How do you see the lay of the land for Republicans?
I think it's very interesting. I felt and still do
believe that Sinn Féin will go the whole way.
I don't think they have any intentions of going back
from this agreement.
far as Republicanism goes, I wouldn't consider SF
of today being republicans, I see SF as being a nationalist
party. And that's by choice. For Republicanism I think
we had a setback, I believe that it's fragmented.
But I think that if we just stop and take stock, we
can rebuild the Republican Movement and probably it
will be a stronger movement for this, because the
people who will be in the Republican Movement will
be republicans, not nationalists or militant Catholics.
So in saying that, do you think that this movement
you envision will come out of a Republican tradition
rather than a defender tradition?
Well, in many ways, the Provo movement, and I was
a member of it and have no regrets about being a member
of it, but there was an element within the Provo movement
that certainly would have been a Catholic defender
element and I think we all have to acknowledge that.
Yes, I do think that this movement will be a purer
movement because we realize that what SF have done
at the moment is they've skirted around every issue
except the core that republicanism is concerned with
and that is the establishment of the Republic. I think
that now that the RM would be concentrating on the
one issue, that is of the greatest importance. We
can plaster over cracks within society with regard
to equality agendas, better social things for people
but the core issue has never been addressed and certainly
this GFA doesn't address it. So yes, I see it as a
purer movement and a better movement.
The GFA really has institutionalized sectarianism
and it has also really brought out the sectarian elements
in each of the parties in order to uphold it. This
leads to the question, the Republic, if this movement
does revolve around the ideal of the Republic, can
you see it transcending the sectarianism that has
been brought to the fore and being something that
Protestants in this community would be attracted to,
interested in, feel that they could have a place in
it? Or do you think that what's been going on in terms
of entrenching the sectarianism will make that harder?
It will make that harder, but I don't think that should
stop us from trying. Certainly I do feel that the
parties involved in the GFA - I won't say encourage
sectarianism but they play on it very much to their
own advantage. That isn't what I see Republicanism
being about. And I think that the Republicanism that
I want to build is going to be a secular republicanism
that everyone would feel included and I would hope
that that would include the Protestant community.
I don't see why Protestants should be excluded from
Going back to the defender tradition, with the
increasing problems in North Belfast, the attacks
in Short Strand, the organised campaign of the UDA,
and with elements of the IRA responding to it as well
that is only going to add fuel to the fire, and may
as it progresses and gets worse, it may have a similar
effect that '69 had in firing up people
you see this purer Republicanism that is based on
republican ideals, how would it react to that kind
of anger and that kind of motivation?
Well there always is the danger and I know traditionally
in the past republicanism would have always come to
the aid of the nationalist community when they have
been attacked - I don't believe that that has been
really on a sectarian front. I think it's more that
their base would be in the nationalist community and
therefore they feel that they have to consolidate
and protect their base. And I can understand that.
But I think that within the RM we must keep paramount
in everything that our war isn't with the Protestants
at all or even the loyalists. It's with the Brits.
Because that's ultimately where the decision lay.
If the British decide to get out of the 6 counties
the loyalists wont have a say in it. And that's why
I would hope that if the Brits make a declaration
of an intent to withdraw then Republicans and even
the Loyalist community can start discussing the way
Can you see the British identity sitting side by
side with the Irish identity in the Republic?
Absolutely, I have no problem with that. I have no
problems with the Orangemen marching up and down the
Shankill Road. The only problem I have is if they
are trying to enter Nationalist areas. So if there
is a Republic and they want to celebrate King William
or the Battle of the Boyne, I don't have a problem
with that. As a Republican, I have no hidden agendas;
it doesn't bother me if King James was beaten at the
Battle of the Boyne, because it is a total irrelevance!
Do you think that there is a large level of marginalisation
in the working class areas of Belfast?
Certainly. I believe that there is a greater gap between
rich and poor, and in that sense the working class
is more marginalised. But I think that this is a worldwide
phenomenon too. I don't think that it is limited to
What do you see contributing to it?
The large multinational companies throughout the world.
The combined assets of the two hundred richest companies
in the world are greater than the combined income
of two thirds of the world's population. They control
Do you see any merit in the anti-globalisation
Yes. I am very sympathetic to the protestors out there.
How do you view the needs of the loyalist working
I think that they are every bit as great, if not more
than the nationalist working class.
Can Republicanism offer anything to the working
I would hope so. I hope that with Republicanism -
not nationalism - they will see a bright future for
themselves in the country of Ireland, that within
Republicanism, they could grow and blossom. Because
I feel that if this country is united, they would
find the republicans to be their best friends. I wouldn't
want to work within a State in which the Roman Catholic
Church has a special place, Republicanism is about
a secular state.
