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Martin Galvin (MG) speaks to People Before Profit MP Eamonn McCann (EM) via telephone from Doire about the relationship between Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin, the recent controversy about a grant from the Social Investment Fund and about legacy issues in The North of Ireland. (begins time stamp ~ 9:47)
MG: Eamonn McCann, welcome back Radio Free Éireann!
EM: Hello! Yes.
MG: Yes, Eamonn, can you hear me? Welcome back Radio Free Éireann!
EM: Yes, I can indeed. I can indeed. Hello. Yep, yep, I’m here.
MG : Eamonn, this is Martin Galvin and I want to ask you: We were talking about how different it must be instead of working as a journalist and an activist and a civil rights campaigner to be on the inside. But I want to begin: I’m reading from I believe it’s last Monday’s Irish News – there’s what we would call an Op-Ed or and opinion editorial – it’s called there a ‘platform’ piece. And it says: This is what delivery looks like – no gimmicks, no grandstanding – and you have the smiling faces of Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster and some of the members of their respective parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, and just some of the things they talked about – the significant achievement – they’ve put in place five hundred million welfare reform mitigation package to protect vulnerable people. They said that no effort is being spared to grow our economy and create new and better jobs. They said they have radial reforms to transform health and social care designed to make it truly world-class, a ten-year vision to straighten out the health services and the waiting lists and they are going to China soon to negotiate with the Chinese to bring even more employment and more progress to The North of Ireland. And I’m trying to figure if– they say that anybody else, people like you, who are not part of that coalition, you’re just interested in endless squabbles and causing problems and division and in bringing the Conservatives to rule without a mandate and after reading this I’m sure you wanted to leave People Before Profit and join either the DUP or Sinn Féin, is that… I’m being facetious. What was your response?
EM: I think that would be a wee bit wide of the mark.
MG: I’m being facetious, obviously.
EM: Well one of the striking things about being in Stormont, in fact the most striking thing, is just how close Sinn Féin and the DUP are. Of course in general terms and political terms we’ve all witnessed this convergence over recent years. But on an ordinary person-to-person level, sort of in terms of the tone of conversation, the extent to which the two parties stand up and defend one another, not just agree with one another but defend one another, is truly remarkable. There was an incident just last week where Alex Atwood of the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) was speaking – I actually forget about what and it doesn’t matter – but he was speaking and he was then followed by a member of Sinn Féin, I think Mr. McPhillips from Fermanagh – I’m not sure but a Sinn Féin MLA. And wonders of wonders: One of the DUP members of the Assembly got up and shouted, interruption sort of, and said to the member of Sinn Féin: Will the member give way? And of course the member of Sinn Féin said: Yes, certainly. And the question from the DUP is: Would you, (that is the Sinn Féin MLA), would you agree with me that Alex Atwood was talking a load of nonsense? Or words to that effect. And of course the Sinn Féin man said to the DUP man: Yes, indeed! I agree with you. The SDLP are talking a load of nonsense.
Now here you have the situation where the DUP and Sinn Féin were combining, in public, in formal terms in the Assembly, ganging up on the SDLP. Now whatever you think about the SDLP, certainly they’re not part of this coalition government, and for that they are regarded as fair game by Sinn Féin and the DUP. I think the time has come when we have to refer to this as a coalition government. Increasingly, Sinn Féin and the DUP, the Democratic Unionist Party, are not only talking in parallel terms they are speaking in unison – saying the same things. It’s a quite remarkable transformation.
MG: Well Eamonn, just one of the issues where this comes up is in terms of legacy issues; there’s a number of legacy issues. And I know you commented recently on the new British Minister, James Brokenshire, and you said that he was a despicable individual – and you were told you couldn’t do that – so you said: Well I’ll just think it. I won’t say it. But how does Sinn Féin, which supposedly or should be supporting justice on a whole range of people killed by British forces, killed or victims of collusion, killed by well either by directly by British Crown Forces or by people who may have worked with and been aided by and paid by members of Crown Forces, how do they and Arlene Foster, who denies that such things ever happened, how did they get together on issues like legacy issues?
