John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) welcome Kevin Martin (KM) to the studio and interview him about the 1916 Societies and its event today in New York City. Martin Galvin (MG) is also in the studio and joins the discussion. Thanks to TPQ transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann.
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
3 October 2015
(begins time stamp ~ 33:00)
JM: With us in the studio is Kevin Martin from the 1916 Societies. I don't know if I want to say a new Republican organisation but definitely a Republican organisation. And we here at Radio Free Éireann have had many Republican organisations on this show - the media would like to call them “dissidents” - I call them Republicans. The dissidents are Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. I mean, Gerry Adams during the week saying that the border's not going to go anywhere but it's going to be new and improved – they're going to do something - there's probably going to be a sale on the border you know? – you get a free border with every six pack – I don't know what Gerry Adam's is going to be at between hugging trees and his little duckies and stuff like that. But Kevin Martin is with us in the studio and right after the show he's going to be heading over to Wolfe Tone's Bar at 37 East 29th Street between Park and Madison Avenue and taking questions about the organisation, the 1916 Societies. And Kevin, welcome to New York. What exactly is the 1916 Societies and why is it different say from all the other groups that we've had on here - from the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, Republican Sinn Féin – what makes this different and do we need more Republican groups?
KM: First of all, thank you very much, John and Sandy, we appreciate very much giving us this opportunity to come on to your radio show. Well, the 1916 Societies were formed in 2009 and they're a separatist movement. If people are talking about what's different I think the one thing that it hasn't - that isn't different - is the fact that Britain's still in Ireland and it's still occupied. We believe we have an initiative and a campaign which is about getting Irish unity through our One Ireland One Vote, the petition for an all-Ireland referendum on Irish unity. This is about restoring the democratic right to the Irish people to decide their own future. For too long we have been misruled and Britain is still in Ireland today and there's no political party, North or South, that has any genuine, political or desire to achieve a united Ireland. That's where we think we have an idea which is: Let's let the people decide. Let all the people in the thirty-two counties have a say – one day – one vote - on Irish unity.
JM: Well, a lot of people I've been talking they said: Well, we had that vote. It was in 1918 and it brought about the partition of Ireland and how can you convince say, the Free State government and the British government, to allow that because it's not in their interest. I mean, neither side want that vote. How do you propose to bring that about?
KM: Well, in 1918 was a vote – it was - Ireland was under the Commonwealth – it was thirty-two counties - but it was a vote - when the people voted at that time they voted for – most of the candidates were in gaol. Britain denied that vote – that vote was a vote for freedom. Britain partitioned Ireland in 1921 after that. What were talking about: We're not asking the British government or the Irish government for anything here. What we're talking about is a citizens' initiative. This is a bottom-up thing from the people of Ireland and I don't think anyone – if people get in behind this campaign and support it – which we hope we will get thousands and millions of signatures to support the referendum for Irish unity - nobody can deny people – like people's movements are – like only a few weeks ago in Barcelona we seen one point five million people marching for freedom - independence from Spain - for Catalonia - so we believe this can be done.
We're just less than six months to The Centenary of the 1916 Rising, you have so many different groups and organisations - the Free State government – and parties in The North - Sinn Féin and all - claiming ownership of it yet we still haven't achieved Irish freedom – it's not there – it's not on anyone's agenda so we think that this is an idea – it's getting traction – people are supporting it. Out on the doors people are saying - people are fed up that Stormont has failed – it has failed since its inception and this is about democracy – about giving people the choice.
SB: Hi, Kevin, it just seems to me that the British government and the Irish government has thoroughly stacked the deck against you. The odds are – it's really going to be a horribly tough campaign. I mean, just thinking about Catholics in The Six Counties alone, right? It would be said if you want Irish unity you'll give up the National Health Service, you'll give up your council housing, which is public housing but it's nothing like our public housing, and many Catholics in The North are in the civil service – the British civil service because there's only one civil service – only one government in The North - which Sinn Féin would like us to forget – so they really have made it very hard for you.
KM: Well, I suppose that's the argument that people put up against Irish unity. We're not talking about a thirty-two county free state. We're talking about a new Irish Republic in line with The Proclamation. Ireland has natural resources that have been stolen and sold off to multinationals for years. This isn't about Catholic and Protestant. It's about the people of Ireland as a whole. And that's the nature of the Stormont regime – is it's sectarian - and nothing can change while that is there. We're saying that the people of Ireland has to have the right to have their vote on Irish unity.
