Gerry Adams is the pre-eminent republican activist of our times. A former President of Sinn Féin, he served as MP for West Belfast and as a TD in the Dáil over a four-decade period of frontline elected politics.
He is the author of several books including Before the Dawn, The Street and Other Stories and Falls Memories. His latest collection of short stories The Witness Trees will be published in the autumn.
He describes himself as "an optimistic and hopeful activist" and publishes a famed Twitter account.
THE recently released report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission is a shameful record of the brutality, ill-treatment and abuse inflicted on generations of women and their children in these institutions.
FATHER Joe McVeigh was a close friend and colleague of Des Wilson. It wasn’t just that both were priests. They both shared a passionate belief in justice and were committed to standing up for the rights of citizens against a British state apparatus which was oppressive and violent. Fr Des died on the November 5, 2019, aged 94. He lived a full life. A good life. And in the course of his years of service he helped thousands of people. During the dark years of war and violence he lived and worked in Ballymurphy and Springhill. With Joe McVeigh, Fr Des established the Community for Social Justice. Its role was to highlight the real nature of violence in Ireland and to challenge the leaders of the Church. Fr Des believed that the Church had a moral responsibility to stand against injustice and repression. As a tribute to his friend Fr Joe has just published a thoughtful tribute: Des Wilson – A Voice for the Poor and Oppressed. It tells the story of Des, his early life, his work as a priest in St John’s parish and then in Ballymurphy and Springhill, and then the setting up of Springhill Community House. I am honoured to have written the Foreword. Fr Joe says of Springhill Community House: “Des had a deep love and respect for the people in the Ballymurphy/Springhill community in which he lived. He always had time for a conversation and a cuppa tea. The door was always open. There was always a céad mile failte.
LIKE many other republicans I have spent several Christmases in prison. It’s not a nice place to be at any time, but especially over Christmas. I was reminded of this a few days before Christmas when I had the opportunity to hold a video conference with two of the imprisoned leaders of 'Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya' (ERC) – the main pro-independence party in Catalan. Oriol Junqueras is President of the ERC and Raul Romeva is the former Foreign Minister of the Catalan government. Both are currently serving prison sentences of 13 years and 12 years respectively in Lledoners prison, Catalonia. Declan Kearney MLA joined me in the conversation and also in attendance was Marta Rovira, the ERC’s General Secretary, who is currently exiled in Switzerland, and Jordi Solé, the ERC's Secretary for International Affairs.
DEAR readers, a very happy 2021 to you all. Here are ten personal things I want to do in this bright New Year.
THIS Christmas will unlike any other Christmas for most of us. The pandemic is to blame for that. Christmas can be a lonely place for some people. This year will be especially lonely for families who lost loved ones to the Coronavirus. Our thoughts are with them all. I hope everyone who can enjoys the festive season as best as you can. There are lots of things to dislike about the modern Christmas. The blatant commercialism of it. That may be a recent trait. Or maybe it was always thus. But nowadays the omnipresent pervasive media, social and otherwise, makes it difficult to escape the relentless advertising of the latest fad that we are persuaded that our children, spouse or friends cannot do without. I hate – if that’s not too strong a word – the distress caused for so many who cannot afford it getting caught up in this madness and getting into debt as a result. My heart goes out to stressed-out parents trying to make ends meet. I also greatly resent ‘Xmas’ replacing ‘Christmas’. You dear reader may respond to these remarks by declaring ‘That’s not Christmas.’ You may characterise my comments as Scrooge-like. You may even mutter: ‘He has turned into The Grinch.’ All this may or may not be true. But it misses the point. The point is Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of a little baby. Some believe this baby was the son of God, sent to save humanity. If he was it is edifying that he was born in a stable, in poverty, the boy child of a refugee couple, Joseph and Mary, fleeing from occupation forces. If God was trying to teach us a lesson there is a lifetime of lessons in that. Jesus wasn’t born in a palace. Or a grand big mansion. He was not born in a castle surrounded by riches and wealth. The baby Jesus was surrounded by farm animals. The stable was a cave. His bed was a manger. He grew up to become a working man, like Joseph the carpenter. His daddy. He grew up to teach love and fairness. His teachings are generally non-judgemental. Except when he addressed the great and the good. The wealthy powerful ones. In the end he was executed, done to death by crucifixion, by the great and the good. The wealthy powerful