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.
John McDonagh and Martin Galvin speak to award winning journalist, author and historian Ed Moloney via telephone about the reaction of the Nationalist community to the results of the recent snap election in The North of Ireland. (begins time stamp ~ 35:02 )
John: And leaving Belfast for The Bronx, not that big a jump, and we’re going to head up there and speak with Ed Moloney, author of many books particularly one, A Secret History of the IRA. Ed, reading some of the analyses about the election, and it surely was a political earthquake that happened over in The Six Counties, but they said what really stirred the Sinn Féin vote was something called ‘cultural Nationalists’ – that they were quite content within The Six Counties as long as they had the Irish language, as long as they could play GAA that they were quite content. But when Arlene Foster came out and said there’ll be no funding and you ‘feed a crocodile’ – for the Irish language and some of the stuff the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) were getting involved with – but that is what stirred up a lot of the Nationalist people.
Ed: Yeah, I think that’s really what the election was about at the end of the day. It was a throwback in terms of the folk memory to many Nationalists, for many Nationalists, to the bad old days of Unionist majority rule where they not only did they rule the roost but they ruled with considerable arrogance and disdain for the Nationalist population and Arlene Foster’s language, her body language, the antics of some of her colleagues in the DUP were all reminders of that and I think acted as a considerable spur rather than any notion that this was all about a united Ireland. I think it was more about civil rights if you like rather than the national question. And I think the evidence is also there in the way that the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) vote did very well as well as Sinn Féin’s vote and that combined, the pair of them, you know came so close to overtaking the combined Unionists votes that people have described it, as you said yourself, as a political earthquake. But I think that’s somewhat misleading. I think it’s really – it was about getting very angry and looking for a way to hit back at the DUP for the way that they had behaved.
John: Yeah also, Ed, it seems elections like this bring out, as I say, the Orange and the Green and it consolidates the very sectarian vote. You know, now I get to listen, because of the internet, about the coverage in The North. There was no talks about you know we want to bring employment to The Six Counties, we want to stop fracking in Fermanagh. When these elections start it breaks down so sectarian it is unbelievable! And the people in The South, you listen to them, it’s sort of: Well, that’s The Six Counties. That’s the way elections are fought there – but it’s such an aberration when you hear the debates and everything. It has nothing to do with improving the economy. It’s ‘us’ against ‘them’ and it seems this election is really going to bring it out – or even the next election – that it is just going to be Orange and Green and that’s going to be the vote.
Ed: Well you see this is, of course, this is the major critique of the Good Friday Agreement from, if you like, a sort of more left-wing perspective – is that it has institutionalised sectarianism and rewards sectarianism and not only that but solidifies power in the hands of two parties, essentially the DUP and Sinn Fein, who manage to climb to the top of their greasy, respective greasy poles over their rivals in their own camps – the DUP beating the Ulster Unionists and the Sinn Féin beating the SDLP – and each election is really about the same thing: You better vote for us because if you don’t ‘themmuns’ are going to get the First Minister’s job and that will be terrible’ and Sinn Féin saying: You know, here’s a chance to get one back at the Prods by voting strongly enough to get the First Minister’s seat – and it institutionalises this and it sets politics in concrete and makes it impossible for the sort of issues that you were just talking about, like job creation, etc, to be raised. I mean this election I suppose was slightly different in the sense that there was a controversy over the DUP’s – the smell of corruption over this pellet fire or ash for cash or whatever it’s called – cash for ash scandal that hit Arlene Foster. But you know look how Eamonn McCann’s vote and the vote for his people suffered as a result of that and that’s an example of just how the Good Friday Agreement has – I mean and I think it’s almost done quite cynically by the British and Irish governments because this was a way to sort of like side-line the thing and keep these people busy fighting their little sectarian conflict as long as they keep it to politics and don’t bring the guns out then that’s fine. Let them carry on like that ad infinitum. And of course we give them a nice big Assembly, wonderful big castle of mention of a place to work in with a fantastic cafeteria and great food and they have wonderful salaries and great expenses and there’s lots of them, and they’re allowed to employ their wives and their sons and their daughters and you know, that’ll keep it going and you know that’s why I suspect that they will probably get this deal back again in some way, shape or form, too – there’s a gravy train and they’re all filling their bellies from it and at the same time very confident, as long as no one reaches again for guns, power is going to be confined exclusively in the hands of these two parties for ad infinitum.
Martin: Well Ed, this is Martin Galvin here. Ed, one of the elements of this deal is that the British government, as represented now by James Brokenshire, they don’t have to take responsibility for anything. You know they have a block grant. They can do what they like in terms of imprisoning Tony Taylor. They can say: Oh, we can’t give funding for legacy inquests – it might show that our hands are dirty in terms of the conflict or our hands are dirty in terms of the collusion because Arlene Foster won’t agree. So they get to stand behind Stormont, say we’re not responsible for anything and just rely on the two parties to exercise a veto against each other so that Arlene Foster, the DUP, don’t have to make moves and they can say: It’s not us – it’s just the DUP. Isn’t that sort of what we have instead of direct rule, instead of the British being responsible for injustices or what goes in in The North of Ireland?
Ed: Well it’s not just that, they’re also in charge of the economy, really. I mean the Assembly and the Executive is allowed to spend money as it wishes within certain limits but it’s given a budget not by…
Martin: …Right. Like a child with an allowance.
Ed: Precisely! They’re given their pocket money every week and away you go and you spend it on what you like and have a good time, guys, and try not to really screw up here. But they’re not allowed to raise taxes and they’re not allowed to raise money in the way that a fully independent government would be able to do. And of course, that means that The North’s economy – and we see this with the decision on Europe as well is, essentially, the powers – the power over the most important things, including those issues you raised there about who killed whom, when and why and how – those issues are all under the control of the British still and one could argue that between that and the economy that’s really what Northern Ireland has been about for the last thirty-forty years.
John: And another topic, I don’t know how much play it had in the elections, is Brexit – with the United Kingdom pulling out of the European Union. A couple months ago I had a conversation with Barbara Jones of the Irish Consulate and she was telling me that the border was in my head – that it didn’t really exist. And I was explaining to her my mother’s from a small town in Donegal called Pettigo – half of it is in Fermanagh – and I remember all the customs checkpoints and everything that’s going on and how this is just not a huge debate in The Six Counties but because of the Green and Orange but with this coming down the pike this is going to be re-setting up the custom posts from Dundalk all the way up to Doire and Letterkenny that the Brexit’s going to have a huge – and it’s having a huge effect there now where people are shopping in Enniskillen or you’re getting your petrol in The South and going back and forth and no one seems to have a plan on what’s going to happen when the borders are a hard border. And there will be a hard border.
Ed: Well we’ll see. We’ll have to wait and see on that. But in relation to things like shopping on different sides of the border – that was going on long before the Brexit vote because currency variations – you know because the British kept the pound and wouldn’t go in with the euro – there was sometimes significant swings, one way or the other, that would encourage people either to shop in Newry or to shop in Dundalk or what have you that was happening Brexit or no Brexit. We have to wait and see what the sort of deal that this woman Theresa May gets out of the European nations for British exit from the EU. I suspect that, from the mood music that’s coming out, that they’re all sort of saying well we’ve got to avoid this hard border because it sort of evokes images of the 1950’s really because you know even when The Troubles were on the border, customs-wise, increasingly became less relevant. You know? And you didn’t have to stop. There were times, long, long ago, when you had to stop at the border and someone would peer into your car and then let you go if you were judged to be ‘okay’. That was gone long before, and during the Troubles that went and really stopping at the border only became necessary for hauliers and trucks and people who were shipping stuff across over to Europe or up to Britain or whatever and they would have to get their customs papers signed and so on and so forth and they would stop voluntarily and the customs posts went from the middle of the road to the side of the road and became increasingly less intrusive in peoples’ lives. Now whether it reverts back to the 1950’s or something like the 1980’s remains to be seen but I suspect they all want to get something that’s equivalent to the 1980’s. The British, of course, are all exercised about the idea of tens of thousands of people from Syria (just like Donald Trump) slipping over to Britain via the Irish the back door – but that’s not going to happen either, I don’t think – realistically it’s just not on. So I just find it hard to take this whole Brexit thing terribly seriously. A) because not everyone in Northern Ireland or indeed round the border areas is that much affected, even by a hard border. And what was – it depends on how you determine or judge or decide what The Troubles were really all about – I’ve increasingly come to the viewpoint that this was not a national liberation struggle really in its essence – that the Provos were never real Republicans in the sense that you know people like the IRA of 1916 or the IRA of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh etc. The Provos were defenders. They came from that different part of the Republican Movement which was really about defending Catholic interests. And because they come from that origin I think it’s so much easier for them to do a deal, like the Good Friday Agreement, which like an old-fashioned Republican could not have done because it accepted partition, accepted the Principle of Consent and so on and so forth. And if it was really about civil rights – and if it was a civil rights campaign or struggle that got out of control – then issues like the border really come secondary to issues like that we have seen being fought over in the recent election in The North which was about relationships between Catholics and Protestants within the Northern Ireland state and that’s not going to be affected that much by Brexit. But I may be wrong – we’ll see.
Martin: Alright, Ed, well if we had time I’d go into all of those things – which I have a very different viewpoint but how and ever – and Brexit, of course, is going to be negotiated by all of the European Community with Theresa May and I don’t know who much of the interest of those who want a soft border in Ireland are going to have but the important question now is: What do you expect to happen? We have three weeks altogether between the time that the Assembly ended and there’s supposed to be nominations and accepted nominations of a First and Deputy First Minister. There are talks going on now. Arlene Foster had campaigned on the basis of stopping Gerry Adams and that Michelle O’Neill was just somebody that he had instructed and put up as a puppet or as a functionary. Arlene Foster’s leading negotiations. Gerry Adams is involved with negotiations. You have Fr. Gary Donegan, some of the people who brought the parade back to Ardoyne and resolved that issue, are getting involved. James Brokenshire’s getting involved. What do you expect to happen over the next few weeks? Are we going to have a Stormont government reconvened within the three weeks or slightly longer period? What do you expect to see?
