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Video © 2000, Nora Wertz
ED MOLONEY'S SPEECH
Can I first of all welcome you all here tonight on behalf of the Sunday Tribune and myself. When I suggested to the Tribune's editor Matt Cooper that we host a thank you party for all those in New York who supported my fight against the British police there was no hesitation in giving the go-ahead. We were all aware of the crucial role that you guys had played.
The battle was fought in Ireland but in a very real sense it was won here in New York. I know that some of you came here tonight in the expectation of a talk on the Northern peace process but if you can indulge me for a moment or two I'd like to explain why I say that before moving on to other topics.
The Northern Troubles have had the most corrosive effect on journalism in both parts of Ireland and I am aware that some of you know that only too well, in some cases being literally media refugees from Ireland.
Both jurisdictions in Ireland have suffered from state censorship, either Section 31 in the South or the broadcasting ban in the North. The intention may have been to punish those who supported Republican paramilitary groups by keeping them off the airwaves but the effect was to inhibit an understanding of what was going on in the North and by so doing probably made the Troubles last longer than they should have and cost more lives. Censorship killed people in Ireland.
Censorship had an insiduous impact on journalists. It fostered a McCarthyite atmosphere of terror in which reporters were almost literally scared to death of some subjects, especially those to do with the politics of republicanism, the violence of groups like the Provisional IRA and the often excessive and violent response of the British and Irish states.
Journalists learned that to write about these topics, even though they were at the core of what the Troubles were all about, was to risk being branded a fellow traveller, a secret sympathiser - a Hush Puppie as such people were called - and to suffer the negative career consequences. Self-censorship, that most dangerous of restrictions on the media, flourished and became respectable throughout Ireland inhibiting not just coverage of the Northern Troubles but many other aspects of Irish society.
It is astonishing to recall that it was not that long ago when to write articles or to make programmes questioning the guilt of the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four was tantamount in the eyes of the Irish media establishment to expressing approval of the acts of violence for which those unfortunate people were wrongly convicted. The result was that many, many years passed before these and other dreadful wrongs were righted.
It is even more extraordinary to remember that when the National Union of Journalists finally, after more than a decade of inactivity, took legal action against Section 31 in the European Courts the then father of the chapel in the NUJ branch in RTE, the state broadcasting service in Dublin, a journalist who now enjoys a considerable profile, resigned in protest. Only in the Ireland of the Troubles could a journalist object at the removal of censorship, like a prisoner licking the hands of his jailor, and thrive professionally.
So when detectives from the Scotland Yard Stevens team came calling at my door last July with a court order demanding I hand over notes my greatest fear was that the same forces which had made censorship such a strong part of journalistic life would mean that I would have to fight this battle at best with only a few supporters at my side and at worst with the bulk of my colleagues either too frightened to take a stand, indifferent to the view that there are issues on which journalists are supposed to take a stand or, like that RTE reporter, actually hostile to what I was doing.
And that is where you guys came in. As colleagues, friends, relatives, activists in the field of human rights and political life who wrote letters to the press or to British and Irish politicians, who wrote articles for newspapers or who turned up at various demonstrations and functions, what you did was to shame my colleagues in Ireland into supporting my cause and, from a political culture which has produced the First Amendment tradition and a slew of State shield laws, to remind them of a fundamental rule of journalistic ethics, a rule they had long forgotten - that we are never, never supposed to do the work of the police for them, that it is our job to report and analyse and let the cards fall where they will.
It is no exaggeration to say that I believe that if you had not stood up for me there would have been no campaign worth the name in Ireland and that without a campaign in Ireland I would more than likely have lost the case.
It was nice for once to win one but we did more than that. In the course of the campaign we exposed a disgusting cover up of the killing of Pat Finucane which embraced the RUC Special Branch and the British prosecuting authorities. Together with what is already known about the role of British military intelligence in the Finucane killing through the Brian Nelson case, and ultimately I believe, the involvement of Margaret Thatcher's government, we added significant weight to the demand for a full public inquiry into the Finucane assassination.