What do you think of punishment beatings and shootings?
I don't have any sympathy for the so-called hoods,
but I don't see punishment beatings and shootings
as the answer to the problem. When you look at Sinn
Féin, who's a hood? The one getting beaten
or the one giving the beating? There is a demand within
the communities to have something done, but we should
reach young people in a different way, and try to
channel their energy into more productive things.
If they were more involved within their own communities,
and did not feel so isolated, maybe they would act
differently. I think that there is a danger that in
the community trying to police itself, they are exchanging
one set of thugs for another. I think that there is
a big danger there. I think that when individuals
take upon themselves to police, they have to be very
What's your view of public demand for the Provo
Well, as a Republican, I have no problem with whatever
the Provisionals choose to do with their guns, because
as I see it the only people they use them against
are young nationalist men and certainly Republicans.
The only threat that Provisional guns pose are to
people who disagree with their strategy. I don't think
that they pose any threat to the British or the Loyalists.
The Provisionals use their guns to control their own
communities, and as a threat to people who have a
different political analysis. So what they do with
their weaponry doesn't really concern me.
It seems that grassroots have accepted concession
after concession; do you think that they will decommission,
and if so, will there be any major reactions
I believe that the leadership of the Provisional movement
have actually accepted decommissioning. I think that
the problem they are having is how to sell it to their
grassroots, or how they get round to their grassroots,
how they do it, and then tell their grassroots they
haven't really done it. Everything is sold to the
grassroots as a "tactic." It has been said
to me by supporters of the Provisionals that decommissioning
is the line in the sand, and they can't cross that.
That will be for their grassroots to decide. But in
my view, they crossed the line in the sand many years
ago. Their grassroots have told me "decommissioning
is THE line in the sand, they won't cross it,"
but I replied to them not to be surprised if it did
Do you think that there has been a change in the
make-up of the grassroots, and if so, does this explain
why so much has gone past them?
I think that over a number of years, the composition
of Sinn Féin's grassroots has changed. They
are encouraging more middle class people to come into
the movement, because it is now respectable to be
associated with Sinn Féin. A lot of people
think that if they support Sinn Féin it automatically
means that they are Republican. But a vote for Sinn
Féin today is not a vote for Republicanism.
A vote for Sinn Féin is a vote for Nationalism.
But a strong nationalist vote is nothing recent. Joe
Devlin always won in the 1930s and 1940s. I think
that Sinn Féin have moved ground, rather than
there has been a big influx in the Republican family,
or because many people have been converted to Republicanism.
As chairperson of the IRPWA, you are doing a lot
of work with prisoners...
I am very committed to work with the prisoners, because
I have been in prison, and I know what it is like,
and I feel that our prisoners are being forgotten.
Certainly when I was on hunger strike and protesting
for my beliefs, I knew I got people behind me and
supporting me and it meant a great deal to me; I am
just returning that.
What about ex- prisoners, are their needs met?
If you follow the Sinn Féin line, you are OK,
if you don't - watch your back.
There are so many different organisations supporting
exprisoners. Why is support being so fragmented?
To be honest I think this is just a phenomenon of
this campaign, because I do know that in previous
campaigns when prisoners came out there was only one
Republican family to move to and they were welcomed
home. The difficulty now because of this so-called
Peace Process, the wider Republican family has been
fragmented, and if you do not belong to the Provisional
Movement you are ostracized and sidelined, and that
hasn't been the case in the past. It's a sad thing.
I hope that the Provisional Movement will go back
to the ethos of the wider Republican family.
Do you think that there's enough discussion among
Republican ex-prisoners of their respective experiences?
That's a hard one to answer. Sometimes I think that
discussions of the experiences of prisoners are being
used for another agenda. I notice that there is a
commemoration coming up to commemorate Kieran Doherty.
I see that there are various social events organized
around that (stories from inside, etc). I would wonder
if anybody is going to sit down and discuss why Kieran
Doherty died on hunger strike, why he made that sacrifice,
and the implications that this has for today. I don't
think that this will be discussed. I don't think that
the hunger strikes and that whole period should be
written into folklore, and I think there is a
danger of that happening. The reasons why people were
on hunger strike should be discussed in a serious,
not in a light way.
was on hunger strike, and I did what I had to do because
the circumstances dictated it, I had no other option.
But it has been transformed into some sort of myth.
