Kathryn Johnston RFÉ 25 March 2017

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John McDonagh and Martin Galvin speak to Kathryn Johnston, co-author of Martin McGuinness’ biography, via telephone from Co. Antrim, about Martin McGuinness’ role in the IRA’s cessation of violence that ended The Troubles. (begins time stamp ~ 18:11)

Audio:  Portion of Martin McGuinness’ speech at the 1986 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis is played. (audio ends)

Martin:   Alright. With us on the line we have Kathryn Johnston. She is the co-author of Martin McGuinness’ biography, Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government. Welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.

Kathryn:   Thanks very much, John. Nice to talk to you.

Martin:    This is Martin. John is actually in Boston. But he’ll be asking you a question in a moment.

Kathryn:   Okay. (inaudible)

Martin:   We only have a few minutes for you and we have a number of guests on. But I was intrigued. I was reading a piece that you did for Slugger O’Toole, the website, and you asked the question: Could anyone else have brought the IRA to a cessation of violence without an admission of defeat? What was there about Martin McGuinness? The young man from Doire, a religious man, family were Nationalists more than Republicans, who got involved in the Irish Republican Army, who took senior positions and put him in that position where you would say that he is the only person – it was unlikely that anybody else could have brought the IRA to a cessation of violence without an admission of defeat in your article?

Kathryn:    Well if you look at the early days of Martin McGuinness’ involvement in the IRA, specifically after Bloody Sunday when he became the Commander in Doire, Seán Mac Stíofáin was up at a couple of meetings in Doire and he very, very quickly picked out the young Martin McGuinness as somebody that was basically someone to watch – somebody who could go places. Now Seán Mac Stíofáin wasn’t alone in coming to that assessment. Seán Mac Stíofáin – Martin McGuinness’ real big elevation in the ranks was when he was flown to Cheyne Walk in London as part of a delegation of IRA men going to talks with William Whitelaw. The talks themselves never actually produced anything concrete but what they did produce – there was an MI6 officer there, Frank Steele, and he gave his assessment very quickly, that Seán Mac Stíofain had done: This boy’s the one to watch. This boy’s articulate – he could go places. And as soon as McGuinness returned to Doire after the Cheyne Walk talks it wasn’t very long before Frank Steele had arranged to meet him in Donegal and the relationship then continued with Michael Oatley in 1974 until he returned in 1991. So I mean, Martin McGuinness was marked by the British state and by his comrades in the IRA as a boy that was going places.

Martin:   Alright. Well, what positions did he hold with the IRA and how was it that he was so influential he could make that speech that we are playing clips from in 1986 and that that would be credited and trusted more so than somebody else might have been?

Kathryn:   Well I think if you look at the – Martin McGuinness attained the very highest rank within the IRA and that was in 1978. He was first appointed Chief of Staff after Gerry Adams was arrested for questioning after the La Mon Massacre. And straightaway Martin McGuinness sought to make his mark. He had this goal: He was going to make a ‘liberated zone’ along the border. Of course, very, very close to the front of his mind as well was this idea there had to be some kind of revenge on the Parachute Regiment for what happened on Bloody Sunday.

