Ed Moloney RFÉ 19 August 2017

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Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City

Martin Galvin speaks to the award-winning journalist, author and historian Ed Moloney via telephone about the British government’s first position paper on Brexit and about the FBI investigation of NORAID. (begins time stamp ~ 16:27)

Martin:   This week the British government issued its first position paper – and this is something that’s going to have to be negotiated – not with Ireland but with the European Community – and already I notice that there were complaints by the Daily Mail about having a back door to Britain, they’re worried about immigration controls and what of Britain’s wish to take back our borders, complaining about their own government proposals if it’s not a hard and fast border. Ed, could you tell us about that proposal and what the implications are?

Ed:    Yeah, essentially what the British have proposed, I suppose it’s come as a bit of a surprise to some people, which the proposal is that really then there won’t be what they call a ‘hard border’ between The South and The North or between The South of Ireland and the rest of it and Britain. There had been fears and predictions that they were going to return back to the 1950’s and the 1960’s where there were customs posts at every border stopping and everyone was held up and if you were carrying goods or freight across you had to have all sorts of documentation and stuff like that. That was something which was being opposed by the Irish government and being opposed by a lot of people in Europe as well who argued that this might serve to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and the peace accords in Northern Ireland and it seems that the British have been won over to that view. But, as you noted yourself there in your introduction, there are elements in British society who are very angry about this because they see the absence of border controls as a sort of ‘secret entree’ into Britain by jihadists and immigrants and people like that that would not be welcomed by the likes of the Daily Mail or The Sun and Rupert Murdoch’s papers so that has yet to be negotiated, of course, with the Europeans but it’s come as a bit of a surprise, and I suspect quite a welcomed surprise, although there are, you know, arguments and questions about how this could actually be implemented in practice.

And I’m beginning to see suggestions that there will actually be an electronic border – that people who cross over will be monitored, freight will be monitored, customs duties will be collected in due course etc – but that sounds like it’s going to be very, very difficult. So one of the predictions that’s being made is that if this soft border is introduced you’re going to see the resurgence of smuggling from places like South Armagh – which would be no surprise since they’ve been doing that for the most of the last hundred years or so. So it’s a development but it’s unsettled; it’s not negotiated and not agreed yet.

Martin:   Alright. And we should say when we talk about papers like the Daily Mail and some of the other papers that have said: What about our borders? those are papers that have a great deal of influence with the Tories, with the Conservative Party, which is the ones proposing Brexit, proposing its implementation, it has a big impact on them politically. And you also have the whole idea that this has to be approved by the European Community…

Ed:    ..Yeah…

Martin:   …and they don’t want to go out of their way to make it easy for states like Britain to leave because they’re concerned that other states might say: Well if the deal is so good for Britain I’ll get the same kind of deal and they’ll all start to leave the European Community.

Ed:   Yeah, but I think the Europeans have a ‘get out’ in this case by pleading special circumstances; special circumstances being the Good Friday Agreement, being the peace accord. And the argument, which I don’t actually buy into but it’s obviously been persuasive to certainly a lot in the media and politics in Europe you know that to have a hard border there is going to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and you know you could have a resurgence in violence. I think that’s based upon a misunderstanding of what The Troubles were really about but nonetheless, that’s what’s been widely accepted as being the conventional wisdom and the European authorities, the EU authorities, will be able to argue to other states: Look, this was very much an exception to the rule that doesn’t apply elsewhere.

Martin:   Okay. Now Ed, I should mention you have a blog, The Broken Elbow – there are new posts put up very frequently, almost daily – and recently you obtained and released some more of the FBI files regarding Irish Northern Aid (NORAID) although the files themselves went much further than Irish Northern Aid – they went through many groups in the Irish community. And one of the first things I spotted: The Irish-American Unity Conference (IAUC) was founded by Jim Delaney. He was a prominent, wealthy business man originally from Chicago, moved to Texas, invited a number of organisations to come together and form the Irish-American Unity Conference, that organisation still exists. And one of the files that you had relates to a letter that, or an advertisement, that he had of the Irish-American Unity Conference and how as simply as a result of posting this advertisement asking people to join he was visited by the FBI, they were worried that he might harbour some kind of anti-British feelings, harassed him that way. Could you tell us about that?

