q: You would collect ... wood?
a: ... and that was great fun. And good and crack, not knowing the
significance of the bonfire. But I always have these memories of at night time
on the 12th of July night, looking out my bedroom window at the burning in the
middle of the square, the grass square. And the effigy of the Pope on top of
it. And that was the only time in the house that you got any reference to
something not quite right.
And the other thing, and this was memorable at the time, this isn't a
retrospective memory ... that neighbours of ours who would have been Protestant
in the month of July tended to be less friendly towards us Catholic kids
growing up in a predominantly Protestant area. So, at that stage, I did have a
sense that of difference. I occasionally heard the word Feinan addressed to me,
not knowing what it meant.
And when we moved ... I think the summer of 1963, due to my grandfather's
death, we went to live with my grandmother. I remember walking past the ....
barracks. And what I found strange about the windows was that they were
sandbagged. And I remember asking either my father or my mother about this, and
they didn't make any reference to it. Of course, I later found
out that it was quite close to the end of the '56, '62 IRA campaign and the
barracks--this was the part of their defence against the the threat of an
IRA. But no politics at all in the family. ...
q: Did you know what the IRA was in those days?
a: No. No idea what the IRA was in those days. But '69 was a year
whenever I think my life began to slightly change. In that there were riots in
different parts of Belfast. You were aware [of] those. The Short Strand, itself, began
to become involved in a minor way in that young lads, including myself, used to
be on the corner of the street, you know. At that stage, I remember my father
would have been part of the defense of the area, and not that they were
in any way armed. They would just stand at the corner of the streets
watching for people who might throw petrol bombs at their homes. There
weren't any thrown at that time, but there was an atmosphere that there was a
possible threat to the district. ...
But never quite adding anything up in terms of my own, what am I going to do
about it or anything like that. And it isn't until I suppose June of 1970
--what is known in Republican history as the battle of St. Matthews. And I
think that was the second significant event in the history of the early
formation of the IRA, because the IRA and the local citizens defense
committees defend the Short Strand, on the 27th of June from sustained attack
by the loyalists.
q: Did you see it?
a: Well, I was on the streets that night, quite accidentally, with a
friend of mine. We were babysitting for his sister. And around about eleven
o'clock , I think it was, I was in ... [the] street and we were just standing at the
door. There had been some trouble earlier that day, some rioting earlier that
day. The area had been attacked with petrol bombs. I think there was a
returning Orange parade, and they had tried to get into the district. And so
there was a minor skirmish. And then there was a build up in Belfast, all parts
of Belfast that night. And then around eleven o'clock when I was standing ...
I saw people I knew coming down the street carrying rifles. And I
was just dumbstruck by this experience. Never seen people who you
knew, much older than I was of course, coming to the end of the street, taking
up a position, and you know firing up the street that I lived in.
And this was incredible to witness this at first hand at 15 going on
16. It was something that you only see on the television or in the
films. And on the other hand very, very afraid, because you also knew that you
could quite easily be shot dead or injured. And then of course the gun
battle lasted right through into the early hours of the following morning.
q: Were you aware that the people or some of the people defending
St. Matthew's church were members of the newly formed provisional IRA?
a: I wouldn't have been aware of it at the time. Because I'm just a kid
on the streets, caught up in this. So I'm not even aware of that. But I later
became aware of it.
q: ... that incident became legend.
a: Yes, that's right. I think that it added to the rebirth of the IRA. It
fitted into the emergence of the IRA as a defensive force in nationalist
Interview[dotlessi]er:- It was very different from August '69 that was only
what, ten months earlier, wasn't it?
a: Very different.
q: There was no IRA in August '69.
a: And not only was there no IRA in August '69, in any significant way
and again this is not at the time looking back on it, on a wall in the lower
Falls the words IRA were written to read I Ran Away. So just think of that
in terms of what happened on the 27th of June in the Short Strand. Where they
didn't run away and not only did they not run away, but they were quite capable
of defending the people. And I think as an incident it helps, I think, to
popularize the IRA in my view. Bring them out of the shadows and put them on
q: When did you first become aware of Sinn Fein?
a: I first became aware of Sinn Fein looking out from inside internment.
And I think for me Sinn Fein was personified in [Moira Drum] ... she was a very vocal
outspoken woman and very frank. And she was a great orator. And she was the
vice president of the Sinn Fein. And that's whenever I first became aware of
Sinn Fein in terms of a political party I suppose. Through the personage of
q: Can you remember what the atmosphere was like at the beginning of
1972? What the feeling was at the time?
a: Well, at that time, people like myself who would have been part of what
I would call the resistance movement.
q: What does that mean--the resistance movement?
a: Well, it meant that I was a Republican activist. That British troops
were on the streets of the Short Strand and I was part of the opposition to
them on the streets. And so 1972 was a year for people like me, 17, and
they were looking for me to be interned. And so you just lived a life on the
q: You were a marked man were you? A wanted man?
a: I think that's probably an exaggeration. I was somebody that they were
looking for--to intern. Along with dozens more young men and women from the
Short Strand and also from other parts of Belfast.
