WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
18 April 2015
(begins time stamp ~ 10:31)
(Audio clip: Song, God Save Ireland, by The Druids plays and fades out).
MG: And of course we couldn't play that song and introduce our next guest without mentioning that the people, the two men, the two Fenian leaders - they were American Civil War heroes and veterans - who went to Ireland to tried to train Fenians - who were captured in England - who were rescued by Fenians - who were then, some of them – three of them - were executed – but those two men made it back to the United States. One of them in fact, Colonel Kelly, played an important role in the build-up to 1916 - although he didn't live to see it - and in fact he's buried just a few blocks from where I live in Woodlawn. Do we have John Crawley on the line? John, welcome to WBAI Radio Free Éireann.
JC: Hi, Martin, nice to talk to you.
MG: Now the last time we spoke I had some criticism because we talked a little bit about your background – and I know you don't want to talk about your background – but people called and said: You know, he has led such an interesting life, you have to go into it and talk a little bit more about it – so I hope you don't mind, John.
JC: Well, not too much but...(laughs)
MG: Alright now, you were born in New York state, you were raised in Chicago. How did you get involved in the Irish struggle?
JC: Well, I got involved really through my own study in that. I didn't really have any Republican background other than the American Republican background - growing up in the United States in the American Republic – but no Irish Republican background really or anything like that. It was just I moved to Ireland when I was fourteen and went to school there and just took an interest in politics and history and decided that Irish Republicanism was the correct analysis to take. And that once one took the correct analysis one had to make a political decision whether to do anything about it or not and I decided to do something about it. So when I was eighteen I joined the US Marines and after four years, the day I was released from the Marines, I returned to Ireland and I very rapidly joined the Republican Movement.
MG: And you were in, of course, an elite unite– the Recon Unit – that famous one mentioned in – if you read or see the movie Heartbreak Ridge – Clint Eastwood - Recon – that's their unit - that is an elite United States Marine unit.
JC: It would be, yes. I believe it's now part of the American Special Operations Command but at the time it was more independent of that - it was strictly a Marine unit. I volunteered for that in Okinawa and after a very intense Recon indoctrination programme I was accepted into the Recon teams and after about a year in the Pacific I was sent back to Little Creek, Virginia as an instructor at the Amphibious Reconnaissance School there and did a lot of training there with many services and other special forces such as Army Special Forces, Green Berets, Navy SEALS and Army Rangers and it was quite interesting. And the day I was – I was promoted to sergeant - and the day I was released from the Marines, at eight o'clock in the morning, I was on a plane for Ireland at two o'clock that afternoon.
MG: And John, there are some times when you have events that you'll always be associated with – I know that's happened to a lot of people – it's happened to me with one particular event. There was a famous event that you were a part of – now in 1916 as part of that effort, Roger Casement tried to bring arms into lonely Banna Strand – that's also a very famous song - well known incident – it's celebrated - he's considered one of the heroes of 1916 although he was executed later in England - and you were also involved with a very famous incident of bringing rifles, American rifles I believe, into Ireland to the Irish Republican Movement and you were captured off the coast of Kerry. Could you tell us just very briefly about that?
JC: Well, that was September, 1984 – myself and others were captured attempting to bring arms in to assist the struggle for Irish freedom. The interesting things about that was - we were arrested not far from where Roger Casement had been arrested years earlier. However, that was just pure coincidence – that wasn't planned or anything. We were informed on as many previous enterprises and we were captured. The irony of it was the Irish Navy personnel, what we would call the Free State Navy, who arrested us and some of them treated us quite roughly – more roughly than was actually necessary. The very next day, where a colour party unveiling a statue to Roger Casement – another gunrunner – bringing in weapons for the same cause in the same area several years earlier – so it just flagged up the irony and some of the contradictions involved in Irish history, I suppose.
MG: Alright. You served a number of years in Portlaoise Prison as a result of being captured on the Marita Ann?
JC: Yes, well I would have accumulated a total of forty-eight years in prison. I got ten years for that incident. I got three more years for an escape attempt in 1985 added to that. I was released in September, 1994, after having done ten years, a full ten and I then – twenty months later I was arrested in London on active service and I was given thirty-five years for that activity. And then I was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in I think it was around the beginning of 2000 – or late 1999, I'm not quite sure. But I'm still technically on parole for that, you know?
