Martin Galvin, of Radio Free Eireann NYC, speaks to Joe Barr, the National Organiser for Saoradh, via telephone from Doire about the British ‘veterans’ march in Belfast City Centre.
Martin: And well I’ll say welcome for the first time to Joe Barr from Saoradh. He’s the National Organiser. He’s based in Doire. Welcome to Radio Free Éireann, Joe.
Joe: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
Martin: Okay. Joe, the reason we invited you on – we are going to talk about Easter and Easter commemorations – but yesterday there was a demonstration by former British troopers who are concerned – they support British rule, they support British courts, they support British justice – but they’re protesting that they might have to face British courts and British prosecutions over people who were killed during The Troubles, 1968 to 1998. Now Joe, we’re going to talk to you about that demonstration but just to introduce you to the audience: What is your position with Saoradh? And tell me, you’re a young man, why did you choose – you live in Doire – why did you choose to join them rather than say Sinn Féin or the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party), established political parties which have a prominent role in Doire City and might have made it for a much easier career path for you?
Joe: Yeah, well I am – I’m twenty-eight years of age and I’m the National Organiser for Saoradh as you stated there. The reason that I joined Saoradh in the first place – Saoradh, they were essentially organised to repair the damage a decade of reformism and I want to advance the pursuit of a thirty-two county socialist republic that is free from any interference of England or any other foreign government. I was an active Irish Republican since my teens. I experienced and felt the frustrations that a lot of young people are feeling – you know with the symptoms associated with those frustrations and which have permeated through Republicanism for a decade and that’s been done now under the constant shadow of a rising, dominant and simply perverse form of nationalism that stands as solidly in support of British rule as it does against Republican principle. I was asked to take part in the earliest efforts by what would become Saoradh that aimed to address these major issues within the working class communities of Ireland. I felt, personally, that our people were under an illusion that nationalism was leading towards their freedom and I understood that a revolutionary alternative was required to confront that illusion and to liberate the people from its hold. To balance with the many, varying issues within Republicanism itself then it was easy to conclude that much work was needed in order to set people to work on an approach to their emancipation based on the ideals said by the likes of Tone, Connolly and Mellows. This for me is the only way forward and for me, personally, the only party with the means to achieve this preliminary goal in Saoradh. That’s not to critisise anybody else who’s involved in similar efforts but it’s merely to state my personal circumstances and motives for forging ahead with this party.
Martin: Okay. And I should spell the party. (Martin spells Saoradh.)
Joe: That’s us.
Martin: I’m doing that so that if you want to check out their website or their Facebook page you have the correct spelling. Okay. Yesterday, the was a large – not a large – there was a demonstration by British veterans who are worried about being outside City Hall in Belfast in the City Centre, and they are concerned about possible prosecutions for Troubles killings like Bloody Sunday – a decision there has been imminent for some time in your city of Doire – like the Ballymurphy Massacre, if they ever have an inquest itt may lead in that direction, like even the killing ofManus Deery – a young man who finally admitted there was no justification for shooting him down many years ago and we congratulate his sister and his family on that. What did Saoradh do in relation to that protest by veterans?
Joe: Well now I want to take you back to February whenever a similar event was organised by these veterans in Doire. They announced at the start of February that they wanted to march through Doire to highlight this same issue. As soon as Saoradh in Doire were made aware of that, immediately we released a statement saying that we would bring thousands of people onto the street to oppose this march. We honestly couldn’t believe that in our city, where fourteen unarmed civilians were shot dead on Bloody Sunday, that they would have the gall to march against what they felt was persecution against themselves. Within twenty-four hours of us making that statement – and obviously I know Bloody Sunday families and others done their bit as well – that march was canceled. They instead moved from Doire and they marched to Coleraine.
Saoradh again took the lead in Belfast over the last couple of weeks you know to oppose this march and yesterday we held a demonstration with up to two hundred Saoradh members and other Republicans also attended just to highlight as I say the war crimes that these people inflicted on Ireland.
Martin: Alright. Joe, it was interesting to me – a few weeks ago I appeared on Talkback and the person who came on was Doug Beattie of the Ulster Unionist Party and again we have the entire transcript of that programme on our website, rfe123 dot org – that’s rfe123 dot org. And during that programme, I asked Mr. Beattie – it was about an interview that Gerry McGeough had done on this programme – and I asked Mr. Beattie, I said: During that interview Gerry McGeough talked about civilians who were killed with the support of members of British Crown forces, either directly or in collusion by some of the Loyalists. And I’m surprised that no one would mention that – I mentioned some of the families, Roseanne Mallon, or The McKearneys or my friend, Liam Ryan. And Mr. Beattie said – and I’m just going to read this to you and ask you for a comment:
Martin, it’s really quite simple: If anybody committed a murder, be they in the British military, be they a police officer, be they civilian or anybody else if they committed a murder – and it was wrong – if there’s evidence they should be brought to court. I condemn anybody who conducts a murder so don’t try and drag me down a road here where I’m trying to defend anybody who committed an unlawful act.
