long after the Good Friday Agreement.

Brothers In Arms plays first.

And it could be the beginning of that dialogue that is needed, a starting point for the bigger conversation.

In the here and now, the two sides of republicanism are still talking at each other.

And the Millar play will put all that tension on stage.

Can it lead to a different conversation, to one in which republicans begin to talk to and with each other?

That is both the question and the challenge.


(Read Brian Rowan’s article on republican divisions in Belfast Telegraph, Monday January 23rd)



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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at

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