John McDonagh and Martin Galvin discuss today’s show, Martin McGuinness’ life and legacy and the passing of Jimmy Breslin. (May he rest in peace.) (begins time stamp 00:00)
Audio: Portion of Martin McGuinness’ speech at the 1986 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis is played. (audio ends)
Martin: And welcome to Radio Free Éireann. I’m Martin Galvin, I’m in-studio and will be joined in a few moments by John McDonagh by telephone – he’s in Boston. The voice you heard was that of Martin McGuinness. Martin McGuinness certainly somebody who had a major impact on events in Ireland, particularly in The Six Counties, died during the past week. His funeral was attended by the president of Ireland, was attended by Bill Clinton, former United States President, many Irish political figures, from Unionists as well as Nationalists and Republicans, and it is certainly was a life that did have a major impact on events. Today what we’re going to do, and that speech you heard – and we’re going to play clips from that speech, it was one of the most important speeches that he would give. We’re going to hear in a few minutes from Kathryn Johnston, author of Martin McGuinness’ biography, or co-author, From Guns to Government, and that’s going to be a theme – how he went from somebody, a young man from the streets of Doire, from the Bogside who would come from a very religious family, who would come from a Nationalist family, became a Republican, became the leading figure within the Irish Republican Army and how he would ultimately come to be a Deputy First Minister within Stormont and would preside over the Republican Movement coming into that position. We’re going to hear clips from that – that speech in 1986 was indeed a turning point. At that time there was a discussion, or a debate, on whether Sinn Féin should recognise Leinster House, should go into The Twenty-Six County Parliament. There were some who said that that would lead just to a winding down of the IRA – some who said that it would not. Martin McGuinness obviously said it would not. Ironically, at the time that speech was being made, people that I know, like Liam Ryan from East Tyrone, was telling me that there were going to be major developments in Ireland, that there were major new weapons shipments coming into Ireland, that the war would be escalating and not to break from Sinn Féin, not to break from Republicans. And at that time even my mentor, somebody that I looked up to, I had admired – he would have been opposed to that motion with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill and others – and I ended up siding with Martin McGuinness’ and Gerry Adams’ side at that time. But you’ll be hearing clips, we’ll be talking to Kathryn Johnston – she is as I said, the co-author of the book, Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government.
We’re going to go to Anthony McIntyre. He’s going to talking about the legacy – a former IRA Volunteer, a writer, author – who writes about the Good Friday Agreement, who has the blog, The Pensive Quill – he’s going to talk about Martin McGuinness’ legacy. And then we’re going to finish up with Ed Moloney, another historian and author who’s had more articles published this week, and Ed is going to talk about what it will mean today as we go back to negotiations – negotiations reach a climactic point on Monday, the absence of Martin McGuinness by Gerry Adams’ side – what that will mean.
Alright John, we have John on the line. John, during the week, after Jimmy Breslin, the legendary New York Irish-American writer, passed away I said to you we’re going to have to cover Jimmy Breslin, that’ll be a major segment of the show and we should line up people like Pete Hamill and others and you told me to wait until Thursday and Friday because you never know – events may take over and change all that and how right you were with the passing of Martin McGuinness. John, are you there up in Boston?
John: Yeah, yeah, no – we would have done more of a tribute.
But if you really want to hear a great tribute to Jimmy Breslin: Last Wednesday on a show I host on WBAI called Talk Back We and Thee, with Malachy McCourt and Corey Kilgannon from the New York Times, we did an hour and a half on the life of Jimmy Breslin with Stephen Murphy, who’s a infamous lawyer there at Queen’s Boulevard, Malachy McCourt, also with Chickie Donohue, from the Sandhogs and Johnny Sexton, one of the Cuba Boys, talking about a story about Jimmy Breslin in Sunnyside. So instead of repeating all of that you can just go to the archives on WBAI.
And it is significant that we opened up with that speech from 1986. I remember I was over in Bundoran at that time, speaking with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and saying: Listen, don’t walk out. Fight from with inside the movement and he had told me at that stage: It’s all over. McGuinness and Adams were going to go into Leinster House then they were going to Stormont and Westminster. And how true he was when he made the statement and his speech. I also want to thank the New York Times, (they) actually used this video in the obituary of Martin McGuinness how he went – you talk about a rigged election – there was noting more rigged than that 1986 Ard Fheis in Dublin where Martin McGuinness was spewing lie after lie at that time saying that the struggle was going continue. Meanwhile, he was negotiating for the surrender of the IRA which Anthony McIntyre will be talking about in a little while. And just a few observation on the funeral that happened with Martin McGuinness: The Loyalist politicians had stated to Sinn Féin if there was any military trappings for the funeral of Martin McGuinness that they would not show up. So the funeral was devoid of any military trappings because they wanted desperately for the Loyalist politicians to show up at the funeral. And then I talked to many people in Doire who said the height of hypocrisy on Thursday was the turning up of certain groups in Doire to the funeral who would be considered dissidents. And they said one of the groups that turned up was the 1916 Societies who turned up for the funeral in Doire. So it’s very hard to reconcile that you’re year-after-year criticising Martin McGuinness and criticising Sinn Féin and then turning up for the funeral and that didn’t go unnoticed over there in Doire.
