Image: Steenson addresses the crowd as an independent speaker at an IFP rally (source)
The Burkean sat down recently with Malachy Steenson, a veteran of the Republican Movement with a long and storied career. We discussed Malachy’s personal and familial history in the RM, the “enlightened modernist” take on religion, how the Republican Movement has permuted and changed and how it has affected and has been affected by Irish culture, how discourse around traditional nationalist and republican objectives have changed from sovereignty and demographic destiny to vague notions of ‘equality’ and liberal ‘identity’, and also where it is the Republican Movement should be headed: towards a Republican Covenant?
TB: So I was watching some of your interviews with Clontarf Media.
MS: Oh yeah, Michael Fitz. Who wouldn’t be on our wavelength on a lot of things but he gives us a good platform.
TB: And the thing that drew me to yourself was an interview you did with Matt Treacy, which was the two of yourselves discussing the different approaches to Irish Republicanism, where you seem to be a more traditional French-inspired Irish Republican.
MS: The new liberal interpretation? Or even the more socialist interpretation. I think that’s probably a good way of looking at it, and I suppose to give you a bit of background I would be third generation and my son there would be fourth generation into the struggle. My grandparents met during the Easter Rising, my grandfather was in the GPO and my granny was in the Imperial Hotel. They met there during the course of the conflict. And they were actually introduced by a fella called Paddy Mahon, my grandfather was actually Patrick Murphy and he was introduced by Paddy Mahon who became their best man at their wedding, and he was my grandfather’s best friend. He was a man who would’ve been injured on Talbot Street and was nursed by my grandmother who was Martha Kelly, in the field hospital they’d set up in the Pro-Cathedral and she’d been trained to do the Red Cross and deal with injuries by Dr Kathleen Lynn, who was a key figure in the ICA and the Movement at the time.
She also nursed people like Lemass who would also have been shot in the vicinity. And they married— well they both went to jail firstly and he ended up in a succession of British prisons— ending up in Frongoch, where he was one of the people who was on Hunger Strikes in Frongoch and it seemed there’d been Hunger Strikes regularly in Frongoch. And he was in charge of one of the Hunger Strike committees at one stage there. And they came back here and they got married in 1917 and moved to this house.
And this house, I suppose, has been one of the consistent parts of the Republican Movement and I remember Paddy O’Regan who spoke at my mother’s 80th birthday party a number of years ago, and he was one of the people who was involved in Operation Harvest, he was the man on the back of the truck handing Seán South the magazines for the Bren gun, and he was injured of course in that operation and he said that ‘if you were in the IRA in Dublin you were in One Leinster Avenue, and if you were in One Leinster Avenue you were in the IRA.’
And they grew up then, and my grandparents had nineteen children, seventeen who lived. The first was born from 1917 or 1918 and they were at regular nine month intervals, the old Irish twins. And my grandmother died then at a young age in her early forties, leaving half the family reared and half the family not reared.
And my mother was the oldest at home at the time. And of course all the girls at the time would’ve gone into Cumann na gCailíní into Clann na nGael and Cumann na mBán as they progressed as they progressed through the years. All the men would’ve gone into the Fianna and then into the Army. And they were more an Army family than a Sinn Féin family and there was always a crossover, you were always a member of Sinn Féin but your activities were always about the military side of things.
And you know, she’s unique in that one of her brothers, Eamon, was one of the people who received the longest sentences in Crumlin Road during Operation Harvest, he was the last one released and her son, my brother, was the last prisoner released in the 26 counties following the GFA quasi-amnesty. At least in the 60’s they at least got an amnesty, in this current phase the prisoners were only released on license.
So she met my father then, and of course she had other brothers interned in the Curragh as things progressed. She met my father who came down on the run, he was part of an IRA operation in Belfast in the British War Office where they were gathering intelligence and he came down here sometime in the late 50’s. They met through Republicanism, as did most of the Murphy’s. They married into the Movement, and that creates its own inertia and its own stability. Obviously you lose members who you know take a different path or take no path at all, and that would be the bulk of them, there were maybe a half a dozen of them who kept the position of Republicanism. Fortunately it hasn’t transcended into my generation, to a large extent. We would probably be the only consistent people at this stage. Of course they’re all “Republicans” now because that’s popular.
