The Irish Republican Army Thursday called for all of its volunteers to disarm, effectively ending a 36-year guerilla campaign against the British government. We’ll look at whether this move will really change the fate of Northern Ireland. [includes rush transcript]
British military commanders are dismantling some bases and security posts in Northern Ireland. This follows an order from the Irish Republican Army Thursday for all of its volunteers to disarm, effectively ending a 36-year guerilla campaign against the British government. The paramilitary group fought for the reunification of Ireland’s 32 counties and to end British rule in Ireland. Over the past 36 years, sectarian fighting left over 3,600 people dead.
On Thursday the IRA stated it remains fully committed to the goals of Irish unity and independence and that the armed struggle was entirely legitimate. But the group said it would pursue its goals through political, not violent means.
- Seanna Walsh, IRA spokesperson:
"The leadership of Oglaigh na hEirann has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign. This will take effect from four p.m. this afternoon. All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever."
While Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland expressed skepticism about the sincerity of the announcement, many other officials in Britain and Ireland praised the move as a potential turning point.
- Tony Blair, British Prime Minister:
"This may be the day when finally after all the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war. Politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland. I welcome the statement of the IRA that ends its campaign. I welcome its clarity. I welcome the recognition that the only route to political change lies in exclusively peaceful and democratic means."
However, veteran journalist Ed Moloney told Democracy Now! that the move is not as significant as the IRA claims. He says "the commitment from now on to use exclusively peaceful methods is meaningless because they signed up to the commitment when they joined the all-party talks out of which came the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. They’re really formalizing the obvious."
British and Irish politicians are now in talks to determine how to restore power-sharing in the government of Northern Ireland. Initial measures will include amnesty for paramilitary fugitives and other measures enabling autonomous governance.
- Ed Moloney, author of "The Secret History of the IRA" and former Northern Ireland editor for the Irish Times and Sunday Tribune.
AMY GOODMAN: This is IRA spokesperson, Séanna Walsh.
SÉANNA WALSH: The leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann has formally ordered an end to armed campaign. This will take effect from 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. All I.R.A. units have been ordered to dump arms. All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever. We reiterate our view that the armed struggle was entirely legitimate. We are conscious that many people suffered in the conflict. There is a compelling imperative on all sides to build a just and lasting peace.
AMY GOODMAN: That was I.R.A. spokesperson Séanna Walsh. While Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland expressed skepticism about the sincerity of the announcement, many other officials in Britain and Ireland praised the move as a potential turning point. This is British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
TONY BLAIR: This may be the day when finally after all of the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland. I welcome the statement of the I.R.A. that ends its campaign. I welcome its clarity. I welcome the recognition that the only route to political change lies in exclusively peaceful and democratic means.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Sinn Fein, the political arm of the I.R.A., called on the British government to fulfill its end of the Good Friday peace agreement that was signed in 1998. This is Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams.
GERRY ADAMS: And there’s now no possible excuse for the British and Irish governments to not fully and faithfully implement the Good Friday agreement. In particular, this means an end to pandering to those Unionists who are rejectionists. That means that the British government must urgently address the issues of demilitarization, equality and the human rights agendas.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams speaking Thursday. British and Irish politicians are in talks to determine how to restore power sharing in the government of Northern Ireland. Initial measures will include amnesty for paramilitary fugitives and other measures enabling autonomous governance. In a minute, we’re going to be joined by Ed Moloney. He is author of A Secret History of the I.R.A. But first, we’re going back to Reverend Jesse Jackson, to talk about the Democratic Leadership Council. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Earlier this week, the Democratic Leadership Council held its two-day convention in Columbus, Ohio. They outlined an agenda for the party based on national security, family values, health care, tax reform, and managing the federal government. Jesse Jackson your response to the D.L.C.’s meeting?
BUTCH WING: I’m sorry, Amy, the Reverend had to go on the chair for C-SPAN. This is Butch Wing on his staff. Suffice it to say that the D.L.C really emerged out of our Rainbow presidential campaigns of 1984 and 1988 and in many ways were the antithesis of our Southern progressive strategy in the electoral arena and combining grassroots political organizing in the electoral sphere. And in many ways has taken credit for victories that others have won. So it again is raising its head. And we will have to challenge them again today as we did ten years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re saying you’re in a way taking credit for the D.L.C., saying it was a direct response to this much more grassroots approach?