Who was the main speaker trying to defend those British troopers who committed what a British Prime Minister called an ‘unjustifiable and unjustified killings’ on Bloody Sunday, who committed killings, which we believe would be found murder if the Ballymurphy Families would ever be able to get an inquest and ever be able to get the facts out – who committed murder in collusion with Loyalists – who was the person defending them and saying that they should not have to face British courts on charges of murder yesterday?
Joe: Well see to be honest – yesterday Doug Beattie – he revealed himself when he declared that murdering little boys in Ireland granted Irish people to protest. Beating women at checkpoints on the way to events, which is all the UDR (Ulster Defence Association) ever achieved is, to Doug Beattie, the equivalent of fighting for freedom. We know that the British were not fighting for freedom. We know and Doug Beattie knows that the English murdered innocent natives in Ireland yesterday for the same reason that they murder innocent natives in Afghanistan and Iraq today and that reason is imperialism – it’s nothing else. So no matter what way he dresses it up – that’s the main reason behind it all.
Martin: I had actually written a letter at one time and I said: Let’s take a figure – fifteen thousand Republicans went through British prisons and less than a handful of British troopers for on-duty killings. Kate Nash actually did an interview later, one of the Bloody Sunday families, and said it was more like twenty-five thousand so there’s – let’s say twenty-five thousand Republicans or Nationalists who went through British prison, who were in jail for short periods of time, many long periods of time – so if the British courts did not put Republicans before British courts they certainly – it was not for want of trying. There’s been only a handful of British troopers charged for on-duty British Army killings. So what is the imbalance that Mr. Barr, Mr. Beattie – excuse me – is talking about? Why does he think that there is – Why are they so afraid of going before British Diplock courts on charges of murder for incidents like the ‘unjustified and unjustifiable killings’ of Bloody Sunday?
Joe: Yeah. Your guess is as good as mine because here in Ireland we haven’t seen any justice. These people know – even when it was announced that some Bloody Sunday soldiers were being, I think, arrested and questioned. I mean we first heard that five or six years ago and it hasn’t went anywhere since. It’s not going to go anywhere. None of these people are going to do a day in jail – that’s the reality of it.
Martin: Alright. We talked about the amnesty for British troopers. It seems they’re upset that there has been so much pressure from Nationalists, from Republicans, from families like the Bloody Sunday families, like the Ballymurphy Families and so many other families in The North of Ireland – simply to get an inquest, simply to get the word out in British courts or British legal proceedings, so that the British have no alternative but to bring them before courts, to bring them before charges – that that’s what yesterday’s demonstration was about and I want to commend Saoradh for going out and defending the families. Just a couple of brief things: Last year you had a major, there was a major Republican commemoration for Easter at Coalisland and that gave the impetus, or one of the things that was an impetus, for Saoradh to be formed by many of the groups that participated in that Easter commemoration. What is Saoradh going to do this year to commemorate Easter and what is some of the themes that you want to bring out in terms of the oration, the main oration, and Easter message of that event?
Joe: Yeah well you’re a hundred percent right. Last year was a great event in Coalisland. We had over five thousand people who turned up, who lined the streets and who marched with us. Now the initial talks behind Saoradh had already begun prior to that event but after witnessing the crowds, you know the atmosphere, the feeling, it really drove us on and the momentum was built there to get Soaradh off the ground. Now this year on Easter Monday we are having our national commemoration here in Doire. It takes off from Free Derry Corner at two PM and the theme again is the same as last year, it’s that Easter 1916 is an unfinished revolution, is an unfinished revolution – it’s unfinished business – and until we have our thirty-two county socialist republic that will remain so.
Martin: Okay. Now, the talks at Stormont right now – they’ve been adjourned again, there’s been no resolution, there’s no signs of when that resolution would be. It’s between Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Official (Ulster) Unionist Party (UUP) all involved. And James Brokenshire he’s the, of course, the representative for Theresa May, the colonial secretary who presides over it, and he was supposed to be sort of the deus ex machina, the person who was going to, the god from the machine who was going to solve things and put it back together after Arlene Foster broke it apart. What is your party’s reaction to those talks? And why do you think another approach is necessary if we’re ever to get freedom for all of Ireland?
