Category Archives: Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism

Republican POWs and the struggle in Maghaberry today

by Nathan Hastings

The following is designed to outline the historical context of Republican Prisoners and their conditions in Maghaberry Jail. This is not aimed at providing a detailed history, but at illuminating the issues which exist in Maghaberry today.

There is a long history of Irish women and men being imprisoned as a result of their opposition to the occupation of Ireland. Through-out this history there has been a recurring theme of Britain and its agents using imprisonment and conditions in the sites of imprisonment to attack and harass those who it has viewed as rebellious or troublesome. This has been carried out as a matter of both direct state policy and the cruelty and resentment of those in control in the sites of captivity.

In response to this there has been the recurring theme of struggle and resistance to oppression amongst those imprisoned through generations. This theme can be seen, for example, in the refusal of members and supporters of the Land League to wear prison clothes, shave or cut their hair whilst imprisoned, opposing the prison uniform. The response to this in the 1880s was an offer of civilian-style clothing.

This is almost identical to Read the rest of this entry

Seamus Costello in very first issue of ‘Starry Plough’ on differences between IRSP and the Officials

The following appeared in the very first issue of the Irish Republican Socialist Party’s paper, The Starry Plough. in April 1975.  The IRSP was founded on December 10, 1974.  A military organisation, the Irish National Liberation Army, was founded at the same time.

Q. What caused the present feud between the IRSP and the Officials?

As far as we can see, it is the fact that the IRSP is undermining the Officials organizationally, particularly in Belfast where the feud is most intense. During the past 3 or 4 months, since the party was launched on the 12th of December, the IRSP has taken some 200 members from the Officials in the Belfast area. This has led to a situation where, at the moment, the Officials in Belfast have only half the numerical strength of the IRSP. As a result of this, a request was made by the (Official) Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle to the Official IRA to prevent the organization of further IRSP branches in the Belfast area. Immediately after this request, starting on Dec. 12th, a number of our members were kidnapped in the Belfast area. From then until the murder of Hugh Ferguson, we have had dozens of people kidnapped, people beaten up, people wounded through shooting, houses petrol bombed, cars burned and so on. Undoubtedly the immediate cause of the feud is the fact that the Officials are losing members.

Q. What are the main ideological differences between the IRSP and the Officials?

The principal ideological differences would be their attitude towards the National Question as against our attitude. Basically, the position of the leadership of the Officials is that there is no hope of achieving National Liberation until such time as the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North are united and therefore there is nothing which can be done in political terms or in any other terms about this particular issue. Our attitude, on the other hand, is that the British presence in Ireland is the basic cause of the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North. It follows from that, in our view, that the primary emphasis should be on the mobilization of the mass of the Irish people in the struggle for National Liberation. We believe, also, that the left in Irish politics should play a leading role in this struggle. Up until recent years, many of us felt that the Official Movement was capable of and willing to do this. Indeed the rank and file of the Official Movement had expressed their views on this at the 1972 and 1973 Ard Fheiseanna, where they rejected the position of the national leadership on the national question and put forward a policy which would have led to a more militant approach on this question.

However, the leadership disagreed with this policy and deliberately frustrated its implementation. The result of this was that the Official Republicans, who, at that time, were the largest single body of organized left-wing opinion in Ireland, deliberately divorced the working class struggle from the national struggle and gradually degenerated, taking a reformist position on a number of very important issues.

Q. What issues in particular?

The principal issues that come to mind immediately are the Civil Rights struggle, the Assembly Elections, the question of taking seats and the question of the rent and rates strike. In all these issues, the leadership of the Officials hesitated to take a stand. They have, for instance, regarded the Civil Rights struggle since 1969, as the only struggle worth taking part in. They ignored the presence of 15,000 troops on the streets. They ignored the torture and terror perpetrated by the British Army on the Nationalist population and they acted as though there was no change in the situation since 1969. In other words, they failed to realize the change in the nature of the struggle in Ireland, particularly in Read the rest of this entry

The costs of capitulation

by Socialist Democracy

The Orange marching season in the North of Ireland kicks off each year with Twelfth of July marches, preceded by the 11th night bonfires.  This year the Twelfth demonstration passed almost without incident.  The 11th night bonfires saw a rash of hijacking and petrol bombing in east Belfast and parts of County Down.  These were protests following a court order applying fire safety rules to a bonfire.  The Ulster Volunteer Force gangsters behind the hijacking believed as a matter of principle that the bonfires should be free of any legal impediment.

