seamus kerr

q: How has the policy of the Republican movement changed?
a: Tactically, what appears to be the case, is that the present leadership are prepared to play their part in creating the conditions in which constitutional arrangements can be put in place in the context of a settlement.

Now, on the basis of the process which evolves from the Downing Street Declaration as ennunciated by the framework and command documents, my understanding is that there is an implicit acceptance by both governments at least that the constitutional issue may be dealt with separately from the issue of political governance for the island.

Now if Republicans are to subscribe to that... then obviously it will require a shift from that fundamental 'Brits out or nothing' philosophy that might have existed in previous years

q: Isn't the reality that the Republican movement has been forced to accept compromise--faced with the alternative of carrying on the campaign for another 10 or 20 years and getting no further?
a: It's been widely said that in a process of reconciliation or conflict resolution everyone's a winner and no one's a loser. I mean if the conflict can be resolved to the satisfaction of all the parties to the conflict then surely it doesn't matter whose original position is compromised or whose is not

q: The Republican movement says that it wishes to reach an accommodation with its fellow Irish men and women who happen to be of the Protestant and Unionists persuasion. Isn't the real problem that the IRA's actions over the years have so far annihilated the Protestant population that such an accommodation is virtually impossible?
a: I wouldn't accept that its impossible

q: But the IRA has been in the eyes of that community murdering its families murdering its fathers murdering its sons relentlessly
a: I know exactly what you're saying and I understand exactly what you're saying

q: It's true isn't it?
a: Of course it's true to the extent that they have been annihilated and it has happened as a result of a very deliberate strategy by the sovereign government which is British to put people who are loyal to their political decision in the front line.

q: It's happened because the IRA has chosen to kill them
a: In circumstances where people who are loyal to the British government have aligned themselves with that British government in terms of the maintaining the presence of that British government then obviously such things do happen and I will accept as a Republican and as somebody who subscribed to that political ...... over a period of years I will accept that many of the operations to which you refer were counter productive in exactly the way that you say and in retrospect I mean its very easy for people to have the benefit of hindsight in retrospect I'm sure there are leading Republicans who would probably question the value of things that were done in years gone by because of the same counter productivity that emerges or exists..

q: But that is
a: No, that is the reality of the situation

q: And that's what you've got to overcome?
a: That is the mountain that has to be

climbed, that is why I have no doubt Republicans recognize that Unionists have to be accommodated in any kind of all Ireland situation, people who were British loyalists people who were who subscribed to the belief that they Union was better for them -- they are the people that have to be convinced otherwise. But they're also the people that have got to who have to exist and live on this island with the rest of us

q: And most of the Unionist people one suspects have no wish to be involved with any United Ireland structures?
a: I think that's not just disingenuous I think its untrue. Pragmatically and practically many Unionists people who were traditionally Unionists recognize the folly of this island not functioning as one unit.

Currently the disparity in economic terms between what exists North of the border and what exists South of the border becomes more striking by the day. Now Unionists are pragmatic good concerned businessmen the same as every other Northern Irish are or the same as any other man from the historic province of Ulster. We recognize that without the tag and the burden that is our connection with Britain we would be much better off. Now for the first time perhaps since the partition of the state we can hold up tangible evidence and proof that the partition of this country is denying the opportunity of the people who live in the 6 counties, no Unionists regardless of this historical or traditional political affiliation can deny those .....

q: But most Unionists and certainly their political leaders want to have nothing to do with an organization the Republican movement whose hands it believes are covered in blood. It simply will not sit down and talk and do business with you.
a: Can I bring that to a human level? There are leading Unionist politicians currently engaged in the negotiation known to me and I to them and in the past they may not have shot but they demanded the execution of people who were also known to me they gloated at their death.

