Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
Martin Galvin speaks to former IRA Volunteer now historian, author and political commentator, Anthony McIntyre, about the comments Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams made about the future of his party. (begins time stamp ~ 31:27)
Martin: With us on the line – I referred to you in the announcement, you know, I always say ‘doctor’ Anthony McIntyre, because you have a doctorate. I always say he’s an author because you have the book, one of the best books, collection of essays and analysis of the Good Friday Agreement, Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism. I say you’re the person who runs the blogsite, The Pensive Quill, but I had to put down that you’re a journalist because you’re able to get so many articles recently into the Belfast Telegraph. And I have to tell you, Anthony, I actually was attacked by name by Ruth Dudley Edwards and she had some headline that Martin Galvin’s getting older and he still hates people – and Ruth’s certainly is not getting any younger and she’s never been behind a back door in terms of hating Republicans – but how and ever I had to get a lawyer and sue and make a complaint before I got even my right to reply in but you, now, are being listed as a journalist for your articles with the Belfast Telegraph recently so we welcome you with that new addition to your title onto Radio Free Éireann.
Anthony: Well thank you very much, Martin, although I’ve been a member of the National Union of Journalists for seventeen years. And I never use the title ‘doctor’ – I’ve become so disillusioned with academia that I think the title ‘doctor’ is a badge of shame given the academics at Boston College rolled over. I would say that if Boston College were in charge of America at the time of Pearl Harbor everybody over there would be speaking Japanese today, but anyway…
Martin: Okay. This week, there was – I read the newspapers on, I think it was Tuesday, and some of the most respected journalists – they heard an announcement that Gerry Adams gave at a party conference that he was talking about a ten year programme, a generational change and future announcements after he runs for Sinn Fein president again. And some of the headlines really surprised me. I interpreted it a certain way. Henry McDonald, one of the most reliable reporters in Ireland, writes for the Guardian, said: Gerry Adams signals intention to stand down as Sinn Féin leader. The president says he’ll seek re-election in November but wishes to implement a planned process of generational change.
Brian Feeney, again, one of the best columnists, very reliable, did a piece. Brian Feeney: Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald will succeed Gerry Adams. And he made that prediction that that’s going to happen in the spring or early summer of next year. Alex Kane, who’s a Unionist columnist but I like his work, he’s usually fairly accurate or a lot more accurate than some, has a column: Love Him or Hate Him is One in a Hundred. Now you had a piece that was more consistent with the way I interpreted the announcement: Gerry Adams has led Sinn Féin for more than half of his lifetime and there’s still no sign of him letting go. How did you interpret the announcement that Gerry Adams made?
Anthony: Well I viewed it in very simple terms: It was Mr. Adams using the opportunity provided to him to announce an extension of his political career and to bamboozle the media and, unfortunately, some of them swallowed the bait, bamboozled them into pushing the line that he was actually thinking of standing aside. The whole notion of a ten year plan seems absurd. Why should the leadership in a so-called democratic party devise a ten year plan for changing leadership? Surely the grassroots should be making that decision not the leadership. The grassroots should be deciding when Adams goes, not Adams himself. But this is such a top-down, authoritarian party that democratic decisions of the type that would lead to a different outcome, a different leader, simply do not take place. It’s not like any other democratic party on the island or in Europe and in fact, it’s more like the right wings parties, with their authoritarianism and their deference to authority.
Martin: Anthony, when I read that, actually a line that you wrote, I actually don’t recall exactly whether it was the Good Friday Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration or where ever you wrote it but it’s a line that always stuck with me – you said it was a British declaration of intent to remain in Ireland. And I read Gerry Adams’ remarks and it seemed like a declaration of intent to remain as president of Sinn Féin. And in fact I just – I have to credit Newton Emerson, he wrote in the Irish News I believe today, that last year there was a similar announcement that there was a ten year plan that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had agreed that was going to start last year, a year ago at this same conference. And now we’re here a year later and it’s still got ten years to go. How does Gerry Adams remain as head of Sinn Fein for so long? Why is he kept there?