Joe: To be honest it’s all – it’s just a sideshow. Stormont is dysfunctional. It’s never going to work. The real power lies with the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) and Whitehall. Essentially it’s just a front for British imperialism in Ireland. Sinn Féin collapsing this in January has vindicated what Republicans opposed to Stormont have been saying for years – that it is a failure and it is nothing but a front for British rule. I think it’s been twenty years – is it twenty years now since the Good Friday Agreement? No, sorry, nineteen – it’s nineteen years since the Good Friday Agreement and in that time, when I look around Doire, what has the Good Friday Agreement done for Doire? It’s done nothing. We’ve three thousand people waiting on a housing list. We’ve got the highest youth unemployment rate in obviously the western end of the UK, the highest youth unemployment rate, suicide here is through the roof – it’s just that Stormont has done nothing for my people and will do nothing for my people.
Martin: And I remember when it was signed Joe Cahill was in the United States and after a debate that I was in along with John McDonagh and Martin Ferris and others, Joe Cahill announced that we would have a united Ireland within five years – which would have been by 2003. I just want to ask you one thing before we let you go: You actually had an employment. You were in the United States just for brief periods of time legally and you were out for a few days and what happened – just simply as a result – you know we talked about the issue of censorship by visa denial – what happened to you at the end after just being a few days being in the United States?
Joe: Essentially what happened: The company I was working for, I was selected to go to New York for a few days to work. So my first morning in New York I was sitting having my breakfast, I was at my hotel in Times Square and I was having my breakfast with my manager and two guys came down to where I was sitting and pulled out their badges, identified themselves members of the FBI counter-terrorism unit – and I had to come with them. So they took me to a separate part of the hotel and first thing, the guy, I think he said his name was ‘Jimmy,’ and his exact words to me was: He has been working an active ISIS threat against the Macy’s Day parade but his bosses at FBI headquarters felt that my presence in his city was enough for him to be pull off that. So I was kind of a wee bit shocked to be honest and they questioned me on basically on Saoradh and what my role within Saoradh was. He questioned me on what he said that he was briefed by the British government, by intelligence, about my Republican activity here in Doire and that was the Monday. He left me on Monday and then he said he would have to contact the British government and get back to me. So then on Tuesday, then he came to my hotel again but I wasn’t haven’t breakfast – I was having lunch this time and he came to my hotel and he began to question me again, you know, just on people back home, said he had watched things on the internet of me being stopped by the police and things like that but then on the Tuesday he told me that was it – everything was grand and I wouldn’t hear from him again. So then on the Wednesday morning – I wasn’t due to go home until Wednesday night – but then on the Wednesday morning about eight o’clock he stormed into the hotel again, called me outside, started roaring and shouting at me saying that I was nothing but a liar. That I had made myself out to be ‘nothing’ when he believed that I was ‘something’ and that he hoped that I had enjoyed my time in The States because I will never be there again. He then went on to tell my manager, who was present the whole time, that he was investigating our company for links to terrorism and attempting to fund raise for terrorist groups. And at that point then they told me I had to make my way to – I was flying out of Newark so I had to make my way to Newark, I can’t remember what the airport’s called but headed to the airport out there anyway…
Martin: …Newark Airport, yeah.
Joe: …Aye. It’d have been Newark. So that was eight o’clock in the morning. My flight wasn’t until eight o’clock at night and I was put in a taxi and sent out to the airport so I got home anyway. And then within a week I was asked to come to my work’s headquarters in Manchester and when I got there I was basically told I was let go because of what happened to me in America.
Martin: Alright. So it’s the situation – we talked about censorship by visa denial. We’d hoped that that was over with. You’re involved with a legal, lawful political party. You’re also working for a company that was based in Manchester, in the United States legally with a visa, with a work visa just doing market research and not raising money or anything of that nature and…
Joe: …nothing like that.
Martin: Okay. And this happens because of briefings from the British government.
Martin: Alright. Joe, we want to – you’ll still have access to the United States through Radio Free Éireann, we want to say we’re sorry about the way in which you left but we’re glad that you’re with us today. We’ll have you back. And tell us: If people want to read about Saoradh, find out more information – how would they go about doing it?
Joe: Okay. Well we’ve a website, www dot saoradh dot ie, we also have several Facebook pages and if you’d like to find out about Saoradh in Doire you can check out the Junior McDaid House page on Facebook.
Martin: Okay. And again, that’s Saoradh. (Martin spells Saoradh.)
Joe: …Yep, dot ie
Martin: …dot ie – if you want more information. If you want their internet – that’s how to get more information. Okay. Thank you very much, Joe.
Joe: No problem, Have a lovely Easter.
Martin: Okay. (ends time stamp ~ 38:09)