MG: Alright now John – you joined the – and we're speaking with John Crawley – someone born in the United States - raised in Chicago – also grew up part of his time in Ireland and became involved – was a former United States Marine, Recon Officer, and was a former Irish political prisoner, as we mentioned. John, you're now involved with a group: The 1916 Societies. Could you tell us why The 1916 Societies was formed?
JC: Well first of all: The 1916 Societies are an independent Irish separatist movement based upon the ideals and principles set out in The Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic is Ireland's Declaration of Independence. It's a call for the establishment of a government of national unity based upon the Republican principles of popular sovereignty and democracy and it remains, probably, the primary frame of reference for Irish Republicans today.
Now, the reason The 1916 Societies have been formed is to have an Irish Republican strategy to achieve Irish unity. At the moment, Sinn Féin have signed up to the Good Friday Agreement – although they did not formally sign up to it - they somehow claim ownership of it. And they've signed up to what's known as The Six County border poll. Now, under The Six County Border Poll the British Secretary of State, who is an English politician without one single vote in Ireland - that person can determine if and when the poll may be called, the wording of the poll, who qualifies to vote and even if the poll is passed the British Parliament still retains the final say on whether or not the result will be endorsed by the UK government.
So essentially Sinn Féin are arguing Irish Republican goals can be achieved within the framework of British Constitutionality; that Irish freedom can be obtained by internalising the political and moral legitimacy of British Constitutional constraints such as the UK veto on Irish democracy and the border poll based on a contrived, sectarian headcount.
Now, The 1916 Societies believe that is what's needed is an Irish Republican strategy - not a British strategy - n Irish Republican strategy that has at its core the Republican principles of popular sovereignty, democracy and equal citizenship. A strategy that emphasises the core concept that Irish Constitutional Authority derives from the Irish people and does not rest upon laws and decrees originating in a Parliament in England. We're quite sure the 1916 The Proclamation does not contain small print which asks us to defer to the British Parliament for terms and conditions. So what we're looking for is Republicans. And Irish Republicans will always take a national view of the national question. It's a national referendum held on a thirty-two county, all-Ireland basis asking the Irish people whether they believe Irish constitutional authority should reside within the Irish people or within the English Crown - all or in part with the English Crown.
MG: Alright John, you were associated with Sinn Féin at one time for many years; you were released under the Good Friday Agreement. Their strategy is that if they get elected North and South that they'll use that to get a referendum in The North which unites Ireland. Why is it that so many people, you and so many others, join The 1916 Societies and think that that that strategy is not going to work – it's not going to give us the result of a united Ireland.
JC: Because it's not a national referendum. It's a British border poll based on a sectarian headcount solely within The Six Counties and it's totally constrained by British rules and British conditions. You know, as I said earlier: They decide who votes. They decide the wording. They even decide if the result is for Irish unity whether the British Parliament will accept it or not. So it's strictly a British strategy. What we need is an Irish Republican strategy to achieve Irish freedom.
MG: Recently there was a Scottish referendum and right before that referendum the British government promised all sorts of inducements - they made to people concerned about: whether they'd get their pensions, whether there'd be certain monies that they were entitled to, people who work for the civil service of government about their job – various things like that and made all sorts of promises - do you think the British would do that if there was a referendum in Ireland to try and sway the result towards staying with the British?
JC: I think they would do everything that they could to make it as difficult as possible for Ireland to achieve a national democracy free from British rule. And they would use the full resources of their arsenal – economic, political, whatever - to sabotage that result. I have no doubt that they would attempt to do that – yes.
MG: The 1916 Societies is recommending something - it's called: One Ireland One Vote - which means simply that there would be one vote for all thirty-two counties in Ireland – I know you live in Clones, which is right within Co. Monaghan, where you would vote the same day as people just a very short distance away on the other side of the partition line would vote. How is that going to be pushed?
JC: Well yes, we are calling the project One Ireland One Vote and it is designed to challenge the undemocratic partition of Ireland with a simple, direct and democratic appeal to the Irish people. And it's going to be pushed through the use of a petition. And this petition will be both a written petition that we'll be going door-to-door with but it'll also be an online petition. Because we're asking the Irish people throughout the world, not just on the island of Ireland but everywhere, to sign up to this petition that Ireland should be a national democracy because we have to be very clear here: our ultimate goal is the establishment of an Irish national democracy - not an agreed Ireland, where the British stay and the Irish agree to it, but a united Ireland under a government of national unity. We want to see an end to the UK veto on Irish democracy and the re-establishment of Dáil Éireann as a national parliament.
