John McDonagh: Could you just give us your background within the Republican Movement how you grew up and why did you join and how did that come about?
Brendan Hughes: Well, I joined the republican Movement in 1969 uh my father had a history of Republicanism , my grandfather was in prison, my father was in prison, uh my mother had been arrested.. um... I grew up in an area of Belfast which was predominantly Protestant, and growing up most of my friends were all Protestants and there wasn't a great deal of Republicanism about during my youth except through father's background. and my father would be pretty private about that except on occasion where he would talk about his cousin being shot dead in Yard Street, and stories about my grandfather and so forth.
But in 1969 when the pogroms came about , when house were being burnt down ,when the B-Specials were shooting up Divis street and so forth I became involved in the movement then actively , through a cousin of mine it was a guy called Charlie Hughes who was shot dead in 1971 by the Officials, the Official IRA.
By that time in 1970 a split had occurred with the Irish Republican Army, the Provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army was formed. I became involved as member of that organization and through that um .. Initially it was for defense against attacks by the B-Specials , the RUC, and the Loyalist mobs and defended places like Bombay Street , the areas where I lived myself which was up the Gratton Road , and when the British Army came in... The war actually started then with the British Army. The British Army raided houses in the lower Falls where I lived and looked for arms caches which the IRA had hidden, which resulted in the Lower Falls Curfew. Which I was involved in. There were people there form the 40s campaign the 50s campaign, like Bill McKee, Proinsias McAirt who were long time republicans and who had seen this as an opportunity to bring about a united Ireland and that is actually when I got totally involved in the Republican Movement... in the Republican Struggle against the British.
John McDonagh: So were you arrested at that time?
Brendan Hughes: I was not arrested until 1973. I had been on the run from 1970 and the British troops had raided my house looking for me, arrested my father, interrogated my father, and then released him 48 hours later to walk home with no shoes on in his bare feet. Um... So from 1970 until 1973, I lived in a different house every night, I moved from house to house. The British were continually raiding to trying capture me. Um... They actually started to .. It was they who nicknamed me The Dark, it was they who called me "The Dark", the British troops, but from 70 to 73 I just was constantly on the run.
John McDonagh: And how old were you at that time?
Brendan Hughes: I was 21
John McDonagh: And then how did your capture come about?
Brendan Hughes: I was arrested um .. on the Fall road along with Gerry Adams and Tom Cahill. By that stage the British media, the press in England, had headlined news articles about me being the commander of the IRA or being Operations Officer of the IRA in Belfast. And we were having a meeting on the Falls Road, my self, Gerry and few others when the British Army raided the house an arrested us all . I was then take to ... we were all taken to Spring Field Road RUC station where we were interrogated by ten plain clothed British troops... uh.. British undercover operatives and we were tortured. Uh.. I was continually tortured for over a period of up to eight hours I was beaten with small hammers , I was tied against the wall and continually punched and kicked. I was then tied to a chair and continually beaten. They put a weapon in my .. a gun a 45 in my mouth... and pulled the trigger, but obviously it didn't work. They threatened to shoot me there and dump me on the Black Mountain and put out a statement out saying that loyalists had killed me.
John McDoangh : And what were you being charged with at that time?
Brendan Hughes: Nothing. Nothing... I wasn't arrested with anything um... I was .. when they were interrogating me, they were trying to get me to sign a statement that said I was member of the IRA which I did not. So after a period of fourteen or fifteen hours I was handcuffed, manacled, and thrown into the back of an armored car, and driven to long Kesh were I was interned.. for an indefinite period.. um.. with out any charge. I wasn't charged with anything. I was just thrown into Long Kesh Internment Camp.
John McDoangh : And that how long were you interned?
Brendan Hughes: I was there for about eight months then I escaped from Long Kesh . I escaped in a garbage truck. What happened was is that I was put inside a large bag.. uh.. with rubbish, sawdust, and all the garbage of the camp. The guys who came to lift the rubbish... a lorry came every day... I was thrown in the back of the garbage truck and after four or five hours in camp the truck left , left Long Kesh and up toward the hill , I broke.. I was able to release my self from the bag , jump out of the lorry, and then.. I had a lift actually to Newry where I had some money coming out the jail, were I had a taxi and I was driven to Dundalk were I was eventually free.
John McDoangh : was there any chance of you being crush within the garbage truck?
Brendan Hughes: NO . No it wasn't that type of garbage truck it was an open type truck . The Danger the biggest danger was... before the truck left the camp uh British soldier would push a large spiked object through the rubbish... and it actually happened that day . But I had a bit of luck that day and at both times they missed and I wasn't hit. But at they period when this happening I knew exactly what was happening, because we had done some intelligence work on it we knew the whole process. But I took the chance . and it worked OK they did not spike me. But I must admit at like one stage I felt like jumping up and shouting that I was here in fear of being spiked by this.. its like a large spear.
