Gerry Adams believes the Belfast Agreement contains
the potential to deliver republican objectives.
Do you agree?
Adams recently described the Belfast Agreement as
"an agreement to a journey, but not a destination".
Well, this particular journey has copper-fastened
partition and has led republicanism up a political
cul-de-sac. The Agreement will not deliver republican
objectives. Indeed it is contrary to republican
principles to seek to redress the questions of independence
and national reunification within the terms prescribed
by the Belfast Agreement. The Agreement stipulates
that Irish unification will not transpire until
a majority within the six counties supports such
a political outcome. This represents an anti-democratic
unionist veto on reunification; a veto which is
now entrenched in Irish and British constitutional
law. The existence of this veto acts as a permanent
bloc on unity and is an invitation to unionists
to say no in perpetuity. The people of the island
of Ireland have an inalienable right to national
self-determination, free from external impediment.
This political unit is the only democratic channel
through which the future of Ireland should be decided.
Under no circumstances should a unionist or any
other majority within six of the nine counties of
Ulster be permitted to exercise a veto on an independent,
Do demographic trends within the north hold out
any prospect of progress towards unity?
Prominent Sinn Fein spokespersons occasionally point
to demographic trends within the north as proof
that the Belfast Agreement can deliver republican
objectives. In fact Adams recently claimed that
unionist majority status may be becoming somewhat
precarious. Notwithstanding the totally spurious
nature of these claims, this battle of the cradle
type politics is totally abhorrent. Republicans
should move beyond this type of narrow sectarian
politics and move beyond the terms of the Belfast
Agreement when seeking to redress partition and
reunification. It is the people of the island of
Ireland as a whole - and not an artificially created
majority within the six counties - that should decide
the political future of this country. Republicans
and anti-imperialists must not be diverted from
Those republicans who support the Belfast Agreement,
and who are pinning their hopes on future demographic
shifts within the north, should ask themselves whether
they really believe the British government will
withdraw from Ireland in the event of a 50% plus
1 scenario, as repeatedly forecast by numerous Sinn
Fein spokespersons. Do they really believe the southern
establishment has the political will or appetite
to move towards unity on this basis? Over the coming
years unionism will seek to shift the goalposts
on the future of the north's constitutional status
from the present scenario in which it is decided
by a majority within the six counties to one where
future constitutional change it is dependent on
dual majority consent within both communities. Have
no doubt, unionism will attain support for this
position from the London and Dublin governments,
both of whom are hostile to the emergence of an
independent, united Ireland.
Martin McGuinness maintains that, while the peace
process has involved difficult decisions for republicans,
the Agreement is working. Do you agree?
The British state views the peace process as war
by another means. It has relentlessly pursued its
war objectives under the banner of the peace process
- and it must be added, with some degree of success.
This process has witnessed the provisionals abandon
Irish unity and agree to administer British rule
in Ireland for the foreseeable future. The provisionals
have also endorsed the entrenchment of British sovereignty
over the north and accepted the anti-democratic
unionist veto on Irish independence. They are about
to accept a reformed RUC and an expanded role for
MI5 in the north. The surrender of their entire
arsenal, weapons which were procured to end British
rule, was the price they paid for the implementation
of an equality agenda within the British six-county
state and for access to power north and south. In
the negotiating rooms of Stormont Castle, the British
state - in tandem with unionism - inflicted the
political and military defeat upon the provisionals
which it could not achieve in the field. What McGuinness
refers to as difficult decisions could be more aptly
described as a wholesale political and military
capitulation. It is somewhat surprising that Trimble
was treated with derision within unionism for having
negotiated the Belfast Agreement. Instead of highlighting
the ideological compromises which he and the British
state forced the provisional leadership to swallow,
he conducted what seemed to be an almost permanent
rearguard action. In contrast Adams and McGuinness
cleverly repackaged a resounding political defeat
and sold it to their constituency as victory.
As to McGuinness' suggestion that the Agreement
is working. Well, I suppose from his perspective
it is working. The protracted political stalemate
over the past few years has kept Sinn Fein and their
prospective electoral candidates firmly in the media
spotlight. All of this has fuelled Sinn Fein's pursuit
of power in both partitionist states. So despite
the apparent absurdity of the comment, it is easy
to see why McGuinness and Adams believe the Agreement
is working. While it may not be advancing republican
objectives, it is nonetheless facilitating their
acquisition of power in both states - and that is
what they are about at present.
Do you believe Britain has a political or strategic
interest in Ireland?
Britain has conducted a brutal and dirty war in
our country over the past thirty years. Britain
has armed, trained and directed pro-British death
squads. Britain has murdered hundreds of Irish nationals.
Britain has been found guilty of inflicting torture
and inhuman and degrading treatment upon Irish prisoners
before international courts. This war has clearly
tarnished Britain's international reputation. On
the financial front Britain injects an annual subvention
of £4bn into the north. It has spent over
£60bn since 1979. Is it enduring all of this
out of the goodness of its heart? To protect the
"democratic rights" of one million unionists?
