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February 21, 2008

News 02/21/08 - Day That A Door Opened Briefly Into 'The Dark'

Day That A Door Opened Briefly Into 'The Dark'

In the week that former hunger striker Brendan Hughes died,
JIM DEE - the Boston Herald's correspondent in Northern
Ireland from 1998-2004 - recalls how the ex-IRA man told
him how he was implored to kill the Queen

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Working in Belfast during forging of the Good Friday
agreement and the tense implementation years that followed,
making sense of the peace process often necessitated
talking to former paramilitaries on both sides.

So when Brendan Hughes, a revered IRA icon to many Irish-
Americans, went public with criticisms of Sinn Fein's peace
strategy in early 2000, I immediately sought an interview.

I'd read about the ruthless IRA operative, the mattress-
roll escapee and the 1980 republican hunger strike leader.
So I half expected a massive ego to greet me when I arrived
at former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre's Ballymurphy home
to interview him.

However, Hughes was totally without airs. He answered all
questions, including pointed queries as to the plausibility
of his alternatives to Sinn Fein's strategy.

He said that he'd long held reservations about the peace
process but had remained quiet out of "loyalty to the
republican leadership".

Hughes said that when he joined the Provisional IRA in the
early 70s, " there was a simplicity about it - that we
would fight the Brits and force them down Belfast Lough and

When that didn't happen, he later became an ardent
supporter of the radicalisation of the republican movement
that evolved from mid-70s debates among Long Kesh

"Our whole philosophy within the prison was to bring about
a 32-county, democratic socialist republic," he said.

"And that's mainly my objection now, and my concerns with
the republican movement: that it is developing into a
purely middle-class movement, that it has dropped the 32-
county democratic socialist republican principles."

Hughes believed that most American supporters never grasped
the republican movement's late-70s leftward shift. After
being released from the Maze, he was sent on a fundraising
trip to US in the late 1980s, where he said he was shocked
at how conservative many supporters in groups like Irish
Northern Aid (NORAID) were.

"I remember sitting in a hotel room with a bunch of these
guys, and they were all pretty well-off," he said.

"There was a briefcase with the money in it on the table.
And they were banging the table. This guy, what did he call
himself - the 'OC of the Irish-American Republican Army' -
was banging the table demanding that I shoot the Queen,
that we shoot postmen, that we shoot anyone with the crown
on their caps."

Hughes believed the peace process back home had involved
similar republican efforts to court moderates and
conservatives, and that that strategy had taken the
movement into a cul-de-sac, and far from a united Ireland.

Of Gerry Adams, often pegged as a chief architect of that
strategy, he said: "Nobody works harder in this movement
than Gerry. And I have great admiration for him in that
regards. And he's my friend, my comrade."

But, he added, a flood of British peace money had left many
republicans " making a living out of politics here now, and
people who are in a position of power and influence. And it
becomes enjoyable ... (but) a lot of people are left
behind, a lot of the ordinary working republicans are left

Hughes insisted that only "open debate and open criticism"
could save republicanism.

"The leadership has to allow itself to be open to criticism
from people like me - not negative criticism, positive
criticism," he said.

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