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The political evolution of the Provisionals

The article below appeared in the July issue of Socialist Voice, paper of the CPI, as an opinion piece under the headline “Provisional Sinn Féin, republicanism, and socialism: Some comments”.

by Eddie O’Neill and Mark Hayes

By any relevant psephological indices, it is absolutely clear that Sinn Féin did exceedingly poorly—perhaps disastrously—in the recent local and European elections; and the results have clearly precipitated some reflective introspection by various party members.

For example, a defeated Sinn Féin candidate in Dublin, Lynn Boylan, has called for dialogue and co-operation with other “left-wing parties” in future, arguing that competition for votes had handed seats to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. She claimed: “I am a republican, I am a united Irelander, but I am a left wing activist.” Indeed she went on to claim: “That’s how we were able to stop water charges—it’s because the left came together and worked together.”

Let’s just leave aside Sinn Féin’s specific role in the campaign against water charges, which is contentious, and concentrate on the more significant ideological proposition about Sinn Féin and its relationship with “the left.”

Over the years the Provisional movement has undoubtedly flirted with socialism as an ideology. For example, the original Éire Nua programme articulated by the Provisionals had a reasonably well-defined social component, with the emphasis on a more equitable and decentralised distribution of resources. By the late 1970s, under a new “Northern” leadership, this trend was accentuated. This was perhaps most vividly expressed in Jimmy Drumm’s speech of 1977 (apparently written by Adams et al.) which stressed the need for social liberation and the importance of standing in solidarity with workers against British colonial rule and the “fascist” Free State. (The speech also, incidentally, rejected a reformed Stormont and power-sharing.)

In this period Adams not only criticised capitalism, he was fond of quoting Connolly, while Sinn Féin explicitly identified itself with the ANC, PLO, and Sandinistas. Some commentators even detected the influence of Marxism; and though this was hugely exaggerated, there was a sense in which Sinn Féin identified itself as an integral part of a global “left” movement. It undoubtedly established its radical credentials through community work and activism in working-class areas.

However, there was always another, more pragmatic and opportunistic dimension to Sinn Féin strategy. This could be detected during and after the Hunger Strike, when the process of politicisation sought to reconfigure Sinn Féin as an electoral force. It was confirmed in a very personal way to one of the writers of this article when a letter was smuggled out of Albany prison in 1983 (written by Eddie O’Neill and Ray McLaughlin, and signed by other Republican prisoners). This missive explicitly addressed “the left” and urged all comrades to show solidarity with the Irish revolution while calling for a “broad front” of left progressive forces to form a common platform against imperialism.

The correspondence was completely disregarded by the Republican leadership at the time. The writing was on the wall: Sinn Féin was moving towards conventional constitutional politics. It eventually came to see itself as the natural repository for middle-class Catholic votes and positioned itself as the successor to the SDLP as the primary representative of the “Nationalist” community.

In relation to the north, Sinn Féin eventually adopted the diplomatic strategy of. . .  continue reading here. . .

When CS gas came to the floor of the House of Commons

by Mick Healy

The RUC used CS gas for the first time on August 12, 1969, in the Bogside of Derry. It invisibly covered the streets and seeped into every room of the houses, causing choking, vomiting and irritation of the eyes and skin. The British Army first used the gas in April 1970 when they indiscriminately fired off 104 gas canisters in Ballymurphy in West Belfast during a night of rioting.

Máirín Keegan of Saor Eire suggested to Butch Roche, an original member of Peoples Democracy, that they mount a publicity campaign to highlight the use of CS gas, because they were convinced it had done considerable harm. She also acquired two CS gas canisters that were photographed with the intention of using them in the publicity campaign. Roche decided on a symbolic action that wouldn’t injure anyone but bring home to the British public and establishment the impact of its use against the civilian population in Belfast and Derry.

On July 22, 1970, Butch arrived in London with the two CS gas canisters. The next day he entered the Public Gallery of the House of Commons, with a newspaper to cover the bulkiness in his pockets. He threw the gas grenades Read the rest of this entry

Forum on impact of (1990) Industrial Relations Act on trade union activity and organising

The Trade Union Left Forum is hosting a discussion on the impact of the Industrial Relations Act on trade union activity and organising on Wednesday, 3rd of July from 1:15 pm to 2:30 pm in the Ireland Institute for Historical and Cultural Studies, 27 Pearse Street, Dublin (right near the ICTU conference in Trinity College).

Presentations will be made by:
Gareth Murphy (Financial Services Union)
John Douglas (Mandate)

The event is open to members of all trade unions so please come along and have your say.

For more information, please go to the TULF’s event page on Facebook by clicking here.