John McDoangh : And then how long were free at this stage how long did you stay free?
Brendan Hughes: Well .. I got across the border I got a new identity . I had my hair dyed and changed my who appearance and came back. I was back in Belfast within ten days Um .. 1974 May 1974 I was arrested in Belfast again . I was arrested on the Malone Road in a large house on the Malone Road which is totally outside the working class area. which was a policy of mine at the time, to move outside the working class areas because it was becoming so hard to move around. I established an identity as traveling toy sales man an set up set up home out side West Belfast all together. But I was traveling into West Belfast everyday with a suit and a brief case and so forth . I was often stopped by British troops and RUC, but I ways got by... until the particular time when they raided the house an arrested me along with weapons and munitions detonator an so forth.
John McDoangh: And then what were you charged a sentence to at that stage?
Brendan Hughes: Pardon?
John McDoangh: What were you charged and sentenced to at that stage?
Brendan Hughes: I was charge with possession of weapons and sentenced to fifteen years um .. they then took me out again an charged with me escape from Long Kesh and gave me one and a half years. uh .. I went into Long Kesh and .. some time in 1978 I became OC of the Prisoners in Long Kesh. Um ..At one period there was a bit of riot.. and being OC . I attempted to stop the riot . But in doing that I was accused of causing the riot and I was taken out and sentenced to another five years. The morning I went to court.. My position as being OC of Long Kesh, I would go out every morning and negotiate with the governor of the prison on condition and people would make requests, an I would have to sit and meet and talk to the governor and request these things the prisoners were looking for. Sometimes it was a mandolin, sometime it was guitar, sometime it was a pair of boots or medical equipment or something like that, .. and I would go and sit .. and it would be quite cordial and quite friendly and I was called Mr. Hughes, or host Commanding Officer. Um .. shortly afterwards I was taken to court,, sentenced another five years and I found my self put in the back of a truck and taken down to the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. I was walked in, told to strip uh.. thrown into a cell naked.. and with a blanket around me .
John McDoangh: Did they ask you to wear a prison uniform?
Brendan Hughes: The asked me to wear a prison Uniform. ..Yes.
John McDoangh: And then you refused?
Brendan Hughes: I refused to wear a prison uniform yea, because I didn't see my self a criminal. I was a political prisoner.
John McDoangh: And at that stage how long had the blanket protest gone on in
Brendan Hughes: The Blanket Protest had gone on almost two years uh.. I had been in contact with the .. Me being OC of the prisoners of Long Kesh I was also the OC of the prisoners in the H-Blocks, but at no time did I visualize the conditions of the men in the H-Blocks. until I got there.. But I had put an appeal against the five year conviction because I was... I actually had a prison officer who went and gave evidence to the fact that I was not involved in any sort of riot. I was involved in trying to keep the peace intact. but I think at that period they wanted me out of the H-Blocks and they gave me the five years.. Soon afterward with the prisoners they asked me to takeover , because it was totally disorganized there was two blocks at that time there was H-5 and H-3 and there was an OC at H-5, an OC at H-3 and there was no communication at all, because at that period they were not taking visits, there was no papers, there was no radio. There was absolutely nothing at all . Everybody had long hair and long beards. ... I felt a responsibility to try and change that ... So I dropped the appeal against my five year conviction and became OC of the two block H-5 and H-3. I then stated to organize cause I knew um.. that the prison authorities had my people our people totally under control the were totally ...the place was spotless clean.. screws.. the Prison officers as they were called, were totally in control of this and the people there was over a 150 men here at the time . were not going anywhere. So my.. point was.. we need communication.. we step up the protests we need to do something . And actually I initially suggested...and this might be hard to believe, but its actually true, that we put on the prison uniform.. and we go into the system.... and we wreck the bloody place. Just totally wreck the prison, because eat the way we were stuck in the cell 24 hours a day no fresh air no showers no nothing . but the people that were there for two years found this very hard to take, so it was decided that we couldn't take that way. so then I ordered that people would begin to take visits and to take a visit, you had to put on the prison uniform. That was OK, as far as I was concerned. It was compromise we had to make for the point of us making communication and to get more outside to what the conditions were really like. And from that uh we went right into the Blanket protests and went right into the Hungerstrikes.
John McDonagh: But Brendan before you get into the Hunger Strikes maybe you could explain how you ended up on the Dirty Protest?
