A dissident Republican voice on political change, political debate

Tony Catney
Tony “TC” Catney

I met Tony Catney, a veteran IRA volunteer and former Sinn Fein national director of elections, in February 2013 and spent two hours interviewing him as part of the research I have been conducting on the maintenance of the peace process in the years since the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

Catney broke with the leadership of the Provisional Movement in 2005 in a dispute over political strategy and what he believed to be a climate within the movement which was intolerant of dissent and which deemed open debate over the movement’s direction illegitimate.  After Catney died in August 2014, I shared excerpts of the interview with The Pensive Quill, a widely read blog run by former IRA volunteer, prisoner and writer Anthony McIntyre, who after his release from prison earned a PhD in history from Queens University Belfast.  McIntyre, like Catney, is a prominent critic of Sinn Fein and its leadership.

On Saturday I will travel down to Dublin to attend the first Tony Catney Memorial Debate, sponsored by the 1916 Societies, on Republicanism in the 21st century.  In advance of that event, I went back to the transcript of my original interview with Catney and put together excerpts in which he talks about he believed the future of Northern Ireland looked like, the potential for it to once again erupt in violence, and the importance of open debate to bring about changes in Republican politics.  Those excerpts, along with an introduction by me and comments of my own to give context to Catney’s remarks and transition between topics, was published this morning at The Pensive Quill.

The essay is long, so rather than reprint it here, follow the link above to read it at TPQ, and then check out the earlier excerpts as well.

Memory, identity, and politics

IMG_1681On February 24, 1988, two members of the Ulster Defense Regiment were killed by a 200-lb IRA bomb detonated in the center of Belfast, where the Castlecourt Shopping Centre was under construction. A follow-up second bomb, intended for police and soldiers responding to the first blast, failed to go off and was defused by the army. Yesterday morning, 27 years after the event, an annual parade and memorial service effectively closed down access to the commercial center of the city for more than an hour.

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Running through airports

That works pretty well for me, not so well for my luggage. Thanks to a nearly three hour delay leaving Detroit, I had to make like Hertz-era OJ (not bloody-glove era OJ) and sprint through Newark’s lovely airport to make my connection to Dublin last night.


Alas my suitcase lacked the legs to make the dash from one plane to another, and so while I get to enjoy my first day here in Belfast (having caught the bus up from Dublin), all my stuff gets to enjoy a day in Newark.

Meanwhile I’ve settled into my somewhat spartan apartment near Belfast’s city centre and have a list of chores to accomplish today while I get my internal time clock to sync with the local time zone. In no particular order: sim card so that I have a local mobile number; bus pass for the month; groceries and toiletries so I can both eat and bathe; a pint at my favorite pub.

Back to Belfast

Pipes and mandolin in Kelly's Cellars.
Pipes and mandolin in Kelly’s Cellars, Belfast.

Tomorrow afternoon I board a plane bound for Dublin, and from there a bus north to Belfast.  I’m spending the next four and a half weeks, part of my sabbatical from Oakland University, continuing my research on the maintenance and stability of the Northern Ireland peace process.  This will be my sixth trip since 2008 but the first time I’ve been able to stay for an extended period.

My hope is that having more time in the country will make it possible for me to make more contacts, talk to more people, to follow up on issues that I haven’t had the time to before, and to immerse myself in an environment that I’ve spent a large part of my professional life reading and occasionally teaching about.

I’ll be using this blog initially to comment on my travels and the research I am conducting.  So stay tuned for future developments.