ESCLUSIVA. INTERVISTA A BREANDAN MAC CIONNAITH, SEGRETARIO GENERALE DI EIRIGI
Flavio Bacci intervista in ESCLUSIVA Breandán Mac Cionnaith.
Prominente repubblicano irlandese, ex Consigliere a Portadown e portavoce dei residenti in Garvaghy Road, Mac Cionnaith è il Segretario Generale di Eirigi, partito socialista repubblicano fondato nel 2006.
(Traduzione italiana a Pagina 2)
Breandán Mac Cionnaith is a prominent Irish Republican, a former councillor in Portadown and spokesman for Garvaghy Road Residents. Currently he is the General Secretary of Éirígí, a republican socialist party founded in 2006.
F.B. Let’s begin with today. Éirígí decided to contest the upcoming elections. What are the political reasons that led your group to this choice?
B.M.C. As Irish socialist republicans, as members of a fairly new and growing revolutionary party, we fully understand the inherent weaknesses of the current electoral process and the impotence of the elected institutions that stem from those processes in both partitionist states in Ireland.
In deciding the party’s position on the role that elections and elected institutions could possibly play in a revolutionary struggle, éirígí has studied the national and international historical experience. That history is littered with examples of revolutionary parties, genuine or nominal, which foundered on the rocks of elections and elected institutions.
While these experiences highlight the potential dangers of engaging in the electoral process, éirígí does not believe that the correct strategic reaction to these dangers is complete detachment from the electoral process.
Instead éirígí believes that current-day revolutionaries in Ireland and elsewhere need to learn from all of the lessons that were so cruelly taught to our predecessors who entered the arena of elections and elected institutions.
éirígí does believe that it is possible for a revolutionary party to move closer to its objectives by tactically contesting elections and tactically participating in specified elected institutions.
Such a tactical approach will provide a major additional platform for éirígí to challenge and expose the status quo while representing the interests of working people and promoting a socialist alternative.
Unlike previous and ongoing engagements in elections by other republican parties, any éirígí engagement must and can only be premised on a clear understanding that the existing elected institutions must ultimately fall before a new, genuinely democratic system can emerge.
The primary purpose of éirígí tactically participating in elections and elected institutions is therefore to expose the limits of the capitalist economic and imperialist partitionist systems and give voice to those whose interests lie in direct contradiction to both the capitalist and imperialist system.
In parallel to exposing the flaws of the current system, éirígí is committed to developing alternative community and workplace based initiatives with which people can engage. Ultimately, the allegiance and loyalty of working people will need to transfer from the institutions of the capitalist state towards those forums and institutions which represent their interests.
At its inception five years ago, éirígí stated that ‘electoral and parliamentary politics alone cannot deliver the type of change required in Irish society’ and that ‘a Democratic Socialist Republic can only be established and sustained through the collective action of a progressive social movement incorporating local communities, organised labour, cultural organisations, campaigns groups, political parties etc.’
That analysis remains as valid today as it was in 2006. Elections and elected institutions are only one front in a multi-front battle against injustice and exploitation.
F.B. Éirígí defines itself as a Republican Socialist Party, like many other political movements. What are the proposals that distinguish Éirígí from the others?
B.M.C. That is a very pertinent and important question, particularly at this time when Irish republicanism appears to be fragmented and when, for many decades, so-called socialist parties, such as the Irish Labour Party and others, have refused to take any stance on the national question, on partition, or the continued British political, social and economic interference in our country other than to support the status quo.
For our part, éirígí is not only committed to the struggle for the national freedom of Ireland but to the struggle for the creation of a socialist system also. When éirígí declares itself to be a socialist republican organisation, our claim to be socialist is not simply a declaration of the preferred type of post-occupation, post-reunification republic we would wish to see. We are convinced that all major political and social conflict in Ireland and the wider world emanates from the very existence of the capitalist class system.
It is our view that, whether in Ireland or elsewhere, the basis of all political and social conflict derives from the existence of conflict between opposing class interests. It will remain so as long as the capitalist system endures.
When éirígí was established April 2006, it was as an avowedly socialist republican organisation, founded upon the principles of that champion of revolutionary socialism in Ireland, James Connolly.
In November last year, our party members agreed upon and adopted a major ideological policy paper – “From Socialism Alone Can the Salvation of Ireland Come”. That comprehensive document is not only an important development for éirígí as a political party; it is also an important step forward for the development of socialist republicanism in Ireland. By adopting and publishing that document, éirígi unapologetically sets out, in common with James Connolly, our firm belief that “The Irish question is a social question, the whole age-long fight of the Irish people against their oppressors resolves itself in the last analysis into a fight for the mastery of the means of life, the sources of production in Ireland.”
