Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Last Of The Summer Wine.

There were nine of them. Strung out in a staggered meandering column. Some were obviously walking wounded. They made their way slowly through the narrow hilly streets of the Mediterranean town, in the late Autumn sunshine. Every so often the more sprightly of these intrepid ramblers would stop until their less sprightly companeros caught up with the main group. Then off they wandered again. Chatting. Laughing. Complaining. Giggling. Singing.

They were all men. Of advanced ages. But they were progressive decent men. No need for gender disputes here. This was their little outing and they had travelled with the support, perhaps even in some cases the encouragement, of their partners. For the purposes of this little narrative they shall remain anonymous. Suffice to say they all know each other for a very long time. Their ages are from mid sixties to almost mis-seventies.  They have been friends for at least forty years or so. Some - well one - even claims to be a fifty year man.  That they remain friends is hardly surprising given what they had gone through. Or put others through. Including each other. But as The Fifty Years Man  once proclaimed ‘ You don’t have to like your friends to be friends with them.’

Their journeys through life have meandered through decades  of political struggle. Street activism. Funerals. Set backs. Advances. Death. Interrogation centres. Internment.  Non Jury Courts. A Prison Ship. Long Kesh. The Crum. Magilligan. The H Blocks. Some even meandered into USA custody. From war through a peace process. And they survived it all.

So here they were on a social ramble in a Mediterranean town. The last time they did this was about ten years ago. An American amigo had travelled to be with them. On that occasion they sat on a wall to be photographed. The Quiet  American remarked as the camera shutter clicked, “ I wonder how many of us will be around in ten years time?”

Well most of them were. Including The Quiet American who traveled again. But there was one notable absentee. He was the centre of their first outing, a small chap who regaled the rest of them and entertained the company and everyone else. Then when he got home he went and died. That also put him at the centre of this excursion. When ever our wanderers rambled past a spot where The Departed One had ceili-ed they paused for a quiet moment to retell the tale and to reflect on his great  exploits. There was even some talk of erecting a discreet little plaque at a particular corner where he and The Very Hospitable Comrade had demonstrated to the rush hour commuters in this Mediterranean town how two Irishmen abroad could make a show of themselves.

So on this trip when they sat on a wall to be photographed they left a little space for The Departed One. The Fifty Year Man speculated how long it would be before there were more spaces than faces.

“The way you lot are getting on I’ll be here on my own in another ten years.” He observed.

“G’wan ya Glyp” The Very Hospitable Comrade berated him.

It was then The Caustic One spoke up.

“I propose we do this in five years time just to give some of youse a chance”.

Everyone agreed. Even The Man of No Property, recently dispossessed, thought that a very good idea. There was tentative talk of a monthly subscription, non returnable if death intervened.  The Gentle Gaeilgeoir dissented.

“What about oration rights?” He asked.

I mBearla for the sake of the daoine gan Gaeilge.  There was no agreement on who would orate for who. Or in what teanga.

And so they rambled on. That was one of their purposes. Rambling. Eating. And because all were fond of a wee drink they occasionally had that as well. Their main objective was to have adventures. To have fun. And so they did. Especially The Very Fine Baritone. So the banter, the slagging and comradarie followed them like happy puppy hounds following their masters.

The mood was infectious. So was the sunshine. Efforts to ban talk of politics, religion or Antrim GAA or current affairs fell at the first fence. At the very first round in fact. The craic was ninety.  Loud too sometimes but always, or mostly, good humored though that was not always the intention. But that’s how it turned out. A laugh a minute.  Even The One With The Awful Cough rose from his sick bed to join in. Only to be blamed for passing the cough on to The Gentle Pescatarian.

So for six days they regaled, insulted and laughed at themselves. And on the seventh day they came home.

The Very Fine Baritone and The Fifty Years Man rose to their feet at the last supper in the little Mediterranean Greasy Joe’s where they had mustered to bid The Quiet American Slán.

“Oh of all the money that e’er I spent
I spent it in good company
And of all the harm that ever I did
Alas it was to none but me” they sang.

The Very Hospitable Comrade was very moved.

“I want youse to sing that at my funeral”. He mumbled.

And that’s how their trip abroad ended. With a fine song. Sung by fine singers. And a parting glass.

“And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me a parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all.”

