Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
16 August 2014
(begins time stamp 15:39)
MG: Gerard, are you with us?
MG: Gerard, a great deal happened in Belfast this past week we want to get to you about. First of all - just you've been on the airwaves of WBAI before and we want to remind the audience just a little bit about your background. You're from Belfast. You've been a prisoner, a political prison, a number of times. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
GH: I've been a political prisoner twice in my life. First for ten years and the second time for six years. On the second occasion I was arrested along with Danny Morrison in the Sandy Lynch affair which was a whole British intelligence-led thing and a conviction which later got overturned for me. I've been a Republican all of my life. I joined the Republican Movement in 1974. I've no affiliations with any party or group in any formal way now but I would still try to keep active when it comes to campaigning for prisoners' rights.
MG: And I should have pointed out that you were on hunger strike in 1981.
GH: I was. I was on the hunger strike in 1981 in the H-Blocks.
MG: Gerard, this week was the anniversary of internment on August ninth and it was always a day in the past where there would be major rallies and protests against British rule, and in particular British injustices, whether it be internment by remand, whether it be interment by licence, whether it be (as) in earlier times where internment itself with the use of Diplock courts internment by remand. Could you tell us what happened in 1971 on that internment to spark this anniversary?
GH: Well, 1971 on the ninth of August the British Army along with the RUC Special Branch launched what we call the Internment Raids what they call Operation Demetrius. And it was to trawl in everybody who they believed were members of the IRA and imprison them without trial. Along the way they were subjected to horrendous tortures and beatings. Some of them went on to be known as the Hooded Men which were twelve who were selected for particular in-depth interrogations. In the aftermath of internment there was very, very few IRA men actually arrested; most had got wind that it was coming and were offside on-the-run. So in PR terms and in practical terms it was a disaster for the British which galvanised support for the IRA in those days and helped to build the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army into the fighting machines that they did become.
MG: And in addition people here have heard about the Ballymurphy Massacre. How is that related to internment?
GH: Well, when internment came out the Paratroopers were stationed here at that time and their turf was Ballymurphy. And over a three day period they shot eleven people dead in the course of riots or just taking potshots at people and claiming that they were members of the IRA shooting at them and they fired back in self-defence. Those things were pretty common in those days.
One of the Paratroopers who served here at that time - this guy called Costas Georgiou - he was a Cypriot, Greek, I think. He went up against them in the mid-1970's in the civil war in Angola where he re-created himself as Colonel Callan and led mercenary forces out there and was eventually captured.
So they weren't pretty guys. And they were people who were - and their mission was in those days which would be, looking at it now historically - the early days of the raids and the insurrection - their job was to put down the insurrection by putting down the Paddys and you can shoot whoever you want.
And they did do that. They done it in Ballymurphy, a few months later they went down to Doire and they were doing it there again and they were doing it throughout the campaign that the British waged against us here.
MG: And why is internment commemorated today? Some people ... in fact there was a columnist in The Irish News who said: Oh, well, that was forty-three years ago. Why is it that interment rallies and protests still continued now?
GH: It's a very important event in the psyche of the Republican people. In the first instance they're entitled to commemorate that it because it was the infliction of a massive injustice upon the nationalist people. They're also entitled to protest it from the point of a belief in human rights and civil liberties in the new dispensation that we live under and we see internment as wrong. You can still be interned today but they don't call it that. They have a procedure now in the court system called “closed material procedure”. And that's internment by the back door.
It simply means you can be arrested and put into prison - you don't have to be told the nature of the charges against you – you don't have to be told the nature of the evidence or allegations against you - so you have absolutely no chance to rebut or challenge and prove yourself innocent. So if the state wants to remove you that's what they will do.
And they also now are operating a policy of “internal exile” for prisoners who are being released or prisoners who are being granted bail. Whereby they're not allowed to go near their hometown - have to live in specified areas. And the things that's going on here now it's like reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's books about Soviet Russia and the things that Britain, America, The West complained about pertaining to civil liberties: being imprisoned without specific allegations against you, the whole practice of internal exile.
And in those days Britain, America, The West, Ireland – the rest of us praised people called “dissidents”, who were your Andrei Sakharovs and your Solzhenitsyns, but now today people who are branded “dissidents” in Ireland are somehow looked upon as dirty.
