Belfast Telegraph

Paddy Joe McClean, Hooded Man, civil rights chairman and vocal critic of dissidents

Obituary

Paddy Joe McClean, from Beragh, Co Tyrone
Paddy Joe McClean, from Beragh, Co Tyrone

Paddy Joe McClean, who has died at the age of 86, was one of the founding members of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s.

The Tyrone man was later to become chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.

But it was his arrest during the ill-conceived 1971 internment round-up of republican suspects that gave him a lasting entry in the history of the Troubles.

The Beragh man, who was 38 and a remedial school teacher when he was arrested, became more widely known as one of the 'Hooded Men'.

These were 14 men from across Northern Ireland who were arrested and interned but who also suffered what the European Court of Human Rights was later to describe as "inhuman and degrading treatment" at the hands of the British Army.

The court fell short then, and also in 2018, in defining their treatment as torture.

The men complained that they were forced to listen to white noise, deprived of food, water and sleep and forced to stand in a stress position for long periods. They were beaten if they fell. Perhaps their most frightening experience came when they were hooded and taken up in a helicopter and thrown out. They were told they were hundreds of feet in the air, but in reality were only feet above the ground.

This was Mr McClean's second experience of internment having been previously incarcerated in Crumlin Road Gaol without trial in the 1950s. He told BBC News NI in 2011 that he was not, and never was, involved with the IRA or what was broadly known as the republican movement. Indeed, he was also to claim that his internment in 1971 was ordered because the police could not find an IRA member in the Omagh area and they wanted to have a geographic spread of suspects.

Mr McClean was later to tell a newspaper that police told him that he was arrested because he was chairman of the civil rights movement, people trusted him and therefore he must have been in contact with "IRA men".

However, he was a man who refused to be defined by his experiences at the hands of the security forces.

The Belfast Telegraph's late political editor Liam Clarke said Mr McClean consistently spoke up for peace and justice.

When a young neighbour, PSNI officer Ronan Kerr, was murdered by dissidents using a booby-trap bomb under his car, Mr McClean was among those who condemned it. Speaking outside the church at the constable's funeral he said: "The right words are being spoken and the so-called dissidents are going nowhere."

Mr McClean stood unsuccessfully for election in the 1980s and 1990s under the banner of the Workers' Party and later Democratic Left.

As Liam also pointed out, when a Dublin magazine accused a detective Mr McClean knew of torturing him, he wrote from jail to deny it. The officer, Peter Flanagan, sued the magazine but was later shot dead by the IRA. Mr McClean said that was what he had feared after the officer had been demonised.

A writer to a local newspaper after Mr McClean's death on Friday put into words what many felt: "If only the politicians of this land could have an ounce of the fairness and open-minded approach to life he had, we would be a far stronger and happier country."

Mr McClean was buried after Requiem Mass in the same church where he had spoken out against the killers of Ronan Kerr, The Church of The Immaculate Conception in Beragh. He is survived by his wife Annie, 11 of their 12 children (a son Eamon died in 2016), 24 grandchildren and three sisters.

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