Ed: I actually think that really events south of the border are going to play a bigger role in this than maybe anything else. And there is a distinct possibility that this government in Dublin, which is a strange government – it’s a coalition government in everything but name – it’s sort of being propped up by Fianna Fáil but they’re not taking ministerial seats etc. But that’s a very shaky arrangement and it could collapse at any moment. And there are stresses and strains on it. Enda Kenny is due to retire or resign as Taoiseach quite soon. He’s more or less made that promise public and you could see an election happening in The South. Now, in the midst of all this business about the ‘cash for ash’ scandal Sinn Féin let it be known that they were going to drop their insistence that the only way in which they would become a member of a government in The South in Dublin would be as a majority party that they were now prepared to take seats on a minority basis – in other words as a minority partner in a coalition government – which opens up the possibility of a Fine Gael-Sinn Féin government, with Fine Gael in the majority or a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin government with Fianna Fáil in majority. Both things Sinn Féin had always said they would never accept. Now they’re prepared to accept that. And I suspect that what is happening here is that – being as you know, Martin, it has been my belief for a very long time that the real goal in all of this peace process has been to get to a situation where Sinn Féin is involved in the government on both sides of the border at the same time. In other words there are Sinn Féin bums on seats around cabinet tables in Dublin and Belfast and that will be Gerry Adams’ mark on Irish history – that is what he will be remembered for – for pulling off that particular trick. And he’s not getting any younger. I mean we’ve seen the condition that his former partner, Martin McGuinness, is in – he may not have much longer on this planet – and Gerry himself must be fully aware that you know his time is finite as well and that if it’s ever going to happen it has to happen fairly soon. And if there is an election and if there is a possibility of Sinn Féin going in as a minority partner in a coalition government – and there will always be coalition governments in The South – no one party has sufficient strength to have the majority by themselves – then what happens in The North then becomes quite important because it’s then in Gerry Adams’ interest to get stability back in The North and also to be seen as someone who is responsible and has negotiated a good arrangement for his people in The North and, therefore, is a fitting partner for one of the parties in The South to go into government with. But we shall see whether that happens or not but I suspect that may play a role in all of this.
Martin: Alright, Ed, we want to thank you for that. We’re going to have to leave it here. We could go on for a lot longer if we had a lot longer to go on but we’re almost out of time…
Martin: …so I want to thank you for that analysis.
Martin Galvin (MG) speaks to award winning journalist, historian and author Ed Moloney (EM) via telephone who comments on Martin McGuinness’ health issues, the Stack case, the Sinn Féin response to the RHI (Renewable Heat Initiative) scandal and the impact of issues on the future of the Assembly and the Executive in The North of Ireland. (begins time stamp ~ 28:10)
MG: And with us on the line we have the journalist, formerly with the Irish Times, Sunday Tribune, Hibernian magazine – historian and author of books such as A Secret History of the IRA and Voices From the Grave. Ed, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
EM: Thank you, Martin, very nice to be back.
MG: Ed, John had tracked down – there werediscussions about Martin McGuinness’ medical condition and whether it would mean that he would be stepping down or deceasing his duties and again, we’re just covering this because it’s a news story. Everybody wishes him the best of health and recovery from any problems that he has. Why is it so important? Why is Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, why are their continued leadership in Sinn Féin – why is that viewed as so important? Even now Martin McGuinness is in his late sixties. Gerry Adams is close to seventy years of age. What is the impact if they do – one or both – does step down?
EM: Well they’ve always been like the Siamese twins of the Provos for the last twenty years or so in the sense that it was a double act that was required to bring the IRA into the ceasefire situation and then into the peace process. And the reason for that was very simple. It was: Gerry Adams was, as most people know, a very senior figure in the IRA; at one stage he was Chief of Staff, he was Belfast Brigade Commander a couple of times at least, he was Adjutant General and various other very senior posts. But he never had the reputation of someone who went out with Active Service Units and pulled triggers or pressed buttons or whatever the IRA is required to do. He was very much a general who sat behind the lines and that’s very well known within the IRA and for that reason people within the IRA itself were always a little bit leery of his military reputation whereas Martin McGuinness has the name of someone who actually did go out on operations and, as they say, ‘did the business’. So when it came to selling the peace process strategy to the grassroots I don’t think Gerry Adams could have done that by himself because I don’t think the trust was there on the part of the rank-and-file, the activists, the people who were the foot soldiers of the IRA who looked down on Adams somewhat you know that he was – Okay, he was a bright guy and he was a clever strategist but he’d never done what the other guys had done whereas Martin McGuinness did. So the fact that Martin McGuinness appeared with Gerry Adams as sort of a double act in the peace process years – backing Adams, always seen in his company, supporting him, at one point telling journalists that Gerry Adams is someone who puts into words thoughts that he has but can’t himself put into words and very much that he admired Adams and so on and so forth but the combination of the two together was strong enough and persuasive enough to bring along sufficient number inside the IRA. So it’s very important for that strategy that the pair of them acted together in concert. If one of them goes, and the rumours are that he is very seriously ill and that if he’s as seriously ill as people say that may well precipitate his departure, it does a couple of things. First of all it ends that partnership and secondly it raises automatically questions about Gerry Adams’ own future. You know, once one partner goes what happens to the other one? It becomes much more a live issue, that: Will he go? Should he go? And as you know there’s a tremendous amount of pressure from the political establishment and the media establishment in The South, in the Republic, against Adams and they all want to see him go and you know that pressure could increase quite considerably if McGuinness decides to retire.
MG: Ed, just before we broke in December there was a major story that we had covered in The South. It was about a killing that occurred years ago of a guard at Portlaoise Prison, Brian Stack, and his sons had come to Gerry Adams, requested information. Adams had apparently given some information, or at least arranged for meetings with the IRA for them, and that is still having repercussions as people are saying he should do more, the sons of the killed Portlaoise officer are saying that he should do more. Other people are saying he should never have given – there should have never been an email that released or involved any names – names which were then brought up in Leinster House under privilege. Could you tell us about the importance of that?
EM: Well, it’s one of these situations which is a very difficult one. As you say, what happened was that Gerry Adams took the son, or the sons, of this prison officer, a guy called Stack, to meet the IRA and to be told by the IRA what the circumstances were of their father’s killing. And for many, many years they had declared that they knew nothing about the circumstances behind the man’s death. Then latterly have admitted that yes, it was one of their operations but it was not authorised. All of which, incidentally, I take with a quite a large pinch of salt – I’m not inclined to believe it – I think it was an authorised operation but they daren’t say it was an authorised operation because that breaks IRA rules which forbid actions against members of the southern security forces – the police, army, prison guards, etc. So it’s a very difficult one. Adams will argue that he was trying to get closure for the family and find out what happened. The family are saying: No, we want more than this. I don’t think they believe the story about it being an unauthorised operation either and they want Adams to name the IRA man that he took the two sons to meet which is of course is something that he’s not going to do and I don’t think can do and get away with it but the pressure is on him to do something and it’s coming from, not just from the family, but also from all the other usual political opponents of the Provos in The South.
EM: There is now a police investigation re-launched into Stack’s killing and where that leads will be very interesting indeed.
MG: Alright. I just want to go back to Martin McGuinness: Now, we’ve seen some confusion within Sinn Féin in The North that a party that is known just for being very disciplined, well-organised, that everybody’s ‘on message’. For example John talked briefly – and we’re not – we’re going to cover this story in future, we’re not going to go to it in detail today. Right now there is an issue, there was a renewable heat initiative some years ago under Arlene Foster. It turned out that you could actually make money per unit per heat – she presided over it. There’s a fortune going to be lost to The North, the government, because of it. There are calls for her to step down. Sinn Féin is the, actually the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) had made a motion of no-confidence in her. There’s a fight over whether there should be a public inquiry or what Sinn Féin’s posture should be. Now during the week some of the members of Sinn Féin, Declan Kearney and others, had argued that there has to be – Mary Lou McDonald – that there has to be a public inquiry. Other members of Sinn Féin said: No, it could be some kind of robust inquiry, not public, behind closed doors. There were actually statements pulled out whether it should be a public inquiry or not – pulled out of a press release and then put back into a press release from Declan Kearney – those types of things did not happen when, up until now, wouldn’t have happened I think if Martin McGuinness was fully at the helm. What do you think the impact is of him having any medical issues?
EM: Well I guess it probably doesn’t help that he’s not around or not functioning at a hundred percent because, as you say, there’s been a whole number of mistakes made but they all arise from I think a fundamental weakness in Sinn Féin’s position which is that the Assembly and the power-sharing government, the Good Friday Agreement institutions in other words, are really what the peace process is all about. They swapped the IRA’s armed struggle and they swapped quite a very important political belief such as the idea that the Unionists did not have the veto on Irish unity and that their consent was not required for Irish unity which has always been the rationale, indeed the raison d‘être, of the IRA and the armed struggle, they swapped all of those cardinal, defining aspects of their ideology in return for the power-sharing government and the power-sharing Assembly. And I think what the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) have discovered is that they daren’t let go of those and they daren’t be seen to abandon the power-sharing Assembly and the Executive because if they go then they have nothing to show for basically giving up their armed struggle and I think they’re taking advantage of that and this Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) is I think an example of that. And it’s an extraordinary situation if you think about it. The way that it works: These are pellet stoves which are very common in rural areas in the United States. I mean, we have a pellet stove up in upstate. And you buy these bags of pellets; they’re fairly cheap. They give off tremendous heat. They’re a bit awkward to fill up etc but they’re very efficient. But the way that they introduced this system in The North was that if for every dollar that you spent on a pellet, on a supply of pellets, you got a subsidy back from the government of one dollar sixty cents. This is an extraordinary money-making scheme which was only open, incidentally, to certain types of people. It wasn’t like open to you and me. It would be open to farmers and industrial people and stuff like that and they were – what they’ve been doing – is that they’ve filling their barns with these pellet stoves and making an absolute fortune in subsidies. I mean for every dollar of pellets that they burn they’re getting back sixty cents pure profit which is a great deal when you think about it for doing virtually nothing except warming up an empty barn. And this is all being paid for out of the Exchequer at a time when Sinn Féin and the other parties have all signed up to a whole series of austerity measures which are affecting working class people in Belfast – both Loyalist, Unionist, Nationalist and Republican – all being asked to make sacrifices and here this scheme, which has the taint of being made available more freely to supporters of the DUP than to anyone else, that’s existing and Sinn Féin is doing next to nothing about it. So there was a huge amount of anger in their own party’s ranks which I think has led to this confusion by the leadership, not helped by the fact that Martin McGuinness was not in fully functioning mode, and they’ve been all over the place quite literally. I mean I had a piece on my blog during the week about the number of flip-flops that they have performed – you know, on one day demanding a public inquiry – the next day saying sorry, that was a typo. We meant a robust inquiry rather than a public inquiry and so on and so forth. And it’s at that point where the credibility of the party and the credibility of its strategy is very much being tested here. How it’s all going to end up remains to be seen but my money very firmly would be on nothing happening that would threaten the institutions and that eventually a deal will be done which keeps the show running and preserves, more or less, the institutions as we have them and that the DUP will more or less get away, I reckon, with what they’ve done here because the alternative is to make a real principled issue out of it, push it to the breaking point and bring the whole edifice down and that, I don’t believe, Sinn Féin ever will do or want to do.
