Guest Host Martin Galvin speaks to Independent Councillor Bernice Swift via telephone from Co. Fermanagh about what commemorating the 1916 Rising is like for those living in the still occupied Six Counties. This is another first brought to our readership courtesy of TPQ transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacific Radio
New York City
26 March 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 16:07)
Martin: Bernice, welcome to WBAI and to Radio Free Éireann! I think this is your American debut if I'm not mistaken.
Bernice: Hello, Martin, and Hello! to all the listeners at WBAI this morning, or this afternoon as it is now, and I'm delighted to be on speaking to you today. Yes, thank you.
Martin: Bernice, just tell the audience about yourself. You're an independent councillor is that correct?
Bernice: Yes, yes, that's correct. I'm an independent councillor and I live in Co. Fermanagh which is one of the occupied six counties still in Ireland. I have been an independent councillor since 2007. And I suppose my Republicanism began many years ago at my mother's homestead. We were very wide awake to the invading, occupying forces of the British Crown where they blew up border roads and my mother's homestead was one mile away from where our 1916 leader, Seán Mac Diarmada, is from.
Martin: You're a member also of the Seán Mac Diarmada Society. Could you tell us just a sentence or two about the great Seán Mac Diarmada – one of the leaders who was executed in 1916?
Bernice: Yes. Well Seán Mac Diarmada – we are great fans of Seán Mac Diarmada and without bias we certainly believe he was one of the greatest leaders of the 1916 Rebellion. Seán Mac Diarmada was imbued with a great rebel spirit and he had a fire burning in his belly for the spirit of freedom and he is the man that is quoted with the great saying: 'Damn your concessions, England. We want our country.' And we are imbued with that exact same spirit of the revolutionary leader, Seán Mac Diarmada.
Martin: Now Bernice, there are many commemorations throughout Ireland. There'll be many commemorations in Dublin where The Rising actually occurred. You'll have commemorations at the places where the leaders were executed or where people were imprisoned or where people were put into a quicklime grave and you'll have also commemorations at other places that were home places or that were close to or associated with the leaders. But you are in Fermanagh, that's one of six counties that is still held by the British. It's a county which always had a Nationalist majority which voted in British General Elections after 1916 for independence – to be joined with that part of Ireland that would be free. It was the county which, along with South Tyrone, elected Bobby Sands and made him an MP in 1981 during the hunger strike and I noticed you are going to be the main speaker at a commemoration in Fermanagh in Derrylin tomorrow. What is it or how do you look at commemorations that occur knowing that at the end of that commemoration you have to go home to an area that's still under British rule?
Bernice: Well yes. At every Easter, Martin, we in Ireland remember the sacrifice of the hundreds of Irish men and women who, one hundred years ago, took armed control of Dublin City in order to break the British occupation to establish a democratic, Republican Ireland. And that event has actually inspired Irish Republicans and people like me for generations after to fight for Irish freedom. And so every Easter we gather at the graves sites of our patriot dead and re-dedicate ourselves to the ideals of The Proclamation and renew our own efforts to achieving that goal.
Now whilst I'm speaking Derrylin, Co. Fermanagh tomorrow we are standing at the grave site of another great leader called Jim Murphy who also played his part in the fight for Irish freedom. He was a man who stood up for all civil rights. He set up civil rights campaigns throughout Fermanagh and attended them throughout Ireland. And it's the forty-second anniversary of the murder of Jim Murphy tomorrow in Fermanagh. And it's men like him who actually paid the ultimate sacrifice as his life was taken from him so we too remember all those people who played their part so well in trying to achieve the goal of a free and united Ireland.
Martin: Now Bernice, well you mention Jim Murphy – he was assassinated. He was one of the people killed in what it appears now incontrovertible evidence that there was collusion involved between British forces and Loyalists. There are efforts now to get the truth, through inquests, through other proceedings to fight for the truth, and yet the British government still either withholds documents or they just say it has to be covered by national security. What sort of truth has the Murphy Family been given about his murder?
Bernice: The Murphy Family have received absolutely no truth or justice involving the ongoing cover-up and collusion case of the murder of Jim Murphy. And it is rather heinous today and even at the time that Jim Murphy's murder was never investigated and any investigative processes that have taken place since have failed the family of Jim Murphy. So we actually in Ireland demand an independent, international truth commission as the only method in finding out truth and justice as to exactly what Britain's role was in Ireland. Britain is trying to portray themselves as the peacemaker here currently in Ireland while most of us know they were the major protagonists during the conflict. They have even failed to give recognition that they were that and that is a necessary first step in any meaningful truth process. The British Secretary of State is interfering currently by trying to raise the issue of national security as a red herring. I feel very strongly that this is a bogus reason to not go forward and find the truth and justice and truth actually costs nothing and to actually to raise the issue of it going to be costly is also another red herring. But people like the Murphy Family and all the other families throughout the Six Counties who have suffered collusion will not give up on their quest for truth about the murder of their loved ones.
Martin: We're talking to Bernice Swift, an independent councillor, who's going to be addressing a major commemoration in Fermanagh, Co. Tyrone tomorrow. Bernice, what can Americans do? People want to support a free and independent Ireland. They want to see Fermanagh and Tyrone and all of the Six Counties get the same freedom that was promised them in 1916 – pledged to them, proclaimed and fought for at that time. What would you like to see them do to support you?
Bernice: Well the actual theme of my speech tomorrow is that 'Now is the Time To Make Partition History' and me being a member of the 1916 Seán Mac Diarmada Society – and Societies are sprouting up throughout Ireland and indeed America and I give a big shout out to all the 1916 Societies already formed in America and we thank you, Martin, for your promotion of the same – I want to say hello to Declan Swift and all my family who are listening in today and very well done thus far in Sunnyside and Queens and Yonkers, etc and good luck with the rest of the parades. The Societies have a very credible initiative which is the quest now for an all-Ireland referendum on Irish unity. They have raised a petition where each and every individual who is interested in the freedom of Ireland can sign their name to a petition to demand that Ireland is united and free. And that's what I would say, Martin, when you say: What can we do to help? Just simply sign your name to the petition, to the 1916 petition calling for an all-Ireland referendum for Irish unity.
Martin: Alright. Bernice, thank you very much. Good luck and we're looking forward to reading your speech tomorrow. I hope it'll be on the 1916 Societies' website with some photographs and I'm sure we'll invite you back on again. Thank you very much.
Bernice: Thank you, Martin, and wishing everybody and the wider diaspora and all the listeners a very Happy Easter! Agus tiocfaidh ár lá. Go raibh míle maith agat!
(ends time stamp ~ 24:38)