BUTCH WING: We’re not taking credit for them. The D.L.C. emerged really in counter to us and the empowerment of African Americans and Latinos and progressives around the country. And so it is time for us to rebuild and revitalize that coalition so that D.L.C. politics do not dominate in the political sphere.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, thanks very much for being with us, and thanks for filling in for Reverend Jackson. As we turn now to the story of the I.R.A., what some are talking about "a farewell to arms." We’re joined in our studio by Ed Moloney, author of A Secret History of the I.R.A., and former Northern Ireland Editor for the Sunday Times and Irish Tribune. Welcome. Thanks for joining us. Your response to —
ED MOLONEY: Well, in some ways this is, you know, an exceedingly important move by the I.R.A. because it underlines what has been a gradual movement away from revolutionary armed politics into constitutional politics. And with that has, you know, come the entrance of Sinn Fein into very much conventional, middle of the road politics. They have discarded a lot of their earlier revolutionary rhetoric and now are very much a sort of, I guess, mainstream, centrist, slightly left of center party.
On the other hand, this is a move which is utterly meaningless. The I.R.A. yesterday said that its campaign against Britain was now formally over. Well, there was no campaign against Britain, and there hasn’t been a campaign against Britain really since 1997, when they called a cease-fire. And equally, the commitment from now on to use exclusively peaceful methods is also meaningless, because they signed up to that commitment when they joined the all-party talks out of which came this power sharing agreement, the Good Friday agreement of 1998. So they’re really formalizing the obvious, recognizing a reality which has been there for eight years, and in that sense it’s absolutely cost-free for them.
What they have not done, though, has been to do two things. First of all, give a commitment that the I.R.A. will end another drift, which has been evident in the last few years or so, which is a drift into criminality. The I.R.A. which once, you know, fought the British and bombed British cities and so on and so forth is now more intent on smuggling petrol across the Irish border, peddling counterfeit DVDs and CDs, a lot of them from China, selling stolen cigarettes around the doorways in places like West Belfast, running protection rackets and so on and so forth.
And if you look at the makeup of the current Army council, it includes individuals who, from very poor working class backgrounds, have become property moguls or millionaires. How does that happen except through that? So there’s no specific commitment that that will happen, nor is there any commitment that the I.R.A. will go away, will disband, which is one of the demands that was made in the wake of the big robbery which took place in Belfast earlier this year and also the stabbing to death of Robert McCartney. That was a demand that was made on this side of the Atlantic and also over in Ireland and Britain. There’s nothing in this statement which would suggest that that will happen, and the suspicion, therefore, is that the I.R.A. leadership, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, will keep the I.R.A. going as a sort of semi-criminal type organization which has the potential to cause instability to the peace process. And out of that instability, Sinn Fein builds electoral support. So this has become a story which is less about the achievement of Irish unity or Irish independence and now is more really about, in my view, at least, is more about how Sinn Fein grows into a major political party, which is precisely what is happening.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the prospects for the eventual success of the Republican movement in terms of ending British control over Ireland?
ED MOLONEY: Well, my own view, and I think it’s one that is shared quite widely, is that there is absolutely nothing in the power sharing deal which could guarantee or even suggest that the goal of Irish unity is achievable. And what Sinn Fein and the I.R.A. have done by signing up to the Good Friday agreement is to accept the constitutional status quo that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and that it will remain so as long as the majority of its population, in other words, the Protestants or Unionists of Northern Ireland say so. And, of course, you know, given the demographics of Northern Ireland, that’s going to be a reality for as far as one can see in the future. And in return for accepting the status quo and in return for accepting the so-called principal of consent, Sinn Fein has been offered and presumably whenever this deal is revived, they will take seats in a power sharing government and become ministers. So, I mean, in the last power sharing government that survived for a couple of years, Martin McGuinness who is now over here selling this deal was Minister of Education, and they had another colleague who was Minister of Health. Those were cabinet posts. If you had said 20 years ago that these people who were out directing a bombing and shooting campaign to get rid of the British presence in Northern Ireland would have ended up as Ministers of the Crown in the government of Northern Ireland, people would have thought you were mad. But this is exactly what has happened and is likely to happen again.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there is any relation between the timing of this announcement and what’s going on in London around the bombings?
