Gerard Hodgings risponde in esclusiva alle domande di Flavio Bacci, in un’intervista che percorre le tappe della vita dell’esponente repubblicano, dalla militanza nella Provisional IRA, all’hunger strike del 1981 a Long Kesh, alle considerazioni sulla figura di Gerry Adams e lo Sinn Fein, al repubblicanesimo oggi fino ai pows, vittime degli stessi soprusi del passato. Ecco la prima parte dell’intervista, in cui Gerard Hodgins ripercorre la sua militanza nella Provisional IRA
“Gerard Hodgins is currently not a member or supporter of any political party, but he remains one of the most respected voices in Irish Republicanism.
Forced to leave his birth house due loyalist threats and intimidation, he joined the IRA. He became an active volunteer for the Provisional IRA throughout the troubled 70-80′s. Hodgins was then convicted and sentenced to long term imprisonmen, nd was sent to the infamous Maze prison (also known as Long Kesh). In jail, he refused to wear the prison uniform and joined the blanket protest. On the 14th September 1981, he took the place of one of his fallen comrades and went on hunger striker. The strike was aimed at acheiving political prisoner status, set out according to the famous “Five Demands”. After 10 IRA men had starved themselves to death the strike was called off after 20 days of fasting for Gerard.
Unlike many former prisoners and hungerstrikers, Hodgins has never held any public office nor senoir position within Sinn Feins ranks. Although he retired into private life, rarely giving media interviews, he still remains one of the most critical voice against Adams-McGuinness leadership and a strong supporter of old and new Republican political prisoners.
I would like to thank Gerard Hodgins, for his time and courtesy in granting me the following interview, but mostly for his friendship which means a great deal to me”. (Flavio Bacci)
Part 1 – THE PAST AS PROVISIONAL IRA VOLUNTEER
F.B. When did you make the decision to join the IRA? Was it as the result of a specific event or it was the consequence of a lengthy thought process?
G.H. My involvement with the IRA was a consequence of living in a failed state. My childhood environment was not a political one, I was not brought up learning hatred or politics but when I was 12 years old and the British had just introduced internment my family was forced from our home by pro-British Unionists and from that moment I suppose I was destined to be an IRA volunteer since the IRA was the only institution challenging the injustices of the sectarian state we lived in.
Northern Ireland was partitioned off from the rest of Ireland in 1922 and from the beginning people like me were excluded from full participation in the political process on the grounds of our perceived religion. In terms of housing, employment and education we were second class citizens. At no time over the following 50 years did the Unionist regime make any attempt to develop normal, pluralist democratic structures like the rest of Europe; instead it developed more and more repressive legislation to suppress dissent and maintain its grip on power.
Partition poisoned our political structures from birth and our politicians have always been more focused, as politicians invariably are, on personal aggrandizement and status elevation within the circles of power than on radically championing social, political and economic justice.
While the Unionist regime abused power in the North, the Dublin government didn’t distinguish itself through enlightened policies either. Corruption became the main ideology of the Southern state which culminated in the loss of economic sovereignty to faceless financiers and bankers in the world of international capitalism; while the Catholic Church was afforded a special status in the Constitution which gave it absolute control over the lives of children, a control that church abused to an extent that the orphanages and institutions under its control became brothels for predatory paedophilic priests over generations of unacknowledged and unaddressed horror.
F.B. Many IRA men stated that they received a handbook from the leadership (the ‘green book’) to educate the new volunteer to war. In particular, it seems that it contained some specific instructions to avoid breakdowns under police interrogations. Did you get or read the Green Book after your recruitment? Can you explain to us some of those rules?
G.H. The Green Book was the rules and regulations of the IRA covering General Army orders and the Constitution of Oglaigh Na h-Eireann (IRA), along with instruction for appropriate behaviour and treating people with respect. It also included such stuff as things we could expect from the enemy – like interrogation, and mechanisms for resisting interrogators. Interrogations could be violent and frightening experiences but the basic rule for survival in such situations is keep your mouth shut and control the fear. All interrogations are ultimately based on deception, if an interrogator had the proofs necessary to put you in prison that is precisely where they would have you.