Now, very quickly in 1978 he became aware of a local IRA plan to assassinate Earl Mountbatten. He’d (Mountbatten) spent every August since 1969 in Classiebawn Castle in Mullaghmore in Sligo. So they dummy-runned this plan and in August, the 27th August 1979, two plain-clothes officers of Mountbatten’s security detail were lying on the cliffs overlooking the boat, Shadow, as it sailed out when suddenly there was a massive explosion and we know what happened after that – Earl Mountbatten died as did Lady Brabourne, Paul Maxwell, a young boatman from Enniskillen and one of Mountbatten’s nephews, a great-nephew, was killed in that. But that was already quite a coup for the IRA to carry out in those days – just along the border there. And of course, the British Army and all security force personnel were immediately put on the very, very highest alert. But McGuinness hadn’t stop there. There was a convoy of four Land Rovers coming to Ballykinler camp to Narrow Water on the shores of Narrow Water Lough there which marks the Irish border. And as they drove in an eight hundred pound bomb was detonated blowing up their Land Rovers and instantaneously IRA men on the other side of the lough opened fire on the British troops who returned fire and one English holiday-maker, Michael Hudson, was tragically killed. But you know I’m really beginning to feel like Jiminy Cricket here – But there’s more! But there’s more! – because after that when two Wessex helicopters had come to airlift the wounded soldiers, the survivors, to hospital, as their aircraft were taking off another couple of Land Rovers, laden with injured soldiers, was coming along – another twelve soldiers were killed with another eight hundred pound bomb – added to the six that were killed in the first explosion that was eighteen soldiers from the Paratroop Regiment – their highest single loss since Arnhem, not even in peacetime, since Arnhem in World War II. That was quite some coup for a boy from the Bogside in his first year as Chief of Staff of the IRA and I think that shows the kind of chilling, strategic and tactical genius that he had that he devoted to both his political life and his life within the IRA. He was a (inaudible) man. And I think, I think if you look at Martin McGuinness and the tours that he did after the ceasefire was announced – the tours that he did and Gerry Kelly did and Gerry Adams did – I think that Martin McGuinness was picked out to go to the areas where they might be less ready to settle than others.

Martin:   Okay. Alright. Thank you. That’s Kathryn Johnston. She is the co-author of the book, Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government. We’re trying to get to a number of different people. We’re going to go to another clip. I think – John, are you back on the line?

John:   Yeah, no – I’m back on the line but just one final question for Kathryn that it seems – we did an interview with an MI5 agent, Ian Hurst, and he was talking about how the British government wanted to arrest Martin McGuinness but they were told not to, over the Frank Hegarty killing of an informer. And then after his funeral it came out about the Claudy bombing that the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) wanted to arrest him and they were told not to arrest him and he was known within the security forces there as a ‘protected species’.

Kathryn:   Yeah. At one stage Martin Ingram (aka Ian Hurst) revealed that he was known as ‘the fisherman’ and that wasn’t unusual for Martin McGuinness. Don’t forget, John, he had been in secret talks with the British since what was it – ’72 – since that first meeting at Cheyne Walk. And when he was in the meetings with ‘Mountain Climber’, Brendan Duddy, and so on, in those very early days when the background dialogue had been established McGuinness was given several code names – one of them, strangely enough, was ‘Walter’. So I mean that was the start of a situation which saw Martin McGuinness and that’s being perhaps uniquely – perhaps being uniquely in the position of being as useful to the British as he was to the IRA.

Martin:   Alright. On that note we’re going to go to – we’ve got – this is something where everybody we’re going to have on today we could do the whole programme with but we want to thank you, Kathryn Johnston. Her book…

Kathryn:   …And thank you very much…

Martin:   …co-author of Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government . We’re going to go to another clip and when we come out we’re going to have Anthony McIntyre, former IRA Volunteer, author and analyst and commentator on with us. (ends time stamp ~ 27:08)

Kathryn Johnston RFÉ 14 January 2017

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John McDonagh (JM) and Martin Galvin (MG) speak to Kathryn Johnston (KJ), co-author of the book, Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government, via telephone from Belfast about Martin McGuinness’ resignation as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. (begins time stamp ~ 19:04)

JM:  Now we’re going to cover – get back to what’s going on in the wee Six Counties where the government was collapsed this week and it was because Martin McGuinness whose the Deputy First Minister – whatever that title is but he was the poodle to the First Minister, Arlene Foster, who runs the show over there but being if he resigns he can collapse the institutions. And we’re going to have on Kathryn Johnston and the last time I think we had her on we had her on with her husband, Liam Clarke, a writer over there who used to write for The Telegraph and a couple of other newspapers, they were arrested by – I don’t know if it was the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) or the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) – but it was the police force there over an investigation and we had both of them on about that arrest. But she’s also written a book called Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government and it’s the unauthorised biography of Martin McGuinness…

MG:   John, wasn’t that supposed to end up: From guns to government to a united Ireland?