See youse all in five years comrades. Subject to annual medical checks. And Brexit.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Alternative to Arms - The primacy of dialogue - an article in the New York Times

This is an article – published December 5th 2018 -  from Turning Points, a magazine that explores what critical moments from this year might mean for the year ahead. 

The Alternative to Arms
By Gerry Adams
·         Dec. 5, 2018
When the Second World War ended in 1945 there were 51 member states in the United Nations. Today there are 193. Many of the new states emerged out of struggle and conflict as old empires crumbled.
That cycle of political struggle continues today. The Brexit crisis may cause huge economic damage to Ireland’s economies and may even threaten the Good Friday Agreement. In Catalonia and the Basque Country, both of which seek independence from Spain, in Hong Kong and Palestine, people fight or have fought for the right to self-govern.
The world is dominated by nations’ struggles to make their own laws and to decide their relationships with other nations. But for people to have control over the decisions that affect their lives, we must empower them through diplomacy, cooperation and dialogue. When governments put simple human decency and the rights of their people first as they negotiate the world’s conflicts, democracy will follow.
That, however, is easier said than done, especially when the individual people responsible for upholding the law often value their own power over the common good.
When I was a teenager in Belfast I realized that my peers and I were not being treated fairly. Northern Ireland was created when the British government partitioned Ireland. People were divided on sectarian lines and Catholics were deemed to be disloyal. We were denied basic rights in what was effectively an apartheid statelet.
The inequality we experienced was deeply embedded in our society, to the point of being policy. Still, I thought that fixing it was only a matter of bringing it to the attention of the people in charge. Once they realized the problem they would rectify matters.
I soon learned that the people in charge relied on that inequality for their power. They were unlikely to eradicate it if that would cost them their leverage, and any solution would be tempered to a degree that would keep them in charge. People who have power, or even the illusion of power, are loath to give it up.

Those on the other side of this equation — the disadvantaged — include many who believe they cannot change their situation. Some are reluctant even to consider that change is possible. Some are afraid of change. Some are used to society being organized in a certain way, even when that society discriminates against them. Some are too busy surviving or living their lives to consider that things could be different.
There can be no progress without political struggle, but for it to succeed, people must be empowered. They need to have a stake in society and in their communities. They have to be cherished, and their humanity has to be respected and defended. They have rights and entitlements that must be upheld and promoted. Society needs to be citizen-centered, shaped around these rights.
The reality, of course, is that progressive change in society rarely comes of its own accord. It has to be engineered, negotiated for. Violence often breeds when people believe that they have been left with no alternative. And this belief can become more entrenched as states use extrajudicial and violent means to defend their interests.
Annual worldwide military spending is estimated to be over $1.7 trillion today, whereas the United Nations and its related agencies spend around $30 billion annually. Conflict is fueled by poverty, economic exploitation and the desire to control water rights, oil reserves and other natural resources.
Britain had fought dozens of counterinsurgency wars before it sent its soldiers to Irish streets in 1969. It had a well-established policy that saw the law, according to Brigadier Frank Kitson, as “just another weapon in the government’s arsenal … little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public.”
Irish republicans and others succeeded in shifting from conflict to peace by building an alternative to armed struggle with the Good Friday Agreement. It provides for certain rights for Northern Ireland, including the right to a referendum on whether to remain a part of Britain or to end that relationship and establish a united Ireland. The agreement emerged slowly as a result of hard work, with parties and governments eventually being prepared to take risks, and with the support of the international community. It is still very much unfinished business.
In the conflict between the Spanish state and the Basque independence campaigners a similar process, closely modeled on Ireland’s, has succeeded in ending armed conflict, even though the Spanish government has not fully engaged so far. Sinn Fein leaders have often traveled to other conflict zones, including Afghanistan and Colombia, advocating the primacy of dialogue, negotiations and peace processes.
I have traveled to the Middle East on several occasions, speaking to Palestinians, visiting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and speaking to senior leaders in Israel and Palestine. Regrettably, the failure of governments to uphold international law and U.N. resolutions, and the Israeli government’s refusal to defend democratic norms and find equitable and fair compromises, has left many Palestinians living in desperate conditions, with no hope of a different, better future. As a result, the Middle East exists in a permanent state of conflict.
To change this demands a genuine effort to understand what motivates, inspires and drives people to make the choices they do. The dialogue that fosters that understanding is what ultimately empowers opposing sides of a conflict to come together.
Whoever described politics as the art of the possible was reducing politics to a mediocre trade. People’s expectations of their worth must be raised — not lowered. When we do that, we enable democracy to take hold in even the most dire situations.