ones. I greatly appreciate those who work over Christmas. In hospitals and hospices. Nursing homes and orphanages. On the streets with the homeless and helpless. The Emergency Services. The ones who mind us. So it is good that we, believers or sceptics, should celebrate Christmas. And all humanity’s other great feast days. And that we should celebrate our own joyousness and good heartedness. Whether Christian or Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or Pagan. Believer or Non-Believer. We should celebrate and give thanks for the great benevolent givingness of decent hopeful people. I have lost most of my faith in the institutional Christian church. I know great churchmen and women who I respect. I still like Mass, the sociability and assurances of it. But any institution which refuses to accord women full rights or which is more concerned about controlling instead of empowering, or with rules and obscure doctrinal matters, has lost its way. Institutions tend to do that unless they are democratic and empowering. They forget their founding purpose. Or origins. In this case a baby born in a stable who grew up to mix with all the ‘wrong’ people. I like the crib. The baby Jesus. I remember there was a stuffed camel in the crib in Clonard. It was a childish treat to visit it. Or the Moving Crib in Parnell Square in Dublin. The simplicity of it. That’s the Christmas I like. I like Dadaí na Nollaig. Daddy Christmas. I like giving and receiving presents. There is nothing I need but I like not to be forgotten. I try not to open my presents until Christmas Day. I love that children are at the centre of it all. I like nice surprises. I love mince pies and good Christmas pudding. I love my Christmas dinner, especially when others cook and serve it and you get a wee drink as well. And pre-pandemic and post-pandemic when extended family and friends break bread together. When we give silent thanks for the roof over our heads and the warm fire and family and friendship, the good food and company. And think fondly of absent friends. And others not as well off as we are. Lonely, impoverished isolated pilgrims. In this time of pandemic Christmas will be a strange occasion for many people. I dislike Boxing Day. I’m a Saint Stephen’s Day man. A day for the outdoors, for walks and Christmas Day leftovers and lazing about. An old crocks match. And a decent film. Or a good book. Another wee drink or two. Peace and quiet. Celebrating life and the goodness of it.
BRITISH policy is dictated by British interests. It has always been so. The fact that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has again betrayed unionists over Brexit should have come as no surprise to anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of how British policy works.
MICHEÁL Martin’s ‘Shared Island Unit’ is perceived by some as a positive initiative encouraging debate on Irish unity, even though he fails to even mention unity in any of his utterances. For others it is a distraction. A talking shop that is short on strategy and lacking in vision. A means of pretending to be doing something while in fact doing as little as possible. And a way of avoiding taking the big steps necessary to plan for a referendum on unity, or mapping out what the shape of that new Ireland will be if the referendum succeeds. My own view is that United Irelanders should engage positively with An Taoiseach’s Shared Island Unit but in full knowledge that it falls very far short of what Micheál Martin should be doing as part of his constitutional obligations and the imperatives of the Good Friday Agreement. In fact, An Taoiseach is wilfully involved in the politics of illusion. But that should not come as a surprise to observers of his politics. Despite Martin’s reluctance to be a persuader for unity or to plan for a unity referendum the debate around Irish unity has been intensifying. In recent weeks several important papers have been published by influential academic institutions and by Ireland’s Future. All of them highlight the need to plan for a referendum and to plan for unity and that this needs to commence now. The Ulster University published ‘Deliberating Constitutional Futures’ which examines the arguments around possible constitutional futures, including a unity referendum. Two weeks ago the Constitution Unit of University College London published an interim report from its ‘Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland’. The report addresses the issue of what will constitute a winning vote. It states that the threshold for the unification referendum in the North is “a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll”. It would breach the Agreement if a higher threshold than 50% + 1 was required. In the South, approval of constitutional referendums likewise requires a simple majority.” Critically the report authors highlight the danger of any failure to plan for a unity referendum. They state: “The years of acrimony following the UK’s vote on EU membership in 2016 illustrate the dangers of a vote called without adequate planning.” As part of this process of pre-planning the report calls for Citizens’ Assemblies to be established to help identify peoples’ views on what choices should be on offer in any referendum.”