Now if I were to adopt the same attitude I would say I would never want to speak to those people, but if we are to be serious about conflict resolution then it is incumbent upon all of us regardless of the hurt or injury of the past to recognize the need and role that each of us must play the role of conflict resolution and no one comes to the table without baggage and certainly no one whose been involved in politics either of the Unionists or Republican brand for the last 25 years most people have baggage of one sort or another

q: But the first thing that has to happen to persuade Unionists that the Republican movement is genuine and sincere in what it says is for the IRA to declare a permanent lasting cease fire?
a: Is that all it would take

q: That is the beginning that is the sign and then you go onto the whole issue of decommissioning, but that is the sign that the Unionists need and the British government needs that there will be an IRA cease fire that will last forever, it is over the IRA is not in a position or inclined to do that?
a: So its conflict resolution all about unilateral action by one party to the conflict

q: It is about one party making a decision that will be the catalyst for subsequent political development
a: But couldn't that situation also be arrived at if people were to sit down around the table make a working

assumption that everyone around that table was interested and agree the conditions by which that or those conditions could be created including the ..... of armed action or whatever, including a commitment by the Unionists not to stonewall when the process would move to the next stage, including a commitment by the Unionists that they wouldn't exercise their numerical veto on the process or that they wouldn't hold the British government to ransom and cause them not to play their part in working with the Dublin government in terms of working out a formula for the conditions that would lead to conflict resolution

q: In practical terms that is not going to happen without an IRA ceae fire, the British won't wear it and the Unionists wouldn't buy it?
a: Well all I would say to you it would not be the first time that a British government was forced to eat their words

q: How do you mean?
a: It may well be and its my analysis that in the absence of something very tangible in terms of the British government's commitment to conflict resolution, my analysis is that the present Republican leadership would implicitly weaken their position politically if they were seen to take what could be construed as unilateral action and that's the political reality.

You may not agree with it. I may not agree with it. But we must be practical and we must recognize that there was an extreme amount of political courage shown by those who advocated the ..... of 1994 and for 17 months nothing happened, now are we to expect those same people to deliver again unilaterally. My judgment is that a new British government has the flexibility and will have the flexibility and hopefully will have the will to take steps that the out going government didn't have the courage or resolve to take

q: If the opportunity that still appears to present itself is not seized by all those involved what is the likely consequence?
a: Its very sad. As one who knows and understands Irish political history, if there is not to be a resolution of the conflict or if the people who can resolve the conflict or who can create the conditions in which the conflict can be resolved -- if the willingness is not displayed and it doesn't become manifested sooner rather than later-- then I cannot see a situation where there will not be violence of one form or another. That's the sad reality.

From a Republican ideological position, history tells us that as long as there is a British political presence in any part of Ireland sustained by force of arms in occupying Ireland, then there will always be at least some people from the Nationalist Republican section of society who will take it upon themselves to resist that presence.

And that resistance will take the form of political violence, it will take the form of armed or controlled military action perhaps there will be an encouraged response by another section of the population of the island encouraged by the British government for their own ends as has happened. Now that is a very grim scenario that's not something that any Republican that's not something that anybody with the interests of our community and our society at heart looks forward. But its the reality and it would be very foolish not to recognize that is exactly what will happen.

Now the British have had their chance, they still have a chance containment won't ever work in the context of the political conflict that is Britain's presence in Ireland containment has been tried its been tried since 1922 a much more subtle form of containment was tried in '76. It's been tried at various stages in terms of military and in terms of political measures it doesn't work. Now what does it take for a British government to decide to be realistic pragmatic and get the problem sorted out

q: What is the relationship of IRA and Sinn Fein?
a: Sinn Fein, the IRA and a number of other component organizations like Prisoners Welfare or whatever make up the broad group Republican Movement, Sinn Fein is a registered publicly accountable political party engaged in lateral activities in all parts of this island engaged in political lobby internationally which is a political party with a political philosophy that respects and understands the existence of the IRA. '

q: And supports the IRA?
a: Obviously there are those people within Sinn Fein I mean not every member of every political party subscribes to each and every part of that of that political party's philosophy

q: Yes but the vast majority of members of Sinn Fein support the IRA?
a: Perhaps

q: That's why they're in Sinn Fein
a: Perhaps

q: Because they share the same goal?
a: Perhaps, I mean there are people who are not in Sinn Fein who share the goals and the objectives and the ideologies of both the IRA and Sinn Fein, so there is nothing particularly significant about the fact that people who subscribe to Sinn Fein also believe in the agendas of the IRA. But they are 2 distinct organizations obviously

q: They may be two distinct organizations but they are part of the same movement and at various levels of the two organization there is cross membership is there not? There are members of the IRA who are members of Sinn Fein and members of Sinn Fein are members of the IRA including leadership level?
a: And I would respectfully suggest that there are probably members of the IRA who are members of other political parties as well

