Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
Martin Galvin speaks to former IRA Volunteer and former Sinn Féin activist now author and political commentator, Matt Treacy, via telephone from Belfast, who provides comment on Sinn Féin as it’s 2018 Ard Fheis is underway. (begins time stamp ~ 31:27)
Martin: Alright. With us on the line we have Matt Treacy. Matt, I’m just sorry – you know, we were doing one of my favourite songs, The Foggy Dew, and we just got you too soon – I would have liked to have listen to that a little bit more but I can listen to that on the way home. Welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
Matt: Thank you.
Martin: Alright, Now, Matt, you are, were a member, you’re the author of the book, A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army. You, that book, describes you as somebody who was a member of the IRA for thirty years, you spent four years in Portlaoise; you were released after the 1994 ceasefire. And you were somebody who also worked with Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill, you worked with Martin Ferris – you were assistant to him, you wrote hundreds of speeches, many speeches, for members of Sinn Féin – and in fact you were one of the people who worked on Mary Lou McDonald’s first successful election campaign. So we wanted to go to you as somebody with a long history of Republicanism, personally, as well as a family history that goes back generations in Republicanism. Your book, by the way, has a picture of Martin McGuinness shaking hands with Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth, as Peter Robinson looks on, A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army, so we wanted to get your perspective as you saw this week Gerry Kelly, Martin Ferris, Michelle O’Neill, Mary Lou McDonald all lining up at various times to shake hands with Charles Windsor. How did that make you feel? What’s your reaction to it? And do you think this brings us closer to the cause for which you joined Sinn Féin and joined the Irish Republican Army to advance – that of a united Ireland?
Matt: Well, on one level I suppose it’s common courtesy but on the other hand these courtesies shouldn’t be extended to members of the British royal family until the objective of the Republic has been achieved. It’s not about meeting the president of France or the president of the United States, you’re meeting, you’re greeting the figureheads of a state that still occupies part of our country so I think it’s a bit premature to be ‘taking smilies’ with them, to be honest.
Martin: Well when people see them meeting with, shaking hands, greeting, smiling at Prince Charles doesn’t that give an impression, may give an impression that they are a normal political party – but – you have, he is still I believe, the ceremonial head of the British Paratroop Regiment, if I’m not mistaken, which was responsible for Bloody Sunday, responsible for Ballymurphy. He is a representative of a government that still claims six of Ireland’s counties. He is still somebody who represents British rule – prisons are there, Her Majesty’s Prison, in the name of their British royal family – doesn’t it just give the impression, generally, that everything is fine. Everything is okay. We have now accepted British rule and we don’t have to worry about changing it, ending it – and you’re standing up, not as equals giving courtesy to somebody who’s leaving your country, you’re there shaking hands, normalising, not just yourself as a political party, but normalising British rule in The North?
Yeah well, I think it’s part of the whole Orwellian fantasy that they’ve constructed that, as you say, gives the impression that everything has been solved. Now they keep going on about a border poll – that’s in the gift of the Northern Ireland Secretary – it’s not going to happen any time soon and even if it did it would be defeated. So you know they’re stuck within the strictures of the Good Friday Agreement and I think the whole border poll thing it’s a kind of a charade to convince people that they’re still moving forward towards a Republic when that’s not actually the reality of the situation and then meeting the royal family convinces people – because it’s all done within the parameters of: ‘Oh! Look how happy everybody is now! We’ve achieved peace and these people are our friends.’ stuff.
Martin: Alright. Now last night at the Ard Fheis there was an important decision made. There was a change in, well there was a proposal adopted which had been amended, which you consider to be very important in terms of getting Sinn Féin into government and coalition. Could you tell us what happened and why it was important?
Matt: Well up until last night the position of Sinn Féin was that they don’t go into coalition unless they were the largest party or in alliance with parties which basically set their own policies. Now last night, they voted to give the leadership, basically, the power to enter into negotiations after the next elections with any party and it’s still going to be the minority partner in the coalition so it’s a complete change in party policy in that light but not only that the most likely coalition partner is Fine Gael. And, as you know, the history of Fine Gael and Republicans isn’t particularly, how would you say? – positive? – going back to the Civil War but even more recently, in the ’70’s with the Heavy Gang, the 1980’s with the Good Friday Agreement, extradition and so on. Fine Gael are the most anti-Republican party in the Twenty-Six Counties and for Sinn Féin – like if somebody told you ten years ago that Sinn Féin were considering going into coalition with Fine Gael and not only going into coalition with Fine Gael but going into coalition as a junior partner where they’re going to get two or three ministers and where Fine Gael are going to be making foreign policy and all the major economic decisions – you’d have been sectioned, you know? But this is where they are going. It’ll happen if the numbers stack up so it’s – but not only that they banned or stopped any outright opposition motions to coalition and this one fairly mild motion – they persuaded, in the various cummain, the Dublin cumann, which put that motion forward to amend it, to allow them to say they would have no restrictions on what they negotiate on.
