Gareth Peirce BBC Radio Four: A Law Unto Themselves 5 August 2014

BBC Radio Four
A Law Unto Themselves
5 August 2014

Helena Kennedy QC (HK) interviews solicitor Gareth Peirce (GP).

(Click on the hyperlink in the title to listen to the interview as you read.)

HK:  During a career spanning nearly forty years solicitor Gareth Peirce has exposed some of the worst miscarriages of justice in British legal history. She’s been described as the doyenne of British defence lawyers, is adored by her clients and has been offered, though refused, a CBE for services to justice. But she’s never far from controversy. Many of her clients have been accused or actually convicted of acts of terrorism. In the late 80’s and early 90’s she helped free convicted Irish bombers including the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four.

(audio clip of news broadcast is played)

More recently she worked to secure the release of British detainees in Guantánamo Bay and for years she thwarted government attempts the Muslim preacher Abu Qatada.

(audio clip of news broadcast is played)

Many see Gareth Peirce as an indefatigable fighter for human rights and defender of the underdog. But some argue that her work represents a threat to national security making Britain appear a safe haven for terrorists. Before he became a government minister Michael Gove described her as a passionate supporter of the Trotskyist Socialist Alliance, an apocryphal organisation I think but he said it was committed to destabilising the establishment. Her clients have included Julian Assange and the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing and of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead at Stockwell tube station in a bungled police raid.

Gareth Peirce, you’re famously reluctant to talk to the media but we’re not here today to put you or your clients on trial but to understand a little bit more about what you do and why you do it. One of your clients, the Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg, said you specialised in representing pariahs of society. He said he knew because he was one of them. Would you agree with that description: A specialist in representing pariahs?

GP:  I think any description is solely in the eye of the beholder. And who calls whom a pariah and the fickleness of society means that one day a pariah can be a hero and vice versa. And perhaps their lawyers rise and fall with that perception.

HK:  It’s often the problem that people don’t distinguish the lawyer from their client and that the perception of both become entangled. Have you felt that that’s one of the things that happens in society?

GP:  It does happen and it’s anticipated as happening in that there’s the UN covenant for the protection of the judiciary and lawyers which specifically prohibits the identification or the equation of a lawyer with the person he or she represents. And to the extent that lawyers are put in danger because of that then it’s something that United Nations has a special rapporteur to provide protection to investigate – particularly after the deaths of Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane in the North of Ireland. Pat Finucane was murdered after a minister had stood up in the House of Commons and talked about there being lawyers who were far too close to terrorist suspects they represent. It’s a dangerous comparative to make and sometimes with fatal results.

HK:  But that confusion isn’t just in the minds of politicians. I mean it seems to sometimes exist in the minds of commentators in the media as well as amongst the general public. The idea of it: Well, if you’re going to act for people that are deemed to be enemies of the state it must be that you in some way are be in cahoots with them or in some way that you have some kind of sympathies that lie in that direction yourself.

GP:  That’s a reflection of the shallowness of understanding of what the law is intended to do and the guarantees it’s intended to provide for anyone. And particularly the outlaws and outcasts of society are the people that the majority in society wishes to have no protection. That’s the whole concept of constitutional provisions that are the protection of the individual – the whole concept of the Bill of Rights in the United States.

HK:  It’s always interested me that you went to the United States. You’re British born, a young woman who went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College at Oxford and it always seemed to me that it was partly the American experience that you had that really took you down a different road perhaps than you might have gone down as a journalist which you were at the time. You came back to live in Britain with your American husband in I think the late 70’s and you decided to train to become a lawyer.

GP: In America, the driving force was the civil rights movement itself. Lawyers were a useful tool and therefore insofar as individuals who were thinking of doing law might think that they could become in some way a useful tool – that I’m sure was what went through many peoples’ minds.

HK:  You came and you studied law in London. One of the first cases that I ever remember your being involved in involved The Mangrove Club. It was a club in Notting Hill when Notting Hill was not the glamorous place it is today. And it was a club that was mainly used by young Caribbean people, but mainly men, and it became a kind of source of real interest for the police. They were always round there – constant arrests being made and certainly evidence forthcoming of police fitting people up and indeed it often was seen to be the cause of serious street violence.