JM:   Well, that part there was left out. Maybe they didn’t have enough room on the front page of the book. But Kathryn, are you on there?

KJ:   I am indeed, John. Nice to talk to you again.

JM:  You know what, Kathryn…

KJ: …Thanks for the plug for the book and I have to tell all your listeners: It’s now available on Amazon Kindle with a couple of updates which take us to about 2012 and we’ll be doing another update for the Kindle once the Assembly election is over and this all pans out.

JM:  Now, I went through like who you interviewed for this book and it looked like our guest list here on WBAI over the years. I mean, you had George Harrison on from Brooklyn, New York. You had Mickey and Martina Donnelly and Martina’s now passed away; we had Mickey on last week and also Ian Hurst who is MI5 or he worked for FRU, the Force Research Unit…

KJ:   Well yeah, he worked for FRU…

JM:   But you also had a guy on that we knew here in New York, Phil Kent, who – I used to call him as – the man from God knows where…

MG:   …everybody used to call him that.

KJ:   Oh yeah, of course!

JM:   …He used to just appear out of nowhere at Rocky Sullivan’s or here at the station and – but what was the conversation that you had with George Harrison because what a lot of people might not know when Martin McGuinness was in the IRA, although he won’t admit to it up to a certain stage, here was out here in Brooklyn, where we’re broadcasting from, staying with George Harrison.

KJ:   Yeah he was. He was staying with George Harrison. He’d just become Chief of Staff. I can’t remember if it was ’79 or ’80 that he first went out to stay with George Harrison. But in February 1978 Gerry Adams was Chief of Staff of the IRA and then after the La Mon bombing in February ’78 Gerry Adams was arrested and Martin McGuinness took over Chief of Staff and he was Chief of Staff then all through 1978 and ’79 including when Lord Mountbatten was killed. But in either ’79 or ’80 he went out and stayed with George Harrison to do a major arms deal there. And he traveled all over the place. I mean it was a very successful arms deal for the IRA and I mean I’m not sure how he managed to travel so easily without the authorities knowing about it but I mean there’s no doubt about it – he travel the world for the IRA.

JM:   And George didn’t mind talking to you about that? I mean I guess at a certain stage George wanted to talk because of the way the peace process was going on…

KJ:   …No, George did talk; he talked to Liam and he confirmed the details of Martin McGuinness being over there. We quote George in the book.

JM:   Right, well now Martin McGuinness is in the middle of…

MG:   …John, can I just interrupt: He also visited the Irish People office during that time and I…

KJ:   …Is that right?

MG:   …Yes. I spoke to him at a diner right underneath and that was about the time I came on the Executive for Irish Northern Aid and was made, well I was the editor of the Irish People but I can definitely confirm that he was staying at George Harrison’s at that time.

KJ:  (crosstalk) …you know what the situation was like in Ireland at the time and you know that probably as soon as Martin McGuinness became Chief of Staff of the IRA the intelligence agencies were aware of that, too. Does it strike you as strange that he could go over to New York at will?

JM:   Well not only that – look who came afterwards – it was Denis Donaldson – who was allowed free rein to roam around New York and everything – I mean there is a coincidence like you’re saying – someone that would have that high a profile within the IRA staying with George Harrison who would have been one of the top IRA guys here.

KJ:   Would have been well-known at least in those times…

JM:   …Oh, to say the least! Well listen, Kathryn, what is the importance of Martin McGuinness to the whole peace process and why is it just this one man resigning can collapse the institutions that he’s been so in favour of for ten years?

