- 20 Sep 02
Dublin's unlikely new Lord Mayor, Tomás MacGiolla, gets a lot off his chest on subjects as diverse as pomp and ceremony, government discrimination against Dublin, the re-zoning scandal, violence and prostitution on the streets of the capital, conspiracies to undermine the Workers Party and, inevitably, his palpable bitterness towards Democratic Left. Interview: Liam Fay. Pics: Colm Henry.
IN THE spring of 1989, I interviewed Tomás MacGiolla in the modest surroundings of his home in Chapelizod. This time round, our setting was the considerably more palatial environment of Dublin's Mansion House.
MacGiolla is an unlikely Lord Mayor. His past and his politics have long kept him on the periphery of Irish public life. However, at 69, he is almost as old as the Irish state itself and his journey, from involvement in the paramilitary campaigns of Sinn Fein in the fifties (during which time, he spent a total of twenty-one months in internment) to the constitutional Marxism of the Workers' Party, is one that incorporates many of the events and conflicts that have conspired to make Ireland what it is today.
No stranger to either division or controversy, Tomás MacGiolla received his most personally devastating blow last year when the Workers' Party split (yet again) after an acrimonious putsch which led to the formation of Democratic Left. MacGiolla's bitterness towards the leadership of that party, and in particular towards Proinsias De Rossa, is palpable.
"People say I'm a political gymnast because Sinn Fein became Sinn Fein The Workers' Party and then the Workers' Party but it's still the Workers' Party," he insists. "The DLs have left. I'm in the same party which has developed along all these different lines. I never went into any other party."
LIAM FAY: Before the last Presidential election, you told Hot Press that you wouldn't consider going forward as a candidate because you didn't like 'formality of any kind' and you hated 'black tie affairs where you're supposed to wear a special suit and a dickie bow'. What made you change your mind about pomp and circumstance and want to become Lord Mayor of Dublin?
Tomás MacGiolla: Every councillor is interested in being Lord Mayor at some stage. We set up a Civic Alliance (in Dublin City Council) after the last election with an agreed programme of work. We're a policy driven council but we also made agreements on who the chairpersons should be and who should take the Lord Mayorship during the term of office of the council. I was very pleased to be selected for the job. I still have certain difficulties with certain formal occasions. I was elected to the Corporation in 1979 but to this day I've never worn the gown. I just never felt comfortable in that sort of thing. Somebody raised the issue at our Ard Fheis once. They proposed that councillors shouldn't wear gowns at all, but I opposed that. I said we had no ideological hang-ups about something which was a historical procedure. All our other councillors all wore the gowns. I just didn't feel comfortable with them but I agreed that if I was elected Lord Mayor I'd wear them.
But as someone who has spent so much time arguing for equality, you must feel a bit of a hypocrite with a Mayoral chain around your neck?
No, the people of Dublin love the chain. They love the whole position of Lord Mayor. You only realise when you get into it the tremendous regard and respect that the ordinary Dublin people have for the position of Lord Mayor. I've worked in Ballyfermot for over twenty years, I was a TD out there for ten years, but I never got anything like the reception I got when I went out there as Lord Mayor. They feel that the position has power. It doesn't have any power but it has prestige and the very prestige of the office gives you certain powers to do things which you don't have power to do. You have influence and that influence is bestowed by the citizens. For that reason, I'm prepared to wear the chain.
What about the religious functions you'll be required to attend as Lord Mayor - won't you feel you're colluding with the enemy?
No. I'm an agnostic myself and I've always had objections to institutionalised religions because they try so hard to dominate the political futures of their countries, and they have great powers to do so. Religious wars have always been the bane of the world, and are today too. But I have no objections to religions themselves. I'll have no major problem attending religious services as Lord Mayor so long as I'm not expected to participate.
