October 5th 2018 was the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland. To mark this anniversary, Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubber Bandits hosted one of his awesome podcasts at Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 6th 2018. Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey was his guest. The house was sold out. The podcast is over two hours long. The Transcripts will be publishing the entire session with Bernadette – beginning to end. This transcript is Part 5 of 5. This is the Q and A, the questions for Bernadette; there were four questions from the audience. In this transcript the questions will be summarised and Bernadette’s answers transcribed. But certainly do enjoy listening to the entire Q&A as you read along.
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey The Blindboy Podcast Recorded 6 October 2018 and Published 13 November 2018
Ulster Hall Belfast
6 October 2018
Blindboy: Who would like to ask a question? And it can be about anything – that’s the joy of a podcast that the question doesn’t have to be about politics – it could be about inflating beach balls. (The Question and Answer segment begins.)
Question #1: What is Bernadette’s opinion about Brexit?
Bernadette: Yeah, that could take a fortnight. I, let me try and answer this short: I try to say to Brexiteers, Lexiteers, Remainers, Remoaners and the lot that the starting point of the question is: What’s wrong with the country? And that’s not entirely dependent on whether we’re in the EU or not. I think, I campaigned against joining the EU, I think the EU is certainly not everything that the Remainers would tell us that it is. But who in their right mind would walk away from a bad situation with a worse person than the one you are running away from? So there may have been an argument, if we can build an alternative Europe, that is not based on the limitations of this Europe – it’s not about European Union capital and it’s not about sustaining the European Union’s existing power structures because we have to have European solidarity, you know, we have to have international solidarity, we’re all part of the same place, and I’m not sure how we change, reform, revolutionise, break-up and build a better European Union that means something outside of building the revolution – but what I definitely do know that voting ‘no’ in a referendum set up by a delusion, done for, past it’s sell-date empire that thought it could regenerate itself outside of the European Union – a right wing, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-human rights agenda – what possessed anybody that they could vote ‘no’, hand them that power on a plate and then, with the rise of the right and the fascism behind it of British Toryism, they could create a progressive exit along side it? All I could say to people I love dearly when they started to talk like that was: Tell me that again? Madness!
So tactically, people needed to reject the British proposal. Every instinct you had would have to have told you: Anything that strengthens the hand of the British right is wrong. (applause) So even if we don’t like the European Union – and then there were people who said, that was the dissident Republican line, you know – the enemy of (what is it?) the enemy of my enemy is my friend. When are youse ever gonna get over that bit of nonsense? The enemy of your enemy is probably just a bigger bastard than your enemy. But that said, the issue that we need to organise around is not: Are we in or are we out of the European Union? Because, as Connolly put it a long time ago in a bigger European battle: We serve neither king nor kaiser – it’s not about being in or out. It’s about building a society here that links with solidarity movements everywhere else to build the kind of world we want and the kind of Europe within that. But leaving, Brexit, ain’t taking us nowhere – only into poverty.
Question #2: Did slapping Reginald Maudling in Parliament take away from the newspapers reporting about what happened on Bloody Sunday and does Bernadette feel that she was manipulated by the state to react to Maudling?
Bernadette: Oh, I love the theorising, intellectual statements of The Left – they’re feckin’ brilliant! No. No, no. Let me tell you in very plain, Tyrone English what happened: None of that. If I hadn’t hit yer man they would not have filled the British newspapers with the horror of Bloody Sunday. They would have filled it with the lies of the Secretary of State, unchallenged. So that’s the first bit – I didn’t take away from anything. It was when they were telling yer man’s lies they at least had to add, but they were outraged about that bit, that the ‘Mad Woman from Tyrone’ hit the man. What everybody else remembered was that didn’t go unchallenged. So the premise is theoretical, ideological and non-applicable because it assumes that if I hadn’t hit him all those journalists would have run out and said: Massacre Happened in Doire! No, they wouldn’t. They would have repeated, unchallenged, that man’s lie. That’s all they would have done.
Question #3: Why won’t Bernadette run for Parliament, Irish President or any office?
Bernadette: Michael D.’s doing a good enough job as it is. And if I had a vote, which I ought to have but I don’t have, if I had a vote in the current presidential election I’d be voting for him twice – well, no, once, once – you’re only allowed to vote once! But I think there’s a serious point to the question: It’s in our culture, we just happen to get that way, it doesn’t matter whether we’re Catholics or Protestants or whatever, it’s in our culture to look for salvation from on high and to look to some god or some icon or some big person or some Bernadette or some… to gallop to the rescue – and if only she was sitting in the job it would be alright. And that’s not true. It’s the job description, it’s the structure of the job, it’s the job itself that the problem is with. It’s the way we organise what we call democracy. It is the way we organise what we call power that is wrong.