Martin: Alright. Now, I should explain just to the American part of the audience – I know we have a large audience in Ireland which understands what you’re talking about: In the Twenty-Six Counties the government is like the British system. You have the majority of elected members of the Parliament, whoever controls that gets elected Taoiseach, or head of the government, and you have to maintain that majority. So what Matt is talking about is a situation where Fine Gael, as a majority, added to the seats that, whatever seats, Sinn Féin wins could maintain a majority. And that would put Sinn Féin in a position where it was defending policies that the senior partner, Fine Gael, would make – it would have to vote for them, endorse them, usually Fine Gael, the major party, would set policy, including on foreign policy, especially on foreign policy, and it would put Sinn Féin in a position of supporting those policies and defending them, being part of them and part of implementing them. Now…
Matt: …it’s quite, it’s quite an extraordinary development over the last couple of years. If you think back to what Republican’s, what the Republican critique was of say of Fianna Fáil or Clann na Phoblacht or the Workers’ Party, that they were compromising themselves and the core of the Sinn Féin party have overturned almost every single facet of what used to be ‘Republican politics’ even to the extent that they support Fine Gael on Brexit. Now there are practical reasons why they would oppose Britain leaving the EU but it’s only in the last four of five years that Sinn Féin’s accepted the fact that Irish sovereignty should be surrendered to the European Union – and it’s completely overturned that without any votes, without anybody being consulted and now they have exactly the same policy as Fine Gael on that so there are no real barriers preventing them from going into coalition.
Martin: Okay. Now you have a blog – I’ll spell it out – brocaire books dot ie (Martin spells out) and in the blog you mention, in one of the most recent entries, you mention that there is a core group, what you call a core group, in Sinn Féin and that they basically hold the real power. They are the ones who control policy and, what you say is, they tell everyone what to do and whatever they say everybody else follows and they can make whatever policies they want. Could you explain who this core group is? How they’re able to wield such influence that there could be such changes within Sinn Féin from the the party that you joined, that you supported as a member of the Irish Republican Army to the party it is now?
Matt: Well, I never actually joined Sinn Féin. I was only in the Irish Republican Army. And I was at the last meetings when the Army was disbanded. And the people who disbanded it were the then IRA Army Council. That Army Council is now the core group within Sinn Féin and every other rung there was stood down but they’ve maintain themselves as a group within the Republican Movement. They’re un-elected. The Ard Chomhairle’s elected at the Ard Fheis and then these people are appointed. Nobody ever elects them. And they sit-in on meetings and they control every aspect of Sinn Féin policy. And the cynicism of the whole thing is is that these were all highly respected IRA Volunteers and they would, some of them would, when you talk to them, they would say to you, ‘Oh yeah well, this is all just a charade, you know’ – same as the Workers’, same as people like Seán Garland used to tell members of the Official IRA when people like Rabbitte and Gilmore were taking over, that: ‘Oh, this is only ‘smoke and mirrors’ that we’re still out to achieve a Republic’ – but that’s – we saw with the Workers’ Party – that’s not the way things work out. And yeah these people, basically, tell everybody else what to do.
Martin: Alright. And you have mentioned to me, one of the concerns that you have, is the effect of the economic prospects for areas like West Belfast, for Doire City, areas where Sinn Féin has a great control – that that’s one of the things that concerns you. Could you tell the audience about that?
Matt: Yeah well I was watching the televised section of the
Sinn Féin Ard Fheis on television this morning and the Belfast Lord Mayor, who’s a Sinn Féin member, was boasting about the great progress being made. In various surveys, including the latest one in 2013, West Belfast was found to have the second highest level of child poverty of six hundred and fifty Westminster constituencies and Foyle, which includes Doire City, is/was in the bottom five or six. Now, I brought that up at meetings when I was in Leinster House and people would say: ‘Oh! That’s because of years of British policy’ – which has the same validity – but also it ignores the fact that in West Belfast Sinn Féin have run everything for the last thirty years – they’ve had the MP for thirty-five years, they’ve had the majority of councillors and they were in coalition for ten years with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) but they did absolutely nothing – not only not to help to improve the situation of people who supported the IRA during the war years but the situation for people like that has actually ‘dis-improved’. And one of the major factors in that is that because the level of anti-social behaviour and crime and drug abuse has greatly because there’s no longer anybody there to curb those sort of activities. And at the same time, parallel with that, there’s a small group of people who have become vastly wealthy within the Republican community and various cummain. And, you know? The betrayal is on so many levels you would hardly know where to begin.