MG: Alright, let me just give a couple of examples that WBAI audiences would be familiar with: For example, you mentioned internal exile. This radio station campaigned and heard campaigners for Martin Corey after he was released – after secret evidence - after a number of years - how long was it before ... sorry - was he allowed to go back to his home?
GH: Recently. Two weeks back I think he was granted permission to return home to his hometown of Lurgan and to live there but he is still not allowed to talk about it or tell why. His solicitors are not allowed to talk about it or tell why. And if either of them do Martin goes back to prison. Now that is modern internment!
MG: And Marian Price – listeners again heard about the plight of Marian Price who was released. Does anybody know what the reason was why she was put back in prison on the licence initially?
GH: No. It's probably just the Brits being the Brits. I know there was a specific reason. I know they said it was because she held a statement at a commemoration in Doire. But behind that would probably be a deeper reason: that Marian was heavily involved in campaigns to try and bring a degree of unity and cohesion to the different Republican groups out there who still have prisoners in gaol. So I imagine they see her as a threat and somebody who they could invoke the power of saying: right. You're on licence. We're putting you back in gaol and you have no right of appeal.
MG: Would the British have to reveal specifically why they would want to put her back in on licence at any time?
GH: No. No. The judicial system that we have now is very far removed from the popular perception that maybe ninety-nine percent of the people, people in the world, would have that the English judicial system is the fairest, most equitable system in the world. It's not. That's an illusion. You no longer have a right to a trial where you can face your peers and answer them on the basis of whatever allegations are being made against you. You no longer have the right to even know the nature of the allegations against you. And we also are now in the situation where like the old “bad old days” of the Soviet Union we have a system of internal exile where people are not allowed to – not only to go to their own home – but not be in a car, a motor car, driven by anybody they know. If they must go from “A” to “B” and need a lift they have to hire a private taxi.
That's the level of the rotten laws that we have enshrined here now in the post-Good Friday sort of Agreement era.
MG: Alright. So what you're saying is, for example, listeners here had been very involved in the case of Gerry McGeough who was released after two years under the Good Friday arrangement. He then has a licence for a number of years. He could be put in, if the British chose, just without even disclosing what they were putting him in for. Is that correct?
GH: That's correct. They can revoke the power of their licence and say: It's not in the national interest for you to be told what that threat is but it is serious enough to take you back in.
MG: (crosstalk) And that would apply to anybody?
GH: Now (crosstalk) agencies have lied in the past. They lied about the whole Iraq thing and set off a war here that which consumed trillions and thousands of lives. So I mean they're not happy unless they're telling a lie. And you have absolutely no chance of scrutinising their evidence or questioning it in any way.
MG: Okay. And another demand that was “internment by remand” where you're just denied bail, you'd stay in gaol for a long period of time, charges may collapse, you may be acquitted but it may take two or three years. I remember in the late '70's campaigning on that issue while we were all incensed that Gerry Adams was in gaol for a number of months without bail and that phrase “internment by remand” was the one that was used. How is that policy being used now?
GH: That policy is still very much in use. That's one that the British have refined in their counter-insurgency approach of utilising the sort of the instruments of law in their battle against who they would see as their enemies: “dissident” republicans.
They still arrest people, throw them into gaol. When you go to a bail court, as you know, you don't really have to produce evidence you can produce allegations and say whatever you want. So naturally if anybody goes for bail there's all sorts of ludicrous allegations made against them. They won't get bail as a result of that. And as you said two-three years down the road the charges are dropped because there's been no evidence all along. It's just keeping people, political activists, off the street for a long enough period for the British hoping it'll break them.
MG: Now Gerard, this week also Brenda Downes was one of the speakers, she also was present, there was a plaque unveiled. Could you tell us the significance of that?
GH: Yeah. Brenda was married to a guy called John Downes and exactly thirty years ago on the twelfth of August he was shot dead outside Connolly House, which is the Sinn Féin headquarters in Belfast, at an anti-internment march. The same sort of anti-internment march as we were talking about earlier. The thing that set off the whole trouble that day, Martin, as you will probably remember and will never forget, was you were banned I think from Ireland at the time and when you got up to speak the Brits and the RUC went wild and attacked in through the crowd, were indiscriminately beating people and shooting plastic bullets.
