John McDonagh (JM), Martin Galvin (MG) and award winning journalist and author Ed Moloney (EM) discuss the recent General Election in the Republic of Ireland and the failed promises of a united Ireland.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
12 March 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 30:05)
JM: And if you read today's New York Times Timothy Egan has on Op-Ed piece about 1916. Everyone out there: You're going to be hearing a lot of this now leading up to Easter here in New York but particularly April 24th which is the date of The Uprising. During World War I the New York Times was chastising the people in Dublin: How dare they rise up in Dublin and stab our allies in the back when they were fighting that Great War over there in France and Belgium and dying by the tens, hundreds of thousands for a good cause, for the Empire! And shouldn't be rising up about that. But with us in the studio, between Martin Galvin and Ed Moloney, who's been chronicling this for the past, I guess, for most of your adult life, Ed, could you say, you know?
EM: A good bit of it. Possibly too much of it...
JM: But Ed like I was saying: In the '90's you caused me a lot of grief here at Radio Free Éireann because you were writing about how the IRA were going to decommission and surrender their weapons. And I remember I was approached in Rocky Sullivan's when it was on Lexington Avenue and just giving out about you about what a liar you were and you were a propagandist! And how dare – they would never do that! And I better watch what I was doing! I was threatened that day at Rocky Sullivan's. Martin Galvin was shortly threatened thereafter up in the Bronx by some, I don't know, Irish Republicans ....but a lot of it was based on your reporting at the time as compared to what was being told to us here in New York: That this was never going to happen. Joining the RUC? It was not joining it - it was infiltrating it! And that we would have a united Ireland by this year. Well, what happened?
EM: Yes. Well, just to explain the decommissioning business: The reason why I was a little bit ahead of the pack, the journalistic pack, in relation to that story is actually quite simple – it was just going up talking to people who might know what's going on in the background. And it was evident to me that internally, at leadership level, they were shaping up for a dispute, a conflict, over the issue of decommissioning. There was an element in the IRA, in the political leadership, that wanted to have the ability to deal with the arms issue, the decommissioning issue, or disposition of the IRA's weaponry and assets, etc within the very small confines of the Army Council and others who were saying: No. This is just too big an issue that it has to be settled in a much broader and wider fashion. In other words, it has to be a consultative process that has to have the approval of the IRA as a whole. And it struck me that it all seemed to be fairly obvious that if there was an element within the leadership that was arguing that the Army Council, this very small body which is very easy to control and manipulate if you're clever at it, if they wanted to have control of the IRA's weapons and assets within that very small group of people then it must have been for a reason. And there was only one possible reason and that was that if they foresaw the day when they would actually have to take a decision to decommissioning. And it was on the basis of that type of information which I was able to get that I was saying and writing at that time that the leadership wants to, and will, decommission its weapons at the right moment, you know.
JM: And Martin, what were you being told at that time? Because you were involved with the political leadership of Sinn Féin and they were coming back and forth, Clinton had got visas that Joe Cahill could come into the country and Gerry Adams was coming into the country - they were selling us a different story here.
MG: John, it wasn't originally 2016. Joe Cahill actually promised that there would be a united Ireland within five years. Now he said that in 1998 which would have meant 2003. And he said it would be by Robert Emmett's anniversary, which I believe is in April of 2003. So that would have meant a united Ireland thirteen years ago. Now he came out, there was a lot going on at that time, and they wanted me to stand beside him and say that: We were never going to decommission, we're going to get a united Ireland, this was opening the door, the British had said they have no selfish, strategic or political interests in The North and everything was fine and we should all applaud ourselves and just raise money and victory was ours. I wouldn't do that. And in fact, I was asked to get involved in a debate that you will remember (because you were in it as well) in New Jersey. And I was told that the debate would be on a very high level area, it would be: We would have an opportunity to discuss whether it was good or bad for the Republican Movement to get involved – to sign the agreement - to sign onto this, what it would lead to, whether it would lead to a united Ireland or not - it was arranged by Malachy McAllister.