And if we just keep voting people into a system that is corrupt and corrupting and then cry because the people we sent into it betray us, at what point are we going to catch on that then everybody will betray us as we go through this or there’s something wrong with the system we’re sending them into? The amount of power to change society that currently resides in the government is minimal. Power currently lies in the hands of the people who own wealth in the multinational industries. They tell the government who’ll pay tax and who won’t. Like you and me will pay it – they won’t. They tell the government what the penalty will be if you vote this way or that way: We’ll move this factory. We’ll take our finance there. We’ll close this down. Power? There’s very little democratic power. So what happens is that you vote people into Stormont – God bless yas! And youse don’t listen anyway. You don’t listen to me. I told youse that was a bum deal. I told youse: That was a bum deal. That Stormont – if you’d gone to as much trouble as I’d gone to taking that place apart you’d have had a very dim view of people coming sticking it together again. And now is doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work not because Sinn Féin are collaborators, not because the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) are stupid – these things don’t help – but they’re not the cause. The place doesn’t work! It doesn’t work! So, while I say ‘thank you’ and that’s all very flattering – I’m not good with flattery – you don’t need Bern’dette to form a party, you don’t need Bern’dette to do anything. You need the person that’s in you – that knows what you know, that believes what you know – which is why you think that I’m a good person and that if I could do something – and then you need to do it yourself – and you need to do it all yourselves – because I can’t do it for you. I can’t. But it’s in you all to do it. It’s in you all to do it. Or you wouldn’t be here!
|Bernadette and Blindboy at the Podcast|
You would be responding the way – you ought to feel the energy that we can feel up here – it’s the best political rally I’ve been at in a lifetime!
And yet, you’re not political people. You know, this is real. You know, this is real people with real feelings and a real understanding of what’s wrong and what could be right and it’s not about their political ideology or their political party or who did this or who did that or who they should vote for. This is people power and if we can get more people to begin to say: Look, it’s not about who voted for who it’s about what can we do to stop things from happening? And it might be that you write to the papers and it might be you get on the internet and it might be that you take over an empty house for homeless people to make a point. It might be that you read and get more understanding of what you want to do. But if your answer is – ’cause that used to drive me insane in the ’60’s – you know, you’d go to meetings and people say: ‘Somebody ought to’, you know, ‘Somebody would need to’ – and I’d say: Yeah. Since you had the bright idea how about that ‘somebody’ being you! So go for it! Go for it! Run for ‘something’ if you want. And if you don’t think that, you know think: Oh! You couldn’t do that – stand for, you run for council and let on your mate.
Question #4: The splits.
Bernadette: Aye, well that’s a whole different conversation that will take another evening. The Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP or the Isrps, Irps) first of all, you had that Provo (Provisional IRA) split and again, you know, I was telling youse about going back to the days of the Magdalene Laundries and people didn’t really know certain things, if you go back to the split, you know the war was, and whatever you want to call it – ‘Troubles’ or war – but the civil rights movement and tensions were becoming flash points of conflict and then that was being armed and so in that debate within the Republican Movement about self-defence and whether attack was the best method of self-defence and the taking up of armed struggle, while that split was there then, effectively, there was no Provisional Sinn Féin. There’s things that people forget. Sinn Féin, Provisional Sinn Féin did not have a functioning cumann in East Tyrone, North Armagh, South Doire which, during the war, became big flash point areas. Sinn Féin didn’t have a functioning political cumann in those areas until the hunger strike – that was 1982. So when you’re going back to the early ’70’s, the Provisionals were an army and what bits of Sinn Féin cumainn they basically had around the country were, to an extent – and I don’t want to say this in a bad way – but they were effectively cheerleaders in support for the army. They didn’t have a political ideology. They stole Roy Johnson’s federation solution and took it with them, just in case they would need it, because they didn’t like the democratisation of Ulster but the federal solution didn’t sound so bad. But there was none of the political education and political organising in Sinn Féin that is the Sinn Féin that you know now or that is the post-hunger strike Sinn Féin.
So in ’70, in the mid’70’s, you had a position where the politics were with the Officials (the Official IRA) who had kind of, well, in my perspective, in challenging the drift towards militarism and Hibernianisation, which I thought they were right in doing, but they’d kind of thrown the baby out with the bath water and, to my mind, and said the national question itself was shelved and it seemed to me that the national question pushes itself into the middle of everything because it’s unresolved. And then (Seamus) Costello started, he started the IRSP around that question; that there had to be a place where the progressive politics and social movement politics of The Left and the national question could come together. So we didn’t have: Either self-determination must wait on democracy or democratisation must wait on self-determination. And that attracted me and I joined him in putting the Irsps together. And in the very first year there were meetings, when we had meetings, there were five hundred people coming to the meetings – the basis of it was there.