AT LAST! Danny Devenny is doing a book. He will have to finish it now that this column has broken the story. It will be a photographic and literary journey through his very eventful life. In my opinion Danny Dee deserves a book or twenty books to celebrate his life in struggle and his art. He has enriched all our lives with his creatativity and brightened Belfast’s streetscape and educated and uplifted its citizens and visitors with his murals. He will tell how art has been a huge help to him through all his decades of activism. That’s where this painting, The Session, comes in. The Session features John Lennon, Danny’s friend Bobby Sands, Ché Guevara, Chilean activist song writer and poet Víctor Jara and Woody Guthrie, the great American song writer and activist. It is availible as a limited edition print and a not-for-profit funder for Danny’s book. Check out his Facebook page and private message Danny if you want to buy a copy. Danny has had a mind to do such a painting for a long time. He was in Long Kesh with Bobby and knows how much music meant to him. Bobby loved John Lennon. He would have loved being in a session with him. And the others. He admired them all. There is a photo of a session of poítín-drinking prisoners in Cage Eleven which Danny based his painting on. I will tell you the story of that photo and that session another time. Anyway, Danny delayed doing the painting because he couldnt do a side view of Bobby’s face which satisfied him. Then Richard McAuley found the photo of Bobby in French photographer Gerard Harlay’s portfolio of photos when we were doing work on the Léargas book on Máire Drumm. That, and the pandemic, allowed the space for Danny Dee to work his magic. I know the political value of that magic from my time in the Kesh with him in the mid-70s. Danny Dee did the artwork for a number of publications produced in Cage Eleven and smuggled outside. These included Peace In Ireland and Our British Problem – unpublished – by this columnist and In Care Of Her Majesty’s Prisons by Hugh Feeney and Prison Struggle. He also did illustrations for the Brownie articles which were smuggled out to the Sinn Féin paper Republican News. His pen name was Flossie. Danny and Bobby were in the Gaeltacht hut in Cage Eleven. Bobby used to drive his comrades mad as he practised his guitar skills and learned his songs. Tomboy Loudon was just as bad. He was learning the mandolin. Bobby was taught guitar by blues legend Rab McCullough. They started in the Crum (Crumlin Road Prison) where there were two guitars. Bobby heard Rab playing and asked him for a few tips. Rab was already an accomplished guitarist. He had been in a number of bands, including Sunshine and The Big Soul Band.
LAST Friday, as this column noted, Sinn Féin published a new discussion paper – The Economic Benefits of a United Ireland. At the heart of the paper is a belief in economic self-government. The right and the ability of the people of Ireland to plan, manage, and develop our island economy in our best interests. It makes sense. Whatever differences may exist between the political parties on this island it is clear that they would prioritise economic policy in the interests of those they represent. On the other hand British government’s rule in British interests and take political and economic decisions that suit their objectives and not those of the people of the North and of this island. The ‘Economic Benefits of a United Ireland’ confronts the first question usually posed by those who are opposed to Irish Unity or those who are uncertain of that goal; ‘can we afford a United Ireland?’ The answer is yes. As Pearse Doherty TD remarked at the launch; “The health of an economy, the standard of living of its citizens; is driven by investment, research, innovation, good public services and access to the global economy. On all of these, not only is the Union stuttering, it is moving backwards... “The North deserves better, and a United Ireland offers so much more. Irish unity would allow for coordinated investment and development; something the Border region has been missing for a century. Irish unity would utilise economies of scale; allowing one economy to develop rather than having two economies compete. The current trajectory of the all-island economy attests to these opportunities”. The reality is that the Northern Executive doesn’t have access to any significant financial levers except rates. 90% of the Executive’s budget is directly controlled by London. The Assembly cannot devise long term fiscal policy or plan for the longer term. This is dictated by the British Government. But what of the so-called British subventions? British official stats put the subvention at around £10 billion per annum. In reality, the true value is somewhere between £2.5 and £6 billion. The economic payoff from uniting the two economies on the island would more than compensate for the loss of the subvention. Economists such as Kurt Hubner and David McWilliams agree. As Pearse Doherty attests: “Reducing the argument to the subvention is an own goal, the subvention only exists because the economy in the north is so underdeveloped, the subvention is a measure of the failure of BG financial policy in the north.” With almost seven million people and a larger economy, Irish Unity will create better jobs, increase incomes, improve our quality of life and deliver better public services. The discussion paper considers the advantages of Unity for the promotion of the Green Economy; the precedent of German re-unification; and the role the EU can play in successfully reuniting Ireland. If you want to find out more go to www.sinnfein.ie. Be part of the discussion.
