Friday, December 2, 2016

Adams hits out at Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach over misrepresentations of his efforts to help family of Brian Stack

On Tuesday in the Dáil and in my absence, the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin used my efforts to assist the family of Brian Stack in an opportunistic and contemptible way to attack on me.

He was joined in this by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny. I was in Cuba attending the funeral of Fidel Castro. The remarks of both men were despicable. Both misrepresented the context of my efforts to help the family of Brian Stack. These efforts were clearly on the public record from that time in 2013. The have also misrepresented my communication with the Garda Commissioner.

This week they repeated spurious accusations that were dealt with extensively by me in the media during the election campaign when Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and some elements in the press sought to use this issue to attack Sinn Féin electorally. The proposal by Micheál Martin that the Taoiseach should speak to me about a Garda investigation that is ongoing was dishonest and pure party politicking.

I met Austin and Oliver Stack in May 2013 with the objective of seeking to help them get answers and some measure of closure. He and his brother told me that they were seeking acknowledgement of what occurred and were not looking for anyone to go to prison. Throughout this period Austin Stack also said publicly that he was aware of the names of those he believed were involved in or had information about the killing of his father.

In a report in the Independent on the morning of our meeting he is quoted saying: “I am confident that I know the identity of the killer and the identity of the individual who sanctioned it and I want Gerry Adams to talk to his organisation and try to get people who know something to talk to us.”

This is a position he has repeated many times. In another Independent article on February 25th this year Austin Stack speaks about our first meeting. The Independent reported, and I quote: “Asked what they were looking for, Austin said there were people ‘who sit around the parliamentary party table’ with Mr. Adams who were in Portlaoise at the time and who may have information about his father’s murder.”

Austin Stack has denied giving me names. How could I ask anyone to meet with the family, as he publicly and privately asked me to do, if Mr. Stack had not given me the names? Why on earth would I say that I received the names from him if I didn’t?

Austin Stack told me that he had been given these names by journalistic and Garda sources. At his request I contacted those I could. They denied having any information about the killing of Brian Stack and declined to meet the Stack family at that time. I told Austin Stack this.

In August 2013 I was able, with some difficulty, to facilitate a meeting between Austin and Oliver Stack and a former senior IRA person. The brothers were given a statement by the former IRA person which acknowledged that the IRA was responsible for their father’s death; that it regretted that it took so long to clarify this for them; that the shooting of Brian Stack was not authorised by the IRA leadership; and that the person who gave the instruction was disciplined. The statement expressed sorrow for the pain and hurt the Stack family suffered.

That statement was publicly made available by the family. In a response following the meeting the family acknowledged that the process “has provided us with some answers that three separate Garda investigations failed to deliver. We would like to thank Deputy Adams for the role he has played in facilitating this outcome.”

In the Laois Nationalist on August 20th Austin Stack states: “What we got last Monday and in the (IRA) statement brought a huge element of closure for us …”
Since then I have been very disappointed by the way in which this issue has turned out. I am not surprised at the way in which Sinn Féin’s political opponents have dealt with this but my meetings with the family and my agreement to try to help was done in good faith. This was especially true during the election campaign earlier this year when this issue was deliberately and cynically exploited for electoral purposes by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. A lot of what was rehearsed then was a repeat of what was written in 2013.

However, in addition there were claims made that I was withholding information from the Garda. The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan speaking on February 21st 2016 said of me: “He has been given certain important information. He needs to actively use this information to ensure that the murder investigation can be intensified.” In this context, and to remove any uncertainty or ambiguity about this, I decided to pass on to the Garda Commissioner the names that Austin Stack had given me.

I made it clear in my correspondence with the Garda Commissioner that I have no information on the death of Brian Stack and I have never at any time described those named as suspects. The email was only sent after I had spoken to three of the four. Only the Gardaí can investigate this matter.

I have no hesitation in stating my preparedness to co-operate with the Garda on this. Sinn Féin has worked consistently to resolve the issues of the past. The families of all victims deserve truth. That goes for all families, including the Stack family, the victims of the Dublin Monaghan bombs, the Finucane family, and including those who were victims of the IRA.

Sinn Féin has worked to put in place a legacy process that addresses the needs of victims. In the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements we agreed mechanisms to deal with legacy matters.

As part of our commitment to this I have over the years met many families, like that of Brian Stack, who have lost loved ones. All of their stories are equally harrowing. The grief and trauma suffered by all of these families is the same.

There can be no hierarchy of victims. All victims must be treated on the basis of equality. This is the context in which I met Austin and Oliver Stack and in which I tried to secure answers for them. Sinn Féin is determined to ensure that the legacy agreements that have been achieved are implemented.