‘From Socialism Alone Can the Salvation of Ireland Come’ does not simply reject capitalism in all of its forms; it also sets out éirígí’s vision of an alternative society based upon the public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
In many respects, it is that document adopted as the political and theoretical basis of our party which sets éirigí apart and distinguishes our party from most others in Ireland.
Over the course of the last century many Irish republicans have come to the conclusion that an Ireland which remained capitalist post a British withdrawal would not really be free at all. éirígí is proud to follow in that tradition, to follow in the footsteps of organisations such as the Irish Socialist Republican Party and the Republican Congress and of individuals like Peadar O’Donnell, Liam Mellows, Constance Markiewicz, Frank Ryan and Mairéad Farrell.
However, From Socialism Alone Can the Salvation of Ireland Come is not just about éirígí taking its place in Ireland’s revolutionary tradition. It is also about changing the parameters of debate in republican Ireland and beyond. It is about building the theoretical foundations for a movement in Ireland that will be uncompromisingly republican and socialist. A revolutionary republican movement that has class politics at the core of its analysis, a movement that will never again commit the mistakes of militarism, constitutionalism or the pernicious notion that labour ‘must wait’.
We are clearly stating that there is a choice to be made – either to continue along the path of capitalism and imperialism that has partitioned our country, exploited our population and impoverished our communities; or to strike out for a better future based upon national independence and socialism.
‘From Socialism Alone Can the Salvation of Ireland Come’ correctly asserts that the only option that will work for the vast majority of the Irish people is that of independence and socialism.
éirígí is under no illusions as to the mammoth scale of the task that has been set out in this document. It is the same task that confronted the men and women of 1916 and it is the same task that confronted the thousands of republicans who fought the struggle over the last 40 years – it is about nothing less than the re-conquest of Ireland by the working people of Ireland.
We recognise the need to organise in our communities, in our workplaces, in our places of education, in our homes and on our streets. We also recognise the need to make our argument with every single person who has no vested interest in the current rotten system that there is a better way and a better destination. There is a system that the working people of Ireland can have a stake in – that system is socialism and the time to start fighting for that system is now.
F.B. As well as many members of Éirígí, you are a former Sinn Féin supporter. You decided to formally leave the party in 2007. Why did you decide to deviate your personal political path then?
B.M.C. From a personal viewpoint, my decision to leave SF was not one which came lightly to me. I became a Republican activist over 35 years ago at the age of 15, so obviously I have spent quite a considerable part of my life in working on behalf of that cause.
From an early age, I was very conscious of what was happening around me. Two of my brothers had been involved locally in the civil rights’ campaign which was met with a massive wave of state violence. My maternal grandfather and my mother had been active in republican politics. It was my grandfather who introduced me to the writings of Connolly, Lenin and others when I was still in my early teens.
So given the circumstances of what was happening in the Six Counties, it was almost a natural progression that I became involved in republican activities. For most of that time, I believed that the movement which I had joined was the best vehicle for pursuing the goal of national liberation and establishing a socialist republic.
I was not opposed to involvement in politics as I always believed that the struggle had to develop a multi-faceted approach. As time progressed, I became concerned about the direction which the movement had been taking – that direction was clearly towards the path of constitutional nationalism and away from socialist republicanism.
I had many reservations regarding the Good Friday Agreement. Indeed, at the time I declined the offer made to me by the SF leadership to be a candidate for that party in the 1998 Assembly elections. My response to that offer was that while I could understand the reasons why the leadership had signed up to that Agreement, I could not publicly “sell” an Agreement the merits of which I was not convinced about. Obviously, the later decision to sign up to the St Andrew’s Agreement of 2006, with its full acceptance of partition and final tacit endorsement of British policing, British armed forces and repressive British legislation proved to be a step too far and I resigned from the party in 2007.
I was aware that éirígí had been formed the previous year and had a number of conversations with those involved. The type of revolutionary socialist politics which they expounded reflected closely those which I held so eventually joining the party was not a major decision for me to take.
F.B. The official position of the party does not want Éirígí aligned or in support of the republican paramilitary groups. What is your personal position on the continuation of armed struggle?
B.M.C. You are correct in stating that éirígí is not aligned to, nor supportive of, any armed groups, and it follows from this that we don’t support the actions of any armed groups In Ireland today.
My personal position regarding the use of armed struggle reflects that of the party. éirigi defends the right of any people who are subjected to imperialist occupation to use whatever means they deem necessary to remove that occupation. However, we do believe that the elevation of the military form of struggle to a principle as opposed to a revolutionary tactic has been proven to have retarded and the development of the socialist republican project.