Brendan Hughes: Well..... ... Because we began to take visits, because we began to smuggle things in. We began to bring pens in , bits of paper in we began to smuggle thing out .. uh .. we called them barges which is a communication wrapped up in cellifoil . it was placed up the anus, sometime up the nose, and it would be passed over sometimes in the mouth . It would be passed over on a visit. Uh ..the Prison authorities realized what we were doing because obviously they raiding cells an finding pens, and finding tobacco and finding stuff. So they introduced a mirror.. a mirror search . What happened on the visit is that they came, took you out of the cell, walked you up the end corridor, and forced you squat over a mirror . We refused to squat over the mirror, so we were physically forced over the mirror so that they could look up the anus.They would then badly mistreat us... mess with us going out a visit ..coming back and the shower thing They were supposed to give a shower once a week They wouldn't do that. Sometimes they would give, let one person go for shower other time they wouldn't . And since most of the time when people went for a shower, they were getting physically and verbally abused. So the order was given finally ... No more showers .we stopped going to the showers. We refused to wash. So they began to bring bucket around... buckets of water and throw them into the cell. Often just throwing them on the floor and water would spill and we supposed to wash with this . So the order was given to smash the bases, smash the jugs . which were plastic uh.. we smashed all those so they stopped doing that. uh... It came to the point where we had to stop going out of the cells all together because of the physical abuse and verbal abuse every time we left the cell . And that's what developed into the dirty protest. We started to smear excreta in the cell , we wouldn't wash, we wouldn't go out ..uh .. and the cells just became uh... infested with rubbish, with urine, with excreta and the situation that they were given.
John McDonagh: And how long did that last ?
Brendan Hughes: That lasted almost three years. but it was slow development because through the protest we making eventual destroy our beds, smashed them up.. smashed the windows so all we were left with a mattress all we had was blanket and mattress on the floor. And they would come in, most nights they would come in with hose pipes and just open the cell door an you'd get hosed down . Other times they would come in with very strong disinfectant and throw a bucket of disinfectant around you to the point where it brought tears to the eyes and was very painful. uh.. after we smashed the windows, they came I put iron grills on the windows.. we were totally sealed in. and this carried on for almost three years.
John McDonagh: Was there any heat the cells I mean was the wind coming in from these gates ?
Brendan Hughes: Yea , yea the snow , you would wake up in the morning with snow on you.. yea the windows were totally open until they put the grills on. Even with the grills on very often they turned the heat off the cold winter nights they turn the heat off and the hot summer days they turn the heat on um.. they took a large machine.. uh we used pour out the urine out the cell doors at night and they would put this large sucker machine to let the .. and leave the machine on all night. It was like a generator going all night.. uh..they left the lights on all night and as I said in the winter nights they would turn the heat off .
John McDonagh: This would bring us up to 1980 , how were you able to communicate and organize a hunger strike within the prison?
Brendan Hughes: We had a line of communication with the Irish language at night we would shout the windows uh.. in Gaelic ..what was happening uh.. we were able to send communications ..A guy would go on a visit with a commutation ... if I wanted a communication to H-block.. I was in H-Block 5 and I wanted a communication to H-Block 3 I would uh ..write a communication and give it someone going out on a visit and often other people in H-5 ,H-6 H-7 would meet on a visit and the communication would be passed on that way but by and large it was done through shouting at nights the quiet nights, and Long Kesh was a very quiet place at night ..and were able to shout from one block to another block ,pass the communication from one wing to another wing and on to another block. That ..That is how we done it.
John McDonagh: And how did you did come the decision about the Hungerstrike?
Brendan Hughes: Well..... .....because we were getting so much publicity uh because of the conditions we were in and remember that for two years these men had been sitting and no one knew anything that was going on that we were being brutalized, we were being tortured being totally mistreated, by 1980 people were beginning to realize that there was something wrong. the Main break through was when Cardinal O'Fiaich, the Catholic Arch Bishop.. the Catholic Cardinal of Ireland visited the prison. But he was only allowed to visit the prison or visit the people from South Armagh where the cardinal had came from but by pure coincidence I was in a cell with a guy from Armagh and Cardinal O'Fiaich came in and I spoke to him and he was really really touched by what he had seen and he walked out of the prison gate and he made a public statement on television an cells looked like the streets of Calcutta the H-Blocks. From then on we began negotiation with Cardinal O'Fiaich Cardinal O'Fiaich began negotiations . and his contact with me was priest called father Alec Green and Alec was chaplain in the prison and Alec kept contact contact with me and always told me that the Cardinal was doing things, The Cardinal was meeting behind the scenes, we actually began meeting other priest Father Alec Green, he was lovely gentleman .... behind the scenes and Cardinal O'Fiaich went to see Maggie Thatcher..... and... I wasn't there at the meeting, but I was told that Maggie Thatcher was totally insulting the Cardinal, uh ..we had our hopes really built up here that we were getting a break through and I was getting word back through Father Alec Green that there are things happening.... hold on because we had been threatening hunger strike for about a year now and we were actual going to call one. We were all holding back, then one day I got a visit from Danny Morrison who told me... on the visit that.. Maggie Thatcher had shut the door on the Cardinal and there was nothing. And we had almost four hundred men here who were sitting waiting.. sitting on the blanket for years... and all their hopes were built into this.. into Cardinal O'Fiaich making some sort of progress, and here we had Maggie Thatcher just shut the door in his face... and I was told this on the visit.... I got a visit from Danny Morrison an Danny told me ... he brought cigar up for me that day ..and the only the only time ya smoke was on visit. I smoked the cigar and he told me that the door was closed, Cardinal got nothing... and I didn't know what to do. And he asked me actually , "what are you going to do now?" and I said, there was no alternative but hunger strike. We have to.. there's nothing left except hunger strike. .. And I walked back.... and its was long walk back for the visit to the H-blocks......I remember.. I'll never forget the walk back .. the prison officer beside me walking back with a long, long beard ,long, long hair filthy , dirty, and walking up the .. the path... and walking up the path into the blocks is two wings, and every face is their window looking... to see if I had any scéal ..what we'd call scéal which is news... had I any news for them .. and I didn't know what I was gonna tell these people ...uh .. and we never ever spoke until after eight o'clock and there was only two screws left in the wing .