Well, Brenda wasn't long married to John at the time and they had a young daughter and the two of them were at that march that day - got separated in the commotion - so Brenda decided to head away from the back of the crowd up home and meeting John coming home – because she was ready to go home. And then she got the word some people had come up and told her that the RUC had fired a plastic bullet into his chest at point-blank range and killed him.
MG: Actually, the RUC initially claimed they bounced a shot and that this was fired in accordance with procedures and a week later they changed the entire story after an RTÉ reporter had footage of what had actually happened. As you say, I had spoken at the rally in '79. I had spoken at the rally in 1983. In 1979 in fact, we were trying to campaign to build up support for the blanketmen so that you wouldn't have had to go on hunger strike in 1981. We were trying at that point to try and generate enough pressure on Thatcher to end the process of trying to criminalise the H-Block protesters. I'd been there in 1983 with a big American delegation - it was the idea of Tom Hartley to bring us over - and when I was going to go back in 1984 the British suddenly decided I should be banned which we thought: if I was called to the platform, if I was arrested it would be a very summary offence - there wouldn't be much to it.
Instead, as you know, they attacked the entire rally, they charged in with Land Rovers, they killed John Downes, they wounded scores more. And then a few years later just sent me a letter saying it was all a mistake and they were taking it back.
And Brenda Downes still has not gotten the whole truth about how John Downes was killed. I think you said that she spoke about that at the ceremony where the plaque for her husband was unveiled.
GH: It was. It was a small ceremony on Tuesday night on the actual anniversary - a few hundred close family friends – people from that area - where a stone was planted into the wall at the Ballyowen at the junction of the Andersonstown Road close to where John was shot dead. And she spoke from the heart and told how her and John had been childhood sweethearts. She met him when she was fourteen - got married when she was nineteen – and there was never anybody else.
And then the tragic events of what happened at the march that day and having to come to terms with his death. And her daughter, Claire, who was only I think three years old at the time that John was shot dead, she was there at the XXX ceremony as well with her own son. And Brenda and the young grandson sort of pulled the cover in a way to unveil the stone.
And she also revealed that in spite of it being thirty years on she's still battling with the authorities to get documentation revealed to her about precisely what happened on that day - the chain of events - the sequence of events – and that's still being denied under whatever “official secrets” or just being frustrated and held up in through the courts. She never had justice since that day. She deserves it well.
MG: Brenda Downes certainly was a good choice because she represented everybody of the North of Ireland whose lost family members – had people killed - whether it's Ballymurphy or Bloody Sunday or collusion murders or what happened to her husband on August the twelfth of 1984. And still the British refuse to give them justice. Still those people who did it have a basic immunity – they are not going to be brought to prison – they are not going to be sought out and prosecuted by the British state – and still the British government will stonewall everybody as they're doing with Brenda Downes - as they've done with so many people. We want to just go - just a few words about the rally – about how many people attended it?
GH: I'd say it was about three to four thousand people turned up on the day. And given the day it was - it was a day of torrential rain. One of those days when you would normally look out the window and maybe sit back down on the sofa again and say: Okay. I'll give this is one a miss. I was amazed at the number of people turned out given the weather. It was a very joyful march and it had been picked to move off from Ardoyne across through the City Centre into West Belfast. And people were generally well-behaved with no trouble at it. A route was picked that would specifically not antagonise anybody from the Unionist community. It kept to within what we call the Republican Districts. And the only sort of “mutual shared space” would be going through the City Centre. And going through the city centre there was a small amount of trouble – nothing too bad - we were sort of corralled along Royal Avenue and it was there that some Loyalists umbrellas and spears and bangers, fireworks and whatever else they could throw for a while. But nobody got injured too badly and the march came on through and went up Castle Street into West Belfast and onto the rally in Andersonstown.
MG: This week also, Tony Catney – who actually has been a guest on these airwaves – in fact it's ironic that you were talking about people being interned through closed material – it used to be called “secret evidence” - the British changed the name to “closed material” to make it sound better. Because the last time Tony Catney was on this programme he was actually talking about Marian Price as well as some of the others victims of injustice. He had a long battle with cancer. He passed away during the week. The funeral made a major impact. In fact, it seemed to annoy the British and the Loyalists even in death he seemed to offend them that a priest would say kind words about him. Could you tell us a little bit about the funeral?