My generation of republican activists who lived through and survived the war have a responsibility to try and bring the families of victims of the war, irrespective of who was responsible, to a better place.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro - Death of a Revolutionary Hero

I have been lucky in my life to have met many brave people. Ordinary men and women who in exceptional times in Ireland or Palestine, in South Africa or Cuba, in the Basque country or Colombia, and in so many other places, have taken a stand against injustice. In the face of great brutality they have stood for freedom and independence and an end to inequality and cruelty. Some have been exceptional leaders in the Irish struggle or in other parts of the world.
Today we mourn the death of one of the great revolutionary leaders – a hero and friend of Ireland - Fidel Castro.
On my own behalf and of Sinn Féin I extend my solidarity and condolences to President Raul Castro, to Fidel Castro’s family and to the Cuban people.
In December 2001, along with Gerry Kelly, and other comrades, I travelled to Cuba to unveil a memorial to mark the twentieth anniversary of the hunger strikes in the H-Blocks and in Armagh Women’s prison. The hunger strike memorial is in Parque Victor Hugo - a beautiful park in central Havana - named after the author of Les Miserables. The ceremony was held on a beautiful warm winter’s day and was afforded full state honours by the Cuban government. That memorial was one of many erected that year to mark the hunger strike. Two months earlier I had unveiled a monument on Robben Island in the yard where Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisilu were incarcerated for 27 years.
On our first night in Havana we were taken to an outdoor event to mark the formal opening of 200 new schools that the Cuban government had built in the recent past as part of a programme to expand and modernise its school programme. There were hundreds of people present, including many of the children attending those schools. Fidel Castro was the main speaker and his words were carried live on Cuban television. When it was over he and I met in the midst of the crowd and together we walked about meeting many of the young people.
The next day we again met with Fidel in his office. We spent several hours discussing Ireland, the issues of human rights, civil and religious liberties, democratic values, social justice, equality and other matters of concern to people wherever they live. We also spoke about the state of the world, especially in the aftermath of the attack on the twin towers in New York which had taken place four months earlier.
It was also an opportunity for me to thank him for his solidarity with the Irish republican struggle and particularly toward the 1981 hunger strikers. Fidel recalled those events and praised the courage of Bobby Sands and his comrades. He reminded us that in September, 1981, he opened the 68th conference of the Interparliamentary Union in Havana and in his speech praised the courage of the hunger strikers.
On that occasion he said: “Irish patriots are writing one of the most heroic chapters in human history…They have earned the respect and admiration of the world, and likewise they deserve its support. Ten of them have already died in the most moving gesture of sacrifice, selflessness and courage one could ever imagine…The stubbornness, intransigence, cruelty and insensitivity of the British Government before the international community concerning the problem of the Irish patriots and their hunger strike until death remind us of Torquemada and the atrocities committed by the Inquisition during the apogee of the Middle Ages…Let tyrants tremble before men who are capable of dying for their ideals, after 60 days on hunger strike!”
There is no doubt in my mind that the hunger strikers left a lasting and emotional impression on Fidel.
The revolution in Cuba and the remarkable leadership of Fidel and of Ché Guevara inspired many other peoples around the world in the 1950s and 60s and gave hope that change was possible – that freedom and an end to dictatorship could be achieved.
Fidel was a freedom fighter whose strategic insights helped overthrow one of the most brutal regimes in Central and South America. He was a political prisoner and a skilful negotiator. Fidel was also a peacemaker – a commitment that his brother and successor Raul Castro and the Cuban government has maintained as evidenced in their central role in brokering a peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC.
Fidel was a friend to those engaged in the struggle for justice across the world. Today they and millions more are remembering and celebrating the life of a great world statesman who by his example and leadership made the world a better place.
In our conversations he was funny, relaxed, and knowledgeable of world affairs and of events in the Irish peace process. He was as committed to the principles of the Cuban revolution 60 years later as he had been in the 1950s. He was self-effacing in his humour, totally relaxed and very focused.
He asked us many questions about Ireland. From the state of our fishing industry, our farming, as well as about unionism. He wanted to hear the sound of the Irish language so he asked that I recite the Hail Mary in Irish while he recited it in Spanish. He also said that following September 11 attacks in the United States that no progressive struggle would be won by armed actions. They could only be won by the power of ideas.
Go well, Rest in Peace, Fidel.
Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Climate Change – an avoidable human tragedy

If you believe the new President of the United States then global warming is a hoax. If you believe the mountain of hard data coming from countless scientific agencies then global change presents the gravest threat to the future of humanity.

Sea levels in the Irish Sea are now rising by three centimetres per decade. That’s seven centimetres since the early 1990s. For those of you like me who grew up on inches, feet and yards seven centimetres is almost three inches. It doesn’t sound a lot but that means we could see another half a metre rise in sea levels in the next fifty years. With most of our major cities and towns on this island, and around the world, sitting on the coast the environmental, economic and human cost associated with rising sea levels and the climatic changes that are giving rise to it, present huge life changing challenges to humanity.