MG: Ed, this brings us to the central question: As you say, when armed struggle was given up in exchange for access to Stormont and other political concessions the whole idea, the idea behind the armed struggle or the raison d‘être of the armed struggle, the reason that there was a struggle for freedom in Ireland, the reason that there was some negotiations, the reason for Sinn Féin’s very existence is to get a united Ireland – is to end British rule. And it was said during the negotiations that by working with the DUP or working with the official Unionists, by Sinn Féin playing a part there – Unionists, they would build, gradually, goodwill with Unionists and Unionist somehow – through cross-border bodies, through working with Sinn Féin, Unionist voters would come to accept the idea of a united Ireland and as the Nationalist population or percentage of the population rose you’d ultimately have a Nationalist majority who wanted freedom for all Ireland. Now that has not happened. The latest statistics, there was a programme, The View, some time ago that said that eighty-eight percent of Protestants were firmly committed to staying within British rule. That only about half that number, forty-three percent, less than half that number, forty-three percent of Catholics wanted a united Ireland. The rest either were undecided or were content with British rule. It seems that there’s no real movement towards the ultimate goal. Why stay with a strategy that is not working to achieve what it was objected to achieve?
EM: I think really, basically, the answer to that is that they were militarily defeated when the peace process took off and that when the IRA called its ceasefire in 1994 it was from a position of extreme weakness. And my own conviction, and it’s not just fanciful speculation on my part – I’m basing this on some facts that I am aware of – is that the level of infiltration of the IRA by British intelligence forces by the time of the peace process was such that it became a legitimate question as to who was really running the show? Was it the IRA leadership? The Army Council? Or was it British intelligence manipulating things in the background? And effectively, eighty percent of their operations were being compromised. They were losing men and materials. The Eksund was lost in 1987 and with The Eksund wasthe last great military throw had been lost as well. They were going to launch this huge big Tet-style offensive with the idea of sickening British public opinion and encouraging the view that it was time to get out of this place because it’s such a mess it’s going to go on forever. Well, once The Eksund was betrayed – and The Eksund was betrayed. I mean there had to be at least two agents on the job there and very possibly more who knew about an operation that was kept highly secret for a long time and that demonstrated just how badly infiltrated the IRA had become. And one can ask all sorts of questions about the behaviour of the Internal Security Unit – why the same people stayed in those spots for so long and so on and so forth. But the fact remains, whatever the truth behind all that speculation is, and my view is that militarily they were, essentially, defeated and they were operating from a position of weakness really all the way through the peace process negotiations.
MG: Alright. But even if that is correct, John brought up at the beginning of the programme that at the end of the ’50’s campaign, which was certainly militarily defeated – was going nowhere. They dumped arms but they were certainly committed to try and find a strategy that would lead to a united Ireland. They were not going to go to something that was counter-productive, that was going to never lead to a united Ireland. It seems as if being in Stormont – Arlene Foster has talked about the next century or the second century of Northern Ireland – it seems as if the position of support for British rule and the Unionists – Arlene Foster can put Martin McGuinness in his place, that’s what it seems. They don’t compromise, the British don’t have to do anything, they wait for Arlene Foster to say: Nothing on legacy, nothing on this, nothing on that. And when they do the hard bargaining and pull the concessions out of Sinn Féin the British can just simply just sit back and take advantage of this and pretend to be neutral and not to care while all the time they’re having their will done and there’s no growing movement/popular support for a united Ireland. It seems the statistics are going further and further back. You don’t have any immediate prospect of getting a border poll and ….
EM: …winning it…
MG: Right! If you lose it then you can’t even bring it up for another seven years and in the Twenty-Six Counties people say: Well, don’t even talk to us. You know, have to vote on it ‘up there’ first.
EM: The first point to make, Martin, in relation to all of that is that there’s a fundamental basic different between what happened at the end of the 1956-62 IRA campaign and what happened at the end of the Provos’ war. The 1956-62 campaign ended with them just saying: Alright, we’re stopping for the time being,dump arms, another day will come and we’ll wait for that day. This ending of an IRA phase is unprecedented in Republican history in the sense that never before had a leadership burned its ideological bridges behind it as it went into a peaceful situation which is what happened with the Provos. They burned their own ideology in terms of the bridges – once they crossed those bridges they burned the bridges behind them and they couldn’t return. And I’m thinking there in terms of accepting the idea of Unionist consent which is fundamental to Republican ideology. You know, the whole basis of the IRA was you know, the First Dáil and the Second Dáil, both of which were all-Ireland elections which returned a majority in favour of Sinn Féin therefore the enforcement of partition was undemocratic and anti-democratic and was against the will of the Irish people as a whole, etc etc all of that philosophy and ideology was thrown out when they went into the peace process and that is the major difference. And that is why – I mean it’s rather like the Berlin wall coming down in terms of the effect that it had on Communist ideology in eastern Europe – you know, once they had, once the former communists had become capitalists as it were there was no going back. And in a sense the Provos have done something very similar to that with the peace process. They have essentially accepted the constitutional nationalist approach to the border and to partition which means that we need to win over the Unionists to the notion of Irish unity, we cannot try to militarily expel the British or anything like that because we’re now committed to peaceful quote ‘democratic’ means. And that is the difference between 1956-1962 so the war is over and there’s no getting away from that and it’s over because, not just they lost militarily, but also that they have ditched the ideology and philosophy behind what used to be armed Republicanism.
MG: But Ed, what they did say was that we will get a united Ireland – gradually you’re going to get a Nationalist majority even within The Six Countries, and we’ll gradually, by showing how we can participate, work with Unionists, that we’re going to build goodwill. We’ll do confidence builders. We’ll do concessions. They’ll work with us. They’ll get used to seeing us and that gradually enough Unionist, enough Nationalist population, enough Unionists will come over and support a united Ireland and we’ll get a united Ireland that way. That was the argument that was marketed here. The opposite is happening. The strength of Unionism within the Nationalist community seems to be growing and as a result of this strategy and the number of the Protestant community, in religious terms, who support British rule seems to be as strong as ever before. So even if you say we’re committed now to a political strategy, even if you say we’re going to do this by getting a majority for a united Ireland within the Six Counties and then merge with the Twenty-Six Counties, if they were saying, on that basis, our ultimate goal remains the same as that of constitutional nationalism: a united Ireland – only we want to do it by different means – we’ll recognise the Unionist border, we’ll recognise Unionist veto, as you say, that there has to be Unionist support in the Six Counties – on that basis though, the strategy seems to be going in exactly the wrong direction. Why stay with a political strategy that seems to be counter-productive, which seems to be damaging your ultimate objective, which seems to be strengthening the hand of British rule and getting to Arlene Foster’s goal that there should be another century, a second century, of Northern Ireland and perhaps more beyond that rather than pursue something that’s going to do what they said they were going to do – achieve a united Ireland – even if peacefully, even if politically, even if it required a majority in the Six Counties to do it?
EM: Well, the answer to that is very simple, Martin: They’ve got no where else to go. They can’t go back to war. They’re old men now, a lot of them, to begin with. The atmosphere has changed; the tolerance for violence I think is much less than it used to be but also they have made all of these ideological concessions. They cannot, without like being consigning themselves into an utter political wilderness, they cannot go back on all of these great pledges that they’ve made about accepting the Principle of Consent which is at the heart of the peace process and the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. It’s the first thing that Tony Blair said when he came out of the negotiating room, chambers, when they had reached agreement. He said: This is historic because of this reason: Republicans have accepted the Principle of Consent – that there can be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, ie, the Unionists in practice. And he recognised the importance of it. And that’s what the peace process was all about. It was to get to a point where the Provos accepted this doctrine. They did so and to go back on that and say: Actually, we’ve changed our mind. What are they going to then do? Re-start the war? They’re in no position to re-start any war at all. And therefore, that is the point I was making at the beginning is that they’ve really got no where else to go except the Assembly and the Executive and therefore they will keep it going and therefore the DUP can treat them, quite literally, with contempt knowing that, at the end of the day, they’re not going to bring the house down on themselves.
MG: Well on that depressing note you can see that even that there is a One Ireland One Vote campaign movement of the 1916 Societies in Ireland which says that all the people of Ireland, those in Dublin and Donegal should vote alongside those in Doire, and they should have an equal say about the freedom of their country or the future of their country – you don’t even see that being pushed by Sinn Féin at this time – something that could lead, change the landscape and start leading us back to a united Ireland. Alright, Ed…
EM: …I can give you one more piece of good news, though, which is Arsenal are being beaten in the FA Cup and that brings cheer to everyone I think.