People talk about how the Christian Brothers used to drub republicanism into us in school during history class— bollocks. I wouldn’t do history in school when I saw the syllabus and we were at loggerheads with the school for a lot of the time. So they certainly didn’t in my time. And would’ve been seen as an Official IRA family and I would’ve travelled through a number of groups in my own career but growing up in this house in the 70s— names that are all forgotten like Malachy McGurran, who was the head of Northern Command, a Councillor in Craigavon and an intellectual guru and a militarist, would’ve been here regularly. The entire leadership of the Army, Garland, Goulding, Doherty, Mick Ryan for instance who comes from East Wall who’s sister is married to my mother’s brother would’ve been regular here. I think he’s the only link now to the Arms Trial. He’s the only one who could actually tell the truth.
TB: And do you think that’s sort of an issue that Republicanism is facing? So you do have people that do come from traditional republican backgrounds, but how do you reach beyond that? Should the Republican Movement try to appeal to people or should it exist and by virtue of its own existence draw people towards it?
MS: I think the second part is probably correct. See what do you do to attract new people? You have to develop policies, you have to become populist to some extent and you have to hop on whatever bandwagon is there. Look at it as now, that the “hunger strikers died for LGBT rights.” I don’t know any man in the seventies or eighties who would’ve got out of their bed for that, and risked their lives or took anyone else’s life. So if that is what it was about, if it was about “equality” then three and a half thousand people didn’t need to die in the current phase.
The issue is sovereignty. Republicans don’t need to be involved in how the State runs itself— that’s a matter for the State. Republicans by their nature are opposed to the existence of the State and this is one of the problems. If you go back to 1969 and the outbreak of the Troubles in the North, and the Troubles began in 1966 for people like Gusty Spence when Catholics were being killed on a regular enough basis. We had pogroms before that in the 20’s when people were being wiped out.
And in the 1960s the Republican Movement had shifted towards “civil rights”. Now, with hindsight I think that was a mistake. I think it should have been solely focused on the sovereignty issue. If you get involved with civil rights, as they did, and this was led mainly by Communists initially, by people like Betty Sinclair in the Communist Party in the North and Desmond Greaves in the Connolly Association in England, who were influencing the Republican leadership here. And there was too much influence on the leadership then from people like Coughlan and Johnson and that, who moved it in a way that Goulding seemed to want. And there’s an argument that he felt he was intellectually less than those people because they were college educated.
And it’s interesting that in 1916 the leaders of the Revolution were all college educated or academics of one sort or another. And they had a totally different focus, it wasn’t about being popular. If you look at Pearse’s writings he knew the Rising was going to be a failure, a military failure, and he knew the Brits would react and take out the leaders and that would be the blood sacrifice, not the initial Rising.
So the issue is not how Britain runs the North, or even how this State down here runs this State, but it’s whether they have any right to do it at all. And when you start going down the road of “well listen lads if you give us a share of the cake, then you can stay and then everything’ll be okay, and give us what we want.”
And the Good Friday Agreement was always where the Provisionals were going to end up. The question was how much could they maximise for their own people, and I mean their own protected membership, rather than the wider public. Because the wider public and society doesn’t really benefit from who is in power, because it’s the same policies. People are still going out to work and paying taxes and still getting a bad healthcare system and all of these things, it’s still all the same problems manifest themselves like in probably every Western democracy.
And again if you look at the Provisionals and how the Hunger Strike was handled and the betrayal of the hunger strikers particularly after the death of Joe McDonnell, and Joe McDonnell in fact didn’t need to die but in real terms he only had a day or two. But the six people who died after that died so that the Provisional leadership, or the Provisional alliance as they were originally called, could obtain a position of power. And that’s their legacy. Not really implementing British rule in Ireland, which Fianna Fáil never done. You can argue the Blueshirts did do it and are still doing it and think they’ve a God-given right to do it.