The Finucane killing is only one of several known scandals during the course of the Troubles that point to what is possibly the most heinous crime in society, the complicity of the state in a conspiracy to murder its citizens and then to cover-up. To Pat Finucane we can add the names of Seamus Ludlow, the 23 victims of the Dublin-Monaghan bombs and possibly Rosemary Nelson too. There are undoubtedly others who have remained and sadly will remain nameless victims of a policy of surrogate murder.
These cases have something else in common. They are currently the focus of demands for full judicial probes, demands made by relatives in some cases for years but mostly ignored or abused by the forces of the state, North and South. With the advent of the peace process hopes soared that at long last it would be possible for the state to come clean and tell the truth of what happened.
But the irony of the peace process is that this phenomenon which is supposed to be all about reconciliation and justice will probably witness a fight to the bitter end to deny these rights to the relatives of Pat Finucane, Seamus Ludlow and others.
Parallels are constantly being drawn between the NI peace process and that which has taken place in South Africa. Whatever the basis for that I can make one comfortable prediction - there will be no Truth Commission in Belfast and for a very simple reason.
A Truth Commission in South Africa has strengthened the peace process there; in Northern Ireland it would weaken it. In South Africa the leader of the Black insurgency, Nelson Mandela was safely in jail when most of the killing was being done and was above it all. The truth could be told about ANC atrocities and Mandela would escape unscathed. The peace process built around him would survive.
In Northern Ireland it is different; those who directed the killing, even some who pulled the triggers, are part of the new dispensation, in some instances were actually the architects of the new order and the strategies which created it.
How could one demand the truth behind the death of Pat Finucane, or rip away the cover up of Seamus Ludlow's killing and then deny the same rights to say the relatives of those who died on Bloody Friday? Could the Northern Ireland peace process survive if the family of Jean McConville, disappeared Pinochet-style thirty years ago, were given the name of the IRA commander who ordered her death, who told her executioners to secretly bury her body and then lie to her children?
The answer is obvious and so I suspect that when the Good Friday Agreement grows firmer roots, as I believe it will, the cry will be to draw a line under the past, to forget all about those things and if that is tough on the families seeking the truth then so be it. Unless that is people like you continue to demand and support demands for the truth.
I am afraid to say that it is not a function which is likely to be performed by many of my colleagues in Ireland. The rules which applied in war time still apply in peace time as was clear during my own difficulties. We had no problem attracting 20 - 25 reporters to any hearing in which I was personally involved but next to impossible to attract any interest in the case which had led to my court appearances. The media refused to make the link or just couldn't see it.
When for instance I learned that there would be a separate court hearing at which details would emerge implicating the RUC and the Director of Public Prosecutions in an elaborate decade long cover up of Pat Finucane's killing, a cover up directly linked to my case, I rang round each and every one of those journalists to alert them. Only four turned up - two of Ireland's most important media outlets, the Irish Times and RTE not only failed to send any representatives to court but didn't even carry agency copy on the story the next day.
The timidity which characterised Irish media coverage of the Troubles during the war has persisted during the peace. It may even have become more significant for the peace process is a phenomenon which is so full of questions and so short of answers. But the attitude of the bulk of the Irish media is to refrain from asking questions, or at least from asking too many questions and one has to suspect that it is not the questions which deter them but the answers.
This must be the least analysed peace process anywhere in the world at any time in history. Although it must be regarded as the major political event in Ireland in the second part of the 20th century as well as the most enigmatic and has lasted by my calculation half the length of the Troubles, the peace process has produced only one major book and one television documentary seeking to explain why and how this thing happened - and both failed to do that adequately in my view.
I'd like to spend a few moments posing some of the obvious questions and indicating where answers may lie and by so doing perhaps highlight some of the defining characteristics of the process, characteristics whose absence would have made the peace process impossible.
The first thing that has to be said is that the initiative for the peace process came entirely from a small group around the leadership of Sinn Fein and it was they who drove the process all the way through. Note that I said Sinn Fein, not the IRA.