GP:  The Mangrove was used for target practice on the part of Notting Hill Police. It was an extraordinary phenomenon where there was a tolerance of fabrication of evidence, of planting people and there were two successive prosecutions of Frank Crichlow, who was the owner of The Mangrove, in 1979 and 1989 which were like repeat performances of each other. In fact, we called a senior former head of Notting Hill Police station as a witness, a defence witness, who said in the second trial the perception in the police canteen was that the score was Mangrove: 1 Notting Hill Police: 0 and that there had to be a revenge match. The revenge match involved the planting of Frank Crichlow with heroin and evidence given by more than sixty police officers who were cross-examined into the ground and Frank Crichlow was acquitted.

HK:  Did you feel that you were engaging with racism?

GP:  It was racism. It was racism deploying the strongest weapon that the state has which is the use, the claimed use of the law and yet a total distortion, destruction of the law by it’s deployment through brutality and falsification. In the end perhaps it was rather like a war in a sense. The triumphant victories that there were in court were like set-piece battles.

HK:  Gareth, one of the other major areas where you did a great deal of work was around the miners’ strike in the 80’s doing many cases involving allegations of rioting on the picket lines at Orgreave.

(audio clip of news broadcast is played)

HK:  One of the barristers who was involved in the case instructed by you was Michael Mansfield.

Michael: She’s works in a very dedicated way such that the person who is being served by her recognises that there is no length to which she will not go to ensure that people get a fair hearing. She is a very committed and deeply empathetic with the human predicament whatever it happens to be.

HK:  Empathetic with the human predicament of the people that you were acting for. Because you’re absolutely not of that background. What was it that opened that door into the lives of miners?

GP:  Well, the whole of the miners’ strike that whole year was of a community en bloc made a suspect community. Every aspect of the law being used to arrest people, impose bail conditions on them that prevented them from continuing to picket regardless of the quality of the evidence on which people were being charged. But the culmination of that I think was on the eighteenth of June at Orgreave which was thirty years ago. And I think there were ninety arrested on that day in Orgreave of whom seventy were charged with riot and then the rest with unlawful assembly. And they commenced with the first trial of twelve of those charged with riot. But what they had not factored in was that they had to fabricate the whole of the evidence because they had simply seized people as if they were prisoners of war and then had to make up evidence that would fit into a conventional criminal trial.

HK:  They were all found not guilty and it was generally accepted as I understand it that the evidence had been fabricated.

GP:  Yes. It was a complete rout. The prosecution had to drop the case after forty-eight days of prosecution evidence. It never got to the defence. And so officers two-by-two had come into the witness box and said they arrested someone for throwing stones or whatever it was only to be confronted with a photograph to show that they had never been near that particular man. It was a spectacular victory for the miners. But – in that whole year in which they’d awaited trial – all of those men had feared that they would go to prison for life, had been prevented from picketing and so to that extent one has to question now: Who’s was the victory?

HK:  The Orgreave trial is one of those famous markers and of course linked to a very political period of great significance in the post-war period. What your critics say is that it shows that you’re motivated by a political agenda.

GP:  Does it matter either way? I don’t think that any defence lawyer would think of their work as somehow being usurped by their own agenda. The agenda is the agenda that’s set by the state when it prosecutes someone. If the agenda set by the state is a political one that inevitably overwhelms the case from start to finish. One can see it so clearly. The miners’ strike as a whole was one example which is: you have made a whole community suspect. One can see it happen again and again in this country – that the West Indian community in Notting Hill was made such a suspect community. And it’s frequently said the whole of the Irish community over twenty-five or thirty years was similarly criminalised. And it’s said now that the Muslim community in this country is en bloc made suspect, too. Now the question is: If the agenda is set who’s setting the agenda?