But you can see by 1972 probably, civil rights in the North had probably been achieved, or were on their way. And then we all got new rights that some people wanted, and now in this decade we have identity politics and things that people didn’t even dream of.
TB: I remember talking to Pearse Doherty outside the Dáil maybe two or three years ago when England passed abortion legislation in the North. How far have we fallen when “Irish Republicans” are applauding English legislation to kill Irish babies.
MS: And demanding that the English government implement laws in Ireland.
TB: I think the excuse was “well they have a responsibility to bring in the legislation under St Andrews.”
MS: Well didn’t we fight a war for the past hundred years to say they had no responsibility, that they had no right to make any legislation in Ireland. The argument that even in the setting up of the North by the Government of Ireland Act, which they repealed with the GFA, but that was an Act against the sovereignty of the Irish people. The Irish people had decided. And this is the question over language— there was no civil war in Ireland.
There was the establishment of the Republic in 1916 on the steps of the GPO. It was ratified by the people in 1918. And the Irish Government, Dáil Éireann, was the legitimate government then, of Ireland. And it fought the first defence of the Republic against British forces. In 1922 they fought the second defence of the Republic against Irish forces in British uniforms with British weapons under British legislation. It didn’t matter that the Dáil or elements of the Dáil had ratified that Treaty, the Plenipotentiaries had no power to discuss the sovereignty of the Nation, nevermind sell it off.
We now have revisionists telling us how Collins would’ve done this or would’ve done that, if he hadn’t been killed. What we know is that those who followed him, we know what they did, and we know what De Valera did when he left the Republican Movement.
People seem to forget that it was during the Counter Revolution from 1922 to 1923 that seventy seven people were executed by Free State forces in the jails, nevermind those who were killed extrajudicially on the streets. And if you were to ask anyone on the street they wouldn’t believe you, they’d tell you the Tans done far worse, killed more people.
TB: They wouldn’t know Paddy Daly’s name.
MS: No. They’d barely know Pearse’s name. And now we’ve moved on to the belief that “Connolly is the guru” by people, who I don’t believe are republicans and I don’t even believe they’re socialists, that are using Connolly now as this “bulwark for Communism”. Connolly was in the minority in the leadership and I don’t think that Irish people want to see a Socialist State. I know we all claimed to be looking for a thirty two county socialist democratic republic but that’s just rhetoric. It didn’t actually mean anything that was just the slogan. Republicans and certainly Irish Republicans like myself want an end to British rule in Ireland, we want the sovereignty of the Irish Nation restored. And whatever evolves from that is a matter for the people.
But as we move towards where we are now, with a population of 5.1 million which is 1 and a half million up on what it was 20 years ago. With, and I know this term becomes very loaded but with population replacement, the vast majority of those people, of the “new Irish”, won’t have any loyalty to the Irish Nation, they might have a loyalty to the State but they won’t have any concept within themselves, and this is no fault of theirs, but their allegiance within themselves is to their original country. And they will have a vote because they’ve all been given citizenship.
TB: It seems to be that when you look at the discourse in the North, back in the 80s or the 90s, it was always “we will become a majority in the North” and I think that was the selling point for the GFA but it seems to have changed now from “we are going to become the majority” to “Unionists will no longer be the majority.”
MS: And you see in the North, just as here, you have Unionists, Nationalists and a new grouping in the middle who have no allegiance to either side. And the demographic argument was always made on the basis that somebody as Catholic they would naturally vote to join us. Who in their right mind would vote to join this kip down here? Even if you look at it from the national health service alone, or the housing problem, why would you come down here? Whatever can be said about the North, and it’s a strange time when you have to say that the DUP are the people that make the most sense in relation to Brexit.
Irish Republicans, when we speak about the sovereignty of the Nation, it’s freedom from Britain and from Europe. We left the United Kingdom and we immediately within fifty years joined a bigger and worse Union, and any time the Irish people have been asked, at Lisbon or at Nice, twice we rejected further integration with Europe and this wider concept, and we had to go back and vote and do what we were told.