JM: Now, it's quite obvious, Kevin, that you think coming to New York is important. And New York has always been important in Irish history – I mean there's commemorations about O'Donovan-Rossa and the influence that he had on with Padraig Pearse's speech in Dublin. So why are you here in New York and how can New Yorkers get involved and help out with the organisation?
KM: Yeah well, first of all today we're going to Wolfe Tone's Irish Pub and Kitchen at three PM and that's on 37 East 29th Street between Park and Madison Avenue. And absolutely! New York and America has been crucial going back hundreds of years to the pursuit for Irish freedom, like O'Donovan-Rossa at his grave site in 1915, Padraig Pearse when he read out the famous speech where he talked about the fools, the fools, the fools, they have left us our Fenian dead – that was the staging point for 1916. The 1916 Rising wouldn't have happened without the help of America and we're hoping that people will come along, listen to what we have to say - it's instrumental that people will get in behind this campaign and support it. You know, Irish freedom isn't going to come about at the hands of Britain giving it to us. We're going to have to get out and organise for it - mobilise people to get out and support this campaign.
SB: Kevin, you're campaigning for a vote on Irish unity. Now, Sinn Féin says they are for Irish unity – you can just ask them! But are they supporting your campaign?
KM: Well, Sinn Féin have signed up to the Good Friday Agreement so they have signed up to the Principle of Consent so there's nothing that can change in Ireland without a majority within The North in The Six Counties. So all they have signed up to is a border poll and we would dismiss that totally – that's to be rejected. A border poll is not a vote for Irish unity it's confined to The Six Counties and at this point The Six Counties has a Unionist built-in majority. And any such a poll would be a sectarian poll - it would run down the lines of Catholic and Protestant. Plus it also denies the majority of the citizens of Ireland – The Twenty-six Counties – a vote on this and that's where we say let's have an all-Ireland referendum – like let's let the people of Clare, Dublin, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Belfast, Cork, Sligo - let's let everyone have a say in it and not just confine it tomm The Six Counties which has a built-in Unionist majority.
JM: You're listening to WBAI and we're speaking with Kevin Martin of the 1916 Societies - it was founded in 2009 in Co. Tyrone. Also with us in the studio is Martin Galvin. And Martin goes back and forth every couple of months to Ireland and he's met with all the different groups and everything. And Martin, you met with some of the people in Tyrone and what was your take on all of this?
MG: Well John, I started to meet a few years back – I was at commemorations in Tyrone and people were saying that they were deeply concerned that the thing that their family members had died for - the thing that Irish Republicans had always worked for - a united Ireland, a thirty-two county Ireland in accordance with The Proclamation of 1916 - those principles – that that was not going to come about. What was promised to us within five years – a united Ireland in 1998 or 2014 or 2016 - that we seem to be getting further and further away from a united Ireland than ever before. And what the British seem to be doing instead of giving us a countdown to freedom was having all our hopes of freedom counted out. They started to talk about new ideas including the idea that was taking shape at that time of a One Ireland One Vote campaign of a united Ireland and the 1916 Societies.
And they particularly were interested in the idea that doing the work – doing the debates, doing the petitions, doing the public referendums to build that support - to get hearts and minds back on that issue - particularly when people think about 1916, when they think about The Proclamation, when they think about those commemorations – not have them be ceremonial but remember the ideals of 1916 and try to get behind a political initiative like this that is being proposed that would work. People that I know very well and trust very well in Ireland and respect a great deal have joined it. They've joined in Doire – like Danny McBrearty - or Monaghan - John Crawley - and many other people around the country - they recommended that I support it or join it or listen to people. When I attended and spoke at the Liam Ryan commemoration last year, just a little over a year ago, in Ardboe, Co. Tyrone, I met with people there. They were the ones running the commemoration and they said one day they wanted to send people to the United States. They wanted to meet Americans who they knew supported a united Ireland and wanted to hear about a new initiative to get a united Ireland. I agreed to help out and today Kevin Martin is here. He'll be there at Malachy McAllister's new pub and Joe McManus' new pub - 37 East 29th Street in Manhattan. He'll be there at three o'clock. You can hear for yourselves as you are hearing on the programme now - why that initiative is something that people who believe in a united Ireland, who believe in the principles of 1916, should be supporting now.