There can be a danger, or a procedure, at times where the priest comes on and gives communion to the President, the Lord Mayor and then everybody else. I would not agree with that procedure. I'd politely decline. But I've no objection whatever, as Lord Mayor of the citizens of Dublin, to participating in their various religious functions.
What did you make of the suggestion by your predecessor, Gay Mitchell, that the Olympic Games could be staged in Dublin within the near future?
Well, it was scoffed at, naturally enough. It was scoffed at because we're so far from having any possibility of bringing even a mini-Olympics to Dublin. However, I'm very interested in the continuity of Lord Mayorships, I spoke to the outgoing Lord Mayor about this, and I'm prepared to continue what was put in place because it's not costing anything to the citizens or the taxpayer. I feel that it has stimulated interest and opened people's minds to the sports facilities that we don't have but need to have. The very idea of pushing the capital city as a place for sport will encourage other sporting activities to come in here. Having the Olympics here in 2004 isn't on but who knows about 2050. If we could get a 50 metre pool out of all this Olympics talk we'd be starting something.
What I'm particularly interested in at the moment is promoting facilities for the Dublin Community Games which never get a tosser. They have about 5,000 young people in their finals and about 50,000 taking part all over the country during the year. A whole slew of our best athletes have come from those games - Eamonn Coghlan, Sonia O'Sullivan, Niall Quinn - and I'll be giving every assistance I can to that. There's about forty acres in that famous stadium site down on the docks and seeing that the stadium's not going ahead now we would hope to be able to secure about half that for a permanent stadium and headquarters for the Community Games. There'll be a motion to initiate that at the August meeting of Dublin City Council.
You don't think that the whole Olympics idea might have been conceived more for the greater glory of Gay Mitchell than for the greater glory of Dublin?
(Laughs, puffs on pipe) Well, that's not for me to say.
You've said that as Lord Mayor you intend to highlight the fact that Dublin is now often discriminated against when it comes to resources, placement of industries and jobs.
That's a real concern. It's not just that we're neglected but Dublin is now a place from which jobs are taken and planted around in different parts of the country. It's called decentralisation and it's a good gimmick out in local constituencies in the west to say 'I'll bring this Department here and that Department there'. The last one was the Taoiseach himself, Albert Reynolds, saying that he'll take the Genealogical Records Office down to Longford/Roscommon. It's only 65 jobs and obviously they're needed down there but there's also hundreds of jobs in the whole tourism area involved in this, people searching for their roots. So, I'm totally against that sort of idea. It's not creating jobs, it's taking jobs from the city and also taking development.
But nothing brought home the attitude towards Dublin clearer than the Aer Lingus Chairman and all his executives heading down to Shannon to talk to everybody from Residents' Associations to local politicians and businessmen, pleading with them to accept their package which was going to bring about the loss of no more than 13 jobs. Meanwhile, not one person from Aer Lingus of any type spoke to anyone in this city, not the Lord Mayor, not the City Council, not the local TDs. Dublin doesn't count. It hasn't got the political clout of the mid-West area, of Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary.
Why do you think those areas have such clout?
Because they have all united together. Politics, business, unions, bishops have all united together in those areas. You had Bishop Newman getting quite hysterical recently about the dominance of Dublin when Dublin is being destroyed. 1,500 or will it be 2,000 jobs destroyed in Aer Lingus alone. We don't want to develop a Dublin vs. the mid-West thing or anything of that nature, we just want to do the best for Dublin. And, at the moment, Dublin is getting the shitty end of the stick. We're being beaten over the head and we'll continue to be beaten over the head until we make a stand about it.
Do you worry about the structural funds being in the gift of a guy from Longford and a guy from Kerry?
It is worrying, but I hope Bertie will have some influence on the thing. It's worrying because of what happened all of the great EEC money over the years and how little of it has come to this city. An awful lot needs to be done in this city. Will we get two-and-a-half billion out of the seven-and-a-half billion which is what we should get? One third of the total as we have one third of the population. But it's quite possible that we might only get a billion for the city, and this is over a period of seven years, remember. That would be totally inadequate for what needs to be done for roads and traffic in the city, for the development of public transport and the light rail system.