EM: Well, they stay silent about it is one of the new things that the do or at least they stay silent about any difference that the two parties might have sort of on the so-called legacy issues. After all, it’s the DUP is holding up – for example, for example: There’s a number of, quite a number, of inquests, some from forty years ago and more than forty years ago, which haven’t been held yet. And they haven’t been held yet because the British government refuses to release information relevant to these inquests about the investigations – over whatever death was concerned, sort of what internal memos and documents sort of refer to this death in terms of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Home Office and so forth – other departments of the British government. The British government has been holding all this up. And the DUP, of course, are quite happy with that. The DUP are quite happy that nothing should be done and their immediate reason, there’s historical reasons, of course, and ideological reasons why the DUP would take that view, but the immediate reason which they use is that if the inquest were allowed to go ahead, if the inquiries which have been called for into Ballymurphy, for example, the Ballymurphy Massacre of August 1971, this would amount to giving equal status to people killed by British forces on the grounds, on the entirely spurious grounds, that they were terrorists, it would give them equal status with members of the British security forces so the DUP would hold it off.
Now the remarkable thing is that they’re able to do this and Sinn Féin isn’t creating the type of fuss about this which would have been the case just a few years ago and which some people might think would be appropriate now because if Sinn Féin were to say what many, many members of Sinn Féin and certainly supporters of Sinn Féin think and feel – if they were to denounce the DUP in forthright terms – say that they, the DUP, are actually supporting murder and colluding in the denial of truth to the families of victims – if they were to say that then, if Sinn Féin were to say that about the DUP – the coalition might fall apart! And maybe it wouldn’t but it might fall apart but risk the coalition falling apart – so they don’t say anything about a whole series of issues on which the Executive, Sinn Féin and the DUP, are more or less silent, or at least one or the other of them is silent, because to face the issue would reveal that they have contradictory approaches, or at least their supporters do, and it could have the effect of destabilising and even bringing down the Executive. So keeping the show on the road at Stormont, keeping the coalition going takes precedent over anything else in Northern politics at the moment. That’s the explanation of the DUP and Sinn Féin sticking together in circumstances where their own supporters are confused and dismayed at what they see before them.
MG: Well one of the issues that has come about is a grant of one point seven million pounds to Charter NI through the Social Investment Fund and it turns out that one of the leading figures there, Dee Stitt, is alleged to be a member of an illegal, still illegal, organisation, the UDA, (Ulster Defence Association) – it’s been reported that that allegation has been made – and that is an organisation, of course, which was directly involved in collusion murders of Nationalists, of innocent people. How do they stand together on that issue?
EM: Well, they all just accept it, of course. You know, I’m not sure how much the listeners know about this but as you said that under the last agreement, the Stormont House Agreement, in The North this Social Investment Fund (SIF) was set up as an eighty million pounds fund to help disadvantaged areas. Now, everybody in the area knew that what that really meant was subsidise and promote members of paramilitary organisations in order to bring them in from the cold; to involve them in the political process. And one of the ways that that’s being done is exemplified in the Charter NI organisation where Mr. Dee Stitt, as you say is the Chief Executive. Dee Stitt – let’s be blunt about it: Dee Stitt – it’s not that he has a history of paramilitarism – he is right now one of the main leaders of the Ulster Defence Association, a sectarian murder gang. Dee Stitt is one of the leaders of this gang, the UDA, and of course so he’s a prime candidate to receive some of this money because he and his associates, the theory is, have to be bribed and bought off and lured into constitutional politics with the offer of preferment, and in Dee Stitt’s case, the offer of a job – it’s thirty-five pounds a year which is not a fortune by capitalist standards but it’s a very, very good wage indeed in a working class area of The North of Ireland.
