Martin Galvin speaks to former Irish Republican political prisoner, Packy Carty, via telephone from Co. Tyrone about the new Irish Republican party, Saoradh. (begins time stamp ~ 36:11)
Martin: And with us on the line we have Packy Carty in Tyrone. Welcome to – well I should say welcome back – I believe you did an interview a number of years ago with John McDonagh – welcome back to Radio Free Éireann. And I believe it was September that your new political party, a new Irish Republican political party, the word that – it was formed – it’s liberation. Could you tell us how you pronounce it first of all?
Packy: A chairde, Martin, thanks for having us on. ‘Sear róo’ is our pronunciation but it does vary a bit regarding provincial Gaelic so it may sound a bit different in Leinster or Munster.
Martin: Alright. And that, of course, is spelled s-a-o-r-a-d-h…
Martin: …So if you’re looking for information about it that’s where to go. Okay. I want to – just tell us first a little bit about your own background and involvement in Irish Republican politics. I spoke to you briefly on the phone about this interview and you said you were born in it – you had an uncle killed, father was in jail, you’ve been in prison – just tell us briefly about yourself and your family connections to Irish Republicanism.
Packy: Yeah, well I was born in Dungannon in East Tyrone which is you know, it’s a Republican heartland – it was the area where the East Tyrone Brigade was active. My Uncle Paddy was killed in Omagh in 1973 and my father was incarcerated as a Republican prisoner in the 1970’s. I’ve been active in Republican politics myself from about the mid to late 1990’s and was held by remand in Maghaberry jail in 2012. I spent that period on protest with the prisoners in Roe House.
Martin: Alright. And we call that internment-by-remand where they just deny you bail, they hold you – How long were you in? And then when it was time for trial they said there was no evidence against you and the case was dismissed.
Packy: Yeah well they made a number of assertions and they charged me and held me for nine months. At that time, that was about February 2012 I think, I was lifted. I was in the car with my wife and my children and was just lifted off the side of the road, held overnight in Antrim Interrogation Barracks, taken to Enniskillen I think the following morning and then quickly from thereon to Enniskillen court and quickly thereon to Maghaberry.
Martin: Alright, just let’s get right to it. Tell us: What is Saoradh and why is it that you and others, other Republicans, have formed another Republican party – some people would say other than Sinn Féin?
Packy: Well Saoradh’s an Irish Republican socialist party, a revolutionary party – unashamedly so. In regards to forming a new party you know the movement has more formalisation. The movement has existed for five years or more now. It has coalesced more or less around prisoners’ issues initially and particularly the Irish Prisoners’ Welfare Association but going back to when I got out of jail in 2012 discussions and talks were on-going to build what has now become the Saoradh party. Those consultations were perfected and drawn out in the interests of Republican unity and there was consultations and dialogue with a number of Republican groupings and independents in regards to building what earlier, in the latter part of last year, became the Saoradh party.
Martin: Okay. And what is the political strategy that your party has to unite Ireland where you think that Sinn Féin and other political parties have failed?
Packy: Well starting off it’s getting back to brass tacks and rebuilding the Republican Movement, rebuilding Republicanism from the grassroots up. You know we’ve had this top-down, diktat approach by the likes of Sinn Féin and the destruction of Republicanism basically by them being completely subsumed into the British Establishment and subsumed into administering British rule via Stormont. So you know it’s a long, hard road back from that and we’re at the very start of it. So we’re focused at the moment on building the party up, laying down the structures, re-engaging the grassroots and engaging on things that relate to what they’re facing in their daily lives and their struggles and on how British rule is affecting them on the ground day and daily.
Martin: Alright. Now there are elections on March 2nd. I know that your party was just recently formed and you certainly didn’t expect that there would be an election so soon and I’m sure you’re not running candidates but what is it that your party will ask people to do in terms of that March 2nd election? Some people say if you put Sinn Féin in you’ll keep Arlene Foster out. What is it that your party wants to do? And just tell us the theory or feeling about why the action that you’re going to ask people to take is going to promote a united Ireland in a way that voting for somebody else will not.
Packy: Well from Saoradh’s perspective you know it doesn’t matter if you have direct British rule or indirect British rule. It’s still British rule nonetheless. And in reality Stormont has very little power and it has shown that – you know Sinn Féin can’t even deliver on an Irish language act. They’re completely, they’re devoid if they believe they make any change via the British institution that is Stormont. Stormont has been coming down recently with corruption and it has fell on the sword in a long line of corruption with the latest RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) scheme but what our party will be asking people to do is we’re taking a revolutionary approach. We’re taking an approach from outside of the British institutions and we’re asking people not to vote. We’re asking people to vote with their feet and stay at home. You know it’s only a year since the last Stormont election and voter turnout was down to fifty-four percent. And now while we don’t recognise the gerrymandered statelet that is what is termed Northern Ireland, you know what we would call the Occupied Six Counties, while we don’t recognise it technically we realise the advantage of trying to push voter turnout below fifty percent to divest this popular myth that somehow British rule, or its beachhead in Ireland which is Stormont, has some sort of popular mandate. So that’s the campaign we’ve been engaging in – in a broad ranging campaign encouraging Irish citizens to stay at home and divest this perceived support for British rule in Ireland.