KJ:  Well, although his title is Deputy First Minister and Arlene Foster is First Minister in reality it’s a joint office and they act as Joint First Minister so when Martin McGuinness resigns the office of First Minister must go as well and that automatically collapses the institutions. Now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Tory MP James Brokenshire, spoke in the House of Commons during the week and he said that if there is no sign of Sinn Féin nominating another Deputy First Minister by shortly after the weekend he will call an election. Now, he has a bit of leeway on that so he could wait a while but he can’t wait that long and there’s some rumours going round that there’ll be snap elections within three weeks – maybe the end of February beginning of March. And if the same results come up again with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) topping Sinn Féin for the first preference votes and Sinn Féin again refuse to nominate a Deputy First Minister James Brokenshire will have to call another Assembly election. It’s ridiculous.

JM:   Well Kathryn, you had an article that was in the Belfast Telegraph this week and you were saying about that Martin McGuinness should really confess to everything that he’s been involved with – his length of time in the IRA, some of the operations he’s was on and you also mention in the article about the Boston tapes – how they’re being used. This is not the case of like South Africa where the ANC (African National Congress) won and were in control of the government and could protect their members. This is a case where the IRA lost, surrendered their weapons and are now administering British rule in Ireland. So how could you make the argument that Martin McGuinness should admit to some of the operations that he was on where maybe people were killed because he would be prosecuted for it?

KJ:   Well he’s got limited immunity from prosecution until 1974 for what he told Lord Saville in any case. But I think the whole – it was a major mistake – not tying the release of prisoners, both Loyalist and Republican, to release the prisoners – sorry, sorry – to truth recovery and amnesty and it could have cut both ways. I mean the state certainly has a helluva lot to answer for what was going on in The Troubles and I mean I think it’s a disgrace that the Assembly refuses to engage with the whole question of truth recovery. Now I don’t expect Martin McGuinness or any other combatant, especially given what happened with the Boston tapes, I don’t expect him to stand up and say: Look, we’re going to do Panorama tonight and I’m going to tell everything that I did. But I don’t see anything wrong with Martin McGuinness recording his memoirs, lodging them in a safe place – and he already made much at the Saville Inquiry of the IRA’s ‘code of honour’ which he refused the break and, funnily enough, nobody had ever heard of it before then – but I don’t see anything wrong with him, or indeed any other combatant – Loyalist, Republican and state actors, too, and some people have been courageous – as you pointed out in the Boston tapes – giving their testimony. There’s nothing wrong – it’s open to any of us to be open and frank about what happened in their past. None of us are getting any younger. Martin McGuinness is now in his sixties. He’s now seriously ill. He has a duty not only to the victims and their families but he has a duty to history. Future generations have a right to know exactly what was going on and from 1972 Martin McGuinness was flown to London to have secret talks with William Whitelaw in Cheyne Walk and after that, in 1973, he was engaged in sort of secret talks with Michael Oatley, a very senior MI6 officer. Now those talks continued until Michael Oatley’s retirement in 1991. Now there’s a whole story there. We must know what happened. Future generations deserve to know what happened.

MG:   Kathryn, this is Martin Galvin. The problem with that is…

KJ:   …Hi, Martin.

MG:   … is Ivor Bell, who was also a very senior Republican at that time, he is now being prosecuted by the British government because it’s alleged that interviews which were given to the Boston tapes would inculpate him. Gerry Adams was questioned for a day or two because of the interview that Brendan Hughes gave – which was exactly what you’re talking about – a truth process. And the problem is that the British government is not about – they are prepared, if it suits them, to use any kind of interview – to use it against other Republicans to try and prosecute as they are Ivor Bell, or arrests, or try to use that against Republicans. And that certainly – would not that stop any Republican from doing exactly what you said – as important as that history is, as important as that legacy is – and on the other hand – while the British government was jailing IRA Volunteers, while they were even jailing Unionists, they had an amnesty, a de facto amnesty, against their own troops so if word came out about British troops – what they did at Bloody Sunday, the Ballymurphy Massacre, etc – they would have completely gotten away without having to face any kind of justice. So how do you answer those concerns in talking about Martin McGuinness putting his memoirs down?

