Derry's Moor Elects a Republican

John McDonagh (JM) interviews via telephone from Derry newly elected Independent Republican Councillor Gary Donnelly (GD). We are indebted to our transcriber.

Radio Free Éireann

WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio

New York City

31 May 2014

(begins time stamp 38:05)

JM: We're going to talk to - and I never thought I would ever see the day on Radio Free Éireann - an elected representative, Gary Donnelly, who is in Derry and was elected in the past election to the Strabane-Derry Council. Gary, you there?

GD: I am indeed. Thank you.

JM: Now Gary, I want you to comment on this because it is a bit bizarre. I mean normally the speeches would have been about Catholicism and the Pope being “the whore of Babylon” and that sorta would be standard fare. t seems this has crossed the line he's went to another religion, a Protestant fundamentalist and because of technology and Al-Jazeera, this has went around the world. So this is what you're now debating in The Six Counties. What's your reaction to what’s went on here?

GD: As somebody's who's been born and bred here in The Six Counties it's not really that surprising, you know. These vile comments just oozing with hate - it's part of the normality here in The Six Counties. It comes from a Loyalist, you know, loyalist position. Loyalism has a fostered, privileged position within The Six Counties and from that your get reactionary ideology. It used to be that Catholics were lazy, dirty and generally inferior. and not only that but it then manifested itself in murder gangs which were controlled and financed and supported by the British state. So when you take one section of a community, if you elevate that section of the community even you take an individual nd you tell that individual and you tell that individual you're better than everybody else and you have God’s given right almost then this is the type of hate that absolutely flows from a position like that.

JM: And Gary, I mean what's going on now in The Six Counties? It's being reported there's two hate crimes a day that's going on - in generally a lot of it centering around Belfast. And another elected representative, a Chinese woman who's been in The North for forty years - Anna Lo, based on these speeches and the attacks on the Chinese community and the Polish community in The Six Counties is now getting out of politics – in fear of her life! I mean This is the type of politics that's going on in The Six Counties.

GD: That's exactly right. Anna Lo was on radio – on the media - this week saying that she fears for her life and that she's actually thinking of quitting politics and quitting the North of Ireland. There's a lot, a lot of hate attacks on Polish people. Any type of foreign, non, foreign national but particularly the Polish people because of the Catholic background - people have had dog's excrement thrown at them. People have been beaten up and attacked. And it just flows from that again that privileged position of Loyalists who have been elevated by the British state.

JM: Now Gary, I was following the elections on RTÉ and BBC.  Needless to say, RTÉ barely mentioned the elections that were going on in The Six Counties and the BBC in The Six Counties barely mentioned the elections in The Twenty-Six Counties. But one thing that popped out: when you were elected; they said it was nothing short of an earthquake – no one ever thought that you would be elected from the Derry area. How did that come about? How did someone with your politics – that you are a staunch Irish Republican - got elected and what do you plan to do now sitting on the Council?

GD: Well, you know, as, because I am a Republican and I won't accept the status quo here over a large, ever since I left Sinn Féin in 1998. And ever since I've been demonised and vilified by particularly Sinn Féin and a lot of the gutter had been ... had a relentless and constant campaign and attempted to demonise myself. What I done was I rolled my sleeves up. I got involved in the community. We set up a group called the Creggan Community Collective and we got stuck into community politics. You know, Christmas time we helped those in our community who didn't have a lot, we, we...and we're completely voluntary we don't get funded because we don't accept the status quo it's very hard to get funding. But I would see all this as Republican principles, you know? And it was due to that work that I became a welfare rights axctivist, advisor you know - advising people on their welfare rights. Just generally hard work. Struggling where the people are. The people if you struggle where their struggle is then they will support you.

JM: Now Gary, you haven't even taken your seat and you're being condemned in the papers by Gregory Campbell, a Loyalist politician, and even by Martin McGuinness. How do you plan on dealing with them because they are going to make you responsible for any attack in The Six Counties that you personally will be responsible. How are you going to respond to Martin McGuinness and to Gregory Campbell?