And the next thing I know Martin Ferris is coming out! There's big article in the Irish Voice that 'Martin will set Martin straight' or something like that. That we were going to be put down. I remember calling you and Malachy McAllister and saying: Is this some kind of a set-up? What's going on? And we were in that debate and we pointed out a number of things that Ed had predicted: That it would lead to decommissioning, that it would lead to the endorsement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). It would be a dead-end in terms of a united Ireland because it would support the Loyalist veto, the Unionist veto, that Republicans had always been against as opposed to what the 1916 Societies and others want now: Which is still, a thirty-two county Irish election. And at the end of that event, the next day, I was told I was, by a very good friend of mine, that I was now persona non grata and that I had damaged myself with the Republican Movement. It was supposed to be a high level, sincere debate and we were free to take our positions but as soon as I expressed those disagreements I was told I was persona non grata which convinced me more than ever that everything that we had said was true! And as a result of that I cannot count how many times I've been told by people, at one point or another: You know, all those things that you said at the Grasshopper in New Jersey turned out to be right! I shouldnt've believed them but now I don't.
JM: Ed, we've done shows here about how important Americans were in 1916 to The Uprising. How important was that time-frame that Galvin is talking about: About issuing the visas? And getting in here? And getting control, really, of the Republican Movement here in this country?
EM: Well, I think it obviously had to be very important, indeed, because the influence of Irish-American opinion was such that they daren't ignore it and if you, you know – if you can't direct it then you at least try to control it as best as you can and that's the way to do it so clearly it was in their interest to do that.
JM: And it was being manipulated on both sides. Martin Galvin and myself were working at the Irish People office and the FBI raided that office – took out the representative for the IRA here, Hugh Feeney, and he was replaced by Denis Donaldson. So that was orchestrated, along with the peace process, to make sure that somebody was out, controlled by MI5, controlled by the FBI, to make sure that the Republicans in this country were going to go in a certain direction.
EM: There's a whole untold story of the peace process in the latter years of the IRA's existence in relation to the influence of British intelligence – to what extent that was exercising any sort of influence in the direction that they were taking: Were they assisting? Were they initiating? You know all these questions are quite legitimate questions in the face of the knowledge that I have learned about the level of infiltration of the IRA during the early years, up to the early years of the peace process and my understanding is that British intelligence's own estimate of the degree of infiltration of the IRA by the early 1990's was that one out of every three members of the IRA was working either for the Special Branch, RUC Special Branch, for British military intelligence or for MI5...
JM: ...Same, the The Guards in The South.
EM: Well, leave that aside. I'm just taking about the British bit, alright, and you're quite right – there would be a Garda influence over certainly southern sections of the IRA, the Engineering Department, QM's department in particular. Now if that's true, and I suspect it is true, then I think it's legitimate to ask the question: Like who's really running the show? Is it the IRA? Or is it the British? Or is it possible that the British are, unconsciously or consciously, who knows, assisting certain developments within the organisation, assisting it on its journey knowing that where it's going to end up is somewhere where they could never, by themselves, achieve? The IRA delivering itself up, decommissioning its own weapons. I mean this would be like fantasy land for MI5 – you know, something that they could never achieve no matter - how much they had infiltrated the IRA – but here's the opportunity for the IRA to do this! To what extent did they assist and help that process?
That's one of the big, big questions. I don't know what the answer to it is. I suspect they probably did. I mean, common sense tells me that they would have been stupid not to have done that - it would have been against their interest- knowing that there were plans and ideas within the leadership of the organisation to go down this particular road.– Wow! They're actually going to go down that road we should give them a hand down that way. I think that's fairly obvious. But these are things that are not being discussed in the media back in Ireland, these are forbidden subjects because they're regarded as not being helpful to the peace process. Yet, they should be covered at this point because you know – the people who were involved are alive and the sources are there and in a few years time they won't be there and it will be impossible to do this story.
MG: Ed, let me just make one observation and then just ask you a question just as a follow-up to what John said: Number One: Just what I told you, the first time - I'm not sure I met you but I saw you. I don't want to mention any names - but it was at Kelly's Cellars. I'm not sure where you were working, I think it was at Hibernia at that stage, but you were getting, I was told - I couldn't sit there because you were getting a top-level, secret IRA briefing that no one else was getting because you were viewed as somebody who would cover Republican strategy and were trusted with that kind of briefing that other journalists were not. And you went from that to the point where no one trusts Ed Moloney just in a snap! But the thing I want to get at is: Denis Donaldson, as John mentioned, was out here for a year. He turned out to be a paid British agent. He was everything within Irish Northern Aid and Republicanism was open to him. We made numerous complaints about him; about his bona fides and who he was working for. When Hugh Feeney, as John had mentioned, came out to replace him and started to undo a lot of the damage that Denis had done all of sudden Hugh Feeney was arrested (while John was at the Irish People office) who replaced him? Oh, Lo and Behold! Denis Donaldson. Again! He had no trouble getting out of the country. And what I've always wondered, just building on John's question: Do you think that he was simply working for a Sinn Féin agenda or do you think that the British government, who he was a paid agent of, was really directing him to go after certain people because of vendettas and anger and the people who had been very strongly opponents of theirs in this country?
