John McDonagh and Martin Galvin speak to former IRA Volunteer, political prisoner and Sinn Féin insider now historian and author, Dr. Matt Treacy, about his new book, A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army. (begins time stamp ~ 28:48)
Martin: And with us on the line we have Matt Treacy. Matt is a thirty year veteran of the Republican Movement. He’s the author of a new book, A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army and you’re a first time visitor to Radio Free Éireann. We want to talk to you about that book and about your analysis of the situation. Welcome to Radio Free Éireann, Matt.
Matt: Thank you.
Martin: And we played that song by The Dubliners so you would feel at home when you call in. Alright. Matt, you are listed – just to review: I came to know of your book through Anthony McIntyre’s site. Anthony has been a guest on the programme, he blogs our or promotes our programme through The Pensive Quill and publishes transcripts of interviews that appear on rfe123 dot org, our website. And there was a review of your book and it described you as a thirty year veteran Republican and so why don’t we start there. How it was that you became involved with the Republican Movement and what you did as a member of the Irish Republican Army that brought you into prison?
Matt: Well I had a long-time family connection through my grandmother, who was born in Dublin; her great-grandfather and grandfather being involved in the The Fenians. And either her grandfather or her great-grandfather had worked with Joe Brady, The Invincible. That was after he passed on – her family, her brother and brother-in-law, were involved in the Tan War as part of the Dublin Active Service Unit. Then I had uncles who were involved in the ’50’s and ’60’s so…
Martin: …Okay. But you grew up in Dublin. Dublin was independent of the British, thankfully, because of the War of Independence that your family was involved in. What made you decide sometime in the ’70s, ’80’s, ’90’s, whenever it was, to get involved – to join the IRA?
Matt: Well I applied to join, I applied to join in 1986 and became a member in 1987. It was also partly from the family historical background but also in support of what was going on in The North at the time.
Martin: Your objective – you joined the IRA. What was it that you thought you and the IRA were going to achieve?
Matt: A thirty-two county republic.
Martin: …Okay, now…
Matt: …That’s what we signed up for. That’s the (inaudible). I mean people waffle on now about equality and there’s nothing wrong with equality but the basic objective of the Irish Republican Army was to achieve a thirty-two county republic and it disbanded before that was achieved or even looked likely of being achieved.
Martin: Okay. Now I just want to say: You ended up in imprisoned, in Portlaoise Prison in the South of Ireland, you served a term of imprisonment for being a member of the IRA. What was it exactly that you were doing that led to you being imprisoned?
Matt: Well I was part of the Intelligence Department and it was at the time when the weapons had come in from Libya and were being moved around the country up towards the border and we managed to break the radio code of the (inaudible) group of Special Branch who were watching all this and, foolishly enough, we took a flat in Harcourt Street opposite their headquarters and that’s where I was caught (inaudible).
Martin: Okay. Now in addition to the work you did for the IRA that led you to be imprisoned, I know you were attached to Leinster House, you used to work for Martin Ferris and you were also involved with Mary Lou McDonald in her first election campaign. And she’s one of the people being spoken of as a possible leader of Sinn Féin should Gerry Adams ever step down. Just, could you give us your assessment working with her, your assessment of her in terms of, you know, Republicanism or what sort of person in terms of Republican politics – how do you assess her?
Matt: Well she’s an affable enough person and I got on well enough with her until the book came out but she’s one of these people who joined the Republican Movement in 2003 or 2004 – long after the ceasefire even. I think she had been in Fianna Fáil for a few years when she was in college. And members of the Green Party, the Labour Party, the Workers Party, or former members I should say, who are now Sinn Féin elected representatives, or apparatchiks, and like I’m not talking about twenty year olds which would be understandable I’m talking about people in their forties and fifties who wouldn’t open their door to us twelve years ago and are now in positions of influence.
Martin: Okay. Alright. Let’s get to the book: Your book, A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army. Why did you choose that title and you know where do you think we are in terms of the objective for which you joined the IRA: Ending British rule and getting a thirty-two country Ireland?