Ed:  Yeah, well first of all these aren’t my files. These are files that were actually collected by a journalist called Nate Lavey, who’s a cinematographer, he makes documentaries and stuff, he had collected these, or asked the Freedom of Information people at the FBI for documents or their files on NORAID and basically had forgotten all about his request and then one day in the post came this big bundle. He really didn’t know what to do with them and he asked me if I would take care of them and see if I could find anything of interest so these are really Nate’s files, not mine so I don’t want to claim credit for something that I didn’t actually dig out myself. But there are lots of files, and there’s a lot more to come yet, and this one is interesting as you say for that and other reasons as well, just the scope of the investigations that the FBI were undertaking into Irish groups were underneath the umbrella of NORAID. And I suspect that if you put them up against a wall, if you can ever do that to an FBI man, and say: Why did you include this Irish-American Unity Conference which really appears not to be associated with the Provos or IRA gun running etc – why did you do that? And the answer would be: Well, actually NORAID were involved in the foundation of the group and, as I understand it, were one of the member-groups invited along to the first meeting of the IAUC. So that’s why, I suspect, and that’s the justification, I suspect, that they would give if they were pressed for doing this. But it does show that you know they had a very, very broad remit in terms of the Irish community – anything which smacked of an attitude out of kilter with the American policy on Britain and Northern Ireland was bound to attract their attention. And I have to say, as well, you know just looking at what Nate was able to get and what he gave me, was that we’re only getting a fraction of what the FBI had on NORAID, I’m sure, you know – there’s an awful lot that’s being withheld because it’s hard to believe…

Martin:  …Well one of the things, Ed, that I thought was interesting: There’s documents which show there was great attention to protests of British regimental bands. Now what would happen is British regimental bands would come to the United States on tours, they’d play at places, the Nassau Coliseum, Madison Square Garden, different venues across the country and Irish Northern Aid would organise protests and we would say that, you know, if the Grenadier Guards or other regiments are in The North of Ireland they shoot down people, they oppress people – they shouldn’t be allowed just to play here and pose as entertainers. And these were legal protest, there would be permits, and in fact one of the first things I checked into they had – very concerned about Nassau Coliseum. The person who led that protest and would have been a speaker is Peter King, who’s presently a member of Congress, very much involved within the upper echelons of the House, Republicans, and you had people like that with legal protests, they would notify the government, they would keep to what was required of them and they would have clear First Amendment activity of protesting against British bands but yet this was spied on, this was attempts to infiltrate those protests and there seemed to be a great deal of effort by the FBI for these legal protests which never had any problems – any violations of the law.

Ed:  Yeah, but you can hardly be surprised that the FBI would follow such events because the rationale and the reasoning that they would follow would be something like this: People who are bothered enough about the situation in Northern Ireland to go along, maybe traveling many miles away to a place where an obscure band of the British Army is playing, are likely to be the most extreme and the most fanatical supporters of NORAID and the Irish Republican cause and therefore we ought to keep an eye on them and see who they’re meeting and who they’re talking to and stuff like that. From a policeman’s point of view, from an intelligence gatherer’s point of view, something like those sort of meetings would be an opportunity they would not want to miss – notwithstanding all the objections you would have on First Amendment grounds – but they wouldn’t really care too much about that they would say: Well you know there may be people meeting here, using this as a cover to arrange this or that – we need to keep an eye on these people. And as for Peter King: Peter King was under FBI surveillance and RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) Special Branch and MI5 surveillance for many, many years until he became a respectable anti-terrorist politician up in Congress. You know, he was persona non grata in the Republican Party, in large elements of the Republican Party. When Reagan went to Long Island, you know, his itinerary was carefully vetted to make sure that there was no chance that Peter King would ever cross his path, and so on and so forth. It’s hard to believe that now when you see Peter King on Fox News you know rounding on about jihadi terrorists and what have you. It wasn’t too long before or long ago that Peter King was consorting with people who were not very dissimilar, in many respects, but that’s all now forgotten, of course.

Martin:  Well, we could argue about the difference between the IRA and those groups but going on: One of the things that you cover is how we had an Irish People tour actually – it was not the Irish Northern Aid tour but it was the Irish People tour – it was the idea of Tom Hartley to bring, invite, Americans to come to Ireland, see The North themselves first hand what’s life is like under British rule and, of course, I led the first one and was banned from going back – but that’s another story – it was back to the ’84 and some of the other tours – but the FBI tried to put, or did put according to the files, people on each tour. And there were people that we kind of surmised were involved and they were all supposed to come back, and they had all this surveillance and all of this number of people involved and it was all with the idea that they were going to discover some kind of monies raised by Irish Northern Aid that was given to the IRA so that people could be arrested or charged or found out and yet, despite all of that, none of that ever happened. They were not able to ever point to an incidence where Irish Northern Aid monies were, in any way, spent other than ways they were supposed to be – for the families of political prisoners or publicity or education or organisational purposes. I just thought it was interesting – they note so many reports by so many people who were agents and yet they weren’t able to come up with one person who indicated that he saw what this activity was designed to discover: Money being transferred from Irish Northern Aid to the Irish Republican Army…