Friday, November 30, 2018

'It’s a sign of a good horse that can fart in the morning.’

Michael J Murphy
Two weeks ago I was pleased to speak at the Michael J Murphy winter school in Tí Chulainn in the shadow of Sliabh Gullion. Who is Michael J Murphy I hear you ask.  Michael was a Seanachai, a Sage and a Citizen.  I first came across his writings when I was in Long Kesh.  Some of his stories have stayed with me until now. He wrote six plays, ten books, was an accomplished poet, a photographer and a broadcaster.  
Michael was born in Liverpool in 1913. He came to Dromintee in 1922 with his parents and familyWhen he left school aged 14 he started to work as a farm labourer.  He began to write down the stories he heard from the people he worked with.  He also took thousands of photos which he developed himself.  At a time, with some notable exceptions, few photographers recorded the lives of poor people or working people, particularly in rural communitiesMichaels photos are a treasure trove of people at work, at play or relaxing in their homes or in the field. In the ordinariness of their lives.
He was a man with progressive social views and a belief in social justice. He also loved the landscape particularly around Sliabh Gullion along with Gullion itself.  His writings about the countryside around here are particularly uplifting, lyrical and enchanting. Many of our songs, folk tales and poems, particularly in the Gaelic tradition have been kept alive because they are part of this living tradition. 
Michael devoted his life to the preservation of importantordinary every day matters. He presents us with an insight of the lived experiences of people, mostly struggling to eke a living from the soil, often in difficult times. He did not do this in a sentimental way. He lets the story tellers speak for themselves. 
From the early 1930s’ to his retirement in 1983 he gathered up and put together the largest collection of oral traditions in the English speaking world.  It is available in 150 volumes in the National Folklore Collection in University College Dublin.  He also compiled a glossary of Anglo-Irish speech.
For this alone Michael J Murphy deserves our everlasting gratitude. He clearly loved words and the natural speech of the people. As he puts it himself; 'Some of the diction of the people around the mountain (Sliabh Gullion) may be classified as coarse and indelicate, but their syntax and vernacular, imaginative and pithy, is as Gaelic in structure today as their version of the English Elizabethan tongue which replaced the native language.’
South Armaghthe Oriel and especially the area of Sliabh Gullion are the main sources of Michael’s work though he did spend some time in Glenhull in the Sperrin mountains of Tyrone and on Rathlin Island.  He has published his stories from these places. Indeed, he travelled throughout Old Ulster.  That is the nine counties plus Louth-from Rathlin to the Boyne.  No border! 
Michael chronicled and recorded or hand wrote stories from people about customs and traditions.  About the Irish language. About smuggling, thatching, roofing, shearing, football.  About road bowling, turf, birds, games and tricks, cures, remedies, sea weed, grinding barley, thinning turnips, potatoes – or priddies -and lots about planting, about holy wells, mass rocks, milling, banshees, and threshing. Stories about love and loss. About wakes and warriors. Invaders. About witches – an cailleach- about fairies – síogaí.  And in his writings from Rathlin he adds stories about ship wrecks, fishing, seals, pirates, the learning of English, the decline of Irish.  
Michael’s book, Rathlin: Island of Blood and Enchantment, on the Irish language, is particularly poignant.  It almost certainly reflects the decline of the language everywhere including in South Armagh.  Michael collected these stories in the summers of ’53 and ’54 and credits all his sources by name. During his time on Rathlin some of the people he met also told him about the effects of the Great Hunger. These stories reflect the reality of that time on Rathlin and across Ireland. One local man, Mickey Joe, told him; “There were twelve hundred people on this island,now I think we have about one hundred and forty there are about forty-five families altogether. About three hundred people left in the one day, whole families went.  Many of them died at sea on the way over… "
Michael's heart was never far from Sliabh Gullion.  He wrote that this mystic mountain was a magnet for the likes of Maude Gonne McBride, Alice MilliganW.B.Yeats, George Moore and AE (George Russell).  Maud Gonne took part in an early Sinn Féin meeting on top of Sliabh Gullion.  Standish O’Grady described Sliabh Gullion as the mountain of mystery.  
One of his books, Sayings and Stories from Sliabh Gullion is sourced entirely in Dromintee, Jonesborough, KilleavyMullaghbaunForkhillCrossmaglen, Faughart and Omeath.  Some of these sources were Irish speakers but even where they use the English the constructions are Irish language constructions.  Some are quite funny.  For example, two old men are in a graveyard at a funeral.  One is complaining about all the things that are wrong with him, he is sore, he is tired, he has no energy.
“It’s hardly worth your while going home” his companion said to him.
“Old courting is cold courting is said about an old man courting a younger woman.” 
‘A good arse can speak for itself.’
‘It’s a sign of a good horse that can fart in the morning.’
Michael was also a social campaigner. In particular,he raged against the Hiring Fairs.  Both Michael J’s parents were hired in Newry when they were ten years old and the stories which he heard from them had a profound effect on him. His mother was paid thirty shillings for her first six months when she was ten years old and in later life she said that she had a weak chest from continual wettings while hired with inconsiderate farmers in County Down.It is little wonder that Michael campaigned throughout the 1930s against the ‘slave market’ which caused so much hardship for the children of the rural poor. 
He also had little regard for the pomposity and hypocrisy of some church clerics. He was accused once of transgressing Canon Law because one of the main characters in one of his plays was a girl born out of wedlock who he portrayed as being intelligent. He was threatened with excommunication but he replied that he couldn’t be excommunicated because as a socialist republican he was already excommunicated three times. 
So, if after reading this you are interested in Michael J Murphy why not go to your local library and ask for his books. They will open your eyes to an important part of our culture and history.
Finally, An Cuimhneamh is an oral history project based in Tí Chulainn dedicated to perpetuating the memory of Michael J Murphy and his work. An Cuimhneamh deserves our support for its efforts to compile an extensive and ongoing archive of peoples' memories and experiences in south Armagh from e early twentieth century until today. 
With family and of Michael J Murphy and organising committee

