Martin Galvin (MG) speaks to Gerry McGeough (GM) via telephone from Co. Tyrone about the Assembly Elections held last Thursday in The North of Ireland. Thanks to TPQ transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
7 May 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 39:15)
MG: We have Gerry McGeough on the line from Tyrone; he's going to give us an analysis of the election results in The North. Gerry, I thought of you first thing today. I saw a picture in the newspaper of Arlene Foster and Maurice Morrow, they had been elected from Fermanagh-South Tyrone, and they were smiling and the last time that I had seen them so happy was after you were sentenced - they were at the court hearing and they were delighted that you were going to be put into gaol at that time and those are your elected representatives, Arlene Foster of the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and Maurice Morrow – I think they represent Fermanagh-South Tyrone where you live.
GM: Yeah, that's correct, Martin. Hi! How are you? And a big Hello! to John and Kate and Liza and of course our old friends, Helen McClafferty and Tom Sullivan – everybody out there - Jim Sullivan and Louise and all our AOH friends: A big Hello! to each and every one of you all. Yeah, we've just had the elections here and I suppose, ostensibly, you could say that very little has changed insofar as both the DUP, and our old friends that you just mentioned there, and Sinn Féin are the lead parties but that would belie I think quite a significant undercurrent that's going on which I think will have bearings for the next time there's an election outing in, I presume would, be in 2021.
Sinn Féin: I doubt if there's very much festivity going on in Sinn Féin headquarters this evening because they went into this election with twenty-nine seats – I think they have twenty-eight now which is roughly, it's about the same obviously, but their coveted goal was thirty seats or thirty plus which would enable them to employ the Petition of Concern without than having to rely on others. That didn't happen. And more importantly, they have been challenged and very successfully challenged on a number of fronts, quite obviously the West Belfast People Before Profit whose candidate topped the poll. And here in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, which is where I'm speaking from, they have lost a seat and that wasn't part of the plan as you can imagine.
MG: Yes, Gerry, Phil Flanagan - he was remarking how now he's going to be unemployed and this was announced on his wedding anniversary and how sad that is for everybody. I mean when you lost the election you were arrested and put in – and ended up in gaol for two years but you didn't ask people to feel sorry for you as a result.
GM: Yeah. Well that's true - I stood in 2007 and Sinn Féin connived in my arrest and as you know I was eventually dragged through the courts, the so-called courts – Diplock courts, and imprisoned for thirty-odd year old alleged charges and as I say flung in gaol and remain barred from running in elections which is exactly what the goal was. (So had I not been I may well have run in these recent elections.) But yeah, that's absolutely true. I don't know what they're whinging and crying about you know – they have it pretty light. I think what's wrong with these people is, and we see it here in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, with bruised egos having little selection contest with only one candidate where they couldn't even possibly lose. They got used to the gravy train up in Stormont – it's easy, it's light, it's good fun, it's all a lot of bon ami and what have you and plenty and plenty of money. And of course they do absolutely nothing; they do absolutely nothing to improve the lives of the constituents.
Now just to come back to Fermanagh-South Tyrone: What's going on on the ground here: First of all the Shinners are fighting among themselves like nobody's business. It's just like a pub brawl that has spilled out onto the streets; they can't contain it any longer. And they were challenged here very significantly by the pro-life group which ran an almost military machine-like campaign for the last number of weeks and it denied them sufficient votes – actually, the presenting officer said that the turnout among Nationalists in The Moy, which is in the eastern part of South Tyrone, was the lowest in twenty years and also I don't think they've ever recorded a lower turn out in Dungannon which is the major capital, the population centre, of South Tyrone and that's all due to the pro-life group's activities which is targeting Sinn Féin because of their pro-abortion stance and they had decided to take a seat off Sinn Féin and that is exactly what has happened here and that's obviously not going to go away – it's going to expand.
And what's happening is you have a lot of different interest groups perhaps not coordinating with one another but targeting the same outfit which is Sinn Féin and Sinn Féin has to be very, very nervous at this point in time - they're old, they're jaded, they have no ideas, no enthusiasm. Ten years ago, for example – and you were probably over here at the time – Sinn Féin could have, in Fermanagh-South Tyrone alone, mustered scores of young men and women who would go out and canvas, who would put up posters and so on and so forth. It was almost sad to see it this time around – just a few family members of candidates going round when they had the time in the evening putting up one or two posters and it was just, you know, a ramshackle to say the very least and they just essentially scraped in.