Do you share the growing suspicion that some Dublin councillors may have been on the take from developers keen to have certain land areas rezoned?
Yes, I wouldn't be surprised at all.
Do you know of any councillor who has made a lot of money in this way?
No, I can't say I know of anyone who's made money, specifically. But the rezoning that goes on in this city is developer-led, property-led. No councillor raised a rezoning that developers or property owners didn't want. None of them came from proper planning policy. Whether it was because of individual bribery or contributions to parties or whatever else I can't be sure, but the developers clearly have great influence with some of our councillors.
Do you suspect any particular councillors of being susceptible to bribery?
Some people are much more easily bribed than other people. Some people like to go for free dinners and lunches, and go on holidays and things like that. These things don't turn up in brown paper bags or brown paper envelopes. It's all very easily done. All the councillor has to do is show up and vote. The only people who might have a difficulty are the proposer and seconder, but look at all the backbench councillors whose names nobody knows. They just vote.
Were you ever approached in this way by a developer yourself?
No, I was never approached.
Would you be in favour of an amnesty for anybody who had been involved in such bribery but who came forward to co-operate with the inquiry into this whole area?
I don't believe in amnesties at all. Are we going to have amnesties for drug dealers and every other sort of criminal activities? It's not the way to go about it. There must be other ways to get information. The Gardaí should be involved and investigate it fully. I wouldn't agree with these amnesties at all.
Would you like to see convictions of councillors who it was proven were on the take?
That's exactly what I would like to see. I don't know how many people have ever been convicted of white collar crimes in this country. There was a fella convicted of stamp fraud about thirty years ago. He was in Mountjoy the same time I was in it, and he was probably the last one (laughs).
Do you think the Draft Plan for Dublin is a good idea, with its plan for satellite towns and so on?
The plan was drawn up about twenty years before it was implemented. The idea sounded good and it would be grand if they built town centres with facilities as they were building the satellite towns around them but, of course, that didn't happen. People were left in Tallaght for years out in a wasteland. And now you have the people in Clondalkin sitting out in a dreadful wasteland. There isn't even an industrial estate out there yet. Huge amounts need to be sent out there to provide facilities, complete schools and so on. Therefore, while the draft plan might've been a good idea, its implementation has been disastrous and horrendous for people.
People like Fr. Peter McVerry and others have spoken about a growing underclass in Dublin and have suggested that these people's alienation and frustration may soon be manifested on the streets in a way that is not dissimilar from the LA uprising. Would you share that view.
The amazing thing is that it hasn't happened already. All the words have been used by various social workers - disadvantaged, marginalised etc. etc. - but the fact is there is terrible deprivation in this city. You can see this in all sorts of ways. School attendance in some areas is a disaster. The dropout rate is huge now. They were dropping out at 15, 14, 13, but they're dropping out at 12 now before they complete primary. And there's nothing there to pick that up except voluntary systems like the Community Training Workshop out in Ballyfermot which is doing marvellous work in picking up the dropout kids. The government should be providing these sort of facilities in these areas, but they're not.
These kids see nothing but further deprivation before them, and they regularly vent their frustration out in these areas. Robbed cars are being raced up and down and as many as 300 kids are gathering there, waiting for the cops to come. Then, if the cops charge, they start throwing stones and all the rest of it. There's riots taking place regularly, but nobody likes to think about that. If these things happened in the city centre it would be front page news on every paper. All the talk is about the inner city and there are major problems in the inner city, but the outer city is where the real trouble is brewing.
Can you see it spreading to the city centre?
All it takes is a spark. If they all came in here some night, there'd be some riots I can tell you. The fact that these things are going on out in places like North Clondalkin lets the rest of us off the hook. We say 'Ah, it's all goin' on out there, isn't it terrible' and forget about it. I don't want to be continually referring to North Clondalkin but it's an area that's so deprived of everything, and it isn't the only area where this kind of thing is a regular occurence.