Friday, November 23, 2018

DUPed again

When the news broke that a withdrawal Brexit agreement had been reached between the British government and the EU Sammy Wilson of the DUP responded in time worn fashion. It was, he said a punishment beating for the UK because they dared to vote to leave the EU”.Even before he had read the agreement Wilson declared that the DUP would not support it. Later he told Channel 4 News, "If the EU think that what the IRA couldn't achieve, they're going to achieve, they have another thought coming to them."
Outside the Westminster bubble loyalist activist Jamie Bryson was warning that the Brexit deal would "almost certainly trigger a grassroots unionist reaction that would dwarf the anger of the flag protests and Drumcree".
This type of excessive threatening language has long been part of political unionism’s response when faced with the prospect of change. It’s a combination of hysterical exaggeration and threat. It’s the language of dire warnings, of civil war and armageddon, and of fear. It’s the language of 1998 when the DUP stood outside the negotiations as the Good Friday Agreement was achieved and then opposed it during the referendum campaign.

It is the language of 1985 when the DUP and UUP raged against Thatcher and the Anglo Irish Agreement or when hundreds gathered on a cold mountain waving their firearms certificates in defence of the union. It’s language which in the past excused and justified sectarian murder, and defended thousands of masked men in red berets marching through towns and villages.

It is the language of inequality and division which fed unionism’s anti-civil rights – anti-Catholic – attitude in the 1960s, and which 50 years earlier had created the apartheid orange state through partition.

DUP anger at Theresa May’s Brexit deal boiled over on Monday evening when its Westminster group voted in one instance with Labour against Theresa May and abstained in a number of other budget related votes in the British Parliament. The focus of the DUP now appears to be on joining with those remaining Brexiteer Ministers in the British Cabinet who believe that it is still possible to renegotiate the Brexit deal – something which has been ruled out by May and by the EU. They have only days to achieve their objective before an EU summit at the weekend signs off on the deal.

What happens if, as likely, they fail to change the withdrawal agreement? Will May survive? Have the dissidents in the Tory ranks the 48 signatories to demand a vote of no confidence in her leadership? Have the DUP overplayed their hand?

For most citizens living in the North the political machinations around the decisions which will shape our lives for decades to come has been reduced to a spectator sport. It’s a moment of high drama which has seen the North’s business community and farming sector publicly oppose the approach of both the DUP and UUP.

However, it is also a crisis with political implications that extend beyond the economic consequences of Brexit. It is always short sighted to judge any development solely by the discomfort it causes our opponents, notwithstanding the entertainment this provides. The reality is that the Good Friday Agreement now faces its greatest threat.