And I was entering the cell that day and Bobby Sands was at the cell next to me. And Bobby was obviously at the pipe right away. We used to dig holes in the walls so we could communicate. And I told Bobby its up in the air and we have to organize a hunger strike. Bobby absolutely was in total agreement with it and from there we started to organize the hunger strike. That night I got up to the door .. it was half past eight at night when everything was quiet.. none of the rest of the prisoners knew except my self and Bobby that the whole process with Cardinal O'Fiaich had fallen through and I then said what then happens, and that we had no alternative but to call a hunger strike. And...
I remember the total... utter silence ... uh and that night .. Bobby ..Bobby had a great voice for shouting , Bobby done most of the shouting, most of the communication in the Kesh at the window... and we began the work later that night through the communications through Bobby and the Irish language. And ...I mentioned earlier on that ..Long Kesh was a quite place.. it was a really silent place that night.
The next day , over the next couple of days, I got communications back in from the other block .volunteers, I ask for volunteers for hunger strike. and... I think there was a 148 volunteers... and I wanted six.... one from each county..and I got a hundred a forty-eight names in... it was only a couple of days. Um... my self and Bobby selected six people. Actually Bobby wanted to go on the first hunger strike and I decided against it. I felt the responsibly that I should do it I called it and I should be on it. and.. the process started for there, six of us went on hunger strike...
John McDonagh: You represented Antrim?
Brendan Hughes: Yes.
John McDonagh: What was the qualifications and what was a tough decision to pick one from the other counties, How did they qualify?
Brendan Hughes: It... It was very very hard. Very very hard to pick people. One person I had rejected was a guy called Sean McKenna... and Sean begged me and begged me... to choose his name... and I eventually did . The other qualification was .. there was people from the Irish National Liberation Army there as well. and we allowed one of theirs ..one from that organization to go on the hunger strike. The biggest majority of the people in Long Kesh at that time were Provisional IRA people... um there was a small group of INLA people and they demanded that they had a representative on the hunger strike and we agreed to that... and it was a guy called Sean Nixon, a guy who was in the INLA who went on hunger strike with us.
John McDonagh: and what happened to that first hungerstrike in 1980?
Brendan Hughes: Uh.. the hunger strike went on for uh.. Fifty-three days. On the forty first day we got representation from British Civil Servants who had come in a produced this document.... as an attempt to settle the hunger strike...we right away... at this stage six of us were within the prison hospital, and we had met in what is called the Canteen Room and we were allowed some time to discuss...uh We went back into our cells...Ten days later they came back again with another document which they produced , which we studied and which we believed was a possible.. was possible solution to the problem.
Uh .. on the Fifty-third day, the day the hunger strike ended, a priest who representing us met a British civil servant at a Belfast airport. and the only way that the priest could recognize this guy is that he would have a red carnation in his coat. The priest me this civil servant or whoever he was with the red carnation who passed over a document.
That night the night the hunger strike ended, Bobby Sands and the priest was in the prison hospital.. at this stage uh.. Seam McKenna was in a coma ... uh... and was almost dead... .... The doctor Dr. Ross , who our doctor at the time, told me that Sean had only a few hours to live... uh ..I believed that that we had the basis of a solution. They rushed Sean out on a stretcher.
At this stage I was still able to walk and there was two priest there Father Murphy an Father Connor who helped me out into the hall way when they were rushing Sean out and Doctor Ross begged to save Sean's life. and ..I said it,
"feed him." ....intravenously.
Sean.... .... was.... uh ... was immediately put out on support machine and the hunger strike was actively over. The document that the priest brought we believed was a settlement. Bobby and priest was there with me and um we believed ..I couldn't read because my eyesight was gone, but the priest who had brought the document to us was overjoyed. I mean we were overjoyed as well because Sean wasn't going to die and none of us were gonna die and we had a settlement. We believed we had a settlement.