Dr Conor Murphy of Maynooth University’s Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units (Icarus) also said: “The big thing for Ireland is rainfall and storms, with rainfall either too much or too little… “ And storms mean increased flooding upriver as more and more water tries to drain off toward the coast and too much water when it reaches the coast because of increasing sea levels.

Just before last Christmas, the UN panel of climate change experts concluded that humankind is to blame for global warming and warned that the planet will see increasingly extreme weather as events unfold, unless Governments take strong action. In its report the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world is ill-prepared for the risks arising from a changing climate. It also warned that many states could expect more frequent storms and flooding. That certainly has been the experience on our little island. The devastation along the Shannon river catchment area and the impact on families was horrendous. Many homes were totally destroyed by floodwaters.

Louth, and in particular part of the Dundalk area, also witnessed serious flooding. All of the families affected face a winter filled with dread. They are angry, they are concerned and those I met last year and have spoken to since tell me that flood defences have not been constructed and that their homes and businesses have no more protection now than they had last year.  

The weather is no respecter of the border. Among the storms which battered the island of Ireland last year one of the most damaging was Storm Frank. It was the sixth storm of eleven that hit between November 2015 and March 2016. The heavy rainfall and strong winds that Storm Frank brought disrupted travel and left 21,000 homes without electricity. At least 270 roads were blocked by flooding and fallen trees. Planes couldn’t land at either of Belfast’s two airports.

Two months ago the world passed a unique and dangerous milestone in our climate change process. According to all of the scientific data the atmosphere now carries over 400 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide and is not expected to drop, probably for decades to come. This is a greenhouse gas that has a huge impact on our rising temperatures. This increase is almost entirely the responsibility of humanity which is consuming greater than ever amounts of our planets resources.

It is also melting the Artic icecap, with some scientists predicting that it could disappear entirely by the middle of this century. Mountain glaciers in Europe, Canada, Africa, the Himalayas and Asia are retreating. The Greenland icecap is melting. The introduction of huge amounts of fresh cold water into the north Atlantic and the impact this is having on the salinity of the north Atlantic Ocean is causing concern among climatologists. They believe there is a real risk that it could have an effect on ocean circulation, including the Gulf Stream which helps warm the island of Ireland.

A recent study in the journal Science reported that the, "The rate of mass loss that the ice sheet is now exhibiting, post 2010, is somewhere in the neighbourhood of three times higher than the rate of mass loss prior to the 1980s… This means that Greenland is losing about 8,300 tonnes of ice per second each day.”

There have been alarming reports of the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. The Marine Park Authority, responsible for the reef, recently estimated that at least 22 per cent of the corals that make up the reef are dead. This is largely a response of warm water arising from climate change. The impact of this on other marine animals that rely on the coral is enormous.

To add to this disturbing pattern of significant changes in our climate the World Meteorological Organisation said that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. Its latest data reveals that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been since 2000.  

The Paris climate change agreement, which the Irish government and scores of other states, ratified several weeks ago, sets two key thresholds for planetary temperatures. The first is 2 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures. The agreement argues that this must be avoided. The second is 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures which needs to be achieved as a way of limiting the warming that is occurring.

The World Meteorological Organisation says that global temperatures for 2016 achieved 1.2 degrees about pre-industrial levels. We are already dangerously close to breaching the second threshold and the global effect on climate is already posing huge problems for our eco system and for our future. In this context the threat by the new US administration to quit the Paris Agreement is significant.

The effect of climate is also evident in the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Many of those fleeing war and famine in Africa are also the victims of climate change. This year is the worst on record for refugee deaths. Over four and a half thousand men, women and children have died. In one 48 hour period last week at least 240 refugees drowned as thousands continue to brave the worsening weather in the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

Last week the United Nations held a climate change conference in Marrakesh. Its objective was to strengthen the agreement reached in Paris last year. As part of this the United Nations published its latest Emissions Gap Report 2016. Its objective is to track progress in restricting global warming to 1.5 - 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century. It makes grim reading. It reveals that “overall emissions are still rising”. It concludes that “the Paris Agreement will slow climate change. The recent Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol will do the same. But not enough: not nearly enough and not fast enough. This report estimates we are actually on track for global warming of up to 3.4 degrees Celsius”.

So, urgent action is needed. Without it, according to the report’s authors “we will mourn the loss of biodiversity and natural resources. We will regret the economic fallout. Most of all, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy; the growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Irish America and the Peace Process

Light was fading over New York when I managed to escape for a brief period to stretch my legs and go for a walk through its streets and avenues. It was a crisp Friday evening and my second in the Big Apple. The previous night we had held our annual Friends of Sinn Féin fund raising dinner. It was a packed event and Seanadóir Rose Conway Walsh, Rita O Hare and I spoke to the 800 guests setting out our concerns around Brexit, the opportunities for progressing our goal of Irish unity, and the crucial role of Irish America in helping to ensure that the new incoming Trump administration adopts the same supportive role toward the Irish peace process that previous democratic and republican administrations have done.