SB: And the Irish (Wolfe Tone's) Pub and Kitchen is right off Park Avenue so you can't go wrong – the Number Six train to 28th Street - and you're right there.
JM: And Kevin, there's a lot of madness that's going on - particularly with Gerry Adams talking about the new and improved border and about how it might not be quite a united Ireland but it would be good enough for him – because anything's good enough – he's being paid by the British government - why not? Maybe you could explain to our audience about the battle for the dead – for Irish patriots – that are going on in The Six Counties. We've had Tommy McKearney on, who, if Sinn Féin has a commemoration for one of his brothers, he will go into the cemetery and throw the wreaths off the graves and say: They don't deserve to come. And maybe you could explain about this new phenomenon that's going on that the families do not want Sinn Féin going to these grave yards and holding commemorations for IRA Volunteers.
KM: Yeah well, I suppose it's the age old thing about claiming the dead and I think especially in Tyrone and certain areas like that Sinn Féin were using commemorations for political platforms - they were using it for elections and it had moved away from anything to do with the Volunteers or what the campaign was about or freedom of Ireland. And I think within Tyrone, the National Graves, Sinn Féin came in and tried to stack the meeting – the families of Volunteers was against that and most of the families, especially in East Tyrone, have rejected anyone coming onto the platforms or anything to do with commemorations that have any political agenda – that the commemoration would have to be totally impartial and about the Volunteer or about what they were involved in.
So it's happened quite a bit. It happened in my own county in Fermanagh where they tried the same and the families rejected it. I think a lot of people have seen Sinn Féin going onto policing and supporting British rule it certainly doesn't – it doesn't coincide with standing at the grave of an IRA Volunteer that was killed by British soldiers or the RUC so at this point there's a lot of graves that there are independent commemorations – this next Sunday in Tyrone there's another one for (Martin) McCaughey and Dessie Grew – and that's an independent commemoration that the 1916 Societies will be involved in. I think a lot of families are starting to see and weren't too happy with their graves being used for political points and scoring by Sinn Féin in particular. In Co. Fermanagh ourselves we had one family there where Sinn Féin actually right up to the day before the commemoration were still planning to come to it until they were told they weren't welcome. I think in Tyrone particularly people are very raw about the deaths there and they weren't happy with people who were sitting on policing boards coming up and speaking at them.
JM: And the one thing about your organisation, unlike Sinn Féin who have a northern part of Sinn Féin and there's a southern part, it seems the 1916 Society is a thirty-two country organisation. There isn't a northern 1916 Societies and then you have a southern 1916 Societies. And you just had a huge event where you coordinated with the National Graves Association down in Dublin. What was that about and how did that go?
KM: Well, for The Centenary of 1916 there's an independent commemoration that's to be run by the National Graves and it's going to be in Dublin on the twenty-fourth of April. That's the commemoration that we are involved in – we're helping out, we'll be supporting – we'll be actually stewarding it on the day. It's purely independent – there's no party banners – no political speeches. I think Tommy McKearney's going to be the main speaker on the day. So it's something anyone can come to and anyone can come and support because it's not going to be used for any political purposes. It's about commemorating 1916. It's about doing it in an honouring way and respecting those who gave their lives for Irish freedom.
MG: Yeah John, last Easter as you know I was at the Carrickmore commemoration and asked to put down a wreath there. That commemoration was a typical example of exactly what he's saying – it was packed – there was no political candidacy or anything like that that was being advocated. They were simply there to dedicate themselves to the memory of 1916 and how we make that a reality today. How we bring freedom to The Six Counties that are denied and particularly how we bring the document – there's the signature of Tom Clarke, somebody reared in Dungannon, to Tyrone and to the other counties. And that's was it was about, that's what people came to commemorate and respect. And this initiative is being supported because people want to see an initiative that's dedicated to the same thing. They don't want to see partition continued. They don't want to see a British strategy succeed. They want to see new strategies which can get us to a united Ireland and not empty promises. And again, I'm hoping people will be there at three o'clock at the Wolfe Tone Pub on 29th Street between Park and Madison to hear precisely from Kevin Martin why this is something that Americans who support, and everyone who supports Irish freedom, should be behind.