MG: Well I don’t know. I’d be more interested in the Giants and Packer game tomorrow. I’m a Jet fan so I don’t even get cheered from that so. Alright, Ed, I want to thank you for being with us and going through some – we wanted to cover some more issues but I think you’ve gotten to the heart of what the real, crucial issues are in The North of Ireland and I appreciate that very much.
EM: No problem, Martin. Thank you now. Bye-bye. (ends time stamp ~55:36)
John McDonagh (JM) speaks to award winning journalist and author Ed Moloney (EM) via telephone about the BBC Spotlight NI programme, ‘A Spy in the IRA’. (begins time stamp ~ 44:19)
JM: And the next clip I’m going to play they’re interviewing another British agent who lo and behold! Is going by the name of ‘Martin’ – not that I want to equate with Martin McGuinness – just saying – but he’s using the same name, Martin, and this is the clip where everyone is saying that if Gerry Adams didn’t give, acknowledge the killing or condone the killing of Denis Donaldson then he should sue.
Audio: Portion of the BBC Spotlight NI programme ‘Spy in the IRA’ is played. The programme can be viewed here.
JM: And welcome back to Radio Free Éireann. And that statement there is the one that’s causing a political earthquake in Ireland with even Loyalists saying that Gerry Adams should sue the BBC Spotlight programme that aired on Tuesday for accusing him of being any way involved with the killing of Denis Donaldson. With us on the line is Ed Moloney, frequent guest here at Radio Free Éireann also the author of the book, A Secret History of the IRA, and Ed has been on this show for years and years talking about the infiltration of the IRA at almost every level within the organisation by British informants. Ed, what did you think of this documentary and do you think that Gerry Adams will sue the BBC Spotlight programme?
EM: Well to answer to the second part of your question first: No, he’s not going to sue. He’s always received advice from his lawyers that if he decided to sue he’d have to give evidence in court and the outcome and the whole trial would become about his credibility and there are just too many on the record episodes involving him and the IRA for him to persuade a jury that he wasn’t in this organisation so he would probably lose it and if he lost it then that would be a devastating blow to him because that would mean that the jury had decided that he was in the IRA and he was the leader – everything which he has denied over the last few years or so. As to whether this is true or not I have to say I mean I wrote a piece about it during the week and I started off by saying I don’t know whether it is true that A) The IRA killed him but I would believe that if they did kill him then clearly the political leadership would have to know and have to give their go-ahead to it so it wouldn’t surprise me that someone like Gerry Adams would have known about it and would have basically approved it or not objected to it. But as to whether they did it I think the jury’s out on that one. Obviously Jennifer is very confident in her – Jennifer O’Leary, the reporter for Spotlight – is obviously very confident in her sources and I haven’t got a source on this so I would say I would trust what she’s saying and that she’s not making it up and that there’s a basis for what she is saying but I don’t have independent proof of it.
JM: Well Ed, just watching this documentary, I mean from an Irish Republican point of view, it has to be very disappointing just to see how organised the British were in infiltrating the IRA and talking about every level of the movement was infiltrated and how they said if it was a ‘dirty war’ we could have arrested or shot dead anybody on the IRA Army Council but we let them in there so knew what was going on because we knew who they were and we had them compromised.
EM: Yeah, I mean I think it will go down in the annals of British intelligence as like a remarkable, unprecedented intelligence success – the defeat of the IRA – and that’s what we’re really talking about here at the end of the day. And as you know, John, I’ve been saying this for a long, long time that the infiltration, the British infiltration of the IRA, was very, very extensive and I’ve seen very credible statements from senior people in British intelligence saying that by the time of let’s say the first ceasefire in 1994 when the peace process was really getting serious by that stage seventy percent of IRA operations were being interdicted, in other words stopped because of informants, and that one out of every three members of the IRA was either working for the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) Special Branch, for Military Intelligence or for MI5 and when you have that level of penetration you’re able to determine you know who gets what job in the IRA – more than anything else you able to influence which political direction they go in. And you know, one of the questions that Jennifer O’Leary has asked in this Spotlight programme is a question that I’ve been putting in and asking for a long, long, long time which is that: Did the IRA go down the road of the peace process because the British intelligence edged them in that direction thereby producing a more complete end to the IRA’s campaign than would have been the case if they just locked everyone up?
They have taken a political road, the IRA, recognising the institutions and the political value, if you like, of the British link in a way that they would never have done had they just been defeated militarily. So it’s a very, very complete victory but there are other questions that come out of this which is: Now the IRA leadership is not stupid, they must have known how many of their operations were being stopped or betrayed or what have you and what did they do to try to stop the rot as it were? Or did they do something, did they change, for example, the personnel in the unit of the IRA that was designated as the spy-catcher, the Internal Security Unit (ISU)? The evidence is no, that they didn’t. People like Freddie Scappaticci , who was very senior in the Internal Security Unit believed to be working for British military intelligence for many, many years, when his cover was blown he was allowed quietly to retire and resign. But other people who must have come under suspicion in that unit were allowed to continue and therefore one has to ask and wonder what the motives of the leadership was in not taking the sort of action which they ordinarily would.
JM: Well Ed, thanks for coming on. We’re wrapping up here. And that was Ed Moloney, writer of A Secret History of the IRA. (ends time stamp ~ 54:12)
Martin Galvin (MG) speaks to award winning journalist and author Ed Moloney (EM) via telephone who provides us with updates on the Freddie Scappaticci case and the Ivor Bell case. (begins time stamp ~37:12 )
MG: With us on the line we have the great historian, author, expert on the Irish conflict, Ed Moloney. Ed, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
EM: My pleasure, Martin.
MG: Alright, we’re going to talk about two things: First of all during the week, Freddie Scappaticci – he is somebody who was a British agent, infiltrated the Irish Republican Army – committed many, or is believed to have committed many murders while acting within the Irish Republican Army as an ostensible Irish Republican Army member who was really acting on behalf of the British government. Could you tell us a little bit about Freddie Scappaticci and what his importance is, Ed?
EM: Yeah, Freddie Scappaticci – the name is Italian as you’re listeners probably guessed and one of many Irish-Italians who joined the Provisional IRA in Belfast – there’s quite a few famous characters who came from that community which arrived in Belfast in the late nineteenth century mostly doing marble work when Belfast City Hall was being constructed – they did a lot of the marble work inside and a lot of the tile work and he’s one of those families from The Markets area and he joined the IRA fairly early on in The Troubles and rose through the ranks, was interned, came out and under the reorganisation of the IRA lead by the Gerry Adams leadership he was appointed to a new unit in the IRA called the Internal Security Unit (ISU) whose job it was, and this is the first time in the modern IRA they had such a unit, their job was to basically hunt out informers in their ranks and administer the sort of very rough justice that the IRA would mete out to people who were caught giving information to the British ie they would be shot. Well, for some reason during that period he had a falling out with someone in the IRA – the background to that story we’ve never really been able to discover but it seems that he got a bad beating or a very bad falling out with someone in the IRA and out of revenge or his desire for revenge he offered his services to the British Army and he became an informer for the British Army and one of the most important informers, probably, during the entire period of The Troubles because he rose, thanks largely to his new patrons working assiduously on his behalf, he rose through the ranks of the Internal Security Unit to eventually head it.
Now the Internal Security Unit had enormous power in the IRA – it could go into any meeting, including Army Council meetings, and question/interrogate people and no one really could stop them. They were given that mandate from the very get-go. And they would investigate IRA operations that went badly wrong to see if there was evidence of informers. So there really wasn’t much about the IRA that they didn’t know and I’ve often compared the Internal Security Unit to like an electrical circuit box or one of those fuse boxes that you have in your homes. All the lines, all the wiring in the house goes through the fuse box at one stage or another and that was the Internal Security Unit – and there’s very, very little that they did not know about what was happening inside the IRA and to have an agent within that unit, particularly a high-ranking one like Freddie Scappaticci, would be priceless and of course he wasn’t the only agent as things have turned out – we’ve discovered the identities of others who worked in the same unit who were also informers. And of course if you’ve got an informer running the unit it’s so much easier to place other agents in there so there was no shortage of information flowing from that unit and I would say it’s probably the most important intelligence success that the British enjoyed during the entire length of The Troubles – that was the recruitment of Freddie Scappaticci.
Now where the story gets dark and very dubious is that of course in order to maintain his cover as being a loyal and faithful IRA Volunteer he had to do all the things that the Internal Security Unit did which included taking people away and shooting them, killing them – people who had been judged to be informers and there can be, I think, very, very little doubt that this was all done with the knowledge and approval of his masters in the British Army. It was being run by an outfit called the Force Research Unit (FRU) which was also running people like Brian Nelson who is now dead but he was deeply involved in the plans to assassinate Pat Finucane. And it stands to reason that if you’re going to run one of these agents then in order to maintain their cover they must allowed to behave as if they were not an agent – in other words that they would do all the things an IRA Volunteer would do and in his case that meant killing people as I said which means that the big scandal here which has led to demands for inquiries and has led to court cases on the part of people whose family members were victims of Freddie Scappaticci is that there’s a cry or call for some sort of inquiry or some discovery of what really happened in relation to British government knowledge because this sort of activity and the running of an agent as senior and as important to the British Army as Freddie Scappaticci that’s a piece of knowledge that would be shared at the very highest levels of the British government. There’s an outfit called the Joint Intelligence Committee which has all the major intelligence and spy agencies represented on it – MI5, MI6, GCHQ, Military Intelligence and so on and so forth and I’m sure there are outfits that we’ve never even heard of but they’re all on this committee which is a Cabinet Committee in which the Prime Minister of the day sits as well.