Pursuing a primarily militarist strategy at all costs also divorces the revolutionary struggle from ever-changing contexts, has been proven to stifle other radical and progressive initiatives emerging and consolidating within working-class communities and thereby has restricted the ability of any revolutionary party to capitalize upon such initiatives.
We do not believe that the conditions currently exist for the successful prosecution of an armed struggle against British rule in Ireland.
Has the use of armed struggle ever been the correct tactic in Ireland? The simple answer to that is undoubtedly yes. Could it be the correct tactic to use again? It is not within my gift to prescribe that. However, it should be borne in mind that the recent prolonged period of pro-active armed conflict emerged out of defensive and re-active actions against the widespread use of state violence, repressive laws and suppression of peaceful protest within the Six Counties. It did not originate as an integral part of a pre-meditated and properly thought out revolutionary strategy.
Nevertheless, my own view is that there always was and most likely always will be more than one means of pursuing any liberation struggle.
It is important also to emphasise that the vast majority of republicans who are opposed to the present status quo in Ireland are not advocating engagement in an armed struggle.
That is a reality that is not reflected in mainstream media reporting. Instead, the mainstream media, like those parties involved in maintaining and administering British rule, propping up partition, and penalising the working class, prefer to classify the emergence of any alternative viewpoint, however logical and reasonable, as a retrograde step towards the “return to the bad old days”.
By doing so, and by attempting to marginalise and criminalise republicans who disagree with the current partitionist system in Ireland, both the mainstream media and the establishment political parties are cynically playing upon the fears of ordinary people.
F.B. I met Mr. Mac Cionnaith during a meeting in Lurgan after the arrest of Colin Duffy. You have always been very active in defending the Republican POWs. What can the nationalist community do to improve their conditions?
B.M.C. It is ironic that, in this the 30th anniversary year of the 1981 hungerstrike in Long Kesh, republican prisoners are again being forced into protest action to gain better conditions.
Following months of conflict and protest last year, the republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail reached an accommodation with British government representatives and the prison administration in August that was supposed to bring an end to the degrading practice of strip searches and controlled movement.
Since then, the prison administration undermined that agreement and forced strip searches, accompanied by physical beatings, have been inflicted on the prisoners in recent months. The prison staff in Maghaberry, with British government connivance, are intent on returning to a prison regime based on brutality.
The continuing brutal use of forced strip searching is a complete breach of the agreement brokered by independent mediators in August last year.
Only full recognition of the prisoners’ rights provides the basis for a proper settlement in Maghaberry. All those who are interested in the protection of human rights have a responsibility to speak out on this issue.
That said, I must also point out that there is almost a conscious media blackout about what has been, and is, happening in Maghaberry.
In that respect, what is happening is not dissimilar to the years following the start of the blanket protest in the H-Blocks in 1976. In those first few years of the blanket protest, there was little media coverage of what was happening. The main nationalist party in the Six Counties at that time kept a distance from the prisoners’ plight and only engaged in occasional and sporadic interventions, usually prompted by high profile visits to the protesting prisoners by the likes of the late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich or by human rights bodies.
We are witnessing a repeat of that process today.
Nevertheless, through sheer determination, courage and perseverance, the prisoners, their families, friends and supporters eventually broke through that blackout and wall of silence, albeit at a very high cost in terms of the sacrifices made.
F.B. An Orange parade means a paralysis of an area for several hours or even days. For many years you have had, and continue to have, the authority to represent the people of Garvaghy Road, who every year have to deal with the Orangemen parades. Do you think that their desire to pass through the nationalist areas is an unnecessary provocation?
B.M.C. Not only are these marches by the Orange Order a very deliberate provocation, they are designed to stoke up the flames of sectarianism.
An Orange march through catholic/nationalist areas in the Six Counties is akin to a march by the Klu Klux Klan through black areas of towns or cities in the US, or a march by racist and fascist organisations like the British National Party, or English Defence League, through areas of towns and cities in Britain where there are large migrant communities.
The reality of the Orange Order is that it is a counter-revolutionary institution set up and maintained to target not just catholics but also ‘disloyal’ protestants.
It’s worth pointing out that the formation and spread of the Orange Order in Ireland was encouraged by the British state in the years after the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. Those international events had an impact on Ireland and had led to the formation of the first truly republican organisation in this country – the Society of United Irishmen which sought “To unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the common name of Irishmen in order break the connection with England”. The United Irishmen were heavily influenced by Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and sought direct aid from the French revolutionary government.
