(en) "Back Home to Derry": A Conversation with F. Stuart Ross

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Sun, 30 Nov 1997 12:53:50 +0000

A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Sat, 29 Nov 1997 20:21:43 -0500 (EST) From: "Nancy K. Rhodes" <nkrhodes@mailbox.syr.edu> To: media-l@tao.ca Subject: "Back Home to Derry": A Conversation with F. Stuart Ross (PNL 12/97) (fwd) Reply-to: media-l@tao.ca

The following appears in the December issue of the PEACE NEWSLETTER (PNL), published monthly by the Syracuse Peace Council, Syracuse, New York/ USA:


Nancy Keefe Rhodes

Francis Stuart Ross is a graduate student in International Relations at Syracuse University. His own work is on the summer "marching season" in the North of Ireland, where thousands of belligerent sectarian parades criss-cross an area smaller than Connecticut. Last month he returned from the city of Derry after almost six months, his second internship at the Pat Finucane Centre for Human Rights. Besides monitoring policing of parades, he's worked on several PFC research reports. September's PNL carried his article on England's notorious SSUs (Special Secure Units), which still hold Irish prisoners. He distributes weekly e-mail news from PFC. At press time, "The Flannagan File" (see below) was just added to PFC's webpage at <www.serve.com/pfc>.

We talked one snowy afternoon in Mid-November. That weekend, Sinn Fein's lead peace talks negotiator Martin McGuinness spoke at Harvard. In Philadelphia, Irish Americans held a Famine Walk commemorating mass Irish starvation last century. Next day, US Rep. Jim Walsh headed a 12-member delegation to Ireland, Scotland and England, including a visit to Irish prisoners in London. November 20 marked a year since Roisin McAliskey's arrest, accused of an IRA bombing. Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark has called for her immediate release. Her next court date is January 2.

This past year, Irish activism has stirred in Syracuse. July's Red Branch rally downtown coincided with nationwide actions against forced parades. Syracuse's Irish Northern Aid (among the country's oldest) meets regularly again. Early in November, Syracusans joined Albany's NORAID gathering, where 300 people honored the deportees.

Yet this is a dangerous time. A November wave of Sinn Fein and IRA resignations in the North shook confidence in the ceasefire. Defections seemed ominous for the already-frayed Mitchell peace talks in Belfast. Those quitting the ranks might not feel bound by the IRA ceasefire, which buys Sinn Fein's place in the talks. The day after we talked, a gang of loyalist thugs invaded a Catholic Mass near Belfast, an escalation of harassment. Here is part of our conversation:

NKR: You worked on the new report on the RUC's chief constable, "The Flannagan File." FSR: Yes. Ronnie Flannagan is probably the most powerful unelected official in the whole United Kingdom. We've had one community -- the overwhelmingly Protestant RUC -- policing the other. The current state has never existed without emergency police powers.

NKR: Some observers think Irish nationalists should join the RUC and reform it. FSR: Behind that is the idea that the RUC has only been a problem for the last 30 years or so. That's not so. Behind that is also the idea that it's a few "rotten apples." Also not true.

NKR: Sinn Fein says, disband the RUC. They refused recent RUC overtures to sit down and talk, and instead have proposed community-based security to replace RUC's policing. FSR: That already existed in the North, because nationalist neighborhoods needed protection. Policing doesn't exist as Americans think of it. The RUC concerns itself with political enforcement, not crime. We must remind people, the RUC is part of the problem. One of the very first deaths in Derry in the late 60s was a man beaten to death in his own home by the RUC.

NKR: In his new book about Derry, FROM CIVIL RIGHTS TO ARMALITES, Niall O'Dochartaigh says the 60s Irish civil rights movement started as a housing movement. The RUC behaved so badly they redefined the entire struggle. FSR: Yes. It started mildly, compared to some other civil rights movements. The North was already a police state then. The Flannagan report is timely because he's portrayed as the liberal reformer. His actual resume suggests otherwise. For example, he was at Castlereigh interrogation center. Medics now testify they saw serious injuries that couldn't be self-inflicted. Flannagan has always held certain positions. He was there, always.