So the Irish people I think in their own psyche, and in their own belief, want an independent Ireland, a sovereign Nation. They want leaders in this country who aren’t concerned about going to music concerts and sitting in shorts and t-shirts, but people that will actually have some stature and have some ability to do a job and stand up for this country. And not, be kowtowing to Europe or to America or to anybody else. But that we’re confident enough to run our own affairs.
Sadly we seem to be lacking in any ability, if you look at the current controversies like Zappone. A made-up job to push an LGBT agenda that most people in the country are not worried about— it’s not top of their priorities, or why we need to be running around the world, advocating things that really don’t matter to us on a daily basis just to be seen to be the good guys.
Even if you look at the coverage from Afghanistan, it’s all about “oh women won’t be able to go to school” or “gays won’t be respected.” I don’t give a f what happens in Afghanistan. But what I do care about is Johnny down the road has special needs who can’t get a school place. I want to know why there’s almost a million people on waiting lists to go to the hospital. Or why is there 100,000 children waiting on mental health services. Not what’s happening somewhere that when I was growing up I’d never even heard of.
And all these things become “our problems” to distract us from what we’re not doing here. And sometimes you wonder are people really stupid.
TB: I remember I think it was Simon Coveney saying Ireland was going to hold the Taliban to account on the international stage.
MS: *Laughing* They couldn’t defeat the IRA!
TB: They couldn’t get “Irish” citizens out of Afghanistan without other countries.
TB: I don’t know if you’d seen the 32CSM put up a commemoration speech for Alan Ryan, and they made the same sort of argument that the focus has shifted towards unity of two jurisdictions rather than the sovereignty of Ireland.
MS: Yeah and the CSM have a document lodged with the United Nations that set out their demands in a very good argument in favour of independence. And one of the things in that speech I think they spoke about the unity of republican groupings and if you take that speech and the speech by Phil Donoghue, I think the year of Garland’s funeral, before Garland’s wake.
So one of the things that people are looking at now is that you have a baseline of what republicanism is, what Irish republicanism is and that people adhere to that. I don’t think you need unity of groups because I don’t think that is going to happen, I think there’s too many egos. And I’ve lost track of how many groups there are now and every week it seems like there’s another one, and entire alleged leaderships in jail. And the fixation on running a war, which none of them are doing, is only leading more and more people to jail. It’s encouraging the intelligence budget for Mi5 and the State down here to target people.
Violence has to be a tactic and the principle of violence is the right to use it when it’s needed and when you have an ability and when you can actually achieve your objective, assuming there’s no other way. And because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it and that seems to be something that they can’t understand.
TB: That the method is the mission?
MS: Well I think they’re attracting a lot of macho-kind of people and there needs to be an education program, people need to be.. Not indoctrinated, that’s a bad word, but people need to be taught what republicanism means. And it didn’t just start with the hunger strikes or Bloody Sunday, but they need to go back and I’m sure a lot of them do run education programs but they all now run them and they all have to be trendy liberal, and they fail to understand what the base and the core issue is.
Even if you look, a lot of them are involved with the homeless issue in Dublin and going out feeding people and they argue “well republicans should do that.” Republicans shouldn’t do that. Republicans have one role and that’s to deal with the sovereignty of the Nation and how we achieve that. And ultimately we will and it won’t be as we see it now.
There’s some debate going on within some republican groups on this “One Ireland One Vote” referendum. The Irish people cannot determine the sovereignty of the Nation. The sovereignty is clear— this island and its territorial seas and its outer islands are the Irish Nation. Not as they changed the Constitution after the Good Friday Agreement to say it’s something “out there” or some State “where the people are.” What sort of crap is that? And people voted for that and then turn around they say they voted for the Good Friday Agreement but they didn’t. They actually voted to remove your territory from your Constitution. And people can’t understand that.
