Michael StoneMichael Stone. If you’re from outside Northern Ireland that name will probably mean very little to you. But to those versed in Northern Ireland’s rather murky past that name will conjure up images of one of the most notorious terrorist episodes of “the troubles.”

In 1988 a man few had heard of before attended the funeral of 3 IRA members killed by the British Army in Gibraltar. He threw grenades and opened fire on mourners: killing 3 and injuring 60. From this day on everyone knew exactly who Michael Stone was.

It soon emerged that he was responsible for 3 other murders prior to what became known as the “Milltown Massacre” and as a result of being such a terribly naughty boy he was caught, charged, found guilty, and sentenced to a total of 684 years in jail, which, given the fact that we generally only live about 70 years, is a fairly stiff sentence. But, isn’t it a bit silly that a judge can’t just say “for the rest of your natural life?” Why sentence him for centuries knowing that, barring some biological miracle, he’s not going to spend all that time in jail? Strange. Anyhow, I digress.

In any event as a result of Northern Ireland’s rather ridiculous “Good Friday Peace Agreement” Stone and virtually every other piece of murdering, thieving, extorting, blackmailing, drug-pushing, paramilitary slime was released back onto the streets of Northern Ireland. How do you secure lasting peace? Empty the prisons, apparently.

After a brief exile Stone, like so many paramilitaries, returned to Northern Ireland and became a “bad guy gone good.” He became an artist, and judging from some of his efforts I must admit a reasonably talented one. However in November 2006 he entered the limelight once more and, as with the images of the Milltown Massacre, some new images will forever be ingrained in the mind’s eye of all who have seen them:

Michael Stone, armed to the teeth, enters Stormont – the building which houses our new parliament – and as he tries to make his way through the revolving doors we see two security guards grabbing him. One of them – a female officer – knees Stone in the balls, causing him to drop his imitation firearm. While her male colleague holds Stone secure she grabs the gun and smacks Stone right across the head with it, as her body language screams “take that!” Fucking brilliant! One of our most notorious and feared gunmen being kneed in the stones and smacked over the head with his own gun. I laughed by nuts off, to be honest.

As funny as this was it wasn’t the most hilarious thing about it. Stone was arrested and charged, largely on the basis of his own confessions, with trying to assassinate republican leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. And now it gets interesting. When faced with such a charge, how might you respond? He could plead guilty and hope the judge was more lenient as a result. He didn’t. He could argue that he was simply engaging in a publicity stunt to draw attention to the problems faced by the Protestant working class. He didn’t (and armed with explosives, knives, an axe, a bullet proof vest, and an imitation firearm probably couldn’t have). Perhaps he could even claim that having been abandoned as a child by his mother he has issues which sometimes manifest themselves in violence and ask society for help. He didn’t.

Instead what Stone is pleading is that he was engaged in, and I quote, “performance art.” Yup, he was just doing a little skit! Obviously he was joking then when he confessed to the police that he was going to cut the throats of two republican politicians. Obviously the explosives were no more dangerous than a fire cracker from a joke shop, eh? And the knives just came along with a GI Joe figure he bought earlier I suppose? I don’t think so. I reckon he should change his name to Michael Stoned, to be honest.

Of course, there is something about the whole episode which is very skit-like: perhaps of the kind you might see in the circus with Stone playing the part of the leading clown in the strangely humorous drama. And you must feel for the lawyers involved. On the one hand you have the guy prosecuting who’s facing utter humiliation if Stone doesn’t go down for a long time, if not for the rest of his life. On the other hand you feel for the poor bugger who has to stand up and seriously argue that Stone was simply engaged in “performance art,” while trying to keep his dignity intact and uphold the solemnity of the court event.

Stone’s defence team have claimed that they will provide DVD evidence to back up the claim that his actions were merely performance art rather than a thwarted paramilitary attack. Of course, they could probably do so. Perhaps they could use a DVD of the Milltown Massacre: effectively a snuff movie with Michael Stone in the starring role. And lets face it, it’s incredibly difficult to see how this more recent episode would have ended any differently if Stone’s script had been followed.


(Image courtesy of BBC Hearts & Minds 2006)