So I made the point in the Assembly that while a number of commentators were saying that this money had been paid to Charter NI and to Dee Stitt, the Chief Executive of Charter NI, that this money was being paid despite the fact that Dee Stitt was a member of a paramilitary organisation. And I pointed out that this was wrong. He’s being paid the money not despite the fact that he was a paramilitary godfather but because he was a paramilitary godfather. In other words it was a requirement for the job! It was one of the things that you needed to be able to put on your CV when you’re applying for the job because if you weren’t a member of a paramilitary organisation why give you money which is intended to lure paramilitary leaders to the path of peace and constitutional politics and so forth?
So the DUP did that. They wanted to do some (inaudible) with the people who support the UDA, sort of to bring the UDA in from the cold. So they’re not open about it but Arlene Foster, for example, happened to be photographed alongside Dee Stitt. The Speaker of the Stormont Assembly, Robin Newton, is an adviser to Charter NI, the outfit where Dee Stitt is the CEO. And the DUP is relatively open about this and Sinn Féin goes along with because if Sinn Féin were denounce the DUP for that issue – the Loyalist paramilitaries, for sectarian killers, for Dee Stitt – if Sinn Féin were to denounce the DUP for this that again would risk destabilising the DUP/Sinn Féin coalition. Once again, keeping the show on the road at Stormont takes precedence over everything even to the moral objections that many people might have about giving large amounts of public money to people who are leaders of a sectarian, paramilitary organisation. So all morality has gone out of the window here.
MG: Alright. Eamonn, we want to ask you about where we stand in terms of Bloody Sunday. It seems every sort of delay – the last thing was a long investigation, a new investigation, had to be conducted by the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland). That concluded. Files were sent to the Public Prosecution Service. You’ve had a British Prime Minister stand up and say that these killings were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’. Now to me, as a lawyer in New York, you have justified killings, like self-defence or you’re protecting the life of someone else, and then if you have an unjustified killing that is, by definition, murder or manslaughter or it falls into one of the crimes under murder. Why is it that nothing seems to have been announced even though the Public Prosecution Service has had these files, after so many other delays, they now have these files and we don’t know when, if ever, they’ll announce any kind of prosecutions of British soldiers?
EM: Well that’s true – we don’t know when, if ever. My guess would be: Never! The huge numbers of people in the British Establishment, very powerful people in the British Establishment, including military officers and retired, very senior officers from the British Army, have made it clear that they are totally opposed to any of the soldiers who murdered civil rights demonstrators in Doire – they are against any of these soldiers being charged. So there’s no British government that I can imagine, now or in the future, is going to risk a confrontation sort of with it’s senior military commanders and people within the civil service and the rest of it who don’t want soldiers charged for anything they did in Northern Ireland. I can’t see a British government actually standing up to that particularly, particularly when the British government well understands, as do the senior military officers, that any proper investigation of Bloody Sunday, if they brought the soldiers to trial -let’s imagine: Say you are one of the paratroopers, a private way back sort of in 1972, who fired some of the fatal shots in the Bogside back then – if they now come along, haul you into court, put you in the dock – what are you going to do? You’re going to spill the beans – aren’t you?! You know, it would take some sort of super-patriot, British patriot of some sort, to take the rap for murder in Doire while the people ordered you to go and murder people in Doire got off the hook and got away scot-free. So they are afraid. The British government, the British authorities, are really afraid of a Bloody Sunday trial of the soldiers and for that reason I don’t believe it’s ever going to happen. That doesn’t mean we don’t campaign for it. At the very least we should demand that what’s right ought to be done – and that the people killed on Bloody Sunday are entitled to be regarded as human beings and citizens, same as anybody else, and if you kill an innocent citizen – that’s murder. That’s murder. You deliberately point a gun at an innocent person, pull the trigger, there might be strange circumstances where it’s merely manslaughter, but almost always it will be murder and certainly it’s unlawful killing.
