Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
John McDonagh and Martin Galvin speak to Des Dalton, the president of Republican Sinn Féin, via telephone from Belfast, about Provisional Sinn Féin leaders meeting Charles Windsor on points of his tour in various cities on the island of Ireland. (begins time stamp ~ 16:05)
Martin: Alright and with us on the line we have Des Dalton, the president of Republican Sinn Féin. Des, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
Des: Hi, John! Good to talk to you.
Martin: Well, this is Martin but John’s going to ask the first question.
Des: Oh, Hi!, Martin. Sorry, sorry.
John: Yeah Des, I was just telling our audience that the most dangerous place in Ireland this week was to be in-between a Sinn Féin member and Prince Charles as he does his victory tour around Ireland looking at his past conquests between Belfast, Corcaigh and Kerry. And you put out a particularly poignant statement on behalf of Republican Sinn Féin this week – that to see the Union Jack flying over Corcaigh City Hall to welcome Prince Charles – it was an amasing scene. And to see all of these Sinn Féin members just racing! And the look in their faces! You would swear they were looking at Elvis Presley or something and they were tripping over each other to meet this welfare family that comes over from England. But explain why it was so horrific to see the Union Jack flying over City Hall in Co. Corcaigh.
Well, Hello, John. I’m actually speaking to you, and it’s funny enough, I’m sitting here from outside Belfast and talking to (inaudible) but yes! Absolutely horrific on every level, historically I’m sure all your listeners will be familiar with the fact that two Lord Mayors of Corcaigh, Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney, died at the hands of the British state because of their refusal to accept British rule in Ireland. Corcaigh City itself was burned in November 1920 by the infamous auxillary, the Black and Tans, who actually famously wore burnt corks in their braids to celebrate the fact. Look, on so many levels, the flying of that flag there was completely inappropriate. And the point that I made during the week in that statement was that: What other self-respecting nation would even tolerate something like that? Like for instance, an example: France for instance. You know, could anyone imagine any city or town in France allowing symbols of the German occupation and oppression of the 1940’s to be displayed on a public building? You know it speaks volumes about our political past in the Twenty-Six Counties that people were willing to countenance that and I think it’s shameful of Corcaigh City Council that they allowed permission for that to go ahead. You know, I think the point that was made talking to John there earlier – and we’re talking about this whole ‘normalisation’ of British rule in Ireland and this attempt to pretend that relations between Britain and Ireland are now normal – which, of course, it’s complete nonsense!
You know, and an example would be Algeria. And Algeria fought a very bitter war of independence against France in the 1950’s which ultimately ended in an independent Algeria you know, with no residue, no partition, no continued French occupation of any part of Algerian soil and yet thirty years later despite, as I said, despite their having a full and viable settlement of the conflict between their two countries, Algeria, when it was proposed there’d be a state visit in 2003 by the French president, at that time the Algerians said: No. It’s too soon. We’re not yet ready to give this official recognition to the French state here in Algeria. Now, that’s in a situation where, as I said, with no residue. Here we are in Ireland where there continues to be occupation, there’s still political prisoners, there’s still the partition of part of our country and these people think this is acceptable and normal. Of course it’s not!
John: Yeah well Des, also just a couple of weeks ago, there was a by-election up in Co. Tyrone and Sinn Féin won that and the person who won that went over to London and she wanted to meet with the Irish community. So Sinn Féin, being they have offices in Westminster, petitioned to get one of the rooms there and Westminster gave them the Thatcher Room in order to meet the Irish community in Westminster. So now, Sinn Féin’s accepted British rule in Ireland, the police force, the British Army and now the royal family. Do you foresee – it won’t be long before they’re taking their seats in Westminster because what, really, is holding them back?