So '72 is a period spent, I suppose, in hiding in the Short Strand. And I
think ... that would have been how Republicans were right across the country by
that stage. Because internment was in full flight. And the authorities had the
ability, literally to stop you in the street one moment, have you in the back
of armed the next moment, and by the middle of the afternoon you were
behind bars. Without trial. For anything up to four or five years. So, it was a
period of intense conflict. Armed and political conflict out on the streets.
Marched riots and gun battles. And I think that the outcome of that year in
terms of the people killed reflects that. I think it was the most intense year
of the entire period since '69 to '94.
q: What was the Republicans' expectation in 1972, the first half of
1972, what did Republicans think that they were to achieve?
a: That's a very difficult question for me to answer. If you ask me
to think about in terms of me at the time. But I think that looking
back on it, what Republicans tried to achieve was to fight the British
government to a point where they would accept negotiations involving the
question of the British declaration of intent.
And I think that's what the 1972 cessation was about. [It] was an attempt to, if you
like, feel out the British government on this question of had they
come to their senses, I suppose, were they now prepared to look at leaving
Ireland, or at least begin to talk about leaving Ireland to the Republicans.
And I think that that was what the motivation of the '72 ceasefire was all
q: Did Republicans think they were winning?
a: I think, undoubtedly, they did. Because what you have to remember about
the early years of the war, I suppose, is the only way you can describe it,
is that it is the first time really since from the war of independence, from
the upheaval of 1916 through to 1923, this is the first time in over 50
years, or almost 50 years that Republicans have had the chance to strike
another blow for Irish freedom.
And so it is hugely significant that they were able to do so in the way that
they did, from their point of view. Because of lean years between '23
and '69, the years of the '40s, the '50s, the periods of time
when Republicans went to jail, died on the streets and no one noticed. And
all of that had changed quite remarkably so. I think Republicans were,
and this is just me on hindsight now, genuinely surprised by the outrage of '69
among nationalists. And their ability to take advantage of that in terms of
struggling for British withdrawal.
q: At the end of December 1972, you were arrested and interned.
On what grounds were you arrested?
a: Internment without trial meant that you could be arrested on suspicion
of being a Republican activist.
q: An IRA man or woman?
a: Well, that's how they would describe it, that's how they would define
it. I wouldn't define it in those terms.
q: Why don't you define it in those terms, what's the difference
between a Republican activist and IRA man or woman?
a: I think the essential difference is that if you admit on camera
to being an active IRA volunteer, then you're liable to arrest. You're liable
to be charged. You're liable to be convicted of it and put in prison. And so no
one in their right mind is going to admit on camera that they are in the
q: What effect did internment have on you as a young Republican
a: Oh, I think it had a huge impact on me. I think that it probably was
instrumental in me remaining a Republican from then until now, which is over
20 years. I was there for just under two years and I think that's where I
got my early years of political education.
q: It didn't have any education that you took in with you?
a: No. I didn't have any education that I took in with me. But in there
was what we would call free association ... if you see any of the
Second World War films, it's the old compound system--where men freely mixed
during the day. So you spent your time either, in my case, reading, which I
did or speaking to particularly older Republicans. Now, when I mean older I
mean men who perhaps were in their forties, my age now, I was 20 then or
close on it. And they could recall the '56, '62 campaign, some of them could
even go back to the '20s, as Republicans.
And so you would have picked up these type of Republican lectures, I suppose, on
the history. And I think the older Republicans, particularly, would have
emphasised the importance of learning your history. And so this is what I
settled with doing, back in those years. In internment, I used those few years
to try to learn why I ended up where I ended up. At 18, instead of out
in Belfast, disco dancing, I was in internment.
q: Did it not occur to you earlier to work out why you were likely
to end up where you ended up?
a: No, I couldn't, I just I suppose the only way to describe it--it
was a very intense time. And the years from '70 through to '72--it was like a
rollercoaste,r I suppose, of events and your life is taken over by events
outside the home. So to be able to sit back and say now "Why am I in
this situation at 17 or 16," and I suppose you needed time out to
reflect and that's what internment was for me anyway. It was time out of this
intensity, during which then I began to explore ideas, political ideas,
q: What books did you read?
a: In terms of Irish history, the general text books that
were available in the prison. But there were other important influences, as well,
in those years. You had conflicts going on in Angola, in the African
continent, Mozambique. South Africa itself. There was an
international atmosphere. [The] Soviet Union was still a major power in those days.