KJ:  …Well I take your point and personally I don’t think it’s too late for a proper truth and recovery service to start. I do take your point that of course they’d be risking prosecution that’s why I suggest that individuals lodge them with people that they trust. And you mentioned Ivor Bell there and the Boston tapes, his involvement and his charging and so on with involvement in the murder of Jean McConville. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve heard or not but I think the case may be dropped against Ivor Bell because he has dementia.

MG:  Well, there is a defence that is put into the case but there’s no indication yet that the case would be dropped and again he’s facing charges – I don’t know, there’s an allegation that the tape that they say is his voice, it’s under a different voice – it doesn’t belong to him. There is very much an allegation that the person on that tape said he had nothing really to do with what happened to Jean McConville – was just was in another county at the time when it happened – but the British government would manipulate that tape, that type of legacy, that type of truth recovery process – it might just say we have evidence elsewhere. Anyway, we are going on…

KJ:   …Just to answer what you just said there: You need to talk to Suzanne or Anthony McIntyre about the Boston tapes…

MG:   Well, Suzanne’s on next actually. That’s what we’re trying to cut this…

KJ:   ….that would be a good opportunity to ask her. I am far from being an expert but I do believe that the PSNI’s interest in Ivor Bell would be evidence they could get against someone else who was involved.

MG:   Well, that may be true but in any event he’s the person in court and under charges.

KJ:  Yep, that’s true.

JM:  Well listen Kathryn, I’d like to thank you for coming on. This is Kathryn Johnston, she has a book called Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government and you can get it on amazon dot com. And Kathryn, thanks for coming on. Listen who…

KJ:   Thanks for having me on. I enjoyed it, John.

JM:   Who were you arrested by? Was it the PSNI or the RUC?

KJ:  It was the PSNI, yeah. It was a Special Branch operation. We had something like five police trucks outside our house – walking around the garden with sub-machine guns. It sounds funny – it sounds ridiculous now…

JM:  Sounds like you were in Turkey…

KJ:   …but it was very scary at the time.

JM:  – sounds like you were in Turkey not in…

KJ:  Well the funny thing was – at the time there was a Guardian journalist in Zimbabwe and he was arrested by Mugabe, very, very badly treated and then thrown out of the country. And after our arrest the editor of The Guardian, whose name escapes me – he’s a really famous guy, too – he wrote an editorial about comparing our treatment to that of his staff reporter in Zimbabwe. I mean I think that caused a few ripples with the security services I think. But sure, it’s all in the past now, John.

JM:  Ohhhh – well the past has a funny way of coming back to us. Wht is it, now…

MG:   …particularly in Ireland, yes.

JM: There’s a very famous saying:

May the Lord in His mercy be kind to Belfast
To hell with the future and long live the past
May God in His mercy be kind to Belfast…

but it repeats itself there. Thank you, Kathryn, for coming on.

KJ:    Good talking to you, John, and good talking to you, Martin. Bye!

JM:   (station identification) But Martin, one of the problems and Kathryn saying you know people should admit to what they were involved with – you can only admit to what you’re involved with if you win the revolutionary struggle that you were involved in. In the Twenty-Six Counties, after the 1916 Uprising and after 1921 RTÉ went out and recorded everyone about what their involvement was in the struggle and no one went to jail because they were in power, they were running the country just like the ANC. Had the ANC lost in South Africa believe you me there would have been no truth and reconciliation committee because the South African apartheid government would have arrested and charged any ANC member that was admitting to what was going on.

MG:  John, as we said, Ivor Bell – look at what’s happened to him, look what happened after Brendan Hughes gave and interview and why should British troopers, who were never prosecuted, never had to face justice, never had to face arrests or charges the way Republicans did – why should they get a continuation of their de facto amnesty? (ends time stamp ~ 33:49)