Matt: Well I was struck by the phrase. It was used by Anthony McIntyre in an article in 1997 I think, and he used it as a analogy between tunneling to the moon and achieving a united Ireland through the Good Friday Agreement so it always stuck in my head. Now granted, it took me a few more years after that to come to the full realisation that this was, actually, not going anywhere. So that’s why I chose the title.
John: Matt, John McDonagh here. Your book is talking about the winding up of the Irish Republican Army and it was a long process in order to achieve that or for Gerry Adams to really achieve that. But it really, a lot of it had to do with the work of MI5, British intelligence, the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) – I’m reading a book now by an RUC man how he’s writing about how they beat the IRA – and just the amount of infiltration – from the person you worked with – he used to work with Seán O’Callaghan out of Kerry. You had – Martin McGuinness had an MI5 agent working, Denis Donaldson, Freddie Scappaticci – and it just seemed it took a while for the British government get a handle on the Republican Movement because you saw what they did with internment in the ’70’s – they didn’t know who they were picking up but eventually, as the war dragged on – and like a lot of revolutions, they have to be fairly quick because whoever you’re having the revolution against they’re going to get their act together at some stage. And it looks like British intelligence got their act together and were able to infiltrate at key positions throughout the thirty-two counties and, thereby you know, put the movement in a certain direction that they would surrender their weapons and they would administer British rule in Ireland but yet Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness would make this as every step that they did: Surrendering the weapons – This is a stepping stone to a united Ireland. Administering British rule in Ireland – That’s another stepping stone. You were part of the intelligence. Was there any talk about how riddled the whole movement was with MI5 intelligence?
Matt: There’s always rumours about people. I knew Denis Donaldson. He stayed at my house a couple of times. No one would have ever suspected him of being an agent…
Martin: …Ah, Matt, we actually out here, the way he acted…
John: …No, no, Martin. You never said he was an MI5 agent.
Martin: Just, just I have to take an issue: No, we spotted him as an agent after some of the…
John: …No, no. Martin, you’re wrong there.
Martin: Okay. Alright.
John: You never mentioned it the whole time he was out here and said: I believe he’s an MI5 agent.
Martin: Well, I said that there was something wrong…(crosstalk)
John: Right! You might have – Listen, there was a lot of things wrong with people in the movement. I knew Denis. I stayed with Denis when I was in Belfast and everything. No one had ever said to me, even in Irish Northern Aid, I believe he’s an MI5. You might not…(crosstalk)
Martin: …(inaudible) the people in Ireland. Matt, let’s get back to you. (John and I will sort this out afterwards.) But John had asked you that question – about people infiltrating the movement, how that contributed to eventually where we ended up today.
Well my reading of it would be that certain people were in the leadership around Adams and decided, in the late ’80’s maybe, that they were going to stop the armed campaign and that opened the door to British intelligence putting people in. It’s very – it’s a murky world and I’ve never been in the business of accusing people of being agents or insinuating that they were facilitating people but as you say, Scappaticci, Donaldson – you could name a dozen people who were in positions of influence but the key factor in persuading Republicans to agree to a ceasefire was that at conventions and our local IRA meetings the leadership told people: Yeah, look – I know there’s nothing in the Downing Street Declaration but the Brits are telling us secretly, behind the scenes, that they’re going to sell-out the Unionists. And people went along with that for, up until, before decommissioning I suppose. There’s still people who believe that there was never any decommissioning.
Martin: And who is some of the people who would tell you this at IRA meetings – about that: Oh! There’s some secret kind of promises behind the scenes that the British are going to get out and they’re going to put pressure on the Unionists?
Matt: Well, when I was in prison and then when I came out it would be local leaders who were (inaudible) line because, I don’t want to get them in any trouble, but it was obviously being filtered down from the top. I remember one occasion somebody questioned, you know, the fact that he read all the documents that had come out and said: Look. This is only leading to one place: an internal settlement. And they said: Oh!, no, no, no. Don’t mind that. They’ve told us that they’re going to withdraw within five or ten or fifteen years. And people believed that until the final denouement when they turned up at meetings and said: That’s it, lads. Go home. You’re finished.