JM: But Kevin, if people that can't make the meeting tonight – how can they get in touch? Is there a petition they can sign? I only wish the diaspora would have a vote in this - like I have an Irish passport, Martin has an Irish passport - we would love to vote say for the president, not of Ireland - of the twenty-six counties - and maybe even vote in The North but I don't think that's ever going to be allowed but how can Irish-Americans help out?
KM: Well, absolutely. People at this point – on the website: www.1916societies.com there is a link to the online petition and anyone can sign that and support it. Also today's event is about getting out there, letting people see what we're about and hopefully get a society started in New York and that we can build from there. This about getting the Irish-Americans, the diaspora, to come in and support this campaign. Any vote on Irish unity would have to include the diaspora. People haven't emigrated for no reason – we've been misruled, we've had people who've had to emigrate because they were going to be assassinated, so any vote on Irish unity would have to include them. I would encourage people to go onto the website - there's more details on the campaign on the 1916 Societies and you can read up on it, sign the online petition and anyone that is in the area please come down today to Wolfe Tone's Pub just to hear what we have to say. We're just coming over to give people a view on what is going on in Ireland today. We're still occupied. We believe that Irish freedom isn't going to be achieved; it's not going to be given to us by Britain - that we're going to have to mobilise the Irish people to get out and fulfill what 1916 was about. It's not about Stormont. It wasn't about a twenty-six county state. It was about a free, thirty-two county socialist republic. That's what we're about and hopefully people will be come along today and will support what we have to say.
JM: Well Martin, we could almost write you the script about your organisation: You're starting out small – you're building, you're building - and then the hammer's going to come down. The harassment's going to start. You'll be banned as people will be arrested. Part of their bail condition will be you're not allowed to do the media. Do you see that coming down the pike? Because they're just not going to allow you, the British or the Free State government, to start organising and organising rallies. I mean it's a very sad scenario but that's generally what happens.
KM: Well, it has started already. The PSNI and MI5 harassment has been continuous since the Good Friday Agreement. That's nothing new. There last week in Tyrone there was a walk from Carrickmore to Dungannon and it's to gather money for a statue for Tome Clarke that's going up for next year and the PSNI was out, as usual, stopping, harassing people, stopping them on roads. So we know this is going to happen, that's the nature of it, this is the British armed forces – they are going to try and do everything they can to stop Irish unity and obviously they have partners and friends now in political places that is helping them. But we'll not be deterred by that. This is about the freedom of Ireland. The people of 1916 didn't worry about Britain or what forces they had on them. so what we're intending to do is mobilise the Irish people. I think people have had enough. 1916 wasn't about what we have. Our campaign is giving people the opportunity to have a say and it's as simple as that. This is about letting all the people of Ireland have their say on Irish unity. And really, from our point of view, who could deny the Irish people their rights?
JM: Are you getting any support from former Republicans who are now ministering British rule in Ireland, I think they call them Sinn Féin, how are they treating you? I mean are they demonising you like every other Republican – you'll see Martin McGuinness condemning them or condemning people – they'll say: Oh, they're small! They don't represent anyone. Are you getting that now?
KM: Well, we're not really that concerned about them but the people on the ground that we're going to is supporting us. There's a lot of people, former Republican prisoners, a lot of different groups, that are actually coming out supporting this initiative – see it as a good way – no doubt about it. Sinn Féin wouldn't be supporting this – actually they can't support it. They've signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. They've signed up to a border poll and a border poll is what Britain will let them have and what they won't have. Of course, I don't see them supporting it. I think someone said recently in Doire there was a politician, a (Sinn) Féin politician who refused it (and) said they have their own project – which is Stormont – so we have have no expectations of Sinn Féin to support this campaign but we're not concerned about them. What we're talking about is the Irish people to get out and support this campaign.
MG: John, just we're coming to the end. I know you're going to be fund raising next week – sorry – two weeks from now – there will be fund raising - you're not going to be on next week. But, three o'clock – the Wolfe Tone Pub, 37 E. 29th Street - Kevin Martin's going to be there. You can hear him for yourself. You can meet with him. You can talk with him - ask the questions you want to ask. I think it's something that is important. You'll be glad that you did so, number one. Number two: He talked about the website they have. If you hit up Tyrone 1916 Societies – I know that's the search engine I use – it'll come up. You'll see a society that is growing throughout The Twenty-Six Counties - it's grown, of course, throughout The North already. You'll see a number of events, you'll see a number of articles – it's definitely something that's worthwhile.
(ends time stamp ~ 53:46)