ED MOLONEY: Probably not. Although this is very welcome news for Tony Blair because he is under enormous pressure, as you know. In Britain, the view that the Islamic bombings in London for the last month or so are a direct response to Blair’s role as the so-called "pillion passenger" to George Bush in Iraq is very strong. It’s one that’s very difficult for Tony Blair to deny. But he has been trying to deny it. He’s under pressure. He needs some sort of success, given the fact that the Scotland Yard operation up to now has more resembled keystone cops in a very tragic way, as we saw with the death of that poor Brazilian guy, than an efficient anti-terrorist operation. He’s desperate for a success on the terrorism front, and here is one which he can now tout around as a success and show the world that terrorism can be ended, and he, Tony Blair, has done this.
AMY GOODMAN: "Pillion passenger," we have heard this a few times now. What does it mean for an American audience?
ED MOLONEY: "Pillion passenger" is someone who sits behind the rider of a motorcyclist.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the economic conditions in Northern Ireland. Clearly Ireland has become a favorite for offshore manufacturing facilities from the United States, a tax haven in certain ways. What’s been the economic condition developing in Northern Ireland?
ED MOLONEY: Well, most of the so-called "Celtic tiger," which has been, as you say correctly, the result of investment in things like high-tech and computer, has been confined to the southern part of Ireland, the 26 counties which have been independent from Britain since 1921. Very little of that has spilled across the northern part of the border. And really, conditions in areas where Sinn Fein, for example, is the predominant party, have not changed that much since the start of the cease-fire. There’s still a great deal of unemployment, a great deal of poverty. Housing conditions are not great. So, there’s a big gap to be made up there, and the cease-fire and the peace process, in terms of the economic condition of the ordinary people who supported the provost during the 30 years of war, they really haven’t seen much of an economic peace dividend.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ed Moloney. He is author of A Secret History of the I.R.A.. This book is also a chronicle of the rise of Gerry Adams. I want to ask you about Gerry Adams, the man, and what you think right now. But it’s interesting as we talk about sources being revealed, Juan was one of those reporters in 1999 who signed a letter on your behalf, Ed Moloney, when the British government attempted to force you to surrender your notes on a story you were — you had written concerning allegations of state collusion in the murder of a Belfast lawyer. Can you explain what happened?
ED MOLONEY: Well, first of all, I’m glad I’m here this morning, because it gives me the opportunity to thank Juan in person for what he did for me, which was extremely valuable, and there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t got the support of people like Juan and indeed yourself, Amy, and other American journalists who rallied to my side at that time, I very possibly would have been in a situation very similar to Judith Miller.
The story was quite simply about a loyalist paramilitary activist who had also been a police informer, who had given the police advance information about the planned murder of a well-known Belfast attorney called Pat Finucane. The police had failed to act on his intelligence, and indeed afterwards when he also told the police about the movements of the murder weapon, the police did nothing at all. And these fed and fueled allegations and suggestions that the state had actually colluded in the murder of this attorney.
Now, I interviewed this guy. He was very scared, very worried. For the best part of nine or ten years, he did not want his story published, quite understandably. But then another inquiry was launched into that murder, and he was arrested. And he was charged with the murder, extraordinarily. The guy who had actually told the police that this is going to happen was charged with the murder.
So, at that point, he gave me permission to use the story. And we ran the story very heavily in the Sunday Tribune. It caused great deal of publicity and the next thing that happens is Scotland Yard is on my door with a writ demanding that I hand over all my notes of conversations and interviews with this man, presumably so that they could be used, and I could be used as a witness in his trial for murder. That I would not do and could not do. And we had a lengthy court battle, but also a battle outside the court in which both yourself and Juan joined in, thankfully, and we won that successfully. And it demonstrated to me, actually, one of the important things in a situation like this is, yeah, fighting in the courtroom is important, but fighting outside the courtroom is a damn sight more important. And that’s where you really win it. That’s not what is happening here, I’m afraid, with the Plamegate business.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the way things are going, the climate in this country, we journalists here in the United States may soon need letters of support and solidarity from those of you in Europe and other countries.
