WBAI 99.5M Pacifica Radio
New York City
9 May 2015
(begins time stamp ~ 3:20)
EM: No problem, Sandy.
SB: Ed, we just finished the elections and if you read The New York Times it was really only in Britain – in England and Scotland and Wales – but it actually also happened in Northern Ireland. And can you tell us about that and particularly the impact of it?
EM: Yes, there were some surprising results in the Northern Ireland part of the General Election. I guess from the Nationalists' point-of-view the most eye-catching result was the one in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. Your readers will of course remember this was the cockpit during the 1981 Hunger Strike when Bobby Sands won the seat there standing as a hunger striker. Then after his death Owen Carron, a member of Sinn Féin and Bobby Sands' election agent, won the seat and on the back of that Sinn Féin adopted the strategy of fighting elections permanently as a full-time strategy.
And they had won that seat in the last election in 2010 by just four votes. Michelle Gildernew, a member of a very well-known Co. Tyrone – South Tyrone Republican family involved at the very outset of the civil rights movement in a sit-in in a village called Caledon, won the seat for Sinn Féin and everyone expected that she would not only win it, or retain the seat, this time but she would increase the majority. In fact, what happened was that a member of the Ulster Unionists – that it the mainstream non-DUP unionist party - won it.And that was won by something like five hundred votes. So far from Sinn Féin increasing their majority and holding the seat they actually lost the seat and saw their vote decline. And their vote declined elsewhere in Northern Ireland by a total of one percent altogether which may not sound an awful lot but this is the party that sort of traded on the image of being forever upward and onward – unstoppable and always growing - always succeeding. And this is the first time really, since the peace process started, that you're seeing more than a hiccup. I think I would describe it as more as a bit of a deflation - some air out of the Sinn Féin balloon - which must be a little bit worrying for the leadership. So that was one element of the election result.
And the other one was that the party of the character that beat Michelle Gildernew, the Ulster Unionist, also won another seat and altogether unionists now hold something like eleven seats out of the seventeen seats in Northern Ireland. And Sinn Féin's loss means also that the gap between the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) and Sinn Féin has just now reduced just to one seat; Sinn Féin has four seats at Westminster - the SDLP has three. And that's sort of like a psychological blow for Sinn Féin in the sense that the perception of Sinn Féin as being the leading party on the Nationalist side has taken a bit of a dent.
So not a good election for them. And when you take into account the fact that some people are now saying that the economy in The South is beginning to experience an uptick and is putting the recession behind it, to a certain extent, and that will also eat into Sinn Féin's chances of doing well in The South because obviously Sinn Féin would be seeking the discontented vote in The South. We may be seeing the beginnings of a bit of a crises for the Sinn Féin party but we'll see. But it was not a good election, as far as the British General Election is concerned, for them.
SB: But Ed, even in West Belfast, which was Gerry Adams' seat, it's the strongest place in all The Six Counties for Sinn Féin, their vote was down seventeen percent. They still won in a landslide...
EM: ...yeah, not only that but a left-wing candidate, standing under a label of People Before Profit, actually beat the SDLP into second place and that vote if you'd like, I would – and I think most people would agree with me - would sort of like more or less measure the dissent vote in West Belfast; the discontented Republican vote. And they got I think it was something six or nine thousand votes – I forget now - but quite a large section of the vote which was quite significant.
JM: Ed, throughout the elections for a while, when the Nationalists or the Loyalists are campaigning, they don't directly appeal, you could say, to Protestants or Catholics - it's sort of a dog whistle – you know what to say on the stump in order to encourage “your side” to do - and then claim you're not sectarian. But there must have been a bit of a panic on in North Belfast because when I saw on the internet that Sinn Féin were handing out leaflets that say we have more Catholics than Protestants in this area I thought it was The Onion. I said: There's no way Sinn Féin is going to be that blatant to say: This is our time. We now outnumber the bastards in North Belfast - here's the flyer with Gerry Kelly's picture on it. And then it came out and I was reading in The Belfast Telegraph that this was the flyer that they were putting out into the constituency saying: There are now more Catholics than Protestants – let's get Gerry Kelly elected. I mean, it's just blatant now – there's no more pretending or code names or trying to rally your troops.