Now let me give you an idea of the figures here because there has been a big drop, not just in percentage terms, but also in the popular vote. Here in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in 2011 for example Michelle Gildernew, who was the local candidate, topped the poll with well in excess of nine thousand votes. Now this time around she didn't make the quota on the first run and had to wait for one of her colleagues, namely Mr. Flanagan whom you referred to, to be eliminated before finally getting elected. And the others of course were languishing way down the line as well. So that basically is a consequence of the fact that people didn't, for whatever reason, turn out and vote for them and that is going to get significantly more acute for Sinn Féin in the coming elections. The sad thing is, and again going back to 2007, Martin, and you were au fait with that whole development there, when I was running in 2007 there were a number of reasons behind it - obviously it was the whole issue whereby Sinn Féin was effectively selling out on Republican principles and they were doing so really to get into the southern elections which were coming up in May of that year and they were telling everyone: We're going to get fourteen seats in The South - at that stage they had five – they ended up losing a seat! But in the process of all this they sold out all the family silver as far as Republicanism was concerned and they conned and fooled people into believing that if you supported the British institutions and so on and so forth there would be a united Ireland by 2016 blah, blah, blah and so it went on. Now I stood as did, and I was encouraged by the fact that there were numerous people standing – although they were mostly ex-Republican prisoners what have you, it was not in any way coordinated, it was fairly sporadic, there was obviously an agreement among people, there was nobody at war with one another, but there was no coordination and it was quite localised in its development. But in this part of the world I felt it was important that someone make a stance in Bobby Sands' old seat for traditional Republican values. And of course there was no realistic chance of me being elected to that Assembly on the first outing but my eye was on the council seat for the following year which I would easily had a quota for based on that election, despite having votes stolen from me and all the rest of it, and we would have then hopefully have seen some sort of organic, Republican alliance/party, whatever you want to call it, growing up – developing – so that by now there would have been an authentic, alternative Republican voice to challenge Sinn Féin which would be running Sinn Féin around the field right now. Of course the British and their associates, the Sinn Féin leadership, saw that and moved to put an end to it by clamping down on me and throwing me in gaol and all the rest of it and they've done the same to set an example by using me they've done the same to others and we've got to the stage now where a lot of people are still quite, believe it or not, quite reluctant to put their heads above the parapet because they know what happened in my particular experience and they don't want that repeated on themselves.
But having said that, I think that those various Republican groups have now become very, very strong, it has to be said. We've seen around the 1916 Centenary anniversary ceremonies - large turn-outs, quite considerable support for these various non-Sinn Féin Republican groupings, traditional Republicans, and I think they're going to, sooner or later, have a serious discussion about where they go from here. Are they just going to sit in a self-imposed exile, watching from the sidelines, while giving a mandate to the Shinners? And again I go back to 1918, I mentioned this to you the last time I spoke on this radio show, had the various Republicans in 1918 decided that they wouldn't go into British institutions or take part in British elections then the Irish Parliamentary Party would have won across the board. But because they were challenged those Republicans who grouped themselves under the grand title of 'Sinn Féin' – much different to what we understand it as today – they were elected and they were in the position to secede and bring about the War of Independence and the so-called independence that eventually evolved into the Twenty-Six Counties and so forth and had they not done that it wouldn't have been the case so people today have to start thinking more strategically, in my opinion.
MG: Gerry, I just want to bring you back: In 2007 you ran for election – I had the interesting experience – I campaigned in two elections. One in Doire for Peggy O'Hara, the mother of Patsy O'Hara - and obviously I know the O'Hara family – I'm very close to them and the other in Fermanagh-South Tyrone for you who I've known for years and have been very close to for years. And in the Doire election Peggy O'Hara was going to run on an abstentionist platform – she was never going to go into Stormont. She said that electing her was a vote just of non-support for the PSNI, for the Royal Ulster Constabulary which had brutalised her son and brought him to gaol where he would died on hunger strike. And in Fermanagh-South Tyrone you had intended to go into Stormont to speak against the policies, to highlight Republican issues for Sinn Féin to be in a position, Sinn Féin had done in the councils with the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party), either to stand up for Republican principles or else to be seen to be silent on these Republican issues, for prisoners etc, and to expose them that way. It's funny, I took advice at that time from Brendan Hughes and I said: You know, Brendan, how do I be campaigning on an abstentionist platform for one candidate and then for you, somebody who's going to go into Stormont to try to work and debate and to raise Republican issues that way? And he said: Martin, the important thing is to just show that you're not going to support this institutions which are British and whatever pragmatic way we can do that is good; try to support both of those candidates 'cause both of them are going to make the same point. What would you recommend in future – should people try to campaign for abstentionism or should they go inside and try to fight against Sinn Féin if you believe that that's the best way to promote a united Ireland and Republicanism?