Martin: Okay. Well were one of the people who helped elect Mary Lou McDonald to her first election, brought her to her first election victory. You’ve known her for a lot of years. Could you tell us your insights into her? What do you expect from her as president of Sinn Féin?
Matt: I actually like her. I met her last year and even after I left and she’s quite pleasant – she’s a pretty intelligent, smart woman. But she’s not really from a Republican background. She only joined Sinn Féin in 2003. I was on the election directorate that got her elected to the European Parliament in 2004 – there was five of us, and none of the five of us are still in Sinn Féin – we were either thrown out or left – and it’s sad…
Martin: …Alright. What do you expect her to do in terms of Republican politics? In terms of advancing the goal of a united Ireland?
Matt: Well as I say, all of the, I’ve no personal animosity to Mary Lou but I don’t believe she’s any real emotional commitment or intellectual commitment to establishing the Republic which means that it just becomes another normal political party that will compromise on its policies and doesn’t have any core principles, really.
Martin: Okay. And one of the other people you worked with is Michelle O’Neill and Michelle O’Neill made a big speech that Mary Lou McDonald would be the first – they need a woman Taoiseach and Mary Lou McDonald should be the first woman’s Taoiseach in the Twenty-Six Counties. What do you think of Michelle O’Neill? What’s your impressions from working with her in terms of advancing the goal of a united Ireland?
Matt: Well, I didn’t really work with her but I met her at a number of meetings because she was Agriculture Minister and Martin Ferris was the spokesperson for agriculture in Leinster House and we used to have joint meetings – again, pleasant woman. She’s from a good Republican family in Tyrone. But I just get the impression that she’s going to be the figurehead for – you know, it’s part of the image that they want to project, now that’s no reflection on her, I’m not saying she’s stupid or anything like that she’s, you know, whatever with them – actually I was listening to her today as well and on one of the motions she made a statement and said, and I’m quoting: ‘It is not right that I or anybody else should seek to impose our outlook on anybody else’ which is rather ironic given the fact that a large number of Republicans in Tyrone have been either thrown out or forced to resign because of the intolerance to their opinions so for Michelle O’Neill, who is from Tyrone, to make a, you know, where she’s signaling about being tolerant and tolerating other people’s opinions is ironic to say the least.
Matt: Okay. Now, in your book, A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army, I’m going to ask you how we can get that. I know you’re doing a revised edition. But how did you choose that title?
I got it from an article that Anthony McIntyre wrote in 1997 or ’98, I think, and he compared what the leadership were saying about how the Good Friday Agreement was going to advance us towards the Republic as being a claim to building a tunnel to the moon – which is just an image that stuck with me at the time. But you understand that I’m not making myself out to be some sort of martyr – I stuck with it for a long time. Because when I came out of prison I thought that as being far from this objective ‘getting out of prison early’ that I still thought that maybe this is going somewhere but as the years went on I just realised this was just – you know – you had decommissioning, recognising the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), going into coalition with the DUP and then not achieving anything it’s just – you know gradually – it’s like a tree – the leaves just keep gradually falling off. Some people saw it happening earlier – a lot earlier than I did but and then it’s gotten to the stage now where I was just looking at the Ard Fheis today – I hardly recognised anybody there whereas ten years ago I would have known everybody.
Martin: Alright. I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave it there. It’s ironic you would have chosen a photograph for your book cover, A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army, as Martin McGuinness shaking hands with a member of the British royal family, the Queen, and now this week you could have had several different pictures of members of Sinn Féin shaking hands with her son.
Matt: I could have had a whole coffee table photo album!
Martin: There you are. Alright. On that note how do we get a copy of the book?
Matt: I think it’s still on amazon but I’m revising it and hoping to get a bigger publication spread so.
Martin: Alright. The book is: A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army , which is on amazon dot com. For Matt Treacy’s blog – but you know I have to tell you: As somebody whose family is from Offaly I don’t like a lot of it because it’s all about Dublin winning out in Leinster in All-Ireland finals but other than I really like the blog and it’s brocairebooks.ie. (Martin spells out) The author is Matt Treacy; you’ve been listening to him, his inside analysis and he is the person who helped deliver Mary Lou McDonald’s first election victory and look where she is now – all thanks to you, Matt.
Matt: (laughs) I’m sure I’ll get a pension out of it!
Martin: There you are. Alright. You’ve been listening to Matt Treacy. We’re going to have to leave it there. I’m hoping we’ll have you on, especially when you get that new, revised edition completed, we’ll have you on back and a lot of what you said was right a year ago and you’re getting more right as time goes on. Thank you very much, Matt Treacy.
Matt: Thank you, Martin. Bye. (ends time stamp ~52:57)