And of course those are not the only unlawful killings carried out by British security forces over the course of the conflict here but they’re the most high-profile, the Bloody Sunday killings, and therefore they’ve become iconic, emblematic sort of of the British role in The North here so I don’t see any resolution coming up in this but that’s all the more reason, as far as I’m concerned, to keep on demanding it in order to expose them, not to allow them to bury the Bloody Sunday issue quietly as they’ve been trying to do for many years.
MG: Alright, Eamonn. I’m going to ask you one final question and then let you go: On legacy issues – I believe I’ve read some of the reports of statements that you’ve made in Stormont and one of the things that you said was James Brokenshire, who is the new British Secretary appointed by Westminster to preside over The North of Ireland, took over for Theresa Villiers, you said that he was despicable and that the British government, the government he represents, doesn’t care about any of the Irish victims who were killed by collusion or by British Crown Forces. Why do you believe that to be true?
EM: Yeah. Well I not only believe that to be true I went on to say that I don’t believe the British government cares about it’s own people. It doesn’t care about people, for example, the people killed in the Birmingham bomb, 1974 – more than twenty innocent people in two pubs, the Talk of the Town and the Mulberry Bush, in the centre of Birmingham – people out for a night, on a Friday night – they’re blown to bits by two IRA bombs. Now, that’s bad enough but then as it turns out, and people listening might remember the Birmingham Six, who were convicted of this horrendous crime. And they served sixteen years in prison before they were released after having shown not only that they didn’t do but that they couldn’t have done it on the basis of the evidence which was actually in the possession of the authorities in Britain at the time, it was clear that the Birmingham Six, Paddy Hill and the rest of them, couldn’t have been the people who planted the bombs. Nevertheless, they went on and framed them. Why would they have done that? – you have to ask. Well the reason why they did that is that at least one British agent was involved in planting the Birmingham bombs and presumably because, and this is speculation to some extent, but because the calculation was that this would discredit the IRA, sort of in the eyes of people who regarded them a noble organisation, so they covered up the killings of the victims of the IRA – of their own citizens! Now, having done that what chance does anybody think that there is of them coming clean about killings they conducted in The North?
And might I say some of the relatives of those killed in the Birmingham bombs are now campaigning very strongly for inquests, for the truth to be told at last and they now realise, and I’ve talked to a number of them, and they now realise, clearly – one of them said to me, Julie Hambleton – sister Maxine, seventeen years old, was one of the people killed in the Birmingham bombs and Julie said to me:
We were lied to by the police. We were lied to by the courts. We were lied to by the politicians. We were lied to by judges. We were lied to by the Home Office. All of these people, the highest authorities in Britain, lied to us about the way and the reasons why our loved ones died.
That’s what the British government is up to in relation to Birmingham. You can imagine what they’re up to when it comes to considering killings by British agents or through collusion with British agents in Belfast. So that’s where that issue generally lies. There isn’t going to be a resolution of it, it seems to me, and therefore, and I’ve talked to some of the Birmingham people about this – this means we’ve got to just keep on keeping on – just every day just push and push and push and push. And if we can’t get the truth out of them at least we will get the truth out to the world that these people are liars – they are themselves – James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he is colluding in covering up the murder of citizens here in The North. Theresa May is colluding in the cover-up of murder in Northern Ireland. They all are. So why, in light of that, only a fool would expect the British to come clean about any of these things.
MG: Alright, Eamonn, we want to welcome you back again. Thank you for being with us again on Radio Free Éireann and we look forward to having you again – back with us again in future. And a special shout out and thanks to Kate Nash who was able to get in contact with you and insure that you’d be with us today to provide this information.
EM: Okay. Well you know yourself: If Kate Nash phones you up and says: I want you to do such and such you just have to do it.
MG: I know that first hand – you’re talking to somebody’s who’s gone through it. Thank you, Eamonn.
EM: Yeah. Okay. Bye. Bye. (ends time stamp ~ 30:59)