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Martin Galvin speaks to Anthony McIntyre, former IRA prisoner now author, historian and political commentator, via telephone from Ireland about Martin McGuinness’ legacy. (begins time stamp ~ 27:08)
Audio: Portion of Martin McGuinness’ speech at the 1986 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis is played. (audio ends)
Martin: Alright. With us on the line from Ireland we have Dr. Anthony McIntyre; he’s a former IRA Volunteer, somebody who is an author of a blog, The Pensive Quill. He’s an author of the book, Good Friday, a great analysis of the Good Friday Agreement and Anthony, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
Anthony: Good Afternoon, Martin. I’m pleased to be on.
Martin: We’re trying to push everybody, this is a very big subject, we’ve got a number of people on, so we’re not giving anybody as much time as we would like to – what do you think, as somebody who, like Martin McGuinness, would have felt at one time that the only way there could be justice would be to end British rule and that the only way to achieve that would be to take up armed struggle – you served time in that, a number of years in that in The North – he served two separate times of imprisonment within The Twenty-Six Counties. What do you think Martin McGuinness’ legacy will be to the Republican struggle?
Anthony: Well I think it will have, in many ways, it will have failed on two fronts: the military and the non-military. I mean Martin McGuinness was a key IRA figure – former Chief of Staff, former Northern Commander, former president of the IRA Army Council, sat on the Army Council for years. And the IRA campaign was aimed at coercing the British out of Ireland regardless of the wishes of the people in The North. The British objective was to insure that the IRA did not succeed in that campaign and that the IRA would be brought to embrace the Principle of Consent which meant that the British would only leave The North if a majority of people in The North consented to the British leaving. That means that the IRA campaign, in respect of getting the British out of Ireland, was an unmitigated failure. So Martin McGuinness failed there. Secondly, in terms of political institutions, he became the Deputy First Minister and ended up, at the end, being compelled by the force of logic and passion at the grassroots, which even surprised me, to bring to an end the institutions by coming out of his sickbed – in a very admirable manner it has to be said because it took some strength even to get from Belfast to Doire and to put on the performance that he did but that’s by-the-by – he brought down the institutions and what he brought to an end there was a period of Sinn Féin failure in government which they concede and for which they’ve been called ‘roll-over Republicans’ or ‘Martin and his Muppets’ because it’s hard to imagine a more ridiculous looking team ever on the benches of Parliament than the Sinn Féin team at Stormont and for ten years they took abuse, arrogance yet never told the grassroots about it, the voter, until such time as they decided to bring it down. And I often wonder, well I don’t often wonder but I’ve taken to wondering recently, if was Martin McGuinness was compelled to signing the closure order on essentially his own project in the manner that Jimmy Drumm was forced to signing the closure order on his ceasefire, which he was party to in 1976 when the new emerging leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness forced Jimmy Drumm, against his wishes, to read out the Bodenstown commemoration speech in 1977, June 1977, and during that speech Jimmy Drumm stated that the ceasefire had been a mistake. I think there’s a possibility the same has happened in Martin McGuinness’ case. So in my view, Martin McGuinness’ leadership has been called into question on two serious fronts.
Martin: Anthony, I should note that when I got involved working with Irish Northern Aid I was asked to train over in the Belfast Press Centre and we never even talked about consent – that was a term you would never use. You would refer to it as ‘the Unionist veto in The North’ because the majority of people – you know as the 1916 Societies and other groups proclaim now, majority of people throughout all of Ireland favoured an end to British rule and you’re not talking about getting their consent to partition you’re talking about a veto within The Six Counties. And it just shows you how that language has changed. What is your reaction to the funeral? There was a Tricolour there, there was a number of noted political figures attended the funeral, how does that funeral play into the legacy, as you’ve described it, of Martin McGuinness?
Anthony: Well I think what happened there is that the, like much else about Martin McGuinness’ life, the IRA has been pushed to the background and the IRA was, in effect, hidden from that funeral. There may have been key IRA figures putting on the Tricolour standing at the coffin as it was leaving his home but in order to allow the dignitaries, as they are called, and the luminaries to come to bury Mr. McGuinness but not to mourn him they had to hide the IRA. And therefore there was no chance of Arlene Foster and Bill Clinton and that whole parade of politicians marching behind a coffin with the beret on it and the black gloves, the sort of standard funerary symbols of the IRA dead. Now in my view, we may well have a whispering campaign of some sort, or at least a whispering to the grassroots, that the beret and gloves were inside the coffin – basically still hiding the IRA away – and that the whispering that the IRA went up and put the Tricoulor on the coffin – this is all for people who are prepared to believe anything as long as it’s whispered to them. In terms of political reality, the people who came to bury Martin McGuinness but not mourn him were from the political class. They were those people who were authenticating the rule, the victory, the triumph of consent over Martin’s earlier life where he advocated, and was a strong advocate and a forceful advocate of the politics of coercion, the war to coerce the British out of Ireland. And I think this is what this funeral was about from their point of view and ensuring that that was the dominant political message that went out: Unity only by consent. And the sort of subtext of it was: The IRA campaign failed. The British Principle of Consent won. The British did not ever accept the IRA’s terms for disengagement from Ireland. The IRA accepted the British terms for British disengagement from Ireland and that, in my view, sums it up.