Over the next few days... I believe it was the prison regime itself that was responsible for causing the collapse of that agreement. The refused to accept cloths, they refused to accept certain pieces of clothes .. Bobby had not taken over.. When I went on hunger strike, I handed my position over to Bobby...Bobby Sands when Bobby was in the negotiations I was still recovering for the hunger strike in the hospital. uh.. he was in constant contact with me. They were bringing Bobby up to the hospital every day to see me.
The prison officers who were running the jail hated the whole deal. They detested us. They believed that we had won and they done their utmost, including the Prison Governor to sabotage the whole thing. I believed they did sabotage it .. and leading to the point of where Bobby sent a communication up to me that they had stopped allowing Bobby to come to see me at one stage. Uh Bobby sent a communication to me that he didn't see any alternative here except another hunger strike. uh I fought with Bobby actually over this. I didn't believe that we should go on a second hunger strike. Bobby was the OC and I was not that the facts as they stood and they went on hunger strike. and it was Bobby's decision that the second hunger strikes take place.
John McDonagh: Now a significant part of this second hunger strike which happened in 1981 was the election of Bobby Sands to the British Parliament for Fermanagh /South Tyrone. Maybe you could describe to our audience what was that like and was that a big gamble by putting him up because had he lost it might've discredited the hungerstrikes, but what was it like in the prison an how did you find out that we won the election?
Brendan Hughes: Well we ... we didn't have any form of communication . Any form of communication we had we used to uh...smuggle it in ..into small pieces , small articles or whatever we had no newspaper , no radio, no television, and when we heard that Bobby was elected . We, were elated.. I mean the whole world knew that he was elected before we did .. We did feel that .. we believed or hoped... that.. Jesus this must end now, then they must give in now.. they must give us our demands...
John McDonagh: But Brendan, when you were figuring out to have him run did you think it was big enough gamble that if he lost the election , it would have hurt the chances of the hungerstrike , I mean how.. what was that thought process like? About that you took a gamble on it?
Brendan Hughes: We actually on the inside didn't have great deal of influence on into that it was uh..the leadership on the outside that.. that... had that , and they were supremely confident and we had a great deal of faith in the leadership on the outside and when that decided to run Bobby in the election we believed that it was the right decision and we believed that we should do it. and we heard the stories about the support we had out there and we knew the sympathy was out there, so we were pretty confident that Bobby ..Bobby would make an impression. Uh ... But we also really believed that if Bobby was elected we would.. it practically break the British role and we would get our demands. The thought process was dictated from the outside.
John McDonagh: And then uh... what happen after the election?
Brendan Hughes: ...... uh..... Bobby died. They, they allowed him to die... and...noth...nothing changed within the prison. uh.. As I said we didn't have any sort of communications at that time at all.. and all I'm doing ..and all I have been doing is looking back an reading about that period, because we were totally isolated at the time a totally and totally demoralized at that time when Bobby's election didn't make any difference and hen when Bobby died and again the whole world knew before we knew ... A priest came to my cell in the early hours of the morning after Bobby died and told me.. and I knew it as soon as the priest walked into my cell ...that Bobby was dead. and .. it was... just an... abyss... to us.
John McDonagh : And did you have any ceremony inside the prison?
Brendan Hughes: Yea well... we were locked in the cell.. all . silence .. silence...silence is .. is a thing we know very well in the jail. and we had a two minute silence thing uh.. and that Sunday after Bobby's death that the only time we came out of our cells was.. we went to mass. and... we had our social mass in the jail.. every wing had a special mass in the jail for that , but then the whole process start all al over again uh ten died...
John McDonagh : uh then it was called off in the Fall and then I believe the demands were implemented by the Thatcher administration.
Brendan Hughes: The demands were implemented .. yea ..the demands were implemented by the fact that that we were without.. they allowed us our clothes. they gave us our cloths after the deaths .. and we went out ..out of our cells. And it was totally different regime all together . you know, we had shoes on, we had cloths on, we had dignity... uh and these same people who had tortured us all these years were still there uh you went into the prison system, they forced us to work we wanted to work and sabotaged everything we could get out hands on. We broke all machines, we did everything we could do to disrupt the who prison regime to eventually when it came to the point that that said don't.. they wouldn't let us go to work any more, so we won that demand. The demand not to work... not to take prison work. And over a period of a year all of the demands we had asked for we had. we had our own cloth our free association, we were treated as political prisoners, we had representative as OC who the prison governor had to recognize . and it intact we had won all the demand that we wanted.
John McDonagh: And it came at great cost.
Brendan Hughes: It came at too big a cost I think...yes
John McDonagh: Did it mainly have to do with Thatcher intransigence through the whole negotiation of the whole Hunger strike?