F.B. After the GFA, some ‘disappeared’ bodies have been returned to their relatives. One of the most infamous cases is that relating to Jean McConville, whose remains were found in 2003. The IRA execution of this mother of ten in 1972 raised several condemnations from within the republican movement. Do you think the murder was necessary in order to discourage informing? If so, why was the body secretly buried and not exhibited as deterrent, as was the norm for other people found guilty of informing?
G.H. The Disappeared are a source of great shame for Republicans and the onus is on those who implemented such a policy to explain their motivations and give up the remaining Disappeared so their families can have some closure.
F.B. The IRA past is dotted with cruel attacks with a high number of civilian causalities (Donegal Street, Bloody Friday, La Mon, etc). Do you believe some of these may have been due to mistakes intentional or otherwise by IRA members or the RUC deliberately neglecting the bomb warnings?
G.H. Undoubtedly many IRA operations were compromised by agents of the state who had a duty to undermine IRA operations and sap the will of the people who supported us. Black operations were as common to us in Ireland then as they are today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Frank Kitson’s book, Low Intensity Operations, had just been published in 1971 and Ireland provided a perfect testing ground for his theories on counter-insurgency tactics and strategy and the mechanics of their implementation. Kitson had accumulated his experiences fighting in colonial wars in Africa and Asia during the latter part of the 20th Century and had a reputation for ruthless suppression of revolution.
The state plays with people’s lives and is usually the biggest killer in the political equation; the British state certainly is and ran killer-gangs here through its police and intelligence agencies to eliminate opponents they couldn’t otherwise neutralise. Today they are doing precisely the same ignoble things in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas. Killing opponents, promotion of sectarian animosities and conflicts, poisoning the discourse and running spies and informers is the modus operandi of the British state in conflict.
Some of our tragedies though were also attributable to inexperience and faulty technology. IRA volunteers like most guerrilla soldiers were normal day-to-day people one day and a soldier the next. We did not have the extensive training facilities that would be available to state armies with their infinite resources and ability to operate openly; we were a secret army and learned a lot of our lessons through failures and experience.
F.B. Like many seasoned republicans, you no longer agree with the strategy of the provisional movement for Uniting Ireland, was there a single instance which started you to question the motives or feasibility of their chosen path?
G.H. Two things occurred which finally compelled me to recognise the great con trick that Adams has pulled. Firstly a strike by local classroom assistants here over pay and conditions was being supported by Sinn Fein until Sinn Fein got the education ministry in the local parliament and thus responsibility for settling the classroom assistants’ dispute: at that precise point the striking workers were abandoned and denounced by Sinn Fein. Secondly, around this time the death occurred of one of humanity’s greatest people: Brendan Hughes.
I watched the spectacle of Gerry Adams spinning his lies to the media about Brendan Hughes and using Brendan’s death to build his own personal image and profile while Adams’ black propaganda people were targeting the integrity and memory of The Dark through vile whispering-campaigns.
Alongside this I observed too how a few former comrades from a similar socio-economic background to me were suddenly very wealthy and capable of driving around in £60,000.00 motorcars and own multiple properties across Europe while our areas largely remained the ghettoes of poverty they had been throughout the conflict; any pretence to socialism was jettisoned by a leadership which sought to jump into bed with a Celtic Tiger that was soon to run out of steam. The allure of power and the trappings of power became more important to the Sinn Fein leadership than utilising that power for the benefit of the people: at the end of the day they just wanted to become another tier of the middle-classes maintaining the institutions of the state and being rewarded for their services to the state. Perhaps the most telling example of how far Adams and Co. have travelled from their republican origins is their appalling lack of any movement in remedying the ongoing crisis within Maghaberry Prison where republican prisoners are being brutalised and degraded in scenarios reminiscent of the worst days of the Blanket-protest in the H-Blocks.