It was in my view the conspiratorial and secret nature of the structures of Irish republicanism - structures like the self-selecting, self-replicating Army Council - which made the peace process possible, the same characteristics which ironically kept the Provos going for so long and which made them such a formidable enemy to the British and Irish governments.
It was these characteristics which enabled Sinn Fein leaders to present two conflicting versions of the peace process to different audiences, one to their traditional long time supporters, their old friends even those who held high rank in the IRA and an entirely different one to new allies in the White House, to corporate Irish-America, to the British and Irish governments, their new friends.
The best example of what I am talking about can be found in the strategy developed just before the 1994 IRA ceasefire, a strategy which came to be known by its acronym, TUAS.
Their new friends were told that TUAS stood for a Totally Unarmed Strategy; to their old friends it was said to mean Tactical Use of Armed Struggle. To their new friends Totally Unarmed Strategy meant they were genuine about a permanent ceasefire; to their old friends the Tactical Use of Armed Struggle meant that they would retain the option of returning to war. To their new friends the Totally Unarmed Strategy meant real political compromise; to their old friends the Tactical use of Armed Struggle meant a cunning lie told to an unchanged enemy. And so on. This ambiguity - strategic deception if you prefer - was the real engine of the process for it enabled the Republican leaders to chart a new direction while managing to persuade their supporters that nothing had changed.
The other enabling characteristic of the Provos lies in their roots in two Irish traditions, one in Irish republicanism the other that grew from a seed that predates Wolfe Tone, that is the Catholic Defender tradition unique to the North. I would argue that the latter is where the Provos are really situated.
The proof of that can be found in the remarkable ease with which Sinn Fein and the IRA have discarded key, defining parts of their ideology during the peace process, notably when they implicitly accepted the principle that Unionist consent was necessary for Irish unity.
The ease with which this happened contrasts sharply with the reluctance, at least in rhetoric, to decommission IRA weaponry even though they had ditched that part of republican ideology which legitimised armed struggle and called for the retention of weaponry when they accepted the principle of Unionist consent.
Of course part of this reluctance was due to the surrender symbolism inherent in giving up weaponry but their spokespeople have always used a different argument in public, namely that their supporters could not tolerate leaving their areas defenceless and vulnerable to Loyalist mobs. One must always remember that the Provos' origins were in Bombay Street burned to the ground by Protestant extremists in August 1969 while a disarmed IRA stood helplessly by.
In the true traditions of the Catholic Defenders the Provos were and are about protecting their own streets. If they weren't about this would the peace process have been possible? The civil war in the 26 Cos was fought over fundamental republican theology, whether or not to swear an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. If there is a split in Northern republicanism it is more likely to be over giving away the guns not about competing ideas. Ideology matters little to the Provos; pragmatism is everything. If it had been any other way would the peace process ever have got beyond the first fence?
So where, on this the fifth day of the new millennium, is Northern Ireland going?
Talk to Trimble Unionists and they will tell you with some confidence that the Union with Britain, although radically different from that which existed at the start of the Troubles, is now more secure than ever. They argue that with Articles 2 and 3 buried, Sinn Fein tied into governing the state they were once pledged to destroy and the IRA committed to disarming and to a process that will see it wither away the Union will be safe for as far as it is possible to see in the future.
Talk to Sinn Fein and you get the opposite view, that power sharing government and cross-Border institutions, even the modest ones which have been established will start a dynamic which over time will lead to Irish unity.
SF's view is based on an analysis of Unionism which defines Unionism not just in terms of its links with Britain but because of its hostility to Irish Nationalism, to Irish Catholicism even. Once Unionism goes into partnership with Nationalists, as Trimble has in the GFA, then it will, according to this view, begin to self-destruct and so utterly change that within a few years it will be unrecognisable as the ideology which produced monsters like Ian Paisley and the Shankill Butchers. Irish unity then will according to this analysis evolve speedily. We are in what Gerry Adams likes to call the final phase of struggle.
