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Martin Galvin (MG) interviews Dee Fennell (DF) via telephone from Belfast about a leaflet that may lead to a debate with Gerry Adams. (begins time stamp ~ 12:22)
MG: We’re now over in Belfast and we’re talking with Dee Fennell. Dee, you’re somebody who has a lot of titles: One is with the Anti-Internment League (AIL) – and Francie McGuigan told us about that demonstration that attempted to go to the city centre in Belfast last week. You are with the GARC, the Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective which is fighting a demonstration, an Orange demonstration, in Ardoyne, that staunchly Republican Nationalist area but you’re also with the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA). And last week your organisation put out a leaflet criticising the re-named Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the PSNI, Police Service of Northern Ireland, and once that was pretty much accepted that people would do that in West Belfast, but the leaflet that you put out last week caused a controversy and now there’s talk of you having a public debate, if not private dialogue, with Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin. Could you tell us what was in that leaflet and why it caused so much controversy?
DF : Well, Hello! Martin. First of all: It’s nice to speak to you again. The leaflet was put out by the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association which is a national organisation that works to fund raise and provide for the dependents of Republican prisoners as well as Republican prisoners themselves. And obviously, many of those Republican prisoners are in jail due to the injustices of the PSNI within the Six Counties. What we try to do is highlight a number of continuing human rights abuses that the PSNI perpetrate here in the Six Counties such as invasive home searches, the draconian use of stop and search legislation introduced by the British government, the use of the so-called ‘terrorism act’, the continued denial of information – the inquests and investigations – and the shoot-to-kill and murders involving state collusion by the PSNI. And while highlighting this we also highlight the fact that in recent years Féile An Phobail, which was initially set up as a community festival that was there to counter a British criminalisation strategy against the people of West Belfast in the aftermath of the killings of the two corporals in 1988 has, in recent years this festival has, instead of supporting members of the community that are victims of human rights abuse by the PSNI has instead been promoting the PSNI as a normal police force when nothing could be further from the truth. The PSNI remain armed, they remain complicit in the occupation of Ireland and in addition to that they perpetrate human rights abuses on a daily basis. A number of events in Féile this year, Féile An Phobail this year, were designed as nothing more than PR exercises. We had a Teddy Bears Picnic where young children could attend and be put through demonstrations of how the PSNI uses their equipment. Now the PSNI’s equipment includes: taser guns, it includes Glock hand guns, it includes Heckler and Koch rifles, it includes plastic bullets – but something tells me they weren’t going to be demonstrating that day it was going to be – those items that day – it was going to be just purely a PR exercise. In addition last year we had the Chief Constable of the PSNI, George Hamilton, being welcomed to West Belfast by Féile An Phobail where he took part in a debate along with a British micro-minister, Martin McGuinness and others, in St. Mary’s College which is a Catholic teachers’ training college on the Falls Road. And we also have had even the PSNI going as far as taking a full page advertisement in the Féile An Phobail programme and all this is totally unacceptable. For a community festival to be doing so at a time when this force is up to its neck in harassing, intimidating, threatening and imprisoning members of the West Belfast community (crosstalk) (inaudible) and across the Six Counties.
MG: Alright, Dee… at one point that would have been fairly well accepted – that in a Nationalist area, in West Belfast, people would have handed out flyers, literature, highlighting these abuses by the PSNI, by the British Constabulary in the North of Ireland. Why was handing out a flyer, just a simple flyer just highlighting abuses by that force, why has that caused so much controversy where you’re being asked for dialogue and making a challenge about a public debate with Gerry Adams?
DF: Well first of all the leaflet was accepted well by people in West Belfast. There was no negative reaction to it except from within the ranks of Sinn Féin and those people within the community that are lucky enough to have paid community jobs that are supported, phantom community groups that are supported by Sinn Féin. I mean when we were handing them out across West Belfast we got no negative reaction on the doorsteps whatsoever. Why Sinn Féin found it controversial, in their own explanation, is that the people who are on the Féile management committee and the people who worked for Féile were named on the leaflet. Their names were already in the public domain in Feile’s programme, on Feile’s website. Féile staff and Féile management committee personnel often appear in the local media; they appear in the regional media here in the Six Counties. And the inference was drawn by Sinn Féin that there was some sort of threat within this leaflet. Despite that, the Director of Féile, Kevin Gamble, stated in numerous media interviews that he could see no threat in the leaflet; he stated that himself.
MG: Alright now, we should explain to our audience: You’re talking about the West Belfast festival – that’s an Irish word meaning festival – that that’s what you’re talking about – and so you handed out a leaflet, you explained some of the injustices, human rights abuses by this constabulary and which clearly had no threat against any individual but yet there seemed to be an outcry and you received an invitation of sorts from Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. What was that?