EM: Yeah. The question is whether that was an expedition by Kelly and his election agent, a woman called Carol Cullen, who's admittedly a very senior person in Sinn Féin – Assembly member – I think she was a former Minister and former Lord Mayor of Belfast, can you believe? - whether it was just them or whether it got the blessing of the party hierarchy – because there were people within the Sinn Féin movement who protested on grounds that Irish Republicans are supposed to be non-sectarian.
You know, the origins of Irish Republicanism go back to the 1798 Rebellion which was a movement which was actually inspired more by Protestants radicals than it was by Catholics. But nonetheless, the idea that Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter could unite to – under the banner of Irish Freedom – was born at that particular time and sort of although it may have been breached more in the observation than the letter – or is it the other way round? I always forget – many times since then, nonetheless it's a very important tenet of Irish Republicanism that it's non-sectarian – that you seek the unity of Protestants and Catholics and you don't seek to exploit sectarian division. And this thing by Gerry Kelly, which is compounded by an atrocious lie that Carol Cullen told about the basis of this: She gave out some story about how the Electoral Office had told them that they were forbidden from using Nationalists or Unionists voters instead of Protestants and Catholics and the Electoral Office then piped up and said: No we didn't. So she was caught-out lying there – you know has left a pretty bad taste in the mouth. But it didn't work. That's the important thing. Because Kelly got trounced by the DUP man there. So playing the sectarian card didn't do him any good so hopefully he may have learned his lesson.
SB: Ed, to come back to what's called the mainland of the United Kingdom, everybody should know by now that the Conservatives have a very narrow majority in the House of Commons. Do you think there's any prospect that some of the unionists, either the Democratic Unionists or the United Unionists, might at some point cast their votes with them?
EM: I think also that Cameron will be – given that his majority is only in single figures and the unionists have what? – ten or eleven votes to offer him at any particular time and the DUP has eight of the those seats - that you know you will see an unofficial relationship, at the very least, building up between the DUP and the Cameron government. In fact, this was beginning to happen long before the General Election in anticipation of a vote like this or even worse for Cameron because the initial exit polls showed that he would actually be dependent upon the DUP for his majority. Now, he's escaped that particular fate but it's still pretty narrow. So it makes sense for him to keep in with these guys and at the very least not to do things that would annoy them and maybe to do the odd thing that would please them. And of course the other thing now is that Cameron is freed of any restraining influence of a minority party because the coalition government that he had before with the Liberal Democrats - he doesn't need to have that – he has a government which will be consisting of entirely Conservatives – so he's free of any sort of restraint that might be imposed upon him as a result of a relationship with someone like the Liberal Democrats.
What might happen now is that the very strong neoconservative element within the Conservative Party, which is reflected in things like think tanks like Policy Exchange which is headed by a guy called Dean Godson, biographer of David Trimble, an averred opponent of the peace process – believes that Gerry Adams is the devil incarnate and that the peace process is just a piece of trickery which will enable Sinn Féin and the IRA to go back to war at sometime – I mean, really quite nonsensical stuff. Nonetheless, those people have a considerable clout within the Tory Party; George Osborn is a member of their group. There's an outfit called the Henry Jackson Society, which is the official neoconservative movement in Britain, and it's peppered with leading Tories – leading members of the Cameron administration - supporters of the Cameron administration - they detest this peace process. They detest the set-up which allows the Shinners to have a share of power at Stormont and they would dearly love to see it dismantled.
And of course there is within the DUP - there has always been there inside the DUP - the understanding that they were going into government with Sinn Féin on a temporary basis. That at some point in the future when the conditions were right they would revert to majority rule with admittedly various guarantees given to the Nationalists that they won't be treated as badly as they were under the old unionist regime but essentially it would be a return to majority rule. And you could see a situation in which those two tendencies find common cause. But we'll wait and see. But it's certainly something that I think you have to keep an eye out for now.
JM: Ed, throughout the number of years you've been coming on WBAI and not so much making predictions but you would say: This is what's going to happen about: Sinn Féin taking their seats at Stormont, surrendering their weapons, joining the PSNI. And we would get a lot of flack – they would go: How do let Ed Moloney on? He's lying! He's putting out that propaganda 'cause Sinn Féin would never do that. Now, there's only one last strategy left for them: They run as abstentionists in The Six Counties; that they could drop it. It was reported in some of the papers I think that Michelle Gildernew, when asked about taking their seats in Westminster, she said: Well, never say never. And to me - I never thought I would even see a Sinn Féin person say “never say never” - that wasn't even on the radar to take that. But they're doing everything but - they're being paid by the British government, they have offices in Westminster and they said they were getting flack going door-to-door saying: Well, why should I vote for you? You don't sit there. You don't represent me where the money will be coming from. I might as well vote for the SDLP or a unionist who will go and fight for me in London. Now, do you see that strategy reversing?