And the big argument that we fell out over was that the traditional model of Republicanism was the sister or brotherhood of organisations – that you had a democratic political movement over here and you had a military organisation over here – and that this was a secret organisation. I don’t like secrecy. I think if you don’t do the thing out in the open – don’t do it at all. You may not want everybody to know your business but on the day that everybody finds out your business, good, bad or indifferent, you’d want to be standing over it. Otherwise you’re done for! You’re open to manipulation, blackmail – whatever. So the day that, don’t put your hand in the till, but the day you do know that there’ll come a day somebody’ll tell you you did it and you have to say: Yes, that was me. Or else you’re done for!
So that was that argument. And my argument with Costello, it went on, and there was other peoples arguing was that if the IRSP was to be a democratic political organisation in the way it was it could not tolerate dual-membership of a secret faction, armed or unarmed. You can’t have secret factions because you can’t have democracy. You can’t have a political party where nobody in the political party knows who in the political party owes a first allegiance to another organisation that you’re not allowed to know about, talk about and you’ve no idea what they stand for – especially if they shoot people, especially if they’re an army. And that argument was not resolved and, in the midst of it, then the Officials decided that having allowed the Provisionals (PIRA) to develop they couldn’t allow the Irsps to develop and the whole militarisation started again. And those of us who argued that’s not – you can’t do that – you have to be brave enough to build an open, democratic, progressive party with no secret army because there was already enough armies. And I still don’t know, I don’t accept – I know what people say – but you see, once you take the weapon in your hands and fire it there is no more revolutionary or less revolutionary way of pointing a rifle – it doesn’t matter. You see, when to take the rifle in your hand and point it and aim it and pull the trigger – see the person on the other end where the bullet’s going – don’t make any difference to them whether you were in the Irsps, the IRA, the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) or the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) – they’re dead. And there were already enough armies. So within eleven months of that prolonged debate we, those of us who believed the same as me, lost the argument – and we left.
Sometimes I think that we shouldn’t have walked out at that point – we should have stayed and fought the argument more. Because what happened when we did leave was the disintegration of the Isrps into all, everything, that came after that and perhaps a moment was lost. But is there any resemblance to that and, in my book, (such a note to end the night on) and the present ‘dissident Republicans’ as they’re called – the fragmentation? No. I think that most, and this is my own perspective, I think most of these small, fragmented Republican organisations are made up of people who are understandably angry that the organisation they were in over the years of the struggle did not deliver on the expectations and then turned on them who were a party of it. I think part of their anger is a denial that right up until the point where they individually or collectively woke up and smelled the coffee they were part of in the organisations and complicit in taking it where it went. And then when the penny dropped blamed everybody else except themselves for not paying attention. But most of the people in the dissident Republican Movement are people who were in the main movement – signed up to the Good Friday Agreement, signed up to bit by bit by bit ’til they came to the bit they didn’t like – and when enough was enough they left and blamed – forgot they signed up to all the rest of it – and they’re going nowhere. That’s the road to no time. And any foolish belief, any foolish belief that they have, that somehow they can put something together, that will… What? Will what?
That’s the question I ask all the time: Will what? What do you think will happen when you go down the same road you went down before and end up in the same place as every single Republican leadership in the country has ended up. Do you know, Fianna Fáil came out of Sinn Féin – you just go back over the history – they all came out of Sinn Féin. And at every time what happens is: The leadership settles and a rump goes away over here, and then after a while the rump tries the same thing and then they settle. And at some point you have to realise your methodology is flawed – it keeps taking you round in the same destructive circle and no further, no nearer, that vision of Tone and Connolly – and I don’t mean that they don’t have it – it takes you no nearer it. So you need to quit!
You know, what was it Einstein said? You know, doing the same thing over and over again gets you the same results. You have to recognise that we are where we are and to move to a better place we have to do things differently and the Republican Movement isn’t going to lead us anywhere. We needed a bigger, mass, broader political movement. You will not – militarism doesn’t work. Give it up! It doesn’t work! (applause)
Blindboy: Thank you all for coming here tonight. It was absolutely fantastic! Like, I’ve been looking forward to this for a long, long time and I just, I felt like a member of the audience. I was quite happy and it’s hard to shut me up. That was unbelievable! That was incredible! Thank you so much, Bernadette. (ends time stamp ~2:33:35)
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