It is important to recall that in the section of the Good Friday Agreement, under Constitutional Issues, the role of the British government in the North is explicitly spelt out…”the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities.”

This fundamental role as joint co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement – of being impartial - has been significantly undermined. While many of us, including mé féin, remain justifiably sceptical about this, it is what the British government signed up for. The British refusal to defend the rights of Irish language speakers; to protect equality and human rights for gay and lesbian citizens; to implement agreements on legacy; or to honour outstanding Agreement commitments, for example on establishing a Bill of Rights, and create a Civic Forum, are all evidence of the absence of ‘rigorous impartiality’.

Moreover, following Brexit the British Conservatives remain wedded to ending the role of the European Court of Justice and getting rid of the Human Rights Act which protects the equality and human rights principles of the Agreement.

All of this heightens the need for the Irish government to defend the Good Friday Agreement and for the North to have a special relationship with the EU that reflects our unique situation. This is essential if the Good Friday Agreement is to be protected.

In this context the objective of Irish unity takes on a greater significance and imperative. This is a logical, common sense outcome to the political, social and economic fractures imposed by partition but it also makes sense in the current Brexit provoked crisis. Reunification will allow for the North to again become part of the EU. Hard border? Soft Brexit? Better to have no border at all.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Our Precious Union.

Brexit is a deadly serious issue. It threatens the two economies on this island, will undermine social cohesion, and directly attacks the Good Friday Agreement. It is within this context that the stupidity, insanity, absurdity and ludicrousness of Brexit and of the British government’s approach to Brexit emerges for all to see.
Take one example. Last week the British Secretary of State for Exiting the EU Dominic Raab admitted that until recently he did not fully understand how much of British trade relies on the Dover to Calais crossing. This generated a flood of ironic and sarcastic responses asking whether Raab even knew that Britain was an island? Perhaps the most devastating and scathing critique came from Raab’s Parliamentary colleague, former British Tory Minister Ken Clarke, who responded on twitter with, “I’ve just given Dominic Raab an early Christmas present; a globe of the world. He was flabbergasted at how close the rest of Europe is then asked ‘what’s the blue stuff?’ I need a whiskey”
Meanwhile the deadlines for agreement between Britain and the EU have been repeatedly broken amid ongoing confusion and uncertainty. An exchange of letters last week between the DUP leader Arlene Foster and the British Prime Minister Theresa May have given some insight into this and into the strained relationship between the two parties.
In last week’s letter to the DUP May acknowledges that the “unique circumstances” of the North “could require specific alignment solutions in some scenarios” on regulationsArlene Foster and her party interpreted this as a willingness by the British “to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea”. Foster added: “The Prime Minister’s letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK.” The DUP accused May of breaking Tory commitments to the party.
Our precious union? Whose precious union? A proper Brexit? The people of the North voted against Brexit. The DUP lost that one. So now they are gonna talk tough to the Brits for letting them down. Again.
Should anyone be surprised by this turn of events? In June 2017 as the DUP and Conservatives were engaged in negotiations about a confidence and supply arrangement I warned that such dalliances always end in tears. It was a British Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath who scrapped the Unionist regime at Stormont in 1972. It was a British Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. It was a Tory Prime Minister John Major who agreed the Downing Street Declaration with the Irish government in 1993. And unionism should always remember the words of their great hero and leader Edward Carson who remarked in 1921; "What a fool I was. I was a puppet, so was Ulster, so was Ireland, in political game that was to get Tories into power".
On Tuesday it was revealed that EU and the British government negotiators had reached an agreement on dealing with Britain’s border in Ireland. It would appear that the ‘backstop’, which is to prevent a hard border, will involve the North and Britain remaining in a ‘temporary customs arrangement.’ It isn’t clear what ‘temporary’ means nor what review mechanism has been agreed. But the text will apparently include specific provisions for the North should the ‘backstop’ fail to prevent a hard Brexit.
Will the DUP support this plan? As I write no one knows. If I was a betting man I would say they will vote against it. But whatever awaits the DUP, or the British PM, we can be sure about one thing.
Brexit will be disastrous for the North. Last week in a timely report two academics with the Canadian Company KLC Consultants, Kurt Hubner and Renger Herman Van Nieuwkoop, produced a report looking at the economic impact of Brexit and of Irish unity. It examined three possible scenarios: a hard Brexit in which the North and Britain leaves the EU single market and customs union; the North remaining in the single market and customs union and Irish unity.
The report – ‘The Costs of Non-Unification: Brexit and the Unification of Ireland’ – warned that Brexit could cost the island of Ireland €42.5 billion over seven years. In a hard Brexit the North would lose €10.1 billion. Even with a so-called soft Brexit, in which the North remains within the single market and customs union, the financial cost to the six counties would be enormous at €3.8 billion.
The 62-page report concluded that between now and 2025 Irish reunification could benefit the North by almost €18 billion and the South by €5-6 billion. It concludes that unification “is the only option with positive net effects.” It is the only long term, sustainable solution to the decades long crisis created by partition, and the current crisis created by the Brexit.
The reality is that Arlene Foster’s ‘precious union’ is a narrow, intolerant place - a cold house for Irish language speakers, women, gay and lesbian citizens and for nationalists and republicans. We need a new union. Tone’s ‘cordial union’ which embraces self-determination and the ideal of a real Republic and which puts the people of the island of Ireland first. Our task as United Irelanders is to organise, mobilise, strategise and make it happen.

