Sinn Fein: The Voice Of Unprincipled Leadership

Guest Host Martin Galvin speaks to Gerry McGeough via telephone from Co. Tyrone and they discuss whether British troops should be memorialised as part of the 1916 Easter Rising celebrations and the West Belfast mural controversy. This has been brought to our readers by TPQ transcriber.

WBAI 99.5FM Pacific Radio

New York City

26 March 2016 

(begins time stamp ~ 35:35)

Martin:  On the line from Co. Tyrone we have Gerry McGeough. Gerry, how are you doing?

Gerry:  Martin, how are you? And a Happy Easter to yourself and all our good friends over there in the United States including Helen McClafferty and John and all the others who have been associated with the Irish freedom struggle for so many years.

Martin:  Gerry, I have to laugh: The other day I checked Nuzhound – nNzhound is the place if you want to follow events in Ireland hit up Nuzhound – they have the clippings every day of the important news stories dealing with the North of Ireland. So I hit up Nuzhound and there was a story: Gerry McGeough Elected President of the Tyrone County AOH (Ancient Order of Hibernians) and I hit it up and it was a great picture of you wearing an Hibernian sash, smiling and it was a great story. Then I read the paper that it was taken from, the Irish News, and the story was exactly the same, the picture was exactly the same except the headline had become: Murder Bid Man Elected AOH County President.

Gerry:  Yeah. Well you know that was: Elected New AOH Leader - so they had upped me considerably. But as you say, Martin, the story itself was excellent. It was accurate. Connla Young, a very good journalist, did an excellent job on it. Clearly what happened was some self-loathing begrudger of a headlines editor decided to sensationalise the thing and of course got it entirely wrong. But we've come to expect this from the Irish News. It's not the paper that it used to be. It's not held in the great esteem that it once was. It's become very tabloid-like both in format and content over the years and a lot of fabrications frankly appear in it, a number which have been written about me as well. Primarily people just ignore it. You know, even around this area a lot of people don't even bother to buy it. So I suppose in reality the modern Irish News has become part of the West Brit/Stormont Establishment and like so many other outlets here and political parties and it's very detached from what's really going on on the ground. They called a lot of things wrong especially in the elections of last year because they're really not in touch with what's happening.

And of course we've had some silly bloggers saying that Nationalists and Republicans aren't voting anymore here in the Six Counties because of apathy or one thing or another. That's utter nonsense. The reason they're not voting is it's a form of passive resistance. People really, if you raise your head here now, what happens to you is what happened to me in 2007 when I stood as an independent Republican candidate - you get arrested and thrown into gaol or otherwise harassed. So people have to resort to other means and part of it is not voting and I think you'll see that continuing until such time as eligible candidates arise that people can vote for – independent Republican candidates or the like – and in due course they will come along but in the meantime you're going to see this passive-resistance continuing. It's not apathy at all because Sinn Féin is the new Redmondite Party. In 2007, back at the time that I'm referring to, they promised the sun, the moon and the stars and they also promised a united Ireland by 2016. They've virtually ignored and abandoned every principle ever they had and people are becoming very, very disillusioned as a consequence. But like the Redmondites they continue to get elected because there's no opposition going forward to challenge them as there was let's say in 1918 in The South. If the Republicans in 1918 hadn't stood in those elections then the Redmondites would have been elected all across the thirty-two counties of Ireland albeit on a reduced mandate and without any real legitimacy but because there was no alternative they would have been elected and things would have been very much different today. However, they were challenged and toppled as a consequence. And in due course the Sinn Féin Redmondites will be challenged politically as well and toppled also.

Martin:  Gerry, I want to talk to you about two events that just seem odd to me – I don't know how to explain them. (Sinn Féin MLA and Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly) Mitchel McLaughlin has floated the idea that the British troops who were killed in 1916 that they should be honoured as part of any commemoration. And more recently, there's wall murals in West Belfast, they're beautiful if you see them, but there was a wall mural to Kieran Nugent, who was very well-known, spent time here, was the first person – the blanketman - stood up on the blanket protest, withstood that, refused to wear a criminal uniform because he thought it would betray the Irish struggle, betray everything that 1916 stood for. And his wall mural has been taken down and one of Edward Carson, the Unionist leader, the person who refused Home Rule, who organised the Solemn Covenant, who organised the idea of resistance by Unionists to any moves to have Home Rule throughout all of Ireland and why he should be honoured, Edward Carson, in West Belfast, a very strong Republican heartland, why people should talk about honouring British troops as part of 1916 is something that I just cannot fathom and I wanted to get your perspective.

