LORD Mayor Deirdre Hargey, along with community leaders, are to attend the unveiling of ‘Groves Reilly Corner’ at the former Andersonstown barracks site in tribute to the late Emma Groves and fellow human rights campaigner Clara Reilly.
The renaming of the site, taking place on Saturday, is especially poignant as it is where Emma and Clara stood for decades in protest at human rights abuses and in memory of those fatally injured and killed by plastic bullets.
Speaking ahead of the unveiling Relatives For Justice (RFJ) Director Mark Thompson said: “What these two women have given our community and achieved is remarkable and as a community, a society, a country, we have been privileged and blessed to have had them there for us all.”
Mark added: “And it is this very combination of their work, humanity and humility, which they bring to that very vocation of standing up for rights when and where required that makes them stand out; even though they’d be the first to shy away from such public accolades.
“Emma Groves and Clara Reilly were also instrumental in establishing Relatives for Justice (RFJ), our NGO, in April 1991, ensuring that a holistic support and care package, from professional therapeutic counselling support for trauma survivors partnering a rights based advocacy casework approach for addressing human rights violations, framed our work. We stand on the shoulders of giants in the sense that ordinary people both made extraordinary sacrifices and did extraordinary work at great personal risk in extraordinary times.
“Their motto was simple, in that they paraphrased Edmund Burke, in saying ‘That evil can only flourish when good people remain silent.’ They refused to stay silent,” he said.
Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre described Emma Groves and Clara Reilly as “two lives of resistance”.
“Two women who were leaders in their community – and Clara still is,” said Paul.
“Many communities would be lucky to have had one of these indomitable fighters. Belfast and beyond had two but for the saddest of reasons. We say that Emma was ‘blinded by a rubber bullet’ in November 1972 but she was actually blinded by a British soldier, a Para, who deliberately fired a rubber bullet at her face.
“There wasn’t even an allegation that she was a phantom gunwoman or nail bomber. She simply refused to turn off the rebel songs she was playing in her own home. At some level the British Government must have regretted that day because Emma Groves went on to campaign, highlight, expose, denounce and bear witness to the dangers posed by rubber and plastic bullets in the following decades.
“It is totally appropriate that the site of the former Andersonstown RUC barracks, scene of so many pickets with Emma and Clara, should now be renamed to honour these two strong working class women who did so much for others.
“The chattering classes can keep their MBEs and CBEs. Clara and Emma are and were real heroes. And Relatives for Justice is a fitting tribute to all those years of dedication and struggle.”
NI Amnesty Programme Director Patrick Corrigan recalled first meeting Emma Groves and Clara in the early 1990s when “in Emma’s living room in Andersonstown, over a cup of tea, she told her harrowing story”.
“Wearing her trademark dark glasses, she recounted the day in 1971 when she lost the sight of both eyes after being shot in the face at point-blank range with a rubber bullet. Like so many stories from our recent conflict, Emma Groves’ individual experience was of one of unwarranted violence and unnecessary pain. Clara Reilly and Emma Groves founded the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets to bring together families bereaved or injured by rubber and plastic bullets and to end their use here and everywhere.
“Campaigning by Emma Groves and Clara Reilly shone a light on the human rights abuses and suffering inflicted through use of the weapons, and inspired many to stand with them. They would later help found Relatives for Justice (RFJ) and inspire its model of mutual support and advocacy.”
Ancient Order of Hibernians’ Sean Pender added: “We are proud to add our voice to recognise Clara Reilly and Emma Groves as the community that they worked so hard and long for dedicates the junction of Falls, Glen and Andersonstown Road in their honour.
“These two remarkable women stood strong and never wavered in their quest for justice and peace. The AOH was proud to have honoured Clara with its highest award, the Seán McBride humanitarian award, several years ago in recognition of her long history of civil and human rights work.
“It is entirely appropriate that there will be an area that will forever recognise the work of these two great women.”
The Groves, Reilly and Livingstone families are lifelong friends and played prominent roles in the campaign to ban plastic bullets. Belfast Media Group editor Robin Livingstone said: “It was a pleasure and a privilege to have known Emma and to know Clara. The line of placards on the road beside the barracks was and is a familiar August sight and my family can think of no better place and no better way to celebrate the inspirational lives of two amazing women.”
The unveiling of Groves Reilly Corner will take place on Saturday January 19 at 1pm.