Martin: Okay. Now you said that this started in the late ’80’s. At that time you had people like Jim Lynagh and others in Loughgall, you had people – John Crawley, that we’ve had, we’ve interviewed on this station, going to England as a member of the IRA just after that time, getting arrested, getting a lengthy prison sentence – how do you do this? Just make a decision that everything is going to end and then at the same time Volunteers are being sent out to imprisonment or death? How, you know, how did that…?
Matt: …Yeah well John’s a good example because John’s a very intelligent person and he was opposed to what was going on and he would have, I would assume he’d realised what direction was going on (inaudible) himself but we stayed there and John could have ended up being killed as you say or getting tortured for years in prison and there’s lots of other people and that’s one of the points I make in the book: Is the cynicism of certain people who were sending people to England knowing that it was a fool’s errand basically – that they were going to finish. And there’s two people, a youngster from Wexford and another youngster from West Corgaigh, only twenty or twenty-one, and they were both killed in London – one of them on the very same day when the Republican leadership was meeting with the British to agree to terms of another ceasefire – it’s just – that’s what I find upsetting.
John: And Matt, maybe get particularly out to our audience here because they believe everything that Mary Lou McDonald or Rita O’Hare would say here that Gerry Adams was never in the IRA but he just had some ‘influence’, some weird spirituality or some sort of magic that he had over them. Maybe you could explain to us: What was your dealings with Gerry Adams and what did you meet him as? As some sort of spiritual leader?
Matt: Well, I mean it’s been well-documented in books, like Ed Moloney’s and other places, that he was at IRA Army Conventions and he was on the IRA Army Council and he does have possibly practical reasons for denying that that you know, that he could be arrested and charged with membership but he creates this whole Orwellian mystique – what’s? An Orwellian fiction of what happened that’s totally at odds with the reality. My dealings with him were mainly through Leinster House. My impression was even people who were in senior positions were in awe of him and kind of even slightly afraid of him. Most of the conversations I ever had with him were about Gaelic football and hurling, because of mutual interest, but there’s no doubt he was the centre of the whole thing – nothing happens without his approval.
Martin: Okay. We’re talking with Matt Treacy, author of A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army. Matt, what do you think of where we are now? You have Sinn Féin, there in – well, Stormont has been dissolved at the moment – but they will be back – they have been in Stormont and it’s thought that they will be back, they have seats in Leinster House. Where does this get us or is there a strategic route to a united Ireland that you can see that we’re (inaudible)…
Matt: …See, that’s what we believed at the time the ceasefire was called and even after the Good Friday Agreement and even later on that while the armed conflict had finished that the Republican Movement was still going to be militantly directed towards creating a thirty-two county republic – that they wouldn’t go into Stormont and they wouldn’t, certainly wouldn’t, take any part in the Executive and certainly not be in coalition for ten years with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party). But it took a long time for a lot of people, including myself, for the veil to be lifted and realise this is actually not going anywhere. And at the moment they’re creating this whole deception about a border poll which has no chance – well there’s no chance of it being called in the first place – but even it was called, judging by electoral statistics going back thirty years, it would be a sixty-forty at least vote in favour of staying within the British, under British rule so my take on that…
John: …And, Matt. Yeah. And Matt, what about your over-all analysis? Do you think the Republican Movement just got so ‘Belfast-centric’ where everything was coming out of the Falls Road or Andersonstown and that Ed Moloney has always written that people that joined the IRA in Belfast were more of neighbourhood defenders – that they weren’t really Republicans. All they were defending were some of the pogroms that were going out and they joined up with like these like neighbourhood watch oragnisations which essentially then became the IRA but they weren’t Republican – say to the people like you, in Dublin, or people in Donegal or around the Thirty-Two Counties that had a political analysis and joined for a specific political reason – they weren’t being burnt out – but then the whole thing centres on Belfast, this ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ – Belfast – you know, with Gerry Adams and everybody up there and it just – What is your – did it get too ‘Belfast-centric’ and was is spread out enough? The Movement?
