John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) interview via telephone journalist Ed Moloney, (EM) who authored the book "A Secret History of the IRA" and directed the Belfast Project, about the Twelfth of July in Ireland. Thanks as ever to TPQ's transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
12 July, 2014
SB: And we're talking to Ed Moloney the author of Voices From the Grave, Paisley: From Demagogue to Democrat?, and the director of the Belfast oral history project. Ed, thanks very much for being with us.
EM: No problem, Sandy.
SB: Ed, we've been talking about the Orange marches and we'd like you to help us make some sense out of this. Because we have a crisis in the peace process because the Orange Order can't march a few hundred yards on a not-very-important road yet we have Peter Robinson, who's the First Minister of Northern Ireland, saying there's a crisis in the Stormont Agreement. And the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) pulled out, walked out of talks on parades and all the good things that come with them and they refused to go to a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council which is part of the Good Friday Agreement. Ed, this sounds from New York, totally ridiculous. What is going on here?
EM: Well, I think the first thing you've got to bear in mind is that the DUP rank-and-file, the ordinary membership and those who were active politicians in the DUP, the majority of them were persuaded to go into this power-sharing arrangement with Sinn Féin on the grounds that they would - their leadership would work to ensure that this would be a temporary measure. That it would not last forever. It would not become the permanent form of government in Northern Ireland.
And at some stage the conditions would be contrived or arrived at or would develop by themselves which would allow the British and the Irish governments to agree to the setting up of some sort of like majority government but with guarantees for Nationalists and so on and so forth - something that was proposed by Ron Cunliffe ... way back in 1970 when this thing started.
Now, you may regard that as unrealistic or fantasy land but that's what a lot of the DUP people accepted going into this arrangement with Sinn Féin. And I think what you're seeing is the....you know here we are now fourteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, twenty years after the first ceasefire - the Unionist part calculating - and I think this is where the whole Boston College affair becomes crucial in all of this - calculating that the Provos are in a weak position vis-á-vis making an argument against this and that this is the time perhaps to increase that sort of pressure on the agreement and they may be hoping that this would be the set of circumstances that they've dreamed about.
Now I don't think there is a basis for that in reality and I think therefore the Orange marches and the fuss that's been created about them this year as in every year is part and parcel of the strategy. But having said that the fact that here we are... I mean... this dispute centers on a small part of North Belfast on the interface between Ardoyne and the Shankill Road.
And I remember being there in June 27th 1970 and it was same night as the Siege of Short Strand and there was a huge Orange march coming up the Crumlin Road to that same interface which is now at the center of this dispute. Massive riots broke out and for the first time since they were brought into existence the Provos went on the offensive that night with weaponry and killed a lot of Loyalists. That truly marked the beginning in a sense, the real beginning, of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. And isn't it just like so fascinating and horrifying at the same time that here we are forty-four years later - exactly the same spot - exactly the same dispute.
And it sort of underlines that. And I remember watching ... I was on the Loyalist side of that particular confrontation and I can remember very distinctly this woman having an exchange with some friends and she said words to the effect (and I'm paraphrasing because I can't remember exactly what she said) It was that: If we lose this we lose everything.
And what she meant was that if Unionists and Loyalists like her lose the right to march through Catholic areas like that then they lose everything in terms of what they believe Northern Ireland to be about. And that's essentially still the same issue and here we are forty-four years on and that hasn't changed.
JM: Ed, before you came on we had Richard O'Rawe on and we were talking about The Boston Globe article and it just seems that Boston College is not taking the oral history project seriously. We had Anthony McIntyre talking about the security that you guys took to get the tapes to Boston College. Here's Boston College mailing them! Then they'll go through London and Belfast knowing what the NSA has been doing - MI6 – that anywhere along that chain of custody these tapes could have been copied and then sent on. I mean Boston College still doesn't get how serious these tapes are and the repercussions of them that they would just go to the mailbox and say: Alright. We're going to mail them back.