And these were things which were very alive to us in internment. And we
would have read a lot of revolutionary literature. We would have picked up on
ideas of what Marxists ... orientation. Probably read a lot of James
Connolly's works, an Irish Marxist Republican. And that was the type of
atmosphere that there was. In the sense it was Catholic in the universal
sense of the word. Because you were picking up general knowledge of world
events and, of course, you were fitting them into an Irish context.
q: Did this go on at the same time as military training,
discussions, military lectures, did the two run hand in hand?
a: There was no military training or military lectures that I was aware
of in internment. I certainly don't recall any, in fact, I would go as far as
to say there wasn't even formal political lectures, in the way that there
subsequently was in the H blocks when I returned to prison, in the 80's.
q: You come out of internment in September 1974. Shortly afterwards
there is a ceasefire. What was your reaction to the 1975 ceasefire?
a: I welcomed it. I thought that it was an opportunity for Republicans
and the British government to engage one another. So, as far as I was concerned,
I didn't have any difficulties with the ceasefire in '75, I thought the
leadership was there.
And I'm sure it was the right thing to do at the time. And I think that the
significance of it goes a long way to, if you take it in conjunction
with the '72 cessation and subsequent cessation of 94, what it proves
is that Republicans wanted to find a way of making peace with the British
government. And I think that's what the ceasefire of '74, '75 was really all
about--trying to find a way of ending the armed conflict. And beginning the
search for a peaceful settlement.
q: Did the 1975 ceasefire do damage to the movement?
a: I think it did significant damage to them. And the reason I would say
it did signficant damage to them was because the leadership of the
movement entered into the cessation in a positive, generous
frame of mind. Whereas, I think that the British side were using it to try to
weaken the Republicans to try to undermine the Republicans, and in a sense they
put together a fairly big surveillance operation around the Republicans.
q: IRA volunteers at the time we've spoken to about the 75 ceasefire
say that they were confused, they didn't know what was going on. Why was
a: I think there wasn't enough information coming from the leadership
down to the grass root membership of the movement, about what was happening in
the exchanges between them and the British government. And there was, and
in fairness to the leadership, but you have to remember is that there was a
debate in the media, and it was ambiguous as to whether or not the British
government were going to leave Ireland or stay in Ireland. There was a lot of
media speculation that, in fact, they were leaving Ireland. And I think that by
their silence, I suppose, the leadership contributed to this notion. And so
people were unsure were they going, were they staying.
And on the ground not much had changed. The British soldiers may have
lifted their presence slightly and nationalist areas in those years, but the
RUC were on the ground, and, more particularly,the loyalists had increased
their killing in nationalist areas. And all of this was just adding to the
general unease, the general confusion that there was in the movement. There
just seemed to be lack of firm direction coming from the leadership.
q: Why did the loyalists increase their killings in nationalist
a: I think it was down to the fear factor again, within the Loyalist
Unionist community. When Republicans begin engaging peacefully with the
British, there appears to be this notion that the British were about to make a
deal with the Republicans. So the killings ... escalated by the Loyalists.
With the intention of frustrating what was going on between the Republicans and
the British government. And forcing the IRA to break or render cessation, or
engage in sectarian conflict.
q: Which you did.
a: With the loyalists. And so I think that that was what their
intention was--to try to create that break in the IRA cessation.
q: During the ceasefire, the British government legalized Sinn Fein.
What was the significance of that?
a: Well, I think the significance of it lay in the fact that it gave
Republicans the opportunity to publicly organize it through Sinn Fein, in a way
that they hadn't previously been able to do. And I think it was an important
opportunity, it was an important time, because it gave people an opportunity
to maybe join Sinn Fein who had considered not joining it because it was an
illegal organization beforehand. So I recognize it as an important step, I
recognized it, at the time, that it was an important step, although I was, I
think, in jail at the time that it was legalized. Nonetheless, it was
an important gesture at that stage.
q: Was the IRA close to being defeated in '77,'78?
a: That's a matter of opinion, certainly the IRA never
thought they were. I know that British generals and some British politicians
including Roy Mason, who you know, said that he was squeezing the IRA like
a tube of toothpaste. Maybe he thought that through this policy of torture
that he would beat the IRA.
q: But also the IRA recognized it itself, because the IRA
reorganized to stave off defeat, didn't it?
a: Well, whether it reorganized to stave off defeat or whether it
was dealing with a learning curve, if you like, under pressure.
It had to change tactics. And I'm assuming that that's precisely what they
did. They looked at the situation, people were being brutalized in Castleray.
