“They weren’t great times to stick out your heads and shout you were Irish”…

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April 18, 2013 by amoolyarajappa

Eugene Egan, Support worker, Birmingham Solihull Mental health trust

Eugene Egan, Support worker, Birmingham Solihull Mental Health Trust

Eugene Egan was born in Birmingham to an Irish father and an English mother. As a schoolboy in his growing years, Eugene recollects the anti-Irish backlash following the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974. “When my father went to work the next day, he was physically threatened, assaulted and intimidated,” says Eugene comparing the backlash with the anti-Muslim backlash that happened after the London bombings. Eugene was just eleven when the pub bombings took place. Though he could not fathom the gravity of the situation, as a young, carefree kid he often heard of pubs and shops refusing to serve people with Irish accents. He vividly recollects one of his aunts who went to work being welcomed by other co-workers banging their tools. “My family never felt completely safe in England in the immediate aftermath of the pub bombings. I grew up with a strong Irish identity, but I was not spared of anti-Irish jokes and sentiments in school,” says Eugene. He even recalls people singing Irish rebels songs, which made him inquisitive about the political situation in Northern Ireland. However, as a young teen Eugene always saw the IRA as “a bunch of mad paddies blowing up English pubs”.

As a teenager growing up during times of trouble, Eugene read up on the 1981 hunger strike campaign and the history of political turmoil between Britain and Ireland. It was not too late before he became a radical. Even as he condemns the pub bombings as an act of sheer murder, he describes how the situation in Northern Ireland politicized him. “When I was in my twenties, I became politically active in campaigning for British removal from Northern Ireland”, says Eugene. “At a political level, I wrote campaigning news stories of commemorations and parades in Irish Republican publications such as An Phoblacht/ Republican News (The weekly newspaper of Sinn Fein)” he adds.

“The pub bombings in 1974 was such a terrible atrocity that the IRA knew there was no way they were going to own up to it. But everybody knew they did it; who else would have done that?” questions Eugene when asked about why the IRA never officially took responsibility for the bombings. There were quite a few English people who were sympathetic about the Irish Republican struggle, but when those bombs went off, that had all changed. Not just British, but even many Irish people, turned their backs on the IRA”, he adds.

However, as time passed, Eugene became disillusioned by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA and distanced himself from the political situation, as he discarded violence as a means to an end. “Violence only breeds violence. It’s all a vicious circle; killing innocent people will not help in moving things forward it just makes things even worse, creating more victims and more violence. The IRA today, especially the dissident ones, seem to have lost their way completely. They live in the past”, says the 49 years old Eugene Egan.

“A fresh enquiry into the bombings is probably being delayed because it might further expose police incompetence in handling this case. It can open a whole can of worms with regard to the British government and the actions of the police”, concludes Eugene who supports a new investigation into the 1974 pub bombings.

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