As I walked up 6th Avenue several hundred, mainly young people, jogged passed me. Some were carrying crudely made placards while all were chanting. It took me only a few moments to realise that I was in the middle of a protest against President Trump.

‘Not my President’ some chanted. ‘Sexist, Racist, anti-gay Donald Trump go away’ was another refrain. A snatched glance at several of the placards saw one which read ‘We shall overcomb’, while another read ‘love always wins’ - surrounded by hastily drawn red hearts.

The crowd were quickly gone. They were heading toward Trump Tower which I had passed a short time earlier on 5th Avenue. It’s a big imposing building. It’s surrounded now by New York City police officers and Secret Service agents. CNN described it as “a fortress ringed by tight security.” Across from the front door is a bank of tv cameras and photographers monitoring every move in and out of the home of the new US President. One innovative journalist or blogger had a piece of wood attached to a strap around his neck – making an improvised desk on which he had his IPad resting - and was busy typing away.

In my three short days in New York I was struck by the sharply divided opinions on the election result from among those I met. Part of Sinn Féin’s success in the USA has been our ability to draw support from both Democrats and Republicans. We have very deliberately stayed out of domestic US politics and elections. Who American citizens vote for is a matter for them. We who have had centuries of foreign interference in our own affairs don’t wish to intrude on the rights of others. That doesn’t mean of course that when appropriate Sinn Féin does not raise issues of concern about US foreign policy with the administration. We do and I have.

Whether it was with President Clinton or Bush or Obama, or with various state department officials, I have voiced Sinn Féin’s opposition about US foreign policy and actions in respect of the Middle East, Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people of the west Bank and the Gaza Strip, in Iraq and Afghanistan and against the people of Cuba.

However, our priority is to defend and advance the Irish peace process; the political and constitutional arrangements that were achieved as a result of the Good Friday and subsequent agreements, and our republican objective of Irish reunification.

So, my appeal to Irish Americans – irrespective of their own political allegiances – was to urge them to stay focussed on and to continue championing the peace process and Irish unity. For over 20 years the Irish America has been the bridge out of Ireland into the political establishment in the USA and the driver for its engagement with the peace process. Irish America has achieved remarkable success.

With Brexit creating greater uncertainty we need Irish America to re-exert its enormous political strength to persuade the new republican administration to continue with US support for peace and progress in Ireland.

This connection between Ireland and Irish America was clearly evident last Saturday morning in New York. Under a beautiful blue sky several hundred grassroots activists came together to celebrate the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Council woman Elizabeth Crawley had proposed that a pedestrian thoroughfare in Maspeth in the Queens Borough be named ‘Easter Rising Way.’ It was a great initiative and New York Council approved it. And as the succession of speakers reminded us Irish America has been an integral part of the Irish story and of the struggle for freedom for hundreds of years.

Maspeth is a strong Irish American community. It is a few hundred yards from Calvary Cemetery where stands the Fenian Monument erected by the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1907 in remembrance of the Fenians of 1865-67. It is also close to Celtic Park which in the years leading to the 1916 Easter Rising was a major fundraising venue for the IRB and Clan na Gael. In the decade before the Rising at least eight of the 1916 leaders spent some time in that great city, as well as touring across the USA. Both Thomas Clarke and James Connolly had made lives for themselves for a time here and others, including Joseph Plunkett and Roger Casement toured the US seeking support for the struggle.

New York was also the city of the famine Irish who fled to the United States in their hundreds of thousands to escape hunger and persecution under British rule. But before them it was also the home of some of those who fought in the 1798 Rebellion. I remember on one of my first visits to New York being taken by Brian McCabe to St Mark's-in-the-Bowery Churchyard in the East Village to visit the grave of Thomas Addis Emmet. Thomas Addis was the brother of Robert Emmet and one of the 1798 leaders. After he fled to New York he practised law and for a time was the New York State Attorney General.

Clann na Gael and Fenians like O Donovan Rossa and John Devoy raised money and arms for the cause. Much of it in New York. And when O’Donovan Rossa died it was Tom Clarke who asked that his remains be returned to Dublin where Padraig Pearse’s stirring oration at his  graveside in 1915 foreshadowed the 1916 Rising.

The following year when Pearse and others came to write the Proclamation they explicitly praised the role of the Irish in America. The Proclamation states, and I quote, “having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.”

Later in the most recent phase of struggle groups like Noraid, Clann na Gael, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish American Unity Conference and the Brehon Law Society all supported oppressed communities in the north.

But it was with the peace process that Irish America really made an impact on US policy toward Ireland. At a time when the British claimed that the issue of the North was an ‘internal matter’ for them it was Irish America that persuaded US politicians to intervene. Irish America was the driver that put Ireland and the Irish peace process on the agenda of successive US Presidents and kept it there. Irish America persuaded political leaders in the Congress to take risks for peace when it was not popular.