NKR: Some suggest an "international team" to oversee RUC reform, sort of like the one sent to Haiti. But the progressive National Black Police Association was systematically excluded from that -- the "new" Haitian police quietly kept much of the "old." FSR: If the British set it up, I'd be very wary.

NKR: Flannagan's cultivated IACOLE -- the International Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement -- for several years. He spoke at their September Ottawa conference, and two years ago in Vancouver. This major official global network has showcased him -- though Human Rights Watch's Julia Hall objected to his Ottawa speech. He could manage IACOLE's stamp of approval. FSR: He's very slick, media-friendly -- one of the first RUC to give interviews. The police complaints there isn't impressive. Few complaints against the RUC are sustained. Hundreds of pounds are paid out-of-court to victims, and officers never disciplined.

NKR: There's another international network that a team could come from. South Africa is experimenting with community-based justice forms. Others are too. FSR: The ANC maintains close ties with Sinn Fein. This summer a German group called Critical Policing visited the Finucane Centre -- I think connected with the Greens. There's common ground with loyalists too, especially among young men without work. The Progressive Unionist Party sometimes articulates this. They don't have a large electoral base. Running ahead of their communities could isolate them. They're a strange bunch. The PUP is connected to the UVF - the Ulster Volunteer Force -- responsible for some gruesome sectarian killings. The PUP and the UVF don't have the organic connection of, say, Sinn Fein and the IRA. Sinn Fein has had a more united movement to pull everyone along.

NKR: Martin McGuinness just spoke at Harvard. Now Kevin McCullen writes in the BOSTON GLOBE that in the 80s McGuinness began calling for a political solution. Often unsympathetic to Irish nationalism, he finally acknowledges this! Gerry Adams has said for years, Irish republicans must seek a political solution. How come even progressives in the US just don't get it? FSR: It's been long-term, as you say, perhaps because Adams and McGuinness have tried to bring everyone along. Irish republicanism has a history of splits. And they have brought most people along. People are nervous, of course. Many Americans have been ignorant of this. But it's changing. There's more information now. I'd recommend anything by Adams. John Conroy's BELFAST DIARY. Tim Pat Coogan is prolific. There's also a renewed interest in the 1916 period, after the Michael Collins film. That's a starting point.

NKR: Often people want to stop at 1916 -- the nostalgia seems easier. FSR: That period has a dramatic aura. The last 30 years are ugly. The carnage in Ireland exists elsewhere but doesn't affect us the same. People focus on violence, not its causes. If you want peace, work on its causes. Justice is at the forefront of the talks -- inequality, the police, demilitarizing the society.

NKR: Loyalist paramilitaries have huge weapons caches -- not just the IRA. When the talks resumed, the RUC was building more barracks, not preparing for peace. FSR: It's an over-policed society. In every town, police stations are fortresses. Belfast has close to a dozen military bases. The watch-towers film everything. Just the way the RUC carry themselves. They drive around in their Land Rovers with assault rifles. Peace would hurt the police. For 30 years one of the biggest employers has been the security industry.

NKR: A major way of jeopardizing peace is treatment of prisoners? FSR: Probably the worst place for an Irish republican prisoner is England. Irish prisoners are singled out and denied transfer back to Ireland. Families suffer. Thousands rally for the prisoners. The nationalist community recognizes most of these people wouldn't be in prison except for the political situation, whether they condone their actions or not. The British know this. I can't believe it's ignorance, after all these years -- it's just vindictive.

NKR: What can people do here? FSR: Educate oneself. Keep an eye on the prisoners, on human rights conditions. You don't have to embrace all Irish republican demands, but certainly all PNL readers can agree on humane conditions for all prisoners.

