Belfast Telegraph

McGeough's remarks bring Hibernians into disrepute, but what are they doing about it?

Former IRA gunman's election embarrassing for Catholic fraternal organisation, says Nelson McCausland

The Ancient Order of Hibernians is a fraternal organisation for Roman Catholic men and, like many other fraternal organisations, it has lodges, in this case known as divisions, as well as regalia, ritual, passwords and processions.

Hibernians claim a history stretching back to the 16th and 17th centuries and see themselves as the inheritors of a tradition that appeared at various times as Whiteboys, Defenders, Ribbonmen, Molly Maguires and others.

However, the Ancient Order of Hibernians was actually founded by Irish-Americans in 1838 and then exported back to Ireland. In the early part of the 20th century it had as many as 170,000 members in Ireland and represented a very conservative form of Roman Catholic nationalism.

Today in Ireland the AOH is a much smaller organisation, but it still makes annual appearances on the streets with it parades in March for St Patrick’s Day and then around August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year the County Antrim Board of the AOH is holding its ‘Lady’s Day’ demonstration in Ballycastle this Sunday and all county boards have been notified and invited.

The AOH is organised on a county basis, with county boards and county presidents, and earlier this year the County Tyrone Board elected as its county president the prominent republican Gerry McGeough. He is a veteran republican who once served in the ranks of the Provisional IRA, but now opposes Sinn Fein.

He was previously elected as president of the Tyrone AOH back in 2011, but was jailed a few weeks later for the attempted murder of DUP councillor Sammy Brush in 1981. McGeough had been arrested in Omagh in 2007 as he was leaving an Assembly election count. He had stood in that election as an independent candidate in opposition to Sinn Fein’s support for the PSNI.

McGeough was sentenced in April 2011 to 20 years in prison, but as a result of the Belfast Agreement served only two years and was released on January 29, 2013. Now, the Tyrone Hibernians have honoured him by electing him for a second term as county president.

Never a man to remain silent, McGeough was interviewed by Martin Galvin, the former director of Noraid, on Radio Free Eireann in New York on March 26.

During that interview he described the nationalist Irish News as “part of the West Brit/Stormont establishment” — a comment that shows just how extreme his politics really are.

McGeough was back on the Irish-American radio show at the weekend and was interviewed again by Galvin.

He said: “There are people from republican families who are sitting as Diplock court judges and prosecutors and all the other stuff of the day you can’t possibly imagine and they are arrogantly passing judgment on patriots. So, you have Irish Catholics, traitors in effect, administering British rule here in the Six Counties. We want (the English) out and then we will deal with all these other issues... the collaborators and all the rest of it.”

That threat was made by a convicted IRA gunman who is now Tyrone county president of the AOH. There is, therefore, an onus on the leadership of the AOH to address this issue, to condemn the threats and to take disciplinary action against McGeough. Actions speak louder than words.

I have never seen the rule book of the AOH, but it probably has a rule in there somewhere about members not bringing the organisation into disrepute.

By his threats on the Irish-American radio programme, Gerry McGeough has certainly brought the organisation into disrepute.

This is no ordinary rank-and-file member of the AOH. McGeough holds a very senior position as Tyrone county president and he must be held to account for what he has said.

The AOH has big questions to answer and one of them is this: will they allow McGeough to remain in post as the Tyrone county president?

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