Des: Absolutely nothing holding them back, John, exactly! And you know, nobody should be shocked or surprised in any way at the fact that people like Mary Lou McDonald or Michelle O’Neill or Martin Ferris or Gerry Kelly met with a member of the British royal family during the week – no shock whatsoever here. As you said yourself there, these are people that already have offices in Westminster. They’ve already administered British rule in Ireland; they’ve acted as minister to the British Crown. They’ve signed up to that package and then they’ve accepted the legitimacy of partition in Ireland. So whether or not they go into Westminster – that’s purely a question of timing and it has to be questioned – it’s certainly nothing to do with principles because they signed up to all of that. You know, these people are no longer Republicans and I think, you know, that’s why I’m saying that there should be no shock or surprise. They ceased to be Republicans thirty years ago, you know, they’re probably (inaudible) not even really Irish Nationalists let alone Republican. So look, the day-to-day case in Westminster will be the day that they decide that that’s the right thing to do but I mean, look – as you said yourself – they’re holding meetings over there, they go and hold a meeting in the Thatcher Room of all places, and they as I say, they draw salaries from there which to me, as a member of Republican Sinn Féin – I mean Sinn Féin is a very honourable name, it’s a name with deep roots in Irish history and the very essence, the very reason, that Sinn Féin was founded was the (inaudible) pointed out, to pull the political centre of gravity from London to Ireland and you know, what they’re doing is actually a complete inverse of all of that and of course it is because, as we said, in 1986 when they signed up they accepted the two partitioned states in Ireland – that’s what they accepted and that’s what they’ve signed up to and as I said, they’ve gone even further than even those in the past who have administered partition – they’ve gone on to administer British rule and not only administer it but enforce it so look – yeah – nothing new there, really.
John: Yeah, there’s that old saying that Sinn Féin will accept the half crown but not the Crown but it looks like they’re accepting the half crown and the Crown. Martin, do you have any…
Martin: Yes Des, I’m reading now the basis or the advantage or the tactical advantage of these gestures is supposed to be that it’s a step towards reconciliation – that there’ll reconciliation with Unionists and this is going to be a step towards a united Ireland and it’s going to help us in that cause. I’m reading the Newsletter, which is a paper associated with many people in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and others and the article says: Sinn Féin’s meeting with Charles dubbed hollow and meaningless – and there’s a list of quotes from people like Doug Beattie, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), saying it’s ‘gesture politics’ and meaningless until the party condemns the IRA’s campaign, there’s others who were who were there who are listed – they’re all condemning Sinn Féin – saying it means nothing, it’s hypocrisy – ridiculed – it’s good to see them reaching out and meeting with a lot more than gestures. What is this supposed to accomplish? Why is this viewed to be beneficial for the cause of a united Ireland? If it’s not reconciliation, if it’s not working in terms of reconciliation with Unionists? If they’re not impressed by it, if they think it’s something something that they can ridicule – why do it?
Des: Yes, that’s it exactly, Martin, and this isn’t about reconciliation. I mean, Irish Republicans have a long history of sitting down and talking with Unionists,
I mean like going back to the 1970’s people like the late Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and the late Dáithí Ó Conaill and other prominent Republican leaders met with representatives of Unionism on an open and frank basis on the idea of Éire Nua, of a new Ireland, and so on and that’s basis on which to engage with Unionism and those, we’ll say, of that particular section of the Irish people. What the Provisionals are engaging in now is nothing to do with that. The Provisionals are engaging in the building of a constitutional political organisation. They’re ingratiating themselves with the Establishment, both North and South. Their sole purpose at this point in time, in particular in The South, is to enter a coalition. They’ve made it very clear, they’ll basically sit down with anybody, be it Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in fact, we’re looking at the spectacle – we’re approaching, fast approaching, the centenary of the Treaty of Surrender and the Civil War, the counter-revolution that followed that – and we could very easily have a Fine Gael/Provo coalition when we’re celebrating and marking the centenary of things like the massacre of Republicans at Ballyseedy at the hands of the Free State – at the very political ancestors of Fine Gael – that’s really the grotesque situation that we’re faced with there. But look – what the Provisionals are engaging in at the moment, and I think the comments of people like Doug Beattie and so on are interesting, what they show is that the appeasement that they’re engaging in, and that’s what I would describe it as, it’s insatiable. I mean ultimately, anything that’s even faintly or vaguely Republican – even the very merest and most polite interest or aspiration towards a united Ireland – is condemned by these people. You know, it’s seen as something completely unacceptable. So like I mean what the Provisionals are engaging in it’s dishonesty. It’s not about strengthening the cause of a united and free Ireland it’s, actually what it’s doing – it’s erecting further barriers, further blocks on that road. And as I said earlier, they long departed that road, they long departed from that idea of a free and independent Ireland and what they’re trying to do now is consolidate until they’re in a strong political position, both North and South, implement the structures of the status quo that’s already there – they’re certainly not a revolutionary political organisation and they’ve long abandoned those goals.
