if the gloomy forecasts about the prospects of a
November 24 deal are wrong, any resurrected assembly
executive will just be a waste of time, according
to a longtime American critic of Britain’s role
body is not going to move anything towards a united
Ireland. It will just give undue legitimacy to British
rule,” insisted Martin Galvin, the former head of
Irish Northern Aid (Noraid) in America, during a
lengthy Daily Ireland interview.
when you get into Stormont, it’s a Stormont headed
by Paisley,” said Galvin.
a Stormont headed by the DUP, where any real progress
towards real change, towards a united Ireland, can
be dealt with by the British within a British parliament,
within the British establishment.”
It’s hardly surprising to hear Galvin dismiss the
assembly’s legitimacy. The New York-based lawyer
has been a vocal critic of the Good Friday Agreement
ever since it was endorsed by 71 per cent of voters
in the North, and 94 per cent in the South, in May
After splitting from Sinn Féin in the mid-1990s
over the peace process, Galvin began supporting
a faction that would eventually evolve into the
32-County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) – a group
British and Irish police say is tied to dissidents
of the self-styled Real IRA - an allegation the
He ended his public support for the 32CSM when the
US State Department listed it as a banned terrorist
organisation in 2002. However, Galvin's peace process
criticisms remain very much in line with the group’s.
Asked if any group can still legitimately wage an
armed struggle – in light of the Good Friday Agreement’s
overwhelmingly endorsement on both sides of the
border and the IRA officially ending its armed campaign
last year – Galvin said: “There can be a right of
the Irish people to resist British rule with force,
but you also have to be able to mount a legitimate,
successful campaign. So I’m not going to cast a
judgment on anyone who does that.”
However, he insisted: “It’s not simply a choice
between, either it’s the Stormont deal or a military
campaign. There are other choices than that.”
As for a political alternative, Galvin said he “was
sympathetic” to the 32-County Sovereignty Movement
until its 2002 banning in the US. However, he also
concedes that the 32CSM's campaign to have the United
Nations declare British sovereignty in the North
to be illegitimate, is a long shot at best.
United Nations, unfortunately, is a political body
that works on political practicalities,” said Galvin.
when you get enough political support, and when
it’s pragmatic for certain countries to support
your interests, they’ll support you. But it’s not
an organisation that is going to look at Ireland
simply on moral grounds and decide to intervene.”
Galvin’s involvement in Irish affairs dates back
to the 1960s, when he began visiting the land from
which his family emigrated in 1914.
In the early 1970s, he joined Irish Northern Aid,
or Noraid, and by 1979 he was its publicity director
and the editor of its weekly paper, the Irish People.
He said that, at that time, Noraid’s focus was on
highlighting republican prisoners’ plight during
the Long Kesh protests.
Galvin said that in those days Noraid’s aim was
to “bring the issue back to British rule – that
in order to rule Ireland, the British needed repression,
they needed discrimination, they needed injustice
to remain there”.
As part of those efforts, he and others took Irish
Americans on trips to the North.
A 1983 trip that Galvin made so angered the British
that he was officially barred from entering the
North the following year.
In August 1984, Galvin snuck in anyway – beginning
a tragic chain of events that would ultimately lead
to the death of Sean Downes – a 22-year-old nationalist
who was killed by a plastic bullet as the RUC rushed
a platform in Andersonstown where Galvin had appeared
to make a speech.
In 1986, Galvin stayed with Sinn Féin when it decided
to recognise the Dáil because he felt that “there
was still a commitment to ending British rule, and
that recognising Leinster House was not going to
be a first step towards recognising Stormont or
British rule, or British courts, in the North.”
However, ten years later, as the peace process advanced
“around 1995, 1996, I, at that point just walked
away from Irish Northern Aid. I didn’t do so publicly,
but I just couldn’t put myself on the line and tell
people and endorse a strategy which I no longer
still have a lot of respect and admiration for a
number of the people who are still with Sinn Féin,
although I felt I had to disagree with them and
could no longer give them my support,” he added.
Galvin said that the main issue he's now about is
the issue of political prisoners in Maghaberry.
He said that, while in the 1970s and early 1980s
efforts to criminalise republicans entailed trying
to get them to don convict uniforms, today it involves
trying to house republicans with “criminals, rapists,
drug dealers, things of that nature”.
He said that prisoners who refuse this system are
penalised with strip searches, restricted visits,
as well as being locked in their cells more than
20 hours daily.
years later, while republicans are commemorating
the hunger strike of 1981, the British have their
own kind of commemoration in the form of trying
to reintroduce and reimpose the same policy of criminalisation,”
Returning to the broader peace process, Galvin was
asked if the major electoral gains made by Sinn
Féin on both sides of the border were not tangible
proof of republican advances.
realise, economically, there have been advances
for republicans. In terms of offices, there have
been advances," said Galvin.
one of the basic strategies of any colonial power
is that you give a little bit to parties that oppose
you to try and co-opt them into the system. That
has been the British objective, I believe, in the
Galvin said that Sinn Féin can claim advances to
a point “where your viewpoint is listened to and
respected. But you’re there because you can be trotted
out by the British who say ‘Look, even our former
opponents are playing a part under British rule.
They want to serve in a British parliament at Stormont.’”