Martin Galvin speaks to award-winning journalist, author and historian, Ed Moloney, via telephone about Martin McGuinness’ career and the immediate future of the Stormont government. (begins time stamp ~ 42:37)
Audio: Portion of Martin McGuinness’ speech at the 1986 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis is played. (audio ends)
Martin: And welcome back. We have with us on the line the author, commentator, columnist, journalist Ed Moloney. Ed, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
Ed: Hi, Martin. Hi.
Martin: Ed, I have in front of me something that you wrote for The Guardian and you said that: ‘The Martin McGuinness of 2016 could not have delivered the IRA of 1994 into a ceasefire’. Just wondering if we could start there. What did you mean by that?
Ed: Well, well because sufficient time has passed since 1994 to change Martin McGuinness. I mean you know, in 1994 and round that period, I mean he was able to reassure the IRA that, for example, there would never be a ceasefire without a special Army Convention being called and people believed him. But we know what happened. There was a ceasefire without a convention and there was a decommissioning without an IRA Convention. And the sort of the hard line image that enabled Martin McGuinness – you know, the guy who wouldn’t let the IRA down, who wouldn’t settle for a quote ‘sellout’ end quote of the early 1990’s – you know had changed so much, and events had changed him as well, that it be impossible for him to have given the same reassurances in 2015-2016 and be believed by the IRA grassroots. In 1994 the image of the tough IRA leader who would not compromise on basics, even for example a ceasefire without getting the approval of the grassroots much less accepting issues like consent, the Principle of Consent for Irish unity or IRA decommissioning, that image you know has gone and gone by this stage and I don’t think he would have the same sway at all with the IRA grassroots.
Martin: Alright. What was is that brought Martin McGuinness into the IRA to believe that somebody from a very religious background, a Catholic background, somebody whose family was believed to be Nationalist as opposed to Republican – what was it that led him first to be the person who would take up arms and rise to a leadership p0sition in the IRA?
Ed: Well you know in some ways Martin McGuinness is a prototype of the post-1970 IRA in the sense that if this was – and we’ve had this discussion before and I think we disagree on this, but my view is, and it has been for some time now, that the Provisional IRA grew out of the civil rights movement and civil rights protests largely because of Unionist intransigence which created the circumstances of August 1969 and then put the Nationalist community on a collision course with the British government. Martin McGuinness was motivated to join the IRA and to become politically active almost entirely by those events – by the civil rights movement and then by the collision of the Nationalist community with the British Army. And he said himself more than once that it was you know, it was the deaths of Beattie and Cusack in Doire in 1970-1971 (I forget the exact date) but very early on in The Troubles at a point when there was really no Provisional IRA to talk of in Doire.
The largest, the Republican group that held the greatest sway in Doire at that time was the Officials, the Official IRA, and the Provisional IRA was almost non-existent. There were a few members and I think they were almost entirely wiped out in an accidental explosion. It was only after the deaths of Beattie and Cusack that the Provisional IRA grew at all in Doire and Martin McGuinness was one of the very, very first recruits. So he came from a very, very different Republican background from someone like Gerry Adams or indeed traditional Republicans in Doire, like the Keenan Family. You know, the Adams Family can trace their Republican lineage way back to you know – way back in time. I mean Gerry Adams’ own father, also called Gerry, was an active IRA member in the 1930’s and 1940’s and his uncle was involved in the 1940’s IRA campaign in Britain. Martin McGuinness didn’t have any of that history in his family’s lineage at all. His family were good Catholic, Doire folk who voted for the Nationalist party and believed everything that the local bishop told them. And he came from that and it was the events, the civil rights events and the collision course that the civil rights put the Nationalist community on with the British government, that produced Martin McGuinness, the IRA leader. So you could actually say he’s a much more authentic representative of the modern Provisional IRA than was Gerry Adams and people of his ilk.
Martin: Well just a question I always have is the, the analysis that was always given, is that you would always have injustice, you’d always have discrimination, whether it’s legacy, whether it was the result of various things like that until British rule was ended – it’s not just not getting equality it’s ending the British government, British rule, which has inherent inequality in it. But I just want to get beyond that: He joins the IRA, he becomes a leading figure. And one of the things people sometimes ask is – he did two stints in The South of Ireland in Portlaoise. He gets out of the second one around 1974. There are actually people who believe that what he said to the Saville Inquiry that he left the IRA at that time. How long was Martin McGuinness a leading member of the IRA?