Brendan Hughes: Her intransigence? Yes, I think it was largely to do with that .I think that there were people there in White Hall, in the British government who would've been quite prepared to give us what we had... what we had.. I have spent almost eight year in prison with my own clothes with political status, and here they were trying to take it away from us uh ... and eventually they had to concede that we were political prisoners, they could not control us, they tried to control us uh... they couldn't we resisted every attempt to the point where ten men died ... and Thatcher... Thatcher . That woman. Thatcher.. just could not accept the fact that we were political prisoners ..we were fighting for a cause.
John McDonagh: Which brings us up to what is going on today , and I want to go back into the prison , because there's been a lot of discussion that the process that was designed in 1998 had its germs in ..within the discussion group with Gerry Adams, Bobby Sands and your self about a way forward, a way out of what was going on . how much of you guys were a part of that through process which brought us to the treaty that was signed in 1998? and was it even discussed that the way to a United Ireland was to bring back Stormont and some of the thing that have come about out of the process?
Brendan Hughes: Absolutely not. Um .. a lot of us within the prison some of us were in our teens some Twenty-one , all young men . A lot of us went in with uh.. not a great deal of political though in our heads. Within Long Kesh with in the the cages of Long Kesh uh . we began to push and I remember Gerry .. Gerry was the main driving force behind this . that we need politically educated rank and file.. politically educated rank and file.. and with in Long Kesh we began to do that. We had debates, we had discussions, we had arguments we had we read about the Palestinian Cause we read bout the South African Cause, we debated all these causes and we became politically educated, we became not just a soldier who was just a person who was able to fire a gun , but a person who was able to think uh before he fired a gun. So all that started there I mean I was in the cages with Bobby Sand and I was in the H-Blocks with Bobby Sands and went through this whole situation where we became and we knew... that before we went into the prison there was Sinn Fein and there was the IRA all the fighting we were doing we were creating a party called .. the SDLP actually became the nationalist voice of the IRA, though they were not representing the IRA but the SDLP was largely created by the war that was going on and we knew that if your going to fight a war, then you gotta be able to fight a war and be able to talk after the fighting stops. So the whole sort of people who are involved in the struggle now, are politically educated ex soldiers. Uh
John McDonagh: OK now you were released in 1986 and in the interview that you did with a magazine that we will be giving out the web address later on, you stated that you went to work for contractors in West Belfast and how you were reminiscing about what your father had said that nothing much had changed after all the suffering that went on and everything that was going ,that you were still be exploited by what you were calling cowboy contractors?
Brendan Hughes: Yes. Yea. Uh... I remember the story my father used to tell me like when they all got out of jail people like Billy McKee, me father, Proinsais McAirt and so forth uh they were sort of alienated by society and they could've worked anywhere , so that had to take , get any sort of work they could get uh.. I remember feel that that was so sad . I mean here was people who went to war trying bring about a democratic Socialist Republic and they are working for these people who are Exploiting. Um when I got out of the prison in 1986 I found myself right in the same position again , I couldn't leave West Belfast I was too well known . I couldn't have worked outside West Belfast I had to stay here.. but the only work I could get would be on a building site. and these people, they were Catholic, they called themselves nationalists, but they doing the same an were paying people 15 to 16 pounds per day where the average would be 30 to 35 pounds per day, and that still persist today. And its not just Builders , there's loads of employers who do the same. And me being a republican and me being involved in the Republican Struggle, one of my objectives in fighting this war and trying to bring about a uh..a Democratic Socialist Republic, was to fight for the working class. And unfortunately I don't see that happening , I see the working class being exploited again. and being allowed.. the Republicans allowing people to exploit the ordinary working man and woman and I'm totally opposed to that. And ...one... A few years ago I wrote an article for An Phoblacht Republican News against these people and I found I had to fight with the editorial people within An Phoblacht uh .. to publish the thing. And when it eventually was published , it was totally censored! Um... I wanted to expose these people years and years ago and I wasn't allowed to. that article was printed okay, but there was no editorial , there was no campaign, there was no anything.
And all those last few years I've kept quiet. I haven't said anything through a sense of loyalty to the Republican Movement . and do not get me wrong, I still feel and am a member of the Republican Movement, I still believe the the Republican Cause, I don't believe there is anybody outside the Republican Movement that can bring about any changes . The problem I feel is that republicans are sitting back and there's some of them there who have made careers out of politics and have left the who principle that ten men died for and hundreds of men died for and hundreds of men went to jail for, have left behind. And I think they need to be wakened up and it needs to be pointed out to them that as I said in the article, it takes a great deal of pain for me to come to the point where I could put pen to paper and write this . And I do it reluctantly , but I do it through necessity and I do it through uh ...and I also do it for my comrades who died ...