We need Irish America to continue with that work. We especially need it at this critical juncture to engage with their new President and Congress members and Senators, and to persuade them to stay the course with the Irish peace process.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Standing up for Ireland in the EU

The British political establishment and media like to describe Westminster as the ‘mother of Parliaments’. They ignore the cruel exploitation of scores of colonies during centuries of Empire and the widespread use of violence to suppress democratic demands. All of this is regularly brushed aside as the British system endlessly praises itself and inflates its sense of self-importance. Earlier this year an opinion poll found that 44 per cent of people in Britain were proud of its history of colonialism while only 21 per cent regretted that it happened. The same poll also asked about whether the British Empire was a good thing or a bad thing: 43 per cent said it was good, while only 19 per cent said it was bad. 25 per cent responded that it was “neither”.
I would be confident that a similar poll in any of Britain’s colonies would paint a starkly different picture.
The British are especially proud of their judicial system. This is despite the many miscarriages of justice against Irish people it perpetrated during the 1970’s and 80’s. However, the decision last week by the British High Court that Theresa May has to seek Parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the Brexit negotiation, has led to a deepening crisis within the British state.
One right wing British newspaper branded the three judges who took this decision as ‘enemies of the people’. The British right wing politician Nigel Farage has warned of violence on the streets. Add to this increasingly fraught atmosphere a plan by Farage to hold a 100,000 strong march in London on the day the British Supreme Court assembles to hear the appeal on December 5th. Does the British government know what it is doing? There is ample evidence to suggest it doesn’t. In the meantime the crisis for the island of Ireland around Brexit deepens with each passing day. 
Last week the Irish government held its Civic Dialogue forum on Brexit in Dublin. While the unionist parties disappointingly refused to attend nonetheless it was a valuable, wideranging conference which heard the views of political parties, economists, the civic and business sectors, the voices of rural Ireland and of agriculture, and of those community organisations that rely on EU Funding. Sinn Féin’s speakers highlighted the need for political alternatives to be agreed and for a diplomatic offensive, led by the Irish government, to build support for designated special status for the North within the European Union.
This week a study published by the Department of Finance in Dublin, and the Economic and Social Research Institute, concluded that Brexit was going to be bad for the Irish state.It found that a hard Brexit would permanently damage the economy, reducing its size by almost 4% and increasing unemployment by as much as 2%.
Last Thursday Martin McGuinness, Michelle O Neill and I met the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan at Parliament Buildings. They were at Stormont meeting some of the political parties about Brexit. Our conversation with them was part of Sinn Féin’s ongoing efforts to secure the position of the island of Ireland within the European Union. 
This is crucial given that Brexit will reshape arrangements and relationships between these islands and between us and the European Union. Our task must be to ensure that any new arrangements on this island are to the mutual benefit of everyone who lives here. This means there is an obligation on all of us to explore alternatives to Brexit - and all optionsavailable to ensure that the North can Remain within the EU.
Rather than wait to see what the British government does, we need to be proactive about setting out alternatives - constitutional, political and otherwise - that protect and promote the national interests of our island. Specifically we believe that there is a need to build support for a designated special status for the North within the European Union.
That threatens no ones constitutional preference and the Irish government, as a continuing member of the EU, has the right and in our view the obligation, to bring forward such a proposal. There is also a particular duty on the Irish Government as a member state of the European Union and as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement to strongly safeguard the political, constitutional and legal integrity of the Good Friday Agreement – an international Agreement - in all its parts
British governments have no difficulty acting in their perceived national interests. The Irish government must also act nationally, in the accurate and meaningful meaning of that word. It means defending the interests and the rights of the people of this island.
As well as the enormous and unprecedented economic challenges that face us, the entire post-Good Friday Agreement all-island institutional and political architecture is under very serious threat from Brexit. For example: 
·         The Conservative government has refused to put in place a Bill of Rights agreed in 1998
·         They refuse to legislate for the rights of Irish speakers through an Acht na Gaeilge that was agreed at St. Andrews.
·         And the British government is planning to scrap the Human Rights Act and to end their relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights which are integral parts of the Good Friday Agreement human rights infrastructure.
As we seek to forge strategies to meet this challenge there are obvious priorities. These must include maintaining the Common Travel Area and the existing border arrangements to allow for the free movement of people and goods without trade tariffs, physical checks or passport controls.
There also needs to be a specific focus on EU Funding. The North and the border counties depend on funding programmes including INTERREG and PEACE to continue building the peace and developing the economy and cross-border structural funds which bring massive economic and social benefits. CAP, the Common Agricultural Payments subsidy is essential for farmers.
And finally there are the implementation bodies that exist because of the Good Friday Agreement. The North/South Ministerial Council manages six All-Ireland Implementation Bodies working on a cross-border basis, including, InterTrade Ireland; Waterways; Foras; Irish Lights; SafeFood and the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) which administers the cross-border EU funding.
All of these elements and the specific agreements on health provision and other matters, are part of an interlocking institutional and constitutional arrangement that has maintained the peace for almost 20 years. All of this is now at risk because of Brexit.
There is now an urgency and an obligation to move the process forward and begin to look at alternatives to Brexit. That means accepting and acting in line with the will of citizens in the North to remain in the European Union. The decisions we take and the strategies we pursue will impact on generations to come. 
The choice is simple - acquiesce to the demands of London and allow the North to be dragged out of the EU, or pursue the credible path to argue at European level and with the British government for the North to be designated a special status within the EU. 
Just as there are massive challenges, there is also the opportunity to plot a new course and stand up for the majority of people who voted to remain, to stand up for our national economic interests of all-Ireland trade and employment, and to stand up for the agreements and progress.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A State in Denial