GD: Yeah, that's exactly right, from - Now you have to take into the fact that the ward that I stood in is called the Moor. Now it's a very historical part of this city. It's where the cradle of where the civil rights movement began. It's where Free Doire. It's where Blood Sunday happened. It's very, very important part of the city. And there's a lot of people within that area, a lot of Republican leaders, a lot of ex-Republican leaders like Martin McGuinness, Mitchel McLaughlin, Martina Anderson. You have where John Hume is ... where Eamonn McCann - so it's a very significant area. And I stood in this area and I topped the poll in this area and I was the only candidate in this area to reach the quota.

Now There’s a lot of begrudgery when the count was announced in the count centre none of the Sinn Féin candidates or workers came out to the foyer to where the count was announced. So and it was from very early on a lot of hostility that they were saying: well we'll see how he handles it if this attack happens or that attack happens. And then there was a bomb attack in this city only a matter of days ago and within hours the press was clamouring for – basically, baying for blood - for me to condemn it. Now, what I done was I wasn't going to be a hypocrite. Now I took an oath that when you stand in this election you can't use your position if elected to garner support for political violence. So I have adhered to that. But at the same time I refuse to condemn the attack by militant Republicans. And I still, as a Republican – you know, attacks like this are a symptom of the violation of Irish sovereignty.

And what I won't do either was, when Martin McGuinness, when I was there all those years ago when Sinn Féin entered into electoral politics – and I was there when Sinn Féin candidates were carried triumphantly from the Guildhall and Martin McGuinness at that time made a statement dismissing everyone who voted for Sinn Féin. He said: it won't be the ballot box it will be the cutting edge of the IRA. And I have no intention of doing that either. I - for the seventeen percent of the people in this ward who voted for me. I have no intentions of putting them into a pigeon hole one way or another.

JM: Well Gary, where will this council be meeting? I mean now because now they're talking about these are “super councils” that are on both sides of the border actually to cut down on a lot of the smaller councils they've consolidated and that. So what is the system now that you're going to be involved with? And how much power does this Council have?

GD: Well, the councils were cut I think it’s from, I'm not too sure but I think it was something like twenty-seven to eleven which are now known as “super councils”. It will sit in the Guildhall in Doire City and it will consist of the district of Derry and Strabane. There will be a number of committees in it. And again regards what power I'm only finding my feet at the minute but the fact that there is, that I will be in there and there's a number of other independents which is very, very significant who got elected. There's three from the city of Doire and there's one from neighbouring Strabane. And we have, we have met and we will work together to represent the needs of the working class people - the people who voted for us - the people who are fed up with the big party positions, the lack of accountability - transparency.We will, we have promised the electorate that we will bring information from that council and relate it straight to them.

It remains to be seen what exactly, what powers we will have but it's a very significant development. And I honestly believe that it's a development that will grow in The Twenty-Six Counties – independent candidates received I think it was twenty-eight percent of the vote. And I would hope that that trend will continue in The Six Counties because I really believe that voters have woken up to the selfishness of the big parties. The fact that only fifty percent of people bothered even voting in this election also speaks volumes that people are just fed up with the parties that we have at the minute.

JM: Well Gary, I used to say “just released from prison in The Twenty-Six …”, “just released from prison in The Six Counties” now I'm saying “an elected official, Gary Donnelly”. I don't's a strange world we live in.(laughs).

GD: (Laughs) Certainly strange. An elected official who still has a curfew. You know I am fighting at the minute to get my curfew lifted because I'm out on bail but the PSNI have refused to do so. So a bit of work to be done there.

JM: I would say that restricted your canvassing and going out for votes I mean if you have a curfew!

GD: Yeah, well that's right. The curfew was initially at eight o'clock and my solicitor, he wrote to the PSNI asking to get it extended. And the PSNI said that they didn't need to extend it because it wouldn't, it wouldn’t in any way interfere with my campaign. Now bear in mind on the day of the polling the polls open at seven and they don't close 'til ten. And yet I had an eight PM to eight AM curfew. We had to take them to court. And fortunately we went to court it was extended to ten o'clock. But the PSNI stood up and said the fact that I had previous convictions, that I wouldn't be of uprightousness and the type of candidate material. But, however the people, the people of this city, the Moor, proved them wrong and they gave me the first preference vote. So, So, it's all good.

JM: Listen Gary, thanks for coming on and we'll be in touch with you and keep following now your political career!

GD: (laughs) Yeah. Thank you. Thanks.

(ends time stamp 50:05)

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