HK:  I’d like to go back to the Irish period – it’s one where you and I worked quite a lot on cases and I remember particularly working with you on the Guildford Four appeal although you were acting for a different client. And your client in that case was Gerry Conlon. And by that stage he, and indeed my own client, Paul Hill, had served fifteen years in prison all they way through denying that they had been involved in the the Guildford and Woolwich bombings – all the way insisting on their innocence. How did you eventually crack the case?

GP:  The case was cracked by a whole variety of contributions of which an essential one was Gerry Conlon himself who shouted and campaigned and wrote and hectored and bullied and reached out to the great and the good. And he should have been, notwithstanding a coerced confession, he should have been never charged – or if charged soon acquitted – because he had a cast iron alibi and the police buried that for fifteen years. But in the end, perhaps rather like the Orgreave case or the Mangrove case or the parallel case of Birmingham, the police were undone by their own fabrication. They were undone because some of them had left notes which were clearly altered which were found in police vaults, never shredded. So it almost doesn’t matter in a case what accidental piece of leverage there is. It doesn’t matter. It’s the facilitation of that that is key…

HK:  …But, I really do want to press you on the fact that you, with great humility, spread the story of the victory against these injustices. But you were the person who spent the hours and hours and hours going through material buried in a vault in a police station looking at every scrap and who found eventually the vindicating alibi witness statement that unraveled the whole of that case. And the concern that many people in the legal world have today is that the opportunities and the possibilities for lawyers to do that work is becoming less possible. That we actually are reducing the numbers of lawyers and the possible ways that could be open to people to uncover miscarriages of justice because legal aid is disappearing, law firms like your own are closing down because they can’t survive. How do we create further Gareth Peirces?

GP:  Well, you wouldn’t want to do that. However, I think lawyers are themselves at fault in this in that we don’t sufficiently explain the work that needs to be done for people. The people we represent have no voice themselves and we’re just not energetic enough or sustained enough in our efforts to insure that their rights are upheld. And lawyers are always thought of as avaricious and ambitious and thought of as often indifferent to the plight of the people they represent. Lawyers are thought of as being…

HK:  …Money grubbing and fat cats and…

GP:  …but also exploitative of other people’s misfortune. And so the focus ought to be not on the plight of lawyers as a disappearing breed but the needs of defendants or people needing legal representation.

HK:  One of the people we’ve spoken to is the great prosecuting barrister Sir John Nutting.

Sir John:  I’ve got great admiration for Gareth Peirce. She’s an old sparring partner as the solicitor for many defendants whom I prosecuted including a number of IRA suspects. All her geese were swans, of course. But she always represented her clients to the very best of her ability. She has great integrity although was always terribly earnest and serious. The prosecuting team in one case had a bet once as to who could be the first to make her crack a smile during the trial. I won but it took me several days. She’s a lovely person and completely dedicated to her profession.

HK:  A lot of this stuff you’re describing is pretty grim.

GP:  It’s grim but if you’re representing people this is not personal this is just the case. Because we’re in an adversarial system whether you like it or not you’re fighting a war on behalf of people and with fellow lawyers. You of course have a unity of cause. You of course are in a situation where gallows humour is the order of the day and there is richness in your encounters every day that can bring joy, of course.

HK:  As with the Guildford Four the defendants in the parallel Birmingham Six case all had their convictions quashed but not before they’d served sixteen years for crimes they hadn’t committed. Both Paddy Hill and Johnny Walker have spoken of their incredible indebtedness to you for your efforts in securing their freedom.

Paddy Hill said this to us:

Paddy:  From the first time I met her back in the early 80’s when I got her to come and see me and take on my case she’s been absolutely amazing. If we hadn’t’ve gotten Gareth Peirce I don’t think we’d be out on the street today. We would probably still be in prison. She’s been with us every step of the way even after we got out when things weren’t going well for us Gareth was always there to pick me up. And you know what? They cloned Dolly the sheep. Well I tell you what, if they can clone Dolly the sheep please, please clone Gareth Peirce because we could do with a thousand more like her in the law society and the judicial system. She’s absolutely amazing!