I think for this generation, our job is to build that notion of sovereignty and keep that flame and at the same time that we don’t needlessly send men to prison or to graves, because we’ve seen that those who ended up in the graves or in the jails have been used, and this is where we have to be very careful, but as cannon fodder essentially, by aspiring leaderships. And I think that’s why to some extent the flame can only be entrusted to those long term veterans, those people who have, say, been involved since the 50’s and who are still active or are still there. And they may not be public figures but there are significant numbers of them and they are still about the place. And who have always been committed and always been working in the background. Those are the people with the long term commitment, those are the people that came into the Movement at a time when it was very strong.
If you look even in the 60s and 70s Dublin had a couple brigades, northside and southside and they probably had two hundred active volunteers. The Provisionals wouldn’t have had that. So we need to develop and argue now that we’re not caught up in a war, we need to argue how we achieve sovereignty and actually define what it is because most people don’t know.
I’ve often made the argument about Brexit. If Nigel Farage had not led the Brexit process in Britain, the left would’ve been for Brexit. I remember during Lisbon when Farage was over here and nobody would sit on a panel with him. I ended up having a good chat with him outside Dublin Castle after the result of the first referendum but nobody would sit with him. The same with Declan Ganley, “oh we can’t sit on a platform with him because he’s a right wing fascist.” Now we’re called the right wing fascists! I’ve now probably joined that camp.
And the key to a lot of it seems to be your position on abortion, not where you sit really in relation to Brexit but if you’re anti-abortion, you’re automatically a “far-right racist fascist bigot.” Right throughout the world. And how they got that much control on that one issue, which we now see is rolling back in America, in Poland and in Hungary. In time, people will realise what they’ve done here.
TB: And for Pro-Lifers how do you think we go about pushing back against it in the South? When you look at the abortion rate in the last 2 years. Thirteen and a half thousand babies dead. Is there any future for a Nation or society that will kill that many of its own people?
MS: Well ultimately there’s not. Any society that decides on one hand to kill off its young before they’re born, and on the other side to encourage relationships which cannot, by their nature, procreate, you’re doomed to extinction.
What can we do in the short term? Probably not a lot. Because it will take a certain amount of time to work its way through, but I think as we come to the next generation, people will start to realise that there’s something wrong. When the next generation goes looking for its pensions and there’s nobody left to pay the pensions, it may change. I think society is evolving and on the one hand you can’t blame the people, there has been continual indoctrination since the amendment went in and there was a continual onslaught right from the top and right through the media against anyone who stood up to it. The same as the marriage referendum, which was a dry run for it and you saw how that manipulated its opinion.
Humans are creatures of, well I’m not sure what you’d call it, but people want to be part of the crowd aside from a few of us who don’t mind being outside of the crowd. Most people just want acceptance. And they don’t want to think, they want to be like everyone else. Look at the city council now distributing packs around the schools, pronoun pledges. What’s that? When I went to school the only pledge you took was at your confirmation not to drink.
TB: I think most people broke that.
MS: I think most people took it for the day, you know. I don’t know if that even happens anymore. And we’re removing any sense of our own history. And we’re not replacing it with anything— you know we’re saying “everything in this State was wrong and the Church was to blame.” If the Church wasn’t involved in education and hadn’t set up the Christian Brothers schools, I wouldn’t have gotten an education and nor would most people of my generation. If the nuns hadn’t set up the hospitals, ordinary people wouldn’t have got healthcare. And of course some things they didn’t do right. If you talk about the Mother-and-baby homes the mortality rate was no different than in broader society. If you were to talk to any woman in her eighties, they most likely had a child who died at birth or not long after. Most likely born dead, or died from TB or all the other illnesses that were there at that time, and instead of saying “well why did the Church have to do these things,” “why did the Church have to build hospitals,” “why did the Church have to take in women that were thrown out by families because they were pregnant,” “why did all these things have to happen?”
It’s because the State failed to do what we paid it to do. Even recently, Darragh O’Brien demanding the Church hand over land to the State to build houses. There’s no bigger provider of care and help to the homeless and the poor than the Church or religious groups. We’ve said religion is bad, or well just that one religion is bad— we don’t really mention Protestants because there’s not that many of them down here, but that Muslims are good.