People were being put in prison. And so the IRA are not stupid. They want to
survive as a guerrilla force. They changed their approaches and I presume
that's what they did. But my concerns weren't about the IRA. My concerns
were about political prisoners, how to defend political states. And that's
why I travelled the country setting up these committees. And there were
people around in those days ... who tried to build this prisoners
movement. And that was what preoccupied me from late 1977, I suppose, right
through then until the end of the second hunger strike--garnering support for
the prisoners cause.
q: The advantage to the movement being that people did not
necessarily have to support the IRA to support the prisoner's demands.
a: I think this is a very important shift in Republican
thinking. Because up until that point, I suppose, which would have been around I
think 1979, some Republicans had an absolutist view of the world. And they
looked upon Republican prisoners as being mostly IRA volunteers.
q: Which they were.
a: Well, if you wanted to support the prisoners, support their demands,
then implicitly you had to support the IRA. Now I never had that position.
Personally, I never subscribed to that notion, because I always had a sense
that the issue of the prisoners was wider than the IRA, it was wider than Sinn
Fein, it was wider than the movement. And so we had to find some way of
breaking out of this notion. That you had the support the prisoners, you had
to support the IRA, you know. And it took some time, but people did begin to
change, and what led them to begin to change was the fact that
the number of people who were coming out on to the streets under those
conditions, wasn't significant enough. ... and a number of other people,
particularly from the south of Ireland, trade unionists, a lot of other people,
in their own right and they begin to collasce around the prisoners demands.
And we begin to slowly but surely to evolve into a popular movement with wider
appeal ... that probably was significant, in the sense, that if
this is the sort of campaign you have to organize for prisoners, to secure
their rights, it follows then if you want to have national
independence, maybe Republicans need to look at this because they can't do it
on their own. And so that was all the political reality that came through out
of this sort of political debate, both in internal and external, so it was
quite an important er issue at the time.
q: What is the significance of the prisons in the evolution of Sinn
a: ... if you look at the political leadership
today of Sinn Fein, most of them were in prison at one time in their lives. And
I think that while they're like me, they used their period of imprisonment to
develop their political ideas and so when you then come back outside again, you
bring those political ideas into the party and into the struggle. You
use the knowledge you gain in prison because you have time to read and time to
study ideas on the outside.
q: And does that change the balance between the IRA and Sinn Fein
within the movement?
a: Well, I wouldn't say it in those terms, I
think its better to see it in terms of the way the struggle evolves. I
think the early years were dominated by the war, of positions between the IRA
and the British government. And the back drop was politics. It's all
politics, but it's the backdrop, the military ... in the foreground. And I think
you can see that over a period of 20 years, that the military struggle
becomes less prominent and the political struggle becomes more
obvious and the elections, for example, of the '80s,
having people elected. These are quite significant
q: But at the same time the military campaign is going on at the
same, if not, greater intensity, isn't it? The two are running side by side
a: They're still running side by side, that's true, but the space has
been created because of political events. For Sinn Fein to emerge as a
significant political force. And for the leadership around Gerry Adams to
develop political ideas and political strategies, which I don't think you
could have developed in the early years between '70 and '75. Because you've a
different struggle, one is dominated by the military conflict in those
early years. And then in the later years, its true to say that there's a
military campaign going on, there is also this huge organized political force
in Sinn Fein, which is making political demands and putting
meat on political strategies. So those are very important developments as
q: What was the significance of the election of Bobby Sands to
a: Well, I think it was probably one of the high points in terms of
convincing Republicans of the merits of electoral politics.
q: Convincing the IRA you mean.
a: Well, convincing the movement is perhaps a better way to describe it. I
think that everyone seeing the significance of his election, and that I think
it opened up the debate within the party, within Sinn Fein on the importance of
this form, or of this arena of political activity.
It was very, very difficult before Bobby Sands was elected, to argue internally
that the way forward was, or one of the ways forward was through standing Sinn
Fein in elections. And I think that is probably one of the more regrettable
aspects I must say of ... leadership. That he wasn't open minded enough to
allow Sinn Fein emerge electorally much earlier on when they could have.
And when there was a feeling for it, in different parts of Sinn Fein in the
six counties, small though, but important ...
You were the last person to see Bobby Sands before he died. What do you
remember of that meeting?
a: Well ... of course, I knew that Bobby Sands was close to death. And
I'd visited him a few times. Four or five times while he was on the hunger
strike. I knew his parents, and his sister were with him at the time. And I
just decided that I knew I wasn't supposed to do this, because the prison
authorities would have banned me from the prison. But I just decided that I
was going to go in and say goodbye to him for what I knew was going to be the
last time. And so I went into the prison, when I went into his cell, it was
one of the saddest scenes that I can recall in my time in the struggle. He was
lying, obviously, gaunt, his mum and his sister were standing by his beside, he
had a pair of rosary beads around his neck which had been sent to him by the
Pope, through the Father McGee the envoy. He sensed my presence in the room, he
didn't know who I was, because at that stage he was blind, but he said, "Is that
you Jim?" and I said "Yes it is Bobby." And he held his hand out. I took
his hand and he said, "Tell the lads I'm hanging in there." And I wished him
goodbye. And he died the following day, or a few days afterwards. So it was a
very, it's a very sad, moving memory I have of my last encounter with him.
q: At the impact of his death?
a: Well, I carry it personally every day of my life with me. And I
think that it still reverberates around Republicans, his death and the
death of his other nine comrades.