In Review: Michael Ryan’s Border Campaign

Michael Ryan, My Life in the IRA: The Border Campaign, Cork, Mercier Press, 2018; reviewed by Philip Ferguson

Opinions differ in republican circles about Operation Harvest (the ‘border campaign’).  Often it has been suggested that the entire campaign was misconceived and then poorly executed, turning into a disaster for the Movement.

Some more recent interpretations have suggested that it had more going for it.  I certainly find it a bit difficult to see that someone of Sean Cronin’s intelligence and military experience would have put together a plan of campaign that could only ever have been a disaster.  Moreover, things started out well – Sinn Fein had captured two six-county seats on an abstentionist basis in the 1955 British general election, winning over 150,000 votes there and then got four further (abstentionist) candidates elected to Leinster House in 1957, taking over 65,000 first-preference votes.   And, after almost being destroyed in the 1940s, the IRA had been able to substantially re-arm, with a series of arms raids in both the six counties and England.

The degree of optimism was such that Mick Ryan writes how he and other Volunteers felt they’d free the north in three months! (p91)

However, very early into the border campaign, problems arose.  Ryan’s book suggests that these problems were Read the rest of this entry

Christy Moore unveils Frank Conroy plaque

 

by Mick Healy

On Saturday 22nd June, Christy Moore unveiled a plaque to socialist republican Frank Conroy, a Kildare man killed in 1936 while fighting with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. The plaque, presented to the Kilcullen Heritage Centre by the Friends International Brigades Ireland, is a twin of a plaque presented to the town council of Lopera in Spain in April 2016.

Over a hundred people packed into the Kilcullen Centre to hear historian James Durney speak on the life of Conroy who was born on 25 February 1914, in Kilcullen.  Christy sang his song “Viva La Quinte Brigada” and was joined on stage by the local Kilcullen Choir to give a most incredible performance of “Ride On” and “Nancy Spain”.

On 16 December 2012, the Frank Conroy Committee held their first commemoration to this young Irish revolutionary who had conveniently been airbrushed from history by the establishment.  Nevertheless, Frank is now as well known in the county as Kildare-born Fenian John Devoy.

Interesting new articles on Eirigi site

Post Election The Fight For A New Republic Continues
The great battle of ideas between those who believe in never-ending vicious competition between human beings and those who believe in ever-deepening cooperation among human beings will continue regardless of this or any other single electoral result.
http://eirigi.org/latestnews/2019/5/30/post-election-the-fight-for-a-new-republic-continues

The Green Party And Fianna Fail Will Never Deliver Real Change
The last Fianna Fail and Green Party coalition had to make a series of major individual, but connected, decisions between 2007 and 2011. At a fundamental level each decision was actually a choice between protecting the interests of the elites or protecting the interests of the people.
http://eirigi.org/latestnews/The%20Green%20Party%20And%20Fianna%20Fail%20Will%20Never%20Deliver%20Real%20Change

By Front or Back Door The Water Tax Will Be Resisted
Éirígí has been actively campaigning against the introduction of the Water Tax since 2012. We’re opposed to the introduction of any form of meter-based or stand alone water charge or water tax because we know that it will pave the way for the eventual privatisation of our water resources and water services.
http://eirigi.org/latestnews/2019/6/12/by-front-or-back-door-the-water-tax-will-be-resisted

Varadkar’s Fake Outrage An Insult To Irish Women
Some of the most damning commentary by Dr Scally relates to his belief that the HSE was more worried about the cost of screening than the quality of screening, as follows,“It is my view, based on the documentation and expert opinion available to the Scoping Inquiry, that the tendering process appeared to move over time to place an increasing emphasis on price rather than quality.”
http://eirigi.org/latestnews/2019/6/13/varadkars-fake-outrage-over-smear-tests-an-insult-to-irish-women

Republican History: The International Democratic Association
In the Spring of 1871, the IDA championed the Paris Commune, calling a great republican demonstration in April marching from Finsbury Square and Clerkenwell in London; speeches were given at both the meeting point and at its conclusion in Hyde Park. The Times carried a report of the rather florid fraternal greetings sent to the Communards which ran over wishes for the expropriation of church property, the illegitimacy of the Versailles government, fears of a restoration of the French monarchy and a bitter denunciation of the English press, concluding ‘Long live the Universal Republic, Democratic and Social!” The Times sourly observed the number of foreigners on the demonstration – the idea of ‘outside agitators’ has a long history.
http://eirigi.org/latestnews/2019/6/11/republican-history-the-international-democratic-association

Behind SF’s dramatic electoral decline in the south

SF leader MaryLou McDonald and deputy-leader Michelle O’Neill don’t have much to celebrate now. While SF roughly held its ground in the north, it lost about half its council seats and two of its three Euro seats in the south.

The author of this article, Vincent Doherty, was a member of People’s Democracy in the 1970s and early 1980s and, later, Sinn Fein.  In recent years he has been an independent marxist and anti-imperialist.  