So Prime Ministers from let’s say you know mid-to late 1970’s on until the end of the 1980’s or early 1990’s – go through how many Prime Ministers Britain had at that time – and every single one of them would have known about Freddie Scappaticci and would have essentially, because they didn’t stop him, they would have approved of his activities which included as I say killing people with the knowledge and approval of British intelligence. So it’s a major, major scandal. There are all sorts of attempts now in the courts and also pressure on the authorities to have some sort of inquiry. They have appointed an outside policeman to look at all of this but none of his report will be made public or at least only those bits which the government deems fit for publication – the rest of it will remain secret. We will never get to read his report. We’ll never know who he questioned – all of this will take place in private and in secret – the very usual British way of doing these things – in fact most governments behave this way – they’re not special in that regard. So whether we ever get know the full truth of Freddie Scappaticci’s activities and how many people – and the estimates range you know twenty, thirty, forty people that he may have killed or overseen their deaths at least during his intelligence career – we’ll be lucky to find the truth but there are efforts going on at the moment in the courts.
MG: Ed, there is another case that happened last week, that of Ivor Bell. He’s a veteran Republican. He is being charged with encouraging or soliciting people who are not before the court with a killing that occurred in 1972 and I’m struck – Freddie Scappaticci – there’s seems to be evidence or claims – statements that he made to people who were family members of victims of his that would have proved his involvement in quite a number of killings working on behalf of the British government meanwhile he’s not being prosecuted.
MG: Ivor Bell is being prosecuted and was in court again last week for encouraging or soliciting people not before the court for one killing on behalf of the Irish Republican Army. Could you tell us what happened with Ivor Bell’s case last week?
EM: Yes. It now seems that there’s a distinct possibility that Ivor Bell will never be brought to trial and that’s because his legal team made an application which was granted by the court for him to have a medical examination on the grounds that he was not fit to plead. In other words that he could not attend the court and take part in its proceedings in a cogent and knowing way. Now one can only guess what the defence team are suggesting is wrong with Ivor Bell but there are obviously possibilities there and if they are shown by medical examination to be true and that essentially they say Ivor Bell doesn’t understand or cannot understand what is going in the court then he cannot be tried because you know under common law you’re not allowed to try someone who’s putting up a defence unless they’re capable of doing so. So, this may, we don’t know, we’ll have to wait for a month or so while the medical inquiries and examinations are made but that’s what has happened. And of course you know Ivor Bell is no spring chicken. He’s getting on in years and it’s one of the ironies of all of this is that here you have the police pursuing very old men for ancient offences and it would be the most ironic of ironies if it ended up that because of their age that the police are not able to have their day in court against them but we shall see.
MG: Well another irony, Ed, Ivor Bell is being prosecuted for something that happened in 1972 based on evidence, a statement that they claim he made – he denies that he made it to the Boston tapes – meanwhile, there’s no problem with expenses, the expense of sending representatives over to get those tapes, accumulate that evidence, bring him before a court – that seems to go ahead very rapidly once they forced those tapes to be released. Meanwhile the Bloody Sunday troopers, we’ve had numerous guests – Kate Nash was on a couple of weeks ago – none of them has been charged or brought to a court for something that happened, was witnessed, was overwhelming evidence about, there were many journalists, many witnesses with their statements which Saville, the person who presided over the Saville Inquiry, basically said was perjury, which the British Prime Minister said was ‘unjust and unjustifiable killings’ which would be murder or manslaughter yet none of them is brought into a court room. What is the lesson that we can draw from this?
Hello? Ed? (telephone connection lost)
Ed was so shocked he dropped off the line – we’re going to try to get him back on. That’s what happens when you make a local call. We were able to go to Ireland and get John Crawley, we were able to get Dan Dennehy on a cell phone but we go to a local land line and we just dropped off Ed Moloney. We were making the point: The British government spent a fortune moving against Ivor Bell who I believe is about seventy-nine years of age, moving against him for an incident that happened in 1972. They made no moves – Do we have him back? Ed, are you with us again?
EM: Yes, I am. I don’t know what happened there.
MG: Ed, we thought you were so shocked at what the British are doing against Ivor Bell as compared to what they’re not doing with the British troopers of Bloody Sunday that you were speechless.
EM: Absolutely…fainted in horror.
MG: Alright, Ed, we were just making the point: I don’t know how much money the British government spent on getting the Boston tapes and moving against Ivor Bell on the basis of that evidence. But they make no moves to bring any British trooper for Bloody Sunday, much less one of the superiors, into a British court room. They’ve made no moves thus far and it just seems to be one delay after another meanwhile they seem to be moving rapidly to move against Ivor Bell for something that happened in 1972. How can the British get away with doing that?
EM: Well, because no one’s stopping them, essentially, and no one’s complaining about it and you know that’s why they’re able to do it. I mean if there was a campaign against the way that the police are prosecuting these cases then you know you might have a different result but there’s been you know – from all the established parties who are present in the Assembly – there’s been silence and they’re all acquiescing in this and particularly now that there’s no chance that Gerry Adams is going to be prosecuted interest has fallen off entirely almost and you know we shall see what happens with the Bloody Sunday paratroopers. Personally I would be astonished if there were charges brought. The whole British military establishment would rise up in anger at that – you know, that these were their soldiers doing their job on their orders and it sets a very bad precedent which the British Army has never in the past been prepared to accept. And secondly, you know you could argue, as people like Eamonn McCann argues very cogently, that the wrong people would be put on trial anyway, that the people who gave the orders, who set up the conditions, quite deliberately in his view, that allowed Bloody Sunday to happen and that this was going to be a punitive expedition by the Paratroopers and it all went badly awry – those people, the Generals and the Colonels, etc who were in charge that day they’ve all been absolved of any blame by Saville – and no surprise in that – that’s what a lot of these inquiries are set up to do essentially is to find scapegoats – and the scapegoats are the ordinary soldiers who went out and did the business on behalf of their officers and you know one could argue that: No, they shouldn’t be charged because they’re not the guilty ones in a sense – they may have pulled the trigger but they were told to pull the trigger and put in circumstances where they were encouraged to pull the trigger by other people who are much more senior who are getting off scot-free.
MG: Alright, Ed and it’s just another case, the British government – they seem to be taking efforts to insure that none of their troopers will be – or soldiers or members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) – are being brought before British courts and charged with offences. Ivor Bell was certainly a very senior, well-respected Republican – people that he would have been affiliated with for many years are now in government but it doesn’t seem to be able to halt the prosecution of him just as it doesn’t seem to be able to halt prosecution against Gerry McGeough or Seamus Kearney or others who were involved with Republican activities. Alright Ed, we’re just about out of time. I want to thank you for being with us…
MG: …and giving us those views.
EM: No problem. Bye-bye. (ends time stamp ~ 54:14)
Martin Galvin (MG) interviews award-winning journalist and author Ed Moloney (EM) via telephone about the new British Prime Minister, Brexit and the Boston College tape case. (begins time stamp ~ 39:41)
MG: Ed, there is now a new British Prime Minister in the North of Ireland, well for England, what they call the United Kingdom and who would govern the North of Ireland, but before we go to that…
EM: …I’m sorry, say that…
MG: Ed, can you hear me?
EM: Yeah, I can now. I’m getting feedback, Martin, that’s the problem. But go on.
MG: Alright Ed, I just want a comment on the legacy of the past British Secretary for the North of Ireland, Theresa Villiers. Now I always regard her as some sort of Lady Macbeth figure – Lady Macbeth famously wandered the halls trying to rub out the blood stains and the crimes – Theresa Villiers tries to do that in the North of Ireland by giving speeches about that it’s all part of some mysterious counter-narrative when anybody says that the British or their Loyalist agents tried to kill people, by cutting off funding for inquests, by saying that there has to be some sort of national security so that they can’t give over information. What final comment do you have about the legacy of Theresa Villiers as the person who’s been running the North of Ireland for the British government over the last number of years?
EM: Well I mean, to be cynical about this, Martin, she’s already forgotten. I mean you know, people probably in a week’s time won’t even remember her name – just one in a long, long line of British Secretaries of State who come and go – usually regarding their date in Belfast as a stepping stone to greater and higher things. I don’t know whether she’s been promoted by Theresa May but she was…
MG: …She has not been. She was turned down. She was offered a demotion and did not accept it so she is out of the Cabinet now. She can go back to making….
EM: …Well when you consider that she was on the same side as May in relation to the Brexit debate and hasn’t been promoted it may also be a refection on the way that she performed her job in Belfast. But as you say, she will be remembered for these comments about the Loughinisland inquiry by the Police Ombudsman which is a really quite devastating document which has exposed a level of either collusion at it’s worst and at its least, or at its best, an indifference on the part of the old RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) towards Loyalist gunmen and Loyalist bombers and she issued this statement, or she had a speech in which she said that it wasn’t the police or the Army that pulled the triggers or planted the bombs in Loughinisland and Enniskillen and in a few other places. Well, the problem is that from what we’re beginning to learn about the level of either infiltration of groups like the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and the IRA by British Special Branch, by the MI5, by other intelligence organisations, military intelligence for example, it’s very, very debatable as to who was really controlling a lot of these organisations at the end – the level of infiltration being so high that it reaches a certain point when you’re actually directing these organisations – you’re controlling which direction they’re going to move in, what operations they’re allowed to carry out, who becomes the top brass and who gets thrown into jail and so on and so forth. And what that points to is a level of involvement and complicity and therefore guilt in the killings that took place on the part of the British intelligence machine that it really is not something that people like Villiers want to face up to. And that’s….
MG: …It was said, in her statement that Ed referred to, she said that it was not the RUC who fired the bullets at Loughinisland where six people were killed for the crime of watching an Irish football match at a pub. All they did, if you look at the Ombudsman’s report, is: provide the weapons, provide the bullets, making sure that the individuals, the assassins, could get there, get away and provide the intelligence but – they didn’t actually fire the bullets! They directed, employed, paid those who did do that so that was – Theresa Villiers felt there was no reason to apologise to the Loughinisland families for their remarks. Alright Ed, Theresa May has now taken over for David Cameron. Judging by the conservative majority she may be there for quite some time. What can we expect initially from Theresa May given her background?