But he was the first. He was elected MP. I ran his campaign ...
and I have to say that after he was elected I never thought Margaret Thatcher
would let him die. I thought that she had run her campaign on the basis that
the prisoners didn't have support. Gere was a test of that support. He won
from ... handsomely, yet she let him die. And I think that for me,
anyway, was a very hard and bitter lesson.
q: But he let himself die didn't he? Not Margaret Thatcher let him
die, Bobby Sands chose to die and he died.
a: Well, Margaret Thatcher had the ability to end the hunger strike.
q: So had Bobby Sands.
a: But there was an issue at stake and the issue was that the British
government were trying to criminalize Republicans, they were trying to
criminalize the political struggle, Bobby Sands was a product of that. In much
the same way as Margaret Thatcher was a product of it as well.
But what she tried to do was humiliate Republican prisoners. Humiliate the
Republican struggle. And if she had a scintilla of knowledge about Irish history
she would have known that Republican prisoners would not lie down under her, or
any other British government. And I think that she was motivated by revenge,
and she was motivated to try to defeat the Republican struggle through the
most defenceless group of people in the Republican community--the Republican
q: Was the Brighton bomb revenge?
a: I don't want to comment on the Brighton bomb one way or the
other. It was one of many incidents that the IRA has been involved in. I don't
attach any more or less significance to it than that.
q: What were your feelings at Bobby Sands' funeral?
a: I was overcome by grief. That was my principle emotion. And Bobby was
waked at his home ... I spent a long time, and the queues of people
outside his mother's home--young, old, boys, girls, teenagers--all wanting to
pay their respects to this young [man].
And it was a period of intense sadness, I'd known him very briefly on the
outside. I'd met him again in prison. But it was just one period of grief I
think. I don't think anyone felt any other emotion, other than deep sadness ...
we didn't have time I believe, looking back on it now, to grieve
properly, because no sooner had we buried Bobby Sands in Belfast, than Francis
... was close to death ... in some senses you
were reeling like almost from from one major human tragedy to another in terms
of Republican prisoners. And I think its particularly poignant for
people like myself who have spent time in prison, because you just know how
difficult in the best of circumstances it is, in internment for example, where
things weren't particularly difficult, you were detained and that was it.
But you do get a sense of the difficulty, but how much more difficult it was,
I thought, for people to spend five years on the blanket protest, without
freedom to leave their prison cell ... in those appalling conditions,
without bedding ... excrement being spread on the walls. So we
didn't have time, the practical side of trying to see, it was literally
like we had lost Bobby. But "OK we'll carry him ...
in our minds, but let's try and save Francis" ... and then when he died, "No,
let's try and save Pat O'Hara, let's try and save Michael ... Raymond
McCreesh" ... so on and so on and so on until the last.
... and that ten month period, I think, it's one of the darkest chapters in
British, Irish history. Inexplicable, I have to say, other than that Thatcher
was driven by a desire to defeat the IRA ... what were her
advisers telling, what did she think she was doing during those ten months?
Till a conveyor belt of coffins emerged from the H blocks of Longkesh? What did
she think was going to happen to Republicans, that they were going to lie down
under this on the outside when the prisoners weren't prepared to lie down under
it on the inside.
q: She was determined that the British government would not give in
to what she saw was terrorist blackmail.
a: But I think that those are two convenient or handy sort of labels.
That couldn't have been simply British policy, couldn't have been driven solely
by the notion that she was facing a terrorist threat. Because
she would have policy advisers around and here was John Hume, the
Irish government, people who broadly speaking, wouldn't have seen eye to
eye with Republicans, were encouraging her to end this dance of death with
But she turned her and what did she do? Deepened the crisis, postponed the day,
I believe, whenever Republicans could have got involved in peace talks, perhaps,
with the British government. She embittered us to a degree, which is quite
difficult at times to lift yourself out of, when you think of her. I mean I
can't remember who her deputy prime minister was ... I can
remember who her people were here. But she personalized it I think. And I
think I'm very careful about the language I use, but she is despised by
Republicans because of what she did to the prisoners in 1981.
q: And the IRA tried to kill her, presumably, for that reason.
a: I don't know precisely the reason. But there's no doubt that
there would have been few tears shed for her. I'm not now speaking about the
other people who died in, and who were injured in the Brighton bomb attack
because I do think people would have a sympathy, particularly for their
families. Particularly for those who who survived and have been disabled.