Now that the dust has settled on last week’s elections, it is possible to appreciate the magnitude of Sinn Fein’s electoral collapse. For the usually well-oiled Sinn Fein electoral machine, results in both the local council and European elections across the 26 counties were nothing short of catastrophic. At the Dublin counts in the RDS, seasoned Sinn Fein cadre looked punch drunk, as one after another their council seats vanished from a local authority where they had been the majority party over the past 5 years. Across the 26 counties as a whole, they lost half their council seats. Even more dramatically, two of their three European seats in the 26 counties have been lost (confirmed on Wednesday after the recount was completed, that the SF seat in South Constituency was lost to the Greens).

Dublin collapse

In Dublin, where they topped the poll in the last Euro elections, their vote this time fell from just under 25% to less than 10%, despite a popular, effective and well-liked candidate in Lynn Boylan. The party also lost control of  Dublin City Council, where they lost half of their seats. This decline was repeated in the other urban areas like Cork, Limerick and Waterford.  Right across the 26 counties the story was the same, even in their hinterland constituencies along the border. The party’s vote was decimated, as they were effectively abandoned by an electorate clearly tired of Sinn Fein’s zigzagging on major issues. From the Dublin European election count, it was clear that people looking for a fighting left candidate abandoned Sinn Fein in favour of socialist campaigner Clare Daly, whilst the soft left element of the Sinn Fein vote was hoovered up by the Greens. The fact that climate change has been front and centre in the news of late obviously contributed to the “Green wave”, this despite the fact that the Irish Greens are well to the right of many of their European sister parties.

Coalition: a poisoned chalice

Perhaps most damaging of all for Sinn Fein, was the leadership-inspired decision at the last Ard Fheis (Annual Delegate Conference), to support. . .

continue reading here.

Kerron Ó Luain reviews Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin’s ‘Language From Below: the Irish language, ideology and power in 20th century Ireland’

“The night of the sword and bullet was followed by the morning of the chalk and the blackboard. The physical violence of the battlefield was followed by the psychological violence of the classroom. But where the former was visibly brutal, the latter was visibly gentle.”

The above, written by renowned Kenyan thinker Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, sums up much that is at the heart of Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin’s persuasive book here under review. Language From Below: the Irish language, ideology and power in 20th century Ireland examines the relationship between material forces and the ideology surrounding the Irish language during the past century or more.

Little treatment has been given to this subject, especially in book length. Hence, the reasons for the varying attitudes that exist towards the Irish language – some of them positive, others hostile, many apathetic – are not well understood. Often, in the face of opposition, instead of turning to class or economics as explanatory factors, proponents of the language frame hostility to An Ghaeilge in simplistic “anti-Irish” terms.

Ó Croidheáin admits that Irish occupies a strange place in the national consciousness; “it is true that not many Irish people speak the Irish language, yet many Irish people still define their identity in terms of the Irish language”. He thus seeks not only to. . .

continue reading here.

Liam Sutcliffe photo

Thanks to my friend Mick Healy for this fine picture of Vol Liam Sutcliffe (1933-2017), a veteran of the Irish Republican Army and later of the Dublin-based Saor Eire.

Liam Sutcliffe.

IRA Volunteer.

Saor Eire Volunteer.

Socialist-Republican.

And the person who blew up Nelson’s Pillar.

Markievicz letters: a new, expanded edition

The first edition of Constance Markievicz’s prison letters was put together by Esther Roper, the partner of Markievicz’s sister Eva Gore-Booth, to whom many of the letters were addressed.  The editon was published by Longman Paul in 1934.  Roper, with help from Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, one of the executors of Markievicz’s will and  longtime friend and fellow activist, wrote a substantial biographical essay for the book.

Over 50 years later Amanda Sebestyen worked on a new edition and wrote her own introduction.  This edition was brought out by the feminist publisher, Virago, in 1987.

Thirty-one years later (last year, 2018) Lindie Naughton, the author of a new recent biography – Markievicz: a most outrageous rebel (Dublin, Merrion Press, 2016) – has put together a new edition.  This edition returns the letters to their original form.  (Lindie notes, “Consulting the originals in the National Library of Ireland makes it obvious that the published versions of the prison letters skirted around some sensitive issues and blanked out the names of people who quite possibly were still alive at the time of the original publication.”)

The prison letters come from her various stints in jail: May 1916-July 1917 in Mountjoy (Dublin) and Aylesbury (Buckinghamshire); June 1918-March 1919 in Holloway; June-October 1919 in Cork; September 1920-July 1921 in Mountjoy; and November-December 1923 in the North Dublin Union.

Moreover, this edition adds a bunch of letters that haven’t appeared in print before.  These include letters to Read the rest of this entry