He was never a man I got to know well but on the few occasions that I shared his company I found Paddy Joe Rice a shrewd intelligent individual who had a bull detector second to none. He could see the guff men and women coming long before they opened their mendacious mouths.
I was first introduced to him by Brendan Hughes in his Divis Tower flat. He had happened to be there by chance one morning when I dropped in. His reputation had preceded him. Brendan had long spoken highly of him in the years prior to our Divis Tower encounter. Any former volunteer from the famed "Dogs" of the Belfast Brigade's D Company I have ever conversed with viewed Paddy Joe with admiration. Although Brendan Hughes was the most prominent volunteer to emerge from the company, Paddy Joe was viewed as its natural leader.
A few years ago Andrew Marr made the observation about some of his media colleagues that:
Journalists make a lot of stuff up. So great is the demand for comment and 'insider' analysis that wild hunches, tripe really, is packaged as fact, trimmed with self-importance and flung into the insatiable mouth of the news beast.
Paddy Joe was a victim of that very malpractice when reports were spread that he had been an interviewee for Boston College's Belfast Project. That they lacked even a morsel of authentication was not considered sufficient reason not to spew them out. Part of me suspects their provenance lies with the PSNI, which sought to foster a climate in which an arrest would be more palatable. The PSNI knew as well as anybody else that Paddy Joe had been in jail at the time of the abduction and disappearance of Jean McConville. They arrested him nonetheless.
Paddy Joe Rice had been the O/C of D Company, once described as “a powerhouse of the IRA during the Provisional’s armed struggle” and was looked upon for leadership from its former volunteers right up until his death. He strongly defended the account of Brendan Hughes published in Voices From The Grave by Ed Moloney to refute the smearologists of Sinn Fein. “IRA volunteers who served with Brendan know who is telling the truth and who is not. They know what Brendan said is right and they know he’s not the liar.”
While interned without trial he was in charge of one of the republican cages in Long Kesh. That experience would have left him with few doubts about the ruthlessness and underhand methods employed by the power brokers working behind his back to their own nefarious ends. After release he was central to a mass resignation from the IRA in 1975 over the shabby way in which a D Company volunteer had been treated during an internal disciplinary procedure. A yes man was something he most assuredly was not.
He led from the front and took a very public stance against Sinn Fein attempts to impose its writ on the funeral of Brendan Hughes, charging that the leadership was seeking to use the event for its own:
selfish, political purposes ... They've completely lost the plot. There's no such thing as freedom of speech in this community, everything is censored and controlled.
The last time I spoke with him was at the funeral of Dolours Price. He knew I had been subject to a lot of vitriol from the Sinn Fein Dirty Tricks mob, at the head of which sat a person suspected by many republicans of being a long term British agent of influence. His words were simple and to the point. I was not to worry as I was with friends.
Within days of his death Paddy Joe’s broken hearted wife also passed away. It was a double blow to the family. Sadie was by all accounts a formidable force at her husband's back. Losing her soul mate, however, was a blow that even this redoubtable woman could not long survive. As one half of the brace of the brave her life effectively ended when his did.
I am honoured to have met both of them.