The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Ex-Noraid Boss Still Gloomy on Peace Process

Seasoned US critic of British involvement in Ireland turns his attention to plight of republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail

Jim Dee • Daily Ireland, 22 July 2006

Even if the gloomy forecasts about the prospects of a November 24 deal are wrong, any resurrected assembly executive will just be a waste of time, according to a longtime American critic of Britain�s role in Ireland.

�That body is not going to move anything towards a united Ireland. It will just give undue legitimacy to British rule,� insisted Martin Galvin, the former head of Irish Northern Aid (Noraid) in America, during a lengthy Daily Ireland interview.

�Even when you get into Stormont, it�s a Stormont headed by Paisley,� said Galvin.

�It�s a Stormont headed by the DUP, where any real progress towards real change, towards a united Ireland, can be dealt with by the British within a British parliament, within the British establishment.�

It�s hardly surprising to hear Galvin dismiss the assembly�s legitimacy. The New York-based lawyer has been a vocal critic of the Good Friday Agreement ever since it was endorsed by 71 per cent of voters in the North, and 94 per cent in the South, in May 1998.

After splitting from Sinn F�in in the mid-1990s over the peace process, Galvin began supporting a faction that would eventually evolve into the 32-County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) � a group British and Irish police say is tied to dissidents of the self-styled Real IRA - an allegation the 32CSM denies.

He ended his public support for the 32CSM when the US State Department listed it as a banned terrorist organisation in 2002. However, Galvin's peace process criticisms remain very much in line with the group�s.

Asked if any group can still legitimately wage an armed struggle � in light of the Good Friday Agreement�s overwhelmingly endorsement on both sides of the border and the IRA officially ending its armed campaign last year � Galvin said: �There can be a right of the Irish people to resist British rule with force, but you also have to be able to mount a legitimate, successful campaign. So I�m not going to cast a judgment on anyone who does that.�

However, he insisted: �It�s not simply a choice between, either it�s the Stormont deal or a military campaign. There are other choices than that.�

As for a political alternative, Galvin said he �was sympathetic� to the 32-County Sovereignty Movement until its 2002 banning in the US. However, he also concedes that the 32CSM's campaign to have the United Nations declare British sovereignty in the North to be illegitimate, is a long shot at best.

�The United Nations, unfortunately, is a political body that works on political practicalities,� said Galvin.

�And when you get enough political support, and when it�s pragmatic for certain countries to support your interests, they�ll support you. But it�s not an organisation that is going to look at Ireland simply on moral grounds and decide to intervene.�

Galvin�s involvement in Irish affairs dates back to the 1960s, when he began visiting the land from which his family emigrated in 1914.

In the early 1970s, he joined Irish Northern Aid, or Noraid, and by 1979 he was its publicity director and the editor of its weekly paper, the Irish People. He said that, at that time, Noraid�s focus was on highlighting republican prisoners� plight during the Long Kesh protests.

Galvin said that in those days Noraid�s aim was to �bring the issue back to British rule � that in order to rule Ireland, the British needed repression, they needed discrimination, they needed injustice to remain there�.

As part of those efforts, he and others took Irish Americans on trips to the North.

A 1983 trip that Galvin made so angered the British that he was officially barred from entering the North the following year.

In August 1984, Galvin snuck in anyway � beginning a tragic chain of events that would ultimately lead to the death of Sean Downes � a 22-year-old nationalist who was killed by a plastic bullet as the RUC rushed a platform in Andersonstown where Galvin had appeared to make a speech.

In 1986, Galvin stayed with Sinn F�in when it decided to recognise the D�il because he felt that �there was still a commitment to ending British rule, and that recognising Leinster House was not going to be a first step towards recognising Stormont or British rule, or British courts, in the North.�

However, ten years later, as the peace process advanced �around 1995, 1996, I, at that point just walked away from Irish Northern Aid. I didn�t do so publicly, but I just couldn�t put myself on the line and tell people and endorse a strategy which I no longer believed in.�

�I still have a lot of respect and admiration for a number of the people who are still with Sinn F�in, although I felt I had to disagree with them and could no longer give them my support,� he added.

Galvin said that the main issue he's now about is the issue of political prisoners in Maghaberry.

He said that, while in the 1970s and early 1980s efforts to criminalise republicans entailed trying to get them to don convict uniforms, today it involves trying to house republicans with �criminals, rapists, drug dealers, things of that nature�.

He said that prisoners who refuse this system are penalised with strip searches, restricted visits, as well as being locked in their cells more than 20 hours daily.

�Twenty-five years later, while republicans are commemorating the hunger strike of 1981, the British have their own kind of commemoration in the form of trying to reintroduce and reimpose the same policy of criminalisation,� he said.

Returning to the broader peace process, Galvin was asked if the major electoral gains made by Sinn F�in on both sides of the border were not tangible proof of republican advances.

�I realise, economically, there have been advances for republicans. In terms of offices, there have been advances," said Galvin.

�But one of the basic strategies of any colonial power is that you give a little bit to parties that oppose you to try and co-opt them into the system. That has been the British objective, I believe, in the Stormont deal.�

Galvin said that Sinn F�in can claim advances to a point �where your viewpoint is listened to and respected. But you�re there because you can be trotted out by the British who say �Look, even our former opponents are playing a part under British rule. They want to serve in a British parliament at Stormont.��


This article has been reprinted with the permission of the author.











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