Last month the British government revealed plans to opt out of European convention on human rights. Prime Minister May set it in the context of trying to end what she called the ‘industry of vexatious claims’ against British soldiers in Iraq and in Afghanistan – those she described as the “finest armed forces known to man.”
The real purpose is to protect British soldiers from the legal consequences of breaking international human rights law.
But there is a deeper more self-centred motive for the actions of the British political establishment – it is about protecting itself. If we have learned anything in the decades of conflict in the North and since it is that the security apparatus of the British state, its soldiers, police and intelligence agencies operate according to rules and regulations laid down by the government. In order to defend these and those political leaders who create the legal and strategic framework within which they operate, the state has to ensure that the political establishment is protected.
In this respect successive British governments, both Conservative and Labour governments, have been very successful. How could they not be? British governments create and fund the organisations that are responsible for investigating illegality. They pass the laws that define the powers and limitations of investigations. And as in the current row over money for legacy inquests they can deny investigators and the families of victims access to information and to the funding needed to carry out those investigations.
However, the tenacity of families and of those who support them and the nature of the huge bureaucracy that is needed to run a modern political system means that sometimes the veil is lifted and the extent of political and security corruption is revealed. Margaret Urwin’s, ‘A State in Denial’ is a case in point. Through meticulous research and by combing through huge volumes of British state papers Margaret succeeds in uncovering a murky and duplicitous world in which the British state sanctions murder, and then engages in a political and propaganda strategy to deny it.

In one sense much of what is written of in ‘A State in Denial’ is not new. We have known for decades that the British government used the colonial tactics of counter insurgency and of counter-gangs to create the UDA and then facilitated the actions of that organisation and of the UVF. Collusion was a matter of institutional and administrative practice. The murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane by agents of the British state, using information provided by that state is one example of this. But there are countless others.
‘A State in Denial’, provides overwhelming evidence for this by relying on the words of British civil servants, politicians and soldiers. In countless declassified documents, dated and detailed, the depth of collusion between the British government and its military, policing and judicial system is exposed and the lengths those governments will go to lie about all of this is laid bare for all to read.
This is especially true of the British government’s attitude to the UDA which it refused to ban for 20 years despite a huge volume of evidence of its involvement in sectarian killings. Following its creation the UDA was used as an extension of the British state’s security apparatus. In one document dated October 1971, shortly after internment was introduced, it was decided to allow loyalist ‘vigilantes’ to work with the British Army. In orders from the British Commander of Land Forces British Army units were told to; “effect informal contact with unofficial forces in order that the activities and areas of operation can be co-ordinated and taken in account in the security plans for the areas concerned. The aim will be to effect liaison normally at company or platoon level between the security forces and all unofficial bodies who are seen to be working in the public interest.”
As Margaret Urwin concludes; “All of the evidence from these official documents suggests that by the end of 1971 loyalist paramilitaries were in a favoured position … shielded from internment … and a decision was taken by the army and the British and Northern Ireland governments to adopt loyalists as an auxiliary force.”
This approach extended to British Ministers publicly claiming that the UDA was little more than an ad hoc group of individuals and poorly organised vigilante groups. However, in a letter sent on July 10th 1972  a senior Civil Servant tells the Cabinet Secretary that “these groups are now well-disciplined, centrally co-ordinated”.
The British state bias toward loyalists and especially the UDA, and the role of the locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment, is revealed in an internal British Army memo of July 31st 1972. “The UDA is not an illegal organisation and membership of the UDA is not an offence under the military laws; it is also a large organisation not all of whose members can be regarded as dangerous extremists. One important (but unspoken) function of the UDR is to channel into a constructive and disciplined direction Protestant energies which might otherwise become disruptive. For these reasons it is felt that it would be counter-productive to discharge a UDR member on the grounds that he was a member of the UDA.”
This approach facilitated the arming of the UDA. In a document, ‘Subversion in the UDR’ which is dated August 1973  and written by the British Army Military Intelligence and Psychological Operations staff, it is noted that “joint membership of the UDA and the UDR became widespread and at the same time the rate of UDR weapons losses greatly increased.”
Margaret Urwin quotes from a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report that states that “between October 1970 and March 1973, 222 weapons, including 32 handguns – belonging to the UDR were misplaced, lost or stolen from the homes of soldiers, UDR armouries, duty posts or while in transit.”
At the same time British Ministers were denying that the UDA was involved in sectarian killings. In evidence to the European Commission on Human Rights in February 1975 General Tuzo, a former GOC for the North and former RUC Chief Constable Robert Shillington both denied that the UDA was engaged in a campaign of terror. Tuzo said: “The UDA was not a terrorist organisation … not a terrorist campaign. I would not describe it as terrorist at all, but this does not preclude at all, of course the campaign of murders and things later on, but that cannot necessarily be levelled at the UDA.”
Shillington was even more direct; “The UDA declare themselves, they state who they are, there is no evidence that they engaged systematically in campaigns of terrorism.”
The reality was very different. Between April and December 1972 loyalists groups had killed 101 people. 63 were killed by the UDA.
Despite this British Labour and Conservative governments defended the claim that the UDA was not banned because it did not carry out sectarian assassinations. In private their position was very different. In an internal British briefing paper, ‘A Guide to Paramilitary and Associated Organisations’ dated 2 September 1976 it describes the UDA as “the largest and best organised of the Loyalist paramilitary organisations. It tries to maintain a respectable front and, to this end, either denies responsibility for sectarian murders and terrorist bombings or claims them in the name of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) a proscribed and essential fictitious organisation which is widely known to be a nom de guerre for the UDA.”