Gerry:  Yeah well I think it goes back to what I said earlier about them losing touch with the people. You know it frankly beggers belief that they would do such a thing. Is it to appease or to impress the Unionists?  Because if that's the case, if that's the motive, it doesn't work. The Unionists despise that type of thing! They despise anyone who's trying to, to use the common term, 'suck up' to them. They would absolutely abhor that and they would see it as a form of weakness and hold it in the utter contempt that it frankly deserves. Carson, you know he was primarily responsible for whipping up the fervour that ultimately led to The Troubles of 1916 but also The Troubles of the 1920's so there's no legacy there to be proud of and it has to be said, from a Northern perspective, a Six Counties perspective - my grandparents often told me that the pogroms which were unleashed against Catholics in The North in the 1920's were so ferocious – and my grandmother – one of her brothers was so badly beaten he was an invalid for the rest of his life - they were so ferocious that the Catholic community was cowed down essentially to my generation in the late '60's and '70's. So the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) that he brought about went on to become the B Specials and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) which suppressed and policed and discriminated against the Catholic population in The North why would you want celebrate or even acknowledge the existence of these people? It just utterly beggers belief!

As for Kieran Nugent: Well I remember him in New York in 1979 and you yourself, Martin, were very instrumental in having his case brought to the fore and I think it was a huge propaganda coup as I recall at the time in the Summer of that particular year when he stood at the court house in Manhattan perhaps dressed only in a blanket and it received enormous news coverage - thanks primarily I presume to yourself because you were involved with Irish Northern Aid as one of its Publicity Directors at the time. And you know, as you said, he refused to wear the British prison uniform and stood up to them and led to the blanket protest and all the rest as we know. So to take him down is frankly an insult to the memory of all Republicans and all families of Republicans and all others who were involved in the whole prison struggles in late 1970's and right away through to the hunger strikes and Bobby Sands' election in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in 1981 to take that down and replace it with Carson.

Martin:  In the United States we honour the memory of George Washington and those who fought to give us freedom every year on July 4th and at other events. I've never heard anyone suggest: What about the Redcoats? What about honouring them or including them or including their memory? People in Texas remember The Alamo. They celebrate it. They honour it. Nobody says: What about Santa Anna? Let's bring him in. There are marathons, for example, there's a New York Marathon, the Boston Marathon (and the only thing I can do at those things is watch, I can't run) but it's always mentioned that that came about as an end of a great victory in which the Athenians defeated the Persians and preserved what was happening in terms of democracy and preventing them being enslaved and nobody says: But what about those poor Persians who came there to conquer them? Shouldn't their courage be remembered? Why is it you have a rebellion in 1916 - the leaders of that rebellion were executed by British troops. Tom Clarke in particular was brutalised by British troops. Roger Casement a year later - a 1916 leader was associated with that – was arrested coming into Kerry - he was hung by the British government. Why would you honour the memory of those who shot down the leaders, who killed Irish patriots, who did everything to put down freedom and stop it from coming in to take its course throughout any part of Ireland - why would you turn to them and say they should be honoured as part of the commemorations of that period?

Gerry:  Yeah, the poor Persians who perished you might have said. Well I suppose it has to be, and again we refer back a hundred years ago to Pearse and what he was saying about the population at the time – that half of it was cowed down and half of it had been bought and paid for by the British. And the legacy of that, I'm afraid, continues. And we see that - no other half-decent country in the world, no other self-respecting nationality would do that. The Poles would not celebrate the German Army that tramped all over them in September of 1939. That's quite right. Then again we have to say that patriots in this country require at least a hundred years before they're acknowledged. The same Irish News you were referring to earlier all last week were eulogising, and quite rightly so, eulogising those who fought in 1916. But those of a later generation who fought against the same British forces are being branded as convicted criminals almost. It'll take another hundred years before the people in that era are acknowledged for the patriots that they are. And in other countries of the world patriots, like the United States, are honoured. They're given, when they're still alive, pension and medals but in this state they're given convictions and denied work and denied travel opportunities and all the rest of it. So the slave mentality continues and it's manifest supreme right now within the leadership of Sinn Féin and poor auld Mitchel, on his way out now, he's come out of this and it frankly it harkens back to what I said earlier: They have completely lost touch with their roots and they're going to find in the forthcoming elections that less people are going to vote for them. And frankly people don't like not voting if you know what I'm saying but there's no alternative being put forward and until such alternative arises this is going to continue to be the case.