When you were a TD, your salary went straight to the Workers Party coffers from which you were paid a weekly wage. Will the same apply to your Lord Mayoral salary?
My TD's salary was paid to the party from the time I was first elected in 1982 'till the spring of 1991.
Why did you stop that arrangement?
Because after all those years I was still hearing various excuses why other people couldn't give as much to the party. 'Not this year, next year' was always the line, and that went on and on and on. The other Workers Party TDs weren't paying their share. It was a decision taken a good many years before we got anyone elected that TDs would subscribe to the party but the others just didn't keep to it. So, in Spring '91, I stopped paying my salary in and I started giving in a banker's order for £250 a month to the party instead. I'm still doing that now. I haven't got any money yet for this job but I'll see how it goes.
Was it at that point that you started to smell a rat in terms of your Dail colleagues' commitment to the Workers Party?
No, I didn't ever smell a rat, the actual rat, but there were a lot of problems building up. Directions were being headed in that I didn't agree with etc. But I certainly never thought that they were going to organise to form a new party.
Do you feel very bitter about the split and the formation of Democratic Left?
Yeah, I do. The previous occasion with the Provos split in 1970 - that was signalled for a number of years. But on this occasion, while there were signals of differences of policy, we thought the battles would be at Ard Fheiseanna. I didn't realise it until afterwards but it turned out that, for at least six or eight months beforehand, a major conspiracy was underway which involved a number of people outside the party as well.
What sort of people?
I don't know the full extent of it, but people ranging from the Department of Justice to trade unionists to different political figures.
At what level were the Department of Justice involved? Ministerial level?
I'm not saying the Minister, but certainly destabilisation stuff was being imparted to them at some level. The whole thing about the Official IRA was whipped up into an enormous thing between November ['91] and February ['92] by De Rossa and those. They were using this event where a whole load of drink was robbed somewhere up around Belfast. Two people were arrested. One of them was a member of the party. He was charged and I think he's still in jail, I dunno. And this was trumpeted all over the place: Official IRA, illegal activities etc. Then there were secret meetings held up and down the country - Kildare, Wicklow, other places - called by different individuals from within the party who went on about how we couldn't have these kind of Official IRA activities going on within the party. They built up a certain momentum to the effect that the Official IRA was alive and well and so on, and this made it a lot easier when the split came.
What, specifically, was the Department of Justic e's role in all this?
As I understand it, they passed on information, probably from Special Branch files, about this person and that person. There was certainly some collaboration between the Department and those who were organising the split.
Was the information they were passing on factual?
We don't know what they were giving them, specifically. But it was assisting them in their campaign of propaganda about the Official IRA.
You say that various outside political figures were also involved in this 'conspiracy' - would these be Labour party people?
Not all of them, no.
Where were the others from?
I don't want to go into any details on that. There was political opposition to us for a number of years, from the Right and the Left. It would take the form of feeding whatever help they could give to the people who wanted to break us.
Are we talking about people from the mainstream political parties?
Yes, the mainstream parties.
All of the mainstream parties?
Three of them anyway.
If what you say is true, can you explain why people in the Department of Justice or in other political parties or in trade unions would be bothered trying to undermine the WP?
Nobody ever liked the Workers Party, nobody that I know of in what we'll call establishment circles. They always wanted the Workers Party kept down or damaged. It was a thorn in the sides of a lot of people, on the Left and on the Right in politics here. Its continued growth in spite of such widespread opposition to it and its policies and despite all the smears and campaigns, its continued growth was a great embarrassment to the hierarchy in politics here and of course to the Labour party as well.