John: And was there any reports when they were meeting with this welfare recipient from London, Prince Charles and his wife, did they ever bring up about maybe, the release of political prisoners such as Tony Taylor, did they bring up about you know, we don’t want a ‘hard Brexit’ here with you pulling out of the European Union? I mean it just seems that they can’t get off their knees and even if they have to meet (and they don’t have to meet) with Prince Charles but to confront him on some of the things that are going on today – we don’t even have to go back to the 1920’s and the Black and Tans and you can just look how the United Kingdom will be destroying that part of Ireland, the border, with now a hard border that’ll be going up when they pull out of the European Union.
Des: Exactly! Exactly! And of course, John, the short answer to that is: No, of course they didn’t raise any of those issues – of course they didn’t confront him because the last thing they want to do is to bite the hand that feeds them, you know?
Ultimately these are their political paymasters and they’re not going to do that, of course they’re not, and they’re not going to rock the boat because they pay lip service to all these things when it suits them and yes, they have the neck and the gall to meet with people like the relatives of the Ballymurphy Massacre, the relatives of Bloody Sunday or to talk about the implications of Brexit and so on for Ireland, but, you know? Strip away the rhetoric and what lies beneath it is again more of the same. They’re playing political games with all of this. And I think the important thing is that people don’t be fooled by this. Ultimately, these people will take office with whoever they’re (inaudible) in The South. They’re willing to sit down with people like Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil and they have no principle – there is no red lines here for these people and when it comes to confronting people like Charles Windsor you know – certainly not! They’re not going to do that because they want to be part of that system. They want to be on the inside looking out – not on the outside looking in. And in terms of advocating or championing anything approaching even the aspirations of a united Ireland it’s certainly far off their agenda.
John: Yeah Martin, any final questions? Because I know we have to go to music and then bring up our next guest.
Martin: Well, is this going to have an effect in terms of building up their vote in the Twenty-Six Counties and do you think that would help deliver a united Ireland? – because that seems to be the claim that they’re making.
Des: In terms of the electoral impacts or otherwise it’s hard to kind of quantify because I think there’s all kinds of other issues that are at play there. I think what they’re attempting to do with themselves is to portray themselves as somehow ‘anti-establishment’. I mean that’s becoming less and less credible particularly as their actions here in the Six Counties where they have implemented cuts and so on I think that’s a sad befall if they do as it’s very likely enter a coalition. So from that point of view: Yeah, I think it’s debatable whatever will happen there in terms of their electoral support. In terms of the second part of the question – in terms of will this advancing a united Ireland – of course it won’t. Because that’s not what these people are about. You know when you question them in terms on how they’ve advanced towards a free and independent Ireland they’ll quote you the number of councillors that they have and the number of public representatives they have and as I’ve said, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh pointed out to them in the past – you know, all that tells you is: Yes, they built a political organisation, they built a political machine but it’s an empty one because it’s one without an ideology, it’s one without principle and it’s certainly one that’s not interested in advancing the goal of a free and independent Ireland. As I said, all these people are doing is erecting further blocks towards that.
Martin: Alright. Thank you very much for that – Des Dalton, the president of Republican Sinn Féin. (ends time stamp ~30:16)