In the long run Britain is prepared to maintain
a normalised and reformed six-county state in perpetuity.
Some have argued the British establishment is fearful
that a withdrawal from Ireland could radicalise
Welsh and Scottish nationalism and precipitate the
future dismemberment of the so-called United Kingdom.
There may be something in this. But one shouldn't
discount the British establishment's profound hostility
towards Irish separatism and its deep-seated commitment
to anti-democratic unionism, all of which are continued
manifestations of its age-old imperialist mindset.
The British establishment would also be fearful
of the radicalising effects of unity within Ireland.
So, for various reasons, Britain has a political
interest in remaining in Ireland.
The strategic question is an interesting one. In
1987 Adams secretly presented a republican questionnaire
to Tom King via Fr Alec Reid. All of this is well-documented
in Ed Maloney's A Secret History of the IRA. The
first item on Adams' questionnaire asked: What is
the nature of the British government's interest
in Ireland? The response declared that Britain has
"no political, military, strategic, or economic
interest in staying in Ireland". King subsequently
informed Maloney that he never actually saw the
finished written response. Consequently Maloney
concluded that MI5 - and not any British politician
- penned the reply. This debate then entered the
public domain in 1989 when Peter Brooke famously
declared that "the British government has no
selfish, strategic or economic interest in Ireland".
Patrick Mayhew reiterated this formula as late as
May/June 2005 in a History Ireland interview.
Were these declarations of strategic neutrality
genuine? Or were they a ruse designed to strengthen
the hand of Adams and McGuinness? Well, published
British policy documents contradict these public
declarations of strategic neutrality. Throughout
the Cold War British Foreign Office documents continually
stressed Ireland's strategic importance for the
British state, particularly with regard to the protection
of shipping in the approaches to Britain. Has the
end of the Cold War rendered these strategic concerns
redundant? An interesting post-Cold War analysis
was provided by GR Sloan, the Deputy Head of Strategic
Studies at the Britannia Royal Naval College in
Dartmouth, in a 1997 book entitled The Geopolitics
of Anglo-Irish Relations in the 20th Century. Sloan
believes the end of the Cold War has not diminished
Ireland's strategic importance. Indeed Sloan encourages
the British government to continue to pursue what
he refers to as a "unique geopolitical dualism"
which he believes is based on the assumption of
being able to differentiate between a strategic
policy enunciated for the purposes of political
consumption in the north, namely, to send a signal
to the provisional movement, and the necessity of
maintaining partition to ensure the continued membership
of a part of Ireland in the NATO Alliance. Sloan
concluded that this "geopolitical dualism"
looks likely to underpin British strategic policy
for some time to come. So despite public pronouncements
to the contrary, one shouldn't dismiss Ireland's
strategic importance to certain elements within
the British military establishment.
Is the southern establishment interested in Irish
The southern ruling class is predominantly hostile
to unity. All-island stability is its paramount
concern. Granted most southern political parties
claim to aspire to a united Ireland. However, it
is necessary to separate rhetoric from realpolitik.
For over thirty years the southern political establishment's
primary objective vis-à-vis the north has
been political stability, primarily because it enhances
the prospect of wealth creation and induces foreign
multinationals to invest in, and repatriate colossal
profits from, the south.
From the outset of the peace process the southern
establishment's sole objective was a termination
of all armed opposition to British rule in Ireland
and the attainment of stability in the British-controlled
six-county state. Articles 2&3 were deleted
without a murmur of opposition. Unity was relegated
from a constitutional imperative to a vague aspiration.
And Britain's constitutional hold over the North
Last year Bertie Ahern stated that "the constitutional
question is now settled". At a 2005 Imagining
Ireland conference Garret Fitzgerald outlined three
reasons why he believes the goal unity should be
abandoned - as if this goal hadn't already been
abandoned by the southern establishment.
Further establishment hostility to an all-Ireland
approach was recently evident in relation to the
question of whether northern public representatives
should be given speaking rights at Oireachtas committee
meetings. Fianna Fail, the Progressive Democrats
and most of the opposition parties rejected the
suggestion out of hand. This exposed the blatantly
partitionist mindset of the major southern political
At the recent Sinn Fein ardfheis Adams stated that
one of party's main strategic priorities is to engage
unionism and convince it of the merits of Irish
unity. To date he cannot even persuade them to share
power in a reformed British six-county state. But
perhaps he should begin with the southern political
establishment and his partners in the so-called
"pan-nationalist alliance" because these
elements are the most resolute defenders of partition;
and albeit for different reasons, their hostility
to a British withdrawal is just as intense as that
of any unionist.
Yet the southern state is officially commemorating
the 1916 Rising?