EM: Well, put it this way: There is no ideological obstacle now in the way of them doing something like that, really. I mean they have, they have – I've compared the journey – the peace process journey that Sinn Féin has taken over the last twenty years or so to an army retreating through the countryside but burning, in their case, ideological bridges behind them. I mean, as soon as they implicitly accepted the Principle of Consent – that Northern Ireland could only alter its constitutional status – in other words become part of a united Ireland - with the consent of the majority of the people – which we all know in practice means the unionists - as soon as they did that then they were no longer really permitted to define themselves as Republicans because Republicanism is based upon the idea that - this idea of self-determination was settled way back in 1919 with the first Dáil when the people of Ireland as a whole voted for independence. And if you now say: Well actually, we don't believe that anymore - then you cease to be Republicans. If you cease to be Republicans what's your basis for opposition to going over to Westminster and swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen?
I mean we have seen, for example, Martin McGuinness shake hands with the Queen on at least two or three occasions that I can remember. He's been wined and dined at Windsor Castle by the Queen at a royal banquet – complete with tails and tops and all that sort of stuff. And I remember reading one article on the BBC's website in which he was boasting during one of the negotiating sessions of having slept the night in the Queen's bed in Hillsborough Castle which is where the negotiations were taking place. I always swore, to be honest with you, all these moves by McGuinness as preparatory moves to accepting the oath of allegiance because I mean if you're taking the Queen's bread and water, if you're sleeping in her bed and if you're shaking her hand – then it's not much of a jump then to say: Okay, we recognise your position as head of this United Kingdom and we give you our allegiance.
I think the only thing that will prevent them from doing that would be the lack of any sort of political advantage accruing from it. And you know, I could have seen – if this election had been tighter – I could have seen them certainly taking their seats then because they could have said they were justified on the basis that they were trying to at least deny Cameron a majority and if not that then make his weekly votes, or whatever it was in the House of Commons, much more difficult for him to control by actually taking their seats. Well, that argument may still hold. But the other thing – that point you made there about people on the doorsteps saying: Well, why aren't you at Westminster, etc? That's that SDLP – soft SDLP vote really that you're talking about. They wouldn't be getting that in Andersonstown or Ballymurphy but they would be getting it in South Down which is a seat that they would love to get. They would be getting it in South Belfast, where Máirtín Ó Muilleoir stood and ate into the man, the SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell's, vote there. If they want to grow in those areas then they have to cease to be abstentionists and they may take that message from this result that their vote went down by one percent - well, they have to start eating more into the SDLP therefore the way to do that – one of the ways to do that – is to take your seats. Because the SDLP is a fully-participating party and their supporters fully believe in the idea that if you're elected into Parliament you should go there and use your vote.
SB: We've been talking to Ed Moloney, the author of A Secret History of the IRA who blogs at The Broken Elbow, who has been telling us about the impact of the British election. Ed, thank you very much for coming on.
EM: My pleasure.
SB: And I do think one of the most valuable things about Radio Free Éireann is that we can get people like Ed Moloney on here for the type of analysis you just don't get anywhere else. So again, that's part of the value of Radio Free Éireann.
JM: And I have to say – Ed has caused us a lot of grief when you go into certain Irish bars and they're going: Eh, that Ed Moloney. What does he know? He's lying! They'll never give up their weapons. That's Ed Moloney putting out his spin on it. That's the British spin. And sure enough it would happen. And then: Oh! Ed Moloney was on talking about that they were going to join the PSNI – the new police service. They would never do that! Sinn Féin would never --- and then they did it. So now here we are talking about giving up the abstentionist policy, which they gave up in The Twenty-Six Counties in 1986, so it is no longer a stretch to think that. I mean you don't have to say: Whoa! That's waaay too far down the road!
No, it's not. It's just one step away. We're there now. We're knocking on the door.
(ends time stamp ~ 22:15)