Q: After such long term involvement in the republican struggle do you feel a sense of satisfaction at the way things have turned out?
A: No. I do not feel any satisfaction whatsoever. All the questions raised in the course of this struggle have not been answered and the republican struggle has not been concluded. We were na_ve ever to have expected the Brits to get on the boat and go. But the things that we cherished such as a thirty-two county democratic socialist republic are no longer mentioned.
Q: The former republican prisoner Tommy Gorman in the Andersonstown News bewails the absence of radical republicanism and has questioned if it was all worth it. What is your view?
A: Let me answer it this way. When I came out from jail in 1986 having spent more than twelve years there I found work on a building site on the Falls Road. Some of the people I thought I was fighting for were now seeking to exploit me. I recalled my father telling me stories about earlier campaigns when republicans such as Billy McKee came out from jail and being employed by Eastwoods for peanuts. And there I was decades later digging holes for the same peanuts.
Q: But there are many who feel it was worth it.
A: True. But amongst their number are those who have big houses and guaranteed incomes. Of course it was worth it for them. I recall going to the Republican Movement and asking that it highlight the exploitative cowboy builders on the Falls Road who were squeezing the republican poor for profit. The movement censored me and refused to allow me to speak. Once they published a piece that I wrote - or should I say did not write as the thing was so heavily censored as to be totally unrecognisable from the article I actually wrote. Some of the cowboy builders had influence with movement members. Whether true or not, there were many whispers doing the rounds that these members were taking backhanders and so on. In any event this led to a vicious circle in which money created power, which in turn created corruption and then greed for more money. Dozens of ex-prisoners are exploited by these firms. They run the black economy of West Belfast simply to make profit and not out of a sense of helping others.
Q: Is the future bleak?
A: People are demoralised and disillusioned. Many are tired but it would still be possible to pull enough together to first question what has happened and then to try to change things.
Q: But has Sinn Fein not been sucked so far into the system that any salvaging of the republican project must now look a very daunting task?
A: While I am not pushing for any military response, our past has shown that all is never lost. In 1972 we had to break the truce in order to avoid being sucked in. In 1975 the British came at us again. And from prison through the Brownie articles written by Gerry Adams we warned the IRA that it was being sucked in. We broke the British on that but it took hard work. And now they are at it again. And it will be even harder this time. Think of all the lives that could have been saved had we accepted the 1975 truce. That alone would have justified acceptance. We fought on and for what? - what we rejected in 1975
Q: What do you feel when you read that Michael Oatley (formerly of MI6) expresses support for the Sinn Fein leadership, and that David Goodall, who helped negotiate the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985 said recently that it is all going almost exactly according to plan?
A: These are the comments of men supremely confident that they have it all sewn up. What we hammered into each other time after time in jail was that a central part of Brit counter insurgency strategy was to mould leaderships whom they could deal with. So I get so demoralised when I read about this. I look at South Africa and I look at here and I see that the only change has been in appearances. No real change has occurred. A few republicans have slotted themselves into comfortable positions and left the rest of us behind.
Q: Has the nationalist middle class been the real beneficiary of the armed struggle?
A: Well, it has not been republicans - apart from those republicans eager to join that class.
Q: It seems that the social dimension is your real concern regarding republican direction?
A: No. There is much more than that. It has been the futility of it all. From a nationalist perspective alone what we have now we could have had at any time in the last twenty-five years. But even nationalist demands don't seem to matter any more. And in the process we have lost much of our honesty, sincerity and comradeship.
Q: But could it not be argued that this developed because people are war weary?
A: In 1969 we had a naive enthusiasm about what we wanted. Now in 1999 we have no enthusiasm. And it is not because people are war weary - they are politics weary. The same old lies regurgitated week in week out. With the war politics had some substance. Now it has none. The political process has created a class of professional liars and unfortunately it contains many republicans. But I still think that potential exists to bring about something different. And I speak not just about our own community but about the loyalist community also. Ex-prisoners from both and not the politicians can effect some radical change.
Q: Do you sense any radical potential amongst loyalist ex-prisoners?
A: Yes. Very much so. Not only are they much better than the old regime, they have experienced through their own struggle the brutality, hypocrisy and corruption of the regime against which republicans fought for so long.
Q: What are your views on the Good Friday Agreement?
A: What is it? Have we agreed to the British staying in the six counties? If we listen to Francie Molloy that is what republicans have signed up to. The only advantage is that unionism has changed. The landed gentry has been smashed but only because of the war, not the Good Friday Agreement. Overall, the facade has been cleaned up but the bone structure remains the same. The state we set out to smash still exists. Look at the RUC for example.
Q: Do you sense that Sinn Fein is going to settle for something like disband Ronnie Flanagan?
A: Would it really surprise you?
Q: Do you sense that the republican leadership fears or despises democratic republicanism?
A: The response to democratic republicanism has always been pleas to stay within the army line. Even doing this interview with you generates a reluctance within me. The republican leadership has always exploited our loyalty.
Q: What do you say to those people who are unhappy but are pulled the other way by feelings of loyalty?
A: Examine their consciences. Take a good look at what is going on. If they agree - ok. If not then speak out.