HK:  Johnny Walker said he couldn’t believe it when you turned up at Long Lartin to visit him on Christmas Eve. When he said you should be at home with your family you said that he was part of your family now. You actually made room in your house on more than one occasion for people who had been freed from prison but had nowhere to go. It’s that business about the boundary thing I mean basically your clients become so much a part of your life.

GP:  Nothing in life is pre-planned. If a woman comes out of prison who’s been there for eighteen years and has nowhere to go then if you happen to have an extra bed that’s a pretty good use for it I would say.

HK:  Yeah. But it must take an incredible toll on you!

GP:  I think there may be a misunderstanding of who is the fortunate recipient here. I think that’s the misunderstanding.

HK:  You were describing that that sort of hallmark that’s been there really in all of your work which is that sense of people in particular communities become the butt of social outrage. And we saw it around the race issues you were talking about, and we saw it – you described the mining community and that whole era of the strike, the business of the Irish community, and you mentioned yourself that that is now been visited on the Muslim in your view. You’ve been very involved in recent times in sort of post 9/11 law and order issues – that whole business of the “war on terror”. You acted for Guantánamo Bay detainees when they didn’t have any access to law at all when you first took the cases on – it was about getting law into that place.

GP:  You do think sometimes that society learns lessons. But it isn’t so. And all there is is the ability to be constantly alert that all the danger signals are there for what happened before.

HK:  I mean certainly you were involved with the Belmarsh cases of people being detained without trial. A kind of…

GP:  …Internment all over again having said it would never be used again in this country we lock people up indefinitely without trial. And our government lawyers argued in addition that the government should be allowed to rely upon evidence that derived from torture.

HK:  I know you were involved in that case and that was a seminal case not just for here in Britain but it’s actually looked to by jurisdictions around the world about the whole issue of torture and its implications for justice and proper trials.

GP:  But in the twenty-first century we’re having to argue that it shouldn’t be used and it wasn’t lawful against our government’s lawyers.

HK:  But this is the hard stuff because of course people feel the fear and terror of bombings in their cities and are fearful for their children going about their daily lives and so the gut response of the public-at-large is to want to see people locked up.

GP:  There are an awful lot of factors missing here. One is education of each other’s communities. Another is comprehension of each others’ religion. Another is intelligent dialogue about politics. Another is understanding of countries where the dissidents are tortured and “disappeared” by dictators whom this country supports. There is a craving amongst intelligent, informed members of all communities to have some comprehension of each other, to have some dialogue, some understanding. And it’s just plain missing.

HK:  Gareth, one of the things that people always ask any of us who defend in difficult cases: How can you believe people? How do you know your client is innocent? You’ve described the business of people being innocent. How do you know you that your clients are innocent?

GP:  Well, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to get to grips very quickly when you meet someone…

HK:  …But not all of your clients can be innocent. I mean, not all of our clients are innocent.

GP:  I think what you have to think is that the law exists as a bottom line safety net in which those persons who are accused by the state have a right to put their case. And much of the battle of recent years is that those accused haven’t even been told what the case is against them. They are being detained and either deported or dealt with under a control order on the basis of completely secret evidence. And so many of the battles of people who are said in law to have a presumption of innocence have been even more basic to know what’s the case against me so that I can answer it? And so I think it’s wrong to perhaps think that a lawyer to be doing their job has to be judge and jury in relation to someone’s innocence or the reverse.

HK:  Someone who has watched your work at close quarters is the journalist and author Victoria Britton who has written extensively about the treatment of terrorist suspects in this country.

Victoria:  I’ve known Gareth for ten years working on some very hard cases. She’s like a terrier – she never gives up. Some people go the extra mile. Gareth goes the extra fifty miles. I’ve never met another lawyer who begins to match her complete commitment to justice and who shows such inexhaustible kindness and loyalty to her clients. Also, she’s built a team of younger lawyers who completely share her ethics and work with her helping some of the most vulnerable people in Britain.