EM: Well again, it's one of these questions that demands to be asked but how on Earth do you get the answers? You know, one can speculate about these things and clearly you look back at what someone like Denis Donaldson was doing over here, you would be in a better position than I to judge what he did, to what extent did that help or hinder the agenda that was being developed in Belfast in terms of the peace process?
MG: Well, he did a couple of things. Number One: He undermined - shook my faith - in what we were being told from Ireland to begin with. But he deliberately tried to undermine anybody who had a very strong Republican background and credentials and tried to promote people like the Niall O'Dowds and others from the outside who had been associated with Fianna Fáil and others like that and tried to give them, through relatives of his, a greater influence in term of the organisation, in terms of Republican organisations in the United States. And he worked on that very diligently and again we were told: Ack! It's just personality conflicts. Try and work with him. He has impeccable credentials from Ireland – no matter how many complaints that we made about him.
EM: Well then, you see, that's the sort of situation in which you would have the suspicion that his handlers were directing him to behave in a way which is going to help the agenda that had been developed back in Belfast. Clearly. And it makes sense. I mean you know if you were in charge of MI5 and you knew that this peace process was being developed at a certain level inside the IRA and you knew - and of course they did know by that stage there was so much that was going on that they could not but know - and that you knew that the end result of that would be things like Sinn Féin accepting the Principle of Consent, ie, that there would be no united Ireland until the Unionists say so, that the IRA would be basically wound down, that it will stop its attacks against the British, that maybe even it would be possible to decommissioning their weapons you would be, as head of British intelligence, you would be derelict in your duty if you did not do everything in your power to assist that process which meant that your handling of informers would be not just about putting people in goal - in fact it may be the quite the opposite of that, it may be keeping some people out of goal - it would instead be assisting the political direction that these people were intent on going down – you know?
MG: Ed, right now we've had an election in The South of Ireland. Sinn Féin did not get in government but their hope is that they would get in government. And what supporters out here are being told that: If they can get in government in The South, Martin McGuinness will be in power in The North - this will be the same as a united Ireland. I mean, how do you analyse it?
EM: My understanding is that they did not expect or really believe that they were going to win enough seats to form a coalition government with someone else at this election. I think what was in their mind was that this election would be the precursor to the one in which they would make the breakthrough. And things seem to be working, somewhat, in their favour at the moment because even though the two major parties, Fine Gael – that's the party that was in power before - and Fianna Fáil, they have had difficulties agreeing on a formal coalition with each other; there is talk of some sort of informal coalition. That would open the way for Sinn Féin then to be the major opposition party in the Dáil and in a very good position to take advantage of all the difficulties that would – I mean a coalition government made up of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – they would be fighting and quarreling all the time. I mean, these are two parties that have their origins in the Irish Civil War, there's still bad blood between them, they would make very bad government partners and the sort of public perception of both of them would, I think probably, go down and that would be to Sinn Féin's advantage. And it's the reason why the current leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, has refused to go into a formal coalition with Fine Gael because it would open the way to Sinn Féin becoming the major opposition party and using that as a platform and as a spring board from which to get into government the next time round.
MG: Let's say they did. Let's say there was an election in a year, that this coalition whatever emerges within the Twenty-Six Counties cannot hold and you have Sinn Féin in government in a dominant position in the Twenty-Six Counties as well as Martin McGuinness being either Minister or Joint First Minister with Arlene Foster – they're tied together. How would that differ from a united Ireland?
EM: Oh, well, it wouldn't be a united Ireland to begin with but it would be, for Adams and McGuinness, a major success – a major achievement because as you say they would be able to argue that while they weren't able to destroy the border, they weren't able to create a single political unit on the island nonetheless they had advanced this course by having control or bums on cabinet seats in The North and bums on cabinet seats in The South and maybe even leadership positions. I mean, Martin McGuinness is Deputy First Minister. He may, as the result of the May election, emerge as the First Minister. So they will be able to argue that and I suspect that really what this is about in many ways is they have their eye on their place in history but in terms of like making that sort of like huge jump from there to political unity to having a thirty-two county Irish Republic I don't see that happening. They have accepted the idea that the Unionists have the final say on unity in The North and they are working in a political system which is unfriendly to the idea of a united Ireland anyway in The South – they've never been keen on the idea of taking in all these Unionists and all these troublesome Catholics from Derry and Belfast.