Just look at the battle which was engaged in in the trade union movement right through the eighties. Every time a Workers Party person went for a particular position, all the other parties would get together to keep them down. That happened right through the trade union movement. Rabbitte and Gilmore, for example, were thrown out of their trade union positions immediately they were elected as Workers Party TDs where the normal thing was that you could get back to your union position if you were defeated in the next election. Des Geraghty also had problems within his union because he stood for the Workers Party. Interestingly enough after the DLs were formed, all the problems with regard to Pat Rabbitte and Eamon Gilmore were resolved - court cases were called off and everyting - and Des Geraghty is the darlin' boy again.
Of all the people involved in the formation of Democratic Left, who do you personally regard as the most treacherous?
Let's put it this way: over a few years it was evident that Pat Rabbitte, say, and Eamonn Gilmore were on a different line and seemed to be pushing their own agenda. They were looked on with suspicion by different people at different times. I always said, 'Look, they're doin' a good job so if they're outta line let whoever thinks that say it to them and do whatever has to be done'. That was the feeling about them so it was no great surprise when they participated in the heave or coup or whatever you want to call it.
But, as far as I'm concerned, what happened could not have happened, no way could it have happened, without Proinsias De Rossa and Des Geraghty. They were two key people, two people with tradition in the party. Without those two and their influence with various people throughout the country, this coup would not have taken place. They were trusted. I trusted them. Therefore, I would feel that they were the most treacherous people.
Did you have a face-to-face confrontation with them at any time before or during the split?
Not individually, but certainly at meetings. They tried to get me to join them. The other six [TDs] all sat down with me in the Dail and tried to persuade me to join them. This was only a couple of days before they pulled the plug.
What did you say to them?
I was so shocked that I can't actually remember what I said.
What do the words 'Democratic Left' mean to you now?
They've lost their way. They had an extraordinary seminar there a couple of weeks ago. From what I read in the press, it seemed to be a platform for every Right-wing speaker in the country to talk about the importance of the free market, which is the most popular phrase in the DL at the moment. The polls indicate very clearly that they've lost their way. We who are getting practically no publicity whatever had 4% in the last poll and they, with constant publicity in the Dail and every place else, had 2%. They have no credibility. They've lost their working class support. They have taken some Fine Gael support and, peculiarly, I've found in an area like Castleknock that they've taken some PD support too, but they've lost their working class support. We have held ours. Our working class supporters still believe us and believe we'll stand by them.
Are you still Marxist?
I always hated all the different vagaries of Left wing politics: Marxist, Marxist/Leninist and so on. But, as far as Marx is concerned, I still believe he was one of the greatest political analysts, philosophers and economists of his age. What happened in the Soviet Union doesn't affect my opinion of Marx, good, bad or indifferent. You read Marx again and you realise how important was what he did and said. In that sense, I'd be a Marxist.
But our party was never a Marxist party. We never were and never set out to be a Marxist party. In our education system, we did have classes on Marxism but most of our education was on Irish history and the lessons we've learned from our history here. And, the French Revolution, Republicanism and things like that. We adopted certain lessons from Lenin as well as Marx but we were never a Marxist/Leninist party in the sense that the Comunist Party would understand it, for example.
Nevertheless, the Workers Party's Marxist ties have left you with some pretty unsavoury bedfellows. For instance, there was your own personal visit to North Korea in the early eighties as a friend of the hardline Communist regime there.
Korea is a divided country, South Korea and North Korea. It was divided by a wall in the 1950s when the Americans lashed in with all guns blazing, bombed the place asunder and took over half the country. They did it under the flag of the United Nations at the time and the American soldiers are still there at the line in Panmunjon with their blue berets on, forty years later. The South Korean government has been supported by the Americans ever since. So, without even any knowledge of the people of North Korea you have the situation where they are isolated the same as the Cubans are isolated from trade and so on. Therefore, they have to be self-sufficient. I went over there and discovered that they are self-sufficient, amazingly so.
But the regime there is extraordinarily repressive.