Ed: Well, you know the irony of that – he has to say that he was in the – you know people say Gerry Adams lies when he says he was never in the IRA. The issue is not like to try and get an admission from these people that they were in the IRA but to point out that they come from, that their attitude towards that question is so very different from the traditional Republican response that it raises all sorts of other questions. I mean the traditional Republican response to that question always was, until the Adams-McGuinness leadership: Was that you never admitted IRA membership. That would be a very, very foolish thing to do because you’d talk yourself into a jail sentence – at the same time you’d never deny it. And so you know, the Republicans of the Ó Brádaigh years when presented with that question by someone like myself or any other journalist would essentially, either politely or impolitely, tell me to mind my own business. But McGuinness and Adams chose not to.
And McGuinness had to admit membership of the IRA, that he had been in the IRA at least until 1974 because of two events: 1) When he was imprisoned by the Special Criminal Court in Dublin he made a statement to the effect that he was a proud member of the Irish Republican Army. And also there’s a famous television interview in which he’s walking down the street with an interviewer who asks him: Well, Martin McGuinness, as the leader of the IRA Provisionals in Belfast (Doire) can you tell us when are you going to stop the bombing campaign? And he takes no issue with that and gives an answer about: Well we will consult with our Army leadership and we will then make an informed, you know etc etc – makes a response. So he quite clearly accepts that he’s the leader of the Provos. So he couldn’t deny it. Adams never had that similar sort of, had not that similar type of experience therefore he was able to say that he was never, ever in the IRA. The irony about him saying that he left in 1974 was that his IRA was only beginning to take off in the mid-1970’s. I mean he was, first of all, he was a major figure in the first Northern Command that was created as the result of these reforms and changes that people like Adams and Ivor Bell and Brendan Hughes had discussed and debated along with fellow-minded colleagues in Long Kesh.
And then in 1978 Gerry Adams was Chief of Staff of the IRA. The IRA commits a horrible atrocity in Co. Down at a hotel called La Mon – fire bombs the place, screws up the warnings and there are lots of people killed in the most horrible circumstances imaginable and Adams, in the outrage that greets all of this, is arrested by the police and charged with IRA membership. He immediately loses, as is the custom, his rank as IRA Chief of Staff and McGuinness takes over, and that’s in February 1978. And he stays as Chief of Staff, and as Kathryn Johnston was describing, makes a very spectacular mark as IRA Chief of Staff by the Warrenpoint and Mountbatten ambushes which sort of like copper-fastened his reputation with the grassroots as a sort of military genius of some sort. But it’s not just that. He actually revives the fortunes of the IRA during those three or four years that he was Chief of Staff to the extent that they’re back in the game, as it were, you know? And he stays there and then in 1982 he quits because of the elections, he stands for the election but then he’s re-appointed Northern Commander, in about 1985-1986, and he stays as Northern Commander right through until 1996.
Martin: Ed, I just want to – I know he had other ranks – I just want to ask you, just very briefly, we’ve just got about a minute left: Monday they’re back in negotiations. There’s a deadline for Stormont coming together. What does this mean for Gerry Adams leading these negotiations without, no longer having Martin McGuinness there? Or Gerry Adams and Michelle O’Neill leading the negotiations?
Ed: Well the thing is you know, like Lennon and McCartney, they were never quite the same when John Lennon died and Adams and McGuinness – the two names that go together – it’s now just Gerry Adams and he’s got this problem in The North: He needs to – he needs to reconstruct the Assembly and the Stormont government otherwise what does he have to show for the peace process? And then he’s got the problem of not having achieved power in The South. And he’s knocking the door at the age seventy now – he’ll be sixty-nine in October – and you know, Martin McGuinness’ death is a reminder of his own mortality. He doesn’t have much time left to achieve, I think, his main ambition, which is to get into government in The South so that you have a Sinn Féin presence at the cabinet tables in both parts of Ireland and that will be his claim for a special place in the history books.
Ed: But he’s running out of time. He’s in the ‘Last Chance Saloon’.
Martin: Alright. Ed, we want to thank you for that. We’re running out of time ourselves in the Last Chance Saloon. We’re going to play one song, Back Home in Derry, just and then go out – exit on that basis. Thank you, Ed.
Ed: Okay. Bye-bye now. (ends time stamp ~ 56:11)