Thursday, October 2, 2014

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Caretakers of the Partitioned State

Martin Galvin (MG) interviews former Long Kesh hunger striker Gerard Hodgins (GH) via telephone from Belfast about how he answered the question asked by author Peter Taylor for his new documentary, Who Won the War? Our gratitude to the dependable TPQ transcriber.

Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
27 September 2014

MG: With us on the line is Gerard Hodgins. He, like Seamus Delaney who was just interviewed, a former Irish Republican prisoner, former blanketman who resisted the efforts of the British to impose a criminal uniform on them leading to the hunger strike. And in fact, Gerard was one of the people who was on hunger strike. Welcome back to WBAI and Radio Free Éireann, Gerard.

GH: Martin, it's a pleasure to be back with you and hello there to all the Irish-Americans.

MG: Well, it's a broader audience than Irish-Americans but thankfully it's all people interested in Ireland and that includes many more who are not Irish-American but they're Irish-by-affinity – Irish-by-interest. Gerard, this Monday there's going to be a special programme - a journalist named Peter Taylor is doing it. It's entitled Who Won the War? and it's about the twentieth anniversary of the ceasefire. It's a programme in which many people – British statesmen, British officials, Irish Republicans, Irish officials are interviewed and asked to give their verdict.  Gerard, you were one of the people who was picked out to be interviewed. You were interviewed by Peter Taylor in the past based upon you being a Press Officer, a former political prisoner, could you give us a preview? Could you tell us what you told Peter Taylor in answer to his question?

GH: I would be in agreement with Peter Taylor that the British and the Unionists won the war. I told him as much myself. I told him that we began our lives as revolutionaries committed to the complete and total overthrow of the state and the reunification of Ireland. Yet we ended up as being caretakers of the partitioned state - guarantors of the state we once pledged to overthrow. That's my own personal take on the long war that we fought against the British. Fighting for freedom is a noble thing. There's never anything wrong or any man could being condemned for that. But in terms of what we achieved for such a long war and what our leadership delivered it wasn't worth the effort.

MG: Gerard, one of the arguments that is made is that now within Stormont that that is somehow going to lead to a united Ireland.I know Joe Cahill in 1998 argued it would happen withing five years, which would have been 2003 – others said longer periods of time - others said that with winning seats in The South and being in Stormont you will gradually gain a united Ireland.  What is your response to that?

GH: I think there's as much chance of that Islamic crowd IS converting to Christianity as there is in Stormont leading to a united Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement took the violence – took the the war out of the conflict here in Ireland and created a peace. But no sort of structures were built upon that peace to advance towards a united Ireland.

So what we have in Stormont now – Stormont used to be a one-party Unionist dictatorship – now it's a two-party dictatorship divided between Sinn Féin, from our side of the fence, and the DUP from the Unionist side of the fence. They can't agree on anything. They can't even have basic civility among each other within the corridors of Stormont.

They don't bring forward any progressive policies to tackle sectarianism or to tackle poverty or to lead to job creation. And so I can't see, in all honesty, Stormont leading to a united Ireland.

MG: Gerard, one of the developments – we've seen people like Gerry McGeough, who was interviewed on this programme many times, be arrested on historic offences, sent to gaol, do two years in Maghaberry Prison and now is on licence where he can be brought back at any time. Ivor Bell, who is a leading Republican figure, is now up on charges – facing charges. Seamus Kearney, another leading Republican figure, is in gaol on historic charges.

GH: In gaol at the minute. I was up to see him last week. Seamus Kearney – a very good friend.

But you're right in what you're saying, Martin, there is – in the peace process we're living in now there appears to be two laws: There's a law which will target unrepentant Republicans and come rapping at their door after twenty-thirty years and charge them with an historic offence going back to the 1970's, 1980's, 1990's. And there are other Republicans who were active in the Republican Movement during the war years who will not get that rap on the door because they are ensconced in the Stormont set up.

MG: And in addition would it be fair to say that if you were wearing a British uniform or uniform of the RUC or you were involved with British forces that you're never going to get a knock at the door – that you get something stronger than an immunity certificate?

GH: There has never been one single British soldier, Intelligence Officer as much as arrested and questioned let alone put into prison for their conduct in the Dirty War. And the information that's out there from the likes of the Pat Finucane Centre - and even the de Silva Report which was a British government commissioned report as to the murder of Pat Finucane - loads of evidence pointing to active collusion between the British Army, MI5 and Unionist death squads. But you're right in what you're saying. There's no British soldier going to go to gaol or be arrested. There's no RUC man going to go.

Working class foot soldiers from Loyalism and Republicanism will forever live with the sword of Damocles hanging over them that they're going to get a rap on the door because either their face doesn't fit or the political system wants to make a particular point at that particular time.

MG: Do you think that's the British government saying again: We won the war. Your people – we can go after – prosecute and gaol. Our soldiers, our troops, our constables - they will never face charges or go to gaol or go to prison because they will never be treated as criminals?

GH: Absolutely! Absolutely! The British – you've seen this yourself - they're not called “Perfidious Albion” for nothing. They are perfidious. And they will let you know that they are always the boss and the dominant partner in the relationship. And that's what they're doing. For years, Sinn Féin tried to sell to us that if we had the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont it would be the final part of the Holy Grail of the final stepping stone to freedom. Well, we got policing and justice powers devolved to Stormont.

Seamus Kearney's still serving a life sentence in Maghaberry prison tonight. Gerry McGeough has a licence hanging over him which seriously curtails his freedom of movement and expression. And many other Republicans are living under similar restrictions. So neither Stormont nor the policing and justice powers has brought us any further on the road to freedom. Indeed, if anything, the laws we live under now are much more repressive than any that we had during “the bad days” of the 1970's or 1980's!

MG: Alright, Gerard. We're going to go on now with our next guest after a bit of music. I want to thank you for giving us a preview of that documentary, Who Won the War? And Radio Free Éireann listeners have heard it first here on Saturday.

before they hear it in the North of Ireland or before the BBC watchers are going to hear it on Monday. Thank you again, Gerard.

GH: Okay, Martin. Good luck! Slan! Nice work!