The extent to which it's a repressive regime is hard to say. Whether they have a higher proportion of people in prison than the United States has is difficult to say. I have no great evidence of that yet. We did make various enquiries and have been making various enquiries to try and establish this. If there is evidence of repression we would oppose it and would say that to them. It may be repressive, I dunno, but there are so many repressive regimes around. South Korea also has its detention centres and so. There are also repressive regimes right across Asia and Indonesia and so on.
There's no objection to delegations from any of the parties goin' off to all these other countries, no matter how repressive they are. There have been government delegations to Iraq and Iran and all over the Middle East. And, of course, we love the Saudi Arabians! The fact that they chop people's hands off is not to be spoken about.
What were you in North Korea for?
We were brought down to Panmunjon to see the line and the soldiers and generally brought on a tour around. They're so anxious to make contacts with anybody because they've been so isolated. They have an Ambassador in Denmark, the only one they have in Western Europe, and he made contact with us over here and invited us over. He also made contact with Ceoltas Ceoltóirí Eireann and people like that. Ceoltas went over and did a similar thing to what The Chieftains did in China. And the North Koreans came over here last year to the Fleadh down in Clonmel. They're very anxious for any kind of contact. Representatives have been over at our Ard Fheiseanna and we remain in contact with them. I see no reason why we shouldn't stay in contact with them, and the same goes for the Cubans. We're totally opposed to this kind of American-led isolation of any people.
Would you, as Lord Mayor, invite a group of Northern Unionists down to the Mansion House?
I'd be delighted to. It's become a sort of gimmick for the Lord Mayor of Dublin to be seen shaking hands with the Lord Mayor of Belfast. I have no problem shaking hands with Reg Empey. I've met him when he was down here and we get on quite well together, but I'd like to be able to do something more than that. I don't know what exactly yet. I'd like to see more contact between councillors and committees down here and their counterparts in Belfast, and, of course, I'd like to encourage more contact between the ordinary people of both cities. As regards Unionists, I'm as much opposed to the Unionist parties as I am to Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, and that's pretty strongly, but as Lord Mayor I'll be meeting people from all sorts of parties.
But could you imagine welcoming people like, say, Ian Paisley or Ken Kerr to the Mansion House?
If they come down, I'll say hello and welcome, but I don't think those people are any asset to either the Protestant people or any other people in this country. I regard them as the same as Gerry Adams and the Provos, promoters of discord and dissent. I think it's time we ended all that.
In the light of Mary Robinson's handshake with Gerry Adams, isn't the ban on Sinn Fein holding their Ard Fheis in the Mansion House a bit passé?
The ban is on promoting violence in the Mansion House, Sinn Fein's ritual support for the armed struggle. That's the basis of the ban. I have no objection to Sinn Fein holding its convention here if they disavow support for what they call the armed struggle which is basically just shooting people and planting bombs indiscriminately, no matter who they might kill. I don't think we should have any organisation in here supporting that kind of thing.
Do you think Mary Robinson was right to shake hands with Gerry Adams?
I suppose she had no other option, he was there.
She was on his home ground and unless she wanted to have a major confrontation which would not be in order for a President, and probably would not be in order for a Lord Mayor either, she had no choice. In that case, I probably would've shaken hands with him as well.
In your last Hot Press interview, you were very critical of what you saw as the establishment's hypocritical attitude towards prostitution. You also called for its decriminalisation. Would you, as Lord Mayor, meet a delegation of prostitutes in the Mansion House?
If the request comes in here, we'll meet them all. I'll meet practically anybody who sends in a request for a meeting.
If the gardaí use the new legislation as an excuse for a crackdown on street prostitutes, would you oppose that?
Yeah. If they want to harrass anybody they should harrass the people who are going to the prostitutes, not the girls themselves. I'm totally opposed to the harrassment of prostitutes. They're subject to enough harrassment as it is, from their pimps and what have you.
Do you still maintain, as you did in '89, that there are a number of "law makers, Judges and TDs' who regularly use the services of prostitutes?