But that doesn't make me any greater or better than
any other prisoners.
ex-prisoners, we should sit down and talk and share
our experiences, especially with younger generations
of Republicans, that they can learn from it. But not
learn that we are some sort of icons, that we are
different from everybody else. We are just humans.
We all had our bad days inside, but you kick yourself
and go beyond. The Blanketmen are heroes, but that
does not mean that they did not suffer. What they
did wasn't easy and to have it presented in a way
which makes light the actual human sacrifices that
this has entailed, that would be wrong.
Republican Movement consists of the young men and
women who live in the same street as us, it is not
some master race who lives down in caves up in the
hills, who are a breed apart. The RM is ordinary people
who do extraordinary things for what they believe
in, that's where it gets its strength. You have to
remember that there are a lot of people within the
Republican Movement who are never identified as Republicans,
who do sterling work in the background, in whatever
capacity they are working in, and they are really
the backbone of RM, the unsung heroes, they are the
people whose name will never go down in books, who
are never going to be sung about in songs, they are
the backbone of the RM.
A lot of people have become disillusioned and have
walked away from Republican politics. How do you react
to this fact? What has made you take a stance?
It definitively is the easier option. Certainly from
my point of view, it came to the point I felt that
somebody had to speak out, it wasn't right that true
Republicans be on the sidelines and that everything
that had been fought for and died for, all the sacrifices
that had been made were just irrelevant. Nobody was
saying anything about it. That was what compelled
me to speak out and be politically active.
I do understand true Republicans walking away and
closing the door. That has happened in the past. Because
when you do speak out, you are vilified, and life
is made as difficult as possible for you. I just think
that I have come to terms with that, I am prepared
to live with that. But I do understand that other
Republicans feeling so disheartened want to walk away.
can understand that, because I went through all those
emotions. I think that we have to speak out. We can't
let it go down in history that this was what the war
was fought for, and that is what is being sold to
people: that there was a thirty years war fought for
what we have today, and this is such a blatant lie.
We as Republicans have to go out there and say, this
is a lie, this is not why the war was fought. We have
to get it recorded in history that this is not what
Republicanism is about, this is not what sacrifices
were made for.
I talk of sacrifices, I do not only speak only of
the sacrifices made by the Republican Movement, I
am talking of the sacrifices made throughout the country,
the civilian population had made, that we in the Republican
Movement have killed. I do not apologise for any actions
taken by the Republican Movement, but I always believed
that the justification for it was that we were fighting
for a greater cause, and that in many ways, the end
justifies the means. But now, we're being told that
this is the end. But this end didn't justify any of
the means that have been used. Sunningdale was actually
better than what we have on offer today! But, a long
war has been fought, many thousands of people have
died, people have spent entire lives in prison, lives
have been shattered, people died on hunger strike,
but a better deal was on offer before this; but Republicans
said no to that deal, because it wasn't what Republicanism
is all about.
can't begin to understand how anybody that has been
in the movement for all these years can turn round
and say "right, we're running with this deal"
after all that has happened before. I don't understand.
In some ways, I can understand that a younger generation
can accept this deal, but the Sinn Féin leadership
were there thirty years ago when that other deal was
on the table, and they were part of the Republican
movement that rejected it. I want to know what has
changed to make this deal acceptable.
If the Provisional leadership had been honest and
said, "We lost, but we can't do better, this
is the best that we can get," would that have
been acceptable to you?
It would have been more acceptable than what they
present today, as if they had some sort of victory.
My alternative to what they have done would have been
that if they had come to the conclusion that the war
was going nowhere, that we couldn't win - rather than
lost - the right thing to do would been to have the
moral courage to say "the war is over, and we
didn't win." They should have had the moral courage
to do that.
they've done that, I think that would have opened
up a variety of avenues to them, they wouldn't have
been trapped in the cul de sac in which they are now
stuck. If they had made that courageous declaration
that the war is over because we couldn't win it, I
think that they could have then regrouped and decided
what is the best way forward. They didn't then have
to go in the British establishment and agree to run
and take part in the British rule in the Six Counties.
Throughout history, Republicans have never lacked
the moral courage to admit when they couldn't win,
and Republicans have always stood by the movement
when the movement made that courageous decision, it
happened in the 1940s, in the 1950s. There were no
reasons why the present leadership couldn't have said
to the movement, we cannot take it any further, and
the movement would have certainly accepted it. There
would have been no split or anything. The movement
would have regrouped and said "That's not working.
Where do we now go from here?" It could have
gone ahead as a united movement. Instead, certain
individuals decided, this is the path that it is going
down, and force the movement down that path no matter
It was dishonest?