Margaret Urwin’s book adds significantly to our understanding of the decades of conflict and in particular the British government’s central role in perpetuating it. During those years and since the British government has dismissed or ignored the concerns raised by individuals and organisations, including the Irish government, surrounding its knowledge of and role in collusion. How often have Irish governments been rebutted when they have asked the British government about the Dublin-Monaghan bombs?  Do British governments care that within days of those attacks they legalised the very organisation that along with its double-agents, was responsible for them?
Margaret Urwin’s ‘A State in Denial’ precisely describes the attitude of the British government today. But that denial is not a result of some misplaced sense of loyalty to those state agencies and political leaders that directed and carried out collusion. It is a product of the underlying imperial mind-set that ordered ruthless wars on citizens in Kenya, Malaya, Aden, Cyprus and the North of Ireland, and engaged in countless other colonial wars, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s the mind-set which believes that the British Empire was decent and good and benign and which was exploited successfully in the immigration arguments heard during the Brexit campaign. 

A State in Denial by Margaret Urwin is published by Mercier Press

Friday, October 28, 2016

Remembering Máire Drumm:

In the years since her death Máire Drumm has become an iconic figure in Irish republicanism. She was an extraordinary, larger than life leader who was a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a political activist and visionary. I heard Máire speak many times. At internal party meetings but more often on the streets when taking a stand against injustice. She had an ability to speak from the heart and in language that resonated with people. She was a gifted leader and organiser, and an inspirational public speaker.
Máire is best remembered for her leadership in the years following the pogroms of August 1969 when nationalist areas of Belfast were attacked by unionist mobs, the RUC and B Specials. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands of men, women and children became refugees in their own city. And citizens died.
During those early years of the ‘troubles’ the Unionist regime at Stormont resisted the demand for civil rights which were very modest. In the sexist sloganizing of the time it was ‘one man one vote’; an end to the Special Powers Act; an end to structured political and religious discrimination in employment and housing and an end to the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries that provided for unionist domination of local councils even where there was an overwhelming nationalist majority.
Unionism was opposed to change. It applied the full military and paramilitary resources available to it. Including the resources of the British Army. No-go areas existed behind barricades of burned out cars and demolished buildings. Vicious hand to hand fighting and street rioting became the norm. British Army whippets and Saracens roamed the streets. Hundreds were arrested – in some instances for simply carrying hurley sticks and many were beaten. Máire’s response to this new law that banned the carrying of hurley sticks was to march to the court with scores of other women carrying hurley sticks.
It was a time of huge turmoil in the life of the state and of families. And it needed an exceptional leader to provide clarity and focus and to give voice to the demands of citizens.
Máire Drumm had been born in Kileen, in south Armagh on October 22nd 1919. Her family and especially her mother, was active during the Tan War and the Civil War. As a teenager growing up in a post partitioned Ireland, a few hundred metres from the newly imposed border, Máire understood the damaging effect of partition on Ireland and especially the border communities.
She moved to Belfast in 1942 where she began a lifelong association with Gaelic games, serving in senior positions in Ulster and nationally in the Camogie Association. She loved camogie. And was one of those who was instrumental in organising and fundraising for the construction of Casement Park.
Máire also worked in support of republican prisoners and was a regular visitor to republican prisoners in the 1940s. It was in this way that she met Jimmy Drumm, on a visit to Crumlin Road Jail. They were married following his release in 1946. The Drumm family home in Belfast became a centre of Gaelic culture, with Irish classes, dancing and music, as well as discussions on future of republican politics.
Following the August pogrom in 69 the Drumm home also became an open house for refugees. Máire was actively involved in helping to rehouse refugees. Her daughters cooked for those who stayed with her and she succeeded in getting food and clothes and blankets for many of those who had been left with nothing.
It was a time for courage and leadership and Máire Drumm stepped up to the plate. Despite harassment, death threats, imprisonment and a vicious and scurrilous campaign of hate by the British media, whipped up by the NIO, Máire refused to be bowed or broken and led from the front.