NKR: I've corresponded some with Frances McHugh, whose brother Brian is in Belmarsh prison and was recently brutalized by guards. She recently became a spokesperson for Saoirse [seer-shaw, Irish for "freedom"], the campaign to free the POWs, besides taking night classes and working. FSR: Yes, I've talked with her. Throughout the conflict we've had brothers, sisters, family members who take this on. Neither Adams nor McGuinness ever went to university. Many lesser-known Sinn Fein activists are just as articulate, also prison-educated. They're able to negotiate with the British Empire's experts.

NKR: But the talks aren't going so well. FSR: The unionists are stalling. The talks could collapse. But what goes on outside the talks is more important. Particularly grassroots activism, to keep the pressure on, not let the British walk away from this.

NKR: The British claim to be neutral brokers between ancient warring, tribalistic factions. FSR: Nothing could be further from the truth. I do think [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair's in search of what HE would call an honorable settlement -- maybe not what Irish republicans would want. Change will come. But we haven't seen significant change in the unionist mind-set. I'd like to see Irish republicans reach out more to the Protestant community. They're very focused on the British.

NKR: Last summer Gerry Adams appealed to people in nationalist neighborhoods adjoining unionist areas -- to keep still, resist needling one's neighbors. I found that very direct, very street-level, not what you usually hear. FSR: I've seen that first-hand, yes. Last summer Sinn Fein was in the streets appealing for calm. They disarmed petrol bombers. Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the United Irishmen Uprising -- led by a Protestant, Wolfe Tone. That might reawaken the radical tradition of republicanism among Protestants. It's hard after the last 70 or 80 years. But there could be agreement -- on prisoners, since loyalists are in prison too. Absent an active IRA campaign, unionists are terribly divided. By class, allegiances to different paramilitaries, even religion.

NKR: Don't we stereotype nationalism here? FSR: Americans amy see Third World nationalism and think it's outdated for Europe. I didn't learn about some nationalist struggles till I got there. The Basque, the Catalan, the Corsican, Flemish, Welsh and Scottish movements. Some are progressive, some conservative. Nationalism's content varies. It makes sense to have a nationalist movement in the North of Ireland -- Britain's first colony! Britain also used partition in the Middle East and India. There's still trouble in both places.

NKR: What about organizing locally? The Red Branch Irish Americans for Justice and Peace gave you some direct support for Derry. Locally, Irish Northern Aid has reactivated. FSR: I've worked closely with NORAID, in Detroit in '92, in Chicago from '93 to early '95. Some communities have more of an activist tradition. From family research I know Syracuse had a lot going on around 1916. The CATHOLIC SUN routinely had several pages on Ireland. It was an IRISH Catholic paper, and very political. I hope to work with both Irish Northern Aid and the Red Branch. Projects will come up that both can work on. I want to do some speaking. This is part of what happens outside the peace talks. Gerry Adams has called for this, saying, "Take ownership of the talks." They can't stand alone. ______________ Nancy is a PNL contributing editor who covers police violence and human rights. Reach Stuart Ross at 315/446-8507 or <fsross@mailbox.syr.edu>.

[PHOTO: Caption: "Derry, 1997. Murals urging the British to go home are common in nationalist areas. Photo: Kaya Adams."] [BOX:] SOME MOTHER'S SON at LeMoyne LeMoyne College's Gaelic Society presents the critically acclaimed film, SOME MOTHER'S SON, based on the 1981 hunger strikes in Belfast's Long Kesh prison. Stuart Ross gives a short talk beforehand. Tues., 12/2, 9 p.m. Foery Hall basement Contact Dan Nieciecki, 233-6191 or 478-6799, or <danieloisin@hotmail.com>. ________________

The PNL encourages reprinting of our material so long as you credit our publication, do not alter the text, and provide us with a copy of your reprint mailed to Syracuse Peace Council/PNL, Attn.: Tim Judson, 924 Burnet Ave., Syracuse, New York 13203/USA. **************************************************************************

________________________ http://www.radio4all.org http://www.radio4all.org/freepacifica

****** A-Infos News Service ***** News about and of interest to anarchists

Subscribe -> email MAJORDOMO@TAO.CA with the message SUBSCRIBE A-INFOS Info -> http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ Reproduce -> please include this section