The official state commemoration has more to do
with the next general election than the ideals of
the 1916 Proclamation or the actions of the men
and women of Easter Week. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael
and Labour are currently engaged in a distasteful
and absurd tug-of-war with Sinn Fein over who can
best lay claim to the tradition of 1916. Whereas
in actual fact all of these parties have forfeited
any right to lay claim to the militant, separatist,
socialist-republican tradition. These parties support
the ongoing partition of our country and British
rule in Ireland. These parties have absolutely nothing
in common with the politics of Pearse or Connolly,
both of whom were resolute opponents of partition.
Indeed Sinn Fein has pledged itself to administering
British rule in Ireland for the foreseeable future.
People should ignore the hypocritical posturing
of these parties and instead focus upon the ideals
that motivated the men and women of Easter Week.
Perhaps the best way to commemorate the 90th anniversary
of the 1916 Rising is by re-examining and debating
the progressive and democratic ideals that motivated
the insurrection and by re-committing ourselves
to their realisation. The 1916 Proclamation remains
a relevant political manifesto. Whether it is the
issue of national sovereignty, the utilisation of
our national resources, health and welfare, or the
treatment of our nation's children, the Proclamation
shines a democratic light on all of these important
issues. It illustrates what nationhood could signify.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the
1981 Hunger Strike. How do you view this event after
all this time?
The ten H-Block Martyrs and all of the men and women
who endured the brutal blanket and no-wash protests
were highly courageous, highly committed, and highly
principled IRA and INLA political prisoners. These
political prisoners realised, perhaps quicker than
most, the significance of the British government's
attempt to criminalise the republican struggle.
They knew that a victory for the British state inside
the prisons would have devastating consequences
for the overall struggle. On the first day of his
hunger strike, Bobby Sands wrote that he was dying
not only to end the barbarity within the H-Blocks
but also in the knowledge that what was lost in
the battle inside the H-Blocks, was lost for the
entire freedom struggle. These young men, and sometimes
we forget just how young they were, confronted criminalisation
head-on and were ultimately victorious. The blanket
protesters and the hunger strikers also raised international
consciousness of, and generated unparalleled world-wide
solidarity for, the Irish freedom struggle. But
the prisoners were human. They could not have predicted
future political developments. They could only respond
to the situation in which they found themselves.
And they did so, with unwavering bravery and steadfast
courage. We must never forget this.
FM: And yet in 2006 the question
of IRA prisoners inside British jails still remains
a live issue?
Yes. Most definitely. Since 1998 there have been
ongoing attempts to criminalise republican prisoners
in Maghaberry Prison. Segregation from loyalist
prisoners was sought and successfully obtained,
but the ongoing attempts at criminalisation have
not diminished. Numerous problems still exist. For
example, one of the most contentious issues at present
is the difficulties faced by the loved ones of republican
prisoners when visiting Maghaberry prison. Prior
to each visit, family members and friends of republican
prisoners are subject to despicable and degrading
searching procedures that involve the use of prison
guard dogs. Then there is the closed nature of the
visits in Magahberry prison, where republican prisoners
are denied physical contact with their loved ones.
This situation is a disgrace and must be resolved
immediately. I would urge everyone to support republican
prisoners in Maghaberry Jail.
There are also seven republican prisoners in English
jails, some of whom have been waiting up to 3 years
to be repatriated to an Irish prison. The Dublin
government is just as complicit as the British government
in all of this. The British government manages to
repatriate its incarcerated nationals - even from
non-English speaking countries - within a nine-to-twelve
month period. So this vengeful policy of deliberately
delaying the repatriation of Irish prisoners is
totally disgraceful. All republicans should lobby
and support these prisoners' right to be repatriated
forthwith. There is growing anger surrounding this
issue. Indeed some prisoners have actually suggested
that a candidate should contest the next general
election in Louth to highlight the scandal surrounding
FM: In the February-March issue
of Forum you called
for an end to the provision of landing and refuelling
facilities at Shannon for US military aircraft?
In the article I pointed out how for the past fifty
years - prior to march 2003 - foreign military aircraft
were denied Irish overflight and landing facilities
if they were carrying armaments or aerial photographic
equipment, engaged in intelligence gathering or
part of a military exercise or operation. However,
the Irish government departed from this longstanding
position when it joined the "coalition of the
willing" and permitted US forces land and refuel
at Shannon en route to the illegal invasion of Iraq.
For the past three years the Irish government has
been complicit in an illegal occupation that has
resulted in the deaths of approximately 100,000
Iraqi civilians. But to make matters worse the government
is now facilitating an illegal CIA intelligence
gathering operation that is founded on abduction
and torture by allowing CIA-owned planes involved
in "extraordinary renditions" to also
land and refuel at Shannon. I concluded the article
by stating that the Irish government should desist
from assisting US imperialism, and should comply
with its obligations under international law, by
immediately withdrawing Irish landing and refuelling
facilities from all US military and intelligence
aircraft and all chartered flights transporting
US military and intelligence personnel.
Michael, on behalf of Forum Magazine, thank you
for agreeing to the interview.