John McDonagh: But Brendan you do have people like Marion Price who have spoke out against this Agreement and then they are ostracized in republican clubs where she's not allowed into some. Some of the songs that were written about her in the 70s are not allowed to be sung in the clubs, I mean your talking loyalty but it's also a great risk within a community that you were born a raised that you're going to be ostracized for those views
Brendan Hughes: Yea, but unfortunately that a risk we have to take. I mean Marion an Dolores would be comrades of mine. uh and .. some of the people who would ostracize people like that , or ostracize people like me .I have no time for. Let their petty little minds ostracize right, but anyone who would want to ostracize me I would want to ask them a question...do you agree with everything the republican movement is doing ? If they do , then okay, then go away from me, I have no time for ya. If they don't agree, and they don't say anything...then I think they 're a moral coward. At least Marion has the guts to stand up to and say something that she believes is wrong. I don't necessarily agree with everything Marion says, but I absolutely agree with the right for her to say, or anyone else to say what they believe in
John McDonagh: But Brendan one of the whole problems about this whole process is that started with Gerry Adams and John Hume and it's been banged around in the press its called a "Pan-nationalist front". Never at no time do they say its a pan-republican front, so its quite obvious that Republicans had to go over to a nationalist point of view in order to join that front, because I can tell you in America there has always been a pan-nationalist front with the Irish government, with Ted Kennedy, with the American Government and with John Hume always stopping people form getting visas to come into this country so what in actual fact happened is a certain part of the Republican Movement has joined that pan -nationalist front.
Brendan Hughes: Yes and that apart of it , I think that the point I'm trying to make. I think they need to be pulled back from that. I think we need to get back to the principles of republicanism. the principles I was brought up with the principles of James Connolly, of Liam Mellows, of true Republicanism, and I see the people.. .some of these people going about now.. and they could just be happy to be members SDLP. And the SDLP is not a party that I would be involved with. Sinn Fein some of the Sinn Fein Leadership now, I don't want to be involved with them. I want Republicanism back to its roots.
John McDonagh: But then they'll tell you then the doors will shut the visas will stop , we'll not get into the White House on St Partricks Day, the fundraising will stop in America and well be an isolated party. Where by if we have all these doors open maybe we can make some progress, but there is a price to open those doors.
Brendan Hughes: Well, I mean, If you have all the doors open and you walk through the doors and leave yer children behind, what the hell is the sense of leaving the doors open if you leave your children behind?
We're talking about the Republican family here, a family that's been fighting a war for so many years, I think if you are honest and sincere and you stick by the ideas that you fought for, then so what if the doors close, then kick them down some way. I mean there is no use have these doors open if actually your leaving everything behind now. and I'm afraid that there are some people in the leadership who are prepared to do that.
I talk to people everyday on the ground and most of them ex-prisoners, and all Republicans, and most of them are very unhappy with the way things are going and I know the point that your making, You have to get some doors open somewhere, but I don't think you should have to leave your principles behind to do that.
John McDonagh: Your Listening to Radio Free Eireann and this will be aired on St Partricks Day. We're speaking with Brendan Hughes who is the former OC of the H-Blocks and in Long Kesh and we started off with his background being in prison and now we're going to what we find in 1998. Now Brendan in your wildest dreams when you were fighting to bring down the local government in the six counties called Stormont, that you would see a day where you actual have Sinn Fein begging the loyalist to go into Stormont and actually having administering British rule in Ireland and being paid by the British to do it? Now in your article you stated you think there was an insurgency program going on by the British government to mold a republican leadership that they can deal with . Maybe you can explain how this came about where you now have member of Sinn Fein fighting to get into a British government in the six counties?
Brendan Hughes: Yea,.. It something I could never visualize my wildest dreams, I never visualized that what so ever. The Problem is like in 1972 thecease-fire... the IRA cease-fire the British Government tried to get people involved in this long drawn out cease fire just to end the war and it was recognised within a period of two weeks... it was recognized an the war was back on again .
In 1975 they released certain people they arrested certain people and released certain people. Gerry Adams was one of the people arrested I was one of the people arrested. they released other people from the prison who became the leadership in the republican movement. And within the prison people like my self and Gerry opposed the cease-fire and some of the articles Gerry wrote many articles warning the leadership that your getting drawn into long drawn out cease-fire, the British are trying to stop the war. And their trying to mold the type of people they can deal with . And as I said they selectively released people from prison knowing they would be in the leadership and knowing their profiles and knowing the British could deal with them .
In the nineties I think they have done the same. They have allowed a leadership to develop. They have pumped millions into here. I mean there's centers all over the place in West Belfast and North Belfast, people have gone into these centers and become career people and they are being paid very decent wages, certainly a lot more than the people in the building situation were being paid, and the British have encouraged this ...and here ya have other people... to the point where ya have people breaking away forming the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA uh which I am not a supporter of , I think the leadership needs to look at itself and needs to find out, are they playing the Brit's game here? And I believe they are. I mean going into Stormont, the.. the contradiction of a Republican begging loyalists to go into Stormont .. Its ..Its just so hard for me to swallow.