They were a small minority.  The unionist population was indifferent, the paramilitaries had been paid off and, for the first time ever, the Democratic Unionist Party stepped forward to demand obedience to the law.

It has taken decades of conflict resolution and social engineering to get to Read the rest of this entry

Connolly talk, Dunedin, Saturday, June 2

James Connolly (1868-1916) was a leading figure in socialist politics in Scotland, Ireland and the United States and a radical trade union leader in the USA and Ireland.  In Dublin, he was one of the key leaders of the new Irish Transport and General Workers Union, through the massive Great Dublin Lockout of August 1913-February 1914.  Later in 1914, Connolly became the leader of the workers’ militia, the Irish Citizen Army, that had been estaboished as a workers’ defence force in the lockout.  Under the leadership of Connolly, Michael Mallin and Constance de Markievicz, the ICA was transformed into a revolutionary army.

He also wrote stirring songs of working class struggle.

In April 1916 the ICA and the republican Irish Volunteers launched an insurrection against British rule and declared an independent Irish Republic.  After a week of fighting the rebels, under heavy British bombardment that was demolishing the centre of Dublin, were forced to surrender.  Connolly and other leaders of the rebellion were tried by British court-martial and sentenced to death by firing squad.  Connolly, who had gangrene as a result of a wound, couldn’t stand and was tied to a chair for his execution.

The Otago Socialist Society is hosting a talk on Connolly, not only to commemorate this great revolutionary working class leader but also to look at the continuing relevance of his ideas.

The speaker is a former activist in Sinn Fein in Dublin and a current member of Clann Eirigi.  He will cover Connolly’s life; his perspectives on the working class and Irish national liberation; and his writings on revolutionary trade unionism.

Speaker: Dr Philip Ferguson

2pm, Saturday, June 2

Seminar Room, Third Floor,

Dunedin Central Public Library (Moray Place)

 

Saturday night at the May 9-13 Connolly Festival, Dublin

TRES BILLBOARDS FOR THE REPUBLIC: PRESENTED BY FRIENDS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES IRELAND

Saturday, May 12.
7.30pm-11pm, Tickets: €10

A musical, artistic and historic celebration of Ireland’s International Brigaders with Jurama, a film about Charlie Donnelly, the Republican Congress veteran and poet.

We also present One Way or Another, a play on the life of Dinny Cody who was killed at La Rosas 1937, while historian James Durney will give a talk on the life of civil war hero Frank Conroy.

Finishing up the evening with music from the wonderful Sive.

Marx, Engels and the Irish and British revolutions: a note

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx and the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ireland’s greatest Marxist, James Connolly.

Accordingly, I will be running material by Marx (and Engels) on the subject of Irish freedom and its interconnectedness with the British revolution, as well as material by and about James Connolly.

This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of Connolly’s great co-workers, Constance Markievicz.

This blog already contains a substantial body of her writings and also articles about her.  Most recently, I added her 1923 pamphlet What Irish Republicans Stand For.

Later this year, I will be putting up a substantial piece on her and the Irish revolution, something I began to write well over 20 years ago and put aside unfinished.

I will also continue my (so far rather haphazard) efforts to get up everything I have of Fintan Lalor’s writings and write something substantial on ‘Fintan Lalor and the Irish revolution’.  I had made a load of notes for this last year and then lost them, so I have to start again; very frustrating.

I want to get something substantial up soon on Sean McLoughlin too, a kind of precis of the book by Charlie McGuire, a book I urge folks to go out and buy.

As always, I have a bunch of books – and it’s growing, also as always! – which I want to review.  They go back to stuff published about five years ago now, I have been so lax in getting these reviews done.  Aaaarrrggghhh!

And there are a few old articles from several journals that I want to get up here, but I have to type them up – a very time-consuming task.