HK:  I mean, people have tried to get you to recognise the special role that you’ve played, Gareth. I mean you were to be honoured in the 1999 Honours List, you were offered a CBE and at first you accepted it for your services to justice but then you re-thought it and you wrote back declining it. Why? Why are you so reluctant to receive recognition?

GP:  Well, that was all a letter I thought I’d sent declining it. They said they didn’t have it so I had to send another one. That was embarrassing.

HK:  But why are you so reluctant to see that the role you’ve played as special?

GP:  It isn’t that. It’s that I think lawyers shouldn’t profit from the misfortune of others. And by profit I don’t necessarily mean economically. I think lawyers inappropriately act as a lightening rod for attention and sometimes it’s easier to just keep working undercover.

HK:  Gareth Peirce, thank you very much indeed. (ends)

Richard O’Rawe RFÉ 17 August 2013

Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5 Pacifica Radio
New York City
Saturday 17 August 2013

Sandy Boyer (SB) interviews Richard O’Rawe (RO), author of Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, via telephone from Belfast about the Democratic Unionist Party’s unilateral decision to cancel the proposed Peace and Reconciliation Centre at the Long Kesh prison site. (begins time stamp ~ 12:10)

SB:   And momentarily we’re going to be going over to Belfast to talk to Richard O’Rawe about the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Féin’s partner in government, decided unilaterally this week without even telling Sinn Féin, that there will be no Peace and Reconciliation Centre where the H-Blocks of Long Kesh used to sit and where the hospital was where Bobby Sands and nine of his comrades died on hunger strike – Nooo, that cannot happen, says the Democratic Unionist Party – never mind the fact we agreed to it before. It doesn’t matter. We are not going to have a Peace and Reconciliation Centre. We are not going to allow any monument whatsoever to the hunger strikers. So that is the great news from Belfast this week and it must come as a bit of a shock to Sinn Féin. But now, we are going over to Belfast to speak to Richard O’Rawe. Richard, thanks very much for being with us.

RO:  It’s a pleasure, Sandy. Thank you so much for having me.

SB:  And Richard, you were on the blanket. You were the PRO, the Public Relations Officer, for the hunger strikers. You knew men who died on hunger strike.

RO:  Yes.

SB:  How does it make you feel that there can’t even be a Peace and Reconciliation Centre where they died?

RO:  Well it makes me feel very, very angry to be quite frank, Sandy, because it is indicative of the myopic, tunnel vision view that Unionists have of what happened during the struggle. I mean the reality of the matter is that ten very selfless men, ten heroes gave their lives in Long Kesh for us, their fellow blanketmen, who were on protest against criminalisation. And they gave their lives and ended up with a horrific death and we’re not even allowed to visit (the site). They’re actually talking about rasing the hospital wing in which Bobby Sands and the other nine hunger strikers died. They’re talking about rasing it to the ground – an attempt to wipe out all memories of the hunger strikers. And I think it’s absolutely diabolical.

SB:  Richard, you would think that no one could be against peace and reconciliation. Here we have a saying that it’s ‘like Mom and apple pie’. But suddenly, the Democratic Unionist Party from out of nowhere – and despite the fact they agreed to it already – says you can’t do it. You can’t have any monument to the hunger strikers.

RO:  Well, it’s not even that Sandy because they’re now talking about dismantling the monuments to Republican IRA Volunteers, Republican freedom fighters, throughout The North. I mean, what’s actually happening is that the Unionist/RUC-type section of this population are of the opinion that they were the only people who suffered here – that they were the only people who had legitimate dead – that everyone else who died here were gangsters or terrorists or whatever you want to call them. I mean they’re actually now coming to a position where they’re trying to deny Republicans any outlet at all – they’re denying them the right even to show respect for their own dead.

SB:  But this is just adding insult to injury. There has been a sustained Unionist offensive, I would say, against Nationalism, right back- you had the flag protests – where they insisted that the Union Jack has to fly over the Unionist Belfast City Council even more times than it flies over Buckingham Palace! They’re saying: we’re more loyal than the Queen herself. But then you got last week, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast, tried to dedicate a park. He got attacked by a mob, a Protestant mob – frankly that’s all you can call it – his Unionist colleagues on the Council stood by – did nothing. And of course last week you had the attempt to commemorate internment without charge or trial and a Loyalist mob just blocked it from getting anywhere near the city centre. So this is not just an isolated incident.