EM: Well, you know that's been the attitude of Boston College I'm afraid almost from the very start. The full story of our relationship with Boston College in relation to the subpoenas has not yet been fully told. I mean, there's been attempts to tell it but very few in the media are prepared to actually spell it out. This whole thing started, our fight with Boston College, started when I learned about the subpoenas entirely by chance.
We weren't going to be told, we – that is the people involved in the actual project – weren't going to be told about these subpoenas. It was going to be kept secret from us. But someone spilled the beans and let me know. And I tried to contact the college lawyer, a woman called Nora Field, and I made repeated attempts and each time got a message back saying she's busy, she's out of the office, all that sort of stuff. And eventually I made contact with a librarian in Boston College and I asked him to pass a message on to her saying I need to speak to her about these subpoenas - I know about them. Eventually I got the message back from them saying that they didn't want to speak at all.
And I was also told by sources in Boston College at the same time they were debating within the attorney's office whether or not just to hand these interviews over without any resistance at all. And the argument that was being used was that these were just a bunch of terrorists and who cares about them. And that attitude has characterised Boston College's attitude towards this and it doesn't surprise me at all that they've been so flippant in their treatment of these interviews.
After all, they handed over the entire archive to a federal judge to go through to pick out the interviews that were relevant or as they say in law “responsive” to the subpoenas instead of doing that job themselves. Why did they do that? I mean that was putting the entire archive at enormous risk. And I'm not impugning the reputation of the federal judge but once you let go of something like that and you put all of these interviews with tapes and transcripts, and there were hundreds of them, you know, into a strange environment anything can really happen to them. A judge can't be like looking after them twenty-fours hours a day. Did they care about the security and integrity of the archive at that point? Evidently not. And I'm sorry, yeah, I mean it doesn't surprise me that they just sent this stuff through the mails. It extraordinarily unthinking and uncaring.
SB: Ed, I just want to briefly get back to the Orange marches. The Orange Order seems to be able to set the agenda to the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party but they're in steep decline. They've lost about seventy percent of their membership.
Why hasn't their influence declined at the same time?
EM: I think one maybe has to make a distinction between the decline of the Orange Order as a sort of a semi-religious-type organisation and the decline of the views that are reflected in the Orange Order, what we would regard as normal Loyalist views. And there's very little evidence that, although the Orange Order has diminished in importance and significance and I suspect that has to do with the fact that the economy is not as it was when the Orange Order was at its height - when membership in the Orange Order guaranteed you a good job let's say in the shipyard or in the aircraft factory or where ever - those days have gone. So the usefulness of the Orange Order in that sense has declined.
But the views that it represents: I see no diminution in those types of views at all. If anything they seem to have strengthened in the last ten years or so as a result of the peace process so I think one has to make the distinction between the two things.
And I think also, and I've been writing about this today, because there's some extraordinary photographs on The Belfast Telegraph site of the Oranges marches and one is from the top of Cave Hill overlooking Belfast late last night, on the Eleventh Night, and the Eleventh Night is when the Orangemen or when the Loyalists set fire to their bonfires. And these bonfires this year have been just gigantic!
I mean huge, huge, big things! Some of them carrying effigies of Catholics and in one case allegedly Gerry Adams being hung from a gibbet and set on fire. This photograph is taken at night and it shows Belfast lit up by these huge bonfires. And you look at that and you say: Peace process? What peace process are we talking about? It's a very, very evocative photograph and I recommend your viewers either to go there or go to my website the broken elbow .com and you'll see a copy of it. But what I think what that reflects is a fundamental flaw in the peace process which is particularly evident on the Loyalist side. And that is that this whole peace process was a top-down affair...
SB: Ed ...
SB: Sorry, our time is up.
EM: No problem.
SB: So thank you very much for explaining what is unexplainable over here.
EM: Okay. Bye-bye.