Two of her closest friends and comrades were Mary McGuigan from Ardoyne and Marie Moore from Clonard in west Belfast. They served on the Ard Chomhairle of Sinn Féin together. In 1991 Mary and Marie were interviewed by An Phoblacht about their recollections of Maire. Their memories provide an insight into the strength of character and indominatable spirit of Máire Drumm.
Mary McGuigan remembers Máire being arrested and going into Armagh women’s prison. She said: “In Armagh she was a great lift to the women.  She was much older and to the younger owns she was an inspiration in standing up for their rights. She was also deeply involved in their education and would speak for hours about the conflict and her vision of the future. She was looked on as a sort of mother figure but primarily as a leader.”
Marie Moore recalled the curfew of the lower Falls in July 1970 when several thousand heavily armed British soldiers sealed off the area and systematically raided and wrecked scores of homes, assaulted residents and killed four men. Máire led the march that broke the curfew. “We had received word that there were beatings and atrocities happening and no one could get word in or out of the area. Máire along with a few others went around people she knew, knocking on doors and getting women to organise that first bread march into the lower Falls in an attempt to break the curfew.” 
There is a famous piece of black and white film footage which shows hundreds of women marching into the lower Falls and brushing armed British soldiers aside.
During all of the traumatic events of that time Máire was there helping people in trouble, providing leadership, speaking up for people. Whether it was after internment or during marches in support of political prisoners, or when Long Kesh was burned to the ground.
Marie Moore believed Máire’s focus on demanding equality for women in the struggle and in society was hugely important. “I remember her saying. Look women were on their streets when their areas were attacked. Their children were on the streets being shot defending their areas. The women were there when the barricades went up. They know all about the political realities of what is happening. They are quite capable of organising themselves and their areas.”
On another occasion when she was being interviewed on TV Máire was asked about contraception which was then an emotive political issue. She said it was something she never had to worry about because the state sorted that out for her. Jimmy her husband was imprisoned in the 40s, the 50s, the 60s and the 70s.
Máire was a tireless activist. She was constantly harassed and was arrested many times for her speeches and protests, especially in her opposition to internment. Her leadership qualities and her enormous courage led to her being elected as Sinn Féin’s Vice President.
I met her many times including when I was on the run in Belfast. She was always genuinely concerned about how everyone was doing. When the politics was discussed it was like meeting your Mammy.
Well-known for her defiant speeches at rallies and in courtrooms, she told a judge on one occasion: “Interning or putting a middle-aged woman in jail will not quench the flame of the Irish people because nothing but the destruction of the Irish people will ever quench that flame. Long live the IRA! God save Ireland!”
Her home in Andersonstown was regularly raided and following Operation Motorman in July 1972, when the British Army entered the no-go areas in Belfast and Derry, the Brits built a huge British military base only a few yards from her home. But she was never cowed or intimidated.
In October 1976, just days before her 57th birthday she was in the Mater hospital for a eye operation. A Unionist gunman, clearly acting in collusion with British forces, entered Máire’s room and shot and killed her.
I was in Cage 11 in Long Kesh lying on my bunk writing a piece for Republican News when the radio reported her death. My first thoughts were of young Máire who was in Armagh women’s prison at the time and was almost certainly hearing the news at the same time as I was. And I thought of Jimmy and the clann. No one from the state ever called to the Drumm family home to tell them of what had occurred. And years later a new investigation by the Police Ombudsman has now begin into those events.
But for the Drumm family and for the Republican family Maire’s loss was incalculable.
Forty years later she remains an inspirational figure for today’s generation of activists. Her words continue to inspire us as we build Sinn Féin and advance the struggle for Irish unity and independence. In one of her most famous remarks Máire said: “We must take no steps backward, our steps must be onward, for if we don't, the martyrs that died for you, for me, for this country will haunt us forever."
These remarks are relevant today as they were when Máire said them. We thank her for her life of struggle and we thank all the Drumm family for sharing Máire with us.