EM: Well I mean, she’s a hard-liner, in terms of like law and order, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. One of the things that she has spoken about publicly in the past but appears to have slightly dropped it at the moment is her opposition to the European Court on Human Rights and the Charter on Human Rights in Europe. She is one of those right-wing Tories who believes that this is interference in the British judicial system and they would rather like to get rid of it. Now she hasn’t mentioned it since she became Prime Minister so maybe she’s beginning to realise that’s going to be much more difficult to implement than it is to say. But she is regarded as a fairly strong right-winger on law and order and one of her first comments I think that drew attention was in the context of the post-Brexit situation in which she talked about her affection and fondness and devotion to ‘the Union’ and the union including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. And of course you know, that’s the sort of comment which immediately gets Nationalists upset and beginning to regard the possibility that we have in Theresa May another Margaret Thatcher. But another reading of that of course is the Brexit situation – is that while there is absolutely no chance that the Brexit vote, in my view at least, the Brexit vote – leading to Northern Ireland’s Unionists voting to join The South – there is a very strong possibility that the Scottish will vote for independence and this is going to be her biggest challenge so she has to embrace the union very widely and very warmly and that’s what she’s doing. And of course that’s a signal which is going to upset a lot of Nationalists because the whole notion behind the peace process was that you’re beginning to see possibly in the peace process the beginnings of disengagement by the British and to have a Prime Minister who’s doing quite the opposite, is stressing the importance and the value of the Union, is going to cause tensions.
Then you also have the problem of what are they going to do with the border between The North and South. Is it going to be this so called ‘hard’ border ie with customs checks and immigrant checks and stuff like that in order to prevent immigrants coming in from Europe into England via the back door of Northern Ireland which of course is ironic because the fear of being invaded from Ireland was the very reason why the British and the English got involved in Ireland in the very first place so we have it now – history repeating itself. What is she going to do about that? The Irish government will obviously oppose any notion of a hard border. It will be divisive as well in Northern Ireland. So yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see how see shapes up in relation to all of these things.
MG: Alright. Two things I just want to go back over for our audience: You talked about how Theresa May had made a speech about the British withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. Right now that is an important source of justice. There is a case now, an appeal, trying to find the British guilty of torture for the treatment of internees in 1971 that’s proceeding that has a lot of political significance. There are other cases such as the length of time that you can detain someone that have been challenged in the European Court.
A lot of the work done on inquests and to force the British government to give over documents and truth about investigations into the murder of people, just as you just talked about, at places like Loughinisland and elsewhere, is because the European Convention requires that there be such investigations. If Britain withdraws from that convention, from the European Court of Human Rights, that would be an important source of potential justice that is lost to people living in the North of Ireland would it not, Ed?
EM: Oh, absolutely! There’s absolutely no doubt about that. And if you read the Good Friday Agreement the role of the European Convention and the European Court is woven through that document in all sorts of ways as a sort of arbiter and a court to which or a venue to which everyone will refer all of their problems at one stage or another. And if that goes, and I find it hard to believe that they will be able to do that, then it pulls away a very crucial leg from underneath the Good Friday Agreement and that’s going to cause great difficulties. So whether she does it or not remains to be seen but there’s no doubt that she represents a very strong body of opinion within the Conservative Party, the Tories in England, who hate the idea of these foreigners – you know, Italians and French and German judges sitting in places like Strasbourg and pontificating about the inadequacies or injustices of the British legal system. It’s really annoying and frustrating and anger making for them so they may decide to do it but at the moment it looks as if she has too much on her plate elsewhere with Brexit to go down that particular road.
MG: Well on Brexit, one of the interesting things is the Irish government will have, or may have, very little say about what happens. You could have a situation, would you not, where the European Community is going to make a decision about its new border arrangements with Britain if Britain withdraws? So that the decision itself about what form, from the Irish side – the negotiations and what form the border will be – could be made not in Dublin but it could be made elsewhere in Europe by the European Community. And in addition, as you said, one of the key reasons for Brexit was to cut off the flow of immigration. There was a famous poster of refugees coming across the border that Farage…
EM: …Yeah, Sir Nigel. Farage.
MG: …that is going to have to be done if the British, especially those in England who were the ones who made this decision in terms of voting – the Scottish voted against it – if the English want that border, if they want to make sure that people from the European Community don’t come from Ireland, they’re going to have a hard border. So you may have something that’s negotiated in which the Irish government, which is most strongly affected, the people in the Six Counties, which are most strongly affected, have absolutely no say in what sort of border will take place – what sort of new border arrangements will take place.
EM: Well I mean, yes. I mean, Europe won’t be able to impose the border between north and south. I mean, whatever the Dublin government wants – you know they don’t control the ground or the land on the northern side of the border and on the northern side of the border the British would be able to erect whatever barriers and impediments and obstacles they feel is appropriate so that will be a British decision. But clearly it has implications for everyone else and I suspect at the end of the day that you’re going to get a negotiated settlement, which gives a little bit to each side, and that you end up with a sort of with like a moderately hard/moderately soft-type of border because, to be honest with you, what are the chances that tens of thousands of immigrants are going to come from Romania all the way over to Ireland by sea, because they won’t be able to do it by land, or fly over and then catch lorries and buses and taxis up to Belfast and then from Belfast to Liverpool? It’s stretching things, I think, to think that that’s going to be a major, real possibility.
MG: Alright, Ed, just before we let you go: Every week there seems to be something new with the Boston tapes; last week we covered the case of Ivor Bell. What’s the latest development in terms of those tapes?
EM: Well absolutely nothing. That’s the latest. That was the preliminary inquiry into Ivor Bell’s case. They decided they’re going to take him to trial. That is not a surprise. At magistrate’s level it’s very, very unusual for a magistrate, even though the evidence may be very strongly against holding a trial, it’s very unusual for them to say ‘no’; they leave that to a higher authority and so we expect that to happen early in the new year. But there are troubling aspects to this whole business. One is that the charge has been changed from aiding and abetting to soliciting and soliciting makes it appear as if the person charged with soliciting is the main mover when all the evidence that we have so far, from everything that’s been revealed about the Jean McConville case, suggests that the main mover was someone else (we all know who we’re talking about there and it certainly wasn’t Ivor Bell.) So that’s quite a sinister development I think. Even though it doesn’t really affect what penalty comes if a guilty verdict is reached in the trial, it’s been the aim and objective as far as I know since this whole disappearing saga began in the late 1990’s, for people who were really responsible for the disappearing tactic, to shift the blame onto others, including people like Ivor Bell. And here you have a Prosecution Service which is headed by the guy who used to be lawyer, a lawyer – the solicitor – for one of the main movers facilitating that particular move. It’s very, very sinister indeed.
Secondly, we have the fact that a complete denial, or a complete contradiction of a court of appeals decision in Boston, the First Circuit Court of Appeal, which said that only two interviews related to Jean McConville that were in the archive under the name or under the letter ‘Zed’ or ‘Z’, which the prosecution are attempting to say is Ivor Bell, could be handed over. It now appears that the Department of Justice in the US, the US Attorney’s office in Boston, the PSNI and the Prosecution Service in Belfast said to themselves said: Well, we’re just going to go round that verdict and ignore it. And it seems that they have served a secret subpoena, one of many secret subpoenas we believe, which has been more or less facilitated by Boston College and as a result of that four more interviews have been handed over from Zed’s archive to the PSNI. And this is at a time when the First Circuit Court of Appeal said only two should be allowed. Now this is like cocking a snook at the American judicial system big time. I mean, the First Circuit Court of Appeal is directly underneath the Supreme Court – it’s the second highest level of judicial decision making in the United States. And here you have a foreign power and bureaucrats in the Washington Department of Justice set up deciding they’re just going to subvert and ignored this ruling. That hasn’t as yet, unfortunately, gotten the sort of media attention it should have but it indicates the extent to which, I think, the authorities are desperate to try and get a verdict against Ivor Bell because what that tells you is that the evidence that they have is useless and they’re trying to…(crosstalk)
MG: …Ed, we’re going to have to leave it there; we’re coming to the end of the programme. I just will note: I was talking to Malachy McAllister during the week at the Ancient Order of Hibernians convention and we were both noting a Loyalist has been charged with the attack on his home, the attempt on his life, the life of his children, but there were documents, the De Silva Report, other things that show that he was targeted, that there was evidence or information from British agents directing this – none of them have been charged or brought before a court so it’s interesting how this goes. Ed, we want to thank you. We’re going to leave it there. (ends time stamp ~ 57:50)
John McDonagh (JM) and Martin Galvin (MG) speak to award winning journalist and author Ed Moloney (EM) via telephone from Dublin about the Brexit vote and its ramifications. (begins time stamp ~ 37:33)
MG: Ed, you’re with us. We we able to get through! Ed, the first thing I wanted to – this is Martin Galvin. Welcome!, Ed – you’re very welcome because we had trouble getting through on the phone lines but perhaps you could explain: This whole issue of Britain withdrawing from the European Union (EU) had more to do with inter-party politics within the Conservative Party. It was just a stunt to try to unite the Conservative Party that has backfired on David Cameron and elevated someone else within his party. But this is something that he concocted just to hold his party together as an election stunt, something which he thought would never happen because he never expected to be re-elected with a majority instead of a coalition government as he had before.
EM: The background was that Europe has expanded in the last few years way beyond the original six or seven members to include a lot of eastern European and former Soviet satellite countries like Poland and Ukraine and Lithuania and Latvia and Romania and under the rules of the European Union there is free movement of labour so you had an influx of people from these, to what would be to British eyes, more strange European countries with even stranger languages and stranger food and so on and so forth and it sort of stimulated a big anti-immigrant sentiment within very large sections of the British population, particularly in England. And that was all articulated by a party called the United Kingdom Independence Party which is a very extreme right-wing racist party very much like, I suppose, modeled on the right-wing parties that exist in France and now in Germany, and some people are also drawing parallels with the rise of Donald Trump – he’s appealing to exactly the same sort of audience – an anti-immigrant audience.
