Martin Galvin (MG) speaks to former Republican prisoner now author and journalist, Anthony McIntyre, (AM) via telephone from Ireland who delivers his comments on Sinn Féin collapsing the power-sharing government, its new party leader and the comments made by Gerry Kelly concerning the informing on and the prosecution of Irish Republicans. (begins time stamp ~43:01)
MG: And we have on the line professor, well Doctor excuse me, Anthony McIntyre, who’s the author of some of the great books, one of the great books, Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism, manages The Pensive Quill blog which is a tremendous resource if you want to get a wide range of Republican thought, Irish Republican thought, that’s the place to go – that blog. And this week he was the author of one piece for the Belfast Telegraph and we had booked him to do an interview today and before we could interview him we find that we have another piece in the Belfast Telegraph dealing with Sinn Féin that we have to interview him about. Anthony, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
AM: Hello, John.
MG: This is Martin.
AM: Oh, Martin. How are you? Sorry.
MG: There you go – all of us WBAI Radio Free Éireann personnel sound alike. Okay. Alright Anthony, the first piece that you did, you did a piece earlier on in the week, about Sinn Féin bringing down Stormont by Martin McGuinness resigning, the party refusing to appoint a substitute as Deputy First Minister and that meant that a new election would have to be called. What is the significance of Sinn Féin doing that, withdrawing from Stormont? How did that come about?
AM: Well it came about over the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) scandal with the – there’s a lot of allegations going around that the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) under Arlene Foster were squandering massive amounts of public money and that many DUP members were benefiting, essentially, from a scam and Sinn Féin had pushed for some sort of resolution of the matter by asking for Arlene Foster to stand aside similar to Peter Robinson having to do the same as First Minister for a six week period when there was a scandal surrounding him – he had come back in. Arlene Foster refused to do it and Sinn Féin upended the Executive but when they did they said that for ten years, which they hadn’t told people before, they had been insulted and treated with arrogance by the DUP, which was hardly a ringing endorsement for ever having gone into that arrangement in the first place. But the upshot is that we now have an election looming that will take place in The North in early March and it will be interesting to see what the outcome of that is because Michelle O’Neill, the new leader of Sinn Féin, has a lot of heavy lifting to do and it just might not be easy for her. She really has to improve the Sinn Féin vote which is already in decline in areas like West Belfast where they lost a seat in the Assembly elections to People Before Profit and the DUP will have to concede some ground to the TUV (Traditional Unionist Voice) or the UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) for the Sinn Féin move to have been successful. But strangely enough Adams, as quoted on the Slugger O’Toole website by Mick Fealty, and Mick Fealty has said that Adams has now acknowledged that the whole issue of the scandal has been handled adequately which sort of makes you wonder why the whole institutions were ever brought down or what Sinn Féin are thinking at the moment.
MG: Well Anthony, in your article for the Belfast Telegraph during the week you said that Michelle O’Neill was part of an Assembly team that has been accused of ‘roll over Republicanism’ and that it came to – Martin McGuinness came to – ‘personify an Assembly team malaise which saw it swallow ignominy after insult which, up until it collapsed the power-splitting Executive, responded to DUP slap downs as if they were pats on the back’. And you credited the Republican grassroots with pushing them to withdraw. Could you explain what you meant by that in that paragraph?
AM: Well what I meant was that, in my own view, is that the Sinn Féin leadership instinct was to stay in and this is what the DUP were calculating, that there were no circumstances under which the Sinn Féin leadership, who were part of a cosy arrangement in Stormont – perks, power, prestige, wealth – that they were ever going to come out of Stormont or pull out of the institutions. But over the course of years they were insulted, the DUP simply were not – I mean the way the DUP were treating them, even in relation to the Irish, the funding for the Irish language of deprived areas – of school children in deprived areas – where they denied a grant and later rescinded that decision to deny it but initially I mean the DUP were just treating them with utter contempt and basically Sinn Féin, in the eyes of the DUP, were like a trade union. As Tommy McKearney often says, the worst thing that you could be, as a trade union, is a trade union that’s afraid of going on strike and the DUP were treating Sinn Féin as they would a trade union that was afraid to go on strike. And it seems now, much to my surprise, that the grassroots did make a challenge, were very, very unhappy with the leadership’s position and they had some sort of rebellion – strange that they would rebel over the internal workings of basically an internal solution – but that’s what they did and I feel that it was what we may term the ‘sectarian impulse’, the anti-DUP impulse within Sinn Féin, trumped the careerist cartel that has been sitting up in Stormont milking the gravy train for a decade.