And people talk about the ethos in school, if people don’t want to send their children to a non-Catholic school then go to a non-Catholic school. Demand that the State build you a school for your needs, don’t be demanding that my child should be deprived of their right to have a Catholic education in a Catholic school. And I mean even at that, the Catholic education is very “Catholic-in-inverted-commas.”
If you look at the whole feminisation of the teaching profession, we have the absence of any positive male role models for children growing up. We have the whole breakdown of the family, a society where a lot of men are now excluded, and we’re told that that progresses feminism.
And I don’t believe that the DEIS schools and all that really help a child to progress, I think it actually stigmatises them more. It can’t be good for a child to go to school and get its breakfast, and get its lunch, and its after-school project because that destroys the whole concept of family and everybody doesn’t need that. There will always be a number of cases where there is neglect and this is where social services should get involved and deal with these things but it appears that they don’t.
If you take out religion, and it’s not religion in a school as in “sit down and say your prayers” and “go to Mass.” It’s about moral fabric, what’s right and wrong. And people intrinsically know some things are right and wrong, like we know murder is wrong because we shouldn’t take life, and I think that’s a human instinct, not because religion tells us. But we know theft is wrong because we’ve been given moral guidance on that from somewhere, because the natural thing to do if I want that would be to just take it.
Man was originally hunter-gathered, killed and brought whatever animals back. And we’ve done away with that now, and we’re creating a Nation of sheep. We’ve created a Nation of people now in the current period where you get paid enough to sit at home through the PUP and paid businesses enough so that they’d make money without working and that’s about controlling the dissent. If people are not financially penalised then it doesn’t really matter— “sure I might as well sit at home.” And now we’ve the problem where young fellas that would’ve been working in pubs and restaurants and, why would you go back when you can get 350 a week for sitting at home doing nothing?
TB: Do you think that enables hedonism in such a way that when you see the money drug gangs go around with, that their rise has been connected to this retrenchment of republicanism from broader communities into small pockets?
MS: I’ll give you an example: if you were here in a couple of hours you’d see scooters going up and down the road there, you’d see open drug dealing on the main road there. When the Republican Movement, and this was originally an Official IRA area, that didn’t happen. Now in many of the cases people would know not to be doing those kinds of things without any kind of overt man-in-a-mask, and if they didn’t know then they were told. Now then, the Officials moved backwards and wouldn’t have been strong since Flynn was killed in ‘82 and the Provisionals weren’t really interested until they seen they could use the Concerned Parents mark 2 for their own agenda to keep their volunteers active while they sold them out. And the INLA didn’t really have a presence here since the mid-70s when they were formed, notwithstanding the fact Costello was shot 2 streets away from here.
But in areas where Republicans and active Republicans were known in the community, that held a lid on what was happening. Even on ordinary crime, but now, and particularly since the murder of Alan Ryan, the execution of Alan Ryan and the failure, and I think they touched on this on the speech on Sunday, but the failure to react to that meant that republicans and militant republicans and armed republicans have no real power any more. The power lies with the Kinahans and the Hutches and all these other gangs right around the country.
But we’re told people deal drugs because of poverty, people get involved because of poverty. Nonsense. There is no real poverty in Ireland, drug dealing is employment and we fail to see that that is just as legitimate in drug dealers’ minds as getting up and going to the office. And you can see different shifts, or if you seen that thing on Ballymun a couple of months ago, the drug dealer goes off for his lunch and comes back.
So they’re making very good incomes and they’re obtaining a lifestyle that is relatively easy to obtain. They’re starting as spotters, 16-17 they’re climbing up the ranks and are probably dead by the time they’re 25 and they didn’t really get any benefits out of it, and they make so much money then that they start using their own product and the whole thing implodes and fall outs and power struggles start. But they don’t see it like that, it’ll be like going in for a pint— he won’t be the alcoholic that’ll be the fella down there, and anybody taking drugs doesn’t see that they’ll become the drug addict.