Of course. That's the whole point about it. They're sitting up there on their benches condemning prostitutes and, generally speaking, it's people with money and power that are the greatest clients of prostitutes. They're also the ones who make the laws which put these girls in the position where they have to go out on the streets to make a bit of money. Then, they're the ones who throw them in jail afterwards. It's totally, totally wrong.
What did you do the night you lost your Dail seat after the last general election?
I was pretty upset. To lose by only 51 votes was a bit of a blow. We were really up against it from the beginning because the constituency was cut in two. My home base was totally taken away from me, all of Chapelizod, Lower Ballyfermot. I couldn't even vote for myself. Ballyfermot was split in two. No other town in Ireland would be split in two in a constituency, like that. Still, I felt I should've been able to beat Liam Lawlor, but he beat me by 51 votes. Anyway, I had a few drinks that night. I wasn't very happy.
Will you stand as a TD in the next general election?
I see no reason why not.
How will you feel if Democratic Left put forward a candidate against you?
I don't think they will somehow. But if they do, they'll be fought down, I can tell you.
"THE MOSCOW LETTER"
LAST NOVEMBER, The Irish Times published details of a letter which had allegedly been sent by the Workers' Party to Moscow in 1986, requesting funds from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The letter carried signatures purporting to be those of WP General Secretary, Sean Garland, and Proinsias De Rossa TD.
At the time, De Rossa categorically denied any knowledge of or involvement in the writing of the letter. A handwriting expert who examined the signature on the letter at the request of The Irish Times said that it "looked like" that of Mr De Rossa. De Rossa responded by insisting that it was therefore either a forgery or a copy of a signature which he had legitimately appended to another document. He also reiterated his statement that he had nothing to do with what had, by now, become known as 'The Moscow Letter'.
Allegations made recently about Proinsias De Rossa, the letter and other matters by Tomás MacGiolla on RTE radio may become the subject of legal proceedings. When contacted on the matter by Hot Press, Proinsias De Rossa referred us to legal correspondence with RTE and, in a covering letter to the editor of this magazine, stated that he regards the statements made by MacGiolla on RTE radio as "grossly libellous and defamatory" and that furthermore he intends to take "whatever steps are necessary to vindicate [his] good name in relation to RTE and any media which may repeat them." Having taken legal advice, Hot Press has decided not to publish certain sections of this interview with Tomás MacGiolla.
MacGiolla, however, is defiant. "I'd love if he went to court with it," he says. "I'd just love it. If he wants to go to court, let him go to court."
To MacGiolla's knowledge, was the letter an official Workers' Party request for money?
"It had never come before the Ard Comhairle, either before or afterwards," he replies. "That letter never appeared at any stage. I'm not saying that if they had raised it at the Ard Comhairle, the Ard Comhairle wouldn't have said 'Ah go ahead, ask anyway'. If you don't ask, you don't get would've been the attitude. Money was always tight. But the money didn't come anyway. Nor did any letter come in response. No money arrived, from any place. They might as well have been writing to Bill Clinton."
In the letter, there are references to the Workers' Party engaging in 'special activities'. Can he throw any light on what these might be?
"They [the authors of the letter] were making the case for getting money, and they were saying that there wasn't any money in these special activities."
But does he know what these 'special activities' were?
"I don't, but it could be anything, from what happened in the early seventies to what they, the Russians, might've thought we were engaged in, which is the activities the Provisionals were engaged in. I would take it they were referring to other ways of making money."
And would 'special activities' be a reference which it was felt would go down well in the Kremlin?
"You see, at the time, I understand that the people in the Soviet Union thought that we were all engaged in anti-British campaigns of one kind or another. We were always at great pains to wean them away from support for the Provisional IRA, but the Soviet Union often accepted the propaganda about the Provos' struggle in the North for civil rights, as they called it. Anyway, I'd imagine that it was in that context that they were referring to these special activities."
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jul 23