IN four weeks we will mark 100 years since the Government of Ireland Act, which partitioned Ireland, was signed into law by an English King. Six years earlier James Connolly, writing in the Irish Worker in March 1914, warned that partition would mean “a carnival of reaction both north and south, would set back the wheels of progress, would destroy the oncoming unity of the Irish Labour movement and paralyse all advanced movements whilst it endured. To it Labour should give the bitterest opposition...” The northern state that emerged following partition delivered all that Connolly feared. Political unionism and its business class built an apartheid ‘Orange State’ on sectarian divisions. They turned worker against worker and introduced a system of structured political and economic discrimination which continues to impact on northern society today. Partition also inflicted great hurt on the southern economy. Places like Sligo and Monaghan and Derry, Dundalk and Newry were separated from their natural economic hinterland by an artificial border. Along the 300 miles of border farmers were cut off from their land; neighbours from neighbours; families from their relatives; businesses from their customers.
JOE Biden is now the President Elect of the USA. Kamala Harris – the first woman to hold this post – will be the new Vice President. There is always huge interest in Ireland about US Presidential elections. The well known family connection between Joe Biden and Ireland has reinforced this interest. Kamala Harris also has Irish roots as well as Tamil Indian and Jamaican family connections. Her mother is from India, her father from Jamaica. By coincidence, both the President Elect and the Vice President Elect share the same family name. Joe Biden is the great grandson of Owen Finnegan from the Cooley peninsula in County Louth. Kamala Harris’ Jamaican great grandmother’s first husand was Patrick A Finegan, the mixed race son of an Irishman of the same name. Their story is the story of Ireland’s diaspora and our global connections. Their family history must be a fascinating tale. The next phase of it will be even more interesting. There will be high expectations of the incoming Vice President, not least among women and black American women in particular.
THERE is a close affinity between the people of Ireland and the Palestinian people. Both have a long history of being colonised. We have been the victim of occupation, state violence, discrimination and forced emigration. The experience of struggle has also been similar. Last week as we remembered the deaths on hunger strike 100 years ago of Terence MacSwiney, Michael Fitzgerald and Joseph Murphy, a Palestinian prisoner, Maher Al-Akhras, was in an Israel hospital on hunger strike protesting against his detention. Maher was arrested on July and 27 has been on hunger strike since then. Over 90 days. Maher is a father of six children and is from the village of Silat a-Dhahr in the occupied West Bank. He has not been formally charged with any offence. Like thousands of Palestinians over recent years he is the victim of administrative detention. This procedure is effectively ‘internment without charge’, a practice used by the British state and the Unionist Stormont regime for five years in the early 1970s.