GM: Well I mean obviously I couldn't give a definitive answer here now. I mean, back in 2007 as I say there was never any realistic chance of me being elected so I could say what I wanted and essentially had I, by some miracle, been elected on the first outing given all the opposition against me from the British, the Unionists, Sinn Féin – the whole works - what I would have intended to do was go in order to being carried out kicking and screaming every day for having a cause a ruckus and raised a huge embarrassment for the Shinners and everybody else who were upholding British rule in this part of Ireland, you know? I mean, Stormont means absolutely nothing to me other than what strategic value, or tactical value rather, it can be for bringing about a united Ireland in the long run. So you know it's really neither here nor there but I think people should at the very least consider standing on order to deny seats to those who are completely wedded to the British Establishment. Now whether they go in or don't go in is almost irrelevant until they figure out some much more cohesive plan. But there has to be something. There is too much political talent about wasting and we see third-rate Shinners going in there just to milk the system for their own benefits and no one is benefiting. And by the way, that 2016 united Ireland that Sinn Féin promised back in 2007 - as I predicted at the time - is no where near fruition...(cross-talk)
MG: Well it's the same point, Gerry, as Joe Cahill promised a united Ireland within five years; he promised that in 1998 and we'd have it by 2003. Gerry, just before we go, we're coming to the end of the programme (provides station's number) you in a way, your family, benefited from this programme because I know when people worked on the Gerry McGeough Family Campaign to send money, raise money, send it back to your family during the two years when you were in prison WBAI and this station and Radio Free Éireann were important in doing that. I'd just ask you to say a few words about WBAI and how important it is to you.
GM: WBAI, without any doubt, WBAI gave us a platform to highlight the injustice of what was being perpetrated upon me because of my political views and Sinn Féin were trying to silence everything; they were telling media outlets not to talk about it, not to talk about me and so on and so forth. But WBAI and yourself and John and the late Sandy Boyer and all the good people, Helen, whom I mentioned earlier, everyone worked hard and you used that voice of freedom, which is effective as it is, to help bring about my freedom and help see to it that my family wasn't left high and dry in the interim so I can only say to people: We need WBAI. We absolutely do. There's not outlet here in The Six Counties from where I am speaking that equates to it. I mean we have to speak to people in New York in order to get our voices out around the world. So WBAI is absolutely crucial and I'd ask everyone to dig deep – see to it that the radio station and this particular programme is kept going because it is a must.
And now you know, we're entering into a very interesting period. For the first time, I suppose since 2007, we're starting to see people thinking for themselves again, being in a position where they're prepared to challenge the status quo of this so-called Republican party and go for it now – and we've got to encourage everyone. This is not an issue that can be left sitting and rotting any longer. Within the next five years there's going to be some significant changes here and I suspect if we can get our act together now that the next Stormont elections, or even the next election coming up, will tell a different tale and WBAI will play a role in that because you're giving a voice to people who are always voiceless over here in Ireland and who actually know what's going on. And you know yourself, Martin, on your programme I have been in a position to call things that the media, the establishment media, were saying things differently and I have called them and called them correctly because I know what's going on at ground-level here. And the last time we spoke a few weeks ago I did say that Sinn Féin would lose seats here in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and that's exactly what has happened. So WBAI must be kept on-air. Radio Free Éireann must be kept on-air. And everyone must do what they have to do to see to it that that is the case. And it's been a real pleasure speaking to one and all.
MG: Alright, Gerry, we want to thank you, we're running out of time - our producer is pointing at the clock and waving and I'm afraid they'll use one of the words that we're not allowed to use on the radio. So Gerry, I want to thank you again for coming on. We're going to be off for a few weeks. I will be in Ireland. I'm going to be there to speak at a commemoration in Doire for Volunteer George McBrearty on the 28th of May and I'm certainly hoping to see you before that in Tyrone.
GM: Go raibh maith agat.
(ends time stamp ~ 55:20)