Category Archives: Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism

John McAnulty on lessons of People’s Democracy & 50+ years of revolutionary struggle in Ireland

Some time back I suggested to my friend Mick that John McAnulty was someone he should interview for his series of videos.  I have a bit to do with John from time to time as I have immense admiration and respect for the original People’s Democracy group.  I finally met John in Belfast in 2013 and spent several hours talking to him.  Mick also got John down to speak in Dublin a couple of years ago to speak on political developments involving anarchism and Marxism (with anarchist Alan MacSimeon) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Alan, sadly, has since died.

 

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. . .

“What did it feel like to be shot?” Interview with Bernadette by Blindboy Boatclub

To mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement in the six counties last year, Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubber Bandits hosted a podcast at Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 6th 2018. He interviewed veteran Irish revolutionary Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey in front of a packed room.  The podcast is over two hours long. In this part he poke to her about the loyalist attempt to assassinate her and her husband Michael on January 16, 1981.  At the time, Bernadette was a key figure organising support for republicans being held in British prisons, including the blanket protest, the dirty protest, and the 1980 hunger strike. At the time of the attempt on her life, a new hunger strike was in the air – this was the famous hunger strike of that era, with ten prisoners’ deaths.  The entire interview will be published on The Transcripts.

Blindboy: When we were backstage I was asking you about, we were discussing the nature of trauma and I was asking would it be okay if I asked you about the time you had an assassination attempt. And you said: Yes, that would be okay.

Bernadette: Uh-huh. Yep. That’s okay. That’s okay. Yeah.

Blindboy: Can we talk about that?

Bernadette: Yes, we can talk about that.

Blindboy: So – what was it like being shot nine times?

Bernadette: It was interesting. It was interesting. And it’s funny that I can talk about that much more easily than I can talk about that memory, you know, that memory of Bloody Sunday is more traumatic for me than the time that I was shot. And I think it was because, you know, as we were saying, it’s because I didn’t see Bloody Sunday coming. I didn’t see the 5th of October coming.

But by the time people came to our house and kicked the door in and held my two daughters, one at that time four and the other nine, at gunpoint while their parents were shot I knew they were Read the rest of this entry

Frank Keane and the Irish revolution

by Mick Healy

“The magistrate in his summing up said that he had no doubt whatsoever that I was politically involved. This should stand to my benefit at a later stage and should really nail the lie that I’m a gangster, a criminal”.      – Frank Keane, Brixton jail, 14th August, 1970.

Frank Keane, who is now over eighty years of age, was born on May 8, 1936 in Peter Street, Westport, Co. Mayo.  He was once regarded as a dangerous political opponent by the Irish establishment.

Frank was the eldest of three brothers and a sister and was educated at the local Christian Brothers School.  In 1952 he moved with his family to North Road, Finglas in Dublin.  The following year he joined the Jackie Griffith Sinn Fein Cumann. (The cumann was name after a republican activist shot dead by the Free State special branch in Dublin on 4 July 1943.)

Frank volunteered for active service during Operation Harvest, the IRA 1950s border campaign.  With training/recruitment officers interned or on the run, he enlisted in the Read the rest of this entry

From the vaults: British Labour Party & Ireland – 60 years of shame (1981)

Supporting the Tories against the hunger strikers in 1981 was typical of the British Labour Party; moreover, they were the ones who removed political status for republican prisoners in the first place

The following article is from the July-August 1981 issue of the next step, a Marxist review published in Britain from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.  It was put out by the Revolutionary Communist Party, who were the force behind first the Smash the Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign and then the Irish Freedom Movement.  I’ve added the word ‘British’ in a few places to make clear it is the BLP and not the (equally awful) Irish ones the article is about.  Although it irks me that the Dublin regime is referred to as “the Republic” I have left the term as is, because that is how it was written in the original article.

by Dave Douglas

“Your Labour Party is the subject of jest in Ireland.  You sent us a deputation, and one of its members was a member of the Government which shot Connolly, and all of them have been and are still silent on Larkin’s exile.  Our memories are long: is it any wonder they are bitter?  In a few days your Parliament will vote on the Military appropriations.  Will your Labour Party oppose them, or will they vote payment for a military occupation of Irelan?  Of what use is their hypocritical sympathy for us, their acts give the lie to their words.”