DF: Well, it wasn’t really an invitation of sorts. What Gerry Adams has attempted to do is, he’s attempted to run with the fox and hunt the hounds somewhat with his comments. He began his rant by criminalising Republicans, by claiming that Republicans were involved in bonfires that resulted in anti-social behaviour, that Republicans are involved in all sorts of criminality and then added the caveat at the end that these people need to go away and that Sinn Féin are willing to enter into dialogue with them. I was then contacted by a journalist for a response as someone who’s involved in a number of community and political projects here in Belfast and I stated quite clearly: My personal opinion is that I will have a public debate with Gerry Adams at a time and place of his choosing in front of the public in order to: 1) Debunk this nonsense that he keeps coming out with criminalising Republicans – ironically he engaged in a criminalisation agenda two days after marching through West Belfast in order to commemorate ten men who died in 1981 to oppose the criminalisation agenda. To debunk that first of all and secondly: We continually hear from prominent Sinn Féin members, including Gerry Adams himself, that Republicans have no alternative to his party’s strategy.
Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin will be challenged, and I will be publicly challenging him, to demonstrate what is their strategy for the re-unification of our country? If anyone and if any of your listeners care to go on any of Sinn Féin’s websites, on any of their Facebook pages, on any of their party members, their elected representatives, their councillors, MLAs, Leinster House members or even their Twitter accounts, their Facebooks, you will not find any reference to any policy paper or strategy for Irish unity coming from Sinn Féin. Not one!
MG: Dee, I know just in the past, years ago, John Hume and the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) used to do the same thing: They would challenge Sinn Féin (IRA-Hume Talks) to have dialogue and then they would make allegations and we used to always say, Republicans, Sinn Féin, used to always say: If you want legitimate dialogue you don’t do it publicly and you don’t engage in a lot of name-calling when you’re calling for dialogue. You do it privately within the community because people can’t respond if you say: We want to have dialogue about when you’re going to stop being a criminal – obviously nobody could have dialogue on those terms. But you’ve taken that challenge up and we’re hoping to be hearing more. One thing we want to just ask you about before we leave to go to our next guest: There have been stories about Ardoyne that there’s new dialogue or a new plan to have a march, a Unionist Orange march past Ardoyne – they’ve been trying to do that both ways – not just down from past Ardoyne shops in the morning to the city centre but they want to do one back and we keep hearing that there is a solution very near. Is GARC involved or do you see any possibility of any kind of solution and why do these stories still keep floating?
DF: Well GARC are quite clear on what our solution is and it’s a win-win solution for everyone. Just for any of your listeners who don’t know: Ardoyne, The Dales and Mountainview are three small Catholic communities that are surrounded on all sides by large Loyalist areas such as Ballysillan, Woodvale and The Shankill. For generations now there’s been unwanted sectarian parades through our community. They normally leave in the morning and then return at night and it’s only since GARC mobilised thousands of people in opposition on the 12th of July in 2011 and 2012 subsequently the Parades Commission, which adjudicates on parades here in the Six Counties, ‘sensitive’, as they deem them, parades here in the Six Counties. From 2013 onward the return parade on the Twelfth of July evening has been banned. This then resulted in a three year hate camp right on the interface between Woodvale, The Shankill and Ardoyne where Loyalists have marched every night with sectarian tunes, Orange Order regalia, flags – all that. And also the camp was manned twenty-four hours a day leading to a breakdown, a further breakdown, in community relations within the area. In recent months the camp has been fizzling out. The evening parades, for all intents and purposes, are now finished. GARC and the proud people of Ardoyne (inaudible) of the evening parade and we were looking to re-focus all our energies now on stopping the morning parades and the accompanying militarisation that comes with the PSNI and the British Army. And out of nowhere the community discovered that Sinn Féin and the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) had been negotiating (the UVF is a Loyalist killer gang here in the Six Counties) the UVF and Sinn Féin had been negotiating directly. The intermediaries were Jim Roddy from Doire and the Reverend Harold Good, who witnessed Provisional IRA decommissioning, and they facilitated a process which would see the Loyal Orange Lodges having their return parade in the morning time rather than an evening parade. This was totally unacceptable to the community. Not only is it unacceptable to reward years of bigotry and years of hate but it was also unacceptable because the community was not informed or consulted. There is an alternative route which is Harmony Lane and we believe that’s a win-win solution for everyone. There’s three lodges that want to come back – two are affiliated with the UVF and one’s affiliated with the UDA (Ulster Defence Association). The UDA lodge has publicly said that they will not accept a return parade in the morning; they want to return in the evening. And what this deal really amounts to is: Sinn Féin are saying that if the parade goes up in the morning time they will not oppose any future morning parades and that residents will not protest in future. This cannot be guaranteed and will not be guaranteed because we are residents, we live there and we will continue to protest regardless of any shady deals the UVF and Sinn Féin do.
MG: Dee, we wish we had more time – you have so many organisations, so many responsibilities we could talk about what was happening or what’s happening now with new efforts to challenge and get back into so that Republicans can march into the city centre against internment just like everybody else does but we’ll leave that for another week. And good luck with your challenge to Gerry Adams for a debate. Thank you, Dee Fennell…
DF: …No worries…
MG: … from the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association for being with us on Radio Free Éireann. (ends time stamp ~ 25:31)