ED MOLONEY: Well, indeed. That’s the way it’s going.
AMY GOODMAN: Very briefly, if you could chronicle for us the journey of Gerry Adams.
ED MOLONEY: Well, there’s absolutely no doubt that Gerry Adams is up there in the pantheon of Irish Republican leaders. He’s up there with Collins and Eamon de Valera, and when the history of the period is really written, you know, I think that will be truly recognized. He is a man who was a leader and recognized as a leader with enormous potential from the very start of the troubles. He joined the I.R.A. when he was 16. His father had been in the I.R.A. When the troubles broke out in 1969, 1970, he rose very quickly to the top of the I.R.A. in Belfast. And he has been the at top of the I.R.A., either in the city itself or nationally as a member of the Army Council, the ruling council of the I.R.A., for the best part of 30 years.
Very charismatic figure, very talented, a brilliant military strategist, but also a brilliant political strategist. This peace process, this peace strategy, which was once described to me in terms of what it’s achieved, as the equivalent of turning the Titanic in a bathtub is down to Gerry Adams. It was his plan, and it was his determination that pushed this through. And it required an enormous amount of skill, an enormous amount of ruthlessness and an enormous amount of duplicity on his part. The guy is no angel.
This peace process involved sacrificing a lot of the sacred principles of Irish republicanism. And he did so in a way which preserved (a) his own life, but also delivered the bulk of his organization into this peace process. And that is why I think you see him lauded in the White House, that you see him praised by people like Tony Blair and the Irish government. They recognize that this guy has done something quite extraordinary for them, as much as for anyone else, in the sense that he has brought these troubles in Northern Ireland, which were seen for so long as one of the intractable world conflicts on a par with the Middle East. It’s now over. It really is now over. And it’s down to Gerry Adams that this has happened. So, like him or love him or loathe him, there’s absolutely no doubt that Gerry Adams, you know, is an extraordinarily important figure in the story.
AMY GOODMAN: How did he betray the principles?
ED MOLONEY: The ways are beyond number, Amy. The story is so complex and so dark and so deep in terms of the things that he had to do, but for example, a book has just been published in Ireland, written by a former I.R.A. prisoner called Richard O’Rawe, who was the number two I.R.A. leader in the jail during the 1981 hunger strikes. And to remind your viewers, ten I.R.A. prisoners died on hunger strike for political status.
AMY GOODMAN: Bobby Sands.
ED MOLONEY: Led by Bobby Sands, whose cellmate, Séanna Walsh, read the I.R.A. statement that we just saw on the screen. Now, according to Richard O’Rawe, at a key point in the hunger strike after the death of four prisoners, the British government made a secret deal or secret offer to end the hunger strike, which would have given the prisoners 80% of their demands. And the prison leadership, including himself, accepted it. And the message was sent out to Gerry Adams as a representative of the I.R.A. leadership that the prisoners wanted to accept this deal. And Adams overruled them.
And the reason why Richard thinks that he and his colleagues in the jail were overruled was that if the hunger strike continued and more people died, then this would provide a platform from which Gerry Adams would be able to launch an electoral strategy and to bring Sinn Fein into electoral politics. Without that extra sacrifice, it may not have been possible for that to have happened. And as a result of going into electoral politics, we have the peace process. The peace process was the direct child of the hunger strike.
Now, if Richard is right, it means essentially that Mrs. Thatcher killed 4 hunger strikers but Gerry Adams killed six, and he killed six of his own colleagues, or he allowed six of his own colleagues to die in order to advance his political ambitions. Now, that’s a pretty chilling accusation and allegation to make. And it’s well supported by the evidence that Richard Marshall has in his book. And if it’s true, and I suspect very strongly it’s true, it gives an insight into a personality which is quite extraordinary, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Ed Moloney. A Secret History of the I.R.A. is the name of his book, former Northern Ireland Editor of the Irish Times and Sunday Tribune.