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The Brendan Hughes Interview

by Joe O'Neill

G21 Alumnus

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Map of Ireland.Brendan Hughes was one of a small group of Republicans in the Lower Falls (Belfast) who split from the IRA in 1970 to form what was later to be known as the Provisional IRA. In the sometimes violent split within the movement at that time one of the first victims was his cousin, Charlie Hughes, who was shot dead in a gun battle in the Lower Falls by members of the Official IRA.

After almost three years on the run, Hughes was arrested, along with Gerry Adams. They were tortured for over 12 hours in Springfield Road barracks and then Castlereagh before being flown to the cages of Long Kesh. Within 5 months Hughes had escaped from Long Kesh, crossed the border, and within 10 days was back in Belfast with a new identity, to assume command of the Belfast Brigade.

Captured again, 6 months later, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on weapons, explosives and documents charges. Hughes, as Brigade O/C (Officer Commanding) was caught with what the press called a "Doomsday Plan" which was the IRA plan for the defense of the Nationalist community in Belfast.

While O/C of Republican prisoners in Long Kesh, Hughes was charged in connection with a prison riot and given an additional 5 years. However, at this time, the process of Ulsterization and criminalization had begun and he was taken from court to the infamous H-Blocks.

"That morning" said Hughes, "I left Long Kesh, Brendan Hughes, O/C Republican prisoners, recognized as a political prisoner and that afternoon, I was Hughes, 704, in the H-Blocks."

Photo of Brendan HughesIn the H-Blocks Brendan Hughes was instrumental in organizing the men on the blanket protest and was elected O/C with Bobby Sands as his adjutant. As the protests by the men escalated, without any movement by prison authorities or the Thatcher government to resolve the prisoners demands to end their inhumane treatment, he called for volunteers to join him in a hunger strike.

Hughes resigned as O/C, to be replaced by Bobby Sands and was joined by 6 of the 90 men who had volunteered to go on hunger strike. After 53 days without food, with Sean McKenna within hours of death and the others in very serious condition, the strike was called off as the government delivered a document which satisfied the prisoners demands.

After the government reneged on their agreement the strike led this time by Bobby Sands commenced with deadly consequences.

In our interview Hughes discussed a wide range of topics on the Irish political landscape.

G21: Share with us your opinions on the Good Friday Agreement.

HUGHES: The decision was taken from the top down, there were no discussions, there was nothing taking place.

What we heard was, 'The Hume/Adams Document' and I am very annoyed at this because, I have spent my whole life in this Republican movement and all of a sudden everyone is talking about 'The Hume Adams Document' and I asked if I could see it . To my knowledge no one has ever seen it.

I thought it was a disgrace that John Hume knew where this movement was going [and] I didn't know where it was going. I didn't know anything about 'The Hume Adams Document', what the hell is it? Then, 'The Hume Adams Document', developed into the 'Good Friday Agreement'.

What was the Good Friday Agreement all about? All of my life I spent attempting to bring down Stormont, attempting to remove the British from Ireland and all of a sudden, all of that language was gone. We no longer talk about a British declaration of intent to withdraw from this country and we have got to the stage where we were actually fighting to get down to the Stormont, that we just spent 30 years trying to bring down. The loyalty factor eventually burnt out with me, the loyalty factor was no longer there.

G21: So what is your opinion of the Sinn Féin leadership?

HUGHES: Stormont is OK as long as we're in it. What was developing here was a sort of a class thing within the Republican movement. You had the "Armani Suit Brigade" and a lot of these people I had never come across before. I had never spent time in prison with them and their politics drifted away from me -- their politics -- I didn't drift away from my politics, their politics drifted away from me to a stage where I believed I needed to say something, because these people are running away with my movement.

The suffering and everything that we represented was no longer there anymore and these people had it, they were wining and dining at Stormont.

I believe very shortly, we will be wining and dining in Westminster. I believe that they have run away with the politics, the real politics of the Republican movement, the Republican struggle, and I believe that they have to be resisted. Which I am doing.

It wasn't easy for me to go public and criticize all these things that were going on, but I feel a moral responsibility to do so. Even though it puts me on the fringe and I am called a dissident and other names. But I know damn well, that what I am saying, is representative of the ordinary people on the ground. The Republican Movement

I believe this Republican movement belongs to the people. I don't believe that people like me should walk away and form another small group to oppose this group. This group is the Republican movement. We have fought, we have gone through an awful lot of struggle and I believe it has been hijacked by a handful of people who have gone in a particular direction that I disagree with.

But it is my movement. I don't want to form another movement, I want my movement back to what we fought for.

I don't believe that it is totally hopeless. I believe it can be won back. If I thought it was hopeless, I would probably leave the country. I believe that I have a moral responsibility and a duty to carry on the struggle. It's not easy, a lot of the people I am talking about are comrades and friends of mine. I wish they could change and turn this thing around and bring it back to the people. Bring the movement back to the people. Not a political party that's running to Stormont, running to Westminster with their Armani suits on and jutting about in their State cars. The same regime that's been oppressing us for so many years, they have become a part of.

G21: So what's your position on decommissioning?

HUGHES: The IRA has been asked to decommission. We were all told that there would be no decommissioning. When you bring a stranger to a dump, an IRA dump, and point out where that dump is, to me that is decommissioning.

I certainly would not go near that dump again, so that dump is, by and large, decommissioned. Forget about it. It has been identified.

Yet I am told there will be no decommissioning.

To me that is decommissioning.

People are telling lies. We are doing everything we were told would not happen. We still hear at some commemorations people getting up on platforms and telling blatant lies. 'The war is not over'. By and large, the war is over. The current joke in the town at the moment is:

Q. 'What is the difference between a Sticky (Official IRA) and a Provie (Provisional IRA).

A. Twenty years.'

The only difference is that the Stickies didn't have to decommission.

G21: The controversy about the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) still rages. What are your thoughts?

HUGHES: What I was beginning to see was the reintroduction of a different type of philosophy. The words they were using 'the RUC has to be changed' no longer 'disbanded.'

G21: Your feelings on commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Hunger Strike?

HUGHES: Anyone who is going out to commemorate the Republican struggle should commemorate the people who died in the struggle. It should be about respect and to commemorate the sacrifice that these people made. I believe the party of the working class is entitled to commemorate the working-class people who died.

I believe a party of the Middle or Upper-class should not be allowed to capitalize on those people's deaths. Those people died for working-class issues and I believe that the only people who should be allowed to capitalize on that are working-class people who are fighting for working-class issues. I don't believe the leadership of the Republican movement, at present, is fighting for working-class issues or fighting for the issues that these people died for.

G21: So it sounds like you might be accused of advocating armed struggle.

HUGHES: We are sitting in Divis Towers now and there is 10 million of equipment on top of this roof, there are armed British troops on top of this roof.

As long as there is one British soldier on this roof, I believe that people have a right to oppose that. Unfortunately, the occupation forces are still here and unfortunately, the leadership of the movement that I belonged to have become a part of that, they have become a part of the problem."

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