Martin Galvin (MG) interviews journalist Suzanne Breen (SB) via telephone from Belfast about the upcoming Brexit referendum, the Police Ombudsman's report on Loughinisland and a threat allegedly made to Ballymurphy Republican Seán Cahill. Appreciation to TPQ transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5 Pacifica Radio
New York City
18 June 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 16:09)
MG: And with us on the line we have an award-winning journalist from Belfast, Suzanne Breen. Suzanne has been with the Irish Times, she's been with the Sunday Tribune. She now writes for a number of papers including the Belfast Telegraph and others. Her work is seen very frequently on nuzhound. Suzanne, welcome back to Radio Free Eireann.
SB: Hello, Martin.
MG: Suzanne, this week there is a referendum. A vote is going to be heard. It's a very simple question: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union (EU) or leave the European Union and one of the people who has spoken out at great length on the results of this referendum because it's going to have a major impact in Ireland is the head of the Twenty-Six County government, Enda Kenny. Who actually will vote and make the decision in this referendum as to whether Britain should remain in the European Union, where they've been since the 1970's, or leave the European Union?
SB: Well the people making the decision are voters in the UK; that's voters in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. At the moment it's neck-and-neck. Some opinions polls show that the 'leave campaign' are leading by fifty-three percent to forty-seven percent. Other opinion polls show that the 'remain campaign' are ahead fifty-two percent to forty-eight percent. It really, really is tight and every vote will count next Thursday. The arguments are mainly economic and they're mainly about immigration as well. The people who want to leave say that Britain is a net contributor to the EU that has cost people within Britain two hundred and fifty million pounds a week to belong. They say that the EU is bureaucratic, it's undemocratic, that it's unfair that rules from Brussels dictate what happens to citizens in the UK. Now these aren't specifically British arguments. You would hear similar arguments about the undemocratic nature of the EU made in the Irish Republic by people on the left there. On the other hand, people who want to remain within the EU say that there will be a nightmare scenario if Britain withdraws – house prices will go up, wages will fall – there has been a lot of scaremongering on both sides.
MG: Suzanne, one of the people who's spoken to me about it, a friend of mine who listens to the programme on computer, John Crowley, he lives in Clones which is right on the border of Co. Monaghan with Fermanagh and there used to be nightmare scenarios of how would you get into The North - back into Co. Monaghan – there could be border patrols, there could be checks on customs, there could be travel restrictions back and forth and no one seems to know whether there will be hard border controls, custom controls, etc or not. In fact, the European Union may be making the decision in terms of the Twenty-Six Counties. What's the latest that you hear on that?
SB: Well, nobody knows. We are in totally uncharted waters if Britain votes to leave the EU. I mean it's just - I think both sides play things up so it's very, very hard to know what the facts will be but the reality will be that we have two parts of Ireland will be on different sides of an EU land border and I would say some type of increased border controls, customs checks, would be inevitable. That I think maybe is one of the reasons why Nationalists/Catholics in Northern Ireland increasingly support staying within the EU. Unionists are generally pro-Brexit. Nationalists will say that it could be disastrous for businesses along the border; Britain is one of Ireland's largest trading partners. I think Nationalists generally just like to feel that they don't belong simply to the UK - that they are part of a wider European community. It basically softens the idea of Britain's continuing role in Northern Ireland. But interestingly, I would have spoken to some militant Republicans and they are voting in favour of Brexit because they believe that at the moment the border is largely invisible but it does exist and in many ways a Brexit would show that it exists and it would be more likely to concentrate peoples' minds in saying that they wanted to leave the UK and join the Irish Republic so there's all sorts of arguments going on and there's all sorts of divisions in places that you wouldn't expect.
MG: Suzanne - we're talking with Suzanne Breen who's an award-winning journalist in Belfast, talking about the upcoming referendum on Brexit, or Britain leaving the European Union - one of the interesting divisions is within the Conservative Party itself. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, had promised that there would be a referendum but he is suggesting or recommending a stay vote – that Britain stay within the European community. Theresa Villiers, the person who he appointed to be his Secretary for The North of Ireland, she is a very vocal and loud voice in favour of leaving the European community. What effect is this going to have within the Conservation Party?