To counter the threat posed to its interests in Ireland by the United Irishmen, the British state and particularly members of the powerful aristocratic landlord classes at that time cynically used the formation to the Orange Order to foment sectarian division. Members of the Order were recruited en masse into armed militia units and used to suppress and smash the United Irishmen’s radical, non-sectarian movement.
Throughout the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the influence of the Orange Order can clearly be seen in organising against the attempts to secure limited “home rule” in Ireland. It, together with the Unionist party, created the first armed paramilitary force established in Ireland in the 20th century.
With the partition of Ireland, the influence of the Orange Order reached a zenith in the Six Counties, with every prime minister at Stormont between 1921 and 1972, and also almost without exception, every unionist MP being members of the Order. It was during that period that discrimination against catholics in employment, in housing, in education, reached its peak. “The Orange State” written by Michael Farrell, himself one of the key organisers of the civil rights campaign in the Six Counties, clearly demonstrates the pernicious nature of the Orange Order and how that organisation was “the power behind the throne” under Unionist party rule.
Even today, both the two main unionist political parties still pander to the demands of the Orange Order.
That fact was clearly in evidence as a result of the proposals which were published last year in relation, not just to contentious marches, but to all forms of public assembly in the North. Even though those proposals would have undoubtedly favoured the Orange Order, the Orange Order rejected them in the end as they believe that they have some form of God-given right to march where they want, when they want.
F.B. The murder of Rosemary Nelson was a harsh attack towards the civil liberties in Ireland. She was a prominent human rights activist, but primarily Mrs. Nelson was one of your dearest friends. Would you give us a profile of Rosemary?
B.M.C. Much has been written and said about Rosemary since her murder in March 1999. To me, she was someone I grew up with although she was a year younger than me. Rosemary’s family lived just across the street from my own family home in Lurgan. We went to the same schools together, Tannaghmore Primary and later at St Michael’s, although I was in a class year above her. Her sisters and mine played about together and would have been in each other’s homes. Her brother Tony was a good friend of my one of my brothers.
Rosemary studied for her law degree at Queen’s University, Belfast. She once remarked to me that while she was busy studying law, I was busy trying to break laws. After working for other solicitors for a number of years, she became the first woman to open a solicitor’s practice in Lurgan in 1989.
Rosemary quickly became an internationally known and respected human rights lawyer because of her dedication to her clients, often victims of violence and human rights violations in the Six Counties. Rosemary sought basic due process for her clients and legal protections for the community she represented. She frequently represented suspects detained for questioning about politically motivated offences. Most of her clients were arrested under emergency laws and held in specially designed holding centres, and were often interrogated without access to an attorney.
One of a small number of solicitors brave enough to take up such sensitive cases, she was frequently the target of harassment, death threats and intimidation. Rosemary represented Colin Duffy, the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition and the Hamill family, whose son, Robert, was beaten to death by a unionist mob in Portadown.
Rosemary’s life had been threatened by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) on a number of occasions, primarily via her clients. In his 1998 report, Param Cumaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, paid special attention to these death threats and, in a televised interview, suggested that Rosemary’s life could be in particular danger. Cumaraswamy’s report made numerous specific recommendations to the British government concerning police threats against lawyers — none of which were implemented.
Due to the brutal circumstances of her death, all the other work which Rosemary became involved in is too often forgotten and overlooked. Less well known is her work for the Travelling community; on women’s rights; in opposing discrimination in the workplace; and on behalf of the Irish language. She worked with many voluntary and community groups and with local schools in the Lurgan/Portadown area.
Rosemary has now adopted a public persona that she herself would be both embarrassed and bemused about, as there was also a private side to Rosemary. To her friends, she will always be just Rosie, a warm, thoughtful woman who loved to laugh and enjoyed ‘the craic’. A warm, generous and wonderful woman whose friendship is irreplaceable.
F.B. Government sources have reported that the Rosemary Nelson Inquiry, which began in 2004, is in its final stages. What do you expect from the results of this investigation?
B.M.C. To be honest, I don’t expect much from this inquiry except a whitewash and a deflection away from the truth.
The independent investigation conducted into her murder by the former Canadian supreme court judge, Peter Cory, has already established that there was collusion between British state forces and her killers. Judge Cory bluntly stated in his published investigative report in April 2004 that “I am satisfied that there is evidence of collusion by Governmental Agencies in the murder of Rosemary Nelson”.
I believe that the present British government-appointed inquiry will attempt to overturn Judge Cory’s findings. For this inquiry to do otherwise would not only implicate the involvement of the state’s agents directly in Rosemary’s murder, it would implicate the state in the murder to hundreds of other murder victims.