Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
Martin Galvin speaks to author, historian and political commentator, Anthony McIntyre, via telephone from Ireland about recent issues in Ireland that have occurred during the station’s fund raising hiatus. (begins time stamp ~ 37:23 )
Martin: …And Anthony McIntyre is, of course, he has a website, The Pensive Quill, one of the best websites if you want to keep in touch with current events in Ireland. He is an author of The Death of, the long, Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism. He is a former political prisoner – spent years in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, a former blanketman – and I think now on the line we do have Anthony McIntyre. Anthony, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
Anthony: Thank you very much, Martin.
Martin: Now with fund raising we’ve been off for a while and we have a lot of stories to catch up on. We call on you, as we have in the past, just to give us just a quick analysis of a number of different topics that we want to cover, bring our audience up-to-date on.
The first of these is, one of the things: Being in Ireland, one of the things that is rumoured right now is that after the next election in the Twenty-Six Counties there seems to be growing signs that Fine Gael, which currently is the governing party, would go into coalition with Sinn Féin – that those two parties together may have enough seats to have a majority in Leinster House and that there seems to be a growing movement of those two parties towards each other, growing signs that after the next election they would be in coalition. And Fine Gael, of course, a very right-wing party, has been viewed as an anti-Republican party very often. Sinn Féin, of course, is viewed, styles itself, as a Republican party. Anthony, what have you heard about those rumours? What do you think it would mean for Sinn Féin and for the prospects of a united Ireland if that did happen?
Well I’m of the view, and have been of the view for a while, that the question about any coalition of that type will be determined by Fine Gael. Sinn Féin are just a party that is in pursuit of power and as Tommy McKearney once said: Sinn Féin’s bottom line is that Sinn Féin doesn’t have a bottom line. So there will be no principle involved for Sinn Féin. They will go into coalition with anybody no matter how right-wing, left-wing – Sinn Féin are not an ideological party but a party that seeks power and office. And I’m not in the slightest surprised. But this has been going on for some time and I think the changing of leadership within Fine Gael has helped to facilitate that process of just at the moment knitting together very, very loose strands. But I think that all Fine Gael’s opposition to Sinn Féin will dissipate if and they will – Sinn Féin have done so much to re-invent itself as anything other than a Republican party. They sound absolutely no different from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) over the years, the Labour Party, so I won’t be surprised if they go in. And what it will do for a united Ireland? Well Sinn Féin aren’t making their running on a united Ireland – that battle has long since been lost. Sinn Féin’s notion that they can coerce the British out of Ireland regardless of what the people in The North thought. Sinn Féin have now acquiesced in the Consent Principle, the Unionist veto, and that will decide whether or not there will be a united Ireland. And at the moment there’s talk about Brexit and talk about border polls but the pro-union people still seem to have a majority and if the British manage to bring about a situation where Ireland, The North of Ireland, will remain within the EU then there will no change in this position. Malachi O’Doherty had a good piece on his Facebook page about this and about the type of changes that need to take place and are likely to take place in order to maintain the union. So I don’t think, regardless of what Sinn Féin do in The South, it makes no difference whatsoever who they go into government with there will be no move towards a united Ireland and Fine Gael are not really what most people would regard as a united Ireland party anyway.
Martin: Well just – Leo Varadkar, who’s the Taoiseach, the head of the Irish government, went north. He had announced that he would be visiting the headquarters of the Orange Order, that he would go to the West Belfast Festival and it seemed that the most controversial – it was thought that those would be controversial – but it seems that the most controversial thing he did was to say that if there was a border poll (he did not think it was a good idea) but that if there was a simple majority – which is a retreat – the traditional Irish position had been that there should be one all-Ireland vote throughout all of Ireland – that of course was changed in the 1970’s – it was enshrined that it would be changed, Sinn Féin finally supported that in the Good Friday Agreement – but he seems to be going further in saying if there was a majority, even in the Six Counties alone, instead of, not an all-Ireland majority but a majority in the Six Counties, that if there was a slight majority that should not be enough. That that would cause problems. That they should go for a higher percentage and it seems like he’s making moves towards, I don’t know, a weighted majority? A much higher majority? Unanimity? It seems like they’re putting, moving the goal posts again to get a united Ireland farther away from ever before achieved by democratic means.
Anthony: I think that’s very true. And again, Malachi O’Doherty has touched on that again in the piece that he did that they will start moving towards making it sixty percent or sixty-three percent, I think, or probably sixty-six percent – they’ll go most likely around a two-thirds majority which they reckon will probably make the transition, the hand-over, that much easier and be less friction and it’s a real appeasement to Unionism on the island. And I mean, they’re playing politics here and Sinn Féin will come round to this as well very, very easily. This is a notion that was floated quite some time ago by Jeffrey Donaldson and it has now been followed-up by the former DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) leader and the First Minister in The North, Peter Robinson, who has been saying recently (he’s been putting around the figure of sixty percent) and saying that if a border poll does come about and a border poll does go for a united Ireland there cannot be fifty percent plus one vote. It has to be sixty percent. But in order for that to happen then Unionism, O’Doherty predicts, that Unionism will have to move on issues like the Irish Language Act because when we look at this whole issue, this whole history, of Unionist opposition to a united Ireland – that opposition has always been stronger. The Unionists are pretty much a monolith in opposition to a united Ireland. The Nationalists are not a monolith in opposition to remaining part of the British state, remaining part of the UK. It would be easier to fragment Nationalism in The North on this issue and there will be a significant number of constitutional nationalists, and probably a significant number of Sinn Féin voters, who will vote to remain within the UK if The North remains within Brexit and if the Nationalists get what they consider to be a fair deal. So I see nothing coming up that will lead to a united Ireland and I think Fine Gael and Sinn Féin will settle down quite comfortably to that position.