Martin: John, just let me reply. You told me you were going to mention that. I did speak to somebody from the 1916 Societies. What they said is first of all, there’s nothing on their Facebook – they made no statement about Martin McGuinness, did not encourage anybody to go. They were concerned about who had said it but beyond that – there are people, I know people in Doire, like one person who we would be very friendly with, runs commemorations – his son, Martin McGuinness was his godfather and they had family connections back and forth. So people, some people went to the funeral. They said – for example, I’m somebody who has very strong political differences with Martin McGuinness – he went back and forth even just the last few times I was in Ireland and you would still – there are some people who, because of family connections, who because they know his wife, his sons, because of that would go and just show respect for the family connections, while maintaining very strong political differences. I was just asked to say that. People can draw whatever conclusions they want and again, I’m talking as somebody that Martin McGuinness – I mean the last time I was in Ireland there was a documentary that I appeared in and he said: Oh, they brought over ‘someone from America’. I knew him from the 1970’s. I actually got arrested because he had encouraged me to do so and thought it would make a point and that’s how much respect I had for him at one time. And anybody who listens to the show knows there’s strong political differences but again, some people would go to a funeral because of family connections, because of respect for his family and I’ll just put that out that it didn’t necessarily mean that they were taking any kind of political stance.
John: Well, I know that but Martin, the reason a lot of people showed up there, like you could say President Clinton and various British politicians is because that Martin McGuinness went over to their point of view. It wasn’t as if President Clinton and Tony Blair and all the British politicians that all of a sudden they went over to a Republican point of view. They were honouring Martin McGuinness for having the IRA surrender and for him to meet with the Queen and have tea and for him to administer British rule in Ireland. And that’s what they were honouring on Thursday.
Martin: And that’s what I think Kathryn Johnston and Anthony McIntyre are both going to talk about: Who actually won the struggle, where Martin McGuinness’ legacy was in terms of that and the fact that they will make the point or make the argument that it couldn’t have ended in that fashion without Martin McGuinness. So we are going to talk about that. I understand that. I just want to say you can go to a funeral sometimes and respect, just remember somebody or out of respect for their family without an endorsement of their political views. Certainly the British and Arlene Foster, when they came, they were not trying to talk or endorse anything to do with Martin McGuinness’ political views. So just I was asked to make that point…
John: …Well, no. They were there because of his political views…
Martin: …people can draw their own conclusion and I just wanted, in fairness, to say that.
John: But, Martin, they were there because of his political views. Because they went there because he administered British rule in Ireland. So they were definitely there because of his political views.
Martin: John, one of the things I want to ask Kathryn Johnston – she made the point: Could anyone else have brought the IRA to a cessation of violence without an admission of defeat? She made that point in one of her articles. That’s the question I want to ask her. That’s the very point that you’re saying so we’re in, you know… You and I in a debate a long time ago, that’s how I got blacklisted for a long time, and we both made that point: That if you agree that The Six Counties having a say – that they have to agree with ending British rule before there’d be a united Ireland – you’re giving up the Unionist veto, you’re surrendering or acknowledging or giving away or allowing them to have that veto. You’re establishing – they call it the consent principle, we would call it a Unionist veto – and that’s how the struggle ended up – with the Unionist veto in place – call it a consent principle but you’re right. We don’t have a united Ireland. Martin McGuinness a couple of times – I was giving speeches in Ireland talking about how we were not getting to a united Ireland. And I know I was in Doire and the next day he said: Oh, we’re going to have a united Ireland within five years and that was in 2009. Obviously we didn’t get to that point. Much like Joe Cahill had said the same thing in 1998 – that we’d have a united Ireland by 2003. So we’re in agreement on that. But let’s just get into the legacy – what has happened and why is it that we ended up here? What was it about Martin McGuinness that he got involved in armed struggle, that he took up the gun, fought or played a leading role with the IRA and ended up, as you say, sitting in Stormont as a Deputy First Minister of a British administration?
John: Alright. I guess we’ll just get on with the show because we have so many guests that are lined up.
Martin: Okay. I just want to say one thing about Jimmy Breslin: If you look at our website, rfe123.org, there were two articles, one in June 9th 1979 (page 3) – two issues – and one in October 18th 1980 (page 7) – it’s perfect. It goes through Jimmy talking about the Irish situation. In one of them he talks about people with relatives in South Armagh who were told by the American government: You shouldn’t contribute money to send weapons over to South Armagh to be used against British forces but how the American government was allowing guns to be sold to the people who were shooting their families – just a typical Jimmy Breslin perspective. And another one about Fra McCann, a former blanketman, and Dessie Mackin, who was out here to help with coordinating the blanket protests at the start of 1980 about Jimmy Breslin writing that. So go to those articles. You’ll see exactly the type of thing that Jimmy Breslin used to write. (ends time stamp ~ 14:28)