25 September 1997 Edition
Black American solidarity with POWs
I was struck by Martin McGuinness's appeal for the release of the H-block 3 being held in San Francisco. In this appeal, Mr McGuinness describes the conditions the 3 have grown up in, in the hope that the American government will not find them a threat due to their backgrounds and upbringing. Like Mr McGuinness, I agree that people such as the 3 are indeed victims of a conflict, and often manifest behaviour which appears threatening. However, once out of the context of such conflicts. most people's behaviour is not the same and they can indeed live as peaceful members of society.
What strikes me most is the description of the conditions the 3 grew up in: "saw their neighbors murdered", "plastic bullets used against their children", "massive discrimination", "unemployment at 80 and 90 percent", and "where people were basically treated ...as second-class citizens in their own countries". To all these conditions, I myself, an "American citizen", can say, "Yes, I know all about that". Because, you see, I am a (non) working class Black woman in America. However, I have had the pleasure to visit Ireland several times and have friends in the six counties. I have always felt "right at home" in my friends' communities - sadly, it is because their communities are much like mine over here.
I believe I understand all too well what the H-Block 3 have gone through and wish them all the best in being able to maintain any peace they have found for themselves and their families.
I only hope the American government does not catch on to the similarity between some Irish communities and Black communities. I would be saddened to see the H-Block 3 viewed in the same manner as we Black Americans are - as threatening perpetrators rather than victims. And, I wish there was a country somewhere that we Black Americans could go to get out of the endless nightmare of racism, police brutality, drugs, street violence, unemployment, and hopelessness that we face daily.
Please remember, the large majority of us are not like Oprah Winfrey or Bill Cosby, who have 'made it' - a good 90% of us are just treading water, many about to drown.
My best wishes to the H-Block 3 for success, and salutations to men like Martin McGuinness, who is a fine leader for the Irish people. It would be nice if we had someone like him on our side over here. His honesty, clear language and committment to uplifting the Irish people is truly inspiring.
Thanks to Wolfe Tone Society
We would like to extend our thanks and gratitude to the members of the Wolfe Tone Society who looked after us so well on our recent trip to England to visit Republican prisoners. It was due to their excellent co-operation that we were able to keep to our very tight schedule and visit all four jails where republican prisoners are held - Frankland, Full Sutton, Whitemoor and Belmarsh.
The Wolfe Tone Society's work on behalf of POWs and their families has always been of the greatest importance and we would like to take this opportunity to applaud their efforts. We hope in the future to be able to repay their hospitality and generosity.
Pat Doherty, Vice President, Sinn Féin
Caoimhghin O Caoláin, TD
Bernie Farrell, POW Department
I find the recent statement of Mr Ray Burke, Minister for Foreign Affairs that he has "no problem in stating without ambiguity that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland", astonishing. Generations of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist fighters have striven to achieve genuine independence for this country. England has used every conceivable method including plantation, systematic starvation and the threat of total war to maintain its strategic and economic interest in Ireland. It maintains its control in the Six north-eastern counties of this country (with a majority of its adherents in only three of these counties) through well-planned and consistent repression.
The Constitution of the 26-County state recognises no such entity as Northern Ireland and any concessions by a minister purporting to represent that state, at this crucial juncture, is treachery to those who have fought throughout our history to rid us of the occupation and control of this country by a foreign power.
David Trimble asserts that he will confront Sinn Féin but not negotiate with them. What rich irony! Apart from the fact that Sinn Féin represents over 170,000 people (and is the third largest party in the north), there is the UUP's schizoid attitude to actual violence. On the night after Mr Trimble's posturing, there was yet another shooting of a man in East Belfast by loyalist paramilitaries without any condemnation or even regret by the PUP or UDP, who claim to represent the CLMC. Yet, the day before, Mr Trimble strode into Stormont shoulder to shoulder with PUP and UDP leaders and demanded that Sinn Féin be thrown out of the talks!
In a similar vein, Mr Trimble had no qualms about meeting LVF leader Billy Wright during Drumcree 96 and, of course, he has never condemned any of the killings of innocent people by the British Army or RUC.
Rather than giving in to the UUP's transparent attempt to force concessions to preserve the failed status quo in advance of negotiations, the two governments should apply the lesson of the local councils where, despite their antics with sledgehammers, trumpets and whistles, the UUP and DUP (I'm not sure if there are any UKUP ones) councillors are now working alongside Sinn Féin.
It was absolutely sickening to hear David Trimble attacking Sinn Fein for being apologists for terrorists, and so on. At the same time he was marching into Stormont along with the self-confessed spokespeople for loyalist death squads. And, worse, one of those spokespeople had actually murdered a nationalist, cut off his testicles and put them in the dead man's mouth. Trimble attacked Sinn FŽin while that man was just a couple of feet from him. What absolute stinking hypocrisy.
If Trimble cannot see his own hypocrisy, then he is not a fit person to sit at negotiations. The Unionist people deserve better.
As an American who has had a long-standing interest in Irish Republicanism I wanted to write an open letter to the IRA offering what I think may be a unique and helpful perspective. Without any empty moralising I want to explain to you why the IRA has no choice but to hold to a ceasefire.
As we have seen throughout the world in recent history it is international opinion that persuades a repressive government to truly work for peace and justice. There are people of Irish descent and other concerned observers throughout the world that do wish to embrace the cause of Irish Republicanism, but they are prevented from doing so by IRA "terrorism".
In the United States there is a naive and simplistic, media-fed view of Irish Republicanism that goes something as follows: terrorism = bad...therefore terrorism's cause = bad cause. We haven't known the terrors of such situations as life in the North for Catholics, and we unfortunately tend to believe what we see on television.
A continuance of the IRA campaign would allow the British government and their media lackeys to persist in their portrayal of the Troubles as a case of mad Irish terrorists who enjoy killing. During the previous ceasefire the American media, while still biased, moved significantly towards more even-handed reporting. "Michael Collins", where an Irish "terrorist" was portrayed as the hero that he was, could never have been produced without the ceasefire.
The changes in American perceptions are small at first, but they are important; and they will undoubtedly grow. Further, I can clearly see that a more accurate perception will lead to changed opinions and subsequent pressure on the British government.
In closing I want to reiterate that in your cause you need American opinion and American opinion will come only with continuation of the ceasefire. And as the British government persists in lying, stalling, double-crossing, etc, you must keep this in mind.