Add on to that the pressure to deal with refugees from Syria and you had enormous pressure and divisions opening up inside the Tory party and this was done, and you’re quite right, I mean Cameron assumed that they would win the referendum quite easily and that the results of that would be that this threat from the racist right-wing, both within his own party and this United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP as it’s known, would dissipate and he’d be able to restore law and order within his own party. Well, that didn’t work out as we now know. There was a much stronger ‘leave’ vote than people had predicted and the result is this extraordinary result on Friday morning.
JM: Ed, I wanted to talk about the Twenty-Six County’s reaction before this vote. When I was over there a couple of weeks ago there wasn’t all that much coverage of it – about what would happen if they did pull out of that and that what would happen with the border and now I’m listening to various reports and they were saying that Brussels will now control the border and tell the Twenty-Six Counties: This is how you’re going to treat the border now because you’re now a European country that borders a country that’s not in the European Union. Now, can Brussels come in and say to the Twenty-Six Counties: Listen, this is how you’re going to control this border now?
EM: Well yes, they would be able to do that because the Republic of Ireland, the South of Ireland, has agreed to join this organisation and be a member of the organisation and like any club you agree to abide by the rules. And if the rules are set by the majority and the majority says this is the way the border with a non-EU country should operate then they only have two choices: One is to accept that or to reject it and hold their own referendum on whether to leave the European Union, which is very, very unlikely I think, there’s such strong sentiment here in favour of Europe that they will go along with whatever Brussels tells them to do. They’ve joined the club and this is the rules of the club.
MG: Ed, David Cameron has now resigned. What do you think this means for – well, his Secretary for The North of Ireland was one of the people, Theresa Villiers, who was one of the people who was most vocal in supporting the of the idea of getting out of Europe, what sort of policies would you expect from his successor?
EM: Very right-wing policies, I think. Boris Johnson will, you know he’s a very ambitious guy and he’ll go with the flow and the flow in the Tory Party after this result will be very much to the right, and some of his colleagues, close colleagues, in this campaign to withdraw from Europe, and I’m thinking in particular of a guy called Michael Gove with whom I’ve clashed swords at least once and I wrote about it on my blog, is a neo-con of the most basic sort. And his attitude towards Ireland and towards the peace process is that it’s all a trick by the IRA and they want to go back to war as soon as conditions improve and he has no sympathy for the peace process at all so Messrs. Adams and McGuinness will have a tough time if that government is formed which I think it probably will. I mean the predictions are that Boris Johnson will succeed David Cameron. He’s the favourite according to all the pundits and Michael Gove will be his Number Two and they will have a very right-wing law and order-type approach to Northern Ireland. They will be unsympathetic to the peace process, unsympathetic as well to Sinn Féin and so there could be tough days ahead for that party in relation to their dealings with the British.
JM: (station identification) We’re speaking with Ed Moloney who’s over in Ireland and the blog he’s talking about is The Broken Elbow. I recommend it highly to go there and read what Ed has been writing about. Ed, one of the reactions now is Sinn Féin – Sinn Féin is calling for what’s known as a border poll. Now, this is the same Sinn Féin that can’t get Long Kesh to be made into some sort of a museum – they can’t get 1916 monuments put up in the Six Counties or get funding for it but now they’ve made this grandiose gesture that they want a border poll even though Enda Kenny said it’s not happening, the British government said it’s not happening but this is now what they want.
EM: Yeah. And to my mind it was just entirely a gimmick and I think it was also dictated by the knowledge that the result in Scotland where the Scottish voters overwhelming supported the EU and membership of the EU in contrast to the English, means inevitably there is going to be a referendum there about their relationship with the United Kingdom and with the English and it’s more than likely this time round that Scotland will go its own way and become an independent state and will join the EU separately as it were. So England will have a European power on its border. And faced with the knowledge that that was going to happen what was Sinn Féin going to say to that except to parrot what the Scots were saying which is: Well if they’re having a border poll or likely to have a border poll then we want one as well. But everyone knew: A) it wasn’t going to happen and B) even if it did happen the result would be predictable. I mean I think Martin McGuinness was demanding an all-Ireland border poll which is even less likely to happen because the Irish government down here would move heaven and earth to prevent something like that happening because they’re quite happy with the status quo, Good Friday Agreement, etc etc. They don’t want that disturbed at all so that’s a non-starter. So it was really a gimmick. And astonishingly of course the stupid media pick it up and run with it and it’s taken seriously – I even noticed the New Yorker today was taking that seriously and it’s just absolute nonsense and everyone knows it to be nonsense and it’s died away as you would expect it to die away in the last day or so.
JM: It’s amasing the turn of history, Ed, where Sinn Féin, back in the ’70’s were voting, even for the southern part of it, not to go into the European Union and now this is the whole big thing: Oh! We have to remain within the Union North and South. I mean, it’s just hard to keep up with all the nonsense that they’ve been…the flip-flops they’ve done on policies.
EM: Yeah, the U-turns would make you dizzy I guess and there’s been just so many of them that it’s impossible to count just how many reversals and changes to… I mean they’re morphing into sort of like a Fianna Fáil party if you’d like: pro-business by and large, pretty conservative on most issues, toeing the line on all important matters like European Union and stuff like that so that means abandoning a lot their Republican and even their Nationalist politics as they go along so quite an extraordinary sight. I mean you know, I’ve been over here for the best part of a month and a half now and you really do notice these changes much more than you do three thousand miles away, you know? That Sinn Féin are now treated by the media as if they’re like a normal, ordinary party and their history is sort of not talked about really you know – their past – it’s only a few people who are sort of like continuing to cover that, you know?
MG: Ed…Alright. We’re here on Radio Free Éireann, we’re talking to Ed Moloney, a great journalist, author of A Secret History of the IRA. Ed, I want to talk to you, just two things that you’ve just touched on. Number One: Since 1998, Sinn Féin had at that time said that they would agree to a Six County vote, a border poll, and they indicated it would follow that it was simply a matter of time, that working together, that once Martin McGuinness and others would get into Stormont, would work with the Unionists, work cross-border bodies, that there would be a shift among the Unionists, the Nationalist population would grow and there would be a shift among a significant segment of Unionist population that they would support union with the Twenty-Six Counties and that we would then win a border poll, have a united Ireland by consent. And the second thing you talked about, you’ve talked about Fianna Fáil: Fianna Fáil originally, went in, said if we can win elections in The South and use that power that will somehow bring us to a united Ireland. They began as a Republican party – many of its members had fought in the Easter Rising or had fought in the War of Independence, they had been executed in the Civil War, they fought the Civil War and if only they won these elections in The South that was going to somehow produce a united Ireland. Do you see any progress in Sinn Féin, in either of these aspects, in bringing us any way close or opening up a door to a united Ireland or are we getting further away from that goal?
EM: What I do see is that more and more Catholics are content with the Good Friday Agreement, content with the constitutional situation as it exists now which is union with Britain and that’s far from automatically every Catholic is a Nationalist and every Nationalist will vote for Irish unity. I would say that, if anything, sentiment is moving in a different direction. And I’ve always believed that there was always a very large slice of the Catholic population which was happy enough with the way things were, happy enough with the union and that if every single Nationalist in Northern Ireland was as opposed to the union as let’s say Sinn Féin were or even as the Nationalist Party were, the state would never have been viable. I mean the Catholic population was just too large for that to happen. So I’ve always believed that there’s a big slice there, ten-twenty percent of the Catholic population, which is quite content with the union with Britain, and if anything that’s probably growing now because now they see their representatives, they see Martin McGuinness sharing power with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and they’ve got a wee Parliament there and what they would regard, what a lot of the them would regard as progress and therefore even less reason to be unhappy about the union. Meanwhile, there is no sign of any equivalent change in a different direction from the Unionists. If anything they are… you know, you go to Belfast as I did in the last few days or so and the Union Jacks, interestingly, are now flying everywhere. It used to be years ago, before I left, that the flags this time of the year would all be Ulster flags. And that was an indication of sort of like an Ulster Nationalism, Protestant Nationalism, a discontent with London for taking away Stormont and for insisting on equal opportunities and stuff like that in employment laws and so on and so forth and they reverted to a form of nationalism and the symbol of that was the Ulster flag, the one that you see being flown or being used in the European football games at the moment.
But if you go to Belfast, and indeed I noticed this going through other places as well, it’s now Union Jacks and that’s a very symbolic change. That is saying that they are now content with the union, they have more faith and trust in the British. So if anything their pro-union sentiment is probably strengthening rather than weakening. And so the idea that the border poll, which has been around for – this idea has been sort of implicit in the peace process – I think was always flawed – and it’s even more so now, I think.
JM: Ed, one final question: And we’re going to have the irony now of American companies, when they go to invest in Ireland, North or South, where the Twenty-Six County government’ll say: Listen, why would you invest in the North? They’re not part of the European Union. Come here! I mean there was a headline today in the Independent – Morgan Stanley moving two thousand jobs to remain within the European Union to Frankfurt and Dublin – so you could have now the Dublin government squeezing The North making sure no investment goes in there because they’re not part of the European Union.
EM: Yeah, although part of this deal that the parties in The North cut with the British last year which also gave approval to very tough austerity policies also agreed that the level of corporation tax would be the same in both parts of Ireland. So I guess they’re probably hoping that any disadvantages that flow from this Brexit vote in relation to Northern Ireland will be offset by these corporation tax changes but we’ll see. But you’re quite right there will be other benefits or disadvantages from Brexit which we haven’t really calculated yet and the odds are that, generally speaking, it will be a less attractive place for the Monsantos and whoever to invest their money from now on so maybe that will change opinions but that’s a very, very long and slow process – we’ll all be long dead before there’s any sign of those changes having any political effect.