TB: Do you think, we were talking earlier about the feminisation of education, do you think the feminisation of society goes hand-in-hand?
MS: I think it’s all intertwined.
TB: Do you think that naturally violent people are drawn towards drug dealing as an outlet?
MS: I don’t think violence leads to drug dealing, I think drug dealing leads to violence. I remember my father in law saying that it all started to go wrong when we done away with apprenticeships, because you were getting fellas that might end up in trouble otherwise going out and do a hard days’ work— they weren’t learning how to be an electrician in DIT or in a classroom they were learning on-site and they were too tired to do anything else when they came home. And they’d go out and have a few drinks on the weekend and their entertainment was confined to then, and you’d people playing sports and that.
And we’re told that there’s continual demand now, and Mulvey came in to do a report in the inner city. He didn’t talk to someone like me and I lived here all my life, because he didn’t want the answers that I would give him. All he did and I remember putting up a post about this saying “this is what he’ll do, he’ll speak to all these different groups and the only thing that’ll come back will be— give him money, give him money, don’t give him any money.” And that’s exactly what they done and that money goes, by and large, into employing middle class people from Malahide and Glasnevin to come into the inner city with their social work degrees or whatever other nonsense they come in with to do programs that most people have no benefit from.
We’ve created a class that has become so dependent on one level on the State, the State looks after all their needs and more. And we get people saying “why is Johnny selling drugs down there?” Johnny is selling drugs down there because he’s making 2 grand a week.
TB: The “Why is he selling drugs? Oh it’s because of the war on drugs.” There’d never been a war on drugs, nobody middle class has ever been punished for buying a bag of coke.
MS: No. I remember when virgin media was being launched. And the show on was about the Kinahans and the Hutch feud and it’s now into its third remake and I was on it with the Lord Mayor at the time and we done the radio shows on the day of its launch. And we done one in Newstalk. And I mentioned in it people like Gerry Ryan and your woman the actress who died before that and I was told at the end of it “you shouldn’t have mentioned Gerry Ryan” and I said “why not?” Now that was the one episode of that show that never went up. When people went on RTE after Gerry Ryan died and said “Jesus I didn’t know he was on drugs.” The only person who was honest was Garrett O’Callaghan, Dave Fanning maybe and they were shafted or moved to the side. I knew Gerry Ryan was on coke and if I knew, the people he was sitting drinking with knew. And this is where the push for decriminalisation is, because a huge swathe of the middle class, the establishment figures and politicians, are you know.
But we have allowed narco-terrorism, and I remember years ago saying there will be people in elected positions here who will be in the pay of the drug gangs. We only have to look at for instance the trial of Patrick Hutch the collapse of that trial, where there has been no inquiry into it, it has just been covered up and that goes to the very root of this State. But why would we be surprised when this State was prepared to acquiesce to the murder of its own citizens in the 1970s in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings? Fianna Fáil and the Establishment were willing to smash, or to try and smash the IRA in 1969 and 1970 and try to foment the Provisional Alliance to protect their own power base in this State.
When a Government is prepared to do what they were willing to do in the Arms Trial then people shouldn’t be surprised at what’s happening now— because there we had a government willing to send Ministers in to perjure themselves, a government that was willing to sacrifice their own intelligence officers like Captain Kelly who was an admirable man. Who I would totally disagree with, but he was carrying out the orders he was given to create, effectively, another Army to ensure that Fianna Fáil survived. People like Gibbons going in and perjuring themselves – just like today “Oh I didn’t know.” Luckily for them there was no text messages at the time.
And it’s now come back to bite them because the Shinners are going to be the new Fianna Fáil— and that’s what they are. The same people who would’ve joined Fianna Fáil in the 40s and 50s are the same ones that are joining Sinn Féin now.
TB: We kinda spoke how republicanism lost its cogency as a cultural force. Do you think it’s the Americanisation, commercialisation of culture that has really affected Ireland?