I think that there was a lot of dishonesty around
the whole so called negotiations. There were contacts
being made between certain individuals in the Republican
Movement with the British, and this was done behind
the back of other individuals in the RM who were under
the impression that the war was going to be fought
to the bitter end. I feel that the leadership decided
where it was going, and has dragged along the movement
yelling and screaming, and if people were screaming
too loud, they were sidelined very quickly.
Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed
by the GFA. How do you see them in practice?
They'll uphold your right to freedom of speech as
long as you say what they want you to. I think it's
Is freedom of expression something important to
I would say so. I don't think that freedom of speech
is of any threat to Republicanism, and certainly think
that it should be open to criticism, and open to hearing
other points of view. I don't have a problem with
people saying what they feel or what they think.
How did you get to where you are today?
I come from a very strong Republican family. In many
ways, I was born into it. But in saying that, I don't
think that I have blind loyalty to Republicanism.
I think that in your life there comes a time when
you question everything and have to make your own
decisions as to what is best for you and what is right
and wrong, and in my teenage years, I did come to
that point in my life, where I questioned a lot about
Republicanism. I think that although I was born in
it, I then had to "renew our baptismal vows at
Bodenstown" as they say. There comes a point
in your life where you have to make the decision to
be a Republican. Luckily, I found the answer in the
Republican Movement, and was able to renew my "baptism
When did you break with the Provos?
At the start of this so-called peace process, I had
great concerns, but like many Republicans I was prepared
to let them run with it for awhile, to see where it
was going. That was the case for a few years. I was
prepared to trust the leadership in place that this
was the best road. When the Framework Principles,
and the Mitchell Principles were presented, I saw
the writing on the wall, and thought there's nothing
for us in this, now is the time to get out of this,
this is just a cul de sac.
Were you threatened by the Provisionals?
Yes I was. A member of the Provisionals visited my
home to tell me that the fact that I was expressing
views that were critical of Sinn Féin, was
not tolerable, and that I should better keep my mouth
shut. Those visits continued for quite a number of
weeks, but I made it perfectly clear to them that
I wasn't going to be intimidated by them. I hadn't
let the British intimidate me, and I wasn't going
to be intimidated by the Provisionals.
Why do you think that the Provisionals have to
keep threatening people such as yourself while you
have given so much to the movement?
Whatever you've given to the Republican movement counts
for nothing, if you're not a "Yes" person
within the Provisional Movement of today, everything
else is disregarded. If you don't go along with the
leadership, it doesn't matter what you've done in
the past, you' re completely disregarded. If this
leadership is so convinced that it is in the right
path, I don't understand why they won't debate with
others, be upfront about things and let us all put
all our cards on the table and air our grievances,
and if we are so wrong in our analysis, let them explain
to us why we are so wrong. We are prepared to argue
with them, if they are so convinced that they are
right, why can't we all talk about this? Why is there
this conspiracy of silence, where no one is allowed
to speak out? Or if someone speaks out, they are vilified?
Do you have any regrets?
How do you view the future?
Unfortunately I see a long hard struggle coming. I
know that when I joined the Republican Movement and
the IRA and ended up in prison, I was always confident
in the thought that my generation would be the last
generation. History and events on the ground proved
me wrong. But I hope that new Republicans will feel
as I did when I joined the Republican Movement, and
will be encouraged by the principles and ideals and
the quality of people around them, and also by the
history of Republicanism and the sacrifices that have
been made, that this will encourage them in thinking
that Republicanism is the only way forward. I fervently
believe that Republicanism is the only viable option
for the people Ireland.
Do you think that Republican objectives can be
achieved by purely political means?
I don't know, I have to say that. But coming from
the background I come from, if there are people who
believe that it can't be and want to try other means,
I won't be the person who is going to say that they
are wrong, because I was at the stage in my life where
I believed that armed struggle was the way forward.
There are other people who think that.
Short term future?
A lot of hard work. We have a growing number of prisoners
to be looked after. We in the 32CSM, we have a lot
of hard work to do, to show that the core issue has
never been addressed, and until it is addressed, nothing
else will work. The core issue is the British presence
in Ireland, and until it is addressed, through a British
declaration of intent to withdraw, the basic problem
What do you make of the fact that people are backing
You're hearing people say on the street, "Well,
at least no one is getting killed," and if you
reply "But what we've got today is a complete
sell-out," they say "but no one is dying."
And that is true, but then what was the point of starting
in the first place? I do think that, as history proves
it, when so-called revolutionaries become the establishment,
they become more establishment than the establishment
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