GH: Tony Catney was a lifelong IRA man – so he was - that's all he'd ever been. At the end of the day he was seen off in a very fitting tribute by his comrades, his family and his friends. The 1916 Societies formed an orderly Guard of Honour - about two hundred of them – a hundred each side - in white shirts and black ties and four IRA personnel carried his coffin on the first leg of his journey and escorted him the whole way down to the church and then from the church down to the Republican plot at Milltown Cemetery where there was a short oration. And then Tony's coffin was taken to Roselawn to be cremated.
MG: I read a bit about the speech about him – it was sent out by political prisoners who said that:
Tony Catney knew injustice, and campaigned against police repression, feeling the state in the North could not be reformed but could be merely reshaped so that it could be better positioned to neutralise any challenge to the system. He was concerned about the raft of draconian legislation (some of the things that you mentioned) and often used the term Repressive State Apparatus to refer to law enforcement. He saw how the Diplock Courts continued to function and he was at the forefront of campaigns on behalf of the victims of miscarriages of justice.GH: He was very helpful in the campaign for the Craigavon Two. He also worked with a group called Justice Watch Ireland which Gerry Conlon, ironically enough, helped to form here - which is trying to monitor miscarriages of justice and at least have the information – the data recorded – that if it can ever get legal angles or whatever, you know – hope in the future. And his door was open to all from all sort of perspectives of Republicanism – you could put it like that. Many would call – you know - even just for a yarn and his advice and his opinions on stuff.
He was a man with a wealth of experience through involvement of the IRA and the development of Sinn Féin and also through his long term of imprisonment (sixteen years) and he used his time wisely and he developed a brilliant intellect and he'll be sadly, sadly missed by all shades of Irish Republicanism throughout the thirty-two counties of Ireland and further afield no doubt.
MG: Now one of the interesting things: The priest gave a speech, a eulogy, which was very similar to what you would expect to hear – good things about him in front of his family – in front of the mourners - and there was a massive reaction by some of the Unionists to that - condemning the priest for those words. Could you tell us about that?
GH: There was! It's amazingly hypocritical! he priest giving the eulogy – where he highlighted the good points of Tony Catney's life as a priest or a preacher would do at any funeral and then our fundamentalist, DUP politicians – one in particular - Nelson McCausland - gave out about the priest saying anything nice about Tony Catney because when he was a younger man of seventeen years old he shot somebody else dead – it was a fella of sixteen years old – and because of this the DUP-type people think there should be no salvation, no forgiveness or no nothing! Now, that's all well and good for the likes of the DUP people saying that. But they're silent whenever preachers from their own side say ridiculously outrageous racist and sectarian things. To me the most disgusting thing is politics and religion I believe should never mix - the preachers should stay in pulpits and the politicians in Parliament.
MG: Well, it'd be interesting to see if what Nelson McCausland or some of the DUP members would say if anyone objected to a minister or a priest saying words over one of the Bloody Sunday troopers, if they were to pass away or one of the people responsible for Ballymurphy or one of the other things that you've talked about - I don't think they would be condemning them.
GH: No, they wouldn't! The nearest thing you can sort of try to draw as an analogy to the DUP would be the sort of the extreme right-wing rump of Eugène Terreblanche when apartheid finally fell in South Africa and he wanted to keep the sort of Afrikaner folk pure and separate from everybody else. The DUP's like that in a way. They still haven't come to terms with the fact that there is peace in the country and that there's people here – like myself here – Irish Republicans – and unashamed of it – and they have to acknowledge that we live here. Constantly creating crisis and shouting about 1690 and sectarianising every normal political argument – normal in any other sort of democracy - it's trivial and it holds progress back and it just also perpetuates sectarianism.
MG: Well, the British have them – the DUP is now the leading party in The North and anything or any movements to a united Ireland have to be anchored down by the DUP - that seems to be the present strategy. Gerard, thanks very much for coming on. We've gone through a lot events including Tony Catney – we want to pay a special tribute and remember him as well as the rally and all the significance of it. And I'm sure we'll be hearing from you because British injustice isn't going to be ending any time soon as long as they're in Ireland.
GH: Martin (indecipherable)
(ends time stamp 40:54)