But I don't think anyone, I certainly wouldn't have shed any tears for Margaret
Thatcher had she not emerged from the Brighton bomb.
q: The significance of Gerry Adams's election to Westminster in
a: Well, I'm watching that from the inside. By that time I'm back again in
prison. But the significance of it, I think, is on a par with the significance of
Bobby's election, because here is one of the most senior Republicans in the
Party being elected to west Belfast, a pivotal constituency in terms of the struggle. And so
very, very important then that he should represent it. And, of course, it would
have equipped Gerry anywa., I mean that he was arguing for this particular
approach in the party, it would have equipped him and armed him even better
because he was proof of the success of an approach like this.
q: Just after the hunger strike is over, in October 1981, Sinn Fein
holds its annual conference and Danny Morrison, your colleague, delivers his
famous armalite and ballot box speech. What was that speech meant to convey?
a: Danny has to answer that particular question for
himself. I think there's an exaggeration attached to it. I do not believe that
Danny Morrison believed that with an armalite in this hand and a ballot paper
in this hand, that Republicans would take power in Ireland. I think it was
shorthand. And it was shorthand for Republicans being convinced of new forms of
q: But what he was really saying is that the movements way forward
is maintaining, what he would call, the armed struggle, whilst at the same
time developing Sinn Fein's political strategy. What he was saying is that in
the future, to achieve the goal, the two strategies should march hand in hand.
That's the gist of what he was saying, wasn't it?
a: Well, I think that ... you see the traditional Republican approach to
political struggle was through armed struggle. Now, the struggle had to evolve,
space had to be created to allow Sinn Fein as a political party in its own
right to emerge. Republicans had to endorse that development. '
So we had to convince Republicans and you had to address them in their terms.
And that's how he, I would have addressed it differently, but Danny has a
particular style, has a particular approach, so he addresses it in the way that
he saw fit. I think that it was just part of this process of evolution,
of getting people to think beyond the IRA, which is quite difficult to do when
you're locked into an intense armed conflict.
q: And when most of the Republican membership has actually grown up
through the ranks of the IRA.
a: Quite a few Republicans obviouslyª have passed through
the ranks of the IRA and passed through prison. There's no doubt about
q: More than quite a few.
a: Well, I'm not sure how to quantify this, but you're right to say,
and even if there weren't there is no doubt of our history points us in the
direction of armed conflict. The British have a way of concentrating their
minds on Ireland and that is our history. And that's what we're part of, and
we wouldn't deny it. But there is a ... part of this as well. And that's to
do with a political party, Sinn Fein. Political ideas--looking for other ways
of moving the situation forward. And in a way which brings all the Republicans
with them, looking for other ways of moving the situation forward. And in a
way which brings all the Republicans with you. Keeps the movement united. And
at the same time, pays tribute to what has gone before. And it's quite a
difficult balancing act to do.
q: It's about convincing those wedded to the physical force
tradition that to move forward they have to embrace a new political direction.
Isn't it? That's what it comes down to, you've got to convince the IRA to march
a: You've got to bring the movement with you, it's as simple as
that. And the IRA are a crucial element in it. And I think that it would be
unfair to cast them in the mold of people who don't see the importance of
new political strategies. I mean, that's what the 1994 ceasefire was all about.
The IRA given an opportunity for political strategies to emerge. To test
political approaches which hadn't been tested before. So yes, you're right,
the movement has got to be kept intact. People, not just people in the
IRA, people in Sinn Fein, Republicans generally.
q: In 1983 you're back in jail again, this time on the evidence or
statements made by a so called "super grass." How long did you spend in jail as
a result of the evidence given by the super grass Kevin McGrady?
a: Six years.
q: Six years.
q: Were you ever formally charged?
a: Yes, we were formally charged and even went to trial on a range of
incidents number of killings, a number of explosions, a number of
shootings. Now, the judge in the case was the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lowry at
the time. And he listened, the trial went on for months, he listened to McGrady
very intently. And he rejected 99.9% of his testimony. On the day of the conviction, he described him
as a witness who was not credible, who was unbelievable and who wasn't
trustworthy. Yet, he used his testimony to convict three or four of us on very
minor offences in terms of the original line up.
q: What damage did the so called super grasses do to the
a: I think it's hard to quantify these things in any scientific way.
Took a lot of people off the streets for five years. But I think what you
have to remember is with the exception of myself, and I think there may have
been four hundred people convicted, both Republicans and Loyalists. I have the
dubious distinction of being the only one whose conviction was upheld, without
any corroborative evidence, in other words, solely on the word of Kevin McGrady
who'd already been described as an untrustworthy and unbelievable witness.