JM: Alright. Thanks Ed, for coming on. And that’s Ed Moloney. You go to The Broken Elbow to keep up-to-date on everything that’s happening over in Ireland and Ed’s over there at the moment. (ends time stamp ~ 55:17)
John McDonagh hosts award winning journalist and author Ed Moloney and activist Joan McKiernan as they recall the life of Sandy Boyer. (begins time stamp ~ 26:35)
John: We’re going to get Ed Moloney on and speak to him and his wife, Joan. They were very good friends of Sandy Boyer. And as I always tell the story: Sandy would call me up during the week and if there was an event that was going on in Ireland we’d always say: Well, who can we get to talk about that? And we’d inevitably narrow the list down to Eamonn McCann or Bernadette Devlin and sure enough Ed Moloney would come on because Ed’s knowledge of The Troubles and what went on there and him chronically it for all the papers over there and in his book, A Secret History of the IRA, I mean it was just an invaluable resource to have Ed Moloney come on and give us his analysis – just a wonderful resource over the many years here at WBAI and he was a good friend of Ed and we have Ed on the line right now. Ed, are you there?
Ed: Yes, I am, John, yes.
John: How did you find out about Sandy and hang out and know of Sandy Boyer?
Ed: Well actually, my wife, Joan McKiernan, you know, was friends with Sandy long before I even met Joan and she’s the expert on his life because they went way back at the start of The Troubles in Northern Ireland but they were involved in socialist groups. So Joan is the one to ask that question to really.
John: Well, Joan, how did you meet him? Because I want everyone, if they can, go to The Broken Elbow and see the obituary you did of Sandy and as I said to you, Joan, after I read it and saw the history of his mother and father and their involvement in the left community here in the United States I couldn’t believe it. And what I couldn’t believe is hanging out with Sandy all that time at Rocky Sullivan’s and he never brought that up!
Joan: No, well he – he was very proud of his parents and it was a very important contribution to the kind of person that he was but it just wasn’t something that you’d talk about much. Actually, when he was just in the hospital there, we were just talking a few weeks ago, I actually asked him about his mother – I had to ask what her maiden name was – but I had known all about her. Let’s go back to your question you were asking Ed: I met Sandy, and I can’t even figure the year, but what we were doing here in New York was we had the National Association for Irish Justice and we were doing grassroots organising in Irish-American communities for civil rights support for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement. And at that time it was quite a difficult and challenging thing to talk about civil rights in the United States as we were still in the throes of the civil rights movement which did not get great support in Irish-American communities. So that was the work we were doing – was building for the civil rights movement here. And that’s what Sandy, he was by that time a member of the International Socialists, and he came and joined us and he stayed with the struggle and, as you know, the history of The Troubles, you’re talking about like – that was about 1969 – 1970 – and as things broke out there in what we know as The Troubles it moved on very rapidly from civil rights as a demand to much more national liberation as a demand. And we had the events of internment without trial in which were able to be involved in a very large movement here in New York – well, throughout the United States, obviously. And then we had Bloody Sunday and you know, all the events, so Sandy was there at the start. And he – no, he never talked about his history but I got to know him personally through this movement and the way I learned about – well, he did talk about his father because his father was a well-known author. He had been writing for The New Yorker until he had been blacklisted. And this was, to me, a very strange and alien world. I mean I was an Irish-American, very naive politically and certainly the idea of socialism and blacklisting and communists my God! scared the life out of me but this was part of Sandy’s life talking about these sorts of things very normally. And it was in 1973 (I think) his mother died first and then his father and I remember that his father was in hospital for quite some time and visiting there and then eventually his father died. And I went with Sandy to bury his father, his father’s ashes, and that’s when I really – he had told me his mother’s history: she was qualified to be a Daughter of the American Revolution – that is those families that were important in colonial times. Her name was Sofia Ames and she was an author as well – she wrote a children’s book on Nkrumah, one of the African liberators – and so the African struggle was important for the family, the the black struggle for civil rights was important in the family and as was – I mean the family was steeped in working-class history. His father wrote a really wonderful book called Labor’s Untold Story which is the story of labour/trade union struggles in the United States. So his parents, Sandy was raised as what we call a ‘red diaper baby’ – he was immersed in this kind of history. Not just the American revolutionary history and overthrowing the Brits at the start of this country – his mother’s family and their relatives were part of the founding fathers of the nation but then his parents, in their own right, became activists and that was the kind of – Sandy grew up as part of an activist family – learning about socialism, learning about American labour history and he continued that through the Irish struggle and through the working-class struggle in the United States.
So anyway, I went with him to bury his father and he took me to where his grandmother lived – it’s on the – if you go up to Concord, Massachusetts you follow like a revolutionary trail where you go to all these revolutionary sites and his mother was born into a house called The Old Manse – which is one of the houses that you visit and we went there to visit. And Sandy – you know how you measure children as they grow older? Sandy’s markings are there, they still were there at least in 1973, on the wall of this revolutionary house that you visit – you know, the first shot of the Revolutionary War was like around the corner somewhere – they probably call it the Patriot Trail. And then where his father was buried was in an historic graveyard in Concord and the person that hosted a kind of breakfast afterwards was a man called Tom Adams – you know – from those Adams? As in a descendant of Samuel Adams.
John: We’re not talking about the beer – we’re talking about Sam Adams, yes!
Joan: The Samuel Adams, the cousin or somebody of John Adams – the President! And this was all totally taken for granted that Sandy was part of this history, part of that culture and all very accepting of each other and their histories. It was amasing. So no – he didn’t talk about it because it was just part of who he was and all taken for granted, you know?
John: That just explains so much and as I said to you I wish I knew the Sandy you were writing about – how natural he was on the left because that’s all he knew, just even listening to you, that’s what he grew up in so it was just natural. And the other point about: his father wrote a biography of John Brown! And like I keep saying: God! How many times did I sit down? I would have loved to hear that story! Or even he could have read part of it up here at WBAI or done something more – like just sitting here listening now to you talk about it, because some of the stuff you’re talking about wasn’t in the obituary, but it’s an amasing life! He is truly someone that grew up and didn’t know anything else probably – just that he was part of that struggle from Day One.
Joan: Yes. Yes. Very much. I mean, the idea of joining – and he did. He organised – his first protest was part of the whole civil rights movement and he was in high school, you know? What are most of us doing when we’re in high school, you know? We’re certainly not thinking about political activity but it was part of his life very definitely. And listen: Can I share with you because when people – Sandy had and everybody – people in the various movements that he was involved in people talk about his organising skills – and he was brilliant and his knowledge – all of it – I’ve written about it. But what people don’t know – one of the things, as a socialist, we all emphasise the use of workers’ power to win and we were facing pretty awful things going on in Northern Ireland and trying to build support for the struggle here. So one time what Sandy did – he went to see the head of the International Longshoremen’s union (ILA) and he got them to agree that we would picket the Queen Elizabeth, the QE II, when it was coming into New York and the longshoremen would recognise the picket and would refuse to cross the picket line therefore they wouldn’t unload. Now we had an agreement, it was going to be just for an hour or two hours or whatever as we were there outside the QEII, this massive thing, and we stopped the unloading and we were very proud of ourselves. It was the very day that the British government dissolved Stormont and imposed Direct Rule – like as if we knew that was going to happen – right? And we were very proud of ourselves for having picked such an auspicious day, for good or bad, that Direct Rule was protested by New Yorkers today as they stopped the QE II from unloading with the help of the longshoremen. And of course what we didn’t know, and Sandy would have had no way of knowing at that point, that the IRA was using the QEII to smuggle weapons. So everybody must have been pretty upset and pretty horrified that we were messing up a good thing but we didn’t know that until people wrote about it later in history – but it’s just one of the little organising things that he did and he had done so many things I wanted to share that with people that don’t seem to – lots of people don’t remember that far back.
John: (station identification and announcement) And if you want to read a truly amasing obituary of Sandy Boyer and his family go to thebrokenelbow.com – that’s Ed Moloney’s blog – or Facebook or just his writings about what’s going on in Ireland and that and you get to see actual – a photograph of his mother’s obituary in the New York Times and also his father’s obituary in the New York Times. You know, to get that – how did you go about getting that?
Ed: That was very simple. First of all we made contact with The Old Manse in Concord which is a National Heritage site and there is a staff there that looks after the place and compiles archives. And as it happened when we rang there the very nice woman who answered the phone explained that the guy in charge of the house was actually compiling a biography of Sandy’s mother so she had all this information to hand to add to what Joan knew. And one of the things – we found his father’s obituary on the New York Times – that’s a very simple thing to get on the web, on the internet site, of the New York Times – but we didn’t know that his mother also had an obituary and she told us about the obituary for his mother. So it was really very simple to do once you knew where to go, you know?
John: Well listen, Ed and Joan, thanks for coming on. Ed, we’ll probably have you on next week to get back to politics and life but just – I know you’ll probably be down there on April 17th, there’ll be a memorial for Sandy at Theatre 80, just off First Avenue on St. Mark’s Place, and we’ll be trying to organise some of that next week at Rocky Sullivan’s over in Red Hook in Brooklyn.
Ed: No problem.
John: Ed and Joan, thanks for coming on and just telling us those amasing stories – I just wish Sandy would have told us on the microphones here! Well listen, thanks for coming on.
Ed & Joan: Yes. You’re welcome. Thanks, John. Bye.
John: And listen – I was listening to Joan there – I was learning as much as everyone else out there about Sandy and his mother and his father and just steeped in that part of American history – the American Left – and how they were just such a part of that and Sandy was telling me there before he died that he’d signed a contract with the New Yorker – with New York Magazine – they’re reproducing a lot of his profiles of some of the greatest jazz musicians from the 1950’s and putting it into a book – and that’s also going to be coming out soon. So I’m going to have to stay on top of the biography of his mother and also the reproducing of his father’s writings from the magazine. So it’s an amasing life but God! I know I’ve said myself and a lot of us that hung out with Sandy: Well jeez, we just wish he would have told some of these stories that we’re doing but you know what? Things never work out quite the way you want them in life. So – it’s just you’re doing that – and for people just tuning in we’re talking about Sandy Boyer, Co-host here at WBAI for many, many years, who passed away a couple of weeks ago and just telling little bits and pieces of his life. (ends time stamp ~ 41:57)