Matt: Oh, definitely! I spent a bit of time in Fermanagh and I remember a Belfast person coming down to address a meeting, this is around the time of well, the whole thing had finished and they were talking about decommissioning with people from Fermanagh and some Tyrone people there and they were objecting to it and the Belfast person was almost contemptuous of them – Who are you to be telling us what to do, you know? Just go home to your houses and forget about it! And the other thing is that: There was a huge influx of money, which mainly ended up in Belfast between Republican and Loyalist groups, to employ ex-prisoners and people who were loyal to their leaderships and that kept them quiet. And some of them have done very well so they’re happy and they can justify it on the basis that there’s no British soldiers walking down the Falls Road anymore. Well there were no British soldiers walking down the Falls Road in July 1969 either of course, it was still part of a partitioned state and it’s still constitutionally the same, so..
Martin: …Okay. Alright, We’re talking with …
Matt: …they’re happy.
Martin: We’re talking with Matt Treacy, he’s the author of the new book, A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army . Matt, could you tell us: If people are interested in buying that book or finding out more about it, how would they get that information?
Matt: Well currently it’s not in any shops at the moment but it’s online on Lulu and on the website brocairebooks dot ie.
Martin: How do you spell that? (Martin spells Brocaire.) dot ie?
Martin: Okay. So that’s (Martin spells Brocaire) books?
Martin: Is that all one word?
Matt: Yeah, dot ie. Yeah.
Martin: So in other words you would go to brocairebooks (Martin spells brocaire and books) one word dot ie (for Ireland) and just what? Brocairebooks and that would come up and they would be able to order or get information on the book through that website?
Matt: Yeah, well Lulu is probably the best way to order it at the moment.
Martin: Okay, so you can order it through Lulu.
John: Yeah and Matt, you’ve been talking about how people have done well out of the thirty years of conflict financially and buying property and we had the news stories just in recent weeks with Sinn Féin winning a lot of seats over in Westminster and having one of their Sinn Féin members out of Doire slash Londonderry stroke City complaining about the hotel room she had. And I’ve talked to Martin about how many IRA men that came over here to the Bronx and Queens and they all stayed on couches and you sent them down to Philadelphia on fund raising or out to Chicago or Boston – there’s was no talk of hotel rooms it was just who had a safe house in what area. And now their MPs are complaining about their accommodations now when they’re traveling. And I know Mary Lou McDonald I think flew first class down to Australia because she said: Do you know how long a flight that is? That you have to go first class when all the immigrants are sitting right behind her as they’re being shuttled down to Australia but – it’s come a long way, Sinn Féin and people in the Republican…
Matt: …That’s another thing that I found objectionable in that you have all these people who came in when it was safe and there’s people like, say Anthony McIntyre, who spent eighteen years in prison, all the people who were killed, people died on hunger strike, they went on the blanket protest – now these people, and I know some of them personally who are now in Sinn Féin, who were asked to you know, provide certain supports and they refuse point-blank and now suddenly they’ve appeared like mushrooms and – it’s quite depressing.
John: Yes, it certainly didn’t end well. We’ve had on people like Brendan Hughes here saying that if he had known this was going be the end result he would have never got out of bed and then we had on Liam Sutcliffe, who blew up Nelson’s Pillar back in 1996 (Ed. – 1966), and he says: You know, thirty years and we didn’t get one blade of grass – that it wasn’t worth it. And it’s just you could never have predicted or had anybody joined the movement and said: Listen! Here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to wait thirty years and then we’re going to administer British rule in Ireland. That’s our objective. I don’t know how many people would have joined.
Martin: Alright. Matt, we want to thank you. I’ll do it one more time: Brocaire (Martin spells Brocaire) books – that’s all one word. Is that with an ‘s’? Books, plural? brocairebooks dot ie for that book by Matt Treacy. The book is A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army and if you want to find out what happened, where we ended up and why people, a thirty-year veteran of the IRA like Matt Treacy, a former Irish political prisoner, served a sentence in Portlaoise, attached to the Intelligence Division, where he thinks it all went, how it ended up, where we are and why he’s so dubious about the idea of getting a united Ireland under the present way things are going now that is one place to get that research. And we would also refer you to Anthony McIntyre’s site, The Pensive Quill, because there are reviews and Matt Treacy writes on that, has contributed a number of pieces there. (ends time stamp ~ 51:34)