John McDonagh: Also we had Martin McGuiness stating in this country that when these vote were taken , that he was voted in by the Irish people and he was voted by the Irish people to administer British rule in Ireland, but then the rug was pulled out form under him when they just passed a law in London negating any vote that just took place in Ireland and just made unless you play the game , we can give you your role be a Minister and we can also take that away.
Brendan Hughes: That.... that's ... Exactly what I think the whole thing been just a farce. It never ceases to amaze me how we have allowed ourselves to get into this position where the British control everything here, they still control everything here the RUC's still here, the whole structure's still here the judiciary is still here , uh the murder machine's still here and um i mean hospitals are getting pulled down schools are getting funds cut. um.. we find ourselves in a position where Republicans are administering this, and we don't have any control.
How far down the line do we go here? Do we start putting on Wigs and joining the judiciary, the British judiciary and start administering British justice in Ireland? At the moment or when the assembly was going we were administering British rule.
How Far.. How far do we go here? To me the whole thing seems to me sometimes to be a complete farce. I mean where the hell is Republicanism going ? All I'm trying to do.. I don't have an alternative, people keep saying to me if your going to criticize put up an alternative. I don't have an alternative, the alternative is within the republican movement. I think there has to be an open an honest debate.
You heard about the Humes Adams Document...What is it? Have you seen it?
John McDonagh: Nope.
Brendan Hughes: I haven't seen it. I don't know what it's all about! What was said or even came out of the document that brought this whole process about? I don't know.
The reason why people like me and Anthony McIntyre and the rest of the people that are involved with the writers group, we want to know what's going on? And we don't know what's going on, we can see what going on but what's
the purpose any more?
John McDonagh: But a lot of it Brendan and you can see a lot of people just walking away from the movement saying listen I've given so much of my life I cant do it anymore and take some of the benefits which are coming in, some of the economic benefits that are coming and people are getting disillusioned . I mean how are republicans to over come that when there are job opportunities opening up and if you take the road your taking those job opportunities are going to get very small.
Brendan Hughes: We're not talking about Job opportunities here. There are people in jobs. Okay, I mean I'm not in a job, thousands of people aren't in a job, there's 1,800 people who lost their jobs this morning cause people just closed down the shipyard. Uh... What are we talking about here? I m talking about the Republican Cause, I'm talking about Justice, about working for people's right for a job, I'm not talking about a handful of selected people walking into well paid jobs and having good salaries. And even that with all these people I'm talking about within well paid jobs, it can stop tomorrow if the British decide to pull the plug . These well paid jobs and these people who are in jobs have no control over their own lives!
There's 1,800 men who lost it in the ship yard today. I mean, I don't want that ..they have no control over that ..So I mean we're talking about jobs here, I mean you can have a job, but have no security. I want a job and I want security in that job , and I want a job for my son and a job for my daughter, I want security! I want to have control over that. ..a job's a job but security, is the most important thing.
John McDonagh: Well Brendan we've been almost speaking an hour here and I am very grateful for putting on the record for how we've gotten to the point where we have gotten to, uh what do recommend we do particularly in here in America an we have a lot Republican people living in the tri-state area and people will be listening on the internet, who were forced to come to this country because some of the things that are going on.
Brendan Hughes: I think they should look at the situation, look at the background, look at the history of what Ireland has done to its self. Look at the people in America you're talking about now, who had to leave Ireland. I don't want to have to leave Ireland, I don't want my children to have to leave Ireland, what I think we should do is talk, debate, if you think there is something wrong , say it ! It may hurt some people, but if you believe your right, I think you should speak up. I think people should have a great look and not be carried away by the mass media stuff .. look into the belly of the beast and see what's really happening and...
I know so many people here in Belfast and throughout Ireland who are disillusioned and who are walking away and who just don't see any hope, but what I would hope to be able to do, would be to give them a view where they can feel able to contribute to the debate. And I think the debate is the most important thing and its their way out of this and look back into Republicanism and what is Republicanism all about? And that is all I would want them to do
John McDonagh: Yea, Brendan, in this country too, people in Irish Northern Aid an the Clan na Gael are always being marginalized there is this looking up there, saying look we're in the White House look there's a picture of Gerry Adams dealing with Clinton, and I would have to believe a lot of people on the Falls Road would say look how far we've come look at the pictures.. We're on the front page of the New York Times , there's been clubs or business that you couldn't get involved with and now allowing in people with Republican backgrounds to get involved with and people are looking at this as a way forward that this as It's a great thing that's happened.
Brendan Hughes: I would say.... I have a house, and I paint the whole outside of it beautiful, and inside the house there's no furniture..... What the hell use is the house?
The National Irish Freedom Committee would like to thank Radio Free Éireann for giving us this opportunity to publish the first transcripts of this exclusive powerful and historic interview with Brendan Hughes on his thoughts on the current failed British Partitonist Process
Back to index page