But it bought the British time. And I think really when you look at it, that's
what a lot of their strategies have been about, over the last 25
years, buying them time.
q: And it does go through phases doesn't it?
a: It does go through phases. And it's obviously linked to what they're
reading ... of what the Republicans are doing and what
they might do and what they might have to do to try to preempt them. This
is the type of conflict that it has been for the last 25 years.
q: What was the significance of the vote on abstentionism?
a: Well, I think it was a very significant vote because what this was
doing was allowing Sinn Fein to build itself as a political party in the
26 county area.
I think that abstentionism was a millstone round Sinn Fein's neck. I think
that there were opportunities lost in the previous 17 or 16 years
before 1986 when there was a keener interest throughout the south of Ireland
in Sinn Fein. A more heightened awareness of what Sinn Fein stood for, than
there was post 1986.
But nonetheless, what I think it allowed to happen is it brought Sinn Fein and
Republicans, it give them a dose of reality. The idea that in 1986, you can
stand on the mantle of Republicanism and say that we do not recognise the
Stormont ... house because it emerged from the treaty. It is not a credible
position. Not only is it not credible, you cannot build a political party
without recognizing and accepting the institutions of that state.
q: Why should people vote for a political party that won't take its
seats in the Parliament?
a: Exactly, that's precisely the point. And I think what it allowed
Republicans subsequently to do is to go out and try and convince people to join
Sinn Fein. Because up until that point it was easy for people to say, "But if
I vote for you, and if you are elected, how are you going to represent me, when
you will not go to the Parliament? How are you going to do that?" So it allowed
us then to try to build Sinn Fein on the same basis as all the other political
parties in the state. Admittedly, 70 years late.
q: But in the elections that the party has fought in the Republic,
the vote has been miniscule, less than two percent. Is that not because as long
as the Republican movement continues, or the IRA continues with its so-called
armed struggle, people in the Republic are simply not going to vote with Sinn
Fein. That's the reality of it.
a: Well, I think that's maybe too simplistic a view of why people don't
vote for Sinn Fein in the south.
q: That's one of the main reasons, isn't it?
a: Well, it is a reason, it's a factor and you can't ignore that. But
I also think there are other factors. I think that Sinn Fein has been
demonized to a large extent ... well, censorship for example, existed from
1971 through to late 1993. Misrepresentation of what Sinn Fein stood for was
And I think that the parties that had grown up out of the ...
settlement ... had been organized for 50 years and there literally was little
or no space for Sinn Fein to grow out, little or no constituency for Sinn Fein
to pick up. And so as a consequence of that, the 1986 decision was taken and
there's no real significant political progress made in terms of getting ...
elected. And that, of course, was its central purpose.
But an important by product of it, in my view, was what it allowed ordinary
people to do, to see Sinn Fein as an entity, separate from the IRA,
distinct from the IRA. That was very important as well. Because people south of
the border don't understand in large measure, in my view, why there's a military
conflict here. They can understand why people want a united Ireland and aspire
to a united Ireland, because most of them do themselves. But they don't have the
experience that we have living here in this state. And therefore its much, much
more difficult for them to understand ... why there's a
military campaign and they don't understand the relationships between Sinn Fein
and the IRA, and so in that sense they stand off it.
q: What was the significance of the dialogue between Gerry Adams and
a: I think you can see the significance of that now. I think that
perhaps in 1988 its significance wasn't so obvious. But what I think was
happening in 1988, was there the early stages of an exploration between not the
two parties, I have to say, but I do think between Gerry Adams and John Hume. As
their respective leaders of their parties. I think the minutes of those
meetings, which were public, probably some time later,
indicate I think, just the gulf that there was then between the two parties,
the two nationalist parties and their understanding of what the problem is. And
how are we going to actually solve it. And I think that ... the importance
of the dialogue started in 1988 wasn't so much that it started, but that it
turned on privately between Gerry Adams and John Hume. And that on the basis
of that private engagement, and of other factors you find a joint approach or
an agreed approach between John Hume and Gerry Adams in terms of trying to
find a way out of the armed conflict.
q: But it was also the beginning of broadening your political
affront wasn't it, that Sinn Fein recognized that on its own, how far it could
go was strictly circumscribed with the SDLP and other parts of nationalist
Ireland, it could go much further.
a: I also think you see what has to be fitted in to that time, was
the notion that the armed conflict had reached a stalemate. That, if you like,
the British government are the generals and said, not in these words, but that
the IRA, we cannot beat them. And in some ways the IRA have reciprocated.