MG: Okay, John, I was recently in Ireland. You spoke at commemorations in Monaghan. I know there was a huge commemoration I was fortunate enough to be able to attend in Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone – it was about three thousand people. I also attended one in Doire that The 1916 Societies were heavily involved in. The 1916 Societies seems to have began in Tyrone but seems to be spreading across the country. Where is it now strongest?
JC: Well, it did start in Tyrone, East Tyrone, but it has been spreading. And there were commemorations in Doire as you said, O'Connell Street in Dublin - Monaghan had a fantastic commemoration – Fermanagh - Portadown and Tipperary - and it's getting bigger every year. But when we're rolling out the One Ireland One Vote campaign we expect to gather momentum and gain traction and we're hoping to expand as time goes on. And one of the things about us is we're not a political party so we will be engaging in political activity to service the struggle for Irish freedom – not political activity – as other parties - to service a political career.
MG: Alright, John, one of the things that - again – we're talking to John Crawley, born in the United States – an American citizen raised in Chicago lives now in Co. Monaghan – was somebody who was a former United States Marine in the elite Recon Unit and also a former Irish political prison – served time both in Portlaoise and in England. John, one of the things that I know The Societies have done is to sponsor debates. And there seems to be a reluctance to participate in those debates by some people who are, ostensibly, Nationalists or Republicans. Why is it that anyone would be discouraging this type of debate or consideration of a new referendum? Because even if it doesn't succeed – even if there isn't enough pressure for a new referendum throughout all of Ireland - the fact that people are discussing, debating, supporting and arguing about a united Ireland - that has to promote and help the cause - it has to generate support throughout the whole country. Why should anybody, whether they're a member of Sinn Féin or any other political party who's not associated with The 1916 Societies, be worried about that type of debate?
JC: Well, I think a large part of it is that Sinn Féin want to conceal the fact that they signed up to a British strategy and that they have internalised British constitutional constraints. A debate would reveal that. A debate would show that up for what it is. And you know, the border poll is different from a national referendum for obvious reasons but Sinn Féin are now, in a very cynical way, starting to talk about “a referendum” to confuse people – to deliberately confuse people - between the British border poll and an Irish Republican national referendum. But our campaign, The 1916 Societies campaign over the coming year, is going to clear that up for a lot of people. And we're going to do our best that by this time next year there won't be too many people, who have any interest in political or current events, confused about the issue whatsoever.
MG: Alright now – I'd ask everybody The 1916 Societies has a website – try to check that – if you hit “1916 Societies” or “Tyrone 1916 Societies” you'll be able to hit up the website – you'll be able to sign onto the petition or read about it.
JC: The petition will be rolling out more - there should be an official launch around June – I will keep you informed on that, Martin, so that you can tell people in America and it'll be more finalised by say some time in June and then it'll be officially up and running. I'd also recommend your listenership to sometimes look at The Pensive Quill – The Pensive Quill site – it also has very good debates on it. It's not a 1916 Societies site and it does have different viewpoints back and forth – but there has been some pretty good and interesting debates on it.
MG: That site has been put up by Anthony McIntyre, who has also been a frequent guest on the programme. And I will tell you there are a number of interesting articles on The 1916 Societies site including one that I submitted last week about what it was like to be an aide in the Saint Patrick's Day Parade and why the PSNI did not march this year amidst the England Get Out of Ireland banners and what the reaction was to the marching last year.
JC: I know. It was very good. I thought it was very interesting, actually about during the 2007 debate on policing at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, during the keynote address to accept British policing in Ireland, people were told, you know, if they got in there they were going to go toe-to-toe with the British police and not to be afraid to get in there and go toe-to-toe with them. And just about two weeks ago a very senior Sinn Féin spokesman said on the television that they were now working with the police hand-in-glove. So toe-to-toe is now hand-in-glove – that's the way these things go when you take the Saxon's shilling.
MG: John - again, we're talking to John Crawley – I want to thank you for being with us. I will tell you - I was at the Carrickmore commemoration and the PSNI did not seem to want to march behind me in the New York Saint Patrick's Day Parade but they had no trouble being there for me at that commemoration and being around it as I later read. So John, I want to thank you and we'll look forward to more information about the One Ireland One Vote in the United States.
JC: Thank you very much for calling, Martin. (ends time stamp ~ 29:15)