SB: Well there are deep divisions within the Tory Party and I think if Britain does vote for Brexit David Cameron's position is untenable and there would be a belief that Boris Johnson, who is one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, the leave campaign, former Lord Mayor of London, would be the next leader of the Tory Party so there's all sorts of divisions. For a lot of ordinary people it looks like this is really just the rich Conservatives arguing among themselves in terms of who's leading the campaign but for people at a grass-roots level membership of the EU is very, very important particularly regarding immigration in Britain. In working-class communities, people, even if they welcome immigrants, feel that it's placing a huge strain on public services - people are waiting for much longer for GP, doctors, appointments to access prenatal clinics, pregnant women - there are all sorts of pressures at a time when public funds are already very, very stretched. Of course, there are many, many people in business who are just deeply concerned that leaving the EU would have a catastrophic effect in terms of jobs. We're told that house prices would fall dramatically so there are all sorts of competing arguments and you would have the most right-wing people for Brexit and you will also have leading left-wing politicians, like Eamonn McCann, on the same side – there are all types of alliances going on here.
MG: Okay. Suzanne, we wanted to talk to you about two other articles that you've written, just for your comments on two other issues that you've written about very recently. First of all: Last week we covered Loughinisland, the incident where people had gathered to watch a football match or a soccer match as we would call it in the United States and Loyalists entered, opened fire, killed six people and how a British Crown Ombudsman has acknowledged that there was collusion, that members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) had played a role in supplying the weapons. One of the people involved was an informer. The people who did it were known within a number of hours within the first day but nobody was arrested for quite some time. You'd written about that at length and you're saying that truth alone is not enough. Somebody must be held accountable for monstrous outrage. Are there any indications that anyone will ever be held accountable or whether the British will even acknowledge and accept that more should be done about those who were involved with collusion in these murders?
SB: There has been some speculation that perhaps several of the Special Branch officers who were involved in the Loughinisland case could be prosecuted for, amongst other things, protecting their agents, for lying. The problem really is, well one: does the will exist to do that? - but as well, with the passage of time witnesses aren't available, they are dead. The very act of collusion means that there will be important documentation missing so whether the evidential test would be met remains to be seen. I think what I would increasingly feel is that there is all this evidence of gross inadequacies in police investigations of collusion and that is on both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland and yet nothing ever happens. We get reports, we get some element of the truth and the families feel vindicated – what they have been saying for years and years when people swept aside what they said – didn't believe them – said they were conspiracy theorists – it's all proved true but in terms of justice that remains very, very elusive.
MG: Alright. And one final story that we wanted to report that you made for the Belfast Telegraph and wanted to ask you about: A member of the Cahill Family, now that's somebody related to Joe Cahill who, of course, was very well known in the United States. Seán Cahill had reported to you that he had been actually threatened by fellow Republicans. They had tried to discourage him from being allowed to work - they come to his home. Could you tell us why Seán Cahill, he lives in Ardoyne, a very Republican area within Belfast, why he was threatened and what the implications of this story are?
SB: Well, Seán Cahill is a fifty-two year old electrician. He's from Ballymurphy and he claims that he had been informed that Sinn Féin members were telling employers that he shouldn't be given work because he was a dissident Republican. He said he outlined these attempts to destroy his livelihood on social media last Wednesday and that later that day he was visited by a senior member of the Provisional IRA. He said that this person threatened his life in front of everyone that was in the house and he said his wife was very distressed. The person that he alleges threatened his life was a key player in the 2004 Northern Bank robbery and he's the brother-in-law of a prominent Sinn Féin figure. He would be a fairly well-known name in working-class Nationalist areas of Belfast. He is a career criminal. He became involved with the IRA in the early 1990's and he now works for their Finance Department. He would have been in the past regularly seen in the company of veteran Provisional Bobby Storey. So Mr. Cahill and his family are concerned. They would like the threat lifted and they would like clarification made as to whether this individual was acting on a solo run or whether he had the weight of his organisation behind him when he made the threat.
MG: Alright. We hope that publicity such as you gave him in the Belfast Telegraph and publicising this in programmes like Radio Free Éireann will encourage those, if there is such a threat, to withdraw it and to make it known to Mr. Cahill that he's not under threat simply because he disagrees about the best way to get a united Ireland. Suzanne, we want to thank you for being back on Radio Free Éireann again and we'll be reading you on nuzhound and in the Belfast Telegraph and we hope to have you again when you come to break stories like this in future.
SB: Indeed. Thank you, Martin. (ends time stamp ~ 29:00)