The problem with this analysis is that there are two sides to the coin. Northern Republicanism, the Provos, are themselves a product, the most extreme product of the conflict between Unionism and Nationalism. Republicanism is that bit of Nationalism which says that the NI state is irreformable, that the Unionists are hopeless bigots and that Catholics can only get a square deal outside the Union. But if Nationalism and Unionism embrace each other and share power surely this will remove the basis for Republicanism as much as for Unionism.
If this is right and if the GFA survives - and the signs are that it will - then the outworking of all this may be the erosion of all political ideology in Northern Ireland, and that the state which evolves ultimately out of this is more likely to be the political equivalent of a blancmange, neither Unionist nor Nationalist, neither wholly British nor entirely Irish. Perhaps it will be the prototype European state? What an ironic finale for a conflict which was defined by the resoluteness, the fixity of the competing ideologies!
I don't know who is right and part of me says that those who make predictions about the outcome of the peace process are foolish. Adams may be correct, Trimble may have it right.
It is even possible that there will be a third outcome in the closer integration of what is now the Irish Republic with Britain. After all who would have predicted even five years ago that a Fianna Fail prime minister would place Ireland's return to the British Commonwealth on the agenda, that a British monarch would be planning a trip to Dublin and that British supermarkets could be found on every High street in Ireland?
On the other hand all of these outcomes could be wrong and the whole edifice may collapse under the weight of its contradictions. We'll see.
As the peace process has evolved it has become very fashionable and understandably so to dwell on the lives that have been lost over the last 30 years. I must confess that I have found my thoughts turning as much to those who did the actual killing.
When wars end it is vital for the mental health of those who took part that their actions are validated by society, that they are told that what they did was excusable. The victors get a ticker tape parade down wall Street, the losers get the respect, sympathy, support and love of their community. In Belfast there will be neither ticker tapes and precious little tea and sympathy. I wonder how the gunmen will cope. I wonder what they think. Was what they did worth what we have now?
As I survey your faces I am reminded of the joke about Gerry Adams and St Peter. It goes like this. Gerry dies and finds himself at the pearly gates. 'Ah Gerry its you' cries St Peter. 'We've been exp[ecting you for some time. Now ordinarily someone like you with your record would be down with old Nick faster than you could say ballot box and armalite but we have had this message from some priests at Clonard monastery, something about you being responsible for the Irish peace process'.
So I've had a word with God and we've decided to give you one last chance but first you have to go through some punishment. You're to spend a night with Eileen Paisley and if she doesn't turn up here tomorrow morning wearing a big smile then I'm afraid its down to Hell you go. So off you go, up to that third cloud on the right of that man playing the harp - that's St John the Hume by the way - and we'll talk again in the morning.
So Gerry hops on to the back of a passing angel and up he flies. But then out of the corner of his eye what does he see but Sharon Stone and David Trimble besporting themselves on another cloud. He can't see Sharon Stone's face but Trimble is wearing the biggest red-faced grin he'd ever seen.
Back Gerry goes to the pearly gates. 'What the heaven is going on here' he demands of St Peter. 'I know I was no saint but what did Trimble do to deserve a Hollywood movie star. He was in Bill Craig's fascist Vanguard movement at the start of the Troubles, helped bring down the Sunningdale deal in 1974, was in the Ulster Clubs after the Anglo-Irish Agreement helping to burn policemen out of their homes and then conspired with Billy Wright to get the Orangemen down the Garvaghy Road? How come I get Eileen Paisley and he gets Sharon Stone?'
St Peter draws himself up to his full height. 'The question of Sharon Stone's punishment, Gerry Adams, is no business of yours.'
I hope you don't regard this evening as too much of a punishment and like David Trimble - or is it Eileen Paisley - you'll go home with a smile on your face. To assist you there is a free bar - within limits! - and Don Meade has kindly agreed to entertain us all with some great music. Once again I just want to thank you all for what you did.
Published on the web by Noyster