RO:  No, it’s not. But at the heart of all of those incidents is a supremacist attitude. And it’s an attitude that is vibrant within the Unionist population. And that has never changed from the formation of the state of Northern Ireland which, we must remember, was a gerrymander in that the Six Counties was deliberately, geographically picked because it would ensure that there would always be a Unionist majority within. And from that came this supremacist attitude. And that supremacist attitude hasn’t gone away simply because there’s a peace process. It is still there and they are of the view – and that’s why they wouldn’t let anyone march down – weren’t allowed on the main street in Belfast – because in their view that’s their street. They can walk up and down it every Twelfth of July and any time the notion takes them. But Nationalists are not allowed to walk down it. And if they try to there will be riots – as there was. And it’s the same with the Union Jack flying over Belfast City Hall. The Union Jack is their flag. Someone suggested: Now why not put up the Tricoulor, the Irish flag, up beside it? They went absolutely nuts. Then someone else suggested: Well, why not just put all the flags of the European Union up? And again they went nuts. The only flag that they wanted is the Union Jack because the Union Jack is a supremacist flag. And it’s a flag that tells Nationalists that they’re second-class citizens. And that is really the crux of the matter. They have a supremacist attitude. It hasn’t gone away and it’s not going to go away. They have no interest in sharing power. They’re doing so because they have to. But they are absolutely convinced that Nationalists are second class citizens and should be treated as such.

SB:  And are being treated as such.

RO:  And are being – absolutely!

SB:  But Richard, what happened to parity of esteem and power sharing? Look, you’ve got Sinn Féin, the largest Nationalist/Catholic party, is in government with the Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley’s party, the ones who just canceled this Peace and Reconciliation Centre. I can’t get over it. I can’t help thinking no one could be against peace and reconciliation. But how come? I mean you’re supposed to have parity of esteem. That’s what they tell you!

RO:  There is no parity of esteem. You made a point earlier I’m going to come back to: This was going to be a peace centre. This wasn’t going to be a monument to the hunger strikers. Sure the hunger strikers died in Long Kesh but there was also prison officers who died during the struggle, who were shot dead during the struggle by the IRA, who were going to be remembered as well. There was all sorts of different outlets. So in fairness, it probably would have been a legitimate peace centre. However, they scuttled it. The fact of the matter is that they scuttled it because they can. In actual fact what they did they checkmated Sinn Féin. They just came out and they put it up to Sinn Féin – we’re closing this – this is never going to happen. See, this business, it’s put back until Richard Haass, the American diplomat, comes over.

It will never, ever be opened in my view. The fact of the matter is they pulled the plug on it because they could. Because it was a step too far for them and they would not have ever been comfortable with it. They don’t want the IRA remembered in any shape or form. And Sinn Féin now have an awful, awful dilemma: they either swallow this, in other words they say: Well there’s nothing we can do about it and they march on and accept this second-class sort of citizenship. Or, the alternative to that, is to pull down the institutions at Stormont. And I don’t think they’re going to do that. So the reality is they’re going to have to just accept it and they will. I’ve no doubt about that.

SB:  But, Richard, Sinn Féin has been, I don’t know, for months and months if not years, telling everybody there was going to be a Peace and Reconciliation Centre there. It will be in effect, if not in name, a monument to the hunger strikers. That’s what they’ve – I haven’t researched it I don’t know how many months they’ve been saying it but a good long time.

RO:  Yes, they have. The DUP, even prior to this being scuttled, the DUP was saying the exact opposite. The both of them can’t be right. The DUP was saying there would be no mention of hunger strikes. Jeffrey Donaldson actually said it on television. There would be no mention of hunger strikes in this Peace and Reconciliation Centre. They were actually diluting the whole hunger strike event. Had it not been stopped they were of the view that they were going to dilute it to the point where it would not be a monument to the hunger strikers. So no matter what Sinn Féin said the DUP would have had the upper hand in this one. They did have the upper hand. And now they’ve pulled the plug on it.