REGULAR readers of this blog will not be suprised by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s recent comments on his government’s Shared Island Unit. As we have noted before, Mr Martin is not a United Irelander. But he is An Taoiseach with a constitutional obligation to promote Irish unity and the leader of Fianna Fáil, a party with Irish unity as its primary objective. So some may think he should set aside his own narrow, stunted, personal and unambitious views in order to fulfill his offical duties. And implement the Good Friday Agreement while he is at it. Surely that’s what a Taoiseach should do? Nope. That’s not the way it works. As we know Mr Martin is not the first Taoiseach not to promote Irish unity. Indeed he is one of a long line. But this is to miss the point. I have a certain sympathy with Mr Martin. His predessors had the luxury of wrapping the green flag around themselves when it suited them. They could wax lyrical about the fourth green field. Unity was a vague aspiration. A dream. A line in a song. There was no agreed mechanism to secure it. No agreed way to end the Union with England. Now there is. Micheál Martin knows this. His party helped to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement. Fianna Fáil signed up to it. Bertie Ahern and the government he led agreed to this. So did all other major parties except the DUP, though they now work that agreement or those parts of it they cannot block or delay or dilute. So now there is now an agreed mechanism to end the Union if that’s what the people decide in the Good Friday Agreement. It commits to: (i) recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland; (ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland; Even the DUP accept this. But not An Taoiseach Martin. Former DUP leader Peter Robinson, not for the first time, argued last week in a Belfast News Letter column that unionists should plan and prepare to win the referendum. Peter Robinson is right. Micheál Martin has no such intentions. But Peter Robinson, mistakenly in my view, does not want the union to end. Neither for totally different reasons does Micheál Martin. That’s why he has no intention of planning for the full implentation of the Good Friday Agreement. The people of this island voted for the Agreement. It is their Agreement. While the peace it underpins may not be a perfect peace, it is far better than what proceeded it. It is an international treaty. The Irish and British governments are co-equal guarantors. The British Government break the Agreement whenever it suits them. They get away with this because the Irish government lets them. So much of Micheál’s remarks in his Shared Island Unit speech about the British Government’s good intentions are nonsense. He knows this. He also knows that because there is an agreed mechanism to decide our future that he does not have the luxury of his predessors. He has not the option of verbalised republicanism. He cannot extol the merits of ending the union and planning a new shared and agreed future together for the people of Ireland for fear he gets the very thing he does not want. A united Ireland. That is why he has set Fianna Fáil policy aside. That is why he ignores his own constitutional obligations and the imperatives of his office. And the Good Friday Agreement. That’s why the Shared Island Unit does not mention Irish unity. Its purpose is to distract attention from that. But, as Mr Martin will find out, that is impossible. He probably knows that already. So his approach is to play for time. To long-finger the necessary planning and consultation that building a new united inclusive Ireland requires. But he has to do something. He says he wants to foster a constructive and inclusive engagement on all aspects of our shared future. He has launched what he calls The Shared Island Dialogue series. I welcome that although there is no information as far I can see on how this series will be organised or how citizens will participate. We are told that the Dialogue series will start next month and that the first Shared Future Dialogue will be ‘New Generations and New voices on the Good Friday Agreement’. So this is progress of sorts. The government has eventually, reluctantly and hesitantly committed to an inclusive, constructive ‘engagement on all aspects of our shared future’. Let’s see exactly what this means. Let’s make sure this isn’t just another talking shop. Micheál Martin may not want to talk about Irish unity. But he can’t stop the rest of us. Especially if his Dialogue series is really ‘an inclusive and constructive engagement’. As Parnell said: ‘No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country thus far shalt thou go and no further. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall.’
This US Presidential election race is its final stretch. It’s probably one of the most watched and bitter in modern American history. In recent weeks the electoral battle between President Trump and Vice President Biden has taken many twists and turns as each appeal to voters for support. In particular, how Trump and Biden are addressing the Coronavirus pandemic is probably the single biggest issue dominating the news agenda. It is also important to remember that this election is about more than who will be President. Every Congressional seat is also up for re-election and a third of the seats in the Senate.
When Boris Johnson tells you that his government is determined to defend the Good Friday Agreement – don’t believe a word of it. When British Ministers claim that their government is “committed to protecting and respecting human rights” – don’t believe a word of it. And when they claim to be a party committed to equality and fairness under the law – don’t believe it. The Johnson government is currently engaged in the most concentrated attack on human rights of any British government since Margaret Thatcher.