MG: Alright, so you'd still have a six county state where Arlene Foster or whomever has a veto on any progress towards a thirty-two county governance. You still would have people within The South they would be, have influences, from Fine Gael, from Fianna Fáil and others so it would be very different. British control in The North? You'd have very different from a united Ireland I mean, that's the question I'm asking or is the same thing as a united Ireland?
EM: No, it's not the same thing as a united Ireland. I mean for example, in The North, they don't have control over their own economic policy. They're implementing British economic policy. I mean you have this really bizarre situation where in The South you have Sinn Féin, led by Gerry Adams, arguing strongly against anti-austerity policies which have been introduced as a result of the banking scandals in 2008. And in The North you have Martin McGuinness and the Sinn Féin party implementing the most vicious, brutal Tory cuts, spending cuts, which are going to hit their own people in places like West Belfast and Derry. They don't have any control over those policies. And arguably, neither do the politicians in The South have real control over their economic policies – these are dictated by people in Europe, bankers in Europe, and other economic forces like that. So, no, to answer your question very simply it's not going to be the same but it will be sufficiently impressive for them to be able to boast about it and certainly it will get their names in the history books, there's no doubt about that.
MG: Okay. Meanwhile, Arlene Foster - she's the head of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the party that was started by Ian Paisley - she's just taken over for his successor, Peter Robinson. She is now campaigning and saying: If you don't vote for me Martin McGuinness will be First Minister and trying to convince Unionists outside of her party that they should support her to keep a majority for the Democratic Unionist Party and keep her as First Minister. What is the difference between a First Minister, a joint First Minister, a Deputy First Minister – between if Martin McGuinness' party gets more votes than hers would that make any difference whatsoever?
EM: Well, she is saying that, she is saying to her people: If you don't vote for me then Martin McGuinness is going to be First Minister. You can bet your bottom dollar that Martin McGuinness or his people are going around the doorsteps in West Belfast and Derry and Tyrone etc and saying: If you vote in enough numbers for me we'll be top dogs over the DUP. What that tells you is that the system of government that was created under the Good Friday Agreement is institutionalising sectarianism in the sense that the DUP and Sinn Féin party, as the top dogs on either side, have got a guarantee of perpetual government and occasionally one might rise to the top then the other might rise to the top but essentially the hold that they have on the communities that they represent is such that they're appealing to them on a very naked sectarian basis; the DUP saying to their Protestant voters vote for us otherwise the Catholic McGuinness will get the top job and McGuinness equally and Sinn Féin are going around saying: We have an opportunity here to poke one in the DUP's eyes by voting for Sinn Féin in sufficient numbers – then we get the First Minister's job. And that's what the Good Friday Agreement has done. It has institutionalised sectarianism, it has set it in political concrete, it makes it almost impossible to break out of that – so a party that comes along and say argues on terms of economic policies or social policies is going to be squeezed out by this sectarian imperative. So what Arlene Foster is doing is just working the system, working the agreement, that Martin McGuinness put his name to and everyone else said was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
JM: And Ed, one of the things that Sinn Féin want to do, particularly in this country, is the perception of a united Ireland. Now they're coming out with these savings bonds which were issued at the turn of the last century by Eamonn de Valera and them – five dollars to be redeemed upon a united Ireland. Now Sinn Féin's doing that but they're doing it now to get a hotel and a ticket in New York so I mean whenever they come over here it's a way different message than the politics they're playing over in Ireland.
EM: The message that they say over here?
JM: That they practically have a united Ireland. They don't even talk about it over there!
EM: I mean the reality is obviously quite, quite different, indeed. I mean the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is arguably safer now than it has been at any time in the history of Ireland I mean – quite seriously – because you have the major – I mean you cannot underestimate the significance and importance of this: You have the major party which opposed the existence of that state turning round and saying that well we now accept that which we fought to overthrow, which is the Principle of Consent, which is that the status of Northern Ireland cannot and will never change unless the majority of people there, ie the majority of the Unionists, accept that it should be so. That means that the Union is safe. It is safe forever. The only thing that has really changed is that they can no longer behave with a sort of sectarian arrogance that characterised Unionist rule in the 1950's or '40's or '30's or '60's or even the 1970's. They have to behave themselves. They've lost that sort of power over Catholics and over Nationalists. But in terms of their constitutional security they are now more secure and safer than they have ever been in the history of the state.
JM: (station identification and announcements) Ed, thanks for coming in.
(ends time stamp ~ 55:40)