Edinburgh Connolly conference, Saturday, June 2

Socialist Workers Network and civil rights: misremembering the past, promoting reformism today

People’s Democracy’s famous Belfast to Derry march, January 1969; the march was attacked by both loyalist and police thugs

The article below is from the Irish revolutionary group Socialist Democracy, the successor current to the original radical student-based group People’s Democracy, which played a key role in the civil rights movement in the north of Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

The Socialist Workers Party, one of the two main Trotskyist organisations in Ireland, has just dissolved as a party organisation.  It is now just a ‘network’ which operates through, and rather bureaucratically controls, the People Before Profit Alliance, an electoralist and non-revolutionary formation. 

On March 24th a meeting under the banner of “Remembering 1968: The Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland” was held as part of events organized by the Institute of Irish Studies. A supporter of Socialist Democracy attended under the impression that it was an academic symposium to discuss the origins of the civil rights movement.

It quickly became clear that the appearance of academic neutrality was cast into doubt by the role of Socialist Workers Party/People Before Profit. A PBP councillor, Matt Collins, opened the seminar with an exposition which displayed a common fault of his organization- viewing the past through the prism of the current political line of the organization. We can take it for granted that this is the first bird of spring and that political groups from all sides will shortly be presenting their own misremembering of the civil rights struggle. In fact the first shots have been exchanged in a dispute between Sinn Fein and Bernadette McAliskey about a fictitious role for Sinn Fein in the early struggle.

The SWP’s economism led to Matt portraying the revolutionary left organization People’s Democracy as resembling an early version of the Alliance Party. The presence of students from nationalist and unionist backgrounds seemed more important than their common commitment to the revolutionary overthrow of the Stormont regime.

The speaker could easily have clarified things by discussing with Socialist Democracy, the successor organization of People’s Democracy. However the SWP had closed that door with a “theoretical” document claiming that the success of their electoral opportunism in the North made their organization the inheritors of People’s Democracy.

Eamonn McCann could have, if he wished, corrected some of the misconceptions. However he arrived late and confined himself to anecdotes of the early days. Historian Brian Hanley added some gravitas to the day but was Read the rest of this entry

The Adams legacy

Adams getting up close and personal with new friend

by Kevin Bean

One of the most frequently reproduced images of the Irish Republican Army’s 1994 ceasefire was of a Sinn Féin car cavalcade driving through west Belfast with tricolours flying and bystanders cheering. Its message was clear: the IRA was undefeated and the Provisional movement remained a force to be reckoned with. In a language that would become familiar over the next 25 years, the IRA’s statement announcing the ceasefire argued that republican objectives could now be pursued politically through “unarmed struggle” and dialogue as part of an Irish peace process. It continued:

Our struggle has seen many gains and advances made by nationalists and for the democratic position. We believe that an opportunity to secure a just and lasting settlement has been created. We are therefore entering into a new situation … determined that the injustices which created the conflict will be removed and confident in the strength and justice of our struggle to achieve this … We urge everyone to approach this new situation with energy, determination and patience.1

This statement and the orchestration of these events in the early stages of the peace process tell us a great deal about the politics and strategy that Gerry Adams and his comrades in the Provisional leadership would pursue in the future. For the next quarter of a century Adams would constantly repeat that political retreat was a form of Read the rest of this entry

Remembering rubber and plastic bullet killings by ‘Crown forces’

by Philip Ferguson

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the civil rights movement as a mass movement on the streets of the north-east of Ireland.

A peaceful movement was met with fierce repression by the Orange state – peaceful protesters were assaulted with police truncheons and tear gas.  Sections of the Special Powers Act, legislation jealously admired by the apartheid regime in South Africa, were used to try to ban marches and other civil rights activity.  Orange mobs, protected by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, were also unleashed on the nationalist population.

In 1971 Emma Groves was blinded in both eyes when a British soldier fired a rubber bullet at her, through her window, as she stood in her living room

As the nationalist working class began to effectively defend its areas with barricades and street fighting, the British government sent in troops to “restore order”, ie put a risen people back in their place.

An array of repression

Over the following decades the British used a whole array of repressive measures against the nationalist people: batons and tear gas, along with stun guns, live rounds, rubber and then plastic bullets, internment, non-jury Diplock Courts, supergrass frame-up trials and shoot-to-kill (ie execution) policies were all deployed.  While the British state widely used terror  Read the rest of this entry