Martin: Alright. And seeing Sinn Féin at Stormont – it’s played up where it’s claimed to be that it gives power to Nationalists, to Republicans – you’ve said that it’s just part of the British administration. Does the fact that Sinn Féin is in Stormont, is on policing boards, is in other machinery of the state – does that help? Or is that just, in your view, something that gives credence, credibility, undeserved credibility, to British rule?
Packy: Well they’ve been completely subsumed into the system you know? I think Davy Jordan, our national chairperson, stated that at the inaugural Ard Fheis. You know they have been subsumed by the very system they set out to overthrown. At present there’s a hundred thousand children living in poverty under British rule in Ireland at this minute in time and those figures are by a British charity, the Joseph Roundtree Trust. You can’t hide from that, you know? Sinn Féin is pouring austerity and misery into the working class heartlands that produced it, from where it emerged. You know Sinn Féin puts great emphasis on the fact that it built its electoral prowess off the hunger strike and the deaths of people like Bobby Sands and of Patsy O’Hara. But if you go into the heartlands where Bobby Sands and Patsy O’Hara come from in Belfast and Doire respectively, you’re walking into some of the most deprived areas in western Europe. And that’s an economic war that Britain has continued to wage against the Irish people – you know, that has never ended. And now what you’re seeing is the complete submission by Sinn Féin and they’ve literally became the new constitutional nationalist party, the new SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party), they’re in that middle ground. They’ve completely forsaken the people who bore the brunt of the struggle and who continue to bear the brunt of this new-found Tory neo-liberal austerity agenda. You know, who would ever have thought you’d see the day where Sinn Féin is imposing poverty on behalf of the Tory government that effectively murdered Bobby Sands and the other prisoners in the H-Blocks in 1981. That’s the contradiction you’re left with now and the hypocritical position that Sinn Féin now sits in.
Martin: Alright. Now you eventually will run candidates I believe – correct me if I’m wrong because I’m just going just on some of the articles I’ve read about the party in the paper – but my understanding is that your position is eventually, down the road when the party is ready, they will run candidates but they will run them on an abstentionist basis. What is the theory behind running candidates on an abstentionist basis meaning: We’ll try to win seats, show votes, quantify support for our position but not take seats in Stormont, in certainly in Westminster if it comes to that or I don’t know if you have that same policy on local councils?
Packy: Well at the minute there probably still will be a debate on the issue of local councils – that’ll be an internal, grassroots debate within the party about the viability of that but traditionally Republicans, you know going back to the time of the formation of Dáil Éireann, have utilised the councils – that is a debate that will be on-going. But in regards to the partitionist institutions of Leinster House and Stormont there’s absolutely no way Saoradh at any time, now or in the future, will we be running in elections to take seats in those institutions. Yes, we may utilise those elections in the future to run abstentionist candidates and the reason being is that we want to divest control from the existing British institutions. You know, the Twenty-Six County institution is not The Dáil. The Dáil Éireann was suppressed and was replaced by the Royal Oireachtas. It is as much a British parliament as the Stormont administration that exists in the Occupied Six Counties. And if we look at our recent history, anybody who has walked away from the revolutionary Republican position and taken their seats in Stormont or taken their seats in Leinster House has been subsumed and shaped by those institutions. You could take people like Gerry Kelly, people like Pat Sheehan – Pat Sheehan is an excellent example. You know you have a man who was an IRA combatant who was captured, incarcerated, went on the blanket, went on hunger strike, finished his incarceration, re-committed himself to the Republican Movement, was captured again and re-interned and he was taken out. He’s been fed into this machinery of the state and has come out the other side a robot that now sits up and tells people to join the Crown Forces, to inform on Irish citizens to the Crown Forces, who sits on these British policing boards and who is a rent-wrecking landlord and that is the end product of engaging in these processes and it would be a huge mistake for Saoradh or any other Republican organisation who thinks that at the beginning of this process you can go in with your ideas and come out with them still intact on the other side. Irish history is littered with the failures of constitutional, you know of these moves into constitutional nationalism.
Martin: Alright. Now your party is very much linked to prisoners and Republican prisoners’ issues. Could you tell us some of the things that you’ve done in terms of supporting Republican prisoners, trying to campaign for justice or help the families of those who are in prison?
Packy: Yes. Well there’s a lot of people that would have you believe that there is is no Republican prisoners anymore or that somehow if you’re a Republican prisoners before 1998 that that makes you some sort of hero and if you’re a Republican prisoner post-1998 then you’re some sort of public pariah but there’s a lot…
Martin: …Well the funny thing – if I can interrupt you – you get people like Gerry McGeough or Seamus Kearney and others who were actually in prisoned post-1998 for actions, IRA actions, that occurred in 1980 or 1981 and somehow they still were seemed to be in the pariah category instead of people that should be supported as part of the struggle. Sorry for interrupting but just go ahead – just tell us what you’re position is.