Saturday, November 10, 2018


This article comes to you from the USA. It’s an interesting time to be here. The mid-term elections for the Congress; for some Senate seats; and for governorship and state legislatures and a host of other elected positions will be over by the time you get to read this. And you will know the results. But at the time of writing on the eve of the election everyone I have spoken to is focussed on what is going to happen. Will President Trump consolidate his position? Or will he lose out? Will the Democrats take the Congress?
Sinn Féin steadfastly refuses to get involved in the domestic politics of the USA. Our cause here is the cause of Ireland. Of course we oppose many aspects of US foreign policy and I myself have raised these with previous administrations.
As I travel from New York to Nashville to Atlanta and back to New York I am also conscious of the homeless people I see in all these cities and the other signs of poverty sitting starkly alongside affluence. This is a time of political discord here. Perhaps it was always thus but there is an edge to it that wasn’t so obvious during other times that RG and I spent here.
The visits to Nashville and Atlanta were a reconnection with the Irish diaspora there. I got a sliotar from Nashville’s local GAA club. But the highlight of that visit was the meeting with veterans of the civil rights struggle last Saturday morning. We visited the Civil Rights Room in the Nashville Public Library. There I was honoured to meet with two former civil rights leaders Rip Patton and King Hollands. They and around 50 local people had come along to hear me talk about the connections between the Civil Rights Movement in the USA and the Civil Rights Association in the North in the 1960s.
The two civil rights leaders had participated in the famous Woolworths Lunchtime sit ins in 1960 and were among the freedom riders, many of whom were arrested and imprisoned. At that time black citizens were not allowed under the draconian segregation laws to sit at whites only lunch counters. There was also violent opposition to the integration of the interstate transport system. So some courageous women and men, black and white – freedom riders – took to the buses and trains to challenge segregation. Many were beaten and hundreds were imprisoned.
The Civil Rights Room is a time capsule of all of this, including imagery, photographs, and books of that dangerous time. Later I visited the Woolworths building and met up again with Rip and King, and with Judge Richard Dinkins, another veteran of those days. We briefly sat at the lunch counter where almost 60 years ago African American citizens were attacked. Later at a lunch they recounted their experiences of those days, including arrests and assaults, before we sang ‘We shall overcome’ to our surprised guests.
In Atlanta Richard and I visited the ‘Centre for Civil and Human Rights’. The filmed reports of those hard days can be watched on screens, including Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech along with the speeches of others. You can relive the sit-in protests at a lunch counter, by closing  your eyes, and putting on ear phones to  hear shouts of abuse which grows steadily until the voices are shouting and your seat shakes. It’s a very visceral experience.
On Tuesday evening I will address the Friendly Sons and Daughters of St. Patrick’s dinner before heading back to New York for the annual Friends of Sinn Féin New York dinner. This will be our 23rd annual dinner. The first was held on May 10th 1995 in the Essex House Hotel in New York. This year Mary Lou McDonald will be making her inaugural speech as Uachtarán Shinn Féin. I will be introducing her. She will then go on to do the same in Toronto in Canada.
Our party has been well served by the people who organise this key fundraising event, especially the Dinner Committee. We have also been well served by those who have worked with us in north America since Friends of Sinn Féin was established. Ciaran Staunton was our first representative. Followed by Mairead Keane. They did exemplary work. And the indominatable Rita O Hare has represented us diligently and tirelessly since then.
Friends of Sinn Fein has been led by Larry Downes, the founding President and mainstay of the organisation for a very long time. He was followed by the late Jim Cullen and we are now fortunate to have Mark Guilfoyle in that post. They have been ably supported by countless others in cities and states across the USA and Canada – too many to mention – who I have had the great pleasure and honour to work with. I have been uplifted, moved, inspired and encouraged by all of them. And I am confident that they will continue to work closely with Mary Lou as we enter a new phase of struggle, under a new leadership determined to secure Irish unity.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Best Kept Secret of the Irish Peace Process