  • Eamon Macalpine, “Open Letter to the British Workers”, in the Sheffield Worker, April 1920, quoted in Bill Moore, How we stopped the war against Russia but failed to free Ireland, Sheffield, Holberry Society, 1981.

A few days after the British Labour Party’s ‘Northern Ireland’ study group agreed that the party should accept a commitment to Irish unity, an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted for the renewal of Read the rest of this entry

Interview with Alan MacSimoin (1957-2018)

Alan MacSimoin 1957-2018 was a long-time anarchist activist and a founder member of the Workers Solidarity Movement.

MacSimoin joined the Official Republican Movement (Official Sinn Fein) as a young man in the 1970s.  He was involved in the Murray Defence Committee in 1976-77 to stop the state execution of anarchists Noel and Marie Murray for the killing of a member of the police.

He was also involved with the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement’s boycott of South African goods in Ireland and the Irish Anti-Nuclear Movement that stopped the building of nuclear power stations around the coast of Ireland in the 1970s.

Below is an interview my friend Mick Healy did with him a year or two back and has passed on to me . . .

 

Film Review: I Dolours

We asked former H-Block prisoner and blanketman Dixie Elliott for a review of this movie.  Dixie suggested we use something he had written that appeared on The Pensive Quill; so this is it with some slight editing to fit this site.

I Dolours, 2018, directed by Maurice Sweeney; produced by Ed Moloney; 82 mins.

by Dixie Elliott

I Dolours is a film about a committed and brave IRA Volunteer telling her own harrowing story.  What struck me was the haunted eyes of someone who, like her sister Marian, carried out orders without question and who did terrible things in the belief that what they were doing was right.  Who remained seated when asked to go and bomb England while others got up and walked out of the room, unable to do it.  Dolours couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to go as she wanted to take the war to the Brits’ door.

The Brits were waiting on them, she told us, and when asked if she believed there was an informer, she said “yes” without hesitation – in Belfast.

The actor who portrayed Dolours as a young IRA Volunteer is so like the older woman it’s uncanny, especially the eyes.

Dolours spoke about her staunchly Republican parents, her father who had bombed England in his youth, her aunt who lived with them and who had lost both hands and eyes in Read the rest of this entry

Revisiting People’s Democracy and the ‘Burntollet’ march

The January 1969 Belfast to Derry march, organised by People’s Democracy, modelled on the US civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965

Last week I watched a video of a public meeting at the CP’s Dublin headquarters marking the 50th anniversary of the explosion of the civil rights movement onto the streets of Derry and the wider six counties.  One of the speakers was Tommy McKearney, someone whom I respect a great deal.  To my unpleasant surprise, however, Tommy wheeled out the old Stickies and CP attacks on “ultralefts” going destructively ahead with activities which unnecessarily provoked violent clashes instead of listening to the advice of more seasoned folk like Betty Sinclair.

Wow!

It’s hard to know where to start in responding to this, so I’m linking to two articles on the People’s Democracy organisation, the civil rights movement and Burntollet.  One is by Matt Collins, from SWN/People Before Profit looking back on the events as a Marxist today and the other is by John McAnulty, a veteran of PD and the movement back then and an active Marxist still.  John agrees with much in the Matt Collins article, which defends PD, while also noting a few things Matt got wrong.

Before linking to these, I just want to say something about Betty Sinclair and the question of ‘experience’.  Tommy is dead wrong to say Bernadette Devlin, Michael Farrell, John McAnulty and the “ultralefts” should have Read the rest of this entry

Bernard Fox letter on the road to armed struggle

The following letter appeared in the October 26 issue of the Belfast-based Irish News.  Bernard Fox spent decades in the Irish Republican Army, including a stint on the Army Council, the IRA’s seven-person central leadership.  He came to oppose the direction the Adams-McGuinness cabal took as they decided to become part of the political establishment across the island.

I commend The Irish News coverage of the emergence of the civil rights association and the events surrounding the Duke Street march 50 years ago. Leona O’Neill’s column (October 9) about her brave father’s involvement and decisions made then were made in response to what he experienced on the ground. However, at that time there were no easy decisions to make.

I was a 17-year-old in 1969 living in the St James’s area off the Falls Road. My interests were sport, the Beatles and girls. I was serving an apprenticeship in an engineering firm where I had many Read the rest of this entry

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