Ed:  …Well, that we know of, Martin. You know, my earlier point, I think, is relevant here which is that I don’t think we’re getting the full picture and full access to all the NORAID material that the FBI collected. I mean if the files I have represent the total of what the FBI did in terms of monitoring and surveilling NORAID then it’s a pretty poor operation because you know there’s not an awful lot of paper there and common sense tells me that there must be a mass of stuff that they are not disclosing and that they will probably never will disclose, you know, to journalists or to the public. So you know – yes, you’re right, in terms of what they have handed over to Nate Lavey – no, there was nothing there that shows that – that there was any type of that activity – but they clearly presumed or had reason to suspect or imagined or whatever verb you want to use that these NORAID trips presented an ideal opportunity for people to bring over messages, money, contacts, what have you from America to the Provos in Ireland – that’s the way the police think – that’s the police mind. I mean…

Martin:  …Right, but if they had discovered…

Ed:  …you must expect that. And you know – no, whether they had intelligence doesn’t mean to say they’re going to act on it.

Martin:  …wouldn’t they arrest people who were involved in it? Just – they could have brought down the whole organisation by doing so.

Ed:   Well maybe they had very, very you know important agents either in the IRA or on the American side of things which they – whose activities and whose preservation were of paramount importance to them – it came way ahead of you know putting people in court on trial on offences of one sort or another which might be, at the end of the day, might be almost impossible to prove. I mean you right – you could have evidence that  Person ‘X’ handed over fifty thousand dollars to Person ‘Y’. Person ‘X’ is from Detroit and Person’Y’ is in Crossmaglen but how do you know, how can you prove what that money was spent on? You know, you can’t. It’s very, very difficult to do. So I suspect that they, if they did that, if they were – if I’m right and that there’s material there which we’re not being told about – then it stands to reason that that type of logic may have applied but we don’t know because we don’t know what’s the sum of the FBI material. All I’m saying is that the files that Nate Lavey got, and he asked for everything, if this represents ‘everything’ then it was a very, very small surveillance operation by the FBI over all of these years and that doesn’t make sense to me given all the resources and the priority that they gave to the Irish situation in America.

Martin:   Alright. Ed, we just want to ask one more quick question before we have to go on to our next guest: We’re now at the end, next week will be the end of the marching season. Sinn Féin, the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) had said they would negotiate again when the marching season was over – that’s due to stop next week. What’s your prediction as to whether we will get Sinn Féin and the DUP back in partnership, or coalition, however you want to characterise it at Stormont? Will that happen, do you think? Or, will it remain as it is with Stormont having collapsed and being not in session?

Ed: Well the only prediction I think that is safe to make is that at some stage they will get back together and they will recreate, or re-form, the government at Stormont – doesn’t mean to say it’s going to happen this year or even next year because British politics is in the state of flux, the May government may collapse at any moment and then there’s a whole new ballgame – the deal that they had with the DUP will be up in the air and so on and so forth – but in terms of what the endgame is going to be I don’t think there’s any doubt that eventually, whether it takes two months or a year or whatever – those people who were involved in the Assembly up to its collapse a year or so ago will convene again and get the act going because, from everyone’s point of view – you know, these are politicians, these are professional politicians, and they have this place up on the hill and it’s a very comfortable place and they’re paid lots of money, a lot of them are allowed to employ their relatives, they have huge expenses, they have a status you know which is like totally out of proportion to the true importance of what they do and they also have lots of money to spend. And the idea that, for example, the DUP are going to give that up is just – I can’t accept that. And equally, I think there are even more pressing reasons why the Sinn Féin side will want to get back into Stormont and that is that: What else are they going to have to show, if they don’t go back into Stormont, for ending the IRA’s campaign for the peace process? I mean they gave up their weapons, they’ve accepted British rule, they’ve accepted the Principle of Consent and in return for that they get direct rule? Sure, they could have had direct rule for nothing a long time ago. They didn’t have to do all that. And it stands to reason, again, you know they’re an ambitious political party now, they’re morphing, increasingly, into the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) and becoming more and more constitutional as time goes on – it stands to reason that they would want to get back into to do what a constitutional politician does which is to govern and take seats in Parliament and so on and so forth. So eventually I think it will happen. They may squabble and argue the bit for a while yet until we’re really clear about what the future is – what the future is in relation to Brexit, what the future is in relation to is there going to be a stable Tory government there or not? But eventually a deal will be done.

Martin:  Alright. On that note, Ed, we want to thank you. We’re going to have to go on to our next guest, Mark Thompson. Again, thank you. That was Ed Moloney…

Ed:   …No problem. Bye…

Martin:  …author of A Secret History of the IRA, award-winning journalist with the Irish Times and the Sunday Tribune and political commentator extraordinaire. (ends time stamp ~ 36:19)