Tuesday, January 20, 2015

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Henry McDonald In Conversation With Martin Galvin

Henry McDonald, Ireland Correspondent with The Guardian in an extended interview with Martin Galvin, the New York lawyer who is a robust advocate of an Irish republican perspective. A shortened version of the interview featured in The Guardian and was carried on TPQ.
HM: Can you elaborate on why you say the conditions do not exist for the continuation of armed struggle at this time?

MG: My views about armed struggle are no secret. When I joined Irish Northern Aid, decades ago, I took a considered decision to join an organization whose guiding principles included moral support for the armed struggle to end British rule. For more than fifteen years as INA Publicity Director I gave interviews and speeches, and also as Editor of the IRISH PEOPLE weekly newspaper, wrote editorials and columns defending this viewpoint.

Just last month I spoke in Tyrone at the 25 year commemoration of my closest friend Liam Ryan. He was a victim of a ‘collusion murder’ arranged by crown forces as he worked in the Battery Bar. I did not go to demean his life and legacy by any ‘sorry’ initiative, but to remember a patriot with pride. I recounted the British injustices which drove him and so many others to armed resistance to break British rule and establish a 32 county Ireland that could belong equally to all of its citizens without sectarian divisions.

Obviously anyone who ever believed armed struggle against British rule was justified, must have been convinced that British rule was wrong, irreformable and could only be maintained, indeed propped up by deeper injustices.  That argument can still be made despite the reconfiguration of British rule. Today Britain is determined to stay in the north and confident they nailed the door shut on Irish reunification by sanctioning the DUP to treat any moves toward justice like toilet paper.

However beyond the injustice of British rule there must be a reasonable possibility of successfully ending British rule and achieving a free and united Ireland. This means a reasonable expectation that the struggle, as part of an array of political and economic forces, can convince Britain to leave, after negotiations where they are persuaders for Irish unity with guarantees of equality, instead of guarantors of continued British rule and persuaders for unionist intransigence.

You would need a sufficient popular acceptance or acquiescence in the use of force in nationalist areas, or at minimum in Republican heartlands. You will not get such support until political alternatives fail and are seen to have failed. You must have the personnel, resources and support network to sustain a campaign. There must be a well developed political strategy in which armed struggle is only one part. Republicans had the capacity to sustain a long campaign across the north which could not have been done without meeting these conditions.

I have no inside information about any armed group and do not pretend to have any special knowledge or expertise in this area. I am making a personal judgment based upon information publicly available. It does not seem that these conditions exist today.

HM: In your own opinion, do you think those groups involved in armed action should call off those campaigns?

MG:  I would expect and believe that the leaders of any armed Republican group are evaluating their own capabilities in relation to these same conditions and making a pragmatic as well as moral judgment on whether their campaigns are advancing the objective of ending British rule and uniting Ireland.  

HM: Do you think that a tactical cessation at this time would enable the emergence of alternative Republican politics?

MG: Clearly there are issues which provide openings for alternative Republican politics. There is an inherent contradiction between partnership with the DUP in British ministries and advancing Republican objectives. Look at justice issues for a start. I accept that there were people who did not join constabulary boards and partnerships or back David Ford’s justice ministry intending to become cheerleaders for the constabulary. Today that constabulary carries out the same policy of undeclared immunity or impunity gifted to the Bloody Sunday or Ballymurphy Massacre Troopers or those who arranged hundreds of collusion murders. That constabulary meanwhile has no difficulty in moving against respected Republicans like Ivor Bell, Gerry McGeough, Seamus Kearney and others on decade’s old charges.

Are those who took up places on these boards unwilling or unable to do anything about these injustices? The British certainly use them as cheerleaders, pointing to them to deflect any Irish- American pressure about these injustices.

Look at the Tory cuts bludgeoned through by David Cameron and Theresa Villiers. Why has so much already been spent on water meters for the north if they are not going to be used? Where are the peace dividend jobs for West Belfast and across the north beyond slots for party workers?

The universal response to these and other potential issues seems to be that if you raise such inconvenient truths you want a “return to the past.” That is just code words to scare voters by falsely linking votes for any Independent Republican with an armed campaign.

I would expect and believe that leaders of any armed Republican group are taking this on board as they make their own pragmatic and moral judgments whether their campaigns are advancing the objective of ending British rule and uniting Ireland.

HM: You make reference to emerging support for alternative/independent Republican representatives in Ireland, say for example in Derry. Do you see hope of that force building?
MG: The issues are there to be raised. The unionists have Jim Allister as the TUV tail that wags the DUP dog. Could independent Republicans do the same?

Suppose an Independent Republican made a real issue of the crown arresting  Ivor Bell and other Republicans on decades old charges, while drip feeding the Bloody Sunday families with empty promises of  still more investigations. Could Sinn Fein take up a call to walk away from its justice ministry compromise or constabulary boards?  Could it afford not to do so and be seen as party to such injustices? Could it still get away with lip-service?

If issues like the lack of peace dividend jobs or the money spent for water meters were raised by Republicans such questions could no longer be deflected or dismissed as unionist point –scoring.

It should be remembered that not so many years ago the SDLP scoffed at the idea of Sinn Fein ever winning seats and taunted them with questions about having no support and being afraid to contest elections. 

The openings are there if Independent Republicans have the political will, commitment and strategy to make proper use of them.  

HM: I assume you still hold the position that the current SF leadership’s policy of being in a British backed power sharing government is not going to deliver a British withdrawal and a united Ireland?

MG: The British have no such illusions about any such strategy. David Cameron formulates twenty-five year plans for the six county economy. His priority in the Stormont House deal was bludgeoning through cuts on the road to austerity. Theresa Villiers, like a modern Lady Macbeth, walks around trying to rub away the bloodstains from British hands by denying inquiries and giving speeches whitewashing the record of British forces in the six counties.

They would not bother unless Britain planned to stay. Republicans may have thought they had an agreement which would open the door to a British withdrawal. Britain sees it as a chance to nail that door shut. 

Britain need no longer answer for its own injustices. It can simply nod as the DUP treats any move towards justice, much less a united Ireland like toilet paper. The British then say it is a devolved matter or the parties will not agree, while denying funds and disclaiming any responsibility. The British deflect any Irish-American pressure by saying that Sinn Fein supports their policies and is integral to their administration and constabulary boards.

Where is there any pressure for British withdrawal? They feel they have consolidated their strategic objectives of normalization, Ulsterization and criminalization as never before, masked by Sinn Fein’s visible presence.

HM: Do you think-at present at least-that the armed Republican groups are being ground down and thwarted in large part by  British forces arguably as never before?

MG: I have no special knowledge about what is happening inside of any armed Republican group. I would be hesitant to make any assessment in those terms. I can still remember one of Villiers’ predecessors, Roy Mason, boasting of squeezing out Republicans like a tube of toothpaste. I would not want to risk sounding so foolish.