MS: I think the removal of intrinsic Irish culture on some levels has been bad and some levels good. If you look at Riverdance which was a new form, Michael Flatley comes in from Boston and changes what had passed for Irish dancing before, which was a more rigid sort of austere form. But if you went back it only became that rigid competition form in the late 60s maybe the early 70s, before that it was a much looser form. It has gone back on one level and been internationalised.
I remember writing for the Sunday Times about it and how it came about, and the major influence was Marie Duffy. When Michael Flatley used to come to Ireland to compete in the Irish dancing competitions in the 70s he would’ve danced in her class on North Great George’s Street. And she was a great influence in developing dancing through choreography and nobody really picked up on that at the time and Piers Morgan done an interview with Flatley and he had Marie Duffy on it, and Flatley was saying Duffy was the inspiration, or part of the inspiration, to develop the dancing. She was actually one of the choreographers.
So you see, Irish struggle and particularly republican struggle has always been told through song and dance and ballads and now we’re at a loss for all that. You hear a bit now on the national media because it’s popular to be a Republican, but you wouldn’t have heard people coming out using songs like the Foggy Dew ten years ago so there is somewhat of an emergence but take for example Kevin Barry – banned from the airways. Whatever about Sean South, you can argue that’s the fifties and that’s IRA but stuff like the 1916 songs were banned from the airwaves.
So where does that leave us as Irish Republicans? We’re probably in the same position as we were in during the 40’s: we’re down but we’re not out. We’re not beaten. And it will arise again in the future. And hopefully it doesn’t arise through violence because that doesn’t achieve our objectives, unless we were in a position to launch the Tet Offensive which we were all being geared up for in the late 80s or early 90s when most of us thought “it’s not gonna happen, something else is afoot here.”
TB: When you do look at the Movement and where it was in the 40s and the 50s it was very broad based, you had the likes of Sean South, McGarland, Goulding all in the same movement. I know we spoke about not needing a singular grouping at the present but do you think that continuum of views is what’s needed for republicanism?
MS: Well it comes back to “what is the core principle of republicanism?” Sean South in today’s climate is now apparently a right-wing fascist, into Maria Duce and a Catholic, and he wouldn’t be allowed near anything. It’s interesting to hear the Officials and the INLA talk about Joe McCann and “Joe McCann would’ve gone with the irps had he been still alive.” Total conjecture, because his brother-in-law Anthony Dornan went with the INLA and was a subsequent Chief of Staff. Joe McCann, despite being a socialist was buried in the gown of the third order, the Franciscan’s third order I think. It’s a brown habit I think, and a lot of people, a lot of women if they’d been in the Legion of Mary at some stage would’ve got the Child of Mary thing and it was more traditional then, but the fact he was buried in the garb of the third order meant that he was effectively a practicing Catholic and that would be a no-no now.
You see for Irish Republicans, for older Republicans, we would’ve been socialists with a small “s”— and what did that mean? It meant that the State would own the infrastructure, the roads, electricity, the phones and the hospitals. It didn’t mean the harder you worked, the less you got. If you wanted to progress, you worked harder. Not this big overreaching thing that controls everything you do— it was primarily that we wanted freedom.
The liberals and the liberal-left talk about freedom, and in fact we’re less free now that we’ve ever been at any time in our history and where do we go from that? Currently we’re just caught in it and we’re not going anywhere quick unless something huge happens. And now to be socialist even with a small s means that you have to come onboard with this whole other agenda, and all the other political parties have moved into this space because they think it’s popular.
And we will come to the point where people will begin to question this and that’s where Republicans need to be and I was thinking about this and how we get different republican groups to subscribe to a basic position. I think we should take inspiration from Edward Carson.
We set out something like the Ulster Covenant, but a Republican Covenant, and we set out clearly what the Republican baseline position is so that people know that there can be no deviation from that— all the other stuff and the other issues that people get distracted by we don’t get distracted by. We are free to disagree on the non-important issues but we stress the immutability of the core Republican positions that we all sign up towards. We focus on the issue and not the trimmings around that issue.