Martin: Alright. I should note just on the BBC website there was a Martin McGuinness section on his obituary and I hit that up and it was actually – he and I carrying a coffin in 1985 at the funeral of an IRA Volunteer. And you can see people with berets, you can see a masked party of IRA Volunteers – and this was done at a time – I was banned, that’s why I was invited specifically to carry the coffin along side him in Doire under the watchful eyes of British troops – that’s a difference between the type of funeral that that might have been some time ago and the funeral that Martin McGuinness had and his legacy. Anthony, why was it, what was it about Martin McGuinness that made IRA Volunteers trust him so much to the degree that they did, that they made him so influential that they would follow him into this resolution of the conflict – this cessation that you’ve described?
Anthony: Probably his longevity at the leadership level. I mean as far back as most people’s living memory can recall Martin McGuinness was there. He was the alpha and the omega of the IRA in many respects. In 1972 he was already pretty famous by the time he went to London for negotiations with the British. After that he became a key figure in the minds of the Republican support base and a hate figure for the British. So people always identified Martin as ‘the IRA figure’. Someone who would be hard, someone who would be tough, someone who would have the Volunteers’ interests at heart and in that way I feel that because he had been around so long, because he had directed so many operations, because he was Chief of Staff at the time of the killings of the British paratroopers, the killing of Mountbatten, the killing of Robert Bradford – these are all things that took place on his watch – key IRA killings and I think that he was viewed very much as the man that could be trusted in a way that people came to feel Gerry Adams couldn’t be trusted because Gerry Adams began to be viewed as a politician and there was always a hostility towards politicians. But it wouldn’t have mattered had Martin went first rather than Gerry in terms of making the call for politics – he would have been mistrusted because bear in mind: Gerry Adams had the same military record that Martin McGuinness has. The two could be separated by a cigarette paper that we used to write out from Long Kesh on – two key military figures but is was the perception of Martin as, what the media would call the ‘hawk’, the guy who would never let us down.
Martin: Okay. And just what did you think: Gerry Adams was the person who gave the oration at Martin McGuinness’ funeral. What’s your reaction to that oration?
Anthony: Well I mean the fact that Gerry Adams gave the oration, in my view, was that he was really saying: We are burying Martin here today but what I want you to remember is me. This is all about me. And again, as is his tendency to impose himself on proceedings, I mean, on this day and at this time Gerry Adams should be letting Michelle O’Neill come to the fore. But he isn’t. He’s trying to overshadow her on everything. And there is some suspicions now being aired by people that Martin McGuinness didn’t bring down the Executive, that he in fact was ousted and was compelled by Adams and the Adams’ lobby to bring down the Executive. And now since the passing-on of Martin McGuinness, or the illness of Martin McGuinness, we’ve seen Adams come more and more to the fore. And I mean Adams does have this effect, even though he’s not personally sectarian, attitudinally he has this impact of alienating the Unionists in a way that one could say that Martin McGuinness didn’t have. So it certainly leads to an interesting time ahead and lots of things to play for. And I think the insertion of Gerry Adams back into it tends to create even more sectarian tension and inflame sectarian passions. And you cannot simply blame Adams for that – the Unionists have to take an awful lot of blame for this because their attitude has been woeful. And I know that they have decided to start to behave civilly – turning up at the funeral and so on – but the manner in which they treated that crowd of Sinn Féin people in Stormont that you had one SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) MLA saying he was shocked as he watched all the ranks of former IRA men and women being humiliated by the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and not a word out of them. I mean the DUP have done this and their complete arrogance has inflamed the situation in The North so I don’t know, I mean, what way it’ll go but what we can say is that high-profile funeral, the presence of people like Bill Clinton and everybody else at it, makes it very, very hard for people entering these negotiations, who are now in these negotiations, to face the blame for them going wrong. So we can see the whole thing pushed to the deadline – pushed to the point of brinkmanship. But it has to look now, one would argue, that the – I mean a possibility for a deal anyway does increase. And Sinn Féin have a get-out clause because Arlene Foster turned up at the funeral was clapped and they can say that: Well, now what we should do is – maybe we can go into government with her. She’s not so bad after all. She has come to her senses. The best situation, the best outcome for them is for Sinn Féin not to call for her to resign or stand aside and then for her to voluntarily stand aside for a period of weeks and that gets them all off the hook. And I think something like that is likely to happen.
Martin: And that was exactly the offer that she was given by Martin McGuinness some time ago – just to stand aside for a few weeks – and just like Peter Robinson did. Had she taken that she wouldn’t have had the election, she’d still have a ten seat majority and people wouldn’t be talking about maybe replacing her in future within the DUP. Alright, Anthony, we want to thank you for that and we’ll just play one more clip and then we will be going to Ed Moloney.
Anthony: Thank you very much.
Martin: Thank you, Anthony. (ends time stamp ~ 42:36)