Sinn Fein’s recent Westminster poll successes have again underscored popular support for its peace process strategy.
But one of the most visible American defenders of the party and the IRA during the Troubles insists that such victories are illusory.
“I think you have to measure any election, any advance, any political development in one way: does it bring us closer to a united Ireland, or is it something that puts us deeper into British rule?” said Martin Galvin, the former publicity director of Irish Northern Aid (NORAID) in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.
“[Sinn Fein], in terms of coming into a British administration, have postponed the day of a united Ire
land and real justice,” insisted the
New York-based lawyer.
Galvin, a dual American and Irish citizen, has been critical of the British Government since the mid 1970s.
From 1984 until 1989, he was banned from Northern Ireland. In August 1984, after slipping into Belfast to attend a Sinn Fein rally, during which 22-year-old Sean Downes was killed by an RUC plastic bullet, he was the target of a police charge in Andersonstown.
In the early 1990s, Galvin began to have doubts about Sinn Fein’s peace process strategy and by mid-decade he'd quit NORAID.
Rather than being the united Ireland springboard that Sinn Fein believes, Galvin claims the agreement was a trick “to simply try to reconfigure British rule, bring in a section of the republican community and try and ultimately institutionalise their presence within a British administration and use that to shore up British rule”.
Pressed about the overwhelming support expressed for the accord on both sides of the border in May 1998 referenda, he simply said: “I believe that that endorsement will be seen to be wrong.”
Galvin also insists that neither the Good Friday, St Andrews, |or Hillsborough agreements have altered policing and justice. “Section 44 is worse than the stop and search powers under the emergency provisions that existed at the height of the conflict,” he said. “You now have 28-day detention, instead of seven days. You still have Diplock courts.”
Asked if he thought, in light of the still-solid public backing of the peace process, that IRA dissidents were justified in carrying out a recent spate of bombings, Galvin is careful to neither condemn nor endorse their actions.
“I am not affiliated with any group that is involved in armed struggle the way I was when I was involved with Irish Northern Aid,” he said.
“However, as a republican, |I understand that there are people who believe that British rule |is wrong and that Irish people have the right to resist British |oppression.
“As somebody who’s said that the Irish people have a right to resist British rule, and has defended that right for decades, it’s very difficult for me to point to people claiming that same right — and risking their lives, risking imprisonment — and say that right no longer exists.”
Martin Galvin no longer holds the position of prominence he once did. His trips to Belfast aren’t news anymore. His opinions are out of step with those held by the majority of Irish-Americans who follow the peace process closely.
However, like the recent car- bombings in Newtownhamilton and Holywood, he's a reminder that the remarkable progress of the last 16 years hasn't yet lured all on board the peace train.