SB:  This sounds like a microcosm for the peace process.

RO:  It is.

SB: You tell Loyalists what they want to hear, Protestants what they want to hear. You tell Nationalists, Catholics what they want to hear and then, eventually, reality intervenes.

RO:  You’re absolutely right. The peace process itself is ambiguous because nobody really know what it means. We could have had power sharing, as we know, back in 1974 and we had it at Sunningdale and it was pulled down. But setting that aside, we now have power sharing again but it’s a power sharing that is forced. And there’s no doubt that Unionism, at its core, does not believe in power sharing. They believe that as they are the majority of the people in this gerrymandered state they are entitled, as they have always been, to be at the centre of government – to be in control of the government. And that power sharing, to an extent, has been forced on them. But they still have the upper hand. You can talk about the peace process – yeah – there’s nobody’s being killed – this dissident campaign, which in my view, is nonsense and should be stopped immediately – but this dissident campaign is not having a major impact politically. But nonetheless, Sinn Féin – they’re like drinking ducks, they have no choice but to keep on swallowing their pride, swallowing their pride because to do something against it – the only radical thing that they could do would be to walk out of government – and they’re never going to do that. In my view they’re never going to do that. They didn’t do it over internment, when Marian Price was interned, or that young man Coney is interned – or Corey, I beg your pardon, Martin Corey – he’s interned. And there’s other people in…

SB:  …Martin Corey’s interned for years and there’s no prospect of his getting out.

RO:  And they’re doing absolutely nothing for him. And I mean, the radical Sinn Féin of twenty years ago or twenty-five years ago would have been mobilising on the streets, would have been absolutely making a nuisance of themselves – these guys don’t want to do nothing. They don’t want to rock the boat. They’re getting good wages. They’re getting a good living. Those who are with them are getting the handy jobs, etc – well paid jobs – and they don’t want to rock that boat. And they don’t want to confront the sectarianism of Unionism. And it’s there. They don’t want to confront it. So what they’re going to do now is they’re going to swallow it and say that’s tough.

SB:  Well you know, Richard, if you read the Belfast Telegraph, the mainstream Northern newspapers, the ‘respectable’ press, they’re all saying – Oh my God! there’s a crises in the peace process. Sinn Féin has been insulted. The DUP didn’t even give them a call and say: Just want you to know, boys, we’re going to cancel this. They put out the press release and said: That’s it! They asked Martin McGuinness, who’s the Deputy First Minister, if he was going to talk to the Unionist First Minister of Northern Ireland. He said: Well, first of all – he’s in Florida so I can’t really reach him and even when he’s in Belfast I can’t really reach him. So what future can there be if they can do this to Sinn Féin and Sinn Féin says well we can’t even get in touch with these people? What does that say about this coalition government?

RO:  Well, it shows you how useless, not useless – useless may not be the right word – how inept Sinn Féin is and how inadequate their involvement with this process is. Stormont itself is a talking shop. I mean Westminster does most of it – they give them the money and all they do is hand it out. But the point of the matter is, Sandy, and it keeps coming back to the same point and Robinson demonstrated it very vividly when, as you say, he didn’t even take the bother or he didn’t even have the manners to tell Martin McGuinness that he was going to pull the plug on this. McGuinness heard it when all the rest of us heard it on the news.  So you have to say to yourself: What respect has Robinson for his co-counsel? For his fellow leader? There’s absolutely none. Again, it’s done because he still has this supremacist attitude that Nationalists, per say, are people who are not worthy of respect and they’re certainly not worthy of having equal status to the Unionists in this statelet.

SB:  Richard, but what does it say about the future of this coalition? Because it seems to me, if Sinn Féin can’t get a, now it’s symbolic but a little, tiny, and I would think, uncontroversial thing like a Peace and Reconciliation Centre – I keep thinking that – a Peace and Reconciliation Centre – nobody could be against that – but they can’t even get that. So what are they able to get?

