John McDonagh and Martin Galvin speak to Kathryn Johnston, co-author of Martin McGuinness’ biography, via telephone from Co. Antrim, about Martin McGuinness’ role in the IRA’s cessation of violence that ended The Troubles. (begins time stamp ~ 18:11)
Audio: Portion of Martin McGuinness’ speech at the 1986 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis is played. (audio ends)
Martin: Alright. With us on the line we have Kathryn Johnston. She is the co-author of Martin McGuinness’ biography, Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government. Welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
Kathryn: Thanks very much, John. Nice to talk to you.
Martin: This is Martin. John is actually in Boston. But he’ll be asking you a question in a moment.
Kathryn: Okay. (inaudible)
Martin: We only have a few minutes for you and we have a number of guests on. But I was intrigued. I was reading a piece that you did for Slugger O’Toole, the website, and you asked the question: Could anyone else have brought the IRA to a cessation of violence without an admission of defeat? What was there about Martin McGuinness? The young man from Doire, a religious man, family were Nationalists more than Republicans, who got involved in the Irish Republican Army, who took senior positions and put him in that position where you would say that he is the only person – it was unlikely that anybody else could have brought the IRA to a cessation of violence without an admission of defeat in your article?
Kathryn: Well if you look at the early days of Martin McGuinness’ involvement in the IRA, specifically after Bloody Sunday when he became the Commander in Doire, Seán Mac Stíofáin was up at a couple of meetings in Doire and he very, very quickly picked out the young Martin McGuinness as somebody that was basically someone to watch – somebody who could go places. Now Seán Mac Stíofáin wasn’t alone in coming to that assessment. Seán Mac Stíofáin – Martin McGuinness’ real big elevation in the ranks was when he was flown to Cheyne Walk in London as part of a delegation of IRA men going to talks with William Whitelaw. The talks themselves never actually produced anything concrete but what they did produce – there was an MI6 officer there, Frank Steele, and he gave his assessment very quickly, that Seán Mac Stíofain had done: This boy’s the one to watch. This boy’s articulate – he could go places. And as soon as McGuinness returned to Doire after the Cheyne Walk talks it wasn’t very long before Frank Steele had arranged to meet him in Donegal and the relationship then continued with Michael Oatley in 1974 until he returned in 1991. So I mean, Martin McGuinness was marked by the British state and by his comrades in the IRA as a boy that was going places.
Martin: Alright. Well, what positions did he hold with the IRA and how was it that he was so influential he could make that speech that we are playing clips from in 1986 and that that would be credited and trusted more so than somebody else might have been?
Kathryn: Well I think if you look at the – Martin McGuinness attained the very highest rank within the IRA and that was in 1978. He was first appointed Chief of Staff after Gerry Adams was arrested for questioning after the La Mon Massacre. And straightaway Martin McGuinness sought to make his mark. He had this goal: He was going to make a ‘liberated zone’ along the border. Of course, very, very close to the front of his mind as well was this idea there had to be some kind of revenge on the Parachute Regiment for what happened on Bloody Sunday.
Now, very quickly in 1978 he became aware of a local IRA plan to assassinate Earl Mountbatten. He’d (Mountbatten) spent every August since 1969 in Classiebawn Castle in Mullaghmore in Sligo. So they dummy-runned this plan and in August, the 27th August 1979, two plain-clothes officers of Mountbatten’s security detail were lying on the cliffs overlooking the boat, Shadow, as it sailed out when suddenly there was a massive explosion and we know what happened after that – Earl Mountbatten died as did Lady Brabourne, Paul Maxwell, a young boatman from Enniskillen and one of Mountbatten’s nephews, a great-nephew, was killed in that. But that was already quite a coup for the IRA to carry out in those days – just along the border there. And of course, the British Army and all security force personnel were immediately put on the very, very highest alert. But McGuinness hadn’t stop there. There was a convoy of four Land Rovers coming to Ballykinler camp to Narrow Water on the shores of Narrow Water Lough there which marks the Irish border. And as they drove in an eight hundred pound bomb was detonated blowing up their Land Rovers and instantaneously IRA men on the other side of the lough opened fire on the British troops who returned fire and one English holiday-maker, Michael Hudson, was tragically killed. But you know I’m really beginning to feel like Jiminy Cricket here – But there’s more! But there’s more! – because after that when two Wessex helicopters had come to airlift the wounded soldiers, the survivors, to hospital, as their aircraft were taking off another couple of Land Rovers, laden with injured soldiers, was coming along – another twelve soldiers were killed with another eight hundred pound bomb – added to the six that were killed in the first explosion that was eighteen soldiers from the Paratroop Regiment – their highest single loss since Arnhem, not even in peacetime, since Arnhem in World War II. That was quite some coup for a boy from the Bogside in his first year as Chief of Staff of the IRA and I think that shows the kind of chilling, strategic and tactical genius that he had that he devoted to both his political life and his life within the IRA. He was a (inaudible) man. And I think, I think if you look at Martin McGuinness and the tours that he did after the ceasefire was announced – the tours that he did and Gerry Kelly did and Gerry Adams did – I think that Martin McGuinness was picked out to go to the areas where they might be less ready to settle than others.
Martin: Okay. Alright. Thank you. That’s Kathryn Johnston. She is the co-author of the book, Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government. We’re trying to get to a number of different people. We’re going to go to another clip. I think – John, are you back on the line?
John: Yeah, no – I’m back on the line but just one final question for Kathryn that it seems – we did an interview with an MI5 agent, Ian Hurst, and he was talking about how the British government wanted to arrest Martin McGuinness but they were told not to, over the Frank Hegarty killing of an informer. And then after his funeral it came out about the Claudy bombing that the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) wanted to arrest him and they were told not to arrest him and he was known within the security forces there as a ‘protected species’.
Kathryn: Yeah. At one stage Martin Ingram (aka Ian Hurst) revealed that he was known as ‘the fisherman’ and that wasn’t unusual for Martin McGuinness. Don’t forget, John, he had been in secret talks with the British since what was it – ’72 – since that first meeting at Cheyne Walk. And when he was in the meetings with ‘Mountain Climber’, Brendan Duddy, and so on, in those very early days when the background dialogue had been established McGuinness was given several code names – one of them, strangely enough, was ‘Walter’. So I mean that was the start of a situation which saw Martin McGuinness and that’s being perhaps uniquely – perhaps being uniquely in the position of being as useful to the British as he was to the IRA.
Martin: Alright. On that note we’re going to go to – we’ve got – this is something where everybody we’re going to have on today we could do the whole programme with but we want to thank you, Kathryn Johnston. Her book…
Kathryn: …And thank you very much…
Martin: …co-author of Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government . We’re going to go to another clip and when we come out we’re going to have Anthony McIntyre, former IRA Volunteer, author and analyst and commentator on with us. (ends time stamp ~ 27:08)