Martin:  Gerry, you know as a former member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle, I know just from working with the Sinn Féin Press Centre in Belfast and working with Republican leaders for Mitchel McLaughlin to put  forward something like: Let's honour the British troops - he would not have done that on his own. Usually, Mitchel – there was a couple of individuals who would be used to float trial balloons to get the base acclimated to something and if it succeeds, if there's no real opposition, that's fine – they'll go further - if there would be a great outcry then they'll say: Well that's Mitchel – he doesn't speak for us. The same thing is true with the murals in that area. Unless it met with the approval of leading figures within Sinn Féin then Kieran Nugent's mural would not have been taken down; Edward Carson's mural would not have been put up. It seems to be this sorry initiative strategy, this uncomfortable conversation strategy, this let's honour the Unionists and British troops strategy and that is something that's supposed to bring about reconciliation and unite Ireland - I told somebody who was a former blanketman maybe you should have worn a criminal uniform when you were imprisoned in Long Kesh in the name of a united Ireland – that's what it seems to be if you're taking down Kieran Nugent. Do you think that people like Arlene Foster and the others, I know they attended your court proceedings and jeered and cheered the fact that you were convicted by a Diplock judge and later imprisoned, do you think that they're in any way impressed by, moved by, more likely to support a united Ireland based on these types of gestures that we're talking about?

Gerry: No, no. I mean, that's a very good observation you've made and no, they won't be impressed at all. As I said earlier, they'd treat that with the utmost contempt. I mean it's a misguided policy. I mean the Unionists, from what I know of them, they really don't want anything to do with a united Ireland at all under any circumstances but they will admire or at least have some respect for those who stand by their principles whether or not, well they obviously don't agree with them, but they'd have nothing but utter contempt for those who compromise in an attempt to pursue some ridiculous policy that they can persuade Unionism to suddenly become a force for a united Ireland – it's not going to – I mean it's in the title: Unionist - with Britain, you know? They would fight it tooth and nail. So it's clearly not the way to go. You would obviously be much better off sticking by your principles, principles that men and women died for within in our lifetime and by betraying those principles you're betraying the memory of those people and their families and communities. It's a totally and utterly misguided policy which will amount to a hill of dust in the finish-up.

Martin:  We're talking with Gerry McGeough who has recently been elected Tyrone County head of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. And Gerry, I know there's a separation between the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the United States and the separation in the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Ireland. I'm hoping – I know that you had visits from some members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Jim Sullivan and others who are over in Ireland now, and obviously I think hopefully we can work together on issues like this, on promoting freedom for all Ireland, something that means so much to you who lives in Tyrone and something that means so much to those exiled children in America who still care about Ireland.

Gerry:  Absolutely! You know what? Jim and his wife just headed down to Dublin today. They were staying here in Tyrone for a few days and it was a great pleasure to have them and he was referring to I think the last Saint Patrick's Day parade in the United States this began at Gerritsen Beach run by the Kings County Board hoping they get a good turn out for it and I'm sure that there will be - it's always an honour to have members of the AOH from the United States because I belong to the same division which Jim belongs to, Division 35 in Brooklyn, and it's a tremendous honour for me to be able to say that and members of the AOH are always welcome here in Ireland and we're delighted to strengthen the bonds between both wings of our organisation and hopefully that will continue well into the future. And just before I forget I'd like to take this opportunity also if I may, Martin, to express my deepest and sincerest condolences on the death of Sandy Boyer who worked with you on WBAI and was a really tremendous individual and his death, his loss, I'm sure is sorely missed by all of us.

Martin:  Gerry, there will be a memorial to him on April seventeenth – I know people are working hard on that. I said earlier in the show, as much as I appreciated Sandy and respected him that has tripled since just guest hosting the show how much work he put it that week after week to bring guests like you to the audience. 

Gerry:  He was an exponent of free speech and a very courteous individual and I couldn't possibly say a bad word about him and I was really very saddened on learning about his death some time ago, a few weeks ago, so I just wanted to share that with you.

Martin:  Gerry, we want to thank you and as a result of you mentioning it to me the Gerritsen Beach parade happened at the same time as the programme but I did tell people who were listening that there is an Easter Rising commemoration at Baile Na N'Gael that's going to be held after the parade so you have time to get to it. Again, I want to thank you, Gerry McGeough, and we'll be in touch with you in future.

Gerry:  Thanks, Martin. Happy Easter! Beannachtaí .... Bye now.

(ends time stamp ~ 53:18)

1 comment:

  1. A brilliant interview. Well done Martin and Gerry, two sounder men you'll not meet