Martin: Alright. One of the things that happened just in the last few weeks – there’s a new legacy consultation document – was released by Karen Bradley, the British Secretary for The North of Ireland. And what this is supposed to do is supposed to be new mechanisms to deliver truth whether through inquest funding, whether through new structures that were agreed in the Stormont House Agreement to allow for there to be some investigation or truth as to killings during The Troubles for people, victims’ families, who never got the truth to try and get information, try and get some sort of truth, try and get some sort of move towards justice. And one of the things that happened as that consultation document was released, Theresa May stood up in Westminster once and stood up in Westminster since then and has said that only members of British Crown Forces, the British Army or the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) or the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) of the British Army, are being investigated and it was patently unfair and this has been totally not true. I was at a recent commemoration, you had people like Ivor Bell and Seamus Kearney in the audience in Doire, who were prosecuted for past incidents of the legacy issues. You had even the Victims’ Commissioner in The North of Ireland, and others, saying that this was not true and yet the British Prime Minister continues to repeat this to present the present legacy structures as being unfair – not to Nationalists, not to families who were victims of collusion, murder, about victims who were never investigated – but that it’s only unfair to British troops. How can we trust a legacy consultation if the British Prime Minister is going to mislead Parliament and tell just deliberate misstatements of fact like this?
Anthony: Well I think it’s an indication of how little interest she has in The North and how badly briefed she is also about what’s going on in The North. Because a politician of her stature to tell – I mean, such stupid lies – I mean that sort of lie, I mean, is a lie on the same level of stupidity that we’re familiar with Mr. Gerry Adams telling and politicians tend to tell the lies that they can get away with – this is a sort of a falsehood that is so easily proven wrong, proven false, that it beggars belief that she continues with it.
So I believe that probably less than more deliberately I think she simply hasn’t a clue. I mean she seemed pretty clueless in her handling of many situations and this is yet another one. But you’re absolutely right – we cannot trust the consultation process to deliver anything remotely resembling what people in the Nationalist community in particular are calling for. And having said that I think that the whole issue of prosecutions is a means of obscuring and suppressing the truth. Prosecutions bring you very, very little truth and this is why I think that they’re still pressing ahead with prosecutions. It’s very interesting that we had the former director of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in The North, Barra McGrory, saying what he should have said when he was director publicly – but he did say publicly since then, he has to be credited for it – that he believes that prosecutions for past activity should be done away with. We have a situation in Ireland where there was a war fought. The war is now over. Why, to quote my friend, Tommy McKearney, are they still intent on taking prisoners on our side? And we know that – and I have great sympathy with people who want these prosecutions, particularly the families, they are the people who have the most interest in securing prosecutions – but I do not think that they’ve been told clearly enough that prosecutions are going to deliver a ‘scenes of crime view’ of what happened to their loved one at a particular time. It’s going to tell them absolutely nothing about the senior strategic decision-making that went into to the process that led to their loved one being killed whether carried out by Loyalists, Republicans or the British state. I think it’s a complete and utter waste of time to continue demanding truth through prosecutions. It is not going to come.
Martin: Alright. We just have about a minute or two left. We’ve now had more, about five hundred days, where there’s been no government, Stormont Administration, in The North. There doesn’t seem to be any prospects of any meaningful talks. The agreement that was proposed and which broke down gave very little to Sinn Féin – they would have gotten an Irish Language Act that would have been incorporated into an over-riding language act – it would have been under that as well as an Ulster-Scots act – and didn’t do anything in terms of legacy, didn’t do anything in terms of Arlene Foster’s position with the, in terms of the RHI, the Renewable Heat Incentive, scandal. Is there any prospect in the immediate future of talks to reconvene Stormont – getting that up and running?
Anthony: Well at the moment I think that the two sides remain pretty polarised. I mean the DUP are sitting pretty here and there’s not going to be anything, that I can see, that will happen that will change that position. The Tory government may have more room for manoeuvre if there was election and again, a significant majority, and therefore to not have to depend on the DUP. You might see them having some leverage over the DUP but at the minute the DUP have all the leverage. So I don’t see much changing until something happens – like the Tories getting a majority, which doesn’t look credible, and I mean if (UK Labour Party’s Jeremy) Corbyn comes in that would be a game changer but it wouldn’t be a game changer in terms of a united Ireland – it would just mean that we would get the same – the pressure would be brought to bear on the Unionists to get the same deal back on the table that they had previously has reneged upon. I think at the moment with Varadkar announcing these things if there’s movement towards a border poll and then this border poll is about sixty percent majority you’ll see the DUP starting to become much, much less hostile towards the idea of making concessions to the Nationalist community and making concessions to Sinn Féin but at all times they will ring fence and safeguard the constitutional attachment to the British state. And that’s not going to change.
Martin: Alright. We’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you, Anthony McIntyre, for being with us – giving us that analysis on a number of different themes.
Anthony: Thank you very much, Martin. (ends time stamp ~ 53:15)