The Blanket http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu:81/
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have not converted a man because you have silenced him.
Anthony McIntyre (known as Mackers) and his partner Carrie Twomey have called their new baby Fírinne (firinya), which means truth.
Carrie explains: “Before she was born, we were staying away from home after Sinn Féin picketed us, and when I saw the name in a book, something just clicked. The truth was what we had fought for. She had already been through so much, and she deserved a strong name to take her through this life.”
Mackers and Carrie are among the handful of republicans who, while adamantly against any return to violence, are publicly critical of the Sinn Féin leadership. They are members of the Irish Republican Writers Group, which has a website (http://rwg.phoblacht.net) and a journal, Fourthwrite. They have recently helped initiate a public discussion forum, Voice Of The Lark.
They are paying dearly for their stance. They live in Ballymurphy, a republican, working-class district in West Belfast. It was here that Real IRA volunteer Joseph O’Connor was shot dead by hooded men on October 13 last year. This incident proved a catalyst. Asked by O’Connor’s family to help, Mackers and fellow activist Tommy Gorman accused the Provisional IRA and called for a public enquiry. The IRA denies responsibility, though few believe them. Two senior IRA men visited Mackers’ and Carrie’s home, and Sinn Féiners then picketed it.
Carrie is American and a former trade union organiser. She moved to Ireland a year ago, having linked up with the Writers’ Group through the internet. She ran her own republican bulletin board on the net, and caused some anger by refusing to censor material posted anonymously which named leading republicans as possibly being the alleged informer, “Steak-knife”.
After the pickets, Carrie was hospitalised with a stress-induced infection, and the two spent a month away from home. A Sinn Féin member has attacked Mackers in the street, and anonymous leaflets have been circulated about them, leading the RUC to warn them to watch their personal security.
Mackers was brought up in the Lower Ormeau Road, a republican enclave in South Belfast. He went to grammar school, but, like many other teenagers, he got caught up in the political whirlpool, progressing from rioting to the IRA. From 1973 he was in and out of custody, till in February 1976 he shot dead a member of the loyalist paramilitary UVF, for which he spent 17 years in prison.
“I am sorry about the loss of life,” he says. “But I don’t apologise for taking up arms against the British state and the loyalists.” He was first held in the “cages” of Long Kesh. After trying to escape, he was transferred to the H-Blocks. Here he spent over three years on the blanket protest for political status. He educated himself in prison, taking his first O-level aged 27 and achieving a first class honours degree. After release, he gained a PhD with a thesis on republicanism.
He left the republican movement in 1998, the day Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis approved the Good Friday Agreement, which he calls “the British state’s alternative to republicanism”. He says: “The plan for cross-border bodies and power-sharing was drawn up in 1972 and first implemented in 1974. This time round, rather than defeat republicanism by excluding republicans, they decided to defeat it by including republicans but excluding republicanism. No core republican demand is satisfied in the Good Friday Agreement.”
He explains: “The republican leadership under Gerry Adams promised to deliver a British declaration of intent to withdraw; an end to partition; an end to the Unionist veto; abolition of the RUC; and no return to Stormont. They failed on every count. They also promised that any agreement would be transitional, with the British government acting as persuaders - again they failed.”
In his view: “Joint authority between the British and Irish governments should have been a minimum demand. Republicans should have adopted an oppositional strategy with a radical programme, linked with a socialist alliance in the south. If it did not deliver a united Ireland, at least it would protect the rights of poorer nationalists. We now have Sinn Féin in a right-wing government in the north, hoping to join a right-wing government in the south.”
He opposes the violence of the Continuity IRA and Real IRA. “I would prefer Gerry Adams’ strategy to that, because it’s not leaving body bags in the street.”
Are the republican leadership happy with what they’ve got? “They can’t be,” he replies. “But they have decided to settle for it, and many of them seem to have done quite well out of it. At the start of this war, the wealth disparity between leaders and led was non-existent. That disparity has increased massively.”
Thousands of community-worker posts have been created since 1996, many held by ex-prisoners and Sinn Féin activists. Mackers observes: “The European peace funding has created a salaried bureaucracy within these areas. This is part of a counter-insurgency strategy. The government is trying to co-opt key opinion-formers, such as ex-prisoners, into a new managerial class. They have a salaried income dependent on the process continuing, so they don’t want it attacked.”
There is still terrible poverty in areas like Ballymurphy, he says. “We call the GFA ‘Got F*ck All’, because it has delivered nothing to working-class people. Instead, it has left them silenced and disorganised in the face of nationalist employers who exploit them.” When one mentions the Writers’ Group to pro-agreement republicans, the response is often an attack on their characters.
“We have been subjected to a vicious smear campaign,” says Mackers. “We’ve been called mad, alcoholic, whores, egotists and publicity seekers. It’s like the way the former Soviet Union dealt with dissidents. They use character assassination instead of tackling the political arguments.”
Going against the tide is hard. “The situation I find myself in is Kafka-esque. I feel very frightened and lonely. I would love to walk away, but I would feel too guilty. Every day is a struggle. There is a nice warm bath and there is a freezing pool, and I have to jump in the freezing pool!”
Liz Curtis is well-known for her writings on Irish politics. Her books Ireland: The Propaganda War and Nothing But the Same Old Story are regarded as classic critiques of media censorship and anti-Irish racism.
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