Anthony: Well, I mean Adams is a martial politician and he has always operated with a military mindset and that’s about hierarchy and authority and the imposition of authority and certain contempt for the people who are regarded as the grunts, or the privates, in the army. So what he does is he rules through a mixture of fear – because they use an awful lot of smearing, bullying and intimidation to keep people in line. We have an instance recently where the youngest councillor in the country resigned from Sinn Féin because she said the bullying was so intense – a twenty-three year old. But he also inspires an enormous amount of loyalty; I think Suzanne Breen has touched on this. He is very popular within the party, certainly with The North, I think people have seen him as standing up to the British. People also, many of the Republicans, respect him for his IRA credentials and he has managed through tight control, tight imposition of authority, ruling out all democratic challenges – and I mean snuffing them out at birth – any challenge that may come to his authority and he has ruled, and quite efficiently – his grip on the party has been quite efficient for many, many years – and he has always managed to convince the grassroots of the party that his political career interests are synonymous with the party interests so the party moves always in the direction that good for Adams’ career and as he wants to be a successful politician and he has used the movement as a launching pad for a successful political career. He’s around longer than any politician and I suppose, if one respects that sort of thing one, has to begrudgingly acknowledge that he has done it very, very well.
Martin: Well one of the things I just want to ask about is how much control on party policy does he have? For example, when Martin McGuinness was there Martin McGuinness would have some kind of independent sway or independent position but how much, for example – you have Michelle O’Neill, who’s now the party leader at Stormont, you have Mary Lou McDonald, who’s the deputy leader – how much say does Gerry Adams have in terms of what Sinn Féin’s positions are going to be in the Stormont talks, in Leinster House, as opposed to those people around him?
Anthony: Well I would say he would have the lion’s share of the say. I don’t think any movement in the world, even in Nazi Germany – you know Hitler himself was undermined by people within the party scheming, in pursuit of their own agendas – and I imagine that within Sinn Féin there are people who will issue challenges but the bulk of party policy would have the imprimatur of Gerry Adams on it. There’s very, very few decisions that would be made that he would be opposed to and I imagine that Mary Lou McDonald is very much a bit player as is Michelle O’Neill in terms of deciding strategy or formulating strategy. I think the main strategist in the movement has been Adams and McGuinness, I think, was useful for Adams in a way that Michelle O’Neill is not. I mean Martin could have carried a lot of people who Michelle may not be able to carry but at the same time Michelle would be someone who would not stand up in any way to Adams and would just be sort of a puppet and he would be the puppet master – and I don’t want to say this in any unkind sense.
But I remember taking to Tony Catney and Tony Catney said that when he attended Ard Comhairle meetings the only person at the Ard Comhairle who would challenge Adams or stand up to him was Martin McGuinness. But I tend to think that Martin McGuinness was undermined, to some extent, by Adams and I will often wonder and I wonder if it will ever emerge in the light of day that McGuinness was toppled in a sort of internal coup d’etat – and I’ve speculated on this before.
Martin: Okay. I just want to read something. I want you to give an assessment of Gerry Adams’ career so far and I’m just going to read a couple of lines from the piece by Alex Kane, writing in the Irish News. Now Alex Kane is a Unionist. He actually – he’s somebody whose writing I enjoy, he’s very balanced in some ways but he quotes the – Love him or hate him – Adams is one in a hundred. He talks about how Adams has not only brought the struggle to an end and conceded constitutional arrangements but he has access to British and Irish Prime Ministers and the US President. He’s become a statesman admired around the world but still reviled by some at home. He says he has brought Sinn Féin within sniffing distance of reunification. Alright. How do you judge Gerry Adams’ performance or Sinn Féin’s performance or achievements, record, during the period in which Gerry Adams was president or the Republican Movement’s progress during the period in which Gerry Adams has been a leading figure?
Anthony: Well, apart from the last comment by Alex Kane I think that’s pretty accurate. I mean he hasn’t brought Sinn Féin within an inch of reunification – reunification’s not going to happen. And Alex Kane is a very astute and very clever writer who I much admire for the clarity of his thought. Adams has, in many ways I think, has reduced the whole Republican project to a lie – there’s virtually nothing about him that he says that we can believe. Republicanism, under his reign, is one massive lie. He has de-fanged and de-radicalised Republicanism and he simply turned it into another constitutional-nationalist entity – no different from the people that went before him in the Official Republican Movement and Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil.
And if we want to take a longer historical view of it: We cannot place the current Sinn Féin in the Republican anti-treaty camp that emerged around the time of the formation of the Free State. We have to place him in the Cumann na nGaedheal and then that said, that camp, the pro-treaty party, the party that ended up endorsing partition because Adams does now endorse partition even though I read recently a strange, convoluted article from Danny Morrison saying why he wouldn’t/couldn’t, as a Republican, take a seat at Westminster – now we know all that’s nonsense coming from Morrison and if they take their seats in Westminster he’d somersault to endorse it. The taking of the seats is pretty immaterial to whether one supports or endorses partition. What endorses partition is the support for the Consent Principle. And once you support the right of a majority in the Six Counties to maintain partition then you support the partition, you support the partition principle, and there’s no getting away from it. So Sinn Féin under Adams has been very successful not in terms of furthering any Republican objective – he’s been no more successful in that than, say, Tony Blair has in furthering a socialist objective – but what we have is Adams being very successful in constitutionalising Sinn Féin and making Sinn Féin a constitutional party that can advance the case of Nationalists within the Northern state. But that’s not really what Republicanism was about. Republicanism was about abolishing the Northern state. And we see today that the greatest defenders of the Northern state, along with the Unionists, are Sinn Féin.