Countless books have been written about the Irish peace process. Its origins - the principle characters and key dates. Who met who, and when, and where, and what was said? And yet there are still aspects of that process which have not been aired in public. Private meetings that took place. Conversations that were held in quiet, out of the way places involving men and women who are not household names. There is another book – a negotiators book – still to be written. One of these days.
The Negotiators Cookbook is not that book. It lifts the lid on one aspect of the negotiations known to only a few. When you bring a large team of hungry republicans together for days – sometimes weeks on end – how do you feed them? This is not a frivolous matter. There is a psychology to the planning and running of negotiations.
Castle Buildings where the Good Friday Agreement negotiations occurred had a good canteen. Siobhan O’Hanlon and Sue Ramsay developed a great relationship with the catering staff that ensured the Sinn Féin team had tea, coffee, sandwiches, and hot food readily available. Then, and in the years since the Good Friday Agreement was agreed, negotiations would sometimes move to other venues. Downing Street, Leeds Castle, Weston Park, Lancaster House, St. Andrews, Hillsborough Castle, Castle Buildings and Dublin Castle. The hours could be long. Round the clock.
Talks in Downing Street were a particularly hungry event. It may not look it but the building on the inside is very large. And there are lots of people working between the interconnecting buildings that run the length of the street. But the British idea of welcoming the negotiating teams didn’t extend to providing food. It didn’t matter if you were there from early morning to late at night, or whether you were a unionist or republican, all that was provided was an occasional cup of tea or coffee and maybe a biscuit.
The late Brian Faulkner, the last Prime Minister from the old unionist regime, once complained that there was no food provided during crisis meetings in Downing Street on 19th August 1969.
Food is a simple way to break down barriers and create a relaxed atmosphere. Martin McGuinness and I met Tony Blair regularly for ten years or so. Some of our better conversations were held in Chequers over dinner. But in the main food was generally in short supply when the British side were organising meetings.
Others are less tight fisted when it comes to food. I have especially fond memories of a visit to Cuba in December 2001. I was part of a Sinn Féin delegation visiting Havana to meet with Cuban President Fidel Castro. The meeting with Fidel want on for three hours and after a short break it resumed over a dinner that began around 10pm and finished about 3am. Good food, good company, great craic.
When the negotiations went into the wee hours at Hillsborough Castle and elsewhere we would send someone off to the local chip shop. Eventually, however, Ted Howell stepped into the breach. As well as being an indispensible member of our negotiating team from the days when I was first meeting John Hume and the SDLP in the 1980s, Ted is also a first class cook. A culinary master. His occasional soirees are happy events for their great atmosphere but especially for the quality, quantity and diversity of dishes.
Ted started to make soups and bake bread and bring it up to the negotiations. It evolved over time into him arriving with bags laden with tubs of pasta, spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, salads, pies, hams, fish dishes, curries, soups and beans. Ted loves to cook with beans and his home-made breads, still warm, are delicious.
Padraic Wilson is another master baker. His specialities are fine deserts and pastries of all kinds, including exotic moist fruit cakes. Delicious and delightful.
This cookbook is dedicated to the ate Siobhan O’Hanlon and the Sinn Féin negotiations team, especially Ted and Padraic. It is a tribute to them. While the rest of us would go home and head to our beds for some sleep Ted and Padraic would be in their kitchens preparing for the next day. So, thanks to both. And thanks also to all of those who helped in the compiling and publication of the Negotiators Cookbook.
Finally, with this cookbook you have the opportunity to try out the recipes and the dishes that fed the Sinn Fein negotiating team. They would grace any dinner table. They are also healthy and nourishing. So, enjoy and bon appetite.
If you’re interested in purchasing a copy for yourself or a copy for someone’s Christmas stockings its available at www.sinnfeinbookshop.comor or phone 00 353 18726100