q: But there are members of the IRA who are members of Sinn Fein and members of Sinn Fein are members of the IRA that's where the linkage comes isn't it?
a: Is it? I mean have you not heard what I said

q: But look at people like Martin was a Sinn Fein Councilor who was found dead with an AK47 by his side there are people in Sinn Fein who are members of the IRA and vice versa that's the linkage between the movements
a: There are people in the IRA who are members of social welfare organizations

q: And there are members in the IRA who are members of Sinn Fein -- that's the point there is linkage between the two parts of the movement is there not?
a: Well there's a shared ideology; it's perhaps not surprising that there are manifestations of that

q: But some stage some members may decide to become IRA volunteers and other times may decide to become Sinn Fein Councilor same person?
a: Perhaps

q: But not perhaps they do, they have done?
a: That may have happened in a particular circumstance or in a particular situation

q: Happened many times?
a: But it doesn't necessarily mean that its that is a standard thing or that you can generalize, that's not necessary I mean that is not something that should be taken for granted

q: But is it not inconceivable that Sinn Fein would pursue a policy that the IRA disagreed with?
a: Well I mean if it were to be a major policy departure it would be something that would be long debated.

q: And then the movement would split?
a: Perhaps. I mean if it was sufficient political or ideological significant for a significant number of people that's exactly, I mean that's the extreme

q: That's why the two parts of the movement are cohesive, there is inter-dependency between the IRA and Sinn Fein
a: There doesn't need to be inter-dependency

q: Didn't need to be but by and large there is there not?
a: Well maybe you're in a better position to say that than I am. I mean there are situations I've no doubt where Sinn Fein will make its own decisions and they may well not be the kind of decisions that the IRA would have made in the same circumstances but it may not be sufficiently important to cause ideological disparity between the two elements of the on movement. And obviously I mean people would be conscious. I mean most Republicans are conscious of the need for unity and you will have a situation where people will actually sacrifice their own dearly held personal opinions in the interest of unity at all different levels of the political organisation

q: The IRA and Sinn Fein are complimentary members of the same unit of the same organization aren't they?
a: Why complimentary rather than just members?

q: Because both pursue the same goal in different ways and agreed to do so
a: Does that make it complimentary

q: I would have thought so
a: It doesn't make them inter-dependent

q: Is the war over?
a: That is an extremely difficult question to answer at this point in time. There is no ceae fire as of now. There is and obviously has been a willingness on the part of the present leadership to at least debate an ending of the war which is significant.

As of now the British government do not appear to have the same commitment and I hope, as does everyone, that the war is in fact over, but it would be very foolish of me or anyone else to make a presumption based on wishful thinking. The facts of the matter are that if there is not conflict resolution then or be it that there might be interim decision or whatever. There will always be those who as long as there is a British political presence in any part of Ireland who will sustain armed resistance to that British political and military presence.

Now at the moment the disciplined Republican resistance to that British presence has clearly stated a willingness to be part of a process leading to the resolution of that conflict or the conflict that arises there from no one can say its over, no one can say its not over. My educated analysis educated on the basis of experience and understanding is that such a willingness does exist but the nature of politics is such that those who today are ..... might not be able to maintain the influence so they can abdicate it when somebody else decides to listen to them

q: And may not be there forever?
a: That's exactly what I'm saying, that's the nature of politics

q: Maybe replaced by those who would be regarded as harder more militant elements?
a: It may not necessarily be harder or more militant. They may not share the political judgment of the present leadership

q: Is that a real danger that may happen?
a: I would be confident that there will be no alternative or challenge that will manifest itself to the present leadership. But at the end of the day, if a political leadership in any organization advocates a strategy and advocates a judgment based on anticipated goodwill I mean at the end of the day, sooner or later, someone is going to challenge that judgment because it hasn't delivered

q: And challenge that leadership?
a: Implicitly and that is the danger. And there's a lot of talk about the ability of the leadership of the Republican Movement to call a total and complete ....... I think such a clamoring reflects a fundamental lack of understanding on the part of those who make such statements.

The facts of the matter are that if the present leadership of the Republican movement were to make such a unilateral decision or stance in the context of the conflict, they would implicitly abdicate their historical political and ideological inheritance making for an alternative form of leadership. That should be clearly understood

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