By Eamon Sweeney
Once upon a time Martin Galvin was the international poster boy for the Provisional republican movement.
In the 1980s Galvin became the publicity director of NORAID, an Irish-American group based in New York charged with fund raising for republican prisoners. However, the American, British and Irish administrations continually accused the organisation of siphoning off NORAID finances in order to buy weapons for the IRA; an accusation always denied by both Galvin and Sinn Fein.
Born in 1950, Galvin is the product of an Irish American background and qualified as a lawyer. By the 1980s, he was involved with publishing ‘The Irish People’, a New York newspaper associated with Irish republicans. In that period as a result of a speech he gave, deemed to endorse terrorism, the British administration banned him from entering Northern Ireland.
On August 9, 1984, he came across the border into Derry to speak at an anti-internment rally in defiance of the ban. Three days later on August 12, he went to Belfast to speak at another gathering. As the RUC moved into arrest Galvin, trouble broke out with the police firing plastic bullets into the crowd. Many were injured, but one 22-year-old man, Sean Downes was struck at close range and died. In 1989, after defying the ban again, Galvin was arrested and deported.
As the 1990s dawned a rift developed between Martin Galvin and the movement he had become the international face of. The emerging peace process was deemed by the New Yorker as a betrayal of republican ideals and also maintained that the decision by the IRA to open up its arms dumps for destruction was an act of ‘surrender’. He was a poster boy for Sinn Fein no longer.
Last week, Martin Galvin returned to Derry again. This time however it was in the comfortable surroundings of the City Hotel-a place far removed from the tension filled streets of the Bogside and Creggan three decades ago.
Asked if he is now linked to any Irish republican grouping, Mr Galvin told the Journal: “I am affiliated to a lot of groups and I would give a lot of advice, but I am independent of them.”
His latest visit to Ireland he said, was to attend a commemoration of former IRA man Liam Ryan, who was a friend of Martin Galvin’s when he lived in America. Liam Ryan had returned to his native Ardboe after a period in America and bought a local bar. But in November, 1989 he was shot dead at the bar by the UVF.
His decision to come to Derry on this visit he said was to meet with some members of the Bloody Sunday families who are aghast at the cancellation of the re-investigation of the murders that took place on January 30, 1972 because of a supposed lack of funding.
“It would appear to me, that when it comes cases like that of Gerry McGeough and Ivor Bell there is plenty of money available within the British justice system. Yet, when it comes to the case of Bloody Sunday there isn’t any. And, some of the families are naturally very concerned about that. It is a policy of impunity. Gerry McGeough and Ivor Bell have spent time in jail. None of those responsible for murder on Bloody Sunday have even stepped inside a court dock. Once former British soldiers or RUC men come into the frame, there is no further progress,” said Galvin.
“The Saville Inquiry was a part of the Peace Process. Its conclusion of ‘unjustifiable killing’ is simply another term for murder. The undeclared British policy of impunity is a lot stronger than any ‘On The Run Letter’ ever issued,” he continued.
“My friend Liam Ryan was warned that he would be dead before Christmas of 1989. His dream was to return to Ireland from America and buy the Battery Bar in Ardboe, which he did. But when he phoned me and started talking about going back to America I knew he was under serious threat. When he was murdered the British forces that had been saturating the area suddenly disappeared. The murder was claimed by the UVF, but there is no doubt the British state colluded in this. Collusion is not a myth. There was no follow-up investigation, because the British were responsible, there was no investigation at all.”
“My point is that they tell the Bloody Sunday families that this and that is going to happen, but it never does. It is nothing more than a succession of drip feed promises. If the police investigation was serious, then they would make arrests. Look at this in the round. The soldiers of the Parachute Regiment that murdered people on Bloody Sunday were also involved in the Ballymurphy Massacre. The same guys were on the beach at Magilligan the week before Bloody Sunday. Then we witnessed the Widgery whitewash. Saville went on record as saying that he believed some witnesses had committed perjury during his inquiry. So there impunity for perjury and for murder on the British side.”
But, what prompted Galvin to become involved in the politics of Ireland whilst growing many thousands of miles away?
He said: “I first came to Ireland in 1965 and toured around the North. Then, things changed quickly after British troops came in in 1969. Then came internment and after that Bloody Sunday. I had known Liam Ryan as I said, this was personal to me. It wasn’t just in Irish history books. I knew people who were being jailed, shot down. The more I visited, the more determined I became to try my best for those being denied justice and freedom. I came back to the North in 1983, I was banned in 1984. I saw what was going on and I and many others became more involved.”
The Journal then asked Mr Galvin why he baulked at the Good Friday Agreement and departed from his association with Sinn Fein?
He replied: “My concern, my fear is that what we are getting is not a path to a united Ireland. It is a mechanism where by all the injustices will be bargained away. It is an opportunity to nail shut the door of a united Ireland. The British don’t have to deal with it. they have unionists such as Gregory Campbell who can do it for them, who says he will defeat a republican ‘wish list’. This system cannot defeat the injustice of the DUP veto. There will be no dealing with the past unless the DUP agree for example.
“I was close to many in Sinn Fein for a long period of time. I believe they accepted something in good faith. But, 16 years after the Agreement it is time to assess the situation again. Have the promises that were made been fulfilled? Sinn Fein are not the first group in Irish history to do this. This is not a criticism of Sinn Fein, it is a criticism of those who have acted in bad faith.”
“There has been too much suffered by too many, for too long to walk away now and accept things as they are. The ongoing inter-party negotiations are being controlled by the British. They will simply use their control over finance to force a deal down that will deliver justice for no one.”
However, if his analysis is correct and the current stasis in politics here leaves a political vacuum resulting in mass disaffection, the Journal asked Martin Galvin if he believes this will see a return to republican violence and if so would he support that?
“The circumstances are not there for a return to violence. I am not advocating that. Jim Allister is the tail that wags the DUP dog. The DUP can’t move forward because he will point it out. Look at issues such as the centre at Long Kesh, the row over the Irish Language Act for example. I believe the way forward is centre politics on independents who will not make promises that fall short of republican values.”
But what, the Journal asked, is the likelihood of a project like having wide ranging appeal?
Mr Galvin replied: “Many said years ago that Sinn Fein would never be able to compete electorally with the SDLP. That changed. I think that eventually a republican alternative will attract large numbers. The recent commemoration for Liam Ryan was an independent one and attracted a substantial number of people. They are coming forward and are laying down strong republican values.
“That has to be built upon just like Sinn Fein did it. They are people in this city who used to laugh at the notion that they (Sinn Fein) could get elected. Then years later there were many in Sinn Fein who wanted to believe that the 1998 agreement was a better deal than it actually was. But, that agreement has nailed the door shut on justice and I think an alternative can be built on that.”