Martin: Alright. There are people who have talked about: Well, we might get a united Ireland in the form of having Sinn Féin in coalition with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil in The South and at the same time being in coalition, or partnership, with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) in The North and there would be some kind of cross-border bodies and this would be some form of a united Ireland. What’s your reaction? How does that compare to what you joined the Republican Movement to get a united Ireland? Hows does that stack up?
Well, it’s not a united Ireland. It’s a partitioned Ireland. All we have is a bridge that sits over partition. And I mean Adams would probably tell you if Sinn Féin were in government in The North and government in The South that it was a united Ireland and then, if you object, he would tell you: Catch yerself on and you’re an anti-peace process element, you know – all the usual rubbish – but it’s a far cry from the type of Republicanism that I was associated with when I was a member of the Republican Movement. But against that you know there is no way for Ireland to be united unless a majority in The North say so. And that becomes the realpolitik of Irish politics. There’s no military campaign capable of doing it. I wouldn’t want the same military campaign doing it – it brings too much hardship, too much misery, too much death, too much pain and therefore, in my view, it’s not worth it. So even though we may criticise Adams and criticise his strategy and insist that we’re under no obligation whatsoever to believe the lies that he tells there’s no Republican strategy for a united Ireland. Republicanism cannot unite Ireland. It cannot bring Ireland to a point where the Consent Principle’s going to be abolished and the two separate entities at the minute are going to be drawn together as one political entity. So I am of the view that, and I’ve said this before and haven’t not too popular with Republicans for saying it, that the Northern state is not the failed political entity. Republicanism is the failed political entity. The only thing that can bring about Irish unity is constitutional-nationalism which Republicanism was always opposed to and the chances of constitutional- nationalism bringing about a united Ireland are very slim, indeed.
Martin: Well, what – going into Stormont how – it’s said that the strategy of that was that Sinn Féin was going to work with the DUP. They would bargain away the injustices, they’d work together, they’d establish some kind of reconciliation and respect and attitudes are going to change and then you’d gradually gain acceptance for a united Ireland as a away forward that’s more prosperous for everybody. Do you see that ever working?
Anthony: No. It’s wishful thinking. I don’t see how it would come about. I think the opposite would come about that when it settles down in the way that you’ve described, reconciliation and other things, that what would happen is that the Nationalists in The North would become more comfortable with rule from London and there would be no indication that the Unionists in The North would become more comfortable with rule from Dublin. There’s a ‘push-pull factor’ at play here and always has been. And in my view Nationalists have always been prepared to reconcile themselves with the British state to a degree much more strong than what the Unionists have been prepared to reconcile themselves with the Dublin state, Dublin rule, so I can’t see that situation coming about. I think what happens there is that it’s a veneer that Sinn Féin put on their constitutional-nationalist internal settlement strategy as a means to create an illusion of forward momentum just to keep people on board and to tell them that they’ve been doing the same thing they always do. Like I mean I listened to a friend of mine in Sinn Féin, a couple – a year back, Pat Sheehan. Pat Sheehan was a hunger striker, a very committed IRA Volunteer, almost lost his life on hunger strike, done lengthy time in prison – and Pat’s says he was doing the same thing today as he was doing in 1972. That’s patently absurd! He isn’t. He’s doing the complete opposite of what he was doing in 1972.
Martin: Alright. We’re going to have to leave it there. We’re out of time. We could go on a lot longer with you and with questions like this. We want to thank you for being with us, Anthony McIntyre, former political prisoner – I won’t say ‘doctor’, can say journalist…
Anthony: …Thank you very much.
Martin: Okay. And look…
Anthony: …All the best!
Martin: …Anthony has The Pensive Quill. You can see Kate Nash’s interview from last week. She wouldn’t come on this week. You can see Dixie Elliott telling us, (Ed: In the comments section) quoting exactly, the words that Sinn Féin used when they were complaining about British troops being listed along side members of, Irish patriots in Glasnevin in Dublin. They don’t seem to have that objection in Doire in the Free Derry Museum. (ends time stamp ~ 52:07)