And so if that was the case then in a stalemate situation, there has to be
other ways of moving the situation along. And I think that the ... talks were
part of that. The early stages of it, of finding a way around the stalemate, of
finding a path away from armed conflict into negotiations. Now that
might be an unfair retrospective judgement to make now in 1994. But I do think
that there is some validity in it. Because you did have a stalemate, it
looked as if the conflict was going to continue in that routine
fashion. Yet, the private ongoing communication and contact between John
Hume and Gerry Adams was to bear fruit.
q: And also involving the Dublin government.
a: This emerges much, much later on, I think in the early '90s, but
you're right--the role of the Irish government as sovereign authority on the
island is crucial. As indeed is the lobby in Irish America. A new Irish
American, not politician, but lobbyist begins to emerge. So that the broad
Belfast-Dublin-Washington-Irish America ambience, if you like, lobby crucially
important. Crucially important.
q: Why is it crucially important?
a: It's crucially important because what happens is it ultimately
convinces the IRA in the lead up to 1994. The day ... ceasefire, and if you
think about the conditions under which they do it, it's unconditional, and it's
unilateral, and it's open ended.
q: But it's not permanent.
a: I believe it was intended to be permanent, that's my sense of it.
It was intended to be permanent. But that in order for it to be in reality
permanent as opposed to being tended, then certain things needed to happen from
the British side, and they didn't and consequently it collapsed in on itself in
February of this year.
q: How difficult was it to persuade the IRA to declare the cessation
a: I can only make a general observation about that. But any
student of the IRA's campaign and their public utterances, particularly after
the ceasefire of '75, it must have been extremely difficult. Because they had
gone on the record publicly year in, year out, and said that there would not be
any cessation until a British government declaration of intent.
So what you have to trace then is what will happen, why the change and I think
that the stalemate question is a very important one. I think also the
opportunities created by what you were saying earlier, the talks with John
Hume, the interest shown by Albert Reynolds. President Clinton in the White
House. This new Irish American lobby. These were all elements which in their
own way create an opportunity to be tested. As an alternative to the IRA's
military campaign. A peaceful way of moving forward. And the huge risk, if you
think about it, from the IRA's point of view, involved in their making that
unilateral move, that leap of faith into the dark in some senses, I think has
to be given due recognition. Because it went against their instincts, it went
against everything that they had said publicly. But, nonetheless, they
were sincere in their efforts to create a new situation for Republicans, for
nationalists, and for everyone else in this conflict.
q: What was the effect of loyalist paramilitaries killing more than a dozen Sinn
a: Well, they certainly created an atmosphere of terror not just among
Republicans, but among nationalists generally. In precise terms, when we went
to look for there was 14 members of the party killed. And I was director
of elections for the last local government elections, which would
have been of 1992. And when we went round the country to try to get people to
stand for Sinn Fein. We got the biggest number of candidates that we had ever
had, in any previous local government election, I think we had 93.
q: So they weren't deterred by the loyalist killings?
a: They weren't deterred by the loyalist killings. What happened was that
Republican, the Sinn Fein councillors began to be much more security conscious
about their homes and about their movements. But they weren't in any way
q: Is the war over?
a: Well, in my view, we are at the end of the conflict. And I think that
it's going to require on all side, tolerance and a readiness to take political
risks that haven't been taken before. And I believe if they are taken by all
sides, I think we can put the war behind us, and seek out and negotiate a
settlement that will see that Anglo Irish conflict ended once and for all.
q: Will that happen?
a: I'm not sure, but I hope so. Sinn Fein will endeavour to do what we
can to bring it about. Because what we [want] to ensure is that there is no
more people killed in this conflict, and that we put this conflict behind us
and that no further generations of people who live in this island or who live
in the island of Britain, have to go through what we've all been through this
last 25, 27 years.
q: What is the relationship, the precise
relationship between the IRA and Sinn Fein, given that you're all part of the
a: Well, there are two distinct separate organizations.
q: Within the same movement.
a: I think the when people talk about the Republican movement, I think in
some senses, it's a loose way of defining what, me a member of Sinn Fein, stands
for and what someone else who's in the IRA stands for. But the day to day
functioning of Sinn Fein is a matter for Sinn Fein. The day to day function of
the IRA is a matter for the IRA. And in my experience there is no crossover on
the day to day business of both organizations. So they're separate and Sinn
Fein is an open organization, the IRA is not. Sinn Fein is involved in unarmed
political activity, the IRA is involved in armed political activity. So there
is no organic link to between both organizations, they're separate entities.
q: But both organizations share the same goal?
a: Both organizations share the same goal, a united and independent
q: And work together in various ways to achieving that goal.
a: Work with the objective in mind and working, if you like, within the
same struggle to achieve that objective, of a united and independent Ireland.
But [they] are separate organizations.