MG: Alright. We’re talking with Anthony McIntyre, former prisoner, Irish Republican Army prisoner, author, runs a blog, The Pensive Quill. Anthony, one of the things that you commented about was the significance of the change from former Republican prisoners, with emphasis in your case on the prisoners, from former Republican prisoners, to somebody who was seventeen at the time of the first ceasefire, Michelle O’Neill, had no Irish Republican Army background or credentials other than being related, you know – possibly to relatives. What is the significance of that in terms of Sinn Féin’s development?
AM: Well in, certainly in the public mind Michelle O’Neill is viewed as one of the New Age Sinn Féiners – someone who would not be handicapped by the military baggage that, for example, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness would carry. And I feel that in this move Sinn Féin are sending out a message that with the withdrawal of Martin McGuinness and the refusal to actually hand over to many, many – any one of many former IRA prisoners, Pat Sheehan, Ian Milne, Gerry Kelly, Conor Murphy – all those people and more could have been appointed leader of the party but in effect they decided to bypass the IRA past and go for a clean or new pair of hands and this was more or less saying that there’s an attempt to, a serious attempt, being made now to civilianise the party, to move power or at least leadership from the hands of the martial politicians to the civilian politicians. And it’s a sign of Sinn Féin’s journey to the realm of constitutionalism which they have been on for quite a while but I mean they’re basically doing what so many before them have done like Fianna Fáil, the Workers’ Party – all these people have ended up, more or less, doing the same thing.
MG: Alright Anthony, we want to play a clip from one of the people that you just mentioned, Gerry Kelly. This was a clip of something that he said on The View. I was called by Gerry McGeough who was shocked by it and said that there were a number of people shocked. We’re just going to play this clip then ask you to comment on it. Gerry Kelly is, of course, a leading member of Sinn Féin, was a former prisoner, escaped from Long Kesh and has been a party leader for a long period of time from the Belfast area. Okay, we’re going to try and play this clip.
Audio: Clip from The View is played.
MG: Sorry, did we lose it?
AM: I didn’t manage to hear it but I know the clip you’re referring to.
Audio: Clip from The View continues.
MG: I’ll just read you the last part of it. Gerry Kelly was asked by Mark Carruthers: Would you be happy to see IRA men being brought before the courts who have not previously served time for their actions if fresh evidence came to light to enable prosecutions to be possible? And he asked the question a couple of times and Gerry Kelly ends up saying: I’d accept that. That’s three times you’ve asked me. I’ve answered it. It wouldn’t be uncomfortable with me. So basically what he was saying is that if there was new evidence against former members of the IRA for historic incidents that happened during the struggle, the period between 1968-1969, 1994-1998, that he would not be uncomfortable with seeing them be prosecuted. And certainly he didn’t seem to be uncomfortable when Gerry McGeough or Seamus…
MG: …Seamus Kearney were being prosecuted. How do you feel about – what’s your reaction to that quote?
AM: Well firstly I’m surprised that Gerry McGeough or anybody else is shocked that Gerry Kelly would do this. I mean for a long time Gerry Kelly has been calling for people to inform to the British on Republicans involved in Republican activity. He’s been calling for people to inform on the physical force tradition which, I mean even Republicans opposed to physical force – any political violence whatsoever – would, on the grounds of conscientious objection, desist from doing. And it goes back to the Fresh Start Agreement that Sinn Féin are now arguing – and Gerry Kelly did it a couple of weeks ago in relation to the prosecution of two British Paratroopers, former British Paratroopers, in relation to the extrajudicial killing of the Official IRA leader, Joe McCann – Gerry Kelly then made the point very clearly that anybody, and he didn’t say just British soldiers he said anybody who, against whom there was evidence, should be prosecuted. And he said the same the other night. So, as a former IRA leader Gerry Kelly is quite willing to see the men that he sent out on IRA activity be prosecuted by the British and it’s not going to make him uncomfortable. I think it sums up basically the character and political perspective of Gerry Kelly. I remember in prison Gerry Kelly giving me the two books, Animal Farm and 1984, by George Orwell and telling me to read them and recommending that they were worth the reading because they give an insight to what politicians who cannot be trusted will do when they get power or you allow a party to get out of control and develop an authoritarian ethos. I think many people will be very disappointed in Gerry Kelly but I’ve come to expect it.
MG: Alright Anthony, we have a lot more we could cover but unfortunately we’ve run out of time. I want to thank you for being with us. (ends time stamp ~ 56:06)