Packy: Yeah well you have people like Scotchy (Seamus) Kearney and Gerry McGeough who didn’t toe the Sinn Féin party line and therefore don’t get the comfortable letters from your British government to say: Oh, you can come back and live a normal life. You know, they’re still persecuted. And it must be pointed out that Britain is still persecuting its war, still persecuting its criminalisation policy and all those who engaged in the struggle for national liberation and they focus intently on anyone who isn’t toeing the Sinn Féin line – there’s no comfort letters for those people. And I think recently on one of the political debate shows on British television Gerry Kelly said that he would be quite comfortable for Britain’s continuing criminalisation of former combatants from that long war period before the so-called ’98 agreement.
Martin: Well one of the things – not only, first of all, if you took a position that Bobby Sands and others on the blanket that they were not criminals – that they were political prisoners – if you then criminalise or send to jail as a criminal people like Gerry McGeough and Seamus Kearney it seems to be that you’re betraying that principle. But more than that, isn’t it a fact that if you were in prisoned during that time it’s very, very difficult, other than a very few exceptions, you don’t get to come to the United States because you’re viewed as a ‘criminal’, you don’t get a visa, you don’t get a – because you’re branded as such by the British – you’re not eligible for certain positions – I don’t know about teaching, other positions – you still are criminalised in that sense and Sinn Féin was part and is part of the government that does that, that is involved in that process – isn’t that – would that be your party’s position as well?
Packy: Yeah, that’s very true. You know Sinn Féin told everyone, told its supporters, told its base that it had negotiated an end to the Anglo-Irish conflict in 1998. That’s what was portrayed and, as you well know, they were in the US trying to put forward the same narrative. What this does is blows that out of the water and basically shows that the British negotiated a surrender from the Provisional Movement and that’s the basis of it and now you have people like Gerry Kelly and Martin McGuinness, who have these so-called criminal records as well for their part as being combatants in the Republican resistance, and it’s okay – they can go to places like Washington and engage in these civic events but you know for the ordinary guy on the ground, the guy who isn’t in the higher echelons of Sinn Féin, he can’t get a job at a shopping mall as a security guard because of this so-called criminal record and you know he can’t fly to certain countries, the US and Australia and places like that, because he’s on no-fly lists and is down on so-called ‘terror’ lists. And that’s the out-workings of this is that the Sinn Féin didn’t negotiate an end to anything. What they did was capitulate and immerse themselves in the very system that they had fought for how long? From the beginning. They’ve come full circle.
Martin: Could you tell us just briefly: I know your group participated in the Bloody Sunday demonstration last Sunday but what is some of the things – you’ve established office, you’ve organised a number of protests – what are some of the other things that your party has done since its creation just a few short months ago?
Packy: Yes, well there was a good turnout by the membership and the activists in Doire but Doire is a strong city for us. We have an office in Doire and are recently in the process of forming a youth wing. We formed craobh across the country. We have an office in the heart of Belfast with more planned hopefully places like Tyrone and other areas. Our Dublin comrades were among the activists that seized Apollo House in Dublin from the banks and opened it up to ease the homeless epidemic recently over Christmas. And in Tyrone we’ve engaged with concerned residents who face corporate poisoning and the theft of our natural resources at the hands of the Dalradian Gold company and things like that, who have been gifted our natural resources by the British Crown and while Sinn Féin sit subservient and don’t rock the boat. You know we’re also constantly active in highlighting ongoing issues affecting Republican prisoners and the fact that you have forced strip searching, that you have controlled movement and isolation and prisoners being held in solitary confinement. You know, I’ve a close friend at the moment in Maghaberry jail, Marty McGilloway, who grew up in the same housing estate as me, and Marty’s been held now for four and a half years in solitary confinement and UN legislation states that a person can’t be held for longer than fifteen days but this is on-going. You have other prisoners as well from Lurgan and other areas who are held in the same sort of conditions; we’re constantly working on that…
Packy: …We’re also working, too, to reintegrate ourselves into, back into, the working class areas and tackle issues, bread and butter every day issues where the out-workings of British rule is pouring suffering and misery on the working people.
Martin: Okay. We’re coming to the end. We’re talking to Packy Carty of Saoradh, the new political party in Ireland. Packy, just before you go could you tell us: If people want to get more information about your political party how would they do it?
Packy: Yeah. Well we’ve a website saoradh.ie…
Martin: …Okay – that’s (Martin spells out Saoradh) Is that correct?
Martin: Okay. Is there anywhere else to get information? You’re on Facebook as well. Is that correct?
Martin: Okay, the name of the party again – Saoradh – which is an Irish word, means liberation. (Martin spells Saoradh) Again you can get information at s-a-o-r-a-d-h dot ie. You can look it up on Facebook. Packy, we want to thank you for introducing your party to an American audience and hopefully we’ll have you back soon as other developments as the party continues to grow and prosper.
Packy: Go raibh míle maith agat. Thank you very much. (ends time stamp ~ 55:36)