RO:  They’re not going to be able to get anything. Ultimately Peter Robinson knows that and he has this well thought out. He knows that Sinn Féin aren’t going to walk away from this because if they walk away they’ve nowhere to go and he knows they’re going to have to come back – probably come back to the same situation. So he knows that there’s nothing they can do about it. The only way that the situation would change would be for Sinn Féin to walk out – that would be the drastic measure that may be needed to maybe interject some reality or shake up Unionist thinking. But they’re not going to do that. Sinn Féin will go on and they will go on taking the slaps in the face. They will go on taking the insults. They will come off with jargon that tries to allay the justifiable concerns of their constituents but they will stay in power, Sandy, because don’t want to give it up under any circumstances. And Peter Robinson knows that.

And he knows that these guys, at their core, haven’t got a great sense of moral fibre, that they’ll do whatever they have to do to stay in power and if that involves swallowing pride again and again and letting things absolutely spiral out of control in terms of state security things like internment, etc they will just take it. And Robinson knows that. And that’s why he can be so flippant and so bad mannered. Sinn Féin knows there’s no choice but to take it.

SB:  Richard, it seems to me that having gotten away with this, having gotten away with the attack on the internment march, having gotten away with repeated attacks on Nationalist areas like Ardoyne and, as you say with interment, it would seem to me that there’s going to be more attacks on the Nationalist community. It’s going to get even worse!

RO:  The violent streak in Unionism in my view, and I’m almost loathe to say this, it seems to me that paramilitary Unionism isn’t that far away from actually lifting up guns again and starting to kill people. Because a lot of these riots are being led by the paramilitaries, the paramilitaries that led the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) etc. They’re very much into – and it wouldn’t be beyond the imagination of some of these guys to say: Come on, we’ll go and shoot a Catholic. There is the potential there, Sandy, for things to get worse. I don’t see it getting any better and I don’t see how the issues that are so salient now are going to be removed.

For example, the Unionists want to parade and walk wherever the hell they want irrespective of whether it upsets other people or not. They don’t want the Peace and Reconciliation Centre. They don’t want Catholics walking in the city centre of Belfast. They actually don’t want IRA monuments now throughout the country. They don’t want the IRA to even honour their dead. This is the reality. It’s humiliating. It’s humiliating to be a Nationalist here because we all thought that the Good Friday Agreement that we had moved into a new era and the mindset of the people was changing and we now know that that was an illusion. The mindset of Unionism has not changed one iota, that it’s still ‘croppy lie down’, that’s the way they think and that’s the way they’re actually acting. And that’s what we’re seeing…that’s what we’ve seen right throughout the Summer and what we’ve seen for years. And the problem is that Sinn Féin is lying down. Sinn Féin has no teeth. And they know that.

SB:  Before I let you go – I was talking to Eamonn McCann, the journalist whom you know very well.

RO:  Yeah, I know Eamonn well.

SB:  And he was saying: You know, I was going to write that if this keeps up the next step will be assassinations. He said then I didn’t do it because I thought I might be putting the idea in somebody’s head. Is that what we’re coming to?

RO:  I was of the same view as Eamonn and that’s why I said that I’m reluctant to say this. I mean, I said it there two minutes ago but I think that is not that far away. I think that some of these eejits would think nothing of lifting a gun and shooting some Catholic and come up with some blind reason for it. I hope, I pray with all my heart that it doesn’t. But I’m saying that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. Like Eamonn, I hope I’m wrong. This is one where I really do hope I’m wrong. I mean, the situation is very fraught, very, very fraught at the minute and it’s very, very dangerous and everyone’s pinning their hopes on Richard Haass. I tell you – he would need to be a magician because only a magician could pull this off.

SB:  Well, Richard, we’ll get back to that and thank you very much. We really appreciate you coming on.

RO:  You’re welcome, Sandy. Thank you so much for having me. It was lovely to talk to you again. (ends time stamp ~ 35:08)