Republican News · Thursday 28 May 1998

[An Phoblacht]

The General - a grotesque myth

The General

BY ART Mac EOIN

This Friday sees the release of The General, John Boorman's film about Dublin's former criminal godfather, Martin Cahill. Despite an excellent line up of actors including Brendan Gleeson as Cahill, and Adrian Dunbar, the film is a major disappointment.

The General turns the truth of Martin Cahill's career on its head and peddles a grotesque myth that Cahill was really a Robin Hood type figure who espoused socialist principles and spent his life fighting injustice and authority and looking after the interests of others, particularly the poor.

The reality of Cahill's brutality to others is blurred to the point of making his victims look stupid and his violence seem quaint. Even the most vicious acts such as the cruxifiction of a young heroin addict and the maiming for life of a forensic scientist are treated in a comic fashion. Their cases have been presented in various newspaper articles this week and it is clear that they find the film particularly offensive when they are still suffering the effects of their injuries.

A particularly disgraceful aspect of the film is the manner in which Dublin's anti-drugs movement of the 1980s is portrayed as a mere tool of the IRA, invented for the purpose of targeting members of Martin Cahill's gang because the IRA wanted some of Cahill's stolen loot.

To distort the truth about a genuine people's movement, born out of the horror of Dublin's heroin epidemic in the 1980s, for the purpose of endowing victimhood on the very people who flooded the streets with heroin, is an insult to the people of Dublin.

According to Boorman Cahill ``regarded the IRA as just another aspect of authority''. But Cahill was no anti-authoritarian hero of the marginalised and oppressed. He was the ultimate in authoritarianism and individualism, and was an oppressor to people of his own class who he used, abused and brutalised in order to fulfill his own selfish ambitions. Cahill had no altruistic traits. His motive was pure, unadulterated greed. He despised the collective will of the people and community empowerment and demonstrated this through his actions against the Concerned Parents movement.

Faced with the people power of the CPAD Dublin's drug dealers could no longer threaten or intimidate with impunity. Martin Cahill's response was to establish the `Concerned Criminals' group. Gangsters, under Cahill's direction, targeted the homes of anti-drugs activists and threatened people who involved themselves in marches and pickets. Masked gunmen shot an anti-drugs activist, Joey Flynn, in both legs.

Apart from the celebrated robberies, the hallmarks of the Cahill gang were extortion, drug dealing, intimidation and rape. Boorman's film totally ignores evdience of the Cahill gang's involvement in the heroin trade. In the book on which the film is loosely based Paul Williams attempts to gloss over the same issue but admits that Cahill personally put up 50,000 for his brother-in-law Hughie Delaney to import a shipment of heroin.

In 1993 one of Cahill's associates was arrested and charged with raping and buggering his own 14-year-old daughter. Cahill personally embarked on a sinister campaign of intimidation to stop the terrified young girl giving evidence.

The ruthlessness of Martin Cahill's gang, the fear they instilled, the grip they held through intimidation, their access to weapons, their penchant for extreme violence and the fact that Cahill had never been convicted, led much of the public to believe he was `untouchable'.

Cahill himself began to believe the myth and felt safe enough to initiate contacts with loyalist death squad leaders with a view to using their contacts and networks to meet his own needs, in particular to off-load priceless paintings from the Beit collection which Cahill had stolen from Russborough House.

Cahill's gang became closely associated with the Portadown unit of the UVF led by Billy Wright, the infamous King Rat. Following a number of meetings Wright's group undertook to offload the Beit paintings, a number of which later surfaced in Britain and Turkey and led to the arrest of a number of loyalists.

King Rat and his Portadown UVF, one of the most active and brutal elements in the UVF structure, were well known to be heavily involved in drug dealing and criminality and to have widespread criminal contacts both North and South of the border. Such criminal contacts were used to finance their campaign of sectarian slaughter.

At the time of Cahill's death in August 1994 the Portadown UVF had been responsible for the murders of some 30 nationalist civilians. These included some of the most brutal sectarian outrages of the past 30 years. In the months prior to Cahill's death King Rat's gang carried out the slaying of 76-year-old Rose Ann Mallon, the murder of two nationalist youths in Armagh city in May, the slaughter of six people in a pub in Loughinisland as they watched the World Cup soccer match in June and the brutal shooting to death of pregnant mother of five Kathleen O'Hagan in Tyrone that August.

Two months prior to the Cahill execution the UVF attempted to bomb the Widow Scallan's pub in Dublin and shot dead IRA Volunteer Martin Doherty. It was widely speculated in media and other circles that the UVF attackers had received assistance from criminal elements in the city to carry out the attack. The manner in which the attack was carried out, the spot where the car used by the killers was abandoned, and other features, indicated a fairly high degree of local information.

There were some sinister elements in the Dublin underworld who had deep contempt for the Republican Movement, in particular over Sinn Fein support for the anti-drugs movement and the refusal of Sinn Féin activists at a community level to be intimidated by criminal gangs who attempted to exert control in some of the more deprived working class areas.

The IRA had for some time been concerned with evidence in their possession that loyalist groups were increasing their contacts with criminals in nationalist areas of the Six Counties and with a number of gangsters south of the border. Such increased co-operation was being fuelled by the huge profits to be made in the illegal drugs trade. As a result of this development it had been learned that information on republicans was getting into the hands of the loyalist death squads. The IRA had detailed information regarding Cahill's involvement with the UVF who were escalating their campaign in the North and were now extending it to Dublin. They decided to act.

At 3.15pm on Thursday, 18 August 1994 Martin Cahill, `The General', slowed down at the junction of Charlestown Road and Oxford Road, close to his house in Swan Grove, Ranelagh on the southside of Dublin city. An armed IRA Volunteer, posing as a traffic planner, stepped from the pavement and shot Cahill at point blank range.

In a statement claiming responsibility the IRA made clear that it was Cahill's ``involvement with and assistance to pro-British death squads which forced us to act''.

Despite an appalling script the General has some very good acting from Glesson and Dunbar. Good preformances also by John Voight, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Angeline Ball, Eanna McLiam and Sean McGinley.

There are two other films about Martin Cahill in the pipeline. Let's hope they will do greater justice to the facts of his life and death than Boorman's shoddy and irresponsible effort.


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